Revelation 22 – Part 8

And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17

After the ascended Lord Jesus Christ promised to give obedient believers eternal rewards (22:12-15), Christ then makes plain the divine origin and intended readership of the book of Revelation when He says, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16). The combination, “I, Jesus” is used nowhere else in the New Testament and signifies the unique role that Jesus has in producing this book, and in this way bolsters its authority. 1

Christ “sent” His “angel to testify to” the apostle John “these things” in the book of Revelation about His soon return and rewards “in the churches” so His readers will know the message has come from God Himself and is therefore trustworthy. 2 The book of Revelation was written about the future specifically for “churches” not only in the first century (Revelation 2-3), but for all churches to the present day. 3

The message of Revelation is as reliable as its Source. Jesus is the Ancestor (“the Root”) and Descendant (“Offspring”) “of David” and therefore fulfills all the prophecies concerning David’s family. 4 Historically Christ comes from King David (Matthew 1:1; cf. Isaiah 11:11; Revelation 5:5) 5 who established the old Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel, but David’s greatest Descendant will establish the glorious New Jerusalem on the new earth forever! 6

Prophetically Christ’s coming is like “the Bright and Morning Star” heralding the dawn of a new day in history. 7 The phrase “Bright and Morning Star” is “another way of referring to the sun. In the daytime, it is the one star sufficiently luminous and powerful to light the entire earth. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is ‘the bright morning star’ because He is the most powerful source of spiritual illumination and is the sole source of eternal life.” 8

Jesus “is the brightest of all personal stars, just as the morning star is the brightest physical star in the sky. He is the ‘Star’ that, in fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy, would ‘come forth from Jacob’ (Numbers 24:17).” 9

“The ‘Root’ is buried in the ground where no one can see it, but the ‘Star’ is in the heavens where everyone can see it.” 10

“Like a king affixing a royal seal to an official document, Jesus ties His reputation as Son of David and Son of God to the prophecies of the book.” 11

The last five verses of the last book of the Bible are very telling (22:17-21). It has been said that last words are lasting words.

“They represent the last God-breathed words we have before the return of Christ. In a few lines, the Spirit of God expresses the underlying purpose and message of the entire book of Revelation.” 12

“A person’s last words often provide a glimpse into his or her character, sometimes revealing what that individual values most. Some parting comments are thoughtful; others are spontaneous and sometimes surprising.” 13

The Lord Jesus continues to speak to John. And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17). The first thing on God’s heart at the end of the Bible is an invitation for unsaved people to receive eternal life freely. God has revealed future events in the book of Revelation to draw people to Himself.

God’s Holy “Spirit and the bride” of Christ, the church (cf. Revelation 3:14, 20; 19:7-9; 21:2, 9; 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32), “say, ‘Come!’” When churches walk in step with God’s Spirit, they will invite people to come to Christ for His free gift because they understand the heart of Jesus Christ. Christ has sent the church to preach the gospel to the whole world and to every individual in that world (Mark 16:5; Acts 1:8). We are not to wait for lost people to come to us. We must go where the lost people are. If we wait for lost people to come to us, we may wait the rest of our Christian lives. Instead, we must go to the unsaved people of this world. Why?

Because Jesus Christ came to earth the first time to seek and to save those who were lost (Luke 19:10). Christ loves all people (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). He desires that all people be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4). He died on the cross to pay the sins of all people (I Timothy 2:5; I John 2:1-2). If we know and love Jesus Christ, we will love the lost people for whom He died and rose from the dead. Instead of avoiding them, we will love them and go to them.

Oh, if only this was on the heart of churches today! So often Christians fight over the meaning of Revelation instead of letting it motivate them to share the gospel with a lost world! Recently, my wife and I attended a church that announced they will be installing a pastor of evangelism this coming Sunday. What a joy to hear this! How many churches have evangelistic pastors on staff today? This is rarely the case because evangelism is not a priority among today’s churches. But this is the first priority of God’s Spirit in the final verses of the Bible.

God has given gifted leaders to prepare His people to serve. God has not only given “pastors and teachers” to equip His people for “the work of the ministry,” but He has also given the church “evangelists” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Evangelists not only make the gospel of Christ known to the unsaved, but they also build up the faith of Christians. 14 11 And He Himself gave some to be… evangelists… 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12). The responsibility of evangelists is to train and “equip” Christians to share the gospel with the unsaved. One of the reasons the church has failed to reach the world for Christ with the gospel is because it has failed to make evangelism a top priority. If more churches had evangelists on staff in addition to pastors and teachers, more churches would be equipped for doing the work of an evangelist within their spheres of influence (2 Timothy 4:5).

Jesus then says, “And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’” Those who read or hear the book of Revelation are to invite the lost to “come” to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, for salvation. No one else in the universe can wash away our sins. Only Jesus Christ can do this because He is fully God and fully Man (John 1:1, 14) Who died in our place on the cross to pay the full penalty for all our sins (John 1:29; 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6; I Timothy 2:3-5; I John 2:1-2; Revelation 1:5; 5:6, 12; 7:10, 14 12:11; 13:8). He then rose from the dead proving His claims to be God are true (Romans 1:3-4).

God never intended for believers to keep the good news of Jesus to themselves. He has saved us so we can take the message of salvation to our unsaved family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances. God wants to use our voices to invite the lost to “come” to Jesus Christ in faith for His gift of eternal life.

During His earthy ministry Jesus explained why nonbelievers did not have eternal life. 15 He said, “You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). It was not because they had never heard the truth about Jesus. It wasn’t because they had no Scripture. It wasn’t because they lacked reasonable evidence about Jesus’ identity. It wasn’t because of the pain and suffering they had endured. It wasn’t because of the hypocrisy of believers in Jesus. They lacked eternal life because they were not willing to come to Jesus in faith. God will not force a person to come to Him against his or her will. God lovingly invites all people to receive His gift of eternal life.

Next Christ invites everyone who “thirsts” and “desires… the water of life” to “come” (22:17b). The “water of life” refers to eternal life in John’s writings (John 4:10, 13-14; 7:37-39; Revelation 7:17; 21:6; 22:17). Eternal life is not something we can earn or work for because Jesus offers it “freely” (dōrean) or “without payment” 16 or cost to “him who thirsts” or “desires” (21:17; cf. John 4:10-14; Romans 3:24; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). Eternal life is free to us because it has already been paid for by Jesus Who “washed us from our sins in His own blood” when He died in our place on the cross and rose from the dead (Revelation 1:5; cf. 7:14; Romans 3:24; I Corinthians 15:3-6; John 19:30). Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ alone for “the water of life” (eternal life) acquires it the moment they believe (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:13-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.).

No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, water baptism, prayer, persevering in good works, or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered as a part of, faith as a condition for receiving eternal life (Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5). This saving transaction between God and the sinner is simply the giving and receiving of a free gift (John 3:14-18; 4:10-14; 6:47; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).

If you are not certain you have eternal life, would you like to receive this absolutely free gift from the Lord Jesus Christ right now so you can live with Jesus forever in the New Jerusalem on the new earth with other believers in Him? Simply take Jesus at His Word when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 17

If you are convinced Jesus is telling the truth in John 6:47 and is therefore worthy of your trust, then believe or trust Christ alone (not your good life, prayers, or religion) to give you His gift of everlasting life. When you believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life, you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3). 18 If you now believe this, you can tell God in a simple prayer:

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for this last invitation in the Bible to come to You just as I am. Thank You for Your patience in giving me this opportunity to get right with You. I have tried to live life without You only to discover that the penalty of my sin is death or separation from You. Nothing I am or do makes me deserve to go to heaven. I believe You loved me so much You took my punishment when You died on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and a future home in Your heaven. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I just received and for the future home I will have in Your heaven. Please use me now to tell others how they can know for sure they will live with You forever. I ask You God Almighty to renew Your church’s love for You and the lost people for whom You died. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 265.

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. 1590.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pp. 2424-2425; Constable, pg. 256.

4. Constable, pg. 256.

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), Kindle Location 6687.

6. Constable, pg. 256.

7. Walvoord, Kindle Location 6687; Constable, pg. 256.

8. Evans, pp. 2424-2425.

9. Constable, pg. 256.

10. Ibid., cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2. (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, (1989), pg. 625.

11. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 401.

12. Ibid., pg. 402.

13. Ibid., pg. 401.

14. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1387), pg. 1299.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1590.

16. 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. 266.

17. Ibid., pg. 816.

18. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), pg. 265.

Revelation 20 – Part 4

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” Revelation 20:11

“Abandon every hope, all you who enter here.” 1

“Those are the famous words appearing above the gates of hell in Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ According to Dante, those who pass beneath that sign will have absolutely no hope of ever getting out. Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked is a one-way entrance. There is no hope beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire.” 2

For over the last two thousand years, the disturbing facts recorded in Revelation 20:11-15 describing the final judgment of all unsaved people has instilled fear, sorrow, disappointment, and even denial in believer and nonbeliever alike. No one wants to hear that eternal punishment for sin awaits those who refuse to believe in God’s only provision for sin – His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. While believers in Jesus will find themselves enjoying the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ forever (Revelation 21:1-22:21), the nonbeliever will find himself or herself forever removed from His presence (Revelation 20:11-15). The facts of eternal punishment are clearly presented without a hint of any hope – “because no hope exists apart from God.” 3 (emphasis added)

In our study of the book of Revelation, we learned that the members of the unholy trinity (Satan, the beast, and false prophet) all received their final judgment and consignment to the lake of fire forever (19:20; 20:10). Now we will see the Judge of all the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, determine the degree of eternal punishment for every nonbeliever who has ever lived before he or she is cast into the lake of fire (20:11-15). The “rest of the dead” will “live again” (receive bodily resurrection) to receive their final judgment (20:5). 4  This is thought to be “the most serious, sobering and tragic passage in the entire Bible.” 5

The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” (Revelation 20:11). The words translated “Then I saw” (kai eidon) introduces additional information John saw in this vision (cf. 19:11, 17, 19: 20:1, 4, 12; 21:1-2). The continuation of chronological progression seems obvious from the continued use of kai often translated “And,” to introduce new information. All but one verse in this chapter begins with kai (20:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). 6

Initially the apostle John sees “a great white throne and Him who sat on it” (20:11a). This throne is “great” because of the One Who sat on it – the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ (19:16; cf. I Timothy 6:14-16) – to Whom God the Father “has committed all judgment” (John 5:22). This throne is “white” because every verdict that proceeds from it is holy, just, pure, and righteous (cf. Psalm 97:2). 7 No one will be able dispute or reverse the final verdict and sentencing issued from this throne.

