Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches

Reference: Hamilton Jr, James M. Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Preaching the Word). Wheaton: Crossway. 2012.

To get the weight and balance of the whole book, an overview of Revelation will prepare us for the immediate future, the distant future, and the eternal future. To understand the book's flow of thought, its structure, and the main points made in each section will help us rightly understand the smaller units of the book in context when we study them. So we'll look at
  • the Opening (1:1–8),
  • the Vision (1:9–22:9), and
  • the Closing (22:10–21).
As we begin, let's ask the Lord to use this book to fire us with the same urgency we would have if it were Sep 10, 2001, and we had just learned what was going to happen the next morning. You would not rest with that information. So may it be with this information.

Rev 1:1–8: The Apocalyptic Prophecy's Epistolary Opening

Genre. One of the most important things when trying to understand any writing is to understand the genre of what we are reading. We know what to expect from comic strips, blogs, novels, and nonfiction books. So it is important to understand the genre of Revelation to know what to expect.

Apocalypse, an uncovering/unveiling of the end of history. The opening words identify it as an "Apocalypse of Jesus Christ" (1:1). An apocalypse typically concerns itself with what will take place at the end of history, whereas prophecy usually deals with what will take place in the flow of history before it reaches its consummation. That Revelation is an apocalypse leads us to expect that it will "unveil"—the etymological meaning of "apocalypse"—what will take place at the end of history. It claims to "uncover" how history will be concluded.

Prophecy. John also pronounces a blessing in Rev 1:3 on those who read, hear, and keep what is written in "this prophecy." So John not only describes his book as an apocalypse, he also tells us that it is a prophecy. Revelation, then, is an apocalyptic prophecy.

Letter. Beginning in Rev 1:4 John takes up the same format as in Paul's letters: the author identifies himself, the recipients of the letter, and wishes them grace. It also ends similarly to the way many NT letters end: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen" (Rev 22:21). The churches mentioned as the recipients of the book in Rev 1:4 are further identified in Rev 1:11, and then they are directly addressed in chapters 2-3. These churches appear to be named in the order in which a letter carrier would have gone from one church to another, starting from Ephesus. What we have in Revelation, then, is "an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter" to encourage Christians in churches.

Encouragement. The whole book was probably intended to be read aloud, in one sitting, in a worship gathering of the local church. In writing to 7 churches (a number of completion/wholeness), John writes to all churches. Being an apocalyptic prophecy, this letter reveals the future; it pulls back the veil and lets us see reality and the world as it truly is: the glory of God in his justice, which highlights the gracious and free character of his mercy. It is God's purpose to display his glory in these ways is one of the blessings of reading and studying this book.

Rev 1:9–22:9: John's Vision on the Lord's Day

Sequence. John tipped us off to the structure of Revelation by using "in the Spirit" near the beginning of the major sections of the book (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). In Rev 1:9, John recounts the way Jesus appeared to him in glory (Rev 1:9–20), dictated to him specific letters addressing the 7 churches (Rev 2:1–3:22), and called him up into the heavenly throne room to see the worship of God (Rev 4:1–5:14). In the throne room, John sees Jesus take a scroll from the Father. When the scroll is opened, the writing on the scroll describes the events that will bring history to its appointed consummation. Jesus opens the 7 seals on the scroll (Rev 6:1–8:1); then 7 angels blow 7 trumpets (8:2–11:19). John describes the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in cosmic terms in Rev 12-14. Then 7 seven bowls of God's wrath are poured out in Rev 15, 16.

In Rev 17—22 we have a harlot, the King, and his bride. Rev 17:1–19:10 personifies the wicked world system as a prostitute named Babylon, and the outpouring of God's wrath results in her fall. King Jesus then comes and sets up his kingdom in 19:11–21:8. His coming is followed by the description of the people of God personified as the pure bride of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, descending from Heaven for the marriage supper
of the Lamb (21:9–22:9).

Let's look more closely at each of these sections to see the overarching point of each part of the body of Revelation.

Rev 1:9–3:22: Jesus and the Letters

Contrast between Jesus and the churches. There is a striking contrast between the obvious glory and authority of the risen Christ in Rev 1:9–20 and the beleaguered, persecuted, oppressed, sinful, unimpressive, insignificant state of the churches addressed in Rev 2-3. 5 of the 7 churches are rebuked for some specific sin and called to repent. The 2 churches that are not rebuked are opposed by the "synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9; 3:9) and are told that they will suffer (Rev 2:10). Jesus promises to preserve them through suffering (Rev 3:10).

Sinful churches. Most of us are probably not facing life-threatening persecution like the church in Smyrna (Rev 2:10), but we are all aware of plenty of reasons to be discouraged about the state of the church. Like Ephesus and Laodicea, we either know that our love is not what it was at first (Rev 2:4), or we know those in the church who are lukewarm (3:16). We don't have to look far, either, to find false teaching, idolatry, immorality, and spiritual death in churches (cf. Rev 2:14, 20; 3:2). Until Jesus comes, as long as there are people in churches, there will be problems in churches.

Jesus stands among the sinful churches. We might be discouraged by the letters to the 7 churches, for they tell the truth about the sinful, challenged, seemingly weak state of the churches. But the vision of the risen Christ in Rev 1:9–20 shows that Jesus is standing among the churches, holding the angels of the churches in his right hand, attending to their well-being, and possessing all glory and power and authority. Then as Jesus addresses the churches, the opening of each letter proclaims some aspect of his glory. He shows his love for the churches by disciplining them (Rev 3:19), and promises breathtaking rewards to those who overcome.

God preserves his people. When seemingly weak Christians who are unappreciated by the wider society maintain their faith and continue to proclaim the gospel in spite of every temptation and opposition, God shows his glory in his ability to preserve his people. These people also testify that Jesus is their treasure, which condemns the treasures of the world as worthless. When the unimpressive, insignificant church is vindicated, the things that are impressive by worldly standards are condemned, and the wisdom and power of God are displayed.

God will save and judge. As the churches are compelled by the glory of Christ (Rev 1:9–20) to obey what he calls them to (Rev 2:1–3:22), we see that in spite of the way things seem now, God is the central reality of life. He is going to save the righteous and judge the wicked. And the righteous are those who have been freed from their sins by the blood of Jesus (Rev 1:5).

Unimpressive. If it seems that the church is unimpressive, may I suggest that this is the way God intended the church to seem. Jesus, too, was unimpressive by worldly standards. He is now exalted. To those who overcome Jesus guarantees that exaltation will follow humiliation:
  • in Rev 2:7 the overcomers will eat of the tree of life;
  • in Rev 2:11 they will not be hurt by the second death;
  • in Rev 2:17 they are promised hidden manna and a new name on a white stone;
  • in Rev 2:26 they are promised authority over the nations;
  • in Rev 3:5 they are promised white garments and Jesus' acknowledgment before the Father;
  • in Rev 3:12 they are promised the right to a place in God's temple with the name of God and Jesus written on them;
  • in Rev 3:21 they are promised the right to sit with Jesus on his throne.
Humiliation precedes exaltation. Are you suffering? Are you persecuted? Do you feel that Christianity ruins your reputation? As a Christian you follow Jesus, who was humiliated before he was exalted. That sequence will be your sequence: first humiliation, then exaltation. God is going to make the wisdom of the world into foolishness and will reward those who trust him; which is to say, God will display his glory when he saves his people by condemning the wicked. Endure the cross, scorning its shame, empowered by the joy set before you in these promises of future exaltation.

Rev 4:1–16:21: The Throne and the Judgments

Contrast between sinful churches and glorious throne in heaven. Just as there is a stark contrast between the exalted Christ in Rev 1 and the lowly churches in Rev 2-3, there is a similar contrast between the lukewarm, sinful churches in Rev 2-3 and the throne room of Heaven in Rev 4-5. This contrast is intended to jolt the churches out of lukewarmness into the same passionate worship of God that is happening even now in Heaven. The description of the radiant glory of God in Rev 4 is meant to put the spotlight on the beauty of holiness and the wretchedness of sin. This is meant to purify the churches.

Revelation of God's wrath warns against the inescapable judgement of God. Flowing out of the heavenly worship scene are the judgments of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls. Rev 4:5 says that "From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder." Then we find lightning and thunder after the 7th seal (Rev 8:5), after the 7th trumpet (Rev 11:19), and after the 7th bowl (Rev 16:18). This is one of the features in Rev that connects the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls with the throne: these judgments come from God. When we feel the magnetic force of temptation, we need to visualize the inescapable judgment of God described in Rev 6—16. We need to pray that God will use the revelation of his wrath to bulldoze the wickedness that is wooing us.

God preserves his people. Interspersed through these chapters are also several sections that show God's ability to preserve his people. Between the opening of the 6th seal in Rev 6:12–17 and the 7th seal in Rev 8:1, Rev 7 describes the saints of God being sealed (Rev 7:1–8) and worshiping God in Heaven (Rev 7:9–17). Similarly, between the 6th trumpet in Rev 9:13–21 and the 7th trumpet in Rev 11:15–19, Rev 10:1–11:14 presents the divine origin and protection of the church's prophetic witness.

