Revelation 7 – Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

3. Constable, pg. 101.

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

5. Joseph Henry Thayer, The New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon fo the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1981), pg. 2438; cf. ; cf. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 475.

6. Thayer, pg. 4750.

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

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

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

9. Ibid.

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

11. Evans, pp. 1940-1941.

Why all the fuss about Christmas?

In response to our video, “A Cosmic Christmas” on our Facebook page (“See You in Heaven”), we are receiving many questions or should I say “attacks” about the time of Jesus’ birth which was not even mentioned in the video. Some think December 25th was originally a pagan holiday and therefore, should not be observed by Christians. I could make an argument for a December birth of Christ, and you might be able to make an argument for a different time of the year. But that is not what matters.

In response to this, I would quote the apostle Paul, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5). Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were Jews and Gentiles. Some of them were observing special holidays and some treated every day alike based on their personal preferences or opinions.

God’s Word tells us that each of us is to “be fully convinced in his own mind” that he is honoring God regarding a matter on which Scripture isn’t clear. We are to let our brothers and sisters exercise their liberty in Christ. My family and I celebrate Christmas in December. You may choose not to do that. The Bible is saying I would be wrong to condemn you for not observing Christmas in December just as you would be wrong to condemn us for doing that.

It is uncomfortable for people at different levels of faith and maturity to coexist without judging each other on matters of preference or opinion. Paul gives us both a reason to respect one another’s freedom and motivation: you and I are not each other’s Lord or Master. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:6-9). The phrase “to the Lord” shows up six times in these verses. This phrase means the person is seeking to please the Lord. If a brother eats, let him eat to please the Lord (14:6). If he doesn’t, let him not eat to please the Lord. If he celebrates a day, such as Christmas, he does it to please the Lord; if he doesn’t observe Christmas, he is still doing it to please the Lord. If he lives or dies, he is doing it to please the Lord—not to please you (14:7-8).

Many churches are drowning in legalism, and we are placing a leash around the necks of other Christians with our manmade preferences and opinions. Moreover, we are keeping rules for this brother or that sister in Christ. We have got to stop trying to please each other and focus on pleasing the One who came to earth that first Christmas season to eventually die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead that “He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (14:9).

Christians are not to judge one another based on our own personal preferences or opinions because there is only one person who is qualified to do that: the Lord Jesus Christ. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12). The more we try to control the behavior of others, the more dangerous our own position becomes. Jesus said that it is foolishness to point out a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye if you have a log in your own (Matthew 7:3). Paul is getting at the same idea here: Why do you judge your brother or sister (14:10), when you know that each of us will give an account of himself to God (14:12)? God won’t be asking you about the opinions and preferences of your brother or sister in Christ. He will be looking into your account. So don’t worry about your neighbor so much; keep a better, closer eye on yourself. Get out of God’s business and tend to your own.

Just because our focus is on pleasing God doesn’t mean we are not thinking of others at all. “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13).  Instead of judging one another, we decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in their way. We think of others all the time, but our first question is not, “What faults can I find in their lives?” Instead, it is, “How will my actions affect them?” Yes, you are free to enjoy what God gives you the freedom to enjoy including observing Christmas or not observing Christmas. But don’t use that freedom to hurt others.

Our video focuses on the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective recorded in Revelation 12:1-5. It answers the “Why?” question, not the “When?” question. In my opinion, the focus on the “When?” of Jesus birth is another attempt by the Dragon (Revelation 12:3-4, 9) to mislead people away from the true meaning of Christmas.  

Answering the “Why?“ of Jesus birth is far more important than answering the “When?” Why did God the Son (John 20:31; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), the Creator of the universe (John 1:1-3), come to earth as a Baby (Revelation 12:4-5; cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20), instead of appearing in power and majesty? Why make Himself a true man and live among us without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), when He knew full well how horribly He would be treated?

It was God’s love that brought Him to earth in this way. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). The phrase, “God … gave His only begotten Son,” includes Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Jesus became a baby without ceasing to be God so we could relate to Him and eventually believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:14-18; 3:15-16).

Have you believed or trusted in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life? Do you know you have eternal life right now by believing in the name of the Son of God (I John 5:13)? Answering these questions is far more important than any question about the time of Jesus’ birth.

Revelation 7 – Part 2

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Revelation 7:9

During the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments, the apostle John receives two visions of God’s great mercy involving the salvation and sealing of 144,000 Jews on the earth (7:1-8) and the salvation of Gentiles and Jews from every nation who are taken to heaven (7:9-17). Even though this will be a time of trouble on the earth like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (7:1-8) and Gentiles (7:9-17). 1

I often hear a certain religious group responding to our online videos who claim that there will only be 144,000 people in heaven. 2  Some scholars believe the 144,000 on the earth (7:1-8) are the same group mentioned in heaven (7:9-17). 3 But this is contrary to what we see in Revelation 7. There are significant differences between the redeemed group of 144,000 on the earth (7:1-8) and the redeemed group of people before God’s throne in heaven (7:9-17): 4

1. The number of redeemed on the earth is not only smaller, but definite (“one hundred and forty-four thousand” – 7:4), but the number of redeemed in heaven is not only larger, but indefinite (“a great multitude which no one could number” – 7:9).

2. People from all the tribes of the children of Israel” comprise the first group (7:4), but people from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” make up the second (7:9).

3. The first group is standing on “the earth” (7:1-3), whereas the second group is standing “before the throne” of God in heaven (7:9).

4. God prepares the first group for imminent peril on the earth (“Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” – 7:3), but the second group is victorious, secure, and at rest in heaven (“standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands” – 7:9).

5. The first group is prepared for persecution on the earth (7:1-8), but the second group is ascended to heaven after persecution (7:14-15).

