Revelation 13 – Part 4

“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” Revelation 13:11

When Jesus spoke on the Mount of Olives of the sign of His coming to earth to set up His Millennial Kingdom, He described the future seven-year Tribulation period in Matthew 24:4-26. After expounding upon the first half three and a half years of the Tribulation period containing worldwide deception and agony (24:4-8), Christ then focused on the last three and a half years which would be characterized by even more deception and pain (24:9-26). He said, 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many… 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:11, 23-25).

Christ is warning His audience that “false christs” and those who announce them, “false prophets, will rise up and deceive many” by showing “great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” chosen people of God who are believing Jews living during the last half of the Tribulation period (24:24). Christ shares this “beforehand” to prevent His people from being deceived by satanically inspired teaching that misleads people away from the true God. In our study of Revelation today, the apostle John describes the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words.

After seeing the vision of a beast coming up out of the sea representing the Antichrist (Revelation 13:1-10), John now sees a second beast. “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.” (Revelation 13:11). John saw “another beast” of the same kind come “up out of the earth. Both men are called beasts to emphasize their cruel and vicious natures. 1 The word “earth” (gēs) literally means “land” and is most likely a reference to the land of Israel. 2 So, in contrast with the first beast who was a Gentile (from the sea; cf. 17:15; Isaiah 60:3-5; Daniel 7:2-4, 17; Matthew 13:47-50), we see that this beast may be a Jew (cf. 1:7). In view of the endless conflict between Arabs and Jews, this is a masterful arrangement by Satan himself. The union of an Arab (first beast) and a Jew (second beast) to lead the world into political, economic, and religious harmony is an ingenious answer to the world’s problems. 3

We learn that this second beast “had two horns like a lamb,” depicting his humble and gentle conduct. No one is afraid of a harmless “lamb.” But his speech will reveal his true character (13:11b; cf. Matthew 12:33-37). He will speak “like a dragon,” promoting Satan’s teaching that the first beast is God (13:11c; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4). He will be the Devil’s mouthpiece speaking lies to persuade the world to worship the World Ruler. No wonder God refers to this second beast three times in the book of Revelation as the “false prophet” (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).

The deceptive and deadly approach of the second beast is summarized well by John Phillips: “The dynamic appeal of the false prophet will lie in his skill in combining political expediency with religious passion, self-interest with benevolent philanthropy, lofty sentiment with blatant sophistry, moral platitude with unbridled self-indulgence. His arguments will be subtle, convincing, and appealing. His oratory will be hypnotic, for he will be able to move the masses to tears or whip them into a frenzy…. His deadly appeal will lie in the fact that what he says will sound so right, so sensible, so exactly what unregenerated men have always wanted to hear.” 4

This second beast “is the final person in the unholy trinity of the end times (Revelation 16:13; 19:20-20:2, 10). Just as the Holy Spirit gives glory to Christ and points men to Him, the false prophet will glorify the Antichrist and lead people to trust and worship him.” 5

“As Donald Grey Barnhouse says, ‘The devil is making his last and greatest effort, a furious effort, to gain power and establish his kingdom upon the earth. He knows nothing better than to imitate God. Since God has succeeded by means of an incarnation and then by means of the work of the Holy Spirit, the devil will work by means of an incarnation in Antichrist and by the unholy spirit.’” 6

“In hell’s trinity, Satan is a counterfeit Father (antiFather), the Antichrist is a counterfeit Son (antiChrist), and the false prophet is a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit (anti-Spirit). This is the infernal trinity.” 7

Whereas the first beast will primarily be a military and political figure, the second beast will primarily be a religious figure who prepares the way for the World Ruler, much like John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah (cf. John 1:6-9, 19-36; Acts 19:4). The apostle John writes, “And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” (Revelation 13:12). This false prophet will have worldwide “authority” to cause all unsaved people “who dwell” on the earth to “worship the first beast” who died and rose from the dead (“whose deadly wound was healed”). “Like Joseph Goebbels with Hitler, the false prophet will be inspired by the same authority and will share the same diabolical agenda as the Antichrist.” 8

Commenting on this verse, Tony Evans says, “This second beast, the false prophet, completes the unholy trinity, which imitates the work of the Holy Trinity. Within the Godhead, the Father seeks worship; the Son gives glory to the Father; and the Holy Spirit gives glory to the Son. Here, Satan seeks worship for himself; the first beast glorifies Satan; and the second beast compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast. Additionally, he will heal the Antichrist’s fatal wound, imitating the Holy Spirit’s work of raising Christ from the dead (see Romans 8:11).“ 9

