Saturday, March 31, 2018

Secure In Christ, Part 2

In the last blog post we looked at Revelation 7:1-8 where we learned that though the New Testament Church faces great hostility and persecution in this age, we are preserved by God from falling and failing in the ultimate way. The true Church is pictured in that passage as the true Israel (people of God) who, like the remnant of Judah in Ezekiel 9, do not give into idolatry, but remain faithful to God.

After this powerful message, the scene turns to a multitude of people before the throne in heaven. This is where we will pick up our discussion in this post.

The Great Multitude From Every Nation Before The Heavenly Throne. 7:9-12
In 7:9a the vision switches from emphasizing the full number of the people of God in this age, as was the case in 7:1-8, to emphasizing the large number of the saved people of God in this age: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number….” This part of the vision is very encouraging, for it unveils for us that there will be no small number of those whom God saves. They will be so many that no one can count them.

In 7:9b the vision emphasizes the diversity of the saved: “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages….” This same set of terms is used in different order in Rev. 5:9 also to speak of the redeemed from all over the world and from among all kinds of people.[1]  We also see the same terms used in Rev. 11:9 to speak of people from all over the world and from all kinds of people who look upon slain Christian witnesses and most likely are among those who are judged for their opposition to Christ.[2] The point here is that God has redeemed and will bring to him all kinds of people from all over the world.

In 7:9c-12 we discover what this innumerable multitude is doing. They are standing before the throne of God in heaven and before the Lamb and they are worshiping: 
…standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

There are a number of more specific things we learn about this multitude of saints as they worship. To begin, the most obvious is that they have died and are in heaven (9c).[3] As we affirmed in our last blog, these saints are also the 144,000 alluded to in 7:1-8.[4] What this means is that God has protected and preserved them so that they did not fail and fall in the ultimate way. This view, then, of the saints is the outcome, the culmination of God’s promised sealing and protection of them in 7:1-8.

What is more, they are “clothed in white robes” (9d), which elsewhere in Revelation is a picture of right standing with God.[5] It is a picture of those who have washed their robes (i.e. they have been forgiven of sins and a righteous standing with God has been imputed to them) in the blood of the Lamb, that is, they have rested upon the substitutionary atoning death of Christ (7:13-14) and so they have been given salvation that is accomplished and applied by Jesus Christ and cannot be earned by them (3:18, understood in context). The result of their being genuinely clothed in the righteousness of Christ is they desire to and can live a persevering life of practical righteousness so that they can enjoy the reward of full eternal life (3:4-5; 6:11; 19:8; 22:14). The picture we have here, then, is of persevering saints who have been saved and preserved by Jesus Christ.[6]

Additionally, we see that these saints are depicted “with palm branches in their hands” (9e). Palm branches were used in the Israelite celebration of the feast of tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40-43), a feast that commenorates the divine protection of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. This picture, then, of saints “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” who are also pictured as celebrating the ultimate protection by God through wilderness wanderings (the ultimate fulfillment of the feast of tabernacles) communicates at least three truths: (1) These saints from among all peoples in the world are now seen as the true Israel, a reality that fits with the picture in 7:1-8 and elsewhere in Revelation (e.g. 19:6; 21:1-2). (2) God has protected and preserved these saints and brought them into the ultimate promised land, that is, their eternal reward. (3) What they have come out of is pictured as wilderness wanderings with all its trials, discipline, and judgment (for those not true believers). This suggests the difficulty of life in this current age within a broken and sin-cursed world.

Finally, in verses 10-12 we read of what these saints in heaven are exclaiming as they praise God the Father and God the Son (the Lamb), accompanied also by the angelic ministers (the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders) who represent the church and intensify the picture of praise and worship coming to God for who he is and what he has done.

More specifically, in these three verses we see the saints and angelic beings praising God the Father and Son because “salvation belongs to [them].” Elsewhere the Bible affirms that God and God alone saves (Exodus 14:3; 15:2; Joshua 24:1-13; Psalms 37:39; 51:14; 68:19; 98:2-3; 118:21; Isaiah 12:2; 25:9b; 33:22; 43:11; 45:18-25; Hosea 13:4; Jonah 2:9). Here, these saints affirm that God and God alone saves, but they include the Father and the Son/Lamb, for the Father saves in and through the Son (see elsewhere for example John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26). They affirm that the Son/Lamb, then, is God and that only God can save. This salvation, in context, not only means their being initially declared righteous, forgiven, and adopted into the family of God, but also the subsequent and ongoing sanctification, perseverance, and their final perfection. They praise God for he has saved them from beginning to end!

In verse 12 the angelic beings agree with the saints (“Amen!”) and add that it should be recognized that for all eternity praise belongs to our God (in context probably Father and Son), he should be seen fully for how magnificant he is (he has “glory”), he should be acknowledged as knowing how to bring about his purposes and good ends (he has “wisdom”), he should be thanked, honored, and it should be acknowledged that ultimate power and might (especially to redeem mankind and all else) belong to him! There is no question that in this full and rich praise initial, ongoing, and ultimate salvation is attributed to the Father and Son. It is not man’s doing, nor does man add to it. It is God’s work alone (see John 1:12-13; 3:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10).

Revelation 7:9-12 not only promises that God will preserve and make secure his true followers, his elect (cf. Rom. 8:28-39), but it also gives a wonderful example of how we should worship God and view salvation. It is his work and he deserves the glory!

In the remainder of this interlude we discover even more about who this multitude is and the world out of which they have been saved.

The More Detailed Identity Of This Multitude. 7:13-17
What John experiences next in this vision is that one of the twenty-four elders asks him a question so that the answer can be revealed to and through John The question and answer have to do with revealing a more detailed description of this multitude in heaven, just who they are, and what they have experienced. Here is what we read in 7:13-14: “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”

It should be clear from the near context and the larger context of Revelation (especially in light of all the ground we have covered in these first seven chapters) that “the great tribulation” of which John speaks is not merely a period at the very end of this age, but instead covers this entire age.  Since in other places the tribulation is spoken of as a three and a half year period or two periods of three and a half years, and since the most popular end-times understanding in our lifetime has seen the tribulation as a literal seven year period at the very end of the this age, I will blog on this subject in my next post and explain more fully how we know the numbers are intended to be read figuratively and thus the tribulation is a time that spans this entire age.[7]

What we want to see in verses 13-14 for now, however,  are two important points: (1) This multitude has received and rested upon Christ and his life, substitutionary atoning death, and his resurrection for eternal life and forgiveness and, as such, they have been able to persevere and enter into their eternal reward. (2) Over and over again in the book of Revelation it is assumed and taught directly that the Church in this current age experiences trials, persecution, and discipline, and so they go through tribulation (see especially 2:10, 22; 3:10; 16:1-21). In my estimation it has been a dangerously mistaken teaching in the church to suggest that the Christian life now can be lived free or mostly free of tribulation and that such pressing pain and difficulty are only or mainly for a future time. It has warped our expectations for the Christian life now and opened up the door for us to equate the “American dream” or the “good life” with the Christian life. As a result, it also has warped our view of what our mission in the world will look like. In fact it has contributed to a false assumption that it is fine to be a Christian and yet not live on mission at all.

Equally as illuminating are the remaining two truths about this multitude that John shares in verses 15-17: 
(1) These saints are viewed as priests who serve God continually: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple…” (15a-b). The verb translated “serve” (latreuō) was often used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to speak both of the worshipful service of God by all God’s people in general, but also particularly of the service of priests and Levites in the tabernacle and later the temple that was part of their worship of God and also made right worship of God possible for others (Exodus 3:12; 7:16, 26; 10:3, 7f., 24, 26; 20:5; 23:24; Deut. 4:19, 28; 5:9; 6:13; 7:4, 16; Josh. 22:27; 24:14-24, 31).[8] The fact that they are pictured serving God “in his temple” clarifies they all, without exception, are viewed as priests. This also enhances the sense in Revelation that Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers both are considered the true Israel, the people of God. It should also be noted that saints in heaven and then later in the new heaven and new earth (cf. Rev. 22:3) are not sedintary or merely sitting on clouds playing harps. Instead, they are viewed as active in service and worship of God.

