Revelation 21 – Part 1

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” Revelation 21:1

“During the Second World War, when it was hard for Franklin Roosevelt to travel among the troops because of his disability, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took his place, and she became a favorite of soldiers around the world. She sent cables and letters back to FDR, becoming his eyes and ears. On one such trip in the Pacific theater she spent an evening talking to a group of soldiers, and later told her husband there was only one thought on all their minds – the desire to finish the battle so they could go home.” 1

Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ feel the same way about heaven. We are deployed on planet Earth in a battle between God and His enemies, but it is only a short-term assignment. Goodness and mercy will certainly follow us all the days of our lives. But what we eagerly await is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6)!!! 2

For those of you who have not been with us on our journey through the book of Revelation, I will give you a brief overview of what we have covered so far. The glorified and ascended Lord Jesus Christ instructed the apostle John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19). This verse provides a divine outline of the entire book of Revelation involving the past, present, and future:

 – “Write the things which you have seen.” This refers to the past vision of Jesus in all His glory standing among the seven lampstands representing the seven churches in Asia Minor or modern-day western Turkey (Revelation 1).

 – “And the things which are.” This includes the messages from the exalted Lord Jesus’ to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor (wester modern-day Turkey) in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century.

“And the things which will take place after this.” This section includes the future Rapture of the Church (Revelation 4-5), the seven-year Tribulation (Revelation 6-18), the return of Christ to earth with His Church to defeat His enemies (Revelation 19), the 1000-year glorious reign of Christ on the earth (Revelation 20:1-9), the final judgment of Satan (Revelation 20:10), and the final judgment of all the unsaved (Revelation 20:11-15). Now we are ready for the final section involving the new heaven and new earth where King Jesus will live with His people forever (Revelation 21-22).

Many people form their views about heaven from television, movies, religious experiences, and their imaginations instead of a thorough study of the Bible. But the Bible is filled with over five hundred references to heaven, 3 the most detailed of which is found in the final two chapters of Revelation.

Beginning with verse 1 of chapter 21, God gives the apostle John a new vision of what heaven is going to be like. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1). John “saw a new heaven and a new earth.” This is not a renovation of the present “heaven” (atmosphere and planetary space) and “earth” as some suggest, 4 but a complete remake whereby God re-creates a brand-new heaven and earth out of nothing. 5 The word “new” (kainos) means “different from the usual, impressive, better than the old, superior in value or attraction.” 6 The “new” heaven and “new” earth will not only be new in a chronological sense, but also in a qualitative sense. 7

Swindoll writes, “To use a film metaphor, this isn’t a sequel – it’s a completely new and different production. It isn’t simply a reedited version, enhanced with clearer sound, brighter colors, and a smattering of digitally enhanced special effects. This is no reedit – it’s a remake!” 8

John explains the reason why he “saw a new heaven and a new earth” was because “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” by fire after the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth due to the corruption of sin (21:1b; cf. 2 Peter 3:10-13; Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 34:4; 51:6; Matthew 5:18; 24:35).  

John Walvoord says, “The most natural interpretation of the fact that earth and sky flee away [20:11] is that the present earth and sky are destroyed and will be replaced by the new heaven and new earth. This is also confirmed by the additional statement in 21:1, where John sees a new heaven and a new earth replacing the first heaven and first earth. Frequent references in the Bible seem to anticipate this future time when the present world will be destroyed (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33; 2 Peter 3:10)… Passages such as Revelation 20:11 and 2 Peter 3:10 state explicitly that this destruction is literal and physical. It would be most natural that the present heaven and earth, the scene of the struggle with Satan and sin, should be displaced by an entirely new order suited for eternity. The whole structure of the universe is operating on the principle of a clock that is running down. What could be simpler than for God to create a new heaven and a new earth by divine decree in keeping with His purposes for eternity?” 9

Let’s remember that when God created the universe, including planet Earth, it was all perfect (Genesis 1:31). There was no imperfection in what God had made. The world God created was perfectly suited for humankind, whom He made to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him forever. But when Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:1-6), it did more than break humanity’s relationship with its Creator God (Romans 5:12), it also subject the entire creation to “decay, disharmony, and hostility. When farmer’s plant vegetables, they harvest weeds. When they try to grow grain, fruit, and flowers, they get thistles, brambles, and thorns. The evil of humanity resulted in more than just the fall of Adam and Eve. It affected all creation. From the center of Eden to the edge of the cosmos, creation has groaned for redemption since the Fall.” 10

