Revelation 7 – Part 3

16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:16-17

Previously, we discovered in the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments, that the apostle John received two visions of God’s great mercy involving the salvation and sealing of 144,000 Jews on the earth (7:1-8) and the salvation of an innumerable group of Gentiles and Jews who are taken to heaven (7:9-12). The question John answers in today’s lesson is who are all these people standing before the throne of God and where are they from?

“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’” (Revelation 7:13). “One of the” twenty-four “elders” asked about the identity and origin of this innumerable group of people “arrayed in white robes” before God’s throne so John and his readers would not be left wondering about their identity. This elder asked John a question anticipating the question that was in John’s mind. 1

Is it not significant that if the twenty-four elders represent the church (and they do), these described here are a different group of the saved? 2

When John indicated that he did not know the answer the elder himself answered the question as to who this multitude was and where they were from. “And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14). This elder disclosed the identity of this innumerable group of people to John saying they came “out of the great tribulation.”

“Jesus coined the term ‘the great tribulation’ (Matthew 24:15, 21), and identified it as the second half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Matthew 24:15-22; Mark 13:14-20; cf. Daniel 9:27).” 3

This innumerable multitude in heaven had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” when they believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Revelation 1:5; cf. John 3:16; I Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:4-7). This suggests the 144,000 Jewish evangelists will lead many Jews and Gentiles to trust Christ as their Savior during the last half of the Tribulation period. God wants everyone to know that even amid terrible judgment, He offers abundant mercy and opportunity for forgiveness as well as abundant opportunity for turning from evil. Of course, that opportunity will end at Christ’s Second Coming. Yet for the moment, men and women cannot claim God kept them from getting right with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. 4.

That these are not Christians from the Church Age is clear from the following contrasts: 

– Christians from the Church Age are kept from the great tribulation wrath via the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-5:14; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11), whereas these believers came out “of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14).

– Christians from the Church Age wear white “robes” (himátion) which are an outer cloak worn over under-garments (Revelation 4:4), 5 whereas these believers wore “robes” (stol) which are long flowing robes worn by upper classes (7:14). 6 

– Christians from the Church Age wear “crowns” (Revelation 4:4), but these believers do not (7:9-17).

– Christians from the Church Age carry “harps” and “bowls” (Revelation 5:8), but these believers carry “palm branches” (Revelation 7:9b).

The multitude in Revelation 7:9-17 “are Tribulation believers who, because of their conversion to Christ, will suffer earthly affliction, disaster, tears, pain, anguish, grief, sorrow, and tragedy. This great multitude will fully understand the meaning of Paul’s words, ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’” (Romans 8:18).” 7

John describes their eternal glory in verses 15-17. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.” (Revelation 7:15). Because these believers died in the Tribulation they are now in heaven “before the throne of God” where they continually “serve Him day and night in His temple” as believer-priests with direct access to His presence (“He who sits on the throne will dwell among them”). They will have unimpeded access to God (cf. Heb 4:16; 10:19-22) and will enjoy the security of God’s sheltering presence.” 8

The word “dwell” (skēnōsei) is related to the Greek word for “tabernacle” or “tent.” On earth these believers will live during the Tribulation period which will be the worst period of suffering and satanic oppression people have ever known. But in the kingdom of Christ, they will never fear since God will “pitch His tent” over them and they will be under His continual protection. A tent is a place where one eats, is cool, finds rest, and is sheltered from the sun. 9

As a result, 16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17). These Tribulation believers shall no longer “hunger” nor “thirst” nor suffer from sunburn or heat exhaustion because “the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to fountains of the waters of life” which will provide a richer and fuller experience of eternal life. Like a good Shepherd, Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes” that was shed because of their sufferings on earth.  

