Acts 1:1-11, Laying The Foundation

1] The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2] until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, 3] to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

4] And being assembled with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5] for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  6] Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  7] And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put into His own authority.  8] But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9] Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  10] And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, 11] who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (NKJV)

Our Lord’s ministry after His resurrection is briefly described in the first 8 verses of Acts 1.  Forty days ministry is reduced to just a few words in v. 3.  Yet they serve to remind us that Acts didn’t happen in a vacuum, but is the continuation of what had begun in the lives of the apostles some three years earlier, and, indeed, in the life of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

Acts continues where the Gospel of Luke leaves off.  In that account, we have some post-resurrection appearances of our Lord, and then it closes with this:  And He led them out as far as Bethany.  Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.  And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God.  Amen.  Luke 24:50.

Luke uses the ending of his account in the Gospel as the beginning of his letter to Theophilus.  The Gospel gives us an account of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.  Some Bibles refer to Acts as “the Acts of the Apostles.”  This, I think, is incorrect.  Only three of the apostles, Peter, James and John, are mentioned, and of these three, we read mainly of Peter.  We don’t really count the mention of Judas, which happens only because he had to be replaced.  But even Peter gives place to Paul.  The other disciples, and Matthias, the replacement for Judas, disappear from the pages of Scripture.

As Luke tells us what the Lord Jesus began to do in His physical body, so Acts tells us what He continued to do through “His [spiritual] body, which is the church,” Colossians 1:24.

Our post today is divided into three parts, not a word-by-word study, but a summary, if you will, of essentials which weren’t only for the apostles but are for us as well.  These essentials serve to remind us that Christianity is not just another “world religion”.  In fact, it’s not of this world at all, or it has no value at all.  Its doctrines are unique.  Its Holy Book is authoritative in a way unlike any other book known to men.  Its character as revealed by its Author is such that there is no hope relative to eternity apart from it.

These three essentials remove as unimportant most of the traditions tacked on by men over the centuries.  These essentials are –

1. The Foundation of all we believe, vs. 1-3.

He…presented Himself alive…v. 1.

The Resurrection of Christ is God’s seal of approval, if you will, to the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus.  As we’ve said before, it marks as different the deaths of the men who died with Him that day, as well as every other death that’s ever happened.  If that is false, nothing else matters.  After dealing with some questions about the resurrection of our Lord and of the idea of resurrection in general, Paul wrote, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

The preaching of the early church was filled with the hope and truth of the Resurrection.  Preaching to the crowd who gathered because of the healing of a man born lame, Peter said that Christ has been killed, but “God raised [Him] from the dead, Acts 3:15.  The authorities, coming upon this scene, were greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead, Acts 4:2.  Defending his message before these same authorities, Peter said, Let it be known to you all, and to all the peoples of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…,  Acts 4:10.

Extending the Gospel to Gentiles, after having been assured it was alright, in his remarks Peter told Cornelius and those gathered in his house that “Him [Jesus of Nazareth, v. 38] God raised from the dead, Acts 10:40, 41.

Paul held aloft that same torch.  In Acts 13:30, he told the Jews in Antioch in Pisidia, concerning Christ, that the Jews “took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raise Him from the dead.”  He repeats his thought in v. 34, “He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption.”

There are multiple references to the Resurrection throughout the rest of Acts and the NT.  It isn’t just some fiction or fable designed to fool people.  The disciples were hard to convince he was alive!  Cf. John 20:24 with Thomas and Luke 24:9-11 with the eleven…and all the rest.  Peter and some of the others fully intended to go back to fishing as their livelihood, John 21:1-3.

What changed?

He…presented Himself alive….

2. The Fitness For All We Do, 1:4-5, 8.

These verses were given specifically to the apostles.  They are not for us today, though many speak of seeking “the baptism of the Holy Spirit.”  Pentecost cannot be duplicated anymore than the Crucifixion can be duplicated.  Nor is it necessary.

Having said that, even the apostles were “filled with the Spirit” more than once.  Cf. Ephesians 5:18.

Why did they need this?  In order to receive the power, the “ability” to do what the Lord told them to do. The word translated “power” is the word we get our words “dynamite,” “dynamo,” dynamic” from.  It refers to a power that gets the job done!  This is not something we have naturally!  We might have various natural gifts and abilities, but they’re not enough to “get the job done,” in spite of what we might think.  Even the OT recognized this.  Faced with an impossible task, Zerubbabel received this encouragement, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the LORD of hosts, Zechariah 4:6.  Finney might have thought that “moral suasion” or human ability and wisdom was enough, but he was sadly mistaken.  We see the results of his teaching, and that of his followers with their emphasis on “making your decision” and “results” and “raising your hand for salvation” in the mess all around us, even in the churches.