God protects his people from all Satan's schemes. God's protection of his people is also dramatically illustrated in Rev 12—14 where the cosmic conflict between Satan and the people of God is described. Satan presents a cheap imitation of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lamb of God in the form of a 7-headed beast with one head that was mortally wounded and then healed (Rev 13:1–3). Everyone worships the beast, the fake christ (Rev 13:3)—everyone, that is, except those whose names God wrote in the Lamb's book of life before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).

Satan then counterfeits the Trinity (cf. Rev 12:17; 13:1, 11; 16:13). He has faked the crucifixion, and now he produces a cheap imitation of the Holy Spirit (Rev 13:11–14). This beastly fake holy spirit then produces a cheap imitation of the sealing of God's saints when he compels the world to receive the number of the beast (Rev 13:16–18). Satan is a fake. Don't be taken in by his schemes. Don't be tempted by his false offers. See him for what he is—for what Revelation reveals him to be: a perverse twister of the beauties of God.

he judgments get progressively worse as we proceed through Rev 6—16. The seals affect 1/4th of the world (Rev 6:8), the trumpets affect 1/3rd of the world (Rev 9:18), and the outpouring of the bowls will complete God's wrath as no one escapes his judgment (Rev 16:1–21).

God redeems and spares the ransomed. God's justice is perfect. He is holy. All deserve to be consumed by it. But again and again in Revelation God spares some, and they declare in Rev 7:10, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" In Rev 5:9 Jesus "ransomed people for God." In Rev 14:4 they "follow the Lamb wherever he goes" and were "redeemed from mankind." So we must ask: is it possible to join the ranks of those described in Rev 7:3, who receive the seal of God on the forehead? Is it possible to become one who is redeemed, as Rev 1:5 describes, one who is freed from sin by the blood of Jesus?

Do not refuse to repent. First, let's look at what Revelation shows us not to do. We should not be like those who see the outpouring of God's wrath and refuse to repent. After the 6th trumpet, we read in Rev 9:20, "The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent." After the 4th bowl is poured out, Rev 16:9 says, "They did not repent and give him glory." After the 5th bowl is poured out, in Rev 16:11, "They did not repent of their deeds." And after the 7th bowl, in Rev 16:21, "they cursed God."

ailing to see the mercy God folded into his judgment is the cause of those who refused to repent. The outpouring of God's wrath is meant to condemn everything else that you trust. God's judgment is actually his kindness in disguise. He uses it, while we live, to lead us to repentance and salvation. God judges us so that he can save us.

A universal proclamation of the gospel. Rev 14:6-7 says, "Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.'"

God's salvation comes through the judgment of the idols we trusted. Rev 1:3 promises a blessing to those who "hear, and keep what is written" in the book. Through this book you are intended to hear of the coming judgment, believe what it says, and keep the words of this book by repenting of sin and worshiping God. And God will be glorified in your salvation, which came through the judgment of all the false things you trusted.

Have you noticed how nothing seems to last in this world? How nothing works out exactly the way we hoped it would? How all your best intentions often come to nothing? Jesus is your only hope. If you don't already trust him, turn to him and place your faith in his ability to save you.

Rev 17:1–22:9: The Harlot, the King, and the Bride

Rev 17—22 tell us about the harlot, the King, and the bride. The section on the King is in the middle, and John marks off the boundaries of these 3 sections by using similar language at the beginning and end of the sections on the harlot and the bride.

So the wording of the beginning of the section on the harlot is matched by the wording of the beginning of the section on the bride.

Table 1.2: Matching Language Opening the Sections on the Harlot and the Bride:

"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, 'Come, I will show you . . . And he carried me away in the Spirit" (Rev 17:1, 3).

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls . . . and spoke to me saying, 'Come, I will show you . . . And he carried me away in the Spirit" (Rev 21:9, 10).

Similarly, the wording of the ending of the section on the harlot is matched by the wording of the ending of the section on the bride. The harlot is a symbol for the world system that is opposed to God. She is called Babylon because in the Bible Babylon is the capital of those who rebel against God. Chapters 17, 18 show her debased and exposed, and all her seductive power comes to nothing.

Table 1.3: Matching Language Ending the Sections on the Harlot and the Bride:

". . . And he said to me, 'These are the true words of God.' Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God'" (Rev 19:9-10).

"And he said to me, 'These words are trustworthy and true.' . . . I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God'" (Rev 22:6, 8-9).

Satan wants to turn God's children from the bride of Christ to common whores. Let me put that another way: the things that tempt us are exposed. They are nothing but the devil's attempt to make the bride of Christ into a harlot. We who believe are the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan wants to make us common whores. He wants to lure us into spiritual adultery with his cheap imitations of true pleasure. Revelation shows us that these pleasures will not satisfy and do not last. They will be destroyed with the wicked world system ranged against God.

Jesus is coming to take his bride into his kingdom. Then the King comes, conquers his enemies (Rev 19:11–21) and sets up his kingdom (Rev 20:1–21:8), and his glorious bride descends from Heaven (Rev 21:9–22:9). The bride is a symbol of the people of God, the redeemed, those who trust in Jesus. She is called the new Jerusalem because Jerusalem was the dwelling place of God in the OT, the city where the Lord chose to put his name, and in the new covenant God's people are his dwelling place.

May the blazing purity of Jesus be more desirable than the filthy pleasures by taking to heart the splendor of the wedding of the Lord Jesus and his pure bride. Jesus cleanses his bride with the water of the Word. He laid down his life for his bride (cf. Eph 5:22–33). Fix your heart on the glory of that wedding day. Point your whole life toward that glorious consummation, and let everything you do between now and then be informed by that moment when Jesus will come. Live for him now so that you will enjoy him then. Meditate on these texts until the blazing purity of the Lord Jesus is more desirable to you than the filthy pleasures that are nothing more than twisted parodies of his good gifts. And do everything you can to make sure that your day-to-day activities are done in a way that honors the King. God has given Revelation to us so that we will live in light of the punishing and rewarding Jesus will do when he comes.

If you knew on 9/10 what would happen on 9/11 what would you do? We want everyone we know to enjoy Jesus with us, to escape the judgment of God, to realize that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2). Something worse than 9/11 could happen to them at any moment. Is your heart hardened to what could happen to people you know? If it was Sept 10, 2001, and someone you knew worked at the World Trade Center or was scheduled to be on one of those planes, you would communicate with them, wouldn't you? Any minute now something worse could happen to every unbelieving person you know.

Rev 22:10–21: The Apocalyptic Prophecy's Epistolary Closing

The future has been unveiled. This book is "The revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:1). And it is given to us because the angel speaking to John told him what we read in Rev 22:10, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near."

Why could that not happen today? Why not thousands converted? Why not the Bible preached and the gospel cherished and the churches full to bursting? Why not so many people in so many gospel churches that the whole society is reshaped around God's Word? Why not today? God's arm is not too short to save.

Is your imagination too small? Is your love too little? Is your Bible reading too infrequent? Are your evangelistic efforts too seldom? Are your prayers
too self-centered? God's arm is not too short to save!
  • Jesus your Savior and Lord? Why not today?
  • The power of sin broken in your life? Why not today?
  • Devoted to prayer and Bible study? Why not today?
  • Eager to tell others about God's work in salvation and their need to respond in faith? Why not today?
Hell is real, and it never ends. The Savior has been slain, and he rose from the dead. God warns you of judgment to come. Faith in Christ saves.
Jesus is King.

Live in a way that matches what the unveiling, the book of Revelation, has shown us about the way things really are. This is
our task. Jesus is coming quickly, bringing his recompense (Rev 22:12).

Only 2 options: either praising God for his salvation or displaying his eternal justice. "Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him" (Rev 1:7). Every knee will bow and every tongue confess him as Lord (Phil 2:10, 11). Every action, word, and thought will be measured by the standard of God's glory. Every transgression or disobedience will receive just retribution (cf. Heb 2:2). You will either be among those praising God for saving you from his wrath through the judgment of Jesus on the cross, or you will be judged to display the eternal, almighty justice of God. Trust in Jesus. He is humanity's only hope. If you trust him, live for him. He asserts in Rev 22:20 that he is coming soon.

God's awful wrath highlights his tender mercy. May you know him in his saving and judging glory, in his awful wrath that highlights his tender mercy. May you abide in this Revelation, and may "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen" (Rev 22:21).


The sermons have a straightforward structure: Introduction, Body, Conclusion. Five things with preaching:
  1. Attention. Grab attention.
  2. Need. Raise awareness of a real need that people have, a need that is addressed by the text. The goal is to make people feel that they need to listen closely. Ideally, the need we have will be connected somehow to the opening attention-grabber.
  3. Point. State the main point of the text. The main idea of the text is the main idea of the sermon. This main idea seeks to meet the need that has just been raised.
  4. Structure. Preview the structure of the text that will be preached. The structure of the text will become the structure of the sermon.
  5. Context. Give the wider context of the passage. Depending on the details of the text, the wider context will focus on either the book of Revelation or the whole canon of Scripture, and relevant information from the historical background might be introduced as well.
The conclusion of the sermon seeks to restate the key ideas in the sections of the text, which should naturally lead to a restatement of the main idea of the passage. A sermon might also conclude with some poignant example or illustration that communicates the burden of the sermon.

