The martyrs under the altar (Revelation 6:9-11)

INTRODUCTION. This is the first post in a series about persecution. Since our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered persecution, we as His followers know that we will also be persecuted. The Christian is called to suffer persecution simply because they are a disciple of Jesus. This series looks at some of the Bible’s teaching on this subject.

Persecution is uniquely Christian. For while ethnic groups may be oppressed and afflicted for who they are, Christians are oppressed, maligned, and afflicted for what they believe. Those who are citizens of one country may be hated and attacked by citizens of another country, but disciples of Jesus are hated and attacked simply because they are disciples of Jesus. The point is that the suffering of persecution comes upon believers because believers associate with Jesus, and the world hates Jesus. So, persecution is a uniquely Christian experience.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. – Rev. 6:9-11

A BRIEF HISTORY OF MARTYRS

In this passage in Revelation 6:9-11, we encounter the martyrs, those who had been slain because of the word of God and their testimony. These had paid the ultimate price for their allegiance to Jesus.

Since the earliest days of the Christian church, persecution has been a normal part of following Jesus. Our Lord Himself said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Taking up a cross means preparing for your own death. Jesus also said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Even though Jesus spoke these words over two millennia ago, His words have proven true. His followers are persecuted, and some are persecuted to death. Since Stephen was killed in Jerusalem (Acts 7) as the first martyr, the followers of Jesus have understood that being a disciple may cost you your life. What is remarkable is that the possibility of martyrdom has never deterred people from coming to Jesus for salvation. The true disciple understands that whoever believes in Jesus cannot die (John 11:25-26), so there is no fear in losing their physical life for Jesus’ sake (Matthew 10:39).

Now, as there were martyrs in the days of the early church and there have been martyrs throughout the gospel age as the church has been gathered in, so this scene near the end of the age shows that there will continue to be martyrs until the end. In the time of this scene, the earth is being made ready for the return of the Lord Jesus, history is drawing to a close, and end times prophecies are being fulfilled. And still we see persecution and martyrs. What this means is that, to the very end of the age, the true followers of Jesus will continue to willingly suffer and even die rather than deny Christ.

THE PERSECUTORS CONTINUE

By the way, this also means that those who hate Christ and who hate Christians will continue to persecute disciples of Jesus until the end of the age. For Jesus to declare that, for at least the next two millennia, His disciples will continue to count their witness for Him as more valuable than life itself is a remarkable prophecy. But to also declare that the world will continue to persecute and even kill His disciples over that same two millennia time period is even more amazing. Note that the world’s hatred of Jesus and of His disciples has not gone away over two thousand years. The martyrs willingly die and the persecutors eagerly kill.

Returning to the text, then, we see the souls of those who had been killed for Jesus’ sake (6:9). These souls then cry out to the Lord, asking how long He will refrain from judging and avenging their deaths (6:10). This cry is not imprecatory, for the souls of the slain are not calling down unusual curses on the wicked, but they are calling out to Him to render justice now. “We know that, at the end of the age, You will judge the wicked and avenge our blood on the unrighteous. O Lord, let Your judgment be now!”

But the Lord is going to delay His justice. He is not going to judge the earth now, because there are more martyrs who must be killed (6:11). The Lord knows that exact number of those who will be martyred and, until we reach that number, the justice of the final judgment will be delayed. So, disciples of Jesus will continue to willingly give their lives and the haters of Jesus will continue to persecute and kill His disciples. So, there will be martyrs until the end of the age.

A MARTYR TAKES TWO WILLING PARTIES

As I was reflecting on this passage about the martyrs and about their Holy Spirit-given faith and courage, something occurred to me that had escaped me before.

What is a martyr? A martyr is someone who is killed by another because of a radical difference in ideology. That means that a martyr cannot act independently. You cannot martyr yourself. A suicide bomber can blow themselves up independently, but they cannot thereby become a martyr. There is a big difference between suicide and martyrdom.

But what we have seen is that there will be martyrs for the entire gospel age all the way to the end. This Scripture in Revelation 6 is not just prophesying what believers will do for the entire church age, namely, willingly surrender their lives for “the word of God and the witness they had borne,” but also saying that the unbelieving world will continue to violently hate believers to the point of killing them for the entire church age. For a martyr requires two willing parties: one person willing to surrender their life for Jesus, and another person willing to kill that person because of Jesus. For both parties, Jesus is the issue. For the martyr, their testimony for Jesus is more valuable than their physical life, and for the murderer, their hatred of Jesus is great enough to warrant killing another human being. That is profound.

SDG                 rmb                 4/4/2022                     #512

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

Imprecation and Jesus – What did Jesus teach?

INTRODUCTION. Our study of the imprecatory psalms now shifts its focus to the New Testament as we seek to answer the question, “Now that Jesus Christ has come, and has lived and died and risen from the dead, and now that we are in the gospel age of ‘the favorable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19), are believers still allowed to call down curses on their enemies (“imprecate”) or to pray that the Lord would judge evil, wicked men?” This first part of our New Testament study will consider the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ and what He taught His disciples.

Several posts ago, we started a study of the imprecatory passages in the psalms, those verses where the psalmist calls upon the LORD to judge the wicked and to bring curses down upon the psalmist’s enemies. Those passages in the psalms seemed to give biblical justification for the believer likewise calling down curses on those who are guilty of monstrous evil today. “If the psalms contain imprecations against enemies and against the wicked, is it not permitted for the believer today to do the same thing?” Of course, if the Old Testament contained the last word on this subject, then the answer would be yes. But the Old Testament does not contain the last word on the subject, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come, and Jesus has changed everything.