(2) In verses 15-17 we see, as is promised elsewhere in the Old Testament (Lev. 26:3-13; Ps. 121; Isaiah 25:8; 32:2, 15-20; 33:21; 65:17-25) and also shown as fulfilled elsewhere in Revelation (21:3-7; 22:1-5), these believers experience the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to his people and the complete restoration of true and full life: 
…and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

So, what we have in this chapter is a series of visions and explanations that let the redeemed, that is, genuine followers of Jesus (cf. Rev. 14:1, 4), know God will save them in the ultimate way so that they can enter into their eternal reward. This is designed to encourage faithfulness and perseverance in this age and in the midst of the trials we face (see Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 25-28; 3:4-5, 12, 21; 22:6-21 [esp. 22:14]).

Joyfully Persevering In Christ With You,


[1] In 5:9 all the terms are singular. Here in 7:9 “nation” is singular and the rest plural. The difference in number does not appear to change the meaning. Rather they are different ways of saying the same thing.

[2] For similar uses of the terms (but fewer terms) to speak of people from all over the world and all kinds facing judgment, see Rev. 10:9; 17:15.

[3] Since the seventh seal in Rev. 8:1-5 takes us to the final judgment (which precedes the new heaven and new earth), we are to understand that the view of the saints in Rev. 7:9-17 is of them in the current heaven in their intermediate or disembodied state. This state is glorious and far better than the life experienced in this world in this age (see Rev. 20:4). However, they still await their bodily resurrection (Rev. 11:11-12; see also 1Cor. 15:35-58; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thes. 4:13-18) and the future eternal abode for the saved, the new heaven and new earth (see Rev. 21-22).

[4] This understanding of the relationship of 7:1-8 to 7:9-17 is confirmed by John’s tendency elsewhere in Revelation either to explain further what he has just seen through what he subsequently hears (compare 5:6 with 5:7-14; 14:1 with 14:2-5; 15:2 with 15:3-4; 17:1-6 with 17:7-18) or to explain further what he has just heard through what he subsequently sees (compare 5:5 with 5:6; 9:13-16 with 9:17-21). Here in Rev. 7:1-8 John both sees a vision, but also hears an explanation. Then, in 7:9-17, there is a further explanation or elaboration so he can see and hear more precisely who these ones are pictured and described in 7:1-8.

[5] For Old Testament background to this, see Zechariah 3:1-10.

[6] A careful reading of all the robe and dressed-in-white references lead us to this understanding that the declared righteousness of saints before God, i.e. the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ himself (from his life, death, burial, and resurrection), leads to the practice of righteousness on the part of saints and their perseverence therein. Another way this is seen is in a comparison of Revelation 19:8, where we discover that it was divinely given to the bride of Christ to “clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (showing that God’s gracious saving work makes possible the growth in practical righteousness or sanctification on the part of saints that ends in their perfection in heaven), with the picture of the purified, righteous, holy bride of Revelation 21:2, where we read of the New Jerusalem that it is, “prepared as a bride adorned adorned for her husband” (a clause that emphasizes the divine work in the bride to transform and beautify her ethically). It is God’s initiating and ongoing work in saints that enables them to act and persevere in faith, righteousness, and holiness, resulting in their future reward of perfection.

[7] This is not to suggest, however, that the tribulation does not intensify and get worse as this age progresses. It does. See Rev. 11:7-10; 16:12-16; 20:7-9.

[8] Its noun form is used in Romans 12:1 to speak of the service or worshipful service that flows out of God’s saving mercies in our lives. We see the same verb in Rev. 22:3 to describe the worshipful service of God’s servants in the new heaven and new earth.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Secure In Christ, Part 1

How Revelation 7 Fits With Revelation 6
In Revelation 7 we find an interlude, that is, a break or pause in the unveiling of the seven seals. This chapter answers the question found in 6:17, “Who can stand?” and even though the visions we find here were given subsequently to those in chapter 6 (see 7:1: “After this I saw….”), what they depict appears to come chronologically before what Revelation 6 depicts. Chapter 7, then, we also could describe as an extended parenthesis between the material of Revelation 6 and that of Revelation 8 (between seals 6 and 7). We know this for three reasons.

To begin, when we read Revelation 7:1-8 in light of the larger context of Revelation, we discover it is parallel with 14:1-5 (another indication that the book recapitulates visions of this entire present church age). There we read: 
Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

Compare that passage with the first half of this Revelation 7 interlude (verses 1-8): 
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

This parallelism between the two passages may not mean much to us until we grasp that 14:1-5 is also parallel to Revelation 5:9-10 ( “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”). To see this parallelism more clearly, compare this with Revelation 14:3-4. There, of the 144,000, it is written:  “who had been redeemed from the earth…. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb….”

The second reason we know that this Revelation 7 interlude goes back and reveals truths that take place before the material of Revelation 6, has to do with the parallel nature of Revelation 7:9-10 (“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”) with Revelation 5:9-10 (“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”). Both of these first two reasons make us lean in the direction that what is being seen, heard, and written about in chapter seven precedes what happens in chapter six.

As convincing as these first two reasons are for understanding the Revelation 7 visions as going back and revealing truths previous to the events depicted in Revelation 6, the third reason is even more convincing. When we understand that “the four winds of the earth” (Rev. 7:1) are another way of depicting the four horsemen of Rev. 6:1-8 (see Jer. 49:36; Dan. 8:8; 11:4; Mt. 24:31; Mk. 13:27), we now clearly see that the four godly angels of 7:1 are holding back the four horsemen and the events of judgment, discipline, and trial they unleash in chapter 6. This understanding is confirmed even more in Rev. 7:2, where it is affirmed that “the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea” are held back from their tasks until the people of God are sealed. These four evil angels, then, are equated with the four horsemen of  6:1-8. The sealing of Rev. 7:2-8 must take place before those events happens. Evidently, the sealing of the people of Revelation 7:2-8 must take place in a manner that will, in some way, help the people depicted in this passage against the events of 6:1-8. We turn now to discovering what this help involves.

The Sealing Of Revelation 7:1-8: Security In The Face Of Great Hostility
In Revelation 7:1 we read: “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.” We have already discovered that the “four winds of the earth” are another way of referring to the four horsemen of 6:1-8. We also must not miss that the vision of these four angels standing “at the four corners of the earth” is communicating that they are given an authority over the entire world. This is evident from Isaiah 11:12 (speaking of Messiah: “He will raise a signal for the nations and…gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth”); Ezekiel 7:2 (speaking of the coming of the day of the Lord’s wrath: “The end has come upon the four corners of the land”); and Revelation 20:8 (speaking of the end of this age and Satan’s world-wide deception, we read: “[he] will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth”).

As we have already discovered, what these four godly angels are doing throughout the entire world is making sure that the people depicted in verses 2-8 (“the servants of our God,” v. 3) are sealed in a manner that helps them against the judgments, disciplines, and trials of Revelation 6:1-8. Consider Revelation 7:2-4: “Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3 saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’”

There are a number of truths that help us see that this sealing signifies God’s saving and preserving of his true saints throughout this church age from denying Christ and thus falling short of their eternal reward in the face of the horrible demonic events[1] of this church age that are depicted in Revelation 6:1-8:
·         The background to the sealing is Ezekiel 9:4-6. In that passage the prophet Ezekiel has seen several visions that reveal the deep and horrible idolatry present in Judah, which display they are deserving of judgment. As a result, he is shown a vision of idolaters being put to death in Ezekiel 9. However, those who have hated the idolatry and not given into it are marked on the forehead, which reveals they are true believers and should be protected from the judgment. These three verses read: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ 5 And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders who were before the house.”  This Old Testament background to the sealing here suggests to us that we should expect the recipients of the seal to be protected from divine judgment. Nowhere does Revelation argue that believers are promised protection from physical harm, trials, or persecution. In fact, it is affirmed over and over that believers will face these things in this age. Yet, what is promised is that God will keep his people from being destroyed in the ultimate sense by Satan and/or sin while they face such things (see Rev. 3:10, esp. in light of John 17:15).

