Living Life Today in Light of Tomorrow (Video)

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

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

Revelation 1 – Part 4

“And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” Revelation 1:13 

While on the island of Patmos, the apostle John heard a trumpet-like voice instruct him to “write in a book” the visions he sees and “send” them to “the seven churches which are in Asia” Minor (1:10-11). Then he writes, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 1:12). As he slowly turned toward this booming voice, the first thing John sees are “seven golden lampstands,” “each holding an oil-burning lamp.” 1 These “seven lampstands,” represent “the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). God intended local churches to illuminate their communities with the light and life of Jesus Christ. 2

“And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” (Revelation 1:13). John’s eyes now focus on the source of this mighty and majestic voice. Standing “in the midst of the seven lampstands” was “One like the Son of Man.” The phrase, “like the Son of Man,” is an expression used in Daniel 7:13-14 referring to the Messiah-God, the Lord Jesus Christ.3 “Son of Man” was a favorite title Jesus used of Himself in the gospels (Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:41; 16:13, 27-28; 17:9, 12, 22; 18:11; 19:28; 20:18, 28; 24:27, 30, 24:37, 39; Mark 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62; et al.). This magnificent “voice” (1:10) that John heard belonged to none other than Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate and final voice to mankind” (cf. Hebrews 1:2). 4

It is extremely noteworthy that the messianic title “Son of Man” is used here in light of the fact that it is a title connected to Jesus in His role as Judge. Jesus said, The Father… has committed all judgment to the Son… and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:22, 27). This title portrays Jesus as “the Son” (God) and as “Man.” Christ is best qualified to judge humanity because He is the God-Man.

 Seeing Christ in His role as Judge is a key element in understanding Revelation.” 5 First, He is seen judging the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:12-3:22) and then He is seen judging the whole earth during the Tribulation (Revelation 6-16). He will also judge Babylonianism (Revelation 17-18), world rulers at Armageddon (Revelation 19:19-21), Satan (Revelation 20:1-3, 10), the whole earth during the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6), the rebellious earth at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-9), and all unbelievers at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). Then King Jesus will live with His people forever on the new earth (Revelation 21-22).

John now sees Jesus in a much different way than He was portrayed in the gospels. This is not the Baby born in Bethlehem Who grew up to preach to the multitudes, heal the sick, and then suffer and die on a cross, and rise from the dead to eventually ascend to heaven. No, this depiction of Jesus is similar to when Christ was transfigured on the mountain before John, Peter, and James (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). It was there that this apostle briefly witnessed the unveiling of Jesus’ glory. Now, near the end of John’s life, he was given a vision of the ascended Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory. 6

We learn what Jesus, the Judge, will be like as John attempts to describe His attributes using symbolism. Jesus was standing amid the churches “clothed” like a Judge with a long robe (“a garment down to the feet”) and a “golden band” around His chest. His robe is “girded” perhaps because the Judge is ready to take action (cf. Luke 12:37; Ephesians 6:14), the “golden band” “possibly foreshadowing His judgment via the golden-banded angels possessing the bowls of wrath” (cf. Revelation 15:6-7). 7

John tells us, “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire.” (Revelation 1:14). “His head and hair” were very white “like wool” and “snow,” signifying His wisdom and longevity as an eternally preexistent Person like the Ancient of Days (God the Father) described in Daniel 7:9. 8 By describing “His eyes like a flame of fire,” John referred to His piercing judgment and all-seeing assessment of the saved and unsaved (cf. Revelation 2:18, 23; 19:12). 9

Next, we learn, “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.” (Revelation 1:15). “His feet” looked “as if refined in a furnace,” so He could walk among the seven churches to purify and correct them (Revelation 2:1), and then trample down the unbelieving when He returns to earth (Revelation 14:19-20). “The figure of heated, glowing bronze feet also connotes strength and stability (cf. Daniel 2:33, 41).” 10 “The brass itself stands for strength, for the immovable steadfastness of God; and the shining, glittering rays stand for speed, for the swiftness of the feet of God to help His own or to punish sin.” 11

Keep in mind that John was living on the island of Patmos at this time. The sound of the ocean waves roaring and beating against the shore would never have been very far from him. 12 When John says Jesus’ “voice” sounded like the mighty rushing “waters,” this meant that the Judge’s authoritative and powerful voice conveyed irresistible orders.

“He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Revelation 1:16).  In Christ’s “right hand” He held “seven stars” which later He tells us represent the angelic messengers to the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). Significantly, Christ held them “in His right hand,” indicating sovereign control and possession. 13 “The hand of Christ is strong enough to uphold the heavens and gentle enough to wipe away our tears.” 14

“Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” by which His judgments are carried out (cf. Revelation 19:11-15; Hebrew 4:12). This type of sword (rhomphaia, also referred to in 2:12, 16; 6:8; 19:15, 21) was used by the Romans in a stabbing action designed to kill. Jesus Christ was no longer a Baby in Bethlehem, or a Man of sorrows crowned with thorns. He was now the Lord of glory.” 15

“His countenance” shown like the unclouded “sun shining in its strength,” a portrait of His holiness as the Judge.Just as the physical sun lights the earth and all its inhabitants, so also does Christ in a spiritual sense. John 8:1-11 records the divine Judge driving the adulterous woman’s accusers away because He has implicitly exposed them. Then in v 12 He calls Himself ‘the light of the world’ for the first time (a reference to the physical sun, as John 11:9 makes clear). As the Judge there is nothing at all He does not bring into the ‘sunlight’ of His countenance.” 16

