Category: Biblical Mysteries

The Best Gift

Earnestly desire to prophesy!

When was the last time you received a word of encouragement, one that consoled you during a time of loss or simply gave you a quick “nudge from behind” to keep moving in spite of your discouragement?

Reading the Scriptures, particularly the Apostle Paul’s teachings in I Corinthians, we see clearly that God desires to give us these kinds of messages through the ministry of fellow believers.  He does so by empowering believers through the Holy Spirit’s “spiritual gifts,” which are listed in the following passage:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (I Corinthians 12:7-11).

According to the writer of the Book of Hebrews, these gifts were demonstrably manifested through the believers in the Early Church:

how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-5)

Have the Gifts Ceased?

In recent years, comparatively at least, many dispensational Bible teachers and their disciples have taught that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer given after the age of the Apostles.  This teaching is primarily based on the following passage:

 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part;10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:8-12).

This seems clear enough according to a superficial reading:  based on Paul’s description of the spiritual gifts in this passage, therefore, it is believed by many in the Church today that the gifts are “childish,” not intended for mature believers, for they are “partial” and imperfect.  As Paul writes, “We see in a mirror dimly” (II Cor. 3:12).  It is believed instead that the “perfect” has come to the Church through the completion of the Holy Scriptures, so we no longer need the Holy Spirit’s gifts to teach us and lead us, and the “partial” has been done away with because the “perfect” Bible has been completed. 

However, we must read all of the Scriptures in their contexts, particularly those written by the apostle Paul.  Consider the following passage:

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.  But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [metamorphosized] into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:15-18)

It seems ironic, therefore, that the Apostles and Prophets of the Early Church who exercised these “childish” and “imperfect” spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit were also the very ones who thoroughly read the books of the Old Testament (“Moses is read”), and wrote the books of the New Testament.  I can only conclude that the dispensationalist interpretation of Paul’s message is incorrect and misleading. 

Looking Into the Mirror

Instead, the “mirror” references in these passages reveal that the  “perfect” that was predicted is not the New Testament itself, but instead is Jesus Christ when He comes again.  He is the “perfect” Who is coming, and when He appears, we all will be instantly transformed and metamorphosized into His image, for we will see Him in all of His glory.  When this happens, we will be “like Him”:

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53)

See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are.  For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.  We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.  And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  (1 John 3:1-3)

What is the Outcome, then?

We must not be like those sons of Israel who hardened their hearts and heard the reading of the old covenant (Moses) with a “veil” over their hearts.  We must turn to the Lord, who takes the veil away from our hearts, and He will give us liberty.  Read again Paul’s exhortation:

Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:12-18).

Since “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” Paul further exhorts us to be used by the Holy Spirit through the “gifts of the Spirit”:

So also you since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church. (I Corinthians 14:12).

In the Book of Acts, Luke the author and disciple of the Apostle Paul writes this description of Peter’s message to the curious onlookers when on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gathered believers:

 “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).

In context, therefore, the Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us in the same way, for the promise is to “all who are far away, as many as the Lord calls.” When we are baptized in His Spirit, therefore, we will find that we will experience the gift of speaking in tongues, plus all the other gifts when needed, if we continue to follow Him (1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14). These are God’s gifts of power to enable us to accomplish the tasks to which we have been commissioned.

These gifts have been abused by many, unfortunately, even by some in the Early Church, according to the Apostle Paul’s admonitions in the “Love Chapter” (I Corinthians 13).  If the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not operated in love, Paul writes, we align with the following description:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

Nevertheless, we should not take lightly the Lord’s words to us provided in John’s Gospel.  Clearly, we need today the “rivers of living water” Jesus promised us:

…Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified). (John 7:37b-39)

Finally, the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to “earnestly” desire the best spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:1). 

What are the “best” gifts?  They are those that are most in need at the moment.  We should be open to being used by the Holy Spirit at any time in any way He chooses.  And Paul particularly recommends that we desire to prophesy,

 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries. But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. (I Corinthians 14:1-4).

He makes this recommendation specifically because prophecy is a gift that we all need to experience, for spiritual encouragement.  

One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation. (v. 3)

In addition, the Apostle Paul also reveals another reason why prophecy is important in the Church:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.  (I Corinthians 14:24-26)

I experienced just such a moment early in my ministry when, while leading a home group meeting, I was praying and a word of knowledge came to me.  I spoke the revelation with my eyes closed, and when I opened them, a young woman whom I had never seen before was standing in front of me weeping.  “How did you know those things about me?” she said.  I asked if she wanted to invite Jesus into her life to be her Lord and Savior, and she readily agreed, praying for salvation that night.  

We must understand, therefore, that the gift of prophecy is not intended to “predict the future,” as so many believe.  It should not be connected with occult astrology, fortune telling, or divination by any means.

Another Example

Just yesterday in a women’s Bible study and prayer group here in Hopkins, Belize, my wife Jan received a “word of knowledge” and spoke to a young mother who tended to be very shy in the group.  In effect, Jan said to her, “Do not be troubled about what you will say when you are led to speak to someone, for you love Jesus and you only need to let His light shine through you to others.”

The woman was so moved by this message that she began to weep joyfully, for she indeed had been encouraged, edified, and exhorted.  

Final Comments:

Please note that the Apostle Paul does not denigrate the gift of speaking in tongues, for he tells us that he speaks in tongues more than anyone else.  He does so because through the Holy Spirit he is able to pray “in mysteries” when his mind does not know how to pray.  Consequently, he is personally edified.  He only stipulates that this gift must be used properly and in love.  Paul also states that its use in the Church must not be forbidden:

 One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church. Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying. . . .39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (I Corinthians 14:4-5).

Wrangling, Part II

A Brief Follow-up

Shortly after posting my last article, titled “Wrangling About Words,” I had a dream.  

I was out fishing with some friends in a boat near where we are currently living in Belize.  One of the fishermen wanted to give a fish to one of his village friends, but he couldn’t remember which fish it was he had caught.  He said something like, “You know, the one that looks like a large trout!”

An argument arose, each man naming the fish by a different name.  After a very intense discussion, I finally held up the fish itself and said, “Surely, we can agree on what to call this fish!”

I was relieved that the argument was over when I awoke from the dream, even though we still hadn’t named the fish.  I lay there in the darkness thinking about the final message, and I was reminded of my recent blog article.  

First, I realized that the fish itself was more than a name, more than just a word.  Instead, it was a vital piece of food for someone in the Belizean village who needed subsistence.  Arguing about what it was called and even agreeing on a name wouldn’t satisfy the hunger of the recipient.

Second, I recalled that Jesus called some of his new followers to be  “fishers of men.”

18Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-20).

I realized that arguing over the name of a fish will not catch a fish, any more than arguing over Church doctrines will bring people into the Kingdom of God.  Instead, wrangling about biblical teachings only convinces non-believers that Christians are deceiving themselves into thinking that they truly know and understand the Scriptures that we claim to be the Word of God which we have personally received.

Let us all agree to cease arguing over doctrines and teachings.  Surely, we can agree on what to call Jesus: the Messiah and Savior, Who came into the world to redeem us from the bondage of sin.


Wrangling About Words

Responding to Critics

Since beginning in Christian ministry in 1973, first as an Associate Pastor (licensed), continuing as a home group leader and Bible study teacher, then as a senior pastor and church founder (ordained), and now as an online blogger, I have been accused on a number of occasions of being a “false teacher,” trying to start a cult and gain followers, or be like so many other prominent televangelists and megachurch leaders who seek to gain fame and wealth.  

I can understand the concerns of my accusers, for the Apostle Peter warned against just such “false prophets” in the following passage:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (II Peter 2:1-3).

It is not in my nature to become bitter and angry when I receive such accusations against my life and ministry, though I am only too willing to respond and explain my background, teachings,  and calling when confronted by those who are willing to listen.  

I fully understand that some of my teachings may conflict with many of the more standard interpretations of the Scriptures obtained from theology texts or consumed in seminaries and Bible colleges.  I also acknowledge my weaknesses, for I am not trained in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek), for example.  However, I  believe my inadequacies are sufficiently compensated for by my willingness to consult expert opinions and translations online, as well as use a Greek thesaurus.

My Qualifications

With a Ph.D.  in literature and more than twenty years experience as a university professor, I believe I am fully trained in recognizing and adapting the genres of literature and written texts, while applying the norms for these genres to biblical texts, a context that is not always followed by many Bible teachers and preachers.  Those who delight in interpreting the Scriptures literally, for example, do not always acknowledge that some passages are nonsensical if interpreted literally.

Christ’s references to the “bread” and “cup” in the Gospel accounts  of The Last Supper, for example, do not mean that the elements of the communion are literally the body and blood of Jesus, although many Christians believe in “transubstantiation.”  An example of taking a metaphor literally.  Surely, Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, as the Early Church was accused of teaching.

Apocalyptic writings in the Bible, mainly in Daniel and the Book of Revelation, are also interpreted literally, even though such writings are obviously made up of dreams, signs, symbols and the extra-textual meanings of these kinds of writings.  In addition, I once heard a Bible teacher relate that the “locusts” in the Book of Revelation refer to the “helicopters” in today’s conditions, which meant that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent given the kind of warfare being fought during the Vietnam era.  And how long has it been since then?  Remember when Henry Kissinger was labeled the AntiChrist?  Or was it Anwar Sadat?  

The Apostle Peter continues in his letter to advise and admonish Christians as follows:

14Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 2:14-18)

Clearly, Peter the fisherman had some difficulty understanding the educated Apostle Paul’s letters, for even he, the “rock,” found them “hard to understand.”

Notice, however, that Peter does not counsel that believers must vehemently argue with and condemn or accuse any teachers with whom we disagree. He instead simply advises believers to beware so as not to be “carried away” with teachings that espouse greed and licentiousness.

Indeed, the Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy, his disciple, not to fight, or “wrangle,” over “words,” or perhaps such acronyms as the “TULIP” of Calvinism.

I, personally, have chosen to teach from the Scriptures rather than a book someone has written, whether in the 1600’s or in the 21st Century.    

14Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers  (II Timothy 2:14).

Surely, Paul does not condone false teachings, but instead says that wrangling and fighting are “useless” and lead those who hear such wrangling to ruin.

Indeed, I have tried to explain certain biblical teachings to some of my opponents, only to see the homegroup meetings or Bible classes disrupted and almost destroyed.  Some people simply will not be convinced in spite of clear evidence in Scripture passages, primarily because they do not like what they have learned to be opposed.  Thus, they rise up in “unrighteous indignation.”

The Holy Spirit’s Teachings

Jesus related to His disciples that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to them, both to empower them to spread the Good News of the Gospel, but also to be their Teacher: “ But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:6).

I have been listening to sermons and teachings since my childhood, yet I am persuaded that I learn only when the Holy Spirit is the inspiration for these messages and He confirms their truths in my heart.  Consequently, while I admire and listen continually to a number of Bible teachers, I am mostly focused on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to live, learn, and grow.

In addition, as a Bible teacher I have been most moved recently by such Scriptures as the following:

  1. Job 12:22 “He reveals mysteries from the darkness And brings the deep darkness into light.
  2. Daniel 2:28:  “However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.”
  3. Daniel 2:29:  “As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place.”
  4. Daniel 2:47:  “The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
  5. Matthew 13:11:  “Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
  6. Luke 8:10:  “And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
  7. 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
  8. 1 Corinthians 13:2:  “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
  9. 1 Corinthians 14:2:  “For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands, but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.

The Apostle Paul’s defense of his own teachings includes the following:

 “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (II Corinthians 12:1-4).

Thus, Paul’s teachings, which comprise most of the New Testament, were revealed to Him as “mysteries,” which defined means, “the secrets God desires to reveal to His people.”  Consequently, the purpose of this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog site is to share what I have learned about these mysteries.

Back to Peter

One teaching that continues to be highly controversial concerns “End Times” prophecy, for the reasons stated above, as well as the desire to sell books, perhaps, among other reasons.  Concerning this mystery, Peter wrote the following:

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:3-9)

Unlike so many teachers today, however, Peter does not, in an attempt to sell books, try to pick the “day or the hour” of Christ’s return (which only the Father knows!) nor does he try to locate the “anti-Christ” (who obviously was not the Emperor Nero!).  

Peter continues on to write the following:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. 

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:10-13)

Therefore, even those who declared the prophetic Words of the Lord, following the leadings of the Holy Spirit, did not presume to “serve themselves” by trying to gain fame and fortune by publishing best sellers or make films about the End Times, as is the case today.

It even appears that lately, such false teachers are resorting to astrology to predict End Times events (“blood moons” and Jupiter’s emergence from the “womb” of the constellation Virgo).


It is fruitless to “wrangle” over such teachings, however.  We are only told by Peter and Paul to beware lest we be led astray.  We need only be concerned with keeping our lamps filled with “oil,” so that when Christ appears, we all will see Him in His glory, and we will forever be with Him!  

Who Is In the Mirror?

Entirely Unexpected

I recently finished reading a extraordinary book on Kindle, a memoir titled, “Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard,” written by Laura Bates, a professor and volunteer teacher of Shakespeare in a maximum security prison in Indiana.  

As a retired Professor of English myself, with over 20 years experience teaching some of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as numerous other challenging texts in literature and composition classes (Seriously?  War and Peace?), while also teaching English majors to teach English as secondary education teachers (grades 7-12) for many years, I was poignantly reminded while reading this book of my own struggles to make my classes not only interesting for my students, but also challenging and meaningful, not to mention obtaining tenure and promotions.  

My students were usually very motivated to become teachers themselves, or at least complete their undergraduate degrees. I never considered, however, that teaching Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello would bring significant changes into my students’ lives.  

Professor Bates, however, taught Shakespeare’s plays not only to prisoners, but also to the worst criminal offenders who had been confined in a supermax solitary prison. While doing so, she had to hand out assignments and hold group discussions with only eight students, yet all had to sit in separate cells, conversing through the very small “windows” used to pass meals to the prisoners.    

One of the Worst

One of these prisoners was Larry Newman, known to be the most dangerous prisoner in the Indiana state’s Westville supermax prison” (Bates, 17).  Although he was a fifth-grade dropout and a convicted murderer, with two escape attempts on his record, stabbing one of the prison guards during one attempt, Larry is the focus of much of the book because of his life-changing encounters while reading and studying Shakespeare’s plays.

Larry Newman’s experiences growing up in an abusive home and a crime-filled neighborhood gave him significant insights into some of the problems raised in Shakespeare’s plays, such as the gang-warfare in Romeo and Juliet (Capulets versus the Montagues) or the murders of King Duncan in Macbeth and Othello’s murder of his wife Desdemona because of Othello’s jealous rage. While reading these scenes in Shakespeare’s plays, Newman must confront the decisions he has made in his own life and is forced to challenge his own tightly held positions.  

Consequently, studying Shakespeare’s plays under Laura Bates changed his life, and he became one of the reasons why Bates’ program was so successful with other prisoners, as he participated with her in the classes, continually adding insightful contributions to the weekly lessons and discussions. Ultimately, he even partnered with Dr. Bates in writing a detailed guide to teaching Shakespeare’s plays to inmates, and he even began taking classes to obtain a Ph. D. while in prison to pursue his goal of becoming a professor himself, even though parole would never be possible in his lifetime.

Previously, Newman had spent over ten years in solitary confinement, his only contact with another human being occurring when he was handcuffed and escorted to a restroom, or when he was finally allowed to attend the Shakespeare classes with Dr. Bates.  In the class, titled “Shakespeare in Shackles,” Newman is confronted with such topics as honor, revenge, and conscience, forcing him and the other prisoners to consider their own actions from a new perspective provided by Shakespeare 400 years ago.

A Changed Man

At one point, after three years of partnering with Dr. Bates, the following conversation took place (Bates, 174):

“Where do you think you would be without Shakespeare?”  

Newman responded, saying, “I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today.  I know that.  I’d either be in deeper trouble–tried to escape and been in worse trouble than I was–or maybe I would’ve just that one day developed the courage to . . . you know what I mean?”

“Suicide?” I asked hesitantly.

Heck, yeah,” he replied.  “I was ready to go! I can’t tell you how much I was.” 

After musing on his suicidal thoughts, Newman continued to say,

“But the point is, the being dead part never worried me.  It seemed like a very plausible alternative.  So that’s not even what makes me the happiest.  I like being alive, I like my life, but what makes me the happiest is that I just really feel like I can go anywhere and do anything. I make decisions now ’cause that’s what makes me the happiest.  

Laura Bares is amazed and speechless:

I had worked with this prisoner for more than three years, but I had no idea that Shakespeare–and I–had that kind of impact on him.  I had never had that kind of impact on anyone.  I had never saved anyone’s life before (176).

Finding the Pattern

As both a literature teacher and a student of the Bible, I am always intrigued when I see “patterns” in a text, particularly the Scriptures.  These patterns might also be described as “similarities,” or “repeated phrases,” or “repeated themes,” for these patterns reveal helpful insights into the truths of the biblical teachings, the “mysteries” that the Holy Spirit desires to reveal to us.  

One such pattern is found in the following verses:

  • When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:12).
  • But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).
  • For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:23-25).

Beholding As In a Mirror

By reading these passages closely you will see that they all use the example of “looking into a mirror” to reveal how we are to see ourselves–not as we think we are but as we truly are.
The pattern revealed in these similar passages first highlights the perspectives of looking into the mirror as a “child,” or with a “veiled” face, or by merely seeing the “natural face” that appears.  This image may quickly be forgotten, while the image that appears in the “perfect law of liberty,” or a different kind of mirror, is an image that once adhered to leads to being blessed in all that we do. 
A significant indicator, therefore, of spiritual maturity is the ability to see ourselves consistently not through our natural senses but through the perspectives, we gain by “thinking with the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16), or seeing ourselves as Christ sees us.  

While no record exists of Larry Newman’s encountering Jesus Christ and finding eternal salvation through Him, he did escape earthly destruction by viewing and identifying with human encounters through the examples of Shakespeare’s plays which enabled him to reorder his thoughts and find new directions not based on his previous misconceptions about life and death.  

Ironically, however, Shakespeare’s plays do not provide the same kind of freedom and liberty that the Word of God provides, for His Word is “perfect”:

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

Sadly, many representations in our culture today have stated that not only is God dead, but also Truth is dead, as portrayed on a recent edition of Time Magazine (Source).

April 8, 1966

Commenting on these covers, Jonathan Van Maren writes,

As far as our culture is concerned, God is dead, and so is truth. An institution no less respected than TIME Magazine announced their respective departures from the culture. But I can’t help but think of the origin of the phrase “God is dead.” It came from the nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietszche, in his parable “The Madman,” where he wondered with appropriate panic, where morality would come from once God left (Source).

Van Maren continues to expose the latest examples of the opposition of fact and fiction:

We now reject every constraint on our own so-called right to radical self-determination, even if those constraints are biology and reality. That is why a full-grown man can decide to leave his family and live as a six-year-old girl, and the media coverage of this is largely subdued and respectful. That is why there is a new group of human beings who identify as non-human beings—rather, they are “Otherkin,” people who identify as certain animals. This is treated with long-faced solemnity by our cultural elites, because truth is dead and people can be whatever they want, even if they are obviously not what or who they say they are (Source).

Larry Newman found much freedom, not by denying the truths about himself and his life but by acknowledging the truths about his mistakes and misconceptions about himself.  May God give him the grace to see all the way to “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:16).


Finding the Truth

The Scientific Method?

One calling of God for the Christian Church is to be a vital channel for Truth in today’s world.  The Apostle Paul wrote, concerning this calling, the following message to Timothy:

14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (I Timothy 3:14-15)

By general consensus, however, our culture today assumes and supposes a scientific basis for all valid knowledge, not seeking Truth from God’s “pillar and support” Instead, the world’s scientific pillar is described as follows:

“a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.” (Source)

This procedure assumes that the resulting conclusion will be the “truth” since it is based on facts that are tested through research and proven hypotheses.
Ironically, however, many influential academics and intellectuals have concluded that “absolute truth” is unknowable and cannot be found because it does not exist, a conclusion that contradicts the basis of the scientific method. Since an absolute truth is always correct, regardless of one’s ability to discern, or discover, any particular truth, those who seek to learn the “truth,” often deny the possibility that it even exists because of their own inability to find it.

