4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat upon them; and authority to judge had been given to them. And I saw the souls of those who were beheaded because of their testimony concerning Jesus, and because of the word of God. And I saw those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead or on their hand. And they all came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years had come to an end.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection: Over these the second death holds no sway, but they will be priests of God and of Christ; and they will reign with him (throughout) the 1,000 years. — Revelation 20:4-6

———–

BY AND LARGE, amillennial interpreters agree that in Revelation 20 the Holy Spirit, for a sixth and final time, has used Old and New Testament imagery to symbolize the Era of Gospel Proclamation: the season between Christ’s first and second advents.

Accordingly, this chapter also speaks of certain key eschatological events that will occur in that era. In particular, the first of its four sections speaks of the binding and imprisonment of Satan at the beginning of the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). The second speaks of the First Resurrection and the blessings of those who reign with Christ throughout the 1,000 years; correspondingly, it also speaks of the Second Death of persons who did not attain the First Resurrection or the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:4-6). The third section speaks of the Last Battle and the judgment of Satan, set to occur at the end of the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:7-10). The fourth and final section speaks of the Judgment of all mankind at the Great White Throne, which also occurs at the end of the 1,000 years (Rev. 20:11-15).

In this essay I want to focus on the second section of Revelation 20, found in verses 4-6. Of the four, this is certainly the most difficult and controversial, and therefore merits special consideration. I will begin by offering my own amillennial interpretation, after which I will interact with premillennial views and defend mine at greater length.

An Amillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:4-6  

John has opened the chapter by giving us a revelation of the binding and imprisonment of Satan, both of which will last for 1000 years. Here the Spirit is using the number 1000 symbolically: it is a sign, signifying the entire era of Gospel Proclamation (Rev. 1:1). This era began when Jesus Christ—through his atoning death, resurrection, session, and ensuing heavenly reign—bound (i.e., restrained) Satan from deceiving the nations any longer (John 12, 2 Thess. 2, Rev. 12). In particular, Satan can no longer deceive God’s worldwide elect in such a way as to keep them in his thrall and prevent them from coming to Christ. Similarly, he cannot (yet) deceive the multitude of unregenerate persons in such a way as to gather them together for the Last Battle against Christ and the Church (Rev. 20:7-10). Here we are told that this era will last a long time (1000), but only long enough for the triune God (3) to complete (10) the ingathering of his people (10 x 10 x 10). Once that is accomplished, the end will come (Matt. 24:14).

Having opened the chapter in this way, the Holy Spirit now addresses a question that will naturally arise in the minds of every believer. One thousand years bespeaks a long time. What will happen to the saints who die during that season? Our text supplies the answer. The amillennial interpretation is as follows:

Those whom John sees seated on thrones are souls: the souls of the saints who remained faithful to Christ throughout their portion of the Era of Proclamation, died, and entered Heaven (v. 4). In partial fulfillment of Daniel 7:9, at the moment of their death authority to judge was given to them; that is, God authorized them to participate with Christ in the Judgment (v. 4).

Some of these saints died as martyrs, but all were loyal to the Word of God (v. 4). All refused to worship the Beast (i.e., the self-deifying, anti-Christian State). All refused to worship the image of the Beast (i.e., to participate in the religious cultus of the anti-Christian State) (v. 4). And all refused to take the mark of the Beast upon their forehead or their hand (i.e., to identify themselves, in thought and deed, as loyal followers of the Beast).

As a result of their covenant loyalty to the Lord, these saints “came to life and reigned with Christ during the 1,000 years” (v. 4). That is, at the moment of their death God raised their souls to spiritual perfection for life in Heaven with Christ throughout the (remainder of the) Intermediate State. The Holy Spirit identifies this spiritual coming to life as “the first resurrection”. Later on, at the end of the 1,000 years, this spiritual coming to life will be followed by a physical coming to life; the first (spiritual) resurrection will be consummated by a second (bodily) resurrection that will equip the saints for the fullness of human life in the new heavens and the new earth (v. 5).

