“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” I John 2:28
In I John 2:28, the apostle John introduces a new theme of having “confidence” before the Lord Jesus “at His coming” to motivate his readers to continue to cultivate fellowship or intimacy with Christ despite the increase in false teachers or “antichrists” (2:18-27). 1 The Greek word translated “confidence” (parrēsia) refers “to a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank.” 2 John will focus on how to have boldness at the prospect of Christ’s coming throughout the body of this epistle (2:29-4:19). 3
Verse 28 is known as “a Janus that looks in two directions: backward to summarize the preceding section” 4“and forward to introduce the following section. Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings who supposedly guarded portals. He had two faces, one on the front and the other on the back of his head. The month of January gets its name from him. It is the month in which we look backward on the past year and forward to the new year.” 5
John has looked back at his readers’ spiritual advancement (2:12-14), and he has warned them of enemies to their fellowship with God: personal sin (1:5-2:11), the enticements of the world (2:15-17), and the Devil and his false teachers (2:18-27). Now John looks forward at how to prepare to have boldness before Jesus at His imminent coming (2:28-4:19). The Greek phrase translated “that when He appears” (hina nean phanerōthē), is a third-class condition about the coming of Christ which could take place at any time. 6Itemphasizes the fact of Christ’s coming, even though the time of it is indefinite. 7
The apostle John expected the return of Christ in his lifetime when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (2:28). This expectation of Jesus returning at any moment in one’s life is called imminency and is common throughout the writings of the New Testament authors (Matt. 24:42-44; Luke 12:37-39; John 14:1-3; Acts 20:31; 1 Cor. 1:8; 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10-12; 4:15-17; 5:2-10; James 5:7-9; I Pet. 1:13; Jude 1:21; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:2-3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12, 17, 20).
As we look back at the Year 2022 and prepare for the New Year tonight, those of us who believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life can also expect Him to return at any moment in our lifetime. Even though eternal life is a free gift which can never be lost (John 4:40-14; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; Rom. 6:23b; Ephes. 1:13-14; 2:8-9), the New Testament makes it clear that every believer must give an account of his or her Christian life at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10) which takes place after the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth.
It is important to understand that the New Testament speaks of two different judgments separated by the Millennium or one-thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth. The first judgment is for believers in Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ which takes place in heaven after the Rapture of the Church (Rev. 4:1-4; cf. Rev. 22:12; John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; 2 Cor. 5:10; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11). The second judgment is for nonbelievers after the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10), and it is called the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).
Those who appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) are judged “according to their works,” not according to their faith or the lack thereof. Since every person is judged “according to their works” at both these judgments, there will be differing degrees of punishment for nonbelievers in the lake of fire as determined by the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers as determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:25-27; 4:1-4; 22:12).
In I John 2:28, the apostle John has the Judgment Seat of Christ in mind when he writes, “that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” It will be possible for transformed Christians (3:2-3) to experience shame before the Lord Jesus when He evaluates both the “good or bad” things we have done in our Christian lives (2 Cor. 5:10). Keep in mind that Revelation 21:3-6 which speaks of their being no more more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, takes place after the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rev. 4:1-4) and the Millennium (Rev. 20:1-10). In our transformed bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:2), we will probably be more sensitive to sin because our sin nature will be gone along with its excuses and rationalizations for sin (I John 3:2-3). We will have a greater capacity to feel holy shame over sins that we committed on earth.
How can we reduce our shame and increase our boldness (“confidence”) before the Lord Jesus at His Judgment Seat? John instructs us to “abide in Him” (2:28a). Again, John refers to fellowship with God using the Greek verb menō (“abide”) which has already occurred 10 times in 2:6-27. “(John used menō 66 of the 112 times it occurs in the New Testament: 40 in John, 23 in 1 John, and 3 in 2 John.) In accord with his basic theme about fellowship (1 John 1:3), John once more enjoined the ‘abiding’ life.”8
The believer who abides in fellowship with God, who seeks to walk in the light as God is in the light and obey His commands (1:5-9; 2:3-11; 3:24) during his or her Christian life, will “have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” But for the Christian who has not been abiding in Christ during his or her Christian life, there will be less confidence and more shame before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
“Yes, there will be shame at this time for His children who have lived their lives for the flesh and in the flesh. Does this threaten their eternal destiny? No. No more than you may be more proud of some of your children than others. Maybe one of your children has taken the gifts he has been given, worked hard to develop them, and is doing something productive with his/her life. You are proud of that child, and rightly so. Perhaps another child even more gifted has buried his gifts in the sand, has not worked hard to develop his God-given abilities, and is not doing anything productive with his life. Of that child you may be ashamed. Is he still your child? Yes, but you probably would not wish to reward him for his slothful life.” 9
The Christian who lacks the “abiding” life will still be in heaven because that was already determined the moment he or she believed in Jesus for eternal life (John 5:24). But they will have less rewards because they did not abide in Christ. That is why John says to confess your sins now. Abide now. 10
Prayer: Father God, as we close out this year (2022) and begin a new year tonight (2023), we pause to confess our many sins to You because You are faithful and just to forgive the sins we confess to You. We want to begin the new year with a clean slate and a clear conscience. We look forward to the day when You come to meet us in the clouds at any moment to be with You forever. May You find us abiding in You at that time so we may have confidence and not be ashamed before You at Your judgment Seat. Please use us to share Your gospel of grace with those who are currently alive and destined for the lake of fire due to their unbelief. May Your Holy Spirit prepare them to hear and believe the gospel so they may also enjoy an eternal life of fellowship with You and receive eternal rewards with which to honor You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 65.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pp. 781-782.
3. 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. 593; 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 3752 to 3762.
4. Constable, pg. 65 cites Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. 4, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Deighton, Bell, and Co., 1883, 1881, 1880, 1884), pg. 457.
5. Constable, pg. 65.
6. 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 205608 to 205629.
7. Constable, pg. 66 cites Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, ch. 6: “The Imminency of the Coming of Christ for the Church,” Fourth ed., (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1991), pp. 108-37.
8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3757.
9. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 135-136.
“7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.” Revelation 20:7-8
The Bible makes it clear that King Jesus’ kingdom will last forever: 1 The prophet Isaiah predicts, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.” (Isaiah 9:7). The angel Gabriel announced Isaiah’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary concerning her Son, “32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33). Loud voices in heaven declared, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15). According to the prophet Daniel, the saints of the Most High God will possess this kingdom forever, “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.” (Daniel 7:18).
If Christ’s Kingdom is eternal and His saints possess it forever and ever, how can Revelation 20 say it only lasts “a thousand years” (20:1-7)? Because the Millennial Kingdom of Christ is only the first thousand years of King Jesus’ eternal reign. The peace and righteousness established by King Jesus during the first thousand years will continue forever without end. King Jesus and His faithful followers will never be dethroned. Satan and his false messiah (the beast) will never regain their thrones. The world will never again be ruled by Satan and his followers. 2 But Satan does not accept defeat easily. He is so full of deceit and pride that he convinces himself he can still overcome King Jesus at the end of Christ’s first thousand-years of His eternal reign.
“7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.” (Revelation 20:7-8). John informs us that “when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison” in the bottomless pit or Abyss. The Devil will resume his strategy of deception and “will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (i.e., all over the earth). 3 Satan’s plan is to “deceive” all nonbelievers represented by the words “Gog and Magog,” and “gather them together to battle” against King Jesus and His people in the city of Jerusalem (“beloved city” – 20:9; cf. Ezekiel 38:11-12). Ezekiel 38-39 informs us that “Gog” (cf. 38:2-3) will be the earthly military leader over this huge army of unbelieving people that Satan will deceive. “Magog” represents the land or nations that Gog is from (Ezekiel 38:2). 4 Here the terms are symbolic of all the enemies of God in general. 5
Even though King Jesus has been reigning perfectly in righteousness for “a thousand years,” the number of nonbelievers who rebel against Christ will “number as the sand of the sea.” 6
“These people will be like people in the first century AD who followed Jesus and applauded His miracles but then yelled, ‘Crucify Him’ before Pilate (Luke 23:21). Such people will follow Jesus outwardly but have experienced no heart transformation. When Satan is released from captivity, he will not force anyone to rebel against Christ. He simply will take advantage of what’s already inside them.” 7
Who are those who follow Satan’s rebellion against King Jesus? If Christ judges all the nonbelievers left on earth after Armageddon at the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats, consigning them to the lake of fire in Matthew 25:31-46, where do the unsaved people with non-glorified bodies come from? Most likely they will come from two different groups:
1. Some will be the infants and children of the unsaved who survived Armageddon and were not confined to the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41) along with their parents because they were below the age of accountability. They enter the Millennium in natural human bodies and eventually will marry and bear children throughout the thousand-year reign of Christ (Isaiah 65:18-25). 8
2. Some will be the offspring of believers who survived the Tribulation and will enter the Millennium in their mortal bodies, able to bear children and repopulate the earth (Isaiah 65:18-25). 9
By the end of the thousand years, the world will be filled with numerous generations of descendants from both groups of Tribulation survivors many of whom believed in King Jesus and have eternal life while many others did not believe in King Jesus and will be vulnerable to Satan’s deception.
Why is Satan permitted to lead one final worldwide rebellion against the Lord? One reason is to demonstrate the incorrigibility of Satan. After one thousand years of imprisonment, the Devil had not changed for the better nor been reformed. The second reason is to demonstrate the depravity or wickedness of humanity. 10 Wiersbe writes, “As final proof that the heart of man is desperately wicked and can be changed only by God’s grace [cf. Jeremiah 17:9]. Imagine the tragedy of this revolt: people who have been living in a perfect environment, under the perfect government of God’s Son, will finally admit the truth [that they hate Him] and rebel against the King!…
“In one sense, the millennial kingdom will ‘sum up’ all that God has said about the heart of man during the various periods of history [dispensations]. It will be a reign of law, and yet law will not change man’s sinful heart. Man will still revolt against God [cf. Genesis 2:16-17]. The Millennium will be a period of peace and perfect environment, a time when disobedience will be judged swiftly and with justice; and yet in the end the subjects of the King will follow Satan and rebel against the Lord. A perfect environment cannot produce a perfect heart.“ 11
Next the apostle John writes, “They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (Revelation 20:9). This massive army of unsaved people are deceived by Satan into believing that victory over King Jesus and His people is possible. During the thousand-year rule of Christ, many people will outwardly conform to Christ’s rulership, but inwardly their hearts will be hardened so that when Satan is released, they will harbor bitter feelings that will be ripe for the Devil’s message of false hope. 12 So, Satan and his massive army go “up on the breadth of the earth” (i.e., “the broad plain” of Palestine) 13 and surround “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” of Jerusalem from which King Jesus and His faithful followers ruled the earth.
The war that Satan masterfully planned never took place. Before a single shot is fired or blasphemous words are uttered, “fire” quickly “came down from God out of heaven and devoured” Satan’s huge army of rebels. 14
Following the destruction of Satan’s followers, “the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10). The fact that “the beast and the false prophet are” still there a thousand years later (19:20) demonstrates that this is a place of conscious torment, not annihilation. 15 The lake of fire is a place of eternal punishment as indicated by the statement, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The “they” refers to the unholy trinity of the “devil… the beast and the false prophet.” When Satan was the heavenly angel named Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:11-15a), he could have remained loyal to God and avoided this horrific, eternal destiny. “But he chose his way over his Creator’s, which is always in every situation, a foolish and costly decision.” 16
It is important to understand that the judgment experienced by individuals in the lake of fire will not be identical. Instead, the judgment a person or demon receives will be in proportion to their sinful works (cf. 20:12-13). 17 In this case, “the devil” is “cast” straight “into” the same portion of the lake of fire as “the beast and the false prophet.” This unholy trinity will receive the worst punishment for their heinous sins which deceived multitudes of people to rebel against God and His promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Jesus taught that “the everlasting fire” was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). It was not prepared for people. The only way people can go to the lake of fire is by choosing the way of Satan. No one goes to hell by accident. 18 Those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life are sending themselves to the lake of fire. God does not send them there. They send themselves there. When a person refuses to trust Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life, they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let us pay for our own sin, through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell or the lake of fire. Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.
Suppose God blessed you and your spouse with a little boy. You love that little boy so much that you’d do anything for him. Forbid the thought, but suppose that when your little boy is 21, he begins a wayward life and eventually murders someone. Your state sentences him to die by lethal injection. Suppose that you could walk into his cell the morning he is to be executed and offer to take his place. That’s how great your love is for him. In so doing, you explain that he can be a free and forgiven man. Much to your surprise, he pushes you aside, walks to the table, and receives the punishment for his horrible crime himself. Did you not love him enough? Would you accept the accusation, “If you really loved your son, you wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”? Hardly! You did not reject him; he rejected you.
Many of us are grieving the tragic school shooting at Uvalde, Texas yesterday (May 24, 2022). This senseless killing of nineteen fourth grade students and two teachers has sent a shockwave across our nation. Amid the sadness, politicians are already using this tragic shooting to boost their views on gun control, as if governmental laws will prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.
