Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Problem Of Hell (Revelation 20:7-15)

Recently Annette Olsen of Layton, Utah told the following true story in Reader’s Digest:
For the second week in a row, my son and I were the only ones who showed up for his soccer team’s practice. Frustrated, I told him, “Please tell your coach that we keep coming for practice, but no one is ever here.”
My son rolled his eyes and said, “He’ll just tell me the same thing he did before.”
“Which was?”
“That practice is now on Wednesdays, not Tuesdays.”

There is nothing that makes us feel like we are in the right place at the wrong time any more than the Bible’s teaching on hell. Many of us can think it is out-of-date, no longer worthy of belief. To affirm it might place us in the right place with some Christians of days gone by, but it sure makes us seem like we are stuck in the 20th century at best or stuck in ugly dogma centuries ago at worst.

And keeping in mind that this week begins Advent, surely hell would not be a suitable topic for this time of year when we celebrate the first coming of Christ. What is more, what impact could it possibly have for us as we look forward to the second coming of Christ!

Yet, what we will discover in this post focused on our next passage in Revelation (20:7-15), is that there are good answers for these objections  many of us have toward hell.

Where we must begin is by looking at the passage.

John writes in these nine verses the following: 
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

What we see here is that at the end of this age, when Jesus Christ returns, all believers and unbelievers will be resurrected, their eternal destiny and judgment pronounced, and unbelievers, along with Satan and his demons, will be cast out of God’s favorable presence into their permanent place of judgment, what we often call hell.

Revelation will go on in chapters 21-22 to look in detail at the eternal dwelling of those who are in Christ (the new heaven and new earth). However, here in this passage we find a shorter focus upon the eternal conscious punishment of those outside of Christ.

Here is how the 28th question and answer of The New City Catechism summarizes the biblical teaching on hell: “What happens after death to those not united to Christ by faith?  Answer: At the day of judgment they will receive the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them. They will be cast out from the favorable presence of God, into hell, to be justly and grievously punished, forever.” 

It seems clear enough that Revelation 20:7-15 teaches the reality of hell and that it includes eternal conscious punishment. Yet, truth be told, for many of us, this biblical teaching causes us great problems—so much so that we have either ceased to believe in it or we at least have ceased to teach it.

Some would argue hell teaches a form of unjust “torture” and this for the majority of mankind. It is not only those who heard and rejected Christ who go to hell, but, as some would term them, the “noble pagan,” the person who never heard the gospel and has never received and rested upon Christ alone for salvation, even though they may have lived a relatively moral life. So, many ask, “How can anything like the traditional doctrine of hell be consistent with an all-powerful and all-loving God?”  Or to word it in another way, “If God is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, hell wouldn’t exist.”

Let me now offer a six-part response to these objections to hell. Please contact me or enter into discussion on this blog post, if you still have questions after reading this.

To begin, God is always and, at one and the same time, both all-powerful and all-loving (or all-good).  In other words, God is not sometimes all-powerful and full of his attributes that may tend to bring with them more of what we might first see as severe outcomes (his holiness, wrath, justice, etc.) and sometimes all-loving and full of his attributes that may tend to bring with them more of what we might first see as kind outcomes (his love, mercy, grace, etc.). Nor is God always one without the other. Multiple times in Scripture God reveals that he has ordained the events of history he has, in the way he has, to reveal his various attributes that he always possesses (see Exodus 34:6-7; Deut. 6:4; Rom. 3:26; 9:22-23). In fact, in regard to God judging those who reject him and acting in mercy toward those who trust in him, Paul writes (Rom. 11:22): “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.”

I would take all this to mean that hell does not cancel out God’s love, goodness, and mercy at the same time it displays his justice, holiness, and wrath against sin. This also suggests there is something(s) good seen in the existence of hell and eternal conscious punishment of the unbelieving at the hands of God.

This prepares us for the rest of our six-part response.

Second, and flowing out of the first truth, we must see that hell is in existence because of God’s justice. We see that clearly in Revelation 20:7-15 and the fact that God as judge—a just judge who operates in conformity with all his other attributes—condemns to hell those who remain rebellious against and apart from Christ. The Bible is clear that God as judge of the earth does what is right, that is, he judges people in a manner that fits who they are, what they have done, and in a way they deserve (Gen. 8:25; Dt. 32:4).

So, in our first two answers we see that hell is both good and just and, at the same time, does not cancel out God’s love, mercy, and grace.

The third response offered flows out of the second: We see that God does not send people to hell who have not chosen their own road in life and, at least, chosen to ignore the knowledge of himself he has given in creation.

Consider what Paul writes in Romans 1:18-23: 
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Paul clarifies here that God reveals in creation he exists and something of what he is like to all people. Because of this, no one can ever stand in front of him in judgment and say, “God, I never had a chance and so you are unjust!” Since Paul says later in Romans that a person must hear the gospel to be saved (Rom. 10:13-17), I take Paul to mean in 1:18-23 that if a person responded in faith to the revelation God has given, God would make sure they heard the gospel so they could be saved.

Part of the implication of this is that people truly choose their path and thus their end. This is why Paul goes on in Romans 1 do say three times, “God gave them up…” (verses 24, 26, 28). Paul seems to be saying that God has affirmed, “Ok, fine, if you want to go down that road, then go ahead, I will allow you. But you will face the consequences.”

Fourth, though Scripture teaches God is absolutely sovereign (1 Chronicles 29:10-19) and so works all things after the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11-12), nevertheless, he is not the author of sin, nor did he force man against his will to sin (James 1:13-14; 1 John 1:5). It is not as if God made men robots, that they lack the ability to make real choices, and yet he has decided merely to cast them into hell, even though they may have truly wanted to know and follow God.

Fifth, we must see that God’s justice and wrath against sin are compatible with his love, mercy, and grace. These first five reasons are all making the case that hell is consistent with God’s character and deserved by humans who ignore and/or reject him. To prove this point, think about a situation in which a man kidnaps, rapes, and kills five different women over the course of two months. If God created a world in which the sins of this man would not have to be paid and accounted for—either through him facing his own just desserts or through him trusting in Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for the sins of sinners, what would this say about the lives of those five women?  It would say they are not very valuable!

What is more, it is not just the rapist, murder, or even the Hitler-like figures of the world who must face judgment or else it calls into question the goodness of God and his world. It is also all of us, for rebellion against God runs through every one of our hearts. Were God to ignore that, what would it say about his value, his worth?  It would certainly belittle him!