Erwin W. Lutzer writes, “We picture the scene: host beyond host, rank behind rank. The millions among the nations of the world, all crowded together in the presence of the One who sits upon the throne, the One who looks intently at each individual. We are accustomed to human judges; we know their partial and impartial verdicts. In the presence of the Almighty, all previous judgments are rendered useless. Many men and women acquitted on earth before a human judge will now be found guilty before God. Men who have been accustomed to perks, special privileges, and legal representation now stand as naked in the presence of God. To their horror they are judged by a standard that is light-years beyond them: The standard is God Himself… For the first time in their lives they stand in the presence of unclouded righteousness. They will be asked questions for which they know the answer. Their lives are present before them; unfortunately, they will be doomed to a painful, eternal existence.” 8

The location of this judgment is neither in heaven nor on earth, but in space as suggested by the statement “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away” (20:11b). 9 The “earth” and “heaven” flee in terror from the Judge’s “face.” This portrays how serious and fearful it will be to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at this final judgment. All of creation seeks to run away and hide, but “there was found no place for them” to escape (20:11c). 10 No unsaved person will be able to avoid this final judgment.

“Most adults have seen a courthouse, and some have probably been in a courtroom as a juror, witness, or part of a lawsuit. The scene is very imposing. Courtrooms often have high, vaulted ceilings with beautiful paintings and massive chandeliers. In the gallery the people sit on dark wooden benches with high, straight backs. The atmosphere is always serious and silent, except for a few muted whispers. Suddenly the door from the judge’s chambers opens and the bailiff enters, commanding all present to rise as the black-robed judge enters the courtroom. When the judge takes a seat behind the bar, court is in session. The parties are called, and the case begins.” 11

This scene will someday occur before the bar of the King of kings and Lord of lords somewhere between earth and heaven – only it will be multiplied times infinity. 12 Jesus Christ Himself will conduct the trial, and no one is more qualified than Him. He made provision for the salvation of every human being (cf. John 19:30; I Timothy 2:3-5). But those who rejected Him and His offer of salvation, must now be judged by Him. 13

“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12). John “saw” the unbelieving “dead” from all ages of history “standing before the throne” in their resurrected bodies which are indestructible. The defendants at this final judgment of unsaved humankind will consist of the “small” or insignificant. No nonbeliever will be too unimportant to go unnoticed at this judgment. Unsaved people whose lives were barely a blip in history will be there. Nor will any unbeliever be too “great” or significant to escape judgment here. The unbelieving Alexander the Great’s, Julius Caesar’s, Stalin’s, and Hitler’s will be there. Unbelieving self-righteous religious leaders will be there. Atheists and terrible sinners will be there. Unbelieving procrastinators will be there. Unconverted church members will be there. No unsaved person will escape his or her day in God’s courtroom. 14

This multitude of defendants will be diverse in its religions. “We see Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. We see those who believed in one God and those who believed in many gods. We see those who refused to believe in any God at all. We see those who believed in meditation as a means of salvation and those who believed that doing good deeds was the path to eternal life. We see the moral and immoral, the priest as well as the minister, the nun as well as the missionary.” 15

Swindoll describes the unsaved at this final judgment as…

  • “Those who existed amidst creation but replaced the Creator with idols and false gods.
  • Those who turned their backs on the free grace of God in favor of a works-based religion.
  • Those who repeatedly heard the gospel of Christ but rejected Him until it was too late.
  • Those who concluded, based on logic, reason, and experience, that God doesn’t exist.
  • Those who lived out their depravity through selfishness, wickedness, and violence.” 16

This final judgment will involve the consultation of two heavenly records: the “books” and “the book of life” (20:12b). The first heavenly record (the “books”)will determine the degree of punishment for the nonbeliever in the lake of fire. These “books” contain the record of every unsaved human being’s deeds so they can be judged “according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (20:12c). 17  Since this judgment will be “according to their works,” there will be differing degrees of punishment among nonbelievers (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:25-27; 22:12).

Millions if not billions of people have died thinking they are good enough to enter God’s heaven. Hence, Jesus Christ will examine all they have done throughout the course of their lives on earth and render His verdict the same for all nonbelievers: “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). 18

It is very important that we understand that the sinful deeds of the nonbeliever are not the basis on which the nonbeliever is consigned to the lake of fire. The basis of eternal condemnation is found in the second heavenly record: “another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” (20:12b),and it contains the names of all those who have been born spiritually into God’s family since the beginning of creation through faith in God’s promises(cf. Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:7). 19

Eternal condemnation in the lake of fire is not based on a person’s behavior, but on whether his or her name is written in “the book of life” (20:15). Those who believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will be found to have their names written in the book of life (cf. John 3:16, 36; 5:24; et al.). They have been credited with God’s imputed righteousness because of their faith in Jesus, not because of their good works (Romans 4:5). No one will receive eternal life based on what is written in a book of deeds because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23; 6:23). 20 Hence, all nonbelievers, will not have their names written in the book of life because they were never saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

To have your name written in the book of life you must reject the idea that your own righteousness will gain acceptance before God. The apostle Paul wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16). Believers in Jesus for His gift of salvation will have their names written in “the book of life” and therefore, will never receive eternal punishment based on their deeds. Hence, they will not be summoned to appear before the great white throne. 21

But all unsaved people from all ages of history will be summoned to appear at the great white throne. No high-priced lawyers will get the case postponed or dismissed on a legal technicality. No one will jump bail. Everyone who is summoned must appear. 22

“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13). God will physically resurrect the bodies of all nonbelievers, and unite them with their spirits, even those bodies decomposed in “the sea.” “In the ancient world the sea was thought to be the most inaccessible place. No human could venture to the depths of the ocean. People believed that no one buried in the ocean could ever be disturbed. God makes it clear that even the most mysterious, difficult, out-of-the-way, forbidden places are fully accessible to God. The Day of Judgment is sure (Hebrews 9:27).” 23

The statement “Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them” refers to the physical bodies of the unsaved (“Death”) being joined with their souls and spirits which have been in “Hades.” 24 “Hades” is the temporary holding place of the souls and spirits of all nonbelievers until the great white throne judgment (Luke 16:23-24).

At the time of physical death during this church age, the soul and spirit are separated from the physical body, with the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of believers going immediately into the presence of Christ in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4) and the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of nonbelievers going to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23-24). At the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 4:15-17), believers’ souls and spirits will be united with glorified bodies appropriate to their eternal existence in heaven. Here in Revelation 20:12-13, nonbelievers’ souls and spirits are united with bodies suited for their eternal location. 25

John informs us a second time that all nonbelievers at the great white throne will be judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13b). The punishment of each nonbeliever will be proportional to their sinful works. The more wickedly they behaved, the greater the degree of their punishment in the lake of fire. The charges against each nonbeliever will be read to them before their sentencing. One interpreter describes the seriousness of this judgment:

“The accused, all the unsaved who have ever lived, will be resurrected to experience a trial like no other that has ever been. There will be no debate over their guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender; an accuser but no advocate. There will be an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused; the convicting evidence will be presented with no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be an utterly unsympathetic Judge and no jury, and there will be no appeal of the sentence He pronounces. The guilty will be punished eternally with no possibility of parole in a prison from which there is no escape.” 26

Next John tells us, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14). From this point on there will be no more since God will cast “death and Hades… into the lake of fire.” Being “cast into the lake of fire” is described as “the second death.” “When a person is arrested for a crime, he is sent to a temporary place of punishment awaiting trial. But once that person has been tried and found guilty, he is sent to a long-term place of punishment. Hades can be conceived of as a prison to which men are temporarily assigned because they have been bound over for trial, but the lake of fire is God’s permanent prison for the eternally lost (cf. Matthew 13:40-42; 25:41; Mark 9:43-44; Jude 1:7; Revelation 21:8).” 27

Just as believers in Jesus have two births – physical and spiritual (John 3:5-6), so nonbelievers have two deaths. The first death involves separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body. The second death involves separation of the soul and spirit from God forever.

Finally, John writes, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). The “lake of fire” will be the final and eternal location of every human whose name is “not found written in the Book of Life.” Every person who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life will not be “found written in the Book of Life.” The “lake of fire” is a horrible place of eternal, conscious torment (14:10-11; 20:10) received in proportion to one’s sinful “works” done in the body (cf. 20:12-13). Those who receive this eternal punishment have not necessarily committed worse sins than believers who dwell with God in His heaven. Nonbelievers are simply reaping the fruit of their sins instead of enjoying the benefits of having Christ’s perfect record credited to their accounts (cf. Roman 3:22, 24-26, 28; 4:5-8). 28

Although many Christians and non-Christians have tried to deny or avoid the biblical truth concerning eternal punishment, as far as God’s revelation is concerned there are only two destinies for human beings; one is to be with the Lord forever in His heaven (John 3:36a; Revelation 21:1-22:21) and the other is to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 21:14-15). This solemn fact is intended to motivate Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth no matter what the cost and doing everything possible to inform and challenge the unsaved to believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life before it is too late. 29

The sentencing of nonbelievers to the lake of fire forever may seem very harsh to us. Some of us may think it is unfair and inconsistent with God’s love and mercy. But we must remember that God is infinitely holy (Revelation 3:7; 4:8; 6:10; 15:4; cf. Isaiah 6:3) and just (Revelation 15:3; cf. Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 30:18). The penalty for sin must be paid (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ Himself loved us so much He personally bore the wrath and punishment of God for human sin (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18), fully satisfying God’s demand to punish sin (I John 2:1-2).

Every person must decide to either accept Christ’s full payment for his or her sins (John 19:30) or pay the infinite price himself or herself in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The price must be paid in full. Will we pay it ourselves in the lake of fire or will we believe in Christ and His full payment in our place? The choice is ours. Either way, God is perfectly fair and just. 30

If you do not know for sure you will live with Jesus in eternity, you can make sure right now so you can avoid eternal torment in the lake of fire. Simply believe Jesus’ promise in John 3:16: “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is not asking you if you keep His commandments or go to church every week. Because He never said whoever keeps His commandments or goes to church every week should not perish but have everlasting life. Christ is not asking you if you pray or meditate every day because He never said whoever prays or meditates every day should not perish but have everlasting life. Nor is Jesus asking you if you persevere in good works or have been baptized with water because He never said whoever perseveres in good works or is baptized with water should not perish but have everlasting life.

No. Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The word “believe” (pisteuō) in the New Testament means to be persuaded that something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust. 31 When Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” are you convinced He is telling the truth and therefore is worthy of your trust? If you are, then trust Him to give you His gift of everlasting life.