These brilliant features of Jesus’ appearance all pointed to Him as God (Revelation 1:12-16)! John writes, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.’ ” (Revelation 1:17). Previously during Jesus’ earthly ministry, John laid His head on Jesus’ chest (John 13:25). But now when he sees Jesus’ unveiled glory as the Judge, John “fell at His feet as dead,” depleted of all his strength. This was not an encounter with another man. John was instantly reduced to a trembling sinner lying powerless before the God of the universe! 17

But in all His glory, Jesus had not lost His gentle and kind demeanor. The Lord of glory “laid His right hand on” John to console him. Then He commanded him “not [to] be afraid” because He is the eternal God (“the First and the Last”). He continued, I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18). Another reason John did not need to fear was because Jesusis the resurrected One (“I am He who lives, and was dead, and … I am alive forevermore”), Who possesses all authority over death and the dwelling of the dead (“I have the keys of Hades and of Death”). “Keys” in Scripture are symbols of authority. Therefore, those of us who believe in Jesus do not need to be afraid of hell or even the experience of death itself because Christ holds the keys. For the believer, death is a momentary experience that leads into God’s eternal presence (2 Corinthians 5:8). 18

Three times Jesus uses the words “I am” in Revelation 1:17-18. “I am” recalls Christ’s claims in the gospels (cf. Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20, 35; 8:12, 58; 10:9, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1) and connects Him with Yahweh in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 48:12). The title “the First and the Last” (cf. Isaiah 44:6; 48:12) is essentially the same as “the Alpha and the Omega” (Revelation 1:8), or “the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). All three titles stress the eternal sovereignty of God. 19

Jesus instructed John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19). This verse provides a divine outline of the entire book of Revelation involving the past, present, and future:

 – “Write the things which you have seen.” This refers to the past vision of Jesus in all His glory (Revelation 1).

 – “And the things which are.” This includes the messages to the seven churches about their present conditions (Revelation 2-3).

“And the things which will take place after this.” This section includes the future Rapture of the Church (Revelation 4-5), the Tribulation (Revelation 6-18), the return of Christ to earth with His Church (Revelation 19), the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth (Revelation 20:1-9), the final judgment of Satan (Revelation 20:10), the final judgment of all the unsaved (Revelation 20:11-15), and the new heaven and new earth where King Jesus will live with His people forever (Revelation 21-22).

This outline harmonizes beautifully with the concept that most of Revelation (beginning in chap. 4) is future, not historic or merely symbolic, or simply statements of principles. It is significant that only a futuristic interpretation of Revelation 4-22 has any consistency. Interpreters following the allegorical approach to the book seldom agree among themselves on their views. This is also true of those holding to the symbolic and historical approaches.” 20

Jesus then interpreted some of the symbolic things John had seen: “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20). These symbols were a “mystery” or previously unclear revelations” 21until the Lord Jesus interpreted them for John. Christ explained that “the seven stars” in His right hand “are the angels of the seven churches.” Most likely these are guardian angels over individual assemblies of believers. “Given the data in the Book of Daniel about angels being associated with individual countries (cf. Daniel 10:13, 20-21), the words of Jesus regarding angels and children (cf. Matthew 18:10), and the response to Rhoda about Peter’s angel (cf. Acts 12:15; cf. Hebrews 1:14), local churches probably have angels that guard them and represent them” (see also I Corinthians 11:10). 22

Then Christ tells John that “the seven lampstands” he saw were “the seven churches.” Christ intends for local churches to shine for Him. To do that, Christ will purify and chastise churches to make them more like Him. Otherwise, He may remove their lampstand or witness for Him (cf. Revelation 2:5). How many churches no longer exist today because they failed to repent and get right with God? I am afraid the numbers would be staggering.

The Book of Revelation, instead of being a hopeless jumble of symbolic vision, is a carefully written record of what John saw and heard, with frequent explanations of its theological and practical meanings. Revelation, with assistance from such other symbolic books as Daniel and Ezekiel, was intended by God to be understood by careful students of the entire Word of God. Like the Book of Daniel, it will be better understood as history unfolds. Though timeless in its truth and application, it is a special comfort to those who need guidance in the days leading up to Christ’s second coming.” 23

Only Jesus Christ is qualified to judge all of humanity in the future (Revelation 1:12-20). As the Judge of all the earth, Jesus is also active among local churches today to purify them and prepare them for His return. Are you prepared to face Jesus Christ as your Judge?

The most important way to prepare to face Him is to believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24). Christ promises three things to those who “hear” His promise and “believe” it:

“has everlasting life.” Notice this is present (“has”) tense. The moment a person hears and believes Jesus’ promise of eternal life, he or she “has everlasting life.” You do not have to wait until you die to enjoy eternal life. You can start to experience a personal relationship with the God of the universe forever (John 17:3) the moment you believe in Christ. You can enjoy eternal life twenty-four hours a day for three hundred sixty-five days a year! This gives Christians reason to be filled with joy all the time!

“shall not come into judgment.” Christ guarantees you will never be judged for your sins in the future because you now have eternal life. Christ was already judged for your sins when He died in your place on a cross nearly two thousand years ago. So, there is no need for you to be judged or condemned. You are now God’s beloved child. You bring Him joy when He sees you. He is delighted to be with you.

