Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:53-58 Different views about death

1 Corinthians 15:53-58

53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Greco-Roman culture inherited the views of Plato (429-327 B.C.) and Socrates (469-399 B.C.) about the body and death. Anthony Thiselton[1] reports that Plato and Socrates held an optimistic view about death as a release of the soul from the prison of the body, thus also revealing a negative view of the body. Socrates and other Greeks held that death was a harmless portal to a higher order of being. Shortly after tasting hemlock poison, Socrates probably changed his mind!

But that is not how Jesus viewed death. Oscar Cullman argues that the agony of Gethsemane as Jesus faces the prospect of death as a cruel God-forsakenness, as a sacrament of the wrath of God, should be kept before our eyes as a reminder of what deaths sting entails apart from the victory won by Christ.[2] We have already seen that the Bible reveals a positive view of the body as something created and endowed with life by God; at our resurrection we receive a transformed body, not some sort of bodiless existence.

The radical transformation of the body

Paul is trying to solve a particular problem in Roman Corinth and within other churches (1 Cor. 1:2) as well. So, while he writes about theology, he does so in a way that is intensely practical. Unfortunately, some English versions of the Bible make Pauls words more abstract, perhaps to make them feel more universally applicable. Here are two examples to compare:

(NIV) 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.

(HCSB) 53 Because this corruptible must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal must be clothed with immortality. 54 Now when this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory.

We have bolded the important words to demonstrate the difference between abstraction (NIV) something worded as a general principle to apply to everyone in general — and concrete application (HCSB) — something worded to point to each Corinthian to whom Paul is writing, and then applicable to Christians like us who are similarly situated. The Greek text of the New Testament uses four identical demonstrative pronouns (Greek touto meaning this) because Paul is drawing attention to his own physical body and that specific body possessed by each of the Corinthians. But, why should you care about such details?

Thiselton explains: [It] is entirely correct to underline the importance of the fourfold use of touto, this (twice in v. 53, twice in v. 54), as indicating clear continuity of identity (this body) even in the midst of radical transformation. The same identifiable, recognizable, and accountable identity is transfigured into a radically different form, but remains this created being in its wholeness.

During the resurrection of those in Christ, we do not become just anyone in general; we are still ourselves in a radically transformed condition, including our own changed bodies. This corruptible, mortal body becomes this incorruptible, immortal body. That is Pauls answer to the question of many as to whether we will recognize one another after the resurrection. We will!

We can further clarify these verses by saying that mortal means able to die, while immortal means incapable of dying. So, when Paul says, do not let sin reign in your mortal body (Rom. 6:12), he is speaking to a person who has trusted Christ but has not yet died. Similarly, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit will also give life to your mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). The Holy Spirit enables us believers, who are still able to die, to resist sin and to live for God.

When we who are in Christ receive our resurrection, death has finally been swallowed up in the victory Christ won through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:54b). Death cannot be victorious over us because we share the resurrection and victory of Christ. Accordingly, Paul taunts personified death in verse 55.

Verse 56 covers a lot of territory with a few words. David Garland explains, in part: Death gains power over humans through sin because sin demands capital punishment as its moral penalty (Rom. 6:23). The law, not only unable to arrest sin, spurs it on and pronounces death as its sentence.[3]

Verse 57 declares the only solution to the deathsinlaw triad of tragedy: the victory won on our behalf by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In 1 Cor. 15:58, Paul concludes his argument about the resurrection by giving commands to the Christians in Roman Corinth. These commands rest upon the certainty of their future resurrection: You know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Knowing this, they can give themselves fully to the work of the Lord. Because Jesus has won the victory and ensured their resurrection, they must stand firm while that victory takes its final form.

Copyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1300.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1300, quoting O. Cullman.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 746.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, A false idea and its implications

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.


As you study this passage, it is vital to keep in mind that Paul is writing to people who are totally accustomed to the techniques of persuasion used by speakers and writers. So, he is very methodical in dealing with the issue of the resurrection of the dead. He has just recited the preaching of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:1-11) saying that Jesus was raised from the dead and now lives, just as Paul had preached and just as the Corinthians had believed. That sets the stage for dealing with a theological issue in the church at Roman Corinth.

