Revelation 19 – Part 3

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

Following the first three outbursts of praise toward God in heaven for the destruction of Rome (19:1-4; cf. 18:1-24), the apostle John recorded a fourth outburst of praise for the coming rule of God on the earth (19:5-6) and the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10). Last time we looked at the first part of this praise involving the coming reign of God on the earth. Today we will focus on the marriage supper of the Lamb.

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” (Revelation 19:7). The fourth song of praise continues with the command to “be glad and rejoice and give” God “glory for the marriage of the Lamb has come” when Christ will escort His bride, the church (Revelation 3:14, 20; 21:2, 9; 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-32), to earth for their marriage celebration which will last one thousand years on the earth during the Millennial Kingdom (19:7a; 20:1-6; cf. Isaiah 25:6-9; 35:1-10; 55:12). 1

The reference to the Lamb’s “wife” is the third metaphor in Revelation that describes women: the “woman” in Revelation 12 is Israel (12:1-6), the “harlot” in Revelation 17-18 is “Babylon,” the code name for the city of Rome (cf. I Peter 5:13), and now the “wife” or “bride” of the Lamb in Revelation 19 is the church. 2

The nation of Israel cannot be Christ’s bride because this bride comes to earth with Christ when He returns to the earth, and because Old Testament believers will not experience resurrection until after Christ returns to the earth (cf. Daniel 12:1-2). 3

We can understand the general time and place of the marriage supper of the Lamb by comparing it with marriage customs in the ancient Near East. In the Galilean culture of Jesus’ day, the first stage of wedding customs involved the groom going to the bride’s house to present a wedding contract to the bride. When he proposed marriage, he would offer her a cup of wine. If she drank it, she was accepting the betrothal.

This betrothal stage takes place during the Church Age, when the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, came to the world to offer His gift of salvation to all who believe in Him. The Church Age began at Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit indwelt those who believed in Christ and placed them in His body the church (Acts 2:1-11; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27).

The second stage of marriage customs in Jesus’ day involved the groom informing his bride that he was to go to his father’s house to prepare a place for her. Likewise, this is what Jesus told His disciples He would do when He said, 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2). Since ascending to heaven after His death and resurrection nearly two thousand years ago (Acts 1:9-11), Jesus has been preparing our eternal mansions in His Father’s house in heaven.

In Jesus’ day, when the the bride accepted the groom’s wedding proposal, she would typically respond, “When are you coming back?” The prospective groom would reply by saying, “Only my father knows!” The groom then returns to his father’s house to prepare for his marriage by adding a room to his father’s house where he and his bride will live. In Galilean culture, his father determines the exact time when his son returns to his bride’s house to bring her back to his own. When the groom returns for his bride to take her to his father’s house, the wedding takes place. 4

Similarly, when Jesus said, “3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3). When God the Father determines that it is time for Jesus to return for His bride, Christ will come for His church in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). This is why Jesus said only His heavenly Father knows “that day and hour” of His return for His bride, the Church, at the time of the Rapture (Matthew 24:37; Mark 13:32). Just as the bride did not know when her groom would return, so Christians do not know when the Rapture will take place. 5

It is at this stage when the marriage of the church to Jesus takes place. At this time in heaven Christ will present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). No longer will the church be tainted with conflict, division, or false teaching. 6

The third event of Galilean wedding customs in Jesus’ day involved the groom providing a feast or banquet for his bride and friends, at his home, to celebrate their wedding. Typically, this lasted several days. 7

The spiritual wedding celebration of Jesus and the church will last one thousand years on the earth after the Tribulation period. 8 This will be an incredible period of tremendous blessings and fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (Psalm 2:6-9; 72:10-11; Isaiah 2:3-4; 11:6-9; 25:6-9; 35:1-10; 55:12; 65:20-22; Ezekiel 40-46; Zechariah 14:3-9; Matthew 19:27-28; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; et al.).

We also see in this fourth song of praise in heaven that the Lamb’s “wife has made herself ready” (19:7c). Christ’s “wife” or bride, the church, “has made herself ready” for her Bridegroom and their marriage supper by being obedient to Christ “until the end” (cf. Revelation 2:26).

“And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8). “It was granted” to the Lamb’s wife, the church, “to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” The “fine linen” the bride will wear (the glory and splendor she will exhibit) “is the righteous acts of the saints.” This fine linen cannot represent salvation because it represents “the righteous acts of the saints.” Salvation from hell is “by grace through faith… not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9; cf. Romans 4:5). Notice also this is the attire of “the saints” – people who have already believed in Jesus for eternal life (cf. I Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1). 9 So, their righteous acts follow their conversion.

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.” 10

Since the clothing of the bride is the “righteous acts of the saints,” this suggests that not all believers will have the same degree of glory or splendor exhibited in their garments because not all believers have the same quality or number of righteous acts. There will be varying degrees of rewards and responsibilities in Christ’s kingdom because there will be varying degrees of preparation made by believers during this life on earth.

“Then he said to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true sayings of God.’” (Revelation 19:9). The same angel who had guided the apostle John in writing about Babylon (17:1, 15) instructed him to “write” some encouraging words to his readers: “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”  The word “called” (keklēmenoi) means to “invite.” 11 This Greek word and its derivatives are used often in the New Testament as an invitation to participate in the rewards and glory of the kingdom of Christ (cf. Matthew 20:16; 22:1-14; Luke 19:11-27; I Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; I Peter 5:10; et al.).

What a blessing it is to be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb! Every person must prepare and make oneself ready. However, not all believers in Jesus will be able to participate in this great privilege. While every person who believes in Jesus for eternal life will be able to enter Christ’s kingdom (John 3:5-16; cf. Matthew 18:3; Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), only those who remain faithful to the end of their lives will be allowed to participate in the marriage celebration of the Lamb. 12 Jesus said, “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14; cf. Matthew 8:11-12). Many are “called” or invited to this marriage celebration, but only those who have prepared will be “chosen” to participate. 13 “Few” will be “chosen” to join Jesus in this celebration because they will have failed to remain faithful to Christ “until the end” (cf. Revelation 2:26). 14 They will lack the “righteous acts” needed to be part of the marriage banquet (Revelation 19:8). 15

“The marriage feast of the Lamb destroys the common caricature of heaven as a place where each believer simply sits on a cloud playing a harp. During this thousand-year party, believers’ rewards and responsibilities will be determined by their levels of faithfulness to Christ on earth. Jesus will ensure the complete absence of disorder and discord.” 16

The importance of the invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb is underscored when the angel said to John, “These are the true sayings of God” (19:9b). John is so overwhelmed by the four great outbursts of praise and the invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:1-9), that he falls at the angel’s feet. “And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’” (Revelation 19:10). Being so impressed with this new vision, John falls at the angel’s “feet to worship him.” Immediately the angel corrects John: “See that you do not do that!” The worship of angels is forbidden in God’s Word (cf. Exodus 34:14; Matthew 4:10; Colossians 2:18). No matter how glorious an angel is or exalted a saint is – for that matter – they are never to be worshiped.

The angel reminds John, “I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” Angels, like humans, can only bear witness to “the testimony of Jesus.” 17 They are messengers, not God. God alone is to be worshiped. Only the true God in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – deserves our adoration and worship. 18

The angel points John (and us) back to the focal point of the book of Revelation when he says, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” All prophecy has always pointed ultimately to “Jesus.” The first ten verses of Revelation 19 are a very appropriate introduction to what is about to be revealed, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is the subject of the entire book of Revelation (1:1). 19

As I finish up this article, my stomach reminds me that it is time for supper. Revelation 19:7-10 also reminds us of the marriage supper of the Lamb to be served in the future. All people have been invited (“called”) to this celebration. But to be “chosen” to participate in this fantastic thousand-year party, we must meet two conditions:

First, we must be able to enter Christ’s kingdom by believing in Jesus alone for His gift of eternal life. Why? Because all people have sinned against God (Romans 3:23) and deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But God does not want any of us to die forever in the lake of fire, so He sent His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ to die in our place for all our sins and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today in heaven, and He wants you to be able to enter His future kingdom on earth by believing in Him.

Jesus said, 5 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6). To enter God’s kingdom, we must have two birthdays: our physical birth (“born of water… flesh”) and our spiritual birth (“born of … the Spirit”). To be born of the Spirit we must realize that Jesus Christ was “lifted up” on the cross to die in our place so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14b-15). The moment we believe in Christ, He guarantees our entrance into His kingdom on earth at the end of the Tribulation period.

Second, to attend the marriage supper of the Lamb, we must live faithfully for Jesus after believing in Him for eternal life.While all believers are called or invited to prepare for the wedding supper with Jesus to share in rewards and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, only those believers who prepared by being obedient to Jesus until the end of life on earth will be able to participate (Revelation 2:25-27; 3:5; 19:7-9; cf. Matthew 8:11-12; 22:1-14). All believers will enter and live with Christ in His eternal Kingdom through faith in Him alone (Matthew 18:3; John 3:5; 16), but only faithful believers will be able to enjoy ruling with Him there (Luke 19:11-27; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:25-27; 3:21).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us enough to share this invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb. What a fabulous thousand-year celebration this will be on the earth. Empower those of us who who believe in Jesus 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. Please use us to spread Your message of eternal life to those who are perishing without You. In Your matchless 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), pg. 1572; Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 207 cites J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5 (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983), pg. 1048; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2414.

