I John 1 – Part 2

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” I John 2:3

Anderson writes, “Author and marriage counselor Gary Chapman has suggested that husbands and wives have five general ways in which they perceive love from their partner:

1. Words of Affection

2. Quality Time

3. Receiving Gifts

4. Acts of Service

5. Physical Touch

“Usually one of these ‘love languages’ is primary for a husband or wife. Unfortunately, mates usually don’t have the same ‘love language.’ Like a Russian who speaks only Russian being married to a Chinese person who speaks only Chinese, a husband might be saying ‘I love you’ in his language, but his wife does not get the message because she has a different love language. According to Chapman, marital intimacy is difficult to achieve unless each partner learns to speak the ‘love language’ of his/her mate.” 2

Christians may assume that God’s primary love language is the same as theirs, so they try to express their love to the Lord in a way that is meaningful to them but not as meaningful to God. While it is true that there are many ways to show God we love Him, what if the Lord has a primary love language and we fail to address it? Is it possible we will not be as close to God because we have not learned His primary love language? 3 I think the apostle John would answer this question in the affirmative. Beginning in I John 2:3, John introduces God’s primary love language.

In verses 1:5-2:2, the apostle John referred to fellowship with God as “walking in the light,” that is, being open and responsive to what the Lord reveals to him or her. A Christian can be honest with God about what is revealed to him or her and enjoy fellowship or closeness with God because of the all-sufficient shed blood of Jesus Christ (1:7, 9; 2:1-2). Or believers can be dishonest with God and experience darkness or broken fellowship with Him (1:6, 8, 10).

Beginning in I John 2:3 John introduces the idea of “knowing God” as another term for fellowship with the Lord. It follows that fellowshipping with God in the light will lead to knowing Him more intimately. The more time a believer spends with God in the light, the more he or she will know Him. John writes, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (I John 2:3).

We have already mentioned in previous articles that some Bible interpreters see I John as tests for eternal life or knowing you are going to heaven 4 while others see it as tests for fellowship or closeness with God on earth. 5 Those who understand I John to provide tests for eternal life understand I John 2:3 to teach that you can tell if you know Christ as your Savior by keeping God’s commandments. According to this view if you want to have assurance that you are a genuine Christian and will go to heaven, then you must keep or obey God’s commandments. Hence, if you are not obeying God’s commandments, you are not a genuine believer in Jesus and you will go to hell when you die. This understanding emphasizes that salvation is by faith, but you cannot know for sure if your faith is real unless you keep God’s commandments. But this understanding is contrary to John’s writings: 6

1. John clearly teaches that a person is saved by believing in Christ alone for eternal life (John 3:15-18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-26; 20:31; cf. I John 5:1b, 13; et al.). He never mentions obeying God’s commands as a condition for salvation in his gospel which was written to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31).

2. The notion that a person can believe in Christ for eternal life without knowing for certain he or she has truly believed in Him is foreign to John’s writings. For example, when Jesus asks Martha if she believes He is the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him (John 11:25-26), she replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). Martha did not say, “I think I believe…” nor does she say, “Maybe I believe…” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” Martha was convinced that Jesus was the Christ – the One who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. Could Martha believe that Jesus was the Christ without realizing she herself had eternal life? No. To believe that Jesus was the Christ was to believe His guarantee of eternal life. To doubt His guarantee of eternal life was to disbelieve Jesus was the Christ. Christ accepts Martha’s response. He does not tell her to wait and see if her faith is real by keeping His commandments. Since belief in Christ is a conviction that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of one’s trust, 7 we can know we have believed.

Many people today make a distinction between head faith and heart faith. They have told us that we can miss heaven by eighteen inches because we have believed in Jesus with our head but not with our heart. But where does the Bible make this distinction? It does not. Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish head belief from heart belief. All belief is belief. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47).

To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. Either I believe Christ’s promise, or I do not. If I do, I have eternal life. If I do not, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one has “heart belief” instead of “head belief.” Saving faith is the conviction that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, and then believing or trusting in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but Whom your faith is in and What your faith believes. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life to every believer by Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:1-8; et al). Therefore, those who refer to “head belief” or “heart belief” are reading into the word “believe” as the Bible neither does, nor provides basis for doing. 8

When Martha answered Jesus’ question with, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27), neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, Who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in his purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.

Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a statement? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because if any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.

Let’s get back to I John 2:3. Again the apostle John includes himself, the other apostles, and his Christian readers (2:12-14; 5:13) when he uses the word “we.” To say that “we” cannot refer to genuine Christians ignores the entire context and denies the obvious meaning of the text (cf. 1:1-2:1). 9

The Greek word for “know” (ginōskō) occurs twice in this verse. Anderson makes a very important observation concerning the different tenses of this same verb, “The first use of ‘know’ is in the present tense (ginōskamen); but the second use of ‘know’ is in the prefect tense (egnōkamen). If we miss this deliberate shift on John’s part, we miss his intent for the verse. Others have pointed out that this root word for ‘know’ (ginōskō) speaks of ‘experiential’ knowledge as opposed to intuitive knowledge. It is what is called by Greek grammarians a ‘stative’ verb because it refers to a state of being as opposed to a verb of action. In other words, to ‘know’ or to ‘believe’ speak of inner truths but not outward actions.

“Now a Greek grammarian named McKay has written an excellent article dealing with the perfect tense of stative verbs in which he demonstrates that putting a stative verb in the perfect tense has the effect of intensifying the basic meaning of the verb. It’s a deeper state of whatever the meaning of the verb is. In this case, the verb means ‘to know’ in the sense of an experience. So, putting it into the perfect tense means ‘to know intensely,’ ‘to experience deeply,’ or ‘to know fully.’ It’s much like the OT meaning when it says, ‘Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…’ It’s an intimate knowledge.” 10

None of the commentators who think I John was written to provide tests for eternal life observe this significant change in the verb tenses of I John 2:3 because that would not support their conclusions. Instead of letting the text speak for itself, they read their own presuppositions into the text.

Anderson writes, “The perfect tense in the Greek language has the basic meaning of ‘completed action in the past with present results.’ But according to its use in context, a typical verb can put its emphasis on the completed action in the past or on the present results… But in a stative verb McKay’s point is that it should always be translated with the emphasis on the present results. In other words, ‘have come to know’ [NASB translation] does not recognize the significance of a stative verb in the perfect tense. A more accurate reflection of the emphasis on the intensified state of experiential knowledge here would be, ‘And by this we know that we know Him intensely.’ And what is intense knowledge if not deep, intimate knowledge?” 11

John is not testing to see if his readers have eternal life in I John 2:3. He is writing to test whether a person is having close fellowship with God. He is saying, “By this we know that we know Him intimately if we keep His commandments.”

The phrase “know Him” is more than knowing we are saved and have eternal life. It is knowing Christ intimately in a fellowship sense. While it is true that all Christians know Christ for salvation (John 10:14; 17:3), not all Christians know Christ in depth as a result of spending time with Him.

For example, an infant knows his parents in terms of being able to recognize them, but a teenager of the same parents knows them more in depth. Through shared time and experience, the teenager has become more intimately acquainted with his parents, whereas the infant has not.

In John 14:7-9, we see an example of a believer not knowing Jesus to a certain degree. Philip has just asked the Lord Jesus to show them the Father (14:8) and Jesus rebukes His ignorance, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9). Philip did know Christ in one sense. He was a saved man and possessed eternal life (cf. John 1:43-50; 2:11). Yet he did not know Christ in a deeper sense. He didn’t know how perfectly Jesus reflected the Father.

Continuing in John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Jesus makes it clear that His primary love language is keeping His commandments. The way we show Christ we love Him is to “keep” or obey His commandments. But there is more.

Jesus says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). To “have” Jesus’ commandments, we must spend time with Him to be aware of what He has said. When a believer “keeps” or obeys the Lord’s commandments, God the Father and God the Son will “love” him or her more intimately and Jesus will “manifest”or reveal more of Himself to them. The word “manifest” (emphanisō) means “to make visible.” 12 Christ reveals more of Himself to us, including His love, as we show him our love for Him by obeying His commandments.

God’s love is not static or unchanging. It is a growing experience in our relationship with the Lord. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but He also loves the obedient believer in a special sense (14:21, 23; cf. 13:23). God rewards obedience with a special experience of His love. Hence, when a believer obeys, Christ will reveal more of Himself to him or her leading to a deeper intimacy with the Father and the Son.

Isn’t this much like a love relationship with another person!?! We don’t usually tell someone everything about ourselves the first time we meet him or her. We share a little of ourselves and wait to see if the other person reciprocates by revealing some of their feelings for us. If he or she does, then we share a little more about ourselves. As we share a little more of ourselves with the other, our feelings for them intensify. Through shared time and experience the other person opens up to the other in a more intimate way.

The same is true of a Christian’s relationship with Christ. Christ will not reveal more of Himself to a believer unless that believer expresses his or her love for Him using His primary love language (keeping His commandments). When Christ sees us expressing our love for Him in this way, He has more confidence that we are ready for Him to share more of Himself with us. So, He reveals more of His love for us.

Verse 3 is telling us how we can know that we know Christ more intimately. If we are growing in our obedience to Christ’s commands, then we can know we are growing closer to Him. But what if a Christian says he knows Christ more intimately while living in disobedience to Jesus’ commandments? John tells us, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (I John 2:4). Interestingly the word “know” (egnōka) is in the perfect tense, so it could be translated, “He who says, ‘I know Him intimately…’” 13

John explains that a believer in Jesus who claims to know Christ more intimately while living in disobedience to His commands “is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” The reason he “is a liar” is because you cannot know Christ more intimately while disobeying His commandments. Such a claim is false. When a believer is living in disobedience, “the truth” of God’s Word is not dynamically active “in” him. The truth has lost its hold on his heart. When “the truth is… in” a Christian in a controlling way, however, such self-deception is not possible. “On the contrary, the most godly saints throughout church history have also been those most deeply aware of their own sinfulness…”

“The truth is either in me as a Christian or it is not. If it is, then I will be engaged in active obedience to God’s commands. If it is not, I am sadly out of touch with the transforming power of the truth of God.

“Thus, it is altogether appropriate for each of us as born-again believers to ask ourselves: ‘Is the truth really in me? Is it working dynamically in my heart and life?’ On the answer to questions like these depends the reality of our communion with our living Lord.” 14

What happens in relation to God’s love when a Christian keeps His commandments? “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” (I John 2:5). In contrast (“But”) to the dishonest claim of verse 4, John now observes that obedience to God’s commands (“whoever keeps His Word”) results in “the love of God” being “perfected in him.” Love for God and obedience to His Word are not tests for eternal life as some often claim. Instead, they are tests for genuine fellowship or intimacy with God. 15

Keeping God’s Word is not a sign you are saved; it is a sign that you love God. This is taken right out of the Upper Room Discourse where Christ’s believing disciples are informed that their Teacher (Jesus) is going to be leaving them (John 13-17). What is their response to this news? “Don’t You care about us? Don’t You love us?” They are not questioning if they will go to heaven when they die. Their hearts are troubled by this news, so Jesus says to them, “Let not your heart be troubled…” (John 14:1). 16

The word “keeps” (tērō) means much more than “has” or possessing God’s Word (I John 2:5). John 14:21 states, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Loving God is more than having His commands. It is keeping His commands. This is more than obeying God’s commandments. It has the basic idea of “watching over, guarding, and protecting,” 17 much like a shepherd watches over his sheep, or a banker protects and guards his treasure, or a fiancé’ his bride-to-be. 18

Anderson illustrates this with a church member’s experience. “In a trip to visit her parents in Quincy, Illinois, she was looking out the front window and saw a baby bird which had fallen to the ground. The mother bird was coming down to feed it. She would feed the birds still in the nest high above the ground, but then she would swoop down to feed the baby bird on the ground. This went on day after day. Finally, Carol observed that the mother bird was building a protective tent over her baby bird so people passing by wouldn’t notice it. Her ritual was to feed the little birds above and then fly to the ground and stay a few feet from the ’tent’ to watch for predators she might have to ward off should they get near her hidden, baby bird. She was protecting, she was guarding, and she was keeping her little one safe.