Before people will change their behaviors, they must undergo a change of heart. Governments do not change the human heart. Revelation 20:7-10 demonstrates this. Satan was bound for a thousand years, unable to deceive the nations (20:1-3) and King Jesus provided a perfect government to guide the people (20:4-6; cf. Psalm 2:6-9). Much of the world’s temptations were removed. Yet when given the opportunity at the end of the thousand years, unsaved people still rebelled against their good and gracious King (20:7-9). Why? Because the human heart is deceived and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
The world is not getting better. The tragic Uvalde school shooting reminds us of this. You can legislate all the laws you want, but until this country gets God back into human hearts, the brokenness of our society will worsen. It does not help to blame the devil (I Peter 5:8) or the world (I John 2:15-16) alone for all this mess. The depravity of humankind is also responsible (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:9-23).
Only Jesus Christ can cleanse a desperately wicked heart and make lasting and healthy changes within a person. Christ 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). Jesus says to look to Him (not to government, pleasure, possessions, or power) to satisfy our hunger for immortality. Look to Him 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.
The moment we come to Jesus in faith, He makes us a new person inside. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When you are “in Christ” by believing in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, He gives you a new identity, and the past is gone. You’ve got potential because Jesus now lives in you through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:10-11; Galatians 2:20)!!!!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for exposing the sinfulness of our hearts by revealing what happens at the end of the Millennium when Satan is released and leads a final worldwide rebellion against the King of kings and Lord of lords only to be crushed by the Lord. The thousand-year reign of Christ sums up the total depravity of humankind. Despite a thousand years of peace and perfect government led by a perfect King Who judges disobedience swiftly and with justice, in the end people will still follow Satan and rebel against the Lord God. This proves that apart from the transforming grace of God, people are rebels to the very end, even after living a thousand years under a perfect government and a perfect King. Oh Father God, we need You to change our wicked hearts. As the songs says, “Change my heart Oh God, make it ever true. Change my heart Oh God, may I be like You.” In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 359.
2. Ibid., pp. 359-360.
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. 1580.
5. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2418.
6. Vacendak, pg. 1580.
7. Evans, pg. 2418.
8. Vacendak, pg. 1580.
9. Swindoll, pg. 360; cf. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6423.
10. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 226.
11. Ibid., pg. 227 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 620.
12. Swindoll, pg. 361.
13. Constable, pg. 228.
14. Swindoll, pg. 360.
15. Constable, pp. 228-229 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 17-22 Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 1100; cf. Walvoord, location 6444.
“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for the thousand years.” Revelation 20:4
There is a lot of confusion about heaven today. Ask the average Christian and you will get a variety of answers. Yet the Bible clears up a lot of this confusion when we take time to study it. For example, did you know that the Bible says believers in Jesus will experience heaven in three stages?
First, believers will experience heaven with Christ after the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth before the Tribulation starts (I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11). At any moment the Lord Jesus could come for His church to snatch it off the earth to be with Him in the third heaven where God now dwells (Revelation 4:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Following the removal of the church, there will be seven years of terrible tribulation on the earth (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6-19).
Second, following the seven-year Tribulation period, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth and establish His thousand-year earthly kingdom (Revelation 20:1-6).
Third, at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, there will be a new heaven and new earth where believers in Jesus will be with Christ for eternity (Revelation 21-22).
By far, the most is said in the Bible about the second stage, the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ that precedes the new heaven and new earth. We call this earthly reign of Christ the Millennial Kingdom.
In our study of the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ returned to earth from heaven with His heavenly armies to cast the beast and false prophet into the lake of fire and destroy all His human enemies who had gathered to war against Him at Armageddon (19:19-21). Then a mighty angel bound Satan in the bottomless pit so he could not deceive the nations “till the thousand years were finished” (20:1-3).
Next the apostle John writes, “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for the thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4). Once His enemies have been defeated and Satan has been bound, King Jesus finishes His descent to the earth with His heavenly armies to reign on the earth. The “they” (20:4a) refers to the only ones left after John’s vision of the beast, false prophet, and human armies being defeated and Satan being bound – King Jesus and His heavenly armies who accompanied Him from heaven to earth (19:19). 1
The King of kings and Lord of lords is now sitting on His throne in Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 2:6-9; Zechariah 14:1-21). But the Lord Jesus will not be reigning alone for these thousand years. Two groups of people are mentioned reigning with Him in Revelation 20:4. The heavenly armies accompanying Christ to earth (19:14) consisted of angels (Matthew 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9) and faithful church age saints (19:7-8; cf. 2:10, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 10-11; 17:14). These church age believers comprise the first group seated on “thrones” to whom “judgment was committed” (20:4a; cf. I Corinthians 6:2). They have already been resurrected and glorified at the Rapture of the Church (cf. Revelation 4:1-4; I Thessalonians 4:15-17). 2
Jesus told His original disciples, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28). Notice Christ says, “you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones.” Following Christ was necessary for Christ’s disciples to rule with Him in His kingdom. Believing in Jesus for eternal life was necessary to enter Christ’s kingdom (John 3:5-6, 15-16), but following Jesus was necessary to reign with Him in His kingdom.
John expands this idea further in the book of Revelation to include all faithful followers of Christ from the church age. “25 But hold fast what you have till I come. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— 27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’— as I also have received from My Father.” (Revelation 2:25-27). Remaining faithful to Jesus till He comes or “until the end” of one’s Christian life is necessary to reign with Him in His kingdom (cf. 2:25-27; 3:21; 2 Timothy 2:12).
Not all true believers in Jesus keep Christ’s works till the end of their lives, including Jacob’s sons (Genesis 37:20-35), the 250 well-known community leaders (Numbers 1:16; 7:1-9:14; 16:2-3, 11, 30-32; Deuteronomy 1:11-15; Exodus 14:31), King Saul (I Samuel 10:1, 6-11, 24; 116; 12:14, 25; 13:13-14; 15:24-25; 18:21, 29; 19:9; 22:17-18; 24:16-21; 26:21, 25; 28:3, 6, 15; I Chronicles 10:13-14), King Solomon (I Kings 1:1-12:33), the kings of Israel and Judah (Rehoboam – I Kings 12:6-14:24; 2 Chronicles 11:13-17; 12:1-14; 13:7; Jehu – 2 Kings 9:1-10:36; Joash – 2 Kings 12:2; 2 Chronicles 24:1-24; Amaziah – 2 Kings 14:3-4; 2 Chronicles 25:2-27; Azariah – 2 Kings 15:3-5; Uzziah – 2 Chronicles 26:4-20; Asa – 2 Chronicles 14:1-16:12), Balaam (Numbers 22:7-24:16; 31:16; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 13:12; Micah 6:5; Nehemiah 13:2; 2 Peter 2:14-16; Jude 1:5-12), the carnal wilderness generation of Israelites (Deuteronomy 1:35; Exodus 4:31; 14:31; Jeremiah 2:1-3; Psalm 78:8; I Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 3:7-11), Lot (2 Peter 2:7-9; cf. Genesis 13:12-13; 18:23-32; 19:8, 33), Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24), the carnal Corinthian believers (I Corinthians 1:1-11:30), the carnal Christian readers of Hebrews (Hebrews 5:11-6:8), and the carnal Christian readers of James (James 1:1-5:20). 3 They will be “in” Christ’s kingdom, but they will be “the least” in His kingdom (Matthew 5:19) 4 in that they forfeited ruling with Christ (cf. Matthew 22:1-14; 24:45-50; 25:18-19, 24-30; Luke 19:20-26; 2 Timothy 2:12).
The apostle Paul refers to carnal Christians as those who practice “the works of the flesh” and “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). The New Testament distinguishes “entering” the kingdom from “inheriting” the kingdom. We “enter” the kingdom of God by faith alone in Christ alone (Matthew 18:3; 19:14; Mark 10:15; John 3:5, 15), but we “inherit” the kingdom of God through faithful, sacrificial service and suffering for Christ (Matthew 19:27-29; Romans 8:17b; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21b; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 1:2, 5, 9, 13-14; 6:12, 17; 9:15).
For example, “entering” my house is different than “inheriting” my house. Entrance into my house is free. But if you want to inherit or possess my house, you must pay for it. When you pay for it, then you are entitled to certain privileges or authority. When you inherit my house, you can decide how to arrange the furniture and what colors to paint on the walls. But if you just enter my house, you don’t have those privileges. The same is true in the spiritual realm. You enter the kingdom of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. But you will not have all the privileges or authority that come with inheriting the kingdom. You must earn those privileges through faithful service to Jesus.
Just because Christians have eternal life now which can never be lost (cf. John 3:16; 10:28-29), does not mean they can live however they want on earth without facing any consequences. God wants believers to live like the “saints” that they are (I Corinthians 1:2) by virtue of their position in Christ lest they experience grief and shame because of the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Matthew 25:24-30; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 6:9-10; I John 2:28).
The second group of believers in Revelation 20:4 consists of martyred Tribulation saints “who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands” (20:4b). During the Tribulation period, these believers were not afraid to confess Christ before the beast and his followers (cf. Matthew 10:32-33) and therefore they lost their lives because of “their witness to Jesus and for the word of God” which they obeyed rather than men (cf. Acts 5:29; Revelation 15:2). 5
They obeyed God by refusing to worship “the beast or his image” or by not receiving “his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.” Their devotion to Christ “will be so great that they will choose death over disobedience.”6 When Jesus returns to earth, these Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected (“they lived”), and because they kept Christ’s works until the end (cf. 2:26-28), they will receive authority over the nations and will “reign with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4 c). The Bible clearly teaches that bodily resurrection and kingdom entrance will be experienced by all Old Testament, Church-Age, and Tribulation believers in Christ (both faithful and unfaithful) according to John 6:39-40. But the Bible is also clear that only faithful believers in Jesus will reign with Christ 7 (Revelation 2:25-28; 3:5, 21; cf. Matthew 24:45; 25:16-17, 20-23, 31, 33a, 34; Luke 19:15-19; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:12).
These faithful followers of Christ will be the only rulers over the earth with King Jesus. None of them will be corrupted by deception, “money, greed, pride, or power. Imagine what that would be like. No more political conspiracies in the headlines! No more scandals exposed on the news! No more bribery, quid pro quo, filibustering, waffling, or broken campaign promises!
“The corruption of all earthly governmental systems will be gone forever… The righteous, not the wicked, will be in the majority, and a holy Leader will be in authority.” 8
Those who are subject to their rulership will be unfaithful believers from all periods of history leading up to the Millennium Kingdom along with the offspring of the mortal Tribulation saints who did not die in the Tribulation (Matthew 25:31-46).
“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:5). This verse implies that all who have not been resurrected physically by the time the Tribulation martyrs are resurrected physically, will “not live again until the thousand years” are over. Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29 demonstrate that by this time all who have died possessing eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone are now resurrected bodily and physically. When John states, “This is the first resurrection,” he is explaining what the first resurrection is about without going into specifics. 9
“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6). The phrase “has part in” (ho echōn meros en) can mean “possesses a portion in” and refers to an inheritance reward in the first resurrection that is conditioned on obedience (Revelation 20:4; cf. Colossians 3:23-24), as the remainder of verse 6 attests. 10
The phrase “the second death has no power” or authority over them is best taken as a litotes (an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite) and is clarified by the statement that “they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”11 These resurrected co-rulers with Christ “are as far from being under the authority of the second death as they could possibly be since they themselves have authority as king-priests with Christ.”12
The thousand-year reign of King Jesus with His faithful followers will be the paradise for which the world longs. There will be no war (Isaiah 2:3-4). The lion will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-9). There will be topological changes to the earth. Jerusalem will be changed with new mountains and valleys. A river will flow from Jerusalem to both the Mediterranean and Dead Seas (Zechariah 14:3-9). Deserts will be transformed into gardens; the territory of Israel will be transformed into a place of remarkable beauty reflecting God’s glory (Isaiah 35:1-7). The lifespan of people will increase exponentially as in the early years of the Old Testament (Isaiah 65:20). 13
There will be industry and development (Isaiah 65:21-22). After the terrible Tribulation and Armageddon, much rebuilding will need to be done. There will be time to do things you have wanted to do: other careers, exploring, developing relationships. A renewed earth will more than adequately provide for the world’s population. There will be perfect government and swift justice as King Jesus rules with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:6-9), making no allowance for rebellion. Faithful believers from all ages will have many opportunities to rule with Christ. Since they will have glorified bodies, each person will be perfectly suited to carry out his or her responsibilities. 14 Some will hold positions of authority like Presidents, Governors, Mayors, City Council Members, Judges, Senators, Representative, and the like. There may also be transportation companies, publishers, developers, utilities, entertainment, and sports companies, etc. All these businesses will need people in various levels of management. We can have one of those positions of authority if we live faithfully for the Lord Jesus until we go to be with Him.
