I am deeply concerned. As a retired pastor and pro-life activist for over 40 years, I feel compelled to respond to President Trump’s new position on abortion and related life issues. In what follows I will largely address my brothers and sisters in Christ, but also all Americans who cherish our great experiment—that we should live together as one nation under the laws of nature and nature’s God.

What exactly did President Trump say? In essence, it was this: “In the Dobbs decision, the SCOTUS got it right. The justices saw that the Constitution says nothing about abortion. Therefore, in accordance with the 10th Amendment, they sent this matter back to the states. And I myself believe that’s where we should leave it.”

Here are some of the President’s exact words: “We have abortion where everyone wanted it . . . The states will determine [their position] by vote or legislation, or perhaps both. And whatever they decide must be the law of the land: in this case, the law of the state. Many states will be different. Many will [permit abortions after] a different number of weeks . . . At the end of the day, this is all about the will of the people.”

In so speaking, a historically pro-life President, who previously accomplished great things for the unborn and their moms, has effectively become pro-choice. He is personally opposed to abortion; but if elected as President, he will not seek to restrict it by means of federal legislation, Supreme Court decision, or constitutional amendment.

In the face of rising criticism from pro-life leaders who expected more, the President seems unmoved. When asked if he would sign any kind of national ban on abortions, he simply said, “No.” Also, he expects—and apparently welcomes—electoral and legislative challenges to the kind of restrictive abortion laws we see in Arizona and Florida. He said, “So Florida’s probably going to change. Arizona is going to definitely change, everybody wants that to happen. And you’re getting the will of the people. It’s been pretty incredible when you think about it” (here).

Yes, it truly is pretty incredible.

A Stone of Stumbling, a Rock of Offense

I reckon this new states’ rights approach to abortion law to be an exceedingly dangerous error. Among other things, it places a spiritual and moral stumbling block before all Americans. It tempts us to accept the new status quo; to give up the fight for universal legal protection for unborn human beings; and to settle for a politically popular but spiritually lethal compromise, a compromise that will leave multitudes of unborn babies and their moms exposed to painful injury and death, and America exposed to the wrath and judgment of  a holy God.

Already, many have succumbed to the siren song. Kari Lake, a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, has publicly declared her agreement with President Trump. Accordingly, she has voiced her intention to oppose a recent Arizona State Supreme Court decision proscribing all abortions, except to save the life of the mother (here). Many other GOP hopefuls are falling in line with the President’s new stance (here). To judge from articles and comments appearing on conservative websites, multitudes of conservative Americans are doing the same (here). Doubtless many of my fellow Christians are in agreement. Even the leaders of longstanding pro-life ministries seem uncertain about how to proceed (here, here, and here). The Bible teaches that we are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). President Trump now tempts us to become imitators of man.

Why So?

Why is the states’ rights approach to the life issues (abortion, in vitro fertilization, euthanasia, etc.) such a dangerous stumbling block? Here, to my mind, are a few of the most important reasons.

First and foremost, it ignores the will of God. Or rather, it actually seeks to replace the will of God with the will of man. God says, “You shall not commit murder” (Ex. 20:13). But President Trump and his followers say, “Well, personally we don’t agree with committing murder, but legally and constitutionally we must leave it to the people in the states to decide. Some will allow murder after 6 weeks, others after 15, others later still. At the end of the day, it’s all about the will of the people.” But this, as Roman Catholic leaders recently reminded us in Dignitas Infinitas, is simply another concession to the age-old temptation that fallen man should become his own god (here).

Secondly, this approach misunderstands the proper role of government. Biblically, government does not exist to implement the will of the people; it exists to implement the will of God. This is the thrust of Romans 13. Rulers are servants of God. They are given to us by God for our good. Their job is to commend those who do what is right, and to bring God’s wrath and retribution upon those who practice evil. In short, the purpose of government is to administer God’s holy law, not the wishes of fallen man, which are often sinful and unlawful. When God first instituted human government in the earth, he gave but one command: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God he made man” (Gen. 9:6). Similarly, on the second table of the Ten Commandments, the very first “Thou shalt not” is: Thou shalt not commit murder. Let every human ruler understand and tremble.

Thirdly, this approach misreads the nature and purpose of America’s founding documents. Like the Ten Commandments, these writings laid down the fundamental principles by which the nation as a whole covenants to live together. According to the Declaration, all Americans enjoy a God-given right to life, bestowed upon them by their Creator. That is the principle. The 14th Amendment gives us the principle put into practice: No state may deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall it deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

I am all too aware of those who try to argue that the unborn are not (yet) persons. For biblical Christians, this position is completely untenable, for Scripture everywhere depicts the unborn child as fully human, as a spiritual soul (person) united with a physical body. (Gen. 2:7; Ex. 21:22-25; Psalm 139; Luke 1:41-44; James 2:26). And even if there were doubts about the matter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was surely correct when he observed that since God himself is the One who is developing a new human being in his/her mother’s womb, we dare not strike at his handiwork (here).

But quite apart from biblical teaching on the matter, we have the testimony of John Bingham, the primary author of the 14th amendment. Summing up its purpose, he wrote, “No state in the Union should deny to any human being . . . the equal protection of the laws.” And subsequent to the passage of this amendment, the states acted accordingly. Nearly every one of them adopted laws prohibiting abortion, and most were classified as “offenses against the person.” Person, according to the original intent of the 14th amendment, means human being. Are unborn babies human beings? If so, the 14th Amendment protects their God-given right to life (here).

Here, then, is the all-important conclusion of the matter. Like slavery, abortion is a national (federal) issue. The Declaration declares that all American human beings have the right to life. The 14th Amendment guarantees that right, securing it under national law. And the 10th Amendment itself concurs. The Constitution does indeed delegate to the U.S. the power to protect the right to life, and so prohibits the several states from violating it (here). Just like slavery, abortion is an objective evil that is wholly inconsistent with the fundamental principles and documents of our nation. By its very nature, it is not a states’ rights issue, but a human rights, national, and federal issue.

In the Dobbs decision, the SCOTUS refused to acknowledge this self-evident truth. Rightly, the justices ruled that Roe. vs. Wade was unconstitutional. Wrongly, they refused to hear the pleas and reasoning of various legal briefs, arguing that legalized abortion violates the natural and original sense of the 14th Amendment (here). Rejecting these pleas, and hiding behind a fallacious view of the 10th Amendment, the justices remanded the matter to the states. Thus did they unleash the spiritual, moral, and political chaos that is now upon us. For the moment, the President and his followers have been bewitched by this legal fiction, and are now furthering the chaos. Until we return to our founding national principles, the chaos, death, and divine judgment will continue.

Along these lines, I would also point out, with Lila Rose of Live Action, that any Republican who adopts a states’ rights position is abandoning his own party platform. It reads as follows:

The Constitution’s guarantee that no one can “be deprived of life, liberty or property” deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “all” are “endowed by their Creator” with the inalienable right to life. Accordingly, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth. 

President Trump and his followers are new political creatures under the sun. If they love the truth, they will either change the party platform or stop calling themselves Republicans (here).

Though he seeks to wear the mantle of a pro-life leader, the President has done great harm to the pro-life movement. For any movement to be successful, it must have a clear goal, a united membership, and (ideally) a champion: a statesman, a true leader who will stand on principle and forward the cause. Our goal has never changed: the restoration of the (biblically-based) sanctity of human life ethic in society at large, and the legal protection of all Americans, from conception to the moment of natural death. For the moment, it appears that President Trump does not embrace that goal, and has therefore declined to be our champion. Indeed, he now undermines our goal, tempting pro-lifers in red states to turn a blind eye to the ghastly whirlpools of suffering and death that are swallowing up human lives in neighboring blue states. That approach did not work in the days of slavery; it will not work in ours. Almighty God will see to that.