An Age-Old Question

This is not a question that has arisen only in the modern scientific age.  Rather, the question arose in ancient times, and it was particularly revealed in the discussion between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman ruler in Jerusalem:
37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, yet another doubter like Pilate, received an answer from Jesus about finding the way to the truth.  Jesus made the following statement about finding the truth in a conversation with His disciples:  

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas *said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:3-6)

And later, just before His crucifixion, Jesus prays the following prayer for His disciples, both those with Him and those who would be His followers in the future:

13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:13-19)

Significantly, when Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth,” He confirmed the first verse of John’s Gospel, a passage where John declares that Jesus is divine, the very Word of God Himself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus Christ, therefore, is declared to be the manifestation of God’s truth, the Word of God through whom all things are created.  He is the Light that came into the world.

Unfortunately, even though this Light shines in our dark world, those who live in darkness cannot see the Light for their eyes are blinded.  And since the Light is allied with Life, those who cannot understand the Truth cannot obtain the Life that He was sent to confer upon everyone as a gift of God’s mercy and grace.

Revelation, Not Intellect

This is not to assert that the scientific method is the means Christians should use for gaining God’s Truth.  Instead, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are obtained through revelation, and only those who seek Him will receive these revelations.  Jesus said, 

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:6-8)

Jesus Himself gave His insights to Pilate, as well as other religious leaders, who then turned on Him, trampling the truth under their feet while seeking to tear Him to pieces.  Likewise, we must be discerning, seeking God’s guidance as we seek to fulfill Christ’s commission to spread His Word throughout the entire world.  We must recognize that some will not receive the Truth we have received from the Holy Spirit, and we may experience persecution for sharing the Word of Life, even though we are walking in the Light.

Likewise, we must be discerning, finding the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to spread His Word throughout the entire world (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We must recognize that because we find God’s truth through revelation, some people will not receive the Truth we have received from the Holy Spirit, and we may experience persecution for sharing the Word of Life, even though we are walking in the Light. Christians are despised for not being scientific enough, even though this scientific method is denigrated by those who believe they have discovered the truth through its use. Even the Apostle Paul was called a “babbler” (Acts 17:18) because he dared to share the spiritual insights he had through personal revelation:

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. (II Corinthians 12:1-6)

Notice that in this passage, Paul relates that he received the “truth” (v. 6) from the visions and revelations he received from the Lord.  The truth was communicated not through the scientific method, but through “inexpressible words,” or in another word, “mysteries” which cannot be communicated directly, but only through the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Because of Paul’s faithfulness to these secrets, or mysteries, he suffered extreme persecution, as he explained to the Corinthians:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (II Corinthians 11:23-27)

Indeed, I believe that another period of persecution is coming to all who will be faithful to God’s calling, just as the early disciples of Christ faced extreme persecution.


It may be unsettling to learn this, but our brains are not the source of Truth. Instead, Christ Jesus and His Word is the source of God’s Truth, and we learn the Truth through “revelations” that come from God Himself through the Holy Spirit if we will only seek Him.  

Decades ago, people came to believe that “everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.” However, such opinions derive merely from what has been heard and decided by the individuals’ brain choices, and not by direct revelation of the Truth from a loving and Holy God. Unfortunately, “majority rules” is likewise not an indicator of Truth.  Many horrible leaders in history have brought terrible disasters upon multitudes of people because their followers were convinced to become like sheep, all gone astray over the cliffs of false teachings and doctrines about what is True.     

People need only read the multitudes of “comments” following controversial articles on the Web to see that people disagree vehemently about the nature or substance of the “Truth.”  Unfortunately, therefore, the “Truth” is rarely discovered because the writers simply resort to name-calling, persecution, and threats. Subsequently, people who disagree are labeled as being a “bigot,” “stupid,” “uneducated,” or lacking in “tolerance.”  More and more, therefore, those who are “outside” the boundaries of what is considered true (from common perceptions derived from media representations or polling questionnaires) will be subject to various kinds of persecutions.


Note: For more on this topic, see the following blog article from





The Mystery of Lawlessness

Will The AntiChrist Be Revealed on August 30th?

I recently saw and heard a message by a prominent TV Evangelist, who preached that the AntiChrist would be revealed on August 30, 2016 (today!).  Here is my response to his message:

In his Second Letter to the Church in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul wrote about the conditions of lawlessness that would exist in the world prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (II Thessalonians 2:1-2)

Evidently, the Thessalonians believed  that Jesus had already returned to claim his Church and that they had been left behind.

Paul explained in explicit terms, however, that they should not be so deceived in any way, for several events needed to take place before Christ’s actual return:

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (II Thessalonians 2:3-4)

Personally, I believe that many of the prophecies (see Matthew 24 and Mark 13) about the AntiChrist, Jerusalem’s being surrounded by armies, about earthquakes, the great tribulation, and the ensuing destruction of the Temple relate to the events in Jerusalem which occurred in 70 A.D., when Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian, and the same Titus who eventually became the Emperor of Rome himself, invaded the city with his legions of Roman soldiers, killing many Jews and destroying the Second Temple built by King Herod.  It is believed that Titus did not want to destroy the Temple, but instead wanted to convert it into a Roman temple for the worship of Roman gods (see below). He wanted no rewards for his conquest of Jerusalem, claiming only to be an “instrument of god’s wrath” (Source).  

And while Titus himself tried to divert beliefs in his own deity, in spite of the political advantages, he was clearly complicit in the supposed “deification” of his father, Vespasian:

Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation.

Despite a personal aversion to deification, appeals to godly ancestry and the apparent slew of omens following him throughout his lifetime, Vespasian utilised provincial interests in his divine right to rule to maintain loyalty to the imperial centre in his living years, and spent less than a year in mortal death before his successor placed his name among the deified Julio-Claudian emperors. (Source)

The Mystery of Lawlessness

Paul, however, wrote the following description of the events to come before the return of Christ, (I again am referring to Paul’s Second letter to the Thessalonians):

Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason, God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (II Thessalonians 2:5-12)

While Titus himself sought to separate himself from claims of deity, he took direct action to ensure that his father, Emperor Vespasian, received divine recognition:

Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation. (Source)

. . . .Vespasian was said to have possessed numen, which can be received by animals and inanimate objects, through Suetonius’ account of an ox which broke free of its yoke to burst into Vespasian’s dining room and bow its head at his feet, implying the process of freeing Rome from tyranny and submitting to a new welcome ruler. This sign of change heralded by supernatural events emerged frequently (during Vespasian’s rule. . . . Furthermore, Suetonius, however unreliably, also spoke of a stray dog which burst into Vespasian’s dining quarters and placed a severed hand at his feet, a sign to Roman society of divinity and inherent power. . . .In an attempt to maintain his auctoritas within the empire’s provinces, which Tacitus claimed he was lacking, Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria in AD 69 witnessed his public performance of miracles in apparent collaboration with the god Serapis to maintain provincial loyalty, healing two Alexandrians, one blind and one lame, despite his own doubt in his divine power. (Source)

Please note the references in this quotation to the “signs and wonders” attributed to Vespasian.  This description mirrors the one Paul writes about:  “One whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish”  (II Thessalonians 2:10-11). And Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria occurred in A.D. 69, just one year before his son’s military triumph in Jerusalem.

The Apostasy

Paul’s teaching is also clear for us today that the “Day of the Lord” has still not arrived, for a number of events have yet to happened.  Unless we are deluding ourselves, for example, the “apostasy” has not yet occurred, and even though many Christians seem to be losing their trust in God and falling away from the Faith, the Lord’s Church is still growing and increasing proportionally overall, even in countries like Cuba and China, or in Muslim countries, where Christianity is vehemently opposed.

The Apostle John had something specific to say about this question:

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were notreally of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.  (I John 2:18-19)

Nevertheless, Paul also wrote that “the mystery of lawlessness” is “already at work,” a condition that today seems just as prominent, and one that appears to be growing and increasing.  We need to discern what this “mystery of lawlessness” is, therefore, in order not to fall prey to deception ourselves.

What Is Lawlessness?

Paul provides a clue for understanding what the “mystery of lawlessness” is in verse 10 of II Thessalonians, Chapter 2:10-11:  Paul wrote that the “lawless one will be revealed,” who will appear with “all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”

We see from this description that resisting a “love of the truth” is what hinders people from being saved, a condition that leads to “lawlessness.”  In our world today, unfortunately, we are seeing an increasing trend towards lawlessness, which means also that people no longer have a love of the truth and are increasingly inclined to break the laws of the land.

My Experiences with Seeking The Truth

As a high school English teacher, and eventually a university English professor, I prepared with 12 years of college level education classes beyond high school.  My motive was not only to gain the knowledge and skills I needed to obtain a good teaching position, but also to learn about the world I lived in.  I survived any number of classes that I intuitively knew would not help me become an English teacher, such as Calculus and Chemistry, yet I still gained a level of wisdom, having experienced large portions of the world’s history and knowledge that was most likely beyond my reach intellectually. (I had to take an Introduction to Calculus class pass/fail, for example!)  

I can’t say that I loved some of the classes I took, but I loved learning, and I love learning to this day. In 1970, when I began my classes in higher education, I wanted to learn the truth about history, mathematics, philosophy, and music.  And in those days, it was believed that the truth could be discovered by uncovering facts and using sound logic.  

In the fall of 1972, when I began my classes in graduate education, I still wanted to learn the truth about history, mathematics, philosophy, and music.  And in those days, I still believed that the truth could be discovered by uncovering facts and using sound logic or using background information to judge an author’s intentions.  Imagine my surprise, however, when as a post-graduate student in my Master’s program I found that literature professors and experts no longer believed that the written word was definitive; they believed that it could never be deciphered and understood accurately with certainty.  

Imagine my surprise, however, when as a post-graduate student in my Master’s program I found that literature professors and other academic experts no longer believed that the written word was definitive; they believed that it could never be deciphered and understood accurately with certainty.  I was told that the words I was reading in a poem or story changed all the time, just because I was reading them!

I also discovered that even the facts of history were “open to interpretation,” and that the lessons of history were at that time subject to opinion and these opinions could even be revised for propaganda purposes.  I found that many arguments in favor of one political or strategic direction, for example, could be made on both sides of an argument, and people would feel satisfied that they had found the right answer or the correct direction to take.  It was commonly stated that “everyone has a right to his or her own opinion,” a belief that made everyone’s opinion equally valid since there was no way we could ultimately find the “truth” about any matter.  We all were supposed to believe like Pontius Pilate, who said, “What is truth?”  No longer was finding “absolute truth” possible. In academia, it all became a matter of “who makes the best case/argument.”

Today, conditions have devolved to the point where the truths of Scripture and the standards declared in the U.S. Constitution are no longer sufficient to reveal the truth about how we should live our lives. One reason Christians are so despised in today’s culture is that Christians believe that Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and that the Scriptures reveal the truth about who we are and what our place is in this world.  Thus, we Christians are declared to be ignorant fools who believe in “fairy tales.”  And many of today’s political leaders no longer feel inclined to follow the strictures of the U.S. Constitution, in spite of their oaths to do so.  

If you want to see the lawlessness that commonly exists in our culture, a lawlessness that is based on the lack of a “love of the truth,” you have only to look at the many comments and replies to articles or posts on the internet.  Instead of sound logic or appeals to factual authority, arguments are most typically made using obscenities or name calling (ad hominem attacks, a logical fallacy indeed!).  

The Results of Lawlessness

I do not mean to imply that we need to become legalistic, seeking only to follow rules and regulations, for “We have been set free from the Law of sin and death”:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:1-3).  

Paul’s message to us today is the same as the one he wrote so many years ago.  We must not be deceived by the “mystery of lawlessness.”

On the other hand, here are some of the consequences in today’s world of lawlessness and the refusal to seek after, and love, the Truth:

  • An increase in “wickedness.”  Believing and practicing what is evil or bad.
  • The increasing rejection and turning away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the educational and political realms, a refusal even to consider biblical claims.
  • A lack of respect for those in authority, whose job it is to enforce the laws of the land.
  • We have been influenced by a “deluding influence so that people believe what is false,” as Paul describes it in II Thessalonians 2:11.

Based on these conditions, I do not doubt that the “man of lawlessness” may soon be revealed for who he is.

However, Jesus was explicitly clear about these questions He replied to His disciples when they asked Him “When will these things be?” (Mark 13:4):

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

“Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. (Matthew 13:24-33).


I am nearly 70 years old, and I have yet to hear any predictions about the End Times, particularly those that include dates and years, that have come true.  As it is, the sun has now set on August 30th, and I have yet to learn exactly who the Antichrist is.


My Anchor Holds


While my wife and I have been on several enjoyable ship cruises, I have been on the ocean in a small boat only a few times.  My horrible seasickness during a fishing trip was enough to convince me that the ups and downs of the ocean were not very pleasant.

However, at one point, we even bought a small boat to use for fishing in the Pacific Ocean, but mainly we bought it to give the boat to my father-in-law, who was a particularly enthusiastic fisherman.  Trying to “fix” the boat to make it suitable for a gift, we learned quickly that a boat can indeed be a “hole in the water that you pour your money into.”

I confess that I am not an expert on boats or naval paraphernalia, including anchors. I have only owned one anchor used for a boat, but I rarely used it since we usually just tied up at the dock and didn’t try to stay stationary in the water to fish (to avoid sea sickness!).  

The use of an anchor in biblical New Testament times is clearly seen in the Bible, however, so understanding how anchors function helps us understand the Scriptural passages that include anchors.

The Apostle Paul’s Mediterranean Cruise

An understanding of anchors is particularly helpful when reading the 27th Chapter of Acts of the Apostles, a passage which includes the story of Paul’s journey to Rome while under arrest by Roman guards.  At one point during the journey, the following events take place as described by Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles:

Fearing that we might run aground somewhere on the rocks, they cast four anchors from the stern and wished for daybreak. But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship and had let down the ship’s boat into the sea, on the pretense of intending to lay out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” (Acts 27:29-31)

In this story we gain insights even into the minds of experienced sailors as they attempted to escape the dangers of a terrible Mediterranean storm, while also avoiding the brutality of their Roman employers.  Notice also that the four anchors were released from the stern of the ship to keep it from being cast aground on the rocks of the coast.  

Luke’s next account reveals how the anchors were discarded when the boat’s crew mistakenly decided to head for the safety of the beach of a bay.  The boat indeed ran aground, leading to the breaking up of the ship.

When day came, they could not recognize the land; but they did observe a bay with a beach, and they resolved to drive the ship onto it if they could. And casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea while at the same time they were loosening the ropes of the rudders; and hoisting the foresail to the wind, they were heading for the beach. But striking a reef where two seas met, they ran the vessel aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern began to be broken up by the force of the waves. (Acts 27:39-41)

We see clearly from these accounts not only the value of ship’s anchors during storms but also their beneficial help in keeping the ship from becoming stuck fast and broken apart by the storm’s waves.

Most of us will never encounter such experiences in our lives, yet we all may experience the “storms of life,” perhaps even on a daily basis.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had anchors to hold us fast on the course the Lord has given us in our lives, as well as anchors to keep us from getting “stuck” and “immovable” when we are seeking to find peace and safety in this world?

In the Book of Hebrews, however, we find that we have indeed been given “anchors for our souls.”  The writer of Hebrews uses an example in the life of Abraham to demonstrate how this anchor keeps us steadfast, even in the worst storms and temptations in this life.

Seeing an anchor as being a beneficial help during a storm is somewhat of a mystery, for anchors are heavy and they usually are used to keep a ship from moving at all.    

Abraham’s Faith and Hope

After first warning Christians about the “perils of falling away,” the writer of the Book of Hebrews exhorts believers instead to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).

. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

This passage is unclear unless we can determine what the “two unchangeable things” are.  God’s promise to Abram is the first unchangeable thing:

For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” And so, having patiently waited, he [Abraham] obtained the promise.

Abraham, therefore, received the promise of God first because of the reliability of God’s Word.  To show the “unchangeableness of His purpose,” God also made an oath, the second of the two “unchangeable things.”

For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:13-18).

These two unchangeable things mean that “it is impossible for God to lie.” Therefore, we may be assured that the promises of God are “sure and steadfast”:  

We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18-20)

Our ability to look forward to the future with hope is both sure and steadfast because the Word of God is sure and steadfast. Both of these words mean dependable, reliable, true, constant, and trustworthy.  

We must conclude, therefore, that since the Word of God is dependable and trustworthy, we who have received the promise of God may look forward to the future with joyful anticipation, knowing that the promises made to us will be fulfilled.  And this means we have hope, which is the “anchor for our soul.”  

This anchor, in turn, will keep us steadfast and true; in nautical terms, we will “stay the course,” and not depart from the will of the Lord or stray from His purpose for our lives.  The hope we have in the promises of God will keep us steadfast during the storms of life, especially because this hope we have “enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” 

This “veil” is the curtain in the temple was placed between the “Inner Sanctuary” and the “Holy of Holies” where God’s sacred presence was.  When Jesus was crucified, this temple veil was rent, or torn, from top to bottom, signifying that Jesus the Lamb of God was the perfect sacrifice which did away with sin.  And Jesus became our High Priest who as our forerunner became our mediator, the One who allows us also to come into God’s presence. Jesus became the great High Priest who intercedes for us continually before the Father. 

This passage in Hebrews 6 also implies also that we have a choice in whether we will take hold of God’s anchor for our soul, the hope we have in His promises:

. . . so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:16)

We have been given “strong encouragement” to take hold of the hope we have been given, but the choice is still ours.  The more we learn about the steadfastness of God’s Word, the easier it will be to receive the anchor we need to keep us on the course set before us and have peace in the midst of the storms of this life.  And hope is the anchor that keeps us firmly directed and safe in the many storms that arise in this world.

Hope Does Not Disappoint

Finally, the Apostle Paul summarizes our hope in the promises of God through Jesus Christ:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

Not only do we have peace during times of tribulation, therefore, but we may also exult, which means we may feel a lively and triumphant joy.  We may rejoice exceedingly and be highly elated or jubilant, all because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the gift of His Holy Spirit.  Praise His name!


Examining Ourselves Rightly


The most difficult role for parents or Church leaders, in a similar context, is the role of one who must bring discipline and correction to the family or to the Church Body.  However, the Apostle Paul found himself in this role, as he describes it in his first letter to the Corinthian Church.  Since what follows is such a lengthy passage, we will examine it separately in parts.

Part I

In the first part Paul describes the problems that need to be corrected.  As Paul describes them, they consist of schisms and divisions in the Corinthian Church instead of solid unity:

But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.  (I Corinthians 11:17-19)

Clearly, Paul understands the sinful human nature, for he writes that these factions and divisions have occurred for an all-too-apparent reason:  those who believe themselves to be qualified to lead (those “who are approved”) also desire to be recognized as being in charge (“so that they may become evident among you”).  

Part II

In the second part of the passage taken from his letter, Paul describes an even more troubling problem in the Corinthian Church, one which was probably more prevalent among the believers as a whole:

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. (I Corinthians 11:20-22)

When the believers in the Corinthian Church come together, Paul writes, they come to eat and drink, not to “remember” the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their redemption from the consequences of their sins.  Instead, they are only concerned about filling their bellies and soothing themselves with alcohol.  Their desire to gorge themselves is so strong that they even compete with one another, leaving some with nothing, while others are bloated with bread and wine.  

Clearly, this description is nothing like the communion observances we have in most protestant churches in our culture today.  As a child, I was struck by the tiny pieces of unsalted crackers that were passed on a silver plate down the rows of pews by the deacons, along with the tiny cups filled with grape juice. There was no way, under the watchful eyes of my parents, I could have filled myself with such small portions of juice and crackers, simply because there wasn’t enough on the plate for anyone to take more than a minimal amount.  

We knew we weren’t sharing a meal. My mother taught me to gaze at the elements after they were passed, while I prayed and asked for forgiveness for my sins, not allowing myself to be distracted by anything around me or spilling what was in my tiny cup.

Part III

Therefore, in the next part of his letter, Paul describes how the Lord’s supper should be observed:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Their purpose in gathering to partake of the bread and wine, therefore, was definitely not to gluttonously fill themselves with bread and wine, but instead to remember what Christ accomplished as the “Lamb of God” by sacrificing His broken body and His blood, as well as to proclaim the victory of His death and resurrection until He comes again.  

For both elements of this Last Supper, the bread and the wine, Jesus asked that they remember Him, His broken body and His sacrificial blood that was spilled for them. And He asked also that they continue to remember Him as often as they celebrated the Last Supper in the future, thereby proclaiming His death and the results of His sacrifice until He comes again.