All believers have something of the Spirit, it’s not something we have to “ask” for.  In those Gospel verses which are sometimes used to teach otherwise – the Spirit had not yet been given.  That is not true now.  The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all [lit., “for the mutual benefit.” – the “gifts of the Spirit” aren’t about us, but about serving others], 1 Corinthians 12:7.  One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills, 1 Cor. 12:11.  Indeed, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ [that is, the Holy Spirit], he is not His, Romans 8:9.

3. The Focus of All We Hope, 1:6-7, 9-11.

In Acts 1:3, Luke tells us that for forty days, the Lord had taught of things pertaining to the kingdom of God.  During His ministry, it had occupied an important place.  Matthew 8:11; 19:27-29; 20:20-23; Mark 14:24, 25; Luke 22:15-18, 29-30 are just a few of the references to the kingdom of God, or of heaven given in the Gospels.  The disciples had heard most, if not all, of these and some of them speak directly to the involvement and importance of the disciples in that kingdom, cf. Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30.  Just in passing, and without particularly meaning to be difficult, I can’t really see how these two verses are “fulfilled” in the church.

According to Luke, the Lord continued teaching after His resurrection.  As a result of this teaching, one of the disciples asked what seems to me to be a reasonable question:  “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6.  If, as some believe, God is done with Israel and there is no kingdom for her, it seems to me that this would have been an ideal place for the Lord to have told that to His disciples.  But there’s no whisper of such a thought.  The disciples had asked, “Is it time“?  The Lord answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons…,”  vs. 6, 7.  It’s no use trying to set dates, though that doesn’t stop folks from trying; all that is under the “authority” of the Father – and He isn’t telling us.

In the meantime, there was something for the disciples – and for us – to do, to be witnesses to [Him] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” v. 8.

In His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to His disciples, saying, “…when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you, John 16:13, 14.

Pay special attention to v. 14:  “He will glorify Me….”  Literally, it reads, “Me He will glorify….”  It’s emphatic – the ministry of the Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus.  Not Himself.  Not believers.  Not the “gifts.”

The Lord Jesus.

Any ministry which emphasizes the Spirit or His gifts or any believer doesn’t understand the ministry of the Spirit.  In everything, the Lord Jesus is to have first place, if not the only place, Colossians 1:18.  There are far too many in the modern church like Diotrephes, 3 John 1:9.

But it isn’t just who our Lord was or what He did or taught.  These are vitally important.  The angel made a promise to the disciples as they gazed heavenward toward that One they loved:  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven,” Acts 1:11.

Having finished His earthly mission, our Lord ascends, leaving His disciples with a blessing and a promise.  They never forgot.

Nearly 70 years later, the last surviving apostle, given a vision of His eternal exaltation and splendor, and hearing again from His blessed lips the promise of His coming, wrote in the last verse of the New Testament but one, the heart cry and soul’s desire of His people ever since.  Is it yours?  Is it mine?  It must be.  It must be!

EVEN SO, COME, LORD JESUS!

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“Beginning At Jerusalem,” Part 2.

This post continues and concludes our last post.

Scripture texts:  Luke 24:26, 27, 45-49; John 20:21-23.

3. Luke 24:26, 45-49, The Message Committed to the Churches.

Verse 26 gives us the essence of Gospel preaching.  There are many Biblical subjects we can preach and teach on, but the Gospel itself is about the two things in Luke’s text.

a. An Awful Reality, vs. 26,

1). “the sufferings of Christ”.

We pretty much don’t like the idea of suffering.  If we have a headache, we take an aspirin.  If we have to have surgery, we welcome the anesthesiologist.  In every part of our life, we try to be as comfortable as possible.  Even typing this, I’m not sitting on a hard, straight-backed chair.  We want air-conditioning and heat in our cars, comfortable pews in our churches.  We’re pretty spoiled.

Even in our views of Christ, we don’t think a lot about His suffering.  I’ve heard preachers describe the agony of crucifixion with the dispassion they might use with some ordinary topic.  And, truly, we have no idea what a crucifixion was like.  We are concerned in capital cases that the criminal suffer as little as possible and great outcry is made if, by some chance, something goes wrong and he does suffer.  I’m not advocating cruelty toward criminals, but the Romans had no qualms about things we cringe at.

Our pictures of His death have been pretty sanitized, as well.  One branch of the church even boasts of its “bloodless icons.”  But with the beatings, the scourging and the nails in His wrists and ankles, in the words of Isaiah 52:14, His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.  In the common vernacular, He was a bloody mess.

