Life-Changing Grace

We stand in awe at the profound historical statement that the Holy Spirit made through the apostle Paul: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). This would be all the redemptive work of the Son of God from the incarnation to the crucifixion, and finally, the Son’s ascension to the right hand of God. This gospel journey of the Son of God is all for our sakes. When an individual understands this truly indescribable blessing of grace from God, he or she is caused to respond with dedicated thanksgiving. The word “abound” in the text assumes that something is done; something happens in our lives. This is more than a good feeling on Sunday morning. This is a living thanksgiving, a response to the gospel that causes transformed lives (See Rm 12:1,2). As will be noted later, this was an appropriate statement to be written to some of the Corinthian Christians who were not living up to the motivational power of the gospel.

• Discovering the nature of true Christianity: In order to prepare His immediate disciples for this life-changing motivational power that was soon to come after His ascension, and before sending them out on mission trips during His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt 10:8). Unfortunately, this statement of Jesus is commonly misunderstood. As a result of this misunderstanding, a “colonial churchianity” is often allowed to prevail among those who should be abounding in thanksgiving in response to the gospel. When the gospel was first preached to former colonial countries, many did not understand the implications of the 2 Corinthians 4:15 statement of Paul, as well as what Jesus said in being a generous giver. Subsequently, many of the first legally converted people simply carried on with their former colonial behavior.

What makes it difficult for some to understand Jesus’ statement to freely give as one has freely received is the colonial culture in which some find themselves. The colonial empires of the past freely gave to the nations of their empires, not realizing that they were creating a dependency culture within the culture of the nations of their empires. Citizens subsequently developed a culture of freely receiving, but never really learning how to freely give. When the first evangelists (missionaries) went to these colonial “possessions,” they often enabled the colonial practice of freely giving everything to the local folks. Unfortunately, they were somewhat weak in teaching the local folks that the heart of the gospel inspires one to abound in freely giving. Nevertheless, the local folks were very thankful for the free schools, free church buildings, free Bibles, free tracts and free books they were freely given. But because the local folks lived in a colonial culture of dependency, they often found it quite difficult to freely give to others locally in response to the free gift of God’s grace they had received. (We will later compare this colonial culture in the following chapter with the nature of the gospel culture of the Macedonian disciples.)

• Discovering that receiving assumes giving: So maybe it would help to insert interpretive comments in the context of Jesus’ statement to His disciples. We must read the Matthew 10:8 statement of Jesus in this way: “Freely you have received [something], freely give [something].” On the occasion of Matthew 10, Jesus gave His disciples a message to proclaim to the people to whom they were being sent. The message was that the kingdom of God was at hand (Mt 10:7). With the message that the kingdom was at hand, the messengers were also freely given the gifts of healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons (Mt 10:8).

On both of the occasions of sending out disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10, the disciples received something freely. They were subsequently to give freely from the blessings that they had freely received in order that others be blessed by their blessing. If we would apply the principle of “freely receiving-freely giving” to ourselves as disciples of Jesus, then freely receiving all things that have been given to us through the gospel of God’s grace assumes that we will freely give in a responsive thanksgiving for God’s grace. In this way our thanksgiving will abound to the benefit of others.

We must emphasize this point because this is the very heart of Christianity, and thus, the definition of Christian behavior. Because Jesus was incarnate in the flesh of man, He paid a great price for being in the physical presence of His disciples in order to freely give them something, that they in turn should freely give. He freely gave up heaven in the form of God in order to be in their presence in a state of poverty (See Ph 2:5-11). “Yet for your sakes He became poor so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Co 8:9). There was thus a price paid for their free gift of grace. The condition for their receiving freely was the great price of His incarnation. In order to freely give, Jesus’ disciples must likewise pay a great price of freely giving what they have freely received. This is grace abounding in action. Christians realized that they have been “justified freely by His grace” (Rm 3:24). They realize that they have received the Holy Spirit from God so that they “might know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Co 2:12).

• Discovering grace-oriented givers: This is the way grace abounds. This is Christianity in action. See if this is not true in the context of sending forth the early disciples that is recorded both in Matthew 10 and Luke 10. Jesus instructed on both occasions, “Carry no money bag, no wallet, no [extra] sandals” (Lk 10:4). “Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two coats, nor sandals, nor staff, for the worker is worthy of his food” (Mt 10:9,10). Those messengers who were sent out by Jesus were not to rely on themselves. They were to present themselves as an opportunity for others to freely give. In this way, the messengers would be able to identify in the villages those who were inclined to freely receive, and thus, freely give.

This is quite amazing. The messengers were going into villages throughout Palestine to which neither Jesus nor themselves had previously gone. So when they proclaimed, as John the Baptist, that the time of regeneration had come and the sovereignty of God was soon to be revealed, those willing recipients of the message within the villages freely received the messengers into their homes and freely provided for them living quarters and food. We must not miss this point. Those who received the messengers, freely did so. They were thus qualifying themselves to also be messengers of the free grace of God. They freely received Jesus’ messengers, who freely gave themselves and a message of good news to the household. As the hosts freely received, they in turn freely gave to Jesus’ messengers (See the behavior of Gaius in 3 Jn 1-6).

This is what grace does, and this is what Jesus meant when He initially stated to His messengers, “Freely you receive, freely give.” Grace generates thanksgiving within the hearts of those who have freely received. This thanksgiving motivates the receivers to freely give something to others. As a price was paid by Jesus to freely give Himself on the cross, a price must also to be paid by the disciples of Jesus to freely pass on the gift of grace. If the recipients did not freely receive, then certainly they would not be motivated to freely pass on to others that which they freely received. If they did not freely pass on that which they had freely received, then they would be behaving contrary to the behavior of grace. They would not have truly understood the nature of the grace of God. And by not truly understanding, they disqualified themselves from receiving the precious message of the gospel. So Jesus instructed His “missionaries” in such situations to kick the dust off their feet and move on.

So what about those who do not discover the blessing of a grace-motivated life? If one does not fully understand the gospel of God’s grace, then he or she often becomes a religious leech who always wants to freely receive, but never freely give. So in sending out His disciples, Jesus cautioned them on this matter: “And whoever will not receive you [freely] or hear your words [freely], when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet” (Mt 10:14). In fact, for those who do not join in the fellowship of thanksgiving in freely receiving and freely giving, Jesus pronounced, “It will be more tolerable for that land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Mt 10:15). These are indeed frightful words.

