So great a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1)

POST OVERVIEW. Meditations on Hebrews 12:1-2.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2

All disciples of Jesus have the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 11 and we also all have the faithful men and women who have preceded us in obedience to the Lord and then into glory, but each disciple should also seek to be gathering their own cloud of witnesses, saints that we have known personally who have faithfully run the race to the end. For me, two that leap immediately to my mind are Jill Britton and Edye Caldwell. These, even though dead, still speak (Hebrews 11:4) into my life.

Jill Britton is my mother, a woman who modeled for me what it means to live a humble, faithful, simple, God-surrendered life. Mom came to faith at 50 years old and walked with Jesus for her last 30 years. She regularly spent over an hour in prayer each morning as she went through prayer cards and missionary letters and thought about her children. As soon as she came to faith, she began praying for her wayward second son, who was spending his life is worthless pursuits and dissipation far from the Lord. Four years later, the Lord answered those prayers and this prodigal entered the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved. From that point on, my mother and I were sister and brother in Christ. On Friday morning May 12, 2017, my mom quietly went to heaven to spend eternity with her Lord. Her work was done, so her Savior called her home.

I was new to my church when Mom died, but I had already become acquainted with a senior saint named Edye Caldwell. I told Edye about Mom’s death and she said, “I am sorry to hear about your loss, but that is the way I would like to go.” Even though Edye was 92 years old when she went home, our pastor said he never saw her eyes closed when he was preaching. “I may put some of you to sleep, but not Edye! She wanted to hear every word.” Edye had been a member of Oakhurst for 64 years. She had faithfully prayed for the church when the membership hovered around 40 and attendance was around 30. She lived to see the church replanted and attendance rise to about 400 with more than 300 baptized members and many children all over the place. Now in heaven, Edye Caldwell still speaks by her perseverance in the race and her hunger for the things of the Lord over a lifetime. She and my mom both finished the race at full speed.

LAY ASIDE THE WEIGHT AND THE SIN

Turning back to Hebrews 12, we read, “Let us ALSO lay aside every weight. . .” Notice the word “ALSO.” The Lord has placed us in the body of Christ and therein we have examples and role models who have run and are running the race and who have finished strong. And, as these role models “laid aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles” them, so we ALSO are to lay aside every weight and lay aside every sin that entangles us. The purpose of these godly role models in this cloud of witnesses is NOT ADMIRATION BUT IMITATION. Having a hero to admire is of dubious value in the life of a disciple, because we, as fallen humans, are so prone to become spectators, mere admirers impressed by the personal success of others. Because of our flesh, we are all beset with a “groupie tendency,” the urge to watch our heroes rather than imitate the godly, spectate rather than do the hard work of discipleship and repentance and obedience and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Because I know I am flawed and broken and insignificant, I tend to seek out the “great” so that, by my association with them, I can become significant. This is worldly and is the exact opposite of benefiting from our great cloud of witnesses. The gospel declares that we are already significant because Jesus has died for us on the cross and the Holy Spirit has ushered us into new life in the kingdom of God. We are followers of the King of kings, so who else matters?

There is no benefit from idolatrously admiring a hero from a great distance. Rather, what I need are flesh and blood examples who live nearby and who will run the race with me. My cloud of witnesses shows me, by their example, how to lay aside every weight. And where do I find this “cloud of witnesses,” these flesh and blood examples? I find them in my local church! Here among the pews I find those who will help me define “every weight,” then identify what my “weights” are, then pray with me and walk with me as I lay aside these weights. And my brothers in my church do the same thing with “the sin that so easily entangles” me.

You may ask, “What is the primary source of my personal ‘cloud of witnesses’?” What if the Lord provided me with a large, multi-generational group of committed disciples of Jesus who are accessible to me and who have covenanted together with me to walk the godly path as we grow in holiness and usefulness? If God provided me with such a group, it would seem that I would be very likely to grow as a follower of Jesus. Of course, the name for the group I have just described is the local church.

SUMMARY

The main take-away here is that we are to actively imitate this great cloud of witnesses and to work hard to be like our role models in the faith. Our culture is all about having us find “great” people to worship and then reducing us to spectators who blindly follow our heroes. Yes, this can easily happen even among believers in good churches. But the disciple is to reject the “admire and spectate” mentality of the world and is, instead, to fix their eyes on the perfecter of faith, the Lord Jesus, as they imitate the godly cloud of witnesses.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 2/2/2023                     #618

An investigation into the “42 months” of Revelation 11-13

POST OVERVIEW. (3rd post) A continuing investigation (see post #616, 1/29/2023) into the “42 months” of Revelation 11-13 (and Daniel 7:25 and 12:7). OBJECTIVE. To discover the meaning of the “42 months” and to interpret these passages occurring during the “42 months” so that we have a clearer picture of the events of Revelation.

PREVIOUS STUDY IN THIS SERIES

We began this study (post #615, 1/27/2023) by comparing Daniel 7:21 with Revelation 11:7 and 13:7, making some observations about these verses, and then drawing some conclusions about what we saw (see #615 for details). In our last post (#616, 1/29/2023) we expanded our portions for investigation to include the passages around the original three verses. In that portion of our study, we observed that all three of our study passages (Dan. 7:21-22, 25-27; Rev. 11:3-12; 13:1-10) mentioned a period of time which we have called the “42 months.” We noted that this time period, the “42 months,” appeared significant as an end-times concept. We then found four other occurrences of that same time period, one more in Daniel and three in Revelation 11-13, and are digging deeper into those verses to see where they lead.

The four other passages are:

  • In Dan. 12:7 “a time, times, and half a time”
  • In Rev. 11:2 “forty-two months”
  • In Rev. 12:6 “1,260 days”
  • In Rev. 12:14 “a time and times and half a time”

A CAREFUL LOOK AT FOUR NEW PASSAGES ABOUT THE “42 MONTHS”

In our last post (#616), we made some general comments about the “42 months” and now we want to look carefully at each of these new passages (see above). Our plan is to look at the context of each “42 months” passage and try to identify interpretive clues from each.