How exactly does the false prophet deceive the unsaved world to worship the Antichrist? The same way Jesus predicted he would (cf. Matthew 24:23-24).13 He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. 14 And he deceives my own people who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.” (Revelation 13:13-14). Like Pharaoh’s magicians, only with greater effectiveness, the second beast will have authority to perform supernatural miracles (cf. Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7). These will be genuine “great signs” or supernatural wonders, not just tricks (13:13a; cf. Revelation 16:13-14; 19:20; Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-25; 2 Thessalonians 2:9). 10 God is not the only One who can do supernatural miracles. Satan can also perform miracles, and he uses this power to deceive people to worship his substitute for Christ, the Antichrist.

One of his great miracles will be making “fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (13:13b). Even the apostle John himself had at one time wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven” on some Samaritans who rejected Jesus (Luke 9:54). 11 Now John sees the false prophet calling fire down to the earth to deceive people into rejecting the true Christ in favor of Satan’s Antichrist.

As Christ predicted (cf. Matthew 24:24), even God’s own “elect” covenant people, Israel (“my own people who dwell on the earth”) will be deceived by these miraculous “signs” that the false prophet performs, the greatest of which was raising the Antichrist from the dead (“the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived”) after he had been fatally wounded (13:14; cf. 13:3; 17:8). As we mentioned in a previous lesson, by mimicking Jesus’ death and resurrection, Satan is attempting to persuade the nation of Israel to believe that the Antichrist is their long-awaited messiah so he can lead them to eternal destruction with him in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 15), thus rendering God’s promises to Israel false and making God a liar.

Those who are deceived by the False Prophet will be instructed to build “an image to” honor “the beast” who died and supernaturally came back to life (13:14b). This fulfills Jesus prophetic teaching on the Mount of Olives when He said, Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).” (Matthew 24:15). The “image” or statue in honor of the beast (13:14b) is the “abomination of desolation” that will be placed in the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem at the midpoint of the Tribulation period.

Like the image of Nebuchadnezzar on the plain of Dura (Daniel 3), everyone must bow to this image or die. 12 “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” (Revelation 13:15). This image or statue will be unlike any ever created. This inanimate object will become animated. The false prophet will “give breath to the image of the beast” so that “the image of the beast” will come to life and “speak” (13:15a).

People have come up with many theories about this “image of the beast.” Some suggest that since Satan does not have the power to give life to an inanimate object, he only gives this image the “impression of breathing and speaking mechanically, like computerized robots today.” 13When the television set first came on the scene, some people thought that might be the image of the Beast. People made the same suggestion about computers connected to the Internet. Some folks, bewitched by sci-fi movies, tossed around the idea that the image might be a supercomputer that gains consciousness – or a 3-D hologram – or a subhuman clone of the Antichrist.” 14

I prefer to take the biblical text literally. The Greek word for “image” (eikona) means “an object shaped to resemble the form or appearance of something, likeness.” 15 The image of the beast will not be a robot, or a clone, or a supercomputer, it will be some type of idol that visually represents the Antichrist. 16 It is likely that Satan and his demons will indwell or possess the idol to be the direct recipients of the world’s worship. This should not surprise us. Throughout history, demons have attached themselves to idols so that when people worship an idol, the demons can receive the adoration and worship that they long for. 17

For example, the apostle Paul writes to Christians at Corinth who were not only participating in the Lord’s Supper with believers at church, but they were also eating with unbelievers who sacrificed to idols in pagan temples. Paul says to them, 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry… 19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:14, 19-20). A sacrifice that was offered to a false god, was actually being offered to a demon (cf. Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:16-17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Psalm 106:36-38; Revelation 9:20).

Anyone who refuses to “worship the image of the beast” will be “killed” by it (13:15b). Believers worship Christ because He rose from the dead (cf. Acts 17:30-31), and unbelievers will worship the beast because he will have done a similar thing (13:14-15).

Many people during the last half of the Tribulation will assume a person who can give life to a statue must be a divine person, but the Bible teaches otherwise. Just because someone can work a miracle doesn’t make him worthy to be followed or worshiped. God does miracles in a righteous way and in accordance with biblical truth. Even if someone can call down fire from heaven and raise the dead, he is working for Satan if he does not point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. 18

In view of Satanic deception (Revelation 13:11-15), believers must always test what teachers say against God’s Word no matter how godly and persuasive they may appear (cf. I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1-3). For example, Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15). Like the False Prophet of Revelation 13, Jesus says false prophets today will look like genuine believers (“come to you in sheep’s clothing”).

