God’s Got This

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ESV

In this chapter, Paul begins to address the primary issue for which he wrote his letter. There was confusion among the Thessalonian believers regarding the end times, and it was leading to some false and dangerous conclusions. It didn’t help that there were others, claiming to be speaking prophetically, who were throwing fuel on the flames of fear spreading among the flock.

Paul had already written to them regarding the pretribulation Rapture of the church in his first letter.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ESV

The return of Christ for His church would begin the day of the Lord and would be followed immediately by the seven years of Tribulation. There is a chronology or God-ordained timeline to all of the events associated with the coming day of the Lord and Paul wants to assuage their fears by clarifying the sequence of events.

Evidently, there was a great deal of anxiety present in the church because people were beginning to question whether the day of the Lord had already begun. A major contributor to this mindset was the persecution they were having to endure. If, as some were teaching, the day of the Lord had begun, then Paul must have been wrong about the Rapture. He had indicated that Christ’s return for the church would happen first. But the conditions under which the Thessalonians were having to live seemed to indicate that the last days had already begun and Jesus had not shown up yet. They were still on earth and not in heaven with Jesus.

Paul understands their fear and immediately addresses the true source of their confusion: A faulty understanding regarding Christ’s return for the church. He opens this section of his letter with the words, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV). In this one sentence, Paul addresses to separate events. The first, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” has to do with His Second Coming. The second, “our being gathered together to him,” has to do with the Rapture of the church. A major risk the Thessalonians faced was to blend these two events into one. A second risk was to assume that Rapture had already occurred. That appears to be what the Thessalonians were wrestling with and what was causing their fear and confusion. They were alarmed that the day of the Lord had come and they had not been gathered together with him. Had Paul been wrong? Were they living in the last days? Had they missed something?

The Thessalonians had an incomplete and, therefore, incorrect understanding of the end times chain of events. While Paul had taught them about the Rapture of the church, they were being told by others that it had already happened. Which meant that they were living in the period of the Tribulation. And their circumstances seemed to point to that reality. They were suffering persecution and affliction. So, if they had missed the Rapture, it only made sense for them to begin looking for the second coming of the Lord. In essence, they were jumbling together a range of end times events and creating a false timeline that had resulted in confusion, not comfort.

But Paul tells them, “that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV). What day? The day of the Lord. The second coming of Christ will not take place until certain other events happen first. God has a timeline, and every event on that timeline has to happen in order and according to His divine plan. The first will be the removal of the church at the Rapture, which is what Paul taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And here, Paul tells them what will happen as a result of the Rapture of the church.

The presence of the church on the earth acts as a restraining influence on evil. That is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV

For we are the temple of the living God – 2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV

The church’s removal from the earth will leave a spiritual vacuum. And Paul points out that the restraining influence of the Spirit of God, who indwells the people of God, will be removed.

…you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. – 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 ESV

Paul is not inferring that the Holy Spirit vacates the premises. He is a divine being and is omnipresent. But with the removal of all believers from the earth, the primary role of the Spirit of God is removed as well.

“The Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry of restraining lawlessness in the world mainly through the influence of Christians whom He indwells, specifically through their gospel preaching.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154:615 (July-September 1997):329.

The Rapture of the church and the removal of the restrainer will usher in “the rebellion” and reveal “the lawlessness one.” These are references to the Tribulation and the Antichrist. The Rapture will be followed by the seven years of Tribulation, when the unbelieving world will rebel against God, even in the face of successive waves of divine judgment against them. And the Antichrist will rise to power and prominence during those days, seeking to destroy the people of Israel and all who come to faith during those difficult days. God, in His mercy and grace, will redeem a remnant of Jews and Gentiles during the days of the Tribulation, and Antichrist will pour out His wrath on them, resulting in the martyrdom of thousands of these Tribulation saints.

And this self-proclaimed world leader, operating under the power and influence of Satan, will go so far as to set himself up as God, erecting an idol of himself in the rebuilt temple of God in Jerusalem. We know from the book of Revelation that this egotistical and arrogant autocrat will require that all people worship him and him alone. The residents of the earth will be forced to receive a mark on their foreheads that designate them as belonging to the Antichrist. Without that mark, they will not be able to buy, sell or trade.

Paul is trying to let the Thessalonians know that the day of the Lord is going to look dramatically different than what they were experiencing. The persecution they were going through would pale in comparison. Jesus warned, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV).

And Paul informs them that the day of the Lord will culminate with the return of the Lord. Jesus Christ will come back to earth and deal with Antichrist once and for all. Again, the book of Revelation tells us that Antichrist will be cast into hell where he will undergo eternal torment. And all those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” will join him there. The day of the Lord will end with the Great White Throne judgment, where all the unrighteous who have ever lived will receive the punishment they deserve for having rejected the gracious offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And Paul provides the Thessalonians with a strong word of warning, reminding them that they don’t want to reject the truth of God. They don’t want to negate or alter in any way what God has revealed about His redemptive plan. Those who reject His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will find themselves beyond help and devoid of any hope of redemption.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV

The Thessalonians had not missed the Rapture. And their suffering was not a sign that the end times had arrived. They needed to trust that God had a plan and He was working that plan to perfection. There was no reason for them to fear. Their current circumstances were not sufficient cause to doubt. They were “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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Destined to Salvation

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.– 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV

Paul has just addressed the Thessalonians’ concern about the spiritual state of their deceased friends and relatives. The loss of their loved ones had created a sense of unease and confusion among the believers because they had been anticipating the return of Jesus. One of the things Paul and the other apostles had to constantly deal with was the immature and incomplete nature of the new converts to whom they ministered. The global church was growing rapidly, and the new followers of Christ lacked much in the way of doctrinal instruction. Most had a rudimentary knowledge of Jesus Christ and His offer of salvation. They most likely understood that Jesus had resurrected and would one day return. But it appears that, beyond that, their understanding was incomplete.

That is why Jesus had instructed the apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT). It was not going to be enough just to share the gospel message. Any new followers of Christ were going to need to hear His words, taught and expounded upon, in order to grow in their faith. And one of the things Jesus taught to His disciples was the coming day of the Lord. He wanted His followers to understand that God had a grand plan in place, that included not only His Son’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, but His future return. Paul has just reminded his readers about the Rapture when Jesus will return for His bride, the church. Now, he shifts his focus to another end-times event, the day of the Lord.