In speaking of these things, and by way of a warning to all, the Holy Spirit also mentions here the destiny of unbelievers. They too will “come to life,” but only at the end of the 1,000 years, when their souls, previously in Hades, are joined to resurrection bodies and then subjected to “the second death,” which is the Lake of Fire (vv. 5, 14).

Our passage concludes with John identifying three blessings that God has prepared for the saints who attain the first resurrection.

First, the second death now holds no sway [lit. has no authority] over them. Having triumphantly passed their probation on the earth, they are eternally secure from all possibility of apostasy and perdition. Henceforth, admonitions and warnings to remain faithful will neither be needed nor heard.

Secondly, they will be priests of God and Christ. Spiritually, they will enter fully upon their eternal ministry of worship and service to the triune God (1 Peter 2:9-10).

And thirdly, they will reign with Christ throughout the 1,000 years. That is, having attained to the fullness of eternal life through the entrance of their spirits into Heaven, they, like Christ, will reign victoriously over every deadly spiritual enemy that previously opposed them during their time on earth.

Summing up, (many) amillennarians believe that Revelation 20:4-6 gives us a final biblical depiction of the Intermediate State. At the moment of their death the spirits of the saints who have persevered in the faith enter Heaven, where they come to the fullness and perfection of eternal life. The Holy Spirit identifies this special coming to life as “the first resurrection” because it is analogous to, and guarantees, a second resurrection (of the body) at the Lord’s return at the end of the age. Herein lies a great a hope for all Christians, a hope that will encourage and enable them to persevere in their difficult pilgrimage through the wilderness of this present world.

This Interpretation Defended

Alas, our premillennarian brethren cannot agree. They say that the “coming to life” of verse 4 is not strictly spiritual, but rather physical: At the Lord’s premillennial return he will join the departed souls of faithful Old and New Testament believers to their new resurrection bodies. Henceforth they will sit upon thrones and reign with him for 1,000 years. This coming to life is called “the first resurrection” because it is the first of two bodily resurrections. The second will occur at the end of the Millennium when God raises unrighteous and unbelieving persons for the last judgment.

Premillennarians defend this view by citing the parenthetical remark found in verse 5. It reads, “The rest of the dead did not come to life [ezesan] until the thousand years were completed.” All interpreters agree that “the rest of the dead” are the souls presently in Hades, souls that will come to life at the resurrection of their bodies. “But,” say the premillennarians, “if the Holy Spirit used the same Greek word (ezesan) to describe both the first (v. 4) and second resurrections (v. 5), how can you possibly assert that the first is spiritual but the second physical?”

At first blush this argument seems compelling. But what if there was solid evidence to show that the Spirit, for wise reasons, intentionally used the same word in two different senses? What if there was evidence to show that the two “comings to life” differ not only in timing, but also in nature? Needless to say, amillennarians are convinced that such evidence does indeed exist.

But let us begin at the beginning: with the various evidences favorable to the amillennial view.

First, we have just seen from verse 4 that the entire scene is heavenly. John has explicitly referenced souls, and Revelation 6:9 strongly suggests that they are in Heaven. He has explicitly mentioned thrones, and in the Revelation they are always situated in Heaven when associated with the saints (Rev. 4:4, 11:16, 19:4). Moreover, he says not a word about the bodily resurrection of these saints.

Secondly, the parenthetical remark found in verse 5 actually supports the amillennial interpretation. John writes, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years had come to an end.” The premillennial reading is: “The dead referred to in verses 4-5 come to life bodily at the beginning of the Millennium and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead will not come to life bodily until the 1,000 years are over.” The amillennial reading is: “The dead are divisible into two groups: the dead whose souls John is seeing in Heaven, and the rest of the dead whose souls are still in Hades. The former come to life spiritually at the moment of their death, but not yet bodily (Rev. 20:13). The latter will never come to life spiritually, but will indeed come to life bodily, but only to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.” The evidences previously cited, together with the eschatology of the DNT, strongly favor the amillennial view.