The moment you believe or trust in Jesus for eternal life – you have eternal life. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says the person “believes” and “have.” We have what we take, correct? Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

For example, I sometimes illustrate faith by holding up a five-dollar bill at an evangelistic gathering. I explain to the audience that the first person who comes up to me and takes this bill from my hand can keep this bill. When someone does this, I then ask them why he or she came up. If they understand the simplicity of faith, they usually say because they believed my promise to give them the money.

Jesus Christ is saying, “I love you. I died for you. Do you believe? Will you trust Me to give you the never-ending life I bought for you with My own blood that was shed for you on the cross?” This is an invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and Him alone – not ourselves or Him plus our works. Nor is He asking us to believe in the Jesus of Islam or Hinduism or Mormonism or Jehovah Witnesses or some other religion. Christ is asking us to believe in the Jesus of the Bible.

Many people don’t believe in the lake of fire or hell, but they better be sure because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. When we believe in Jesus, Christ promises we shall not “perish” in the lake of fire (John 3:16). This is the best news ever!

If you just believed in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. You can simply say to the Lord, “Dear Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died for me on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and rescue me forever from the lake of fire. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in Your heaven. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He guarantees you will never come into judgment because He has rescued you from the lake of fire forever (John 3:16b; 5:24). God now wants to use you to tell your family and friends the good news of Jesus’ free offer of eternal life so they can be forever saved from the lake of fire the moment they believe in Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all people have sinned against you and deserve to suffer eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire. Yet because of Your amazing grace, we can be forever saved from the lake of fire simply by believing in Your Son who was lifted up on a cross to die in our place for our sins and then rose from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish in the lake of fire but have everlasting life with You in Your heaven. Because of Your great love and grace, we will not have to stand before the great white throne if we believe in Jesus. Please use us, we pray, to share this wonderful news with those who are perishing without Christ. May we be willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel of grace with every lost person in the world today. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 366 cites Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, “Inferno,” Canto 3, retranslated by Michael J. Svigel from the Italian version of Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, vol. 1, ed. Charles Singleton, Bollingen Series 18 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), pg. 24.

2. Ibid., pg. 367.

3. Ibid.

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. 1581.

5. Swindoll, pg. 367 cites John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000), pg. 245.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 229.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

8. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 436 cites Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1998), pp. 164-165.

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), location 6448.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 438.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 439 cites David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997), pg. 236.

14. Hitchcock, pg. 439.

15. Ibid., cites Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward, pg. 166.

16. Swindoll, pg. 368.

17. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2419.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

19. Ibid.

20. Evans, pg. 2419.

21. Swindoll, pp. 368-369.

22. Hitchcock, pg. 440.

23. Ibid.

24. Walvoord, location 6482.

25. Evans, pg. 2420.

26. Swindoll, pp. 371 cites John MacArthur, pp. 245-246.

27. Vacendak, pg. 1582.

28. Evans, pg. 2420.

29. Walvoord, location 6492.

30. Hitchcock, pg. 441.

31. 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. 816.

Revelation 18 – Part 2

“They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’” Revelation 18:19

When my wife and I drive through the countryside, we like to play a game that involves choosing our favorite houses and dreaming of what it would be like to live in them. I especially like the log cabin look far from the road surrounded by trees on the west and north to protect the occupants from Iowa’s cold winter winds. My imagination makes changes to the appearance of the house and its location. The biggest change I want to make is the owner. It should be me!

Perhaps your dream is not some house. When it comes to luxuries, we have all kinds of options for channeling our envy. Yours might be a swimming pool in the backyard, exquisite furnishings in your living room, a powerful V-8 with four on the floor, an expensive antique, a mountain cabin, a trip to Paris, the latest electronic device, or a flawless gem. The list of potential luxuries is without end. When it comes to possessing the luxurious, our imaginations have no limits. 1

God never directly forbids luxuries. The apostle Paul said he had learned “to live in prosperity… being filled and… of having abundance” (Philippians 4:12 NASB). By themselves, prosperity, fullness, and luxury are not sinful. It is when these things begin to possess us that we find ourselves guilty of Babylon’s allurement. Like the farmer in Luke 12:16-21 who thought “life” was found in his possessions instead of in his relationship with God. Jesus said that man was a fool because he was rich toward the things of the world but poor in his relationship with the Lord. This man looked to his material wealth for peace and security. He focused on the gift instead of the Giver. 2 And we can be prone to do the same. Instead of focusing on what is temporary, we need to focus on what is eternal. This is the primary lesson God wants us to learn from Revelation 18.

Last time, we learned several reasons why the worldwide false religious and economic system called “Babylon,” the code name for Rome (Revelation 14:8; 16:19-21; 17:1, 9, 18; cf. I Peter 5:13), would be swiftly destroyed by the ten kings and beast (17:16-17) during the last half of the Tribulation period (18:1-9). God hates the shameless pride and self-reliance that led Rome to reject God’s ways. Hence, the Lord will severely and swiftly judge this city for her decadent influence upon the nations and leaders of the world.

Following the message from heaven (18:1-9), John now focuses on a new message from the earth which included three groups that grieved the destruction of Rome (18:10-19). The first group is world leaders. 9 The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” (Revelation 18:9-10). As mentioned last time, Vacendak suggests that Rome’s destruction“will be by means of a nuclear warhead… Kings, merchants, and shipmasters will all stand ‘at a distance’ when they see ‘the smoke of her burning.’ The desire to keep a certain distance between themselves and the mushroom cloud of smoke billowing up to heaven may indicate their fear of the nuclear radiation that now envelops the city.” 2

World government leaders (“the kings of the earth”) will grieve when they see the destruction of Rome whose sensuality and wealth had sustained them and enabled them to live luxuriously. They were in shock that such a “great… mighty city” could be destroyed in such a short amount of time (“in one hour”)! This city was great and mighty, but its Judge was greater and mightier!

The second group mourning Rome’s destruction is merchants. 11 And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: 12 merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.” (Revelation 18:11-13). The word “merchants” (emporoi) refers to “one who travels by ship for business reasons.” 3 These businessmen grieve over the loss of customers and profits that Rome’s destruction causes.

The wailing of these merchants is greater than that of the kings (18:9-10) and ocean travelers (18:17b-19) because their loss is greater. The variety of goods that are listed here suggests how extensive the trade will be at this time in history (18:12-13). Most of the things listed by John were luxuries in his day. Constable identifies “eight categories into which these twenty-nine items fall.

“These categories are: (1) precious metals and gems (gold and silver, precious stones and pearls”), (2) clothing (“fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet”), (3) furnishings (“citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble”), (4) spices (“cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense”), (5) food (“wine and oil, fine flour and wheat”), (6) animals (“cattle and sheep, horses”), (7) implements (“chariots”), (8) people (“bodies and souls of men”).” 4

“Persons are ‘bought and sold’ (and even traded!) by athletic teams; and our great corporations more and more seek to control the lives of their officers and workers. As people become more enslaved to luxury, with more bills to pay, they find themselves unable to break loose from the ‘system.’” 5

These merchants had become wealthy by selling Rome’s religious paraphernalia and by engaging in slave trade for the “bodies and souls of men” (18:12-13). 6 Now their source of wealth and luxury was all gone. “The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have been lost to you, and you shall find them no more at all.” (Revelation 18:14). The “fruit” these merchants “longed for” was no longer available to them. The words “rich” (liparos) and “splendid” (lampros) refer to food and clothing respectively. 7 The extravagant lifestyle Rome once provided was no longer possible for these businessmen. The phrase “shall find them no more at all” contains two doubt negatives in the Greek text (outketi ou mē), emphasizing that these luxurious things these merchants craved will never ever return. 8

God’s destruction of wealth in this case should not be taken to mean God condemns wealth in general. There are many wealthy people in the Bible who walked with God – Abraham, Job, Joseph, and Solomon to mention a few. In the case of Solomon, the Bible clearly says that great wealth is a gift and reward from God (2 Chronicles 1:11-12). What the Bible condemns is the love of money or being controlled by it (I Timothy 6:10). The more God blesses us, the more grateful and worshipful we should be toward Him. But in the case of Babylon (Rome), wealth led to self-centeredness and a rejection of God. 9

That Rome’s wealth controlled the merchants of the world during the Tribulation is evident in their response to the destruction of Rome’s luxurious possessions.15 The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16 and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! 17 For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’” (Revelation 18:15-17a). These merchants are not mourning the loss of human life or the swift removal of other people’s income, but that “in one hour such great riches came to nothing.” 10 Possessions were far more important to them than people.

A third group that grieves Rome’s destruction is the ocean travelers. 17b Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance 18 and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’” (Revelation 18:17b-18). There are four groups of ocean travelers represented by: “shipmaster” (ship captains and other ship crew officers), “all who travel by ship” (passengers), “sailors” (ship crewmen under the crew officers), and “as many as trade on the sea,” such as fishermen and divers for pearls. 11 These ocean travelers are of special interest here because they represent sea merchants and shipping companies, being the shippers and distributors of Rome’s luxurious possessions. 12 Like the merchants of the earth (18:10, 15), they too are all standing “at a distance” from Rome due to the fear of nuclear radiation enveloping the city from the nuclear warhead explosion (18:17b).

These ocean travelers grieve deeply because of the collapse of this great economic empire which they thought was invincible as their question (“What is like this great city?”) implies (18:18).

“They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’” (Revelation 18:19). In the Old Testament, throwing dust on one’s head represented great grief (Joshua 7:6; I Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 13:19; 15:32; Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10). 13 The ocean travelers and tradesmen express the same laments as the kings (18:10) and merchants (18:15-17).

Just in case anyone might think this swift economic destruction is mere happenstance, John makes its source clear: 14 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” (Revelation 18:20). The angel instructs God’s people in “heaven,” including “saints” (all believers), “apostles” (who were martyred), “and prophets” (those who received and proclaimed divine revelation),to “rejoice over” Rome’s destruction because “God has avenged” them. The greed of nonbelievers to accumulate wealth for themselves resulted in countless opposition to the gospel and God’s servants throughout history. 15 God was now repaying the greedy oppressors of His people through the destruction of the city of Rome – the source of their income and luxury.

In his first epistle, the apostle John writes, 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” (I John 2:15-16). When John speaks of “the world,” he is not talking about planet earth. He is referring to an organized system under the authority of Satan that desensitizes us to God and His Word (cf. John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2). If, as a believer in Jesus, you “love the world,” you lose intimate fellowship with God. We love the world when it controls our affections and guides our choices by getting us to exclude God from our lives. 16

What does the world promise us if we love it? First, it promises to satisfy legitimate desires in illegitimate ways (“the lust of the flesh”). For example, eating is a legitimate desire; but gluttony is worldly. Sex is a legitimate desire; but outside of marriage it is worldly. 17

Second, the world tempts our minds through what our eyes behold (“the lust of the eyes”). The Bible calls this covetousness which is desiring and pursuing that which is not legitimate for us to have 18 – such as our neighbor’s possessions, livestock, and spouse.

