Revelation 4 – Part 4

“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne.” Revelation 4:10

Bob Wilkin writes, Businesses use various incentives to motivate people to do their best work. For people in sales, there are three types of prizes: cash, merchandise, and trips. Top managers are given cash bonuses as well as promotions, increased base salaries, and stock options.

“Christianity offers incentives too. One of these is eternal reward. Although there are rewards now for the believer, most of them won’t be given to us until after this life is over and we appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This may mean waiting decades to receive them. Thus, the length of time these rewards will last once we receive them, makes a difference as to how motivated we will be to obtain them and how meaningful they will be to us once we do.

“Of those who believe in eternal rewards as an idea distinct from eternal salvation, there are three views concerning how long rewards last: a few minutes, a thousand years, or forever.” 1

In today’s study of Revelation, we will discover just how long Christ’s rewards will last for the Christian. When the apostle John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room, he saw God the Father sitting on a glorious and majestic throne surrounded by twenty-four elders representing the church (Revelation 4:1-4). John also saw four living angelic creatures around God’s throne whose worship focused on God’s holiness (“holy, holy, holy”), power (“Lord God Almighty”), and eternality (“Who was and is and is to come!”) (Revelation 4:5-8).

Next John writes,9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever and cast their crowns before the throne.” (Revelation 4:9-10). Some Bible students read these verses and conclude that Christians will immediately give back their rewards (“crowns”) to Christ after receiving them at the Judgment Seat. They reason that the casting down of crowns before God’s throne shows that all glory, honor, and power uniquely belong to God. If Christians were to hold on to their eternal rewards, they would be robbing God of the glory, honor, and power that uniquely belongs to Him. 2

This interpretation, however, fails to recognize that the casting down of crowns is in the middle of a verse that begins in verse 9 with the word, “Whenever…” The crown-casting in verse 10 is not an unrepeatable event. It takes place repeatedly. Undeniably, every time the living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (4:8b), then the twenty-four elders, representing the church, cast down their crowns. And according to the first half of verse 8, the living angelic creatures “do not rest day or night…” This crown-casting clearly does not refer to something believers do once immediately after the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is an ongoing event in which Christians along with angelic beings participate.

While all glory, honor, and power come from the Lord Jesus, this in no way suggests He will not share these with others. Indeed, He promised to share these blessings with believers who persevere (compare Matthew 16:27; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 1:9; 1 Peter 4:13; Revelation 2:26; 3:21). Allowing humans to have some measure of glory, honor, and power in no way diminishes Christ’s glory. If it did, Moses’ face would never have shone. Elijah wouldn’t have been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and flaming chariot. David would never have been king of Israel. The Lord Jesus would not be called the Son of David. He would not have promised the Apostles that they would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel. He wouldn’t have given Adam and Eve and all of mankind dominion over the earth. And so on.” 3

The Lord Jesus commands believers: 19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20). The heavenly treasure that Christ distributes is permanent. Moths and rust cannot destroy it and thieves cannot steal it. It is eternal.

The apostle Paul also states in I Corinthians 9:24-27 that Christians are to run in such a way as to obtain an “imperishable crown,” not a perishable crown (9:24-25). This refers to an eternal reward, not a temporary one. If our rewards only lasted a few minutes or a thousand years (as some teach), they would not be imperishable. But an imperishable crown is forever!!!

The apostle Peter spoke of eternal rewards for believers when he referred to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4). Peter’s readers were believers (1:2, 23; 2:7), who were experiencing persecution (1:6). Their faith would pass the test only if they persevered (1:7a). In that case they would gain “praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” in the form of eternal rewards (1:7b). 4

Imagine standing before the throne of God after appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven. Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, you would then bow down before God’s throne with other church-age believers. But because you did not live in such a way on earth to earn eternal rewards (cf. I Corinthians 3:15), you have no crowns to cast down before God’s throne. What might that feel like for you to watch other believers cast crowns before God’s throne when you have no rewards to give back to the Lord God Almighty? Prior to the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21-22), believers will be able to experience sadness and shame due to the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:11-14; 25:26-30; I John 2:28-3:2). Since they will have glorified resurrection bodies, they will be even more sensitive to sin and shame at that time (I Corinthians 15:50-54). They will still be saved, but they will experience the painful loss of rewards “as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:15).

Whenever the twenty-four elders, representing the church, cast down their crowns before God’s throne, they will say, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11). Throughout all of eternity, rewarded church-age believers will be able to honor the Lord God Almighty by casting their crowns before His throne and acknowledging His worthiness to “receive glory, honor, and power.” Why? Because God “created all things,” including every believer in His church. All of us “exist” because of God. Everything that exists owes its existence to the Lord God. He is the Creator. Apart from Him, there is no existence. We are not the product of evolution as our atheistic society teaches. God spoke our universe into existence (Genesis 1-2), and He sustains the universe and all that is in it through the power of His word (cf. Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-3). We will worship Him throughout eternity as our magnificent Creator God!!!

One of the greatest joys of our Christian lives is to help lost people on earth come to know their Creator God by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with them so they can worship Him in heaven throughout eternity!!! This is why Jesus told a hurting Samaritan woman at a well, 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24). The God Who created the universe, including you and me, is seeking true worshipers to worship Him “in spirit” with their hearts and “in truth” with their heads. God created us to have our spirits connect with His, to have our hearts filled with the truth of His Word. Perhaps that is why you are here to read this article. You are seeking the God Who made you, and you may not even realize it yet.

Like the Samaritan woman who tried to satisfy her thirsty soul with romantic relationships, you may say to yourself, Could I be one of those whom God seeks to worship Him? But how could I ever approach the infinite and eternal Spirit who desires my worship? My own spirit is soiled by the sinfulness of my life. And it is hopelessly dried up by the emptiness of dissatisfying relationships.”

Jesus had freely offered the Samaritan woman living water that gushes up into eternal life (John 4:10-14). Life that would bring her into contact with the living God, washing away the emptiness of her life. All she had to do was know Who was offering her eternal life as a gift and then ask Him for it (John 4:10). As Jesus interacted with her and disclosed all she had done and still loved her, she came to believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God (John 4:25-26, 28-30, 42; 20:31).

What about you? God created you to have a personal relationship with Him forever (John 1:1-5, 12; 17:3). All He asks is that you know the gift of eternal life that He is freely offering you (John 4:10-14) and its Giver, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world (John 1:1, 14; 4:15-26, 42; 11:25-26). The way you can receive His gift of eternal life is to believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31), Who died in your place on the cross and rose from the dead (John 2:19, 22; 3:14-15; 12:23-24, 27-33; 10:11, 17; 19:1-20:18). The moment you believe this, you “have everlasting” (John 3:16) which can never be lost or taken away from you (John 10:28-29).

Prayer: Almighty Creator God, we come into Your presence with a sense of awe and thanksgiving. Thank You for Your Word which gives us a heavenly perspective amid a world that often seems so out of control. Because You are our Creator, You know us better than we know ourselves. You know what it takes to bring us into a personal relationship with Yourself. Thank You for Your free offer of eternal life through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The moment we believe in Jesus, we become members of Your family forever and we can worship You as our Creator God throughout eternity. As our Creator, You understand what will motivate us to live for You on earth after we become Your children. More than ever, we appreciate the eternal rewards You offer to us for living a life that pleases You. Knowing that these rewards last eternally, increases our motivation to live for You now so we may honor You throughout eternity with them. Thank You, our Lord and our God for giving us these eternal incentives. In the matchless and mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 52.

2.  Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 1016.

3. Wilkin, pg. 53.

4. Ibid., pg. 54; Dillow, pp. 215-217.

Revelation 4 – Part 3

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” Revelation 4:8

When the apostle John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room, he saw God the Father sitting on a glorious and majestic throne surrounded by twenty-four elders representing the church (Revelation 4:1-4). After describing these elders, John returns his attention to God the Father where he depicts His power and majesty. “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” (Revelation 4:5a). The “lightnings, thunderings, and voices” proceeding “from the throne” of the Father display His majesty and judgment about to come upon the rebellious people of the earth (cf. Exodus 19:16-19; Hebrews 12:18-21). While God does sit on a throne of grace, it is also a throne of wrath. 1 

Next John writes, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Revelation 4:5b). The “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” represent the Holy Spirit (“severn Spirits of God,” cf. 1:4) and His readiness to carry out the Father’s judgments. Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe… Unlike earthly throne rooms, God’s throne room is not in the dark about anything (cf. Zechariah 4:10; Hebrews 4:13).” 2

John then observed, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal.” (Revelation 4:6a). The crystal-like “sea of glass” before the throne pictures the purity of God and the complete calmness of His throne room in heaven before His judgments begin on earth. While the “nations rage” (Psalm 2:1) on earth against the rule of God like a “troubled sea” (Isaiah 57:20), all is calm before God’s throne in heaven. 3 This reminds me of fishing at our farm ponds as a child and watching the pond waters become very still as storm clouds approached. The calm before the storm of God’s fiery judgments was evident in heaven.

6b And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.” (Revelation 4:6b-7). The “four living creatures” surrounding “the throne” are angelic beings (cf. Ezekiel 1:5-11; Isaiah 6:1-3) that reflect the character and role of Christ. The phrase “full of eyes in front and back” pictures Jesus’ all-seeing knowledge. The “lion” pictures Jesus’ power, courage, majesty, and kingly role (cf. Matthew 2:2; 21:5; Revelation 5:5). The “calf” or ox pictures His faithfulness, servanthood, and self-sacrifice (cf. Matthew 12:18; 20:26-28). The “face like a man” pictures Jesus’ humanity (cf. Hebrews 4:15), and the “flying eagle” portrays His majesty and superiority over all things. 4

The appearances of these four angels may symbolize the portraits of Jesus in the four Gospels. In Matthew, Jesus is King of the Jews, represented by a regal lion. In Mark, he is a servant, represented by an ox—a beast of burden. In Luke, he is the Son of Man, represented by the face of a man. And in John, he is the Son of God who gives eternal life, represented by a majestic eagle.” 5

“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8). “The four living creatures each have six wings” like the seraphim (lit. “burning ones”) of Isaiah 6:2-3. “If their wings perform the same function as the seraphim, four of the six wings cover their entire bodies and denote humility and reverence toward God Almighty. With the other two wings they fly, which points to their readiness to obey the command of God.” 6

The description of them being “full of eyes” suggests alertness, comprehensive knowledge, and constant vigilance (cf. Ezekiel 10:12). 7 The phrase “around and within” probably means that they had eyes even on the undersides of their wings, so that they could move their wings without interrupting their vision. Their movements did not undermine their constant vigilance. 8

These angelic creatures “do not rest day or night” exalting the holiness of each member of the Godhead. The phrase “holy, holy, holy” is stated three times in the Majority of Greek manuscripts, one triplet for each member of the Godhead. “Each member of the Godhead is infinitely holy in His own Person.” 9

God the Father is “holy, holy, holy.” God the Son is “holy, holy, holy.” And God the Holy Spirit is “holy, holy, holy.” To be “holy” means to be separate and distinct. The Bible says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5). There is absolutely no darkness or sin in our Triune God. He is perfect, pure, and righteous.