Some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12b). Paul first points out a contradiction: The Corinthians have responded to the gospel with its message of Christ crucified and resurrected, so how can some still question resurrection? Next, Paul starts with the false premise that there is no resurrection and shows the butchers bill for holding that view.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus did was not raised either (verse 13). That overthrows all the apostolic preaching and voids the faith in Jesus expressed by the Corinthians. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, the gospel is no more than snake oil peddled by hucksters and bought by rubes.

But Paul is not finished. If the apostles have consistently preached a false resurrection, they are exposed as liars[1] (1 Cor. 15:15) not merely about some mundane subject but about the living God. And, by implication, the Corinthians are fools for believing their message.

Next, Paul repeats the false premise and its main consequence: For if the dead are not raised [false premise], then Christ has not been raised either [main consequence] (1 Cor. 15:16). Next he moves the argument in to an intensely personal level. No resurrected Christ means, the faith of the Corinthians was useless, and they each still face the wrath of God for their sins (verse 17). Further, their believing, though now dead, family members and loved ones are lost for good[2] (1 Cor. 15:18). That is one horror that easily translates across the centuries to believers like us situated in the twenty-first century. It is too painful to think about.

Adopting the false premise that there is no resurrection from the dead leads to the awful conclusion that Christian hope ends at death. Under such circumstances, David Garland says, Christianity would be an ineffective religion that is detrimental to ones health since it bestows only suffering on its followers.[3] Under this assumption, Christians would suffer and find shame like Jesus, but their shame would be well deserved and unrelieved by eternal fellowship with God.

Concepts about death in Roman Corinth

Garland relates the findings of an important study of Roman tombstone epitaphs by saying, The belief of the ancients, both Greek and Roman, in immortality, was not widespread, nor clear, nor strong.[4] One tombstone inscription was so common that it was abbreviated by the first letter of every Latin word — to cut costs — and it may be translated to say, I was not. I was. I am not. I am free from wishes.[5] The result of such fatalism was that people wanted to live for the moment; thus Paul quotes a popular saying Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor. 15:32).

To avoid getting into Greek philosophy, we will rely on Garlands summary of what the Corinthians likely believed: Humans are composed of two inharmonious parts, body and soul, that are of unequal value. At death the mortal body is shed like a snakes skin, and the immortal soul continues in a purely spiritual existence.[6] They struggled to understand how an earthly body could possibly exist in a heavenly realm, and that may have led them to question bodily resurrection.

Paul totally rejected any idea of a spirit existing without a body, but his way of resolving the confusion about a resurrection body must wait until 1 Cor. 15:35-55.

Copyright 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1219.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1221.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 703.

[4] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 698, quoting R. Lattimore.

[5] non fui, fui, non sum, non desidero abbreviated nffnsnd on tombstones.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 700.

Exposition of Romans 5:12-14, Everywhere death reigns, sin has preceded

When the great influenza of 1918 struck the world, more people died from it than even the Black Plague had taken. Everywhere the influenza pandemic spread, it came on two legs.

Sin entered the world in the same way, and it immediately became a pandemic that extended throughout humanity. You may easily identify sin’s victims they always die. Where is the cure?

(ESV) Romans 5:12-14

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Paul decisively changes subject by analyzing the origin of sin and talking about Adam. Douglas Moo tells us what is going on in the second half of Romans 5:

In a passage that rivals 3:21-26 for theological importance, Paul paints with broad brush strokes a birds-eye picture of the history of redemption. His canvas is human history, and the scope is universal. . . . The power of Christ’s act of obedience to overcome Adam’s act of disobedience is the great theme of this paragraph [through verse 21].[1]

That 5:12 has inner logic is obvious; the structure is chiastic:

A Sin results in (5:12a)

B death (5:12b);

B all died (5:12c)

A because all sinned (5:12d)

Moo says, “If this reading of the structure of the verse is right, then verse 12d has the purpose of showing that death is universal because sin is universal.”[2] When Paul says, “death spread to all men” (5:12c), he uses the verb dierchomai, which is used for moving from one village to another to preach (Acts 10:38) or for news spreading about Jesus (Luke 5:15); death spread throughout humanity like a deadly plague moving from one village to the next. It could be found everywhere there was sin. Death is universal because sin is universal.

