Imprecatory Prayers?

With all of the study that takes place each week in the lead up to teaching a section of scripture, I often stumble across really good teaching by theologians and pastors whose mind is far more developed than my own. I greatly admire men like G.K. Beale, James Hamilton, Tom Schreiner, and D.A. Carson to name a few. I may not agree with them on every point, but often their wisdom and insight into passages of Scripture is very edifying.

The past few weeks/months I’ve been reading and studying closely the book of Revelation. In my notes on this site I’ve shown how the prayers of the saints in chapter six (the 5th “Seal”) actually serve as a catalyst for the judgments that God sends upon the earth. The power of prayer, and God’s ordination of it as a means through which He works, is plainly seen in these verses. But it leads to an interesting question: should we pray these kinds of imprecatory prayers? And if so, how ought we to think about and go about this?

In his commentary on Revelation, James Hamilton provides some wonderful insight that has been profitable for me, and perhaps would be worth your time to consider:

If you have ever wondered whether you should pray the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms, let me encourage you to look again at the way the martyrs pray for God to “avenge” their blood in 6:9-11. You bet you should pray those imprecatory prayers. Pray that God would either save His enemies, those who oppose the gospel and the people of God, that He would bring them to repentance, or if He is not going to do that, that He would thwart all their efforts to keep people from worshiping God by faith in Christ. Pray that God would either save those who destroy families and hurt little children or thwart all their efforts and keep them from doing further harm. Those prayers will be heard. Pray that God would either redeem people who are right now identifying with the seed of the serpent, or if he is not going to redeem them, that he would crush them and all their evil designs. God will answer those prayers.

Amen!

 

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Revelation 7 and the 144,000

Revelation Chapter 7 (Interlude)

Introduction

I will borrow from several parts of Beale’s introduction because I have found it helpful for showing how chapter 6 and 7 tie together:

Revelation 7:1-8 explains how believers are sealed so that they can persevere through the first four tribulations (he is referring to the four horsemen) enumerated in chapter 6. The vision of 7:9-17 reveals the heavenly reward for those who do persevere. It amplifies the brief picture of the saints in 6:9-11, who have finally entered into God’s presence, after having successfully completed their course of suffering (see esp. 7:13-15). 7:9-17 also describes the kind of rest that the exalted saint were told to enjoy (6:11)…Saints who suffer in the tribulation are encouraged to persevere as they reflect on the divine protection they have through God’s sealing them and as they recall the promise of their future heavenly reward.

Therefore, the sealing of the saints explains further how Christ will “keep them from the hour of trial” which is “to test the earth-dwellers” who have persecuted them (cf. 6:10). All these connections concern matters that precede the final judgment and reward, so chapter 7 must function as an interlude or parenthesis in its placement after chapter 6. Yet the chapter also has a future aspect, especially toward the end (vv. 15-17). From this perspective the chapter is also an answer to the concluding question of 6:17, “who is able to stand”: before God and not suffer the wrath of the last judgment? This is the definite answer to 6:17 and the main point toward which the visionary narrative of 7:9ff drives.[i]

Hamilton rightly says that, “This chapter is important because we will see later in 9:4 that those who are sealed will not be harmed, and we see in 14:1-5 that this group stands with Jesus, redeemed, on Mount Zion. The fact that God seals his servants also informs the number of the beast in 13:16-18, which seems to be a satanic imitation of God’s sealing of his servants.”[ii]

7:1 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.

There are obviously no “corners” to the earth – Columbus helped us figure that one out some time ago – and just as obvious is the fact that God knew it all along! But the meaning here is a simple literary device to mean that the reach of the power of the angels was worldwide.

What are they holding back? The “four winds”, which I tend to believe equate with the four horsemen from chapter 6. For in Zechariah 6 they are equated as the same thing:

And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.[iii] (Zechariah 6:5)

Beale explains:

This identification becomes clearer from understanding that the sealing of believers in vv 3-8 explains how they can be protected spiritually from the woes of the four horsemen, which they must endure. Therefore, the identification of the winds with the horsemen means that the sealing of believers in vv 2-8 takes us back even before the time when the four horsemen of 6:1-8 are unleashed.[iv]

7:2-3 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.”

The Seal and the Passover

The seal of God here is the mark of ownership and of protection that indicates that you are God’s own possession and that your salvation has been secured. A brilliant picture of this occurred prior to the Exodus when God instructed Moses to adorn the lentils of Jewish homes in Goshen with the blood of a lamb so that the Angel of Death would know to pass over those homes in the midst of a devastating night-time slaughter of the first born of all Egypt. That night, thousands of years prior to John’s vision, an entire generation was taken away by the Sovereign of all life.

And it is those plagues – the 10 plagues that wracked Egypt prior to the Exodus – that serve as one of the main OT backdrops of the first four seal judgments (the four horsemen), but especially come to mind in the Trumpet and Bowl judgments in the coming chapters. They are modeled after those plagues, and are meant to serve as a reminder of God’s power and sovereignty, as well as His plan for anti-typical fulfillment of a final exodus from sin, death, and a fallen world; He will lead His people to a new land.

Now, the seal is the opposite of the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is just another way of saying you are a child of the enemy, as opposed to a child of God.

It is a harsh reality that we must come to grips with that all those who are not children of God are, in Biblical terms, categorized as children of Satan, because they are under His control. This reality goes back to Genesis 3:15 where the seed of the Woman was to battle it out with the seed of the Serpent. It didn’t take long before the first battle commenced – Able was the first physical casualty in a war that would stretch for thousands of years. Jesus taught this dichotomy clearly:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, [40] but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. [41] You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” [42] Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. [43] Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. [44] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [45] But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [46] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? [47] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47).

Paul emphasized this as well:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:1-3).

It is only through the grace of God that one is saved from the enemy camp. Indeed, Jesus came to make enemies His friends:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:9-10).

And this seal is that which indicates that we have been snatched from the enemy camp, and are in the army of God’s glorious elect. It is also an indication of protection from all the evil plagues I mentioned were about to befall mankind. Not protection from difficulty, or struggles in this life. The Israelites were spared death, but yet they endured many of the plagues the Egyptians endured, and then wandered in the wilderness and had a tough go of it for many years before being granted entrance into the Promised Land. So too are we protected ultimately.

Beale explains this well I think:

The nature of this protection is spiritual. This is apparent from the fact that believers and unbelievers suffer similar physical afflictions. But, whereas these trials purify God’s servants, they harden the ungodly in their response to God (so 9:19-21). The seal is closely related to the salvation of the people who bear it. This is evident from 14:1-4, where the group that has “written on their foreheads” the names of Christ and the Father (vs1) is also said to be redemptively “purchased.”[v]

Now, more poignantly, the seal is especially that which protects us from what Revelation refers to as “the second death.”

The sealing of the elect is the answer to the question posed in 6:17, “who is able to standin the great day of the Lord’s judgment. Well, the answer is that the elect are able to stand because God has sealed them. Tom Schreiner sums up nicely:

Those whose names are written in the book of life are enrolled because the Lamb has been slain on their behalf (Rev. 13:8; 21:27). The 144,000 are sealed (Rev. 7:1-8) only because they belong to the Lamb. His death is the source of their life. The sing a new song of salvation and have the name of the Father and the Lamb on their foreheads because they have been redeemed by the Lamb (Rev. 14:1-5).[vi]

A Reminder of the OT Imagery

In this way we can see the importance once again of knowing our Old Testament. I’ve said again and again in class how these OT images and stories would have been automatically conjured up in the minds of 1st century believers hearing John’s symbolic descriptions. Their minds would work with OT imagery the same way ours works when we hear the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Immediately we think: Star Wars! And all the stories and characters flood to mind in milliseconds. The same is true for the original readers of John’s letter. Therefore, we much be extra studious to understand their minds, and seek to know the OT backdrop which colors the words of this book.

7:4-8 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: [5] 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, [6] 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, [7] 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, [8] 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 four general theories[vii] of who makes up this group of 144,000.

  1. The dispensational view, which takes it literally as 144,000 exact people, they see it as Jewish Christians coming out of the great tribulation. “This is based on the presupposition that John’s language is to be understood literally except where he states explicitly otherwise.”[viii] The issue is that hermeneutically their literalization of the number is incorrect – every number in Revelation is figurative, why would this be different? Also, their view that a rapture of Christians will take place prior to a period of tribulation is further error that compounds the mistake.
  2. Some classic pre-mills view this group as figurative, standing for the Jews who are partially hardened but will be come to faith en masse when Christ comes back (Romans 11:24-26). The issue with this is that the Romans 11 passage talks about salvation en masse, whereas this pass in Rev. 7 has in view a remnant of people. They seem to be conveying two different ideas.
  3. Some see the 144,000 as Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first century who will emerge from the horrors of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. My issue with this is that it doesn’t seem to accord with the context. If chapter 7 is an explanation of chapter 6:1-8, which I believe is evident, then one would have to say that the four horsemen were only corresponding to that destruction which took place in 70 A.D., with the following 5th seal emphasis on Christian martyrdom. However, I’m not sure that historically this has been the emphasis coming out of 70 AD (not that its not possible I suppose). It would either damage the recapitulation hermeneutic more generally, which we have seen manifold evidence for thus far, else it might suppose that all of the trumpets and bowls are referring to that time in 70AD, something that the global nature of their descriptions seem at odds with.  
  4. Lastly, there is the view that the number is figurative and that the group here is “the complete number of God’s people” (so Beale). I believe this is correct because every other number in Revelation is figurative, and because the context of the passage demands this conclusion.[ix]

I believe there is ample evidence to point to the fact that what is being represented here is not simply a special carve out of ethnic Jews, but a figurative description of the church across all time. While futurists believe that this group of people are Jewish believers coming out of a literal 7-year tribulation period after the rapture, not all premillennial futurists agree. Both Mounce and Ladd disagree, saying that the 144,000 is symbolic for the church in the tribulation.[x] That being said, I just don’t see these ideas as working very well, and believe Schreiner, Beale, and Hendriksen to be on the right track here. This is evidenced by the figurative nature of 144,000.