The presence of these Tribulation believers in this vision reminds us that no matter what type of suffering we endure on the earth, the eternal glory that awaits us in heaven will eclipse whatever we faced on earth. The glory God has prepared for us far exceeds in worth and value the temporary deprivations that sufferings entail (cf. 2 Cor 4:17).” 10

This vision also challenges us not to focus exclusively on our sufferings because that would tempt us to lose heart. For believers, the glory ahead is not only greater than our present suffering. It is so much greater that we will look back on our earthly existence from the joys of eternity, and our only response will be, “Suffering? What suffering?” 11

Finally, John’s vision brings us back to the Lamb of God, Who takes center stage in God’s throne room in heaven. Both Church Age believers (represented by the twenty-four elders – 4:1-4; 7:11) and Tribulation believers (7:14) will be there because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, all believers in Christ whether they be from the Old Testament, Church Age, Tribulation, or Millennial Kingdom, will be with Jesus in eternity because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Their faith in Christ alone apart from any good works is credited to them for righteousness (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:5-14; Revelation 1:5; 12:11). Jesus laid down His life as the Good Shepherd for all people – past, present, and future (I Timothy 2:3-6). Therefore, all people are savable, but only those who believe in Him will experience this eternal glory described in these verses (John 3:36).

Prayer: Gracious Father in heaven, we praise You for this incredible vision of the innumerable multitude of believing Jews and Gentiles from the great tribulation who will be gathered around Your throne in heaven with Church Age believers because of their faith in the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. No longer will they experience unprecedented suffering on earth. Instead, they will enjoy unspeakable glory in heaven that is the opposite of their experience on the earth. Father, we are eternally grateful that You do not desire that any perish in the lake of fire, but that all would be saved through faith in Christ alone. Help us to look beyond our own painful experiences on earth to the eternal glory that awaits us in heaven in Your presence. In the midst of Your throne will be our Good Shepherd in Whose presence we will be forever fulfilled, safe, and secure. To Him be all the glory both now and forever. In the majestic name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 101.

2. 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.

3. Constable, pg. 101.

4. Adapted from Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2385.

5. Joseph Henry Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon fo the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1981), pg. 2438; cf. ; cf. 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. 475.

6. Thayer, pg. 4750.

7. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 167-168.

8. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition

(Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1527.

9. Ibid.

10. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 804.

11. Evans, pp. 1940-1941.

Revelation 1 – Part 4

“And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” Revelation 1:13 

While on the island of Patmos, the apostle John heard a trumpet-like voice instruct him to “write in a book” the visions he sees and “send” them to “the seven churches which are in Asia” Minor (1:10-11). Then he writes, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 1:12). As he slowly turned toward this booming voice, the first thing John sees are “seven golden lampstands,” “each holding an oil-burning lamp.” 1 These “seven lampstands,” represent “the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). God intended local churches to illuminate their communities with the light and life of Jesus Christ. 2

“And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” (Revelation 1:13). John’s eyes now focus on the source of this mighty and majestic voice. Standing “in the midst of the seven lampstands” was “One like the Son of Man.” The phrase, “like the Son of Man,” is an expression used in Daniel 7:13-14 referring to the Messiah-God, the Lord Jesus Christ.3 “Son of Man” was a favorite title Jesus used of Himself in the gospels (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:41; 16:13, 27-28; 17:9, 12, 22; 18:11; 19:28; 20:18, 28; 24:27, 30, 24:37, 39; Mark 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62; et al.). This magnificent “voice” (1:10) that John heard belonged to none other than Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate and final voice to mankind” (cf. Hebrews 1:2). 4

It is extremely noteworthy that the messianic title “Son of Man” is used here in light of the fact that it is a title connected to Jesus in His role as Judge. Jesus said, The Father… has committed all judgment to the Son… and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22, 27). This title portrays Jesus as “the Son” (God) and as “Man.” Christ is best qualified to judge humanity because He is the God-Man.

 Seeing Christ in His role as Judge is a key element in understanding Revelation.” 5 First, He is seen judging the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:12-3:22) and then He is seen judging the whole earth during the Tribulation (Revelation 6-16). He will also judge Babylonianism (Revelation 17-18), world rulers at Armageddon (Revelation 19:19-21), Satan (Revelation 20:1-3, 10), the whole earth during the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6), the rebellious earth at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-9), and all unbelievers at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). Then King Jesus will live with His people forever on the new earth (Revelation 21-22).