JESUS’ VIEW OF IMPRECATION

So, what do we see in the Lord’s teaching and in the Lord’s actions that informs our own attitude toward imprecation of our enemies or of evil men? Does the Lord Jesus teach His disciples to call for curses on their enemies? Does the Lord model for us an attitude of judgment of evil men? For if Jesus taught His disciples that cursing their enemies was allowed, and if He Himself retaliated against those who confronted and opposed Him, then the disciple has a basis for imprecation. But it is also possible that the King of kings teaches and models the very opposite. Thus, the need for this study.

METHOD OF STUDY. The material will be largely from the gospels. The first part of the study will focus on Jesus’ teaching (what He said) and the second part on His actions (what He did). The study passages are chosen because they give us information about Jesus and imprecation, whether pro or con. The Scripture reference for each passage will be given and then comments made with a verdict indicating our Lord’s view of Imprecation.

JESUS’ TEACHING AND WORDS

Matt. 5:38-48. “Do not resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (39). Note there is no imprecation or resistance in the face of mistreatment. “You have heard it said, ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (43-44). Jesus’ teaching in this passage leaves no room for imprecation since He expressly commands His disciples to love their enemies.

Luke 6:27-36. This passage in Luke parallels the above passage in Matthew. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27-28). These two verses alone could conclude this study since they intentionally exclude any thought of imprecation. “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35a). Once again, the disciple of Jesus is commanded to love their enemies and to do good to others with no thought to how the other person is going to respond. Imprecation is excluded. “The Most High is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (35b). Jesus teaches us that God’s attitude toward “ungrateful and evil men” is kindness. This is certainly opposed to an attitude of cursing. And since God is kind toward evil men, it is incumbent on His children to be kind to their fellow human beings.

Matt. 6:14-15. According to Jesus, forgiving those who have transgressed against them is a mark of His disciples, and an attitude of unforgiveness indicates that the person is not a true believer. Now, it is obvious that forgiveness and imprecation are opposite actions, for no one can curse and at the same time forgive the same person. Since forgiving others is demanded of the believer, it necessarily means that imprecation is excluded.

Matt. 10:16-23. Jesus is teaching His disciples that they will experience opposition and persecution as they go out to proclaim His name. “sheep in the midst of wolves (16).” “they will scourge you in the synagogues (17).” “Brother will betray brother to death . . . they will cause you to be put to death (21).” “You will be hated by all because of My name (22).” “Whenever they persecute you (23).” These are the types of afflictions and suffering the disciples will experience as they go out to tell the world about Jesus. Yet in all this Jesus does not give them one word about how to fight back or to defend themselves or to avoid these afflictions. In the face of enemies and persecution and hatred, our Lord tells His disciples to endure to the end (22) and to flee to the next city (23), but there is not the slightest hint of any imprecation or retaliation against those who hate us and persecute us. Once again, we have strong evidence that imprecation is a thing of the past and is not available to the disciple of Jesus.

Matt. 12:20. Jesus is said to be fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 42:1-3). “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” The character of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the spirit of imprecation. He is “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and feels compassion for the people (Matt. 9:36; 14:14).

Luke 9:54-55. Jesus is not received by the Samaritans because He was traveling toward Jerusalem, so James and John said to Him, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” In 2 Kings 1, Elijah twice calls down fire from heaven to consume the fifty soldiers sent to him. It is a display of God’s power and of His protection of His prophet. James and John want the same respect to be shone to Jesus, so they ask Jesus to give them permission to burn up the Samaritans. But, instead of destroying the Samaritans, Jesus rebukes His apostles and says, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” The picture is clear: Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), not to curse the wicked. Again, there is no room for imprecation.

Matt. 21:33-39. In the telling of this parable, Jesus is clearly aware the chief priests and elders intend to kill Him, yet He does not lift a finger to stop them, nor does He threaten them, so there is no imprecation here.

Matt. 24:9, 13. Jesus is telling of the great tribulation that will come upon the church at the end of the age. “They will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (24:9). Jesus offers no defense tactics for the persecuted and He hints at no curses for the persecutors. As in Matthew 10, our Lord declares that “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (24:13). Endurance, not imprecation, is the Lord’s charge to His disciples.

We have surveyed Jesus’ teaching in the gospels and have seen that, each time Jesus had an opportunity to imprecate his enemies and those who opposed Him, He chose not to retaliate or to offer any curses. Instead, both explicitly and implicitly, Jesus taught that the believer is to receive the hatred and persecution of the world as the expected cost of following Him and being His witness (Acts 1:8).

The next post will look at the supreme example of Jesus’ attitude toward imprecation as we examine His actions and words during His passion and crucifixion. In His crucifixion, the Son of God is subjected to the greatest injustice in human history and is condemned to death by His enemies. Does Jesus cry out to His Father for justice? Does He curse His enemies because of their wicked acts? Does He threaten these evil men with eternal judgment? We will see.

SDG                 rmb                 3/19/2022                   #505

Imprecatory psalms – A definition, then a look at Psalm 69

INTRODUCTION. In post #500 on March 8, I had begun a series of articles discussing the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This post will consider specific imprecatory psalms and think about how the believer is to apply these passages.

