“2 Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye… 5 That they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words.” Proverbs 7:2, 5
The man who “keeps” or obeys God’s “commands” will “live” and experience God’s protection in his life. The phrase “the apple of your eye” refers to the pupil which is the most sensitive and carefully guarded part of the human body (7:2a). When God’s “law” becomes our most important focus, when it is what we pay the closest attention to (7:2b), it will “keep” or guard us from the many allurements of “the immoral woman” and “seductress who flatters with her words” (7:5). God’s Word instructs us to…
1. Avoid where and when the sexual temptation is waiting – “the path to her house in the twilight… in the black of the night” (7:7-9). Establish guardrails that keep you from being tempted such as no searching online when you are alone at night, lock up your digital devices using internet filters to give you accountability when accessing the internet, avoid massage parlors, strip clubs, bars, etc.
2. Avoid women online or in person …
Who dress seductively – “attire of a harlot” (7:10a)
Whose hearts are “crafty” or secretive/deceptive (7:10b)
Who are defiant (“loud and rebellious”) against God’s Word and the sanctity of marriage (7:11a)
Who are promiscuous – “her feet would not stay home…” (7:11b-12)
Who are overly aggressive, sensual, and shameless – “she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him…” (7:13)
Who minimize wrongdoing by referring to their religious activity (“I have peace offerings with me; today I have paid my vows”) and entice men with a meal in her home (the animal sacrifice usually included leftover meat which must be consumed the same day in her home – 7:14; cf. Lev. 7:15)
Who seek to build your ego up with flattery – “So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you” (7:15)
Who seek to entice with you with a sensuous description of their bedroom – “I have spread my bed with tapestry, colored coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon” (7:16-17)
Who proposition you – “Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love” (7:18)
Who reassure you of your safety from their husband – “For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he has taken a bag of money with him, and will come home on the appointed day” (7:19-20)
Who disarm you with their “flattering lips” (7:21)
3. Avoid seductive women online or in person because…
They will lead you to far-reaching consequences including bondage and death – “Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life.” (7:22-23)
We are living in a very sexualized society today whereby pornography is very accessible, affordable, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing. Solomon’s description of the seductress is much like the digitalized pornographic women online. Satan uses the beauty of women (in person and online) to entice Christian men away from God and His design for purity in marriage and family, so he can “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10a) their lives today (1 Pet. 5:8).
Solomon concludes these warnings by inviting us to listen to his advice (7:24):
Guard your heart. “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways” in your imagination or fantasies (7:25a; cf. Matt. 5:28). We are already in danger if we are fantasizing about having sex with a woman outside of marriage. When we are tempted to fantasize about her, turn to the Lord and pray for her salvation (if she is not a believer in Jesus), or for her purity (if she is a believer). Reach out to a brother in Christ to confess your struggle and pray with each other (Jas. 5:16).
Guard your body. “Do not stray into her paths” (7:25b). Avoid where the seductress is waiting for you whether it be online or in person. Do not go or stay near to someone (online or in person) who resembles the immoral or seductive women that Proverbs 7 describes. Ask God what your first step must be to do this. Locking up your digital devices? Getting a flip phone? Changing jobs or locations? Joining a men’s recovery group that deals specifically with porn and sex addiction?
Guard your future. “For she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death” (7:26-27). No matter how “strong” we think we are, we must take seriously the consequences of yielding to her seductive ways. To be in “her house” and in her bed in our thoughts or in person will place us on a fast speedway to “hell” (Sheol) or the grave. If we pursue sin long enough and hard enough it will lead to physical “death.” Possible causes of death could be punishment from an angry husband, from poverty, from STDs, or from spiritual and emotional anguish.
While King Solomon wrote Proverbs 7 warning of the allurements of seductive immoral women, he did not follow his own advice later in life. The Bible tells us, “When Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David” (I Kgs. 11:4). Even though God had warned Solomon not to marry foreign wives because they would turn away his heart after their gods (11:2), Solomon disobeyed the Lord and “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart” (11:3). Solomon did not just worship their false gods, he also built worship centers for the people of Israel to worship the false gods of his foreign wives (11:7-8). As a result, God “became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded” (I Kgs. 11:9-11).
Solomon’s sexual immorality led to widespread idolatry. In many ways, viewing pornography is idolatrous. What is an idol? An idol is turning to something or someone other than God when we are anxious, bored, depressed, exhausted, lonely, self-doubting, stressed, or even wanting to celebrate. More and more Christians are turning to pornography  instead of the Lord to medicate or celebrate their feelings. Pornography is an idol that is destroying the sons and daughters of God around the world.
As long as we are living in these fallen physical bodies, there will always be the danger of being seduced by immoral women in person or online which can cause us to fall away from the Lord our God. Solomon ignored God’s design for marriage (one wife for life or until the death of one’s spouse – Gen. 2:24; cf. Mark 10:6-12; Rom. 7:2-3; I Cor. 7:10-11), and married hundreds of wives and had hundreds of mistresses.
May none of us think we are beyond the reaches of sexual immorality and the idolatry that often accompanies it.
In Solomon’s case, it is better to do what he says, not what he did. We must guard our hearts, our bodies, and our futures from the dangers of sexual immorality (Prov. 7:24-27). God the Holy Spirit can empower us to do this as we yield to Him in the context of a recovery community of believing brothers in Christ (Rom. 8:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:22).
No matter where we may find ourselves in our dealings with sexual temptation, there is always hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not uncomfortable with our sin or shame. He already knows about it, and He wants us to approach His throne of grace with confidence or boldness because He understands and is sympathetic towards our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15-16). Satan wants to convince us that God is against us and condemns us (Rev. 12:10).
Jesus tells us that His heart is “gentle and lowly” (Matt. 11:29), not condemning (cf. John 3:17). When in the temple, Jesus read Isaiah 42:3 which described the coming Messiah: “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” (Matt. 12:20). Jesus, the Messiah, will not treat those of us who are “bruised” with sin and shame harshly (“break” them). He comes along side of us to strengthen and heal us with His presence rather than step on us to advance His own plans. He will not “quench” what little hope (“smoking flax”) we have left inside of us. He wants to rekindle our love and passion for Him and for life itself. He does this with His gentle and gracious presence in our lives which heals our wounds and replaces our shame with dignity.
God says He is for us and demonstrated this by giving us His best – His only perfect Son – when we were at our worst (Rom. 5:8, 10) – to take our condemnation when He died in our place for all our sins and rose from the dead (Rom. 8:31-32, 34). If God gave us His best when we were at our worst, how much more will He do for us now that we are His beloved children!?!
Prayer: Father God, thank You for addressing sexual temptation and sin in these verses. Christian men are being sexually assaulted by the enemy in our society today. Most if a not all of us have mobile devices where we can easily access the allurements of seductive women via online pornography without anyone knowing about it but You. Before it is too late, please Father God, rescue us, redeem us, and restore us to close fellowship with You through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Heal the pain that often drives us to turn to sexual sin. We all have wounds that need Your healing touch. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for being gentle and gracious with our brokenness and shame so we can let down our guard and permit You to heal our wounds and replace our shame with dignity. Please break the chains that keep us bound to our shame. Help us set our minds on the things of the Holy Spirit Who reminds us that You are for us and not against us. The proof? You gave us Your best (Jesus) when we were at our worst (Your enemies), so that now as Your beloved children we can expect Your best for us daily. Please transform our ashes into beauty so we may proclaim the praises of Him Who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
 Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted – see Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series Study Guide Volume 1 (Stuart, FL: KindgomWorks Studios, 2017), pg. 21.
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” I John 5:20.
This will be our last lesson on the book of I John. As we have stated several times before, this book is about fellowship with God (1:3-4). Being in fellowship with God depends on walking in the light as He is in the light (1:7), confessing our sins (1:9), keeping God’s commandments (2:3-5; 3:24), loving one another (2:9-11; 3:11-23; 4:7-5:3), hating the world (2:15-17), acknowledging Jesus is God’s Son (2:23; 4:2-3, 4:15), practicing righteousness (2:29-3:10), listening to and obeying apostolic teaching (4:6), and avoiding idolatry (5:21).
As the apostle John concludes his letter, he is seeking to encourage his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) who may be moving deeper into darkness along the path of sin or they may know of other Christians who are, and therefore, may be in danger of a premature physical death (5:16-17; cf. Acts 5:5-10; I Cor. 3:16-17; 5:5; 11:30). John already presented two unchanging certainties in 5:18-19 beginning with the phrase “we know that…” (oidamen hoti). He wants his readers to know that no matter how far down into darkness a Christian brother or sister has traveled, they are still God’s child at the core of their being because His sinless seed remains in them (5:18; cf. 3:9) and he or she is on God’s side whether they consciously sense that or not, and will therefore feel like a foreigner in this Satanically controlled world (5:19; 2:16-17). 1
We are now ready to look at the third encouragement from the apostle in 5:20. This is one of the clearest verses in the Bible concerning the deity of Jesus Christ. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20). Again, we see the phrase, “we know that…” which reminds us that what John is about to say is absolute truth from God the Holy Spirit.
What is it we can know with certainty? “That the Son of God has come…” (5:20a). John and the other apostles were eyewitnesses to the coming of God’s Son in the first century (cf. 1:1-5; 2:7; 4:14). Jesus is not some mythical person. History attests to the fact that Jesus Christ was a real Person Who was born before King Herod’s death.