Third, there is “the pride of life” which involves living to impress others. 19 What those in love with the world forget is that “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17). The world and its lusts are transient. The world makes the “now” more important than eternity.

As believers in Jesus, we are passing through, and the world is passing away. The cost of loving the world is the loss of personal intimacy with God (“he who does the will of God abides forever”). The term “abides” is a fellowship term in John’s writings (John 8:31; 15:4-7, 9-10; I John 2:6, 10, 14, 17, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 14, 17, 24; 4:12-13, 15-16; et. al). The believer in Jesus who loves the world will still be with God in heaven in the future, but he will not enjoy heaven nearly as much because he wasted his opportunities to love God while he was on earth. Instead, he invested his life in what is temporary instead of in what is eternal.

But the believer who is doing “the will of God” possesses a lifestyle that will not be interrupted by the passing away of this world. He experiences uninterrupted fellowship or intimacy with God. He will experience “boldness” at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I John 2:28; 4:17) where the eternal worth of his earthly life will be evaluated (I Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). However, the believer who lives out of fellowship with the Lord does not “abide” forever in that his worldly lifestyle will be radically interrupted when he goes to heaven. His worldly lifestyle will not abide forever. It stops at heaven’s gates. But a dedicated lifestyle to Christ really has no ending.

How do we see the wealth and luxury of this world? Do we see it as it truly is? Can we use it without it controlling our lives? How would we feel if the luxuries in our lives which we have considered to be necessities suddenly went up in smoke? Would it deeply grieve our hearts to suddenly see the things of this world go up in smoke? Or is our heart focused on Christ in heaven? 20

Prayer: Father God, thank You for Your Word which brings us back to You. Satan has designed this world to draw us away from You. We can often become so focused on what is temporary that we lose sight of what is eternal. Thank You for reminding us that our lives here on earth are intended to prepare us for eternity with You. Please help us to focus on the Giver and not the gift. By Your Spirit working in and through us, we pray that each of us would establish an eternal identity that outlasts this present world system as we learn to do Your will. Use our time, talents, and treasures to advance Your gospel of grace around the world so more people can discover the abundant life that Christ came to give. In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 325.

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. 1568.

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. 325.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 198.

5. Ibid., cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 615.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1569.

7. Constable, pg. 199 cites Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2nd Ed., (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 235 and R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 2, International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg. 108.

8. Ibid., cites Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. 6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 442.

9. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2412.

10. Ibid.

11. Constable, pg. 199 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 339.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 200.

14. Evans, pg. 2412.

15. Constable, pg. 200.

16. Evans, pg. 2337.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Constable, pg. 200 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. 1041.

First Things First

“Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.” Leviticus 25:9

During my morning time with the Lord, I was impressed with God’s instructions to the nation of Israel concerning special years they were to observe in Leviticus 25. The Israelites were to give their land a Sabbath rest every seventh year as the Lord provided a Sabbath rest every seventh day (25:1-7). It may seem risky to those who are agriculturally dependent to cease from farming for a year, but God intended for this to deepen His people’s dependence upon Him to provide for them.

After seven Sabbatical years, the nation of Israel was to observe the fiftieth year called the Year of Jubilee (25:8). Interestingly, this observance began with “the Day of Atonement” (25:9). The Day of Atonement was observed once a year by the Israelites so they could get right with God through an atoning sacrifice involving the shedding of blood (cf. 16:1-34; 23:26-32). This animal sacrifice foreshadowed Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:1-18).

What this communicated to the nation of Israel was that before they could enjoy God’s involvement with their agricultural economy, society, and politics (Leviticus 25:10-55), they must first get right with the Lord spiritually by approaching Him on His terms to be forgiven of their sins. Failure to observe the Day of Atonement, would not enable the Israelites to receive God’s blessings for their families, neighbors, communities, economy, and government leaders.

The same is true for us in America. Before we the people of America can enjoy God’s blessings in our families, economy, society, and politics, we must first get right with the Lord spiritually through the Lord Jesus Christ. We may want God to do things for us without first coming to the Lord for atonement for our sins. Sadly, some of us may not even recognize our need to address our sin. We may cry out to God for justice, or ask Him to fix this or provide this, or avenge the wrongs done to us, while omitting the very thing that inaugurated God’s Jubilee for the people of Israel – addressing our personal and corporate sins through an atoning sacrifice. 1

We cannot enjoy the supernatural favor of God individually or corporately as a nation without first addressing our problem with sin. God is a holy and righteous God who hates sin and demands that sin must be punished (cf. Leviticus 10:1-3; 24:10-23; Psalm 5:5; 11:5; 45:7; Proverbs 6:16-19; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Hebrews 1:9). God’s wrath toward sin must be dealt with first before we can experience God’s blessings. This is only possible through Jesus Christ Whose perfect sacrificial death and resurrection paid the penalty for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

If we want to experience the blessings of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, as individuals or even as a nation, we must first be rightly related to Him by grace through faith in Him alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ, would you like to begin that relationship right now? To do so, simply come to Jesus as you are – an underserving sinner who needs forgiveness and eternal life. Christ loved you and died in your place for you on the cross. He then rose from the dead three days later as He promised (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and He is alive today so He can give you complete forgiveness and everlasting life the moment you believe in Him (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; John 3:16).

Will you take Jesus at His word when He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)? If you do, Christ guarantees you will never “perish” in hell and you now “have everlasting life” which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Jesus now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Galatians 2:20) and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now, and not for yourself (Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthian 5:15). You can get to know Jesus more intimately as you spend time with Him talking to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible to your life both individually and corporately with other like-minded Christians (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 10:24-25).

God also wants us to pray for our country and its leaders so the gospel of Jesus can spread unhindered throughout our land (I Timothy 2:1-8) and bring His blessings upon us as a nation. Would you join me in praying for our country now?

Prayer:  Gracious heavenly Father, the only way we can approach You is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding us of this in Leviticus 25 today. Before the Israelites could enjoy Your involvement in their families, economy, society, and politics, they had to address their sin problem before You by offering an atoning sacrifice. Likewise, Lord, before we can approach You to bless our individual and corporate lives, we must get right with You spiritually through Jesus Christ. Lord God, You know how broken our country is because we have turned away from You and Your ways. Please, oh please, heavenly Father, bring us back to You. Bring to our awareness our need for You and Your forgiving grace. Use those of us who believe in Jesus to spread the good news of His grace with our lives and lips so people may get right with You holy Father through faith in Your only perfect Son. We need You gracious God. Our families, our neighbors, our economy, our society, our political leaders – all of us deeply need You to restore our relationship with You through Jesus. Thank You our Lord and our God for hearing our prayers. In the atoning name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 298.

Revelation 7 – Part 1

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Revelation 7:4

John received two new visions that corrected the possible impression that no one would survive the “beginning of birth-pangs” (Matthew 24:6-8) during the first half of the Tribulation judgments (Revelation 6:1-17). God will save two groups of people during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:14): He will preserve 144,000 Israelites alive on the earth (7:1-8), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17). John saw both groups in chapter 7, which contrasts the panic of unbelievers described in Chapter 6 (“After these things”) and in answer to the question “Who is able to stand?” (6:17), with the security of believers during this time of unprecedented suffering (7:1a). 1

The mention of martyrs during the Tribulation (6:9-11) leads John to write about what will happen to those who become believers during that time. Though billions of unbelievers will die, many will come to faith in Christ and many of those will be martyred for their faith in Him. In wrath, God will remember mercy (cf. Hab 3:2). Even though this will be a time of trouble like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (vv 1-8) and Gentiles (vv 9-17).” 2

As the hoofbeats of the four horsemen echoed into the distance and the cacophony of geological and cosmic upheavals stilled, John’s attention turned to the center of the earthly end-times drama: the land of Israel. Throughout their history, the people of Israel had been conquered, delivered, devastated, exiled, and restored over and over again as military threats bombarded them from every side. Yet at the beginning of John’s vision of the Tribulation, just as the land of Israel is about to endure the most devastating war in all of history, God’s intervention reminds us that He will keep His promises to Israel.” 3

In between the sixth and seventh seals of judgment, John writes, “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” (Revelation 7:1). The apostle “saw four angels standing at the four corners.” The phrase “four corners of the earth, is an idiom for the four cardinal directions 4 – north, south, east, and west. 5

The four angels in John’s vision have the responsibility of restraining the judgment of God (pictured by “the four winds,” cf. Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15) on nature (“the earth…the sea…any tree”). Most of the trumpet and bowl judgments involve God’s destruction of the earth’s environment in some way (cf. Revelation 8–9, 16). However, as Revelation 11:14 indicates, the first six trumpet judgments take place before the 144,000 go out to preach in the last half of the seven years. 6

Then John sees another angel in addition to the first four: “2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’” (Revelation 7:2-3). “Another” [allon] angel” of the same kind as the first four angels ascended “from the east” (literally – “from the rising of the sun”). In the Bible, divine salvation often comes “from the east” (cf. Genesis 2:8; Ezekiel 43:2; Matthew 2:1; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 7

This fifth angel had “the seal of the living God.” A “seal” was a symbol of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22), authentication (John 6:27), and protection leading to final salvation (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30; cf. Genesis 4:15; Exodus 12:7). 8 This “seal” represents God’s intention to protect the twelve tribes of Israel that are mentioned in verses 4-8, much as He protected Noah from the Flood, Israel from the plagues of Egypt, and Rahab and her household in Jericho. 9

“In Ezekiel 9, a linen-clothed angel went forth and put a mark on a select group of people to set them apart from those on whom God’s judgment would fall. The same is true here. The purpose of this seal is to set apart those who will share the gospel in the last three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation and to protect them from the judgments that will be falling on unrepentant mankind (cf. 9:4).” 10

On earth during the Tribulation, the followers of the Beast will bear his mark on their right hand or forehead (Revelation 13:16). During this same time, the Lord will identify His people by placing a seal of ownership on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). Revelation 7 and 13 use two different Greek words to distinguish these marks from each other. In Revelation 7, God seals the 144,000 on their “foreheads.” The word used there for the verb “sealed” is sphragizō, which symbolizes the spiritual sealing mentioned throughout the New Testament (John 3:33; 6:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). But in Revelation 13, where followers of the Antichrist are given a “mark” (Revelation 13:16-17), the word used is charagma which refers to a literal brand, tattoo, or etching. 11

This angel commands the four angels to whom was given authority “to harm the earth and the sea” to withhold their judgment on the earth until he had finished sealing “the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3). God wants His servants set apart and ready before any of the judgments fall on the earth. 12 The “servants” in view are believers in Jesus Christ who are Jews (7:4-8). The sealing of God’s servants sets them apart as God’s redeemed people and guaranteed their physical safety while they preached the gospel during the last 3 ½ years of the Tribulation when the trumpet judgments take place (8:7-21; 11:15-18).