This fifth response leads to the sixth and final response. Some of us may say at this point, “Ok, Tom, we can agree with you to some extent. However, when you realize that most people live and sin against God only 60, 70, or 80 years, 100 at most, eternal conscious punishment seems very overblown to say the least.”  However, we must see that eternal conscious punishment is not too harsh for those who ignored and/or refused to worship the infinite eternal God. We know this for at least the three following reasons:
·         In other cases, do we conclude that the amount of time it took to commit the crime(s) should determine the length of punishment?  No, of course not. Take the example of our rapist and murderer above. If a judge sentenced him only to two months in prison, we all would cry that this is an injustice. It would belittle those five lives and would not be an equitable and just punishment for the crimes.

·         The Bible makes it clear that justice is served in crimes when the punishment fits the crime (e.g. Lev. 24:17-22). We must see that continuous sin and rebellion against the infinitely holy, good, loving, merciful, gracious, and glorious God must face an equitable punishment—one that is eternal. Otherwise, it belittles the true worth of God. In fact, the eternal conscious punishment of hell heightens and emphasizes how glorious and worthy God is!

·         We must also realize that sinners whose hearts have never been changed and perfected will continue to sin against God for all eternity and thus continue to accrue the need for more and greater judgment against them.

As Proverbs 16:4 reminds us (my amplified translation): “The LORD has done all that he does, even his responses of judgment, in ways that fit the sins done, and this includes the wicked facing their day of trouble.” Hell is just and right.

Yet, how does this subject fit with Advent? In this way. It reminds us that God sent his son into the world the first time (the first Advent) so that through his life, atoning death, and resurrection in the place of sinners, we would not have to face eternal conscious punishment when he returns again (the Second Advent). This should lead us to even greater love toward God and appreciation for the birth of Jesus!

May this deepen our love for and worship of our Savior this Christmas!

Joyfully Delighting In Our Savior With You,


Monday, November 19, 2018

Understanding Revelation 20:1-6, Part 2

In our first look at Revelation 20:1-6 we focused on introductory and contextual issues that lead us to believe Revelation 20:1-6 cycles back and focuses upon events that take place during the current time and before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Now we will look in more detail at the passage itself, which is best divided into two parts. To begin, we have verses 1-3, which describe the binding of Satan. Then we have verses 4-6, which describe the thousand-year reign of Christians with Christ.

2. A Closer Look At Revelation 20:1-6 Itself. 
We will start by focusing on verses 1-3.

Revelation 20:1-3:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

There are several things we can say about these verses.

Satan is bound for 1,000 years. What is the purpose? “So that he might not deceive the nations any longer.” This binding is reminiscent of other texts in which we learn Satan is defeated and contained in Jesus’ victory over him through the cross and resurrection (Mt. 12:26-29; Rev. 12:7-9). It also coincides with a greater coming to Jesus by the nations, as prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 59:19-62:12). This binding of Satan is best taken as the ending of the times of ignorance (Acts 17:30), that time when the nations were, for the most part, lost—during the years of God’s working primarily through Israel.  Since once Satan is released, he will gather the enemies of Christ to band together to attack the church (7-9), “We conclude, then, that the binding of Satan during the gospel age means that, first, he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel, and second, he cannot gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack the church.”[1]

Since Revelation is full of symbolic numbers, it would be consistent that the 1,000 years is a symbolic reference. “Since the number ten signifies completeness, and since a thousand is ten to the third power, we may think of the expression ‘a thousand years’ as standing for a complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length”[2] which would occur between the first and second comings of Christ in light of the structure of Revelation.

“Since the ‘lake of fire’ mentioned in verses 10, 14, and 15 obviously stands for the place of final punishment, the ‘bottomless pit’ or ‘abyss’ mentioned in verses 1 and 3 must not be the place of final punishment. The latter term should rather be thought of as a figurative description of the way in which Satan’s activities will be curbed during the thousand-year period.”[3]

That this binding is real, but that the words in the text which depict it are symbolic and not literal are seen in the fact that a non-corporeal being is being bound with chains.  How does that take place literally?  It does not.

So, what is Revelation 20:1-3 talking about?  It addresses a greater working of God among the nations, through the Church, so that people from all over the world will come to know Christ and take their place among the Church. Though Satan still works and brings much damage (cf. Eph. 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 6:1-8; 12:1-6, 10), nevertheless God also is currently bringing about a great work and a great harvest at one and the same time that many trials and much persecution are taking place.

Revelation 20:4-6:
These verses read: 
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

There are several points I want to make about these three verses that should help us understand them better.

The thousand year period of verses 4-6 should be seen as the same period verses 1-3 addressed. We have already seen that period extends from the first to the second comings of Jesus Christ and so, just like there, the reference to a thousand years is figurative, rather than literal.

Justice, especially for those martyred, is an important theme in Revelation (cf. 6:9-11). It is significant, then, that these saints are pictured seated on thrones and given authority to judge in some manner (Mt. 19:28 shows that reigning and judging go together). These three verses picture Christians who have died (martyrs probably stand for all Christians who have died as is the case earlier in the book (6:9-11). We must note that these saints are in heaven. After all, the word “throne” is used 47 times in Revelation and all but three (2:13; 13:2; 16:10) appear to be in heaven. There is little doubt, then, that this reigning is taking place in heaven and not on earth. It might even be said that verses 1-3 picture what takes place on earth from the first to second comings of Christ and verses 4-6 picture what takes place in heaven.

It needs to be noted that this text says nothing about Christ or saints reigning on earth (what would be necessary for it to reference a 1,000 reign of Christ and saints on earth). That concept needs to be brought into the text by implication. If, however, as we are suggesting, the better explanation for this entire passage is what the amillennialist puts forth, then there is no need to bring in that concept of an earthly reign.

Even though the words, “they came to life” (v. 4) can refer to a physical resurrection (See Mt. 9:18; Rm. 14:9; 2 Cor. 3:14; Rev. 2:8 where the same verb is used for physical resurrection) and certainly the words in v. 5, “this is the first resurrection,” let us know that this coming to life is a kind of resurrection, we are led away from seeing it as the future bodily resurrection of saints since that appears to be covered later on in verses 11-13.[4] What we have here involves those in Jesus Christ passing from this life to even greater life in heaven.  It is so much greater, even though it still does not involve the future bodily resurrection, that there is no way to describe it other than this—it is as if they are coming to life; they are being raised! Those who have true life are coming to know even greater and fuller life.