God’s holiness is the centerpiece of His character. 10 We never see, “God is love, love, love,” or “God is grace, grace, grace” in the Bible. But we do see God is “holy, holy, holy” in the Scriptures (Revelation 4:8; cf. Isaiah 6:3) because His holiness is at the center of His being. All of His other attributes flow from His holiness. His wrath against sin, then, is a holy wrath. His sovereignty or control over the universe is a holy sovereignty. His love for the world is a holy love. If God is anything, He is holy. 11

What this means is that God the Father is just as holy as God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Likewise, God the Son is just as holy as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God the Holy Spirit possesses the same infinitely perfect holiness as God the Father and God the Son. All three Persons of the Godhead are worthy of our admiration and praise throughout eternity! Also, they are more than qualified to bring judgment against the rebellion of humankind on the earth.

In addition, these angelic creatures also exalt the power (“Lord God Almighty”) and eternality (“Who was and is and is to come”) of God. There is no one like our Triune God. All of heaven acknowledges this. Their focus is on the awesome character of the Lord. Heaven’s inhabitants are not distracted by others or by the furniture arrangements in the throne room of God. They are captivated with the holy character, power, and eternality of our Triune God.

“Our Lord God is holy in His majesty, holy in His Person, holy in His office and holy in the works of His hand and the words of His mouth. He was holy in eternity past and will be holy in eternity future and He is holy in the present time and in all the surrounding space.” 12

When you and I approach our holy God in worship, we can quickly be overwhelmed with a deep sense of our own sinfulness and lack of holiness. God has absolutely no darkness or sin in His actions, motives, thoughts, or words. But all our being is stained with sin (Isaiah 64:6). Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We all fall short of God’s glory and holiness (Romans 3:23). Each one of us has sinned against God with our actions, motives, thoughts, and words, and we, therefore, stand before Him as guilty sinners.

But thanks be to God for the Lord Jesus Christ Who makes it possible for unworthy sinners such as you and me, to approach a holy God in worship (cf. Hebrews 10:1-22). When Jesus died in our place on the cross for all our sins (I Corinthians 15:3-4a; Colossians 2:13-14), God’s holy wrath fell upon Him. Christ’s death satisfied God’s holy demand to punish our sins as demonstrated when the Father raised Jesus from the dead (I Corinthians 15:4b-6; cf. Romans 1:3-4; I John 2:1-2), so that whoever believes in Jesus should not be judged for his or her sins (John 5:24) but have everlasting life both now and forever (John 3:16).

Those of us who believe in Jesus are now free to enter God’s throne room in heaven through the blood of Jesus at any time to worship our holy Triune God (Hebrews 10:19-23).

Prayer: Holy Father, Son, and Spirit, You alone are worthy of all glory and praise both now and forever. We humbly bow before You, recognizing it is only by Your grace that we can approach Your holy presence and sing both now and forever, Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!In the name that is above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1517.

2. Ibid., pp. 1496, 1518.

3. Ibid., pg. 1518.

4. Ibid.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2378.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1518.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 72.

8. Ibid.

9. Vacendak, pp. 1518-1519.

10. Evans, pg. 1112.

11. Ibid.

12. Retrieved on November 9, 2021, from Elizabeth Haworth’s Daily Verse entitled, “What does Revelation 4:8 Mean?” at www.knowing-Jesus.com.

Revelation 4 – Part 2

“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” Revelation 4:4

The apostle John has now transitioned to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. He is recording the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22. John was caught up through an open door in heaven to enter God’s throne room (4:1) where he saw God the Father sitting on a throne that signified His future judgments would be rooted in His absolute purity (“jasper”), His righteous anger toward sin (“sardius”), and His faithfulness to His promises (“rainbow… like an emerald”) (4:2-3).

Next John writes, “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” (Revelation 4:4). While in heaven, John sees twenty-four elders sitting on thrones around the throne of God. Who are these twenty-four elders? Some teach that these twenty-four elders represent angels, 1 both angels and humans, 2 or both Old and New Testament believers. 3 However, I believe the biblical evidence indicates that these twenty-four elders represent the church for the following reasons: 

1. The word “elders” in the New Testament refers to leaders of the local church (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:4-5, 21). Nowhere else in the Bible are angels referred to as “elders.” 4

2. Just as twenty-four Levitical priests in the Old Testament represented the entire priesthood consisting of thousands of priests when serving in the temple (I Chronicles 24), so these twenty-four elders represent the entire church in heaven (Revelation 4:4). 5

3. The fact that these elders are seated on “thrones” and wearing “crowns” (4:4) points to the church because Jesus promised enthronement (Revelation 2:10, 25-27; 3:21; cf. Matthew 19:27-29; 2 Timothy 2:12) and crowns (Revelation 2:10; cf. I Corinthians 9:25; I Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; I Peter 5:4) to faithful believers from the church age. These elders cannot represent angels or Old Testament saints because angels are never referred to as “elders” in the Bible nor are they ever pictured as wearing “crowns,” andOld Testament believers will not be resurrected and rewarded until after the Tribulation is over (cf. Daniel 12:1-3). 6 But church-age believers will receive crowns at the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven during the Tribulation period on the earth (2 Corinthians 5:10).

4. The white “robes” or garments of the elders (4:4) are identical to the clothing rewarded to faithful church-age believers in Revelation (Revelation 3:5, 18; 19:7-8).

5. Only believers, not angels, can sing Revelation 5:9 where the best Greek manuscripts have the word “us” in Revelation 5:9: “… for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Angels were not redeemed by Christ’s blood. Jesus died for humans, not angels (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

6. The elders are clearly distinguished from the angels in Revelation 5:11: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.”

The fact that these twenty-four elders are already sitting on “thrones,” wearing “white robes” and “crowns” indicates they have already appeared before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive their rewards (4:4; cf. I Corinthians 3:8-15; 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10, 25-27; 3:4-5, 21) which means the vision John describes in heaven takes place after the Rapture of the Church.

This is supported further by the absence of the word “church” (ekklēsia) and any references to church-age believers in Chapters 4-18, which describe the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth during the Tribulation. Twenty times the word church occurs in the book of Revelation (cf. 1:4, 11, 20; 2:1, 7-8, 11-12, 17-18, 23, 29; 3:1, 6-7, 13-14, 22; 22:16). Nineteen times the word “church” occurs in Revelation 1-3 describing the Church Age. But in Revelation 4-18, where John describes the events of the Tribulation, the word “church” occurs zero times. The word “church” doesn’t occur again until the last chapter of Revelation (22:16).

“If the church will experience any or all of the Tribulation, then one would expect that Revelation 4–18—the most detailed description of the Tribulation—would include an account of the church’s role during that time period. But remarkably, Revelation 4–18 is silent about the church on earth.” 7

Those who believe the church will go through the Tribulation period on earth (Posttribulationists), argue that there is no mention of the word “church” in heaven during the Tribulation period (Revelation 4-19). The response to this is that the church throughout Revelation 4-19 is represented by the “twenty-four elders” in heaven (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4).

“The elders appear twelve times in these chapters. And in each instance, they are in heaven worshiping Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. From their first mention in Revelation 4:4, the twenty-four elders are pictured in heaven, judged, rewarded, and enthroned. This interpretation fits well with the belief that the church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation. Revelation 4–19 consistently pictures the church in heaven, representing it by the twenty-four elders enthroned and crowned, dressed in white, and worshiping the Lamb (Revelation 4:4, 10; 5:5-6, 8, 11, 14).” 8

Posttribulationists also say that the word “saints” occurs several times in Revelation 4-18 and refers to the church on earth (Revelation 13:7, 10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). But this understanding fails to recognize that there are three distinct groups of “saints” in the Bible: Old Testament saints (Psalm 16:3, et al.), Church-Age saints (I Corinthians 1:1, et al.), and Tribulation saints (Revelation 13:7 et al.). The “saints” on the earthmentioned in Revelation 4-18 refers to people who were saved after the Rapture of the Church.

The church doesn’t appear again until chapter 19, where she is pictured as a bride returning to earth with her glorious Bridegroom. This returning from heaven to earth with Christ indicates that the Bride has already been in heaven for some time since she has ‘prepared herself’ (Revelation 19:7). Revelation 22:16 refers to the church again for the final time, specifically using the word ekklesia. The presence and absence of the term ekklesia in the book of Revelation is convincing evidence that the church will not be present on earth during the Tribulation and the outpouring of God’s wrath.” 9

The best explanation for all these details in Revelation is that the church has already been removed by the Lord Jesus Christ prior to the Tribulation to deliver her from “the wrath to come” (I Thessalonians 1:10). The apostle Paul wrote of believers in Thessalonica who “wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:10). Paul promises that believers in Jesus will be delivered from the coming Tribulation wrath. How? He explains that believers are caught up off the earth to meet Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4:15-18; 5:9-10) and unbelievers are left behind for judgment (I Thessalonians 5:3).

Knowing that we will be delivered from the coming Tribulation wrath via the Rapture of the church provides strong motivation to live for the Lord now. The certainty of our escape from the coming wrath should motivate us to live godly lives – 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night.” (I Thessalonians 5:6-7). “The Lord is coming unexpectedly, don’t be caught living like non-Christians,” Paul is saying. As Christians, we are to stay spiritually awake, living in anticipation of Christ’s return for us at any moment – and not worried about being caught in the Day of the Lord.

How do we stay spiritually awake and alert to the Lord’s coming? “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8). The “breastplate” protects vital organs (heart, lungs). This breastplate is composed of faith and love – faith that Christ is coming back any time and love for one another will protect us from spiritual heart damage. “Helmets” protect our head. This “helmet” is made of hope which guards us from attacks on our thinking. This hope focuses on being delivered from the coming wrath. Wear this helmet constantly and you will be ready for His return.

What relevance does this teaching have for the church? “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11). Christians are to encourage one another with this message of comfort and hope. The extent to which Christians misunderstand or are misinformed about the Rapture, will be the extent to which they are robbed of these blessings the Lord intended for them.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your great and precious promises, which include Your promise to deliver every believer in Jesus from the coming Tribulation wrath on earth through the sudden removal of Your Church. Your coming for us at any moment motivates us to live godly lives until we go to be with You so we can receive eternal rewards consisting of dazzling white robes and the authority to reign with You. We live for that day when we will be caught up to be with You forever. Until then, please empower us to multiply Your followers through the preaching of the gospel and the training of believers in discipleship so we may hear You say, “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.” In Your matchless name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 69 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 348; E. W. Bullinger, The Apocalypse or “The Day of the Lord” (London: Eyre and Spottiswodde, n.d.), pg. 219; John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 12 vols., (Reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 152; James Moffat, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (4th ed., Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll. 5 vols. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 378; George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation New Century Bible Commentary series (Revised ed. London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 114.

2. Constable, pg. 69.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., pg. 70.

5. 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. 148; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1989), pg. 102.

6. Hitchcock, pg. 148.

7. Ibid., pg. 146.

8. Ibid., pg. 147.

9. Ibid., pg. 146.

Revelation 4 – Part 1

“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” Revelation 4:2

After recording “the things which you have seen” (1:19a) pertaining to the vision of the ascended Lord Jesus walking among seven lampstands in Chapter 1, and the things which are” (1:19b) involving Jesus’ seven messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor in Chapters 2 and 3, the apostle John transitions to the third part of the divine outline for the book of Revelation. The apostle now records the things which will take place after this” (1:19c) concerning future events in Chapters 4 to 22.

