Overcoming the Fear of Death

14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14-15

We are living in a world that is becoming more fragile due to COVID, the war between Russia and Ukraine, terrorism, and cancer to name a few reasons. These factors (and others) are causing more people to think about death.

Often death takes place much sooner than most people anticipate whether it is due to an accident, a mass murderer, or a terminal illness. As tragic as these things are, death and dying are not God’s idea. The Bible tells us that “the devil… had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14b) because he tempts people to sin, and sin brings forth death (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 5:12; James 1:15). 1

For many people the greatest fear they have is the “fear of death.” Satan uses this fear to reduce people to slaves (“subject to bondage”). Because of the fear of death, some people exercise vigorously every day while others do not exercise at all. Because of the fear of death some people will never get on an airplane. Because of the fear of death some people never want to see a doctor. But for others, a doctor is the first person they do want to visit. Some people are so afraid of death they must make light of it to avoid crying about it. Many people spend a fortune trying to make themselves look younger because they are terrified of dying. The fear of death reduces us to slaves. 2

The good news is that Jesus Christ became like us (“inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same”) so He could conquer death with His own death on the cross. Christ took the punishment we deserved for our sins (death) and died in our place. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead victorious over death so “He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” “Through” His “death,” Jesus conquered death to “release” people who believe in Him from the “fear of death.”

Christ promised, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26). Jesus guarantees a person who believes in Him that “though he may die” physically, “he shall live” eternally with Him. Yes, our breath stops, and our bodies become cold. But the Bible promises that “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, all who believe in Christ never need to be afraid of death because He promises “never” ending life to them. The moment we die we are in the presence of the Lord.

Evangelist Larry Moyer writes, “I found out that the pilot of the plane that was flown into the second tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was a believer in Jesus Christ. I am here to tell you; the terrorists did not defeat him. He defeated the terrorists. Because he did not go down, he went up.” 3

If you had died in that plane crash, would you have gone down or up? You can know for sure you will go up by believing in Christ alone to take you to heaven when you die. Jesus is not asking you to be baptized, go to church, live a good life, keep the Ten Commandments, take all the sacraments, or pray everyday. He is simply asking you to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life. The moment you do, you can see death as a new adventure rather than your greatest fear.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for becoming human like us so You could defeat the devil and his power of death through Your own death so those who believe in You can be released from the fear of death. Please lead us to those who are afraid to die so we can share the good news of Your never-ending life to all who believe in You and You alone. Thank You for the simplicity of the gospel that delivers people from their greatest fear. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Dr. Larry Moyer’s sermon, “Four Things A Loving God Wants Us To Know About Death and Dying,” contributed on August 5, 2009, at sermoncentral.com.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

Revelation 22 – Part 8

And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17

After the ascended Lord Jesus Christ promised to give obedient believers eternal rewards (22:12-15), Christ then makes plain the divine origin and intended readership of the book of Revelation when He says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16). The combination, “I, Jesus” is used nowhere else in the New Testament and signifies the unique role that Jesus has in producing this book, and in this way bolsters its authority. 1

Christ “sent” His “angel to testify to” the apostle John “these things” in the book of Revelation about His soon return and rewards “in the churches” so His readers will know the message has come from God Himself and is therefore trustworthy. 2 The book of Revelation was written about the future specifically for “churches” not only in the first century (Revelation 2-3), but for all churches to the present day. 3

The message of Revelation is as reliable as its Source. Jesus is the Ancestor (“the Root”) and Descendant (“Offspring”) “of David” and therefore fulfills all the prophecies concerning David’s family. 4 Historically Christ comes from King David (Matthew 1:1; cf. Isaiah 11:11; Revelation 5:5) 5 who established the old Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, but David’s greatest Descendant will establish the glorious New Jerusalem on the new earth forever! 6

Prophetically Christ’s coming is like “the Bright and Morning Star” heralding the dawn of a new day in history. 7 The phrase “Bright and Morning Star” is “another way of referring to the sun. In the daytime, it is the one star sufficiently luminous and powerful to light the entire earth. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is ‘the bright morning star’ because He is the most powerful source of spiritual illumination and is the sole source of eternal life.” 8

Jesus “is the brightest of all personal stars, just as the morning star is the brightest physical star in the sky. He is the ‘Star’ that, in fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy, would ‘come forth from Jacob’ (Numbers 24:17).” 9

“The ‘Root’ is buried in the ground where no one can see it, but the ‘Star’ is in the heavens where everyone can see it.” 10

“Like a king affixing a royal seal to an official document, Jesus ties His reputation as Son of David and Son of God to the prophecies of the book.” 11

The last five verses of the last book of the Bible are very telling (22:17-21). It has been said that last words are lasting words.

“They represent the last God-breathed words we have before the return of Christ. In a few lines, the Spirit of God expresses the underlying purpose and message of the entire book of Revelation.” 12

“A person’s last words often provide a glimpse into his or her character, sometimes revealing what that individual values most. Some parting comments are thoughtful; others are spontaneous and sometimes surprising.” 13

The Lord Jesus continues to speak to John. And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17). The first thing on God’s heart at the end of the Bible is an invitation for unsaved people to receive eternal life freely. God has revealed future events in the book of Revelation to draw people to Himself.

God’s Holy “Spirit and the bride” of Christ, the church (cf. Revelation 3:14, 20; 19:7-9; 21:2, 9; 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32), “say, ‘Come!’” When churches walk in step with God’s Spirit, they will invite people to come to Christ for His free gift because they understand the heart of Jesus Christ. Christ has sent the church to preach the gospel to the whole world and to every individual in that world (Mark 16:5; Acts 1:8). We are not to wait for lost people to come to us. We must go where the lost people are. If we wait for lost people to come to us, we may wait the rest of our Christian lives. Instead, we must go to the unsaved people of this world. Why?

