Revelation 3 – Part 1

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5

Jesus now addresses the fifth church in Asia Minor. “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” ‘ (Revelation 3:1). Sardis was located a little over thirty miles southeast of Thyatira and was a glorious city in the past. In the sixth century BC it was considered one of the greatest cities on earth and was ruled by the wealthy King Croesus (called Midas by the Greeks because of his golden treasures). But by the time John wrote to the church there in the first century AD, the city’s greatness lay in the distant past. Unfortunately, the church at Sardis had the same problem—a great past but dismal conditions in the present. So, the Lord gives this church the steps they need to come alive again as well as a warning if they fail to do so.” 1

When the ascended Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the seven Spirits of God,” He is telling this church that He knows their true spiritual condition because He possesses the all-knowing Spirit of God(cf. Revelation 1:4b-5a). 2 Nothing escapes the notice of our Lord. Christ also “has the seven stars” or seven angels of the seven churches (cf. 1:20) to remind them of His Lordship over the entire church.

Although they had a good reputation among other churches for being “alive,” the Lord Jesus knew their true condition. This was the kind of church about which people today might say, “They have great music, great preaching, great outreach, a great children’s ministry, and beautiful buildings.” But because Jesus knew their “works,” He could say they were “dead” inwardly without any spiritual life (3:1b). “They were merely playing church.” 3

Like the Pharisees, their outer appearance was a facade hiding their lack of life (cf. Matt. 23:27-28).” 4

“Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the ‘monument’ stage, but there was still hope!” 5

The remedy for this condition is given by Jesus in the next few verses. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” (Revelation 3:2). The city of Sardis had fallen into enemy hands more than once, due to the carelessness of sentries who had relied too much on the town’s natural fortifications. 6 The Lord now commanded the church to “be watchful [alert] and strengthen” the areas of weakness in their church “that are ready to die.” The Lord wants His people to be diligent in protecting every element of good that remained in their church. They were not to be careless about this or allow any  more of the good that was still in existence to be cast aside as it had been in the past. 7

The Lord Jesus did not find their “works perfect [complete] before God.” The believers in Sardis tended to begin things but never finish them as God desired (cf. Acts 14:26). Do our churches resemble the church at Sardis? Does our outward appearance hide our lack of spiritual life? Did we start out strong for the Lord only to weaken over time and lose the vitality that once was so contagious? Have we held fast to the gospel of grace that transformed our lives, or have we turned away from the “faith alone” gospel to a “faith plus” gospel that promotes reformation instead of transformation?

Jesus then says, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:3). To overcome their spiritual deadness, these believers needed to “remember” the biblical instruction they “received and heard” from their spiritual leaders. Sound doctrine is always the foundation of a church that brings honor and glory to God (cf. Titus 2:1-15).” 8

They were also to “hold fast” to this instruction and “repent” and change their attitudes that led to their spiritual deadness. If they did not arise from their spiritual deadness, the Lord would “come upon” them “as a thief,” swiftly and unexpectedly to discipline them for their carelessness and superficial spirituality.

Jesus held out eternal rewards for the faithful “few” in Sardis. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4). The all-knowing Judge knew of a “few names… in Sardis who” had “not defiled their garments” and “shall walk with” Christ “in white” because they are “worthy” or deserving. This cannot refer to salvation because no one deserves to be saved from hell. The Bible clearly says that salvation is a free gift apart from any works (Romans 6:23b; 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:6; 22:17).  Instead, walking with Christ in white is a privilege reserved for the faithful believer who is undefiled in his Christian life.

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5). The risen Lord Jesus promises to the “overcomer” who is “worthy” (3:4) to be honored, the following eternal rewards:

– “Clothed in white garments.”  “White garments” are symbolic of one’s works (cf. 19:8) and are pure and free of defilement (cf. 7:9, 13; 19:14; Matthew 22:11-12). “In the ancient world, white robes also connoted festivity and victory.” 9 “Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs.” 10 Only the believers who remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth could enjoy His intimate fellowship in His coming Kingdom (“walk with Me”; cf. 7:14; 22:14). 11

Wilkin provides a helpful insight about this reward. “Keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Himself will be clothed in dazzling white garments that will outshine all others. His glory will be supreme.

“When at the Mount of Transfiguration He appeared in His glory, ‘His clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2). Special clothing is not insignificant, because it honors a person. The more glorious the garments, the more honor to the wearer.

“Like the sun, the Lord’s garments will have maximum radiance. The garments of great servants like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Deborah, Esther, and Mary will surely glow brightly. But theirs will be reflected glory, like the glory of the moon that reflects the glory of the sun.

“Would you not want to be identified as closely as possible with the Lord Jesus and glorify Him, even in your clothing? The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.” 12

– An honored name that is supremely secure. When Jesus says He will “not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” Armenians teach that Jesus is saying a non-overcoming (unfaithful) believer can lose his salvation. 13 But this would be contrary to Jesus’ teachings in John’s writings elsewhere. For example, Jesus taught, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith “shall never hunger” or “thirst” for eternal life again because the need He met can never reoccur. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we are unfaithful to Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).

Christ also said, 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:38-39). Jesus came down from heaven to do His Father’s will which was that all whom the Father had given Him should lose nothing, including their salvation. If Jesus failed to keep believers from losing their salvation, He would have failed to do His Father’s will. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God. But Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father.

Jesus said, 2And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29). Christ gives eternal life because it is a gift from Him. We do not earn it. Secondly, He also guarantees that a believer “shall never perish.” Eternal life is God’s life. You can no more perish in hell than God can perish in hell. If a believer in Jesus could lose his salvation, then Jesus just told a lie. Jesus also promises that “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Because Jesus securely holds each believer in His hand and no one – not a lion, wolf, thief, bandit, false teacher, popular speaker, demon, devil, not even you yourself – are strong enough to snatch (John 10:12) them out of His hand. The word “snatch” (harpasei) means “to snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly or vehemently.” It is impossible for even one sheep to be removed from the hand of our Good Shepherd. And no matter how strong or persuasive they are, not one of His sheep can wriggle out of His grasp.

If you are still not convinced that a believer in Jesus is secure forever, Christ adds, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” The hand of Jesus holding the believer is secure in the hand of God the Father. And no one is strong enough to snatch a believer from the hand of God the Father. In other words, the believer is doubly secure.

If a believer ever lost his or her salvation, Christ would have failed to keep these promises and many more. To properly understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:5), it is important to answer an important question.

What is the Book of Life? There appear to be several “books” or records that God keeps in heaven (cf. Revelation 20:12). Since God is all-knowing, “He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a ‘book’ is an example of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand.” 14  

There is the “Book of the Living,” namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exodus 32:32-33; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3). 15 To have one’s name removed from this book refers to physical death. But the “Book of Life” in Revelation refers to all those who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27). 16

It is best to understand Jesus’ words, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5), as another litotes (cf. 2:11) 17 which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. Jesus is saying, “If you remain undefiled to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure.”

Dillow writes, John is saying that, even if we are ridiculed and ultimately killed for our faith here on earth so that our name is dishonored and forgotten, we will, if we persevere, enjoy a heavenly reputation for all eternity. Our name will never be blotted out in heaven. No Christian will ever have his person blotted out of the book of life, even carnal ones. The overcomers are being reminded that, even though others can destroy them on earth, they cannot ruin the believer’s heavenly name.” 18

Such an honored name will be forever cherished by Jesus throughout eternity, which leads to the third reward.

– Christ said, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5 cf.Matthew 10:32-33; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:8; 19:17, 19). Only worthy or faithful believers will have their name publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels.

Only those Christians who acknowledge Christ now will be acknowledged by Him then. Only those Christians who are overcomers now will have their names acknowledged before the Father and His angels (Revelation 3:5). But having one’s name ‘acknowledged’ [confessed] is not the same as being declared saved. Rather, it refers to the public testimony by the Son of God to the faithful life of the obedient Christian. Conversely, not having one’s name acknowledged is to forfeit the Master’s ‘Well done.’” 19

This confession is functionally the positive idea implied in the litotes (no erasure of his name means a magnifying of his name, i.e., magnification by Christ’s personal acknowledgement before the Father and His angels).” 20

The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus during this church age will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards according to their works (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12) during the Tribulation period. Believers who lived in disobedience and failed to grow spiritually, like the believers in Sardis, “will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). Although they have eternal life by believing in Jesus, they will suffer the loss of rewards and be denied the praise that Christ could have given them before His heavenly Father and the holy angels if they had been faithful to the Lord’s calling in their lives.

