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 do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 3

“Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’” I Kings 19:5

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. Elijah had quickly descended from the mountaintop of victory on Mt. Carmel into the bottom of the pit of discouragement after he encountered resistance from wicked Queen Jezebel (I Kings 18:20-19:2).

Like Elijah, we can climb out of the pit of discouragement when we…

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Don’t compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

The next step to take toward climbing out of the pit of discouragement is to TAKE CARE OF OUR PHYSICAL NEEDS (I Kings 19:5-7a). How did God respond to Elijah’s discouragement? Did He slay him under the tree? Did He scold him for being cowardly? Did He lead him in a Bible study or quote verses to him? Did He say, “Snap out of it Elijah! Just pull yourself together?” Did the Lord rebuke any evil spirits? No. God did not do any of these things. What did the Lord do?

We read, 5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat.’” (I Kings 19:5-7a). God let Elijah sleep and then provided a meal for him, not once, but twice. Think how much God’s prophet must have needed this! He had just faced off with 450 prophets of Baal (the male god) and perhaps 400 prophets of Asherah (the female goddess) on Mt. Carmel and eventually executed them all (I Kings 18:19, 22, 40)! He also ran from Mt. Carmel to the entrance of Jezreel (I Kings 18:46) which would have been about twenty-five miles! This would have left Elijah physically and emotionally exhausted.

Notice how tenderly God dealt with Elijah. The Lord knew what His servant needed. He did not put him down or condemn him; all God did was give him food and rest. God restored him physically. The Lord took care of Elijah’s physical needs. Even though God used His prophet in supernatural ways, he was still human and needed to sleep and eat after such an exhausting encounter on Mt. Carmel.

When we are physically and emotionally exhausted, we are more prone to discouragement. Mole hills can easily become mountains in our eyes when we are fatigued. During these times it is important to be aware of our physical and emotional needs. Maybe we need to watch our diet or we need to get more sleep or exercise. Our physical health has a profound impact on our moods.

The average person needs about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. 1 We need time to dream in order to maintain our mental health. Adults dream twenty minutes out of every ninety minutes of sleep,  but they don’t remember them unless they wake up during the dream. Three nights without dreaming will cause most people to get discouraged. Dreams are God’s way of allowing us to vent our unconscious feelings and conflicts. People who are properly rested are less likely to be overcome by discouragement.

When was the last time you had uninterrupted solitude with the Lord? Your main goal was to rest in the Lord’s presence? Sometimes getting away to rest in the Lord is the most spiritual thing a Christian can do, especially if you are emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.  

Tony Evans writes, Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is get some sleep. We need the reminder that we are created beings; we’re not God. The fact that we need rest is a reminder that we are dependent on the one who ‘does not slumber or sleep’ (Ps 121:4).” 3

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, sometimes we can become so focused on serving You that we forget to pay attention to our own physical and emotional needs. When You use us in supernatural ways, we can forget that we are still human and neglect our most basic needs. Thank You for reminding us that You do not need to sleep, but we do. You know our needs far better than we do. Please help us to be aware of our basic needs and care for them because You care for us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Retrieved on August 5, 2021 from Eric Sunl’s article updated March 10, 2021, entitled, “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” at sleepfoundation.org.

2. Adapted from my Introduction to Psychology and Counseling: Christian Perspectives class taught by Drs. Frank Minirth and Paul Meier at Dallas Theological Seminary, 1983-1984.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1599.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” Jesus 21:12

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. So far we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

– The power of the risen Lord Jesus is capable of catching multitudes of people in His gospel-net (John 20:11).

Today we are ready for our final lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. Following their miraculous catch of fish, the seven disciples were now on the shore with Jesus having brought their net full of fish with them (John 21:6-11). “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” (John 21:12).

All of us have had special moments in life that are held forever in our memory. What a wonderful memory Jesus made for John and the six other disciples as He invited them to breakfast on the beach. The aroma of hot bread and and sizzling fish must have stirred the appetites of the disciples. John notes that none of the disciples, knowing it was the risen Lord, ventured to ask Jesus, “Who are You?” We usually don’t ask those we know well who they are. 1

The fact that both Mary Magdalene (John 20:14) and the Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-35) did not immediately identify the Lord may indicate some difference in the Lord’s resurrection appearance here. “Yet the identification was so certain that all the disciples knew it was Jesus. Their meal together stamped an indelible impression on their minds. Years later in his preaching Peter spoke of himself as a reliable witness who ate and drank with Jesus after His resurrection (Acts 10:41).” 2