Most likely the words “first” and “second” (Rev. 20:5, 6, 14; 21:1) are not intended merely as ordinal numbers. Rather they describe what has to do with this present age (“first”) and the eternal age to come (“second”). What we learn, then, in the larger context is that those who have been given new life in this age and experienced that first resurrection will not undergo the second death. Rather, they will experience the new heaven and new earth (which is equal to the second heaven and earth—that of the new age). Additionally, those who have not experienced the first resurrection will experience the second death (which is equal to the lake of fire) and will not experience the second or new heaven and earth.

In verse 5, John’s clause, “the rest of the dead did not come to life unto the thousand years were ended,” is parenthetical. So, the subsequent clause, “this is the first resurrection,” refers back to the end of verse 4, before John offers the parenthesis. This parenthetical statement in v. 5 appears primarily to be stressing that those apart from Christ do not experience the greater life during this age. And, the only “greater” life they will have is that of being resurrected to face judgment and eternal conscious punishments (cf. vv. 11-15).

Finally, in verse 6, the fact that these “raised” believers who are reigning with Christ are “priests of God and of Christ,” suggests that the picture here is parallel to Rev. 5:9-10, a vision of heaven that takes place during this inter-advent age.

So, in all aspects of Revelation 20:1-6 (the explanation of the six verses, as well as structure and context) we conclude that the best explanation is that offered by Amillennialists (or Realized Millennialists).

What is left to do is to outline what is significant about properly understanding this text. In other words, what are some points of application that arise from this passage?

3. Some Points Of Application That Arise From This Passage.
To start, we should gain courage and boldness to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. During the present age, though Satan still has great power and can wreak much havoc, he has not only been defeated, but his ability to deceive the different ethnic groups through the world and to keep them in spiritual darkness has been very much curtailed. This is why we have seen so much success in missions in this age. It is also why we can step out in faith and great hope that God will continue to work mightily to bring the different ethnic groups to himself in salvation.

Additionally, we are certain that if we know Jesus Christ as Savior, if we die before he returns, we will go from experiencing true life in this age to even greater life in his presence. And, we will still look forward to even greater life than that when our bodies are resurrected and we are reunited with them as spiritually and physically glorified (perfect) saints.

What is more, we are certain that the future second death has no power over us. We are assured in Christ we will go from life to more life and enter into our eternal joy.

Though the circumstances of this world often seem to suggest otherwise, Jesus Christ presently reigns over all things. Though this reign is not recognized and appreciated by all (which awaits a future time), it does bring encouragement to his people as we go through this hostile age and face hostile cultures.

Finally, we are reminded the next big thing we are awaiting that arrives with the future coming of Jesus Christ is the full future, eternal kingdom of God the Father and Son, the new heaven and earth. There is no need to have an additional period or kind of kingdom as all the promises made to Israel under the old Covenant are fulfilled in the true end-times Israel, comprised of Jews and Gentiles. Truly we as the New Covenant Church are the people of God, the apple of his eye, and not part of a second-class group of God’s people—a Plan B.

Joyfully Following Our Reigning Christ With You,


[1] Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 228.

[2] Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 227.

[3] Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 227-28.

[4] Anthony Hoekema explains: “Premillennialists understand what is described in verses 11-13 as the resurrection of unbelievers which, they claim, occurs after the millennium, since the resurrection of believers has taken place before the millennium.  The separation of the resurrection of unbelievers from that of believers by a thousand years, however, must be challenged, particularly in view of Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29.” That text reads:  Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”  So, it is better to take verses 11-13 as referring to the resurrection of all—believers and unbelievers.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Understanding Revelation 20:1-6

One of the most controversial and debated issues among Christians when it comes to our view of the end-times and the second coming of Jesus Christ has to do with the interpretation of the “millennium” mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. The word “millennium” comes from a Latin word that means “one thousand years.” It arises from Revelation 20:1-6 and the mention five times of a thousand year period in that text during which time Satan is “chained” (20:2, 3), i.e. his work is somehow hindered, and during which time saints reign with Christ (20:4, 5, 6).

The three major positions on the millennium are as follows:

1. The Premillennial position. Most who hold to this position believe the thousand years is a future reign of Christ on earth and saints with him for a literal thousand year period (though some Premillennialists give room for the amount of time not to be taken literally). The prefix “pre-” refers to the fact that Christ will return before this millennium. Many who hold this position believe the millennium is necessary so that God can fulfill literally (or close to it) promises he has made to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.

2. The Postmillennial position. Most who hold to this position believe the gospel in this age will advance so extensively that as more and more people come to Christ and live under his reign a future world-wide reign of Christ (and saints) will be ushered in prior to his second coming. Since, in this view, Christ returns after this millennium (which may or may not be a literal 1,000 years), the prefix “post-” is affixed to the word “millennial” to label this understanding.

3. The Amillennial (or Realized Millennial) position. This position has been falsely labeled the “no millennial” view (since the prefix “a-” means “no”). This gives the impression that those who hold this position do not believe in a millennium at all. The truth is they do not believe in a future millennium and believe that the 1,000 years, like almost all numbers in Revelation, is to be taken figuratively as a long and full period of time. The better label for this view is the “realized millennial” position. Here “realized” means that it has already been experienced, already come, already started. The amillennial position believes the millennium runs concurrently to the current New Testament church age in which we now live.

Which position should we hold?  I hold to the third position for a number of reasons I blogged about in 2016. However, one of the big reasons I hold to it has to do with my understanding of Revelation 20:1-6, the passage we will look at this coming Sunday in our sermon series through Revelation.

In the remainder of this post and my next post I will explain how I believe this passage should be understood and why it does not speak of a literal future millennium.

1. A Look At Some Introductory and Contextual Issues. 
The only mention of a 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ in the Bible is found in Revelation 20:1-6. This text is best understood in the context of the book of Revelation to refer to a reign of Christ in heaven (not on earth) with saints who have died—and this during the age between his first and second comings (in other words, right now).

Here is what we read in Revelation 20:1-6:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (emphasis added)

I emphasized the phrases and clauses that lead people to believe this speaks of a future thousand-year-reign of Jesus Christ and saints on earth—thus a millennium. However, there are a number of reasons why I believe this instead refers to the reign of Jesus Christ and saints in heaven for a long period of time that spans the entire New Testament church age—in other words, right now.