Christ concludes, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:6). Not all Christians will be overcomers by remaining faithful to Jesus to the end of their lives. Only those who have “an ear” and “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promises and live as “overcomers” so they may receive these glorious eternal rewards.

Imagine being on the new earth with King Jesus in the future, and He publicly honors you by acknowledging your name before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. If you are the kind of person who likes to receive approval, praise, and recognition before others, this acknowledgement or confession of your eternally honored name in the future by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, will greatly motivate you to persevere in faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus now, no matter what the cost. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our hearts and what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him, even when people dishonor or forget our names on earth now.

In summary, Christians who watch expectantly for Christ’s return and live undefiled Christian lives will receive a three-fold reward consisting of dazzling eternal clothes, an eternally honored name, which will be publicly praised before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity (3:1-6).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, only You are qualified to judge Your church. Thank You for warning the church in Sardis (and us) of the danger of looking good on the outside to hide the lack of spiritual life on the inside. Thank You for warning us of the loss of reward and for giving us the remedy for our spiritually immature condition. Lord Jesus, we do not want to compromise our faith and waste our Christian lives by living selfishly. Please help us to stay spiritually alert and remember what we have been taught by godly teachers in the past. Thank You for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by You before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to You now no matter what the cost. To hear Your praise, Lord Jesus, in eternity, is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us so You will receive maximum honor and glory in eternity. In Your mighty and most honorable name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1509-1510.

2. Ibid., pg. 1510.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

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), pg. 164.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 46 cites, Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 577.  

6. Constable, pp. 46-47.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1510.

8. Ibid.

9. Constable, pg. 47 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 155.

10. Constable, pg. 47 cites R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 1, International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg.  78.

11. Constable, pg. 47.

12. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 46.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 684 cites J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (Scottsdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961), pp. 329-331.

14. Constable, pg. 48.

15. Ibid.

16. Dillow, pg. 685.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1511; Constable, pg. 49; Dillow, pg. 687 cites Martin Loyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), pp. 314ff.

18. Dillow, pg. 687.

19. Ibid., pp. 687-688.

20. Vacendak, pg. 1511.

Revelation 2 – Part 4

“But hold fast what you have till I come.” Revelation 2:25

The ascended Lord Jesus addresses the fourth church next. “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.’” (Revelation 2:18). Thyatira was the smallest and least significant of the seven cities, but it was the one that received the longest letter.” 1

“According to legend, Thyatira was first established as a shrine to the sun god Tyrimnus and named Pelopia.” 2

This town stood about forty-five miles to the southeast of Pergamum. It was famous for its textiles, but especially for its production of purple dye (cf. Acts 16:14) and its trade guilds (or social clubs). 3

Sadly, these guilds were also steeped in blasphemous worship and sexual sin. The church in Thyatira had a woman, Jezebel, who supported such guild practices. If a Christian refused to participate in idol worship, he or she would often be excluded from the guild, and therefore be unable to conduct their business. 4

The Lord Jesus describes Himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.” This description of Christ is like that in 1:13-15, but here He is called the “Son of God” rather than “the Son of Man,” since this situation required a reaffirmation of His deity and the authority or right to judge this church. 5

“Eyes like a flame of fire” refers to Jesus’ blazing anger against sin and His ability to see beneath the surface into the inmost being of a person’s heart. 6 The Greek word used to describe Christ’s feet like “fine brass” is a rare word chalkolibanō, also used in 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of several metals characterized by brilliance when polished. 7  This speaks of the risen Christ’s inflexible, immovable strength and power 8 and His readiness to execute judgment (cf. Revelation 19:15). 9

Although much was wrong with the church in Thyatira, Christ commends this church when He says, “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.” (Revelation 2:19). These believerswere strong in good “works,” “love” for others (not mentioned in the other letters), “faith” in God, “service” of their Savior, and “patience” or perseverance in trials. This church was doing more as time went on (“the last are more than the first”)in contrast to the church at Ephesus which did less. 10 Often churches stop growing over time, but not the church in Thyatira. Their “works, love, service, faith, and…patience” continued to increase more that what they had at “first.”

But despite this evidence of Christian growth, the church in Thyatira had some serious flaws and needed a Judge. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20). Whereas the church in Ephesus would not allow false teachers, this church did. The risen Lord Jesus rebukes them for permitting a false teacher named “Jezebel” to entice them to practice “sexual immorality” connected to idolatrous worship (“to… eat things sacrificed to idols”).

It is likely that Jezebel’s immorality involved teaching God’s people that it was acceptable to engage in the activities of the guild feasts that took place in pagan temples. The pressure on the workers of that day to give in was great because failure to attend these feasts could threaten their livelihood.” 11

Though perhaps this was her real name, Jezebel also brings to mind the wife of Israel’s King Ahab (see 1 Kgs 16:31; 2 Kgs 9) and represents an entire category of immoral and idolatrous women.” 12

A modern-day practice of Jezebel’s doctrine is connected to pornography which involves sexual immorality and idolatry. Pornography is one of the most destructive practices in the church today and most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. The majority of churches preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted. 13

“Pornography is the number one addiction for men. One out of two internet hits have to do with sex and pornography. Pornography can ruin normal sexual relationships because no real person can live up to pornographic images and fantasies. Research has shown that the limbic system bonds with whatever you are visualizing at the time of orgasm, so the next time you have sexual cravings they will be focused on that image or fantasy. This is why pornography is so addicting. Pornography is not really about sex; it is about zoning out, getting high on your own neurochemicals. Sex addicts report having withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine withdrawal.” 14

Pornography is not just an adult addiction. Young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing. If you don’t think it’s possible for your children to get hooked on porn, you need to listen to Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s videos. 15 If you are struggling with pornography, contact Pure Desire at www.puredesire.org to obtain hope and healing from your addiction.

What is an idol? An idol is turning to something or someone other than God when we are anxious, hurting, lonely, stressed, or even wanting to celebrate. More and more Christians are turning to pornography instead of the Lord to medicate or celebrate their feelings. Pornography is an idol that is destroying the sons and daughters of God around the world.

Christ’s patience toward this false teacher in Thyatira is seen when He says, “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.” (Revelation 2:21). God is very gracious and patient. He gave Jezebel “time to repent” of her false teaching that promoted “sexual immorality.” But she refused to “repent.” Understand that “a refusal is different than a struggle. At times, believers fight sins but cannot stop committing them on their own power. Jezebel was unwilling to make any effort.” 16  She knew she was doing wrong, and she chose to keep doing it. This does not mean that Jezebel was unsaved. It is possible to be a Christian and drift from sound doctrine (cf. I Timothy 1:19-20). 17

Since Jezebel did “not repent,” the Lord Jesus promised to discipline her and her followers when He said, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22). Since she encouraged lying on beds of adultery, the risen Jesus would cast her on a different kind of bed: a bed of sickness. 18 And because her followers joined her immoral ways, they would experience God’s painful discipline in the form of “great tribulation” or distress.

Another group in this church would experience a more severe judgment. “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:23). This group is referred to as “her children” because they fully embraced her teaching and lifestyle. 19 They would experience physical “death.” This may sound extremely severe, but it is not the first time in the New Testament that God disciplines His people in this way (cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30).

 Immediately before pronouncing, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31), the writer of Hebrews declares, ‘The Lord will judge His people’ (v 30, emphasis added). The Lord’s discipline would cause His people to know that He is serious about sinful activity and false teaching and that no one is exempt from His discipline (cf. Gal 6:7).” 20

This judgment would be so intense that “all the churches shall know” that the ascended Christ is the One “who searches hearts and minds.” Nothing escapes His notice. False teachers may be able to deceive their followers, but they are not capable of fooling the risen Lord Jesus. These seven churches (and any of us today) reading these messages would be reminded to take sin seriously because God is partial to no one. He says, “I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

Not all the believers of the church in Thyatira followed Jezebel and her false doctrine. Jesus says to them, “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.(Revelation 2:24). Apparently Jezebel claimed that her “doctrine” (that Christians can indulge in immorality without consequences) was deeper than the teachings of the apostles’ when in reality they extended to “the depths of Satan.” 21  Christ says that those who did not follow Jezebel’s teaching would be subject to “no other burden” just listed.

Instead, this godly remnant was to hold fast what you have till I come.” (Revelation 2:25).  These faithful believers were simply to continue to do what they had been doing – to stand against false teaching and to “hold fast” to purity of doctrineuntil Christ comes for His church at the Rapture (cf. Revelation 4:1-4; cf. John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). 22

Walvoord observes, Perhaps because the church was small, Christ did not command them to leave it but to remain as a godly testimony. Judgment on Jezebel and her followers would come soon and would purge the church. In modern times Christians who find themselves in apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship, but this was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.