There seems to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7between the 144,000 Jewish believers in verses 1-8 and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in verses 9-17. The ministry of the 144,000 during the last half of the Tribulation period brings about salvation for millions of people. 5 In spite of the turmoil all around them, the 144,000 Jewish evangelists are faithful to God and God uses them to reach many people from all over the earth during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. Matthew 24:14). 6

Some students of the Bible have concluded that those who heard the gospel before the Rapture of the Church and rejected it, will not be able to get saved during the Tribulation. They refer to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 for support of this view. 9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

When Paul speaks of being “saved” (2:10), he is speaking of the salvation or deliverance from the Tribulation on earth by means of the Rapture of the church as seen elsewhere in his letters to the Thessalonians (cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). 7 Verse 12 does not mean that everyone alive at the time of the Rapture who are unbelievers will be given God’s “strong delusion” and be unable to get saved during the Tribulation.

Seemingly when the Rapture occurs the Man of Sin will emerge and will give some explanation for the sudden disappearance of Christians. With this lie will surely come his claim to be God and to offer protection for all who follow him. Many will be deceived by his message. It is not known for sure what the strong delusion will be. But it is known that only unbelievers who did not “believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” will be deceived (2:12). This cannot mean that all the unsaved when the Rapture occurs will be eternally condemned since Revelation 7 states that there will be 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will lead innumerable Jews and Gentiles all over the earth to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. 8

Those who had “pleasure in unrighteousness” are people who heard and yet rejected the gospel in this Church Age. Those in tribes and people groups who have not heard the gospel will not be endangered by this delusion. It is possible that some in countries like the United States, where the gospel is accessible to all, will not have heard the clear gospel, or have not heard it enough, and so some of them will come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. Likely, however, many people in Christian lands will be deluded when the Rapture occurs and will be hardened in unbelief. Most of the converts of the 144,000 will likely be in third-world countries and unreached areas of the world (Matthew 24:14). 9

This is a powerful reminder for unbelievers not to continue in their unbelief. They are to cry out to God to show them the truth. Their fear of the coming Tribulation is meant by God to motivate them to ask Him to reveal the truth of the gospel to them. 10 During the Tribulation it will be very difficult for those who have continually rejected the gospel to come to faith in Christ. After all, it won’t get easier to be a Christian after the Rapture, but rather more difficult, since the Antichrist will openly persecute those who receive Christ and refuse to take his mark (Revelation 13:7, 16-17). However, to say that it is impossible for anyone to receive God’s mercy during the Tribulation is expanding 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 beyond what the context allows.” 11

Let’s take a closer look now at this second group in heaven. The apostle John writes, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9). The converts of the 144,000 are from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.” Every country, tribe, people-group, and language group will be represented in heaven. This tells us that racial distinctions and uniqueness are retained in eternity. 12

Only Jesus Christ can unite all nations and ethnicities together for all of eternity! Governments, special interest groups, and well-meaning religious groups have failed to bring universal peace to the nations of the world. However, God is at work amid a world that is divided. There are churches today comprised of various ethnicities worshiping the true God, Jesus Christ (I John 5:20)! This is a preview of more to come throughout eternity.

These converts of the 144,000 will be “clothed with white robes.” Thesewhite robes” represent believers in Jesus who have been declared righteous in the sight of God through faith in Christ. One of the twenty-four elders says of this group, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14). Whereas the white robes in Revelation 3:4-5 are an eternal reward given to believers who remain faithful to Christ until they go to heaven, the robes here in 7:9, 14 are symbolic of the complete and eternal cleansing of sin that comes to every person who believes in Christ for eternal life. 13

These believers standing before the thrones of God the Father and God the Son are holding “palm branches in their hands” (7:9), which recalls John 12:13 where the Jews meet Christ at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem with joyful celebration and exalt Him as Israel’s King. (The Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles by waving palm branches as they quoted Psalm 118:25-26.) In a similar manner the redeemed ones before the throne will celebrate the imminent victory of the King at His Second Advent (cf. 19:11–20:3) as well as His coming reign (cf. 20:4).” 14

This innumerable group of redeemed people are, crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:10). The word for “salvation” (sōtēria) here refers to a two-fold deliverance: first, from the Lake of Fire as seen in verse 14 where reference is made to the eternal cleansing of the blood of the Lamb. And secondly, when Christ returns to the earth there will be a deliverance from the Man of Sin (cf. Micah 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:15-20), physical corruption (cf. Romans 8:21-22; Isaiah 35), and the rebellion of men (cf. Psalm 2:9; Jeremiah 30:23-24; Revelation 19:11-21). 15

Verse 10 underscores that this salvation or deliverance belongs to God the Father(“our God who sits on the throne”)and God the Son(“to the Lamb”). Only God could pay the penalty for all our sins since it took a perfect sacrifice to accomplish such a feat (Hebrews 1:8; 10:1-14). And only God could overcome centuries of sin and death through His return to earth to set up His kingdom and bring universal peace and blessings to the earth (Revelation 11:15-18; 19:11-20:6; cf. Isaiah 11:1-16; 65:17-25). 

In addition to these martyred Tribulation believers (7:14) shouting praises to God the Father and God the Son, John tells us, “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.” (Revelation 7:11). Other “angels,” in addition to the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, representing the church, “stood around the throne and worshiped God.” While the earth is subject to wrath at this time, heaven is filled with worship of God the Father and God the Son.

All the inhabitants of heaven are saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12). “Blessing” (eulogia) or praise is what God deserves because of what He will do for these people (cf. Revelation 5:12, 13). 16 “Glory” (doxa) is the honor due to God because of His good reputation, specifically for delivering them (cf. Revelation 1:6; 4:11; 5:12, 13; 19:1). 17 “Wisdom” (sophia) is God’s infinite knowledge displayed in His plan of deliverance (cf. Revelation 5:12). “Thanksgiving” (eucharistia) literally means “well” and “to give freely,” but it denotes an expression of gratitude for a favor rendered (cf. Revelation 4:9). 18

“Honor” (timē) or esteem is what God deserves because He has planned and provided this salvation (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12, 13). 19  “Power” (dynamis) reflects God’s omnipotence that enables Him to overcome all opposition (cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 19:1). 20 “Might” (ischys) or strength refers to God’s inherent power that enabled Him to deliver this multitude from their enemies (5:12). 21 God is worthy of this worship throughout eternity. “Amen” (Amēn) underlines the truthfulness of this sevenfold ascription (cf. 5:13). 22

We must not overlook the oneness of God the Father and God the Son in these verses. While their worship is directed to both God the Father and God the Lamb, we are told they “worshiped God” (7:11) and gave praise “to our God” (7:12). During His earthly ministry Jesus said, “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22). The Jews thought it was God alone who would judge the world, but Jesus claims that the Father has given Him that privilege. Why? “That all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:23). The Jews believed that only God was to be honored and worshiped. Jesus claims the same right to be worshiped and honored that the Father has. This emphasizes the unity of the Father and the Son. What is done to One, is also done to the other because they are equals. They both have the same divine nature.