Romans 5:12 has spilled a lot of ink due to various attempts to explain Paul’s grammar and logic. A majority of Bible translations (ESV, NET, NASB, NIV) and commentators think Paul began to say something in Romans 5:12 and then abruptly stopped. You see, for example, the long dash at the end of verse 12 in the ESV translation above. Moo says, “Paul becomes sidetracked on this point and abandons the comparison, only to reintroduce and complete it later in the text.”[3]

Other Bible translations (HCSB, NLT) and commentators, whom I join, say Romans 5:12 is a complete sentence as it stands. The broken-sentence view (above) has insufficient respect for Paul and utterly fails to explain how the Roman recipients would have unraveled Paul’s meaning; after all, commentators over twenty centuries have been unable to agree on the resumption point for the allegedly broken sentence!

Aside from these disputes, keep your eye on the point that sin is lethal! Christians have the remedy in eternal life through Christ, but that does not alter the fact that every time we sin we spread death. That is exactly what Adam did, as we will see.

C.E.B. Cranfield makes a telling observation: “It is difficult for those who are in the habit of thinking of death as natural to come to terms with this doctrine of death [being caused by sin].”[4]

(ESV) Romans 5:13-14 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

The statement “sin indeed was in the world before the law” (5:13a) captures the main idea, but the Greek imperfect verb here can emphasize that sin continued for the duration of the period before the law. The absence of specific commands from God between Adam and Moses does not imply that sin took a vacation. This is obvious because death reigned from Adam to Moses (5:14), see below.

The clause “sin is not counted where there is no law” (5:13b) can be confusing. The Greek verb ellogeomeans: “to charge with a financial obligation, charge to the account of someone.”[5] Thomas Schreiner says, “The purpose of that verse is to explain that apart from the Mosaic law sin is not equivalent to transgression. . . . Adam’s sin was different in kind from those who lived before the Mosaic law in that he violated a commandment disclosed by God.”[6]

Paul appears to argue that, even if sin does not rise to the level of transgression, it still killed everyone between Adam and Moses (5:14). In this way Paul continues to press the idea of 5:12 that all die because all sin. That argument would be strong in relation to those present or former Jews who might claim never to have transgressed God’s law; in effect, Paul answers, neither did the people before Moses transgress, but sin still brought about their death!

Grant Osborne says, “There was still moral transgression even if there was no official law that identified it as such, and the fact of death (God’s legal punishment on sin) proves that this was the case.”[7]

To explain the relative clause about “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (5:14b) — Cranfield says, “Adam in his universal effectiveness for ruin is the type which . . . prefigures Christ in his universal effectiveness for salvation.”[8]

Is death natural or caused by us?

If death is a natural thing, then we may look for its cause among the ever-changing molecules that make up our bodies. A pill, perhaps, or an exercise regimen or a diet will eliminate the problem one day. Perhaps a little genetic engineering will save us all — or not!

The Bible presents a different theory of death; it reveals that sin causes death. That means death is not natural but caused by human rebellion against God. Medical care, exercise and nutrition have their place in maintaining life for a longer period, but sin is a spiritual/theological problem whose solution comes from the hand of God.

1. Read Gen. 2:16-17, Gen. 3:19 and Exod. 20:12. How do the first two verses show that death is caused by disobedience and subject to spiritual consequences? How does the last verse demonstrate that our obedience to God has an effect on the length of our lives?

2. Read Romans 8:11 and John 11:25-26. In what ways do the power of Jesus and the Spirit transcend even the bounds of human mortality?

“It is the same with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:42-44, NET)

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 314315.

[2] Moo, Romans, 321.

[3] Moo, Romans, 319.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 281.

[5] BDAG-3, ellogeo, charge to the account, q.v.

[6] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 279.

[7] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 140.

[8] Cranfield, Romans, 283.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 20:13-15

Revelation 20:13-15

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death the lake of fire. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.
(NET Bible)

Not a nice neighborhood!

Once when I was travelling by car on the east coast, I took a freeway exit and immediately found myself in the wrong neighborhood. All the drug dealers and assorted other professions were looking at me like fresh meat. There is a time in every mans life to admit you got lost. U-turn!

Moral #1: Know where you are going. Moral #2: Make sure a U-turn is possible. It would be good to think about that in relation to todays Bible passage.