2. Constable, pg. 205.

3. Ibid., pg. 206.

4. Evans, pg. 2414.

5. Constable, pg. 206.

6. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 331.

7. Constable, pg. 206; John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), locations 6232-6237.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1572; Evans, pg. 2414.

9. Vacendak, pp. 1572-1573.

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

11. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 503.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1573.

13. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 796.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1573.

15. Dillow, pg. 796.

16. Evans, pg. 2414.

17. Constable, pg. 208.

18. Swindoll, pg. 331.

19. Walvoord, location 6252.

Revelation 17 – Part 3

“But the angel said to me, ‘Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.” Revelation 17:7

The apostle John is so astonished by the wilderness vision he just received involving “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy” (17:3-6), that the angel said to him, Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.” (Revelation 17:7). The angel promises to explain the interpretation about “the mystery” of “the woman” (17:15-18)and “the beast” (17:8-14) she rides upon “which has the seven heads and the ten horns.”

First, he begins by sharing many details about “the beast” or Man of Sin. “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and shall be present.” (Revelation 17:8). When the angel says, “the beast” John “saw was, and is not,” he is referring to when the beast will be assassinated near the mid-point of the Tribulation period (17:8a; cf. 13:1-3). When the angel says the beast “will ascend out of the bottomless pit” where Satan currently lives (11:7), he is referring to a demon that will be released from the Abyss to resurrect and inhabit the beast (17:8b). 1 The phrase “will… go to destruction,” does not mean the beast will go back to the bottomless pit, but to eternal “destruction” (apōleian) in the lake of fire at the end of the Tribulation period (Revelation 19:20). 2

When the unsaved people of the world (“whose names are not written in the Book of Life”) see “the beast that was” alive and had conquered several countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia (cf. Daniel 11:26-45) while the Two Witnesses strike the rest of the earth with plagues during the first half of the Tribulation (11:3-6), and then is assassinated (“and is not”) near the mid-point of the Tribulation (13:3-4), and only to “be present” through the resurrection by a demonic spirit (17:8) to kill the Two Witnesses in Jerusalem near the midpoint of the Tribulation (11:7-10), these unsaved people “will marvel,” realizing this is no ordinary human being. It is at this point that the beast will take his place in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem where he will declare himself to be God (cf. Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Daniel 7:25). 3 

John is now given insight from the angel. “Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.” (Revelation 17:9). The “seven heads” of the beast “are seven mountains” or hills 4in the city of Rome 5 “on which the woman sits.” In the context of the first century, this could only refer to Rome which was known as “the city of the seven hills.” 6 In Revelation 17:18, John refers to Babylon as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” In the first century context when John wrote the book of Revelation, this could only refer to the city of Rome which ruled the world at that time. 7

“There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.” (Revelation 17:10). The “seven heads” of the beast also represent “seven kings” or kingdoms. At the time of John’s writing, “five” of these kingdoms have already “fallen,” including Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. 8 And “one is” currently in power (the Roman Empire) at the time of John’s writing, “and the other” kingdom, the revived Roman Empire (cf. Daniel 2:41-42; 7:7-8, 19-25) under the reign of the beast during the Tribulation (Revelation 13:1-10; 17:13), 9 “has not yet come.” This final kingdom will only last “a short time” – the last three and a half years of the Tribulation (cf. 12:13-14; 13:5). All these kingdoms either have persecuted or will persecute God’s people (cf. Ezekiel 29-30; Nahum 3:1-19; Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 50-51; Daniel 10:13; 11:2-4). 10

The final kingdom mentioned will be led by one of the seven kings. “The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to destruction.” (Revelation 17:11). As one “of the seven” kings, “the beast” or Man of Sin represents a kingdom. But as “the eighth,” he is viewed as the king of the revived Roman Empire – a king who is killed (“that was, and is not”) and comes back to life because of Satan’s work (cf. 13:3; 17:9). 11

Vacendak describes how this scene might unfold: “During the first three-and-a-half years of the seven-year Tribulation Period, a Middle-Eastern ruler whom Daniel calls ‘the king of the North’ (Daniel 11:36-45) will overthrow many countries including Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia. As he does this, the two witnesses in Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 11:3-12) will be striking the earth with troubles and plagues ‘as often as they desire’ (11:6). Near the mid-point of the Tribulation, the king of the North is assassinated… (13:3-4). This tyrant, whose kingdom and army had made some significant gains, is dead. Then the unimaginable occurs. A demonic spirit ‘will ascend out of the bottomless pit’ (17:8) and resurrect the king of the North’s dead body!

“Now empowered by Satan (cf. 13:2), as the two witnesses ‘finish their testimony, the Beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them’ (13:7). From there, he will proceed to the temple and commit the ‘abomination of desolation’ (Matthew 24:15), declaring to the world that he is God. The revived Roman Empire and its new emperor are alive and well! The prophet Daniel states that this new world leader ‘shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished’ (Daniel 11:36). 12

The interpreting angel will now explain the ten horns on the scarlet beast. “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.” (Revelation 17:12). The “ten horns” on the seven heads of the scarlet beast (17:3, 7) represent “ten kings” who will assist the beast in his worldwide kingdom during the last half of the Tribulation (cf. Daniel 7:23-24). Before the beast appoints them as leaders in his worldwide government, they are not yet kings – “they have received no kingdom as yet” – though it is possible they hold some form of leadership position in their countries. But the beast will offer them a political promotion, for they will “receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast” during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation when he rules the world (cf. Daniel 7:23-24). 13 

“These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.” (Revelation 17:13). These ten kings will all be “of one mind” with the beast during his worldwide reign and “they will give their power and authority to the beast.” There appears to be no show of force from the beast to win their loyalty. They will unite their political power to support the beast or Man of Sin.

“The original tower-of-Babel dream of a worldwide government with one ruler, one language, one religion, and one economy will finally be realized for a brief season – figuratively speaking, ‘for one hour’ (17:10, 12). We already see this desire for religious, spiritual, and political unity at work through such institutions as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Council of Churches. These attempts have always failed to bring about true peace and security – and until the Antichrist’s hostile takeover, their optimistic attempts will continue to fail. However, when the Antichrist takes the throne, the single world government and single world religion will finally emerge.” 14

“These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14). At the end of the Tribulation period, “these” ten kings will be part of an international coalition united under the authority of the beast, and they “will make war with the Lamb,” Jesus Christ, at the battle of Armageddon (16:14, 16; 19:19-21). No matter how much military fire power the beast’s armies will amass, they will be no match for their Opponent, as “the Lamb will overcome them” simply because “He is Lord of lords and King of kings.” We must never forget that the humble Lamb of God is also the all-powerful King and Lord of all!

Christ will descend from heaven with His own army consisting of believers from the church age and believers who died during the Tribulation who are “are called, chosen, and faithful” (cf. Revelation 19:7-14). These descriptive terms are reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Revelation 19:14 tells us that these soldiers who accompany Christ on white horses are “clothed in fine linen, white and clean,” suggesting they are overcoming believers who finished their lives on earth victoriously for Christ (cf. Revelation 3:5; 6:11). The fact that they are “faithful” also underscores their identity as overcomers. 15

During the Trump administration, the President was sharply criticized for wanting to make America great again because such an emphasis did not mesh with the movement toward globalism – the attitude or policy of placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations.

An example of globalism is the United Nation’s promise that if we all work together, we can turn our planet into some kind of “utopia,” but the truth is that all of this talk about “unity” masks a very insidious agenda. The following comes from a piece by Paul McGuire, the author of the book entitled “The Babylon Code: Solving the Bible’s Greatest End-Times Mysteries” (2015):

“The UN is not asking permission but issuing a command that the entire planet will commit to 17 sustainable development goals and 169 sustainable development targets designed to radically transform our world by 2030. The UN 2030 plan promoted by the Pope will advance Agenda 21 on steroids. Through a controlled media the mass populations will be told that this is all about saving the environment and ‘ending poverty.’ But that is not the true agenda of Agenda 21. The true agenda of Agenda 21 is to establish a global government, global economic system, and global religion. When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke of ‘a dream of a world of peace and dignity for all’ this is no different than when the Communists promised the people a ‘workers paradise.’”

As more and more emphasis is placed on unity at the expense of truth today in an effort to unite world religions, it is essential that Christians hold fast to the gospel of grace no matter what the cost. Why? Because Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), and his demonic armies have encouraged people to pursue the acquisition of eternal life through human effort and self-reliance down through the ages. He deceives human beings through the lie of self-reliance which says you can earn God’s forgiveness and acceptance by your own efforts. Or the Devil will encourage self-condemnation, the lie that a person’s bad works render him or her unlovable to God. Both Satanic approaches are based on the lie which says goods works are necessary for a relationship with God. 16

Contrary to Satan’s lies, the Bible tells us that God’s offer of salvation is solely by grace (undeserved favor) through faith in Jesus Christ apart from any works. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

To help us replace Satan’s self-reliance or self-condemnation lies with God’s truth, read the following false statements with the corresponding truth statements based on the Word of God. As you read the false statements, focus on the ones you believe are true. Then read their corresponding truth statements repeatedly until the truth statements feel true to you. 17 Ask the Holy Spirit to graciously replace these lies with God’s truth (Psalm 119:29).