In the last post about this topic, we had taken time to get the proper mindset for these imprecatory passages. While the Bible does give us these psalms as a means of calling upon the Lord for justice, the calling down of God’s curses and God’s vengeance upon someone is an exceptional act. This is done rarely in cases of unusual cruelty or when the injustice is blatant and heinous. A believer is usually to endure the evil in the world and to persevere through the evil using the ordinary means given to us in the Scriptures. So, the believer is not to call down heaven’s curses and woes on every personal enemy at the first sign of conflict but is rather to bear with the conflict and the difficulty while pressing on in obedience. There comes a time, however, when the injustice is too evil merely to be endured. The time has come for God to stop the evil and to stop the evildoer. “Rise up, O Judge of the earth. Render recompense to the proud” (Psalm 94:2). This is when the believer calls upon the Lord and imprecates the wicked.

DEFINITION

We need to establish a definition for what we mean by “imprecatory.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition for “imprecate” is “to call down evil upon” or “to curse.” When we are referring to imprecatory psalms (verses, really) in the Bible, we mean “when the believer calls upon God to render punishment on perpetrators of evil, cruelty, or destruction.” The evildoer’s crimes and cruelty can no longer go unpunished, but the one committing these heinous, sinful acts is too powerful to be restrained by human means. Therefore, the believer cries out to the Lord, the One who is all-powerful, to observe the shocking injustice and to stop or to destroy or to punish the wicked one.

THE IMPRECATORY PASSAGES

We have talked about these imprecatory passages long enough, and now it is time to take a look at some of them. As we look at these, I want to consider the context of the verses; that is, what prompts the psalmist’s cry to the Lord, as well as the content of the cry.

Two passages stand out as the most obvious of imprecatory psalms, Psalm 69 and 109.

Psalm 69:22-28

22 May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace, may it become a trap.
23 May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
24 Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
26 For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
27 Add iniquity to their iniquity,
And may they not come into Your righteousness.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they not be recorded with the righteous.

CONTEXT. In this psalm of David, the author is lamenting his oppression by his enemies. The literal context, then, is one of distress from attack and affliction by David’s enemies, and David is pouring out his complaint before the Lord and asking for His intercession.

But this psalm is much deeper than that. This is an overtly Messianic psalm and is about the suffering of the Lord Jesus during His passion in Gethsemane and then His agony on the cross. The foreshadows of Calvary are obvious, for in this psalm we can hear the groans of our Savior as He prepared to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. The psalmist prophetically laments the greatest injustice in human history as by Jesus’ wounds we are healed.  

But there is even more than that because this psalm is also about the persecuted church that, as the body of Christ, suffers the world’s hatred as the witnesses of Christ on the earth. Faithful believers are “hated without cause” (69:4; John 15:25). They are reproached for Jesus’ sake (“reproach” – 69:7, 9, 10, 19, 20). Dishonor, pain, shame, distress, and affliction (“afflicted”) are the words of the psalmist, again picturing the suffering church as they endure the reviling of the world. So, the context of the psalm is suffering, and the lamentations of Christ and then of His church as they fill up His sufferings (Colossians 1:24).

Although these sufferings are God-ordained, they are, nevertheless, evil and deserve to be punished by God. These are wicked acts of injustice, and they demand a just recompense. Therefore, the psalmist calls on the LORD to act and to punish the wicked NOW.

CONTENT. David calls on the LORD to bring specific curses on these wicked men. First, he asks for physical punishment. Let their food be poison and let all peace be taken from them (22). Cause them to go blind and make their legs lose their strength and shake (23). “God, pour out Your indignation and anger upon them for their evil (24).” Let there be strife in their house and may they have no children (25). In the midst of the imprecation, the psalmist speaks explicitly of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (~300 years before Isaiah wrote his prophecy) and reminds the LORD of the crimes of the wicked (26). The curses conclude with spiritual, condemnatory judgments upon these evil men. May their iniquities be multiplied and never forgiven (27) and may they be blotted out of the book of life (Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:15) so that they will never be recorded as righteous. The effect of David’s imprecation is to ask the LORD to condemn these evil men to eternal punishment.

APPLICATION. The psalms are given to us as poetic theology and describe for the believer how they can speak to and pray to their God. How, then, is the believer to apply this psalm? It seems to me that the nature of Psalm 69 limits its application to those situations where the believer, as a member of the body of Christ, is suffering or enduring affliction because they are a follower of Jesus. In other words, the injustice being experienced comes only because a person identifies with Jesus. (See Matt. 5:10-12; 10:16-22; 24:9; John 15:18-21; 1 Pet. 4:12-14, 16, 19.) So, the believer would turn to this psalm when they are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Then the believer would cry out with the psalmist for justice from the Lord. Persecution of the righteous is still wrong, and it is still appropriate to cry out to the Lord that He would bring justice to His people and recompence to the evildoer.

But also, the suffering believer would pray through this psalm for perseverance through the suffering, that he would endure as his Savior endured His hour of suffering. The believer would remember that the Lord has ordained all things and that his attitude should be, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” whatever that will is.

Psalm 69 would encourage the believer that part of the calling to Jesus is a call to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41; Phil. 1:29-30). The psalm, then, reminds the believer of the privilege it is to suffer for Jesus’ name and, therefore, to suffer well, to suffer as a Christian should suffer.