Because Jesus Christ came to earth the first time to seek and to save those who were lost (Luke 19:10). Christ loves all people (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). He desires that all people be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4). He died on the cross to pay the sins of all people (I Timothy 2:5; I John 2:1-2). If we know and love Jesus Christ, we will love the lost people for whom He died and rose from the dead. Instead of avoiding them, we will love them and go to them.

Oh, if only this was on the heart of churches today! So often Christians fight over the meaning of Revelation instead of letting it motivate them to share the gospel with a lost world! Recently, my wife and I attended a church that announced they will be installing a pastor of evangelism this coming Sunday. What a joy to hear this! How many churches have evangelistic pastors on staff today? This is rarely the case because evangelism is not a priority among today’s churches. But this is the first priority of God’s Spirit in the final verses of the Bible.

God has given gifted leaders to prepare His people to serve. God has not only given “pastors and teachers” to equip His people for “the work of the ministry,” but He has also given the church “evangelists” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Evangelists not only make the gospel of Christ known to the unsaved, but they also build up the faith of Christians. 14 11 And He Himself gave some to be… evangelists… 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The responsibility of evangelists is to train and “equip” Christians to share the gospel with the unsaved. One of the reasons the church has failed to reach the world for Christ with the gospel is because it has failed to make evangelism a top priority. If more churches had evangelists on staff in addition to pastors and teachers, more churches would be equipped for doing the work of an evangelist within their spheres of influence (2 Timothy 4:5).

Jesus then says, “And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’” Those who read or hear the book of Revelation are to invite the lost to “come” to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, for salvation. No one else in the universe can wash away our sins. Only Jesus Christ can do this because He is fully God and fully Man (John 1:1, 14) Who died in our place on the cross to pay the full penalty for all our sins (John 1:29; 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6; I Timothy 2:3-5; I John 2:1-2; Revelation 1:5; 5:6, 12; 7:10, 14 12:11; 13:8). He then rose from the dead proving His claims to be God are true (Romans 1:3-4).

God never intended for believers to keep the good news of Jesus to themselves. He has saved us so we can take the message of salvation to our unsaved family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances. God wants to use our voices to invite the lost to “come” to Jesus Christ in faith for His gift of eternal life.

During His earthy ministry Jesus explained why nonbelievers did not have eternal life. 15 He said, “You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). It was not because they had never heard the truth about Jesus. It wasn’t because they had no Scripture. It wasn’t because they lacked reasonable evidence about Jesus’ identity. It wasn’t because of the pain and suffering they had endured. It wasn’t because of the hypocrisy of believers in Jesus. They lacked eternal life because they were not willing to come to Jesus in faith. God will not force a person to come to Him against his or her will. God lovingly invites all people to receive His gift of eternal life.

Next Christ invites everyone who “thirsts” and “desires… the water of life” to “come” (22:17b). The “water of life” refers to eternal life in John’s writings (John 4:10, 13-14; 7:37-39; Revelation 7:17; 21:6; 22:17). Eternal life is not something we can earn or work for because Jesus offers it “freely” (dōrean) or “without payment” 16 or cost to “him who thirsts” or “desires” (21:17; cf. John 4:10-14; Romans 3:24; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). Eternal life is free to us because it has already been paid for by Jesus Who “washed us from our sins in His own blood” when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (Revelation 1:5; cf. 7:14; Romans 3:24; I Corinthians 15:3-6; John 19:30). Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ alone for “the water of life” (eternal life) acquires it the moment they believe (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:13-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.).

No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, water baptism, prayer, persevering in good works, or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered as a part of, faith as a condition for receiving eternal life (Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5). This saving transaction between God and the sinner is simply the giving and receiving of a free gift (John 3:14-18; 4:10-14; 6:47; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).

If you are not certain you have eternal life, would you like to receive this absolutely free gift from the Lord Jesus Christ right now so you can live with Jesus forever in the New Jerusalem on the new earth with other believers in Him? Simply take Jesus at His Word when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 17

If you are convinced Jesus is telling the truth in John 6:47 and is therefore worthy of your trust, then believe or trust Christ alone (not your good life, prayers, or religion) to give you His gift of everlasting life. When you believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life, you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3). 18 If you now believe this, you can tell God in a simple prayer:

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for this last invitation in the Bible to come to You just as I am. Thank You for Your patience in giving me this opportunity to get right with You. I have tried to live life without You only to discover that the penalty of my sin is death or separation from You. Nothing I am or do makes me deserve to go to heaven. I believe You loved me so much You took my punishment when You died on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and a future home in Your heaven. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I just received and for the future home I will have in Your heaven. Please use me now to tell others how they can know for sure they will live with You forever. I ask You God Almighty to renew Your church’s love for You and the lost people for whom You died. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 265.

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. 1590.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pp. 2424-2425; Constable, pg. 256.

4. Constable, pg. 256.

5. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 6687.

6. Constable, pg. 256.

7. Walvoord, Kindle Location 6687; Constable, pg. 256.

8. Evans, pp. 2424-2425.

9. Constable, pg. 256.

10. Ibid., cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2. (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, (1989), pg. 625.

11. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 401.

12. Ibid., pg. 402.

13. Ibid., pg. 401.

14. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1387), pg. 1299.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1590.

16. 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. 266.

17. Ibid., pg. 816.

18. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pg. 265.

Must I work to get to heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

Revelation 17 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 308 cites Karl Marx, “Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechts-Philosophie,” Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher 1 (1844): 72.

2. Swindoll, pg. 308.

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

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

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

7. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 361.

8. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1562.

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

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

11. Gary Derickson; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; Bob Vacendak, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1370, 1400; cf. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 223503. 

12. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon.”

13. The Greek word for “mountains” is orē which can also mean “hills” – see Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 724.

