Revelation 9 – Part 1

3 Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power… 5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.” Revelation 9:3, 5

The Devil and his demons have been at work tempting and attacking humans since their sneak attack in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago (Genesis 3). They have never stopped pursuing their ultimate goals of destroying humankind’s dignity and driving a wedge between people and their Creator God. But Revelation 9 shows us that a time will come when the invisible spiritual warfare that people experience today will seem pale compared to the visible assault of the enemy’s army during the last half of the Tribulation period. As we study John’s vision and observe the armies of darkness battling in the future, we can better understand how similar spirits of wickedness try to plague us today. 1

Following the announcement of three woes warning that the next three trumpet judgments would be worse than the first four (8:13), John continues by recording the fifth trumpet judgment (9:1-12). “In this chapter, there are more occurrences of the words ‘as’ and ‘like’ than in any other chapter in the Bible, which shows how difficult it was for John to describe the scene which he saw in the vision.” 2

John writes, “Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” (Revelation 9:1). When “the fifth angel sounded” the trumpet blast, John “saw a star fallen from heaven.” This is not an actual “star,” but either the Devil (cf. Isaiah 14:12-14) or a fallen angel (Revelation 12:3-4a) because “to him was given the key to the bottomless pit.” Just as a key grants us access to a home, office, or car, this key grants this angelic being access to the shaft “to the bottomless pit” or abyss. The abyss is the abode of the demons, according to Luke 8:31, in which demons begged Jesus “not to banish them.” 3

The “bottomless pit” (lit. “shaft of the abyss”) is the future abode of Satan (cf. Revelation 20:1-3), some demons (cf. Luke 8:31; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and the beast (Revelation 11:7; 17:8). It is evidently a preliminary prison, not their final abode, which is the lake of fire (or hell – Revelation 19:20; 20:10; cf. Matthew 25:41), from which this angel is about to release some of them temporarily. 4

During the tribulation, this angelic being will be granted authority to unlock this bottomless pit. A principle illustrated in this verse is that Satan and his demons only have as much authority as God grants them. Nowhere in Scripture is that principle more prominently revealed than in Job 1:12 and 2:6, in which Satan cannot harm Job without God’s permission. But what the devil intends for evil, God intends for good. 5

“And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.” (Revelation 9:2). When this angelic being uses the authority given to him to open “the bottomless pit,” so much “smoke arose” that “the sun and the air were darkened.” This may refer to some type of volcanic eruption of a magnitude never experienced on earth. 6

Next John writes, 3 Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.” (Revelation 9:3-6). That these “locusts” are demonic creatures who appeared in the form of locusts is confirmed by the fact that they came from the Abyss, the home of demons (Luke 8:31). 7 These creatures were given the “power” of “scorpions” to “torment” people who did not have “the seal of God on their foreheads” with intense pain (9:3-4). These demons will not be able to harm followers of Jesus.

They could not “kill” unbelieving people, but for “five months” they could inflict such severe pain on them like a scorpion’s sting that these nonbelievers “will seek death,” instead of repenting, but would not even be able to commit suicide (9:5-6). They will be forced to live through a period of prolonged, demonic suffering intended for those who do not know Jesus as their Savior.” 8

Swindoll writes, We can marvel at the overwhelming number and startling appearance of these supernatural locusts, but we shouldn’t miss the limitations placed on them. First, note that their power will be ‘given’ to them (9:3). The word ‘power’ (exousia), means ‘authority’ or ‘permission.’ It may appear at first that this swarm is completely out of control, but we must remember that they can do nothing apart from God’s permission.

Second, they will not be permitted to harm the things that locusts usually devour—vegetation, crops, or grass (9:4). These aren’t your average hungry locusts! Their target will not be plants but people.

Third, although they will be told to harm humans, they can only inflict their torment on certain people— ‘men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads’ (9:4). This recalls the remnant of Israel, sealed for protection in 7:2-3. Those saints will be spared from the suffering inflicted by the locusts.