Beale explains the 144,000 number, and generally Hendriksen and others say the same thing:

144,000 is the result of the square of twelve multiplied by one thousand or the multiple of the squares of ten and twelve multiplied by ten. The use of twelve (and perhaps ten) heightens the figurative idea of completeness. The square of twelve may be merely the number of the tribes of Israel multiplied by itself or, more likely, the twelve tribes multiplied by the twelve apostles. Chapter 21 confirms this suggestion, where the names of the twelve tribes and of the twelve apostles form part of the figurative structure of the heavenly city of God, “the new Jerusalem.”[xi]

Hendriksen picks up on this citation of chapter 21 and says, “Entirely in harmony with this representation we read in Revelation 21 that the holy city Jerusalem has twelve gates and twelve foundations. On these twelve gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the twelve foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:9-14). We also ready that the wall is 144 cubits in height (21:17).”[xii]

In other words, the number 144,000 is a number meant to represent something, not specifically count individuals. And that something it represents is “the sealed multitude of…the entire Church militant of the old and new dispensations.”[xiii]

Schreiner helpfully discusses the idea and provides a useful summary snapshot:

Some interpreters, of course, understand the 144,000 as literally referring to Israel. The arguments presented previously (cf. his NT theology chapter 17) suggest that John uses “Israel” symbolically to refer to the new people of God. The twelve tribes of Israel point now to a greater fulfillment: the church of Jesus Christ. The 144,000 is symbolic in that it is twelve squared and multiplied by one thousand. It represents, then, the totality of God’s people and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. It also represents God’s army in that it is comparable to the census of Israel s God’s army in the OT. God’s warriors are those who suffer for other sake of the Lamb. The church of Jesus Christ is, then, the true synagogue of God, the place where his people father together. The church does not cancel out ethnic Israel, for the names of the twelve tribes are on the gates of the heavenly city (Rev. 21:12). But the true Israel, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, finds its fulfillment in the church of Jesus Christ.[xiv]

Lost Identity

I sometimes feel obliged to spend more time refuting the dispensational viewpoint because of its odd predominance in our culture at this time in history. So I want to give one more angle on this group of 144,000 as food for thought.

One of the main difficulties with the dispensational viewpoint on this number representing Jewish Christians from literal tribes is that those tribes were completely obliterated during the Assyrian exile. Beale notes that there was still a possibility that some tribal identity existed in the first century A.D. (e.g. Acts 26:7), it seems that many Jews even at this time didn’t have a specific tribal identity. And while dispensationalists like Walvoord argue that God still knows who is from what tribe,[xv] even that argument has two issues

  1. Intermarriage: Of course God knows everything, but what is it that object of His knowledge? Are there some people who have somehow accidentally remained of purely Reuben, or Judah, or Benjamin blood? Assuming God knows the blood lineage of all mankind, it is still highly doubtful that given all the intermarriage in the last 2000+ years that there remain on earth now (or in the future) those who are purely of the blood of one or another of these tribes.
  2. Context: Beale says, “Even if it were viable (and my first point were null), it would have to remain speculation until more evidence from Revelation 7 or elsewhere in the book could be adduced to support it. Instead, the immediate and broad contexts point to a transferal of the tribal names to the church.”[xvi] That broader context could include the noted parallel of chapter 7 with 14:1-4. In those verses the 144,000 are said to be those who are “redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God” (14:4) – in my mind this draws from NT literature in which we are told the church (James 1:18 perhaps picking up on Jeremiah 2:2-3?) and Christ (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18) are the firstfruits of God (The church due to the nature of its unity with Christ – see Romans 6-8). That they are redeemed from mankind emphasizes again that they are a remnant, and that they are not simply from Israel, but more globally from “mankind.” We will discuss this more when we come to chapter 14.

An Odd List

Now there are some oddities with the tribal list. First, it is missing the tribe of Dan and also missing Ephraim. Futurists like Walvoord say that this is either because the antichrist will come from Dan, or because these tribes were guilty of idolatry.[xvii] But there is no such biblical evidence to support the former, and the latter could be said of all of the tribes!

Hendriksen says, “To say that the symbol ultimately indicates Israel according to the flesh is wrong. The apostle certainly knew that ten of the twelve tribes had disappeared in Assyria, at least to a great extent; while Judah and Benjamin had lost their national existence when Jerusalem fell, in AD 70. Besides, if Israel according to the flesh were meant, why should Ephraim and Dan be omitted? Surely not all the people in the tribe of Dan were lost.”[xviii]

Of course some of this doubles down on what I already mentioned before, but I believe it’s sometimes helpful to hear it from other sources and perspectives.

Another oddity is that Judah is listed first in the list. In my mind there could be some influence here from Genesis 49 where Jacob blessed his sons and predicted that from the tribe of Judah would come a king – that king, as we now know, was Jesus.[xix]

Hamilton sums up some of these oddities, “…in this list that John gives in Revelation 7:5-8, he leaves out Dan, lists Manasseh but not Ephraim, and lists both Joseph and Levi. So john has twelve tribes listed, but this list doesn’t match the way that the Old Testament generally listed the twelve tribes.”[xx]

Hamilton thinks that perhaps Walvoord is right in saying that the omission of Dan and Ephraim (which was the name also equated with the northern kingdom of Israel) might be due to idolatry. But it is hard to say for sure.

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, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Some objections are given by the dispensastionalists that these two groups can’t possibly be the same people. One group is described as coming from every tribe and nation and the other is described with a number and as Israelites. But the similarities outweigh the differences. The second group seems to have emerged from the tribulation because they were sealed (which was something mentioned of the first group). It also seems likely that, “on this understanding, just as John heard that Jesus was a Lion in 5:5 and then “saw” Jesus as a Lamb in 5:6, so also John “heard” the number 144,000 in 7:4 and then saw an innumerable multitude in 7:9.”[xxi]

Therefore, John looks and sees something that previously he only heard. If verses 4-8 are representative of the church from across all time, which I believe these are, then verse 9 is the visible representation of what John heard in verses 4-8. And what an amazing thing he saw!

John sees a vast multitude, a very diverse group of people. They seem to be people represented from all the nations of the earth. Their diversity transcends tongue and ethnicity, and their unity is found in that they all have white robes and palm branches in their hands, and they all cry out with a very loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

7:11-12 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.”

The angels, and elders and specifically the four living creatures all agree with the words of the church and say “Amen!”

One of the things that came to mind here was how in Isaiah 6 we are told that “one angel called to another”, that is to say that one of the Seraphim cried out in praise to God to another angel, and as if in agreement they all join together crying “holy, holy, holy” – the trisagion, He is three-times holy. And we see something similar here as well where all of God’s creation is joined together in one mind in praise to God. One group praises God, and the other seeks to echo their praise with praises of their own.

If worship is two parts: one presenting one’s body before the Lord (i.e. Romans 12:1-2), and the second presenting one’s praise before the Lord, then this group has both covered. They “fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God” – but it is not an empty worship of body alone. The body is only part of the worship…

Note now the content of what they are saying about God. They acknowledge these things about and to God:

Blessing – He is the origin of all blessing, for “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Therefore it is right to bless God with our tongues for all He has given to us, and for who He is intrinsically, and that is just what they do here.

Glory – Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory we are told (Hebrews 1:1-3), but what is this glory? The glory of God is defined by John Piper as the visible and outward manifestation of His holiness – it is his holiness “gone public.” But what is being said here is that all glory, that is, all praise for goodness, is due to God. He is the only person who deserves “glory” or to be “glorified” in the truest sense of the word.

Wisdom – This is a more complex praise than it might seem at first. Wisdom is by definition a “right use of knowledge”, and we know that Christ was the very embodiment of wisdom, and that God is the keeper of all wisdom. If God was not wise, then all of His knowledge could be used to terribly ineffective or dangerous ends. But He is wise – Paul calls God the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) in a similar doxological moment. The idea is that the angels and elders acknowledge that to Him alone belongs wisdom. It is like saying, “God only you know all the ends from the beginning, and only you are the right governor of all history and creation, and we would never want it any other way.”

Thanksgiving – Because of these truths we are to be grateful to God for all He has seen fit to do for us. Psalm 118:1 says, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Honor – Honor is specifically a word that I think fits rightly with kingship. Honor is not simply thanksgiving, or gratitude, it is rather paying respect to one who is due respect. That respect is not due only for what that person does or did, but for who they are. On earth we have a tendency to somewhat begrudgingly honor our authorities because they are in a place above us; God has put them there, thus we honor them. But in heaven honor is due to God because of His own intrinsic person and His authority over all things.

Power/Might – I will treat these two together. Though Power might be thought of as an intrinsic quality, whereas “might” in the Bible (at least in my studies) brings to mind God’s power in action. It is by His “might” that the Israelites were led out of Egypt, and so forth. Often the two ideas are held together – as in Ephesians 6:10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength (power) of his might” (insertion mine). I love this because the idea is that God’s power is always used toward the right ends. It is not man’s power, which is used often toward wrong ends. This power of God is ultimate, and it is used in righteousness.

These are the character qualities, the attributes, if you will, that are on the minds and lips of the angels and servants of God. They end the praise by acknowledging the everlasting nature of the kingdom of God and of His person: “be to our God forever and ever!”

7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” [14] 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.

The Explanation of the 144,000

And as if you haven’t figured it out already, the question is asked in verse 13 in a manner that reminds me of a teacher looking to his pupil to make sure they are paying attention. “Who are these people, John? Have you figured it out yet?” John punts, and the explanation is forthcoming, they are the ones who have come out of the “great tribulation.” Furthermore, they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Note that they are coming out of the “great tribulation”, which is to say that they will persevere through all the plagues of the four horsemen who will tear the earth apart until the final judgment of God comes at the return of His Son.

This phrase “great tribulation” is one which the dispensationalists have taken to mean a literal 7 year period of tremendous strife and horror on the earth.

Jim Hamilton, has several pages of solid points refuting this incorrect idea. Let me now read you some of his best excerpts:

Dispensationalist interpreters understand “the great tribulation” to refer to Daniel’s seventieth week (cf. Daniel 9:24-27), the final sever years of human history. I have indicated (in the chapter on Revelation 6-16) that I think Daniel’s seventieth week is the whole period of time between the two comings of Christ. I think this because the New Testament indicates that with the resurrection of Jesus, the last days began.

So the age to come has been inaugurated. The final period of human history, Daniel’s seventieth week, is the whole period between the ascension and the return of Jesus.

This also means that the whole period of time between the ascension and return of Jesus is a period of “tribulation.” Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33, “In the world you will have “tribulation.” Paul told the churches in Acts 14:22, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” In Revelation 1:9 John told the churches that he was their “brother and partner in the tribulation.” Jesus said to the church in Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation,” then told them in 2:10 that they would have tribulation for ten days.

So it seems that the whole period of church history, the time between Jesus’ ascension and return, is a period of tribulation…Right before the end, it does seem that there will be an intense period of persecution at the very end of history. But I think it is a mistake to expect a literal final seven years.