They will even confess the Lordship of Christ. Christ says of them, 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). They confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ by referring to Him as “Lord, Lord.” These are people who have some understanding of the greatness of the Person of Christ. They sincerely believe Jesus is “Lord,” that is, Master, Ruler, and King. Because of this belief, they look like followers of Christ outwardly and do wonderful works for His glory – prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do many wonders in His name (7:22), but inwardly they are “ravenous wolves” (7:15). Christ says they will not be in heaven (7:23).

Like the False Prophet of Revelation 13, these modern-day false prophets exhibit great power. They will claim to have “prophesied… cast out demons… and done many wonders in” in Jesus’ name (7:22b). Notice that Jesus does not deny their claim. These people wanted Jesus to get the glory by doing these incredible things in His name. They want the glory to go to the Lord, not themselves. These are all things that Jesus did. These false prophets appeal to Jesus to let them into the kingdom of heaven based on their Christ-like works. Even though they openly confessed the Lordship of Christ and did wonderful works for His glory, look at what Jesus says about them: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (7:23). Christ refers to their religious works as “lawlessness.” All sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). Even sin that looks good on the outside is lawless before a holy God because it is not done in the context of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus explains that we will know these false prophets by their words, not their works: 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16-20). The way to discern if they are false prophets is by their “fruits.” Since the Lord has just told us that these false prophets look like sheep, we can conclude that their “fruits” have nothing to do with outside appearances.

Jesus helps us understand that their “fruits” refer to their words, not their works in Matthew 12:33-37 where He uses the same imagery. 33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Just as “fruit” reveals the nature of a “tree,” so one’s “words” reveal the nature of one’s “heart.” What the “heart” is filled with (“abundance of the heart”) and values the most (“treasure of his heart”) cannot be concealed. The “mouth speaks” what is in a person’s “heart.” The “words” that a false prophet “speaks” are windows into his “heart.” So, the way to discern a false prophet is by listening to his message.

Jesus said if you want to “enter the kingdom of heaven,” you must do “the will” of His “Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). What is the Father’s will as it relates to entering His heaven? 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; cf. John 3:5-16). The will of God the Father as it relates to entering the kingdom of heaven is to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ, for eternal life. Anyone who teaches a different way to heaven is a false prophet or teacher.

In the context of Matthew 7, true prophets are standing in front of the “narrow gate” that “leads to life” (Matthew 7:13-14). They are preaching that the way that “leads to life” eternal is “narrow” (John 10:9; 14:6; cf. Acts 4:10-12). Only believing in Jesus Christ alone leads to eternal life (Matthew 21:31-32; cf. John 3:16; 6:40, 47).

However, false prophets are standing in front of the “wide” gate that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). These false prophets are preaching many ways to heaven except faith alone in Christ alone. Those who believe the false prophet’s message and never believe Christ alone for eternal life, will be surprised in the day of judgment when the Lord Jesus says to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23)!

It doesn’t matter what you have said or done, because you are still a sinner and need a Savior to take away your sins. Your words and works cannot take away your sins. This is why Jesus said these false prophets practiced “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). They were relying on their sin-stained words and works to get them to heaven (Isaiah 64:6), instead of the finished work of Jesus Christ (John 3:14-15; 19:30). Only Jesus can take away our sins because He is God and took our place and punishment for sin when He died as our Substitute on the cross and rose from the dead (John 1:1, 14, 17; I Corinthians 15:3-6). When it comes to getting to heaven, it is not the will of God that you confess the Lordship of Christ, or surrender to the Lordship of Christ, or do good works for His glory. It is the will of God that you believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:14-16; 6:40).

Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus’ warnings about false christs and prophets who will try to mislead us away from the truth about Christ with the use of their persuasive words and profound works. Thank You, Father, for giving us Your word so we may know the truth which can set us free from Satan’s lies. We need Your spiritual discernment, Father, especially in an age of deception and manipulation so we are not led away from You and Your Son, Jesus Christ. May Your Word have such deep roots in our hearts and minds that we can easily identify and avoid a false prophet who stands in front of the wide gate that leads into eternal destruction. Please enable us to clearly communicate the gospel of grace so unsaved people can know and believe that Jesus Christ alone is able to save them and give them everlasting life the moment they believe in Him. We ask Your Holy Spirit to open the spiritual eyes of those who have been blinded by Satan’s deceit so they can realize that the Jesus of the Bible is the only Savior Who can rescue them from the lake of fire and give them an eternal home in Your heaven. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 269.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1547; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Zondervan Academic, 2010 Kindle Edition), pg. 333; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2401.

