Revelation 19 – Part 1

“After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!’” Revelation 19:1

“The classic science-fiction adventure Star Wars ends with the dazzling destruction of the Death Star – a moon-sized space station that had terrorized the galaxy as a symbol of evil and tyranny. The epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings climaxes with the cataclysmic destruction of the dark tower of Mordor – the center of the demonic Dark Lord Sauron’s evil oppression.” 1

In a similar way, the obliteration of Rome (“Babylon”) represents the destruction of everything that is evil and demonic in the current world system. So, it should not surprise us when something as decadent as Rome and its religious/economic system comes to an end, all of heaven will celebrate with a jubilant chorus of hallelujahs. Even in the fictional realms of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, the victory over evil causes great rejoicing among those who are triumphant. 2

Following the destruction of the great harlot (Rome) which caused the people of the world to grieve deeply and be distressed (18:1-24), we see a much different response to Rome’s destruction in heaven (19:1-10). All the inhabitants of heaven are praising God for what He has done to Rome. As the Tribulation period is coming to an end, the focus in heaven is on God and the nearness of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to earth.

The apostle John writes, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!’” (Revelation 19:1). The phrase “After these things” (Meta tauta) refers to the events of chapter 18 and marks a new chronological development in the book of Revelation. 3 In this new vision John “heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven.” Think of a large stadium filled with enthusiastic football fans screaming at the top of their lungs when their team scores the go-ahead touchdown. In heaven, a “great multitude” of heaven’s inhabitants (possibly believers and angels) are roaring with praise toward God’s judgment of Rome.

This heavenly choir is saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!” The word transliterated “Alleluia” is from the Hebrew compound word: “hallal” (praise) and “Yah” (an abbreviated form of Yahweh). 4 Hence, the word means “praise Yahweh” or “praise the Lord.” The only four occurrences of “Alleluia” in the New Testament are in this section (19:1, 3, 4, 6) although it does occur often in the Psalms. 5This is the biblical Hallelujah Chorus! 6

“Praise” “is the declaration of the glory, greatness, power, and majesty of God, and there is no such thing as silent praise. Unlike worship, which can occur quietly within a believer’s heart, praise in Scripture often is tied to our lips (e.g., Ps. 34:1; 51:15; 119:171). God is not untoward in demanding praise because He is worthy of it. Hundreds of thousands of people attend parades to celebrate championship sports teams, yet God is infinitely more worthy of celebration than any athlete.” 7

This is why we see the inhabitants of heaven crying out, “Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to our God!” Barclay notes, “The salvation of God should awaken the gratitude of man. The glory of God should awaken the reverence of man. The power of God is always exercised in the love of God, and should, therefore, awaken the trust of man. Gratitude, reverence, trust – these are the constituent elements of real praise.” 8

There are two reasons why heaven praises God. “For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” (Revelation 19:2). The first reason heaven praises God is because “His judgments,” including His annihilation of “the great harlot,” are “true and righteous” (19:2a). The word “true” (alēthinai) conveys that God’s judgments are totally in line with the truth of His Word. The Lord did what His Word said He would do. 9

In addition, God’s judgments are also “righteous” (dikaiai) which carries the idea that God is fair and just in carrying out these judgments. 10 For centuries, pagan and papal Rome seduced people away from the true God with her rituals and superstitions to worship false gods (“fornication”). Her worldly luxuries and pleasures had deceived the nations of the world into believing that joy, security, and meaning in life come through the accumulation of material wealth instead of through their Creator God. God was just to judge her severely for these decadent things.

The second reason God is to be praised for these judgments is because “He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (19:2b). Thousands of years ago, the Lordsaid He would judge those who shed the blood of His servants (cf. Deuteronomy 32:42-43), 11 and now He has fulfilled His promise by judging Rome (“her”) for killing His “servants.” For centuries, pagan and papal Rome persecuted those who proclaim the truth exposing her materialistic and idolatrous false religion. History shows that the Roman Catholic Church has shed the blood of many believers and victims of the Crusades and Roman Inquisition. 12But the height of Rome’s hostility toward God’s people will take place during the Tribulation period when she vehemently opposes God’s people on the earth. Rebellious humankind who witnessed God’s judgments blasphemed His name (cf. Revelation 16:9, 11, 21); but the heavenly multitude praised Him because His wrath was “true and righteous.” 13

Another burst of praise breaks forth from the heavenly multitude. “Again they said, ‘Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!’” (Revelation 19:3). This encore heightens the first burst of praise.14All of heaven praises God a second time for the finality (“rises up forever and ever”)of Rome’s destruction (“her smoke”). Never again will Rome be able to shed the blood of God’s people.

A third burst of praise for God takes place next in heaven. “And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne, saying, ‘Amen! Alleluia!’” (Revelation 19:4). The “twenty-four elders” representing the church in heaven (see comments on 4:1-4) and “the four living creatures” representing angelic beings (see comments of 4:6-8), “fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne,” which is evidently God the Father. Both these groups were crying out, “Amen! Alleluia!” In saying “Amen” (lit., “so be it”), they were giving their wholehearted agreement to the praise already given to God. 15 By shouting “Alleluia,” they were giving God their own praise for His “true and righteous” judgments.

As we have looked at the great mourning that will take place on the earth for Rome’s (“Babylon”) destruction (Revelation 18:9-24) and then the great celebration that will take place in heaven (Revelation 19:1-4), we are reminded that God is still worthy of praise no matter what we face in life.

All God’s decisions are “true and righteous” even when a romance does not blossom as we had hoped, or a job interview does not turn out the way we thought it would. It is important to remember that God is worthy of our admiration and trust even when the effects of sin endanger our families, when pain drives us to our wits’ end, or when misfortune is about to push us over the edge. God gives and He takes away (Job 1:21). 16 He is honored when we return to Him, when we release our worries to Him, and when we rest in Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, what a contrast You have shown us between the mourning of the people on earth after Rome’s destruction and the celebration of the inhabitants of heaven. The difference is on each group’s focus. Those on the earth were paying attention to what was lost. But those in heaven were focused on what they had – a God Who is worthy of all praise. Father, whether our lives are filled with grief or gladness, You alone deserve our praise. Thank You for reminding us of this today. May we live our lives focused on who You are and what You have done. In the mighty name of Your Son, 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. 330.  

2. Ibid.

3. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6190.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2413.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 203.

6. Walvoord, location 6200.

7. Evans, pg. 2413.

8. Constable, pg. 203 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible Series, 2nd Ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 218.

9. 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. 1571.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. “Bill Salus on Mystery Babylon video on the August 26, 2018, Christ in Prophecy show.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1571.

14. Constable, pg. 203.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1571.

16. Swindoll, pg. 333.

Revelation 18 – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Following the message from heaven (18:1-9), John now focuses on a new message from the earth which included three groups that grieved the destruction of Rome (18:10-19). The first group is world leaders. 9 The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” (Revelation 18:9-10). As mentioned last time, Vacendak suggests that Rome’s destruction“will be by means of a nuclear warhead… Kings, merchants, and shipmasters will all stand ‘at a distance’ when they see ‘the smoke of her burning.’ The desire to keep a certain distance between themselves and the mushroom cloud of smoke billowing up to heaven may indicate their fear of the nuclear radiation that now envelops the city.” 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1568.

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

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

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

6. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

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

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

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

10. Ibid.

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

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 200.

14. Evans, pg. 2412.

15. Constable, pg. 200.

16. Evans, pg. 2337.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

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

Revelation 14 – Part 5

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” Revelation 14:13

In another of the apostle John’s visions on earth (Revelation 14:6-13), he hears four announcements that provide motivation to remain faithful to God and resist the beasts during the last half of the Tribulation period. We have looked at God’s angels who will make the first three announcements (14:6-12), and we are now ready for the fourth announcement (14:13).