…I think it more likely that John means this as a description of all believers in Jesus. Thus, what John sees and recounts in Revelation is meant to encourage the churches to whom he writes. They are facing tribulation, and John tells them that God seals his servants to preserve them through the tribulation. God makes it so that though they are killed, they will overcome because they will not stop trusting Jesus.[xxii]

Now, the idea of something becoming white by spilling blood on it is nonsensical to the one who interprets these things literalistically. If we were literalists, we would have to say that this is a great mystery and there must be some kind of magic they are using to make their garments white – what are they using? What kind of blood is this anyway that the Lamb has? You may snicker, but you see the point of my hyperbole, do you not? We must interpret that which is metaphor in such a way as we are informed by the context. In the NT the blood of the lamb is said to cleanse us from our sins.

Elsewhere John writes:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

The author of Hebrews alludes to this same truth as well:

…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)

Therefore we must trust that the blood of Christ is that which will cleanse us and shield us from all harm on this earth – it is the blood of His sacrifice which protects our salvation. There seems to be a strong parallel here with 6:9-11. The saints there not only are under the alter (perhaps a symbol of protection from the four horsemen), but they are given white robes (vs. 11) and told to rest a little while longer. So too those here in chapter seven who emerge from the tribulation are given white robes – their garb is the same because they are of the same group, the elect of God.

7:15-17 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. [16] They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [17] 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.”

This promises mirrors that which we find in the end of the book as well. It is a wonderful promise that for those who are God’s elect, He will shelter them and bring them to their final resting place, which will be in a land flows with “springs of living water.” Therefore for those who are parched, God will give ultimate satisfaction. What Jesus gives spiritually now in “living water” we will receive physically later.

Lastly, we are told that God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This perhaps is the most wonderful verse in the entire chapter, because it 1. Acknowledges the tear-inducing struggle we face while we walk upon this earth, and 2. It showcases the tender mercy and love of God for His children.

The all-powerful God of heaven and earth understands your pain and struggle. In fact, He ordained these events in order that as you live through the plagues of the horsemen, you might be refined as gold, a choice stone in the city of God, the New Jerusalem. On that day He will heal your hurt and your scars, and mend all the pain that has caused tears to flow.

The Psalmist knew the truth that for those whose God is the Lord, they are ultimately protected from all the evil on this earth:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. [2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” [3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. [4] He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. [5] You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, [6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. [7] A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. [8] You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. [9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— [10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. [11] For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. [12] On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. [13] You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. [14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. [15] When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91)

Footnotes

[i] Beale’s longer commentary, Pg.’s 404-405.

[ii] Hamilton, Pg. 188. He’s really spot on here. And gives a great introduction, part of which includes a wonderful analysis of the main point of the chapter, which is that, “God is able to seal his servants and protect them from all danger, winning praise from them” (pg. 188).

[iii] There is also a background from Jeremiah 49:36 here. That verse says, “And I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven. And I will scatter them to all those winds, and there shall be no nation to which those driven out of Elam shall not come.” Beale comments in his footnotes on pg. 407 of his longer commentary, “Standing in the same tradition as Zechariah, and therefore possibly also behind Rev. 7:2-3, is Jer. 49:36, where ‘the four winds’ are divine agents of judgment against a nation.”

[iv] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 406.

[v] Ibid. Pg. 409-410.

[vi] Tom Schreiner, NT Theology, Pg. 429.

[vii] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 416.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] It might be noted that Beale offer’s Bauckham’s view as a 5th alternative, but I don’t see it generally as fitting that way, but rather as an enhanced understanding of point 4. Namely, Bauckham says that the 144,000 represent an army of God’s people. The tribal lists, and the census terminology seems to be taken from the OT, and the parallel with 14:1-4 where the 144,000 is spoken of in militaristic terms, seems to only solidify this impression. Far from a separate view, it is a view that supports the figurative number of 144,000 (something Beale himself sees), but adds a dimension of conquering in the same way that the Lamb conquered (cf . Beale pg. 423) by enduring the suffering of the four horsemen.

[x] Steve Gregg, Pg. 133.

[xi] Ibid. Pg.’s 416-417.

[xii] Hendriksen, Pg. 110-111.

[xiii] Ibid. Pg. 111.

[xiv] Tom Schreiner, NT Theology, Pg. 751.

[xv] See Beale Pg. 415 and Greg Pg. 133.

[xvi] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 419.

[xvii] Steve Gregg’s Commentary, Pg. 133.

[xviii] Hendriksen, Pg. 111.

[xix] Beale rightly remarks, “The priority of Judah here emphasizes the precedence of the messianic king from the tribe of Judah and thus refers to a fulfillment of the prophecy in Gen. 49:8 that the eleven other tribes ‘will bow down to’ Judah.” Beale also says that Ezekiel 34:23-25 further develops this motif of Judah being the head of the tribes (pg. 417). Hendriksen also talks about the priority of Judah in his commentary (Pg. 111).

[xx] Hamilton, Pg. 190.

[xxi] Ibid., Pg. 192.

[xxii] Hamilton, Pg.’s 194-195. I still omitted many good things he had to say. He also talks about how the phrase “great tribulation” does not exclusively refer to a final period of difficulty and then quote Rev. 2:22 and discusses that a bit more.

Revelation: An Introduction Part I

This week I have started a study on Sunday mornings in the book of Revelation.  For the first few weeks we’ll be examining the overall picture of the book, and covering some introductory themes.  Below is part 1 of that introduction – I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction and Overview to the Book

Why Study Revelation? 

Revelation can be intimidating. It has taken me several years just to get up the courage to study through it and teach it. Many commentators also note in their respective prefaces how difficult it was to get around to doing this study as well. Pastor Voddie Baucham says that when surveyed, a large denomination of Christians said that Revelation was the book they most wanted to hear preached. That same survey found it was the bottom of the list of books Pastors most wanted to preach![i]

The word “Revelation” or “Apocolypse” holds negative, even scary connotations in our society today. As Warren Wiersbe writes:

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse which, unfortunately, is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. The verb simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book, the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.[ii]

But I have found that in my studies thus far, it is a book that provides great blessing and perspective which can enable a Christian to persevere, and adore Christ above all other things. In fact, those are the two things that I believe makeup the two main themes of the book: Christ’s reign and ultimate victory, and our ultimate triumph with him. The second part – our eventual triumph – is the reality for which we have been called to endure. Therefore the majestic reign of Christ and the call to persevere under tribulation make up the main nexus of John’s writing.

The majestic reign of Christ and His overall splendor permeates the book. He is the Lord of history, the Lord of man and of all created things. The high Christology of Revelation is evident from the first chapter:

…and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:13-18)

He is the first and the last, and the one who is “alive forevermore.” His power and His majesty are evident to all who read the book. No longer are we limited to the motif of the suffering servant, or the profound teachings of the Great Rabboni. Now we are afforded a peak, a glimpse, a view into the fuller person and majesty of Jesus Christ.

Revelation helps us understand the profundity of His cross work, and finality of His sacrifice. It helps us understand that He is sovereign over all things, including time and creation.

I really like what Warren Wiersbe has to say about the proper approach to the book: “When Daniel and John received God’s revelations of the future, both fell down as dead men (Dan. 10:7-10; Rev. 1:17). They were overwhelmed! We need to approach this book as wonderers and worshippers, not as academic students.”

But it is also a book about the saints who are called to endure. William Hendriksen says, “In the main, the purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the militant Church in its struggle against the forces of evil.”[iii]

Followers of the Lamb are to endure until He comes again – that second coming is our great hope. As Hendriksen so beautifully opines:

As we think of the glorious hope of the second coming, our hearts are filled with joy; our souls are consumed with a breathless impatience; our eyes attempt to pierce the dark clouds which veil the future, hoping that the glorious descent of the Son of man may burst upon the view. It is a longing which gushes into word: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come” (22:17).[iv]

John MacArthur points out that this is the only book in the Bible that begins and ends with a blessing. And Doug Kelley puts his finger on the reason I decided to study this book, namely the blessings/benedictions ascribed to those who would take the time to study it.

Kelly splits these into promises and blessings. The benedictions (blessings):[v]

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) (Revelation 16:15)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)

Here are the promises to the saints that Kelly lists:[vi]

  1. God sees their tears (7:17; 21:4)
  2. Their prayers are heard and used to rule the world (8:3-4)
  3. Their death or suffering leads to glory (14:13; 20:4)
  4. Their final victory is assured (15:2)
  5. Their blood will be avenged (6:9; 8:3)
  6. Their Christ lives and reigns forever and is victorious in time and eternity (5:7-8; 21:22)

Clearly this gives us ample motivation to study this wonderful book!

Who wrote this Book?

Most every scholar and theologian believes that the book was written by the apostle John – the one who wrote the gospel of John, and the three epistles named for him. Some hold that perhaps another John wrote the book – a late 1st century prophet with the same name, perhaps. But G.K. Beale (who believes the apostle John is the likely author) says this, “The issue is not important to settle since it does not affect the message of the book. Regardless of which John wrote, the author of the book identifies himself as a prophet (parenthetical references). Therefore, it is probably that John should be socially identified with a group of early Christian itinerant prophets.”[vii] 

William Hendriksen thinks that the evidence for another John having written this book is particularly weak. For instance, he points out, “Surely the very fact that the author of the Apocalypse merely calls himself John indicates that he was very well known, not only in one particular locality but throughout the churches of Asia.”[viii]

Now, there are certainly different styles of grammar and writing between the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John – some say this is enough to believe another man wrote the book. But conservative scholars are not so sure. There are some differences, but there are also many similarities. Hendriksen says, “The similarities are striking. They are to be found even in peculiar grammatical constructions and in characteristic expressions.” His comparative similarities are as follows (for those who want to look them up):[ix]

John 3:36 and Revelation 22:17
John 10:18 and Revelation 2:27
John 20:12 and Revelation 3:4
John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13
John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6 
 

Some of these comparisons are more obvious, others less so. But there are many other similarities. The gospel calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” and the “Logos” and so does Revelation – these are words and phrases that make John’s gospel unique, and here we find the phrase “Lamb of God” used 29 times in Revelation.

Of course the similarities don’t stop with grammar and phraseology. The doctrine is the same in both books. The sovereignty of God, the pre-temporal nature of Christ, the conquering power of the blood of Jesus all form major doctrinal similarities between books.

I especially like the way in which John describes Jesus as pre-temporal in both books. Here are a few examples:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:57-58)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13) 

When was this Book Written?

It is hard to overestimate the importance of discerning when this book of Revelation was written. The reason being that if the book was written prior to A.D. 70, then scholars have reason for believing that some of the things written herein refer to the events that occurred in that fateful year when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and the great Herodian (2nd) temple complex.