[To be continued in the next issue of Inscriptions.]

Pure Wisdom

Remember when the Holy Spirit through James revealed, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure” (Js 3:17). There is something about the wisdom that comes from God that instills pure thinking and motives because it originates from our Creator who is pure in all things. So we remember Paul’s advice to Timothy: “Now the purpose of the commandment is love out of a pure heart” (1 Tm 1:5; see 2 Tm 2:22). What better advice could an older man of God give to a young disciple? Paul continued by encouraging church leaders to hold “the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (1 Tm 3:9). “Keep yourself pure,” he continued (1 Tm 5:22). The wisdom of Paul’s advice rests in the truth that “to the pure all things are pure” (Ti 1:15). It is this pure wisdom from God, therefore, that one keeps himself or herself pure of the ways of the world.

A truly wise person will first seek to keep his or her life pure. For this reason, and especially for a young person, one should make every effort to flee that which would endanger one’s moral purity (1 Tm 6:11). Therefore, Paul instructed, “Flee also youthful lusts. But pursue righteousness” (2 Tm 2:22). Our character for Christ will be revealed through our pure moral behavior. Those who have corrupted their behavior with the impurity of the ways of the world, will manifest the nature of a dysfunctional spiritual character. There can be no true and enduring happiness if we seek to live after that which is contrary to the moral purity that comes forth from our God.
The wisdom that is poured out from above is manifested in the life of the one who has enough sense not to endanger his or her reputation by hanging around youthful impurity. The wisdom from above, therefore, is smart to do that which is right. The wisdom that comes from above leads one to keep himself or herself from all immorality, and even those situations wherein one’s morals might be compromised, or even questioned. Characters for Christ, therefore, know how to flee.

The wisdom that originates from God is generated within the minds of those who have focused their thinking on the instructions that come from God. No disciple can be guarded from unhappiness without feasting on the pure word of God. As disciples of Jesus, we are simply incomplete unless our thinking is formed and controlled by the pure wisdom that comes to us through the word of God (See 2 Tm 3:16,17). When one allows himself or herself to be instructed by God through His word, then he or she is molding the mind into godly thinking (See Rm 12:2). By being instructed by the word of God, one becomes wise in determining what is the work of the flesh and what is the fruit of the Spirit (See Gl 5:19-23). Being able to make a decision between the flesh and Spirit comes only from God’s word. Correct decisions can be made, therefore, only when one has a correct moral standard by which to make decisions. We must never forget that the truly wise person is obsessed with the pure wisdom that originates with our Creator. It is for this reason that when societies lose the moral standard of God’s wisdom, they move away from God. No society that is agnostic or atheistic will ever maintain a constant moral standard, and thus never enjoy the peace that comes from God.

Gospel Restoration

THE FULLNESS OF THE TIME
Restoration must be generated from within a society by the constant and consistent preaching of the gospel. It is difficult to import restoration movements simply because the movement is often attached to some expatriate culture, or worse, some supposedly “foreign religion.” So for this reason, God destined the incarnation of His only begotten Son into the flesh of a Jewish man in a Jewish society and a local spot on planet earth—Palestine (Jn 1:14). The importation was directly from heaven, a fact with which there could be no argument, though most of the early Jews vehemently denied this. To them Jesus was just another self-appointed Rabbi from an obscure village called Nazareth. Nevertheless, the Jews could not deny that Jesus was of Jewish origin.

The incarnate Son of God was born a Jew, born in a Jewish barn, grew up as a Jewish carpenter in a small Jewish village, and preached and taught only within Jewish territory. He never made a “mission trip” outside Palestine. His mission trips were always confined to His own people, the Jews. He then died as a condemned Jew outside the capital city of the Jews—Jerusalem. He was all Jew, and thus, never sought to change His Jewish heritage that had been laid as the foundation for revelation of the gospel for fourteen hundred years before His coming into this world. And thus, the first “gospel restoration” that took place in history was first among the Jews, as stated by the apostle Paul: The gospel “is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [Gentiles]” (Rm 1:16).

When we read the Holy Spirit’s statement of Galatians 4:4, it is incumbent on us to think more historically about the meaning, rather than the fulfillment of prophecy. So when the Holy Spirit said, “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a [Jewish] woman, born under law” our understanding of the statement goes beyond fulfillment of prophecy. Prophecies were fulfilled because the religious, social and political times were right.

The “birth” in the fullness of time was not inconsequential. That Jesus came into this world was certainly in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But the statement of Galatians 4:4 does not infer that we should consider the “fullness of the time” with the same meaning of a similar statement that is commonly made throughout the gospel records: “That it might be fulfilled . . .” (See Mt 1:22; 2:15,17,23; 4:14; 5:18; 8:17; 12:17). These statements of the gospel records refer exclusively to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in reference to Jesus. But the Galatians 4:4 statement emphasis is on “the time,” not the fulfillment time of prophecy. Galatians 4:4 focuses on the fact that it was the right time in history for the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Redeemer into the society of the Jews in Palestine. It was indeed a time of fulfillment, but we believe that something more was in the mind of the Holy Spirit when He made the statement of Galatians 4:4. (If we understand Galatians 4:4 correctly, then we will be looking around the world for similar peoples who are religiously, socially and politically receptive to the preaching of the gospel and a restoration to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.)

The “fullness of the time” referred to the religious, social and political circumstances that prevailed at the time the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of the Redeemer. Because the religious, social and political environment was suitable for the coming of the Messiah into the world, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John thus revealed “that it might be fulfilled” in reference to all the Old Testament prophecies that directed the minds of the Jews toward the coming of the Messiah and Savior of the world (Lk 24:44). Their minds had been prepared for the refreshing times to come from the presence of the Lord (At 3:19).