“That’s what ‘keeps’ means here. It’s more than just to have a Bible or several of them in your house. It’s to treasure God’s Word, to guard it, to protect it. It’s to realize that many people in this world don’t have this book, have never had a chance to listen to its promises or read it for themselves. Outside of our personal relationship with Jesus, His Word may be the most precious thing we have from Him. The person who ‘keeps’ His Word is the one who has His Word, guards His Word, and cherishes His Word. In this person the love of God is perfected.” 19

John tells us that the Christian who keeps God’s Word in this way “truly” has “the love of God… perfected in him” (2:5). The Greek verb “perfected” (teleioō) is in the perfect tense (teteleiōtai) and means “to bring to completion, to bring to its goal, or to bring to full measure…” 20 While God’s love is incredible to the believer at the moment of salvation (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), it’s goal is not reached until the Christian returns that love by his or her obedience, resulting in a greater understanding and experience of the deeply personal love of the Father and Son as they “make [their] home with him” (John 14:23). 21

When a believer cherishes and obeys God’s Word, he or she becomes more intimately acquainted with God’s love. Since God is love (I John 4:8b), to know God intimately is to know His love more intimately. 22

Anderson suggests that this is a reciprocal experience of God’s love. “John says what is in a state of completeness here is the ‘love of God.’ This could mean our love for God or God’s love for us. We would suppose it means our love for God since this is God’s primary love language, that is, the main way He says we can show that we love Him. But we can’t rule out His love for us here since He promises in John 14:21 to love us back if we demonstrate our love for Him by keeping His commandments. Reciprocal love—our love for Him and His love for us. Love is most complete when it is reciprocated. If it is all one-sided, it is still imperfect and incomplete.” 23

When John writes, “By this we know that we are in Him” (2:5b), he is not referring to the apostle Paul’s concept of being “in Him” (Christ) which describes the permanent position of all Christians. John uses the phrase “in Him” like Jesus did in the Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17), to describe, not all Christians, but the group of believers who “abide” in Christ (John 15:1-8). Abiding in Christ is another term that John uses to describe fellowship with Jesus. 24 Jesus said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so, you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8). It is very important to observe that Jesus does not say fruit bearing is necessary for salvation. He says it is necessary to be His “disciples.”

Abiding in Christ is a discipleship experience, not a salvation experience for John. “In I John 2:5-6, discipleship is also in view, as is seen from the reference to the imitation of Christ in verse 6… In short, 2:5-6 continues to talk about the believer’s fellowship with God.” 25

“He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (I John 2:6). For the first time in his epistle, John uses the phrase “abides in Him” as another way of describing fellowship with God. The Greek word “abides” (menō)means “to remain, stay, dwell, continue” 26in fellowship. John uses this word twenty-four times in I John (2:6, 10, 14, 17, 19, 24 [3], 27 [2], 28; 3:6, 9, 14, 15, 17 24 [2]; 4:12, 13, 15, 16 [3]. The emphasis of I John is abiding in Christ so we may have close fellowship with Him. The believer who claims “he abides” or remains in Christ must live just as Jesus lived (“walk just as He walked”). He must live as Christ’s disciple.

In John 8:29, Jesus told His enemies, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” The proof that Christ’s claim to be God is true is that He “always” does “those things that please” His heavenly Father. If we claim to abide in Jesus, we are to seek to do the things that please God the Father. Christ taught that the goal of a disciple is to be like his Teacher (Matthew 10:24). If we claim to be Jesus’ disciple, we must live as our Teacher lived.

“When it comes to making tea, some people dip their teabags in and out of the hot water. Many Christians approach their relationship with Jesus like this—dipping in and out of church on Sunday mornings, with little change resulting. Other tea drinkers place their teabags in the water and let them remain. In time, the tea seeps into the water and transforms it. For Christ to influence and transform your life, you must remain in Him.” 27

Anderson illustrates I John 2:3-6 with this true story: 28 “Boris Kornfeld was a Jewish doctor living in Russia. He grew up with Stalin as his God. He was not a practicing or religious Jew. He did not believe in Yahweh of the OT. He believed in Lenin and Stalin and socialism. But one fourth of the people in the USSR were informants for the KGB. It was a terrorist state. Someone turned Boris in. For what he did not know.

“The KGB whisked him off to one of their prison camps. He was dumbfounded. He had not been unloyal to the state. Lenin and Stalin had been his gods. But there he was, a prisoner of the state. And as he sat in his prison camp and saw the senseless death and destruction, he threw off the shackles of socialism. He deposed the god he was worshipping. He said to himself, ‘This philosophy of life cannot be true.’

“Kornfeld listened to other prisoners who had put their hope in Jesus. For a Jew to give up socialism or communism was one thing, but for a Jew to embrace Jesus was another. But as he kept hearing about the peace and hope Jesus could bring, Boris decided to try Jesus as his Messiah. Not long after trusting Christ he was in a Bible study and listened to this passage, which gives God’s love language: ‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’ Boris Kornfeld knew he wasn’t keeping God’s commandments. On a regular basis he, as a doctor, would sign slips of paper saying a prisoner was fit to go back to work in the mines when he knew this particular prisoner was not fit at all. This is how the prison system thinned their ranks. They just sent an unhealthy person into hard labor. They rarely came out of the mines alive.

“Boris had signed hundreds of these slips, these death warrants. He thought, ‘I’m not going to sign any more slips.’ He knew he was somewhat protected because they needed doctors, but he really did not know what would happen to him.

“Soon after this decision he saw an orderly stealing bread. He could overlook it but decided the right thing to do would be to report it. The orderly was put into the stockade for three days, but when released Boris knew the orderly would be out to get even.

“He began sleeping in the hospital to avoid being caught in the darkness by this vengeful orderly. But he also sensed a new freedom he had not experienced before. He thought, ‘Being willing to die for Christ, being willing to be punished for Christ—all of a sudden, I had a freedom and a peace I had never known in my life. I sensed God was with me and I sensed that He loved me in a special way, and all of a sudden, I had to tell someone. I had never told anyone what had happened to me.’

“A young man came in who had cancer in his intestines. Boris operated on him, and as the young man was coming out of the anesthesia, Boris said to himself, ‘I’ve got to tell this fellow.’ So as the young man was coming out of anesthesia and still in a stupor, Boris began to tell his story of peace and of love and of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. The young man missed most of the beginning of Boris’s story because of the drugs lingering in his system, but then he began to understand, and Boris just couldn’t stop talking. He went on talking for an entire day.

“That night the orderly found Boris and hit him on the head six times with a plasterer’s mallet killing him. But the message Boris shared never left the heart of the young man who heard it, the only man who ever heard Boris’s message. This message of good news, peace, and forgiveness burned in his soul until he too trusted in Jesus Christ as his Savior. Ultimately, this young man cured of physical cancer and the cancer of sin was released from that prison. He went out and told the world the story of the Gutlag Archipelago. His name? Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” 29

“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for revealing to us that Your primary love language is keeping Your commandments. We cannot claim to know You more intimately if we are not obeying Your commands. While Your love for us is remarkable the moment we believe in You for eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), its goal is not reached until we return that love by our obedience, resulting in a greater understanding and experience of the deeply intimate love of the Father and Son as they make their home with us. Teach us to live as You lived Lord Jesus – in willing submission to the Father and total dependence upon Him, always seeking to do what pleases Him. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 71 cites Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 1992).

2. Anderson, pg. 71.

3. Ibid.

4. Anderson, pg. 15 cites John MacArthur, Jr., Saved without a Doubt (Colorado Springs: Cook Communications, 1992), pp. 67-91; Constable, pg. 46 cites James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979); Raymond Brown, The Epistles of John, Anchor Bible series(Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982); F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1970; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986); John Calvin, The First Epistle of John, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries series, Translated by T. H. L. Parker. Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1959-61); John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel according to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988); John R. W. Stott, Basic Introduction to the New Testament, 1st American ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964); Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St. John (1883. Reprint ed. England: Marcham Manor Press, 1966); and Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Scripture Press Publications, Victor Books, 1989).

5. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 7; David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 28; Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 3367 to 3473; Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 589; Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 2329-2333; Constable, pg. 47 cites other commentators who hold that 1 John offers tests of fellowship rather than tests of life, including J. Dwight Pentecost, The Joy of Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977); Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 156-175; Guy H. King, The Fellowship (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1954); Charles C. Ryrie, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), idem, “The First Epistle of John,”In The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), pg. 1466; J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John, Living Word Commentary series (Austin, Tex.: R. B. Sweet, 1968); and Karl Braune, The Epistles General of John, in John Peter Lange ed. Commentary on the Holy Scripture, Vol. 12, Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), pg. 15.

6. Adapted from Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

7. To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 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. 816.

8. See discussion in Jeff Ropp, The Greatest Need in Evangelism Today is One Word: BELIEVE (Jeff Ropp, 2013), pp. 31-33.

9. Zane C. Hodges’ Grace Evangelical Society article on July 13, 2016, “Is God’s Truth in You? I John 2:4b,” at www.faithalone.org

10. Anderson, pg. 74; cf. K. L. McKay, “On the Perfect and Other Aspects in the New Testament Greek,” Novum Testamentum, Vol. 23, Fasc. 4 (Brill: 1981), pp. 289-329.

11. Ibid., pp. 74-75.

12. Bauer, pg. 325.

13. Anderson, pp. 78-79.

14. Hodges, “Is God’s Truth in You? I John 2:4b.”

15. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

16. Anderson, pg. 79.

17. Bauer, pg. 1002.

18. Anderson, pg. 80.

19. Ibid., pp. 80-81.

20. Bauer, pg. 996.

21. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 591.

22. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3614 to 3618.

23. Anderson, pg. 81.

24. Constable, pg. 38; cf. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3618 to 3630; Dillow, pp. 488-489; 612-626.

25. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3622 to 3630.

26. Bauer, pp. 630-631.

27. Evans, pg. 1720.

28. Anderson, pg. 81 cites Chuck W. Colson, Loving God (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1983), pp. 19-25. 29. Ibid., pp. 81-84.

I John 2 – Part 1

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I John 2:1

When the apostle John announced the message he and the other apostolic eyewitnesses heard from the Lord Jesus “that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1:5), he then addressed different responses from Christians to this message about God’s complete holiness. Some believers can lie by claiming to have fellowship or closeness with God while living in darkness or disobedience to Him (1:6). Others may walk in the light as God is in the light by being open and honest to what He reveals to them so they can enjoy fellowship with the Lord because of the all-sufficient cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (1:7).

