Revelation 16 – Part 3

“And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” Revelation 16:9

After the inhabitants of heaven praise God for His righteous and just judgments toward rebellious humankind who shed the blood of His servants (16:5-7), the fourth angel arrives to pour out his bowl of wrath. Instead of the beast-worshippers on the earth receiving a much-needed drink of rainwater to quench their parched throats, they got the exact opposite. Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” (Revelation 16:8-9). The definite article before “men” (tous anthrōpous) refers specifically to those whose allegiance was to the Beast (cf. 16:2). It is possible that those who refused to worship the Beast and receive his mark were not struck with this judgment. Likewise, the Israelites also escaped some of the plagues on Egypt’s land, water, animals, people, leaders, and even Pharaoh (Exodus 8:20-9:7; 9:13-35; 10:21-12:36). 1

This “fourth… bowl” judgment used “the sun” to “scorch men” who followed the Beast “with fire” and “great heat” that will leave their human flesh charred. This was “more than an oppressive heat wave that weakens and withers people, this judgment will involve the blistering and charring of human flesh by the sun.” 2

Swindoll writes, “Instead of catching soothing drops of rain, the people of earth were burned with searing rays from the sun! Scientists have long been concerned about the possibility of massive, unexpected solar flares, which could increase the number of harmful rays that penetrate our atmosphere. It seems that by the end of the Tribulation, the atmosphere will have been so damaged that the rays of the sun will no longer be filtered or deflected, causing all sorts of catastrophic climatic changes. This end-times global warming will make today’s hot-earth hysteria resemble nothing more than a warm spring day.” 3

One would think that after all these horrific judgments on the earth that left people painfully afflicted, starving, dying of thirst, and severely burned, that humankind would fall to their knees and beg God for His mercy, right!?! Wrong!!! “And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” (Revelation 16:9). Instead of turning to the Lord in repentance and giving “Him glory,” they “blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues.” Instead of letting the scorching sun melt their hearts, they let it harden their hearts toward God, much like Pharaoh hardened his heart after each of the plagues on Egypt.

Surely a loving God would relent of His judgments if people sought to get right with Him. The prophet Joel addresses this part of God’s character when he writes, 4 “’12 Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. 13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. 14 Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him— a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” (Joel 2:12-14).

Instead of humbly repenting before the Lord God Whom they know has the power over these plagues to lovingly bring them to a stop, the people of the earth increased the hardness of their hearts during the last part of the Tribulation. Why? Because they have taken on the character of the Beast who blasphemes God and indoctrinates the citizens of his worldwide kingdom to do the same (Revelation 13:1, 5-6; 17:3; cf. Daniel 11:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). Instead of blaming their own sinfulness for these first four plagues, they blame God for them. 5

The first four bowl judgments targeted the natural realm (the earth, sea, fresh waters, and the sun), but the next two bowl judgments target the Beast and his worldwide kingdom. “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.” (Revelation 16:10). The fifth bowlof God’s wrath was “poured out… on the throne of the beast and his kingdom.” Since the beast’s kingdom was worldwide,this was a global darkness that will cause such intense emotional anguish that beast-worshippers will engage in self-mutilation (“they gnawed their tongues because of the pain”). 6

This darkness is reminiscent of the plague God brought upon Egypt. 21 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.’ 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:21-23). This darkness in Egypt was so deep, oppressive, and complete, that the Egyptians did nothing during those three days.The chaos caused by the darkness in Egypt may explain the intense pain this global darkness will cause to the citizens of the Beast’s kingdom during the Tribulation period.

Keep in mind that the effects of these first five bowl judgments are cumulative. “The sores brought on by the first bowl will continue to fester as the darkness closes in around them. The water that would have soothed their sun-scorched flesh will stand in stinking, stagnant pools; once-clean water will be polluted with decaying blood.” 7

Nevertheless, people will still refuse to humble themselves before the God Who could bring a stop to these severe bowl judgments. “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 16:11). Instead of blaming their rebellious ways for these plagues, the followers of the Beast choose to blaspheme God for “their pains and their sores.” But they don’t stop there. They choose to abide in their wicked ways that caused them to be oppressed by these horrific plagues – they do “not repent of their deeds.” 8

As in 16:9, this scene is reminiscent of a child cursing his parent while he is being spanked. Such a reaction to punishment inevitably triggers more punishment.” 9

We have learned in our study of the seven-year Tribulation on earth in the book of Revelation, that this will be a time that is filled with heightened deception (12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20). One of Satan’s oldest strategies which will be implemented in full during the Tribulation is to blame God for all the pain that exists in the world to deceive people into thinking that the true God is an out of control, vengeful deity who can be defeated if everyone comes together to fight against Him. The truth is pain and suffering did not exist in the world God created (Genesis 1-2). Pain and suffering were the result of Satan, who sinned first against God (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19), tempting Adam and Eve to sin (Genesis 3:1-6) which resulted in sin and death entering the entire world (Romans 5:12). The effects of sin will culminate in the Tribulation period when humanity’s rebellion against God will reach an all-time depth of depravity resulting in God’s in-kind judgment (Revelation 6-16).

When we look back at the chaos and pain the global pandemic has caused the past two years, do we blame God for this? Or when we observe the loss of innocent lives during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, do we shake our fists at God and hold Him responsible for this? How do we respond to God when we or those close to us experience suffering and pain? Do we harden or humble our hearts toward the Lord?

Satan wants to convince us that God is to blame for all our problems and pain so we will not come to the Lord in faith and be saved forever from Satan’s destiny in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10). Please understand that God is the One Who loves us, not Satan. Satan doesn’t care about you or me. He knows his destiny is in the lake of fire and he selfishly wants to take as many people with him as possible. He will go to any length of deception to help populate hell. He has no guilt or shame for his actions because he is evil to the core.

But Jesus Christ is selfless to the core. Instead of holding on to His glory in heaven, He veiled His glory with human flesh when He left heaven and came to earth knowing He would be rejected by the world and His own Jewish people who would condemn Him to die on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). The Bible tells us, 9 God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (I John 4:9-10 NLT). “Real love” gives instead of takes. God’s love gave His best (His Son) when we were at our worst (in bondage to our sins) so we “might have eternal life through” Jesus if we would do one thing: BELIEVE IN HIM.

Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be persuaded that something is true and then trust or depend upon. Do you believe Jesus was speaking the truth when He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life”? If so, do you now trust Christ (not your good life, religion, or prayers) to give you His gift of eternal life? If you do, Jesus guarantees you now have everlasting life which can never be taken away from you (John 10:28-29). God is now your Father in heaven, and you are His child forever (John 1:12; 6:35). Everyone who believes in Jesus for eternal life is your brother or sister in Christ.

Christ wants you to grow in your relationship with Him. Jesus said to those who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31b-32). The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. Jesus wants you to “abide” or continue in His Word, the Bible, so you can “know the truth” which “shall make you free” from Satan’s lies that keep you enslaved to sin and shame. God’s truth will identify the lies you have been believing that have held you in bondage to sin and will also provide the remedy to overcome those lies. It is the truth of God’s Word that will break the shackles of Satan’s lies that have kept you from leaning into the Lord when you face pain and suffering.

Below are some examples of Satan’s lies that can keep us from drawing near to the Lord. I have included God’s truth to replace those lies and the Scriptures to go with them.Take some time to read through these lies and then identify the ones that you have believed to be true. The lie will feel true to you if you believe it. Then read the corresponding truth statements repeatedly until they feel true to you. As you do that the corresponding lies will feel less and less true. Ask the Lord Jesus to deliver you from bondage to these lies (cf. Psalm 119:28-29). We do not have the power in ourselves to overcome them, but Jesus Christ does. Let Him renew your mind as you meditate on God’s truth.  

Lie: God is to blame for all your pain and suffering.

Truth: Pain and suffering were the result of Satan (who sinned first against God), tempting Adam and Eve to sin which resulted in sin and death entering the entire world.

Scripture: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12; cf. Genesis 3:1-6; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19.

Lie: God cannot be trusted.

Truth: God can be trusted because He is good and faithful to His promises.

Scripture: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” Psalm 34:8

“In hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” Titus 1:2

Lie: God is holding out on you.

Truth: God wants to give you, His best.

Scripture: “The thief [Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

Lie: You can be like God by disobeying Him.

Truth: Since there is only one true God, and I am not Him, I must live in total dependence on Him.

Scripture: God said, I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me.” Isaiah 45:5

“’But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;’ I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.’” Psalm 31:14-15

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: God has or will accuse me.

Truth: God has declared me totally righteous in Christ.

Scripture: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Romans 8:33

Lie: God has or will condemn me.

Truth:  God will not condemn me because Christ took my condemnation on the cross and He now defends me and intercedes for me in heaven.

Scripture: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

Lie: I am going to be separated from the love of Christ because I’m so unworthy.

Truth: No one and nothing can separate me from Christ’s love.

Scripture: 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35, 37-39

Lie: God would never love me as I am.

Truth: In Christ, I am totally loved by God as I am.

Scripture: “Long ago, even before He made the world, God chose us to be His very own through what Christ would do for us; He decided then to make us holy in His eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before Him covered with His love.” Ephesians 1:4 TLB

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

Scripture: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we come to You now realizing that we can be a lot like the people in the Tribulation period who will be deceived into blaming You for their suffering and pain instead of their own rebellion against You. When bad things happen to us, help us O Lord to humble our hearts before You instead of hardening them. Lord, we cannot overcome Satan’s lies on our own. The Devil wants to take as many people with him to hell as possible. He will go to any length of deception to populate the lake of fire. Lord, please make us the kind of people who will do whatever it takes within the boundaries You have given us to populate Your heaven through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We desperately need You and Your Word to help us identify the lies we believe and replace them with Your truth so we can live the abundant life You came to give us. We pray for those whose hearts and minds have been deceived by Satan into believing You are responsible for all their pain and suffering. Help them to see that You love them and gave Your best for them when they were still undeserving sinners. And You want to save them forever from the lake of fire and give them eternal life if they would simply believe in You, Lord Jesus. Please use our lives and lips to communicate Your love to a lost and broken world so they can hear and believe the good news of Jesus’ gift of eternal life. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 172.

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. 1559.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 296-297.

