Revelation 1:4, Greetings

John, to the seven churches which 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 from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. (NKJV)

In this verse, we see those to whom John originally wrote, as well as the blessing he desired for them.

1. the seven churches which are in Asia.

First of all, the “Asia” John knew isn’t the Asia we know, that is, the Far East: China and such, but was a part of the Roman Empire in what we know as southwestern Turkey.  It sat between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.  The “seven churches” were within a fifty square mile area and are listed in order clockwise from the first to the last.  We’ll have some more to say about each of them when we get there, but it’s important to remember, whatever else might be said about them, that these were seven actual, contemporaneous, churches.

2. the blessing he desired for them.

a. its substance:  grace and peace.

Grace comes first.  Grace must come first – always, because without grace, we’re only under God’s condemnation and judgment.

A common definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor toward us.”  That’s true, but I like to think of it more as “God’s unmerited favor toward us in spite of our merited disfavor from Him.”  Or just three words, “in spite of….”  You see, for all our supposed goodness and greatness, there’s nothing good in us Godward, Romans 7:18.  We all sin and fall short of His glory, Romans 3:23.  What does that mean: “fall short of His glory”?  I think it means that we fall short – far short, when it comes to glorifying Him, giving Him the honor, respect and worship that He deserves.  Our every breath is in His hand, and yet, like the man to whom that statement was originally made, we have not glorified Him, Daniel 5:23.  All we deserve is His condemnation and judgment.  Without grace, we would all perish in our sins.

Peace.  In John 14:27, our Lord promised the disciples, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”  What does this mean, “not as the world gives”?  The world’s peace depends on what is happening, on outward things, things going well,  things going “our way.”  The peace Jesus spoke of depends on none of those things.  It rests simply on the fact that God is in control of the “outward things.”  It looks up, not around.

What might this mean in the context of John’s writing, if anything?  I think it could simply mean that, regardless of what happens in much of the rest of the book, chs. 21, 22 will put an end to all of that and usher in, as Peter put it, new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, or as it could be translated, “is at home,” 2 Peter 3:13.  It certainly isn’t at home in this world.

b. its threefold source:

From Him who is and who was and who is to come.

This refers to God the Father and describes Him as being present right now, as He present was in the past and as He will be present in the future.  In other words, there has never been a time, and never will be a time, when, or where, He “isn’t” and isn’t on the throne of the Universe.

From the seven Spirits who are before His throne.

See also 4:5, which also refers to the seven Spirits of God.  There is some discussion about who these are.  Many expositors look to Isaiah 11:2 and what they say is his seven-fold reference to the Spirit, and, so, John refers to the Holy Spirit.  Thus, it is said, we have a reference to the Trinity:  Father, Spirit and Son.  Others say, “No, it’s a reference to the seven angels (of the seven churches) who stand before God’s throne.”  There were no capital letters in the original language.  Everything was written in lower case letters.  Isaiah 11:2 is a sixfold description of the Spirit of the LORD which rests on the Messiah.

Which view of the “seven Spirits” is correct?  At different times, I’ve held to each of them.  At this time, I don’t really know which view is correct.  So I put forth the discussion, though there is more that could be said, and leave it at that.

From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

the faithful witness.

This refers to His life and earthly ministry.  At His trial before Pilate, Jesus said, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth,” John 18:28.

the firstborn from the dead.

This refers to His resurrection.  “Firstborn” refers to His priority, even in this.  Colossians 1:18, In all things, He may have the preeminence.

the ruler of the kings of the earth.

This refers to His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The question is, is that true of Him now?  In the sense that providentially He rules in the everyday affairs even of kings perhaps it is true.  Is that all John meant?  That His rule is unseen and unacknowledged?

Perhaps the majority of Christians believe that, yes, He is ruling right now in His “heavenly session.”  It’s a spiritual rule in the hearts of His people.  Yes, but how many of “His people” are “kings of the earth”?  Where is there, right now, even one world leader who acknowledges and tries to live and govern by His Word?