Luke 2:1 states that Jesus was born in the reign of Caesar Augustus (who reigned from March 15, 44 B.C. to August 19, A.D 14). Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5 inform us that Christ’s birth came before King Herod’s death. Herod’s death can be determined with certainty. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus (Antiquities 17.6.4), an eclipse of the moon occurred on March 12/13, 4 B.C. before Herod’s death. 2 Josephus also records (Antiquities 17.9.3; The Jewish War 2.1.30) that the Passover celebration that took place after King Herod’s death occurred on April 11, 4 B.C. 3 Hence, Herod must have died between March 12 and April 11, 4 B.C. Therefore, for these reasons Christ could not have been born later than March/April of 4 B.C.
Every time we write down today’s date, it goes back to Jesus. Today is May 11, 2023. Two thousand twenty-three years from what? From A.D. which stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for “year of our Lord,” and it means the number of years since the birth of Jesus Christ.
“It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar which splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years!” 4
In addition to the historicity of Christ’s birth, there is also ample historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Josephus also wrote of Jesus’ death,“Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross.” 5 Roman historian,Cornelius Tacitus, wrote, “a wise man who was called Jesus…. Pilate condemned Him to be condemned and to die.” In addition, he said that Jesus’ disciples “reported that He had appeared to them three days after His crucifixion and that He was alive.” 6
A Roman writer,Phlegon, referred to Christ’s death and resurrection in his Chronicles, saying, “Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” 7
In addition, Phlegon spoke of “the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place.”8
The historical evidence for Jesus’ death is so overwhelming that even a Muslim scholar, Reza Aslan, who wrote the book, Zealot, was persuaded to conclude Jesus “was most definitely crucified.” 9 Despite the fact that the Quran denies Christ’s death (Sura 4:157),the historical evidence persuaded Aslan to conclude that Christ truly did die on the cross. “He believes so strongly in Jesus’ death by crucifixion that he uses it as the foundation for his entire theory of Jesus’ life.” 10
Just as history proclaims that George Washington was the first President of the USA, so history proclaims that Jesus Christ was born in 4 B.C., and thirty-three years later died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of ancient history. Thomas Arnold authored a three-volume history of Rome and was appointed to Oxford’s Chair of Modern History. Concerning the evidence behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he said, “I have been used for years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than that Christ died and rose from the dead.” 11
Frank Morison, a British trial lawyer, vowed to write a book disproving Christianity and committed to base his book on a collection of facts. Using a critical method of evaluation and despite his initial beliefs, he concluded that Christianity is true. The resurrection convinced him, and he wrote a book entitled, Who Moved the Stone? which begins with the chapter, “The Book that Refused to Be Written.”
Former atheists Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel set out to disprove the resurrection of Christ only to be persuaded by the historical evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. You can read about the evidence that persuaded them to believe in Jesus in their books: McDowell ‘s The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1999) and The Resurrection Factor (1981); Strobel’s The Case for Christ Revised (2013) and The Case for Easter (2004).
John states that Christ came “and has given us an understanding” (5:20b). The Greek word for “understanding” (dianoian) refers to “comprehending,” or “insight, intelligence.” 12 This is the only time John uses this word in his epistle. Christ’s coming provided the giving of the Holy Spirit or “the anointing” (2:21-20, 27) to all who believe in Jesus (John 7:37-39; Acts 10:43-48; 11:15-17; 15:7-11; Rom. 5:5; 8:9; I Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:2-3; Ephes. 1:13-14; et al.).
In his gospel, John records that the night before His crucifixion, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “dwell… in” them (John 14:16-17; cf. I Cor. 3:16; 6:19), “teach” them and bring to “remembrance all” that He taught (John 14:26), and “guide” them into “all truth” to “glorify” Jesus (John 16:13-14).
John informs us that this “understanding” the Holy Spirit gives believers (cf. I Cor. 2:9-16) enables them to “know Him who is true” (5:20c). The word “know” (ginōskōmen) refers to experiential knowledge (see comments on 2:3-4, 12-14). The coming of the Son of God has given believers the comprehension or intelligence necessary to “know Him” experientially “who is true.” This experiential knowledge is the result of obedience to God’s commands (2:3-4; c. John 14:21, 23). 13
“Christian love (obedience) is never absent where God is truly known (cf. comments on 4:7-8). There could be no true understanding of love or of God had not the Son of God come and died to reveal God’s love. Through His death the Son has given us an understanding (an intelligence) by means of which we may know God. The obedient Christian possesses the necessary spiritual capacity to know God.”14
When John states “and we are in Him who is true” (5:20d), we are reminded that he equated being “in Him” (God) to “abiding” in Him (cf. 2:5-6), just as Jesus taught the branch is to abide in the vine (cf. John 15:1-8).Christ said that “abiding” is necessary to be a “disciple” who “bears fruit,” experiences answered prayer and “joy,” and glorifies “the Father” (John 15:1-11). To be “in Him” is equated to having fellowship with God. 15 Hence, John is not talking about our position or salvation in I John 5:20 when he speaks of being “in Him,” he is talking about our condition or fellowship with God. Being “in Him” refers to “abiding” in Him. 16
John then identifies the One “who is true” when he writes, “in His Son Jesus Christ” (5:20e). John heard Christ say the night before His crucifixion, “I am… the truth” (John 14:6). There is nothing false or misleading about Jesus Christ. He is the truth.Some suggest that the first “Him” in 5:20 refers to God the Father (“that we know Him who is true”) and the second “Him” refers to Christ(“and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ”).
“But to be in Him, that is, to abide in Him, is not only to abide in Him who is true (as John has just described God), but it is also to be in His Son Jesus Christ. There is no and between the phrases in Him and in His Son. To abide in God and to abide in Christ are the same thing.” 17
John then makes one of the clearest proclamations of the deity of Christ in all the Bible in the last part of the verse. “This is the true God and eternal life.” (5:20f). Clearly the nearest antecedent in 5:20 for the pronoun “this” (houtos) is Jesus Christ (Iēsou Christō) which agrees in gender (masculine) and number (singular). Christ is the main focus of this verse. John clearly states that Jesus Christ is “the true God and eternal life.” There is no other possible antecedent in this verse.
Someone might ask, “Didn’t Jesus deny that He was the true God when He prayed to His Father in heaven and addressed Him as the only true God in John 17:3?” Christ prayed to His Father in heaven, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Jesus was not denying He was the “true God,” but was praising His Father as such.
The very next words after this verse are: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5). Jesus said He shared the glory of God the Father before the world was. But the Yahweh of the Old Testament says, “I am the Lord, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). How can Jesus claim to have the glory of His Father before the world was if Yahweh says He will not give His glory to another?
Because Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament. He has the same divine nature as His Father. Jesus identifies Himself with the Father. Jesus “is in” the Father, and the Father “is in” Jesus (John 10:38). Jesus is “one” with the Father (John 10:30). They are not divided in essence. So, in one sense Jesus is in the Father; and if the Father is the only true God, then Jesus is also the true God.
The Greek word translated “only” (monos) in John 17:3 does not always refer to absolute exclusivity. For example, monos is used in Jude 1:4 of “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only [monos] Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude is not excluding God the Father when he refers to “the only” Lordship of Jesus Christ. Other verses in the Bible confirm the Lordship of God the Father (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; Isaiah 63:16; Mark 13:20; Luke 10:21-22) and God the Son, Jesus Christ (Psalm 110:2; Luke 6:5; 19:31; John 13:13; 20:28; Acts 2:36; 10:36; 16:31; Romans 10:9; Philippians 2:11; Revelation 17:14).
To say that Jesus denies He is God in John 17:3 would contradict the entire message of the gospel of John which begins (John 1:1-18) and ends (John 20:28-31) with the fact that Jesus is God.
In John 17:3, Jesus was not creating a point of distinction between Himself and the Father in the expression, “only true God”, but between the Father and any other “so called god” such as idols. Christ had lived among the Romans with their many competing gods and Jesus was addressing the Father with these idols in mind.
This understanding is substantiated further by John in his epistle when he identifies Christ as “the true God” (5:20f). John clearly states that Jesus Christ is the true God. He then writes, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John affirms that Jesus “is the true God” and then immediately warns his readers to guard themselves “from idols” or false gods.
In I John 5:20 the apostle also declares that Jesus Christ is “eternal life,” which connects back to the prologue (1:1-4) where the subject matter of John’s epistle was identified as “that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” (1:2b). This supports the final statement in verse 20 as a reference to Jesus Christ. Taken together, 1:2 and 5:20 provide bookends for what John wrote. By saying Jesus is the “eternal life,” John has fulfilled his intention to “declare” to his readers this “eternal life” (1:2). 18
“He has shown them that by ‘abiding’ in Him who is true (which is also to abide in His Son Jesus Christ), they can experience eternal life. That life, expressed in love toward their Christian brothers and sisters, springs out of the sinless inner self (5:18). It marks their life and experience as being of God rather than of the world (5:19), and expresses the spiritual understanding that the Son of God came to give them (5:20a).”19
As we mentioned in our previous lesson, some of you may have a Christian spouse or child whohas pursued the lusts of this passing world (2:16-17). They have been so twisted by the godless values of this world system that they are doing things that are contrary to their Christian beliefs and values. Because of their prolonged plunge into the deep darkness of sin, you have lost hope that they will ever return to fellowship with God and His people.
John wants to encourage us in 5:20 with this “spiritual radar system or search light the Holy Spirit uses to direct us to the true God. There are many false gods in the world (as the next verse warns), which can lead us far from the path of God. This internal guidance system can help bring us home. It’s what Paul would call the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:15-16).” 20
In stark contrast to the Lord Jesus Christ who is “the true God and eternal life” (5:20), John concludes his epistle with a final admonition to avoid false gods: “Little children,keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” (I John 5:21). John begins this verse with “Little children” (teknia, “born-ones”; cf. 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4) 21 which expresses his fatherly love and concern for these believers.
