John 6:31-65 – Part 1: Come to Me, believe in Me (v. 31-40)

INTRODUCTION. A Bible study on John 6:31-65 in several parts giving insight into the metaphors and analogies Jesus uses with the crowd to explain what it means to believe in Him. This is the first part of the study, John 6:31-40.

OVERVIEW. As our passage opens, Jesus has just fed the five thousand from “five barley loaves and two fish (6:9). The Lord created food from heaven to feed the five thousand in order to make clear to the crowd that He was the bread that came down out of heaven, but the people are spiritually blind. They understand Christ’s metaphors literally and thus become confused and even disgusted. We want to be sure, as we go through this story, that we are not likewise confused by Jesus’ analogies and metaphors, but instead are encouraged to draw closer to Him and to enjoy Him more.

JESUS IS THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN. One of the main messages that we should receive from this passage is that Jesus is the bread that the Father has sent from heaven. Jesus says this many times and in many ways to make unambiguously clear that He is the bread of life (6:35, 48) and that, by believing in Him, you will be satisfied. Eat Him, and you will have life. The Father has sent Him from heaven to be the bread of life for the world. Jesus did not just show up one day and start making outrageous claims. Rather, Jesus was sent by the Father to the world to accomplish a specific mission (17:4; 19:30). So, Jesus = bread from heaven. This is the message. Let’s see how Jesus communicates this.

6:32. “My Father gives you the true bread out of heaven.” Jesus is the true bread from heaven and has been given by the Father.

6:33. “The bread of God (from heaven) gives life to the world.” Jesus gives life.

6:35a. “I am the bread of life.” Can’t get much clearer than that!

HE WHO COMES TO ME, HE WHO BELIEVES IN ME. Jesus now shifts slightly from proclaiming to teaching. In 6:35b – 6:47, Jesus teaches about the significance of His being the bread of life. For the value of bread is not merely beholding the bread or acknowledging that bread exists, but the value of bread comes from eating the bread. Bread cannot sustain life unless it is eaten. Just so, Jesus will not give you life unless you come to Him and believe in Him.

6:35b. “He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus now introduces these two critical phrases, “he who comes to Me” and “he who believes in Me.” The two phrases mean essentially the same thing. The one who comes to Jesus comes to Him because they believe in Him, and the one who believes in Him has first come to Him. Thus, they are equivalent expressions and mean “to trust in Christ savingly.”

6:37a. Here Jesus speaks of God’s election of those He will save. “All that the Father gives Me” makes clear that the Father is the One who initiates salvation. The people who come to Jesus for salvation come, not because they personally have made a decision, but because the Father has given them to the Son. And whom does the Father give to the Son? The Father gives to the Son those “the Father chose in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

6:37b. “will come to Me.” Jesus now moves from God’s election, those whom the Father chose for salvation, to God’s certain calling. The math in this verse is clear: If the Father has “given you to the Son” (chosen you for salvation), you will (definitely, irresistibly) come to Jesus for salvation. Or again, if you have been given to Jesus, you will certainly (eventually, before you physically die) believe in Jesus. That is simply what these words mean. Jesus is not here speaking about possibilities but about divine certainties. Those who are chosen will be saved.

6:37c. “and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Having declared God’s sovereignty in salvation in His election and in His calling (see above), Jesus now tells us that, once a person has come to Christ (that is, once they have believed in or trusted in Christ), they will never be “cast out.” That is, those whom the Father has given to the Son are given forever. These are saved, and they will never be lost. (See John 10:27-30 for another strong statement of this doctrinal truth.)

6:38a. Jesus now returns to His essential message in the gospel of John, but here He leaves out the bread. “I have come down from heaven.” Jesus again makes a clear declarative statement about His origin. There is no ambiguity. You either believe what He said or you don’t, but there is nothing to be misunderstood. Simply put, Jesus came from heaven.

THE WILL OF THE FATHER

6:38b. Now another central theme in the gospel is voiced, namely that Jesus came to do the will of the Father. “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Notice again that Jesus was sent from heaven, and the One who sent Him was the Father. Jesus, as God the Son, has submitted His will to the will of God the Father. Jesus has been sent to accomplish the will (or possibly “mission”) of the Father who sent Him.

6:39. And what is the will of Him who sent Jesus? It is explicitly stated in this verse. “Of all that He (the Father) has given Me (see 6:37a) I lose nothing (see 6:37c) but raise it (or “them”) up on the last day.” Much theology is packed into this verse. First, the Lord affirms that He will certainly not let anyone who has come to Him be lost. This is not only a statement that gives the believer security in their salvation, but it is also a statement of Jesus’ deity, for He is claiming the power to guarantee that no one who comes to Him for salvation will ever be lost. How can He make such an outrageous claim? He can do so without arrogance and with complete confidence because He is God.

TEACHING ABOUT THE END OF THE AGE

But second, there is much here about the end of the age. Notice that Jesus says He will be there on the last day. This is another testament to His deity. The Man who is here making statements to this crowd about being the bread of life will also be the One who will raise up in glorious resurrection all those who believed in Him throughout the ages. Jesus is God, and He will be there on the last day of human history to speak to those who are in the tombs, and “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth” (John 5:29). So, the message is that, on the last day, Jesus will personally raise up all those who have come to Him. He will lose nothing.