4. Ibid., pg. 297.

5. Constable, pg. 172 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pg. 257.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2407.

7. Swindoll, pg. 298.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1559.

9. Evans, pg. 2409.

Revelation 15 – Part 1

“And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” Revelation 15:2

After receiving revelation about Satan’s forces of evil (Revelation 13) and what happens to those who do not receive the mark of the Beast (Revelation 14:1-5) and to those who do (Revelation 14:6-20), the apostle John records what he sees next before God’s throne in heaven to heighten our anticipation of the coming bowl judgments near the end of the Tribulation period (Revelation 15:1-16:1).

“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.” (Revelation 15:1). The words “I saw” (kai eidon)introduce a new scene in heaven. 1 John “saw another sign in heaven” that was “great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues or bowl judgments which will bring about the completion of God’s “wrath” at the end of the Tribulation period.The previous signs were “the woman” and “the dragon” (Revelation 12:1, 3). This sign is “great and marvelous” because it signifies the climax of the outpouring of God’s wrath on nature, humankind, the dragon, and the two beasts. 2

The sign itself involved “seven angels” who are the agents of God’s bowl judgments on the earth. 3 The word “plagues” (plēgas) refers to a “sudden calamity that causes severe distress.” 4 Literally, it means a “sudden blow” or “wound caused by a sudden blow.” 5 These bowl judgments are not some long, drawn out pandemic like COVID or HIV. Instead, these plagues come with sudden impact that are quick, destructive, severe, and brutal. 6 Humanity will be nearly exterminated, and people will become more rare than fine gold during these bowl judgments (Isaiah 13:12). 7

When John says, “in them the wrath of God is complete,” he is saying the execution of God’s judgments on the earth will be “complete” or finished. That is, there will be no more judgment to be poured out on earth during the Tribulation. 8 These severe bowl judgments will avenge the slaughter that the Beast and False Prophet inflicted upon believers during the last half of the Tribulation period. 9 God’s final judgment of the wicked will not take place until the end of Millennial Kingdom a thousand years later when all nonbelievers will stand before the Great White Throne to be “judged according to their works” to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Amid God’s severe judgments on the earth, we are also given a picture of His amazing grace and victory. “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” (Revelation 15:2). Like Revelation 4:6 where “a sea of glass” is surrounding the throne of God in heaven, John sees “something like a sea of glass mingled with fire” (15:2a). Like in 4:6, “the sea of glass” here depicts the holiness of the verdicts coming forth from God’s throne. But now the crystal sea is “mingled with fire,” signifying God’s passionate wrath that is about to be expressed through the horrific bowl judgments. 10

John sees “those who have the victory over the beast, over his image, and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God” (15:2b). Who are these persons standing on the sea of glass? These are the believers who were martyred during the last half of the Tribulation period (cf. 6:9-10; 8:3-5; 14:18). They are depicted here as victorious over three intense pressures designed to lead them to reject Jesus Christ: 11

“over the beast” which signifies the first beast’s political pressure expressed through his charismatic military expertise that persuaded people to give their allegiance to him.

“over his image” which depicts the second beast’s religious pressure exhibited through his deceptive display of supernatural power through the statue (“image”) of the first beast.

“over the number of his name” which portrays the economic pressure when the first beast’s number was required to buy or sell during the last half of the Tribulation period.

Believers in Jesus may experience similar pressures today. Satan, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Ephesians 2:2), can use political pressure to discourage Christians from following Jesus. Many believers are being oppressed by human governments today. 12.

Are we willing to take a stand for Jesus Christ, even though it may cost us? When an apartment manager says you cannot share the gospel with his or her tenants, are we going to obey that manager or will we obey Jesus Christ who said, “Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world.” (Mark 16:15 CEV; cf. Acts 4:18-20; 5:29). Does “everyone in the world” include those apartment tenants? Absolutely! When a country’s human government forbids its citizens from preaching Christ, will we obey that government or the God who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)!?!

I might add, if we disobey human government, whether it be local, state, or federal, we must also respectfully submit to the consequences as did the early church (Acts 4:3-31; 5:17-32, 40-42; 7:1-60; 9:20-25; 11:19; 12:1-4; et al.; cf. Matthew 26:52; Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:16-25; 3:13-4:19), which in some cases could be a verbal reprimand, eviction from an apartment building, jail, the loss of a job, torture, or even physical death.

As Christians, we may also experience religious pressure to reject Christ. Some of the most severe persecution today comes from religious authorities. For example, a former Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or Roman Catholic may be excommunicated from their place of worship or rejected by their own biological family for having come to faith in Christ. Some of this opposition can result in torture or physical death.  

It is possible to experience opposition even within evangelical Christianity. I can remember being shunned by various Christians and churches for holding fast to the simple gospel of grace which embraces faith alone in Christ alone for salvation from hell. Those who embraced a “faith plus” gospel wanted nothing to do with me because of my commitment to the freeness of salvation. It hurt, but I was also consoled by God’s promises to reward those who remain faithful to Him until the end of their Christian lives (Revelation 2:10, 25-26).  

Like believers in the last half of the Tribulation, believers today can also experience economic pressure to reject Christ. Perhaps your employer fires a coworker for their faith in Christ. This puts pressure on you to conceal your Christian faith to avoid the same fate. Or let’s say you go to the marketplace in your village, but the vendors are non-Christians, and they refuse to sell their goods to you because of your faith in Christ. You see them selling their goods to those of like faith, and over time you begin to wonder if it might be better to yield to your hunger pangs and forsake your faith so you can purchase some food.

There are many stories like this in the world today of Christians who are having to face political, religious, and economic pressures because of their commitment to follow Jesus. 13 What is it that we live in daily reliance on? Is it a politician, a religious leader or organization, or job? Or is it God? Do we trust the Lord for all our needs, including the roof over our heads to the timely words we speak in every conversation?

The victorious believers that John sees standing on the sea of glass are described as “having harps of God” (15:2c). With their “harps” they would offer praise to God because He has chosen to manifest and complete His coming judgments at the end of the Tribulation period (cf. Revelation 15:3-4). Are we offering God our praise in everything we do? Are we taking time to thank Him for what we do have?

What a sight it must have been for the apostle John to see these martyred believers from the future Tribulation period standing victoriously on the sea of glass with harps in their hands ready to praise God! Instead of choosing to save their lives by yielding to the Beast and his wicked regime, they chose to remain faithful to Christ, which probably seemed foolish amid unequalled persecution. But to quote missionary and martyr Jim Elliott: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 14May God raise up more believers in this Church Age who are willing to live for Christ no matter what the cost!

Prayer: O precious Lord Jesus, I realize that I often depend on other people or things more than I depend on You. Forgive me my Lord and my God! Please guide me in living for You no matter what the cost. Thank You for reminding me that only what is done for You will last. In Your mighty name Lord Jesus, I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 165.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. 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. 825.

5. Ibid.

6. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 286.

7. 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. 1555.  

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2404.

9. Swindoll, pg. 282.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1555.

11. Adapted from Swindoll, pp. 282-283.

12. A February 2, 2022, email from American Center for Law and Justice’s Chief Counsel, Jay Sekulow, states, “Sixteen Christians are murdered every single day because of their faith. A devastating new report details just how explosive and deadly the persecution of Christians has become around the globe… In Nigeria, Christian pastors are beheaded. In India, Christians are jailed and discriminated against. In Pakistan… Christians [are] on death row for their faith… This new report shows that Afghanistan has become the absolute worst place on earth for Christians. The persecution is excruciating… ‘Men, women and children are subjugated, beaten, and executed for their beliefs that differ from the tyrannical Taliban.’ The Taliban is going door to door looking for Christians to kill and unmarried women to take captive. Christians are hiding in their homes and fearing what the Taliban will do to them – a genocidal persecution.”

13. Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs, When Faith Is Forbidden: 40 Days On The Frontlines With Persecuted Christians (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2021). 14. Swindoll, pg. 283 quotes Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1958), pg. 247.

Revelation 14 – Part 1

“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” Revelation 14:1

A couple of days ago, my wife and I went to the movie theatre to watch a film after we saw its preview the week before. That’s what previews are meant to do. They show exciting scenes from an upcoming movie to entice viewers to come see the film in its entirety. Sometimes, however, the preview of an upcoming movie leads us to expect one thing, but the producer of the film delivers something entirely different. 1 Fortunately for my wife and me, the movie lived up to the excitement the preview generated in us the week before.  

One thing we can be sure of about God’s previews of the future in the book of Revelation is they will not disappoint us. “Not only does He know the future, but He also controls it. He’s not simply the leading actor in the coming end-times drama; He’s the writer, producer, and director! So when He gives us previews of things to come, we should pay close attention. These scenes aren’t meant to satisfy our curiosity but to warn the rebellious and to encourage the righteous.” 2

After receiving revelation about Satan’s two wild beasts (the World Ruler and the False Prophet) who will triumph during the last half of the Tribulation period (13:1-18), John now receives revelation that describes both what happens to those who refuse the mark of the beast (14:1-5) and what happens to those who receive the mark of the beast (14:6-20). You may recall in Revelation 7, we learned that God would save two groups of people during the first three and a half years of the Tribulation period: He will save and seal 144,000 Israelites (7:1-8) through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (11:1-12), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17).

