Revelation 7 – Part 1

“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Revelation 7:4

John received two new visions that corrected the possible impression that no one would survive the “beginning of birth-pangs” (Matthew 24:6-8) during the first half of the Tribulation judgments (Revelation 6:1-17). God will save two groups of people during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:14): He will preserve 144,000 Israelites alive on the earth (7:1-8), and He will take to heaven a multitude of people from all nations who will die during that time (7:9-17). John saw both groups in chapter 7, which contrasts the panic of unbelievers described in Chapter 6 (“After these things”) and in answer to the question “Who is able to stand?” (6:17), with the security of believers during this time of unprecedented suffering (7:1a). 1

The mention of martyrs during the Tribulation (6:9-11) leads John to write about what will happen to those who become believers during that time. Though billions of unbelievers will die, many will come to faith in Christ and many of those will be martyred for their faith in Him. In wrath, God will remember mercy (cf. Hab 3:2). Even though this will be a time of trouble like never before, it will also be a time of salvation like never before—of both Jews (vv 1-8) and Gentiles (vv 9-17).” 2

As the hoofbeats of the four horsemen echoed into the distance and the cacophony of geological and cosmic upheavals stilled, John’s attention turned to the center of the earthly end-times drama: the land of Israel. Throughout their history, the people of Israel had been conquered, delivered, devastated, exiled, and restored over and over again as military threats bombarded them from every side. Yet at the beginning of John’s vision of the Tribulation, just as the land of Israel is about to endure the most devastating war in all of history, God’s intervention reminds us that He will keep His promises to Israel.” 3

In between the sixth and seventh seals of judgment, John writes, “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.” (Revelation 7:1). The apostle “saw four angels standing at the four corners.” The phrase “four corners of the earth, is an idiom for the four cardinal directions 4 – north, south, east, and west. 5

The four angels in John’s vision have the responsibility of restraining the judgment of God (pictured by “the four winds,” cf. Jeremiah 49:36-38; Daniel 7:2; Hosea 13:15) on nature (“the earth…the sea…any tree”). Most of the trumpet and bowl judgments involve God’s destruction of the earth’s environment in some way (cf. Revelation 8–9, 16). However, as Revelation 11:14 indicates, the first six trumpet judgments take place before the 144,000 go out to preach in the last half of the seven years. 6

Then John sees another angel in addition to the first four: “2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3 saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’” (Revelation 7:2-3). “Another” [allon] angel” of the same kind as the first four angels ascended “from the east” (literally – “from the rising of the sun”). In the Bible, divine salvation often comes “from the east” (cf. Genesis 2:8; Ezekiel 43:2; Matthew 2:1; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16). 7

This fifth angel had “the seal of the living God.” A “seal” was a symbol of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22), authentication (John 6:27), and protection leading to final salvation (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30; cf. Genesis 4:15; Exodus 12:7). 8 This “seal” represents God’s intention to protect the twelve tribes of Israel that are mentioned in verses 4-8, much as He protected Noah from the Flood, Israel from the plagues of Egypt, and Rahab and her household in Jericho. 9

“In Ezekiel 9, a linen-clothed angel went forth and put a mark on a select group of people to set them apart from those on whom God’s judgment would fall. The same is true here. The purpose of this seal is to set apart those who will share the gospel in the last three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation and to protect them from the judgments that will be falling on unrepentant mankind (cf. 9:4).” 10

On earth during the Tribulation, the followers of the Beast will bear his mark on their right hand or forehead (Revelation 13:16). During this same time, the Lord will identify His people by placing a seal of ownership on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). Revelation 7 and 13 use two different Greek words to distinguish these marks from each other. In Revelation 7, God seals the 144,000 on their “foreheads.” The word used there for the verb “sealed” is sphragizō, which symbolizes the spiritual sealing mentioned throughout the New Testament (John 3:33; 6:27; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). But in Revelation 13, where followers of the Antichrist are given a “mark” (Revelation 13:16-17), the word used is charagma which refers to a literal brand, tattoo, or etching. 11

This angel commands the four angels to whom was given authority “to harm the earth and the sea” to withhold their judgment on the earth until he had finished sealing “the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3). God wants His servants set apart and ready before any of the judgments fall on the earth. 12 The “servants” in view are believers in Jesus Christ who are Jews (7:4-8). The sealing of God’s servants sets them apart as God’s redeemed people and guaranteed their physical safety while they preached the gospel during the last 3 ½ years of the Tribulation when the trumpet judgments take place (8:7-21; 11:15-18).