“has passed from death into life.” Notice that this is past tense. That means death is behind the believer, not before him. It is past, not present or future. Before we believe in Christ, we are living in the sphere of “death.” When God looks at our lives before Christ, all He sees are the evil things we have done (Isaiah 64:6). There is no hint of righteousness in us without Jesus in our lives. Our condemnation by God is total. So, when God looks at our lives before we believe in Jesus, all He sees are the bad things we have done.

But when we believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, we are translated into the sphere of “life.” When God looks at our lives now, He only sees the good things we have done, not the evil. How can this be? Because God has no charge against the believer (Romans 8:33). The believer is justified (“declared totally righteous”) of all things based on his or her faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5). All our sin has been covered by the goodness of Jesus Christ. We are seen by God as completely holy and perfect because of His grace.

If you have believed in Jesus, then you will NOT have to face Him at the Great White Throne Judgment to determine the degree of your punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). After believing in Jesus, you can face Him in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven to determine what if any rewards you will receive from Him (Revelation 22:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10). I think you will agree that this is GOOD NEWS!!!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am astounded by the vision John received of You in all Your glory. Words cannot adequately express the brilliance of Your holiness and majesty. Like John, all of us would fall to the ground like dead people in the presence of Your unveiled glory. You alone, Lord Jesus, are worthy to judge all of humanity in the future. Oh precious, Lord, please remove the veil that blinds the hearts and minds of those who do not believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Please persuade them to trust in You alone so they will not experience the same eternal judgment as Satan in the lake of fire. Use me to share the good news of Your salvation with those Your Holy Spirit has prepared to hear and believe it. Prepare me to face You as my Judge at Your judgment seat to determine what if any rewards I will receive from You. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for hearing my prayers. In Your glorious name I pray, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1.  Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 40.

2. Tony Evans, Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2369.

3. 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.

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. 1499.

5. Ibid.

6. Swindoll, pg. 40.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1499-1500.

8. Ibid., pg. 1500; Walvoord, pg. 164; cf. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 23.

9. Vacendak, pg. 1500; Constable, pg. 23.

10. Constable, pg. 23.

11. Ibid. cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible series (2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 62.

12. Ibid., pg. 24.

13. Ibid.; Walvoord, pg. 164.

14. Ibid., cites Barclay, pg. 63.

15. Walvoord, pg. 164.

16. Vacendak, pg. 1500.

17. Swindoll, pg. 40.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1501.

19. Constable, pg. 25.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Constable, pg. 26.

22. Vacendak, pg. 1501.

23. Walvoord, pg. 164.

Revelation 1 – Part 3

“ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.’ ” Revelation 1:11 

After a very powerful introduction to the book of Revelation climaxing with a quote from the Almighty Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-8), the apostle John transitions to the setting of his first vision of Christ as Judge among seven local churches (1:9-11). Wanting to keep the spotlight on the Lord Jesus, John introduces himself and his situation in a humble and simple manner 1 when he writes, I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island of Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:9). The phrase, “I, John,” introduces a change in speaker, 2 since Almighty God was the last to speak (1:8).

John describes himself as the “brother [in Christ] and companion” with his readers in three things:

“tribulation” or persecution for their faith. The word for “tribulation” (thlipsei) refers to“distress brought about by circumstances.” This mention of “tribulation” is not referring to the coming Great Tribulation leading up to Jesus’ physical return to earth (Matthew 24:21, 29), but to “tribulation” or persecution in general that Christians of every era experience (Matthew 13:21; Mathew 20:22-23; John 16:33; Acts 12:2; 14:22; Romans 5:3; 8:17-18, 35; 2 Timothy 2:12; 3:12). 4 John could help his readers endure suffering because he himself had gone through it as well. Those who have not experienced opposition to their faith are not as capable of empathizing with those who have.

“the… kingdom … of Jesus Christ.” John is referring to the future earthly “kingdom” or rule of Jesus Christ that will be established when He comes back to earth (Revelation 19:11-20:6; cf. Psalm 2:6-12; Zechariah 14:9; Matthew 19:28; Acts 1:6-7; 2 Timothy 4:1). John and his readers will share in this future kingdom.

“the … patience… of Jesus Christ.” The word translated “patience” (hypomōnē) “implies endurance under extreme difficulty, as a beast of burden might endure under a heavy load.” 5 Persevering through persecution and suffering is motivated by the promise of reward in Christ’s kingdom (Matthew 19:28; Romans 8:17b; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 10:35-36; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). Those who faithfully endure for Christ to the end of their lives on earth will share in the privilege of reigning with Him Jesus’ future reign on the earth.

When the Lord reminds these believers (and us) of these three things (tribulation, kingdom, endurance) that they share in, it unites them with a common purpose and perspective amid suffering. Sharing in Christ’s suffering is an essential element in discipleship (Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-24; Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:10; I Thessalonians 1:6; I Peter 2:20-21; 4:12-14).  

John “was on the island of Patmos,” when God gave him this incredible revelation that comprises this last book of the Bible.Patmos is “a small island in the Aegean Sea southwest of Ephesus and between Asia Minor and Greece. According to several early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius), John was sent to this island as a prisoner following his effective pastorate at Ephesus. Victorinus, the first commentator on the Book of Revelation, stated that John worked as a prisoner in the mines on this small island. When the Emperor Domitian died in A.D. 96, his successor Nerva let John return to Ephesus.” 6

The reason John was in this penal colony on Patmos was because of his commitment to proclaim, “the word of God and for the testimony of [about] Jesus Christ.” The Roman Emperor Domitian sent John to this desolate island to silence him.Yet this exile did not silence John.God had bigger plans for His apostle while he was there.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, John “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10a). For John to be “in the Spirit” means he was thinking and functioning spiritually, engulfed in a spiritual framework on the Lord’s Day (the first day of the week).” 7 While under the influence of the Holy Spirit, John’s physical senses are apparently supernaturally suspended as God gives him the visions found throughout this book. 8

While “in the Spirit,” John writes, 10 I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’ and, ‘What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:10b-11).