“Fourth, they will be given authority to torment, not to kill (9:5). This torment will be similar to the torment of a scorpion sting—excruciating, burning, even debilitating, but in this case, not deadly.

Finally, God will place a limit of five months on their mission of torment (9:5). But in those five months the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual agony these people will experience will drive them mad. Some of the most haunting words in all of Scripture describe the desperate situation: ‘And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them’ (9:6).” 9

Having just explained what these demonic creatures will do, John now describes what they will look like from head to tail. John’s vision here is a primarily symbolic vision as the word “like” is used eight times, pointing to a figurative rather than literal interpretation. 10 “The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle.” (Revelation 9:7a). Locusts resemble “horses” when viewed through a magnifying glass, 11 but this sentence emphasizes the ferociousness of these demonic locusts and their intimidating looks.

“In the Old Testament, locusts were instruments of judgment, as in the eighth plague God brought upon the Egyptians (Exodus 10:1-20) and in the judgment envisioned by the prophet in Joel 1:2-12.” 12 As horses prepared for battle, the demons from the abyss will be extremely swift (cf. Joel 2:4).” 13

“On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men.” (Revelation 9:7b). Their “crowns” (stephanos) represent their victory over the people they oppressed. 14 The fact that “their faces” resembled “men” points to their intelligence. They are intelligent creatures, perhaps even alluring, utilizing deception and persuasion to attract people. But their goal will be to torture, to tear apart, and to destroy.” 15

Next John writes, “They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth.” (Revelation 9:8). These demonic creatures possessed an initial allurement with “hair like women’s hair.” Since one of the attractive qualities of a woman is her hair, it is possible that there is something about mankind’s experience of this plague that is similar to sexual attraction. The conjoining of this with ‘teeth…like lions’ teeth’ may indicate that though there is an initial allurement pulling people to this experience, in the end, the experience is like the bite of a lion in its painfulness. In ages past (as well as in contemporary society), sinful people have involved themselves in matters concerning sexual relations with demonic entities (who if they became visible might be beautiful indeed). Yet it is clear that the description given here by John paints their true character—they will be like hungry lions that ravage peoples’ lives.” 16 (emphasis mine)

9 And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. 10 They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months.” (Revelation 9:9-10). Their “iron . . . breastplates,” which covered both chest and back in John’s day, 17 gave them appearance of indestructibility by humans. People will not be able to overcome this demonic army. The “sound of their wings” was terrifying “like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle.”

The fact that this army sounded to John like chariots with many horses running into battle indicates the terror that they will inspire in the hearts of those who have given in to their seductive allure. It can be compared to the terror in the hearts of ancient soldiers who suddenly and without warning find themselves facing a rush of chariots and horses (cf. 2 Kings 7:6-7; Jeremiah 47:3). People overcome by this deception will not experience physical pleasure, but torment similar to the stings of scorpions.” 18

This plague will afflict unsaved people for a period of “five months” (cf. Rev 9:5, 10), which emphasizes that God is in control of the spirit world and over the events of the Tribulation. 19 “Unlike the previous judgments which apparently were short in time this judgment extended for five months… This is important as it refutes clearly the notion that all these judgments will occur in a brief span of time immediately before the second coming of Christ.” 20

The leader of this demonic army is addressed next. “And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.” (Revelation 9:11). “The names ‘Abaddon’ in Hebrew, and ‘Apollyon’ in Greek, both mean ‘Destroyer.’ Only the apostle John supplied information bilingually in the New Testament (cf. John 1:38, 42; 4:25; 6:1; 9:7; 11:16; 19:13, 17, 20; 20:16; Rev. 1:7; 3:14; 12:9). The objective of these demons, like their leader’s name implies, is to destroy people. God grants this lead ‘angel-king’ creature permission, here in this judgment, to carry out his objective against unbelievers, as part of God’s outpouring of wrath on earth-dwellers (cf. Job 2:6).” 21 (emphasis mine)