False Statement #1: If I am a good person, I will go to heaven when I die.

Truth Statement #1: We can have eternal life because of what Jesus did on our behalf, not because of anything we do (Romans 5:8; 6:23; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).

False Statement #2: Since Jesus did not die for my sins, I must work to get to heaven.

Truth Statement #2: I cannot earn heaven by a life of good behavior because I cannot pay a debt that is already paid in full by Jesus Christ. Since God was forever satisfied with His perfect Son’s payment for all my sins (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:2), I must also be satisfied with what satisfies God by believing in Christ alone, not my good works, to get me to heaven (John 3:15-16; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).

False Statement #3: SinceJesus only paid for some of my sins, I must pay for the rest of my sins by doing good works.

Truth Statement #3: Since Jesus finished paying the full penalty for all my sins when He died in my place on the cross (John 19:30; Colossians 2:13-14), there is no need for me to believe in Christ plus my good works to get me to heaven. Because God was completely and forever satisfied with Jesus’ full payment for my sins (Isaiah 53:11; John 19:30; I John 2:2), I can also be satisfied with what satisfied God by believing in Christ alone, not Christ plus my good works, to get me to heaven (John 3:15-16; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).

False Statement #4: Nobody would love me as I am.

Truth Statement #4: God loves me regardless (Romans 5:6, 8).

False Statement #5: I could never be forgiven.

Truth Statement #5: I am totally forgiven in Christ (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14).

False Statement #6: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth Statement #6: I am totally accepted in Christ (Romans 8:1a; Ephesians 1:6).

False Statement #7: I am alone and unloved.

Truth Statement #7: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe (Psalm 27:10).

False Statement #8: God is against me.

Truth Statement #8: God is for me and not against me. The proof? He gave me His best – Jesus – when I was at my worst – an ungodly sinner (Romans 5:6, 8; 8:31-32).

False Statement #9: When I go through painful times, it must be because of my lack of faith or my disobedience.

Truth Statement #9: Though I might experience difficult times as part of God’s loving discipline to lead me to maturity (Hebrews 12:5-11), God never condemns or punishes me for sin (Romans 8:1, 34). Because I live in a fallen world corrupted by sin (Romans 8:20-23), I will experience hardship (John 16:33), but because of Christ I will never be judged for my sins (John 5:24).

False Statement #10: I cannot trust God.

Truth Statement #10: I can trust God because He is always good and tells the truth (John 1:14; 14:6; Psalm 34:8; Titus 1:2).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding me that world events are rapidly moving toward the original tower-of-Babel dream of a worldwide government with one ruler, one language, one religion, and one economy. Amid all the chaos and confusion in this world, thank You for speaking the truth to me. I need Your help to identify the lies that keep me relying on myself and my own efforts instead of on You and Your Word. I invite You right now Lord to show me the false beliefs I have so I can rely on You to replace them with Your truth. Please make me more like Your perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who is full of truth. Use me to proclaim Christ’s truth to a lost world so many people may come to believe in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life and be set free from Satan’s lies of self-reliance and self-condemnation. In Jesus’ mighty name, I 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. 1565.  

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. The Greek word for “mountains” is orē which can also mean “hills” – see 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. 724.

5. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 321.

6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2410.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1568.

8. Constable, pg. 188.

9. Pentecost, pp. 316-320.

10.Constable, pg. 188.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1565.

12. Ibid., pg. 1566.

13. Ibid.

14. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 313-314.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1567.

16. Swindoll, pg. 315.

17. Some of the following false versus truth statements are adapted from Swindoll, pp. 315-316.

Revelation 2 – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Ibid., pg. 36.

10. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1505.

11. Constable, pg. 37.

12. Vacendak, pp. 1505-1506.

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

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

15. Vacendak, pg. 1506.

16. Dillow, pp. 962-963.

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

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

Revelation 1 – Part 2

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7

In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, the apostle John explains that the message of this book is from and about Jesus Christ, especially as it relates to end-time events (1:1-2). The promise of a special blessing is given to encourage readers to prepare for what is going to take place in the future (1:3).

John then addresses his readers. 4 John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 1:4-5). John sent this letter (all of Revelation) “to the seven churches” which are addressed in chapters 2 and 3. The number “seven” signifies completion or fullness in the Bible which can be taken to mean this message is for the “whole” church throughout history, including all of us today. These seven churches were in the Roman province of “Asia” Minor or western modern Turkey.

Notice that John extends “grace” before “peace” to his readers (1:4b). Why does he do this? Before undeserving sinners can experience “peace” with God, they must be saved by God’s “grace” or undeserved favor. “God doesn’t save us because of any good thing we have done, will do, or even promise to do. God saves us solely by His grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is God’s gift to undeserving sinners—we must never forget that! The result of this precious grace is a relationship that offers us true peace that overcomes any trials and tribulations the world can bring. What a reassuring greeting to the members of the persecuted church! Though John will later describe judgment and distress that will overtake wicked unbelievers in the future, God’s own people receive grace and peace.” 2

What about you, my friend? Have you found peace with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? The Bible says, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved from hell “through faith.” Not through religion or regulations. Not through our good works or morality. It is through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Too many churches are saying we are saved through faith plus… I believe this must break God’s heart. Because when we say it takes more than faith in Jesus to save us from hell, we are saying to God, “Your Son’s death was disappointing. Jesus paid for some of my sins, but I must pay for the rest of my sins.” In other words, we are telling God that Jesus did not get the job done, so we have to help Him. But listen: Jesus does not need our help to save us from our sins. He did not make a down payment for our sins when He died on the cross. He made the full payment for our sins. That is why He said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He finished paying the penalty for all our sins when He died in our place. He simply asks us to humbly accept His free gift by faith. And when we do, we are saved forever!

This wonderful salvation is “the gift of God.” Do you ever have to pay to receive a gift? No. Why? Because a gift is already paid for. Salvation is free to you and me because Jesus Christ already paid for it all when He died for our sins and rose from the dead. The hand that receives the gift of salvation is our faith in Jesus Christ. The moment we believe in Jesus for His gift of salvation, “we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1).

John tells us that “grace” and “peace” are from the Triune God. First, he refers to God the Father when he writes, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4c; cf. Revelation 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). This brings to remembrance the “I AM” of Exodus 3:14-15. God the Father transcends all of time – past, present, and future. He was in control of our past. He is in control of our present. And He will be in control of our future no matter what we face. This is important to remember when we read through the series of judgments in the book of Revelation. God’s abiding presence in our lives enables us to experience His peace which surpasses human understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Next, we see that “grace” and “peace” are also from God the Holy Spirit. John writes, “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne” (1:4d). Remember the number “seven” represents completion or fullness in the Bible. In Revelation 4:5, we read, “Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (cf. Zechariah 4:2-7; Isaiah 11:2-3). The Holy Spirit gives “perfect illumination and insight concerning all that transpires everywhere. By this perfect wisdom God rules the universe. The imagery of God’s throne is used throughout the rest of the book (the word throne is used forty-two times). The believers of the seven churches undoubtedly received great encouragement from this greeting as it emphasizes that God is at work in their lives with complete awareness as well as perfect insight.” 3

We may think that God is distant or doesn’t care about us when we face difficult times. God wants to remind us that He is fully aware of our needs and circumstances, and He is at work in our lives. In fact, the Bible tells us that when are in so much pain that we do not know how to pray, the Holy Spirit will intercede for us to God the Father (Romans 8:26-27). He fights for us before the throne of God.

John introduces God the Son last in this acknowledgment perhaps to emphasize His importance: “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth” (1:5a). The Lord Jesus is described as “the faithful witness.” Throughout His entire earthly ministry, Jesus was faithful to share the truth He had received from His Father in heaven (John 3:11, 32; 4:44; 7:7; 8:14-18; 18:37). This would be especially true concerning the future events He would disclose in this letter. As “the firstborn from the dead,” Jesus was the first to rise from the dead and remain alive forever, making Him superior to all others. When John says that Jesus is “the ruler over the kings of the earth,” he is looking ahead to Christ’s future ministry after His Second Coming to earth (see Revelation 11:15; 19:15-20:6). 

