Revelation 22 – Part 5

“And he said to me, ‘Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.’” Revelation 22:10

After the angel redirected the apostle John to “worship God” alone (22:9), he then instructed him, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” (Revelation 22:10). Since God wants the book of Revelation to be available for His people to read and be encouraged to prepare for future events, the angel instructs John not to “seal the words of the prophecy of this book.” God does not want His prophetic word to be concealed or hidden from His redeemed people because “the time is at hand” or near for the fulfillment of these prophetic words. God’s people need to be aware of what is going to happen in the future so they can prepare for those events.

All servants of God are to get the message of Revelation out to His people! They are not to conceal it or avoid it. Yet, few churches and their leaders are proclaiming the message of this book. This is a great disservice to God’s people. More than ever in my lifetime, the people of God need God’s prophetic word from the book of Revelation. They need to know what is going to happen especially when we watch the world spiraling out of control.

For example, the next event on God’s prophetic calendar is the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (see comments on Revelation 4:1-4; cf. I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11). Failure to inform God’s people of this robs them of the comfort and encouragement God intended for His people (I Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11) during a time when they are being misinformed about being in the Tribulation already (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3).

The apostle Paul wrote, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The apostle Paul is correcting his readers’ misconception about the coming of “the day of Christ” (2:2) which refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:16; cf. Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). 1 False teachers were telling them that “the day of Christ had come” (2:2), and therefore, Paul’s readers had missed the Rapture of the Church which precedes the Bema and the Tribulation wrath to come (I Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:13-5:10; cf. Revelation 4:1-4). Paul explains that two events will precede the “day” of Christ:

1. “The falling away” (2:3a) may refer to the false teaching that will accompany the administration of “the man of sin” (cf. Matthew 24:15-24; Revelation 13:1-7, 11-18). All the false teachings of the current church age simply foreshadow the ultimate apostasy of the man of sin.

2. The revealing of “the man of sin” (2:3b) who will exalt himself as “God in the temple of God” (2:4) will take place in the middle of the Tribulation period (cf. Matthew 24:15). The temple which was destroyed in 70 A. D., must be rebuilt in Jerusalem before the man of sin takes his place there.

3. “He who now restrains” must be removed before “the lawless one will be revealed” (2:6-8). This Restrainer is most likely the indwelling Holy Spirit in all believers that comprise the church today (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2-3; Ephesians 1:13-14). So, for the Restrainer to be removed, the church must be removed through the Rapture which Paul discussed in detail in I Thessalonians (1:9-10; 4:13-5:11).

Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians reminds us that how we view the future directly influences how we live today. His readers thought they missed the Rapture and were living in the Tribulation which “troubled” them (2 Thessalonians 2:2) and caused some to stop working and earning a living (3:6-15). Paul corrects this error in their thinking about future events to “comfort” them (2:16-17) and encourage them to keep working (3:12-15).

Likewise, God wants the prophetic words of the book of Revelation to comfort and encourage His people to prepare for the Rapture now. How can they do that if the church neglects to teach this or misinforms the church about the Rapture, saying it has already happened and we are in the Tribulation now?

The angel just encouraged the apostle John to get the message of Revelation out to people (Revelation 22:10), but then he says to John, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” (Revelation 22:11). The angel reminds John that even though the time is near for the prophetic events described in the book of Revelation to be fulfilled, there will be people who do not want to listen or be persuaded. The angel says to let “unjust” and “filthy” people remain in their “unjust” and “filthy” condition. 2 This tells us that there will be people who are in rebellion against God who will not listen to the book of Revelation and will continue in their wickedness.

This is a very strong warning to unbelievers not to delay becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. It portrays the hopelessness of the final condition of unbelievers. When King Jesus returns to earth with His church at the end of the Tribulation, unsaved people will not be able to change their eternal destiny. What they are when Jesus returns, they will remain forever! 3 People are not given a second chance after death (Hebrews 9:27). They are only given one life on earth to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Refusal to believe in Christ for eternal life results in eternal condemnation. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). When a person refuses to believe in Jesus Christ, he or she is rejecting God’s offer. They are condemning themselves. When a person refuses to believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life, they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let them pay for their own sin, through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell (Matthew 25:41, 46; Mark 9:43-38) or the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.