The apostle Paul wrote: “20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” (Romans 8:20-22). Human sin corrupted creation (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20-22) and dragged it down into the messes we see today. The existence of earthquakes, typhoons, volcanoes, and disease are the result of humankind’s sin against God. 11 “The entire created natural order is groaning and undergoing agonies that look toward a new age.” 12

“God will un-create the universe because each part of it is affected by sin, and the eternal state must be completely free from sin’s consequences. But that doesn’t mean the end for planet earth. Every molecule, atom, proton, and neutron in existence today will disintegrate only to be replaced by a glorious new creation.” 13

I have wondered what the “new heaven” or universe will be like. One of my mentors had suggested that the planets were able to sustain life prior to the fall. 14 But when Adam and Eve sinned, the affects of sin and death not only spread throughout planet Earth but also throughout the universe, including our solar system (Romans 8:20-22), rendering planets outside of earth unable to sustain life. This would explain why water has been found on other celestial bodies in the universe. 15

While I cannot be dogmatic, I do think when God creates “a new heaven and a new earth,” it is possible that planetary spacewill once again support life.If so, other planets may sustain human life and provide additional places to colonize as the new earth’s human population grows among the descendants of believers who survived the Tribulation and entered the Millennial Kingdom of Christ without glorified bodies (Matthew 25:31-46; Isaiah 65:20). These descendants will be able to multiply and fill the earth (and beyond) much like Adam and Eve would have done if they had not sinned. As the new earth’s population grows, these people in non-glorified bodies will be able to live on other habitable planets throughout the universe. While one cannot be dogmatic about this, it is quite possible that this expansion of the human population throughout the universe will continue forever. 16

John then informs us, “Also there was no more sea” (21:1c).One significant way the “new earth” will be different than the current one is that there will be “no more sea,” which means that the oceans that cover nearly 71% of the earth’s surface today will become land masses so the huge number of believers in Jesus from all ages will be able to live on the new earth. “The oceans affect the atmosphere, the climate, and other living conditions as well as human transportation.” 17

Dr. Jeremiah writes, “The ecology of the new heaven and earth will be entirely different than that of the earth we live on today. And there will be no need of salt water, because salt is a preservative, and there will be no decay. But there will be fresh water in the new heaven [and earth] – the river of life, flowing from the throne of God in the New Jerusalem, which will rest upon the ground during the eternal state. These waters will be more beautiful than any landscape we can fathom in this life.” 18

Those of us who love the ocean may be very disappointed to hear there will be no more seas. Does that mean there will be no more surfing, tide pools, snorkeling, and fun on the beach, and no more intriguing oceanic marine life? Keep in mind there will be an incredible river that flows through the New Jerusalem (22:1-2). But how much more water will be outside the city? Flowing rivers do go somewhere. Some of the world’s lakes today are very large and ocean-like, so it is quite possible that the new earth could have even larger bodies of fresh water 19 that provide even more enjoyable aquatic activities, including incredible marine life. 20

The absence of oceans on the new earth will not be a negative experience. The Bible tells us “There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4b). Alcorn writes,“There will be no more cold, treacherous waters that separate nations, destroy ships, and drown our loved ones.”21 Whatever the absence of oceans will be like on the new earth, one thing for sure is it will be much more wonderful than our finite minds can imagine now.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You so much for Your Word which reveals what our future home with You will be like on the new earth where sin and death will be no more. The absence of seas on the new earth means living conditions and climate will be much more stable and enjoyable than we are used to now. Having no more oceans in the future means there will be more land masses for people to inhabit. Use us now O Lord to share the good news of Your free offer of eternal life to all who will believe in You so more and more people can make reservations to live on the new earth with You and Your people forever. In Your mighty name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. David Jeremiah, Answers to Your Questions about Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015 Kindle Edition), pg. 9 cites Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), pg. 464.

2. Ibid., pp. 9-10.

3. Ibid., pg. 9.

4. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 233; Wilbur M. Smith, “Revelation,” in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, edited by Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), pg. 1521; 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. 450 cites Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004), pp. 145-151, as providing an excellent case for the renovation view.

5. Hitchcock, pp. 449-451; 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. 1582; Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 372; 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 6496; Constable, pg. 233 cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp. 439-440 and David E. Aune, Revelation 17-22 Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 1117.

6. Swindoll, pg. 372 cites Gerhard Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. and trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), Vol 3, pg. 447.  

