Suppose one child grows up in a home where mom and dad impose discipline consistently after bad behavior. Another child has parents who forbid certain behaviors but never punish violation of their standards. These two children will become adults with very different expectations about standards and consequences.
Is either set of parents like God?
(ESV) Romans 3:25b-26
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Perhaps the best answer to the question posed in the introduction to this lesson is yes and no. :-)
Throughout the Bible God condemns sin (1:18-3:20), but those declarations mean little unless God is willing to punish those who sin. If he is not willing to punish sin, then his promises of punishment would be false. Under those circumstances, who could trust his promises of blessing either?
The veracity of Gods statements, his faithfulness in doing what he says, his fairness in judging, and the consistency of his actions are all part of what we may consider to be his righteousness. Douglas Moo takes Gods righteousness to designate what we might call an aspect of Gods character, whether this be his justice (. . .), his impartiality and fairness, or his acting in accordance with his own character. It is Gods own righteousness that is meant by the two instances of righteousness (Greek dikaiosune) in 3:25b-26.
When Paul says, This was to show Gods righteousness (3:25b), he looks back to God appointing Jesus as an atoning sacrifice to propitiate Gods justifiable wrath against human sin (3:25a). The execution of Jesus on the cross provided a public demonstration of how seriously God takes sin.
In saying he had passed over former sins (3:25b), the temporary delay in the demonstration of Gods righteousness was a matter of his divine forbearance (3:25b). C.E.B. Cranfield shows insight by saying, God has in fact been able to hold his hand and pass over sins, without compromising his goodness and mercy, because his intention has all along been to deal with them once and for all, decisively and finally, through the cross.
What is meant by former sins (3:25b)? Moo says: The sins committed beforehand will not, then, be sins committed before conversion, or baptism, but before the new age of salvation. That age began at the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or perhaps as early as the incarnation.
(ESV) Romans 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Cranfield lights the path here: Paul recognizes that what was at stake was not just Gods being seen to be righteous, but Gods being righteous. This is not a matter of mere appearances.
Thomas Schreiner joins Moo and Cranfield in saying that the idea of the final clause is that God is just even in justifying the one who has faith in Jesus. Only God could craft a salvation that imposes justice and offers mercy in the same act: the death of Jesus for our sins.
Like a compass needle which always seeks magnetic north, Paul always returns to faith in Jesus (3:26).
Is God just an old softy?
No! In an age that wants to focus on Gods mercy rather than his justice, we hear a lot about Gods love but little about his wrath. Yet anyone who minimizes the wrath of God against sin not only attacks the character of God but also demeans the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us on the cross.
1. Peter tells us that in the last days people will be saying Christ is not going to return, that there will be no reckoning for sin on a day of judgment (2 Pet. 3:2-4). But Peter says the delay is instead a matter of God being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9, NET). How does patience show Gods mercy while repentance confirms Gods intention to judge? Describe how Peter and Paul agree.
2. Why do people want to leave aside any discussion of Gods wrath?
Take a moment to express your praise to the One who is just even as he justifies us because of our faith in Jesus. Of course, if you have never expressed such faith, your time within Gods forbearance is running out!
Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 237.
 C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 212.
When the kids chose up teams in your school, did they choose you first? In my school it was always the favorites who were chosen first, and certain people got left for last every time. If you were one of the fastest, smartest, best looking, most sociable, life was good. The alternative was painful — a lesson learned from a distance.
Playing favorites is also common among adults. How about with God? Does he play that way too?
(ESV) Romans 2:6-11
He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Keep in mind that Paul is still in the midst of addressing the argument of the Jews that their special status as children of Abraham and recipients of the Law ensures the salvation of every Jew. Paul is tearing away that illusion. In todays Scripture he does so using a literary arrangement known as chiasm, as shown below:
A God will judge everyone equitably verse 6
B Those who do good will attain eternal life verse 7
Grant Osborne points out that Paul is trying to demonstrate divine justice by showing how God judges fairly with both Gentiles and Jews. This accounts for the phrase the Jew first and also to Greek (2:10), which overtly shows that both Jew and Gentile stand in the same relationship of responsibility to God.