“Ruler of the kings of the earth” is more than a meaningless title.  It refers to a time when He will be universally and openly acknowledged as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  That title is always and only used in connection with His Second Coming.  There is coming a time, believe it or not, when Washington, London, Moscow, all the other capitals of the world, and their leaders, will submit, willingly or not, to the rule of the Lord Jesus.  We’ll have much more to say about this as we get into the book, Lord willing.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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A Time to Weep; A Time to Laugh

I originally posted this three years ago. Never could I have imagined the deterioration happening to our country that has happened since then. Truly, there is a great need to “sigh and cry”.

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A time to weep; a time to laugh, Ecclesiastes 3:4.

There was, and perhaps still is, a popular conservative radio program.  I really don’t know because I don’t listen to the radio, and haven’t for several years.  Unlike what most others apparently like, I prefer silence to the inane yammerings and what passes for music in our time on the radio, even much of “Christian” radio.

I used to drive for a living and did listen to the radio, including the program mentioned above.  In fact, I could have listened to the final hour of this program three times.  Once was enough.  This was during the time of the Clinton administration and the troubles he had in the Oval Office.  This particular program delighted in making fun of the various things reported in the news, troubles and policies alike.  I’ll admit, some of the things were cleverly done and someone…

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Revelation 1:1-3, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”

[1]The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place.  And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, [2]who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.  [3]Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (NKJV)

Revelation 1:19 seems to give a natural division of the book:  “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”  Many expositors follow this outline.  However, we believe that one purpose of the book is to reveal the Lord Jesus Himself, and so we have the following outline:

1. The revelation of Himself to the reader, ch. 1.
2. The revelation of Himself to the churches, chs. 2, 3.
3. The revelation of Himself to the world, chs. 4-22.

The first 20 verses give us the introduction to the book, telling us its origin and purpose.  We’ll look at the first three verses in this post.  In them, we see:

1. God’s purpose in giving the book, v. 1.

Through the Lord Jesus, the purpose is to show His servants things which must shortly take place.  In the first post, we discussed something of the different ways that men understand what this means.  It seems to me that it refers to verifiable, identifiable things – events – which will clearly demonstrate the knowledge and power of God, not just ongoing processes or principles, not just vague generalities, but real, tangible happenings.  Our Lord did on occasion speak in general terms, as in Matthew 24, where He told of wars and rumors of wars, of strife and violence, of false Messiahs and prophets, but He also gave specific details about some things, things which were to prepare His people to act when they saw them.  For example, in Mark’s account, He said, “But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.”  This isn’t the place really to enter into that discussion, except to say, similarly, that Revelation isn’t about generalities, but about specific things designed to forewarn of and prepare God’s people for that which lies ahead.  I believe that’s as true for today as it was for John’s day.

“shortly”.  What does this word mean?  Some say that it means that the things in the book happened during the early days of the church, that it was designed to encourage and strengthen them during the oncoming trials.  No doubt, the book did encourage those early believers.  But, unless these folks believe that all the book has been fulfilled, even they have to admit that some things still haven’t happened after nearly 2000 years.

The same expression in the original language is translated “speedily” in Luke 18:7, 8.  This is how I think it should be translated in Revelation 1:1.  In other words, I believe that John was saying that when these things began to happen, they would happen very quickly, and not that they would happen very soon.

And come to pass they must.  Ephesians 3:11 refers to the eternal purpose which [God] accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:30 says that in the mind and purpose of God, believers are already glorified.  One need only look in the mirror or the medicine cabinet to see that that hasn’t yet happened.  But it must happen, and so must these things in Revelation.

2.  God’s procedure in giving the book.

He sent and signified by His angel to His servant John.

Several years ago, I read a rather odd comment about the word “signified.”  The author maintained that, even though the word was usually pronounced “sig-ni-fied,” in this verse, it’s supposed to be pronounced “sign-i-fied.”  This, he said, is because Revelation is given in “signs.”  As I said, “rather odd.”  However, the word translated “signified” is used five other times in the NT (John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27) and means “to give a clear record.” I suppose it could be argued that Revelation is given in signs, or symbols, and that’s why it’s so hard to understand.  That’s true, but nearly every symbol is explained somewhere in the book, and so, in spite of our difficulties, it “gives a clear record”.

by His angel.  