John heard the clear, penetrating voice of the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ identify Himself as the eternal God when He said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.” “The First and the Last” is a title that belongs to Yahweh, the God of Israel (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12).Because Jesus is God and exists eternally, He can give eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:16; 10:28).No other person has this capability. This is what makes Jesus so unique.

The Lord Jesus instructs John to “write in a book” what he will “see” and then “send it [the book of Revelation] to the seven churches which are in Asia” Minor. The ‘book’ in view was a roll of papyrus made from a plant that grew in Egypt. Normally papyrus scrolls were about 15 feet long.” 9

Each of these seven “churches were an autonomous local church and the order of mention is geographical in a half-moon circle beginning at Ephesus on the coast, proceeding north to Smyrna and Pergamum, then swinging east and south to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 10

Why did the Lord choose these seven churches? The best explanation is that they represent conditions that are applicable to all churches throughout history 11 from which this book could easily circulate. 12

What impresses me the most about these verses is the apostle John’s devotion to the Lord Jesus while he was banished to the island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor to silence him. But John’s love for Christ could not be silenced. Yielded to the Holy Spirit, the apostle was used by God to pen one of the most profound books in the entire Bible about the Lord Jesus Christ and His ultimate triumph over evil.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your Word which cannot be silenced. Thank You for the example of the apostle John and others like him, whose devotion to Jesus could not be silenced, even long after they have died. May each of us look up to You in prayer so we can speak up for Christ when others try to shut us up. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 36.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 18 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series, Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 75.

3. 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. 1498.

4. Swindoll, pg. 37; Constable, pg. 19.

5. Ibid.

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), pg. 164.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2369.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1499.

9. Constable, pg. 20 cites Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1912), pg. 30.

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

11. Evans, pg. 2369; Swindoll, pg. 38.  12. Constable, pg. 20 cites Robert Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 93-94.

Celebrated not condemned

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

I was drawn to a favorite verse today in the book of Zephaniah in the Old Testament. If you are like me, you may struggle with shame. I’m not talking about true shame. True shame is that feeling of disgrace or embarrassment when we have sinned. This is what Adam and Eve experienced when they disobeyed God in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7-8, 10). All of us experience this kind of shame because all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).

But what I am talking about is false shame which can be at the core of our being. False shame is that same feeling of disgrace or embarrassment about our personhood, not our actions. We can actually experience shame when we have done nothing wrong, but because of the actions of others we are ashamed. False shame says, “because of what was done to you, you are now bad,” or “this happened to you because you are bad.” For example, a child who was verbally or sexually abused may internalize what was done to him or her and conclude, “I am bad because that happened to me.” Or “because I am bad that was done to me.”

True shame says, “I have done wrong.” But false shame says, “I am wrong.” Do you see the difference?  

When talking about false shame, we may believe deep down inside us that we are unacceptable or worthless before God. We may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but we do not believe it nor experience it in the deepest part of our being. Deep down we think we have to earn God’s love or that God would never love us as we are.

Shame-based lies keep us from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” “I don’t have what it takes to be a God-honoring child of God.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another.

Our verse in Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zephaniah 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zephaniah 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

In the future, after King Jesus defeats all His enemies at the end of the Tribulation period (Zephaniah 3:15; cf. Revelation 19:11-21), He will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (Zephaniah 3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (Zephaniah 3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

Let’s get more personal in our application of this verse, especially as it relates to false shame. King Jesus has the “mighty” power to “save” us from shame-based memories or feelings from trauma in our past so they do not invade our present relationships, especially with those we care the most about. King Jesus “rejoices” over us, He does not reject us. He delights in us, He does not despise us. We bring King Jesus pleasure, not pain simply because we are His beloved children through faith in Him for everlasting life. King Jesus will “quiet” or calm us with His passionate “love” for us! His great love for us cannot be contained, but bursts into joyful celebration and “singing” over us.

King Jesus wants to celebrate us, not criticize or condemn us. He wants to delight in us, not despise us. Christ loves us, He does not loathe us. King Jesus rejoices over us, He does not reject us. He sings over us, He does not shame us.

Some of us are running from this false shame inside us. We stay busy to avoid these feelings of shame. We seek different coping behaviors to medicate our shame and fear inside us. They seem too overwhelming for us to face. But please hear me. Jesus wants to quiet your soul with His radical love. He wants us to stop running and rest in His loving presence.

For some of us, this may seem very disturbing because we have listened to shame-based lies all our lives. And if we slow down, we may start to feel unwanted emotions that we have buried under layers of self-protection. But King Jesus wants to walk with us through these painful emotions or memories to bring healing and restoration to our lives.

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us (John 3:16; Ephesians 3:17-19; I John 4:9-11). We are His beloved. We are His delight. We are His precious possession by virtue of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be our true selves in the presence of God and other people.

Take a moment to picture in your mind what kind of look Jesus has on His face when His eyes are fixed on you. Does He have a look of anger and disapproval toward you? Does He look apathetic or distant? Or does He have a look of delight and love? Is He celebrating you by rejoicing and singing over you? If it causes you discomfort to picture the look on Jesus’ face, ask the Holy Spirit to help you see Jesus the way Zephaniah describes Him in our verse today. Christ can do this in your life through the Holy Spirit’s application of His Word and through Christlike believers who are overflowing with His love.