John writes, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’” (Revelation 4:1). The phrase “after these things” refers to the vision John received of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches (2:1-3:22). This is a reference to the church age—that is, the period of history between Christ’s ascension and His Rapture or removal of believers from the earth. 1

After recording Jesus’ final message to the church of Laodicea, those last words were rather significant considering what John was about to see next. The vision of Christ standing outside the lukewarm church of Laodicea knocking on a closed door and promising a throne to the one who overcomes (3:20-21) suddenly shifts to a contrasting vision of an open door in heaven where John sees an eternal and glorious throne (4:1-2). 2 Twice in the book of Revelation, we are told that the door to heaven was opened. The first time was so the church could be received into heaven at the Rapture (4:1-4). The second time was so Christ could leave heaven with His church to return to earth (19:11-20).

Before we look at the details of this vision John received, let’s consider what is meant by the word “heaven.” The Greek word translated “heaven” is ouronos. It refers to “the portion or portions of the universe generally distinguished from planet earth.” 3 The word “heaven” is divided into three levels in the Bible: 4

– The “first heaven” includes the sphere surrounding the earth known as our atmosphere where birds fly and clouds float (Genesis 1:6-8, 20).

– The “second heaven” includes everything in the cosmos above the earth’s atmosphere—the moon, sun, planets, stars, and galaxies (Genesis 1:14-18). From a modern worldview perspective, both the first and second “heavens” are technically still part of the physical universe. But that is not the case with the “third heaven.”

– The “third heaven” was the term used to describe the dwelling place of God, the angels, and any other spirit beings. The apostle Paul said he “was caught up to the third heaven… into Paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4). Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:2-3; Acts 7:59-8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). Hence, the “third heaven” is what we might call the “spiritual realm,” a plane of reality accessible only by heavenly invitation, like the one John received in Revelation 4:1. This is where God lives and rules. 

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16). 

But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10, 15)!

So, when John was taken up into heaven, he was not transported to another planet or even another galaxy. Rather, he was caught up to the ‘third heaven,’ to the presence of the living God.” 5

John then hears a booming “voice… like a trumpet,” most likely belonging to Christ, inviting him to “come up” through this open door in heaven where he would receive revelations about “things which must take place” during Daniel’s seventieth week of years (Daniel 9:27) which is the 7-year Tribulation period (4:1c; cf. 4:1-11:19).

In Revelation 1-3, John has been on earth on the island of Patmos. But now his venue is about to shift from earth to heaven where he can get a heavenly perspective about future events. It is helpful to understand that scenes alternate from heaven to earth throughout Revelation 4-20. 

This alternating pattern reassures readers that the chaos on earth is being controlled by heaven. God is on His throne and superintends all that transpires on earth. This should be a supreme comfort in uncertain, troubled times.” 6

After Revelation 2–3 no reference is made to the Church again until 22:16, and so some see 4:1 as a picture of the Rapture of the Church. However, the apostle alone, and not the Church, is summoned by this voice. Therefore, this is an invitation to John to enter God’s dwelling place and receive new revelation regarding His future plans.” 7

Next, John writes, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2). “Immediately” John “was in the Spirit.” To be “in the Spirit” means toenter the spiritual perspective. That is, to see things that physical eyes cannot see, as when believers are commanded to pray in the Spirit (Jude 20). Naturally, certain aspects of John’s experience of being in the Spirit were unique and not repeatable since he was writing Holy Scripture. But much of it is repeatable. Believers today can abide in the Spirit, receiving understanding of God’s will and work. Too often, though, we merely ‘visit’ the Spirit, so to speak, without ‘living with him’ in a condition of heightened spiritual awareness.” 8

With the proper spiritual perspective, John is transported through the open door in heaven where he saw “a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (4:2b). This is like the perspective described in Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” as “seraphim” stood above Him (Isaiah 6:1-2). 9 The “One… on the throne” (4:2b) was God the Father because both the Son (5:5-7) and the Spirit (4:5) are set apart from Him. 10 The fact that John saw God on His throne before the series of judgments are given underlines the sovereign control of God (cf. 4:1–5:14; 8:1-6; 15:1-8). Heaven determines what happens on earth. So even when we feel out of control as we watch the world move quickly toward end-time events, we can rest in God the Father’s rulership from heaven.

“And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:3). The phrase, “He who sat there,” is not found in the majority of Greek manuscripts, so this description pertains to God’s throne, not God Himself. These verses would read, “And One sat on the throne which is like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance” (4:2b-3a). 11

The description of God’s throne having the “appearance” of “jasper and a sardius stone” signifies the absolute purity (“jasper” is clear as crystal, like a diamond; cf. 21:11) and the righteous anger toward sin (“sardius” was a fiery red stone) that will characterize the series of judgments coming from God’s throne. The “rainbow around the throne” was like “an emerald” having different shades of green, reminding us of Genesis 9:12-17, where God designated the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with Noah never to destroy the earth with a flood again. Each time a rainbow occurs in the Bible, it is a reminder of God’s perfect faithfulness to His promises. These three stones together “reveal that God’s throne is a throne of grace (cf. Hebrews 4:16). Even in the terrors of the Tribulation, God is gracious, because if He did not limit it to seven years, no one would be left alive (cf. Matthew 24:21-22).” 12

John’s vision of God’s throne room and its majesty, communicates some profound truths about God the Father. He is the center and source of all creation. Everything points to and revolves around Him. He occupies a throne from which judgments are made that are rooted in His absolute purity, righteous anger toward sin, and His perfect faithfulness to His promises. God the Father has unshakable authority over all things (Psalm 115:3; Daniel 4:35). His sovereign rule is fixed, permanent, and unwavering. Once we personally come to grips with John’s vision of God’s throne room, our response can be nothing less than profound admiration, unwavering commitment, and deep reverence for the eternal King. 13

John’s vision reminds us that true worship starts and ends with the living God of the universe. Unfortunately, many twenty-first century Christians, including myself, have lost sight of what John experienced in God’s throne room.

Christian author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll, writes, “We wonder: Does worship mean I have to hold my hands up when I sing and pray, like some Christians do? Does worship mean I need to close my eyes and envision something heavenly, lest I become distracted by something earthly? Does worship mean I have feelings that are a little bit ecstatic, maybe bordering on the supernatural?” 14

Swindoll continues, “Worship is ascribing ‘worth’ to something or someone. We attribute value, honor, and devotion to our object of worship. When we truly worship God, we turn all of our attention, affection, and adoration toward Him. That’s the missing jewel—worshiping God by ascribing supreme worth to Him, for He alone is worthy. God alone is the subject of our praise and the object of our worship. We miss it when we focus on the horizontal—on people and things—rather than on the vertical—on God and God alone. It has become too common for Christians to surrender everything for their work yet sacrifice nothing in worshiping the One who gave His life to save ours. Stop and think. Is that you?” 15

Before we pray, I want to invite you to take some deep breathes and release to God whatever is distracting you from Him. It may be work, a relationship, an illness, a financial burden, or an emotion. Then read Revelation 4:1-11. Notice that all of heaven is focused on the One Who sits on the throne. They are praising Him for Who He is (holy, righteous, faithful) and for what He has done (created and sustains all things). They are not distracted by each other or by the furniture of the throne room, or by their own wandering thoughts. Instead, they keep their eyes, ears, and hearts on the One Who is worthy of all praise. 16

Prayer: Father God, thank You for transporting John into Your throne room in heaven so all of us who read this can heighten our spiritual perspective. Thank You for God the Holy Spirit Who enables us to see things that physical eyes cannot see. The first thing John sees Father, is You sitting on Your throne, ruling the universe. As chaos worsens in the world, we can find comfort knowing You are still in control and that heaven determines what happens on the earth. Thank You for the appearance of three stones which indicate that the judgments that come from Your throne are rooted in Your absolute purity, righteousness, and faithfulness to Your promises. None of Your decisions made on this throne are corrupt, sinful, or based on deception. Because You still sit on a throne of grace, Your decisions remain gracious and invite us to approach You with confidence. Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ Who has provided a new and living way into Your heavenly throne room. In His mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2377.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 126.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 737.  

4. Swindoll, pg. 128.

5. Ibid., pp. 128-129.

6. 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. 82.

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. 1516.

8. Evans, pg. 2377.

9. Ibid., pg. 2377.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1517.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid. 

13. Swindoll, pg. 127.

14. Ibid., pg. 133. 

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., pp. 133-134.

How can I overcome loneliness? Part 4

16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” 2 Timothy 4:16-17 

In 2 Timothy 4, we have been looking at some of the most basic causes and cures for loneliness based on the apostle Paul’s communication with a young pastor named Timothy. So far, we have learned that loneliness can be caused by transitions in life (2 Timothy 4:6-8), separation from loved ones (2 Timothy 4:9-12, 21), and opposition from others (2 Timothy 4:14). The cures for these are utilizing our time wisely (2 Timothy 4:13), recognizing God’s presence in our lives (2 Timothy 4:17a), and releasing the hurt (2 Timothy 4:16) to God. 

The last basic cause for loneliness is probably the most serious one that can cause the most pain. It is REJECTION (2 Timothy 4:16a). Rejection is when you feel as though you have been betrayed and abandoned in your time of need by those closest to you. Paul felt this way. He felt deserted. He says of his trial before Nero, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” (2 Timothy 4:16a).

Paul’s first defense evidently refers, not to his first Roman imprisonment, about which Timothy would have already known, but to a preliminary hearing leading up to his present trial. At such trials it was common to hear advocates for the accused, but in Paul’s case no one came to his support, but everyone deserted him. The widespread desertion of the apostle may be explained by the fact that, unlike the period of his first imprisonment, it had now become dangerous to be a Christian in Rome. As early as A.D. 59-60 Roman Jews had informed Paul ‘that people everywhere are talking against this sect’ (Acts 28:22). But the situation had gotten far worse after the fire of Rome in July of A.D. 64. Nero made the Christians scapegoats, and many were tortured and died. The intensity of the anti-Christian pressure must have eased somewhat by A.D. 67, but the thought of identifying themselves with the fearless and outspoken apostle must have been more than the Roman Christians and even Paul’s companions could face. In fact, Paul was understanding toward their unfaithfulness, and he expressed the hope that it not be held against them (cf. Christ’s words on the cross, Luke 23:34).” 1

You can almost hear the pain in Paul’s voice: “When things got tough, everybody left me. When the trial got heated up, nobody was there to support me.” No one spoke up in his defense; everybody abandoned him.

Has that ever happened to you? You were going through a very difficult circumstance, and no one was there to support you? You were perfectly healthy, but your friends treated you like you had the plague? You felt abandoned and forsaken. God says that every human being has an emotional need for acceptance, and when that need is violated, it is a serious sin which can cause deep emotional pain.

Let’s understand that it is not just non-Christians who may reject us. Christians can also reject one another. And this can be the most painful form of rejection of all because we have higher expectations of other believers in Jesus. After all, we are both children of God and we are commanded to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34-35), right?

But Christians are just as capable of rejecting one another as a non-Christian is, maybe even more. Even though believers have more resources than a non-Christian to live in unity (e.g., the indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s Word, etc.), they also have an adversary, the Devil, who seeks to devour them and destroy (I Peter 5:8) the unity Christ prayed for (John 17:20-23), provided (Ephesians 2:14-18), and commands Christians to preserve (Ephesians 4:1-6, 25-32). Satan knows that when Christians live together in unity, they reflect the image of God in a very powerful way. This is why he seeks to divide believers, so the image of God is distorted, and God is not glorified, and non-Christians are not as likely to be drawn to Christ.

If you are struggling to forgive someone who has rejected you, I recommend going back to our previous article (Part 3) where you can prayerfully read and apply that forgiveness exercise to your situation.