The Way Forward

What is the way for forward for pastors, church members, and all traditional Americans?

My reply is fairly simple. We all must be well-informed, active citizens. We must remind ourselves of the founding principles of our nation, and embrace them afresh. We must proclaim to all the sanctity of human life. We must advocate for its full protection under law. More concretely, we must urge the SCOTUS to do its duty: to implement the 14th Amendment and protect the right to life of all Americans, including the unborn, the handicapped, and the aged. Failing that, we must advocate for a Personhood or Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thereby compelling the SCOTUS to do its duty.

Along the way, we must diligently work to restrict abortion as much as possible, at the federal, state, and local level (here). And much is possible. Currently 7 in 10 Americans favor laws that limit abortion after the unborn are able to feel pain (12-14 weeks after conception). Out of 50 nations in Europe, 47 have enacted just such laws. We can and should try to do the same, all the while keeping the supreme goal before us and before the nation (here). We dare not abandon pain-capable unborn babies in the blue states to the tender mercies of the Whitmers, Hochuls, Newsoms, and Pritzgers of this present evil age. (here)

A Concluding Plea 

I will close as I began, by stating that I am deeply concerned. The wrath of God is much upon our land. We see this in the accelerating corruption of our national character, institutions, public policies, economy, military readiness, and standing in the world. As members of the Body of Christ we can rejoice in the corresponding growth of the Church. But as grateful citizens of the United States, we must lament the condition of our beloved homeland, and, for the honor of Christ, do all we can to strengthen the things that remain.

Why exactly are we in this condition? Romans 1 tells us plainly. We have turned away from God, with the result that God, in wrath, has turned away from us, handing us over to the idolatry, depravity, and corruption that we see all around us, and through which he mercifully warns us to turn back to him.

But second only to America’s spiritual apostasy and idolatry is her monstrous national assault on the most helpless and innocent of his image-bearers: unborn human beings. I know of no more fundamental crime or injustice. We may judge God’s heart in this matter by hearing afresh the words of his Law: “You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless (Ex. 22:22-24).

Though they are not without guilt, multitudes of troubled women, spiritually widowed by absentee husbands and boyfriends, have been deceived and led to the slaughter by Big Abortion. And the blood of their murdered children—nearly 65 million of them—cries out to God for vengeance from the hidden graveyards where their pitiful remains are found. Yes, there is great wrath upon this nation, it leaders, and its institutions, for many have not yet repented of their murderous assault on the apple of God’s eye, his unborn human children. 

And now, as if to make matters worse, the SCOTUS, President Trump, and their Republican fellow-travelers have placed a stone of stumbling before us all, tempting Christians, pro-lifers, and all traditional Americans to abandon the founding principles of our national life, and to embrace a species of libertinism that will bring God’s wrath even more heavily upon our land.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, under our Lord Jesus Christ we ourselves are the light of the world. We are the pillar and the support of the truth in this present darkness (1 Tim. 3:15). If we do not take action in this matter, no one will.

Let us therefore keep praying for spiritual renewal in America. Let us pray for our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2). As opportunities arise, let us speak truth to the SCOTUS, the President, our representatives, governors, party leaders, neighbors, and fellow-voters. Let us urge them to turn back to their Creator and Redeemer, and to do all they can to restore the right to life to all God’s children.

And let us especially pray for candidate Donald Trump. I feel a genuine affection for the man. He accomplished much good in his years in office. He has bravely endured outrageous attacks and injustices from nearly every quarter. He has shown supernatural perseverance in the pursuit of his goals. I believe he sincerely desires to make America great again. But he must understand what De Tocqueville understood: America cannot be great again until she is good again. His present policy on human life does nothing to advance that noble and indispensable end.

Therefore, while there is still time, may he—and all Christians and all Americans—hear the word of the Lord:

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut. 30:19). 



leave it.” (here)

Note: This essay is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, The Gist of the Revelation: An Amillennial Overview of the Grand Finale of All Scripture (Redemption Press)

Here is a key to a few of the acronyms used in the book and the essay below:

DNT = The Didactic New Testament (i.e., the distinctly teaching portions of the gospels, Acts, and the epistles)

EOP = Era of (Gospel) Proclamation (i.e., the season of Christ’s heavenly mediatorial reign, stretching from Pentecost to the Consummation at his return in glory, during which the Church proclaims to gospel to the nations)

OTKP = Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (i.e., OT prophecies fulfilled post-Pentecost, speaking typologically and figuratively of New Covenant realities, and needing to be interpreted accordingly)




Why does dispensational premillennialism have such a powerful grip on the evangelical imagination?

One answer—and perhaps the most important—is the apparent harmony between the dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27 (i.e., the prophecy of the seventy sevens) and the structure and contents of the Revelation. In the eyes of the dispensationalist, these two texts so clearly confirm each other that the truth of his theological system cannot possibly be in doubt, no matter what the DNT may have to say about the central themes of biblical eschatology: the nature and structure of the Kingdom of God, the nature and structure of the Consummation, and the proper NT method of interpreting OT Kingdom prophecies.

I reckon this perceived harmony to be an illusion, an illusion that compromises biblical truth and works positive harm to God’s people. In this essay I do what I can to dispel the illusion, hoping to win my dispensational brothers back to the classic amillennial faith of our Protestant forefathers, and to the one true blessed hope of the Church.

The journey here will involve three steps. First, we’ll look briefly at the dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27. Next, we’ll discuss the dispensational interpretation of the Revelation, spotlighting its (alleged) connections with Daniel’s prophecy, and then offering amillennial correctives. Finally, we’ll inquire as to exactly why our dispensational brothers have so egregiously misunderstood the grand finale of all Scripture.


The Dispensational Interpretation of Daniel’s Seventy Sevens

Here, from the mouth an imaginary dispensationalist, is a short statement of the standard dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9:24–27:

The theme of the prophecy is not the future of spiritual Israel (i.e., the Church), but rather of ethnic Israel, the physical seed of Abraham. Daniel’s people and Daniel’s city are not spiritually circumcised Jews and Gentiles, but rather the Jewish race and their historic capital (9:24). Throughout OT times, God promised ethnic Israel a theocratic kingdom, to be mediated by his Messiah. But before Israel can enter the promised Kingdom Age, it must first traverse Daniel’s “seventy sevens.” These are weeks of calendar years, totaling 490. The sixty-nine weeks of verse 25 began with Artaxerxes’s decree to rebuild Jerusalem (445 BC); they ended at the birth (or triumphal entry) of Christ. Verse 26 gives us the events of the sixty-ninth week: the week in which Christ was rejected, and after which the Roman general Titus came and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. But just here, something unexpected happens: God (through Gabriel) suddenly leaps over the entire Church Age (now some two thousand years long), thereby keeping his dealings with his heavenly people (i.e., the Church) a mystery later to be unveiled by Christ. Accordingly, verse 27 gives us future events set to occur during the seventieth week: the week that follows the Secret Rapture of the Church. Once that occurs, “God’s prophetic time clock” will begin to tick again. That is, he will now resumes his dealings with the (physical) sons of Abraham.