Expository preaching happens when the main point of the text is the main point of the sermon and the structure of the text is the structure of the
sermon. More gifted expositors may be able to exposit texts in a variety of ways. The rest of us are helped by "cookie-cutter" structures like
Mark Dever's "Application Grid".
  1. Attention: Something worse, eternally worse, than 9/11 is coming--the judgment of God. In the past, God spoke through Moses, Samuel, Josiah, Ezra. God reveals himself so that we will know reality. In Revelation, God unveils the world as it really is.
  2. Need: We have been lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of our lives. Our senses have been dulled by the humdrum of one day after another. We need to see God as he is; be convinced that Jesus is reigning as the risen King; have him speak to the situation in our churches; know that God is right now on his throne, in control in Heaven, worshiped by myriads upon myriads of the heavenly host; see that God will pulverize wickedness, obliterate those who oppose him, and set up his kingdom. Revelation has exactly what we need.
  3. Main Point: "The revelation of Jesus Christ" and of what will "soon take place" (Rev 1:1) so that we can know/enjoy him and live in light of reality and of the way history will be brought to its consummation. God wants us to know the glory of his mercy and his justice. What we see in Revelation: history culminates in climactic demonstrations of the glory of God in salvation through judgment. To say it another way, God gave us Revelation so we can know him in his glorious justice and mercy and live worshipfully by faith.
  4. Structure: Broadly three parts:
    Rev 1:1–8 The Opening: the Apocalyptic Epistolary Opening
    Rev 1:9–22:9 The Vision: John's Vision

    1:9–3:22 Jesus and the Letters
    4:1–16:21 The Throne and the Judgments
    17:1–22:9 The Harlot, the King, and the Bride

    Rev 22:10–21 The Closing: the Apocalyptic Epistolary Closing
  5. Context: Revelation, appropriately placed at the end of the canon, catches up and weaves together all the Bible's lines of prophetic revelation. John writes in such a way that his book is the capstone of all the prophecy in the Bible.

    The Structure of Revelation
    1:1–8, Revelation, Blessing, and Epistolary Opening
    1:9–22:9, John's Vision on the Lord's Day
    1:9–3:22, The Risen Christ to the Seven Churches
    4:1–16:21, The Throne and the Judgments
    4:1–5:14, The Throne Room Vision
    6:1–17, Six Seals
    7:1–17, The Sealing of the Saints and Their Worship
    8:1–5, The Seventh Seal
    8:6–9:21, Six Trumpets
    10:1–11:14, Prophetic Witness
    11:15–19, The Seventh Trumpet
    12:1–14:20, Conflict Between the Seed of the Woman and the Seed of the Serpent
    15:1–16:21, Seven Bowls
    17:1–22:9, The Fall of the Harlot, the Return of the King, and the Descent of the Bride
    22:10–21, Revelation, Blessing, and Epistolary Closing
Chapters of Hamilton's book:
  1. The Revelation of the Glory of God's Justice and Mercy (1—22)
  2. The Blessing of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1–8)
  3. John's Vision of the Risen Christ (1:9–20)
  4. The Risen Christ to the Seven Churches (2, 3)
  5. First Love (2:1–7) [Discernment Without Love]
  6. Faithful unto Death (2:8–11) [The Riches of Poverty]
  7. Repent of Nicolaitan Teaching (2:12–17)
  8. King Jesus versus Jezebel (2:18–29) [Love Without Discernment]
  9. Wake Up! (3:1–6)
  10. An Open Door No One Can Shut (3:7–13)
  11. I Will Spit You out of My Mouth ( 3:14–22) [The Poverty of Riches]
  12. The Throne Room Vision (4:1–5:14)
  13. The One Seated on the Throne (4:1–11)
  14. The Lamb Standing as Though Slain (5:1–14)
  15. God's Plan to Save and Judge (6—16)
  16. The Seals on the Scroll (6:1–17)
  17. The Sealing of the Servants of God (7:1–17)
  18. Trumpeting the End of the World (8:1–13)
  19. The Unimagined Horrors of God's Judgment (9:1–21)
  20. Eat This Scroll (and Prophesy the History of the Future) (10:1–11)
  21. Bearing Witness 'til Kingdom Come (11:1–19)
  22. The Seed of the Woman Conquers the Serpent (12:1–17)
  23. The Beast (13:1–10)
  24. The False Prophet (13:11–18)
  25. The Song of the Redeemed (14:1–13)
  26. The Harvest of the Earth (14:14–20)
  27. Seven Angels with Seven Plagues (15:1–8)
  28. The Seven Bowls of Wrath (16:1–21)
  29. The Harlot and the Beast (17:1–18)
  30. Lamenting or Rejoicing over Babylon's Fall? (18:1–24)
  31. The Harlot and the Bride (19:1–10)
  32. The Return of the King (19:11–21)
  33. The Millennium (20:1–15)
  34. A New Heaven and a New Earth (21:1–8)
  35. The New Jerusalem (21:9–27)
  36. They Will See His Face (22:1–9)
  37. Come, Lord Jesus! (22:10–21)

Previous postings on Revelation:

  1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1-20).
  2. I Have This Against You!: Overview of Revelation 2-3.
  3. Christian, Listen Up! (Rev 2:1-3:22).
  4. Discernment Without Love (Rev 2:1-7): Ephesus.
  5. The Riches of Poverty (Rev 2:8-11): Smyrna.
  6. Remaining True to Jesus Yet Compromising and Defiled (Rev 2:12-17): Pergamum.
  7. Love Without Discernment (Rev 2:18-29): Thyatira.
  8. False Impression, False Self-estimation (Rev 3:1-6): Sardis.
  9. Keeping God's Word With Little Strength (Rev 3:7-13): Philadelphia.
  10. The Poverty of Riches (Rev 3:14-22): Laodicea.
  11. Whats Goin' On In Heaven? (Rev 4-5).


What's Goin' On In Heaven? (Revelation 4-5)

Revelation 4:1-5:14; Key Verse: Rev 4:2

"At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it."

Some questions. What is God like? What happens in heaven? How does this apply to my life on earth?

The short answers are: 1) God--who is on a throne in heaven--is sovereign; he rules the world. 2) All beings around God's throne are worshiping God. 3) All of life is worship. Why? If the book of Revelation has a single theme, then surely it is God and his greatness, which Rev 4-5 will show.

The vision of the One on the throne and of the Lamb. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus spoke about the strength and weaknesses of the seven Asian churches, which represents all the churches (Rev 2:23). Then he summons John "in the Spirit" to heaven (Rev 4:2) to receive visions that portray the future working out of his victory on the cross until its consummation in the new heaven and earth at the end of history. John sees a heavenly vision of God on his throne and of the slain Lamb, whose triumph qualifies him to open a scroll and execute God's future purposes for history--the destruction of all his foes, and the vindication of those who trust in him. As the Lamb opens the scroll's seals, John sees images of God's instruments of judgment and of the saints who receive salvation. John's vision of the One on the throne and of the Lamb is permeated with their supreme worthiness (Rev 4:11; 5:9-10, 12; cf. Rev 4:8; 5:13), and by the awe of all who see them.

What John saw. In Revelation chapter 4-5 John describes what he saw when he entered the open door in heaven (Rev 4:1):
  • One who sits on a throne in heaven (Rev 4:2),
  • what his appearance is like (Rev 4:3),
  • who surrounds him (Rev 4:4),
  • the description around the throne (Rev 4:5-6),
  • what the four living creatures were like and what they were doing and saying (Rev 4:7-11),
  • a scroll sealed with seven seals in the right hand of God (Rev 5:1),
  • no one worthy to open the scroll (Rev 5:2-4),
  • one like a Lion and a slain Lamb who is worthy to open the sealed scroll (Rev 5:5-7),
  • all those around the throne worshiping and singing a new song (Rev 5:8-14).
Rev 4:1-5:14 may be considered with the following words that are descriptive of God:
  1. Holy: majestic in glory.
  2. Worthy: the only one worthy of man's worship.
  3. Lion: he will fulfill his redemptive purpose.
  4. Lamb: the way he fulfills it.
I. God is Holy (Rev 4:1-8)

"After this" (Rev 4:1) means that the vision which follows, was revealed to John after the vision recorded in Rev 1-3. It does not mean that the events of this vision are to occur in history after the events in Rev 1-3. There is a overlap between John's vision of the resurrected Christ and the letters to the seven churches with that of the worship described in Rev 4-5. In Rev 1-3, Jesus speaks to the seven churches which are symbolic of the church during the last days--encompassing the time between Jesus' first and second coming. But in Rev 4-5, John is describing the same period of time from the vantage point of God's throne in heaven.