The preceding meaning of Galatians 4:4-7 was in the mind of the angel who delivered to the shepherds the following message concerning the birth of Jesus: “I bring you good tidings [gospel news] of great joy that will be to all the people. For to you a Savior is born this day in the city of David, who is Christ [Messiah] the Lord” (Lk 2:10,11). It is interesting that the angel did not wait until the second day in order to make this first gospel proclamation. On the contrary, this first announcement of the birth of the Redeemer was far more important than to tarry around for twenty-four hours until it was made. It was urgent that a gospel announcement of the incarnational entry of the Son of God into this world be made. The religious, social and political environment in which the shepherds lived, as well as all the Jews, demanded that the announcement urgently be made the very same day the birth event of the incarnation took place. The times were in their fullness in order that the Messiah and Savior of the world be announced and received. The time of refreshing had appeared from the very presence of the Lord, and thus, it was time for restoration.

It is important to understand the “times” in which the Son of God came. The Holy Spirit turns on the light bulb of understanding by what He had Paul inscribe in Galatians 4:7. The Son of God came “to redeem those who were under law” (Gl 4:4). The word “law” in this text does not carry with it the article “the” in the Greek text. Therefore, reference was to any law, especially legal religious rites and rituals under which we often bring ourselves into bondage, whether Jews or idolatrous Gentiles. This is true because the mission of the Christ was to be a Redeemer. He would bring into freedom those who had brought themselves into the bondage of self-righteous law-keeping. Since the redeemed—that is us—could not redeem themselves through any self-sanctify works of law, or meritorious obedience to any law, whether the Sinai law or some man-made law, they could find redemptive power only in the sacrificial offering of the crucified Redeemer. But in specific reference to the Jews, who would represent all religionists throughout history, they had bound upon themselves all sorts of religious rites and rituals that brought them into bondage (See Mk 7:1-9). Their bondage was so severe that the Jewish religionists of Jesus’ day were doing as Jesus said of them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God so that you may keep your own [religious] traditions” (Mk 7:9). When this spiritual condition prevails within a society, then it is time to call for a restoration in order that refreshing times might come from the presence of the Lord (See At 3:19). The only way to generate such refreshing times is to preach the gospel message that a Redeemer has appeared on earth in order to release us from our own self-imposed bondage.

The Redeemer of Galatians 4:5, therefore, came in a time when the Jews had rejected the law of God in order to enslave themselves in the bondage of their own religious legal traditions. We must never forget, therefore, that in our obedience to the freedom-giving nature of the gospel, we are being redeemed from our own misguided self-justification through an attempted perfect keeping of either law or self-imposed religious rites and rituals. And thus in our response to the gospel, we “are no longer a bondservant” to our own manufactured religiosity (Gl 4:7). For this reason we cry out “Abba, Father” in thanksgiving that we are saved by the gospel of God’s grace, not by any self-imposed religious rites and rituals that we might meritoriously impose on ourselves (2 Co 4:15). Glory HALLELUJAH!

[To be continued.]

Handbook Distribution

Two container shipments of over 270,000 Encyclopedic Study Guide Handbooks have now arrived in Nigeria (pop. 215,000,000). Two distribution centers are being set up in order to distribute the Handbooks nationwide. The two national distributors are the following:

LAGOS: Sekeme Ekaiko: turnerschool60@gmail.com
ABUJA: Onyeike Uchechukwu: info.lbi.coc@gmail.com

This distribution is EXCLUSIVELY for the nation of Nigeria. If a Bible school or church would like to partner in the distribution of the Handbooks to all religious groups and Bible schools within Nigeria, then they must contact directly either brothers Ekaiko or Uchechukwu for information concerning conditions for distribution. (These two national distributors will also readily receive any contributions because of the tremendous expense of importing the Handbooks into Nigeria from South Africa.)

Please help in the distribution: Please share this notice with anyone who might be interested in helping brothers Ekaiko and Uchechukwu in this distribution effort to reach the nation of Nigeria. As an evangelistic outreach, all of us are trying to get the Handbooks as a Bible study road map for all religious groups. As a textbook for Bible schools, we seek to distribute the Handbooks to all Bible schools of all religious groups throughout the entire nation of Nigeria.

Gospel Schools

– Making Every Church A Bible School –

The Holy Spirit revealed through Paul that Christians “are not under law, but under grace” (Rm 6:14). This truth is our inspiration to seek and maintain a grace-oriented relationship with God and response to His commandments. Grace that was revealed through the gospel is the initial motivation that causes one to obey the gospel in baptism. It is this truth that motivates continual transformation in our hearts throughout our lives. This is the foundational truth that must define us as disciples of the Lord Jesus in order that we are prepared for eternity. It is for this reason that we are calling for a restoration to the motivating power of the gospel of God’s grace.

In order to restore the motivational power of the gospel in the lives of individuals, it is necessary that the Bible is established as our only medium through which we understand the gospel. However, because the Bible reports on the historical events that reveal the gospel does not mean that it is the gospel. On the contrary, the Bible is the Holy Spirit inspired historical record of the events that reveal the gospel of God’s grace which He has extended to us through His incarnate Son. The Bible is our textbook to know and understand the gospel.

Lest we make the Bible a legal system of law by which we would seek to merit our own salvation through perfect obedience of its laws, we seek to restore a better understanding of the historical events in the Bible that reveal the grace of God on the cross. In restoring the gospel of grace, people are moved to be obedient to the will of God in response to His grace. Once understood, the historical events of the gospel journey of the Son of God inspire a response to the grace of God. In this way, therefore, the disciples of Christ live under the motivating power of the grace of God.

GOSPEL FOUNDATION
Gospel restoration assumes that we seek to revive in the minds of able teachers the historical events that reveal the gospel journey of the Son of God into and out of this world. These historical events are the following: (1) incarnation, (2) crucifixion, (3) resurrection, (4) ascension, (5) coronation, (6) consummation. In the textbook, the Encyclopedic Study Guide Handbook, these gospel events are the foundation upon which Gospel Restoration Bible Schools (GRBS) are established. If possible in your area, these subjects can be further studied by downloading the following resource books from our website, www.africainternational.org:

1.  Book 73, The Gospel of God’s Heart 
2.  Book 79, Gospel Restoration
3.  Book 85, The Incarnational Journey of God
4.  Book 89, Your Gospel Journey with the Son of God

GOSPEL PURPOSE
The biblical mandate behind the concept of the GRBSs is explained in three contexts: Matthew 28:20; Romans 1:13-16; 2 Timothy 2:2.