·         The background to the sealing is also found in the sealing of ancient kings with their signet ring, an action that shows a document or other item belongs to that king.[2]

·         According to Revelation 3:12 and 14:1, the seal is the name of the Lamb and the Father, as well as “the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven” (Rev. 3:12). Since the new Jerusalem is the bride of Christ (19:7; 21:2), and so the people of God, this is an indication that those who are sealed are those who belong to the Father and the Son/Lamb. This is because they have received and rested upon Jesus Christ as their Savior. This fits with the reality that this same group of people is spoken of as the “ransomed people for God” (5:9), that is, “a great multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes…[with] Salvation…[who] have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9-14). They are also described as those “who had been redeemed form the earth…who follow the Lamb wherever he goes…[who] have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb…” (Rev. 14:3-4).[3] What is more, these are those who persevere, who conquer and remain faithful to their Lord (Rev. 3:11-12). Part of what is being affirmed, then, is that because of God’s saving and preserving work, saints can genuine endure (they can be secure and remain faithful).

·         The sealing, then, is depicting God’s salvation and preservation of his people (“the servants of God,” Rev. 7:3) in the face of the horrible and hostile events that happen throughout this church age, events that include the opposition and persecution of Christians by the world. Since believer and unbeliever alike face the phenomena of Revelation 6:1-8—yet for different reasons and with different results (as we saw last week), the sealing does not necessarily involve security against physical harm.

·         The people being sealed, as we are about to see, depict all believers throughout this church age—i.e. the entire New Testament Church. We will turn to that discovery now.[4]

The Identity Of The 144,000: The New Covenant Israel (The New Testament Church)
So far, what we have seen about the sealed people lead us to assume they are believers everywhere throughout this church age. This is especially the case in light of all the parallels we have seen with these people (3:12; 5:9-10; 7:9-10; 14:1-5). However, we dare not miss that if these are parallels, those believers pictured in Rev. 7:9 are described as “a great multitude no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages….” If this is the case, then, how do we square this with the number 144,000 in verses 4-8?  Also, how do we square the language that suggest these persons are from all over the world with the language in verses 4-8 that suggests these persons are Israelites?  The answer, in both cases, is that we are dealing with figurative language.

For this conclusion we can also provide more evidence. First, let’s consider the tribal or Israelite language. Verses 4-8 read: 
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

There are several irregularities in the listing of these tribes—irregularities that lead us away from merely seeing this group literally as referring to ethnic Jews and toward a view that sees the group as God’s true believers, Jew and Gentile—and  all of which are succinctly summarized by commentator Dennis Johnson: 
The selection and order of the 12 tribes suggest that the 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel have symbolic significance, representing the church…. These are not Jacob’s sons, for Dan is omitted and Manasseh included. They are not the tribes that inherited land in Canaan, for Dan is omitted, Levi (the priestly tribe) is included, and Joseph is listed instead of his son Ephraim. Judah, the tribe of the Messiah (5:5), appears first rather than Reuben, the firstborn. When 7:5–8 is compared with the list of Jacob’s sons in Gen. 35:22–26, the promotion of tribes descended from concubines Bilhah and Zilpah (Gad, Asher, Naphtali) over the sons of Leah and Rachel suggests that those once excluded from privilege are now included.

I agree with Johnson that the irregularities in the list, seen in the near and far contexts, lead us to believe that what is being pictured here is the new or true Israel, the New Covenant people of God, made up of Jews and Gentiles and a people across the centuries of this current age. After all, this reality is exactly what the Old Testament prophesied (Psalm 87; Isaiah 56) and the New Testament affirms has taken place—namely that Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ are full heirs with Jews who believe in Jesus Christ and now comprise God’s one people (Eph. 2:11-21; 3:2-13; 1 Peter 2:4-10). Such also is the teaching of Revelation (3:9; 11:1-14; 12:1-17; 14:1-5; 15:1-4; 19:1-6; 21:12, 14).

Yet, we still have the 12,000 from each tribe that adds up to 144,000. What are we to make of these numbers? To begin, we need to keep in mind the prevalence of the figurative use of numbers in the book of Revelation. Beyond this, we need to keep in mind the figurative use of 12, 12,000, and 144 elsewhere in Revelation. In Revelation 21:12-14 we learn that the vision John received of the New Jerusalem in contains twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes on them and twelve foundations under the city wall with the names of the twelve apostles on them. This appears to symbolize that the new Jerusalem is comprised of the Old and New Covenant people of God.

In this context we also see the city is a cube in its dimensions, that cubed measurement being 12,000 stadia (1,380 miles)—suggesting it is all the place of full fellowship with and the presence of God (the Holy of Holies, which itself was a cube in its dimensions, 1 Kings 6:20). Given what we have just seen, most likely, the reader is intended to see that 12,000 as a multiple of 12 x 1,000. In other words, the 12 reminds the reader of what we just saw in the twelve tribes and twelve apostles—i.e. these are the  full people of God. The fact that it is multiplied by 1,000 most likely emphasizes the fullness to a greater degree.

Finally, in that same Revelation 21 passage we learn the wall of the city is 144 cubits (this may be its thickness and height), which is about 216 feet. The 144, though, is 12x12. Again, this most likely is suggesting this is the place of the full people of God who are fully protected and secure.[5]  

If I am correct in this understanding of Revelation’s figurative use of numbers in general and the use of the number 12 and 1,000 in particular, what we have here is a strong emphasis on the full number of the people of God: 12 x 12 x 1,000 =144,000.

So, what is being revealed here in Revelation 7:1-8 is that even though the people of God in this church age face a cursed world with all the trials taking place in it, as well as push back from the world at best and full-blown persecution at worst, God has promised his people that he will not only apply the redemption Christ accomplished, but will continue to apply it and to preserve them so that they can persevere in their faith—not falling short of their eternal reward.

This first half of the Revelation 7 interlude or parenthesis, then, gives a similar promise we find in Luke 18:16-19, a discourse by Jesus that tells of the same events and phenomena covered in Revelation 6-7: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” There it is affirmed that though Christians will lose their lives in this age because of persecution, nevertheless, they will not be destroyed in the ultimate sense. In other words, in the ultimate sense, when it comes to a person’s relationship to God and their eternal reward, “not a hair of your head will perish,” and so they will gain full life through their endurance.

In the next blog post I will look at the second half of this Revelation 7 interlude (verses 9-17), which reveals the heavenly existence and response of those believers who have been saved, preserved, and so have their eternal reward, those who have come out of the tribulation of this life.

Joyfully United To Christ and Secure With You In The Face Of Hostility,


[1] We have already seen that, in accordance with the throne room visions of Revelation 4-5, the events depicted in these chapters of Revelation in general and in the seven seals in particular, take place ultimately because God has ordained them. It is said in regard to the evil spirits in the first four seals in Revelation that it “was given” to them to do what they are doing (Rev. 6:4, 8; 7:2). This means that though they are fully doing what they desire and they have moral responsibility in it (and so this is why I say they are “demonic”), they can do what they are doing because God has ordained to permit them to do it. God is permitting what he hates to accomplish things he loves.

[2] Archaeological Study Bible, 2055.

[3] The name of the Lamb and the Father on the foreheads of the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1-5 is placed in opposition to the mark of the beast on the right hand or forehead, which shows such persons worship the image of the beast (Rev. 13:15-18). As such, those marked with the name of the Lamb and Father are most likely those who worship the Father and Lamb!

[4] If we have understood this text correctly and the vision here in 7:1-8 is to suggest that all true believers of this age are protected by God against falling and failing in the ultimate way, then we are not to take the particulars of the relationship of the chapter seven vision to that of chapter six (seven precedes six), we are not to take this so literally that the sealing for all people must chronologically precede all the trials, persecution, and judgment of Revelation six. The point of the relationship is that all genuine believers facing these things in this age are truly sealed and protected.

[5] Another New Testament text that supports this understanding is Acts 1:12-26, where Luke records the choice of Matthias to take the place of Judas Iscariot as an apostle so that the number of apostles could be full. Why was it important to be at twelve and not eleven?  Most likely, because Luke wants readers to see the apostles (representative of the New Covenant people of God) as connected into the twelve tribes of Israel. In other words, the New Testament Church is the New Israel. This is also supported by language in Acts 2 that suggests the Day of Pentecost (and the coming of the Spirit upon the New Testament Church) was to be seen as parallel to God bringing his glory and presence upon the Old Covenant Temple (compare 2 Chronicles 7:1 with Acts 2:3), which suggests that the New Covenant people of God comprise the end-times temple of God (an emphasis also seen in Revelation).

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wisdom To Face This Broken World, Part 2

In our previous post we discovered that the seven seals provide wisdom for the church as to why things in this age are happening the way they are.