The angel also reminds John that there will be those who respond positively to the book of Revelation: He who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” (Revelation 22:11b). There will be those who receive the message of Revelation, and they will continue to move in the direction God wants them to go (“righteous… holy”). 4 This will prepare them to be richly rewarded by the Lord Jesus when He returns (22:12). We will talk more about this next time.

Prayer: Thank You heavenly Father for making the book of Revelation available for all people to read. Forgive us for neglecting to read and heed the message of this prophetic book. Starting today, use us to share this prophetic message with Your people and with a lost world so all of us can prepare for the future. Although most of humanity will continue in the direction they are already going, lead us to those whom You have prepared to hear and obey this prophetic book. In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pp. 1147-1148.

2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1589.

3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 253. 4. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2424.

Revelation 21 – Part 10

“And the nations shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him.” Revelation 21:24

Last time we saw that there will be no need of the sun or moon to shine because the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ will illuminate the entire New Jerusalem on the new earth (21:22-23). This Celestial City is so bright that it will also provide light for the entire new earth. “And the nations shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him.” (Revelation 21:24). Notice that there will be “nations” on the new earth, perhaps much like we have today. Since the New Jerusalem is inhabited by King Jesus and believers from the Church Age (21:2, 9-10; cf. 19:7, 22:17; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:27), these “nations” consist of believers in Christ from before and after the Church Age who live outside the city on the new earth. These other believers will also have access to the New Jerusalem because of their faith in Christ (21:27b).

Vacendak writes, “God will create human beings to live on the new earth just as He created Adam and Eve – sinless people whose status and condition will be similar to Adam and Eve’s before the Fall… More likely, believers who are alive on earth at the end of the Millennium will be brought into the new heavens and earth in their unresurrected bodies to populate it. These bodies will be transformed into sinless bodies, but will not have been resurrected. They will be like Adam and Eve before they sinned, but without the ability to sin. As such, they will procreate and populate the new heavens and the new earth, and so they will form the nations.” 1

It is likely then that the nations will be comprised of resurrected and unresurrected believers from before and after the Church Age who “shall walk in” the brilliant “light” of the New Jerusalem. The “kings” (basileis) or rulers 2 are “overcomers” who remained faithful to Christ to the end of their lives (21:24b; cf. 2:10b, 25-27; 22:5; cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).

These “kings of the earth bring their glory and honor of the nations to Him” (21:24b). This suggests that there will be human government and economy on the new earth. The leaders of these nations will reenact what the wise men did over two thousand years ago when they brought their gold and other treasures to the Baby Jesus (cf. Matthew 2:1-11). 3 In eternity on the new earth, the kings of the earth are going to bring their “glory and honor” or treasures to King Jesus year after year in the New Jerusalem to worship and glorify Him. Everyone on the new earth will bring glory to God.

Next the apostle John informs us, Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).” (Revelation 21:25). In John’s day, cities closed their gates to keep their enemies out, especially at night. But on the new earth there will be no need to shut the gates of the New Jerusalem because King Jesus will have no enemies on the new earth and there “shall be no night there” because the light of His glory illuminates everything. The phrase “shall not be shut at all” (ou mē kleisthōsin) is emphatic and literally says “shall no not ever be shut.” 4 Since the gates of the New Jerusalem will never ever be shut, the rulers of the nations will have continual access into the city.

“And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations so that they may enter it.” (Revelation 21:26). The kings “shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations“ into the New Jerusalem “so that they” themselves “may enter” (21:26b) through “its gates” (21:25a). Only overcoming or faithful believers will enter through the main “gates” of the New Jerusalem. This is seen in Revelation 22:14: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” The majority of Greek manuscripts contain the phrase “do His commandments.” Only those believers whose lives are characterized by obedience to Christ to the end of their lives (cf. 2:10, 25-27) will be rewarded with this special honor. The emphasis of verse 14 is not on entering the city, but on entering by “the gates” into the city. Every believer can enter the city, but only some will come in through the gates. This is emphatic in the Greek text which literally says, “and by the gates they may enter into the city” (kai tois pylōsin eiselthōsineis tēn polin).The apostle John is emphasizing the way of entrance, that is, by the gates, and not the fact of entrance. 5