• Matthew 28:20: Jesus instructed His apostles that after they had preached the gospel, and thus motivated people to respond to the gospel by being baptized, they should do the following with the new disciples: “. . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” There is certainly more involved in the “all things” of Jesus’ statement than simply rehearsing the historical events through which the good news of the Son of God was revealed to mankind. At the same time, we must understand that one does not need to know “all things” concerning the depth of the knowledge of God in reference to the gospel before he or she obeys the gospel. It is for this reason, therefore, that after obedience to the gospel in baptism, one must have a sincere desire to sit and study of the work of God through His Son (See Rm 11:33-36; 2 Tm 2:15; 2 Pt 3:18). This is the reason why every assembly of disciples should be a “gospel Bible school.”

• Romans 1:13-16: Paul’s planned trip to meet with the Roman disciples would be an effort of what we refer to as a GRBS. Some of the disciples in Rome were turning their life as disciples into a legal system of religion. Even in their initial response to the gospel some were assuming that one was meritoriously saved through works of law to save himself. This is a special danger for all those who have been delivered out of the bondage of legal law-keeping religion. These disciples have a tendency to bring their concept of self-righteous religiosity into the realm of the gospel of God’s grace (See Rm 10:1-3). The result is that they sometimes look back to their obedience to the gospel of God’s grace as a meritorious system of law-keeping whereby they congratulate themselves on performing correctly the law of God. For this reason they encouraged others to obey the law of God without focusing on the power of the grace of God to inspire obedience and life transformation. We must not forget that the power of God unto salvation is in the gospel of His grace, not law.

• Far away in the city of Rome, therefore, some were bringing their concept of meritorious religiosity into the fellowship of the disciples. As was the case with some in Galatia who did the same, and thus started preaching “another gospel” (Gl 1:6-9), Paul believed that it was necessary that he go personally to the Roman Christians in order to discuss this matter before it turned the church into just another legal religion of self-righteous members (See Rm 10:1-3). He wanted to personally remind the Roman disciples that their obedience to the gospel was not a meritorious accomplishment of salvation on their part, but was the result of their being motivated by the power of God’s grace that first inspired obedience to the gospel, and then led to the transformation of their lives (See Rm 12:1,2). He wrote the entire document of Romans as a Holy Spirit-inspired textbook on this matter.

• As a result of turning the gospel of grace into a meritorious relationship with God through one’s performance of law (See Gl 1:6-9), Paul realized that a “GRBS” was in order for the disciples in Rome. Therefore, he sought to go to them in order to bear fruit in their hearts by instructing them further in the gospel of God’s grace (Rm 1:13). This is the key to understanding the difference between meritorious obedience to the gospel and a responsive obedience that is caused by the grace of God (See 2 Co 4:15).

Meritorious assumes that when one accomplishes certain steps of law to receive salvation, he or she is saved. But far more fulfilling is that a responsive thanksgiving for what God has done through the gospel, generates an inward transformation in the heart of the individual. This transformation starts before obedience to the gospel, because understanding all that God did for the sinner must motivate the sinner to do all that God would require for one to do in order to respond correctly to His incarnate Son. This result is a lifetime transformation. However, if one starts to question, or forget the journey of the incarnate Son of God, his or her response to the gospel begins to subside. It is at this time when one’s faith is in danger of becoming vain (See 1 Co 15:1,2).

In order that the disciples in Roman deter themselves from either a legal obedience to law to save themselves, or forget their initial motivation by the gospel, Paul sought to go to them in order to sit down with then and review again the gospel to which they had formerly responded. This is the central purpose for the establishment of GRBSs. This is an effort when disciples sit down and review again the foundation upon which our is built.

• 2 Timothy 2:2: In the function of a GRBS, it is the objective of the teacher to be a teacher of teachers. This was the mandate of the Holy Spirit to Timothy through the apostle Paul: “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” This was a worldwide ministry that Jesus began with His imperative to the apostles in Matthew 28:20, and subsequently was to be continued throughout history until He comes again. The apostles were to teach those whom they baptized what Jesus had taught them. But added to what Jesus personally taught the apostles, the apostles were also under a mandate to teach all things concerning what the Holy Spirit would teach them after Jesus ascended (See Jn 14:26; 16:13).

When one establishes a GRBS, he or she is offering to baptized disciples the opportunity to be taught a catalog of truth that is revealed in the Bible. The final objective in establishing a GRBS, however, is not simply to teach teachers matters of truth. It is their objective to inspire those they teach to also start more GRBSs in order to perpetuate the mandate of 2 Timothy 2:2.

GOSPEL-ORIENTED TEXTBOOK
The textbook for the GRBS is the Encyclopedic Study Guide Handbook. This particular textbook was designed over many years as a resource for those who are actively preaching and teaching the word of God, specifically the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Through the sessions of classroom teaching that are taken from this textbook, only fundamental subjects are studied. Once the classroom sessions are completed, the textbook becomes a resource for teachers who can go forth and teach others also. In order to aid able teachers as they go forth to teach, there are several years of teaching material included in the textbook.

GOSPEL-FOCUSED CURRICULUM
The following subjects of the textbook are suggested to be taught during the once-a-week classroom sessions over a period of twelve weeks:

  1. The Standard of the Bible (pp. 10-12)
  2. Jesus is the Son of God (pp. 12-15)
  3. Change from the Old to the New Covenant (pp. 30-32)
  4. First Principles in Bible Study (pp. 47-54)
  5. State of the Soul (pp. 54-56)
  6. Survey of God’s Gospel Plan (pp. 56-59)
  7. Gospel versus Religion (pp. 60-63)
  8. The Body of Christ (pp. 63-65)
  9. Revelation of the Truth of the Gospel (pp. 65-72)
  10. Gospel-Motivated Worship (pp. 72-78)
  11. Sharing the Truth of the Gospel (pp. 105-110)
  12. How to Understand and Teach the Bible (pp. 110-117)

Optimism

Angelo Siciliano was an Italian-American who weighed in at ninety-seven pound (44 kilogram) at the young age of sixteen. This scrawny weakling was constantly bullied around by classmates and ignored by friend and foe alike. As any physically weak and frail teenager, life at times was not that pleasant. In fact, some days were just miserable. However, one day he saw the statues of Apollo and Hercules in a museum. These images of two muscular Greek gods formed an image on his mind that would not go away. Those statues had a physical presentation that he envied. If he had such a stature, he would be bullied no more. What set this frail statured young man off on his life’s journey to change who he was an event that happened on a day when someone on the beach kicked sand in his face in the presence of his girlfriend. He had had enough, and thus determined to make a change, at least, in his physical well-being.