After forgiving those who have rejected us, we can then focus on the fourth and final way to deal with loneliness: EMPATHIZE WITH OTHER PEOPLES’ NEEDS (2 Timothy 4:17b). Instead of focusing inward on our own needs, focus outward on other people. Instead of looking inwardly at ourselves, we are to look out to other people. Begin helping other lonely people. That is what Paul did: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” (2 Timothy 4:17). Paul’s aim at his trial was to preach the gospel so “all” his unsaved listeners might hear it and be saved.

Paul was lonely at the end of his life, yet he never forgot his life’s goal – to help other people by sharing the good news of Jesus with the loneliest people in the world – those who do not know Christ. We need to stop building walls between us and others and start building bridges. We need to stop complaining, “God, I am lonely,” and start praying, “God, help me be a friend to somebody today who needs You today. Help me build a bridge instead of a wall.”

Love is the antidote to loneliness. Instead of waiting to be loved, we need to give love, and then love will be given back to us abundantly. The greatest expression of love we can give to a non-Christian is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him or her.

What does God have to say to you about your loneliness? First, He would say, “I understand. I really do understand.” The Son of God knows what it is like to be lonely. In Christ’s darkest hour in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified on the cross, His followers fell asleep (Matthew 26:40-45).When the soldiers came and took Him to trial, all His disciples fled the scene (Matthew 26:56b). Soon after that, Peter publicly denied knowing Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75). When Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself as He hung on the cross, His own Father in heaven abandoned Him (Matthew 27:46). Why?

Because God is holy and perfect and demands that sin be punished. So, when your sins and my sins, and the entire sins of the world were placed on God the Son, Jesus was separated from His Father for the first and only time. Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b). Why did Jesus say those words? So that you and I would never have to. God rejected Jesus so He would never reject us after we believe in Christ (John 6:37-40; 10:28-29). God turned His back on His Son, so that He would never have to turn His back on us.  

Do you have Jesus in your life? If not, listen to what Jesus said to a woman who tried to overcome her loneliness through her romantic relationships with men: 10 If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water… 14 whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10, 14).

When we come to Christ on His terms and believe in Him for His gift of everlasting life, we never have to be lonely again. Because the moment we believe in Jesus, He digs a spiritual well in our hearts that gushes up into everlasting life, and never becomes dry. Christ lives in us forever through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). We will never be alone again because He promises never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Then He can help us to overcome our loneliness as we connect to Him through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. As we stay connected to Jesus and other Christians, Christ can empower us to reach out in love to lonely people around us who need Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, all my life I have felt alone and unloved. I did not know how to connect with other people. Nor did I have any love to give to them. Thank You so much for coming to me today to show me that You love me and want a personal relationship with me. Right now, as best I know how, I believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through Your Holy Spirit. Please teach me how to know You more intimately and how to make You known to others. I look forward to meeting with You as often as I can. In Your precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. A. Duane, Litfin, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Acts and Epistles, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 436.

Revelation 3 – Part 3

“So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16

Jesus now speaks to the last of the seven churches. “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.’ ” (Revelation 3:14).

Laodicea was a large and prosperous city forty miles southeast of Philadelphia where many wealthy people retired, thereby establishing it as a renowned banking center. A medical center specializing in eye salve and a prominent wool industry famous for its glossy black garments added to its material prosperity. Because they lived in the midst of this affluent city, the believers dwelling there also became affluent. Unfortunately, these believers allowed their wealth to ruin their effectiveness for Christ, and they did not even know it! Because of their outward wealth they had no clue as to their inward poverty. Therefore, the Judge of the churches sends a stern rebuke in their direction to move them to repent as well as an invitation to open the door to close fellowship with Him once again.” 1

“Ancient pagans had hundreds of false gods to choose from, but modern pagans who may have rejected the worship of idols still have one false god that controls their lives: self. Self-expression, self-confidence, self-worth, self-reliance—these concepts all revolve around the myth that human beings have an inexhaustible source of strength within themselves. Such worthy people, of course, have trouble attributing all worth to God, which is the very definition of worship!

“Sadly, Christians aren’t immune to the disease of self-reliance. When believers in Christ rely on their own strength for good works, operating by the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:3), they produce ineffective and useless works. When believers think their own resources are sufficient, they glow with pride. And when believers look to themselves to provide for their own needs, they shine with self-sufficiency. Christ’s messages to the seven churches in Asia come to a close with a tragic letter to the self-sufficient, self-righteous, self-serving church in Laodicea. In their inexhaustible wealth and independent spirit, the Laodiceans were severely rebuked by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. In fact, the Lord didn’t state a single word of commendation—only stinging reproof. That church suffered from pervasive self-reliance, hypocritical works done in their own strength, and an apathetic attitude toward the authority of Christ. Sadly, Christ’s hard words for Laodicea resonate with relevance for many churches and Christians today.” 2

Jesus refers to Himself as “the Amen” (lit. truly)3 because the Laodicean church needed the truth. As “the Faithful and True Witness,” Jesus would provide a faithful and true assessment of their spiritual condition (3:14a). “The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own well-being. In contrast with them, Jesus spoke the truth.” 4

Christ also refers to Himself as “the Beginning of the creation of God” because this church was self-sufficiently wealthy, and they needed to be reminded that everything they possessed was from their Creator God (3:14b). When churches forget this truth, they can begin to feel entitled to whatever they want. They can easily seek to be in control instead of yielding to God’s control.  

Non-Trinitarians think this phrase (“the Beginning of the creation of God”) means Jesus is a created being. But the Greek word translated “Beginning” (archē) means the “First Cause” of God’s creation. 5Jesus is the Creator or originating source of creation (Revelation 1:18; 2:8; 3:21; 5:13; cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2), not the first creature to be created. 6

Laodicea had suffered a severe earthquake that destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had subsequently rebuilt it, without the aid of Rome. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus Christ alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). 7 Jesus could also give them the spiritual wealth they so desperately needed in their current state of spiritual impoverishment. 8

Jesus then rebukes this church for being indifferent. 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16). These believers in Jesus wereneither refreshing (“cold”)nor soothing or stimulating (“hot”). They were “lukewarm.”  

“This rebuke would have been especially meaningful to this church, for water was piped to the city from Hierapolis, a few miles north. By the time the water reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm!” 9

Nobody orders a lukewarm drink. They want iced tea or hot coffee. In the spiritual realm, God finds tepidness unappealing as well.” 10

Because the Laodicean Christians had no cool water for the spiritually thirsty people around them (cf. John 4:13-14) and they were not hot enough spiritually to stir up one another’s faith, 11 God was disgusted with them. He said, “I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Christ’s response to this self-reliant, self-righteous, and self-serving church was about the least flattering response you could receive, especially from the only Person in the universe Whose opinion matters the most. Essentially Jesus was saying,“You make me sick!”12

The phrase “I will vomit you out of My mouth, cannot be a reference to the loss of salvation because that would contradict John’s other writings (cf. John 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; I John 5:1, 13). The Bible tells us that the gifts of God are irreversible. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). God promises eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). Since “the gifts … of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) and eternal life is a “gift of God” (Romans 6:23), then eternal life is “irrevocable.” When a person believes in Christ for His gift of eternal life, it cannot be given back to God nor taken back by God no matter how the believer lives because it is irreversible or permanent (John 3:16; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-27; Romans 8:31-39; et al.). God did not save us from hell because of our goodness (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7), and He will not abandon us because of our sinfulness (cf. John 6:37; Hebrews 13:5).

One of my mentors, Zane Hodges, thought it possible that the Lord is referring here to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). The Lord Jesus will be so disgusted with the indifference and self-reliance of Christians at the end of the Church age (Laodicea is the last church listed during this age), that He will vomit them up to heaven through the Rapture (Revelation 4:1-4). Then He will start all over in the Tribulation with the Two Witnesses preaching the gospel of the kingdom during the first half of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation 11:1-13) followed by the worldwide witness of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists in the second half of the Tribulation (Revelation 7:1-17; 14:1-5).

Not only does Jesus give these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century, these letters also “prove to be prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic, as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation.” 13

This is known as “the Historico-Prophetical View.” Proponents of this view understand the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has represented other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However, they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. 14

Constable writes, “A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows: 15

Prior to the Rapture of the church (Revelation 4:1-4), Jesus gives some serious advice to this self-reliant church: 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:17-18). Because the Laodiceans had become materially wealthy they thought they “had need of nothing,” including God (3:17a). The Laodiceans were materially “rich”; Christ says they are “poor” spiritually (3:17b). Laodicea had a world-famous medical center that was known for treating eye disease; Jesus informs them that they are “blind” spiritually (3:17c). Laodicea was a center for manufacturing clothing; Jesus declares that they are “naked” spiritually (3:17d). These believers were spiritually destitute, and they did not even know it.

“Here Jesus debunks a prominent lie of prosperity theology: being materially successful means God has blessed you. Not so. The Laodiceans said, I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing. But the external appearance of prosperity was not indicative of the condition of their hearts or their level of fellowship with God. They were spiritually uncommitted, carnal, and compromising. As Jesus put it, they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked spiritually.” 16

Because their self-estimate was so deeply flawed, the Lord gave them counsel as to exactly what they needed to do. Their ability to pull out of their disastrous spiritual condition rested on their paying the price they needed to pay spiritually.” 17

If someone told us that everything about us makes him want to vomit, we would not expect to hear from that person again. 18 But as “the Faithful and True Witness,” the Lord Jesus also continues to extend love and grace to His church no matter how unappealing her spiritual condition is. Christ counsels them to be faithful by instructing them to “buy” three things (3:18). Obviously, this is not talking about our salvation because Christ has already bought that through His sacrificial death on the cross (cf. I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1). 19 In addition, salvation is a free gift which cannot be bought (Revelation 21:6b; 22:17b; cf. Romans 4:5; 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). But in Revelation 3:18, Jesus is speaking figuratively when He counsels them to “buy” three things that these complacent and carnal Christians need:

“gold refined in fire” which represents eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 3:11-15). They were to be faithful to Jesus by having faith that is tested by fire (I Peter 1:6-7).

“white garments.” Their shameful nakedness was to be clothed, not by purchasing the sleek black wool that was made in Laodicea, but by buying “white garments,” which refer to being faithful to Christ through righteous conduct and serving God (Revelation 19:8), not out of selfish motives, but in a way that pleases the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:3, 9-10).

“eye salve.” Instead of purchasing the eye salve that was produced and sold in Laodicea, they were to buy a spiritual “eye salve” that would enable them to see more clearly on a spiritual level and remain faithful to Christ. For this to happen, they must see their desperate need to get into the Word of God and to ask God’s Spirit to help them understand and apply it to their lives (cf. John 9:6; James 1:22; 1 John 2:20, 27). 20

The church of Laodicea is typical of the modern church which denies its spiritual needs and is content with its beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. Notice that verse 18 does not tell us the purchase price for these items. We are not told how much the refined gold, white garments, and eye salve will cost us. The Lord Jesus will tell us this in the next verse.  

The believers at Laodicea may have felt Jesus was being overly harsh with them, so Christ reminds them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Revelation 3:19a). Jesus’ rebuke of them is evidence of His love. If He did not love them, He would not rebuke them in their spiritually lukewarm condition. But Christ wants the best for them (and us), so He tells them what they need to hear, even though it may be painful for them.