“Gates of ancient cities were for defense or honor or both. To be known ‘in the gates’ was to sit among the ‘elders of the land’ and have a position of high honor and authority (Proverbs 31:23, cf. ISBE 2:408). Since defense is not a function of these ‘gates’ into the heavenly city; they are to be regarded as places of honor and authority. The overcomer was promised ‘authority’ over the nations (Revelation 2:26). John describes them elsewhere, as memorials to the twelve tribes of Israel (21:12, 14). We are reminded of the Roman victory arches which sat astride the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. There were thousands of entry ways into Rome, but Caesar entered by these gates, by the victory arch. Through these gates, according to John, ‘the honor and glory of the nations’ will enter (Revelation 21:25-26).” 6 “As Lange has suggested, to enter by the gates means to enter ‘as conquerors in triumphal procession.’” 7

So what John probably had in mind when he speaks of the kings of the nations entering into the New Jerusalem through “its gates” (21:24-26), are “the victory arches that towered over the main thoroughfares entering into Rome. Through these gates the triumphant Roman generals and their soldiers would march.” 8

Arch of Titus

For example, “the Arch of Titus near the Forum in Rome… was constructed after his victory over Jerusalem in AD 70.

“Engravings on it show Roman soldiers bringing back treasures from the temple in Jerusalem. Similarly, those Christians [believers] who remain faithful to their King will enter the city in victory and will be likewise honored.” 9

Whether you are an overcoming believer who enters through one of the main gates of the New Jerusalem or a non-overcoming believer who enters the city through another entrance, everyone will have a desire to bring honor and glory to God Who reigns over the new earth from that city. Not one person will be unwilling to do this because every citizen on the new earth will be a sinless believer. The eternal state will have rules and laws, but no one there will want to disobey them. 10

After mentioning who may enter the New Jerusalem, John now tells us what cannot enter the city. “But there shall by no means enter it anything profane, nor one who causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:27). Nothing that is “profane” (koinon) or impure 11 can enter the New Jerusalem, “nor one who causes an abomination” (bdelugma)which refers to “something that causes revulsion or extreme disgust… in the sight of God.” 12 Nor will anyone enter the city “who causes… a lie” (pseudos) or falsehood. 13

Even though the city gates will continually be wide open, nothing that is evil or leads to evil will ever be part of the New Jerusalem. This does not mean there will be people on the new earth outside the New Jerusalem who are evil. In the context of these final chapters in the book of Revelation, unbelieving people and all their evil ways have been confined to the lake of fire forever (cf. 20:11-15; 21:8). 14 This part of the verse is saying nothing about born again believers in Jesus who were evil or led people to do evil during their lives on the old earth because their sins are now gone forever since they are forgiven, immortal, and sinless (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; I Corinthians 15:35-57; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 5:26-27; I John 3:1-3).

Only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (21:27b) will be able to enter or inhabit the New Jerusalem. It is important to observe that it is the absence of one’s name “in the Lamb’s Book of Life,” not the absence of good works, that determines one’s eternal destination. Evil works are not the issue for entrance into the New Jerusalem. Many of the earth’s greatest sinners’ names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life because they received God’s free offer of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9). 15

Alcorn states that many Americans believe going to heaven is their “default destination.” 16 But this optimism is contrary to what Jesus warned when He said, 13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14). Christ makes it clear that “few” people find the way that leads into eternal life. This is probably because few people are being told that faith alone in Christ alone is the only way into God’s heaven (John 10:9; 11:25-26; Act 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-5).

What would keep all of us out of heaven is failure to believe in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. This is the one sin that cannot be forgiven. All other sins are forgivable (Colossians 2:13-14; Psalm 86:5; 103:2a, 3a; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19b; Acts 10:43). 17

Jesus said God the Holy Spirit was sent to 8 convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me.” (John 16:8-9). The word “sin” (hamartias) means “to miss the mark or standard.” 18 All people fall short of God’s perfect righteousness because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) against God through their thoughts, words, actions, and motives. Our sin separates us from God because He is holy and righteous and cannot allow sin into His presence: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” (Habakkuk 1:13 NIV; cf. Isaiah 59:2). Because we are all sinners, we deserve eternal death or separation from God forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). We are not able to enter God’s heaven as we are. Hence, heaven is not our default destination. The lake of fire is our default destination. 19

Yet the world tries to persuade people that they are not sinners. Many secular scientists and psychologists seem bent on destroying peoples’ awareness of sin. They may say that all people are inherently good. As a result, many people have a difficult time admitting they are guilty of sin. Oh, they may admit that they make mistakes or have failures and vices, but it is very difficult for them to admit that they have sinned against God. Even some churches say that people are not that bad and because God is love, He will accept everyone into heaven. Hence, many people, including Christians, believe that going to heaven is their default destination.

