Revelation 18 – Part 1

“And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!’” Revelation 18:2

In Revelation 17 we discovered that the woman riding on the scarlet beast represents the worldwide false religion that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation period whose headquarters is in the city of Rome, the city on seven hills or “mountains” (17:1-9). The fact that this woman is “sitting” on the beast suggests that Rome will initially control the beast and benefit from his expanding kingdom represented by the “seven heads and ten horns” during the Tribulation period (17:3). At the mid-point of the Tribulation when the beast rises to power claiming to be God (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) and demands to be worshiped as such (13:1-18), Rome will refuse to comply and will be destroyed by the leaders of the world under the authority of the beast (17:10-17).

At the end of Revelation 17, we are told that “Babylon,” the code name for Rome (cf. 14:8; 16:19-21; 17:1, 9, 18; cf. I Peter 5:13), is the “great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18). In the first century context when John wrote the book of Revelation, this could only refer to the city of Rome which ruled the world at that time. 1 Just as Rome relentlessly persecuted believers in Jesus when John wrote in the first century, the revived Roman Empire in the Tribulation period will also persecute believers who refuse to submit to her evil and idolatrous practices (17:6).

Regarding this end-times capital city, Swindoll writes, “That future Mecca of me-theism and Vegas vanity will be the mother of evil and all forms of false religion. Like Paris, she represents a lifestyle of high culture. Like Jerusalem, she’s a crossroads of world religion. Like Washington, she’s teeming with political power. In fact, if you were to take the powerful cities of the world and merge them into one grand megalopolis, you’d have ‘Babylon.’” 2

The belief that salvation is by works originated with the original Babylon in Genesis 11:4 when the people of the world led by Nimrod, Noah’s grandson (Genesis 9:8-12), said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” To avoid spreading over the face of the whole earth as God originally commanded (Genesis 1:28; 9:1), the people wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and a tower that reached to the heavens. The desire to glorify self (“let us make a name for ourselves”), rather than God, is the foundation of religious /economic “Babylon” or Rome during the Tribulation period. 3

The apostle John now receives a new vision providing more details about why Babylon (Rome) will be destroyed during the Tribulation. “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.” (Revelation 18:1). This “angel” of the same kind (“another”) as the previous angel in 17:1 possessed “great authority” and “glory” indicative of the importance of the announcement of judgment he was about to make. 4 This is the only “angel” in the book of Revelation which is said to exude “glory,” 5 which suggests he just came from God’s presence (cf. Exodus 34:29-35; Ezekiel 43:2). 6

The presence of this angel once again emphasizes the importance of angels in the book of Revelation. They are present and active in the church age as well (Revelation 1-3), and some believers in Jesus “have unwittingly entertained angels” who are disguised as humans (Hebrews 13:2). But after the church is removed from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4), angels will assume a more visible role to fill the spiritual void in the church’s absence. 7

“And he cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!’” (Revelation 18:2). The repetition of the word “fallen” (epesen), which means to “be destroyed,” 8 indicates that God guarantees this future judgment and that it will happen swiftly. 9 The tense of this verb describes this future judgment as already having taken place to underscore its certainty. 10

When the beast and ten kings destroy Rome (17:16-17), it will “become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” This is a very appropriate description of Rome after its destruction because she was a city given over to idolatry, leading people away from the true God. Throughout history, demons have attached themselves to idols so that when people worship an idol, the demons can receive the adoration and worship they long for (cf. Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:36-38; Revelation 9:20). Since Rome’s character was demonic spiritually, God will bring the same character on her physically. 11

Next several reasons are given for Rome’s destruction. “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” (Revelation 18:3).

The first reason for Rome’s judgment is because she corrupted the nations of the world – “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The wealthy and sensual lifestyle of Rome was like a fine wine that other nations drank of and became intoxicated (cf. 17:2; 18:23; 19:2). 12 Her mixture of religion with wealth and sensuality misled nations to commit spiritual “fornication” or immorality by embracing various false gods.

The second reason for Rome’s judgment is due to her seducing foreign leaders to participate in her materialistic practices – “the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her.” Rome is pictured as a “great harlot” (17:1, 5, 15-16) who enticed foreign leaders into her worldly practices by offering them many financial advantages. 13

The third reason for Rome’s judgment is because she enticed merchants to share in her excessive wealth – “the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” The word “merchants” (emporoi) refers to “one who travels by ship for business reasons.” 14 These businessmen are becoming wealthy by selling religious paraphernalia and by engaging in slave trade for the “bodies and souls of men” (18:12-13). 15 Notice that human trafficking will likely become more pervasive during the Tribulation period.

It is important to notice in these verses that wealth does not always come as a blessing from God. Satan can also give wealth, as is demonstrated from his promise to give Jesus worldly kingdoms in exchange for worship. 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’” (Matthew 4:8-9). Many Christians can make the mistake of assuming that the presence of wealth in a particular church or individual’s life indicates God’s blessing and His approval upon that church or individual.16

It is possible for Satan to bless a church financially when that church compromises the gospel to entice people to be a part of that church. Satan does not want people to hear a clear and simple gospel message (“believe and be saved” – Luke 8:12), so he will deceive people into thinking God’s blessing is on a church that does not preach and teach belief in Christ as the only condition for eternal life.

Jesus warned in Matthew 7:13-14 that the size or prosperity of a church is not always an indication of God’s blessing. He said, 13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads [in]to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 How narrow is the gate and confined is the way which leads [in]to life, and there are few who find it.” The “narrow gate” that “leads into life” is faith alone in Christ alone as the only way into God’s heaven (John 3:15-16; 10:9; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-5). Jesus prophesied that “there are few who find it” because there will be fewer and fewer messengers who preach such a message. The “wide… gate” that leads “into destruction” is any message that does not say faith alone in Christ alone is all that is required to enter God’s heaven. Jesus prophesied that “there are many who go in by it.”

This is why there are many prosperous churches in America that are not preaching faith alone in Christ alone as the only condition for entering God’s heaven. Likewise, there are also many fast-growing world religions standing in front of the wide gate proclaiming some other way to God that is not faith alone in Christ alone. How does God want believers in Jesus to respond to such wide-gate false religions? He tells us in the next verse in Revelation 18.

“And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’” (Revelation 18:4). John “heard another voice from heaven” that may belong to the Lord Jesus. This voice calls God’s “people” to “come out” of Rome and her worldly lifestyle “lest” they “share” the same judgment for “her sins, and… receive of her plagues.” Some people living in Rome will hear the gospel preaching of the Two Witnesses during the first half of the Tribulation (11:1-12) or the 144,000 Jewish evangelists during the last half of the Tribulation (7:1-8; 14:1-5) and will believe in Christ for eternal life. To avoid Rome’s impending judgment, they will need to flee from the city.