Thirdly, we have John’s remark found in verse 6: “Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection: over these the second death holds no sway.” This is a glorious promise, given to conscientious saints struggling to pass all tests and resist all temptations so that they may complete their earthly pilgrimage victoriously. But if, as premillennarians assert, the first resurrection is bodily, then this promise, far from being a blessing, opens a door to all manner of doubts and fears. Henceforth, premillennarians are left to wonder: “When I die and my soul enters Heaven, will it still be in danger? Must I still take tests and wrestle with temptations? Might I yet apostatize? Do I really have to wait until the Lord’s return and the resurrection of my body before I can rest assured that the second death will hold no sway over me?”

“God forbid!” cries the amillennarian. “The first resurrection is not bodily, but spiritual. It is the holy moment when you transition from earthly life to the Intermediate State. It is the triumphant conclusion of your Gospel probation upon the earth. Henceforth you will be perfectly holy in spirit. Henceforth you can never fall away from God. Henceforth the second death has no authority over you, as indeed it would if, while still living upon the earth, you fell into temptation and denied your Lord (2 Tim. 2:12); which, by the way, is something that the Good Shepherd will never let one of his true sheep do (John 10:27-29)!”

We find, then, that verse 6 powerfully illumines the true meaning of the saints’ “coming to life” and “the first resurrection.” These picturesque expressions speak of their souls’ victorious entrance upon the glories of the Intermediate State.

It remains to ask, however, why the Holy Spirit would use the same Greek word (ezesan) to describe two different kinds of coming to life: two different kinds of resurrection. The answer, I believe, is found in the progress of biblical revelation concerning the Intermediate State, and in the prophetic purpose of the Revelation.

 Think back to the days of the early Church. Having been well taught by the apostles, most Christians would have understood that “soon” all (deceased) human beings will come to life in a single bodily resurrection of the dead (Luke 20:27-40; John 5:26-29; Acts 24:15, 21; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). However, as the Lord tarried, and as some of the saints began to die, surviving believers would naturally be concerned about the condition of departed loved ones after their death but prior to the bodily resurrection. The apostles understood this and addressed their concern by teaching them about the Intermediate State (2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 1:21-24; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Heb. 12:22-24). However, as the NT canon neared completion, it pleased the High Prophet of Heaven to do so one final time.

Accordingly, here in Revelation 20 he gives the Church Militant a climactic word of instruction, exhortation, and encouragement concerning the Intermediate State. I would paraphrase it as follows: “Yes, in the general resurrection all people will come to life bodily. However, should I tarry, always remember that for those who believe, overcome, and die in the faith there awaits a first resurrection of their spirit that supplies a foretaste and guarantee of the final resurrection of their body. There awaits a first coming to life in Heaven that supplies a foretaste and guarantee of a final coming to life in the World to Come. And there awaits a first reigning with me in Heaven that supplies a foretaste and guarantee of a final reigning with me and my Father in the new heavens and the new earth. So then: Armed with these glorious promises, see to it that you overcome!” (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 5:10; 22:5).

We find, then, that the Lord used the same word to describe two different “comings to life” because the two comings to life—much like the two stages of the one Kingdom of God—share the same fundamental nature: the first is unto spiritual perfection, and lasts a little while; the second is unto spiritual and physical perfection, and lasts forever. Thus did it please the High Prophet of Heaven to further illuminate the glories of the Intermediate State, thereby giving his people fresh hope and moving them to stay faithful throughout the remainder of their difficult pilgrimage upon the earth (John 11:26; Rev. 20:6).

This is one of the most comforting eschatological texts in all sacred Scripture. It is also one of the most controversial, since our dispensational brethren claim that here the Lord is speaking of a secret rapture of the Church. Let us therefore look first at the text itself, and then at the dispensational arguments.

An Amillennial View

The disciples are troubled. Jesus has just said that one of them will betray him (John 13:21-30), and that another, their leader, is about to deny him three times (John 13:37-38). Worst of all, he has told them that soon he will go away to his Father, and that they themselves cannot join him (John 13:33, 36). Aware of their fears (and forgetful of his own), he therefore devotes the remainder of the Upper Room Discourse to preparing them for what lies ahead.