3. Vacendak, pg. 1547.

4. Hitchcock, pg. 272 cites John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), pg. 171.

5. Hitchcock, pg. 270.

6. Ibid., cites Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), pg. 240.

7. Ibid., pp. 270-271.

8. Ibid., pg. 273.

9. Evans, pg. 2401.

10. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 148 cites Gregory H. Harris, “Satan’s Deceptive Miracles in the Tribulation,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156:623 (July September 1999): 308-324.

11. Constable, pg. 148.

12. Hitchcock, pg. 274. F

13. 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 5820 to 5825.

14. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 253.

15. 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. 281.

16. Swindoll, pg. 253.

17. Ibid.

18. Evans, pg. 2401.

SHARING GOOD NEWS IN A FAKE NEWS SOCIETY

“Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.” John 8:14

We are living in a “post-truth” era whereby objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals (see Tony Watkins’ article entitled, “CONTENDING FOR THE TRUTH AMIDST THE FAKE NEWS EPIDEMIC,” LAUSANEE GLOBAL ANALYSIS, July 2017, Volume 6/Issue 4). I am amazed at how much influence the media has over people today. People are more interested in fake news on social media than they are facts offered up by established news sources.

When emotional appeals take over from truth, a society is in big trouble. Katharine Viner says, “This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means … that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.” (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/12/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth).

The religious leaders that Jesus spoke to in the temple were not interested in the facts about Christ. They were more interested in themselves and keeping their followers. So rather than examine the facts about Jesus, they wanted to relate to Him according to their preconceived thoughts which were not based upon the truth. They were not about to adjust their beliefs about Christ to align with the facts.

With this said, we are now going to look at three implications from Jesus’ wonderful claim to be the light of the world (John 8:12). First, CHRIST’S CLAIM DEMANDS THAT WE DEAL WITH THE FACTS (John 8:13-20). In the verses that follow we can see something of the darkness that was keeping these men from coming to the light of Christ. It is interesting to note that the Pharisees do not focus on Jesus’ claim, but upon a legal technicality. “The Pharisees therefore said to Him, ‘You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.’ ”(John 8:13). The Pharisees said that Jesus’ witness was not valid, because He was bearing witness of Himself. Therefore, the testimony had no weight and was of no legal worth. But, was that the real issue? Was Jesus at court? No.

You know, it is hard to get the facts right when you don’t have the right information beforehand. This is definitely a problem the Pharisees had. And it is time they got the facts right. Like the Pharisees, millions of people are held in darkness due to ignorance of the facts about Jesus. Many have never heard of Jesus, and many of those who have heard of Him have heard a distorted, twisted, unreal picture of Him that makes Him appear to be what He is not in the Scripture. This should not surprise us because the Bible warns that in the latter days there will be many false teachers and prophets who misrepresent Jesus Christ and mislead people away from Him (Matthew 7:15-23; 24:4-5, 11, 23-26; I Timothy 4:1-2; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; I John 2:18-19, 22-23; 4:1-6). Because of this, it is very important that we see the true Jesus… that we get the facts right about Him.

Christ responds to the Pharisees, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going.” (John 8:14). Jesus says,“First of all, My testimony is valid because it is true. Even if I claim to be God Himself, that is no reason to reject Me. What you need to do is look for more evidence. Secondly, My knowledge about Myself is much greater than your knowledge about Me. I know more facts about Me than you do. I know who I am. I know where I have come from, and I know where I am going, but you are ignorant of these things”.

Have you noticed that people who know who they are, where they are from, and where they are going, always seem to have a sense of confidence and security that enables them to stand up against the assaults and even the accusations of others? But people who don’t know who they are, who are not sure exactly where they came from and where they are going are wobbly and wishy-washy, uncertain and undependable. This is certainly true of Christians.

When Christians really believe what God says about them, when they refuse to listen even to their own feelings that lie to them about who they are, but they believe God has made them new creatures in Jesus Christ and they are free from the old life, the old sinful habits, they always have a tremendous sense of security and effectiveness in their lives. This is what our Lord had. What marvelous assurance He displayed as He moved with confidence and courage through all the opposition and strife that He lived through! That is why He can say to these Pharisees, “I know who I am but you do not.”

