Revelation 22 – Part 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

Revelation 19 – Part 5

“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” Revelation 19:15

For centuries believers have prayed for Christ’s return to earth to set up His kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:10; Revelation 6:10; 22:20) and now the apostle John records the answer to their prayers (Revelation 19:11-21). Last time we saw that King Jesus is “Faithful” and “True” in contrast to the unfaithfulness and deception of the beast who leads the armies of the world to fight against Christ at Armageddon when Jesus returns with His church to the earth (19:11, 19; cf. 13:1-18; 16:12-16). The apostle John continues his description of Jesus Christ before he records His return to earth.

“His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had names written and a name written that no one knew except Himself.” (Revelation 19:12). Reference to Jesus’ “eyes” being “like a flame of fire” emphasizes His penetrating and all-knowing judgment of sin, that takes all things into account (cf. 1:14; 2:18). 1 Jesus has an instinctive “ability to render perfect judgment of every person and every situation (Hebrews 4:13).” 2 His gaze will be able to pierce the darkness of the kingdom of the beast and the very center of the souls of its citizens, exposing their deepest thoughts and motives. 3

Likewise, Christ is fully aware of all our thoughts, words, actions, and motives which is meant to motivate us to live holy lives before Him (cf. Hebrews 4:12-13). Only Jesus is qualified to judge us at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is why the apostle Paul writes, 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (cf. I Corinthians 4:3-5). Sin-scarred Christians cannot accurately judge the lives and ministries of other Christians let alone their motives. 4 This is why Paul told the Corinthians it really didn’t matter if they judged him. In fact, he didn’t even judge himself because “He who judges” Paul “is the Lord.” At the Judgment Seat, Jesus “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.” Only the Lord Jesus knows all the facts and can render a perfect and righteous judgment. So, it is time for Christians to stop playing God and start preparing for the Judgment Seat of Christ.

The fact Jesus had “many crowns” on “His head” (19:12) suggests He will not only defeat the beast or Man of Sin at His Second Coming, but all the world’s rulers and will acquire their crowns, as it were, upon Himself, 5 signifying His right to rule over the entire world (cf. I Chronicles 20:1-2; Psalm 47:8). 6 This image of Christ wearing “many crowns” inspired Matthew Bridges to write a majestic hymn that believers still enjoy singing:

“Crown Him with many crowns,

The Lamb upon His throne:

Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns

All music but its own!

Awake, my soul, and sing

Of Him who died for thee,

And hail Him as thy matchless King

Thro’ all eternity.” 7

Even though Christ’s glory will be openly manifested at His Second Coming, some aspects of His Personhood will remain beyond human comprehension 8 as implied by the phrase “He had names written and a name written that no one knew except Himself.” 9In John’s vision, he saw crowns having many “names” and one crown having “a name written that no one knew except” Jesus. Vacendak explains that this is like Isaiah 9:6 which describes Jesus the Messiah who will rule on the earth. Christ has multiple aspects to His nature and Person that are knowable: “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). However, not all facets of Christ’s Being are understandable to people; hence, Jesus possesses a name that is known only to Him – a name that reflects qualities beyond human understanding! 10

“Throughout the ancient world a name revealed the nature of an individual, who he is and what he is. The unknown name of the Christ comports with the fact that His nature, His relationships to the Father, and even His relationship to humanity, transcend all human understanding.” 11

“It is possible that there is another thought. Those who practiced magic in the first century believed that to know a name gave power over him whose name it was. John may well be saying that no-one has power over Christ. He is supreme. His name is known only to Himself.” 12

Swindoll writes, “Why would John bother to mention that Jesus had a secret name? Perhaps the secret name indicates a unique relationship with God the Father that nobody else shares.” 13Christ also extends the promise to overcoming (faithful) believers that He will give them a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it”(2:17). This demonstrates the deep personal and inseparable relationship that faithful believers will enjoy with Christ in His coming kingdom. What Christ is by nature (unique, eternal, divine Son of God), faithful believers will reflect in a limited way by grace (adopted, finite, glorified children of God). 14

Next John writes, He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13). In the context, the reference to Christ being clothed with a robe dipped in blood” foreshadows His bloody judgment of His enemies – the beast and the armies of the world (19:19-21). In this vision, John did not see a meek and mild Savior who would shed His blood for the sins of the world, instead he saw a Warrior-King Who would establish His reign on earth by force. 15 His robe would be soaked in the blood of His enemies (Isaiah 63:3-4). 16

“His name is called The Word of God” because every thought, word, and action of Christ expresses God’s mind, words, and actions 17 even in events such as the bloody destruction of His enemies at Armageddon. 18 Not only does this title “The Word of God” represent the manifestation of God’s revelation, but it also signifies the manifestation of God Himself (cf. John 1:1). The “Word of God” is always “Immanuel… God with us” (Matthew 1:23). 19

Christ did not return to earth alone at the end of the Tribulation period. “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.” (Revelation 19:14). The clothing (“fine linen”) of these “armies in heaven” connects them with the Lamb’s faithful followers from the church age (19:7-8; cf. 2:10, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 10-11; 17:14). Since Christ’s troops are faithful believers from the church age, the fact that they are following King Jesus “on white horses” which symbolize victory, is an incredible testimony to their victorious lives. 20

Other Scriptures also inform us that God’s angels will accompany Christ to earth as well (cf. Matthew 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). But it is not likely that angels will be riding on horses since Revelation 17:14 tells us that those who are with King Jesus when He returns to earth are called, chosen, and faithful,” a reference to resurrected, glorified, and rewarded church age believers 21 (cf. Matthew 20:1-16; 22:1-14).

Only King Jesus will have a weapon with which to defeat His enemies when He returns. “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” (Revelation 19:15). You may recall in Revelation 6:2 that Jesus sat on “a white horse” carrying “a bow” in contrast to Him using a “sword” herein 19:15.

“The bow is the weapon of long-range warfare, whereas the sword is the weapon used in close combat with the enemy. If the rider of 6:2 represents Christ as the Initiator of all God’s judgments upon His enemies, it is clear that throughout the Tribulation He fights with them, so to speak, at long range. For the judgments of the Tribulation are such as fall from heaven to earth while the King is absent. But in chapter 19, the King comes personally to earth and now the conflict with the forces of evil is waged at close quarters and, with the sword, the last battle is won. And just quite naturally the sword is thought in connection with His Word – for it proceeds out of His mouth – so also may the bow be linked with the same Word. As the prophet Habakkuk has written, 22

“Your bow was made quite ready; oaths were sworn over Your arrows.” (Habakkuk 3:9). Hence, the judgment-bringing Word of God is seen first under the figure of a “bow” foreshadowing Jesus’ conquests over His enemies from long range in heaven (6:2) until the final battle when He returns to earth in Chapter 19 as the last, white-horse Rider fighting and winning at close range with a “sword” (19:11-21). 23

Instead of King Jesus using physical weapons of mass destruction, the “sword” He will use will come “out of His mouth” to “strike the nations” who have gathered with the beast at Armageddon (cf. 16:12-16; 19:19). This “sword” is the powerful and supernatural Word of God (cf. Hebrews 4:12). 24 Just as Jesus spoke and the universe was created (Genesis 1; John 1:2-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1-2), so He will speak, and the nations of the world will be demolished (Revelation 19:15; cf. Psalm 2:5; Zechariah 14:12). 25

This stern judgment King Jesus will bring against His enemies will characterize His reign as King over all the earth during the Millennial Kingdom as He “will rule” the nations “with a rod of iron” (cf. Psalm 2:8-9). Under King Jesus’ reign, there will be inflexible righteousness. All who live on planet earth during His one-thousand-year reign will be commanded to live according to the laws and decrees of the King. Believers in Jesus who already have glorified bodies will obey Him perfectly because they will be “like Him” (I John 3:2). 26

So strick will King Jesus’ rule be during the Millennium that those who do not believe in Christ could be in danger of “hell fire” for calling someone a “fool.” During Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He applied the fulfillment of the Law to the Millennial Kingdom when He would rule with a rod of iron. 27 Christ said, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22). Christ’s reign during the Millennial Kingdom will be so strict that a person could go on trial (“judgment”) for unjustified anger (“angry… without a cause”) with his brother. Whoever bullies his brother and calls him “Raca,” which means“numskull” or “empty one,” 28 would go on trial before the “council” or Supreme Court. If worse language is used (“You fool”), the offender may be thrown immediately into “hell.” The decision will be up to King Jesus, the Judge, to determine if they go to hell during the Millennial Kingdom.

This severe of punishment is reserved for nonbelievers since a believer in Jesus cannot lose eternal life (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29). Amazingly, there will be many nonbelievers who will rebel toward the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ (Revelation 20:7-10). But for believers in Jesus, both then and now, this picture of kingdom righteousness challenges us to live like kingdom subjects by refraining from inappropriate expressions of anger.  