The fact that John mentions the disciples dared not ask the Lord His identity may suggest “these disciples longed to ask Jesus if the Person standing with them was truly He, but they did not dare do so. This tension within them helps us understand that Jesus’ resurrection was a challenge to the faith of even those who knew Him best. Had the beatings and His crucifixion so marred His form that He scarcely resembled the Jesus they had known, or was His resurrection body so different that He looked like a stranger? Probably we shall have to wait to see Him for ourselves to get answers to these questions. In spite of everything, the disciples, ‘knowing that it was the Lord’ from the undeniable evidence, could only conclude that the One who stood among them really was Jesus.” 3

Constable writes, “Jesus, as the host, invited the disciples to dine with Him. Perhaps He was reminding them of their last meal together in the upper room, just before His arrest. In the ancient Near East, a host who extended hospitality to others and provided food for them, was implying that He would defend them from then on. Consequently, Jesus’ invitation may have been a promise of commitment to them like the kind offered at the oriental covenant meal. Such a meal involved acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual commitment. By accepting His invitation, the disciples were implying that they were committing themselves to Jesus afresh.” 4

Wiersbe insightfully writes, “Three ‘invitations’ stand out in John’s Gospel: ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39); ‘Come and drink’ (John 7:37); and ‘Come and dine’ (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly, the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize ‘the soul’ that He neglects the body.” 5

John then informs us, “Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:14). As often happens with guests, the disciples may have appeared hesitant to begin serving themselves the meal, so Christ went over, took the bread, and gave it to the disciples. In the same way, He also served the roasted fish. The definite article used with “the bread” (ton arton) and “the fish” (to opsarion) indicates that Jesus distributed the bread and fish that were cooking over the fire of coals when the disciples arrived on the shore (John 21:9). The disciples’ fish could be cooked later (cf. John 21:10), but this was Christ’s provision for them. 6

When Jesus gave them “the bread” and “the fish” to His disciples, this must have reminded them of when He miraculously fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). The breaking of the bread and distributing it to them also had to remind these seven followers of what happened just a few days before when Jesus had broken the bread in the upper room during the Last Supper.

The fact of this meal substantiated Jesus’ promise to meet all their needs. The disciples may have thought that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eventual ascension would end His care for them; but now they had a demonstration of His continuing care. They may have feared His death and eventual ascension would end their fellowship with Him, but now this meal which He had provided assured them they would still enjoy sweet fellowship with their risen Lord. And His eating some of the food (cf. Luke 24:40-43), gives additional proof of His bodily resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither a fairytale nor a hallucination. He ‘presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs… over a period of forty days’ (Acts 1:3). As Jesus himself told them, ‘It is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see, I have’” (Luke 24:39). 8

John notes, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John 21:14). John attests that this is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples in his gospel account (cf. John 20:19-20, 24-29). While a comparison of all four Gospels shows that this is the seventh appearance (counting His appearances to Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus), this was indeed only his third appearance specifically to” a gathering of more than two of His disciples.

From these verses we learn that WE NEED TIMES WITH JESUS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS OUTSIDE TO REFRESH OUR SOULS (John 21:12-14). Jesus’ appearance on the beach seems to be a more casual occasion than His appearances in Jerusalem. This gave more of an extended opportunity to renew their fellowship after the separation that came from their fleeing at His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56).

Do you ever feel like you are on an uninhabited island in your Christian life? You are all alone? No one to share your fears, joys, and sorrows with? Several coals burn brightly together but put one aside and its fire goes out. So, it is with other Christians. We will not last long in the Christian life if we do not have fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus and other believers.

While reading John Eldredge’s book, Get Your Life Back, I was impressed with the chapter entitled, “GET OUTSIDE.” He writes, “The average person now spends 93 percent of their life indoors (this includes your transportation time in car, bus, or metro).” 10  

Eldredge continues, “Ninety-three percent – such a staggering piece of information. We should pause for a moment and let the tragedy sink in.

“That means if you live to be 100, you will have spent 93 of those years in a little compartment and only 7 outside in the dazzling, living world. If we live to the more usual 75, we will spend 69 and three-fourths of our years indoors, and only 5 and one-fourth outside. This includes our childhood; how does a child be a child when they only venture outside a few months of their entire childhood?