If the Laodiceans did not listen to Jesus, His love for them would lead Him to “chasten” them. The word “chasten” (paideuō) literally means “child-training.” 21 It refers to correcting or instructing a child. 22 It is always an activity of God toward Christians, not non-Christians (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). 23

“The church at Laodicea is typical of a modern church quite unconscious of its spiritual needs and content with beautiful buildings and all the material things money can buy. This is a searching and penetrating message.” 24

Jesus then says, “Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19b). How does a church or individual Christian buy gold refined in fire, white garments, and eye salve? That is, how does an indifferent church become spiritually healthy and earn eternal rewards? By being “zealous” for good works and “repenting.”

All Christians are to be known in the church and in their community as people who are zealous for good works – who are eager to please God. What do you have zeal for in your Christian life? A nice house? A car? A well-kept home? A large retirement plan? An attractive appearance? A bigger church building? These things are not wrong in and of themselves. But the number one aim in our lives should be to please God – to love Him above all else and our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).

The word “repent” (metanoeō) refers to a change of mind or way of thinking. 25 The Laodiceans needed to change their minds and realize they did not have it all together spiritually and that their lives were not pleasing to the Lord. Whatever we are doing that is not pleasing to the Lord is to be corrected. We are to confess that it is wrong to God (I John 1:9) and start doing what we know is pleasing to Him.

The Laodiceans are to repent of their self-sufficient, half-hearted service, and remain faithful to Christ, fervently serving Him. Hence, when Christians are zealous for good works and repent of wrong attitudes and actions, they will…

– lay up refined gold or eternal rewards that stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:18a; I Corinthians 3:8-15).

– be clothed with the proper white garments or righteous conduct that will glorify Christ in eternity (3:18b; cf. 3:5; 19:8).

– be able to see properly on a spiritual level (3:18c; cf. Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).

Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” (Revelation 3:20a). Many Christians have mistakenly understood this verse to refer to salvation. But we have already seen that the “churches” in Revelation 2 and 3 refer to genuine Christians. In the context, the Lord Jesus has been talking about works, not faith; He has been addressing service, not salvation; He has exhorted us to be zealous for good works and repent of works that sicken the Lord.

The Lord is now saying if a church invites Christ in for dinner, He will come, and they will have fellowship together (3:20a). This verse is not to be taken literally. This is not a literal “door,” just as verse 18 was not to be taken literally. Amid their self-sufficient attitude, the Laodiceans had shut the Lord Jesus out from their church. The word “stand” (3:20a), literally means “I have taken My stand.” 26 It emphasizes a persistent dealing with the church. Christ persistently seeks intimate fellowship with this self-reliant church that has shut Him out. Hence, He asks permission to enter the church and re-establish fellowship with them.

Christ then says, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20b). Notice that Jesus says He will come “in to” (two words) the person, not “into” (one word) the person. The Greek verb translated “come in” (eiserchomai) accompanied by the preposition translated “to” (pros) means “to come or go to someone.” This construction occurs eight times in the New Testament (Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 17:2; 28:8; Revelation 3:20) and each time it means to enter into a building and stand in front of a person. 27 Whenever “come in” (eiserchomai) is used of entrance into a person it is followed by the Greek preposition eis (Mark 9:25; Luke 8:30; 22:3; John 13:27) and refers to demon possession. The preposition eis deals with “the idea of entry, whereas pros tends to stop short of going up to (without entry).” 28 The result of Christ’s entrance “to” the person is a common meal shared – “I will… dine with him, and he with Me.” The Greek verb “dine” (deipnēsō) indicates that this is the main meal of the day, the one to which an honored guest would be invited. 29

This verse is speaking of entrance into a building toward a person, not entrance into a person. Jesus will not force His way into a church. Christ is saying that He will come in the church toward the believer who repents (hears His voice and opens the door of the church) and eat dinner with him, that is, have intimate fellowship with him.

How does one open the door so that Christ can come and fellowship with him? By being zealous for good works and repenting of the works that made the Lord Jesus vomit (3:19b).

Christ’s invitation here is not for lost sinners to believe in Him for the free gift of eternal life, but for His disobedient children to get close to Him once again. If any of these lukewarm believers did open the door to Him, Christ promises, ‘I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ This is a promise that they will enjoy close fellowship with Him once again.” 30

With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. This was an appeal to Christians rather than to non-Christians. This raises the important question concerning the extent of one’s intimate fellowship with Christ.” 31

Christ then promises, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:21). The believer who “overcomes” by humbly and zealously submitting to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of his life, will be able to “sit with” Him on His throne, as Jesus was humble and zealous in submitting to His Father’s will and was rewarded with sitting down with His Father “on His throne.” This promised reward assures the overcomer of close fellowship with Christ forever by receiving the honor of sharing His royal throne. This is a conditional reward because it is dependent on overcoming as Christ did. 32 Just as Christ overcame death by humble and dependent submission to His Father’s will, the Laodiceans can overcome their self-sufficiency and enjoy ruling with Christ by humbly and dependently submitting to Christ in fellowship and service.

The use of αὐτός (“to him”) in Revelation 2:17, 17, 27 and 3:21 indicates a restrictive kind of reference to the overcomer. It is a specific and restrictive way of showing that ruling with Christ applies only to the victor or overcomer, 33 not to every believer in Jesus.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22). Only those Christians who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promise and live as “overcomers” so they may receive this ultimate reward of reigning with Christ in His coming Kingdom on earth. If they are lukewarm and then repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus and are zealous for good works, then they can receive the privilege of reigning with Christ in His future Kingdom on earth. The Lord Jesus uses rewards here, as with the other six churches, as a motivation to conquer sin and slackness—not as a motivation to salvation. 34

At the outset these faithful believers will rule with Christ on earth for a thousand years during the millennial kingdom (cf. Revelation 20:6). Throughout eternity they will reign with Christ on the new earth (cf. Revelation 21:10-11; 22:1-2). 35

As we read about the possibility of ruling with Christ in the future, we may not be very motivated by the thought of reigning with Christ or having rulership in the future world. Joseph Dillow has some key things to say about this.

“Those who have not persevered in faith, who have denied their King now will have feelings of deep shame and regret because they took Him for granted and wasted their lives. The pain will be acute, and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“…Some may not find the motivation of rewards as significant in their walk with God as the other motivations… That said, it seems to me, that all of us should consider this biblical emphasis to live with the end in view.

“Furthermore, the notion of reigning with Christ… should not be trivialized as if it means various administrative positions in a kingdom or being a mayor of a city. The theme is much broader, and the vision more glorious. What is signified by these expressions is not so much administrative positions as the joy of participating with the Messiah in the final destiny of man, to serve Him and minister with Him in the millennium and the future world. We aspire to higher position because we can then be more effective in the service of our King… We will have greater opportunity to serve Him, to demonstrate our love and gratitude to Him, and to extend the knowledge of His love and goodness throughout the cosmos. To miss that is to miss much.” 36

If we find ourselves indifferent toward the things of God like the Laodicea Christians, it is not too late for us to change. Even if we haven’t been doing well in our service for Christ thus far, we can start today. The Laodiceans were not doing well, yet the Lord holds out the possibility that they might rule with Him in the future if they will be zealous for good works and repent of the works that sickened the Lord Jesus. 

In recovery programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics), while not perfect programs, they do have a lot to commend them. One of their slogans is very appropriate for this passage. It says, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”

The Lord Jesus does not want us to be in denial. He wants us to acknowledge when we fall short and be zealous for good works. He wants us to aim to please Him in all that we do or say. If you want to be an overcomer, you will have to go all the way with Jesus Christ. You may say, “But it is too hard, and I am not getting any credit now.”  

Let me tell you about Henry Morrison, a missionary to Africa. He was coming home from Africa on a ship which was also carrying former President Theodore Roosevelt. When the ship docked in New York City, thousands of people were there to greet Roosevelt. But no one was cheering for Morrison.

Henry Morrison had served the Lord for forty years in Africa. As he watched the crowds greet Theodore Roosevelt, he became dejected to think he had served the Lord all those years and yet no one was there to greet him.

Morrison said that as he walked down the gang plank in a depressed mood, a voice whispered to him, “Henry, don’t worry. You are not home yet.” Then he said he saw a vision of multiplied thousands of Africans standing at the gates of heaven, those whom he had reached for Christ, applauding as he entered the pearly gates.

So if people are not recognizing you down here, if you are not getting any applause right now, don’t worry. You are not home yet. Remember what Jesus Christ has waiting for you if you remain faithful to Him. He will richly reward you with intimate fellowship with Him forever by giving you the honor of sharing His royal throne.

In summary, Christians who repent of their self-sufficient and half-hearted service for the Lord, and humbly and zealously submit to Christ in fellowship and service until the end of their lives, will be richly rewarded with a share in Christ’s glorious reign in His coming Kingdom (3:14-22).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the Faithful and True Witness Who alone is qualified to judge the self-reliant and self-serving church. You know that much of the modern church in America is a lot like the church of Laodicea. We have become lukewarm with complacency and self-reliance. We no longer seek to preach the gospel of grace to all people. Instead, we are captivated by our big, beautiful buildings and all the things that our money can buy. We are driven by our own desire for comfort instead of compassion for those who are perishing without You. This lukewarmness will eventually cause You to remove Your church from the earth via the Rapture so You may start over with the Two Witness at the beginning of the Tribulation. Lord Jesus, forgive us for the areas in our lives that have become lukewarm with apathy and complacency. Please enable us to repent of the works that disgust You and empower us to do good works for and with You until we go to be with You in heaven. We pray that we would keep the door of our hearts open to You so we may enjoy intimate fellowship with You now and be the channels through which Your blessings overflow to all with whom we come into contact. Thank You for reminding us that our eternal life is secure in Your finished work on the cross, but our eternal rewards depend on how we live the Christian life now on earth. No matter what the spiritual health of other believers or churches may be, You call us to be faithful and to keep You at the center of our lives if we are to receive the ultimate reward of sitting with You on Your throne in Your glorious Kingdom. In Your mighty and majestic name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1514.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 109-110.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 53. 

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 56.

5. Bauer, pg. 138.

6. Archibald Thomas Robertson, A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament (with Bible and Strong’s Numbers Added!), 6 Volumes (E4 Group, 2017 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 214976-214978.

7. Constable, pg. 56.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1514.

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

10. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2376.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1514. 

12. Swindoll, pg. 113. 

13. Constable, pg. 61 cites M. J. Brunk, “The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three,” Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July- September 1969), pp. 240-46.

14. Constable, pg. 63 cites John Peter Lange, ed. Commentary on the Holy Scriptures. 12 vols. Reprint ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960. Vol. 12: James-Revelation, by J. P. Lange, J. J. Van Oosterzee, G. T. C. Fronmuller, and Karl Braune. Enlarged and edited by E. R. Craven. Translated by J. Isidor Mombert and Evelina Moore), pg. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1915), pg. 33; J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ Edited by J. Otis Yoder (Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, 1971, pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, New ed., (London: A. S. Rouse, 1897), pg. 24; Frederick A. Tatford, The Patmos Letters (By the Author, 1969; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.), pg. 106;  F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Publishers, n.d.);  Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse (Charles C. Cook, 1900; reprint ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pg. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp. 1331-32; Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1946), pp. 35-36; John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 51; J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee. 5 Vol. 5 (Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pp. 900-926.

