One thing that I think is going to be fascinating about being in heaven is the remarkable amount of diversity and commonality we are going to find with our fellow believers. In Revelation 7, we find another worship service, and believers are gathered in heaven from all around the world having died throughout the ages.
Rev 7:9 After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;
Rev 7:10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
As John was witnessing this, he must have been blown away. He was imprisoned on Patmos because he was a Christian. I don’t know if he was imprisoned alongside other people who were Christians as well, but I would imagine that the effect of being imprisoned for your faith makes you feel isolated. Even if there are other Christians around, I am sure that the Roman prison guards were not thrilled if these people began talking about their love for Jesus Christ.
Therefore, from this environment that would seem to feel rather isolating, John was now able to witness a crowd of believers from around the earth who are able to praise God openly and stand in His presence. There will be so much diversity present as Christianity has essentially covered the entire world (although there are still unreached peoples).
I don’t know about you, but it makes me excited. It makes me think about how unique heaven is going to be. On earth, we find so many ways to divide ourselves, but in heaven, even though many of those things still exists, we will recognize that we are still brothers and sisters in Christ. That is what will matter.
Now we get to the fun parts of Revelation. Revelation 4 begins with John being told that these are things which must be. John is now having the chance to see the future, and he is told to write it down.
When he first sees is a worship service with 24 elders and four beasts. Although the identity of the elders is not entirely agreed upon, it seems to make quite a bit of sense that they are actual people from earth who have received crowns. That seems to be a reward for faithful humans as described throughout the New Testament. Therefore, it totally makes sense in context that the humans will be casting down there crowns and worshiping God.
The beasts are somewhat more interesting.
Rev 4:7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
Rev 4:8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
Rev 4:9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
Rev 4:10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Rev 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Why these particular beasts? As soon as the beasts began praising God, the elders began to worship as well. Therefore, it seems that there is something about the beasts that leads the people. This is what seems to lead most of my commentaries to conclude that these beasts are representative of the characteristics of the true church.
The church ideally has the strength of a lion, the steadiness and industriousness of what has often times been translated as an ox or calf, the wisdom of humans and the swiftness of the eagle. When the church praises God continually as described in verse nine, the elders who are already in heaven get excited and worship as well.
There is a worship service going on in heaven to begin the heavenly vision of John. Worship is central to existence in heaven.
After being arrested in the temple, the priests found no grounds to punish Peter and John in Acts 4. They were threatened to stop preaching about Jesus, but nothing really happened to them beyond the fact that they did get in trouble. After they were released, they went back to their company, and they all immediately prayed.
Act 4:29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,
Act 4:30 By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.
I think that they realized that this was only the beginning. Yes, they got in trouble, and they ended up being told to stop preaching. However, they knew that the threats might become more serious over time. They knew that they were irritating the priests, and they knew that they very well might need the strength of God in the near future to endure what was coming.
What seems to be particularly impressive about the early church is the fact that they were tied into God. They did not go and run away. They did not lessen what they were saying. Rather, they asked God for the boldness and strength to continue doing what they were doing. That certainly was not the easier path. There are other things that they could have tried to do. They had have gone back to being fishermen. They could have gone to a different area and gotten a fresh start when nobody knew their association with Jesus Christ. They could have given up the entire Christian thing and returned to Judaism. However, they did not.
They did not because they knew that what Jesus had taught them and what they had seen was the truth. Therefore, they prayed for the strength to endure for the sake of truth.
Thomas must have been disappointed in John 20. Jesus had just appeared to the rest of the disciples, but Thomas was not there. Thomas would not believe that they had seen Jesus himself he was able to experience it himself. Once Jesus did appear to him, he was told something that very well might have hurt quite a bit.
Joh 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
Jesus had told them ahead of time that He was going to rise again. Thomas would have known that. Thomas would have also seen that Jesus had the power to raise the dead. He would have been around when Jesus raised Lazarus. He had both of the pieces necessary. He would have known that Jesus said he was going to come from the dead, and he would know that God the father had the power to do that.
However, he was still trapped in doubt.
I am not saying that doubt is not a natural. Most people have doubts of some nature at some point. Very few people are blessed with entirely unshakable faith that never wavers. However, in this case it seems that Thomas might have gone beyond reasonability. He had good reason to believe Jesus after living with Him for three years. Even though it seems crazy to believe that someone rose from the dead, when all of the available evidence seems reasonable and points in that direction, then it seems to me that that is where the conclusion needs to go.
I think we all have Thomas in our own minds, but reasonability is a good counterbalance for that. Given all of the available evidence, what is the most reasonable explanation about the resurrection of Jesus Christ? I encourage you to read The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
It is interesting to look at the political atmosphere that surrounded the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as we see in John 19. As Jesus was being crucified, He had a sign placed over His head.
Joh 19:19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Joh 19:20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Joh 19:21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
Joh 19:22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
The Jewish priests did not want to identify with Jesus. They did not want people to read the sign and think that Jesus really was very their chosen King. I don’t know if that was because perhaps they were afraid of Roman retribution since earlier in the passage they affirmed that they had no king but Caesar. Maybe they were afraid it might be seen as a rebellion. I don’t know if the motivation was really just because obviously they had Jesus crucified for blasphemy, so they would not want a man they clearly did not approve of labeled a King.