In Revelation 14:9-11, nonbelievers who have not yet bowed to the beast nor taken his mark during the last half of the Tribulation period are warned not to do so lest they be subject to “the full strength” of God’s wrath in time and eternity. The apostle then encourages believers to persevere in their faithfulness to Christ during this extremely difficult time (14:12). In the next verse he gives them incentive for remaining faithful to God.

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” (Revelation 14:13). This “voice from heaven” may belong to the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:10-11, 19; cf. 10:4, 8; 11:12; 14:2; 18:4; 21:3). 1 His voice announces that many believers “in the Lord” who live during the last half of the Tribulation will be “blessed” to “die” as martyrs. These believers in Christ who stand firmly against the Beast and refuse to worship him or take his mark, and die as a result, will be “blessed” both now and forever. 2 The phrase “from now on” means “from this time on during the Tribulation,” specifically during the persecution of the Beast and the bowl judgments. Through their martyrdom, these believers will escape the intense judgments and sufferings of the last half of the Tribulation. 3

God the Holy “Spirit” then adds that these faithful believers will be “blessed” beyond the grave in heaven where “they may rest from their labors,” which is the opposite of what will be experienced by those who receive the mark of the beast (14:9-11). 4 Nonbelievers will receive “no rest” and “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … forever and ever” because of their unbelief toward Christ (14:10-11). But the good “works” of these faithful believers will “follow them” into heaven where they will be rewarded forever by the Lord Jesus Christ (14:13b; cf. Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41).

“God does not save anyone for his works, but He does reward us for our works. Our works (good or bad) are like tin cans tied to a dog’s tail; we cannot get away from them. They will follow us to the bema seat of Christ.” 5

While we cannot take our material possessions with us when we die, the Bible does teach that we can send eternal wealth ahead of us. Jesus said,19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20). Christ instructs us not to lay up treasure on earth because it is temporary. Perhaps you have had a “moth” eat holes in your clothes or “rust” destroy your possessions made of metal, or “thieves” break in your house and steal your valuables. These earthly treasures are perishable.

But notice Jesus says to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Why? Because it is permanent. In heaven, a “moth” or “rust” cannot destroy your heavenly treasure, nor can a “thief… steal” it.

We usually miss those words “for yourselves.” Jesus makes it clear that there IS a way to “take it with you.” We can send treasure ahead of us by using the time, treasure, and talent God has entrusted to us on earth as a steward for God’s kingdom and glory (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-26).

Well-meaning Christians have asked me, “Isn’t it selfish to seek eternal rewards? My answer is, “Not according to Jesus.” Since Christ commands us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, it is selfish not to obey His command to pursue eternal rewards. Plus, a believer cannot afford to be selfish in nature, for to do so would disqualify him or her for the eternal rewards he or she seeks. Pursuing eternal rewards is one of the strongest motivations for an unselfish and merciful lifestyle (cf. James 2:1-13).

When we get to heaven, the treasure we have sent ahead of us will be reserved there for us to use to bring glory to God throughout eternity. The more treasure we lay up in heaven now, the more we can use to honor Christ in His coming Kingdom.  

Bob Wilkin shares some helpful insights: “While many think of this treasure as a figure of speech for some unspecified blessings, I see it as an eternal trust fund that believers will use to glorify God. The more we have stored up, the more we can give away in service to the Lord.

“What? Who would need money in the kingdom? Well, no one, if the kingdom of God were going to be some ethereal experience, consisting of floating on clouds and strumming harps. However, the description of the eternal kingdom on the new earth in Revelation 21:24 strongly suggests the existence of an economy: ‘The kings of the earth [will] bring their glory and honor into it [the New Jerusalem].” Actually, the majority of manuscripts read, ‘The kings of the earth [will] bring the glory and honor of the nations to Him.’

“In any case, the point is clear. The three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus were types of rulers who, in the age to come, will forever bring gold and other treasures to the Lord Jesus.” 6

Why is it so important to focus on storing up treasures in heaven instead of treasures on earth? Jesus tells us, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). What we value the most is what directs our hearts. Wherever our treasure happens to be, that is where our hearts will be focused. God wants our hearts to be focused on Him and the life to come. This is why we are commanded to invest in heavenly rewards. God knows better than we do what will motivate our hearts for Him. If we set our hearts on accumulating the things of this earth, then the pursuit of earthly possessions will guide our hearts. But if we focus on the things of God and the life to come, then that is what will direct our hearts. We cannot focus on laying up treasures on earth and at the same time concentrate on laying up treasures in heaven.

Wilkins writes, “A few years ago, world-class athletes were asked the following question: ‘If you could take a drug that would cause you to win a gold medal, but it would kill you in ten years, would you take it?’ Amazingly, the majority said yes. They’d sacrifice fifty or more years of life for a gold medal.

“What would you give up to have treasure in heaven? Would you drive a lesser car than you could otherwise afford? Live in a more modest home? Have a less expensive wardrobe? Enjoy simpler or fewer vacations? Give up fifty years of life (if called upon to be a martyr, for example)? The answer you give to these questions will depend on where your heart is.” 7

Heavenly treasure is a type of reward that cannot be lost once it has been earned. So, when a believer gives a cup of cold water to one of God’s servants (Matthew 10:42) or does a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3-4), prays in private (Matthew 6:6), or fasts in private (Matthew 6:17-18) with the proper motive, a deposit is made into his or her eternal bank account in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). The more deposits you make, the more heavenly treasure you will have with which to honor Jesus Christ in His coming kingdom.

A second type of reward is called a perseverance reward. Believers who remain faithful in their service to Jesus to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing a special white garment (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ in His kingdom (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21), eating the fruit from the tree of life (Revelation 2:17; 22:14), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).

A third type of reward has to do with crowns. Believers can earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples of Jesus (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the coming of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).

By focusing on eternal rewards, believers in Jesus will develop a greater desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment for His church, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat (2 Corinthians 5:9-11; I John 2:28-3:3).

Prayer: Loving heavenly Father, we thank You for Your perspective given to us in Revelation 14:13 which involves encouragement for believers in the last half of the Tribulation period who may suffer physical death for taking a stand against the Beast and refusing to take his mark. You promise them that their good works will follow them into heaven where they will receive eternal rewards from the Lord Jesus. Thank You Father for reminding us that this life is not all there is to live for. As believers in Jesus, we are commanded to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven by living a godly life for You. Please help us to keep our focus on You and the life to come so we may have more treasure in heaven with which to honor You throughout all of eternity. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 161.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1553.

3. Constable, pg. 161.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2403.

5. Constable, pg. 162 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 Vols., (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), 5:1011.

6. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 39-40. 7. Ibid., pg. 40.

7. Ibid., pg. 40.

Revelation 11 – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 217.

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

3. Ibid.

4. Swindoll, pg. 217.

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

6. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 349.

7. Constable, pg. 127.

8. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1538.

9. Evans, pg. 2394.

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

11. Hitchcock, pg. 350.

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

13. Evans, pg 2394.

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

15. Hitchcock, pg. 349.

16. Constable, pg. 128.  

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

18. Evans, pp. 2394-2395.

19. Constable, pg. 128.

20. Hitchcock, pg. 351.

21. Evans, pg. 2395.

22. Vacendak, pg. 1538.

23. Walvoord, location 5628.

24. Hitchcock, pg. 352.

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

Revelation 7 – Part 2

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9

During the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments, the apostle John receives two visions of God’s great mercy involving the salvation and sealing of 144,000 Jews on the earth (7:1-8) and the salvation of Gentiles and Jews from every nation who are taken to heaven (7:9-17). Even though this will be a time of trouble on the earth like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (7:1-8) and Gentiles (7:9-17). 1

I often hear a certain religious group responding to our online videos who claim that there will only be 144,000 people in heaven. 2  Some scholars believe the 144,000 on the earth (7:1-8) are the same group mentioned in heaven (7:9-17). 3 But this is contrary to what we see in Revelation 7. There are significant differences between the redeemed group of 144,000 on the earth (7:1-8) and the redeemed group of people before God’s throne in heaven (7:9-17): 4

1. The number of redeemed on the earth is not only smaller, but definite (“one hundred and forty-four thousand” – 7:4), but the number of redeemed in heaven is not only larger, but indefinite (“a great multitude which no one could number” – 7:9).