“Evidently God will give these 144,000 believers special protection in the last half of the Tribulation, because its calamities will be much more severe than those in the first half. Antichrist will also mark his followers in a similar way (13:16-18; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20).” 13

Next John writes, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” (Revelation 7:4). When God’s Word says, “all the tribes of the children of Israel,” He means it. Unfortunately, “most posttribulationists and amillennialists believe the 144,000 are members of ‘spiritual Israel,’ a title of theirs for the church. 14 “Many interpreters take the number 144,000 as symbolic of all God’s servants in the Tribulation.” 15

Swindoll writes, Many Christians today are convinced that God’s plan for ethnic Israel has come to an end. Some believe that the promises of a glorious nation and blessing in the Holy Land have been abolished because of Israel’s past unfaithfulness. Others have determined that these promises were fulfilled in a spiritual sense through Christ in the church. Some theologians propose that Israel has been replaced by the church and that ethnic Jews have been divorced by God, without a future in God’s plan.

“However, the New Testament assures us that God plans to bring about the fulfillment of those promises through Jesus Christ. Although most ethnic Jews have been in a state of unbelief since the time of Jesus, God will one day bring a remnant to faith in Christ and restore them to the land promised to their forefathers (Genesis 13:15). Jesus Himself promised the apostles, ‘In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28). Before Christ’s ascension, the disciples eagerly inquired about the timing of that earthly kingdom when they asked, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6). It is significant that Jesus didn’t reject their literal interpretation and expectation of a future fulfillment of these earthly promises. Instead, He told them that they would not know the timing of this restoration (Acts 1:7-8). 

Years later, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of Israel’s unbelief by declaring that this rebellion would one day be reversed: ‘A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11:25-26). In other words, when God has accomplished His purposes through the church, He will again turn His attention to the nation of Israel and bring them to faith in Christ. We can see the beginnings of this future for Israel with the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8.

“Why is the restoration of Israel so important? Because God’s very reputation as a Promise Keeper is at stake! With explicit reference to the calling of Israel, Paul said, ‘For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). It’s as simple as this: If we cannot trust God to keep His promises to Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-37), how can we trust Him to keep His promises to us (Romans 8:35-39)? Never doubt it: God will do what He says He will do!” 16

That God is referring to ethnic Israel is underscored by the fact that John heard the names of twelve tribes of Israel with 12,000 from each tribe “sealed” and thus protected: 5 of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; 6 of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; 7 of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; 8 of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.” (Revelation 7:5-8). Nothing in this text suggests a symbolic understanding. The fact that specific “tribes” were named “and specific numbers from each tribe were indicated would seem to remove this from the symbolic and to justify literal interpretation. If God intended these verses to represent Israel literally, He would have used this means. Nowhere else in the Bible do a dozen references to the 12 tribes mean the church. Obviously, Israel will be in the Tribulation, and though men do not know the identification of each tribe today, certainly God knows.” 17

The number of sealed servants of God, with specific numbers from each tribe in contrast with the indefinite number of 7:9, underscores the literal understanding of these verses. “If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally.” 18

Hitchcock gives several reasons why the church cannot represent Israel in Revelation 7:1-8: “Why would the Holy Spirit begin to mix the church and Israel in the book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament, when He has so carefully distinguished the two groups in the previous twenty-six books of the New Testament? Why begin to identify the church as the true, spiritual Israel at this late point in the New Testament? It does not make good sense and is inconsistent.

“Second, if one holds to the pre-Tribulation timing for the Rapture, the church is already in heaven as pictured by the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4–5. Thus, it doesn’t make sense that the group in Revelation 7, which is on earth, would be the church. The church has already been raptured.

“Third, it is interesting that Jews and Gentiles are clearly distinguished from one another in Revelation 7. The 144,000 Jews are listed in 7:1-8 while 7:9-17 presents an innumerable host of ‘every nation and tribe and people and language.’ Merging these two groups does not do justice to the distinctions that Revelation 7 makes:

“Jews from twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9-17); numbered—144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8), not numbered—“a great multitude which no one could count” (Revelation 7:9-17); standing on earth (Revelation 7:1-8), standing before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17); sealed for protection (Revelation 7:1-8), ascended after persecution (Revelation 7:9-17).

Furthermore, Revelation 7 clearly distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles, but this distinction is inconsistent with the New Testament picture of the church—Jews and Gentiles are seen as one in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:27-28; Ephesians 3:6). Since Galatians 3 and Ephesians 3 unite Jews and Gentiles as one and since Revelation 7 does not reflect that unity, the Rapture must reinstitute a division between Jews and Gentiles. Revelation 7 reflects that division.

So then, who are these 144,000 servants of God? If the Scriptures are interpreted literally, then the 144,000 are a literal group of 144,000 Jewish men—12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—raised up by God during the Tribulation to serve Him. They are not spiritual Israel (the church), but actual Israel.” 19

The most important fact taught here is that God continues to watch over Israel even in the time of Israel’s great distress. There is no justification whatever for spiritualizing either the number or the names of the tribes in this passage, to make them represent the church.” 20

In conclusion, God’s faithfulness to His promises is seen in the fact that ethnic Israel will retain her national identity before God during the Tribulation period, and He will resume dealing with them again as His chosen people during this time (7:1-8; cf. Daniel 9:24-27). Jehovah Witnesses or any other Gentiles who claim to be a part of this group fail to accept the final authority of God’s Word which clearly states that these 144,000 servants of God will be physical descendants of the twelve Israelite tribes. When they are sealed (7:1-8), they will know their tribal roots, and their sealing will take place after the Rapture of the Church (4:1-4).

How can we apply this to our lives today? Just as God prepared the 144,000 Jewish servants for service by giving them His seal (7:2-8), so God has prepared us for His service by giving us the Holy Spirit to empower us to be His witnesses to the entire world (Acts 1:8). We are not alone when it comes to sharing the gospel with a lost world. God the Holy Spirit indwells us (John 14:16-17) and will give us the boldness (Acts 4:29-31) and words to speak to those who need Christ in their lives (Matthew 10:19-20).

The 144,000 Jewish servants will boldly proclaim the gospel of Christ’s coming Kingdom during the Tribulation period. There appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7 between the 144,000 Jewish believers (7:1-8) and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in heaven from all nations (7:9-17). The preaching of the gospel by these 144,000 Jewish evangelists during the last half of the Tribulation period will results in an innumerable number of people being saved. They will be the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen. These sealed servants of God will fulfill Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Revelation 7 provides a panorama of God’s saving work during the Tribulation. The 144,000 reveal God’s passion to save people even amid the unspeakable judgments of the Tribulation. To the very end, our Savior will graciously continue “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). 21

Does our passion for the lost reflect that of our Savior Who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:3-4)? I am convinced that the closer we grow to the heart of the Lord Jesus, the more our hearts for the lost will reflect His. Christ promises that if we follow Him, He will make us fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Swindoll reminds us that this interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments in Revelation 7 teaches us several things: “To reaffirm Christ’s central position, remind us of God’s great plan of redemption, and reassure us that God’s wrath isn’t without mercy. John needed that interlude. So do we. In fact, it might be wise for us to follow God’s example and work interludes into our own lives.

“Interludes do at least three things for us—all of them essential in a world filled with relentless stress, hardship, busyness, and drama.

“First, interludes reaffirm for us who’s first… Interludes strengthen the centrality and preeminence of Christ. When we are alone for even a short period of time, we get a desperately needed opportunity to focus on Him. Strive to make this ‘time with God’ a daily appointment. Consider not only setting aside a few hours on Sunday morning to remember who’s first but also devoting the whole Lord’s Day to Christ-centered activities.

Second, interludes remind us of what’s important. In the fast pace of modern life, we frequently get our priorities jumbled up. The nonessentials of life tend to bleed over into the essentials—and vice versa. When we pause, step back, and gather our thoughts, we give ourselves a chance to reorder our priorities. Such occasions to ‘regroup’ can be monthly getaways or annual retreats. Each of us is different, but all of us need a chance to reconsider priorities, set things straight, and form a plan to keep life’s essentials on top. Consider dedicating a portion of a vacation to thinking and praying through your priorities. What a difference it will make for the rest of the year!

Third, interludes refresh us with why it’s all worth it. In the depths of despair, in the thick of tragedy, in the throes of suffering, we need interludes in order to recharge spiritually with the faith and fortitude to carry on. Interludes can help us endure suffering, loss, disappointment, and the death of dreams. They massage us back to a fresh new start. We reenter the fray with a new perspective, centered on God’s goodness and on His plan and purpose. Sometimes we just need a shelter from the storm.

“It’s easy to lose sight of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy in the midst of the daily turmoil of life in this fallen world. Only during interludes of reflection are we able to evaluate our priorities and passions in light of the central position of Jesus Christ, which equips us with a new sense of purpose as we place our trust in Him.” 22

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this amazing interlude in heaven between the sixth and seventh seal judgments which underscores that Your wrath is accompanied by Your mercy. Only You can give us security amid a world that is spinning out of control. Your judgments can awaken people for their need for Your mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for remaining faithful to Your promises to Israel and to those of us who are Gentiles. We can trust You to keep Your promises no matter how difficult life becomes. Please show us how to work interludes into our own lives that enable us to renew our commitment to Christ. We need to detach from this hostile world and renew our love relationship with Jesus. Make us more like You, Lord Jesus, so Your love for the lost becomes ours. Use us to proclaim Your message of grace through faith to a world that is perishing without You. Protect us from the evil one and equip us with a renewed sense of purpose as we place our trust in You. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 94.

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), pp. 1524-1525.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 162-163.

4. Ibid., pg. 163.

5.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1525. Regarding Revelation 11:14, Vacendak says, Since the death of the two witnesses and the subsequent earthquake occur after the first and second ‘woe’ (i.e., trumpet judgments five and six), one may conclude that the first six trumpet judgments occur during the first three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation” (pp. 1538-1539).

7. Constable, pg. 95.

8. Ibid.

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. Vacendak, pg. 1525.

11. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 290.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1525.  