John is so overtaken with joy at the mention of the glorious and majestic Lord Jesus Christ, that he breaks forth into praise: 5 To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and He made us into a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5b-6 NKJV NASB). John gives glory to God the Son since this is the primary purpose of the book of Revelation. John ascribes “glory and…  dominion” to Jesus who has always “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” In giving glory to Jesus, John first “draws our attention back to the cross where he had once stood as an eyewitness to the sufferings of his Savior (John 19:26-27, 35). By the shedding of His blood, Christ paid the debt in full for the sins of the world and thereby released believers from the guilt and penalty of their sins. On our behalf, He conquered death and gave new life to all who believe.” 5

No one loves us as much as Jesus. How do I know this? Because He “washed us from our sins in His own blood” the moment we believed in Him. Another evidence of His love for us is that “He made us into a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” The moment you and I believe in Jesus for His gift of salvation, we are placed in His “kingdom” (corporately) as “priests” (individually) “to His God and Father.” This emphasis on God’s love at the beginning of this book would be a great source of comfort for his readers considering the following revelation of much judgment to come on humanity (Revelation 6-19). Everything God does is because He loves His people. 6

The first prophetic utterance in the book of Revelation is given in the next verse: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7). In verses 5 and 6 John focused on how worthy Jesus is of eternal “glory” and “dominion.” But now he sees Christ coming back to earth to obtain this “glory” and “dominion.” This verse announces the climactic event in Revelation, namely, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth at His Second Coming (Revelation 19:11-16).  All that takes place between this verse and Revelation 19:11-16 leads up to that event.

The word “Behold” (Idou) draws attention to what follows. 7  To put it in our own vernacular – “Stop whatever you are doing and pay attention to what I am about to say! You don’t want to miss this!”

This Jesus Who washed us from our sins in His own blood at His First Coming is coming back to earth again this time “with clouds.” Just as Jesus ascended physically and visibly to heaven with a cloud (Acts 1:9-11), so He will return from heaven to earth physically and visibly with clouds. As Christ gradually descends out of the sky to destroy His enemies at the end of the Tribulation (Revelation 19:11-21), “every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him.” “All mankind will have the opportunity to witness the return of Christ to earth, including Jews, Who will mourn their crucifixion and prolonged rejection of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:37). The phrase ‘all the tribes of the earth (gēs)’ is a reference to every nation on the planet (the same Greek phrase is used in the LXX in Genesis 12:3; 28:14; Psalm 72:17; and Zechariah 14:17 in reference to the entire earth). John is elated that both Jews and Gentiles will believe in Christ and mourn over their mistreatment of Him. Thus, he proclaims, ‘Even so, Amen. (Emphasis added)’ ” 8

This Second Coming of Christ to earth (Revelation 1:7) is in in contrast to the future Rapture or sudden removal of the Church which will probably not be visible to everyone (I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 4:1-4) because it will take place suddenly. Only those who are “in Christ” (believers in Jesus) will hear “the trumpet of God” sound (I Thessalonians 4:16) when the Rapture takes place.

Other contrasts in the Bible between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ to earth include the following:

a. The Rapture is imminent – it could happen at any moment (Matthew 24:36-51; I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), whereas the Second Coming is preceded by numerous signs (outpouring of Spirit, prophesy, dreams, visions, blood, fire, columns of smoke, warfare, darkening of sun and moon, unprecedented suffering, etc. (Matthew 24:4-35; Joel 2:28-32; Revelation 6-18).

b. The Rapture removes believers (Matthew 24:40-41; I Thessalonians 4:13-18) whereas in the Second Coming, Christ returns with believers to the earth (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:8, 14).

c. The Rapture results in the removal of the church and the start of the Tribulation (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), whereas the Second Coming results in the return of the church to earth and the start of the 1000-year-rule of Christ on earth (Revelation 19:8, 11-20:6).

d. The Rapture brings a message of hope and comfort (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), whereas the Second Coming brings a message of judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:3-9; Revelation 19:11-21).

e. The Rapture of the church was previously unknown (“mystery,” I Corinthians 15:51-58) to the Old Testament writers, whereas the Second Coming is predicted in both Old and New Testaments (Joel 2:28-32; Zechariah 14; Matthew 24:4-30; Mark 13:24-26).

f. At the Rapture, the Lord takes believers from earth to heaven “to the Father’s house” (John 14:3); at the Second Coming, believers return from heaven to the earth (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19:8, 11-21).

g. At the Rapture, Christians are judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:1-5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 4:4), but at the Second Coming, Gentile nations are judged (Matthew 25:31-46).

h. The Rapture is before the day of wrath (I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11), but the Second Coming concludes the day of wrath (Revelation 11:15-18; 19:11-20).  

i. At the Rapture, Christ comes in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), but at the Second Coming Christ comes to the earth (Zechariah 14:4).

j. At the Rapture, Christ claims His bride (John 14:2-3; I Thessalonians 4:13-18), at the Second Coming, Christ comes with His bride (Revelation 19:8, 14).

k. At the Rapture, Christ gathers His own (I Thessalonians 4:16-17), but at the Second Coming, angels gather the elect (Matthew 24:31).

l. At the Rapture, Christ comes to reward (I Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 22:12), at the Second Coming, Christ comes to judge (Matthew 25:31-46).

m. At the Rapture, Christ comes as the Bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), but at the Second Coming, Christ comes as the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2).

Next Jesus confirms the preceding prophetic forecast of His return to earth (Revelation 1:7) with a solemn affirmation of His eternality and omnipotence: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8). “The Alpha and Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and signify here, Jesus’ comprehensive control over all things—including time (cf. Revelation 21:6; 22:13). He is in control of the past (“who was”), the present (“who is”), and the future (“who is to come”). Christ is the Creator of all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2), and He will bring history to its conclusion. Christ is yesterday, today, and tomorrow because he exists eternally. 9

Jesus is “the Almighty.” The Greek word for “Almighty” is pantokratōr, “the all-powerful One.” It is used ten times in the New Testament, nine of them in Revelation (2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). 10  Because Jesus is the all-powerful God, He has the ability to bring to pass the promise of His Second Coming to earth. 11

In conclusion, the fulfillment of Jesus’ visible and bodily return to earth to defeat His enemies (Revelation 19:11-21), is based upon the Triune God’s power to fulfill His promises and plans (Revelation 1:4-8). Since God has the power to bring His prophetic predictions to pass, He also has the power to fulfill His individual plans for each of us. His power cannot only save us from an eternity separated from Him, but it can also give us peace which surpasses human understanding during times of distress. Therefore, we can trust Him to take care of us.

Prayer: Father God, thank You so much for giving us Your grace which saves underserved sinners from hell forever the moment we put our faith in Christ alone. This same grace can also give us peace as we face tribulation and distress in our modern world. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for washing us clean of all our sins with Your shed blood the moment we believed in You. No one loves us like You do, Lord. Because You are in control of our past, present, and future, we can trust You to take care of us during these uncertain times. Nothing is too hard for You, Lord God Almighty. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), g. 2368.

2. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 35.

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. 1496-1497.

4. Ibid., pg. 1497.

5. Swindoll, pg. 36.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 16.

7. 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. 468.

8. Vacendak, pp. 1497-1498.

9. Evans, pg. 2369.

10. 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.

11. Vacendak, pg. 1498.

How will you respond to Christ crucified? Part 3

“Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” John 18:40

In John 18:28-19:4, we are looking at different responses to Christ crucified. So far we have learned that …

– Like the Jewish leaders, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because of our self-righteous religious pride (John 18:28-32).

– Like Pilate, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because we are too busy with life to truly live (John 18:33-38a).

The third possible way we might respond to Christ crucified is the best way. SIMILAR TO BARABBAS, WE TRUST IN JESUS’ DEATH IN OUR PLACE FOR OUR SINS (John 18:38b-40). When Pilate declared to the Jews, “I find no fault in Him at all” (John 18:38b), it was a reminder that Jesus would die like a Passover lamb, a male in its prime without blemish (cf. Exodus 12:5; I Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, would die for you and me so we would not have to die forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). But we must come to Jesus on His terms which means believing in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life to escape the eternal punishment of the lake of fire (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15).

Pilate said to the Jews, 39 But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews? 40 Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:39-40). Rather than releasing Jesus on the basis of His obvious innocence, Pilate sought to avoid insulting the Sanhedrin by appealing to the Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner during their Passover feast. Pilate’s main concern was to minimize trouble rather than secure justice. If He pronounced Jesus innocent, he would offend the Jewish leaders. But if he pronounced Jesus guilty, he would offend Jesus’ followers. So he tries to satisfy everyone by implying Jesus’ guilt and releasing Him on the basis of the Passover custom. 

Pilate puts forward Jesus, whom he rightly calls “the King of the Jews,” and a notorious “robber” named “Barabbas.” Pilate is thinking that this crowd that had just days before spread palm leaves on Jesus’ path and shouted “Hosanna” as He passed (John 12:12-15; cf. Luke 19:28-38) would select Him to be released. But John tells us, “Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ ” (John 18:40a). Barabbas was more dangerous to people than to property. He committed murder in connection with insurrection (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19). Barabbas did what Jesus refused to do – take the lead in an armed revolt against Rome. The Jews ignored the obvious innocence of Jesus and freed a murderer. “Don’t miss that the leaders preferred a criminal who had fought for physical deliverance from Rome because that’s all they cared about. They wanted political deliverance from Gentile rule, when what they needed was spiritual deliverance from sin.” 1

Barabbas’ freedom was at Christ’s expense. That is the gospel message. The guilty is released and the innocent is condemned. The Jews were so hostile toward Jesus that they ignored His innocence. Their minds were so made up that the facts about Jesus’ innocence did not matter. Christ did not deserve this condemnation, yet He willingly subjected Himself to it for our sakes (cf. 2 Corinthians  5:21; I Peter 2:22-24; 3:18).