This is why all other religions fall short. They cannot truly honor God or worship Him apart from Jesus Christ. This is why Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, etc., all fall short because they do not worship and honor God the Father through Jesus Christ. They may say Jesus was a god or a prophet or a good moral teacher, but they do not believe He is the one true God. And by rejecting Jesus Christ as God, they are rejecting His Father because Christ is the perfect reflection of the Father.

But this will not happen in heaven. All the inhabitants of heaven will honor and worship both God the Father and God the Son because they understand the oneness of God. Jesus said, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Jesus taught that God is one (“the name” is singular) in divine nature, yet eternally exists in three Persons (“Father… Son… Holy Spirit”) Who are equal in every way, yet distinct in their tasks and relations to humanity. God is one substance (Deuteronomy 6:4), yet three in Person (Ephesians 2:18; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Students of the Bible refer to this truth as the Trinity or “three in one.”

All three Persons in Matthew 28:19 share one “name,” because they are one Being. This is not self-contradiction, and here is why: Person is not the same as being. Your being is the quality that makes you what you are, but your person is the quality that makes you who you are. For example, we are humans. That is what we are. That is why we are called human beings. But what we are is not the same as who we are. If someone asks, “Who are you?” I should not respond by saying, “A human!” That answers the question of what I am, not who I am. Who I am is Jeff Ropp; that is my person. What I am is a human; that is my being. Being and person are separate.

Unlike a human being, which has only one person, God has three Persons. He is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unlike a human being, which has only one person, God has three persons. He is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He is more than able to exist like that because He is God. If we say God must have only one Person, like humans, then we are making God in our image. Who are we to limit God? It is up to God to tell us Who He is. That is where the discussion should really be between Christians and non-Christians: on revelation, not on the conceptual plane of “Trinity versus _______,” as if our reason alone can dictate or even decipher the nature of God.

Christians and non-Christians should agree that God is greater than we can possibly conceive, more complex than we could ever hope to grasp. We are in no position to determine the intricacies of God’s nature. If God were to inform us that He is one being in one Person, we are obligated to believe Him. If He tells us, “I am one being in three Persons,” who are we to say “No” to God? As believers in revelation, we must turn to divine Scripture to learn about God.

Scripture is the reason why Christians believe God is triune. The doctrine of the Trinity is the best interpretation of the Bible. There are five elements found repeatedly throughout the Bible’s text that are best interpreted through the lens of the Trinity:

– There is only one God (e.g., Romans 3:30) 

– The Father is God (e.g., John 6:27)

– Jesus is God (e.g., John 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Peter 1:1) 

– The Holy Spirit is God (e.g., Acts 5:3–5) 

– These three are distinct Persons (e.g., John 14:16–17)

Those who reject this biblical truth of the Trinity, cannot worship God in the way He has revealed in His holy Word, the Bible. They can change their minds now and believe in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:36a) and worship the Triune God “on earth” and “in heaven” forever (Revelation 5:13; cf. Philippians 2:9-11). But if they refuse to believe Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life, God’s wrath “abides on him” or her forever (John 3:36b) and they will bow down before Jesus as their Lord “under the earth” in the lake of fire (Revelation 5:13; 20:15; cf. Philippians 2:9-11).  

As we looked upon the inhabitants of heaven during the Tribulation on earth, we saw an innumerable gathering of people before the throne of God consisting of Jews and Gentiles from the church age (“twenty-four elders”) and the Tribulation (7:9, 14). What part of this great multitude of people in heaven will be there because of you and me? Because we were faithful to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15) and make disciples of those who believed in Christ (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for revealing Your great mercy during this unprecedented time of judgment on the earth. Thank You that by believing in Jesus we can be a part of this innumerable gathering of people worshiping You and Your Son around Your throne in heaven forever. We praise Your name and thank You that Israel will finally fulfill their covenant promise – to be a light to the Gentiles and to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom throughout the world during the last half of the Tribulation period. Thank You that by Your grace, we can also invest in helping to populate heaven by sharing the gospel with the lost and making disciples of those who believe in Christ during what time we have left on the earth. Please lead us to the people Your Spirit has prepared to hear and believe the gospel so we may share it with them. All blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to You both now and forever, O Lord God. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1524-1525.

2. Jehovah Witnesses are the most common responders who adhere to this view.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 99 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 424; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), pg. 116.

4. Adapted from Constable, pg. 99 and Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 167.  

5. 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), pp. 291-291.

6. 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. 1526.

7. 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. 1149.

8. Ibid., pg. 1150.

9. Ibid.  

10. Ibid.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 244.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2384.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1526.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Constable, pg. 100.

17. Ibid., cites W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1966), pg. 158.

18. Ibid., cites George Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950), pg. 190.

19. Ibid., cites F. C. Jennings, Studies in Revelation, (New York: Publication Office of “Our Hope,” n.d.), pg. 230.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 491-92.

22. Ibid.

23. The last few paragraphs are adapted from former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi’s book No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 55-57.

A Cosmic Christmas (Video)

This video is about the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective as described in the book of Revelation. The message of this video will help you learn how to experience the joy and peace you were meant to have.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Arabs for Christ / FreeBibleimages.org, Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org, Good News Productions International and College Press Publishing, www.LumoProject.com, GoodSalt / goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses.

Revelation 4 – Part 4

“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne.” Revelation 4:10

Bob Wilkin writes, Businesses use various incentives to motivate people to do their best work. For people in sales, there are three types of prizes: cash, merchandise, and trips. Top managers are given cash bonuses as well as promotions, increased base salaries, and stock options.