The third thing Jesus tells these men is, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.” (John 8:15). Jesus is saying,“You reject My claims because you look only at appearances. You judge according to the flesh. You think I came from Nazareth, in Galilee, and for that reason you say I am not the Messiah. But you never investigated and found that I was born in Bethlehem, according to the word of the prophet. You don’t know Me at all. You judge by superficial things. You think that as the Messiah I am supposed to lead a revolt against Rome – and I will, in God’s time – but you never read the Old Testament that says many things have to come before that. I did not come to judge, but to save people.” Like many people today they were saying “No” to Jesus because of their ignorance of the facts.

Jesus continues,16 And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. 17 It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” (John 8:16-18). “Yet even if I do judge, My judgment is true because I do not act alone but in oneness with My Father. According to your Law, two witnesses are needed for a valid testimony in a court of law (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). I do have two witnesses – Myself and My Father, who is always with Me. If the witness of two men is valid, how much more the witness of God the Father and God the Son? So even if we do this according to your own rules, My testimony still proves valid,” Christ says.

Now Jesus has thoroughly answered their complaint. What will they do?  Will they humble themselves and say, “Surely this is the Son of God, I will bow to Him and trust in Him as the Messiah?” No, they try again to trap him. “Then they said to Him, ‘Where is Your Father?’ ” (John 8:19a). “Well then, let’s see Your witness, let’s see Your father—if He’s the one validating your testimony.”

“Jesus answered, ‘You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.’ ” (John 8:19b). “You wouldn’t know Him if I did show Him to you because You don’t know Me. Your mind is made up and you are not seeking the truth.” Their ignorance of Jesus proved that they did not know His Father. We know at that point their hearts were completely hardened against Him and they had every desire to kill Jesus on the spot. But they couldn’t – “These words Jesus spoke in the treasury, as He taught in the temple; and no one laid hands on Him, for His hour had not yet come.” (John 8:20). The “treasury” was part of the court of the women where thirteen trumpet-shaped collection boxes were kept for receiving the half-shekel temple dues. Even though Jesus spoke out in public right in the temple courts where the offering was taken, where everybody had to pass through, yet no one could arrest Him because the Father was with Him.

One of the amazing things about this account is that, although these men were claiming to know God, they really did not know Him. I find this is the problem with many people today. They say they know God, but the god they are talking about is a god of their own imagination. They are merely projecting an idea about God that is not real; consequently, they do not know God at all. Neither do they worship God; they are worshiping a figment of their imagination.

People will say, “I cannot believe that God would ever punish someone for eternity because they never believed in Jesus.” In other words, God does what they believe He ought not do. This is a false and blasphemous view of God! It is utterly untrue and unworthy! Yet this is the new paganism of today.

We have religious leaders reconstructing a different Jesus than is presented in the Bible. They have created a Christ that is made in their own image instead of the One portrayed in the Scripture. Why? I believe the primary reason is pride. If they accept the facts about Jesus – that He is fully God and fully Man (John 1:1, 14) Who died for their sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6) – then they are accountable to Him for everything. They must come to grips with their own sin and its penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23). And they must trust in Someone outside of themselves to save them (Acts 16:31) from an eternity separated from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). And many people are too arrogant to accept this.

In a world that pursues feelings more than truth, I believe Christians can make a big difference by pursuing God’s truth and wisdom once again. Will we lovingly share the facts about Jesus Christ with those who are perishing without Him? Or will we allow fake news to shipwreck our own Christian faith? Abiding in the truth of Jesus Christ will be uncomfortable and it will take courage in this “post-truth” world. But it will bring freedom from the lies that keep people enslaved to their sinful and shame-filled patterns of living (John 8:31-32). We must be ready to confront the many false assertions about the Jesus of the Bible and offer the hope and purpose that only He can give. This is only possible as we rely upon the Holy Spirit to empower and guide us into all truth (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:13-14; Acts 1:8).

Prayer: Lord God, so many people have misinformation about Jesus Christ today because there are more false teachers sharing their fake news about Christ than there are Christians sharing the truth about Him Who is the truth (John 14:6). Please raise up a passionate army of believers who know who they are, where they are from, and where they are going so that Christ is boldly shared with a world that is driven by emotions. In Jesus’ name, I ask that You give us the boldness and strength to make Christ known to our families, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances, and to people online. May we love Jesus more than our own lives. May we long for His approval more than peoples’. May we know Him and His Word so well that we are ready to answer the questions that people have about Him. In Jesus’ powerful name I pray. Amen.