Notice also that there is certainly coming a last day. Many people live as if things will just keep going along like this forever and there will not be a day of reckoning when God will judge the living and the dead, but that is foolish. There is coming a last day when the resurrection will occur and the final judgment will take place. God will surely render recompense to the unrighteous for their sins and will finally redeem the righteous. It will be an awesome day. I know where I will be on that last day. How ‘bout you?

6:40. This verse parallels 6:39 and says essentially the same thing in different words. This is a common occurrence in John’s gospel. Jesus will say the same thing several different ways in order to make the message unmistakably clear. This teaching method also allows us to see that there is more than one way to state a theological truth.

Phrase in John 6:39Phrase in John 6:40
the will of Him who sent Methe will of My Father
all that He has given Meeveryone who beholds the Son and believes in Him
I lose nothing **will have eternal life **
I raise it (them) up on the last dayI Myself will raise him up on the last day
** not exactly parallel, but similar

Now we can see how this teaching method helps us understand phrases in this passage and in other passages in John. Below I lay these ideas out explicitly.

  • “Him who sent Me (Jesus)” = “My Father”
  • “all that” = “everyone who”
  • The person given by the Father to the Son (Jesus) = The person “who believes in Him” Every person given by the Father to the Son will believe in the Son.
  • This is not an exact parallel, but “I lose nothing” tells of the believer’s eternal security and “will have eternal life” also gives assurance, because an eternal life that can be lost is obviously not eternal
  • “I raise it (them) up on the last day” = “I Myself will raise him up on the last day”

This study is taking more time than I thought, but it is an edifying experience, so I will cut off this part here at the end of John 6:40 and pick it up with John 6:41 with the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 4/29/2022                   #523

1 Peter 2:9 (Part 1) – The believer’s new identity

INTRODUCTION. The first letter of Peter provides a sound foundation for the newly converted disciple of Jesus Christ to begin their journey with their Savior, and the heart of their conversion is captured powerfully in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Here Peter declares the disciple’s new identity, their new purpose, and their new people. This post is about the disciple’s new identity.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Our study text above begins by Peter telling us about our new identity, and the apostle gives us four characteristics that are now true of us that were not true of us before. But the presence of a new identity requires the existence of an old identity. And this is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that “the old man” can and must die and “the new man” must rise to take his place. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to convert a human soul, to “rescue us from the domain of darkness and transfer us into the kingdom of Christ” (Col. 1:13). Only by bowing the knee to Jesus and trusting Him alone for my salvation can I receive my new identity.

But before we explore the four characteristics of our new identity in Christ, we need to look at the old identity we had without Christ.

THE OLD IDENTITY OF “SINNER”

Formerly, unrepentant sin was the dominant and defining characteristic of our life. It may seem strange for me to say that, because, for the sinner, sin is just not that big a deal, and for someone to say that “sin is the defining characteristic of your life” seems like hyperbole. But keep in mind that we are now seeing the issue of our sin from God’s point of view. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin defines a person’s life. From God’s point of view, unrepentant sin results in condemnation and judgment. So, sin is big deal to God. Having unrepentant, unforgiven sin gives us the identity of “sinner.”

So, formerly, with our old identity as “sinner,” our sin established a separation between us and God, the Holy One (Isaiah 59:2). On our part, we sinned with delight and we sinned without remorse (Romans 1:28-32; 6:20-21; Ephesians 4:17-19; 1 Peter 4:3; etc.). We sinned without regard to consequences and without regard to “the wrath of God revealed from heaven against our ungodliness and our unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Regardless of the degree of our sin, whether small or great, we were defiant rebels who willfully remained ignorant of our sin. We were happily oblivious to the fact that we were “storing up wrath for ourselves on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).

Then came the day when those who were happy in their sin heard the gospel. An ambassador for Christ proclaimed to them that God is holy and that they were sinners and that God’s wrath abided on them (John 3:36) because of their sin. But Christ, the Son of God, had exchanged heaven’s glory for the agony of the cross so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish, but would have eternal life (John 3:16). They had believed that message and embraced that Christ and had passed from death to life (John 5:24).

THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST IS “SINNER” NO LONGER

Recall that, before we had repented and trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior, we had our old identity of “sinner.” But now in Christ, believers are sinners no longer. This is the amazing reality of our new life in Christ. While it is true that we continue to sin, we are no longer “sinners.” Even though we will not be free from all sin until we die, when we finally shed the flesh that indwells this mortal body, our old identity as “sinner” is no more. God now relates to us as saints who are wrapped in Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Our sins, which were as scarlet and which were on proud display for all to see, have been made whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18).

The Bible does not refer to believers as sinners because heaven no longer sees our sins. All our sins – past, present, and future – have been nailed to Christ’s cross (Col. 2:14) and are, therefore, no longer a barrier between the believer and the living God. All the believer’s sins, whether flagrant or mild, whether intentional or unintentional, whether acknowledged or unknown, are as far from the believer as east is from west (Psalm 103:12). Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the Lord has cast all my sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17), yes, He has cast all my sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Those whom the Lord has declared as righteous can no longer be “sinners.”

NEW IDENTITY

So, if we are no longer sinners and our old identity has been buried with Christ, who are we now? Who have we become? That will be the subject of the next post on 1 Peter 2:9 as we look at the four characteristics of the disciples of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 4/27/2022                   #522

Isaiah series: Principles of Isaiah’s prophecy (Part 2)

“ISAIAH” SERIES INTRODUCTION. One of the fruits of my conversion to Christ, now more than thirty years ago, was an almost immediate love for His Word. As I became more familiar with the Bible, even as a young Christian, I was fascinated by the power and beauty and mystery of the prophecies of Isaiah, and that fascination has only increased over time. As a result of my love for the book of Isaiah, I have decided to begin making occasional but regular posts about passages from the book, trying to capture the beauty of the writing while also attempting to interpret the complexity of the prophecies.