While experiencing true fellowship with God as they walk in the light with Him, a Christian may deceive himself and claim to “have no sin” (1:8a)which would mean he no longer needs the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. To make such a claim means that God’s “truth is not in us” shaping our thoughts (1:8b). There is never a time in a Christian’s life when he or she does not need the cleansing power of Christ’s shed blood.

When the light of God makes us aware of our sin as we walk in the light, God instructs us to “confess” or agree with His conclusions about those specific sins so He can forgive them and restore our closeness or fellowship with Him (1:9a). Confessing our known sins to God also enables Him “to cleanse us from all” the unknown sins in our lives (1:9b).

But what happens when we discover specific sin in our lives while walking in the light and we claim we have not sinned? The apostle John tells us: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (I John 1:10). We are calling God “a liar, and His word is not in us” as a controlling influence when we deny the specific sins we have committed. We elevate ourselves above God and His Word so that we determine what is and what is not sin. We are telling God that His judgment of us is wrong, and He is therefore “a liar.” 1

For example, God’s Word forbids adultery (cf. Exod. 20:14). Jesus even taught that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28). But if a believer commits adultery with a woman physically or mentally and justifies it by saying, “Everyone is doing this,“ or “No one will ever know so it won’t hurt anyone,” he is calling God “a liar” and His Word is “not in” him in a controlling way at that point.

No Christian is under the influence of God’s Word when he denies the specific sin God’s Word reveals in his or her life. Since he denies what God’s light shows, he is making God a liar, which demonstrates that he does not have fellowship with God (1:6) Who is Light (1:5). 2

This denial of sin is what causes the burden of guilt in our lives. “Guilt is like the red warning light on the dashboard of a car. You can either stop and deal with the trouble, or you can decide the light is giving a false signal. The latter decision is big trouble.

“… Many a Christian has been stuck on the side of the road with engine failure because of ignoring the warning signal of guilt… When Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Tim. 1:19-20) ignored their consciences, they made a shipwreck of their faiths. It was Leo Tolstoy who said, ‘The antagonism between life and conscience may be removed in two ways: By a change of life or by a change of conscience.’” 3

By ignoring the guilt of sin in our lives, we are desensitizing our consciences to sin and to God. The longer we deny our sin and guilt, the more calloused our consciences become to the Lord and His Word.

The apostle John did not want his readers to think his insistence on the sinfulness of Christians (1:8, 10) or the simplicity of confession and forgiveness (1:9) are encouragements to sin, 4 so he writes: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (I John 2:1). Notice John’s fatherly love and concern for his readers when he addresses them as “My little children.” The Greek word translated “little children” (teknia) means “little born ones” 5 and is used seven times by the apostle in this epistle (cf. 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21) and once in his gospel (John 13:33). 6 The word “My” adds a further note of tenderness here compared to John’s “we” statements in chapter 1. This does not require us to conclude John’s readers were his personal converts, but they were very dear to him. 7

All that John wrote in I John 1:5-10 (“these things I write to you”) is meant to have his readers (including us) take sin seriously (“that you may not sin”) and do all they can to avoid it (2:1a). This does not mean he expects them never to ever sin again (cf. 1:8, 10). His intent is not to encourage or excuse sin. The perceptive Christian will allow his sinful tendencies to put him on guard against them, so he does not sin.

John also understood that though we are to vigorously shun sin in our Christian lives, the fact is it can and does take place in the lives of believers. Hence, John writes, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1b). The word “if” in the phrase “if anyone sins” introduces a condition assumed to take place for the sake of the argument. 8

John does not want us to sin, but he knows none of us is perfect, so he assures us that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” What does the Lord Jesus do for the sinning Christian? Does He plead to God to keep us saved? This would not be necessary because in John’s gospel Christ guarantees that those who believe in Him for eternal life are secure forever (John 1:12; 3:15-16; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 7:37-39; 10:28-29; 11:25-26)! Since Jesus’ promises are true and He is faithful to keep them, the believer is eternally secure and there is therefore no need for Christ to plead with God the Father not to cast sinning believers away. 9

The word “Advocate” (Paraklēton) means “one who gets called to the side of another to help” 10 or “one who appears in another’s behalf, mediator, intercessor, helper.” 11 One possible idea in I John 2:1 is of a defense attorney who takes up the case of his client before a tribunal. 12 We are not to give up on our Christian life when we do sin. Satan accuses us when we sin (Rev. 12:9-10), saying to God, “Give him back. He does not love You anymore.”But Jesus steps in and defends us because He is “righteous” – He will do what is right for us.

Anderson notes that “while the use of the word for a ‘lawyer’ is possible, but ‘mediator’ is more likely. When we sin, we don’t need a lawyer (see Rom. 8:33-34), because no one can lay any charge against God’s elect, but we do need an intercessor, a mediator, a High Priest.” 13

How does the Lord Jesus express His advocacy of us? Luke 22:31-33 illustrates how Jesus intercedes for us right now as He sits next to God the Father in heaven. 14 In the context of this passage, the disciples had been arguing with each other at the Lord’s Supper about which of them was the greatest (22:24). Christ then challenged them not to look at greatness as the world does but to pursue greatness before God which involves faithful servanthood (22:25-30).

Before Jesus tells Peter he will deny knowing Christ three times (22:35), Jesus informs Peter that Satan has asked permission to sift him like wheat (22:31). The process of sifting removes unwanted chaff and pebbles from the wheat. There was something in Peter that God wanted to remove. But what is it?

After Jesus tells Peter how He will pray for him (22:32), Peter exclaims, Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” (22:33). Peter was determined to remain loyal to Christ in his own strength. But God must remove or “sift” this self-reliant attitude from Peter before He can greatly use him. Hence, the Lord allows Satan to sift Peter of the “chaff” or “pebbles” of self-reliance from his life.

Christ does offer encouragement to Peter (and us) when He says, “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:32). This verse gives us insight about how Jesus serves as our Advocate when we fail Him. Christ prays three things for Peter (and us):

  • “that your faith should not fail” – Jesus knows Peter is going to fail Him by denying three times that he knows Christ. But Jesus prays that Peter will not be so shattered by his failure that he gives up and leaves Christian service. Jesus is not looking for perfect Christians to serve Him. He is looking for faithful believers who get back up when they fall (22:30; cf. Psalm 37:23-24). Although “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29), the faith that appropriates those gifts is nevertheless subject to failure (2 Tim. 2:18). 15 Jesus intercedes for Christians that this will not happen.
  • and when you have returned to Me” – This means Peter would turn away from the Lord. But Jesus prays for Peter (and us) that we will return both to fellowship with Christ and to Christian service. Satan wanted to sift Peter of his faith, but the Lord wanted to sift him of his self-reliance. Jesus prays for us that our faith will not give out completely. It is also important to recognize that Peter’s leadership was not disqualified because he had weaknesses. God does not disqualify us because we have weaknesses. He sifts us.
  • strengthen your brethren” – Christ prays that when Peter is restored to fellowship and Christian service, he will be able to “strengthen” other believers because Satan will be seeking to knock them down and out of Christian service (cf. I Peter 5:8). This informs us that Jesus prays the sifting process will equip us to strengthen others. It is impossible to strengthen someone else unless you have been sifted yourself. Once we have been through the sifting process, we can offer comfort to others who are being sifted.

If you are a Christian who thinks you have failed the Lord so badly that you are forever disqualified to serve the Lord, Jesus wants you to know He has not given up on you nor has God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit also intercedes for you to help you in your weaknesses: 26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Rom. 8:26-27). When we encounter failure and pain (Rom. 8:18-25), we may not know exactly how to pray to God, so the Holy Spirit helps us by praying on our behalf (“makes intercession for us”) to God the Father, telling Him exactly what is on our hearts (8:26b). The word “groanings” expresses feelings of compassion for our weak condition. The Holy Spirit requests the Father’s help for us with deep compassion (cf. Ephes. 6:18).

Even though we cannot hear the Holy Spirit’s intercession for us, God the Father can hear and understand Him. So not only does the Holy Spirit pray on our behalf, but we have a heavenly Father “who searches” our hearts and “knows what the mind of the Spirit is” (8:27a).The Holy Spirit makes our hearts understandable to the Father. We can be assured that the Holy Spirit’s prayers for us are effective in securing God’s help for us because the Spirit prays on our behalf “according to the will of God” (8:27b).

For example, when our children were infants, my wife would tune in to each child’s wordless cry. She learned to distinguish a cry for food from a cry for attention, an earache cry from a stomachache cry. To me the sounds were identical, but not to their mother who instinctively discerned the meaning of the helpless child’s cry. The Holy Spirit has resources of sensitivity beyond those of the most discerning mother. The Spirit of God can detect needs we cannot articulate. So as the Spirit prays for us, He gives content and expression to our heavenly Father as to the deep things of our hearts. He makes us understandable to the Father. When we do not know what to pray the Holy Spirit fills in the blanks.

During times of failure, we need to know that God understands us. Even if we can’t express ourselves well, our compassionate Father in heaven will understand how we feel and what we need because of the intercessory work of His Son and the Holy Spirit in us. When we feel understood, we really begin to experience hope. Because if God understands our hearts and our needs, then He can do something about them.

But what assurance do we have that God the Father will listen to the advocacy of His Son after we have sinned? John tells us, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (I John 2:2). The word “propitiation” (hilasmos) means “appeasement” or “expiation.” 16 Propitiation refers to the satisfaction God the Father felt when Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins (John 19:30). God’s holy demands were satisfied when He looked at the “Righteous” One’s nail-pierced hands on the cross. Jesus paid the penalty we deserved (“death” – Rom. 6:23b) in full when He took our place on the cross.

Therefore, we do not have to punish ourselves when we do sin because Christ has already taken our full punishment when He died in our place. Some of us may struggle to believe God has forgiven us after we confess our sins to Him (1:9). We may think we have sinned too much for God to pardon us, so guilt feelings persist long after we confess to the Lord. Satan can use such feelings to make believers doubt that their Advocate can secure God’s mercy when they do sin. But John wants us to know and believe that God is fully satisfied no matter how badly or often we have sinned.

Our sympathetic High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16) is seated at the Father’s right hand pointing to His nail-scarred hands and to the mercy seat as He prays for us. It is especially crucial for us to know and believe that the Father is completely satisfied after we have committed sin no matter how often or badly we have sinned. John assures us of this when he writes, “and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (2:2b).

“That’s why John lets us know in no uncertain terms that the death of Christ not only satisfied God’s anger against my sins and the sins of other believers, but also for the sins of the entire world (verses like John 14:19, 27, 30; 15:18; 16:33; and 17:6-26 should make it apparent that the world includes all unbelievers). That means the work of Christ was so great that it not only was sufficient to satisfy God’s anger against the sins of the believers, but also men like Nero, Hitler, Stalin, and Osama bin Laden. If His sacrifice was enough to satisfy God’s justice with regard to their sins, it is certainly enough to take care of mine and yours.” 17

Some erroneously conclude that since Christ’s death was the propitiation or satisfaction not only for the sins of believers but also for the entire world, then all the world (including non-believers) is saved and going to heaven (universalism). But this view fails to understand that verse 2 is only saying the world is savable because Christ died for all people. Only those who believe in Christ and His all-sufficient death on the cross are saved and going to heaven (Acts 16:31; John 3:14-18). 18

“The argument that if Christ paid for all human sin all would be saved is a misconception. The removal of sin as a barrier to God’s saving grace does not automatically bring regeneration and eternal life. The sinner remains dead and ‘alienated from the life of God’ (Eph 4:18). At the final judgment of the lost (Rev 20:11-15), sin as sin is not considered. Instead, men are ‘judged according to their works’ (Rev 20:12) to demonstrate to each that their ‘works’ give them no claim on God’s salvation.” 19

When Christians confess their sins to God, we must not be overwhelmed with our own sin because Jesus’ death on the cross fully satisfied God’s holy demand to punish sin. Christ’s intercession to the Father as our Advocate assures us of this.