2. People from all the tribes of the children of Israel” comprise the first group (7:4), but people from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” make up the second (7:9).

3. The first group is standing on “the earth” (7:1-3), whereas the second group is standing “before the throne” of God in heaven (7:9).

4. God prepares the first group for imminent peril on the earth (“Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” – 7:3), but the second group is victorious, secure, and at rest in heaven (“standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” – 7:9).

5. The first group is prepared for persecution on the earth (7:1-8), but the second group is ascended to heaven after persecution (7:14-15).

There seems to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7between the 144,000 Jewish believers in verses 1-8 and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in verses 9-17. The ministry of the 144,000 during the last half of the Tribulation period brings about salvation for millions of people. 5 In spite of the turmoil all around them, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists are faithful to God and God uses them to reach many people from all over the earth during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. Matthew 24:14). 6

Some students of the Bible have concluded that those who heard the gospel before the Rapture of the Church and rejected it, will not be able to get saved during the Tribulation. They refer to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 for support of this view. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

When Paul speaks of being “saved” (2:10), he is speaking of the salvation or deliverance from the Tribulation on earth by means of the Rapture of the church as seen elsewhere in his letters to the Thessalonians (cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). 7 Verse 12 does not mean that everyone alive at the time of the Rapture who are unbelievers will be given God’s “strong delusion” and be unable to get saved during the Tribulation.

Seemingly when the Rapture occurs the Man of Sin will emerge and will give some explanation for the sudden disappearance of Christians. With this lie will surely come his claim to be God and to offer protection for all who follow him. Many will be deceived by his message. It is not known for sure what the strong delusion will be. But it is known that only unbelievers who did not “believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” will be deceived (2:12). This cannot mean that all the unsaved when the Rapture occurs will be eternally condemned since Revelation 7 states that there will be 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will lead innumerable Jews and Gentiles all over the earth to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. 8

Those who had “pleasure in unrighteousness” are people who heard and yet rejected the gospel in this Church Age. Those in tribes and people groups who have not heard the gospel will not be endangered by this delusion. It is possible that some in countries like the United States, where the gospel is accessible to all, will not have heard the clear gospel, or have not heard it enough, and so some of them will come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. Likely, however, many people in Christian lands will be deluded when the Rapture occurs and will be hardened in unbelief. Most of the converts of the 144,000 will likely be in third-world countries and unreached areas of the world (Matthew 24:14). 9

This is a powerful reminder for unbelievers not to continue in their unbelief. They are to cry out to God to show them the truth. Their fear of the coming Tribulation is meant by God to motivate them to ask Him to reveal the truth of the gospel to them. 10 During the Tribulation it will be very difficult for those who have continually rejected the gospel to come to faith in Christ. After all, it won’t get easier to be a Christian after the Rapture, but rather more difficult, since the Antichrist will openly persecute those who receive Christ and refuse to take his mark (Revelation 13:7, 16-17). However, to say that it is impossible for anyone to receive God’s mercy during the Tribulation is expanding 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 beyond what the context allows.” 11

Let’s take a closer look now at this second group in heaven. The apostle John writes, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9). The converts of the 144,000 are from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.” Every country, tribe, people-group, and language group will be represented in heaven. This tells us that racial distinctions and uniqueness are retained in eternity. 12

Only Jesus Christ can unite all nations and ethnicities together for all of eternity! Governments, special interest groups, and well-meaning religious groups have failed to bring universal peace to the nations of the world. However, God is at work amid a world that is divided. There are churches today comprised of various ethnicities worshiping the true God, Jesus Christ (I John 5:20)! This is a preview of more to come throughout eternity.

These converts of the 144,000 will be “clothed with white robes.” Thesewhite robes” represent believers in Jesus who have been declared righteous in the sight of God through faith in Christ. One of the twenty-four elders says of this group, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14). Whereas the white robes in Revelation 3:4-5 are an eternal reward given to believers who remain faithful to Christ until they go to heaven, the robes here in 7:9, 14 are symbolic of the complete and eternal cleansing of sin that comes to every person who believes in Christ for eternal life. 13

These believers standing before the thrones of God the Father and God the Son are holding “palm branches in their hands” (7:9), which recalls John 12:13 where the Jews meet Christ at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem with joyful celebration and exalt Him as Israel’s King. (The Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles by waving palm branches as they quoted Psalm 118:25-26.) In a similar manner the redeemed ones before the throne will celebrate the imminent victory of the King at His Second Advent (cf. 19:11–20:3) as well as His coming reign (cf. 20:4).” 14

This innumerable group of redeemed people are, crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:10). The word for “salvation” (sōtēria) here refers to a two-fold deliverance: first, from the Lake of Fire as seen in verse 14 where reference is made to the eternal cleansing of the blood of the Lamb. And secondly, when Christ returns to the earth there will be a deliverance from the Man of Sin (cf. Micah 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15-20), physical corruption (cf. Romans 8:21-22; Isaiah 35), and the rebellion of men (cf. Psalm 2:9; Jeremiah 30:23-24; Revelation 19:11-21). 15

Verse 10 underscores that this salvation or deliverance belongs to God the Father(“our God who sits on the throne”)and God the Son(“to the Lamb”). Only God could pay the penalty for all our sins since it took a perfect sacrifice to accomplish such a feat (Hebrews 1:8; 10:1-14). And only God could overcome centuries of sin and death through His return to earth to set up His kingdom and bring universal peace and blessings to the earth (Revelation 11:15-18; 19:11-20:6; cf. Isaiah 11:1-16; 65:17-25). 

In addition to these martyred Tribulation believers (7:14) shouting praises to God the Father and God the Son, John tells us, “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.” (Revelation 7:11). Other “angels,” in addition to the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, representing the church, “stood around the throne and worshiped God.” While the earth is subject to wrath at this time, heaven is filled with worship of God the Father and God the Son.

All the inhabitants of heaven are saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12). “Blessing” (eulogia) or praise is what God deserves because of what He will do for these people (cf. Revelation 5:12, 13). 16 “Glory” (doxa) is the honor due to God because of His good reputation, specifically for delivering them (cf. Revelation 1:6; 4:11; 5:12, 13; 19:1). 17 “Wisdom” (sophia) is God’s infinite knowledge displayed in His plan of deliverance (cf. Revelation 5:12). “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia) literally means “well” and “to give freely,” but it denotes an expression of gratitude for a favor rendered (cf. Revelation 4:9). 18

“Honor” (timē) or esteem is what God deserves because He has planned and provided this salvation (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12, 13). 19  “Power” (dynamis) reflects God’s omnipotence that enables Him to overcome all opposition (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:1). 20 “Might” (ischys) or strength refers to God’s inherent power that enabled Him to deliver this multitude from their enemies (5:12). 21 God is worthy of this worship throughout eternity. “Amen” (Amēn) underlines the truthfulness of this sevenfold ascription (cf. 5:13). 22

We must not overlook the oneness of God the Father and God the Son in these verses. While their worship is directed to both God the Father and God the Lamb, we are told they “worshiped God” (7:11) and gave praise “to our God” (7:12). During His earthly ministry Jesus said, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22). The Jews thought it was God alone who would judge the world, but Jesus claims that the Father has given Him that privilege. Why? “That all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:23). The Jews believed that only God was to be honored and worshiped. Jesus claims the same right to be worshiped and honored that the Father has. This emphasizes the unity of the Father and the Son. What is done to One, is also done to the other because they are equals. They both have the same divine nature.