He opens with three commands: “Let not your hearts be troubled: Believe in God, believe also in me” (v. 1). The antidote to their fears—and ours—is implicit trust in the character, sovereignty, promises, and salvation of God; and not only of God, but also of his Christ, in whom all of these precious gifts and remedies are found (2 Cor. 1:20).

Next, he makes a very special promise, a promise designed to cheer their hearts and calm their fears:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. – John 14:2-3

To benefit from these words we must understand Jewish marriage customs, which were very much in Jesus’ mind when he spoke them. Broadly, an ancient Jewish marriage had three components. First came the betrothal. Here the parents of a young man arranged a suitable marriage for their son. This involved the father paying a “bride-price” to her parents, after which the families usually exchanged gifts and drank a cup of wine to seal the marriage covenant. At this point the couple were legally married. Next there came the waiting period. During this time—which could be quite lengthy—the groom prepared a house (or rooms) for his bride, sometimes on his father’s estate. Meanwhile, the bride prepared herself to live and serve with her husband as a skillful keeper of his home. Finally, there came the wedding ceremony. On the night of the marriage the groom and his friends would make their way in a joyful procession to the bride’s house (Matt. 25:1f). When they arrived, she and her maids would join the groom, after which they would typically return to his father’s house for the marriage ceremony, the marriage feast, the consummation of the marriage, and more festivities when the couple emerged from the chuppa, or bridal chamber, to join the party. Henceforth they would live together as husband and wife.

Time would fail us to discuss all the ways in which the Holy Spirit drew upon these ancient customs in order to depict the romance of redemption in Scripture. For our present purposes, however, only one thing is needful: to see that here, in John 14:2-3, Jesus was doing that very thing. He knew that at Calvary the Father would pay the bride-price. He knew that immediately afterwards he himself would return to his Father’s heavenly house to prepare a dwelling-place for his Beloved. And he knew that at the appointed times he would return to receive her to himself, so that she might be with him where he is (Matt. 25:1-13).

Keeping the Didactic New Testament (DNT) in view, let us carefully probe Jesus’ exact words, for they are eschatologically richer than we may think.1

First he says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places” (v. 2). The reference here is two-fold: not only to heaven above, but also to heaven up ahead: the new heavens and the new earth that he will create at his return. In this two-fold house there are (and will be) many dwelling-places. In other words, in both of these realms God has carefully prepared, or will prepare, not physical shelters, but spiritual niches: spheres of life and service specifically designed for each of his dear children. And there are many such niches, for both the world up above and the world up ahead will be filled with a great multitude whom no man can number, drawn from every nation, people, tribe, and tongue (Rev. 7:9f).

Next, Jesus assures the disciples that “I go to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). Again we have a two-fold meaning. First he goes to prepare a place for the saints in heaven above. That is, he is soon to enter heaven as their High Priest and Sacrifice, there to make eternal intercession for them, with the result that the Father can welcome them into heaven as his beloved children (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 6:19-20, 7:25). But secondly, at his return he will create new heavens and a new earth, thus “preparing” an eternal chuppa (or dwelling-place) for himself and his beloved Bride (Phil. 3:20-21; Rev. 21:1-2).

Finally, Jesus promises his fearful disciples that “ . . . if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (v. 3). Once again we encounter layers of meaning, layers that the DNT equips us to discern and enjoy. There are three of them.

First, at the moment of their new birth, Christ will come to his disciples in the Spirit and receive them to himself (John 14:16-18). In the case of the eleven, this occurred on the Day of Pentecost. In the case of the rest of God’s children, it occurs in the centuries to follow. As a result of this initial coming, the saint’s bodies continue to dwell and serve the Lord upon the earth, but their spirits are raised to newness of life, so that henceforth they are also seated in the heavenly places in Christ (Rom. 6:4; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:20). Even now they are “with Christ where he is.” Even now—though only dimly, as if in a mirror—they behold his glory (John 17:24; 1 Cor. 13:12; Cor. 3:18).