The Christian life is like a long, grueling race (Hebrews 12:1-2). You may be running that race God has set before you now. But what about 10 or 20 years from now? Will you keep living for the Lord even when life gets tough? Will you finish strong for Him? Knowing what God has in store for us in the Millennial Kingdom, should motivate us to live for Him until we go to heaven to be with Him. Together, we can finish our Christians lives well for Jesus if we keep our eyes on Him.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You that Jesus Christ is coming back for His church at any moment to snatch us off the earth to be with Him in Your heavenly house. Following the removal of the church, many more people will be saved during the terrible Tribulation period. Together, church age believers and Tribulation believers in Jesus will reign with King Jesus for a thousand years on earth following His return to at the end of the seven-year Tribulation. With great anticipation, we pray and live for Your coming Kingdom on earth when much of the curse will be lifted and life on earth will be what the world has longed for. Please use us to share Your gospel of grace so many more people can enter Christ’s kingdom through childlike faith in Him. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.
1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 355.
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. 1578.
3. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 503-536.
4. Ibid., pg. 520.
5. Vacendak, pg. 1579.
8. Swindoll, pg. 356.
9. Vacendak, pg. 1579.
11. Ibid., pp. 1579-1580.
12. Ibid., pg. 1580.
13. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2418.
“He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” Revelation 20:2
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-19), sin and death entered the world (Romans 5:12). Since that time, we have experienced the devastating consequences of sin. Sin leads to shame, physical and emotional illness, provokes addictions, and destroys marriages and families. Every area of society or culture has been plagued by its sinister influence. Sin corrupts the legal system, destroys governments, encourages corporate greed, erodes economics, encourages wars, and fosters false religion. Sin not only ruins an individual’s life, but it also demolishes communities, countries, and eventually the entire planet. 1
No matter where you look in the world, something is terribly wrong. People of honesty and integrity are taunted as “Boy Scouts.” The economy seems to move along well until we realize it is driven by greed and corruption. The quiet voices of harmonious churches are drowned out by the eruptions of church divisions. The thought of a happy marriage sounds like a myth. The legal system oppresses victims while protecting the rights of perpetrators. 2
Why is the world plagued by sin and its consequences right now? One primary reason is because Satan is currently permitted to rule the earth (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2:2). Originally, God gave His dominion covenant to humankind to rule on His behalf on earth as a reflection of His dominion over all (Genesis 1:26-28). But when Adam and Eve sinned against God (Genesis 3:1-6), the earth was temporarily placed under the dominion of Satan. Only Jesus Christ will be able to defeat the Devil and restore God’s kingdom rule over all 3 (Genesis 3:15; cf. Psalm 2:6-9; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:15-16; Revelation 19:11-20:6).
We must understand that Satan is not some mythical creature created by human imagination. He is a very real and powerful spirit being who holds sway over many aspects of the world. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (I John 5:19). Satan uses the world system’s cultures, societies, economics, educational institutions, politics, and false religions to desensitize people to God and His Word (I John 2:15-17; 5:19; Ephesians 2:2). For the reign of God to be reestablished on the earth, Satan must be removed from his throne. 4
It is true that sin ruins everything – but the day is coming when Jesus Christ will redeem everything. When Christ returns to earth to reign at the end of the Tribulation period, there will be peace on earth, justice for all, strong marriages and families, peaceful relationships, safe communities, moral purity, equal opportunities, and ethical integrity for everyone (cf. Psalm 2:6-9; 72:10-11; Isaiah 2:3-4; 65:20-23; et al.). This will not be the result of educational funding, political campaigning, social programming, cultural awakening, or even religious revivals. True and lasting transformation of the world will only take place when Satan and his followers are dethroned and Jesus Christ and His glorified followers reign over all the earth. 5
Following King Jesus’ defeat of all His enemies and the casting of the beast and false prophet into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:11-21), the apostle John writes, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” (Revelation 20:1). While the King of kings and His heavenly armies are suspended in the air, John saw “an angel coming down from heaven,having the key to the bottomless pit.” The fact that this angel comes “down from heaven” indicates that the binding of Satan is under God’s command. 6
This is not the first time “the key to the bottomless pit” is mentioned in the book of Revelation. In 9:1 a fallen angel is given a key to the bottomless pit to release a demonic army which reaped havoc across the earth for five months (9:2-11). But in contrast to that fallen angel, we see God’s angel in 20:1 doing the exact opposite of what that angel did. “The key” is a symbol of authority in the Bible. 7 Just as a key grants us access to a home, office, or car, this key grants this angelic being access to “the bottomless pit” or abyss. 8 The “chain” signifies that once Satan is locked in the bottomless pit with “the key,” he will be incapacitated for the duration of his time there. 9
“He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:2). Four titles are given for the one to be bound. “The dragon” occurs most often in Revelation (12:3-4, 7, 13, 16-17; 13:2, 4, 11; 16:13) because Satan is violent, cruel, and monstrous in nature. 10 As “that serpent of old” he is crafty and subtle in character (cf. Genesis 3:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:3). The name “Devil” (diabolos) refers to him as a “slanderer”11 or “accuser.” 12 This title for “the evil one would have made a specially strong impact in the first century, for there was a well-known and well-hated figure called the delator, the paid informer. He makes his living by accusing people before the authorities.”13 The title “Satan” (Satanas) depicts him as an “adversary”14 who is opposed to God and His people.
The word “bound” (edēsen) means “to confine with various kinds of restraints,”15 in this context the lock (“key”) to the bottomless pit and “chain” (20:1). Satan will be completely incapacitated for “a thousand years” (20:2). Six times the phrase “a thousand years” occurs in this section (20:2-7) which underscores a key biblical truth in this part of the book of Revelation. The word “millennium” is derived from the Latin words for “a thousand years” (mille = thousand, annus = year). Theologians use this term to reference various interpretations of the “thousand years” in Revelation 20. 16
The most literal interpretation is called Premillennialism, which is the position this author holds, and it “teaches that Christ will return before His thousand-year reign on earth and Satan’s thousand-year binding. Postmillennialism teaches that there will be a thousand-year period of peace and righteousness on earth preceding Christ’s return. Amillennialism teaches that the ‘thousand years’ is not a future era of earth’s history, but a figurative designation for either Christ’s present reign in the church or His eternal reign in the new heaven and new earth.”17 (emphasis added).
Next John writes, “And he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.” (Revelation 20:3). The angel from heaven (20:1) captured and “cast” Satan “into the bottomless pit.” This must have been one powerful angel to capture and cast Satan into the bottomless pit where he “shut him up, and set a seal on him,” which suggests “the angel closed (or locked) the Abyss and sealed it over him”18 so the Devil “should deceive nations no more till the thousand years were finished.” These actions ensure that the Devil will not escape during this thousand-year reign of Christ.
Believers who survived the Tribulation will enter the Millennial Kingdom of Christ without glorified bodies (Matthew 25:31-46) and they will have offspring in mortal bodies during the Millennium who have the conscious choice to sin just like Adam and Eve did before they sinned (Isaiah 65:20; Zechariah 14:16-21; Matthew 5:22). Their sinning will be because of their sinful nature (James 1:13-14), not Satan’s influence. 19
“After” Satan’s thousand-year imprisonment he “must be released for a little while” 20:3b) to lead one final worldwide rebellion against King Jesus (20:7-9) before the Devil (20:10) and all nonbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire forever (20:11-15).
Can you imagine a world in which Satan can no longer deceive leaders, tempt sinners, take advantage of the helpless or weak, including the unborn and elderly, nor corrupt the strong 20 or accuse God’s people of wrongdoing!?! Without Satan exerting his strategies of deception, there will be millions of people coming to faith in King Jesus during His thousand-year reign on the earth! There will be an incredible harvest of souls unlike any other period in history!
May each of us prepare for this unprecedented time of blessing and joy by believing in Jesus Christ for His gift of salvation (Acts 16:31; John 3:5-6, 15-16) followed by praying and living for His coming Kingdom as we put Him first in our lives (Matthew 6:9-10, 33). To Jesus be all the glory!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank You for this glimpse into the future when the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, will be completely incapacitated for a thousand years while King Jesus and His faithful followers rule over the earth. What a glorious time of blessing and joy this will be when Satan can no longer deceive the nations. Please use us now, we pray, to share the good news of Jesus’ grace so many people can believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life and enjoy the incredible blessings of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Editin), pg. 352.
2. Ibid., pg. 353.
3. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 106.
4. Swindoll, pp. 353-354.
6. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1578.
8. Evans, pg. 2388.
9. Vacendak, pg. 1578.
10. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 287 cites Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (London: Pickering and Inglis, [n.d.]), pp. 249-250; Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 136.
11. 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. 226.
12. Constable, pg. 136.
13. Ibid., 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. 161.
14. Bauer, pg. 916.
15. Ibid., pg. 221.
16. Evans, pg. 2417.
17. Ibid. See also the helpful discussion of these different views and their proponents in 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 6314 to 6340.
“And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.” Revelation 19:19
After the beast or Man of Sin rules over the earth the last three and a half years of the Tribulation period (Revelation 13:5), the King of kings and Lord of lords will bring his reign to an abrupt end when He returns to earth1 (19:17-21; cf. Daniel 11:45b; 2 Thessalonians 2:8) with His heavenly armies consisting of faithful church age believers (Revelation 19:7-8; cf. 2:10, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 10-11; 17:14) and God’s angels (cf. Matthew 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Following the description of Jesus Christ and those who will follow Him back to earth at His Second Coming (19:11-16), the apostle John writes, “17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the great supper of God, 18 that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19:17-18). With the beast and the armies of the world gathered at Armageddon (19:19; cf. 16:14-16) and with Jesus Christ and His armies assembled in the sky (19:11-16), John sees “an angel standing in the sun” to command the attention of the world. But instead of calling out to people on the earth, this angel “cried with a loud voice… to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven” or the sky between Christ and His armies, and the beast and his armies.
The angel invites these scavenger birds to “the great supper of God” in anticipation of the vast slaughter of Jesus’ enemies at the battle of Armageddon (19:19-21; 14:18-20; 16:13-16). Jesus predicted this when He said, “27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” (Matthew 24:27-28). The Greek word translated “eagles” (aetoi) means “vultures” in this context. 2
“The great supper of God” is not the same as “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (19:7-9). The marriage supper of the Lamb will be a time of great rejoicing and celebration for Jesus and His bride, the church (19:7-9; cf. 3:14, 20; 21:2, 9; 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32) and will take place following “the great supper of God.” This marriage celebration will last one thousand years on the earth during the Millennial Kingdom following the battle of Armageddon (20:1-6; cf. Isaiah 25:6-9; 35:1-10; 55:12). 3
“The great supper of God,” however, will be a time of great sorrow and judgment. At this supper, instead of eating the food, people will be the food. Five times John uses the word “flesh” (sarkas) when describing this supper (19:18) to emphasize the immense slaughter of humanity when Jesus Christ defeats His enemies at the Battle of Armageddon. Those of “all” classes and statuses – “kings… captains… free and slave… small and great” – will die instantly along with their “horses” from the sharp sword proceeding from King Jesus’ mouth (19:18; cf. 19:15).
Swindoll writes that “one commentator notes that the angel’s pronouncement ‘is gruesome and powerful, guaranteeing before the battle has been joined that the end result is certain. The angel commands all the birds… [using] ironically the same verb in 16:15, 16 for the false trinity “gathering together” the nations for the final battle. At the same time as the evil forces gather for Armageddon, the carrion birds are called to gather for the aftermath of the inevitable slaughter.’”4
Most interpreters take the term “horses” figuratively instead of literally. But I prefer to take these “horses” literally. It is quite possible that modern modes of transportation and modern weapons technology had been destroyed by the many divine judgments and/or nuclear wars throughout the Tribulation so that at the end of the Tribulation the primary mode of transportation was on horseback and weapons included chariots, swords, spears, bows and arrows. This preserves a literal understanding of Bible prophecies which predicted such things for end time battles (Revelation 19:18; cf. 9:7-19; 18:13; Ezekiel 38:1-39:29; Zechariah 12:1-14; et al.).