This week of seven years is called the Tribulation. At the beginning of the Tribulation, the Antichrist will make a covenant with ethnic Israel. In the middle of the week he will break it, suppressing Jewish worship, and defiling the (restored) Jewish temple. This marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation, which will last a literal three and a half years. At their end, Christ will return in glory, destroy the Antichrist, and welcome the Jewish saints and gentile converts who have survived the Tribulation into the promised Kingdom Age. According to Revelation 20, it will last 1000 literal years.1


The Dispensational Interpretation of the Revelation, With Amillennarian Replies

We turn now to the dispensational interpretation of the Revelation. In the paragraphs ahead I will give the gist of the dispensational interpretation of each section of the Revelation. Then, in italics, I will offer an amillenarian reply. Along the way I will point out how the dispensationalist’s interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 controls his thinking about the Revelation, and explain why I believe his conclusions are in error.

Dispensational teaching: Chapter 1 of the Revelation gives us a vision of the exalted Christ, the One who will first bring to pass God’s purpose for the Church (chapters 2–5), and thereafter God’s purpose for ethnic Israel and the believing nations who survive the Tribulation (chapters 6–20).

 Amillenarian reply: Yes, chapter 1 gives us a revelation of the exalted Christ, the Lord of the remainder of Salvation History. But no, the book does not give us God’s twofold purpose and plan, first for the Church, and then for ethnic Israel. Rather, it gives us God’s singular purpose and plan for his one and only people: the Church, comprised of elect Jews and Gentiles of all times. Here, however, the emphasis falls upon God’s New Covenant people, whom the High King of heaven will empower to make their difficult spiritual pilgrimage through the Era of Gospel Proclamation.

Dispensational teaching: Chapters 2–3 give us the Lord’s messages to the seven churches of Asia. Real as those churches were, they also symbolize the universal Church, and (for those of us who lean to an historicist interpretation of the Revelation) the historical stages through which she must pass over the course of the Church Age. This age is the “mystery parenthesis” that neither Daniel nor any of the other the OT prophets foresaw. It is the age that Christ unveiled when, in anticipation of his rejection by Israel, he said, “I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18). Thus, in chapters 2–3, Christ is speaking to the Church, about the Church during the Church Age. Soon, however, he will be speaking to Israel, about Israel (and the nations) during the Tribulation, and on into the Millennium.

 Amillenarian reply: Yes, the true nature of the Church, as the spiritual Body of the Messiah, was a mystery hidden from the OT prophets (Eph. 3:1-13). However, the prophets did indeed foresee the Church, and were moved by the Spirit to speak about her, albeit under a veil of OT imagery (e.g., Isa. 60; Jer. 3:16-18; Ezek. 37-48). And this is true of the prophet Daniel himself, who was speaking about the Church in Daniel 9:25b–27! As for the Revelation, in chapters 2–3 the High Prophet of heaven speaks to the Church about the various strengths and weaknesses she will manifest during her pilgrimage to the World to Come. Then, in chapters 6–20 he speaks to her about the persons, powers, events, and institutions she will encounter along the way. In the Revelation, ethnic Israel is never in view, whereas Israel’s antitype, the true spiritual Church, is always and only in view.

Dispensational Teaching: In chapters 4–5 we have John’s vision of heaven, its occupants, and the worship with which they fill it. The apostle hears a voice, saying, “Come up here” (4:1). For many of us, this is a veiled reference to the Rapture. For all of us, the twenty-four elders represent the raptured, glorified, rewarded, and worshiping Church. In her sight, and eliciting her praise, Christ receives from the Father the title deed to the earth and prepares to unfasten the seven seals. When he does, the seventieth week of Daniel (i.e., the seven-year Tribulation) begins. In other words, the exalted Christ now commences his eschatological dealings with ethnic Israel and the nations, with a view to introducing the 1000-year Kingdom Age.

 Amillenarian reply: No, John’s journey to heaven does not picture the Secret Rapture of the Church (a doctrine not found in the DNT). It does, however, remind us that through the new birth all of the members of Christ’s Church are, or will be, seated in the heavenly places in/with him (Eph. 2:6). As for the scene in heaven, it is timeless, depicting God’s eternal decree that the redeemed Church should forever live and worship before his throne. She is comprised of OT saints (symbolized by twelve patriarchs upon thrones) and NT saints (symbolized by twelve apostles upon thrones). The scroll in the Father’s hand is a last will and testament, containing the eternal inheritance of the saints (chapters 21–22). Before they can receive it, the High King of heaven, who prevailed on the earth for the salvation of his people, must unfasten its seven seals. That is, he must preside over the remainder of Salvation History: over the various historical events through which his redemptive work will be proclaimed and applied to the hearts of his believing people. In sum, he must oversee the pilgrimage of his Church throughout the EOP, after which he will come again to consummate God’s plan in final judgment and redemption, and to bring in the new heavens and the new earth, the eternal inheritance of the children of God.

Dispensational teaching: Chapters 6–19 give us the Tribulation, the seventieth week of Daniel. In essence, it is a seven-year season of world evangelization, during which 144,000 redeemed Israelites will proclaim the gospel of the (coming millennial) Kingdom amidst ever-increasing and ever-intensifying providential judgments, culminating in a final judgment of the living nations at the visible return of Christ (7:1–8; 19:11–21). The judgments are serial in nature, progressing from the six seals (6–7), through the seven trumpets (8–11), and on into the seven bowls (15–16). As John MacArthur says, “The seal judgments include all the judgments to the end. The seventh seal contains the seven trumpets, the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls.” Midway through the Tribulation the Antichrist (i.e., the Beast) will arrive on the scene, break his covenant with Israel, defile the temple, and devastate Jerusalem; at this, the three and a half years of the Great Tribulation will begin (13:5). This section ends with chapter 19, which alone gives us the Second Coming of Christ in glory (19:11–16), the demise of his enemies gathered against him and Israel at (the plain surrounding) Megiddo (19:17–21), and the close of the Great Tribulation.

 Amillenarian reply: No, these chapters do not speak of a future seven-year tribulation. Rather, along with chapter 20, they employ richly symbolic language to give us six parallel recapitulations of the course and character of the High King’s heavenly reign. Each one begins at the beginning of the EOP and ends with a more or less symbolic representation of the return of Christ in judgment, and, on occasion, of the eternal blessedness of the saints. Literal interpretations of the 144,000 sealed Israelites, the seal judgments, the trumpet judgments, the bowl judgments, the two witnesses, the permutations of three and a half years, the mark of the Beast, and the Battle of Armageddon all wreak havoc with the text. They needlessly strain credulity, engender crippling fears, and obscure the meaning, solemnity, and wonder of these parallel visions. Here the dispensational view works positive harm to the Church, not simply by misunderstanding the symbolism used in these chapters, but also by projecting their fulfillment onto another people and into a distant (post-rapture) future. The flock of God is journeying through the howling wilderness of this present evil age. It is headed for the special challenges of the Last Battle. In order to be fully prepared, it needs to hear the wise and comforting voice of its heavenly Shepherd. Here, as elsewhere, dispensationalism silences it.2

Dispensational teaching: Chapter 20 gives us the goal and aftermath of Daniel’s seventy weeks: the 1000-year Kingdom Age, in which all OTKP is (literally) fulfilled at last. First, Satan and his demons are cast into the abyss, paving the way for vastly improved spiritual and physical conditions upon the earth. Then, in “the first resurrection”, Christ raises the OT saints and the tribulation martyrs. They, along with those who came to faith during the Tribulation, enter the Kingdom Age and rule with Christ during the Millennium. OT temple worship, centered in Jerusalem, is revived, but only to commemorate the finished work of Christ. Fundamentally, the Millennium is a lengthy season of peace, prosperity, longevity, righteousness, and joy. Nevertheless, as time passes many of the children of the tribulation saints fall into unbelief. The result is a series of dramatic eschatological events that bring the Millennium to a close: the release of Satan from the abyss, a gathering of rebellious nations against Jerusalem, a divine judgment by fire, a second resurrection (this time of the unrighteous dead), and a final Judgment of all unbelievers at the Great White Throne.