Obviously, it is hard to psychologically analyze what was going on in the minds of these Jewish priests who did not want Jesus to be identified as the King of the Jews, but there was clearly some discomfort about what was happening here related to the culture of the time.
That is something we need to remember while reading the Bible. The Bible is not a record of everything that happened at every single point in history. There were thousands of other people in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. We don’t know what was going on with them. The Bible does tell us parts of history and it tells us what is really important, but it is also valuable as we look at history to see what we know about the culture at the time. Understanding the culture of the time can perhaps think about questions like this one. Why were the Jewish people so uncomfortable with the sign?
Again, the Bible contains all we need to know for salvation. I believe that entirely. However, I think that we can develop a more accurate understanding of certain parts of the Bible if we understand the audience the original books were written for.
In John 19, Jesus is brought for trial, and at the end of the chapter He is brought before Pontius Pilate as the acting Roman governor at the time. Jesus engages Him on the issue of truth.
Joh 18:37 Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Joh 18:38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.
Jesus spoke about truth as an actual entity. It was not some type of hypothetical. Jesus was there to bear witness to the one and only truth. Pilate then responds by asking what truth actually is. I think we find that same type of dilemma in the world today. Many people feel like truth is something undefined. They talk about it as something that is kind of wishy-washy or ambiguous. It is almost like some kind of giant gray area.
It does not seem like Jesus handled truth in this way. When He is talking about truth, He did not negotiate. He talks about truth is something that is actual. Jesus came to bear witness to the truth. That is a distinctly different message.
I think that is something we need to keep in mind. There is a difference between a world where truth is negotiable and where truth is actual. There is a difference between subjective and objective. One is where the world seems to move towards, and the other is what it seems Jesus was referring to. As a result, we need to figure out where we are.
In John 17, we read about Jesus praying before His imminent crucifixion. He spends most of the chapter praying for His followers, and He prayed for their unity.
Joh 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
I think it is particularly interesting that Jesus prays for His followers to be one as He and the Father are one. On one hand, they are distinct. At the same time, they are one. It is the mystery of the Trinity, but that is what Jesus is praying for His followers on earth.
What does that mean for us?
I think this means that we are distinct as Christians. There are different characteristics among different groups of Christians. There are no two churches that are the same even within denominations. That is where the distinct features seems to come out for me.
However, we’re still one body of Christian believers. Just because someone doesn’t go to “my” church doesn’t mean they are not part of the one universal family of believers.
I know that some people can get hung up on this one. However, it seems to me that there are certain things about Christianity that are nonnegotiable. Being a Christian requires a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ as an example. There is no way to avoid that for someone who is a member of the family of Jesus Christ. However, is it necessary to either allow music in a service or not allow music? There are some churches that don’t allow music, and there are some that allow music. It doesn’t seem to be one of those doctrines that is necessary for a Christian to rather affirm or deny. However, it gets back to that point of being distinct.
People will dispute over what exact things are negotiable and what things are essential, but this verse out to me as an illustration of how we relate to each other as fellow Christians.
I think it is easy for us to be confident like the disciples in John 16. Because Jesus was explaining parts of the future to them, they were convinced that He was the Messiah. However, Jesus challenges them.
Joh 16:31 Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
Joh 16:32 Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
Joh 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Jesus knew what would happen when He was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that His disciples were going to run away in fear. It was easy for them to be confident while Jesus was sitting right there with them, and none of them were really under persecution. Sure, people did not necessarily agree with everything Jesus was teaching, but there were no Christian martyrs yet. Christians were a strange minority religion in Israel following a Rabbi who was different than any other.
I bring this up because Jesus asked them if they really believed. He seemed to imply that perhaps they do not believe as strongly as they thought they did because they were going to run away in the future. I guess that is the ultimate test of belief. Is it something you are willing to die for?
The disciples did run away in the garden, but it is worth mentioning that history teaches that all of them died as martyrs. They discovered the cost of discipleship.
This is definitely one of those stories that make you think as a Christian in America. It is a lot different to be a Christian around the world where your life could very well be in danger for the following Jesus Christ.
In John 15, Jesus provides the imagery of Himself being the vine and the rest of us as the branches.
Joh 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
Joh 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
I don’t know how comforting this is. I think that we have this internal desire to want to go it on our own. We want to be independent, and we want to be self-sufficient, but here is Jesus Christ telling us that we cannot do anything outside of Him. In context, we are talking about a bearing fruit as a follower of Christ, so we certainly can do evil without Christ, but if we want to see these positive fruits coming out of our lives and in to places in the lives of people around us, then Jesus is telling us that it needs to come from Him.
I sometimes think that we want Christianity on our own terms. We want to do what we want to do; we want to see fruit when we want to see fruit. We need to abide in Christ. Like a branch draws life from the vine, we need to draw our life from Jesus Christ. We cannot draw that life from ourselves; it needs to come from someone beyond us.
I still like the idea of independence. I still like the idea of wanting to the master of my own fate at times, but that is not what we are called to do. We depend on Christ for everything, and without Him, we can really do nothing.