Faithful believers in Jesus who have not died or been martyred during the Tribulation (cf. 12:13-17; Matthew 24:13) will enter the Millennial Kingdom with mortal bodies and repopulate the earth (cf. Genesis 9:1; Isaiah 65:17-23). 5
Some Bible interpreters believe all nonbelievers will die when King Jesus returns to earth. But Vancendak disagrees: “But in light of the information given by the Lord regarding the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46, it is obvious that there are some unbelievers (who have apparently survived by hiding in elaborate and costly underground bunkers or even caves) that will be brought before Christ for judgment (cf. Matthew 25:32) after He takes His throne. They will be sent, not to Hades, but to the lake of fire: ‘Depart from Me… into the everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41). Of course, they will appear at the Great White Throne. The text simply means that they will have the same fate for the next one thousand years as the Beast and the False Prophet (cf. 19:20). The ‘holding tank’ of this corrupt bunch will be the lake of fire. Though one cannot be dogmatic on this, it seems likely that infants and children still alive after Armageddon who have not reached the age of accountability will enter Christ’s kingdom and eventually repopulate the earth. Some will grow up and believe in Christ and others will not. This accounts for the huge army Satan gathers at the end of the thousand years to war against Christ (see 20:7-9).”6
As the birds of prey gathered, John “saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.” (Revelation 19:19). King Jesus will not return to earth to bring unpredictable judgment against unsuspecting innocent parties. The “beast” or Man of Sin and his allies have deliberately waged “war against” King Jesus “and against His army” (cf. Psalm 2:1-3), and Christ will strike down these wicked foes. 7
Next John records the results of this final battle: “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” (Revelation 19:20). We are not told how or by whom “the beast” and “the false prophet” were “captured.” John simply focuses on the accomplishment of this feat. Their time in power is over because Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20), not the beast who claimed to be God (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4). 8
The false prophet had “deceived” people on earth to receive “the mark of the beast” and worship “his image” during the last half of the Tribulation period (19:20; cf. 13:11-18).No doubt he appeared to the world to be a very spiritual spokesman with amazing supernatural powers (“worked signs by which he deceived”). Those who were deceived by him will not only face God’s temporal judgment when King Jesus kills them in battle, but they will also face God’s eternal judgment in the lake of fire (cf. 14:9-11). 9
So heinous and wicked was their blasphemy against God that the “beast” and “false prophet” will be the first human beings to be “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” This verse is clear that there is no annihilation in store for those who reject Jesus Christ. Some have wrongly taught that because God is love, nonbelievers are punished in hell for a time before simply ceasing to exist. It is clear from 19:20 and other verses 10 (cf. Matthew 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43-48; Jude 1:7; Revelation 14:10-11; 20:10, 15; 21:7-8) however, that their punishment is without end.
Those who have rejected Christ and died throughout history up to this point are in torments in hades (Luke 16:23). The lake of fire is a different place prepared for the devil and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). 11 After the thousand-year reign of King Jesus, the beast and false prophet will be permanently joined by the devil and all nonbelievers in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10-15).
John tells us, “And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:21). Following the beast’s and false prophet’s capture and placement in the lake of fire, “the rest” of the beast’s allies who remained on the battlefield “were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.”
“Then suddenly it will be all over. In fact, there will be no war at all, in the sense that we think of war. There will be just a word spoken from Him who sits astride the great white horse. Once He spoke a word to a fig tree, and it withered away. Once He spoke a word to howling winds and heaving waves, and the storm clouds vanished, and the waves fell still. Once He spoke to a legion of demons bursting at the seams of a poor man’s soul, and instantly they fled. Now He speaks a word, and the war is over. The blasphemous, loud-mouthed Beast is stricken where he stands. The false prophet, the miracle-working windbag from the pit is punctured and still… Another word, and the panic-stricken armies reel and stagger and fall down dead. Field marshals and generals, admirals and air commanders, soldiers and sailors, rank and file, one and all – they fall. And the vultures descend and cover the scene.” 12
So many people will be killed “that all the birds” will have plenty to eat. Imagine how foolish the beast and his global armies will look as they point their weapons at the all-powerful Creator God, Jesus Christ, Who spoke the entire universe into existence (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-2)!!! Although foolish, it is like humanity to overestimate “their abilities, forever proud of their technology, yet never coming to terms with their own weakness before the all-powerful, all-knowing Lord of the universe.“ 13
May none of us make the same mistake as these people. Revelation 19 teaches us that there are two suppers in the future: the marriage supper of the Lamb which will involve great joy and celebration or the great supper of God which will involve great destruction and judgment. If you want to make a reservation for the marriage supper of the Lamb, you must meet two conditions:
1: You must have childlike faith in Christ alone to enter His coming kingdom. Why? Because all of us need a Savior because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:9-23) and deserve to be separated from Him forever in a terrible place of suffering and torment called the lake of fire or hell (Romans 6:23; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 20:15). But God loves us so much He gave His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place for all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6; John 19:30). Jesus Christ is alive today and He invites us to have childlike faith in Him alone to enter His coming Kingdom. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:15).
If you are ready to trust Jesus alone for entrance into His future kingdom on earth, you can tell Him through prayer. But remember, praying a prayer does not get you into Jesus’ kingdom. Only believing or trusting in Jesus alone for everlasting life will gain you entrance into His kingdom on earth (John 3:5-6, 14-16). This prayer is a way of telling Jesus you are now trusting in Him alone.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself from my sins. I believe You died in my place for all my sins on the cross and rose from the dead at Your first coming. And I believe You are coming back to earth to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords in the future. I am now trusting You, Jesus, alone (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers) to give me everlasting life now and a future home in Your coming kingdom. Thank You Jesus for the everlasting life I now have and the home I will have in Your future kingdom on earth. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost or taken away from you (John 10:28-29). Jesus guarantees you will enter His kingdom on earth when He returns with His church (Mark 1:15; 10:15; John 3:5-6, 16). He wants to use you now to tell others this good news of His coming kingdom so they also may trust in Him alone to be saved and enter His future kingdom on earth.
The second condition for participating in the marriage supper of the Lamb is 2. we must live faithfully for Jesus after believing in Him for eternal life.While all believers are called or invited to prepare for the wedding supper with Jesus to share in rewards and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, only those believers who prepared by being obedient to Jesus until the end of life on earth will be able to participate (Revelation 2:25-27; 3:5; 19:7-9; cf. Matthew 8:11-12; 22:1-14). All believers will enter and live with Christ in His eternal kingdom through faith in Him alone (Matthew 18:3; John 3:5; 16), but only faithful believers will be able to enjoy ruling with Him there (Luke 19:11-27; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21).
If you found this to be helpful, please share this with those you want to see attend the marriage supper of the Lamb in Jesus’ future kingdom on earth. Thank you and may the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless you!
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. 1576.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 22.
3. Vacendak, pg. 1572; Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 207 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5 (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pg. 1048; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2414.
4. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 346 cites Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), pg. 687.
5. Constable, pg. 213.
6. Vacendak, pp. 1576-1577.
7. Evans, pg. 2416.
8. Vacendak, pg. 1577.
9. Ibid., pp. 1577-1578.
10. Evans, pg. 2416.
11. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6303.
12. Swindoll, pp. 346-347 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), pg. 236.
“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” Revelation 19:15
For centuries believers have prayed for Christ’s return to earth to set up His kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:10; Revelation 6:10; 22:20) and now the apostle John records the answer to their prayers (Revelation 19:11-21). Last time we saw that King Jesus is “Faithful” and “True” in contrast to the unfaithfulness and deception of the beast who leads the armies of the world to fight against Christ at Armageddon when Jesus returns with His church to the earth (19:11, 19; cf. 13:1-18; 16:12-16). The apostle John continues his description of Jesus Christ before he records His return to earth.
“His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had names written and a name written that no one knew except Himself.” (Revelation 19:12). Reference to Jesus’ “eyes” being “like a flame of fire” emphasizes His penetrating and all-knowing judgment of sin, that takes all things into account (cf. 1:14; 2:18). 1 Jesus has an instinctive “ability to render perfect judgment of every person and every situation (Hebrews 4:13).”2 His gaze will be able to pierce the darkness of the kingdom of the beast and the very center of the souls of its citizens, exposing their deepest thoughts and motives. 3
Likewise, Christ is fully aware of all our thoughts, words, actions, and motives which is meant to motivate us to live holy lives before Him (cf. Hebrews 4:12-13). Only Jesus is qualified to judge us at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is why the apostle Paul writes, “3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (cf. I Corinthians 4:3-5). Sin-scarred Christians cannot accurately judge the lives and ministries of other Christians let alone their motives. 4 This is why Paul told the Corinthians it really didn’t matter if they judged him. In fact, he didn’t even judge himself because “He who judges” Paul “is the Lord.” At the Judgment Seat, Jesus “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.” Only the Lord Jesus knows all the facts and can render a perfect and righteous judgment. So, it is time for Christians to stop playing God and start preparing for the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The fact Jesus had “many crowns” on “His head” (19:12) suggests He will not only defeat the beast or Man of Sin at His Second Coming, but all the world’s rulers and will acquire their crowns, as it were, upon Himself, 5 signifying His right to rule over the entire world (cf. I Chronicles 20:1-2; Psalm 47:8). 6 This image of Christ wearing “many crowns” inspired Matthew Bridges to write a majestic hymn that believers still enjoy singing:
“Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne:
Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Thro’ all eternity.” 7
Even though Christ’s glory will be openly manifested at His Second Coming, some aspects of His Personhood will remain beyond human comprehension 8 as implied by the phrase “He had names written and a name written that no one knew except Himself.” 9In John’s vision, he saw crowns having many “names” and one crown having “a name written that no one knew except” Jesus. Vacendak explains that this is like Isaiah 9:6 which describes Jesus the Messiah who will rule on the earth. Christ has multiple aspects to His nature and Person that are knowable: “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). However, not all facets of Christ’s Being are understandable to people; hence, Jesus possesses a name that is known only to Him – a name that reflects qualities beyond human understanding! 10
“Throughout the ancient world a name revealed the nature of an individual, who he is and what he is. The unknown name of the Christ comports with the fact that His nature, His relationships to the Father, and even His relationship to humanity, transcend all human understanding.”11
“It is possible that there is another thought. Those who practiced magic in the first century believed that to know a name gave power over him whose name it was. John may well be saying that no-one has power over Christ. He is supreme. His name is known only to Himself.”12
Swindoll writes, “Why would John bother to mention that Jesus had a secret name? Perhaps the secret name indicates a unique relationship with God the Father that nobody else shares.” 13Christ also extends the promise to overcoming (faithful) believers that He will give them “a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it”(2:17). This demonstrates the deep personal and inseparable relationship that faithful believers will enjoy with Christ in His coming kingdom. What Christ is by nature (unique, eternal, divine Son of God), faithful believers will reflect in a limited way by grace (adopted, finite, glorified children of God). 14
Next John writes, “He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13). In the context, the reference to Christ being “clothed with a robe dipped in blood” foreshadows His bloody judgment of His enemies – the beast and the armies of the world (19:19-21). In this vision, John did not see a meek and mild Savior who would shed His blood for the sins of the world, instead he saw a Warrior-King Who would establish His reign on earth by force. 15 His robe would be soaked in the blood of His enemies (Isaiah 63:3-4). 16
“His name is called The Word of God” because every thought, word, and action of Christ expresses God’s mind, words, and actions 17 even in events such as the bloody destruction of His enemies at Armageddon. 18 Not only does this title “The Word of God” represent the manifestation of God’s revelation, but it also signifies the manifestation of God Himself (cf. John 1:1). The “Word of God” is always “Immanuel… God with us” (Matthew 1:23). 19
Christ did not return to earth alone at the end of the Tribulation period. “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.” (Revelation 19:14). The clothing (“fine linen”) of these “armies in heaven” connects them with the Lamb’s faithful followers from the church age (19:7-8; cf. 2:10, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 10-11; 17:14). Since Christ’s troops are faithful believers from the church age, the fact that they are following King Jesus “on white horses” which symbolize victory, is an incredible testimony to their victorious lives. 20
Other Scriptures also inform us that God’s angels will accompany Christ to earth as well (cf. Matthew 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). But it is not likely that angels will be riding on horses since Revelation 17:14 tells us that those who are with King Jesus when He returns to earth “are called, chosen, and faithful,” a reference to resurrected, glorified, and rewarded church age believers 21 (cf. Matthew 20:1-16; 22:1-14).
Only King Jesus will have a weapon with which to defeat His enemies when He returns. “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” (Revelation 19:15). You may recall in Revelation 6:2 that Jesus sat on “a white horse” carrying “abow” in contrast to Him using a “sword” herein 19:15.
“The bow is the weapon of long-range warfare, whereas the sword is the weapon used in close combat with the enemy. If the rider of 6:2 represents Christ as the Initiator of all God’s judgments upon His enemies, it is clear that throughout the Tribulation He fights with them, so to speak, at long range. For the judgments of the Tribulation are such as fall from heaven to earth while the King is absent. But in chapter 19, the King comes personally to earth and now the conflict with the forces of evil is waged at close quarters and, with the sword, the last battle is won. And just quite naturally the sword is thought in connection with His Word – for it proceeds out of His mouth – so also may the bow be linked with the same Word. As the prophet Habakkuk has written,22
“Your bow was made quite ready; oaths were sworn over Your arrows.” (Habakkuk3:9). Hence, the judgment-bringing Word of God is seen first under the figure of a “bow” foreshadowing Jesus’ conquests over His enemies from long range in heaven (6:2) until the final battle when He returns to earth in Chapter 19 as the last, white-horse Rider fighting and winning at close range with a “sword” (19:11-21). 23
Instead of King Jesus using physical weapons of mass destruction, the “sword” He will use will come “out of His mouth” to “strike the nations” who have gathered with the beast at Armageddon (cf. 16:12-16; 19:19). This “sword” is the powerful and supernatural Word of God (cf. Hebrews 4:12). 24 Just as Jesus spoke and the universe was created (Genesis 1; John 1:2-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1-2), so He will speak, and the nations of the world will be demolished (Revelation 19:15; cf. Psalm 2:5; Zechariah 14:12). 25
This stern judgment King Jesus will bring against His enemies will characterize His reign as King over all the earth during the Millennial Kingdom as He “will rule” the nations “with a rod of iron” (cf. Psalm 2:8-9). Under King Jesus’ reign, there will be inflexible righteousness. All who live on planet earth during His one-thousand-year reign will be commanded to live according to the laws and decrees of the King. Believers in Jesus who already have glorified bodies will obey Him perfectly because they will be “like Him” (I John 3:2). 26
So strick will King Jesus’ rule be during the Millennium that those who do not believe in Christ could be in danger of “hell fire” for calling someone a “fool.” During Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He applied the fulfillment of the Law to the Millennial Kingdom when He would rule with a rod of iron. 27 Christ said, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22). Christ’s reign during the Millennial Kingdom will be so strict that a person could go on trial (“judgment”) for unjustified anger (“angry… without a cause”) with his brother. Whoever bullies his brother and calls him “Raca,” which means“numskull” or “empty one,” 28 would go on trial before the “council” or Supreme Court. If worse language is used (“You fool”), the offender may be thrown immediately into “hell.” The decision will be up to King Jesus, the Judge, to determine if they go to hell during the Millennial Kingdom.