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

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

16. Vacendak, pg. 1563.

17. Ibid.

18. Swindoll, pg. 313.

19. Vacendak, pg. 1563.

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

Facing Our Fears with Eyes of Faith

13 And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today… 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’ ” Exodus 14:13-14

After redeeming His people from slavery in Egypt through the blood of Passover lambs, God led the people of Israel to the edge of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army in hot pursuit of them (Exodus 14:1-9). The Israelites turned against Moses, accusing him of leading them to die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:10-12). They concluded it would have been better to remain slaves in Egypt than die in the wilderness. As they panicked over their “no-win” situation – death by drowning or death by execution via the Egyptian army – Moses says to them, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today… The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (14:13-14). Even though their situation seemed hopeless, Moses instructs them not to be afraid, but to stand still and watch God’s deliverance of them because he would fight for them so they could have peace.

After we are redeemed by God’s Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 5:7), we may quickly blame our Redeemer for insurmountable circumstances. Our fears make us want to run, but the Lord tells us to be rest in His presence. Like the Israelites who focused on the Egyptians and the sea, we can also take our eyes off the Lord and focus on our overwhelming circumstances. God wants us to shift our focus from our fears to Him Who fights on our behalf. He wants us to look with eyes of faith to see Him working in our difficult circumstances.

Even though there appeared to be no way of escaping Pharaoh’s army, God told Moses to tell the people “to go forward” into the sea, promising that “the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14:15-16). And God miraculously parted the Red Sea, so all the Israelites could cross over on dry ground, which was a second miracle. But God allowed the waters of the sea to return “to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it” so that “not so much as one of them remained” (Exodus 14:21-28). The Egyptian king who defied the God of creation had his entire army wiped out by God’s creation.

What is our Red Sea? What obstacles are we facing that keep us from moving forward for the Lord? It may be a circumstance, fear, insecurity, or misplaced priorities. We cannot overcome them in our own strength. God asks us not to be afraid, but to stand still in faith and watch Him work. Our responsibility is to be still and let Him fight the battle for us. Even though there may seem to be no way to go forward, God will make a way when there seems to be no way. He wants us to see the obstacles in our lives as opportunities to trust Him to work in and through our circumstances.

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, how quickly fears can flood our souls when we are hemmed in by difficult circumstances. It is so easy for us to focus on our fears and “no-win” circumstances instead of You. Instead of running from our fears, help us to rest in Your presence and promises by faith, knowing You fight on our behalf. Grant us the eyes of faith so we may see You working in our difficult circumstances. You are the God Who makes a way when there seems to be no way, so all the glory goes to You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 216. 

Revelation 12 – Part 1

“Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” Revelation 12:1

If you are a Christian, you are familiar with God’s love for you. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). The world includes you and me. God loves us!!! The apostle Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). God showed how much He loved us by dying in our place “while we were still sinners.” God did not wait for us to clean up our lives and become “worthy” of His love. Even when we were at our worst, God loved us by giving His best for us when He took our punishment for sin on the cross.

As much as God loves us, we need to understand that Satan hates us. Swindoll writes, Never forget those three words if you love and follow Christ’s teachings. Satan wants nothing more than to sabotage our love for God and for others, to tempt us into a moral catastrophe, and to see us choose a lifestyle of sin rather than a walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. When we falter, he stands ready to accuse us before God. When we pass the tests of temptation, he looks beyond that and is already strategizing his next attack. Satan’s hatred of us is relentless.

“… Understanding that Satan is neither all-powerful nor completely powerless will help us come to terms with the real challenges we face as we do battle with Satan’s evil empire in its current form. I say ‘current form’ because it’s important to understand that Satan’s ability to unleash his fury on God’s people is limited in the present age. However, one day Satan’s empire will be allowed to strike the world in full force before crumbling at the coming of Christ.” 1

You may recall that the apostle John received instructions to“prophesy again,” a second time regarding the seven-year Tribulation “about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” in Revelation 10:11. Therefore, Revelation 11-19 surveys the seventieth week of years (Tribulation) a second timewith a view to revealing the specific characters on the stage of the drama. In Revelation 11, John reviews the first half of the Tribulation with a focus on the Two Witnesses whom God will bring directly to faith in Christ so they can proclaim the truth to the world from Jerusalem (11:1-6), resulting in the salvation of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (“firstfruits” – 14:4) who will proclaim the “gospel of the kingdom” during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. 7:1-10) to “all the nations” (cf. Matthew 24:14).

At the end of Revelation 11, the seventh trumpet sounded to prepare the apostle John, and his readers for the seven horrific bowls of wrath (cf. Revelation 16) immediately before Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth (Revelation 11:15-19). God now gives John and his readers more information about the forces behind the anti-God hatred during the last half of the Tribulation (Revelation 12-15), so John and his readers could understand the bowl judgments (Revelation 16) which the seventh trumpet judgment contained. 2

Beginning in Revelation 12, John will describe the conflict between God and Satan in the spiritual realm that has taken place throughout history since Satan’s rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-18) so we can understand how it will be manifested in the physical realm during the second half of the Tribulation period, especially during the bowl judgments. 3

John will now focus on five main characters in Revelation 12 that are involved in this spiritual conflict. First, we are introduced to a woman. “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1). The phrase “a great sign” (mega sēmeion) Walvoord says refers to “the first of a series of events called ‘signs’ or ‘miracles’ (12:3; 13:13-14; 15:1; 16:14; 19:20). As signs they were symbols of something that God was about to reveal and usually contained an element of prophetic warning. Though this sign was seen in heaven, the events which followed obviously occurred on earth.” 4

Swindoll states that the Greek word for ‘sign’ (sēmeion) signifies a mark or symbol that carries a special meaning or points us to something beyond it.” 5 In this case, John indicates that the new vision contains symbolic characters that point to real people or events in history – past as well as future.” 6

Many interpretations have been offered regarding the identity of the “woman” in this verse. Some have said that John was referring to something that his original readers knew about, namely, the “mother of the gods” represented on Roman coins. 7 Others have held that this woman is the church that is laboring to bring Christ to the nations. 8 This is built on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture and must be disallowed. The church did not produce Christ, but Christ produced the church. Also, since the church is not seen on earth in Revelation 4-19, the church cannot be represented by this woman. 9

Others say the woman refers exclusively to Mary, the mother of Jesus. 10 But this is not possible because Mary was never persecuted and never fled into the wilderness where she was fed for 1260 days (Revelation 12:6, 13-14). Clearly the woman is the nation of Israel who will be intensely persecuted during the last half of the Tribulation period (Revelation 12:13-17; cf. Matthew 24:15-22).