G.K. Beale has done a nice job compiling the different historical arguments for both viewpoints, and is worth quoting his summation here below:

The difference of dating could alter the interpretation of the book, since the occasion prompting John to write might be different in each case. The early date is especially important for those viewing the main intention of the book as prophecy of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem: interpreters who hold to the early date generally understand the book primarily as a polemic against apostate Jewish faith. And the early date places many of the book’s descriptions of persecution against the background of Nero’s oppression of Christians in 65 (A.D.).

But if the book was written in the nineties, then it was occasioned by the situation of Christians living under the reign of Domitian, a situation that itself is an issue of debate. The majority maintaining a late date have viewed Domitian as a persecutor of Christians, though a few others recently have viewed his reign in more benevolent terms.

One can in fact affirm the early date or the late date without the main interpretative approach being affected. Under either dating position the book could be understood as a polemic against Rome and especially against compromise with ungodly Roman culture. The early date allows for an anti-Jerusalem focus, but does not demand it.

There are no single arguments that point clearly to the early or the late date. The early date could be right, but the cumulative weight of evidence points to the late date.[x]

Those who are partial (or full) preterists rely on the early date because they see these events in 65 and especially in 70 AD as fulfilling the prophecies of John’s apocalypse. Full preterists even believe the Jesus Himself came back in 70 AD!

I believe the latter date is more likely simply from my own study of church history this past year in seminary. The persecution under Nero was very localized to Rome, and the rest of the church really didn’t feel the pressures as much.

Furthermore, as Beale and others point out, when Pliny (a magistrate/governor of Rome) was trying to figure out what to do with Christians in 113 AD he wrote to Emperor Trajan as there seemed to be no previous law code or judicial or military precedent as to how to deal with them.[xi] 

Furthermore, John uses the term “Babylon” throughout the book, and while some see this as a sort of symbolic name for the “apostate Jerusalem”, Beale rightly (I believe) notes, “John’s use of the name may be the strongest internal evidence for a post-70 date. ‘Babylon refers to Rome in Jewish literature after 70 A.D. and roughly contemporary with the Apocalypse. Jewish commentators called Rome ‘Babylon’ because the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., just as Babylon had done in the sixth century B.C. This use of the name probably influenced John, as did other Jewish traditions.”[xii]

Lastly, it is the testimony of very early Christian authors that this book was written at a later date. Irenaeus, Victorinus, Eusebius, Origen, and possibly Clement of Alexandria as well all believed the book to be written post 70 A.D.[xiii]

Irenaeus’ writings are especially important. In discussing the antichrist’s identify he wrote that, “We will not, however incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the Antichrist; if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him (John) who beheld the Apocalypse. For it was seen not very long ago, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign.”

This is very hard to refute for early daters no matter how much they try and re-translate or offer new ideas about what Ireneaus clearly spoke.

Early daters mention a number of arguments in their favor, from the mention of the “seven mountains” in 17:9, which are supposed to be seven kings of Rome, to the calculation of the number 666 as meaning Nero in the gematria, to Babylon (which we’ve already mentioned). Beale goes through each argument (and several more) and I really don’t find the weight of these arguments convincing.

Therefore, while either date might be correct, it seems like the weight of both the historical and internal arguments on behalf of a later date rule the day.

The Importance of Hermeneutics

It is so important that before we begin our study in this book that we have an understanding of how to interpret what we’re reading. The book of Revelation is classified as what theologians call “apocalyptic literature”, which means that the genre of this writing is not poetry, historical narrative, or epistolary – though it has some elements of the latter form.

R.C. Sproul explains this very well, and its worth quoting him at length here:

The basic principle of biblical interpretation established by the Reformers was literal interpretation, sensus literalis, which means that responsible interpreters of Scripture always interpret the Bible in the sense in which it was written. Poetic literature should be interpreted as poetry, didactic literature should be interpreted as didactic, and so on. A verb remains a verb, a noun remains a noun, a simile is a simile, and a metaphor is a metaphor.

Conversely, the style of interpretation called “literalism” involves applying a wooden interpretation, which does not work well for poetic literature. For example, when the psalmist says that the rivers clap their hands (98:8), we do not take that to mean that rivers somehow grow hands and begin clapping. We do not interpret such poetic images in an overly literalistic way.

When it comes to interpreting prophetic literature, the question is whether the language is figurative or ordinary prose, and there is widespread disagreement about that. Some believe that we must interpret the prophecies of the future literally in order to be faithful to the Bible, but that can lead us in circles.[xiv]

Revelation is a book will need to be interpreted differently than, say, the book of Genesis. We will encounter all manner of symbols, numbers, and visual descriptions that will leave us in awe – and perhaps a little confused, especially if we take the wrong approach to the book. Dennis Johnson rightly says, “The strength of symbolism is vividness, for often a picture is worth a thousand words. The challenge of symbolism, however, is its ambiguity.”[xv]

…to be continued…

Footnotes

[i] Voddie Baucham: http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/sermons/2012-05-introduction-revelation/

[ii] Warren Wiersbe, Commentary on the New Testament (The David Cook two volume set), Revelation, Pg. 1036.

[iii] William Hendriksen, ‘More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation’, Pg. 7.

[iv] Hendriksen, Pg. 8

[v] Douglas F. Kelly, Revelation, A mentor expository commentary, Pg. 21

[vi] Kelly, Pg. 21

[vii] From G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, Pg.’s 35-36

[viii] Hendriksen, Pg. 12

[ix] Hendriksen, Pg. 12 – carries on the discussion onto page 13 as well, and really provides some helpful comparative verses here. Shockingly, he leaves out John 8 which I cite above (it’s one of my favorite examples of Jesus’ pre-temporal existence).

[x] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, Commentary, Pg. 4

[xi] Beale, Pg. 5

[xii] Beale, Pg.’s 18-19

[xiii] Beale, Pg. 19

[xiv] R.C. Sproul, ‘Everyone’s A Theologian;, Pg.’s 310-311

[xv] Johnson’s commentary on Revelation is called, ‘Triumph of the Lamb’ and this quote is found on page 10.

The Joy of Decreasing for the Fame of His Name

Here are some rough notes from a sermon I preached yesterday on John 3:25-36.  I hope you find them edifying!

John 3:25-36

The Joy of Decreasing for the Fame of His Name

 

Outline

  • Introduction
  • The context
  • The Joy of Decreasing
  • The Preeminence of Christ in All things
  • Conclusion

Introduction

I want us all to come away with the realization that as Christians we ought to be continually “decreasing” in order that the fame of Jesus might “increase.” There are by-products of this, and one of them is that we will realize great joy.

The imperative to decrease is fueled by the fact that we, as the bride of Christ, have a bridegroom who is worthy of our devotion, obedience and love.

Read with me the words of John as inspired by the Holy Spirit

The Context

3:25-26 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. [26] And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

So John had this great ministry going here across the Jordan. He was attracting a lot of followers and many of these men began to get concerned when the crowds died down. Soon they learn that they’re not showing up in more because they’re more interested in what Jesus has to say, so they’re following Jesus instead of John.

So John’s disciples are saying, in affect, “Houston we have a problem!”

Oddly enough, we’re presented with the issue in an odd context. The Apostle says that the disciples of John were arguing about purification, and then in verse 26 they seem to move on to a discussion on the ministry of Christ and how people seem to be leaving John’s ministry and going to Jesus’ ministry. So this sort of leaves you scratching your head because you might wonder, “What in the world does purification have to do with anything? And why didn’t they finish talking about the discussion over purification?” It just seems like an odd piece of information to stick in there all by itself.

In order to understand the context, we need to understand what these men were talking about. What is the connection between their discussion of purification and their anxiety over the flourishing of Jesus’ ministry?

I think John Piper is on the right track when he says that perhaps there was a confusion over whether or not John’s baptism was “working” since all these people were getting baptized and then going over to Jesus’ ministry. You have a purification issue John! Or so they seemed to be saying…[i]

You see what was going on here is that people were finding in Jesus the words of life. They were finding peace. The man who would be washing souls for all eternity was attracting a bigger crowd than John.

This man would later say, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev. 3:18).

John doesn’t answer the purification issue directly but rather indirectly, by saying that the bride of Christ will be purified by the bridegroom who is the perfect and spotless sacrificial lamb. The marriage picture is the same – we die for our wives, we love them, we sanctify them by washing them in the Word.

John is going to point them to the fact that it is the bridegroom who purifies the bride – and there is cleansing found in no other avenue.

This is the context for John’s answer…

The Joy of Decreasing

3:27-29 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. [28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ [29] The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

John begins answering them in verse 27 with a rebuke – he’s basically saying, “nothing that is happening now would be happening if it were not in God’s will and if He had not ordained it to be happening.”

It sounds similar to what James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

Note “who stands and hears him” is significant. This is the voice of the Lord. This is the life-giving power of God in audible form. This is the voice that called out “Lazarus!” from the tomb. This is the voice that John had been waiting for!

“No body would be going to Jesus if heaven weren’t giving them to Jesus” Piper says.

Look at how incredibly happy John is that Christ is the one who is getting the glory; it causes him to “rejoice greatly.” Let’s not miss this. He is so happy because his ministry is coming to a close, and that means that Christ’s ministry is about to bloom. Not only is he rejoicing but also his joy is “complete.” John finds his ultimate purpose in his exaltation of Christ. This is what makes him ultimately happy, ultimately joyful.

So this is the key point here: John’s purpose and joy in life now and in the hereafter is inextricably tethered to the fame of Christ’s name.

3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What an amazing statement. Can you say and can I say truly, “He must increase, while I, PJ, must decrease.” It is this decreasing that which is the mechanism that brings him joy.

But what does it mean to “decrease”? I believe it means to value and treasure Jesus’ reputation (fame) and glory over and above our own fame and glory.

John Piper paraphrases John’s statement this way, “When Jesus becomes more in the world and I become less in the world, my joy goes up.” Piper continues by saying that John’s response is “a joyful response to God’s sovereign self-exaltation.”

You see, for John the Baptist, his joy increased as Jesus’ ministry increased. His spiritual joy increased as his own worldly fame and ministry decreased. The more his ministry magnified Jesus, the more joy he was going to have. This is because his identity and happiness was not determined by his own fame and success, but was indivisibly indissolubly bound to Jesus.

In order to give this truth life, John uses the picture of the bride and his bridegroom. The bridegroom was coming – and what could be better for the bride!

I am reminded of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’ because it echoes John’s heart. There is a line in that hymn which calls Jesus the “Dear Desire of every nation” and the “Joy of every longing heart.” That’s what He was for John.

Christian, it is God who who kindles these desires and thoughts of the heart within us. It is a desire inhering within all who have been born of the Spirit and joined to the body of Christ.