Amillenarian reply: No, Revelation 20 does not describe a future 1000-year reign of Christ upon the earth. Rather, it gives us a seventh and final recapitulation of the course and character of his heavenly reign and its earthly impacts. During this time, which stretches between the Lord’s first and second advents, Satan is bound from deceiving God’s elect, and also from gathering the unbelieving world to the Last Battle. It is a long time (symbolized by the number 1000), but also a finite time, during which the triune God (3) completes (10) the application of the redemption purchased by Christ (10 x 10 x 10). During this time the souls of believers who die in the faith are raised to spiritual perfection and reign in life with Christ in heaven above (Rom. 5:17). This is the first resurrection. At the end of the age Satan is released from his restraints and gathers the unbelieving world against the Church for the Last Battle. However, Christ swiftly returns to raise the dead, judge the world, consign the unrighteous to the Lake of Fire, and bring in the eternal World to Come. While the dispensational view, for many reasons, strains all credulity, the amillennial view paints a realistic, sobering, but ultimately hopeful picture of the world in which we live, and the world to which we’re heading.

Dispensational teaching: Concerning chapters 21–22, we hold different views. All of us look for new heavens and a new earth. All of us look for a physical city: the eternal habitation of the saints. Many of us look for a physical tree and water of life, albeit with spiritual significance, properties, and benefits. Some of us say that the middle wall between Jew and Gentile will be removed once and for all. Others say it will endure forever.

 Amillenarian reply: Yes, chapters 21–22 give us the eternal World to Come; but no, we should not bring a literalist hermeneutic with us when we enter it. Here the Spirit depicts the Church—comprised of all God’s people of all time—not only as a Bride, but also as a City. She is the Bridal City, forever dwelling in glory in the new creation. The throne of God and the Lamb, the river of the water of life, the tree of life, its fruits and its leaves—all are spiritual realities rather than physical objects. All are symbols, teaching us that the sovereign Father and Son, by the Holy Spirit, will forever refresh, nourish, and maintain the good health of their beloved children and Bride in the glorious World to Come.3


Why the Dispensational Interpretation Fails

Praiseworthy as they are for their strong commitment to an inspired and perspicuous Bible, our dispensational brothers have stumbled badly in their interpretation of (OTKP and) the Revelation. Given the widespread popularity of this interpretation, it will serve us well to summarize the reasons why.

My seven-fold answer is as follows:

First, they have misunderstood the intended audience of the book, which is the Church, the whole Church, and nothing but the Church. The future of ethnic Israel is nowhere in view.

Secondly, they have misunderstood the nature and purpose of the book, failing to see that it is an extended prophecy designed to edify, exhort, and encourage the Church as she journeys through the wilderness of this present evil world.

Thirdly, they have misunderstood the underlying theme of the book, which is the heavenly mediatorial reign of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, and who, throughout the entire EOP, rules the cosmos with a view to the ingathering, upbuilding, preservation, and final glorification of his Church.

Fourthly, they have misunderstood the literary genre of the book, which is (a unique species of) biblical apocalyptic. For this reason they have interpreted many persons, places, objects, and events of the Revelation literally, instead of typologically and figuratively. They have imported the literalist hermeneutic that they use to interpret OTKP into the Revelation, with the result that they have misunderstand both; for both refer to New Covenant realities, while (often) using Old Covenant imagery to describe them.

Fifthly, they have misunderstood the structure of the book, failing to see that its five major blocs are meant as a celebration of the heavenly reign of the exalted Christ, and that the very lengthy fourth bloc (chapters 6–20) gives us six parallel representations of the course and character of the High King’s heavenly reign.4

Sixthly, they also have failed to see that this structure rules out a futurist interpretation of the book, but instead mandates an idealist interpretation, according to which its key symbols (e.g., the Woman, the Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, the Harlot, Babylon the Great, etc.) all stand for certain kinds of persons and institutions that Christ’s Church will encounter again and again in her pilgrimage through world history.

Finally, they have misunderstood the ancillary purpose of the Revelation, which is to give us the Grand Finale of All Scripture: a biblical movement that introduces no new themes (such as a secret rapture or future millennium), but instead simply rehearses and celebrates all that was previously disclosed in the Bible, but especially in the master key to the Bible: the Didactic New Testament.

In sum, our  dispensational brothers have stumbled over the Revelation because they have turned away from God’s appointed Teacher, the DNT, and clear NT instruction on the nature of the Kingdom of God, the Consummation, and OTKP.5 Instead, they have brought a literalist hermeneutic to OTKP, developed an exotic interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27, and used both to create a Procrustean Bed into which they have forced the entire NT, including the Grand Finale of All Scripture: the Revelation.

Sadly, the result has been great complexity, confusion, and controversy.

Happily, a loving heavenly Father still points us all to the simple solution:

“Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5).



1. For a critique of the dispensational view of Daniel 9, and an exposition of the Reformed Two-Advent View that I espouse, click here.

2. For short amillennial definitions of these and other key symbols in the Revelation, click here.

3. For a fuller exposition of the Revelation in amillennial perspective, click here and here.

4. For a diagram of the structure of the Revelation, click here.

5. To read an essay on how the NT apostles taught us to interpret OTKP, click here.

Think for a moment about your favorite symphony. Now think about its final movement. What is it that makes the final movement of a symphony into a grand finale? Three simple answers come to my mind.

First, it appears at the end of the symphony. There is no more music to come. Accordingly, this is the composer’s last opportunity to sum up his message and get it across to his audience with a final burst of artistic power and panache.

Secondly, it reprises the themes that the composer gave us in the previous movements. When it does, however, it does so “grandly.” Here the composer skillfully weaves together all his earlier motifs, so that we not only hear them again, but also hear them afresh, with fresh power. We hear them in new, startling, and beautiful relations with one another. We hear them in such a way that the whole symphony is somehow poured into the last part of the symphony.

Finally, precisely because it is a grand finale, it does not typically introduce any new musical themes. Instead, the composer devotes himself more or less exclusively to a fresh, inspiring, and majestic recapitulation of the old.

All three of these observations apply to the Revelation, and in a way that helps us understand it to its depths.

Like a grand finale, the Revelation appears at the end of the great symphony of biblical revelation. By God’s wise decree, it is the last book of the Bible. What’s more, its contents positively cry out that it should be the last book, since it is so thoroughly taken up with the last things: the Last Days, the Last Battle, the (last) Resurrection, and the (last) Judgment, the last two of which occur at the last Coming of the Last Man (1 Cor. 15:45). The claims of Church History’s false prophets notwithstanding, Spirit-taught Christians find it unthinkable that God, having given us a book like this, would give us any more. And indeed, this is the testimony of the Revelation itself (21:18-19). The Revelation is the Book of the End; therefore it rightly appears at the end of the Book (1:8; 2:26; 21:6; 22:13).

Like a grand finale, the Revelation also incorporates various biblical texts, historical references, theological doctrines, and images and numbers drawn from the preceding movements of Holy Scripture, both Old Testament and New. The allusions super-abound. There are references to the Garden of Eden, Moses, the Exodus, Elijah, Mount Zion, the Temple, the birth of Jesus, the murderous cruelty of Herod, the preaching of the disciples two by two, and Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session, heavenly reign, and Parousia.

These only scratch the surface. Westcott and Hort, Bible translators and commentators, counted nearly 400 references to the OT in the Revelation. Some say there are more. In Revelation 12 alone we find quotes from—or allusions to—Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew, Luke, John, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Peter, 1 John, and Jude. Clearly, the Revelation is not simply historical narrative, law, poetry, gospel, or epistle. Rather, it is something completely new under the biblical sun. It is a final prophetic word to the universal Church, clothed in raiment woven together from all that has gone before it. As such, it is not only prophetic scripture, but also the Grand Finale of All Scripture.