But the ultimate proof of the world’s sinfulness, Jesus says, is that “they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9). A court of law can convict someone of murder or theft, but only God the Holy Spirit can convict someone of unbelief toward Christ. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their individual sins they have committed, but people can clean up their own lives and still go to the lake of fire. It is the sin of unbelief toward Jesus Christ that condemns people to an eternity in the lake of fire. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).That is why the Bible says that “Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will not have their names written in the Book of Life.

Unbelievers are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-13; cf. Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40), not their eternal destination. But their condemnation and placement in the lake of fire is because of their unbelief toward the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:15; cf. John 3:18).

Because faith in Christ and His full payment for sin on the cross (John 19:30) is the only solution to our sin problem, the Holy Spirit wants to convict people of their sinful condition, so they can see their need to believe in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life (John 3:14-16). The Holy Spirit is the prosecuting attorney who presents God’s case against sinful humanity. He creates an awareness of sin so that it cannot be dismissed or excused or evaded by taking refuge in the fact that “everybody is doing it.” When we are convicted of our sin, we admit to God that we have been wrong in our unbelief toward Jesus and then we believe or trust in Him alone, so we can live with Christ forever in the New Jerusalem on the new earth.

Do you know for sure your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Don’t wait and see, just hoping that your name will be in the Book of Life. You can know for sure right now by taking God at His Word. The apostle John who wrote Revelation and the gospel of John, also wrote First John. He writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). This one verse is written to “you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” Do you believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, Who died for all your sins and rose from the dead, proving His claims to be God are true (cf. John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6)?

If you do, the Bible guarantees “you may know that you have eternal life.” It does not say you may “think” or “hope” you have eternal life. It says you may “know” with absolute certainty that eternal life is yours right now. Because Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6) and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), we can be confident He will keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe in Him (cf. John 3:15-16). Do you now know for sure you have eternal life and a future forever home in the New Jerusalem on the new earth? If you do, you can tell God this through prayer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for persuading me that I am a sinner whose default destination is in the lake of fire. I believe You took my place on the cross to die for all my sins and then rose from the dead, proving You are God. As best I know how, I am now believing in You for Your gift of everlasting life. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future forever home I will have in the New Jerusalem on the new earth. Please use me now to tell others how they can know for sure they will live forever with You in Your heaven. Help me remain faithful to You so I may honor and worship You more with the rewards You give for faithfulness. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:  

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1586.

2. 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), pp. 169-170.

3. Robert N. Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 40.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 245.

5. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 974-975.  

6. Ibid., pg. 975.

7. Ibid., cites John Peter Lange, “The Revelation of John,” in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. John Peter Lange, et al. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 12:446.

8. Dillow, pg. 975.

9. Ibid.

10. Vacendak, pp. 1586-1587.

11. Bauer, pg. 552.

12. Ibid., pg. 172.

13. Ibid., pg. 1097.

14. Vacendak, pg. 1587.

15. Adapted from David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015 Kindle Edition), pg. 21 who cites William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, 9th ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1935), pg. 334.

16. Randy Alcorn, Heaven: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything the Bible Says About Our Eternal Home (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 Kindle Edition), pg. 54 cites K. Connie Kang, “Next Stop, the Pearly Gates… or Hell?” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2003.

17. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32) is not unforgivable, it is unforgiven because those who commit this sin are too hard of heart to seek God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:33-37). See “Can a Christian commit blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?” at www.seeyouinheaven.life.

18. Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V: John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 267.

19. Alcorn, pg. 54.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 5

“…Where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.” John 19:18

Currently, I am reading a great book by Max Lucado entitled “He Chose the Nails: What God did to win your heart.” In one of the chapters, Lucado asks, “Ever wonder why there were two crosses next to Christ? Why not six or ten? Ever wonder why Jesus was in the center? Why not on the far right or far left? Could it be that the two crosses on the hill symbolize one of God’s greatest gifts? The gift of choice.

“The two criminals have so much in common. Convicted by the same system. Condemned to the same death. Surrounded by the same crowd. Equally close to the same Jesus. In fact, they begin with the same sarcasm: ‘The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus’ (Matt. 27:44 CEV).