Other reasons why the “woman” refers to the nation of Israel include:

1. The context of Revelation 12:1 reveals that John is dealing with the nation of Israel. Grant says of Revelation 11:19, “The ark, then, seen in the temple in heaven is the sign of God’s unforgotten grace toward Israel…” 11

2. The identity of the woman as the nation of Israel is supported further by the reference to “the sun… the moon… and twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1) which connects back to a similar symbolic representation of Israel in Genesis 37:9-11. In this passage, Joseph, the son of Jacob has received a dream from God. 9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.’ 10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?’ 11 And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” These verses identify “the sun” and “moon” as Jacob and Rachel, Joseph’s parents, and the stars as Jacob’s twelve sons (cf. Isaiah 26:17-18; 60:1-3, 20). Compare Jeremiah 31:35-36; Joshua 10:12-14; Judges 5:20 and Psalm 89:35-37 where heavenly bodies are associated with Israel’s history. 12

3. The use of the term “woman.” Eight times the term “woman” is used in this chapter (12:1, 4, 6, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17), and thirteen additional times the pronoun “she” (12:2, 5, 6, 14) or “her” (12:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 14, 16, 17) is used in reference to the woman. We find this term used frequently in the Old Testament to refer to the nation of Israel (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; 54:5-6; Jeremiah 4:31; Micah 4:9-10; 5:3; Isaiah 66:7-8). While the church is called a “bride” (Revelation 21:2, 9, 17), a “wife” (Revelation 19:7; cf. Ephesians 5:22-33), or a “chaste virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2), we never find the church referred to as a woman in the New Testament. 13

4. The use of the term “wilderness.” The “wilderness” is said to be the place of refuge afforded the woman in her flight (Revelation 12:6, 14). The “wilderness” was a common reference to Israel in her national history (Exodus 3:18; 4:27; 5:1; 7:16; 8:27-28; 13:17-18, 20; 14:3, 11-12; 15:22; 16:1-3, 10, 14, 32; et al.). Israel was taken into “the wilderness of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:36). Israel, since she refused to follow God into the promised land, was turned back into the wilderness for forty years where they would die, and a new generation would be brought forth (Numbers 14:1-35; cf. Hebrews 3:7-18). Israel’s unbelief caused Ezekiel to declare God’s purpose: “And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.” (Ezekiel 20:35). Hosea reveals that in the long period Israel would spend “in the wilderness” God would be gracious to them (Hosea 2:14-23). 14

5. The references to the period of three and a half years (“one thousand two hundred and sixty days” – 12:6 and “a time and times and half a time” – 12:14) in Revelation 12 connect to the last half of the week of Daniel’s seventieth week prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) which was specifically addressed to “your people and for your holy city” (Daniel 9:24). Since this prophecy was given to Daniel it could only refer to Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Each time this period is mentioned in Scripture, whether as a “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Revelation 11:6; 12:3), “forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2; 13:5), “time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 12:14), or three and a half years, it always refers to Israel and a period in which God is dealing with that nation. 15

6. The reference to the angel, “Michael” (Revelation 12:7). In Daniel 12:1 the archangel Michael is called “the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people.” Michael is united with the destiny of the nation Israel by this word of the Lord to Daniel. In Revelation 12:7 Michael appears again in reference to the warfare in heaven. The fact that Michael appears on the scene here indicates that God is again dealing with the nation Israel, and Michael is a character here because the destiny of Israel is involved. 16

Pentecost quotes Moorehead regarding Revelation 11:19, And the temple (sanctuary) of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of the covenant.’ This is strictly Jewish ground; the temple, the ark, the covenant belong to Israel, represent Hebrew relations with God and Hebrew privileges. The Spirit now takes up Jewish things, Jewish standing, covenant, hopes, dangers, tribulations and triumph.” 17

Clearly the people of Israel are in view here, so the woman in Revelation 12 represents the nation of Israel.

Next John writes, “Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” (Revelation 12:2). Since the woman is Israel, the “child” is the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 12:5). The Bible tells us that Christ would come from the nation of Israel. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9:3-5).

The “labor” and “pain” in giving “birth” to Jesus (Revelation 12:2) are pictures of the grief and sorrow that the nation of Israel experienced in Old Testament days at the hand of Satan in his attempts to prevent the Messiah from coming. This agonizing struggle between Satan and Israel has been going on from the very beginning (cf. Genesis 3:15). 18

Israel’s founding father, Abraham, was promised a son (Genesis 12:1-7). Instead of waiting on God’s timing, Abraham took a shortcut and slept with his maidservant, Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-16). Later Abraham’s wife, Sarah gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-7). The result of these two births has been a source of conflict between the Arabs and the Jews ever since (Genesis 21:8-21; 25:12-16). Israel faced terrible pain while in exile in Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria.In the days that Jesus was born, Israel was under the oppression and taxation of the Roman government.

God used many imperfect people to bring His Son into the world through the nation of Israel. When you examine the genealogies of Christ (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-37), these lists of names contain broken sinners like you and me. They include Jacob (Matthew 1:2; Luke 3:34) who was a deceiver. David (Matthew 1:6; Luke 3:31) who committed adultery and murder. Solomon (Matthew 1:7) who took an abundance of wives and concubines. Manasseh (Matthew 1:10) was one of Judah’s most wicked kings.

Moreover, and while women do not normally show up in biblical genealogies, the women in Jesus’s line were particularly questionable. Tamar (Matthew 1:3) was a Canaanite who posed as a prostitute and committed incest with her father-in law Judah. Rahab (Matthew 1:5) was a prostitute; Ruth (Matthew 1:5) was from Moab, a non-Israelite people that worshiped false gods.