Now, some men and women do have an idea of what physical suffering can be like, with serious injuries and such.  But there was more to it than just the physical.  Isaiah 53:6 says, The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Paul carried it even further, he made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin…, 2 Corinthians 5:21.

“He made Him to be sin….”

I don’t think we have any idea what that meant to the Lord Jesus.  Incarnate holiness to be made imputed sin.  That One who had enjoyed eternal fellowship with the Father now turned away and suffering His wrath against sin.

No.

We have no idea….

But He didn’t just die.

2). and that He should rise from the dead.

The Cross isn’t the end of the story.  He’s not still hanging there.  The crucifix gives a false narrative.  There is no grave holding His remains.  Yes, it was necessary for the Christ to suffer,” but something else was necessary, as well.  That was for Him to rise from the dead the third day,” Luke 24:45.  The Cross is empty.  So is the tomb.

The truth of the Resurrection is what distinguishes Christianity from religions of the world.  Other religions have holy books, death, angels, “visions,” etc.  But none of them has a resurrection, indeed, may even deny the resurrection.

Without the Resurrection, there is no proof that Christ’s death was any different than the deaths of the two men who dies with Him that day.  But He did rise from the dead.  This also proved His assertion that He was God, Romans 1:4.  Some deny that He ever claimed to be God, but that claim was the main reason, humanly speaking, He was crucified, John 19:7.  And, further, because He did rise from the dead, then we have –

b. An Individual Applicability, Luke 24:47.

“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

The announcement of our Lord’s birth to Joseph was that “He will save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.  The Cross was the payment that made salvation even possible.  The Resurrection was the receipt, if you will, for that payment.  We enter into that salvation through two things:

1). Repentance.

Why didn’t Peter mention “faith”?  To hear some preachers, repentance has nothing to do with it.  We have only to “believe.”  Some even say that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine,” and not applicable to us.  Is that true?  Why did Peter mention it?  – and not faith?

And, yes, just to be sure, we are “saved by faith.”  Scripture is very clear about that:  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, Ephesians 2:8, 9, emphasis added.

At the same time and regardless of what men may say about it, our Lord specifically commanded repentance to be preached.  In his last remarks to the Ephesian elders, Paul told that he had testified to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,”  Acts 20:21.

“Repentance toward God.”

Too many people have the idea that we’re already the children of God and He is our Father.  He is indeed our Creator and in Him we live and move and have our being,” Acts 17:28, but we are not little children wandering from the side of a loving Father.  We are traitors and rebels against the God of Heaven and would dethrone Him if we could.  Granted, there are different degrees of rebellion, but it is still true that we all go astray.  Isaiah 53:11 says, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.  While that verse refers directly to Israel’s repentance at the Return of our Lord, Romans 3:23 says, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have to do with God.  “Sin” is not defined by the latest social or cultural ideas.  It isn’t determined by “social justice warriors.”  Those who can riot and cause the most damage or kill the most people have nothing to say about it.  Indeed, such ideas lead only to the filth, violence and perversion we see engulfing our world and our cultures.

To “repent” means to change our mind so that we agree with and obey God, not this world or our own sinful inclinations.  It doesn’t mean just to be “sorry” for our sins, which too often just means that we’re sorry about the results of our sin.  It doesn’t mean just to “show remorse” at our sins, which just usually means that we got caught.  It means to reject our sins, to view them as God views them: as terrible, heinous things deserving of judgment and punishment and ourselves as wicked felons for doing such things and having pleasure in them.

Even the most decent and moral among us have “fallen short” in this matter.  Too often we judge ourselves by seeing someone worse that we are.  But that person isn’t the standard.  God’s Law is.  The Lord Jesus is the human example of what that looks like.

We have sinned, we have “fallen short.”  This brings us to the second thing our Lord mentioned:

2). remission of sin.

In the words of Paul, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

He didn’t come to this world just to give us a reason to give each other presents or to dye eggs.  He came into this world to be a substitute, to be a sacrifice.

He came to take care of our sins.

That is why He lived and died:

to save His people from their sins.

It took the death of the incarnate God to pay for sin.  Money can’t do it.  Our “good works” can’t do it.  A few “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers” can’t do anything about our sins.  Indeed such things, the good works or trying to “bribe” God in some way, only add to our sin.  No “priest,” no human effort or idea, can cause “remission of sin.”  There is nothing and no one in this world that can forgive sin.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, even the very best we could possibly do is sin.  Apart from Him, there is no hope, no salvation.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.

And “to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” isn’t some physical thing: walking an aisle, “saying a prayer,” “raising a hand for salvation.”  It isn’t baptism or communion.  It isn’t about some ritual or ceremony.

It is to have a “death grip,” as it were, on Him as the Only One who can rescue us from our sin.