DANIEL 12:7. In Daniel 12:7, we encounter the phrase “a time, times, and half a time,” which we have already identified as “42 months” (see Dan. 7:25). So, even before we begin to investigate this verse, we can see that it links directly to Dan. 7:25 and also to Rev. 12:14, because those two verses use the identical expression for the “42 months.”

The immediate context of the “42 months” phrase is an answer to the question, “How long until the end of wonders?” “For a time, times, and half a time.” But the answer goes on. “And as soon as to finish (literal translation) shattering the power of the holy people, all these will be completed.” My interpretation of this immediate context is that the holy people (i.e., the church) will be shattered for “42 months,” and then the end will come (“be completed”). This interpretation is strengthened by its agreement with the events of Dan. 7:25. If this interpretation is correct, it says that the church will be severely persecuted for “42 months” near the end of the age and then the end will come.

We just looked at the very narrow context of the verse where this occurrence of the “42 months” appears but looking at a larger context of Daniel 11-12 tells us more. In Daniel 11, we read of the activity of the “despicable person” (11:21; the antichrist), who meets his end after “he pitches his tent between the sea and the beautiful Holy Mountain” (Dan. 11:45). This phrase is figurative language for Armageddon (see Ezek. 38:14-18; Rev. 16:14, 16; 20:8-9). Then in Dan. 12:1, we see the great tribulation of the church (Matt. 24:21), then Dan. 12:2 tells of the Resurrection, and finally Dan. 12:7 places all these events in or around the “42 months” at the end of the age.

SUMMARY. This occurrence of the “42 months” includes a manifestation of the antichrist who subjects the church to persecution, which culminates in Armageddon when the church is rescued by Resurrection. Then the antichrist comes to his end (11:45).

REVELATION 11:2. This is the most spartan of the “42 months” occurrences, and the context is difficult to determine. After giving a picture (Rev. 11:1) that reminds us of the measuring of the temple scene from Ezekiel 40-42, we discover that “the nations will tread underfoot the holy city for forty-two months” (Rev. 11:2). My interpretation of this scene is consistent with others like it in the “42 months,” namely that the nations (under the leadership of the antichrist; Rev. 13:7-8) will oppress and persecute (“tread under foot”) the church (“the holy city”) for (or during) the “42 months.”

We should also note that this verse links directly to Rev. 13:5, because these two verses use the identical expression for the “42 months,” namely, “forty-two months.” This direct link confirms that the events surrounding Rev. 11:2 are related to the events surrounding Rev. 13:5.

That’s enough for one post. We will continue to explore other occurrences of the “42 months” by looking at Rev. 12:6 and Rev. 12:14 in our next post.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/30/2023                   #617

Interpretive clues in Dan. 7, Rev. 11, Rev. 13 – “42 months”

POST OVERVIEW. (2nd post) A detailed examination and comparison of three portions of end-times Scripture. OBJECTIVE. To discover interpretive clues for better understanding end-times literature in general and understanding these passages in particular. The passages under consideration are Daniel 7:21-27, Revelation 11:3-12, and Revelation 13:1-10. This study also begins to explore the “42 months” of Revelation 11-13.

In our previous post (#615, 1/27/2023), we began by examining and comparing three verses, Daniel 7:21, Rev. 11:7, and Rev. 13:7, in order to discover interpretive clues for better understanding other end-times passages. We made some interesting discoveries.

PREVIOUS DISCOVERIES

The fact that these three verses describe, in almost identical words, the actions of the little horn (Dan. 7) and the beast (Rev. 11; 13) leads to the logical conclusion that the little horn and the beast are symbols for the same person (i.e., the antichrist).

Not only this, but we can also conclude that, because the events are described almost identically, the events of Daniel 7:21 are the same events described in Revelation 11:7 and 13:7 and thus occur at the same time in history. This yields the interpretive principle that, when different scenes in eschatological literature are written with very similar or identical words, the Scripture is marking these scenes as either closely linked or identical.

Finally, since the beast will make war with the two witnesses (Rev. 11:7) and the beast will make war with the saints (13:7), it can be deduced that the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3-12 is a figurative expression for “the saints” (Dan. 7:21 and Rev. 13:7), which is the church. In these three scenes, then, we see three depictions of the antichrist’s war against the church (“the saints”) at the end of the age (confirm Dan. 7:22, 26-27). But what else can we learn about these encounters?

WHEN DO THESE EVENTS TAKE PLACE?

Let’s ask the question, “When in history do these events take place?” Notice that, from Daniel 7:22, 26-27, these events occur shortly before the end of the age, but we can learn more than that. A key observation is that “the little horn” wars against the saints (the church) and speaks against the Most High (i.e., blasphemes) for “a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25), or forty-two months. We will call this time period the “42 months.”

As we look at the events in Rev. 11:3-7, we observe that “the two witnesses” (which is an expression for “the saints” or the church – see above) prophesy for 1,260 days (11:3), which is also a period of “42 months.”

Looking finally at Rev. 13:1-10 as the beast “makes war with the saints” (13:7) and as he “speaks arrogant words and blasphemies” (13:5) and “opens his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle” (13:6), we read that “authority to act for forty-two months is given to him” (13:5). Again, we find the “42 months.”

THE “42 MONTHS”

Thus, from one scene in Daniel 7 and two scenes in Revelation 11 and 13, we see that, near the end of the age, the antichrist arises and persecutes the church during the period of the “42 months.” But are there other occurrences of the “42 months” in end-times prophecy? It turns out there are four more places where end-times passages mention this time period.