This reminds us of Lot who warned his sons-in-laws to get out of Sodom before the Lord destroys it, but they refused, and died as a result (Genesis 19:14-25). This will also happen to God’s people who ignore His command to get out of Rome before He destroys it. 17 They will suffer physical death, but they will still enter God’s heaven because of their belief in Jesus for His gift of salvation.

If you are part of a church or religion that does not preach faith alone in Christ alone to enter God’s heaven, you are advised to flee from that church or religion. The apostle Paul warned the Galatian believers in Jesus not to support or join those who do not preach a “believe / faith alone” gospel (cf. Galatians 1:6-9; 4:12, 21-30; 5:1-12; 6:17). It does not matter how wealthy or kind a person or church is that teaches a different gospel. They are “accursed” by God if they preach a different way to heaven other than faith alone in Christ alone (Galatians 1:8-9).  

If they are believers in Jesus, they will lose rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ and could even experience God’s discipline here on earth (Galatians 1:6-9; 5:19-21; 6:7-8; I Corinthians 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; I Timothy 1:18-20; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:23-26). If they are not believers in Jesus, they will experience a greater degree of punishment in the lake of fire for misleading people away from faith alone in Christ alone (Matthew 18:6-14; 23:13-15; 2 Peter 2:4-17; Jude 1:4-13; Revelation 19:20; 20:11-15).

The fourth reason for Rome’s judgment is seen in verse 5. “For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:5). Rome’s “sins have reached to heaven” and triggered God’s remembrance of “her iniquities” of trying to make a name for herself.This is reminiscent of the Tower of Babel when humankind tried to build a city with a tower “whose top is in the heavens” to “make a name” for themselves instead of for God (Genesis 11:4). Those who emphasize human effort and self-reliance to get to heaven like the original Babylon, will eventually deplete God’s patience. Because He is just and righteous, God must give Rome her just recompense.

“Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her.” (Revelation 18:6). God is commanding the beast and ten kings (17:16-17) to give Rome a double portion of judgment for her sins. For centuries Rome has misled people away from the true God and put to death His people (cf. 17:6; 18:24; 19:2). The “cup” she had used to entice others will now become the instrument of her own punishment.

Two more reasons for Rome’s judgment are given in the next verse. “In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’” (Revelation 18:7). Rome’s sinful pride (“she glorified herself”) and self-reliance (“she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow’”)led her to believe she was invincible and immune to disaster. 19 God hates such shameless pride and self-reliance that leads to the rejection of His ways accompanied by viewing oneself as indestructible 20 and accountable to no one.

The reality is that such pride and self-reliance will be severely judged by God. “Therefore her plagues will come in one day – death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” (Revelation 18:8). “In one day” God will give Rome “death and mourning and famine.” Vacendak suggests that Rome’s destruction in Revelation 18:8-11 “will be by means of a nuclear warhead… Kings, merchants, and shipmasters will all stand ‘at a distance’ when they see ‘the smoke of her burning.’ The desire to keep a certain distance between themselves and the mushroom cloud of smoke billowing up to heaven may indicate their fear of the nuclear radiation that now envelops the city.” 21

Instead of slowly declining, Rome will collapse suddenly in the Tribulation, much like the World Trade Center towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. 22

Throughout history, people have been deceived into believing their joy, peace, and meaning in life are found through the accumulation of wealth as represented by “Babylon the Great” or Rome whose materialistic and religious system will be swiftly destroyed before the Lord Jesus returns to earth (Revelation 18:1-8).

Rather than invest in the things of the earth which will soon disappear forever, believers in Jesus are to invest in heavenly treasure which lasts forever. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs His disciples to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20a) which cannot be lost (“where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” – 6:20b). We may miss those words “for yourselves.” It is not selfish to seek eternal rewards now because Jesus commands us to do this. In fact, to not lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven is disobedience to Christ.

Why is it important to lay up treasures in heaven for ourselves now? Jesus explains in the next verse. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our hearts follow what we value. The more we invest in Christ’s coming Kingdom now, the more our hearts will be focused on Christ and His coming Kingdom now, and the more glory and honor Jesus will receive in eternity (cf. Revelation 4:9-11; 21:24, 26).

How can we lay up treasures in heaven for ourselves? Jesus explained how earlier in Matthew 6. By doing “charitable deeds” (6:1-4), praying (6:5-6), and fasting (6:16-18) “in secret.” When we do these things for God alone (“in secret”) and not for public applause or recognition like the religious hypocrites did (6:2, 5, 16), Jesus promises that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (6:4, 6, 18).

Prayer: Father God, we thank You for Your penetrating Word that reveals the deception of our hearts. Many of us have been duped into believing that wealth is always a blessing from God. But Your Word today reminds us that Satan can also give wealth to those who fulfill his purpose of leading people away from the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ, as demonstrated by the worldwide false religion that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation period whose headquarters is in the city of Rome. Like Rome in the future Tribulation, many churches and religions today possess wealth, but they are not preaching belief in Christ as the only condition for eternal life. Instead, they preach human effort and self-reliance as the way to heaven. Please help those who are blinded by the allurement of these false religions today to discover the truth about Jesus Christ. He alone can give them eternal life as a free gift the moment they believe in Him because He alone paid for it all through His death and resurrection. Use those of us who believe in Jesus to rescue others from the snare of religion before it is too late for them. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

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

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

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 193.

4. Ibid., pg. 194.

5. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

6. Constable, pg. 194.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2411.

8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 815.

9. Constable, pg. 195.

10. The Greek verb translated “fallen” is piptō and it is in the aorist tense (epesen), suggesting a prophetic use which emphasizes the certainty of this future action by stating it as if it has already happened.  

11. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 1569.

14. BDAG, pg. 325.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

16. Evans, pg. 2411.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

18. Constable, pg. 196.  

19. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

20. Evans, pg. 2411.

21. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

22. Constable, pg. 197.

Revelation 9 – Part 2

“But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.” Revelation 9:20

When you hear the word “idolatry,” what images come to your mind? You may picture people bowing before gold, silver, or bronze statues representing gods or goddesses. Or perhaps you think of grotesque wooden or stone gargoyle-like figures often excavated by archaeologists. Some of you may associate idolatry with offering incense at the graves of dead ancestors or bowing down before their bones or ashes. Although some cultures and religions around the world observe such practices, that does not mean we are off the hook if we do not participate in these customs. 1

The truth is all of us are guilty of idolatry. Think about this depiction of idolatry in our society:

Idolatry in our society is not so obvious but is just as real as it was in John’s day. By definition idolatry is turning an earthly thing into a god and worshiping it rather than the God of creation. Whatever we place ahead of God in our lives is our idol. Therefore, the modern world is replete with idols: money, possessions, power, pleasure, sex, success, fame, drugs. These are all tools of Satan, and there are countless stories in which these very things have tortured and killed those who pursue them. We must warn people of the cosmic powers in control of this secular world and call them to God.” 2

If you are still not convinced that you are guilty of idolatry, let me ask you a question or two. Where do you turn when you are anxious, hurting, lonely, stressed, or even wanting to celebrate? Some people look to alcohol, anger, cell phones, drugs, fame, fantasy, food, a hobby, material possessions, money, pornography, a romantic relationship, a shopping spree, sports, or their work to avoid unwanted feelings, memories, or thoughts or to celebrate an accomplishment. When we turn to these people or things instead of to God, we are practicing idolatry.