This designation, “the day of the Lord,” was used by Jesus, Paul and Peter to refer to a future period of time when God will intervene on the earth in spectacular fashion. He will bring judgment upon the earth and its inhabitants and usher in the final phase of redemptive history. And, while every believer needs to be aware of the reality of these coming events, Jesus made it clear that no one can know their exact timing.

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” – Acts 1:7 ESV

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:36 ESV

Yet, it is human nature to want to know how and when these end-times events are going to happen. And while Jesus provided His disciples with significant details regarding the events surrounding the day of the Lord, He did not tell them when it would happen – only that it would. And Paul had evidently taught the Thessalonians about these coming end-times events, referring to them as “the times and the seasons.” His use of the Greek words chronos and kairos seems to be in order to stress the “the times” – a reference to the period of waiting or delay that precedes the day of the Lord – and “the seasons” – referring to the actual events themselves. In other words, Paul had taught them about the coming day of the Lord, a time when God will bring judgment upon the earth. But he had also taught them about the days leading up to that time – that period in which all believers live until God’s ordained outcome takes place.

Paul had already taught the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ESV). And when Paul used this phrase, he was referring not only to the second coming of Christ, but also the events leading up to His return. For Paul, the day of the Lord included the seven years of Tribulation, when God will pour out His judgments upon mankind, as well as Christ’s second coming that will occur at the end of the seven years and usher in the Millennial Kingdom. These future events are all included in the day of the Lord, and their arrival will come unexpectedly. A thief comes when the home’s occupants least expect him. They are unaware of his plans and unprepared for his arrival. In their minds, “Everything is peaceful and secure” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 NLT). Paul uses the metaphor of a pregnant woman who, after nine months of waiting, has grown used to being pregnant. She has grown accustomed to her condition. And then, suddenly, the contractions begin. Even though she has had nine months to prepare herself for this moment, she is still caught off guard by the severity and speed of the labor pains. 

But Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they have no reason to be caught off guard by the news of these future events. They had been warned.  They had been fully informed that God has a future plan in store for mankind. And it will all begin with the return of the Lord for the church. The Rapture is what will introduce the rest of the end-times events. With the removal of all believers from the earth, the stage will be set for God to prepare all those who remain for His righteous judgment. The absence of any Christians on the earth will leave a tremendous spiritual void in which unrighteousness will be free to spread unabated. And in this moral and spiritual vacuum, the Antichrist will quickly rise to power, and an apostate church will rise to prominence. The following seven years referred to as the Tribulation, will be marked by unprecedented unrighteousness and wickedness. Jesus described it in foreboding terms: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV).

The Thessalonians had been informed about these coming days, but it appears that they were still confused. In fact, in his second letter to them, Paul goes into further detail about the day of the Lord, attempting to allay any further fears or misunderstanding they had.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 ESV

The bottom line for Paul was preparedness. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to live in a state of constant readiness, fully ready for the Lord to return for them at any time. He told them, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6 ESV). There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. We know the Lord is coming back, so we should live like it. We don’t live in darkness or ignorance, like the rest of the world. We are children of the light and have had our minds illuminated by the truth of God’s Word.

There was no reason for the Thessalonians to fear. They were in Christ and were being preserved by Him for their future salvation. That is why Paul tells them to rely upon “breastplate of faith and love.” They were shielded from the judgment to come by their faith in Christ and God’s love for them. Paul had promised the Roman believers that “not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 NLT). And they had access to “the helmet of salvation” to protect their thoughts and minds. They were guaranteed a place in God’s Kingdom, and Paul provided them with the reassuring words: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV). They did not need to fear the coming judgment of God because His Son was coming back for them.

But they did need to be ready. So, he told them “to encourage one another and build one another up.” They were living in “the times” – the period of time before the Lord returns and the day of the Lord commenced. They had no way of knowing when Jesus was coming back, but they needed to live in eager anticipation of that day and prepared for it to happen at any moment. And Paul emphasized this same spirit of readiness when writing to the believers in Ephesus, urging them to dress for the spiritual war in which they were engaged.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God – Ephesians 6:13-17 ESV

Jesus is coming back one day and the day of the Lord will take place. But until that day, we are to live in a constant state of preparedness, realizing that, until He comes, we must fight the good fight to the end.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Encouraging Words For Discouraging Times

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

In an effort to prepare His disciples for His coming death in Jerusalem, Jesus provided them with some encouraging news:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus had repeatedly emphasized that His death was inevitable and unavoidable. It was part of God’s redemptive plan and, as an obedient son, Jesus was obligated to carry out the will of His Father. It was the reason behind His incarnation, a point that Jesus made perfectly clear when He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT).

Without Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the sin debt owed by mankind would remain unpaid and a sentence of death would still hang over the heads of each and every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. But Jesus did die. He was buried. He rose again and was see in His resurrected state by hundreds of His followers. Paul emphasized these facts in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen… – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NLT

But the story of redemption didn’t stop there. We know from the gospel accounts that after Jesus appeared in His resurrected form to His disciples, He commissioned them to take the gospel message to the nations. And then He ascended back into heaven, right before their eyes. Luke gives us a glimpse of that moment in the book of Acts.

he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story doesn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church. This is the event commonly referred to as the Rapture. This word, while not actually in the Bible, is derived from the Latin translation of the Greek word, harpazō,  translated as “caught up” in verse 17. In the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, this word became raptura, from which we get the term, Rapture.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church, when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married, but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration  will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had all be longing for and eagerly waiting on the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul to the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

But the Thessalonians were beginning to have second thoughts. Some of their fellow believers had died and Jesus had not yet returned. That raised some significant questions in their minds: Where did their deceased friends and relatives go? What was their eternal fate? Was Jesus ever coming back?

And Paul addresses these concerns by providing them with much-needed assurance of the coming of Christ. For Paul, the deaths of their friends and relatives was cause for mourning, but not despair. Sadness is a natural human reaction to loss but, for believers, our loss is to be accompanied with hope. Because we have the resurrection of Jesus as a constant reminder of our future destiny.  Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection and, by virtue of our faith in Him, we have the same outcome awaiting us. Paul told the believers in Rome:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:5 ESV

And he told the believers in Corinth:

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. Just as Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). Those believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. But the day is coming when they will return with Him and receive their new resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord and those who are still living, will be reunited and will received their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

With this fantastic news in mind, encourage one another with these words.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

A Long-Term Perspective.