7. Swindoll, pg. 372.

8. Ibid.

9. Hitchcock, pp. 450-451 cites John F. Walvoord, Revelation, ed. Mark Hitchcock and Philip E. Rawley, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 2011), pg. 317.

10. Swindoll, pg. 371.

11. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 1941.

12. Zane C. Hodges, 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. 805.

13. Evans, pg. 2420.

14. This was based on a discussion I had with Zane C. Hodges in the late 1980’s.

15. See Dr. Ron Samec’s April 1, 2015, article entitled “Mars – The Other Blue Planet?” at answersingenesis.org; cf. An article entitled “Are there oceans on other planets?” at the National Ocean Service’s website – www.oceanservice.noaa.gov.

16. This topic also originated from a discussion with Zane C. Hodges in the late 1980’s.

17. Constable, pg. 234.

18. Jeremiah, pg. 129.

19. See Randy Alcorn’s March 18, 2010, article entitled, “How can you say there will be oceans on the new earth when Rev. 21:1 says something different?” at epm.org.

20. Randy Alcorn, Heaven, pg. 266.

21. Ibid., pg. 265.

Revelation 2 – Part 1

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

John now records “the things which are” (1:19b), consisting of the exalted Lord Jesus’ messages to the seven historical churches in Asia Minor in the first century (Revelation 2-3). Jesus gives these seven local churches warnings and encouragements that are as applicable today as they were in the first century. 1

There has been substantial debate about the meaning of “overcomers” in the book of Revelation. Two major interpretations are at the core of this debate. The perseverance understanding holds that all genuine Christians are overcomers. 2 This view argues that every believer is an overcomer (I John 5:4-5) who inherits eternal bliss (Revelation 21:7) and, therefore, proves his salvation with his works (Revelation 2:26). According to this position all true Christians will persevere in good works to the end of their lives.

The second interpretation understands the “overcomer” to be an obedient Christian who receives rewards for his faithfulness to God. 3 This view understands I John 5:4-5 to be true for all Christians. There is a sense in which all Christians are overcomers when they believe in Christ for new birth. This single act of faith at the moment of salvation is “the victory that has overcome the world” which is antagonistic toward this saving act of faith (I John 5:4b) and is satanically blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But this interpretation understands that I John’s statements about overcomers is not the same as Revelation’s statements about overcomers as we shall now observe.

The word “overcome” comes from the Greek word nikaō which means to “be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail.” 4 John uses this word in Revelation to refer to victorious Christians who persevere in a life of faith.

It is important to understand that Revelation 2-3 is addressing Christians because the term “church” refers to believers. 5 The issue is not salvation, but discipleship or Christian growth because the focus is on persevering in works (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and not a single act of faith for salvation from hell (cf. John 4:14; 5:24; 6:35, 37-39; 10:28-29; I John 5:1-5, 13). For example, access to the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7) is not based on a single act of faith in Christ (I John 5:1, 4-5), but upon obedience to Christ’s commands (Revelation 22:14). Revelation is talking about Christians being overcomers through obedience to Christ until the end of their lives so they can gain eternal rewards such as eating from the tree of life or ruling with Christ (cf. Revelation 2:8, 26-27; 3:21; 22:14).

Also, in Revelation there is the call to hear (Revelation 2:7a; cf. 2:10, 17, 29: 3:6, 13, 22). Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ. Jesus is addressing the whole “church” consisting of believers in the letter (Revelation 2:1; cf. 2:8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.”

With this understanding, let’s look at the first church Jesus addresses. “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1). Ephesus was the ‘New York City’ of the first century. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it was a leading center of Greek culture as well as idol worship. Being a city of wealth and commerce, it contained the amazingly ornate temple of the goddess Diana (cf. Acts 19), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was also a city that had been effectively evangelized by Paul over the course of several years (cf. Acts 19:10, 20) and had become a gathering place of believers earnestly devoted to the Lord and His work. Unfortunately, over time these dedicated believers ‘left their first love.’ Therefore, with great concern the Lord speaks lovingly yet directly to His Bride in Ephesus to woo her back to her original devotion and zeal.” 6

Jesus describes Himself as the One “who holds [authoritatively with power] the seven stars [angels of the churches] in His right hand” and “walks in the midst of the seven lampstands [churches]in that He is involved in these local churches (2:1). Jesus was active among local churches in the first century and He remains active in churches today. Christ knows what is going on in our churches and He first offers encouragement.