Angelo was too poor to join the local YMCA, so he simply watched other body-builders, and did the same. Throughout his persistent daily exercise routine that he established for himself, he eventually developed his own exercises. At least in his daily exercise routine, Angelo was able to control of his own destiny through exercise, regardless of the often tormenting world in which he lived. After a few years of persistent struggle with his exercise program, his dreams were realized. He became as those two statures he had seen in a museum many years before. In 1922, upon the suggestion of a friend. The result was that we now read about Angelo today in history books with his new name, Charles Atlas.

Pessimism and unhappiness are twins that sleep in the same bed. Numerous surveys have been conducted concerning the mental state of those who are successful in the business world. Every survey concludes that optimistic, cheerful business people, who always look on the bright side of things, are more successful in the business world than pessimistic people.

Successful people are optimistic about the future. On the other hand, an attitude of pessimism produces unhappiness, and unhappiness produces dis – ease, or better, disease. Pessimism is a “disease” of the mind that hinders our best performance in life, as well as our outlook on life and the future.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz once wrote of a personal encounter he had with a businessman who told him, “I have just lost $200,000 on the stock market. I am ruined and disgraced.” Maltz then replied to the disapporinted man: “It is a fact that you lost $200,000. It is your opinion that you are ruined and disgraced.”

Optimistic people never add their opinion to the circumstances in which they live. Unfortunate present experiences do not deter their thinking that things will always get better. They are simply optimistic about the future. Optimism defines their character and attitude toward life. The great inventor Thomas Edison once lost a multimillion dollar laboratory in a fire. Someone asked him immediately after the fire as he stood in the ashes of his former laboratory, “What will you do now?” Mr. Edison simply replied, “We will start rebuilding tomorrow morning.”

When things look bad, focus on good things to come, even in the present there are many things on which to focus. Truly happy people are incurably optimistic about the future. They always look on the bright side of things. And by looking on the bright side of things, they discover that there are many good things that are happening in their lives.

There was once a preacher who was surviving in a dark and cold dungeon for preaching the gospel. He was facing death. He then wrote a letter to some friends who were deeply concerned for his physical safety and mental well-being. He responded to their concerns with the statement, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, rejoice!” (Ph 4:4).

GOSPEL RESTORATION

GOSPEL RESTORATION BIBLE SCHOOL IN ROME
Familiar passages must always be reexamined. And one of those passages that must always be reexamine is the commonly quoted statement of Paul in Romans 1:16:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel [good news], for it is the power [dunamis] of God unto [eis] salvation to every one who believes ….”

The context that explains this verse begins in verse 13, where Paul informed the Roman Christians that he had planned to come to them. He explains, however, that for some reason, we are not told, that he was hindered. To fully appreciate the significance of verse 16, therefore, it must be clearly understood that in the context Paul was writing his comments to Christians, not unbelievers. He was planning to go to Rome to meet with Christians who had previously heard and obeyed the gospel, possibly on a visit of some Jews to a Pentecost/Passover feast in Jerusalem (See At 2:9,10).

The fact that these were Christians to whom Paul planned to visit clarifies what he wanted to do when he arrived. He wanted to start a gospel Bible class. He explained his objective. He said that he wanted to visit them in order “that I might have some FRUIT among you also, even as I have among the other Gentiles” (Rm 1:13). His use of the word “fruit” would be better understood if he were going to unbelievers and preaching the gospel (See Ph 4:17). But in this context, the “fruit” refers to that which he wanted to produce in the hearts Christians, not unbelievers. This is a very interesting use of the word “fruit.” So verse 16 explains what he meant in reference to the “power” of the gospel that is able to continually produce fruit in the hearts of Christians.

Paul’s use of the word “fruit” in Romans 1:13 is similar to how he used the word in the context of Philippians 1:9-11. He desired that the Philippians “abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment . . . being filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Ph 1:9,11). Paul likewise desired the same in the lives of the Christians in Rome. He wanted to bear the fruit of righteousness in them that began when they first responded to the gospel. Therefore, they would continue in the production of fruit by their continued study of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So herein lies the key to why Paul wanted to go to Rome. He wrote in verse 15, “So as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you [Christians] also who are at Rome.” This is a very interesting statement in view of the fact that the good news (gospel) of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and coronation of Jesus Christ is a message that is normally preached to unbelievers, not to those who already believe and have obeyed the gospel by immersion into Christ for the remission of their sins.

Some analysis is thus in order. What confuses some is that most translators use the English word “preach” to translate a word that is not the common word that is used for “preach” in the New Testament. The common word for “preach” is kerusso. This is the Greek word that is used to make a public announcement or proclamation about news that affects the community. When proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers, therefore, the word kerusso is the most appropriate word. Preaching is an announcement of good news to unbelievers.

But the word that Paul used in verse 15 is not kerusso, but the Greek word euaggelizo. This word is used to convey the concept of carrying on discussions concerning good news. This is the word that is used when emphasis is on teaching Christians matters concerning the good news of the Son of God coming into this world, His atoning sacrifice, and His present reign at the right hand of God the Father (See At 5:42; 8:4,12,35; 10:36; 11:20).

Contexts in which euaggelizo is used emphasize that the teacher is explaining the gospel to an audience or individual, particularly an audience of Christians. This brings us to the context of Paul’s statement in Romans 1:16. He wanted to go to the disciples in Rome in order to instruct them further in matters concerning the gospel. In the context, he already pointed out the reason for his trip. He wanted to produce the fruit of righteousness among the disciples in Rome. But there is also another understanding that we must take away from Romans 1:16.

Paul wrote that the gospel “is the power [dunamis] of God unto [eis] salvation.” The Greek word for “power” is dunamis, the word from which the English word “dynamite” is derived. We could metaphorically take the function of dynamite back into the statement that Paul made in reference to what a growing knowledge of the gospel does in one’s heart. As dynamite moves great stones, so the gospel of the incarnate Son of God moves hearts. In other words, the good news of the incarnation, atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and present reign of the Lord Jesus, is God’s motivational dynamite to move one into the realm of salvation, and subsequently, into the continued transformation of one’s life.