If we pursue these idols long enough and hard enough, they can harden our hearts and lead us to reject God. Rejecting God will lead to an ungodly lifestyle (Romans 1:18-32) which will either lead to discipline from a loving heavenly Father, if we are His children (Hebrews 12:5-11), or to wrath from a righteous divine Judge, if we are unbelievers (Revelation 9:13-21). 3

The book of Revelation records the coming wrath of God upon unsaved humanity because of their rejection of God and their practice of idolatry. As God’s judgments increase in severity, we might expect people to soften toward God and repent. But that is not the case. As God’s judgments increase in intensity throughout the book of Revelation, so does the rebellion of humankind.

Following the fifth trumpet judgment which unleashed across the face of the earth an army of demonic locusts from the abyss to torment people with a sting like that of a scorpion’s (9:1-12), the apostle John records the sixth trumpet judgment (9:13-21). 13 Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.” (Revelation 9:13-15). When “the sixth angel” blew his trumpet, John “heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar” (9:13). We saw earlier that the prayers of the saints were mingled with incense and ascended to God at this altar (cf. Revelation 8:3-4). Since this altar is associated with the prayers of God’s people, the voice from the altar may represent the next trumpet judgment that comes because of these prayers. 4

The voice told “the sixth angel” to “release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates” (9:14). These four angelic creaturesmust be fallen angels because God’s angels are not bound (cf. Revelation 20:1-3; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Scripture does not say when or why God bound these angels, but it would seem He restricted them as punishment. Perhaps He put them in prison when Satan rebelled against Him. 5

It is very significant that the scene of this judgment is “at the great river Euphrates” which flows through the heart of the Middle East. Both the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers originate in modern-day Turkey. The Euphrates snakes through Syria, flows straight through the center of Iraq, and then joins the Tigris before emptying into the Persian Gulf.” 6 Much of the book of Revelation revolves around the nation of Israel and its surrounding nations.

“The four angels bound at the Euphrates may be the spiritual powers of wickedness that stand behind four nations that will oppose God and His people during the coming Tribulation. Today the nations directly associated with the Euphrates River are Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. We can’t be sure what nations will exist in the future, but it may be that political borders before or during the Tribulation will change… Their power to influence the world may be limited today, but during the Tribulation the divine restraints will be lifted.” 7

The release of these four angels to execute this judgment will take place in God’s time for a specific “hour and day and month and year” (9:15). Notice that even the judgments directed by Satan are carried out under God’s authority.For over a period of thirteen months these angels will “kill a third of mankind.” 

The fourth seal (Revelation 6:7-8) resulted in a fourth of the earth’s people being killed. Here a third of the remainder were put to death. These two judgments alone, disregarding all intervening judgments, would account for the death of half the earth’s population. This fact is to be taken literally as it confirms the statement by Daniel (Daniel 12:1) and the words of Christ (Matthew 24:21) that the Great Tribulation will be without precedent and would end in the death of all mankind if it were not stopped by His second coming (Matt. 24:22).” 8

“Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.” (Revelation 9:16). These four angels would lead an “army” of “horsemen” numbering “two hundred million.” Some Bible students think these “horsemen” refer to a massive human army with modern-day weaponry. 9 But I believe these “horsemen” probably refer to the same demons associated with the fifth trumpet judgment (9:1-11). Hitchcock shares five reasons why this army is to be identified as an army of demons:

“First, the unleashing of this army is the sixth trumpet judgment. The fifth trumpet judgment is clearly a demonic invasion of earth, and the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments go together since they are the first two of three terrors’ (Revelation 8:13).

“Second, fallen angels lead this armada just like they do in the fifth trumpet judgment. Thus, since the leaders are four demons, it makes sense that the troops they are leading are also demons (Revelation 9:15).

“Third, the fearsome description in Revelation 9:17-19 fits supernatural beings much better than modern warfare.

“Fourth, there are other examples in Scripture of supernatural armies of cavalry. Horses of fire swept Elijah up to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). Horses and chariots of fire protected Elisha at Dothan (2 Kings 6:13-17). Heavenly horses and horsemen from the celestial realm introduce the reign of Christ (Revelation 19:14). The Lord Himself will return riding on a white horse (Revelation 19:11). It seems logical that Satan would parody the coming of the Kingdom with his own infernal cavalry.

“Fifth, the weapons—fire, brimstone, and smoke—are always supernatural weapons in the Bible, and Revelation associates them with hell four times (14:10-11; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).” 10

This massive demonic army will serve again as instruments of judgment. As with the fifth trumpet, the agents of judgment here are described in terms of horses (cf. 9:7). 11 The combined Allied and Axis forces, at their peak in World War II, totaled about 70 million. 12 An angelic army of 200,000,000 demons is not hard to imagine. 13

The apostle John’s description of this demonic army is just as symbolic as his description of locusts in 9:7-10. Hence, the various elements described here are designed to portray the activity of the army, rather than depict how it will appear. 14

17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths.” (Revelation 9:17-18). The horses and riders were covered with humanly indestructible red, blue (“hyacinth”), and yellow “breastplates; and the heads of the horses” were like “lions” – fierce and destructive. John declares that “out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone” which describes the extremely destructive nature of their attacks against people. The locusts of verse 10 could only inflict pain, but these demonic creatures have the power to kill, so that they destroy “one third of mankind.” 15

“Fire,” “smoke,” and “brimstone” are natural elements that God used to bring judgment in the past during similar situations (cf. Genesis 19:24, 28). So, the Lord may use them again, or they may represent other agents of destruction. “Plagues” are reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7:14ff; cf. Revelation 9:20; 11:6; 13:3, 12, 14; 15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18). The repetition of the definite article “the” in the Greek text (tou) denotes that these are three distinct plagues. Together they will cause the largest death toll in human history so far (cf. 9:15). 16

“For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.” (Revelation 9:19). This added description of the horses’ “power” being “in their mouth and in their tails” supports the conclusion that they represent demonic instruments of divine judgment other than natural horses. Some interpreters have suggested they represent modern weapons that shoot both forward and backward like missiles. The locusts had the “power” to hurt people “like scorpions” with “their tails” (9:10), but these horses have “power” to “kill… like serpents” with their “mouths and . . . tails,” which is even worse (cf. 9:15). 17

Catastrophic images may fill our minds as we try to imagine the chaos, confusion, grief, and overwhelming shock that will sweep across the earth at that time. What humans have experienced in natural disasters, military strikes, and terrorist attacks will be completely forgotten in light of these unprecedented events. Considering that a fourth of mankind will be killed during the fourth seal judgment (6:7-8) and another third will be lost to this massive army in the sixth trumpet judgment (9:13-19), we can estimate that over half of the world’s population will be eradicated and sent to meet their Creator and Judge by that time. 18 Nevertheless, many people will survive this blitzkrieg. What will happen to those who live through this onslaught? Will they look to their Maker and repent or change their mind so they can believe in the coming King and enter His coming kingdom on earth (cf. Mark 1:15; John 3:5-16)?

