I John 2 – Part 4

“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” I John 2:12

Weapons of warfare have changed considerably since the day the apostle John wrote his first epistle. While Romans soldiers in the first century fought with swords and spears, they would be no match for our Special Ops today that use the M4 carbine rifle, a shortened version of the standard U.S. M16 with a detachable 40mm grenade launcher mounted beneath the barrel. The weapon can also mount a night-vision sight, and some troops carry night-vision goggles with them. A soldier on sniper duty might lug a heavy Barrett .50 caliber rifle that can hit targets a mile away with a bullet stout enough to pierce armor. Some soldiers carry the M3 Carl Gustav reusable launcher, a bazooka that fires antipersonnel and antitank rockets. 1

But a Christian’s weapons have not changed. Our enemy remains the same in spiritual warfare and so do our weapons regardless of what century we live in. But the tactics of the enemy can vary from situation to situation, but the weapons that bring us victory remain unchanged.

The book of I John is primarily about having fellowship with God, not about going to heaven; it is about our practice, not our position. But understanding and believing our position in Christ is foundational for victorious Christian living. For example, in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in the city of Ephesus, he first presents the truth about our position in Christ (Ephes. 1-3) before addressing our practice of that truth (Ephes. 4-6). Paul knows that it is essential to know and believe our position in Christ if we are to effectively live it out. 2

The apostle John is preparing his readers for spiritual warfare. Christians face three primary enemies: the devil (Ephes. 2:2b; 6:12; I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:9), the world (John 15:18-19; Ephes. 2:2a), and our sin (Ephes. 2:3; James 1:14-15). John addressed our sin in I John 1:5-2:2. He is about to deal with our other two enemies: the world (2:15-17) and the devil (2:18-25). To get us ready to deal with these two enemies, he is going to review some basic truth about our position in Christ (2:12-14). 3

In 2:12-14, the terms “children… fathers… young men” refer to all the readers in each case since John addressed all his readers as “little children” (cf. 2:1, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). If John was referring to different chronological age groups or differences in spiritual maturity, we would expect the sequence: “little children, young men, and fathers.” But instead, we see the sequence: little children, fathers, and young men. 4

“It seems best… to view the terms of address as referring to all the readers in each case. Then each experience ascribed to them is appropriate to the category named.” 5

Anderson writes, “But the words are switched up to look back at ground already covered and look forward to the battle ahead:

Little Children—Forgiveness; ground covered in 1:5−2:2.

Fathers—Intimacy (deep knowledge of God); ground covered in 2:3-11.

Young Men—Victory over the Evil One; ground covered in 2:15-28.” 6

In verses 2:12-14, it is also noteworthy to observe the phrase, “I write to you… because…” “Clearly John does not regard his readers as ‘false professors.’ Viewing this epistle as presenting ‘tests’ by which to determine the genuineness of a person’s salvation misreads the epistle.” 7

John is not writing this epistle to provide tests for eternal life. He is not questioning whether his readers are saved or not. He is writing because he is assured of their salvation and their deepening fellowship with God. His concern is that their enemies may jeopardize their fellowship with God by questioning the genuineness of their salvation experience (2:25-27; 5:9-13) and their subsequent fellowship with the Lord.

John begins with his readers’ experience as “little children.” “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (I John 2:12). Like “little children” (teknia = “little born ones”) 8 John’s readers had experienced the forgiveness of their heavenly Father. That John is referring to his readers’ position in Christ is underscored by using the Greek perfect tense of the word “forgiven” (apheōntai) which refers to a completed action in the past with continuing results to the present. 9 When John’s readers believed in Christ for His gift of eternal life in the past (5:13a), they were forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future (Col. 2:13-14) – and they remain forgiven in the present when John writes to them.

The word for “forgiven” means “to release or cancel” a debt owed. 10 This is judicial or positional forgiveness whereby God cancels our sin debt to Him the moment we believe in Jesus for His complete forgiveness of all our sins so we can become His forever children (cf. Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14; John 1:12; 6:37). We are declared totally righteous before God in His courtroom at the moment of faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-4:5; 8:33). This not only includes our past sin debt, but our present and future sin debt to God as well (Col. 2:13-14). Nothing is more important for a believer in spiritual battle than his secure standing before God. Satan will accuse the believer of wrongdoing, but he cannot do so successfully because Christ has canceled that believer’s sin debt in full and declared him to be totally righteous in God’s courtroom the moment he believed in Jesus (Rom. 8:33-34). This is positional forgiveness.

Another feature in this verse that points to a believer’s position in Christ is the phrase “for His name’s sake.” Why did God grant complete forgiveness to John’s readers? It was “for His name’s sake.” This phrase looks back to the first time John’s readers believed in Jesus’ name. 11 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). God wants people to know that complete forgiveness is connected to believing in “the name of the Son of God,” Jesus Christ. Christ forgives us not because we deserve it but because He wants His name as a forgiving God to become more well known among people all around the world. If Christians lost their positional forgiveness in Christ, it would tarnish Jesus’ name as a forgiving Savior.

First John speaks of two types of forgiveness. One is the forgiveness we receive because of our position in Christ. This is the forgiveness spoken of in I John 2:12 (cf. Ephes. 1:7). The only condition for positional forgiveness is belief in Christ (Acts 10:43). The extent of this forgiveness is past, present, and future sins (Col. 2:13-14). It is permanent as the prefect tense suggests in 2:12 and is therefore unrepeatable. The second type of forgiveness is practical or fellowship forgiveness which was addressed in I John 1:6-2:2. The condition for this forgiveness is confession of sin (I John 1:9). The extent of this forgiveness is the confessed sin. It is temporary and needs to be repeated whenever the believer becomes aware of his unconfessed sin (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). It is important to understand that this practical forgiveness is based on our positional forgiveness.

Anderson illustrates: “When my oldest daughter started to drive, she took Driver’s Ed. She was a good student and did well, but on the day she got her license, she was quite nervous. That night she wanted to go to Young Life, and she borrowed our brand-new family car to do so. I was out that evening myself, so when I got home, I happened to notice that the left side of the car was smashed in, and the left rear-view mirror was missing. I walked into the house and didn’t say a thing. Because I have an eternal relationship with my daughter, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to injure herself, me, or our family. We had insurance on the car, so it was no big deal, but I knew she was going to be feeling very badly.

“I just sat downstairs and turned on the TV, waiting for her to come to me. Well, an hour went by. She didn’t come. She knew I was home because she could hear the TV. But it wasn’t until her older brother called out, ‘Christie, Dad’s home. Don’t you have something to tell him?’ that she came down the stairs. It was hard for her to get up the courage to tell me. But she finally did so and started crying.

“I said, ‘Christie, don’t worry. You are not hurt, you didn’t hurt anyone, and the car can be fixed. But even if we didn’t have insurance on the car and you were hurt, I would forgive you. You’re my daughter. My love for you will last forever. Come here.’

“She came over and I gave her a big hug. Then I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we go out and practice some more.’ So, with me at her side, we went out driving.

“Christie was still somewhat shaken by her first mistake, so she made a second. She drove at thirty miles per hour right through a four-way stop. A policeman saw and stopped us. As he walked up to the car, he had his head cocked with a curious expression on his face. He said, ‘You just didn’t see it, did you, honey?’

“You see, most stop signs are run out of defiance (in which case the car is often accelerating) or with a ‘roll stop.’ But Christie just cruised right through at the accepted speed limit for the area. From this the policeman deduced that she had not seen the stop sign at all. He was merciful and only gave her a warning. Now her second mistake wasn’t as bad as the first, and she learned even another lesson. Slowly she developed her confidence as a driver and hasn’t had any more wrecks (to my knowledge) since then. She is now thirty-one years old.

“But in order for Christie to relax and become a better driver, she had to know that she was forgiven for her mistake. And not only the first big mistake, but she had to know that I wasn’t going to revoke my forgiveness for the first mistake when she made the second mistake. Because of our father/daughter relationship, because of her position in our family as my daughter, she already has advanced forgiveness for any mistake she may make in life. That’s what we call positional forgiveness, forgiveness because of our relationship. But in order to feel close to me, she needs forgiveness not only in her position, but also in her condition. That’s why she needed to tell me what she had done, and that’s why I reassured her of my love and forgiveness and gave her a big hug. It is very important to see that our fellowship is based on our relationship.

“My daughter and I have an eternal relationship. As such, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to hurt me. This is relationship forgiveness. But when she does do something wrong, she needs to come to me and confess that wrong in order to be reassured of my love and forgiveness. This is fellowship forgiveness. The latter is based on the former. Any child needs the assurance of relationship forgiveness over and over!

“In the passage before us, John is reassuring his little children of God’s forgiveness because of their eternal relationship with Him. A knowledge and assurance of this forgiveness is absolutely essential for them to feel confident as they go into battle against the world and the devil. A good soldier cannot operate at his best with the fear that a mistake or two will take him off the front lines.” 12

The challenge for many Christians is they don’t believe they have positional forgiveness. Charles Stanley illustrates this with an experience from his seminary days:

“One of my most memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating the concept of grace for his students. At the end of his evangelism course, he would hand out the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well.

“As we read through the exam, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. By the time we were turning to the last page, we were all ready to turn the exam in blank. It was impossible to pass.

“On the last page, however, there was a note that read, ‘You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.’

“Wow! We sat there stunned. ‘Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?’ Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. It took the rest of the afternoon for me to get over it. I had the urge to go back and check with him one more time to make sure he was serious.

“When I talked with him about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years as he had given the same exam. There were always students who did not follow instructions and began to take the exam without reading it all the way through. Some of them would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Their ignorance caused them unnecessary anxiety.

“Then there were the ones who would read the first two pages, become angry, turn in their paper blank, and storm out of the room. They never realized what was available. As a result, they lost out totally.

“One fellow, however, topped them all. He read the entire test, including the note at the end, but he decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, which was amazing considering the difficulty of the test. But he could have easily had an A.

“This story vividly illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Many are like the first group. They spend their lives trying to earn what they discover years later was freely offered to them the whole time. They spend years sweating it out, always wondering if God is listening to their pleas for forgiveness, always wondering if they have finally pushed Him too far. They hope God has forgiven them; they suppose He has. They do all they know to do to get forgiven. But insofar as God is concerned, they do not want to be presumptuous. So, they live their lives with doubts.

“Many people respond like the second group. They look at God’s standard—moral and ethical perfection—and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. They live the way they please, not expecting anything from God when they die. Often, they decide there is no God. Their acknowledged inability to live up to His standard drives them to this conclusion. Instead of living under constant pressure and guilt, they choose to completely abandon the standard. What a shock it will be for them when they stand before God and understand for the first time what was available had they only asked!

“Then there is the guy who took the test anyway. I meet people like him all the time who are unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness. Striking out to do it on their own, they strive to earn enough points with God to give them the right to look to their own goodness as a means of pardon and forgiveness. They constantly work at ‘evening the score’ with God through their good works. ‘Sure, I have my faults,’ they say. ‘But God does not expect anyone to be perfect.’