15. Constable, pg. 63.

16. Evans, pg. 2376.

17. Vacendak, pp. 1514-1515.

18. Swindoll, pg. 114. 

19. The word “buys” (agorazō) is the same word used to refer to Jesus’ payment for sin on the Cross (I Corinthians 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1).

20. Vacendak, pg. 1515.

21. Robertson, Kindle Location 215197.

22. Bauer, pg. 749.

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

24. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.

25. Bauer, pg. 640.

26. The Greek verb, hestēka, is a perfect indicative which means I took My stand in the past and continue to take My stand in the present.

27. Mike Cocoris, Evangelism: A Biblical Approach (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, pp. 82-82.

28. Ibid, pg. 83 cites C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, (Cambridge at the University Press, 1953), pp. 67-68.

29. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pg. 98.

30. Vacendak, pg. 1515.

31. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, pg. 164.

32. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 50.

33. Richard Benedict, “The Use of Νικάω in the Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1966, pg. 42.

34. Evans, pg. 2377.

35. Vacendak, pp. 1515-1516.

36. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 1039-1040.

Revelation 3 – Part 2

“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” Revelation 3:12

Jesus now speaks to the sixth church: “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7). The city of “Philadelphia” (lit. “brotherly love”; cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; et al.) was located about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. “A Pergamenian king, Attalus II (159-138 B.C.), founded it. The town received its name from his nickname, “Philadelphus” (“brother lover”). This king had a special devotion to his brother, Eumenes II. The city stood in a wine-producing area and was the so-called ‘gateway’ to central Asia Minor. The modern name of this town is ‘Alasehir.’” 1

Philadelphia “was… afflicted with earthquakes which destroyed the city several times, most recently about A.D. 37.” 2 The church there had to deal with the uncertainty this entailed and also with the persecution of those of ‘the synagogue of Satan.’ In spite of the problems it faced, this church was faithful to the Lord and along with the church in Smyrna it received praise from Christ and no rebuke.” 3

Jesus describes Himself to “the church in Philadelphia” as “He who is holy,” set apart from everything and everyone else.Being holy, He is qualified to judge the spiritual life of this church. As “He who is “true,” the Lord Jesusis not just a likeness of God, He is God Who is infinitely distinct from all false gods who represent a lie. 4 When Christ says He “has the key of David,” this is a reference to Isaiah 22:22, where the key of the house of David was given to Eliakim who then had access to all the wealth of the king.5Like Eliakim, Jesus has the authority to distribute (“He who opens and no one shuts”) or not to distribute (“He who… shuts and no one opens”) all of God’s resources as He chooses (3:7). He wants the believers in Philadelphia to know that their rewards in His coming kingdom will be based on His royal prerogative alone. 6

The Lord Jesus then says, “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:8). The Lord Jesus gave this church an “open door” of opportunity for blessing because even though they “have a little strength” in numbers, they have obeyed God’s Word and boldly refused to deny his “name.” Although they were small in numbers, they were great both in their commitment to God’s Word and in their boldness to confess His name despite opposition and persecution.

Even though you may have a small church, you can still please the Lord with your obedience to His Word and your boldness to openly confess His name. The size of a church is not nearly as important as it’s commitment to Jesus and His Word. Too many churches today focus on size and outward appearance without paying enough attention to their inner spiritual life. Christ is most glorified when churches are most committed to Him and what pleases Him.

Jesus promises the following to these faithful believers at Philadelphia: 9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to persevere.” (Revelation 3:9-10a). Christ guaranteesthat their professing Jewish antagonists (“the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not”) would have to acknowledge these believers as the true followers of God (“I will make them know… that I have loved you”) whom He has “loved” because they persevered in obeying His commandments (3:9-10a).

Connecting these two verses fits well with the Biblical teaching that Christ expresses His love in special ways toward believers who obey Him and take a stand for Him (cf. John 14:21-24). In Rev 3:8, Christ had just commended this church for obeying His word and now He is rewarding them because they obeyed His command to persevere.” 7

When we persevere in obedience to Jesus, He will reward us by overruling our Satanic enemies who come against us. 8 There are religious groups today who “lie” by saying they are true followers of God, and they think they are serving God by persecuting Christians (cf. John 16:2). But the truth is, they have rejected Jesus Christ and one day Christ will judge these impostors when He returns to earth (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Jude 1:12-15; Revelation 19:11-21) and at the Great White Throne Judgment where all who refused to believe in Jesus will be judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

God promises that the day will come, when all opponents to the Christian faith will have to acknowledge the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:9-11). 9 The Bible says, 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11). For example, every atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jehovah Witness, Mormon, and Muslim who has rejected Jesus Christ in this life, will bow “under the earth” in the lake of fire at the name of Jesus Christ and confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This need not be the case if these living unbelieving people on earth would change their mind about Christ now, and believe He is the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have eternal life in His name (John 20:31). Then they will be able to bow in the future at the name of Jesus “in heaven” and confess that He is Lord.

Then the ascended Lord Jesus promises, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10). Because these believers have faithfully persevered in obedience to Christ’s command, He “will keep” or protect them “from the hour of trial [time of trouble] which shall come upon the whole [Roman] world” during the readers’ lifetimes “to test” or trouble the unsaved “who dwell on the earth” (3:10b).

Some believe this verse teaches that only Christians who persevere in obedience to Christ will be delivered from the Tribulation period through the Rapture (Partial Rapture view). This view acknowledges that some Christians are unfaithful and will not be raptured. 10 A similar view (Puritan Dispensational Rapture) states that all Christians will persevere in obedience to the end of their lives and therefore, all Christians will be raptured. 11

But this verse is not referring to the Tribulation Period because all” Church-Age believers will be protected from that period of God’s wrath on earth through the Rapture or sudden removal of the church, whether they are spiritually “awake” or “asleep” (cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:16-17; 5:9-10; cf. I Corinthians 15:51-52). In Revelation 3:10, Jesus assures the obedient believers in Philadelphia that they would have His protection during this time of turmoil sent to trouble “those who dwell on the earth” (i.e., the unsaved; cf. 6:10; 11:10; 13:14; 14:6; 17:8). 12 It is better to understand verse 10 historically as referring to deliverance from the ten years of persecution during Trojan’s reign. This deliverance came about by the Roman Emperor’s fear of sending troops to an area known for its devastating earthquakes. 13

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11). Jesus reminds the readers that He is “coming quickly,” therefore they should “hold fast” to their obedience to Christ amid trials to the end of their lives (Revelation 2:26). To stop following Christ because of persecution and opposition is to permit the enemies of Jesus to “take your crown,” and allow them to cause you to lose the ultimate eternal reward of ruling with Christ forever in His coming kingdom (cf. Revelation 2:25-27; 2 Tim 2:12-13). “Eternal life is a free gift and cannot be lost but the reward of ruling with Christ forever requires faithfulness to the end (cf. 2:10).” 14

Jesus promises several different rewards for the overcomer who endures in obedience to Christ until he dies. “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:12). Christ guarantees the overcomer that He “will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.” This refers to a position of permanent honor and intimate association with Christ. Since the Father and the Son will be the temple (cf. Revelation 21:22) in eternity, this reward is probably an especially magnificent experience of nearness to God as well as a key position of support and prominence in God’s eternal kingdom. The phrase “he shall go out no more,” describes the permanence of these rewards. Once these positions of honor and authority are given to the overcomer, they shall never be withdrawn. He is firmly set as a “pillar” in Christ’s eternal kingdom and as such will never be separated from this intimate relationship with God. 15

The overcomer will also have “the name of” God, the name of God’s city, “the New Jerusalem,” and the Lord’s “new name” written on him, stressing a permanent place of prominence in God’s spiritual temple in the eternal state. Since these faithful believers honored the Lord Jesus on earth, He will honor them as His victorious ones forever in heaven.

“Writing one’s ‘name’ on something indicated ownership in John’s day, as it does now. In the ancient world, columns often bore the names of conquerors. In the pagan world, devotees of certain gods often wrote the name of their god on their forehead (cf. Exod. 28:36). Scripture does not reveal Jesus Christ’s ‘new name’ elsewhere. Perhaps this new name is a symbol of His character, which overcomers can only appreciate when they see Him (cf. 2:17; 3:5).” 16

Jesus closes with His familiar appeal: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:13). Only those believers in Jesus who have “an ear” and “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promises and live as “overcomers” so they may receive these magnificent rewards listed above.  

In summary, Christians who persevere in obedience to Christ through difficult and uncertain times will be rewarded a permanent place of prominence and close association with Christ in God’s spiritual temple in the eternal state (3:7-13).

Prayer: Holy Lord Jesus, You alone are worthy to judge the spiritual life of the church. You are true because You are God and You are infinitely distinct from all false gods who represent a lie. You alone have authority to distribute Your rewards in Your coming Kingdom as You choose. So much of what we have here on earth is temporary and changing. But You offer us rewards that are permanent and eternal. Although we may face religious persecution and opposition in this life for Your sake, our commitment to remain faithful to You is far more important in light of Your promises to give us a permanent place of prominence and close association with You in God’s spiritual temple in eternity. Thank You Lord Jesus for offering to honor us in heaven if we will honor You here on earth. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 50.

2. 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.

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. 1511.

4. Ibid.

5. Walvoord, pg. 164.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1512. 

7. Ibid.

8.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2375.

9. Walvoord, pg. 164.

10. Retrieved on October 26, 2021 from John H. Niemelä’s March 1, 2017 Grace Evangelical Society’s journal article at www.faithalone.org entitled, “Revelation 3:10 and the Rapture: A New Departure,” where he cites Robert Govett, The Saints’ Rapture to the Presence of the Lord Jesus (London: Nisbet, 1852), pg. 310.

11. Ibid., cites John F. MacArthur, “The Final Generation, Part 1 (Mark 13:28-37),” on Grace to You, April 3, 2011. Transcript at https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-69/the-finalgeneration-part-1. Accessed August 9, 2016.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1513.

13. William Ross, “An Analysis of the Rewards and Judgments in Revelation 2 and 3,” Dallas Theological Seminary ThM Thesis, 1971, pg. 52.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1513.

15. Ibid.

16. Constable, pg. 54 cites Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 58.

Revelation 3 – Part 1

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5

Jesus now addresses the fifth church in Asia Minor. “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” ‘ (Revelation 3:1). Sardis was located a little over thirty miles southeast of Thyatira and was a glorious city in the past. In the sixth century BC it was considered one of the greatest cities on earth and was ruled by the wealthy King Croesus (called Midas by the Greeks because of his golden treasures). But by the time John wrote to the church there in the first century AD, the city’s greatness lay in the distant past. Unfortunately, the church at Sardis had the same problem—a great past but dismal conditions in the present. So, the Lord gives this church the steps they need to come alive again as well as a warning if they fail to do so.” 1

When the ascended Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the seven Spirits of God,” He is telling this church that He knows their true spiritual condition because He possesses the all-knowing Spirit of God(cf. Revelation 1:4b-5a). 2 Nothing escapes the notice of our Lord. Christ also “has the seven stars” or seven angels of the seven churches (cf. 1:20) to remind them of His Lordship over the entire church.