This concluding verse may seem out of place to us at first, but in view of John’s previous discussion on prayer for a sinning believer (5:16-17) and his three encouragements (5:18-20), the last of which uses the word “true” three times to describe our “God” (5:20), this is a very pertinent conclusion to the apostle’s epistle on fellowship with God and other believers.
The opposite of true is false. Our God is true (5:20), but “idols” are false gods (5:21). “There is no need to take ‘idols’ in a figurative sense. In the Greco-Roman world of John’s day, any moral compromise with worldly perspectives was likely to lead to some involvement with idolatry, since idolatry permeated pagan life at every level.”22
Our spiritual radar system (intelligence given to us by the Holy Spirit – 5:20), can help us recognize the true God (Jesus Christ) in contrast to the false gods of this world. False gods can destroy our fellowship or closeness with God and other Christians. 23
Anderson observes that “we don’t have to study the Old Testament long to see that while kings ruled in Israel, idolatry reigned in the temple more years than Yahweh. God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to purify His people from their idols. And since it was King Solomon who introduced idolatry into Israel through his intermarriage with foreign wives, we see how easily idolatry can creep into the life of a wise man who was even used by God to write inspired revelation.
“Idols are usually good things. The bronze serpent (Num. 21:4-9) was initially used by God to heal the Israelites from snake bites. But eight centuries later (2 Kgs. 18:4) Hezekiah had to destroy the bronze serpent, for it had become an idol called Nehushtan (piece of bronze) to which they burned incense. Our idols are usually not evil things, but rather good things: our possessions (cars, houses, even yards), our retirement accounts, our bodies, our success—you name it.” 24
How do we identify an idol? It has been said that “an idol is like an eclipse of the sun— the moon gets in the way. When something gets between us and God’s light, then darkness creeps in and whatever is blocking that light is an idol. Beware! Solomon was no dummy. He thought he was doing something good by expanding the land of Israel out to the borders promised by God to Abraham. But he had to compromise the guidelines laid down by God for a king (Deut. 17:17) in order to do it.”25
Ask yourself the following questions:
Is it taking the place of God in my life? Is it becoming more important to me than spending time with the Lord Jesus?
Is it more important to me than my family, my Christian friends, and my ministry?
What do I turn to other than God to medicate my feelings of anxiety, boredom, depression, exhaustion, loneliness, self-doubts, or stress?
What do I turn to other than God to celebrate or reward myself for an accomplishment or achievement?
If you answered these questions honestly, you probably have a good idea of some idols in your life. An idol could be alcohol, your cell phone, drugs, entertainment, fame, feelings, intellectualism, novels, pleasure, possessions, power, sex, social media, sports, success, work, etc.
I believe one of the most dangerous and destructive idols for believers of all ages in the church today is pornography.26 Yet most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. 27 Churches often preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Unresolved pain or trauma from our past is often what drives addictions of any kind.
The solution to overcoming pornography or any addiction for that matter, is to look to Jesus Christ, the true God and eternal life, to heal the pain that drives the addiction (I John 5:20). This is done through the discipleship process whereby a believer in Jesus learns to abide in Jesus’ word along with other believers so they can know the truth that sets them free from the lies that drive their bondage to sin and shame (John 8:31-36). As a believer identifies the lies that drive their addiction, they can learn to replace those lies in the power of the Holy Spirit with the truth of God’s Word that brings freedom from bondage to sin (cf. Psalm 119:28-29). This is to be done in the context of a loving community of like-minded believers who can encourage and empower each other on their journey to freedom (2 Tim. 2:22).
If you do not know for sure you have eternal life and a future home in Jesus’ heaven, you need to start with understanding that Jesus Christ is the only source of eternal life. The bookends of I John (1:1-3; 5:20) have informed us of this. To have eternal life in one’s life, you must have Jesus Christ, Who is eternal life (5:20), in your life (5:11-12). How do you get Christ in your life? John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). To “know” with absolute certainty, not guess, or hope that you “have eternal life,” you must “believe in the name of the Son of God.” There is no mention of having fruit, obedience, or a changed life to know you have eternal life. The only condition is to “believe in the name of the Son of God.” This is so simple that many adults miss it.
In this context, to “believe in” (pisteúō eis) the name of the Son of God means to be convinced or persuaded that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life (5:20) Who will give you eternal life as a free gift the moment you believe in His name. 28 Are you convinced or persuaded that this promise of God is true? If so, then you can “know” with absolutely certainty that you now have eternal life. And you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ Who is the true God and eternal life (I John 5:1, 13, 20; cf. John 14:1-6). Christ cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). His promise is as true as He is true.
If you or a fellow believer close to you find yourselves moving deeper into darkness on the pathway of sin and there seems to be no hope of returning to fellowship with God and His people, I pray that God’s encouraging promises in John’s final words in his letter (5:18-21) will give you the assurance and guidance you need. These promises include… 29
1. God’s sinless seed (divine nature) remains in youor your loved one so that you (or he/she) are still the same holy child of God who remains untouched or harmed by evil or the evil one no matter how badly or long you (or he/she) have sinned (5:18; 3:9). This unchanged seed remains a base from which the Holy Spirit can work within you (or him/her) to bring healing to you (or him/her) so you can return to fellowship with God and His people.
2.You (or he/she) are on God’s side and will never be completely comfortable living for this world (5:19). As a child of God, you (or he/she) are totally separate from the whole world that lies under the influence of Satan, and to some degree you will never feel completely comfortable in this sin sick world. God can turn your (or his/her) discomfort into disgust so you (or he/she) will turn towards home (God).
3. God’s search light (inner, spiritual intelligence) within you (or him/her) can be used by the Holy Spirit to guide you(or him/her) back to the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ (5:20-21). God’s Spirit can whisper what is right in the ear of a wayward believer whose fellowship with God and other Christians has been cut off by their focus on the idols of this world, so he or she will return to the only true God Who alone can give them fullness of joy as they resume fellowship with Him and His people.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the book of I John which was written to help believers experience the joy of close fellowship with You and Your eternal Son, Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, there are many false gods or idols in the world that seek to draw us away from You and Your Word. Some of us or those we love, have become enslaved to these idols and we are in desperate need of Your Spirit to turn our discomfort in this sin sick world into disgust so we may return to the true God and eternal life, Jesus Christ. Forgive us Father for turning to the things of this world to medicate our pain instead of looking to Jesus, Who can heal us and satisfy our deepest needs. Thank You for the encouraging promises You have given us at the end of John’s epistle which offer us assurance and guidance. Help us to express our new nature and separateness from this Satanically controlled world system by guarding ourselves from the false gods of this world. Rescue us, restore us, and renew us, we pray. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 265.
2. Retrieved on May 11, 2023, from Daniel B. Wallace’s article entitled “The Birth of Jesus Christ,” at bible.org and from the Biblical Archaeology Society Staff’s December 15, 2022, article entitled “Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth, and a Lunar Eclipse at biblicalarchaeology.org.
4. Wallace, “The Birth of Jesus Christ,” at bible.org.
5. Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross,Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), pg. 236 cites Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” 18:3; trans. William Whiston, Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1963), pg. 379.
6. Ibid. cites Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55? – after 117), Annals, 15.44.
7. Ibid., cites Phlegon, “Chronicles,” as cited by Origen, “Against Celsus” from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), vol. 4, pg. 455.
9. Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pg. 179 cites interview with Lauren Green.
11. Thomas Arnold, Christian Life, Its Hopes, Its Fears, and Its Close, 6th ed. (London: T. Fellowes, 1859), pp. 14-16.
12. 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. 234.
13. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 604.
14. Ibid., pg. 606.
15. See Dillow’s thorough discussion of John 15 in Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 611-626.
16. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.
17. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 606.
20. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 265.
21. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 4130.
22. Ibid., Kindle Location 4130 to 4135.
23. Anderson, Maximum Joy, pg. 266.
25. Ibid., pp. 266-267.
26. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted – see Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21; young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing (see Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .” Christians who are hooked on pornography have less spiritual interest in attending church, reading their Bibles, prayer, and hanging out with other Christians.
27. Less than 7% of pastors in America provide solutions to help their people break free from porn (see Ted Shimer, The Freedom Fight: The New Drug and the Truths that Set Us Free (Houston: High Bridge Books, 2020), pg. 89 cites Barna Survey at https://www.charismnews.com/us/73208-15-statistics-about-the-church-and-pornography-that-will-blow-your-mind. However, Shimer also provides practical suggestions in his book on how churches can overcome the obstacles that keep them from addressing pornography in helpful and healthy ways (pp. 91-99).
28. The phrase to “believe in” (pisteúō eis) basically means to be convinced or persuaded that something is true and therefore is worthy of your trust – see Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 816-817.
“Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.’” Revelation 18:21
The third angelic announcement of Rome’s (“Babylon”) judgment in Revelation 18 is now recorded by the apostle John (18:21-24). The first two announcements depicted the rapidity of God’s judgment of Rome (18:1-19) whereas this last announcement describes its finality. 1“Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.’” (Revelation 18:21). The “violence” and finality of Rome’s destructionis graphically portrayed by “a mighty angel” throwing “a great millstone… into the sea.”
In John’s day, millstones often measured four to five feet in diameter, were one foot thick, and weighed thousands of pounds (cf. Mark 9:42). 2 As it would be impossible for such a huge stone to float to the surface of the ocean, so certainly the religious and economic system of Rome that had deceived and misled this world throughout human history, will sink to the bottom of the sea never to rise again.3 The phrase “and shall not be found anymore” contains two doubt negatives in the Greek text (ou mē), emphasizing the finality of Rome’s judgment.