John now sees Jesus in a much different way than He was portrayed in the gospels. This is not the Baby born in Bethlehem Who grew up to preach to the multitudes, heal the sick, and then suffer and die on a cross, and rise from the dead to eventually ascend to heaven. No, this depiction of Jesus is similar to when Christ was transfigured on the mountain before John, Peter, and James (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). It was there that this apostle briefly witnessed the unveiling of Jesus’ glory. Now, near the end of John’s life, he was given a vision of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory. 6

We learn what Jesus, the Judge, will be like as John attempts to describe His attributes using symbolism. Jesus was standing amid the churches “clothed” like a Judge with a long robe (“a garment down to the feet”) and a “golden band” around His chest. His robe is “girded” perhaps because the Judge is ready to take action (cf. Luke 12:37; Ephesians 6:14), the “golden band” “possibly foreshadowing His judgment via the golden-banded angels possessing the bowls of wrath” (cf. Revelation 15:6-7). 7

John tells us, “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire.” (Revelation 1:14). “His head and hair” were very white “like wool” and “snow,” signifying His wisdom and longevity as an eternally preexistent Person like the Ancient of Days (God the Father) described in Daniel 7:9. 8 By describing “His eyes like a flame of fire,” John referred to His piercing judgment and all-seeing assessment of the saved and unsaved (cf. Revelation 2:18, 23; 19:12). 9

Next, we learn, “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.” (Revelation 1:15). “His feet” looked “as if refined in a furnace,” so He could walk among the seven churches to purify and correct them (Revelation 2:1), and then trample down the unbelieving when He returns to earth (Revelation 14:19-20). “The figure of heated, glowing bronze feet also connotes strength and stability (cf. Daniel 2:33, 41).” 10 “The brass itself stands for strength, for the immovable steadfastness of God; and the shining, glittering rays stand for speed, for the swiftness of the feet of God to help His own or to punish sin.” 11

Keep in mind that John was living on the island of Patmos at this time. The sound of the ocean waves roaring and beating against the shore would never have been very far from him. 12 When John says Jesus’ “voice” sounded like the mighty rushing “waters,” this meant that the Judge’s authoritative and powerful voice conveyed irresistible orders.

“He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Revelation 1:16).  In Christ’s “right hand” He held “seven stars” which later He tells us represent the angelic messengers to the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). Significantly, Christ held them “in His right hand,” indicating sovereign control and possession. 13 “The hand of Christ is strong enough to uphold the heavens and gentle enough to wipe away our tears.” 14

“Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” by which His judgments are carried out (cf. Revelation 19:11-15; Hebrew 4:12). This type of sword (rhomphaia, also referred to in 2:12, 16; 6:8; 19:15, 21) was used by the Romans in a stabbing action designed to kill. Jesus Christ was no longer a Baby in Bethlehem, or a Man of sorrows crowned with thorns. He was now the Lord of glory.” 15

“His countenance” shown like the unclouded “sun shining in its strength,” a portrait of His holiness as the Judge.Just as the physical sun lights the earth and all its inhabitants, so also does Christ in a spiritual sense. John 8:1-11 records the divine Judge driving the adulterous woman’s accusers away because He has implicitly exposed them. Then in v 12 He calls Himself ‘the light of the world’ for the first time (a reference to the physical sun, as John 11:9 makes clear). As the Judge there is nothing at all He does not bring into the ‘sunlight’ of His countenance.” 16

These brilliant features of Jesus’ appearance all pointed to Him as God (Revelation 1:12-16)! John writes, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.’ ” (Revelation 1:17). Previously during Jesus’ earthly ministry, John laid His head on Jesus’ chest (John 13:25). But now when he sees Jesus’ unveiled glory as the Judge, John “fell at His feet as dead,” depleted of all his strength. This was not an encounter with another man. John was instantly reduced to a trembling sinner lying powerless before the God of the universe! 17