Please understand that although Jesus Christ died for all people (I John 2:2; I Tim. 2:5-6), not all people will be saved and go to heaven. We must believe the gospel of Jesus Christ which says Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b; I Cor. 15:3-6). If you are not sure you have eternal life and a future home in Jesus’ heaven, Christ invites you right now to believe in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life.

To “believe in” (pisteuōn eis) Jesus means to be persuaded that He is speaking the truth and is therefore worthy of your trust. 20 If you are convinced Jesus is telling truth in John 3:16 and is therefore worthy of your trust, then believe or trust Christ alone (not your good life, prayers, or religion) to give you His gift of everlasting life. When you believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life, you can be just as certain of heaven as the people who are already there. Knowing we are going to heaven is not a guess; it is a guarantee from Jesus Christ (John 14:1-3).

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for making it possible for sinners to have fellowship with a completely holy God. Thank You for being our Advocate before God the Father when we sin in our Christian lives. Your all-sufficient death guarantees our forgiveness when we confess our sins to God no matter how often or badly we have sinned. Thank You for interceding for us when we do fail so our faith does not fail. And as You pray for us, we can return both to fellowship with You and to Christian service so we can strengthen others who go through similar failures. There is always hope of redemption in You Lord Jesus. Please use us to share this everlasting hope with those who need it the most. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on I John, 2022 Edition, pg. 28.

2. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 590.

3. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pp. 60-61.

4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3553.

5. Ibid., Kindle Location 3558.

6. Ibid.

7. Constable, pg. 30.

8. Ibid. The phrase kai ean tis hamartē is a third-class condition in the Greek text.

9. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

10. Constable, pp. 30-31.

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. 766.

12. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3566.

13. Anderson, pp. 65-66.

14. Ibid., pp. 66-67; Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3566-3575.

15. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

16. Bauer, pg. 474.

17. Anderson, pp. 67-68.

18. Anderson writes, “Theologians usually distinguish between sufficient and efficient. The death of Christ was sufficient penalty to pay for the sins of the entire world, but only efficient for those who believe in Him. It’s like being given a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins. The gift has been paid for. That which was paid was sufficient to cover whatever the certificate says. But that certificate has no real meaning in your life until you go to Baskin Robbins and appropriate what was paid for you. Only then will you enjoy the gift. Before going to the store, the gift certificate was sufficient, but not efficient.” (Maximum Joy, pp. 68-70).

19. Hodges, The Grace New Testament Commentary, pg. 590.

20. Bauer, pg. 816.

Revelation 20 – Part 4

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” Revelation 20:11

“Abandon every hope, all you who enter here.” 1

“Those are the famous words appearing above the gates of hell in Dante’s ‘Inferno.’ According to Dante, those who pass beneath that sign will have absolutely no hope of ever getting out. Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked is a one-way entrance. There is no hope beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire.” 2

For over the last two thousand years, the disturbing facts recorded in Revelation 20:11-15 describing the final judgment of all unsaved people has instilled fear, sorrow, disappointment, and even denial in believer and nonbeliever alike. No one wants to hear that eternal punishment for sin awaits those who refuse to believe in God’s only provision for sin – His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. While believers in Jesus will find themselves enjoying the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ forever (Revelation 21:1-22:21), the nonbeliever will find himself or herself forever removed from His presence (Revelation 20:11-15). The facts of eternal punishment are clearly presented without a hint of any hope – “because no hope exists apart from God.” 3 (emphasis added)

In our study of the book of Revelation, we learned that the members of the unholy trinity (Satan, the beast, and false prophet) all received their final judgment and consignment to the lake of fire forever (19:20; 20:10). Now we will see the Judge of all the earth, the Lord Jesus Christ, determine the degree of eternal punishment for every nonbeliever who has ever lived before he or she is cast into the lake of fire (20:11-15). The “rest of the dead” will “live again” (receive bodily resurrection) to receive their final judgment (20:5). 4  This is thought to be “the most serious, sobering and tragic passage in the entire Bible.” 5

The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” (Revelation 20:11). The words translated “Then I saw” (kai eidon) introduces additional information John saw in this vision (cf. 19:11, 17, 19: 20:1, 4, 12; 21:1-2). The continuation of chronological progression seems obvious from the continued use of kai often translated “And,” to introduce new information. All but one verse in this chapter begins with kai (20:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15). 6

Initially the apostle John sees “a great white throne and Him who sat on it” (20:11a). This throne is “great” because of the One Who sat on it – the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ (19:16; cf. I Timothy 6:14-16) – to Whom God the Father “has committed all judgment” (John 5:22). This throne is “white” because every verdict that proceeds from it is holy, just, pure, and righteous (cf. Psalm 97:2). 7 No one will be able dispute or reverse the final verdict and sentencing issued from this throne.

Erwin W. Lutzer writes, “We picture the scene: host beyond host, rank behind rank. The millions among the nations of the world, all crowded together in the presence of the One who sits upon the throne, the One who looks intently at each individual. We are accustomed to human judges; we know their partial and impartial verdicts. In the presence of the Almighty, all previous judgments are rendered useless. Many men and women acquitted on earth before a human judge will now be found guilty before God. Men who have been accustomed to perks, special privileges, and legal representation now stand as naked in the presence of God. To their horror they are judged by a standard that is light-years beyond them: The standard is God Himself… For the first time in their lives they stand in the presence of unclouded righteousness. They will be asked questions for which they know the answer. Their lives are present before them; unfortunately, they will be doomed to a painful, eternal existence.” 8

The location of this judgment is neither in heaven nor on earth, but in space as suggested by the statement “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away” (20:11b). 9 The “earth” and “heaven” flee in terror from the Judge’s “face.” This portrays how serious and fearful it will be to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at this final judgment. All of creation seeks to run away and hide, but “there was found no place for them” to escape (20:11c). 10 No unsaved person will be able to avoid this final judgment.

“Most adults have seen a courthouse, and some have probably been in a courtroom as a juror, witness, or part of a lawsuit. The scene is very imposing. Courtrooms often have high, vaulted ceilings with beautiful paintings and massive chandeliers. In the gallery the people sit on dark wooden benches with high, straight backs. The atmosphere is always serious and silent, except for a few muted whispers. Suddenly the door from the judge’s chambers opens and the bailiff enters, commanding all present to rise as the black-robed judge enters the courtroom. When the judge takes a seat behind the bar, court is in session. The parties are called, and the case begins.” 11

This scene will someday occur before the bar of the King of kings and Lord of lords somewhere between earth and heaven – only it will be multiplied times infinity. 12 Jesus Christ Himself will conduct the trial, and no one is more qualified than Him. He made provision for the salvation of every human being (cf. John 19:30; I Timothy 2:3-5). But those who rejected Him and His offer of salvation, must now be judged by Him. 13

“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12). John “saw” the unbelieving “dead” from all ages of history “standing before the throne” in their resurrected bodies which are indestructible. The defendants at this final judgment of unsaved humankind will consist of the “small” or insignificant. No nonbeliever will be too unimportant to go unnoticed at this judgment. Unsaved people whose lives were barely a blip in history will be there. Nor will any unbeliever be too “great” or significant to escape judgment here. The unbelieving Alexander the Great’s, Julius Caesar’s, Stalin’s, and Hitler’s will be there. Unbelieving self-righteous religious leaders will be there. Atheists and terrible sinners will be there. Unbelieving procrastinators will be there. Unconverted church members will be there. No unsaved person will escape his or her day in God’s courtroom. 14

This multitude of defendants will be diverse in its religions. “We see Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. We see those who believed in one God and those who believed in many gods. We see those who refused to believe in any God at all. We see those who believed in meditation as a means of salvation and those who believed that doing good deeds was the path to eternal life. We see the moral and immoral, the priest as well as the minister, the nun as well as the missionary.” 15

Swindoll describes the unsaved at this final judgment as…

  • “Those who existed amidst creation but replaced the Creator with idols and false gods.
  • Those who turned their backs on the free grace of God in favor of a works-based religion.
  • Those who repeatedly heard the gospel of Christ but rejected Him until it was too late.
  • Those who concluded, based on logic, reason, and experience, that God doesn’t exist.
  • Those who lived out their depravity through selfishness, wickedness, and violence.” 16

This final judgment will involve the consultation of two heavenly records: the “books” and “the book of life” (20:12b). The first heavenly record (the “books”)will determine the degree of punishment for the nonbeliever in the lake of fire. These “books” contain the record of every unsaved human being’s deeds so they can be judged “according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (20:12c). 17  Since this judgment will be “according to their works,” there will be differing degrees of punishment among nonbelievers (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47), just as there will be varying degrees of rewards for believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:25-27; 22:12).

Millions if not billions of people have died thinking they are good enough to enter God’s heaven. Hence, Jesus Christ will examine all they have done throughout the course of their lives on earth and render His verdict the same for all nonbelievers: “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). 18

It is very important that we understand that the sinful deeds of the nonbeliever are not the basis on which the nonbeliever is consigned to the lake of fire. The basis of eternal condemnation is found in the second heavenly record: “another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” (20:12b),and it contains the names of all those who have been born spiritually into God’s family since the beginning of creation through faith in God’s promises(cf. Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:7). 19

Eternal condemnation in the lake of fire is not based on a person’s behavior, but on whether his or her name is written in “the book of life” (20:15). Those who believe in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life will be found to have their names written in the book of life (cf. John 3:16, 36; 5:24; et al.). They have been credited with God’s imputed righteousness because of their faith in Jesus, not because of their good works (Romans 4:5). No one will receive eternal life based on what is written in a book of deeds because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23; 6:23). 20 Hence, all nonbelievers, will not have their names written in the book of life because they were never saved by grace through faith alone in Christ alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

To have your name written in the book of life you must reject the idea that your own righteousness will gain acceptance before God. The apostle Paul wrote, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16). Believers in Jesus for His gift of salvation will have their names written in “the book of life” and therefore, will never receive eternal punishment based on their deeds. Hence, they will not be summoned to appear before the great white throne. 21

But all unsaved people from all ages of history will be summoned to appear at the great white throne. No high-priced lawyers will get the case postponed or dismissed on a legal technicality. No one will jump bail. Everyone who is summoned must appear. 22

“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13). God will physically resurrect the bodies of all nonbelievers, and unite them with their spirits, even those bodies decomposed in “the sea.” “In the ancient world the sea was thought to be the most inaccessible place. No human could venture to the depths of the ocean. People believed that no one buried in the ocean could ever be disturbed. God makes it clear that even the most mysterious, difficult, out-of-the-way, forbidden places are fully accessible to God. The Day of Judgment is sure (Hebrews 9:27).” 23

The statement “Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them” refers to the physical bodies of the unsaved (“Death”) being joined with their souls and spirits which have been in “Hades.” 24 “Hades” is the temporary holding place of the souls and spirits of all nonbelievers until the great white throne judgment (Luke 16:23-24).

