The Person and Work of the Word

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were created through him, and without him nothing came to be that came to be. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness: The darkness1 did not overcome it.

The True Light

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 This man came as a witness, to testify about the light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He was not the light, but was sent to testify about the light. 9 The true light, the light that enlightens every man, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created through him, but the world did not know him.2 11 He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to as many as did receive him—to those who believe in his name—he gave the right to become the children of God, 13 children who were begotten,3 neither by4 blood,5 nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man,6 but by God.

The Fountain of Grace

14 And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us; and we beheld his glory, glory as of the uniquely-begotten7 Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness concerning him; and he cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is ranked before me, because he existed before me.’”) 16 For out of his fullness we have all received, even grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; but the uniquely begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father—he has made him known.

The Testimony of John: “I am not the Messiah!”

19 Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed the truth, and did not deny it; rather, he confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 So they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” But he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us, so that we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just as the prophet Isaiah said.”8

24 Now those who were sent to John belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. 25 So they inquired of him, saying, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I am baptizing in water. But standing among you is one whom you do not know927 one who comes after me—and I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.” 28 These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The Testimony of John: “Behold the Lamb of God!”

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him; and he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is ranked above me, for he existed before me.’ 31 I myself did not know who he was;10 but in order that he might be revealed to Israel, I have come11 baptizing in water.” 32 So John bore witness, saying, “I beheld the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove; and he remained on him. 33 I myself did not know who he was; but he who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, he is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son12 of God.”

The First Disciples Called

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples. 36 And gazing at Jesus as he walked by, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” 37 Now his two disciples13 heard him saying this; so they followed Jesus. 38 But when Jesus turned around and saw them following him, he said to them, “What is it you seek?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying; and they remained with him the rest of that day. (It was now about the tenth hour).14

40 Now Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two disciples who had heard John and then followed Jesus. 41 First he found his own brother, Simon; and he said to him, “We’ve found the Messiah!” (which is translated, “the Christ”). 42 Then he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, he said, “You are Simon, the son of John: You will be called Cephas” (which means “a rock”).15

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee; so he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.) 45 Then Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We’ve found the one Moses wrote about in the Law—Moses, and the prophets as well—: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 But Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see!” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, and he said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How is it that you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were sitting under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael said to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!” 50 Jesus replied, “Do you believe because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree’? You will see greater things than these!” 51 Then Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you all: You are going to see heaven opened wide, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Notes

  1. Lit. and the darkness
  2. Or recognize him
  3. Or born
  4. Lit. out of, from
  5. Lit. bloods
  6. Or a man (husband)
  7. Some interpreters: unique; one and only
  8. Is. 40:3
  9. Or recognize
  10. Lit. did not know (recognize) him
  11. Lit. came
  12. A few mss Chosen One
  13. Lit. the two disciples of him
  14. Likely 4 PM (Jewish time), possibly 10 AM (Roman civic time)
  15. Greek petros; English, Peter

 

The Wedding at Cana 

2 Now on the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding as well. 3 So when the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 But he said to her, “Woman, why are you involving me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 Then his mother said to the servants, “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.

6 Now in that place there were six water jars made of stone, set out for the Jewish ritual of purification, each one having a capacity of twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he said to the servants, “Now draw some out and take it to the steward of the feast.” And they did so. 9 But when the steward of the feast tasted the water that had become wine, and had no knowledge of where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called for the bridegroom. 10 And he said to him, “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!” 11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

12 After this, Jesus went down to Capernaum—he, his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and he stayed there for a brief time.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple 

13 Now the Passover of the Jews was drawing near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 But there in the temple courts he found moneychangers1 seated at their tables, and men who were selling oxen, sheep, and doves. 15 So after fashioning a whip out of ropes, he drove them all out of the temple, together with the sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the coins of the moneychangers and turned over their tables. 16 Then he said to the men selling doves, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a house of trade!” 17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”2 

18 In response, the Jewish leaders3 therefore said to him, “What sign will you give us proving your authority to do these things?”4 19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 Then the leaders said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple,5 and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 Therefore, after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the Scripture, as well as the word that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus Knows the Heart of Man 

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem during the Feast of the Passover, many believed in his name when they beheld the miraculous signs he was performing. 24 But as for Jesus, he would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all men, 25 and because6 he had no need that anyone should tell7 him about man; for he himself knew what was in man.

Notes

  1. Lit. the moneychangers
  2. Ps. 69:9
  3. Lit. the Jews
  4. Lit. What sign do you show us since you do these things?
  5. Or For forty-six years this temple has been under construction
  6. Or that
  7. Lit. testify

 

Christ, the Kingdom, and the New Birth  

3 Now there was a man by the name of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council.1 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for these miraculous signs that you are performing: No one could do them unless God was with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a person is born again,2 he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he’s old? Surely he can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Don’t be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it pleases; and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus replied and said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered, “You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t know these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we’ve seen; but you men4 are not accepting our testimony. 12 If I’ve told you earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except him who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.5 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his uniquely begotten6 Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might7 be saved. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the uniquely begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who practices evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, for fear that his deeds will be exposed.8 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that all can see9 that his deeds have been done in God.”

“I Must Decrease”  

22 After these things Jesus and his disciples came into the land of Judea; and he spent time with them there and began to baptize. 23 John was baptizing as well, in Aenon, near Salim, for in that region water was plentiful; and people were coming to him and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been thrown into prison).

25 Then a dispute arose between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew10 concerning purification. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the man who was with you beyond the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, now he is baptizing, and everyone is coming to him!” 27 John replied, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify concerning me, that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands beside him and listens to him,11 overflows with joy at the sound of12 the bridegroom’s voice. So then: This, my joy, is now complete. 30 He must increase, and I must decrease.13

31 “He who comes from above is above all; he who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks from the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What he has seen and heard—to that he bears witness; and no one accepts his testimony. 33 But the one who has accepted his testimony has set his seal to this: God has told us the truth.14 34 For he whom God has sent speaks the very words of God, for to him God does not give the Spirit by measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who disobeys15 the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Notes

  1. Lit. a ruler of the Jews
  2. Or from above
  3. Or water and (the) Spirit
  4. You is plural, and so throughout the rest of the chapter
  5. Many mss add who is in heaven
  6. Some interpreters: unique; one and only 
  7. Or would
  8. Lit. does not
  9. Lit. so that it may be made manifest
  10. Some mss certain Jews
  11. Or possibly and listens for him
  12. Lit. because of
  13. Some interpreters close the quote at verse 30
  14. Lit. He (the one) who received his testimony set a seal (certified) that God is true (truthful)
  15. Or refuses to believe, rejects

 

A Woman at the Well

4 So when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard he was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself was not baptizing, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 But it was necessary for him to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Now Jacob’s well1 was located there; so Jesus, weary from his journey, was sitting2 beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.3

7 Then a Samaritan woman arrived to draw water. So Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink” 8 (for his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food). So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 In reply, Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing with which to draw, and the well is deep; where then would you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst. Indeed,4 the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain5 of water, springing up into eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so I won’t get thirsty or have to journey here to draw.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus replied, “In saying, ‘I have no husband,’ you have spoken well, 18 for you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband; so in this you have told the truth.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are prophet. 20 Our forefathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where people should worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me: An hour is coming when you all will worship the Father, neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You are worshiping what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation comes from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming—and now has arrived6—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking people such as these to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit,7 and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is also called the Christ). “When he does, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I—the one who is speaking with you now—am he.” 

27 Now at that very moment his disciples arrived; and they were amazed that he was talking with a woman. Yet no one asked him, “What are you seeking?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”

Fields White for Harvest!

28 So the woman left her water jar behind, went back into the city, and said to the men, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?”8 30 So they left the city and started going out to him. 31 Meanwhile, the disciples kept pressing him, saying, “Rabbi, take something to eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “Surely no one brought him anything to eat, did they?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to complete his work. 35 Don’t you all say, ‘There are four more months, and then comes the harvest’? Well,9 I say to you: Lift up your eyes and look out on the fields, that even now they are white for harvesting! 36 Already he who reaps10 is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that he who sows and he who reaps can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you didn’t toil; others have toiled, and you have entered into their toil.” 

39 Now many of the Samaritans who lived in that city believed in Jesus because of the word of the woman, who had testified, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they began urging him to stay with them; and he remained there for two days. 41 Then many more of them believed because of his own word. 42 And they were saying to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of what you said, for now we have heard him for ourselves; and we know that this man truly is the savior of the world.”

Welcome in Galilee 

43 Now after the two days, he left that place for Galilee; 44 for Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own homeland. 45 So when he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, for they had seen everything he did in Jerusalem at the feast (for they too had gone to the feast).

A Nobleman’s Son is Healed 

46 Then Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he turned the water into wine. Now in Capernaum there was a certain royal official whose son was sick. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went to him and pleaded with him to come down and heal his son, for the child was about to die. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you all keep seeing signs and wonders, you refuse to believe.”11 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down quickly before my child dies!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him, and headed off. 51 But as he was making his way down, his servants met him and told him his son was alive. 52 So he asked them when it was that12 the child began to improve. They said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour13 the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized it had happened precisely when14 Jesus said to him, “Your son lives!” And he himself believed, along with his entire household. 54 This was now the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed after he had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Notes

  1. Lit. spring
  2. Or sat down; lit. was (began) sitting thus
  3. I.e. noon
  4. Or But
  5. Or spring, artesian well
  6. Lit. now is
  7. Or a spirit
  8. Lit. This could not be the Christ, could it?
  9. Lit. behold, look!
  10. Or that they are already white for harvesting. He who reaps
  11. Lit. you will by no means believe
  12. Lit. So he asked from them the hour
  13. I.e. 1 PM
  14. Lit. in the hour in which

 

A Sabbath Healing at the Pool of Bethesda 

5 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, there is a pool which in the Hebrew language is called Bethesda.1 It has five covered walkways, 3 in which a great many people were lying: people who were sick, blind, lame, and wasting away.2 5 Now in that place there was a certain man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 Seeing him lying there, and knowing he had already been in that condition for some time, Jesus said to him, “Do you want to get well?” The disabled man answered him, “Sir, I have no one3 to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; so while I’m on my way in, someone else steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, pick up your bedding, and walk!” 9 And immediately the man became well; and he picked up his bedding and began to walk.

Now that day was a Sabbath. 10 So the Jewish leaders began saying to the man who was healed, “This is a Sabbath: It’s not lawful for you to carry your bedding.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your bedding and walk.’” 12 So they asked him, “Who was it that4 said to you, ‘Pick up your bedding and walk’?” 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd in that area.5

14 Now after these things, Jesus found the man in the temple. And he said to him, “See, you’ve now become well. Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 Then the man went and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Jesus Clashes with the Jewish Leaders  

16 For this reason the Jewish leaders began to persecute Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath. 17 But he answered them, “My Father has been at work6 till now, and I too7 have been at work.” 18 Then the leaders sought all the more to kill him, not only because he was breaking the Sabbath, but also because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19 Therefore Jesus responded and said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing from himself, but only what8 he sees the Father doing; for whatever things the Father does, these the Son does as well. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be moved to wonder.9 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and brings them to life, so too the Son brings to life those whom he will. 22 For the Father himself judges no one, but has granted all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes the one who sent me has eternal life: He will never come10 into judgment, but has crossed over out of death and into life.

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and has now arrived, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life within himself, so too has he granted the Son to have life within himself; 27 and he has given11 him authority to execute judgment, since he is the Son of Man.12 28 Don’t be amazed at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come forth: those who did what is good13 to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced what is evil14 to a resurrection of condemnation.

Manifold Witnesses to the Son 

30 “On my own, I can do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, since I am not seeking my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone testify about myself, my testimony is not true.15 32 There is another who testifies about me, and I know that his testimony about me16 is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that I receive17 testimony from man, but I am saying these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a18 burning and a shining lamp, and for a time you were eager to rejoice in his light. 36 But the testimony I have is greater than John’s; for the works the Father has given me to complete—the very works I am doing—these testify about me, that the Father has sent me. 37 Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have neither heard his voice nor seen his form at any time; 38 nor do you have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures19 because you think that in them you have eternal life. But these too20 testify about me; 40 yet21 you are unwilling to come to me so that you might have life.

41 “I do not receive22 honor23 from men; 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you are not welcoming me; if another comes in his own name, him you will welcome. 44 How can you believe when you receive glory from one another, yet fail to seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I myself will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Notes

  1. Some mss read Bethzatha.
  2. Or paralyzed. Some mss insert wholly or in part waiting for the moving of the water. 4For at a certain time an angel went down into the pool and stirred up the water; then, after the stirring of the water, whoever stepped in first was healed of whatever disease he had.
  3. Lit. no man
  4. Lit. who was the man who
  5. Lit. slipped away, there being a crowd in that place
  6. Lit. is working
  7. Or I myself
  8. Or unless it is something
  9. Or may marvel
  10. Lit. life, and does not come
  11. Lit. he gave
  12. Or a son of man
  13. Lit. the things that are good
  14. Lit. the things that are evil
  15. I.e. admissible in a court of law
  16. Lit. that the testimony he testifies about me
  17. Or accept
  18. Lit. the
  19. Or Search the scriptures!
  20. Or and these very writings; lit. and these are the ones that
  21. Lit. and
  22. Or am not receiving; do not accept
  23. Or glory, praise

 

Bread for the Multitudes  

6 After these things Jesus departed for the other side of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias); 2 and a large crowd was following him because they had seen the miraculous signs he was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was drawing near. 5 So after looking upand seeing a large crowd coming his way, Jesus spoke to Philip, saying, “Where can we buy bread so that all these people may eat?” 6 (But Jesus said this only to test Philip, for he himself knew what he was about to do.) 7 Philip answered him, saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each one of them to receive a little.” 8 One of his disciples (Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother) said to him, 9 “Here’s a little boy with five barley loaves and two small fish, but of what use are they for feeding so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.”

Now in that place there was an abundance of grass. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Then Jesus picked up the loaves. And when he had given thanks, he distributed portions to the people reclining there; and he did the same with the fish, giving them as much as they wanted. 12 Then, when they all had taken their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing is lost.” 13 So they gathered them up; and with the fragments left over by those who had eaten the five barley loaves they filled twelve baskets.

14 Then the men, having seen the miraculous sign he had just performed, began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 So Jesus—realizing they were about to come and take him by force to make him their king—withdrew once again to the mountainside all by himself.

A Walk on the Water

16 Now when evening arrived his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and headed out across the sea for Capernaum (for it was already dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them). 18 But a strong wind was blowing, and the sea grew rough. 19 So when the disciples had rowed about three or four miles, they suddenly beheld Jesus walking on the sea and approaching the boat; and they were deathly afraid. 20 But he said to them, “It is I! Don’t be afraid!” 21 So they gladly received him2 into the boat; and all at once the boat arrived at the land where the disciples were heading.

The Manna From Above  

22 The next day the crowd standing on the far side of the sea realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not boarded it with his disciples,3 but that his disciples had departed all by themselves. 23 But some other boats out of Tiberias had landed4 near the place where the people had eaten bread after the Lord gave thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum, looking for Jesus.

25 Now once they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are not seeking me because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Don’t work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, food that the Son of Man will give to you, for on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 So they said to him, “What should we do so that we might work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign will you perform, so we can see it and believe you? What miracle will you work? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”5 32 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it isn’t Moses who has given you the bread from heaven; rather, it is my Father who is giving you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 Then the people said to him, “Sir, from now on6 give us this bread!” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst. 36 But as I told you: You have indeed seen me,7 yet you don’t believe. 37 All whom the Father gives me will come to me; and he who comes to me I will never drive out.8 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that of all he has given me I should lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day.”

Whispering Among the Jews  

41 So the Jews began whispering against him because he said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 And they were saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then can he now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 In reply, Jesus said to them, “Stop whispering among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they all will be taught by9 God.’10 Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the one who comes11 from God; he alone has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died. 50 This is the bread that comes down out of heaven, so that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven. If anyone partakes of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 So the Jews began to argue among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Then Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and just as I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not at all like the bread the fathers ate and then went on to die.12 He who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things as he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Divided Disciples  

60 So when they heard this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand13 it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were complaining about this, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no use14 at all. The words I have spoken to you, they are spirit and they are life.15 64 But some of you do not believe.” (For from the very beginning, Jesus knew the ones who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him.) 65 Then he went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by my Father.”

66 As a result of this, many of his disciples went back to their former occupations16 and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you men also intend to leave?”17 68 Simon Peter answered him, saying, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life; 69 and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 In reply Jesus said to them all, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, yet one of you is a devil?” 71 (Now he was speaking about Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot; for it was Judas, one of the twelve, who was going18 to betray him.)

Notes

  1. Lit. lifting up the eyes
  2. Lit. Therefore they were desiring to receive him
  3. Or saw that there was no other boat there but one, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples
  4. Lit. came
  5. Ex. 16:4; Neh. 9:15; Ps. 78:24
  6. Lit. at all times
  7. Some older mss omit me
  8. Lit. throw outside
  9. Or of, about
  10. Is. 54:13
  11. Lit. is
  12. Lit. and died
  13. Or accept, obey, listen to; lit. hear
  14. Or help, benefit, advantage
  15. Lit. it is spirit and it is life
  16. Lit. went back to the things behind
  17. The question anticipates a negative reply
  18. Or intending, planning, about to

 

Jesus Teaches at the Feast of Booths   

7 After these things Jesus only walked in Galilee, for he was unwilling to walk in Judea, since the Jewish leaders were trying to kill him.

2 Now the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was drawing near. 3 Therefore Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go down to Judea so your disciples who live there can also see the works you are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret when he’s trying to be known publicly. If you’re doing these things, show yourself to the whole world.” 5 (For not even his own brothers believed in him.) So Jesus said to them, “The right time for me has not yet come; but for you, any time is right.2 7 The world cannot hate you; but me it hates, because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast; I am not3 going up to this feast, because the right time for me has not yet fully come.” 9 And after saying these things, he remained in Galilee. 

10 Nevertheless, when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, yet not openly, but4 in secret. 11 So during the feast the Jewish leaders were looking for him, saying, “Where is he?” 12 Moreover, among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some were saying, “He’s a good man,” whereas others were saying, “No, on the contrary, he’s leading the common people astray.” 13 But no one would speak of him openly, for fear of the Jewish leaders.

14 Now when the middle of the feast arrived, Jesus went up into the temple courtyard and began to teach; 15 and the Jewish leaders stood amazed, saying, “How did this man acquire such knowledge5 without formal instruction?” 16 So Jesus answered them and said, “My teaching is not mine, but his who6 who sent me. 17 If anyone desires to do his will, he will know if the teaching comes7 from God, or if I am speaking from myself. 18 He who speaks from himself is seeking his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him, that man is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him. 19 Did not Moses give you the Law? Yet not one of you is putting it into practice. Why are you trying to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered and said, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered and said to them, “I performed a single work, and all of you stand amazed. 22 So consider: Moses gave you circumcision (not that it came from Moses, but rather from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging8 according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment!”

Could This Man Be the Messiah? 

25 Because of these things, some of the people who lived in Jerusalem began to say, “Isn’t this the man the rulers are trying to put to death? 26 But look! He’s speaking openly, and they’re not saying a word to him! Could it be they’ve concluded he really is the Messiah? 27 And yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

28 Then Jesus cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, “So, you ‘know’ me and you ‘know’ where I am from!9 And yet I have not come on my own initiative, but the one who sent me is real and true.10 You do not know him; 29 but I do know him, for I am from him, and he has sent me.” 30 For this reason the rulers were trying to arrest him; but no one laid a hand on him, for his hour had not yet come. 31 Meanwhile, many among the crowd believed in him; and they were saying, “When the Messiah finally comes, will he perform more signs than the ones this man has performed?”

Jesus and the Religious Leaders 

32 Now the Pharisees overheard the crowd whispering these things about him; so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Then Jesus said, “For a little while longer I am with you, and then I will go to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35 So the Jewish leaders said to one another, “Where is he planning to go, such that we won’t be able to find him? Surely he’s not planning to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks11 and teach them. Or is he? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will seek me, but you will not find me, and where I am, you cannot come’?”

The Promise of the Holy Spirit 

37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Just as the Scripture has said, he who believes in me, from the depths of his being12 rivers of living water will flow forth.”13 39 (Now he said this in reference to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were soon to receive; for the Spirit had not yet been given, for Jesus had not yet been glorified.)

Division Among the People 

40 So when they heard these words, some within the crowd began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet!” 41 Others were saying, “This is the Messiah!” But still others said, “No, for will the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Hasn’t the Scripture said that the Messiah comes from the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 So because of him a division arose within the crowd. 44 Moreover, some of them wanted to seize him; yet no one laid a hand on him. 

45 Then the officers came back to the chief priests and Pharisees; and the rulers said to them, “Why haven’t you brought him?” 46 The officers replied, “No man ever spoke like this man does!” 47 So the Pharisees answered them, “Surely you haven’t been deceived as well? 48 Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that doesn’t know the Law is accursed.” 50 However, Nicodemus (who had previously gone to see Jesus), being one of the rulers,14 said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man before it gives him a hearing and finds out what he is doing?” 52 They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search the Scriptures and see: No prophet is said to arise15 out of Galilee!” 53 Then each one of them left for his own house.16

Notes

  1. Lit. my time (opportunity)
  2. Lit. your time is always opportune (ready)
  3. Many mss not yet
  4. Many mss but as if
  5. Lit. How does this man know letters
  6. Or comes from him; lit. is of him
  7. Lit. concerning the teaching, whether it comes
  8. Lit. Do not judge
  9. Or where I am from?
  10. Lit. true, truthful, real, genuine
  11. I.e. Jews living in Gentile lands
  12. Lit. out of his belly (lowermost bowels)
  13. See Is. 44:3, 55:1, 58:11; Zech. 14:8
  14. Lit. them
  15. Lit. arises
  16. Many older mss do not contain 7:53-8:11; in some mss it appears in other locations.

 

An Adulteress Meets Her Judges 

8 But Jesus departed for the Mount of Olives.

2 Now early in the morning he came again into the temple precincts, and all the people were coming to him; so he sat down and began to teach them. 3 Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought him a woman who was caught committing adultery. So after standing her in the midst of the crowd, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do you say?” 6 (In saying this, they were testing him, looking for grounds to bring charges against him.) But Jesus, stooping down, began to write on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they kept pressing him for an answer, he stood up and said to them, “Whichever one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Now when they heard this, they began to leave, one by one, starting with the oldest, until Jesus alone remained, and the woman was left standing there in the midst of the crowd.1 10 Then, after raising himself up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She replied, “No one, sir.”2 Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way, and from now on sin no more.”

The Light of the World

12 So Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying about yourself; your testimony isn’t true!”3 14 But in reply Jesus said to them, “Even if I do testify about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; you, on the other hand, have no idea where I came from or where I am going. 15 You are judging according to the flesh; I am judging no one. 16 But even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for I am not alone when I judge, but I and the Father4 who sent me judge together. 17 Moreover, even in your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am one who testifies about myself, and the Father who sent me also testifies about me.” 19 So they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father; if you had known me, you would have known my Father as well.” 20 Jesus spoke these words in the treasury as he was teaching in the temple; but no one laid hands on him, for his hour had not yet come.

“I am Going Away”

21 Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am going away. And you will look for me, but you will die in your sin; where I am going you cannot come.” 22 So the Jewish leaders said, “Is he going to kill himself, since he’s saying, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” 23 So Jesus went on to tell them, “You are from beneath; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not belong to this world. 24 This is why I told you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am he,5 you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus answered them, “Just what I’ve been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have many things to speak and judge concerning you; but he who sent me is real and true,6 and the things I have heard from him are the very things7 I am speaking to the world.” 27 (They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father.) 28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he,8 and that I do nothing on my own initiative; rather, the things I speak, I speak just as my Father has taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that please him.” 30 As Jesus spoke these words, many believed in him.

The Truth Will Set You Free

31 Then Jesus went on to say to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed and have never been enslaved to anyone! How then can you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone engaged in sin is a slave of sin; 35 and a slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son remains forever. 36 If then the Son should set you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s seed; and yet you are intent on killing me, because there is no room for my word within you.9 38 The things I have seen in the presence of my10 Father, I speak. For this reason you also are doing the things you have heard in the presence of your11 father.”

Two Spiritual Families

39 They answered and said to him, “Abraham is our father!” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, then do12 the works that Abraham did. 40 But as it is, you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard in the presence of God. This Abraham did not do. 41 You are doing the works of your father.” They said to him, “We were not conceived in fornication; we have but one father, God himself!42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your father, you would love me, for I went forth from God, and now am here.13 For I have not even come on my own initiative, but he is the one who sent me.14 43 Why is it that you don’t understand what I say? It’s because you cannot hear my word. 44 You are from your father the devil, and you want to do your father’s bidding. He was a murderer from the beginning. Moreover, he doesn’t stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him; whenever he utters a lie, he is speaking from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lying.15 45 But because I speak the truth, you don’t believe me. 46 Who among you can convict me of sin? If I am speaking the truth, why is it that you don’t believe me? 47 He who is from God hears the words of God; this is why you do not hear, because you are not from God.”

Before Abraham Was, I AM

48 In reply, the Jews said to him, “Are we not correct when we say you are a Samaritan, and that you have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; on the contrary, I am honoring my Father, and you are dishonoring me. 50 Nevertheless, I am not seeking glory for myself; there is one who seeks and judges. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know you have a demon! Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died; and greater than the prophets, who also died? Who are you making yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus replied, “If I honor myself, my honor is nothing. My Father is the one who honors me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 You have never known him.16 On the other hand, I do know him; and if I were to say, ‘I don’t know him,’ I would be a liar just like you. But I do know him, and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to know that he would see17 my day; and he did see it, and he was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.”18 59 Then they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself,19 and then went out from the temple grounds.

Notes

  1. Lit. and he was left alone, and the woman being in the midst
  2. Or Lord
  3. Or valid, admissible as evidence
  4. Some mss the one, he
  5. Or I am (who I say I am); lit. I am. See Ex. 3:14, Deut. 32:39, Is. 43:10
  6. Lit. is true, truthful, real, genuine
  7. Lit. from him, these are the things
  8. See note 5
  9. Or possibly my word makes no progress among you
  10. Lit. the
  11. Lit. the
  12. Some mss If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do
  13. Lit. and have come (arrived)
  14. Lit. but that one sent me
  15. Lit. it
  16. Lit. You have not come to know him
  17. Lit. rejoiced in order that he should see
  18. See Ex. 3:14
  19. Lit. was hidden, concealed

 

A Man Born Blind 

9 Now as Jesus was passing by, his gaze fell upon a man who was blind from birth. 2 So his disciples inquired of him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; rather, this has happened so that the works of God may, be displayed in his life.1 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is still day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying these things, Jesus spat on the ground and fashioned some clay with the saliva. Then he spread the clay over the man’s eyes 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So he went his way, and washed, and came back seeing.

8 As a result of this, the man’s neighbors, along with the people who had previously seen him as a beggar, began to say, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit there and beg?” 9 Some of them said, “This is the man!” while others said, “No, it’s only that he looks like him.”2 But the man himself kept saying, “I am the man!” 10 So they began asking him, “How then were your eyes opened?” 11 He replied, “The man called Jesus fashioned clay, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went, and washed, and received my sight.” 12 Then they said to him, “Where is this man?” He replied, “I don’t know.”

The Judgment of the Pharisees 

13 Then they brought the man who was previously blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now the day on which Jesus fashioned the clay and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 So the Pharisees again asked the man how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Then some of the Pharisees began to say, “This man is not from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How could a sinful man perform such miraculous signs?” And a division arose among them. 17 So once again they addressed the blind man: “What do you say about him, since you are the one whose eyes he opened?”3 He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 But4 the Jewish leaders did not believe that the man really had been blind and regained his sight until they had called for his parents5 19 and interrogated them, asking, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 So his parents answered and said, “We know this is our son, and also that he was born blind. 21 But how it is that he now sees, we don’t know; nor do we know who opened his eyes. He has reached adulthood; ask him and he will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jewish leaders, for the leaders had already agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus1 as the Messiah, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 This is why his parents said, “He has reached adulthood; ask him.”)