Some suggest that this “king over” this demonic army is Satan, 22 but this is unlikely because the text only calls him an “angel.” Also,Satan’s abode is not in the “bottomless pit” or abyss —at least not until he is cast down into it at the end of the Tribulation (Revelation 20:1-3). In contrast, this king’s authority seems to be limited to the demonic army that comes from the abyss itself. 23 

In two passages in Revelation Satan is spoken of by alternate names (12:9 and 20:2). In both places John clearly states that he is speaking of Satan. If the angel of the bottomless pit is Satan, John would have clarified it here as well.” 24

So, who is this “angel of the bottomless pit”? He is probably a high-ranking fallen angel (cf. Ephesians 6:12) serving his master, Satan. 25

Finally, John states, “One woe is past. Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.” (Revelation 9:12). This verse is transitional, and clarifies that the fifth, sixth, and seventh trumpet judgments are the same events as the first, second, and third “woes” announced by the eagle earlier (8:13). The third woe, then, would be the seven bowl judgments. Although the release of this demonic locust army may seem sufficient from a human vantage point, God says He is only getting started. 26 The second and third woes will be worse.

You may be wondering, “How does the five-month demonic attack in the last half of the future Tribulation relate to us today?” Swindoll shares several insights:

“Although they are invisible, demons are real and aggressive. Not all demons are confined to the abyss (see Luke 8:31). Countless spirits of wickedness roam freely, and as long as they do, they are in search-and-destroy mode. They’ll pounce at any opportunity to strike both believers and unbelievers. Sometimes we’d rather pretend these beings don’t exist—or that they are so limited in power that we don’t need to worry about them. Not true! Ignorance of our enemies gives them an advantage over us. Don’t be naive!

“We are reminded that demons are organized and committed to our destruction. Like a battle-hardened army, Satan’s forces know how to wage an efficient war to conquer the hearts and minds of all people. From subtle tricks to a full-blown spiritual blitzkrieg, they are ready to use whatever means necessary to win. Take a close look at 1 Peter 5:8: ‘Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.’ How can you be more ‘sober’ and ‘alert’ in light of this warning? Peter gives us some hints in 1 Peter 1:13-16: ‘Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

“In light of this passage, are you prepared for inevitable spiritual attacks?

We should be encouraged that, although these demons are powerful, they have limitations. We see that even during the Tribulation these wicked angels can only do what they are allowed to do. Today—in the age of the Spirit’s restraining power through the church—their abilities are even more limited (2 Thes. 2:6-8). But don’t underestimate the deceptive and destructive powers of the enemy (Jude 1:8-10). As soon as we drop our guard, we’re liable to crumble under his attacks. We can’t neglect our spiritual lives, forsake our assembling with other believers, or trust in our own strength.

“Finally, we must never forget that these aggressive and insidious creatures flee at the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. At His matchless name they cower in fear, run for cover, and scramble for survival. With a single syllable of rebuke, Jesus Christ can flatten Satan’s entire army. They are no match for Him (Luke 8:26-31). Let Christ handle your spiritual battles for you. Submit to Him. Release all your anxieties to Him through prayer (1 Pet. 5:6-7). Resist the devil in faith, resting in Christ and trusting that He alone can shut the mouth of the roaring lion and quench the flaming arrows of the evil one.” 27 (emphasis mine)

While spiritual warfare today is very real, believers in Jesus can experience the victory Christ has already won in the spiritual realm by wearing the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19). Please join me in putting on the whole armor of God by praying these Scriptures in Ephesians 6:10-19 back to our victorious God.

Prayer: O Father God, since Satan and his servants are far wiser and stronger than us, please grant us strength in the power of Your might to put on the whole armor of God so we may stand against the schemes of the devil.

Protect us O God with the Belt of Truth. You are truth, Jesus, and in You and in Your Word we find truth. You are the foundation for all of life. We cannot overcome the father of lies (John 8:44) apart from Your truth (John 8:31-32). Please replace Satan’s lies with the truth of Your Word. Please empower us to be truthful and honest.