Here are some introductory and contextual reasons for that conclusion.
1. My first reason merely removes an obstacle as it reminds us that the amillennial stance is not new or strange, but has a long history in the Church.  “The amillennial understanding of Revelation 20:1-6 as describing the reigning of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven has good standing in the church since the days of Augustine.”[1]

2. Premillennialists commonly assert that the millennium is a reigning of Christ on earth, as well as a reigning of believers with him on earth who have died and been raised, as well as a reigning of believers with him on earth who have not died. However this text says nothing of believers who have not died. The late theologian and scholar, Anthony Hoekema, puts it this way:
The millennium of the [premillennialists] is not the millennium described in Revelation 20:4-6…. When…we read Revelation 20:4-6 in the way [premillennialists] want us to read it, we find in the passage no reference whatever to people still living at the time the millennium begins or to people with “unresurrected bodies”…. We conclude that Revelation 20:4-6 does not describe the millennium of the [premillennialists], even when it is understood as [they] want us to understand.  The [premillennial] understanding of the millennium, in other words, is not based on a literal interpretation of this most important passage.[2]

Sam Storms agrees and disputes those who say the premillennial understanding of Revelation 20 is superior because it is literal. He cites Arthur Lewis, The Dark Side Of The Millennium: The Problem Of Evil In Rev. 20:1-10 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 50:  “The essential and concrete aspects of the text may not be ‘spiritualized’ out of existence. The martyred and enthroned saints are real, the angel who binds Satan is real, Satan himself is very real, and the wicked nations in revolt against the King are real nations and part of history. The question is not, therefore, which view is the more literal, but which correctly understands the place and purpose of the thousand years.”[3] (emphasis added)

Storms concludes: “The point is simply that the [amillennial version of the] millennium for which I will argue is just as real and literal as the millennium for which the premillennialist contends.”[4]

3. As we will see with greater clarity when we look in detail at the six verses, nothing is said in this passage at all about a reign of Christ and saints on earth (the view of both premillennialists and postmillennialists)! This is rather a reign in heaven.

4. If the main purpose of the millennium has to do with Jews and the nation of Israel, as some premillennialists assert, “is it not passing strange that Revelation 20:4-6 says not a word about the Jews, the nation of Israel, the land of Palestine, or Jerusalem?  This would not be so serious if the idea of the restoration of Israel were only an incidental aspect of the millennium.  But, according to dispensational [premillennial] teaching, the restoration of Israel is the central purpose of the millennium! It is therefore all the more significant that nothing of this alleged central purpose is mentioned in the only biblical passage which deals directly with Christ’s millennial reign, Revelation 20:4-6.”[5]

5. Finally, we must grasp something about the structure of the book of Revelation itself that has bearing upon the meaning of Revelation 20:1-6. Revelation “consists of [six] sections which run parallel to each other, each of which depicts the church and the world [in recurring cycles] from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second coming.”[6]   “The [sixth] section, chapters 20-22, narrates the doom of the dragon (who is Satan), thus completing the description of the overthrow of the enemies of Christ. The final judgment and the final punishment of the wicked are depicted at the end of chapter 20…vv. 11-12, 14-15. In addition, this section describes the final triumph of Christ and his church, and the renewed universe, here called the new heaven and the new earth.

“Note that though these [six] sections are parallel to each other, they also reveal a certain amount of [end-times] progress.  The last section, for example, takes us further into the future than the other sections.  Although the final judgment has already been briefly described in 6:12-17, it is not set forth in full detail until we come to 20:11-15. Though the final joy of the redeemed in the life to come has been hinted at in 7:15-17, it is not until we reach chapter 21 that we find a detailed and elaborate description of the blessedness of life on the new earth (21:1-22:5). Hence this method of interpretation is called progressive parallelism.”[7]

The significance of this structure of Revelation is that each of the cycles shows us a picture of what is happening in the world now—each of the cycles also progressing further as the book unfolds. So, we should not be surprised that Revelation 20:1-6 gives us insight into what is happening now (just like with previous cycles in the book) that goes beyond anything revealed earlier in the book. Nor should we be surprised that the final cycle goes further and gives us a picture of the future climactic new heaven and new earth—one not previously given in Revelation. 

6. At the end of chapter 20 (verses 11-15), attention is focused upon God’s judgment—something we have already seen in the book of Revelation. Consider that the twenty-four elders announce the time of judgment (11:18); the Son of Man’s coming begins the day of judgment (14:14–20); God pours out wrath leading up to the final judgment (16:17–21); the white horse rider judges and defeats his enemies (19:11–21); and God opens the books to judge each person at the last judgment (20:11–15). These all appear to be parallel events at the end of various cycles in Revelation –each cycle covering events from the first coming of Jesus Christ to his Second Coming and subsequent judgment.[1] If we are right about this, it would place Revelation 20:1-6 before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and not depicting a post-Second-Coming millennial reign.

7. The phrase the war, a literal translation, found at three different places with almost identical wording around it each time (16:14; 19:19; 20:8) seems to be different than the previous six uses of the same word for “war” (without the definite article, “the”) in Revelation. It appears that as Revelation cycles back through the events from the first to second comings of Christ, it progresses forward as it goes. So, the result is this: In these later chapters the cycle moves to the final war that accompanies the Second Coming Of Jesus Christ. This also points to the likelihood that 20:1-6 takes us to events that happen during this present time and predating the Second Coming of Christ, rather than referring to a future thousand year reign of Christ that is after his Second Coming.

8. We must consider the descending of an angel in 20:1. In regard to the three previous times angels are said to descend or ascend in Revelation (7:2; 10:1; 18:1), whatever chronological activity has been taking place is suspended so that the text can cycle back to earlier events. If the same holds true in 20:1, this suggests that the events of 20:1-6 are not happening chronologically after those of chapter 19 but are cycling back to look again at events that preceded chapter 19. So, again, in 20:1-6, we are not dealing with a post-Second-Coming Millennial reign of Christ, but with the depiction of events that take place during the present time—between the First and Second Comings.

9. There seems to be a close relationship between the events of chapter 12 and that of chapter 20 in regard to the binding of Satan. The devil was cast out of heaven in chapter 12 after losing a battle against Michael and his angelic warriors (12:7-9). As a result, the activities of the Deceiver were restricted (12:13-17). This appears to be parallel to God’s binding of Satan in 20:3—again suggesting that chapter 20 is taking us back to another look at events taking place from the First to Second Coming of Christ.