“The parallels between Thyatira and other apostate churches throughout church history are clear. Some compare Thyatira to believers in the Middle Ages when Protestantism separated from Roman Catholicism and attempted a return to purity in doctrine and life. The prominence of Jezebel as a woman prophetess is sometimes compared to the unscriptural exaltation of Mary. The participation in idolatrous feasts can illustrate the false teaching that the Lord’s Supper is another sacrifice of Christ. In spite of the apostasy of churches in the Middle Ages, there were churches then which, like the church of Thyatira, had some believers who were bright lights of faithfulness in doctrine and life.” 23

The ascended Lord Jesus then gives this godly remnant a challenge and promised reward if they fulfill that challenge. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – 27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ – as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28). The eternal rewards for remaining faithful to Christ and resisting Jezebel’s false teachings “until the end” of their lives was ruling with Christ “over the nations” in His earthly kingdom and enjoying a special intimacy with the Morning Star Himself, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 24 The morning star (usually the planet Venus) appears in the night sky, just before the dawning of a new day. Jesus Christ will guide faithful believers in the future, as the new day of His rule dawns (cf. Titus 2:13; Daniel 12:3). 25

“Thus, the reward for a pure life is a greater experience of Jesus during His millennial reign and for eternity. Naturally, a co-ruler of the universe will have greater access to the King than a common citizen.” 26

The Lord intended the prospect of this promised blessing to motivate the unfaithful in the church to return to God’s will for them, and to encourage the faithful to persevere. Believers who are faithful (“he who overcomes”) will receive “power” (authority) in heaven from Jesus Christ and will “rule” (lit. “shepherd”) others during the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; 19:28-29; Luke 19:11- 27; Romans 8:17b; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21; 20:4-6). Some believers will receive greater authority for being faithful, than others who have not been as faithful (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). While not all Christians will remain faithful to the Lord (2 Timothy 2:12), Christ evidently described believers as faithful (cf. Revelation 2:19) to motivate them to remain faithful. 27

We see that the rewards of ruling with Christ and enjoying a special intimacy with Him in His earthly kingdom are reserved only for individual believers in Jesus who remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives on earth. The Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29). Not all Christians are “overcomers” who hold fast to Christ till the end of their lives on earth. Only those who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and appropriate Jesus’ promise will be able to live as “overcomers” and receive these perseverance rewards.

Since Christ will reward each Christian “according to his works” (2:23; cf. 22:12) and not all Christians do the same amount or quality of works, there will be varying degrees of rewards among believers. When Jesus evaluates our Christian lives at the Judgment Seat (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12), He will look deeper than the works themselves, since He “searches the hearts and minds” of His people and knows what motivates them to act (Revelation 2:23; cf. I Corinthians 4:5). His rewards will also take into consideration the motivation for our works (cf. Matthew 6:1-4; Hebrews 4:12-13). Have we served Christ with our very best to bring honor to Him (cf. I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:22-25)? 28 Only Jesus Christ is qualified to make such judgments of believers (cf. I Corinthians 4:1-5; Revelation 1:12-20; 2:23; et al.).

To summarize: Christians who succumb to false teaching and the sinful lifestyle it promotes, can expect God’s discipline in their lives even unto physical death (2:18-23; cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30). Believers who resist false teaching and remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives will receive the reward of ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom and enjoy a special intimacy with Him, our Morning Star (2:24-29).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us enough to tell us what we need to hear. Like the church in Thyatira, You have commended us for having more good works, love for others, faith in God, service for You, and perseverance in trials than we had at the first. But You know our hearts and minds better than we do. You know that we have tolerated false teaching within our churches that compromises the truth of Your gospel by adding works to Your finished work on the cross. Such an unstable foundation has led to an infiltration of sexual immorality and idolatry in Your churches. Those of us who fall prey to this teaching of Jezebel’s spirit are those who often seek spiritual enlightenment apart from You and crave eternal life without believing on Christ’s sacrificial death. We can consider ourselves superior to the rest of the earth’s population and are ever learning some new ‘mystical’ spirituality, which is contrary to the truth of the gospel. Please help those of us who have embraced Jezebel’s teaching to return to Your will lest we experience Your painful discipline. Empower those of us who have rejected her teaching to remain faithful to You until the end of our lives so we may receive Your eternal rewards of ruling with You in Your coming Kingdom on earth and enjoying a special intimacy with You then as our Morning Star. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 41.

2. Ibid., cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series. Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 201.

3. Constable, pg. 41.

4.  Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1508.

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), pg. 164.

6. Constable, pg. 42 cites, William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 128; Vacendak, pg. 1508.

7. Walvoord, pg. 164.

8. Constable, pg. 42 cites Barclay, pg. 128.

9. Vacendak, pg. 1508.

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1508.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

13. Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21.

14. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Book 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 206-207.

15. See Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .

16. Evans, pg. 2374.  

17. Vacendak, pg. 1509.

18. Constable, pg. 43.

19. Vacendak, pg. 1509. 

20. Ibid.

21. Constable, pg. 43.

22. Ibid., pg. 44; Vacendak, pg. 1509.

23. Walvoord, pg. 164.

24. Vacendak, pg. 1509.

25. Constable, pg. 45.

26. Evans, pg. 2374.

27. Constable, pg. 44.

28. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 771-772.

Revelation 2 – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2372.

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

9. Ibid., pg. 36.

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

11. Constable, pg. 37.

12. Vacendak, pp. 1505-1506.

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

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

15. Vacendak, pg. 1506.

16. Dillow, pp. 962-963.

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

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

Living Life Today in Light of Tomorrow (Video)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 2

“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” John 21:17

Twelve-year-old Kurt never missed a game of his Little League team, but he didn’t get to play much because of his small size and lack of coordination. The coach never let him play more than the two innings a game required by league rules. Even with Kurt’s participation, the team won many games and qualified for the playoffs. After the last practice before the playoff game, the coach drew Kurt aside and said, “Kurt, just don’t show up on Saturday for the game. It will be better for the team if you are not there.” A dejected twelve-year-old left the field that day.

Peter also felt the sting of despair. He had denied the Lord three times and swore that he was not one of His followers while in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:17, 25, 27). After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter may have thought Christ no longer wanted him on His team, so he returned to fishing. Because of his failure, Peter may have felt unworthy to serve as a leader any longer. Perhaps he thought his public denials of Jesus disqualified him as a follower of Christ.

All of us can probably relate to this. We, too, have failed Christ and we feel unworthy to be on His team. We might think our sin is unforgivable or unredeemable. We fear that Jesus would not want us on His team. But please understand that Jesus never says to a repentant child of God, “Don’t show up.” Christ always gives a second chance to those who seek His forgiveness.

We are learning from John 21:15-19 how the risen Lord Jesus can use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail. Last time we discovered He can do this when we make loving Him our first priority (John 21:15). Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times after breakfast, he would say he loved the Lord. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love [agapaō] Me more than these?” (John 21:15a). When Peter replied, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileō] You,” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” (John 21:15b).

The word Jesus used for “love” is agapaō and is often used of God’s unconditional sacrificial love. But the word Peter used for “love” is phileō and refers to a brotherly and affectionate love that is between close friends. But Christ does not stop with this one question.

“He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’” (John 21:16). Again, Jesus begins with “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the importance of what He was about to say to Peter. Jesus uses the same word for “love” (agapaō) to ask Peter a second time, only He drops off the “more than these” to encourage a more positive response. 1  “In His first question the Lord challenged the superiority of Peter’s love. In His second question the Lord challenged whether Peter had any love at all.” 2

Peter replied using the same words as the first time, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Again,Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Before Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter had proudly claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the other disciples (Matthew 26:33, 35; Luke 22:33; John 13:37). But after his failure and denials, Peter now exhibits more humility.

Seeing Peter’s humility, Jesus says, “Tend My sheep.” The word for “tend” (poimaínō) in the original Greek language means to watch out for other people, to shepherd, of activity that protects, rules, governs, fosters … in the sense of lead, guide, or rule.” 3  This word means “to be a shepherd” or “take care of” flocks. Both Paul and Peter use this word to speak of the spiritual responsibilities of church leaders (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2). 4 The word for “sheep” (probata) is a diminutive form of the more common word for sheep, probaton, and means “little sheep.” 5  It is quite possible Jesus is referring to believers who are not yet fully mature in their faith.

John then tells us, “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” (John 21:17). For a third time, Jesus says, “Simon, son of Jonah,” to emphasize the extreme importance of what He was about to say. When Jesus asks, “Do you love Me?” He uses the same word for “love” (phileō) that Peter used.