Part IV

In this next portion of Paul’s exhortation, the Apostle explains not only the proper attitudes the believers in Corinth needed to have while partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but also the proper behaviors they should have as they drink and eat:

27 So then whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is unworthy [of Him] will be guilty of [profaning and sinning against] the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But a person must [prayerfully] examine himself [and his relationship to Christ], and only when he has done so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks [without solemn reverence and heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ], eats and drinks a judgment on himself if he does not [a]recognize the body [of Christ]. 30 That [careless and unworthy participation] is the reason why many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [in death]. 31 But if we evaluated and judged ourselves honestly [recognizing our shortcomings and correcting our behavior], we would not be judged. 32 But when we [fall short and] are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined [by undergoing His correction] so that we will not be condemned [to eternal punishment] along with the world. (AMP Version: I Corinthians 11:27-32)

To sum up these admonitions, Paul cautions believers not to eat of the bread or drink from the cup in an “unworthy” manner.  If they do, he writes, they will bring judgment upon themselves for “sinning against” (See above AMP v. 27) the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, resulting in weakness, sickness, or even death (v. 30).

By following and acting upon these admonitions, we will neither incur the consequences of sinning against the Lord’s Body and Blood, nor be “condemned to eternal punishment along with all non-believers” (See v. 32 above):

Instead, Paul’s remedy is that believers need to “judge themselves rightly” so they will not be judged or condemned along with the world (v. 32).  

Part V

Paul’s final teaching on this subject, therefore, entails that believers should “wait for one another,” eating at home rather than using the elements of the Last Supper to satisfy their hunger.  Avoid the temptation, he writes, so that the whole body does not come together “for judgment” (v. 34):  Here is the definitive passage:

So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come. (I Corinthians 11:33-34)

Eating and Drinking the Lord’s Supper Unworthily

What does the Apostle Paul mean when he counsels believers not to eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily,” or in an “unworthy manner”?  (See I Corinthians 11:27 in Part IV above.)  

The secret to solving this mystery lies, I believe, in the consequences and ramifications of the incurred judgments, which are “weakness, sickness, or even death.”  Paul writes that we must “judge” and “examine” ourselves  to ensure that we are not
“sinning” against the Body and Blood of Jesus, a sin that may incur weakness, sickness, or even death.  (I Corinthians 11:30)

Most clearly, since Paul is writing to believers in the Corinthian Church, a person cannot participate fully in the Lord’s Supper unless he or she has become a true believer in Jesus Christ and has accepted by faith what He accomplished as the “Lamb of God,” the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sin that separates us from God, our Holy Father.  

This is why even churches that practice “open communion,” or, in other words, churches that allow even non-members of the church to participate in the Lord’s Supper, will most often still warn everyone who partakes to ensure they have committed their hearts and lives to Him, through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to avoid the results of taking the communion unworthily.  

Paul’s teachings and corrections are definitely directed in his letter to those who have indeed submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, having committed their hearts and lives to Him and become members of the Church of Corinth.  Therefore, we must assume that his injunctions and warnings apply to everyone in the True Church, including all believers in the Church today as well.  

It seems wise to ask, what are we missing from Paul’s message to the whole Church?  Why does it appear that many people today are weak, sick, or even dead?  Are we partaking of the Lord’s Supper unworthily?  Have we diminished the significance of the communion sacrament and disregarded the implications of not examining ourselves according to Christ’s own guidelines?

I believe the key to discovering the meaning of this mystery is found in the following passage from John’s Gospel:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)

This is what Dr. Michael Brown writes about John’s description of Christ’s final moments on the cross:

What did Jesus mean when He uttered the words “It is finished!” in John 19:30?

The phrase actually translates one word in Greek, tetelestai, from the root teleō, which means “to finish, fulfill.”

Significantly, this specific form of the verb, tetelestai, is only found twice in the entire New Testament, both times in John 19.

In fact, the two occurrences of tetelestai are found within three verses of each other: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ … When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:28, 30).

Do you see that? Although the verb teleō occurs 28 times in the New Testament, the form tetelestai is found only twice, and those two occurrences are in the same context, right next to each other, making the meaning perfectly clear.

Jesus was saying, “Mission accomplished! Everything that had to be done has been done! It is finished!” (Source: Click Here to View Brown’s article)

First of all, therefore, Jesus asks for something to quench His thirst in order to “fulfill the Scripture.”  See the prophecy in the Psalms:

They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalms 69:21)

Then, when He has received the sour wine from the sponge held up to Him, He says, “It is finished!” and “gives up His spirit” in death.  

We learn from this passage that, even on the cross, Jesus was intent on ensuring that all of the prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning His atoning death were fulfilled and “accomplished” before He gave up His life.  Jesus then declared that His mission was finished: He had completed all that had been prophesied and that His Father had planned in sending His only Son to be sacrificed.

What is probably missing in our participations in the times for ‘rembrance” during communion, therefore, concerns our inability to acknowledge and receive the fulness of what Christ came to accomplish on the Cross.  These relate to the three conditions that result from our not holding fast in faith to what He “finished”: His triumph over weakness, sickness, and death on our behalf.  

In Remembrance of Him

One passage in the Book of Hebrews states this idea in specific terms:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Clearly, many believers in the Early Church, just as in churches today, needed to be reminded about “remembering,” or the acknowledgement in faith and the appropriation of the magnificent provisions of Christ’s sacrifice on the Church’s behalf.  What does this mean?

Particularly as we “remember” Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, we need to focus on receiving “mercy and finding grace in times of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Since Jesus Himself was tempted just as we are, yet He did not fall into sin, we need to identify with the One who overcame all of the consequences of all sin.  

Jesus could vicariously sympathize with us, when the sins of the world were placed on Him, while identifying Himself as the One who took the punishment for all of our sins, receiving in His own Body on the Cross the consequences of sin as He suffered and died, even to the point of being “forsaken” by His Father because of those sins (see Mark 14:34 and Matthew 27:46).  

While in the Garden praying, Jesus knew not only what He would suffer physically on the cross, but also what He would endure while having the sins of the world placed on Him.  Imagine what He must have experienced, for He was without sin and knew no sin, yet suddenly while on the Cross He felt the sins of a world filled with wickedness placed on Himself, the spotless Lamb of God.

As a result of His willingness to receive this judgment, the consequences of sin were done away with, including weakness, sickness, and even death.  Therefore, Jesus Himself, as our propitiation for our sin, endured weakness, sickness, and death for the first time in His life, suffering not only death and entombment, but also three days and nights in Hell itself.  Is it any wonder why He asked His Father. . . 

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus was in such agony over what He would experience and endure that He suffered from hematidrosa (or “sweating blood”) (See definition of “hematidrosa” caused by extreme stress“). Yet even knowing what He would experience, He was willing to take our place and drink the cup offered to Him.  

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:24)

And beforehand, during the Last Supper with His disciples, He broke the bread and offered the cup to demonstrate to them how they could remember His sacrifice on their behalf.  Consequently, we today have also been instructed how to identify with Jesus’s offer of redemption through His own death, finding eternal life also through His resurrection.


Whenever I send a package via United Parcel Service, I receive a “tracking number” so that I can determine the progress of the package as it is being delivered.

In the same way, the Lord has given us a means of tracking our own progress as Christians in the ways of the Lord.  We daily need to examine and judge ourselves completely, while identifying with Jesus Christ and holding fast our confession of faith.

However, we also need especially to remember His accomplished work on the cross as we take communion, in order not to be judged and suffer the weaknesses, sickness, and even death that have fallen on some believers. We need to judge ourselves continually and appropriate by faith all that the Lord Jesus purchased for us when He drank the cup that was given to Him according to the will of His Father in Heaven.

The Marriage Covenant


The Genuine Article

The Apostle Paul gave clear affirmation in his teaching letters that God’s design for marriage was not limited to a certain time period, but was the enduring pattern we must continually follow (Matt. 19:4–6; Eph. 5:22–33). The uniqueness of the one-flesh union experienced by a man and woman through sexual intimacy is a gift given to married couples and also a radically beautiful signpost to the union He shares with His people.

This spiritual mystery sounds strange to many people, but it’s amazingly true. In Ephesians 5:30-32 the apostle Paul calls the “signpost” reality of Christian marriage a “mystery” that is a reference to Christ and the Church (followers of Jesus):

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32)

Even many Christians in the Church today have been misled about the nature of true biblical marriage.  According to the spiritual, mystical understanding that St. Paul gives, marriage is not merely a legal document or just a “piece of paper” that may be thrown into the garbage can when it no longer seems genuine or binding.

Many young adults no longer desire a marital relationship in their lives, having been misled and deceived by our popular culture and the many broken marriages so prominent in the media and in the Church.

Just to use an appealing metaphor, or analogy, consider how the Mercedes Benz or BMW automobiles have become two of the most desired vehicles seen on the road today.  Most people will never drive, much less own, one of these automobiles, yet they are depicted constantly as the most coveted means of transportation, in spite of their enormous cost:

Consequently, numerous copies or imitations exist today in the new car lots, vehicles that look much like the original models in the Mercedes or BMW lots.  

Here is  a Photoshopped creation with a BMW grille and the rest from a Kia (source):

Richard Lentinello, for example, writes the following in Hemmings Classic Car,

I have very little interest in new cars, mainly because they all seem to be made from the same mold — well-made, yes, but boring in terms of design, nonetheless (Source).

Lentinello’s comments appear in a website that develops these ideas further, so it is worth looking at.  I can closely identify with the following quotation that certainly describes the culture I lived in while growing up, especially since my father purchased a 1958 Chevy station wagon:

The high-water mark for individual-looking cars was probably the 1950s and 1960s, when any schoolkid could tell a ’59 Chevy from a ’58. There were indeed a lot of great designs back then. But yearly model changes were incredibly inefficient and mostly happened with very little upgrade to the engineering under the skin. (Source)

Likewise, while young adults today may admire those who have what appear to be loving and solid marriages, they more and more are deciding that such marriages are impossible, for half of all marriages end in devastating divorces. Consequently, they have decided either not to form a marital union with another person at all, or instead merely attempt to form a good “copy” of what they think a good relationship is, usually based on the all-too-observable pleasures of having sex with another person and just living together, or the superficial appearances of what they consider a true marital union.  

Love (and thus, sex), rather than a solid commitment, are the BMW grill and chrome tire rims that are superimposed on a relationship that is extremely lacking in solid covenant commitments.

This propensity is far different from Scriptural admonishions. First of all, by faith, Christians enter into a spiritual union with God, becoming one with Him. This union is symbolized in the covenant we have with Jesus as represented in the communion we celebrate when we come together.  We remember His sacrifice as we partake of the communion meal, eating the bread and drinking the fruit of the vine, which symbolize His body and blood, while becoming one with Him.   

Christian marriage, like the celebration of communion, is also a mystical picture of this union, and, likewise, sexual intimacy uniquely provides a picture of the oneness that God shares with His people: two distinct and very different beings, joined together as an expression of covenantal love.

God first demonstrated His love for all human beings by making a covenant with Abraham.  These promises were sealed by God in the “cutting” of a covenant, a mystery we studied in another blog article titled  “A Great Mystery” (click to read about David’s covenant with Jonathan and God’s covenant with Abraham).  

The First Marriage

In the Book of Genesis, we read of the first marriage between Adam and Eve.  

The man [Adam] said,

“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:22-24).

The “oneness” depicted in this account is significant, for it describes not only the “mystery” of marriage itself, but also the oneness that occurs in any true covenant.  The two parties become unified as they join together in marriage, a unique unity that only is possible for a man and a woman.  Adam recognized this unity for he realized that Eve was formed from his own flesh.  Therefore, the unity they had was real and vital.

A marriage ceremony, therefore, is more than a “rubber stamp” on a certificate.  Instead, it is the making of a covenant, witnessed by family and friends.  There is no “cutting” or shedding of blood, as with most covenants, yet the vows depict the kind of union that occurs in any covenant relationship.  

“Till death do us part,” or “for as long as we both shall live,” therefore, as parts of most marriage vows, are significant, for they reveal the main components of a “blood covenant” relationship.  It was believed that a covenant could only be broken if one of the parties died.

Today’s Degradations of Marriage

It is not surprising, therefore, that along with the substitutions and “copies” of true marriage relationships in today’s cultures, the ceremony of the marriage covenant has also been degraded into mere parties with raucous and meaningless dancing and alcoholic frolic.

Too often, the man and the woman have already formed relationships with others, becoming “one” with them, to the point where many young women have already had children.  Thus, they may have already been “married” to one or more persons.  

What About Divorce?

Does this mean that divorce cannot ever legitimately occur?  Jesus’ response to His disciples’ questions about divorce seems to say it cannot occur without resulting in the sin of adultery:

[Jesus] said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

However, I find two places in the New Testament that reveal when divorce may be permissible without sin (for the innocent party) in a marriage).

“It was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. (I Corinthians 7:12-15)

These passages relate that the only valid reasons for divorce are adultery (unchastity) and desertion.  Even so, such cases are not absolute, for even broken marriages may be saved through prayer, devotion, commitment, and spiritual warfare.  And in the case of desertion, the Apostle Paul says that a believer is “not under bondage in such cases,” which should be interpreted as follows: “A believer is not prohibited from marrying again after a divorce.”



The Kingdom of God, Part VIII

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The End of All Things:  Revelation 21-22

Chapter 21 in Revelation begins with a vision of the new heaven and the new earth John sees after the final judgment described in the previous chapter, when death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)

Again, like other images in Revelation, this detail about the sea’s not existing should not be taken literally, although in a new Heaven and a new Earth there may indeed be no more water, as some teachers of Revelation have suggested, even though there is a “River of Life” flowing through the city.

I believe that the sea in verse one refers symbolically to humanity, which no longer exists on the earth, for all of the unredeemed rebellious people have been sent to the lake of fire, and all of the redeemed are seen as the “New Jerusalem.”  

The sea also symbolizes humanity in Chapter 13 of Revelation, where we see two “beasts,” one rising out of the sea and the other rising out of the earth.  The first is described specifically as devoted to speaking blasphemies against God and persecuting the Church.

And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in thebook of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:6-8)

The city called the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation 21 is also depicted as the bride in the following passage:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

The speaker in the next few verses is clearly Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, or the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is the First and the Last, and the Beginning and the End!

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8)

This symbolic connection between the New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ is emphasized further in the next passage, for “one of the angels says to John, Come and see the Bride” (21:9), yet the vision John then sees is the holy city, the New Jerusalem:

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:10-11)


What follows is an extensive and elaborate description of this magnificent city, including the dimensions, descriptions of the city gates, and the ornate composition of the walls and streets.

We need to be certain not to interpret these details literally, as though they describe a physical city, however.  Instead, the details are all symbolic, beginning with the picture of the “Lamb” and the temple.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)

Even the word “Lamb” is a symbol representing Jesus Christ who is described as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), a description which links Jesus to the lambs of the temple sacrifices of the Old Covenant that were sacrificed for the sins of the people.  Even these lambs were a pre-figured representation of the ultimate sacrifice for sin that Christ completed on the cross of His crucifixion, as described by Peter:

  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (I Peter 2:24)
  • For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (I Peter 3:18-19)

In addition, unlike what I was taught as a teenager, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place where all the saints will live, but instead consists of all of Christ’s saints, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and are built up as “living stones,” as the Apostle Peter relates:

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, aprecious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (I Peter 2:4-6)

Further, John writes this about the Temple that is in the midst of the New Jerusalem, indicating that the Temple is an overall representation of the Church of Christ:

And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only thosewhose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

The Water and the Tree of Life

What follows in the next chapter, Revelation 22, is a description of the river of the water of life and the tree of life in the middle of the New Jerusalem, once again the symbolic representation of the Church, the Bride of Christ:

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
This passage alludes back to the story of the fall of humankind in the Book of Genesis, where the tree of life first appears in the Scriptures.  If you will recall, God told Adam that the Earth was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and the couple was banished so they would no longer have access to the Tree of Life.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Geness 3:22-24)
Thus, as the passage relates, there will no longer be a curse on the land, and the light will appear not from the sun, moon, and stars, but from the Lord God.

The Final Messages in Revelation

Finally, in Revelation 22:6-21, we read the final messages at the end of John’s visions:

  •  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (22:7)
  • “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. (22:10)
  • Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.” (22:11)
  • “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (22:12)
  • I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
  • “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (22:16)
  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (22:17)
  • He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” (22:20)

Some of these messages seem confounding and confusing, for they seem to be saying that the Lord is coming soon and Christ’s coming is near, in spite of the clear fact Jesus did not come soon.  Even the early apostles and the Apostle Paul implied that Christ’s coming was near.  

However, either His appearing has been delayed for two-thousand years or the Lord’s purposes have a deeper intent than we might suppose and understand.

Perhaps both interpretations may be correct, however, for the Apostle Peter addresses both possibilities about the delay in the Lord’s coming.  Considering that God is timeless, above the restrictions of the linear nature of time’s progress, only two days have passed!

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (II Peter 3:8)

In addition, the Lord will delay His coming until every stone has been added to the Temple, every person has been added to the Body of Christ:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

And finally, Peter says, the Lord will appear suddenly, without warning, much the same way a thief might secretly break into a home when least expected.  

Christ is not a thief, of course, but Peter’s analogy is significant.  As in the parable of the Ten Virgins, we need to be ready, no matter how long it takes, for He could appear at any moment:

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)

A Word of Warning

John  adds a final note of his own to his book, warning that some may try to add or take away from the words, and perhaps even the meanings, of the signs and symbols of these marvelously revealed visions.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Unfortunately, some of the most dedicated teachers of Revelation have made the errors John mentions, either by adding their own interpretations to the visions or taking away parts of the visions. 

I heard recently a description of these kinds of interpretations as follows:

It’s like looking into a well and seeing one’s own reflection.  

Thus, some well-meaning teachers only see from their own solipsistic perspectives, rather than finding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to understand the mysteries of Revelation.  This means, for example, that the locusts in the Book of Revelation are not helicopters with guided missiles, and the 144,000 saints are not members of a religious cult that only appeared in the twentieth century.

The Kingdom of God, Part VII

The Seventh Vision: Revelation 20

John’s Seventh Vision begins and ends in Chapter 20.  The previous six visions generally begin with an angelic messenger, but this messenger is different, for he holds a key. He is not given a key, for it is one He owns and has Himself obtained. He owns the key!

Jesus told Peter that “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).  And we have already seen in the first chapter of Revelation the following verses when John saw the glorified Jesus Christ:
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.  (Revelation 1:17-18)

Jesus Overcame Satan

Even before His victory on the cross, Jesus claimed to be the one who had come to bind the devil:  Luke 11:21

If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Luke 11:18-22)

Before His resurrection and not long before Christ’s ascension to the right hand of God, the truths of His impending victory were clearly stated to the disciples and future apostles, though they did not understand completely.  In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus prayed saying,

“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:27-28)

Some in the crowd thought that an angel had spoken to Him, others that they had heard thunder, but Jesus makes clear what they had heard:

Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”(John 12:30-32)

And because the warfare in the spiritual realm is difficult to comprehend, Jesus promised the coming of the “Helper,” the Holy Spirit, who would not only enlighten the saints but also bring about the enforcement of the judgment of the prince of this world:

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11)

Later, the Apostle Paul wrote about Christ’s victory over Satan’s powers:

He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:13-15)

In the Book of Hebrews, we find that even though we live in the physical world with bones, sinews, and blood, we no longer need to fear the devil, who once held the power of death over us, for Jesus became a man with the same kind of physical body as ours to liberate us from him who once held us captive through the threats of death:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The Apostle John declared in his third letter that Jesus came to  “destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8).  And this understanding is confirmed in the vision John sees in his revelations.

What John Saw

Much confusion has arisen over the Church’s understanding of John’s vision in these final chapters, but we must realize that the many mysteries in Revelation are given to the whole Church, and the interpretations of these signs and symbols must relate to the whole Body of Christ.  Therefore, the good news of this revelation is not just for those living in what we call the “End Times.”

The “angel” in the following passage is actually Christ Jesus, for the word angel means “messenger,” and unlike the other messengers who are given a key, this messenger has a key already.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  (Revelation 20:1-3)

During this period of one-thousand years the saints of God are given authority to go forth into all the nations to share the good news of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice and overcoming resurrection, but as we have seen in the other six visions, persecution is always the result.