PRINCIPLES OF PROPHECY. Before writing in detail about particular passages from the book of Isaiah, I wanted to take a few minutes to examine Isaiah’s writing in general. Isaiah covers a broad range of themes but knowing some basic principles about how Isaiah wrote should be helpful in grasping his ideas and in benefiting from his prophecy. This is the second of two posts on these principles. (See post #520, April 25, 2022, for the first post.)

THE IMPORTANCE OF IDENTIFYING THEMES IN ISAIAH

Thirdly, a helpful approach for interpreting a passage from Isaiah’s prophecy is to begin by identifying the main “big” theme of the passage. Although Isaiah writes on a broad range of themes, identifying the specific theme of a given passage is usually not difficult. The chapter breaks in the book often serve as theme breaks or as theme identifiers. Identifying the theme also helps identify the time frame of the prophecy, whether the passage is talking about the sin of national Israel in 700 BC or about the first advent of Jesus or about God’s call to come to Him for salvation or about the day of the Lord, “that day,” when the glorified King Jesus comes back to gather all His people to Himself forever and to judge the wicked. Correctly identifying the theme of the passage will greatly help your interpretation of the passage.

For example, we have talked already about Isaiah 24. The whole chapter is about the judgment that comes upon the unrighteous on the last day. Thus, the theme is the day of the LORD and the timeframe is the last day. Isaiah 53 is obviously about the life of Jesus the Messiah with an emphasis on His passion when He atoned for the sins of His people. So, the theme would be Jesus’ first advent.

The following chapter, Isaiah 54, the theme is about the LORD’s blessings that He will certainly pour out on His people. The chapter overflows with compassion and redemption and tells of the LORD’s demonstrations of His love for His people. This theme is as relevant today as it was when Isaiah wrote the prophecy.

Isaiah 55 sees the LORD calling His people to Himself and offering free pardon for all who come to Him. The theme, then, is the availability of a yet-to-be-defined salvation. Now that the gospel has been clearly proclaimed in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, this call to salvation and pardon is much more defined. We can see in the LORD’s call in Isaiah the call of the evangelist in our own day. This, by the way, is a common theme in Isaiah, that salvation and pardon for sin is available, but the exact details of that salvation are not made clear in Isaiah. In Isaiah 55, we see a hint in the mention of “David” being a “witness to the people (55:4), a leader and a commander for the people,” but this veiled statement awaits its fulfillment in the New Testament when the gospel is made visible in the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God.

The point is that identifying themes and then defining the timeframes of a given passage can be very helpful in interpreting the passage and grasping the meaning of complex imagery.

So, having spelled out some suggestions for understanding the prophecies of Isaiah, it is time to plunge into the ocean of this prophet’s writings.

SDG                 rmb                 4/25/2022                   #521

Psalm 116:4 – I called upon the name of the LORD (Part 4)

INTRODUCTION. My fourth and final post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see previous Post #518, 4/19/2022)

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the fourth verse. .

116:4 CALL UPON THE LORD – “SAVE MY LIFE!”

When we had last seen the psalmist at the end of Psalm 116:3, he was in a desperate place. Having been convicted of his sin and having realized the wrath of God that was directed upon him because of his transgressions, the writer felt the awful weight of condemnation. His sin must be punished and so, he appeared doomed. Who but himself could pay the penalty?

THEN . . . MERCY!

“Then . . .” (116:4) It is such a simple word, but in the right context, it can have life-changing significance. “Then . . .”

Then I thought to myself that the Holy One of Israel may also be merciful to me, the sinner (Luke 18:13). Then I dared to think that perhaps ‘the Lord GOD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ (Ezekiel 33:11). Then I imagined that it could be that ‘while I was still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6). In the depths of my sin, I had looked within, but there was no salvation in me. I had looked to the Law to see if I could obtain forgiveness there, but the Law could only condemn and show me my sin. The Law’s sacrifices could not remove my sin. ‘Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil?’ (Micah 6:7). Ah, but then I turned to the LORD for His mercy. ‘I confessed my transgressions to the LORD, and You forgave the guilt of my sin’ (Psalm 32:5). Could it be that simple? Could it be that ‘If I confessed my sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9)? Then I remembered that ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’ (Romans 10:13). And so, what would be the only reasonable thing to do?”

To call upon the LORD!

Then I called upon the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I beseech You, save my life!” – Psalm 116:4

THE CRY OF INITIAL FAITH

When I had no reason to receive mercy and deliverance, when I had lost all hope, then I called upon the name of the LORD. Out of the depths I have cried to the LORD (Psalm 130:1). I cried aloud with my voice to the LORD (Psalm 142:1). “In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried to my God for help” (Psalm 18:6). In an outburst of initial faith and with a cry to the One whom I cannot see but whom I suddenly trust and believe for my salvation, “Then I called upon the name of the LORD” (Psalm 116:4). Hopelessness is vanquished by faith, and I am compelled to call upon the name of the LORD.