An open door (Rev 4:1a) reveals that John is being permitted to see things otherwise barred from human sight. John has already heard Christ's voice in Rev 1:12; now he hears it again. "And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, `Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this'" (Rev 4:1b). John is given a vision of the last days from the perspective of heaven, whereas the earlier vision had been given from the perspective of Christ's presence with his churches. Like Ezekiel who was raptured by the Spirit so to see heavenly things, John says, "At once I was in the Spirit" (Rev 4:2a). Through the Holy Spirit, John is given a vision of the heavenly scene. Like the prophets before him, this vision constitutes John as a prophetic messenger of what he sees. He is given this vision so that he might now proclaim what he sees to Christ's church. (Dispensational teaching says that in this verse John is describing the rapture of all Christians off the earth, and that the rest of Revelation concerns the seven-year tribulation. But this verse is not about the rapture; it has to do with John being caught up into heaven to describe what follows.)

God is indescribable. He lives in unapproachable light. Like the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel, John is granted sight of things about which we can but imagine, namely the throne of God. According to John, "there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it" (Rev 4:2b). It is vital to notice that John never attempts to describe God, only the divine glory and the creatures who surround him. God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). But God is described as "a consuming fire" (Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29) who dwells 'in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16) and glory. John thus describes the scene around the throne and the creatures who attend the one who sits there, but he does not describe God, only his glory. "And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne" (Rev 4:3). The precious gems refract light in almost all the shades of the color spectrum pointing to God's indescribable glory, while the rainbow recalls God's covenant oath and faithfulness in providing for the salvation of his people. As the rainbow was the sign of the new creation after the flood, so too the rainbow in heaven points to the new creation which began with the resurrection of Christ.

The 24 elders are the people of God (the "church") in both testaments. In Rev 4:4, John turns his focus away from God's glory to the creatures who attend the divine throne: "Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads." The identification of these beings is the subject of debate. The number of them, 24, points to the church in both testaments: the 12 tribes in the OT and the 12 apostles in the NT. These elders are probably angelic beings who are the heavenly representatives of God's people in both testaments. While the earlier vision in Rev 1-3 viewed the church in light of its earthly struggles, this vision views the church in light of its heavenly identity. If the elders depicted here are connected to the angels of the seven churches, this suggests that the church on earth must find its true identity in heaven, where God and the Lamb are worshiped in Spirit and in truth. Therefore, what is done on earth in the churches must be conducted in the light of what is even now being done in heaven.

Lightning and thunder signify the presence of the Spirit of God. God's glory in heaven is accompanied by the phenomena associated with God's judgment and presence found on earth throughout redemptive history. According to John, "From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder" (Rev 4:5a). Since these same phenomena repeatedly appear at key moments in the biblical drama, it is not accidental that they appear in Revelation as the seven judgments are to be revealed. The presence of lightening and thunder reminds God's people that God has not forgotten them in the midst of their earthly struggles. John also sees "Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God" (Rev 4:5b). Drawing upon the visions of Zechariah and Ezekiel connecting lamps with the Spirit of YHWH and with the Spirit of Christ present with his churches in Rev 1, this is clearly a reference to the seven-fold fullness of the blessed Holy Spirit.

The calm sea in heaven contrasts the stormy sea on earth. "Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal" (Rev 4:6a). This scene echoes Exodus 24, when Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, went up to Mt. Sinai and saw God. They reported that under his feet they saw a pavement of sapphire, clear as the sky itself (Ex 24:10). This may refer to a transparent pavement which surrounds the throne. One thing is certain. The heavenly sea is tranquil, like glass. The seas of earth are frequently the scene of storm and tempest. The sea is also depicted in Revelation as the place of chaos and rebellion, from which the beast emerges to wage war upon the saints (Rev 11:7; 13:1). But in heaven, the sea is calm, like glass, clear as crystal. There is no storm or tempest here, only calm and peace.

The four living creatures. Like Isaiah, John sees other creatures attending the one who sits on the throne. "In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings" (Rev 4:6b-8a) Similar creatures were seen by Ezekiel in his vision of God's throne (Eze 1:5-21). These creatures were also were seen by Isaiah, who tells us, "I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: `Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa 6:1-3). Such an amazing sight overwhelms Isaiah with a sense of his own sinfulness.

Four is the number of the world, the entire created order. Throughout Revelation, numbers are used symbolically. Four is used throughout the apocalypse as the number of the world, since the earth is said to have four corners (north, south, east and west), four winds, and is divided into four regions; earth, sea, rivers and springs, and the heavens. Therefore, the four living creatures represent the entire created order. This is why they are depicted as looking like the earth's great creatures: man, lion, ox, eagle. They are part of the royal entourage surrounding the throne who continually worship the one seated there. They are covered with eyes which see everything. These creatures serve as the royal guardians who keep God's heavens from being defiled.

The four living creatures worship God and the Lamb and also execute God's judgments upon the earth. In Rev 6, these living creatures will go forth to bring judgment upon the earth when the first four seals of judgment are opened. But in Rev 4 their function in worship, "day and night they never stop saying: `Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come'" (Rev 4:8b). The heavenly hymns they sing remind us that God is holy, that he is triune (the three-fold repetition "holy, holy, holy"), eternal (without beginning and end) and sovereign (he is the Almighty). Given these glorious attributes and Tri-unity of God, he alone is worthy of praise; he has been from all eternity.

II. God is Worthy (Rev 4:9-11)

All creation (4 living creatures) and all redeemed people of God (24 elders) worship the only One worthy of worship. When these living creatures praise God, they represent the whole of creation praising the Creator. When they worship–as they have from all eternity–the 24 elders join them. The picture from this is that all creation (represented by the four living creatures) as well as all of God's redeemed people (represented by the twenty-four elders) worship the one who is alone worthy of our worship. "Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: `You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being'" (Rev 4:9-11). This reminds us of God's unspeakable greatness, and that the heavenly scene should become the pattern for all Christian worship on earth.

How does this apply? Glorious hope in the face of persecution. For the persecuted and struggling churches of Asia Minor, such a scene would give them great encouragement in the face of their struggles. It will confirm for them that God's will is being done on heaven, even while Satan wages war upon them while they live on earth. It points ahead to a time when God's will will be done on earth. This scene confirms the blessed state awaiting all those who die in Christ. Therefore, when the beast puts one of God's saints to death, that saint comes to life and they reign with Christ. Having been given a glimpse of the heavenly throne, the persecuted saints on earth know what awaits them in heaven when they die. This scene gives comfort to Christians facing death at the hands of the beast. But it should also give comfort to all those who have stood beside the graves of those we love. For all those who die in Christ–including all those who we have loved and who precede us in death–they have taken their places before the throne, adding their voices to those of the heavenly choir. They have come to life and now reign with Christ for a thousand years, as they await the great and glorious day of the resurrection.

This heavenly scene should inform our understanding of worship. Any worship that is truly Christian must be directed toward God, since he alone is worthy of our worship. Any other conception of worship is intrinsically idolatrous. What this means is simply this: God is the audience of our worship, since he blesses us through a divine visitation through word and sacrament. Our worship is directed to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb who walks in our midst. Therefore, the congregation as a whole assembles for the purpose of worshiping God in heaven. We do not come to church to watch what goes on in the front of the church or to listen to the band. We come to add our voices to those of the elders, the angels, the four living creatures and multitude of departed saints who worship God in heaven at this very moment.

Our attitude of worship. This eliminates the so-called worship which is designed to entertain the congregation or to meet the felt-needs of so-called seekers, people who are really sinful idolaters who need to be told how God wishes to be worshiped. We do not do what we like in worship–we worship as God directs us to worship, especially in light of this text. This is why worship is serious business. We must not view the Sunday service like going to a Bear's game, a concert, or a movie. People arriving whenever they want. They leave early. They get up and wander around and chat with friends. This is not appropriate during worship when God is our audience and visitor and when he is speaking to us. The criteria for worship is not whether the pastor was funny, the band was great, or whether or not we received a blessing. The only acceptable criteria is whether or not God received the blessing of his people in accordance with his word. This is why we must give due preparation and due attention to what transpires during Sun worship service. When we come here, we enter into God's presence and the perspective is not things earthly, but things heavenly.

The greatest of Christian privileges. Calvin described that the greatest of Christian privileges is to enter the presence of God and be numbered among the assembly of those who are allowed to worship the Creator of the world and the Redeemer of the saints. Never forget that God could have left each one of us in darkness and bondage to sin. If he did the only time we would enter his presence would be to hear the words, "depart from me, I never knew you" (Mt 7:23). But this not so for all those in Christ. God has chosen us despite our unworthiness. He has sent Christ to die for our sins and raised him from the dead for our justification. He has called us to faith through the preaching of the gospel and confirmed those promises through his Word. He has done all this so that we might be numbered among the assembly of those who enter his presence and add our voices to the heavenly choir, singing praises to the One who sits and the throne and to the Lamb.

The end to which God's people are called. With them we sing, "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Rev 4:11). We have been given a glimpse of God's throne in heaven and realize that this is the end to which we have been called. How can we not but fall before the throne and worship the One seated there and the Lamb? Amen!

III. God is the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:1-5)

Shift from the One on the throne holding the scroll to the Lamb who is worthy to open it. Rev 5 continues the vision of the heavenly throne begun in Rev 4. But the focus shifts from the glory of the One seated upon the throne and the 24 elders and 4 living creatures who attend to him, to the Lamb who is the only One worthy to open the scroll. This shift in emphasis begins in Rev 5:1: "Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals." The scroll has writing on both the front and the back. In his prophetic vision, Ezekiel too was given a scroll (Eze 2:9-10). He was commanded to eat the scroll, a symbolic act pointing to his preparation to preach its contents (Eze 3:1-4). But the scroll which John sees is sealed. Someone must be found who is worthy to open it.