We pray the protection of the Breastplate of Righteousness over us. Knowing we are covered with Christ’s righteousness at the moment of our salvation (Romans 4:5) can protect us from Satan’s accusations and motivate us to live out that righteousness as we yield to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1, 4-5).  Help us not to believe the lies from Satan that say we are no good or that we can be good enough to earn Your acceptance. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been declared totally righteous before You the moment we believed in Jesus. We are completely covered by the righteousness of Your Son so there are no grounds for our condemnation. Please manifest Your righteousness in our motives, words, thoughts, and actions.

We pray the Shoes of the Gospel of Peace over our lives.Protect us from anything that would rob us of Your peace. Please enable us to be prepared to always share the gospel of grace with those who need Your peace. Give us Your compassion and alertness for those who do not know Jesus as their Savior. Help us to see the lost through Your eyes of compassion. As the God of peace, please crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20).

Please help us to take up the Shield of Faith as needed.Protect us from the flaming arrows of the evil one. Lead us into a time of praise and worship that invites the Holy Spirit to anoint our faith, so it is kept from becoming rigid and brittle. As we worship You, may the water of the Holy Spirit pour over us, so all the flaming arrows of Satan are extinguished. Help us to place our faith in the promises of Your Word. Enable us to realize who we are in Christ and to appropriate faith in all situations. We can trust You, Father, because You are good, and You are faithful to keep Your Word. You are in control of all things. Thank You, Father, for reminding us of this.

We pray the protection of the Helmet of Salvation on our heads. Satan is out to trick us into doubting our salvation, but we are Your children, Father, by grace through faith in Christ alone and Jesus is more powerful than Satan (I John 4:4). Please protect our minds from doubting Your promises to save us from the penalty of sin in hell, from the power of sin now, and from the presence of sin in the future. Help us remember that we are fighting from victory, not for victory! Please enable us to get God’s Word in our hearts and minds so we can confront Satan in the Spirit as Jesus did (Matthew 4:1-11).

Enable us to be protected and have all power through Jesus Christ and through the Sword of the Spirit, the Bible. Holy Spirit, please enable us to speak Your Scripture to the devil and his servants on the battlefield so their lies and deceptions are exposed and defeated (Matthew 4:1-11). Enable us to submit to You, God, and resist the devil, so the devil will flee from us (James 4:7). We pray the power of the Holy Spirit is ignited in our lives, so that Christ may live His life through us today and every day.

Grant all boldness to us so we may speak Your gospel message to all who need to hear it. Redeem this time O Lord for Your honor and glory. Thank You for what You are going to do. Please make the name of the Lord Jesus more well known. In the name above all names, the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. 

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 184-185.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 109 cites Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Everyman’s Bible Commentary series (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), pg. 61.  

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2388.

4. Constable, pg. 110.

5. Evans, pg. 2388.

6. 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. 1530.

7. 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.

8. Evans, pg. 2388.

9. Swindoll, pp. 186-187.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1531.

11. Constable, pg. 112.

12. Evans, pg. 2388.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1531. 

14. Ibid., pg. 1532; Constable, pg. 112.

15. Swindoll, pg. 187.

16. Vacendak, pg. 1532.

17. Constable, pg. 113 cites Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament Vol. 6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), pg. 364.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1532.

19. Ibid.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Constable, pg. 113.

22. Evans, pg. 2389;  Walvoord, pg. 164.

23. Swindoll, pg. 188.

24. Vacendak, pp. 1532-1533.

25. Ibid., pg. 1532; Swindoll, pg. 188 cites Grant R. Osborne, Revelation Verse by Verse, Osborne New Testament Commentaries (Bellingham WA: Lexham Press, 2016), pg. 373; Constable, pg. 113 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8—22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 38-39.