“Christianity offers incentives too. One of these is eternal reward. Although there are rewards now for the believer, most of them won’t be given to us until after this life is over and we appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This may mean waiting decades to receive them. Thus, the length of time these rewards will last once we receive them, makes a difference as to how motivated we will be to obtain them and how meaningful they will be to us once we do.

“Of those who believe in eternal rewards as an idea distinct from eternal salvation, there are three views concerning how long rewards last: a few minutes, a thousand years, or forever.” 1

In today’s study of Revelation, we will discover just how long Christ’s rewards will last for the Christian. When the apostle John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room, he saw God the Father sitting on a glorious and majestic throne surrounded by twenty-four elders representing the church (Revelation 4:1-4). John also saw four living angelic creatures around God’s throne whose worship focused on God’s holiness (“holy, holy, holy”), power (“Lord God Almighty”), and eternality (“Who was and is and is to come!”) (Revelation 4:5-8).

Next John writes,9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne.” (Revelation 4:9-10). Some Bible students read these verses and conclude that Christians will immediately give back their rewards (“crowns”) to Christ after receiving them at the Judgment Seat. They reason that the casting down of crowns before God’s throne shows that all glory, honor, and power uniquely belong to God. If Christians were to hold on to their eternal rewards, they would be robbing God of the glory, honor, and power that uniquely belongs to Him. 2

This interpretation, however, fails to recognize that the casting down of crowns is in the middle of a verse that begins in verse 9 with the word, “Whenever…” The crown-casting in verse 10 is not an unrepeatable event. It takes place repeatedly. Undeniably, every time the living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (4:8b), then the twenty-four elders, representing the church, cast down their crowns. And according to the first half of verse 8, the living angelic creatures “do not rest day or night…” This crown-casting clearly does not refer to something believers do once immediately after the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is an ongoing event in which Christians along with angelic beings participate.

While all glory, honor, and power come from the Lord Jesus, this in no way suggests He will not share these with others. Indeed, He promised to share these blessings with believers who persevere (compare Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 1:9; 1 Peter 4:13; Revelation 2:26; 3:21). Allowing humans to have some measure of glory, honor, and power in no way diminishes Christ’s glory. If it did, Moses’ face would never have shone. Elijah wouldn’t have been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and flaming chariot. David would never have been king of Israel. The Lord Jesus would not be called the Son of David. He would not have promised the Apostles that they would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel. He wouldn’t have given Adam and Eve and all of mankind dominion over the earth. And so on.” 3

The Lord Jesus commands believers: 19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20). The heavenly treasure that Christ distributes is permanent. Moths and rust cannot destroy it and thieves cannot steal it. It is eternal.

The apostle Paul also states in I Corinthians 9:24-27 that Christians are to run in such a way as to obtain an “imperishable crown,” not a perishable crown (9:24-25). This refers to an eternal reward, not a temporary one. If our rewards only lasted a few minutes or a thousand years (as some teach), they would not be imperishable. But an imperishable crown is forever!!!

The apostle Peter spoke of eternal rewards for believers when he referred to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4). Peter’s readers were believers (1:2, 23; 2:7), who were experiencing persecution (1:6). Their faith would pass the test only if they persevered (1:7a). In that case they would gain “praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” in the form of eternal rewards (1:7b). 4

Imagine standing before the throne of God after appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven. Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, you would then bow down before God’s throne with other church-age believers. But because you did not live in such a way on earth to earn eternal rewards (cf. I Corinthians 3:15), you have no crowns to cast down before God’s throne. What might that feel like for you to watch other believers cast crowns before God’s throne when you have no rewards to give back to the Lord God Almighty? Prior to the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21-22), believers will be able to experience sadness and shame due to the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:11-14; 25:26-30; I John 2:28-3:2). Since they will have glorified resurrection bodies, they will be even more sensitive to sin and shame at that time (I Corinthians 15:50-54). They will still be saved, but they will experience the painful loss of rewards “as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:15).

Whenever the twenty-four elders, representing the church, cast down their crowns before God’s throne, they will say, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11). Throughout all of eternity, rewarded church-age believers will be able to honor the Lord God Almighty by casting their crowns before His throne and acknowledging His worthiness to “receive glory, honor, and power.” Why? Because God “created all things,” including every believer in His church. All of us “exist” because of God. Everything that exists owes its existence to the Lord God. He is the Creator. Apart from Him, there is no existence. We are not the product of evolution as our atheistic society teaches. God spoke our universe into existence (Genesis 1-2), and He sustains the universe and all that is in it through the power of His word (cf. Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3). We will worship Him throughout eternity as our magnificent Creator God!!!

One of the greatest joys of our Christian lives is to help lost people on earth come to know their Creator God by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with them so they can worship Him in heaven throughout eternity!!! This is why Jesus told a hurting Samaritan woman at a well, 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24). The God Who created the universe, including you and me, is seeking true worshipers to worship Him “in spirit” with their hearts and “in truth” with their heads. God created us to have our spirits connect with His, to have our hearts filled with the truth of His Word. Perhaps that is why you are here to read this article. You are seeking the God Who made you, and you may not even realize it yet.

Like the Samaritan woman who tried to satisfy her thirsty soul with romantic relationships, you may say to yourself, Could I be one of those whom God seeks to worship Him? But how could I ever approach the infinite and eternal Spirit who desires my worship? My own spirit is soiled by the sinfulness of my life. And it is hopelessly dried up by the emptiness of dissatisfying relationships.”

Jesus had freely offered the Samaritan woman living water that gushes up into eternal life (John 4:10-14). Life that would bring her into contact with the living God, washing away the emptiness of her life. All she had to do was know Who was offering her eternal life as a gift and then ask Him for it (John 4:10). As Jesus interacted with her and disclosed all she had done and still loved her, she came to believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God (John 4:25-26, 28-30, 42; 20:31).

What about you? God created you to have a personal relationship with Him forever (John 1:1-5, 12; 17:3). All He asks is that you know the gift of eternal life that He is freely offering you (John 4:10-14) and its Giver, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world (John 1:1, 14; 4:15-26, 42; 11:25-26). The way you can receive His gift of eternal life is to believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), Who died in your place on the cross and rose from the dead (John 2:19, 22; 3:14-15; 12:23-24, 27-33; 10:11, 17; 19:1-20:18). The moment you believe this, you “have everlasting” (John 3:16) which can never be lost or taken away from you (John 10:28-29).