How do I stay focused on what is important to God? Part 3

“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” John 7:18

So far in our discussion about how to stay focused on what is important to God, we have learned to avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16) and to ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17). Today we learn to ASSESS THOSE WHO TEACH US (John 7:18-23). We all have teachers. We should have those who disciple us. However, we must be careful to whom we entrust ourselves. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us to watch out for false prophets or teachers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly, they may appear to be Christians. They may be very gentle, kind, loving and quite popular, but if they are teaching a message that is contrary to Jesus’ message, they are false teachers and they are to be avoided.

Jesus gives us a clear warning – “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory.” (John 7:18a). Jesus gives us several things to look for in a teacher:

1.  Who is the teacher seeking to glorify? Himself or God the Father? Jesus sought to glorify the One who sent Him by teaching the doctrine His Father gave Him (John 7:16; cf. 5:19-20; 12:49-50). Jesus did not seek His own glory. What Jesus taught was always true. What Jesus taught was always consistent with what His Father taught. When a person advances the ideas of another person, it glorifies his teacher rather than himself. However, when he advances his own ideas instead of his teacher’s, it dishonors his teacher and glorifies himself. When we distort or mishandle God’s Word, we are seeking our own glory instead of God’s.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say my earthly father told me to invite people to meet him for a free meal at Mullets Restaurant in Des Moines at 8 am this Saturday by using the Dart Bus local route 6, but I told everyone I knew to meet him there at 8 am this Saturday by taking the Dart Bus route 52 because it is a more popular route (which does not go to that destination). Imagine the consequences!

First, no one would make it to the right destination because I had not communicated my father’s directions correctly. Second, all of them would miss out on a free meal. Third, they would think less of my father for sending them on a bus that took them to a destination where he was not present, thus wasting their time. By failing to communicate my father’s message accurately, I would damage his reputation and cause many people to miss out on his blessings. In addition, it would draw much attention (albeit negative) to myself from both my father and those I invited. On the other hand, if I had communicated his message accurately, many would enjoy a free meal and look up to my father for being so generous and gracious.

This is much more than semantics or splitting hairs. God has chosen specific words to communicate how to spend eternity with Him in Heaven (cf. John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9; et al.). His word is truth (John 17:17), not our opinions. When we distort or mishandle His saving message by inserting unclear clichés such as “give your life to Christ,” “invite Jesus into your heart,” “surrender to Christ” instead of the words Jesus taught about how to obtain eternal life (believe or faith), we do not please the Lord even if that is our sincere desire. In addition, we are also making it easier for people to arrive at the wrong eternal destination. However, when we tell people the same condition for obtaining eternal life that Jesus taught (believe in Him – John 3:15-18; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:38-39; 11:25-26; et al.), we are glorifying Jesus Christ and the Father who taught Him, and we are giving lost people the Good News they desperately need to hear.

2. Are they telling the truth about Christ and our need for Him? Jesus claimed something about Himself that could not be said about any other person – “But He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.” (John 7:18b). Jesus is the sinless Son of God. He is fully God and fully human. He never said, did, or thought anything wrong. Even His motives were sinless. He always sought to glorify His Father. Jesus’ listeners were the opposite of Him. They were sinners. “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19). This is true of all of us. None of us can keep all of God’s laws. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10). No matter how well you keep the rest of God’s laws, if you fail at one point, you are considered a lawbreaker and deserving of eternal punishment. And the Bible tells us that all of us fall short of His glory or perfection (Rom. 3:23).  

So maybe you have never murdered anyone or committed adultery, but have you ever misused God’s name or have you ever failed to love Him more than anyone or anything else? Our innocence in one area does not excuse us in other areas. All of us are sinners and sinners need a Savior. Instead of looking to Jesus to save them, Jesus’ listeners were seeking to kill Him. If a teacher depreciates the Person and work of Christ (denies He is fully God who took the punishment for all our sin and rose from the dead) and denies their own sinfulness, and therefore denies the need to trust in Christ alone for salvation, they are not from God and should be avoided.

First Timothy 6:3-5 tells us: 3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, 5 useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.” In other words, there is a fungus among us and they need to be avoided. If a church or denomination ever goes down this slippery slope of depreciating the Person and work of Christ by denying His deity or distorting His gospel, it will be decision time. Will we follow Jesus and His teachings or will we follow people’s opinions and traditions?