This is why all other religions fall short. They cannot truly honor God or worship Him apart from Jesus Christ. This is why Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, etc., all fall short because they do not worship and honor God the Father through Jesus Christ. They may say Jesus was a god or a prophet or a good moral teacher, but they do not believe He is the one true God. And by rejecting Jesus Christ as God, they are rejecting His Father because Christ is the perfect reflection of the Father.

But this will not happen in heaven. All the inhabitants of heaven will honor and worship both God the Father and God the Son because they understand the oneness of God. Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Jesus taught that God is one (“the name” is singular) in divine nature, yet eternally exists in three Persons (“Father… Son… Holy Spirit”) Who are equal in every way, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity. God is one substance (Deuteronomy 6:4), yet three in Person (Ephesians 2:18; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Students of the Bible refer to this truth as the Trinity or “three in one.”

All three Persons in Matthew 28:19 share one “name,” because they are one Being. This is not self-contradiction, and here is why: Person is not the same as being. Your being is the quality that makes you what you are, but your person is the quality that makes you who you are. For example, we are humans. That is what we are. That is why we are called human beings. But what we are is not the same as who we are. If someone asks, “Who are you?” I should not respond by saying, “A human!” That answers the question of what I am, not who I am. Who I am is Jeff Ropp; that is my person. What I am is a human; that is my being. Being and person are separate.

Unlike a human being, which has only one person, God has three Persons. He is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unlike a human being, which has only one person, God has three persons. He is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He is more than able to exist like that because He is God. If we say God must have only one Person, like humans, then we are making God in our image. Who are we to limit God? It is up to God to tell us Who He is. That is where the discussion should really be between Christians and non-Christians: on revelation, not on the conceptual plane of “Trinity versus _______,” as if our reason alone can dictate or even decipher the nature of God.

Christians and non-Christians should agree that God is greater than we can possibly conceive, more complex than we could ever hope to grasp. We are in no position to determine the intricacies of God’s nature. If God were to inform us that He is one being in one Person, we are obligated to believe Him. If He tells us, “I am one being in three Persons,” who are we to say “No” to God? As believers in revelation, we must turn to divine Scripture to learn about God.

Scripture is the reason why Christians believe God is triune. The doctrine of the Trinity is the best interpretation of the Bible. There are five elements found repeatedly throughout the Bible’s text that are best interpreted through the lens of the Trinity:

– There is only one God (e.g., Romans 3:30) 

– The Father is God (e.g., John 6:27)

– Jesus is God (e.g., John 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Peter 1:1) 

– The Holy Spirit is God (e.g., Acts 5:3–5) 

– These three are distinct Persons (e.g., John 14:16–17)

Those who reject this biblical truth of the Trinity, cannot worship God in the way He has revealed in His holy Word, the Bible. They can change their minds now and believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:36a) and worship the Triune God “on earth” and “in heaven” forever (Revelation 5:13; cf. Philippians 2:9-11). But if they refuse to believe Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life, God’s wrath “abides on him” or her forever (John 3:36b) and they will bow down before Jesus as their Lord “under the earth” in the lake of fire (Revelation 5:13; 20:15; cf. Philippians 2:9-11).  

As we looked upon the inhabitants of heaven during the Tribulation on earth, we saw an innumerable gathering of people before the throne of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles from the church age (“twenty-four elders”) and the Tribulation (7:9, 14). What part of this great multitude of people in heaven will be there because of you and me? Because we were faithful to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15) and make disciples of those who believed in Christ (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for revealing Your great mercy during this unprecedented time of judgment on the earth. Thank You that by believing in Jesus we can be a part of this innumerable gathering of people worshiping You and Your Son around Your throne in heaven forever. We praise Your name and thank You that Israel will finally fulfill their covenant promise – to be a light to the Gentiles and to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom throughout the world during the last half of the Tribulation period. Thank You that by Your grace, we can also invest in helping to populate heaven by sharing the gospel with the lost and making disciples of those who believe in Christ during what time we have left on the earth. Please lead us to the people Your Spirit has prepared to hear and believe the gospel so we may share it with them. All blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to You both now and forever, O Lord God. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1524-1525.

2. Jehovah Witnesses are the most common responders who adhere to this view.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 99 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 424; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), pg. 116.

4. Adapted from Constable, pg. 99 and Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 167.  

5. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pp. 291-291.

6. 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. 1526.

7. 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. 1149.

8. Ibid., pg. 1150.

9. Ibid.  

10. Ibid.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 244.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2384.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1526.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Constable, pg. 100.

17. Ibid., cites W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1966), pg. 158.

18. Ibid., cites George Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950), pg. 190.

19. Ibid., cites F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation, (New York: Publication Office of “Our Hope,” n.d.), pg. 230.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 491-92.

22. Ibid.

23. The last few paragraphs are adapted from former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi’s book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 55-57.

Revelation 6 – Part 2

“So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8

In Revelation 6, after the church has been caught up to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (Revelation 4-5; cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11), the seal judgments are opened by the Lamb, Jesus Christ, at the very beginning of the Tribulation (Revelation 6:1-2). 1 After the apostle John received the vision of the Lamb opening the first of seven seal judgments containing a Rider on a white horse representing the Lord Jesus Christ about to begin a series of long-range judgments using His bow from heaven against rebellious humankind on earth (6:1-2), he writes: “When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ ” (Revelation 6:3). After the second seal is opened, Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” (Revelation 6:4).

This second seal judgment will “take peace from the earth.” As a result, murder, violence, and war run rampant as never before. 2 In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus revealed that during the initial stages of the seven-year Tribulation on earth, there will be “wars and rumors of wars.” (Matthew 24:6). He says, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” (Matthew 24:7). Christ points out that such things will be “the beginning of sorrows.” (Matthew 24:8).

Even though most commentators view the first half of the seven years as a time of peace, it is clear that ‘the beginning of sorrows’ includes a world completely given over to war and bloodshed. However terrible and destructive war is, the sorrows that follow are more catastrophic. The colossal bloodshed during these beginning stages is pictured by the fiery red horse and a great sword given to its rider.” 3

This worldwide conflict during the first half of the Tribulation period does not mean the Antichrist’s covenant of peace with Israel will be broken (cf. Daniel 9:27a). This will not happen until the middle of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Great Tribulation (cf. Daniel 9:27b; Matthew 24:15). 4

Next John writes, “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.” (Revelation 6:5). The opening of this third seal would usher in economic instability to the first half of the Tribulation period, a reality depicted by a “a black horse” with the rider holding a “pair of scales in his hand,” used to measure out basic commodity prices. 5

Then John heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’” (Revelation 6:6). As a result of increasing warfare during the first half of the Tribulation period, there would be great famine and inflation (cf. Matthew 24:7), with food (“wheat… barley”) costing a day’s wages which was “a denarius” in Roman currency. 6In John’s day, a denarius would purchase eight to sixteen times as much food as what he said it will purchase in the future.” 7 Since war had caused food supplies to be greatly reduced, strict control was implemented (“do not harm [tamper] with the oil and the wine”) over prices (6:6; cf. Matthew 24:7).