The gospel is not the salvation, it is the dynamite that motivates hearts to do that which is necessary in order to bring one into the realm of salvation. For this reason, Paul used the linear action of the participle of the word belief (believing). That is, if one begins and continues to believe, then the gospel continues to be the motivating power that leads to a life of continuous behavioral transformation (Rm 12:2).

If one does not continue to believe in the historical events of the gospel, then he will lose his salvation (See 1 Co 15:1,2). If we continue to believe the gospel, therefore, we will continue to allow Christ to be formed in our lives. This was Paul’s fatherly concern for the first generation disciples to whom he had preached the gospel in Galatia. “My Little children for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you” (Gl 4:19). Christ is not completely formed in one immediately at the time he or she obeys the gospel in baptism. “Forming,” or “transformation,” is a lifetime project for those who continue to believe and behave the gospel of Jesus. This point is what makes the statement, “Just believe on, or accept Jesus as your personal Savior,” so shallow in reference to the lifetime struggle to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus (See 2 Pt 3:18).

The gospel was an historical event that revealed the grace of God wherein only there is salvation. In an obedient response to this divine journey of the incarnate Son of God, the “beginning believer” is baptized into Christ (Rm 6:3-6; Gl 3:26-29). And if we are continually motivated by the death, burial and resurrection of the incarnate and reigning Lord Jesus Christ, then we will walk in the abundant life in this life (Jn 10:10), but also into eternal life when the Lord Jesus returns for His own.

It is the gospel that motivates those who are willing to believe, and thus be brought into the realm of God’s grace through their obedience that is manifested in baptism. Baptism, therefore, is not an action in reference to simply obeying law, but a response to the gospel. If it were simply a response to law, then we might feel that we have merited our salvation through our legal obedience to law. But if baptism is a personal response to the gospel, then what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:15 comes alive: “For all things [in reference to the revelation of the gospel] are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.”

GOSPEL RESTORATION BIBLE SCHOOL IN ROME
In Romans 1:16 Paul linked gospel and salvation with one Greek word, the word eis. Simply believing in the gospel is not enough to bring one into the realm of salvation. The gospel is only the motivational power to stir one unto obedience of the gospel, and subsequently come into the realm of salvation. It is at the point of baptism that one’s sins are washed away by the gospel offering of the blood of Jesus (At 22:16). It is thus at the point of baptism that one is raised with Christ into a salvational relationship with God (Rm 6:3-6).

The historical event of the sacrificial offering of the incarnate Son of God will stir belief. But this belief must be a participle of action, not a once-off statement of belief in self-declaring one’s salvation. The active belief about which Paul wrote in Romans 1:16 was an action that must continue throughout one’s life. The same thought was stated by Jesus, but in different words: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16). The believer will come into the realm of salvation only when his faith is stirred into action. He will come into this realm through obedience to the gospel wherein one’s sins are initially forgiven. It is also at this time that one’s cleansing of sin begins and continues throughout one’s life if one’s belief does not wane (At 2:38; 1 Jn 1:7). For this reason Paul wanted to go to the Christians in Rome and remind them again of the gospel to which they had responded.

The good news of the Son of God coming into this world, going to the cross, and His present reign, is the power that moves hearts from the time one first believes, until his last dying breath. This is the power that moves one into (eis) the realm of God’s grace, wherein he or she is saved. And thus, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves [through meritorious law-keeping], it is the gift of God” (Ep 3:8). When the gift of God’s Son becomes awesome in our hearts, it is then that we are moved with thanksgiving throughout our lives. Paul’s going to Rome in order to conduct a gospel Bible class, therefore, should generate a perfect attendance on the part of the Roman Christians.

Serendipity

On the eve of His encounter with the cross, and in the presence of disciples who anxiously shuffled in His midst in an upper room, Jesus took a towel, stooped to the floor, and washed twenty-four dirty feet, 240 grimy toes. He knew that when the disciples eventually understood His actions after His resurrection, they would understand what He meant in a quiet voice, “If you know these things [of what I just did], happy are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17).

“These things” refers to His humble service to others, even washing dirty feet, and finally dirty souls. It can only be through servitude that we discover the secret to true happiness. To feel good you must do good.

Why is it that on our way to the hospital to visit a friend we argue with God? We reason that we have other important things that we could be doing. However, once there, and after a prayer and simple chatter, on our way from the hospital we feel a sense of happiness? We grumble in service, but we rejoice when the service is accomplished. Rejoicing after an act of service should enlighten us to the way we are wonderfully made by God. Service brings happiness, a sense of “well done.” Only when we put our hands to work will we be able to raise our hands in rejoicing. This is the way God created us. You do good and you will feel good.

Solomon was right: “He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Pv 14:21). Christians can rejoice in the Lord always because they are always in service to others. Galatians 6:10 was not written that we do legal actions in order to accomplish a supposed meritorious salvation. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” This statement was written in order to reflect the nature of true Christianity. It was written to exemplify in the lives of Christians what Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (Jn 13:17). Christians are happy, not because they are commanded to be so, but because of what they do. The serendipity of service is always happiness.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote in his best selling book, Psychocybernetics, that people must focus on others in order to be happy within themselves. “One of the most pleasant thoughts to any human being,” Maltz wrote, “is the thought that he is needed, that he is important enough and competent enough to help and add to the happiness of some other human being.” This truth is reflected in Paul’s words of the Holy Spirit, “I have showed you all things, that by laboring as this you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (At 20:35). It is more blessed to give simply because one receives the inner satisfaction of happiness when giving things rather than receiving things. We understand from this principle of Jesus that receiving or acquiring things is less blessed than giving things to others. If you would be truly happy, therefore, you must be a giver. The more you give, the happier you are. It is as simple as that.

Happiness

An amendment of the United States constitution enthrones freedom which includes an article that each citizen has the “right to pursue happiness.” Not only is this the right of American citizens, it should be the right of every citizen of the world. It is what is inborn within every individual. It is what we desire. It is our inner most craving. We want to be happy. Unfortunately, happiness is what everyone wants, but few know where to find it.

A little girl was once sitting at the breakfast table with her mother when the sun made its presence known by rising over the distant horizon. As its morning light beamed through the cottage window and on to the spoon of the child who was sitting with her mother at the breakfast table, she beemed with joy to her mother, “Look mama, I have a spoonful of sunshine!” Solomon was right, “A merry heart does good, like medicine” (Pv 17:22). Every morning we need a big dose of sunshine medicine to brighten our day. We should arise every morning with the declaration, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24). Upon making this declaration, we must make a decision that each day of our lives will be a day of happiness.

It is not totally true what Menchken said, “The only really happy folk are married women and single men.” Nor is it totally true what another proverb stated, “Happiness comes by filling a child’s stomach, a woman’s wardrobe, and a man’s wallet.” And again, happiness is not really acquired as a frustrated younger brother said, “Happiness is having a sister with laryngitis and a TV with only one channel.”

True happiness does not revolve around material things nor pleasurable events. It is almost as someone once said, “Happiness has a habit of pursuing the person who feels grateful to his God, comfortable with his conscience, in favor with his friends, in love with his labors, and in balance with his banker.” But someone correctly advised, “The secret of happiness is learning to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”

If we adopt secular and materialistic world view, true happiness will always be elusive. The secular person unfortunately looks to events and activities that will entertain, but will not bring longlasting peace of mind. He forgets that happiness is not something you experience. The materialist always looks for the right possessions, forgetting that happiness is not something that can be bought or owned. Happiness is not yearning for the things that we feel will make us happy. Money cannot buy us happiness. It only prolongs our search in the wrong direction.

Why do people struggle to find that which seems to be so elusive. Too many people find only momentary happiness in things and activities, and subsequently deceive themselves into believing that they have acquired their goal, and thus will be happy. When things become old and activities no longer satisfy our thirst for inner happiness, we often add to our collection of possessions or change to performing other activities in order to get another “happiness fix.” It is too often too late after a lifetime of such misguided searching that we come to the realization of Solomon’s wisdom, “Vanities of vanity, all is vanity” (Ec 1:2).

An activity-oriented culture is always afraid of being bored. The inhabitants of such frenzied cultures have concluded that their happiness is found in their ability to keep themselves involved in a host of events and activities. They are fearful of not having enough to do lest they discover that there is an emptiness inside that cannot be filled with possessions or an assortment of activities. True happiness is an elusive dream to the one who keeps himself busy with earthly diversions. The secularist must remember that happiness is not discovered in the things we want. The philosopher Seneca was right when he wrote, “If you would make a man happy, do not add to his possessions but subtract from his desires.”

Why Revelation

We are sure that everyone has asked the question as to why the book of Revelation is a part of the New Testament canon of Scriptures. The answer to the question is somewhat simple, but maybe needs to be occasionally reconsidered, especially when people lose hope during chaotic times.

Revelation has for many been considered an anomaly in reference to the other books of the New Testament. And indeed it is in reference to how it is written. However, when considering the fact that God would not continually send prophets among His people as He did throughout the history of Israel, He knew that His people needed encouragement in times of extreme social chaos and war. So instead of sending a prophet as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or Ezekiel to remind His people to remain faithful and not lose hope, He had the Holy Spirit write one book of encouragement for Christians that would stay with them until the final coming of King Jesus and the end of all things.

God subsequently commissioned the Spirit that one apocalyptic message be written with cryptic symbols that would be a message of continual encouragement for Christians until the final coming of His Son. This one book—Revelation—would remind Christians that as long as they remained faithful to the victorious King Jesus, everything would turn out for good in the end. They too, as those first recipients to whom the book was written, would join in Jesus’ victory over death.

The Old Testament faithfuls had the privilege—if indeed we would use the word “privilege”—of having inspired prophets to remind the people in the midst of kingdom conflicts that their King in heaven was still in charge of all things. They could personally receive the encouragement of the prophets if they had the privilege of being within hearing distance of the prophets’ messages.

Christians today, however, have something that is far better than the occasional prophet who might pass through the village. Every evening the Christian today can sit down in his or her living room, and in the midst of social turmoil and war, be within reading distance of the same message of encouragement that the Old Testament faithfuls received only if they had the opportunity of being within hearing distance of a prophet. The Christian’s blessing over the Old Testament faithfuls, therefore, is tremendous. While bombs may be exploding around us, we can read in the book of Revelation that King Jesus is still “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tm 6:15).

God the Father “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come” (Ep 1:20,21). The kingly function of the resurrected Son of God is sprinkled throughout the New Testament letters. But it is revealed in visionary pictures throughout the book of Revelation.

So why would we have a written visionary picture of our King in action at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places? If we take time to think about this for a moment, the answer is quite obvious. Throughout the epistles the fact that King Jesus ascended to reign with all authority is stated as a matter of fact. But in the book of Revelation the Holy Spirit wanted to give the people of God, until the final coming of the King, something on which they could rely for hope in the midst of tremendous social or political conflict, especially in times of war.

Throughout the centuries, Christians would not read Revelation as if its prophecies were taking place in their present time of social chaos. On the contrary, they would read with hope, knowing that those first Christians to whom the message of the book was originally written, personally survived the fulfillment of the conflicts that were prophesied to take place in their century.

In order for the Holy Spirit to give the people of God for all time a document of encouragement, He needed to use an in-time example of deliverance from hostile forces that had set themselves against the people of God in the historical context when Revelation was written. Or, if the hardships were not direct upon Christians, the Holy Spirit needed to give hope to the people of God who had to suffer indirectly from hostilities that may be occurring around them. The message of Revelation, therefore, is that we, regardless of any present hostilities that may affect us, will survive as did the early Christians who suffered through the hostilities that are recorded in the visions of Revelation. And since those Christians survived, we too, will be survivors.

Regardless of whether direct or indirect, the Holy Spirit wanted to use some early historical conflict as an example through which the people of God prevailed with their faith, regardless of the political and social conflicts in which they had to live until King Jesus finally came in the end to end all worldly confusion. Therefore, the Spirit recorded an example of an in-time victory of the saints who lived in the midst of persecution or war in order to give Christians for at least two thousand years, a reminder that they too in any century will likewise pass through any social turmoil of the times. Regardless of where they would be in the world in a time of war or social chaos, those Christians who maintained their faith and hope in King Jesus, would be survivors, whether in death, or in actually surviving some social turmoil.