Paul expresses it this way:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Therefore our joy is realized now by nature of the hope we have for the future.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:14-18)

Therefore it is the Spirit living in us who testifies to us that we are 1. United to Christ and 2. Have a great hope for the future as heirs of the kingdom of God. And this is what brings us great joy!

Christ Himself understood this joy – that is why He was able to endure the cross and the shame. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…”

Making Christ Central – He is Supremely Valuable

So how do we find real joy – and I mean real happy, thrilled, hair-raising all-satisfying joy – in Christ the way that John is describing here? I would argue that in order for us to find real joy, life-transforming joy in Christ, we must learn to value Christ above all other things. John understood the real value of Christ, and so he eagerly looked for Him and was thrilled that he could “decrease.”

The thinking goes something like this according to Christ, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

For John, everything he had, his entire life was wrapped up in this ministry and now it was leaving him, and what was his response? He was thrilled! Why? Because he had already sold everything, he didn’t want or need followers, he wanted and needed Christ. Christ was the object of supreme value to him. He had found his treasure.[ii]

The Preeminence of Jesus

In light of the Baptist’s statement, we are right to examine what the apostle says about this man he wants to see “increase.” There’s a reason these verses immediately follow the Baptist’s statement.

The Apostle wants us to know that what flowed from John’s mouth was a result of his evaluation of Jesus – his soul comprehended that this teacher was no mere man – He was the supreme ruler of the universe.

John’s words were regulated by his soul’s comprehension of the majesty and authority of Jesus.

We must not miss this. Jesus is the one and only absolute authority in heaven and on earth. His ministry is one of singular supremacy – He reigns over all.

If you are a sinner, lost without Christ, this is a terrifying truth. If you are a Christian, held closely to the bosom of Christ, this is a magnificent truth, it is a beautiful truth – for He is your sovereign. Indeed He is sovereign over all even if those who don’t recognize His reign.

As Abraham Kuyper once famously said, “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Here are 5 ways in which John comprehended the supremacy of Christ…

3:31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.

First: Christ had a Heavenly Origin[iii]

His claim to be divine is at the core of His supremacy. Jesus’ words have a force behind them that ordinary men’s words do not have.

Saying Jesus is “from heaven” and contrasting his origin with those who are from the earth is simply another way of proclaiming His deity. This man is – by His nature – is above all.

This really gets at the nucleus of our religion and why we worship, praise, and trust Jesus. We believe that Jesus was not a normal man.[iv] John’s disciples had not yet come to this realization. John is not simply commending them to a better teacher, he’s not just being humble, he’s saying that he MUST decrease – what else can one do before the King of kings?

3:32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.

Second: Christ Knew the Truth First Hand

Being divine, and having come from heaven, He would have heard the Father’s words first hand. Being both God and man, He understood the will of God for mankind perfectly. He was able to testify to God’s words with perfect accuracy because He was in the presence of God, but also because He was/is God!

Imaging Christ “hearing” testimony of the Father in the midst of a holy Trinitarian conversation in heaven is hard to picture mentally. Our finite minds cannot exactly know how they communicate with one another. These are the kinds of things that men cannot know; they are mysteries far too deep for us to plum.

But being the great Teacher/Rabbi, Jesus spoke in ways that we can comprehend the major concept up to a point where our mental acuity runs out of road.

It was not because of the depth of the truths that men did not receive His testimony, however. Despite His gracious condescension and amazing communication ability, many still did not accept what He had to say and this was because of their sin:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

3:33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.

Third: Christ’s Testimony Always Agreed with God

What John is saying here is that once we agree (“set our seal to” the fact) that God is the very essence of truth, we necessarily have a basis for putting our trust in the testimony of His Son.

If we agree that God is the very embodiment and essence of truth, and we believe that Jesus is His Son, then we should believe everything Jesus says.

In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says…

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

The inverse reality is that if you do not receive the testimony of Jesus, you are by implication calling God a liar:

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. (1 John 5:10)

Therefore you either believe His message, or you believe He is a liar. There is no middle ground.

3:34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

Fourth: Christ Experienced the Power of the Holy Spirit Without Limit

As James Boice points out, some have erroneously thought this passage means that God gives the Spirit to believers without measure, but that is obviously not the case as our own experience bears witness. A few quick reasons of explanation should suffice:

  • It is also preposterous to think that mere humans without the nature of divinity (as Christ had) could possible contain the fullness of the Spirit.
  • If we did have the Spirit without limit, we would see miracle after miracle.
  • Lastly, it’s our experience that in our sinfulness we often live lives not characterized as Spirit-filled. We do not tap into the power of the Spirit nearly as much as one would expect who had the full and unlimited power of the Spirit “without measure.”

This is therefore referring to our Lord, who was divine and given an unlimited power of the Spirit during His time on earth.

John is specifically relating the “words” of Jesus to His having the Spirit without measure. Not only is this the divine God-man, He is full of the Holy Spirit – to such a degree that every word He spoke was not only verifiable in their veracity, but because they passed over His lips were actually the very definition of truth. His words were true, had the power to heal bodies, cast out demons, calm storms, create food ex-nihilo, and forgive the sins of man.

In the greatly “increasing” ministry of Christ, every word spoken was drenched in the righteous truth of the Spirit.

3:35-36 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Fifth: Christ received all Authority from the Father

If Jesus is divine, as we have reasoned from above, then it means that everything He has to say is something we need to be paying attention to. He has all authority.

By way of analogy, when I was a child I think its safe to say that I tested the bounds of authority! One way in which I did this was that from time to time I would ask my one parent for permission to do something, and if they said “no”, I would promptly go and ask the other parent for permission in the hopes of winning the old “divide and conquer” game!

Now, unfortunately what normally happened was that when the parents conferenced with each other my plot would be discovered, and I would be punished. My parents formed a united front. Anything my mom said my dad agreed upon and vise versa. They had the same mind, and there was no disunity between them. I came to learn this quickly!

So it is with the authority of Christ – and so it ought to be with us by way of extension. That is to say that because we are co-regents with Christ, have the mind of Christ, and have the Spirit of Christ, we act on authority not intrinsically inhering within our natural state. Rather our authority is from Jesus. We preach, teach, serve, and love others by the authority and power of Jesus.

John Piper says, “These are breathtaking words. God sent Jesus. Jesus speaks the very words of God. God gives him the Spirit immeasurably—and always has. The Father loves him. The Father has given all things into his hand. So Jesus is the God-sent, God-loved, God-speaking, Spirit-permeated, all-authoritative ruler of all things.”

Finally, in verse 36 we’re informed of the stakes – and they are high…John tells us that whoever believes these things about Christ will reap eternal life.

The word “remains” indicates that the de-facto state of affairs for humanity is to be under the sentence of God’s wrath. Only until that wrath is mediated are we safe.

Do not make the mistake of elevating any other man or ministry above the supreme Son of God. You have no other means by which you can pacify God’s wrath. John is saying that the Son has such authority that only belief in Him and His word will save you from everlasting condemnation.

In Conclusion

You may have heard military leaders talk about “proportional response” – it is a phrase that carries a somewhat subjective sense of justice, but the idea is that when attacked or provoked by an enemy, the response ought to be “proportional” to that attack. That is the moral guidance Generals in the Army or Air Force use with political leader to make judgments about the appropriateness of their counterattacks during a war.

However, human relationships with God are marked by disproportionality. God has lavished upon us what we cannot – even if we wished – repay with good behavior.

The most appropriate response in light of His work in our lives is to decrease. For John, the greater the fame of Jesus, the greater his own joy. John’s example is that of a man whose identity in life is intrinsically tied to the greatness of Jesus.

What is Jesus’ by right is John’s (and ours) by association.

John shows us how foolish it is to compare oneself or hold one’s self up in competition to Jesus. This man is above all! And to drive home the point, he gives us little glimpses into who this Bridegroom is.

  1. If you object, then understand this – this Jesus is the One who holds all things in his hand. This isn’t another teacher. This is the one who holds eternal a life in his hands (vs 36). Bristling under the weighty thought of surrender to His Lordship invites a realization of wrath. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting life; embracing Jesus is to invite eternal life and joy. There are no other scenarios in which joy can be truly realized.
  2. If you are a Christian, that means you are part of “the bride of Christ.” The bride’s joy is unalterably connected with the bridegroom, who is Christ. The more we diminish as we magnify His name, the more joy and satisfaction we will have.

I believe we can find true joy in life now and in the hereafter as we decrease, and He increases. We have a supreme Lord who is worthy of our obedient devotion. He is preeminent in ALL things. He is the creator of all things. He is the sustainer of all things, and He chooses whom He will save by His own power, for His own pleasure, and unto His own glory.

Praise God that we are united to such a benevolent Bridegroom!

Let us close in a prayer of adoration for who He is…

Endnotes

[i] Piper says that there are parallels between this and what John writes in Rev. 21:9 which says in the latter part of the verse (an angel speaking to John), “‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’” The church will experience the purification work of the perfect Lamb. Piper also cites Ephesians 5:25-27 which says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

[ii] There are some really practical applications here. You may have found Jesus but may not be recognizing the fact that He is the only thing that truly valuable to you. Oh sure, intellectually you understand that because it’s in the Bible that Jesus is good, and because He saved you and you’re a Christian and so on. But is your life designed and structured around the fact that Jesus is THE most valuable thing in your life. Have you sold off everything that gets between you and Christ? Have do done everything to grasp that pearl of great price? Or are you still reaching for the world’s brass ring? When we internalize this truth and apply His supreme value to every aspect of our lives, we realize very quickly that we are idolatrous people. We have lost our first love (Rev. 2:4).

Christ’s value in our lives is brought home to us by the remembrance of His suffering and of His victory over the grave. I hope that we let these truths change us so that when we encounter people fleeing us, and life’s pleasantries falling away, we can still say with John, “this joy of mine is now complete!”

[iii] It was John MacArthur’s own notes that convinced me that these final verses in chapter three scream loudly of the preeminence of Christ. Therefore I used Dr. MacArthur’s subheadings with my own exposition under each one.

[iv] Only an “ego-maniac” would make the claims Jesus did. And surely He would be, if He did not have the right to claim the things He did about Himself. This is something that every non-believer must be confronted with, and it’s the same question that Jesus put to Peter “who do you say I am?” Your response to that question will reveal whether or not you will spend eternal life with Christ or not. Similar claims led C.S. Lewis to famously say:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”[iv]

Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Sunday evening I had the opportunity to deliver a short sermon on Hebrews 10:23-25 which was aimed at encouraging the church toward having an eternal perspective and how that perspective, along with the indicative of what Christ has done and who He is, ought to govern how we behave amongst the elect.  I hope you find these notes engaging and encouraging!