In short, verses 7 and 10 refer to those who are justified by faith and prove it through a life of obedient works before God. C. E. B. Cranfield says, Paul was probably actually thinking only of Christians; but there is little doubt that, had he been asked whether what he was saying also applied to OT believers, his answer would have been affirmative. There is more than one way to reach this conclusion. Douglas Moo holds that Paul is teaching here (2:6-11) that God will impartially judge all men by their works; later Paul will show that no one can reach a positive verdict in that way (3:9; 3:19-20); later still Paul will show that faith in Christ enables the believer to have good works as the fruit of faith. So, Moo effectively arrives at a similar conclusion by a different thought process.
Verses 8 and 9 refer to those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (1:18) and prove it by doing those evil deeds outlined in Romans 1:18-32. The nature of the works depends upon the human heart behind them; the works provide an image of the heart. Be sure to notice the chilling vocabulary of Romans 2:8-9. Gods wrath is bad enough; his fury is worse than unthinkable!
Critical to Pauls argument is the fact that God impartially judges the works — and thus the heart behind them —without regard to whether a person is a Jew or a Gentile. God does not play any favorites.
The verb used in 2:11 confirms what has been said above about God showing no partiality in judging the works of Christians. That is exactly how the same verb is used in Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25, and James 2:1.
Only one name to know: Jesus
Think carefully about Gods impartiality! This means that the rich have no advantage over the poor; the powerful have no edge on the weak, and the socially-connected have no insider pull. Jesus said the same thing in these words: Many who are first will be last, and the last first (Mark 10:31).
1. Read Matt. 7:1-2. How do these commands guide you in the same direction as Pauls words in Rom. 2:6-11?
2. Since every human is judged on the same basis before God, how does this influence the way you make choices and behave?
During Prohibition the only way to get into many private clubs was to know the right name to give at the door. Heaven is the most exclusive club of them all, and the only name to know at that door is Jesus. If Jesus knows you, you enter without question. If not, there is another door — you do not want to see what goes on in there!
Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 135, citing K. Grobel.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 63.
 C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 152.
Some of my teachers are hard to remember, while others I will never be able to forget. I never liked Mr. Crutchfield, but he won immortality in my hall of bad memories.
I made sure to get to his college physics class early and to sit down quietly. Almost two hundred of us would wait in the large, steeply-sloped lecture hall for his grand entrance through the side door. His coming was an important event. You see, the moment Mr. Crutchfield entered, trailed dutifully by his grader, a holy silence had to dominate the entire room. Immediately!
If some unthinking soul failed to see the mighty man enter, Mr. Crutchfield would look up with a scowl and snap, “Take out a sheet of paper.” Then would come an all-too-regular pop quiz. At times, even when the room was just perfect, Mr. Crutchfield would give us a pop quiz anyway. Keep in mind that we’re talking college physics here.
Fortunately, I will never have to face those surprise tests in physics again, but life throws its own little tests at me regularly. Although I don’t like them any more than ever, I have to face them, just as you do.
Testing, trials, and temptations come in many forms. They swoop down frequently, if unpredictably, throughout the course of life. At such times, we must face the hardship of living in tension. Some tests strike with the suddenness of a lightning bolt. Other problems, such as chronic illness or an unhappy marriage, can linger for years with quiet savageness. Those things are the bad news.
The good news is that Jesus thoroughly understands how it feels to take tests in life. He faced both kinds: the sudden, sharp tests and the long, grinding ones. Christ knows from experience what we so desperately need from him in our own hour of crisis. For Jesus, every test took on the dark hues of a final exam, because his whole mission could have been destroyed through a single act of sin. By considering his model, we can learn how to endure when the sky begins to fall.
The First Test
1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4:1–4)
After being baptized to identify himself with those turning to God, Jesus entered the wilderness to face the onslaught of Satan. To the Israelite mind the wilderness was a place of testing. It also represented a place of purging and preparation before full possession of the Promised Land.