At the time of physical death during this church age, the soul and spirit are separated from the physical body, with the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of believers going immediately into the presence of Christ in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4) and the immaterial parts (spirit and soul) of nonbelievers going to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23-24). At the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 4:15-17), believers’ souls and spirits will be united with glorified bodies appropriate to their eternal existence in heaven. Here in Revelation 20:12-13, nonbelievers’ souls and spirits are united with bodies suited for their eternal location. 25

John informs us a second time that all nonbelievers at the great white throne will be judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13b). The punishment of each nonbeliever will be proportional to their sinful works. The more wickedly they behaved, the greater the degree of their punishment in the lake of fire. The charges against each nonbeliever will be read to them before their sentencing. One interpreter describes the seriousness of this judgment:

“The accused, all the unsaved who have ever lived, will be resurrected to experience a trial like no other that has ever been. There will be no debate over their guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender; an accuser but no advocate. There will be an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused; the convicting evidence will be presented with no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be an utterly unsympathetic Judge and no jury, and there will be no appeal of the sentence He pronounces. The guilty will be punished eternally with no possibility of parole in a prison from which there is no escape.” 26

Next John tells us, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14). From this point on there will be no more since God will cast “death and Hades… into the lake of fire.” Being “cast into the lake of fire” is described as “the second death.” “When a person is arrested for a crime, he is sent to a temporary place of punishment awaiting trial. But once that person has been tried and found guilty, he is sent to a long-term place of punishment. Hades can be conceived of as a prison to which men are temporarily assigned because they have been bound over for trial, but the lake of fire is God’s permanent prison for the eternally lost (cf. Matthew 13:40-42; 25:41; Mark 9:43-44; Jude 1:7; Revelation 21:8).” 27

Just as believers in Jesus have two births – physical and spiritual (John 3:5-6), so nonbelievers have two deaths. The first death involves separation of the soul and spirit from the physical body. The second death involves separation of the soul and spirit from God forever.

Finally, John writes, “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). The “lake of fire” will be the final and eternal location of every human whose name is “not found written in the Book of Life.” Every person who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life will not be “found written in the Book of Life.” The “lake of fire” is a horrible place of eternal, conscious torment (14:10-11; 20:10) received in proportion to one’s sinful “works” done in the body (cf. 20:12-13). Those who receive this eternal punishment have not necessarily committed worse sins than believers who dwell with God in His heaven. Nonbelievers are simply reaping the fruit of their sins instead of enjoying the benefits of having Christ’s perfect record credited to their accounts (cf. Roman 3:22, 24-26, 28; 4:5-8). 28

Although many Christians and non-Christians have tried to deny or avoid the biblical truth concerning eternal punishment, as far as God’s revelation is concerned there are only two destinies for human beings; one is to be with the Lord forever in His heaven (John 3:36a; Revelation 21:1-22:21) and the other is to be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (John 3:36b; Revelation 21:14-15). This solemn fact is intended to motivate Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth no matter what the cost and doing everything possible to inform and challenge the unsaved to believe in Christ for His free gift of eternal life before it is too late. 29

The sentencing of nonbelievers to the lake of fire forever may seem very harsh to us. Some of us may think it is unfair and inconsistent with God’s love and mercy. But we must remember that God is infinitely holy (Revelation 3:7; 4:8; 6:10; 15:4; cf. Isaiah 6:3) and just (Revelation 15:3; cf. Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 30:18). The penalty for sin must be paid (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ Himself loved us so much He personally bore the wrath and punishment of God for human sin (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18), fully satisfying God’s demand to punish sin (I John 2:1-2).

Every person must decide to either accept Christ’s full payment for his or her sins (John 19:30) or pay the infinite price himself or herself in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The price must be paid in full. Will we pay it ourselves in the lake of fire or will we believe in Christ and His full payment in our place? The choice is ours. Either way, God is perfectly fair and just. 30

If you do not know for sure you will live with Jesus in eternity, you can make sure right now so you can avoid eternal torment in the lake of fire. Simply believe Jesus’ promise in John 3:16: “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is not asking you if you keep His commandments or go to church every week. Because He never said whoever keeps His commandments or goes to church every week should not perish but have everlasting life. Christ is not asking you if you pray or meditate every day because He never said whoever prays or meditates every day should not perish but have everlasting life. Nor is Jesus asking you if you persevere in good works or have been baptized with water because He never said whoever perseveres in good works or is baptized with water should not perish but have everlasting life.

No. Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The word “believe” (pisteuō) in the New Testament means to be persuaded that something is true and therefore worthy of one’s trust. 31 When Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” are you convinced He is telling the truth and therefore is worthy of your trust? If you are, then trust Him to give you His gift of everlasting life.

The moment you believe or trust in Jesus for eternal life – you have eternal life. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says the person “believes” and “have.” We have what we take, correct? Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

For example, I sometimes illustrate faith by holding up a five-dollar bill at an evangelistic gathering. I explain to the audience that the first person who comes up to me and takes this bill from my hand can keep this bill. When someone does this, I then ask them why he or she came up. If they understand the simplicity of faith, they usually say because they believed my promise to give them the money.

Jesus Christ is saying, “I love you. I died for you. Do you believe? Will you trust Me to give you the never-ending life I bought for you with My own blood that was shed for you on the cross?” This is an invitation to believe in Jesus Christ and Him alone – not ourselves or Him plus our works. Nor is He asking us to believe in the Jesus of Islam or Hinduism or Mormonism or Jehovah Witnesses or some other religion. Christ is asking us to believe in the Jesus of the Bible.

Many people don’t believe in the lake of fire or hell, but they better be sure because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. When we believe in Jesus, Christ promises we shall not “perish” in the lake of fire (John 3:16). This is the best news ever!

If you just believed in Christ for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell God this through prayer. You can simply say to the Lord, “Dear Jesus, I come to you now as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died for me on the cross and rose from the dead. I am now believing or trusting in You alone Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to give me everlasting life and rescue me forever from the lake of fire. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in Your heaven. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus, He gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). He guarantees you will never come into judgment because He has rescued you from the lake of fire forever (John 3:16b; 5:24). God now wants to use you to tell your family and friends the good news of Jesus’ free offer of eternal life so they can be forever saved from the lake of fire the moment they believe in Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, all people have sinned against you and deserve to suffer eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire. Yet because of Your amazing grace, we can be forever saved from the lake of fire simply by believing in Your Son who was lifted up on a cross to die in our place for our sins and then rose from the dead so whoever believes in Him should not perish in the lake of fire but have everlasting life with You in Your heaven. Because of Your great love and grace, we will not have to stand before the great white throne if we believe in Jesus. Please use us, we pray, to share this wonderful news with those who are perishing without Christ. May we be willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel of grace with every lost person in the world today. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 366 cites Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, “Inferno,” Canto 3, retranslated by Michael J. Svigel from the Italian version of Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, vol. 1, ed. Charles Singleton, Bollingen Series 18 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), pg. 24.

2. Ibid., pg. 367.

3. Ibid.

4. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1581.

5. Swindoll, pg. 367 cites John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2000), pg. 245.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 229.

7. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

8. 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. 436 cites Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1998), pp. 164-165.

9. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6448.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

11. Hitchcock, pg. 438.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pg. 439 cites David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997), pg. 236.

14. Hitchcock, pg. 439.

15. Ibid., cites Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward, pg. 166.

16. Swindoll, pg. 368.

17. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2419.

18. Vacendak, pg. 1581.

19. Ibid.

20. Evans, pg. 2419.

21. Swindoll, pp. 368-369.

22. Hitchcock, pg. 440.

23. Ibid.

24. Walvoord, location 6482.

25. Evans, pg. 2420.

26. Swindoll, pp. 371 cites John MacArthur, pp. 245-246.

27. Vacendak, pg. 1582.

28. Evans, pg. 2420.

29. Walvoord, location 6492.

30. Hitchcock, pg. 441.

31. 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. 816.

Revelation 14 – Part 7

“So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” Revelation 14:19

Having compared the upcoming bowl judgments to a grain harvest (Revelation 14:14-16), John now shifts his attention to the battle of Armageddon which is compared to a grape harvest (Revelation 14:17-20). The number of God’s messengers prepared to reap the harvest of God’s judgment increases in the following verses. “Then another angel came out of the temple, which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.” (Revelation 14:17). The sixth (“another”) “angel” in this group (14:6-20) “came out of the temple which is in heaven” ready to execute judgment with “a sharp sickle” like the angel of verse 14. Like that angel, this angel also represents the Lord Jesus Christ. 1

“And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’” (Revelation 14:18). Then John hears “another” (seventh) “angel” who oversees “the altar” of incense and its “fire” (cf. 8:3-5). It is quite possible that this means the angel is responding to the prayers for vengeance by the Tribulation saints from under the altar (cf. 6:9-10). 2

This seventh angel loudly commands the angel with “the sharp sickle” to “thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” The earth is portrayed as a grape vineyard with many “clusters” of grapes which represent the different armies from around the world that will fight against Jesus Christ at Armageddon (cf. 16:12-16). 3 These various armies must be removed from their different locations around the globe to be “gathered” to Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 12:3; 14:2). 4 Somehow Satan will deceive the kings of the earth to assemble outside Jerusalem to make war with the King of kings and Lord of lords as He returns to the earth with His church (Revelation 16:12-16; 19:7-19).

The word used for “fully ripe” (ēkmasan) means to be “fully grown” or in “prime condition.” 5 The grapes were full of juice and ready for harvest.” 6 What this means is the rebellion of these armies that gathered to make war against King Jesus had reached a crescendo. 7 It was time for their judgment.

19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.” (Revelation 14:19-20). Without delay, “the angel” swung “his sickle” and hurled the “gathered… vine of the earth,” representing the Beast and his global armies, 8 “into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). So, we see that the judgment pictured by the harvest of grapes here is more localized than the judgment portrayed by the harvest of grain, in that it focuses on the armies gathered far “outside the city” of Jerusalem (14:20) 9 “to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (16:16) or Megiddo. Megiddo is approximately forty miles northeast of Jerusalem and will be the site of this bloody battle between the Lord Jesus and the armies of the Beast. 10 This severe judgment by God against the Beast and his rebellious armies is portrayed as grapes being “trampled” in a “winepress” by the Lord Jesus Christ (14:19-20).  

“When the grapes were put into the winepress, there would be people in the winepress who would stomp around on the grapes so that the juice would be released down into a collection vat. Using this image, in Revelation 14:19 the winepress is ‘the great winepress of God’s wrath.’ The Lord is the One who is doing the stomping, but He is stomping on people, not grapes. And what pours out is blood, not grape juice (Isaiah 63:2-3; Joel 3:13; Revelation 19:15). The imagery suggests that the stomping of His judgment is so intense that the blood from His winepress will splash out as high as a horse’s bridle.