The causes of the famine were not extremely severe, since they killed only “the wheat” and “barley,” but not the vines (“wine”) and olive trees (“oil”) whose roots go deeper. 8 As the Tribulation grows worse, the wealthy as well as the poor will suffer, but at this early stage, the poor will suffer more than the rich. 9

At the middle of the Tribulation period, The Antichrist will be Satan’s CEO of the world’s economy. He will set interest rates, prices, stock values, and supply levels. Everything will be nationalized or internationalized and placed under his personal control. With the chaos created by the Rapture and the collapse of the world economy predicted in Revelation 6:5-6, people will be willing to give all power over to one man. Much like the Germans turned to Hitler after the runaway inflation in Weimar Germany, the world will turn to the man who seems to have answers for the crushing problems they’re facing. From the midpoint of the Tribulation until the second coming of Christ, no one will be able to buy or sell without the Antichrist’s permission (Revelation 13:16-17). People all over the world will be compelled to take his mark. His one-world economy will be run by his sidekick the false prophet (Revelation 13:11-18).” 10

Next John observes, 7 When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ 8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8). After the Lamb “opened the fourth seal,” John saw “a pale horse” whose rider “was Death, and Hades followed with him.” This judgment will reduce earth’s population on an unprecedented level; one-fourth of humanity will die – nearly two billion people if it happened today. 11 “Hades,” the place unbelievers go immediately after death (Luke 16:22-23), follows the rider named “Death. “This image reveals that as Death rides forth like a harvester among the grain, he scoops up victims and casts them into Hades’ sack.” 12

Jesus gave these enemies the “power” to kill “a fourth of the” world’s population through war (“sword”), famine (“hunger”), disease (“death”), and attacks by ferocious “beasts [animals] of the earth” (6:8b).

I must admit, it’s hard to come to terms with the severity of these judgments. This stampede of deception, wars, pestilence, death, and destruction make every tragedy we’ve seen in world history pale in comparison! Only the emotionally numb could fail to wonder, ‘How could God allow such things to happen, much less decree them?’  Where in the world is our loving heavenly Father?

“In the midst of our concern about these judgments, we must never forget that God is absolutely just and fair in punishing evil. Wickedness deserves to be judged. Yet in His abundant grace, God continually tempers His wrath and demonstrates demonstrates mercy. In fact, Jesus taught that God will even put a limit on the days of the Tribulation (Mark 13:20). This may not seem significant until we realize that, if He does not impose that limit, everyone in the world will perish!

“We should also recognize that most of the judgments in Revelation come through the work of evil agents. God allows evil in the world, but He is not the author of evil.” 13

“One theologian writes, ‘Specifically, it will not do to accuse God of evil intentions or malevolent acts. He is sovereign, but not blameworthy, for He is righteous in all His deeds (Ps. 11:7; Dan. 9:14). He oversees all things in accord with His will, but He is not the source, the cause, or the author of sin.’” 14

The fact that God reveals far in advance, the seriousness and severity of His future judgments against unbelief and sin, reminds us that His judgments never occur prematurely or haphazardly. This also shows His grace in allowing people ample opportunity to heed the warning and look in faith, to His Son (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-9). 15

Prayer: Father God, thank You for recording these severe judgments ahead of time so we can prepare by believing in Your Son, Jesus Christ, for His gift of salvation. For those of us who already believed in Jesus, please help us to warn others of what is coming so they can trust in Christ alone for their salvation and escape the coming wrath that will overtake this world with unprecedented suffering. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 143.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1522.

3. Ibid.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 87.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2381.

6. Ibid.

7. Constable, pg. 87 cites Cicero, In Verrem 3.81.

8. Ibid., cites Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (New York: Macmillan, 1922), pg. 521.

9. Ibid.

10. Hitchcock, pp. 262-263.

11. Retrieved on November 24, 2021 from https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ .

12. Vacendak, pg. 1523.

13. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 151-152.

14. Ibid., pg. 152 cites Robert A. Pyne, “Humanity and Sin,” Understanding Christian Theology, pg. 758.

15. Ibid., pg. 158.

A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

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 Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

Revelation 5 – Part 1

“But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’” Revelation 5:5

Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll writes, I never cease to marvel at the advances of the modern world. The field of medicine has given us a life expectancy higher than ever. In many countries, even some people living in poverty live longer and have more comforts than kings of the past. Technology has sped up communication and transportation, essentially shrinking the globe. Within seconds, a person in Canada can chat with a friend in Thailand. Within a day, they can shake hands. At least in the Western world, humans have overcome many social and political problems, learning to face new challenges in the twenty-first century. We human beings have certainly come a long way!

“Or have we?

Over a century ago, liberal theologians thought we were on the verge of ridding ourselves of the barbarism, imperialism, and superstition that had led the world astray for so long. This included what they saw as the ‘mythical’ trappings of Christianity—things like the Virgin Birth, the deity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Armed with modern science and philosophy, those enlightened intelligentsia were convinced that people could finally mold the world into what it was meant to be—an enduring kingdom of peace and prosperity on earth. In short, they believed that humanity, equipped with the latest ideologies and technologies, was worthy to forge a glorious destiny, trusting in human ability rather than trusting in God.

“As you probably know, this overconfidence in humanity evaporated like a morning fog. In 1914 an assassin’s bullet ignited the fire that exploded into World War I. Germany was armed to the hilt with the most advanced weapons produced at the time. And they had the unwavering support of Germany’s leading philosophers and even theologians! That great conflict, dubbed ‘The War to End All Wars,’ was quickly followed by the terror and atrocities of World War II. By then, mass killing had been reduced to a science at Auschwitz, and science had also been used to create the massive destruction of the atomic bomb! Then came the horrors of terrorism, which military authorities say is here to stay. The reality of human depravity has dashed the misplaced hopes of humanistic philosophy and liberal theology. Today the world is left wandering in unbelief, doubt, uncertainty, and fear. People wonder whether anyone or anything is able to truly remove the evil around us.

“Is anyone worthy to vanquish wickedness and usher in a world of true peace and prosperity? As the world continues its desperate and disappointing search for worldly answers to life’s problems, the Bible reveals the solution in clear words and vivid images. In Revelation 5 we experience the inexpressible joy that John felt when the attention of all creation finally centers on the only One who can take the reins of history and tame a world spinning out of control—Jesus, the worthy Lamb.” 1

Before God pours His wrath on rebellious humankind on earth (Revelation 6-18), He describes the Person Who is worthy to open a scroll containing God’s judgments to be unleashed on the earth during the 7-year Tribulation period. Chapter 5 continues the vision the apostle John was given of God and His throne room in Chapter 4. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1). The “scroll” that John saw “in the right hand of” God the Father is representative of the judgments God will pour out on the earth throughout the Tribulation period (cf. Revelation 6:1ff).The opening of just one seal alone, the fourth seal, will result in the death of one fourth of the world’s population (cf. Revelation 6:7-8). 2

This “scroll” was the focus of John’s attention in chapter 5, and it is what Jesus Christ opens (unseals) in chapter 6, resulting in the judgments that will be unleashed upon the earth. This rolled document was so full of words that John could see writing on the outside (“on the back”) as well as on the “inside” of the scroll (cf. Ezekiel 2:9-10). 3 Papyrus documents have been discovered that contain writing on both surfaces of the sheets, though this was unusual. 4

Someone, probably God, had “sealed” the scroll with “seven seals,” suggesting the profound nature of the revelation it contained. 5 Roman law required that people seal their wills “seven” times because they were very important documents. 6 The perfect number (i.e., seven) of seals may also hint at the absolute purity of the scroll. 7

“In John’s day, people used a seal to keep the contents of a document secret, unchangeable, and free from tampering—until some authoritative person broke the seal. In this case, after Jesus broke the first seal, the scroll unrolled until the second seal kept it from opening further. Then He had to break the second seal in order to reveal more of the contents, and so on. Probably the seals were located on the edge of the scroll.” 8

The scroll is like a title deed to the earth. It depicts God’s ownership of all creation and right to hold accountable those who misuse it and thus dishonor Him. Through judgment administered by Jesus, God once again will lay claim to His creation, which was plunged into sin by Adam in Genesis 3.” 9

Because God the Father has decreed that He will not execute His judgments on mankind personally (cf. John 5:22), 10 John hears “a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’” (Revelation 5:2). This is the second of twenty-one times “loud voice” occurs in Revelation (cf. 1:10; 5:2, 12; 6:10; 7:2, 10; 8:13; 10:3; 11:12, 15; 12:10; 14:2, 7, 9, 15; 16:1, 17; 18:2; 19:1, 17; 21:3). His “loud voice” manifested his authority and the importance of what he said. 11 “The Greek word rendered ‘scroll’ is biblion, from which is derived the word ‘Bible.’” 12

One with sufficient authority and worthiness was necessary to “open the scroll and to loose” or break “its seals,” to unleash the judgments on the world that it contained. Next John writes, “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.” (Revelation 5:3). After searching every level of the universe, no created being “in heaven or on the earth or under the earth” in Hades possessed the authority or ability to “open” or even “look at” the scroll.