4. John 20:21-23, The Means Given to the Churches.

a. His promise, v. 21.

The Lord is not saying that He is sending out His disciples in the same way that the Father sent Him.  There are two words translated “send” in this verse.   The word translated “send” as it pertains to the disciples is more general than the other word.  Some translate the verse so as to indicate that even though the disciples are being sent out, it is still the Lord who is responsible for their mission.  This is a great blessing.  We have enough on our plates to think about without having to worry, as some think, about the results of our faithfulness.  It is the Lord’s mission and it will accomplish what He wants it to, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6-8.

b. His power, vs. 22, 23.

Many think that the disciples didn’t receive the Spirit until the Day of Pentecost.  However, John indicates that they received Him here.  They received the power of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Verse 23 presents a great difficulty.  The KJV and some other translations seem to indicate that the loosing and remitting of sin is done by the disciples.  A more correct translation indicates that these actions have already been done, and the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, are merely confirming what has already taken place, as people either receive or reject the message.

This is solemn.  It is time to quit “playing church.”  We are dealing with eternity-bound men and women.  We are eternity-bound men and women.  How little do we really act as if we realize that we will soon stand before God and give an account of our lives.  The Word of God is all that really matters in this sin-cursed world.  Only the Lord Jesus is able to make “life” what it’s supposed to be.

“Beginning at Jerusalem”

With this post, we start a series on the Book of Acts.

1. Purpose of the Study.

We’re not interested in merely developing some “doctrine of the church.”  There may be a time and a place for such a thing, but in these posts we’re more concerned with “why” the church is than with “what” it is.  For example, when the Lord Jesus ascended, why did He leave only a small, powerless band of men who had no idea what was going on?  Further, what did He expect them to do?  The Book of Acts gives ample answer to these questions, as well as telling us why we have been left in a world increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus and His message.

2. Some Things to Think About.

In some circles, we hear about a lot about “The New Testament Church.”  More than one group believes it can trace its roots back to Jerusalem, and so, of course, they are The New Testament Church.

An honest comparison between Acts and today shows such differences that it’s sometimes difficult to believe that there is any relationship between us and them at all.  Nor do we believe that it’s necessary to provide a “genealogy” for a church so as to put it in direct succession with the church at Jerusalem.  The only “link” that’s necessary is found in the Lord Jesus and not in some organization or group of organizations.

There are some things to keep in mind:

1. The “New Testament Church,” as such, is a concept, an ideal, that has never existed.  The disciples themselves were blatantly far from perfect and even the church at Jerusalem had its problems, as noted in Acts 5 and 6.  Indeed, most of Paul’s epistles were written to address problems and difficulties in “New Testament” churches.

At the same time, “New Testament churches” seek to be guided by principles of the New Testament and not by church edicts or dictates.

2. When we think of the New Testament church, though, we usually think of the first church, the church at Jerusalem.  A moment’s thought should serve to show that the church at Jerusalem would be absolutely impossible to duplicate today.

a. Many of the people in Jerusalem, both believers and unbelievers, had seen the Lord Jesus and had witnessed or participated in the events surrounding the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord.  Remember, the Lord was crucified less than two months before Pentecost.  Further, many Jews had seen His miracles or heard His teaching during the three or so years of His earthly ministry.

b. Pentecost, though not the “birthday” of the Church (a thought to which we’ll return later on), was the catalyst igniting it, as it were, and getting it going.   A second “Pentecost,” though some might earnestly long for it, is as impossible as a second Calvary.  It is no more necessary for the Spirit to be poured out as He was in Acts 2 than it would be for the Lord to be crucified.  Both were “once-for-all” events, though it is true that the effects and benefits of those two happenings must be individually applied and entered into.

3. Though many disagree, Acts records a final presentation of her King to Israel.  In Matthew 12:39-41, the Lord stated that Israel would be given one final sign that He was who He said He was:  He would only spend three days and three nights in the grave, no more.  He would physically and bodily rise from the dead.  Cf. John 2:19-21.  See also Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:29, 30 (note “this generation” in v. 30).  This is why the preaching in Acts always mentions the Resurrection.

Finally, it is sometimes said that Acts is historical and “transitional,” and so we shouldn’t rely on it to teach “doctrine.”  Acts is transitional, but it contains some very strong doctrinal statements.  Now, these must not be isolated from the rest of Scripture, as some do, but neither are they to be ignored.  Acts shows the “transition” from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis.  Further, it shows the transition of Christianity from a local sect only in Jerusalem and Judea to an influence which moved the world of its day.

Revelation 22:6-21, “Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!”

6] Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true,”  And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.

7] “Behold, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

8] Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.

9] Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.”  10] And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of this prophecy, for the time is at hand.  11] He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;  he who is filthy. let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

12] “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.  13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

14] Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

17] And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let take of the water of life freely.

18] 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; 19] 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.

20] He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

21] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a witness to the authenticity of Revelation.  It says a lot about the wickedness of human nature that, over and over, God has to assure us that He can be trusted and that His word is true.

The second clause refers to the Lord God of the holy prophets, reminding us of 2 Peter 1:21, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why His word is “faithful and true.”  It isn’t just the product of man’s wisdom or imagination.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord refers to His coming three times in this chapter, in vs. 7, 12 and 20.  In v. 7, it’s in connection with the prophecy of this book.  This doesn’t mean that prophecy is something to speculate or argue about or to sensationalize or trivialize.  It’s to assure us that the future is in His hands and that He has everything under control.  In v. 12, it’s in connection with His purpose to give everyone according to his work.  It’s too easy for us to seek a reward in the approval and praise of mere men, but the only praise that will amount to anything is the commendation of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  The interesting thing is that He says it’s His “Reward.”  Unbelievers and skeptics, those who scorned Him at His First Coming and hanged Him on a Cross, and those down through the ages who have rejected Him or corrupted His teachings will discover that He is the Judge, not them!

Both the godly and the ungodly will find this to be true.  The godly, those who do His commandments, v. 14, will enter the city.  The wicked, described in v. 15, will never enter that city.  There will be nothing that corrupts or defiles allowed into that eternal paradise.

V. 15 says these things are to be testified in the churches.  Yet how seldom is this true, that churches are given the message in this book.  I know there is a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, about what that message is, but if nothing else, it concerns what is the emphasis in these verses:  that the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, that there is coming a time of reward or punishment, and that the invitation is freely given to “Come.”  I don’t have access to the original language at this time (I’m actually on vacation), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this word isn’t an imperative, that is, a command, for folks to come to the Savior.  This is similar to Acts 17:30, which says, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

There’s some discussion as to whether the Gospel is an offer or an invitation.  I think it’s actually a proclamation from the Court in Heaven that men are under condemnation because of their sin, but God, the High King of Heaven, has made a way of escape through His Son and those who repent of their sins and trust in Him for salvation will receive a full and complete pardon for those sins.

Verse 11 troubles some people:  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  Some might think that the verse means that God is ok with unjust and filthy lives.  Perish the thought.  We think our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 13 is the answer.  In this chapter, He is describing the Kingdom of God using various similes and pictures.  In vs. 24-30 he uses the analogy of a man sowing wheat in his field.  An enemy comes along and sows tares in that same field.  BTW, the NIV version saying “weeds” is terribly inadequate and misleading.  Our Lord isn’t talking about something like dandelions!  No, no, the idea is that tares are almost indistinguishable from true wheat until harvest, hence, the reference to harvest in v. 30.

The meaning is that we can’t infallibly tell the heart condition of anyone.  Some looked down on in “church” might actually be godly individuals, while some who have huge ministries but whose praise is from men might find that that is all the reward they will ever get, and the Lord will tell them to depart from Him, Matthew 25:41.  This does not mean that there can be no church discipline or that we can’t “judge” brethren whose lives don’t measure up to Scripture.  It does mean that we are neither infallible nor omniscient.

There is also a solemn warning against tampering with the contents of this Book.  There’s some discussion about whether this warning is only for Revelation or for the whole Bible.  I think it’s the latter.  This book is God’s Word, and it’s a terrible presumption and a great wickedness for anyone to believe that it can be improved upon.  There has been no revelation since John closed his writing and to say otherwise is a wicked sin.

We can have no better close for this  post and this series than the one John gave to his own writing:

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Revelation 21:9-27: The Eternal City.

9] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.  10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11] having the glory of God.  Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  12] Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelves tribes of the children of Israel:  13] three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

14] Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  15] And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.  16] The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth.  And he measure the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs.  Its length, breadth, and height are equal.  17] Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.  18]The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.  19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones:  the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20] the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  21] The twelve gates were twelve pearls:  each individual gate was one pearl.  And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22] But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  23]  The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light.  24] And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.  25] Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).  26] And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.  27] But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes and abomination or a life, but only those are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (NKJV)

There is a city on this earth which claims to be eternal.  As we’ve seen in earlier posts, this claim will be shown to be incorrect.  Though it’s in a different context, something God said in the last part of Jeremiah 44:28 might apply here:  [They] shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs.  There is only one city which will endure into eternity.  That city is described in our text.

The city is almost beyond description, certainly beyond our ability to picture it.  The most important thing about it, though, is said right away.  It’s not it’s impressive size nor its unbelievable beauty.  The most important thing is – it has the glory of God, v. 11.  This is implied in the fact that the it’s called the holy Jerusalem, v. 10, but not everything that called holy in this world has the glory of God, and maybe not anything.  This city is not of this world.