But let’s not overlook how this must have impacted Barabbas. Imagine Barabbas waiting on death row in a Roman prison for the verdict knowing that he could be executed any day. Prisoners didn’t have any rights in those days. It was over for him. There was no hope. He was a murderer who deserved death, and deep down he knew it. Each passing day was one day closer to certain death. He may have been imagining it—the flogging, mocking, and eventual death. It was coming.

And then the day comes. He can hear the shouts ringing throughout the courtyard: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Perhaps he was thinking to himself, “They are coming for me.” The guards open the door to his cell and drag him outside. But then something amazing happens. Everyone is celebrating his new freedom. His chains are released, and he is set free. The murderer is set free.

Put yourself in his sandals for a minute. You are walking to your death in chains and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, you are a free man. Then you hear the words begin: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13-14; Luke 23:21). And you see another man walking by. Those chants are not for you. The guards are dragging another man to his death – Jesus of Nazareth. He is beaten and flogged and is forced to carry His cross to His death. It’s the very cross you had imagined yourself carrying only moments earlier. You think to yourself, that’s my death He’s dying. Barabbas is the one person in history who could say that Jesus literally carried his cross. Jesus took his death, and Barabbas was given the freedom Jesus deserved. Jesus bore the guilt and shame and curse and disgrace and death that Barabbas deserved. Barabbas received the release, the freedom, and the life that Jesus deserved. It was an incredible scene. 2

And the truth is, Barabbas represents all of us. 3  He should have been on the cross instead of Jesus because he was guilty and deserved to die. You may protest, “But I’m not a robber!” But we have all robbed God of His rightful glory and control over our lives. You may come back, “But at least I’m not a murderer!” But Jesus said that if we are wrongfully angry with our brother, we are guilty of murder in God’s sight (Matthew 5:21-22). “But,” you still protest, “I’ve never led an armed rebellion against the government.” True, but we are all rebels against the King of the universe. We have all sinned against God and His rightful rule in our lives.

Also, Barabbas did nothing to earn his pardon. He wasn’t pardoned because of his good behavior or promises to change. If anything, he was pardoned because of how notoriously evil he was. He couldn’t brag after he got out about how he deserved to be pardoned. He couldn’t claim that he was pardoned for his exemplary behavior. In the same way, the Bible says that God justifies the ungodly not through their good works, but by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:4-5). None of us can boast in ourselves when Jesus saves us because our salvation is based on His finished work, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Jesus died in Barabbas’ place. Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father,” should have been on the cross that day. Instead, the One Who is the eternal Son of the eternal Father hung there in Barabbas’ place. Jesus died in his place – and in your place and mine.

Let me ask you something. Suppose you were a pilot of a plane that became disabled. Your course is headed straight toward a residential area as the plane descends. You have a parachute and could jump to safety, but you must do it at an altitude allowing the plane to crash and kill many. Your other option is to fly the plane and guide it toward a vacant area, but there would be no time to jump to safety. You would die, but others would be spared. Which would you do? Let me tell you what one man did.

Twenty-four-year-old Vinson Kyle Perdue, a United States Air Force pilot, died when his disabled warplane crashed. Instead of parachuting to safety, Perdue apparently stayed with the plane to steer it away from a residential area.

Amy White, who lived near the crash site, was quoted as saying, “I know he went down with that plane so it wouldn’t hit anyone’s house. It would’ve hit my house if he didn’t maneuver that plane.” (Adapted from Dallas Times Herald, August 26, 1981). 4

Jesus Christ could have parachuted and jumped. In other words, He could have escaped His persecutors and refused to die for Barabbas and for us. Instead, He took the punishment for our sins and died so that we could live. He substituted His life in our place.

But Barabbas’ pardon was not automatic. He could have spit in Pilate’s face and said, “I don’t need your pardon! Crucify me!” And, he would have been crucified, while a different prisoner would have been released. In the same way, the pardon that Christ offers to all is only applied to the person who receives it by faith. Jesus promises, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.(John 3:16). Like Barabbas, the guilty rebel, you have got to appropriate by faith the pardon that Christ’s death offers you.

Some people use the word “believe” in our English sense of the word. They mentally assent to the fact Christ died and arose, but they are still depending on their works to get them to heaven. The word “believe” in the Bible means that if a person mentally assents to the fact that Christ died for his or her sins and arose, they trust in Christ alone to get them to heaven. 5

Let me share an illustration. “Picture a luxury liner cruising in the Pacific Ocean. It begins taking on water and lifeboats become a necessity. Three passengers find themselves in different situations. The first has no knowledge that lifeboats save and therefore never steps into one. The second understands that lifeboats save but for some reason refuses to step into one. The third passenger not only understands the ability of a lifeboat to save, but accepts as being true that the lifeboat has the ability to save. The passenger therefore steps into the lifeboat and in so doing relies upon it as the means of salvation.

“Which of the three is saved? The answer is obvious. The last passenger had knowledge and used it. A person is saved when he or she understands the ability Christ has to save and acts on that knowledge by trusting Christ. That is saving faith. One is not saved by simply understanding that Christ died and arose or even mentally assenting to that being a fact of history while depending on one’s good life for salvation. One is saved when as a sinner deserving of hell, one has trusted Christ alone for salvation.” 6

If you have never understood this before, and now you are transferring all your trust onto to Christ alone Who died in your place for all yours sins, you may tell God this through prayer. Keep in mind that praying a prayer is not what gets us to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Christ alone gets us to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, I realize that I am like Barabbas. I was hopelessly condemned. I deserved to die on that cross because I have sinned against You with my thoughts, words, and actions. But Your love broke through for me when You bore the curse, the disgrace, the guilt, the shame, and the death that I deserved when You took my place on that cross. You were completely innocent, yet out of love for me, You took the abuse, the beating, the insults, and humiliation that I should have received. Thank You so much for dying in my place and rising from the dead. I am now trusting in You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You for the forgiveness and eternal life I now have. Thank You that I am now free from eternal condemnation and slavery to sin. Use me as You deem best to fulfill Your purposes for Your glory. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please download our digital “Pressing On” discipleship training materials (see above) to go through with others who do not know Jesus as their Savior.   

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1821.

2. Dave Furman credits this descriptive scene in his article on March 28, 2018 entitled “We Are Barabbas”at https://www.crossway.org/articles/we-are-barabbas/ to Timothy J. Keller, Mark 15:1–15, King’s Cross: The Gospel of Mark, Part 2: The Journey to the Cross” (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, March 11, 2007).

3. Adapted from Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)” at www.Bible.org.

4. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012) pg. 235.

5. R. Larry Moyer, Free and Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), pg. 41.

6. Ibid.

Lesson 1 Part 2 – Sharing the Gospel (Video)

This video provides practical instruction on how to share the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ with those who do not have Christ in their lives. If you are eager to introduce people to the Savior of the world, this video will equip you to do just that! This video is also great for those who do not know for sure they will go to heaven when they die. The contents of this video will clearly show them from the Bible what they must know and believe to go to heaven.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 6 (Video)

This is the sixth video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the sixth miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving His miraculous healing of a man born blind (John 9:1-41).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from Jesus.net, www.GoodSalt.com,  John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, or they are creative common licenses. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

Keeping our faith alive in uncertain times

Inspired by a true story, the movie Rugged Gold is about a pregnant newlywed named Martha Martin who is separated by an earthquake from her son and miner husband in 1950s Alaska. This is a story about survival – staying alive under horrible circumstances. Martha Martin overcomes severe injuries, delivers her own baby, faces off with a Grizzly and wins, and endures a brutal winter with the hope of being reunited with her son and newlywed husband. Martha did everything she could to keep herself alive.

As we face all kinds of challenges this year including COVID-19 and social unrest revolving around the color of a person’s skin, it is essential that we as Christians be willing to do whatever it takes to keep our faith alive.

But how does a Christian do this? How does a believer in Jesus Christ keep their faith alive and energized? Turn to James 2:14-26 and find out. Many people have understood James 2:14-26 to teach that good works are necessary for eternal salvation. These verses are misunderstood by some to be written to professing Christians whose faith must be tested to see if it is genuine. But James is not addressing the eternal destiny of his readers because they are genuine Christians. James describes them as… “brethren” (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; et. al.), those who are “born from above” (James1:17-18), and those who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). James understands, however, that it would be easy to downgrade works where it was taught that justification before God was by faith alone in Christ alone.

Although these were genuine Christians, they were immature and disobedient (cf. James 3:1-5:6), and they were in danger of experiencing both the damaging consequences of sin now (James 1:15-16, 21; 5:19-20) and an unfavorable evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future (James 2:12-13; 5:7-9). To preserve their souls/lives from the ruin of sin now and a negative assessment at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future, they are to obey God’s Word (James 1:21-25). So James is writing to them to help them put their faith into action – to keep their faith alive.

How do we keep our faith alive in these uncertain times?