We are living in an age similar to what Paul describes: “For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3 Living Bible). We need to ask ourselves when we listen to teachers at church, on TV, the radio, the internet or even in a book, “Are these teachers telling us the truth, (which is sometimes painful) or are they telling us what they think we want to hear? Are they teaching salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone or are they teaching a faith plus gospel?” If a teacher is focused on glorifying God, if they seek to get across what God has said so that people might be delivered from sin’s penalty and obtain the free gift of eternal life simply by believing in Jesus alone who is the true God and eternal life, then you can trust that kind of teacher.

3. Are they living by a double standard? Instead of admitting their desire to murder Jesus, the crowd lies: “The people answered and said, ‘You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?’ ” (John 7:20). Because Christ’s grace conflicts with their legalistic understanding, they accuse Jesus of having a demon. 21 Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I did one work, and you all marvel. 22 Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?’ ” (John 7:21-23). The religious leaders accused Jesus of violating the Sabbath by healing a man who had been lame for 38 years (see John 5). However, these same people did not feel it was a violation of the Sabbath to circumcise a child on the Sabbath. According to their logic, it was right to make one part of the body right before God, but not the entire body. Their logic was falling apart. Jesus did more for that lame man than the religious leaders did for the boy who was circumcised. They thought their act was consistent with what God desired but they couldn’t see that with Jesus. That’s a double standard.

When I was having a discussion with another pastor a few years ago, he said to me that if I was humble, I would agree with his understanding of a particular passage of Scripture. And I did agree with him about that passage. And then I asked him if he was open to understanding another passage in a way that may be new to him, and he said, “No.” This same person, who was ready to accuse me of being proud for not agreeing with his understanding of Scripture, turned around and was very close-minded to a different interpretation of Scripture. That kind of double standard inhibits growth. If we are not teachable and open to learning new insights from God’s Word, we are going to remain spiritually stunted like the legalistic Jews that Jesus was encountering.

If we are going to stay focused on what is important to God, we must avoid hiding behind foolish stereotypes (John 7:14-16), ascertain God’s will by doing it (John 7:17), and assess those who teach us (John 7:18-23). If the person who instructs us does not magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ for the glory of God, then we are to avoid his or her teaching so we may remain focused on what is important to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in terms of whom I place myself under to receive instruction. Also, please enable me to resemble You in my teaching of others. May all of us who teach be consistent in teaching what You taught so You are most glorified and people will be most satisfied in You. Help us to magnify the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man Who paid our sin debt in full so all anyone must do to have everlasting life is believe in Him alone. If other Christians depart from sound doctrine to follow those who teach what they want to hear, help us to remain faithful to Your words which give eternal life. Forgive us for closing our hearts off to Your instruction. Please give us an open heart that longs to gain new insights from Your Word so we may continue to focus on what matters most to You – Your glory and Your gospel. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

What are the narrow and wide gates in Matthew 7:13-14?

13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction , and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14  [NKJV]

When growing up in the church, I was taught that the “narrow gate” refers to the difficult commands Jesus gave in His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:12-7:12). In other words, believe in Jesus as the Messiah and do all these things Jesus has just taught, and you will enter into eternal life. The imagery was that of walking through the narrow gate and continuing on this long, difficult and narrow path of obedience to Christ in order to gain entrance into God’s kingdom. The “wide gate” then was living a life of disobedience.

But since my youth, I have come to a more nontraditional view of these verses which I believe is much more consistent with the original language of these verses and the emphasis of the New Testament.

Jesus said,  13 Enter (eiselthete) by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to (eis + accusative) destruction , and there are many who go in (eiserchomenoi) by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult (tethlimmene) is the way which leads to (eis + accusative) life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Christ is using the commands in the Sermon on the Mount to convict His unbelieving audience (the “multitudes” consisted of believers and unbelievers – Matthew 4:25- 5:2) of their inability to obtain the righteousness required to enter the kingdom of Heaven. These unbelievers must possess a righteousness that is greater than the most righteous people they know – “the scribes and Pharisees.” The only righteousness that God would accept as basis for entrance into His kingdom was the righteousness of God through faith alone in Jesus alone (Romans 3:21- 4:25). Jesus was using the Law and its application in the Sermon on the Mount to convict the unbelieving people of their inability to be righteous enough to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Christ brought them to the point of seeking a righteousness outside of themselves. Like a stern and demanding tutor, the Law was intended to lead people to faith in Christ (Galatians 3:19-24).

That Jesus is thinking specifically of the unbelieving multitude who are standing off in the distance is seen in His reference to kingdom entrance at the beginning (Matthew 5:20) and end of His Sermon (Matthew 7:21). He is speaking in the context of eternity. The phrase “in that day” (7:22) refers to the Day of Judgment for unbelievers. When Christ speaks of entering into “life” or “destruction” (7:13-14), He is thinking of eternal “life” or eternal “destruction.”