The first thing to understand about 20:13 is that the word sea is symbolic. How do we know that? The answer is that heaven and earth have already vanished (20:11). Beale explains why we need to forget any romantic ideas we have about the literal sea: It is possible that the realm of evil (4:6; 13:1; 15:2), within which Satanic forces operate and which imprisons all unbelievers.[1] Mark that the new heaven and new earth have no sea.

So, the chaotic waves of the literal sea symbolize the dark, swirling, unknowable currents of evil that carry humanity away from God. It is not by accident that one of the beasts — the Antichrist — will rise from the sea (13:1). We are not in a good neighborhood when speaking of the sea in Revelation. The dead that were in [the sea] (20:13) are wicked dead, not deceased mariners.

Beale also brings clarity to the phrase Death and Hades (20:13) when he says: The first death (i.e. physical death) occurs until the present cosmos is destroyed. All unbelievers suffering the first death are held in the sphere of death and Hades, which is a temporary . . . holding tank to be finally replaced by the permanent . . . lake of fire.[2]

What do we conclude? Just as we saw with all the dead (20:12) appearing before the great white throne (20:11-12), all of the dead given up by the sea, by Death and by Hades are unbelievers headed for the lake of fire. And, again, each one is checked against the book of life (20:15) as a demonstration of strict justice, but none is recorded there. God waited for them patiently and with forbearance (Rom. 2:4), but not one of them ever decided to repent.

Getting shut of Death and Hades

My wife and I like to joke about getting shut of something (e.g. our income tax obligation or a Jehovahs Witness team). The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase back to the early 1500s. It means to be rid of, free from (something troublesome).

Our expectation of getting shut of Death and Hades is no joke! That they will be cast into the lake of fire shows that there will no longer be any need for them. This is another reason to worship Christ forever for what he has done for us!

Paul speaks of these amazing things when he quotes the prophets Isaiah and Hosea:

Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen,
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?
(1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 1034.

[2] Beale, Revelation, 1030.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 9:15–16, 9:20–21

Revelation 9:15–16
Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour, day, month, and year were set free to kill a third of humanity. 16 The number of soldiers on horseback was two hundred million; I heard their number.
Revelation 9:20–21
The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk about. 21 Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing.(NET Bible)

The sixth angel

Denial is a regular feature of human psychology. The young think they are immortal; the beautiful think they will turn heads forever; the rich think nothing can touch them. Fools all!

The reconnaissance pilot who personally laid the aerial photograph on Adolf Hitler’s desk was a repeat winner of the Iron Cross. He had risked his life to show the Führer the long rows of Russian tanks and artillery poised for battle on the Eastern Front. Hitler wrote one word across the face of the offending photograph: “Lies!”

We learn in 9:14 that these four angels have been bound at the River Euphrates waiting for this very moment. Since there are examples of demonic angels being bound (Rev. 20:2; Mark 3:27) and no examples of good angels being bound, there is little doubt the four angels in 9:14–15 are demonic. Indeed, another divine passive lets us know that God prepared them for this very moment.

As with many parts of Revelation, there is a historical background that would have been understood by the churches who originally received this book. Few peoples ever defeated the Romans during the earlier periods of the empire, but the Parthians, who lived east of the Euphrates River, were among them. Their arrow-firing cavalry had defeated Roman legions in 53 B.C. and again in A.D. 62, and the dread of a Parthian invasion hung over the Roman provinces in the east. These threats are the ancient fear from which John’s visions borrow.

Verse 16a is based on the Parthian cavalry, and if NET’s translation sounds a bit modern, try this more literal translation: “The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number” (ESV). The demonic cavalry is heavily armed and highly mobile. By the time their authorized quota has been met, one-third of humanity will have been exterminated (9:18).

In light of the astounding number of mounted troops in John’s vision, Grant Osborne points out: “John adds, ‘I heard the number,’ pointing to prophetic activity on his part. . . . This is important in responding to those who say this is merely a literary work, John’s own creation; he claims he specifically ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ these things. He is not making up the details.”[1]

In ably summarizing Rev. 9:20-21, Robert Mounce says:

Nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God’s wrath would bring rebels to their knees. Not so. Past the point of no return, they respond to greater punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God.[2]

The relationship of denial to repentance

In theological terms, the opposite of denial is repentance. While repentance is often explained as changing your mind — the first-listed meaning in the standard lexicon for the Greek verb metanoe? — not a single verse of the NT is listed under that meaning! Instead, all the instances in the NT are listed under the secondary meaning “feel remorse, repent, be converted.”[3] This meaning puts greater emphasis on a change in our lives rather than just our ideas; the OT metaphor is to get off the wrong road and walk on the right road.