Beginning in Revelation 14, John now fast forwards to the end of the Tribulation period where he sees the following: “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1). 3 John saw “the Lamb,” the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:29), “standing” victoriously “on Mount Zion,” the earthly Jerusalem,at the end of the Tribulation period. Many prophetic Scripture predicted that at the end of the Tribulation period Jesus the Messiah will return to Jerusalem from which He will rule His kingdom on earth (Isaiah 2:3; 24:23; Micah 4:1, 7; Zechariah 14:1-21; cf. Acts 1:9-12; Revelation 19:11-20:6). 4

Standing with Christ at the end of the Tribulation are the “one hundred and forty-four thousand” Jewish evangelists who faithfully proclaimed Jesus’ gospel message to the ends of the earth during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation when the beast ruled without mercy over the earth (14:1a; cf. 7:1-8; Matthew 24:14). Some religious groups, like the Jehovah Witnesses, teach that these 144,000 people are the sum total of all people who will be saved.  This is not true! We already saw in Revelation 7 that there are an innumerable number of people saved during the Tribulation period (7:9-17) in addition to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists (7:1-8). These evangelistic Jews will prepare the way for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. 5

Because they refused to worship the beast and take up his mark, these 144,000 Jews will be rewarded with the Lamb’s “name” and “His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (cf. 3:12) in contrast with the mark placed on nonbelievers’ foreheads by the False Prophet (cf. 13:16). Because of their faithfulness to Christ to the end of the Great Tribulation, they will rule with King Jesus from Mount Zion in His eternal Kingdom (14:1b; cf. Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21). 6

Notice at the end of the Tribulation that John does not see 143,800 Jewish evangelists. He sees all the 144,000 are supernaturally preserved by the Lord. Not one of them was killed. They have endured all the horrors of the seven-year Tribulation and are still standing victoriously with the Lamb on the earth because God faithfully protected them. 7

So, in this preview, we see in place of the beast from the sea, the Lamb of God. And in place of the beast’s followers with the mark of the beast on their foreheads, we see the Lamb’s followers with His and the Father’s name on their foreheads. In addition, we also observe in place of the pagan-controlled earth we see the God-controlled Mount Zion or Jerusalem. 8  This contrast in scenes is meant to encourage believers in John’s day and ours. While our journey on earth will contain trials and tribulation (John 16:33), it will end with a glorious mountaintop experience. This is intended to motivate us to remain faithful to Christ to the end of our Christian lives.

Next John writes, “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.” (Revelation 14:2). Some Bible students think this verse means that “Mount Zion” (14:1) is the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22) since John speaks of this scene in heaven. 9 But the text says John “heard a voice from heaven.” This does not necessitate that the Lamb and His 144,000 followers are in heaven. Since the 144,000 are the same group described in Revelation 7:1-8, they are specifically said there to be sealed and preserved safely through the Tribulation on earth. This preview of their future indicates that they will be kept safe on earth into the Millennial Kingdom without going to the third heaven (Paradise) since this is the meaning of the seal in Revelation 7:3-4. 10

The “voice” John heard “from heaven” was loud like “many waters” roaring at a waterfall or like “loud” claps of “thunder.” We are not told who this voice belongs to. It could be “the voice” of the Tribulation martyrs (7:10), an angel (cf. 6:1; Daniel 10:6), or many angels (cf. 5:8, 11: 7:11; 19:6). But it cannot refer to the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (14:3). I believe this voice represents the inhabitants of heaven consisting of the Tribulation martyrs and God’s angels.

John also tells us he “heard the sound of harpists playing their harps” (14:2b). In the book of Revelation, we are told that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (5:8), and the victorious believers from the Tribulation period (15:2) will all have harps along with those mentioned in Revelation 14:2. The “voice” and “harps” most likely represent the singing and music of the inhabitants of heaven (cf. 19:6). 11

“They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.” (Revelation 14:3). The “new song” this heavenly group sang “before the throne” in heaven could only be learned by “the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth” (14:3). Please understand that the biblical text does not say the 144,000 were standing before the throne in heaven. It simply says they “could learn that song” which was being sung in heaven by this heavenly choir.

It is quite possible that being able to learn this new song was in itself a reward for these 144,000 faithful evangelists. Vacendak writes, “Since the emphasis here is not on the contents of the song but on the fact that only the 144,000 could learn it, this could very well be a special reward for their dedication to God like the reward of the ‘new name’ in 2:17 that is known only to Christ and the victorious one receiving it. Because these faithful witnesses will have an utterly unique experience in their service to Christ on earth, it is fitting that they enjoy a unique experience with Christ in eternity.” 12

After all, they had earned such a reward. “These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed by Jesus from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:4). These 144,000 evangelists “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” who avoided both sexual immorality and spiritual adultery with the Satanic world system led by the Man of Sin or the beast (14:4a; cf. James 4:4; I John 2:15-16). 13

It is likely these servants of the Lord were unmarried in view of the strenuous times the last half of the Tribulation would bring. This brings to remembrance the apostle Paul’s admonition to singles (“virgins”) who were engaged to remain single in view of the “present distress” or persecution under Nero’s rule (I Corinthians 7:25-26). 14  

The 144,000 followed Jesus “wherever He goes” being forever grateful for the incredible price He paid (“redeemed by Jesus”) for their sins (14:4b; cf. Matthew 16:24-27; Luke 9:23-26). These evangelists were willing “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). 15

They were “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” in that they were the first converts of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11) during the first half of the Tribulation period who were saved and sealed (cf. 7:3-4). Following their conversion, they were discipled by the teaching of the Two Witnesses before fleeing Judea to begin their worldwide gospel ministry during the second half of the Tribulation (14:4c; cf. Matthew 24:13-22). 16

“And in their mouth was found no falsehood, for they are without fault.” (Revelation 14:5). Even though deception will abound under the reign of the beast, there will be “no falsehood” found in the mouths of the 144,000 evangelists because they boldly shared the truth of the gospel and “are without fault” in that their lifestyle was one of faithful obedience to the Lord, not perfection. By God’s grace, they knew the will of the Lord and faithfully pursued it without stumbling into sin (Titus 2:11-13; Jude 1:24). 17

What do we learn from these 144,000 Jewish evangelists? First, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we must be pure in our relationships with others. The 144,000 Jewish evangelists “were not defiled with women, for they are virgins” (14:4a). If we love the world more than the Lord Who created the world, people will not be as likely to listen to us if we claim to be followers of the one true God. If we are impure like the world around us, we will not have a credible message for those who are confused or lost in the world’s corruption. 18 Ask yourself, “Do I keep myself pure in my relationships with others – especially those who are of the opposite sex? Or do I blur the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and questionable speech? Do I pursue worldly desires and lusts, or do I make it my priority to pursue the things of God (James 4:4; I John 2:15-17)?” 19

Secondly, like the 144,000 evangelists, we must faithfully “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4b). The Lord Jesus came to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He promised,Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Our responsibility is to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to share the gospel with 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. He will lead you to the unsaved people His Holy Spirit has prepared to hear and believe the gospel (John 16:7-11). Believing this will give you boldness as you go to share Christ with a lost world. Ask yourself, “Do I practice immediate obedience to Jesus or delayed obedience? What keeps me from practicing immediate obedience?”

The more we appreciate what Christ has done for us (“redeemed by Jesus”), the more grateful we will be to represent Him as His ambassadors to a lost world (14:4c; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:15-21). We will be more willing “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Thirdly, like the Jewish evangelists who were discipled by the Two Witnesses after their conversion (Revelation 7:1-8; 11:1-12), we must also be trained by older believers to effectively live for Christ now (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:2). Ask yourself, “Have I been taught by an older believer how to live for Jesus? If not, am I willing to place myself under a more mature believer to learn how to follow Jesus? If I have been discipled, am I now discipling others? If not, what is keeping me from doing this?”

Fourth, like the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, we must live a life of integrity, speaking the truth with our lips (“in their mouth was found no falsehood”) and living the truth with our lives (for they are without fault”) (14:5). If our mouths and lives are full of lies, people will not believe us when we tell them the gospel is true. Ask yourself, “Do I compromise the truth to avoid rejection or disapproval? Do I speak half-truths, white lies, and deception to avoid conflict with others? Do I live with integrity in public and in private? Am I hiding any secret sins?” If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions in this paragraph, turn to the Lord, confessing these sins to Him. The Bible promises “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

When we remain faithful to Christ and preach the truth of the gospel amid an array of false gospels and deceptions in this world, we will be richly rewarded in eternity by the Lamb of God Who redeemed us (Revelation 14:1-5; cf. Matthew 16:24-27; I Corinthians 3:5-14; 4:1-5; 9:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; I John 2:18-3:3, 24-4:6; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21; 22:12).

Prayer: Precious Lord God, thank You for these encouraging verses that describe the victory of the Lamb and His faithful followers at the end of the Tribulation period. After reading Chapter 13 which is filled with horrific deception and destruction under the Antichrist’s and False Prophet’s regime, our hearts are filled with hope to see Jesus and the 144,000 Jewish evangelists standing triumphantly on Mount Zion in Jerusalem at the end of the Great Tribulation. By Your grace Lord God, we ask You to enable us to be faithful witnesses to the truth of the gospel with our lives and our lips. May Jesus live in and through us so those who are confused and perishing without Christ in this corrupt world, can find the healing and hope that only Jesus can give them. We ask You to remove the Satanic blinders from the hearts and minds of the unsaved so multitudes will believe in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life which can never be lost. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 263.

2. Ibid.

3. The majority of Greek manuscripts read “the” (τὸ) Lamb in place of “a” Lamb, and “His name and” (τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ) before “His Father’s name.”

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. 1549.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), 2402.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1549.

7. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 291.

8. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 154 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 188-189.

9. Constable, pg. 154 cites Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Scripture Press Foundation, Victory Book, 1986), pg. 88; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971), pg. 208; Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 607.

10. Constable, pp. 154-155 cites John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 214.

11. Vacendak, pp. 1549-1550.

12. Ibid., pg. 1550.

13. Ibid.

14. Constable, pp. 156-157.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1550.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Swindoll, pg. 267.