Prayer: Hallelujah, Lord God Almighty! Thank You for Your unchanging and everlasting Word. By Your Holy Spirit, please renew my mind this day as I focus on Your truth so I may see myself more as You do – as a beloved and prized child of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Please quiet my heart with Your radical love for me. Please enable me to see that You celebrate me, You do not criticize me; You delight in me, You do not despise me; You love me, You do not loathe me; You rejoice over me, You do not reject me; You sing over me, You do not shame me! Thank You my Lord and my God for showing me that I do not need to perform or work to earn Your love. Therefore, I will not seek to earn anyone’s love, because Yours is more than enough. Please fill me with more of You and the worth You alone can give to me so I am not threatened by what others say or think of me. Thank You King Jesus. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

5. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

7.  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. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

9. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How will you respond to Christ crucified? Part 4

2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands.” John 19:2-3

The Bible tells us, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18). The cross of Christ does not make sense to the unbeliever.

“What would you think if a woman came to work wearing earrings stamped with an image of the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima?

“What would you think of a church building adorned with a fresco of the massed graves at Auschwitz? . . .

“The same sort of shocking horror was associated with the cross and crucifixion in the first century.” 1

We are learning from John 18:28-19:3 how various people respond to Christ crucified. Some of us are…

– Like the Jewish leaders, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because of our self-righteous religious pride (John 18:28-32).

– Like Pilate, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because we are too busy with life to truly live (John 18:33-38a).

Similar to Barabbas, we believe in Jesus’ death for our freedom (John 18:38b-40).

There is a fourth possible response to Christ crucified and it is seen at the beginning of John 19. LIKE THE ROMAN SOLDIERS, WE MAY REFUSE TO BELIEVE IN JESUS BECAUSE WE ARE NOT CONCERNED ABOUT ETERNAL THINGS (John 19:1-3). Although the Jewish leaders sought the death penalty for Jesus (John 18:31), Pilate recognized Jesus had done nothing deserving of execution (John 18:38). In Chapter 19, John continues the account of Jesus’ trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate wanted to release Jesus but he did not want to offend the Jewish leaders who were determined to put Jesus to death. The trial of Jesus before Pilate was rapidly reaching a crisis that Pilate wanted to avoid. In an effort to satisfy the Jews, Pilate ordered that Jesus be flogged. “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” (John 19:1).

Pilate may have done this thinking that once the Jews saw Jesus in such a beaten state, they would ask for His release. But what is a scourging? Is it merely a beating with a whip? To make such an association is like comparing an electric shock to a lightning bolt.

“Scourging was a standard preliminary to a Roman execution. Only women, Roman senators, or soldiers (except in cases of execution) were exempt. The victim was stripped, bound to a post, and then beaten with a short whip, or flagellum, made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone. Jewish law limited scourging to thirty-nine strokes (M. Makkoth 3:10). Because this was a preliminary to execution, care was taken not to kill the victim. Yet suffering under the scourge was intense. Josephus tells of a man whose bones were laid bare by scourging (Jewish Wars 6.303-4). Eusebius reports of how veins, arteries, entrails, and organs were exposed to sight by the scourge (Historia Ecclesiastica 4:15).” 2

The scourging should have satisfied the bloodthirsty mob, but it only incited them to greater demands. “And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe.” (John 19:2). The soldiers decided to enjoy a few laughs at Jesus’ expense. Because He claimed to be King of the Jews (John 18:33-37), they decided to mock Him. They “twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head.” These thorns remind us of “the curse of thorns caused by human sin” 3 (Genesis 3:18). Christ would bear this curse as He hung on the cross.

The soldiers also placed a “purple robe,” normally worn by military officers or men of high rank, on Jesus. “Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands.” (John 19:3). They mocked Jesus as they greeted Him with the words, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they became physically abusive and struck Jesus with their hands. Matthew and Mark also report that they hit Jesus on the head with a stick and knelt before Him and spat on Him (cf. Matthew 27:30; Mark 15:19). Though Pilate and the soldiers no doubt thought they were merely exercising the might of Rome over a simple Jew, they were actually fulfilling biblical prophecy about the Messiah in detail” 4 (cf. Isaiah 50:6; 53:5).

While this mistreatment of Jesus is repulsive to us, we have also observed similar experiences in the news where prisoners in America are brutally treated by law enforcement officers or prison guards. But before we condemn them, we need to ask ourselves what we would do if we were in a similar situation. For example, if someone had killed our co-workers, would we want to avenge their deaths? Or if someone sought to kill us, would we be all calm and collected or would we want to retaliate?

These Roman soldiers did not deliberately reject Jesus like the Jewish leaders did. They probably were not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures that pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel. Like a lot of people today, they were not religious. Their job required them to scourge and crucify prisoners often. Perhaps they were simply having fun to decrease the monotony of their profession. Or maybe they were trying to distance themselves from the human suffering they were causing to their prisoners much like a doctor or nurse that works in an emergency room dealing with constant trauma. They must distance themselves emotionally from those for whom they provide medical care.

Perhaps you can identify with Roman soldiers who were not interested in eternal matters, but who were simply living for their jobs and trying to have some fun at the same time. It is important to understand “that the issue is not, ‘Is there a hereafter?’ The real issue is, ‘Is Jesus Christ the One He said He was?’ Why? Because Jesus Christ is the One who spoke more about heaven and hell than any other man in the Bible.