PJW

Hebrews 10:23-25

Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.
  2. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things:
    1. Stirring each other up to love and good works
    2. Meeting together regularly
    3. Encouraging one another
  3. Conclusion: Perspective is everything
  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.

Hold Fast

We’re told here in verse 23 to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” He expresses the command in both positive (hold fast) and a negative (without wavering) terms.

What does it mean to “hold fast to the confession of our hope”?

In this passage, as in the rest of the book of Hebrews, the author’s words are dripping with eschatological richness. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that he always has the future in mind. Furthermore, he sees how Christ’s past work solidifies our future, and guides our present life. That is why he uses the word “hope” here. He is pointing us toward a future time when our hope will be realized.

This hope is ours now – otherwise it would not have made sense for him to tell us to hold fast to it – yet it will not be realized until the Lord returns.

This confession is our profession of faith in Christ and our identification with Him, and the entailment of riches that come to us by means of that confession.

As Calvin says, hope is the child of faith and “it is fed and sustained by faith to the end” (Hughes, pg. 414).

Therefore, we don’t simply confess His Lordship; we confess the hope we have because of His Lordship. Being a Christian comes with great cost, but it also comes with great reward. That reward is packed into the word “hope.”

What does it mean to not “waver”?

John Owen tells us that this generally means that our confession, our lives, must be “immovable and constant” and gives us four different ways in which we must not waver:

  1. No halting (going back and forth) between two opinions as the Israelites did between God an Baal. We must not waiver and be tossed back and forth doctrinally for convenience sake.
  2. No giving in to weakness and irresolution of mind when we encounter difficulties and trials.
  3. No yielding doctrinally or in worship to opinions which do not comport with our professed faith.
  4. No apostasy from the truth of the gospel.

The Imperative is Grounded in the Indicative

Now I want us to learn some theological grammar this evening. Let us note that in this first verse the apostle commands us to do one thing, and not do another thing, as we have just examined. We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” That command is called an “imperative.” When we tell someone to do something, we’re using the “imperative.”

But there is something sweet about living in the New Covenant and that is that as you read the New Testament you will notice that these commands, these “imperatives”, are always grounded in finished work of Christ.

When we talk about the finished work of Christ, and His character and Spirit and so forth, we are using phrasing that falls into another category, the “indicative.”

An easy way to remember this is that the indicative “indicates what Christ has done, what He is doing, and who He is.” At least that’s my theological shorthand!

So putting it all together: when we say that “the imperative is grounded in the indicative” we are saying that the commands we are given as Christians are always given in light of the finished work of Christ and His continuing work within us.

He is the rock upon which we rest our hope, and He is the one who is faithfully working within us to build His church. He is faithful therefore enabling US to be faithful.

Perhaps the most classic example of this is found in Philippians 2 where we read:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

In one breath Paul calls them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and in the very same sentence tells that that it’s God who is doing the work within them!

We find the same thing here in Hebrews 10.

We are commanded to “hold fast” to our confession, but this obedience, this work of continuing to “hold fast” is made possible only by the faithful work of Jesus in our lives.

Therefore our foundation for obedience is the faithfulness of Christ Himself.

  1. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things: Stirring each other to love and good works, meeting together regularly, and encouraging one another.

Stirring each other up to love and good works

This “stirring” requires an intentional mindset toward interacting with one another. Not just “I’m going to say hi to him today.” But more along the lines of, “I want to find out how to encourage him today, to spur him/her on!”

In order to do this there is an unspoken prerequisite: you have to actually know each other well enough that you can do this is a meaningful way!

If you don’t know the needs, hurts, goal, desires of the men and women sitting in the pew next to you then you won’t be very good at stirring them up toward love and good works will you!

Secondly, before you can stir someone to love you must first stir with love. In other words, you can’t be much of encourager if your words aren’t governed by love. Paul said it best:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Meeting together regularly

The next thing we’re told to do is to “meet together regularly” – something we’re doing right now! But you know, there are some folks who fall into the trap of thinking that the don’t need to come to church because they’re already saved, and doing just fine on their own. They have their fire insurance.

In fact, there are some who are good Christians – using that term loosely – and they will tell you that they don’t need to attend church or Bible studies all the time because they read the Word on their own.

Philip Hughes accurately describes the problem here:

Selfishness and divisiveness go hand in hand; for self-love breed the spirit of isolationism. He who does not love his fellow Christians fervently from the heart (1 Peter 1:22) feels no compelling need to associate himself with them. Indeed, the genuineness of the Christian profession of a man in this state must be seriously suspect, for those who are one in Christ cannot help loving one another.

When Martin Luther sat down to translate the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into his native tongue – the common vernacular that everyone could read – there were some well-meaning friends of his who said this could be a major problem. And he didn’t rebuke them, in fact he agreed. But continued on because he believed that the blessings brought by the principle of private interpretation (the idea that every child of God should have access to the Word of God), were worth the risk of that principle being abused.

In isolation and without guidance wiser men of God, people come to all kinds of wacky conclusions about what God’s Word is saying. We need to have God’s shepherds guide us through His Word and fellow believers correct our misguided ideas sometimes.

Furthermore, in isolation we cannot serve each other or the poor in our community, we cannot worship God together, and we cannot enjoy the Lord’s table together and much more. Lone-wolf Christianity is foreign to the pages of Scripture.

It is vital – absolutely vital – that we meet together “regularly.”

Encouraging one another

When we meet together what is it that we should do? Well the author has an idea on that as well! We’re to “encourage one another.”

You know what this rules out? Slander and gossip. This is easy to do – especially with prayer requests. When we are such a close knit group, its frighteningly easy to throw each other under the proverbial bus, or talk rudely or insensitively about those whom we will spend eternity.

My Sunday School class took this into consideration early on in its formation. We wanted to be able to share prayer requests with each other, and yet we wanted to guard against slander and gossip. So at the end of our weekly prayer request email we’ve always included the following statement:

Please remember that as we share our prayers with one another, we do so because we are family, and we have the desire to lift each other up to our Father, and because we believe that our prayers are delightful to Him and He delights in listening to them and working powerfully through them. Please take our prayer emails as opportunities to enter into the presence of God on behalf of another person with whom you will be spending eternity. They are, quite literally, your family.  Please treat them as such, and avoid slander or gossip. Take your thoughts captive for Jesus Christ, and magnify the name of our great God and Father!

This is far from being the end-all-be-all solution, but it strikes a chord with folks and sets a tone. We need to remember who we’re talking about – these are brothers and sisters who we will spend eternity with.

In that vein, let’s read the final verse and conclude…

3. Conclusion: Perspective is Everything. We are doing all of these things “all the more as (we) see the Day drawing near.”

As Christians we need to have a sense of eternity. Our perspective needs to be calibrated through the lenses of Christ’s eyes. We have to have the “mind of Christ.” We know these things, we’ve heard the truths, but how often do we govern our actions based on a timeline that doesn’t end at 5pm on Friday? We section off our lives based on the calendar on our iPhones, instead of the eternal lifespan ahead of us.

How much easier would it be to share the gospel, stir each other up, encourage each other, and meet together if we governed our attitudes about such things based on a timeline that didn’t end at the beginning of the school year, or the end of the weekend (etc.)?

Christians ought to behave different because they have a different perspective. That is what the author of Hebrews is saying. Perspective rules our lives.

One of the things that fascinates me about the Biblical accounts of angels is their perspective.

We meet one such example when Gabriel visits Zachariah in the temple and tells him about how his wife Elizabeth is going to bear a child he is aghast at Zachariah’s reaction – unbelief. Here’s how he responds:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Gabriel is saying “I was JUST in heaven before God’s throne. He’s gives me this message and you don’t believe me??? I mean, I was JUST there – in heaven – in the throne room!”

Christ’s perspective is also infinite. Listen to the account of when Jesus had risen from the grave and Mary mistook Him for the gardener:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

It isn’t as though He is curious about the reason for her crying (see Gerhardus Vos sermon ‘Rabboni’). No. It’s that He’s just come from a party in heaven and what He encounters here is so out of step with reality that He’s taken aback! It’s as He’s saying, “Why in the world are you crying? It’s time to celebrate!”

These reactions are governed by a reality that we must apprehend by faith for the present time.

Therefore, we must behave, think, feel, and talk in such a way that takes into account the “Day of the Lord.”

Those thoughts, feelings, and speech must all be taken captive to the truth – the reality – of a perspective governed by an eternal timeframe.

Let us leave here with that perspective – this is just the start! Life is eternal! I will know each of you FOREVER! We will rule over this earth together FOREVER! How does that change your week, your day, your evening? And how does it change the way you interact with and speak about those here in the church?

Let us bear in mind the truth of what R.C. Sproul is prone to say, “Right now counts forever.”

Let’s pray…

Suffering and Hope

About a year ago I wrote a blog post called ‘suffering yields hope’, and today I get to take the text from that post (Romans 5:1-5) and preach a sermon based on that text.  I’ll be using some of the thoughts I had a year ago when I posted those thoughts, but below are my expanded notes on the matter.  In this particular text Paul is examining how hope is sparked (to use Tom Schreiner’s vocab) through adversity.  This is an odd thing for the saint to proclaim upon first blush, but as you look deeper into the text it makes a great deal of sense – at least “for those who have eyes to see.”

I pray you profit by the notes, and by this look at how suffering produces in us character and endurance – not in a vacuum, but by the powerful work of God’s Spirit within us.

PJW

Suffering Yields Hope: A look at Romans 5:3-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

My thesis is that we Christians can have joy because of both the finished work of Christ, AND because of the unfinished working of God in our lives through trials. The first was accomplished through suffering, and so is the second, and tonight I want to explore how trials work to bring us joy.

From a personal perspective, this passage means a great deal to me. About a year ago my wife Kate and I began memorizing the first five verses in chapter five as a sort of faith response to some adversity we were working through.

I had lost my job and was in the nascent stages of a trying to figure what the future held for my family and my career. As Katie and I memorized and talked about the passage together, we began to see how God could use our trial to refine and even bless us more than we could have imagined at the time.

My sermon notes were born from a blog post I hammered out on my iPhone in a café in Old Town Alexandria. It was one of the most discouraging trips to the Washington DC area in recent memory, and in the midst of trying to refresh some old connections, I stopped between meetings and contemplated what this passage really meant.

Like Jacob, I was wrestling with God. I needed to know that my pain was more than simply an accident, more than just a cosmic mix up.   What I learned to do was trust in the word of God. To believe God and to bank on His promises and believe there is really hope for tomorrow. That’s what this passage is all about – promises and a hope born out of adversity, refined by pain, and sealed by the Spirit of God who is our down payment on that hope until the day Christ returns. Before we look at the passage let’s ask God for His blessing upon our evening.