This isn’t the first time such a thing has been said.  For example, at Sinai, Exodus 20:1 says that God spoke all these words, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Yet, in two other places, the Bible says that God spoke through an angel at that time, Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2.  There is no contradiction.  God may have spoken through angels, but it was still He Who spoke.  So here.  Even if it were an angel through whom the Lord Jesus spoke to John, it was still the Lord Jesus Who was speaking.

His servant John.

Unbelieving scholars maintain that Revelation is simply the delusional ravings of an overworked old man suffering from Roman imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos.  If that’s true, then John isn’t simply deluded, but a liar and a fraud, because he claimed that what he wrote came from God.  And if that’s true, then there’s no reason to study the book, any more than the rest of Scripture, which unbelieving scholars also deny as divinely inspired.

John said that he bore witness to:

1. the word of God.  Again, he states the source of his writing as being from God and not just his own thought.

2. the testimony of Jesus Christ, Who, in just a couple of verses, is called the faithful witness, v. 5.  The rest of the book is His testimony, not only to what was then current in the churches He addressed, but also as to what was coming down the road.

3. to all things that he saw.  John isn’t merely a puppet or a robot, transcribing what he was “programmed” to say.  He, too, was a “witness”.  The doctrine of verbal inspiration doesn’t mean that the writers were mere automatons.  God used men of different abilities, backgrounds, education, even nationality, to write His Word.  Moses wrote differently from Ezekiel, and Paul wrote differently from Matthew or Luke.  It was, and is, still God’s Word.

3. God’s promise in giving the book.

a. He promises blessing for those who read.

Until the invention of the printing press, copies of the Scripture were laboriously copied out by hand, so very few had their own personal copy.  Indeed, one of the instructions for Israel’s king was that he was to write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites, Deuteronomy 17:18, a copy he was continually to read and obey.  (Even though most of us have easy access to Scripture, this might be a good idea for us.  The time and effort it would take to write out the Scripture by hand – not on a typewriter or computer, but pen in hand, might help us to do a better job of knowing what it says.)  At meetings or gatherings, one person would read aloud to the others.  There is an excellent example of this in Nehemiah 8:1-11, which describes a service in which the Word was read aloud from morning until midday.

The ESV translates v. 3 this way: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy….

b. He promises blessing to those who hear.

There is something to be said for hearing someone else read the Word out loud.  I’ve told elsewhere the story of my wife’s and my reading of Genesis 15 and hearing her read v. 12 and me reading v. 17.  Hearing these verses that I had read silently many times gave me a whole different insight into that chapter.  (“Look Now Toward Heaven.”  Sorry, I don’t have the technical savvy to give you the direct link.  You know, “old dog, new tricks.” 🙂 )

c. He promises blessing to those who “keep” what it says.

As we mentioned in the first post, the word translated “keep” is the same word used of the soldiers who “guarded” the tomb of Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to hide away the Word under lock and key like a valuable treasure, or that we merely have it on display, like a wheel-barrow-sized copy on the coffee table, but that we pay attention to it, honor it, read it, not just because it comes up on some “reading schedule,” but because it’s God’s word to us.

Long ago, I fell for a young woman in a different state.  We wrote.  Oh, how I waited for those letters!  I devoured them when they came in the mail.  I didn’t have to have a “schedule” to read them.  I didn’t have to force myself to read them out of some sense of “duty.”  I didn’t just read here and there in them.  I didn’t have to try to “memorize” them.  I read them.  Over and over.  And over.  I was eager to read them!  I loved the one who wrote them!

It turned out she wasn’t the one God had for me, but I had the same attitude toward the one who was later on.  I couldn’t wait to be with her.  That was more than 45 years ago, and she’s out in the kitchen fixing something delicious to eat while I sit in here trying to write something “delicious to read.”  I can’t imagine her not being here.

I wish that we as individuals, as churches, and as a nation, had that same  intense desire, that same fervent longing, for God and His Word.

4. God’s perspective in giving the book.

the time is near….