“In fact, no one is worthy even to look at the Lord’s plan for worldwide judgment, much less administer it, prompting John to weep.” 13 “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.” (Revelation 5:4). John “wept much because no one was found” who was qualified to “open the scroll” and execute God’s wrath and bring His enemies into submission to Him.

“John knew that if no one had been found worthy, the hopeless condition of the present world would continue indefinitely. The suffering, pain, sickness, and death that characterize everyday life would never come to an end! Yet John’s weeping may have had another dimension. For over sixty years he had placed all his hope in Jesus Christ to turn the world right side up. If heaven’s search for a worthy heir failed, so would his confidence in Jesus Christ.”  14

Spiritually minded people long for that future day when the evil cosmos will be subjugated, and God will be obeyed. Because no one is found worthy to execute God’s wrath and bring this subjugation about, John is extremely grieved.” 15

How deeply grieved are we to see the postponement of God’s wrath upon the earth which will bring all His enemies into subjection to Him? Does our heart yearn to see God’s righteousness bring to justice those who have rebelled against Him and caused much suffering and pain to His servants? For centuries, believers have prayed for God’s kingdom to come on earth (Matthew 6:10) only to be disappointed. Perhaps our generation will be the one to see this come to pass.

John’s grief was probably lifted when he writes, “But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5). One of the twenty-four “elders” representing the church in God’s throne room in heaven, told John not to weep because Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has prevailed to open the scroll and its seven seals” to execute God’s wrath on the earth. The “Lion . . . of Judah” (Genesis 49:9) and the “Root” or Offspring “of David” (Isaiah 11:1, 10; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Matthew 22:42-43; Romans 15:12) are both titles of the Messiah-God, Who would fulfill the Old Testament promises of salvation and rule. This is the only place in the New Testament where they occur together, however. As God’s ultimate Anointed One, Jesus alone possessed the authority and qualifications necessary for this task. 16

The word “prevailed” is the Greek word enikēsen and is from the same word used in Revelation 2 and 3 to describe the victorious believers who earn the title of “overcomer” and thereby reign eternally with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). The implication is that Christ was completely and perfectly faithful to God in His role as Messiah. He is the ultimate Overcomer, and therefore only He has earned the right “to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” as the Executor of God’s judgments. 17

This scene reflects the fact that sinful people, even when they are redeemed, fall short of the qualifications necessary for one who could judge the earth. But Christ, by virtue of His full divinity, sinless humanity, and atoning death, is qualified. God the Father has granted judging authority to the Son (see John 5:22, 27). Jesus died to redeem humanity at His first coming. He will judge in order to redeem the entire creation at His second.” 18

Through tear-filled eyes now sparkling with renewed hope, John looked for the Lion—but instead he saw something else. 19 “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6). John now saw the “Lamb” of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:6-7; John 1:29), “in the midst of the throne” room of God. The Lamb of God now took center stage among all the angelic creatures and the twenty-four elders gathered around the throne, as the central character and most important Personage in the entire heavenly scene (cf. 3:21; 4:6; 7:17). The Lamb “stood” ready to complete His work, bearing the marks (wounds, scars) of His death (“as if slain”). 20

“In one brilliant stroke John portrays the central theme of NT revelation—victory through sacrifice.” 21

The Lamb possessed “seven horns” representing His fullness of power and strength (Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:1, 10; 2 Samuel 22:3; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalm 75:4; 132:17; Daniel 7:20-21; 8:5) 22 and “seven eyes” representing His fullness of wisdom and discernment through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (“seven Spirits of God,” cf. 1:4; 4:5) 23  which made Him aware of all that was taking place on “the earth.” 

Because Jesus is qualified to bring judgment to earth, “Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” (Revelation 5:7). John saw the Lamb of God come and take the “scroll out of the right hand of” the Father “who sat on the throne” to signify the transfer of authority to execute judgment from the Father to the Son. The word “took” (eilēphen) is in the perfect tense to provide a vivid dramatic picture of the actual scene. 24 The transfer of authority was complete. During His earthly ministry Jesus had said, For the Father… has committed all judgment to the Son… and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22, 27).

In conclusion, Jesus Christ is the only One worthy to execute God the Father’s judgments on rebellious humankind during the Tribulation period (5:1-7). This serves as a motivation for believers now to live for Him Who will judge rebellion in the future.

Prayer: Holy Father in heaven, for centuries people have trusted in themselves and their own ingenuity to rid this earth of evil only to find themselves overcome by more unbelief, doubt, uncertainty, and fear.As the world continues its search for solutions to life’s problems, You remind us in Your throne room in heaven of the only One Who is qualified to tame a world that is spinning out of control – Your Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb Who was slain and the Lion Who alone is worthy to judge the earth. Since Jesus will judge rebellion in the future, we who know Him as our Savior bow before Him and commit ourselves to give Him all our love and devotion. For He alone is worthy of all glory, honor, and power both now and forever!!! 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), pp. 137-139.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1519.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 74.

4. Ibid., pg. 75 cites Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East Revised ed. (Translated by Lionel R. M. Strachen. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), pg. 35.

5. Ibid., cites R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 1 International Critical Commentary seriesa (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg. 138.

6. Ibid., cites Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1965), pp. 182-183. 7. Ibid., cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol 1 The Daily Study Bible series 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 209; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 142.

8. Ibid.

9. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2379.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1519.

11. Constable, pg. 75.

12. 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.

13. Evans, pg. 2379.

14. Swindoll, pg. 140. 

15. Vacendak, pg. 1519.

16. Constable, pg. 76.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1519.  

18. Evans, pg. 2379.

19. Swindoll, pg. 140.

20. Constable, pg. 77.

21. Ibid., cites Mounce, pg. 144.

22. Swindoll, pg. 140; Constable, pg. 77; Vacendak, pg. 1520; Walvoord, pg. 164.

23. Vacendak, pg. 1520; Walvoord, pg. 164.  

24. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 216335-216339.

Revelation 4 – Part 1

“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” Revelation 4:2

After recording “the things which you have seen” (1:19a) pertaining to the vision of the ascended Lord Jesus walking among seven lampstands in Chapter 1, and the things which are” (1:19b) involving Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Chapters 2 and 3, the apostle John transitions to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. The apostle now records the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22.

John writes, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’” (Revelation 4:1). The phrase “after these things” refers to the vision John received of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches (2:1-3:22). This is a reference to the church age—that is, the period of history between Christ’s ascension and His Rapture or removal of believers from the earth. 1

After recording Jesus’ final message to the church of Laodicea, those last words were rather significant considering what John was about to see next. The vision of Christ standing outside the lukewarm church of Laodicea knocking on a closed door and promising a throne to the one who overcomes (3:20-21) suddenly shifts to a contrasting vision of an open door in heaven where John sees an eternal and glorious throne (4:1-2). 2 Twice in the book of Revelation, we are told that the door to heaven was opened. The first time was so the church could be received into heaven at the Rapture (4:1-4). The second time was so Christ could leave heaven with His church to return to earth (19:11-20).

Before we look at the details of this vision John received, let’s consider what is meant by the word “heaven.” The Greek word translated “heaven” is ouronos. It refers to “the portion or portions of the universe generally distinguished from planet earth.” 3 The word “heaven” is divided into three levels in the Bible: 4

– The “first heaven” includes the sphere surrounding the earth known as our atmosphere where birds fly and clouds float (Genesis 1:6-8, 20).