15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.– Matthew 24:15-31 ESV

Francesco_Hayez_017.jpg

In this chapter, which has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave His disciples a glimpse into God’s plans for the end times. With His upcoming death and eventual departure nearing, He was preparing His followers to set their hope on the future. It was all in response to their question: “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Jesus was providing them with an expansive overview of the things to come. Some of what He had to say would take place in the not-so-distant future, including the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which occured in 70 AD. But much of what Jesus told them has not yet taken place. 

Jesus’ reference to the abomination of desolation refers to a passage from the book of Daniel. In chapter 9, Daniel records a message he received from the angel, Gabriel. It was in response to a prayer Daniel had prayed on behalf of all the Jews who, like him, were living in exile in Babylon. He had been reading the prophecies of Jeremiah and saw that God had promised to return the people to the land after 70 years in captivity. Daniel knew that the 70 years was quickly approaching and he longed to see God fulfill His promise.

Gabriel delivered the following message to Daniel:

Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. – Daniel 9:25 ESV

Daniel had been thinking about the fast-approaching date of Israel’s return to the promised land. But God was giving him a much broader, longer-term view of the things to come. Yes, they would be returned to the land at the end of the 70 years in exile. And they would rebuild Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. But then, God told Daniel that a period of seven sets of seven (49 years) and sixty-two sets of seven (434 years) would pass, once the people had been restored to the land. That adds up to 483 years. Once the people had returned to the land, it would be 483 years until the Anointed One came. This is a prediction of the coming of Jesus in His incarnation. But Gabriel also predicted that the “anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing” (Daniel 9:26 ESV). Jesus would die.

But what Gabriel shared next has yet to occur. He was giving Daniel a glimpse into the distant future, the end times.

26 And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. – Daniel 9:26-27 ESV

And this is what Jesus referred to in His Olivet Disrouce. He too mentioned a time yet to come. These are prophetic words of Jesus describing a series of future events and they are complex, confusing and controversial. Jesus said these would be difficult days. When these things take place, those living in Judea should run for their lives (vs 16). They should not bother packing (vs 17). If they’re away from the house when it happens, they should not go back for any reason (vs 18). It would be best not to have small children when these things take place (vs 19). Those who are alive at that time, should pray that bad weather or the Sabbath won’t prevent them from getting away (vs 20). Why? Because these will be the worst days the world has ever known or ever will know (vs 21). Then He states that unless God intervenes, no one will survive (vs 22). It will look as if it is time for Jesus to return, but no one knows that day (vs 23-28).

But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. – Matthew 24:29 NASB

This is describing what is known as the Great Tribulation. A literal seven year period of great persecution and evil on the earth. Before this all takes place, the Church will be raptured. Jesus will return to remove all the believers from the earth. Paul encourages us about this in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The removal of believers results in the removal of the Holy Spirit, the One who restrains evil in the world. And the removal of the stabilizing influence of believers and the presence of the Spirit will result in a time of unrestrained evil. It will see the coming of the Antichrist, described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2. It will be a time of great persecution of the people of Israel, like nothing they have ever gone through before. But it will end with the second coming of Christ.

The Return of the King!

These difficult days will end with the second coming of Christ.  The tribulation will culminate with the return of Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

“And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the people of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” – Matthew 24:30 NLT

The disciples would not live to see this day. We will not be around to see this day. No one knows when this day will happen.

“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” – Matthew 24:36 NLT

Just like in the days of Noah, Jesus’ return will catch people unprepared and off guard. It will come suddenly and unexpectedly. But there will be those who have chosen to follow Christ during those days. “And he [the Son of Man] will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (Matthew 24:31 NLT). Jesus says that there will be two men will be working the field, one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour, one will be taken, the other left. He says that the chosen ones or the elect, will be taken. This indicates that there will be those who come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation. The second coming of Christ will see a dividing between believers and non-believers – all those who are alive at that time. This is NOT a rapture passage.

Even though the disciples would not live to see these events, they are to live in readiness. And as we make new disciples, we are to pass on this attitude of preparedness. Don’t allow yourself to be dulled by the world and lulled into complacency.

“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21:34-36 NLT

What difference should all this make to us today? Do you find yourself dulled by the worries of this life? Do you live in a state of readiness for the Lord’s return? Do you have a proper understanding of what is to come? Jesus was preparing His disciples to keep their eyes focused on the end. Their immediate future was going to be difficult. He was going to die, resurrect, then leave them. They would be reponsible for continuing His mission of sharing the gospel with the world. They would suffer as a result and many of them would die martyr’s death. But He wanted them to know that God had a plan in place. Their immediate circumstances would not be an indication of how things were going to end. Jesus would eventually leave them, but He would also return. As believers, we need to have a long-term perspective, focused on the end that God has in store.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Come, Lord Jesus!

12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  Revelation 22:12-21 ESV

For the second time in this passage, Jesus assures John of His imminent return. In verse 7, John recorded Jesus’ promise, “behold, I am coming soon.” And here, in verse 12, Jesus repeats that same phrase, but adds the warning, “bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” He is coming back. For some that will be extremely good news, while for others it will mean payback time. In a sense, Jesus is promising a coming payday for all. The actual Greek word John uses is misthos, and it means “dues paid for work.” But it can also refer to the fruit that naturally results from our efforts. In other words, we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. – Galatians 6:7-8 NLT

The return of Jesus to the earth, in the form of His second coming, will be for the purpose of judging the nations. According to the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus alone has the capacity to discern the nature of each man’s heart, examining not only his outward behavior, but the inner condition of his character.

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV

The judgment that Christ warns about will not be works-based or focused solely on outward behavior. He will judge the hearts of men, because, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). The external actions of those whom Jesus will judge will simply indicate that their hearts are far from Him. They will have no relationship with the Son, so they will have no relationship with the Father. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is” (John 14:6-7 NLT). The presence of sin will not be the basis for Jesus’ judgment. It will be the absence of a relationship with the Father, made possible through faith in His Son.

Back in the gospel of Matthew, we have recorded the following statement by Jesus, regarding those who attempt to enter into His eternal Kingdom based on their efforts. Some will offer up examples of their “righteous” deeds done in the name of Jesus, but will be surprised to hear their confession of good works met with bad news.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

In spite of them doing what appear to be good works, Jesus will expose them as workers of lawlessness, because they will lack a relationship with the Giver of the law. Psalm 50 provides us with a very stark reminder of how God views the deeds of the wicked and why Jesus will judge their behavior so harshly when He returns to the earth.