Another observation about Jesus’ genealogies is that they are mixed racially, including both Jews and Gentiles which indicates that Jesus’ kingdom identity and rule includes all races of people. All of this points to God’s sovereign grace. He accomplishes His glorious purposes despite difficult circumstances and the character of the people involved. If God can use the imperfect people listed in these genealogies to bring Jesus, the Messiah-God, into the world, God can surely use you and me to accomplish His purposes. 19

Evans writes, Notice also that of the five women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, four are of Hamitic descent: Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth. That doesn’t mean that Jesus was black. To assert such, as some black theologians and religious leaders do, is to fall into the exclusionist perspective of many whites, who would make Jesus an Anglo-European, blue-eyed blond with little relevance to people of color. It would also fail to respect the distinct Jewish heritage of Christ. Jesus was a person of mixed ancestry.

“It blesses me to know that Jesus had black in His blood because this destroys any perception of black inferiority once and for all. In Christ we find perfect man and sinless Savior. This knowledge frees blacks from an inferiority complex, and at the same time it frees whites from the superiority myth. In Christ, we all have our heritage.

“Black people, as all other people, can find a place of historical, cultural, and racial identity in Him. As Savior of all mankind, He can relate to all people, in every situation. In Him, any person from any background can find comfort, understanding, direction, and affinity—as long as Christ is revered as the Son of God, a designation that transcends every culture and race and one to which all nations of people must pay homage.” 20

In conclusion, God wants us to remember that His faithfulness to His promises is not contingent upon our character, but upon His. We see this throughout history when God promised to bring the Messiah through the nation of Israel despite the nation’s unfaithfulness. The genealogies of Christ underscore God’s faithfulness in using imperfect Jews and Gentiles to fulfill this promise. As a nation, Israel had to endure much pain to usher the Messiah into the world. Likewise, we may have to endure much pain to fulfill God’s purposes. Whether we are faithful or not, God remains faithful to what He has promised.

The Bible tells us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). I have heard many Christians and churches insist that going to heaven is based on our faithfulness to God, instead of His faithfulness to His promises. Where is the assurance in such an assertion? If our assurance of going to heaven is based on our faithfulness to God, then we are all in a heap of trouble.

Why? Because like the nation of Israel, we also have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). Our good thoughts, words, and actions cannot make us right before God because they are all stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). This is why God sent His only perfect Son into the world through the imperfect nation of Israel (Romans 9:3-5) so He could pay the penalty for all our sin once and for all by dying in our place on a cross and rising from the dead (John 19:30; Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10-14). All God asks us to do to enter His heaven is believe in Christ and His finished work on the cross.

Jesus said, “14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Just as Moses “lifted up” the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that all the dying Israelites could look at that serpent in faith and live physically (Numbers 21:1-8), so Jesus Christ was lifted up on the cross so “that whoever believes in Him” or looks to Him “should not perish but have eternal life.” Nowhere does Jesus say, “Whoever remains faithful to Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Repeatedly, Jesus and His followers tell us to “believe” 21 or have “faith” 22  in Christ alone as the only condition for entering God’s heaven.

Have you been looking to your own faithfulness as the way to Christ’s heaven? If so, Satan has deceived you to trust your own faithfulness instead of God’s. This is an expression of the Devil’s hatred toward God and humanity. Satan is a liar, a thief, and a murderer (John 8:44; 10:10a). He wants to deceive people to miss God’s heaven by distorting the gospel message lest people believe it and are saved (Luke 8:5, 11-12).

If you have believed the gospel, that Christ gives eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:14-18), but now you are trusting your own faithfulness as the basis of your assurance that you will go to heaven, then Satan, being the thief that he is, has successfully robbed you of your assurance of going to heaven. You still have eternal life because of your faith in Jesus, but your assurance of going to heaven is lost by looking to your own faithfulness instead of Christ’s. Our faithfulness to God can vary from moment to moment. So, when we are unfaithful to God with our thoughts, motives, words, or actions, we are prone to doubt our salvation if our assurance is rooted in our own faithfulness.

God makes it clear in the Bible that He does not want any of His children to doubt that they have eternal life and a future home in heaven with Him. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). God wants you to know that you “have eternal life” the moment you believe in the name of the Son of God.” So, if you lack assurance of going to heaven, why not ask God to show you the truth and to make His Word understandable to you? 23

The key to assurance of salvation is looking to Jesus’ promise that all who simply believe in Him have everlasting life (John 3:14-18; 5:24; 6:35-50, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; et al.). It is also important to remember, that we do not get to heaven through the promises we make to God, but through the promises He makes to us! 24

If you have been trusting your own faithfulness or anything else besides Jesus and His finished work on the cross to get you to heaven, Christ invites you right now to stop and look to Him and His finished work on the cross as Your only way to His heaven. When you do this, God gets all the glory and the only boasting in heaven will be in our gracious and loving Savior Who got us there (I Corinthians 1:18-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Prayer: Father God, we give You praise for the first main character in Your description of the conflict between You and Satan. The nation of Israel is central to Your redemptive purposes. It was through this imperfect nation and imperfect individual Gentiles that You brought Your only perfect Son into the world the first time to be our one and only Savior. If any of us struggle with shame and not feeling worthy to be used by You, may Your Holy Spirit use today’s Bible verses to silence our shame so we can present ourselves to You as Your available servants. You are a faithful God Who remains faithful to His promises even if we are faithless. Thank You, Lord, for this powerful reminder that can embolden us to faithfully proclaim Your saving message no matter what our past. Please use us to accomplish Your purposes so all the glory belongs to You. And Lord, if there is anyone reading this article right now who is trusting in someone or something other than Christ alone as their only way to heaven, please persuade them to stop and believe in Jesus for His free gift of eternal life. Thank You, Lord, for hearing our prayers. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 234-235.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 132.

3. Ibid., pp. 132-133 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8—22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 117.

4. 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 5656 to 5662.

5. Swindoll, pg. 235 cites Eugene Nida and Johannes P. Louw, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, §33.477.