John notes that “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’ ” The word for “grieved” is lupeō which means “to become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” Was Peter hurt because Jesus used the same word for love (phileō) that Peter had used or was he hurt because Jesus asked him a third time if he loved Him? I believe Peter was hurt because when Jesus asked him a third time, it reminded Peter of his three denials. Peter had denied knowing Jesus early in the morning when standing around “coals of fire” (John 18:15-18, 25-27), and now Jesus was asking him three times if he loved Him early in the morning while being around “coals of fire” (John 21:1-17).

“Seeing Peter humbled, Jesus came down to Peter’s level and met him where he was. Peter was grieved. His three denials of his Lord had now been matched by a question from his Lord repeated three times: ‘Do you love me?’ It broke Peter’s heart.” 8  

All Peter could do is say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” This time Peter appeals to Jesus’ omniscience (“You know all things”). “When Peter was proudly self-assured about his ability to stand fast at a critical moment, Jesus knew that he would actually crack under pressure (see 13:37-38). He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter did. The grieving disciple understood that now. And since Jesus knew all things, Peter was convinced that Jesus also knew that Peter loved him in spite of his prior failure.” 9  

It may have also grieved Peter that Jesus was asking him questions that He already knew the answers to. 10  But these questions from Jesus were for Peter’s benefit, not the Lord’s benefit.

After Peter told Jesus a third time that he loved Him, Jesus said, “Feed My sheep.” Here Jesus uses the word boskō (“feed”) from verse 15, and the word probaton (“sheep”) from verse 16. Three times Peter had denied knowing Jesus. And now three times Peter affirms his love for Jesus and three times Jesus commissioned Peter to feed His lambs or sheep. This whole scene was intended to show Peter that he is completely forgiven and restored to his position of leadership! Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned him to feed or shepherd His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven, and he would serve Christ until his dying day!

Peter reminds us, that no matter how great a Christian is, he or she may fall away from the Lord. And when they do, they need to know that Christ always gives a second chance to His humble followers.

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to say “I love you” to erase the three-fold denial that had happened in the courtyard the night before Christ’s crucifixion. The truth is Simon Peter failed Jesus miserably. But Jesus Christ forgave him magnificently! 

Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me. Failure is overcome by forgiveness. There is no other way. If we want to make a difference in peoples’ lives, we must learn this important lesson. Sometimes we try to overcome our failures by trying harder or being “better” Christians. But trying harder or trying to be “better” Christians only makes things worse. Our failures are always overcome by the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to declare his love for Him because He wanted him to take His forgiveness into his heart where it really mattered. It is one thing to know about the forgiveness of Christ. But it is another thing to take it to heart. 

There may be many of us, if the truth were known, who know about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We know in our heads that He died on the cross for all our sins, and on this basis, He is willing to forgive all our sins. We even know that when we trusted Christ for His gift of eternal life, Jesus promised to forgive all our sins (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

But when it comes to the worst sin in our lives that we can look back on, the truth is many of us have not taken Jesus’ forgiveness to heart yet. Oh, we know we have eternal life by virtue of believing in Jesus (I John 5:13). But we have not heard Jesus say, “I forgive you” yet in that area of our greatest sin. Maybe that is the reason God brought you to this page, to hear Him say, “I forgive you,” so you can take it into the depths of your heart and soul.   

Keep in mind that Peter had believed in Jesus three years before Christ’s crucifixion (John 1:35-2:11; 6:69). And when Peter came to faith in Christ, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Cephas, which means a stone or rock (John 1:42). Why did Jesus change his name? Because Jesus knew the leadership role that Peter would play when He saw Peter in rough form. Peter would become a rock-solid leader among leaders.

Prior to Peter’s denial of Jesus, he had been walking with the Lord over three years. But Peter failed the Lord miserably when He denied knowing Jesus three times. He was probably uncertain about having a future ministry for his Lord and Savior after his great failure. He probably felt unworthy to be Jesus’ disciple. Therefore Jesus took special time with Peter to make sure he took Christ’s forgiveness into his heart so he would not carry that burden of guilt or shame into the future.

If the risen Lord Jesus is going to be able to use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail, WE MUST RECEIVE HIS FORGIVING GRACE INTO OUR HEARTS FOR OUR GREATEST SINS (JOHN 21:16-17). If we want to take to heart the forgiveness of Christ, we need to do it the same way Peter did. We look at Jesus’ word and we let His word come into our hearts and give us the assurance that His forgiveness has restored our fellowship or closeness with God.  

What does God say a Christian is to do after he or she sins? John tells us in his first epistle, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). To “confess” (homologeō), means “to agree, admit, acknowledge.” 11  When we confess our sins to God we are agreeing with what God says about our sin. It is not merely a mistake or weakness. It is an offense against our holy God.

And the moment we confess our sin to God, He is “faithful and just” to forgive the sin we confessed and cleanse us of all our unknown sins (“all unrighteousness”) as well. God restores us to a harmonious relationship with Himself. The word “just” (dikaios) means “righteous.“Because of the shed blood of Christ (v 7), there is no compromise of God’s righteousness when He forgives.” 12 Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied God’s “just” demand to punish all our sin. When we confess our sins, God’s cleansing is total.

It is possible that even when God forgives us after we confess our sins, we stubbornly refuse to forgive ourselves. How long does it take us to forgive ourselves? Since God is ready and willing to forgive us when we seek His forgiveness (Psalm 86:5), what gives us the right not to forgive ourselves? If you are struggling to forgive yourself after God has forgiven you, take some time to write I John 1:9 down on a piece of paper. Then insert your greatest sins for the word “sins” in that verse. Draw a picture representing this truth so it can be installed into your right (limbic) brain. Review this verse and drawing every night before you go to sleep so God the Holy Spirit can massage it down into the depths of your heart and soul as you sleep. Choose to forget what God has already forgiven.

As stated earlier, Jesus used the word phileō the third time to meet Peter where he was at. Jesus was saying to Peter (and to us), “I want to meet you where you are at and walk with you on this journey called discipleship. I want to help you grow in your love for Me. I want to give you a vision of what you can become as My grace works in and through you to feed others spiritually.”

We are not on this journey alone. We have a great and sympathetic high priest who understands our struggles and longs to come alongside us to give us the grace and mercy we need (Hebrews 4:15-16). There is probably not one of us reading this article that feels like we love Jesus Christ the way He deserves. We love Him the best we know how, yet we know there is a lot of room for growth. I hope that all of us want to grow in our love for Jesus.

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me with everything you have every moment of your life?” If we are honest with ourselves, we would say to the Lord, “Jesus, I want to love You more in the way You deserve, but I fall way short of that. I need Your help.” That is sort of what Peter was saying to Jesus. So, Jesus came the third time and said, “Peter, I know you are trying to grow in Your love for Me. I want to come alongside you and help you do that.” This is what Jesus wants to do for you and me. He takes us where we are and helps us grow in the love we have for Him. 

Interestingly, each time Jesus commands Peter to “tend” or “feed” His sheep, He uses present tense verbs (boske… poimaine… boske). This indicates that the feeding process is to be repeated and regular. A meal or two now and then will not develop strong sheep. Nor will a sermon now and then build strong disciples of Jesus. We need to be fed repeatedly, regularly, and often.

Though Peter had previously thought highly of himself, he had come to adopt Jesus’s view of leadership in ministry. Peter understood that being a leader of God’s people is not about arrogantly exercising power. Therefore, he could later write to other church leaders, ‘Shepherd God’s flock among you . . . not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:2-3). Peter had taken to heart Jesus’s command, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Sometimes God lets his people fail in order to develop them spiritually and prepare them for greater usefulness (see Luke 22:31-32).” 13

Although Peter failed the risen Lord Jesus greatly, Jesus did not take Him off His team. To the risen Lord Jesus, winning men and women, and boys and girls is more important than winning games. Imagine Peter’s joy when for each of his three denials, Christ commissioned Peter to feed His sheep. Peter knew he was forgiven and restored. And he served Christ until his dying day. Jesus wants us to know and experience that we are forgiven so we can serve Him until He says it is time to come home to Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, many of us needed to hear this message from You. We have felt disqualified from serving You because of our past failures. We know in our heads that we are completely forgiven the moment we believed in You for eternal salvation, but our feelings keep lying to us. We have let them convince us that we are unworthy to be on Your team. Thank You so much for reminding us that our failures are not final because of Your forgiving grace. And when You forgive, You choose to forget. Teach us O Lord God to forget our past failures and to embrace Your amazing grace so we may forgive ourselves and help others to grow in their love for You. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 381.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 396 cites Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John Vol. 3 (Swengel, Pa.: I. C. Herendeen, 1945; 3 vols. in 1 reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 324.