16 But God says to the wicked:
“Why bother reciting my decrees
    and pretending to obey my covenant?
17 For you refuse my discipline
    and treat my words like trash.
18 When you see thieves, you approve of them,
    and you spend your time with adulterers.
19 Your mouth is filled with wickedness,
    and your tongue is full of lies.
20 You sit around and slander your brother—
    your own mother’s son.
21 While you did all this, I remained silent,
    and you thought I didn’t care.
But now I will rebuke you,
    listing all my charges against you.
22 Repent, all of you who forget me,
    or I will tear you apart,
    and no one will help you.” – Psalm 50:16-22 ESV

Jesus gives John with a list of His divine credentials that provide Him with the authority and right to judge. First of all, He reminds John of His eternality: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13 ESV). He is the source of all things and, as such, He is sovereign over all things. Just a few verses later, Jesus states His royal pedigree and divine right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lord.  “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16 ESV). He is the rightful King, not only of Israel, but of all the earth. He is the morning star, a sign of a new day coming on the earth. His Kingdom will be greater than that of David. His reign will be righteous and holy in every way. His domain will stretch throughout all the universe, and nowhere in His Kingdom will be found sin, rebellion, or unrighteousness of any kind.

In His Kingdom, only “those who wash their robes” will “have the right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14 ESV). They alone will be allowed to “enter the city by the gates.” Everyone else, all those whose hearts were found to be wicked and unrepentant, will find themselves outside of the Kingdom of God. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:15 ESV). Their destination will be the lake of fire. Jesus made that point quite clear in the previous chapter.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 ESV

With this stark reality in mind, Jesus offers both an invitation and a warning. First He offers an invitation to “come.” He calls out to all those who will read John’s book, extending to them an incredible opportunity: “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17 ESV). Jesus is offering eternal life. But it is available only through a relationship with Him. His words echo those recorded by the prophet Isaiah and written hundreds of years earlier.

1 Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live. – Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV

Entrance into the Kingdom of God comes with a price, but not one that any human being can meet. Our money and our human effort cannot gain us entrance into God’s Kingdom. It is made possible only through the blood of Jesus Christ.

18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT

All we have to bring is our thirst, and Jesus provides the living water. We simply bring our need and Jesus satisfies that need with His abundance. This is all in keeping with the words of Jesus found in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6 ESV

They echo the words of Jesus, spoken to the legalistic, works-focused Pharisees.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 ESV

But Jesus also extends two warnings to all those who read the words recorded by John in his book. First of all, if they add to them in any way, they will experience all the plagues that John saw and recorded. Secondly, if anyone takes away any of the words written in John’s book, “God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city” (Revelation 22:19 ESV). These are serious warnings, and they convey the gravity of God’s attitude toward His prophetic word. No one is to tamper with the content of this book. No one is to add to it or take away from it. Jesus is so serious about it, that He warns that even if a believer should treat the contents of this book with contempt, they will forfeit their right to the tree of life. Remember, this is a warning. It is meant to dissuade anyone from doing what is being mentioned. The threat of losing access to the tree of life and, therefore, eternal life, should be enough to keep any believer from tampering with God’s prophetic Word. And yet, how often have well-meaning Christians attempted to add to the words of John through vain speculation and what amounts to be little more than idle conjecture. We must be careful to refrain from explaining away the truth of what God has revealed, by allegorizing its message or spiritualizing its meaning. While we may not fully understand all that is found on the pages of John’s book, we must treat it as the Word of God and nothing less.

Finally, Jesus offers John one final reassurance. “Surely I am coming soon.” It is a done deal, fully guaranteed by God and backed by the One who is trustworthy and true. He is coming. And John responds with the simple, yet profound words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Those should be the words that come from the mouth of every Christ-follower, each and every day of their lives, as they eagerly and expectantly wait for His return. May we be those who, like the apostle Paul, pray for the day when our Savior comes again.

“…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  – Philippians 3:20 ESV

He is coming. Do you believe it? Better yet, are you ready for it?

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Worship God.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” Revelation 22:6-11 ESV

John’s vision, given to him on the island of Patmos, is quickly coming to a close. And as it does, he hears repeated some of the same words he heard when he began his incredible experience.

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. – Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

The angel reminds John that every word he has heard is trustworthy and true. They can be trusted for their veracity and accuracy. The visions he has been privileged to see and the words of prophecy he has been commanded to write down have been given to him by the God of the spirit of the prophets. This phrase is meant to qualify the content of John’s visions as having been God-breathed. The same God who spoke through Isaiah, Zechariah, Micah and a host of other Old Testament prophets, had just spoken to and would be passing His message through John. Peter reminds us that God is the one who gave the prophets the words they wrote in their books. He was the author behind their predictions, many of which find their fulfillment in the future events John has just witnessed and chronicled.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:21 ESV

At the birth of John the Baptist, the final prophet of God, who heralded the coming of Christ, his father spoke spoke these words:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us. – Luke 1:68-71 ESV

God, the author behind every word spoken by the prophets, has just spoken to John. And because God is trustworthy and true, His words can be relied upon.

And John is reminded once again that the things he has seen “must soon take place.” There is a degree of imminence to the angel’s words, but this does not necessarily mean immediacy. The Greek phrase John uses is en tachos, which means “with quickness or speed.” The angel is not saying that these things are about to happen, but that when they do, they will come in rapid succession. And there is another aspect to this warning that we are all to take to heart. None of us know the day of their coming. Jesus Himself told us, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). But we are to live as if they could happen at any minute. As believers, we are to conduct our lives with an expectation that Jesus Christ could return for His church at any moment. Paul told the Philippian believers, “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). He encouraged the believers in Corinth to “eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7 NLT). He told the church in Rome to “wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23 NLT). He complimented the Thessalonian believers for their reputation for “looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT).

So, there is a sense in which we are to eagerly look for the return of Jesus for His bride, the church, because it will usher in the period of the tribulation and inaugurate the final days of judgment. And John hears the voice of Jesus, assuring him that His return is indeed growing closer with each passing day.

“And behold, I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

When the time comes, Jesus will come quickly or without delay. Right now, He is in a holding pattern, waiting for the very moment in time when His heavenly Father commands Him to return for His church. But He is ready. And we should be as well.

And Jesus also reminds John that there is a blessing associated with the faithful reading and keeping of the contents of this book.

“Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

The Greek word John uses is tēreō, and it means “to attend to carefully, to take care of or guard.” The words contained in each and every prophecy given to John and recorded in his book are to be taken seriously and treated with reverence and awe. They are the words of God and, as such, come with a blessing. Knowing what God has planned for the future of the world should bring us hope and assurance. It should provide us with confidence and endurance. It should alleviate our fears and eliminate our uncertainties about the future. We don’t have to worry about which side wins. We don’t have to wonder if God has forgotten about us. There is a perfectly planned timeline in place and God will enact it at the very right moment. When He deems best. It has already been predetermined and its outcome preordained.

And in response to all that John had seen or heard during the course of his vision, John fell at the feet of the angel in worship. He couldn’t help but subjugate himself to the one who had provided him with such amazing news. But the angel refused John’s adoration, demanding that he worship God instead. And that is the point behind the entire book. What we read on its pages should drive us to our knees before God Almighty. It should remind us that our God is not only great, but good. He is just, holy, righteous, and in complete control of all things – in heaven and on earth.

And John is told to keep his book open. He was not to seal or close it, but to allow its content to be readily available for all to see, read, and heed. Because it is meant to be a constant reminder to the people of God that the events disclosed on its pages will happen before they know it – “for the time is near.” And then, Jesus utters some rather strange words that carry with them a certain degree of pre-determinism.

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” – Revelation 22:11 ESV

The sad truth is that there are many who will never accept God’s free gift of salvation made available through His Son’s death on the cross. They will hear, but not heed. They will be offered salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, but refuse to accept this priceless gift. And Jesus is simply saying that they will continue to live as they always have, committed to a life marked by sin and open rebellion against God. And yet, there will be those who, in God’s plan, have heard and accepted God’s gracious gift, received forgiveness for their sins and been imputed the righteousness of Christ. And they are to live as who they are: Sons and daughters of God.

As John has seen and as his book reveals, there is an outcome in store for all. The righteous and the unrighteous have a future already reserved for them. Those who choose to reject God will receive the judgment they deserve. And as has been shown all throughout John’s vision, there will be many times within the seven years of the tribulation when people will be given ample evidence that God is bringing judgment upon sinful men, but they will refuse to repent, choosing instead to maintain their independent, autonomous lifestyle of self-determination. Even under the unrelenting, heavy hand of God, they will reject Him as God and choose instead to worship false gods, including the Antichrist himself. The evil will continue to do evil. Right to the bitter end.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Millennial Kingdom.

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:1-6 ESV

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ. There are those who believe this supposed era on earth is the figment of man’s imagination. They call themselves amillennialists, and they have been around for centuries. They tend to read the book of Revelation in a metaphorical and allegorical sense, and see any mention of Christ’s thousand year reign on earth as symbolic in nature. They interpret this passage as being spiritual in meaning and as a metaphorical reference to the current church age in which we live. They deny that there will be a literal 1,000-year long period of universal righteousness and peace on the earth when Jesus will rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And yet, as we look at John’s vision and its content, it is difficult to see how these things can simply be spiritualized and sanitized to mean something other than what they explicitly state.

Repeatedly in Scripture, we read God’s promises that He made to the people of Israel regarding a future day when God will bring an extended period of peace, justice and righteousness to the land of Israel.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6

8 “When the time for them to be rescued comes,”
says the Lord who rules over all,
“I will rescue you from foreign subjugation.
I will deliver you from captivity.
Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them.
But they will be subject to the Lord their God
and to the Davidic ruler whom I will raise up as king over them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-11 NET

Revelation 20 is the only place in the entire Bible where the 1,000-year reign of Christ is mentioned, but it appears six times in this chapter.And there is no apparent reason we should take this numerical figure as anything but literal in nature. Why would God use this somewhat arbitrary number and repeat it six times in this passage, if He did not mean it to be taken as literal. Premillennialists view this as a literal 1,000-year period of time, during which Christ will set up His Kingdom on earth and rule from the throne of David in Jerusalem. He will reestablish the kingdom of His forefather, David, and return the scattered people of God to their land once more. The prophet Micah told of this day to come.

1 In the future the Lord’s Temple Mount will be the most important mountain of all;
it will be more prominent than other hills.
People will stream to it.
Many nations will come, saying,
“Come on! Let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the temple of Jacob’s God,
so he can teach us his commands
and we can live by his laws.”
For Zion will be the source of instruction;
the Lord’s teachings will proceed from Jerusalem.
He will arbitrate between many peoples
and settle disputes between many distant nations.
They will beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nations will not use weapons against other nations,
and they will no longer train for war. – Micah 4:1-3 NET

One of the things we must ask ourselves when reading these prophetic passages is whether what they promise has already taken place. In this case, the answer is no. So then, when will they take place? When will God fulfill this promise that He made to His people, Israel? Revelation 20 provides us with the answer. It will take place when Jesus Christ returns to the earth and sets up His earthly Kingdom. This will be in keeping with God’s plan to restore His people and to return righteousness and justice to the earth. To do so, His Son must return and establish His earthly Kingdom. But Satan, the great deceiver, liar, and enemy of God must be removed so that his influence over mankind can come to an end. And God reveals to John just how that will take place.

In his vision, John sees another angel coming out of heaven, carrying a key to the bottomless pit or abyss in his hands. He is also holding a chain. John watches as the angel seizes “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” (Revelation 20:2 ESV), and throws him into the bottomless pit or abyss, where he will be kept bound for a thousand years. In other words, all during Christ’s reign on earth, Satan will be a non-factor. He will have no influence. He will be totally incapable of deceiving and deluding men. The great tempter will be put out of commission. We know from Revelation 19:20 that Antichrist and the false prophet have already been dealt with. They were defeated by Christ and thrown into the lake of fire or hell. Now, God turns His attention to Satan.

With Christ’s death on the cross, He officially defeated, condemned and judged Satan. But Satan was not bound or locked up at that time. He was left to continue to spread his lies and influence the people of the earth to join his rebellion against God. And it doesn’t take any imagination at all to see that he has been successful. But with the return of Christ, his rule as the prince of the world (John 14:30) will end. At least for 1,000 years. John is told that Satan will be kept in custody until the millennium is over, then he will be released. And John will be given further insight into the purpose behind Satan’s release a bit later on.