King Jesus will punish His enemies gathered at Armageddon like the trampling of grapes in a “winepress” which portrays “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (19:15b). Ruling includes destroying the wicked, not just reigning over the righteous. 29

“The treading of this winepress by Christ will result in the blood of His enemies flowing like a river for two hundred miles at a depth of about four or five feet” (14:19-20). 30

Once King Jesus tramples His enemies under His feet, His reign will be absolute and worldwide and He will bear a name that only He deserves. 31 “And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16). This title for Jesus identifies Him as the supreme human Ruler over all the earth (“KING OF KINGS”) and also as God Almighty (“LORD OF LORDS”)! Jesus Christ is King over all who call themselves “king,” and Lord above all who call themselves “lord.” 32

Because Jesus is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS,” “conquering every enemy on earth will be a matter of relative ease. It will be a matter of speaking.

“This is nothing new, though. From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is pictured as possessing an authoritative Word. John 1:1 says of Jesus, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ At creation Jesus spoke the words, ‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3), and by His Word light came about. It was by that same authoritative Word that Jesus caused the devil to flee in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11) and sent a legion of demons out of a demon-possessed man and into a herd of pigs (see Mark 5:1-13). In each of these instances, the way He brought out powerful results was by speaking His Word. And it shall be at the end of time.

“Likewise, for followers of Jesus, we must not simply know God’s Word or study it, but also verbally quote it. So, when was the last time you actually quoted God to another person or even to the devil in order to handle a specific situation? If you have truly received authority from God – which all believers have – and you quote the Word accurately to people or forces of Satan, it carries intrinsic authority to accomplish God’s purposes. In some cases, it draws a person to salvation. In others, it causes a hardened sinner to be without excuse for his or her conduct. In no situation, however, will a child of God verbally quote and obey the Word of God and have that Word return empty (see Isaiah 55:11).” 33

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we watch the world increase in chaos and conflict as evil continues to increase, we are deeply grateful for this vision John receives of King Jesus before He returns to earth to defeat His enemies at close range using His sword – the powerful Word of God – to establish His universal reign on the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords! Thank You Lord God Almighty for entrusting the Word of God to those of us who believe in Jesus to share with a lost world so that same Word may persuade them to cross over from eternal death into eternal life simply by believing in Jesus for His gift of salvation. Lord of lords and King of kings, we not only look to You to conquer evil and sin in the future Tribulation period, but we also trust You to lead us into victory over evil and sin in our own lives. Help us not only to know and study Your Word, but to speak it to others including Satan and his followers, so Your purposes will be accomplished for Your glory. May we never underestimate what Your spoken Word can do in any situation we may face. Please bring Your Word to our hearts and minds especially in times of spiritual battle so we may speak it to our enemies whether they be physical or spiritual. In Your mighty name we pray, King Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 210.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1574.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 342.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 1980.

5. Constable, pg. 210.

6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6275 to 6280.

7. Swindoll, pg. 343 quotes Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (Dallas: Word Music, 1986), no. 234.

8. Evans, pg. 2415.

9. The majority of Greek manuscripts add the phrase “names written, and” (onomata gegrammena kai).

10. Vacendak, pp. 1574-1575.

11. Constable, pg. 210 quotes 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), pp. 279-280; cf. Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Let., 1907), pg. 252; William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 232.

12. Constable, pg. 211 quotes Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 230.

13. Swindoll, pg. 343.

14. Adapted from Ibid. Swindoll thinks Revelation 2:17 applies to all believers, but I believe this promise is limited to overcoming believers who are faithful to Christ to the end of their lives on earth (cf. 2:10b, 25-27).

15. Evans, pg. 2415.

16. Swindoll, pp. 343-344; Constable, pg. 211.

17. Constable, pg. 211.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1575.

19. Swindoll, pg. 344.

20. Vacendak, pg. 1575.

21. Swindoll, pg. 344; cf. Constable, pg. 211.

22. Zane C. Hodges, “The First Horseman of the Apocalypse,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 119:476 (October 1962), pg. 333.

23. Ibid., pp. 333-334.

24. Vacendak, pg. 1575.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Zane C. Hodges, Grace In Eclipse: A Study On Eternal Rewards (Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 36-38.  

28. 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. 903.

29. Constable, pg. 212.

30. Vacendak, pg. 1575.

31. Ibid., pg. 1576.

32. Swindoll, pg. 345.

33. Evans, pp. 2415-2416.

Must I work to get to heaven?

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

Recently I was asked what Philippians 2:12 says about working out our salvation. Some students of the Bible have referred to this verse as proof that you must work to get to heaven. However, we do not want to overlook the fact that the apostle Paul is writing to Christians as demonstrated by his reference to them as “saints” (1:1), “brethren” (1:12, 14;3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21), and “beloved” (2:12). These are all terms that the apostle reserved for genuine Christians. Since his readers have already been saved from hell, he cannot be telling them how to get saved again.

The Greek word for “salvation” (sōtērian/sōterias) means “deliverance.” 1 What a person is delivered from is determined by the context. Paul uses this word three times in Philippians (1:19, 28; 2:12). In chapter 1 Paul spoke of his “deliverance” (sōtērian) through the Philippians’ “prayer and the supply of the Spirit” (1:19). Since Paul was in prison (1:12-14) he could be referring to his deliverance from prison. In verse 20, he spoke of Christ being “magnified in” his “body, whether by life or by death.” In 1:28 Paul explains to his readers that a lack of fear toward their “adversaries” by boldly preaching Christ to them would be to their adversaries “proof of perdition,” but to these believers it would be proof “of salvation [sōterias]. In the context, this means it would be proof of God delivering them from failing to magnify Christ amid difficulties by bolding preaching Christ.

When Paul writes, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), clearly, he says that obedient “works” are necessary for this kind of “salvation [sōtērian].” Paul is not saying to work “for” our salvation. We are to work “out” our salvation. He has clearly taught that salvation from hell is a free gift from God that is received by faith alone (Ephes. 2:8-9). Deliverance from hell has nothing to do with our works.

But this kind of salvation must be “worked out.” It involves obedience even under the most difficult circumstances. Since Paul already said this kind of deliverance involves Christians magnifying Christ (1:19-20, 28), Paul has the same meaning in mind here. The word “therefore” (2:12) points us back to the humble and obedient example of Jesus Christ (2:6-11). Christ’s glorious exaltation was preceded by His humble obedience which led to suffering on the cross.

In a very graphic way, Jesus Christ “worked out” his salvation and we must learn to think of salvation as something more than simply getting to heaven. In Philippians 2:6-8, Christ illustrated One who “saved” His life by “loosing” it (cf. Matthew 16:25). If we live our lives according to our natural, selfish desires, then we are guaranteed to “lose” it. That kind of life will have no eternal or enduring value and it will be utterly ended as soon as it is finished. If, however, we do with our lives what Christ did with His (lose it), then we are guaranteed that it will endure for eternity and there will be eternal “reward” (exaltation) for that life (Matthew 16:27). Hence, we end up saving our life from being wasted on our natural desires and lusts.

No wonder we should “work out” this salvation with “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). To “fear” God means to take Him seriously. We are to magnify Jesus Christ in living and in dying (1:19-20). The stakes are eternally high and once our life has been lived on earth, there is no reversing of what has been done. Every day we live for the wrong thing is a day lost in eternity.

God wants us to humbly and unselfishly serve one another like Christ served us. But there are two things that work against us from fulfilling God’s desire. First, we don’t want to and second, we cannot. Christians by nature have neither the desire nor the ability to humbly consider others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4) because their sinful hearts are selfish. Hence, Paul says, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Our responsibility is to “work out” this salvation with “fear and trembling” (2:12) because God is at work in us to give us the desire and power to do His will (2:13).

There is an important balance between Philippians 2:12 and 2:13. Our responsibility is to “work out” while verse 13 emphasizes God’s role which is to “work in” and “through” us. If we only focus on verse 12, we will become legalistic or ascetic, relying on our own strength for spiritual power. If we dwell on verse 13 only, we can become passive and complacent. We are to live a life of “discipline / dependence” – fully cooperating with God’s Spirit to work in and through us to humbly serve one another.

Philippians 2:12 is not talking about salvation from hell, but about salvation from failing to magnify Christ in any circumstance. As Christians, we are to continue to magnify Christ in any circumstance by obeying Him as humble servants as He works in and through us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for confronting us with the importance of working out our salvation from failing to magnify Jesus in any circumstance. Unlike salvation from hell which is by Your grace through faith alone in Christ alone apart from any works, this kind of salvation involves obedient works so Christ is magnified in our Christian lives. We need You to work in our hearts to make us willing and able to obey You especially when we face challenging circumstances, so Christ is magnified whether we live or die. Just as Christ’s glorious exaltation was preceded by His humble obedience which led to suffering on the cross, so our eternal rewards will be preceded by humble obedience to Christ which may lead to suffering and physical death. Oh Father, help us magnify Jesus in any circumstance by obeying Him as You work in and through us. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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), pp. 985-986.