“This is a picture of the ferocity of God’s judgment. The Lord is saying that at Armageddon He is going to throw all the nations into His great winepress and that His intense, blood-splattering judgment will extend throughout Israel from Megiddo to Bozrah.” 11

It seems probable that the “blood” of these armies will literally flow “up to” the height of “the horses’ bridle[s],” which is about four to five feet, “for one thousand six hundred furlongs,” which is two hundred miles (14:19-20; cf. 19:15-21). For that much blood to flow, vast numbers of people will have to die. Nothing in human history has ever come close to the ferocity of this battle. The blood will evidently drain out of the Valley of Jezreel, near the biblical city of Megiddo, 12 for two hundred miles, probably flowing eastward down the Jezreel Valley down through the Harod Valley to the Jordan Valley, and then south all the way to the Dead Sea. 13

It is important to see here that God is patient in giving people a chance to get right with Him prior to judgment. God waited until the “grapes” were “fully ripe” (14:18) before He had them thrown into the “great winepress of” His “wrath” (14:19). He does not judge people “at the first hint of their sinful rebellion, though that would be entirely justified. Instead, He provided extended opportunity for repentance and strikes with the sickle of judgment when rebellion has matured into an unmistakable pattern.” 14

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ yet, please understand that God is being patient with you to give you an opportunity to get right with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. You are not promised tomorrow on earth. Today you can freely come to God as a sinner (Romans 3:23), realizing you cannot save yourself from the penalty of your sins (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). God loves you and longs to have a forever relationship with you. This is why He sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to earth over two thousand years ago to die in your place on a cross and rise from the dead (John 3:16a; I Corinthians 15:3-6) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish” in hell, “but have everlasting life” both now and forever (John 3:16b).

Is there anything keeping you from believing in Jesus right now for His gift of everlasting life? If there is, what is it? Nothing you can think of could outweigh the horrors both of God’s temporal judgments on earth during the future Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19) and His eternal judgment of nonbelievers in the lake of fire (Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:15). God intended “the everlasting fire” of hell to be for the devil and his angels, not people (Matthew 25:41). But those who reject God’s free offer of eternal life in Christ Jesus, will send themselves to hell for all eternity (John 3:18, 36b; Revelation 20:15).

God is not asking you to clean up your life. He did not send Jesus into the world to condemn you but to cleanse you (John 3:17). All God asks is that you believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16 36). And when you believe in Christ, He guarantees you will “not perish” in hell, but “have everlasting life” both now and forever (3:16b). Do you believe this? If so, you are now God’s child (John 1:12) destined for heaven with God forever. You are no longer destined for the upcoming temporal judgments of the Tribulation period (I Thessalonians 5:9-10; 4:13-18) nor eternal judgment in the lake of fire (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

As we conclude Revelation 14:6-20, there are two principles for those of us who believe in Jesus to apply to our lives.  First, God’s grace gives us the freedom to choose His righteousness.” 15 In the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve with the freedom to choose between good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17). With this freedom of choice comes accountability. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God instead of obeying Him (Genesis 3:1-6), they sent all of humanity into a state of sin and death (Genesis 3:7-21; Romans 5:12-14; I Corinthians 15:22). 16

However, Christ’s death on the cross redeemed us from slavery to sin (Romans 6:5-7; Ephesians 1:7) so that we now have the choice through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to choose God’s righteousness instead of sin (Romans 8:1-13). God calls us as believers in Jesus to use the freedom of choice in the service of God, not self (Romans 6:12-13). 17

The second principle to apply to our lives is “God’s justice holds every person accountable.” 18 Some believers in Jesus think that because they are saved forever by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), they are no longer accountable for their decisions or actions. It is true that believers in this Church Age will escape both the coming wrath of God during the Tribulation period on earth via the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:13-5:9) and eternal torment in the lake of fire (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:15).

But the Bible also tells us that Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10). A day of God’s assessment of our Christian lives is coming to determine what if any eternal rewards we will receive for the things we did in our earthly bodies.

The Bible tells us in I Corinthians 3, that God is the One who will “reward” each believer “according to his own labor” (3:8b) at the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:9-15; cf. I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Under the penetrating gaze of Christ, the quality of our works will be “revealed by fire” to determine our level of loss or rewards (3:13). Those whose work “endures” the flames “will receive a reward” (3:14). But “if anyone’s work is burned” up, “he will suffer loss” at the Judgment Seat; “but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire” (3:15). While this passage does affirm the eternal security of an unfaithful believer (“he himself will be saved”) who enters heaven with little or nothing to show for in terms of service to God, 19 it also underscores the accountability of that believer to Christ. Jesus’ scrutiny of his unfaithful life will be painful (“yet as through fire”).

The day of God’s assessment of our Christian lives is coming. Are we prepared to face Christ’s revealing gaze at the Judgment Seat? Are we using our freedom of choice to choose to live a life that is free from sin’s domination, or have we forgotten that there will be an accounting of our works before Jesus? 20 God wants to use this knowledge of His future assessment of our Christian lives to motivate us to live faithfully for Him now so we can enjoy eternal rewards with Him throughout eternity.

Prayer: Holy Father, You have pierced our hearts with this vision of a harvest of grapes that depicts the future blood bath that will take place when King Jesus returns to earth to severely judge the Beast and all his armies who have rejected You, Lord God. Never has the earth seen such ferocity and shedding of blood as is described in this final battle that will take place at the end of the Tribulation period. To think that all of this could be avoided if people would trust in You and yield to Your righteousness. But in love, You created us with the freedom to choose. May those of us who believe in Jesus, use this freedom of choice to serve and honor You in the power of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, knowing You will richly reward us for our faithfulness at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This final battle also reminds us of the importance of sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who are currently perishing without Christ, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and be rescued from both temporal judgments on earth and eternal judgment in the lake of fire. Thank You, Father, for graciously revealing the future to us so we may prepare for what is coming. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition

(Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1554.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 163.

3. Bob Vacendak, pg. 1554.

4. Ibid.

5. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 5904.

6. Ibid.

7. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 274.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1554.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., pg. 1561.

11. 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. 376.

12. Swindoll, pg. 275.

13. Constable, pg. 164.

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

15. Swindoll, pg. 276.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., pg. 277.

19. Evans, pg. 1979.

20. Swindoll, pg. 277.

First Things First

“Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land.” Leviticus 25:9

During my morning time with the Lord, I was impressed with God’s instructions to the nation of Israel concerning special years they were to observe in Leviticus 25. The Israelites were to give their land a Sabbath rest every seventh year as the Lord provided a Sabbath rest every seventh day (25:1-7). It may seem risky to those who are agriculturally dependent to cease from farming for a year, but God intended for this to deepen His people’s dependence upon Him to provide for them.

After seven Sabbatical years, the nation of Israel was to observe the fiftieth year called the Year of Jubilee (25:8). Interestingly, this observance began with “the Day of Atonement” (25:9). The Day of Atonement was observed once a year by the Israelites so they could get right with God through an atoning sacrifice involving the shedding of blood (cf. 16:1-34; 23:26-32). This animal sacrifice foreshadowed Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. John 1:29; Hebrews 10:1-18).

What this communicated to the nation of Israel was that before they could enjoy God’s involvement with their agricultural economy, society, and politics (Leviticus 25:10-55), they must first get right with the Lord spiritually by approaching Him on His terms to be forgiven of their sins. Failure to observe the Day of Atonement, would not enable the Israelites to receive God’s blessings for their families, neighbors, communities, economy, and government leaders.

The same is true for us in America. Before we the people of America can enjoy God’s blessings in our families, economy, society, and politics, we must first get right with the Lord spiritually through the Lord Jesus Christ. We may want God to do things for us without first coming to the Lord for atonement for our sins. Sadly, some of us may not even recognize our need to address our sin. We may cry out to God for justice, or ask Him to fix this or provide this, or avenge the wrongs done to us, while omitting the very thing that inaugurated God’s Jubilee for the people of Israel – addressing our personal and corporate sins through an atoning sacrifice. 1

We cannot enjoy the supernatural favor of God individually or corporately as a nation without first addressing our problem with sin. God is a holy and righteous God who hates sin and demands that sin must be punished (cf. Leviticus 10:1-3; 24:10-23; Psalm 5:5; 11:5; 45:7; Proverbs 6:16-19; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Hebrews 1:9). God’s wrath toward sin must be dealt with first before we can experience God’s blessings. This is only possible through Jesus Christ Whose perfect sacrificial death and resurrection paid the penalty for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

If we want to experience the blessings of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ, as individuals or even as a nation, we must first be rightly related to Him by grace through faith in Him alone for His gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you are not in a relationship with Jesus Christ, would you like to begin that relationship right now? To do so, simply come to Jesus as you are – an underserving sinner who needs forgiveness and eternal life. Christ loved you and died in your place for you on the cross. He then rose from the dead three days later as He promised (Matthew 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), and He is alive today so He can give you complete forgiveness and everlasting life the moment you believe in Him (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; John 3:16).

Will you take Jesus at His word when He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)? If you do, Christ guarantees you will never “perish” in hell and you now “have everlasting life” which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). Jesus now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Galatians 2:20) and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now, and not for yourself (Romans 8:11; 2 Corinthian 5:15). You can get to know Jesus more intimately as you spend time with Him talking to Him through prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and listening to Him as you read and apply the Bible to your life both individually and corporately with other like-minded Christians (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 10:24-25).

God also wants us to pray for our country and its leaders so the gospel of Jesus can spread unhindered throughout our land (I Timothy 2:1-8) and bring His blessings upon us as a nation. Would you join me in praying for our country now?

Prayer:  Gracious heavenly Father, the only way we can approach You is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank You for reminding us of this in Leviticus 25 today. Before the Israelites could enjoy Your involvement in their families, economy, society, and politics, they had to address their sin problem before You by offering an atoning sacrifice. Likewise, Lord, before we can approach You to bless our individual and corporate lives, we must get right with You spiritually through Jesus Christ. Lord God, You know how broken our country is because we have turned away from You and Your ways. Please, oh please, heavenly Father, bring us back to You. Bring to our awareness our need for You and Your forgiving grace. Use those of us who believe in Jesus to spread the good news of His grace with our lives and lips so people may get right with You holy Father through faith in Your only perfect Son. We need You gracious God. Our families, our neighbors, our economy, our society, our political leaders – all of us deeply need You to restore our relationship with You through Jesus. Thank You our Lord and our God for hearing our prayers. In the atoning name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 298.

Two Christmas Seasons

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day by hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus talks about two Christmas seasons in one of the most familiar verses of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

This verse falls in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a religious ruler named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus thinks the way to heaven is by living a good life. But Jesus confronts him with the truth that he must be born again by believing in Christ alone for eternal life. It is not what you do that gets you to heaven, it is what Christ has already done for you on the cross, and simply believing in Him.

The first Christmas season is seen in the first part of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” No one has ever loved to the degree that God has loved. He loved the world. He did not limit His love to one country, culture, or color. God loved everyone.

Because God loves everyone, His love cannot be earned. God loves us now, not when we get better. He loves us regardless of what we have done or not done. Do you realize that nothing you do can make God love you any less? God has designed us to be loved by Him. Only His love can meet our deepest needs. Sadly, we often look in the wrong places for God’s love, don’t we? We look for love in – a cell phone, a job, money, sports, alcohol, a computer, drugs, or a brief romantic relationship. God’s love isn’t found in these things. His love is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How did God express His love for us? “He gave His only begotten Son.” The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents. The word translated “only begotten” (monogenḗs) literally means “one of a kind.” Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind because only He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14).

Over two thousand years ago, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger on the earth even though He pre-existed as God. He loved you and me so much He was willing to become a helpless baby. Here He was, the Creator of the universe, lying in the arms of a woman that He created! God sent Jesus so you could know what He is like (John 1:18). If God wanted to communicate to birds, He would have become a bird. If God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. But God wanted to relate to you and to me, so He became a human being without ceasing to be God.

You may be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, or an atheist. It does not matter what your religious background is because Christ did not come to give us religion, He came to give us a relationship. Christmas is God saying, “I want to relate to you. I want you to know Me as much as I know you.”