1. GET INVOLVED WITH OTHERS (James 2:14-17). “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). This verse has caused a lot of concern for many people over the years. Martin Luther was so distraught over this verse that he wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible because he felt it contradicted the great truth that led to the Reformation – Paul’s justification by faith alone apart from works. Clearly, James makes works a condition for salvation as the question, “Can faith save him?” (James 2:14b) expects a negative answer. “Of course, faith without works cannot save him.” James says a faith without works cannot save you.

But the apostle Paul says a faith with works won’t save you. “Now to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul and James seem to contradict each other. James says you cannot be saved without works. Paul says you cannot be saved by faith with works.

The reason James and Paul differ with each other is because they are talking to two different groups.  When Paul is talking to sinners about how to become a saint, he says it is by faith alone apart from works (Romans 4:5-6). But notice who James is talking to. Christians or non-Christians? “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Notice the phrase,  “My brethren…” These people are brothers in Christ. They are saved from hell. So when James talks to saints about how to experience the God who has already saved them from hell, he says it by faith with works (James 2:14-26). If you want to know how to get to heaven, read Paul. If you want to know how to bring heaven to earth because you are already saved from hell, read James.

So do works have any part in getting us to heaven? No. Faith in Christ alone is the only basis of eternal salvation from hell. Eternal salvation is a gift, not of works lest anyone should boast. No person can take credit for his salvation from hell because it is apart from works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6). If works are made a condition for getting to heaven, then eternal salvation can no longer be said to be attained by grace. So James cannot be talking about eternal salvation by grace because God’s Word does not contradict itself.

So what kind of salvation is being addressed in James 2:14? Faith without works cannot save us from what? The word “save” (sozo) in the New Testament doesn’t always refer to salvation from hell. In fact 70% of the time the word “save” in the New Testament refers to deliverance from circumstances. For example,  when Jesus’s disciples were about to drown in the midst of a storm at sea, they said to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25). They were referring to being saved from physical death. In I Timothy 2, when Paul was talking about the role of men and women in the church, he said, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:15). The context is talking about women being restricted from teaching or leading men in the local church. So Paul is talking about women being saved from this restriction through childbearing, that is,  she is able to teach and lead her children and be fulfilled doing so if her children continue in these godly virtues.

What James is telling us is that faith without works will not save us from what he has already discussed in the book. First, faith without works won’t save us from A LIFE RUINED BY SIN. James 1:19-22 says,19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James tells the saved how to save their souls from a life ruined by sin. They must be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

James warns his readers, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15).  If believers pursue sin long enough and hard enough, it will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them. So the way to be saved from a life ruined by sin is to do what God says to do.

Secondly, faith without works will not save us from AN UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. “12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). The Bible tells us that all Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ after they die or are raptured to have their Christian lives evaluated to determine what if any rewards they will receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11). If we are critical and merciless toward people now, then God will show less mercy to us when He judges our lives in the future. So can faith alone save us? No, James says faith without works cannot save us from a life ruined by sin or from an unfavorable judgment in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

James then gives an illustration of this. 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Just as words of assurance from some ungenerous believer cannot save his naked and starving Christian brother or sister from physical death, so too, faith without works cannot save our lives from the consequences of sin. Correct beliefs, such as Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, or salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, cannot save us from a life ruined by sin any more than warm wishes will save a needy brother from physical death.

You can have accurate theology and be useless to God and others. There are Christians who have sound theology but they are useless to God! They can dot their i’s and cross their t’s but they are not seeing their souls saved from the power of sin. They are not seeing their lives transformed by the grace of God. Why? Because their orthodoxy has not become orthopraxy. Because they are not putting their faith to work. Sometimes we say, “I’m waiting on God.” But could it be that God is waiting on you? If we want to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must go beyond the well wishes and desires to help others and actively get involved with them.

For example, we can say, “I love people of all colors,” but if we are not actively getting involved with people from other cultures or ethnicities, we are not demonstrating the truth of our words. Our faith will not grow in this area if we are merely hearers and not doers.  

Notice that James is talking about helping a needy Christian “brother” in these verses. He is not talking about giving handouts to some stranger who is begging for food or clothing. We are to give priority to believers first. This was especially true in James’s day when Christians were actively being persecuted by the Roman government. We need to balance this with other Scripture. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Free food (or clothing or money, etc.) should not be given to those who can work but choose not to. To do so rewards laziness and irresponsibility. God wants us to get involved in needy peoples’ lives, starting with the church.

If you are feeling down, one of the best ways to get picked up is to focus on the needs of other people. Just talking about it isn’t going to benefit the needy people in your church or community. We must put our faith into action. The more you get involved with needy people, the stronger your faith will become in the Lord.

Look at what James says next, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17).Faith without works is a “dead” or useless faith that has lost its fervor or fire for Christ. Faith without works is dead – useless, unproductive just as idle words are useless to a brother or sister in need.

If all we ever do is talk about reaching and teaching people for Christ, but we never act on it, then our faith becomes useless to others. Reaching and teaching people for Christ is what the United States of America needs more than anything right now in the midst of these troubling times. Until people obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), they are not going to have peace with themselves or other people regardless of the color of their skin (cf. Ephesians 2:8-18).

A dead faith means the believer has lost his fire or fervor for Christ. If I were to visit another church and upon leaving I said to my wife, “This church is dead,” I’m not saying there are no born-again Christians there. I am saying that church is not on fire for Christ. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it.

What does a dead body and a dead faith have in common? Both are immobile and inactive. They also tend to decay and stink. If we fail to do good works, our faith will lose its vitality, it will weaken, and eventually decay and stink. Like a dead car battery, it is useless. It was once alive, but it has become dead or useless due to a lack of use. But the way to jump start a dead faith is to put it to work.

In James 2:18-19, James encounters a skeptic. This skeptic insists that there is no connection between faith and works in order to justify his carnal lifestyle (James 2:18-19). This skeptical person objects to James’s view of faith and works by saying it is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). In other words, this person says, “Let’s say you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and show what it is that I believe.”

Then in James 2:19 the objector tries to illustrate that there is no connection between faith and works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). The skeptic is saying that the demons believe in the oneness of God, the same way James does, who does good, but they only tremble instead of doing good. He is saying that faith cannot be made visible in works! Why would someone argue this way? Because his beliefs are not supported by his behavior. “Faith and good works are not related to each other so don’t criticize me if I don’t practice what I preach.”

Some use James 2:19 to say that believing in Christ is not enough to be saved from hell because the demons believe in God, but are not saved because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him. Let me point out some things to note about James 2:19:

1. Jesus did not die for demons, He died for people (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41), not because they lack insufficient faith. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.

2. Belief that God is one is not saving. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons do really believe there is only one God, but believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. There are many world religions and cults that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Corinthians 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.

3. Since the words of James 2:19 belong to a skeptic, they should not be used to prove such an important theological point. Using this verse to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication. 

The second way to keep your faith alive in uncertain times is to 2. GIVE GOD YOUR OBEDIENCE (James 2:20-26). In James 2:20-25, James refutes the skeptic’s arguments by referring to two supreme examples of faith’s connection with works. The way to fire up a Christian’s faith is to PUT IT TO WORK like Rahab and Abraham put their faith to work and were justified before men (James 2:23-25). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). James reaffirms that faith without works is dead or useless. The issue is that your faith is unproductive. The Lord is pleading with us in this passage to put our faith in gear and move out! Don’t sit back on the fact that you are saved forever and God’s never going to kick you out of His family, and therefore you become a lazy Christian.

He then states that Abraham was justified by works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). It was well known to James and his readers that Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) about thirty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). His justification before God was apart from works (Romans 4). If Abraham had failed to obey God in offering up Isaac, would he have remained justified before the Lord? Yes, because justification before God is always based on faith alone, not good works whether before, during or after your conversion. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” (Romans 4:5-6).

James goes on to say in “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22). Abraham’s original justifying faith was strengthened and matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac. How? His faith grew from a conviction that God could overcome his inability to have children to the assurance that God could actually resurrect his son’s own body from physical death. Hebrews 11:17-19 says,17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”

James continues, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23). Abraham’s original justifying faith before God was “fulfilled” or “filled-full” of meaning as a result of this act of obedience. His obedience revealed his faith to men. The Scriptures were fulfilled in that Abraham showed his faith by his works. His obedience justified him before men in such a way as to show him to be righteous on a practical level. People could say Abraham was a “friend of God.” Friendship with God requires obedience. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus was speaking to the believing disciples when He spoke these words in John 15. They were already saved. This is why James 2:24 speaks of two kinds of justification.

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). The word “only” is an adverb and modifies the verb “justified” implied in the second clause. Thus it could be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) by faith.” There is a justification by works and a justification by faith. Justification by works is before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Romans 4:2). People can be justified by works, but not before God. Why? Because God can see faith without works. He knows life is there apart from our works. This is why justification before God is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5; cf. Genesis 15:6). But people cannot see faith apart from works. Hence, justification by works is before men, justification by faith is before God. James never speaks of justification by faith and works. He doesn’t say Abraham was justified by faith and works at the same time, nor does he say Rahab was.