“But one changed.” 1

This leads us to the fifth lasting lesson that we learn from the last day in Jesus’ life before His dead body is sealed in a tomb. So far in our study, we have discovered the following lessons:

Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 17-18a).

Today we discover that THE TWO CROSSES TEACH THAT GOD GIVES EACH OF US THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE (JOHN 19:18b). This has been the case throughout human history. When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He gave them the freedom to obey or disobey (Genesis 2:8-25), and they chose to disobey (Genesis 3:1-24). And God permitted them.

Abel and Cain were both sons of Adam, but Abel chose to worship God His way with an animal sacrifice and Cain chose his own way (Genesis 4:1-5; cf. Hebrews 11:4). God allowed them to do this.

Abraham and Lot were both travelers in Canaan (Genesis 13). Abraham chose God and Lot chose Sodom. God let them make their own choices.

David and Saul were both kings of Israel (I Samuel 9:1-I Kings 2:11). David chose to follow God and Saul chose to go his own way. And God lets them.

Peter and Judas both deny Jesus. But Peter seeks restoration (John 20:15-17) and Judas seeks death (Matthew 27:5). God permits them to make these choices. 2

Jesus also gave people choices. He gives us the choice of belief or unbelief when He says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).

Christ gives us the choice of eternal life or eternal punishment when He says, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46). The choice is ours.

One of the two thieves hanging on a cross next to Jesus chose eternal life, but the other thief did not. Luke tells us about this in his account: 39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ 43 And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ ” Luke 23:39-43

Both these thieves next to Jesus heard and saw the same things, but they reached different conclusions about the Man in the middle of them. The unbelieving criminal hurled insults at Jesus, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (23:39b). But the believing criminal recognizes that he and the other thief are guilty of wrongdoing (“Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds”), but he acknowledges that Jesus “has done nothing wrong” and is about to enter His “kingdom” (23:40-42).

Both these men also differ on what they think they need to be saved from. The unbelieving criminal wants to be saved from his present earthly circumstances (“If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (23:39b). But the other criminal understood there was something far more significant to be delivered from than their present circumstances. Perhaps when he heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34), he had a change of heart and placed his saving faith in Christ alone.  So he says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (23:42). Jesus responds to this man’s faith by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (23:43).

“And later that day, though his physical body died, his spirit and soul went to paradise with King Jesus, awaiting his future bodily resurrection from the dead. This affirms that believers go immediately into God’s presence at death.” 3

Does Jesus try to persuade the unbelieving thief to change his mind? Wouldn’t a personal invitation be timely for this other criminal? We might think so, but Jesus remains silent. He honors those who have the freedom to choose where they spend eternity.

Granted there are some choices we do not have the freedom to make: where we were born, who our parents are, our own DNA, etc. But where we spend eternity is a choice God has given us to make. Aren’t you glad for that?

Although we know little about the thief who came to faith in Christ on the cross, what we do know is he was deserving of condemnation. He chose the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, and the wrong behavior. But is he spending eternity reaping the fruit of his rebellious life? No, the exact opposite. He is reaping the fruit of one good choice he made hanging on a cross next to Jesus Christ.

You and I have made some terrible choices in life, haven’t we? Perhaps we have chosen the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, and the wrong behavior. We may look back over our lives and conclude, “If only I could take back those awful decisions.” You can’t take them back, but you can offset them. 4

Notice that this believing criminal did not have the opportunity to get baptized, or live a life of obedience to Christ as His disciple when he got saved on that cross. But he did do what is required of any person to be saved from eternal punishment: he believed in Jesus to save him (John 3:16; Acts 16:31). And one believing choice for eternity offsets a million bad ones on earth. The choice is yours.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the two crosses next to You on Golgotha that remind us that You have given us the freedom to choose. Why people choose differently about eternity, I do not know. But what I do know, is that You love those who believe in You enough to give them everlasting life. And when others do not believe in You, You love them enough to permit them. Please enable us by Your Spirit and Your truth to make God-honoring decisions that bring You more glory. In Your precious name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pp. 53-54.

2. Ibid., pp. 52-53.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1737.

4. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pp. 55-56.

How can we overcome self-centeredness? Part 4

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:32

All human beings are born with a sin nature that wants its own way (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Like the child when being disciplined said to his father, “I’m not bad. I just want my own way.” All of us are self-centered creatures. We demand our own way. Life revolves around self. “It’s all about me!”