Secondly, at the moment of their physical death Christ will again come to his disciples in the Spirit, this time to perfect their souls and take them to live with him in heaven above. In other words, Jesus’ words are also fulfilled when, at their death, the saints enter Intermediate State (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 14:13). As we saw earlier, this is true burden of Revelation 20:4-6. In all such texts the Lord would have us know that throughout the Intermediate State the saints will be where he is: in heaven itself. But there, at long last, we will be like him, for there we will see him face to face, just as he is (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Christ will come to his disciples on the Day of his Parousia. Yes, when he descends from heaven he will be bringing their (perfected) spirits with him. But then, at the Resurrection, he will join those spirits to new glorified bodies, so that in their flesh they will see God (in Christ) with their own eyes (Job 19:26-28). In that Day he will yet again take his Bride to himself, but this time once and for all, so that henceforth they may dwell together forever in the glorious new Chuppa to Come (Rev. 14:1, 21:1-5).

Here, then, we have a powerful host of reasons why the Bride of Christ must not let her heart be troubled. When fear and sorrow threaten to overwhelm, she is to steady herself by listening afresh the voice of her heavenly Husband: “Beloved, always remember that through your new birth I have already come for you, and that even now you dwell with me where I am. But more than that, always remember that great things are waiting for you up ahead; that at the moment of your death—and also at the Resurrection of the Dead—I will again come to you and receive you to myself, so that where I am—and as I am—you may be also. Beloved Bride, be faithful until death: truly, it will be worth the wait!”

The Dispensational View

We have seen that John 14:1-3 harmonizes quite well with amillennial eschatology. How does the dispensational view fare? To find out, let’s listen to John MacArthur on our text:

“This is one of the passages that refer to the Rapture of the saints at the end of the age when Christ returns. The features in this description do not describe Christ coming to earth with His saints to establish His kingdom (Rev. 19:11-15), but taking believers from earth to live in heaven. Since no judgment on the unsaved is described here, this is not the event of His return in glory and power to destroy the wicked (Matt. 131:36-43). Rather this describes his coming to gather his own.”

In reply, I offer three observations.

First, if the rest of the DNT explicitly taught a pre-tribulation Rapture, then we would have to admit that this text could be referring to it. It is, as it were, a blank eschatological slate, amenable to different interpretations. We have seen, however, that the DNT always teaches a single Coming of Christ and a single Consummation. Accordingly, it is certain that this text does not refer to a pre-tribulation Rapture.

Secondly, MacArthur says, “The features in this description do not describe Christ coming to earth with His saints to establish His kingdom, but taking believers from earth to live in heaven.” We have seen, however, that the Lord’s actual words display a studied ambiguity. That is, they can indeed be interpreted to say that he will come to his disciples and take them to heaven, whether through the new birth, or through the first resurrection at the moment of their death (Rev. 20:4-6). However, they also can be interpreted to say that at his return he will take his disciples to be with him in the new heavens and the new earth. Since the DNT teaches this three-fold fulfillment, it is biblically justified to read it into our text. But since the DNT does not teach or support the dispensational interpretation, it is not biblically justified to read it into the text.

Finally, MacArthur says, “Since no judgment on the unsaved is described here, this is not the event of His return in glory and power to destroy the wicked.” Now this is perfectly true, if we are thinking of the first and second kinds of coming. But what of the third: the Lord’s bodily coming at the end of the age? Does Jesus’ silence about a general resurrection and judgment mean that he did not have them in mind? What if he elected not to mention them here, not only to leave room for the first two kinds of coming, but also, in regard to third, to focus the disciple’s attention on the supremely comforting prospect of being with him forever in the glorified World to Come? MacArthur’s argument from silence is not convincing. Moreover, there are many NT texts that refute his assertion by positively teaching that Christ will indeed judge the unrighteous at his bodily Coming (Matt. 13:37-43, 24-25; 1 Cor. 15:20-28, 50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11; 2 Thess. 1:3-12, 2:1-12).