19. Ibid., pg. 268.

Revelation 12 – Part 5

“But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.” Revelation 12:14

Following Satan’s defeat and his eviction from heaven to earth (12:7-12), he directs all his rage at the nation of Israel knowing he has a short time left. Satan can read the book of Revelation too and he knows he is going to be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years after Jesus’ return to earth (Revelation 12:13-17; 20:1-3). 1 The apostle John writes, “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.” (Revelation 12:13). Since Satan (dragon) could not get to the Christ Child or His church who ascended victoriously to heaven (12:5; cf. 4:1-4), he will persecute “the woman,” which represents the nation of Israel (12:1-2; cf. Genesis 37:9-11), “who gave birth to the male Child.” Satan’s goal during the last half of the Tribulation period will be to destroy Israel and thus render God’s promises to Israel false, making God a liar. 2

Hitchcock writes, Satan focuses his fury on the woman and tries to wipe out the Jewish people once and for all to thwart the promises of God. He will embark on an all-out, worldwide campaign of anti-Semitism. This will mark the culmination of Satan’s agelong war against the Jewish people. But his attempts always backfire. Have you ever noticed that every time Satan tries to wipe out the Jews, they end up with a holiday? After Pharaoh’s brutal enslavement, they got Passover. After Haman’s plot in Esther to wipe them out, they got the Festival of Purim. After the atrocities of Antiochus Epiphanes in the intertestamental period, they got Hanukkah, or the Feast of Lights. And after Hitler’s holocaust, they got May 14, 1948—the rebirth of the modern state of Israel. Satan’s final assault against Israel will also fail. It will result in the repentance of Israel, the second coming of Jesus, and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.” 3

Swindoll says, Satan has inspired countless attempts at destroying God’s special covenant people. Throughout history, the Jews have been the special object of hatred, ridicule, and persecution. During the Middle Ages, they were looked on with suspicion and treated as outcasts in a world dominated by a form of political Christianity that viewed all Jews as Christ-killers. During World War II, the Nazis attempted to obliterate the Jewish people in a horrific holocaust driven by absolute evil. Even after the birth of the modern nation of Israel in 1948, its neighboring nations in the Middle East have often talked of driving the Jews into the sea and retaking the land. Anti-Semitism has a long and sordid history. Yet God has continued to fulfill His promise to preserve Israel, even in their spiritually blind condition of rejecting Jesus as their Messiah (Rom. 11:28-29).” 4

Just as God has preserved the nation of Israel since her birth over four thousand years ago (Genesis 12:1-3), so He will continue to sustain them during the last half of the Tribulation when all of hell’s fury is directed against them. “But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.” (Revelation 12:14). During the last half of the Tribulation period, many believing Jews will obey Jesus’ command to flee Judea when the Man of Sin takes his place in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) and God will give them supernatural speed (“two wings of a great eagle”) that they may quickly take refuge in the “wilderness to her place” of total security. “The comparison between a powerful “eagle,” that can “fly” very fast overhead, going wherever it chooses, and an earth-bound “serpent,” implies the superior protection of God.” 5

This hiding place was not clearly identified. Some suggest that it might be Petra, fortress capital of the Nabateans in Edom, south of the Dead Sea. This city has a narrow access which could easily be blocked but which opens up into a large canyon capable of caring for many thousands of people. Though Scripture is not specific, some believe the 144,000 of chapter 7 are to be preserved here. The Scriptures themselves speak of God’s seal of protection on them.

“The two wings probably do not refer to modern airplanes but rather to God’s delivering power, and are a figure of speech taken from such Old Testament passages as Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11-12. The flight of Israel to a place of safety was also indicated in Matthew 24:16; Mark 13:14; and Luke 21:21.” 6

It is at this place in the wilderness “where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time.” This refers to the three and one-half years of the Great Tribulation with ‘a time’ equaling one year, ‘times’ equaling two years, and ‘half a time’ indicating 6 months (cf. Daniel 7:25; 12:7 with the 42 months referred to in Revelation 11:2; 13:5). References to these specific time periods show that the Great Tribulation is not the entire present Age but the three and one-half years preceding the second coming of Christ.” 7

God would supernaturally feed and protect the Israelites in this place of refuge much like He fed the Israelites in the wilderness and Elijah by the brook Cherith. 8 This would take place away “from the presence of the serpent” (Satan – 12:14) who will try to destroy them by means of the armies of the Man of Sin. 9 15 So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. 16 But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.” (Revelation 12:15-16). When Satan (“the serpent”) realizes his enemies, the believing Jews (“the woman”), have obediently fled Judea, he sends a “flood” of armies after them who will be miraculously “swallowed up” by “the earth.”

In the Old Testament, overflowing waters and floods are sometimes used symbolically to represent military attack (cf. Isaiah 8:7-8; Jeremiah 47:2-3). 10 For example, this image of a flood overtaking Israel is also seen in Daniel 9:26, a prophetic reference to the Roman invasion that destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70: “And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.” 11 Soon after the Man of Sin sits in the rebuilt Jewish temple, declaring himself to be God (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), he will discover that his enemies (the believing Jewish remnant) are escaping and will send a flood of soldiers after them. However, just as He did in the past on behalf of His people (cf. Exodus 15:12; Psalm 106:17), God will miraculously open an enormous crevice in the earth that will swallow the soldiers of the Man of Sin alive. 12 Two thirds of these Israelites will die, and one third will escape (Zechariah 13:8-9). 13

We learn an important principle from this particular prophecy: We discover God most powerfully in the context of being overwhelmed. When believers are flooded with opposition, often they are able to watch God supernaturally suck up the flood of despair and avert Satan’s plan for destruction.” (Emphasis mine). 14

Enraged by the escape of all these Israelites, Satan will now focus his attack on the 144,000 Jewish evangelists who are sharing the gospel around the world (cf. 7:1-8; 14:1-5; Matthew 24:14). “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 12:17). These evangelists are described as those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus.” The 144,000 are more than believers in Jesus. They are committed followers of Christ who are supernaturally protected by God so they can make Jesus Christ known during an unprecedented time of deception and persecution throughout the world.

Revelation 12 teaches us that Israel may be blind and disobedient as a nation, but God has never forgotten them. He never will. His reputation as a promise keeper is at stake. God will remember His people and preserve them. He will protect them when persecution arises, and He will ultimately fulfill His promise to return them to their own land under the Messiah. Although most ethnic Jews have not accepted Jesus as their Messiah, God has still preserved them as a distinct people over the last two thousand years. In Romans 11:1 Paul wrote, ‘God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!’ The fact of God’s faithfulness even to faithless Israel should give us hope, too! The same God who stands by His promises to Israel stands by His promise to each of us: ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5).” 15

We also learn from Revelation 12, that the dragon still comes after children of God, and sometimes he gets them (12:13-17). You and I might face the dragon in different ways, but we still face him daily. For John, that is part of the true meaning of the story of Christ’s birth. The message of the coming of Christ into the world is not peace and joy for all. The world has churned on for two thousand years since the pronouncement of the angels, and there has never been lasting peace on earth or good will toward men. But then, that was never the promise, was it? Notice what it was the angels really promised to the shepherds, “Give glory to God in heaven, and on earth let there be peace among the people who please God” (Luke 2:14 NCV). The promise of peace is for those who please God, those who follow the Lamb. The dragon will continue to attack, but the battle belongs to the Lord. Do you belong to Him?

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, we thank You for our verses in Revelation 12 today which emphasize Your supernatural protection and provision of Your people Israel despite all the fury of hell directed against them. We are reminded that during times when we are most overwhelmed, we discover You in the most powerful ways when You seem to supernaturally suck up the flood of our despair and turn away Satan’s plan for destruction. Your faithfulness to faithless Israel gives us hope because we too can be faithless especially when we are overwhelmed. You are the same God Who keeps His promises to Israel Who stands by His promises to us. When You say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), we can be confident You will never abandon us no matter what hardships we face. Thank You for the security this gives us. Thank You for the peace You give to us when we make it our aim to please You. In the mighty 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. 2398.

2. Ibid.

3. 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), pp. 314-315.

4. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 240.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 138.

6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 5718 to 5724.

7. Ibid., location 5724 to 5729.

8. Constable, pg. 138.

9. 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. 1544.

10. Ibid.

11. Swindoll, pg. 240.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1544.

13. Constable, pg. 138.

14. Evans, pg. 2399.

15. Swindoll, pg. 241.

Revelation 2 – Part 2

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

The second church the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ addresses is in Smyrna.And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” (Revelation 2:8). Smyrna was another seaport on the Aegean Sea; it was about 40 miles north of Ephesus. Late in the first century it was a large, wealthy city with a population of about 100,000. It still thrives today—as ‘Izmir’—with a population of about 200,000.” 1

To “the church in Smyrna” Jesus describes Himself as “the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life” to encourage these believers facing persecution and possible death, that He has conquered death and guarantees their eternal lives with Him (2:8).  As “the First and the Last,” Jesus is the eternal God Who is in control of their past, present, and future. Christ suffered and died at the hands of His persecutors and was raised to life from the grave. He can offer hope to Christians like those at Smyrna who were also facing persecutions.

Today, Christians are facing similar persecutions around the world. “Violent mobs are viciously attacking Christians, as the Pakistani government also increases persecution… A Christian man in Pakistan faces a possible death sentence, after already having spent four years in jail, because he was accused of blasphemy. He could literally die for his faith at the hands of the government of Pakistan. At the same time, about 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls (minors) are being forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men EACH YEAR in Pakistan. Instead of protecting innocent Christians, the Pakistani government is using blasphemy laws to further harass and persecute Christians.” 2

In Afghanistan, Christians are suffering at the hands of the Taliban. “There are already multiple reports of the Taliban going door-to-door looking for Christians to kill, and unmarried women to take captive. Christians in Afghanistan fear the genocidal persecution suffered by Christians in Iraq and Syria. Christians are hiding in their homes in Afghanistan for fear of what the Taliban will do to them.” 3

“Persecution of Christians in India continues even as the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) reviews the state of human rights in the country during its 48th session. Just days after we filed a critical report with the HRC, detailing incidents of persecution of Christians by Hindu mobs, another mob of Hindu nationalists attacked a pastor for allegedly converting people to Christianity. This did not happen in a dark alley; the pastor was attacked and beaten inside a police station in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.” 4

“Radical Islamic militias are targeting Christians for slaughter all across Africa just because of their faith. In Nigeria, more than 120 Christian kids were recently kidnapped from a Baptist school. A few were freed or escaped, but more than 80 helpless children are still being held for ransom by radical Islamic gunmen. But this has become a way of life in Nigeria. Christian teens are abducted and forced into slavery. Christian pastors have been beheaded. This should outrage the entire world. But too few are speaking up.” 5

These persecuted Christians can find hope in the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ Who conquered death through His resurrection and guarantees never-ending life to those who believe in Him (Revelation 2:8; John 11:25-26). Believers in Christ can face suffering and death without fear because of Who Jesus is and What He has done for them.