The mighty angel then lists all of Rome’s worldly luxuries and pleasures that will vanish with its destruction never to be found again. “22 The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. 23 The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore.” (Revelation 18:22-23a). Not one of these material things listed here is evil in and of itself. But in the Babylonian world system, these every day things drew people away from the true God to glorify humanity. Their sudden disappearance represents the total and final destruction of every facet of society, from fine arts (“the sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters”)to night life (“the light of a lamp”), from expert craftsmanship (“craftsman of any craft”) to common labor (“the sound of a millstone”), 4 not even the sound of joyful celebration (“the voice of bridegroom and bride”)will “be heard in” her “anymore.” In a flash, all of Rome’s worldly luxuries and pleasures will be removed permanently. Where there had once been hustle and bustle, there will be silence. 5
The prophet Jeremiah announced a similar kind of judgment against Judah for her disobedience: “8 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. 10 Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp.” (Jeremiah 25:8-10).
Instead of focusing on the Giver, Rome and all its followers had focused on the gift. Instead of worshiping the Creator, they worshiped the creation. In case you think such a sudden and violent judgment is unfair or too harsh, the mighty angel gives two reasons for Rome’s judgment. “23b For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:23b-24). Through Rome’s businessmen (“merchants”) she will cast a materialistic spell (“sorcery”) over humankind so that “all the nations were deceived.” 6 The word “sorcery” (pharmakeia) is where the English word “pharmacy” comes from.
“If one is puzzled over the connection between medicine and sorcery as illustrated by this word (our pharmacy), he has only to recall the quackery today in medicine (patent medicines and cure-alls), witch doctors, professional faith-healers, medicine-men in Africa. True medical science has had a hard fight to shake off chicanery and charlatanry.” 7
Rome’s worldly luxuries and pleasures had deceived the nations of the world into believing that joy, security, and meaning in life come through the accumulation of material wealth instead of through their Creator God. Papal Rome has also grown wealthy with its focus on paying money for forgiveness (indulgences). For a fee, parishioners could get a deceased family member out of Purgatory and save up for their own future sins. 8 Selling forgiveness is what sparked the Protestant Reformation. 9
The second reason for Rome’s severe and final judgment is because “in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (18:24).
“Not surprisingly, worship of the wrong object (wealth) is accompanied by wrath misdirected at the improper target (Christians). In the Antichrist’s kingdom, as with other godless societies, throughout history, the blood of prophets and saints testifies to the slaughter of those who stand for God’s values in opposition to the religion of materialism.” 10
When people worship the creation instead of the Creator, they no longer value human life as God does. We see this in America as our educational institutions have taught evolution for decades now which leaves God out of the picture and worships His creation. As a result, this country has murdered an estimated 62 million unborn babies through abortion since legalizing abortion on demand in 1973. 11 Even now state legislatures are about to vote on bills sponsored by Planned Parenthood that could legalize the killing of newborn babies up to 28 days after birth. 12
Rome’s sudden and violent destruction is also due to her killing God’s people, including “prophets and saints” (18:24). For centuries, pagan and papal Rome has seduced people away from the true God with her rituals and superstitions and has persecuted those who proclaim the truth exposing her materialistic and idolatrous false religion. History shows that the Roman Catholic Church has shed the blood of many believers and victims of the Crusades and Roman Inquisition. 13But the height of Rome’s hostility toward God’s people will take place during the Tribulation period when she vehemently opposes God’s prophets and saints on the earth. Because Rome has shed the blood of God’s children, and led others to do the same, she “will receive the death penalty from God’s hand. She will not be found anymore!”14
How can we reach materialistic people with the gospel of Jesus Christ before it is too late for them? We look to Jesus’ example. After Jesus had miraculously fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two sardine-sized fish (John 6:1-14), He crossed over to the other side of the lake only to encounter the same crowd again (John 6:15-25). These people were like most materialistic people today. Like the beneficiaries of Rome, they were more interested in satisfying their physical appetites than their spiritual appetites, so Jesus confronts their selfish desires. “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” (John 6:26). Christ is saying, “You came not because you understand Me to be the Messiah-God but because you wanted another free meal.” To this crowd, life was all about keeping alive, being healthy and well fed, and economically sufficient.
In an essay written by George Orwell, he describes a wasp that (as he puts it) “was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.” 15
This wasp and people without Jesus have much in common. Severed from their souls, but greedy and unaware, people continue to consume life’s sweetness. Only when it is time to fly away will they grasp their dreadful condition. Jesus encourages the materialist to seek after something better. To seek after bread which lasts and produces life which never ends.
Jesus tells the materialist how to satisfy his spiritual hunger and thirst forever, and it is not through the accumulation of wealth or buying your forgiveness as Rome taught. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). The materialist hungers and thirsts for power… possessions… and popularity! But the greatest hunger and thirst of all is for immortality. Jesus says to look to Him in faith to satisfy our hunger for immortality. Look to Him in faith to quench our thirst for eternal life.
What do you do when you are hungry? You eat. What do you do when you are thirsty? You drink. Jesus says that if we come to Him in faith, we will never hunger for eternal life again. If we believe in Him, we will never thirst for eternal life again. One bite of the bread that Jesus’ offers, one drink of the water that Jesus offers, satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst forever. This is difficult for the materialist to do. He has always provided for his own needs, and now he is being challenged to trust Someone outside of himself for his most important need.
What if a person stops believing in Christ? Will he hunger or thirst for eternal life again? No. Because the spiritual need which Jesus meets can never reoccur. Once you receive eternal life, you have it forever. After all, how long is “never” (John 6:35)? It is forever, right? If a person could hunger or thirst for eternal life again after believing in Jesus, then Christ just told a lie. Jesus says one bite… one drink satisfies for eternity. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we don’t keep on believing.
Has your hunger or thirst for immortality been satisfied forever? Do you know for sure that you have eternal life? If not, why not take Jesus Christ at His word right now? Place your trust solely in Him to save you. Give up confidence in anything else: your prayers, giving of money, church attendance, baptism, obedience, commitment, or the reformation of your life. Jesus Christ guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him alone for it.
Let us share this message gladly and often. It is glorious news! It is the greatest news! Tell people eternal life is a free gift and that the sole condition for receiving it is believing in Christ alone. Leave the results to God. After all, eternal life is the gift of God. He is the One giving the gift.
Prayer: Father God, give us a love for the self-reliant religious people of this world. Increase our burden for the materialistic people of our community. Give us the courage to confront their selfish desires, to correct their misconceptions about salvation, and to challenge them to believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life so that they can discover the joy of everlasting security in Him. Security that cannot be lost or taken away. Lord, I pray that those of us who know You will seek satisfaction in our relationship with You and not the things of this world. Enable us to live in light of eternity. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.
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. 1570.
2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pp. 200-201 cites Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” In Hebrews-Revelation Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg. 568.
3. Constable, pg. 200.
4. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament
Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 329.
“1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.’” Revelation 17:1
Swindoll writes, “In 1844 Karl Marx famously described religion as ‘opium of the people.’” 1 Marx viewed “all religion as man-made – a crutch that helped people escape the hardships of this world system by resting their hopes, confidence, and comfort on something other than the heartless world around them. The cure for humanity’s need for religion, Marx argued, was to overcome the conditions of oppression and inequality that had forced people to seek psychological succor from outside themselves. Marx’s solution? Communism – an atheistic system that invoked as much religious zeal in the twentieth century as any of the man-made ‘religious’ systems Marx had criticized…
“Marx was right that all man-made religion is useless – merely a deceptive psychological crutch to distract people from the real conditions of the world. However, his unforgivable errors were to lump Christianity into the same category as a man-made religion and to propose atheistic communism to replace it.” 2
In Genesis 11:1-9, God gives us a picture of man-made religion that provides us with a heavenly perspective on the topic. After the global flood and Noah’s death, we travel to the land of Shinar which is the birthplace of man-made religion. Instead of the descendants of Noah obeying God’s command to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1), they moved east away from God to the land of Shinar. The people made a declaration of independence from God Himself, saying, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4). To avoid spreading over the face of the whole earth as God commanded, the people wanted to make a name for themselves by building a city and a tower that reached to the heavens.
The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, observes that the people built the tower out of “burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water.”3 Swindoll concludes that the people must have disbelieved God’s promise to never flood the whole world again (Genesis 9:11-17), so they made their tower waterproof to keep from drowning. Plus, the entire building project was focused on constructing a physical way to gain access to heaven – something only God could freely grant to them. 4 From this we learn three fundamentals of man-made religion:
“Rejection of God’s promises – faithlessness.
Rebellion against God’s commands – disobedience.
Refusal of God’s grace – legalism.”5
God judged these people who were united by one language by dividing them into different languages so they would be “scattered … abroad from there over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8-9) which is what the Lord originally commanded them to do (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). So, the city was called “Babel,” which means confused (Genesis 11:9a).
Walvoord writes, “Later the name was applied to the city of Babylon which itself has a long history dating back to as early as 3,000 years before Christ. One of its famous rulers was Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.). After a period of decline Babylon again rose to great heights under Nebuchadnezzar about 600 years before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign(605-562 B.C.)and the subsequent history of Babylon is the background of the Book of Daniel.
“Babylon was important not only politically but also religiously. Nimrod… had a wife known as Semiramis who founded the secret religious rites of the Babylonian mysteries, according to accounts outside the Bible. Semiramis had a son with an alleged miraculous conception who was given the name Tammuz and in effect was a false fulfillment of the promise of the seed of the woman given to Eve (Genesis 3:15).