26. Evans, pg. 2389.

27. Swindoll, pp. 189-190.

How do I overcome doubt? Part 1

“Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.” John 20:24

When we are in the midst of doubts, one of the hardest things to hear is, “Just have faith.” For example, when you are having doubts about your finances and someone comes up to you and says, “Just have faith,” does it help you to have faith? No, it discourages you. Or if you are facing difficulties in your marriage or you are having health problems, and you stay up late at night worrying about them. You have never had to face these problems before in your life. And a friend comes up to you the next day and pats you on the back and says, “Just have faith.” That is like going up to someone who just broke their arm and they are laying on the street, and you bend down and say to them, “Just don’t hurt.” It does not help that person. That is not what they need.

When I am struggling with doubts I do not need someone to come up to me and say, “Just have faith.” I need someone who can come alongside me and show me how to have faith. Here is how to have faith when you are struggling with your finances or in your marriage. Here is how to have faith when you are facing a serious health problem. Here is how to have faith when God seems so distant. Here is how to have faith when you feel like giving up. 1

One of Jesus’ close disciples named, Thomas, struggled with doubt. He struggled with having faith. In our last series of lessons, when Jesus appeared to His ten fearful disciples in the evening of His resurrection day (John 20:19-23), Thomas was not there with them. We do not know for sure why Thomas was absent. Perhaps he was discouraged so he sought isolation instead of fellowship with the other disciples. Hence, He missed Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the other disciples. From these verses in John 20:24-29, we are going to learn how to overcome doubt.

The first way to overcome our doubts, is to RESTORE OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS (John 20:24). Eight days after Jesus had appeared to His ten fearful disciples behind locked doors (John 20:19-23), He comes to them a second time with Thomas present with them this time (John 20:24-29). John tells us, “Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24) the first time. This is very significant.

If Thomas had been with the other disciples that first time Jesus appeared to them, he would not have struggled with doubts about Jesus’ resurrection that past week. If he had been around the other disciples when Jesus appeared the first time, he would not be burdened with lingering doubts. He would have the faith he needed.

Keep in mind that Thomas was already a believer in Jesus for everlasting life (cf. John 2:11; 11:15 13:10; 14:5). Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, Thomas was willing to go into hostile territory and die with Jesus (John 11:7-8, 16). But a week after Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas still did not believe Jesus had come back to life as He promised. So it is clear from the Bible that you can be a spiritually strong believer one moment, and be a spiritually weak believer the next. 2

John informs us that Thomas was “called the Twin” (didumos). Figuratively speaking, Thomas has a lot of twins – believers who doubt. When we remove ourselves from fellowship with other Christians like Thomas did, it can strengthen our doubts and weaken our faith. But if I am going to overcome my doubts, especially during difficult times, I need to be with other believers in Jesus.

The Bible tells us, “24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25). God wants us to know that it is vital for Christians to encourage one another and motivate each other toward love and good works. The word “consider” means to carefully focus on another person in such a way as to “stir up” or stimulate one another to love God and each other so they can live a godly life (“good works”). Worshiping together is a key part of this calling. But Sunday gatherings are not the only time this is to take place. We should be encouraging one another and building each other up in the Lord throughout the week.

Why does God say this? Because we need each other. It is not just what you hear and learn at church, it is the relationships that you develop in those gatherings. Hebrews 10:24-25 is telling us that as we see the Day of Christ’s return drawing near, we are to meet with one another all the more to encourage one another to love others and do good works.

Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith.

What is one of the first things we do when we start to struggle with doubts? We withdraw from other Christians, don’t we? Perhaps we do this because we have been wounded by believers who tell us, “Just have faith,” when we are struggling with doubts. Or perhaps our pride gets in the way and we don’t want other Christians to see us struggle. Or if we do gather with them, we hide our doubts because we don’t want them to see us in a vulnerable position and think less of us.