13. Constable, pg. 96.

14. Ibid., cites as examples William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 30; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 168; 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. 175; George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible Commentary series, Revised ed. (London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 140; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 1972 reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), pp. 114 116; Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 99; James Moffatt, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (1910), 4th ed. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll 5 Vols. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 395; Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 413; David E. Aune, Revelation 6—16, Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 447.  

15. Ibid., cites as examples Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” In Hebrews-Revelation Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12 vols., Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pp. 463 and 481; Ladd, pg. 117.

16. Swindoll, pp. 156-157.

17. Walvoord, pg. 164.

18. Constable, pg. 96 cites Thomas, Revelation 1—7, p. 474.

19. Hitchcock, pp. 288-289.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Adapted from Hitchcock, pp. 291-292.

22. Swindoll, pp. 168-169.

How can l live above average? Part 2

“Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” I Chronicles 4:10ab

We are learning how to live about average by looking at four principles found in the prayer of a man named Jabez. The first principle we learned last time was to seek God’s blessing in our lives (I Chronicles 4:9-10a). As God increases the blessings in our lives, we will soon discover that He does not want us to keep them to ourselves.

This leads to our second principle for living above average: ASK GOD TO INCREASE YOUR INFLUENCE FOR HIM (I Chronicles 4:10b). After asking God to bless him a lot, Jabez prayed, “Oh, that You would… enlarge my territory.” (I Chronicles 4:10b).

In Jabez’s time part of Israel’s recent national history was Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and the partitioning of the Promised Land into chunks of real estate for each tribe. When Jabez cried out to God, ‘Enlarge my territory!’ he was looking at his present circumstances and concluding, ‘Surely I was born for more than this!’ As a farmer or herdsman, he looked over the spread his family had passed down to him, ran his eye down the fence lines, visited the boundary markers, calculated the potential—and made a decision: ‘Everything You’ve put under my care, O Lord—take it, and enlarge it.’ ” 1

The problem with too many of us is that we are too easily satisfied where we are. We have become complacent with our little plots of land in the kingdom when God wants to use us to expand the influence of his kingdom in history. People who are complacent aren’t motivated to ask God for anything, so they don’t receive anything from God. Jabez wanted his kingdom influence to grow, and he knew the Lord could deliver.” 2

What would it look like to ask God to enlarge your territory? If you own a business, you might pray for God to give you more business opportunities. Is that wrong? Not if you are running your business God’s way.Your business is the territory God has entrusted to you to touch more lives for His glory. 3

If you are a wife and mother, you might pray for your family to touch more lives for the Savior. Ask God to give you favor in key relationships and increase your family’s influence, so more people are changed for God’s glory.

As Christians, we would pray for God to enlarge our territory so we can impact more non-Christians with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul writes, “Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about His… plan concerning Christ.” (Colossians 4:3 NLT). When was the last time you asked the Lord to give you an opportunity to share the gospel with someone? God loves to answer this prayer request. One of the reasons we may not be sharing the gospel with the unsaved is because we are not asking the Lord to give us more influence.

Do you want to see more lives transformed by our great God and Savior (Titus 2:13), Jesus Christ? If so, then pray for God to enlarge your territory. Make this a priority. Paul writes, “Pray first that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and triumph wherever it goes, winning converts everywhere as it did when it came to you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 LB). Notice the word “first” in this verse. Does it say to pray first for those who are sick or hurting? No. Does it say to pray first for political leaders? No. Does it say to pray first for a job or money? No. We are to pray first for God’s word, the gospel, to spread. Why? Because having a personal relationship with God through believing the gospel is the most important need in peoples’ lives.

I must warn you, if you start praying this way, you may start to have people showing up in your inbox or at your doorstep. And the strange thing is, they may not even know why they are reaching out to you. But God knows. He is the One Who set up this divine appointment.

To live above average, we must pray above average. Imagine what God will do as we plead with Him to enlarge our territory? Wouldn’t it be awesome to see our neighbors and the people in our communities come to faith in Jesus Christ? Remember, all things are possible with God (Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27).

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the greatest blessing of all – knowing You through Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding me not to keep that Blessing to myself, but to share Christ with others. Please enlarge my territory by granting me opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know Him as their Savior. Increase my love for lost people and my boldness to share the gospel with them. Help me to be a good manager of the territory You have entrusted to me. I pray for greater influence to touch lives for Your glory. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life (Breakthrough Series Book 1, The Crown Publishing Group, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 31.

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 710.

3. Wilkinson, pg. 31.

How does the risen Lord Jesus use us to make a difference in peoples’ lives after we fail? Part 1

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” John 21:15

On October 25, 1964, the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League were playing the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco, CA. Carl Eller of the Vikings had just scooped up a 49er fumble and turned it into a touchdown.

Working hard to get back the touchdown, 49er quarterback, George Mira, threw a short pass into the secondary to halfback Bill Kilmer. Jim Marshall of the Vikings quickly diagnosed the play and headed for Kilmer. Marshall got there quickly when someone hit Kilmer and the 49er halfback fumbled. Reacting instinctively, Marshall hurdled a player in front of him and, on the run, picked up the loose ball. Without hesitation he began sprinting for the goal line – the Minnesota goal line sixty-six yards away.

Marshall had simply gotten mixed up. And the roar of the crowd drowned out his teammate’s shouts to turn around. Marshall ran into the end zone without opposition and then threw the football away in celebration. He began to realize something was wrong when San Francisco’s Bruce Bosely threw his arms around him, thanking him for the safety. The Viking quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, ran up and said, “Jim, you went the wrong way, the wrong way!” Marshall buried his head in his hands for a few agonizing moments and then jogged back to the bench.

Viking’s coach Norm Van Brocklin, a man with a notoriously short temper, realized that the situation was not one that called for angry words. He smacked Marshall on the backside and said, “Forget about it, Jim. Go back in there and make the fans forget.” For the rest of the game Marshall played excellent football. Minnesota went on to win 27-22. No doubt Marshall expected the coach to bench him for his blunder. But he didn’t. He gave him a second chance. He told him “To forget it. Go back in there and make the fans forget.”

Have you ever run the wrong way in your Christian life, not listening to God or to others who are trying to tell you to turn around? It happens to all of us. And we may then feel God wants to bench us and not let us back into the game. We feel like a failure and tell ourselves, “God cannot use failures.”

If you have ever felt that way, it would profit you to take a look at how the risen Lord Jesus responded to Peter in John 21:15-19 after Peter had failed the Lord in a big way. Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38).

Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life over three years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11; cf. 6:69). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”

In John 21, seven of Jesus’ disciples were sitting around “a fire of coals” on a beach along the Sea of Galilee with Jesus after He rose from the dead (John 21:1-14). It was dawn; quiet and cool. Smoke drifted lazily from the fire as well as the aroma of freshly toasted bread and smoked fish. No doubt small talk and a few laughs occurred as they ate breakfast. Surely someone commented on how good it was to miraculously catch over one-hundred fifty large fish so quickly after Jesus instructed these fishermen to cast their net on the other side of their boat.

Suddenly the conversation stopped, and Jesus turned to Simon Peter. Their eyes met. “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ ” (John 21:15). When the disciples had finished eating breakfast with the risen Lord Jesus, Christ asked Peter three questions in front of his companions. These questions would probe the depths of Peter’s heart and would stand in contrast to Peter’s three denials.

You may recall the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, during our Lord’s trial, Peter had vehemently denied three times that he was associated with Jesus (John 18:17-18, 25, 27). Now the risen Lord Jesus was giving Peter a chance to redeem himself. Three times Peter had said he did not even know the Lord Jesus, now three times he would say he loved the Lord. Peter’s failure took place while standing around “a fire of coals” (John 18:18) in the courtyard in front of Annas’ house (John 18:15-16), and now his restoration would take place while around “a fire of coals” on the beach (John 21:9).

I believe Peter knew what was coming. He may have returned to fishing because of his three public denials of Jesus. He may have had doubts about his future considering his failure. He stood around this fire like a condemned man before his Judge. There was no need for a trial; the evidence was indisputable – it shouted of his conviction! Then Jesus did something amazing, so amazing that few people grasp the magnitude of the question, instead they read an accusation into Jesus’ words. 1

Jesus addresses Peter with an air of seriousness when He says, “Simon, son of Jonah.” In the Gospels, Jesus addressed Peter this way on only the most important occasions. These were: Peter’s call to follow Jesus (1:42), his confession of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 16:17), and as he slept in Gethsemane (Mark 14:37). When Jesus addressed Peter this way here, Peter probably realized that what Jesus was about to say to him was extremely important.” 2

Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he is going to deny Him again.  Nor does Christ ask Peter if he was sorry for what he had done. He didn’t interrogate Peter to find out if he was going to try harder the next time he is in a similar situation. He simply asked Peter if he loved Him. 3

Much discussion has revolved around the use of the words for “love” used by Jesus (agapaō) andPeter (phileō). Before we look at that, I want to point out something that is often overlooked in this passage. Jesus made Himself vulnerable by asking Peter if he loved Him. Haven’t all of us, at some point in time, asked someone if he or she really loves us? If we are married, we certainly have. I know I have asked my wife many times if she loved me, especially after I had offended her or deeply hurt her. I felt so vulnerable during those times. We all do in a situation like that.

Jesus made Himself vulnerable in this conversation with Peter. Peter was probably expecting Jesus do reprimand him for his public denials knowing he deserved a painful rebuke. But he hears the risen Lord Jesus ask if he loved Him. When we ask a question like that, we all put our heart right out there on the line. Even God does this with Peter!

Jesus Christ was not only vulnerable when He came to earth and lay in a manger as a Baby, or when He was faced with the failures and humanness of His disciples, knowing one of them would eventually betray Him. Nor was the cross, where He made Himself extremely vulnerable to everyone’s sin and suffering, the only place of His vulnerability. Christ’s entire life on earth was one of unguarded servanthood to humanity. “Do you love Me?” is a constant expression of Jesus’ heart.

That simple question can transform a broken heart that is overtaken by failure. It certainly changed Peter’s relationship with his Savior. And it can change ours. When Jesus asked Peter this question, He was looking beyond Peter’s behavior to his heart. Christ is focusing on Peter’s heart, not his past failure. Why? Because a person cannot change their behavior until their heart has been changed.

All too often the Christian church is preoccupied with the behaviors of its members instead of their hearts. They can be quick to condemn believers who have failed. They may constantly remind fallen Christians of their sinful behavior, while failing to offer hope and healing to them by focusing on their hearts.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart with His questions. Peter had been preoccupied with himself earlier when he claimed to have more commitment than the other disciples (Matthew 26:31-33; John 13:37). He was focused on himself when he failed Jesus in the courtyard and began to curse and swear and weep bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75). But Jesus’ question was bringing Peter’s focus back to Him.