“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story is clear. The Israelites were going to take Jericho. The Jewish spies came in to spy out the land. Rahab, “the harlot” – the prostitute, the hooker, the whore – the woman who lived a life of failure – hid them and then secretly sent them out so they could escape. Rahab’s physical life was saved because she had works. God saw Rahab’s faith when she “received the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). But men could not see her faith until she acted on it by “sending them out another way” (James 2:25b). Rahab was truly a friend of God because she was their friend. While all of Jericho perished under God’s judgment, Rahab lived because her faith lived! So yes, faith can be shown to men from our works. Abraham did it and was called the friend of God. Rahab did it by sending the spies away safely.  

We are called to act upon the faith that we have. We can know what is right. We can already be saved from Hell. We can come to church two or three times a week. We can be on our way to heaven and yet not experience heaven as a part of history! Until we act upon the Word of God and start living it out, what does it profit? Faith without works will not profit a brother or sister in need of food or clothing nor will it profit the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26). James compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. When does a human body die? When it loses its spirit which keeps it alive. When does a Christian’s faith die? When he stops using it. Like a muscle, if you stop using it, it atrophies and withers away. You won’t experience the transforming power of God if you stop putting your faith to work! Just as the human spirit gives life to the body, good works give life to your faith (James 2:26). You can have correct belief and lots of Bible knowledge, but if you stop acting on that belief and knowledge, your faith will weaken and become a creedal corpse.

A little girl who really believed in prayer, had a brother who made a trap that caught little sparrows, and she prayed that it would fail. Suddenly, for three days her face was radiant when she prayed and her absolute faith in the futility of the trap was so noticeable that her mother asked, “Julia, how can you be so confident?” Julia smiled, “Because, dear Mama, I went out three days ago and kicked that trap to pieces.” She literally put her faith to work.

If we are going to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must put it to work. Not by kicking traps, but by meeting the felt needs of the people God is calling us to reach – by introducing them to Christ and by discipling them and sending them out to do the same. We can decide today how we will live our lives in these chaotic times. Will you choose to keep your faith alive and vigorous by putting it to work in obedience to God? God wants our faith to thrive, not die. What about you?

Prayer: Precious Lord, this message really cuts deep into my apathetic heart. My knowledge of the truth can grow greatly, but if I do not put it into practice, my faith becomes dead or useless to You and to others. No wonder I have lost my fervor for You Lord Jesus. My head is swollen with Bible knowledge, but my heart is cold because I have not applied what I already know to be true. This world would be a much better place if all Christians would put what they know into practice. Lord, I want to be a part of the solution to the world’s problems by putting my faith to work. It is so easy for me to sit back and criticize others for doing very little while I, too, talk about faith more than I live it out. Forgive me, Lord, for being preoccupied with myself and what I know to be true instead of putting it into practice. Please show me whom You want me to get involved with so they can benefit from my relationship with You and come to know You as their Savior. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

How can we experience God’s life-giving Word? Part 4

“So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household.’” John 4:53

The final way to experience the life-giving word of Christ is THROUGH TRUSTING IN CHRIST’S PERSON (John 4:51-54). Jesus and His disciples remained in Cana that night, but the nobleman did not. He started back to Capernaum alone that evening over the Galilean hills. After dark, he probably stopped to sleep, then arose early the next morning and started on his way. He then noticed some travelers coming his way. “And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, ‘Your son lives!’”(John 4:51). Momentarily shaken, the nobleman realizes that these words were similar to Jesus’s words the night before.

Recovering his composure, he thought of a question. Perhaps his son’s healing was a coincidence. Perhaps when he left home his son had begun to get better by himself. If that were the case, his trip to see Jesus would have been needless. There’s one way to find out. “Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’” (John 4:52). The seventh hour would have been 1 p.m. when the fever left his son. Fever left him? So, it wasn’t a matter of beginning to get better, but of getting well all at once. Jesus’s words were not the start of a process of healing, but the point at which his son’s health was completely restored.

The Person who spoke these words with such a miraculous result, unhindered by the hills and valleys that separated Him from the nobleman’s sick son, was no ordinary man. After all, had it not been the word of the Creator God that caused all things to leap from nothingness into existence?! 6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth… 9 For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalm 33:6, 9).

This was the Messiah-God, the Christ. The nobleman believed in Jesus at this moment for eternal life. “So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives.’ And he himself believed, and his whole household. This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.” (John 4:53-54). What did the nobleman do after he believed in Christ alone for eternal life? He “ate his food” as we learned in the last chapter – he led his whole “household” (family and servants) to believe in Christ. It probably didn’t take long for the family to be convinced of their need to believe in Christ. The power of Jesus’s Word was the same from Samaria to Galilee, from Sychar to Capernaum. The power of Jesus’s word creates life in every believing heart.

And His Word does the same thing today. Wouldn’t it be great to see people like the royal official come to Christ today? To see people in high places put their faith in Jesus for their salvation? To see our governor, state representatives and senators, mayor, and city council members all come to faith in Christ (if they have not already), and then lead their family and friends to do the same?! That’s what it is all about, isn’t it?!

This second miracle that John records pictures salvation in the following ways:

1. Like the miracle, salvation takes place at a POINT in time, and is not a PROCESS. Just as the nobleman’s son was healed at the moment Jesus spoke, so Christ gives eternal life the moment a person believes in Him for it (John 3:15-16).

2. Like the miracle, salvation is a TOTAL transformation. The healing of the nobleman’s son was complete, not partial. Likewise, when a person trusts Christ for eternal life, they undergo a complete transformation. They have passed from spiritual sickness to spiritual health, from death into life (John 5:24). They are completely forgiven, never to come under judgment again to determine their eternal destiny.

3. Like the miracle, salvation is a total work OF GRACE. Just as the nobleman did not contribute to the healing of his son, so we cannot contribute to our own salvation. “For by grace you have been saved, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift that we receive by grace through faith in Christ. We can do nothing to make ourselves deserving of heaven. Only Christ can save us. 

A few years ago, our minivan broke down 1.5 miles from my parent’s home the day before Christmas. I was helpless to move the van. Fortunately, my nephew-in-law had a flatbed tow truck. So I trusted him – a person – to take me and my van to our destination using his tow truck. God is asking us to trust a Person, His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins and take us to heaven. The moment we do, He instantly gives us the gift of eternal life and guarantees to take us to heaven in the future.

God wants us to experience His life-giving word. We can do that through the TESTIMONY of His People… TRUSTING CHRIST’S POWER… PROMISE… and His PERSON. Maybe you feel like the nobleman. You feel hopeless and afraid. The wrong things you have done have separated you from God and you have nowhere else to turn but to Jesus now. He loves you, and died in your place on a cross and rose from the dead. And He wants to give you His life-giving Word if you will trust Him to do so. Jesus said: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40). Only Jesus’s word can give us life that never ends and guarantee a future resurrection to all who believe in Him!

Prayer:  Only Your Word, Lord Jesus, can give me life that never ends. Your Word is not limited by distance nor the condition of its recipient. In this world filled with chaos and hatred, I pray my Lord and my God, that You will bring people in higher places (like the nobleman in this second miracle recorded in John’s gospel) to trust in You alone for everlasting life. I also pray they will share this good news of everlasting life with their family, friends, and countrymen. Please turn this world upside down with Your message of grace so that more people can experience Your life-giving Word. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Is water baptism necessary to go to heaven?

Some students of the Bible do believe that water baptism is necessary for eternal salvation. They refer to six debatable verses to argue that one must be baptized with water in order to go to heaven. But this assertion clearly contradicts the New Testament teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. For example, if water baptism is necessary to obtain eternal life, why didn’t Jesus say, “He who believes in Me [and is baptized] has eternal life” in John 6:47? Why didn’t Luke write, “[Be baptized and] believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” in Acts 16:31? Why didn’t the apostle Paul say, “For by grace you have been saved through [baptism and] faith” in Ephesians 2:8? If water baptism is necessary for salvation, why did the apostle Paul say that preaching the gospel was more important than water baptism when he wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17)? Paul makes it clear that water baptism is not part of the gospel message. Paul did not baptize many people because water baptism is not necessary for salvation from hell (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16).

Obviously God did not intend for us to let six unclear verses interpret the over 200 clear verses that teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). So if these six verses are not referring to salvation from hell, then to what are they referring?

– “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4

John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a call for the nation of Israel to change their mind about their sin and the Person of Jesus Christ. The word “repentance” is from the Greek word metanoia, a compound word from meta, “after,” and nóēma, “thought.” Together it means to an after thought or a change of mind. John was calling the nation of Israel to change its mind because the Messiah God was coming from heaven to set up His Kingdom. John says they need to repent and change their mind about their own condition and/or the coming Messiah so they can trust in Him as their Savior and He will set up His kingdom. This was a self-righteous nation that needed to recognize its own sinfulness and need for a Savior.

John the Baptist’s baptism had no saving value. It was designed to prepare the Jewish people to place their faith in the coming Messiah according to Acts 19:4: Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’” Those Jews who were baptized by John realized their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves. John’s baptism initiated them into the community of people who anticipated the coming Messiah, Who alone could save them from their sins.

– “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

Water baptism in Mark 16:16 cannot refer to salvation from hell because this would contradict over 200 clear verses in the New Testament which teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). God’s Word will not contradict Itself.