Next, Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9). The name of the city, Smyrna, means ‘myrrh,’ an ordinary perfume. It was also used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle, and in embalming dead bodies (cf. Ex. 30:23; Ps. 45:8; Song 3:6; Matt. 2:11; Mark 15:23; John 19:39). While the Christians of the church at Smyrna were experiencing the bitterness of suffering, their faithful testimony was like myrrh or sweet perfume to God.” 6

Jesus knew their “works” amid “tribulation,” and reminded them that though they were financially poor, they would become spiritually “rich” because of the promised rewards Jesus would give to them (2:9a; cf. 2:10-11; Matthew 6:19-21; 2 Corinthians 6:10; James 2:5). Some who claimed to be “Jews” were actually “a synagogue of Satan” because they were doing the devil’s work, opposing, and slandering believers. 7 Throughout church history the primary persecution of Christians has come from religious people who often think they are serving God. In reality, they are serving the enemy of God – Satan himself.

The Lord told these believers, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10). The exalted Lord Jesus instructs them not to “fear” the sufferings that were about to take place. “The devil,” acting through the Roman authorities, was about “to throw some of” them “into prison” that they “may be tested” for “ten days.” The phrase “ten days” probably refers to a period of ten literal 24-hour days, that lay in the near future of the original recipients of this letter. 8 “There is nothing in this text that provides a clue that we should take this number in a figurative sense.” 9

The risen Lord Jesus commands these believers to “be faithful until death” to receive “the crown of life” from Jesus. The “crown of life” is not the same as eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift we receive apart from any works the moment we believe in Jesus (John 3:15-16 4:10-14; Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). The crown of life, on the other hand, is a reward that we earn when we endure persecution and suffering for Christ until death (Revelation 2:10). The crown of life “is not a literal crown but a reference to the abundant quality of existence faithful believers in Christ will experience in eternity. If the believers in Smyrna die for Christ in this life, they will receive an eternal experience that is totally opposite to the troubles they faced on earth.” 10 Believers who receive this reward will have a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life in heaven.

Jesus concludes His message to the church in Smyrna: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11). Jesus promises the faithful believer (“he who overcomes”) that he “shall not be hurt by the second death” (2:11). The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). It follows the first death, which is separation of the soul from the body. 11

Arminian commentators err in taking this verse to mean, ‘Believers who do not overcome shall be hurt by the second death.’ Reformed commentators also err by reading it this way: ‘All true believers are overcomers and therefore will not be hurt by the second death.’ Both views have Jesus offering escape from hell for faithful obedience to Him.” 12

John’s readers are also reminded that even if they lose their physical lives, they will never lose eternal life. He reminds them, ‘You will never be hurt by the second death.’ The word ‘never’ is very emphatic in Greek, a double negative (ou mē, ‘definitely not’). This expression is common in categorical and emphatic denials.” 13

Since no believer can ever experience the second death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15; 21:8) or lose eternal life (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29), John must be using a figure of speech called a litotes which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. 14 For example, “If you do me this favor, I will not forget you.” The phrase, “I will not forget you,” is a litotes for “I will repay you very well.” A Biblical example of litotes is Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name,” meaning God will definitely remember all your hard work. 15

There is a problem, however, with taking this promise as litotes. If it is true that one who overcomes is not hurt by the second death, then what happens if one does not overcome? Would it not follow that he would be hurt by the second death, that is, damned? If this is truly litotes, then the answer is, ‘No.’ If we say, ‘Michael Jordan is not a bad basketball player,’ we mean he is a very good basketball player. However, the reverse does not follow, ‘If you are not Michael Jordan, you are definitely not a good basketball player.’ A litotes cannot be read in reverse.” 16

Dillow writes, “Ed Ediger correctly observes, ‘Jesus does not say that a failure to “overcome” will result in “the second death.” Possible implications, particularly opposite ones, are not necessarily intended by the speaker. Negative implications are not always true.” 17

“In regard to Revelation 2:11, Lang says, ‘It is not safe to reverse divine statements, as is done by inferring here that a believer who does not overcome will be hurt of the second death’ (emphasis his). The passage is not addressed to nonbelievers, it is addressed to overcomers, that is, believers, and according to Jesus, believers will never experience the second death (John 6:39).” 18

In Revelation 2:10-11, the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus is promising churches and believers who are faithful to Him until death, a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life which is the exact opposite of the second death. Suffering believers in the first century and today can find comfort and encouragement from Jesus’ glorious promises in these verses.

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, You are the First and the Last, the eternal God Who is in control of our past, present, and future. Because You died and came back to life, You can relate to us when we suffer and guarantee eternal life in heaven to all who believe in You. As children of God, we do not need to be afraid of persecution and possible death because You have conquered death. Although the first death may hurt us, it is only briefly, but the second death will never touch us at all, because You have secured eternal life for us with You forever. We pray that in Your power we may remain faithful to You until death, knowing that You will give us the crown of life so we may experience a greater capacity to enjoy eternal life in heaven which is the exact opposite of the second death. With the crown of life, we can bring You more glory and honor throughout eternity! In Your life-giving name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 34.

2. Retrieved from an October 4, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

3. Retrieved from an August 24, 2021, email from American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

4. Retrieved from an American Center for Law and Justice September 14, 2021 article by Shaheryar Gill entitled, “Mob Violence and Persecution of Christians Grows Defending Persecuted Christians in India at the United Nations.”

5.Retrieved from an August 16, 2021 email from American Center for Law and Justice Executive Director, Jordan Sekulow.

6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2372.

8. Constable, pp. 35-36 cites Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd., n.d.), pg. 69.

9. Ibid., pg. 36.

10. 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. 1505.

11. Constable, pg. 37.

12. Vacendak, pp. 1505-1506.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 962.

14. Ibid.; Constable, pg. 37 cites Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981.), pg. 119.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1506.

16. Dillow, pp. 962-963.

17. Dillow, pg. 963 cites Edwin Aaron Ediger, Faith in Jesus: What Does it Mean to Believe in Him? (Bloomington, IN: Westbow Press: A Division of Thomas Nelson, 2012), pg. 393.

18. Dillow, pg. 963 cites G. H. Lang, Revelation, reprint ed. (Miami Springs, FL: Schoettle Publishing. Co., 1985), pg. 96.

Revelation 1 – Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1498.

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

5. Ibid.

6. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.

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

8. Vacendak, pg. 1499.

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

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

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

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 12

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.” John 19:38

We are learning lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life found in John 19. So far we have discovered…

– Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 19:17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

– Jesus’ garments were removed so we could wear the garments of salvation (John 19:23-24).

– Though Jesus died for the world, He also cares deeply for me (John 19:25-27).

– Jesus became thirsty to save us from an eternal thirst (John 19:28-29).

– We cannot work our way to heaven because we cannot pay a debt that is already paid (John 19:30).

– Jesus’ legs were not broken and His side was pierced so we may believe Jesus is our Passover Lamb Who died for us (John 19:31-37).

Today the final lesson is AS DISCIPLES OF JESUS, WE ARE TO OPENLY IDENTIFY WITH HIM NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 19:38-42). John now gives an account of Jesus’ burial to substantiate further that Jesus actually died. “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.” (John 19:38). We do not bury a living person. We bury a dead person. The proof that Jesus died was that He was buried.

“Normally the Romans placed the bodies of crucified offenders, whose bodies they did not leave to rot on their crosses, in a cemetery for criminals outside the city.” Family members could not claim the bodies of people who had undergone crucifixion as punishment for sedition.” 2 But two of Jesus’ friends intervene to give Christ a proper burial.

The other gospel writers inform us that “Joseph of Arimathea” was “a rich man” (Matthew 27:57) “waiting for the kingdom of God,” who was also “a good and just man” (Luke 23:50). Although he was a “prominent… member” of the Jewish Supreme Court called the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), “he had not consented to their decision” to crucify Christ (Luke 23:51).

Only John tells us he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews,” particularly the unbelieving Jewish leaders. Despite his fears, Joseph courageously “asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.” So Joseph “came and took the body of Jesus” down from the cross to give Him a proper burial.

But Joseph was not alone in doing this. He was accompanied by another member of the Sanhedrin. “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39). Unlike disciples of Jesus who fled for fear of the Jews, both Joseph and Nicodemus now boldly identified themselves with Jesus. But they were not always willing to do this.

John mentions that Nicodemus “first came to Jesus by night.” John emphasizes this each time he mentions Nicodemus in his gospel (cf. John 3:2; 7:50). Earlier John wrote, 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Prior to asking Pilate for Jesus’ dead body, it appears that both Joseph and Nicodemus had been secret disciples who were reluctant to openly confess Jesus because they feared what the Pharisees would do to them if they did. Openly identifying with Christ could result in both these men “losing their seats in the Sanhedrin and, worse yet, being refused the right to worship in the synagogue (cf. 9:22; 12:42).” 4

Although they had probably believed in Jesus for His gift of salvation earlier (John 12:42), they were not willing to walk in the light of fellowship with Jesus by openly confessing Christ among their religious colleagues. Why? Because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). They cared more about what people thought of them instead of what God thought of them. They were people-pleasers, not God-pleasers. They chose to walk in the darkness by refusing to confess Christ before others. They wanted the approval of men more than the approval of God.

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (cf. I John 4:15).

But now John presents both Nicodemus and Joseph in a favorable light as they openly identify with Jesus in the daylight by asking permission to give Christ a proper burial. It took a lot of courage for them to do this. What had changed in their lives for them to have such courage? Based on John’s discipleship theme in his gospel, I would suggest that these men had grown in their relationship with Jesus to the point of caring more about what Christ thought of them than what people thought of them. “The death of Jesus so moved Nicodemus and Joseph that they cast aside their fears and boldly claim Jesus’ body, prepare Him for burial, and bury Him.” They had come out of the darkness into the light of fellowship with Jesus Christ (cf. John 3:19-36; I John 1:5-9).

The same is true for us. We may begin our Christian lives afraid of what people may think or do to us if we openly identify with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our boldness for Him will also grow (cf. John 7:26; Acts 4:13, 29-31; 9:27; Philippians 1:20-21; I Thessalonians 2:1-10; I John 4:17). The courage that the Holy Spirit gives to us will overcome our fears (Acts 4:23-31). Christ’s radical love for us will squelch our fears (cf. I John 4:18). More and more we will seek to please Jesus rather than people (Colossians 3:23-24; I Thessalonians 2:4).