– The “second heaven” includes everything in the cosmos above the earth’s atmosphere—the moon, sun, planets, stars, and galaxies (Genesis 1:14-18). From a modern worldview perspective, both the first and second “heavens” are technically still part of the physical universe. But that is not the case with the “third heaven.”

– The “third heaven” was the term used to describe the dwelling place of God, the angels, and any other spirit beings. The apostle Paul said he “was caught up to the third heaven… into Paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4). Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:2-3; Acts 7:59-8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). Hence, the “third heaven” is what we might call the “spiritual realm,” a plane of reality accessible only by heavenly invitation, like the one John received in Revelation 4:1. This is where God lives and rules. 

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16). 

But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10, 15)!

So, when John was taken up into heaven, he was not transported to another planet or even another galaxy. Rather, he was caught up to the ‘third heaven,’ to the presence of the living God.” 5

John then hears a booming “voice… like a trumpet,” most likely belonging to Christ, inviting him to “come up” through this open door in heaven where he would receive revelations about “things which must take place” during Daniel’s seventieth week of years (Daniel 9:27) which is the 7-year Tribulation period (4:1c; cf. 4:1-11:19).

In Revelation 1-3, John has been on earth on the island of Patmos. But now his venue is about to shift from earth to heaven where he can get a heavenly perspective about future events. It is helpful to understand that scenes alternate from heaven to earth throughout Revelation 4-20. 

This alternating pattern reassures readers that the chaos on earth is being controlled by heaven. God is on His throne and superintends all that transpires on earth. This should be a supreme comfort in uncertain, troubled times.” 6

After Revelation 2–3 no reference is made to the Church again until 22:16, and so some see 4:1 as a picture of the Rapture of the Church. However, the apostle alone, and not the Church, is summoned by this voice. Therefore, this is an invitation to John to enter God’s dwelling place and receive new revelation regarding His future plans.” 7

Next, John writes, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2). “Immediately” John “was in the Spirit.” To be “in the Spirit” means toenter the spiritual perspective. That is, to see things that physical eyes cannot see, as when believers are commanded to pray in the Spirit (Jude 20). Naturally, certain aspects of John’s experience of being in the Spirit were unique and not repeatable since he was writing Holy Scripture. But much of it is repeatable. Believers today can abide in the Spirit, receiving understanding of God’s will and work. Too often, though, we merely ‘visit’ the Spirit, so to speak, without ‘living with him’ in a condition of heightened spiritual awareness.” 8

With the proper spiritual perspective, John is transported through the open door in heaven where he saw “a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (4:2b). This is like the perspective described in Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” as “seraphim” stood above Him (Isaiah 6:1-2). 9 The “One… on the throne” (4:2b) was God the Father because both the Son (5:5-7) and the Spirit (4:5) are set apart from Him. 10 The fact that John saw God on His throne before the series of judgments are given underlines the sovereign control of God (cf. 4:1–5:14; 8:1-6; 15:1-8). Heaven determines what happens on earth. So even when we feel out of control as we watch the world move quickly toward end-time events, we can rest in God the Father’s rulership from heaven.

“And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:3). The phrase, “He who sat there,” is not found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, so this description pertains to God’s throne, not God Himself. These verses would read, “And One sat on the throne which is like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance” (4:2b-3a). 11

The description of God’s throne having the “appearance” of “jasper and a sardius stone” signifies the absolute purity (“jasper” is clear as crystal, like a diamond; cf. 21:11) and the righteous anger toward sin (“sardius” was a fiery red stone) that will characterize the series of judgments coming from God’s throne. The “rainbow around the throne” was like “an emerald” having different shades of green, reminding us of Genesis 9:12-17, where God designated the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with Noah never to destroy the earth with a flood again. Each time a rainbow occurs in the Bible, it is a reminder of God’s perfect faithfulness to His promises. These three stones together “reveal that God’s throne is a throne of grace (cf. Hebrews 4:16). Even in the terrors of the Tribulation, God is gracious, because if He did not limit it to seven years, no one would be left alive (cf. Matthew 24:21-22).” 12

John’s vision of God’s throne room and its majesty, communicates some profound truths about God the Father. He is the center and source of all creation. Everything points to and revolves around Him. He occupies a throne from which judgments are made that are rooted in His absolute purity, righteous anger toward sin, and His perfect faithfulness to His promises. God the Father has unshakable authority over all things (Psalm 115:3; Daniel 4:35). His sovereign rule is fixed, permanent, and unwavering. Once we personally come to grips with John’s vision of God’s throne room, our response can be nothing less than profound admiration, unwavering commitment, and deep reverence for the eternal King. 13

John’s vision reminds us that true worship starts and ends with the living God of the universe. Unfortunately, many twenty-first century Christians, including myself, have lost sight of what John experienced in God’s throne room.

Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll, writes, “We wonder: Does worship mean I have to hold my hands up when I sing and pray, like some Christians do? Does worship mean I need to close my eyes and envision something heavenly, lest I become distracted by something earthly? Does worship mean I have feelings that are a little bit ecstatic, maybe bordering on the supernatural?” 14

Swindoll continues, “Worship is ascribing ‘worth’ to something or someone. We attribute value, honor, and devotion to our object of worship. When we truly worship God, we turn all of our attention, affection, and adoration toward Him. That’s the missing jewel—worshiping God by ascribing supreme worth to Him, for He alone is worthy. God alone is the subject of our praise and the object of our worship. We miss it when we focus on the horizontal—on people and things—rather than on the vertical—on God and God alone. It has become too common for Christians to surrender everything for their work yet sacrifice nothing in worshiping the One who gave His life to save ours. Stop and think. Is that you?” 15

Before we pray, I want to invite you to take some deep breathes and release to God whatever is distracting you from Him. It may be work, a relationship, an illness, a financial burden, or an emotion. Then read Revelation 4:1-11. Notice that all of heaven is focused on the One Who sits on the throne. They are praising Him for Who He is (holy, righteous, faithful) and for what He has done (created and sustains all things). They are not distracted by each other or by the furniture of the throne room, or by their own wandering thoughts. Instead, they keep their eyes, ears, and hearts on the One Who is worthy of all praise. 16

Prayer: Father God, thank You for transporting John into Your throne room in heaven so all of us who read this can heighten our spiritual perspective. Thank You for God the Holy Spirit Who enables us to see things that physical eyes cannot see. The first thing John sees Father, is You sitting on Your throne, ruling the universe. As chaos worsens in the world, we can find comfort knowing You are still in control and that heaven determines what happens on the earth. Thank You for the appearance of three stones which indicate that the judgments that come from Your throne are rooted in Your absolute purity, righteousness, and faithfulness to Your promises. None of Your decisions made on this throne are corrupt, sinful, or based on deception. Because You still sit on a throne of grace, Your decisions remain gracious and invite us to approach You with confidence. Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ Who has provided a new and living way into Your heavenly throne room. In His mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2377.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 126.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 737.  

4. Swindoll, pg. 128.

5. Ibid., pp. 128-129.

6. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 82.

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. 1516.

8. Evans, pg. 2377.

9. Ibid., pg. 2377.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1517.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid. 

13. Swindoll, pg. 127.

14. Ibid., pg. 133. 

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., pp. 133-134.

Revelation 2 – Part 2

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

The second church the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ addresses is in Smyrna.And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” (Revelation 2:8). Smyrna was another seaport on the Aegean Sea; it was about 40 miles north of Ephesus. Late in the first century it was a large, wealthy city with a population of about 100,000. It still thrives today—as ‘Izmir’—with a population of about 200,000.” 1

To “the church in Smyrna” Jesus describes Himself as “the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” to encourage these believers facing persecution and possible death, that He has conquered death and guarantees their eternal lives with Him (2:8).  As “the First and the Last,” Jesus is the eternal God Who is in control of their past, present, and future. Christ suffered and died at the hands of His persecutors and was raised to life from the grave. He can offer hope to Christians like those at Smyrna who were also facing persecutions.