Some historical background. In John's day people would immediately grasp the significance of the sealed scroll. It served two functions: official documents or a last will and testament. The official document was sealed with wax and with the author's official, personal mark--his signet ring or official seal--to ensure authenticity and authority of the sealed document's, privacy, and that only one with recognized authority could open and read it. The double-sided writing was a common Roman practice in legal documents. A will had to also be witnessed and sealed by seven witnesses–the seven fold Spirit of God present before the throne (Rev 4:5). The will could be executed only upon the death of the testator. Thus, by virtue of his death for his people, the seven seals contained in the scroll are to be opened by the Lamb who is the author, and who was slain and reckoned worthy to execute it.

What is this mysterious scroll about? That no one could be found who is worthy to open the scrolll causes John great consternation. "And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, `Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?' But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside" (Rev 5:2-4). In Dan 12:4, the angel says, "But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end." Perplexed by this instruction, Daniel "asked, `My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?' He replied, `Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand'" (Dan 12:8-10). Those who are wise and who understand are the ones whom Jesus says have been given ears to hear, those who struggle on earth against the beast.

The time of the end has arrived. Daniel's prophecy was sealed until "the time of the end" (Dan 12:4), because the OT saints could not understand how God would bring about the blessings of the messianic age without a knowledge of the person and work of Christ. But the time of the end has come. Once Christ conquered death and the grave, human history enters its final phase. What was sealed can now be revealed. With Christ's coming 700 years after Daniel, that which was sealed will be opened. But the critical questions remain: "what is in this scroll and who can open it?"

How will redemption be accomplished? The scroll in John's vision would describe events associated with the final chapters of redemptive history. The main theme of Revelation is about God and his glory, and God's glory is made manifest for all to see through the redemption accomplished by the Lamb. In the big picture of the redemptive story, God promised that Adam would reign over the earth if he obeyed the terms of the covenant of works–"do this and you shall live." Adam disobeyed and plunged the entire human race into sin and death, bringing God's curse down upon all creation. Christ came as the Second Adam, who will undo the damage brought by the fall. The scroll must explain how this final redemption of all things will come to pass. It contains the record of future things which must take place so that God's will is done upon the earth.

The Lamb will bring all of redemptive history to its glorious climax. Like all of God's dealings with man, the contents of the scroll must be covenantal. It will reveal to God's people about God's dominion over the earth, his promised inheritance for all his people, and the details of God's judgment on all who broke his covenant and are under his curse. The themes of blessing and curse reappear again. The scroll is the declaration (or testament) of the Lamb, as to how God will bring all of redemptive history to its glorious and final climax. This was given to Daniel but sealed.

Why only Christ is worthy to open the scroll. The scroll contains information regarding the final chapters of redemptive history. Since all the promises contained in it are God's promise to a redeemed people, it can only be opened by a human, Because of sin, no one is worthy to open it. Only Jesus, the Lamb who was slain and is both God and man, fulfilled what God demands of his people under the covenant of works and their restatement in the Ten Commandments. This is why only Christ is worthy to open the scroll. He alone kept God's law perfectly and is without sin. John wept because God's people will not have access to its contents unless it is opened. But now they will. In the midst of their earthly struggles and war with the beast, they will see and understand God's purpose for all which will come to pass. God's will and eternal decree cannot be thwarted and will come to pass. His will will be done.

Only Jesus alone triumphed over death and the grave. It is glorious news to John when "one of the elders said to me, `Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals'" (Rev 5:5). The elder describes the Lamb in terms of his messianic glory as the lion of Judah (Gen 49:10). Jesus is the root of David (Isa 11:1). In his resurrection from the dead he triumphed over humanity's greatest enemy, death and the grave! Therefore, Jesus alone is worthy to open the scroll and its seals.

Christ's victory over Satan is already an accomplished fact. Christ's triumph is not something which lies ahead in the distant future at his Second Coming. Because of the cross and the empty tomb, Christ's victory over Satan is already an accomplished fact. With the unsealing of the scroll, the time has now come for the Conquering One to execute his righteous judgments on behalf of his people. The nature of these righteous judgments will be revealed when the seals are opened and when Christ's victory over Satan is explained in the following chapters.

IV. God is the Lamb who was Slain (Rev 5:6-14)

The secret of God's redemptive work: The Lamb conquers by dying. "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders" (Rev 5:6). The elders and living creatures not only worship him who sits upon the throne; they also worship the Lamb. The slain Lamb ties together God's redemptive work made throughout redemptive history: the Passover and the shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals; Isaiah's prophesy of God's suffering servant who is like a sheep lead to the slaughter (Isa 53:4-7). Ironically, the Lamb conquers by dying (Jn 1:29; 1 Pet 1:19). Unless we are granted understanding of these mysteries by the Holy Spirit, and "given ears to hear," the things in this book will remain utterly mysterious to us. Apart from the eyes and ears of faith, it is impossible to understand that Christ's ultimate victory must come through his death and resurrection.

The Holy Spirit will empower the churches to preach the gospel throughout the world. John describes the Lamb: "He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (Rev 5:6b). "Horns" suggests conquest. "Seven" in Revelation symbolizes perfection of fullness. "Seven horns" indicates great power (Ps 18:2; Dan 7:24; Zech 1:18-21), the fullness of his triumph over death and the grave. "Seven eyes" are the "seven spirits" of God (Rev 1:4) drawn from Zech 4:10. The "seven horns and seven eyes" of Zechariah's prophecy are OT pictures of the Holy Spirit who is omnipotent and all-powerful. After the conquest of the Lamb and the dawn of the new creation, the Holy Spirit goes to the ends of the earth to execute God's sovereign decree by empowering the church to preach the gospel as the means by which Christ's kingdom will advance.

Only the Lamb is worthy to approach God's throne. The Lamb came "and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne" (Rev 5:7). This echoes Dan 7:13-14: "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." John and Daniel describe the same scene. That the Lamb is worthy enables him to approach God's throne and open the scroll and its seals. This demonstrates his authority and power over the earth and to establish a kingdom which shall never be destroyed.

To worship the Lamb is to worship God. When the Lamb draws near to the one seated upon the throne, heaven worships him: "when [the Lamb] had taken [the scroll], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people" (Rev 5:8). Here the Lamb possesses the same glory, majesty and authority as the One sitting on the throne. When heaven worships the Lamb, they are worshiping God, the second person of the Trinity. No mere creature could ever possess such glory. It is nothing less than the glory of God. Also, the elders (representing the redeemed) and the living creatures (representing creation) fall before the Lamb and worship him. Clearly, Christ's glory and worthiness is equal to that of the Father's, for the hosts of heaven would never bow before any creature or any created thing.

Vindication of God's people. In Rev 6:9-11; 8:4 the saints pray for vindication of martyred believers. They cry out for judgment upon the ungodly. That these prayers ascend to God's throne and to the Lamb suggests that the opening of the scroll is connected with their vindication. The judgments yet to come and contained in the scroll will, in part, bring about the vindication of God's people. The elders holding harps and singing (Rev 5:8) is reminiscent of the Levitical priests who were commissioned to lead the people in the praise and worship of YHWH. "And they sang a new song: `You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth'" (Rev 5:9-10).

Singing a new song of redemption commemorating Christ's victory in purchasing his people from every nation. Throughout the OT, a new song is sung to praise God for granting his people victory over their enemies. This new song commemorates Christ's victory over sin and death and the inauguration of the new creation. The song expresses that Jesus' death for his chosen ones purchased people from every tribe, language and nation. The king's everlasting kingdom extends to the ends of the earth and encompasses his elect from every nation. Because Jesus has conquered death and the grave, all of his people participate in his kingdom rule by virtue of the new creation, specifically the new birth in Christ, which John later calls "the first resurrection." All who are Christ's reign with him because death has no hold upon them. The Beast may kill them, but they will reign with Christ. When Christ comes back at the end of the age, God's people will rule indeed with him upon the renewed heaven and earth in the age to come.

The whole of heaven worships the Lamb. "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders" (Rev 5:11). These are the angels and legions of heaven who return to earth with Christ on the day of judgment. But before that dreadful day of judgment, they worship the Lamb along with the elders and living creatures. "In a loud voice they sang: `Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!'" (Rev 5:12)

Now and forever more redeemed creation worships the Lamb. This wonderful scene points ahead to a great and glorious day yet to come. As this chapter comes to a close, John's vision is extended from the present to the time of the end, when universal acclaim is offered to Christ by a redeemed creation at the end of the age. "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: `To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!' The four living creatures said, `Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshiped" (Rev 5:13-14). John not only sees the worship of the Lamb in the present, he also sees that worship of the Lamb by a redeemed creation which takes place at the end of time.