Yes, it’s been nearly 2000 years.  Yes, in one way or another, people are saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4).  Yes, things are out of control and getting worse.  Jesus said things would be like that before He came.  But, as James said, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door,” James 5:9, and one of these days, He’s going to open it and step through.  It may be before I finish this post.  It may not be in the lifetimes of our grandchildren.  He doesn’t look at our calendar.

But, one day, He will open it and step through.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation: The Future/Director’s Cut

The Director’s cut of a movie is a feature that shows us how some of the scenes were shot, how special effects were produced or perhaps what the director had in mind for a particular scene.  I love it.  I love to see behind-the-scenes, as it were, in these things.

I’ve come to believe that the Book of Revelation is a Director’s cut of the future.  It goes behind-the-scenes and shows us that human history isn’t just a jumbled chaos, but that there is purpose and direction behind it, even the worst of it, cf. 17:17.  To me, this is a great comfort, especially as I look around and see the things going on in our society, things just a few years ago that would have been thought unimaginable.

Granted, there is a lot of difficulty and speculation involved in the study of this book.  And many don’t think that prophecy is a worthy study, not a “fundamental of the faith.”  And it’s true that it’s not a matter of “salvation.”  At the same time, prophecy takes up a large portion of the Bible.  If we believe in the authority and inspiration of Scripture, then we have an obligation to study that part of the Bible as well as the other parts.

Generally speaking, Revelation isn’t taught or studied in churches, except perhaps for a few verses or a topic or two, but one of the last things the Lord told John as He was finishing giving him the book was, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches,” Revelation 22:16.  I think He meant for us to know what “these things” are.

1. Importance of the Book.

Beside the fact that the Book comes to us from God, which, in itself, makes the Book important, there are some other things as well.

a. It’s the only book in the New Testament devoted to prophecy.  Almost every other book in the New Testament has elements of prophecy, but Revelation is the only book called “a prophecy,” 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19.

b. It’s necessary to complete Paul’s eschatology.  Paul revealed many prophetic truths – the Revelation puts them all into perspective. Indeed, Revelation is the capstone of all Biblical prophecy.

c. It fully reveals Christ’s present relationship to His churches and His prospective relationship to the world.

d. It’s the only NT book in which is given a blessing for the fulfilling of our responsibilities toward it, 1:3; 22:7.  This responsibility is three-fold:  to read, to hear and to keep.  The Greek word translated “keep” doesn’t mean simply to pay attention to, but “to watch over,” “to guard.”  It’s the word used of the soldiers who “kept guard” over the tomb of Jesus.  It says to me that there is supposed to be more than the casual attitude many professing Christians have, not only to this book, but to all Scripture.

e. It ends with a curse against those who tamper with its contents.  For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book, 22:18, 19.

Regardless of what one thinks about what these verses mean, or even what the book itself means, it’s a serious thing to approach the book with anything but the utmost reverence and respect.  God will not have His Word to be meddled with, mocked, or misused!  It’s not to be sensationalized, trivialized or minimized.

2. Interpretation of the book.

There are four basic approaches to interpreting Revelation.

a. Preterist.

According to this view, all the Revelation, except possibly the last two chapters, were fulfilled during the early history of the church, although there are some who believe that even they have been fulfilled.  Preterists call the book “A Tract for Troubled Times,” teaching the early believers to hold fast during the troubles they were facing, and would face, and encouraging them that these trials were not to be permanent.

b. Historicist.

This view teaches that Revelation is continuously fulfilled through the Church age.  The various things and events in the books, such as seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., don’t refer to specific happenings, but to “principles” or “processes” at work throughout history.

c. Allegorical or Spiritualizing.

This view says that, using symbols, Revelation portrays the ongoing conflict between good and evil.  John is said not to have expected a “literal” fulfillment of his words.  We’re not supposed to, either.

We want to deal with this view a little more than the others because it has had such an impact on Church history and on current views of The Revelation.

One author wrote,

“In the figurative or symbolic language of the Apocalypse hardly anything is called by its ordinary and direct name, but things are indirectly alluded to under some other name, and words have to be understood as implying something other than their ordinary connotations….”
(William M. Ramsey, The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 111.)