The truth is all of us can be like Peter. I know I can and have many times. We can get so full of ourselves, that we cannot see Jesus. We get so focused on whether we are okay and appreciated by others, that we lose sight of our love for Jesus.

When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, I can just picture Peter looking at the ground, probably moving some dirt around with his water-logged sandals and then saying, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Peter seems to be saying, “Lord, when I get my head on straight and my heart isn’t so polluted, I really do love You. And I want to love You – at times more than anything else in my life. But, Lord, I really don’t know the truth about my heart most of the time. Yet You do, and that’s why Your name is Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.” 4

Jesus’ full question was, “Do you love Me more than these?” This was not a performance question. This was a heart question. Jesus uses the Greek word agapaō for unconditional love. This word is often used of God’s sacrificial love to do what is best for another (cf. John 3:16; I John 4:9-10).

Peter knew what Jesus meant by “these” (toutōn), but it is not as clear to us. Some suggest that Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Christ more than the fishing vocation he has returned to. I don’t take it this way.

I believe Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you unconditionally love Me more than the other disciples love Me?” Why would Jesus ask this? Because when he had predicted that the disciples would fall away, Peter had vowed, ‘Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away’ (Matt 26:31-33). Peter had wanted Jesus to know that though the devotion of the other disciples might waver, he could count on Peter remaining steadfast. He would be the one disciple that Jesus could trust. But here, after Peter had shamefully denied Jesus three times, Jesus basically asked Peter, ‘Are you still the most committed disciple?’ ” 5  Jesus is asking Peter, “Can you still affirm that you love Me more than these other disciples do?”

So, Jesus is taking Peter back to the worst failure of his life, not to condemn him, but to give him hope and to develop a new depth of intimacy with Him. 6  

Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Notice that Peter appeals to Jesus’ knowledge as proof of his love for Jesus, not his own former behavior. Peter uses the Greek word phileō for “love” here. This word means “to have a special interest in someone or something …  with focus on close association, have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” 8 This is the kind of love that exists between good friends. 9

Some Bible students believe that the word Peter used for love (phileō) is inferior to the word Jesus used for love (agapaō). 10  So, when Peter responded to Jesus, they believe his failures had humbled him. Peter had claimed that his love for and commitment to Jesus was superior to that of the others. But after his failure and denial, he wasn’t willing to arrogantly say that he loved Jesus with a sacrificial love.” 11

Other Bible students believe the use of agapaō and phileō are used interchangeably in the gospel of John and do not see any actual difference in meaning. 12 “The word phileō does not represent an inferior type of love. John, for example, uses phileō, to refer to the Father’s love for Jesus (5:20). Surely the Father’s love for Jesus is not some lesser love! In addition, Jesus’ love for John and for Lazarus is expressed by phileō (11:3, 36; 20:2), as is the Father’s love for the disciples and the disciples’ love for Jesus (16:27). The change was merely for stylistic considerations—much like the change from ‘Feed My lambs’ to ‘Tend My sheep’ to ‘Feed My sheep.’” 13

In the context, I prefer the former view, that Peter uses a word for love (phileō) that is not as strong because he doesn’t feel worthy of unconditional love. Peter doesn’t have enough confidence to say he loves Jesus unconditionally more than his fellow disciples do because he had just failed the Lord miserably.

How does Jesus respond to His discouraged disciple? “He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’ ” The word for “feed” (boskō) is used of herdsmen who feed or “tend to the needs of animals” 14 or their herds(Matthew 8:30; Mark 5:14; Luke 8:34; 15:15). The verb means “to take care of,” not merely “feed.” 15

The “lambs” (arnia) refer to Christ’s followers, especially the young ones in the faith who may be prone to wander. 16  When Jesus said this, what kind of look do you think was on His face? Was he frowning or doubting? I am convinced that Jesus was smiling from ear to ear.

Jesus wasn’t done with Peter yet. Earlier he told Peter he would fish for men (Matthew 4:19; Luke 5:10), which was more of an evangelistic ministry. But now Christ is telling him to “Feed My lambs” which is more of a pastoral ministry. “Previously Jesus had referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd (10:14). Now He was committing the care of His flock to this disciple who had failed Him miserably in the past.” 17  

How does Jesus restore us after we fail? The first way is HE INVITES US TO MAKE LOVING HIM OUR FIRST PRIORITY (John 21:15). What motivates our lives or ministries? What motivates us to serve others? Is it the promise of a payment or reward? I’m not just talking about money, but also appreciation or approval from others. Is it the prestige of being in leadership? Is it the sense of power or control over others that motivates us?

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” Peter’s answer is, “Lord, You know that I love you.”  Not “more than,” just “You know that I love You.” And Jesus says, “Feed My lambs.”

So, Jesus says if you really want to feed people, the first question is do you love Him? If God is going to use us to make a difference in the lives of other people after we fail Him miserably, we must make loving Jesus our number one priority.

Jesus is giving Peter (and us) an entirely new set of priorities for living. He uses our failures to establish new priorities in our Christian lives. It was one thing for Peter to be excited about an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. It was quite another thing to let the truth of the resurrection change the way he lived his life. It is one thing for us to come to church on a Sunday and be excited and give a standing ovation to a great song or an “Amen” to a great sermon. We may feel close to the Lord during those times. But it is quite another thing for us to let that truth change the way I treat my wife or my kids at home or the way I act at work the next day. If we are honest with ourselves, it is very difficult to make the leap between Sunday’s experience and Monday’s reality.

Jesus is helping us learn how to do this. First, He is telling us, “Make loving Me the top priority in your life. If you want to love other people, first love Me. Take time to connect with Me. That’s where the strength comes from to love others.” Take time every day to get to know Jesus. Get alone and talk to Him in prayer and listen to Him speak to you as you read and obey the Bible. We cannot get to know and love Jesus if we don’t spend time with Him.

And if we are not taking the time to know and love Jesus, we are not going to last in ministering to others. We will get burned out and dry up spiritually. Other people cannot love us the way Jesus can. Other people cannot strengthen us the way Jesus can. Make loving Christ your number one priority in life, and He will use you to make an eternal difference in the lives of other people.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that we are a lot like Peter. We can start out relying on ourselves to remain committed to You even unto death. We get so focused on ourselves that we do not even see You. But we soon find out, like Peter did, that that is a recipe for failure. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for giving us the grace we need so that our failures are not final. Thank You for focusing more on our hearts than on our behaviors. By Your grace, we want to make loving You our top priority in life. Lord Jesus, there is no one who loves us more than You do. There is no one who forgives us more than You do. Please use us to make a difference in someone’s life today. Would You use us to do that, Lord Jesus? Would You love that person through us, our Lord and our God? Thank You for hearing our prayer. In Your mighty name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999), pg. 246.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 394.

3. Adapted from Ted Robert’s discussion in his book, Pure Desire, pp. 246-247.

4. Ibid., pp. 248-249.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

6. Roberts, pg. 249.

7. Constable, pg. 395.

8. 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. 1056.  

9. Evans, pg. 1832.

10. Constable, pg. 395 cites K. L. McKay, “Style and Significance in the Language of John 21:15-17,” Novum Testamentum 27 (1985):319-33; Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 4: “Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament” (by the author, 1940; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1966), pp. 60-63; and Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, The New Versus the Old (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2002), pg. 227; See also J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 379 who cites William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953-54), 2:494-500; R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1942), pp. 1418-20; A. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. John (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1899), pg. 372; B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), pg. 303.

11. Evans, pg. 1832.

12. Laney, pg. 380 cites C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (London: SPCK, 1962), pg. 486; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 404-405; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 873; Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 293-318.

13. 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. 569; and see Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 395 where he writes, “For example, John used both agapao and phileo to describe the Father’s love for the Son (3:35; 10:17; 5:20), Jesus’ love for Lazarus (11:5, 3, 36), and Jesus’ love for the beloved disciple (13:23; 20:2). Also, he used three different Greek words to describe ‘fish’ in this passage: prosphagion, ichthus, and opsarion.”

14. Bauer, pg. 181.

15. Laney, pg. 380.

16. Ibid.

17. Constable, pg. 396.

Connecting in a Disconnected World of Covid (Video)

Although this video was prepared for a church anniversary in the Philippines, its biblical principles can apply to any culture. We will not only look at the challenges of connecting with other people during this age of COVID-19, we will also turn to the Bible to discover how we can connect with one another in more effective ways. If you are feeling all alone and without hope, this video is for you.

How can we become more fruitful for the Lord? Part 3

“And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2b

The third way to becoming more fruitful for the Lord is to RECOGNIZE THE PRUNING PROCESS (John 15:2b-3). Jesus said to eleven believing disciples, And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2b). Pruning grape vines is necessary during the growing season. So picture this: You are in fellowship and producing fruit, but God wants to produce more fruit in your life so He prunes you. The word “prunes”(kathairō), means “to make clean, purge.” 1  The natural tendency of a grapevine is to grow so vigorously that the leaves and branches block out the sun where the fruit should form. The vinedresser must cut away the excess growth so that more grapes will be produced.

In a similar way, God will cut away excessive commitments or lesser priorities in our lives (which are not necessarily wrong) in order for us to produce even more fruit for His glory. This involves the removal of self from our lives. God prunes us to encourage us to let go of that which might prevent us from accomplishing even more for His glory. God may use pain in our lives to remove excessive commitments.

Ask yourself, “Where do I hurt?” God may be pruning you in that area. He may be calling you to go where the lost people are but your excessive commitments are preventing you from going. He may want you to create more space in your life to meet alone with Him, but your priorities have become imbalanced making it difficult for you to do this. Even though we are in fellowship with the Lord, we are not perfect by any means. So the Lord must prune us.

One of the ways God may prune us is seen in the next verse. Jesus says to them, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15:3). The word “clean” (katharoi) is the adjective form of the verb “prunes” (kathairō) in verse 2. God prunes us through His Word (cf. Ephesians 5:26).

Constable notes, “‘Cleansing’ the branches involved washing off deposits of insects, moss, and other parasites that tend to infest the plant. Jesus gave this teaching in the spring when farmers did what He described in this verse.” 2

Jesus assumed His disciples had already been pruned (“You are already clean”) by His recent words at the Lord’s Supper (John 13:1-14:31). They had already been cleansed positionally by believing in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:35-51; 2:11; 3:16; 11:25-26; 13:10a), except Judas who refused to believe in Christ (John 13:10b-11; cf. 6:64, 70-71; 17:12). At that moment of faith in Christ alone for salvation, these eleven disciples were cleansed of all their sins by the blood of Jesus Christ (cf. John 2:11; Acts 15:7-9; Revelation 1:5b). But these believing disciples (and us) needed daily cleansing through the pruning of God’s Word in their lives. Jesus’ teaching was and is a cleansing agent that would make it possible for them (and us) to bear more fruit for Him and the Father’s glory.