With Satan locked away in the abyss, John’s attention is turned back to earth, where he sees “thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed.” He also sees “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands” (Revelation 20:4 ESV). Who are these people and what are they doing? Jesus told His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28 ESV). It would seem that they are included in this group seen by John. But there is also a possibility that the church is in view here as well. When writing to the believers in Corinth, and chastising them for their propensity to take their disputes to the secular courts, Paul reminded them:

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! – 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ESV

In Revelation 22, John is told that, once Christ’s Kingdom is established on earth, “his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3) and “they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:4 ESV). So, perhaps those sitting on the thrones include believers as well.

But John also sees another group. They are those who gave their lives as a result of their faith in Christ during the tribulation. They were martyred by the Antichrist because they refused to bear his mark or bow down to his false idol. But John says, “They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4 ESV). Those who faithfully served Christ during the dark days of the tribulation and willingly gave their lives for the cause of Christ will be resurrected and rewarded with places of prominence in His earthly Kingdom.

John refers to this as the first resurrection and writes, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!” (Revelation 20:6 ESV). They are blessed because “the second death has no power” over them. They “will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6 ESV). But what does John mean by “the second death”? As we will see later on in this chapter, all those who have died without Christ, will also be resurrected at the end of the Millennial Kingdom. And they will stand before the Great White Throne for their judgment and final condemnation. At that time, they will suffer a second death, when they will be cast into eternal judgment by God. The “second death” is final death beyond physical death. It will involved both the soul and the body. The unredeemed dead, at the time of their resurrection, will have their souls reunited with resurrected bodies. These bodies will be eternal and permanent in nature, meaning that their bodies will be capable of enduring the eternal punishment God has in store for them.

As we will see in the next portion of this chapter, there are others who will be alive during the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There will be non-believers on the earth, who will find themselves living under the righteous rule of Christ and benefiting from the blessings that come from having a just and holy King as their leader. But they will not follow Him. They will not view Him as their King of kings and Lord of lords. And this will become painfully clear when Satan is released and he, once again, influences these individuals to turn on Christ one more time, as part of a final attempt to overthrow His rule on earth. The stubbornness of lost humanity is difficult to fathom. But it reveals just how hardened the heart without Christ really is. Even with Christ ruling from the throne of David and meting out justice and righteousness on the earth, the lost will continue to reject Him as their Savior and Lord. Even with Satan out of the way for 1,000 years, they will still refuse to worship God and His Son. And it will take no time at all for Satan to convince them to join him in his final attempt to be the god of this world. But he will fail.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

War, Famine and Death.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”

When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. Revelation 6:3-8 ESV

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As noted with the opening of the first seal, each horse and rider that John sees is summoned by one of the four creatures standing before the throne of God. They call, “Come!” and the horse and riders appear. This strongly suggests that all of the events that these images portend are under the control of God. They are not isolated and arbitrary, but preordained by God Himself. And they are happening in just the way He planned at the exact time of His choosing.

While the first horse was white, symbolizing victory and what would appear to be righteousness, its rider was most likely symbolic of the Antichrist. John indicates the he came conquering and to conquer, but his success will not be based on military might, because he was carrying a bow, but no arrows. So, his ability to conquer will be of a more political nature. He will be a strategist who uses the world political stage to his advantage, climbing the ladder to power and prominence and setting himself up as a major player on the world political scene.

But the second horse is red in color, symbolizing war and the bloodshed that comes as a result. Notice what the text says: “Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth” (Revelation 6:4 ESV). This is yet another reminder that all of what is being revealed is under the divine prerogative of God. This rider, whoever he is, can do nothing without God’s approval and permission. But God is allowing this rider to bring warfare and death to the world because of the sins of mankind and in keeping with His promise to bring judgment on the world’s rebellion against His authority. But who is this rider? As usual, there has been a great deal of speculation over the centuries as to the identity of this rider. But the immediate text does not provide us with any real clue as to who this rider may be. There are some who speculate that we are once again looking at a manifestation of the Antichrist. Because these seals and the content they reveal are progressive in nature, it would appear that they are exposing the various iterations of the Antichrist, as his true nature and intent becomes more apparent over time. He begins as a world leader who appears to be nothing more than a successful political candidate who makes a name for himself by brokering a period of peace on the earth. In fact, Daniel 9:27 seems to indicate that the Antichrist will make a seven-year treaty with the nation of Israel, which at the midway point, he will break. This seven year period is considered to be the tribulation, the second half of which will be a time of great unrest and destruction. So, the Antichrist will begin as a man of peace and diplomacy, somehow brokering an agreement between the Jews and Muslims to allow for the rebuilding of the temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem. But as Daniel’s account describes, at the midway point of the tribulation, Antichrist will turn his back on the people of Israel and desecrate the temple, setting himself up as the only god to be worshiped.

But it could be that this rider is nothing more than a symbol for war. In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned His disciples:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. – Matthew 24:6-8 ESV

This rider signals a time of great civil unrest in the world. The text makes clear that people will slay one another. This may refer to actual wars between nations or riots in the streets. But whatever it means, it is clear that any peace that might have been enjoyed will be gone. This foreshadows a time of unprecedented conflict on the earth. And, as is always the case with war, there will be consequences. As the third seal is opened by Christ, the third creature calls out, “Come!” and yet another horse and rider appears. This time, the horse is black and its rider carries a pair of scales in his hands. Black is the traditional symbol for death and it foreshadows a period of tremendous death and devastation caused by famine. The period of warfare will have an impact of the world’s economy, creating hyper-inflation and a shortage of food. The scales indicate that Antichrist, the political leader who has established himself as the dominant force on the world scene, will have control over the buying and selling of goods. In a world wracked by war, where the necessities of life become scarce, he will dictate the price of goods and manage their availability. John hears a voice crying out, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!” (Revelation 6:6 ESV). In the first-Century world in which John lived, a denarius represented a day’s wages for a common laborer. So, according to the voice John hears, it is going to take a full-day’s wage to buy enough wheat for one meal. If the cheaper and lower-cost barley is purchased, you could stretch the value of your denarius a bit further. But the bottom line will be that inflation is going to be huge problem and hunger will become commonplace.