But the first thing we need when we start to experience doubt is to draw near to other believers who love and support us. A smile or a kind word from our Christian friends can turn our doubts into faith. Listening to their struggles with doubts can also validate our own struggles and remind us that we are not alone. Such interactions with one another can dispel our doubts and strengthen our faith.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for the body of Christ which offers us encouragement and hope in the midst of our doubts. Thank You for reminding us of the importance of gathering with other believers in Jesus to motivate us to love and good works. Help us to move toward other Christians when we are struggling so we can share our doubts with them and receive their encouragement. You never intended for us to live the Christian life in isolation. You created us for relationships with You and one another.  Please give us the courage to pursue healthy relationships so our doubts will be transformed into faith. Guide us to other believers who are also struggling with doubts so we can encourage one another. In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1829.

How can we overcome failure and religious hatred? Part 2

“Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ” John 18:17

We are learning from John 18:13-27 how to overcome failure and religious hatred. First we saw that we can overcome religious hatred when we REALIZE LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR, BUT GOD ALWAYS IS (John 18:13-14). Today we discover how to overcome failure. To do this, we will transfer our attention to stage two in the gospel of John involving Peter’s failure as a disciple of Christ (John 18:15-18). From these verses we learn how to overcome failure.

Before we look at these verses, I want to point out that discipleship is a lifelong process which includes periods of failure in our lives. If you recall, Peter had already vowed to lay down his life for Jesus’ sake when he was in the Upper Room with Christ and the other disciples (John 13:37). But Jesus then said to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.” (John 13:38). Keep in mind that Peter had already believed or trusted in Jesus for eternal life about 3 ½ years earlier (cf. John 1:40-2:11). He was already a Christian. But Christ says to Peter there is going to be a period of time when he is going to deny knowing Jesus “three times.”

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples fled (Matthew 26:56) except Peter and another disciple, who followed at a distance as Jesus was led to the house of Annas. “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.” (John 18:15). The phrase “another disciple” implies that Peter was also a disciple even though he was following Jesus from a distance (Matthew 26:58). “This unnamed disciple was John, the author of the Gospel. John never identifies himself by name but typically calls himself ‘the disciple Jesus loved.’ (see 13:23; 19:26; 20:2).” Since John “was known to the high priest,” he was able to gain access to the courtyard in front of Annas’ house.

“But Peter stood at the door outside. Then the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to her who kept the door, and brought Peter in.” (John 18:16). Because of John’s acquaintance with the high priest, he was able to secure Peter’s entrance into the courtyard. “Then the servant girl who kept the door said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this Man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ” (John 18:17). The servant girl on duty at the door of the courtyard may have known John was a follower of Jesus and suspected Peter was also. Or perhaps it was Peter’s hesitance that gave him away. Regardless, her question expects a negative answer and made it easy for Peter to say no. Peter was afraid to identify himself as a disciple of Jesus because of unfamiliar surroundings and the presence of the temple guards and religious leaders. So he said, “I am not!” The negative particle (ouk) is in a place of emphasis. Peter was saying, “No, not me!” 2

What has happened to this man who vowed to die for Jesus’ sake earlier (John 13:38) and courageously tried to defend Jesus when he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10)? We can tend to be hard on Peter for his denials of Jesus, but who has not had a similar failing? Peter was facing a dangerous situation. He had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant and no doubt feared being seen by him or by the temple officers who accompanied him. So he panicked and lied. Many of us have lied rather than be embarrassed or discovered. Are we still disciples when we fail the Lord like this?

I believe the apostle John would say, “Yes!” Here is why. In these verses John writes “Peter followed… and so did another disciple” (John 18:15) – this means Peter is a disciple even though he is following Jesus from a distance. When John refers to himself as “the other disciple” (John 18:16), he is implying that both he and Peter are disciples. And when John records the servant girl’s question, “…are you one of this Man’s disciples?” he is suggesting that the girl is identifying Peter as Christ’s disciple. Even when Peter denied Jesus Christ, he is still following Him, albeit from a distance.

“Now the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals stood there, for it was cold, and they warmed themselves. And Peter stood with them and warmed himself.” (John 18:18). Jerusalem is located in the Judean mountains, two thousand feet above sea level, and spring nights, especially without cloud cover, can be quite cool. To take off the chill, a fire was burning in the courtyard. Peter joined the servants of the high priest and other officials, and warmed himself by the fire. When John says “it was cold,” he may be referring to more than the air temperature. Peter’s heart was cold, too. 