ONE QUESTION. One of the issues with these imprecatory psalms, these passages that invoke cursing upon the evildoer, is that they seem to conflict with specific teaching in the New Testament about how the believer is to view their enemies. This is the topic that I want to address in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 3/14/2022                   #502

Imprecatory psalms – How is the believer to view these?

INTRODUCTION. This post begins a series of articles focused on the so-called “imprecatory psalms” in the Bible. There are a number of these passages in the psalms, and their purpose seems to be to ask the Lord to destroy the psalmist’s enemies. This series considers these imprecatory passages and how the believer should view them.

What is the believer to do when evil men commit crimes of vicious injustice and are not punished? How is the believer to respond when lawless tyrants murder and destroy the innocent with impunity? Does the believer have a clear, biblical recourse when evil rises to heinous and atrocious levels? What does the Bible say?

In our world today, atrocities, injustice and wickedness are commonplace, and events that would have shocked us as unthinkable ten years ago fail to make the news because of more spectacular evil. What does the Bible have to say about how the disciple of Jesus should respond to this kind of injustice?

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS

There are a number of things that we know from the Scriptures about this situation.

  1. We know that in every situation, God is sovereignly in control. Whether or not we understand or agree with the direction of human events is not of primary importance for the believer. “God is sovereign” is primary. Since my God is in control and since God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), and since “God causes all things to work together for good” for me (Romans 8:28), then I am willing to trust Him and persevere with endurance. “God is our refuge and strength; therefore, we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1).
  2. God alone is the perfect Judge. God is never partial or biased and He always acts with complete justice, having perfect knowledge of all the details of every situation. As Judge, God also knows exactly what His desired outcome is from a given situation. By contrast, our knowledge is always incomplete (sometimes glaringly so), our understanding of justice is flawed, and our knowledge of God’s intended outcome is nonexistent. Therefore, the believer is to leave all judgment of the offender in the Lord’s hands.
  3. The Bible is also clear that the believer is not permitted to retaliate against a wrong done to them, nor are they permitted to take revenge. There are too many verses that speak to this truth to quote them all, but we will look at several to get a feel for the Bible’s teaching.
    1. Our greatest example is Jesus. When He was teaching, He told the disciples, “Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). Then, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). After teaching these things to His disciples, Jesus did these things during His passion. To fulfill Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth.” He suffered without fighting back and without seeking revenge upon His executioners or His betrayers. As Peter says about Jesus, “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). The things that Jesus taught were the things that Jesus did, even when suffering the greatest injustice in the history of the world. And we are “to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
    1. David’s attitude toward Saul when the king was hunting David and seeking to kill him was, “The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 26:11) and “I refused to stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed” (26:23). David refused to kill Saul because he did not have the authority to do that.
    1. In Romans 12, Paul gives us several principles for how we relate to our enemies and those who oppose us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14). “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (12:17). “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19). The message: the believer is not permitted to act personally against enemies, even against those who are trying to kill him.
  4. At the end of the age, the Lord will certainly punish the unrighteous by throwing them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10, the description of the punishment of Satan). This makes clear that, although the wicked may appear to delay justice, there is never a situation where the wicked will escape justice. The Lord will certainly bring a just recompense on all the unrighteous at the end of the age and onward into eternity.

THAT’S THEN, BUT WHAT ABOUT NOW?

Okay, so that is all well and good, and I am convinced that “the Judge of all the earth shall do justice” (Genesis 18:25). I am willing to yield to Him who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Yes, God is perfectly sovereign, and I am not, and I trust that He will punish the unrighteous eternally at the end of the age. But here is my question: “What about now in this life?” Is there nothing the believer is permitted to do now in the face of gross injustice except trust the Lord and endure? Are our spiritual hands basically tied?

No. Our spiritual hands are not tied. The Lord has given us a Bible-sanctioned means for crying out to Him to bring justice in this age through the “imprecatory psalms.” So, having given some background, next time we will explore more about these psalms that allow us to cry out to the Lord for justice. “How long, O Lord?”

SDG                 rmb                 3/8/2022                     #500

Persevere in the New Year

For many people, including yours truly, 2021 has been a year of ongoing disappointments as earthly sources of pleasure and comfort and contentment have been systematically compromised or eliminated. As a follower of Jesus and, therefore, as a person with a God-centered worldview, I believe that the Lord is taking away the temporal comforts of this world and is withdrawing His common grace from the earth so that His people will long for their heavenly, eternal dwellings which will come when the Lord Jesus Christ returns on the clouds in power and glory. Yes, God is allowing the world to experience the ugliness of its sin so that God’s people will more eagerly await the coming of our King. And I think that this pattern will continue and actually intensify in 2022.

In light of this, how is a Christian to respond? How will we as Christians respond to the deteriorating moral climate and to the ongoing flood of disappointments?

I suggest that we respond with perseverance. In fact, I suggest that the key word for 2022 will be “PERSEVERE.” I am establishing the mindset that I will persevere in this new year. That is, that I will continue steadfastly along the path that God has given me to walk.

Can we be more specific in carrying out this goal of perseverance? That is, can we put a little more “shoe leather” on this objective? Here is my proposal:

Persevere in faithfulness, in hope, in fruitful labor, and in joy no matter the earthly, visible circumstances.