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. 842.

4. Laney, pg. 381.

5. Ibid.; See also Archibald Thomas (A. T.) Robertson, Robertson’s Word Pictures in Six Volumes, (The Ephesians Four Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 78494-78496.

6. Bauer, pg. 604.

7. A. T. Roberston, Kindle Locations 78509-78510.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1832.

9. Ibid.

10. 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. 569.

11. Ibid., pg. 1430.

12. Ibid.

13. Evans, pg. 1832.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 5

“Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” John 21:9

When Jesus appeared for the fourth time after His resurrection in the gospel of John, He reminds us of several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. Together we have discovered that…

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

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

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

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

Now we are ready for the fifth lesson from Jesus. After Christ miraculously enabled His seven disciples to catch more fish than they could haul into their boat, John identifies that this Stranger is Jesus and then Peter eagerly dives into the sea to swim over to Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:6-7). When the other disciples arrived on the shore with a net full of fish (John 21:8), John writes, “Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.” (John 21:9). The disciples discovered that the Creator of the universe had fixed them breakfast on the beach. This must have smelled great to these tired and hungry fishermen who had been fishing all night.

John included an interesting detail in this verse that can easily be missed. The Greek word that is translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used two times in John’s gospel: here and in John 18:18 when Peter was in the courtyard warming himself around the fire and he denied knowing Jesus three times. The risen Lord Jesus was reminding Peter of his recent past. We can be sure of this because of the conversation Jesus will have with Peter in John 21:15-17. Peter would never forget this life-changing meal as he would even mention it in his preaching (see Acts 10:41). 1

What was going on here? If Peter was going to get over his past failures he needed to face the truth about himself. He had to stop hiding in his fishing expeditions and face up to what he had done earlier.

Peter isn’t the only one in the Bible who tried to hide from his failures. The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, hid behind fig leaves after they sinned against God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-10).

You and I can be a lot like Peter, and the first man and woman. We can easily go into hiding after we have failed our Lord. And we can hide in so many ways. We may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion.

Recently I read a true story about a man who shoved his way to the head of the ticket line at the airport after his flight had been canceled. “I have to get on the next flight, and it has to be first class,” he bellowed to the agent. “I’ll be happy to help you, sir,” she replied, “as soon as I serve these folks in front of you.” The passenger was irate. “Do you have any idea who I am?” he shouted at her. Without replying, the agent picked up the airport intercom and announced to the whole terminal, “May I have your attention, please. We have a passenger who doesn’t know who he is. If anyone can help him reclaim his identity, please see the agent at gate six.” 2

Most of us probably would not do something as selfish as that man did in a public setting, but we have probably thought about it under similar circumstances. Like that man, we have demanded our own way in a more indirect manner while hiding from God’s work in our lives. But the amazing thing is that our risen Lord, unlike that ticket agent, lets us get away with it at least for now. But the day is coming when we will all stand before Him, unable to hide anything from Him (I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 4:12-13). But God does not force us to stand openly before Him now.

As a result, some of us have been hiding areas of our lives for a long time, and that is what causes bondage. Hell always grow stronger when there is secrecy. Some of us carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame; others of us hide behind the fig leaves of anger, or our business or careers or even our ministries.

No matter how long we have been hiding, sooner or later, we are going to have to trust the Lord and admit the truth about ourselves. This is what Peter needed to do and Jesus built this fire of coals to help him do just that. As Peter stood before the fire where his risen Lord had cooked him breakfast, he was remembering his greatest failure of his life. Now Peter had many failures, but none were as great as when he denied knowing his Lord, especially after vowing to be faithful to Him even unto death (cf. John 13:37; 18:17-18, 25-27).

At some point all of us have had such a failure. And it seems unforgivable. Peter remembered standing before the fire and not just once, but three times – openly and blatantly – he denied the One Who loved him more than anyone else ever had or ever would.

Have you ever done that? We end up denying our risen Lord Jesus Who loves us more than anyone else. We end up betraying our best Friend by doing the very thing we vowed never to do.

Yet what does Jesus do? He cooks breakfast which included “fish” and “bread.” Why did He choose those foods? Just as the “fire of coals” would remind Peter of his past failure, so too the “fish” and “bread” would remind these seven disciples of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13). Notice that He had already provided fish for them, in addition to cooking it for them – flame-broiled – even before the disciples got out of their boat and hauled the fish they had caught to shore. Before His crucifixion, Jesus had served His disciples by washing their dirty feet (John 13:1-17). Now He continues to serve them as their risen Lord by providing them with a warm fire and a delicious breakfast.

Both the fire of coals, and the fish and bread would be reminders of Jesus’ faithfulness to His disciples. Christ faithfully predicted Peter would deny Him three times (John 13:38) and he did around the coals of fire (John 18:17-18, 25-27). This would assure the disciples that Jesus would be faithful to fulfill other predictions such as His promises about preparing a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-6) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-18, 25-27). Jesus was also faithful to supernaturally feed over five thousand people with fish and bread (John 6:1-13), and He would continue to faithfully provide for His followers in the future. Perhaps the disciples feared that the Lord’s death would bring an end to His care for them. But this breakfast was a timely reminder He would continue to faithfully provide for all their needs.

This leads us to our fifth lesson: OUR RISEN LORD JESUS GIVES US REMINDERS OF HIS FAITHFULNESS TO CARE FOR US (John 21:9). In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel to observe different festivals to celebrate His provision for the nation in various ways (cf. Leviticus 23). 4 Each time God’s people observed these festivals, they would be reminded of God’s provision in the past so they may continue to trust Him to provide for them in the future.

In the New Testament, Jesus Himself established the Lord’s Supper to be observed in remembrance of Him, His death and shedding of blood for our sins (Matthew 26:17-19, 26-30; I Corinthians 11:23-26). Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, it helps us to think and thank God for His great grace toward us through the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9).

I am also reminded of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6 where He says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). When we see the “birds of the air” we are reminded of how our heavenly Father takes care of them. Have you ever seen a bird get an ulcer from worrying? They don’t get anxious about their next meal because our “heavenly Father feeds them.” And since we are far more valuable to our Father in heaven than a bird, how much more will He take care of you and me!?!

Jesus also said, 28So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30). Flowers don’t worry about looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation. If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t He do much more for you and me? You and I are much more valuable to Jesus than a bird or a flower, so there is no need for us to worry about Him taking care of our needs.

As you read this article you may be realizing that you needed these reminders from the risen Lord Jesus. We are prone to forget what is most important in life. Jesus knows this and He addresses it with daily reminders of His faithfulness to provide for all our needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, like Peter, we can hide from our past failures in a variety of ways. And like Adam and Eve who hid behind fig leaves after they sinned, we may hide behind the modern-day fig leaves of anger, busyness, careers, expensive cars or homes, hobbies, humor, ministries, sarcasm, sports, superficial interactions, theological knowledge, or even religion. Thank You for reminding us of our past unresolved failures so we can face them and bring them to You and be restored. Lord Jesus, we can be so prone to worry about many things, especially our unmet needs. Thank You for the many reminders You give us each day that tell us we are important to You and that You will be faithful to take care of all our needs. Please renew our trust in You to do what You promise. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

2. Ed Kittrell, Funny Business (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Publishing House, October 1977), pg. 6.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 391.

4. Evans, pg. 294.

5. Ibid., pg. 1501.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 12

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.” John 19:38

We are learning lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life found in John 19. So far we have discovered…

– Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 19:17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

– Jesus’ garments were removed so we could wear the garments of salvation (John 19:23-24).

– Though Jesus died for the world, He also cares deeply for me (John 19:25-27).

– Jesus became thirsty to save us from an eternal thirst (John 19:28-29).

– We cannot work our way to heaven because we cannot pay a debt that is already paid (John 19:30).

– Jesus’ legs were not broken and His side was pierced so we may believe Jesus is our Passover Lamb Who died for us (John 19:31-37).

Today the final lesson is AS DISCIPLES OF JESUS, WE ARE TO OPENLY IDENTIFY WITH HIM NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 19:38-42). John now gives an account of Jesus’ burial to substantiate further that Jesus actually died. “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.” (John 19:38). We do not bury a living person. We bury a dead person. The proof that Jesus died was that He was buried.

“Normally the Romans placed the bodies of crucified offenders, whose bodies they did not leave to rot on their crosses, in a cemetery for criminals outside the city.” Family members could not claim the bodies of people who had undergone crucifixion as punishment for sedition.” 2 But two of Jesus’ friends intervene to give Christ a proper burial.