One day we will rule with Christ. The vision of the heavenly throne ends with all of creation and all of God's redeemed worshiping the one seated upon the throne and the Lamb. When Daniels' vision was sealed, when Ezekiel and Isaiah saw the throne, their visions were incomplete because they did not see the Lamb who was slain. Only after Christ came, only after he died for our sins, only after he was raised for our justification, are we fully able to understand the meaning of the new song. The new song centers upon what God has done in Christ to free us from our sins, to make us a kingdom of priests and to ensure that one day we will rule with Christ upon a redeemed earth.

One day God's will will be done on earth. In the midst of our earthly struggles, let us always keep John's vision before our eyes, knowing that even as God's will is being done in heaven, one day it will be done upon the earth. And until it is, let us add our voices to those of the multitude in heaven. "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!" Amen!

  1. Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Pillipsburg: P&R Publishing Company. 2001.
  2. Sermons on the Book of Revelation. Kim Riddlebarger, Sr. Pastor, Christ Reformed Church. Anaheim.

Misc Notes (Rev 4:1-5:14)

Christians on earth face slanderous accusations of those who oppose the gospel. They struggle to not compromise with the spirit of the age. They fight against
surrounding worldly influences, against the Beast–the satanically inspired Roman government which was putting Christians to death who did not acknowledge the divinity of Caesar and which also prevented them from buying and selling. Now John gives these Christians a glimpse of heaven. The purpose of this vision is to remind Christians in the midst of their struggles against these earthly foes, that God's will is being done in heaven, and that one day God's will will be done upon the earth.

This would be a great encouragement to believers struggling to fight the good fight of faith under the most difficult of circumstances. Despite the apparent victory of the Beast in taking the lives of Christians, keeping the heavenly scene before our eyes should remind God's people that despite the wrath of Satan against them, God's people will be victorious. This is because on Calvary's cross and in the garden tomb, the Lamb has already defeated the serpent. Therefore, in Rev 4, John's focus is upon the glory of the one who sits upon the throne, while in Rev 5, the focus shifts to the Lamb who was slain and who alone is worthy to open the scroll. One day the Lamb's triumph over Satan on the cross will extend to all the earth. At the end of the redemptive drama, Satan and his henchmen will be cast into the lake of fire, never to torment God's people again.

In Rev 4:1-5:14 there are elements drawn from Daniel 7, Ezekial 1-2 and Isaiah 6:1-7. But John will do what the OT prophets could not. He will point directly to the Lamb who alone is worthy to open the scroll which was sealed until the time of the end. Through the use of apocalyptic imagery, John ties together a number of OT themes, giving the church on earth, heaven's perspective on Jesus' words in the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." In this scene we are given a glimpse of God's will being done in heaven. Therefore, in these two chapters we are given a summary of history of redemption, viewed from a heavenly perspective. Christ not only rules over his church, he rules over the entire cosmos. Before the redemptive drama reaches its conclusion, the outcome is already certain. Because God's will is being done in heaven, one day it will be done on the earth, despite the apparent victory of the beast over the saints. "Thy will being done on earth" is exactly what God has promised and that for which Jesus asked us to pray. In Revelation 4-5 we see God's will being done in heaven, giving us hope for what will one day be a reality upon the earth.

The first three chapters of Revelation focused upon John's vision of the resurrected Christ as he walks in the midst of his churches, empowering them through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of his grace and mercy to those around them. This became clear in the seven letters the Risen Christ addressed to the seven churches of western Asia Minor mentioned in Revelation 2-3. In each of these letters, Jesus knew the exact circumstances facing his people. He spoke words of encouragement to them. He promises blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. But these seven churches are also typological of Christ's church in every age, and so what Jesus says to these churches, he says to us as well. What he has promised to the seven churches, Christ has also promised to us.

In Revelation 3:21, Jesus promised those who overcome in Laodicea that one day they will sit with him upon his throne, ruling over the nations. This is important to God's people since many of these Christians faced persecution and death from the satanically-empowered beast who sought to force Christians to confess that Caesar was Lord. A number of people had lost their lives and livelihoods. Other Christians faced slander and persecution from those Jews who sought to stop these churches from preaching the gospel. Most of these congregations struggled with the question of how to remain faithful to Christ while living in the midst of pagan culture. Hard-pressed, hated and persecuted, and repeatedly tempted to compromise with the spirit of the age, the Christians in these seven churches are promised that if they overcome by remaining faithful to gospel, they will receive all of the blessings promised them by Christ.

Therefore, it is no accident that John's vision of heaven immediately follows upon the letters to the seven churches. The best way to encourage suffering and persecuted churches is to give them a glimpse of God's throne. A glimpse of God's power will give us courage to face the beast, for the final victory is certain and the beast will be defeated. A glimpse of heaven reminds us of God's goodness and justice, reinforcing the promise that righteousness will triumph and the wicked will be punished. A glimpse of the Lamb who was slain, reminds us as God's people that our redemption is an accomplished fact in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This heavenly vision reminds the saints that in the midst of their trials, their suffering, and in their temptation, God sovereignly controls all things. One day, God's will, which is now being done in heaven, will indeed be done upon the earth.

A final note of introduction needs to be mentioned before we turn to the text. In the second commandment we are told that we must worship God only as he commands. Therefore, it should be obvious that when we come to a passage such as this which describes the worship of God which takes place at this very moment in heaven, we should be looking for patterns in the worship depicted in this heavenly scene so that we might pattern our Lord's Day worship after that which transpires in heaven. There is even a sense when we as the people of God gather together on the Lord's day to worship the one who sits upon the throne and the Lamb, we add our worship to that which presently takes place in heaven. At the very least our worship here on earth should prepare us to worship in heaven, for one day we will all take our places among the multitude who surround the glassy sea and add our voices to the heavenly choir. Worship is not only one of the great joys of the Christian life, it is serious business.

This is why Christians from the very beginning have used a liturgy similar to the historic Protestant liturgy we use each Lord's Day. We hear God's word of greeting. We sing his praises and come into his very presence. We pray as Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord's Prayer. We confess our sins and hear Christ's word of forgiveness so that we worship without guilt or fear. We confess our faith in the words of the creed, a testimony to those around us of the worthiness of the one who sits on the throne and of the Lamb. Then God replies to us, speaking to us in his word, and confirming to us his promises.


Pride and Ego (1 Cor 3:21 - 4:7)

1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7; Key Verse: 1 Cor 4:3-4

"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me."

How do Michael Jordan and Madonna feel about their own monumental success and fame?

Longing for his glory days. In an interview in anticipation of his 50th birthday on Feb 17, 2013, Michael Jordan, the Hall of Famer, confesses, "I would give up everything now to go back and play the game of basketball." When asked how he replaces it, Jordan simply states, "You don't. You learn to live with it." Jordan has accomplished what most men can only dream of. Yet he seems to still be longing for his glory days of winning 6 NBA championships, being voted the Finals MVP all 6 times, being the only player in history to lead the NBA in scoring 10 times (7 consecutive, tied with Chamberlain), being voted the NBA's MVP 5 times, and the accolades, awards and records just keep piling upon themselves. Here and here are short summaries. Despite having accomplished and achieved all this, he still wishes he could go back and do all of it again. In his supercilious 2009 Hall of Fame speech, Jordan called the game of basketball his "refuge," the "place where I've gone when I needed to find comfort and peace." Three years later, the restlessness remains. (Source: Do you still want to be like Mike? When greatness meets emptiness. (Michael Jordan at 50) by Matt Smethurst.)

"I have to prove I am somebody." Madonna is a highly accomplished and successful person. But from an interview in Vogue Magazine where she talks about her career, she expresses a tremendous amount of self-awareness and insecurity. This is an excerpt:

"My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will."

The "normal" insatiable ego. Madonna (and MJ too) knows herself better than most of us know ourselves. Once she accomplishes something she has the verdict that she is somebody. But the next day, she realizes that unless she keeps going, she is not. Her ego is not satisfied. Her sense of self, her desire for self-worth, her need to be sure that she is somebody is not fulfilled. She is already so accomplished. (She has sold over 200 million albums. In 2013 her net worth is reported to be one billion. Guiness World Records has labelled her the most successful female artist of all time.) So, why is she still seemingly so insecure? Is she neurotic? No. She knows herself. She is ahead of most of us. But she does not realize that the ego is insatiable. It is a black hole. No matter how much we put into the ego every day, feeding it, the next day it is bare. Like her, we have to become somebody. Then even if we do become somebody, we still need to become somebody. This is the "normal" state of the human self or ego or pride. Are the Christians in Corinth any different?

What are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God? If we trust in Christ, what should our hearts be like? Is it a matter of morally virtuous behavior? It is quite possible to "live rightly" when our hearts are filled with fear, pride, jealousy, or a desire for power over others. Thus, what does a heart changed at the root by the grace of God look like in real life?

Division in the church. Paul said, "So then, no more boasting about men!" (1 Cor 3:21) Because of boasting, the Corinthian church was divided. It was originally planted by Paul (Acts 18:1ff). But other evangelists, like Apollos and Cephas, came to Corinth later on. Different people had connections with different prominent ministers; some were mentored and discipled by Paul, others by Apollos or Cephas. These relationships became the basis for power-plays (1 Cor 1:12, 3:4,20, 4:6). Parties arose and divisions tore up the church, likely with different people, affiliated with different leaders, vying for being the top leader.