It is also worth noting that the same Greek word translated “fire of coals” (anthrakia) is only used one other time in the gospel of John. When it shows up again in John 21:9, Peter’s life will be dramatically changed by the restoring love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so might yours.

I believe there are two reasons why Peter failed to publicly identify with Jesus in these verses. One was because he was following Christ from a distance (John 18:15-16; cf. Matthew 26:58). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter was close to Jesus’ side and felt confident next to Christ. But in the courtyard, distance separated him from Jesus and his faith faltered due to this separation. Self-reliance had distanced Peter from his Lord. Remember how Peter vowed to lay down his life for Jesus in the Upper Room? He did not say, “By Your grace or with Your help, I will lay down my life for You, Jesus.” No, Peter said, “I will lay down my life for Your sake.” (John 13:36). Instead of relying on Jesus for the courage he needed to identify with Him, Peter was relying on himself and he failed his Lord when given the opportunity to publicly confess that He knew Him. 

Another reason why Peter refused to publicly identify with Jesus is because he sat down in the company of Jesus’ enemies (John 18:18). Instead of warming up against Jesus, Peter warmed up against Christ’s enemies around the fire in the courtyard. When we closely associate with those who are against a crucified Christ, we will lose our spiritual vitality over time. If we spend all our time listening to people undermine the Lord Jesus or the reliability of the Bible, we will become prone to doubt our Christian faith.

Sometimes we set out to follow Jesus and we may run into hard times and publicly deny our discipleship relationship with Christ because we are relying on ourselves instead of the Lord or we are spending more time with Jesus’ enemies instead of with Jesus Himself. This leads to our second principle: We can overcome failure when we  REMAIN CLOSE TO CHRIST AND OTHER COMMITTED DISCIPLES (John 18:15-18). If we are spending more time with Jesus’ enemies than we are with Christ or His followers, we are going to be less prepared to speak up for Christ when religious hatred is directed at us. Only Jesus can give us the courage to face His enemies.

If we neglect to meet with other believers in Jesus we will be less prepared to publicly identify with Christ when faced with opposition. Satan wants Christians to withdraw from other believers so he can attack them and destroy them much like a lion that preys upon animals that are isolated from the herd and more vulnerable to attack (cf. I Peter 5:8). But God wants us not to forsake “assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some,” so we can focus on “exhorting one another” in such a way as to encourage and strengthen each other to persevere in the Christian faith (Hebrews 10:24-25). After all, the Bible warns us, “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits.” (I Corinthians 15:33). We cannot make unbelievers our constant, intimate companions and think we will remain unscathed. If we constantly and closely associate with those who deny the Person and work of Christ or the reliability of the Bible, we are going to begin to doubt our faith and be less prepared to stand up for Jesus in the face of persecution.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, there is a part of Peter in all of us who are Your disciples. We can make promises to You and fail to keep them because we are relying on ourselves instead of You or because we are spending more time with Your enemies instead of with Your followers. Thank You for showing us that even if we follow You from a distance and fail to publicly identify with You, we can still be Your disciples. May we never become so proud that we conclude we could never fail You like Peter did. Help us to learn from his mistake and stay close to You and those who follow You. We are living in a world that is trying to keep Christians from gathering together to encourage one another in their pursuit and worship of You. Please make a way for us to connect with one another as often as possible. We need You, Jesus, and we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You, for always being with us and never abandoning us. In Your name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTE:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1818.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 322.

Connecting in a Disconnected World of Covid (Video)

Although this video was prepared for a church anniversary in the Philippines, its biblical principles can apply to any culture. We will not only look at the challenges of connecting with other people during this age of COVID-19, we will also turn to the Bible to discover how we can connect with one another in more effective ways. If you are feeling all alone and without hope, this video is for you.