And what do I cry out to Him? “O LORD, I beseech you, save my life!” Lord, rescue me from sin and death and bring me into Your kingdom! Save my life from death and Sheol!

By faith, Bartimaeus asked Jesus for the impossible, to receive his sight (Mark 10:51). By faith, the leper asked Jesus to make him clean (Matthew 8:2). By faith, Jairus begged Jesus to save his daughter from death (Mark 5:23). And Jesus responded to their faith and granted their requests.

In the same way, the sinner comes to Jesus in repentance and faith, requesting the impossible: “Save my life!” And Jesus assures us that “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). And we know from the rest of this psalm that the Lord is faithful to fulfill His promises.

Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For You have rescued my soul from death. – Psalm 116: 7-8

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY OF PSALM 116:1-4

In this brief study of Psalm 116:1-4 we have seen there are sound reasons to pray to the Lord. To those who know Him, the Lord has inclined His ear to hear their calls for help. And to those who do not know Him, the Lord has promised to hear them when they beseech Him in faith and ask Him to save their life.

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2022                   #519

Psalm 116:3 – Rescue from death and Sheol (Part 3)

INTRODUCTION. My third post on Psalm 116:1-4. These four verses of this psalm tell why every believer prays and how every believer was rescued. (see Post #517, 4/15/2022)

The cords of death encompassed me
And the terrors of Sheol came upon me;
I found distress and sorrow. – Psalm 116:3

Psalm 116 is an outpouring of thanks to the LORD for His amazing grace extended toward the psalmist. The LORD has taken all the initiative in rescuing this helpless sinner from his sin and from the cords of death and has dealt bountifully with him and has placed in his hand the cup of salvation. The psalm, then, is thanksgiving for the goodness of the LORD. In this post we will be meditating on the third verse. .

116:3 CONFRONTED WITH DEATH AND SHEOL

The psalmist now speaks of the consequences of years, maybe decades of godless living.

THE CORDS OF DEATH

“The cords of death encompassed me.” These cords have not come upon the writer for no reason. Rather, the accumulated sins that were once so delightful and offered their wicked pleasures for my enjoyment have borne their bitter fruit of hopelessness and despair. Having walked in the path of anger, greed, hatred, selfishness, lust, strife, lying, deceit, and pride, I have reaped the fruit of fear, loneliness, and emptiness. Now suddenly death appears on the horizon as a dreaded specter, threatening a just recompense for my myriad transgressions. Like a stick floating irresistibly toward the brink of the towering waterfall up ahead, I float toward  my own death unable to slow the progress and unable to change the outcome. The icy fingers of the cords of death are tightening around my soul and in a panic, I search for an escape from this pit. “The cords of death encompassed me.”

THE TERRORS OF SHEOL

With the cords of death inevitably come the terrors of Sheol. Instinctively I know that physical death is not the end of my existence and that my sins must be punished, for the Lord will not allow His righteous Law to be trampled with impunity. I know “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4), and that verse has a very personal sound to it. “The terrors of Sheol came upon me.” As my death steadily approaches day by day, the terrors of Sheol grow more acute. The Lord has prepared a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) and I realize with horror that my sins have purchased that place for me. And so, “the terrors of Sheol came upon me.” But regretting my sins now does no good. The crimes against the Holy One of Israel have been committed and they cannot be undone. Blood is on my hands and guilt is on my soul. The terrors of Sheol await and how can there be any escape for me? God is just, and how can He acquit the guilty and still remain just?

And what must be the inevitable result? “I found distress and sorrow.” The cords of death grip my throat and the terrors of Sheol threaten my eternal soul, thus distress and sorrow ensue. There is vast misery and horror as I see that I must reap the harvest of the sin that I have sown. “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). Who can deliver me from my deserved condemnation? I look within me and know that this sinner cannot save himself. I look around me and know that all others are in the same boat with me and cannot save themselves and certainly cannot save me. And so, I am hopeless and my doom is sealed, for where else can I look? I am condemned before a holy God, and His justice demands punishment for sin. And is there any answer to God’s justice?

THE PERIL OF EVERY SINNER WITHOUT CHRIST

This is the situation and the peril of every person who remains outside of Christ. For every soul who does not worship Jesus, there will be eternal “distress and sorrow,” unending misery and ruin. God’s justice must be satisfied, and every sin must receive a full recompense. God is infinitely holy and, in His universe, all sin must be punished. If God were only a God of justice, every child of Adam would have no hope. And as we finish examining Psalm 116:3, we are in a hopeless situation. We have “found distress and sorrow.”

IS DISTRESS AND SORROW THE FINAL ANSWER?

But the good news is that God the Judge is also the God of mercy. The good news is that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). The good news is that “God is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). The good news is that God is perfectly just and the Justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). The good news is that God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). And the psalmist who wrote Psalm 116 had experienced this God of mercy.

The next post from Psalm 116:1-4 will tell of how the unrighteous can receive mercy from the Lord.

SDG                 rmb                 4/19/2022                   #518

Satan’s ever-changing agenda (Revelation 12)

INTRODUCTION. In my last post on Satan’s activities during the end times (#508 on March 29), we had determined that, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years” (Revelation 20:2, 3), it means only that, during the “thousand years,” his specific ability to deceive the nations is “bound” so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s hindrance. This explains how Satan can be “bound” (Rev. 20:2, 3) and can also “prowl about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

During this post we will be considering a related topic, namely, how Satan has been forced to change his mission several times throughout history in response to what God has done through Jesus Christ. The devil is always trying to react to what God is doing, changing his gameplan to try to thwart God’s irresistible plan of redemption. In this post, I will look at how these dynamics work.