But in all His glory, Jesus had not lost His gentle and kind demeanor. The Lord of glory “laid His right hand on” John to console him. Then He commanded him “not [to] be afraid” because He is the eternal God (“the First and the Last”). He continued, I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18). Another reason John did not need to fear was because Jesusis the resurrected One (“I am He who lives, and was dead, and … I am alive forevermore”), Who possesses all authority over death and the dwelling of the dead (“I have the keys of Hades and of Death”). “Keys” in Scripture are symbols of authority. Therefore, those of us who believe in Jesus do not need to be afraid of hell or even the experience of death itself because Christ holds the keys. For the believer, death is a momentary experience that leads into God’s eternal presence (2 Corinthians 5:8). 18

Three times Jesus uses the words “I am” in Revelation 1:17-18. “I am” recalls Christ’s claims in the gospels (cf. Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20, 35; 8:12, 58; 10:9, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1) and connects Him with Yahweh in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 48:12). The title “the First and the Last” (cf. Isaiah 44:6; 48:12) is essentially the same as “the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8), or “the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). All three titles stress the eternal sovereignty of God. 19

Jesus instructed John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19). This verse provides a divine outline of the entire book of Revelation involving the past, present, and future:

 – “Write the things which you have seen.” This refers to the past vision of Jesus in all His glory (Revelation 1).

 – “And the things which are.” This includes the messages to the seven churches about their present conditions (Revelation 2-3).

“And the things which will take place after this.” This section includes the future Rapture of the Church (Revelation 4-5), the Tribulation (Revelation 6-18), the return of Christ to earth with His Church (Revelation 19), the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth (Revelation 20:1-9), the final judgment of Satan (Revelation 20:10), the final judgment of all the unsaved (Revelation 20:11-15), and the new heaven and new earth where King Jesus will live with His people forever (Revelation 21-22).

This outline harmonizes beautifully with the concept that most of Revelation (beginning in chap. 4) is future, not historic or merely symbolic, or simply statements of principles. It is significant that only a futuristic interpretation of Revelation 4-22 has any consistency. Interpreters following the allegorical approach to the book seldom agree among themselves on their views. This is also true of those holding to the symbolic and historical approaches.” 20

Jesus then interpreted some of the symbolic things John had seen: “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20). These symbols were a “mystery” or previously unclear revelations” 21until the Lord Jesus interpreted them for John. Christ explained that “the seven stars” in His right hand “are the angels of the seven churches.” Most likely these are guardian angels over individual assemblies of believers. “Given the data in the Book of Daniel about angels being associated with individual countries (cf. Daniel 10:13, 20-21), the words of Jesus regarding angels and children (cf. Matthew 18:10), and the response to Rhoda about Peter’s angel (cf. Acts 12:15; cf. Hebrews 1:14), local churches probably have angels that guard them and represent them” (see also I Corinthians 11:10). 22

Then Christ tells John that “the seven lampstands” he saw were “the seven churches.” Christ intends for local churches to shine for Him. To do that, Christ will purify and chastise churches to make them more like Him. Otherwise, He may remove their lampstand or witness for Him (cf. Revelation 2:5). How many churches no longer exist today because they failed to repent and get right with God? I am afraid the numbers would be staggering.

The Book of Revelation, instead of being a hopeless jumble of symbolic vision, is a carefully written record of what John saw and heard, with frequent explanations of its theological and practical meanings. Revelation, with assistance from such other symbolic books as Daniel and Ezekiel, was intended by God to be understood by careful students of the entire Word of God. Like the Book of Daniel, it will be better understood as history unfolds. Though timeless in its truth and application, it is a special comfort to those who need guidance in the days leading up to Christ’s second coming.” 23

Only Jesus Christ is qualified to judge all of humanity in the future (Revelation 1:12-20). As the Judge of all the earth, Jesus is also active among local churches today to purify them and prepare them for His return. Are you prepared to face Jesus Christ as your Judge?