This severe of punishment is reserved for nonbelievers since a believer in Jesus cannot lose eternal life (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29). Amazingly, there will be many nonbelievers who will rebel toward the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ (Revelation 20:7-10). But for believers in Jesus, both then and now, this picture of kingdom righteousness challenges us to live like kingdom subjects by refraining from inappropriate expressions of anger.
King Jesus will punish His enemies gathered at Armageddon like the trampling of grapes in a “winepress” which portrays “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (19:15b). Ruling includes destroying the wicked, not just reigning over the righteous. 29
“The treading of this winepress by Christ will result in the blood of His enemies flowing like a river for two hundred miles at a depth of about four or five feet” (14:19-20). 30
Once King Jesus tramples His enemies under His feet, His reign will be absolute and worldwide and He will bear a name that only He deserves. 31 “And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:16). This title for Jesus identifies Him as the supreme human Ruler over all the earth (“KING OF KINGS”) and also as God Almighty (“LORD OF LORDS”)! Jesus Christ is King over all who call themselves “king,” and Lord above all who call themselves “lord.”32
Because Jesus is “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS,” “conquering every enemy on earth will be a matter of relative ease. It will be a matter of speaking.
“This is nothing new, though. From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is pictured as possessing an authoritative Word. John 1:1 says of Jesus, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ At creation Jesus spoke the words, ‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3), and by His Word light came about. It was by that same authoritative Word that Jesus caused the devil to flee in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11) and sent a legion of demons out of a demon-possessed man and into a herd of pigs (see Mark 5:1-13). In each of these instances, the way He brought out powerful results was by speaking His Word. And it shall be at the end of time.
“Likewise, for followers of Jesus, we must not simply know God’s Word or study it, but also verbally quote it. So, when was the last time you actually quoted God to another person or even to the devil in order to handle a specific situation? If you have truly received authority from God – which all believers have – and you quote the Word accurately to people or forces of Satan, it carries intrinsic authority to accomplish God’s purposes. In some cases, it draws a person to salvation. In others, it causes a hardened sinner to be without excuse for his or her conduct. In no situation, however, will a child of God verbally quote and obey the Word of God and have that Word return empty (see Isaiah 55:11).” 33
Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we watch the world increase in chaos and conflict as evil continues to increase, we are deeply grateful for this vision John receives of King Jesus before He returns to earth to defeat His enemies at close range using His sword – the powerful Word of God – to establish His universal reign on the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords! Thank You Lord God Almighty for entrusting the Word of God to those of us who believe in Jesus to share with a lost world so that same Word may persuade them to cross over from eternal death into eternal life simply by believing in Jesus for His gift of salvation. Lord of lords and King of kings, we not only look to You to conquer evil and sin in the future Tribulation period, but we also trust You to lead us into victory over evil and sin in our own lives. Help us not only to know and study Your Word, but to speak it to others including Satan and his followers, so Your purposes will be accomplished for Your glory. May we never underestimate what Your spoken Word can do in any situation we may face. Please bring Your Word to our hearts and minds especially in times of spiritual battle so we may speak it to our enemies whether they be physical or spiritual. In Your mighty name we pray, King Jesus. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 210.
2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1574.
3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 342.
4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 1980.
5. Constable, pg. 210.
6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6275 to 6280.
7. Swindoll, pg. 343 quotes Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration (Dallas: Word Music, 1986), no. 234.
8. Evans, pg. 2415.
9. The majority of Greek manuscripts add the phrase “names written, and” (onomata gegrammena kai).
10. Vacendak, pp. 1574-1575.
11. Constable, pg. 210 quotes George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation New Century Bible Commentary series, revised ed. (London: Morgan & Scott, 1974); reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pp. 279-280; cf. Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Let., 1907), pg. 252; William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 232.
12. Constable, pg. 211 quotes Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 230.
13. Swindoll, pg. 343.
14. Adapted from Ibid. Swindoll thinks Revelation 2:17 applies to all believers, but I believe this promise is limited to overcoming believers who are faithful to Christ to the end of their lives on earth (cf. 2:10b, 25-27).
15. Evans, pg. 2415.
16. Swindoll, pp. 343-344; Constable, pg. 211.
17. Constable, pg. 211.
18. Vacendak, pg. 1575.
19. Swindoll, pg. 344.
20. Vacendak, pg. 1575.
21. Swindoll, pg. 344; cf. Constable, pg. 211.
22. Zane C. Hodges, “The First Horseman of the Apocalypse,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 119:476 (October 1962), pg. 333.
23. Ibid., pp. 333-334.
24. Vacendak, pg. 1575.
27. Zane C. Hodges, Grace In Eclipse: A Study On Eternal Rewards (Grace Evangelical Society, 2016 Kindle Edition), pp. 36-38.
28. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 903.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” Revelation 14:13
In another of the apostle John’s visions on earth (Revelation 14:6-13), he hears four announcements that provide motivation to remain faithful to God and resist the beasts during the last half of the Tribulation period. We have looked at God’s angels who will make the first three announcements (14:6-12), and we are now ready for the fourth announcement (14:13).
In Revelation 14:9-11, nonbelieverswho have not yet bowed to the beast nor taken his mark during the last half of the Tribulation period are warned not to do so lest they be subject to “the full strength” of God’s wrath in time and eternity. The apostle then encourages believers to persevere in their faithfulness to Christ during this extremely difficult time (14:12). In the next verse he gives them incentive for remaining faithful to God.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” (Revelation 14:13). This “voice from heaven” may belong to the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:10-11, 19; cf. 10:4, 8; 11:12; 14:2; 18:4; 21:3). 1 His voice announces that many believers “in the Lord” who live during the last half of the Tribulation will be “blessed” to “die” as martyrs. These believers in Christ who stand firmly against the Beast and refuse to worship him or take his mark, and die as a result, will be “blessed” both now and forever. 2 The phrase “from now on” means “from this time on during the Tribulation,” specifically during the persecution of the Beast and the bowl judgments. Through their martyrdom, these believers will escape the intense judgments and sufferings of the last half of the Tribulation. 3
God the Holy “Spirit” then adds that these faithful believers will be “blessed” beyond the grave in heaven where “they may rest from their labors,” which is the opposite of what will be experienced by those who receive the mark of the beast (14:9-11). 4 Nonbelievers will receive “no rest” and “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … forever and ever” because of their unbelief toward Christ (14:10-11). But the good “works” of these faithful believers will “follow them” into heaven where they will be rewarded forever by the Lord Jesus Christ (14:13b; cf. Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41).
“God does not save anyone for his works, but He does reward us for our works. Our works (good or bad) are like tin cans tied to a dog’s tail; we cannot get away from them. They will follow us to the bema seat of Christ.”5
While we cannot take our material possessions with us when we die, the Bible does teach that we can send eternal wealth ahead of us. Jesus said, “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20). Christ instructs us not to lay up treasure on earth because it is temporary. Perhaps you have had a “moth” eat holes in your clothes or “rust” destroy your possessions made of metal, or “thieves” break in your house and steal your valuables. These earthly treasures are perishable.
But notice Jesus says to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Why? Because it is permanent. In heaven, a “moth” or “rust” cannot destroy your heavenly treasure, nor can a “thief… steal” it.
We usually miss those words “for yourselves.” Jesus makes it clear that there IS a way to “take it with you.” We can send treasure ahead of us by using the time, treasure, and talent God has entrusted to us on earth as a steward for God’s kingdom and glory (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-26).
Well-meaning Christians have asked me, “Isn’t it selfish to seek eternal rewards?” My answer is, “Not according to Jesus.” Since Christ commands us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, it is selfish not to obey His command to pursue eternal rewards. Plus, a believer cannot afford to be selfish in nature, for to do so would disqualify him or her for the eternal rewards he or she seeks. Pursuing eternal rewards is one of the strongest motivations for an unselfish and merciful lifestyle (cf. James 2:1-13).
When we get to heaven, the treasure we have sent ahead of us will be reserved there for us to use to bring glory to God throughout eternity. The more treasure we lay up in heaven now, the more we can use to honor Christ in His coming Kingdom.
Bob Wilkin shares some helpful insights: “While many think of this treasure as a figure of speech for some unspecified blessings, I see it as an eternal trust fund that believers will use to glorify God. The more we have stored up, the more we can give away in service to the Lord.
“What? Who would need money in the kingdom? Well, no one, if the kingdom of God were going to be some ethereal experience, consisting of floating on clouds and strumming harps. However, the description of the eternal kingdom on the new earth in Revelation 21:24 strongly suggests the existence of an economy: ‘The kings of the earth [will] bring their glory and honor into it [the New Jerusalem].” Actually, the majority of manuscripts read, ‘The kings of the earth [will] bring the glory and honor of the nations to Him.’
“In any case, the point is clear. The three wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus were types of rulers who, in the age to come, will forever bring gold and other treasures to the Lord Jesus.” 6
Why is it so important to focus on storing up treasures in heaven instead of treasures on earth? Jesus tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). What we value the most is what directs our hearts. Wherever our treasure happens to be, that is where our hearts will be focused. God wants our hearts to be focused on Him and the life to come. This is why we are commanded to invest in heavenly rewards. God knows better than we do what will motivate our hearts for Him. If we set our hearts on accumulating the things of this earth, then the pursuit of earthly possessions will guide our hearts. But if we focus on the things of God and the life to come, then that is what will direct our hearts. We cannot focus on laying up treasures on earth and at the same time concentrate on laying up treasures in heaven.
Wilkins writes, “A few years ago, world-class athletes were asked the following question: ‘If you could take a drug that would cause you to win a gold medal, but it would kill you in ten years, would you take it?’ Amazingly, the majority said yes. They’d sacrifice fifty or more years of life for a gold medal.
“What would you give up to have treasure in heaven? Would you drive a lesser car than you could otherwise afford? Live in a more modest home? Have a less expensive wardrobe? Enjoy simpler or fewer vacations? Give up fifty years of life (if called upon to be a martyr, for example)? The answer you give to these questions will depend on where your heart is.” 7
Heavenly treasure is a type of reward that cannot be lost once it has been earned. So, when a believer gives a cup of cold water to one of God’s servants (Matthew 10:42) or does a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3-4), prays in private (Matthew 6:6), or fasts in private (Matthew 6:17-18) with the proper motive, a deposit is made into his or her eternal bank account in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). The more deposits you make, the more heavenly treasure you will have with which to honor Jesus Christ in His coming kingdom.
A second type of reward is called a perseverance reward. Believers who remain faithful in their service to Jesus to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing a special white garment (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ in His kingdom (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21), eating the fruit from the tree of life (Revelation 2:17; 22:14), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).
A third type of reward has to do with crowns. Believers can earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples of Jesus (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the coming of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).
By focusing on eternal rewards, believers in Jesus will develop a greater desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment for His church, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat (2 Corinthians 5:9-11; I John 2:28-3:3).
Prayer: Loving heavenly Father, we thank You for Your perspective given to us in Revelation 14:13 which involves encouragement for believers in the last half of the Tribulation period who may suffer physical death for taking a stand against the Beast and refusing to take his mark. You promise them that their good works will follow them into heaven where they will receive eternal rewards from the Lord Jesus. Thank You Father for reminding us that this life is not all there is to live for. As believers in Jesus, we are commanded to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven by living a godly life for You. Please help us to keep our focus on You and the life to come so we may have more treasure in heaven with which to honor You throughout all of eternity. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Tom Constable Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 161.
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. 1553.
3. Constable, pg. 161.
4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2403.
5. Constable, pg. 162 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 Vols., (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), 5:1011.
6. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 39-40. 7. Ibid., pg. 40.
“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16
Jesus now speaks to the last of the seven churches. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’ ” (Revelation 3:14).