REVELATION 12 IS KEY

Understanding Revelation 12 is key to understanding the entire book of Revelation. There are several themes at work in this chapter, which span redemptive history from the Old Testament people of God through the Incarnation and even into the 42 months. One of the things that we see here is that, as redemptive history unfolds, the devil, who is presented figuratively as a red dragon, must change his strategy and even his mission to try to oppose the Lord.

Observe, for example, how radically the dragon’s (Satan’s) activity changes in the chapter. Before the Messiah was born, “the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth” (Rev. 12:4). The woman represents the faithful saints of the Old Testament who have followed the Lord until this moment when the Messiah is about to come into the world. The prophecies of a coming King who would deliver His people are now to be fulfilled, and the dragon’s mission is very simple: kill the Child and prevent His arrival. The dragon is poised to “devour her child” (12:4). But the dragon fails in that mission and Messiah is born. “She (the woman) gave birth to a son, a male child” (12:5a). The Messiah accomplishes His mission of atonement, is raised from the dead, and then is “caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5c). Now the dragon has failed twice. He failed to prevent Messiah from being born into the world and he failed to prevent Messiah from accomplishing His mission, “the work (the Father) had given Him to do” (John 17:4). What will the dragon do now?

Once Christ has accomplished His mission and has charged His church to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt. 28:19-20), the dragon’s mission becomes a desperate attempt to prevent the church from accomplishing her Christ-given mission.

THE DRAGON’S MISSION HAS TWO STRATEGIES

So, the dragon’s mission, for the time between Christ’s ascension to heaven and His return from heaven, is to thwart the gospel and to make sure that the church fails to reach all the nations (see Matt. 24:14). The dragon has two main strategies for succeeding in his mission. The first strategy is to deceive the nations so that they will not heed (believe) the gospel and the second is to attack the church so that they will not preach the gospel. The combination of these two strategies would create a formidable threat to the building of the church and could endanger the church’s accomplishment of their mission. But notice that, in Revelation 20:1-3, “the angel (the risen Lord Jesus) bound him (the dragon, Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2), “SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (20:3). By binding Satan at the beginning of the “thousand years,” the Lord Jesus has neutralized one of Satan’s two main strategies and has made the spread of the gospel among the nations dependent only upon the church’s faithful preaching of the gospel. During the “thousand years,” the nations will be receptive to the gospel, and many will believe the gospel, because Satan is bound and is not able to deceive them. If the church is bold and faithful to proclaim the gospel, then, during the “thousand years,” the nations will receive the gospel.

PERSECUTING THE CHURCH IS ALLOWED

It is significant that Jesus does not prevent the devil from attacking His church during the “thousand years.” Instead, Jesus allows His chosen and commissioned church in the world to be opposed, maligned, and persecuted as they proclaim the gospel. Doesn’t this seem a little strange? Why would Jesus allow His bride, the church, to be subject to suffering and persecution in the world when the church is faithfully proclaiming the gospel and is being a bold witness to the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8)? That is a great question, and that is what we will explore in the next post in this series, “The Lord’s purposes in persecution.”

REVIEW AND MAIN POINT

To review what we have covered, then, we have seen that the dragon (Satan, the devil) has two potential strategies for stopping the spread of the gospel to the nations: “deceiving the nations” so they will not believe the gospel and the attacking of the church so the church will not preach the gospel. The main idea of this post is that the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:1-3 eliminates his use of the “deceiving the nations” strategy during the “thousand years.” Thus, during the “thousand years,” the dragon’s main strategy (only strategy?) is to attack the church so that she will not preach the gospel.

SDG                 rmb                 03/31/2022                 # 510

How is Satan “bound”? (Revelation 20:1-3)

INTRODUCTION. According to Revelation 20:1-3, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” But if that is the case, how is he, at the same time, prowling about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8)?

Last Friday evening, during a discussion of the end times, a friend mentioned the consideration that, if Satan is “bound” immediately after Christ’s ascension, then how do we explain verse like 1 Peter 5:8, which speaks about the devil’s ongoing activity during the “thousand years?”

A REVIEW OF THE LAST DAYS

Before we plunge deeply into this controversial text (Revelation 20:1-6) and the equally controversial subject of the “thousand years,” it would be good to review some basics of the end times so that we have a common vocabulary and a common framework. I have expressed my views on these topics in detail in my book, The Last Act of the Drama, which I self-published with Amazon in October 2021, and this review will be based on the explanations in that book.

The last days began with the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus, the Son of God, performed His earthly ministry, accomplished His work of redemption by His death on the cross, was buried, and rose again from the dead in glorious resurrection. He commissioned His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and then ascended to heaven to await the Father’s command for His return to end history and judge the earth. Of course, there is no controversy among evangelicals concerning these truths, but there is a great deal of debate about what happens between Jesus’ ascension and His return, especially regarding the end times, the time just before His return.

Since I have written about my view in detail in my book, I will not supply explanations here, but will just present my view, especially as it relates to the “thousand years.” From Revelation 20:1-3, we know the beginning event and the ending event of the “thousand years.” That time period begins when the “angel” “bound him (Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2). Then, when “the thousand years were completed,” “he must be released for a short time” (20:3). This is confirmed in Revelation 20:7, where the Scripture says, “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.” So, the beginning and the end of the ”thousand years” are given, but questions remain. When, exactly, does this period occur? What precedes it and what follows it? What occurs during this period? What is the purpose of Satan being bound and what is the purpose of the “thousand years”? Who is this “angel”?