The most important way to prepare to face Him is to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24). Christ promises three things to those who “hear” His promise and “believe” it:

“has everlasting life.” Notice this is present (“has”) tense. The moment a person hears and believes Jesus’ promise of eternal life, he or she “has everlasting life.” You do not have to wait until you die to enjoy eternal life. You can start to experience a personal relationship with the God of the universe forever (John 17:3) the moment you believe in Christ. You can enjoy eternal life twenty-four hours a day for three hundred sixty-five days a year! This gives Christians reason to be filled with joy all the time!

“shall not come into judgment.” Christ guarantees you will never be judged for your sins in the future because you now have eternal life. Christ was already judged for your sins when He died in your place on a cross nearly two thousand years ago. So, there is no need for you to be judged or condemned. You are now God’s beloved child. You bring Him joy when He sees you. He is delighted to be with you.

“has passed from death into life.” Notice that this is past tense. That means death is behind the believer, not before him. It is past, not present or future. Before we believe in Christ, we are living in the sphere of “death.” When God looks at our lives before Christ, all He sees are the evil things we have done (Isaiah 64:6). There is no hint of righteousness in us without Jesus in our lives. Our condemnation by God is total. So, when God looks at our lives before we believe in Jesus, all He sees are the bad things we have done.

But when we believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, we are translated into the sphere of “life.” When God looks at our lives now, He only sees the good things we have done, not the evil. How can this be? Because God has no charge against the believer (Romans 8:33). The believer is justified (“declared totally righteous”) of all things based on his or her faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5). All our sin has been covered by the goodness of Jesus Christ. We are seen by God as completely holy and perfect because of His grace.

If you have believed in Jesus, then you will NOT have to face Him at the Great White Throne Judgment to determine the degree of your punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). After believing in Jesus, you can face Him in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven to determine what if any rewards you will receive from Him (Revelation 22:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). I think you will agree that this is GOOD NEWS!!!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am astounded by the vision John received of You in all Your glory. Words cannot adequately express the brilliance of Your holiness and majesty. Like John, all of us would fall to the ground like dead people in the presence of Your unveiled glory. You alone, Lord Jesus, are worthy to judge all of humanity in the future. Oh precious, Lord, please remove the veil that blinds the hearts and minds of those who do not believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Please persuade them to trust in You alone so they will not experience the same eternal judgment as Satan in the lake of fire. Use me to share the good news of Your salvation with those Your Holy Spirit has prepared to hear and believe it. Prepare me to face You as my Judge at Your judgment seat to determine what if any rewards I will receive from You. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for hearing my prayers. In Your glorious name I pray, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1.  Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 40.

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

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

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. 1499.

5. Ibid.

6. Swindoll, pg. 40.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1499-1500.

8. Ibid., pg. 1500; Walvoord, pg. 164; cf. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 23.

9. Vacendak, pg. 1500; Constable, pg. 23.

10. Constable, pg. 23.

11. Ibid. cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible series (2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 62.

12. Ibid., pg. 24.

13. Ibid.; Walvoord, pg. 164.

14. Ibid., cites Barclay, pg. 63.

15. Walvoord, pg. 164.

16. Vacendak, pg. 1500.

17. Swindoll, pg. 40.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1501.

19. Constable, pg. 25.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Constable, pg. 26.

22. Vacendak, pg. 1501.

23. Walvoord, pg. 164.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

5. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

7.  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. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

9. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 4

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

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 fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).

This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”  (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.

When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1  So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).

The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.

It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26). 

The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5

John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6

The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began. 

Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.

The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as. 

The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.

So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.

When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.

The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.

The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.

They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome. 

Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross.  Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime. 

As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.

John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….

“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?

“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?

“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partially true. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.8

The Bible tells us, 13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).

Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…

“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9

Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11  Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.” 12

The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.” You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.

What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).

Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.

3. Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.

5. 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. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.

6. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s discussion in his July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

7. Ibid.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.

9. Ibid., pg. 34.

10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.  

11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.

12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.