“Various religious practices were observed in connection with this false Babylonian religion, including recognition of the mother and child as God and of creating an order of virgins who became religious prostitutes. Tammuz, according to tradition, was killed by a wild animal and then restored to life, a satanic anticipation and counterfeit of Christ’s resurrection. Scripture condemns this false religion repeatedly (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19, 25; Ezekiel 8:14). The worship of Baal is related to the worship of Tammuz.
“After the Persians took over Babylon in 539 B.C., they discouraged the continuation of the mystery religions of Babylon. Subsequently the Babylonian cultists moved to Pergamum (or Pergamos) where one of the seven churches of Asia Minor was located (cf. Revelation 2:12-17). Crowns in the shape of a fish head were worn by the chief priests of the Babylonian cult to honor the fish god. The crowns bore the words ‘Keeper of the Bridge,’ symbolic of the ‘bridge’ between man and Satan. This handle was adopted by the Roman emperors, who used the Latin title Pontifex Maximus, which means ‘Major Keeper of the Bridge.’ And the same title was later used by the bishop of Rome. The pope today is often called the pontiff, which comes from pontifex. When the teachers of the Babylonian mystery religions later moved from Pergamum to Rome, they were influential in paganizing Christianity and were the source of many so-called religious rites which have crept into ritualistic churches. Babylon then is the symbol of apostasy and blasphemous substitution of idol-worship for the worship of God in Christ.” 9
With this background in mind, let’s return to our study of the book of Revelation. Revelation 16 recorded the seven bowl judgments leading to the battle at Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation. But before Armageddon is described in detail and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ takes place, one final event must be addressed – the destruction of Babylon the Great (Revelation 17-18). In the book of Revelation, one of out of every ten verses deals with Babylon. Two whole chapters address this city and its demise. It it clear that Babylon holds an important place in God’s final plan for the ages. 7
In the final climatic section of the book of Revelation (17:1-22:5), two cities will be contrasted, both being depicted as women. The first is evil and temporary: the city of Rome is referred to as “the great harlot” (17:1) or “MYSTERY BABYLON” (17:5). The second city is holy and eternal: the New Jerusalem which is described as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (21:9). For John’s original readers, seeing the judgment of the corrupt city that ruled over them as well as the splendor of the city they would one day experience as home would motivate them to remain faithful to God amid the difficult trials they would face. 8
Much has been written about the identity of Babylon. Some believe it refers to the literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates River in modern Iraq that will be rebuilt in the last days. 9 But this is not possible because God said Babylon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah due to the conquest of the Medes (in 539 BC) and become an everlasting desolation never to be inhabited again (Isaiah 13:17-20; Jeremiah 25:11). 10
I understand “Babylon” in the book of Revelation to refer to the city of Rome (17:1-18:21; cf. 14:8; 16:19). That “Babylon” is to be taken symbolically is the use of the qualifying word “mystery” (Revelation 17:5). Compare this with Revelation 11:8 where Jerusalem is referred to as “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Likewise, since the apostle Peter was writing from Rome, he refers to the city using the common code name “Babylon” in I Peter 5:13. 11
Since the apostle John wrote Revelation while a Roman prisoner on the island of Patmos, he could not make any derogatory remarks about Rome in his writings, so he used the name “Babylon,” emphasizing that it was a code name by referring to it as “Mystery Babylon” (Revelation 17:5). 12
That John had Rome in mind when he wrote about “Babylon” is his reference to it as the city of “seven mountains” or hills 13 (Revelation 17:9). In the context of the first century, this could only refer to Rome which was known as “the city of the seven hills.”14
Beginning in Chapter 17, John receives an invitation from one of the seven angels of the bowl judgments. “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.” Revelation 17:1 The apostle John is invited by “one of the seven angels” that executed the bowl judgments, to “come” and see “the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.” As discussed earlier, this “great harlot” refers to “Babylon” (16:19), another name for the city of Rome. When John wrote the book of Revelation, the Roman Empire ruled the world, and the great harlot represents the capital city of that empire – Rome. This is confirmed in Revelation 17:18 which says “the woman whom you saw is that great city [Rome] which reigns[present tense] over the kings of the earth” at the time John wrote this book.
This great harlot “sits on many waters” which the angel interprets in 17:15 to mean “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (17:1b; cf. 17:15). The fact that she “sits” suggests enthronement. 15 This great harlot will lead the world in the pursuit of false, man-made religion. Rome is a lot like Hollywood – it represents both a city and an industry or lifestyle that has impacted the whole world throughout history with its evil influence, but the peak of its influence will be during the Tribulation period (cf. 17:16; 18:11-19). 15
Next the angel says of the great harlot, “with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”(Revelation 17:2). Because of Rome’s affluence and beauty, “the kings of the earth committed” spiritual “fornication” or immorality with Rome by adopting her sensual, materialistic, and idolatrous lifestyle (17:2a). From the Lord’s viewpoint, Rome’s influence was tragic, causing “the inhabitants of the earth” to be “made drunk” or controlled “with the wine of her fornication.” Rome’spagan and idolatrous false religion caused the world to sink deeply into its decadence and unbiblical views of a relationship with God. 17
“This will be a satanic spiritual ‘high’ like nothing Karl Marx could have imagined when he called man-made religion ‘the opium of the people.’ For this reason, judgment of demonic false religion will mean judgment of its devoted practitioners.”18
One of the primary reasons the Lord will have this great harlot wiped out by the ten kings near the end of the Tribulation is because she had insistently “corrupted the earth” (19:2) in a variety of ways. 19
Like the first man-made religion that tried to access heaven through self-reliance and human effort (Genesis 11:1-9), all man-made religions continue to attempt to do the same today, though unsuccessfully like their predecessor. The culmination of such attempts will take place in the future Tribulation when “the great harlot” (Rome) will mislead the entire world away from the true God with its decadent false religion.
Considering man-made religions today, I must ask you, “What are you trusting to get you to heaven?”20 Some people are trusting their works to get them to heaven. Non-Christian religions comprise this group such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. They believe that through human effort and/or self-reliance they can access heaven. Others trust in Christ plus their works to get them to heaven. This group consists of those who front-load the gospel with works such as Roman Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists. It also includes those who back-load the gospel with works such as Calvinistic or Reformed churches. Both groups say faith in Christ is necessary, but such faith must be accompanied by works either at the beginning of your profession of faith or at the end of your Christian life to have eternal life.
However, some people are trusting Christ alone to get them to heaven. They believe Jesus’ promise when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). This is biblical Christianity, not man-made religion.Christ never said,“He who does good works has everlasting life.” Nor did Jesus say, “He who believes in Me and produces good works has everlasting life.” Christ did all the work when He died in our place on the cross for all our sins and rose from the dead (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6). All Jesus asks of us is to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of eternal life.
When a person trusts his works to get him to heaven, he is telling God that His Son’s death was unnecessary. If I can trust my works alone to get me to heaven, then there was no need for Jesus Christ to die on a cross for my sins. In other words, Jesus failed to pay for my sins, so I must pay for my own sins.
When a person trusts Christ plus his works to get him to heaven, he is telling God that His Son’s death was disappointing. That is, Jesus died for some of my sins, but I must pay for the rest of my sins. Both responses are saying that Jesus Christ did not finish paying the penalty for all my sins so I must pay for some or all my sins.
But when a person trusts Christ alone to get him to heaven, he is telling God that His Son’s death was sufficient. It was enough. When Jesus was dying on the cross, He shouted, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word that is translated “finished” is tetelestai. Receipts in New Testament times were stamped with this word which meant that the debt had been paid in full.
All people have sinned against God with their thoughts, words, and actions (Romans 3:23) and deserve to be separated from Him forever (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But God so loved the world that He gave His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for our sin when He was crucified in our place on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) and rose from the dead, proving He is God and had finished the work of paying our sin debt in full (Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:1-8; I John 2:2).
No amount of our good works can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:1-20, 23; 4:5; Galatians 2:16). Christ did not make a down payment for our sin when He died on the cross so that we must pay the remainder of our sin debt to God. God does not accept us based on our good life, our keeping of His commandments, our religion, our prayers, our self-discipline, our knowledge, our water baptism, or the sacraments we have taken. We are accepted by God based on the full payment for our sin debt to God when Jesus Christ died and rose again on our behalf. God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for our sin. The verb tetelestai is in the perfect tense. This means Christ made the full payment for our sin debt when He died on the cross and it remains paid in full to the present.
When we communicate the gospel with non-Christians, we must be clear that all people have sinned against God and deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23; Revelation 20:15). No amount of our good thoughts, words, or actions can change the fact that we are sinners before a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Because Jesus finished paying the penalty for our sins when He died in our place, that means we do not have to work for our salvation (Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). All God asks of us is to believe in Jesus and His finished work on the cross as sufficient payment for our sins (John 3:14-15; 19:30). When we do, He gives us everlasting life and forgives all our sins (John 3:16; Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14). And then we can have the assurance that “It is finished!” Our sin debt is paid in full.
Will you believe or trust in Jesus alone to do for you what you could never do on your own? He is waiting for you to come to Him in faith just as you are and then He will forgive all your sins and give you life that never ends (Acts 10:43; John 3:15-16; 11:25-26).
Prayer: Lord God, some of us have been entrenched in man-made religion trying to gain access to heaven through our own efforts and self-reliance. Thank You for exposing us to the origin of this deceptive religion which leads people away from You. Thank You for sending the Lord Jesus Christ to earth to die in our place for all our sins and rise from the dead. Thank You that Jesus is alive today to give us eternal life and forgive all our sins the moment we believe in Him alone. Please open the eyes and hearts of those blinded by man-made religion so they may see their need for our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Persuade them to believe in Christ alone to give them eternal life and a future home in heaven so they can help others find the same freedom in Christ. In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. Amen.