This is very evident as we approach our presidential elections in the USA. Our country is extremely polarized right now because individuals and political parties are demanding their own way. There is a lack of unity and cooperation with one another because of this sinful nature that insists on “my way or no way.”

We are learning how to overcome self-centeredness in our study of John 12:20-33. So far we have discovered that the way to overcome our self-centeredness is through…

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

– Surrendering to God’s control in prayer (John 12:27-30).

Today we will look at the fourth and final way to overcome self-centeredness in this passage. It is STAYING FOCUSED ON THE ONE WHO DEFEATED THE DEVIL AND DRAWS ALL PEOPLE TO HIMSELF (John 12:31-33). After God the Father spoke from heaven to affirm that He would glorify His name through His Son’s death, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:31). While the death of Christ makes all people savable (Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2), it also means those who reject Christ will be judged or condemned.

Jesus had said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). Constable states, “The Jews thought they were judging Jesus when they decided to believe or disbelieve on Him. In reality, their decisions brought divine judgment on themselves. By crucifying Jesus, they were condemning themselves. Jesus was not saying that this would be the last judgment on the world. He meant that because of humankind’s rejection of Him, God was about to pass ‘judgment’ on the world for rejecting His Son (cf. Acts 17:30-31).” 1

Satan, “the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31b; cf. 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4), because the cross will deprive him of power and influence. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to rule the world on God’s behalf (cf. Genesis 1:26-28). Instead, they chose to sin against God (Genesis 3:1-6) and thereby granted rule of the world to Satan (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). So the Son of God, Jesus Christ, became a Man without ceasing to be God (John 1:1, 14; Titus 2:13; I John 5:20), to defeat the devil. The cross guarantees the enemy’s defeat because Satan achieves victory through accusing sinners. But through the cross, Jesus Christ would deal with sin once and for all (see Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:12; 10:10) so Satan can no longer successfully accuse or oppose those who believe in Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).2

Look in Hebrews 2:14-15: “14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Satan’s power was destroyed, not Satan himself. He had the power of death and used peoples’ fear of death to enslave them to his will. But through the cross, Jesus defeated death and now His children can live for Him and face death with confidence! Satan opposes Jesus so much because he knows what Jesus’ death means. When Jesus said Satan would “be cast out” (John 12:31b), He is referring to His ultimate victory over Satan which, though still future, was initiated at the cross. This victory will be finalized when the devil is cast into his permanent home in the lake of fire where he “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10).

Satan often appeals to our self-centeredness to lead us away from God to serve his deceitful schemes which are opposed to the Lord. He did this in the Garden of Eden when he said to Eve,4bYou will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4b-5). God had told Adam, who told Eve, that they could eat from any tree in the garden except one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17a). God promised that if they ate from that tree they “shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17b).

So what does Satan do? He tells Eve that she will not die. The devil says there is no penalty to sin. And all of us have believed that lie ever since. Satan tells Eve (and us) that God just told her that because He is selfish. He does not want anyone to be like Him and take His place. Satan explains, God “knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan is saying, “God doesn’t want anyone to become like Him by knowing good and evil… He doesn’t want you to reach your full potential. If you obey God, you will be limited and unfulfilled.” But Satan knew no one could be like God. How did he know? Because he tried it himself and got kicked out of heaven (cf. Isaiah 14:12-15)!

Jesus then says, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32). The words “lifted up”refer to Christ’s crucifixion (cf. John 3:14; 8:28; 12:33). Why? Because He must be lifted up on the cross to draw “all”(the word “peoples” is not in the Greek) to Himself. This refers to “all”people, not just Jews, but all people including the Greeks or Gentiles. Jesus’ love is not exclusive. This drawing or pulling is universal regardless of one’s past, nationality, political party, or skin color.

Because of the cross, God does the drawing work that impacts every individual in some way. No one can come to Christ in faith apart from God’s drawing (cf. John 6:44). Jesus does not tell us how long God will draw people to Himself. He may draw them for a brief time or thirty years (cf. Acts 13:46; Romans 1:18-32). That this drawing can be resisted is seen in the life of Judas.3 Judas said “no” to God’s intense drawing for over three years but Judas rejected that drawing and never believed in Christ (cf. 6:64, 70-71; 13:10-11; 17:12). 