First, the saints are given authority, the same authority Jesus claimed and delegated in Matthew 28:18-19, when He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”

This authority is represented in Revelation 20 verse 4 in the words “thrones” and “judgment”:

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. (Revelation 20:4)

When the Gospel goes forth, however, persecution is always the result, revealed in the following verses:

And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)

The vision continues with the description of the “first resurrection” from the dead, what happens when all who give their lives completely to the Lord Jesus are “reborn” of the spirit, as Jesus related to Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  (Revelation 20:4-6)

This summation reveals that all who are in Christ Jesus shall not die but have eternal life with Him.  When does this life begin?  Not when our physical bodies die, for to be absent from the body, merely means to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). Therefore, when we are reborn, we experience the “first resurrection.”

The Thousand Years Explained

Even when Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples continued looking into the sky to see when He was coming back, but the angel told them they had work to do first

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. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

The Apostle Peter, even in the first few years after Christ’s resurrection explained why the Lord’s second coming had not yet occurred:

But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:7-9)

On the other hand, as we shall soon see in Revelation 22, the Lord Jesus said,

And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. (Revelation 22:10-12)

I come quickly, Jesus said, and He compared His coming to a “thief in the night,” which means it will come suddenly when we don’t expect it.

The First Resurrection

This first resurrection is best understood by seeing what the rest of the Scriptures reveal.  The Apostle Paul, for example, writes that we have been raised together with Christ and seated with Him on His throne:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

And in his Letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that all the saints have not only died and been buried, but also raised up with Christ,

having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-13

In a parallel passage in Romans, Paul describes how we have been baptized as a symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection so that we might reign with Him:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

Since we have died and been buried with Christ, as well as resurrected in the first resurrection, this is how we are to live our lives:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

We must set our minds where they exist in truth, seated with Christ in the Heavenlies.  Since Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world,”  we must not try to sit on our thrones in this earthly existence, only in the Heavenlies in the spirit.

The Final Judgment 

As in previous visions, specifically the one described in Revelation 16, the final judgment of Satan, his legions, and all on earth who continue in rebellion now occurs.

Just as the persecution of the saints begins when the Gospel goes forth, the time of judgment appears at the end of the visions John sees, this time a final judgment on those who continue to follow Satan, as well as Satan himself with his legions:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  (Revelation 20:7-10)

The Great White Throne

In the final verses in Revelation Chapter 20, we read about the Great White Throne on which the One sits who will judge all of the dead based on their works and deeds in their lives. Clearly there has been a resurrection, for the scene John sees includes those who have died:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)

The “lake of fire” is reserved for those whose names are not written in the Book of Life, and even death and Hades are thrown into the fire as well:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)

In the last article in this series, we will continue to examine the final two chapters of this marvelously mysterious book.  I pray that your understanding has been enlightened!  As John wrote, “Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”




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The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part VI

The Sixth Vision: Chapters 17-19

The Sixth Vision John describes in the Book of Revelation begins in Chapter 17 and continues through Chapter 19. This vision shows only the end of the cyclical tableau of seven visions John is shown. Rather than beginning with the first coming of Christ and revealing the warnings and judgments of the Gospel’s being sent to the world, however, this vision focuses on the end result of the judgments of God against Babylon.

Please understand that our purpose is not to dissect the text and try to understand every symbolic meaning and metaphoric element. Instead, it is more productive to get a comprehensive overview of the entire book to see how it relates not only to the Church today, but also to the Church of the whole Body of Christ that has come before us.

Two overriding metaphors are used in this vision to reveal the ultimate purposes of God.  Two women and two cities appear: first, the Bride of Christ, the Church, and the Harlot, Mystery Babylon; second, two cities also are in evidence, the New Jerusalem and Babylon. Just as the figure of the harlot and the virgin are seen as contrasting opposites, the Book of Revelation also speaks of two contrasting cities: Babylon and New Jerusalem.

The Harlot in Proverbs

John first compares Babylon to a “harlot,” and typical of a woman who sleeps with many men in exchange for money, this “woman” personifies spiritual corruption and contrasts with the purity of the other woman in the Book of Revelation, the Bride of Christ, or the Church.

The book of Proverbs portrays a harlot as a seductress to the vulnerable young man, seeking to lead him astray from wisdom and understanding. She uses the cover of darkness and the temptations of love and sexual pleasure to lead a young person to depart from wise behaviors.

Above all, the harlot in Proverbs is an advocate for false wisdom, a wisdom that leads to destruction rather than blessing. Spiritually, the harlot offers false wisdom as a means of obtaining wealth and power.

Lucifer’s deception in the Garden of Eden was that Adam and Eve  would not die as a result of disobedience, but they would become “like God,” knowing good and evil, and hence become the masters of their own destiny.

This deception has become the basis for all false religions, including atheism and agnosticism, as well as the false religions of both the past and the present, particularly occultism and sorcery.

Harlots in Isaiah and Jeremiah

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both referred to Israel, Judah, or Jerusalem as a harlot or an unfaithful woman who commits adultery, for she was judged faithless and filled with selfish unrighteousness and even murder.

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (Isaiah 1:21)

Then the Lord said to me in the days of Josiah the king, “Have you seen what faithless Israel did? She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there. I thought, ‘After she has done all these things she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 3:6-10)

Babylon, the Harlot

Since the Bride in Revelation is a clear portrayal of the Church of Christ Jesus, numerous attempts have been made to identify the harlot in Revelation as representing some religions such as Catholicism or Islam, for example.

Unfortunately, many expositors of John’s Book of Revelation typically interpret the mysteries too narrowly, according to their own perspectives, rather than understanding that Revelation was written for the whole Church of all ages.

In this case, therefore, the vision is interpreted by the angel speaking to John himself. Although the angel declares that the  harlot is  a mystery, the angel provides the meaning of the mystery:

And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)

The angel further explains the mystery of the woman, saying,

The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.  (Revelation 17:18)

This interpretive key, along with the name of the harlot, tells us that Babylon is related not only to the stories of ancient Babylon in the Book of Daniel, but also to the story of Babel’s tower in Genesis 11:1-9:

 Mystery Babylon

In the original Hebrew texts, the names for “Babel” and “Babylon” were the same, essentially “Bbl,” since no vowels were used.  We can conclude, therefore, that the two cities were the same.  Thus, the Hebrew word translated “Babylon” is bâbel, which is the same word used in the book of Genesis that refers to the tower of Babel.

Using this story as a backdrop, therefore, we see that Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents the great city of historical Babylon, a city that symbolically depicts the attempts of humans to be equal with God and to elevate themselves to the sphere of divine beings.  They had swallowed the lie that they would be like gods, and their hope was manifested by building a tower they believed would reach into heaven.

Thus, Mystery Babylon in Revelation represents both a city and a harlot of false religion, one that supposedly helps humans find the divine from within themselves, rather than finding justification and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

The Tower of Babel

After the flood of Noah, the city of Babel was ruled by Nimrod, under whose leadership the tower was built.  Despite God’s desire that the people separate and inhabit the whole earth, Nimrod collected the people to himself, even building a ziggurat, or tower, to negate the possibility of a future flood in defiance of any future judgment of a flood from God.

Nimrod was the son of Cush, the grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah.  Genesis describes him  as “a mighty one in the earth” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (Genesis 10:8-9).

Here is the story of the Tower of Babel as it is found in Genesis:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

An interesting article by biblical archaeologist Dr. David P. Livingston attempts to show that Nimrod was a fierce opponent of Yahweh.  Livingston proposes that Nimrod is not the man’s true name, which was a derogatory pseudonym, but that he was the one named Gilgamesh in the ancient epic.

First, what does the name Nimrod mean? It comes from the Hebrew verb marad, meaning “rebel.” Adding an “n” before the “m” it becomes an infinitive construct, “Nimrod.” (see Kautzsch 1910: 137 2b, also BDB 1962: 597). The meaning then is “The Rebel.” Thus “Nimrod” may not be the character’s name at all. It is more likely a derisive term of a type, a representative, of a system that is epitomized in rebellion against the Creator, the one true God. (See

Another legend concrning Nimrod is detailed by Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, who claimed that Nimrod’s city of Babel was constructed in defiance of Yahweh:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. . . . He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. (See

Thus, the stories of Nimrod and Babel lead us to the image of “Mystery Babylon” in Revelation, particularly the associations with autocratic governments, rebellion against God, blasphemy, and religious occultism. Consequently, we are able to understand more fully the symbolic images of Babylon, as the great city and the harlot, in the vision that John sees in Revelation.

The Harlot Rides on a Beast

The angel in John’s vision relates that the citizens of this Mystery Babylon will wage war against the Lamb and those who are with Him, those called “chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14).

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Revelation 17:8)

This description is uniquely mysterious.  I suggest that it relates to a parallel story about Lucifer.

We understand that Satan became the prince of this Earth after Adam’s sin, for Adam gave him his authority over the earth.  The three temptations of Christ confirm this assumed authority, for Satan the tempter declares that he will give Jesus the kingdoms of this world in exchange for His worship (see Matthew 4:1-11).  Of course, Jesus does not succumb to the lies of the devil, choosing instead to use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God in opposition.

Satan was then ultimately defeated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and the kingdoms of this world were indeed given over to the Messiah, who declared that “all power is given to me in Heaven and Earth (Matthew 28:18-20).  Though Satan fell “like lightning” from Heaven, he will arise from perdition for just a little while, only to be defeated again and finally imprisoned in Hell.  (We will study this in a future chapter of Revelation, specifically Chapter 20.)

Victory for the Lamb

Again in John’s vision, the sixth we have studied, there is a call for repentance and for all who are redeemed to come away from the spiritual domains of the Harlot:  

I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:4-5)

The kings and merchants of the earth will mourn over Babylon, the Harlot, for they will no longer be able to access her luxuries or sell their goods to her.

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. (18:20-21)

The destruction of Mystery Babylon, the Harlot, is decreed not only because of her corruption and rebellion, but also because of her persecution of the saints of the true Church of Christ:

And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Revelation 18:24)

The Bride of Christ

I’m constantly amazed at how perfectly God’s plans merge together into an astounding harmony throughout the Scriptures.  For example, just as Eve was formed out of the side of the first Adam in Genesis 2, the Bride of Christ, the Church, was formed out of the side of the second Adam, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:45).

The Body of Christ, or the Church, was formed, therefore, as a result of Christ’s willingness to give His life through crucifixion and even to take the penalty in Hell for our sin.  At the time of His death, out of His side flowed water and blood to give us life in Him.

In Chapter 19 of Revelation, therefore, we see the Bride of Christ, the Church, ready to be married to the Lamb, or Christ Jesus.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)  

Our union with Christ as a marriage is a great mystery, wrote the Apostle Paul, for we are members of His body, having been formed from His resurrection. (Eph. 5:32).  We next see in Revelation, therefore, the second coming of Christ, not only to receive His Bride, but also to defeat finally the forces of Satan.

 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, brightand clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8)

Christ appears with His saints, also riding white horses, and the name written on His robe and on His thigh was “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

Forces of Satan Defeated

We then see the forces and powers of darkness defeated, represented by the beast and the false prophet, the symbols of religious and secular opposition to the Kingdom of God.

And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:20-21)

Thus, the sixth vision ends with the destruction of the forces of Satan and the blessed union of Christ with His Bride.


The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part V

The Fifth Vision: 14-16

All In Seven Years?

One of the most persistent ideas about the End Times in the Church today is that many Revelation Bible teachers believe that the different outpourings of God’s wrath are successive, rather than describing the same events in different ways or from various perspectives.

I trust that you have seen in these articles so far that this is not the case.  Each cycle covers portions of the period between Christ’s birth and resurrection, followed by periods of tribulation as a result of persecution, culminating in the return of Christ to bring His Church/Bride home to heaven, along with the end of the world.

Although we are currently looking at John’s Fifth Vision, one other problem needs to be addressed.  

Many End-Time Bible teachers believe that a seven-year period of time, usually labeled the “Great Tribulation,” is predicted in Daniel Chapter 9.  And this period of seven years is the same amount of time all of the plagues, wars, beasts, judgments and horrible events in the Book of Revelation will supposedly appear and occur.

This teaching is based on a false interpretation of the prophecy found in Daniel, where the Angel Gabriel brings an answer to Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the people of Israel.  Here is Gabriel’s message:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. (Daniel 9:24)

What follows, then, is a description of how and when these events will take place:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. (Daniel 9:25)

These two verses show that from the issuing of the decree by Cyrus, the Prince of Persia (the successor to Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon) to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem there would be 69 weeks of years, “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,”or 483 years (69 x 7 = 483).

Thus, 483 years after the decree is issued, the Messiah will appear and then be “cut off”:

Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:26)

This means that after the 483 years, the Messiah will begin His ministry on earth.  The Messiah will then be “cut off and have nothing,” sometime during the final seven-year period, or the 70th week.  This happened when Jesus was crucified after about three and a half years.

Then, the “prince who is to come” will bring about the destruction of Jerusalem once again, along with the Temple.

Not only Daniel, but also Jesus predicted during His earthly ministry that the Temple would again be destroyed.   

And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.” (Luke 21:5-6)

Consequently, Jesus implied also that all sacrifices and grain offerings in the Temple would cease, for the Temple would be destroyed, for He was the Messiah who would cause sacrifices to cease.

This is how Gabriel’s message to Daniel is stated: 

And he [i.e. Jesus] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week [i.e. 3 1/2 years]  he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (Daniel 9:27)

Therefore, Jesus the Messiah was indeed “cut off” in the middle of the final “week,” or seven years, for He was crucified after three and a half years.  Then after his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus the sinless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sin, caused all sacrifices to cease.

The common understanding is that there needs to be a new temple built and sacrifices resumed in order for the “prince who is to come” can cut off sacrifices and grain offerings, a condition that denigrates Christ’s ultimate sacrifice as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  

The Apostle Paul raged against this kind of teaching, opposing those who wanted Christians to continue to follow the laws of Moses, which would include sacrifices.  

In the sixth century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, the sacrifices ceased until the Temple was rebuilt about seventy years later. The sacrifices continued until AD 70 when Titus and the Roman army sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Since then, the sacrifices have not been offered because the temple has not been rebuilt.

This means that there is no 2,000-year gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Gabriel’s message to Daniel, and no other prophecy predicts a mere seven-week tribulation period.  Instead, Jesus told His disciples that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  

This is how the Apostle Paul describes the tribulation to the Church in Rome:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:5-11)

I have written two articles on this problem, posted September 1, 2014, but if you would like to see them again, click here and copy/paste to your web browser: 



The Bowls of Wrath

The Fifth Vision John sees focuses directly on the judgments of God against those on Earth who have refused to turn to the Lord of Mercy in repentance.

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. (15:1)

John then sees a picture in Heaven of those who have been victorious on Earth as they have taken their stand against the temptations of sin:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. (Revelation 15:2)

John then sees this gathering of victorious people with harps in their hands, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. John sees seven angels carrying golden bowls filled with the wrath of God:

After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished. (Revelation 15:5-8)

The Bowls of Wrath

Chapter 16 begins, therefore, with the seven angels holding Bowls of Wrath. They are told by a loud voice from Heaven this message:

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God. (Revelation 16:1)

The rest of this chapter continues with the descriptions of the bowls of wrath being poured out upon the Earth.  The first six bowls are poured, including the following plagues:

  • The first angel pours his bowl and it brings a loathsome and malignant sore upon the people who worship the beast and carry his image on their foreheads.
  • The next angel pours the second bowl, and the sea becomes blood.
  • Then the third angel pours out blood into the rivers and springs of water and cries out that God is righteous, “for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (16:6).
  • The fourth angel pours his bowl onto the sun, and it began to scorch the sons of men until they cried out blasphemies, yet still would not repent.
  • The fifth angel pours his bowl of wrath on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom becomes darkened. They cried out in pain because of their sores, and though they blasphemed God, they would not repent.
  • The sixth angel pours out his bowl on the River Euphrates, yet it became dry, leaving a clear path for the armies of the kings of the east.

Now there is a brief pause between the sixth and the seventh bowls to reveal the gathering of the nations in a place called Armageddon, or Har-Magedon in Hebrew.


John sees three unclean spirits coming out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet that are like frogs.  These spirits go out to the kings of the earth to gather them together for “the Great Day of God,” the final judgement of God against those who refuse to repent:

Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. (Revelation 16:17-20)

Thus, the question is not, “What is Babylon?” or “Who is the Beast?” Instead, what should concern us and the Church of all ages is what these terms represent.  

So many have labeled them in twenty-first-century people or places, but they have been represented throughout history in countless different ways.  


How Do We Interpret Such Mysteries?

Imagine living in the time of the Apostle John in the first century after the Book of Revelation was written. Whom do you believe is the “Beast: or the “Harlot”?  What does “Babylon” represent?  

Or perhaps you are living during the reign of Nero in Rome, or even Hitler in Germany in the 1940s.  

Is Barrack Obama the Antichrist? Some have declared him to be the one John wrote about in Revelation. Should we try to fit these historical figures into John’s apocalyptic visions, only to be wrong when years pass?  

Today, one site ( declares that Alexander the Great is the Antichrist who will supposedly rise from the dead. Other sites say the Pope is the Antichrist. Wait, I thought Henry Kissinger was the Antichrist!  Oh, no!  

Today, we are told that the “Mystery  of Babylon” (which we will study next in Revelation 17) is Rome, or Jerusalem, or even America, depending on the interpretations of the various Bible teachers. And these places are interpreted literally, not as representations of spiritual significance applicable to all Christians.

Shouldn’t these teachings be modified in case the link doesn’t work out in the light of history, as has happened so often in the past?  

Again, this is the danger of trying to be too specific in terms of identifying the actual persons or places in Revelation and linking them with present-day people or cities.  

On the other hand, if I were alive in the first or second centuries hearing that the Beast arising out of the sea is an evil person living in the 21st century, I’m not sure I would take the warnings of repentance and the consequences of not doing so too seriously.  

Thus, we need to focus our spiritual attention on the meanings of these visions, not trying to take them literally or applying them to specific contemporary people or places. If we are wrong, we will only bring reproach on the Church and Christ Jesus.

Nor should we be focusing on the “signs of the times” to declare that the European Common Market is the Beast with seven heads and ten horns found in Revelation 13 and 17.  It’s been years since I have even heard that term “Common Market” used, but when I was a teenager that was what we were told was the prime indicator of the Antichrist’s coming kingdom.

In the next article, we will consider John’s Sixth Vision beginning in Revelation Chapter 17.


The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part IV


The Fourth Vision (Chapters 12-14)

Rightly Dividing the Book of Revelation

First a few suggestions for reading and studying the Book of Revelation.  I’ve already written that John’s Apocalypse is a book of signs and symbols. Consequently, it should not be read literally.  

When we see a beast arising out of the sea in Revelation, it does not refer to the  creature living in Loch Ness or to the whale in Moby Dick.  And we know that the creatures in Jurassic Park and other films are not real, even though they look realistic.

In addition, however, realizing that there are many mysteries and secret meanings in the Revelation, persecution from world governments and false religions is a primary theme John is asked to write down.  Therefore, the book is written in a kind of code that may only be broken by using the whole Word of God as a key.  

Those not familiar with the Scriptures will be totally confused by the strange beasts and descriptions of the plagues, for example, but we who have read about the story of the Exodus of Moses or the visions of Daniel have access to the secrets God wants to reveal to His people.

Finally, one more suggestion: We should not become focused on every detail in John’s vision, trying to find direct links comparing what is written with current events or people in history.

Instead, finding meaning is much like seeing a painting by Picasso, trying to understand all of the colors, lines, and distorted features of the portraits.  Picasso needs to be understood wholistically, not focusing on any particular unusual feature in a painting.  Clearly, Picasso was not trying to be realistic in his paintings, but instead only suggesting his ideas through images that convey his ideas.

The following painting, for example, makes more sense when we know it is of a weeping woman. 

However, we do not need to understand Picasso’s every intention to see what the artist is doing overall.  We either like the painting or we don’t, and I have to say that I prefer the works of other artists much more than those of Picasso!  

Thus, we need to see the Book of Revelation as a whole, in context with the rest of the Scriptures, relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.  

For example, we will see the sickles in Chapter 14 in context with Christ’s Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, a good example of determining meanings in the whole body of God’s Word, for in many ways, the Book of Revelation is equally disturbing in terms of the images and symbols John writes about.  


Another Vision

Beginning in Chapter 12, therefore, we again see one more perspective of God’s plan to redeem the world and set free all who will call upon His name in faith. This Fourth Vision begins the cycle of the whole plan of redemption, although some of the seven visions do not contain the entire tableau, as we will see in future articles.  