With the opening of the fourth seal, the fourth beast calls out, “Come!” and the final horse and rider appear. This horse is described as being pale in color. A more accurate description of the horse’s color would be pale green. The actual Greek word is chlōros, from which we get our word chlorophyll. It would appear that this horse is the color of a decomposing corpse, and riding on this horse is someone who John describes as having the name, Death. And following close behind this horse and rider is Hades. This anthropomorphic description of the abode of the dead is intended to add a sense of complete and utter destruction to the scene. Death is what brings to an end the life of the material body. Hades is the traditional Hebrew word for the abode of the immaterial part of a person. It was believed to be where the soul goes after death. King David spoke about this very place in one of his psalms.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption. – Psalm 16:9-10 ESV

This horse and rider are described as the harbingers of death, who “were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:8 ESV). As a result of the wars and conflicts taking place on the earth and the resulting famine, death and Hades will be satiated with the sheer number of the deceased. It will be an unprecedented time of global disaster marked by the deaths of a fourth of the world’s population. Hades following death is simply a way of saying that the souls of all those who die as a result of the judgments of God will end up in the afterlife, where they will one day face the final judgment of God. This is what is referred to later in the book of Revelation as the Great White Throne Judgment.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15 ESV

 The fourth horse and rider represent the fourth phase of God’s judgment on the world. The first four seals reveal the rise to power of the Antichrist and his subsequent impact on the world. The period of time covered by these four signs is the seven years known as the tribulation. It will be a time marked by war, financial instability, famine, disease, and unprecedented loss of human life. It will be like no other time in human history, when some of the most devastating tragedies ever experienced by mankind will be jam-packed into what is a relatively short period of time. Most of what John has described takes place in the second half of the tribulation, a period known as the Great Tribulation. And, as we will see, one of the groups that will suffer the most during this time is the Jewish people. Because of their association with God and the promises made by God to restore them to a right relationship with Himself, Satan will continue to do everything in his power to destroy the people of God. Because of the rapture, the church will no longer be a factor, freeing up Satan to focus all his attention and energies on the Jews. The prophet Jeremiah predicted what would happen, but he provides a wonderful reminder that God has a purpose behind all the devastation and destruction. He is bringing His judgments against His people for the generations of apostasy and rebellion against Him. But in spite of their disobedience and unfaithfulness, God was going to restore them.

“Thus says the Lord:
We have heard a cry of panic,
    of terror, and no peace.
Ask now, and see,
    can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man
    with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor?
    Why has every face turned pale?
Alas! That day is so great
    there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
    yet he shall be saved out of it. – Jeremiah 30:5-7 ESV

Jesus also spoke of these coming days and assured that the outcome would be a positive one for God’s people.

21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. – Matthew 24:21-22 ESV

As we make our way through the rest of this book, it is essential that we recognize and constantly remind ourselves that God has all of this in His hands. These events are written on the scroll that has been in His possession from before the foundation of the world. The seals are being broken by His Son. And the events unfolding before our eyes are the result of the divine will of God Himself.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The First Seal.

1 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. Revelation 6:1-2 ESV

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John saw a vision of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain, now standing in the throne room of heaven and taking the sealed scroll from the hand of God. As Jesus begins to open the seven seals, John will be given a glimpse into the future. This is in keeping with the instructions he received at the beginning of his book. “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this” (Revelation 1:19 ESV). With the opening of each successive seal, another aspect of God’s future judgment of mankind will be revealed and released upon the earth. One of the keys to making sense all that John will see and record is to understand that the church is nowhere mentioned. While chapters two and three dealt extensively with the seven churches, there will not be another reference to the church until the end of the book, where Jesus will explain that the messages contained in it were for the benefit of the church, but not about it.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”Revelation 22:16.

John is being given these insights into future things in order to encourage the body of Christ, those who have placed their faith in Him, by informing them of God’s future plans for the restoration of all things. As the church suffers persecution and trials in this age, God is letting them know that there is a day coming when all things will be made right. That day is most often referred to as in Scripture as “the day of the Lord.” Paul warned the Thessalonian believers about that coming day, but let them know that it was not intended for them.

2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5 ESV

Believers will not be surprised by that day, because they will not be around to experience it. Earlier in his same letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul told his brothers and sisters in Christ:

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

Christ will one day return for His church. This is not His second coming, which will be explained in great detail in this book. It is the rapture of the church, which will bring an end to the church age or what is also referred to as the age of the Gentiles. It is the removal of the church that will set the stage for the coming day of the Lord. That is why Paul goes on to encourage the believers in Thessalonica “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV). He is letting them know that the church will be delivered from the wrath to come. And it is the wrath to come that Jesus is about to make known by the opening of the seals and the subsequent revelation of the scroll’s content. With each seal broken, a new aspect of God’s judgment on the unbelieving world is made known. And as the book of Revelation progresses, the judgments will increase in intensity, all the way up to the day of the Lord’s return.

What we are about to see is not intended to scare or intimidate us. As members of the body of Christ, His church, we will not experience any of these judgments. They are meant to give us hope and to cause us to trust in the sovereign will of our God. As bad as things may get on this earth during our stay here, we can know that God will one day restore all things to a state of order and righteousness. The wicked who, in this life, seem to escape God’s judgment, will one day find themselves having to face the wrath of God. And the book of Revelation is intended to give us a glimpse into what is to come.

With each of the first four seals, John hears a voice cry out, “Come!” This seems to represent a divine command, calling forth all that John sees. They are being summoned to do God’s bidding. The seven seals represent the official nature of the document and its content. As long as the seals remained intact, what was written inside the scroll remained a mystery. And it could not be released or revealed. In essence, it was held captive or in check until such time as “the one who was worthy” broke the seals. And with each successive seal, a new portion of the scroll gets revealed and a new aspect of God’s future judgment made known. They appear to reveal a timeline, with each event following the one before it in chronological order.

With the breaking of the first seal, a rider on a white horse appears. He is carrying a a bow, but there is no mention of him holding any arrows. He is also given a crown to wear, signifying power and authority. But who is this rider? It would be easy to assume that, because he is riding a white horse, he must represent someone good or righteous. And while the color white is often used in Scripture to signify holiness or purity, it can also be a symbol for victory. This rider’s appearance on a white horse gives him the appearance of being victorious and righteous, but it will prove to be a deception. Not all who claim to be righteous prove to be so. And this individual carries a bow, a symbol of warfare, but he has no arrows. So, he appears to have the threat of military might, but will initially have no real power to back up that threat. It is important to note that he is given a crown (stephanos), which represents authority, but that authority is given to him. The apostle Paul reminds us, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 ESV). This rider will be given the right to rule by God Himself. But this does not mean he will rule righteously or in keeping with the holy demands of God. Like so many of the wicked and immoral kings of Judah and Israel, this man’s rule will be marked by rebellion against God.