John 12:32 does not mean all people will be saved, but that all people will be impacted by the cross in some way and have an opportunity to believe in Christ. But it is still each person’s choice to believe in Christ. John informs us, “This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” (John 12:33). Crucifixion was the kind of death Jesus was destined to die.

The January 10, 2006 Daily Bread reads, “Towering above New York Harbor is the Statue of Liberty. That stately lady, with freedom’s torch held high, has beckoned millions of people who were choking from the stifling air of tyranny or oppression. They’ve been drawn to what that monument symbolizes – freedom. Inscribed on Lady Liberty’s pedestal are these words by Emma Lazarus from her poem ‘The New Colossus’:

            “Give me your tired, your poor,

            Your huddled masses

            yearning to breathe free,

            The wretched refuse

            of your teeming shore;

            Send these, the homeless,

            tempest-tossed, to me:

            I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

“A different monument towers over history, offering spiritual freedom to enslaved peoples everywhere. It’s the cross where Jesus hung 2,000 years ago. At first the scene repels us. Then we see the sinless Son of God dying in our place for our sins. From the cross we hear the words ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34) and ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30). As we trust in Christ as our Savior, the heavy burden of guilt rolls from our sin-weary souls. We are free for all eternity.” 4

Remember Mrs. Lot’s philosophy – “There’s no need to take God seriously”? That could have been etched on her salt-block tombstone. When you have a chance, lick some salt today and ask yourself, “What are some things in my life that God has asked me to leave behind? Things that keep me from following Christ?” 5 After receiving Christ by believing in Him alone for His eternal freedom (John 1:12), you can begin to experience freedom from sin’s bondage in your Christian life by purposing in your heart not to be like Mrs. Lot. You can daily overcome self-centeredness through …

– Seeking Jesus (John 12:20-22).

– Self-denying service to Christ (John 12:23-26).

– Surrendering to God’s control in prayer (John 12:27-30).

– Staying focused on the One who defeated the devil and draws all people to Himself (John 12:31-33).

When you do, you can experience the quality of Christ’s life now (John 12:24-25b; cf. John 8:31-36; 10:10) and be honored by the Father in the future (John 12:25b-26; cf. Matthew 19:29-30; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30; John 4:36; 12:25; Romans 2:7; Galatians 6:7-9; I Timothy 6:12, 19). Only Jesus can unite all people everywhere because only He can transform our selfish, sinful hearts into selfless, loving hearts. Let’s stay focused on Him – the Prince of Peace.

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful to live in America which was birthed to provide freedom for those who were oppressed. But because of human self-centeredness, that freedom is often limited and redefined to serve one’s selfish interests. There is a much greater freedom that is offered to the world today through Jesus Christ. This freedom that Jesus offers is spiritual,  eternal, and absolutely free to anyone who receives it by faith in Christ alone because His sacrifice on the cross paid for it in full (John John 3:16; 19:30). No politician or government can grant this spiritual freedom. Only Jesus can. Please use me to share this good news of Jesus with the entire world so they can be set free from the penalty of sin (eternal death) and Satan’s counterfeit kingdom of darkness! And Lord, please grant me the desire and the power to abide in Your Word daily so Your truth can set me free from the bondage of self-centeredness that can so easily cripple my walk with You. In the liberating name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 223.

2. Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.), pg. 1796.

3. Dr. Robert Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pp. 396, 434,435.

4. https://odb.org/2006/01/10/drawn-by-the-cross/

5. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life (Portland: Multanomah Press, 1983), pp. 438-439.

How can I be sure that I have truly believed in Christ for everlasting life?

Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish true faith from false faith. All faith is faith. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees it, “he who believes in Me has everlasting life,” (John 6:47). To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. I either believe Christ’s promise or I don’t. If I do, I am saved. If I don’t, 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 “really believes” or “truly believes.” Neither does he speak of “genuine faith,” “real faith,” or “heart faith.” All faith is the conviction of the truth of some proposition. 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 believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life by Jesus Christ to every believer (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; et al). Therefore, those who speak of “false faith” or “head faith,” are reading into faith as the Scripture neither does, nor provides basis for doing.

The Bible gives us several examples of people who knew they believed in Christ apart from good works:

(Peter) “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:69

“Jesus heard that they had cast him [former blind man] out; and when He had found him, He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:35, 38

“Jesus said to her [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” John 11:25-27

“Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he [Ethiopian eunuch] answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ” Acts 8:37

(Paul) “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” 2 Tim. 1:12