In my book, I explain that the “thousand years” is not intended as a literal 1,000 years but simply suggests a long period of time. I use the term “relatively literal,” meaning that “thousand years” gives us the right mindset. It gets us in the ballpark. The “thousand years” is a long time. The “angel” (Rev. 20:1) is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ as He is ascending to heaven to assume the throne (See Rev. 5, when He arrives in heaven.) The “angel” must be Jesus, because no ordinary “angel” has the authority to lay hold of Satan and throw him into the abyss. Only Jesus, as God the Son, can do this. Thus, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” The “thousand years” begins with Satan being bound during Jesus’ ascension and ends with Satan’s release “for a short time” (20:3). The “thousand years” is followed by the 42 Months (Rev. 11:2, 3; others), which is followed by the Last Day.

THE OBJECTION STATED

But if Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years” and the “thousand years” begins with Christ’s ascension, how do we explain the New Testament’s references to an active devil during the entire time from the beginning of the church forward? For example, in his first epistle,  the apostle Peter warns that, “your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Why would Peter issue this warning if the devil is bound in the abyss? Jesus tells the church at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you in prison” (Rev. 2:10). Paul declares that we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11) and devotes a whole passage to spiritual warfare so “you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-18, esp. 6:11). How can “bound in the abyss” be reconciled with these passages?

THE OBJECTION ADDRESSED

While Satan is bound during the “thousand years,” he is not bound absolutely. He is not bound such that he is unable to do anything, but the Scripture states that he is bound specifically in his ability to deceive the nations. In Revelation 20:3, we read “he (the angel, who is the glorified Christ) threw him (Satan) into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer” (emphasis mine). The purpose for Satan being bound in the abyss is SO THAT (the Greek is ἵνα, which indicates purpose) he would not “deceive the nations.” That is, the devil’s ability to hinder the spread of the gospel among the nations is “bound,” but the Scripture is silent about Satan’s other abilities.

This specific binding of Satan in this way is very strategic for the spread of the gospel among the nations and for the building of Christ’s church (Matt. 16:18). Remember, before His ascension Jesus has commissioned His church (Matt. 28:19-20) and has given the church the mission to “make disciples of all the nations.” When the first of the seven seals is broken (Rev. 6:1-2), the church is pictured as a rider on a white horse whose only weapon is “the bow” of the gospel and who “went out conquering and to conquer.” To enable the church to accomplish her mission of making disciples by proclaiming the gospel, the Lord Jesus removes Satan from the playing field before the church rides out. Jesus commissions His church, then binds Satan in the abyss for the “thousand years,” then sends out His church conquering and to conquer. With Satan bound SO THAT he will not deceive the nations (prevent the gospel from advancing among the nations), the “thousand years” is a period of tremendous gospel advance as the Lord Jesus builds His church through the proclaiming church.

SUMMARY

To summarize, then, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years,” it means only that his specific ability to deceive the nations is neutralized so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s interference. The fact that Satan is bound does not, however, affect his ability to oppose and persecute the church or to create havoc and chaos in the world or to raise up evil leaders and governments or to create false religions that draw many to destruction.

My next post on this subject will be about Satan’s shifting agenda (or mission) as the Lord brings about His plan for the salvation of His elect.

SDG                 rmb                 3/29/2022                   #508

Musings on friendship evangelism – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. A series of posts sharing some personal thoughts on evangelism and on some of the potential sticking points of “friendship evangelism.” This first post is on the problem of mixed motives in friendship evangelism.

Our church has three pillars to our general ministry: evangelism, discipleship, and Christian hospitality. Since these pillars are central to our ministry, our pastors frequently talk about these from the front, and those in the pews are exhorted to make sharing your faith and proclaiming the gospel a normal part of the life of every Christian. Like every church, we do not do this perfectly, but the heart of those in the congregation is bent toward telling unbelievers about Jesus.

FRIENDSHIP EVANGELISM

One of the common strategies for evangelism is “friendship evangelism.” This is the idea of making friends with unbelievers in your neighborhood or at work or at the gym or whatever, with the hope of gradually introducing them to spiritual topics and going through Bible studies with them so that they come to faith in Christ. It is a good strategy, especially for those who are naturally friendly, because it is done for the right motive, namely, to lead unbelievers to Christ. The believer remains focused on the gospel and how he or she can present the gospel to their unbelieving friend. The believer prays for the unbeliever and has others in the church praying for the unbeliever, that their eyes would be opened and that they would come to faith. These are all positive points to commend this approach.

STICKING POINTS

But, while friendship evangelism is a good strategy for church members to pursue, I have observed that there are also some sticking points that should be considered and addressed when using this evangelism approach.

  1. Mixed motives (the evangelist and the unbeliever)
  2. Radar goes up (the most significant “sticking point”)
  3. When do you decide to abandon this friendship because you have determined it is not going to bear fruit?
  4. If you need to disengage, how do you disengage (awkward, at best)

MIXED MOTIVES. The issue here is a feeling of a lack of integrity or a lack of sincerity on the part of the evangelist. The cliché is, “Am I viewing this person as a friend or as a ‘project’?” Implicit in the cliché is the assumption that Jesus or Paul or any “sincere” evangelist would never befriend someone merely for the purpose of bringing them to salvation.