2 I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3). Christ commends this church for their hard work, perseverance (“patience”), and discernment of false teaching and teachers (2:2-3). “They tested everything by the Scriptures and rightly found that some so-called apostles did not teach pure doctrine.” 7 “In general this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.” 8

Next, Christ Jesus rebukes this church. “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4). The order of words is emphatic in the original language; the clause could be translated, “Your first love you have left” (τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας). 9

While this church had excelled in their service for Christ and their orthodoxy, they had left their “first love.” This refers to their original love and devotion to Jesus. They were doing the right things now, but not with the same love and devotion they had in the beginning.

“They had correct doctrine, but not a correct heart. The key word here is first, not love. As with romantic love between a man and a woman, first love always involves passion. Yet there was not passionate pursuit of an intimate relationship with Christ in the church. They were merely following a program. Duty had replaced devotion.” 10

This can happen to any church or individual Christian. We start out passionate in our love for Jesus considering all He did for us in saving us from our sins. But as the years pass by, we can easily shift from passionate love for our Savior to more of a program mentality whereby we function out of duty instead of devotion to Christ. We go through the motions, but our heart is not connecting to the Lord like it was in the beginning of our Christian lives. We can become so familiar with the teachings of the Bible that we become less sensitive to what God is saying to us. Familiarity can produce apathy in our Christian lives.

How can we regain our first love for Jesus? How can we restore that original devotion and passion we had for our Savior? The Lord gives us three commands in this one verse: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5).

REMEMBER. We can regain our first love for Jesus if we “remember” our original love and devotion for Him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian. Remember how the Bible came alive for you? It was so new and life-giving. The beauty of Jesus’ love and grace for us captured our hearts. Talking to the Lord was such a joy. It is important to remember those early days in our Christian life to rekindle that original love for Christ.

– REPENT. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means a “change of mind.” Jesus was calling the church to change their thinking about their love for Him. Jesus was not a program; He was a Person Who loved them infinitely. As their thinking about Christ changed, so would their affections. The more they could see Jesus as Someone Who loved them and enjoyed their presence, the more passion they would have about connecting with Him and serving Him. The same is true for us today.

– RETURN. Jesus was also inviting them to return to “the first works” that increased their love for Him. As a new believer in college, I remember memorizing the book of I John. I worked at the University of Iowa Hospital until 11 pm at night, so when I walked home it was very dark outside. I would recite my I John verses aloud as I walked home. Those were some of the most intimate times I ever had with the Lord Jesus. God is inviting His church to return to those works we did early in our relationship with Christ that brought us closer to Him.

Should the church at Ephesus (or any church) refuse to “repent,” the Lord would “remove” their “lampstand” or witness and close their doors which eventually happened in the fifth century. 11 In fact none of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 exist today because each one failed to maintain a repentant attitude toward the Lord. Such will be the fate of any church whose activity is about them rather than about the Lord Jesus. Failure to prioritize intimacy with God will result in the removal of one’s influence for Christ. As one commentator notes, The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be.” 12

Following this warning, the Lord Jesus added one more commendation. “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6). The Greek word for Nicolaitans means “to conquer the people.” 13 Little is known of the Nicolaitans, but their name typifies any system that focuses on dominating people rather than serving them. 14

Jesus then says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7). Jesus is addressing the whole Ephesus church consisting of believers (Revelation 2:1), but the call is to the one “who has an ear” and to the one “who overcomes.” Only those Christians who hear the call and appropriate the promise will be able to live a victorious life for Christ till the end of their lives on earth and receive Christ’s promised reward.

Thus, the overcomers spoken of here in chaps. 2–3 are those people who not only believe in Christ for eternal life, but also walk in godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11) and remain faithful to Him until the end of their lives (cf. Matthew 25:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26).” 15

Jesus promises to reward the overcomer for his or her faithfulness by giving them the privilege “to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” “There is a connection between the ‘tree of life’ and man’s rule over the earth. Adam in his unfallen state had access to this ‘tree,’ but when he fell, God kept him from it (Genesis 1:26-28; 3:22).” 16 The tree of life will be “in the midst of the Paradise of God” in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14).

This reward is reminiscent of the original paradise in Genesis 1– 2 where Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from any tree in the Garden, including the tree of life. At the end of the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is described as bearing twelve kinds of fruit, one for each month, with leaves that bring healing to the nations (22:2). Not everyone has the right to eat from the tree of life (22:14). A person can forfeit the right to eat from the tree by adding to or taking away from the words of Revelation (22:19). Aside from this, little is known about the tree of life, but its vagueness makes this reward even more tantalizing and motivating.” 17

People love to eat! I enjoy eating food every chance I get! The Lord Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him till the end of our Christian lives on earth. Christ promises the faithful believer access to “the tree of life” in the New Jerusalem in the future (Revelation 2:7; cf. 22:2, 14). Eating the fruit from the tree of life may give faithful believers the resources to rule more effectively on the new earth (Revelation 2:25-27).