“This is a catastrophe, the final nail in the coffin for the human soul. You live nearly all your life in a fake world: artificial lighting instead of the warmth of sunlight or the cool of moonlight or the darkness of night itself. Artificial climate rather than the wild beauty of real weather; your world is always 68 degrees. All the surfaces you touch are like plastic, nylon, and faux leather instead of meadow, wood, and stream. Fake fireplaces; wax fruit. The atmosphere you inhabit is now asphyxiating with artificial smells – mostly chemicals and ‘air fresheners’ – instead of cut grass, wood smoke, and salt air (is anyone weeping yet?). In place of the cry of the hawk, the thunder of a waterfall, and the comfort of crickets, your world spews out artificial sounds – all the clicks and beeps and whir of technology, the hum of the HVAC. Dear God, even the plants in your little bubble are fake. They give no oxygen; instead, the plastic off-gases toxins, and if that isn’t a signal fire I don’t know what is.

“This is a life for people in a science fiction novel. This would be understandable, acceptable, if we’d colonized Mars and by necessity you lived in a bubble. But this is not the life God ordained for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, whose habitat is this sumptuous earth. It’s like putting wild roses in a Styrofoam box for the rest of their lives.

“You live a bodily existence. The physical life, with all the glories of senses, appetites, and passions – this is the life God meant for us. It’s through our senses we learn most every important lesson. Even in spiritual acts of worship and prayer we are standing or kneeling, engaging bodily. God put your soul in this amazing body and then put you in a world perfectly designed for that experience.

“Which is why the rescue of the soul takes place through our engagement with the real world…

“…Living in an artificial world is like spending your life wrapped in plastic wrap. You wonder why you feel tired, numb, a little depressed, when the simple answer is you have a vitamin D deficiency; there’s no sunlight in your life, literally and figuratively.

“Our body, soul, and spirit atrophy because we were made to inhabit a real world, drawing life, joy, and strength from it. To be shaped by it, to relish in it. Living your days in an artificial world is like living your whole life with gloves on, a filtered experience, never really feeling anything. Then you wonder why your soul feels numb.” 11 

God really got my attention when Eldredge writes, “We are looking for more of God. You’re far more likely to find him in a walk through an orchard or a sit by a pond than you are in a subway terminal. Of course, God is with us and for us wherever we are, but in terms of refreshment, renewal, restoration, in terms of finding God in ways we can drink deeply of his wonderful being, you’d do better to look for him in the cry of the gull than the scream of the siren. God inhabits the world he made: his vibrance permeates all creation:

“The whole earth is filled with his glory! (Isaiah 6:3 NLT)

“Christ… ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10 NLT)

“In the most beloved of Psalms, perhaps the most beloved of all Scripture, David wrote a poem to celebrate the restoration of his soul. Notice that God took him into nature to accomplish that:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3).

“Be careful you don’t dismiss this as something belonging to an agrarian age. God could have taken David into the palace to renew him; he could have taken him into the home of a friend or family member; he could have chosen the bustling markets of Jerusalem. In other words, there were plenty of indoor options for God to employ. But his choice for David’s resuscitation was nature, his greenhouse, filled with his own life, pulsing with his glory, unique in its ability to restore and renew his children…”

“…There’s nothing better for a fried soul than to get in the woods or walk in the park. Lie on your back in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Sit on the beach and watch the breakers.

“…Nature heals; nature restores. Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging in front of Narcos or Fear the Walking Dead. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour of HALO. Video games offer relief, nature offers restoration.

“This is why David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, ‘He renews my strength’ (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David spoke of.” 12

My most refreshing times with our risen Lord Jesus, our Creator of the universe, has been outside amongst His creation. Going for a walk in the woods and listening to the birds of the air which our heavenly Father feeds has often refreshed and restored my spiritual union with the Lord.

Jesus understands this. He provided a delicious breakfast for His disciples outside on a beach along the Sea of Galilee. Remember, Jesus was the Creator of this beach and this Sea. The waves rolling into the shore at sunrise that day could be seen and heard by the disciples. The smell of salt water filled the air. There was probably a cool breeze blowing in from the sea. The disciples may have heard seagulls crying out above them. They could smell the smoke rising from the fire of coals along with the aroma of the cooking fish and bread. All these outdoor experiences would have been healing and restoring to the disciples’ bodies and souls.

As Eldredge writes, “Nature heals, teaches, strengthens, soothes; it brings us the presence of God, for ‘the whole earth is filled with his glory’ (Isaiah 6:3 NLT). Go let it restore your soul – daily, whenever possible.” 13

More importantly, it is the risen Lord Jesus Who heals, teaches, strengthens, and soothes. What better environment for this to take place than outdoors in the physical world which He created for the sons and daughters of God to enjoy!