Prayer: Almighty Creator God, we come into Your presence with a sense of awe and thanksgiving. Thank You for Your Word which gives us a heavenly perspective amid a world that often seems so out of control. Because You are our Creator, You know us better than we know ourselves. You know what it takes to bring us into a personal relationship with Yourself. Thank You for Your free offer of eternal life through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The moment we believe in Jesus, we become members of Your family forever and we can worship You as our Creator God throughout eternity. As our Creator, You understand what will motivate us to live for You on earth after we become Your children. More than ever, we appreciate the eternal rewards You offer to us for living a life that pleases You. Knowing that these rewards last eternally, increases our motivation to live for You now so we may honor You throughout eternity with them. Thank You, our Lord and our God for giving us these eternal incentives. In the matchless and mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 52.

2.  Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 1016.

3. Wilkin, pg. 53.

4. Ibid., pg. 54; Dillow, pp. 215-217.

Revelation 4 – Part 3

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” Revelation 4:8

When the apostle John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room, he saw God the Father sitting on a glorious and majestic throne surrounded by twenty-four elders representing the church (Revelation 4:1-4). After describing these elders, John returns his attention to God the Father where he depicts His power and majesty. “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” (Revelation 4:5a). The “lightnings, thunderings, and voices” proceeding “from the throne” of the Father display His majesty and judgment about to come upon the rebellious people of the earth (cf. Exodus 19:16-19; Hebrews 12:18-21). While God does sit on a throne of grace, it is also a throne of wrath. 1 

Next John writes, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Revelation 4:5b). The “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” represent the Holy Spirit (“severn Spirits of God,” cf. 1:4) and His readiness to carry out the Father’s judgments. Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe… Unlike earthly throne rooms, God’s throne room is not in the dark about anything (cf. Zechariah 4:10; Hebrews 4:13).” 2

John then observed, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Revelation 4:6a). The crystal-like “sea of glass” before the throne pictures the purity of God and the complete calmness of His throne room in heaven before His judgments begin on earth. While the “nations rage” (Psalm 2:1) on earth against the rule of God like a “troubled sea” (Isaiah 57:20), all is calm before God’s throne in heaven. 3 This reminds me of fishing at our farm ponds as a child and watching the pond waters become very still as storm clouds approached. The calm before the storm of God’s fiery judgments was evident in heaven.

6b And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” (Revelation 4:6b-7). The “four living creatures” surrounding “the throne” are angelic beings (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-11; Isaiah 6:1-3) that reflect the character and role of Christ. The phrase “full of eyes in front and back” pictures Jesus’ all-seeing knowledge. The “lion” pictures Jesus’ power, courage, majesty, and kingly role (cf. Matthew 2:2; 21:5; Revelation 5:5). The “calf” or ox pictures His faithfulness, servanthood, and self-sacrifice (cf. Matthew 12:18; 20:26-28). The “face like a man” pictures Jesus’ humanity (cf. Hebrews 4:15), and the “flying eagle” portrays His majesty and superiority over all things. 4

The appearances of these four angels may symbolize the portraits of Jesus in the four Gospels. In Matthew, Jesus is King of the Jews, represented by a regal lion. In Mark, he is a servant, represented by an ox—a beast of burden. In Luke, he is the Son of Man, represented by the face of a man. And in John, he is the Son of God who gives eternal life, represented by a majestic eagle.” 5

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8). “The four living creatures each have six wings” like the seraphim (lit. “burning ones”) of Isaiah 6:2-3. “If their wings perform the same function as the seraphim, four of the six wings cover their entire bodies and denote humility and reverence toward God Almighty. With the other two wings they fly, which points to their readiness to obey the command of God.” 6

The description of them being “full of eyes” suggests alertness, comprehensive knowledge, and constant vigilance (cf. Ezekiel 10:12). 7 The phrase “around and within” probably means that they had eyes even on the undersides of their wings, so that they could move their wings without interrupting their vision. Their movements did not undermine their constant vigilance. 8

These angelic creatures “do not rest day or night” exalting the holiness of each member of the Godhead. The phrase “holy, holy, holy” is stated three times in the Majority of Greek manuscripts, one triplet for each member of the Godhead. “Each member of the Godhead is infinitely holy in His own Person.” 9

God the Father is “holy, holy, holy.” God the Son is “holy, holy, holy.” And God the Holy Spirit is “holy, holy, holy.” To be “holy” means to be separate and distinct. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5). There is absolutely no darkness or sin in our Triune God. He is perfect, pure, and righteous.

God’s holiness is the centerpiece of His character. 10 We never see, “God is love, love, love,” or “God is grace, grace, grace” in the Bible. But we do see God is “holy, holy, holy” in the Scriptures (Revelation 4:8; cf. Isaiah 6:3) because His holiness is at the center of His being. All of His other attributes flow from His holiness. His wrath against sin, then, is a holy wrath. His sovereignty or control over the universe is a holy sovereignty. His love for the world is a holy love. If God is anything, He is holy. 11

What this means is that God the Father is just as holy as God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Likewise, God the Son is just as holy as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God the Holy Spirit possesses the same infinitely perfect holiness as God the Father and God the Son. All three Persons of the Godhead are worthy of our admiration and praise throughout eternity! Also, they are more than qualified to bring judgment against the rebellion of humankind on the earth.

In addition, these angelic creatures also exalt the power (“Lord God Almighty”) and eternality (“Who was and is and is to come”) of God. There is no one like our Triune God. All of heaven acknowledges this. Their focus is on the awesome character of the Lord. Heaven’s inhabitants are not distracted by others or by the furniture arrangements in the throne room of God. They are captivated with the holy character, power, and eternality of our Triune God.

“Our Lord God is holy in His majesty, holy in His Person, holy in His office and holy in the works of His hand and the words of His mouth. He was holy in eternity past and will be holy in eternity future and He is holy in the present time and in all the surrounding space.” 12

When you and I approach our holy God in worship, we can quickly be overwhelmed with a deep sense of our own sinfulness and lack of holiness. God has absolutely no darkness or sin in His actions, motives, thoughts, or words. But all our being is stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We all fall short of God’s glory and holiness (Romans 3:23). Each one of us has sinned against God with our actions, motives, thoughts, and words, and we, therefore, stand before Him as guilty sinners.