Imagine standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive your rewards from King Jesus (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). He tells you that because you were not faithful to Him till the end of your Christian life, you will forfeit certain rewards which include ruling with Him and eating from the tree of life (cf. Revelation 2:7, 25-27; 3:21; 22:2, 14). Think of the regret, sadness, or shame you will have at this time (cf. Matthew 25:18-19, 22-30; Luke 19:15, 20-26; I John 2:28). If only you had remained faithful to Christ, such rewards could have been yours.

Now fast forward to the New Jerusalem on the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). You are sitting at a table in the New Jerusalem with your friends or family, and one of them receives a call from the office of King Jesus, informing them that they have a special meeting with the King in an hour. At this meeting, fruit from the tree of life will be served for all to enjoy who are invited to this gathering. Because you were not faithful to Jesus till the end of your Christian life, you will not receive such a call nor have access to this special fruit.

Even though there “shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying…” and “no more pain” on the New Earth (Revelation 21:4), you will not be able to experience as much closeness and enjoyment with King Jesus as those who were faithful to Him to the very end. Only those believers who hear the call and appropriate the promise (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says”) will be able to live a victorious life for Christ (Revelation 2:7). All believers will be in heaven, but not all believers will experience the same degree of rewards in heaven. Specifically for the church at Ephesus and those like it, those who do not lose passion for Christ in this life will experience a special place of intimacy with the Lord” 18 in heaven. Knowing this now is intended to motivate us to live faithfully for Christ with an undying love and devotion for Him.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, as we listened to Your message to the church of Ephesus, our hearts have been stirred. We know that we have lost the love and devotion we once had for You. Instead of prioritizing intimacy with You, we have focused on programs and performance. We have done things for You, but not with You. Thank You for loving us enough to confront us and woo us back to our original love and devotion for You. Lord, we want to regain our first love for You. Help us to remember the beauty of Your love and grace for us at the beginning of our relationship with You. Grant us a change of attitude toward You so we are not so careless to put ourselves ahead of You. Enable us to return to those things we did when we were passionately in love with You. May our love for You in some small way reflect Your incredible love for us. Thank You for promising us access to the tree of life if we will remain faithful to You to the end of our lives on earth. In Your glorious name we 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. 1501.

2. James Rosscup, “The Overcome of the Apocalypse,” Grace Theological Journal, 3:2 (1982): pp. 261-286; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, Revised and Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, 1994), pp. 123-133, 134-148, 164-172, 188-194, 252-254.

3. Harlan D. Betz, “The Nature of Rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ” (Th.M. Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1974), pp. 36-45; Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), pp. 97-111; Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami Springs, Fla.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992), pp. 37, 470, 474; Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ (Norman, Okla.: The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1986), pg. 48.

4. pg. 673.

5. Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, pg. 108.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

7. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2371.

8. 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.

9. Ibid.

10. Evans, pg. 2371.

11. Walvoord, pg. 164.

12. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 31 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 572.

13. Vacendak, pg. 1502.

14. Constable, pg. 31.

15. Vacendak, pg. 1504.

16. Constable, pg. 33.

17. Vacendak, pg. 1504. 18. Evans, pg. 2372.

How can we find peace under pressure? Part 2

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself.” John 14:2-3a

With the rise in COVID-19 cases recently, it is no surprise that the primary complaint among people in the United States is stress. Add to this the social and political unrest along with the effects of COVID (ex. loss of jobs/income, more isolation, cancellations or postponements of vacations/travel, etc.), and you have a recipe for deep distress. We need to find relief from the constant pressure we are facing every day.

In John 14:1-6, we are learning to find peace under pressure. The first way is to focus on Christ’s promise of a peace of heart (John 14:1). Today we discover that we are to focus on CHRIST’S PROMISE OF A PREPARED PLACE IN HEAVEN (John 14:2-3a) for those who believe in Him.

Jesus said to His eleven disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2). Jesus explains why His disciples can trust in Him even during His absence. The separation which would result from Jesus’ departure would not be permanent, it was only temporary: “A Jewish betrothal meant that a man and woman were legally bound in marriage. Before the actual presentation of the bride to the bridegroom, the bridegroom would busy himself preparing a place in his father’s house for the bride. Using this imagery Christ said to these men,” 1 “In My Father’s house are many mansions.”