  • In Dan. 12:7 “a time, times, and half a time”
  • In Rev. 11:2 “forty-two months”
  • In Rev. 12:6 “1,260 days”
  • In Rev. 12:14 “a time and times and half a time”

What we are seeing is that there are seven separate occurrences of this time period of “42 months” in end-times passages of Scripture. This is definitely significant and deserves some further investigation. Here is our plan for investigating the “42 months.”

  • Make some general statements about this period (“42 months”) from observations and quick deductions.
  • Look carefully at these four new passages to observe their features.
  • Draw a conclusion about when in history this time period the “42 months” takes place.
  • Make a concluding statement about the “42 months” to guide our interpretation of the book of Revelation.

GENERAL STATEMENTS ABOUT THE “42 MONTHS”

First, in each occurrence of the “42 months” in the text of Scripture, the same time period is in view. So, in Revelation 11-13, there is a single period of time which is called the “42 months,” but there are five different scenes depicting the activities which take place during the “42 months.” An analogy might be to think of the year 2022. A person presents five top news stories from all over the world which occurred in 2022. Each news story is separate from the others but they all occurred during 2022. The point is there is only one period of the “42 months,” but there are many events going on during that single time period.

Second, the “42 months” is presented in three different forms (“a time and times and half a time,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days”), none of which fits any symbolic or figurative pattern. Numbers in Revelation often have a figurative or symbolic meaning (like 3, 7, 12, 1000, etc.), but the expressions for the “42 months” do not point in any figurative direction. Since there can be discerned no figurative meaning for “42 months,” this expression is probably to be understood as “relatively literal.” This suggests that the “42 months” lasts something like forty-two calendar months. That means that, in contrast to the thousand years (Rev. 20:2-7), which represents a very long period of time, the events of the “42 months” take place in a span of a very few years.

Finally, it is helpful to understand each of these separate scenes or visions as taking place DURING the “42 months,” rather than FOR the “42 months.” Thus, each of these separate events occurs for some portion of time during the period called the “42 months,” and do not occur simultaneously throughout the duration of the “42 months.”

A CAREFUL LOOK AT FOUR NEW PASSAGES ABOUT THE “42 MONTHS”

Having made some general comments, we now want to look carefully at the four new passages (see above) which also describe events of the “42 months.” That careful look will be the topic of our next post.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/29/2023                   #616

Waging war with the saints (Dan. 7:21; Rev. 11:7; 13:7)

POST OVERVIEW. (1st post) A detailed examination and comparison of three portions of end-times Scripture. OBJECTIVE. To discover interpretive clues for better understanding end-times literature in general and understanding these passages in particular. The passages under consideration are Daniel 7:21-27, Revelation 11:3-12, and Revelation 13:1-10.

In this season, I am spending a lot of time reading Revelation and studying how this fascinating final book of the Bible relates and connects to other Scripture. That is partly because I am preparing for a short teaching on Revelation on February 9, but mostly because, the more I study the book of Revelation, the more amazing and interesting the book becomes. This fascination with the beauty of Revelation is further heightened by the state of our world and by the collapsing and disintegration and destruction that we see happening all around us. As we see the chaos ever-accelerating, I cannot help but think that the last trumpet is getting ready to sound and soon we will see the Rider on the white horse (Rev. 19:11).

As I was again reading through Daniel and Revelation earlier this week, I discovered some fascinating connections.

In chapter 7 of his prophecy, Daniel relates to us visions that he saw about four beasts, but also in this chapter there is “a little horn” that appears, and it is this horn that I want to consider. Daniel 7:21 says, “I kept looking and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them.” The little horn here is a manifestation of the antichrist.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON ANTICHRIST

Let’s pause here for a second to give some background about the antichrist. (see “Antichrist” section for further information) The antichrist appears at the end of the age as the human embodiment of all wickedness. He is manifested at least seven times in the Scriptures, first in Ezekiel 38, 39 as Gog prince of Magog, but then again here in Daniel 7 as the little horn, in Daniel 8 (the small horn), in Daniel 9:26 (the prince who is to come), in Daniel 11:21ff (the despicable person), in 2 Thess. 2:3 (the man of lawlessness), and then finally as the beast in Revelation.

COMPARING DANIEL 7:21 WITH REVELATION 11:7 AND 13:7

Daniel 7:21 – “The (little) horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them.”

Rev. 11:7 – “The beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them (two witnesses) and will overcome them and kill them.”

Rev. 13:7 – “It was given to him (the beast) to make war with the saints and to overcome them.”

The fact that these three verses describe, in almost identical words, the actions of the little horn and the beast leads to the logical conclusion that the little horn and the beast are the same person. Not only this, but we can also conclude that, because they are described almost identically, the events of Daniel 7:21 are the same events described in Revelation 11:7 and 13:7 and that they occur at the same time in history. Finally, since the beast will make war with the two witnesses (11:7) and the beast will make war with the saints (13:7), it can be determined that the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3-12 is a figurative expression for “the saints” (Dan. 7:21 and Rev. 13:7).

MORE INFORMATION FROM THIS PASSAGE

We have just made three conclusions based on a careful study of these three verses (Dan. 7:21, Rev. 11:7; 13:7), but now we will apply these conclusions to the texts around these three verses to establish a more detailed framework for interpreting these passages. That work will be continued in the next blog post.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/27/2023                   #615

Are we unwilling to suffer for the gospel? (Col. 3:3)

POST OVERVIEW. An exhortation for disciples of Jesus to accept suffering and persecution as a necessary price to pay for the privilege of proclaiming Christ.