“Laodicea was a large and prosperous city forty miles southeast of Philadelphia where many wealthy people retired, thereby establishing it as a renowned banking center. A medical center specializing in eye salve and a prominent wool industry famous for its glossy black garments added to its material prosperity. Because they lived in the midst of this affluent city, the believers dwelling there also became affluent. Unfortunately, these believers allowed their wealth to ruin their effectiveness for Christ, and they did not even know it! Because of their outward wealth they had no clue as to their inward poverty. Therefore, the Judge of the churches sends a stern rebuke in their direction to move them to repent as well as an invitation to open the door to close fellowship with Him once again.”1
“Ancient pagans had hundreds of false gods to choose from, but modern pagans who may have rejected the worship of idols still have one false god that controls their lives: self. Self-expression, self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance—these concepts all revolve around the myth that human beings have an inexhaustible source of strength within themselves. Such worthy people, of course, have trouble attributing all worth to God, which is the very definition of worship!
“Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the disease of self-reliance. When believers in Christ rely on their own strength for good works, operating by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:3), they produce ineffective and useless works. When believers think their own resources are sufficient, they glow with pride. And when believers look to themselves to provide for their own needs, they shine with self-sufficiency. Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Asia come to a close with a tragic letter to the self-sufficient, self-righteous, self-serving church in Laodicea. In their inexhaustible wealth and independent spirit, the Laodiceans were severely rebuked by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. In fact, the Lord didn’t state a single word of commendation—only stinging reproof. That church suffered from pervasive self-reliance, hypocritical works done in their own strength, and an apathetic attitude toward the authority of Christ. Sadly, Christ’s hard words for Laodicea resonate with relevance for many churches and Christians today.”2
Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen” (lit. truly)3 because the Laodicean church needed the truth. As “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus would provide a faithful and true assessment of their spiritual condition (3:14a). “The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own well-being. In contrast with them, Jesus spoke the truth.”4
Christ also refers to Himself as “the Beginningof the creation of God” because this church was self-sufficiently wealthy, and they needed to be reminded that everything they possessed was from their Creator God (3:14b). When churches forget this truth, they can begin to feel entitled to whatever they want. They can easily seek to be in control instead of yielding to God’s control.
Non-Trinitarians think this phrase (“the Beginningof the creation of God”) means Jesus is a created being. But the Greek word translated “Beginning” (archē) means the “First Cause” of God’s creation. 5Jesus is the Creator or originating source of creation (Revelation 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13; cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2), not the first creature to be created. 6
Laodicea had suffered a severe earthquake that destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had subsequently rebuilt it, without the aid of Rome. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus Christ alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). 7 Jesus could also give them the spiritual wealth they so desperately needed in their current state of spiritual impoverishment. 8
Jesus then rebukes this church for being indifferent. “15 I know your works, that you areneither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you arelukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). These believers in Jesus wereneither refreshing (“cold”)nor soothing or stimulating (“hot”). They were “lukewarm.”
“This rebuke would have been especially meaningful to this church, for water was piped to the city from Hierapolis, a few miles north. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm!” 9
“Nobody orders a lukewarm drink. They want iced tea or hot coffee. In the spiritual realm, God finds tepidness unappealing as well.”10
Because the Laodicean Christians had no cool water for the spiritually thirsty people around them (cf. John 4:13-14) and they were not hot enough spiritually to stir up one another’s faith, 11 God was disgusted with them. He said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Christ’s response to this self-reliant, self-righteous, and self-serving church was about the least flattering response you could receive, especially from the only Person in the universe Whose opinion matters the most. Essentially Jesus was saying,“You make me sick!”12
The phrase “I will vomit you out of My mouth,” cannot be a reference to the loss of salvation because that would contradict John’s other writings (cf. John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; I John 5:1, 13). The Bible tells us that the gifts of God are irreversible. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). God promises eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Since “the gifts … of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) and eternal life is a “gift of God” (Romans 6:23), then eternal life is “irrevocable.” When a person believes in Christ for His gift of eternal life, it cannot be given back to God nor taken back by God no matter how the believer lives because it is irreversible or permanent (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; Romans 8:31-39; et al.). God did not save us from hell because of our goodness (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), and He will not abandon us because of our sinfulness (cf. John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).
One of my mentors, Zane Hodges, thought it possible that the Lord is referring here to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). The Lord Jesus will be so disgusted with the indifference and self-reliance of Christians at the end of the Church age (Laodicea is the last church listed during this age), that He will vomit them up to heaven through the Rapture (Revelation 4:1-4). Then He will start all over in the Tribulation with the Two Witnesses preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13) followed by the worldwide witness of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists in the second half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-17; 14:1-5).
Not only does Jesus give these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century, these letters also “prove to be prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic, as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation.”13
This is known as “the Historico-Prophetical View.” Proponents of this view understand the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has represented other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However, they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. 14
Constable writes, “A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows: 15
Prior to the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-4), Jesus gives some serious advice to this self-reliant church: “17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:17-18). Because the Laodiceans had become materially wealthy they thought they “had need of nothing,” including God (3:17a). The Laodiceans were materially “rich”; Christ says they are “poor” spiritually (3:17b). Laodicea had a world-famous medical center that was known for treating eye disease; Jesus informs them that they are “blind” spiritually (3:17c). Laodicea was a center for manufacturing clothing; Jesus declares that they are “naked” spiritually (3:17d). These believers were spiritually destitute, and they did not even know it.
“Here Jesus debunks a prominent lie of prosperity theology: being materially successfulmeans God has blessed you. Not so. The Laodiceans said, I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing. But the external appearance of prosperity was not indicative of the condition of their hearts or their level of fellowship with God. They were spiritually uncommitted, carnal, and compromising. As Jesus put it, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked spiritually.”16
“Because their self-estimate was so deeply flawed, the Lord gave them counsel as to exactly what they needed to do. Their ability to pull out of their disastrous spiritual condition rested on their paying the price they needed to pay spiritually.” 17
If someone told us that everything about us makes him want to vomit, we would not expect to hear from that person again. 18 But as “the Faithful and True Witness,” the Lord Jesus also continues to extend love and grace to His church no matter how unappealing her spiritual condition is. Christ counsels them to be faithful by instructing them to “buy” three things (3:18). Obviously, this is not talking about our salvation because Christ has already bought that through His sacrificial death on the cross (cf. I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1). 19 In addition, salvation is a free gift which cannot be bought (Revelation 21:6b; 22:17b; cf. Romans 4:5; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). But in Revelation 3:18, Jesus is speaking figuratively when He counsels them to “buy” three things that these complacent and carnal Christians need:
– “gold refined in fire” which represents eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15). They were to be faithful to Jesus by having faith that is tested by fire (I Peter 1:6-7).
– “white garments.” Their shameful nakedness was to be clothed, not by purchasing the sleek black wool that was made in Laodicea, but by buying “white garments,” which refer to being faithful to Christ through righteous conduct and serving God (Revelation 19:8), not out of selfish motives, but in a way that pleases the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3, 9-10).
– “eye salve.” Instead of purchasing the eye salve that was produced and sold in Laodicea, they were to buy a spiritual “eye salve” that would enable them to see more clearly on a spiritual level and remain faithful to Christ. For this to happen, they must see their desperate need to get into the Word of God and to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply it to their lives (cf. John 9:6; James 1:22; 1 John 2:20, 27). 20
The church of Laodicea is typical of the modern church which denies its spiritual needs and is content with its beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. Notice that verse 18 does not tell us the purchase price for these items. We are not told how much the refined gold, white garments, and eye salve will cost us. The Lord Jesus will tell us this in the next verse.
The believers at Laodicea may have felt Jesus was being overly harsh with them, so Christ reminds them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19a). Jesus’ rebuke of them is evidence of His love. If He did not love them, He would not rebuke them in their spiritually lukewarm condition. But Christ wants the best for them (and us), so He tells them what they need to hear, even though it may be painful for them.
If the Laodiceans did not listen to Jesus, His love for them would lead Him to “chasten” them. The word “chasten” (paideuō) literally means “child-training.”21 It refers to correcting or instructing a child. 22 It is always an activity of God toward Christians, not non-Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). 23
“The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message.”24
Jesus then says, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19b). How does a church or individual Christian buy gold refined in fire, white garments, and eye salve? That is, how does an indifferent church become spiritually healthy and earn eternal rewards? By being “zealous” for good works and “repenting.”
All Christians are to be known in the church and in their community as people who are zealous for good works – who are eager to please God. What do you have zeal for in your Christian life? A nice house? A car? A well-kept home? A large retirement plan? An attractive appearance? A bigger church building? These things are not wrong in and of themselves. But the number one aim in our lives should be to please God – to love Him above all else and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).
The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind or way of thinking. 25 The Laodiceans needed to change their minds and realize they did not have it all together spiritually and that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. Whatever we are doing that is not pleasing to the Lord is to be corrected. We are to confess that it is wrong to God (I John 1:9) and start doing what we know is pleasing to Him.
The Laodiceans are to repent of their self-sufficient, half-hearted service, and remain faithful to Christ, fervently serving Him. Hence, when Christians are zealous for good works and repent of wrong attitudes and actions, they will…
– lay up refined gold or eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:18a; I Corinthians 3:8-15).
– be clothed with the proper white garments or righteous conduct that will glorify Christ in eternity (3:18b; cf. 3:5; 19:8).
– be able to see properly on a spiritual level (3:18c; cf. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).
Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20a). Many Christians have mistakenly understood this verse to refer to salvation. But we have already seen that the “churches” in Revelation 2 and 3 refer to genuine Christians. In the context, the Lord Jesus has been talking about works, not faith; He has been addressing service, not salvation; He has exhorted us to be zealous for good works and repent of works that sicken the Lord.
The Lord is now saying if a church invites Christ in for dinner, He will come, and they will have fellowship together (3:20a). This verse is not to be taken literally. This is not a literal “door,” just as verse 18 was not to be taken literally. Amid their self-sufficient attitude, the Laodiceans had shut the Lord Jesus out from their church. The word “stand” (3:20a), literally means “I have taken My stand.”26 It emphasizes a persistent dealing with the church. Christ persistently seeks intimate fellowship with this self-reliant church that has shut Him out. Hence, He asks permission to enter the church and re-establish fellowship with them.
Christ then says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20b). Notice that Jesus says He will come “in to” (two words) the person, not “into” (one word) the person. The Greek verb translated “come in” (eiserchomai) accompanied by the preposition translated “to” (pros) means “to come or go to someone.” This construction occurs eight times in the New Testament (Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 17:2; 28:8; Revelation 3:20) and each time it means to enter into a building and stand in front of a person. 27 Whenever “come in” (eiserchomai) is used of entrance into a person it is followed by the Greek preposition eis (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30; 22:3; John 13:27) and refers to demon possession. The preposition eis deals with “the idea of entry, whereas pros tends to stop short of going up to (without entry).” 28 The result of Christ’s entrance “to” the person is a common meal shared – “I will… dine with him, and he with Me.” The Greek verb “dine” (deipnēsō) indicates that this is the main meal of the day, the one to which an honored guest would be invited. 29
This verse is speaking of entrance into a building toward a person, not entrance into a person. Jesus will not force His way into a church. Christ is saying that He will come in the church toward the believer who repents (hears His voice and opens the door of the church) and eat dinner with him, that is, have intimate fellowship with him.
How does one open the door so that Christ can come and fellowship with him? By being zealous for good works and repenting of the works that made the Lord Jesus vomit (3:19b).
“Christ’s invitation here is not for lost sinners to believe in Him for the free gift of eternal life, but for His disobedient children to get close to Him once again. If any of these lukewarm believers did open the door to Him, Christ promises, ‘I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ This is a promise that they will enjoy close fellowship with Him once again.” 30
“With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians. This raises the important question concerning the extent of one’s intimate fellowship with Christ.”31
Christ then promises, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21). The believer who “overcomes” by humbly and zealously submitting to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of his life, will be able to “sit with” Him on His throne, as Jesus was humble and zealous in submitting to His Father’s will and was rewarded with sitting down with His Father “on His throne.” This promised reward assures the overcomer of close fellowship with Christ forever by receiving the honor of sharing His royal throne. This is a conditional reward because it is dependent on overcoming as Christ did. 32 Just as Christ overcame death by humble and dependent submission to His Father’s will, the Laodiceans can overcome their self-sufficiency and enjoy ruling with Christ by humbly and dependently submitting to Christ in fellowship and service.
The use of αὐτός (“to him”) in Revelation 2:17, 17, 27 and 3:21 indicates a restrictive kind of reference to the overcomer. It is a specific and restrictive way of showing that ruling with Christ applies only to the victor or overcomer, 33 not to every believer in Jesus.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). Only those Christians who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promise and live as “overcomers” so they may receive this ultimate reward of reigning with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth. If they are lukewarm and then repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus and are zealous for good works, then they can receive the privilege of reigning with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus uses rewards here, as with the other six churches, as a motivation to conquer sin and slackness—not as a motivation to salvation. 34
At the outset these faithful believers will rule with Christ on earth for a thousand years during the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:6). Throughout eternity they will reign with Christ on the new earth (cf. Revelation 21:10-11; 22:1-2). 35
As we read about the possibility of ruling with Christ in the future, we may not be verymotivated by the thought of reigning with Christ or having rulership in the future world. Joseph Dillow has some key things to say about this.