In this post we will look at each of the first six seals in more detail.

Seal #1: Satan, The Christ-Substitute. 6:1-2. 
Here we read: “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, ‘Come!’ 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.”

In verse 1 the command, “Come,” originates from one of the living creatures (an angel who represents God), “like a voice of thunder.” That it is like thunder shows it comes ultimately from God (cf. Rev. 4:5; Ps. 29). In other words, God is sovereign even over the satanic actions about to take place in these seals.

In response, a white horse with a rider goes out conquering and to conquer. The colors in these first four seals seem metaphorical for the respective plague delivered by each horseman: white probably conveying the idea of conquering, red conveying bloodshed (e.g. 2 Kings 3:22-23), black conveying famine, and pale green conveying death.

The rider has a bow (probably a sign of warfare and conquering) and a crown was given to him, which most likely suggests he desires to have dominion over the world. The evidence strongly suggests this rider is satanic and, at the same time, puts himself forth as a Christ-substitute. The point seems to be that Satan is a Christ-substitute who deceives people into thinking he is the Savior. What we have here, then, in verse 2 (esp. seen in relation to ch’s 4-5), is a picture of satanic trouble in the world (suffering and tribulation) and yet God (more specifically the crucified and risen Son) is sovereign over it all!

Seal #2: Persecution And Death. 6:3-4. 
Here is what John writes in 6:3-4: “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”

When Christ opened the second seal in verse 3, a second living creature said, “Come.” Implied from v. 1 is the reality that this command also flows ultimately from God (his divine decree that is permitting it) and is under his sovereign power.

As a result, a bright red horse goes forth, with a rider, and a great sword was given to him. It also was given to him to remove peace from the earth and “in order that people would kill one another.” The way this verse is worded, the ability or permission to do what Satan is doing is given to him by the Lord. More directly, though, we see here that the great pain and suffering and lack of peace in the world (yes, even the present terrorist attacks one after the other) are decreed by God—Him allowing what he hates to accomplish things he loves.

As Greg Beale argues in his commentary on Revelation, horses #’s 2-4 give more detail to the summary picture that horse #1 gave. Satan is going forth to have dominion (vv. 1-2) and this is more specifically what he is doing and how he is doing it (vv. 3-4ff.). It includes persecution of Christians and the taking of their lives. As one commentator has written, “The gospel itself produces peace, but the attack of Satan upon its progress leads to war.”  As such, Satan is a direct cause behind all the things happening in these first four plagues (as permitted by our sovereign Lord), and so all the things that believers are suffering in the current time.

Seal #3: Famine And Hunger. 6:5-6.
The opening of the third seal is communicated in these words: “When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!’”

In verse 5 we see the same elements as in the first two seals (at its opening a third living creature says, “Come”)—showing that the events are decreed by Christ. Additionally, we know that in the ancient world, a pair of scales, as we see in verse 5, stood for a time of famine, for, in such times, food was rationed out by scales. For biblical support of this assertion, see Lev. 26:26; 2 Kings 7:1; Ezek. 4:10, 16.

There is no specific historical background to these verses.

For the reality grain, wine, and oil were not luxury items in the first century, but basic food staples typically available during non-famine times, see Dt. 7:13; 11:14; 28:51; 2 Chron. 32:28; Neh. 5:11; Ps. 104:14-15; Jer. 31:12; Hos. 2:8, 22; Joel 1:10; 2:19; Mic. 6:15; Hag. 2:12…).

Most likely, the way verse 6 is worded, the voice is coming from Jesus himself. Commentator Greg Beale adds: “This famine is to be serious but not utterly devastating, in that the quart of wheat, available for a denarius (or a day’s pay), would be enough for a family, whereas the three quarts of barley would last three days. The oil and wine…would not be affected, but would not be available except for the very wealthy, as everyone else would be spending their entire income on even more basic [staples]. Where Christians are a persecuted minority, they will be more severely affected.” See also Rev. 2:9; 13:16-17 for confirmation. It is well known that to this very day, in places like India or many Muslim countries, when natural disasters occur, relief is often denied to Christians who refuse to compromise with the worldly economic and social system.

Seal #4: Disease And Epidemic Plagues. 6:7-8.
Here we read: “When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”

Death and Hades are satanic forces under the ultimate governance of the throne room of God. The four riders all bring death in one way or the another, and the more general term “death” here probably refers to disease or epidemic plagues. In fact, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament “death” (thanatos) translates the Hebrew word for “epidemic plague” thirty times, including twice in Ezek. 14:19-21 and once in Lev. 26:25, two contexts providing the model for Rev. 6:1-8, the former actually being directly referenced here in v. 8.

“Hades” is the realm of the dead. The satanic nature of death and Hades is evident from 20:13-14, where “death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them…and [they] were thrown into the lake of fire.” The only other figures who are described with the same precise phrase as having been “thrown into the lake of fire” are the beast and false prophet (19:20) and the dragon (20:10).

This fourfold judgment, repeated in v. 8, signifies in the Old Testament the whole range of God’s judgments throughout history…[not] restricted to one particular famine, war, or epidemic. As in Ezekiel 14, already seen to be background to the seals, these trials have the effect not only of punishing pagan nations but also of purifying the faithful within the covenant community, while punishing those even within the church who are not obedient to Christ.

Based on the use of the number four for the plagues (which expresses universality, as seen in the context of Revelation—e.g. four living creatures, four winds, et al), as well as the fraction ¼ of the earth, what we have are plagues or trials that are worldwide, but do not necessarily harm all people without exception.

Seal #5: Persecuted And Martyred Believers Cry Out For Justice. 6:9-11.
Here is what we find in the text: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”

What is apparent in the first four plagues is that God’s people are caught in the middle of all this satanically-driven persecution and death, the famine and hunger, and also the disease and epidemic plagues.  Since they know they are never left alone or forsaken, and that God keeps all his promises to them, they cry out for God’s justice. The response given to them is this: In the vision they were each given a white robe representing their cleansing and clothing that admits them into the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:8) and they are told that their appeal will be answered when the Church completes the suffering God has ordained for them. It is said this will only be “a little longer,” most likely expressing that it will seem but a small time to these saints and what is promised here is certain. All this, of course, necessitates that God is sovereign over even the persecution of Christians and the number of Christians martyred!

The heavenly altar in Revelation is equated with the presence or throne of God (8:3-5 and 9:13), which is why the saints here are described as being underneath it. This is the altar of incense (8:3-5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7). It stood in the vicinity of the holy of holies, the inner most part of the temple (this clearly is the reference in 8:3-5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7…). Upon this altar sacrificial blood was poured for the Day of Atonement, and incense was burned (ex. 30:1-10; Lev. 4:7; cf. Heb. 9:4).

The comparison with Jesus’ suffering is enhanced by the same description of the saints as having been “slain” (cf. 5:6, 9, 12; 6:9). The purpose of the comparison is to emphasize that, as it was with Christ, those following him will have their suffering and apparent defeat turned into ultimate victory.

In verse 9 it is clear why they have been persecuted and some martyred: “for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” This is consistent with the entire book of Revelation that sees living on mission as being part and parcel of who the Church is.

Seal #6: Final Judgment. 6:12-17.
The opening of the sixth seal is in these words: “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

These verses express the ultimate answer to the saints’ plea in vv. 9-11. The time must be the last judgment, because we have just been told that the judgment pictured here will not be executed until the full number of the suffering saints has been completed (v. 11). The calamitous scene of vv. 12-17 assumes that the persecution of all Christians has finally run its course, and now all that remains is to execute final punishment on the persecutors, which strikes the very last note of world history.

The cosmic phenomena that take place in verses 12-14 are associated in the Old Testament and later in Revelation with the final judgment.

The persons of power as seen in verse 15 seek to hide themselves from God’s judgment and are being judged for their persecution of God’s people, as well as their idolatry (which is all made clear later in the book). The same groups of people are mentioned in Rev. 19:18-19 as giving allegiance to the beast.

In verse 16 the idolaters appeal to the mountains and rocks to fall upon them, the reference here being to the similar cry of the idolaters in Hosea 10:8. Commentator Greg Beale rightly affirms: “The original portrayal is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden hiding from God. John understands Genesis as a typological prophecy on the basis of his presupposition that God has determined that sinful history must end in the same way that it began—though with the provision of redemption for the saved.”