6. Swindoll, pg. 235.

7. Constable, pg. 133 cites as examples Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959), pg. 337; and Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1965), pp. 151-152.

8. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 288 cites as an example Ford C. Ottman, The Unfolding of the Ages (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1905), pg. 280.

9. Pentecost, pg. 288.

10. Ibid., cites F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.].), pp. 310-311.

11. Ibid., cites W. Grant, The Revelation of Christ (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.]), pg. 126. There is extensive biblical evidence showing that the woman of Revelation 12 is best identified as the nation of Israel (see Pentecost, pp. 288-291).

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 289.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., pg. 290.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., pp. 290-291 cites William G. Moorehead, Studies in the Book of Revelation (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1908), pg. 90.

18. 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. 1541.

19. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1480-1481.

20. Ibid., pg. 1481.

21. Matthew 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Romans 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Corinthians 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:6, 9,

22; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Philippians 1:29; I Thessalonians 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:12,13; I Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 11:31; I Peter 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

22. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Romans 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Corinthians 15:14, 17; Galatians 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9(2); Colossians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:15; Titus 1:4; Hebrews 6:1;11:31; James 2:1, 23, 24; I Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 1:5; I John 5:4.

23. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 7.

24. Ibid.

Real Solutions to Real Problems – Part 1 (Video)

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

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

Let’s Keep the Gospel Clear!

“Praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way that I ought to proclaim it.” Colossians 3:3-4

During my drive from Nebraska back to our home in Iowa recently, I noticed a billboard along the interstate that read, “Where are you going? Heaven or Hell?” with a phone number on it to call. I thought to myself, “I wonder what they are telling callers they must do to go to heaven?” Knowing I had about two hours left on my drive home, I knew this would probably be an animated conversation that would keep me wide awake. So, I decided to give them a call. I will try to convey the main ideas communicated in this call, acknowledging that my quotes are not verbatim.

When a young man answered my call, I told him I noticed their billboard sign and wanted to know what I must do to be sure I would go to heaven in the future. Immediately he told me I must repent and then quoted from Matthew 4:17 where Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I asked, “What does it mean to repent?” He said it means to turn from your sin and follow Jesus. To which I replied, “You mean I must turn from all my sins?” “Yes,” he said. “Have you done that?” I asked him. “No,” he responded, “But if I do sin, the Bible tells me I must confess it to the Lord, and He will forgive me.”

In addition, he quoted from Romans 10:9-10 which says, 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” To make sure I understood him, I tried to repeat back what I heard him to say, “So you are telling me that to be sure I will go to heaven, I must repent, believe, and confess Jesus is Lord.” He said, “That’s right.”

Next, I told him my mother taught me John 3:16 when I was a child. After quoting the verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” I said to him, “Jesus is saying all I must do to have everlasting life is believe in Him.” Quickly he retorted, “We do what we believe, right?” I said, “Of course. But Jesus is saying all I must do is believe in Him for eternal life. So, if I will do what I believe, I will believe in Jesus to get me to heaven, not do good works to get to heaven.”

This man, whose name ironically is John, liked the book of Matthew, so he directed me to Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus said, 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

I said to John, “Christ is teaching that confessing the Lordship of Jesus and doing good works in His name is not what gains entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It is doing the will of the Father. And what is the Father’s will for entering His kingdom? Jesus tells us in John 6:40, ‘And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ According to Jesus, all we must do to enter the Father’s heaven, is see and believe in His Son to receive everlasting life. The apostle John tells us the reason he wrote his gospel is so ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.’ (20:31). Ninety-nine times the apostle John uses the word ‘believe’ in his gospel. He never uses the word ‘repent.’”

The John on the other end of the call said, “Believing is not enough. Listen to what the apostle John, the same author of the gospel of John, writes in I John 3: 4 Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. 6 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. 8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. 10 In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.’”

I responded by saying, “First John 5:1 says, ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.’ The apostle John makes it clear that believing Jesus is the Christ is all that is necessary to be born of God. “

John responded by turning to I John 1:3-4, 7-10, 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full… 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

I thanked John for turning to these verses because verses 3-4 explain to us that I John was written so we may have fellowship or closeness with God, not salvation. So, when John talks about walking in the light (1:7), confessing sin (1:9), keeping God’s commandments (2:3), abiding in Christ (2:6), not sinning (3:6, 9), practicing righteousness (3:7), and loving others (3:10), he is providing conditions for fellowship or closeness with God, not salvation. The gospel of John tells us that the only condition for entering the Christian life is believing in Jesus for eternal life (John 1:12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; 20:31; et al.). But I John provides many conditions for having fellowship with God.

I told John on the other end of the call that I was very disappointed that he was preaching a different gospel than what the Lord Jesus and the apostles taught. I quoted from Galatians 1:8-9 which says, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” The apostle Paul made it clear in Galatians that the only condition for being justified or declared righteous before God was to believe or have faith in Christ alone. Paul used the words “believe” and “faith” fifteen times when referring to justification before God (2:16; 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26) in the book of Galatians. He used no other words as a condition for justification. He warned the Galatians not to support or join those who do not preach a “believe/faith alone” gospel (1:6- 9; 4:12, 21-30; 5:1-12; 6:17). It does not matter how kind or helpful a person is who teaches a different gospel. They are “accursed” by God if they preach a different way to heaven other than faith alone in Christ alone.  

When John on the other end of the call tried to interrupt me, I asked him to wait until I was finished explaining the clear gospel. John hung up on me before I finished talking.