FAITHFULNESS: Continue to fulfill your roles and your responsibilities and your commitments. If you are an employee, continue to do your work heartily as to the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23). Be a light in your workplace (Matt. 5:16). Are you married? Then, love your wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) or submit to your husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24) and let your marriage be a picture of Jesus Christ and His church to the watching world (Ephesians 5:31-32). Are you single? Use your freedom as an unmarried person to serve Christ with undistracted devotion (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). In all things, act with integrity, honesty, and purity. Each day is another day to live for Christ and to shine your light for Christ, so be faithful with your days. Be a good steward of your money and especially of your time by spending both wisely. When spending your money, be sure that you could tell Jesus about that expenditure with a clear conscience. Time cannot be saved but only spent, so be careful how you spend your time. Walk intentionally through your days, fixing your eyes on the end goal of glorifying Jesus. In other words, persevere in faithfulness!

HOPE: There is a reward promised to the follower of Jesus. God has made promises to His children that He will certainly fulfill. It is these promises that have been cast together as our hope, “an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast” (Hebrews 6:19). Our hope is that no matter the trials of this earthly life, God will certainly be faithful to His promises. God’s children await the certain fulfillment of God’s promises. So, when there is grief or sorrow or sadness, we remember that we have been promised a resurrection when we will receive a glorified body, and we persevere with hope. When confronted with disappointment or pain, we remember that these are temporary, but our home in heaven will last forever, so we persevere in hope. As we walk through “the sufferings of this present time,” our mind is fixed on the hope of the “glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Persevering in hope means casting our minds out into the future when we will forever be with Christ in glory so that our anticipation of God’s promises overwhelms our concerns about today’s trials. So, in 2022, we will persevere in hope.

FRUITFUL LABOR: This term is taken from Philippians 1:22 when, after saying, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), Paul declares that, even though he would prefer to depart and be with Christ (in other words, he would prefer to die), he remain because he has “fruitful labor” to do. It is evident that Paul is referring to kingdom work, to direct gospel ministry. Paul chose to persevere in fruitful ministry with its trials and pains rather than departing for his deserved heavenly reward. And so should we. So, during 2022, I urge you to find your place of “fruitful labor,” to discover your role in gospel ministry, and to persevere and “to spend and be expended” (2 Cor. 12:15) in that role for the glory of Christ.

JOY: This is that characteristic that most dramatically distinguishes the believer from the rest of the world. The follower of Jesus is not just happy when all his circumstances are favorable, and all his paths are clear. Rather, the believer has a persistent internal joy that beams out regardless of circumstances. Let 2022 be the year that we amp up our joy and persevere in obvious Christ-filled and Christ-honoring joy in all twelve months. Think of all that the Lord has done for us and all that awaits us in heaven when we are with the Lord forever, and let the joy pour out of you until the corners of your face start to break. “The joy of the LORD is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

SUMMARY:

I anticipate that the future is going to be difficult for followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, “But realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come” (2 Tim. 3:1). Judging by the signs we see in our world, there is reason to believe that our days are those days. But the follower of Jesus has no reason to be discouraged. The mission given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself goes on (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), and we continue to proclaim the gospel. We accept whatever persecution may come, considering it an honor to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41) and knowing that those who are persecuted are blessed (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:14). In a word, we PERSEVERE until our Lord calls us home or until He catches us up with Himself in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). The word for 2022 is persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 1/1/2022                     #478

The two witnesses and Christ’s ministry – Part 2

This is the second post on the interpretation of Revelation 11:3-12 about the two witnesses. Yesterday (Nov. 1), I presented an exegesis of this passage that revealed the meaning of the events at the end of the age. In this post, I want to demonstrate how the persecution of these “two witnesses” (the faithful church) at the end of the age parallels the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE FAITHFUL CHURCH AND THE MINISTRY OF JESUS

In Revelation 11:3-6

The two witnesses, representing the faithful church, “will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3). Notice first that the duration of their prophesying is about three and a half years. Second, the expression “clothed in sackcloth” speaks about the pain and the difficulty of their ministry. The church will prophesy at the end of the age[i] in the face of persecution and opposition. The world will be actively antagonistic to their message and will hate the witnesses (see Rev. 11:10).

From His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist to His ascension to heaven following His resurrection, the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about three years. Also, from His rejection at Nazareth to His opposition by the Pharisees and religious leaders to His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus’ ministry was conducted in the face of persecution and opposition. The world hated Jesus (John 15:18) and was actively antagonistic to His message.

In Revelation 11:7

When the two witnesses, representing the faithful church, “have finished their testimony” (see Acts 1:8; Matthew 24:14), “the beast will make war with them and overcome them (see Rev. 13:7; 16:14; 20:8) and kill them.” When the faithful church has accomplished the mission given to her by her King, then the beast will be allowed to overcome and kill the church.

When Jesus had accomplished the work of redemption that the Father had given Him to do (John 17:4), when His time had come (see John 12:23; 13:1), only then were Jesus’ enemies allowed to rise up against Him and kill Him.

In Revelation 11:9

After the two witnesses (the faithful church) are killed, “those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days” (11:9).

After Jesus died on the cross, He was buried and “the Son of Man was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

In Revelation 11:10

When the dead bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street, “those who dwell on the earth rejoice over them and celebrate.” The world is glad to finally be rid of the faithful church.

Speaking of His death, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (John 16:20).

In Revelation 11:11

After the defeat at the hands of the beast, the faithful church will be resurrected in glory. “But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet.” As was explained in the earlier post, this is the Resurrection at the end of the age.

As is proclaimed many times in the New Testament as the main message of the New Testament, after three days, Jesus was raised from the dead in His glorious resurrection.