Today, Christians are facing similar persecutions around the world. “Violent mobs are viciously attacking Christians, as the Pakistani government also increases persecution… A Christian man in Pakistan faces a possible death sentence, after already having spent four years in jail, because he was accused of blasphemy. He could literally die for his faith at the hands of the government of Pakistan. At the same time, about 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls (minors) are being forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men EACH YEAR in Pakistan. Instead of protecting innocent Christians, the Pakistani government is using blasphemy laws to further harass and persecute Christians.” 2

In Afghanistan, Christians are suffering at the hands of the Taliban. “There are already multiple reports of the Taliban going door-to-door looking for Christians to kill, and unmarried women to take captive. Christians in Afghanistan fear the genocidal persecution suffered by Christians in Iraq and Syria. Christians are hiding in their homes in Afghanistan for fear of what the Taliban will do to them.” 3

“Persecution of Christians in India continues even as the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews the state of human rights in the country during its 48th session. Just days after we filed a critical report with the HRC, detailing incidents of persecution of Christians by Hindu mobs, another mob of Hindu nationalists attacked a pastor for allegedly converting people to Christianity. This did not happen in a dark alley; the pastor was attacked and beaten inside a police station in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.” 4

“Radical Islamic militias are targeting Christians for slaughter all across Africa just because of their faith. In Nigeria, more than 120 Christian kids were recently kidnapped from a Baptist school. A few were freed or escaped, but more than 80 helpless children are still being held for ransom by radical Islamic gunmen. But this has become a way of life in Nigeria. Christian teens are abducted and forced into slavery. Christian pastors have been beheaded. This should outrage the entire world. But too few are speaking up.” 5

These persecuted Christians can find hope in the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ Who conquered death through His resurrection and guarantees never-ending life to those who believe in Him (Revelation 2:8; John 11:25-26). Believers in Christ can face suffering and death without fear because of Who Jesus is and What He has done for them.

Next, Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9). The name of the city, Smyrna, means ‘myrrh,’ an ordinary perfume. It was also used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle, and in embalming dead bodies (cf. Ex. 30:23; Ps. 45:8; Song 3:6; Matt. 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39). While the Christians of the church at Smyrna were experiencing the bitterness of suffering, their faithful testimony was like myrrh or sweet perfume to God.” 6

Jesus knew their “works” amid “tribulation,” and reminded them that though they were financially poor, they would become spiritually “rich” because of the promised rewards Jesus would give to them (2:9a; cf. 2:10-11; Matthew 6:19-21; 2 Corinthians 6:10; James 2:5). Some who claimed to be “Jews” were actually “a synagogue of Satan” because they were doing the devil’s work, opposing, and slandering believers. 7 Throughout church history the primary persecution of Christians has come from religious people who often think they are serving God. In reality, they are serving the enemy of God – Satan himself.

The Lord told these believers, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10). The exalted Lord Jesus instructs them not to “fear” the sufferings that were about to take place. “The devil,” acting through the Roman authorities, was about “to throw some of” them “into prison” that they “may be tested” for “ten days.” The phrase “ten days” probably refers to a period of ten literal 24-hour days, that lay in the near future of the original recipients of this letter. 8 “There is nothing in this text that provides a clue that we should take this number in a figurative sense.” 9

The risen Lord Jesus commands these believers to “be faithful until death” to receive “the crown of life” from Jesus. The “crown of life” is not the same as eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift we receive apart from any works the moment we believe in Jesus (John 3:15-16 4:10-14; Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). The crown of life, on the other hand, is a reward that we earn when we endure persecution and suffering for Christ until death (Revelation 2:10). The crown of life “is not a literal crown but a reference to the abundant quality of existence faithful believers in Christ will experience in eternity. If the believers in Smyrna die for Christ in this life, they will receive an eternal experience that is totally opposite to the troubles they faced on earth.” 10 Believers who receive this reward will have a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life in heaven.

Jesus concludes His message to the church in Smyrna: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11). Jesus promises the faithful believer (“he who overcomes”) that he “shall not be hurt by the second death” (2:11). The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). It follows the first death, which is separation of the soul from the body. 11

Arminian commentators err in taking this verse to mean, ‘Believers who do not overcome shall be hurt by the second death.’ Reformed commentators also err by reading it this way: ‘All true believers are overcomers and therefore will not be hurt by the second death.’ Both views have Jesus offering escape from hell for faithful obedience to Him.” 12

John’s readers are also reminded that even if they lose their physical lives, they will never lose eternal life. He reminds them, ‘You will never be hurt by the second death.’ The word ‘never’ is very emphatic in Greek, a double negative (ou mē, ‘definitely not’). This expression is common in categorical and emphatic denials.” 13

Since no believer can ever experience the second death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15; 21:8) or lose eternal life (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29), John must be using a figure of speech called a litotes which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. 14 For example, “If you do me this favor, I will not forget you.” The phrase, “I will not forget you,” is a litotes for “I will repay you very well.” A Biblical example of litotes is Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name,” meaning God will definitely remember all your hard work. 15

There is a problem, however, with taking this promise as litotes. If it is true that one who overcomes is not hurt by the second death, then what happens if one does not overcome? Would it not follow that he would be hurt by the second death, that is, damned? If this is truly litotes, then the answer is, ‘No.’ If we say, ‘Michael Jordan is not a bad basketball player,’ we mean he is a very good basketball player. However, the reverse does not follow, ‘If you are not Michael Jordan, you are definitely not a good basketball player.’ A litotes cannot be read in reverse.” 16

Dillow writes, “Ed Ediger correctly observes, ‘Jesus does not say that a failure to “overcome” will result in “the second death.” Possible implications, particularly opposite ones, are not necessarily intended by the speaker. Negative implications are not always true.” 17

“In regard to Revelation 2:11, Lang says, ‘It is not safe to reverse divine statements, as is done by inferring here that a believer who does not overcome will be hurt of the second death’ (emphasis his). The passage is not addressed to nonbelievers, it is addressed to overcomers, that is, believers, and according to Jesus, believers will never experience the second death (John 6:39).” 18

In Revelation 2:10-11, the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus is promising churches and believers who are faithful to Him until death, a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life which is the exact opposite of the second death. Suffering believers in the first century and today can find comfort and encouragement from Jesus’ glorious promises in these verses.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, You are the First and the Last, the eternal God Who is in control of our past, present, and future. Because You died and came back to life, You can relate to us when we suffer and guarantee eternal life in heaven to all who believe in You. As children of God, we do not need to be afraid of persecution and possible death because You have conquered death. Although the first death may hurt us, it is only briefly, but the second death will never touch us at all, because You have secured eternal life for us with You forever. We pray that in Your power we may remain faithful to You until death, knowing that You will give us the crown of life so we may experience a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life in heaven which is the exact opposite of the second death. With the crown of life, we can bring You more glory and honor throughout eternity! In Your life-giving name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 34.

2. Retrieved from an October 4, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

3. Retrieved from an August 24, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

4. Retrieved from an American Center for Law and Justice September 14, 2021 article by Shaheryar Gill entitled, “Mob Violence and Persecution of Christians Grows Defending Persecuted Christians in India at the United Nations.”

5.Retrieved from an August 16, 2021 email from American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

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. 2372.

8. Constable, pp. 35-36 cites Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd., n.d.), pg. 69.

9. Ibid., pg. 36.

10. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1505.

11. Constable, pg. 37.

12. Vacendak, pp. 1505-1506.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 962.

14. Ibid.; Constable, pg. 37 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981.), pg. 119.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1506.

16. Dillow, pp. 962-963.

17. Dillow, pg. 963 cites Edwin Aaron Ediger, Faith in Jesus: What Does it Mean to Believe in Him? (Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press: A Division of Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 393.

18. Dillow, pg. 963 cites G. H. Lang, Revelation, reprint ed. (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing. Co., 1985), pg. 96.