“Evidently God will give these 144,000 believers special protection in the last half of the Tribulation, because its calamities will be much more severe than those in the first half. Antichrist will also mark his followers in a similar way (13:16-18; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20).” 13

Next John writes, “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” (Revelation 7:4). When God’s Word says, “all the tribes of the children of Israel,” He means it. Unfortunately, “most posttribulationists and amillennialists believe the 144,000 are members of ‘spiritual Israel,’ a title of theirs for the church. 14 “Many interpreters take the number 144,000 as symbolic of all God’s servants in the Tribulation.” 15

Swindoll writes, Many Christians today are convinced that God’s plan for ethnic Israel has come to an end. Some believe that the promises of a glorious nation and blessing in the Holy Land have been abolished because of Israel’s past unfaithfulness. Others have determined that these promises were fulfilled in a spiritual sense through Christ in the church. Some theologians propose that Israel has been replaced by the church and that ethnic Jews have been divorced by God, without a future in God’s plan.

“However, the New Testament assures us that God plans to bring about the fulfillment of those promises through Jesus Christ. Although most ethnic Jews have been in a state of unbelief since the time of Jesus, God will one day bring a remnant to faith in Christ and restore them to the land promised to their forefathers (Genesis 13:15). Jesus Himself promised the apostles, ‘In the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Matthew 19:28). Before Christ’s ascension, the disciples eagerly inquired about the timing of that earthly kingdom when they asked, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6). It is significant that Jesus didn’t reject their literal interpretation and expectation of a future fulfillment of these earthly promises. Instead, He told them that they would not know the timing of this restoration (Acts 1:7-8). 

Years later, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of Israel’s unbelief by declaring that this rebellion would one day be reversed: ‘A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11:25-26). In other words, when God has accomplished His purposes through the church, He will again turn His attention to the nation of Israel and bring them to faith in Christ. We can see the beginnings of this future for Israel with the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8.

“Why is the restoration of Israel so important? Because God’s very reputation as a Promise Keeper is at stake! With explicit reference to the calling of Israel, Paul said, ‘For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). It’s as simple as this: If we cannot trust God to keep His promises to Israel (Jeremiah 31:35-37), how can we trust Him to keep His promises to us (Romans 8:35-39)? Never doubt it: God will do what He says He will do!” 16

That God is referring to ethnic Israel is underscored by the fact that John heard the names of twelve tribes of Israel with 12,000 from each tribe “sealed” and thus protected: 5 of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed; 6 of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed; 7 of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; 8 of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.” (Revelation 7:5-8). Nothing in this text suggests a symbolic understanding. The fact that specific “tribes” were named “and specific numbers from each tribe were indicated would seem to remove this from the symbolic and to justify literal interpretation. If God intended these verses to represent Israel literally, He would have used this means. Nowhere else in the Bible do a dozen references to the 12 tribes mean the church. Obviously, Israel will be in the Tribulation, and though men do not know the identification of each tribe today, certainly God knows.” 17

The number of sealed servants of God, with specific numbers from each tribe in contrast with the indefinite number of 7:9, underscores the literal understanding of these verses. “If it is taken symbolically, no number in the book can be taken literally.” 18

Hitchcock gives several reasons why the church cannot represent Israel in Revelation 7:1-8: “Why would the Holy Spirit begin to mix the church and Israel in the book of Revelation, the final book in the New Testament, when He has so carefully distinguished the two groups in the previous twenty-six books of the New Testament? Why begin to identify the church as the true, spiritual Israel at this late point in the New Testament? It does not make good sense and is inconsistent.

“Second, if one holds to the pre-Tribulation timing for the Rapture, the church is already in heaven as pictured by the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4–5. Thus, it doesn’t make sense that the group in Revelation 7, which is on earth, would be the church. The church has already been raptured.