Where is God the Father now? We know from Jesus’ model prayer that He is in heaven. Christ taught, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Heaven is where God now resides and rules (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 4:1-5:14). The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus will experience heaven in three stages:

1. With Christ in the third heaven before or after the Rapture – the sudden removal of the church from the earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; 12:1-4; Philippians 1:21-23; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4:1-5:14). At any moment the Lord Jesus could come for His church to snatch it off the earth to be with Him in the third heaven. Following the removal of the church, there will be seven years of terrible tribulation on the earth (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6-19). At the end of the Tribulation period…

2. The Earthly Kingdom of Christ will be established when the church will return with Christ and be on the earth for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6).  At the end of that thousand years there will be a…

3. New Heaven and New Earth where all believers in Jesus will be with Christ for eternity (Revelation 21-22).

Jesus describes our future home as a large house in heaven where there are “many mansions” (John 14:2). The word translated “mansions” (monē) comes from the verb “to abide” (menō) which would mean an abiding place of permanent rest. This could refer to apartments or suites in God’s house. Cook shares, “The picture is of each child having a suite of rooms in the Father’s house. All will be with the Father, enjoying His hospitality and sharing His love.” 2

Jesus is referring to literal homes or dwellings that will be in the New Jerusalem which will descend from heaven to the new earth (Revelation 21-22) after the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1-6). The New Jerusalem will be fifteen hundred miles high, long, and wide (Revelation 21:16). God promises that in our future home “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). What a great source of comfort this provides for those who are deeply troubled by the death of believers today.

Christ does not have any doubts about the existence of our future home in heaven when He says, “If it were not so, I would have told you.” In the Greek language, the phrase “If it were not so” expresses that the condition is unfulfilled. In other words, if heaven were otherwise, and it is not, Jesus would have told them. Christ took for granted that there would be plenty of rooms for all the saved people in heaven.

In anticipation of their reunion with Him, Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Yes, Jesus was leaving them, but He would not forget them. He would occupy Himself preparing a real place where He and they would dwell together forever. He was going to make ready the place where He would welcome them permanently. Certainly, Jesus would not go to prepare rooms in heaven for His disciples if He did not expect that they would finally arrive there. He was sure they would make it to heaven. He would see to it.

Then Jesus says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself.” (John 14:3a). Just as the first century bridegroom in Palestine would send for his bride when all was ready, 4  so Christ would do the same when He had completed His work of preparing a place in His Father’s house for His bride, the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-24; Revelation 19:7-9; 21:1-3).

When I went on a mission trip to a province in the southern Philippines (July 2016), I went to an evacuation center where refugees lived whose homes were destroyed in the recent Muslim war. As we walked around the center, we noticed that the people were not only homeless, but they were also hopeless. After obtaining permission from a village leader to share with these seventy-five people, my translator and I told them that God loves them so much that He wants to give them a permanent home in heaven which no one can destroy nor take away from them. The people listened intently but showed no emotion as we talked about our problem that separates us from God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23) and God’s only solution through the Lord Jesus (John 14:6; I Corinthians 15:3-6)!      

After explaining that Jesus now invites everyone to believe or trust in Him alone for His free gift of everlasting life (John 3:16b), we then told them they could tell God they were now trusting in Jesus (Isa – the Muslim name for Jesus) by repeating this prayer after us. As we began to pray, we noticed that the people would not repeat the prayer aloud. Instead, they raised their hands toward heaven – something Muslims normally do when they pray to God.

I got goose bumps later when I saw a photo of them raising their hands during the prayer because I had no idea they did this while we actually prayed because my eyes were closed. After praying with them, we asked the people to raise their hands if they just trusted in Jesus (Isa) for their eternal home in heaven. My heart was filled with joy as sixty-five of the seventy-five people lifted their hands! What a thrill to be able to assure them that because of their faith in Isa, they now have everlasting life which can never be lost or taken away from them (John 6:47; 10:28-29). No one is more powerful than God so that no one can destroy or take away His home for them in heaven (John 10:28-29; 14:1-3).