“He spoke about heaven when He said, ‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1-3). He spoke about hell when He said, ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28).” 6

So if you do not believe there is a hereafter, please realize that Jesus Christ believed there was a hereafter and the Bible explains that Jesus is “the way” to that hereafter (John 10:9; 14:6; Acts 4:12). But if Jesus Christ was not who He said He was, what He taught about the hereafter does not matter.

“Once again, we are brought face to face with the resurrection – the one thing on which Christianity stands or falls. The challenge anyone faces, therefore, who denies there is a herafter is the challenge of disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only if the resurrection is disproved can the teachings of Christ about the hereafter be ignored.” 7

But the resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of history. A former persecutor of Christianity writes in the Bible, 3 That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.” (I Corinthians 15:3-6). The proof that Jesus rose from the dead was that He was seen alive after His death by over five hundred eyewitnesses. This is more than enough evidence to stand up in a court of law.

Just as history proclaims that George Washington was the first President of the USA, so history proclaims that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. Just ask former atheists, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, who 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 check out the evidence that persuaded them to believe in Jesus in their books (McDowell – The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict 1999/The Resurrection Factor 1981; Strobel – The Case for Easter Revised 2013).

You may not care about the hereafter because you do not view heaven as a very exciting place. For example, George Bernard Shaw, once explained, “Heaven as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, and so miserable that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seashore.” (~ Harlan D. Betz, Setting the Stage for Eternity) 8

Don’t go by your perception of heaven. Go by the explanation the Bible gives. 1 Then I saw a new earth (with no oceans!) and a new sky, for the present earth and sky had disappeared. 2 And I, John, saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. It was a glorious sight, beautiful as a bride at her wedding. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, ‘Look, the home of God is now among men, and He will live with them and they will be His people; yes, God Himself will be among them. 4 He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever. 5 And the One sitting on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new!’ And then He said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true: 6 It is finished! I am the A and the Z—the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty the springs of the Water of Life—as a gift!” (Revelation 21:1-6 TLB).

Every molecule, atom, proton, and neutron in existence today will disintegrate only to be replaced by a glorious new creation… The idea that God will make everything new may seem too spectacular to be true, but He says this promise is indeed faithful and true (21:5). His people will experience complete satisfaction in the new creation, symbolized here by the metaphor of thirst being quenched from the spring of the water of life (21:6). The refreshing satisfaction of downing a cold glass of water when you’re parched is nothing compared to the spectacular satisfaction to come.” 9

Would you like to live forever in a perfect, problem-free place called heaven? If so, understand that Jesus Christ is the only way to get there (John 10:9; 14:6). You may ask, “Why?” Because only Jesus Christ has paid the price of admission into His heaven when He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30).

You may ask, “Why did Jesus have to die for me?” Because the Bible tells us that our sin – the wrong things we do, say and think – separate us from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23). In fact, if we were to pay the price for our own sin, we would spend eternity in a terrible place called the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). But Jesus loved us so much that He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

The Lord Jesus now invites you to trust in Him alone for His gift of eternal life. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). This requires faith and humility on your part. Faith to believe that God really loves you and will give you eternal life, and humility to admit that He is God and you are not.

As a drowning person must trust a lifeguard to save them through no effort of their own, so you must place your trust in a Person – Jesus Christ – as your only way to heaven. The good things you have done will not get you to heaven. Only Jesus can save you from your sins. The moment you place your trust in Him for eternal life, you can be certain that you will live with Jesus forever in His glorious heaven.

Prayer: God, some of us reading this today may have thought that this life on earth is all there is. Like the Roman soldiers, we may not have cared about Jesus Christ or the hereafter. We were more interested in living for our jobs and having a good time. But now we are beginning to wonder if that is the best way to approach life on earth. What if this person called Jesus of Nazareth really did claim to be God? What if it is true that He loves me and died in my place on a cross and rose from the dead, proving that He really is God? What if He is preparing an incredible place for those who believe in Him to live with Him for all of eternity? Do I really want to risk missing out on all of that? As best I know how, God, I am asking You to show me if Jesus Christ is the real deal? Thank You.

To learn more about Jesus, please explore this website or www.knowing-Jesus.com.

ENDNOTES:

1. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: New International Commentary on the New Testament series, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), pg. 68.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 337-338; cf. William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus,” The Journal of the Amerian Medical Association 255 (March 21, 1986): 1457.

3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. pg. 688.

4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1821.

5. Adapted from Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)” at www.Bible.org.

6. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1108.

7. Ibid.

8. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 2012), pg. 304.

9. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pp. 2420-2421.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 1

All of us have experienced failure in our lives. Perhaps you embarrassed yourself by forgetting the name of the person you were talking to or the friend you meant to introduce. Maybe you missed the catch for the final out in a baseball game or you forgot the crucial line in a school play. Some of us may have lost a wedding ring or engagement ring never to be recovered. After making a mistake, how do you respond? Did you beat yourself up? Did you feel remorse or apologize, if applicable? Or do you blame someone else for your mistakes? How long does it take you to get over a mistake?

As we talk about making mistakes, I am reminded of a conversation between a pastor and a lawyer. The pastor asked the lawyer, “Sir, do you ever make mistakes in pleading?” “I do,” replied the lawyer. “And what do you do with mistakes?” inquired the pastor. “Why, I mend them, if large ones. If small ones, I let them go. And I pray, sir.” The lawyer continued by asking, “Do you ever make mistakes in preaching?” “Yes, sir, I have,” replied the pastor. “What do you do with your mistakes?” asked the lawyer. “Why, sir, I dispose of them in the same manner as you do. Not long ago when I was preaching, I meant to observe that the devil was the father of liars, but I made a mistake and said the father of lawyers. The mistake was so small that I let it go.”