“Third, it is interesting that Jews and Gentiles are clearly distinguished from one another in Revelation 7. The 144,000 Jews are listed in 7:1-8 while 7:9-17 presents an innumerable host of ‘every nation and tribe and people and language.’ Merging these two groups does not do justice to the distinctions that Revelation 7 makes:

“Jews from twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-8), Gentiles from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9-17); numbered—144,000 (Revelation 7:1-8), not numbered—“a great multitude which no one could count” (Revelation 7:9-17); standing on earth (Revelation 7:1-8), standing before God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17); sealed for protection (Revelation 7:1-8), ascended after persecution (Revelation 7:9-17).

Furthermore, Revelation 7 clearly distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles, but this distinction is inconsistent with the New Testament picture of the church—Jews and Gentiles are seen as one in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:27-28; Ephesians 3:6). Since Galatians 3 and Ephesians 3 unite Jews and Gentiles as one and since Revelation 7 does not reflect that unity, the Rapture must reinstitute a division between Jews and Gentiles. Revelation 7 reflects that division.

So then, who are these 144,000 servants of God? If the Scriptures are interpreted literally, then the 144,000 are a literal group of 144,000 Jewish men—12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—raised up by God during the Tribulation to serve Him. They are not spiritual Israel (the church), but actual Israel.” 19

The most important fact taught here is that God continues to watch over Israel even in the time of Israel’s great distress. There is no justification whatever for spiritualizing either the number or the names of the tribes in this passage, to make them represent the church.” 20

In conclusion, God’s faithfulness to His promises is seen in the fact that ethnic Israel will retain her national identity before God during the Tribulation period, and He will resume dealing with them again as His chosen people during this time (7:1-8; cf. Daniel 9:24-27). Jehovah Witnesses or any other Gentiles who claim to be a part of this group fail to accept the final authority of God’s Word which clearly states that these 144,000 servants of God will be physical descendants of the twelve Israelite tribes. When they are sealed (7:1-8), they will know their tribal roots, and their sealing will take place after the Rapture of the Church (4:1-4).

How can we apply this to our lives today? Just as God prepared the 144,000 Jewish servants for service by giving them His seal (7:2-8), so God has prepared us for His service by giving us the Holy Spirit to empower us to be His witnesses to the entire world (Acts 1:8). We are not alone when it comes to sharing the gospel with a lost world. God the Holy Spirit indwells us (John 14:16-17) and will give us the boldness (Acts 4:29-31) and words to speak to those who need Christ in their lives (Matthew 10:19-20).

The 144,000 Jewish servants will boldly proclaim the gospel of Christ’s coming Kingdom during the Tribulation period. There appears to be a cause-and-effect relationship in Revelation 7 between the 144,000 Jewish believers (7:1-8) and the innumerable crowd of Gentile believers in heaven from all nations (7:9-17). The preaching of the gospel by these 144,000 Jewish evangelists during the last half of the Tribulation period will results in an innumerable number of people being saved. They will be the greatest evangelists the world has ever seen. These sealed servants of God will fulfill Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Revelation 7 provides a panorama of God’s saving work during the Tribulation. The 144,000 reveal God’s passion to save people even amid the unspeakable judgments of the Tribulation. To the very end, our Savior will graciously continue “to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10). 21

Does our passion for the lost reflect that of our Savior Who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:3-4)? I am convinced that the closer we grow to the heart of the Lord Jesus, the more our hearts for the lost will reflect His. Christ promises that if we follow Him, He will make us fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Swindoll reminds us that this interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments in Revelation 7 teaches us several things: “To reaffirm Christ’s central position, remind us of God’s great plan of redemption, and reassure us that God’s wrath isn’t without mercy. John needed that interlude. So do we. In fact, it might be wise for us to follow God’s example and work interludes into our own lives.

“Interludes do at least three things for us—all of them essential in a world filled with relentless stress, hardship, busyness, and drama.