If so, the implications are important. For if the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of All Scripture, then we should not expect it to introduce new themes (i.e., doctrines). It is not the purpose of a grand finale to introduce new themes; its purpose is to creatively recapitulate the old.

And when we examine the Revelation, we find that this is indeed the case. Here there is nothing new, nothing other than what Christ and the apostles have already taught us in the New Testament. There is nothing new about the trinity, the creation, the fall, the eternal covenant, the nature and structure of the Kingdom of God, or the Consummation at Christ’s return. Rather, we simply find the Holy Spirit speaking to us over and again about these old and well-established truths. However, when he does, he does so in new and astonishing ways: in beautiful, powerful, and supremely inspiring visions and symbols. Here he weaves together all that has gone before in Holy Scripture, even as he celebrates—one final time—the exaltation of the One who is the grand theme of Holy Scripture: the High King of heaven and earth.

All evangelical Christians are aware of the great debate surrounding biblical eschatology, and most realize that the nub of the controversy centers around the proper interpretation of Revelation 20. Therefore, please let this convinced amillennarian close with a few questions.

If, as I have suggested, the Revelation really is the Grand Finale of All Scripture, then does not this simple fact greatly help us to resolve the debate?  For is it likely that just a few measures prior to its end (i.e., in chapter 20), God would suddenly introduce a completely new eschatological theme (i.e., a future 1000-year earthly reign of Christ)? Moreover, what if that theme had not been mentioned in any other part of the Revelation? What if it was never mentioned in the rest of the New Testament? What if it was never mentioned in the Old Testament? What if it could not be harmonized with the eschatology of the Revelation, the OT, or the NT? And finally, what if embracing it threatened to destroy the eschatological harmony that previously existed between them all?

Yes, the Grand Finale of All Scripture has much to teach the contestants in the great end time debate. My prayer is that we all may hear it, thrill to it, come together, and come home.

In this post I offer an amillennial perspective on the meaning of key numbers and images found in the Revelation.

As you will see, I rarely, if ever, understand them literally. Rather, I understand them typologically and figuratively. I view them as symbols—drawn by the Holy Spirit from both the Old and New Testaments—designed to speak to the Church about her life under the New Covenant, her relationship with the High King of heaven, and her long, difficult, but also fruitful and ultimately triumphant journey through the wilderness of this world and into the Promised Land.

This post will appear in an appendix of a book I am currently writing, giving readers a short, amillennial overview of the Revelation. For that reason, the list below does not contain many proof texts. I will supply those more fully in the body of the book, along with further comments on the topics in view.

The numbers in parentheses beside each entry indicate the chapter(s) in which the symbol is found.

I sincerely hope that this little glossary of key symbols—like the little book that the angel gave to the apostle John to eat—will be sweet in your mouth and nourishing to your soul, as you make your pilgrim way in the company of the High King.



1. The Seven Golden Lampstands (1): The seven churches in Asia, symbolizing, through the use of the number seven, the universal Church of all times and places.


2. The Seven Stars (1, 2, 3): The seven messengers (or angels) of the churches, likely sent to John to receive the Revelation and take it home to their respective cities; a symbol of all church leaders, and their privilege and duty to share the contents of this message with God’s people.


3. The Sword, Great and Sharp (1, 2, 19): The Word of God, emanating from the mouth of the Son of God, the High King of heaven; a powerful two-edged sword that, like a surgeon’s scalpel, has power both to heal and to harm.


4. The Throne of God (4): A symbol of the sovereignty of God the Father: the Creator, Ruler, Judge, and Redeemer of the universe.


5. The Four Living Creatures (4): Symbolizing the seraphim, who manifest the attributes of God and Christ, and who are caught up in the contemplation and worship of the glory of God (Is. 6:2). However, the fact that they are four in number signifies that these too, like all the other angels, have a ministry to the four corners of the earth below; that is, to all the heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:4).


6. The 24 Elders, Seated on 24 Thrones (4): The universal Church, comprised both of OT saints (symbolized by the number 12, for the patriarchs), and NT saints (symbolized by the number 12, for the apostles). Here the Church is styled as a company of elders, perhaps because, by God’s eternal decree, she has a share in the eternity of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9, 13, 22); but certainly because, being seen on 24 thrones surrounding the one throne of God, she has a share in his authority and power; and because, through Christ, she is destined to reign in life with him (Rom. 5:17).


7. The Seven Lamps Before the Throne (4): Explicitly identified as the seven spirits of God, which is yet another symbol pointing to the complete (7), many-faceted work of the one Holy Spirit in the earth below. Revelation 3:1 pictures the seven spirits of God in the hand of Christ, who, through the Spirit, is now at work, both in the Church and in the (history of the) world (John 15:26-25; Acts 2:33).


8. The Sea of Glass (4, 15): The infinite holiness of God, which, like a vast ocean, separates sinners from eternal life before his throne; but, as chapter 5 reveals, a sea that is now bridgeable, and a throne that is now accessible, thanks to the redemptive work of Christ.


9. The Scroll in the Father’s Right Hand (5): A last will and testament, containing the fullness of the inheritance of the saints, decreed in eternity by God the Father. Its contents will later be revealed in chapters 21-22, which describe the glory of the Bride of Christ and the Family of God in the World to Come.


10. The Seven Seals (5, 6, 8): The events of the Era of Gospel Proclamation, predestined to occur prior to the opening of the scroll and the saints’ reception of their full inheritance. According to the symbolism of chapter 5, the Lord Jesus Christ, the High King of heaven, alone has the qualifications, authority, and power to break the seals; that is, to bring these events to pass.


11. The Lamb with Seven Horns and Seven Eyes (5): The Redeemer, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. In the days of his humiliation he served his people both as High Priest and Sacrifice: as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now, through his exaltation, the Lamb has perfect power (symbolized by seven horns) and perfect knowledge (symbolized by seven eyes), especially of the happenings on the earth below (5:6).


12. The Rider on the White Horse (6, 19): The exalted Lord Jesus Christ, riding out into the earth, by the Spirit, through the evangelizing Church, conquering for the cause of the Gospel, and bent on final conquest: the perfect fulfillment of God’s redemptive and judicial purposes for the world (Psalm 45; Rev. 19:11-18).


13. The Three Horsemen that Follow (6): War, economic disruption, and death (both physical and spiritual). These symbolize the judicial consequences of the going forth of the Gospel, and of its being spurned, whether temporarily or finally, by the unbelieving inhabitants of the earth.


14. The Souls Beneath the Altar (6): The souls of the (ever-increasing) company of martyrs, of those who sacrificed their (physical) lives for the person and cause of Christ. This is the Revelation’s first glimpse of the Intermediate State of the souls of believers who die in Christ. Here, the martyrs are portrayed as being aware of God’s purposes for the earth, and eager for the manifestation of his perfect justice.


15. The 144,000 Sealed Israelites (7, 14): The universal Church of all times and places, comprised of all the OT saints (12, for the patriarchs) and all the NT saints (12, for the apostles). 12  x  12  x 1000 = 144,000, a number symbolizing both the fullness and the largeness of the universal Church. As John’s next vision reveals, she is comprised of a great multitude of Jewish and Gentile believers, predestined to worship God forever before his throne, and upon the eschatological Mountain of God: the new heavens and the new earth.