Unfortunately, what John and others with that ministry are doing to the gospel of grace is not uncommon. Rarely do I hear individual Christians or churches use the words God uses the most in New Testament evangelism – the verb “believe” (pisteuō) 1 and its noun form “faith” (pistis) 2 – as the only conditions for salvation. This is devastating because it dishonors the finished work of Christ on the cross. When we start replacing God’s Word with our own cliches or verses taken out of context, we are making it more difficult for sinners to be saved from hell by our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If John had not hung up on me, I would have told him that he is the one who needs to repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) in the New Testament means “to change one’s mind.” 3 John and others who distort the gospel need to repent or change their minds and return to the original gospel that Jesus and the apostles taught. Jesus said, 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15; cf. Acts 10:43; 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et al.). Jesus Christ was “lifted up” on the cross to finish paying the penalty for all our sin when He died in our place (John 19:30) “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When the apostle Paul instructed the Colossian believers to pray for his preaching of the gospel, he said, “that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4; NASB). If the apostle Paul needed prayer to help him keep the gospel clear, then how much more do you and I need this kind of prayer support from others!?! Satan wants to deceive Christians not to use the words God uses most in evangelism (“Believe” and “Faith”) because he knows that these are God’s terms for salvation from hell (cf. Luke 8:5, 12).

God wants Christians to be clear in the way they communicate the gospel of Christ to non-Christians. If you would like to learn more about how to be more effective in evangelism by avoiding unclear evangelistic invitations, please view our training video at https://www.seeyouinheaven.life/lesson-1-part-5-avoiding-unclear-gospel-invitations-video/.

May the Lord Jesus be glorified as we seek to keep His gospel clear by using the words He uses the most in evangelism: believe and faith.

ENDNOTES:

1. Matthew 18:6; 21: 32(3); 24:23, 26; 27:42; Mark 1:15, 9:42; 15:32;16:16(2), 17; Luke 8:12, 13; 22:67; John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2); Acts 2:44; 4:4, 32; 5:14; 8:12, 13, 37(2); 9:42; 10:43, 45; 11:17, 21; 13:12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 23, 27; 15:5, 7; 16:1, 31, 34; 17:4, 5, 12, 34; 18:8, 27; 19:2, 4, 9, 18; 21:20, 25; 22:19; 26:27(2); 28:24(2); Romans 1:16; 3:3, 22, 4:3, 5, 11, 17, 24; 9:33; 10:4, 9, 10, 11, 14(2), 16; 13:11; 15:31; I Corinthians 1:21; 3:5; 7:12, 13; 9:5; 10:27; 14:22(2); 15:2, 11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:6, 9, 22; Ephesians 1:13, 19; Philippians 1:29; I Thessalonians 1:7; 2:10; 4:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:12,13; I Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 4:3, 10; 6:2(2); 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 11:31; I Peter 1:21;2:6, 7; I John 3:23; 5:1, 5, 10(3), 13.

2. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 7:50; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 6:7; 14:22, 27; 15:9; 16:5; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Romans 1:17; 3:3, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30(2), 31; 4:5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 (2); 5:1, 2; 9:30, 32; 10:6, 8, 17; 11:20; 16:26; I Corinthians 15:14, 17; Galatians 2:16 (2); 3:2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 22, 24, 26; 5:5; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9(2); Colossians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Timothy 3:15; Titus 1:4; Hebrews 6:1;11:31; James 2:1, 23, 24; I Peter 1:21; 2 Peter 1:5; I John 5:4.

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. 640.

Two Christmas Seasons

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day by hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus talks about two Christmas seasons in one of the most familiar verses of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

This verse falls in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a religious ruler named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus thinks the way to heaven is by living a good life. But Jesus confronts him with the truth that he must be born again by believing in Christ alone for eternal life. It is not what you do that gets you to heaven, it is what Christ has already done for you on the cross, and simply believing in Him.

The first Christmas season is seen in the first part of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” No one has ever loved to the degree that God has loved. He loved the world. He did not limit His love to one country, culture, or color. God loved everyone.

Because God loves everyone, His love cannot be earned. God loves us now, not when we get better. He loves us regardless of what we have done or not done. Do you realize that nothing you do can make God love you any less? God has designed us to be loved by Him. Only His love can meet our deepest needs. Sadly, we often look in the wrong places for God’s love, don’t we? We look for love in – a cell phone, a job, money, sports, alcohol, a computer, drugs, or a brief romantic relationship. God’s love isn’t found in these things. His love is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How did God express His love for us? “He gave His only begotten Son.” The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents. The word translated “only begotten” (monogenḗs) literally means “one of a kind.” Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind because only He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14).

Over two thousand years ago, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger on the earth even though He pre-existed as God. He loved you and me so much He was willing to become a helpless baby. Here He was, the Creator of the universe, lying in the arms of a woman that He created! God sent Jesus so you could know what He is like (John 1:18). If God wanted to communicate to birds, He would have become a bird. If God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. But God wanted to relate to you and to me, so He became a human being without ceasing to be God.

You may be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, or an atheist. It does not matter what your religious background is because Christ did not come to give us religion, He came to give us a relationship. Christmas is God saying, “I want to relate to you. I want you to know Me as much as I know you.”

Because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:23), we deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But Jesus came that first Christmas season to die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Christ paid for the gift of eternal life.

When you receive a gift, do you have to pay for it? No, of course not. Why? Because it is already paid for. Eternal life is free to you and me (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9) because Jesus already paid for it when He died on the cross (John 19:30) and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today! So, the first Christmas season was when Christ came to us.

The second Christmas season is now when Christ invites us to come to Him. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). Does the word “whoever” include everyone? Yes. It includes the best and worst of people and everyone in between.

Christ invites everyone to believe in Him for His free gift. He did not say “whoever behaves…” Jesus simply says, “whoever believes…” Receiving Christ’s gift of eternal life is apart from any good works we might do.

Jesus is not asking you, “Do you do good in the community?” because He never said, “Whoever does good in the community should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking you, “Did you live an obedient life?” because He never said, “Whoever lives an obedient life should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking, “Do you have religion?” because He never said, “whoever has religion should not perish but have everlasting.”

Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does it mean to believe? To believe simply means to trust or depend upon. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says you “believe” and “have.” You have what you take, correct?