“When it comes to forgiveness, there is no room for boasting in one’s own ability. As we will see, forgiveness is not a team effort. It is not a matter of God’s doing His part and us doing ours. Unlike my professor’s test, in God’s economy anything less than 100 percent is failing.” 13

When Christians go into spiritual battle, our enemy, the devil, will accuse us of wrongdoing to get us to focus on our past. He wants to persuade us that our past sins cannot be forgiven. Satan knows that focusing on our past will make it difficult for us to face the enemy in front of us. This will also weaken us when we face the world with its various temptations.

John reminds us that we have been completely forgiven in Christ the moment we believed in Him (I John 2:12; cf. Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14). In Christ, God sees in us absolute holiness… purity… righteousness… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in us (Rom. 4:5; 8:33; Ephes. 1:4; Heb. 10:10-14). Our relationship with God is eternal and therefore can never be lost (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 17:3). This is the first unchanging weapon that all Christians possess going into battle.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You because we are Your little children whose sins are all completely forgiven forever the moment we believed in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. There is no other name given under heaven by which we could be saved and forgiven forever (Acts 4:10-12). Thank You for this assurance and security that gives us sure footing as we prepare to go into battle against the devil and his world system with its many temptations. Knowing we have an eternal relationship with You strengthens our resolve to stand firm against the schemes of the evil one. No matter what we face, You remain our heavenly Father and we Your children forever. Thank You for this blessed assurance! In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 95.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3669 to 3673.

5. Ibid., Kindle Location 3673.

6. Anderson, pg. 96.

7. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 591.

8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3558.  

9. Anderson, pg. 96.

10. 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. 156.  

11. Anderson, pg. 96.

12. Ibid., pp. 97-98.

13. Ibid., pp. 98-100 cites Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness: Put the Past Behind You and Give… (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 43-45.

Will Jesus Reject His Own?

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”  John 6:37

After miraculously feeding thousands of people (John 6:1-14) and walking on water (John 6:15-21), Jesus begins His discourse on the bread of life for those who hunger spiritually (John 6:22-58). In the middle of this discourse, Christ makes an incredible promise to His listening audience: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37). Let’s look closely at what Jesus says:

  • “All…,” not some or most, who have ever believed in Jesus prior to the Church Age are given to Christ by “the Father.” Before the Church Age (Acts 2:1ff), those who believed in Jesus as the coming Messiah belonged to God the Father. Because of Israel’s rejection of Christ (Matthew 12:22ff), Jesus anticipated the transfer of ownership of Old Testament believers to Him by the Father in anticipation of the coming Church Age (Matthew 16:18; cf. Acts 2:1ff). 1
  • “…the Father…” The safe keeping of Old Testament believers is not solely about a gracious Son trying to calm down an uncontrollably angry Father. The Father lovingly takes the initiative. 2
  • “…gives…,” not “quibbles over.” It is the Father’s great delight to entrust rebellious sinners who believed in the coming Messiah into the safe keeping of His Son.
  • “…will come…” The Father’s safe keeping of a believing sinner is never thwarted. All who have believed in Jesus in the Old Testament are securely kept by Christ after this transfer of ownership from the Father to the Son.
  • “The one who comes…” While the Father loves “all,” coming to Christ is an individual’s choice. God cares about “the one” sinner who is lost without Christ. We are not robots. We are not drawn to Christ against our wills kicking and screaming. Each human being has the freedom to choose to come to Christ by believing in Him (cf. John 6:35). 
  • “…comes to Me…” God is not inviting sinners to come to a set of doctrines, to a church, or even to the gospel. He is inviting us to come to a Person – Jesus Christ. 3
  • “…I will by no means cast out.” This phrase “I will by no means cast out” is emphatic in the Greek language (ou mē ekbalō exō). Literally it means, “I will no not ever cast out” the one who comes to Me. In Jesus’ day and ours, there are lost sinners who are deeply afraid that Jesus will not welcome them into His fold or family much less keep them forever. If there was no fear of being cast out, then there would be no need for Jesus to say this so emphatically both then and now. 

We may have many objections to this incredible promise from Jesus:

  • “But Lord, You don’t realize what I have done in my past!” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have proudly turned away from You.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I relied totally on myself.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have deeply hurt others with my own brand of selfishness and sin.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have served Satan all my life.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your grace.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your mercy.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your light.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have sinned against Your love.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I have no good thing to bring with me.” “I will by no means cast out.”
  • “I cannot measure up to Your standard of holiness.” “I will by no means cast out.” 4

Jesus’ promise answers all our objections. Even when we run out of specific sins and failures, we may anticipate that Jesus will eventually reject us when He gets to know us better. We say to Him, “Lord, You know me better than anyone else, for sure, but You don’t know the darkness that is hidden from everyone deep in my soul.” Christ says, “I know it all.”

We retort, “But the thing is, it isn’t just my past. It is also my present.” “I understand,” He replies.

“But I don’t know if I can break free from this sin any time soon.” “That’s the only kind of person I am here to help,” Jesus says.

We say, “The burden is getting heavier and heavier all the time.” “Then let Me carry it,” He offers.

“It is too much to carry, Lord.” “Not for Me,” He assures.

“You don’t understand, Jesus. My sins are not against others. They are against You.” “Then I am the most suited to forgive them,” He responds.

“But the more of the wickedness You discover in me, the sooner You will reject me.” 5The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

When we come to Christ in faith we will be welcomed forever. The only condition for enjoying such everlasting love is to come to Him just as we are in faith. Jesus does not say, “The one who comes to Me feeling bad enough about their sin,” or “The one who comes to Me with a load of good works,” or “The one who comes to Me with extra devotion.” Christ simply says, “The one who comes to Me.” This is God’s amazing grace. It cannot be earned, and it cannot be undone. Once you come to Christ in simple faith, you are God’s child forever.

There may be some of us who still do not accept this assurance from Christ. It may be because we come from backgrounds which are filled with rejection. The main reason some of us have a hard time trusting people today is because we have experienced so much rejection while growing up. Perhaps a parent criticized us for everything we did, a teacher humiliated us, a friend betrayed us, a spouse left us, or an employer terminated us.

Every human being has limits. If we offend enough, if a relationship gets damaged enough, if we betray enough, we are cast out. The walls go up. But with Jesus, our sins and weaknesses are what qualify us to come to Him. Nothing but coming to Him in faith is required. 6

You may think, “My sins may not exhaust Christ’s acceptance of me, but what about my pain? What if my pain keeps piling up, and numbness starts to take over? As the months go by, won’t Jesus eventually cast me out because my burdens are too great for Him? Surely such intense pain is not designed for someone who comes to Christ and is promised never to be cast out?”

But Jesus does not say that “the one who comes with pain-free lives will by no means be cast out.” He simply says, “the one who comes to Me.” It is not what life gives to us but to Whom we come to in faith that determines Christ’s permanent acceptance of us. Jesus says we come to Him to enjoy His everlasting love. 7

I can hear someone says, “But what if I stop believing in Jesus after I come to Him? Won’t He cast me out?” 8 Jesus did not say, “The one who comes to Me and keeps coming to Me.” He simply says, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” If Christ were to cast out a person who stops believing in Him after his or her conversion, He would have told a lie here. Coming to Christ in faith has permanent results. Jesus cannot lie because He is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20) Who is “full of truth” (John 1:14) and is “the truth” (John 14:6), and He never breaks His promise of eternal life (Titus 1:2). Jesus guarantees you will never be rejected by Him. If we will come to Jesus on His terms – believe in Him (even if it is just once) – He guarantees to accept us forever!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for taking our place on the cross when You received the punishment for sin that should have been ours so that when we come to You in faith we will never be cast out of God’s family. Although many of us have been deeply wounded by the rejection of others, please help us learn to trust You knowing You will never reject us regardless of what we or others do, say, or think. Heal us so we are no longer driven by the fear of rejection. Help us to rest in Your total acceptance of us. No longer do we need to seek the love and approval of others because we are totally loved and accepted by You. Use us Lord Jesus to share this good news with those who need it the most. We love You Lord and seek to live for You now. In Your matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Anthony B. Badger, Confronting Calvinism: A Free Grace Refutation and Biblical Resolution of Radical Reformed Soteriology (Anthony Badger, 2013), pp. 185-186.

2. Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), pg. 60.

3. Adapted from Ibid., pp. 60-61 cites John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004) and in Vol. 1 The Works of John Bunyan, 3 Vols., ed. George Offor (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991, pp. 240-299.

4. Adapted from Ortlund, pg. 62 who cites Bunyan in Come and Welcome to Jesus in The Works of John Bunyan, pp. 279-280.

5. Ortlund, pp. 63-64.

6. Ibid., pg. 64.

7. Ibid., pp. 64-65.

8. While Ortlund (pp. 65-66) and other Puritans believe that a true believer can never fall away from Christ (stop believing in Christ), nothing in Jesus’ promise suggests such an understanding. Our eternal security is not based upon our enduring faith but upon our Savior’s enduring faithfulness to His promises (2 Timothy 2:13). See Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1990), pg. 80.

I John 1 – Part 5

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

A gifted Christian counselor and speaker writes, “I work a lot with brave clients who are struggling with addiction. Even if you don’t deal with addiction all day, you probably know as well as I do that addiction is a cunning and baffling foe. Addiction is the one disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease. It lies and tells you everything is fine and ‘You’ve got this’ and you can go right on ahead and have that drink because ‘You can control it this time.’ 

“Yeah. You so don’t have this. You can’t control it.” 1

Like an addiction, we have a disease called sin that lies to us and tells us everything is fine when it is not fine. Whether we are a non-Christian or Christian, we have the tendency to deceive ourselves. To tell ourselves we are okay when we are not okay.

Each of us has a dark side within us. “Even a religious cynic like Mark Twain said that every man is like the moon; he has a dark side that he doesn’t want anyone to see.” 2

Everything we do is stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). You may counter, “But a mother nursing her baby is not sin. Nor is sharing the gospel with a neighbor.” While it is true that nursing a baby or sharing the gospel with a neighbor is not sinful, what these statements fail to address is the unknown sins that exist in the nursing mother and person who shares the gospel. Such statements overlook the fact that every person has the same sinful nature as the first man (Adam) who sinned (Romans 5:12-19; cf. 3:9-23). 3

Anderson explains, “Scientists have discovered that the worm does not enter the apple from the outside in, but from the inside out. It’s actually planted there by a huge insect, a little egg in the blossom of the apple. And then as the egg hatches, so to speak, the worm eats away at the apple from the inside out. Satan is like a giant insect. He planted an egg in the flower of humanity, way back there in the Garden of Eden. And it hatched, and the worm of sin has eaten all the way through the human race.” 4

Hence, King David wrote, “In sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5b). He is not referring to being conceived out of wedlock. He is saying that from the time he was conceived, there was sin present. 5 Every human being is conceived with a sin nature.

In his first epistle, the apostle John announced the message he and the other apostolic eyewitnesses heard from the Lord Jesus “that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5). He then addressed two different responses from Christians to this message about God’s complete holiness. Some believers can claim to have fellowship or closeness with God while living in darkness or disobedience to Him (1:6a). Such a claim is a “lie” and failure to “practice the truth” about God’s holiness (1:6b). But the believer who walks “in the light as God is in the light” by being open and honest with God about whatever God reveals to him, is able to enjoy “fellowship” or closeness with God because of the all-sufficient cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (1:7). So, notice the contrast between deceit (1:6) and honesty (1:7) before God.