But thanks be to God for the Lord Jesus Christ Who makes it possible for unworthy sinners such as you and me, to approach a holy God in worship (cf. Hebrews 10:1-22). When Jesus died in our place on the cross for all our sins (I Corinthians 15:3-4a; Colossians 2:13-14), God’s holy wrath fell upon Him. Christ’s death satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins as demonstrated when the Father raised Jesus from the dead (I Corinthians 15:4b-6; cf. Romans 1:3-4; I John 2:1-2), so that whoever believes in Jesus should not be judged for his or her sins (John 5:24) but have everlasting life both now and forever (John 3:16).

Those of us who believe in Jesus are now free to enter God’s throne room in heaven through the blood of Jesus at any time to worship our holy Triune God (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Prayer: Holy Father, Son, and Spirit, You alone are worthy of all glory and praise both now and forever. We humbly bow before You, recognizing it is only by Your grace that we can approach Your holy presence and sing both now and forever, Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!In the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1517.

2. Ibid., pp. 1496, 1518.

3. Ibid., pg. 1518.

4. Ibid.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2378.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1518.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 72.

8. Ibid.

9. Vacendak, pp. 1518-1519.

10. Evans, pg. 1112.

11. Ibid.

12. Retrieved on November 9, 2021, from Elizabeth Haworth’s Daily Verse entitled, “What does Revelation 4:8 Mean?” at www.knowing-Jesus.com.

Revelation 4 – Part 2

“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” Revelation 4:4

The apostle John has now transitioned to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. He is recording the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22. John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room (4:1) where he saw God the Father sitting on a throne that signified His future judgments would be rooted in His absolute purity (“jasper”), His righteous anger toward sin (“sardius”), and His faithfulness to His promises (“rainbow… like an emerald”) (4:2-3).

Next John writes, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” (Revelation 4:4). While in heaven, John sees twenty-four elders sitting on thrones around the throne of God. Who are these twenty-four elders? Some teach that these twenty-four elders represent angels, 1 both angels and humans, 2 or both Old and New Testament believers. 3 However, I believe the biblical evidence indicates that these twenty-four elders represent the church for the following reasons: 

1. The word “elders” in the New Testament refers to leaders of the local church (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:4-5, 21). Nowhere else in the Bible are angels referred to as “elders.” 4

2. Just as twenty-four Levitical priests in the Old Testament represented the entire priesthood consisting of thousands of priests when serving in the temple (I Chronicles 24), so these twenty-four elders represent the entire church in heaven (Revelation 4:4). 5

3. The fact that these elders are seated on “thrones” and wearing “crowns” (4:4) points to the church because Jesus promised enthronement (Revelation 2:10, 25-27; 3:21; cf. Matthew 19:27-29; 2 Timothy 2:12) and crowns (Revelation 2:10; cf. I Corinthians 9:25; I Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; I Peter 5:4) to faithful believers from the church age. These elders cannot represent angels or Old Testament saints because angels are never referred to as “elders” in the Bible nor are they ever pictured as wearing “crowns,” andOld Testament believers will not be resurrected and rewarded until after the Tribulation is over (cf. Daniel 12:1-3). 6 But church-age believers will receive crowns at the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven during the Tribulation period on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:10).

4. The white “robes” or garments of the elders (4:4) are identical to the clothing rewarded to faithful church-age believers in Revelation (Revelation 3:5, 18; 19:7-8).

5. Only believers, not angels, can sing Revelation 5:9 where the best Greek manuscripts have the word “us” in Revelation 5:9: “… for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Angels were not redeemed by Christ’s blood. Jesus died for humans, not angels (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

6. The elders are clearly distinguished from the angels in Revelation 5:11: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.”

The fact that these twenty-four elders are already sitting on “thrones,” wearing “white robes” and “crowns” indicates they have already appeared before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive their rewards (4:4; cf. I Corinthians 3:8-15; 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10, 25-27; 3:4-5, 21) which means the vision John describes in heaven takes place after the Rapture of the Church.

This is supported further by the absence of the word “church” (ekklēsia) and any references to church-age believers in Chapters 4-18, which describe the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth during the Tribulation. Twenty times the word church occurs in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:4, 11, 20; 2:1, 7-8, 11-12, 17-18, 23, 29; 3:1, 6-7, 13-14, 22; 22:16). Nineteen times the word “church” occurs in Revelation 1-3 describing the Church Age. But in Revelation 4-18, where John describes the events of the Tribulation, the word “church” occurs zero times. The word “church” doesn’t occur again until the last chapter of Revelation (22:16).

“If the church will experience any or all of the Tribulation, then one would expect that Revelation 4–18—the most detailed description of the Tribulation—would include an account of the church’s role during that time period. But remarkably, Revelation 4–18 is silent about the church on earth.” 7

Those who believe the church will go through the Tribulation period on earth (Posttribulationists), argue that there is no mention of the word “church” in heaven during the Tribulation period (Revelation 4-19). The response to this is that the church throughout Revelation 4-19 is represented by the “twenty-four elders” in heaven (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4).

“The elders appear twelve times in these chapters. And in each instance, they are in heaven worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. From their first mention in Revelation 4:4, the twenty-four elders are pictured in heaven, judged, rewarded, and enthroned. This interpretation fits well with the belief that the church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation. Revelation 4–19 consistently pictures the church in heaven, representing it by the twenty-four elders enthroned and crowned, dressed in white, and worshiping the Lamb (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14).” 8

Posttribulationists also say that the word “saints” occurs several times in Revelation 4-18 and refers to the church on earth (Revelation 13:7, 10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). But this understanding fails to recognize that there are three distinct groups of “saints” in the Bible: Old Testament saints (Psalm 16:3, et al.), Church-Age saints (I Corinthians 1:1, et al.), and Tribulation saints (Revelation 13:7 et al.). The “saints” on the earthmentioned in Revelation 4-18 refers to people who were saved after the Rapture of the Church.