Like Israel, Jesus faced trial in the desert, the scene of the nation’s great failure under temptation. Jesus was the keystone of a new beginning for the people of God, so the Father tested him to prove his qualifications for that mission. The Spirit led him into the desert, demonstrating that this encounter for the Son had the direct approval of the Father. The Father had a totally constructive purpose for Christ in imposing this test.
The Holy Spirit did not commune alone with Jesus in the wilderness. An unholy spirit, Satan, met them there as well. He came to destroy Jesus and his ministry, if possible. If Jesus could be made to stumble even one time, then he would be disqualified as our sinless sacrifice upon the cross. At that crucial moment both God and Satan were operating in the wilderness. The two unequal forces collided in the heart and life of Jesus Christ.
The Greek verbs imply that Jesus faced temptation during the entire forty days. Luke draws our attention to the end of that time so that we can appreciate the tension at its greatest intensity. Jesus had eaten nothing, and by that time his hunger must have been severe. To hunger is not wrong, and to satisfy hunger would not normally be wrong either. But to interrupt a God-intended hunger would defy the decision of the Father.
In his hunger Jesus was reenacting the experience of Israel during the exodus, but with one vast difference. The Israelites’ hunger had led them to grumble against God in unbelief (Exodus chapter 16), but Jesus never faltered in trusting the Father to meet his need at the proper time.
In meeting the test of bread, Jesus quoted from the teaching of Moses (Deut. 8:2–3). Moses told the Israelites that God had tested them in the desert to know their hearts. He had allowed them to know hunger and afterward fed them with manna so they would realize that man doesn’t live merely on bread.
On the surface, it is clear that Satan was tempting Jesus to prematurely end the God-intended test. But underneath that, I see this attack as an attempt to get Jesus to distrust the Father. In other words, Satan was trying to disrupt the relationship.
Jesus could easily have met his own need by converting the stones into bread, just as Satan proposed. But that would have demonstrated a lack of trust in his Father’s loving care. Jesus passed this test with ease.
Lessons from the First Test
Our times of testing resemble those Jesus experienced in certain ways. Both God and Satan can simultaneously work in a given case. The test itself is often amoral, like a knife. A knife in the hands of a surgeon can cut out a cancerous growth and promote healing, yet in the hands of a murderer, the same knife brings death.
So it is with testing. In the hands of the Lord it takes on a constructive purpose, but in Satan’s hands it turns toward our destruction. The Greek verb peiraz?, used in verse 2 by Luke, can mean either “tempt” or “test.” Satan tempts us to bring destruction, but God tests us to confirm obedience and promote maturity.
The Second Test
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
Matthew says that this temptation took place on a high mountain (Matt. 4:8). In the Bible, mountains often symbolize authority, power or a kingdom. So in a symbolic sense, Jesus was taken to the very throne room of Satan, from which he could survey the entire kingdom that had fallen into Satan’s hands. All the wealth, power and glory of the earth lay within Christ’s grasp in those moments!
With consummate persuasion, Satan put great emphasis on the personal pronouns in the Greek text. “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me” (Luke 4:6, italics added). Satan brought all this pressure to bear “in an instant,” perhaps hoping to bring about an impulsive response from Jesus.
Jesus suddenly faced an opportunity to grasp something he should not have. That’s an experience all of us have had and will have again. This kind of temptation invites all kinds of internal justification.
Let’s look more deeply at what Jesus was being asked to do. Satan was inviting him to rule the world immediately. Would that have been wrong? After all, the world rightfully belongs to Christ, and one day he will return to rule over all of it.
So, it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to want those kingdoms, but his time had not yet come. To have the world immediately would have meant the abandonment of his purpose to die on the cross for our sins. In effect, Satan was saying, “Jesus, instead of facing all the pain and suffering that you will endure, why not take all into your hands right now? It’s so easy! All you have to do is bow down and worship me.”