“Those who have not persevered in faith, who have denied their King now will have feelings of deep shame and regret because they took Him for granted and wasted their lives. The pain will be acute, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“…Some may not find the motivation of rewards as significant in their walk with God as the other motivations… That said, it seems to me, that all of us should consider this biblical emphasis to live with the end in view.
“Furthermore, the notion of reigning with Christ… should not be trivialized as if it means various administrative positions in a kingdom or being a mayor of a city. The theme is much broader, and the vision more glorious. What is signified by these expressions is not so much administrative positions as the joy of participating with the Messiah in the final destiny of man, to serve Him and minister with Him in the millennium and the future world. We aspire to higher position because we can then be more effective in the service of our King… We will have greater opportunity to serve Him, to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Him, and to extend the knowledge of His love and goodness throughout the cosmos. To miss that is to miss much.” 36
If we find ourselves indifferent toward the things of God like the Laodicea Christians, it is not too late for us to change. Even if we haven’t been doing well in our service for Christ thus far, we can start today. The Laodiceans were not doing well, yet the Lord holds out the possibility that they might rule with Him in the future if they will be zealous for good works and repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus.
In recovery programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), while not perfect programs, they do have a lot to commend them. One of their slogans is very appropriate for this passage. It says, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”
The Lord Jesus does not want us to be in denial. He wants us to acknowledge when we fall short and be zealous for good works. He wants us to aim to please Him in all that we do or say. If you want to be an overcomer, you will have to go all the way with Jesus Christ. You may say, “But it is too hard, and I am not getting any credit now.”
Let me tell you about Henry Morrison, a missionary to Africa. He was coming home from Africa on a ship which was also carrying former President Theodore Roosevelt. When the ship docked in New York City, thousands of people were there to greet Roosevelt. But no one was cheering for Morrison.
Henry Morrison had served the Lord for forty years in Africa. As he watched the crowds greet Theodore Roosevelt, he became dejected to think he had served the Lord all those years and yet no one was there to greet him.
Morrison said that as he walked down the gang plank in a depressed mood, a voice whispered to him, “Henry, don’t worry. You are not home yet.”Then he said he saw a vision of multiplied thousands of Africans standing at the gates of heaven, those whom he had reached for Christ, applauding as he entered the pearly gates.
So if people are not recognizing you down here, if you are not getting any applause right now, don’t worry. You are not home yet. Remember what Jesus Christ has waiting for you if you remain faithful to Him. He will richly reward you with intimate fellowship with Him forever by giving you the honor of sharing His royal throne.
In summary, Christians who repent of their self-sufficient and half-hearted service for the Lord, and humbly and zealously submit to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of their lives, will be richly rewarded with a share in Christ’s glorious reign in His coming Kingdom (3:14-22).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Faithful and True Witness Who alone is qualified to judge the self-reliant and self-serving church. You know that much of the modern church in America is a lot like the church of Laodicea. We have become lukewarm with complacency and self-reliance. We no longer seek to preach the gospel of grace to all people. Instead, we are captivated by our big, beautiful buildings and all the things that our money can buy. We are driven by our own desire for comfort instead of compassion for those who are perishing without You. This lukewarmness will eventually cause You to remove Your church from the earth via the Rapture so You may start over with the Two Witness at the beginning of the Tribulation. Lord Jesus, forgive us for the areas in our lives that have become lukewarm with apathy and complacency. Please enable us to repent of the works that disgust You and empower us to do good works for and with You until we go to be with You in heaven. We pray that we would keep the door of our hearts open to You so we may enjoy intimate fellowship with You now and be the channels through which Your blessings overflow to all with whom we come into contact. Thank You for reminding us that our eternal life is secure in Your finished work on the cross, but our eternal rewards depend on how we live the Christian life now on earth. No matter what the spiritual health of other believers or churches may be, You call us to be faithful and to keep You at the center of our lives if we are to receive the ultimate reward of sitting with You on Your throne in Your glorious Kingdom. In Your mighty and majestic name, Lord Jesus, 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. 1514.
2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 109-110.
3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 53.
4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 56.
5. Bauer, pg. 138.
6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 214976-214978.
7. Constable, pg. 56.
8. Vacendak, pg. 1514.
9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2376.
11. Vacendak, pg. 1514.
12. Swindoll, pg. 113.
13. Constable, pg. 61 cites M. J. Brunk, “The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July- September 1969), pp. 240-46.
14. Constable, pg. 63 cites John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1915), pg. 33; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971, pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, New ed., (London: A. S. Rouse, 1897), pg. 24; Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 106; F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, n.d.); Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp. 1331-32; Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1946), pp. 35-36; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 51; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 Vol. 5 (Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pp. 900-926.
15. Constable, pg. 63.
16. Evans, pg. 2376.
17. Vacendak, pp. 1514-1515.
18. Swindoll, pg. 114.
19. The word “buys” (agorazō) is the same word used to refer to Jesus’ payment for sin on the Cross (I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).
20. Vacendak, pg. 1515.
21. Robertson, Kindle Location 215197.
22. Bauer, pg. 749.
23. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1387.
24. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.
25. Bauer, pg. 640.
26. The Greek verb, hestēka, is a perfect indicative which means I took My stand in the past and continue to take My stand in the present.
27. Mike Cocoris, Evangelism: A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, pp. 82-82.
28. Ibid, pg. 83 cites C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge at the University Press, 1953), pp. 67-68.
29. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pg. 98.
30. Vacendak, pg. 1515.
31. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.
32. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 50.
33. Richard Benedict, “The Use of Νικάω in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1966, pg. 42.
34. Evans, pg. 2377.
35. Vacendak, pp. 1515-1516.
36. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 1039-1040.
“But hold fast what you have till I come.” Revelation 2:25
The ascended Lord Jesus addresses the fourth church next. “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.’” (Revelation 2:18). “Thyatira was the smallest and least significant of the seven cities, but it was the one that received the longest letter.”1
“According to legend, Thyatira was first established as a shrine to the sun god Tyrimnus and named Pelopia.”2
This town stood about forty-five miles to the southeast of Pergamum. It was famous for its textiles, but especially for its production of purple dye (cf. Acts 16:14) and its trade guilds (or social clubs). 3
Sadly, these guilds were also steeped in blasphemous worship and sexual sin. The church in Thyatira had a woman, Jezebel, who supported such guild practices. If a Christian refused to participate in idol worship, he or she would often be excluded from the guild, and therefore be unable to conduct their business. 4
The Lord Jesus describes Himself as “the Son of God,who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.” This description of Christ is like that in 1:13-15, but here He is called the “Son of God” rather than “the Son of Man,” since this situation required a reaffirmation of His deity and the authority or right to judge this church. 5
“Eyes like a flame of fire” refers to Jesus’ blazing anger against sin and His ability to see beneath the surface into the inmost being of a person’s heart. 6 The Greek word used to describe Christ’s feet like “fine brass” is a rare word chalkolibanō, also used in 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of several metals characterized by brilliance when polished. 7 This speaks of the risen Christ’s inflexible, immovable strength and power 8 and His readiness to execute judgment (cf. Revelation 19:15). 9
Although much was wrong with the church in Thyatira, Christ commends this church when He says, “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.” (Revelation 2:19). These believerswere strong in good “works,”“love” for others (not mentioned in the other letters), “faith” in God, “service” of their Savior, and “patience” or perseverance in trials. This church was doing more as time went on (“the last are more than the first”)in contrast to the church at Ephesus which did less. 10 Often churches stop growing over time, but not the church in Thyatira. Their “works, love, service, faith, and…patience” continued to increase more that what they had at “first.”
But despite this evidence of Christian growth, the church in Thyatira had some serious flaws and needed a Judge. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20). Whereas the church in Ephesus would not allow false teachers, this church did. The risen Lord Jesus rebukes them for permitting a false teacher named “Jezebel” to entice them to practice “sexual immorality” connected to idolatrous worship (“to… eat things sacrificed to idols”).
“It is likely that Jezebel’s immorality involved teaching God’s people that it was acceptable to engage in the activities of the guild feasts that took place in pagan temples. The pressure on the workers of that day to give in was great because failure to attend these feasts could threaten their livelihood.”11
“Though perhaps this was her real name, Jezebel also brings to mind the wife of Israel’s King Ahab (see 1 Kgs 16:31; 2 Kgs 9) and represents an entire category of immoral and idolatrous women.” 12
A modern-day practice of Jezebel’s doctrine is connected to pornography which involves sexual immorality and idolatry. Pornography is one of the most destructive practices in the church today and most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. The majority of churches 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. 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.13
“Pornography is the number one addiction for men. One out of two internet hits have to do with sex and pornography. Pornography can ruin normal sexual relationships because no real person can live up to pornographic images and fantasies. Research has shown that the limbic system bonds with whatever you are visualizing at the time of orgasm, so the next time you have sexual cravings they will be focused on that image or fantasy. This is why pornography is so addicting. Pornography is not really about sex; it is about zoning out, getting high on your own neurochemicals. Sex addicts report having withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine withdrawal.” 14
Pornography is not just an adult addiction. 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. If you don’t think it’s possible for your children to get hooked on porn, you need to listen to Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s videos. 15If you are struggling with pornography, contact Pure Desire at www.puredesire.org to obtain hope and healing from your addiction.
What is an idol? An idol is turning to something or someone other than God when we are anxious, hurting, lonely, 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.
Christ’s patience toward this false teacher in Thyatira is seen when He says, “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.” (Revelation 2:21). God is very gracious and patient. He gave Jezebel “time to repent” of her false teaching that promoted “sexual immorality.” But she refused to “repent.” Understand that “a refusal is different than a struggle. At times, believers fight sins but cannot stop committing them on their own power. Jezebel was unwilling to make any effort.”16 She knew she was doing wrong, and she chose to keep doing it. This does not mean that Jezebel was unsaved. It is possible to be a Christian and drift from sound doctrine (cf. I Timothy 1:19-20). 17
Since Jezebel did “not repent,” the Lord Jesus promised to discipline her and her followers when He said, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22). Since she encouraged lying on beds of adultery, the risen Jesus would cast her on a different kind of bed: a bed of sickness. 18 And because her followers joined her immoral ways, they would experience God’s painful discipline in the form of “great tribulation” or distress.
Another group in this church would experience a more severe judgment. “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:23). This group is referred to as “her children” because they fully embraced her teaching and lifestyle. 19 They would experience physical “death.” This may sound extremely severe, but it is not the first time in the New Testament that God disciplines His people in this way (cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30).
“Immediately before pronouncing, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31), the writer of Hebrews declares, ‘The Lord will judge His people’ (v 30, emphasis added). The Lord’s discipline would cause His people to know that He is serious about sinful activity and false teaching and that no one is exempt from His discipline (cf. Gal 6:7).” 20
This judgment would be so intense that “all the churches shall know” that the ascended Christ is the One “who searches hearts and minds.” Nothing escapes His notice. False teachers may be able to deceive their followers, but they are not capable of fooling the risen Lord Jesus. These seven churches (and any of us today) reading these messages would be reminded to take sin seriously because God is partial to no one. He says, “I will give to each one of you according to your works.”
Not all the believers of the church in Thyatira followed Jezebel and her false doctrine. Jesus says to them, “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.” (Revelation 2:24). Apparently Jezebel claimed that her “doctrine” (that Christians can indulge in immorality without consequences) was deeper than the teachings of the apostles’ when in reality they extended to “the depths of Satan.” 21Christ says that those who did not follow Jezebel’s teaching would be subject to “no other burden” just listed.
Instead, this godly remnant was to “hold fast what you have till I come.” (Revelation 2:25). These faithful believers were simply to continue to do what they had been doing – to stand against false teaching and to “hold fast” to purity of doctrineuntil Christ comes for His church at the Rapture (cf. Revelation 4:1-4; cf. John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). 22
Walvoord observes, “Perhaps because the church was small, Christ did not command them to leave it but to remain as a godly testimony. Judgment on Jezebel and her followers would come soon and would purge the church. In modern times Christians who find themselves in apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship, but this was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.