In his book, The Golden Milestone, Frank W. Boreham talks about a tombstone in a small English churchyard that marked the final resting place of two sisters. It bore the words from John 21:4, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore.”

Although this referred to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His disciples, it reminded Boreham of the Christian’s prospect of seeing Christ waiting on heaven’s shore. Envisioning his own impending death when he would be welcomed by the risen Lord Jesus, Boreham wrote, One of these days I shall set out on my own great voyage of exploration. I shall see my last sun sinking and shall set out for the land that is mantled with the flush of morning. I shall leave behind me all the old familiar things, and shall sail out into the unknown, the unseen, the unexplored. I shall be surrounded on every hand by the wonders that here were beyond me, by the mysteries that here baffled my comprehension. I shall see strange sights and hear unwonted sounds. But it will be all right.” 14

Yes, “it will be all right” because the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us will be on heaven’s shore. With the assurance that the risen Lord Jesus will be standing “on the shore” to welcome him home, Boreham concluded, But there is no tinge of gold in the scudding clouds now; it is too dark for writing; they are lighting the gas behind me; I must draw the blinds and go.” 15

Boreham died with confidence he would see Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Can you? If not, you can simply come to Jesus now as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). But Christ Jesus loved you so much He took your place on a cross and died for all your sins and three days later rose from the dead (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today, and He has the power to forgive all your sins and give you everlasting life so that when you die, you will be greeted by Him on heaven’s shores (John 3:16; 14:2-3; Colossians 2:13-14). All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness or everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you believe what Jesus just said, you can die with the assurance that you will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Christ cannot lie. He always remains faithful to His promises, even if we become faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). That is why we can confidently say after a person believes in Christ, “See you in heaven!”

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us the assurance through Your meal with Your disciples on the beach, that You will continue to meet all our needs even while You are in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. As our Good Shepherd, You not only laid down Your life for us and rose from the dead so we could have everlasting life the moment we believe in You for it, but also so we can be assured of seeing You on heaven’s shores after we die. And as our Good Shepherd, you can refresh and restore our souls as we connect with You and other Christians outdoors. Thanks so much for reminding us that You designed our physical bodies and souls to be refreshed through the things You have made, much like Adam and Eve’s experience in the garden of Eden prior to their disobedience when they would walk with You in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Please help us to make it a daily habit to align ourselves with You in the context of Your creation so we can unwrinkle or disentangle our souls from the artificial world we expose ourselves to much of the time. Thank You our Lord and our Creator God. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 377-378.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 703.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 393.

4. Ibid., pp. 392-393.  

5. Ibid., pg. 393 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 397.

6. Laney, pg. 378.

7. 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. 568.

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

9. Robert Wilkin, pg. 568.

10. John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020) pg. 76 cites Neil E. Klepeis et al., “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants,” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 11, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 231-52.

11. Eldredge, pp. 76-79.

12. Ibid., pp. 79-86.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Frank W. Boreham, The Golden Milestone (Publication arranged by Pioneer Library, printed byKindle Direct Publishing, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 1825-1828.This compilation of Boreham’s essays was first published in 1915.

15. Ibid., Kindle Locations 1831-1832.

How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 4

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” John 10:40

When we encounter skeptics who deny that Jesus is God, we may find it necessary to CONSIDER OUR BEGINNINGS (John 10:40). This is the fourth way Jesus responded to His skeptical audience.

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him. All doors were closed to His ministry in Judea and for some time Galilee had rejected His ministry. Jesus did not stay long in resistant areas. He moved to more receptive areas and He advised His disciples to do the same (cf. Matthew 10:11-15, 23). Plus, it wasn’t time for Him to suffer and die on the Cross. So where does Jesus go?

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.” (John 10:40). Jesus crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany, a small ford community on the east bank of the Jordan River where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry. 1 This was not the Bethany near Jerusalem, but the Bethany of Perea which was east of the Jordan River. Christ would spend the next three and a half months here.

This was a place that had many fond memories for the Lord. This is where He met and won His first disciples (John 1:35-51). He had success here far away from the prejudiced atmosphere of Jerusalem and He would enjoy more success here again. John tells us that it was “there He stayed” – He made His home here.

It is important for us to consider our beginnings when we are going through difficult times. If you are discouraged right now because of having to deal with skeptics or those who reject your Christian faith, relive the time when you became a child of God through faith in Christ or when you began your Christian ministry. Remember God’s faithfulness during those early days of your Christian life. This will encourage you and renew your strength in the Lord.