24 Then the leaders summoned the man who was blind a second time, and they said to him, “Give glory to God:7 We know this man is a sinner!” 25 So he replied, “Whether or not he’s a sinner, I don’t know; but one thing I do know: Though I used to be blind, now I can see.” 26 Then they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I already told you, but you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you men want to become his disciples as well?”8 28 Then they began to rail at him, saying,9 “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know God spoke to Moses; but as for this man, we have no idea where he is from.” 30 The man answered and said to them, “Now here is an amazing thing: You don’t know where he is from, even though he opened my eyes! 31 We all know that God doesn’t listen to sinners; on the other hand, if anyone worships him and does his will, God hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it is unheard of that anyone has opened the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered and said to him, “You were altogether born in sins, and you are teaching us?” And they put him out.10

“Are We Blind?”  

35 Now Jesus heard that they had put the man out of the synagogue. So when he had found him, he said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered and said, “Who is he, Sir,11 that I might believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have not only seen him, but he is speaking with you now.”12 38 The man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he knelt down and worshiped him. 39 Then Jesus said, “For judgment13 I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may be made blind.” 40 Now some of the Pharisees who were there with him heard these words. So they said to him, “Surely we are not also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you really were blind, you would have no sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Notes

  1. Lit. in him
  2. Lit. No, but he is like him
  3. Lit. since he opened your eyes
  4. Lit. Therefore
  5. Lit. the parents of him who had regained his sight
  6. Lit. him
  7. Or Give (the) glory to God (but see Josh. 7:19)
  8. The question expects a negative reply
  9. Lit. And they reviled him and said
  10. Lit. drove (threw) him out
  11. Or Lord
  12. Lit. but the one speaking with you is that one
  13. Greek krisis

 

The True Shepherd 

10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door,1 but climbs up some other way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. For him the gatekeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 Whenever he brings out all his own, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. But a stranger they will never follow; on the contrary, they will flee from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” Using this figure of speech, Jesus spoke to them; but they did not understand the things he was saying to them.

The Good Shepherd 

7 So once again Jesus spoke to them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep would not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved; and he will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief never comes except to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it in abundance. 11 I am the good shepherd: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 A hireling2someone who is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep—sees the wolf coming, abandons the sheep, and flees; and the wolf snatches3 them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 Moreover, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold; I must bring them as well. And they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17 For this reason my Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one can take it4 from me; rather, I am laying it down on my own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

19 Now because of these words, a division again arose among the Jews. 20 Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why do you listen to him?” 21 But others said, “These are not the words of a man who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

“Are You the Messiah?”  

22 Then came the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking on the temple grounds in Solomon’s portico. 24 So the Jewish leaders gathered around him and asked him, “How long will you to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I did tell you, but you don’t believe. The miraculous works I am doing in my Father’s name, these testify about me; 26 but you don’t believe, because you don’t belong to my flock.5 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I myself give them eternal life, and to all eternity they will never perish, nor will anyone ever snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” 

31 Once again the Jewish leaders picked up stones to stone him. 32 In response, Jesus said to them,6 “I have shown you many good works from the Father: For which one of them are you stoning me?” 33 The Jews answered him, saying, “We are not stoning you because of a good work, but for blasphemy, and because you, a mere man,7 are claiming to be8 God!” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”?9 35 Now if God refers to those who received his word as gods10 (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 how can you say11 to him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not performing the works of my Father, then don’t believe me; 38 but if I am, even though you don’t believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me, and I in him.” 39 So12 once again they tried to seize him, but he escaped out of their hands.

Faith Beyond the Jordan 

40 Then Jesus again went away, across the Jordan, to the place where John was first baptizing; and he remained there. 41 And many people came to him; and they were saying among themselves, “John performed no miraculous signs, but everything he said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there. 

Notes

  1. Or gate
  2. Lit. the hireling
  3. Or possibly attacks
  4. Lit. takes it
  5. Lit. are not of my sheep
  6. Lit. Jesus answered them
  7. Lit. being a man
  8. Lit. make yourself
  9. Ps. 82:6
  10. Lit. If he calls them gods to whom the word of God came
  11. Lit. do you say
  12. Some mss omit so

 

A Death in the Family 

11 Now a certain man was sick: Lazarus of Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived. (It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil, and who wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Know,1 Lord, that he whom you love2 is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard that, he said, “This sickness will not end in death, but is meant for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5 Now Jesus loved3 Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed in the place where he was for two more days. 7 After that, he said to his disciples, “Let us go again to Judea.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jewish leaders were just seeking to stone you, and you’re going there again?” Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 He said these things, but then went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 So his disciples said, “Lord, if he’s only fallen asleep, he will recover!” 13 (Now Jesus had spoken of Lazarus’ death, whereas the disciples assumed he was talking about true sleep.)4 14 So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died; 15 and for your sakes I am glad I wasn’t there, so that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (who is called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we can die with him.”

Martha and Her Lord 

17 So when Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 (Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away; 19 consequently, many of the Jews of that city had come to Martha and Mary to console them over the loss of their brother.) 20 So as soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him; but Mary remained in the house, sitting. 21 Then Martha said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give it to you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus declared to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even if he dies. 26 And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.5 Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God: the One whom God promised would come into the world.”6

Mary and Her Lord 

28 When she had said this, Martha went and called her sister Mary, saying to her in private, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.” 29 And as soon as Mary heard that, she quickly got up and headed out to meet him.7 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met with him. 31 So when the Jews who were comforting Mary in her house8 saw that she had quickly gotten up and gone out, they followed her, thinking she was going to the tomb to weep there. 

32 Now when Mary arrived at the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell down at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 So when Jesus saw her weeping, and saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was stirred9 in his10 spirit and deeply troubled.11 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews began saying, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have also done something to keep Lazarus12 from dying?”

Lazarus and His Lord  

38 So Jesus, again bestirred within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave with a stone laid across its entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him whose life had ended, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for it’s been four days since he died.40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes towards heaven13 and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 Indeed, I knew that you always hear me, but for the sake of the crowd standing by I have said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” 43 Now when he had said these things, he cried with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And he who had died came out, his hands and feet wrapped in linen strips, and his face shrouded in a burial cloth. Jesus said to them, “Remove the wraps14 and let him go.”

A Plot to Kill the Lord of Life  

45 As a result of this, many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and who saw what Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them left, went to the Pharisees, and told them everything15 he had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled a council.16 Then they said, “What should we do?17 This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them—Caiaphas, who was high priest that year—said to them, “You know nothing at all, 50 nor are you stopping to consider18 that it is to your advantage if one man dies so that the entire nation will not perish. 51 (Now this he did not say on his own; rather, since he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation; 52 and not for that nation alone, but also that he would gather together into one all the children of God who are scattered abroad.) 53 So from that day on they entered into deliberations as to how they might put him to death.19

54 Consequently, Jesus no longer walked openly among the people of Judea, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim; and he remained there with his disciples.

55 Now the Jewish Feast of the Passover was drawing near, and many people went up to Jerusalem from the countryside to purify themselves before the Passover. 56 So they began looking for Jesus; and as they stood in the temple courts they would talk with one another, saying, “What do you think—that he won’t come to the feast at all?” 57 (Now20 both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew of his whereabouts he must report it to them, so that they could arrest him.)

Notes

  1. Lit. Behold
  2. Greek phileo
  3. Greek agapao
  4. Lit. the rest of sleep
  5. Lit. will certainly not die to the (unbroken, endless) age
  6. Lit. the One coming into the world
  7. Lit. began coming to him
  8. Lit. who were with Mary in the house and comforting her
  9. This verb often connotes anger, indignation
  10. Lit. the
  11. Lit. troubled himself
  12. Lit. this man
  13. Lit. lifted his eyes upward (above)
  14. Lit. Loose him!
  15. Lit. the things
  16. Or gathered (the) Sanhedrin
  17. Or What are we doing?
  18. Or take into account
  19. Lit. took counsel in order to kill him
  20. Or But

 

The Anointing at Bethany 

12 Then, six days prior to the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they prepared a supper for him there; and Martha was serving, but Lazarus was one of those who were reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary, taking up a one-pound jar of pure oil of nard (very costly), anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who would soon betray him), said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred denarii and the proceeds given to the poor?” 6 (Now he said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and because he used to steal what was put in the money pouch, which was under his care.) So Jesus said, “Leave her alone; it was meant that she should keep this for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you1 always have with you, but me you do not always have.”

A Plot to Kill Lazarus 

9 Now at that time a great many of the Jews learned that Jesus was there; and they came to Bethany not only for Jesus’ sake, but also because they wanted to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests took counsel as to how they might put Lazarus to death as well, 11 for because of him many of the Jews were deserting them and placing their faith in Jesus.2

The Triumphal Entry 

12 On the next day, when the great crowd which had come to the feast heard that Jesus was on his way into Jerusalem, 13 they took up palm branches and went out to meet him. And they began crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel himself!”3 14 And when Jesus had found a young donkey, he sat on it, just as it was written: 15 “Daughter of Zion, don’t be afraid! Look! Your king is coming to you, seated on a donkey’s colt!”4 16 (At first his disciples did not understand these things; but later, when Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that these things were written about him, and that the people had done these things for him.) 17 Then the crowd that was with Jesus when he called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead began spreading the word5 about what they had seen. 18 This too was why the crowds poured out to meet him: because they heard how he had performed this miraculous sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are getting nowhere.6 Look, the whole world has gone after him!”

Gentiles Desire to See Jesus 

20 Now among those who had gone up to worship at the feast there were a number of7 Greeks. 21 So they came up to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee; and they inquired of him, saying, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” 22 So Philip went and told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip both went and told Jesus. 23 But in reply, Jesus said to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone by itself; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.8 25 He who loves his life will lose9 it, but he who hates his life in this world will preserve10 it for eternal life. 26 If anyone would serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be as well. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Son Must Be Lifted Up 

27 “Now my soul is troubled. So should I say,11 ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this very reason I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 So when the crowd that was standing nearby heard this, they said it had thundered; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him!” 30 But Jesus responded and said, “This voice did not come for my sake, but for yours. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And as for me, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself.” 33 (Now Jesus said this in order to signify the kind of death he was about to die.)

34 So the crowd responded and said to him, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever; so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Then Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, so the darkness does not overtake you. He who walks in darkness doesn’t see where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke; and when he had departed, he was hidden from them.

Jewish Unbelief 

37 Yet even though he had performed so many miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not put their faith in him—38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled, who said, “Lord, who has believed our message,12 and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”13 39 For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their hearts and return to me, so that14 I might heal them.”15 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him; but because of the Pharisees, they would not declare him openly for fear of being put out of the synagogue. 43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

The Word of Christ Will Save and Judge

44 Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me is not believing in me, but in him who sent me. 45 And he who sees me is seeing him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will no longer live in darkness.16 47 Now if anyone hears my words and does not keep17 them, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He who rejects me and does not accept my words has something that will judge him:18 The word that I spoke—that is what will judge him on the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own initiative, but he who sent me—the Father himself—has been giving me commands19 as to what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his command is eternal life. Therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has said to me.

Notes

  1. You is plural
  2. Lit. going away and believing in Jesus
  3. Lit. even the king of Israel; Ps. 118:26
  4. Zech. 9:9
  5. Lit. was testifying
  6. Lit. profiting (gaining, accomplishing) nothing
  7. Lit. certain, some
  8. Lit. much fruit
  9. Or destroy
  10. Lit. guard, protect
  11. Lit. And what should I say?
  12. Lit. the thing heard by us
  13. Is. 53:1
  14. Lit. and
  15. Is. 6:10
  16. Lit. might not remain in darkness
  17. Or obey; lit. guard
  18. Lit. that which judges him
  19. Lit. has given me (a) command

 

The Servant of the Lord

13 Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus—knowing that his hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father—having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was under way, and the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot (Simon’s son) to betray him. 3 So Jesus—knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God—4 rose from supper, laid aside his outer garments, picked up a towel, and wrapped it around his waist.1 5 After that, he poured water into a basin; and he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

6 Then he came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you washing my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “For the moment you don’t realize what I am doing, but later on you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet. Never!”2 Jesus answered him, “If I don’t wash you, you will have no share in me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Then not my feet alone, Lord, but my hands and head as well!” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed only needs to wash his feet, since he is3 completely clean; and you men are clean, but not all of you.” 11 (For he knew the one who was betraying him; this is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”)

12 So when Jesus had washed their feet, put on his outer garments, and once again taken his place at the table, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak well, for so I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, so that just as I have done for you, you too will do the same. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is the one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

“One of You Will Betray Me”

18 “I am not speaking about all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But in order that the Scripture may be fulfilled, he who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me.4 19 From now on I will tell you before it comes to pass, so that when it does, you will believe I am he. 20 Truly, truly I say to you, he who receives the one I send, receives me; and he who receives me, receives the One who sent me.”

21 When he had said these things, Jesus grew troubled in spirit; and he bore witness and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you: One of you will betray me.” 22 Then the disciples began looking at each other, at a loss to know which of them he was talking about. 23 Now one of his disciples—one whom Jesus loved—was leaning against his breast.5 24 So Simon Peter nodded in his direction, urging him to ask Jesus who he was referring to. 25 Leaning as he was6 on Jesus’ breast, the disciple therefore said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “He to whom I give this morsel of bread after I have dipped it in the dish—he is the one.” So when he had dipped the morsel of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 And after Judas had taken the morsel, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” 28 (Now no one at the table knew why Jesus had said this to him; 29 for since Judas had custody of the money pouch, some of them assumed that Jesus was telling him, “Buy whatever things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.) 30 So after taking the morsel of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night.

The New Commandment

31 Then, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 And if God is glorified in him,7 God will also glorify him in himself, and will glorify him at once. 33 Children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews, so now I say to you: Where I am going, you cannot come. 34 So I give you a new commandment: that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going—you cannot follow me now; but later on you will follow.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly I say to you, the rooster will not crow8 until you have denied me three times.”

Notes

  1. Lit. wrapped himself
  2. Lit. You will by no means wash my feet to the age (forever)!
  3. Lit. but is
  4. Or But (this was) so the Scripture would be fulfilled: “He . . . against me.” See Ps. 41:9
  5. Or possibly seated at the place of honor
  6. Lit. thus
  7. A number of early mss omit this phrase
  8. Lit. will certainly not crow

 

The Way, the Truth, and the Life 

14 “Don’t let your heart be troubled: You believe in God, believe in me as well. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places; if it were not so, would I have told you that I am leaving to prepare a place for you?1 3 And if I leave and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be as well. 4 As for where I am going, you know the way.”2

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would also have known my Father; and from now on you do know him, and you have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that3 will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, Philip, and you haven’t come to know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words I speak to you all, I do not speak on my own initiative; rather, the Father living inside me is performing his works. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.

Greater Works Through Prayer  

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works I am doing, he will do as well; indeed, he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father. 13 And whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me4 anything in my name, I will do it. 

The Promise of the Spirit 

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments; 16 and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, so that he may be with you forever: 17 the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, because he is present with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 

Love and Obedience

19 “A little while longer and the world will no longer see me; but you will see me. Because I live, you will live as well. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you.5 21 He who has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father; and I will love him and disclose myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will disclose yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with6 him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word you are hearing is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.

The Promise of Peace 

25 “I have told you these things while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper,7 the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance everything I told you. 27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; and the peace I give to you is not like that of the world.8 Don’t let your heart be troubled, and don’t let it be afraid. 28 You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced that9 I am going to the Father, for my Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe. 30 I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me;10 31 but in order that the world may know that I love the Father, I am doing just as the Father commanded me to do.11 Arise, let us go from here.

Notes

  1. Or if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you
  2. Lit. And where, etc.; many mss and where I am going you know, and the way you know
  3. Lit. it
  4. Some mss omit me
  5. Lit. Father, and you in me, and I in you
  6. Lit. alongside of
  7. Greek Paracletos: one called alongside to help
  8. Lit. to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you
  9. Or rejoiced, because
  10. Lit. and he has nothing in me
  11. Lit. and as the Father commanded me, just so I do

 

The True Vine 

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away;1 and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes,2 so that it will bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me and I in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it abides in the vine, so too you cannot bear fruit unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him—he will bear much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown out like a branch and withers away; and they gather them up and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.3

7 “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified: that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.4 Just as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

12 “This is my commandment: that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this: that he would lay down5 his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends, if you do the things I command you. 15 I am no longer calling you servants, for a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. Rather, I have called you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I made known to you. 16 You did not choose me; on the contrary, I chose you and appointed you so that you would go forth and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you will love one another.6

The World’s Hatred 

18 “If the world hates you, know7 that it hated8 me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to9 the world, the world would love you as its own. But because you don’t belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world—for this reason the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I spoke to you: ‘A servant is not above his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well; if they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you because of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin;10 but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not performed among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have both seen11 and hated me and my Father.12 25 But this has happened so that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without a cause.’13

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father—he will testify concerning me. 27 And you will testify as well, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Notes

  1. Or possibly he lifts up
  2. Lit. cleanses
  3. Lit. he (it) is burned
  4. Or become my disciples; some mss and you will become my disciples
  5. Lit. set (aside)
  6. Some interpreters: This I command you, that you love one another
  7. Or you know
  8. Lit. has hated
  9. Lit. were from (out of)
  10. Lit. they would have no sin
  11. Or possibly seen (the works)
  12. Lit. hated both me and my Father
  13. Ps. 69:4

 

16 “I have told you these things to keep you from stumbling.1 2 They will make you outcasts from the synagogues; moreover, an hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they knew neither the Father nor me. But I have spoken these things to you so that when their hour comes you will remember that I told you about them. 

The Work of the Spirit 

“And I didn’t tell you these things from the beginning because I was with you. 5 But now I am going away to him who sent me; and none of you have asked me,2 ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: It is good for you3 that I am leaving. For if I don’t leave, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go my way, I will send him to you. And when he has come, he will convict4 the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they don’t believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to my Father and you see me no more; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

12 “I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of Truth, has come, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own initiative; rather, whatever5 he hears, that he will speak; and he will make known to you the things to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. 15 Everything the Father has is mine; this is why I said that the Spirit takes from what is mine and will declare it to you. 

The Coming Kingdom of Joy  

16 “A little while, and you will see me no more; then another little while,6 and you will see me.” 17 Then some of his disciples said to each other, “What does he mean when he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me; then another little while, and you will see me,’ and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they kept on asking,7 “What does he mean when he says, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what he means.”

19 Now Jesus knew that they wanted to question him about this, so he said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said: ‘A little while, and you will not see me; then another little while, and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you: You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be filled with sorrow, but your sorrow will be turned to joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the suffering, for joy that a human being8 has been born into the world. 22 So now you have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice; and no one will rob you of your joy.9

23 “Moreover, in that day you will ask me for nothing.10 Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, so that your joy may be made complete.

Tribulation and Triumph  

25 “I have told you these things using figures of speech; but an hour is coming when I will no longer use figures of speech, but will speak to you plainly concerning the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name; and I am not telling you I will petition the Father on your behalf. 27 For the Father himself loves you because you have loved me, and because you have believed that I came forth from God. 28 I went forth from the Father and came into the world; now11 I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

29 His disciples said to him, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! 30 Now we see that you know everything, and have no need that anyone should question you. Because of this we believe that you have come12 from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, an hour is coming—indeed, it already has come—for each of you to be scattered to his own home,13 and to leave me alone. But I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation;14 but take courage: I have conquered the world!”

Notes

  1. Or from being surprised, taking offense; lit. will not be caused to stumble
  2. Lit. is asking me
  3. Or to your advantage
  4. Or convince
  5. Lit. whatever things
  6. Lit. and again a little while
  7. Lit. saying
  8. Lit. man
  9. Lit. no one will take your joy from you
  10. Or you will ask me no questions; lit. you will ask (petition) me nothing
  11. Lit. again, in turn
  12. Lit. came
  13. Lit. his own things
  14. Or trouble, hardship, distress; lit. pressing

 

Jesus Prays for Himself 

17 Jesus spoke these words; and then, lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said: “Father, the hour has come: Glorify your Son so that the Son1 may glorify you, 2 just as you have given him authority over all flesh so that he may give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on the earth by accomplishing the work that you gave2 me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me alongside yourself,3 with the glory that I had with you before the world was.

Jesus Prays for His Disciples 

6 “I have revealed4 your name to the men whom you gave to me out of the world. They were yours, you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they have come to know that whatever things you have given to me are from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave to me; and they welcomed them and truly understood that I came forth from you; and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them.5 I do not pray for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 Indeed, all that is mine is yours, and all that is yours is mine; and through these things6 I have received glory. 11 And now I am no longer in the world; but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name—the name that you have entrusted7 to me—so that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name: the name that you have entrusted to me. I also guarded them, so that8 none of them perished except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you; and I am saying these things in the world so that my joy may be in them, full and complete. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them; for they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by9 your truth: Your word is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they too may be sanctified in10 truth.

Jesus Prays for All Believers 

20 “I am not asking for these alone, but also for those who will believe in me through their word: 21 May they all be one. Even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. 22 I myself11 have given them the glory that you have given me, so that they may be one, even as we are one. 23 I in them, and you in me, so that they may be perfected in unity; so that the world may know you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, concerning what you12 have given me: I desire that they too be with me where I am, so that they may behold my glory, glory that you have given to me because you loved me before the founding of the world. 25 Righteous Father, the world did not know you; but I knew you, and these have come to know13 that you sent me. 26 Moreover, I made your name known to them; and I will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Notes

  1. Many mss your Son
  2. Lit. have given
  3. Or together with yourself; in your presence
  4. Or manifested, disclosed, made known
  5. Lit. I ask concerning them
  6. Lit. by (in) them
  7. Or given
  8. Lit. and
  9. Or in
  10. Or by
  11. Or And I
  12. Some mss Father, those whom you
  13. Lit. came to know

 

Betrayal and Arrest  

18 When he had said these things, Jesus went out with his disciples to a place on the other side of the Kidron Ravine.1 In that place there was a garden,2 which he himself entered, together with his disciples. 2 Now Judas, who was betraying him, also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So after Judas had received a cohort of Roman soldiers3 and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, he came to the garden with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

4Then Jesus, knowing all that would now come upon him, stepped forward4 and said to them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He said to them, “I am.” (Now Judas, who was betraying him, was also standing there with them.) 6 So when Jesus said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Then he asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am. So if you are looking for me, let these men go their way.” 9 (This he said in order to fulfill the word he had spoken earlier: “Of those whom you gave me, I have lost none.”)

10 Just then Simon Peter, who had a sword with him, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath!5 Should I not drink the cup my Father has given me?”

Jesus Led Away to Annas 

12 Then the men of the cohort, the chiliarch,6 and the officers who were sent by the Jewish leaders seized Jesus and put him in bonds. 13 And they led him away, first of all to Annas, since he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was the high priest that year. 14 (Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it was advantageous for one man to die for the sake of the people.)

Peter Denies His Master

15 Now Simon Peter was following Jesus, together with another disciple. And that disciple was known to the high priest; so he went into the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 But Peter was left standing outside, in front of the gate.7 So the other disciple who was known to the high priest went outside, spoke to the gate-keeper, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the young girl who served as the gate-keeper said to Peter, “You’re not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter replied, “I’m not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had prepared a fire; and they all were standing around it, warming themselves at the coals, for the night was cold. And Peter was standing there with them, warming himself.

Jesus Before Caiaphas 

19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 But Jesus answered him, saying, “I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple where all the Jews gather, and I have spoken nothing in secret. 21 Why then are you questioning me? Question those who heard what I said to them; see for yourselves, they know what I said.” 22 Now when he had said these things, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, “Is that the way you answer the high priest?” 23 But Jesus answered him, “If I said something wrong, testify about the wrong; but if I spoke truly, why are you striking me?” 24 Then Annas sent Jesus—still in bonds—to Caiaphas, the high priest.

Peter Again Denies His Master 

25 Now Simon Peter was standing in the courtyard, warming himself. So some of them8 said to him, “You’re not also one of his disciples, are you?” Peter denied it, saying, “I’m not!” 26 Then one of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” 27 So Peter denied it9 again; and immediately a rooster crowed.

Jesus Accused by the Sanhedrin  

28 Then, quite early in the morning, the Jewish rulers10 led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium;11 but they themselves did not go in, for fear of being defiled and therefore disqualified from eating the Passover meal.12 29 So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If he were not an evildoer, we wouldn’t be handing him over to you.” 31 Then Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your own law.” But the rulers13 said to him, “It isn’t legal for us to put someone to death.” 32 (This was to fulfill the word Jesus had spoken, indicating the kind of death he was going to die.)

Jesus Before Pilate  

33 Then Pilate entered his quarters again, called for Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own, or is it that others have spoken to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people, including the chief priests, have delivered you into my custody. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders; but now14 my kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king!” Jesus answered, “You are saying that I am a king. To this end I was born, and to this end I have come into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth. Everyone who loves the truth15 hears16 my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

Pilate Seeks to Release Jesus

Now when he had said this, Pilate again went out to the Jewish leaders; and he said to them, “I find no grounds at all for a charge against him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release someone to you during the Passover Feast. So then: Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” 40 Then they all shouted, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was an insurrectionist.17

Notes

  1. Lit. wadi (i.e. a ravine that floods in winter)
  2. Or orchard
  3. Lit. the cohort (i.e. a detachment of Roman soldiers normally comprised of 600 men)
  4. Or went forth, went out
  5. Lit. Thrust the sword into the sheath!
  6. I.e. a commander of a thousand Roman soldiers
  7. Or door
  8. Lit. So they
  9. Or him
  10. Lit. they
  11. I.e. the governor’s quarters
  12. Lit. that they might not be defiled, but eat the Passover
  13. Lit. the Jews
  14. Or as it is
  15. Lit. all who are of the truth
  16. Or listens to
  17. Or robber

 

The King Sentenced to Die 

19 So Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. 2 And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorny branches, placed it on his head, and wrapped a purple robe around him. Then they began coming up1 to him, and saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” and striking him with their hands.2

Then Pilate came out again and said to the Jewish rulers, “Look, I myself am bringing him out to you so that you will know I find no grounds whatsoever for a charge against him.” Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Look at the man!” 6 But when the chief priests and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a law; and according to that law he should die, because he made himself out to be the Son of God.”

8 Now when Pilate heard that statement, he grew all the more afraid. So he went back into the Praetorium and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “Are you refusing to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have authority to crucify you and authority to release you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over me at all if it hadn’t been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you is guilty of the greater sin.”

12 So from then on Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews kept crying out, saying, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar’s! Everyone who makes himself a king is declaring himself against3 Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard those words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat in the place called the Stone Pavement (but in Hebrew, Gabbatha). 14 (Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover sabbath, and about the sixth hour.)4 Then Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Look, here is your king!” 15 But they shouted, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” 16 So with that, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

The King is Crucified 

17 Then the soldiers5 took custody of Jesus; and carrying his cross all by himself, he went out to what is called the Place of a Skull (but in Hebrew, Golgotha). 18 And there they crucified him, along with two other men: one on each side, and Jesus in between.

19 But Pilate also had a notice of the charges written up and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 As a result, many of the Jews read this notice, for the place where Jesus was crucified was situated near the city; moreover, it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’” 22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 So when the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four shares, one6 for each soldier; and they took his tunic as well. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 So they said to each other, “Let’s not tear it, but instead cast lots for it, to decide whose it will be.” This took place in order to fulfill the Scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”7 Therefore the soldiers did indeed do these things.

Jesus Provides for His Mother 

25 Now Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene were all standing near his cross. 26 So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her,8 he said to his9 mother, “Woman, behold10 your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that very hour the disciple welcomed her into his own home. 

It Is Finished! 

28 After these things, Jesus, knowing that all things had now been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,11 said, “I thirst!”12 29 Now a jar of wine vinegar was lying there; so when the men had fastened a sponge filled with wine to a hyssop branch, they lifted it up to his mouth. 30 Therefore, when Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished!” And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.

A Testimony in Blood 

31 Now it was the Day of Preparation, and the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies of these men to remain on the cross during the Sabbath, for this was a high Sabbath.13 Therefore they asked Pilate that their legs be broken, and that the men be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man, and then those of the other man who was crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear; and immediately blood and water flowed out. 35 One who saw this himself14 has borne witness to it; and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe as well. 36 For these things took place so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones shall be broken.”15 37 And still another scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”16 

Jesus Buried in Joseph’s Tomb 

38 Now after these things, Joseph of Arimathea—a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews—asked Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body; and Pilate gave it. So Joseph came and took away his body. 39 And Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus by night, went along as well, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. 40 Then the two of them17 took the body of Jesus and wrapped it, together with the spices, in linen strips, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid to rest. 42 So because it was the Jewish Day of Preparation, they laid Jesus there, for the tomb was close at hand.

Notes

  1. Or kept coming up
  2. Or with rods
  3. Or speaks against, opposes
  4. I.e. about noon
  5. Lit. they
  6. Lit. a share
  7. Ps. 22:18
  8. Or nearby
  9. Lit. the
  10. Or Woman, here is
  11. Some interpreters place this phrase in parentheses
  12. Ps. 22:15, 69:21
  13. Lit. the day of that Sabbath was great
  14. Lit. And the one who has seen
  15. Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12; Ps. 34:20
  16. Zech. 12:10
  17. Lit. they

 

An Empty Tomb 

20 Now early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb; and she saw that the stone had been removed from its entrance.1 So she ran and came to Simon Peter, and also to the other disciple whom Jesus loved. She said to them, “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him!” So Peter, together with the other disciple, rushed out and headed for the tomb. Now the two of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. 5 And when he had stooped down and looked in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there, but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter, who was following him, also arrived and immediately entered the tomb. And he too saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 as well as the face cloth they had placed2 over Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but folded up and laid in a place all by itself. 8 So the other disciple who arrived at the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed 9 (for they had not yet understood from the scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead).

A Joyful Reunion

10 Then the disciples went back to their own homes. 11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb, weeping. Now as she was weeping, she stooped down and looked in;3 12 and she saw two angels dressed in white, sitting in the place where Jesus’ body had been lying: one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She answered them, “Because they’ve taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 Now after saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there; but she didn’t realize it was him. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Then Mary, thinking he was the gardener, said to him, “Sir, if you’ve carried him off, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will go and take4 him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Turning around, she said to him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “You mustn’t cling to me,5 for I’ve not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.’” 18 So Mary Magdalene came and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord!” And she told them he had said these things to her.

Command and Commission  

19 Therefore, when it was evening on that day (the first day of the week), and when the doors where the disciples were gathered were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you!” 20 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced, having seen that it was the Lord.6 21 So once again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas Sees, Believes, and Stands Corrected 

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve (the one called “the Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came to them. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and push my finger into the place of the wounds, and place my hand in his side, I refuse to believe.”

26 Now after eight days his disciples were once again inside, and Thomas was with them. And though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them; and he said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Place your finger here, and inspect my hands. Now7 stretch out your hand and push your finger into my side; and do not give way to unbelief, but have faith!”8 28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have you believed.9 Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”

The Apostle’s Purpose in Writing 

30 So then: Many indeed are the other miraculous signs that Jesus also performed in the presence of the10 disciples, signs that are not recorded in this scroll; 31 but these have been recorded so that you11 may believe12 that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Notes

  1. Lit. the tomb
  2. Lit. that was placed
  3. Lit. into the tomb
  4. Or carry
  5. Lit. Do not keep clinging to me
  6. Or having recognized (seen) the Lord
  7. Lit. and
  8. Lit. do not become unbelieving, but believing
  9. Or have you believed?
  10. Many mss his
  11. The Greek is plural
  12. I.e. come to believe; some mss continue to believe

 

Breakfast by the Sea 

21 After these things Jesus again showed himself to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and this is the way in which he did so. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (the one called “the Twin”), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two of his other disciples were all together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.” They said to him, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and stepped into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.

4 Now some time after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not realize it was him. Then Jesus said to them, “Children, haven’t you caught any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 Then he said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will.1 So they threw out the net—and now they were no longer able to pull it back in due to the great number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put2 on his outer garment (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came along in the small boat, pulling the net full of fish; for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards away.3

9 Now after they stepped onto the beach, the disciples saw a charcoal fire already prepared, a fish laid on it, and a bread-cake. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went on board and pulled the net to shore. Now the net was full of large fish: one hundred and fifty-three of them. But even though there were so many, the net was not broken! 12 Then Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” (None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” for they knew it was the Lord.) 13 Then Jesus came up, took the bread, and gave portions to them all; and he did the same with the fish. 14 This is now the third time Jesus showed himself to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Peter Recommissioned 

15 So when they had finished eating breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love4 me more than these?” Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know I love5 you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love6 me?” Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know I love7 you.” He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17 Then Jesus asked him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love8 me?” Peter was deeply distressed that Jesus had asked him a third time, “Do you love9 me?” So he said to him, “Lord, you know all things: You know I love10 you!” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger you would dress yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and take you where you do not want to go.” 19 (Now Jesus said this in order to signify the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.) And after speaking in this way, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Two Different Destinies 

20 Turning around, Peter saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them (the one who had leaned on Jesus’ breast during the Passover meal and said, “Lord, which one of us is going to betray you?”). 21 So when Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I desire him11 to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” 23 For this reason the saying went out among the brothers that this disciple would not die. However, Jesus never said to him that he wouldn’t die, but only, “If I desire him to remain till I come, what is that to you?”

The Apostle’s Final Word

24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who wrote these things down; and we know that his testimony is true. 25 And there are many other things that Jesus did as well; but if someone were to write them down one by one, I think12 the world itself could not contain all the scrolls that would have to be written.13

Notes

  1. Lit. will find (some)
  2. Or tied
  3. Lit. two hundred cubits
  4. Greek agapao
  5. Greek phileo
  6. Greek agapao
  7. Greek phileo
  8. Greek phileo
  9. Greek phileo
  10. Greek phileo
  11. Or If I will  
  12. Or suppose
  13. Many mss add Amen

(Note: This essay is an extract from my book on biblical eschatology, The High King of Heaven.)

 

The Revelation can be an intimidating book. It is long, filled with mysterious visions and symbols, and at times overwhelming with its serial depictions of spiritual warfare and divine judgment. And yet, when we push past our fears and enter it more deeply, we begin to see things: recurring themes, patterns, and cycles. Suddenly, perhaps after several readings, we realize that this prophecy has a structure; a structure so nuanced, complex, beautiful, and ingenious, that the hand of God himself must be behind it. Moreover, when we fully see this structure, we also see how to interpret the book as a whole, and chapter 20 in particular. We must, then, devote some quality time to this crucial subject.

Having considered a number of different views on the structure of the Revelation, I find that I return over and again to the ideas embodied in the chart below. In a moment, we will let it guide us through a survey of the book itself. First, however, a few preliminary remarks are in order. (To View Chart, Please Click Here

As you can see, I have divided the book into five blocs. The titles beneath each one reflect my best effort to identify the main idea of the bloc, while at the same time keeping in view the central theme of the whole book: the Person and Work of Christ in his Exaltation. Or, to say it more concisely: the High King of Heaven.

I am very pleased with the fact that the third bloc, which gives us the Investiture of the High King of Heaven (4-5), stands mid-way between the other two. As we shall see in a moment, this is fitting, since this particular bloc is the theological high point and center of gravity of the whole prophecy. For consider: Because of his coronation as High King of Heaven, Christ can come to John in glory (1), and speak to the seven churches within supreme authority (2-3). Moreover, because of that same coronation, he can rule over the cosmos throughout the remaining years of Salvation History (6-20), and then, following his Parousia, bring his glorified Bride into the Kingdom of God in its full and final form (21-22). Thus, chapters 4-5 hold the whole book together as one: as a single celebration of the Person and Work of the High King!

For the purposes of our study, the most important—and the most controversial—portion of my chart is bloc four. As you can see, there I suggest that chapters 6-20 are best understood as six separate apocalyptic cycles, each of which describes—in its own unique way, and for its own unique purposes—the course, character, and consummation of the spiritual reign of the High King of Heaven.

Since that’s a mouthful, let me break it down a little. The idea here is really quite simple. This large bloc (6-20) is made up of six sub-blocs, or cycles (6-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-19, and 20). But in each of the cycles, the focus of the prophetic Spirit is always on the same time frame: the space of time between Christ’s first and second coming; the space of time during which the exalted Christ reigns as High King of heaven and earth. This means that the fourth bloc of the Revelation—and the great bulk of the book—is actually made up of six separate visionary cycles, each one of which uses different ideas and images to cover the same historical ground; to rehearse, or recapitulate, the earthly impact of the heavenly reign of Christ.

In the pages ahead, I will spotlight a number of lines of evidence favorable to this view. For the moment, however, let us assume that the Holy Spirit has indeed structured this bloc of the prophecy as I have suggested. If so, there are a number of important implications for the interpretation of the book as a whole, and for Revelation 20 in particular.

Implications of the Cyclial View

The first implication pertains to the way in which we must interpret the symbols that we meet in each of the six cycles. For example, if the cyclical view is correct, it means that we cannot interpret Revelation 6-20 as the preterists do. They say that the focus here is largely, if not entirely, on events that took place at the very beginning of the Church Era; events that, for us, are already past. These include the fall of Jerusalem, the tyrannical power of Rome, and the vicissitudes of the early Church at the hand of Jew and Roman. But if the true focus of 6-20 is the entire inter-adventual era, obviously the preterist interpretation cannot be correct.

Similarly, if the cyclical view is right, we cannot interpret Revelation 6-20 as the futurists do. They say that the focus here is largely, if not exclusively, on events that will occur at the very end of the age. Yes, there are some differences among them. Moderate futurists like George Ladd say that the events will befall the Church. Dispensational futurists, like John MacArthur, say they will befall latter day Jews during a seven year Tribulation, after Christ has secretly carried his Church away to heaven at the Rapture. But again, all futurists agree that chapters 6-20 are largely, if not entirely, fulfilled in the last of the last days. However, if the true sphere of fulfillment of chapters 6-20 is the entire Church Era, during which Christ reigns as High King over all, obviously the futurist view cannot be correct either.

This brings us to a second and closely related implication. If the cyclical view is correct, it means that when the Spirit uses a particular symbol to speak to God’s people, he is not, as a rule, referring to a concrete historical entity, whether a person, place, thing, or event. He cannot be. Rather, he must be referring to a kind of historical entity that all the saints will encounter again and again throughout the Church Era.

Let us consider an example. Some preterists say that when the Spirit speaks of the Beast (Rev. 13:1f), he is speaking of the arch-persecutor of the early Church, emperor Nero. Meanwhile, most futurists say that when the Spirit speaks of the Beast, he is speaking of the Antichrist who will arise just prior to Christ’s return, whether to persecute the Church or ethnic Israel. If, however, we embrace the cyclical view, we immediately realize that it offers us a much richer approach; an approach that engages all Christians of all times; an approach that is capable of affirming the elements of truth present in both the preterist and futurist views. For now we see that in speaking of the Beast, the Spirit is actually speaking of a particular kind of historical phenomenon—in this case, the political or governmental face of Satan’s fallen world system, whenever and wherever it pops up in the course of Salvation History. It is a face that could be embodied in Nero, Domitian, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Ceausescu, Pol Pot, this or that Ayatollah, the (last) Antichrist, or any of the persecuting institutions that these people represent.

We find, then, that the cyclical view of Revelation 6-20 generates a particular hermeneutic, a particular way of understanding and applying the symbols found in this book. Theologians refer to this as an “idealist” hermeneutic. Here, they say, the symbols do not stand for unique historical persons or events, but rather for general ideas or principles that will manifest themselves all throughout the Church Era, and therefore in any number of historical persons, places, things, or events. William Hendriksen, an enthusiastic advocate of this approach, invites us to embrace the idealist approach to Revelation 6-20 when he writes:

The seals, trumpets, bowls of wrath and similar symbols refer not to specific events, particular happenings, or details of history, but to principles—of human conduct and of divine moral government—that are operating throughout the history of the world, especially throughout the new (Christian) dispensation. (1)

Now, while these ideas, and this approach, are extremely helpful, I would nevertheless issue a caveat. The Revelation is concerned not only with the course of the High King’s heavenly reign, but also with the Consummation by which he will bring it to a close. But if this so, it follows that the book can and must use some of its symbols to refer to unique historical events. And for those upon whom the very end of the age has come, this is vital information indeed.

Let us consider an outstanding example. In Revelation 11:3-6 we learn of the spiritual career of the Two Witnesses. Described in language and imagery reminiscent of Moses and Elijah—and also of the disciples whom Jesus sent out two by two to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to Israel—they represent the witnessing Church. God calls them to prophesy (i.e., to preach the Gospel) for 1260 days, a number symbolizing the entire Church Era as a season of exile and persecution (see 1 Kings 17:1f). So then, all Christians of all times can see themselves in the Two Witnesses.

However, when we reach verses 7-13, the focus narrows. Now the Spirit is speaking concretely about the last generation of witnessing Christians; the generation that will see the completion of the Great Commission (11:7); the generation that will see the Beast (hitherto restrained from thwarting the Church’s mission, 20:1-3) rise up out the abyss (Satan’s dwelling), make war with them, overcome them, and “kill” (i.e., thoroughly suppress) them (11:7-10); and yet, this is also the generation that will see the return of Christ in glory, the resurrection of the dead, and the Last Judgment (11:11-19). Here, then, the symbols do indeed point to unique events in a unique portion of Salvation History. Here, the universal Church cannot see herself (much as she might like to), but only that portion of the Church that will serve Christ during the days of the Last Battle.

Speaking of caveats, it is also important to understand that while the six cycles of Revelation 6-20 do indeed traverse the same historical ground, there are notable differences between them. Of special importance is the fact that this large bloc of Scripture gives us a progressive revelation of divine truth about the Church Era. For example, the deeper we progress into the cycles, the more we learn of the supernatural powers operating behind the scenes of the great cosmic battle; the more intense becomes the Church’s suffering; the more severe the world’s judgments; and the more vivid the (brevity of the) Last Battle, the Parousia, and the Last Judgment. Referring to this tendency as progressive parallelism, Hendriksen writes:

Although all the sections of the Apocalypse run parallel and span the period between the first and second comings of Christ . . . yet there is also a degree of progress. The closer we approach the end of the book the more our attention is directed to the final judgment and that which lies beyond it. The (several) sections are arranged, as it were, in an ascending, climactic order . . . The final judgment is first announced, then introduced, then finally described. Similarly, the new heavens and earth are described more fully in the final section than in those which precede it . . . The book reveals a gradual progress in eschatological emphasis. (2)

The third and final implication of the cyclical view of Revelation 6-20 goes straight to the heart of the Great End Time Debate: If indeed chapter 20 properly falls into bloc four of the Revelation; if indeed, like the previous five cycles, it too describes the course of the reign of the High King of Heaven, then obviously it cannot be speaking of a future earthly kingdom set to appear after that reign. In short, if our chart really does give us the true structure of the Revelation, then the Revelation itself rules out premillennialism once and for all!

A Survey of the Revelation

In this section, I want briefly to survey the Revelation as a whole. What follows is not meant as a detailed exegetical commentary. It is, however, meant as a substantive overview for which I have two main goals.

First, I want to show that the structure of the book is indeed as I have represented it in the chart above. More particularly, here I aim to show that the unifying theme of the whole book is the course, character, and consummation of Christ’s heavenly reign; that the fourth bloc of the book (chapters 6-20) really is a unit; that this bloc is a collection of six separate visionary cycles, each one of which spans the entire Church Era; that ever-increasingly it speaks to us of events associated with the Consummation (i.e., the Last Battle, the Parousia, the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, and the World to Come); and that Revelation 20 really does belong in this bloc.

Secondly, I want to use the NCH to open up the meaning of the some of the key symbols of the book; to show that the Revelation—serving as the Grand Finale of all Scripture—repeatedly uses OT (and NT) symbols to communicate NT meanings, in order to edify and encourage Christ’s suffering pilgrim Church.

And now, with Bibles firmly in hand, let us begin!

A Vision of the High King (1:1-20)

Chapter 1 introduces the Revelation, and especially the One through whom God the Father was pleased to give it: the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. It is comprised of a short Prologue (1:1-3), a lengthy greeting (1:4-8), and a lengthier account of John’s vision of the glorified Son of Man (1:9-20).

Importantly, the greeting gives us the eschatological framework of the whole book. Even now, the divine Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5). Even now the saints are a Kingdom of priests to his God and Father (1:6). No, the Kingdom is not yet consummated. For a season, believers must endure hardship. Like the Lord they serve, they must be faithful witnesses (1:5). Soon, however, there will be a Consummation (1:1, 3, 8). Christ will come again (1:8). When he does, every eye will see him, saint and sinner alike (1:7). When he does, all the tribes of the earth (i.e., the unbelieving persecutors of the Church) will wail, for he will come in final Judgment (8:13, 11:10, 12:12, 13:8, 17:2, 8). And when he does, he will bring in the fullness of the Kingdom, since he who comes is not only the divine Creator (the Alpha), but also the divine Consummator (the Omega) (1:8). So then, even here in his greeting (1:4-8) John affirms the simple, two-fold structure of the Kingdom taught in the didactic NT: The temporary Kingdom of the Son, followed by the eternal Kingdom of the Father (and the Son), separated by a single Consummation set to occur at the Parousia.

Next comes John’s account of his vision of the High King (1:9-20). It is readily divided into three parts. In the first, he tells us where he was and what he was doing when the vision came to him (1:9-11). In the second, he tells us what he saw: One like a Son of Man—radiant with divine glory, dressed in priestly attire—standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands, with seven stars in his right hand, and with a sharp, two-edged sword coming from his mouth (1:12-16). In the third, we read of John’s reaction (1:17), and of the meaning of the vision: The seven stars are the seven messengers of the seven churches in Asia (presumably sent to confer with the aged apostle); and the seven lampstands are the seven churches (1:18-20).

Very importantly, here we get our first glimpse of the High King—and the High Priest—of Heaven. As I argued earlier, the seven churches of Asia stand for the universal Church of all times and places. Therefore, the vision is telling us that even now Christ rules from heaven as High King over all his people, and in heaven as High Priest interceding for his people—this One who in the days of his flesh died in their behalf, but who now lives forevermore, holding in his hand the redemptive keys that have released them from Death and Hades (1:18, 20). So then, here we have our first encounter with the central character of the Revelation: High King and the High priest of Heaven, the One whom the Spirit will faithfully celebrate in all that is about to come. (3)

The High King’s Messages to the Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)

The second bloc of the Revelation consists of the High King’s seven messages to the seven churches in Asia. Here, with special force, we meet the High King as High Prophet; as the One who teaches, exhorts, and comforts not only these particular seven churches, but also the Universal Church that they represent. This point bears repetition and emphasis. Dispensational interpreters—who theorize that chapters 6-20 do not speak of the Church or the Church Era, but rather of Israel and the nations during a future seven-year period of Tribulation following the Rapture—effectively make the bulk of the book a mere curiosity to Christians of the Church Era. After all, since they will not be present on earth in those days, why worry too much about what these chapters say?

However, Revelation 2-3 is a rebuke to all such notions. As I argued earlier, here Christ says to the Church in “didactic” prophecy precisely what he will say to the Church in symbolic or apocalyptic prophecy in chapters 6-20. Here he speaks to the Church Universal; there he speaks to the Church Universal. The Revelation is one book for one people. For this reason, every member of Christ’s Church who reads, hears, and keeps every part of it will be blessed (1:3).

As a rule, each of the seven prophecies to the churches contains five elements. They include: 1) An opening self-description, highlighting one or another of Christ’s attributes or offices: his deity, sovereignty, eternal priesthood, or role as coming Judge; 2) whenever possible, words of commendation, whether for diligence, purity, or perseverance in the face of suffering, etc.; 3) if necessary, words of reproof, whether for growing lovelessness, compromise, or worldliness, etc.; 4) if necessary, calls to repentance, issued with dire warnings to anyone inclined to ignore them; and finally, 5) ultimate promises to faithful and persevering saints who overcome every opponent, and so enter the completed Kingdom at his return.

Since this last point is so important, let us take a moment to explore it more fully.

As in bloc 1, so here: There is a definite eschatological outlook. When Christ issues his glorious promises to the overcoming Christians, he does not encourage them to look forward to a secret Rapture, or to life in heaven as a disembodied spirit, or to a premillennial Parousia, or to (their privileged role in) a future millennial stage of the Kingdom. No, he consistently places before them the ultimate goal and destiny of Salvation History: eternal life with God and Christ in the new heavens and the new earth, a destiny that they will inherit at his Coming. Thus, in the High King’s messages to the Universal Church we encounter the same eschatological outlook that we found in bloc 1 of the Revelation and throughout the didactic NT: There is but one spiritual Kingdom, divided into two simple stages, separated by a single Parousia of Christ in glory, which is the Blessed Hope of the Church.

Let us confirm this point with a brief look at the relevant texts.

The Lord’s promise to the church in Ephesus is this: “To the one who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (2:7). Revelation 22:2 and 14 show that he does not have in mind heaven during the intermediate state, but the new heavens and the new earth.

To the church at Smyrna he declares: “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” A look at Revelation 20:6, 14, and 21:18 shows that the second death is not temporary punishment in Hades, but eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire, administered after the general Resurrection and the Last Judgment. Positively, Christ is therefore promising the overcomers in Smyrna that they will inherit eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.

To the believers in Pergamum the High King says: “To the one who overcomes I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (2:17). Christ himself is the Manna. For the moment, he is hidden in heaven, but at the Parousia he will give himself fully to his people (John 6:58, Col. 3:1f). The exact meaning of the white stone is not clear: Some say it represents victory, others (final) acquittal.4 Certainly its color calls to mind the shining robes of the glorified saints who will appear with their King at his Parousia (19:14), and who will thereafter worship God forever upon Mt. Zion (i.e., in the new heavens and the new earth, 3:4, 7:9, 13, 14:1f). As for the gift of a new name, Revelation 3:12 closely associates it with the World to Come, wherein the New Jerusalem shall dwell (see also 21:2); meanwhile, Revelation 19:2 and 16 suggest that it will be bestowed at the Parousia by the One who also will have a new Name. So then, everything in this promise directs the hope of the Christian to the Parousia, and to the new and eternal world that the Parousia will bring.

To the believers in Thyatira, the Lord says: Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star (2:25-28).

Here again the Lord has in view the closing scenes of Salvation History, the end of all things (1 Peter 4:7). Observe from v. 25 that he closely associates the end with his Parousia. At that time, he will grant believers to have a share in administering the Last Judgment, even as the Father has granted Christ to execute it (John 5:27, Rom. 16:20, 1 Cor. 6:2). It is not, as premillennarians assert, that they will rule over the nations for a thousand years with Christ, of which the text says not a word. Rather, it is that at the Judgment, they too, under Christ, will act the part of a shepherd (Gk., poimaino); a shepherd who uses his wooden club to destroy the enemies of the flock, even as a potter uses his iron rod to destroy rejected vessels of clay (2:27, Psalm 2:9-12). Observe also from v. 28 that in addition to granting believers a share in the Last Judgment, the Lord also will grant them the Morning Star. The morning star is Christ (22:16), but especially Christ at his Coming, which will mark the dawn of the Age to Come (2 Peter 1:19). So then, this rich passage rivets the hope of the Thyatirans—and all Christians—on the end: the Last Judgment and the dawn of the new world that will come at the Parousia of the High King of Heaven.

To the overcomers at Sardis, Christ promises that they will walk with him in white, that he will never blot out their name from the Book of Life, and that he will confess their name before the Father and his holy angels (3:5). The last of these three blessings is a recurring theme in the NT: The saints are to maintain their good confession firm until the end, so that when Christ returns with all the holy angels for the Last Judgment he can confess them as true believers, and therefore grant them eternal life in the consummated Kingdom (Mt. 25:31, Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26, 12:8, 1 Tim. 6:12-13). For Christ to confess their name in that Day is for them to enter the eternal World to Come (Mt. 25:31-46).

To the overcomers at Philadelphia the High King promises that he will make them a pillar in the temple of his God; that they will never leave it; and that he will write on them his name, the name of his God, and the name of the City of his God, which is New Jerusalem (3:12). Here again the imagery anticipates John’s later depictions of the glorified Bride of Christ living with God—and as the Temple of God—in the new heavens and the new earth (21-22).

Finally, to the overcomers in Laodicea the King promises that he will grant them to sit with him on his throne, even as the Father granted that he should sit with him on his (3:21). Admittedly, this could be construed as a promise to the effect that the disembodied spirits of the saints will have a share in the heavenly mediatorial reign of Christ during the intermediate state (Rev. 20:4-6). However, all the preceding promises, which have had in view the final destiny of the saints, militate against this. It seems best, then, to view this as an echo of other NT texts that promise the victorious saints a measure of cosmic authority “in the regeneration,” in the Day when the kingdoms of this world will have become the Kingdom of our LORD and of his Christ (11:15; Daniel 7:18, 27, Mt. 28, Luke 19:17).

Summing up, we have seen that bloc 2 of the Revelation is indeed a Message of the High King (and Prophet) of Heaven to his Universal Church. Moreover, we have seen that this bloc reflects a definite eschatological outlook, an outlook no different from that of the first bloc, and no different from that of the rest of the NT. According to this outlook, there is but one spiritual Kingdom, divided into two simple stages, separated by a single Parousia of Christ at the end of the age, when he himself will consummate Salvation History in final judgment and redemption. This perspective is especially evident in the Lord’s promises to the seven churches, which say nothing at all of multiple comings, multiple resurrections, multiple judgments, or a future millennial reign upon the earth. No, for the High King of Heaven the Blessed Hope of his Church is simply “the end,” when he comes again in glory to judge the world in righteousness and bestow upon his beloved Bride eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.

Does the rest of the Revelation confirm all of this? Does the High King of Heaven here say in “didactic prophecy” anything different from what he later says in “apocalyptic prophecy”? Is the eschatological outlook here any different from the eschatological outlook of the rest of the book? Let us continue our survey in order to find out!

The Investiture of the High King of Heaven (4-5)

Arguably, these two chapters constitute the Mt. Everest of all Holy Scripture. They take us to the highest place, to heaven itself. They plant us upon the supreme vantage, and give us the supreme vista—a sighting of all cosmic history, and of the sovereign God who ordained it. Like nowhere else in the Bible, we behold Him: the all-glorious, all-sovereign, triune Creator, Judge, and Redeemer of the universe. Small wonder, then, that at every turn we find both men and angels falling down before him, gratefully exalting the One who so graciously created them, and so mercifully redeemed them. When we see what they see, we are moved to do the same.

While much could be said about these rich chapters, our primary concern here is to inquire into the role they play in the overall “argument” of the book. What is their function in relation to the rest of the Revelation; and how, if at all, does this illuminate its structure?

My response to these questions involves three closely related theses.

First, these chapters are clearly transitional. They take us from the things that John has seen (chapter 1), and from the things that are (chapters 2-3); and they prepare us to behold the things that will be throughout the remainder of Church era and beyond (chapters 6-22; 1:19).

Secondly, they are central, in the sense that they give us the Master Theme that holds the rest of the book together. As we are about to see, that theme is the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. More particularly, it is the exaltation of Christ as the High King of heaven and earth, with God-given authority to oversee and superintend all that remains of Salvation History up to and including his Parousia, when he will consummate all things in final judgment and redemption.

And thirdly, these chapters are unifying. That is, they enable us to see how every bloc of the Revelation, each in its own way, is devoted to exploring the many-faceted glory of the High King.

And now—with all this to prepare us—let us take a few moments to see how chapters 4-5 communicate these glorious themes.

     1. The Glory of God the Father (Rev. 4)

In essence, chapter 4 is a revelation, in vision and symbol, of the glory of God the Father, especially in his role as the sovereign Creator and Judge of the universe. Accordingly, John beholds him seated upon a throne, a symbol of his universal sovereignty (4:2). His appearance is as of jewels, representing the glory of his being and the riches of his character (4:3). Surrounding him are 24 elders dressed in white, wearing crowns, and seated upon thrones. These picture the Universal Church, which God has predestined to behold his glory and share in his eternal reign (4:4, 7:9-17). Very importantly, flashes of lightning and peals of thunder emanate from his throne, tokens of the dreadful wrath and terrifying judgments poised to go forth against all who rebel against Him (4:5-6, 5:6). The cherubim and seraphim who always surround his throne understand this quite well, having profound insight into God’s holiness, eternity, and sovereignty—and who therefore worship him accordingly (4:6-8). So too does the Church, here pictured in her eternal calling as a worshiper of the Fountainhead of all creation (4:9-11).

We see, then, that chapter 4 sets the stage. Yes, the holy Creator and Judge of the cosmos is radiant and majestic beyond description. However, for this very reason he is also a mortal threat to the company of guilty sinners on the earth below, a mathematical set that includes every human being born to woman, save One.

Happily, that One is about to take center stage.

     2. The Triumph of the Lamb (Rev. 5)

Chapter 5 gives us the Triumph of the Lamb and his Investiture as the High King of Heaven. It too uses vision and symbol, this time to show us God fulfilling his part in the Covenant of Redemption; to show us what happened when the resurrected Christ ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father so as to become the High Priest, High Prophet, and High of King of the cosmos. Let us briefly explore the vision itself in order to see how the Spirit signifies these great truths.

In verse 1 John notices a scroll in the right hand of God, written within and without, sealed with seven seals. According to many interpreters, it is a last will and testament, upon which is written, very fulsomely, the promise of the Eternal Covenant: Eternal life with the Triune God in the new heavens and the new earth. When at last we reach chapters 21-22, we will learn more about its exact contents. First, however, the seven seals must be opened; first the residue of Salvation History—the Era of Proclamation and Probation, the period of time between Christ’s Session and his Parousia—must run its course. (6)

In verses 2-4 the apostle receives a terrible shock: Precious as the gift is, it appears that the people of God are in no position to receive it! Certainly the loving Father desires to give it to them, seeing that he holds it in his hand. Yet just as certainly, this righteous Judge cannot give it to them, not unless he can find someone to mediate between them and him: someone to fulfill the righteous requirement of his law on their behalf, someone to pay the penalty for their having broken it, and someone who thereby both secures their righteousness and placates God’s wrath against them. But as the apostle scans the cosmos, he finds no creature of God—neither man nor angel—who is “worthy” (i.e., qualified) to become such a mediator. There is no one in heaven or upon the earth can who win the prize of Eternal Life for the people of God. Seeing the dreadful implications of this, the apostle sobs uncontrollably, despairing not only of the salvation of sinners, but also of the fulfillment of God’s original purpose for his creation.

However, at this point one of the 24 elders brings John great good news: Weep not! There is indeed such a Mediator! He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (i.e., the triumphant Messiah himself) and the Root of David (i.e., the Divine Creator of the Messianic proto-type). This One—the Messianic God-Man—has indeed prevailed, so as to open the scroll and bestow its blessed contents upon the saints.

How exactly has he done this? Verse 6 supplies the answer. In the days of his flesh, the Divine-Human Messiah fulfilled all righteousness; then, at the close of those days, he freely became the Lamb of God, an atoning Sacrifice who took away the sins of his people. Thus did he prevail to redeem them: to rescue them from every spiritual and physical enemy introduced at the Fall, and to restore them to every spiritual and physical friend promised at the Tree of Life. In short, the Lord Jesus Christ prevailed by fulfilling his part in the eternal Covenant of Redemption.

For this reason, John now sees him standing, all-triumphant, between the throne and the 24 elders, effectively serving as the (priestly) Mediator between God and man, shielding his children from the wrath to come, and granting them eternal life in the presence of God. Importantly, he has seven horns, symbolizing his perfect power and authority. He also has seven eyes, symbolizing his perfect knowledge and his perfect spiritual union with the omnipresent, seven-fold Spirit of God. But what exactly will he do with such great powers and privileges?

In verse 7 we receive our answer. Having prevailed on earth for the redemption of his people, the Lamb now boldly approaches the Father to take the scroll from his right hand. The Father gladly yields it (5:7). Here, then, in vision and symbol, we behold yet again one of the great “hinges” of Salvation History; the brief, God-appointed season when Salvation History swings out of the Era of Promise and into the Era of Fulfillment; the holy moment when God the Father gives all authority in heaven and earth to his triumphant Messianic Son, so that he (Christ) might bring in the Kingdom of God (Mt. 28:18ff, Acts 2:33-35, Eph. 1:15-23, Phil. 2:1-11).

As the rest of the NT has taught us, much indeed will flow from this climactic event. Now the Lord Jesus Christ is High King of Heaven and Earth. Now he has a commission from the Father to apply the redemption that he purchased on earth. Now he must send forth the life-giving Spirit; and now, by that same Spirit, he must beget his Church, empower her preaching, gather in her penitent believing members, and nourish, cherish, guide, equip, and protect her as she makes her pilgrim way through the wilderness of the world below.

Moreover, according to that same commission, he must not only apply the redemption that he purchased in his humiliation, but also consummate it at the end of the age. This will occur at his Parousia, when he descends from heaven in power and great glory to destroy his enemies, glorify his Bride, recreate the cosmos, and welcome his Beloved Bride into her eternal home: the new heavens and new earth. All of this and more were hidden away in that holy “season” of Salvation History when the triumphant Messianic Son boldly strode forth to receive the scroll from his Father’s hand.

Small wonder, then, that at this juncture all heaven breaks loose in highest praise to the conquering Lamb (5:8-10). Observe how their song yet again discloses the outworking of the Covenant of Redemption: Because Christ has been faithful to complete his God-ordained work of humiliation, the Father—and all the Father’s sentient creatures—now reckon him worthy to be exalted as the High King of Heaven; worthy to be the One who applies the redemption that he purchased for them in the days of his flesh, and to create a Kingdom of Priests who will forever worship and reign upon the earth (Exodus 19:6, Rev. 5:10, 22:5).

The remainder of the chapter gives us a foretaste of that worship. First, John hears all the holy angels—gathered close around the throne— declaring the worthiness of the Lamb to be so highly exalted (5:11-12). And then, as if in ever-widening circles, he hears all the rest of creation, which, in one way or another, even now is fulfilling the supreme purpose for which they were made: that they should be to the praise of the glory of God and the Lamb (5:13-14).

Earlier, I suggested that these two chapters serve as the theological core—the conceptual center of gravity—of the entire Revelation. Now we can see the reasons why.

On the one hand, they give us the theme of the whole book. That is, by singing and celebrating Christ’s investiture, they introduce us to the High King of Heaven, the One who showed himself in supreme glory to John (chapter 1), spoke with supreme authority to the Universal Church (chapters 2-3), and will henceforth rule with supreme power as the sovereign Lord of all remaining Salvation History (chapters 6-22).

On the other hand, through the symbol of the sealed scroll these chapters give us valuable insight into the structure of the book (6-22). In particular, they teach us that the conquering Lamb is about to do two things: 1) remove the seals of the scroll, and 2) open it, with the result that all of God’s (redeemed) creatures can read, receive, and enjoy their contents. This in turn suggests that the material ahead will likely be divided into two basic parts: 1) that which pertains to events prior to the saints receiving their inheritance, and 2) that which pertains to events at the receiving of their inheritance.

And this is precisely the case. In chapters 6-20 we will indeed find Christ—on six separate occasions—disclosing what will take place prior to the advent of the new heavens and the new earth; giving us—on six separate occasions—the course, character, and consummation of the residue of Salvation History. Then, in chapters 21-22, we will find him disclosing the ultimate goal of Salvation History: Eternal Life in the new heavens and the new earth themselves. In other words, chapters 6-20 correspond to Christ’s breaking the seven seals of the scroll; chapters 21-22 correspond to his making manifest its contents. Observe carefully that the whole story is therefore his story—his to tell, and his to bring to pass. And with this the Father is exceedingly well pleased, since it accords with his eternal purpose and plan, which is to bestow the highest possible glory and honor upon his beloved Son, whom he (the Father) has now exalted as High King of Heaven and Earth.

The Course, Character, and Consummation of the High King’s Heavenly Reign (6-20)

We turn our attention now to the fourth bloc of the Revelation, chapters 6-20. For reasons mentioned above, I have entitled it The Course, Character, and Consummation of the High King’s Heavenly Reign. Is this title accurate? Is this portion of the book really comprised of six visionary cycles, each running parallel to the other; each traversing the era spanning from Christ’s Session to his Paruousia? Can we see the beginning of the Church Era in the beginning portions of these cycles? Can we see the end in the ends? Also, is it true that the cycles are “progressive”; that the deeper we go into them, the more we behold “the last of the last days”, the great eschatological events leading to and involving the Consummation?

But most important of all, is Revelation 20 really part of this bloc? Does it really describe the Church Era? Or is it the case, as premillennarians assert, that this is actually a fifth bloc in its own right; that it describes (and suddenly introduces into NT eschatology) a second, intermediate stage of the Kingdom (i.e., a future Millennium); that it therefore properly occupies a position mid-way between the earlier cycles about the Church Era (chapter 6-19) and later prophecy about the new heavens and the new earth (chapters 21-22)? With these crucial questions ever in mind, let us briefly survey the first five visionary cycles, looking for answers (7).

      1. Six Seals (Rev. 6-7)

Chapter six gives us Christ breaking six of the seven seals. As I will argue in a moment, chapter seven then gives us a preview of the glorified Church in the World to Come. If so, it means that chapter six should take us from the beginning of the Era of Proclamation to its end. Let us now see if it does.

When Christ breaks the first seal, John beholds a rider upon a white horse. Both text and context confirm that this is Christ. The imagery is rooted in Psalm 45:3-5, a Messianic psalm. It is also nearly identical with Rev. 19:11, which clearly depicts the glorious Christ at his Parousia. The rider wears a crown: This is the High King of Heaven, who now holds all authority in heaven and on the earth (Mt. 28:18ff). He goes forth from heaven, conquering and to conquer. How? By the Spirit and through the Church, which proclaims a finished gospel that, in the case of God’s elect, releases Satan’s hold upon them, thereby shattering his evil kingdom (Mt. 12:29, John 12:31).

Historically, this verse began to be fulfilled at Pentecost, and has been being fulfilled ever since (Acts 2:1ff). To the very end, the High King will go forth from heaven—by the Spirit, through the Church, into the world—triumphantly gathering in his own (John 10:16, Titus 2:14). We see, then, that the first seal does indeed correspond to the beginning the Era of Proclamation.

The next four seals may be briefly summarized. Importantly, they follow the opening of the first, showing that they represent the consequences of Christ’s going forth into the world with the Gospel.

The second seal therefore speaks of “war”—not war generically, but war against the saints; persecution for the sake of the Gospel (6:3-4; Mt.10:34, Mk. 10:30, John 15:20, 2 Tim. 3:12).

The third speaks of the penury of believers forced to live at the margins of society, even as their persecutors enjoy the oil and wine of worldly wealth (6:5-6; 13:17; Heb. 10:34).

The fourth, cast in OT imagery, speaks of the whole spectrum of judgments that will befall sinners (and especially persecutors) throughout the Church Era; judgments that will indeed impact believers with a view to their sanctification, but will never engulf them, as they will the enemies of God (6:7-8; Ezek. 14:21, Mt. 24:6-8, Rom. 8:28).

Finally, the fifth seal warns of the inevitability of Christian martyrdom, even as it comforts the whole Church with assurances of final justice and public vindication at the Christ’s return (6:9-11; Luke 21:16-18, 2 Thess. 1:3-10). Its position near the end of chapter 6 hints at what later visions will make explicit: persecution and martyrdom will greatly increase at the end of the age (11:7-10, 16:12f).

This brings us to the sixth seal, and to what is manifestly a description of the Consummation at the Parousia of Christ (6:12-17). Importantly, the accent here falls on the judgment and misery of the wicked, while in chapter 7 it falls upon the reward and blessedness of the saints. Drawing upon a wide array of OT prophecies of the Day of the LORD—and also reminding us of Christ’s own climactic promise in the Olivet Discourse—the Spirit here depicts the break-up of the physical cosmos (6:12-14), along with the terror that sinners will experience as they behold Christ appearing in the heavens in power, glory, and great wrath to judge the world in righteousness (6:15-17; Mt. 24:29-31). This is indeed the end of the present evil age, which means that Revelation 6 does indeed traverse the entire Era of Proclamation, from Christ’s Session to his Parousia.

At first glance, Revelation 7 seems to do the same.

In verses 1-3, we learn of a divine decree: God will not release the four winds of final (universal) judgment until all his elect children are sealed; until, by the inward work of the Spirit, they are all marked for divine ownership and protection (Rev. 14:1; 2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13; John 17:6, 11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 3:1).

Verses 4-8 then use OT imagery to depict this sealing, to signify the ingathering of the entire “Israel of God,” both OT saints and New (Gal. 6:16). This interpretation is indicated by the rich numeric symbolism involved: 12 (standing for the OT saints, who were represented by the patriarchs) x12 (standing for the NT saints, who were represented by the apostles) x1000 (standing for magnitude and divine completeness) = 144,000 (standing for the great, divinely completed multitude of Old and New Testament saints).

Verses 9-17 go on to confirm this interpretation, for again they speak of “the 144,000,” this time identifying them for what they really are: a numberless multitude (as many as the stars in the sky for abundance), divinely rescued from “the great tribulation” (i.e., from the trials and persecutions that have befallen the saints of God throughout all Salvation History, from the Fall to the Parousia), and now gladly worshiping God and Christ before the throne (7:9), upon Mt. Zion (14:1), and in the Temple (7:15). As other portions of the book make clear, all three are OT symbols of the joys of eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth (7:17, 21:3-4, 22, 22:3, 14). (8)

We find, then, that the true thrust of Revelation 7 is not to recapitulate the Era of Proclamation or the course of the King’s heavenly reign. Rather, it is to give us our first major glimpse of what awaits the saints on the other side that Era; on the other side of the Parousia by which Christ will bring his heavenly reign to and end: life with the Triune God in the World to Come. For this reason, Revelation 7 cannot be reckoned as a fresh visionary cycle, but is an especially happy ending to the one that immediately precedes it.

     2. Seven Trumpets (8-11)

It is clear that chapters 8-11 constitute a single cycle of visions, seeing that the motif of the seven trumpets manifestly binds them together as one (8:7, 11:15). Moreover, it is equally clear that this cycle concludes with a symbolic depiction of the last Judgment at Christ’s return (11:15-19). What is not so clear is where, historically, the cycle begins. Ladd, for examples, argues that from this point on, the Revelation speaks primarily of events to occur at the very end of the age.

However, there are good reasons to question this. The first cycle (6-7) patently begins at the beginning of the Era of Proclamation (6:1-2); so too does the third (12:1-6) and (I will argue) the sixth (20:1-3). If so, how likely is it that the other cycles would begin elsewhere? Also, we have seen that in the Revelation, Christ means to address all Christians of all times. Why, then, would he speak here exclusively to believers living in the last of the last days? Most compelling of all, however, is the evidence found within the text itself, evidence indicating that this awesome vision speaks both to the Church Universal and—with special solicitude—to the portion of the Church that will go through the Last Battle. But rather than elaborate further here, let us briefly survey the cycle as a whole, lingering over the points of special relevance to our study.

As chapter 8 opens, John beholds Christ breaking the seventh seal. Since the breaking of the sixth seal manifested the Last Judgment, it is evident that the breaking of the seventh cannot manifest something to follow; that, in fact, it must be manifesting something similar in nature to what came previously. In other words, here we have our first hint that the forthcoming cycle will indeed traverse the same historical ground as the one preceding it.

When Christ breaks the seal, seven angels stand forth and receive trumpets. But, as verses 3-4 reveal, they will blow the trumpets only in response to the Spirit-filled prayers of the saints, saints who are crying out to God for protection and succor amidst their manifold persecutions (6:9-11, Luke 18:1-8). This too illumines the historical scope of the cycle: Whenever and wherever Christ’s persecuted Church calls out to God, he will respond with a blast of the trumpet; with partial judgments designed to warn of the Final Judgment to come. As we are about to see, it falls to the Church to interpret these judgments to the unbelieving world, even as she preaches the good news of the Gospel, in hopes that men might repent and find eternal safety in the arms of Christ (Mt. 3:7, 1 Thess. 1:10).

Verses 6-12, which describe the sounding of the first four trumpets, also constitute a unit. In symbolic language drawn largely from the Exodus event, the Spirit here reveals that throughout the Era of Proclamation God will respond to the pleas of his saints by sending down judgments upon “the heavens and the earth;” that is, the entire natural order, the physical support system of the inhabitants of the earth (8:13). The recurring numeric symbol, one third, signifies that these are only partial judgments, and therefore warnings of a future judgment that is more complete and far worse (Joshua 6:4, Isaiah 58:1, Joel 2:1f).

Revelation 8:13 is transitional. It announces that the remainder of the cycle will be devoted to examining three “woes,” woes that are identical with the last three trumpets. Here, we are put on notice: The final three trumpets will bring especially painful (woeful) afflictions upon the inhabitants of the earth; the first two will loudly trumpet the final judgment, the third will actually be the final Judgment (Mt. 11:12).

Chapter 9, which describes the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments, is yet another unit. Here, judgment is not upon nature by the hand of God, but upon man and society by the instrumentality of Satan. Verses 1-11, which give us the fifth trumpet judgment, draw upon the prophecies of Joel to picture God delivering Gospel-hardened sinners over to Satan, who in turn commissions his demonic hosts to darken and torment the minds of his willing human subjects.

Verses 12-21, which describe the sixth trumpet judgment, give us much the same, but with this difference: Now Satan is authorized, not only to torment, but also to kill (9:18). The martial imagery employed here strongly suggests that their deaths will occur as a result of demonically inspired war and/or social and cultural collapse (Dan. 11:36ff, Rev. 17:6). Observe from verse 18 that only one third of men are killed, a fraction that has already appeared in the first four trumpet judgments (8:6-12). This signals that here too we are dealing with judgments that will befall unbelieving and unrepentant (9:21) humanity throughout the entire Era of Proclamation, whether in ancient Rome, modern Iran, or any other nation that turns against Christ and his Church. Note, however, that in reading these verses, one cannot help but feel that they apply with special force to the generation of the end (see 11:14; Mt. 24:15-28, Luke 21:25-26).

The stage is now set: We are ready to hear the seventh trumpet and see the third woe. But strange to tell, there is an unexpected interlude; or rather, there is a prelude—and it is nearly two chapters long! Why so? It is because Christ has something of great importance to tell the Church about events immediately preceding the end.

This is evident from the contents of chapter 10. In verses 1-7, John sees a strong angel—very Christ-like—straddling, as it were, the whole world. Lifting his right hand, he swears by the (omnipotent) Maker of heaven and earth that when the first six trumpets have sounded “ . . . there shall be delay no longer, but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about the sound, the mystery of God is finished, as he announced to his servants the prophets” (10:7). We dare not miss the significance of this. Here Christ is telling us that at the end of Era of Proclamation, after the six trumpet judgments have done their work, the Consummation will come. The “mystery of God”—his entire redemptive plan, announced in the Gospel—will be fully accomplished.9 However, as verses 9-11 reveal, before it is accomplished, something bittersweet must occur. It is written in the little book in the angel’s hand, which John now eats, and then, in chapter 11, speaks to us all. Since it is cosmic in its scope, affecting all men and nations, the saints do well to listen with care (10:11)!

There follows one of the most amazing and illuminating chapters in the Revelation. As we shall see, it spans the entire Era of Proclamation (11:1-6), but focuses largely upon the Last Battle (11:7-10) and the Consummation quickly to follow (11:11-19). Here is yet another line of evidence favorable to the view that chapters 8-11 must not be interpreted futuristically, but as spanning the whole reign of the High King of Heaven.

In symbolic language drawn from the book of Ezekiel and also from Israel’s history, verses 1-2 tell us that throughout the Era of Proclamation (symbolized by 42 months) God will measure his true spiritual Temple (the Church) for eternal protection from the wrath to come; nevertheless, as to her outward existence, she (and her public institutions) will suffer a more or less continual “trampling” (i.e., persecution) beneath the feet of unbelievers (Luke 21:16-19).

Verses 3-6 use Old and New Testament imagery to explain why the Church will receive such ill treatment: Just as Jesus authorized his disciples to go forth two by two as his witnesses to the cities of Israel, so now he authorizes his Church to go forth as Gospel prophets to the whole world (11:3; Luke 10:1, Mt. 28:18ff, Rev. 1:2, 5). Clothed in sackcloth, they will interpret to men the signs of the time—God’s trumpet judgments—, warn of the final Judgment, and so call the nations to repentance and faith throughout the entire Era of Proclamation, here symbolized as 1260 days (11:3, 12:5-6, 14). Ever standing before her Lord, she will be his proxy in the earth, the Spirit-filled light of the world (11:4, Zech. 4, Rev. 1:20). Like Jeremiah, Moses, and Elijah, she will have authority, not to destroy, but to pronounce destruction, over all the impenitent persecutors of God, Christ, and the NT Israel (11:5; Exodus 7:20, 1 Kings 17:1f, John 20:23, Acts 9:4. 13:46). This is the “sweet” part of the prophecy: The Church will complete her testimony, and she will gather in Christ’s flock.

Now, however, comes the bitter. In verses 7-10 we arrive at the end of the age, and at the season of the Church’s greatest tribulation. When she has completed the Great Commission, an increasingly lawless world-system will suddenly go over to Satan, who, through the Antichrist’s lawless regime (i.e., the final incarnation of the Beast), will destroy the visible, institutional church (11:7, 9:2, 17:8, 23, 20:3, 7-10). For a very brief season—“three and a half days”—the Great City of the present evil world, formerly embodied in Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem, will gloat over her demise, and rejoice that the convicting words of the Gospel will never again fall upon their ears so as to torment their conscience (11:8-10). Again, this is the Revelation’s first clear depiction of the Last Battle. With a view to her comfort, the Lord would have his Bride understand that he himself has ordained it, that it will be very brief, and that it will usher in her Blessed Hope, the Consummation of all things. Here is still more sweetness, with which the bitter is not worthy to be compared (Rom. 8:18).

We behold this good news in verses 11-19, where the prophecy of the Seven Trumpets is brought to a close. With the help of NT eschatology, we can readily decipher the true meaning. Verses 11-14 speak of the initial stages of the Consummation. When Christ appears in glory he will raise the dead saints, transform the living saints, and gather them all to his side in the skies above the earth (11:11-12; Mt. 24:31, 1 Cor. 15:51f, 1 Thess. 4:13f). Meanwhile, as his enemies watch in terror, the first waves of divine judgment will strike the earth below, shaking all things, killing many, and setting in motion the collapse of the City of Man (11:13: Rev. 6:12, Heb. 12:25-29). With this, the second woe (pictured in 9:13-21) is fully fulfilled, leaving the remnant of living humanity to glorify God. They will do so, however, not because they love him, but because Christ at his Parousia forces them to confess that he is indeed Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).

Verses 15-19 give us the third woe, the seventh trumpet, and (according to verse 18) the Last Judgment. It is celebrated by the angels (11:15) and the glorified Church (11:16-18). In both cases, the celebrants mark it as the commencement of the Kingdom in its full and final form. This is particularly evident from the words of the angels, who declare that once the Judgment is complete the kingdom of the world will become the Kingdom of God and of his Christ, at which time he will fully reign, forever and ever (Daniel 2:44, 7:7:14, 27). Observe from verse 16 that the 24 elders give thanks to Him who was and is, but not to Him who “is to come,” for now both He and His eternal Kingdom have come! Verse 18 is also very valuable for our study, agreeing as it does with the rest of the NT that immediately following the Last Battle there is but one (i.e., final) judgment, at which time the saints will receive their eternal reward, even as the wicked are destroyed forever.

Finally, under cover of rich OT imagery, verse 19 tells us that Christ himself will execute that judgment. At the Parousia, heaven—which has hitherto concealed the High King—will be opened at last, so that every eye will see him, this One who is the true Ark of the Covenant, the true meeting place of God and all his redeemed children (Ex. 25:22; Col. 3:1-3, 1 Tim. 2:5, Heb. 9:24, Rev. 1:7). However, when he appears, those who refused to enter that Covenant will meet only with God’s wrath and retribution, typified here by such OT manifestations as lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail (Rev. 4:5). Thus does the cycle end, by giving us the end.

Summing up, we have found that Revelation 8-11, just like 6-7, does indeed depict the course, character, and consummation of the reign of the High King of Heaven. Moreover, as in 6-7, it teaches us that when the High King comes again, so too will the Kingdom in its full and final form. Here, however, there is something new, a measure of “progress.” For here the Spirit introduces the theme of the Last Battle, and also begins to lay a greater emphasis upon the last of the last days.

So far, then, it appears that our chart gives us a good description of the true structure of the Revelation.

     3. The Woman and the Man-Child, Persecuted by the Dragon and His Helpers (12-14)

We come now to the third of the six cycles depicting the course, character, and consummation of the High King’s heavenly reign. This one is notable for giving us a unique glimpse of OT Salvation History, introducing the main antagonists in the Battle of the Ages, and supplying important keys to the proper interpretation of Revelation 20. Keeping these themes in mind, let us survey it briefly.

As we saw earlier, chapter 12 uses the Exodus motif to give us a compelling paradigm by which the Universal Church may think of Salvation History as a whole, and also of her day-to-day experience in the earth. It includes three elements: 1) rescue from spiritual Egypt (i.e., the Domain of Darkness), 2) a long and difficult pilgrimage—with the Lord at her side—through the wilderness of this world, and, 3) a joyous, triumphal entry into the Promised Land.

Verses 1-6, astonishing for the conciseness with which they manage to convey so much redemptive truth, give us the three chief actors in this great cosmic drama, even as they depict the course of Salvation History as a whole.

First, we meet the Woman. Adorned as a heavenly Bride for her Betrothed, she is the Woman prophesied in Genesis 3:15: the Church of all times and places, in both her Old and New Testament embodiments (12:1, Rom. 11:11-24, Rev. 7:1f, 21:10-14). Beautiful as she is, she is nevertheless crying out in pain, emblematic of the sufferings of the OT saints, whose costly faithfulness ensured the delivery of the Messiah into the world (12:2).

Next, we meet the Dragon and his host of fallen evil angels. This is Satan, but Satan with a full complement of heads, horns, and crowns: Satan as the invisible power and authority who seeks to destroy the Woman and her Child through his human helpers in the world (12:3-4).

Here, too, we meet the protagonist of the drama: the Man-Child, the Last Adam. Does Satan strike him on the heel? To be sure. Is he destroyed? Far from it, for following his resurrection, he ascends into heaven, where, for an appointed season, he will reign as High King of the cosmos, and then return to judge the nations with a rod of iron, at which time he will crush the serpent’s head once and for all (12:5, Gen. 3:15, Psalm 2:9, Rom. 16:20, Rev. 19:15).

But alas, the Woman, having work to accomplish on earth, cannot follow him—at least not yet (John 13:33, 14:1-3). Therefore, like Israel at the Exodus, or like Elijah in the days of Ahab, the evangelistic Church flees into the wilderness of the fallen world-system, where God and Christ faithfully nourish her by Word, Sacrament, and Spirit, until, at the end of “1260 days” (i.e., the appointed season of their pilgrimage), she enters the Promised Land.

We find, then, that this cycle clearly begins at the beginning of the Era of Proclamation, and that it symbolically designates that era as 1260 days.

As I argued earlier, verses 7-12 use apocalyptic symbolism to speak of the cosmic dethronement of Satan; of his being “cast out” of his lawful position as king over all the unbelieving nations (12:9, Mt. 12:22-29). In principle, this was accomplished when Christ, having secured both righteousness and pardon for his people by his earthy life and death, took his seat in the heavenlies as their High Priest and King. This we see in 12:5. However, in practice it is accomplished progressively, over the course of the whole Era of Proclamation, wherein the Church, amidst much persecution, effectively preaches the Gospel so that God’s elect are brought into his spiritual Kingdom. This we see in 12:7-12.

Here, then, we have an exact parallel to, and apocalyptic illustration of, the words of Jesus in John 12:31-32: “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth (i.e., in death, exaltation, and preaching), will draw all (God’s elect) to myself.” In this text, Christ looks ahead to the Cross and describes its aftermath; in Revelation 12, the Spirit looks back at the Cross, and also describes its aftermath. In both cases, the premises are the same. Prior to Calvary, Satan had deceived the nations, holding them, unawares, in his grip and kingdom (12:9a; Luke 4:5-8, Rev. 20:3, 8). Now, however, by his life, death, and resurrection, the Redeemer has triumphed, so that Satan’s hold is broken and his kingdom is henceforth in slow-motion collapse. This happens through the preaching of the Church, by which the sovereign God transfers his (Satan’s) former subjects into the Kingdom (and new world) of his beloved Son (12:9b-10, Col. 1:13). Verses 11-12 assure us that the saints will indeed persevere under Christ’s benevolent reign, that heaven ever rejoices in this fact, and that throughout the Era of Proclamation the devil will sooner or later turn his frustration upon his own subjects, “the inhabitants of the earth” who have refused to enter Christ’s heavenly kingdom (Rev. 9:1ff).

Verses 13-17 elaborate upon verse 6. Throughout the Era of Proclamation, an infuriated Adversary will indeed persecute the Woman and her seed: the Church and her believing offspring, begotten down through the centuries by the preaching of the Gospel (12:13, 17; Gen. 3:15, 1 Peter 1:3). However, as in the case of Israel and Elijah, so here: Christ, by the Spirit, will always be with her, giving her flight, nourishment, and help amidst all her trials and temptations (12:14-16; Ex. 16:1ff, Deut. 32:11-12, Psalm 124, 1 Cor. 10:13). Note carefully from verses 12:6 and 12:14 that “1260 days” and “a time, times, and a half a time” are equivalent. Like 42 months, these figures symbolize the entire Era of Proclamation, during which the Church, like Israel and Elijah, remains in exile (from worldly acceptance) and under tribulation.

In chapter 13 we are introduced to the first two of the Dragon’s helpers, the worldly instruments by which he will persecute the Woman.

Verses 1-10 speak to us of the Beast. Having a full complement of horns and crowns, and summing up the four beasts of Daniel 7, this monster clearly represents the political or governmental face of the world-system as it appears in NT times, and especially when it goes over to Satan and persecutes the people of God (13:1-2).

Verses 3-5 tell us that throughout the Era of Proclamation (symbolized by 42 months) this proud, pretentious, and powerful usurper will pop up its ugly head over and again—reviving, as it were, from the dead—, with the result that the inhabitants of the earth (i.e., unbelievers) will over and again marvel, fear, follow, and thus (unconsciously) worship the Dragon.

While verses 6-9 can be read as describing the antagonism of the Beast towards the Church throughout the whole Era of Proclamation, here there is also a subtle change of emphasis. Allusions to Daniel 7 and 2 Thessalonians, a shift to the future tense in verse 8, and the global dimensions of the conflict here predicted, all signal that the accent now falls upon the final embodiment of the Beast under the Antichrist. In short, we have again arrived at the Last Battle (11:7, Dan. 7:8, 19-28, 2 Thess. 2:1-12).

Verse 10 steels the persecuted Church of all ages with a strong assurance of final justice upon her foes.

Verses 11-18 introduce us to the second of the Dragon’s helpers, the Beast from the Earth, or the False Prophet (Rev. 16:13, 19:20). This is the religious face of the world-system, especially insofar as it encourages the deification of the State and/or its rulers. Having already discussed this section at length, I will not repeat myself here, except to stress once again that we must not interpret this passage literally or futuristically. Rather, following the lead of closely related texts, we must see the Spirit here using apocalyptic symbolism to warn the Church of all generations (and the world as well) never to turn one’s back on Christ by giving ultimate personal allegiance to the State (Rev. 7:1ff, 14:1-5, 20:4-6). Yes, down through the centuries many have fallen, heeding the voice of the False Prophet, taking the mark of the Beast, and replacing the worship of God with the worship of man (Daniel 3:1f, John 19:15, Acts 12:22). And yes, in the days of the Last Battle, many—indeed, most—will do so again (13:8, Mt. 24:15-28, 2 Thess. 2:1-10). But the Christian must not. In the face of every false gospel, every fake miracle, powerful peer pressure, strong economic coercion, and ugly threats against himself and his loved ones, he has but one response: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:13-22, 5:25).

Having taught the Church what to expect in the Era of Proclamation, the Heavenly Prophet now brings this cycle to a close with a well-balanced blend of encouragement and exhortation (14:1ff). Four steps are involved.

First, he gives the Church Militant yet another soul-stirring glimpse of life on the eschatological Mt. Zion; of life in the new heavens and the new earth (14:1-6; Isaiah 11:9, 65:25, Rev. 21:10). The saints of all time are there: all “144,000” (14:1); all whom the Lamb has purchased from the earth (14:3-4); all who did not commit acts of immorality with the Harlot (14:4, 17:2); all who remained pure and faithful to their Betrothed, cherishing the Day of Bridegroom’s Coming and the celebration of the Marriage Feast (21:2); all in whose mouth there was found no lie—neither false gospel nor false profession (16:13); all who are blameless through the Blameless One, who is Christ (14:5, 1 John 2:1). These will forever belong to God and Christ (14:1), worship before his throne (14:3), and follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4). Let the suffering saints remember and take heart.

Having encouraged the saints, the Lord next exhorts and warns them (14:6-13). In so doing, he gives John a vision of three angels. The first has an everlasting gospel to preach to all nations, a gospel by which men may escape the almighty Creator’s judgment to come. In the fear of the Lord, the Church is to preach it (14:6-7). The second heralds the imminent destruction of the Harlot, or Babylon the Great, both of which symbols represent the world-system as temptress. In the fear of the Lord, the Church is to come out of her, and stay out of her (14:8, 18:4). The third—using some of the weightiest language in all Scripture—depicts the eternal punishment of those who worship the Beast (and the Dragon), thereby taking his mark of ownership upon them. In the fear of the Lord, the Church must stand strong against every temptation to do so; she must faithfully persevere with Christ to the end (14:9-12). Moreover, as she does, let her recall the blessedness of all who die in faith throughout the Era of Proclamation, for in heaven their spirits will find rest from their toil, even as they await the resurrection and eternal reward (14:13, 20:2-6).

In 14:14-16, the Lord yet again offers encouragement, this time bringing us to the Consummation itself, where we behold the ultimate ingathering of God’s elect. The motif employed here, first sounded in the Gospels, is that of the harvest (Mt. 3:12, 13:30). At his Parousia, the High King himself will appear in the skies above the earth to bring his wheat into his barn; to send forth his angels to gather his risen, transformed, and glorified saints to his side (14:14, 16; Dan. 7:13, Mt. 24:30, 26:64, 1 Thess. 4:17).

In 14:17-20 we arrive at the closing scenes of the cycle. Here, the Lord warns and encourages the saints with a prediction of the final judgment of the wicked. This time it is the angel with the power of fire who swings the sickle (14:18); nevertheless, the continuing use of the harvest motif assures us that this Judgment also occurs at the Parousia, and that Christ is the Agent behind it, just as the rest of the NT teaches (Mt. 13:36-43, 47-50, 24-25, 2 Thess. 1:1ff). Passing over the resurrection of the wicked and the universal assize before the Judgment Seat of Christ (20:11-15), the vision runs to the eternal punishment of the wicked in the great winepress of the wrath of God, which is the Lake of Fire (14:10, 20:14-15). The difficult final verse, with its mention of horses, alludes to certain OT texts depicting the world’s final assault against the Israel of God (14:20; Ezek. 38:4, 15, Zech. 14:5). The message is: As soon as Christ’s enemies launch their Last Battle against his Church, so soon will he return to engulf them—and all their (resurrected) predecessors—in utter destruction (16:12-16, 19:11-16). The finality of this judgment is seen in its universality: It extends in all four directions with “complete completeness” (4x4x10x10=1600), leaving all of the wicked of all the earth forever outside the City of God (Rev. 22:15).

Summing up, we have seen that this cycle does indeed traverse the entire Era of Proclamation. It clearly begins with the Session of Christ (12:1-5) and clearly ends with his Parousia (14:14-20). In subtle ways, it again warns of the Last Battle (13:6-10, 14:20), but also offers great comfort, whether of life with Christ in the Intermediate State (14:13) or, following his return, life with Christ in the World to Come (14:1-5). Nowhere is there the least hint of a future Millennium. Here, the theology of the (structure of the) Kingdom and the Consummation is identical with that of the rest of the NT.

However, we do observe something of great interest and importance: The cosmic dethronement of Satan in principle and practice, depicted in 12:1-12, bears a striking resemblance to the binding of Satan, depicted in 20:1-3 (see especially 12:9 and 20:3). Does this mean that the 1260 days of 12:6, the 42 months of 13:5, and the 1000 years of 20:2-3 all refer mystically to the Era of Proclamation? Does it mean that 20:4-6, like 14:13, refers to the Intermediate State? Does it mean that 20:7-10, like 13:6-10 and 14:20, refers to the Last Battle? And does it mean that 20:11-15, like 14:14-20, refers to the Last Judgment, with an emphasis upon the eternal punishment of the wicked?

Our journey so far would certainly suggest it. But let us continue that journey, in order to see if the pattern will hold.

     4. Seven Bowls of God’s Final Wrath (15-16)

Chapters 15-16 give us the fourth cycle in which the Spirit depicts the course, character, and consummation of the High King’s reign. A brief look at 16:12-21 makes it clear that the cycle does indeed end with a picture of the Consummation. However, the opening verse tells us that the theme of the visions to follow is the seven last plagues in which the wrath of God is finished (15:1). Moreover, many of the judgments described certainly look both cosmic and cataclysmic. Accordingly, some interpreters, like George Ladd and Dennis Johnson, argue that here the Spirit speaks exclusively about the end, about the last of the last days. Others, however, such as William Hendriksen and Greg Beale, contend that this cycle, like all the rest, once again traverses the entire Era of Proclamation. (10)

For a number of reasons, I favor the latter view. First, there is a natural presumption that this cycle will again give us the whole course of the High King’s reign, seeing that the previous three (not to mention the next two) do this very thing. Secondly, the first four bowl judgments (16:2-11) closely parallel the first four trumpets judgments (8:7-12), suggesting that they both cover the same time frame. Thirdly, it is almost impossible to see how the world-system could mount the Last Battle (16:12-16) if the previous four bowl judgments, more or less literally interpreted, had already fallen upon the earth, or if they were falling upon it concurrently with a final assault against the Church. And finally, the text itself seems quite clearly to teach that these judgments are poured out upon all the impenitents who worship the Beast (16:2), persecute the Church (16:5-6), and blaspheme the God who is now sending them to their death (16:9, 11). It appears, then, that the focus here is indeed upon all of God’s final judgments as they are administered throughout the entire Era of Proclamation, not just at the end.

Keeping these preliminaries in mind, let us now briefly mine this cycle for further insights into the course of the High King’s heavenly reign.

As we just saw, 15:1 serves as a heading in which the theme of the coming cycle is stated: the final outpourings of God’s wrath, both during and at the end of the Era of Proclamation. Observe here that John once again beholds a great and marvelous sign (1:1, 12:1). As Dennis Johnson well remarks, this implies that his message comes to us in symbolic impressions, not photographic reproductions. (11)

Strikingly, 15:2-4 gives us yet another glimpse of the saints in glory, but this time at the very head of the cycle, rather than at its conclusion. The contents of the text itself help us to understand why. Here we have a latter day Song of Moses; the eschatological celebration of all that was typified by Israel’s miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea; the onset of the Church’s eternal glorying in the righteous acts of God and the Lamb, who, at the Parousia, brought them safely through the Red Sea of God’s Judgment, deposited them securely on the shores of the World to Come, and engulfed their enemies in a fiery sea of divine retribution (Exodus 15:1f). In the visions immediately ahead, we will read—with fear and trembling—of many such (final) judgments. Here the suffering Church is taught to expect them, understand them, and—so much as possible on this side of glory—to celebrate them (15:3,4).

In richly symbolic OT language, 15:5-8 shows us God preparing to administer his final judgments against impenitent humanity. Importantly, the angels who are about to pour them out look much like Christ (15:6, 1:13). This hints at what we saw earlier: All throughout the Era of Proclamation, the Father redeems and judges the world by the hand of the High King of Heaven (6:1ff). In the recurrent use of the number of completeness, we see that these are indeed final judgments: seven angels are about to pour out seven plagues from seven bowls. We observe the same finality in the fact that the bowls are full of the wrath of God, and that no one is able to enter his sanctuary (presumably to plead for mercy) until the seven plagues have run their course (17:7-8; Jer. 7:16, 11:14, 14:11, 1 John 5:16).

In 16:1, we hear a heavenly voice—likely that of Christ—sending the seven angels to their task. In verses 2-11 there follows a description of the outpouring of the first five bowls, along with their consequences. Here, the temporal sphere of fulfillment is the entire Era of Proclamation; later, in 16:12-21, it will be the last of the last days. As a rule, these judgments are framed in terms of the plagues wrought against ancient Egypt, though in NT times their actual fulfillment likely includes the spiritual as well as the physical (Exodus 7-11, 1 Cor. 15:46). Again, these judgments run roughly parallel to the trumpet judgments of Revelation 8-11, though their enlarged scope and increased severity signal final retribution (on individuals upon the earth) as opposed to preliminary warning. Interestingly, in no case do the five judgments actually result in physical death. Nevertheless, it is clear that the judgments are indeed unto death, not least of all because they do not lead sinners to repentance, but to a further hardening of their hearts against God, just as in the case of Pharaoh (16:9, 11, Rom. 9:14-18).

With a view to confirming that the time frame of 16:2-11 is indeed the entire Era of Proclamation, I would offer the following suggestions about the interpretation of these challenging verses.

The first speaks of all who have worshiped the Beast, and who therefore suffer and die from the malignancy of their own sin, whether spiritually or physically (16:2; Exodus 9:8-12, Rev. 13:15-17, 20:4).

The second may indeed speak of all who die at sea, or at the hands of the sea, as in the case of devastating hurricanes or tsunamis. Alternatively, it may speak of the death of the “sea” of sinful, impenitent humanity, from which the Dragon calls forth the Beast, and upon which the Harlot sits (16:3, 13:1, 17:1, 15). (11)

The third bowl may represent all who die by poisoned rivers and springs. However, the cry of the angel of the waters, in which he affirms the righteousness of this judgment, could well indicate that these waters symbolize the destruction, in kind, of those who “destroyed” the saints, and who must therefore drink down the wrath of God (16:4-7, Exodus 7:21, Rev. 11:18, 13:10, 17:6).

The fourth bowl does not speak of lethal global warming, which would consume saints and sinners alike, but rather of the withdrawal of God’s common grace from the impenitent; of a fatal intensification of the effects of the curse, such that these people now experience life as though the sun were fiercely beating down upon them (16:8-9, 7:16, 9:2; Psalm 38:1-8, Isaiah 4:6, 25:4). (13)

Finally, the fifth bowl appears to speak of the suffering and death unleashed upon society when God “darkens the throne of the Beast”; when he removes from wicked rulers the skill and favor necessary to govern effectively, so that henceforth war and anarchy reign (16:10-11; Exodus 10:21-23, Psalm 11:1-3, Rev. 17:16).

Interpretations like these, which acknowledge the structure and literary genre of the book, make it easy to see how the first five bowl judgments are fulfilled throughout the entire Era of Proclamation.

Coming as they do at the end of this cycle, it should not surprise us that verses 12-16, which portray the sixth bowl judgment, bring us to the end of the age and the Last Battle. Importantly, we see this pattern in four out of the six cycles, a line of evidence that strongly confirms our view of the structure of chapters 6-20 (11:7-10, 16:12-16, 19:11ff, 20:7-10).

Beneath the OT surface of our text we find a rich NT meaning. I would sum it up as follows: Near the end of the age, the sovereign God will remove from before his enemies every spiritual and circumstantial impediment to their dark ambitions, setting the stage for the Last Battle (16:12; Ezek. 38:1f, 2 Thess. 2:6-7). At that time, Satan will use the Antichrist, the State, the religious arm of the State, a compelling religious ideology, and false signs and wonders to win the allegiance of the entire world-system, thereafter moving it to war against the only dissenter, the true spiritual Church (16:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:1ff, Rev. 11:11-19, 17:14, 19:19). In this toxic environment, where lawlessness and deception super-abounds, Christians must remain doubly vigilant, remembering that it is precisely when things are at their worst that Christ will return, just as he promised (16:15; Mt. 24:23-37, 44, 1 Thess. 5:1-4). Therefore, let believers keep in mind that in that Day the scene of unprovoked attack will suddenly become a scene of unexpected deliverance, even as it was in the days of Deborah, when the people, watching from the heights of Mount Meggido, saw God mightily intervene in behalf of Israel’s armies fighting on the great plain below (Judges 4-5, 5:19; Rev. 20:7-10). (14)

Verses 17-21, as expected, once again give us the Consummation, though here the accent altogether falls upon the punishment of God’s enemies. We know this is the Last Judgment because in it the wrath of God is finished (15:1, 17:2). We also know that Christ, at his Parousia, is the Agent of this Judgment, for though he is not explicitly mentioned here, verse 20 alludes to 6:12-17, where he is indeed explicitly mentioned. The earthquake of verse 18 is the same as that of 6:12: It is the eschatological shaking of all created things, with the result that only holy and unshakable things remain (Psalm 125:1, Ezek. 38:19-23, Hag. 2:6, Heb. 12:27-28, 2 Peter 3:9-12). The Great City of verse 19 is none other than Babylon the Great, which is the City of Man, the tri-partite world-system comprised of the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Harlot. John will again describe its fall, at length, in chapter18. In verse 21, the Spirit once again draws upon Exodus imagery in order to depict the eternal punishment of the wicked, and also (the wretchedness of) their eternal enmity against God (Exodus 9:18-15, Ezek. 38:22).

Summing up, we have seen that this cycle, like the previous three, certainly appears to traverse the entire Era of Proclamation. It definitely ends at the end of the age, with the Last Battle and the Consummation. As for its beginning, one must admit that here, as opposed to chapters 6 and 12, the opening scenes of the Era or Proclamation are not easily discerned. However, this is not because the time frame has changed, but rather because the emphasis has changed. Here, there is progress—a greater emphasis upon final judgments, and upon the final Judgment at the end of the age. This, along with the cosmic imagery involved, accounts for the futuristic feel of these two chapters, though in fact the temporal sphere of fulfillment remains the same as all the rest. Importantly, we have also seen once again that when the Spirit desires to encourage the saints with a revelation of what lies beyond the Consummation, he makes no mention whatsoever of a future millennial reign of Christ on earth, but points instead to life in glory in the new heavens and the new earth (15:1-4; 7:9-15, 14:1-5).

It appears, then, that the pattern proposed in our chart still holds. But in order to make sure, let us take few moments to probe the fifth cycle. Only then will we be in a position to look the sixth and most controversial cycle squarely in the face!

     5. The Fall of the Dragon’s Helpers (17-19)

The fifth and (I would argue) penultimate cycle of chapters 6-20 is devoted to the final destruction of all of the Dragon’s helpers, especially the Great Harlot, Babylon. It is marked by a high degree of progressivity: While there are certainly allusions to the large-scale course of Salvation History, here the emphasis is decidedly upon the Last Battle and the Last Judgment. The cycle falls into two parts: 17:1-19:10 focuses on the fall of the Great Harlot; 19:11-21 focuses on the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet. Let us briefly survey the cycle in order to highlight its structure and primary symbols.

In 17:1-2, the Spirit announces the theme of the bulk of the cycle: the Judgment of the Great Harlot, previously mentioned in 14:8 and 16:19. As we saw earlier, she represents the world-system as seductress. Unlike the Woman of chapter 12, who seeks to draw men to their Creator and Redeemer (and so to their good), this wicked woman draws men away from God and Christ to herself (and so to their destruction). Therefore, she will be destroyed, along with all the (unrepentant) spiritual adulterers who have committed acts of immorality with her (James 4:4).

In verses 3-6, John describes his vision of the Great Harlot. She is seated upon the Beast of 13:1-10. Here is the world-system as temptress, working in concert with the world-system as persecuting political power (17:3). Gorgeously arrayed and holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations, she is like the Rome of John’s day, enticing men to lives of idolatry, materialism, drunkenness, and sensuality (17:6). But this is more than Rome. This is Babylon the Great, the Mother of all spiritual harlots and all the abominations of the earth; this is, as it were, the satanic proto-type, lodged in the mind of the Dragon, that begets every incarnation of the world-system as temptress (17:5, Luke 4:6). The saints of every generation have met and struggled with her corrupt children: Sodom, Egypt, Tyre, Sidon, Babylon, Rome, and the wealthy, sin-besotted cities of the modern world. Therefore, we see that she is drunk, not only with the wine of her own immorality, but also with the blood of the saints. She cannot abide the light that emanates from them, light that pierces the darkness of her own soul. Therefore, as for Christ, so for the saints: She seeks to extinguish their light by putting them to death (17:6; John 1:5, 3:16-21, Rev. 11:10).

In verses 7-13 the angel opens up the meaning of the vision to the wondering apostle. There is more here than the perennial collusion of the Beast and the Harlot. John is seeing a mystery, a previously hidden truth about the destiny of the Harlot, and the destiny of the saints as well. The details are notoriously difficult to interpret, and therefore disputed. My take is as follows:

The Beast that John sees has indeed been around for ages, but it is not the Rome of his day; it is a final political power yet to come, one that both leaders and laity the world over will admire and follow (17:8). Its seven heads are seven mountains, both of which symbolize the “high” power centers of the earth; in the last days, they will be united as one. For a season, the Harlot (i.e., the economic and cultural system) will be comfortably seated upon them, enjoying favor with the final embodiment of the Beast, who recognizes her usefulness in the pursuit of his evil goals (17:9). The seven heads also represent seven kings (i.e., kingdoms). Here we learn something about the history of the Beast: five (of his previous incarnations) have fallen, one is (i.e., Rome), and one (the final one) is yet to come. However, it will endure only briefly, for Christ himself will destroy it at his Parousia (17:10, 19:20). The final incarnation of the Beast will be an eighth king, yet one of the seven. In other words, the final kingdom will be the same as one of the others (i.e., a revival of a previous kingdom), yet also different from it, in that, for power and geographical extent, it will sum up and surpass all the rest (17:11). In those days, all the power-centers of the world-system (symbolized by the ten kings) will join with the Beast and embrace his great purpose, which is to crush the true spiritual Church and exalt itself as God over all (17:12-14, 2 Thess. 2:ff).

In verses 14-18 the angel continues his exposition of the eschatological mystery, but now turns to the theme that will dominate the rest of the cycle: the final destruction of the Harlot, the Beast, and the False Prophet. He begins by tersely announcing the Last Battle, and then, as usual, the triumph of the Lamb and his faithful followers that will immediately ensue (17:14). Notably, in those days the Harlot will finally sit as queen over all the nations, much as Rome (nearly) did in John’s time (17:15, 18:17). However, just prior to Christ’s return, God will put it into the heart of the Beast and his violent retinue of world leaders to devour her flesh. Presumably, this is the desolation of the global economy and culture as a result of the military and economic policies of the Antichrist’s one-world government (17:16-17). As a prelude to the divine destruction of sinners at Christ’s return, Providence will first display the self-destructive power of sin itself.

In chapter 18, we reach the threshold of the Judgment of the Great Harlot. It opens with an angel descending from heaven, heralding her imminent demise: She is about to become a dwelling-place of demons, a prison-house of every unclean spirit and hated bird. In short, she is about to be cast into hell (18:2; Isaiah 13:21f, 34:11, 13-15, Rev. 19:20). For this reason, a heavenly voice issues a final warning to God’s people: Like Lot of old, and like the Israelite remnant of Babylon, they must come out of her lest they share in her plagues. These are the final, eschatological plagues: God Almighty himself, with his arm fully bared, will requite her for her sins once and for all (18:4-8; Isaiah 48:20, Jer. 51:45).

Drawing heavily upon OT oracles of the doom of Tyre (Ezekiel 27) and Babylon (Jeremiah 50-51), verses 9-20 give us all the inhabitants of the earth, both princes and people, lamenting the sudden, fiery destruction of the Great City and its treasure-trove of merchandise, both material and human. It is a graphic picture of what the apostle Paul called “the sorrow of the world” (2 Cor. 7:10). Yes, these who weep and wail and throw dust on their heads are sad, but not over the manifold ways in which they have dishonored their Creator, or over their vicious treatment of his saints, or even over their failure to enter heaven. No, here in hell itself (which is the true locus of their cries of woe) they can think of nothing to lament besides the loss of their (former) goods. It has happened to them according Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus: In their brief lifetime on earth they received their good things, while the saints received their evil things. Now, however, the saints are forever comforted, while they themselves are tormented (Rev. 18:10, 15; Luke 16:25). This is an administration of perfect justice, in which God calls the suffering saints to rejoice (18:20).

Verses 21-24 bring the chapter to a close with yet another vision: A strong angel takes up a huge stone and casts it into the sea. Just so, great Babylon will be thrown down with violence, and will be seen no more. Moreover, in hell God will remove from her denuded precincts every one of his good gifts, gifts that ought to have led her to repentance, but that instead she made into idols: music, craft, the pleasures of married life, light itself. If only the Great City had listened to the message of the saints and prophets who pleaded with her to repent, instead of spilling their blood in her streets. For now, at Christ’s coming in judgment, her time for repentance is past.

19:1-10 brings John’s vision of the fall of the Harlot to a close. Christ has come again. The Judgment has just occurred. All the saints and angels are celebrating the Consummation (7:9ff, 15:1-3). In this celebration, we find the Spirit sharply contrasting the opposing destinies of the two Women of the Revelation, the Harlot (19:1-5) and the Bride (19:6-10).

Four exhortations to praise—four exultant “Hallelujah’s”—are involved. First, John hears the angelic hosts praising God for the Judgment by which he has brought the Harlot’s corrupting influence to an end, avenged the blood of his servants, and secured their eternal salvation (19:1-2). Once again he hears the angels, this time affirming the complete justice of the Harlot’s eternal punishment (19:3). Next, he sees the 24 elders (representing the Church as a whole) and the four living creatures (representing all the cherubim) worshiping before God’s throne, adding their “Amen” to what the angels have just declared (19:4). Finally, John hears a voice emanating from the throne—is it Christ’s?—exhorting all of God’s bondservants to praise him (19:5). Praise him they do, in a thunderous chorus that rocks the universe itself (19:6a)!