How can we endure difficult times? Part 3

“Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” John 18:6

In John 18:1-12, we are discovering how to endure difficult times. So far we have learned we can do this when we…

– Learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a).

– Look to the Lord in prayer (John 18:1b).

As Jesus crosses over the Kidron Brook with His disciples, He begins to meet with a series of people. Each of these people that Jesus meets, are thinking about and deciding who Jesus really is. This first group of people that Jesus meets will encounter Jesus’ power. From this we get our third way to endure difficult times – LEAN ON THE POWER OF CHRIST (18:2-8a). John informs us, “And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.” (John 18:2). Perhaps John recorded this detail because it shows that Jesus was not trying to avoid His arrest. Instead He deliberately goes to “the place” that Judas knew Christ would go. Jesus was actually more concerned about meeting with this group than they were with Him! 1

Judas was a disciple of Jesus, who was in the process of betraying Christ. The word translated “betrayed” (paradidous), is a present participle which suggests “the vividness of an unfolding drama.” 2  The process of betrayal was already in progress. “Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” (John 18:3). It was Judas who led the arresting officers to the olive grove where Jesus was with His disciples.

This group included a “detachment” (speiran) normally consisting of 600 Roman soldiers 3 and temple “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.” John is the only gospel writer to refer to both Roman soldiers and Jewish temple officers in the arresting party perhaps to reveal even more of the power of Christ. These soldiers were stationed in the Fortress of Antonia just north of the temple during the Jewish feasts. 4  These troops were used to quell riots like an emergency police force. 5

John informs us that this group “came with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” I wonder why such a large group of soldiers came to arrest one Teacher who was accompanied by Eleven terrified followers who had two swords among themselves (cf. Luke 22:38)? Keep in mind that this is Passover time when the moon would be full. 6  A full moon would provide a lot of light to see things. Yet we are told that they brought lanterns and torches. Why? They must have thought Jesus would hide somewhere in the dark recesses of the garden so they brought lights to search for the Light of the world, but they would not need them.

They also brought “weapons” to arrest the Prince of Peace, suggesting that they anticipated resistance from Jesus. But, as we shall soon see, they would not need them either. When all is said and done, this arresting party looks pretty ridiculous, especially Judas. It makes me wonder what Judas had told them about Christ. Judas came in the cover of night because he was afraid. He needed a big group with lights and weapons to compensate for his fear of Jesus. Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus for material gain (cf. Matthew 26:14-16; cf. I Timothy 6:10).

What about us? Do we betray the Lord when we lack finances? Do we seek to dishonor Him when there is financial gain? Do we look to people to meet our financial needs instead of to the Lord? How many Christians have compromised the Word of God for the sake of money? God knew money would be a great temptation for people, that is why He talks more about money and material possessions in the Bible than any other topic except love.

When we compare John’s account of Jesus’ arrest with the other three gospels, John gives less time to Judas than the other gospel writers. John does not even include the kiss Judas gave Christ to identify Him (cf. Matthew 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48). Why? Because John is magnifying the Person and power of Jesus Christ.

How must the disciples have felt when they saw this large army of soldiers and temple guards? They were probably terrified! How does Jesus respond to this arresting party? “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ ” (John 18:4). Jesus was not taken by surprise by the arrival of this large army. He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. He knew what was ahead and so He stepped out of the dark into the light of their lanterns and torches. Instead of fleeing from this intimidating group, He “went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ ” This may seem odd to us because people who are about to be arrested, do not usually move toward the arresting party. But Jesus moved towards those who were going to arrest Him. Why? Because He was confident of God’s will. Perhaps Christ also wanted to identify Himself to draw attention away from His disciples.

“They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.” (John 18:5a). When the arresting party told Him they were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus boldly declared to them, “I am He.”  Once again Jesus makes an “I AM” (Egō eimi) statement claiming to be God (cf. John 6:35; 8:12, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6). The same Self-Existing God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) now stepped forward to announce His identity to this large arresting party. This army had come to arrest a fleeing Teacher, but they are confronted by a commanding Leader who claims to be God.