We conclude, then, that the amillennial interpretation of this text supplies a truer, richer, and far more comforting meaning than that of our dispensational brothers. The Lord is not speaking here of a pre-tribulation rapture, but of a three-fold coming to his disciples: first at the moment of their new birth, second at the moment of their death, and finally at his Parousia at the end of the age. When the heart of the Bride is troubled, let her meditate on all three, but especially on the eternal union that will be hers at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7).2

Notes

1. I define the Didactic New Testament as the teaching portions of the NT: Select passages in the Gospels, the Epistles, and select passages in the book of Acts.

2. This essay is an excerpt from a book in progress, The Great End Time Debate: Issues, Options, and Amillennial Answers (Redemption Press). It should be released later this year or very early in 2022.

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast at all?” So Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn while the bridegroom is still with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be made worse. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins, for if they do, the wineskins burst, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

—Matthew 9:14-17

 

The New Testament—a single long book comprised of 27 short books, written over a span of some 40 years by eight or nine chosen followers of Jesus Christ, telling us who he was, what he did, what he taught, how he died and rose and ascended into heaven, and what all of this means for Israel and the nations—may aptly be called God’s Wineskin. The New Testament text cited above helps us to understand why.

When the disciples of John the Baptizer came to Jesus, they brought both a question and (it would appear) a complaint. “Why is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast at all?” Jesus’ answer—cordial but firm—is twofold.

The King Has Come!

First, in light of his current presence in the world, it isn’t proper that they should fast. He is the Bridegroom—the long-awaited Savior, King, and spiritual Husband of Israel. How can the friends of the Bridegroom fast when he is right there with them? This is not a time for mourning, but for celebration!

Note, however, that Jesus himself casts a shadow over the celebration: “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.” With the benefit of hindsight, we know what he means. Through treachery, injustice, and a shocking death by crucifixion, he and his friends will soon be separated, seemingly forever. And that indeed will be a proper time for fasting. But on the subject of joy and celebration, Jesus is not yet finished. Far from it!

A New Covenant is Coming!

For now he tells them (and us) something further, and something staggering to the Jewish mind. There is another reason his disciples cannot fast: God is now doing something new, something that calls for uninterrupted celebration, indeed, eternal celebration. He is fashioning a new patch of cloth. He is stitching a new wineskin. In other words, he is now revealing a new and definitive body of spiritual truth. What’s more, by means of this new body of truth he is also unveiling a new and definitive covenant (or spiritual agreement) between himself and everyone on earth who is willing to enter into it.

In the days ahead Jesus will have much more to say about this New Covenant. For the moment, however, he is focused on one of its outstanding characteristics: its fundamental incompatibility with the Old Covenant. And so he says, “No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment and the tear will be made worse. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins, for if they do, the wineskins burst, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. Instead, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Why did Jesus press this point? Why was he so keen on exalting the new wineskin above the old, and on separating the two once and for all?

The Old, the New, the Eternal 

The rest of the New Testament supplies the answer. The Old Covenant was instituted through mere men, Abraham and Moses; the New Covenant will be instituted through the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. The Old Covenant was an agreement solely between God and Israel; the New Covenant will be an agreement between God and all who trust in Christ the whole world over. The Old Covenant pictured, promised, and prepared for the things of Christ; the New Covenant gives us the things of Christ themselves, and Christ himself. Under the Old Covenant, life was characterized by much spiritual failure, sorrow, and penitential fasting; under the New Covenant, life will be characterized by much spiritual victory, joy, and celebratory feasting . . . with persecutions.

All of this and more was in Jesus’ mind as he spoke to John’s disciples. For he knew that from the very beginning God had but a single plan for the spiritual life and joy of people everywhere. Now that he (Jesus) is here, the plan is beginning to be unveiled. Later—after his death, resurrection, and return to heaven—the Holy Spirit will fully unveil it to his apostles. Moreover, in the apostles’ writings that same Spirit will definitively lay out the plan and treasure it up in a book called the New Testament; likewise, he will lay out the new way of life that is proper to the plan. Thus, through a great chain of divine revelation, the spiritual truth, power, and joy of God’s New Covenant people will be preserved forever.