Revelation 16 – Part 4

“And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.” Revelation 16:16

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues and the various challenges of a global pandemic linger, many people may wonder who is in control of planet earth. But those of us who believe in Jesus Christ must remember that God remains in control no matter what takes places or what others may think. The Lord is bringing events to their appointed end, and one of the important events that crowns the Tribulation period is identified by one menacing word – Armageddon! 1

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur uttered these formidable words: “We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at the door.” 2 In 1971, then California governor, Ronald Reagan, told a fellow politician, “For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ.” 3

“Again in 1983, President Reagan said, ‘You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if – if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but, believe me, they certainly describe the time.” 4

Billy Graham in his book, Till Armageddon, writes, “There is no doubt that global events are preparing the way for the final great war of history – the great Armageddon!” 5

The word “Armageddon” is found only one time in the Bible (Revelation 16:16), but it is probably one of the most familiar biblical terms associated with end times prophecy. Most people have heard of Armageddon, but like many other terms, the real meaning of the word often is lost by overuse or misuse. To help us understand end times prophecy, we are going to look at a passage that involves events leading up to Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16).

In our study of the book of Revelation, we have been looking at the bowl judgments which will take place in rapid succession near the end of the Tribulation period (Revelation 16:1-21). So far, we have looked at the first five bowl plagues that have included malignant sores (16:2), the sea becomes blood (16:3), fresh water supply becomes blood (16:4-7), people are scorched by the sun (16:8-9), and global darkness causes intense emotional anguish (16:10-11). Instead of blaming their own sinful ways for these plagues, followers of the Beast blamed God for them (16:9, 11).

The sixth bowl judgment does not involve an immediate plague inflicted upon humanity but serves instead as a preparation for the final war of the Tribulation period. “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.” (Revelation 16:12). The “Euphrates” River has been an important part of world events since the time of Creation. It was one of four rivers that irrigated the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord (Genesis 2:14). It was designated as the northeastern boundary of the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 15:18; Joshua 1:4). The Greek word translated “Euphrates” (Euphratēs) means “sweet water.” 6 Now we see this great river that had previously turned into blood (cf. 16:4) is “dried up so that… the kings from the east” (i.e., India, China, Japan, Korea, etc.) can cross with their armies to converge on the Middle East to join the Beast’s army and other world armies. 7

“It is very likely that the coagulation of the ocean waters (see comments on vv 3-4) will make the transport of foreign troops into the Middle East impossible by sea. When the Man of Sin sees that this 1,780-mile-long river (stretching from the mountains of Turkey to the environs of the Persian Gulf) is now dry ground, he will set out to secure the military might of the countries to the east of the Euphrates… to join him in annihilating the God of these agonizing plagues. The transport of troops by land is now a possibility.” 8

There is no reason to understand the drying up of the Euphrates River as figurative. Previously, God had dried up the Red Sea so the Israelites could cross over from the west on dry land to go to the Promised Land (Exodus 14:21-22). The Lord had also dried up the Jordan River, so His people could cross over from the east (Joshua 3:13-17; 4:23). Elijah, too, divided the waters of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8). All these previous crossings should teach us to understand a literal fulfillment of this prophecy in Revelation 16. 9

The convergence of the world’s armies for the final war of the Tribulation was not merely a geopolitical maneuver but also a supernatural event. 10 13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” (Revelation 16:13-14). The apostle John “saw three unclean spirits” or “demons” that looked like “frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon… the beast, and… the false prophet” to deceive “the kings of the earth and …the whole world” using miraculous “signs” so that they gather together “to the battle of that great day of God Almighty,” known as the Battle of Armageddon (cf. 16:16; 19:19; Psalm 2:1-3), when they will think they can defeat this cruel Deity that caused all these terrible plagues.

Something proceeding from the mouths of this unholy Trinity suggests a proclamation of some kind.  The demons are “like frogs” in that they are unclean and repugnant (cf. Leviticus 11:10-11, 41). 11 These world leaders will probably be reminded that the Beast or Man of Sin was victorious over this Deity’s two witnesses who plagued the earth (cf. 11:7-10) and that with their help, victory over God Himself is attainable. 12

This unholy Trinity of Satan (“the dragon”), the World Ruler (“the beast”), and “the false prophet,” know that the return of King Jesus to earth is near, so they will gather the military powers of the world into the Holy Land to resist the coming of Christ Who will return to the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:14). Although these nations will be deceived in entering this war in hope of gaining world political power, the satanic purpose is to defeat the armies from heaven at the Second Coming of Christ. 13

Next the Lord Jesus warns believers: “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” (Revelation 16:15). Christ is “coming” quickly and unexpectedly like “a thief” to remove believers from this church age (Matthew 24:42-44). Jesus says “blessed” at His coming “is he who watches” by remaining alert “and keeps his garments” by continuing to live a holy life. If a believer is unfaithful at the soon coming of Christ, it will be very embarrassing, like standing in Jesus’ presence “naked.” Others will “see his shame” (aschēmosynēn)which “is a euphemism for a person’s private parts” (cf. Isaiah 47:3; Revelation 3:18). 14

“The Lord wants His children to be ready for His return by holding tight to their robes of holiness no matter how difficult the circumstances may be. The only alternative is to be ashamed at His coming (I John 2:28).” 15

 “And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.” (Revelation 16:16). Using deception, the demons (16:13-14) will gather the armies of the entire world “to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” to fight against the Lord Jesus Christ. The word “Armageddon” comes from the Greek word Harmagedōn which transliterates the Hebrew phrase “Har Megiddo,” meaning “Mount of Megiddo.” 16 This mountain is about forty miles northwest of Jerusalem and was the site of many Old Testament battles, 17 including Deborah and Barak’s defeat of the Canaanites (Judges 4-5), Gideon’s triumph over the Midianites (Judges 7), Saul’s death in the battle with the Philistines (I Samuel 31:8), Jehu’s slaying of Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27), and Josiah’s death in the battle with the Egyptians (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:22). 18 Mount Megiddo overlooks a large valley known as the Plain of Esdraelon which is twenty miles long and fourteen miles wide. 19

Some Bible interpreters have argued that the Plain of Megiddo is not large enough to contain armies from all around the world, so they conclude it must be an assembly area for a much larger deployment of troops that covers a two-hundred-mile distance from north to south and the width of Palestine from east to west. 20 However, we must also take into consideration that the many judgments of the Tribulation will have greatly reduced the world’s population by this time (Revelation 6:1-16:16) so a much smaller gathering of troops is likely.

Armageddon will be the site where the armies of the world will gather to fight against the King of kings at the end of the Tribulation period. The final outcome of this battle is recorded in Revelation 19:19-21 when the armies of Satan meet their doom against King Jesus: 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:19-21). The Lord Jesus Christ will utterly defeat His enemies gathered at Armageddon and leave their dead bodies to be eaten by “birds” of prey. “The beast” and “false prophet” will be taken captive and and “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” to suffer torment forever (Revelation 20:10). The devil and all those who rejected Christ will meet the same fate a thousand years later at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:10-15).

Now you know how this battle between God and Satan will end. Would you like to be saved from this horrible judgment? If so, you must have your name written in the Book of Life by believing in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life (Revelation 20:15). If you have not yet believed in Christ alone, then hear and believe God’s promise: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). Please understand that your works do not determine your eternal destiny. Your response to God’s Son, Jesus Christ, determines where you will be in eternity. Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will face Him as their Judge at the Great White Throne Judgment to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Those who do believe in Christ alone, will face Him as their Judge at the Judgment Seat of Christ to determine the degree of their rewards in heaven (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12).

To believe in Jesus means to trust or depend on Him alone to give you everlasting life. For example, trusting in Jesus is a lot like trusting in an airplane. When you ride in an airplane, do you have to push it to get it off the ground? No. Do you have to flap your arms to keep it in the air? No, of course not. All you must do is trust a person, your pilot, to take you to your destination. In the same way, God invites you to trust in a Person, His Son Jesus Christ, to take you to your eternal destination in heaven (John 3:36). No amount of your good works can help Jesus take you to heaven because they are all stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). And since God is holy and perfect, He cannot be around our sin. 

But God loves you so much that He does not want you to die forever in the Lake of Fire (John 3:16; Matthew 18:14; I Timothy 2:3-4), so He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for all our sins when He died on the cross and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus Christ is alive today and He now invites you to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of everlasting life.

Let me ask you a very important question. What are you trusting to get you to heaven? 21 Some people trust in their works to get them to heaven. Some people trust in Christ plus their works to get them to heaven. And some people trust in Christ alone to get them to heaven. Those who trust in their works are saying to God, “Your Son’s death was unnecessary.” There was no need for Jesus to die for my sins if I can get to heaven trusting in my works alone. Those who trust in Christ plus their works are saying to God, “Your Son’s death was disappointing.” That is, Jesus paid for some of my sins, and I must pay for the rest. In other words, Jesus did not get the job done. Those who trust in Christ alone are saying to God, “Your Son’s death was sufficient.” Jesus did not say on the cross, “I will help you get to heaven.” No. He said in John 19:30, “It is finished!” Christ did not make the down payment for our sins. He made the full payment for all our sins. Therefore, I can trust in Him alone to get me to heaven because He has paid for my admission there.

If you have never understood this before and you are now trusting in Christ alone to get you to heaven, you may tell Jesus this through prayer. But remember, praying a prayer does not get you to heaven. Only believing in Jesus for everlasting life will get you to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling Jesus you are now trusting in Him alone. You may now pray this prayer to Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself. I believe You died for me on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You, Jesus, alone (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers) to save me from the lake of fire forever and give me everlasting life. Thank You Jesus for the salvation and the everlasting life I now have. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He promises that you will never perish in the lake of fire (John 3:16). He wants to use you now to tell others the good news of His salvation so they also may trust in Him alone to get them to heaven.