John reveals that this rider “came out conquering, and to conquer.” He will be intent on conquest. His agenda will be that of war and nothing but war. But who is he? There has been much debate as to the identity of this rider. But it would seem that the most likely explanation would be that he represents the coming Antichrist. In His Olivette Discourse, Jesus warned that, in the future, there would be those coming who claimed to be the Messiah, the Christ.

“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” – Matthew 24:5 ESV

He warned that there would be false prophets and false teachers. But there would come one particular individual who would surpass them all in terms of his lies and wickedness. Paul gives us a glimpse into this individual’s character in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

He will be the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction. He will set himself up as a god and suppress any and all other religions, demanding that he alone be worshiped. He will be anti-Christ and anti-God, opposing them at every hand. The prophet Daniel predicts that “He shall speak words against the Most High” (Daniel 7:25 ESV) and “through his shrewdness He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; And he will magnify himself in his heart, And he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes” (Daniel 8:25 ESV). And Daniel adds yet one more feature to this man’s reign, indicating that he “will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things against the God of gods” (Daniel 11:36 ESV).

One of the things that will become clear as the book of Revelation unfolds, is that the interpretation of its contents is totally dependent upon the rest of Scripture. It is not intended to be a stand-alone book, but is included in the canon of Scripture and as a supplemental text that works in conjunction with other prophetic passages found elsewhere in the Bible. So, to understand much of what is found in the book of Revelation will require a careful study of God’s Word. And the scenes which John writes about as he watches the breaking of the seals, are incomplete in nature. He only describes a rider on a white horse, carrying a bow and wearing a crown. But there will be more details to come. These seven seals are like an outline of the rest of the book. They provide an abbreviated introduction for all that is to come. This one who came out conquering and to conquer, will do just that and we will see it in great detail. His appearance sets up all that is to come in the rest of the book. This rider will play a major role in the unfolding drama surrounding God’s future judgment of the world.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Escape From Tribulation.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Revelation 3:7-13 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapTo the church in Philadelphia, Jesus addresses Himself as “the holy one, the true one.” These two divine attributes are inseparable. His holiness and truthfulness go hand in hand, each being impossible without the other. As the holy and true one, Jesus is more than qualified to address the church in Philadelphia. He is without sin and devoid of any falsehood or deception. And as a result, those who are called by His name should live in keeping with His character. We are sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus, so our behavior should reflect that reality.

…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:8-10 ESV

Jesus’ reference to the key of David ties back to John’s description in chapter one, when he first saw his vision of Jesus. John fell to his feet as if dead, but Jesus said to him, ““Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18 ESV). With His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus unlocked the doors of death that had held men captive. No longer would men and women be subject to the inescapable prison of condemnation for their rebellion against God. His resurrection provided victory over death. Which is what led Paul to write, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

His reference to the key of David is also a direct tie to Isaiah 22:22, which states, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” This passage was speaking of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who had the key to all the king’s treasures. Jesus is appropriating this passage for Himself, claiming to hold the keys to all the treasures of God. It is He alone who can open and shut the doorway to God’s goodness, grace, mercy and love. And according to Jesus, He not only holds the key, He is the door.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV

And as Jesus has done with each of the churches so far, He lets the congregation at Philadelphia know that He is fully aware of their works. And in keeping with His emphasis on the key and His ability to open and shut, He states, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8 ESV). He seems to be assuring the faithful believers in Philadelphia that their ministry will be successful in spite of the opposition and persecution they faced. While they had “little power” due to their relatively small number, they would continue to have a powerful influence on their city. In the midst of much hostility, they had kept the word, the message of Jesus Christ. They had refused to deny the name of Jesus, even in the face of intense pressure and persecution. There were obviously those in the “city of brotherly love” who had expressed intense hatred for this fledgling group of faithful believers. And Jesus names one such source as “the synagogue of Satan.” He describes them as those “who say that they are Jews and are not” (Revelation 3:9 ESV). These members of the local Jewish synagogue proudly proclaimed their Hebrew heritage and their status as children of Abraham, but Jesus saw them simply as those who rejected Himself as the Messiah. In the gospel of John, we have recorded a confrontation between Jesus and the Jews of His day. John makes it clear that Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews who had expressed belief in Jesus. He said to them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

They responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). To which responded, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (John 8:36-37 ESV). Jesus was letting them know, that while they had expressed belief in Him, they were going to attempt to kill Him. Jesus accused them of doing the deeds of their father, and when they responded that their father was Abraham, Jesus exposed the truth to them.

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” – John 8:39-41 ESV

And Jesus left no doubt as to who their father was:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” – John 8:44-45 ESV

And Jesus declares the Jews in Philadelphia to be a synagogue of Satan for the very same reason. They were rejecting the truth regarding Jesus being the Messiah. They were attacking the believers in the church there, because they refused to believe the truth about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But Jesus tells His faithful followers in Philadelphia that they will one day find themselves reverenced by these very same Jews. The day was coming when the tables would be turned and the oppressed would become the exalted. Jesus is assuring the believers in Philadelphia that there will be a reward for their faithful service to Him. And one of the greatest rewards He has to offer them is their escape from the coming day of tribulation.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” – Revelation 3:10 ESV

While they were suffering tribulation and trials in their day, they would not have to endure the coming great day of tribulation. This is a reference to the seven years of tribulation that will come on the earth as part of the end times. The book of Revelation will go on to describe those days in great detail. But Jesus is assuring the believers in Philadelphia, and every other believer who has ever lived, that they will escape this coming judgment on the earth, because of the reality of the rapture. Paul describes this great event in the book of 1 Thessalonians.

14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 ESV

Jesus assures them that He is coming soon. He encourages them to hold fast. He will one day return for His bride, the church. And for all those who conquer, who remain faithful to Him to the end, He promises to make them a pillar in the temple of God. They will have a permanent place and play a significant role in the heavenly realm. There is a permanence to Christ’s promise. “Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12 ESV). They will never have to fear losing their rightful place in God’s Kingdom. They will bear the name of God, a sign of His ownership of them. Not only that, they will bear the name of the new Jerusalem, where they will find their permanent residence in His presence. And they will bear the name of Jesus, the name of the one they refused to deny.

And as usual, Jesus addresses this message to all churches of all times, assuring them that what is true for the believers in Philadelphia is true for all. The faithful are those who overcome, who will one day find themselves enjoying their role as fellow conquerors with Jesus. He holds the keys of David. He alone can open up the treasuries of God, providing access into the Kingdom of God, and offering up all the abundance of God’s blessings for those who trusted in His holiness and truth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson