“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!

“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will wail and mourn and beat their breasts; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a loud blast of the trumpet; and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of the skies to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31


These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, spoken to his disciples shortly before his death on the Cross. Here he promises them that one day soon he will come again to the earth in order effect what theologians refer to as the Consummation. At that time Christ will raise the dead, transform the living saints, catch them all up into the air, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed.

In the paragraphs ahead I want to highlight the central elements of Christ’s return as they are reflected in these special words to his disciples. Then, having done so, I want to ask a two-fold question: Why has God structured the Consummation in this way, and what are we who are still journeying through our life on this earth meant to learn from it?

Let us begin.

First, there is a darkening. Prior to the Lord’s coming, God literally extinguishes the sun, the moon, and the stars. The result is thick darkness, the kind that engulfed the earth-in-the-deep at the dawn of creation, and a kind that will recall the thick spiritual darkness that engulfed all mankind because of the fall of Adam (Gen. 1:1-5; Ex. 10:22; Col. 1:13). But as it was in the beginning, so here: It sets the stage for the appearing of light: the Light of the World, the One who will now separate all light from all darkness forever. In that day sinners will recoil from the Light, but the saints of God will declare that it is exceedingly good (Gen. 1:1-5; Eccl. 11:7; 2 Cor. 4:6).

Secondly, there is an appearing: above all of the Son of Man himself, but also of the sign, the power, and the glory that will attend him at his Coming. Because of the one Resurrection, every eye will see him (Rev. 1:7). But with the seeing of the eye, there will also be a seeing with the mind. In his Light, all will see light (Ps. 36:9). The spiritual truth that was previously made known to men and nations through creation, conscience, Christ, Holy Scripture, and the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel will now appear: palpably, powerfully, and inescapably (Josh. 4:23-24; Is. 45:20-25; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 3:4-6; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 3:15).

Thirdly, there will be mourning. It will emanate from all who previously suppressed the knowledge of the truth in unrighteousness, who loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18). Yes, there will be mourning over the loss of the things they worshiped in life, over the final collapse of the idolatrous City of Man (Rev. 18). But far more dreadfully, there will be mourning over the loss of their eternal souls (Mark 8:36). Scripture itself anticipates their heartbreaking lament: “If only I had sought the Lord when he could be found; if only I had called on him when he was near; if only I had believed and obeyed the light by which God tested my love of the truth. For now the door is shut, and the thing that I feared has come upon me” (Job 3:25-26; Is. 55:6; Prov. 3:20-33; Matt. 25:10; John 1:9; 3:16-21; Acts 17:30-31; Rom. 1:18-19; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 1:7; 18:1-24).

Fourthly, there will be gathering—a gathering of his elect, a gathering of his enemies, and so a gathering of all men and nations, together will all angels, both good and evil (Matt. 13:30, 24:31, 25:32; Luke 19:27). It is a gathering unto the one Judgment: unto eternal reward and eternal retribution (Matt. 25:31-46). But above all, for human beings it is a gathering unto truth: the truth about what each one did with the light he was given during the days of his pilgrimage upon the earth (Luke 12:47; John 3:16-21; Rom. 2:1-16).

Finally, there will be a centering. At the Parousia the luminaries above will be dissolved, and the earth below will be consumed by fire (Is. 34:4; Zech. 14:6; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 20:11). And then the true Center will be revealed: the High King of Heaven, seated on his glorious throne, with all men and all angels gathered before him, awaiting the final disposition of all things. Thus shall all mankind finally realize that the One here enthroned at the center of the physical universe is the One who has always been enthroned at the center of his Father’s affection, purpose, plan, and work. Thus shall all mankind finally behold the Son of God for who he is, and for what God appointed him to be: the Alpha and the Omega: the divine Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Ruler, Judge, Re-creator, Light and Life of the world.

Do we understand why God has structured the Consummation this way? And do we understand why he has told us all these things ahead of time?

Yes, in so speaking he means to instruct, equip, warn, and richly encourage his believing people. But beyond this, he also means to address the unbelieving world: all of the people who are not yet his people. By structuring the Consummation as he has, and by revealing its structure to the world in his Word and through his Church, he is asking beloved sinners everywhere these all-important questions:

“Who or what is your center? To whom or what are you devoting your life’s time, talent, treasure, and energies as you journey through this world toward the hour of your death or the day of my Son’s return? Have you considered him: his life, his teaching, his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, his people, and his book? Is he not, far and away, the world’s best candidate for every man’s true center? Will you not therefore turn aside and see this great sight (Ex. 3:3)? Will you not earnestly inquire as to who he is and why he came? And will you not keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until you have found out for sure (Matt. 7:7-8)?

“Beloved sojourners, I tell you the truth: When the High King of Heaven comes again he will indeed be disclosed as the absolute center of all things. And no tongue or pen will be able to describe the joy of those pilgrims who sought and found the Truth, and who then made him the absolute center of their lives” (John 14:6; Jude 1:24).

Note: For many years I desired to write a longish tract that would open up the Bible’s message of redemption to thoughtful seekers of spiritual truth and reality. I hope this is it. I post it here not only for seekers, but also for saints, in further hopes that it will help them share their own faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Pearl of Greatest Price.


JOHN 3:16
A Pearl of Great Price

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Every student of world history knows that the Bible’s majestic story of creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ turned the Roman Empire upside down, laid the foundation for Western civilization, and to this day is challenging and transforming people all over the world.

But here’s something you may not have known: John 3:16—the most famous verse in the Bible—contains the whole message of the entire Book. It’s like a beautiful pearl tucked deep inside a giant clam or oyster. In this short text, Christ himself gives us the heart, the core, the very essence of the Word of God.

Here, then, for spiritual seekers who may be new to the Bible, are a few thoughts carefully selected from the Bible itself in order to display the meaning, truth, and beauty of this pearl of great price.

GOD: This is the Supreme Being—the infinite personal Spirit—who reveals himself to us through nature, conscience, and the sacred writings of the Jewish people. In those writings we learn that there is one God—the omnipresent creator, possessor, sustainer, and ruler of the universe—eternally existing in three divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here in John 3:16, Christ is specifically referring to God the Father: He who gave God the Son to the world.

SO LOVED: God is love. Throughout all eternity the three divine Persons have known and loved one another, dwelling together as a kind of Holy Family in a bond of perfect peace and joy. But the love of the triune God also overflows onto his creation, and in particular onto us human beings: creatures uniquely fashioned in God’s own image and likeness, and therefore uniquely endowed with a capacity to know him and live with him as his children. In our text, Christ is telling us that God the Father, moved by his great love, has gone to the greatest possible length to make that capacity ours again.

THE WORLD: The reference here is primarily to the family of man that God, in the beginning, created to rule with him over the earth and journey with him down the long corridor of universal history. The human father of this family was the man Adam. In the Garden of Eden it pleased God to test Adam: to see if he would use the gift of his freedom to love and honor his creator by believing and obeying his word. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that the world itself hung in the balance, for by God’s wise decree Adam stood in Eden as the head and representative of the entire family of man, and as the prince of the whole earth. Had he obeyed God and partaken of the Tree of Life, Adam would have lifted both man and nature into an eternal union with their triune creator. As it happened, however, he did the opposite: He disbelieved and disobeyed, with the result that evil, suffering, and death invaded the very good creation that God had made. In particular, because of Adam’s plunge into sin, all of his children would henceforth be born in a state of sin: alienated from the life of God, centered on self, driven by various dark passions, hostile to God, and willfully disobedient to him in thought, word, and deed. What’s more, because of their sin, many of those children stood—and now stand—beneath their sovereign creator’s righteous anger, and in danger of eternal punishment. Yet despite the depth of its sin, God has always loved the family of man. Indeed, he loved it so much . . .

THAT HE GAVE: It is God’s nature to depend on nothing; it is man’s nature to depend on God. It is God’s nature (and joy) to give to man; it is man’s nature (and joy) to receive from God. As it is written, God is the One who gives life, breath, and all things to his beloved creations. Therefore, knowing well our need of spiritual rescue and restoration—and knowing well his Father’s gracious plan to meet that need—Christ speaks here of God’s greatest gift to the sinful family of man: his uniquely begotten Son.

HIS UNIQUELY BEGOTTEN SON: Throughout all eternity the divine Father uniquely begets the divine Son whom he loves: With neither beginning nor end, the Son is “true God from true God.” With a view to saving sinners from eternal punishment, with a view to begetting them afresh as his own beloved children, and with a view to their sharing forever in the life of the Holy Trinity, the Father, in an act of supreme love, gave us his uniquely begotten Son in the form of the God-Man: the Lord Jesus Christ. Through his incarnation Christ entered the world as the last Adam: the head and representative of a new human family that God, in eternity past, had purposed and planned to create. Throughout his holy life Christ maintained a perfect righteousness, a righteousness that God will credit to the account of all who believe in him. Through his sacrificial death on a Roman cross Christ freely suffered the penalty of God’s broken Law on behalf of all who would put their trust in him. And through his resurrection from the dead Christ was publicly revealed to the world as its one and only Prophet, Priest, and King: the all-sufficient Redeemer of the fallen family of man.

SO THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM: In the Bible, redemption is twofold: rescue from evil, suffering, and death, and restoration to the manifold blessings of life in union with God. Because God’s Law is written on our hearts, we are constantly tempted to think that we can redeem ourselves by being good and doing right. But Scripture is emphatic: Sinful man can never be good enough, nor can his good deeds ever outweigh or cancel his bad. So here Christ tells us how we really can be redeemed: by believing in him. Such believing is also twofold. First, by God’s grace—and usually in the midst of an earnest search for spiritual truth and reality—we see who Christ is and what he has accomplished for us. And secondly, having seen, we respond. That is, we turn away from our old self-centered life governed by various lusts, and turn to a new Christ-centered life governed by love. It all begins by calling on the name of the Lord: by prayerfully receiving Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient redeemer that God meant him to be. When we do this, God forgives us our sins—past, present, and future—and credits us with the perfect righteousness of his Son. Furthermore, on those grounds he now welcomes us into his family as his beloved children, granting us a whole new life of righteousness, peace, and joy—together with many challenging trials wisely designed for our good and his glory. In the Garden of Eden God tested Adam to see if he would believe and obey him concerning the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Today he is testing Adam’s children to see if they will believe and obey him concerning the Tree of Life, which is Jesus Christ. Will we turn from our sin? Will we come to Christ? Will we partake of him and live?

WILL NOT PERISH: Sinful man is perishing day by day. By willfully rebelling against his creator, and by knowingly keeping his redeemer at arm’s length, he falls further and further away from the life of God, and deeper and deeper into sin, corruption, and death. Here Christ is telling us that if this fall continues—uninterrupted by repentance and faith—God will give to the sinner in hell that which he chose for himself on earth: separation from the life and gifts of God under eternal punishment. Understandably, our finite and fallen minds recoil from this dreadful prospect: We cannot comprehend the apparent severity of such a judgment. But neither can we (fully) comprehend the towering holiness of the creator, his moral obligation to govern his creatures, the scandal of their ingratitude and rebellion, the injury they inflict upon his glory, the absolute necessity of divine retribution, the true dimensions of Christ’s suffering, and the perfect justice of the judge of all the earth. Therefore, our only safe path is to recuse ourselves from judging God, and to humbly receive the words of his Christ, who graciously promises eternal life to all who believe, but who solemnly warns of eternal punishment for all who disobey. And we can rejoice that here on earth—in the anteroom of eternity—the choice is ours.

BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE: Here Christ affirms that from the moment of their new birth into the family of God believers do in fact have eternal life: Once and for all they have crossed over out of death and into life. This is the kind of life lived by the triune God, and that life lived forever. It begins when we personally receive Christ as Savior and Lord, with the result that the triune God, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, comes to live in us and we in him. During the days of our pilgrimage on the earth—and through our faithfulness to such basic Christian disciplines as prayer, Bible meditation, church participation, godly conduct, and Christian service—this life grows and develops, as God slowly conforms us to the image his Son. At the moment of our death it attains full flower, as our spirits enter heaven, there to dwell in perfect holiness and joy with our exalted Lord. And it is consummated at the end of the present evil age, when Christ will come again to resurrect the dead, judge the world in righteousness, and create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed. It is written that Christians are saved in hope—and what a glorious hope it is!

The Pearl of Greatest Price

Yes, John 3:16 really is a pearl of great price, seeing that it marvelously distills the message of the entire Bible into a single sentence. But someone will ask, “How can we be sure the message is true, and that the Bible really is the Word of God?” It’s a fair question—a question that many thoughtful believers have addressed at length, and whose books on the subject are readily available to all who seek.1 But let me close here by offering a short reply of my own.

I believe the very best way to know that the Bible is the Word of God is simply to read it—all 66 books, written by some 40 different authors, over the course of nearly 1600 years. For when we do so with an open heart that is fully intent on discovering spiritual reality and complying with its demands, we will unfailingly hear the Father’s voice speaking to us on every page, disclosing precious truths about the divine Person and all-sufficient Work of his uniquely begotten Son.

We see him everywhere. In the Old Testament we see that all events, laws, institutions, poems, promises, and prophecies point forward to Christ. And in the New Testament we see that the Old Testament is fulfilled, for now Christ has come, miracles are performed, truth is unveiled, atonement is made, the Savior is raised, the King is exalted, the Spirit is given, good news is proclaimed, lives are redeemed, and saints are filled with joy inexpressible and full of glory. Thus, all throughout his Book the story is the same: Here we find God the Father personally addressing every honest seeker of spiritual truth and reality, saying:

“This is my beloved Son. This is the world’s one and only Redeemer, given for you. This is the Pearl of Greatest Price, he of whom John 3:16 and the entire Bible sing. So come to him, speak with him, open to him, learn from him, draw on him, walk with him, serve with him, suffer with him, hope in him, and treasure him—always remembering that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until that happy day when you stand before him face to face. So shall you never perish; so shall you have eternal life.”

Come Let Us Reason










Then the woman fled into the wilderness,
where she has a place prepared by God,
so that there she may be nourished for 1,260 days.
(Revelation 12:6)


Every hiker, pilot, and ship’s captain needs his instruments. They are crucial equipment for knowing one’s location, getting one’s bearings, and reaching one’s destination. That’s why I love Revelation 12. It is crucial equipment for Christ’s Church. It gives her a precious paradigm for a pilgrim people.

A paradigm is like a pair of glasses. It’s a set of concepts through which we can view the world. Using images drawn from the Old Testament, Revelation 12 gives us a paradigm, a precious way of looking at the Christian life.

Consider the symbols involved. The Woman is the Church, the Mother and the Bride of Christ (12:1-2). Her Son (and her Husband) is the Lord Jesus Christ, now the High King of Heaven. The Dragon is the devil, a defeated enemy who chases and persecutes the woman (12:3-6). And the wilderness is the evil world-system, through which the Woman must pass as she journeys to the Promised Land: the new heavens and the new earth.

This paradigm opens up our text, which gives us a great promise. For just as God nourished Elijah in the wilderness for 1260 days (1 Kings 17), so too he promises to nourish his Church until her difficult pilgrimage is complete.

How does he do this? Above all, he does it in our quiet times, when he speaks to us through his Word, and moves us to pray in his Spirit. But he also does it in the assembly of the saints, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments of the Church, and the exercise of the ministries to which we are called.

Why does he do this? He does it so we can know who we are in Christ, thereby overcoming the accuser of the brethren (12:7-12); so that we will remain eager to share our faith, thereby giving birth to the rest of the Lord’s offspring (12:17); and so that our face will always be turned, thereby turning it towards Christ and the Promised Land (12:14).

Pilgrim, receive this his precious paradigm, stay strong, and rejoice! You’re almost home!


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


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 my book, The Great End Time Debate: Issues, Options, and Amillennial Answers (Redemption Press). See the Publications section of this website. d