Please share this article with those you want to see in heaven because we do not have much time left. Thank you, and may King Jesus richly bless you.

ENDNOTES:

1. 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. 371.

2. Ibid., pg. 372.

3. Ibid., cites Daniel Schorr, “Reagan Recants: His Path from Armageddon to Détente,” Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1988, articles.latimes.com/1988-01-03/opinion/op-32475_1_president-reagan.

4. Ibid., cites “Reagan: Is Apocalypse Now?” Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 29, 1983, www.ramsheadpress.com/messiah/PDF/CHAPTER26.pdf.

5. Ibid., cites Billy Graham, Till Armageddon (Minneapolis: World Wide, 1981), pg. 15.

6. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 300 cites M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1996), see “Euphrates.”

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2407.

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. 1560.

9. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 174.

10. Evans, pg. 2407.

11. Constable, pg. 175.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1560.

13. Adapted from John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), locations 6009 to 6014.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1560.

15. Ibid.

16. Evans, pg. 2408.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1561.

18. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 337.

19. Hitchcock, pp. 372-374.

20. Constable, pg. 177 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 270-271; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pp. 238-239; and William Sanford Lasor, The Truth about Armageddon (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), pg. 146.

21. Adapted from EvanTell’s three circle illustration.  

Revelation 14 – Part 1

“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Revelation 14:1

A couple of days ago, my wife and I went to the movie theatre to watch a film after we saw its preview the week before. That’s what previews are meant to do. They show exciting scenes from an upcoming movie to entice viewers to come see the film in its entirety. Sometimes, however, the preview of an upcoming movie leads us to expect one thing, but the producer of the film delivers something entirely different. 1 Fortunately for my wife and me, the movie lived up to the excitement the preview generated in us the week before.  

One thing we can be sure of about God’s previews of the future in the book of Revelation is they will not disappoint us. “Not only does He know the future, but He also controls it. He’s not simply the leading actor in the coming end-times drama; He’s the writer, producer, and director! So when He gives us previews of things to come, we should pay close attention. These scenes aren’t meant to satisfy our curiosity but to warn the rebellious and to encourage the righteous.” 2

After receiving revelation about Satan’s two wild beasts (the World Ruler and the False Prophet) who will triumph during the last half of the Tribulation period (13:1-18), John now receives revelation that describes both what happens to those who refuse the mark of the beast (14:1-5) and what happens to those who receive the mark of the beast (14:6-20). You may recall in Revelation 7, we learned that God would save two groups of people during the first three and a half years of the Tribulation period: He will save and seal 144,000 Israelites (7:1-8) through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (11:1-12), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17).

Beginning in Revelation 14, John now fast forwards to the end of the Tribulation period where he sees the following: “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1). 3 John saw “the Lamb,” the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:29), “standing” victoriously “on Mount Zion,” the earthly Jerusalem,at the end of the Tribulation period. Many prophetic Scripture predicted that at the end of the Tribulation period Jesus the Messiah will return to Jerusalem from which He will rule His kingdom on earth (Isaiah 2:3; 24:23; Micah 4:1, 7; Zechariah 14:1-21; cf. Acts 1:9-12; Revelation 19:11-20:6). 4

Standing with Christ at the end of the Tribulation are the “one hundred and forty-four thousand” Jewish evangelists who faithfully proclaimed Jesus’ gospel message to the ends of the earth during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation when the beast ruled without mercy over the earth (14:1a; cf. 7:1-8; Matthew 24:14). Some religious groups, like the Jehovah Witnesses, teach that these 144,000 people are the sum total of all people who will be saved.  This is not true! We already saw in Revelation 7 that there are an innumerable number of people saved during the Tribulation period (7:9-17) in addition to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (7:1-8). These evangelistic Jews will prepare the way for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. 5

Because they refused to worship the beast and take up his mark, these 144,000 Jews will be rewarded with the Lamb’s “name” and “His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (cf. 3:12) in contrast with the mark placed on nonbelievers’ foreheads by the False Prophet (cf. 13:16). Because of their faithfulness to Christ to the end of the Great Tribulation, they will rule with King Jesus from Mount Zion in His eternal Kingdom (14:1b; cf. Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). 6

Notice at the end of the Tribulation that John does not see 143,800 Jewish evangelists. He sees all the 144,000 are supernaturally preserved by the Lord. Not one of them was killed. They have endured all the horrors of the seven-year Tribulation and are still standing victoriously with the Lamb on the earth because God faithfully protected them. 7

So, in this preview, we see in place of the beast from the sea, the Lamb of God. And in place of the beast’s followers with the mark of the beast on their foreheads, we see the Lamb’s followers with His and the Father’s name on their foreheads. In addition, we also observe in place of the pagan-controlled earth we see the God-controlled Mount Zion or Jerusalem. 8  This contrast in scenes is meant to encourage believers in John’s day and ours. While our journey on earth will contain trials and tribulation (John 16:33), it will end with a glorious mountaintop experience. This is intended to motivate us to remain faithful to Christ to the end of our Christian lives.

Next John writes, “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.” (Revelation 14:2). Some Bible students think this verse means that “Mount Zion” (14:1) is the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22) since John speaks of this scene in heaven. 9 But the text says John “heard a voice from heaven.” This does not necessitate that the Lamb and His 144,000 followers are in heaven. Since the 144,000 are the same group described in Revelation 7:1-8, they are specifically said there to be sealed and preserved safely through the Tribulation on earth. This preview of their future indicates that they will be kept safe on earth into the Millennial Kingdom without going to the third heaven (Paradise) since this is the meaning of the seal in Revelation 7:3-4. 10

The “voice” John heard “from heaven” was loud like “many waters” roaring at a waterfall or like “loud” claps of “thunder.” We are not told who this voice belongs to. It could be “the voice” of the Tribulation martyrs (7:10), an angel (cf. 6:1; Daniel 10:6), or many angels (cf. 5:8, 11: 7:11; 19:6). But it cannot refer to the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (14:3). I believe this voice represents the inhabitants of heaven consisting of the Tribulation martyrs and God’s angels.

John also tells us he “heard the sound of harpists playing their harps” (14:2b). In the book of Revelation, we are told that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (5:8), and the victorious believers from the Tribulation period (15:2) will all have harps along with those mentioned in Revelation 14:2. The “voice” and “harps” most likely represent the singing and music of the inhabitants of heaven (cf. 19:6). 11

“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.” (Revelation 14:3). The “new song” this heavenly group sang “before the throne” in heaven could only be learned by “the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (14:3). Please understand that the biblical text does not say the 144,000 were standing before the throne in heaven. It simply says they “could learn that song” which was being sung in heaven by this heavenly choir.

It is quite possible that being able to learn this new song was in itself a reward for these 144,000 faithful evangelists. Vacendak writes, “Since the emphasis here is not on the contents of the song but on the fact that only the 144,000 could learn it, this could very well be a special reward for their dedication to God like the reward of the ‘new name’ in 2:17 that is known only to Christ and the victorious one receiving it. Because these faithful witnesses will have an utterly unique experience in their service to Christ on earth, it is fitting that they enjoy a unique experience with Christ in eternity.” 12

After all, they had earned such a reward. “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed by Jesus from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:4). These 144,000 evangelists “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” who avoided both sexual immorality and spiritual adultery with the Satanic world system led by the Man of Sin or the beast (14:4a; cf. James 4:4; I John 2:15-16). 13

It is likely these servants of the Lord were unmarried in view of the strenuous times the last half of the Tribulation would bring. This brings to remembrance the apostle Paul’s admonition to singles (“virgins”) who were engaged to remain single in view of the “present distress” or persecution under Nero’s rule (I Corinthians 7:25-26). 14  

The 144,000 followed Jesus “wherever He goes” being forever grateful for the incredible price He paid (“redeemed by Jesus”) for their sins (14:4b; cf. Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-26). These evangelists were willing “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). 15

They were “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” in that they were the first converts of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11) during the first half of the Tribulation period who were saved and sealed (cf. 7:3-4). Following their conversion, they were discipled by the teaching of the Two Witnesses before fleeing Judea to begin their worldwide gospel ministry during the second half of the Tribulation (14:4c; cf. Matthew 24:13-22). 16

“And in their mouth was found no falsehood, for they are without fault.” (Revelation 14:5). Even though deception will abound under the reign of the beast, there will be “no falsehood” found in the mouths of the 144,000 evangelists because they boldly shared the truth of the gospel and “are without fault” in that their lifestyle was one of faithful obedience to the Lord, not perfection. By God’s grace, they knew the will of the Lord and faithfully pursued it without stumbling into sin (Titus 2:11-13; Jude 1:24). 17

What do we learn from these 144,000 Jewish evangelists? First, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must be pure in our relationships with others. The 144,000 Jewish evangelists “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (14:4a). If we love the world more than the Lord Who created the world, people will not be as likely to listen to us if we claim to be followers of the one true God. If we are impure like the world around us, we will not have a credible message for those who are confused or lost in the world’s corruption. 18 Ask yourself, “Do I keep myself pure in my relationships with others – especially those who are of the opposite sex? Or do I blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and questionable speech? Do I pursue worldly desires and lusts, or do I make it my priority to pursue the things of God (James 4:4; I John 2:15-17)?” 19

Secondly, like the 144,000 evangelists, we must faithfully “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4b). The Lord Jesus came to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He promised,Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Our responsibility is to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to share the gospel with the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus. He will lead you to the unsaved people His Holy Spirit has prepared to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11). Believing this will give you boldness as you go to share Christ with a lost world. Ask yourself, “Do I practice immediate obedience to Jesus or delayed obedience? What keeps me from practicing immediate obedience?”