In that second test, Satan played the role of God by taking Jesus to that high mountain and showing him the kingdoms of the world. Jesus saw what he could not then have. This situation recalls the occasion when God took Moses to the top of a high mountain and allowed him to look at Canaan, which he would not be able to enter at that time (Deuteronomy 34).
That second test centered on immediate rule. On the surface, Jesus was invited to worship Satan. But to do that, he would have had to reject sole allegiance to the Father. Again, Satan was attempting to disrupt the relationship between the Father and the Son.
In his answer to Satan, Jesus maintained his sole allegiance to the Father: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Luke 4:8). Christ passed up unlimited pleasure and chose unlimited pain, to maintain his complete loyalty to the Father. Satan was thwarted a second time.
The Third Test
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
I agree with Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish Bible scholar who embraced Christian faith, who said that Jesus was taken to the highest point of the temple at the time of morning worship. At that hour a priest would blow a great horn, and the thousands of worshipers would pass through the huge doors into the temple.
The Jewish rabbis taught that when the Messiah appeared, he would do so on the roof of the temple. They supported their dramatic prediction with several verses from the Old Testament. Knowing all that, Satan brought Jesus to a moment of great opportunity. Underneath him walked thousands of those he came to save.
When Jesus looked at the people, Satan reminded him of a promise from the Psalms (Psalm 91:11–12). If Jesus really were the Messiah, then the Lord’s angels would not let him fall and die. Instead, they would save him from harm. Such a miracle would undoubtedly have brought immediate acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. By this tactic, Satan again tempted Jesus to avoid the cross and have the kingdom in an easier way.
In answering this enticement, Jesus again relied on the Old Testament: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16). Jesus stopped without mentioning the next few words of the quotation: “as you did at Massah.”
The sad story of Massah is told in Exodus chapter 17. There the Israelites tested the Lord and said, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exod. 17:7). They were insisting that God prove that he was among them by performing a miracle to provide them with water.
They were wrong in trying to force God to act. The Lord doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone! For Jesus to throw himself from that temple roof would be presumptuous and an insult to his Father. Jesus rightly rejected such a proposal. Again, he triumphed where Israel had failed.
This third temptation consisted of immediate acceptance. Satan invited Jesus to force the Father to act in his behalf. It was another attempt on Satan’s part to disrupt the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son had come to carry out his mission in humble obedience to the Father. Unlike Israel, Jesus proved obedient, even under the severest pressures.
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
Satan would come again. This had been an opportune time for him, but there would be others. Satan used surrogates again and again to offer those very same temptations to Jesus. Consider, for example, the test of the bread. After Jesus fed the five thousand, they followed him to the other side of the lake and tried to get him to perform the same miracle again (John 6:25–30). He refused, on the grounds that they had only come to satisfy their physical hunger.
They wanted to live on bread alone, rather than on the words that come from the mouth of God, so Jesus refused their request. He didn’t come to be a magic man, and he refused to work that miracle because of the people’s distorted spiritual priorities.
In the same time period, the test of immediate rule recurred. Because Jesus had fed them, the people wanted to immediately make him king by force (John 6:15). He rejected this alternative to the cross, as he had before.
Even as Jesus hung on the cross, the people taunted him, as Satan had, by urging him to prove his claims by saving himself from crucifixion. They said that if he worked a miracle by saving himself from death, they would believe in him (Matt. 27:42). Thus, the temptation of immediate acceptance was repeated. Jesus never yielded to any of those temptations, in either their original or altered forms.
The Temptations: A Snap or a Strain
Believers sometimes give the impression that such temptations were a snap for Jesus. They seem to think that Jesus felt no strain at all. But think carefully about the temptations he faced. He was asked to make a choice between limitless pleasure and unbounded pain. That’s far more pressure than any of us will ever have to endure!
Christians often speak about the agony of the crucifixion, and certainly it was terrible. But Jesus experienced no more physical pain on the cross than thousands of others who died by Roman execution. The real agony of the cross struck when the sinless Son of God became sin incarnate, by having all the sin of the ages dumped upon him.