In Revelation 11:12

After their Resurrection, the faithful church ascends from the earth to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). “And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud” (Rev. 11:12).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven while His disciples watched. “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

SUMMARY

What we have seen in this exploration of Revelation 11:3-12 is that the ministry of the faithful church at the end of the age, “the two witnesses” of this passage, unfolds in a very similar way to the earthly ministry of Jesus the Messiah. The ministries of both face opposition and hostility. Thinly veiled hatred from the world eventually erupts in violence and destruction. Christ is crucified, while the faithful church is annihilated, and the world rejoices in apparent victory. Then comes the Resurrection and the ascension, and defeat of the Messiah and of His church is immediately turned into victory.

SDG                 rmb                 11/02/2021                 #450


The two witnesses in Revelation 11:3-12 – an interpretation

This post offers a possible interpretation of Revelation 11:3-12 and a way of seeing the significance of this passage in discussions about the events of the end of the age.

The first time you read through the eleventh chapter of Revelation and read the account of the two witnesses (11:3-12), there will be confusion and mystery. Pretty much guaranteed. What do these two witnesses symbolize and what is the significance of the events that occur in this passage? Where does this take place? When does this take place? How are we to interpret this section of Scripture? I have explored these questions over the course of the last year as I have carefully studied the end-times passages in the Bible, and an understanding of this passage has slowly emerged.

The exegesis that follows will show the meaning of the events at the end of the age. In another post, I will also demonstrate that the persecution of the two witnesses at the end of the age closely parallels the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry.

EXEGESIS SHOWING THE MEANING OF PASSAGE

Revelation 11:3-6 – The two witnesses represent the faithful church proclaiming the gospel at the end of the age[i] in the face of persecution and opposition. Note that the two witnesses prophesy (proclaim the gospel) for 1,260 days.[ii] The faithful church is the rightful place where the gospel is proclaimed. The church is the outpost of gospel witness in every location where it exists, giving testimony to Jesus in that place. The two witnesses are called the “two olive trees” (11:4), which are the trees of Jew and Gentile together in the church, according to Romans 11:17-24. The church is the true olive tree. During the days of their prophesying (11:6), they “shut up the sky so that rain will not fall” and they “strike the earth with every plague.” This is a reference to the church’s authority with the word of God, that the church has all the authority of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the prophets. So, again, the two witnesses are the faithful church during the tribulation.

Revelation 11:7

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them and overcome them and kill them. – Rev. 11:7

First, notice that the two witnesses (the faithful church) “finish their testimony.” There will come a time when the faithful church has accomplished the mission given to her by her King, a time when all the elect have been gathered in, when “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). The church has fulfilled its purpose and has finished its testimony. Only then will the beast be allowed to overcome and kill the church.

“The beast” here is the same beast mentioned in other parts of Revelation. This is THE beast, the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, the second person of the evil trinity. He is allowed to make war on the faithful church and to overcome them and kill them. This event occurs at the very end of the 42 months*. The beast has overcome and killed a significant portion of the visible church, such that the church appears utterly defeated.

Revelation 11:8-10 – There is much imagery in these three verses. The faithful church (“the two prophets” in 11:10) is visibly seen as dead (“their dead bodies will lie in the street;” “dead bodies” is mentioned three times in these verses for emphasis). Peoples and tribes and tongues and nations (the world of the unrighteous) will rejoice and celebrate (11:10) as they “look at their dead bodies for three and a half days” (11:9). The beast appears to have destroyed the church, and the world rejoices and celebrates for three and a half days. Is all lost? Has the church been annihilated? Has evil triumphed?

Revelation 11:11 – This verse is carefully worded to ensure that it alludes to Ezekiel 37:10. After the dead bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street of the great city for three and a half days (Rev. 11:11), “the breath of life from God came into them.” This is certainly pointing to the Resurrection that is described in Ezekiel 37:10: “So I prophesied, and the breath of life came into them.” After this, “they stood on their feet” (Rev. 11:11), which again refers back to Ezekiel 37:10, for there we read, “they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” What is occurring in Revelation 11:11 is the Resurrection of the dead in Christ that was foreshadowed in Ezekiel 37. Then “great fear fell upon all those who were watching them.” Well, I guess so! The reason great fear fell upon them is that they realize this sudden turn of events spells their doom. The church appeared to be safely annihilated and the beast had won the battle. Then suddenly the world’s victims rise from the dead. The people of the world realize their doom is sealed.

Revelation 11:12 – After the Resurrection, “they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’” The loud voice calls to mind 1 Thessalonians 4:16, when there will be “a shout with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God.” These two verses are certainly describing the same event. “Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them” (Rev. 11:12). Again, John writes the verse to remind the reader of other New Testament passages. We can see clear parallels to Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:9, where “He (Jesus) was lifted up while they (the disciples) were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Also, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, we read that “we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” What we see, then, in this verse is the ascension of the glorified saints after their Resurrection.

SUMMARY

The faithful church will prophesy for (relatively literal) 1,260 days in the face of fierce opposition during the tribulation at the very end of the age. When they have accomplished their mission and the preaching of the gospel has gathered in all the elect, the beast will be allowed to kill a large portion of the visible faithful church. The world will rejoice and celebrate since it seems that evil and the beast have had the final victory. The church appears dead and Christ has been defeated. But then, when all appears lost, Christ’s church is resurrected with glorified bodies and stands on its feet as a great army. These ascend to meet Christ in the air in preparation for the final battle and the slaughter of all the unrighteous.