16. The Seal of the Living God (7): The Holy Spirit, who, at the moment of saving faith in Christ, takes up eternal residence in the spirit, soul, and body of the believer. Mystically, the seal (or sealing mark) upon the forehead speaks of ownership, identity, and eternal security. The saint so marked now belongs to God, the family of God, and the Bride and Body of Christ; he now thinks of himself as such, and so has a new identity in Christ; and he now rejoices to know that he has been spared from judgment, and is eternally safe and secure in the Person, and through the Work, of his exalted Lord (Ezek. 9:4; John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30).


17. The Great Multitude Before the Throne (7, 14): The 144,000, but now represented as a great throng that no one could number, as many as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. Here they are seen in glory, eternally worshiping upon the eschatological Mountain of God (i.e., the new heavens and the new earth), and forever assembled with all the saints and angels before his throne.


18. The Seven Trumpets (8-11): Seven partial and preliminary judgments of God, falling upon the inhabitants of the earth throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation. These judgments are designed to warn sinners of the final judgment to come, and to drive them Christ for salvation.


19. The Three Woes (9-11): Identical with the final three trumpets, these are especially severe judgments, possibly symbolizing unique events predestined to occur just prior to the end of the age. The first and second woes depict increased demonic activity in the earth, leading both to torment and death. The martial symbolism predominating in chapter 9 suggests that these woes are inflicted, in large part, by demonically inspired war.


20. The Little Book (10): A symbol of the message that John will soon convey to the Church in chapter 11. The little book is sweet to his taste because it is the Word of God, and because it speaks of the good success of the evangelistic witness of the Church in the Era of Gospel Proclamation; but it is also bitter in his stomach, because it speaks of the Last Battle, and of the extraordinary persecution that will befall the true spiritual Church in the last of the last days.


21. The Sanctuary, the Altar, and the Outer Court (11): Using OT imagery derived from Jewish temple worship, the Spirit here speaks of the historical experience of the Church throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation. The Sanctuary of God is Christ, the only place where God and man can safely meet; the altar is the merit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, which makes the meeting possible; those who worship in the sanctuary are the saints, all who worship God through Christ in spirit and truth. The Outer Court symbolizes the visible, institutional Church, which, by God’s wise decree, will be subject to trampling (persecution) by the inhabitants of the earth throughout the Era of Proclamation.


22 The Two Witnesses (11): The evangelizing Church, which—like Jesus’ disciples sent out two by two—bears witness to the Person, Work, and Kingdom of Christ throughout the entire Era of Gospel Proclamation.


23. The War (11, 13, 16, 17, 19): Heralded many times in the Revelation, this is the Last Battle, the final conflict between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, the Church and the World. Here and elsewhere in the NT, it is consistently depicted as a brief, intense, global persecution of the true spiritual Church, swiftly brought to an end by the appearing of Christ in power and glory to rescue his beloved Bride and judge his (and her) enemies.


24. The 42 Months / 1260 Days/ a Time, Times, and Half a Time  (11, 12, 13): These numeric symbols stand for the Era of Gospel Proclamation. Their meaning is illuminated in Revelation 12, a chapter that combines allusions to Israel’s exodus from Egypt with allusions to Elijah’s 3 1/2 year sojourn in the wilderness of Judea. Thus, the numbers characterize the Era of Gospel Proclamation as a temporary season of eschatological journey, persecution, and exile (from the world’s favor), but also as a season of divine provision and protection, supplied from heaven above (1 Kings 17:2-6; James 5:17).


25. The Woman in the Sky (12): The universal Church, adorned with the heavenly bodies in order to symbolize her heavenly nature. At the outset of the chapter we see her as the Mother of Christ, and therefore as picturing the OT saints; later we see her as the Bride of Christ (and the Mother of the living), making her way through the wilderness of the world, and picturing the NT saints.


26. The Dragon in the Sky (12): Satan, not dwelling in the third heaven with God (as the Woman does), but in the air (Eph. 2:2), in the heavenly (spiritual) realms just above the earth (Eph. 6:12). In this chapter he is depicted as the cunning, unseen ruler of the world-system, but also as a frustrated and angry tyrant, whose evil kingdom is now in slow-motion collapse, thanks to the Person and Work of Christ and the ongoing evangelistic ministry of his Bride (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).


27. The Son Caught up to God and His Throne (12): The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Last Adam, who, because of his earthly obedience and humiliation, is now seated in heaven at the right hand of God, with authority to rule both the Church and the world, and to administer last judgment at the end of the age. Between the lines, Revelation 12 shows him progressively overthrowing the kingdom of Satan, even as his Bride, through the proclamation of the Gospel, begets more and more children for the family of God.


28. The Woman in the Wilderness (12): The true spiritual Church in her NT embodiment, journeying through the wilderness of this world, making her way to the Promised Land, inviting the inhabitants of the earth to join her, persecuted by many among them, but also protected and provided for by her spiritual husband, the High King of heaven.


29. The Two Wings of the Great Eagle (12): Word and Spirit, Law and Grace, continually supplied to the Woman so that She, using her wings, can fly to the place that God (the Great Eagle) has prepared for her (Deut. 32:11).


30. The Place of Nourishing, Prepared for the Woman (12): Ultimately, Christ; but in particular, Christ mediated to the Woman by the Holy Spirit, through the various means of grace: word, prayer, fellowship, and sacrament.


31. The Beast from the Sea (13, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20): The first of the three main helpers of the Dragon; the political or governmental face (embodiment) of the fallen world-system; world rulers, governments, and empires, to the extent that they operate contrary to the will of God and are active in the persecution of God’s people. The sea represents fallen humanity, from which Satan, in an effort to establish a permanent global kingdom, repeatedly summons empire after empire, and government after government, onto the stage of history (Gen. 10; Dan. 7). However, God, the ultimate sovereign over world history, repeatedly frustrates his efforts, since they are permeated with evil, and since God alone has the power and prerogative of creating, through his Son, an eternal universal Kingdom based on love, rather than on the lust for power.


32. The Beast from the Earth / the False Prophet (13, 16, 19, 20): The second instrument of the Dragon; the religious and ideological face of the world-system, especially insofar as it consorts with the Beast in order to promote the Beast’s blasphemous self-exaltation as the proper object of human worship.


33. The Mark of the Beast (13, 14, 16, 19, 20): Darkly analogous to the seal of the living God, this too is a symbol of ownership and identity, fatefully taken when any inhabitant of the earth yields his supreme allegiance to anti-Christian rulers and their governments. Henceforth, such a person belongs to the Beast (and the Dragon), self-identifies as his committed subject, and, unless he repents and turns to Christ, will share in his eternal punishment (John 19:15; Rev. 14:11; 19:20).


34. The Number of the Name of the Beast (13): The number of the Beast is 666. Here the Spirit exhorts the saints to work out (the meaning of) the number, explaining that it is the number of man (13:18). According to biblical numerology, six is the number of man (Gen. 1:24-31) and three is the number of the Trinity (Matt. 3:16-17). Therefore, 666 is the number of fallen man aspiring to, and usurping the place of, the triune God. Throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, the Beast continually does this very thing. All who surrender to him have taken his mark and his number upon their foreheads or their hands: In thought, word, and deed they belong to him. They have become worshipers of man, and not of the one true living God.


35. The Song of Moses (15): The song of the resurrected and transformed saints, all of whom have just passed through the eschatological Red Sea (the Judgment), and now are standing on its far shore in the Promised land (the new heavens and the new earth), where they celebrate the righteous judgments of God. Those judgments include, preeminently, the judgment that Christ bore on the Cross in the place of his people, but also the subsequent judgment of God, who declared them to be holy and righteous when they placed their faith in Christ. And here, on the other side of the Red Sea, they now have become holy and righteous—in body, soul, and spirit—, and therefore rejoice with exceedingly great joy (Jude 24-25).