Such shame and degradation surpasses our imagination. That was the unique pain of the cross. Satan invited Jesus to avoid such misery by simply bowing down and worshiping him. In this way Jesus was put under pressure far greater than any of us will ever see.
When I am tempted, I sometimes give in. Doubtless, you do the same. In those cases, I never experience the full force of the temptation, because I cave in before reaching that point. But Jesus didn’t have that luxury. He had to experience the full force and duration of every temptation that was ever thrown at him. There was no easy way out for him. In this respect, too, Christ’s temptations far exceed our own.
A third awesome element of Christ’s temptations is that he had the worst possible opponent. I really don’t believe that many of us, if any, are personally tempted by Satan. But Jesus was. Certainly we may face demonic harassment at times, but Jesus was attacked by Satan — the maximum enemy.
So, if you ever find yourself thinking that temptations presented Jesus no problem, consider those three factors. In order to save us, Jesus had to forgo unlimited pleasure and endure unlimited pain. To be the sinless Son of God he had to endure the greatest force and the longest duration of temptation. And, in Satan, he had the worst possible enemy a person can have. In those three respects, Christ’s temptation far exceeds anything we will ever have to face.
Tips for Passing Tests
Use the following applicational ideas to take advantage of what Jesus teaches us in his resistance to temptation.
1. Satan takes delight in seeing Scripture distorted. This could even be done by isolating one verse and ignoring other pertinent parts of God’s Word. That’s exactly what Satan did in the third temptation. Every “Christian” cult uses distortion of Scripture to gain converts. Use these principles to protect yourself from such practices.
Gain a general grasp of the whole Bible; concentrate special attention on the New Testament, but do not ignore the Old Testament. Even a general grasp can give you considerable protection, although the more you know, the better off you will be!
Before drawing a conclusion from a single verse of Scripture, read the paragraphs before and after it. Is your understanding of the verse consistent with its meaning in context?
When verses are taken out of context, they are often given a meaning that God never intended. I would suggest that whenever you read Christian literature and encounter Bible verses, you look each one up and study its context. Don’t be lulled to sleep just because someone throws in a few Bible references.
Avoid interpreting all statements made in the Bible to others as if they had been stated directly to you. Develop a sense for the difference between a general principle to be followed by all believers and a statement having only historical significance.
In many cases, we do this automatically. Let me illustrate by using two commands Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room: (1) “Love each other” (John 15:17), and (2) “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Did Jesus mean for you to go out and buy a sword? (It was a command!) No, of course he didn’t mean for you to do that. He was speaking about a specific historical situation.
But the command about love is one command that he wants every Christian to obey. How do we know the difference? Partly, it just takes intuition and good sense, aided by the Holy Spirit. A more objective method would be to consider whether another part of the New Testament repeats the command. The apostles do not repeat the command about buying a sword in the rest of the New Testament, but we find the command to love each other restated frequently.
2. Consider the subtle way that temptation often comes. It strikes at our trust in the Father’s concern for our needs. That’s exactly what Satan did in the test of bread. He didn’t come to Jesus to suggest that he go out and rob a bank, as believers sometimes seem to expect. No, Satan approaches in far more subtle ways than that. He leads us to question the Father’s actions and to “cut corners,” by letting the end justify the means; such was the case with the test of immediate rule.
Or, temptation may suggest that we take rash, willful action to end a time of testing; that was the test of immediate acceptance. Satan will probably not try to get us involved in drug-running. Rather, he will try to get us involved in so-called “small” sins.
How about you? What are you doing to resist temptation? Can you affirm the following statements?
I’m trusting God to meet my needs.
The presence of hardship in my life has not caused me to lose confidence in the Lord.
I’m not going to solve my problems by taking the easy, disobedient way out.
I’m committed to resisting rash or willful actions that I think would displease God.
3. Jesus understands and feels your struggles, and he rewards those who seek him. He was hated, rejected, unappreciated, attacked, tired, even moved to tears — just as we are at times. That’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us that, because Jesus suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help us when we are being tempted (Heb. 2:17–18). The same writer tells us that Jesus can “empathize with our weaknesses,” because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15). So, when you hurt, he hurts with you. He knows what you are going through!