Although they had a good reputation among other churches for being “alive,” the Lord Jesus knew their true condition. This was the kind of church about which people today might say, “They have great music, great preaching, great outreach, a great children’s ministry, and beautiful buildings.” But because Jesus knew their “works,” He could say they were “dead” inwardly without any spiritual life (3:1b). “They were merely playing church.” 3

Like the Pharisees, their outer appearance was a facade hiding their lack of life (cf. Matt. 23:27-28).” 4

“Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the ‘monument’ stage, but there was still hope!” 5

The remedy for this condition is given by Jesus in the next few verses. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.” (Revelation 3:2). The city of Sardis had fallen into enemy hands more than once, due to the carelessness of sentries who had relied too much on the town’s natural fortifications. 6 The Lord now commanded the church to “be watchful [alert] and strengthen” the areas of weakness in their church “that are ready to die.” The Lord wants His people to be diligent in protecting every element of good that remained in their church. They were not to be careless about this or allow any  more of the good that was still in existence to be cast aside as it had been in the past. 7

The Lord Jesus did not find their “works perfect [complete] before God.” The believers in Sardis tended to begin things but never finish them as God desired (cf. Acts 14:26). Do our churches resemble the church at Sardis? Does our outward appearance hide our lack of spiritual life? Did we start out strong for the Lord only to weaken over time and lose the vitality that once was so contagious? Have we held fast to the gospel of grace that transformed our lives, or have we turned away from the “faith alone” gospel to a “faith plus” gospel that promotes reformation instead of transformation?

Jesus then says, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:3). To overcome their spiritual deadness, these believers needed to “remember” the biblical instruction they “received and heard” from their spiritual leaders. Sound doctrine is always the foundation of a church that brings honor and glory to God (cf. Titus 2:1-15).” 8

They were also to “hold fast” to this instruction and “repent” and change their attitudes that led to their spiritual deadness. If they did not arise from their spiritual deadness, the Lord would “come upon” them “as a thief,” swiftly and unexpectedly to discipline them for their carelessness and superficial spirituality.

Jesus held out eternal rewards for the faithful “few” in Sardis. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4). The all-knowing Judge knew of a “few names… in Sardis who” had “not defiled their garments” and “shall walk with” Christ “in white” because they are “worthy” or deserving. This cannot refer to salvation because no one deserves to be saved from hell. The Bible clearly says that salvation is a free gift apart from any works (Romans 6:23b; 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 21:6; 22:17).  Instead, walking with Christ in white is a privilege reserved for the faithful believer who is undefiled in his Christian life.

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:5). The risen Lord Jesus promises to the “overcomer” who is “worthy” (3:4) to be honored, the following eternal rewards:

– “Clothed in white garments.”  “White garments” are symbolic of one’s works (cf. 19:8) and are pure and free of defilement (cf. 7:9, 13; 19:14; Matthew 22:11-12). “In the ancient world, white robes also connoted festivity and victory.” 9 “Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs.” 10 Only the believers who remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth could enjoy His intimate fellowship in His coming Kingdom (“walk with Me”; cf. 7:14; 22:14). 11

Wilkin provides a helpful insight about this reward. “Keep in mind that the Lord Jesus Himself will be clothed in dazzling white garments that will outshine all others. His glory will be supreme.

“When at the Mount of Transfiguration He appeared in His glory, ‘His clothes became as white as the light’ (Matthew 17:2). Special clothing is not insignificant, because it honors a person. The more glorious the garments, the more honor to the wearer.

“Like the sun, the Lord’s garments will have maximum radiance. The garments of great servants like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Deborah, Esther, and Mary will surely glow brightly. But theirs will be reflected glory, like the glory of the moon that reflects the glory of the sun.

“Would you not want to be identified as closely as possible with the Lord Jesus and glorify Him, even in your clothing? The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.” 12

– An honored name that is supremely secure. When Jesus says He will “not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” Armenians teach that Jesus is saying a non-overcoming (unfaithful) believer can lose his salvation. 13 But this would be contrary to Jesus’ teachings in John’s writings elsewhere. For example, Jesus taught, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith “shall never hunger” or “thirst” for eternal life again because the need He met can never reoccur. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we are unfaithful to Christ (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13).

Christ also said, 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:38-39). Jesus came down from heaven to do His Father’s will which was that all whom the Father had given Him should lose nothing, including their salvation. If Jesus failed to keep believers from losing their salvation, He would have failed to do His Father’s will. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God. But Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father.

Jesus said, 2And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29). Christ gives eternal life because it is a gift from Him. We do not earn it. Secondly, He also guarantees that a believer “shall never perish.” Eternal life is God’s life. You can no more perish in hell than God can perish in hell. If a believer in Jesus could lose his salvation, then Jesus just told a lie. Jesus also promises that “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”  Because Jesus securely holds each believer in His hand and no one – not a lion, wolf, thief, bandit, false teacher, popular speaker, demon, devil, not even you yourself – are strong enough to snatch (John 10:12) them out of His hand. The word “snatch” (harpasei) means “to snatch, seize, i.e., take suddenly or vehemently.” It is impossible for even one sheep to be removed from the hand of our Good Shepherd. And no matter how strong or persuasive they are, not one of His sheep can wriggle out of His grasp.

If you are still not convinced that a believer in Jesus is secure forever, Christ adds, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” The hand of Jesus holding the believer is secure in the hand of God the Father. And no one is strong enough to snatch a believer from the hand of God the Father. In other words, the believer is doubly secure.

If a believer ever lost his or her salvation, Christ would have failed to keep these promises and many more. To properly understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Revelation 3:5), it is important to answer an important question.

What is the Book of Life? There appear to be several “books” or records that God keeps in heaven (cf. Revelation 20:12). Since God is all-knowing, “He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a ‘book’ is an example of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand.” 14  

There is the “Book of the Living,” namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exodus 32:32-33; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3). 15 To have one’s name removed from this book refers to physical death. But the “Book of Life” in Revelation refers to all those who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27). 16

It is best to understand Jesus’ words, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5), as another litotes (cf. 2:11) 17 which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. Jesus is saying, “If you remain undefiled to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure.”

Dillow writes, John is saying that, even if we are ridiculed and ultimately killed for our faith here on earth so that our name is dishonored and forgotten, we will, if we persevere, enjoy a heavenly reputation for all eternity. Our name will never be blotted out in heaven. No Christian will ever have his person blotted out of the book of life, even carnal ones. The overcomers are being reminded that, even though others can destroy them on earth, they cannot ruin the believer’s heavenly name.” 18

Such an honored name will be forever cherished by Jesus throughout eternity, which leads to the third reward.

– Christ said, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5 cf.Matthew 10:32-33; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:8; 19:17, 19). Only worthy or faithful believers will have their name publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels.

Only those Christians who acknowledge Christ now will be acknowledged by Him then. Only those Christians who are overcomers now will have their names acknowledged before the Father and His angels (Revelation 3:5). But having one’s name ‘acknowledged’ [confessed] is not the same as being declared saved. Rather, it refers to the public testimony by the Son of God to the faithful life of the obedient Christian. Conversely, not having one’s name acknowledged is to forfeit the Master’s ‘Well done.’” 19

This confession is functionally the positive idea implied in the litotes (no erasure of his name means a magnifying of his name, i.e., magnification by Christ’s personal acknowledgement before the Father and His angels).” 20

The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus during this church age will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards according to their works (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12) during the Tribulation period. Believers who lived in disobedience and failed to grow spiritually, like the believers in Sardis, “will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (I Corinthians 3:15). Although they have eternal life by believing in Jesus, they will suffer the loss of rewards and be denied the praise that Christ could have given them before His heavenly Father and the holy angels if they had been faithful to the Lord’s calling in their lives.

Christ concludes, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:6). Not all Christians will be overcomers by remaining faithful to Jesus to the end of their lives. Only those who have “an ear” and “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” will be able toappropriate Jesus’ promises and live as “overcomers” so they may receive these glorious eternal rewards.

Imagine being on the new earth with King Jesus in the future, and He publicly honors you by acknowledging your name before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. If you are the kind of person who likes to receive approval, praise, and recognition before others, this acknowledgement or confession of your eternally honored name in the future by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, will greatly motivate you to persevere in faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus now, no matter what the cost. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our hearts and what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him, even when people dishonor or forget our names on earth now.

In summary, Christians who watch expectantly for Christ’s return and live undefiled Christian lives will receive a three-fold reward consisting of dazzling eternal clothes, an eternally honored name, which will be publicly praised before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity (3:1-6).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, only You are qualified to judge Your church. Thank You for warning the church in Sardis (and us) of the danger of looking good on the outside to hide the lack of spiritual life on the inside. Thank You for warning us of the loss of reward and for giving us the remedy for our spiritually immature condition. Lord Jesus, we do not want to compromise our faith and waste our Christian lives by living selfishly. Please help us to stay spiritually alert and remember what we have been taught by godly teachers in the past. Thank You for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by You before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to You now no matter what the cost. To hear Your praise, Lord Jesus, in eternity, is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us so You will receive maximum honor and glory in eternity. In Your mighty and most honorable name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1509-1510.

2. Ibid., pg. 1510.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

4. 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.

5. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 46 cites, Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 577.  

6. Constable, pp. 46-47.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1510.

8. Ibid.

9. Constable, pg. 47 cites William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1, (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 155.

10. Constable, pg. 47 cites R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John Vol. 1, International Critical Commentary series (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920), pg.  78.

11. Constable, pg. 47.

12. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 46.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 684 cites J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ (Scottsdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961), pp. 329-331.

14. Constable, pg. 48.

15. Ibid.

16. Dillow, pg. 685.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1511; Constable, pg. 49; Dillow, pg. 687 cites Martin Loyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 8:17-39: The Final Perseverance of the Saints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), pp. 314ff.

18. Dillow, pg. 687.

19. Ibid., pp. 687-688.

20. Vacendak, pg. 1511.

Revelation 2 – Part 4

“But hold fast what you have till I come.” Revelation 2:25

The ascended Lord Jesus addresses the fourth church next. “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.’” (Revelation 2:18). Thyatira was the smallest and least significant of the seven cities, but it was the one that received the longest letter.” 1

“According to legend, Thyatira was first established as a shrine to the sun god Tyrimnus and named Pelopia.” 2

This town stood about forty-five miles to the southeast of Pergamum. It was famous for its textiles, but especially for its production of purple dye (cf. Acts 16:14) and its trade guilds (or social clubs). 3

Sadly, these guilds were also steeped in blasphemous worship and sexual sin. The church in Thyatira had a woman, Jezebel, who supported such guild practices. If a Christian refused to participate in idol worship, he or she would often be excluded from the guild, and therefore be unable to conduct their business. 4

The Lord Jesus describes Himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.” This description of Christ is like that in 1:13-15, but here He is called the “Son of God” rather than “the Son of Man,” since this situation required a reaffirmation of His deity and the authority or right to judge this church. 5

“Eyes like a flame of fire” refers to Jesus’ blazing anger against sin and His ability to see beneath the surface into the inmost being of a person’s heart. 6 The Greek word used to describe Christ’s feet like “fine brass” is a rare word chalkolibanō, also used in 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of several metals characterized by brilliance when polished. 7  This speaks of the risen Christ’s inflexible, immovable strength and power 8 and His readiness to execute judgment (cf. Revelation 19:15). 9

Although much was wrong with the church in Thyatira, Christ commends this church when He says, “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.” (Revelation 2:19). These believerswere strong in good “works,” “love” for others (not mentioned in the other letters), “faith” in God, “service” of their Savior, and “patience” or perseverance in trials. This church was doing more as time went on (“the last are more than the first”)in contrast to the church at Ephesus which did less. 10 Often churches stop growing over time, but not the church in Thyatira. Their “works, love, service, faith, and…patience” continued to increase more that what they had at “first.”