Self-esteem. Paul knew that the root cause of church division is pride and boasting. So he emphatically pleads, "No more boasting" (1 Cor 3:21), and asks rhetorically, "Why do you boast...?" (1 Cor 4:7) The basis of boasting is always pride, and the closely related interesting subject of self-esteem.

Too high/low view of self. Traditional cultures always believed that too high view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world: the reason for crime, why people are abused, cruel, do bad things, etc. The reason was hubris - the Greek word meaning pride or too high a view of yourself. But in our modern western culture we developed an utterly opposite cultural consensus to that of the traditional consensus -- that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem, for having too low a view of themselves. Thus, husbands beat their wives and the reason people are criminals is because they have too low a view of themselves.

People with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to others. Psychologist Lauren Slater wrote an article in the New York Times magazine called 'The Trouble with Self-Esteem.' She reported what experts have known for years that there is no evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society. She quoted three current studies all of which reached this conclusion. She stated that "people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem and feeling bad about yourself is not the source of our country's biggest, most expensive social problems." (Lauren Slater, The Trouble with Self-Esteem, The New York Times magazine, Feb 03, 2002.) It may take years for us to accept this, for it is so deeply rooted in our psyche that lack of self-esteem is the reason why there is drug addiction, crime, wife beating and so forth. Slater says it may take forever for this view to change.

Both views are simple (simplistic). The low-esteem theory is attractive because you do not have to make moral judgments in order to deal with society's problems. All you have to do is support people and build them up. But we know that this often does not work; in fact it may cripple people for life. However, in traditional cultures, you clamped down on people and convicted them and called them bad. This might scare some people. It might behaviorally change some people. But it does not touch the heart.

This passage is intriguing because it gives us an approach to self-regard, to the self and a way of seeing ourselves that is different from both traditional and modern/postmodern contemporary cultures. Three things Paul shows us are:
  1. Ego: The natural condition of the human ego.
  2. Transformation: The transformed sense of self (which Paul discovered and which can be brought about through the gospel).
  3. Means: How to get that transformed sense of self.
I. Ego: The Natural Condition of the Human Ego (1 Cor 3:20-21, 4:6)

Physioō. 1 Cor 4:6b says, "Then you will not be puffed up (take pride) in being a follower of one of us over against the other." The word "puffed up" (NIV 2011) or "take pride" (NIV 1984) is not the normal hubris word for pride, but physioō. It is an unusual word. Paul uses it another five times in this letter (1 Cor 4:18,19, 5:2, 8:1, 13:4) and once in Col 2:18. Commentators say it is a special theme of Paul. By using this particular word, Paul is trying to teach us something about the human ego. The word literally means "to inflate, to blow up, to cause to swell up," (Blue Letter Bible) to be distended beyond its proper size, like a distended/swollen human organ. It is a metaphor and a very evocative word. This image of a swollen organ in the human body suggests four things about the "natural" condition of the human ego: that it is empty, painful, busy and fragile.
  1. Empty. The image points to the fact that there is emptiness at the center of the human ego. Soren Kierkegaard says that it is the normal state of the human heart/ego to try to build its identity around something besides God. (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death, New York; Penguin, 1989.) Pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God. The ego searches for something that will give it a sense of worth, specialness, purpose and builds itself on that -- and it is always going to be too small. It explains why men have killed others over a woman, their loved ones, and even their church and religion. Doesn't this explain why the religious leaders killed Christ?
  2. Painful. A distended and over inflated ego is painful. No one notices the parts of their body until something is wrong with it. No one says/thinks, "My toes and elbows are working so well." My ego, like a healthy elbow, would not hurt unless there was something wrong with it. The ego hurts because there is something incredibly terribly wrong with it; it is always drawing attention to itself...every single day. It always makes us think about how we look, how we are treated. People say that their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can't hurt! It is the ego that hurts - my sense of self, my identity. It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed, or ignored, or feeling stupid, or getting down on ourselves. It is because there is something wrong with my ego, my identity, my sense of self. It is never happy. It is always drawing attention to itself. Doesn't this explain why we are hurt and angered when something we value is criticized?
  3. Busy. It is incredibly busy trying to fill the emptiness and drawing attention to itself. It is always busily doing two things in particular -- comparing and boasting..."of one of us over against the other" (1 Cor 4:6b). This is the very essence of a "normal" human ego: it tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort by comparing itself to others...all the time. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote in his famous chapter on pride: "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest." In brief, pride is the pleasure of being more than/better than the next person. By comparing ourselves to others and trying to make ourselves look better than them is boasting. Consciously or subconsciously, we are always commending ourselves, recommending ourselves, making sure we look good or better than others. Our ego is so busy, so busy all the time. Might this be why we like to think that our job, our family, our marriage, our children and our church is the best, or at least better than that of others?
  4. Fragile. Anything that is overinflated is in imminent danger of being deflated -- like an overinflated balloon. A superiority complex and an inferiority complex are basically the same. They are the results of being overinflated: overinflated and in danger of being deflated; or it is deflated already -- they tell you and tell themselves that they hate themselves. To be deflated means they were previously inflated. Deflated or in imminent danger of being deflated is the same. The "normal" human ego is fragile.
Empty, painful, busy and fragile. This is how the Corinthians were. They were fighting over Paul and claiming a special relationship with him (1 Cor 4:6b). They are showing tremendous amounts of pride. They are unable to enjoy the fact that they know Paul. They have to use their relationship with him for one-upmanship over each other in the church. So Paul wants them to know the difference the gospel makes and how the gospel has transformed him. In 1 Cor 4:3-4 he shows them how the gospel has transformed his sense of self-worth, self-regard and his identity. His ego operates in a completely different way from them.

II. Transformation: The Transformed View of Self (1 Cor 4:1-7)

Are you free from what others think of you? Paul says that he is a minister with a job to do (1 Cor 4:1-2). Then he tells them that, with regard to that role, he cares very little if he is judged by them or any human court (1 Cor 4:3-4). The word "judge" has a similar meaning as "verdict." It is what MJ and Madonna craves -- the elusive verdict or stamp of approval. Paul does not look to the Corinthians -- or to any human court -- for the verdict that he is somebody. Paul is saying that he does not care what they think about him, nor what anybody thinks about him. His identity is not informed by what others say. Paul is essentially saying, "I don't care what you think. I don't care what anybody thinks." Paul's self-worth, self-regard, and identity is not tied in any way to their verdict, opinion or their evaluation of him.

How do we reach the point where we are not controlled/affected by what people think about us? Practically every counselor might say, "It doesn't matter what other people think of you," and "Don't live according to what others say. Just be concerned with what you think about yourself. It's not about other people's standards imposed upon you, but your own standards that you choose." The counselors' advice is, "Decide who you want to be and then be it," for only what you think about yourself matters.

Is low self-esteem remedied by having high self-esteem? See yourself as a great person, as a wonderful person. Think of what you have accomplished. Stop worrying about what others say about you. Does this work? Is this Paul's approach?

A low opinion of others' opinion and of one's opinion of oneself. Paul's approach could not be more different. He cares very little if others, including a human court, judges him. He takes it a step further: he will not even judge himself. He is saying, "Not only do I not care what you think, I do not even care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me -- and a very low opinion of my opinion of me." Even the fact that he has a clear conscience makes no difference. "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent" (1 Cor 4:4a). Hitler might have had a clear conscience, but it does not mean he was innocent.

Why we cannot live by our own standards (or others' standards). It is a trap to think that we should not worry about others' standards and just set our own. It does not/cannot deliver. We will feel terrible to live by our parent's standards, society's standards, other societies' standards, or even our own standards. We cannot keep them, unless we set incredibly low standards. Are low standards the solution? If they are they will indict you as a person of low standards. Living by the standards of others or our own is a trap.

Where does Paul find his sense of self, his sense of identity? Paul does not get his sense of self, his identity from the church at Corinth, or from a human court (1 Cor 4:3). He does not go to them for the verdict that he is a "somebody." He does not get it from himself either. Either way it is a trap. Where then does Paul find his sense of self, his sense of identity? Be warned! At this point, Paul moves right off our map. He moves into territory that we know nothing about.

Can the "worst of sinners" have incredible confidence? Who was Paul? He was a man of incredible stature. He might be among the six or seven most influential leaders who ever lived in the history of the human race. He had enormous ballast, tremendous influence, incredible confidence. Nothing fazed him. Yet he said in 1 Tim 1:15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst." Not I was the worst, but I am the worst. We do not encounter someone who has incredible confidence volunteering the opinion that they are one of the worst people. He is totally honest and totally aware of all sorts of moral flaws -- yet has incredible poise and confidence.

Why can't we have incredible confidence...like Paul? We are judging ourselves, or letting others judge us, which Paul does not allow for himself (1 Cor 4:3). Paul is saying that he knows about his sins but he does not connect his sins to himself or to his identity. His sins and his identity are not connected. He does not see a sin and let it destroy his sense of identity. Neither does he see an accomplishment and congratulate himself. Paul sees all kinds of sins in himself -- and all kinds of accomplishments too -- but he refuses to connect them with himself or his identity. So, although he knows himself to be the chief of sinners, that fact does not stop him from doing the things that he is called to do.