John writes, 20 But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Revelation 9:20-21). These three severe judgments (fire, smoke, brimstone) which resulted in the death of over half of the human population (6:8; 9:15) will not move the remaining unbelievers to “repent of the works of their hands” involving the worship of “idols” and “demons” who were responsible for their sufferings under the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments (9:20). Nor did these remaining unbelievers “repent of their murders or their sorceries.” The Greek word translated “sorceries” (pharmakon) implies the use of drugs. “The English word ‘pharmacy’ comes from it. The Greek word can refer to poisons, amulets, charms, magic spells, witchcraft, or any other object or practice that makes someone susceptible to sin (cf. Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Samuel 28:7; Acts 8:9; 13:8; 19:13-15), and thus could be included as a form of idolatry.” 19

“Stupefying and hallucinatory drugs have been associated with sorcery and witchcraft for ages, yielding to their users’ strange visions and hallucinations, which they could interpret as oracles for the guidance of their clients. Also, they divested their users of the control of their own minds, making them easily available for possession and control by evil spirits.” 20

“As difficult as it is to believe, most people living during this awful time of judgment will become even more hardened against God. They will stubbornly hold onto their demon worship and idolatry (9:20). They will refuse to repent from murder, sorcery, immorality, and theft (9:21). In short, the survivors of the first several judgments will close their ears to God’s message of mercy and grace, choosing instead to accept the wrath that will continue to increase in severity.” 21

The anti-God movement in America today is a harbinger of this tragic reality. It used to be that atheists were quiet about their beliefs, whispering here and there. Now, though, atheists and worshipers of false gods are becoming bolder. As Romans 1:21-25 explains, when people possess ample evidence of God’s activity but fail to honor or give thanks to him, He gives them over to the just consequences of their actions. Those consequences come in the form of passive wrath during the church age, in which God’s hand of restraint and protection are removed. But during the tribulation period, His wrath will be active. You can get a lot of stuff without God—money, popularity, notoriety. However, your soul will starve without him, and eventually you will face the Lord’s judgment.” 22

The horrific trumpet judgments which will take place during the last half of the Tribulation period are intended by God to bring unsaved people to repentance so they can get right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. But by that time most of the people living on the earth will be so hardened by sin that they will not turn to the Lord in repentance even though they know their repentance would stop God’s judgments from falling upon them (8:6-9:21).

Today many people know what it takes to escape eternity in the lake of fire – believing in Jesus for everlasting life – but because they love their sin more than the Savior, they refuse to believe in Christ. They would rather enjoy a life of sinful pleasures and then suffer for eternity separated from the One who loved them so much He was willing to die for them so they might live forever with Him in His heaven.

As Christians, we can love our sin so much we refuse to turn from it even though we know it would stop God’s painful discipline in our lives (James 1:14-16). Idolatry is not limited to the end times. It is a twenty-first century challenge that all of us face. What idols are enshrined in our own lives? Is there anyone or anything in our lives that is wooing us away from single-minded devotion to the one true God? Remember that some of these things may not be sinful in themselves; however, if they drive a wedge between us and our righteous Redeemer, they become destructive to our spiritual growth. 22

Take time today to go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to show you anything or anyone that is taking God’s rightful place in your life. Ask your heavenly Father to forgive you and help you break free from their hold on your life.

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for this incredible revelation concerning the sixth trumpet judgment that will take place in the last half of the Tribulation period. More shocking than the terrible slaughter of a third of humankind by this demonic army of 200 million horsemen is the hardening of hearts among the people who survive such an onslaught. This makes my heart shudder knowing that their repentance would stop Your judgments from falling upon them. Likewise, many people today know that believing in Christ alone for eternal life would rescue them from an eternity in the lake of fire yet they refuse to believe in Him because they love their sin more than the Savior who died for them so they could have eternal life the moment they believe in Him. O, Father God, please soften peoples’ hearts today so they can escape these horrific judgments in the future. For those of us who are Your children, please help our hearts to be sensitive to Yours. Show us if there is anyone or anything in our lives that is taking Your rightful place. Forgive us for turning to idols instead of to You. Please enable us to break free from their hold on our lives so we may live the lives You created us to live for Your glory. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 192.

2. Ibid., pg. 192 cites Grant R. Osborne, Revelation Verse by Verse, Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Bellingham WA: Lexham Press, 2016), pg. 388.

3. Swindoll, pg. 193.

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. 1533.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 114.

6. Swindoll, pp. 193-194.

7. Ibid., pg. 195.

8. 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.

9. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 355 cites Ray C. Stedman, God’s Final Word: Understanding Revelation (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991), pp. 194-195.

10. Ibid., pg. 356.

11. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2389.

12. Constable, pp. 115-116 cites The World Almanac, 1971, Edited by L. H. Long (New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1970), pg. 355.

13. Constable, pg. 116, says to “recall J. R. R. Tolkien’s army of Orcs in The Lord of the Rings.”

14. Vacendak, pg. 1533.

15. Ibid.

16. Constable, pg. 116.

17. Ibid.

18. Swindoll, pg. 197.

19. Constable, pg. 117.  

20. Ibid., pp. 117-118 cites Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 174.

21. Swindoll, pp. 197-198.

22. Evans, pg. 2390.

23. Ibid., pg. 200.

Revelation 3 – Part 3

“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16

Jesus now speaks to the last of the seven churches. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’ ” (Revelation 3:14).

Laodicea was a large and prosperous city forty miles southeast of Philadelphia where many wealthy people retired, thereby establishing it as a renowned banking center. A medical center specializing in eye salve and a prominent wool industry famous for its glossy black garments added to its material prosperity. Because they lived in the midst of this affluent city, the believers dwelling there also became affluent. Unfortunately, these believers allowed their wealth to ruin their effectiveness for Christ, and they did not even know it! Because of their outward wealth they had no clue as to their inward poverty. Therefore, the Judge of the churches sends a stern rebuke in their direction to move them to repent as well as an invitation to open the door to close fellowship with Him once again.” 1

“Ancient pagans had hundreds of false gods to choose from, but modern pagans who may have rejected the worship of idols still have one false god that controls their lives: self. Self-expression, self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance—these concepts all revolve around the myth that human beings have an inexhaustible source of strength within themselves. Such worthy people, of course, have trouble attributing all worth to God, which is the very definition of worship!

“Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the disease of self-reliance. When believers in Christ rely on their own strength for good works, operating by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:3), they produce ineffective and useless works. When believers think their own resources are sufficient, they glow with pride. And when believers look to themselves to provide for their own needs, they shine with self-sufficiency. Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Asia come to a close with a tragic letter to the self-sufficient, self-righteous, self-serving church in Laodicea. In their inexhaustible wealth and independent spirit, the Laodiceans were severely rebuked by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. In fact, the Lord didn’t state a single word of commendation—only stinging reproof. That church suffered from pervasive self-reliance, hypocritical works done in their own strength, and an apathetic attitude toward the authority of Christ. Sadly, Christ’s hard words for Laodicea resonate with relevance for many churches and Christians today.” 2

Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen” (lit. truly)3 because the Laodicean church needed the truth. As “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus would provide a faithful and true assessment of their spiritual condition (3:14a). “The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own well-being. In contrast with them, Jesus spoke the truth.” 4

Christ also refers to Himself as “the Beginning of the creation of God” because this church was self-sufficiently wealthy, and they needed to be reminded that everything they possessed was from their Creator God (3:14b). When churches forget this truth, they can begin to feel entitled to whatever they want. They can easily seek to be in control instead of yielding to God’s control.  

Non-Trinitarians think this phrase (“the Beginning of the creation of God”) means Jesus is a created being. But the Greek word translated “Beginning” (archē) means the “First Cause” of God’s creation. 5Jesus is the Creator or originating source of creation (Revelation 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13; cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2), not the first creature to be created. 6

Laodicea had suffered a severe earthquake that destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had subsequently rebuilt it, without the aid of Rome. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus Christ alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). 7 Jesus could also give them the spiritual wealth they so desperately needed in their current state of spiritual impoverishment. 8

Jesus then rebukes this church for being indifferent. 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). These believers in Jesus wereneither refreshing (“cold”)nor soothing or stimulating (“hot”). They were “lukewarm.”  

“This rebuke would have been especially meaningful to this church, for water was piped to the city from Hierapolis, a few miles north. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm!” 9

Nobody orders a lukewarm drink. They want iced tea or hot coffee. In the spiritual realm, God finds tepidness unappealing as well.” 10

Because the Laodicean Christians had no cool water for the spiritually thirsty people around them (cf. John 4:13-14) and they were not hot enough spiritually to stir up one another’s faith, 11 God was disgusted with them. He said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Christ’s response to this self-reliant, self-righteous, and self-serving church was about the least flattering response you could receive, especially from the only Person in the universe Whose opinion matters the most. Essentially Jesus was saying,“You make me sick!”12

The phrase “I will vomit you out of My mouth, cannot be a reference to the loss of salvation because that would contradict John’s other writings (cf. John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; I John 5:1, 13). The Bible tells us that the gifts of God are irreversible. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). God promises eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Since “the gifts … of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) and eternal life is a “gift of God” (Romans 6:23), then eternal life is “irrevocable.” When a person believes in Christ for His gift of eternal life, it cannot be given back to God nor taken back by God no matter how the believer lives because it is irreversible or permanent (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; Romans 8:31-39; et al.). God did not save us from hell because of our goodness (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), and He will not abandon us because of our sinfulness (cf. John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).

One of my mentors, Zane Hodges, thought it possible that the Lord is referring here to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). The Lord Jesus will be so disgusted with the indifference and self-reliance of Christians at the end of the Church age (Laodicea is the last church listed during this age), that He will vomit them up to heaven through the Rapture (Revelation 4:1-4). Then He will start all over in the Tribulation with the Two Witnesses preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13) followed by the worldwide witness of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists in the second half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-17; 14:1-5).

Not only does Jesus give these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century, these letters also “prove to be prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic, as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation.” 13

This is known as “the Historico-Prophetical View.” Proponents of this view understand the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has represented other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However, they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. 14

Constable writes, “A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows: 15

Prior to the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-4), Jesus gives some serious advice to this self-reliant church: 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:17-18). Because the Laodiceans had become materially wealthy they thought they “had need of nothing,” including God (3:17a). The Laodiceans were materially “rich”; Christ says they are “poor” spiritually (3:17b). Laodicea had a world-famous medical center that was known for treating eye disease; Jesus informs them that they are “blind” spiritually (3:17c). Laodicea was a center for manufacturing clothing; Jesus declares that they are “naked” spiritually (3:17d). These believers were spiritually destitute, and they did not even know it.

“Here Jesus debunks a prominent lie of prosperity theology: being materially successful means God has blessed you. Not so. The Laodiceans said, I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing. But the external appearance of prosperity was not indicative of the condition of their hearts or their level of fellowship with God. They were spiritually uncommitted, carnal, and compromising. As Jesus put it, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked spiritually.” 16

Because their self-estimate was so deeply flawed, the Lord gave them counsel as to exactly what they needed to do. Their ability to pull out of their disastrous spiritual condition rested on their paying the price they needed to pay spiritually.” 17

If someone told us that everything about us makes him want to vomit, we would not expect to hear from that person again. 18 But as “the Faithful and True Witness,” the Lord Jesus also continues to extend love and grace to His church no matter how unappealing her spiritual condition is. Christ counsels them to be faithful by instructing them to “buy” three things (3:18). Obviously, this is not talking about our salvation because Christ has already bought that through His sacrificial death on the cross (cf. I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1). 19 In addition, salvation is a free gift which cannot be bought (Revelation 21:6b; 22:17b; cf. Romans 4:5; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). But in Revelation 3:18, Jesus is speaking figuratively when He counsels them to “buy” three things that these complacent and carnal Christians need:

“gold refined in fire” which represents eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15). They were to be faithful to Jesus by having faith that is tested by fire (I Peter 1:6-7).

“white garments.” Their shameful nakedness was to be clothed, not by purchasing the sleek black wool that was made in Laodicea, but by buying “white garments,” which refer to being faithful to Christ through righteous conduct and serving God (Revelation 19:8), not out of selfish motives, but in a way that pleases the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3, 9-10).

“eye salve.” Instead of purchasing the eye salve that was produced and sold in Laodicea, they were to buy a spiritual “eye salve” that would enable them to see more clearly on a spiritual level and remain faithful to Christ. For this to happen, they must see their desperate need to get into the Word of God and to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply it to their lives (cf. John 9:6; James 1:22; 1 John 2:20, 27). 20

The church of Laodicea is typical of the modern church which denies its spiritual needs and is content with its beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. Notice that verse 18 does not tell us the purchase price for these items. We are not told how much the refined gold, white garments, and eye salve will cost us. The Lord Jesus will tell us this in the next verse.  

The believers at Laodicea may have felt Jesus was being overly harsh with them, so Christ reminds them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19a). Jesus’ rebuke of them is evidence of His love. If He did not love them, He would not rebuke them in their spiritually lukewarm condition. But Christ wants the best for them (and us), so He tells them what they need to hear, even though it may be painful for them.