One of the prominent themes in the New Testament is the suffering of those who follow Jesus. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, our Lord made clear that His disciples would be expected to suffer in this world. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). To the faithful church at Smyrna, the risen Jesus Christ commanded that they “be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10). In writing to the suffering church scattered throughout modern-day Turkey, Peter declared that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). That Jesus’ church would be expected to suffer for His name sake is not surprising since Jesus Himself suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). The faithful prophets of the Old Testament were hunted (consider Elijah), were mocked, imprisoned, and threatened with death (like Jeremiah) as they proclaimed the word of the LORD. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament were often under intense pressure to compromise their message and to be silent, yet they preferred to suffer and die rather than shrink back (Hebrews 10:38-39) and compromise. It is plain from virtually every book of the New Testament that the church of the Lord Jesus in the world is expected to suffer and to persevere through suffering to obtain the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

In light of the Bible’s clear message regarding promised suffering and the certainty of persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), it is troubling that the western church, even the true church that has not apostatized, seems to consciously avoid suffering. My view is that the church in America has been lulled into a degree of softness. We are not only unprepared for suffering, but, more than that, we are also unwilling to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). Being unprepared to suffer is perhaps understandable since disciples of Jesus have never really been persecuted in this country. But being unwilling to suffer is an entirely different matter. Believers in America seem to still believe that we can remain true to our crucified Savior and remain true to the gospel of salvation without having to suffer. There seems to be a pervasive attitude that there exists a nuanced way to tell the world that they are perishing and need to repent, and this search for a gentler message is motivated by a fear of suffering for the gospel.

THE DISCIPLE OF JESUS HAS ALREADY DIED

The many references to suffering and to courageous perseverance in the Bible are placed there to stoke the furnace of our courage and to quench the fear of man. One of the most profound thoughts expressed in the Scriptures is stated very simply in Colossians 3:3.

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.Colossians 3:3

Paul states here that the disciple of Jesus “has died.” The apostle is speaking figuratively of the death that you have died in the new birth. “Our old self was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). But, while Paul is speaking figuratively of the death of our old life and the death of the old man, that death is nonetheless real. The disciple of Jesus is dead to the fear of death because we have already died. And, if the fear of death has died, then how can there still be fear of other suffering that we might endure for the name of Jesus?

Paul can serve as our example here. Paul had no fear of the future or of suffering or of the threats of man because Paul had already died. And how can you threaten a man who has already died? The same is true for us. We have died with Christ and therefore can never die again. To put it in terms of persecution, we are physically vulnerable but spiritually safe. Of course, we are not to welcome or seek out suffering. We are to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) because we desire for our ministry for Jesus to last as long as possible, but the length or the comfort or the safety of our gospel ministry is never to restrain our boldness or to constrain our proclamation. We have died and been raised with Christ (Romans 6:4) and can therefore “go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).

So then, as those who have already died and as those whose “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3b), as those whose eternity is forever established (see Phil. 3:20 – “our citizenship is in heaven”), let us run the race with joy and abandon as those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/21/2023                   #614

Suffering and tribulation in the book of Revelation

POST OVERVIEW. A survey of the book of Revelation considering the instances of suffering (“tribulation”) in the book and planning for our response of perseverance.

Spectacular! Awesome! Terrifying! Amazing! Glorious! These are words that readily come to our minds as we read through the book of Revelation. This portion of Scripture contains some of the most breathtaking images and events in the entire Bible. In fact, because these vivid images and these clashes between the forces of evil and righteousness capture our attention, it is possible to miss one of the most prominent features of Revelation, namely, the suffering of the church of Jesus Christ. But once we begin to examine the book through the lens of suffering, and specifically the tribulation of the church in the world because we follow Jesus, we realize that the suffering church is a prominent theme in Revelation.

EXPERIENCING TRIBULATION AND REQUIRING PERSEVERANCE

At the beginning of the book, as John introduces his prophecy in Revelation 1:9, he already speaks of “tribulation” (Greek θλῖψις – thlipsis) and “perseverance” (Greek ὑπομονή – hupomonay).

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Let’s explore these words for a moment. The word here translated as “tribulation” is a common New Testament word. It is usually translated as “tribulation,” but can also be rendered “affliction,” “oppression,” or “distress.” The overwhelming majority of uses of this word refer to the church or to a specific believer suffering for their faith in Jesus. And this is its use here. John the apostle, as “a partaker in the tribulation,” is writing to his fellow partakers in the tribulation. The message is clear: if you would be a witness “of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” then you must be prepared to be a fellow partaker in the tribulation. Affliction, distress, and tribulation are simply an expected part of being a follower of Jesus. If you would follow Jesus, you should expect to suffer.

Tribulation necessitates perseverance. What does John mean by “perseverance?” “In the NT, this is the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.” Also implied in this word is the idea of ongoing and patient endurance. In other words, “perseverance” means remaining fixed on the mission or purpose or goal in the face of trials and sufferings, even sufferings that are persistent and that show no signs of abating.

Now, since John begins his prophecy with references to tribulation and perseverance, and since he implicitly encourages and exhorts his fellow partakers in the tribulation to persevere in their testimony of Jesus, it could be argued that one of the main purposes of Revelation is to encourage believers to persevere and be faithful until death (2:10), regardless of their tribulations. Revelation contains much about the suffering church, but if the church expects persecution (2 Tim. 3:12; John 15:18-20) and if the church is steeled to persevere, then our tribulations pose no threat.

INSTANCES OF SUFFERING IN REVELATION

With our study of tribulation and perseverance as a background, we will now survey the occurrences of suffering in Revelation.