The more we appreciate what Christ has done for us (“redeemed by Jesus”), the more grateful we will be to represent Him as His ambassadors to a lost world (14:4c; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15-21). We will be more willing “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Thirdly, like the Jewish evangelists who were discipled by the Two Witnesses after their conversion (Revelation 7:1-8; 11:1-12), we must also be trained by older believers to effectively live for Christ now (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:2). Ask yourself, “Have I been taught by an older believer how to live for Jesus? If not, am I willing to place myself under a more mature believer to learn how to follow Jesus? If I have been discipled, am I now discipling others? If not, what is keeping me from doing this?”

Fourth, like the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, we must live a life of integrity, speaking the truth with our lips (“in their mouth was found no falsehood”) and living the truth with our lives (for they are without fault”) (14:5). If our mouths and lives are full of lies, people will not believe us when we tell them the gospel is true. Ask yourself, “Do I compromise the truth to avoid rejection or disapproval? Do I speak half-truths, white lies, and deception to avoid conflict with others? Do I live with integrity in public and in private? Am I hiding any secret sins?” If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions in this paragraph, turn to the Lord, confessing these sins to Him. The Bible promises “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

When we remain faithful to Christ and preach the truth of the gospel amid an array of false gospels and deceptions in this world, we will be richly rewarded in eternity by the Lamb of God Who redeemed us (Revelation 14:1-5; cf. Matthew 16:24-27; I Corinthians 3:5-14; 4:1-5; 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; I John 2:18-3:3, 24-4:6; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21; 22:12).

Prayer: Precious Lord God, thank You for these encouraging verses that describe the victory of the Lamb and His faithful followers at the end of the Tribulation period. After reading Chapter 13 which is filled with horrific deception and destruction under the Antichrist’s and False Prophet’s regime, our hearts are filled with hope to see Jesus and the 144,000 Jewish evangelists standing triumphantly on Mount Zion in Jerusalem at the end of the Great Tribulation. By Your grace Lord God, we ask You to enable us to be faithful witnesses to the truth of the gospel with our lives and our lips. May Jesus live in and through us so those who are confused and perishing without Christ in this corrupt world, can find the healing and hope that only Jesus can give them. We ask You to remove the Satanic blinders from the hearts and minds of the unsaved so multitudes will believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life which can never be lost. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 263.

2. Ibid.

3. The majority of Greek manuscripts read “the” (τὸ) Lamb in place of “a” Lamb, and “His name and” (τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ) before “His Father’s name.”

4. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1549.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), 2402.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1549.

7. 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. 291.

8. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 154 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 188-189.

9. Constable, pg. 154 cites Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Scripture Press Foundation, Victory Book, 1986), pg. 88; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971), pg. 208; Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 607.

10. Constable, pp. 154-155 cites John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 214.

11. Vacendak, pp. 1549-1550.

12. Ibid., pg. 1550.

13. Ibid.

14. Constable, pp. 156-157.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1550.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Swindoll, pg. 267.

19. Ibid., pg. 268.

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.

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 4

“17 Sanctifythem by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” John 17:17-18 

The night before Jesus was hung on a cross, Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. We are learning from this prayer, how to pray like Christ prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…

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

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

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

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

The third way to pray for those we disciple is to pray for THEIR PURIFICATION THROUGH GOD’S WORD (John 17:16-19).  Jesus prayed, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16). Jesus repeats that the disciples “are not of this world” in their position just as He was “not of the world.” They were to become less and less influenced by the world. How?

Next Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The word “sanctify” (hagiázō), literally means to “set apart1  from the world or “to make holy.” This is not referring to perfection. It is referring to spiritual growth or maturity – becoming more like Christ. How? We are to be “set apart” from the world’s influence and its values “by” the Father’s “truth” which is His “word,” the Bible. We cannot grow spiritually apart from God’s Word. So the way we grow in holiness is by renewing our minds in accordance with the truth of God’s Word (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Disciples of Jesus must abide in His word if they are to know the truth of His word and be set free from the lies that enslave them to sin (cf. John 8:31-36). We must feed upon God’s word to experience the victory Jesus has already won for us (John 16:33).

Diagram 1

At a meeting, a Native American Indian said a black wolf lived in his heart, but when Christ became his Savior, a white wolf came to live in his heart, and the two wolves were then fighting all the time (see diagram 1). After the meeting, someone approached him and asked, “Which wolf wins, the white one or the black one?” The Indian replied, “The one I feed the most.” If we feed upon God’s Word and do it, we are going to experience more victory over the world and Satan in our Christian lives.  But if we feed upon the lies of Satan, we will experience more defeat in our Christian lives and be conformed to the world. I like what D.L. Moody wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible. “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.” That’s the truth. If I let this book become more and more a part of my life it will keep me away from sin. Or sin can keep me away from reading His word.

Tony Evans writes, “This process happens through internalizing the eternal truth of God’s Word. Think of the Word like food. You can chew it all day, but unless you swallow it, you receive no health benefits from it. You internalize God’s Word, not by merely hearing or reading it, but by trusting and obeying it. Then its work of spiritual transformation is activated in your life (see 2 Cor 3:17-18).” 3

Diagram 2

Sanctification or spiritual growth takes place as we learn and as we love and as we live God’s Word. It is a balance of those three things – learning it, loving it and living it. We learn it with our mind. But that’s not enough. We probably know a lot of people who have learned the Bible with their minds and can even quote verses, but they are not growing because they don’t love it. They don’t love it with their hearts. And they are not living it with their will. They are not deciding to do the things it says. It is like a three-legged stool (see diagram 2) – learning it, loving it, living it. You can’t leave out any of those things. We may know some people who are trying to live God’s word without loving the One who wrote it. When we do that, the Bible is just a law. There is no relationship with God. When we start to learn His word and what it says, we start to love it with our hearts, and live it with our wills. when we have all three legs of that stool together, we’ve got a solid foundation for growth (cf. Matthew 7:24-25).

Next Jesus prayed, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). Now Jesus is setting His disciples apart through prayer to do the same work He had done. Instead of taking the disciples “out of the world” (John 17:15), Jesus was sending them “into the world.” Christ had trained them to continue what He had come to do – reveal the Father (cf. John 1:18). Notice that sanctification or spiritual growth (John 17:17) and sending (John 17:18) go together. Christ wants the world to see what He is like through disciples who are growing spiritually. If believers are not going into the world to make Christ known, they are not growing spiritually because sanctification (John 17:17) leads to reaching out to a lost world (John 17:18). If we are becoming more like Christ, we will develop the same love for the unsaved that Jesus has for them.

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus called His first disciples, “Follow Me,  and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing for men (evangelism), then we are not following Christ. Notice, however, that it is our responsibility to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Then Jesus prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (John 17:19). How did Jesus, the sinless Son of God “sanctify” Himself? Keep in mind that the word “sanctify” can mean “to set apart.” Jesus set Himself apart from the world to do the will of His Father which involved His sacrificial death on the cross “for their sakes” (cf. Hebrews 10:5-10, 14). In dying for His disciples (and all of us), He did for them what they could never do for themselves. He also died so His disciples “may be sanctified by the truth.” Christ’s death permanently set believers apart from their sin and guilt (cf. Hebrews 10:10, 14) and it also broke sin’s control over them (cf. Romans 6:5-11).

How important it is for us to understand that our spiritual growth and development is being nurtured by Christ’s prayers for us. We are also to pray for one another’s spiritual growth. Pray for God’s Word to shape us and mold us into Christlike people. Pray for one another’s commitment to holiness and godliness.

Diagram 3

The water spider is an amazing little creature (see diagram 3). Called the frogman of the spider world, it lives in rivers and streams. How does this fascinating species survive in its watery environment? It spins a tough basket-like web of silk, a kind of diving bell, and anchors it under water to plants or other objects. Then it captures a surface air bubble, which it pulls down and ejects into its underwater house, filling it with air. This combination of web building and bubble trapping allows the water spider to live in an environment that normally  would destroy it.

As Christians, we also live in an environment which could destroy us. The world’s values, attitudes, and practices threaten to drown us unless we are able to protect ourselves from them. How are we to survive spiritually in this hostile world? We are to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another. Prayer for one another can insulate our minds and help to keep us safe and secure in the Lord. As the water spider lives in the water but is not of the water, so we are to live in the world but not of the world.

Are you building a safe bubble by praying with and for other believers? Do you have a prayer partner? Sometimes our pride keeps us from asking for prayer from others. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that we need to be in a community of people who pray. We cannot grow spiritually in isolation from one another nor apart from God and His Word. We need both to influence the world for Christ.

Prayer: Father God, we live in a world where Satan uses politics, the media, the educational system, the economy, the laws of the land, and our unsaved family and friends to draw us away from You and make us less sensitive to Your Word. But You have called us to become less and less influenced by the world’s values through the transforming truth of Your Word, the Bible. Please activate Your Word in our lives as we learn, love, andlive Your Word. Renew our minds so that our thoughts align more with Yours. And as we grow closer to You, Lord Jesus, Your love for the lost people of this world will become ours. Increase our love for those for Whom You have died. Thank You, Jesus, for sending us into the world just as the Father sent You into the world. Please teach us all we need to know to effectively share Your gospel message with those who are perishing without You. Help us to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another to keep us safe and secure in You, Lord Jesus, as we live in this hostile world. We desperately need You, Your Word, and one another to accomplish Your mission of making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Thank you, my Lord and my God, for giving us all we need to honor and glorify You in this process. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 307.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 8.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 5

41 Then many came to Him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.’ 42 And many believed in Him there.” John 10:41-42

We have learned from Jesus’ response to His Jewish audience, several ways to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God in John 10:32-42:

– Confront them with questions (John 10:32-33)

– Communicate biblical truths with relevance to them (John 10:34-36).

– Call them to believe in Christ because of the evidence of His miracles (John 10:37-39).

Consider our beginnings (John 10:40).

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him (John 7:30, 44; 8:59; 10:31, 39). So He crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany of Perea where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry (John 10:40; cf. 1:28).

From Jesus’ time in Bethany of Perea we learn the final way to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God – CONVEY THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS TO OTHERS WITH YOUR LIFE AND LIPS (John 10:41-42). While John the Baptist had already died by this time (cf. Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:9), his ministry had not died. “Then many came to Him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.’ ’’ (John 10:41). Many people were now seeking Jesus. Why? Because the witness of John the Baptist earlier had prepared the people of Bethany to seek out Jesus. While John had performed no miraculous “sign” at Bethany, he did bear witness to Jesus and his witness was “true.” What had John said? Let’s look back in John 1:15-18, 29-34:

15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him…’ 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.’ 32 And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’ ”

John spoke the truth about the greatness of Jesus Christ. He drew an accurate picture of Jesus Christ through his witness. Then when Jesus came, the people recognized the original truth John had given to them. John had been dead for some time now, but his influence continued. His words were still treasured by others. John had prepared the people to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself.

“And many believed in Him there.” (John 10:42). After realizing that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, many of the people believed in Christ there. Remember, it was John the Baptist who said to the people of Bethany a few years earlier, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). These people now believed or trusted in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life! John’s influence led people to seek Jesus out, but their faith in Christ was because of their contact with the Lord Jesus Himself.

Notice the contrast between the Jews back in Jerusalem who had miraculous signs, and the people of Bethany here who had no miraculous signs. The Jews refused to believe even though they had sufficient evidence through Christ’s words and works that He was their promised Messiah-God. But the people of Bethany did believe the word of Jesus without any miraculous signs. What made the difference between the receptivity of these two groups? The witness of John the Baptist.

One big difference between growing churches and stagnant churches is that growing churches who are winning the lost to Christ are sowing the seed of God’s Word in the lives of unbelievers, but stagnant churches are not.

When I was a young believer working in an orthopedic trauma unit as a nurse’s assistant in a hospital in Iowa, I loved to share the gospel with all my patients. One of my patients was a retired doctor who simply did not like me because of my Christian faith. He claimed to be an atheist and did not want to hear about Jesus. He would greet me with a scowl when I entered his room and start complaining about my work. But the Lord gave me favor with his wife who sat by his bedside every day. She would say to him, “Be nice to this young man. He is here to help you. He has been so good to you, the least you could do is show him some respect.”

Every work day the Lord enabled me to show His love to this grumpy, unbelieving doctor. With a smile and with gentleness, I would daily give him his bath and change his bedding. I would clean his wounds and help him use the commode on his bed. Gradually, this hard-hearted doctor began to change. After a few weeks of caring for him, he would crack a smile as soon as I entered his room because he knew I was there to care for him. God used acts of kindness to open this doctor’s heart so that he was prepared to hear the gospel. Eventually, both the doctor and his wife discovered the truth about Jesus Christ and said they believed in Him for His gift of eternal life!

Many of you are preparing others, including skeptics, to believe in Christ by the truth you convey about Jesus to them through your words and works. What kind of picture are you drawing of Jesus with your life? Will people recognize Jesus when they see Him in the Word because of the picture you have drawn of Him with your life and lips? God is not looking for perfection in us. But He is looking for us to share Christ’s faithfulness to us with unbelievers in our lives.

There are many hurting people in the world today and God wants to use you to extend His healing grace to them. You may not see them come to faith in Christ just like John the Baptist did not see these people of Bethany come to faith in Jesus during his lifetime. But one day at the Judgment Seat of Christ, you will know who does believe in Jesus because of your influence while you were on earth. That day will make all the sacrifice and suffering you invested in that person’s life worth it all! Christ will faithfully reward you for your faithfulness to Him (Revelation 22:12)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I can be so impatient when I do not see instant results! I want to see people believe in Jesus now, not later! Forgive me for being so demanding and proud. Right now I want to surrender to You to use my life and lips to prepare people to believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. Like John the Baptist, I may not see those people come to You in faith during my lifetime, but what matters is that they do come to You before it is too late for them. Please use me to sow the seed of Your Word in peoples’ lives now so You can reap an abundant harvest of souls. I claim Your promise which says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11). To You my Lord and my God be all the glory! In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

Since eternal life is free and can never be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord?

In John 10:28-29, we discovered that believers in Jesus are secure forever because eternal life is a gift which can never be lost. But someone may say, “Since eternal life is free through believing in Jesus and cannot be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord? What is to keep me from living like the devil since I know I will go to heaven after believing in Jesus? There are several incentives for living a godly life after believing in Jesus for the gift of eternal life. We will look at four of them:

1. GRATITUDE: When a sinner believes in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of eternal life, the most natural response is a heart full of thanksgiving.  The Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). When you are convinced God loves you no matter what and that His arms of grace are always open for you no matter how badly you fail or fall, you will want to do what He tells you to do out of gratitude and because you know He wants the best for you (2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20).

For example, let’s say you are drowning in the ocean, and a man on the seashore hears your cries for help and swims out to save you from certain death. After he brings you safely back to shore, you ask him, “How can I ever thank you for saving me?” He replies, “You would have done the same thing for me,” and then he drives off on his motorcycle. Two weeks later you are driving your car down the highway and you notice the same man standing beside the road next to his motorcycle which has two flat tires. The man is frantically waving his hands to get you to stop, but you just wave at him and keep going. That, my friends, is no way to thank the man who saved you from drowning. Likewise, when we fail to live for the Lord, we are still saved, but that is no way to thank our Savior who saved us from an eternity burning in the lake of fire.

2. GOD’S DISCIPLINE: Just as an earthly father disciplines his wayward children, so God will discipline His disobedient child (Hebrews 12:5-11). It is possible for a believer to be more miserable living outside of God’s will than it would have been to remain a non-Christian. If a believer continues in sin long enough, God may even take his or her physical life (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-32). Knowing the price of sin in a Christian’s life ought to be a strong motivation for godly living. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

3. YOUR NEW IDENTITY: When a person believes or trusts in Christ for the gift of eternal life, God’s grace gives him a new identity or capacity to overcome sin and live for the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20; I John 3:1-9). Romans 6:14-18 says, 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

When we become Christians, we are under a new authority. We are now under God’s grace, not the law. When we realize and submit to Christ’s rule over us, regardless of our feelings, our sinful flesh progressively loses its domination over us, and the grace of God is activated in our lives. We then obey because of our relationship with Jesus. Some immature Christians might think that living under grace means they can go on sinning. But Paul refutes this thinking. If you are living under grace, you will actually keep the law. And if you don’t keep the law, it only proves you’re not operating under the grace of God. Christians obey the standard, but the motivation isn’t the standard. The motivation is God’s grace. The more believers experience the grace of Jesus, the more he or she wants to live in way that is consistent with his or her new identity in Christ.

At this juncture, I believe it is important to talk about sanctification. Sanctification is being “set apart” or made holy to God. The Bible alludes to pre-conversion sanctification whereby the Lord sets apart the unbeliever for salvation and/or service (Jeremiah 1:5; Acts 9:15; Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 7:14; Galatians 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2).

For the Christian, sanctification is realized in three ways. All believers are positionally sanctified when they first believe by virtue of being in Christ (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:10, 14).  That is, they are completely and permanently set apart from their sin and shame, and placed into the body of Christ. God totally accepts the believer at the moment of faith in Jesus regardless of how much or little they manifest His holiness.