What do you like the most about Christmas? Most people will say, receiving gifts, right?! To enjoy a gift, what must you do? You must receive it.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger and died on a cross so we could receive eternal life as a free gift. We cannot trust our obedience to God’s commands, our good life, our religion, or our prayers to receive eternal life. Instead, we must believe or trust in Christ alone to receive His gift of eternal life and live with Him forever in heaven. The moment you trust Christ, Christmas will never end for you. What makes Christmas lasting is knowing you will live forever in God’s presence. Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

Christ promises that when you believe in Him you “should not perish” in hell. When you believe in Christ, He promises you will be rescued from eternal punishment. When Jesus speaks of perishing, He is not talking about physical death, He is talking about suffering forever and ever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; 20:15). Many people don’t believe in hell today, but they better be sure about it because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. Everyone needs to be rescued because “all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).

The word “but” contrasts eternal death and torment (“perish”) with “eternal life” and enjoyment. Jesus is acknowledging that there is a place of eternal ruin where people will be in agony forever. “But,” He says, “You can have the opposite of death, agony and torment – you can have eternal life.” All people exist forever, the question is where will you live when you die – heaven or hell?

When you believe in Jesus, He promises that you can be sure that you “have everlasting life.” Jesus did not say, “might have” or “hope to have.” He simply says, “have,” which expresses absolute certainty. You can be one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life because Jesus promises it to all who believe in Him. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

Eternal life is described in John 17:3 as knowing God the Father and God the Son personally forever. Eternal life begins when you believe in Jesus, not when you die or after you die. What could possibly be greater than that? If you have not believed or trusted in Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life, why not do so right now? This is how you can tell God in prayer what you are doing:

“Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. Nothing I am or do makes me deserving of heaven. I now understand that Jesus Christ, the One born in a manger, died for me on a cross and rose again. I place my trust in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I have just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, He came to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). You can get to know Jesus better by talking to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and by listening to Him as you learn to read and apply the Bible to your life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Find a church where you can worship God with other like-minded Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Tell others about Jesus and what He can do for them (Matthew 4:19).

To learn more about how you can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day of your life, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about.

How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 3

2 So the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A rod.’ 3 And He said, ‘Cast it on the ground.’ So, he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.” Exodus 4:2-3

Fear can keep us from doing the will of God. Just ask Moses. When God called him to leave the desert wilderness where he was shepherding sheep to go back and deliver His people from bondage in Egypt, Moses expressed several fear-based excuses as to why he was not God’s man (Exodus 3-4). His first two fears had to do with inadequacy (Exodus 3:11) and embarrassment (Exodus 3:13). God quieted those fears with the assurance of His presence (Exodus 3:12a) and His name (Exodus 3:14-15).

But Moses had other fears for God to calm. The next one was a Biggy – his FEAR OF REJECTION (Exodus 4:1). “Then Moses answered and said, ‘But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’ ” (Exodus 4:1). Fear that the Israelites might not believe God had appeared to him is reasonable” because “God had apparently not appeared to the Israelites for 430 years, the length of the sojourn in Egypt.” 1

Moses’ fear of rejection expressed itself by saying, God, what if they do not accept me. Suppose they call me a liar and insist that You never appeared to me?”

The Bible tells us, The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25). Whatever we fear we give control to. If we live our lives always worried about pleasing people – afraid of being criticized – then we are going to be too afraid of rejection to do what God wants us to do. The Bible says we are already a slave. We are giving control to the people we fear will reject us.

What is God’s answer to the fear of rejection… criticism… and disapproval? “So, the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A rod.’ ” (Exodus 4:2). Whenever God asks us a question it is never for His benefit. He already knows the answer. He wants us to recognize something in our lives. 

What does a rod or staff represent? A rod is a symbol for a shepherd as much as a stethoscope around a neck is for a doctor or a tool belt is for a carpenter.

1. It is a symbol of IDENTITY. Moses is a shepherd. His rod or staff was a symbol of who he is.

2. It is a symbol of INCOME. In those days there were no stocks or bonds, there were flocks. The more sheep and goats you had, the wealthier you were. So, this is a symbol of his income. All his wealth is in his sheep.

3. It is a symbol of INFLUENCE.  What do you use a shepherd’s staff to do? You use it to move sheep from Point A to Point B. You either pull them or you poke them. You use it to influence. He moves them along.

God is saying, “Moses, I want you to take what you have – your identity, your influence and your income (what’s in your hand) and I want you to give it to Me.” This is going to overcome the fear of rejection if you understand this.

Next God told Moses, And He said, ‘Cast it on the ground.’ So, he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.” (Exodus 4:3). God is saying, “Moses if you will give Me what is in your hand – your identity, your influence and your income – who you are, what you own, what you do – I will make it come alive! I will miraculously do things with your identity, income, and influence that you have never imagined. What I do may even scare you because I am in control, not you. But every time you pick it up, it is just going to be a dead stick again. When it is yours, it is lifeless. When it is Mine, it comes alive!” 

Here is my question: What is in your hand? What is your identity, your influence, your income?  If you give that to God and say, “God, it is Yours. You can use my income… my influence…and my identity any way You want to, for the mission You put me on earth to do.” God says, “I will make it come alive. I will do things you never imagined. This may be scary for you because I am in control when you release your staff to Me. Simply trust Me to use what you give to Me in a way that will magnify My name.”

Brothers and sisters, when we have that kind of power in our lives, we are not going to be afraid of what the critics are saying. We are not going to be afraid of rejection because we know we are being used by God. 

Prayer: Almighty God, thank You so much for speaking to us through Your word!We are living in a world filled with bullies who try to intimidate us into being silent about our Christian faith. Christianity is being politicized and Christians are being persecuted in various ways! Satan wants to use fear in our lives to keep us quiet about the living Lord Jesus Christ. Right now, Lord Jesus, we want to give You our staff which represents our identity, income, and influence, so You can make it come alive and use it to do things we could never do on our own! Like Moses, we may be afraid at first, as You bring it to life. Please help us continue to trust You, and not our feelings, as You move in our lives. Lord, we give You everything and everyone to use as You please for Your glory. We are eager to watch You work with what we give to You! In the name of the living Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. John D. Hannah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Law, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 213.