John anticipates that when a Christian is experiencing true fellowship with the Lord by being open and honest with Him (1:7), he or she may be tempted to think they are totally free from sin at least in that moment of fellowship with God. He writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8). Again, notice that the apostle John includes himself and the other apostles when he uses the word “we” in this verse. Even the apostles would be deceiving themselves by saying “we have no sin.” Denying that we have a sin nature is self-deception. The “truth” of God’s Word teaches us about our own sinfulness (Romans 3:23; 5:12-19). If we deny we have sin, God’s “truth is not in us” as a controlling factor. 6

Constable writes, “If a Christian claims to be enjoying fellowship with God, he may think that he is temporarily or permanently entirely sinless. Yet our sinfulness exceeds our consciousness of sinfulness. We have only a very limited appreciation of the extent to which we sin. We commit sins of thought as well as deed, sins of omission as well as commission, and sins that spring from our nature as well as from our actions. This verse warns against all forms of the heresy of perfectionism… God’s truth, as Scripture reveals it, does not have a full hold on us—it is not controlling our thinking—if we make this claim [‘I have no sin”]. ‘In us’ suggests not that we have the facts in our mental grasp, but that they have control over us. They are in us like alcohol is in the stomach, rather than like a penny is in a pocket. They influence how we behave.” 7

No one in whom God’s truth is fully at home, can even say for one instant, “I have no sin.” To say such a thing would make oneself without need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Christians are in constant need of Jesus’ blood to cleanse them because there is never a time during their lives on earth that they have no sin. Even if they are not conscious of any sin in their life, it would be a lie for them to say, “I have no sin.”

Some interpret the phrase “have no sin” (1:8) to refer to the sin nature or sin principle and conclude that was done away with at new birth. 8 They refer to Romans 6:6 where the apostle Paul says, “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” They understand “our old man” is our sin nature or sin principle which refers to all that you were before you became a Christian.

The problem with this understanding is Paul continues to address the believer’s battle with sin in Romans 6-7 (cf. Galatians 5:15-26). For example, he writes, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” (Romans 6:12). If the sin nature or sin principle has been done away with at conversion, how can Paul command his Christian readers not to let sin reign in their mortal bodies? And if our sin nature or sin principle is gone, how can Paul write, 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me… 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:16, 20)? It is best to understand that all Christians still have sin to deal with after their new birth. 9

The Greek word translated “done away with” (katargeō) in Romans 6:6, means to “put out of business” or “deposed.” “The idea is that the body of sin no longer has any jurisdiction or legitimate authority over the new believer.” 10

Some understand that when we become Christians through faith in Christ alone, we are no longer sinners, but saints. Those holding to this position argue that Satan wants to deceive us into thinking we have not changed at the core of our being at our conversion, so we are more vulnerable to temptation and sin after becoming Christians. While it is true that we become saints (set apart from our sin and guilt) in our position at the moment of conversion (cf. I Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Ephes. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; et al.), we are still sinners by nature.

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul says of himself, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (I Timothy 1:15). While some would say Paul was referring to his pre-Christian experience in this verse, the present tense (“I am”) of this Greek verb (eimi) does not allow for it. 11 After decades of being a Christian, Paul still speaks of himself as a “sinner.”

Even Jesus’ half-brother James refers to his Christian brothers and sisters 12 as sinners when he writes, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8b).

There may be some of you reading this article who are thinking, “Compared to the terrorists who took down the Word Trade Centers, I have no sin at all.” Or “I am not as bad as him or her.” Both statements of comparison are forms of self-deceit and self-righteousness. God is not comparing our sin natures to the sin natures of other sinners. God compares our sin nature to His only perfect Son Who had no sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18) and He says we all “fall short of His glory” (Romans 3:23).

For example, Jesus never had a sinful thought, but you and I sin with our thoughts repeatedly throughout the day. Christ never said a sinful word, but you and I sin with our mouths when provoked in heavy traffic. Jesus never hated anyone, but we sometimes can’t stand to be around the people we live with. The bottom line is all of us have a sin nature except Jesus Christ. 13

It would be wise for us to recall the words of G. K. Chesterson when a newspaper editorial asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterson replied in writing, “I am.” 14

As we grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ (I John 1:1-4), the light of His absolute holiness will expose our lack of holiness (I John 1:5-8). Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul refers to himself as the chief of sinners near the end of his life (I Tim. 1:15). As he grew closer to Jesus, the more Christ’s light of holiness revealed the depths of Paul’s own sinfulness. During this life on earth, there will always be a dark side to our lives that we must face.

While walking in the light as God is in the light, we are exposed to God’s character and Word which by contrast makes us more aware of our own sinfulness (1:7-8). When this happens, John instructs us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). As mentioned previously, there are some who understand I John to contain tests to determine if one has eternal life. 15 They think this verse is saying we must confess our sins to go to heaven.

This understanding has several problems. First, it fails to realize John is talking about having fellowship with God and other believers (1:3-4), not salvation. Second, John includes himself and the other apostles with his use of the words “we” and “us” in this context (1:1-8). Surely, no one would conclude that the apostles were not saved at the time John wrote this epistle (cf. John 1:35-2:11). Third, confessing one’s sins to have eternal life is contrary to what John taught in his gospel which emphasized believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God to have eternal life (John 20:31). In fact, John uses the word “believe” ninety-nine times in his gospel, 16 but he never says one must confess his or her sins to have eternal life. God’s Word does not contradict Itself. So, I John 1:9 cannot be talking about how to receive eternal life.

First John 1:9 instructs Christians what to do to maintain or restore fellowship with God when they become aware of sin in their lives. We are to “confess” those sins to the Lord. The Greek word translated “confess” (homologeō) is a compound word that literally means “same” (homo) + “to speak” (logeō) or “to speak the same thing” or “to agree.” 17 But with whom are we to agree? In the context the answer is God (cf. 1:5-8). When God reveals unconfessed sin in our lives as we walk in the light, we are to confess or agree with His conclusions. So, when we confess our sins to God, we are agreeing with His view of our sins. He hates our sins (Psalms 45:7). Our sins deeply hurt Him (Ephesians 4:30). 18

“We are admitting that what the light exposes is not just a mistake, a bad habit, or a mere product of our upbringing. It’s sin.” 19

It is important to note that the word “our” in the phrases “confess our sins”and “forgive us our sins” (1:9), is not in the Greek text. The Greek text reads “confess the sins” (homologōmen tas hamartias) and “forgive us the sins” (aphē hēmin tas hamartias). The definite article “the” (tas) in the phrase “forgive us the sins” is what grammarians call “the article of previous reference.” 20 What this means is when we honestly confess “the” specific sin or sins God’s light reveals in our lives, “the” specific sins we confess are forgiven.

This tells us that when we become aware of sin in our lives, it is this awareness that breaks our fellowship or closeness with God. So, if we confess the sins of which we are aware, then God is “faithful and just” to forgive those specific sins. The word “forgive” (aphiēmi) can mean to “cancel” a debt that is owed. 21 This is judicial or positional forgiveness whereby God cancels our sin debt to Him the moment we believe in Jesus for His complete forgiveness of all our sins so we can become His forever children (cf. Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14; John 1:12; 6:37). We are declared totally righteous before God in His courtroom at the moment of faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-4:5; 8:33). John is not talking about this kind of forgiveness in I John. In I John the apostle is talking about personal or fellowship forgiveness whereby the barrier that sin creates between a Christian and God is removed so his fellowship or closeness with God is restored. 22

An example of this can be found in Luke 17:3-4 whenJesus said to His disciples, 3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Two brothers (permanent relationship) are estranged because one brother has sinned against the other. The sin of that brother does not destroy their relationship, they are still brothers, but it does break their fellowship or closeness with one another. This fellowship cannot be restored until the sinning brother “repents” and comes to the offended brother and seeks his forgiveness (17:3). Jesus says the offended brother is to forgive the sinning brother even if he commits the same sin “seven times in a day.” Why? Because they are brothers and always will be. They have an eternal relationship through Christ. 23

This is one of the reasons our heavenly Father is “faithful” to forgive us when we confess our sins to Him because we have an eternal relationship with Him (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 17:3). There may be times when we think that going to God for forgiveness of the same sin with no victory in sight presumes upon His grace and mercy. We may ask ourselves, “How can the Lord forgive me over and over for the same sin?” The simple answer is God is “faithful.” His faithfulness is not based upon ours. He has promised to forgive us when we come to Him on His terms. His forgiveness for our fellowship or closeness with Him is based on His forgiveness for our relationship with Him. 24

For example, when parents decide to have children, they already know their children will commit sins. They are aware that their children will be imperfect. But this does not prevent the parents from choosing to have the children. And when the child is conceived, an eternal relationship begins. Nothing, including death, can change the fact that this child will always be the child of his or her parents. So, in a sense, since this relationship will last forever, the child has positional forgiveness for all his or her future sins. And based on this positional forgiveness, the parents are predisposed to fellowship-forgiveness whenever their child sins against them but also chooses to come back to them and seek their forgiveness. God gave us positional or relationship forgiveness when we became His forever children through belief in Jesus Christ (John 1:12; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14). Based on that, He will always be “faithful” to grant us fellowship-forgiveness when we confess our sins to Him (I John 1:9; cf. Matt. 6:12, 14-15) to restore our closeness to Him. 25

You may be thinking that this does not seem right to keep coming over and over again to God asking for forgiveness for the same sin. Isn’t that taking advantage of God’s grace and mercy? It seems contrary to God’s holiness. Oh, but it is right for God to forgive His children when they confess their sins to Him. 26 This forgiveness is not contrary to God’s holiness – He is “just” (I John 1:9). The word for “just” (dikaios) is the same word used as a title to Jesus Christ in I John 2:1 where it is translated “the Righteous One.” When Jesus finished paying the penalty of the sins of the world on the cross (John 19:30; I Cor. 15:3-6), He satisfied God’s holy demand to punish sin (I John 2:1-2). So, God is not compromising His holiness when He forgives the sinning Christian when he or she confesses their sin. This forgiveness is not based on our deservedness or performance. It is based on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. 27 Christ’s shed blood is sufficient for the sinning Christian (1:7; 2:1-2).

I am not suggesting that God takes sin lightly nor should we. God hates sin. He is grieved by our sins. The Lord wants His children to gain victory over that sin. But until a believer is open and honest with God about the sin God reveals to him or her, that believer will not be in fellowship with God. Nor will he or she have access to God’s power while living out of fellowship with the Lord.