  • We have already seen Revelation 1:9 where John himself is a fellow partaker in the tribulation. In war, officers are not exempt from death. Just so, in the gospel advance, apostles are not exempt, but rather serve as examples.
  • The church at Smyrna (2:8-11) is one of the two churches not called to repent by our Lord. Smyrna is a suffering church (2:9-10) who is called to be faithful until death (2:10).
  • In Revelation 6:9-11, we encounter “those who had been slain because of the word of God and because of their testimony” (see 1:2, 9). These souls are told to rest for a little while longer until the full number of martyrs is completed. These believers had already persevered even to a violent death and there were others who would also be faithful until death who would join them in heaven. But notice that their suffering yielded a white robe (6:11).
  • We meet the two witnesses in 11:3-12. These two represent the persecuted church that is faithful even in the face of intense opposition. They faithfully finish their testimony and then are overcome and killed by the beast (11:7). The world rejoices in their deaths, but that celebration is short-lived as the witnesses are taken up to heaven in the cloud.
  • The next chapter, chapter 12, is all about the activity of the dragon (Satan) as he pursues and persecutes “the woman,” who represents the oppressed church. “The woman” flees into the wilderness to hide from the dragon (12:6, 14) and appears to avoid direct persecution by her flight. This chapter shows that there will come a time when believers will be hunted and pursued, but the Lord will protect them.  
  • The tribulation of the church becomes intense and overt in chapter 13 as the beast and the false prophet (“another beast” 13:11) rise to power. In addition to blasphemies against God and a desire to be worshiped, the beast also “makes war with the saints and overcomes them” (13:7) and puts many in prison (“captivity”) and kills many with the sword (13:10). Then the false prophet (“another beast”) “causes as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (13:15) and prevents those who do not have the mark of the beast from buying (food) (13:17).
  • Next, we see the kings of the whole earth gather together under the leadership of the beast and the false prophet (16:13-16) for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. This is Armageddon (16:16). Although the interpretation of this passage is quite complex, the basic idea is that the forces of evil, led by the beast, are gathered together for the annihilation of the church. We see this same picture in 19:19 and in 20:8-9.
  • There is suffering during the thousand years, as well (20:4-6), for there we see “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and the word of God” (see also 1:2, 9; 6:9; 12:11).

Thus we see that, in the book of Revelation, the church militant is the church in tribulation, but we are exhorted to persevere and be faithful until death (2:10) and by so doing, we will receive our reward, the crown of life (2:10).

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/19/2023                   #613

A transaction for eternal life? (Luke 18:18-23)

POST OVERVIEW. An investigation into Luke’s account of the encounter between “rich young ruler” and the Lord Jesus. Why was this man not converted? How does this affect our evangelism?

Each of the synoptic gospels contains this encounter between Jesus and the “rich, young ruler.” Our young friend seems to ask the right question of the right Person and he seems to be genuinely interested in eternal life, yet, in the end, he walks away from Jesus empty-handed. What went wrong? What did he miss?

TWO APPROACHES TO THE ENCOUNTER

I want to take two different approaches to this episode with the rich young ruler. The first post will be the traditional one where we simply examine the text, studying this meeting between a religious young man and the Lord Jesus to see why some people never receive the gospel, even though they appear to have every reason to do so.

But in a second post will focus on Luke 18:22 and consider what we who are disciples of the Lord Jesus can learn about stewarding those things which the Lord has entrusted to us.

CONSIDERING THE ENCOUNTER ITSELF

As mentioned before, the most striking feature of this encounter between Jesus and this “rich young ruler” (RYR) is that this man who seemed so ripe for harvest and so eager “to inherit eternal life” went away from Jesus without it. There must be something here that requires deeper exploration, because for some reason, the Lord of glory did not convert this simple evangelistic opportunity. A closer look at this story reveals that the RYR’s claim to desire eternal life was only a passing whim.  

TWO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE SAME ENCOUNTER

In this encounter, even though the young ruler and Jesus seem to be talking about the same thing using a common vocabulary, they are, in fact, seeing this encounter and its outcome from two very different perspectives. So, when the RYR expresses a desire for eternal life, instead of quickly answering his question, Jesus presents him with a series of tests to see if his desire is sincere.

So, first, Jesus tests the RYR to see if he understands Jesus’ true identity. Those who receive eternal life confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and they will only do that when they grasp that Jesus is incarnate deity, God in human form, the Word made flesh. The RYR has addressed Jesus as “good Teacher (Luke 18:18),” but does he understand that Jesus is divine? Jesus thus issues him a test, essentially asking the RYR, “Do you understand that I am God?” The man fails the first test and remains willfully ignorant of Jesus’ identity.

But also, it is telling that the RYR comes to Jesus for eternal life, not for an eternal relationship with the living God. It seems that the man expects the good Teacher to give him a short list of required behaviors so that he can check the boxes, nail down this eternal life thing, and get back to his wealth. As Simon the magician (Acts 8:18-19) wanted to obtain the Holy Spirit without saving faith in Christ, so the RYR wants to inherit eternal life without surrendering everything to Jesus. His thoughts are of a commercial transaction, a fair price for a desired good. Perhaps his thinking goes like this: “Good Teacher, I have a lot of money and can afford to give some of it away to gain eternal life. So, go ahead; name Your price and we can do this deal and You can move on and so can I.” The young man is interested in what the good Teacher can provide, not in the good Teacher Himself. But it is precisely an eternal relationship with Himself that Jesus is offering. To the one who declares Jesus as Lord, to the one who will bow before Him and obey His commands, Jesus gives Himself forever and He will never leave him or forsake him. The RYR must realize what we all must realize that Jesus is not selling eternal life, but He is calling people to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus is offering an eternal relationship with the one true and living God to all those who will give away everything and submit to His lordship and follow Him.

Jesus next tests the young man’s awareness of his own sin and his consciousness of his sin’s consequences (18:20). Does the RYR realize that he is a sinner deserving God’s wrath and full judgment for his rebellion, or does he see himself as a decent chap who is better than most? In the parable that Jesus has just told in Luke 18:9-14, is the RYR the Pharisee or the tax collector? Our young friend’s response (18:21) reveals that he is the Pharisee in the parable. Thus, he fails another test.

A FINAL TEST

At this point in our story, this man wants to obtain eternal life without declaring Jesus as Lord, he wants eternal life apart from loving the One who gives eternal life, and he wants eternal life without confession of sin and repentance from sin. He wants eternal life on his own terms for his own ends. As an act of grace, Jesus gives the man one last opportunity. If our friend passes this last test, he will certainly obtain eternal life.

“Sell all you possess and distribute it to the poor, and come, follow Me (18:22).”