Next time, we will look at how this parallels Christ’s earthly ministry.

SDG                 rmb                 11/01/2021                 #449


[i] This proclamation occurs during the 42 months*, the relatively literal period of time between the “thousand years” and the Last Day. Refer to my book, The Last Act of the Drama, for these definitions.

[ii] Note that 1,260 days is the equivalent of forty-two months, and is equivalent to “time, times, and half a time.” A combination of these three expressions appear five times in Revelation 11-13. Elsewhere I refer to this time period as the 42 months*.

Smyrna and Philadelphia, the two faithful churches

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, the Lord Jesus speaks to seven churches located in Asia Minor. These seven churches represent all churches that will exist between Pentecost and the Second Coming. Five of the churches receive a rebuke from the Lord and are called to repent, but two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, receive only commendation. These two represent the faithful churches in the time between the advents. What can we learn from them?

SMYRNA – FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH (REVELATION 2:9-10)

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:

‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

This church is experiencing suffering and persecution, both physically and financially. They are in tribulation and in material poverty, although the Lord declares that they are, in fact, rich in spiritual blessings. Verse 10 is the key verse.

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Jesus told His followers that persecution is a privilege. In Matthew 5:10-12, the Lord tells us that we are blessed if we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Insults and persecution and evil reports are blessings, so we are to rejoice and be glad. This is the story of the entire New Testament. The faithful followers of Jesus will suffer for His name.

In Matthew 10, Jesus teaches the same thing as He talks about the difficult path of discipleship. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Peter tells us that we are not to be surprised by fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). These are normal for the Christian. We are to rejoice when we share the sufferings of Christ (4:13). Are you reviled for Christ? Then you are blessed (4:14). Peter and the other apostles rejoiced when they were considered worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41).

Because of Jesus, a disciple does not fear suffering, even when confronted with death.

“The devil will cast some of you into prison so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.” Jesus is speaking figuratively to future martyrs, telling them that they will be tested by prison and tribulation. They will be tested severely, and the aim of the testing is to have them deny Christ and to recant their testimony. With threats of prison and torture and death, the agents of the devil will apply the flame of persecution to those who are faithful to Jesus Christ solely so they will deny Jesus.

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” For this church, Jesus’ is almost certainly calling them to endure their persecution until they are killed. This church carries the banner of martyrdom for the persecuted church for this present evil age.

But while the church of Smyrna represents those who are faithful until martyrdom, “being faithful until death” is the required attitude of all faithful churches till the end of the age. The faithful church, and of course, the faithful believer, has unconditionally resolved to be faithful until death. So, Smyrna shows us the suffering church.

PHILADELPHIA – NOT DENIED JESUS’ NAME (REVELATION 3:8-11)

The church in Philadelphia was also undergoing persecution for Jesus’ name, but their persecution was not as severe as that of Smyrna. In the midst of opposition by those of the synagogue of Satan (Revelation 3:9), these believers “have kept My word and have not denied My name” (3:8). Like Smyrna, they have felt the flames of persecution, and, like Smyrna, they have proven to be faithful. “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing,” that hour which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth” (3:10).

Notice that Philadelphia was not persecuted as severely as Smyrna, and Philadelphia was spared from “the hour of testing,” yet the church in Philadelphia received the same reward as Smyrna. Both received a crown (Rev. 2:10; 3:11). In His divine sovereignty, God gives to some believers severe testing even unto martyrdom, while for others He spares them from severe persecution and keeps them from the hour of testing. In God’s divine economy, some believers are considered worthy of suffering greatly for the name of the Lord and some believers are given a much lighter cross to bear. Only the Lord knows why.

Your path may be similar to that of the church in Smyrna, such that the Lord gives you severe testing and calls you to be faithful through suffering unto martyrdom. Or He may spare you from the hour of severe testing and may give you a relatively light cross. In any case, there are three things to learn from this study.

  1. Not all churches or believers are commended. In fact, the majority are rebuked and called to repent. Make it your ambition to live a life that the Lord Jesus does not need to rebuke, a life that will give you the reward of the crown of life.
  2. Like the church at Smyrna, all believers are called to be faithful until death. Resolve now that there will be no suffering that will cause you to forfeit your crown. Endure the testing and be faithful until death.
  3. Like the church in Philadelphia, all believers are called to keep the Lord’s word, and to not deny the Lord’s name. Decide now to be obedient to the Lord’s word.

SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2021                 #447

Beware of men, but do not fear them (Matthew 10:16-39)

Is it possible for a person to be on their guard against a very real threat without fearing that threat? In Matthew 10:17, Jesus tells His disciples to “beware of men” because they will hate you and will seek to kill you. But then later in the chapter, He says three times for His disciples not to fear (10:26, 28, 31). Isn’t this a contradiction? How can you beware of a person without also fearing that person?

In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking as King to all His armies of all the ages and telling them about the battle conditions that His disciples will face. What is striking about the passage from 10:16-39 is the number and the constancy of the threats facing Christ’s would-be disciples. Before our Lord even begins recruiting, He clearly tells of the high cost of being one of His followers, and of how you will be hated by all because of His name (10:22), yet Jesus does not appear to mention a single offsetting benefit. This is a most unconventional means of collecting an army of followers!