In verse 17 the reason why people are seeking to flee is given: “The great day of their wrath (that is of the Father and the Lamb) has come.” This is clearly the final judgment (see 11:8; 16:14).

What we see here, then, in the opening of the first six seals is an overview of the entire age of the New Testament Church, from the first to second comings of Jesus Christ. We are given insight into why things happen as they do, that God is sovereign over it all, that he is good, and that he will bring things to a just end and a good goal for his people. Though this doesn’t give us a specific explanation for every detailed even that happens in this evil, fallen world, it gives us a general framework whereby we can have the wisdom to make sense of why things are the way they are and how we can persevere in the midst of it all.

Joyfully Persevering In Wisdom With You,


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wisdom To Face This Broken World, Part 1

One of the gifts we receive from apocalyptic literature such as Daniel 7-12 and the entire book of Revelation is wisdom. This is made clear in the book of Daniel where Daniel and his friends are described as men of wisdom (1:4, 17, 20; 5:11, 14), and this because God gave them wisdom (2:20, 21, 23, 30). The last half of Daniel, which includes the apocalyptic visions Daniel received (chapters 7-12), gives wisdom to readers regarding history and the trials we face so that we can live wisely as Daniel and his friends did in the first half of the book (Daniel 1-6).

The book of Revelation appears to function in a similar manner, even though the term “wisdom” is found only four times. The reader walks away from the book with godly skill and insight for living in a manner pleasing to God in this world, and this even in the face of great hostility. This is none other than wisdom.

One of the sections of the book that underscores this attainment of wisdom more than any other is that part of the book (chapters 6-20) which cycles over and over through the current age in which we live, giving us different pictures of this age, displays what is happening to the church, why it is happening, and how the church can faithfully endure.

The first cycle in this part of the book contains the seven seals that are removed from the book of history introduced in Revelation 5. We must keep in mind as we read about these seals in Revelation 6:1-8:5—as well as all the subsequent material of Revelation 8:6-20:15 that flows out of these seals—the seals and the material found in them flow out of the throne room vision of Revelation 4-5. Since the Revelation 4-5 vision unveils to us the reality that God is sovereign over all that happens in history and also that what is happening in this church age flows also out of the saving work of Jesus Christ, what we must keep in mind is that Revelation 6-20 convey the outworking of God’s sovereignty and the impact that the saving work of Christ has upon our enemy and how that enemy moves the world system to oppose the Church and her mission.

Since Revelation 7 contains an interlude before moving into the seventh seal in Revelation 8:1-5, we will confine our discussion this week to the first six seals in Revelation 6:1-17.

As we read about the opening of the seals, we must keep in mind one other truth. The opening of the seals comprises an unveiling of the end-times events that Daniel looked forward to and which were to remain sealed in his day, for it wasn’t time for their fulfillment yet (cf. Daniel 12:4; Revelation 22:10). This means that the future kingdom Daniel envisioned has started in the first coming of Jesus Christ, it awaits its completion at his second coming, and it has tremendous bearing upon the Church in the interim time.

Let’s turn now to the first six seals in Revelation 6:1-17.

Introduction To The First Six Seals: 
We must remember that Jesus Christ has received authority from God the Father and has taken up his rule over the kingdoms of the earth (1:5; 2:26-27; 5:1-14). The first four seals will show how this authority extends even over situations of suffering sent from the hand of God to purify saints and to punish unbelievers. In other words, it is Jesus Christ on his throne who has ultimately ordained all trials and persecutions the church experiences. Though this may be a hard truth, it is also a comforting truth that reminds us our trials do not come to us outside his control and in a manner in which he cannot orchestrate them together for our good and his glory.

Finally, in order to understand the events behind these seals, it is helpful to note some of their biblical background. That background is at least fourfold. 
a. Initially, the background is Leviticus 26:18-28, where God warns Israel how he would punish them for idolatry. In that text four times judgments are covered, each consisting of seven punishments, each series being worse than the previous ones. There we read of war, famine, conquest, and death. What we glean from this reality is that we may not be able to give specific explanation as to why a particular war, time of famine, or natural disaster takes place. But, we do know overall these things happen because the world is under a curse, God is correcting and purging his Church (as well as bringing his elect to him), and he is punishing those hardened in their idolatrous opposition to him.

b. Ezekiel 14:12-23 also is background and confirms what we see in Leviticus 26. Ezekiel 14:21 is explicitly quoted in Revelation 6:8b, where it functions as a general summary of the preceding trials (being conquered, the sword, and famine). The quotation seems to have the same function as in Ezekiel, where it sums up four preceding statements about trials as “four evil judgments.” These punishments came upon nations in general when they were unfaithful to God and they will also come upon Israel for their idolatry. The purpose of the trials in Ezekiel appears to be to punish the unbelieving majority in Israel and to purify the righteous remnant. What this means is that the same dual purpose is most likely present here in Revelation.

c. Zechariah 6:1-8 is also background. In that passage four groups of different colored horses (almost identical to Revelation 6) are commissioned by God to patrol the earth and to punish those nations on earth whom they find have oppressed God’s people (see Zech. 6:5-8). God intends to punish these pagan nations for their sins and also out of his love for Israel (Zech. 1:8-15). What this suggests for Revelation 6:1-8 is that the natural and political disasters are ordained, in part, by Christ, to judge persecutors of his Church, to vindicate his people, and also to refine his people.

d. The final passage that provides background is the Olivet Discourse by Jesus, as recorded by Matthew (Mt. 24:6-28), Mark (Mark 13:3-23), and Luke (Luke 21:5-24), where we see the same kinds of disasters as we see here in Revelation 6. There, Jesus clearly affirms that such events will precede his second coming and also any removal of the church from this current world.

Now, given the Old Testament background to the events depicted in these seals (namely the punishment of the nations for the persecution of Israel), wouldn’t this confirm the position of those interpreters of Revelation who see the events in chapters 6-20 primarily focusing upon Israel’s trials at the hands of the nations after the New Testament Church has been raptured out of the world? The answer is, “No,” for several reasons. To begin, if the Olivet Discourse is speaking of the same disasters as Revelation 6, then Jesus Christ has not returned yet and the Church has not been removed. After all, the strong implication of Jesus to the Disciples is that the Church would still be present in the world during these events.

What is more, at some places in the book of Revelation, the New Testament Church has traded places with Jews or Israel as the people of God. Unbelieving Jews have become the persecutors (3:9) and the New Testament Church (Jew and Gentile) is now the true Israel (cf. 7:1-8; 11:1-14; 12:1-17; 14:1-5; 15:1-4). What this means is that the situation in the Old Testament, wherein most true believers were Jews and there were some Gentile believers who had come to genuine faith, has now been reversed. There are Gentile believers and also some Jewish believers among the people of God. In light of this reversal, God is judging all unbelieving persecutors (Gentile and Jew) who persecute the true end-times Israel, i.e. the New Testament Church (Gentile and Jew).

So, what we have in the seals is not only a picture of what is happening in this sin-cursed world during this present age (Rom. 1:19-22), we also have some indication of why things are happening the way they are. We gain wisdom for facing hostile cultures and the disasters all around us. These trials and disasters are a result of the sovereign plan of our Savior, as well as the outcome of our enemy who hates the redemption Jesus Christ has accomplished (see also Rev. 12). They also are judgment upon a rebellious world that remains opposed to God and his people, and they serve to purge and grow the Church.

To understand all these truths does not mean that we can speak with specificity to certain events and claim something like this: “The attack upon that night club was clearly judgment upon everyone there,” or “That earthquake in that city was God’s wrath unleashed upon every individual in that city.” For one thing, we must remember that an event that is judgment upon many might be discipline upon some, and may even serve to be a trial that moves others to genuine saving faith.

No, we cannot speak with that kind of specificity or conviction. Yet, what we can take away is the wisdom that though, on the one hand, this world is broken and does not function as God originally intended it, nevertheless, on the other hand, there is not one thing happening during this age in this world that is outside God’s sovereign plan and outside of what God has orchestrated for the good of his people (Rom. 8:28). What is more, we can be assured that God, as the sovereign over this world, is always just, wise, and good, and that he will ultimately take care of his people and, at the same time, reveal his wrath against sin and sinners (Rom. 1:18).