Because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:23), we deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But Jesus came that first Christmas season to die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Christ paid for the gift of eternal life.

When you receive a gift, do you have to pay for it? No, of course not. Why? Because it is already paid for. Eternal life is free to you and me (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9) because Jesus already paid for it when He died on the cross (John 19:30) and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today! So, the first Christmas season was when Christ came to us.

The second Christmas season is now when Christ invites us to come to Him. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). Does the word “whoever” include everyone? Yes. It includes the best and worst of people and everyone in between.

Christ invites everyone to believe in Him for His free gift. He did not say “whoever behaves…” Jesus simply says, “whoever believes…” Receiving Christ’s gift of eternal life is apart from any good works we might do.

Jesus is not asking you, “Do you do good in the community?” because He never said, “Whoever does good in the community should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking you, “Did you live an obedient life?” because He never said, “Whoever lives an obedient life should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking, “Do you have religion?” because He never said, “whoever has religion should not perish but have everlasting.”

Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does it mean to believe? To believe simply means to trust or depend upon. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says you “believe” and “have.” You have what you take, correct?

What do you like the most about Christmas? Most people will say, receiving gifts, right?! To enjoy a gift, what must you do? You must receive it.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger and died on a cross so we could receive eternal life as a free gift. We cannot trust our obedience to God’s commands, our good life, our religion, or our prayers to receive eternal life. Instead, we must believe or trust in Christ alone to receive His gift of eternal life and live with Him forever in heaven. The moment you trust Christ, Christmas will never end for you. What makes Christmas lasting is knowing you will live forever in God’s presence. Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

Christ promises that when you believe in Him you “should not perish” in hell. When you believe in Christ, He promises you will be rescued from eternal punishment. When Jesus speaks of perishing, He is not talking about physical death, He is talking about suffering forever and ever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; 20:15). Many people don’t believe in hell today, but they better be sure about it because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. Everyone needs to be rescued because “all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).

The word “but” contrasts eternal death and torment (“perish”) with “eternal life” and enjoyment. Jesus is acknowledging that there is a place of eternal ruin where people will be in agony forever. “But,” He says, “You can have the opposite of death, agony and torment – you can have eternal life.” All people exist forever, the question is where will you live when you die – heaven or hell?

When you believe in Jesus, He promises that you can be sure that you “have everlasting life.” Jesus did not say, “might have” or “hope to have.” He simply says, “have,” which expresses absolute certainty. You can be one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life because Jesus promises it to all who believe in Him. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

Eternal life is described in John 17:3 as knowing God the Father and God the Son personally forever. Eternal life begins when you believe in Jesus, not when you die or after you die. What could possibly be greater than that? If you have not believed or trusted in Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life, why not do so right now? This is how you can tell God in prayer what you are doing:

“Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. Nothing I am or do makes me deserving of heaven. I now understand that Jesus Christ, the One born in a manger, died for me on a cross and rose again. I place my trust in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I have just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, He came to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). You can get to know Jesus better by talking to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and by listening to Him as you learn to read and apply the Bible to your life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Find a church where you can worship God with other like-minded Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Tell others about Jesus and what He can do for them (Matthew 4:19).

To learn more about how you can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day of your life, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about.

Why all the fuss about Christmas?

In response to our video, “A Cosmic Christmas” on our Facebook page (“See You in Heaven”), we are receiving many questions or should I say “attacks” about the time of Jesus’ birth which was not even mentioned in the video. Some think December 25th was originally a pagan holiday and therefore, should not be observed by Christians. I could make an argument for a December birth of Christ, and you might be able to make an argument for a different time of the year. But that is not what matters.

In response to this, I would quote the apostle Paul, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5). Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were Jews and Gentiles. Some of them were observing special holidays and some treated every day alike based on their personal preferences or opinions.

God’s Word tells us that each of us is to “be fully convinced in his own mind” that he is honoring God regarding a matter on which Scripture isn’t clear. We are to let our brothers and sisters exercise their liberty in Christ. My family and I celebrate Christmas in December. You may choose not to do that. The Bible is saying I would be wrong to condemn you for not observing Christmas in December just as you would be wrong to condemn us for doing that.

It is uncomfortable for people at different levels of faith and maturity to coexist without judging each other on matters of preference or opinion. Paul gives us both a reason to respect one another’s freedom and motivation: you and I are not each other’s Lord or Master. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:6-9). The phrase “to the Lord” shows up six times in these verses. This phrase means the person is seeking to please the Lord. If a brother eats, let him eat to please the Lord (14:6). If he doesn’t, let him not eat to please the Lord. If he celebrates a day, such as Christmas, he does it to please the Lord; if he doesn’t observe Christmas, he is still doing it to please the Lord. If he lives or dies, he is doing it to please the Lord—not to please you (14:7-8).

Many churches are drowning in legalism, and we are placing a leash around the necks of other Christians with our manmade preferences and opinions. Moreover, we are keeping rules for this brother or that sister in Christ. We have got to stop trying to please each other and focus on pleasing the One who came to earth that first Christmas season to eventually die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead that “He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (14:9).

Christians are not to judge one another based on our own personal preferences or opinions because there is only one person who is qualified to do that: the Lord Jesus Christ. 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12). The more we try to control the behavior of others, the more dangerous our own position becomes. Jesus said that it is foolishness to point out a speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye if you have a log in your own (Matthew 7:3). Paul is getting at the same idea here: Why do you judge your brother or sister (14:10), when you know that each of us will give an account of himself to God (14:12)? God won’t be asking you about the opinions and preferences of your brother or sister in Christ. He will be looking into your account. So don’t worry about your neighbor so much; keep a better, closer eye on yourself. Get out of God’s business and tend to your own.

Just because our focus is on pleasing God doesn’t mean we are not thinking of others at all. “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13).  Instead of judging one another, we decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in their way. We think of others all the time, but our first question is not, “What faults can I find in their lives?” Instead, it is, “How will my actions affect them?” Yes, you are free to enjoy what God gives you the freedom to enjoy including observing Christmas or not observing Christmas. But don’t use that freedom to hurt others.

Our video focuses on the birth of Christ from heaven’s perspective recorded in Revelation 12:1-5. It answers the “Why?” question, not the “When?” question. In my opinion, the focus on the “When?” of Jesus birth is another attempt by the Dragon (Revelation 12:3-4, 9) to mislead people away from the true meaning of Christmas.  

Answering the “Why?“ of Jesus birth is far more important than answering the “When?” Why did God the Son (John 20:31; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), the Creator of the universe (John 1:1-3), come to earth as a Baby (Revelation 12:4-5; cf. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20), instead of appearing in power and majesty? Why make Himself a true man and live among us without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:8; I John 5:20), when He knew full well how horribly He would be treated?

It was God’s love that brought Him to earth in this way. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). The phrase, “God … gave His only begotten Son,” includes Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Jesus became a baby without ceasing to be God so we could relate to Him and eventually believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 1:14-18; 3:15-16).

Have you believed or trusted in Christ alone for His gift of everlasting life? Do you know you have eternal life right now by believing in the name of the Son of God (I John 5:13)? Answering these questions is far more important than any question about the time of Jesus’ birth.

Living Life Today in Light of Tomorrow (Video)

This video looks at Bible prophecy in the book of Revelation to bring stability and hope to our lives when so many things seem out of control in the world today.

All Scriptures are from the New King James Version Bible unless otherwise noted. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site: http://www.revelationillustrated.com. Other digital images are used with permission from Digital Globe / www.FreeBibleimages.org, GoodSalt / www.goodsalt.com, or they are creative common licenses. The video scenes in this video are used with permission from the producers of the video entitled “The Free Gift.”

Receiving Life Freely – Part 9 (Video)

WHAT MUST I DO TO GET TO HEAVEN?

This is the ninth and final 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 answers the most important question anyone could ask, “What must I do to get to heaven?” (John 20:31).

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. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. 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/. Other gospel of John pictures are used with permission from www.GoodSalt.com, or they are creative common licenses. The Revelation Art is used by permission of Pat Marvenko Smith, copyright 1992. To order art prints visit her “Revelation Illustrated” site, http://www.revelationillustrated.com.

Lessons from the risen Lord Jesus – Part 8

“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” Jesus 21:12

We are learning from Jesus’ fourth post-resurrection appearance in the gospel of John several important lessons that can help us enjoy the reality of His resurrection. So far we have discovered that…

– Failure and discouragement are often connected to the risen Lord Jesus’ purpose for our lives (John 21:1-3).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes is not in trying harder (John 21:4-5).

– Success in our risen Lord’s eyes depends on following His will (John 21:6).

– Our primary purpose in life is to be with the risen Lord Jesus Christ Who is gracious (John 21:7-8).

– Our risen Lord Jesus gives us reminders of His faithfulness to care for us (John 21:9).

– We are to accept Jesus’ invitation to enjoy His company (John 21:10).

– The power of the risen Lord Jesus is capable of catching multitudes of people in His gospel-net (John 20:11).

Today we are ready for our final lesson from the risen Lord Jesus. Following their miraculous catch of fish, the seven disciples were now on the shore with Jesus having brought their net full of fish with them (John 21:6-11). “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and eat breakfast.’ Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are You?’—knowing that it was the Lord.” (John 21:12).

All of us have had special moments in life that are held forever in our memory. What a wonderful memory Jesus made for John and the six other disciples as He invited them to breakfast on the beach. The aroma of hot bread and and sizzling fish must have stirred the appetites of the disciples. John notes that none of the disciples, knowing it was the risen Lord, ventured to ask Jesus, “Who are You?” We usually don’t ask those we know well who they are. 1

The fact that both Mary Magdalene (John 20:14) and the Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-35) did not immediately identify the Lord may indicate some difference in the Lord’s resurrection appearance here. “Yet the identification was so certain that all the disciples knew it was Jesus. Their meal together stamped an indelible impression on their minds. Years later in his preaching Peter spoke of himself as a reliable witness who ate and drank with Jesus after His resurrection (Acts 10:41).” 2

The fact that John mentions the disciples dared not ask the Lord His identity may suggest “these disciples longed to ask Jesus if the Person standing with them was truly He, but they did not dare do so. This tension within them helps us understand that Jesus’ resurrection was a challenge to the faith of even those who knew Him best. Had the beatings and His crucifixion so marred His form that He scarcely resembled the Jesus they had known, or was His resurrection body so different that He looked like a stranger? Probably we shall have to wait to see Him for ourselves to get answers to these questions. In spite of everything, the disciples, ‘knowing that it was the Lord’ from the undeniable evidence, could only conclude that the One who stood among them really was Jesus.” 3

Constable writes, “Jesus, as the host, invited the disciples to dine with Him. Perhaps He was reminding them of their last meal together in the upper room, just before His arrest. In the ancient Near East, a host who extended hospitality to others and provided food for them, was implying that He would defend them from then on. Consequently, Jesus’ invitation may have been a promise of commitment to them like the kind offered at the oriental covenant meal. Such a meal involved acceptance, forgiveness, and mutual commitment. By accepting His invitation, the disciples were implying that they were committing themselves to Jesus afresh.” 4

Wiersbe insightfully writes, “Three ‘invitations’ stand out in John’s Gospel: ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39); ‘Come and drink’ (John 7:37); and ‘Come and dine’ (John 21:12). How loving of Jesus to feed Peter before He dealt with his spiritual needs. He gave Peter opportunity to dry off, get warm, satisfy his hunger, and enjoy personal fellowship. This is a good example for us to follow as we care for God’s people. Certainly, the spiritual is more important than the physical, but caring for the physical can prepare the way for spiritual ministry. Our Lord does not so emphasize ‘the soul’ that He neglects the body.” 5

John then informs us, “Jesus then came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” (John 21:14). As often happens with guests, the disciples may have appeared hesitant to begin serving themselves the meal, so Christ went over, took the bread, and gave it to the disciples. In the same way, He also served the roasted fish. The definite article used with “the bread” (ton arton) and “the fish” (to opsarion) indicates that Jesus distributed the bread and fish that were cooking over the fire of coals when the disciples arrived on the shore (John 21:9). The disciples’ fish could be cooked later (cf. John 21:10), but this was Christ’s provision for them. 6

When Jesus gave them “the bread” and “the fish” to His disciples, this must have reminded them of when He miraculously fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). The breaking of the bread and distributing it to them also had to remind these seven followers of what happened just a few days before when Jesus had broken the bread in the upper room during the Last Supper.