There are some Christians who teach that a Christian does not need to confess his sins and ask forgiveness because a believer already has complete forgiveness of all his sins including his future sins (Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14). But this conclusion confuses the believer’s positional forgiveness (Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7) with his fellowship forgiveness (I John 1:9). A Christian who does not see his need to seek his heavenly Father’s forgiveness when he disobeys the Lord will not be very sensitive to the multiple ways he grieves God. In addition, the Lord Jesus taught His believing disciples to seek forgiveness of their sins when He taught them how to pray each day (e.g., the expression “give us this day our daily bread” precedes the request “forgive us our debts”Matt. 6:11-12). 28

We have talked about confessing the specific sins in our lives of which we are aware. But what about all the unknown sin in our lives? The last part of I John 1:9 explains that when we confess the specific sins of which we are aware, God is “faithful and just” to not only forgive those specific sins we confessed, but He will also “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This “all unrighteousness” refers to all the other sins in our lives that we are not aware of. It has been estimated that 90% of the decisions we make are unconscious in nature. 29 There are many sinful choices we all make of which we have no conscious knowledge. We all have far more sin in our lives that we do not know about. But God sees all our sins – the sins we consciously choose (“our sins”) and the sins we unconsciously choose (“all unrighteousness”). We do not need to agonize about the sins we are not conscious of because the shed blood of Jesus Christ “cleanses us” from all of them when we confess the specific sins God’s light reveals to us (1:7, 9). Nothing in our lives is left uncleansed.

In conclusion, the apostle John’s primary concern in I John is a believer’s fellowship or intimacy with God. This is emphasized in the first chapter where the word “fellowship” occurs four times (1:3, 6-7). Present and known sin in the life of a Christian breaks his fellowship or closeness with God, but it does not jeopardize his eternal relationship with the Lord. God is described as a gracious and merciful heavenly Father Who wants to help His children grow in their relationship with Him. He wants to help His children get back up when they fall and hurt themselves. He does not wait for them to mess up so He can stomp on them or punish them. Instead, He comes along side of them to help them get back up so they can continue on the right path.

Anderson illustrates this with something extraordinary that happened at the 2,000 Sydney, Australia Olympic games. “The gun went off for the running of the 400-meter final. Not far into the first turn the runner from Great Britain pulled a hamstring muscle and immediately came to a halt, searing pain shooting up and down the back of his leg. Of course, the people watching in the stands felt his pain and expected him to limp dejectedly off the track. To their surprise he did not limp off the track. He had spent years preparing for that race. It was a dream come true to qualify to represent his country in the Olympic Games. He was not prepared to limp off the track. That wasn’t in his mind. That’s not how the script was written. So, he kept moving forward, limping along, staying in his lane so as not to be disqualified from a race he had no hope of winning.

“As he limped/skipped along, the grimace in his face turned to tears. The race had long since finished, but the fans were on their feet cheering, tears streaming down their faces. The other runners, who had finished the race, turned around to see what was happening. The stands were clapping, cheering, and crying all at the same time for they could see the determination in this Afro-Englishman to finish the race.

“Then there was a disturbance barreling its way through the stands and onto the track. It was a big, burley, Afro-Englishman fighting through the security guards, running toward the Olympic runner. He went up to this limping Olympian and put his arm around him. Suddenly, everyone knew what was happening. This was a loving father coming down to help his son off the track, saying, ‘Son, son, you don’t have to finish this race.’ His son said, ‘Dad, I’ve got to finish this race.’ So, his father responded, ‘Then, son, I’m going to finish it with you.’ So together, arm in arm, they went around the track and finished the race with the crowd cheering and stomping their feet.

“What a picture of the love of our heavenly Father for His wayward children and how He longs to come down from heavenly heights to pick us up when we stumble, to put His arm around us, to help us finish the race, even if we have to limp all the way home. All He asks is that we don’t lie or deny the reality of our pulled hamstrings. Limp if we must, but don’t leave the track. Stay in the race. Don’t try to hide your failure from Him. He’s there to help us home. And someday, after a particularly serious fall, you may look back and realize your most intimate moments with Him were when He was there to pick you up when you turned your face toward Him.” 30

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word which instructs us not to deny the sin Your light reveals to us, but to agree with Your point of view – that it is sin, and it is repulsive to You. All You ask is that we be honest with You about our sin. All of us can deceive ourselves into thinking we are not nearly as bad as Your Word points out to us. We can refer to our sin as a bad habit, a mistake, or weakness, when it is an abomination in Your sight. Knowing that You are faithful and just to forgive our sins the moment we confess them to You, invites us to be honest with You instead of hiding in the darkness of broken fellowship. Thank You, Lord God, for putting Your arm around us when we do fall and walking with us through the pain of our own sinful choices. There are still consequences to face, but we do not have to face them alone. For You are with us and You promise never to leave us or forsake us. Thank You heavenly Father for being faithful even when we are faithless. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Jenna Riemersma, Altogether You (Marietta, GA: Pivotal Press, 2020), pp. 42-43.

2. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 49.

3. Adapted from Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3519 to 3523; cf. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 589.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 25.

8. Ibid., pg. cites Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco: Word Books, 1984), pg. 29.

9. Adapted from Ibid., pp. 50-51.

10. Ibid., pg. 52.

11. Ibid., pg. 51 says “the grammar here will not allow for the ‘historical’ present because the “historical’ present is never used with the verb ‘to be,” citing Daniel B. Wallae, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), pg. 529.

12. Throughout the book of James the author refers to his readers as “brethren” (1:1, 16, 19; et al.), as those “brought …forth by the word of truth” (1:18), and as having “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2:1), all of which are terms or phrases used of genuine Christians.

13. Adam’s sin nature is passed down through the father. Since Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of a sinful human father (Matthew 1:18, 20), Christ’s human nature is perfect and without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18).

14. Anderson, pg. 52.

15. Anderson, pg. 15 cites cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91; Constable, pg. 46 cites James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979); Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible series(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982); F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1970; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986); John Calvin, The First Epistle of John, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries series, Translated by T. H. L. Parker. Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-61); John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988); John R. W. Stott, Basic Introduction to the New Testament, 1st American ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (1883. Reprint ed. England: Marcham Manor Press, 1966); and Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1989).

16. John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:39, 41, 42, 48, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 45, 46, 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64, 69; 7:5, 31, 38(2), 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:25, 26, 27(2), 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:12; 16:9, 27; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:29, 31(2).

17. Constable, pg. 25; Anderson, pg. 53; Zane C. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

18. Anderson, pg. 53.

19. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1719.

20. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3528.

21. 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. 156.

22. Anderson, pg. 54.

23. Ibid., pp. 54-55.

24. Ibid., pg. 55.

25. Adapted from Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3532 to 3537.

28. Ibid., Kindle Location 3537 to 3545.

29. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Pure Desire Ministries International, 2015), pg. 232.

30. Anderson, pp. 56-58.

I John 1 – Part 2

“The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” I John 1:2

One of the greatest challenges we face as believers is fear in evangelism. It’s not that we don’t want to share Christ with others. Nor is it due to a lack of commitment. I believe most Christians would love to share the gospel with non-Christians, but they are overcome with fear. They are afraid of rejection. They are nervous about not knowing what to say.

It is important to understand that fear in evangelism is normal. Even the apostle Paul was afraid to share the gospel at times. This is why he asked believers to pray that he would have boldness in preaching the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-20; cf.  I Corinthians 2:3). The issue is not having no fear in evangelism. The issue is overcoming fear by growing closer to Christ.

In the first verse of I John, the apostle John described his and the other apostles’ experience with Jesus, “the Word of Life,” using a progression of sensory perception: “heard… seen… looked upon… handled” (1:1). These men were drawn closer and closer to Jesus, much like metal objects being pulled toward a powerful magnet. Christ uses His magnetic power to draw us closer to Himself so He can love us for who we are, not what we can do or have done, but love us simply because we are God’s beloved children. The closer we get to Christ, the more His love for lost people will become ours.

John then writes, “The life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (I John 1:2). John testifies that “the life” or “that eternal life… was with the Father.” Later in His epistle He identifies Jesus Christ as “the true God and eternal life” (5:20). John places great importance on the eternality of “the life” Jesus offers. 1 Jesus “was with the Father” in eternity past before the universe was created (John 1:1-2; 17:24). Christ never had a beginning as some false religions teach.

What kind of relationship did “the life” (Jesus) have with the Father? The apostle tells us in his gospel: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:18). John informs us that “no one has seen God” in the fullness of His glory or His unveiled divine essence. If people saw God’s unveiled glory or divine essence, they would not live (cf. Exodus 33:20).

The only One Who can and has seen God in the fullness of His glory and divine essence without dying, is His Son, Jesus Christ (John 6:46). The reason Jesus could do this is because He also is God. He has the same divine nature as God the Father. When John writes that Jesus is the “only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18b), He is affirming that Jesus is God. The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents, as many false religions teach today. The compound Greek word translated “only begotten” is monogenḗs, which literally means “one (monos) of a kind (genos).” 2 Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind. He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14). No other person in all the universe can make such a claim.

When John says that Jesus was “is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18b), he is referring to Christ’s very close and intimate relationship with God the Father. The word “bosom” (kolpos) refers to the upper part of the chest where a garment naturally folded to form a pocket. 3 The picture here is that of a son resting his head on the chest of his father, experiencing a very close and intimate relationship with him. Jesus had the closest and most intimate relationship with God the Father. He knows the heart of God the Father better than anyone because His head often rested upon His Father’s chest in eternity past.

Who better to tell others what a Person is like than the One who is closest to that Person and has known Him the longest in an intimate relationship!?! There is no one more qualified to tell us what God is like than the only begotten Son of God who has known God the Father forever in the closest of relationships with Him.

Therefore, John then says, “He has declared Him” (John 1:18c). The word “declared” (exēgeomai), is where we get our English words, “exegete” and “exegesis” from. It means “to set forth in great detail, expound.” 4 In seminary, we learned to “exegete” or explain God’s Word, the Bible. We were taught to “read out” of the Bible God’s intended meaning through a grammatical, historical, and literal interpretation instead of “reading into” the Bible our own biases and assumptions.

God the Son, Jesus Christ, has “exegeted” or “explained” what God the Father is like. Jesus is more qualified than anyone else to explain what God the Father is like because He, being God, knows God the Father longer and more intimately than anyone else. Hence, we learn from this verse that Christ had a relationship with the Father that was eternal and very close or intimate.

We also learn from John’s gospel that Jesus’ relationship with the Father was one of love and unity. Christ prayed to the Father that all who will believe in Him, 21 may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17:21-23). Christ prayed for these future believers to “be one” and experience the same unity as He and the Father have in their relationship (17:21). This is a fundamental unity of purpose, love, and doctrine. 5

This vision of oneness or unity among believers (17:21-22) would be possible because it is Christ and the Father in them that unites them with one another (17:23a). This oneness shows the world that God loved His people, so they could love one another. As Jesus prayed for those who will believe in Him through the word of His disciples, He asked that “the world may know that” the Father “loved them as” He “loved” Jesus (17:23b). The word “as” is fascinating here. Jesus is saying that the Father loves us “as” to the same degree or equally as He does His Son, Jesus Christ. This means there is no one and nothing, including Jesus Christ, that God the Father loves more than those of us who believe in Jesus! God loves all believers the same with a beyond what we can ask or imagine kind of love (cf. Ephesians 3:17-20). What is the Father’s love toward His only Son like?