10. Finally, a linear or chronological understanding of the relationship of chapters 19-20 runs into difficulty with respect to those forces that oppose Christ and his people. They are completely destroyed in 19:18, 21 and yet reappear in 20:8. What we have most likely, then, are events that are parallel to each other (20:8 restating what previously happened from another perspective), rather than a chronological depiction (the events of ch. 20 coming after those of 19), which would lead us to see 20:1-6 as referring to a future reign rather than what it instead appears to be—speaking of a reign during the present age.

In summary, the larger context of the book of Revelation and the near context lead us to expect the events of Revelation 20:1-6 to happen during this present time between the First and Second Coming of Christ.

Yet, as we look more closely at the six verses and their meaning, will we find a message that is consistent with what we have set forth in regard to context and introductory issues? We will turn to that question in our next post.

Joyfully Delighting In The Reign Of Christ And His Saints With You,


[1] In Revelation and the rest of the New Testament the final judgment is associated with the Second Coming Of Christ.

[1] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible And The Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, repr.), 183.

[2] Hoekema, The Bible, 220-21.

[3] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, Christian Focus, 2013), 428.

[4] Storms, Kingdom Come, 429.

[5] Hoekema, The Bible, 222.

[6] Hoekema, The Bible, 223.

[7] Hoekema, The Bible, 225-26.
On the clause, “And I saw” (20:1a [see also 19:11, 17, 19; 20:4, 11; 21:1]) which some premillennialists argue suggests chronological treatment in chapters 19-20, Storms, Kingdom Come, 430, writes: “The phrase…appears countless times in Revelation and need only indicate the sequence in which John received the visions. It does not necessarily indicate any historical relation among the many visions themselves.”

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Judgment On The Babylonian-Like Economic And Religious World System (Rev. 17:1-18:24)

You know you are dealing with a difficult passage when you have a title as full as the one I have ascribed to this post. However, if we read this passage in light of the 3rd and 4th cycles in Revelation (12:1-16:21), this passage becomes much easier to understand.

We have already seen the judgment of the Babylonian world system in chapters 14 and 16, there learning that part of the reason the terminology of Babylon is used has to do with the fact that the New Covenant Church is seen in Revelation as the end-times Israel, the true people of God. And just like the evil nation of Babylon that set itself forth in the 6th and 7th centuries, B.C. as a false god and was used to purify Israel, but also faced judgment for their sin, so also in these last days there is an evil kingdom, a Babylon-like world-system, that represents a false god (more specifically a substitute Trinity of the Dragon/Satan, the Beast, and the Beast/False Prophet) that is used to sanctify the church, but because of its evil, also must face judgment.

There seems to be two main reasons that the judgment of this Babylon-like world system is revisited. To begin, it leads the reader into a sweet picture of the rejoicing in heaven over the ultimate defeat and judgment of evil (19:1-10), as well as a more specific view of the ultimate judgment (19:11-21). Second, in chapters 17-18 we see more specifically both the economic and religious nature of this God-opposing world system.  If I am reading Revelation correctly in general and these two chapters in particular, then what is being unveiled here is a tendency throughout this current age between the two comings of Christ for most kingdoms or governmental entities (which form an overall world system because of their similar worldviews to each other) to do the following:
1. Consolidate and centralize power to the point they control most, if not all, aspects of life and commerce.

2. Reward and penalize citizens economically based upon their allegiance or lack of allegiance to the powers-that-be.

3. Flowing out of the first two truths, persecute the Church because their allegiance is not first and foremost to the human leaders, worldview, and systems, but to Jesus Christ.

Because of these tendencies the Church lives like and is treated like it is in exile, just as Israel was in Babylon in the 6th and 7th centuries.

Of course, there are differences between what Revelation 17-18 is addressing from what happened to Israel centuries before Christ. To begin, the people are God are no longer primarily in one nation but are throughout the world. So, it is world-wide and lasts for the duration of this age. Additionally, the evil entity that persecutes and is used as a sanctifying agent is not only a nation but is a world-wide system that also lasts for the duration of this period.

If we understand these underlying themes, then we can grasp what is being communicated here. In the same way that Israel under the Old Covenant went into exile at the hands of an evil kingdom to be purified for the first coming of Christ, so the new and true Israel under the New Covenant is being sanctified and prepared at the hands of an evil world-system for the second coming of Christ. And, just like God fulfilled his promises to his Old Testament people, so also he will to us.

Here is an outline of Revelation 17:1-18:24. Refer to this as you read through this passage in preparation for Sunday’s sermon. Keep in mind that what you are reading is the fifth cycle that gives an overall view of this current age in Revelation. We are saving the last two parts of cycle five (19:1-10; 11-21) for the following two weeks.

I. The Introduction To The Vision: The Angel Announces To John That He is To Witness A Vision About The Judgment Of The World’s Idolatrous Economic Religious System. 17:1-3a

II. The Vision And The Seer’s Response: John Is Frightened And Perplexed By The Magnificent Appearance of The Babylonian-Like Hostile Economic-Religious System In Its Alliance With The State. 17:3b-7
A. The woman is on the beast (3b-c).

B. The woman is royally and wickedly arrayed, as aligned with the state economic system and as an idolatrous persecutor of the church (4).

C. The woman Is The Babylonian world system, mother of idolatry and evil (the contrast to the church) (5).

D. The woman is a voracious, evil persecutor of the church (6).

E. The angel speaks to John, telling him he will explain the mystery of the woman (7).

III. The Interpretation Of The Vision Of The Woman. 17:8-18
A. The interpretation of the beast: the deceptive career of the satanic state and its allies will be revealed as a sham when they are judged by Christ at the end of time. 17:8-14
1. The beast, a Christ-substitute, is described in a manner that shows he sets himself forward as a substitute, but is truly defeated (8a).

2. The response of the unregenerate earth-dwellers to the beast (8b-c).

3. A further explanation of the beast, its heads, and horns, and its ultimate defeat: another picture of the defeat of the Babylon-like God-opposing world system. 9-14
a. Understanding this calls for wisdom (9a).

b. First explanation of the seven heads: they depict a fullness of oppressive power and authority (9b).

c. Second explanation of the seven heads: they depict government, religious, and gate-keeper authorities who exercise great power, but have already been defeated in Christ (10).

d. Explanation of the beast: affirmation that the previously-mentioned entities comprise the beast throughout the church age who is defeated and will someday face eternal perdition (11).

e. Explanation of the ten horns: Leaders who have power at the end of this age, which they give in alliance with the beast (12-13).

f. The anti-God beastly governmental and religious leaders of the Babylon-like world system will war against Christ and he will defeat them (14).