This is a direct command from the Lord of the universe. Like all biblical commands, there are only two possible responses, obedience or disobedience. There are three parts to the Lord’s command and the man must obey all three parts. The RYR’s hardness of heart is starkly revealed in his refusal to obey any of them. Jesus commanded him to sell all he possesses and he flatly refused. Obviously, he had nothing to distribute to the poor. And, most damning of all, when commanded to follow the King of kings, the RYR walks away. He disobeys Jesus and turns his back on Him because he wants to keep his money and his position and his respectability much more than he wants eternal life.

So, what at first appeared to be a man ripe for harvest, a man whom the Father was drawing (John 6:44), turned out to be someone whose heart was still hard and who was only willing to inherit eternal life if it cost him nothing.

APPLICATION TO OUR OWN EVANGELISM

As we reflect on this story and its surprising outcome, it may be instructive to consider how this bears on our own evangelism. Because my own evangelistic opportunities are few, my tendency is to interpret any interest in the gospel as an indicator of saving faith, but this story of Jesus and the RYR says otherwise. Our Lord tested this man’s enthusiastic question (18:18) to see if he understood what eternal life would cost him. Therefore, as we encounter those who appear curious about the gospel or about church or about Jesus, we would be wise to be cautiously optimistic. Does this person understand that Jesus demands everything from those who would be His disciples? Will you bow down to Jesus Christ as Lord and obey His commands? Do you acknowledge your sin and will you repent of it, knowing that Jesus has atoned for the sins of His people? These types of questions can be helpful in determining if this person asking about “eternal life” is also willing to pay the price to obtain it.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/18/2023                   #612

My selfishness and Jesus’ compassion (Mark 10:49-52)

POST OVERVIEW. A post displaying a sinner’s sudden outburst of selfishness contrasted with Jesus utter selflessness and compassion. Our biblical text is Mark 10:49-52.

AN ASTONISHING SELFISHNESS

We received my sister-in-law’s invitation to my niece’s bridal shower on Saturday, a mere eight days before the shower was to take place. We live in Charlotte and the shower was going to be on Sunday afternoon at 2PM in Lexington, SC. (Lexington is a short distance from Columbia.) A quick check on Google Maps showed that the venue was only about 90 minutes from Oakhurst Baptist Church. Yes, attendance at the bridal shower would require a quick departure from church right after the service, but it was definitely doable.

Now, Lisa does not like to drive on the interstate, and she especially does not like to drive alone on the interstate. When we travel any distance from Charlotte, the driving always falls to me. And I enjoy driving us wherever we go, even if it is the almost ten hours to Grove City, PA, to see our grandchildren. Lisa expects me to drive and I expect to be the driver. That is just how it is.

So, when Lisa gently asked me if I would be willing to drive her to the bridal shower in Lexington, SC, on Sunday afternoon only 90 minutes up the road, it was reasonable for her to expect a pleasant and affirmative reply. After all, I have vowed to love her till death do us part. She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She is my one-flesh life partner and the woman whom I seek to “love as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). That Sunday afternoon was wide open on our calendar and I even have a brother in Columbia and I could visit with him while she was at the shower. There was every reason in the world for Lisa to expect me to say that I would be delighted to drive her.

Ah, but “every reason in the world” did not take into account my selfishness. In fact, to my shame and chagrin, the words that came out of my mouth displayed that my selfishness was alive and well within me and could burst out at the worst possible moment. So, instead of giving my wife the gracious answer that she deserved, selfish me said, “Well, sweetheart, I guess you will need to drive down there by yourself.” Yes, I actually said that to my wife. Why did I say that? I can only speculate that, at that moment, I was feeling particularly selfish and mean, and I wanted to keep my Sunday afternoon open for my own use. But, regardless of the explanation or the reason why, sinful selfishness had boldly stepped onto center stage.

This episode is admittedly an astonishing display of human selfishness, but it is by no means unique. All the descendants of Adam have been ruined by the fall and so all the descendants of Adam must constantly be on their guard against sudden outbursts of selfish-ness and against eruptions of a myriad of sinful behaviors. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and truly, we are “inventors of evil” (Romans 1:30).

A CONTRASTING UNSELFISHNESS AND COMPASSION

But there has been one Man who walked among us who was completely other, who never felt or expressed the faintest hint of selfishness nor ever sinned against any of the commandments of God in the slightest way. His was perfect obedience from manger to cross, always doing the things that were pleasing to the Father (John 8:29). In Mark 10:49-52, we see in Jesus a display of unselfishness and compassion for others that is truly divine and that stands in stark contrast to our outbursts of fleshly selfishness. Let’s look at our Savior as He has compassion on Bartimaeus.

CONTEXT. To appreciate the magnitude of Jesus’ compassion toward Bartimaeus, we must observe the context of Jesus’ compassion. “They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them” (Mark 10:32). And why is Jesus so intent on getting to Jerusalem? In another gospel, the Scripture says, “He was determined to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Jesus was going to Jerusalem because He knew that a cross awaited Him. Jesus is on the most important mission in human history. In a little more than a week, there will be a bloody cross and an empty tomb and redemption promised will have become redemption accomplished. As Jesus leaves Jericho and heads up to Jerusalem, He must have been contemplating the horrors of bearing the Father’s wrath against all the sins of God’s people. Meanwhile, the crowd is oblivious to all this and talks excitedly about recovering the throne of David and restoring the Kingdom on earth. So, this is the context: Jesus with His mind fixed on Calvary while the crowd imagines a soon-coming conquest.

“And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road” (Mark 10:46). As Jesus strides ahead, intent on Jerusalem and on the end of His mission and as the crowd jostles and babbles, way in the background can be faintly heard the voice of a blind beggar. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (10:47). When the crowd can no longer ignore him, they seek to silence him. “Be quiet, Bartimaeus. Jesus does not have time for the likes of you.” But Bartimaeus will not be denied. “If the Son of David is nearby, I will call till He answers.”