John tells us that Nicodemus brought “about a hundred pounds” of “myrrh and aloes” to prepare Jesus’ dead body for burial (John 19:39). ‘Myrrh’ was a fragrant resin that the Jews turned into powder, and then mixed with ‘aloes,’ which was powdered sandalwood.” 6  “The purpose of covering a corpse with this aromatic powder was to dry it out and to lessen the foul odor that putrefaction caused.” 7

The amount of aromatic spices is significant for such a large quantity was commonly used only for kings. 8  This amount of burial spices reflects Nicodemus’ great love and respect for Jesus. Isn’t this amazing!?! Even though Christ was dead, Nicodemus’ love for Him was very much alive.

“Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” (John 19:40). Because it was almost the Sabbath (which began at sundown) the burial had to take place quickly. Jewish burial customs did not involve mummification or embalming, which took out the blood and body organs. Their normal process was to wash a body and cover it with cloth and aromatic oils or spices.” 9

John mentions the “strips of linen” wrapped around Jesus’ body to emphasize that Christ was truly dead. The use of “strips of linen” argues against the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, which is often associated with Jesus’ burial. 10  As long as there were no graveclothes, no tomb, and no coroner, there was hope. But the arrival of the graveclothes signified the departure of any hope. 11

This is amazing to think about from Joseph’s and Nicodemus’ perspective. Earlier in the week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem with shouts of joy from the great multitude. The people who praised Jesus as their King days earlier then called for His death on Friday. These linens were a physical reminder that their Friend and His future were wrapped in graveclothes and sealed behind a rock. These two brave men did not know on that Friday what we now know. They didn’t know that Friday’s calamity would become Sunday’s celebration! 12  Yet, they remained loyal to Jesus even in His death.

If that had been you or me, what would we have done? After all, the crowds were pleased with Jesus’ crucifixion. What was to keep the religious leaders from calling for more executions? Let’s be honest. If we were in Joseph’s or Nicodemus’ sandals, we would have left town as quickly as possible!

But Joseph and Nicodemus did not flee. Why? Because Jesus was their Friend and they loved Him. You don’t abandon a dear Friend, even when He is dead.This seems to be what these two men are thinking. The manner in which Jesus lived and died deeply impacted their lives.

Next John tells us, “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41). Jesus’ body was placed in a new tomb in a private “garden,” not in a public cemetery. 13

“In Palestine, bodies were buried in natural caves or tombs that were carved out of the limestone. Niches or shelves were prepared where the bodies could be laid. The tomb was customarily sealed with a disc-shaped stone that could be rolled across the entrance. The tomb was usually a family tomb, and the niches would be reused as necessary. The bones of the previous occupant would simply be collected and placed in a bone-box, or ‘ossuary,’ that remained in the tomb.” 14

John is the only gospel writer to mention that Jesus was buried in a “garden.” “Why would he mention this? This may well be an illusion to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden and away from the tree of life. But Jesus, the second Adam, dies on a tree to redeem man and re-open paradise (cf. Rev 2:7).” 15

Matthew tells us that this tomb belonged to Joseph. He laid Jesus’ body “in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.” (Matthew 27:60). The placement of Jesus’ body in Joseph’s tomb fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah, Who would be “with the rich at His death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

John includes a very significant detail when he writes, “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41b). When Jesus’s body was gone after His resurrection, “no one was able to point to any bones in the tomb to claim them as Jesus’s remains. His was the first corpse to lie there.” 16

John concludes this section when he writes, “So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (John 19:42). Christ’s burial was somewhat of a hasty measure because the “Jews’ day of preparation” before the Sabbath (i.e., Friday) was about to end with the fast approaching sunset.

Joseph and Nicodemus were not expecting the resurrection, yet they were willing to risk their riches, their reputations, their religious privileges, and possibly their own lives out of love and respect for Jesus. Their sacrifices will be greatly rewarded in eternity.

For the Bible promises that when we invest our riches in what is eternal while we live here on earth, we will store up permanent treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). When we risk our reputations and even rejection for Christ by publicly confessing Him before our enemies, Jesus will give us a good confession before God the Father and His holy angels in heaven (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; Revelation 3:5b). When we sacrifice religious privileges and even our own lives here on earth for Christ, He will give us greater authority and privileges in heaven (Mark 10:29-31; Revelation 2:7, 17, 25-27; 3:11-12, 21).

When I ran track in high school, I trained hard because I wanted to win a medal in my race. Even though I had failed to win a medal in previous races, I still prepared for the next race thinking I could win. Keeping the thought of winning a medal in the front of my mind as I trained and eventually competed in the race, motivated me to do my very best and not give up.

The same is true in our Christian lives. There are certain eternal rewards that require us to live faithfully for Jesus to the end of our Christian lives. To do this, it is important to train our minds to imagine Jesus rewarding us at the Judgment Seat of Christ, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21). Like an athlete who visualizes himself winning a race, visualizing ourselves remaining faithful to Christ and receiving this reward from Him will actually create new neurological pathways in our brain. And our brains respond the same way to mental rehearsing of a task and actually performing the task.

I believe Isaac Watts captured the impact that God meant for the cross to have on our lives when he wrote the song, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The first stanza reads:

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Joseph and Nicodemus who sacrificed so much to ensure that Jesus received a proper burial. Even though their sacrifices were costly, dangerous, and without personal gain, they did this out of love and respect for their dear Friend, Jesus Christ, Who deeply touched their lives. They started out hesitant to associate with Jesus, but the more they grew in their relationship with Him, the more their boldness grew. The same can be true for us. Help us to focus on the cross so that no sacrifice will seem too great for us in light of the wondrous love of Jesus my Savior. In His matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 363 cites Josephus, Antiquities, 5:1:14.

2. Ibid., cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pg. 629.

3. 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. 562. 

4. Ibid., pg. 561.

5. Ibid., pg. 562.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 363 cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pg. 629.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 363.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 121.

9. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 694.

10. Ibid., pg. 695; cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: Revised Edition, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pg. 730.

11. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pg. 121.

12. Ibid.

13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 695.

14. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 354; cf. Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody, 1987), pp. 72-74).

15. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 562.

16. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1826.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 11

“But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” John 19:34

Since Jesus died on the cross, there have been many attempts to deny this historical fact. Why? Because it would explain the empty tomb of Jesus. For example, near the end of the first century, the false teachings of Docetism and Gnosticism were on the rise. Both of these groups denied that Jesus was a real man. “Docetists claimed that Jesus only seemed (Gr. dokeo, ‘to seem,’ therefore the name ‘Docetist’) to be fully human.” 2  Since Jesus only seemed to be a man, it only seemed that He died.

The word ‘Gnostic’ refers to secret knowledge, as the Gnostics believed that people needed secret knowledge to be freed from the material world, which is inherently evil.” 3  One second-century Gnostic writer, Basilides, wrote the Gospel according to Basilides. Since gnosticism teaches that the material world is evil, Basilides concluded that “Jesus must not have had a material body, and therefore he could not have been crucified.” 4

An early church leader named “Irenaeus records what Basilides taught about the death of Jesus on the cross: ‘He [Christ] did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them.’ ” 5

The founder of Islam, Muhammad, was influenced by such false teachings when he traveled on trade routes with his uncle.  6  His primary knowledge of Christianity came from docetic sources. Muhammad later testified in the Qur’an, That they rejected Faith; that they uttered against Mary a grave false charge; That they said [in boast], ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no [certain] knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not.” (Sura 4:156-157) 8

A former Muslim convincingly argues that this Quranic teaching that says Jesus did not die by crucifixion originated from the second-century Gnostic teaching. 9  Three of the main views concerning Jesus’ death among Muslims today include that Allah supernaturally preserved Jesus’ life so He did not die on the cross. 10  Jesus simply “swooned” or fainted on the cross and later recovered in the tomb. 11 And Allah miraculously made someone else to look like Jesus and this person (perhaps Judas, Pilate or Simon of Cyrene) was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’ place. 12

How sad that over a billion Muslims have been misled to believe such a destructive lie. For you see, if Jesus did not die, He did not rise from the dead and there is no payment for sin. And if there is no payment for sin, there is no hope of forgiveness and eternal life. The Bible says, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (I Corinthians 15:17).

With this in mind, let’s pay close attention to the next picture that the apostle John presents as he makes it very clear that Jesus Christ really did die on the cross. From this picture we will learn that JESUS’ LEGS WERE NOT BROKEN AND HIS SIDE WAS PIERCED SO WE MAY BELIEVE JESUS IS OUR PASSOVER LAMB WHO DIED FOR US (John 19:31-37).

“Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (John 19:31). It sometimes took crucifixion victims days to die. Normally, then, the Romans would have left the men on the crosses.” 13  But because this was was “the Preparation Day” on a Friday when the Jews had to prepare for the Sabbath, work was forbidden after sunset when the Sabbath would begin according to the Jewish reckoning of time. Also, this was going to be a special Sabbath (“high day”) because in addition to it being the seventh day, it would also be the day when the Jews celebrated the Passover. 14

“The Jews” did not want the bodies of these criminals to “remain on the cross on the Sabbath” because according to the Mosaic Law if you leave a man hanging on a tree overnight it would defile the land (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).So “the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken” so that they would die and could be buried. Victims hanging on a cross had to put weight on their legs in order to lift themselves to breathe. Without the use of their legs, they would die of asphyxiation.” 15

32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.” (John 19:32-33). The soldiers “broke the legs” of the criminals hanging beside Jesus because they were still alive.But why didn’t the Roman soldiers break Jesus’ legs? Pilate had given the order to break His legs. They would not have disobeyed Pilate’s command if they were not certain Jesus was already dead. Keep in mind these professional executioners were accustomed to this form of execution and were very familiar with the signs of death. It was their professional opinion based upon years of experience that Jesus Christ was dead. He had not fainted or swooned as some mistakenly teach.

These soldiers also recognized this man was “Jesus,” not some other man posing as Jesus. The apostle John, an eyewitness to this event, also concluded that this Man Who died was “Jesus “ (John 19:33-37), not some impostor. So both the Swoon Theory or Substitution Theory are not plausible.