– It is FOREVER – “for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (17:24b). There has never been a time when the Father has not loved Jesus. Think about that! Together, the Father and Son have been working side by side for all of eternity past. After spending billions of years working together in perfect harmony, Jesus tells us that His Father loves us exactly as much as He loves Him! People may stop loving us and may even abandon us, but God the Father will never stop loving us. He loves us the same as His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ!

– It is INTIMATE – “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26b). The Father’s love for His Son goes deep and is very intimate. He continues to work with us to make us more like His Son. He develops in us the skills to relate peacefully with one another, so we can experience the same oneness that characterizes His relationship with His Son (17:11, 21-23). All of us long to be loved and to love. Only God’s love can meet our deepest needs. 

With this understanding of Christ’s relationship with the Father, let’s return to I John 1:2. Like verse one, there is a progression in John’s choice of verbs: “was manifested… have seen… bear witness… declare” (1:2). “The life,” Jesus Christ, “was manifested” (phaneroō) or “made known, revealed” 6 to John and the other apostles through His incarnation. 7 Christ was not an invisible God. He visibly manifested Himself to the apostles so John could say, “we have seen” Him.

As a result of this visible encounter with Jesus, the apostles were motivated to “bear witness” (martureō) or “testify” 8 to the truth about Christ. This verb is used in a courtroom setting and refers to speaking the truth. Because of their intimate fellowship with Christ (1:1), the apostles were highly motivated to testify to others about the truth concerning Jesus Christ and His love for them.

The final verb in this progression is to “declare” (apaggellō) or “make something known publicly, announce.” 9 Hence, we learn that seeing Christ in human flesh led the apostles to testify to the truth about Him and publicly make Him known to others. This is the result of intimate fellowship with Jesus (1:1). The more we know Christ and His radical love for us (1:1), the more we will want to communicate His love to others (1:2). 

It is intriguing to observe the different Greek verb tenses in this verse: “was manifested” (ephanerōthē – aorist tense), “have seen” (heōrakamen – perfect tense), “bear witness” (martyroumen – present tense), “declare” (apangellomen – present tense). Christ makes Himself known as a matter of fact (aorist tense) to the apostles. The impact of seeing Jesus makes a lasting impression on them that continued to influence them at the time of John’s writing (perfect tense). Their intimate fellowship with Christ in the past continued to motivate them to constantly “bear witness” or tell the truth about Jesus (present tense) and publicly “declare” or announce (present tense) His message of life to others.

After the visible Lord Jesus draws the apostles to Himself like a magnet (1:1), His love for them compells them to go out and proclaim His message of life and love to others (1:2). 10 Intimacy with Christ causes us to move out from seeing to bearing witness to proclaiming. 11

Anderson writes, “If a crime takes place, but if I don’t see it, I can’t talk about it. On the other hand, I might see it but decide not to tell anyone. If, however, the police suspect that I have seen the crime, I might receive a subpoena to bear witness in the courtroom as to what I have seen. I’ll talk if you force it out of me. But to openly proclaim (apaggellō)… is a very proactive declaration. There is no subpoena behind this word. It is used of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary when they heard the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead and ran to report these things to the disciples (Matthew 28:8). Our Magnetic Messiah becomes our Motivating Messiah… The principle is that the closer we get to Jesus, the greater our desire to witness becomes!” 12

The closer we get to the heart of Christ, the closer we get to the people for whom He died. Jesus’ heart bleeds for the lost. Jesus said in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The heart of our Lord is a seeking heart. Aren’t you thankful for that? We would still be lost in our sins if Jesus did not seek us out.

Look at God’s heart: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2;3-4). Is there any human being God does not want to save? No. God created hell for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), not for people. God desires that all people go to heaven, and He wants to use you and me to introduce people to the Savior Who can get them there. He may use you at work, school, the marketplace, the mall, or He may use you in your backyard talking across the fence with your neighbor. The key is to open your heart to Him, so He can use you.

The closer we grow to Jesus, the greater our desire will be to tell others about Him. Lovers understand this principle. For example, when a couple gets engaged, they have no difficulty telling others about their fiancé before their wedding. The future bride doesn’t hide her engagement ring behind her back when she approaches others. Instead, she holds her ring finger out everywhere she goes Why? Because that ring represents her love relationship with her future husband. And she wants others to meet him because of their love for one another.

Anderson explains, “The truth is that we talk about what we love the most. Most folks love their kids more than anything on earth, so they brag about their children every chance they get. Some people love possessions more than anything else, so you will hear them talking about money, or their new boat or new vacation home. Some guys love sports, so they talk about historic plays and record batting averages. There are some people who talk about Jesus more than anything else. Why? Because they love Jesus more than anything or anyone else in the world. Consequently, they can’t help themselves. They just can’t keep from talking about Jesus for very long. Such open proclamation of our love for Christ actually intensifies that love. As we talk about Jesus, we find ourselves even more in love with Him.” 13

“The Communists discovered this principle and utilized it in building the strength of their party. Douglas Hyde, who was the head of the Communist Party in London for twenty years before he became Christian and renounced his party membership, describes this dynamic in his book Dedication and Leadership.” 14

“He said the first assignment given to a new member of their party was to go out onto the streets of London to pass out tracts promoting the Communist cause. If the new convert to Communism successfully carried out his mission, the effect within him was always the same: he came back with an increased fervency and love for the cause. Why? Because people either ignored him, ridiculed him, or asked him questions. By openly proclaiming the virtues of Communism the new convert’s positive feelings about the cause increased. Hyde wondered why modern Christians don’t give their new converts the same assignment. That’s what Jesus did with His disciples. According to Hyde, many of the principles for reaching the world used by the Communists came straight from Jesus.” 15

During mission trips to the Philippines when we would preach the gospel eight to twenty times a day to various classrooms or assemblies at public schools, I found my love increasing for Christ and His gospel message. Hearing the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection coming out of my own mouth reminded me of His infinite love for me – a very broken sinner who deserves eternal condemnation. Yet because of Jesus’ radical love, I know I have eternal life simply by believing in Him. Hearing these truths many times a day intensified my love for the Lord. I needed to hear that message just as much as the unsaved students or teachers at the public schools in the Philippines.

May I be so bold to say that every Christian needs to hear the gospel message because we still need to be reminded of the underserved love and grace of Jesus Christ. Remember John wrote that “perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). The more we proclaim the good news of Christ’s perfect love for us, the less fear we will have in evangelism. Zephaniah reminds us that Jesus “will quiet” our anxious hearts “with His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). That, too, is good news!

Prayer:  Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for making Yourself known to the apostles so they could proclaim Your message about life to future generations. Thank You so much for the principles in these first two verses of John’s epistle which emphasize the importance of Your love’s magnetic power which draws us closer and closer to You. And as we grow closer to You, the more we will experience Your perfect love which casts out fear and quiets our anxious hearts. Intimacy with You, Lord, increases our desire to make Your love known to others. Talking to others about Your love actually increases our love for You as we are reminded of Your death and resurrection and free offer of eternal life to all who believe in You. May each of us grow in Your love by proclaiming Your gospel message to a lost world. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 7.

2. 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. 658.

3. Ibid., pp. 556-557.

4. Ibid., pg. 349.

5. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 225-226.

6. Bauer, pg. 1048.

7. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3456 to 3460.

8. Bauer, pp. 617-618.

9. Ibid., pg. 95.

10. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 26.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., pg. 26.

13. Ibid., pp 27-28.

14. Ibid., pg. 28 cites Douglas Hyde, Dedication and Leadership (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), pp. 42-43. 15. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

HOW DO I DEFEAT MY WORST FEARS? (Video)

This is the sixth video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible several transforming principles to defeat your worst fears.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. Digital images are used with permission from BiblePathwayAdventures.com, Goodsalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Wycliffe BibleTranslators of Russia, or they are creative common licenses.

Revelation 22 – Part 11

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” Revelation 22:21

Pastor and author J. Vernon McGee observed that the Old Testament concluded with a curse (Malachi 4:4-6), but the New Testament ends with an extension of God’s grace to “all” who read the book of Revelation (Revelation 22:21). 1 This blessing of grace is in high demand today in a world that is spiraling downward into the darkness of sin and shame.

People desperately need to hear this message of grace today. As the brokenness of the world dips deeper into the degradation of sin, the need for God’s grace to rescue and restore people has increased exponentially. However, many people do not know about God’s grace because churches are not clearly communicating it to them. Instead of hearing that God offers eternal life and complete forgiveness freely to those who believe in Christ, people are being told they must clean up their lives first or turn from their sin before they can become eligible for this grace. Or they may hear about God’s grace from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, but they do not experience that grace in their relationships with those who espouse it.

The apostle John has written twenty-two chapters of Revelation given to him by the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ through His angel (1:1). This may come as a surprise to many of us, but I will risk saying it any way: Christ entrusted John with this disclosure of future events so people who read this book may experience God’s grace. This may seem strange to us when we consider the many dire predictions of judgment recorded in the book of Revelation, but the Lord wants His grace to have the last word! 2

The final verse of the Bible says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:21). The Greek word translated “grace” (charis) in this context refers to “Christ, who gives undeserved gifts to people.” 3 Grace means getting what we do not deserve. We do not deserve eternal life nor forgiveness from God. We do not deserve to be rescued from the coming wrath of God during the Tribulation period (Revelation 6:1-19:21) nor from the eternal wrath of God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Yet “our Lord Jesus Christ” offers it “freely” to anyone who believes in Him (22:17; cf. John 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; 20:31; Romans 3:23-4:5; 6:23b; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-9; I Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:13-5:11; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13; Revelation 21:6; et al.).

This “grace” can only be found in “our Lord Jesus Christ.” You cannot obtain this “grace” from your church, your parents, your peers, your pastor, your priest, your imam, your religion, or your own performance. This grace can only be found in the Person of Jesus Christ. The apostle John tells us in his gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). The “glory” that John and the other apostles “beheld” in Christ was “full of grace and truth.”

Christ was full of grace and truth. He has the perfect ability to tell us the awful truth about ourselves, while holding us up by His grace. Because He is full of truth, He was the perfect sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18). Because He is full of grace, you can come to Him just as you are, without having to clean up your life first. And because He is full of truth, you can come in complete confidence knowing that He will keep His promise to forgive you and grant you eternal life the moment you believe in Him. Jesus promised, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).

Please notice, however, that John does not mention Jesus’ truth at the end of Revelation. Instead, He focuses on “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God knew that as the world races toward the future events recorded in the book of Revelation that what “all” of us would need the most is His grace. He knew about the global pandemic and the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. He knew about the increase in political, racial, and religious tensions. He knew our society would become more sexualized and temptations would abound. He foresaw the devaluation of human life and the Satanic assault on His design for marriage and family. He understood the world would turn away from Him and spiral downward into the consequences of sin. Yet God still extends His grace to “all” of us.

For the nonbeliever, this grace invites them to come to Christ in “faith” to be forever saved from the penalty of his or her sins. The Bible says, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Being “saved” from hell is “by grace … through faith… not of works.” “Grace” precedes “faith.” God’s undeserved favor (grace) draws the non-Christian to place his or her faith in Christ alone. This salvation is “not of yourselves.” It is not based on your determination or dedication because it is “the gift of God.”