In contrast to Jesus’ claim, “Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them” on the side of the arresting party, not on the side of Jesus. This was a bad choice by Judas because even though the other disciples were outnumbered by this army, they were still on the side of the majority. Why? Because one plus God is always a majority.

“Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:6). When Jesus identified Himself with the words, “I am He,” this army of Roman soldiers and temple guards “drew back and fell to the ground.” Why did they do this? We can understand why when we look at the verb, “fell” (epesan). This word means “one who is overcome in battle by a superior” 7 or “to fall down before high-ranking persons or divine beings.” 8 The sheer power of Jesus’ name or identity causes His well-armed enemies to fall “backward in fear and absolute dismay.” 9  They are overwhelmed with the power and majesty of Jesus the Messiah, including Judas who also fell down at Jesus’ feet. 10  These powers of Rome and Israel were bowing before Jesus and could not touch Him except by His permission. 

Tony Evans writes, “The Greek words behind the translation ‘I am he’ can simply be rendered as ‘I am’—the divine name, the self-designation that God revealed to Moses… Jesus is no mere man. He’s the God-Man. He’s the Word who was with God, was God, and became flesh (1:1, 14). Jesus spoke the divine name using the same voice that had spoken the world into existence. And it knocked the betrayer and his accomplices off their feet.” 11

“Then He asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ” (John 18:7). Jesus repeats the same question and receives the same answer. “Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He.’ ” (John 18:8a). Again Jesus tells them, “I am He.” This is the third time John refers to the words “I am He” in verses 5-8. He is clearly focusing on Christ’s deity. Christ is the Initiator here. It seems as though He is having to work hard to get arrested because they are overwhelmed with His majesty. Even though He is unarmed, and they are heavily armed and outnumbered Him, they are hesitant to arrest Him because they are concerned about what He might do. This big bad army knows Who Jesus is now, but they are still in awe of Him.

What do we learn from this circumstance? Christ has the power to help us endure difficult times so LEAN ON THE POWER OF CHRIST (John 18:2-8a). To whom do we look for power when we are stressed out? This is a daily trial that we have in our decision making with Jesus every day. To whom do we look for power? To politicians? Celebrities? Family? Employers? Do we look to our own strength? Do we look to somebody else’s strength? Do we look to money for power? Where do we look for power in our lives to give us that sense of significance and power? God is teaching us that this power is in Jesus’ name. He has the power to make an army fall down before Him. Therefore, He has the power to enable us to endure difficult times in a way that glorifies Him.

Instead of being in awe of the difficulties we face, let’s take time to be in awe of the majesty of Jesus Christ which causes armies to fall down at the mention of His name. His name is exalted above all others (Philippians 2:9-11). May we never forget Who the Lord Jesus Christ truly is. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, (Isaiah 9:6b). Jesus is appointed Heir of all things, through Whom also He made the universe, Who being the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His Person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, Who purged our sins, and now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:2-3). He is the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd Who gave His life for the sheep (John 1:29; 10:11).

As we focus on the majesty of Jesus Christ, we can more fully appreciate the song when it says,

“Turn you eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

Prayer: Lord God, may we never forget that the Baby born in Bethlehem Who grew up to die on a cross as a suffering Servant was Almighty God in human flesh Who is the Maker and Sustainer of the entire universe. Please renew our sense of awe and wonder toward Your majesty, Lord Jesus, which was manifested in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Your death when You boldly announced to Your well-armed enemies, “I AM He.” Help us appreciate the majesty, dominion, glory, and power of Almighty God captured in these words. May the same power that caused an army to fall at Your feet enable us to face these challenging times with boldness and power to honor Your matchless name. Please help us not to underestimate the power of Your Word which not only spoke the universe into existence, but also caused an army to fall down before You. Use our voices, O God, to transform this world with Your powerful Word. In the majestic name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 462.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 316.

3. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 761.

4. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 323.

5. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 537.