36. The Seven Bowls of God’s Completed Wrath (15-16): All the final judgments of God poured out onto the earth and its sinful inhabitants during the Era of Gospel Proclamation.


37. The Battle of Armageddon (16): Another symbol of the Last Battle, again employing OT history and imagery to speak symbolically about the final conflict between God and Satan, Christ and the Antichrist, the Church and the World.


38. The Harlot (17): The third instrument of the Dragon, symbolizing the commercial and cultural face of the fallen world-system, and depicting it as a temptress of the world and a persecutor of the Church. Both of the women in the Revelation beckon to the inhabitants of the earth: the Bride, that they would join her in her journey to eternal life, and the Harlot, that they would join her in drinking from her golden cup full of abominations. Unavoidably, each inhabitant of the earth must decide which woman he will embrace.


39. Babylon the Great (18): The City of Man, lusting for greatness (14, 16, 17), as opposed to the City of God, longing for holiness (11, 21, 22). In essence, Great Babylon is identical with the Harlot, and is slated for destruction at the Judgment. Accordingly, both the Spirit and the Church plead with God’s people (his elect) to come out of her, so that they will neither partake of her sins nor receive of her plagues on the last day.


40. The 1000 Years (20): In the Bible, ten is the number of completeness, three is the number of the Trinity, and one thousand is the number of magnitude. Therefore, the number 1000 tells the Church two things about the Era of Gospel Proclamation. First, it will be long, longer than most of the saints expect. But secondly, it also will be fruitful. 10  x  10  x  10 = 1000. So this number tells the Church that during the Era of Gospel Proclamation the Trinity (3) will complete (10) the application of the redemption that her Lord purchased for her during his days upon the earth; it is a divine promise of the spiritual fruitfulness of the evangelizing Bride of Christ. Though the Millennium has now lasted over 2000 literal years, the saints understand that this redemptive fruitfulness makes the wait well worthwhile.


41. The Binding of Satan (20): The spiritual restraint of Satan throughout the Era of Gospel Proclamation, so that he cannot deceive God’s elect in such a way as to prevent them from coming to Christ; nor can he deceive the nations in such a way as to bring them against the Church for the Last Battle. Not, that is, until the end.


42. The First Resurrection (20): At the moment of physical death, the raising of the spirits of the saints to spiritual perfection in heaven above, where they will reign with Christ—in life, over all their previous spiritual enemies—throughout (the remainder of) the Era of Gospel Proclamation.


43. The Judgment Given to the Saints (20): The privilege of participating, with Christ, in the final judgment of the saints and angels (Dan. 7:9, 26-27; 1 Cor. 6:2-14; Rev. 2:16-27).


44. The Great White Throne (20): An emblem of the holiness and sovereignty of the One seated upon it, and also of the perfect justice of the judgments he is about to render.


45. The One Seated Upon It (20): God the Father, but here in the Person of his glorified Son: the High King of heaven and the God-appointed judge of all humanity, which now, in their resurrected or transformed bodies, stands before him.


46. The Scrolls (20): The record—lodged both in the mind of God and the minds of men—of a person’s deeds done in the body during his days upon earth. The opening of the scrolls is for the purpose of determining the reward or retribution merited by a person’s deeds.


47. The Scroll of Life (20): The register, lodged in the mind of the triune God, of the names of all who, during their days on earth, trusted in the Person and Work of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the reception of the free gift of eternal life.


48. The Holy City, New Jerusalem (21): The Church, the Bride of Christ, the Bridal City of God, recently descended from the sky, now inhabiting the eschatological Paradise of God: the new heavens and the new earth. Resting upon on the foundation of the divine truth witnessed by God’s holy apostles and prophets (symbolized by the twelve foundation stones), she has the glory of God (symbolized by precious gems, pearls, and gold), eternal security (symbolized by high walls of salvation, all erected by Christ), and eternal access, both to God and to God in one another (symbolized by her eternally open gates).


49. The River of the Water of Life (22): The life of God and the Lamb, flowing to and through holy City by the Holy Spirit.


50. The Tree of Life (22): The glorified Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, like the leaves of a medicinal tree, maintains to all eternity the health and well-being of the nations of saints who trusted in him.

“I know your works, that you are neither hot nor cold. If only you were hot or cold!
So then: Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am poised to spew you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16


In what was surely the sternest reproof addressed to any of the seven churches in Asia, the High King of Heaven directed these words to the Christians at Laodicea. How shall we understand them? Were they spoken to born-again believers? And if so, how shall we reconcile them with so many others in the NT, affirming or clearly implying the eternal security of true believers in Christ? Is it really possible that such persons could become so backslidden—so lukewarm—that their Lord, in a dreadful moment of divine disgust, would spew them out of his mouth once and for all?

Since many sincere Christians fear this very thing, we do well to think deeply about these questions. Three closely related points may be made.


First, we cannot understand our passage unless we realize that both Christ and his apostles interacted with disciples not only on the basis of the reality of their faith, but also on the basis of their simple profession of faith.

Some biblical examples will illustrate this fundamental point.

The Lord certainly counted Judas among his disciples, seeing that over and again he instructed him and sent him out to do the work of a disciple (Matt. 10:16-23). However, Jesus knew full well that in his heart Judas was no disciple at all; that he did not believe as the eleven did (John 6:66-73), and that he was not clean as the eleven were (John 13:10).

Again, in his Parable of the Talents the Lord speaks of three different men. He calls all three his servants, and all three call him their Master. But only the first two were true servants and therefore judged to be good servants; whereas the third was no servant at all, and was therefore judged to be evil and lazy (Matt. 7:15-19; 25:14-30). Much the same is true of the wise and foolish virgins: Both were styled as virgins, and both called the Bridegroom “Lord”. However, the Bridegroom himself only knew the wise (Matt. 25:1-13; 7:21).

Or again, the apostle Peter predicts the arrival of false teachers who will secretly introduce destructive heresies into the Church, even to the extent of denying the Master who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1). Will Christ truly have bought these teachers? Surely not, for then they would truly belong to him, and would truly love the truth rather than embrace and promote heresy (John 14:16-18). Nevertheless, they will profess that they belong to him. And Peter, in order to highlight the gravity of their apostasy, here takes them at their word, charging that they will deny the Master who (they say) bought him.

In OT times God called all the Israelites his people, for all the Israelites, by natural birth, were descendants of Abraham, the physical father of the OT family and nation of God. However, as the apostle wrote, not all who were descended from Israel were Israel, for not all who were physically descended from Jacob were circumcised in their hearts, as Jacob and other members of spiritual Israel were (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Phil. 3:13-14).

In NT times the situation is similar. The Lord calls all professing Christians his people, and relates to them as such, even though he knows that some of them are his people only by verbal profession, whereas others are his people by verbal profession due to spiritual possession. They are his people by spiritual rebirth into the family of God, by possessing the indwelling Spirit of God (John 2:23-25; 3:1-8; 6:60-65; 14:17; 1 Cor. 12:13).


This brings us to our second point, namely, that when the Lord addressed the church at Laodicea, he was doing this very thing. He was speaking to the church as a whole, to all who named the name of Christ. No doubt this included a few fervent born-again believers, but also many backslidden, and many more nominal: mere professors of the faith, who in time might be born again, but who in time also might be revealed as hypocrites and/or apostates. In light of this great mixture, Christ judged that the church, on the whole, was dangerously lukewarm. Therefore it stood in need not only of a sharp rebuke, but also of a fresh expression of mercy, grace, and love, plus a sincere invitation to new life in him.