In case you are still not convinced that Jesus died, John then tells us, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:34). This piercing of Jesus’ side confirmed that He was dead. In order for “blood and water” to come out of such a wound, the heart would have had to stop beating. 16  The sac around the heart, the pericardium, had filled with water and burst. Contrary to the heresies which arose in the second century that taught Jesus was solely divine and not human, this eyewitness testimony from John confirms that Jesus really did die and that He is fully human and fully God (cf. John 1:1, 14).

Someone may ask, “How can God die? Isn’t He eternal so He cannot die?” Think about this for a moment. When humans die, do our souls stop existing? No, our souls do not die. So even when we die as humans, it is our body that dies. We do not stop existing altogether. So it was with Jesus: He was killed with respect to His earthly body, but as God He did not stop existing. Sometimes, though, when people ask, “How can God die?” they are really asking “Who was ruling the universe when Jesus died?” For the Christian, the answer is simple. God the Father was ruling the universe when Jesus died. God the Father is not the Son, and the Father did not die on the cross. God the Son died on the cross. 17

Those who deny that Jesus died are telling a complete lie. Think of how much faith it takes to believe that Jesus did not die. Consider Christ, Who received thirty-nine lashes, hung on a cross for six hours, fainted on the cross according to skeptics, had a spear thrust into His side with water and blood coming out, and then later He woke up in a tomb and somehow crawled to that large stone that weighed over a ton and rolled it out of the way while all the Roman soldiers were out there guarding the tomb? Then He snuck by all the Roman guards? So when Jesus appeared to be resurrected, He was really lying? It takes a lot more faith to believe such a tale than to believe that Jesus really did die.

Even if you believe Jesus did not die, John says, And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.” (John 19:35). John is saying, “I was there. I saw with my own eyes what happened at the cross. I’m telling you the truth so you may believe Jesus did die as the promised Messiah!”

This is not just historical details. John testified “so that you may believe.” John recorded these details to enable us to believe that Jesus did die for our sins; that He did shed His blood for us; that He did pay our sin debt in full. When John testified of what happened at the cross, the result that is intended to take place in our lives is not pity for Jesus. It is not a deeper interest in history. It is belief or trust. Belief in the One Who demonstrated His infinite love toward us by shedding His own blood so we could be completely forgiven the moment we believe in Him (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7).

John tells us that all that happened at the cross fulfilled Old Testament Scripture. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, ‘Not one of His bones shall be broken.’ 37 And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him whom they pierced.’ ” (John 19:36-37). “He quotes from Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10, proving it was no accident that Jesus was pierced rather than having his legs broken. Our sovereign God was fulfilling his Word.” 18

The fact that Jesus’ legs were not broken not only fulfilled Psalm 34:20, it also points to Jesus as our Passover Lamb of God (John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7) since the Israelites were not to break the bones of their Passover lambs (cf. Exodus 12:5, 46; Numbers 9:12). Passover lambs had to be killed to apply their blood to the door posts and lintel of Israelite homes so God’s judgment would pass over each family (Exodus 12:3-13). Likewise, Jesus, our Passover Lamb, had to die so His blood would cause God’s eternal judgment to pass over every person who believes in Jesus.

Think about this for a moment. Who has more credibility? A follower of Jesus named, John, who was an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and lived in the same vicinity as Jesus’ community or a man named, Muhammad, who lived six hundred years after Jesus and over six hundred miles removed from where Jesus lived and ministered? 19  Would an objective observer consider John or Muhammad to have presented reliable historical evidence? The answer is obvious. John was there. John was an eyewitness. To say that Muhammad’s message is true and John’s is false simply because the Quran is inspired is not plausible to an objective observer.

“The basis of any historical case must be the primary sources, and in this case, the sources are unanimous, diverse, early, and plentiful: Jesus died by crucifixion. Starting almost immediately after Jesus’ death, over a dozen authors and traditions recorded the death of Jesus by crucifixion, including Christian, Jewish, and Roman sources, and their testimony was unanimous. For more than one hundred years, no record even suggests that Jesus survived death on the cross or otherwise circumvented his execution. This coheres well with what we know of crucifixion practices, in that there is no person in recorded history who ever survived a full Roman crucifixion. Positing that Jesus did not die on the cross would have served the agenda of the early Christians and those opposed to their message, but such a suggestion appears inconceivable. For those who study Jesus’ life in academia, the idea that Jesus did not die by crucifixion remains, to this day, outside the realm of possibility” 20

What gets you really excited in life? What are you extremely passionate about? For me, I am extremely passionate about the cross of Jesus Christ. It was there that we see the amazing love of Jesus Christ for all of us, regardless of our skin color, social class, or sin (Romans 5:8; I John 4:9-10). The cross is our source of faith (Galatians 2:20). It is our source of complete forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14). It is our source of hope (Colossians 1:5). It is our source of life (John 3:14-15; I John 4:10). It is our source of power (I Corinthians 1:18). It is our source of victory over sin, death, and the devil (Romans 6:6; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15).

When you read about the impact of the cross, you may say to yourself, “But you don’t know what I have done. How can Jesus love me in view of all the terrible things I have thought, said, and done? How can He possibly forgive me?” The power of the cross is not dependent on your behavior. The power of the cross is based on the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, our Passover Lamb of God, Who was innocent and without sin. God has nailed the entire list of all your sins – past, present, and future – to the cross, and they have all been canceled as if they never happened or will happen (Colossians 2:13-14). That’s the power of the cross. That’s the power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

For you to experience the power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness, you must believe. Jesus invites you right now to believe in Him for His forgiveness and eternal life if you have never done so. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up [on the cross], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). The power of the cross is not based on your behavior, but upon belief. Do you believe in Jesus Who died in your place on that cross to pay your sin debt in full? If you now do, you can tell Him this through prayer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for the cross. Before today, I believed a lie that said You never died on that cross. Thank You for revealing the truth to me today that shows it was really You Who died on that cross. It was You Who paid for all my sins when Your blood poured out of Your side. Your legs were not broken so my brokenness could be healed. As best I know how, I am now believing in You Jesus to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You for the forgiveness and eternal life I now have. Please teach me more about the power of the cross to change my life for the better. In Your name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please visit www.seeyouinheaven.life or www.knowing-Jesus.com.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 360.

2. Ibid.

3. Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016 Kindle Edition), pg. 179 .

4. Ibid. pg. 180.

5. Ibid., pg. 179 cites Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenaeus against heresies,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, Vol. 1, (Buffalo: Christians Literature Company, 1885), pg. 349.

6. Daniel Janosik, THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM: What Every Christian Needs to Know About Islam and the Rise of Radical Islam (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 15.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017, pg. 360 cites F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 382, footnote 38.

8. The Qur’an: English translationby Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Goodworks Books, Kindle Edition), pg. 90.

9. Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?, pp. 179–181.

10. Ibid., pp. 170-173.

11. Daniel Janosik, THE GUIDE TO ANSWERING ISLAM, pg. 282.

12. Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), pg. 67.

13. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1825.

14. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 350-351.

15. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1825.

16. Ibid.

17. Adapted from Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?, pp. 89-90.

18. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1825.

19. Adapted from Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?, pp. 176-177.

20. Ibid., pg. 169.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 4

17 And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him…” John 19:17-18a

We are learning from John 19:4-42 that what happened to Jesus on the last day of His life also applies to us today. The apostle John has several images he wants to make sure that we see in the life of Jesus Christ. So far we have discovered that…

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

The fourth lasting lesson we learn from Jesus’ last day is that THE CROSS IS THE TOTAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE TO US IN CHRIST (JOHN 17-18a). Before we look at today’s verses, let’s review what has happened to Jesus so far on His last day before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had already suffered a great deal. In Gethsemane, He was under such emotional distress that tiny capillaries in His sweat glands broke and mixed blood with His sweat (Luke 22:44). After He was arrested and bound, He was unjustly tried before civil and religious authorities (Matthew 26:57-68; 27:1-2; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:12-14, 19-23, 28-40). During these trials Christ was falsely accused, insulted, rejected, and physically abused. Pilate then had Jesus scourged or beaten with a short whip made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone (John 19:1). This scourging left Jesus’ body tattered and torn. Christ was then beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on His head and a purple robe on His severely wounded back (John 19:2-3; cf. Matthew 27:27-30).

This brings us to the next image the apostle John presents to us. “And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.”  (John 19:17). Before the soldiers had Jesus carry His cross, they removed the purple robe from Christ (Matthew 27:31) which had become adhered to the clots of blood and serum in His wounds. This would have been very painful, much like carelessly removing a surgical bandage.

When John tells us that Jesus was “bearing His cross,” we see the fulfillment of “two Old Testament symbols or types. Isaac carried his own wood for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-6) and the sin offering used to be taken outside the camp or city (cf. Heb. 13:11-13).” 1  So the sin of the world was placed on the innocent Lamb of God (John 1:29).

The reference to Jesus “bearing His cross” refers to the crossbeam that prisoners had to carry to their place of execution. The upright part of the cross would have been out at the place of crucifixion. This crossbeam strapped to Jesus’ back would have weighed 100-150 pounds. This weight would have been similar to a couple of sacks of cement.

It was a very heavy load especially for Jesus who had lost so much blood from the beating and flogging. Since Christ was very weak and faint, He could not carry this load all the way out to the place of execution. John does not tell us this because He is wanting to stress Jesus’ deity, but Luke informs us that “Simon a Cyrenian,” carried Jesus’ crossbeam for Him (Luke 23:26). 

The place where Jesus would be crucified was “called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.” It was most likely called this because the hill’s rock formations looked like a skull. 5

John continues to describe his eyewitness picture of this when he writes, “where they crucified Him…” (John 19:18a). To help us understand the significance of John’s words, it would be beneficial for us to look at the history of crucifixion. 6

The Romans did not invent crucifixion. It was probably invented by the Phoenicians.  The Phoenicians invented the cross for a very particular reason. They had a god that they served who was a god of the earth. They felt that for someone to die on the earth it would defile their god. So they ingeniously came up with a way to execute their prisoners lifted up off the earth so that they would not defile the earth. That is where it is believed crucifixion began. 

Jesus made reference to His crucifixion when He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The interesting thing is when you look at the real cross of Christ, the God of the universe was lifted up on a cross (John 1:1-3), not the god of the earth. Jesus did not defile or condemn the earth. He came to save the world (John 3:17). That is what actually took place.