John says her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  This is also the description of the wall surrounding the city, v. 18.  There’s some discussion about what this “jasper stone” is.  Some think it might have been green like an emerald, others think it is a diamond.  Whatever it is, the Shekinah glory of God shining through its crystalline structure will be breathtaking.  We’ve seen the beauty of light refracted through a diamond, or, for that matter, the beauty of light refracted through drops of rain in a rainbow.  I used to drive for a living.  One day, a storm had just passed and there was a rainbow, one end of which was right there on the hood of my truck.  It’s the only time I’ve experienced it, but that rainbow so close up was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  I can’t even begin to describe it.  I don’t know exactly what the city will look like, but earthly examples will pale into nothing compared to what we will see in the New Jerusalem.

In v. 16, John tells us the city is laid out as a square, 1500 miles to a side, and 1500 miles high.  This is certainly like no earthly city!  It appears to be a cube, though Ironside envisioned it as a triangle, with the apex being at the throne of God.  Others see it as a circle.  It’s surrounded by a wall 216 feet high, with three gates on each side attended by an angel, though it’s unclear what their function will be in a holy and righteous environment, v. 12.

The really interesting thing about these gates in v. 12 is that each gate is named after one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  We’ll come back to this in a moment.

In v. 14, John tells us that this wall had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Cf. Ephesians 2:20.

Let me turn aside for just a minute.  The Lord Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 26 times in Revelation.  I think there’s something here that we need to remember.  It’s so easy to get all wrapped up in the splendor of this city and of the prospect of streets of gold and of pearly gates that we forget one vital fact.  In 5:6, the first reference to Him, John saw a Lamb as it had been slain.

“as it had been slain.”

You see, much of this would not be possible, at least as far as we’re concerned, if the Lord Jesus had never been born of the virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, died a substitutionary and atoning death on the Cross, and rose from the dead.  Heaven would still be heaven; we just wouldn’t be there.  We get so wrapped up in the blessings He bought for us that we tend to forget the price He paid for them.  But throughout eternity, He will be worshiped as the Lamb.

We should be doing that now.

John mentions our Lord’s twelve apostles as each being named on one of the city’s twelve foundations.  In v. 12, he mentions the twelve tribes of Israel.

What’s the significance of this?

There are a couple of major views of the place of Israel in God’s redemptive plan.  One view says that God is finished with Israel; she has no further place in God’s purpose.  When she crucified the Lord, she shut the door in His face – and in hers.  She’s done.  “The church” has taken her place and her blessings, though in a “spiritual” sense.  The OT prophecies will not be fulfilled “literally,” but spiritually, in the church.  A second view is that when Israel crucified her Messiah, God’s original plan was frustrated, and so He instituted “Plan B”: the church.  This is the view I was brought up with and held in the days of my youth.

Since then, though, I’ve come to look at this a different way.  The church is no “plan B”; how can a believer even have such a low view of God?  Sadly, too many do.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to change His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond plan B.  I know I’ve said that before, but it’s still true.  No wonder Christianity is in the mess it’s in!  Who wants to follow and serve such a feeble god?

No, no.  The Church is not some “Plan B”.  She is “Part B”.

The death of Christ didn’t catch God by surprise.  It didn’t throw a monkey wrench into the works.  That’s why our Lord came into the world in the first place – not just to live, but to die.  Israel’s rejection was just the means of accomplishing that.  And it’s through that death that she will ultimately be reconciled to her Lord, Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26.

In Ephesians 3:6, Paul wrote that Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.  The early church had a lot of trouble with the idea that Gentiles could come to the Lord Jesus on their own without having to become Jews first.  This is what Acts 10 and 11 are all about: the extension of the Gospel and salvation to Gentiles.

In Ephesians 2:12, 13, Paul reminded the Christians at Ephesus, who were Gentile, about their pre-conversion state:  that at time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, emphasis added.  In 2:14, he wrote that it was God’s purpose through the Lord Jesus, who Himself is our peace, then in v. 15, 16, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two,…and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, emphasis added.

The church isn’t a replacement for Israel.  She isn’t some spiritual version of Israel.  She is a “new man”, a new thing:  a body composed of both Jew and Gentile.  Ethnicity counts for nothing in the church – or it’s not supposed to – where there is neither Jew nor Greek, Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11.  I suppose in our day he might have written, “there is neither black nor white nor brown.”  He doesn’t deny our ethnicity or our gender or our economic status; it’s just that at the foot of the Cross, none of that matters.  It’s a shame that so much of our thinking even in the church is shaped by politics rather than by the plain teaching of the Word of God.