1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 308 cites Karl Marx, “Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechts-Philosophie,” Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher 1 (1844): 72.
2. Swindoll, pg. 308.
3. Ibid., pg. 309 cites Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.116.
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), locations 6075 to 6097.
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. 361.
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. 1562.
9. Hitchcock, pp. 362-366; Charles H. Dyer, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End Times (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1991), pg. 182; Henry M. Morris, Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Prophetic Book of the End Times (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1983), pp. 348-349; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible, Vol. 5 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 1, 039.
11. Gary Derickson; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; Bob Vacendak, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1370, 1400; cf. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament [with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!], 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2014 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 223503.
12. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon.”
13. The Greek word for “mountains” is orē which can also mean “hills” – see 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. 724.
14. Reagan’s “Mystery Babylon”; cf. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2410.
15. Constable, pg. 183 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 17—22, Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 930.
16. Vacendak, pg. 1563.
18. Swindoll, pg. 313.
19. Vacendak, pg. 1563.
20. Adapted from EvanTell’s 3-circle illustration.
“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” Revelation 13:11
When Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives of the sign of His coming to earth to set up His Millennial Kingdom, He described the future seven-year Tribulation period in Matthew 24:4-26. After expounding upon the first half three and a half years of the Tribulation period containing worldwide deception and agony (24:4-8), Christ then focused on the last three and a half years which would be characterized by even more deception and pain (24:9-26). He said, “11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many… 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:11, 23-25).
Christ is warning His audience that “false christs” and those who announce them, “false prophets, will rise up and deceive many” by showing “great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” chosen people of God who are believing Jews living during the last half of the Tribulation period (24:24). Christ shares this “beforehand” to prevent His people from being deceived by satanically inspired teaching that misleads people away from the true God. In our study of Revelation today, the apostle John describes the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words.
After seeing the vision of a beast coming up out of the sea representing the Antichrist (Revelation 13:1-10), John now sees a second beast. “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” (Revelation 13:11). John saw “another beast” of the same kind come “up out of the earth.” Both men are called beasts to emphasize their cruel and vicious natures. 1 The word “earth” (gēs) literally means “land” and is most likely a reference to the land of Israel. 2 So, in contrast with the first beast who was a Gentile (from the sea; cf. 17:15; Isaiah 60:3-5; Daniel 7:2-4, 17; Matthew 13:47-50), we see that this beast may be a Jew (cf. 1:7). In view of the endless conflict between Arabs and Jews, this is a masterful arrangement by Satan himself. The union of an Arab (first beast) and a Jew (second beast) to lead the world into political, economic, and religious harmony is an ingenious answer to the world’s problems. 3
We learn that this second beast “had two horns like a lamb,” depicting his humble and gentle conduct. No one is afraid of a harmless “lamb.” But his speech will reveal his true character (13:11b; cf. Matthew 12:33-37). He will speak “like a dragon,” promoting Satan’s teaching that the first beast is God (13:11c; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4). He will be the Devil’s mouthpiece speaking lies to persuade the world to worship the World Ruler. No wonder God refers to this second beast three times in the book of Revelation as the “false prophet” (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
The deceptive and deadly approach of the second beast is summarized well by John Phillips: “The dynamic appeal of the false prophet will lie in his skill in combining political expediency with religious passion, self-interest with benevolent philanthropy, lofty sentiment with blatant sophistry, moral platitude with unbridled self-indulgence. His arguments will be subtle, convincing, and appealing. His oratory will be hypnotic, for he will be able to move the masses to tears or whip them into a frenzy…. His deadly appeal will lie in the fact that what he says will sound so right, so sensible, so exactly what unregenerated men have always wanted to hear.”4
This second beast “is the final person in the unholy trinity of the end times (Revelation 16:13; 19:20-20:2, 10). Just as the Holy Spirit gives glory to Christ and points men to Him, the false prophet will glorify the Antichrist and lead people to trust and worship him.”5
“As Donald Grey Barnhouse says, ‘The devil is making his last and greatest effort, a furious effort, to gain power and establish his kingdom upon the earth. He knows nothing better than to imitate God. Since God has succeeded by means of an incarnation and then by means of the work of the Holy Spirit, the devil will work by means of an incarnation in Antichrist and by the unholy spirit.’”6
“In hell’s trinity, Satan is a counterfeit Father (antiFather), the Antichrist is a counterfeit Son (antiChrist), and the false prophet is a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit (anti-Spirit). This is the infernal trinity.”7
Whereas the first beast will primarily be a military and political figure, the second beast will primarily be a religious figure who prepares the way for the World Ruler, much like John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah (cf. John 1:6-9, 19-36; Acts 19:4). The apostle John writes, “And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” (Revelation 13:12). This false prophet will have worldwide “authority” to cause all unsaved people “who dwell” on the earth to “worship the first beast” who died and rose from the dead (“whose deadly wound was healed”). “Like Joseph Goebbels with Hitler, the false prophet will be inspired by the same authority and will share the same diabolical agenda as the Antichrist.”8
Commenting on this verse, Tony Evans says, “This second beast, the false prophet, completes the unholy trinity, which imitates the work of the Holy Trinity. Within the Godhead, the Father seeks worship; the Son gives glory to the Father; and the Holy Spirit gives glory to the Son. Here, Satan seeks worship for himself; the first beast glorifies Satan; and the second beast compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast. Additionally, he will heal the Antichrist’s fatal wound, imitating the Holy Spirit’s work of raising Christ from the dead (see Romans 8:11).“ 9
How exactly does the false prophet deceive the unsaved world to worship the Antichrist? The same way Jesus predicted he would (cf. Matthew 24:23-24). “13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives my own people who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.” (Revelation 13:13-14). Like Pharaoh’s magicians, only with greater effectiveness, the second beast will have authority to perform supernatural miracles (cf. Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7). These will be genuine “great signs” or supernatural wonders, not just tricks (13:13a; cf. Revelation 16:13-14; 19:20; Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). 10 God is not the only One who can do supernatural miracles. Satan can also perform miracles, and he uses this power to deceive people to worship his substitute for Christ, the Antichrist.
One of his great miracles will be making “fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (13:13b). Even the apostle John himself had at one time wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven” on some Samaritans who rejected Jesus (Luke 9:54). 11 Now John sees the false prophet calling fire down to the earth to deceive people into rejecting the true Christ in favor of Satan’s Antichrist.
As Christ predicted (cf. Matthew 24:24), even God’s own “elect” covenant people, Israel (“my own people who dwell on the earth”) will be deceived by these miraculous “signs” that the false prophet performs, the greatest of which was raising the Antichrist from the dead (“the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived”) after he had been fatally wounded (13:14; cf. 13:3; 17:8). As we mentioned in a previous lesson, by mimicking Jesus’ death and resurrection, Satan is attempting to persuade the nation of Israel to believe that the Antichrist is their long-awaited messiah so he can lead them to eternal destruction with him in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15), thus rendering God’s promises to Israel false and making God a liar.
Those who are deceived by the False Prophet will be instructed to build “an image to” honor “the beast” who died and supernaturally came back to life (13:14b). This fulfills Jesus prophetic teaching on the Mount of Olives when He said, “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).” (Matthew 24:15). The “image” or statue in honor of the beast (13:14b) is the “abomination of desolation” that will be placed in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem at the midpoint of the Tribulation period.
Like the image of Nebuchadnezzar on the plain of Dura (Daniel 3), everyone must bow to this image or die. 12 “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” (Revelation 13:15). This image or statue will be unlike any ever created. This inanimate object will become animated. The false prophet will “give breath to the image of the beast” so that “the image of the beast” will come to life and “speak” (13:15a).
People have come up with many theories about this “image of the beast.” Some suggest that since Satan does not have the power to give life to an inanimate object, he only gives this image the “impression of breathing and speaking mechanically, like computerized robots today.” 13 “When the television set first came on the scene, some people thought that might be the image of the Beast. People made the same suggestion about computers connected to the Internet. Some folks, bewitched by sci-fi movies, tossed around the idea that the image might be a supercomputer that gains consciousness – or a 3-D hologram – or a subhuman clone of the Antichrist.” 14
I prefer to take the biblical text literally. The Greek word for “image” (eikona) means “an object shaped to resemble the form or appearance of something, likeness.” 15 The image of the beast will not be a robot, or a clone, or a supercomputer, it will be some type of idol that visually represents the Antichrist. 16 It is likely that Satan and his demons will indwell or possess the idol to be the direct recipients of the world’s worship. This should not surprise us. Throughout history, demons have attached themselves to idols so that when people worship an idol, the demons can receive the adoration and worship that they long for. 17
For example, the apostle Paul writes to Christians at Corinth who were not only participating in the Lord’s Supper with believers at church, but they were also eating with unbelievers who sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Paul says to them, “14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry… 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:14, 19-20). A sacrifice that was offered to a false god, was actually being offered to a demon (cf. Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:36-38; Revelation 9:20).
Anyone who refuses to “worship the image of the beast” will be “killed” by it (13:15b). Believers worship Christ because He rose from the dead (cf. Acts 17:30-31), and unbelievers will worship the beast because he will have done a similar thing (13:14-15).