The church doesn’t appear again until chapter 19, where she is pictured as a bride returning to earth with her glorious Bridegroom. This returning from heaven to earth with Christ indicates that the Bride has already been in heaven for some time since she has ‘prepared herself’ (Revelation 19:7). Revelation 22:16 refers to the church again for the final time, specifically using the word ekklesia. The presence and absence of the term ekklesia in the book of Revelation is convincing evidence that the church will not be present on earth during the Tribulation and the outpouring of God’s wrath.” 9

The best explanation for all these details in Revelation is that the church has already been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ prior to the Tribulation to deliver her from “the wrath to come” (I Thessalonians 1:10). The apostle Paul wrote of believers in Thessalonica who “wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:10). Paul promises that believers in Jesus will be delivered from the coming Tribulation wrath. How? He explains that believers are caught up off the earth to meet Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4:15-18; 5:9-10) and unbelievers are left behind for judgment (I Thessalonians 5:3).

Knowing that we will be delivered from the coming Tribulation wrath via the Rapture of the church provides strong motivation to live for the Lord now. The certainty of our escape from the coming wrath should motivate us to live godly lives – 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.” (I Thessalonians 5:6-7). “The Lord is coming unexpectedly, don’t be caught living like non-Christians,” Paul is saying. As Christians, we are to stay spiritually awake, living in anticipation of Christ’s return for us at any moment – and not worried about being caught in the Day of the Lord.

How do we stay spiritually awake and alert to the Lord’s coming? “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8). The “breastplate” protects vital organs (heart, lungs). This breastplate is composed of faith and love – faith that Christ is coming back any time and love for one another will protect us from spiritual heart damage. “Helmets” protect our head. This “helmet” is made of hope which guards us from attacks on our thinking. This hope focuses on being delivered from the coming wrath. Wear this helmet constantly and you will be ready for His return.

What relevance does this teaching have for the church? “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11). Christians are to encourage one another with this message of comfort and hope. The extent to which Christians misunderstand or are misinformed about the Rapture, will be the extent to which they are robbed of these blessings the Lord intended for them.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your great and precious promises, which include Your promise to deliver every believer in Jesus from the coming Tribulation wrath on earth through the sudden removal of Your Church. Your coming for us at any moment motivates us to live godly lives until we go to be with You so we can receive eternal rewards consisting of dazzling white robes and the authority to reign with You. We live for that day when we will be caught up to be with You forever. Until then, please empower us to multiply Your followers through the preaching of the gospel and the training of believers in discipleship so we may hear You say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 69 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 348; E. W. Bullinger, The Apocalypse or “The Day of the Lord” (London: Eyre and Spottiswodde, n.d.), pg. 219; John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 12 vols., (Reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 152; James Moffat, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (4th ed., Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. 5 vols. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 378; 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. 114.

2. Constable, pg. 69.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., pg. 70.

5. 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. 148; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1989), pg. 102.

6. Hitchcock, pg. 148.

7. Ibid., pg. 146.

8. Ibid., pg. 147.

9. Ibid., pg. 146.

Revelation 4 – Part 1

“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” Revelation 4:2

After recording “the things which you have seen” (1:19a) pertaining to the vision of the ascended Lord Jesus walking among seven lampstands in Chapter 1, and the things which are” (1:19b) involving Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Chapters 2 and 3, the apostle John transitions to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. The apostle now records the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22.

John writes, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’” (Revelation 4:1). The phrase “after these things” refers to the vision John received of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches (2:1-3:22). This is a reference to the church age—that is, the period of history between Christ’s ascension and His Rapture or removal of believers from the earth. 1

After recording Jesus’ final message to the church of Laodicea, those last words were rather significant considering what John was about to see next. The vision of Christ standing outside the lukewarm church of Laodicea knocking on a closed door and promising a throne to the one who overcomes (3:20-21) suddenly shifts to a contrasting vision of an open door in heaven where John sees an eternal and glorious throne (4:1-2). 2 Twice in the book of Revelation, we are told that the door to heaven was opened. The first time was so the church could be received into heaven at the Rapture (4:1-4). The second time was so Christ could leave heaven with His church to return to earth (19:11-20).

Before we look at the details of this vision John received, let’s consider what is meant by the word “heaven.” The Greek word translated “heaven” is ouronos. It refers to “the portion or portions of the universe generally distinguished from planet earth.” 3 The word “heaven” is divided into three levels in the Bible: 4

– The “first heaven” includes the sphere surrounding the earth known as our atmosphere where birds fly and clouds float (Genesis 1:6-8, 20).

– The “second heaven” includes everything in the cosmos above the earth’s atmosphere—the moon, sun, planets, stars, and galaxies (Genesis 1:14-18). From a modern worldview perspective, both the first and second “heavens” are technically still part of the physical universe. But that is not the case with the “third heaven.”

– The “third heaven” was the term used to describe the dwelling place of God, the angels, and any other spirit beings. The apostle Paul said he “was caught up to the third heaven… into Paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4). Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:2-3; Acts 7:59-8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). Hence, the “third heaven” is what we might call the “spiritual realm,” a plane of reality accessible only by heavenly invitation, like the one John received in Revelation 4:1. This is where God lives and rules. 

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16). 

But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10, 15)!

So, when John was taken up into heaven, he was not transported to another planet or even another galaxy. Rather, he was caught up to the ‘third heaven,’ to the presence of the living God.” 5

John then hears a booming “voice… like a trumpet,” most likely belonging to Christ, inviting him to “come up” through this open door in heaven where he would receive revelations about “things which must take place” during Daniel’s seventieth week of years (Daniel 9:27) which is the 7-year Tribulation period (4:1c; cf. 4:1-11:19).

In Revelation 1-3, John has been on earth on the island of Patmos. But now his venue is about to shift from earth to heaven where he can get a heavenly perspective about future events. It is helpful to understand that scenes alternate from heaven to earth throughout Revelation 4-20. 