All of us have experienced failure in our Christian lives. That is a reality. How we respond to failure can determine the direction we move from that point on. We can move forward or backward in our Christian lives.

Starting today, we are going to look at two kinds of responses to Christ crucified in John 18:13-27 over the next few days. One response will teach us about failure – factors that contribute to it and how to overcome it. The other response will teach us about how to handle the hatred of religious people toward Christ crucified. The events of John 18:13-27 are like a drama presented on two stages. Stage one is presented first (John 18:13-14) while the action on stage two takes place (John 18:15-18). Then the action shifts back to stage one (John 18:19-24) and then returns to stage two (John 18:25-27).

In these verses we are going to discover some things that took place during the final hours of Jesus’ life before He was crucified. Christ has already been arrested by the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards (John 18:12). He now must face the first of six trials. Three would be religious trials: one before Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23), one before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57-68), and one before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 27:1-2). And there would be three Civil Trials: One before Pilate (John 18:28-38), one before Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and one before Pilate (John 18:39-19:1). 1

“And they led Him away to Annas first, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was high priest that year.” (John 18:13). After Jesus was arrested by the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple officers, He was led back across the Kidron Valley into the city of Jerusalem to appear before the religious authorities. It seems as though there are two high priests in this section (cf. John 18:13, 19, 24). But understanding the historical background will help to explain this observation.

According to the Mosaic Law, the high priest was the most important member of the Jewish community because he was the only one authorized by God to offer sacrifices for the sins of the community on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16).

According to Jewish law, the high priestly office was to be lifelong and hereditary. But during King Herod’s rule, the high priest was frequently dismissed and replaced because the Romans didn’t like the concentration of power in one person.

But because the Jews believed the office of high priest was lifelong, the high priest retained a good measure of power and prestige among the Jewish population even after removal from office. 3  Such was the case with Annas. He “had been appointed high priest by Quirinius, governor of Syria, in A.D. 6 and remained until he was deposed by Valerius Gratus, procurator of Judea, in A.D. 15. According to the Jewish law the high priestly office was for life, but the Romans did not like the concentration of power in one person so they frequently changed high priests.” 4

Because the office of high priest is lifelong, it is not surprising that the matter of Jesus’ arrest and trial was first brought to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest officially recognized by the Roman authorities. Annas was a very powerful man. So great was his influence that eventually five of his sons, as well as his son-in-law and grandson, became high priests. 5  The Jews virtually regarded him as a high priest, although Caiaphas held the title officially.

Annas was also very wealthy. He owned the famous Bazaars of Annas, which ran a monopoly on the temple sale of animals for sacrifices and the stalls of the money-changers. 6  Twice Jesus had cleansed the temple, once at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22) and again at the end of His ministry (Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-47). From the day of the first cleansing of the temple, Annas hated Jesus. Now at last he has Jesus in his power.

To Annas “was the task assigned of the preliminary hearing of the urgent case under consideration. This preliminary hearing took place in one of the apartments of the high priest’s palace, a large building surrounding a central court, designated for the uses of Annas, whose residence was in another part of the city, between the Tyropoean valley and the upper city.” 7

Ironically, the Jewish religious leaders begin to break law after law with their various trials even though they are trying Jesus for not keeping the law. “Some of the main problems with the trial of Jesus include the following.

“1. There Was No Possibility Of A Fair Trial. To begin with, the Sanhedrin should have never held the trial. They had plotted to kill Jesus ahead of time. Consequently they were hardly in a position to render a fair verdict as to his guilt or innocence. This is especially true of the High Priest Caiaphas. He is the one who said that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the entire nation. The High Priest was the supreme judge in Israel. It was his responsibility to see that a person be given a fair trial. At the very least, he should have not participated in trial in any manner. Yet he was the driving force behind the arrest and trial of Jesus. Therefore there was no possibility that Jesus could have been given a fair trial.

“2. A Capital Trial At Night Was Illegal. It was illegal to try capital cases at night. By doing so the Sanhedrin broke the law. When a person’s life was at stake the trial could only be held during the day.

“3. They Should Not Have Looked For Witnesses After The Trial Started. According to Jewish law, a trial starts when witnesses come forward to testify. The Sanhedrin should not have gone out to look for witnesses. The witnesses come first, then the trial.

“4. They Should Not Have Looked For False Witnesses. Not only should the Sanhedrin have not looked for witnesses, they certainly should not have looked for false witnesses if Jesus were to be given a fair trial. The verdict, of course, was never in doubt.

“5. The False Witnesses Should Have Been Punished. Since the Sanhedrin knew the testimony of the witnesses was false, these witnesses, according to Jewish law, should have been punished. The fact that they were not is another illegality.

“6. The Judgment Should Have Been Delayed Till Next Day. In capital cases, judgment was to be delayed until the next day. The fact that they pronounced judgment immediately is another sign of the illegal nature of the trial.

“7. There Is Not Supposed To Be A Trial On Day Before The Sabbath Or Before Holy Days. Since the judgment in a capital case could not be rendered until the next day, it was illegal to try someone on the day before the Sabbath or before some holy day. During the Sabbath day or holy day there could be no legal meeting of the Sanhedrin. Consequently the timing of the trial was also illegal.