In this study, we will look at Jesus’ charge to His troops in 10:16, and at the commands He issues to “beware of men” (10:17), but not to fear men (10:26, 28, 31). Our purpose is to understand these instructions from Jesus, and then see how they apply to us in our lives.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

First, then, we want to study Jesus’ charge to us as His soldiers. In Matthew 10:16, our Lord deploys His troops. “Behold, I send you out.” As disciples of Jesus, we need to be aware that we have been called into His army to be sent out. Sent out to do what? To be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). To be His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). To be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). So, we see that the King has sent us out.

Second, we are sheep in the midst of wolves. There can hardly be a greater mismatch. Sheep are utterly defenseless, and wolves are notoriously deadly. In Romans 8:36, Paul says, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” The disciple needs to understand that his is a dangerous calling of total commitment. To follow Jesus is to be a sheep among wolves. We are the hated and the hunted.

Therefore, since we are sent out as sheep among wolves, we must be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent as doves. Knowing that he has been sent out by his King into a dangerous combat, the disciple must be very wise. What you lack in ferocity and power you must make up for with shrewdness, with canniness. With wisdom we elude the enemy while loudly proclaiming Jesus.

APPLICATION: Although our “battle conditions” here in America still seem fairly benign, we must remember that we are called to be wise as serpents. We are still sheep in the midst of wolves and must advance the Kingdom and proclaim the gospel with shrewdness and cunning. We operate as innocent as doves as we scheme for the gospel. We use ingenuity and craft to “stay under the radar” while advancing the gospel deeper into enemy territory.

“But beware of men.” – Matthew 10:17

BEWARE OF MEN

Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say that His disciples are to be frightened of men and, therefore, to run away from men. He does not say that His disciples are to avoid conflict by avoiding confrontation and proclamation. He simply tells them that they should “beware of men.” This is a tactical command from the King to His soldiers. When you go out under the banner of Jesus, realize you will be hated (John 15:18ff). Therefore, as a practical consideration, you need to be wary of those who hate you and seek your destruction. We are sheep among wolves, so we remain physically vulnerable to death. Jesus commands us to beware of men because He knows that, on our gospel mission, men will try to kill us (Psalm 37:32).

So, do not be naïve! “He who is not with you is against you” (Matthew 12:30). Do not trust those who speak peace with their mouths while they plot to kill you. “There are many who fight proudly against me” (Psalm 56:2). As Jesus’ soldiers, we have a boldness and a zeal for the work of the Kingdom that is tempered by a holy wisdom. We are to beware with boldness.

THEREFORE, DO NOT FEAR MEN

26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” – Matthew 10:26

28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matthew 10:28

31 So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:31

Now the King gives His soldiers the supreme command: “Do not fear men.” Three times in this brief section, the Lord tells us not to fear. As a tactical consideration, it is wise to beware of men, but our wariness of men must never cross over into fear of men. The only one who is worthy of our fear is the Lord Himself (Matthew 10:28). Negatively, the Lord is the One who can throw soul and body into hell (10:28), so He should be feared, but positively, the Lord is the One who has bought us at the price of His own Son on the cross. Therefore, we serve Him and worship Him in reverential fear because we have experienced His power. If we fear the Lord, we need to fear nothing else (see Luke 12:4-5). Again, only the Lord is worthy of our fear.

In Old Testament and New, the Lord displays His power and His faithfulness so that His people will trust Him and love Him with a reverential fear.

In Psalm 56:4, the psalmist asks, “What can mere man do to me?”

In Psalm 27:1, “the LORD is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”

In Isaiah 43:1, the LORD says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” If we are redeemed by the LORD, what is there to fear?

In Psalm 103:11, the psalmist declares, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is the LORD’s lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”

In Romans 8:31, Paul testifies, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

1 John 4:18 proclaims, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

To fear man when the Lord has called us to salvation and has promised He will never leave us or forsake us is to call the Lord’s power into question. Therefore, the professing Christian must be very aware of where he places his fear. The author of Hebrews writes,

“But my righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. – Hebrews 10:38-39

The main teaching of Matthew 10, then, is that we are to faithfully proclaim the gospel with wisdom and with fearlessness. Wisdom, because we are vulnerable sheep in the midst of ravenous wolves, but fearlessness, because no threat of man can take away our eternal reward.

APPLICATION: One of the goals of our sanctification and our discipleship is to arrive at that state of mind, that settledness of soul, where we are so convinced of the truths of God’s Word and of the power of our God that no threat of man would cause us to tremble. For the disciple of Jesus, we aim for ability to say, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), without hesitation and with full conviction. We long for that place where our grip on the Resurrection is so tight that it is as if we were already glorified (Romans 8:30). We overcome fear by the power of the gospel.

Here are ways that I strive to reach that place of fearlessness:

  • Meditate on and study the Resurrection passages in the Bible until you are convinced that you personally will rise with the saints on the Last Day. The certainty of the Resurrection will drive away fear of death.
  • Spend time deeply considering the power of God as displayed in creation and as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the earliest chapters of Genesis, God makes promises, and then He keeps those promises. This requires ultimate sovereignty over all the affairs of His universe. And God has made promises to His people which He will certainly keep. Meditate on these truths until you fully believe the unlimited power of the living God. When you grasp God’s power and believe that He loves you as His child, the fear of man and the fear of death and the fear of the future will lose their hold on you.

SDG                 rmb                  10/7/2021                   #439