But no matter how it is worded, there exists a certain tension here for the evangelist.

  • “Am I a friend first, or an evangelist first?”
  • “Is the friendship the goal, or is proclaiming the gospel the goal?”
  • “When do I stop pouring energy into the friendship and start pouring energy into the evangelism?”
  • “If I have built a friendship that does not include evangelism, how do I continue the friendship that now includes evangelism?”
  • “What happens if my evangelism threatens the friendship?”
  • And then, even more concerning, “What happens if the friendship silences or muffles my evangelism?”

Another consideration in this point of mixed motives involves the perceptions of the unbeliever whom the evangelist is befriending. Hopefully, this person is aware that their new friend is a genuine Christian, but this should not be assumed. The unbeliever may be surprised if the believer suddenly starts talking about “religion.” If the unbeliever is aware that their new friend is a Christian, is an unspoken condition of the friendship that the believer keep their faith to themselves? Also, the unbeliever may wonder, “Why is this person being so friendly to me (now)? (I wonder what they want?)” What will happen to the friendship when the believer begins to proclaim Christ? Will the unbeliever feel used and betrayed because the “real agenda” is now out in the open?

PROPOSED SOLUTION TO MIXED MOTIVES

Since these feelings of mixed motives are common to those who proclaim the gospel through friendship evangelism, I would propose two remedies. First, ask those in your church who have the most experience with friendship evangelism how they have overcome this potential sticking point in their own evangelism. Second, I would recommend that a brainstorming group be formed from those in your church who are most active in evangelism, and that this group discuss these ideas about mixed motives, considering personal experience and Scriptural instruction.

NOTE: No method of evangelism is perfect, so it is possible that there is no “silver bullet” for this sticking point, or for any sticking point. That means that the possible result of asking and brainstorming is to confirm that there is no solution to this sticking point. It is simply inherent in this method of evangelism. And that would be fine.

NEXT POST: The next post in this series will consider the other “sticking points” and how we can overcome them or minimize them in our evangelism.

SDG                 rmb                 3/24/2022                   #507

Baptism in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – Part 2

This article, “Baptism in the Great Commission,” will be a part of my next book to be published in late summer, A Look at Biblical Baptism.

INTRODUCTION. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives to His church not only their mission for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives them the strategy for accomplishing that mission. In my last post on the Great Commission (#504 on March 18, 2022), I looked at the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s commission to His church. Now I will look at the individual pieces of His church growth plan.

MAKE DISCIPLES – THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

Jesus’ mission for His church is to make disciples. Since that is His command, His church needs to understand what He means by “disciple.”

It is often said that Jesus did not command us to make converts, but to make disciples. The intent behind this statement is to make sure that the goal of our ministry is to produce mature followers of Jesus who are obedient to the teaching of the Bible and who are faithful witnesses to Jesus. That is, the goal is not just to coax people to give a nod to Jesus but is to see people give their entire lives to Jesus and to manifest that by the visible means of worship and witness and obedience. Therefore, this distinction between “convert” and “disciple” is a worthwhile distinction, especially since Christians have been known to count conversions as the number of people who prayed a certain prayer. In this sense, there should be a distinction between “convert” and “disciple.”

In Matthew 28:19, however, a “disciple” is, in simplest terms, a convert. The meaning of “disciple” in the context of “make disciples” means “make people who have confessed Jesus as Lord” (Romans 10:9).  Make people who have passed from death to life (John 5:24). Make people who have been born again (John 3:3). Make people who have believed in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31). Make people who have been “made alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Make people who have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Make people “who were lost and have been found” (Luke 15:24). Make people who have repented and believed in the gospel (Mark 1:15). The point is that the church is to proclaim the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47) to the end that many will believe (John 20:31). In the context of Matthew 28:19, a “disciple” is simply one who has believed the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

The mission for the church, then, from Jesus’ ascension to the end of the age, is to make disciples. But if the church is to make those who have believed in Jesus, the question becomes, “How are we to go about making these disciples?” In His commission, Jesus gives a three-fold strategy for this.

GO! (GOING TO THE PEOPLE / TO THE LOST)

According to Jesus, the church’s first activity is to go out to “all the nations” (Greek πάντα τὰ ἔθνη) and proclaim to them the gospel. This is the activity of evangelism, of telling unbelievers the good news of salvation so that those who are currently outside of Christ “will call upon the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13, then 10:14-15) and be saved. Therefore, the church must go and proclaim. The existing disciples are to go anywhere and everywhere proclaiming the gospel to those who are not disciples so that they will make disciples. The goal is that, by going and proclaiming the gospel, some will believe and thus become disciples. The church is to continue going and proclaiming and making disciples until Jesus comes back at the end of the age.

The fruit of going and proclaiming is that some will believe and thus become disciples. According to Jesus’ strategy for accomplishing the Great Commission, what happens then?

BAPTIZING THE DISCIPLES

It is unmistakably clear that, according to Jesus, the next step is to baptize the new disciples. Jesus commands the church to make disciples, then He says, “Baptizing them.” “Them” is the disciples who have just been made. Once it is verified that a person has believed and thus has been made a disciple, according to Jesus, that person is to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Why does Jesus’ strategy include baptism here?