The people said: “The Lord has abandoned the land, and the Lord does not see!” (Ezek. 9:9)

The Lord said: “But as for me, my eye will not pity them nor will I spare them; I hereby repay them for what they have done.” (Ezek. 9:10).

Let those words fall on someone else!


Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 381.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 193.

[3] W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Revised and edited by F. W. Danker, translated by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000) metanoe?, repent, q.v.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 6:1–2, 6:7–8

Revelation 6:1–2
I looked on when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a thunderous voice, “Come!” 2 So I looked, and here came a white horse! The one who rode it had a bow, and he was given a crown, and as a conqueror he rode out to conquer.
Revelation 6:7–8
Then when the Lamb opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come!” 8 So I looked and here came a pale green horse! The name of the one who rode it was Death, and Hades followed right behind. They were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill its population with the sword, famine, and disease, and by the wild animals of the earth.
(NET Bible)

The Seals, Bowls and Trumpets

People went about their early business on that day. While their country was at war with a powerful foe, there had been no reason to expect this day to be different from others. In the local military garrison, the Fifth Division’s troops drilled like usual while school children began their classes and farmers set out vegetables at the market.

At 8:15 AM something emerged from an opening beneath an unseen plane; fifty-seven seconds later the unsuspecting people learned what it was. High above the surgical clinic in the middle of town, a flash of unreal light presaged a titanic explosion that leveled everything for a mile in all directions. Life forever changed in Hiroshima. What is coming in the last days is much worse!

This section of Revelation begins a series of apocalyptic visions describing judgments brought upon the world by God. Grant Osborne does a superior job introducing them:

The seven seals are preliminary judgments on the earth that prepare for the trumpets and the bowls. . . . All three series of judgments end with [the end of human history]. It is also important to realize that the scroll is not opened until all seven seals are opened. Therefore, these are preliminary, and the contents of the scroll are concerned more with the trumpets, bowls, and ensuing events of chapters 17–20: the divine plan for ending human history and beginning the eternal age.[1]

While the insights above are not universally accepted, that is a common state of affairs for this symbolic book! See the Introduction for various interpretive approaches to the book.

Osborne[2] also explains that the seal-judgments (affecting one-quarter of humanity) are followed by the more intense trumpet-judgments (affecting one-third of humanity) and finally escalating to the bowl-judgments (affecting the whole world). The intensification promotes repentance.

The first four seals

Just as soon as the Lamb opens the first seal, one of the four living creatures summons its content: a white horse with a rider carrying a bow (6:1). Note carefully that “he was given a crown” (6:2); this was expressed by a Greek verb (did?mi “give”) in the passive voice. Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace says: “The passive is also used when God is the obvious agent. Many grammars call this a divine passive.”[3] The implication is that the rider was given a crown by God, without expressly saying so.

This divine passive for did?mi occurs eleven times in chapters 6–9. Osborne finds such a divine passive in 6:2 and says: “It denotes the sovereign power of God over all his creation, even the forces of evil. Everything Satan and his minions do in the book occurs only by divine permission.”[4]

Who is the rider on the white horse? The NET Bible Notes say, “The white horse rider represents the Antichrist, who appears later in Rev 11:7 [and] 13:17, and whose similarity to Christ explains the similarity with the rider in 19:11.”[5] Other views exist, but this one seems best. In 6:2 we find that the rider is given rulership and the role of conqueror.

The second seal (6:3–4) unleashes slaughter by the sword through the removal of peace. The third seal (6:5–6) brings famine, a common occurrence with conquest and war.

When Jesus breaks the fourth seal, Death rides out on a pale horse (6:7–8). Greg Beale, along with many others, considers Death to be a metaphorical name that in this context “refers to ‘pestilence, disease’ rather than death in the general sense.”[6] “Hades” (6:8), the sphere that imprisons the dead, “followed right behind” (6:8), a phrase that “pictures Hades on foot gathering up the corpses left by Pestilence and Death as they struck victim after victim.”[7] These terrors cover one-fourth of the earth.

No Warning!