Now that we have set the context for looking at the first six seals, we can turn to an examination of them in more detail. We will do that in our next blog post, “Wisdom To Face This Broken World,” Part 2.

Joyfully Seeking Wisdom With You,


Monday, March 12, 2018

A Case Study For Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom

In the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation we have looked at a vision of the heavenly throne room that has shown us that God the Father and God the Son are sovereign over and behind all that happens in this age—including righteous and unrighteous acts. This includes the salvation of people, but also the persecution of the church. These two chapters have taught us that nothing happens except through God or by his will, and that includes the brokenness and evil that permeate our world right now.

Yet, at the same time, the following chapters will also show both that God has a different relationship to evil than he does to righteousness (he is not the author of or morally responsible for the former) and also that all other beings in the world (angels, demons, and humans) make free choices for which they are responsible. In other words, God’s absolute sovereignty by which he governs all things in the world is compatible with human freedom (if we understand that freedom in line with what the Bible teaches).

I believe it is helpful to break from Revelation for the week and to look at a passage that addresses both subjects (God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom) and, along the way, gives a starting point for understanding how they relate to one another and that they can fit with each other. There are many passages that could be chosen, but one particularly helpful is 1 Chronicles 29:10-19. In fact, this passage can serve as a case study not only for how God governs all, but how he interacts with the human will in that all-encompassing governance.

Introduction to 1 Chronicles 29:10-19
What the chronicler seems to do in 1 and 2 Chronicles is to encourage Israel after their captivity to see the faithfulness of God and also to see that their full enjoyment of life with God in covenant demands they return to right worship of him.[1] This is played out in these last chapters of 1 Chronicles by highlighting God’s faithfulness to fulfill promises to David as preparations for the temple are made and the king approaches the end of his life and reign.

We read in 28:1-8 that David assembled military and tribal leaders, along with royal overseers and leading soldiers, gave them a charge, and then turned to his son, Solomon, to exhort him in preparation for his ascension to the throne (28:9-21).[2] After David’s appeal to the people to give, as well as a record of materials offered willingly by them for the building of the temple (29:1-9), David turns in 29:10-19 to praise God for what has happened. Here is what we read: 
Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. 15 For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. 16 O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. 18 O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”

There are two main kinds of prayer we see David engaging in: Praise of God for what has been accomplished (10-13) and a request that he continually empower Solomon and the people to carry out his will, since they cannot do this without God (14-19).[3] What we read in both of these kinds of prayer sets forth the view of divine sovereignty and human freedom we will discover in the book of Revelation and also introduces they are compatible.  Let’s see how this is so.

David’s Descriptive Praise Of God: Verses 10-13.
To begin, as we examine David’s praise (10-13), we grasp that the king blesses or praises the LORD because of or in response to the whole-hearted and generous giving of the people toward the future temple building (cf. 29:6-9). [4]  If this is accurate, then we should expect the praise to be logically connected into the giving on the part of the people, a reality confirmed when we move on to vv. 14-19, which clarify that in his praise of God David is focused upon what the people have given (cf. 14, 16, 17).[5]

What is also significant is what David says directly to and about the LORD in his praise (10b-13).[6] In referring to him as the LORD (Yahweh) and “the God of Israel” he emphasizes that God has committed himself to his people and to keeping his promises to them (cf. Dt. 7:8; Jer. 1:12), which is the significance of the current collection and preparation for the temple building.[7]

To be clear, then, David believes that the sovereign God has moved among the people in such a way as to bring about certainly their giving of the materials for the building of the temple. They truly decided to give freely and willingly (29:6-9), and yet David sees the giving as ultimately moved by the LORD and so is a sign of his promise-keeping covenant faithfulness. In other words, the sovereign God has so worked in the wills of his people and in their circumstances to bring about the very end God desires and had promised—including this generous giving on their part—for the purpose of building the temple and thus demonstrating his continual faithful presence among them (cf. Ex. 25:8; 1 Chr. 17:10-14).

That we have read this correctly so far is also seen in the “meat” of David’s praise and thanks—verses 11-12. Here the king attributes to the King of kings several things that not only belong to him, but that men should rightly acknowledge in worship that belong to him. First, is “greatness,” which is a term that not only describes all of God’s attributes and what he does, but highlights that God is superior to all other beings and rulers.[8] Additionally, David ascribes to God “might,” a term that is not only synonymous with “sovereignty,” but also highlights God has the power to carry out effectively what he desires as the King of kings, and no one can thwart what he determines to accomplish.[9] What is more, David affirms that “glory” belongs to God, in other words, a splendor or beauty flowing from who he is and what he does that elevates him in the eyes of others above all other powers.[10]  Next, to God belongs “victory,” a term that highlights he succeeds in what he sets out to do and he can enable his people to succeed as well,[11] and also “majesty,” a term that connotes the ultimate royal excellencies that inspire awe.[12]

David has piled up royal terms to highlight God as the ultimate power and King who can carry out what he has purposed and promised—terms designed to lead those assembled to praise him above all others and to affirm that the present giving ultimately was orchestrated by him—and so in fulfillment of his promises.

David ends this first pregnant statement of praise with reasons why we know that all of this is true of the LORD: “for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.” The point in this clause is that all things in the universe belong to the true God and ultimately originate from him. In context, part of the meaning seems to be that nothing can happen but that it is either caused by God or at least permitted by him.

That we have read the text correctly so far is confirmed as we move on to the parallel statement of God’s praise in 11c-12, a statement that focuses with even greater clarity upon God’s sovereignty. In 11c we read, “To you, Yahweh, is the dominion” (author’s translation).[13] What is being attributed to the LORD is universal (and absolute) sovereignty. This description is reiterated in the last clause of verse 11: “and you are the one who exalts himself as head above all” (my translation).[14] This wording makes it clear that no one or nothing outside himself has decided God’s status. He is exalted “over all” “as head”. The term “head” here means the chief or ultimate one. It is what is meant when we speak of “absolute sovereignty.” No one or nothing is above God. He has dominion and has exalted himself above all powers, kings, and other heads, as the head, the chief, the ultimate ruler.

In verse 12 we read David’s last words on why praise is given to the LORD on this occasion. This verse reiterates that the praise is tied into this occasion and in large part David is focusing on God’s sovereignty. In the clause, “riches and honor are from before your face” (my translation), it is affirmed that the current circumstances (including David’s reign) and the resources just brought for the temple by the people ultimately came from the divine king, who first dispensed them.[15] After all, the Hebrew sovereign (David) is able to say of the divine sovereign, “you rule over all.” In a context in which David is praising God for what he has brought about in Israel, for the current abundant offering, and the reality that the LORD continues to carry out his amazing redemptive work among his people, it appears that this specific affirmation is praising the LORD that there is not one aspect of life—big or small—that is outside God’s rule, his sovereignty. This appears to clarify the statement in v. 11, “Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.”[16]

What we have seen in this passage is that the view of divine sovereignty it presents does not leave room for God merely looking ahead into the future (or merely having an innate knowledge of the future) and then ordaining what happens based upon what humans will do with a kind of freedom that allows their decisions to originate exclusively in themselves, and without any ability on the part of God to bring about the very events he has decreed would take place.

This conclusion is not only reached because of what we have seen in David’s praise of God, it is also supported by the second kind of prayer the Hebrew king offers to God in verses 14-19, a request that God continually empower Solomon and the people to carry out his will, since they cannot do this without God. Let’s turn to those verses now. More specifically, the king goes about this request by preliminary remarks that lead to trust in God for this empowerment (14-17) and then makes the request itself (18-19). 

David’s Grace-Focused Prayer Request: Verses 14-19
In 14a David’s prayer affirms that people are not worthy or able on their own to be involved in such free giving to God. David asks (my own translation): “But who am I, and [who] is my people, that we should be able to offer willingly [as this]?” The verb translated, “offer willingly,” not only speaks of truly desiring to give the offering, but elsewhere is used in contexts of duty, strong compulsion, and influence—including, as here, God’s determining governance.[17]  The expected answer to David’s question is something like this, “We ourselves are no one and we are not able on our own willingly to do this—it must be by God’s grace!”[18] David is acknowledging here that God has not only made David king, brought about these circumstances, and given the resources behind the giving, he has also worked in the hearts of the people certainly and according to his promises[19] that they willingly give these resources! And, in light of verses 11-12, it is deduced that the movement on God’s part to work in their hearts was not based upon knowledge that they would make these choices.