But what exactly is the source of their joy, the theme of their praise? Verses 6b-7 give us the all-important answer: The Lord God Almighty has begun to reign! His Kingdom—in its fullness—has come at last! In the ears of the Bride of Christ, no sweeter words were ever heard. They mean that her long season of waiting is at an end; that her Betrothed has finally come for her; that her Beloved is about to take her to his eternal home; that he will now consummate her redemption by way of resurrection, transformation, and glorification, so that in perfect spiritual union they will live together forever in the new heavens and the new earth. Soon, John will receive a vision of their conjugal bliss (Rev. 21-22). Here, however, he simply beholds the Bride receiving her wedding gown at the resurrection: the (perfect) righteousness of Christ, along with her rewards for all that Christ has wrought in and through her during her days upon the earth (19:8, 21:2). Solemnly, a holy angel reminds John of the blessedness of all whom the sovereign God invites to this Marriage Feast (19:9, Mt. 22:1f).

As the cycle draws to a close, the Spirit now takes a small step backwards in time, and slightly modifies his theme. As previously, he will again speak of the Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment of the world-system. Here, however, the spotlight is no longer upon the Harlot, but upon her companions in rebellion and persecution, the Beast and the False Prophet. In other words, with these closing verses, the Spirit brings the history of the Dragon’s three helpers to its appointed end.

Three closely related visions are involved. The first depicts the Parousia, the descent of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ from heaven (19:11-16). This is Mathew 24:29-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, but in apocalyptic language. Again John sees the Rider on the white horse. This time, however, he is not coming by the Spirit and through the Church to conquer hearts for the Gospel. No, he is coming bodily, in power, glory, and faithfulness, to judge and wage war against his (and her) enemies (19:11-13, 6:2). With him are the armies of heaven: certainly the holy angels, and likely the glorified saints as well, many of whose spirits he has brought with him from heaven for the resurrection of the just (19:14; Mt. 25:31, Rom. 16:20, 1 Thess. 4:13-18). This is the Word of God—he who created the cosmos—now fulfilling Psalm 2 by speaking final destruction upon his foes, just as his Almighty Father has given to him (19:13, 15; Psalm 2, John 1:1, 5:22, Rev. 2:27, 12:5). This is also the King of kings and the Lord of lords; for now, at his Parousia, the High King puts every earthly enemy under foot, and so becomes absolute Head over all (19:16; 1 Cor. 15:25-27, Eph. 1:10, 22, Rev. 17:14, 19:12).

In the second vision, John beholds an angel summoning all the birds of mid-heaven to the great supper of God, that they may feast on the flesh of all Christ’s enemies, great and small (19:17-18, 21). Here again the Spirit uses OT apocalyptic language to speak of the torments of the wicked in hell (Ezek. 39:17-20, Rev. 18:2). The third and final vision confirms this interpretation (19:19-21). John sees the Beast and his armies arrayed against Christ and his army. This is yet another picture of the Last Battle, wherein the consolidated world-system pits itself one final time against the (NT) people of God (19:19; 17:17). But it is to no purpose, for no sooner have they gathered themselves for war, than Christ appears in glory, seizing the Beast, the False Prophet, and all their followers, and casting them into the Lake of Fire (19:20-21; 2 Thess. 2:1ff). Thus, at the Parousia, Christ completely sweeps away all three of the Dragon’s helpers from the earth. In the next cycle, we will see that he sweeps away the Dragon with them.

Summing up, we have found that the fifth cycle of Revelation 6-20 deals largely with the Consummation of the High King’s heavenly reign, emphasizing as it does of the final judgment of the Harlot, the Beast, and the False Prophet. Nevertheless, in doing so, it specifically speaks of the ancient Roman embodiment of these enemies, alongside which John and the early Christians lived and toiled (Rev. 17:10). Moreover, from its various exhortations to the people of God, it is clear that this cycle is meant to speak to Christians of all generations, since they too must stand firm against the manifestation of the Dragon’s helpers proper to their own time (Rev. 18:4-5, 20). Therefore, we may conclude that in a limited but very real sense this cycle does indeed span the entire Era of Proclamation.

Finally, let us note once again that when the Spirit reminds the saints of their Blessed Hope, he says not a word about ruling and reigning with Christ in a future millennial stage of the Kingdom. Rather, he speaks of the Parousia, at which time the Lord will rescue his people from the Last Battle (17:14, 19:19-21), decisively judge his (and their) enemies (18:1ff, 19:11-21), and welcome his glorified Bride to eternal life together with him in the World to Come (19:1-10). Therefore, as in the previous four cycles, so here: The classic NT eschatology is presupposed. The Kingdom is divided into two simple stages, separated by a single Parousia of Christ, who, at his appearing, will consummate all things. Is this not the true Blessed Hope of the saints?

Conclusion    

Our examination of the structure of the Revelation is nearly complete. We have seen that the text itself conforms very well to the chart with which we began our journey. Chapter 1 does indeed give us a Vision of the High King. Chapters 2-3 give us his message to the Universal Church. Chapters 4-5, the center of gravity of the book, give us his coronation, his investiture as High King of Heaven and Earth. Very importantly, chapters 6-19 certainly seem to give us five visionary cycles, each of which recapitulates the course, character, and consummation of Christ’s heavenly reign, with increasing emphasis upon the Consummation. Also, in our journey thus far we have repeatedly seen that the Spirit presupposes the simple two-staged eschatology of the NT; that he never presents a future millennial reign with Christ as part of the Blessed Hope; but that he always exalts the Parousia of Christ—wherein he himself will effect the Consummation of all things—as the true Blessed Hope of the Church.

Therefore, we must ask once again: Is it likely that in the sixth and final cycle of Revelation 6-20 (i.e., chapter 20), the Spirit would do anything other than give us the course, character, and consummation of Christ’s heavenly reign one final time? And is it likely—or even possible—that in this, the second to the last chapter of the entire Bible, he would introduce, for the very first time in the NT canon, an idea that must completely revolutionize, if not overthrow, both the eschatology of the Revelation and the eschatology of the entire NT?

No, the great current of NT theology, and the current of the Revelation itself, sweep us along to the only possible conclusion: Revelation 20 must give us still another symbolic depiction of the heavenly reign of Christ.

But does the text itself actually support this most reasonable conclusion? Now, at long last, it is time to find out.

NOTES

  1. More Than Conquerors, p. 43.
  2. Ibid., pp. 36-37.
  3. The exalted Christ tells John to write the things he has seen, the things that are, and the things that are to take place after this (1:19). Effectively, this divides the book into three parts. The things that John has seen (up to that point) are the contents of the vision of 1:9-20. The things that “are” are the things pertaining to the seven churches of Asia (2:1-3:22). The things yet to take place are all that lies in store for the Universal Church (4:1-22:21).
  4. “Historically, a white stone was given to victors at games (cf. the Messianic Banquet); such a stone was also used by jurors at trials to vote for acquittal.” The ESV Study Bible, (Crossway, 2008), p. 2466.
  5. In Revelation 3:10 Christ promises that he will keep the faithful Philadelphians from “the hour of testing that is about to come upon the whole earth.” For Dispensationalists, the hour of testing is the seven year Tribulation at the end of the Church age, from which Christ will keep his people by removing them from the earth at the Rapture (MSB, p. 2707). But for many reasons, this view is impossible. First, the NT does not teach a pre-tribulation Rapture (see chapter 23). Secondly, if it is taught in the Revelation, it is only taught here. Thirdly, it is not taught here, since there is no mention whatsoever of Christ removing his Church or the Philadelphians from the earth. Finally, the Dispensational view is not even compatible with this verse, since it can hardly be said that Christ will keep the Philadelphians from the Tribulation by means of a secret Rapture; on Dispensational premises, the only way he could keep them from it is by keeping them in the faith until they die, so that thereafter they will be with him in heaven and never have to face the Tribulation. What then is the true meaning of the promise found in 3:10? I see two possibilities. First, it may mean that Christ will safely preserve his faithful people whenever and wherever the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Harlot arise to test the spiritual loyalty and integrity of the “inhabitants of the earth,” a test that the latter group will fail (John 17:15, Rev. 13:8, 17:8). On this view, there is a brief but eternally decisive “hour of testing” for all men of all time; a test that Christ will enable his faithful people to pass (2 Cor. 6:2). But secondly, it may mean that Christ will safely preserve his faithful saints at the Last Judgment, when he himself tests the spiritual allegiance of “the inhabitants of the earth,” and sends all whose names are not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life to eternal punishment (Rev. 20:12-15). I lean towards this view since the time of testing mentioned here is brief (lasting only an hour) and quite universal (engulfing the whole world and all who dwell upon the earth). Such images seem aptly to describe the one Judgment of the Great Day (Jude 1:6).
  6. George Ladd writes: “The little book (or scroll) is in the form of an ancient will, which was usually sealed with the seals of seven witnesses. The book contains God’s inheritance for his people, which is founded upon the death of his Son. The saint’s inheritance is the Kingdom of God; but the blessings of God’s Kingdom cannot be bestowed apart from the destruction of evil. In fact, the very destruction of all evil powers is one of the blessings of God’s kingly rule. Here is the two-fold theme of the Revelation: the judgment of evil and the coming of the Kingdom.” A Theology of the New Testament, p. 674.
  7. My thinking about the structure of chapters 6-20—and about the structure of the book as a whole—is much indebted to William Hendriksen’s outstanding commentary, More Than Conquerors (Baker, 1995). Highly recommended.
  8. A close study of Revelation 7:4-8 reveals many hints by which the Spirit would direct us away from a literal interpretation of the 144,000, and towards a more figurative interpretation. They are as follows: 1) The text begins by mentioning Judah (the Messiah’s tribe), rather than Reuben, as was customary in the OT; 2) It omits Dan and Ephraim, replacing them with Joseph and Levi, giving us a list of the tribes of ethnic Israel that is unprecedented in the OT; 3) It is illumined by Rev. 14:1f, which identifies the 144,000 as those redeemed by the Lamb, as those who follow him wherever he goes; 4) It runs closely parallel to Rev. 21:9ff, which, under much the same symbolism, describes the Church in glory; and again, 5) it certainly seemly to receive a decisive interpretation in verse 9, which strongly implies that the “144,000” are, in fact, a great multitude.
  9. This means, of course, that there is no room for a future millennial stage of the Kingdom.
  10. For further study of the Revelation see: Greg Beale, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans, 1998); Louis Brighton, Revelation (Concordia, 1999); Dennis Johnson, The Triumph of the Lamb (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001); George Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Eerdmans, 1972).
  11. The Triumph of the Lamb, p. 223.
  12. Ibid., pp. 225-226.
  13. Ibid., pp. 228-229.
  14. Ibid., pp. 231-236.

For the form of this world is passing away.

–1 Cor. 7:31

 

In November of this year (2009), Hollywood will release the mother of all doomsday movies, 2012. Basing their story line on ancient Mayan prophecies, the producers of this film have employed state of the art special effects to depict—graphically and terrifyingly—the end of the world. Multitudes—including the skeptics—will attend. Multitudes—including many of the skeptics—will indeed be terrified. And multitudes, for the next three years, will wrestle with secret doubts and fears, wondering if the world really will end in 2012.

As a Christian, I believe I understand the attraction of doomsday movies like this one. It is rooted in our innate awareness of our own sin and guilt. It is rooted in our innate awareness of the sin and guilt of the world at large. And it is rooted in our innate awareness of God: that he exists, that he is holy, that he is the Moral Governor of all, that he sees our sin and guilt, and that it would therefore be quite reasonable for him to destroy the world since it deserves to be destroyed. Even if we know nothing of the Bible; even if we have never heard of the Flood, or Sodom and Gomorrah, or the destruction of Jericho; even if we are completely ignorant of the Bible’s own predictions of the second coming of Christ and the Last Judgment, it matters not: Somehow, we still sense (and fear) that the end is indeed coming. Quite understandably, we want to be ready for it. Maybe attending a movie will help.

Here in the West, the oldest and most trusted version of the end of the world is found in the Bible. This means that after people see 2012 they will likely turn to pastors and Bible teachers for insight and comfort. It is a reasonable thing to do. This is because there is no evidence whatsoever for the trustworthiness of Mayan prophecy, whereas there is abundant evidence for the trustworthiness of biblical prophecy. Moreover, unlike Hollywood’s lurid offerings, the biblical teaching here is not designed to titillate but to educate; not to terrify but to edify; not to sow despair but to engender hope. In short, the biblical teaching is lovingly meant to prepare us for the end; indeed, it is actually meant to arouse in our hearts a profound and passionate longing for it!

Have you seen this movie? Do you have questions about the end of the world? Are you or your loved ones afraid that it really will come in 2012? Would you like to know more about what the Bible says on the subject–and why it is more reasonable to believe the Bible than Mayan legends or Hollywood doomsday flicks?1

If so, this essay is for you. As a former pastor and current Bible teacher I have prayerfully written it in hopes that it will answer your questions, calm your fears (unless they are healthy and appropriate), and fill you with rich and lasting hope, not simply for the end of the present evil world, but for the unspeakable joys of the glorious new world that the Bible says is coming soon.

Salvation History

Before examining the biblical teaching on the consummation (i.e., the completion of God’s purposes and plans for the world), we must say a few words about the crucially important idea of salvation history.

Let us begin with a look at the Bible itself. Though it is comprised of 66 books written by about 40 authors over the space of some 1600 years, the Bible nevertheless tells a single story: the story of the creation, fall, and redemption of the universe, life, and man. The story of the creation appears in Genesis 1 and 2. The story of Adam and Eve’s probation in the Garden of Eden, their temptation at the mouth of the evil angel Satan, and the terrible consequences of their fall into sin all appear in Genesis 3 (see also Luke 4; Romans 5, 8). The rest of the Bible—from Genesis 4 to Revelation 22—tells about God’s redemptive response to their sin and the sin of their offspring. In other words, the vast majority of the Bible presents us with the story of God’s redemptive activity in history: the steps that he has taken–and yet will take–to secure forgiveness for his people’s sin, to rescue them from all their (spiritual and physical) enemies, and to restore them and their world to the joy and wholeness of eternal life in communion with him. For this reason, theologians speak of the Bible as a book of salvation history: It is the history of God’s works for the salvation of his people and their world.

Now all who are familiar with the New Testament understand that the single most important thing we can say about salvation history is this: The God-Man–Jesus Christ–lies at its very heart. The following sketch of the course of salvation history will show us just how true this affirmation really is.

The Christ-Centered Course of Salvation History

According to the New Testament, long before the creation of the world God the Father knew that mankind would fall into sin, suffering, and death. Therefore, he decided that at just the right moment (“in the fullness of time”) he would send his divine Son into the world to become “the Last Adam;” to become a sinless human being and the “head” (or representative) of his chosen people; to be the One who would live a perfect life on their behalf and then die on the cross for their sins. Having done so—having actually accomplished his people’s redemption by his righteous life and atoning death—Christ would then rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, and sit down at his Father’s own right hand, henceforth to serve as the exalted Lord of all, the divine ruler of heaven and earth. The primary purpose of Christ’s heavenly reign would be to apply the redemption that he had purchased for his people during his life on earth. He would do this by sending the Holy Spirit to his disciples, then sending his disciples out into the world to proclaim the Gospel (i.e., the good news about his redemptive work), and then opening the hearts of God’s people to believe it and turn to him in repentance and faith. When at last, through the preaching of his Church, Christ had thus brought all of God’s elect to himself, he would descend from heaven bodily and in great glory to consummate (i.e., to complete) the rest of God’s plans and purposes for the universe, life, and man.

The Old Testament pictures, promises, and prepares for all these great judicial and redemptive events. The New Testament tells of their partial fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the growth of his Church in the earth. But both Old and New Testaments still look forward to the Day of Christ’s return in glory, and to the awesome acts by which he himself will bring the present evil world to an end.2

A People Prepared for the Lord

With all this as background, we are nearly ready to examine the Bible’s teaching on the consummation. First, however, we must pause to consider a bit more deeply God’s purpose for the present time in which we all live: the era of Christ’s invisible heavenly reign, the portion of salvation history—now some 2000 years long—between his first coming and his last.

As we have just seen, this era is, above all else, a time of spiritual testing for men and women of all nations. Why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ, the High King of Heaven, is sending his ambassadors to people everywhere. He is confronting them with the Gospel, the good news that they can experience forgiveness of sins and the joys of eternal life simply by trusting in him and his finished work. He is testing them to see if they will love spiritual truth enough to consider his claims carefully, to examine the evidence that confirms them honestly, and to submit themselves to him willingly, as Savior and Lord, if and when they see that those claims are true (John 3; Acts 17; 2 Thessalonians 2).

Just here we meet a biblical teaching of the greatest possible interest to spiritual seekers: The New Testament assures us that anyone who seeks the truth will find it (Matthew 7:7-11); that if indeed they do trust in Christ they are henceforth forgiven of their sins; and that being forgiven of their sins they have already escaped the wrath to come, since Christ himself bore God’s wrath for them on the cross (John 5:24; Romans 5:1f). Moreover, they will see that they already have eternal life—life in intimate spiritual communion with the triune God—so that for them the consummation becomes a promise of still greater things to come (John 14; Colossian 3:1-4; 1 Peter 1:13). And they will see that when Christ finally does return at the end of the age, it will only be to perfect them in holiness, health, and everlasting joy; it will only be to consummate their redemption. Accordingly, far from dreading the end of the world at Christ’s return, the saints of God actually look forward to it with deep desire and eager expectation (Romans 8:18f).

The Signs of His Coming

In order to nurture this lively hope–and in order to protect his flock from getting swept up in false expectations and baseless fears–Christ and his apostles gave us a body of signs by which all who want to may know that the parousia (i.e., Christ’s second coming in power and glory) is drawing near. Please note carefully: Mayan prophecies and doomsday movies are not among them!

On this score, Jesus himself led the way, speaking of most of the signs in his famous discourse on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Later, after his ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the apostles completed God’s revelation on this theme, adding a few more signs, thereby giving us a more nuanced picture of the events leading up to the end (Romans 11; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 6-20). To understand them well is to become secure against troubling “winds” of end-time speculation, and to become equipped to teach a worried and wondering world the truth about consummation to come.

Very importantly, the New Testament distinguishes between two kinds of eschatological signs.

The Beginning of Birth Pains

On the one hand, there is what Jesus called “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8). As with all the signs, these reflect the intensified clash of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan, now that Christ has entered the world and launched his redemptive assault on that great usurper’s throne (Matthew 12; Luke 4; Revelation 12). Accordingly, these signs appear all throughout “the great tribulation”—that is, throughout the entire course of the church era, the period between Christ’s first and second coming (Revelation 7:1-8). They include what are manifestly judgments of God: war, famine, earthquake, and pestilence, as well as the continual preaching of the gospel, by which sinners may understand these judgments for what they are, and flee to Christ from the far worse Judgment that they portend. But they also include what are manifestly acts of Satan: the appearance of false Christs and false prophets, the apostasy of false believers, and the persecution of true spiritual Church (Matthew 24:4-14; 2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 16, 20). Notably, Jesus tells his disciples, “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6). In other words, these are indeed signs that the end is fast approaching (Revelation 12:12), but also that the end is not yet. For this reason the wise disciple will not allow himself to be distracted by the “beginning of birth pains,” but will rather stay focused on the work before him, which is in essence to keep preaching the gospel “in season and out.”

Christ at the Door

On the other hand, there will be few signs that are historically unique. Since these will occur very near the end of the age, they do indeed herald the imminence of the parousia. Importantly, they will not enable believers to determine “the day or the hour” (or the year!) of their Master’s return, only that it is quite close, even at the door (Matthew 24:32-36). Disciples, then, are to be on the lookout for (the confluence of) these special signs, and to take great hope and courage when they see them on the horizon.

One such sign is the completion of world evangelization. As Jesus himself put it, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). For this reason, believers are to keep close tabs on the state of the global harvest, contribute to it any way they can, and rejoice in hope when they finally see thriving churches planted among “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

Another such sign—closely related to the first—is the conversion of the great mass of Jews. According to the apostle Paul, this will occur near the end of the age, when the full number of elect Gentiles have finally come to Christ. At that time, God will graciously turn again to his ancient covenant people and will graft them back into his vine through (God-given) faith in their Messiah. When he does, said the apostle, it will be nothing less than “life from the dead,” an expression apparently referring to the general resurrection that Christ will effect at his parousia (Romans 11:20-26; see also Genesis 45).

A third sign of the nearness of the end is the last battle (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10; cf. Ezekiel 38-39; Zechariah 14). It commences with the appearing of an individual whom Paul referred to as “the man of lawlessness,” and whom John called “the antichrist” (2 Thessalonians 2:1f; 1 John 2:18). He will be a satanically energized world leader with pretensions to deity, who, by means of persuasive words and miraculous powers, will succeed in consolidating the fallen world-system around himself and against God’s people (Revelation 13:3). The resulting persecution—global in scale and ferocious in intensity—will culminate in the apparent demise of the true spiritual Church: she will lie “ . . . dead in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also (her) Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:7-10; Matthew 24:15; Revelation 16:12-16, 20:7-10). It was this final, end-time persecution—and not simply the destruction of Jerusalem—that Jesus had in view when he warned his disciples, saying, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).

Christians should not suppose, however, that the Church alone will endure the tribulation of those dark days. Why? Because God—responding to the final assault against his Christ, his truth, and his people—will now bring wave upon wave of judgment upon the rebellious nations. As the end draws near, the judgments will increase in number and intensity, with less and less time in between for (a dangerously deceptive) “business as usual” (Matthew 24:36-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). These stupendous disruptions in nature and society—which mercifully trumpet a final warning to sinful humanity—are both “death throes” and “birth pangs.” That is, they are clear signs of the imminent destruction of Satan’s kingdom, yet also of the imminent birth of God’s Kingdom in its glorious fullness (Matthew 24:8). Speaking of them, Jesus remarked as follows:

And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them from fear at the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heaven will be shaken . . . And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake, those days will be shortened (Luke 21:25-26; Matthew 24: 21-22).

It is easy to see why Jesus makes these signs of the end known to his disciples: How shall they endure such terrible tribulation unless they understand that it is actually part of God’s plan, that it will be ever so brief, and that it will both herald and trigger the return of their King—the One who will swiftly rescue his people from every enemy and richly reward them with the unspeakable joys of the Kingdom of God (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 11:11-19, 20:9-10, 21-22)? In other words, Jesus taught on the signs so as to give his people hope: hope of his parousia and hope of the rich, manifold blessings it will surely bring. As he himself said, “When you see these things begin to take place, straighten up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28)!

The Parousia

Here is the hub, the central element of the consummation, the core eschatological event that brings all the others to pass in quick succession. Many NT texts describe the parousia, but the most famous comes from Matthew’s gospel:

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 heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other. –Matt. 24:29-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Revelation 19:11-21)

Jesus’ focus here is clearly on the parousia, his arrival in glory in the skies above the earth both to judge and to redeem. But even in this short text we see that his coming cannot be divorced from other elements of the consummation. Moreover, when we read this passage in its larger setting (Matthew 24-25)—and supplement it with material from other passages related to it—an altogether mind-boggling picture emerges: the parousia is a profoundly cosmological event, involving nothing less than the centering of the entire universe around the glorified Son of God, with a view to its complete and ultimate restructuring at his own hand.

Let us take a small moment to flesh out this very big idea.

Observe first that in order to set the stage for his arrival, Christ literally extinguishes the sun, moon, and stars. This is high drama: blackest night falls upon the entire cosmos, so that all eyes may be turned upon the radiant body of him who comes their way on clouds of glory (Matthew 26:64; Acts 1:9-11; Revelation 1:7, 14:14f, 21:23). Note that the spiritual heaven itself has been emptied—or rather descends with Christ into the skies above the earth—since he comes not only with all the holy angels, but also with the spirits of just men made perfect (Zechariah 14:5; Matthew 25:31; 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 4:14). As he draws near, there is a “cry of command,” the voice of the archangel (Gabriel), and the sound of a trumpet (1 Thessalonians 4:16). With this, Christ’s final dealings with mankind begin: he himself raises the dead (John 6, 11, 1 Cor. 15), transforms the living saints (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4), and—by angelic agency—transports all humanity, both the good and the evil, into the sky above, for the great assize before their divine Creator, Judge, and King, seated upon the throne of his glory (Matthew 13: 41-42, 47-50, 19:29, 25:31; Revelation 20:11).

This rendezvous in the skies above is deeply purposeful, since it supplies a perfect vista overlooking the stupendous cosmological transformations that are about to unfold. All will see, for example, that the world below now “flees” from Christ’s face, which is to say that the Earth and its works are burned up with fire, dissolved in fervent heat (Revelation 20:11; 2 Peter 3:10). They also will see Gehenna—the Lake of Fire—suddenly appear in the vacancy of space. And they will see a new earth arising and taking shape out of the ashes of the old, even as they watch cosmic darkness retreat forever before the dawning light of the glory of God and Christ (Revelation 21:23). In the midst of all this Christ himself effects the Last Judgment, casting the wicked into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20). Then, with his glorious Bride at his side, he descends to the Earth below, there to remain with her forever in their new and perfect home (Revelation 21:1f). Nevertheless, one final act still remains: having thus judged the world in righteousness and having headed up all (redeemed) things in himself, the triumphant Son now delivers the entire ransomed universe back into the hands of the Father who gave it to him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). With this, the eternal Kingdom of God in its fullness and glory has come at last (Matthew 13:43, 25:31f; Revelation 21:1f).

Observe again from this sketch of the consummation how God the Father has sought, in structuring it thus, to exalt his beloved Son. For the thrust of the parousia is essentially to reduce the universe as we now know it to a sea of men and angels, suspended in vacant space before the judgment seat of Christ, where they await, in awe and dread, the final disposition of all things. And herein will lie a consummate object lesson for every sentient being who ever lived: the One now enthroned at the center of the universe is the One who has always been enthroned at the center of the Father’s heart, and therefore at the center of his every purpose, plan, and work. In short, through the parousia both men and angels will behold the Son of God for who he is and for what God appointed him to be: the beloved creator, sustainer, redeemer, ruler, judge, destroyer, and re-creator of all things.

Conclusion

To understand the deep Christ-centered meaning of the consummation is to see immediately that “the real 2012” is not–at its heart–about fear, wrath, and destruction, though these elements are obviously present and important. Rather, at its heart the consummation is about hope: the hope of seeing the divine Christ fully unveiled in matchless splendor; the hope of seeing his gospel fully vindicated before all intelligent creatures; the hope of seeing justice done once and for all; and the hope of experiencing the glorious fullness of God’s redemption and eternal kingdom.

Small wonder, then, that when the High King of Heaven lovingly promises his Bride that he is indeed coming quickly, her eager response is never to shrink back in fear, but always to cry aloud, “Even so, Lord Jesus come!”

Small wonder also that the Spirit and the Bride continually say to seekers everywhere, “You who are fearful, you who are confused, you who are thirsty: Come, drink of the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17, 20)!

Notes

  1. Readers of a skeptical bent will ask, “Why should I believe the Bible’s account of the end any more than the Mayan’s? Are they not both mere myths, unworthy of the serious consideration of well-educated modern minds?” To this excellent question, I would reply, “As a matter of fact, they are not both myths, for the Bible–a patently historical document with rich attestations from history and archeology–abundantly displays various marks of divine inspiration. Any honest seeker who is willing to examine those marks will see immediately that the God of the Bible IS God, since he has given so much supernatural evidence to confirm the divine inspiration of his Word.” If you are such a seeker and wish to survey that evidence, please click HERE and HERE.
  2. For an extended discussion of the course of salvation history, with numerous citations from the Bible to support my sketch of it in this article, please see chapter 12 and 16 of The Test: A Seeker’s Journey to the Meaning of Life (Dean Davis, Pleasant Word, 2009).

 

Sometimes you only get one shot. If so, you’d better make it count.

So it was with me one day several years back when my father-in-law and I arose from our chairs in a classroom at the local senior center. During the discussion time in a history lecture I had volunteered a brief comment about the Bible’s amazing historical memory: how the biblical narratives had actually spawned modern archeology, and how archeology, in turn, had consistently vindicated the biblical narratives. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak up, but thought that nothing further would come of it.