When my parents moved our family away from their families in Illinois to Iowa when I was seven years old, we would periodically return to Illinois to visit where we were born and relive the many fond memories we had there. This served as a way of recharging us spiritually and emotionally for the challenges we faced in Iowa.

Even now when I may be disappointed in ministry or with life in general, I like to relive the many fond memories I have of my first couple of short-term mission trips to the Philippines when I saw an incredible response to the gospel. Occasionally, I schedule mission trips to go back to areas I have visited in the past where we saw amazing receptivity among the people of the Philippines. These trips serve as a time of refreshment and renewal for us and for those to whom we minister.

There are many stressors in our world today including COVID-19, social unrest, political divisions, and opposition to Christianity. When you face difficulties in your Christian life, do you have a place where you can go to relive fond memories you have with the Lord? If not, ask the Lord to guide you to such a place where you can remember some special times you had with Him to refresh your soul.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are such a wise Counselor. Thank You for reminding me how You can use opposition to my Christian faith to redirect me to people who are more receptive to Your gospel message. I also appreciate Your example of retreating to a place where You could relive many fond memories from the beginning of Your ministry. Please lead me to such a place where I can be refreshed by memories of Your amazing grace working in my life and the lives of others whom You brought into my life. You are such a Good Shepherd to lead Your sheep beside still waters to refresh their souls. In Your name I praise You! Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) pg. 50; cf. John 1:28 – the majority of Greek manuscripts read “Bethany,” not “Bethabara.”

When the Lord is my Shepherd I have no want for refreshment

“He leads me beside still waters.” Psalm 23:2b

When David says the Lord “leads me beside still waters,” he is probably thinking of an incident that takes place in the life of a shepherd in Palestine. Sheep are deeply afraid of running water. Instinctively they know that if water should get on their coats of wool, they would sink beneath the stream. As a result, they will only stand beside a stream of water without drinking even when they are extremely thirsty. Their fear of the running water keeps them from drinking.

When a wise shepherd sees this, he moves in with his rod and staff to pry loose some large rocks with which to dam up the raging stream so that his sheep can safely drink from the “stilled waters.” In the midst of a rushing stream, he provides refreshment for the flock with water he has stilled.

The wise shepherd leads his sheep “beside” the still waters, not “through” them or “into” them. He knows that his sheep are afraid of running water. So he first calms those raging waters and then leads his sheep “beside” them where they can safely drink and be refreshed.

Has your Good Shepherd ever done this for you? Have the raging streams of the coronavirus or other difficult circumstances of life seemed to be more than you could bear? Have you drawn back in fear recently when it seemed like life was like a rampaging stream about to suck you under and bury you beneath its flow? But then your Good Shepherd moves in with His rod and staff, and He works through those circumstances you fear most and makes them a source of spiritual refreshment?

God is a very gracious and understanding Shepherd. He knows His sheep better than we know ourselves. He knows our fears and our vulnerabilities. So He “leads us beside” a rushing stream to still its waters so we may be refreshed and soothed. It’s important to remember that God’s responsibility is to lead us and still the waters that overwhelm us. It is our responsibility to follow Him.

Martha Snell Nicholson had been bedridden for several years with a terminal illness. After a partial recovery came a series of difficult operations which seemed to do little good. In her last years she was in constant pain and increasing weakness. One day her physician told her that her condition was too far advanced to respond to treatment. In that hour she wrote this poem entitled, “When He Putteth Forth His Own Sheep.”

I could not walk this darkening path of pain alone;

The years have taken toll of me;

Sometimes my banners droop; my arms have grown too tired,

And laughter comes less easily.

And often these – my shrinking cowardly eyes refuse

To face the thing ahead of me,

The certainty of growing pain and helplessness…

But oh, my Lord is good, for He

Comes quickly to me as I lie there in the dust

Of my defeat and shame and fear;

He stoops and raises me and sets me on my feet,

And softly whispers in my ear

That He will never leave me – nay, that He will go

Before me all the way. And so,

My hand in His, along this brightening path of pain,

My Lord and I go together

The peace of God is not the absence of problems, but the presence of Christ in the midst of those problems. Jesus is aware of our difficulties. He is present with us in our problems. We fear not, because He is with us and He is in charge.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for leading me and not abandoning me. Only You can take what I fear the most and turn it into something that soothes and refreshes me. Please help me to follow You even when it does not make sense to me. In Your name. Amen.