B. The interpretation of the woman in relation to the waters and to the beast: At the end of history God will inspire the state and its allies to turn against the economic-religious system in order to remove its security and destroy it. 17:15-18
1. The explanation of the waters (15).

2. A revelation that the kings and beast (the government and gatekeeper entities) will turn on the woman, Babylon (economic and religious system) (16).

3. The reason God has sovereignly ordained this turning on Babylon: Destruction (17).

4. Another explanation of the woman, Babylon: Her universal influence (18).

IV. Unlike the Rest Of The World Who Will Be Judged With Babylon, Saints Who Do Not Compromise With The Idolatrous World Are To Rejoice over God’s Judgment Of It Because This Demonstrates The Integrity of Their Faith And of God’s Justice And Glory And Leads To God’s Consummate Reign And Union With His People. 18:1-19:10
A. An angel announces Babylon’s judgment (its fall) and its severe effects, which will come because of her idolatrous economic and religious seduction of people. 18:1-3 

B. God’s people are exhorted by an angel to separate from cooperating with the Babylonian religious and economic system before her judgment, lest they suffer punishment with this arrogant world system that believes it is invincible. 18:4-8

C. Those cooperating with the Babylonian religious and economic system (e.g. kings, merchants, shipmasters and their crews) will lament after her swift judgment because it means their own demise. 18:9-19

D. The faithful (those who separated from Babylon) should rejoice over her judgment once it is accomplished because it vindicates their faith and God's just character. 18:20-24

Joyfully Trusting God In Babylon With You,


Monday, October 22, 2018

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Now that we are the downhill slide in the book of Revelation I will shorten the blog posts. We have covered enough ground over these months to get a sense for how the book works, how it is structured, and so how to interpret it. As a result, I will merely try to help us in the remaining blog posts on Revelation grasp the structure of each passage.

I encourage each of us in the weeks we have left to do a few things to prepare for each sermon:  (1) Read the passage to be covered ahead of time. (2) Look over the outline of the passage I will put in each blog post. (3) Ask God to give you understanding and insight to each passage so you can grasp its content and apply it.

In our next passage (15:5-16:21) we will cover the entire fourth cycle of visions John is given of this current age. In this passage we find seven bowls of God’s wrath poured out on the idolatrous world from the temple in heaven.

In this passage that displays strong parallels to the seals in 6:1-8:1-5 and also the trumpets of 8:6-11:19—thus reminding us that it also covers this current age between the first and second comings of Christ—God provides a powerful picture of the judgment he pours out currently on the idolatrous world and will pour out in the final judgment. It appears to be designed to get the attention of all readers and hearers, so they can be stunned into grasping the importance of fleeing idolatry and turning to the one and only true God.

Here is the outline of this passage:

1. The Introduction To The Section And The Conclusion To The Previous Section (see above). 15:1-4 (We covered this passage last week)

2. The Resumption Of The Introduction To The Seven Bowl Judgments. 15:5-8
a. Seven angels Emerge From The Temple Of The Dwelling of Witness In Heaven—Thus Displaying The Judgments Come From God And In Response To Christ-Rejection. 5-6

b. One Of The Four Living Creatures Gave Golden Bowls Full Of God’s Wrath To The Angels—Thus Displaying That God Judges The Wicked Flowing From His Redemption, His Glory, And In Response To the Prayers Of the Saints. 7-8

3. The Pouring Out Of The Seven Bowls. 16:1-21
a. The Command To Pour Out The Bowls. 16:1

b. The First Five Bowls: God Punishes The Ungodly During The Inter-Advent Age By Depriving Them Of Earthly Security Because of Their Persecution And Idolatry. 16:2-11

01. Bowl One: Suffering For Idolatrous Followers Of The Babylonian-like World System. 2

02. Bowl Two: God Punishes The Economic Facet of The Babylonian-like World System. 3

03. Bowl Three: God Economically Punishes The Persecutors Of His People In Holiness, Justice, Righteousness, And Truth. 4-7

04. Bowl Four: God Punishes The Spiritually Dead, The Ungodly, With More Death And Suffering Because Of Their Rebellious Blasphemy and Idolatry—They Refuse To Repent And Give Him Glory. 8-9

05. Bowl Five: God Punishes Hardened Idolaters—Especially Leaders Of the World System—By Causing Them To Suffer Through Their Separation From Him (seen in their life pain). 10-11

c. The Sixth And Seventh Bowls: The Final Judgment Of The Evil World System. 16:12-21
01. Bowl Six: God Gathers Together Ungodly Forces In Order To Punish Them Decisively At The End Of The Age. 12-15
aa. The Pouring Out Of The Bowl: The Universalized, Figurative Drying Up Of The Euphrates That Paves The Way For Ultimate Judgment Of the Wicked And Deliverance of Saints. 12

bb. Elaborative Effects of the sixth bowl: Evil Spirits Who Assemble Leaders. 13-14

cc. Parenthetical Statement On The Coming Of Christ And A Call To Faithfulness. 15

dd. Leaders Are Assembled At Figurative And Global Armageddon—In The Minds Of The Demons To Destroy The Church, And In The Mind Of Christ To Defeat And Destroy The Saints’ Enemies. 16

 02. Bowl Seven: God Punishes The Ungodly World System With Final Judgment. 17-21
aa. The Pouring Out Of The Seventh Bowl. 17 

bb. The Effects Of The Seventh Bowl. 18-21
*Plague-And-Sinai-like Phenomena—Showing God’s Glorious And Holy Presence To Bring Final Judgment. 18

* The Babylon-like World System Is The Object Of Judgment, Of God’s Wrath. 19

* The Judgment Of God’s Wrath Against The Babylon-like World System Is Universal And Complete. 20

* The Judgment From God Exceeds Any Previous Judgment And Yet Its Objects Still Do Not Repent. 21

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Justice And Seeking Change In The Government

Through the years I have noticed among most of us that when we have been wronged or at least when we perceive we have been wronged there is a tendency to conclude “the end justifies the means.” In other words, because an injustice has been done, whatever we must do and whatever attitude we must have to get it done are justified.

Yet, for the person who follows Jesus Christ and so wants to live righteously toward others, to practice genuine biblical justice, we also must conclude that how we seek to make things right with others is just as important as seeking to make things right.

It is because of this that the last topic we take up in this blog series is how to seek change in the government in just ways.

We are focusing upon the government for the following reasons: To begin, it can be at least one of the entities we must approach in our society when change is needed in the issues we have considered in this blog series. Also, though most of what we say about how to approach the government will also apply if we must approach parents, an employer, or someone else, there are a few things we must say about seeking change in the government that won’t apply elsewhere and so should be noted.