When you receive a Christmas or birthday gift, do you have to pay for it? No, of course not. Why? Because it is a gift. It has already been paid for so there is nothing left for you to pay. If you offered a gift to someone and they insisted on paying for it, how would you feel? If you are like me, you would probably feel hurt or offended because they are telling you that you did not finish paying for that gift.

Think about how God feels when we refuse to receive His gift of salvation on His terms (faith alone in Christ alone). God can offer salvation from hell freely because Jesus Christ paid for it all when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). God the Father accepted Jesus’ perfect sacrifice as the full payment for the sins of the world. Since God was forever satisfied with Jesus’ payment for all our sins (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:1-2), we must also be satisfied with what satisfies God. God cannot accept anything we do as payment for our sins because He has already accepted His Son’s payment for all our sins when He died in our place on the cross.

But when people trust their works or faith plus their works to receive Christ’s gift of salvation, they are insulting God by telling Him that His Son, Jesus Christ, did not get the job done, so they must help Jesus finish paying all their sin debt back to God. God says to those who are not satisfied with what satisfied Him, “I never knew you, depart from Me you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23). Jesus will reject those who confess Him as “Lord” while relying on their own good works (“prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name” (Matthew 7:21-23) because they failed to do “the will of” His “Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21) which is to believe in Jesus alone for everlasting life (John 6:40; cf. John 3:5-16; Matthew 18:3, 6; 21:32; 27:42). God is telling us if people will not believe Jesus paid their sin debt in full, then He will let them pay their entire sin debt to Him in the lake of fire forever because they have rejected God’s terms for receiving salvation from hell (John 3:18, 36; Revelation 20:15).

This blessing of grace at the end of Revelation is also intended for Christians. God’s grace invites them to continually come to His heavenly throne in prayer to receive mercy and grace in their time of need no matter how much they have struggled with failure because Christ understands and sympathizes with them: 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

This grace also teaches believers how to persevere in godliness until Christ returns for them: 11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14).

While the New Testament ends with God’s grace (Revelation 22:21), we also see that it begins with this same amazing grace. Starting with “the genealogy of Jesus Christ,” we see several examples of the Lord’s grace (Matthew 1:1-17). The Lord God orchestrated the coming of His Son to earth through imperfect people such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were deceivers and liars (1:1-2; cf. Genesis 12; 20; 26; 27; et al.); Tamar who posed as a prostitute to commit incest with her father-in-law Judah (1:3; cf. Genesis 38),  Rahab, a prostitute (1:5a; cf. Joshua 2; 6; Hebrews 11:31); Ruth, a Gentile from Moab outside the covenant of Israel whose people worshiped idols (1:5b; cf. Ruth 1:1-4); King David who committed adultery and murder (1:6b; cf. 2 Samuel 11); Solomon who had many wives and concubines, and whose life ended as an idolator (1:7a; cf. I Kings 11); and Manasseh, one of Israel’s most wicked kings (1:10a; cf. 2 Kings 21), to name a few. Would we have chosen these people to be the ancestors of the Messiah-God? Probably not.

It is humbling to realize that God’s grace still uses imperfect sinners to bring His Son to others through the preaching of the gospel. The Lord takes unlikely people and uses them greatly to accomplish His purposes regardless of their circumstances or character. Truly, God’s grace is unlike anything we could ever create.

Although the book of Revelation speaks primarily of future events, it points believers and nonbelievers to God’s grace to help them prepare for what is coming. May His amazing “grace” be with us all!!!

Prayer: Gracious Lord Jesus, thank You for extending Your amazing grace to us during this church age prior to the outpouring of Your wrath on the earth. Your grace not only saves us from Your eternal wrath in the lake of fire the moment we believe in You, but it will also save us from Your temporal wrath during the Tribulation period through the sudden removal of Your church from the earth at any moment. As the world rapidly moves toward end-time events, we desperately need Your grace to enable us to persevere in godliness and communicate Your love to the lost with our words and actions. Please lead us by Your Spirit to those You have prepared to hear and believe the gospel so they may come to faith in You alone for eternal life and enjoy eternity with You on the new earth in the New Jerusalem. Hallelujah Lord Jesus for Your Revelation! May all honor and glory and power and dominion be Yours both now and forever! Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 404 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5, I Corinthians – Revelation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981), 1080.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 259 cites George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible Commentary series, revised ed., (London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 350.

Revelation 22 – Part 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1590.

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

4. Constable, pg. 256.

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

6. Constable, pg. 256.

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

8. Evans, pp. 2424-2425.

9. Constable, pg. 256.

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

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

12. Ibid., pg. 402.

13. Ibid., pg. 401.

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

15. Vacendak, pg. 1590.

16. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 266.

17. Ibid., pg. 816.

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

Revelation 22 – Part 4

“Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” Revelation 22:9

I have known Jesus Christ as my personal Savior for over forty-three years, and yet I still have a lot to learn about what it means to worship Him. Most Christians know they will worship God in heaven, but many of us fail to grasp how thrilling this will be. We may think that worship in heaven will be boring and monotonous.

One reason we don’t look forward to worshiping God in heaven is because of the bad worship experiences we’ve had on earth. We think in heaven we are going to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, eat a snack, and go home, and repeat this monotonous routine throughout eternity. While things on earth can become less interesting over time, including worship services, in heaven focusing on God all the time will be fascinating, not boring! Those of you who know the Lord intimately understand what I am talking about.  

The book of Revelation has a lot to teach us about the worship of God. While one of the primary themes of this book is to inform us of future events, we are told at the beginning of Revelation that its main subject is Jesus Christ. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” (Revelation 1:1a). The apostle John immediately alerts his readers to the Source of this book’s information when he writes, “The Revelation of [about or from] Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ is the Giver of this revelation, and He is its MAIN SUBJECT.

As the prophetic events have been chronologically revealed in this book, leading up to the return of Jesus Christ to earth to set up His eternal kingdom, we have learned more and more about the Lord Jesus. Our view of Christ has become clearer as He disclosed more of Himself and His redemptive plan in this book. The more we encounter Jesus in the pages of the book of Revelation, the more we want to worship Him! This is what happened to the apostle John.

After the apostle John saw the original angel who spoke to him (22:6; cf. 1:1) and then heard the voice of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ (22:7), he mistook the angel for the Lord Jesus. “Now I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.” (Revelation 22:8). John now resumes addressing his readers in the first person, directly, which he had not done since the first chapter (cf. 1:1, 4, 9). 1 John had personally “heard” and seen “these things” that he had recorded. He was an eyewitness. When John “saw” the angel (22:6) and “heard” the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ (22:7), he may have concluded he was worshipping Christ. 2 The apostle’s strong response further attests to the genuineness of the profound revelations he had received. 3

Immediately the angel corrects John: “Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” (Revelation 22:9). The angel’s words, “See that you do not do that,” remind us thatthe worship of angels is forbidden in God’s Word (cf. Exodus 34:14; Matthew 4:10; Colossians 2:18). No matter how glorious an angel is or exalted a servant of God is – for that matter – they are never to be worshiped.

The angel reminds John (and us), “I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.” The reason the angel was not to receive worship is because he is a “fellow servant” of John’s; they both serve God. He also said he served the other “prophets” in addition to John, as well as all believers who “keep” or obey “the words of” the “book” of Revelation.

The angel emphatically says to John, “Worship God!” This is the most appropriate response to all that God has revealed in the book of Revelation. Throughout the book of Revelation, we see that God alone is to be worshiped. In God’s heavenly throne room prior to the beginning of His horrific Tribulation judgments on the earth, the angelic and human inhabitants of heaven are so overwhelmed with God’s holiness, power, and eternality (4:8-10), they fall on their faces saying, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (4:11).  

After the Lamb and Lion, Jesus Christ, takes the scroll containing the seal judgments from the hand of God the Father in heaven’s throne room, the four angelic creatures and redeemed people from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” worshiped Jesus Christ by singing a new song of praise for His work of redemption (5:8-10). Then an innumerable host of “angels around the throne” now join this group ascribing worth to “the Lamb who was slain” Who deserves “power… riches… wisdom… strength… honor… glory… blessing” to be given to Him at the beginning of His reign on earth (5:11-12). Then every creature, saved and unsaved, angelic, and demonic, will join in giving God the Father(“Him who sits on the throne“) and “the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, “the blessing and honor and glory and power” they deserve (5:13). Then we see the four living creatures and twenty-four elders continue their unceasing worship of God in His heavenly throne room (5:14).

During the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments, the apostle John receives a vision of God’s great mercy involving the salvation of Gentiles and Jews from every nation who are taken to heaven (7:9-17). An innumerable group of saved people from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” will be in heaven praising God, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:9-10). In addition, 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (7:11-12). Imagine being in God’s throne room with an innumerable group of redeemed people from all over the world together with all of God’s angels falling on our faces because we are so overwhelmed with the goodness and greatness of God!

When the seventh trumpet sounded and the inhabitants of heaven announced the future eternal reign of Christ on earth in the past tense as if it has already taken place (11:15), “the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God.” (11:16).

During the last half of the Tribulation when the beast and false prophet blaspheme the true God and blame Him for all the calamities they are experiencing on the earth, an angel will be sent to nonbelieving earth-dwellers saying, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (14:7). They are to“fear God and give glory to Him” because the reason for all the worldwide death and disaster during the last half of the Tribulation is that “the hour of His judgment has come” (14:7a). When people on the earth understand why all the calamities are taking place during the Tribulation, they may be more likely to believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life.These earth-dwellers are also to “worship” God because He “made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (14:7b). God is worthy of worship because He is the Creator, and He has the right to judge what He has created.

In Revelation 15, the apostle John has a vision of believers who were martyred during the last half of the Tribulation who are now in God’s throne room in heaven, singing “the song of Moses… and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations!’ Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.’” (15:3-4). It does not matter if the songs are old (“song of Moses”) or new (“song of the Lamb”), the purpose of worship is to “glorify” God for His awesome Person (“Lord God Almighty…You alone are holy”) and His “great and marvelous… works.”

Following the destruction of the great harlot (Rome) which caused the people of the world to grieve deeply and be distressed (18:1-24), we see a much different response to Rome’s destruction in heaven (19:1-10). All the inhabitants of heaven are praising God for what He has done to Rome, 1 saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.’” (19:1-2). The “twenty-four elders” representing the church in heaven (cf. 4:1-4) and “the four living creatures” representing angelic beings (cf. 4:6-8), “fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne,” crying out, “Amen! Alleluia!” (19:4). In saying “Amen” (lit., “so be it”), they were giving their wholehearted agreement to the praise already given to God.

This last worshipful scene in heaven (19:1-4) which is contrasted with the mourning that will take place on the earth for Rome’s (“Babylon”) destruction (Revelation 18:9-24), reminds us that God is still worthy of praise no matter what we face in life. All God’s decisions are “true and righteous” (19:2) even when a romance does not blossom as we had hoped, or a job interview does not turn out the way we thought it would. It is important to remember that God is worthy of our admiration and trust even when the effects of sin endanger our families, when pain drives us to our wits’ end, or when misfortune is about to push us over the edge. God gives and He takes away (Job 1:21). He is honored when we return to Him, when we release our worries to Him, and when we rest in Him.