But despite this evidence of Christian growth, the church in Thyatira had some serious flaws and needed a Judge. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20). Whereas the church in Ephesus would not allow false teachers, this church did. The risen Lord Jesus rebukes them for permitting a false teacher named “Jezebel” to entice them to practice “sexual immorality” connected to idolatrous worship (“to… eat things sacrificed to idols”).

It is likely that Jezebel’s immorality involved teaching God’s people that it was acceptable to engage in the activities of the guild feasts that took place in pagan temples. The pressure on the workers of that day to give in was great because failure to attend these feasts could threaten their livelihood.” 11

Though perhaps this was her real name, Jezebel also brings to mind the wife of Israel’s King Ahab (see 1 Kgs 16:31; 2 Kgs 9) and represents an entire category of immoral and idolatrous women.” 12

A modern-day practice of Jezebel’s doctrine is connected to pornography which involves sexual immorality and idolatry. Pornography is one of the most destructive practices in the church today and most churches do not know how to address it in a way that offers hope and healing for those enslaved to it. The majority of churches preach against the problem of pornography without providing a safe environment to address the real problem which is a deeper hurt in the hearts of those hooked on porn. Pornography is simply a surface coping mechanism for a deeper wound. Statistics indicate that 60-70 percent of men, 50-58 percent of pastors, and 20-30 percent of women in evangelical churches are sexually addicted. 13

“Pornography is the number one addiction for men. One out of two internet hits have to do with sex and pornography. Pornography can ruin normal sexual relationships because no real person can live up to pornographic images and fantasies. Research has shown that the limbic system bonds with whatever you are visualizing at the time of orgasm, so the next time you have sexual cravings they will be focused on that image or fantasy. This is why pornography is so addicting. Pornography is not really about sex; it is about zoning out, getting high on your own neurochemicals. Sex addicts report having withdrawal symptoms similar to cocaine withdrawal.” 14

Pornography is not just an adult addiction. Young people are also struggling with watching pornography online as young as four years of age and older because it is so accessible, addictive, aggressive, anonymous, and appealing. If you don’t think it’s possible for your children to get hooked on porn, you need to listen to Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s videos. 15 If you are struggling with pornography, contact Pure Desire at www.puredesire.org to obtain hope and healing from your addiction.

What is an idol? An idol is turning to something or someone other than God when we are anxious, hurting, lonely, stressed, or even wanting to celebrate. More and more Christians are turning to pornography instead of the Lord to medicate or celebrate their feelings. Pornography is an idol that is destroying the sons and daughters of God around the world.

Christ’s patience toward this false teacher in Thyatira is seen when He says, “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.” (Revelation 2:21). God is very gracious and patient. He gave Jezebel “time to repent” of her false teaching that promoted “sexual immorality.” But she refused to “repent.” Understand that “a refusal is different than a struggle. At times, believers fight sins but cannot stop committing them on their own power. Jezebel was unwilling to make any effort.” 16  She knew she was doing wrong, and she chose to keep doing it. This does not mean that Jezebel was unsaved. It is possible to be a Christian and drift from sound doctrine (cf. I Timothy 1:19-20). 17

Since Jezebel did “not repent,” the Lord Jesus promised to discipline her and her followers when He said, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22). Since she encouraged lying on beds of adultery, the risen Jesus would cast her on a different kind of bed: a bed of sickness. 18 And because her followers joined her immoral ways, they would experience God’s painful discipline in the form of “great tribulation” or distress.

Another group in this church would experience a more severe judgment. “I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” (Revelation 2:23). This group is referred to as “her children” because they fully embraced her teaching and lifestyle. 19 They would experience physical “death.” This may sound extremely severe, but it is not the first time in the New Testament that God disciplines His people in this way (cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30).

 Immediately before pronouncing, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31), the writer of Hebrews declares, ‘The Lord will judge His people’ (v 30, emphasis added). The Lord’s discipline would cause His people to know that He is serious about sinful activity and false teaching and that no one is exempt from His discipline (cf. Gal 6:7).” 20

This judgment would be so intense that “all the churches shall know” that the ascended Christ is the One “who searches hearts and minds.” Nothing escapes His notice. False teachers may be able to deceive their followers, but they are not capable of fooling the risen Lord Jesus. These seven churches (and any of us today) reading these messages would be reminded to take sin seriously because God is partial to no one. He says, “I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

Not all the believers of the church in Thyatira followed Jezebel and her false doctrine. Jesus says to them, “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.(Revelation 2:24). Apparently Jezebel claimed that her “doctrine” (that Christians can indulge in immorality without consequences) was deeper than the teachings of the apostles’ when in reality they extended to “the depths of Satan.” 21  Christ says that those who did not follow Jezebel’s teaching would be subject to “no other burden” just listed.

Instead, this godly remnant was to hold fast what you have till I come.” (Revelation 2:25).  These faithful believers were simply to continue to do what they had been doing – to stand against false teaching and to “hold fast” to purity of doctrineuntil Christ comes for His church at the Rapture (cf. Revelation 4:1-4; cf. John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). 22

Walvoord observes, Perhaps because the church was small, Christ did not command them to leave it but to remain as a godly testimony. Judgment on Jezebel and her followers would come soon and would purge the church. In modern times Christians who find themselves in apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship, but this was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.

“The parallels between Thyatira and other apostate churches throughout church history are clear. Some compare Thyatira to believers in the Middle Ages when Protestantism separated from Roman Catholicism and attempted a return to purity in doctrine and life. The prominence of Jezebel as a woman prophetess is sometimes compared to the unscriptural exaltation of Mary. The participation in idolatrous feasts can illustrate the false teaching that the Lord’s Supper is another sacrifice of Christ. In spite of the apostasy of churches in the Middle Ages, there were churches then which, like the church of Thyatira, had some believers who were bright lights of faithfulness in doctrine and life.” 23

The ascended Lord Jesus then gives this godly remnant a challenge and promised reward if they fulfill that challenge. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – 27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’ – as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:26-28). The eternal rewards for remaining faithful to Christ and resisting Jezebel’s false teachings “until the end” of their lives was ruling with Christ “over the nations” in His earthly kingdom and enjoying a special intimacy with the Morning Star Himself, Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 24 The morning star (usually the planet Venus) appears in the night sky, just before the dawning of a new day. Jesus Christ will guide faithful believers in the future, as the new day of His rule dawns (cf. Titus 2:13; Daniel 12:3). 25

“Thus, the reward for a pure life is a greater experience of Jesus during His millennial reign and for eternity. Naturally, a co-ruler of the universe will have greater access to the King than a common citizen.” 26

The Lord intended the prospect of this promised blessing to motivate the unfaithful in the church to return to God’s will for them, and to encourage the faithful to persevere. Believers who are faithful (“he who overcomes”) will receive “power” (authority) in heaven from Jesus Christ and will “rule” (lit. “shepherd”) others during the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (cf. Matthew 16:24-27; 19:28-29; Luke 19:11- 27; Romans 8:17b; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21; 20:4-6). Some believers will receive greater authority for being faithful, than others who have not been as faithful (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12). While not all Christians will remain faithful to the Lord (2 Timothy 2:12), Christ evidently described believers as faithful (cf. Revelation 2:19) to motivate them to remain faithful. 27

We see that the rewards of ruling with Christ and enjoying a special intimacy with Him in His earthly kingdom are reserved only for individual believers in Jesus who remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives on earth. The Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29). Not all Christians are “overcomers” who hold fast to Christ till the end of their lives on earth. Only those who “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and appropriate Jesus’ promise will be able to live as “overcomers” and receive these perseverance rewards.

Since Christ will reward each Christian “according to his works” (2:23; cf. 22:12) and not all Christians do the same amount or quality of works, there will be varying degrees of rewards among believers. When Jesus evaluates our Christian lives at the Judgment Seat (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12), He will look deeper than the works themselves, since He “searches the hearts and minds” of His people and knows what motivates them to act (Revelation 2:23; cf. I Corinthians 4:5). His rewards will also take into consideration the motivation for our works (cf. Matthew 6:1-4; Hebrews 4:12-13). Have we served Christ with our very best to bring honor to Him (cf. I Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:22-25)? 28 Only Jesus Christ is qualified to make such judgments of believers (cf. I Corinthians 4:1-5; Revelation 1:12-20; 2:23; et al.).

To summarize: Christians who succumb to false teaching and the sinful lifestyle it promotes, can expect God’s discipline in their lives even unto physical death (2:18-23; cf. Acts 5:1-11; I Corinthians 11:29-30). Believers who resist false teaching and remain faithful to Christ until the end of their lives will receive the reward of ruling with Christ in His coming Kingdom and enjoy a special intimacy with Him, our Morning Star (2:24-29).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us enough to tell us what we need to hear. Like the church in Thyatira, You have commended us for having more good works, love for others, faith in God, service for You, and perseverance in trials than we had at the first. But You know our hearts and minds better than we do. You know that we have tolerated false teaching within our churches that compromises the truth of Your gospel by adding works to Your finished work on the cross. Such an unstable foundation has led to an infiltration of sexual immorality and idolatry in Your churches. Those of us who fall prey to this teaching of Jezebel’s spirit are those who often seek spiritual enlightenment apart from You and crave eternal life without believing on Christ’s sacrificial death. We can consider ourselves superior to the rest of the earth’s population and are ever learning some new ‘mystical’ spirituality, which is contrary to the truth of the gospel. Please help those of us who have embraced Jezebel’s teaching to return to Your will lest we experience Your painful discipline. Empower those of us who have rejected her teaching to remain faithful to You until the end of our lives so we may receive Your eternal rewards of ruling with You in Your coming Kingdom on earth and enjoying a special intimacy with You then as our Morning Star. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us. In Your glorious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 41.

2. Ibid., cites David E. Aune, Revelation 1—5 (Word Biblical Commentary series. Dallas: Word Books, 1997), pg. 201.

3. Constable, pg. 41.

4.  Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1508.

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

6. Constable, pg. 42 cites, William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 1 (The Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 128; Vacendak, pg. 1508.

7. Walvoord, pg. 164.

8. Constable, pg. 42 cites Barclay, pg. 128.

9. Vacendak, pg. 1508.

10. Walvoord, pg. 164.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1508.

12. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2374.

13. Jeremy & Tiana Wiles, Conquer Series: The Battle Plan For Purity Study Guide, Vol. 1 (Stuart FL: KingdomWorks Studio, 2017), pg. 21.

14. Michael Dye, The Genesis Process: For Change Groups Book 1 and 2 Individual Workbook (Michael Dye/Double Eagle Industries, 2012), pp. 206-207.

15. See Christian apologist and author Josh McDowell’s very informative and staggering videos on October 7, 2018 at Denton Bible Church entitled, “Breaking Free from the Porn Epidemic w/ Josh McDowell” at https://vimeo.com/294241982 and on August 3, 2021 with Pure Desire Ministries entitled, “The Effects of Pornography with Josh McDowell” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3sRmLFarZc .

16. Evans, pg. 2374.  

17. Vacendak, pg. 1509.

18. Constable, pg. 43.

19. Vacendak, pg. 1509. 

20. Ibid.

21. Constable, pg. 43.

22. Ibid., pg. 44; Vacendak, pg. 1509.

23. Walvoord, pg. 164.

24. Vacendak, pg. 1509.

25. Constable, pg. 45.

26. Evans, pg. 2374.

27. Constable, pg. 44.

28. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 771-772.

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.