We will set forth three truths we must consider and follow if we are to seeking change in the government in just ways.

1. We Approach People With Godly Wisdom. 
James addresses this in James 3:13-18:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

The half-brother of Jesus clarifies that justice cannot be pursued in a manner that is unjust and so we gain a full and rich picture of what righteous and just pursuit of the resolution of differences looks like. His readers are not only facing great trials but have turned in on each other in conflict and are acting in arrogance against one another. So, he warns them not merely to use their own “common sense” or “wisdom” to solve a conflict or difference. In other words, they should not pursue resolution in such a way that the end justifies the means. James explains that such ends-justifying-the-means “wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” and characterized by “every vile practice” (15-16).

In verse 17 we discover that in contrast the true wisdom that comes from above, i.e. from God,[1] is characterized by the following seven traits: 
  • “[It] is first pure:” The way the sentence is constructed this term stands by itself, most likely as an umbrella term over all the rest of the descriptions. Purity here refers to a commitment to remain faithful to the Lord and to do what he wants (2 Cor. 11:2).
  • “Then peaceable:” Most likely the point is that wisdom from above actively seeks to make peace with the other person(s) and to go about resolving differences in peaceful ways, if at all possible (Mt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). 
  • “Gentle:” The sense of this term seems to be that we treat the other person(s) as we would want to be treated, the opposite of being harsh and unfair (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 3:2; 1 Pt. 2:18). 
  • “Open to reason:” The point seems to be that we will be open to what the other person(s) says and will not have our mind closed to them from the beginning. We listen as we would want them to listen to us. 
  • “Full of mercy and good fruits:” We reach out to others in their plight as we would want to be treated. This produces fruits in keeping with genuine faith, that please God and thus flow out of the change Jesus Christ is accomplishing in us.[2] 
  • “Impartial:” Literally, this is “without being judgmental.” At the very least this is not jumping to conclusions. Additionally, even as we hear others out, we are believing the best about them—at least as far as we can (1 Cor. 13:7). 
  • “And sincere:” Literally, this is “without hypocrisy.” This is the opposite of approaching the other person(s) about their shortcomings, but not addressing the shortcomings in our own life. To do something “without hypocrisy” would include asking first if there is a way we have contributed to the problem before focusing upon their part in it (Mt. 7:3-5). 
Very clearly, this is a loving, mercy-giving, godly way of dealing with differences, conflict, injustices that matches our new nature in Christ and how he wants us to live (James 2:1; 3:10-12). In other words, it is in step with the truths that emerge from the gospel in us (Gal. 2:14). It should apply to how we would approach anyone when we perceive injustices have taken place, including individuals in the government.  

Now, what is the outcome or result of such ways of handling conflict and differences? We find out in verse 18, which is where we discover the connection to justice: “And a harvest of righteousness[3] is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  So, all the characteristics of the truly wise person who is in conflict (v. 17) ultimately bring about outcomes, that is, actions,  words, and effects in the relationship, that are in keeping with the character of God and what is pleasing to him (they are righteous). As such, in connection to other people, they would also be just.

Such outcomes are sown in peace by those who make/pursue peace (cf. Mt. 5:9; Heb. 12:14). In other words, their goal is not merely to win the argument or situation or have their issue come out on top. Rather it is to create genuine wholeness of relationship between the two sides.

This wise approach remembers that not only is ill and sinful treatment of each other wrong because God says it is and because it is inconsistent with the entailments of the gospel, it is also wrong because others are created in the image of God (James 3:9-10) and so we should treat them with dignity as the divine image-bearers and God-glorifiers they are.

When we grasp what James says here, we realize we must not approach anyone after we have “checked our Christian character at the door” so we can now “let them have it.” Christ calls us to love God with all we have and so to love the other person(s) as self, all to the glory of his grace in us (Mt. 22:37-40; Rom. 15:7). That we pursue justice in this manner is even more important than our seeking to right the previous injustices!

This first truth naturally leads to the second.

2. We Approach People With Love. 
The way James outlines resolving differences in James 3:13-18 is a detailed description of what he had termed earlier, “the royal law,” which is loving neighbor as self (James 2:8). King Jesus calls those who are part of his kingdom to love others.

In fact, we can say that loving others fulfills what God’s moral will is for us in regard to other people. Paul puts it this way in Romans 13:8: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

In the case of seeking to rectify injustice with others, including the government, the only way that we will go about this in love, especially if we have been unjustly treated, is to realize that our ultimate happiness and well-being are not dependent upon how the government treats us. Rather, it is dependent upon the reality that God has saved us in Christ, is for us, and so no one can oppose us successfully or in the ultimate sense, and no one or nothing can separate us from God’s love and care for us (Rom. 8:31-39). In fact, even the injustices that happen to us comprise the “all things” God is orchestrating for our good (Rom. 8:28) and are part of the opportunities God gives us to glorify him (Rom. 15:7).

Learning to trust in God and to be content in him no matter what conditions we are in (Phil. 4:10-13) stands behind the ability God gives us to love others when they have harmed us and when things for us are hard and naturally we would be more prone to protect and defend, rather than reach outward in love, forgiveness, and for the sake of Christ (e.g. Phil. 1:12-26).

3. We Approach People With Respect. 
In our first two truths we have really been saying that if we must approach people within the government about injustices done, we do it in a manner that fits with the reality we have responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ and that fits with the change that comes from this (Phil. 1:27).[4]

The third and final trait of such a person that we will discuss in this post emerges from this change. It is this, that we also approach the person with the kind of respect we ought to give that person. There are several specifics we can give here as to how to approach the government and government officials respectfully.

A. Our Default Approach To The Government Is To Submit To And Obey Them. 
Paul explains in Romans 13:1-7 that part of the behavior that emerges from one who has been changed by Jesus Christ is this very approach to government. He writes: 
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.[5]

Paul does not say that God has placed his moral stamp-of-approval on every government or government official. He does say that he has ordained government as something that typically is a good thing in society, since it protects citizens, can encourage positive behavior, and can discourage harmful behavior—all in ways that enable citizens more readily to flourish. As a result, we should submit to the governing authorities over us. Our default approach to government should be to submit, obey, and respect. It should not be to oppose, disobey, and disrespect. Elsewhere Paul explains that part of the way we should do this is by praying for government authorities over us, that they would come to know Christ, and that they would lead in ways that would foster well-being and gospel advancement (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

B. We Should Seek Change In The Government In Ways That Preserve Submission, Obedience, And Respect. 
When we are transformed into new people by the Spirit of Christ in us, we should desire the well-being of others and God’s glory more than our own comfort or even more than the defense of our rights (e.g. Phil. 2:1-15). This also means that whenever we are compelled to seek change we should do our best to please God in our relations to the government and government officials. As such, we should seek to preserve submission, obedience, and respect. We must remember that our identity in Christ includes that we are the embassy, the outpost of the kingdom in this world—representing him and calling others to worship our King (1 Pt. 2:4-17).