Jesus used the word “believe” three times in Mark 16:15-17. Notice that failure to believe results in condemnation, not failure to be baptized which is consistent with John 3:18. If water baptism is necessary for salvation, we would expect the Lord to have said, “He who does not believe [and is not baptized] will be condemned.” But He does not say this because water baptism is not a condition for salvation from hell. What this means is even if a person is baptized with water but does not believe the gospel, he or she will still be condemned to hell. Clearly, the only condition for condemnation is failure to believe, not failure to be baptized with water.

It is better to understand the word “baptized” as a reference to Spirit baptism which takes place the moment a person believes in Christ for the gift of salvation (Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). In Mark 1:8, John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This is supported further in the context of Mark 16:16. Christ said “these signs will follow those who believe” and then He lists the miraculous signs that will accompany the preaching of the gospel to “confirm” the message (Mark 16:17-20) and the apostolic messenger (2 Cor. 12:12). These miraculous signs accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the early church (Acts 2:1ff). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual baptism. It places believers into the body of Christ forever and joins them spiritually to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ the moment they believe the gospel (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:11, 13). Water baptism is necessary for discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20), but not for salvation.

– “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ ” John 3:5

When Jesus refers to being “born of water” He is speaking of physical birth. Christ explains this in the next verse. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Christ is saying that a person must first be born physically before he can be born spiritually. So to be “born of water” refers to the amniotic fluid which breaks when a baby is delivered. To be “born of the Spirit” refers to our spiritual birth into God’s family the moment we believe in Christ (John 3:15-16; cf. John 1:12). The Bible does not contradict itself. John makes it clear that the only condition for eternal life is belief in Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-27; 20:31). The clear must always interpret the unclear.

– “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

After preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem (Acts 2:22-35), the apostle Peter informed them “that God has made this Jesus, whom” they “crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36). When these Jews felt sorrow or regret about what they did to their “Lord and Christ,” they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter told them to “Repent” (metanoeō) or change their mind about their wrong view of Jesus and then believe in Him for salvation from Hell (2:38a). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

Acts 3:19-4:4 also supports this usage of the verb “repent.” After Peter and John healed the lame man (3:1-10), Peter preached the death and resurrection of Christ to his Jewish audience (3:11-18) and invites his audience to “repent” or change their view of Christ and see that He is the Messiah. His Jewish audience was thinking, “If Jesus is the Messiah, then where is His Messianic Kingdom?” Peter explains that if they would “repent” and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, His Messianic Kingdom would commence (3:19-26; cf. Mark 1:15). How did these Jews respond? “Many of those who heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4). 

Several factors must be taken into consideration to properly understand Acts 2:38: 

1. Throughout the book of Acts we see that salvation is byfaith alone in Christ alone as taught by Philip (8:12, 37), Peter (10:43; 15:7-11), and Paul (13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31). God’s Word does not contradict itself, so Acts 2:38 must be talking about something more than salvation from hell. 

2. The distinction between regeneration and forgiveness. Regeneration is imparting the very life of God at the moment of faith in Christ to the believer (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1). Therefore, it is judicial and cannot be changed. Forgiveness, on the other hand, involves the restoration of harmony between God and believers (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). 

The Bible speaks of two types of forgiveness: Positional forgiveness involves the pardon of past, present and future sins at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14). This is a one-time event and cannot be changed. Fellowship forgiveness involves closeness to God, and it can be lost and restored repeatedly throughout a Christian’s life (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). For example, when you are born into your earthly family you will always be your parents’ child no matter what (regeneration), but closeness with your parents can be broken by your disobedience and restored by confession and forgiveness (fellowship). The same is true in our relationship with God. 

3. The meaning of repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means “to change one’s mind.” Whenever this word is used in a salvation context, it means “to change your mind about whatever is keeping you from trusting Christ and then trust Him to save you” (cf. Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). 

4. The book of Acts is dealing with a transitional time in God’s program. The birth of the Church takes place in Acts 2. For a brief period of time after the birth of the Church, people were not baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13) at the moment of faith in Christ. For example, Samaritan believers (Acts 8:12-17), disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2-6), and Saul (22:1-16) received the Holy Spirit after they were baptized with water. But Cornelius and his family all received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43-48) which is the normative experience for believers today (cf. Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 19:5; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). Why the difference?

Palestinian Jews who had helped crucify Christ had to be baptized to be placed in the Church and have fellowship with God. That is, in order to enter into closeness with Christ, they had to publicly identify with Him through water baptism because they had earlier rejected Christ publicly when they participated in His crucifixion. This is why Gentiles in Acts 10:43-48, who had no part in Christ’s crucifixion, received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ and were baptized later. 

So when we come to Acts 2:36-38, Peter says to his Jewish audience, “’36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (2:36-37). Peter has just preached that Jesus, whom His Jewish audience had personally helped to crucify, was both Lord and Christ (2:22-26). Peter replies, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

The forgiveness spoken of in Acts 2:38 is fellowship forgiveness, just as we see in I John 1:9. For these Jews guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they had to be baptized and receive forgiveness for this sin of rejecting Christ in order to have fellowship with God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without water baptism they would still have eternal life because they believed in Jesus (Acts 2:41, 44; 4:4; cf. John 3:16;  I John 5:1), but they would not escape the temporal judgment coming upon their sinful generation for crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:40). 

– “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16

This verse is parallel in thought to Acts 2:38. Saul of Tarsus was saved on the road to Damascus, as seen in Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul said he received his Gospel directly from the Lord Jesus and not from any man. Paul must have been saved on the Road to Damascus because this is where Jesus spoke directly to Paul (Acts 9:3-6). In the above verse, Ananias commanded Saul to be baptized so that he might receive the forgiveness of his sins or the same fellowship forgiveness seen in Acts 2:38 and I John 1:9. Paul was regenerated on the road to Damascus, but received fellowship forgiveness for persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4) when he was baptized three days later by Ananias (Acts 22:16; 9:17).

This explains why Ananias called Saul, “Brother Saul,” (Acts 9:17; 22:13) and why he didn’t command him to believe in Christ. Saul already believed in Christ for eternal life on the road to Damascus. The demand to be baptized for forgiveness of sins was imposed upon Palestinians who had openly rejected Christ and is never directed toward Gentiles (Acts 8:36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). Therefore, these accounts in Acts 2 and 22 are the exception, not the norm.

There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21

Before we can properly understand this verse, we must look at the preceding verses: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). Christ took our place and punishment when He died on the cross and was made alive by the Spirit (3:18). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ preached through Noah to the unbelievers (“spirits”) of Noah’s day (3:19-20).

Why refer to Noah in this context? Because Noah’s deliverance is a picture (“antitype”) of the kind of baptism mentioned in verse 21 – Spirit baptism. The water did not save Noah and his family. The ark saved them. Just as the waters of God’s judgment fell upon the ark and not Noah, so God’s eternal judgment fell upon Christ and not us (3:18). Furthermore, just as Noah and his family escaped God’s watery judgment by being placed in the ark, likewise Christians escape God’s eternal judgment by being placed in Christ through Spirit baptism the moment they believe in Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27). When Noah came out of the ark, he entered into a new life – a world that had been cleansed of sin. Likewise, Spirit baptism places us in a new relationship to Christ so we can experience a new kind of resurrection life (Romans 6:3-5).

Spirit baptism not only saves us from Hell, but it also saves us from the power of sin. Peter says that this baptism is not a physical cleansing (“the removal of the filth of the flesh”), but a spiritual cleansing (“the answer of a good conscience toward God”). Spirit baptism gives us a good conscience regarding our past sin and guilt and enables us to live victoriously now in the power of the resurrection.

Some people will ask “What about infant baptism?” To make a disciple you need first a person who has believed. Infants are not able to understand their need to believe in Christ. Therefore, parents should wait until their child is old enough to believe and understand the true meaning of baptism before he or she is baptized.

Some churches practice infant baptism as a means of committing the child to be reared in the church under the influence of spiritual teachers (Pastors, Sunday School teachers, etc.). This can be called a “baptism of confirmation” for children. This ceremony is intended to be a covenant between the parents and God on the behalf of the child. The parents promise to raise their child in the faith until the child is old enough to make his own personal confession of Christ. This custom began about 300 years after the Bible was completed. It is not in the Bible. This is different from the baptism talked about in the Bible which was only for those old enough to believe. Some churches do provide Baby Dedications whereby the child is committed to the Lord and the parents publicly confess their commitment to raise the child according to the principles in the Bible.

Conclusion: Water baptism is not a necessary for salvation or going to heaven. Only believing in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead is necessary to go heaven (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 8:12, 37; 10:43; 15:7-11; 13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31; Romans 4:5; I Corinthians 15:1-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). However, water baptism is a condition for discipleship (Matthew 28:19) and is to be done as soon as possible after a person believes in Christ for His gift of salvation (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:6-13, 36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). When a believer is baptized with water, he is telling God and those who witness his baptism, that he desires to follow Jesus as His disciple no matter what the cost (cf. Matthew 10:16-39; 28:19-20; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8).