While we are in fellowship with Jesus, God’s Word exposes our sin, our misplaced priorities and commitments, to promote growth in our Christian lives so we can become more fruitful for the Lord. Take time today to ask the Lord where He wants to do His pruning in your life. You will be glad you did.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for loving me enough to prune or cleanse me of things in my life that hinder me from bearing more fruit for Your glory. Now I understand why I have been hurting so much in certain areas of my life. You have been trying to remove the excessive commitments and misplaced priorities in my life so I can spend more time with You, doing the things You created me to do – loving You and listening to You speak truth into my heart and mind. Forgive me, O Lord, for thinking far more of myself than You. Thank You for the pain You have allowed in my life to nudge me closer to You. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 386-387.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 282.

How can we honor only Jesus? Part 4

7 But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. 8 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.’ ” John 12:7-8

At a special dinner for Jesus among His close friends, we are learning how to honor only Him (John 12:1-8). So far we have learned the following ways to honor only Jesus:

– Serve Christ out of thanksgiving for what He has done (John 12:1-2a).

Spend time with Christ out of joy for His gift of salvation (John 12:2b).

– Sacrifice for Christ out of love for Him (John 12:3).

The final way to honor only Jesus in this passage is to SHOW SENSITIVITY TO WHAT BLESSES JESUS ALONE (John 12:4-8). In contrast to Mary, John characterizes Judas in three ways. “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said…” (John 12:4). First, his surname “Iscariot.” The name “Iscariot” is taken to refer to his origin, “from Kerioth.” 1 This could mean his father, “Simon” Iscariot (6:71; 12:4), is either from Judah (Joshua 15:25) or Moab (Jeremiah 48:24). Judas then, would be the only one of the twelve disciples who was not from Galilee.

Second, Judas was “one of His disciples.” He belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of companions for the last three years. Many unbelieving disciples had already withdrawn from following Jesus (John 6:66), but Judas, an unbelieving disciple (cf. John 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12), chose to stay with Christ. Why did He remain with the Lord Jesus?

This leads to the third characteristic of Judas. He remained with Christ so he could “betray” the Lord. He stuck around so he could deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies. Mary was devoted to Jesus, but Judas despised Him. Mary loved Jesus, but Judas seems to loathe Him.

“Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). Judas thought this anointing was a terrible waste of money – a year’s wages for a working man. Judas may have sounded compassionate toward the poor, but he was not. His criticism of Mary infected some of the other disciples according to Matthew and Mark’s account. Matthew’s writes, “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?’ ”(Matthew 26:8)? Those who seek to bless Jesus alone are often “misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.” 2

If you give your best to Jesus, you will be criticized and many times the loudest criticism will come from other believers who think they are only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When the Lord called our family to serve Him in the Philippines, we had some believers and unbelieving family members question our sanity. Some said our time and talents could be used better by the Lord in the USA. In their minds, we “wasted” our lives for Jesus in the Philippines!

At this point Judas does not sound like a bad guy, does he? “This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (John 12:6). John informs us that Judas was not being honest. He did not really care about the poor. He only cared for himself. He had been appointed treasurer of the disciples which may mean he had some accounting ability. But he was pilfering what was put in the money box and carrying it away for himself. He was a thief motivated by greed. He wanted to make money from his association with Jesus. He desired the perfume to make money for himself. When he could not get the perfume, he soon went to the chief priests and offered to betray Christ if they paid him thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).

Some people pretend to be Christians or even disciples of Jesus to obtain money or power for themselves. But they only have their own benefit in mind. They are not sensitive to what would bless Jesus or others around Him.

But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.’ ” (John 12:7). Jesus defended Mary’s act of love and devotion, “Let her alone!” He would have nothing to do with criticism brought against Mary. Anointing was usually for some festivity or celebration. But Jesus says she kept it for His burial which was just a few days away. Mary had entered into the mind of Christ more fully than the others. She knew His death was coming since He had already taught them about His suffering and eventual death many times before. Rather than wait until after He dies, she uses the perfume now when He can still enjoy it! This was a time for Jesus to relax before His sufferings and death. Mary understood this and she wanted to refresh her weary Lord and Savior.

Mary’s actions remind us that it is better to show our appreciation for someone before he or she dies rather than afterward. “Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.” 3 Is there someone in your life that the Lord may be impressing you to contact before his or her life is over? What would you regret more? Expressing your love for him or her before or after they die?

For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (John 12:8). Jesus is saying, “You will always have opportunity to minister to the poor, but your opportunity to minister to Me here on earth is limited. I’m going to die soon.” The word “Me” is emphatic. The sentence literally reads, “Me, however, you do not always have”(Ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε).   Unless Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, Who was due the same honor as God His Father (John 5:23), this statement would be an expression of extreme arrogance. But these are not the words of a mere man or prophet, these in essence, are the words of God!

Christ’s comment about always having the poor was not an endorsement of poverty or an encouragement to do nothing about poverty. He is simply saying that there will “always” be opportunities to serve the poor, but their opportunity to serve Him here on earth was rapidly fading. Now was the opportunity for special service to the Lord Jesus. Now was the time to do something that would benefit Him and Him alone. Christ welcomed Mary’s gracious display of love and devotion.

In Matthew and Mark Jesus even said her gracious act would become a perpetual memorial of honor whenever the gospel is preached. What a contrast between Mary and Judas. Mary offered her best to Jesus in sacrificial love; Judas was interested in Jesus only as a ladder for his selfish ambitions.

Mary saw her time with the Lord prior to His death as an opportunity for special service to Him. She was sensitive to what He needed, to what would bless Him. When she anointed the Lord, it did not benefit the others or herself, it benefited Jesus and Him alone.

What made Mary so sensitive to the Lord? We are told back in Luke 10:39, “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.” If we would learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His Word, we would probably become more sensitive to what would bless our Lord Jesus and Him alone. Perhaps we would also give more to our Lord as Mary did.

Christian author and speaker, J. Vernon McGee, observed in this passage that Lazarus, Mary, and Martha represent three essentials in the church today, respectively: “new life in Christ, worship and adoration, and service.” 4 If churches would focus on these three areas, think of how much the fragrance of Christ would fill our lives and communities!?!

How can we serve Jesus now in a way that serves Him alone? Spend time alone with the Lord Jesus and serve Him alone. Just you and the Lord alone. No one else there to benefit from what you give Him at that time. As You meet with Jesus, give Him…

Your complete honesty. When you really love somebody you don’t just want to spend time with them. You want to talk with them. If you want a deeper relationship with someone, you need to be completely honest with them about your faults and your feelings. Christ is not looking for perfection, but He does insist on complete honesty. What do you talk to God about if you want to draw close to Him? Anything that you would talk to your best friend about. Your hopes… fears… dreams… anxieties… things you are embarrassed about… things you are proud of… things you are ashamed of… your goals… your ambitions… your hurts… your cares… every part of your life – you come to God and you talk to God about it. The Bible says in Psalm 116:1-2:  “I love the Lord because He hears me and answers my prayer, because He bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath.” If you don’t feel close to God and some of you don’t… some of you have been believers for quite a long time and you honestly have lost your spark. Your Christian life has become routine, dull, and lifeless. There is no real joy and spark any more. There is a simple remedy for that. Start talking to God again. Choose to be completely honest with Him.

– Your listening ear as you read the Bible. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. We all want to be understood. We all want to be listened to. When you listen to someone, you are saying, “You matter to me.” When I listen to my wife or my children, I am saying, “I value what you have to say. You are important to me.” When I don’t listen to somebody I’m basically saying, “You are not important to me.” One of the ways you express love to someone and draw close to them is by listening to them.  The same is true with Jesus. Every time you listen to Christ you are saying, “Jesus, You matter to me. You are important to me.” If you want to learn to pray effectively, you must learn to listen to God through His Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7). The more time you spend in Christ’s word, the more your thoughts become His thoughts. God made you with two ears and one mouth for a reason: so you will do twice as much listening as talking. So as God speaks to you through His written Word you will have more confidence when you pray because you know what you are praying is according to God’s will. Your heart will be filled with joy as He answers your prayers which are in line with His will.

– Your submission. The Bible says, 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a). Many years ago when my children were very small, I would come home from work and they would run to the door with their hands lifted high saying, “Daddy… Daddy!” By lifting their hands, what were they saying to me? “Take me, Daddy. I’m yours. I trust You.” By lifting their hands they were surrendering themselves to me and my control. They were not trying to manipulate me or control me. They were letting go and letting me take them into my hands. Your heavenly Father wants to do the same with you. He is waiting to draw near to you and hold you in His everlasting arms of love, but you must take that first step and surrender to Him. Give up your agenda and yield to His. When we worship God, lifting our hands to Him is an expression of surrender. We are saying, “I am Yours, Father God. Take my life and use it as You please.” It is time to surrender to the God of all grace. You cannot draw near to Christ without surrendering to Him.

– Your adoration and praise. Reach out to the Lord in prayer and praise Him and thank Him. Tell Him how much you love Him. Bow your heart before Him and worship Him. Surrender to Jesus all that You have. Mary gave sacrificially to the Lord because He raised her brother from the dead. But Jesus has raised us from spiritual death and given us eternal life (John 11:25-26; Ephesians 2:4-9)! Praise Him for that! Let Him know how grateful you are! Give Him what is most precious to you. He will never forget it.

You are as close to Jesus as you choose to be. Do you really want it more than anything else? Is it worth giving up other things and developing the habits and skills required? Start asking God to give you a passion for Him. Jeremiah 29:13 (MSG) says, “When you get serious about finding Me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”   

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for giving me a beautiful picture of what true worship looks like through Mary, the sister of Lazarus. Her love and devotion for You were displayed when she gave to You what was most precious to her. Unlike Judas, who loathed You and thought only of himself, Mary loved You and was sensitive to what would bless You as the time of Your crucifixion rapidly approached. Like Mary, I want to be still and sit at Your feet to hear Your voice of truth so I can become more sensitive to what would bless You and You alone. For me to hear You more clearly, I must lay aside anything that would keep me from hearing Your voice, including my own selfishness, deceit, envy, hypocrisy, evil speaking, and malice (I Peter 2:1). What would You say to me at this time, Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Your name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979),pp. 380-381.

2. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), 1:339.

3. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition,pg. 232.

4. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 5 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983, 4:444.