If the Laodiceans did not listen to Jesus, His love for them would lead Him to “chasten” them. The word “chasten” (paideuō) literally means “child-training.” 21 It refers to correcting or instructing a child. 22 It is always an activity of God toward Christians, not non-Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). 23

“The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message.” 24

Jesus then says, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19b). How does a church or individual Christian buy gold refined in fire, white garments, and eye salve? That is, how does an indifferent church become spiritually healthy and earn eternal rewards? By being “zealous” for good works and “repenting.”

All Christians are to be known in the church and in their community as people who are zealous for good works – who are eager to please God. What do you have zeal for in your Christian life? A nice house? A car? A well-kept home? A large retirement plan? An attractive appearance? A bigger church building? These things are not wrong in and of themselves. But the number one aim in our lives should be to please God – to love Him above all else and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind or way of thinking. 25 The Laodiceans needed to change their minds and realize they did not have it all together spiritually and that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. Whatever we are doing that is not pleasing to the Lord is to be corrected. We are to confess that it is wrong to God (I John 1:9) and start doing what we know is pleasing to Him.

The Laodiceans are to repent of their self-sufficient, half-hearted service, and remain faithful to Christ, fervently serving Him. Hence, when Christians are zealous for good works and repent of wrong attitudes and actions, they will…

– lay up refined gold or eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:18a; I Corinthians 3:8-15).

– be clothed with the proper white garments or righteous conduct that will glorify Christ in eternity (3:18b; cf. 3:5; 19:8).

– be able to see properly on a spiritual level (3:18c; cf. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).

Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20a). Many Christians have mistakenly understood this verse to refer to salvation. But we have already seen that the “churches” in Revelation 2 and 3 refer to genuine Christians. In the context, the Lord Jesus has been talking about works, not faith; He has been addressing service, not salvation; He has exhorted us to be zealous for good works and repent of works that sicken the Lord.

The Lord is now saying if a church invites Christ in for dinner, He will come, and they will have fellowship together (3:20a). This verse is not to be taken literally. This is not a literal “door,” just as verse 18 was not to be taken literally. Amid their self-sufficient attitude, the Laodiceans had shut the Lord Jesus out from their church. The word “stand” (3:20a), literally means “I have taken My stand.” 26 It emphasizes a persistent dealing with the church. Christ persistently seeks intimate fellowship with this self-reliant church that has shut Him out. Hence, He asks permission to enter the church and re-establish fellowship with them.

Christ then says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20b). Notice that Jesus says He will come “in to” (two words) the person, not “into” (one word) the person. The Greek verb translated “come in” (eiserchomai) accompanied by the preposition translated “to” (pros) means “to come or go to someone.” This construction occurs eight times in the New Testament (Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 17:2; 28:8; Revelation 3:20) and each time it means to enter into a building and stand in front of a person. 27 Whenever “come in” (eiserchomai) is used of entrance into a person it is followed by the Greek preposition eis (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30; 22:3; John 13:27) and refers to demon possession. The preposition eis deals with “the idea of entry, whereas pros tends to stop short of going up to (without entry).” 28 The result of Christ’s entrance “to” the person is a common meal shared – “I will… dine with him, and he with Me.” The Greek verb “dine” (deipnēsō) indicates that this is the main meal of the day, the one to which an honored guest would be invited. 29

This verse is speaking of entrance into a building toward a person, not entrance into a person. Jesus will not force His way into a church. Christ is saying that He will come in the church toward the believer who repents (hears His voice and opens the door of the church) and eat dinner with him, that is, have intimate fellowship with him.

How does one open the door so that Christ can come and fellowship with him? By being zealous for good works and repenting of the works that made the Lord Jesus vomit (3:19b).

Christ’s invitation here is not for lost sinners to believe in Him for the free gift of eternal life, but for His disobedient children to get close to Him once again. If any of these lukewarm believers did open the door to Him, Christ promises, ‘I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ This is a promise that they will enjoy close fellowship with Him once again.” 30

With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians. This raises the important question concerning the extent of one’s intimate fellowship with Christ.” 31

Christ then promises, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21). The believer who “overcomes” by humbly and zealously submitting to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of his life, will be able to “sit with” Him on His throne, as Jesus was humble and zealous in submitting to His Father’s will and was rewarded with sitting down with His Father “on His throne.” This promised reward assures the overcomer of close fellowship with Christ forever by receiving the honor of sharing His royal throne. This is a conditional reward because it is dependent on overcoming as Christ did. 32 Just as Christ overcame death by humble and dependent submission to His Father’s will, the Laodiceans can overcome their self-sufficiency and enjoy ruling with Christ by humbly and dependently submitting to Christ in fellowship and service.

The use of αὐτός (“to him”) in Revelation 2:17, 17, 27 and 3:21 indicates a restrictive kind of reference to the overcomer. It is a specific and restrictive way of showing that ruling with Christ applies only to the victor or overcomer, 33 not to every believer in Jesus.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). Only those Christians who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promise and live as “overcomers” so they may receive this ultimate reward of reigning with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth. If they are lukewarm and then repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus and are zealous for good works, then they can receive the privilege of reigning with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus uses rewards here, as with the other six churches, as a motivation to conquer sin and slackness—not as a motivation to salvation. 34

At the outset these faithful believers will rule with Christ on earth for a thousand years during the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:6). Throughout eternity they will reign with Christ on the new earth (cf. Revelation 21:10-11; 22:1-2). 35

As we read about the possibility of ruling with Christ in the future, we may not be very motivated by the thought of reigning with Christ or having rulership in the future world. Joseph Dillow has some key things to say about this.

“Those who have not persevered in faith, who have denied their King now will have feelings of deep shame and regret because they took Him for granted and wasted their lives. The pain will be acute, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“…Some may not find the motivation of rewards as significant in their walk with God as the other motivations… That said, it seems to me, that all of us should consider this biblical emphasis to live with the end in view.

“Furthermore, the notion of reigning with Christ… should not be trivialized as if it means various administrative positions in a kingdom or being a mayor of a city. The theme is much broader, and the vision more glorious. What is signified by these expressions is not so much administrative positions as the joy of participating with the Messiah in the final destiny of man, to serve Him and minister with Him in the millennium and the future world. We aspire to higher position because we can then be more effective in the service of our King… We will have greater opportunity to serve Him, to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Him, and to extend the knowledge of His love and goodness throughout the cosmos. To miss that is to miss much.” 36

If we find ourselves indifferent toward the things of God like the Laodicea Christians, it is not too late for us to change. Even if we haven’t been doing well in our service for Christ thus far, we can start today. The Laodiceans were not doing well, yet the Lord holds out the possibility that they might rule with Him in the future if they will be zealous for good works and repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus. 