Christians are personally or progressively sanctified as they allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives, and begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Luke 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 15:1-8; 17:17; Romans 6:12-23; 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 5:13-14; I Peter 1:15- 16; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18).  Therefore, obedience to the Word of God, while not necessary for obtaining everlasting life, is the essential responsibility of each Christian to grow in the Christian life (Romans 6:12-23; Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4). However, the Bible does not teach that this obedience will be manifested in all believers. If a believer does not yield to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his experience, failure will result, evidenced by sinful acts or even prolonged disobedience (1 Corinthians 3:1-15; 10:1-13; Galatians 5:16-21).

Christians will be ultimately sanctified when they become completely conformed to the image of Christ in His presence (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; I John 3:2-3; Jude 24- 25).  There will be no more sin in their words, thoughts, actions, or motives.

For example, the apostle Paul in writing to the church at Corinth, says, “To those who are sanctified (hagiazō) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (hagios).” (I Corinthians 1:2). Paul calls them “saints” which means, “set-apart ones” (I Corinthians 1:2). He was not referring to their behavior because they were acting very immature and disobedient (I Corinthians 1:11-6:20; 11:17-32; et al.). He was obviously talking about their identity or their position in Christ, which was sourced in their spiritual birth. Paul calls them “saints”(positional sanctification) in chapter 1 and then challenges them to act like the saints they really are (progressive sanctification) in the remaining chapters of the book.

When the Corinthians were committing sexual immorality with prostitutes he questions their knowledge about their new identity in Christ, not their salvation (I Corinthians 6:13-20). Paul describes believers’ future resurrection bodies which will be “raised in incorruption” and “put on incorruption” (ultimate sanctification) to encourage Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in the present (I Corinthians 15:42, 53). Because Christians will receive future resurrection bodies that no longer yield to sin, they are to abound in the work of the Lord now knowing He will reward them for their faithfulness in the future (I Corinthians 15:58; cf. 3:8-15; 9:24-27).

4. ETERNAL REWARDS AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST: The last book of the Bible (Revelation) provides an outline of future events (see picture) beginning with the current church age to the eternal state…

1. We are living in the Church Age which began at Pentecost (Acts2) and will end with the rapture or removal of the Church from the earth which could take place at any moment (John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4-5). Knowing that Christ could come for us at any moment motivates Christians to live faithfully for Him so they are prepared to face Him as their Judge.

2. Soon after the Church is taken in the Rapture, seven years of Tribulation begin on the earth.  This period begins when the Beast of Revelation makes a covenant with the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:26-27). This will be an awful time of death, disease, hunger, famine, earthquakes as never seen, warfare, entire seas turned to blood, darkness, scorching of the sun and multiple other judgments (Revelation 6-19). It will end when Jesus returns to earth with His Church and Christ will destroy His enemies (Revelation 17:12-14; Revelation 19:11-21). At that time, the Antichrist and False Prophet will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20) and the Devil will be bound for a 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-3).

3.  Then Jesus will reign as King over the entire earth for a thousand years from the city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14; Revelation 20:4-6). This period is called the Millennium which means “one thousand.”

4. At the end of the Millennium God will destroy the entire creation (2 Peter 3:10). Every person who did not believe or trust in Christ alone for the gift of salvation will stand before God as He sits on the Great White Throne to judge each unbeliever according to their works to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Satan will receive his final judgment in the Lake of Fire at this time.

5.  Then a New Heaven (Universe) and New Earth are created which are perfect and beautiful (Revelation 21-22). This will be the eternal home of believers in Jesus.

Knowing the future should motivate Christians to live for what is eternal and not what is temporary. Why? Because there is another Judgment. During the Tribulation, in heaven, Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ. While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21).  This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12). Every Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” things he has done since becoming a Christian. The word “bad” (kakon) means “worthless, wicked, and evil.”

Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient  motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Knowing that we can earn eternal rewards should motivate believers to live for Christ now. Christians can earn heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21) by giving a cup of cold water to God’s servant (Matthew 10:42), doing a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3- 4), praying in private (Matthew 6:6), and fasting in private (Matthew 6:17-18).

Christians who remain faithful in their service to Christ to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing special white garments (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).

Christians can also earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the appearing of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).

By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.

Knowing we have eternal life which can never be lost does not give Christians a license to sin or live like the devil. God did not save us to live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose from the dead on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15). We have looked at several motivations to live for Jesus untill we go to be with Him in heaven.

I will close with some thoughts from Dave Breese in Living for Eternity said, The child of God is a creature of eternal destiny. For him no day is without consequence, and no fleeting moment can be called incidental or unimportant. The hours he spends and the decisions he makes have implications that carry on into eternity. What he does today will matter a thousand years from today.” (Larry Moyer, Free And Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997], pg. 145).

Keeping our faith alive in uncertain times

Inspired by a true story, the movie Rugged Gold is about a pregnant newlywed named Martha Martin who is separated by an earthquake from her son and miner husband in 1950s Alaska. This is a story about survival – staying alive under horrible circumstances. Martha Martin overcomes severe injuries, delivers her own baby, faces off with a Grizzly and wins, and endures a brutal winter with the hope of being reunited with her son and newlywed husband. Martha did everything she could to keep herself alive.

As we face all kinds of challenges this year including COVID-19 and social unrest revolving around the color of a person’s skin, it is essential that we as Christians be willing to do whatever it takes to keep our faith alive.

But how does a Christian do this? How does a believer in Jesus Christ keep their faith alive and energized? Turn to James 2:14-26 and find out. Many people have understood James 2:14-26 to teach that good works are necessary for eternal salvation. These verses are misunderstood by some to be written to professing Christians whose faith must be tested to see if it is genuine. But James is not addressing the eternal destiny of his readers because they are genuine Christians. James describes them as… “brethren” (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; et. al.), those who are “born from above” (James1:17-18), and those who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). James understands, however, that it would be easy to downgrade works where it was taught that justification before God was by faith alone in Christ alone.

Although these were genuine Christians, they were immature and disobedient (cf. James 3:1-5:6), and they were in danger of experiencing both the damaging consequences of sin now (James 1:15-16, 21; 5:19-20) and an unfavorable evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future (James 2:12-13; 5:7-9). To preserve their souls/lives from the ruin of sin now and a negative assessment at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future, they are to obey God’s Word (James 1:21-25). So James is writing to them to help them put their faith into action – to keep their faith alive.

How do we keep our faith alive in these uncertain times?

1. GET INVOLVED WITH OTHERS (James 2:14-17). “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). This verse has caused a lot of concern for many people over the years. Martin Luther was so distraught over this verse that he wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible because he felt it contradicted the great truth that led to the Reformation – Paul’s justification by faith alone apart from works. Clearly, James makes works a condition for salvation as the question, “Can faith save him?” (James 2:14b) expects a negative answer. “Of course, faith without works cannot save him.” James says a faith without works cannot save you.

But the apostle Paul says a faith with works won’t save you. “Now to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul and James seem to contradict each other. James says you cannot be saved without works. Paul says you cannot be saved by faith with works.

The reason James and Paul differ with each other is because they are talking to two different groups.  When Paul is talking to sinners about how to become a saint, he says it is by faith alone apart from works (Romans 4:5-6). But notice who James is talking to. Christians or non-Christians? “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Notice the phrase,  “My brethren…” These people are brothers in Christ. They are saved from hell. So when James talks to saints about how to experience the God who has already saved them from hell, he says it by faith with works (James 2:14-26). If you want to know how to get to heaven, read Paul. If you want to know how to bring heaven to earth because you are already saved from hell, read James.

So do works have any part in getting us to heaven? No. Faith in Christ alone is the only basis of eternal salvation from hell. Eternal salvation is a gift, not of works lest anyone should boast. No person can take credit for his salvation from hell because it is apart from works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6). If works are made a condition for getting to heaven, then eternal salvation can no longer be said to be attained by grace. So James cannot be talking about eternal salvation by grace because God’s Word does not contradict itself.

So what kind of salvation is being addressed in James 2:14? Faith without works cannot save us from what? The word “save” (sozo) in the New Testament doesn’t always refer to salvation from hell. In fact 70% of the time the word “save” in the New Testament refers to deliverance from circumstances. For example,  when Jesus’s disciples were about to drown in the midst of a storm at sea, they said to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25). They were referring to being saved from physical death. In I Timothy 2, when Paul was talking about the role of men and women in the church, he said, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:15). The context is talking about women being restricted from teaching or leading men in the local church. So Paul is talking about women being saved from this restriction through childbearing, that is,  she is able to teach and lead her children and be fulfilled doing so if her children continue in these godly virtues.

What James is telling us is that faith without works will not save us from what he has already discussed in the book. First, faith without works won’t save us from A LIFE RUINED BY SIN. James 1:19-22 says,19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James tells the saved how to save their souls from a life ruined by sin. They must be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

James warns his readers, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15).  If believers pursue sin long enough and hard enough, it will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them. So the way to be saved from a life ruined by sin is to do what God says to do.