Think about this! God created the universe in six 24-hour days (Genesis 1), but Jesus has been preparing our place in heaven for almost two thousand years! Remember, Jesus was the Son of a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and no doubt He was a perfect learner growing up. He would know how to build some incredible mansions in heaven. So heaven is going to be a fantastic place – a real place! We will live in mansions made of gold and walk on streets of gold (Revelation 21:18, 21). It will be an incredible place of splendor. The glory of Jesus will shine and light everything, not even a shadow exists there (Revelation 21:22-23). Jesus is the center of heaven and all praises will ring to Him. The joy shall never end there. Heaven is a place of inhabitants. It is not empty. It is filled with people who have believed in Jesus Christ alone for His gift of eternal life (John 3:5, 15-16; Revelation 21:27).

Christ said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself.” Christ assures His disciples (and us), that His separation which had so distressed them, would not be permanent. They could look forward to a blessed reunion with Jesus. One day He would come as a Bridegroom for His bride, the church, and take them to the place He had been preparing for them in heaven during His absence. His return was as certain as His departure. He would take them with Him to His Father’s house.

The phrase, “I will come again and receive you to Myself,” is not a reference to the Resurrection or the death of a believer, but to the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth (cf. I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). At any moment, Jesus Christ could come back for His church with believers who already died to meet living believers in the clouds. This truth is intended to comfort and encourage believers whose loved ones have died in the Lord.

The fact that Jesus has been gone almost two thousand years preparing our future home in heaven leads me to believe that we cannot begin to imagine how wonderful that place will be. In America at the turn of the twentieth century, people who were poor and homeless were moved into “poorhouses.” These institutions were considered to be just about the worst place a person could live.

A doctor was visiting an elderly woman who was dying in such a home. Because of her surroundings, he was greatly surprised to hear her whisper, “Praise the Lord.” So the doctor leaned over and said to her, “How can you possibly praise God here in a poorhouse?” She responded, “That’s easy. I just keep thinking about the move into my heavenly mansion.”

The assurance that a wonderful home, the “Father’s house,” awaited her – in contrast to the depressing poorhouse – gave her cause for praise in spite of her poverty. Heaven is so glorious that human language cannot adequately describe it. Even though the apostle John described the heavenly city in Revelation 21 and 22, our finite minds fail to comprehend the full splendor of what he saw. Jesus loves us so much He is preparing a magnificent place for each of us who have trusted in Christ alone for everlasting life. The more we focus on this prepared place, the more peace we will find while living under pressure.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that this earth is not my final home. What a wonderful place you are preparing for believers to live in the future. I cannot begin to imagine just how magnificent that place will be! Thank You for Your promise to come back again and receive me to Yourself. What a glorious day that will be when I can be with You forever in the Father’s house. Knowing that You could come back at any moment to take me to be with You in heaven, motivates me to live for You right now. The splendor of that place overshadows the darkness that is on this planet right now. In the Father’s house sin and shame will not be present. The Father’s love will overflow into every room. Death will be gone and life will abound. Hallelujah, Lord Jesus! Hallelujah! In Your matchless name I praise and pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. P J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 436.

2. W. Robert Cook, The Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 1979), pp. 229-230.

3. ei de mē is a second class condition which expresses that the condition is unfulfilled – see Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, Vol V: John and Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 248.

4. Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, pg. 436.

Frequently asked questions about eternal rewards

The Bible teaches that during the seven-year Tribulation period (Rev. 6-19), Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ in heaven (Rev. 4:1-4). While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21). This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we 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 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12).

Every Christian must appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” (kakos means worthless, wicked, and evil) things he has done since becoming a Christian. Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about eternal rewards and their corresponding answers:

Q: Won’t all believers be equally rewarded according to Matthew 20:1-16?

A: The point of Matthew 20:1-16 is that all Christians will be rewarded equally for faithful service to Christ. What this means is that the person who faithfully served Christ for the one day he was a Christian will be equally rewarded with someone who served Christ faithfully for eighty years. The amount of time you were a Christian before death or the Rapture does not limit the amount of rewards you will receive, assuming that you wholeheartedly served the Lord during that time. Other passages of Scripture indicate that there will be varying degrees of reward in eternity (Matt. 16:27; Luke 19:11-26; I Cor. 3:8; Rev. 22:12) because each believer will be “rewarded according to his works.” This means that rewards will vary according to varying degrees of good works among believers.

Q: Won’t varying degrees of reward promote jealousy among believers in Christ’s eternal kingdom?