“The parallels between Thyatira and other apostate churches throughout church history are clear. Some compare Thyatira to believers in the Middle Ages when Protestantism separated from Roman Catholicism and attempted a return to purity in doctrine and life. The prominence of Jezebel as a woman prophetess is sometimes compared to the unscriptural exaltation of Mary. The participation in idolatrous feasts can illustrate the false teaching that the Lord’s Supper is another sacrifice of Christ. In spite of the apostasy of churches in the Middle Ages, there were churches then which, like the church of Thyatira, had some believers who were bright lights of faithfulness in doctrine and life.”23
The ascended Lord Jesus then gives this godly remnant a challenge and promised reward if they fulfill that challenge. “26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – 27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ – as I also havereceived from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28). The eternal rewards for remaining faithful to Christ and resisting Jezebel’s false teachings “until the end” of their lives was ruling with Christ “over the nations” in His earthly kingdom and enjoying a special intimacy with the Morning Star Himself, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 24 The morning star (usually the planet Venus) appears in the night sky, just before the dawning of a new day. Jesus Christ will guide faithful believers in the future, as the new day of His rule dawns (cf. Titus 2:13; Daniel 12:3). 25
“Thus, the reward for a pure life is a greater experience of Jesus during His millennial reign andfor eternity. Naturally, a co-ruler of the universe will have greater access to the King than a common citizen.”26
The Lord intended the prospect of this promised blessing to motivate the unfaithful in the church to return to God’s will for them, and to encourage the faithful to persevere. Believers who are faithful (“he who overcomes”) will receive “power” (authority) in heaven from Jesus Christ and will “rule” (lit. “shepherd”) others during the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; 19:28-29; Luke 19:11- 27; Romans 8:17b; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21; 20:4-6). Some believers will receive greater authority for being faithful, than others who have not been as faithful (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). While not all Christians will remain faithful to the Lord (2 Timothy 2:12), Christ evidently described believers as faithful (cf. Revelation 2:19) to motivate them to remain faithful. 27
We see that the rewards of ruling with Christ and enjoying a special intimacy with Him in His earthly kingdom are reserved only for individual believers in Jesus who remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives on earth. The Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29). Not all Christians are “overcomers” who hold fast to Christ till the end of their lives on earth. Only those who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and appropriate Jesus’ promise will be able to live as “overcomers” and receive these perseverance rewards.
Since Christ will reward each Christian “according to his works” (2:23; cf. 22:12) and not all Christians do the same amount or quality of works, there will be varying degrees of rewards among believers. When Jesus evaluates our Christian lives at the Judgment Seat (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12), He will look deeper than the works themselves, since He “searches the hearts and minds” of His people and knows what motivates them to act (Revelation 2:23; cf. I Corinthians 4:5). His rewards will also take into consideration the motivation for our works (cf. Matthew 6:1-4; Hebrews 4:12-13). Have we served Christ with our very best to bring honor to Him (cf. I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:22-25)? 28 Only Jesus Christ is qualified to make such judgments of believers (cf. I Corinthians 4:1-5; Revelation 1:12-20; 2:23; et al.).
To summarize: Christians who succumb to false teaching and the sinful lifestyle it promotes, can expect God’s discipline in their lives even unto physical death (2:18-23; cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30). Believers who resist false teaching and remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives will receive the reward of ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom and enjoy a special intimacy with Him, our Morning Star (2:24-29).
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us enough to tell us what we need to hear. Like the church in Thyatira, You have commended us for having more good works, love for others, faith in God, service for You, and perseverance in trials than we had at the first. But You know our hearts and minds better than we do. You know that we have tolerated false teaching within our churches that compromises the truth of Your gospel by adding works to Your finished work on the cross. Such an unstable foundation has led to an infiltration of sexual immorality and idolatry in Your churches. Those of us who fall prey to this teaching of Jezebel’s spirit are those who often seek spiritual enlightenment apart from You and crave eternal life without believing on Christ’s sacrificial death. We can consider ourselves superior to the rest of the earth’s population and are ever learning some new ‘mystical’ spirituality, which is contrary to the truth of the gospel. Please help those of us who have embraced Jezebel’s teaching to return to Your will lest we experience Your painful discipline. Empower those of us who have rejected her teaching to remain faithful to You until the end of our lives so we may receive Your eternal rewards of ruling with You in Your coming Kingdom on earth and enjoying a special intimacy with You then as our Morning Star. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 41.
2. Ibid., cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series. Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 201.
3. Constable, pg. 41.
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. 1508.
5. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
6. Constable, pg. 42 cites, William Barclay, The Revelation of JohnVol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 128; Vacendak, pg. 1508.
7. Walvoord, pg. 164.
8. Constable, pg. 42 cites Barclay, pg. 128.
9. Vacendak, pg. 1508.
10. Walvoord, pg. 164.
11. Vacendak, pg. 1508.
12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.
13. Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21.
14. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Book 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 206-207.
15. 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 .
16. Evans, pg. 2374.
17. Vacendak, pg. 1509.
18. Constable, pg. 43.
19. Vacendak, pg. 1509.
21. Constable, pg. 43.
22. Ibid., pg. 44; Vacendak, pg. 1509.
23. Walvoord, pg. 164.
24. Vacendak, pg. 1509.
25. Constable, pg. 45.
26. Evans, pg. 2374.
27. Constable, pg. 44.
28. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings:Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 771-772.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7
John now records “the things which are” (1:19b), consisting of the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century. 1
There has been substantial debate about the meaning of “overcomers” in the book of Revelation. Two major interpretations are at the core of this debate. The perseverance understanding holds that all genuine Christians are overcomers. 2 This view argues that every believer is an overcomer (I John 5:4-5) who inherits eternal bliss (Revelation 21:7) and, therefore, proves his salvation with his works (Revelation 2:26). According to this position all true Christians will persevere in good works to the end of their lives.
The second interpretation understands the “overcomer” to be an obedient Christian who receives rewards for his faithfulness to God.3 This view understands I John 5:4-5 to be true for all Christians. There is a sense in which all Christians are overcomers when they believe in Christ for new birth. This single act of faith at the moment of salvation is “the victory that has overcome the world” which is antagonistic toward this saving act of faith (I John 5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this interpretation understands that I John’s statements about overcomers is not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers as we shall now observe.
The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word nikaō which means to “be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.”4 John uses this word in Revelation to refer to victorious Christians who persevere in a life of faith.
It is important to understand that Revelation 2-3 is addressing Christians because the term “church” refers to believers. 5 The issue is not salvation, but discipleship or Christian growth because the focus is on persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and not a single act of faith for salvation from hell (cf. John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37-39; 10:28-29; I John 5:1-5, 13). For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands (Revelation 22:14). Revelation is talking about Christians being overcomers through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).
Also, in Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29: 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”
With this understanding, let’s look at the first church Jesus addresses. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1).“Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of the first century. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was a leading center of Greek culture as well as idol worship. Being a city of wealth and commerce, it contained the amazingly ornate temple of the goddess Diana (cf. Acts 19), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a city that had been effectively evangelized by Paul over the course of several years (cf. Acts 19:10, 20) and had become a gathering place of believers earnestly devoted to the Lord and His work. Unfortunately, over time these dedicated believers ‘left their first love.’ Therefore, with great concern the Lord speaks lovingly yet directly to His Bride in Ephesus to woo her back to her original devotion and zeal.”6
Jesus describes Himself as the One “who holds [authoritatively with power] the seven stars [angels of the churches] in His right hand” and “walks in the midst of the seven lampstands [churches]” in that He is involved in these local churches (2:1). Jesus was active among local churches in the first century and He remains active in churches today. Christ knows what is going on in our churches and He first offers encouragement.
“2 I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). Christ commends this church for their hard work, perseverance (“patience”), and discernment of false teaching and teachers (2:2-3). “They tested everything by the Scriptures and rightly found that some so-called apostles did not teach pure doctrine.”7 “In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.”8
Next, Christ Jesus rebukes this church. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). The order of words is emphatic in the original language; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left” (τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας). 9
While this church had excelled in their service for Christ and their orthodoxy, they had left their “first love.” This refers to their original love and devotion to Jesus. They were doing the right things now, but not with the same love and devotion they had in the beginning.
“They had correct doctrine, but not a correct heart. The key word here is first, not love. As withromantic love between a man and a woman, first love always involves passion. Yet there was not passionate pursuit of an intimate relationship with Christ in the church. They were merely following a program. Duty had replaced devotion.” 10
This can happen to any church or individual Christian. We start out passionate in our love for Jesus considering all He did for us in saving us from our sins. But as the years pass by, we can easily shift from passionate love for our Savior to more of a program mentality whereby we function out of duty instead of devotion to Christ. We go through the motions, but our heart is not connecting to the Lord like it was in the beginning of our Christian lives. We can become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible that we become less sensitive to what God is saying to us. Familiarity can produce apathy in our Christian lives.
How can we regain our first love for Jesus? How can we restore that original devotion and passion we had for our Savior? The Lord gives us three commands in this one verse: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5).
– REMEMBER. We can regain our first love for Jesus if we “remember” our original love and devotion for Him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian. Remember how the Bible came alive for you? It was so new and life-giving. The beauty of Jesus’ love and grace for us captured our hearts. Talking to the Lord was such a joy. It is important to remember those early days in our Christian life to rekindle that original love for Christ.
– REPENT. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means a “change of mind.” Jesus was calling the church to change their thinking about their love for Him. Jesus was not a program; He was a Person Who loved them infinitely. As their thinking about Christ changed, so would their affections. The more they could see Jesus as Someone Who loved them and enjoyed their presence, the more passion they would have about connecting with Him and serving Him. The same is true for us today.
– RETURN. Jesus was also inviting them to return to “the first works” that increased their love for Him. As a new believer in college, I remember memorizing the book of I John. I worked at the University of Iowa Hospital until 11 pm at night, so when I walked home it was very dark outside. I would recite my I John verses aloud as I walked home. Those were some of the most intimate times I ever had with the Lord Jesus. God is inviting His church to return to those works we did early in our relationship with Christ that brought us closer to Him.
Should the church at Ephesus (or any church) refuse to “repent,” the Lord would “remove” their “lampstand” or witness and close their doors which eventually happened in the fifth century. 11 In fact none of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 exist today because each one failed to maintain a repentant attitude toward the Lord. Such will be the fate of any church whose activity is about them rather than about the Lord Jesus. Failure to prioritize intimacy with God will result in the removal of one’s influence for Christ. As one commentator notes, “The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.”12
Following this warning, the Lord Jesus added one more commendation. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The Greek word for Nicolaitans means “to conquer the people.”13 Little is known of the Nicolaitans, but their name typifies any system that focuses on dominating people rather than serving them. 14
Jesus then says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7). Jesus is addressing the whole Ephesus church consisting of believers (Revelation 2:1), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.” Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ till the end of their lives on earth and receive Christ’s promised reward.
“Thus, the overcomers spoken of here in chaps. 2–3 are those people who not only believe in Christ for eternal life, but also walk in godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11) and remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives (cf. Matthew 25:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26).” 15
Jesus promises to reward the overcomer for his or her faithfulness by giving them the privilege “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” “There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).”16 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14).
“This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1–2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.”17
People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (Revelation 2:7; cf. 22:2, 14). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:25-27).
Imagine standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive your rewards from King Jesus (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He tells you that because you were not faithful to Him till the end of your Christian life, you will forfeit certain rewards which include ruling with Him and eating from the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 3:21; 22:2, 14). Think of the regret, sadness, or shame you will have at this time (cf. Matthew 25:18-19, 22-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26; I John 2:28). If only you had remained faithful to Christ, such rewards could have been yours.
Now fast forward to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). You are sitting at a table in the New Jerusalem with your friends or family, and one of them receives a call from the office of King Jesus, informing them that they have a special meeting with the King in an hour. At this meeting, fruit from the tree of life will be served for all to enjoy who are invited to this gathering. Because you were not faithful to Jesus till the end of your Christian life, you will not receive such a call nor have access to this special fruit.
Even though there “shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…” and “no more pain” on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4), you will not be able to experience as much closeness and enjoyment with King Jesus as those who were faithful to Him to the very end. Only those believers who hear the call and appropriate the promise (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says”) will be able to live a victorious life for Christ (Revelation 2:7). All believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will experience the same degree of rewards in heaven. Specifically for the church at Ephesus and those like it, “those who do not lose passion for Christ in this life will experience a special place of intimacy with the Lord” 18 in heaven. Knowing this now is intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ with an undying love and devotion for Him.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we listened to Your message to the church of Ephesus, our hearts have been stirred. We know that we have lost the love and devotion we once had for You. Instead of prioritizing intimacy with You, we have focused on programs and performance. We have done things for You, but not with You. Thank You for loving us enough to confront us and woo us back to our original love and devotion for You. Lord, we want to regain our first love for You. Help us to remember the beauty of Your love and grace for us at the beginning of our relationship with You. Grant us a change of attitude toward You so we are not so careless to put ourselves ahead of You. Enable us to return to those things we did when we were passionately in love with You. May our love for You in some small way reflect Your incredible love for us. Thank You for promising us access to the tree of life if we will remain faithful to You to the end of our lives on earth. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. 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. 1501.
2. James Rosscup, “The Overcome of the Apocalypse,” Grace Theological Journal, 3:2 (1982): pp. 261-286; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), pp. 123-133, 134-148, 164-172, 188-194, 252-254.
3. Harlan D. Betz, “The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), pp. 36-45; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 97-111; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 37, 470, 474; Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986), pg. 48.
4. pg. 673.
5. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pg. 108.
6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.
7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2371.
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.
10. Evans, pg. 2371.
11. Walvoord, pg. 164.
12. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 31 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, TheBible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 572.