Secondly, faith without works will not save us from AN UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. “12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). The Bible tells us that all Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ after they die or are raptured to have their Christian lives evaluated to determine what if any rewards they will receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11). If we are critical and merciless toward people now, then God will show less mercy to us when He judges our lives in the future. So can faith alone save us? No, James says faith without works cannot save us from a life ruined by sin or from an unfavorable judgment in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

James then gives an illustration of this. 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Just as words of assurance from some ungenerous believer cannot save his naked and starving Christian brother or sister from physical death, so too, faith without works cannot save our lives from the consequences of sin. Correct beliefs, such as Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, or salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, cannot save us from a life ruined by sin any more than warm wishes will save a needy brother from physical death.

You can have accurate theology and be useless to God and others. There are Christians who have sound theology but they are useless to God! They can dot their i’s and cross their t’s but they are not seeing their souls saved from the power of sin. They are not seeing their lives transformed by the grace of God. Why? Because their orthodoxy has not become orthopraxy. Because they are not putting their faith to work. Sometimes we say, “I’m waiting on God.” But could it be that God is waiting on you? If we want to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must go beyond the well wishes and desires to help others and actively get involved with them.

For example, we can say, “I love people of all colors,” but if we are not actively getting involved with people from other cultures or ethnicities, we are not demonstrating the truth of our words. Our faith will not grow in this area if we are merely hearers and not doers.  

Notice that James is talking about helping a needy Christian “brother” in these verses. He is not talking about giving handouts to some stranger who is begging for food or clothing. We are to give priority to believers first. This was especially true in James’s day when Christians were actively being persecuted by the Roman government. We need to balance this with other Scripture. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Free food (or clothing or money, etc.) should not be given to those who can work but choose not to. To do so rewards laziness and irresponsibility. God wants us to get involved in needy peoples’ lives, starting with the church.

If you are feeling down, one of the best ways to get picked up is to focus on the needs of other people. Just talking about it isn’t going to benefit the needy people in your church or community. We must put our faith into action. The more you get involved with needy people, the stronger your faith will become in the Lord.

Look at what James says next, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17).Faith without works is a “dead” or useless faith that has lost its fervor or fire for Christ. Faith without works is dead – useless, unproductive just as idle words are useless to a brother or sister in need.

If all we ever do is talk about reaching and teaching people for Christ, but we never act on it, then our faith becomes useless to others. Reaching and teaching people for Christ is what the United States of America needs more than anything right now in the midst of these troubling times. Until people obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), they are not going to have peace with themselves or other people regardless of the color of their skin (cf. Ephesians 2:8-18).

A dead faith means the believer has lost his fire or fervor for Christ. If I were to visit another church and upon leaving I said to my wife, “This church is dead,” I’m not saying there are no born-again Christians there. I am saying that church is not on fire for Christ. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it.

What does a dead body and a dead faith have in common? Both are immobile and inactive. They also tend to decay and stink. If we fail to do good works, our faith will lose its vitality, it will weaken, and eventually decay and stink. Like a dead car battery, it is useless. It was once alive, but it has become dead or useless due to a lack of use. But the way to jump start a dead faith is to put it to work.

In James 2:18-19, James encounters a skeptic. This skeptic insists that there is no connection between faith and works in order to justify his carnal lifestyle (James 2:18-19). This skeptical person objects to James’s view of faith and works by saying it is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). In other words, this person says, “Let’s say you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and show what it is that I believe.”

Then in James 2:19 the objector tries to illustrate that there is no connection between faith and works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). The skeptic is saying that the demons believe in the oneness of God, the same way James does, who does good, but they only tremble instead of doing good. He is saying that faith cannot be made visible in works! Why would someone argue this way? Because his beliefs are not supported by his behavior. “Faith and good works are not related to each other so don’t criticize me if I don’t practice what I preach.”

Some use James 2:19 to say that believing in Christ is not enough to be saved from hell because the demons believe in God, but are not saved because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him. Let me point out some things to note about James 2:19:

1. Jesus did not die for demons, He died for people (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41), not because they lack insufficient faith. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.

2. Belief that God is one is not saving. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons do really believe there is only one God, but believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. There are many world religions and cults that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Corinthians 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.

3. Since the words of James 2:19 belong to a skeptic, they should not be used to prove such an important theological point. Using this verse to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication. 

The second way to keep your faith alive in uncertain times is to 2. GIVE GOD YOUR OBEDIENCE (James 2:20-26). In James 2:20-25, James refutes the skeptic’s arguments by referring to two supreme examples of faith’s connection with works. The way to fire up a Christian’s faith is to PUT IT TO WORK like Rahab and Abraham put their faith to work and were justified before men (James 2:23-25). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). James reaffirms that faith without works is dead or useless. The issue is that your faith is unproductive. The Lord is pleading with us in this passage to put our faith in gear and move out! Don’t sit back on the fact that you are saved forever and God’s never going to kick you out of His family, and therefore you become a lazy Christian.

He then states that Abraham was justified by works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). It was well known to James and his readers that Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) about thirty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). His justification before God was apart from works (Romans 4). If Abraham had failed to obey God in offering up Isaac, would he have remained justified before the Lord? Yes, because justification before God is always based on faith alone, not good works whether before, during or after your conversion. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” (Romans 4:5-6).

James goes on to say in “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22). Abraham’s original justifying faith was strengthened and matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac. How? His faith grew from a conviction that God could overcome his inability to have children to the assurance that God could actually resurrect his son’s own body from physical death. Hebrews 11:17-19 says,17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”

James continues, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23). Abraham’s original justifying faith before God was “fulfilled” or “filled-full” of meaning as a result of this act of obedience. His obedience revealed his faith to men. The Scriptures were fulfilled in that Abraham showed his faith by his works. His obedience justified him before men in such a way as to show him to be righteous on a practical level. People could say Abraham was a “friend of God.” Friendship with God requires obedience. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus was speaking to the believing disciples when He spoke these words in John 15. They were already saved. This is why James 2:24 speaks of two kinds of justification.

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). The word “only” is an adverb and modifies the verb “justified” implied in the second clause. Thus it could be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) by faith.” There is a justification by works and a justification by faith. Justification by works is before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Romans 4:2). People can be justified by works, but not before God. Why? Because God can see faith without works. He knows life is there apart from our works. This is why justification before God is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5; cf. Genesis 15:6). But people cannot see faith apart from works. Hence, justification by works is before men, justification by faith is before God. James never speaks of justification by faith and works. He doesn’t say Abraham was justified by faith and works at the same time, nor does he say Rahab was.

“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story is clear. The Israelites were going to take Jericho. The Jewish spies came in to spy out the land. Rahab, “the harlot” – the prostitute, the hooker, the whore – the woman who lived a life of failure – hid them and then secretly sent them out so they could escape. Rahab’s physical life was saved because she had works. God saw Rahab’s faith when she “received the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). But men could not see her faith until she acted on it by “sending them out another way” (James 2:25b). Rahab was truly a friend of God because she was their friend. While all of Jericho perished under God’s judgment, Rahab lived because her faith lived! So yes, faith can be shown to men from our works. Abraham did it and was called the friend of God. Rahab did it by sending the spies away safely.  

We are called to act upon the faith that we have. We can know what is right. We can already be saved from Hell. We can come to church two or three times a week. We can be on our way to heaven and yet not experience heaven as a part of history! Until we act upon the Word of God and start living it out, what does it profit? Faith without works will not profit a brother or sister in need of food or clothing nor will it profit the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26). James compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. When does a human body die? When it loses its spirit which keeps it alive. When does a Christian’s faith die? When he stops using it. Like a muscle, if you stop using it, it atrophies and withers away. You won’t experience the transforming power of God if you stop putting your faith to work! Just as the human spirit gives life to the body, good works give life to your faith (James 2:26). You can have correct belief and lots of Bible knowledge, but if you stop acting on that belief and knowledge, your faith will weaken and become a creedal corpse.

A little girl who really believed in prayer, had a brother who made a trap that caught little sparrows, and she prayed that it would fail. Suddenly, for three days her face was radiant when she prayed and her absolute faith in the futility of the trap was so noticeable that her mother asked, “Julia, how can you be so confident?” Julia smiled, “Because, dear Mama, I went out three days ago and kicked that trap to pieces.” She literally put her faith to work.

If we are going to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must put it to work. Not by kicking traps, but by meeting the felt needs of the people God is calling us to reach – by introducing them to Christ and by discipling them and sending them out to do the same. We can decide today how we will live our lives in these chaotic times. Will you choose to keep your faith alive and vigorous by putting it to work in obedience to God? God wants our faith to thrive, not die. What about you?

Prayer: Precious Lord, this message really cuts deep into my apathetic heart. My knowledge of the truth can grow greatly, but if I do not put it into practice, my faith becomes dead or useless to You and to others. No wonder I have lost my fervor for You Lord Jesus. My head is swollen with Bible knowledge, but my heart is cold because I have not applied what I already know to be true. This world would be a much better place if all Christians would put what they know into practice. Lord, I want to be a part of the solution to the world’s problems by putting my faith to work. It is so easy for me to sit back and criticize others for doing very little while I, too, talk about faith more than I live it out. Forgive me, Lord, for being preoccupied with myself and what I know to be true instead of putting it into practice. Please show me whom You want me to get involved with so they can benefit from my relationship with You and come to know You as their Savior. In Jesus’s name. Amen.