The fact of this meal substantiated Jesus’ promise to meet all their needs. The disciples may have thought that Jesus’ death, resurrection, and eventual ascension would end His care for them; but now they had a demonstration of His continuing care. They may have feared His death and eventual ascension would end their fellowship with Him, but now this meal which He had provided assured them they would still enjoy sweet fellowship with their risen Lord. And His eating some of the food (cf. Luke 24:40-43), gives additional proof of His bodily resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was neither a fairytale nor a hallucination. He ‘presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs… over a period of forty days’ (Acts 1:3). As Jesus himself told them, ‘It is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see, I have’” (Luke 24:39). 8

John notes, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John 21:14). John attests that this is the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples in his gospel account (cf. John 20:19-20, 24-29). While a comparison of all four Gospels shows that this is the seventh appearance (counting His appearances to Mary Magdalene, the other women, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus), this was indeed only his third appearance specifically to” a gathering of more than two of His disciples.

From these verses we learn that WE NEED TIMES WITH JESUS AND OTHER CHRISTIANS OUTSIDE TO REFRESH OUR SOULS (John 21:12-14). Jesus’ appearance on the beach seems to be a more casual occasion than His appearances in Jerusalem. This gave more of an extended opportunity to renew their fellowship after the separation that came from their fleeing at His arrest (cf. Matthew 26:56).

Do you ever feel like you are on an uninhabited island in your Christian life? You are all alone? No one to share your fears, joys, and sorrows with? Several coals burn brightly together but put one aside and its fire goes out. So, it is with other Christians. We will not last long in the Christian life if we do not have fellowship with the risen Lord Jesus and other believers.

While reading John Eldredge’s book, Get Your Life Back, I was impressed with the chapter entitled, “GET OUTSIDE.” He writes, “The average person now spends 93 percent of their life indoors (this includes your transportation time in car, bus, or metro).” 10  

Eldredge continues, “Ninety-three percent – such a staggering piece of information. We should pause for a moment and let the tragedy sink in.

“That means if you live to be 100, you will have spent 93 of those years in a little compartment and only 7 outside in the dazzling, living world. If we live to the more usual 75, we will spend 69 and three-fourths of our years indoors, and only 5 and one-fourth outside. This includes our childhood; how does a child be a child when they only venture outside a few months of their entire childhood?

“This is a catastrophe, the final nail in the coffin for the human soul. You live nearly all your life in a fake world: artificial lighting instead of the warmth of sunlight or the cool of moonlight or the darkness of night itself. Artificial climate rather than the wild beauty of real weather; your world is always 68 degrees. All the surfaces you touch are like plastic, nylon, and faux leather instead of meadow, wood, and stream. Fake fireplaces; wax fruit. The atmosphere you inhabit is now asphyxiating with artificial smells – mostly chemicals and ‘air fresheners’ – instead of cut grass, wood smoke, and salt air (is anyone weeping yet?). In place of the cry of the hawk, the thunder of a waterfall, and the comfort of crickets, your world spews out artificial sounds – all the clicks and beeps and whir of technology, the hum of the HVAC. Dear God, even the plants in your little bubble are fake. They give no oxygen; instead, the plastic off-gases toxins, and if that isn’t a signal fire I don’t know what is.

“This is a life for people in a science fiction novel. This would be understandable, acceptable, if we’d colonized Mars and by necessity you lived in a bubble. But this is not the life God ordained for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, whose habitat is this sumptuous earth. It’s like putting wild roses in a Styrofoam box for the rest of their lives.

“You live a bodily existence. The physical life, with all the glories of senses, appetites, and passions – this is the life God meant for us. It’s through our senses we learn most every important lesson. Even in spiritual acts of worship and prayer we are standing or kneeling, engaging bodily. God put your soul in this amazing body and then put you in a world perfectly designed for that experience.

“Which is why the rescue of the soul takes place through our engagement with the real world…

“…Living in an artificial world is like spending your life wrapped in plastic wrap. You wonder why you feel tired, numb, a little depressed, when the simple answer is you have a vitamin D deficiency; there’s no sunlight in your life, literally and figuratively.

“Our body, soul, and spirit atrophy because we were made to inhabit a real world, drawing life, joy, and strength from it. To be shaped by it, to relish in it. Living your days in an artificial world is like living your whole life with gloves on, a filtered experience, never really feeling anything. Then you wonder why your soul feels numb.” 11 

God really got my attention when Eldredge writes, “We are looking for more of God. You’re far more likely to find him in a walk through an orchard or a sit by a pond than you are in a subway terminal. Of course, God is with us and for us wherever we are, but in terms of refreshment, renewal, restoration, in terms of finding God in ways we can drink deeply of his wonderful being, you’d do better to look for him in the cry of the gull than the scream of the siren. God inhabits the world he made: his vibrance permeates all creation:

“The whole earth is filled with his glory! (Isaiah 6:3 NLT)

“Christ… ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. (Ephesians 4:9-10 NLT)

“In the most beloved of Psalms, perhaps the most beloved of all Scripture, David wrote a poem to celebrate the restoration of his soul. Notice that God took him into nature to accomplish that:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3).

“Be careful you don’t dismiss this as something belonging to an agrarian age. God could have taken David into the palace to renew him; he could have taken him into the home of a friend or family member; he could have chosen the bustling markets of Jerusalem. In other words, there were plenty of indoor options for God to employ. But his choice for David’s resuscitation was nature, his greenhouse, filled with his own life, pulsing with his glory, unique in its ability to restore and renew his children…”

“…There’s nothing better for a fried soul than to get in the woods or walk in the park. Lie on your back in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Sit on the beach and watch the breakers.

“…Nature heals; nature restores. Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging in front of Narcos or Fear the Walking Dead. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour of HALO. Video games offer relief, nature offers restoration.

“This is why David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, ‘He renews my strength’ (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David spoke of.” 12

My most refreshing times with our risen Lord Jesus, our Creator of the universe, has been outside amongst His creation. Going for a walk in the woods and listening to the birds of the air which our heavenly Father feeds has often refreshed and restored my spiritual union with the Lord.

Jesus understands this. He provided a delicious breakfast for His disciples outside on a beach along the Sea of Galilee. Remember, Jesus was the Creator of this beach and this Sea. The waves rolling into the shore at sunrise that day could be seen and heard by the disciples. The smell of salt water filled the air. There was probably a cool breeze blowing in from the sea. The disciples may have heard seagulls crying out above them. They could smell the smoke rising from the fire of coals along with the aroma of the cooking fish and bread. All these outdoor experiences would have been healing and restoring to the disciples’ bodies and souls.

As Eldredge writes, “Nature heals, teaches, strengthens, soothes; it brings us the presence of God, for ‘the whole earth is filled with his glory’ (Isaiah 6:3 NLT). Go let it restore your soul – daily, whenever possible.” 13

More importantly, it is the risen Lord Jesus Who heals, teaches, strengthens, and soothes. What better environment for this to take place than outdoors in the physical world which He created for the sons and daughters of God to enjoy!

In his book, The Golden Milestone, Frank W. Boreham talks about a tombstone in a small English churchyard that marked the final resting place of two sisters. It bore the words from John 21:4, “But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore.”

Although this referred to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to His disciples, it reminded Boreham of the Christian’s prospect of seeing Christ waiting on heaven’s shore. Envisioning his own impending death when he would be welcomed by the risen Lord Jesus, Boreham wrote, One of these days I shall set out on my own great voyage of exploration. I shall see my last sun sinking and shall set out for the land that is mantled with the flush of morning. I shall leave behind me all the old familiar things, and shall sail out into the unknown, the unseen, the unexplored. I shall be surrounded on every hand by the wonders that here were beyond me, by the mysteries that here baffled my comprehension. I shall see strange sights and hear unwonted sounds. But it will be all right.” 14

Yes, “it will be all right” because the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us will be on heaven’s shore. With the assurance that the risen Lord Jesus will be standing “on the shore” to welcome him home, Boreham concluded, But there is no tinge of gold in the scudding clouds now; it is too dark for writing; they are lighting the gas behind me; I must draw the blinds and go.” 15

Boreham died with confidence he would see Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Can you? If not, you can simply come to Jesus now as a sinner, realizing you cannot save yourself from sin’s penalty (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). But Christ Jesus loved you so much He took your place on a cross and died for all your sins and three days later rose from the dead (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today, and He has the power to forgive all your sins and give you everlasting life so that when you die, you will be greeted by Him on heaven’s shores (John 3:16; 14:2-3; Colossians 2:13-14). All He asks is that you believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness or everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). If you believe what Jesus just said, you can die with the assurance that you will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ on heaven’s shores. Christ cannot lie. He always remains faithful to His promises, even if we become faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). That is why we can confidently say after a person believes in Christ, “See you in heaven!”

Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, thank You for giving us the assurance through Your meal with Your disciples on the beach, that You will continue to meet all our needs even while You are in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. As our Good Shepherd, You not only laid down Your life for us and rose from the dead so we could have everlasting life the moment we believe in You for it, but also so we can be assured of seeing You on heaven’s shores after we die. And as our Good Shepherd, you can refresh and restore our souls as we connect with You and other Christians outdoors. Thanks so much for reminding us that You designed our physical bodies and souls to be refreshed through the things You have made, much like Adam and Eve’s experience in the garden of Eden prior to their disobedience when they would walk with You in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). Please help us to make it a daily habit to align ourselves with You in the context of Your creation so we can unwrinkle or disentangle our souls from the artificial world we expose ourselves to much of the time. Thank You our Lord and our Creator God. In Your precious name we pray Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1.J. Carl Laney Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 377-378.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 703.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 393.

4. Ibid., pp. 392-393.  

5. Ibid., pg. 393 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol 1 (Wheaton: Scripture Press, Victor Books, 1989), pg. 397.

6. Laney, pg. 378.

7. 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. 568.

8. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1831.

9. Robert Wilkin, pg. 568.

10. John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020) pg. 76 cites Neil E. Klepeis et al., “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants,” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 11, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 231-52.

11. Eldredge, pp. 76-79.

12. Ibid., pp. 79-86.

13. Ibid., pg. 89.

14. Frank W. Boreham, The Golden Milestone (Publication arranged by Pioneer Library, printed byKindle Direct Publishing, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 1825-1828.This compilation of Boreham’s essays was first published in 1915.

15. Ibid., Kindle Locations 1831-1832.