“First, interludes reaffirm for us who’s first… Interludes strengthen the centrality and preeminence of Christ. When we are alone for even a short period of time, we get a desperately needed opportunity to focus on Him. Strive to make this ‘time with God’ a daily appointment. Consider not only setting aside a few hours on Sunday morning to remember who’s first but also devoting the whole Lord’s Day to Christ-centered activities.

Second, interludes remind us of what’s important. In the fast pace of modern life, we frequently get our priorities jumbled up. The nonessentials of life tend to bleed over into the essentials—and vice versa. When we pause, step back, and gather our thoughts, we give ourselves a chance to reorder our priorities. Such occasions to ‘regroup’ can be monthly getaways or annual retreats. Each of us is different, but all of us need a chance to reconsider priorities, set things straight, and form a plan to keep life’s essentials on top. Consider dedicating a portion of a vacation to thinking and praying through your priorities. What a difference it will make for the rest of the year!

Third, interludes refresh us with why it’s all worth it. In the depths of despair, in the thick of tragedy, in the throes of suffering, we need interludes in order to recharge spiritually with the faith and fortitude to carry on. Interludes can help us endure suffering, loss, disappointment, and the death of dreams. They massage us back to a fresh new start. We reenter the fray with a new perspective, centered on God’s goodness and on His plan and purpose. Sometimes we just need a shelter from the storm.

“It’s easy to lose sight of God’s goodness, grace, and mercy in the midst of the daily turmoil of life in this fallen world. Only during interludes of reflection are we able to evaluate our priorities and passions in light of the central position of Jesus Christ, which equips us with a new sense of purpose as we place our trust in Him.” 22

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this amazing interlude in heaven between the sixth and seventh seal judgments which underscores that Your wrath is accompanied by Your mercy. Only You can give us security amid a world that is spinning out of control. Your judgments can awaken people for their need for Your mercy through the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You for remaining faithful to Your promises to Israel and to those of us who are Gentiles. We can trust You to keep Your promises no matter how difficult life becomes. Please show us how to work interludes into our own lives that enable us to renew our commitment to Christ. We need to detach from this hostile world and renew our love relationship with Jesus. Make us more like You, Lord Jesus, so Your love for the lost becomes ours. Use us to proclaim Your message of grace through faith to a world that is perishing without You. Protect us from the evil one and equip us with a renewed sense of purpose as we place our trust in You. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 94.

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), pp. 1524-1525.

3. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 162-163.

4. Ibid., pg. 163.

5.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1525. Regarding Revelation 11:14, Vacendak says, Since the death of the two witnesses and the subsequent earthquake occur after the first and second ‘woe’ (i.e., trumpet judgments five and six), one may conclude that the first six trumpet judgments occur during the first three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation” (pp. 1538-1539).

7. Constable, pg. 95.

8. Ibid.

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), pg. 164.

10. Vacendak, pg. 1525.

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. 290.

12. Vacendak, pg. 1525.  

13. Constable, pg. 96.

14. Ibid., cites as examples William Barclay, The Revelation of John Vol. 2, The Daily Study Bible series 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1964), pg. 30; Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), pg. 168; Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Reprint ed. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), pg. 175; George Raymond Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, New Century Bible Commentary series, Revised ed. (London: Morgan & Scott, 1974; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983), pg. 140; George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 1972 reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), pp. 114 116; Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John. 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 99; James Moffatt, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” In The Expositor’s Greek Testament Vol. 5 (1910), 4th ed. Edited by W. Robertson Nicoll 5 Vols. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900-12), pg. 395; Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), pg. 413; David E. Aune, Revelation 6—16, Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 447.  

15. Ibid., cites as examples Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” In Hebrews-Revelation Vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 12 vols., Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pp. 463 and 481; Ladd, pg. 117.

16. Swindoll, pp. 156-157.

17. Walvoord, pg. 164.

18. Constable, pg. 96 cites Thomas, Revelation 1—7, p. 474.

19. Hitchcock, pp. 288-289.

20. Walvoord, pg. 164.

21. Adapted from Hitchcock, pp. 291-292.

22. Swindoll, pp. 168-169.

How do I defeat my worst fears? Part 4

11 So the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.’ ” Exodus 4:11-12

In Exodus 3-4, we are learning from Moses’ interaction with God how to defeat our worst fears. The Lord told Moses to go back to Egypt to lead His people to freedom. But Moses had many fears that impeded him from doing God’s will. Those fears included the fear of inadequacy (Exodus 3:11), embarrassment (Exodus 3:13), and rejection (Exodus 4:1). God diffused these fears with His responses (Exodus 3:12a, 14-15; 4:2-3).