How did the Laodicean church arrive at this dire condition? Let us consider a likely scenario. Early on, at the founding of the church, its members were no doubt much like the fruitful saints in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). Having just been born from above, the majority were on fire for the King and his Kingdom. Now, however, a generation or two later, the affluence, materialism, and arrogant self-sufficiency of Laodicea have taken a spiritual toll on the church, with the result that the life and fervency of Christ have all but drained away. Again, practically speaking, this means that while a few Laodicean Christians were surely dining intimately with their Lord (v. 20; 3:4), the vast majority were either badly backslidden or mere professors. This condition both dishonored the Lord and imperiled his purposes for the city. The church therefore stood in danger of judgment, even to the removal of the lampstand of the Lord (Rev. 2:5).

What might such a judgment have have looked like: a judicial hardening of hearts, such that many who once professed the faith suddenly depart from it, or even turn against it (1 John 2:19); strong persecution, purifying the earnest saints, alarming the backslidden, and driving the nominal into hiding or apostasy; numerous Laodicean house churches folding altogether, leaving a small remnant of true believers and penitent backsliders to start the work of the Kingdom from scratch?

Whatever the Lord had in mind, we now hear him speaking both sternly and lovingly to all: to the faithful, the backslidden, and the nominal. And since most of the Christians in Laodicea fell into the latter two categories, we find him outside of the church, standing at the door, knocking, seeking entry, and warmly inviting all without exception to a fellowship meal with the High King. To the nominal he offers spiritual birth, and to the backslidden spiritual renewal: all on condition of simply turning around, opening the door, and letting him in.

This invitation, while sweet, could nevertheless result in judgment. If the nominal spurn his offer, he will indeed spew them out of his mouth, likely by a judicial hardening that severs any further connection with the life-giving ordinances of the Church, and so with the Head of the Church (John 15:1-7; Col. 2:18-19). As for the backslidden, if they will not repent, he may simply take them home (1 Cor. 11:30). In that sad case, they will be numbered among those who largely built with wood, hay, and stubble; men whose works will be burned up in the judgment, though they themselves will be saved, yet only as someone escaping through a fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15).


These observations bring us to our third and final point, namely, that in the case of the true Christians—whether faithful or backslidden—the Lord will in fact never spew them out of his mouth. This comforting truth is trumpeted over and again in the NT, and is embedded in the very nature of God’s redemptive work. The saints were chosen by God before the founding of the world; redeemed and purchased by Jesus Christ; effectually called, sealed, and preserved by the Holy Spirit; forgiven and justified once and for all at the moment of faith; and—in the mind, purpose, and plan of God—already glorified (John 5:24; Rom. 8:28-29; Ephesians 1:3-14). Most truly does the omnipotent Redeemer of the Church say to all his elect children, “No one can snatch you out my hand” (John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:31-39).

But does this encouraging truth mean that in his exhortation to the Laodiceans the Lord had nothing to say to his fervent children; to all who, like Jacob of old, were fighting the good fight of faith, clinging to the Messenger of the LORD with purpose of heart (Gen. 32:24-32)?

Far from it! For here they learned yet again to respect and fear the soul-numbing power of affluence, pride, self-sufficiency, materialism, and spiritual laziness. Here they were reminded of the importance—indeed, the urgency—of dining daily and intimately with the High King, who promises to warm the hearts of his subjects, and to make them hot for the knowledge of God and the work of his Kingdom (v. 15; Rom. 12:11). Implicitly, they were admonished not only to teach their children the faith, but also to model it for them; to effuse upon their kids the love and warmth that comes from daily imbibing the Spirit of Christ. And explicitly, they were counseled to receive God’s true wealth from the only One who can give it. In a manner unique to the earnest disciples of Christ, they must daily buy from him gold refined in the fire, garments of white for the covering of shame, and heavenly eye-salve, so that their eyes may truly see.


Reading our text, it’s easy to see how the Lord’s words were actually directed to all professing Christians of all times. But since our own time has suddenly become so extraordinarily dark, I think it’s important also to consider the distinctly eschatological significance of his exhortation. What might Christ be saying here to the Church that will name his Name at the end of the world?

Though I do not embrace an historicist interpretation of Revelation 2-3, I nevertheless believe that the local church in Ephesus does indeed symbolize the global Church at the beginning of the Era of Gospel Proclamation, whereas the local church in Laodicea symbolizes the global institutional Church at the end of the present evil age.

This sobering thesis is confirmed by a number of other NT texts describing the spiritual condition of the Church in the last of the last days, the days just prior to the return of Christ and the Consummation.

The Lord said that as the end draws near the world will become like it was in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:36-41), and like it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:28-30). Therefore, in those days lawlessness will increase, so that the love of many (professing Christians) will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). Was this not state of the Laodicean church?

Again, the Lord asked his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find (strong, vibrant) faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). He certainly didn’t find it in Laodicea at the end of the first century; and from the tone of his question, it appears he will not find it in the global, institutional church at the end of the age.1

And reading Paul’s description of the last of the last days (2 Timothy 3:1-5), who can fail to see a mirror image of the world in which we now live? But, says the apostle, in those days many professing disciples will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). I think it highly likely that many of professing Christians in Laodicea were doing the same.2

Finally, we have Revelation 18, a chapter in which the Holy Spirit depicts the fallen world-system much as it does Laodicea: as an affluent, arrogant, and self-sufficient city (“Great Babylon”), altogether oblivious to its imminent doom. This is why we hear the voice of the High King calling to his saints, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).

And so I ask: Will not Great Babylon at the end be much like Laodicea in the beginning? And on that assumption, will not the global, institutional church at the end be much like the Laodicean church near the beginning? If so, let every earnest Christian hear afresh the call of the Lord. Let him swiftly come out of both cities, and let him take up full residence in the one true City of God (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21:2, 10).3

We conclude, then, that warmhearted Christians of all generations can indeed profit from the words of our text, but especially those who are destined to live and serve the Lord in the last of the last days.

But if, in reading those words, any of them should find themselves stricken with a fear of rejection, let them recall the High King’s precious promise to his own: “All that the Father gives to me will come to me; and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37, 1 John 4:18).

Most assuredly, that includes “spew out” as well.



1. Objectively, the answer to the Lord’s question is, “Yes, he will find faith on the earth” (Matt. 24:31, 1 Thess. 4:13-18). But the “Nevertheless” in Luke 18:18 suggests that it will not be widespread. As the Spirit of God tells us in Revelation 20:7-10, in the Last Battle the enemies of the Church will come from the four corners of the earth, and will be as numerous as the sands of the sea. In that day the camp of the saints and the City of God will be a little flock. And remembering well how worldly Lot was barely saved, and also how the Laodicean church teetered on the brink of destruction, serious Christians, intent on being a part of that holy flock, will very closely follow their Shepherd, and diligently dine daily with their King.

2. There is a primary reason why any church is filled with nominal and backslidden believers: Its leaders are no longer (purely) preaching the Gospel of Christ in the Spirit of Christ, if in fact they ever did. At least in a measure, such leaders have departed from the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, and have been seduced by deceiving spirits. As a result, the flock is troubled, weakened, and headed for Laodicea (John 21:15-25; 1 Tim. 4:1-16). The bottom line: Let us pray for our elders!

3. On this point I do not wish to be misunderstood. Yes, I do indeed hear the Lord calling his people out of the institutional church, but only to the extent that the institution where they worship has become Laodicean in spirit, doctrine, and practice. In our day, this is precisely what has happened to a number of the mainline denominations, for which reason they are hemorrhaging members, and rightly so. Our Lord said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” There will always be healthy churches in the earth, “instituted” by God’s call. Healthy Christians will seek them out, build them up, and joyfully abide there for the duration!