The word “difficult” (tethlimmene) in Matthew 7:14 means “confined, narrow.” It has nothing to do with a difficult lifestyle as some teach. The imagery is that you go through a gate and you immediately arrive at the place of destination. In the imagery of that day, you have the gate of a city that does not have a path on the other side of it. The path goes underneath the gate but does not go beyond this point of entrance. So the moment you go through the gate, you are in the city. There is not a long path on the other side of the entrance leading to the city.

The word “enter” (eiserchomenoi) in 7:13 means to “go into.” Matthew never uses this word in this kind of situation in terms of going toward something. It is always used of going directly into something. This is confirmed by the use of the Greek preposition eis, “into” with the accusative. If you were going to use a preposition in the Greek text to talk about going toward something, you would most likely use the word pros, “toward.” But the use of eis (“into”) with eiserchomenoi (“go into”) indicates that you are going through a gate which immediately brings you “into” your place of destination. Jesus is not talking about entering onto a difficult path that will lead to some other destination.

The “narrow gate” refers to the same thing Jesus said in John 10:9 and 14:6:

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

The narrow gate is “narrow” because there is no other way to enter the kingdom of Heaven except through faith alone in Christ alone. The point of entrance is narrow because it alludes to faith in Jesus and no one or nothing else. The way is “confined” or “restricted” in that there is no other way which leads to the Father except through Christ. The “wide gate” in contrast, has many people entering through it because it is a wide entrance which leads immediately into eternal destruction. The “wide gate” represents all the other options in which men say life can be entered, especially confessing Jesus as Lord while relying on your good works (Matthew 7:21-22). But Christ is inviting His unsaved listeners to seek the “narrow gate” which happens to be Himself. There is only one way to Heaven which makes it “narrow.” That way is Jesus and Him alone.

In Matthew 18:3, Jesus responds to His disciples question about greatness in the kingdom by saying, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven.” In order for people to enter the kingdom of Heaven they must be “converted” or turned away from the cynicism and lack of trust that characterizes most adults and become like children who possess childlike faith. Little children must depend on others to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Doing the will of the Father (Matthew 7:21) to gain kingdom entrance is choosing to place childlike faith in Jesus Christ to do for yourself what you could never accomplish on your own.

In the context, Jesus is talking about “false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (7:15). These false prophets are standing in front of the wide gate that leads into destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Outwardly they may look and sound like Christians (“come to you in sheep’s clothing”). But they are preaching many ways to Heaven except faith alone in Christ alone. Those who believe the false prophet’s message and never trust Christ alone as their only hope of Heaven, will be surprised in the day of judgment when the Lord Jesus says to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23)!

True prophets are standing in front of the “narrow gate” that leads into life (Matthew 7:13-14). They are preaching that the way that leads into eternal life is “narrow” (John 10:9; 14:6). Only faith alone in Christ alone leads to eternal life (John 3:16; 6:40, 47; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:4-6).

Those who teach a faith plus salvation are standing in front of “the wide gate” that leads into eternal destruction. Jesus says, “there are many who go in by it.” But those who teach a faith alone Gospel are standing in front of “the narrow gate” which is too narrow to carry your works baggage through it. Christ says, “there are few who find it.”

Just because a Bible teacher or theologian has a large following does not mean he or she is teaching the right message. There are many false religions in the world today that have millions of followers, but that does not mean they have found the “narrow gate” that leads into life everlasting. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Be careful about those who have a large following. They may be standing in front of the wide gate that leads into eternal destruction.”

On the other hand, if a Bible teacher or evangelist has a small following, that does not mean he or she is standing in front of the wide gate that leads to destruction. If his or her message emphasizes that the only condition for everlasting life is faith alone in Christ alone, then he or she is standing in front of the narrow gate that leads into life. Praise God for that person and pray for them to hold fast to the true gospel of Jesus Christ so that many more people can hear and believe it!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for making it clear that You are the narrow gate that leads into life everlasting. Only believing or trusting in You alone gains entrance into the Father’s Kingdom. Help me to point others to You, the narrow gate, with my words and my works as Your grace works within me. Please expose those who stand in front of the wide gate for who they truly are – false prophets who inwardly are ravenous wolves that deceive people to believe that entering Your kingdom is by faith plus works. Please rescue these misled people by sending Your true prophets to them so they may believe in Jesus alone for His free gift of salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.