6. Constable, Notes on John, pg. 323; cf. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V., Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 284.

7. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 458.

8. BAGD, pg. 659.

9. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983. pg. 484.

10. W. Hall Harris, A Theology of John’s Writings.” In A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Edited by Roy B. Zuck, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pg. 182.

11.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1817.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 6

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24

In John 17, we are learning to pray like Jesus prays. So far we have discovered that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying for their receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

  ~ Praying for their purification through God’s Word (John 17:16-19).

– For future believers in Christ (John 17:20-26) which includes…

  ~ Praying for their unity, so the world can believe in Jesus (John 17:20-23).

The second thing Jesus prayed for future believers is THEIR PRESENCE WITH HIM IN HIS COMING KINGDOM WHERE THEY WILL SEE HIS GLORY DISPLAYED BEFORE THEM (John 17:24-25). Christ prayed, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24). When Jesus prays for these believers to “be with Me where I am,” He may be referring to His Millennial Kingdom on earth where they will “behold His glory” as He reigns over all the earth from Jerusalem as King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Psalm 72:19; 102:15-16; Zechariah 14:1-21; Matthew 6:13; I Timothy 6:14-16; Revelation 17:14; 19:16-20:6). 1

Prior to the reign of Christ on earth, the church will be caught up to heaven to live with Jesus (John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), while those left behind will go through the seven-years Tribulation period on earth (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6-18). At the end of the Tribulation period, King Jesus will return to earth with His church to defeat all His enemies who were gathered together to make war with Him (Revelation 19:7-21). Then Christ will set up His kingdom and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand years (Zachariah 14:1-21; Revelation 20:1-10).

Do you ever buy something new that you are very proud of? Or an accomplishment occurred in your life that was one of the top things in your life? When that happens there is always somebody that you want to share it with. Somebody that you want to show it to. Jesus is saying, “Here is My family. All who have believed in Me. They know about the cross and they know how I was born in a manger in Bethlehem. But there are some things they don’t know about Me. They don’t know some of the best parts of Me. They don’t know what it is like for Me to be glorified, sitting on My throne in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords. I want them to be there. I want them to see that. When I am sitting on My throne in My eternal kingdom, I want them to see My glory.”

Christ’s prayer for His followers to be “with” Him in His coming kingdom on earth to see His “glory” will come to pass because the Father always hears and answers His Son’s requests (John 17:24; cf. 11:41-42). This underscores the eternal security of every believer in Jesus. Our arrival in Christ’s kingdom is not based on our prayers or faithfulness, but upon the prayers and faithfulness of Jesus Christ.  

The Father gave Jesus this great glory because of His eternal love (“for You loved Me before the foundation of the world”). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. And you know what is also amazing? It is the Father’s love for us which is also constant. Nothing we can do or not do causes the Father to stop loving us. We are secure in His unending love for us forever!

Next Christ prayed, “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.” (John 17:25). By addressing God as His “righteous Father,” Jesus was expressing His confidence that His Father would do what was right and grant what He just asked for in prayer. “The world” did not know the Father because they did not believe that Jesus came from the Father. So we see that the Father is right (“righteous”) and the world is wrong (“the world has not known You”). 2  But Christ’s disciples knew the Father and believed He “sent” Jesus.

What about us? Do we also know the Father and believe that He sent Jesus into this lost world to save sinners? If we do, we are guaranteed to be taken to heaven by the Lord Jesus where we will be able to behold the unveiled glory of King Jesus and bathe in the love He shared with His Father before the foundation of the world. What could be better that that!?!

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for Your Son, Jesus Christ, Whom You sent into this world to pay the price for the sins of the world when He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead. Thank You for the gift of everlasting life and for the future home in heaven we will have with You where we can behold the glory of King Jesus both there and when He comes back to earth to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over all the earth. Please keep this vision of His glorious reign in the front of our minds and in front of those we disciple so all of us can live for that special day when we will see His glory and bathe in the love that You shared before the foundation of the world. In Jesus’ glorious name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 461.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 680.