This Fourth Vision begins with the story of Christ’s first coming:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.  (Revelation 12:1-2)

Most teachers and scholars in the Church believe that this woman represents the true Israel, the crown of twelve stars standing for the twelve tribes.  John’s vision relates to Joseph’s dream in Genesis:

Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” (Genesis 37:9-10)

Clearly, Jacob (whose name is later changed to Israel) interprets Joseph’s dream in the following way: The “sun” represents Israel, the “moon” represents Rachel, and the “eleven stars” represent Jacob’s eleven sons (besides Joseph). (See also Genesis 35:9-10.)

Some Bible bloggers believe this number cannot represent the Church, for it only consists of Jews.  However, the New Testament clearly declares that the Jews and the Gentiles both make up the True Church in Heaven.  See my articles on “The New Covenant with Israel” concerning the joining together of Jews and Gentiles:

The Birth of the Savior

In John’s vision, therefore, the woman, who represents the faithful people of Israel, is pregnant, or “with child,” and she is ready to give birth to the One who will redeem the world out of the control of Satan.

Then John sees another sign in Heaven, a great dragon who waits for the child to be delivered so it may devour the child and destroy God’s plans:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. (Revelation 12:3-4)

In fact, Satan indeed conspired to kill Jesus, the promised Son of God and Messiah, by using King Herod, who ended up committing mass murder of children to rid his kingdom of a potential rival for his throne.

The dragon in Revelation, therefore, represents Lucifer, or Satan, who brought down many angels with him. (Revelation 12:4).


Lucifer’s Fall

Ezekiel’s prophecies of this event depict not just the King of Tyre, but also Lucifer, for the prophet relates that Lucifer was in Eden (Ezekiel 28:14); he was the “anointed cherub” God placed on the Holy Mountain (14); he was “blameless” in his ways until unrighteousness and sin were found in him (15); and he was cast as profane from the mountain of God (16).  And according to many Bible teachers, when Lucifer fell, he took one-third of the angels with him.

What follows next in Revelation depicts in just one verse the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven of Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah:

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. (Revelation 12:5)


Michael Again Wages War

Once again, however, we find that when the Gospel goes forth into the world, persecution follows, and this is what happens to the woman, or the true Israel, who has become the True Church, the Bride of Christ: “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God (12:6).

Michael the Archangel also appears in John’s vision, along with Michael’s fellow angelic warriors,  waging war with the dragon.  This dragon is, a symbol of Satan and his demonic angels, for this symbolism is explicitly revealed by John in the following passage:

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

John then hears the voice of victory in Heaven:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:10-11)
The battle that raged in the Heavens, however, is not finished, for it is then waged on earth.  The dragon, or Satan, attempts to persecute the woman who gave birth to the child, but she was protected, able to fly to the wilderness (12:13-15).  Therefore, the dragon turns his persecutions against the Church, or the “children” of the woman:
So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17)


The First Beast

The story continues, showing how the dragon, or Satan, stood on the sand of the seashore awaiting a “beast” coming out of the sea. This beast is a representation of worldly powers, authorities, and rulers in the form of various beasts and animals:

Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.  (Revelation 13:1-2; see also Daniel 7)

These beasts symbolize the governments and rulers of the world, and they are much the same as those beasts arising out of the sea in the 7th Chapter of Daniel.  These governments also seek to persecute the Church:

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:7-8)


Another Beast

Then in John’s vision another beast arises out of the sea, one that represents the false religions of the world, yet a beast that still supports and functions under the authority of the first beast:

Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. (Revelation 13:11-14)

This beast is like a lamb, but it speaks with the voice of a dragon. Thus, this beast speaks the words of the dragon, but it is deceptive, operating like a benign religion while exercising the authority of the first beast.  Thus, this second beast is a picture of the counterfeit church, an alternative to the True Church of Jesus Christ.

Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six. (Revelation 13:18)

The number 666 represented here in Revelation is a bit difficult for modern readers to understand, but it was common to use letters of the alphabet not just to form written words but also to represent numbers, hence the numeric system we had to learn in elementary school:  Roman Numerals. 

This conversion of letters to numbers system is called a “gematria,” and was commonly used in the Early Church as a code to identify various people who were persecuting the Church without naming them directly and, thus, inviting increased persecution.

John says, however, that the one “who has understanding” can calculate the “number of the beast,” so applying this name to someone two thousand years later seems unwise.  The Emperor Nero, however, seems to be a likely candidate, not only because of the “gematria,” the numbers in his name adding up to 666, but also his extreme persecution of Christians, an important theme in John’s book. Thus, Nero is a symbol for future world leaders used by Satan to persecute the Church.


The 144,000 on Mount Zion

Finally, nearing the end of this Fourth Vision, we see a picture of the resurrected Church:

Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)

The Mount Zion John sees in Heaven is not the same Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem, nor will it be in future visions in Revelation.  Mount Zion in geographical Jerusalem is where King David claimed the fortress from the Jebusites, making it his palace and the site of the future Temple.

In the New Testament, however, Zion takes on additional symbolic and spiritual significance as the name of the city of the Living God.  First of all, Peter says that Jesus Christ is the “Cornerstone for the foundation,” described in Isaiah’s prophecy.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stoneAnd he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,”  (I Peter 2:4-7)

As Peter describes it, Christian believers are part of the Temple, as living stones built upon the foundation of Christ the Cornerstone.

And as the writer to the Hebrews describes it, Christians “have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” (Hebrews 12:18).  Instead, he writes, you have come to the true Mount Zion in Heaven:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Although, much has been proposed about who the 144,000 are, therefore, it is clear that they are those who have been sanctified and set apart unto God through Jesus Christ, and are a part of the Mount Zion in Heaven, the New Jerusalem.  These Christians are able to sing a “new song” and have the name of Jesus and His Father God on their foreheads. They also have been purified and have lived chaste lives:

These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless. (Revelation 14:3-5)

Their number, 144,000, is a combination of several significant symbolic numbers:  3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10.  Thus, the total number of 144,000 is made up of combinations and multiples of the prominent symbolic numbers in the Scriptures and represent the True Church in Heaven.


Final Judgment

In the final part of the Fourth Vision, we see three angels proclaiming the final judgment on the followers and worshipers of the Beast, those who have a mark on their hand or their forehead. Here are the words of the three angels:

  • Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come. (v. 7)
  • And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” (v. 8)
  • “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  (v. 9-10)
We find two bodies of people in the final part of John’s Fourth Vision, therefore: First, the True Church, or the 144,000, those with a mark on their forehead with the names of Jesus and His Father;  and second, those who worship the beast and hold to the false religion of spiritual Babylon.  
Finally, the vision ends with two angels carrying sickles, reaping the “harvest of the earth” in judgment.  The people of God are reaped to enter their final place in Heaven, while those who have worshiped the beast are reaped and, like the “tares” in Christ’s teaching, are doomed to fire and brimstone.

Tares Among Wheat

This part of  John’s vision in Revelation is a reflection of Christ’s “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.”  

Tares are very similar in appearance to wheat, but they appear first in the ground and steal nutrients from the soil.  They entwine themselves around the wheat so they cannot be removed without destroying the wheat crop as well.  

The tares mature faster than wheat, however, so they may be cut first and destroyed, allowing the wheat to grow to maturity.  

Here is Christ’s parable, along with the interpretation He gives the disciples.  Notice the parallels with the vision John sees in Revelation 14:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then Jesus is asked to explain the parable:

Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Thus, the Fourth Vision repeats the cycle, beginning with the coming of Jesus, continuing with the spread of the Gospel and the subsequent persecutions by the two beasts, and concluding with the final judgment.

The Kingdom of God: Revelation, Part III


The Third Vision (Chapters 8-11)

How A Scroll Is Read

The Apostle John now begins the next vision he saw, the third.
First of all, this is a good time, perhaps, to realize that the chapter and verse designations that appear in modern translations of the Scriptures are not a part of the original documents.  Modern editors have placed these in the text to assist us in finding our places.
Nor are the headings that are used to separate the portions part of the original texts.  This means that we readers must be careful not to be influenced by these demarcations, for they are not always accurate, not just in Revelation but also in the entire Bible.
For example, the third seal in John’s second vision from Chapter 6 (verses 5-8) is described in the New American Standard Bible’s headings as “Famine,” yet in our analysis we saw that the wheat, oil, barley, and wine are present and available. However, they are only scarce to those who have no money to pay for them: “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”
     A denarius is roughly equivalent to only a day’s wages, and the money is scarce because of persecution, a persecution that arises for those who do not align with the principles and teachings of the ruling political and religious leaders.
     Second, from the context of the first two verses, we understand that there is a transition between them.  
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (8:1-2)
(Even the heavenly hosts need a half an hour break, it appears!)
     This “pause” may be demonstrating how the scroll with the seven seals opened by the Lamb in the Second Vision was made.  As the scroll is unrolled and read, and each vision is revealed, pages come to the next seal that needs to be broken, where the narrative pauses, also signifying the end of each vision John sees.

The Trumpets

At the beginning of John’s Third Vision, an angel appears with a golden censer and much incense.  This incense is added to the prayers of all the saints that have been collected and placed on the golden altar before the throne of God (Revelation 8:3). It’s clear what the incense symbolizes, therefore:  the prayers of the Saints.

This angel, who I believe is a type of Jesus our High Priest, is also a reflection of what the Jewish High Priest did every year on the Day of Atonement, as Moses instructed Aaron:

Then Aaron . . .  shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. He shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, otherwise he will die. (Leviticus 16:11-13)

On the Day of Atonement, therefore, the high priest enacted in type a pattern of the ceremony the angel in John’s vision performs.

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:4-5)

This passage also makes clear the results of the incense that arises before the Throne of God. The thunder, lightning, and earthquakes that result are the responses of a Holy God to the intercessions and prayers of His people.

The Seven Angels

The seven angels in the vision then prepare to blow their horns. This ceremony has also been anticipated by the Jewish festivals, or feasts, celebrated every year.

The Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah, celebrates the Jewish New Year.  It begins with the blowing of rams’ horns, the “shofar,” calling God’s people together to confess their sins and repent. It is a solemn day of repentance and being reminded of God’s judgment against sin:

The Jewish Talmud states that three books have recorded the fate of the wicked, the righteous, and those of an intermediate class. The names of the righteous are immediately inscribed in the book of life and they are sealed “to live.” The intermediate class are allowed a respite of ten days, until Yom Kippur, to reflect, repent and become righteous; the wicked are “blotted out of the book of the living forever.” (multiple online sources)

Ten days later on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur,  the shofars again sounded to declare a day of judgment. Some descriptions in the Jewish Midrash, or commentaries, even depict God as sitting upon a throne, while books containing the deeds of all humanity are opened for review.  All the people then pass in front of Him for judgment:

For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls. (Leviticus 16:30)

It was also a time of self-examination:

For nearly twenty-six hours—from several minutes before sunset on Tishrei to after nightfall on Tishrei—we “afflict our souls”: we abstain from food and drink, do not wash or anoint our bodies, do not wear leather footwear, and abstain from marital relations. (Multiple sources)

Thus, these trumpets, or shofar, in Revelation had tremendous significance with these Jewish feasts 


The Shofar

The Trumpets blown by the angels in this part of Revelation are made of the horns of rams and called a shofar.  Unlike the musical sound of silver trumpets, these shofars produced loud blasts that sent out warnings or an alarm of impending attack or war. They represent in Revelation, therefore, the warnings of God’s judgments coming upon the earth:

And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. (Revelation 8:6)

These blasts from the shofars initiate the judgments of God over the physical universe, even including the sun, moon, and stars, described by the Apostle Paul as longing for the revealing of the sons of God and to be freed from the slavery of sin:

For  consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:18-22)

The first four shofars warn of judgments on the Earth that will lead to Christ’s coming, therefore, while the next three are called “woes” that signify the judgments brought upon those of the Earth who have rejected God. As Peter declares, the heavens will burn and the elements will all melt with heat. These warnings sound to declare the coming of Jesus Christ, bringing with Him the “new Heaven and new Earth”:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (II Peter 3:10-13)

The First Four Shofars Sound

The first shofar sounds, signaling the warnings that appear on the earth and in the heavens telling men to repent:

The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. (Revelation 8:7)

The second shofar refers to “a great mountain burning with fire” an allusion to Jeremiah’s prophecy that describes the destruction of Babylon.

The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed. (Revelation 8:8-9)

This “great mountain” alludes to the mountain Jeremiah prophesied about that refers to Babylon:

“But I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all their evil that they have done in Zion before your eyes,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,
Who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord,
“And I will stretch out My hand against you,
And roll you down from the crags,
And I will make you a burnt out mountain.
“They will not take from you even a stone for a corner
Nor a stone for foundations,
But you will be desolate forever,” declares the Lord.  (Jeremiah 51:24-26)

Many Bible teachers have speculated on what this Babylon represents, including the idea that it is the Roman Catholic Church, among religions, and the Unites States of America, among nation-states.  
     Again, I believe that this kind of speculation is unfruitful, for John’s visions are relevant to the Church of all ages, as it says in Chapter 22:7:  “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”  And John is told not to seal up the book, for the “time is near” (22:10).
     We will see more about the destruction of Babylon in future chapters of Revelation, but for now, we must conclude that this Babylon is not a nation, but a symbol called “mystery Babylon,” described in Revelation 17.
The third angel sounds (verse 10), and the prophecy describes a star that falls from Heaven upon earth. The star’s name is “Wormwood,” which is a bitterness that permeates the waters on Earth:
The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. (Revelation 8:10)
The fourth angel sounds his shofar, which signifies how one-third of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened:
The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way. (Revelation 8:12)
What follows are the soundings of the next three shofars, but first we see an eagle flying above sending a message to all the inhabitants of the Earth:
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
This eagle, perhaps, is a symbol of swift judgment descending suddenly from the heavens, the mighties of birds of prey executing judgment on the unwary.

The Three “Woes”

The Fifth through the Seventh trumpets are called “woes,” and they depict the judgments that fall upon those on Earth who do not repent or turn to God:
“Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (Revelation 8:13)

The Fifth Shofar

When the fifth Angel blows the shofar, locusts come upon the Earth.  These locusts mirror the locusts in the plagues of Egypt in the time of Moses.  They represent the consequences of  rebellion against God’s will and Word.  These locusts torment men who do not repent.
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. (Revelation 9:3-4)

The Sixth Shofar

The sixth angel sounds the shofar, warning of the “Army from the East,” depicted as the “great river Euphrates,” the dividing line between Israel and Babylon:    
Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  (Revelation 9:14-16)
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.  (9:20-21)
Clearly these warnings are insufficient to bring about repentance among humankind.

Another Interlude

Again, we have a pause (between the 6th and 7th trumpets) to reveal the condition of God’s people in the midst of persecution, as well as the impending appearance of Christ and the judgment of the rebellious.
First, in Chapter 10, we view the moment when John sees another angel who holds a “little book which was open” (Revelation 10:2) This encounter is  at least partially explained by Daniel’s encounter with Michael the Archangel, described as the “great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (Daniel 12:1).  
In Daniel’s prophecy, we read that when Michael arises at the end of time “there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Daniel 12:1).  
And at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)
Daniel is further told, however, to “seal up” the book “until the end of time” (Daniel 12:3)
But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”  (Daniel 12:4)

It seems, then, that the book in Daniel’s prophetic vision is the same book the angel holds in Revelation, and it is the same one that is given to John to eat.

Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard  again speaking with me, and saying, “Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”  (Revelation 10:8-9)

The story does not end here, however, for John is then told to prophesy again to “many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (Revelation 10:11).  The words John eats will be sweet at first, for the news of Christ’s coming is good, but the prophecy is bitter in the end, for the final judgment is severe and final.
This final judgment will be sweet for those who are on the way to salvation, but it will be bitter for those who have refused to repent and turn to the lordship of Jesus Christ, who will judge all upon His return.  This will be the final “woe.”
We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:17-18)

The Two Witnesses

The final part of this third vision describes what John sees concerning the two Witnesses, also called the “two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Revelation 11:4). Who are these two Witnesses and what do they represent?

The Apostle Paul uses the example of the olive tree to describe the True Church which consists of both Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 11), and as we have seen, the lamp stands represent the Churches in the first of John’s visions in Revelation (see Chapters 1- 3).

Concerning the Two Witnesses, In Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, Moses declared,

A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.  (19:15)

These Two Witnesses in Revelation, therefore, symbolize the perfect and complete testimony of the truth of God’s Word. Thus, the prophetic Word of God revealed through these two symbolic witnesses irrefutably condemns those who continue in rebellion against God and His Christ:

And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. (Revelatin 11:5-6)


As powerful as they are, the prophecies of these two Witnesses are ultimately repudiated, however, by those in rebellion against God. As always happens, when the Word of God goes forth, persecution always follows:  

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. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Revelation 11:7-8)

The “beast” in this passage represents the persecution that arises whenever the Word of God goes forth, a persecution that arises from worldly powers and authorities.

Thus, those who have rejected the Word of God through His Witnesses rejoice, for no longer do they have to hear the message of repentance.  But even though they lie dead in the street, the two Witnesses are soon raised again:

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. (Revelation 11:11)

After the two Witnesses ascend to Heaven, judgment appears on earth, followed by repentance:

And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Revelation 11:13)


Seventh Shofar

When the Seventh Angel sounds the shofar, there is praise and worship in Heaven:  “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
     Thus, the Third Vision John saw in his visions begins with a unique perspective on God’s plan, the “Mystery of God’s Will,” for the people of God. It begins with the going forth of the Gospel, or Good News, but focuses on the persecution and judgment that arises when the powers of the enemy, the world powers, come against the True Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles who have been sealed on their foreheads.


     Please remember that this third vision in Revelation is a message that like a dream is sent in the language of signs and symbols. Thus, it must not be interpreted literally or understood necessarily in terms of current events.
     These visions were given by God through John to the Church of all ages, and it brings both the sweet taste of love and gratitude for God’s love and acceptance, as well as the bitterness of regret for those who ultimately reject this grace of God.
     Next we will study in Revelation the Fourth Vision John saw on the Island of Patmos, Chapters 12-14. 


The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part II

The Second Vision: Chapters 4-7

 The beginning of John’s Second Vision in Revelation is indicated by the following statement:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     In his vision John sees Heaven.  The pattern for Heaven was seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, when he was told to follow the pattern when building the Tabernacle the Jews used in the wilderness.

     This is a part of what John saw:

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. (Revelation 4:5-6)

     The following scenes depict all that has unfolded since Christ’s first appearance on Earth as the human Son of God, His birth, resurrection, and ascension.  John sees a re-enactment of the scene when Christ appeared before God’s Throne in Heaven after His resurrection:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)

     John looks and sees a book with seven seals.  This book is not a prediction of the extreme tortures and judgments that will occur some day in the supposed seven-year tribulation period. Instead, John weeps greatly because no one is found who is worthy to open the book and break its seals (5:2), to bring to pass what God reveals as His solution to the problems of sinful captivity.  

     The book John sees, therefore, represents the unfolding of God’s will in redeeming humankind and the Earth from their bondage to Satan.  Only the perfectly sinless Son of God, a human without sin like a sacrificial lamb, could bring about this redemption.

     However, one of the elders around the throne of God tells John, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  

     This passage alludes to the Word of the Lord given through Nathan the prophet in the Old Testament foretelling the coming of the King from the line of David, whose kingdom will have no end.  Speaking to King David, Nathan says,

When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  (II Samuel 7:12)

This descendant was Jesus.  Instead of a lion, therefore, John sees a Lamb “as if slain”:

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

     Thus, the figure of the Lamb is clearly a depiction of the risen Jesus Christ, revealed as the antitype of the lamb of sacrifice in the Old Covenant.  

     The rest of the Second Vision concerns the breaking of the seals, for Jesus Christ is celebrated as the One who is found to be worthy.

     Unlike the picture posted at the beginning of this article, the book John saw was the kind of scroll that could only be read as it was unwound:

Unwinding was impossible, however, until each part of the scroll was loosed from the bondage of the previous seals in their order.  

     Also, to understand their significance, we must not look for future political events or historical figures, but patterns of what always happens when the Good News of the Kingdom goes forth into the world.

     Nor are the seals representative of future events necessarily, for they do not depict single events during the “Great Tribulation.” Instead, the Book of Revelation is meant to be a blessing to anyone who reads it, so the principles apply to the Church in every age, not just the Church of the End Times.  I doubt very much that those living in the Early Church period were overly concerned with what might happen in two thousand years, or might have been delighted to learn the name of the supposed Antichrist.