In recovery programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), while not perfect programs, they do have a lot to commend them. One of their slogans is very appropriate for this passage. It says, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”

The Lord Jesus does not want us to be in denial. He wants us to acknowledge when we fall short and be zealous for good works. He wants us to aim to please Him in all that we do or say. If you want to be an overcomer, you will have to go all the way with Jesus Christ. You may say, “But it is too hard, and I am not getting any credit now.”  

Let me tell you about Henry Morrison, a missionary to Africa. He was coming home from Africa on a ship which was also carrying former President Theodore Roosevelt. When the ship docked in New York City, thousands of people were there to greet Roosevelt. But no one was cheering for Morrison.

Henry Morrison had served the Lord for forty years in Africa. As he watched the crowds greet Theodore Roosevelt, he became dejected to think he had served the Lord all those years and yet no one was there to greet him.

Morrison said that as he walked down the gang plank in a depressed mood, a voice whispered to him, “Henry, don’t worry. You are not home yet.” Then he said he saw a vision of multiplied thousands of Africans standing at the gates of heaven, those whom he had reached for Christ, applauding as he entered the pearly gates.

So if people are not recognizing you down here, if you are not getting any applause right now, don’t worry. You are not home yet. Remember what Jesus Christ has waiting for you if you remain faithful to Him. He will richly reward you with intimate fellowship with Him forever by giving you the honor of sharing His royal throne.

In summary, Christians who repent of their self-sufficient and half-hearted service for the Lord, and humbly and zealously submit to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of their lives, will be richly rewarded with a share in Christ’s glorious reign in His coming Kingdom (3:14-22).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Faithful and True Witness Who alone is qualified to judge the self-reliant and self-serving church. You know that much of the modern church in America is a lot like the church of Laodicea. We have become lukewarm with complacency and self-reliance. We no longer seek to preach the gospel of grace to all people. Instead, we are captivated by our big, beautiful buildings and all the things that our money can buy. We are driven by our own desire for comfort instead of compassion for those who are perishing without You. This lukewarmness will eventually cause You to remove Your church from the earth via the Rapture so You may start over with the Two Witness at the beginning of the Tribulation. Lord Jesus, forgive us for the areas in our lives that have become lukewarm with apathy and complacency. Please enable us to repent of the works that disgust You and empower us to do good works for and with You until we go to be with You in heaven. We pray that we would keep the door of our hearts open to You so we may enjoy intimate fellowship with You now and be the channels through which Your blessings overflow to all with whom we come into contact. Thank You for reminding us that our eternal life is secure in Your finished work on the cross, but our eternal rewards depend on how we live the Christian life now on earth. No matter what the spiritual health of other believers or churches may be, You call us to be faithful and to keep You at the center of our lives if we are to receive the ultimate reward of sitting with You on Your throne in Your glorious Kingdom. In Your mighty and majestic name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1514.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 109-110.

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. 53. 

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 56.

5. Bauer, pg. 138.

6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 214976-214978.

7. Constable, pg. 56.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1514.

9. 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.

10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2376.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1514. 

12. Swindoll, pg. 113. 

13. Constable, pg. 61 cites M. J. Brunk, “The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July- September 1969), pp. 240-46.

14. Constable, pg. 63 cites John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1915), pg. 33; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971, pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, New ed., (London: A. S. Rouse, 1897), pg. 24; Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 106;  F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, n.d.);  Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp. 1331-32; Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1946), pp. 35-36; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 51; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 Vol. 5 (Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pp. 900-926.

15. Constable, pg. 63.

16. Evans, pg. 2376.

17. Vacendak, pp. 1514-1515.

18. Swindoll, pg. 114. 

19. The word “buys” (agorazō) is the same word used to refer to Jesus’ payment for sin on the Cross (I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).

20. Vacendak, pg. 1515.

21. Robertson, Kindle Location 215197.

22. Bauer, pg. 749.

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

24. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.

25. Bauer, pg. 640.

26. The Greek verb, hestēka, is a perfect indicative which means I took My stand in the past and continue to take My stand in the present.

27. Mike Cocoris, Evangelism: A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, pp. 82-82.

28. Ibid, pg. 83 cites C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge at the University Press, 1953), pp. 67-68.

29. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pg. 98.

30. Vacendak, pg. 1515.

31. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.

32. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 50.

33. Richard Benedict, “The Use of Νικάω in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1966, pg. 42.

34. Evans, pg. 2377.

35. Vacendak, pp. 1515-1516.

36. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 1039-1040.

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.

God uses little things to make big things happen

“But when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for them: Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man… Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh.” Judges 3:15-16

After Joshua died, Israel started to compromise their commitment to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan (Judges 1:21-36). And so began the following cycle: departure from the Lord, discipline by Israel’s enemies, the Lord has pity when His people cry for help, God raises up a deliverer (judge) who defeats their enemies, their deliverer dies, and Israel returns to the false gods of the pagan inhabitants of the land (Judges 2:11-19).

One such deliverer that God raised up was a “left-handed man” named “Ehud,” who would deliver Israel from the oppressive rule of “Eglon king of Moab” (Judges 3:12, 15). We are told, “Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh” (Judges 3:16). Ehud’s “double-edged” sword was sharp on both sides and would be an effective weapon against Israel’s enemies. The fact that Ehud “fastened” this sword “under his clothes on his right thigh” would make it difficult to be detected.

When Ehud delivered “the tribute to Eglon” who “who was a very fat man,” he “sent away the people who had carried the tribute” and told the king he had “a secret message for” him (Judges 3:17-19a). This prompted the king to send “all who attended him” out of his “private chambers” so he could be alone with Ehud (Judges 3:19a-20a). After Ehud told the king, “I have a message from God for you,” he “arose from his seat” and took the king completely off guard when he “reached with his left hand, took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly” (Judges 3:20b-21). After killing king Eglon, Ehud led the tribe of Ephraim to victory over the Moabites and Israel enjoyed “rest” in “the land…for eighty years” (Judges 3:25-30).

It is important not to miss the fact that God not only providentially moves in the course of history to accomplish major events, but He also uses a string of little things like a “left-handed” man who wears his “double-edged sword… under his clothes on his right thigh” to bring about those major events.  

God uses little things to make big things happen. Like when a team of six short-term American missionaries and six Filipino evangelists went to a spiritually dark island called Dinagat in the southern Philippines in January of 2012. After arriving on the island which had a reputation for driving missionaries off the island or even poisoning them, one of the older mission team members began to preach the gospel outside a marketplace. An older woman said the Americans on the mission team fulfilled an ancient prophecy on the island which spoke of white-skinned people coming to the island and bringing many blessings.