Throughout Revelation, therefore, the Spirit constantly reminded the original readers, as well as Christian readers from the time the book was originally inscribed by John, that times of turmoil would pass, but the body of Christ would survive. This message is sprinkled throughout the New Testament, but consummated in the book of Revelation. Notice in the midst of the book of Revelation the consummation of this message of encouragement: “… from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rv 1:5). He “made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rv 1:6). “All the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Amen” (Rv 1:7). “I [King Jesus] am the Alpha and the Omega … the Almighty” (Rv 1:8). “Do not fear. I [King Jesus] am the first and the last. I am He who lives. And I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rv 1:17,18). “The living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever” (Rv 4:9). “You [King Jesus] are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and because of Your will they were created and have their existence” (Rv 4:11). “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever” (Rv 5:13).

To add to John’s redundancy on this theme throughout Revelation, consider the theme verse of the entire book: These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rv 17:14).

The theme of the book is obvious. The Holy Spirit needed an in-time example of the faithful overcoming those earthly powers who ignored the kingship of Jesus, and thus assaulted Christians directly. He needed a historical message of victory for those who would have to endure wars between earthly states from which they, too, would indirectly suffer hardship until the final coming of King Jesus.

There are two possible in-time conflicts through which the original recipients of Revelation had to remain faithful in the first and second centuries. The reader can make his choice as to which conflict John referred directly, whether Jewish or Roman persecution. But we must be very clear on one point here in making a choice concerning what modern-day self-appointed false prophets have harped for years concerning their twisted interpretation of the book of Revelation. These “theologians” have assumed that the book of Revelation was a prophecy of events that would transpire at the end of time. By twisting the prophecies of Revelation to make them refer specifically to present events, they have stolen the message of Revelation from the original recipients to whom John wrote.

Such “prophetic thieves” have likewise stolen a message of hope in Revelation from centuries of faithful Christians who needed a Spirit-inspired historical record of faithfulness during persecution. But modern-day prophets have stolen away the purpose of Revelation from being an encouraging message to those who had to endure the traumatic experience of social chaos and war when Revelation was first written. For this reason, a great number of discouraged Christians today have simply stayed away from reading the book, even though they are in the midst of great suffering.

Christians throughout the centuries have endured many of the same hardships that the early recipients of Revelation suffered. Christians throughout the years have endured by reading a Book of encouragement that was written in the first century who suffered and survived great social turmoil. We today have been encouraged by the examples of faithfulness of those early Christians who were suffering in the first century when the book of Revelation was first written.

Unfortunately, too many modern-day prognosticators have accused the Holy Spirit of missing the date for the fulfillment of the encouraging prophecies of Revelation by almost two thousand years. When John wrote that the prophecies of the book would shortly come to pass, modern-day prophets assume that “shortly come to pass” means at least two thousand years (See Rv 1:1; 22:6).

The early Christians suffered dismay and death as they struggled through persecution. They did so in hope of deliverance in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. The modern-day prognosticators have likewise accused the Holy Spirit of missing the time for an encouraging prophetic message that was written to those who initially experienced—even being fed to lions in the Roman Coliseum—of the Roman Empire. This persecution was not terminated until the rise of Caesar Constantine and his signing of the Edit of Toleration in A.D. 311. But at the time, the persecuted needed to know that the Holy Spirit had not gone wrong in reference to the fulfillment of the encouraging message of Revelation that God would bring vengeance on their persecutors in their time.

Modern-day prophetic speculators should be concerned about their stealing an encouraging message of hope away from every Christian who has lived in the last two thousand years. Thousands of first century Christians personally endured harsh persecution from Jewish persecutors, and later the Roman state psychopaths who sought to produce entertainment in the Roman Coliseum by throwing Christians to starved lions. By faith these persecuted Christians remained faithful unto death because they believed that King Jesus was King of kings and Lord of Lords (See Rv 2:10). The twisting of these precious words of encouragement for Christians since that first disciple was thrown to a salivating lion will certainly lead to destruction of those who misapply the prophecies of the book of Revelation (2 Tm 4:3,4; 2 Pt 3:16).

As stated previously, we read the book of Revelation to receive hope from the example of the faithful. We do not read the book with fear of some impending prophecy of dread that is about to come upon us in our time. We read the book and glean great encouragement in the fact that since God took the early Christians through great turmoil, He will likewise do the same for us.

Now the in-time chaos through which the early Christians would be victorious could be either the destruction of the Jewish state that ended in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem, or the termination of Roman state persecution that ended the first of the fourth century with Contantine’s signing of the Edict of Toleration. If the “beast” and “false prophet” of Revelation refer to the finalization of the Jewish state, then John would have received the prophetic visions before A.D. 70. If the “beast” and “false prophet” refer to the Roman state and state religion, then John could have received and written the prophetic visions before A.D. 97/98 when it is believed that he was eventually martyred by Roman.

Regardless of the immediate historical enemy of those to whom the book was written, the Spirit wanted the book to be written as a prophetic history book for all Christians who lived thereafter. The message of the book was prophetic to the immediate recipients, but now it is a history book of encouragement for every Christian since the prophecies of the book were fulfilled in the first and second centuries. As a history book of conquests, the message of the book is thus quite clear. As our Savior overcame, we too will be victorious in the midst of any social chaos or war in which we might presently be engulfed. As the early Christians overcame when the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled, we have an example of their victory that we too can overcome.

While the reader makes up his or her mind concerning the date when John received the visions, and when he wrote the book, one must not miss the point of why the book of Revelation is in our New Testament. When considering the theme of the book—the victory of the saints because of the victory of King Jesus—we come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit wanted to record for posterity an example of Christians overcoming any social chaos and persecution in which they would find themselves until the final coming of Jesus.

If we steal the fulfillment of John’s prophetic visions away from the early Christians who first received the book of Revelation, then we have stolen more than words away from two thousand years of Christians who have read the book in order to receive hope in times of turmoil. We have stolen away from the New Testament a living testimony of Christians who endured far greater hardships than most Christians have endured since then.

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