Here then is why we may aptly refer to the New Testament as God’s Wineskin. According to his own testimony, given through Jesus Christ, it is the God-appointed vessel in which he now brings to all mankind his ultimate spiritual truth, truth that will bring all who hear and obey it into an everlasting covenant with him, thereby enabling them to partake of the new and intoxicating wine of eternal life (John 17:1-2). For this reason what was said long ago to an earthly father about a marriage feast prepared for his daughter, may now be said to our Heavenly Father: “Every man sets out the good wine first; then, when the guests have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the good wine till now” (John 2:10)!

The Wine in the Skin

But what exactly are the contents of God’s Wineskin? What are these definitive truths that he is so eager for us all to know? Surely the best response to such questions is for each of us to take up the Wineskin and drink from it ourselves. But in hopes of encouraging you to do that very thing, please permit one of the friends of the Bridegroom to share a little of what he has seen, tasted, and come to cherish.

The One True Worldview

First, God’s Wineskin contains the answers to what I like to call the Questions of Life. Every human heart is familiar with them; and sooner or later every human heart is deeply concerned about them. They include: What is the ultimate reality, the source of the universe and everything in it? What is the origin of the universe, life, and man? What (if anything) went wrong: Why are evil, suffering, and death present in the world? What (if anything) can be done about them? Does human life have a purpose, and if so, what is it? What are the moral standards by which we should govern our lives? What happens when we die? What is the future of the universe, life, and man? And finally, is it really possible to find trustworthy answers to all these ultimate questions?

The answers we give to the Questions of Life determine what is called our worldview: the way we look at all things as a whole. True philosophers tell us that the unexamined life is not worth living; that the primary purpose of a meaningful life is to find the answers to these questions, to go in search of the one true worldview. According to Jesus and his apostles, God has poured them all into the New Testament. If you are a philosopher or a theologian (and in a way we all are), such a claim, and the prospect of validating it, is intoxicating indeed.

A Treasure Trove of Good Gifts

Secondly, God’s Wineskin contains instructions as to how we may receive certain gifts from God, gifts that we desperately need, and gifts that are meant for our eternal joy. These include spiritual rebirth, forgiveness of sins, rescue from the peril of eternal punishment, adoption into the family of a loving heavenly Father, free access to his throne in prayer, a blessed assurance that he is ordering all events for his children’s good, slow but steady progress in holiness, wisdom and strength for daily living, the sure hope of heaven when we die, and the ultimate hope of eternal life with God in a brand new world that Christ will create at his return. Again, Jesus taught that we all need these gifts; and he knew that many of us thirst for them. Accordingly, he promised that all who drink from God’s Wineskin—and respond to its contents with simple childlike faith—will find that their thirst is slaked once and for all (John 4:13-14).

A Proposal From the High King

This brings us to our final point, and to a further gift that may actually be the supreme goal of all the rest: a proposal of spiritual marriage to the High King of heaven! We catch a glimpse of this stunning offer in our text, where Jesus identifies himself as the Bridegroom. His disciples would likely have understood. In Old Testament times the prophets had spoken of God as Israel’s spiritual Husband (Jeremiah 2:2-3; Hosea 2:2-20). Elaborating further, they also spoke of the coming Messiah—the promised Savior of the world—as the spiritual Husband of his devoted people (Psalm 45; John 3:25-30). When Jesus answered John’s disciples as he did, he was saying, “I am he.”

Truly, this is a captivating way of thinking about the mission of Christ and his Church. During his life on earth, Jesus sent out his own disciples—“the friends of the Bridegroom”—to speak to their Jewish countrymen. In effect, they were saying, “Here is your Messiah, your long-awaited King. He would have you for his Wife. Will you take him for your Husband?” Later on, following his death and resurrection, the High King would send out still more of his friends into the Roman Empire, where they would ask the Gentiles the same question. Today, as we ourselves drink from God’s Wineskin, we hear him and his friends asking it of us as well.

A Holy Intoxication

But what are we to make of the intoxication component of Jesus’ message? Does it not seem strange—and perhaps even dangerous—that he would speak of the new life he offers to those in covenant with him as wine? Have we not all seen how destructive it can be to mix the fruit of the vine with the sin in man?