Apply the following questions to yourself.
Have you prayed for strength to cope with your test?
Do you really believe that Jesus knows how it feels to live in constant tension?
What problem or need should you take to him today?
A Final Word
In some ways our lives resemble a college course with its periodic tests. Assuming you are a believer in Jesus Christ, I have some good news and some bad news about your life-course. First the bad news: You’re going to keep on having pop tests. They will keep happening as long as you live.
Now for the good news: Jesus took the final exam in your place. And even though the course isn’t over yet, your final grade has already been posted.
Coming next . . .
In Chapter 5, we listen as Jesus teaches his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount during his early ministry in the northern region called Galilee. The subject: judging others.
 Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 1:304.
Revelation 22:18–21 I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. 20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. (NET Bible)
The message must stand!
My grandmother and my mother’s siblings treated me like royalty! (Hey, the first child/grandchild/nephew gets the best of everything!) When we rode in the car — a stick-shift for those who recognize the term — I could sit anywhere except the driver’s seat.
Then one afternoon I decided to see what would happen if I reached across the front floor with my foot and stepped on the gas while we were moving down the street. For a while after that a cloud hid the sunshine in my young life. Some things you cannot do!
Since Jesus was the speaker in 22:16 and also in 22:20, he is the probable speaker in verses 22:18–19. In addressing the one who hears (22:18), he speaks to a large audience that should include us.
The warnings from Jesus to anyone who would dare to add to or subtract from the words of the Apocalypse amount to punishment in the lake of fire (22:18–19). As suggested in the questions above, this punishment is similar to warnings in the covenants God had with Israel (Deut. 4:2); the integrity of the words was crucial so that any person would know exactly how to keep the covenant. I keep italicizing words to point out that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit right down to the very words chosen by God to express his revelation (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12; 2 Pet. 1:21). It is no accident that the devil added and subtracted words when discussing God’s command with Eve (Gen. 3).
But who would add to or subtract from the words? While no explicit answer is given to that question, we do know that they will not be living in the New Jerusalem or eating from the tree of life. Whatever they may have claimed about themselves, their decisions receive the lake of fire.
In 22:20a, Jesus affirms for the final time that he is indeed coming soon. John joyfully responds in 22:20b, and the grammatical form implies the obvious — there is advantage to John (and us) for Jesus to come soon. But if the coming of Jesus is good for the church, it also closes the opportunity for unbelievers to bring their thirst to the one with living water. As Grant Osborne points out, “The coming of Christ is both a promise and a warning, and it provides a fitting conclusion to John’s book.”
Grace in the promise and the warning
When the wicked fall into the lake of fire, it will happen in spite of God’s gracious warnings. God even sent his Son to die for the sins of the world in demonstration of his love for the lost (John 3:16). But certain people would have none of it, preferring the immediate rewards of the world.
When the righteous enter the splendor of Eden, it will happen because of the grace and truth embodied in Jesus Christ. He did everything to make it possible. All we had to do was accept his merciful gift and wait for the time when God will reveal the wonders he has prepared for us.
The grace of God in Jesus Christ is one thing we cannot live without! “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.” (Rev. 22:21). Amen!
Revelation 21:1–4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. 2 And I saw the holy city — the new Jerusalem — descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more — or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.” (NET Bible)
The new heaven and the new earth
Some ideas die hard. In the early 20th century, many people believed an idea from Émile Coué, a French psychologist, who said, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” Many thought the world was on the same track. But after World War I killed 16 million people and the influenza pandemic of 1918 killed at least 50 million people, such opinions soured.
Yet in 2007 a serious book was published with the title The Improving State of the World, again advancing the world-is-getting-better-and-better idea. Will humanity create heaven on earth?
Revelation 21:1-6 offers a summary of everything that will follow, and then verses 7-8 tell us how we must live in light of these things. The summary will “then be expanded in two directions, first viewing the Holy City as an eternal Holy of Holies (21:9–27) and then as a new Eden (22:1–5).”