“8. They Never Considered Jesus’ Testimony. There is also the problem of Jesus’ testimony. When Jesus was put under oath he acknowledged that he was the Messiah – the promised Deliverer. This admission of Jesus was what caused the Sanhedrin to cry out that he was guilty of death. However, they never stopped to consider the possibility that Jesus was telling the truth. There was not the slightest interest in attempting to find out whether Jesus may indeed be the promised Messiah. There was no evidence that was allowed to be given on Jesus’ behalf and they weighed no evidence before making their judgment.

“Conclusion: When all the facts are weighed it becomes clear that those who tried Jesus on that night were not interested in giving him a fair trial. The verdict had been determined ahead of time. They only went through the motions of the appearance of a fair trial. Jesus was illegally and wrongfully tried… Therefore when all the facts are considered we conclude that Jesus’ trial was the greatest injustice in all of history.” 8

When you study the trials that Jesus faced, Christ looks more and more innocent and those who were trying Him looked more and more guilty. These were trials that proved the innocence of the accused and the guilt of the accusers. They were unfair in every way. Yet John informs us in the next verse, “Now it was Caiaphas who advised the Jews that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.” (John 18:14). The apostle alludes to Caiaphas who unknowingly prophesied that Jesus would need to die for the people. This verse indicates what can be expected as the outcome of the trials. The outcome was certain. Events would lead rapidly to Jesus’ death. It is doubtful Caiaphas meant spiritual benefits “for” the people, but rather political and monetary benefits “for” the nation’s leaders. Nonetheless, God was in control and would use these unfair religious and civil trials to bring about the means of salvation through the death of His Son.

Do you get upset when life is unfair like this? When things are not handled fairly there is something inside us that stirs our anger. Especially those of us who have grown up in America. There is something about the American spirit, the Bill of Rights, and all those things that just burns us up when life is not fair. But notice that God took an unfair trial, held by unrighteous people, and used it to accomplish His perfect will – Jesus going to the cross to die for our sins. We can easily get so focused on what is fair in America that we conclude that God has lost control. We need to remember that somebody can treat us unfairly but it doesn’t keep God from treating us righteously. 

This leads to our first principle: We can overcome religious hatred when we REALIZE LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR, BUT GOD ALWAYS IS (John 18:13-14). Let’s not forget this. The truth is life is not fair. Jesus did not deserve to be on trial. He lived a perfect life on earth because He was and is God (John 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18; I John 5:20). If life was not fair for the perfect Son of God, why would we expect life to be fair when we are imperfect sinners!?!

“The world is anything but a fair place. A young man in the prime of his life is killed by a drunk driver who walks away without a scratch. Drug dealers and pornography peddlers make millions of dollars and live in mansions. A less qualified applicant gets the job. The best runner is tripped from behind by another and loses the race. Our response is, ‘It isn’t fair,’ as if labeling it that way somehow changes things. King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man of all time, understood life’s unfairness when he noted, ‘There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless.’ (Ecclesiastes 8:14).” 9

But we need to remember that when life is not fair, God is always fair toward us. If God is not just, He isn’t God and can’t be in control of everything. If God ever once unfairly disciplined or punished a person, it would disqualify Him as God and mean that He is not in control of everything. We see miscarriages of justice all the time here on earth, but there is never a miscarriage of justice with God. We can never honestly say to God that He didn’t handle something fairly or right.” 10   Why? Because only God has all the information about a situation. He is all-knowing and fair, but we are not. So none of us are in a position to critique the God of the universe.

When the books are not being balanced in this world we need to remember this is not where the books are balanced anyway. Heaven will determine the balancing of the books. 11  God will make everything right in His time. His judgment of the world will be fair. He will judge everyone according to their works (Romans 2:5-11). For the unbeliever, God will judge him or her according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). For the believer in Jesus Christ, God will judge him or her according to their works to determine the degree of their rewards in Christ’s coming Kingdom at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; Revelation 22:12). God will make things right in His time.

Embracing this truth that life is not fair, but God always is, can give us peace when we are treated unfairly. Just as Jesus “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” when He was unfairly treated by His enemies (I Peter 2:23), so we can do the same when we face unjust situations, knowing that God is fair and He will bring our enemies to justice one day (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 20:11-15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You know what it is like to live in a world that is not fair. Sometimes we let that world bring us down. We see how the world tolerates people who embrace its values, but it hates Christians who live out Your values. It is not fair. But You never promised us that the world would be fair to us. Lord, help us not to forget Who You are and Who You want to be in our lives and in our world. Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding us that in the future You will balance the books and bring justice to this unfair world. Knowing this enables us to live peacefully even when we are treated unfairly. Remind us that no matter how powerful human institutions around us might seem or people in our lives might seem, in comparison to You, all human power looks feeble and foolish. You are the Lord that we need. You are the King that we need.  We worship You as the Lord and King. We need You, Jesus. We thank You for being in our lives. In Your powerful name we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pg. 157.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 320.

3. Ibid.

4. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition.), pp. 682-683.

5. Laney, pg. 321.

6. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), pp. 573-575.

7. Ibid.

8. Don Stewart’s article, “Did Jesus Receive a Fair Trial?” at https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_250.cfm.

9. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pp. 83-84.

10. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe about God: Knowing God for Who He Really Is (David C Cook, 2017 Kindle Edition), pg. 86.

11. Tom Holladay’s sermon on Wednesday, July 17, 1996, entitled, “Jesus on Trial.”