Though united in the holy city, Israel and the Church will never lose their distinctive identities.

Having said all that John has, still the wonder of the New Jerusalem isn’t its physical beauty or size.  As he mentioned in v. 3, where he said that God would dwell with men and do away with sorrow and suffering, here in vs. 22-26, he elaborates a little on that thought.  We won’t get into that so much because we have nothing to compare it with.  Our history and culture as a world has nothing like it.  It may be that things will be somewhat like they might have been had our first parents never sinned.  The important thing is that God will be there.  All else is insignificant.

In v. 27, John closes on a solemn note.  God will be there, but not every person will be there.  There are some who will be excluded, some things not permitted.  There shall by no means enter into anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. 

Once again, we get into this idea of being saved.  Oh, that we might understand this.  Not everyone is going to “a better place.”  The truth is, not a single one of us deserves to go to such a place.  We’re all sinners by birth and too often by choice.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we live under God’s wrath and condemnation, John 3:18, 36.  Only through Him is there salvation from our sin and our condemnation.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, Acts16:31.

 

Revelation 20:7-15: The End.

7] Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison, 8] and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.  9] They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city.  And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.  10] The devil, who deceived them, was cast it into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.  And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11] Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  12] And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.  And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, bu the things which were written in the books.  13] The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to his works.  14] Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  15] And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

In our last post, we looked at the first two of the four things contained in Revelation 20.  They were, 1) the binding of Satan, and, 2) the 1000 year reign of our Lord.  In this post, we want to consider the other two things.

1. The freeing of Satan from his prison, vs. 7-10.

We might ask, why is Satan freed, v. 7?  Has he served his sentence?  “Paid his debt?”  Is he out on parole?

Why is he let go?  What purpose could possibly be served in letting this archenemy of God and man loose?

Verses 8-10 give us the answer.

Satan immediately sets about to gather together the nations of mankind and rally them against God and His people.  And he is successful.  He will demonstrate once and for all that unrenewed human nature is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be, Romans 8:7.  For 1000 years, Satan has not been able to deceive or mislead a single person, but will be bound and imprisoned – in a “solitary confinement” no earthly prison can begin to approach.  An environment as ideal as possible has been established on the earth.  War has been abolished and peace reigns universally.  Government will be just and righteousness, with no trace of the corruption so often associated with it.  Slums will be cleared away; there will be no “underprivileged” class.  The problems of pollution will be done away with.  Human longevity will be greatly increased, and death and disease, though still present, will be greatly curtailed.  “Evil influences” will be publicly unavailable and righteousness will be the order of the day.  Weather and physical changes on the earth will be beneficial and fertility will be greatly increased.

But, does all this blessing and improvement lead men to turn to God?  Psalm 18:44, As soon as they hear of me they obey me; the foreigners submit to me, and 66:3, say to God, “How awesome are Your works!  Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You,” indicate otherwise.  The margins of both verses translate “submit” as “feigned obedience”.  Though everything on the surface seems to be ok, it will be seen to be only a superficial conformity to the rule of the Lord Jesus.  Human nature may be restrained by force and justice, but it can be renewed only by grace.  Isaiah 26:10 says, Let favour be shown to the wicked, yet he will not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD (KJV).  In fact, it often has the opposite effect,  Exodus 8:15; Ecclesiastes 8:11.  1000 years of “favour” will be showed, but multitudes indeed will not “learn righteousness.”

But doesn’t the Millennium start will everybody being saved?  Where do all these rebels come from?  Remember those who survive the Great Tribulation and are accounted “righteous” at the judgment of the nations will enter the Millennium, Matthew 25:34.  Unlike the OT and church saints, who will be in glorified bodies, these will still be in their natural bodies.  They will have children.  The favorable conditions and long lives will probably result in a great increase in population.  But these children, born under such different conditions as we know, will still be born sinners, Romans 3:23, and will still need to be saved.  Those who aren’t saved will become the rebels.  Once and for all, God will show that it is their nature and not a poor environment or the lack of education which makes men sinners.  They, and we, are born to it.

Verse 9 shows the result of this rebellion:  utter destruction.

This is the final scene of the last act of this earth’s history.  Man still refuses to bow to the God who created Him.

V. 10 shows the final judgment on Satan:  he joins the Antichrist and the false prophet in the lake of fire.  Many have difficulty accepting what these verses plainly teach: that hell is a place of torment, not annihilation, and it is forever and ever.  Though it may be said that this verse refers only to the Devil, the Antichrist and the False Prophet, Scripture teaches no other fate for those who go there than what we read here.