Then he goes on to assert that “the most dangerous kind of error that can be made about the Apocalypse is to regard it as a literal statement and prediction of events,” (p. 112).

The allegorical method had its roots in the ancient Greek culture of Alexandria.  It arose as the result of the dilemma the Alexandrian Greeks faced in seeing the differences between their philosophical heritage and the often grotesque and immoral stories about their gods.  They resolved this dilemma by treating the religious stories allegorically, that is, as not literally true, but as merely illustrating various virtues or as describing the struggle between good and evil.

The Alexandrian Jew had the same difficulty.  Raised with the Mosaic viewpoint, he was surrounded by the great Greek philosophical tradition.  Instead of holding faithfully to Moses, he did as the Alexandrian Greek had done before him, allegorizing Moses and interpreting Plato literally, thus making Moses teach the philosophy of Plato.

The best known advocates of the allegorical method in the early church were Clement of Alexandria and Origen:

They applied it generally in the interpretation of Scripture.  They applied it even more readily in this instance [that is, in the interpretation of Revelation] as it furnished them with the possibility of denying the millennial reign of Christ, to which they were opposed.  By this method all the prophecies of the book were deprived of any prophetic meaning, thus becoming spiritual principles for the aid and comfort of the Christian in his unceasing fight against evil.  This method was adopted by the rationalistic schools as being in agreement with their aversion to the prophetic and, consequently, the supernatural character of the content of Scripture(George A. Hadjiantoniou, New Testament Introduction, p. 340, emphasis added.)

With regard to Ramsey’s statement above, I can’t think of a more “dangerous” way to interpret any Scripture than to say that it has to be “understood as implying something else than [its] ordinary connotations”!  To be sure, interpreting prophecy can be difficult, but in Scripture, prophecy is about predicting events, things which must…come to pass, not just laying down “principles.” After all, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?

And perhaps it’s still true that the main bone of contention for the allegorist today, as it was with Clement and Origen centuries ago, is how to deal with the “1000 years” of Revelation 20.

d. The Futurist View.

As the name implies, this view holds that most of Revelation is future, even to our own time.  Futurists accept Revelation to employ language generally to be understood literally.  They don’t deny the use of symbols; they do deny that everything is symbolic, or that these symbols don’t teach actual, literal truth or portray actual events.

Premillennialism, which is what the debate is really all about, is accused of being of recent origin in the 18th or 19th centuries.  This isn’t true.  Under the name “chiliasm” (from chilias – “thousand,” Revelation 20), it was the belief of the early church, though their view did differ in some details from the modern view.  In his book, The Millennium, Loraine Boettner claims that this means nothing:

“As far as its presence in the early church is concerned, surely it can be argued with as much reason that it was one of those immature and unscriptural beliefs that flourished before the Church had time to work out the true system of Theology as that its presence at that time is an indication of purity of faith.  In any event, so thoroughly did Augustine do his work in refuting it that it practically disappeared for a thousand years as an organized system of thought, and was not seriously put forth again until the time of the Protestant Reformation,” (p.366).

There are some interesting things here.  The “thousand years” to which he refers from Augustine to the Reformation are known as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which the Scriptures themselves almost disappeared, let alone a difficult subject like prophecy.  I believe the adoption of the allegorical method led directly to this dismal time in church and human history.  I further believe that the Reformation itself would not have happened, humanly speaking, if Luther and Calvin and others hadn’t restored a measure of literalism to their expositions of Scripture.

In his Bondage of the Will, written in 1525 to answer a volume written by the humanist scholar Erasmus on the subject of free will, Luther had this to say:

“…let this be our conviction:  that no “implication” or “figure” may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such be required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.  Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rule of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men; for if anyone may devise “implications” and “figures” at his own pleasure, what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind, and as a sort of chameleon?” (p. 192, emphasis added).

In his commentary on Galatians, written about 1548, explaining Galatians 4:22-31 (the “allegory” of Sarah and Hagar), Calvin had this to say:

“Again, as the history which he [Paul] quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives it an allegorical interpretation.  But as the apostle declared that these things are ‘allegorized’ (‘allegoroumena’), Origen, and many others with him, have seized the occasion of torturing the Scriptures, in every possible manner, away from the true sense.  They concluded that the literal sense is too mean [common, ordinary] and poor, and that under the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories.  And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred by the world to solid doctrine” (p. 135, emphasis added).