But this still wasn’t enough for Moses. “Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ ” (Exodus 4:10). Moses was also struggling with THE FEAR OF COMPARISON (Exodus 4:10). Moses is saying, “I am not a good speaker.” Compared to whom? His only audience is sheep. How does he know he is not a good speaker? It is not like he has other shepherds to listen to on the TV channel. How does he know? He is comparing himself to others.

Or perhaps he is comparing himself to when he was living in the palace of the king of Egypt for forty years and received the best education in the world (Acts 7:20-23). But after listening to sheep the last forty years “baaaaing” in the wilderness (Acts 7:23, 30), he had lost his eloquence and confidence.

All of us have a lot of abilities and talents to serve God with, but we don’t know that yet because we have not tried to use them. People have said to me in America, “Jeff, I can’t talk about the Lord in America. Why in the world should I go overseas to do it?”

How does God respond to this fear of comparison? 11 So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord?” (Exodus 4:11).

“When God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf, God was not unaware of Moses’s weaknesses. Similarly, when he calls you to kingdom service, he knows about your fears and your shortcomings. This, in fact, is a reminder that God didn’t choose you to serve him because he desperately needed your qualities on his team. He chose you so that you could reflect his glory to the world. Paul told the Corinthians, ‘Consider your calling: Not many were wise from a human perspective, not many powerful. . .. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong . . . so that no one may boast in his presence” (1 Cor 1:26-29).’ ” 1

God wasn’t concerned about Moses’ eloquence or lack thereof. Moses was God’s man regardless of how Moses felt about it. Therefore, God said to him, “Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.” (Exodus 4:12). The deliverance of God’s people from Egypt did not ultimately depend upon Moses, but on God.

But you may say, “That is great, but that is Moses. What about me?” Did you know that God has made the same promise to you and me? Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.” (Matthew 10:19-20 MSG). That is a promise to you and me if we are doing what God calls us to do. By God’s grace, I have experienced this promise repeatedly, and you can too if you do what God calls you to do.

Prayer:  Almighty God, thank You for reminding us that Your presence in our lives will provide all that is needed to accomplish Your will. As our Creator, You not only know all our fears and weaknesses, but You also have the power to overcome them and display Your glory through them. We are humbled that You would even choose us to be a part of Your redemptive plan for the world. Thank You Almighty God. In the matchless name of the Lord 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. 198.

How can we overcome fear in evangelism? Part 1

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7

Evangelist Larry Moyer writes, “If most of us were honest, we would admit we enjoy evangelism the most when:

• The person we plan to talk to is not home.

• God allows us to do the praying and someone else to do the talking.

• The individual we are approaching has laryngitis and therefore, it would be impolite to ask him about his relationship with Christ.

• The waitress explains to our friend that she has a phone call just as we are preparing to approach her about spiritual things.

• We unintentionally oversleep the morning of our breakfast appointment with a non-Christian.

• As soon as we approach an individual about spiritual things, he tells us he is a Christian and we of course do not want to insult him by telling him what he probably already knows.” 1

The reason for these responses is one four-letter word – FEAR. Fear does more to hinder our witness for Jesus Christ than any other single thing. As Christians, it’s not that we don’t want to share Christ with others. I believe most believers would love to lead someone to the Lord. Think about this for a moment: What would happen if each of us led someone to Jesus Christ this Christmas season? Wouldn’t that be exciting?! To see the church grow exponentially as the gospel goes out from here and changes peoples’ lives. Nothing would bless your church more than to see new believers sitting next to you because you had the courage to share Christ with them.