Why do we lack confidence? If I think of myself as a bad person/sinner, I do not have confidence. If I give into sin again and again, filled with lust, anger or laziness, I have no confidence. Why? Because we are judging ourselves. We set our standards and then we condemn ourselves.

I don't care what you think and I don't care what I think (1 Cor 4:3). Paul is bringing us into new territory that we know nothing about. His ego is not puffed up, it is filled up. He is talking about humility. (Humility is a most misunderstood word today.) Paul is saying that his ego and pride draws no more attention to itself than any other part of his body. He has reached the place where he is not thinking about himself anymore. When he does something wrong or something good, he does not connect it to himself any more.

Gospel-humility. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. Lewis says that one who meets a truly humble person would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. The truly humble would not be telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-centered, self-obsessed person who is self-preoccupied, and who judges themselves as being inferior or less accomplished, compared to others.) What we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us.

What is the essence of gospel-humility?
The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more or less of myself, but it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself, not needing to connect things with myself. True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. This is the freedom of self-forgetfulness. This is the blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.

True gospel-humility means an ego that is not puffed up but filled up. This is totally unique. It is not about high self-esteem. Or low self-esteem. It is not about self-esteem at all. The secret is in Paul's words: "I don't care about your opinion...and I don't care about my opinion." A truly gospel-humble person is not self-hating or self-loving, but a gospel-humble person -- a self-forgetful person whose ego is just like his or her toes or elbows. It just works. It does not draw attention to itself. Just as the toes just work, the ego just works. Neither draws attention to itself.

A simple little test to know how self-forgetful I am. Here it is. The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, or bother them, or keep them up late ruminating and simmering. Why? A person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people's opinions.

Ignoring criticism or refusing to listen to criticism is pride. Generally, people are devastated by criticism -- or they are not devastated by criticism because they do not listen to it. They will not listen to it or learn from it because they do not care about it. They are proud. Their ego is distended. Their solution to low self-esteem or criticism is high self-esteem or pride, by refusing to listen to any criticism. But that is no solution. Both low self-esteem and pride are horrible nuisances to our own future and to everyone around us.

How a self-forgetful person handles criticism/life. Since their ego is not puffed up but filled up, criticism does not devastate them. They listen to it and see it as an opportunity to change. How does this happen? The more we understand the gospel, the more we want to change.

Do you need honor, recognition, success to feel validated? Don't you want to be a person who does not need honor -- nor is afraid of it? One who does not lust for recognition -- nor is frightened by it? One who, in their imaginary life, does not fantasize about hitting self-esteem home-runs, daydreaming about successes that gives them the edge over others? One who is free of regrets and never feel tormented by them? Wouldn't you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about the triple jumps the gold medal winner did? To love it like loving a sunrise? Just to love the fact that it was done? And not sulk because it was not done by you?

Do you understand blessed self-forgetfulness? We probably do not know anybody like that. But this is the possibility for us if we keep on going where Paul is going. I can start to enjoy things that are not about me (or my family or my church). I can actually enjoy things for what they are. They are not for my resume, for my self-esteem, for my sense of worth, for my identity, or for my own honor. They are not a way of filling up my ego or my emptiness. Wouldn't we want that? This is off our map. This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself less.

III. Means: How to Get that Transformed Self (1 Cor 4:3-4)

Dikaioō. How did Paul get this blessed self-forgetfulness? First, he says, "I don't care what you think, and I don't care what I think" (1 Cor 4:3). He does not look to others or to himself for the verdict. Then he says, "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent" (1 Cor 4:4a). The word "innocent" comes from the word "justify" (dikaioō), the same word Paul uses throughout Romans and Galatians. Paul is saying that even if his conscience is clear, that does not justify him.

Our desperate need to be somebody/to be justified...every day. What Paul is looking for, what MJ and Madonna are looking for, what we are all looking for, is an ultimate verdict that we are important and valuable, that we are somebody. We look for that ultimate verdict every day from people all around us. That means that every single day, we are on trial; we put ourselves in a courtroom. The problem with our ego/pride/self-esteem -- whether it is high or low -- is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom of the world. Every single day we are on trial. That is the way that everyone's identity works. Some days we feel we are winning the trial; other days we feel we are losing it. But Paul is no longer ruled by what the church or any human court thinks (1 Cor 4:3). Paul found the secret. The trial is over for him. He is no longer in the courtroom. He is no longer on trial. It is because the ultimate verdict is in.

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel that you get the verdict before the performance? Paul knows that others cannot justify him, and he cannot justify himself. He says, "It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor 4:4b). It is only His opinion that counts. In all areas of life and in all the religions of the world, it is the performance that leads to the verdict. This means that every day, we are in the courtroom, and every day we are on trial. That is the problem. It makes us self-conscious and self-centered. But Paul says that in Christianity, the verdict leads to performance...never the performance that leads to the verdict. In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ's perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In Christ, God says to us as He once said to Jesus, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Mk 1:11).

Do you know and live as though the verdict is already in? Thus, I now perform on the basis of the verdict. I no longer need to perform to get my desired verdict. He loves me. He accepts me. I do not have to perform to be accepted, or to prove myself, or to build up my ego, or my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help them -- not to make me feel better about myself, or to fill up my inner emptiness.

In all of life, the performance leads to the verdict. In all of life, the verdict comes from the performance. We perform by being a good person, a religious person, a moral person, an honest person, a free person. Whatever it is, it is always the same: the performance leads to the verdict. But the verdict never comes. Imagine that the verdict never came even for MJ and Madonna, who both have heaps of talents, guts, success and accomplishments. Despite all that they have done and achieved, they both say that they have still not found the ultimate verdict they are looking for. The performance, no matter how excellent, never gets the ultimate verdict.

Only in Christianity does the verdict give you the performance. How can that be? Here is Paul's answer: he is out of the courtroom. He is no longer on trial. How? Because Jesus went on trial instead. Jesus went into the courtroom. He was put on trial. It was an unjust trial in a kangaroo court, but he did not complain. Like the lamb before the shearers, He was silent and did not open his mouth (Isa 53:7). He was struck, beaten, put to death. Why? As our substitute (2 Cor 5:21). He took the curse and the condemnation we deserve (Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 3:18). He faced the trial that should be ours so that we do not have to face any more trials. I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what Jesus has done on my behalf (Mt 7:7; Jn 14:14). Then, the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and He finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the earth.

Are you still upset for being treated poorly? Overlooked? Ignored? Regarded as inferior or damaged? If I truly know Jesus who was put on trial in my place, how can I now become upset for being treated rudely or poorly? For being ignored? Treated unfairly? Looked down upon as someone inferior? Stupid? Childish? Immature? How can we be so bent out of shape by others' dismissive treatment of us? How can we care that much about how we look like in the mirror?

Religiously driven or self-forgetful? Non-Christians and even Christians have never understood the difference between Christian identity (religiosity) and any other kind of identity (gospel-centrality). They call themselves Christian, because they consider that their moral and religious behavior is on the upper end of the scale. They go to church, read the Bible, pray, serve in various ministries, tithe. They believe that by doing so, God will bless them with a good life, and take them to heaven one day. But true Christian identity and true Christianity operates totally differently from this, or from any other kind of religious living or religious identity. Only self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom.

The trial is over. The verdict is in. Perhaps this is new. Keep reflecting. Keep looking. Keep digging. Keep asking questions. There is a lot to discover. There are countless other questions. Why did Jesus have to die? Why did He rise from the dead? Was He really the Son of God? What does his death and resurrection have to do with me?

Are you easily hurt by others? Are you still trying to prove something to yourself and others like Michael Jordan and Madonna, the superstars of success? Trying to validate yourself and your life by your accomplishments and achievements? By your career? Your children? Your ministry? By how others would recognize you, regard you or respect you? If you are a Christian, do you know and experience and truly feel that in Christ, your verdict is already in, and it is A++?

Thoughts and Questions for Reflection:
  1. Use the words of Psalm 139:23-24 in prayer. Ask God to show you your heart, to show you the places you look for self-worth and the ways you try to find your sense of identity.
  2. Explain to someone else how the gospel can (and should) transform our sense of identity. How much do you experience that transformed sense of identity?
  3. In what ways has God's Word encouraged you or challenged you? If you are not sure, pray about it.
  4. Pray that God would give you what you need to enable you to develop true gospel-humility and the freedom of self-forgetfulness.
  1. Keller, Timothy. The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy.
  2. Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. The Great Sin.
  3. Servants of Christ (1 Cor 4:1-21).
  4. Love is not arrogant (Physioō).
  5. Physioō (arrogant or proud), the verb, occurs only seven times in the NT, six of which are found in this letter. They were puffed up with pride (1 Cor 4:6,18,19, 5:2), but love would remove pride and replace it with a desire to promote others (Rom 12:10). True love will give us an esteem of our brothers, and raise our value of them. This would limit the esteem of ourselves, and prevent the tumors of self-conceit and arrogance.