     What follows, then, are descriptions of what happens when Jesus Christ opens the seals, not just once for a specific time at the end of the age, but for all times during the Church Age until His second coming.

The First Seal:  

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.  (Revelation 6:1-2)

The rider on a white horse is not a false messiah, or the Antichrist, as some have suggested.  Instead, the rider has a crown who goes forth to conquer.  This is a picture of Jesus the King who, with His Church, goes forth into the world to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  

     To understand this image, we need to see that the white horse should be consistent with the white horse in the 19th Chapter:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. (6:1-2)

Thus, the white horse represents the proclamation of the Gospel, the going forth of the message Jesus has commanded.  The Lamb, Jesus Christ, has been crowned, and He is going forth to conquer and make manifest the fact that all power is given to Him in Heaven and on Earth.  And we in the Church are part of His campaign, for He told us that since all power has been given to Him, we are to go forth into all the world in His name and spread the good news of His Kingdom (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We are not to conquer territory, for His Kingdom is not of this world.  

The Second Seal:

When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him. (Revelation 6:3-4)

    This passage is reminiscent of the passage in the first chapter of Zechariah, another story of a rider on the red horse, written in a similar apocalyptic style:  

I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine, with red, sorrel and white horses behind him. Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” And the angel who was speaking with me said to me, “I will show you what these are.” And the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are those whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.” So they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees and said, “We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth is peaceful and quiet.”

Clearly, this passage is figurative, not literal, but its emphasis is slightly different from the red horse in Revelation, for in that passage power is given to the rider to take peace from the Earth, and men begin slaying one another. Instead, the passage in Revelation depicts what happens when the Gospel is preached.  Immediately, the enemy responds with persecution, depicted as the rider on the red horse just as Jesus declared that in the world we will have persecution.

The Third Seal:  

When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)

     This seal does not depict famine, necessarily, for there is plenty of food.  Only those who are able to purchase it may buy, however. This vision, therefore, depicts another form of persecution, for oil and wine are available if believers will only bow to the emperor or follow the dictates of the secular or state powers.  If not, they will lose their jobs or not be allowed to join the workers union. Thus, if they cannot work, they will have no money and no food.

The Fourth Seal:  

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8)

     Death and Hades are named in this passage, written on an ashen-colored horses.  These names describe the continued persecution against the Church through martyrdom, as well as natural disasters, leading to death, all of which Christians must endure. 

The Fifth Seal:  

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; 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?”  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.  (Revelation 6:9-11)

     The opening of this seal depicts the martyrs of the saints seen under the altar.  They cry out saying, “How long, Oh Lord, will you refrain from judgment?” (6:10). The response to their cry is that they must wait until their number is complete.  Thus, God withholds judgment because of His mercy.  God is good if He punishes sin, but He is also longsuffering, withholding judgment until “whosoever will” may come.  

The Sixth Seal:

The kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

     The opening of this seal reveals a terrible picture of rebellion against God and the punishments that fall upon the Earth as a result.  In the midst of the earthquakes and terror, men do not repent of their rebellion but only try to hide from God’s presence.  


A Pause

     What follows before the opening of the Sventh Seal is a pause, or interlude, that depicts the Church of Jesus Christ in glory, all of its members clothed in white robes and sealed as bondservants of the Lord. The Church is described using two pictures, or representations:

The 144,000

     Before the final judgment, four angels holding back the wrath say, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” (v. 3)

     Therefore, the first picture of the Church appears as those who have been “sealed,” the 144,000, a symbolic number made up of other symbolic numbers (3 x 4 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10) and described in terms of the “tribes” of Israel.  

     These are not exactly the same tribes usually used to describe the Nation of Israel precisely, but instead the numbers come from, and represent, the True Israel made up of both Jews and Gentiles. See these past articles:

The New Covenant with Israel

The New Covenant with Israel

     To show that these are not simply the Tribes of Israel that are described under the Old Covenant, the tribes are mixed in order, and some are even deleted from the Old Testament record.  Thus, Reuben, Abraham’s firstborn, is not listed first, as was usual, but Judah is listed first instead, and Reuben is listed second.  Manasseh is listed, but his tribe does not appear in Genesis the 49th Chapter, where the other tribes are listed, while Ephraim was also a child of Joseph, but he is not listed. 

Therefore, this listing represents the True Israel (the perfect Church), consisting of those who have been sealed.

The Great Multitude:

     The next depiction of the True Church begins in Chapter 7, where John sees a “great multitude” that is uncountable, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues (v. 9).

     At this point, no better description of the True Church exists in Scripture, I believe, as long as the term “great tribulation” is not misinterpreted and described only in terms of seven years:

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:13-17)

     Jesus said before His death and resurrection, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

     The idea that the great tribulation only lasts seven years is based on a misreading of Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which I have discussed in a previous article which disproves this teaching. (Click here to read:  Imposed Meanings)

The Seventh Seal: 

When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (Revelation 8:1-2)

     John’s Second Vision in Revelation ends, appropriately enough, with the statement that there was “silence in Heaven.” This pause of a half an hour signals the beginning of John’s Third Vision.

Next Time:  

In the next article, we will continue to see how the Kingdom of God and His Christ are revealed in the Apocalypse, or Revelation, of John. 


The Kingdom of God: Revelation Part I


The Book of Revelation, written down by the Apostle John, has much to say about the Kingdom of God, but it is primarily this book, unfortunately, that is the basis of the teaching that the reign of Christ will only begin after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This teaching says that Christ will be crowned to set up His throne in Jerusalem, where He will rule on Earth for one thousand years.

     The Book of Revelation was written to the whole Church, however, not just the Church that exists in what is termed “the later days.” What is written must make sense and pertain to the Church of all ages, for as John wrote,

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

The book belongs to all who read it, for the time is near to them also, as Jesus said in John’s vision, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book. . . .Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near” (Revelation 22:7, 10).     

     In addition, Revelation belongs to a particular genre, or “kind” of writing called apocalyptic literature.  Thus, the book as a whole contains content much like parts of the books of Daniel and Ezekiel that include such strange images, as in the following passage:

Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. (Ezekiel 1:5-7)

Therefore, Revelation is a book that was not intended to be taken literally, for it was “signified” to John, as the word “communicated” is best translated in the Authorized Version, “He sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1 KJV).  Thus, the visions John saw on the Island called Patmos were revealed to him in the form of signs and symbols, a waking vision.  

     For example, in the first chapter, Jesus is depicted as having a sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 1:16).  We must not make the mistake of seeing this as a literal sword, however. Instead, it is a picture or representation of the “sword of the spirit,” the “Word of God” described by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:17) and by the writer of the Book of Hebrews (4:12) 

     This example of the sword reveals that the mysteries in Revelation, the many images and symbols in the Book of Revelation, may be discovered and understood in the context of other parts of the Scriptures.

     In addition, this book must not be read and understood chronologically or linearly.  It is not a “history” of the Church through two thousand years and beyond, but instead it portrays a series of visions that show patterns that are relevant to the Church of all ages.  

     Again, John shows this relevance to the whole Church clearly in the final chapter of the book, where he says of the angelic messenger:

And he said to me, “These words are faithful and true”; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:6-7)

     Therefore, John’s visions are comprehensible only to those believers who have been given the Keys to the Kingdom of God, not to those who are “outside” trying to see inside.  

     The message of Revelation was also important in the Early Church period, for example, so that early Christians did not invite more persecution by revealing what some of the meanings were in difficult times.  Can you imagine what the Emperor Diocletian might have thought of John’s book if he had known its true and unveiled content?  

     Therefore, it is clear that the Scriptures as a whole are the keys that unlock the mysteries of the visions John saw.  We have been given the Bible as a kind of code book which holds the keys to unlocking the enigmas and obscure meanings of the text. These are mysteries that God wants to reveal to His people.

     Finally, the book of Revelation focuses on a revelation, or a “revealing,” of Jesus Himself and His Body, the Church, not just the horrors of a supposed tribulation and His second coming. Based on what this book describes, Christ’s work has been finished, just as He said on the cross, “It is finished.” Thus, there is nothing more to do except to finish, or complete, what has already been decreed.



An Outline of Revelation

     The book consists generally of seven visions in which the overall plan of God is revealed from seven different perspectives.  In varying degrees of specificity, we see both the entire picture, as well as different details, not necessarily with the same degree of specificity or in the same language.

Also, John sees his visions “in the Spirit,” not with the eyes of the flesh. Even what we see with our own eyes may be difficult to recall and write, but John is charged with writing what he sees in a spiritual vision, no easy task:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Revelation 4:1-2)

     Each one of the seven visions portrays in different ways the story of the coming of Christ Jesus to redeem us from the Kingdom of Darkness, ruled over by Satan, followed by Christ’s victory over Satan, followed further by the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Christ’s reign on earth is then depicted and the final defeat of Satan is accomplished as the Gospel goes forth to the world and the Church is called to Heaven as the Bride of Christ.

     All of the visions John sees are also begun in different ways that show a transition to a new perspective.  Here are some examples:

  • First Vision (1-3): I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see. . .”
  • Second Vision (4-7): After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.
  • Third Vision (8-11):  When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
  • Fourth Vision (12-14): A great sign appeared in heaven. . .
  • Fifth Vision (15-16): Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues.
  • Sixth Vision (17-19):  Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot. . .” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness.
  • Seventh Vision (20-22): Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 

     Here, then, are descriptions of these seven visions with appropriate interpretations and explanations. These understandings are not my own entirely, but they are compilations of the teachings of many Bible scholars and teachers.  The teachings of Malcom Smith have been particularly enlightening and helpful.


First Vision: Chapters 1-3

     John’s first vision should not be read or understood literally, for it sets the parameters for the rest of the visions in the book.  First, the vision was communicated, or “signified,” through Christ’s messenger (1:1), and for our purposes in this study, John clearly states that we, the recipients, have been made to be a “Kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1:6)

     What are we looking for?  Significantly, when He appears, every eye will see Him, for He is not a thief, as some have portrayed Him, coming secretly to rescue His followers.  The word “thief” in Jesus’ teaching refers only to the suddenness of His coming, not to the idea that He will not be seen.

Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.  (Revelation 1:7)


John’s Visions Should Not Be Interpreted Literally

     Two images immediately appear in the vision, the sharp sword out of Christ’s mouth (1:16) and the “Seven lampstands.”  These images are immediately interpreted by John for us as the seven churches addressed. Are these churches symbolic? 

     For example, do the seven churches represent the different “ages” of the church throughout history, as some have suggested?  Some have taught that the universal “Church” of today is represented by the final church addressed in Revelation, the church in Laodicea: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth” (3:16).

     I do not believe that this teaching is correct, for these churches represent the different kinds of churches that have existed at any time in the church age since the ascension of Christ.  John makes clear, however, that those people Christ has redeemed with His blood are all part of the Kingdom of God 

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  (Revelation 1:4-6)

And John’s vision also provides for us interpretations of what some of the symbols or images represent.  

He who overcomes, I will make him apillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  (Revelation 3:120

     We understand, therefore, that the true spiritual Church is portrayed in Revelation not only as parts of a building, the Temple of God, but also as citizens of a city, the “New Jerusalem.”  Thus, our destiny is not to live in geographical Palestine but in a Heavenly city, a spiritual city not made with hands.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”


Next Time: The next article in this series will focus on John’s second vision and the breaking of the Seven Seals.

The Kingdom of God, Part III

Paul’s Kingdom Message to the Thessalonians

     Believing that they were defending Yahweh from heresies, many of the Jews in Thessalonica were incensed.  After hearing the preaching of Paul for three Sabbaths, many had believed the message and began following Paul’s message about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But the remaining Jews became extremely jealous and decided to attack Paul and his followers.  

     These Jews found some wicked men from the marketplace to help them implement their plans.  They engaged with these men and incited them to form a mob.  They surrounded the house of Jason, where Paul and his followers had been staying, seeking to bring them out to face the mob.

     When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of his friends before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

     Thus, they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.  As a result, the new believers gathered together and agreed that they needed to send Paul, Timothy, and Luke away for their safety.  However, everywhere Paul went he preached the Kingdom of God and declared that Jesus Christ is King of the Kingdom.



A Place Prepared for Us

     The Apostle Paul fully declared that the Kingdom of God arrived when Jesus fulfilled His mission on Earth and when He ascended to His throne at the right hand of God (Ephesians), not in Jerusalem. The moment came when Satan, the accuser of the brethren was “cast down” out of Heaven.
     Notice why Paul says the “eyes of the heart” may be enlightened: 
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
     These are all the result of Christ’s resurrection and coronation.  
These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every  name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  (Ephesians 1:18-23)
     What are the ramifications of these facts about Christ’s coronation?  It means that we do not await a coming kingdom, one whose King still needs to defeat His enemies.  All things have been put under His feet, and since we are part of His body, we also reign over the forces of darkness, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
     This position of power does not exactly fit the scenarios portrayed by the many Bible teachers today who diminish the scope and power of God’s Kingdom reigned over by Christ Jesus.

Our Place in Heaven

     Where will we be when we enter our eternal destiny, therefore? Will it be on Earth for one thousand years, waiting for the final judgment?
     Jesus made clear that our place will be to be with Him in Heaven with God the Father.  In fact, Jesus claimed that He was going to prepare a place for us in Heaven to be with Him:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. (John 14:1-3)

     The Apostle John in this passage also answers the question we have asked.  The term “in my Father’s house” refers to God’s residence in Heaven.  Yes, God is omnipresent, and the Scriptures reveal this pervasive existence:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.  (Psalms 139:7-8)

     However, John the Apostle writes in his Book of Revelation about the scene he saw in his vision, a vision of Heaven and Heaven’s throne:

Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (Revelation 4:2-4)

     Jesus also prayed that all of His followers would be with Him in glory, including the Gentiles:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-24)


Paul’s Vision

     We know that after being caught up to the third Heaven to see inexplicable things, the Apostle Paul describes in his Letter to the Corinthians the place where we will be when we die:

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. (II Corinthians 5:1-3)
Paul continues to describe this place with Christ in the glory of Heaven, saying it will be our home as we await the final judgment day of the Lord:
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Our Destiny as the Bride of Christ

     Our place in Heaven is also revealed in the analogy, or “mystery,” that connects believers with Christ, just as a bride is linked to her bridegroom.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
According to the Old Testament, a bride who was found not to be a virgin was stoned to death:
But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.  (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
     However, despite the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Christ the Bridegroom has assured that our purity, or “virginity,” has been restored as His bride:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:8-9)
     We as the Bride of Christ do not await the wrath of God.  Instead of being stoned, we await Christ’s coming again to receive us unto Himself, so we can partake of the Wedding supper and enjoy the consummation of our marriage with Christ. Like the ten virgins, or bridesmaids, who went out to meet the Bridegroom with their lamps of oil, we will rejoice at His coming.
     The final event begins when the Bridegroom goes to meet His bride and brings her back to the home he has prepared. The figure of the bride waiting with her companions to hear the voice of the groom when he arrives at her house to consummate the marriage is portrayed in Christ’s parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).
     Thus, the consummation of the Age is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when we, the Bride of Christ, wait to hear the shout of Jesus and his companions when He arrives. At this time, the faithful still on Earth will be found to be “pure virgins.”  
     The Apostle Paul refers to this moment in the following passage:
For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (II Corinthians 11:2-3)
     The final stage in the Jewish weddings of Bible times was the wedding feast, and this celebration is depicted in the Book of Revelation:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God. (Revelation 19:7–9)
 Next Time:  The next and final article on this topic will examine the Book of Revelation’s teachings about the Second Coming, while discovering that this apocalyptic text was inspired and written for the Church of all ages, not just the End Times.

The Kingdom of God: Part I

Probably the most common belief about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is that He will come to set up His Kingdom on Earth and reign from Jerusalem on a physical throne.

For this doctrine to be true, the entirety of the Scriptures needs to point to this same conclusion, so let’s see what the Word of God says about the Kingdom of God and God’s plan for the final age to come.

The Mystery of  The Kingdom 

Jesus said that His followers must enter the Kingdom of God like a child: “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (Mark 10:15).

Thus, a child’s simple faith and ability to enter into realms of wide imaginatione are parallel to the believer’s faith, the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), because the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom.  It doesn’t come with “observation,” and flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, just as the Apostle Paul wrote:

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (I Corinthians 15:50)

Thus, the idea that the coming Kingdom is a physical one is illogical given the makeup of the Kingdom Jesus and the apostles proclaimed in the New Testament age.


The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You

A number of passages that describe Christ’s earthly ministry reveal that His purpose was to demonstrate and reveal the Kingdom in His person and through His mighty miracles.  For example, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Jesus also said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28)

This Kingdom, Jesus implied, will not begin in another two thousand years, but it actually began in the lifetime of those who were gathered there with Him in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions.  After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

After His Transfiguration, for example, Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see both Mark 1:9 and Luke 9:27).  

Such a statement must have raised great excitement among His followers, for they believed that the kingdom Jesus spoke about would be like the one King David ruled.  This is why, both before and after the Resurrection, they repeatedly asked Jesus,  “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:7). Even the Pharisees inquired of Jesus when He would restore the kingdom, although most likely they were trying to entrap Him (Luke 17:20).

After His resurrection, though, Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  (Acts 1:6-8) 


Jesus Proclaimed the Kingdom of God

Jesus operated in His ministry as though the Kingdom of God was already present, showing through His works that the kingdom had arrived: 

Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him.  (Luke 8:1)

And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. (Luke 9:2)  
But the crowds were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:11).
In fact, Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was not coming with signs to be seen, but that the Kingdom was right in their midst, or in their presence:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst”  (Luke 17:20-21).
Therefore, since the Kingdom “cometh not with observation” (KJV), the Church’s mandate was not to look for the beginnings of the Kingdom of God, but instead for the Kingdom to be populated, made up of people from every nation and language.

A Different Kingdom Than Was Expected

What the disciples of Jesus also did not realize was that the Kingdom would consist not only of the Jews, but also of gentile believers:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16).

Thus, after His resurrection and before His ascension to Heaven, Jesus gave His Great Commission, telling them to go into all the world and preach the good news:   
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) 
We may now see clearly, therefore, what the disciples did not, at least at first:  The Kingdom of God would include people from every part of the world, from every nation and tribe, and would consist of believers and disciples from all times until the end of the age.  It has taken much time for this mandate to be fulfilled, and the time continues to this day.

Believers Are Also Told to Wait

On the other hand, the Scriptures seemed to signify that the Kingdom had not yet come, as in the following passage:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. (Luke 19:11)
Thus, the disciples must have been confused; before the crucifixion, they were being led by their traditions and assumptions that because Jesus was travelling towards Jerusalem, He would soon assume the throne of an earthly kingdom, one they thought  would be similar to the Roman Empire and would take control over the Earth.  
Indeed, in the next few verses, Jesus even asked His disciples to appropriate a “colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat” (Luke 19:30) in order to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah, as prophesied in Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9) 
Thus, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel” (John 12:13).
However, Jesus cleared up this confusion after His resurrection, when he continued to teach about the Kingdom of God: 
To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.  (Luke 24:25-27)
Jesus then gave the disciples their commission to go into the whole world, sharing the Gospel and bringing with them all who would enter the Kingdom of God.
This same Great Commission continued with the Apostle Paul’s ministry, a mission which led him to preach the good news to both the Jews and the Gentiles.  We will analyze Paul’s mission as it relates to the Kingdom of God in Part II of this series.

False Wisdom



In a passage we will examine more fully later in this article, Peter writes the following exhortation to the Saints:

Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.  (II Peter 3:17)

Along these lines I read the most astounding essay online recently in which the author tried exhaustively to defame and diminish the work of the Apostle Paul in the early Church.  Needless to say, I was not convinced.

The author’s accusations were lengthy.  However, even Paul’s detractors in the first century were unsuccessful, so only a slanderer or one deceived could think that such arguments might succeed.  I won’t mention the author’s name or the title of the article because it isn’t worth anyone’s time. I will briefly summarize the author’s points to offer my own rebuttals.

They included the arguments that 1.) Paul was not a real apostle because he wasn’t one of the original disciples; 2.) Paul never was taught directly by Jesus, only by “revelation”; and 3.) Paul was constantly at war with Peter and the other leaders in the Church over Gospel teachings. Most seriously, the author 4.) criticized Paul for appealing to Caesar and subsequently traveling to Rome for trial as a Roman citizen. His appeal set the Church on the road to being centered in Rome, resulting in Catholicism and the papacy. Finally, 5.) the author also lamented the fact that because so many of Paul’s writings appeared in the New Testament canon, other more important works were left out, including the Gospel of Enoch, a Gnostic text that they author evidently favors over the works of Paul.