As result, the Lord opened up many doors, including a radio/television station, for the gospel to spread throughout the island. The Lord used the skin color of a small team of American missionaries to help spread the gospel throughout the island. Let us not forget that God can string together little things (e.g. the color of your skin, your left-handedness, the size of your nose, your love for fish, etc.) to make big things happen for His glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for reminding us that You can use little things in our lives to make big things happen for Your glory. Help us to pay attention to how You fit together the little things to make major events take place. You can use our looks, mannerisms, and interests to advance Your gospel message in a world that is becoming increasingly dark without Christ. We surrender all we have to You for Your glory. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Lesson 1 Part 3 – Assurance and Eternal Security (Video)

This is the third video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It addresses the foundational truths of assurance of salvation and eternal security. Assurance of salvation is the certainty that you have eternal life based solely on the promise of everlasting life Jesus Christ makes to all who believe in Him. Eternal security is possessing Jesus’ gift of everlasting life which can never be lost. The believer in Jesus is secure forever.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 5

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15:6

The Bible makes a distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation is a free gift based on the finished work of Christ that we receive by believing in Christ alone (John 3:15-16; 19:30; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). But discipleship is based on our good works and it is costly (John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8). In John 15:1-8, Jesus is not talking about how to get to heaven. He is talking about how to bring heaven down to earth through the bearing of fruit in a discipleship relationship with Christ. We are learning from Jesus in John 15:1-8 how to become more fruitful for the Lord. We can become more fruitful for the Lord when we….

– Realize that Jesus is our only source of life (John 15:1).

– Receive Jesus’ encouragement from His word (John 15:2a).

– Recognize the pruning process (John 15:2b-3).        

– Remain in Christ by obeying His word (John 15:4-5).

Jesus instructed His disciples, “Abide in Me.” (John 15:4a). This command to “abide” implies the alternative – it was possible not to abide in Christ or obey Him. What happens if a believer continues to disobey Christ? This leads to the sixth way we can produce more fruit for the Lord and it comes in the form of a warning: REPENT WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR DISCIPLESHIP RELATIONSHIP (John 15:6).

Jesus said to His eleven believing disciples, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:6). This cannot refer to the loss of a believer’s salvation because that would contradict what Jesus has already taught about the eternal security of a believer in the gospel of John. Christ promised that everyone who comes to Him in faith will never be “cast out” (John 6:37). A believer in Jesus can “never perish” (John 10:27) nor is anyone able to “snatch” him or her out of the hands of God the Son and God the Father (John 10:28-29). If a believer could lose eternal life, then it was not eternal to begin with and Jesus would have failed to do His Father’s will (John 6:35-40). Also, it would contradict the context which addresses discipleship (not salvation) with Jesus’ believing disciples (John 13:30-15:8).

Some Bible students interpret verse 6 as an explanation of verse 2. “The viticulture process that Jesus described in verse 6 took place in the fall, whereas the process He mentioned in verse 2 happened in the spring. In the fall, the vinedresser would prune (Gr. kathairo) the vines for the winter by cutting off the dead wood. He would not cut off the unfruitful branches that could produce grapes the next season, but only the branches that did not have a healthy connection to the vine. The point of the verse is that branches with other serious problems, not just non-fruit-bearing branches (v. 2), also experience pruning.” 1

When we knowingly disobey the Lord (“If anyone does not abide in Me”), look what happens to our relationship with the Him. First, we break contact or fellowship with Him – “he is cast out [of fellowship] as a branch.” We cannot be close to Christ if we are living in disobedience to Him.

If we continue in disobedience to Christ, we lose our spiritual vitality and freshness –“is withered.” The process of withering suggests a lapse of time prior to the experience of “fire.” As we continue in disobedience to the Lord, we want little to do with Christ or with other believers. We may dread being around God’s Word or other Christians.

If we continue to disobey the Lord, Jesus says we will experience being “burned.” The word for “burned” (kaiō) is used twelve times in the New Testament. Two times it refers to burning in hell (Revelation 19:20; 21:8) and ten times it refers to temporal judgment or discipline on earth (Matthew 5:15; Luke 12:35; 24:32; John 5:35; 15:6; I Corinthians 13:3; Hebrews 12:18; Revelation 4:5; 8:8, 10) which is the way it is used here in verse 6. 

Wilkin observes, “Since the Lord did not use the verb to be burned up, but rather the less intense verb to be burned, He is holding open the possibility that the unproductive believer may respond to the burning and return to fruitfulness. The grace of God is not a license to sin. Believers who play with sin will experience fiery judgment that may well culminate in death.” 2

The “fire”(pyr) in this passage is not literal just as the vine, branches, and fruit are not literal. The word “fire” often symbolizes God’s discipline or temporal judgment of His people in the Bible. Some examples:

“Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 4:23-24

“Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people; He has stretched out His hand against them and stricken them, and the hills trembled. Their carcasses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still.” Isaiah 5:24-25

“For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.’ ” Jeremiah 4:3-4

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Hebrews 10:26-27

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29

Since Jesus is talking to His believing disciples about discipleship in this passage John 15:1-8), it is best to understand this “fire” as a reference to the trial of God’s discipline in a disobedient believer’s life (cf. I Peter 1:6-7; 4:12-13; Hebrews 10:27; 12:28-29). God uses discipline in the disobedient believer’s life to remove sin. This discipline may take the form of difficulties with work, family, finances, guilt, and health, etc.

If the believer does not repent, his disobedience could lead to physical death (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-30). Although the analogy of the vine and branches does not deal with restoration, what is not possible with nature is possible with God. He can restore a wayward disciple back to fellowship with Himself.

It is also possible that the reference to “fire” could refer to the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15; 9:24-27). Believers who continue in disobedience to Christ will suffer the loss of more rewards, but they themselves will be saved from an eternity separated from God in hell. “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). The more disobedience characterizes our lives, the more painful the Judgment Seat of Christ will be for us in the future.

Another way to view verse 6 is to see the burning not as judgment, but as uselessness resulting from failure to abide in Christ. 3 At the beginning of the dormant season in a vineyard, anything not attached to the vine is useless and discarded. A part of the discarding process at the end of the productive season is the burning of dry materials.

If we disconnect from the vine for too long, we may find ourselves experiencing God’s discipline, getting burned, and seeing our spiritual life withering. Such a believer is useless to himself, God, and others. So, if we find such things happening to ourselves, repent, so our fellowship or discipleship relationship with the Lord can be restored! “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). 4

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You that I am guaranteed a place in Your house because Jesus freely gave me eternal life the moment I believed in Him. Thank You for placing me in the Lord Jesus Christ so I may bear fruit for Your glory as I learn to abide in Him. I appreciate the warning given in today’s verse that speaks of the consequences of continued disobedience to Jesus. I do not want to lose my closeness to You. Nor do I want to be useless to You or to others. I need You in my life for without You I can do nothing that honors Your name. Please help me to abide in the True Vine so much fruit is produced in my life to the praise of Your glory. In the beautiful name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pp. 286-287;  see also Gary W. Derickson, “Viticulture and John 15:1-6,” Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996), pp. 50-51.

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. 535.

3. Bruce Wilkinson, Secrets of the Vine: Breaking Through to Abundance (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2001), pp. 97-98.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1806.