From this survey of the book of Revelationwe learn that in the current heaven, everyone worships Jesus Christ, including all the angels and God’s redeemed people. No one says, “Now we’re going to sing two hymns, followed by announcements, and prayer.” The praising of God is not ritual, it is spontaneous. 4

Alcorn writes, “If someone rescued you and your family from terrible harm, especially at great cost to himself, no one need tell you, ‘Better say thank you.’ On your own, you would shower him with praise. Even more will you sing your Savior’s praises and tell of His life-saving deeds.

“In 2003 when Saddam Hussein’s statues were being torn down in Baghdad, a television commentator said something so striking that I wrote it down. He said, ‘These people are used to coming out in the streets and praising Saddam. If they didn’t, they were punished. He had a policy of compulsory adulation.

“God seeks worshipers (John 4:23). But He has no policy of compulsory adulation. His children’s response to Him is voluntary. Once we see God as He really is, no one will need to beg, threaten, or shame us into praising Him. We will overflow in gratitude and praise. We are created to worship God. There’s no higher pleasure. At times we’ll lose ourselves in praise, doing nothing but worshiping Him. At other times we’ll worship Him when we build a cabinet, paint a picture, cook a meal, talk with an old friend, take a walk, or throw a ball.” 5

People all over the world today “are always striving to celebrate – they just lack ultimate reasons to celebrate (and therefore find lesser reasons). As Christians, we have those reasons – our relationship with Jesus and the promise of heaven.” 6

In the final stage of heaven when King Jesus rules the new heaven and new earth from the New Jerusalem, we read, 3 Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3). In this final stage of heaven, believers will enjoy a new intimacy with God which is impossible in a world where sin and death are still present. God will finally “tabernacle” or dwell among His cleansed and forgiven people, and they will experience perfect fellowship with Him on the new earth.

I want to conclude with Randy Alcorn’s description of worship in this final stage of heaven on the new earth:

“Does this excite you? If it doesn’t, you’re not thinking correctly.

“I find it ironic that many people stereotype life in Heaven as an interminable church service. Apparently, church attendance has become synonymous with boredom. Yet meeting God – when it truly happens – will be far more exhilarating than a great meal, a poker game, hunting, gardening, mountain climbing, or watching the Super Bowl. Even it if were true (it isn’t) that church services must be dull, there will be no church services in Heaven. The church (Christ’s people) will be there. But there will be no temple, and as far as we know, no services (Revelation 21:22).

“Will we always be engaged in worship? Yes and no. If we have a narrow view of worship, the answer is no. But if we have a broad view of worship, the answer is yes. As Cornelius Venema explains, worship in Heaven will be all-encompassing:” 7

“No legitimate activity of life – whether in marriage, family, business, play, friendship, education, politics, etc. – escapes the claims of Christ’s kingship… Certainly those who live and reign with Christ forever will find the diversity and complexity of their worship of God not less, but richer, in the life to come. Every legitimate activity of new creaturely life will be included within the life of worship of God’s people.” 8

Alcorn then says, “Will we always be on our faces at Christ’s feet, worshiping Him? No, because the Scripture says we’ll be doing many other things – living in dwelling places, eating, and drinking, reigning with Christ, working for Him. Scripture depicts people standing, walking, traveling in and out of the city, and gathering at feasts. When doing these things, we won’t be on our faces before Christ. Nevertheless, all that we do will be an act of worship. We’ll enjoy full and unbroken fellowship with Christ. At times this will crescendo into greater heights of praise as we assemble with the multitudes who are also worshiping Him.

“Worship involves more than singing and prayer. I often worship God while reading a book, riding a bike, or taking a walk. I’m worshiping Him now as I write. Yet too often I’m distracted and fail to acknowledge God along the way. In Heaven, God will always be first in my thinking.” 9

“…Nothing is more fascinating than God. The deeper we probe into His being, the more we want to know. One song puts it this way: ‘As eternity unfolds, the thrill of knowing Him will grow.’” 10

“We’ll never lose our fascination for God as we get to know Him better. The thrill of knowing Him will never subside. The desire to know Him better will motivate everything we do. To imagine that worshiping God could be boring is to impose on Heaven our bad experiences of so-called worship. Satan is determined to make church boring, and when it is, we assume Heaven will be also. But church can be exciting, and worship exhilarating. That’s what it will be in Heaven. We will see God and understand why the angels and other living creatures delight to worship Him.”

“Have you known people who couldn’t be boring if they tried? Some people are just fascinating. It seems I could listen to them forever. But not really. Eventually, I’d feel as if I’d gotten enough. But we can never get enough of God. There’s no end to what He knows, no end to what He can do, no end to who He is. He is mesmerizing to the depths of His being, and those depths will never be exhausted. No wonder those in Heaven always redirect their eyes to Him – they don’t want to miss anything.” 11

J. I. Packer puts it this way: “Hearts on earth may say in the course of a joyful experience, ‘I don’t want this ever to end.’ But invariably it does. The hearts of those in heaven say, ‘I want this to go on forever.’ And it will. There is no better news than this.” 12

Prayer: Gracious God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we pause right now to thank You for revealing to us future certainties in the book of Revelation which cause us to pause and worship You, our Triune God. Forgive us Lord God for sometimes getting caught up in the moment, like John did, and forgetting the One who deserves our full affection. We can so easily focus on the Gift rather than the Giver when we receive Your incredible blessings. Thank You for rebuking us, like the angel rebuked John, when we take our eyes off You, so we can redirect our focus onto You alone. Regardless of what we face on earth, You are always worthy of our admiration and praise. Your work in creation and redemption increases our sense of Your goodness and grace. Thank You for our eternal salvation. Thank You for the everlasting hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ who died in our place and rose from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life both now and forever. Until we see You face to face, help us to live lives that worship and exalt You for who You are and what You have done. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 252.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1589.

3. Constable, pg. 253.

4. Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pg. 285.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., pg. 283.

7. Ibid., pg. 284.

8. Ibid., cites Cornelius P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Trowbridge, UK: Banner of Truth, 2000), pg. 478.

9. Alcorn, pg. 284.

10. Ibid., pg. 286 cites John G. Elliot, “The Praise Goes On and On” (Grapevine, Tex.: Galestorm Music, n. d.).

11. Alcorn, pg. 286.

12. Ibid., pg. 287.

HOW CAN I OVERCOME CONDEMNATION? (Video)

This is the fifth video in a series entitled, “Real Solutions to Real Problems.” In this presentation you will learn from the Bible several transforming principles for overcoming condemnation.

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

Revelation 20 – Part 4

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” Revelation 20:11

“Abandon every hope, all you who enter here.” 1

“Those are the famous words appearing above the gates of hell in Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ According to Dante, those who pass beneath that sign will have absolutely no hope of ever getting out. Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked is a one-way entrance. There is no hope beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire.” 2

For over the last two thousand years, the disturbing facts recorded in Revelation 20:11-15 describing the final judgment of all unsaved people has instilled fear, sorrow, disappointment, and even denial in believer and nonbeliever alike. No one wants to hear that eternal punishment for sin awaits those who refuse to believe in God’s only provision for sin – His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. While believers in Jesus will find themselves enjoying the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ forever (Revelation 21:1-22:21), the nonbeliever will find himself or herself forever removed from His presence (Revelation 20:11-15). The facts of eternal punishment are clearly presented without a hint of any hope – “because no hope exists apart from God.” 3 (emphasis added)

In our study of the book of Revelation, we learned that the members of the unholy trinity (Satan, the beast, and false prophet) all received their final judgment and consignment to the lake of fire forever (19:20; 20:10). Now we will see the Judge of all the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, determine the degree of eternal punishment for every nonbeliever who has ever lived before he or she is cast into the lake of fire (20:11-15). The “rest of the dead” will “live again” (receive bodily resurrection) to receive their final judgment (20:5). 4  This is thought to be “the most serious, sobering and tragic passage in the entire Bible.” 5

The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” (Revelation 20:11). The words translated “Then I saw” (kai eidon) introduces additional information John saw in this vision (cf. 19:11, 17, 19: 20:1, 4, 12; 21:1-2). The continuation of chronological progression seems obvious from the continued use of kai often translated “And,” to introduce new information. All but one verse in this chapter begins with kai (20:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). 6

Initially the apostle John sees “a great white throne and Him who sat on it” (20:11a). This throne is “great” because of the One Who sat on it – the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ (19:16; cf. I Timothy 6:14-16) – to Whom God the Father “has committed all judgment” (John 5:22). This throne is “white” because every verdict that proceeds from it is holy, just, pure, and righteous (cf. Psalm 97:2). 7 No one will be able dispute or reverse the final verdict and sentencing issued from this throne.

Erwin W. Lutzer writes, “We picture the scene: host beyond host, rank behind rank. The millions among the nations of the world, all crowded together in the presence of the One who sits upon the throne, the One who looks intently at each individual. We are accustomed to human judges; we know their partial and impartial verdicts. In the presence of the Almighty, all previous judgments are rendered useless. Many men and women acquitted on earth before a human judge will now be found guilty before God. Men who have been accustomed to perks, special privileges, and legal representation now stand as naked in the presence of God. To their horror they are judged by a standard that is light-years beyond them: The standard is God Himself… For the first time in their lives they stand in the presence of unclouded righteousness. They will be asked questions for which they know the answer. Their lives are present before them; unfortunately, they will be doomed to a painful, eternal existence.” 8

The location of this judgment is neither in heaven nor on earth, but in space as suggested by the statement “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away” (20:11b). 9 The “earth” and “heaven” flee in terror from the Judge’s “face.” This portrays how serious and fearful it will be to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at this final judgment. All of creation seeks to run away and hide, but “there was found no place for them” to escape (20:11c). 10 No unsaved person will be able to avoid this final judgment.