Many people during the last half of the Tribulation will assume a person who can give life to a statue must be a divine person, but the Bible teaches otherwise. Just because someone can work a miracle doesn’t make him worthy to be followed or worshiped. God does miracles in a righteous way and in accordance with biblical truth. Even if someone can call down fire from heaven and raise the dead, he is working for Satan if he does not point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. 18
In view of Satanic deception (Revelation 13:11-15), believers must always test what teachers say against God’s Word no matter how godly and persuasive they may appear (cf. I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1-3). For example, Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15). Like the False Prophet of Revelation 13, Jesus says false prophets today will look like genuine believers (“come to you in sheep’s clothing”).
They will even confess the Lordship of Christ. Christ says of them, “21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). They confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ by referring to Him as “Lord, Lord.” These are people who have some understanding of the greatness of the Person of Christ. They sincerely believe Jesus is “Lord,” that is, Master, Ruler, and King. Because of this belief, they look like followers of Christ outwardly and do wonderful works for His glory – prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do many wonders in His name (7:22), but inwardly they are “ravenous wolves” (7:15). Christ says they will not be in heaven (7:23).
Like the False Prophet of Revelation 13, these modern-day false prophets exhibit great power. They will claim to have “prophesied… cast out demons… and done many wonders in” in Jesus’ name (7:22b). Notice that Jesus does not deny their claim. These people wanted Jesus to get the glory by doing these incredible things in His name. They want the glory to go to the Lord, not themselves. These are all things that Jesus did. These false prophets appeal to Jesus to let them into the kingdom of heaven based on their Christ-like works. Even though they openly confessed the Lordship of Christ and did wonderful works for His glory, look at what Jesus says about them: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”(7:23). Christ refers to their religious works as “lawlessness.” All sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). Even sin that looks good on the outside is lawless before a holy God because it is not done in the context of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus explains that we will know these false prophets by their words, not their works: “16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16-20). The way to discern if they are false prophets is by their “fruits.” Since the Lord has just told us that these false prophets look like sheep, we can conclude that their “fruits” have nothing to do with outside appearances.
Jesus helps us understand that their “fruits” refer to their words, not their works in Matthew 12:33-37 where He uses the same imagery. “33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Just as “fruit” reveals the nature of a “tree,” so one’s “words” reveal the nature of one’s “heart.” What the “heart” is filled with (“abundance of the heart”) and values the most (“treasure of his heart”) cannot be concealed. The “mouth speaks” what is in a person’s “heart.” The “words” that a false prophet “speaks” are windows into his “heart.” So, the way to discern a false prophet is by listening to his message.
Jesus said if you want to “enter the kingdom of heaven,” you must do “the will” of His “Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the Father’s will as it relates to entering His heaven? Jesus said, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40; cf. John 3:5-16). The will of God the Father as it relates to entering the kingdom of heaven is to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, for eternal life. Anyone who teaches a different way to heaven is a false prophet or teacher.
In the context of Matthew 7, true prophets are standing in front of the “narrow gate” that “leads to life” (Matthew 7:13-14). They are preaching that the way that “leads to life” eternal is “narrow” (John 10:9; 14:6; cf. Acts 4:10-12). Only believing in Jesus Christ alone leads to eternal life (Matthew 21:31-32; cf. John 3:16; 6:40, 47).
However, false prophets are standing in front of the “wide” gate that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). These false prophets are preaching many ways to heaven except faith alone in Christ alone. Those who believe the false prophet’s message and never believe Christ alone for eternal life, will be surprised in the day of judgment when the Lord Jesus says to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23)!
It doesn’t matter what you have said or done, because you are still a sinner and need a Savior to take away your sins. Your words and works cannot take away your sins. This is why Jesus said these false prophets practiced “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). They were relying on their sin-stained words and works to get them to heaven (Isaiah 64:6), instead of the finished work of Jesus Christ (John 3:14-15; 19:30). Only Jesus can take away our sins because He is God and took our place and punishment for sin when He died as our Substitute on the cross and rose from the dead (John 1:1, 14, 17; I Corinthians 15:3-6). When it comes to getting to heaven, it is not the will of God that you confess the Lordship of Christ, or surrender to the Lordship of Christ, or do good works for His glory. It is the will of God that you believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:14-16; 6:40).
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus’ warnings about false christs and prophets who will try to mislead us away from the truth about Christ with the use of their persuasive words and profound works. Thank You, Father, for giving us Your word so we may know the truth which can set us free from Satan’s lies. We need Your spiritual discernment, Father, especially in an age of deception and manipulation so we are not led away from You and Your Son, Jesus Christ. May Your Word have such deep roots in our hearts and minds that we can easily identify and avoid a false prophet who stands in front of the wide gate that leads into eternal destruction. Please enable us to clearly communicate the gospel of grace so unsaved people can know and believe that Jesus Christ alone is able to save them and give them everlasting life the moment they believe in Him. We ask Your Holy Spirit to open the spiritual eyes of those who have been blinded by Satan’s deceit so they can realize that the Jesus of the Bible is the only Savior Who can rescue them from the lake of fire and give them an eternal home in Your heaven. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
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. 269.
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. 1547; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 333; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2401.
6. Ibid., cites Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), pg. 240.
7. Ibid., pp. 270-271.
8. Ibid., pg. 273.
9. Evans, pg. 2401.
10. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 148 cites Gregory H. Harris, “Satan’s Deceptive Miracles in the Tribulation,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156:623 (July September 1999): 308-324.
11. Constable, pg. 148.
12. Hitchcock, pg. 274. F
13. 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 5820 to 5825.
14. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 253.
15. 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. 281.
“But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.” Revelation 9:20
When you hear the word “idolatry,” what images come to your mind? You may picture people bowing before gold, silver, or bronze statues representing gods or goddesses. Or perhaps you think of grotesque wooden or stone gargoyle-like figures often excavated by archaeologists. Some of you may associate idolatry with offering incense at the graves of dead ancestors or bowing down before their bones or ashes. Although some cultures and religions around the world observe such practices, that does not mean we are off the hook if we do not participate in these customs. 1
The truth is all of us are guilty of idolatry. Think about this depiction of idolatry in our society:
“Idolatry in our society is not so obvious but is just as real as it was in John’s day. By definition idolatry is turning an earthly thing into a god and worshiping it rather than the God of creation. Whatever we place ahead of God in our lives is our idol. Therefore, the modern world is replete with idols: money, possessions, power, pleasure, sex, success, fame, drugs. These are all tools of Satan, and there are countless stories in which these very things have tortured and killed those who pursue them. We must warn people of the cosmic powers in control of this secular world and call them to God.”2
If you are still not convinced that you are guilty of idolatry, let me ask you a question or two. Where do you turn when you are anxious, hurting, lonely, stressed, or even wanting to celebrate? Some people look to alcohol, anger, cell phones, drugs, fame, fantasy, food, a hobby, material possessions, money, pornography, a romantic relationship, a shopping spree, sports, or their work to avoid unwanted feelings, memories, or thoughts or to celebrate an accomplishment. When we turn to these people or things instead of to God, we are practicing idolatry.
If we pursue these idols long enough and hard enough, they can harden our hearts and lead us to reject God. Rejecting God will lead to an ungodly lifestyle (Romans 1:18-32) which will either lead to discipline from a loving heavenly Father, if we are His children (Hebrews 12:5-11), or to wrath from a righteous divine Judge, if we are unbelievers (Revelation 9:13-21). 3
The book of Revelation records the coming wrath of God upon unsaved humanity because of their rejection of God and their practice of idolatry. As God’s judgments increase in severity, we might expect people to soften toward God and repent. But that is not the case. As God’s judgments increase in intensity throughout the book of Revelation, so does the rebellion of humankind.
Following the fifth trumpet judgment which unleashed across the face of the earth an army of demonic locusts from the abyss to torment people with a sting like that of a scorpion’s (9:1-12), the apostle John records the sixth trumpet judgment (9:13-21). “13 Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ 15 So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.” (Revelation 9:13-15). When “the sixth angel” blew his trumpet, John “heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar” (9:13). We saw earlier that the prayers of the saints were mingled with incense and ascended to God at this altar (cf. Revelation 8:3-4). Since this altar is associated with the prayers of God’s people, the voice from the altar may represent the next trumpet judgment that comes because of these prayers. 4
The voice told “the sixth angel” to “release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates”(9:14). These four angelic creaturesmust be fallen angels because God’s angels are not bound (cf. Revelation 20:1-3; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Scripture does not say when or why God bound these angels, but it would seem He restricted them as punishment. Perhaps He put them in prison when Satan rebelled against Him. 5
It is very significant that the scene of this judgment is “at the great river Euphrates” which flows through the heart of the Middle East. “Both the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers originate in modern-day Turkey. The Euphrates snakes through Syria, flows straight through the center of Iraq, and then joins the Tigris before emptying into the Persian Gulf.” 6 Much of the book of Revelation revolves around the nation of Israel and its surrounding nations.
“The four angels bound at the Euphrates may be the spiritual powers of wickedness that stand behind four nations that will oppose God and His people during the coming Tribulation. Today the nations directly associated with the Euphrates River are Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. We can’t be sure what nations will exist in the future, but it may be that political borders before or during the Tribulation will change… Their power to influence the world may be limited today, but during the Tribulation the divine restraints will be lifted.” 7
The release of these four angels to execute this judgment will take place in God’s time for a specific “hour and day and month and year” (9:15). Notice that even the judgments directed by Satan are carried out under God’s authority.For over a period of thirteen months these angels will “kill a third of mankind.”