I won’t thoroughly analyze  in depth Gnosticism or the problems this heretical teaching brought to the early Church, but I will give a brief overview to serve as a framework for the truth.

The term gnosis essentially means “secret knowledge,” a knowledge that arises from within the self, a teaching that is similar to many religions still today.

Like Satan’s original temptation in the Garden of Eden, gnostic followers are told that they will be like gods, knowing good and evil.  In fact, the Gnostics believed that all matter is evil, so the idea that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully human and fully divine, is false in their view.  

The Church’s fundamental teachings are directly opposed to this idea, for Christ could only take our place as a loving substitute and receive the full judgment for the results of sin by fully taking on humanity in a sinless form.

Salvation, to the Gnostics, was only an escape from the material world back to the spiritual position from which humans had fallen; this salvation is obtained through hidden knowledge, as opposed to obedient faith in Jesus Christ.  Thus, the problem of sin is not confronted in Gnosticism necessarily, for the works of the flesh are considered irrelevant in the mystical realms of knowledge.


Gnosticism Refuted

Gnosticism was soundly refuted and condemned by all of the Apostles, particularly John. In his letters John denounces the teachings of the Gnostics by demonstrating the truth of the Christian Gospel and by contrasting these truths with the antichrist heresies and teachings of his day, including the idea that Jesus did not actually come in the flesh:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (I John 4:1-3)

Peter and Paul both taught stringently against not only the errors of Gnosticism, but also the false teachings of all of the “Mystery Religions.”

From the earliest times in Christianity, these cults were problematic; they included strange and private initiation rituals, passing on secrets to the initiate about the life of the cult’s god or goddess, including how these initiates might achieve unity with that deity. This secret esoteric knowledge was unattainable by any person outside the circle of the cult, and even initiates had to progress in secret knowledge from stage to stage  to reach the heights of knowledge.

Paul specifically warns Timothy about these teachers in his letter:

O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. (I Timothy 6:20-21)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

Paul was also directly concerned about the heresies of Gnosticism in his letter to the Colossians, not by directly confronting and refuting the Gnostic errors but by relating the truths of the Christian Gospel and the Mystery of Christ:

That is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)

Note the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plans for saving all who will call upon the name of Jesus Christ.  The idea that Christ can live in us and we can experience the Hope of glory is the genuine relationship with God, not the counterfeit.


The Apostle Paul’s Revelations

The Apostle Paul also received revelations in the spirit, therefore, even though he had once been an unbeliever and a persecutor of the Church.  Nevertheless, he received the grace of the Lord and became a prophet and a teacher in the Church at Antioch after he had been brought there by Barnabus (Acts 11:25-26).

It is possible that the “fourteen years” mentioned by Paul in II Corinthians 12:2 refers to this time he spent in Antioch.

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.

At any rate, Paul recalls that he received marvelous “visions and revelations” from the Lord:

And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.  (II Corinthians 12:3-4)

In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarizes the mysteries he has received, specifically the “mystery of His will,” beginning in Chapter 1:

In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:8-12)

Paul clearly writes to show that these revelations were not private for him alone, not secret knowledge, but were intended for all the saints in order to reveal the manifest wisdom of God, and in particular the Gentiles who had once been excluded from the Covenants of God.

Paul refers to this same summary later in Ephesians, or “As I wrote before in brief,” so that his readers might understand his insights into this mystery:

That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit. the gospel. (Ephesians 3:3-6)

Here is a brief statement of Paul’s mystery:

That the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. (Ephesians 3:6-7) 

Then Paul clearly shows that he is not taking personal pride in this revelation’s being given to him, confessing his own weaknesses:

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly placesThis was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:8-12)

What is the essence of this mystery?  It was that the Gentiles were to be fellow-partakers of the promises of salvation and redemption in Christ Jesus, working through faith in the sacrifice of Christ.

Thus, Paul did not hesitate to claim that the mysteries he had received were indeed given to him by revelation from God, but he did not do so in pride. And the difference between his claims and those of the gnostics is that these mysteries were never intended to be kept secret, but instead taught to all believers as the full truth of the Gospel.

Yes, the “Mystery of Christ” was indeed a secret, kept hidden from the foundation of the world.  However, the glory of the mystery is that the “manifold wisdom of God” has now been made manifest to the Church of which Paul had been made a minister.

The full gospel of Christianity was never intended to be a “mystery religion,” in which a few supposedly holy men keep secret their revelations in order to enforce authority and control over their followers, as did the leaders of the cults in the early centuries after Christ’s resurrection, and the cult leaders since that time have continued to do the same, even today.


Peter’s Revelations

Significantly, these truths were given by revelation not only to Paul, but also to Peter.  This is Peter’s story:

But he [Peter] became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” But Peter said, “By no means,Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. (Acts 10:10-16)

This vision and its fulfillment described in the next chapter in Acts, when Peter came to the house of Cornelius the Centurion, laid the foundation for the acceptance of the Gentiles into the Christian Church and affirmed the statements of Jesus when He declared that He had sheep from another flock that would be joined together into one:

I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the  Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:14-18)

Paul, however, was commissioned by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he took the largest responsibility for doing so, as he wrote in the passage cited above and also below:   

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.

And the Book of Acts reveals how this commission was worked out in Paul’s life. However, rather than opposing Paul’s revelations and teachings, Peter emphatically defends them:

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (II Peter 3:14-18)

Don’t you just love Peter?  In this passage we see Peter the fisherman, not one to indulge in studious reading, not always able to completely follow what Paul is writing, declaring openly that Paul is sometimes hard to understand!

However, Peter knew the teachings and statements of Paul to be true, for they connected powerfully with the revelations Peter himself had on the rooftop concerning the salvation of the Gentiles if they would only believe in Christ’s salvation.

Spiritual Discernment and Scriptural Interpretation


Growing up, I loved to watch cowboy films, not in movie theaters but on the only television in our neighborhood, right across the street.  Occasionally, however, my sister and I saw a movie in town at the theater, a place that scared me so much that on one occasion I refused even to get out of the car to go inside.  

The previous time we had watched a rather violent seafaring film that entailed a flogging.  I was so upset afterwards that I resolved to stay in the car while the rest of the family watched the movie and ate popcorn, a situation that my parents strongly disliked.  They left me alone in the car, hoping I would change my mind.  When I didn’t, we all had to go home, and I was put to bed early while the sun was still out!

When I was older, I later was intrigued with what a “league” was after seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I couldn’t conect its context with what I knew for sure, a league in baseball or football!  

But it was in another seafaring film that I first heard the word “fathom,” although I had to wait until we got home to learn what it meant.  I recall the sailors in the film taking depth findings, so I gathered that a fathom had to do with how deep the water was.

Many years later, I read the same word, or at least a similar form of the word, in the following Bible verse:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!  (Romans 11:33)

It wasn’t difficult for me, therefore, to realize that the term unfathomable in this context meant “deep, impossible to fathom, incapable of being fully explored or understood, mysterious.”

Based on this verse in Romans, we learn that the depth of the riches of both the wisdom of God and the knowledge we have of Him are impossible to completely determine, or fathom.  To say, therefore, that anyone may fully or completely understand any of the verses or chapters in the inspired Word of God, the Scriptures, is impossible, as the following prophecy of Isaiah declares: 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Nor is it logical to believe that the Scriptures, the unfathomable Word of God, must only be interpreted literally, or according to the most basic kind of reading like I learned in first grade.  

Yes, some passages are clearly intended to be read literally, such as the following:

  • The Ten Commandments
  • For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
  • “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Other passages are most definitely to be read figuratively, including the following:

  • The 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
  • If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24, et al.).
  • Jesus’ parables.
  • The story of Zachaeus in the tree.

I understand that many theologians and Christian leaders are anxious to discourage heretical teachings in the Church. Therefore, they try to limit the possibilities for misreading unlimited, bottomless, or unfathomable repositories of Christian doctrines, including the even more obscure Biblical mysteries. 

Perhaps a better standard for biblical interpretation is “true” rather than “literal,” an approach with which I agree, for truth may be expressed and understood in many ways, all of which provide additional insight and depth of understanding.      


The Holy Spirit is Our Teacher

To prevent heresies in the Church,  however, the Holy Spirit has been given to distribute gifts of discernment and wisdom to Believers to be used to judge the teachings and messages of teachers and preachers in the Body of Christ.  Yet these gifts have been restricted in the Church today because the users of these gifts have been mistrusted, or these gifts of the Holy Spirit somehow have been misused.  Some theologians have even taught that the gifts have passed away and are no longer distributed to the Body of Christ today because they supposedly ceased after the Bible was completed.  

The logic of this reasoning is fallacious, for these gifts were given by Christ Jesus through the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who was given to lead all believers into the ways of righteousness until Christ comes again. At that time we will no longer be like children, led astray by every wind of doctrine, we will  see no longer as in a mirror “dimly,” but then face to face:  “Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).  

Unfortunately, without the powerful help of the Helper, the Holy Spirit, the one called alongside to teach and empower us, we are left with earthly tools and methods, carnal ways of learning and understanding spiritual truths from the Scriptures.  The Apostle Paul’s message to the Church in Corinth directly condemns these carnal approaches, however:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

         “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
         And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. . . . Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.   (I Corinthians 1:18-25)

Ironically, Christ taught His disciples that they needed to be like little children to discover the secrets of the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:14-16).  In fact, the inability to peer into the mysteries of God’s Kingdom arises from the foolishness and pride of the human mind and intellect, as Paul says in Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20)

It is highly ironic, therefore,  that rather than finding the unfathomable wisdom of God through the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the mysteries of His Word, or even God’s creation, humans have turned the omniscient and omnipotent God into any number of literal idols and have worshipped the creation rather than the One Who made all things:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:20-23)

Unfortunately, some believers have unknowingly carried these idols into their tents, for they continue to use the world’s wisdom to understand the deep mysteries of God.  Likewise, some Bible teachers base their favorite teachings on literal renderings or other kinds of misinterpretations based on spurious readings.  The following are some of the missteps that lead to false doctrines:

  • Imposing a meaning onto a scripture (eisegesis) rather than drawing out a meaning from the scripture itself (exegesis). 
  • Not considering the genre or kind of writing that is being interpreted.  Poetry should not necessarily be read literally but figuratively, as poetry, for example, and a dream should not necessarily be interpreted the same way a historic event is understood.    
  • Not reading from the perspectives of the authors and time periods when the Biblical books were written. Reading the descriptions of the creation of the universe from a modern scientific perspective, for example, may result in incorrect interpretations.  
  • Imposing one definition of a certain word in Scripture onto another passage of Scripture. The word “day,” for example may indeed refer to twenty-four hours, but it may also be understood as one-thousand years (see Psalms 90:4 and II Peter 3:8).  


The Apostle Paul’s Perspective

The Apostle Paul makes clear the perspectives of interpretation emphatically throughout his letters, but most clearly when He is writing specifically about the mysteries, or ‘hidden wisdom,” that the Lord desires for us to know.  

Read carefully the following passages taken from I Corinthians.  First, Paul relates that his wisdom is directed to those believers who are mature in Christ, those who are walking in the Holy Spirit and are receiving the “mysteries” or insights only God may give.  These insights are not understood by the carnal methods used by the “rulers of this age,” for these methods are only transient, or “passing away.”   

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (I Corinthians 2:6-8)

These mysteries, or secrets God desires to reveal, are given through the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (our Advocate, Helper, or Teacher).  Only the Holy Spirit has the insights we need, for He is One with God the Father and God the Son (He is also called the “Spirit of Christ”).  And these insights are not taught “by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit.”

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  (I Corinthians 2:10-13)

Thus, God’s wisdom is received by combining “spiritual thoughts with spiritual words,” a process that is much more genuine than merely reading and interpreting the Scriptures literally.    

Paul summarizes his teaching by relating that a “natural man,” one who thinks according to human wisdom and uses the methods of the intellect rather than the spirit, does not understand these mysteries, for they may only be spiritually discerned:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.  (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

We must align our means and methods of interpretation to those of the Apostle Paul, therefore, and begin thinking with the “mind of Christ,” thinking not according to carnal wisdom or human methods, however wise they may seem.  They are not wise, according to Paul, and they may even be foolish, leading us into error.  It was this same kind of thinking that led the rulers of this world to crucify the Lord of glory.


Christian Cannibalism?

For example, in Matthew’s Gospel we read about the Last Supper, when Jesus gave His disciples the bread and wine:

While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying,“Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.  (Matthew 26:26-28)

We cannot read this passage and interpret it literally without falling into the false doctrine of transubstantiation, which states that the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become in actuality the body and blood of Christ, not merely the signs or symbols of His body and blood.

Also, in John’s Gospel, we find another example.  After feeding the five thousand, the crowds follow Him and try to get Him to continue feeding them.  Jesus says they are only following Him because they “ate of the loaves and were filled.” He then says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).  

Are we to take His words literally?

Later, the skeptics among the Jews question Jesus’ statements, having misunderstood Him and indeed taken them literally:  

Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 

Jesus responds with the following statement, which is even more obviously not to be taken literally:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)

This passage from John is sufficient for many unbelievers even today to accuse Christians of advocating and practicing cannibalism, all because Jesus’ words have been taken literally, first by the skeptical Jews who heard His words and later by misguided Christians who have also taken the written words in the Gospels literally.  

One blog article I read even surmised that this is actually what happened to Jesus’ body:  He didn’t actually rise from the dead.  Instead, the disciples ate His body because He had commanded them to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  This is what comes from taking the words of Jesus, or the entire Bible, literally rather than spiritually.

Abraham’s Greatest Act of Faith

At two significant times in his life, Abraham was tested.  His faith in the promises of God was ultimately proven, but only through years of not even seeing what was promised.  Yet his faith endured and the fulfillment was seen in his later generations, and it even resulted in the full appearance and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, our Savior.

First God tested Abraham when He called him at the age of seventy-five to leave his home in Haran in Ur of the Chaldeans to the land promised him.  The Lord said to Abram,

“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

God made a number of promises, including a land in which he and his descendants would dwell. Abram would also be the father of a great nation in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.

These were magnificent promises, but Abram had to wait a significant amount of time before they were fulfilled.  As it was, for example, he was called to leave his home with his wife Sarai without knowing where he was heading, as it says in Hebrews: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Second, Abram, whose name was changed to Abraham by God, also demonstrated his great faith when he believed God for a son, even though he was nearly one hundred years old and his barren wife was ninety years old.  (We studied this story in the last article titled “Speaking or Praying in the Name of…”

Both Abraham and Sarah were amused at the thought that they would have a child at their age, yet God demonstrated the surety of the promise.  These promises was sealed by God in the cutting of a covenant, a mystery we studied in another article titled  “A Great Mystery”:

In an even greater test of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises, however, the following story is told in Genesis 22: 
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
The Lord God’s directions came a number of years later after Isaac’s birth because Abraham had his son carry the wood for the burnt offering, and while preparing for the sacrifice, Isaac also realized that they had no lamb for the sacrifice:
Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  (Genesis 22:6-7)

Did Abram Lie to Isaac?

In response to Isaac’s question, it appears that Abraham has lied to Isaac, saying, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 7).   Yet we find another interpretation based on the summary found in the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament. 

According to this version, Abraham had such faith that Isaac was indeed the child of promise, through whom the nations of the world would be blessed, that Abraham believed that even if he did sacrifice his son, the Lord God would raise him from the dead:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.  (Hebrews 11:17-19)
God does not specifically promise Abraham such a miracle, and it had never been known that a person had been raised from the dead, particularly one sacrificed like a lamb and burned on an altar.  Yet Abraham believed God’s promises for Isaac so strongly that he believed God would work a miracle and raise his son from the dead to fulfill those promises.

What Was Isaac Thinking?

I’m sure Isaac must have been horrified when Abraham bound him and told him to lie down on the pile of wood he himself had carried to the place of sacrifice.  

As I visualize the story, I can see the terror in Isaac’s eyes as Abraham lifted the knife to plunge it into him.  And I can see the knife actually beginning its descent after Abraham had stretched out his hand and taken the knife to slay his son.  At that moment, however,when the voice of the “angel of the Lord” is heard:  

Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:10-12)

Notice, however, that the “angel” in this passage speaks in the first person (I/me), as though he were God Himself:  “. . .for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”  

As seen in the last article in this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog, the message the messenger delivers is in the same voice as the original speaker; in this case, God is speaking through the angel, and it’s as if the speaker is God Himself.  This is what it means to pray or preach or witness in Christ’s name.  And this is why we were instructed not to think about what we would say if called before the authorities because the Holy Spirit would give us the words to speak.   


Abraham’s Faith

A number of evidences of Abraham’s faith are significant in this story.  

  • Abraham told his two servants who came with him and Isaac that both father and son would return:  “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (Genesis 22:5).
  • When Isaac asks Abraham about the missing lamb for their sacrifice, Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8).
 In fact, when the Lord told Abraham not to stretch out his hand with the knife to harm Isaac, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.  So Abraham caught the ram and used it for the sacrifice, freeing his son Isaac.  The Lord God then spoke again to Abraham, commending his faith and renewing his promises concerning the seed of Abraham:
By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Genesis 22:16-18)

Why Was Abraham Tested In This Way?

Those skeptics and critics of the Scriptures who do not understand God’s plans and promises may be greatly critical of this story, particularly the seeming cruelty of the tests which God uses.  For example, why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice the very son of promise given to him after many years and countless severe tests and temptations?  In light of Abraham’s age and the fact that he had finally succeeded in having Isaac, in spite of all the obstacles he had faced and the numerous times he had failed or was misled, this final test of God seems especially cruel indeed.

A fuller understanding of God’s purposes in testing Abraham’s faith is necessary, however, for God was using Abraham’s faith to bring into existence His magnificent plan for redeeming a fallen world back from the hands of Satan.

It must be remembered that when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they had essentially handed the glorious world God had given them over to Satan, who wanted himself to “be like the most High”

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
“But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’    (Isaiah 14:12-14).  

Once this transfer of authority occurred, God could no longer simply intervene in human affairs without permission, any more than a landlord can just enter a tenant’s home at any time without permission.  The sending forth of God’s Word and the need for the Word to be received, believed, and acted upon was the permission God needed.  

In fact, the entire system of sacrifices brought about under the Old Covenant laid the foundation for allowing God to bring forth the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, Who became the Lamb of God that took away the sin of the world.  Jesus could not have become that Lamb unless a chosen nation of people had been set apart who did not follow the false religions of the pagans.  The Jews were a people who believed that the shedding of blood would atone for sin.

God’s plan for redeeming the world was instrumentally allowed by Abraham when he showed he was willing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God, even though Isaac was the son he had been promised.   Indeed, Isaac carried the wood to the place of sacrifice in the same way Jesus carried His cross.  Plus, the faith Abraham exercised to believe that God would raise Isaac from the dead was the same faith that allowed God to raise Christ Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, from the dead as well.

Mount Moriah, the place of Abraham’s testing and near sacrifice of Isaac, was the site of the Temple in Jerusalem many years later, and it was also near Mount Calvary, where Christ was crucified.  Thus, God did indeed provide the lamb for the ultimate sacrifice, in response to Abraham’s statement to Isaac:  “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Hebrews 22:7).

Because of Abraham’s obedience on Mount Moriah, God told Abraham that his faith and obedience would bring about the coming of the Savior through whom the entire world would be blessed.


Speaking or Praying “In the name of…”

When a message is delivered through a messenger, the result is the same as if the original speaker were present.  For example, when the boy in a family tells his little sister, “Mom said to clean up your room or no desert tonight,” it’s just as though Mom herself is giving the sister the message.  

This is the same impact we have when we speak or pray “in Jesus’ name.”  Since we are speaking under His authority under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it’s just as though He is speaking or praying through us.  This is a mystical concept that few believers acknowledge or understand.  

Yet, this concept is emphatically realized in the story of the centurion in Capernaum, whose slave Jesus heals.  The result is that the centurion’s faith is praised by Jesus Himself, saying, “Not even in Israel have I found such great faith”  (Matthew 8:10; Luke 7:9).  

In Matthew’s Gospel, the story is told from this perspective:
And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him,and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.”Jesus *said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  (Matthew 8:5-8)  
In Luke’s Gospel, however, this is how the story is told:  
And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  (Luke 7:2-7)

Notice the difference:  In Matthew the centurion himself speaks to Jesus, asking that his servant be healed, while in Luke, the centurion sends some Jewish elders to make the request.  The end result is that the servant is healed, yet in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus never even sees the centurion in person, while the man’s faith is still acclaimed and praised by Jesus.