Background of Justification

I’m going to focus tonight on Verses 3-5, but first we need to understand the foundation upon which Paul builds his case for hope:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Paul has spent the last chapter (four) arguing that Abraham was justified by faith and that this same faith that justified Abraham is what makes us right with God as well.

The result of this justification – this right relationship with God – is peace with God. John Stott says, “The pursuit of peace is a universal human obsession, whether it is international, industrial, domestic, or personal peace. Yet more fundamental than all these is peace with God, the reconciled relationship with him which is the first blessing of justification.

Abraham had faith in the future work of Christ, whereas we have faith in the finished work of Christ. It is this faith in Christ’s bloody cross-work that brings us peace with God. As Paul says elsewhere:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16 ESV)

So Paul is describing the result of this reconciled relationship with God – and the result is peace and hope. That hope is “in the glory of God.” That is to say, that we rejoice in the fact that one day we will inherit the great result of a relationship with God – eternal life in His presence, amidst His glory.

This is point one – we have joy in the hope of future glory because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.

Yet there is something missing isn’t there? All of the language employed by Paul indicates that there is peace with God now, and yet we still do not have realized peace in every area of our lives. There is a tension that every Christian faces between what is realized here in this life, and what will be enjoyed in the life to come – this is known as the “already/not yet.

It is the reality of this tension that leads Paul to explain to us that the hope we have through trials is grounded in the reality, both seen and unseen, of what Christ has accomplished through His reconciling work on the cross. But hope is also found in His subsequent work within us through the Holy Spirit which leads to His glory and our assurance.

Paul, who is a master at anticipating our doubt and cutting it off at the knees, goes on to explain these great truths and how they work themselves out. Having laid a foundation for how the gospel of Christ’s work brings us peace, he expands upon the thought…

Rejoicing in Sufferings and the Sequence of Joy

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

As I was examining this verse – verse 3 – a year ago during my own trials, I’ll admit that Paul’s words “we rejoice in our sufferings” seemed far from my own present reality. His writing didn’t match my attitude. But as is so often the case, God’s word corrected my attitude, and as I read through Paul’s reasoning I began to realize that there is a process in all of this – a sequence of events. God wasn’t going to grant me a sudden intellectual understanding that would zap my emotions and heart and that would be it. I had to live it, and work through it over time.[i]

I had to trust that this was the way He worked and that He was meticulously sovereign over the circumstances in my life. Most of us believe God is sovereign over all things, do we not? But do you believe that He is meticulously sovereign? Do you believe that His hand is in everything – allowing the evil and the good in your life as a means of refining you?

Well this is what Paul believed – Romans 8:28 ought to be a dead give away there. Here in chapter five Paul gives a detailed explanation as to why it is that as Christians we can expect an even greater hope from sufferings and it involves a sequence of refinement.

1. Suffering Produces Endurance

Tom Schreiner says, “Those who undergo troubles are toughened up, so that they are able to withstand the storms of life.”

And Paul was no stranger to these storms; he was writing from experience. In 2 Corinthians 11 we read this:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 ESV)

Yet through this Paul saw what trials yielded: Joy and Hope. Hope begets joy and the Spirit affirms (Rom. 8:16) that we are right to hope – he whispers to us that we won’t be disappointed in what our Father has planned for us!

Think about that closely and it makes sense. If you’ve been going through the exercise of running, you will gradually gain more and more endurance. The more you run, the longer you can run, the farther you can run, and what seemed like a difficult objective two months ago, is really a piece of cake today – you’ve built up endurance.

2. Suffering Produces Character

The same is true of character. As you run this race of life, and your endurance is built up, you will develop maturity. This is true of any human being, but it is also true of our spiritual lives as Christians. We develop a depth of maturity when we have endured many seasons of difficulty. We’ve been there. We know what to expect, and our minds are prepared. We have character – worn from years of first hand experience.

As John Stott says, “…if suffering leads to glory in the end, it leads to maturity meanwhile.”

God uses trials to produce character. The word here in the Greek is Dokime (dock-ee-may) and it’s the quality of a person who has been tested and has passed the test.[ii]

It is perhaps the most painfully ironic thing about life that human beings learn more from pain and testing than we do from blessing and easy times. We shouldn’t be surprised when our heavenly Father uses trials to create within us a character that leans on Him, and is more like His Son Jesus.

It is the testimony of history that those saints who have gone through the toughest trials have long endured as men and women of great character. Of course I have already mentioned Paul as our example, and we know Christ is our ultimate example, but there are scores of others throughout church history who have found themselves refined and built up in their faith by the trials God allowed to come their way. The testimony of history is so pervasive with this theme that many years ago John Foxe was compelled to document how Christian martyrs had died in the faith with great joy and zeal for their Lord.

When we have trial-refined character we see things like these men and women who died for their faith saw them. They learned to prize what is truly valuable above all the things of this life – their perspective was eternal and it was based in reality and work that Christ had accomplished on the cross and in their lives.

3. Suffering Produces Hope

As we build character hope is sparked. Character begets hope because the man or woman with character is wise; they have knowledge combined with wisdom and therefore know where to place their confidence. They’ve seen life’s transient and fleeting nature, and they know what the real stuff of life consists of (so to speak).

This long view is more than earthly wisdom earned by grey hairs, it’s spiritual wisdom banked by miles of suffering and character forming. It’s the experience of the Potter’s clay who (personified) looks down on the shop floor with knowing glances at the discarded mud that used to hang upon its/his ever winnowed cylindrical frame.

Schreiner rightly says, “Why does tested character spark hope? Because moral transformation constitutes evidence that one has really been changed by God. Thus it assures believers that the hope of future glory is not an illusion. There is a pattern of growth in the here and now, however imperfect, that indicates that we are changing. Believers, then, become assured that the process that God has begun he will complete (1 Cor. 1:8; Phil. 1:6).”

Not Put to Shame

As we go through this sequence of refinement, it is God’s love poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that witnesses to us, so to speak, that these trials are for a reason – a purpose.

This is point 2 of my thesis – that this internal witness of God’s love in our hearts is what causes us not be put to shame and to have hope through suffering. Therefore (as Stott says) “suffering is the best context in which to become assured of God’s love.”

“…the Spirit has the unique ministry of filling believers with the love of God. What Paul refers to here is the dynamic experience of the Spirit in one’s life.”[iii]

This is such an intangible thing isn’t it? I mean, how do you explain to an unbeliever that you know God’s working these things to your good? Obviously you point them to Scripture, but it’s hard to explain to them that when you read these Scriptures there’s an internal assurance going on. The Spirit is reassuring your heart and God’s love is made manifest to you in such a clear way that its simply undeniable that what is going on in your life is happening for a good reason.

As Stott rightly says, “what the Holy Spirit does is to make us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us. It is very similar to Paul’s later statement that ‘the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (8:16). There is little if any appreciable difference between being assured of God’s fatherhood and of his love.”[iv]

So while Christ’s finished work on the cross is our bedrock reality, and the great truth upon which our lives and future lives are built, God still has a plan for our refinement here in this life. That is what this sequence is all about. Paul is showing that we can have joy both because of what God has done in Christ, and also what God is doing through the Spirit in us now. For this reason we are not put to shame.

Now some might interject that hope can only be gained amidst trials if we respond correctly to trials. That is probably correct. However, God is working in us to help us do just that. He is working out His will within us and that’s why the link here with Romans 8 is so important and why we need to lean heavily on God during trials – indeed that is a great deal of what trials are meant to make us do. Therefore, we need to remember three key truths about this refinement process:

  1. That God is working for His good pleasure and is invested in this process of our life’s pains and trials

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

  1. That God is powerful enough to finish what He started

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. [31] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28-31 ESV)

  1. That Jesus Himself suffered and saw joy through the agony and shame

We can look at Jesus, our supreme example, to see how He endured trials because of the hope He had – a well founded hope – that God would justify Him in His work. Listen to what Hebrews says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

And Jesus was justified in His hope was He not? Paul certainly believes He was because of the resurrection. The resurrection confirmed that Jesus’ hopes were not in vain. And because we are united with Christ spiritually, we have reason for the same hope He had. Consider Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5 ESV)

Jesus set for us not only the example of suffering, but of how to suffer: in joyful hope for a future not be worthy to be compared to this present age.

Conclusion

Therefore, the internal testimony of the Spirit, and the love God has shed abroad in our hearts, combined with the truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross, ought to give us ample reason for joy and for hope in this life.

As Christians, we look back (to the cross) we have hope. We look around us now (at our trials) we have hope. We look ahead (to Christ’s return) to the future, we have hope.

How many of us here will be spending some time – maybe a lot of time – in the hospital in coming days? How many of us will deal with sickness? How many of us will deal with job loss or financial difficulty? How many of us will have strife in relationships?

My guess is that the answer to all of these questions is that all of us will be dealing with these things because that is the life we’re promised. We’re not promised to have it easy when we become a Christian. The Christian life is a life of joy through adversity, not life without trouble.

God is calling us to believe in His promises, and to ground our hopes and our attitudes in the reality of His finished work on the cross, and the work He’s doing in our lives as evidenced by His love poured out through the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us.

The consequences of this are vast. It means that sickness and death and financial ruin are cause for great joy. That’s right – great joy! These are signs of adoption, “God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12).   The real question we need to ask ourselves tonight is whether our attitudes reflect the reality of these truths. If you are a Christian and you are bitter about your circumstances then I urge you to repent of that bitterness and see that God is working in you to refine you and build your character in order to make you more like His Son.

If you are not a Christian, then this must seem completely foreign to you and probably a little strange. To think that the worst things in life can actually be turned on their heads in order to signify great blessing just isn’t a normal way of thinking about life – but that’s what Christ has done. He has turned the world upside down (Acts) and confounded the wisdom of the wise of this age. If you are not a believer in Christ, if you have not put your full faith and trust in His work on the cross, then you are still estranged from God and His wrath abides on you. You do not have peace with God, and the promises of peace and real joy in this lifetime and in the life to come are not yours…but they can be.

“Since Jesus is the Son of God…God’s saving promises are fulfilled only in Jesus and in knowing Jesus as the Son of God.”[v] Lay aside your pride and trust in Christ. Submit to His Lordship and repent of your sin – He is calling you to follow Him and to a life of abundant joy. Call upon His name and be saved.

 

 

 

[i] I like what Wiersbe says, “Justification is no escape from the trials of life…No amount of suffering can separate us from the Lord; instead trials bring us closer to the Lord and make us more like the Lord.”