The other gospel writers inform us that “Joseph of Arimathea” was “a rich man” (Matthew 27:57) “waiting for the kingdom of God,” who was also “a good and just man” (Luke 23:50). Although he was a “prominent… member” of the Jewish Supreme Court called the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), “he had not consented to their decision” to crucify Christ (Luke 23:51).

Only John tells us he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews,” particularly the unbelieving Jewish leaders. Despite his fears, Joseph courageously “asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.” So Joseph “came and took the body of Jesus” down from the cross to give Him a proper burial.

But Joseph was not alone in doing this. He was accompanied by another member of the Sanhedrin. “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39). Unlike disciples of Jesus who fled for fear of the Jews, both Joseph and Nicodemus now boldly identified themselves with Jesus. But they were not always willing to do this.

John mentions that Nicodemus “first came to Jesus by night.” John emphasizes this each time he mentions Nicodemus in his gospel (cf. John 3:2; 7:50). Earlier John wrote, 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Prior to asking Pilate for Jesus’ dead body, it appears that both Joseph and Nicodemus had been secret disciples who were reluctant to openly confess Jesus because they feared what the Pharisees would do to them if they did. Openly identifying with Christ could result in both these men “losing their seats in the Sanhedrin and, worse yet, being refused the right to worship in the synagogue (cf. 9:22; 12:42).” 4

Although they had probably believed in Jesus for His gift of salvation earlier (John 12:42), they were not willing to walk in the light of fellowship with Jesus by openly confessing Christ among their religious colleagues. Why? Because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). They cared more about what people thought of them instead of what God thought of them. They were people-pleasers, not God-pleasers. They chose to walk in the darkness by refusing to confess Christ before others. They wanted the approval of men more than the approval of God.

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (cf. I John 4:15).

But now John presents both Nicodemus and Joseph in a favorable light as they openly identify with Jesus in the daylight by asking permission to give Christ a proper burial. It took a lot of courage for them to do this. What had changed in their lives for them to have such courage? Based on John’s discipleship theme in his gospel, I would suggest that these men had grown in their relationship with Jesus to the point of caring more about what Christ thought of them than what people thought of them. “The death of Jesus so moved Nicodemus and Joseph that they cast aside their fears and boldly claim Jesus’ body, prepare Him for burial, and bury Him.” They had come out of the darkness into the light of fellowship with Jesus Christ (cf. John 3:19-36; I John 1:5-9).

The same is true for us. We may begin our Christian lives afraid of what people may think or do to us if we openly identify with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our boldness for Him will also grow (cf. John 7:26; Acts 4:13, 29-31; 9:27; Philippians 1:20-21; I Thessalonians 2:1-10; I John 4:17). The courage that the Holy Spirit gives to us will overcome our fears (Acts 4:23-31). Christ’s radical love for us will squelch our fears (cf. I John 4:18). More and more we will seek to please Jesus rather than people (Colossians 3:23-24; I Thessalonians 2:4).

John tells us that Nicodemus brought “about a hundred pounds” of “myrrh and aloes” to prepare Jesus’ dead body for burial (John 19:39). ‘Myrrh’ was a fragrant resin that the Jews turned into powder, and then mixed with ‘aloes,’ which was powdered sandalwood.” 6  “The purpose of covering a corpse with this aromatic powder was to dry it out and to lessen the foul odor that putrefaction caused.” 7

The amount of aromatic spices is significant for such a large quantity was commonly used only for kings. 8  This amount of burial spices reflects Nicodemus’ great love and respect for Jesus. Isn’t this amazing!?! Even though Christ was dead, Nicodemus’ love for Him was very much alive.

“Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” (John 19:40). Because it was almost the Sabbath (which began at sundown) the burial had to take place quickly. Jewish burial customs did not involve mummification or embalming, which took out the blood and body organs. Their normal process was to wash a body and cover it with cloth and aromatic oils or spices.” 9

John mentions the “strips of linen” wrapped around Jesus’ body to emphasize that Christ was truly dead. The use of “strips of linen” argues against the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, which is often associated with Jesus’ burial. 10  As long as there were no graveclothes, no tomb, and no coroner, there was hope. But the arrival of the graveclothes signified the departure of any hope. 11

This is amazing to think about from Joseph’s and Nicodemus’ perspective. Earlier in the week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem with shouts of joy from the great multitude. The people who praised Jesus as their King days earlier then called for His death on Friday. These linens were a physical reminder that their Friend and His future were wrapped in graveclothes and sealed behind a rock. These two brave men did not know on that Friday what we now know. They didn’t know that Friday’s calamity would become Sunday’s celebration! 12  Yet, they remained loyal to Jesus even in His death.

If that had been you or me, what would we have done? After all, the crowds were pleased with Jesus’ crucifixion. What was to keep the religious leaders from calling for more executions? Let’s be honest. If we were in Joseph’s or Nicodemus’ sandals, we would have left town as quickly as possible!

But Joseph and Nicodemus did not flee. Why? Because Jesus was their Friend and they loved Him. You don’t abandon a dear Friend, even when He is dead.This seems to be what these two men are thinking. The manner in which Jesus lived and died deeply impacted their lives.

Next John tells us, “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41). Jesus’ body was placed in a new tomb in a private “garden,” not in a public cemetery. 13

“In Palestine, bodies were buried in natural caves or tombs that were carved out of the limestone. Niches or shelves were prepared where the bodies could be laid. The tomb was customarily sealed with a disc-shaped stone that could be rolled across the entrance. The tomb was usually a family tomb, and the niches would be reused as necessary. The bones of the previous occupant would simply be collected and placed in a bone-box, or ‘ossuary,’ that remained in the tomb.” 14

John is the only gospel writer to mention that Jesus was buried in a “garden.” “Why would he mention this? This may well be an illusion to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden and away from the tree of life. But Jesus, the second Adam, dies on a tree to redeem man and re-open paradise (cf. Rev 2:7).” 15

Matthew tells us that this tomb belonged to Joseph. He laid Jesus’ body “in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.” (Matthew 27:60). The placement of Jesus’ body in Joseph’s tomb fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah, Who would be “with the rich at His death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

John includes a very significant detail when he writes, “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41b). When Jesus’s body was gone after His resurrection, “no one was able to point to any bones in the tomb to claim them as Jesus’s remains. His was the first corpse to lie there.” 16

John concludes this section when he writes, “So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (John 19:42). Christ’s burial was somewhat of a hasty measure because the “Jews’ day of preparation” before the Sabbath (i.e., Friday) was about to end with the fast approaching sunset.

Joseph and Nicodemus were not expecting the resurrection, yet they were willing to risk their riches, their reputations, their religious privileges, and possibly their own lives out of love and respect for Jesus. Their sacrifices will be greatly rewarded in eternity.

For the Bible promises that when we invest our riches in what is eternal while we live here on earth, we will store up permanent treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). When we risk our reputations and even rejection for Christ by publicly confessing Him before our enemies, Jesus will give us a good confession before God the Father and His holy angels in heaven (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; Revelation 3:5b). When we sacrifice religious privileges and even our own lives here on earth for Christ, He will give us greater authority and privileges in heaven (Mark 10:29-31; Revelation 2:7, 17, 25-27; 3:11-12, 21).

When I ran track in high school, I trained hard because I wanted to win a medal in my race. Even though I had failed to win a medal in previous races, I still prepared for the next race thinking I could win. Keeping the thought of winning a medal in the front of my mind as I trained and eventually competed in the race, motivated me to do my very best and not give up.

The same is true in our Christian lives. There are certain eternal rewards that require us to live faithfully for Jesus to the end of our Christian lives. To do this, it is important to train our minds to imagine Jesus rewarding us at the Judgment Seat of Christ, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21). Like an athlete who visualizes himself winning a race, visualizing ourselves remaining faithful to Christ and receiving this reward from Him will actually create new neurological pathways in our brain. And our brains respond the same way to mental rehearsing of a task and actually performing the task.

I believe Isaac Watts captured the impact that God meant for the cross to have on our lives when he wrote the song, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The first stanza reads:

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Joseph and Nicodemus who sacrificed so much to ensure that Jesus received a proper burial. Even though their sacrifices were costly, dangerous, and without personal gain, they did this out of love and respect for their dear Friend, Jesus Christ, Who deeply touched their lives. They started out hesitant to associate with Jesus, but the more they grew in their relationship with Him, the more their boldness grew. The same can be true for us. Help us to focus on the cross so that no sacrifice will seem too great for us in light of the wondrous love of Jesus my Savior. In His matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 363 cites Josephus, Antiquities, 5:1:14.

2. Ibid., cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pg. 629.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 562. 

4. Ibid., pg. 561.

5. Ibid., pg. 562.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 363 cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pg. 629.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 363.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 121.

9. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 694.

10. Ibid., pg. 695; cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: Revised Edition, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pg. 730.

11. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pg. 121.

12. Ibid.

13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 695.

14. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 354; cf. Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody, 1987), pp. 72-74).

15. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 562.

16. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1826.

How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world? Part 2

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.’ ” John 15:20

Jesus Christ experienced love and hate from people during His time on earth. While most of the people ended up hating Christ and had Him crucified, some came to love Him. Those who loved Him received more intimate and life-changing truths from Him (cf. John 14:21; 15:14).

The night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared intimate truths with His devoted followers to prepare them to carry on His ministry after He departs and ascends to heaven to be with His heavenly Father. After speaking to His eleven believing disciples about their relationship to one another (John 15:12-17), He then directs their attention to their relationship with the world (John 15:18-16:4). Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples (and us) for the opposition they would face after He ascends to the Father in heaven. How can we be effective witnesses to a hostile world?  

Last time we learned the first way is to realize that you will face the same conflict with the world that Jesus did (John 15:18-19). The second way to be an effective witness to a hostile world is to RECALL WHAT JESUS HAS ALREADY TAUGHT US (John 15:20). As followers of Christ, we are not to think we will be treated better by the world than Jesus was.

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20). Jesus reminded His disciples of what He already taught them after He washed their feet at the Last Supper (cf. John 13:16). He said, “A servant is not greater than his master.” Earlier Jesus used this statement to encourage them to humbly serve one another as He had done when He washed their feet. Now in this context, He uses that statement to explain why they will face persecution. Christ meant that His disciples are not greater than Him in the sense that they will not escape persecution from the world when walking with the Lord. Since their Master (Jesus) was “persecuted” by the world, the world “will also persecute” His servants. 

Conversely, Jesus says, “If (since)1 they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” People often treat servants the same way they would treat the servant’s master. Hence, Christ is saying that just as some people followed His teaching, so there will be some who follow His disciples’ teaching.

In the midst of the world’s hatred and rejection toward Christ and His followers, Jesus is giving us hope. While most rejected Christ and His message, some did not. Likewise, “while most will reject the words of the apostles, some will accept their witness. For example, on the Day of Pentecost, just fifty days after Jesus spoke these words, Peter led over three thousand to faith in Jesus (Acts 2:14-41).” 2

When you and I share the gospel with others, some will oppose the message and others will receive it. It is important to remember this when we face an antagonistic crowd. Don’t give up on someone if they are not receptive the first time you try to share Christ with them. Some people may need to hear the gospel several times before they believe in Jesus. Or there may be people in a crowd of antagonists who are receptive. You may not be aware of that at the time you share with them because they are too intimidated to express their receptivity. Let the Holy Spirit draw them to Jesus among hostile listeners.

For example, in 2013 when I went with Filipino pastors to a critical area in the southern Philippines to preach in public schools, students there were very responsive. On one particular day, we stopped at an all-Muslim school to share the gospel with students, but the students had already been dismissed. We noticed that there was a crowd of about two hundred fifty adult Muslims having a Parent/Teacher meeting. We asked if we might share the good news of Jesus Christ with them and the moderator permitted us to do so.

As I began to share about the love of the God of Abraham and how He wanted to have a personal relationship with them, I noticed a group of about twenty-five Muslim women dressed in their Islamic head gear, and they were forming a circle. They would keep looking at me through the opening in their head gear and then they would look at one another. I didn’t know what they were going to do, but I just knew that Jesus did not want my translator and I to stop preaching. By God’s grace we boldly shared Christ crucified to them and then invited them to believe in the Lord Jesus for eternal life and a future home in heaven. When I asked them to raise their hands if they were now trusting in Christ alone as their only way to heaven, all two hundred fifty adult Muslims lifted up their hands. Hallelujah! My translator and I then made a quick exit out of there to go to the next school.

We can be more effective witnesses for Christ in this hostile world as we remember the things He taught us about the world’s hostility toward His followers. His teaching will give us strength in the future when we face opposition because Jesus warned us in advance, so we would not be overtaken by surprise.Regardless of how people respond, we are to faithfully represent Christ on the earth.

When we go through dark times, look back at the times of light and what Jesus already taught us during that time. Our tendency is to forget the lessons that Jesus already taught us when we go through tough times. When pressures pile up on us, we can easily throw away the biblical truths the Lord has given us (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:7). During dark times, get alone with the Lord and read His Word. Listen to His voice of truth. Let Him give you His power as His Spirit renews your mind with the everlasting truths of His Word.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for warning me in advance that when I identify with You, I will receive the same kind of treatment from the world that You received. While most people will oppose Your message through me, there will be some who will embrace it. Please help me to focus on those who are receptive so I can follow them up and teach them to follow You as You did for me through Your faithful followers when I first got saved. Regardless of how people respond, please empower me to faithfully represent You on earth while there is still time left. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. The phrase εἰ τὸν λόγον μου ἐτήρησαν is a first-class condition meaning some did keep or obey Jesus’ teaching.

2. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 537.

How can we be Jesus’ friend? Part 2

“You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” John 15:14

Last time we learned the first way to be Jesus’ friend was to live in His love (John 15:9-11). Today we discover that the second way to be Jesus’ friend is to LOVE as HE LOVED (John 15:12-17). To help His disciples understand this command to abide in His love, He repeated something He had said before. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). You may ask,What is Jesus’ love like?”

a. IT IS UNCONDITIONAL (John 15:12; cf. 13:1-11; Luke 22:24). Earlier, the disciples had been fighting among themselves about who was the greatest among them (cf. Luke 22:24). Jesus then humbly washed their dirty feet (John 13:1-11). Christ loved them even though they did not deserve it. Christ’s love was not a response to our love. He loves us even if we never loved Him back. Jesus loves us when our walk of faith is weak or when it is strong. He sticks with us in the good times and the bad. Nothing about us makes Jesus love us. He loves us because it is His nature to love. If Jesus waited for us to love Him first, He would still be waiting. Thank God that Jesus loved you and me first. His love does not require that you love Him back.

If we are going to love one another as Jesus loved us, then we must love one other whether we deserve to be loved or not. God’s love is not an emotion. “You can love people whom you may not necessarily like because love is not dependent on your feelings. That’s why Jesus can command  to ‘love your enemies’ ” (Matthew 5:44).” 1 Love is a choice to do what is best for another person. Christ living in us wants to unconditionally love others through us.

b. IT IS SACRIFICIAL (15:13). Next Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). The greatest love of all was to give up your life for your friends. In the context, this must refer to Jesus’ upcoming death on the cross (cf. John 10:11, 15, 17-18; 12:32-33; 13:1ff). This is the greatest expression of friendship.

“There was an orphanage near an American Marine Base in Viet Nam. One day the Viet Cong fired mortar shells into the orphanage, killing dozens of children and wounding many more. A boy named Kai had a seriously wounded friend who needed a blood transfusion. Kai’s friend had a rare blood type and only Kai’s blood matched it. Little Kai had never heard of a blood transfusion but when the American doctors explained it would save his friend’s life, little Kai volunteered.

“As the blood began to flow from Kai to his friend, Kai began to whimper. When the doctors asked if it hurt, he said no. A little later he whimpered again. Again, he told the doctors it did not hurt. The doctors asked, ‘What’s wrong, Kai?’ With tears coursing down his light brown, dusty cheeks, Kai asked, ‘When am I to die, sir, when am I to die?’ You see, little Kai didn’t know that you only give a little blood. He thought you gave it all, and he was willing to do so for his little friend.” 2

Are we willing to sacrifice for one another? Men, it may mean giving up a game of basketball or a TV show to listen to someone share their problems with you. Ladies, it may involve laying aside that intriguing novel to listen to your neighbor process a misunderstanding they had with someone. When a need arises among the people in your life, reach out to help them in love.

c. IT IS OBEDIENT (John 15:14). Jesus would give His life for His friends. Who are His friends? “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus’ friends are those believers who keep His commandments. We may say that Jesus is our best Friend, but would He say we are His friends? The true test of friendship with Christ is obedience to “whatever” He commands you to do. Friendship with Christ is a discipleship issue, not a salvation issue.

Twice Abraham was called a friend of God in the Old Testament: by God (Isaiah 41:8) and by men (2 Chronicles 20:7).  James 2:21-23 explains why Abraham was justified before men by works when he offered up his son, Isaac. Works justify us before men, but not before God (cf. Romans 4:2). Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) over twenty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). The faith that justified him before God was matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac (James 2:22) and filled full of meaning (James 2:23a). Men could declare Abraham to be a “friend of God” because they saw that he had an intimate relationship with God through his obedience. So friendship with God is based upon obedience.