A blind beggar, covered with the dust of the Jericho road, has lifted a pathetic cry to the incarnate Son of God, who is bent on accomplishing His life’s mission. How will Jesus respond to this dust-covered nobody?

“Jesus stopped” (Mark 10:49).

God stopped?? Jesus momentarily interrupted His mission of saving the world to “STOP” and call to a blind beggar in Jericho? Now here is profound mystery! In another gospel account, it states that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Matt. 20:34). But what kind of compassion is this that would stop the greatest mission in human history because of a blind beggar’s cry for mercy! But our Lord does more than just stop for the beggar. When Bartimaeus is brought near, Jesus gives him a blank check. “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). The faith-filled man boldly asks for his sight to be restored. And, since Jesus is God, He immediately fulfills the man’s request. Having regained his sight, Bartimaeus begins following Jesus.

So, we see the remarkable contrast between the sinful, selfish creature and the compassionate, unselfish Creator. The creature (me, in this story) may manifest selfishness at any time, but our Savior always displays selfless compassion in even the most extreme circumstances.

CONCLUSION. The good news is that, after acting in ugly selfishness toward my wife, I realized my sin and went to Lisa to ask her for forgiveness. I admitted my selfishness to her and told her, after I had thought more about it, that I would be delighted to drive her to the bridal shower on Sunday. And Lisa forgave me. Praise the Lord that He has given us forgiveness!

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/12/2023                   #611

The joys and how-to’s of Scripture memory

POST OVERVIEW. Some quick suggestions for memorizing passages from the Bible.

David asks the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9). The answer is by knowing the word of God. And the best way to have the Word handy so that you can keep your way pure is by memorizing it. “Your word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against You” (119:11).

One of the chief joys of the disciple of Jesus is the joy of reading and meditating on the word of the living God. The Bible is an endless source of enjoyment for those who have been drawn to the Savior. But what happens when you do not have a physical Bible in your hands or it is not convenient to be looking at your phone? What then?

I am glad you asked! Because that is when the benefits of Scripture memory are realized. When you have committed the word of God to memory, you can have a Bible study in your head whenever you choose. The memorized Word is always at the ready to remind you of the devil’s schemes when you are tempted or to allow you to rejoice when you think of salvation. The Word can conquer your fears and can encourage you and can give you boldness in your witness or wisdom in making decisions. All these are reasons to memorize your Bible.

Many people have a general idea of what a given Bible passage says, but there is no power in declaring generally what God has said. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, He did not silence the adversary with general words, but with the power of “It is written.” Our Lord crushed the devil with the very word of God. In the same way, the disciple of Jesus can have confidence and speak with authority when he knows he is speaking the Word that he has memorized.

“The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). And so it is the word of God we want to memorize.

A PERSONAL STORY: ROMANS 8

When I came to Christ at the age of thirty-one, I developed an immediate hunger for the Word. Later on I would realize that almost all my spiritual gifts were Word-oriented, but early on I just loved reading the Bible. I also dabbled with memorizing some verses and found that to be enjoyable, as well. But one Sunday morning, our pastor was concluding his sermon with words of great encouragement and I was stunned by the power of these words. “. . . convinced that neither death nor life nor angels . . . nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Whoa! Where is THAT passage? Well, I found out that this was the conclusion of Romans 8. So, I grabbed my Bible and I turned to Romans 8 and I read the concluding verses. “Yep, I am going to memorize those.” Then I backed up a few more verses and said, “Wow! Those are pretty good, too.” So, I decided to memorize those as well. Then I backed up a few more verses and . . . You can see where this is going. By the time I got to, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), I resolved to memorize the whole chapter. And the joy of having that entire chapter at the ready, available for meditation at any time, motivated me to memorize other passages. For years, it has been my practice to have many verses that I am actively reviewing and each year I try to add more to my storehouse of Scripture knowledge. This discipline regularly yields fruit in my writing as the Holy Spirit brings related verses to mind when I am creating a blog or a longer essay or article. So, I commend to you the discipline of Scripture memory.

SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR MEMORIZING SCRIPTURE

Having hopefully sold you on the joys and benefits of memorizing verses from the Bible, I wanted to share with you some techniques that may make your memory goals more attainable. These are aimed at memorizing chapters, but the ideas should be helpful for smaller memory work, as well.

  • Use the same translation for all your memory work. This is helpful because each translation has its own cadence and its own special words. Each has its own “accent.” Using the same translation reduces the variations.
  • Break the chapter down into sections and memorize a section at a time, then stitch the sections together.
  • Pay attention to the start of each verse. Knowing how the verse or line of the passage begins can trigger the rest of the verse. Also, there is a sense of progress when you first knit together the verses of a section, and this is facilitated by knowing how each line starts. It improves the mental flow.
  • Think about patterns, like repeated words, or memory aids, like “these three words are in alphabetical order.”
  • Start at verse 1, then add verses, then review after memorizing each new verse by going back to the beginning. For example, memorize verse 1, then add verse 2 and go back to the beginning to review 1-2. Then add verse 3 and go back to the beginning to review 1-3. Continue until you have the section memorized, then review the section until you know that you truly have the section memorized.
  • As you progress through the chapter, try beginning your review at different verses.
  • Strive for “word-perfect” on the memorization. Have someone else listen to your recitation of the completed passage to make sure it is all precisely done.
  • It can be helpful to imagine teaching through the passage verse by verse and going through the verses word by word as a means of review.