[ii] John Stott, commentary on romans, page 142.

[iii] Schreiner, Commentary on Romans, page 257. He also quotes from Edwards here on how when the Spirit communicates God’s love, he’s basically communicating himself (I assume he means his character because of the doctrine of simplicity of God — God is love).

[iv] John Stott, Commentary on Romans, page 143.

[v] Tom Schreiner’s NT Biblical theology, chapter 7, pg. 233. This statement actually comes from the context of describing who Jesus is in relation to Johannine titles (the I Am and “logos” etc.) and how it is in knowing Jesus himself that is the key – the saving key, as it were – to being a part of/recipient of God’s promises (to Abraham and those who trust in what Jesus said). I enjoyed adding this quote because how often do we think of quoting a scholarly work when giving an invitation! Ha! The idea just made me chuckle – yet isn’t it true that it is the theology – when correctly understood – leads us to a right understanding of who God is? And that is the call here – for a right understanding of who Jesus is and for us to be reconciled to Him.

Study Notes 10-20-13: John 14:13-14

Whatever you Ask, I will Give
John 14:13-14
 

14:13-14 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [14] If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

The Heart of Jesus for His Sheep

This is one of the most comforting verses in all of Scripture. It speaks to the mind of Christ for His sheep. He cares about us; He is our advocate in heaven. Ridderbos says the focus on this section is “the progress of Jesus’ work and the involvement of his disciples in it, as well as doing this work and keeping his commandments, the assistance of the Spirit as the ‘other Paraclete’, and Jesus’ ongoing fellowship with is own.”

Christ begins by emphasizing in verse 13 that whatever we ask and need while He is “away” He will grant us.  He wants us to know that we will be fully equipped if we ask for the resources He gives. He’s speaking most especially, in this context, of spiritual resources. The disciples here aren’t concerned with material blessings, but with the presence of their master. Jesus wants them and us to know that though He is going away, He will still be with us, He will see our trouble, our needs, and He wants them and us to know that we can come to Him with our troubles. This is the universal teaching of the New Testament. Christ pleads for us to come to Him with our desires, needs, and cares. The author of Hebrews reminds us of this, and says:

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

Paul also says:

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:11-12)

And Christ says in Matthew’s gospel:

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:18-20)

Note especially that what He is promises in this Matthew passage is His presence.  All of these things can be done because He is here with us. We can do “greater works” (vs. 12) because He is the one here manifesting His power through us to spread the gospel. Therefore His being here is the key, and we’ll talk more about that and we are to understand this clearly in the verses to come.

Whatever We Want?

As we examine the specific nature of what Jesus is saying here, it is impossible to miss the fact that Jesus says that He will give us “whatever” and “anything” we ask of Him. Those statements seem pretty wide open, don’t they! In fact, it’s statements like these that lead immature believers to assume that they can just waltz into the throne room of the Most High and order whatever happens to be on the menu of their heart at the time. Of course all the while claiming this promise, and fully expecting their demands to be met.

After all Jesus says here just “name it and claim it” right?

Then they are disappointed that their requests are not answered. What’s worse, they chastise other believers who try to correct them on their misunderstanding of the promise. They say, “You just don’t have enough faith!  Don’t be such a hater. Jesus promises this so I’m claiming it – you just don’t have the faith necessary, so don’t hate on me for asking of the desires of my heart!”

In fact, many people take this a step further into the extremely inane and silly by posting “blessings” on Facebook, Twitter and via email.  The thought is that if you tweet, forward, or repost these “blessing” messages that you will be blessed. These messages often make great claims that cannot be substantiated. One such message I read recently said this:

REPOST:

Please read this…Not Joking…

God has seen you struggling with something. God says it’s over! A blessing is coming your way. If you believe in God, send/post this message on and please don’t ignore it, you are being tested. God is going to fix two big things tonight in your favor. If you believe in God, drop everything and pass this on.

Now where in the world do things like this come from? From the pit of Hell. Let me explain why using this, rather typical message, as an example.

Note that the message above claims that God will “fix two big things tonight in your favor.”  It presupposes that the person posting has the power (not merely the faith) to assert that God is going to “fix” these things (whatever that may mean). Of course this will ONLY happen if you repost the message. As if God wants to see that you love Him by reposting this error-filled tripe. The arrogance of these little blessing messages can easily be missed. This one even claims that God will “fix” specifically TWO things “in your favor” – which presupposes that by reposting, your subjective opinions and desires will be immediately bowed to by the God of the universe. He will see your post, and immediately snap into action!

This isn’t new my friends. This is superstition masquerading as true spirituality, and it preys on the uneducated and easily manipulated. The fool in his folly not only reposts, but chastises others for correcting his idolatry! This same superstitiousness was used in the medieval ages to manipulate the uneducated poorer classes to support crusades, despotic and evil popes, corrupt kings, and twisting of church doctrine until it was used to justify every wish of those in power.

And what is worse, we commonly wink at this. We let it go. We see someone we know posting it, and don’t say anything. For those who do stand up and correct a brother or sister, be warned, there will be consequences. There will be backlash. Superstitious, uneducated foolishness parading as Christianity is Satanic. Period.

As we examine how to correctly understand the passage, it will become clear why this is such a distortion of the passage, and how Christ expects us to understand fellowship with Him.

How to Rightly Understand this Passage

First, I want to remind us that these great promises of Christ are not new in the sense that they are tied to His character, for God has always been desirous that we have a heart which mirrors His. In fact, we are reminded of how closely aligned with Christ’s words are those from Psalm 37:4-5, which says:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
 

That verse first says “take delight in the Lord” and the consequence of this is that he will give us the desires of our hearts – in other words, he will give us Himself if we first are delighting in Him, because it is presupposed that the delight of our heart and its chief desire is “the Lord.” Therefore, He will bless us with our greatest desires when those desires match His!

For more evidence of this, look at what John says in his first epistle:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:21-22)

We’ll speak more to this keeping of the commandments a little later on, but note that we have confidence to ask “whatever” we need and know He will give us these requests if we are keeping His commandments – we keep His commandments if we are walking in the Spirit. If we are acting this way and in this mindset then necessarily what will occur is that we will be asking for things that accord with His will.

Now turning back to the passage in John 14…we cannot isolate this from verse 12, which says that we will do “greater” works than what Christ did on earth. It is in the context of Christ carrying out His work in us that He gives us the reassurance of His fellowship with us. The idea is that as we are doing His works, not greater in power but in number, He is the one working through us.  If we need help (and we do), then we are to come before His throne to ask for that help.

Furthermore, Jesus says here that he will give us what we ask in order that “the father may be glorified in the son.” This statement qualifies our requests – it shows us the purpose for the request.  Jesus is saying that the whole purpose of Him giving you “anything” or “whatever” you ask is that the Father might be glorified!

This happens in the following ways:

  1. When we ask for things in the name of the Son the Father is glorified in the lordship of the Son, because this lordship exhibits our desire to please Him, and mirrors the relationship that the Father and the Son have together. In other words, the Father is glorified in the Son because Christ is glorified in us. The Trinitarian relationship is made manifest, and it reflects back the Father’s own glory (Heb. 1:3).
  2. The Father is glorified in the Son because when the Son answers our requests He exhibits his power, mercy, grace, kindness and love – all of which are character qualities shared with the Father. Therefore, by His acts of love on our behalf, the Son exhibits the heart of the Father.
  3. The Father is specifically glorified in the Son because “whatever” He grants will be in accordance with the “greater works” (vs. 12) of the Son. In other words, when we ask for “whatever” we need, it is in the context of verse 12 and doing His works, which is to say that we are asking for His help to do His work. We are basically bowing before Jesus and saying, “this is Your work Lord, give us help to do this work of Yours.” The Father is glorified in this because it is the Son doing the work and it magnifies the Son’s work and the Father’s plan and character as (again) mirrored in the Son and His creation (us).

In sum, when the Son is glorified, the Father is glorified because the Son acts according to what he knows will delight His Father. The Father’s supreme plan and headship over all things is brought to glorious revelation before his creation and within the Trinity itself when the Son acts on behalf of his creation.

Ridderbos affirms this view, and though these comments are extensive, I think they are right on point, and worth soaking in:

…the saying here is not intended as an unconditional pledge that every believing prayer, of whatever content, will be heard. The saying must be understood in immediate connection with what precedes: it ties in with ‘for I go to the Father’ and explains the ‘for’ by suggesting that from his position in heaven Jesus will do whatever the disciples ask with a view to the glorification of the Father in the Son. This saying must always, in fact, be understood anew in this context, with regard to both what Jesus’ disciples may ask of him, the Exalted One, and what they may expect as answers in this earthly dispensation. The main point is that by putting so much stress here an in what follows on prayer in his name, Jesus is pledging to his disciples that he is not withdrawing from them by his departure but will be able, because of his heavenly glory, to give them everything they will need for the continuation of his work on earth, and he refers them to prayer as the way of his continuing fellowship with them.

Therefore, the Son would never grant us “anything” that did not conform to His ultimate desires and plan for our lives. He will not just give us “whatever” if “whatever” does not first conform to His plan for us. In fact, we must admit that there are times that the Son give us things we do not want in order to prepare us for the thing we want most, namely Himself and heaven. So that in all things the Son is acting on our behalf and for our best interests, even when we stray from asking the things that accord perfectly with His will. This is why, by the way, it is so very important that Christ be fully divine and fully God.  He must know all things because if He didn’t know all things, then our theology would be mangled, and our hope would be in ourselves rather than in Christ’s omniscient all-powerful guiding hand.

When we replace superstition for true spirituality, we replace Scripture with myth and exchange Christ’s authority for a false authority (for there is no other true authority in the universe, only pretenders, i.e. Satan, and ourselves). When you “name it and claim it” or “repost to get blessed” you make God your cosmic butler who will “fix” things in conformity to your plan and not His.

He has a purpose, and His purposes will be carried out in and through us because He is here with us. “The Son’s purpose does not change: he enables his own to do ‘greater things’: in order that he may bring glory to the Father” says Carson.

D.A. Carson gives a wonderful summary of verses 12-14 and prepares us for the following passage:

Glorified with the glory he had with the Father before the world began (17:5), the Son is no longer limited by the pre-death humanness that characterized his ministry. At that point redemption is won, the kingdom of God is triumphantly invading the nations with saving and transforming power, the locus of the covenant community stretches outward from its Jewish confines to embrace the world, and the disciples themselves are empowered and equipped to engage in far-reaching ministry. The latter turns on the first of the Holy Spirit, which gift is about to be introduced into the discussion (vv. 15ff.).