Do people know that we are friends of Christ because of our obedience to Him? Our obedience to Jesus is a compelling testimony to the world that we are vitally connected to Him, especially when we keep His commandment to love one another. Our friendship with Christ is realized by others through our actions. This means we love one another whether we feel like it or not. But instead of ignoring our feelings, we are to deal with them so we can be available to love others. We need to experience God’s love and power before we can love others with His love.

d. IT COMMUNICATES TRUTH (15:15). Then Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). During their time together, Jesus viewed these men as servants and Himself as their Master. The responsibility of a servant was to submit to the will of his master. A servant is nothing more than an instrument. He simply does what he is told because he has no other choice. He does not have a close relationship with his master, as friends do. The servant does not know the personable issues about his master’s life. He just follows orders.

But now Jesus calls His disciples “friends.” Why? He says, “For all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” These men who had been Jesus’ servants were now His friends because He had kept nothing back from them. He had revealed all that the Father had made known to Him (cf. John 14:21). A master shares his will with his servants. But a friend shares his heart with his friends. “There are no secrets between friends.” Christ shared His heart with His disciples, so they could bear fruit to the glory of His Father.

Many years ago, a Christian writer went through a deep period of doubt and temptation. He questioned his ministry, his qualifications, his marriage, his salvation. Anguished and burdened, he finally went to a friend and confessed his feelings. As they talked and prayed together over the course of several weeks, his perspective returned. Peace came into his heart, and he experienced the joy of the Lord again. 

If we can receive this kind of help from talking with a friend, how much more beneficial would it be to be completely open with the Lord Jesus? He is the Best of friends. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “If we are friends of God, we shall have no secrets from Him. There are very few of those who are dearest to us to whom we could venture to lay bare all the depths of our hearts. There are black things down in the cellars that we do not like to show to any of our friends… But you should take God all through the house. And if there is the trust and the love that l have been speaking about, we shall not be afraid to spread out all our foulness, and our meanness, and our unworthy thoughts of, and acts towards, Him, before His ‘pure eyes and perfect judgment,’ and say, ‘Nobody but my best friend could look at such a dungheap, but I spread it before Thee… Tell God all, if you mean to be a friend of His.” 4

Christ did not withhold any truth from His disciples. There were no secrets between Him and His friends. Close friends communicate openly and honestly. Even though the truth may hurt at times, it is better to share it than to conceal it. Concealing the truth allows the situation to worsen. I appreciate it when my wife is open and honest with me about her true feelings. It shows me that she cares about our relationship. Friendship involves open communication. As we abide in Christ, He can enable us to share openly with one another.

e. IT TAKES THE INITIATIVE (15:16). Jesus continued and said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16a). Christ took the initiative in choosing His disciples to “go and bear fruit.” Normally disciples choose their own teacher, but Jesus chose them. All around the world today, students seek out the teachers of their choice and attach themselves to them. But Christ’s disciples did not take the initiative. After spending all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12-16), Jesus “chose” His disciples and “appointed” them to their mission to “go and bear fruit.” Notice that Jesus did not “choose”them to be saved or to have eternal life. His selection of them was related to their mission and ministry, not their salvation. John’s gospel never refers to people “being chosen from all eternity for eternal life or death.” 7

The divine election of God in the Bible is related to service, not salvation. In the Old Testament, God chose individuals to serve Him such as Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Moses (Exodus 3:12; Numbers 16:5-6, 28), Aaron (Numbers 17:5), King David (2 Samuel 6:21; 1 Kings 8:16), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and the Messianic Servant (Isaiah 49:5-9; 52:13-53:12). He chose a group of people, Israel, to continue the mission He began with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2; 1 Kings 3:8; Psalm 33:12; 106:5; Isaiah 43:10; 45:4; 65:9, 22; cf. Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20; Luke 18:7; Romans 9:11; 11:28; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 2:4).

In the New Testament, Jesus chose Twelve men to serve as His apostles (Luke 6:12-16; John 15:16). The fact that Judas was chosen by Christ demonstrates that this election was to service, not salvation since Judas never believed in Jesus (cf. John 6:64; 13:10-11; 17:12). Christ said that Paul was “a chosen vessel of Mine” to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). Peter was also chosen for service: “God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe” (Acts 15:7-8). 10

Just as Jesus took the initiative in choosing His disciples for their mission and service, so we must do the same in our relationships with one another. The importance of choosing believers to train in discipleship is underscored by the fact that Christ prayed all night to God on a mountaintop before He selected His disciples (cf. Luke 6:12-16). We need God’s wisdom and leading to choose men and women who will be “faithful” followers of Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).

Are we sharing the gospel with non-Christians and then asking them to meet with us for discipleship? We must be intentional about sharing the gospel with the lost and then teaching those who believe in Christ to obey all of His commandments (Matthew 28:20) because disciples are not born, they are made. 11  Christian growth is not automatic. It requires a commitment to follow Jesus regardless of the costs (cf. Luke 14:25-33).

Finally, f. IT BEARS FRUIT THAT LASTS (15:16b-17). “And that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” (John 15:16b). Christ also “chose”and “appointed” His disciples that they “should… bear fruit… that… should remain.” This fruit is related to the fruit of evangelism because it remains and cannot be lost (cf. John 4:36; 10:28-29). One of the most unloving things we can do is keep God’s love and His gospel to ourselves. This lasting fruit is also connected to answered prayer – “that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” To ask the Father in Jesus’ “name” means to pray for what Jesus would pray. God desires that all people be saved from hell (I Timothy 2:3-4). When we pray to that end, God answers that prayer. Prayer is the backbone to reaching the lost with the gospel of Christ. As God’s people pray, the Holy Spirit prepares the lost to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11).

When we pray and preach the gospel, God saves people as they respond in faith, resulting in lasting “fruit.” How exciting to see people come to faith in Christ! As we allow Jesus to live through us, our desire to see people obtain eternal life will increase. This week you may be asked by another believer to go with them to share the gospel with a family member or friend. Or maybe someone will ask you to pray for an individual that they just shared the gospel with. Next Christ says, “These things I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:17). The way to honor Christ’s Lordship in our lives is to obey Him especially as it relates to loving one another. And as we obey Him, people can see that we are His friends.

After one of the worst battles of the American Civil War, a small remnant of a Confederate regiment stood alone on a grassy knoll. A Southern officer on horseback approached the small band of soldiers. “Where is your captain?” the officer inquired. “There he lies,” they said, pointing to his lifeless form a few feet away. “And what are you men doing here?” the officer asked. “Sir, we are paying our respects, giving him our final salute. He told us to hold this hill, and we have done just what he said.” What loyalty! The proof of their allegiance was complete obedience to his orders.

As Christians, we should also remember our great Captain, Jesus Christ. Although He died, He does not remain on the field of battle. He rose again and lives victoriously at the right hand of God the Father! He freely gave His life that He might save us and bring us to God. This is all the more reason to give Him our total commitment to obey Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, no one deserves our allegiance more than You! Thank You for laying down Your life for me. No greater love has ever been shown to me than this. Right now I give You everyone and everything to use for Your purposes. Please help me to abide in You and You in me so Your love will flow through me to others. This world could use a lot more of Your love. May they know I am Your friend by my love for You and others, especially the lost who need to hear Your life-giving gospel message. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1807.

2. See https://bible.org/illustration/john-1513 on April 17, 2018.

3. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 443.

4. Taken from Alexander Maclaren’s sermon on James 2:14-26 entitled, “Faith Without Works” at http://www.preceptaustin.org/maclaren_on_james_2.

5. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), pg. 326.

6. Shawn Lazar, Chosen to Serve: Why Divine Election Is to Service, Not to Eternal Life (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2017), pg. 140.

7. Ibid., pg. 147.

8. Shawn Lazar’s article, “Election for Baptists: Why Biblical election is to service and privilege, not to eternal life,” at https://faithalone.org/grace-in-focus-articles/election-for-baptists-why-biblical-election-is-to-service-and-privilege-not-to-eternal-life/; cf. Robert Wilkin, “THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE ELECTION RECONSIDERED: ELECTION TO SERVICE, NOT TO EVERLASTING LIFE,” at https://faithalone.org/journal/2012ii/Wilkin.pdf; cf. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 151-212.

9. Lazar, Chosen to Serve…, pp. 41-55, 175-199.

10. Lazar, “Election for Baptists…”

11. see Dr. Charlie Bing, GraceLife Notes, no. 23, “Are Disciples Born, or Made?” at http://www.gracelife.org/ resources/gracenotes/?id=23.