Here is a fact that some people do not accept easily: the new heaven and new earth are brought to us by God (21:2), not by humanity! The idea that humanity will save itself and transform the world into paradise is a lie! The beast took over the concept and presented his rule as the key.
The next development is a dramatic announcement from the throne of God (21:3–4) — “Look!” (21:3). The news deserving of such fanfare is that God will once again dwell among his people, but with some major differences compared to his past sojourns: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (21:4, ESV). Recall that the first time God lived among his people (Exodus & Numbers) an entire, unbelieving, rebellious generation, except for Joshua and Caleb, died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land. Yet, even in the midst of national sin during the later years of the Israelite kingdom, God promised a new heaven and new earth: “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17, NIV 2011).
The second time God lived among his people was when Jesus came to live among us. John 1:14 uses the same verb for “took up residence among us” that we find in Rev. 21:3 “will live among them”; this verb is only found in John’s Gospel and Revelation. Jesus and his disciples experienced great opposition, suffering and even death.
Of course, it is not accurate to say that God did not continue to dwell with his people after Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9). Jesus revealed to his disciples that after leaving them he would send the Holy Spirit to reside with them and live within them forever (John 14:15–17). The presence of the Spirit was unseen yet absolutely real.
But the dwelling of God with his people in the New Jerusalem will be personal, lasting and free from the suffering and opposition that characterized the first heaven and earth. The quality of life will be so far beyond our experience as to be quite beyond our conception.“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9, ESV).
Lots of people attempt to prepare for retirement, but it is costly. The only retirement worth having requires you to give your life to Jesus in return for eternity in splendor with God.
Jesus made promises to those who love him. One of the greatest is this one: “There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too.” (John 14:2-3). Nothing beats that!
Revelation 20:11–12 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened — the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. (NET Bible)
Final judgment of the unbelieving
When I was growing up, people considered it important to know your place. Generally speaking, the poor did not behave like the rich and the employee took a chewing out by the boss with as much grace as possible. In that era children were just children and might get corrected by any passing adult.
Now people of every class spend money like drunken sailors, using credit; aggrieved employees litigate or go postal, and children are the center of the family universe. Many things feel out of place. When Jesus concludes his Millennial reign, everything will again find its place. Where is yours?
It is remarkable that John can convey such a profound scene in such simple words. But the complexity in Revelation always lies near at hand, and this passage is no exception.
For John to say that “no place was found for them” (20:11) in reference to heaven and earth is an amazing reduction in the universe that constitutes humankind’s whole existence. The scene is reduced to God on his throne and those who are before him. Since heaven and earth have “fled from his presence” (20:11), there is no place to run, nowhere to hide. This is the day to settle accounts!
Who is standing before God’s great white throne? The dead (20:12) is John’s deceptively simple answer. It seems reasonable then to ask: who in particular are the dead? It cannot be those living ones who trusted in Christ during the Millennium, because they were defended by God in the camp of the saints (20:9) when all the unbelieving were destroyed by fire from heaven. Nor can the dead include those who were part of the first resurrection (20:6), who have already been raised to life and declared blessed and holy (20:6). All that remains is those previously described in this way: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished” (20:5). Those are the unbelieving dead, and they are the ones standing before the great white throne.
Greg Beale describes the interpretation suggested above when he says, “It is possible that the righteous are not among those standing before the throne because they are identified with Christ, who is certainly not among the standing throng.”
We have already seen this same division before when we considered the two harvests in Revelation 14:14–20. Christ’s harvest came first (14:14–16), and I identified that harvest as those who belong to Christ. The second harvest (14:17–20) gathered the grapes placed in the great winepress of the wrath of God (14:19), and that is what occurs in greater detail in Revelation 20:11–15. The wicked are shown the detailed proof of their guilt and judged according to what they have done.
While it is true that “another book was opened — the book of life” (20:12), this book is incidental to the process. It is probably checked to demonstrate clearly that no mistake has been made and to confirm the picture presented by the books listing deeds. Divine justice takes every protective step.