This alternating pattern reassures readers that the chaos on earth is being controlled by heaven. God is on His throne and superintends all that transpires on earth. This should be a supreme comfort in uncertain, troubled times.” 6

After Revelation 2–3 no reference is made to the Church again until 22:16, and so some see 4:1 as a picture of the Rapture of the Church. However, the apostle alone, and not the Church, is summoned by this voice. Therefore, this is an invitation to John to enter God’s dwelling place and receive new revelation regarding His future plans.” 7

Next, John writes, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2). “Immediately” John “was in the Spirit.” To be “in the Spirit” means toenter the spiritual perspective. That is, to see things that physical eyes cannot see, as when believers are commanded to pray in the Spirit (Jude 20). Naturally, certain aspects of John’s experience of being in the Spirit were unique and not repeatable since he was writing Holy Scripture. But much of it is repeatable. Believers today can abide in the Spirit, receiving understanding of God’s will and work. Too often, though, we merely ‘visit’ the Spirit, so to speak, without ‘living with him’ in a condition of heightened spiritual awareness.” 8

With the proper spiritual perspective, John is transported through the open door in heaven where he saw “a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (4:2b). This is like the perspective described in Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” as “seraphim” stood above Him (Isaiah 6:1-2). 9 The “One… on the throne” (4:2b) was God the Father because both the Son (5:5-7) and the Spirit (4:5) are set apart from Him. 10 The fact that John saw God on His throne before the series of judgments are given underlines the sovereign control of God (cf. 4:1–5:14; 8:1-6; 15:1-8). Heaven determines what happens on earth. So even when we feel out of control as we watch the world move quickly toward end-time events, we can rest in God the Father’s rulership from heaven.

“And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:3). The phrase, “He who sat there,” is not found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, so this description pertains to God’s throne, not God Himself. These verses would read, “And One sat on the throne which is like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance” (4:2b-3a). 11

The description of God’s throne having the “appearance” of “jasper and a sardius stone” signifies the absolute purity (“jasper” is clear as crystal, like a diamond; cf. 21:11) and the righteous anger toward sin (“sardius” was a fiery red stone) that will characterize the series of judgments coming from God’s throne. The “rainbow around the throne” was like “an emerald” having different shades of green, reminding us of Genesis 9:12-17, where God designated the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with Noah never to destroy the earth with a flood again. Each time a rainbow occurs in the Bible, it is a reminder of God’s perfect faithfulness to His promises. These three stones together “reveal that God’s throne is a throne of grace (cf. Hebrews 4:16). Even in the terrors of the Tribulation, God is gracious, because if He did not limit it to seven years, no one would be left alive (cf. Matthew 24:21-22).” 12

John’s vision of God’s throne room and its majesty, communicates some profound truths about God the Father. He is the center and source of all creation. Everything points to and revolves around Him. He occupies a throne from which judgments are made that are rooted in His absolute purity, righteous anger toward sin, and His perfect faithfulness to His promises. God the Father has unshakable authority over all things (Psalm 115:3; Daniel 4:35). His sovereign rule is fixed, permanent, and unwavering. Once we personally come to grips with John’s vision of God’s throne room, our response can be nothing less than profound admiration, unwavering commitment, and deep reverence for the eternal King. 13

John’s vision reminds us that true worship starts and ends with the living God of the universe. Unfortunately, many twenty-first century Christians, including myself, have lost sight of what John experienced in God’s throne room.

Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll, writes, “We wonder: Does worship mean I have to hold my hands up when I sing and pray, like some Christians do? Does worship mean I need to close my eyes and envision something heavenly, lest I become distracted by something earthly? Does worship mean I have feelings that are a little bit ecstatic, maybe bordering on the supernatural?” 14

Swindoll continues, “Worship is ascribing ‘worth’ to something or someone. We attribute value, honor, and devotion to our object of worship. When we truly worship God, we turn all of our attention, affection, and adoration toward Him. That’s the missing jewel—worshiping God by ascribing supreme worth to Him, for He alone is worthy. God alone is the subject of our praise and the object of our worship. We miss it when we focus on the horizontal—on people and things—rather than on the vertical—on God and God alone. It has become too common for Christians to surrender everything for their work yet sacrifice nothing in worshiping the One who gave His life to save ours. Stop and think. Is that you?” 15

Before we pray, I want to invite you to take some deep breathes and release to God whatever is distracting you from Him. It may be work, a relationship, an illness, a financial burden, or an emotion. Then read Revelation 4:1-11. Notice that all of heaven is focused on the One Who sits on the throne. They are praising Him for Who He is (holy, righteous, faithful) and for what He has done (created and sustains all things). They are not distracted by each other or by the furniture of the throne room, or by their own wandering thoughts. Instead, they keep their eyes, ears, and hearts on the One Who is worthy of all praise. 16

Prayer: Father God, thank You for transporting John into Your throne room in heaven so all of us who read this can heighten our spiritual perspective. Thank You for God the Holy Spirit Who enables us to see things that physical eyes cannot see. The first thing John sees Father, is You sitting on Your throne, ruling the universe. As chaos worsens in the world, we can find comfort knowing You are still in control and that heaven determines what happens on the earth. Thank You for the appearance of three stones which indicate that the judgments that come from Your throne are rooted in Your absolute purity, righteousness, and faithfulness to Your promises. None of Your decisions made on this throne are corrupt, sinful, or based on deception. Because You still sit on a throne of grace, Your decisions remain gracious and invite us to approach You with confidence. Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ Who has provided a new and living way into Your heavenly throne room. In His mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2377.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 126.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 737.  

4. Swindoll, pg. 128.

5. Ibid., pp. 128-129.

6. 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. 82.

7. 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. 1516.

8. Evans, pg. 2377.

9. Ibid., pg. 2377.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1517.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid. 

13. Swindoll, pg. 127.

14. Ibid., pg. 133. 

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., pp. 133-134.

Revelation 3 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

2. Ibid., pg. 1510.

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

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

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

6. Constable, pp. 46-47.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1510.

8. Ibid.

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

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

11. Constable, pg. 47.

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

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

14. Constable, pg. 48.

15. Ibid.

16. Dillow, pg. 685.

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

18. Dillow, pg. 687.

19. Ibid., pp. 687-688.

20. Vacendak, pg. 1511.

Living Life Today in Light of Tomorrow (Video)

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

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