The Four Horsemen will come unannounced! Why? Because the warning has already been given by God’s prophets, his Son, and the church over millennia. These preliminary judgments are the least of all, but they are still awesome and extensive. The seals demonstrate that Jesus was not using empty words when he said, “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22).

Paul Revere gained fame in American history by riding to warn his countrymen of a coming British invasion. But the Four Horsemen that Jesus will set loose do not come to warn, because the warning has already come!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 269.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 270.

[3] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 437.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 277.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Revelation 6:2.

[6] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 382.

[7] Osborne, Revelation, 282.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 1:17–20

Revelation 1:17–20
When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! 19 Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
 (NET Bible)

If you saw Jesus in his power . . .

Perhaps when you were a teenager, someone handed you the keys to the family car. That act conferred on you power, responsibility and authority. Some teens receive the keys and become a menace while others become responsible drivers. No parent should give such keys lightly.

If keys grant authority and power, then who is worthy to hold the keys of death?

When people have an encounter with God their responses are generally the same: they are terrified! But instead of running away, they collapse. John says, “I fell down at his feet as though I were dead” (Rev. 1:17). John had this experience once before when Jesus took him, along with Peter and James, to the mountain top where Jesus was transformed before them: And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17:2).

There are many similarities between John’s previous experience and this one, but here (Rev. 1:17) John is dealing with the resurrected Son, and no voice from heaven is needed to authenticate him.

Jesus immediately touches John — proving Jesus is not merely a vision — and compassionately reassures him (1:17). Craig Keener says: “Most important, Jesus is ‘the First and the Last’ (1:17). This means more than simply ‘firstborn from the dead’ (1:5); its sense is exactly equivalent to ‘the Alpha and the Omega,’ a title appropriate only to God (1:8; 21:6).”[1]

Revelation 1:18 is extraordinary in that Jesus speaks of his own death and resurrection and their implications. Greg Beale explains: “Through the victory of the resurrection Christ became king even over the realm of the dead [Hades] in which he was formerly imprisoned. Now, not only is he no longer held in death’s bonds but he also holds sway over who is released and retained in that realm.”[2] What a Savior!

Perhaps we can say that Jesus’ mastery over death and Hades relates to his living “unto the ages of the ages” (1:18b, Greek), which NET renders as “forever and ever.” Concerning Hades, the NET Bible Notes say: “In the OT, Hades [Greek] was known as Sheol [Hebrew]. It is the place where the unrighteous will reside (Matt 11:23; Luke 16:23; Rev 20:13–14).”[3]

Revelation 1:19 has been regarded by many as a key to the book. NT scholar Robert Thomas, for example argues that 1:19 provides an outline for the contents of Revelation: “what you saw” refers to the vision of the glorified Christ (chapter 1, especially verses 11–18; “what is” refers to the messages to the seven churches (chapters 2–3); “what will be after these things” refers to the events revealed in chapters 4–22.[4] However, detailed examination indicates that this outline-view breaks down. For example, the things said to the seven churches (chapters 2–3) also relate to their future conduct — and that of the Lord in response — which violates the present-tense character of “what is.” The outline view is a bit too rigid to work.

Grant Osborne expresses an alternative held by several interpreters: “All three clauses [in Rev. 1:19] relate to the past, present, and future orientation of the entire book.”[5] What is advises future churches how to live; what was gives lessons to us and those to come; what will be motivates our behavior in the present, just as it did those who came before us. Revelation reaches from one end of history to the other, and beyond!

Just as we cannot see the arrow of time or the steady increase in physical disorder — entropy, to you physicists and engineers — we cannot see the inexorable progress of our world toward the ending that the All-Powerful has declared in advance. Revelation reveals it to us. Time has a Master; so does matter.

The Ride

Life is not a joy ride in the family car; it is a serious trip with eternal implications. When the ride is over, it is Jesus who holds the keys either to eternal life for us in a new Eden or to an eternity in a more permanent form of Hades, a place full of misery.

Jesus warned the multitudes about that last encounter with him: “I will show you the One to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the One to fear!” (Luke 12:5, Christian Standard Bible). You will recognize him; he is the one with the keys.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 97.

[2] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 215.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Revelation 1:18.

[4] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992) 115. John Walvoord of Dallas Theological Seminary also held this view.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 97.