Hopefully, these suggestions will make it easier to treasure the Scripture in your heart. The fact is that Scripture memory is hard, tedious work. It is a discipline and it is not easy for anyone. It just takes time to go over and over the same verses until they lodge in your brain and become accessible as your soul’s food. Recently I have started memorizing John 15. I am using the ideas above, but most of all I am reviewing the words of these verses over and over until I know them like my own name. But once they are in the brain, they are there for good, ready for meditation and worship.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/10/2023                   #610

The obedient disciple: Rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16)

POST OVERVIEW. A series of posts based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 describing how simple obedience to basic commands in Scripture can overcome persistent disobedience. This second post explains how rejoicing can deliver us from temptations to sin. (The previous related post was #608 on 1/6/2023.)

Our aim in this series of posts is to meditate on these verses (1 Thess. 5:16-18) until we have them ready for use, “on the (very) tip of our brain,” so to speak. If we do this well, as soon as we sense our thoughts drifting into temptation territory, we can fix our minds on a replacement verse. The replacement verse we will be considering is “Rejoice always” (5:16).

“REJOICE” IS A COMMAND

So, first, the disciple must recognize that “Rejoice always” is a command from the living God through the apostle Paul. In the original Greek, “rejoice” is a “present imperative” verb. The imperative means it is a command and the present imperative means it is a command we are to obey continually. Thus, the literal translation could be “Keep on rejoice!” Paul then adds, “Always,” just to remove all possible ambiguity. The disciple is commanded to have a rejoicing mindset.

The person receiving any command of Scripture has two choices: OBEDIENCE or DISOBEDIENCE. There simply is no third option. And it is easy to assess a person’s response to this command: “Are you actively REJOICING?” If your answer is, “Yes,” then you are being obedient, but if your answer is, “No,” then you are being disobedient.

The beauty of this particular command is that it is not at all vague or ambiguous. The command is clear and calls for immediate action. If you are not rejoicing now, then you are to BEGIN IMMEDIATELY. If you are rejoicing now, then you are to continue. There is nothing subjective here. The command does not ask how you feel right now; it does not take into account your current circumstances; it ignores all excuses and protests that might be offered to justify disobedience. Through His Holy Spirit-inspired Word, the Lord of the universe has commanded all His people, all His disciples to REJOICE ALWAYS, and the command demands obedience. Are you obeying this command to rejoice? Is your rejoicing evident to others?

THE POWER AND PURPOSE OF REJOICING

Before we go on, we should pause and appreciate the power of rejoicing. Rejoicing is commanded by the Lord because rejoicing expresses the heart set free. There is fullness of joy for the soul who has been forgiven and that joy must be released and expressed. In the physical world, when you expend something, you are left with less of it, but when you rejoice and pour out the joy of the Lord, more joy immediately rushes in to take its place. The more you rejoice, the more joy you have.

The Lord commands us to rejoice because we need to display the joy of the Lord to a dying world. The world is dying in its miserable pursuit of wealth and pleasure and power, and the world’s misery is expressed in their growling like bears and their moaning like doves (Isaiah 59:11). Men of the world stumble at midday and grope along like blind men (59:10), unaware that there is any other way to go through life. When these perishing souls see the overflowing joy of the Lord expressed in a life that manifests rejoicing, some may “see and fear and trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3). When the world sees a countenance that rejoices in the Lord, some of the dying may wonder why they are “spending their money for what is not bread and their wages for what does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2).

POSSIBLE WRONG RESPONSES TO THIS COMMAND

While the genuine disciple of Jesus would never openly refuse to rejoice, it is still possible for true, redeemed disciples of the Lord to be disobedient to this command. Let’s look at some causes of this disobedience.

“I AM NOT ABLE TO REJOICE RIGHT NOW.”

  • Not true. It is a doctrinal truth that all genuine disciples of Jesus are able at all times to obey the commands of Scripture. “God’s commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). So, the disciple is always able to rejoice. Obedience to God’s commands is never a matter of ability but is always a matter of the will. Therefore, the question is not, “Can I obey?” but, “Will I obey?” Rejoicing is an obedient choice and not rejoicing is defiance and rebellion.
  • The command is to “rejoice ALWAYS.” If I only rejoice sometimes, and the rest of the time I stoically go through the motions or worse, moan and groan, then clearly, I have disobeyed the command and need to repent. To declare, “I am not able to rejoice RIGHT NOW,” is simply to admit my disobedience.

“I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO REJOICE.”

  • In a sense, this response is hard to understand. The disciple’s joy in Jesus cannot be contained but must be expressed. We look forward to Sundays because we can publicly express our joy in worship of our great King. It is almost impossible for the disciple of Jesus NOT to express their joy. Rejoicing is a spontaneous act that simply bursts forth from the redeemed soul. As a fish knows how to swim because of its nature, so the disciple of Jesus knows how to rejoice because of his new nature.
  • But if you sincerely do not know how to rejoice, then learn how! Watch how the people in your church rejoice in worship and rejoice in like manner. You are commanded to rejoice, so you should learn to express outwardly the joy you feel inwardly. Also, the entire Bible is filled with examples of rejoicing. David rejoiced before the LORD, and the psalms are filled with rejoicing. Miriam rejoiced. Jesus rejoiced. Paul rejoiced from prison. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people rejoice. Part of growing in maturity in your walk with the Lord is learning to rejoice more loudly and more often.  

“I HAVE NO REASON TO REJOICE.”

  • I shudder even to write these words! The one who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 5:9) has every reason to rejoice and to praise the One who has rescued them from God’s terrible wrath. The person who suggests that there is no reason to rejoice should dig deep into the doctrinal teaching of the Bible to understand the glory and the power of our great God and, in so doing, fan their joy into a flame. 

SUMMARY

Remember that our purpose in this post was to understand more about the command to “Rejoice always,” so that we would be ready to rejoice obediently when we found our minds wandering into disobedient waters. So, when I am drifting into depression or discouragement, I will choose to obediently rejoice. When I feel fear, by an act of my will I will shout joyfully to the LORD of all His goodness to me. If anger begins to burn within me, I will quench that anger by rejoicing about the Lord’s power and glory and mercy. When tempted to sin, rejoice instead!

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/9/2023                     #609