No one in this group before the throne is going to join the righteous with Christ. Before long they will wish for a return to the realm of the wicked dead ? Hades ? where things were better!
It doesn’t have to end this way!
As Christians, our place is with Christ. Repeatedly the NT emphasizes our union with Christ as the essential fact that governs our experience. On the Day of Judgment, that union will make all the difference. Our blessed service to Jesus will already be our assigned place on the day when others have to stand before the throne, a place they rightly dread.
Paul proclaims the confident expectation of all who are in union with Christ:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38–39).
Revelation 15:1–4 Then I saw another great and astounding sign in heaven: seven angels who have seven final plagues (they are final because in them God’s anger is completed). 2 Then I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and his image and the number of his name. They were standing by the sea of glass, holding harps given to them by God. 3 They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and astounding are your deeds, Lord God, the All-Powerful! Just and true are your ways, King over the nations! 4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are holy? All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (NET Bible)
The demonstration of righteousness is just beginning!
I was never fond of getting a spanking, and my guess is that some of you feel the same way. Such experiences, however, may cloud our emotions in relation to understanding and accepting God’s acts of judgment. The conquering saints pour out praise to God for his “righteous acts” (15:4), which are his acts of crushing judgment against his enemies.
Why do we not respond with worship and praise when God judges rebellion? Have we been so blinded by contemporary culture that we think we can sit in judgment of God?
Revelation 15:1 serves as a summary for the whole of 15:1–16:21. The avenging angels do not enter the scene until 15:8, and the bowls of judgment do not start until 16:1 (my next post).
When John says, “I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire” (15:2), try to imagine the flickering of flames within the crystal before the throne of God — an ominous symbol of what is coming!
Grant Osborne describes the song sung by the conquering saints (15:3b–4): “The whole celebrates the saving deeds of God and the worship that results from it. No details of victorious deeds are mentioned here because they have been recounted in chapter 14. . . . To the wonder of his judgments in line one [15:3b] is added the justice and truth behind those judgments in line two [15:3b].”
The second part of the song (15:4) emphasizes both God’s holiness and the theme of the nations coming to Zion to worship God (Isa. 2:2–4; 45:23; 60:1–3; Jer. 16:19; Zech. 8:20–23; Rev. 15:4; 21:24, 26). Osborne ably summarizes the latter theme: “For the OT the coming of the nations to Zion was final proof of the glory and might of Yahweh [God], and this theme is central to the Apocalypse as well. Of course, this does not imply universalism [universal salvation] for most among the nations will refuse to repent (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9, 11).”
John next sees seven angels, dressed as priests, emerging from the temple “holding the seven plagues” (15:6, NLT), which they have clearly received from God. The word translated “plague” can refer to a blow which one receives (Luke 10:30; 12:48) or to the figurative extension of that idea: “a sudden calamity that causes severe distress . . . plague.” The latter meaning is the one used in the Book of Revelation.
Next, the seven angels each receive a golden bowl from one of the four living creatures, and the bowl is filled with God’s wrath (15:7). Any ruler could be wrathful and yet his enemies could always hope he will die before inflicting harm, but those who oppose “God who lives forever and ever” (15:7) have no such hope! They can run, but not forever.
John’s final glimpse shows a temple so filled with God’s glory and power that no one can enter it (15:8). No one dares to try!
We must get our heads straight!
Those whom God struck in Revelation 8, 9, and 14 have not only rebelled against God, but they have also killed multitudes of Christians in obedience to the commands of the beast. By judging them, God vindicates his own reputation for holiness and justice and he vindicates the obedient behavior of the believers who have fallen before the rage of the beast. When God behaves in a manner consistent with his character, we should each stand up and shout praise, because that means God will also do for us just what he promised in Christ.
Osborne tells us, “The righteous justice of God in judging his enemies is a time for joy, not sorrow.” After recovering from his own severe experience of God’s judgment, the mighty Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar (634 – 562 B.C.) said: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just” (Dan. 4:37). He got the point!