2. The Great White Throne judgment, vs. 11-15.

This judgment isn’t the same as the judgment recorded in Matthew 25:31-46.  Matthew records the judgment of nations before the Millennium; Revelation records the judgment of individuals after the Millennium, indeed after all human history is over and time itself, at least as we know it, is no more.  These verses are looking into eternity.

This is not a trial in any sense of the word.  Many have the idea that our “good” and our “bad” will be weighed in the balance and whichever is more determines our eternal destiny.  This is not a “general judgment” to determine such destiny, but a sentencing of the unsaved according to their works.  And John 3:18 says that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, we are condemned already.

No one will escape this judgment.  Even those long lost in the uncharted depths of the ocean will be there.  I don’t understand the references to “Death and Hades” in vs. 13 and 14, but it doesn’t matter.  God knows what He is doing.  No one will escape judgment.

V. 15 has the only “ray of hope” in this dark scene.  There is a “Book of Life.”  Those whose names are found there, and they only, escape being sent to the Lake of Fire.

While there is life, there is hope.  But after life is over, so is hope.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

Revelation 20:1-6, It Can’t Possibly Mean That!

1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  2] He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3] and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.  But after these things he must be released for a little while.

4] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.  The I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not receive his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.  And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  5] But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection.  6] Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.  Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Revelation 20 continues the events begun by the return of our Lord in ch. 19.  The events in this chapter conclude human history.  They include the binding of Satan, the 1000 year kingdom, the loosing of Satan for the final rebellion, and the Great White Throne judgment.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.

1. The binding of Satan.

We’re not going to spend a lot of time on this, just a couple of things.  Satan will be bound, not just “hindered,” as, say, by the preaching of the Gospel.  Some have the idea that he’s just going to be like a dog on a chain in the backyard, but still have a limited amount of freedom.  Scripture says he will be bound up and put away. Out of sight and out of mind.

Some object to the idea of a “chain” binding a spirit creature like Satan.  However one may choose to look at this, the teaching is plain:  Satan will literally be taken out of the picture, by whatever means God chooses to use.

2. The “1000 years”.

These verses are some of the most controversial in Scripture.  The very idea of “an earthly, carnal, kingdom” where the Lord sits on an actual throne in the actual city of Jerusalem is just too far beyond what some can accept.  According to this mindset, these verses can’t possible refer to an actual 1000 year period, but, as one writer put it, simply refer to our present Gospel dispensation of nearly 2000 years (!)

I think there’s a reason the Holy Spirit inspired John to use the phrase “1000 years” five times in six verses.  It’s to impress on us that He means 1000 years, not just some indeterminate amount of time!  Besides, isn’t it an insult to our Lord to describe any rule of His, regardless of where it is, as “carnal”?

Revelation doesn’t tell us a great deal of what will happen during these years, but other Scriptures give us some idea.

1. Satan will be bound.

We’ve already seen this.  The chief enemy of God and His people will be taken out of the picture.

2. Israel as a nation will be saved, Zechariah 12:9-14.  They will realize that this One whom they crucified is actually their Redeemer.  Some have objected that their sin shut them out of the possibility of being saved, but, in fact, it will be the means of their eventual conversion.

3. Israel as a nation will be judged, Ezekiel 20:33-38.  When our Lord come back, not every Jew will bow to Him as Lord.  Those refusing to do so will be purged out of the nation.

4. The living Gentile nations will be judged, Matthew 25:31-46, apparently on the basis of how they have treated the Jews.  This might have some reference to the invasion of Israel.

5. The curse will be removed from the earth, Isaiah 65:17-25.  This is the time Paul said that creation was looking forward to, Romans 8:19-21, where creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption.

Some have take Isaiah’s reference in  65:17 to new heavens and a new earth to mean eternity.  Revelation 21:1 also describes such a creation.  However, I don’t think Isaiah and Revelation refer to the same thing.  I may be wrong, but Isaiah says there will still be death in his vision:

“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,
Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days’
For the child shall die one hundred years old,
But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed, Isaiah 65:20.

In contrast, John describes a place where “there shall be no more death, no sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away,” Revelation 21:4.

Considering the radical changes that will take place when the Lord comes back, I think it can safely be said that things will indeed be “new”.

The beast and his minions had killed those who refuse to bow down before him and receive his mark.  Here we find, though, that these same martyrs are resurrected and share in the millennial glory.  This isn’t simply “conversion,” as some teach, but an actual coming back to life of those who gave their lives for the Lord.

What about OT and church saints?  Paul taught that OT saints will come back with the Lord at His return and NT saints will be resurrected then.  These won’t be left out of the blessings.

Man longs for and dreams of a “utopia” in which everyone lives happily ever after.  That will not be realized in any real sense until our Lord comes back and establishes His kingdom on this earth.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.