A: Jealousy will not exist among believers in the Lord Jesus’ eternal kingdom because sin will not exist there. Glorified believers will never be jealous because they will never sin (I Cor. 15: 42-57; Phil. 3:20-21; I John 3:1-3). Contentment will characterize their lives in eternity. Therefore, they will be satisfied with what the Lord awards them at the Judgment Seat of Christ. For example, will believers be jealous of the Lord Jesus who will rule over the entire world and possess the wealth of the universe? Will we be jealous of King David who will serve as Jesus’s right-hand man as the prince over the nation of Israel (Ezek. 34:23-24)? Will the apostles be jealous of David who will have more authority than them? Will the citizens of Israel be jealous of the Twelve apostles who will rule over the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28-29)? No, because everyone in Christ’s eternal kingdom will be content. However, they may have regret or shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ if they fail to rule with Christ or they rule to a lesser degree because they squandered the opportunities they were given to serve Christ more in their lifetime (cf. Matt. 22:11-13; 25:24-30; 2 Peter 1:5-11; I John 2:28).

Q: How can there be any sense of regret or shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ since the Bible says there will be no more sorrow or pain in heaven (Rev. 21:4)?

A: The Judgment Seat of Christ will most likely take place during the Tribulation (Rev. 4-19) which is over a 1,000 years before the eternal state begins (Rev. 21-22). So the believer’s sense of regret and shame will be temporary and pass away by the start of the New Heaven and Earth (Rev. 21:4).

Q: How long will rewards last?

A: Some Bible students think rewards will be given back to Jesus immediately after they are received. They base this on Revelation 4:10-11. Revelation 4:10-11 does not teach that believers will have to return their rewards back to Christ immediately after receiving them. Notice the word “whenever” in verse 9. The crown-casting in verse 10 is repeated again and again and again. Every time the living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8b), the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne. And according to Rev. 4:8b, the living creatures or angels “do not rest day or night…” Casting crowns is an ongoing event throughout eternity. Others insist that our rewards will only last as long as the Millennium, referring to Revelation 20:4-6 where faithful believers will rule for a 1,000 years with Christ. But nothing in this passage suggests that ruling with Christ and other rewards are limited to the Millennium. Instead, the emphasis of the New Testament is that rewards are “imperishable” (I Cor. 9:25) and never fade away (Matt. 6:19-21; I Peter 1:4). If our rewards lasted only a few seconds or even 1,000 years, they would be “perishable.”

The Book of Revelation makes it clear that Christ’s rewards will last beyond the Millennium. Revelation 21 speaks of kings ruling on the earth and honoring Jesus with their rewards (Rev. 21:24, 26). Revelation 22:14 says overcoming Christians will be rewarded with the right to the tree of life and special entrance into the New Jerusalem, both of which will not be on the earth until after the Millennium.

Q: Is it selfish to seek eternal rewards?

A: No, because Jesus commands us to lay up treasure in heaven and not on earth (Matt. 6:19-21). Why? Because wherever our treasure happens to be, that’s where our hearts will be focused. And God wants our hearts to be focused on heaven and that is why we are commanded to invest in heavenly rewards. God knows better than we do what will motivate our hearts for Him. Certainly rewards play a significant role in this. It is actually selfish not to obey God’s command to pursue eternal rewards. Plus, a Christian cannot afford to be selfish in nature, for to do so would disqualify him or her for the eternal reward he or she seeks. Pursuing eternal rewards is one of the strongest motivations for an unselfish and merciful lifestyle (James 2:1-13)!

Q: Do Revelation 2:11 and 3:5 speak of rewards or salvation?

A: The apostle John writes, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11) and “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:5). These two verses use a figure of speech called litotes which makes a positive affirmation by denying its opposite. For example, a mother may say to her children, “If you do your chores, you won’t regret it.” In other words, their reward will be the opposite of regret. Throughout Revelation 2-3, John has been addressing rewards to overcoming Christians. So Jesus is saying that the rewards of faithful Christians will be the opposite of being hurt by the second death or losing an eternal name! It will include wearing special white garments (Rev 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (Rev 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Rev 2:7), eating hidden manna (Rev 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Rev 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14).

This does not mean if Christians do not overcome, they will be hurt by the second death or lose their eternal name. For example, if I said, “All mothers are women,” that does not mean that the opposite is true, that all women are mothers. There are women who are not mothers. Likewise, the opposite of our verse is not true. God will not allow the non-overcoming believer to be hurt by the second death or have his or her name blotted out from the Book of Life! Once a person has everlasting life by believing in Jesus, it can never be taken away or lost (cf. John 6:37-39; 10:28-29; Rom. 8:38-39; 2 Tim. 2:13; 1 John 5:12-13).

By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than people. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.