This doesn’t mean that the Reformers themselves had any use for or agreement with chiliasm.  They thought as little of it as had Augustine before them.  Calvin classed chiliasts with Origen, no compliment to them.  He never did a commentary on Revelation.  And Luther said, “My spirit cannot adjust itself to this book.”

Reformed scholars today, though willing to expound Revelation, have about the same attitude toward premillennialists as their ancestors had toward chiliasm.  I remember reading one author who sneered at such for having only a “Bible college” education, as opposed to those who had spent years studying in seminary.  No wonder.  If God doesn’t mean what He says, especially about the future, then, no doubt, it would take a considerable amount of “learning” to decipher what He does mean.

I admit that many of those with whom I might otherwise agree have given them plenty of reason to dislike this viewpoint.  In spite of the fact that, even after centuries of trying and failing, and no one has ever successfully given the date on which the Lord will return, people still insist on “setting dates”.  And there are ministries devoted, it seems like, every time someone sneezes in the Middle East, to rushing to Daniel and Revelation to see what prophecies were fulfilled.  History is littered with the wreckage of such attempts.

Nevertheless, we believe the futurist interpretation is the only one which makes sense of the intent God had when He gave us this book.

Now, no doubt, for those who received it originally, it was indeed “a tract for troubled times.”  It comforted and encouraged them.  It gave them hope and assurance.  But we believe that The Revelation is also “a testimony for terminal times”.  That is, when the end times do come, whether in our lifetimes or centuries from now, the Revelation will testify by the unmistakable fulfillment of its predictions as to the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, both the written word, and that personified in the Son of God:  “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” Revelation 19:10.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Amen,  Revelation 22:20.

Hell is Real

A few years ago, there was a book titled, “Heaven is Real.”  It related the story of a young boy who was said to have gone to heaven.  The gist of the story is that, because of the experiences of this lad and his family, we can be assured that “heaven is real.”

In my last post, I said that, because of our sin, we have no claim on God, but He has a claim on us.  I said, “That claim concerns His justice.  We have broken His Law.  We have come under its penalty.  We have incurred a debt.  That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.”  Then I said I would have more to say in a later post, Lord willing.

This is that post.

Based, not on experience, but on the clear and authoritative teaching of our Lord, we can be assured of another truth about the future:  Hell is real.

There is a lot of discussion about the existence of Hell.

To some people, it’s nothing more than a curse word.

To some, who deny any existence beyond death and the grave, it doesn’t even exist.  Neither does heaven.

To some, the bad experiences of this life are hell.  One place I worked, one of the ladies there said she believed this life is hell.  Based on the difficult place we worked, I could understand her feelings, though I didn’t agree with her.  It’s the only job I ever held that, when I woke up in the morning, I was sorry I wasn’t sick, so I could call in.

To some who will knock on your door, “hell” is just the grave.  If that’s true, then why did our Lord warn us in Matthew 5:27-30 that if a part of our body leads us into sin, it would be better to cut off that part, rather than your whole body be cast into hell”?  Hell is not just the grave.

To some, hell is just about remorse and sorrow that one has missed out on the blessings of salvation.

In contrast to these ideas, our Lord gave a different view.  In Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV),He said,

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and say Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’.”

There’s some discussion as to whether this portion tells a real story or is just a story, a parable.  I think it’s real, but that doesn’t really matter.  Even if this is only a parable, well, Jesus’ parables were designed to teach and illustrate truth.  There is truth here.

1. There is existence after death.

If we had only the phrase, the rich man also died and was buried, we might be able to say that was the end of things for him.  But we have the account of the death of Lazarus and what happened, as well as the conversation he and the rich man had afterward.

This is in agreement with other Scriptures.  Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment….  There is an “after” as far as death is concerned.  It isn’t the end of things.