What we have here is none other than what I would call compatibilistic human freedom, freedom that is in line with the reality that people are moved by the strongest motive in their heart—a motive that can be certainly caused by God and antecedent movements of the heart.[20]

In addition to man’s moral inability that prevents him from giving such gifts as these in the manner they were given (14a), David has another reason for attributing the giving ultimately to God, namely that God is the ultimate origin of the resources and the ultimate origin of the desire to give (14b): “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.”[21]

Additionally, in verse 15 David affirms the shortness of their lives and the reality they are not the ultimate owners of the land and resources and these realities place them in situations in which David knows they cannot ultimately control their own destinies and could not, on their own, have brought about these outcomes: “For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.”[22]

In verse sixteen David concludes his affirmation that God has been the ultimate source of the material and volitional resources with these words: “O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” God has provided what he promised and what he commanded the people to do and so the glory ultimately goes to him.

Yet, we dare not overlook that in verse seventeen David also sees the desires and decisions to give as truly coming from the hearts of the givers—a joyous, willing giving that pleases God: “I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.”[23]

After these preliminary remarks that have prepared the hearts of David and the assembled people for petitioning God with humble and dependent hearts, David now turns to the actual request for continual empowerment itself (18-19), a prayer, that takes us beyond any reasonable doubt that David has been attributing to God through this text that both the material and volitional resources for this giving (and thus doing the will of God) have come ultimately from God: “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people,[24] and direct their hearts toward you.[25] 19 Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”[26]

What we have in this passage, then, is a case study that reveals God’s absolute sovereignty by which he governs all that takes place (without exception) is compatible with responsible and free human choices. To have some grasp of this will go along way toward helping us work our way through Revelation 6-22—especially in light of the reality that all that takes place in these chapters is decreed by God, yet, he is not the one doing the sin. That is Satan, demons, and humans.

Freely Delighting In God’s Sovereignty With You,


[1] See Bill T. Arnold, Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering The Old Testament: A Christian Survey (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1999), 253; and Gleason Archer, A Survey Of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1985), en loc.

[2] See Brian E. Kelly, notes in the ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 740.

[3] I am indebted to the notes in the Reformation Study Bible (Orlando: Ligonier, 2005), 593, for this twofold division.

[4] The form of the Hebrew verb here can connote a logical sequel of actions:  “Therefore…blessed….” There is a strong logical connection between the following praise and the previous passage that speaks of the people willingly giving.

[5] The verse 10a clause ends with this literal rendering; “Before the eyes of all the assembly.” As we discovered in the immediately preceding context, Israel is assembled together for David to charge them and Solomon. As such, what we have here is David praising Yahweh in the presence of this assembly and so the assembly saw and heard David do this. This, then, is both praise and, at the same time, admonition to those present (a reality implied about corporate worship we see explicitly in Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16-17). It may be implied, as a result, that David’s prayer in their presence is one of the means God will use subsequently to empower and motivate them to serve him and carry out his will.

[6] David’s praise forms a chiasm—with the A (10b) and A’ (13) affirming that praise and thanks are being offered. Then the B (11a-b) and B’ (11c-12) form the content or “meat” of the praise. This means most likely that B and B’ are parallel in some manner.

[7] In 1 Chronicles 17:10-14 God promises he will bring about the building of the temple through Solomon. The building of the temple will be both an affirmation that God has given peace and victory to David and the people, as well as an affirmation that the Davidic dynasty will be forever—thus pointing forward to the Messiah.

[8] This is a word that encompasses all that God does among men to save, bless, and carry out his blessings, and perhaps even his judgments—actions that could only be done by someone who is of vast and immense power, wisdom, and goodness (2 Sam. 7:21, 23; 1 Chron. 17:19, 21; Ps. 145:6). It appears to be a word that could apply to all of God’s attributes—and to display that they are of enormous, i.e. immeasurable, proportions (Ps. 145:3). The term is used in Esther 1:4 to speak of the many riches and works of King Ahasuerus, things that display the immense and vast character of his kingdom—and point to the enormous place he must have, especially in relation to other kings (see also Ps. 71:21). This greatness is designed to make people marvel at the kingdom. When greatness is attributed to one it also distinguishes them from others (Esther 6:3; 10:2). In regard to God, it shows his uniqueness (cf. Dt. 3:24) and so his superior greatness over all others. In context, his greatness shows he is the ultimate ruler over his universal kingdom.

[9] This word is a cognate of a term that is often translated “mighty men of valor” (Hagibborim: e.g.1 Chr. 10:24). In texts related to God, the word connotes the resources and power God has to be able to carry out effectively what he desires (Job 12:13-14), which includes his wisdom (Prov. 8:14; Is. 11:2), his giving strength to man (1 Chron. 29:12; Ps. 71:16), or even animals (Job 39:19), as well as creative and sustaining abilities (Ps. 65:6), and also carrying out salvation and judgment. This is a royal, divine, and unique (Jer. 10:6) strength and ability of God that shows he is King of kings and Lord of lords, a strength and ability no one can successfully oppose, what classically is referred to as God’s sovereignty (2 Chron. 20:6). It is a power which should increase man’s praise of him (Pss. 21:13; 150:2), which stands as the ultimate purpose of his salvation of man—“that he might make known his mighty power” (Ps. 106:6), for God’s acts of salvation and judgment that display his might form the very content of what one generation should proclaim to another (Ps. 145:4, 11, 12 [esp. in light of vv. 6-20]).

[10] The term that is used here is hatiph’ara. It means “beauty” or “glory.” Though this term can be synonymous with kabod (the most common term translated “glory” in the OT), the focus here is more on being pleasing to own’s sight or understanding, i.e. the display of brilliance or magnificence, rather than the full weight or weightiness of one (as with kabod). The term is associated with the beauty or splendor that is displayed by a king (Esther 1:4). Most likely since the other attributes associated with God here seem to address him as King of kings, this one also is intended to communicate that God displays a royal beauty or splendor that surpasses all others.

[11] The Hebrew term, chanetsa can mean “enduring” or “perpetual” (e.g. Job 20:7; Ps. 9:6), but this sense can also communicate enduring beyond battle and thus “victory” (cf. Job 14:20; Is. 25:8). “Victory” appears to be the sense here. After all, the LXX (Septuagint [Greek translation of the OT]) translates it as hē nikē (“the conquering,” “the victory,” “the overcoming”).  In context, this most likely focuses upon the reality that God as King over Israel has not only given them victory over their enemies, but currently has given victory or success in their present mission—that of preparing to build the temple that will be at the heart of their attractional witness to the world.

[12]The term howd is most often translated by the English word “majesty,.” In the Bible it is often paired with hadar, which speaks of splendor, beauty, or majesty. In Nu. 27:20 it suggests the character and place that Moses had before Israel such that they respected and obeyed him—and this was to be transferred to Joshua. In 1 Chron. 29:25 we read that after Solomon was anointed king, Yahweh exalted him (gave him such greatness) and gave him such royal majesty that there was no king like him previously. As the accounts of Solomon unfold, we know this refers to riches, respect among other royalty and in Israel, success in projects, and wisdom. Like the other descriptions in this verse, so with this one, it is used of royalty and leaders (see Jer. 22:18—respect given a king). It appears to suggest an exalted status, place, rank, varied excellencies, and in some cases, deportment. God’s majesty inspires fear (Job 37:22; Is. 30:30). It also inspires singing, praise, and worship (Ps. 96:6, in light of whole psalm [here the LXX translates with exomologesis, an act of making known or revealing]). The one who has ultimate royal majesty is also the one who will bring fulfillment of the visions and blessings of Zechariah, the one who will build the end-times temple (Zech. 6:13), none other than the Messiah, the Christ!

[13] The term hamamlakah (ESV: “kingdom”) is used in Chronicles to refer to a realm of reign, such as a country, countries, or specifically Israel (1 Chr. 16:20; 29:30; 2 Chr. 9:19; 12:8; 14:5; 17:10; 26:6, 29, et al). It is also used to speak of the reign or dominion, the rule of a king (2 Chr. 11:1; 13:5, 8; 17:5). In context, this second usage seems to be the focus here. This appears to be the only time in Scripture where this exact phraseology is used. More specifically, the point seems to be that ultimate dominion or sovereignty belongs to Yahweh. All belongs to him and so he reigns over it all as the ultimate sovereign or potentate.