The Romans looked at the cross in a different way. Through the Egyptians and then the Romans, this idea of a cross came. The Romans saw the cross as a tool. They expertly used it as a tool of torture and punishment. They also used it as a tool to tell people if you rebel against Rome, you are going to face the cross and be put out in front for the world to see. Their suffering and their pain would endure for a long time so that when they punished their prisoners, many people would be brought under their control. That is what the Romans saw it as. 

The Jewish people saw the cross as the most disgusting form of death because Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” When God put these verses in the Bible, He knew that Jesus would be cursed for our sins on the cross.

So to the Phoenician, the cross was a means of death that satisfied their belief in a god of the earth. To the Romans, the cross became an expertly used instrument of torture and control. To the Jewish people, crucifixion represented the most disgusting form of death. But to the God of the Bible, the cross reveals the glory of Christ. To the Christian, the cross reveals Jesus’ glory, especially His amazing grace and love.

When the Bible talks about Jesus dying, it simply says, “they crucified Him.” (John 18:18a). John doesn’t go into great detail. The reason for that is he did not need to because everyone in his day understood what crucifixion was all about. If I told you that somebody died by lethal injection, you would probably understand what that means. You can visualize the table and the room and the witnesses because you may have seen it on television or in an online video. We have also heard news reports about it. In John’s day, everyone would know the truth of what the cross was all about.

The Romans had refined crucifixion to such an art, we can know what happened. 7 They had executioners whose sole job it was to carry out crucifixion time after time. So as Jesus was brought up to that hill, to the place where that standing post was, the executioner would lay the cross beam behind the victim and would jerk them to the ground across the beam. The executioners wore leather aprons. And in these leather aprons there were pouches with five-inch nails and a hammer off to the side. These were the tools of their trade.

The executioner would kneel first on the right arm of the victim of the one who would be crucified. His knee would rest on the inside of the elbow. His hand would be placed on the arm of the victim so it was flat against the cross. He would feel for the hollow spot in the wrist between the bones so that no bones would be broken or arteries broken so the prisoner would be tortured as long as possible. Then he would take one of those five-inch nails and place it against that hollow place and in one sharp blow drive it into the wood through the flesh.

They would do the left hand in the same way. Then two soldiers on each side would grab the two ends of the cross beam and on the signal, raise it up and place it into the notch of the upright post. When that crossbeam was set firmly, the executioner would reach up and set the sign that described the crime this person had committed. This was very important to the Romans because they wanted to discourage others from rebelling against Rome. 

Then the executioner would kneel before the cross and take the right foot of the criminal and place it over the left foot, bending it slightly upwards and nail the feet to the cross.  Remember, Romans were experts at this. They had devised a means to know the exact angle at which to put the feet so the prisoner could live the longest possible time so they could endure the greatest possible agony as an example to the watching world of why not to commit this crime. 

As Jesus’ feet were nailed on the cross, we become aware of two sources of pain. First, the pain in His shoulders, His arms, and His forearms of being in a “V” position. If you tried to do this for any length of time your arms would begin to cramp. This pain would begin to be greater than the pain of the nails that were in His hands and in His feet. Then the pain of the pectoral muscles – the muscles in His chest – beginning to constrict so He could breathe in but not breathe out.

John was there. He was an eyewitness. He saw what they did to Jesus Christ. But there is something that John (and other eyewitnesses) did not see. Something, however, that Jesus did see. Max Lucado shares this insight as the soldiers were nailing Jesus’ arms to the crossbeam. “Jesus turns his face toward the nail just as the soldier lifts the hammer to strike it….

“Couldn’t Jesus have stopped him? With a flex of the biceps, with a clench of the fist, he could have resisted. Is this not the same hand that stilled the sea? Cleansed the Temple? Summoned the dead?

“But the fist doesn’t clench… and the moment isn’t aborted. The mallet rings and skin rips and the blood begins to drip, then rush. Then the questions follow. Why? Why didn’t Jesus resist?

“’Because he loved us,’ we reply. That is true, wonderfully true, but – forgive me – only partially true. There is more to his reason. He saw something that made him stay. As the soldier pressed his arm, Jesus rolled his head to the side, and with his cheek resting on the wood he saw … between his hand and the wood there was a list. A long list. A list of our mistakes: our lusts and lies and greedy moments and prodigal years. A list of our sins.8

The Bible tells us, 13 God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14 NIV).

Lucado continues, “The list God has made, however, cannot be read. The words can’t be deciphered. The mistakes are covered. The sins are hidden. Those at the top are hidden by his hand; those down the list are covered by his blood. Your sins are ‘blotted out’ by Jesus (KJV)…

“This is why he refused to close his fist. He saw the list! What kept him from resisting? This warrant, this tabulation of your failures. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew the source of those sins was you, and since he couldn’t bear the thought of eternity without you, he chose the nails.” 9

Out of love for you and me, Jesus chose the nails that not only attached Him to that wooden crossbeam, but also the list of all our sins. The word “canceled” (eksaleíphō) in Colossians 2:14, was a technical term in the apostle Paul’s day when he penned this. It refers to washing a piece of parchment clean for reuse. 10  Not only was the parchment clean enough to be written on again, it showed no evidence of ever having been written on in the first place.

Jesus’ blood washed away any record of our past, present, or future sins and charges against us. This is called positional forgiveness which we receive the moment we believe in Jesus for it (Acts 10:43). That is why the cross of Christ is the total expression of God’s grace. It is through the cross that “Jesus destroyed the foundation of Satan’s strategies… 11  Satan’s methodology is one of accusation, always to increase our sense of shame which increases his control over us.” 12

The truth is, no one can successfully accuse us of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because Jesus Christ finished paying our sin debt in full when He died in our place on that cross (John 19:30; Romans 8:31-34). When we believe in Jesus, God justifies us or declared us totally righteous in His courtroom (Romans 8:33). If God pronounced that we are not guilty, then no one – not the devil, an ex-spouse, or an unforgiving boss – can reverse His verdict. No one can successfully accuse any Christian of wrongdoing in God’s courtroom because God does not even accuse us. He justifies us the moment we believe in Jesus alone (Romans 3:28, 30; 4:5; 5:1). This is what sets us free from the shame Satan wants to control us with.

As you read this, you may be thinking, “But you don’t know how badly I have sinned or how often I have sinned.” You are correct, but Jesus Christ does. Before Jesus hung on that cross, all of your sins were yet future. At the cross, God took every sin that you would ever commit and placed them all on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus paid the penalty for all of your sins so you could be totally forgiven the moment you believed in Christ. Forgiveness means God has removed the barrier of all your sins so you can now enjoy closeness with God.

What this means is that you can never lose your relationship with your heavenly Father. Just as you are born into your earthly family and can never cease to be your parents’ child no matter what you do, so too, when you are born into God’s family through faith in Jesus alone (John 1:12), you can never cease to be His child no matter how you live. You can sin as God’s child without ever ceasing to be His child. But your sin will break that closeness with God just as disobeying your parents breaks your closeness with them. When you sin (and we all do), you must daily confess your sins in order to maintain fellowship or closeness with Christ (I John 1:9).

Knowing that all of your sins are positionally forgiven “in Christ” is essential for experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14). A good soldier cannot do his best with the fear that a mistake or two would take him off the front lines. Satan tries to get believers to focus on their past sins or worry about their future sins to weaken them when facing the world’s temptations. By focusing on Christ’s complete positional forgiveness, a believer is able to focus on knowing Christ more intimately by abiding in His Word and experiencing victory over the devil and the world (I John 2:12-14).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, there is no greater expression of Your grace than the cross. When you spread your arms out on that crossbeam, You were showing the world how wide Your love truly is (John 3:16). It is wide enough for the worst of sinners and the best of sinners to be totally forgiven forever. Your love is wide enough for the whole world which includes every one of us. Sadly, others may exclude us but You never will if we come to You on Your terms (John 6:37). Thank You for demonstrating how much You loved us when You stretched one hand to the right and the other to the left and permitted the soldiers to nail them in that position so we would know that You died loving us. Thank You for canceling the list of all our sins which was between Your hands and the wooden crossbeam through the shedding of Your blood. Please use us now to proclaim Your forgiving love and grace to a lost and dying world. In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 690.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 345; Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 351, cited Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House; and Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002), pg. 535.

3. Tom Holladay’s July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

4. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 351.

5. 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. 559; cf. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 690.

6. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s discussion in his July 24, 1996 message entitled, “A Day in the Life of…  Jesus Christ.”

7. Ibid.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 33-34.

9. Ibid., pg. 34.

10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. IV (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 494.  

11. Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom Workbook (Gresham, OR: Pure Desire Ministries International, 2014), pg. 72.

12. Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), pg. 83.

Our Pain Can Bring Gain To Many

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” Genesis 50:20

After Joseph’s father, Jacob, has died, his brothers fear that the only thing that has kept Joseph from taking revenge on them has been his respect for his father. So, they come to Joseph begging for forgiveness – even though he gave them that forgiveness many years earlier. How does Joseph respond? Does he avenge the wrongs that they did to him?

He said, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20a). Joseph doesn’t try to rewrite history saying, “Oh, I know you guys didn’t mean it.” He’s honest – “You guys tried to harm me – but God intended your harm for good.” Romans 8:28 says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” This “all things” means “all things” – including people’s evil intentions, their desire to cause harm, and sin. This is an absolutely amazing promise from God! Nobody can do anything to you that God cannot bring good from.

We see it clearly in Joseph’s life – sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned – which was exactly where, in the strangest kind of way, Pharoah would be able to hear about him. Then Joseph says, “God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20b). Joseph experienced tremendous pain – heartache, difficulty, problems – but God used all of that for incredible good – the saving of many lives. And as it turned out, not just the people of Egypt, but also his own family – including the very men who did him wrong – his brothers.

I have experienced this personally. God has used the most painful experiences of my life to help and bless others. He has used my weaknesses and failures much more than He has used my “so-called” strengths.

It is important for us to see God’s ability to do far more through our trials than through our successes. God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. That means that many can gain through our pain!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for reminding us that we can face the wrongs done to us by others knowing that nobody can do anything to us that You cannot bring good from. When people do wrong to us, we can be encouraged to trust the One Who can bring gain to many through our pain. In the transforming name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.