In fact, the message the centurion sends with the messengers emphasizes this mystical concept, for the words of the Jewish messengers are not only the same as those of the centurion himself, but also he applies the same concept to his own life as a Roman officer who gives the orders of his superiors to his men who serve beneath him in the military hierarchy.  

In effect, when the centurion gave orders, it was just as though Caesar himself was giving the orders. The centurion recognized that this same relationship applied to Christ’s and His Father in Heaven, and because of this understanding, the centurion was greatly praised by Jesus.  

Again, this is our power and authority when we speak or pray “in Jesus’ name.”  Since we are speaking under His authority under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it’s just as though He is speaking or praying through us. Like the centurion, we also need to have this same understanding when we speak or pray in Jesus name!

See the rest of the story in both versions, Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:2-10.

 In Luke’s Gospel                                       In Matthew’s Gospel

God’s Promises Fulfilled: Hope, Faith and Patience

Hope, Faith and Patience

     I often ask people in Bible study situations how they know they are saved and going to Heaven. Some responses are rather tentative, such as, “I believe in Jesus,” or “I try to be a good Christian.”
     Others seem more secure, saying “I’ve prayed the ‘Sinner’s Prayer,'” or “I prayed with someone at the end of a Billy Graham Crusade film.”
     Pursuing this question, I ask, “What gives you the assurance that God has saved you?  You aren’t in Heaven yet, so how do you know you will go there when you die?”
     Often, unfortunately, I may see a kind of sadness or despair.  I’ve heard people say, “I’ve wondered my whole life whether I have done all the right things,” or “I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.”  
     I then probe a little deeper, asking them, “What is the verse that is the most commonly memorized and quoted regarding salvation?”
     They respond, of course, with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”    
     I then ask them if this verse gives them any evidence of their salvation, and if so, what is it about the verse that assures them that they are saved.
     “It’s in the Bible,” they say, or “Jesus Himself said it.”
     “But how do you know it applies to you,” I ask?  
     After thinking again and reciting the verse to themselves, they realize that the words “God so loved the world” and “whosoever” are categories into which they can place themselves unconditionally. The only stipulation in the verse is the “whosoever believes in Him” clause, which only includes them if they have truly believed in Jesus, the Son of God.
     I then ask, “What kind of statement does this verse make?”  In other words, what form does it take?
     After thinking some more, they realize that the verse is stated in the form of a promise, a promise of eternal life given to all who will believe in Jesus Christ, the One God sent into the world to save us from the death that our sin brings.

Promises Bring Hope

     I can then begin building on this foundation, that the basis of their salvation is a promise given by a loving God who loves us so much that He gave His Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice that cleanses us from all the sin that separates us from God.
     In particular, I point out that believing in a promise of God brings hope.  Just one passage that confirms this idea  is what Peter writes:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (II Peter 1:2-4)
     The promises of God are both precious and magnificent, and through them we are made to be partakers of the divine nature.  This divine nature gives us “all things pertaining to life and godliness” the eternal life we seek, for we no longer are bound by the “corruption” that plagues us in this world.  
     These promises are both “precious and magnificent,” for they are God’s assurance that we have the privileges of God’s children, for we are partakers of His divine nature.

What is Hope?

     What is a good definition of “hope”?  
     First of all, we find that hope comes from receiving the Word of God in our hearts.  The Scriptures, are the primary source of the Word in our lives, as Paul writes in Romans:  “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction. . .” (Romans 15:4)
     These promises of God are both sure and steadfast.  When we hear these promises, they produce hope in our hearts, which means that we have a joyful, confident expectation that God will fulfill these promises in our lives sometime in the future.  

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  (Romans 15:4)
     This is why the Apostle Paul prays the following prayer for the Ephesians:
. . .that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:17-19)
     We know, therefore, that God desires for us a glorious inheritance, and He wants us to know these promises through the wisdom and revelation we receive from His Word.
     It’s like a child who has been told that she will have a party for her birthday.  The parent’s promise brings joy to the child even though the birthday may be weeks away, for the child knows her parents love her and want her to be happy on her birthday.  Their faithfulness also lets her know that they will not deceive her, and she lives in expectation of the promise’s fulfillment.
     This is why we can confidently look forward to being with Christ Jesus in Heaven.  The Father has promised that we will be with Him, so we look forward with joy in the Spirit to the time we will be with Him.  Like Paul, we can say, “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith”  (Galatians 5:5).
     This is also why we can look forward to Christ’s second coming with hope.  We have the promise of Jesus Himself that He will come again to receive us unto Himself, so like Titus, we are  “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).  
     In fact, we can rely on the promises God has made to us, which include all things pertaining to life and godliness, for it is impossible for God to lie and we have the resulting hope that keeps us strong in our faith.  Our hope is an “anchor of the soul,” an anchor that keeps us steadfast even in the midst of a mighty storm in our lives, as it says in Hebrews:
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast… (Hebrews 6:17-19)

Hope is Future, Faith is Now

     Hope, therefore, helps us to look to the future joyfully as we expect the fulfillment of our Lord’s promises.  If we have already obtained the results of the promise, we no longer hope for it, as Paul writes in Romans:
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  (Romans 8:24-25)
     Faith, on the other hand, is a spiritual power that operates in the present tense and claims fulfillment of the promises even though they have not yet been fulfilled, as it says in Hebrews:
Now faith is the assurance [reality] of things hoped for, the conviction [proof] of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)
     An allusion is made in these verses to the creation of the universe, when God created the worlds visibly out of things which were not visible, or “nothing.”  His Word alone was the power that created something out of nothing.  Because of the certainty of God’s promises, so strong is our faith that we may fully realize that these promises have already been fulfilled, even though we still await their arrival.  
     Having  faith, therefore, means being assured of the fulfillment of God’s promises for the future and believing them now.  This assurance is what Paul is writing about in his second letter to the Corinthians: 
For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.  (II Corinthians 1:20-22).  
     Not only are the promises of God always answered with a “Yes,” but we have been assured of His faithfulness to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  
     The Greek word for “pledge” in this verse means “down payment,” or “deposit.”  This contractual term in this passage is assuredly confidence building, for the pledge comes unilaterally from our faithful Father in Heaven.

 Faith and Patience

     Since God is timeless, beyond seconds and minutes, days and years, He exists eternally in the present tense.  He is now, just as our faith is now.  Therefore, in addition to faith and hope, one final spiritual element that is necessary for us to be receivers of the promises of God, along with their fulfillment, is patience:
. . .So that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  (Hebrews 6:12)
     We inherit the promises of God by looking to the future in hope, living in the present with faith, and continuing in that faith with patience.
     What is “patience”?  It’s the spiritual ability to wait, an ability that must take place over time.  We live in the realms of chronology.  We live from moment to moment, from day to day and year to year. Therefore, having patience is probably one of the more difficult capabilities to have.  An example of someone who received the promises of God with patience is Abraham.


The Story of Abraham

     As Abraham lay in bed he thought about all the times he had been ridiculed even by his own household.  His name had been “Abram,” which means “father of many,” yet he had no children with Sarah, his wife.  Yes, he had one son, Ishmael, by Hagar, a servant of Sarah.  Yet, he was ninety-nine years old and hardly was the father of many.  Yet the angel of the Lord had told him that he would be the father of many nations through his son with Sarah, who was never able to give birth and was long past the age of childhood.  
     The traditions of childbirth left no more room for hope, yet the angel’s word from God raised the possibility that he would indeed have a son with Sarah.  He thought of his own body as eh neared one hundred years old.  He might as well be dead, he thought.  
     But then, he began to have hope after repeating to himself the angel’s words, and this hope became the foundation of a faith that had never before been known, for Abraham knew that the God who had created the world could call into existence what does not exist.  God could create something out of nothing.
     Here is the story as it is summarized in Paul’s letter to the Romans: 
. . . (as it is written, “A father of many nations have I made you”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”
Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  (Romans 4:17-25)
     As astounding as this example of faith, hope, and patience is in the life of Abraham, in the next article in this Biblical Mysteries Revealed blog site I will focus on another amazing act of faith in Abraham’s life, one which led directly to the sacrifice of God’s own Son on the cross. 

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

The Mystery

Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, was both confused and angry.  His confusion arose from the numerous dreams he had been experiencing in the night, dreams that took away both his sleep and his peace.  He couldn’t recall much of the dreams, though some of the details remained, including a vision of a large statue.  

Consequently, he was angry.  His anger arose from frustration at his own inability to remember the dreams, but also because of the lying trickery of his mystical counselors.

Having called for the magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans before him, he challenged them not only to interpret his dreams, but also to tell him what his dreams were.  He knew from experience that included in their magic and strange conjurations that he was open to their deception.  They could simply agree with one another on a possible interpretation, then give it to him while pretending to have supernatural insights.

Nebuchadnezzar had decided to thwart this dark deception, for he somehow realized that his dreams were not merely a result of drinking too much wine and eating too much swine.

Therefore, the king determined to put the conjurers to the test:  If they could tell him his dream, then he could trust that they would also have the correct interpretation.  When they insisted that he must tell them the dream first before they can interpret it, the king’s anger grows:

The king replied, “I know for certain that you are bargaining for time, inasmuch as you have seen that the command from me is firm, that if you do not make the dream known to me, there is only one decree for you. For you have agreed together to speak lying and corrupt words before me until the situation is changed; therefore tell me the dream, that I may know that you can declare to me its interpretation.”  (Daniel 2:8-9)

The conjurers heared the threat, but continue to ask for the dream itself, knowing that they could not possibly repeat the scenes seen in the king’s dreams:

The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.  Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”  (Daniel 2:10-11)

The king’s anger grew to fury, and Nebuchadnezzar gave orders that they all be taken away to be destroyed.  



Daniel, however, was not present with the magicians and conjurers when they were confronted by Nebuchadnezzar, but he was included in the list of those to be killed for their failure to reveal the king’s dream and its interpretation.  

He asked Arioch, the king’s commander, why the order from Nebuchadnezzar was so urgent.  When Arioch informed Daniel of the recent confrontation the conjurers had had with the king, Daniel asked to speak to the Nebuchadnezzar himself.

He told Nebuchadnezzar that he had only just learned about the king’s dreams, and he needed time to seek the answers to the king’s mystery.  Receiving the time he requests, Daniel left to go pray with his friends:

Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.  (Daniel 2:17-18)

Daniel and his friends had been taken captive by the Babylonians, and to enforce their servitude, their names had been changed to Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschack, and Abednego.  

After praying, the four young men received the compassion they were seeking, for Daniel soon saw the secret the king wished to know: “Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision” (Daniel 2:19). Then Daniel gave thanks to God for revealing the king’s dream, as well as the interpretation.

After being brought before Nebuchadnezzar, the king asked if Daniel could make known the dream he had, along with the interpretation.  

Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed. (Daniel 2:27-28)



The Mystery

Daniel related the dream about the magnificent statue with a head of made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.

At the end of the king’s dream a stone appeared that was made without hands.  This stone struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them.   When the stature fell, the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at once and were scattered like dust.

However, Daniel told the king, the stone that struck the statue became a “great mountain” that filled the whole earth.

Daniel proceeded then to relate the meaning of the dream.  The head of the statue, Daniel said, represented Nebuchadnezzar and his powerful kingdom, which will be followed by four other kingdoms, all seen in the breast and arms made of silver, the belly and thighs made of bronze, and the legs of made of iron, concluding with the feet made with a mixture of iron and clay.  

The climax of the story, Daniel told the king, concerned the “stone made without hands” that represented the Kingdom of God:

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy. (Daniel 2:44-45)

When Daniel finished telling the dream and its interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar was so astounded that he fell on his face and did homage to Daniel, even commanding an offering to be given and incense to be burned.  

“Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries,” Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

The king’s astonishment was converted to rewards for Daniel.  Nebuchadnezzar appointed him to be ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.  And Daniel’s friends were given the administration of the province of Babylon.


The Application

How do we apply this story to our own lives today?  I want to focus on the “mystery” in this story since it’s the only place in the Old Testament where this word is used.

In this case the dream is given not to a prophet or servant of God but to a king in a country that has the reputation for being the most ungodly and paganistic of ancient empires.  Even so, Nebuchadnezzar is able to see the power of Daniel’s ability to receive the truth concerning what would ordinarily be impossible to know.  

Nebuchadnezzar relies on the Chaldeans, the magicians, the conjurers, and the sorcerers to give him supernatural wisdom, but clearly the king is skeptical of their powers.  He realizes that his dream is so powerfully insightful that he wants the true meaning to come forth, not an interpretation that derives from the collaboration of those who are used to deceit and trickery.  Therefore, he sets up a test to prove either that these advisors have received the truth or will be exposed in their lies.  He does so by making the task impossible without divine intervention.

When faced with the challenge, the king’s counselors admit that they cannot obtain the wisdom he desires, claiming that “no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean.”  Moreover, they claimed, the king demands what is “difficult,” which means “impossible,” though they don’t want to admit to any inability or weakness in the realms of divination or soothsaying.  Finally, they claim, no one else can do any better unless he himself is a god whose “dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”

Thus, Nebuchadnezzar is perfectly aligned to see the power of the revelations given to Daniel about his dream, an understanding that leads the king to give authority and power over the realm of Babylon to a former slave, what must have been unheard of in the king’s realm.

Such an event was indeed nearly unbelievable in the days before Christ’s coming and the giving of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to the Church.  Under the Old Testament, only a few people were given the insights the Holy Spirit gives to all in the Church today through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The most significant examples in the Early Church period were the manifold revelations given to the Apostle Paul after his conversion to Christ.

Paul’s Vision

Before being sent out as an apostle to the Gentiles, Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, also received mysteries that he was commissioned to reveal to the new Christians in the early Church.  This is what he wrote to the Church in Ephesus, for example:

If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.  (Ephesians 3:2-4)

To the Church in Corinth, Paul related how the mystery was made known to him  He does so in enigmatic, indeterminate terms in the following passage:

 Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows.  (II Corinthians 12:1-3)

But Paul’s use of the third person (I know “a man who was caught up,” rather than “I was caught up”) perhaps serves to deflect any accusation of pride on his part, as he says in the following verse: 

For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. (II Corinthians 12:6)

In spite of the magnitude of the revelations he’s received, Paul refuses to boast in himself.  Instead, he wants to have the truth revealed in his life, not merely in his words.  In fact, the depth of the revelations he has received were so great that they couldn’t be understood even in terms of words. 

And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.  (II Corinthians 12:3)

Nevertheless, Paul was as fearless as Daniel when confronted with the lions, or Hananiah, Azariah, and Meshael when faced with the fiery furnace.  The truth when it is received is so powerful that no weapon raised against it will prosper, even if it means martyrdom.

“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.  (Isaiah 54:17)

Christ in You

The Mystery of Christ

Reading and studying the Scriptures, particularly the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament, we find a number of passages that use the term “mystery,” so we’ve been looking to see if we can uncover the secrets God wants to reveal to us. Here is another one in Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.  (Colossians 1:24-29)

Several significant points emerge immediately concerning the mystery from this passage, and they include the following:

  • The mystery has been hidden from past ages and generations.
  • The mystery has now been manifested to Christ’s “saints.”
  • God wants to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery.
  • The mystery, in essence, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
  • Paul therefore seeks to admonish and teach all believers about this mystery so they may be “complete in Christ.”

The Hidden Mystery

The mystery, Paul writes, has been kept hidden for many ages and generations.  Why is this?  In part at least, it was because humans were separated from God, unable to hear God’s voice or receive His wisdom.  

Even with God’s chosen people, the Israelites in the Old Testament, the Lord communicated them visually and externally, rather than from the inside.  And in the accounts of God’s direct dealings with His prophets, priests, or kings, we read that the Holy Spirit “came upon” them rather than filling and living in them as He does now under the New Covenant.  

Here in the case of the anointing of David as future king of Israel  is one of many examples:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. (I Samuel 11:6)

Here is an account of the first Judge who helped deliver the Israelites from their enemies:

When the sons of Israel cried to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the sons of Israel to deliver them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. (Judges 19:9-10)

And similar accounts are told about Samson, Amasai, Jeptha, Jahaziel, King Saul, and others, how the Spirit of the Lord “came upon” them.

Before His crucifixion and after His resurrection, however, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would not only be their teacher but also would fill them with power so they could be His witnesses in all the earth.  


The Infilling of the Holy Spirit

Just after Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to the disciples and breathed on them, saying to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). This is the moment when they were “born again” into the New Covenant, but they still needed more of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  It wasn’t until the the Day of Pentecost that this promise of the Spirit’s power was given to them:

This is what Peter declared in his message on the Day of Pentecost, when the gathered disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit:

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.  (Acts 2:33)

This “Gift of the Holy Spirit” was foretold by the Prophet Joel and the promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.  Peter refers to this prophecy in his message to the crowd that has gathered:

“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
 Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”  (Joel 2:28-29)

This promise of the Spirit was new, kept hidden from past generations, but on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit appeared like flaming tongues of fire that rested on each one of the believers in Christ.  

Peter relates that this same promise was made to all who will call upon Him in the future:  “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:39).  This is the mystery God wants to reveal to the saints of all ages, showing the “riches of the glory” of this infilling of the Holy Spirit.




The Healing of the Man Born Lame

After the Day of Pentecost, Peter and John are arrested and called before the Jewish leaders after a man who was lame from birth was healed.  They spend one night in prison and then are called before Annas the high priest and all who were of high-priestly descent.

Peter, who is “filled with the Holy Spirit,” speaks in response to gathered rulers, who ask, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” (Acts 4:7).

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.

When Peter and John are released, they return to the rest of the Believers gathered in Jerusalem, relating their story.  The Believers give thanks and praise to God, saying:  

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29 -31)

Thus, God fulfills His promises both to fill and continues filling, the faithful believers as they seek to manifest His glory to the world, as it says later in Acts:   “And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”  (Acts 13:52).  Is it any wonder that the Gospel spread so quickly and so powerfully in the early days of the Church?  


Riches of Glory

In describing this Mystery of Christ to the Colossian believers, Paul emphasizes certain words to reveal their importance:  

God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The one word that stands out the most in this description is the word “glory.”  This word is kaw-bode’, or כבוד, in Hebrew. The word relates to “heaviness in weight,” or figuratively, “weighty in terms of importance,” as in the weight of a particular attribute such as majesty, strength, beauty, or splendor.  

In the New Testament, on the other hand, the Greek word for glory is doxazo, which means “brilliance” or “radiance.”

Summarizing and connecting this word’s meanings to our mystery-text, “glory” refers to the “fullness of God,” or “the acts and the attributes” of God.   God’s glory refers to the things God does and the things God is, just because He is God.  It is the self-manifestation of God’s love, might, and power.

Those who have asked for and received, the Holy Spirit, in their lives, the very presence of the Spirit of Christ, know from personal experience what this glory is.  Those who have not received the gift need only ask, seek, and find, for all who call upon the name of the Lord will receive His promise of the Spirit if they ask in faith.

Isn’t it significant that many Eastern Mystics meditate to receive peace by essentially emptying their minds?  

Yet instead of emptying themselves, Believers in Christ seek to be filled, continually filled, with the  eternal presence of the Holy Spirit.  This is what it means when Paul writes,

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.  (I Corinthians 6:18-20)


The Hope of Glory

The mystery–“Christ in you, the hope of glory”–is a rich mystery indeed, so rich that Paul constantly is proclaiming, admonishing and teaching to ensure that believer is complete in Christ.  

We still need to receive revelation about a significant question, however:  What does “hope of glory” mean?  

The word “hope” means “a joyful and confident expectation” that a promise of God will be fulfilled.  Since faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,”  our faith believes that a promise for the future, as in ‘hope,” has already been fulfilled.  Hope, on the other hand, anticipates its arrival.  

Lacking patience, many people cease believing or seeking when an answer is not immediate.  They may even petulantly give up if they do not see the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises right away.  This is why Paul needed to “admonish” and “teach” the people.  They needed to learn steadfastness, unswerving stability, when seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Thus, we must live our lives in constant expectation of seeing God’s glory in our lives at any moment, remaining steadfast in spite of circumstances that God will reveal His will according to His promises to us and perform it in our lives.

Combining these ideas with those concerning “glory,” we now understand that we can live our lives in constant, joyful expectation that Christ’s glory will manifest, that we will receive new revelations of Him at any moment. 





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