Yes, it was risky; but it had to be. For it is written that Jesus Christ did not need anyone to tell him about man, for he knew perfectly well what was in man (John 2:25). And because he did, he also knew that there is only one reality powerful enough to overcome man’s intoxication with sin: intoxication with God.

O Taste and See!

But how shall the great transformation occur? How shall sin-inebriated idolaters become God-intoxicated worshipers? Jesus has given us the answer. It is by drinking the new wine contained in God’s Wineskin. It is by prayerfully entering into the New Covenant with God our Father, through faith in Jesus Christ, his divine Son. It is by saying, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes” to the High King’s proposal of marriage. It is by living with him in intimacy, fruitfulness, teamwork, testing, struggle, adjustment, and deepening friendship. Above all, it is by the experience of an ever-growing fire of love that is stronger than death, and that at the moment of death will flame up into eternal glory. In short, it is through the wholesome, life-giving intoxication that flows from spiritual union and communion with God in Christ.

Here then is one friend’s humble attempt to introduce you to the New Testament, to give you a taste of God’s new wine. But again, I reckon it a far, far better thing for you to open the Wineskin and drink deeply for yourself. As you do, may you find yourself at a marriage feast, celebrating with great joy!

Dean Davis
Winter, 2019

And now 3 John is also completed. Here is the link to it, and below is the entire text. Enjoy! d

3 JOHN

Greeting

The elder, to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

Beloved, I hope1 you are in good health, and that you are prospering in every way, even as your soul is prospering. For it gave me great joy when various brothers came and testified to the truth that is in you,2 since you are indeed walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Gracious Gaius 

Beloved, you are displaying3 faithfulness in whatever you do for the brothers (especially those who are unknown to you4), who have testified about your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God, for they have gone forth on behalf of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support such men, so that we may become co-laborers for5 the truth.

Diotrephes and Demetrius

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, will not acknowledge our authority.6 10 For this reason, if I come, I will remind the people of the deeds he keeps on doing,7 slandering8 us with wicked words. Moreover, not being content with such things, he himself refuses to welcome the brothers, and he forbids it to those who would like to, throwing them out of the church!

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does what is good is from God; he who does what is evil has not seen God.

12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone—indeed, from the truth itself! And we as well so testify, and you know that our testimony is true.

Farewell 

13 I have many things to write to you, but I do not want to write you with pen and ink; 14 instead, I hope to see you shortly, and then we shall speak face to face.

Peace be with you. The friends greet you. Greet all the friends by name.

 

Notes

1. Lit. wish, pray

2. Lit. testified to the truth of you

3. Lit. doing faithfully

4. Lit. strangers, aliens

5. Or, in, with

6. Lit. receive (or pay attention to) us

7. Lit. of his works that he does

8. Or unjustly accusing

 

Here is 2 John in the NEV. Since it’s short, this time you get the whole thing, notes and all! d

 

2 JOHN

Greeting

The elder, to a chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth—and not only I, but also all who have come to know the truth—for the sake of the truth that abides in1 us, and that will be with us forever; that will be with us—in grace, mercy, and peace—from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

Walking in Love

It has given me great joy to find certain of your children walking in truth, just as the Father commanded us to do.2 And now I ask of you, beloved lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the very one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. (And this is love for the Father: that we walk according to His commandments.) This is his3 commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning; and he means that4 you should walk in it.

Beware of Deceivers

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who do not confess Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh; this is the deceiver and the antichrist. So watch over yourselves, that you might not lose the things we have labored for, but rather that you might receive a full reward.

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the teaching of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not greet him as a brother; 11 for he who greets him as a brother is participating in his evil deeds.

Farewell

12 Though I had many other things to write to you, I did not want to communicate using paper and ink; instead, I hope to come to you and speak with you face to face, that our2 joy may be full.

13 The children of your chosen sister greet you.

 

Notes

1. Or among

2. Lit. just as we received a commandment from the Father

3. Lit. the

4. Lit. in order that, so that

5. Some mss your