“The fourth seal (Revelation 6:7-8) resulted in a fourth of the earth’s people being killed. Here a third of the remainder were put to death. These two judgments alone, disregarding all intervening judgments, would account for the death of half the earth’s population. This fact is to be taken literally as it confirms the statement by Daniel (Daniel 12:1) and the words of Christ (Matthew 24:21) that the Great Tribulation will be without precedent and would end in the death of all mankind if it were not stopped by His second coming (Matt. 24:22).” 8
“Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.” (Revelation 9:16). These four angels would lead an “army” of “horsemen” numbering “two hundred million.” Some Bible students think these “horsemen” refer to a massive human army with modern-day weaponry. 9 But I believe these “horsemen” probably refer to the same demons associated with the fifth trumpet judgment (9:1-11). Hitchcock shares five reasons why this army is to be identified as an army of demons:
“First, the unleashing of this army is the sixth trumpet judgment. The fifth trumpet judgment is clearly a demonic invasion of earth, and the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments go together since they are the first two of three terrors’ (Revelation 8:13).
“Second, fallen angels lead this armada just like they do in the fifth trumpet judgment. Thus, since the leaders are four demons, it makes sense that the troops they are leading are also demons (Revelation 9:15).
“Third, the fearsome description in Revelation 9:17-19 fits supernatural beings much better than modern warfare.
“Fourth, there are other examples in Scripture of supernatural armies of cavalry. Horses of fire swept Elijah up to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). Horses and chariots of fire protected Elisha at Dothan (2 Kings 6:13-17). Heavenly horses and horsemen from the celestial realm introduce the reign of Christ (Revelation 19:14). The Lord Himself will return riding on a white horse (Revelation 19:11). It seems logical that Satan would parody the coming of the Kingdom with his own infernal cavalry.
“Fifth, the weapons—fire, brimstone, and smoke—are always supernatural weapons in the Bible, and Revelation associates them with hell four times (14:10-11; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).” 10
This massive demonic army will serve again as instruments of judgment. As with the fifth trumpet, the agents of judgment here are described in terms of horses (cf. 9:7). 11 The combined Allied and Axis forces, at their peak in World War II, totaled about 70 million. 12 An angelic army of 200,000,000 demons is not hard to imagine. 13
The apostle John’s description of this demonic army is just as symbolic as his description of locusts in 9:7-10. Hence, the various elements described here are designed to portray the activity of the army, rather than depict how it will appear. 14
“17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths.” (Revelation 9:17-18). The horses and riders were covered with humanly indestructible red, blue (“hyacinth”), and yellow “breastplates; and the heads of the horses” were like “lions” – fierce and destructive. John declares that “out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone” which describes the extremely destructive nature of their attacks against people. The locusts of verse 10 could only inflict pain, but these demonic creatures have the power to kill, so that they destroy “one third of mankind.” 15
“Fire,”“smoke,” and “brimstone” are natural elements that God used to bring judgment in the past during similar situations (cf. Genesis 19:24, 28). So, the Lord may use them again, or they may represent other agents of destruction. “Plagues” are reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7:14ff; cf. Revelation 9:20; 11:6; 13:3, 12, 14; 15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8; 21:9; 22:18). The repetition of the definite article “the” in the Greek text (tou) denotes that these are three distinct plagues. Together they will cause the largest death toll in human history so far (cf. 9:15). 16
“For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.” (Revelation 9:19). This added description of the horses’ “power” being “in their mouth and in their tails” supports the conclusion that they represent demonic instruments of divine judgment other than natural horses. Some interpreters have suggested they represent modern weapons that shoot both forward and backward like missiles. The locusts had the “power” to hurt people “like scorpions” with “their tails” (9:10), but these horses have “power” to “kill… like serpents” with their “mouths and . . . tails,” which is even worse (cf. 9:15). 17
Catastrophic images may fill our minds as we try to imagine the chaos, confusion, grief, and overwhelming shock that will sweep across the earth at that time. What humans have experienced in natural disasters, military strikes, and terrorist attacks will be completely forgotten in light of these unprecedented events. Considering that a fourth of mankind will be killed during the fourth seal judgment (6:7-8) and another third will be lost to this massive army in the sixth trumpet judgment (9:13-19), we can estimate that over half of the world’s population will be eradicated and sent to meet their Creator and Judge by that time. 18 Nevertheless, many people will survive this blitzkrieg. What will happen to those who live through this onslaught? Will they look to their Maker and repent or change their mind so they can believe in the coming King and enter His coming kingdom on earth (cf. Mark 1:15; John 3:5-16)?
John writes, “20 But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Revelation 9:20-21). These three severe judgments (fire, smoke, brimstone) which resulted in the death of over half of the human population (6:8; 9:15) will not move the remaining unbelievers to “repent of the works of their hands” involving the worship of “idols” and “demons” who were responsible for their sufferings under the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments (9:20). Nor did these remaining unbelievers “repent of their murders or their sorceries.” The Greek word translated “sorceries” (pharmakon) implies the use of drugs. “The English word ‘pharmacy’ comes from it. The Greek word can refer to poisons, amulets, charms, magic spells, witchcraft, or any other object or practice that makes someone susceptible to sin (cf. Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Samuel 28:7; Acts 8:9; 13:8; 19:13-15), and thus could be included as a form of idolatry.”19
“Stupefying and hallucinatory drugs have been associated with sorcery and witchcraft for ages, yielding to their users’ strange visions and hallucinations, which they could interpret as oracles for the guidance of their clients. Also, they divested their users of the control of their own minds, making them easily available for possession and control by evil spirits.” 20
“As difficult as it is to believe, most people living during this awful time of judgment will become even more hardened against God. They will stubbornly hold onto their demon worship and idolatry (9:20). They will refuse to repent from murder, sorcery, immorality, and theft (9:21). In short, the survivors of the first several judgments will close their ears to God’s message of mercy and grace, choosing instead to accept the wrath that will continue to increase in severity.”21
“The anti-God movement in America today is a harbinger of this tragic reality. It used to be that atheists were quiet about their beliefs, whispering here and there. Now, though, atheists and worshipers of false gods are becoming bolder. As Romans 1:21-25 explains, when people possess ample evidence of God’s activity but fail to honor or give thanks to him, He gives them over to the just consequences of their actions. Those consequences come in the form of passive wrath during the church age, in which God’s hand of restraint and protection are removed. But during the tribulation period, His wrath will be active. You can get a lot of stuff without God—money, popularity, notoriety. However, your soul will starve without him, and eventually you will face the Lord’s judgment.” 22
The horrific trumpet judgments which will take place during the last half of the Tribulation period are intended by God to bring unsaved people to repentance so they can get right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. But by that time most of the people living on the earth will be so hardened by sin that they will not turn to the Lord in repentance even though they know their repentance would stop God’s judgments from falling upon them (8:6-9:21).
Today many people know what it takes to escape eternity in the lake of fire – believing in Jesus for everlasting life – but because they love their sin more than the Savior, they refuse to believe in Christ. They would rather enjoy a life of sinful pleasures and then suffer for eternity separated from the One who loved them so much He was willing to die for them so they might live forever with Him in His heaven.
As Christians, we can love our sin so much we refuse to turn from it even though we know it would stop God’s painful discipline in our lives (James 1:14-16). Idolatry is not limited to the end times. It is a twenty-first century challenge that all of us face. What idols are enshrined in our own lives? Is there anyone or anything in our lives that is wooing us away from single-minded devotion to the one true God? Remember that some of these things may not be sinful in themselves; however, if they drive a wedge between us and our righteous Redeemer, they become destructive to our spiritual growth. 22
Take time today to go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to show you anything or anyone that is taking God’s rightful place in your life. Ask your heavenly Father to forgive you and help you break free from their hold on your life.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for this incredible revelation concerning the sixth trumpet judgment that will take place in the last half of the Tribulation period. More shocking than the terrible slaughter of a third of humankind by this demonic army of 200 million horsemen is the hardening of hearts among the people who survive such an onslaught. This makes my heart shudder knowing that their repentance would stop Your judgments from falling upon them. Likewise, many people today know that believing in Christ alone for eternal life would rescue them from an eternity in the lake of fire yet they refuse to believe in Him because they love their sin more than the Savior who died for them so they could have eternal life the moment they believe in Him. O, Father God, please soften peoples’ hearts today so they can escape these horrific judgments in the future. For those of us who are Your children, please help our hearts to be sensitive to Yours. Show us if there is anyone or anything in our lives that is taking Your rightful place. Forgive us for turning to idols instead of to You. Please enable us to break free from their hold on our lives so we may live the lives You created us to live for Your glory. In the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 192.
2. Ibid., pg. 192 cites Grant R. Osborne, Revelation Verse by Verse, Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Bellingham WA: Lexham Press, 2016), pg. 388.
3. Swindoll, pg. 193.
4. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1533.
5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 114.
6. Swindoll, pp. 193-194.
7. Ibid., pg. 195.
8. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
9. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 355 cites Ray C. Stedman, God’s Final Word: Understanding Revelation (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991), pp. 194-195.
10. Ibid., pg. 356.
11. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2389.
12. Constable, pp. 115-116 cites The World Almanac,1971, Edited by L. H. Long (New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1970), pg. 355.
13. Constable, pg. 116, says to “recall J. R. R. Tolkien’s army of Orcs in The Lord of the Rings.”
14. Vacendak, pg. 1533.
16. Constable, pg. 116.
18. Swindoll, pg. 197.
19. Constable, pg. 117.
20. Ibid., pp. 117-118 cites Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 174.
This is the third in a series of videos about the future as recorded in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. This video focuses on the last half of the seven year Tribulation period after the removal of the Church from the earth. Please share this video with those you want to see in heaven.
The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site, http://www.revelationillustrated.com. The music in this video is used with permission from the producers of the video entitled “The Free Gift.”