How wrong I was.

Immediately after the lecture ended, an agitated man made his way straight for me. Before we could even exchange pleasantries, his question burst forth. “How can you possibly believe that the Bible is the Word of God?” It was not the first salvo in a tirade. He wanted an answer and, with some difficulty, was waiting for it.

How would you have replied? Seeing that your interrogator is upset, that he will stand for no nonsense, and that you doubtless have but one brief opportunity to deposit in his spirit your best single evidence for the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible, what would you give him?

Without premeditation—and I hope by the Spirit of the Lord—I gave him my best shot.

“Sir,” I replied, “there is one piece of evidence above all others that persuades me that the Bible is the Word of God. It’s what we call the unity of Scripture. As you may know, the Bible is actually a collection of books—sixty-six of them—written by over forty authors in the course of some 1600 years. And yet for all this diversity, it really is one book. In all of its pages it tells one story, about one God, who sends one Savior into the world, to the gather together one beloved people for His eternal possession. The more you study the Bible, the more you see this amazing, underlying unity. It is so pervasive, so intricate, and so beautiful that no mere mortal could possibly have produced it. Rather, it simply has to be the product of a single divine Mind, working through many different authors. Above all else, it is this astonishing, supernatural unity that persuades me that the Bible is the Word of God.”

And with that, he turned and walked away.

Orders, Orders Everywhere!

I reflect upon this interesting experience with satisfaction. I believe that by God’s grace I really did get off an excellent shot. My words, if quickened by the Spirit, were well able to give this troubled man a glimpse of one of the great supernatural realities in the world today, what I will here refer to as “the biblical order.” In the paragraphs ahead, I want to examine this order in some depth. My hope is that its intricate, beautiful, and majestic unity will not only strengthen your faith in the Word of God, but give you renewed confidence to share that faith with others.

Let’s begin with a few introductory remarks about the common but mysterious and richly significant phenomenon that we call “order.”

The dictionary defines order as an arrangement of differing objects, integrated into a system according to a definite plan. This definition says it all. Order begins with a multiplicity—a collection of differing objects. But it requires something more: the multiplicity must be brought into a unity (or system) by means of an arrangement of its parts. But even this is not all. Any old arrangement will not do. Rather, there can be no unity, and no order, unless the arrangement displays a rational plan and purpose. This is, of course, the spiritually significant characteristic of ordered systems: their patterns, complexity, beauty and fruitful functioning all arouse within us an immediate and inescapable intuition: an intelligent person with a purpose has been on the scene. Order is, as it were, the very fingerprint of personal intelligence and power at work in the world.

Now let me sum all this up by introducing you to a friend. His name is order/design/person-with-a-purpose. As you can see, he is a three-in-one being, a little trinity. And this is precisely what makes him so interesting: No matter where you look in all the world, there you will find him. You cannot not see him. Always and everywhere, you will find order, design, and a person-with-a purpose together. My friend is very stubborn about this. He will not allow one of his faces to be seen without the other two.

The Bible knows my friend very well, and embraces him as a vital partner in the apologetic task. We see this in the fact that it calls our attention to at least three different orders. One is the biblical order itself. But to appreciate this order fully, we must first look at two others. As we do, let’s keep an eye out for my friend.

The Natural Order

First, there is the natural order, the totality of all physical objects, the universe, the world. Opening our eyes upon it, we see immediately that order pervades the parts and order pervades the whole. It is present in the tiniest building blocks of nature, the atomic elements, which are composed of orderly arrangements of protons, neutrons, and electrons. It is present in the largest objects in nature–those vast and lovely aggregates of stars that we call galaxies and galactic clusters. And it is present in all the objects in between: crystals, clouds, columbines, conchs, crickets, cuckoos, crocodiles, and chemists. It is seen in the structure of things, the motions of things, the relationships of things, the complexity of things, and the beauty of things. Great or small, organic or inorganic, all the things we call “things” are actually systems: orderly arrangements of component parts. Furthermore, these systems are always part of bigger systems; and the bigger of bigger still, till we reach the biggest system of all, the cosmos itself.

And what is the spiritual significance of this all-pervasive order? In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul answers by telling us that order in nature is intended to impress upon our minds a revelation of the existence and attributes of its divine Creator. Seeing order in nature, we cannot help but see design. Seeing design, we cannot help but see a person with a purpose. Self-evidently, this person is divine (what other kind of person could fashion such a world?). And at least one of His purposes in nature is to reveal to us that He is infinitely wise, powerful, and good (Romans 1:18-32).

The Moral Order

Next, there is the moral order. Unlike the natural order, this order is spiritual rather than physical. Nevertheless, it no less real or consequential for our lives. Paul discusses this order as well, affirming that all men innately know its several elements (Romans 2:1-16). These include the moral law, to be understood as a fixed code of moral absolutes, planted like solemn sentinels deep within our hearts. Then there is moral obligation, an objective spiritual reality perceived by the spiritual faculty that we call conscience. Together with conscience, moral obligation continually moves us to align ourselves with the moral law, or else to reconcile ourselves with it when we break it. Finally, there is the law of moral cause and effect. Our innate awareness of this law assures us that throughout history good will always triumph over evil; that what we sow we shall surely reap; and that righteousness will always bring reward, and evil retribution, if not in this life, then surely in the next.

Again, the moral may be invisible, but it is no less real than nature itself. It is rather like the wind: Though we cannot see it, we can see its effects. Every day we observe people relating to it: striving to honor it, warring against it, stumbling over it, longing to be reconciled to it, etc. Clearly, it is just as pervasive, complex, powerful, and beautiful as anything in the natural order. And like the natural order, it too manifests design and points to a person with a purpose. This person is clearly divine (what other kind of person could fashion such an order and keep it functioning everywhere?). Here, however, his purpose is to show us that He is a holy sovereign, that He desires us to live well, and that He will reward us if we do, but judge us (or someone else in our place) if we do not.

We find, then, that both the natural and moral orders bear witness to a personal god. But what is their importance for the defense of biblical faith? Simply this: They teach us that the “unknown god” behind nature and morality definitely likes to reveal Himself to us in orders: in multiplicities of different objects that He skillfully draws into sublime unities (or systems) according to a rational plan. Systems are, as it were, His signature, through which we can learn important things about Him. Note carefully, however, that the natural and moral orders only tell us so much. They tell us that He exists, that He is powerful and wise, and that He is holy and sovereign. But they do not give us answers to any number of urgent philosophical questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are going? etc. Where, then, shall we turn to find the answers that we so desperately need and desire?

In light of what we have discussed so far, a solution immediately comes to mind. In the natural and moral orders the unknown god is clearly trying to rouse us to faith and curiosity, so that we might seek from him a further revelation, a revelation that will answer the ultimate philosophical questions that burn in our hearts. Now if this is so, would it not make sense for him to cast his revelation as a sublime unity, and to make of it an intricate and sublimely beautiful “revelatory order”? Yes, it surely would, since in so doing he would be assuring seekers everywhere that the god who is exalted in this special revelatory order is the very same god who once created and now maintains the natural and moral orders as well!

Observant seekers know that for centuries Christians have been arguing for this very thing, asserting that the unknown god has indeed given us just such a revelation. But how can we be sure of this? How can we know that the Bible really is the “revelatory order” for which the god of the natural and moral orders has prepared the human heart?

It is time now to find out.

The Multiplicity of the Bible

We cannot appreciate the unity of the Bible unless we see it against the backdrop of its very great multiplicity. Let us briefly consider it here.

The Bible contains a multiplicity of books—66 of them.

It was written over a multiplicity of years—about 1600 of them—constituting more than 40 generations.

It was written in a multiplicity of places: on three separate continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), in city and country, palace and prison, at home and abroad.

It was written by a multiplicity of authors—about 40 them. Note that these authors were not just priests or theologians, but men from every walk of life. Among them there were kings, peasants, fishermen, poets, statesmen, a herdsman, a military general, a cup-bearer, a Gentile doctor, and even a tax collector. Furthermore, many of them were opposed by the spiritual leaders of their day, and some were even regarded as heretics. Clearly, the Bible is not the handiwork of a closely knit religious cult.

Finally, it is written in a multiplicity of literary genres—at least eight of them. These include historical narrative, law, poetry, drama, proverb, prophecy, epistle, and apocalyptic vision.

If, then, the Bible really does display a striking, multi-layered unity, the historical facts concerning its origin and literary character assure us that this unity is neither the product of one man, nor the collusion of many. But if it is not from man, from whom is it?

The Unity of the Bible

The unity of the Bible is indeed striking, multi-layered. And, I would argue, patently supernatural and divine. I will now try to make that case by showing that the Bible is actually one story, about one God, administering one plan of salvation, centered around one person, who is attested by one body of signs, and worshiped by one people, according to one (eminently satisfying) worldview.

One Story: Anyone who takes time to read the Bible will soon discover that it tells a single story. This story has a beginning, middle and end. Distilled to its essence, it tells of the creation of the cosmos, its ruin by the sin of Adam, and its glorious restoration through the righteousness of Christ. This story has many characters—divine, angelic, and human. It has many themes: the love of the Father and the Son for one another; their love for man and nature; the triumph of good over evil, of truth over lies, of humility over pride, etc. It has a plot and many sub-plots. There is rising action, developing conflict, apparent defeat, and sudden, unexpected deliverance and final victory. There is romance, mystery, comedy and tragedy. And—for everyone who plays his part in the story well—there is this above all: a happy ending.

In short, the Bible displays an outstanding literary unity, and in this unity we discern the hand of a single divine Author. Note carefully, however, a fact of immense importance: the biblical story is not a mere story (i.e., a myth or legend), but the kind of story we call “history.” It is not a fabric of words only but, far more importantly, a fabric of actual historical events—events later recorded in words. Moreover, this story is the story par excellence: the story from which all lesser stories—be they history or fiction—derive whatever beauty and truth they may have. This is why we all love stories, and why the biblical story ever draws us to itself: Deep-down we already know that history is a story (His Story), and that we must find and play our parts in it. Said the wise Sam Gamgee, “What a tale we have been in, Mr. Frodo, haven’t we?” We, too, know what Sam knows. But how we yearn to find the Book in which the whole tale is told; to have our role in the tale clarified; and–if at all possible—to meet the Author besides. But does not the literary unity of the Bible aim us in His direction?

About One God: In the one story, one character towers above all: God. Part of the drama of the story is this: that as it unfolds we learn more and more about Him–His names, His titles, His attributes, His divine prerogatives towards man, His mighty works and mysterious ways. Then, as the story nears its climax, something of extraordinary interest comes to light. This one God is actually a trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And when it does, we also learn that His works in history are most fully understood, not in terms of God’s love for man, but the love of Father and Son for one another (John 17:1-5).

And yet, despite all this unfolding light, the message in every book of the Bible remains the same: Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one; there is no one else besides Him (Deuteronomy 6:4, 4:35). In other words, the Bible, unlike ancient pagan scriptures with their endless theogonies and vast pantheons, displays a consistent theological unity. Like its literary unity, this too comforts us, for intuitively we know that there is, and can be, only one god. Moreover, if we come to believe that the Bible is His book, we are hardly surprised to learn that part of His mission in history is to expose and dethrone every other so-called god, so that ” . . . in that day there will be one LORD, and His name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) the only name” (Zechariah 14:9; John 4:22-24).

Administering One Plan of Salvation: By and large the Bible is a history book. But it is history of a special kind: salvation history. That is, it tells a story of God’s redemptive acts in history–past, present and future. Reading this story, especially the part we call the New Testament, it soon becomes clear that God is acting according to a plan. Thus, the Bible is most deeply understood as a history of the administration of a single divine plan for the redemption of the cosmos. To catch a glimpse of the plan that unites the events of salvation history, let us work our way through a time line.1

First we have the eternal covenant which is the heart of salvation history. In the NT we learn that even before the creation of the world, God foreknew Adam’s sin and its terrible consequences for man and nature. Therefore, in eternity past, He devised a plan to redeem the cosmos. The writer to the Hebrews calls this plan “the eternal covenant” (Hebrews 13:20).2 From Scripture we learn that it is an agreement involving two parties (God and man); a promise to all who freely enter it (forgiveness of sins and eternal life in fellowship with God); a penalty for all who spurn it (eternal punishment away from the presence of God); a provision by which God can justly offer eternal life to man (God’s incarnate Son, living and dying in behalf of His people); and a proviso, or demand (repentance from sin and simple faith in the Person and Work of Christ). God determined that for many years the realities of this covenant would remain a “mystery”—a secret hidden in Him. Only in the fullness of time, at the appearing of His Son, would they be revealed to all nations.3

Next we have, in rapid succession, the creation, probation and fall of man and the cosmos. The sin of the first Adam (who was head over all) alienates man from God, forfeits the tree of (eternal) life, and places the whole world in bondage to various evil powers: the guilt and power of sin; Satan; sickness, suffering and death; and, worst of all, the peril of eternal punishment. There is only one hope. Another (better) Adam must come to recover what the first has lost and to undo what the first has done. The administration of the eternal covenant may—and must—begin.

Next, there is a lengthy Era of Promise and Preparation. During this time God begins to act redemptively in history. At various times and in different ways He administers the eternal covenant to sinful men, urging and expecting them to respond (Hebrews 1:1). But there is something unique about these OT administrations: Christ and the covenant are revealed in a veiled manner, largely by means of “types”—symbolic persons, places, things, events, and institutions pointing ahead to the future. In other words, these administrations do not fully disclose actual realities of the eternal covenant themselves, but symbolically look forward to them. They are the shadow, of which Christ and the covenant are the substance (Colossians 2:17).

In the time line chart, I have given four examples. Let us consider two of these.

When God administered the covenant to Adam and Eve, He killed animals so that they might be covered and unashamed before Him. Here, Adam and Eve represent the people of God. The animal represents Christ, killed by God Himself to supply an alien righteousness for His people. In putting the skins on, the guilty pair unconsciously display faith towards Christ, and so experience forgiveness and enter the covenant with God. Despite their sin, they belong to Him once again.

Now consider Noah. God tells Noah to build an ark, for a terrible flood is coming. Noah obeys, and because he does, all who trust him and enter the ark are safely carried over the waters of judgment into a new world cleansed of sin. Here, Noah is a type of the Person of Christ, and the ark a type of His work: Through Jesus’ perfect obedience in life and death an ark of salvation is prepared for all who are willing to get on board by faith. Noah’s family pictures the believing people of God. Their safe passage through the flood pictures the deliverance of this people from His final judgment by fire (2 Peter 3:7). Their descent from the ark into a new world pictures the descent of God’s Church from the sky onto a new earth overspread by a new heaven. The rainbow that God first displayed to Noah and his family speaks of God’s eternal promise to His covenant people: The last judgment will indeed be the last, and henceforth heaven and earth will be forever united as one.

Many more examples could be given. This is the marvel of the OT, and the source of its profitability for Christian faith and witness–that it super-abounds with just such types of Christ and the covenant. Some are obvious, others quite subtle. But all carry our thoughts Godward: no mere mortal could ever devise correspondences such as these!

But this is not all. Throughout the Era of Preparation, God not only administers His covenant by types and shadows, but also awakens in His people a hunger for the coming realities themselves. This He does by means of prophecy. OT prophecy is, in essence, a promise that the provision of the covenant will come (Christ, the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King), and that through faith in Him God’s people will receive the manifold blessings of the covenant (pardon, spiritual rebirth, holiness, resurrection, and eternal life with God in a glorious new heaven and earth). Thus, by means of type and prophecy, the multiplicity of OT events is bound into a mystical unity. Together, they constitute a single veiled revelation of the coming Christ and the eternal covenant of grace.

All of this brings us to the Era of Fulfillment. Here at last the eternal covenant is unveiled—and that is “gospel,” or good news! Note, however, that this era unfolds in two stages. During the first—the period of proclamation—the covenant realities are unveiled only partially, and only to the eye of faith. During the second—the period of consummation—they are fully unveiled, no longer to faith only but to sight. Let’s look at this important era a bit more closely.

At its onset, the provision of the covenant (the Son of God) enters history as a man—the Last Adam. As He embarks upon His ministry, the Father, through Him, now begins to administer the covenant as it is in itself. The period of (gospel) proclamation has arrived. By manifold good works, Christ displays the promises of the covenant, and by preaching He calls all Israel into it—to repentance and faith in Him. But it is a call the nation largely rejects. And so, at the end of His ministry, He seals His holy life with an atoning death, thereby making justification—and all the covenant blessings—possible for those who will believe. After His resurrection and ascension, the Father seats Him at His right hand as King of heaven and earth, and from heaven He continues to proclaim the covenant through His Church. This time, however, He calls people of all nations to repentance and faith. Those who respond receive precious spiritual blessings (forgiveness of sin, spiritual rebirth, and growth in Christ-likeness). Nevertheless, they are saved in hope: eagerly they await the day when Christ—and complete perfection—shall come.

Next is the Parousia. It is the second great hinge of history when Christ returns in glory to seal the period of proclamation, administer the covenant promises in their fullness, and inaugurate the period of consummation. Upon His arrival from heaven He raises the dead, judges the world in righteousness, renews the cosmos, and delivers up the perfected Kingdom to His Father.

Finally, the Era of Consummation begins. Henceforth and forever, God and His people live and work together—no longer by faith, but by sight—in a glorious new heaven and a new earth.

Here, then, in too few strokes, is something of the Bible’s astounding soteriological unity.4 The more we see it, the more we are amazed. Like tiles in a mosaic, the myriad stories of the two testaments somehow unite to create a single picture. They show us a single God, administering a single covenant, for the salvation of a single beloved people. Who on earth could devise such a plan—or such a Book to tell us about it?

Centered Around One Person: Just as Christ stands in the midst of the eternal covenant–the one mediator between God and man—so too He stands in the midst of all Scripture. Like planets around the sun, all revolves around Him. Jesus Himself taught this very thing. He said of the Scriptures, “These are they that testify of Me” (John 5:39). Similarly, He told His disciples, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). This stands to reason, since one of the Father’s highest purposes in creation, providence and redemption is to glorify Christ. He desires that all should honor the Son, just as they honor Him (John 5:23).

Accordingly, in the NT we ever find Christ “in the midst” of the doctors, the disciples, the crowds, Moses and Elijah on the mount, the seven lampstands, the 24 elders, even the very throne of God. Likewise in the OT, by means of Christophany, type and prophecy, we also find Him in the midst. If the Bible may be called the body of truth, then its skeleton is the history of the administration of the covenant, its sinews are the 66 books, and its heart—burning in the midst of it all—is the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is Attested by One (Large and Diverse) Body of Signs: Since Christ is in the midst, God the Father desires to draw all men to Him, that they may enter His covenant and experience its blessings (John 6:44). Jesus taught that He does this by means of signs: vividly supernatural phenomena that cause men to marvel and therefore inquire about Christ and the gospel (John 5:20, 31ff). Looking through the window of Scripture, we see that God has posted such signs all along the highway of salvation history. In the NT, for example, God spotlights Christ by means of His virgin birth, angelic visitations, theophanies, mighty miracles, and—most importantly—His resurrection from the dead. Note also from the book of Acts that Christ intended His people themselves to be signs–and from subsequent Church history they indeed have been, right up to our own day (Acts 1:4-8).

Of special importance, the signs that appear in the OT are of two kinds: Messianic types and prophecies. Types, as we have seen, are persons, places, things, events or institutions that point forward to a Christ who has not yet come. For beauty and sheer abundance, they are indeed a marvel.Think, for example, of the miracle baby that God promised Abraham–and how, by believing in him, Abraham was reckoned a righteous man. Think of Moses, a deliverer who, through waters of judgment, led his people out of bondage and into a promised land. Think of the Passover lamb (not a bone of which was broken), whose blood, faithfully applied, wrought protection from the angel of death. Think of the bronze serpent on a pole, lifted up for the healing of all who would look to it in faith; of the once-stricken rock that gave forth water to the thirsty; of the delicious cluster of grapes from Canaan, suspended on a pole between two men; of the scapegoat, who bore the sins of Israel into the wilderness; and of Jonah, who spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish. Is it really possible not to see Christ in all these pictures?

Similarly, we have the sign of OT Messianic prophecies. It, too, is vividly supernatural, and causes us to marvel and consider Christ. For how can it be that even before He was born, the entire course of Christ’s earthly and heavenly life was predicted, not by one prophet, but by many? How could they speak of His divine nature and pre-existence, His virgin birth, His birthplace, His miraculous ministry to the poor, the minute details of His atoning death, His resurrection, His heavenly reign, and His second coming in power and glory to judge, redeem, and usher in the Kingdom of God? Reading them, we cannot help but ask: Who inspired these prophecies, and why? Perhaps the One who fulfilled them can tell us!5

Christians must never underestimate the importance of the body of Messianic signs, especially OT types and prophecies. The signs draw the Scriptures into a wondrous, Christo-centric unity. They are a chorus of witnesses, singing of the divine Prophet, Priest and King. Because of them, we see that the Old Testament confirms the New, and that the New Testament illumines and fulfills the Old. Because of them we understand that the two testaments really do belong together and that they really do constitute a single book. It is The Book—the very Word of God—given to direct us to the Christ of God.

Worshiped by One People: The Bible tells of a divine Father gathering a single people for the worship of His Son, just as it tells of a divine Son gathering the same people for the worship of His Father. This people is a multiplicity: Jew and Gentile; male and female; a few rich and many poor; slave and free; good and (formerly) evil. And yet, because of their God-given love for Christ, they are one people. By many striking images the Bible highlights their spiritual unity: they are a seed, a people, a nation, a race, a priesthood, a congregation, a body, a temple, a flock, and a new man (see 1 Peter 2:9-10). Jesus called this people His Church, by which term He understood the totality of all persons of all times who are called out of the world into fellowship with God.

In Revelation 12, the unity of His Church throughout history is vividly portrayed under the image of a single woman. Prior to the birth of the royal Child, the dragon (Satan) opposes her, trying to keep Him from being born (hence, the vicissitudes of the OT saints). After His birth, the dragon again opposes her, trying to keep the Him from being preached and thereby born into the hearts of God’s elect (hence, the vicissitudes of the NT saints). In the wilderness of this world the one woman is ever pursued by the dragon, yet ever preserved by God’s grace—until the heavenly King returns. Then, when her humiliation is over, she is unveiled for what she truly is: a glorious Bride and a glorious City, dwelling forever with her Beloved in a new heaven and a new earth (Colossians 3:4; Revelation 21:1f).

According to One (Eminently Satisfying) Worldview: When the signs do their work, they draw a people, not only to Christ but into His world—the biblical world. What a feast of fat things there awaits their wondering eyes! There they find fascinating answers to all the great questions that have ever burned in the hearts of men: What is the ultimate reality? What is the origin of the universe, life and man? What went wrong and why is there evil suffering in the world? What, if anything, can be done about it? What is the meaning and purpose of life? How shall we live? What happens when we die? Where is history heading? How can we find trustworthy answers to the questions of life?

There they find that the answers are worthy: intuitive, reasonable, hopeful and ethically sound—and far more so than those offered by other philosophies and religions.

There, most comfortingly, they also find that the Bible speaks to the existential anxieties associated with all these questions. For example, the Bible is not satisfied simply to identify the ultimate reality, but to explain how alienated sinners may be united with it. Or again, it is not content simply to tell sinners about an afterlife in heaven or hell, but also uncovers for them the grounds upon which they may be sure that they are going to the one and not the other.

Finally, they find that all these answers miraculously coalesce into a unified worldview. They are now able to look upon all things: things past, present and future; things above, upon, and beneath this world; things without and within; things human, angelic, and divine; etc. In short, through the Bible they can now see and understand—albeit through a glass darkly—reality as a whole.

Such fullness, such intricate beauty, such vast comprehensiveness leave them breathless: It will take a lifetime, nay, an eternity, to take it all in. But of this much they are certain: their search is over. Unity in the natural and moral orders moved them to seek out a personal god and his spiritual truth. Unity in the biblical order—especially this amazing philosophical unity—now convinces them that they have found both. The God of the natural order, the moral order and the biblical order is clearly one. And according to one eminently satisfying worldview, they will worship Him forevermore.

A Concluding Word of Personal Testimony

Under God, it was the amazing unity of the Bible that revolutionized my worldview and transformed my own life.

Prior to my conversion I was a pantheist and a student of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist scriptures. Undoubtedly, these writings displayed a certain religious and philosophical unity since they all taught “salvation” by absorption of the individual person into an impersonal Big Mind, from which had sprung our (illusory) phenomenal world. But beyond the fact that I wanted to believe them, there was little in these scriptures, or their threadbare philosophical unity, to convince me that they were true.

With respect to the Bible, however, the situation was almost completely reversed. Here there was much that I did not want to believe, but a very great deal to convince me that they were true anyway. In the difficult time of turning, I remember well the decisive facts and the decisive moment. For some weeks I had been reading Christian books with a mixture of deepening hope and fear. At last, a copy of the Scofield Reference Bible fell into my hands. As I perused its extensive notes, in which the commentator spotlighted the things of Christ even in the earliest pages of Genesis, the lights went on. All the fragments of my (limited) biblical knowledge coalesced into a single picture. I could see the Bible’s fantastic, supernatural unity: the one story, the one God, the one purpose, the one people, and the one Redeemer—a Redeemer veiled in the OT, but unveiled in the NT.

Furthermore, in seeing this unity, I could see all I would ever need to know about the Bible: that it had been inspired by a single divine Author; that it must therefore be inerrant and infallible in all that it affirms; that it must be authoritative in all it commands; and that it must be complete, since the One promised in the OT and revealed in the NT is a divine Prophet, authorized by the Father to bring to His people a full and final revelation of the truth.6

Order, design, and a person with a purpose. I had seen them in nature and morality, and concluded that there must be a god. But now I saw them in the Bible. And so, with fear and trembling, I concluded one thing more: I must call upon this God for salvation. I must be born again.

Now you can understand something of my enthusiasm for the unity of the Bible. It is an enthusiasm that has only grown over the years, being deepened by my further study of Scripture, as well as by my study of other sacred writings which conspicuously display nothing of the kind. In short, the unity of the Bible is a miracle—a solitary marvel in all of the world religions and philosophies.7

If, then, you are not yet a Christian, please consider this unity carefully. Perhaps it will become to you a bridge over which you may pass to the Christ it celebrates. And if you already are a Christian, please keep that bridge in mind. For in a tight witnessing situation—with only seconds to explain why you believe the Bible is God’s Word—it may well be your only shot.

And your best one.

Notes

  1. This time line reflects the traditional Reformed view of salvation history. Pre-millennial and Dispensational interpreters would construct it somewhat differently. Nevertheless, all would agree in representing salvation history as the administration of a single, Christ-centered plan in two basic eras: one of promise and another of fulfillment.
  2. For an excellent brief discussion of the eternal covenant (of grace), see Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1949), pp. 262-301.
  3. Christ’s apostles were well aware that they lived in the era of fulfillment: when the mystery of the eternal covenant, formerly hidden, had now been brought to light. See Mark. 4:11; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:9, 3:3, 9; Colossians 1:26, 2:2; 2 Timothy 1:10.
  4. Closely related to the Bible’s soteriological unity is its cosmological unity. Through the story of redemption, the Bible supplies a clear, comprehensive and hopeful history of the entire cosmos: its origin, wounding, restoration, and eternal glory. In all other world religions there is nothing nearly so satisfying.
  5. See Psalm 2, 16:8-10, 22, 110:1; Isaiah 7:14, 53 (esp. 53:11), 61:1-3, 63:1f, 66; Micah 5:2; Daniel 7:13-14.
  6. Many texts affirm what the whole tenor of the NT implies: that the One who inaugurated the Era of Fulfillment brought a full and final revelation of God’s truth. This means that Christ closed the biblical canon,  the Book is complete, and religions that pretend to supercede Christianity are false. See Matthew 7:24-29, 13:16-17, 28:18; John 4:23-26, 12:48, 14:15-18, 16:6-7, 12-13, 18:37; Ephesians 2:19-20; Jude 1:3.
  7. The unity of the Bible—and its truthfulness—is greatly magnified when seen alongside the disunity of non-biblical scriptures. The Koran, for example, contains a unified system of (anti-trinitarian) religion: Mohammed’s. But there is no supernatural unity to verify his claims. Neither the OT nor the NT typify, prophesy, or in any other way anticipate Mohammed. Meanwhile, the Bible also contains a unified system of (trinitarian) religion: God’s. And here we know it is God’s because there is a supernatural unity to verify its claims. The Old Testament authors—who are many—all anticipate Jesus and His teachings about the eternal covenant. How could they have done so if His religion was His alone, and not that of the one true God? Theological unity amidst historical continuity: These are God’s imprimatur. You will find it on the Bible, and on the Bible alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Truly, truly I say to you, when you were younger you girded yourself and walked where you wished;

but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”

This Jesus spoke, signifying by what death he (Peter) would glorify God.

And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

–John 21:18-19

Reliable church tradition attests that this amazing prophecy did indeed come to pass. Peter is said to have followed his Master in death by being crucified, head down, just outside the gates of Rome.

What if our Lord appeared to us and predicted that we too would endure a similar fate? How would we understand it? What theological “frame” would we put around it by which to gain perspective, courage, and comfort for the ordeal to come?

Would we view our predicament as an attack of the devil, to be repulsed by “spiritual warfare”?

Would we see it as a test, sent by God to strengthen our faith?

Would we conclude that God was chastening us, purging us from character defects rooted in residual sin?

Or would we abandon all efforts to understand, choosing simply to dwell on the thought that God loves us and has everything under control?

In such dire straits there may indeed be some truth in all of these perspectives. However, to stop there would be to miss the highest and widest perspective of all, and the one in which all of the others are properly set, as jewels in a crown. For the above alternatives, focusing as they do on man–on what God is doing in me and for me–suffer from one crucial defect: They have no eye whatsoever upon what he might doing for himself! In short, these thoughts exclude the most important thought of all: the glory of God.

John did not make this mistake. Bypassing all lesser considerations, he went directly to the heart of the matter: Peter would die in this manner, not simply or even primarily for the good of Peter, but for the glory of God. Moreover, John’s teaching here is but a single strand in a great, golden cord that weaves its way throughout all Scripture, uniting the entire fabric. What is true of Peter’s death, was true also of his life, and of all lives, and of all history and all creation.

What is this golden cord; what is God’s great and overarching purpose? With matchless brevity, the apostle Paul replies: “For from Him, and through Him, and for Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans ll:36). All things are for him. All things exist for his pleasure and glory. We exist, above all, for the glory of God.

It has been awhile, I dare say, since you heard a sermon on the glory of God. Yes, the phrase occasionally graces our public prayers and preaching, but beyond that it is rarely contemplated or discussed. Disappointing as this is, it should not surprise us. For the same Bible that reveals God as seeking his own glory in creation and redemption, also reveals fallen man as indifferent and even hostile to that glory; as bent almost entirely on his own self-satisfaction and self-exaltation. If our eye is evil, our whole body will be full of darkness. How then can we see or delight in the glory of God?

Let us therefore take a few minutes to meditate upon this elusive but strangely alluring concept. In so doing it may be that we, like John, will discover a new, life-changing perspective on the things of God and man.

God’s Glory: The Infinite Beauty of His Character

In pondering the glory of God, I suspect that our thinking usually begins with what the Jews called the shekinah, the visible brightness or radiance by which God disclosed his presence in ancient times. Moses and the fleeing Israelites beheld God’s shekinah as a pillar of fire by night. Peter, James and John beheld it as a luminous cloud that overshadowed them on the Mount of Transfiguration. On the isle of Patmos, John saw the face of the glorified Christ enveloped in the shekinah, shining brighter than the noon-day sun.

These supernatural manifestations of divine radiance supply an important clue to the meaning of God’s glory. Intuitively, we understand that it must be something other than mere physical light, no matter how radiant. Physical light is a finite physical creation meant for finite physical creatures. God, however, is pure spirit, infinite, eternal, and uncreated. Accordingly, it must be that in associating his revealed presence with radiant physical light–a light that overshadows and dwarfs every other physical light we know–he is seeking to communicate some great spiritual truth about himself.

What might that truth be? I would answer by saying God’s shekinah was meant to betoken the spiritual radiance of his nature or character, a radiance that infinitely surpasses anything that may be found in the creation. In other words, just as God’s visible shekinah overshadowed the light of day, so too God’s divine nature–in each of his attributes, and in all of his attributes considered as a whole–infinitely overshadows the analogous characrteristics found in His creations.

Thus, if we humans exist, the glorious God must “super-exist”; he must exist infinitely more–and more necessarily–than any of the mere creatures that he–the eternal and omnipotent One–called into being out of nothingness.

Similarly, if we humans are at all good, then God must be gloriously good; he must be infinitely more pure, kind, and generous than the very best of men, who, upon entering his glorious presence, uniformly confessed themselves to be vile sinners, rightly covered with shame (Isaiah 6; Daniel 9:1-2; Luke 5:8).

Or again, if finite man is wise, then God is gloriously wise, for so infinite is his wisdom that even the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men (l Corinthians 1:25).

And so it goes. What, in the case of the creature, has glory, effectively has no glory at all on account of the glory of the Creator that infinitely surpasses it. In attribute after attribute–and in the totality of those attributes, woven as they are into the infinitely beautiful mosaic that we call the Face of God–the Creator is to the creature as are a thousand shining suns to a candle’s flickering flame.

The Glory of God in the Face of Christ

The spiritual understanding of God’s glory–the ability to see it in terms of the infinitely beautiful character of God–is highlighted in the biblical testimony about Jesus Christ. Of him the apostle wrote: “And we beheld his glory, glory as of the Only Begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

But what exactly did the apostles see when they beheld Christ’s glory? John gives us a hint in his remarks about one of Jesus’ miracles, when he turned water into wine. “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). How did Jesus manifest his glory? Certainly not in visible light radiating from his body, else the wedding festivities would quickly have come to a halt. No, it was by an invisible display–albeit a very small one, a mere glimpse–of his divine nature: his infinite wisdom, goodness, power, and beauty. The apostles saw no light, but by the light of the Holy Spirit they saw the deity of Christ in and through the person and work of Christ. Therefore, by God’s grace, they believed.

This is Paul’s understanding of the glory of God and Christ, as well. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). How has God given us knowledge of his glory? Once again, it is by his Spirit, who enables believers to see the infinite and manifold beauty of his character in the life and death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He who has seen Christ–loving, teaching, forgiving, healing, doing wonders, and otherwise displaying the limitless goodness, wisdom, power, and knowledge of God–has seen the Father. He has seen the glory of God.

How Can Finite, Sinful Man Glorify an Infinitely Glorious God?

Christians understand from Scripture that God is well able to glorify his people. That is, he is able to implant, grow, and bring to full maturity the character of his Son within them. Indeed, he is able to do the same for their bodies, and will, when, through Christ, he one day raises them from the dead, thereby bringing each and every saint into perfect conformity–body, soul, and spirit–with their risen Lord.

So then, God can add to our glory. But if the Creator, by his very nature, is already glorious–and infinitely so–then what on earth could we, his poor creatures, possibly do to add to his glory, to “glorify” God?

The answer to this fascinating question is, I think, locked up in the mystery of our creation.

Why did God create man? Was he lonely? Was he bored? Surely not, for how could a truly glorious God lack anything at all? How could the infinite fountainhead of all supply feel himself in need, so much so that he must satisfy his need by creating finite creatures to supply it?

No, the more we ponder the infinitely satisfying fullness of God’s glory, the more we realize that the truth about creation must lie in precisely the opposite direction. That is, the triune God–who, in the give and take of life among the Three Persons, knew and loved himself with absolute perfection–must have been so overjoyed by his own majesty, and so consumed with the immeasurable value of knowing it, that he determined, in his infinite goodness, to create a whole universe of intelligent beings–both men and angels–in order to share this knowledge with them forever!

In short, it appears that God created us so that we might know and enjoy the glory of God. In his high priestly prayer, our Lord confirms this very thing, saying, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with me where I am, that they may behold My glory. . .” (John 17:24). This petition reflects the heart of the Father, and his eternal purpose for his creation: that a chosen people should, through creation and redemption, forever behold the glory of God triune.

But let us note carefully that when God created us, he did something more than simply equip us to perceive and enjoy his glory. Beyond that, he also gave us a manifold capacity to express our appreciation of his glory. In other words, he created us to be worshipers, spiritual beings fashioned in his own image and likeness who, seeing the “worth” (or value) of the divine character, could contemplate it, marvel at it, delight in it, speak of it, fall down before it, sing of it, dance around it, and more. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a people whom God was creating for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). All this and more is what he had in mind.

In considering the many possible responses to God’s glory, I believe we find an important key to understanding how mere man can glorify God. For when God desired worshipers to experience and express the infinite worth of knowing him, he did not create wooden Pinocchios dangling limply beneath his hand. No, he created warm-blooded human beings in his very own image and likeness, and therefore endowed with the gift of free will. Accordingly, it may well be true that in the presence of God or Christ the rocks are compelled to cry out, but it is not so with man. God may move or incline people to worship him; and he may even show them various creative ways of doing so. But he will not force them to do so. Man is free to “go with the flow.” Yielding to the Spirit of worship, he can express the worth of what he sees–or not.

Observe, then, that with the creation of a multitude of free spiritual agents–each possessing something of the vision of the glory of God, and each at liberty to express it’s value in worship or not–God introduces a mysterious new “commodity” into the universe, a commodity that he apparently prizes very much. The Bible calls it honor. I would define honor as the value, or worth, that men and angels alone are capable of freely ascribing to the object of their choice.

Because of this gift of freedom, we humans are at liberty to ascribe worth–indeed, supreme worth–to anything we wish: sun, moon, stars, mountains, seas, fish, birds, insects, animals, angels, or our own selves. In our hearts, however, we know that we ought to ascribe all honor to the One who is the true Source of all worth: God. “What is the chief end of man?” asked the Westminster divines. “The chief end of man is to glorify (honor) God, and to enjoy Him forever.” God wills, desires, and commands that he should do so. But–as Scripture and real world experience make painfully clear–he is free not to.

Faith in a Fishbowl

In a mystery passing all comprehension, Lucifer elected to honor himself rather than God, and so fell into sin and became Satan. In yet another mystery passing all comprehension, Adam honored Satan rather than God, and also fell into sin. Ever since, God has been graciously drawing a chosen people out of the fallen world system, and restoring their spiritual sanity by teaching them to worship and honor him alone. It is a painful business–and a glorious–full of high drama. To understand it better, let us consider the fishbowl.

Fish in a fishbowl inhabit a little world all their own. They are quite familiar with its boundaries, its routines, and its daily joys and sorrows. Moreover, they are usually fairly content to have it so. It is a rare indeed to find a fish that is actively curious about the enormous universe that looms beyond his bowl. It is rarer still to find one that understands anything at all of the secret pleasures he brings his owner–the person who enjoys feeding him, adorning his bowl, changing his water, and simply gazing at his beautiful color, shape, and graceful motion. So far as we know, fish simply do their fishly thing, playing to an audience of none.

Alas, spiritually speaking, the situation is not too different for the fallen sons of Adam. They too live in a fishbowl, the fishbowl of “this present evil age.” Accordingly, they more or less continually foul their water with sin. Pain, sorrow, and death are their frequent companions, Unbeknownst to most of them, demonic parasites are ever seeking new ways to attach themselves to them, and drain away their very life. And yet–if they are free to enjoy them–there are pleasures as well: a spacious, often beautiful environment that hints at the generous touch of a master’s hand; good food, family and friends, sensible work, music, play, and the simple bliss of rest at day’s end.

However, for the disciple of the Lord Jesus, there is more. Why? Because the Christian fish has come to understand that just outside his bowl there is a BIG world, where BIG things are happening! He knows, for example, that the souls of his departed brothers in Christ are out there, maybe even looking in. He knows that the holy angels are out there, very likely looking in. Above all, he knows that God–his creator, master, and friend–is out there, and that he is definitely looking in!

Indeed, more than looking in, God has sometimes made his presence known. He has gently touched him, fed him, warmed him, and even whispered to him in the night. What’s more, once in a great while–always through the swirling, murky waters of the bowl–it seemed as if he actually showed his face. True, it was only the tiniest glimpse, but somehow the fish can never forget it. Indeed, because of that glimpse, he is now determined to swim as worthily as he possibly can in the sight of the him whom he has seen, yet cannot see, yet hopes to see again. Henceforth, because of his master’s gracious self-disclosure, there is faith in the fishbowl–and glory to God.

All the World’s a Stage

The humble metaphor of the fishbowl highlights a great biblical mystery. As we learn from the opening chapters of Job, the human children of God are the object of intense scrutiny. An immense cloud of spiritual witnesses is looking on. Why is this so? We cannot say for sure. But this much is certain: God has set the stage for a vast and terrible cosmic drama–and whether we like it or not, we humans are definitely cast in a leading role.

The drama involves a war, and the prize is glory. To whom will it go: God or his enemies? Every eye is watching–all the more so when God’s own soldiers, who happen also to be his dear children and friends–are seemingly stripped of every spiritual comfort; when they are tempted, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, and sawed in two; when they are tested with tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword. In such dire straits, what will they do? Will they obey their master at all cost? Will they plunge the knife into their one and only son? Will they face the monstrous champion of the Philistines? Will they sing God’s praises, though bloodied and shut up in a darkened cell? Will they fix their eyes heaven-ward as the lions circle the arena? Or will they defect to the enemy?

Happily, it is written that many do indeed take high road of submission, trust, courage, strength, and resolute rejoicing. When they do, they glorify God; which is to say that they honor him above all things; which is to say that they ascribe to him all worth and value; which is to say that they are willing freely to exchange all the comfort, security, esteem, health, wealth, and pleasure that this world has to offer–indeed, their very lives–simply to be in God’s presence; simply to enjoy yet another tiny glimpse of the infinite beauty–and the divine favor–that he created and redeemed them to enjoy.

But this is not the end of the matter. Far from it. For when any believer, at any cost, honors God, his decision is as a stone cast into a glassy mountain lake: It sends ripples throughout the entire body of the universe. In other words, all the other players in the drama see it and respond. The angels rejoice, for glory has gone to God. The saints in heaven let up a cheer, for glory has gone to God. The saints on earth take strength and offer thanks, for glory has gone to God. Unbelievers–pondering the radically inverted economy of the followers of Jesus–are awakened to God, and drawn to God, for glory has gone to God. And as for the demons, they are found writhing and howling, for glory has not gone to them or their cruel master, but to God.

And even this is not the end of the matter, for we have yet to speak of the greatest spectator of all: God himself. In all his domains there is nothing so pleasing to him–because nothing so honoring to him, nothing so harmonious with the truth about what is truly good and truly valuable in the world–as a poor sinful saint striving to honor his creator and redeemer. If reward can gauge his pleasure in this matter, then surely God’s words to Abraham reveal its heights and depths. For when Abraham honored God by offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice, God said:

By Myself I have sworn—because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall posses the gate of their enemies, and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.
–Gen. 22:l6-l8

God came to Abraham, looking for the most precious commodity in the universe: honor to his name, freely given, at great cost, in the sight of all his friends and foes. God got what he wanted. As a result, he who honored him was honored over all (1 Samuel 2:30).

Living for God’s Glory: Christ, Our Pioneer

The more we ponder the lives of God’s saints, the more clearly we see a great mystery: All follow in the footsteps of God’s Son. He is their pattern, their pioneer. He is the one who, by precept and example, taught his people to live and die for the glory of God.

What a theology of glory might be reared around the Person and Work of Jesus Christ! The ever glorious Son–the honored of heaven–lays aside his divine privileges and departs from unapproachable light to enter the dark fishbowl of this present evil world; to tabernacle among men in the likeness of sinful flesh. Why? Because his mission in life was to reveal the glory of God to sinful men (2 Corinthians 4:6), and because his mission in death was to fit them for experiencing it–now through a glass darkly (2 Corinthians 3:l8), and then face to face (l John. 3:2; Philippians 3:21).

And when, through Christ’s resurrection, God publicly declared the good success of that mission, what was the Savior’s reward? Yes, more glory still. For now the man whom the King desired to honor was himself made King of heaven and earth, lord of the entire cosmos. Accordingly, God gave him “. . . the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-12).

But glorious as Christ’s mission was, what concerns us here is the motive that impelled him to it. Was it love for sinful men that constrained him to live and die among us? To be sure. Indeed, such love is itself one of the most beautiful rays emanating from the sun of God’s glory. But sinful men ought not to think that it was only, or even primarily, the love of man that moved his divine heart. As we just saw, his supreme motive was love and zeal for the glory the Father.

Let us hear it from the lips of the Son Himself.

Speaking through David, the pre-incarnate Word gives this heart-rending glimpse into the divine counsels: “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me . . . Then I said, ‘Here I am–it is written about Me in the volume of the book–I delight to do Your will, O God’ ” (Psalm 40:6-8). Here the Son declares that he will freely embrace His Father’s will; he will take upon himself that human flesh by which, in sacrificial death, he might become the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It was his delight to do so.

Elaborating upon this eternal consecration, the Lord Jesus, in the days of his flesh, said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me” (John 6:38). How could there be any other standard for him who ever lived in perfect submission to the Father? But now hear why he thus cleaves to God’s will, as he contrasts his own motives with those of the Jews: “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He Who is seeking the glory of the one Who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:18, 8:49).

Christ’s supreme desire–the desire of a Son devoted to his beloved Father–was that God should be honored through every aspect of his life. Time would fail us to speak in detail of how he accomplished this, and with what success. Suffice it to say here that in every attitude, every word, and every work of Jesus Christ, some great attribute of the Father’s character was revealed–whether his sovereignty, his purity, his mercy, his lovingkindness, his wisdom, his mighty power, and so much more.

And what was the effect of the revelations on those with eyes to see? As it is written, “They glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31).

Here was true food for the Son of God, food which his disciples knew not of–but soon would (John 4:32).

Dying for God’s Glory: Christ, Our Pioneer

If Christ honored God in the triumphs of his life and earthly ministry, much more did he honor him in his death. Indeed, the very structure of the four gospels bids understand that here–against dark backdrop of Christ’s suffering and apparent defeat–we behold history’s supreme display of the glory of God, a display more radiant than any before or after.

Let us consider a few of the ways in which this took place.

As the final hour approached–the hour for which he had been born–Christ fortified his spirit with this prayer: “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy Name” (John 12:27-8). Thus did the Lord draw again from the deepest well of his heart: the longing to see his Father honored. And in all subsequent events–even as he faithfully loved and served his own until the end–this thought was always in the forefront of his mind.

In preparing the disciples for the gift of prayer, he said, “And whatever you ask in My Name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14: 13). This reminds us of an earlier teaching on prayer, wherein he instructed his followers to pray, before and above all else, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

In motivating them to abide him, he said, “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15: 8; Matthew 9:8). He wills that his supreme motive for service to God become theirs as well

Finally, the moment arrived for the great High Priest to intercede for his disciples–and then to descend into the valley of the shadow of death. But before ever a word of supplication for their future needs fell from his lips, the Lord once again voiced his deepest desire, and in doing so revealed the supreme motive of God triune in creation and redemption: “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee” (John 17:1).

Hours later, on Mt. Golgotha, this prayer was answered. And never in all the history of the whole wide world was there a fishbowl to compare with it.

Believers were there, broken and confused. Skeptics also, proud and cruel. The wise were there, side by side with mere “babes” who only knew that they loved and trusted their Master. There were men and women, young and old, rich and poor, powerful and weak. There were Jews and Gentiles, people from every corner of the earth. The living were there, and, towards the end, the dead also, rising from their graves. Angels were there, perhaps the whole host of heaven. Demons were there, likely the whole host of hell.

Eyewitnesses were there as well, those who would later trace the terrible scenes for all posterity, that all posterity may come to see what they saw.

And God himself was there, he who had purposely filled the theater; he who had poised, as it were, the entire cosmos to behold the terrible spectacle of his incarnate Son dying on a bloody Roman Cross.

But why did he summon them? And why, by his Spirit, does he summon us still to behold him who was thus lifted up?

Christ himself had already given the answer: “. . . that all might honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

And on Calvary God did indeed honor the Son, and that supremely; for there he revealed him as the center-piece of his plan of redemption, the author of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9). Moreover, because of the Scriptures, all of the elect of all ages also honor him, just as he prayed, for there they see their Redeemer. There too they see the face of hell, from which he delivered them. There they see the angels, whom he made to be their ministers. There they see the proud and unbelieving, from whom he made them to differ. There they see the first of the saints, whom he made to be their companions in the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance that are in Jesus. And there they see God, whom Jesus made to be their Father.

But again, that is not the end of the matter. For just as Christ had prayed, so he understood: At Calvary there would also be a sublime revelation of the glory of the Father, an awesome display of the manifold character of God, revealed in and through his provision for the world’s redemption. Yes, for many of the onlookers it would be a veiled revelation: They would see little more than a deluded Palestinian preacher, tragically going the way of all the troublers of Rome. Nevertheless, our Lord was well-pleased to play his part, being confident that his own would see the glory: the sovereignty, the holiness, the wrath, the judgment, the mercy, the grace, and the fathomless, everlasting love of the Father for his people. In short, they would see that all things pertaining to their redemption were from him, through him, and for Him–and they would thank him for it, forever.

What a delight it was for the Savior to secure so great a prize of love and honor for his Father! And so, with this joy set before him, he endured the Cross.

Suffering, Submission, and Glory

We who are called to share in the sufferings of Christ must not fail to consider the way in which he achieved his goal of glorifying the Father, certainly in his life, but especially in his death.

This way may be summed up in one word: submission. It was as a docile lamb that he was led to the slaughter. In him there was no trace of resistance to Calvary, not because he could not offer it, but because he would not, knowing that Calvary was decreed at his Father’s hand. Therefore, when struck, he did not strike back. When reviled, he reviled not again. In the face of pain and death, he betrayed no fear. Scorning even the simple mercies of wine and myrrh, he drank the Father’s cup of sorrows to the dregs.

Indeed, when he might well have have expected to be served, he elected–once again in obedience to the Father–to serve. He provided for the care of his mother; he prayed for mercy to his executioners; he comforted the dying and penitent. In so doing, he was faithful to the very precepts he had taught, so that by imitating good works such as these his disciples might also glorify their Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

We find, then, that in every event of the final scene of our redemption Christ was motivated by a reverent and submissive regard for the honor of its Author. Even his anguished cries, so genuine and deeply felt, kept the Father’s will in view, since in giving voice to his thirst and his sense of God-forsaken-ness, he was obediently sealing up the prophetic Scriptures–all to the greater glory of the sovereign Lord of history (Psalms 22:1, 15, 69:21).

And when the curtain finally fell–when the Redeemer uttered his frail victory cry (“It is finished!”) and placed the laurels of triumph reverently at his Father’s feet (“Into Thy hands I commend My spirit.”)–what was the result?

Now when the centurion saw what had happened he began praising God, saying, “Certainly, this was a righteous man; certainly this was the Son of God!” And all the multitudes who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts . . . ” (Matthew 27:54; Luke 23:47-8).

They had come for “a spectacle”–whole schools of benighted fish, banging their heads against the opacity of these dark events, hardly knowing why they were there, yet somehow sensing light trickling in from somewhere beyond the bowl. As best they could, they gave glory to God.

No doubt the Savior was pleased.

The Last Prop: Glory to God

Lizzie Atwater had recently arrived with her husband and new baby at the China Inland Mission in Fenchow. Though the Boxer Uprising–characterized by fanatical mob violence against foreign missionaries–was then in progress, she felt herself reasonably safe, since the province in which her family lived and served was governed by a friendly magistrate. Soon, however, the magistrate was replaced with one sympathetic to the Boxers. Suddenly, all human protection was gone.

Realizing that the end was drawing near, Atwater wrote to her family at home:

Dear ones, I long for a sight of your dear faces, but I fear we shall not meet on earth. I am preparing for the end very quietly and calmly. The Lord is wonderfully near, and he will not fail me. I was very restless and excited while there seemed a chance of life, but God has taken away that feeling, and now I just pray for grace to meet the terrible end bravely. The pain will soon be over, and oh the sweetness of the welcome above! My little baby will go with me. I think God will give it to me in heaven, and my dear mother will be so glad to see us. I cannot imagine the Savior’s welcome. Oh, that will compensate for all these days of suspense.

Dear ones, live near to God and cling less closely to the earth. There is no other way by which we can receive the peace that passes understanding. I must keep calm and still these hours. I do not regret coming to China, but am sorry I have done so little. My married life–two precious years–has been so very full of happiness. We will die together, my dear husband and I. I used to dread separation. If we escape now it will be a miracle. I send my love to you all, and the dear friends who remember me.

Less than two weeks later, Atwater and her family were killed.

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What would we do if we found ourselves in Peter’s shoes, or Lizzie’s; what if we found ourselves facing a martyr’s death?

What thought would we cleave to, to bring us comfort and strength for the imminent ordeal? Indeed, what thought do we cleave to even now, to give us strength for the small ordeal called “daily life”?

My guess is that sooner or later every lesser prop will be removed.

We may try to lay our sorrows at the foot of devil, but eventually our rebukes will fail, leaving us in defeat and despair.

We may imagine that God is refining our faith, but if faith alone is our treasure, we may one day find ourselves offering the whole hoard for a pittance of relief.

Perhaps we cling to the notion that our sorrows are God’s chastisement for indwelling sin. But if personal purity is our only hope, we will eventually be crushed by the depth of the depravity that his chastisements incessantly reveal.

And even if we give up trying to understand altogether–choosing rather to lean on the love of God–will that be enough in those dark hours when he does not behave as though he loves us?

It appears, then, that there is but one “prop” left; and though we are far too weak to take hold of it completely, it is nonetheless the best prop we have. It is the same prop that supported our Savior, that remained the fountain of his joy and the ram-rod of his strength to the very end.

His prop–and our best prop–is the glory of God.

Jesus ever beheld it: the infinitely beautiful character of his Father, resplendent and captivating in every one of a multitude of divine attributes. Knowing him, he found that he could live for nothing less than to honor him. In the dark fishbowl of this world, he therefore kept his eye upon his Father’s glory. He sought, through perfect obedience, to reflect it in every word and deed. Moreover, he knew that as he did so, others, by God’s grace, would glimpse it and respond to it as well. All this was his anchor in the storms, and his anchor held.

Would to God that we, his children, could walk so well as our Master! But if we, being indwelt by the Spirit of the Son, have caught even the tiniest glimpse of God’s glory, then surely our lode-star is no different than our Lord’s. Through a glass darkly we have seen the same omnipotent Father (and the same glorious Christ) who has loved us with the same everlasting love, and whose purpose is to bring us–his many sons and daughters–to the same home in glory!

Let us therefore seek to do this one thing: Let us follow in the footsteps of Christ, our Pioneer. Let us keep our eyes upon God Triune, and upon his honor. When we triumph, let us rejoice, glorifying his goodness and grace. When we fail, let us confidently pick ourselves up and keep on keeping on, glorifying his tender mercies and the infinite forgiveness that is already ours in Jesus. When we suffer, let us do what we can to submit humbly, glorifying his greater wisdom, his unchanging goodness, and the secret power by which he will faithfully sustain the weak and wounded.

Remember: We are ever on display, a spectacle to men and angels and God himself. Therefore, whatever our circumstance, let us do all for the honor of his name.

In the great fishbowl of this world, such a faith–no matter how small–cannot fail. Whether by life or by death, it will surely bring glory to God.