But it is not going to happen until we overcome this fear of sharing our faith with others. Before we talk about how to do that, let me address two things. First, if you are afraid to evangelize, raise your right hand above your head. (Pause). Now put your hand behind your head. Now pat yourself on the back. You are normal. It is normal to be afraid in evangelism. After all the apostle Paul was afraid to evangelize. When entering the city of Corinth to evangelize, Paul admits, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3).  I’ve been sharing Christ with others for over thirty-five years and I still get butterflies in my stomach before I approach a non-Christian about spiritual things. So it is normal to be afraid in evangelism.

Second, the issue is overcoming fear, not removing it. I believe this side of heaven, there will always be times of fear. In Ephesians 6:19, Paul asked, “Pray for me, that the power to speak may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (MEV). Why did Paul ask for prayer for boldness? Because he still struggled with fear. When Paul wrote this prayer request for boldness, he was a prisoner in Rome. He already had many years of evangelistic experiences planting churches. Yet he understood, that moments of fear will always be there. Yet he shared Christ constantly not because he was never afraid, but because he learned to overcome his fear with boldness.

How can we overcome fear in evangelism? For the next few days, Lord willing, we will look atJohn 16:5-15 where we will discover some principles for overcoming fear in evangelism. The last time in the gospel of John, we saw Jesus forewarn His disciples of the world’s coming hostility and persecution of them (15:18-16:4). The disciples were now preoccupied with their own problems in the future and none of them were concerned about Jesus’ future. Christ wanted them to bear witness of Him to an increasingly hostile world. How eager would you be to speak up for Christ if your audience was likely to mistreat you, imprison you, or even kill you? Being stricken with fear is understandable with that kind of a warning from Christ (John 15:18-16:4).

If we want to overcome fear in evangelism GRASP THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE WHEN YOU WITNESS (John 16:5-7), because God the Holy Spirit is with you and in you always. Jesus told His disciples, “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’” (John 16:5).Peter had asked this question earlier (John 13:36), but then he was only concerned about how Jesus’ departure would affect him. Peter and the other disciples did not understand the significance of Jesus’ departure at this time. They did not realize Christ would have to suffer and die and be resurrected before ascending to heaven to be with His Father. Like the disciples, we tend to think only of ourselves instead of others when we are facing trouble. 2

Next Christ said, “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” (John 16:6). Understandably, “sorrow” filled the disciples’ hearts at the news of Jesus’ departure and their coming persecution and there was room for nothing else in their hearts. 3 To the disciples, Jesus’ departure and their upcoming persecution, was an awful disaster in the making and they were deeply distressed by this. Parting is painful especially when you are very dependent on the person leaving. The disciples depended on Jesus for guidance, instruction, protection and provisions, and now He was leaving them, and they would be hated by the world. We would have felt the same way.

Perhaps we would try to hide our sadness, but we would still feel the sense of loss. We can hide our grief and pain from each other, but not from the Lord Jesus. He knows our hurts and He wants to offer comfort to us.

Jesus then offers hope to His hurting disciples, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7).This is a reality check – “I tell you the truth…” Jesus says. It may feel bad, but let’s do a reality check. In reality, Jesus’ departure (His death, resurrection, and ascension) would be profitable and beneficial to the disciples and to all of us! What “advantage” would Jesus’ departure give to the disciples?

First, Jesus’ return to the Father meant He would send  “the Helper,” the Holy Spirit, to indwell all believers everywhere forever (cf. John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26). Evans observes, “The Father sent the Son into the world (see 3:17), and the Son would send the Spirit into the world (16:7). Thus, the Trinitarian God is at work, each Person carrying out the next phase of His kingdom program. The coming of the Holy Spirit would benefit the disciples because his presence would not be physically limited (as Jesus’s was). He would dwell within each of them (14:17) and go with them wherever they traveled (see Eph. 1:22, 23).” 4

Jesus’ stay with them was temporary, but the Holy Spirit’s stay would be permanent. They would never be alone again! And nor shall we if we have believed in Christ for everlasting life and received the Holy Spirit at that moment of faith (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11, 13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14).

Second, as long as Jesus was with them in Person, His work would be localized, and it would be impossible for Him to communicate with them equally at all times and in all places. But the coming “Helper” would equip them for a wider and more powerful ministry! There is no place they could go where the Holy Spirit would not be with and in them.