[14] In “the one who exalts himself” we find a hithpael participle (a Hebrew verb form), which connotes ongoing causative and reflexive action.

[15] The idiomatic picture is of a king dispensing something (for which one would normally stand before him—before his face). If one has honor and riches, then this King of kings has granted it. It is by his decree, his pronouncement. The term translated “riches” (`osher) speaks of material possessions (e.g. Gen. 31:16) and usually of such an amount or abundance that it is the opposite of poverty (e.g. Prov. 30:8; Eccles. 5:14). Such an abundance of material goods (wealth) and “honor” (kabowd)  in the Old Testament are seen as gifts from Yahweh and come to the one who in humility fears Yahweh and seeks wisdom (Ps. 112:3; Prov. 3:16; 8:18; 22:4 [riches, honor, and life are gifts from Yahweh]).
David is acknowledging here that he has been placed in his position of leadership by God—along with the honor and wealth that he experiences. This most likely includes the fact that the current wealth that has been brought together in preparation for the temple has been given by and made possible by God.

[16] As the absolutely sovereign God of the universe, the one who exercises meticulous providence (governance over all that happens without exception), David acknowledges at the end of verse 12, “In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” The point here seems to be that the current status of David and Israel, as well as God’s ongoing work among them have come from the LORD. Underneath David’s praise here is that as the King of kings and Lord of lords, God is able to take care of his people and he is doing this. As such, all that the people have given back to God and all that David has been able to accomplish in obedience to God come ultimately from God. God has blessed and rewarded his people for the very things he has enabled them to do!

[17] The verb nadav that stands behind the English, “to offer willingly,” communicates the idea of inciting or moving something or someone to act. For example, in Exodus 25:2, as the LORD is giving instructions to Moses regarding the tabernacle, he instructs Moses in this fashion: “From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.” The clause, “whose heart moves him” literally is, “who moves his heart” and contains the Qal imperfect of nadav. We see a similar usage in Exodus 35:21. There, as people are bringing offerings for the tabernacle, we read, “…everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting.” The clause, “whose spirit moved him” contains the Qal perfect of this verb. Exodus 35:29 repeats this idea, only with the “heart” as the subject of the verb.” Outside of Exodus 35 the verb is used only in the Hithpael (causative reflexive) tense. All of its other uses speak either of offering one’s self freely for some kind of service or act (Judges 5:2, 9; 2 Chron. 17:16; Ezra 11:2), freely bringing resources or materials for the accomplishment of God’s work—the building of the temple (1 Chron. 29:5, 6, 9, 14, 17; Ezra 1:6; 2:68), or freely bringing offerings or sacrifices to offer on the altar to the LORD (Ezra 3:5). In 1 Chr. 29:9 we are told that giving freely involves giving with the whole heart or because they truly wanted to do it. In Ezra 1:6 freely giving can be ordered by decree of the king (cf. 1:4)—i.e. strong compulsion or causation—especially in the context of knowing what the penalties are for disobedience. And, in Ezra 3:5 offerings can be freely brought to the LORD, even though it is emphasized that this is according to God’s requirements, his laws (cf. 3:2, 4)—i.e. a strong sense of duty or compulsion. Finally, moving to live in Jerusalem as decided by the casting of lots (which itself is decided by the providence of God in the biblical worldview, Prov. 16:33), can be described as doing something freely (Neh. 11:1-2)—i.e. in the context of a strong sense of compulsion or causation. In other words, the use of the verb elsewhere repeatedly affirms that something is free if the heart or will of a person truly wants to do it, i.e. if the movement is from the person, rather than their being forced to do it. Free choices and giving can be the result of strong influence or compulsion outside the person—provided that their heart truly comes to desire to move or give. This is consistently how Scripture views what is a free act for humans (cf. Philemon 14).

[18] This expected answer is not only implied by the context here, but also by this same form of question used elsewhere and the expected answers in those contexts: Exodus 3:11; 1 Samuel 18:18; 2 Samuel 7:18; 1 Chronicles 17:16; 2 Chronicles 2:6.

[19] Consider what God promised to David in 1 Chronicles 17:3-15, that though David himself will not build the temple, his offspring will and God will certainly bring it to pass!

[20] As we see in 1 Chronicles 29:1-5, King David made a strong case to the assembled people that they should give—following his example, and also that they might be part of the great purposes God is working out (cf. 28:1-8). In 1 Chronicles 29:9 we discover that the people “had given willingly…with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD.” In other words, they responded to David’s reasoning and so in their intellects, affections, and wills, they came to agree with David—seeing the truth of his reasoning, they had the desire to follow his words, and so they made the decision to do so. These were decisions the people truly made, but they also were decisively moved by God to make them.

[21] The following reasons lead us to conclude that David is writing that the desire to give also comes from God and not merely the material resources: (a) In the immediate context (14a), David is talking about giving willingly or freely. The statements about all being from Yahweh come directly after this and thus more likely refer to the giving of both the material and volitional resources. (b) The fact that “victory” is ascribed to Yahweh in v. 11 implies success; i.e. the ability to do something or stay with something. This includes the willingness to start and carry out the task. (c) In verse 12 that David affirms that Yahweh “gives strength to all” goes to the level of willingness and ability. (d) Finally, verse 17 speaks of giving not only freely, but joyously, and this is part of the uprightness of heart on which David focuses. This joyous affection seems to be part of what God has made possible, what he has brought about that these events might take place. So, what we are saying, then, is that in context, David is not merely praising God for the material resources, but also for the volitional resources for the people to carry out this task. This runs counter to those who would suggest God was somehow only looking ahead to see what humans would do without his decisive influence upon (what some argue must be present for an act to be free).  

[22] In v. 15 we find another reason why (“For:” kiy) David and the people are not worthy to give freely to God what they have. It is not only that all things belong to and are from God, but David and the people are not truly and ultimately owners of anything. Instead, they are “strangers” (gerim) in the eyes of God and sojourners (wetoshabim), as were their fathers. What is more, their days are like a shadow and there is no abiding, remaining—i.e. their lives are short. The emphasis appears to be on the shortness of life, the fact that they are not the ones who ultimately own the land (that is God) and so they are not in control such that they could decide their own outcomes, what their resources are, and thus what they give.

[23] There are two main affirmations David makes here. First, God examines the heart (the seat of emotions, desires, and will) of man very closely and he finds great pleasure in decisions, desires, and actions that are in accordance with the character of God—in accordance with his will. The term for “uprightness” is used elsewhere as synonymous with “righteousness,” which is something that is in line with the character of God (cf. Ps. 9:8). The point here is that God knows man’s heart, he knows what he does and why he does it, and God takes great pleasure in obedience that flows from a heart given to God.
The second affirmation is that God-like uprightness involves free and joyous giving to God for the purpose of his mission. Both David and the people have given freely (nadav [same verb as used above]) and David adds the people have given “with joy/rejoicing” (simchah). When true joy or rejoicing (gladness) is present, this means that there is full desire on the part of the person to do what they do.

[24] The text uses an intensified form of the imperative for “keep,” that displays a strong request. David very much wants the LORD to keep this way of thinking (i.e. glad free giving for God’s glory and living for his mission) forever or always “in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of your people” (my translation).

[25] The verb used here (kuwn [lit. “prepare”]) is a Hiphil (i.e. causative, active) imperative, so it is in this context a request that God would direct or prepare in such a way the heart of the people so that they would be inclined toward Yahweh and thus would gladly and joyously give and live for his glory. The sense of this verb (i.e. to prepare) suggests that David understands that God must work in hearts such that preparatory work is done so that the heart will be moved toward and in favor of God. This is none other than praying for antecedents (previous movements and decisions) to take place so that the heart of the people is moved to glorify and please God. It is not only another example of how God’s grace is seen in the OT, but also prohibits us from holding to a view of human freedom that believes free decisions must originate in the person without decisive causation.

[26] David prays for God’s grace to give to Solomon a whole heart to follow God and to complete the temple (v. 19). Here we see that the focus throughout has been on God’s provision in the hearts and lives of the people so that this part of the mission of God that lies at the heart of his redemptive history could be completed.