For Christians who live in countries in which we have the privilege of voting for our leaders, for referendums, and the like, we must realize that a big part of the way we seek change is both by advocating for just approaches with our leaders and through the ballot box. As we have seen throughout this series, how we approach the issues we have covered has tremendous impact upon people for good or evil, as well as impact upon whether or not we glorify God.

Part of our love for others and part of the good works we engage in as a result of knowing Christ includes this involvement in the public arena (Eph. 2:10; James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:16-18).

Christians, then, as much as is possible, should pursue justice in the public arena of the government as God-glorifying, people-loving, government-obeying people.

C. Civil Disobedience Is Only A Last Resort. 
Finally, we must remember that disobeying the government is not a first move. Rather it is a last resort.

The clearest kind of circumstance in which we must disobey is the one in which the government commands us to do something that would involve disobeying God, such as telling the church they may not evangelize others or telling physicians they must abort babies. We see this in Acts 5:29, where we find the apostles’ response to Jewish officials who commanded them to stop evangelizing: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”

The most complex situations in which we must discern whether or not civil disobedience is warranted are those in which a direct command to disobey God has not been given by the government, but instead the government has either forfeited their right to be a legitimate government entity since they have turned upside down how God has ordained they function and/or since they have turned upside down how they ought to treat an entire cross-section of people under their jurisdiction.

As we consider these kinds of situations we do well to look again at Romans 13:1-7 and something that many readers often miss in this passage. In verses 3-4 we read what God’s design for government is and why he has ordained it and views it as a good thing: 
…rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

Even though most likely at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans the emperor, Nero, had not yet shown his true and full evil colors throughout the empire (which eventually would include killing Christians), Paul had already experienced government leaders who had turned upside-down what God says here—punishing those who do good and rewarding those who do evil. Paul knew that government leaders do not always do what is outlined in these verses. He knew that sometimes this is turned upside-down. What is more, by the time Peter admonished his readers in 1 Peter 2:13-17 with similar words, Nero had shown himself to be the cruel despot that history records. He was the exact opposite of what the text says government leaders ought to do.

This reality has raised a question in the minds of many Christians throughout history. May civil disobedience take place in a way that is morally-acceptable to God even when it can be argued that the government is not directly commanding disobedience to God, yet has forfeited its right to be called a legitimate government? Certainly some have answered, “Yes,” and I believe for good reasons.

This was part of the argument of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” In response to someone who had challenged Dr. King’s peaceful civil disobedience, part of his argument was that there can come times when such actions are warranted simply because the government has moved so far from its God-given role—turning upside-down what it is supposed to do.

This was also part of the argument behind the decision of the American colonies to disobey and oppose the tyrannical British government that had also thrown off and turned upside-down its God-given role. In other words, it had ceased functioning as a legitimate government. And, in the same way government leaders must defend citizens against evil-doers within and without, so in such circumstances they must defend citizens against higher tyrannical authorities in the government.

Both Dr. King and also the American colonists stand in a strong tradition that includes at least the Reformers and their Puritan descendants who, based on the reality I just highlighted from Romans 13:4-5, wrestled with this very question and concluded that civil disobedience may rightfully take place when a government so fully abdicates and turns upside-down its God-ordained role.

At least the Reformers, Puritans, and the Christians among the American colonies argue that if such civil disobedience must take place, these principles should be followed so that it can be in line with other biblical teaching:
  • As much as possible, it should be peaceful.
  • As much as possible, it should avoid a vigilante mindset by pursuing the help of those who are in authority and who oppose the tyrannical authorities. 
  • It is only as a last resort of the last resort that one would take up arms to defend themselves, others, and thus overthrow the government. 
Conclusion To The Series
In this entire blog series we have sought to provide guidance from God’s will and wisdom in Scripture for how to pursue justice together, and to do so in some issues of our day that can be difficult.

My prayer throughout has been not only that the Holy Spirit will move in us to submit ourselves to the Word of God in these matters—the core of which is the gospel—but also that we will live for the great cause of God’s glory and the benefit of others, rather than merely a great comfort and so we would move toward great need, as we pursue justice together!

May it be so!

Joyfully Pursuing Justice With You,


[1] James implies that this “from above wisdom” is truly spiritual-i.e. it is from or by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the wisdom from below that is unspiritual (v. 15).

[2] An approach to conflict, difference, possible injustice, by the Christian seeking to be in step with the gospel (full of mercy and good fruits) is one that has love for the other person whom we think to be wrong, for in many cases if they are wrong in the ways we think, they might be in sin and so need help and restoration (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). How much more so this is true when the other person is a believer who may not understand fully or grasp how they have committed an offense and/or sin!

[3] Lit. this is “fruit of righteousness.” Since it goes on to speak of it being sown, the focus here, as the ESV discerns, is on the result of the sowing, i.e. the fruit harvested. We might say, “the harvested fruit that comes from righteous practice” is sown. As such, we see a connection from v. 18 to v. 17 which spoke of “good fruits.” The good fruits emerge from, they come from, and are characterized by righteousness.

[4] Philippians 1:27 goes on to say that one of the ways in which we live out the effects of the gospel is by “striving together as team-members, side by side, for the faith that emerges from the gospel” (my own amplified translation). Here Paul emphasizes the importance of gospel community (helping each other live out gospel truths), especially in hard situations. If we must pursue justice in previously unjust situations with anyone, even the government, we should be praying for and standing by each other, helping one another do it in wise, loving, and respectful ways. If we do not do this, we run the risk of being blinded to and hardened by our own sinful hearts and going about it in ways that dishonor God, rather than honoring him (cf. also Heb. 3:12-14; 10:24-25).

[5] Peter agrees with Paul in a much shorter statement in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Peter calls readers to this same kind of behavior as a result of having been saved and empowered by God to live on mission to his glory (2:4-12). He writes:
 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.