“Most adults have seen a courthouse, and some have probably been in a courtroom as a juror, witness, or part of a lawsuit. The scene is very imposing. Courtrooms often have high, vaulted ceilings with beautiful paintings and massive chandeliers. In the gallery the people sit on dark wooden benches with high, straight backs. The atmosphere is always serious and silent, except for a few muted whispers. Suddenly the door from the judge’s chambers opens and the bailiff enters, commanding all present to rise as the black-robed judge enters the courtroom. When the judge takes a seat behind the bar, court is in session. The parties are called, and the case begins.” 11

This scene will someday occur before the bar of the King of kings and Lord of lords somewhere between earth and heaven – only it will be multiplied times infinity. 12 Jesus Christ Himself will conduct the trial, and no one is more qualified than Him. He made provision for the salvation of every human being (cf. John 19:30; I Timothy 2:3-5). But those who rejected Him and His offer of salvation, must now be judged by Him. 13

“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12). John “saw” the unbelieving “dead” from all ages of history “standing before the throne” in their resurrected bodies which are indestructible. The defendants at this final judgment of unsaved humankind will consist of the “small” or insignificant. No nonbeliever will be too unimportant to go unnoticed at this judgment. Unsaved people whose lives were barely a blip in history will be there. Nor will any unbeliever be too “great” or significant to escape judgment here. The unbelieving Alexander the Great’s, Julius Caesar’s, Stalin’s, and Hitler’s will be there. Unbelieving self-righteous religious leaders will be there. Atheists and terrible sinners will be there. Unbelieving procrastinators will be there. Unconverted church members will be there. No unsaved person will escape his or her day in God’s courtroom. 14

This multitude of defendants will be diverse in its religions. “We see Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. We see those who believed in one God and those who believed in many gods. We see those who refused to believe in any God at all. We see those who believed in meditation as a means of salvation and those who believed that doing good deeds was the path to eternal life. We see the moral and immoral, the priest as well as the minister, the nun as well as the missionary.” 15

Swindoll describes the unsaved at this final judgment as…

  • “Those who existed amidst creation but replaced the Creator with idols and false gods.
  • Those who turned their backs on the free grace of God in favor of a works-based religion.
  • Those who repeatedly heard the gospel of Christ but rejected Him until it was too late.
  • Those who concluded, based on logic, reason, and experience, that God doesn’t exist.
  • Those who lived out their depravity through selfishness, wickedness, and violence.” 16

This final judgment will involve the consultation of two heavenly records: the “books” and “the book of life” (20:12b). The first heavenly record (the “books”)will determine the degree of punishment for the nonbeliever in the lake of fire. These “books” contain the record of every unsaved human being’s deeds so they can be judged “according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (20:12c). 17  Since this judgment will be “according to their works,” there will be differing degrees of punishment among nonbelievers (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:25-27; 22:12).

Millions if not billions of people have died thinking they are good enough to enter God’s heaven. Hence, Jesus Christ will examine all they have done throughout the course of their lives on earth and render His verdict the same for all nonbelievers: “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). 18

It is very important that we understand that the sinful deeds of the nonbeliever are not the basis on which the nonbeliever is consigned to the lake of fire. The basis of eternal condemnation is found in the second heavenly record: “another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” (20:12b),and it contains the names of all those who have been born spiritually into God’s family since the beginning of creation through faith in God’s promises(cf. Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:7). 19

Eternal condemnation in the lake of fire is not based on a person’s behavior, but on whether his or her name is written in “the book of life” (20:15). Those who believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will be found to have their names written in the book of life (cf. John 3:16, 36; 5:24; et al.). They have been credited with God’s imputed righteousness because of their faith in Jesus, not because of their good works (Romans 4:5). No one will receive eternal life based on what is written in a book of deeds because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23; 6:23). 20 Hence, all nonbelievers, will not have their names written in the book of life because they were never saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

To have your name written in the book of life you must reject the idea that your own righteousness will gain acceptance before God. The apostle Paul wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16). Believers in Jesus for His gift of salvation will have their names written in “the book of life” and therefore, will never receive eternal punishment based on their deeds. Hence, they will not be summoned to appear before the great white throne. 21

But all unsaved people from all ages of history will be summoned to appear at the great white throne. No high-priced lawyers will get the case postponed or dismissed on a legal technicality. No one will jump bail. Everyone who is summoned must appear. 22

“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13). God will physically resurrect the bodies of all nonbelievers, and unite them with their spirits, even those bodies decomposed in “the sea.” “In the ancient world the sea was thought to be the most inaccessible place. No human could venture to the depths of the ocean. People believed that no one buried in the ocean could ever be disturbed. God makes it clear that even the most mysterious, difficult, out-of-the-way, forbidden places are fully accessible to God. The Day of Judgment is sure (Hebrews 9:27).” 23

The statement “Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them” refers to the physical bodies of the unsaved (“Death”) being joined with their souls and spirits which have been in “Hades.” 24 “Hades” is the temporary holding place of the souls and spirits of all nonbelievers until the great white throne judgment (Luke 16:23-24).

At the time of physical death during this church age, the soul and spirit are separated from the physical body, with the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of believers going immediately into the presence of Christ in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4) and the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of nonbelievers going to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23-24). At the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 4:15-17), believers’ souls and spirits will be united with glorified bodies appropriate to their eternal existence in heaven. Here in Revelation 20:12-13, nonbelievers’ souls and spirits are united with bodies suited for their eternal location. 25

John informs us a second time that all nonbelievers at the great white throne will be judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13b). The punishment of each nonbeliever will be proportional to their sinful works. The more wickedly they behaved, the greater the degree of their punishment in the lake of fire. The charges against each nonbeliever will be read to them before their sentencing. One interpreter describes the seriousness of this judgment:

“The accused, all the unsaved who have ever lived, will be resurrected to experience a trial like no other that has ever been. There will be no debate over their guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender; an accuser but no advocate. There will be an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused; the convicting evidence will be presented with no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be an utterly unsympathetic Judge and no jury, and there will be no appeal of the sentence He pronounces. The guilty will be punished eternally with no possibility of parole in a prison from which there is no escape.” 26

Next John tells us, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14). From this point on there will be no more since God will cast “death and Hades… into the lake of fire.” Being “cast into the lake of fire” is described as “the second death.” “When a person is arrested for a crime, he is sent to a temporary place of punishment awaiting trial. But once that person has been tried and found guilty, he is sent to a long-term place of punishment. Hades can be conceived of as a prison to which men are temporarily assigned because they have been bound over for trial, but the lake of fire is God’s permanent prison for the eternally lost (cf. Matthew 13:40-42; 25:41; Mark 9:43-44; Jude 1:7; Revelation 21:8).” 27

Just as believers in Jesus have two births – physical and spiritual (John 3:5-6), so nonbelievers have two deaths. The first death involves separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body. The second death involves separation of the soul and spirit from God forever.

Finally, John writes, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). The “lake of fire” will be the final and eternal location of every human whose name is “not found written in the Book of Life.” Every person who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life will not be “found written in the Book of Life.” The “lake of fire” is a horrible place of eternal, conscious torment (14:10-11; 20:10) received in proportion to one’s sinful “works” done in the body (cf. 20:12-13). Those who receive this eternal punishment have not necessarily committed worse sins than believers who dwell with God in His heaven. Nonbelievers are simply reaping the fruit of their sins instead of enjoying the benefits of having Christ’s perfect record credited to their accounts (cf. Roman 3:22, 24-26, 28; 4:5-8). 28

Although many Christians and non-Christians have tried to deny or avoid the biblical truth concerning eternal punishment, as far as God’s revelation is concerned there are only two destinies for human beings; one is to be with the Lord forever in His heaven (John 3:36a; Revelation 21:1-22:21) and the other is to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 21:14-15). This solemn fact is intended to motivate Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth no matter what the cost and doing everything possible to inform and challenge the unsaved to believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life before it is too late. 29

The sentencing of nonbelievers to the lake of fire forever may seem very harsh to us. Some of us may think it is unfair and inconsistent with God’s love and mercy. But we must remember that God is infinitely holy (Revelation 3:7; 4:8; 6:10; 15:4; cf. Isaiah 6:3) and just (Revelation 15:3; cf. Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 30:18). The penalty for sin must be paid (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ Himself loved us so much He personally bore the wrath and punishment of God for human sin (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18), fully satisfying God’s demand to punish sin (I John 2:1-2).

Every person must decide to either accept Christ’s full payment for his or her sins (John 19:30) or pay the infinite price himself or herself in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The price must be paid in full. Will we pay it ourselves in the lake of fire or will we believe in Christ and His full payment in our place? The choice is ours. Either way, God is perfectly fair and just. 30

If you do not know for sure you will live with Jesus in eternity, you can make sure right now so you can avoid eternal torment in the lake of fire. Simply believe Jesus’ promise in John 3:16: “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is not asking you if you keep His commandments or go to church every week. Because He never said whoever keeps His commandments or goes to church every week should not perish but have everlasting life. Christ is not asking you if you pray or meditate every day because He never said whoever prays or meditates every day should not perish but have everlasting life. Nor is Jesus asking you if you persevere in good works or have been baptized with water because He never said whoever perseveres in good works or is baptized with water should not perish but have everlasting life.

No. Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The word “believe” (pisteuō) in the New Testament means to be persuaded that something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust. 31 When Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” are you convinced He is telling the truth and therefore is worthy of your trust? If you are, then trust Him to give you His gift of everlasting life.

The moment you believe or trust in Jesus for eternal life – you have eternal life. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says the person “believes” and “have.” We have what we take, correct? Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

For example, I sometimes illustrate faith by holding up a five-dollar bill at an evangelistic gathering. I explain to the audience that the first person who comes up to me and takes this bill from my hand can keep this bill. When someone does this, I then ask them why he or she came up. If they understand the simplicity of faith, they usually say because they believed my promise to give them the money.

Jesus Christ is saying, “I love you. I died for you. Do you believe? Will you trust Me to give you the never-ending life I bought for you with My own blood that was shed for you on the cross?” This is an invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and Him alone – not ourselves or Him plus our works. Nor is He asking us to believe in the Jesus of Islam or Hinduism or Mormonism or Jehovah Witnesses or some other religion. Christ is asking us to believe in the Jesus of the Bible.

Many people don’t believe in the lake of fire or hell, but they better be sure because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. When we believe in Jesus, Christ promises we shall not “perish” in the lake of fire (John 3:16). This is the best news ever!

If you just believed in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. You can simply say to the Lord, “Dear Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died for me on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and rescue me forever from the lake of fire. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in Your heaven. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He guarantees you will never come into judgment because He has rescued you from the lake of fire forever (John 3:16b; 5:24). God now wants to use you to tell your family and friends the good news of Jesus’ free offer of eternal life so they can be forever saved from the lake of fire the moment they believe in Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all people have sinned against you and deserve to suffer eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire. Yet because of Your amazing grace, we can be forever saved from the lake of fire simply by believing in Your Son who was lifted up on a cross to die in our place for our sins and then rose from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish in the lake of fire but have everlasting life with You in Your heaven. Because of Your great love and grace, we will not have to stand before the great white throne if we believe in Jesus. Please use us, we pray, to share this wonderful news with those who are perishing without Christ. May we be willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel of grace with every lost person in the world today. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 366 cites Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, “Inferno,” Canto 3, retranslated by Michael J. Svigel from the Italian version of Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, vol. 1, ed. Charles Singleton, Bollingen Series 18 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), pg. 24.

2. Ibid., pg. 367.

3. Ibid.

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. 1581.

5. Swindoll, pg. 367 cites John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000), pg. 245.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 229.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

8. 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. 436 cites Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1998), pp. 164-165.

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), location 6448.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 438.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 439 cites David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997), pg. 236.

14. Hitchcock, pg. 439.

15. Ibid., cites Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward, pg. 166.

16. Swindoll, pg. 368.

17. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2419.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

19. Ibid.

20. Evans, pg. 2419.

21. Swindoll, pp. 368-369.

22. Hitchcock, pg. 440.

23. Ibid.

24. Walvoord, location 6482.

25. Evans, pg. 2420.

26. Swindoll, pp. 371 cites John MacArthur, pp. 245-246.

27. Vacendak, pg. 1582.

28. Evans, pg. 2420.

29. Walvoord, location 6492.

30. Hitchcock, pg. 441.

31. 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. 816.