First, because baptism serves as the sign that tells the world that this person is now a disciple of Jesus. The one baptized now identifies with Jesus, and they have decisively separated themselves from the world and joined themselves with the disciples of Jesus. Baptism also tells the church that this person is now one of them. Finally, baptism declares to the one baptized that they have forever left the world of the unbaptized. They have “come out of the closet,” so to speak. They have gone public. They have openly confessed Jesus Christ as Lord of their life and have then been plunged beneath the waters of baptism. They have been “buried unto death in Christ, rise again to walk in newness of life.” The old is gone, the new is come (2 Cor. 5:17), and there is no turning back to the old again.

But second, Jesus commands that disciples be baptized at this point in their spiritual journey because baptism is the sign that marks the successful end of evangelism and the beginning of discipleship. The church has been proclaiming the gospel to this person in the hopes of seeing this one come to faith and repentance, and the person’s baptism declares that evangelism has obtained its intended end and the person has come to faith. This person has been sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22) and is, therefore, ready to begin the process of discipleship. Now the disciple becomes part of the church and begins to learn what it means “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

Finally, according to Jesus, what is the next step in His church growth strategy?

TEACHING THE DISCIPLES HOW TO BE DISCIPLES

Jesus declares to His church (Matthew 28:20) that, after the disciple has publicly professed their faith through baptism, there is the responsibility of “teaching them (disciples) to observe (or “obey”) all that I commanded you.” But where and how will this “teaching to observe all” take place? What is the strategy for this?

The strategy for teaching disciples how to obey the Lord Jesus is called the local church. Now, “having been justified by faith” (Romans 5:1), the new disciple is as justified as they ever will be. They have also testified to their justification (salvation, conversion) through the waters of baptism (Romans 6:4), but they are brand new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, as a physical newborn relies on its parents to teach it everything the newborn needs to know to survive, so the spiritual newborn relies upon the church to teach him everything he needs to know to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4b), to obey the Lord Jesus, and to behave as a witness for Christ. Therefore, the Lord Jesus has given His children the organism of the local church, the ἐκκλησία, where existing disciples teach and encourage newer disciples so that the entire church “causes the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). The local church, then, is the place where disciples of the Lord Jesus mutually encourage one another and teach one another to observe (obey) all that Jesus has commanded us. But the existing disciples of the local church are also those who go anywhere and everywhere proclaiming the gospel to those who are not disciples so that the existing disciples will make new disciples. In this way, the process of church growth perpetuates itself, as Jesus Christ said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).

A CHURCH-GROWTH PLAN WITH BAPTISM IN THE CENTER

What we have seen is that, in the Great Commission, given to His church by the resurrected Jesus Christ, the Lord has given us much more than a command for evangelism. He has given His people a church-growth plan for the entire age, and there is no piece of the Master’s plan that is not vital to the accomplishment of the church’s God-given task. The Great Commission is about making disciples by going out and proclaiming the gospel (evangelism), baptizing those who profess Christ, and then teaching these disciples what it means to live as disciples of Jesus (discipleship).

We have seen that baptizing disciples is commanded by the Lord so that the church and the world can identify those who are disciples of Jesus and so that the church can know whom to teach the doctrines, beliefs, and behaviors of the disciple of Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 3/21/2022                   #506

Baptism in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) – Part 1

This article will be a part of my next book to be published in late summer, A Look at Biblical Baptism.

INTRODUCTION. In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives to His church not only their mission for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives them the strategy for accomplishing that mission. The purpose of this post is to see how Jesus’ strategy is contained in the Great Commission and why baptism is a vital part of the church’s mission.

THE PASSAGE ITSELF

Here is the passage in Greek and in English.

(Greek)

19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος, 20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: 

καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

(English)

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Notice that, in Jesus’ final and supreme charge to His church, our Lord gives them their mission and the God-ordained strategy for accomplishing the mission.

EXEGESIS

Before we begin considering the meaning and application of Jesus’ words, we need to spend a brief time making sure we understand what the words themselves mean.

There is one imperative verb in Jesus’ commission. Many readers will know that the only command is, “Make disciples!” The other verbs in English are actually participles and are not commands but serve as instructions for how to accomplish the command. Thus, a rough paraphrase could read, “Make disciples by going (to anyplace the people are), baptizing them (the disciples that you have made), and then teaching them (the disciples) to obey My commands.” Jesus finishes His commission by assuring His disciples that He is “with them always, even to the end (completion, culmination, consummation) of the age.”

I will use this interpretation as the working meaning of the Great Commission. Now that we have the meaning in hand, we will move on to a deeper understanding of its outworking in the growth of the church.

MISSION AND STRATEGY TILL THE END OF THE AGE

Before we look at the individual steps in the Great Commission, it is important to realize that, in this magnificent charge to His church in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives not only the mission of the church for the entire time between His ascension and His return, but He also gives the church His strategy for accomplishing that mission. The Lord’s plan for building His church is clear and simple. His plan operates in any context: urban, rural, or suburban; subsistence farming, industrial age manufacturing, or Cloud-based technologies; rich or poor; in any language, in any culture, on any continent, under any form of government, in any ethnicity. Make disciples (mission) by (three-fold strategy) going out and proclaiming the gospel, then baptizing the disciples (those who believe), then teaching the disciples how to obey the Lord and to walk worthy of the gospel.

This post looked at the beauty and simplicity of Christ’s commission to His church. In the next post, we will now look at the individual pieces of His church growth plan.

SDG                 rmb                 3/18/2022                   #504