For example, in Matthew 10, when the disciples were sent out to minister, it was necessary for them to be separated from Christ. Jesus could not physically accompany them in their ministry everywhere they went. If Jesus had remained on earth with them, He would not be able to accompany them to all the places God would lead them. But the Holy Spirit could. He would indwell them and empower them to reveal Jesus to a much greater extent than Christ would have done if He had remained with them.

This is why Jesus could promise His followers who go out into the world to make disciples, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b). There is no place we can go on earth where Jesus is not with us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. His presence can overcome our fears.

Third, while Jesus was on earth, the disciples were sometimes afraid (cf. Mark 14:50; John 6:20), but after the coming of the Holy Spirit they testified of Jesus with great confidence and boldness (cf. Acts 2:14-47; 3:11-26; 4:5-31; 5:1-11, 28-32, 40-42; et al.).  If the disciples got their way, there would be no gospel because Jesus would not have died and rose from the dead. There would be no payment for our sins. If Jesus had not departed, there would have been no glorified Lord to send the Holy Spirit to apply Jesus’ death and resurrection to peoples’ hearts. The Holy Spirit’s coming depended on Jesus’ petition to the Father to send the Spirit. Christ could not ask the Father to send the Spirit until He had returned to the Father. Without the Holy Spirit, it would be like Old Testament days when the Spirit’s indwelling presence was temporary. With all things considered, believers today are more privileged spiritually than those who lived and walked with Jesus in the first century. 5

Knowing we are not alone when we share the gospel with unbelievers can replace our fear with boldness. Through the Holy Spirit, we have a power that is not our own. God’s power is manifested as we begin to share the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Many times, before I share the gospel with people, I have fears streaming through my mind: “What will they think? How will they respond? Will they reject the message and me? Will I be able to answer their questions or objections?” Knowing the Holy Spirit is with me and in me to give me the words to speak, calms my fears. After warning His disciples of severe persecution, Jesus told them,  19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:19-20). Believing Christ’s promise can dissolve our fears in evangelism.

A few years ago when we were speaking at a church in the USA, I was very nervous about sharing the gospel with the congregation because I knew that the beliefs of this particular denomination were much different than ours. Hence, I spent additional time in prayer beforehand asking the Lord to guide me and empower me. That morning, God the Holy Spirit directed me to share from Acts 16:25-31 about what the Bibles says to do to get to heaven if we only have 60 seconds to live.

At the end of the message, I gave a gospel invitation, and about 10-12 adult leaders raised their hands indicating that they were now trusting in Christ alone as their only hope of heaven. After the service, three or four people came up to me, thanking me for sharing this message with them. They told me they used to think that going to heaven was based on their works, but now they were resting in the finished work of Christ. Others said no one had ever told them God cared about their eternal destiny, but now they know He does, and they were trusting Christ to get them to heaven. After talking with these people, I bowed my heart before the Lord, thanking Him and His Spirit for His guidance and power to share this message. All the glory goes to Him!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your words offer such hope and empowerment as we go out into a hostile world to share Your life-giving gospel message. Thank You for not leaving us alone when You ascended to the Father in heaven. Thank You for God the Holy Spirit Who indwells us permanently the moment we believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life. I appreciate being reminded that it is normal to feel afraid in evangelism. The goal is not to remove the fear, but to overcome fear with Holy Spirit-driven boldness as we yield to Him. Thank You for giving us everything we need to be effective in sharing Your gospel message with a broken and hostile world. Knowing that there is nowhere we can go without Your Spirit accompanying us gives us great peace and power to share Your death and resurrection without shame or fear to a world that is perishing! Please open the door for us to boldly and compassionately share Your life-giving gospel message with as many people as possible while there is still time. In Your mighty name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. R. Larry Moyer, Larry Moyer’s How-To Book On Personal Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998), pg. 53.

2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 287.

3. The word for “filled,” peplērōken, is a perfect indicative active verb and conveys the idea that there was room for nothing else in the disciples’ hearts – Ibid.

4.  Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1809.

5. Laney, pg. 288.