This portion also tells us –

2. There is a time of reckoning after death.

…after this the judgment….  Matthew 5 doesn’t tell us everything about what happens to people after their death.  It’s designed to warn us that there is something after death, and that what happens in this life isn’t necessarily an indication of what will happen then.  The rich man lived a life of luxury and plenty, yet he wound up being tormented; the beggar lived in sickness and poverty, yet he wound up being comforted.

It’s widely believed that there is only “a better place” out there after death.  According to our Lord, that is not true.  There is also, if I may put it like this, “a bitter place.”    There is a time, and a place, where the things of this life will be examined and judged, a time when those who have “gotten away with it” will discover that, no, they haven’t.

3. There is a place of torment after death.

Luke 16:22b-24 says, The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”

This isn’t the only place where the Lord mentions such things. In Mark 9:43-49, He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  For everyone shall be seasoned with fire….”

This is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, especially in this day when the Word of God is generally held in such low esteem, and when faulty views of God are so prevalent.  How can a “God of love” send men and women to a place of torment?  People just can’t reconcile this idea with the idea that God could do such a thing, and so, reject it.

Our Lord teaches otherwise.

You see, as I said above, we have broken God’s law.  We are guilty and under sentence of its punishment:  eternal separation from God.  Though the body dies, the soul lives on, and the body will one day be resurrected, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” or as the KJV put it, “the resurrection of damnation,” John 5:29.

Don’t misread that “good” as though there are some who will go to heaven because of it.  Our Lord was speaking from the viewpoint of being under the Law, wherein there were some who were considered “blameless,” for example, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.  Luke 1:6 describes them as both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.

“Blameless.”

Even the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, considered himself “blameless,” Philippians 3:6.  But, as he put it, “I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died,” Romans 7:9.  This has nothing to do with his “fellowship with God” being broken after his conversion, but rather, the cataclysm that occurred in his life as he traveled toward Damascus with the sole purpose of rooting out and destroying those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, cf. Acts 26:9-11.  Afterward, he looked at those things of which he had been so proud as no better than the refuse of his own body, Philippians 3:8.

Later in life, he wrote, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside, Romans 3:10-12.

“None righteous” –

None who measures up to the standards and requirements of God’s holiness.  There is a lot of “religion” among men, but, apart from the Lord Jesus, there is no righteousness for all that.

“None who understands” –

None who understand that we come short of what God requires of us.  None who understand that nothing we can do measures up to what God requires of us.  Indeed, some are offended at the very idea that God can “require” anything of us.

“None who seeks after God” –

None who understand that the only place to get that righteousness God requires is from God Himself.  That righteousness is the righteousness of Christ imputed to those who believe on Him.

Apart from that righteousness, we all stand condemned in the sight of God, John 3:18, He who does not believe is condemned already.  In a very real sense, to the unsaved person, this life is little more than a cell on death row, waiting for the day of execution.  For the unbeliever, a place in hell is as assured as a place in heaven is for the believer.

But how can that be?  How can that be “just”?

We question the “justice” of this because we minimize sin.  Let me put it this way.  If one swats a fly, nothing is thought of it.  If one were to assault me, well, that might be considered more serious.  If, however, one were to assault the President of the United States, that would be considered very grave indeed.  Why the difference?  Because of the dignity and position of the person assaulted.

Sin is an assault against God.  Since we have brought God down to a level below us (in that we believe that we can confound His will and prevent His purpose), we don’t think of it like that.  However, because God is infinite, acts against Him bear infinite consequences.

Sin brings an infinite consequence:  an eternity in hell.

When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, He suffered that consequence.  That doesn’t mean that He actually went to Hell; He did suffer that separation from God that is the essence of hell, Mark 15:34.

With our sanitized crucifixes and pictures, our superficial, “contemporary” Christianity, we have no idea whatever what that means.

It means that there is no salvation apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It means there is no escaping our sin and its eternal consequence apart from Him.   Apart from Him, everything we do is sin, Proverbs 21:4, even the providing of the necessities of life.  Why is that?  Because we do it with no thought of Him.

And, apart from Him, there is no hope, Ephesians 2:12.

This is why Scripture urges us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because there is no salvation anywhere else, only condemnation, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.