Tag Archives: hell

The Gospel Will Overcome All Its Enemies – Rev. 14:6-20

Do you worry about the demise of Christianity in our country? While it is true that most Americans still claim to be Christians, the facts say differently. For example, in a Barna survey exploring how many adults have a Biblical worldview, they discovered that only 9% do.

For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today. In the research, anyone who held all those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview.

The definition given above is not only a concise description of historic Christian doctrine, it also reflects the values and thinking of those who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ. This likely explains why there is such a sharp cultural and political divide in our country. Half of our populations has abandoned the Judeo-Christian beliefs on which this nation was founded, while half are still trying to hold on to some form of it. What is especially alarming are the answers given when the Barna group interviewed people who call themselves as “born again Christians.” Only 19% have a Biblical outlook on life, as defined above.

So, we worry that the gospel has lost its power to penetrate our post-Christian culture and maybe the world beyond us. But we need not worry. Wherever the Gospel is preached (not a watered-down version found in many “seeker-friendly” churches), some reject it because its demands are so high. “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) While others open their eyes to the lies of the world and the truth of Jesus. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.“ (1 John 2:16-17) See our last post where hundreds of Nicaraguans are receiving new life by believing in Christ.

In this study, we see the power of the Gospel illustrated in five messages from Heaven to the Apostle John. The first is the preaching of the Gospel exposing the lies of the Antichrist.

  1. THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL

Do you remember the promise of Jesus in Matthew 24:14? He said, “This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.” It is clear that this goal has not yet been achieved. The Church has sent missionaries far and wide, but not every people group has been reached yet. Some have interpreted this to mean that the Rapture of the Church cannot take place until everyone has heard about Christ. But I take a different position. For “the end” to which Jesus referred wat not the Rapture, but the Tribulation. Jesus was promising that the Tribulation would not end and the Kingdom would not come until every nation on earth has a chance to hear the truth and believe.

How will this task be achieved? Revelation 14:6 explains. Not only will the 144,000 canvas the world telling others about Christ, but it adds, “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” This is an amazing, one-of-a kind event.

Prophecy teacher, Hal Lindsey, comments, “For centuries, angels have wanted to get in on the act of world evangelization. Peter tells us that the angels are intensely interested in the whole story of redemption (1 Peter 1:12). They have been itching to preach the Gospel—but God has given that privilege to us. The angels would love to push us to one side and really get the job done right…Now at last the angels will have their chance!”

What will be the content of the angel’s message? Only a portion is revealed, but what is revealed is fascinating. It is a call back to the basics. The Antichrist has so confused the minds of those on earth, that it is necessary for him to repeat the spiritual A, B, C’s—that God, not the Beast, is the Creator, that He alone is worthy of out worship, and judgment is soon coming to those who refuse to do so. He says in verse 7, “Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water’—the very target of His judgment thus far in the Tribulation.

By the way, does mankind need this message today? More than any other time in history. Man’s heart has become so ungrateful and his mind has become so darkened that he no longer even recognizes the existence of a Creator. Through the clear propaganda of many in the science community, Darwin’s evolutionary theory is now considered “accepted fact.” One cannot visit a museum or listen to a science documentary without hearing that the “universe is billions and billions of years old.” Consequently, if all we are is the result of chance plus time, then anything goes, doesn’t it? Abortion. Same-sex marriage. Euthanasia of the elderly. Without a Creator to hold us accountable, anything goes.

But if you think this pattern is widespread today, wait until the Tribulation. Crafty beyond belief, the Beast will include in his system New Age teachings promising man a radical leap forward in our evolution. Like the Serpent of old, he will urge us, “Ignore the voice of God and bite into this lie, and you will be like God.” People’s minds will be so confused it will take an angel from heaven to correct their atheistic thinking. How gracious of God to send him.

2. THE FALL OF BABYLON

Verse 8 continues, “A second angel followed and said, ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.’”

Here we find the reason for the success of Antichrist’s brain-washing efforts. It is Babylon the Great. To what does this refer? In chapter 17 and 18, we will find that this is a reference to both the false religious system and the economic structure that dominates the world during the Tribulation. There we will try to identify where this city is located. But here we rejoice with Heaven at the crushing of these two entities which form the basis of Antichrist’s Kingdom. Impressed with her great wealth and military might, this “great city” will assume that she is above judgment. But such is not the case! In one day God will bring her down.

Revelation 18:8 gives the details: “Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry, ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom come has come.’”

3. THE PUNISHMENT OF ANTICHRIST’S FOLLOWERS

Verse 9: “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’”

Today both cult leaders and liberal theologians question the idea of eternal punishment. “After all,” they say, “how could a loving God send anyone to hell?” But this passage leaves no doubt about it. John says, “The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.” Those are the very same words used in Revelation 4:10 to describe the eternity of God. This means that the Jehovah Witness’ idea of annihilation of the wicked has no basis in Scripture. The wicked will not merely be “zapped out of existence.” They will continue to suffer as long as God is God, having no rest day or night forever.

Another pastor writes, “When I was a teenager I used to say to the gals I went with: ‘I’m going live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse!’ Little did I know what hell was! My pals used to say, ‘I want to go to hell. All my buddies will be there and we’ll play poker forever.’ I used to laugh with them until someone asked me, ‘Have you ever seen anyone play poker in a blast furnace.”

And yet, even here notice the evidence of God’s grace. The Greek test of verse 9 literally says, “If anyone continues to worship the beast and his image. This means that even after being deceived by Antichrist, there is still a chance to repent and turn to Jesus. Why? Because God isn’t eager to send anyone to hell. Instead, 2 Peter 3:9 assures us, He is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Hell is never pleasant to talk about. But we must be true to Scripture, and the Bible is clear. There is a Heaven to gain and a hell to shun. In fact, no one ever talked more about hell than Jesus, whose Spirit is urging us even now to turn from our sins and be saved.

4. THE REWARDING OF BELIEVERS

In contrast to verse 11, which says there is no rest for the wicked, verse 13 says there is eternal joy for those who love Jesus. “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’”

That is comforting for two reasons. First, it reminds us that our suffering will not last forever. No matter what we endure in this life—illness, heartache, fatigue—the moment we leave this place all sorrow will immediately end. Absent from the body will be at home with the Lord. Second, John says, our “works follow” us. Why does that matter? It means that unlike our human bosses who often fail to take notice of or forget our faithful service, God never will. Jesus promised that even ‘a cup of cold water’ given in His name will receive a reward.

 

5. THE HARVESTING OF THE EARTH

In Revelation 14:14-20, John pictures the punishment of the beast and his followers in terms of a harvest. Actually, there are two harvests seen here, each one intended to portray something about the final judgment of the earth.

The first harvest is a harvest of grains. Verse 14 says, “I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one ‘like a son of man’ with a crown of gold on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.’ Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to Him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who was seated on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.”

This first harvest anticipates the separation of believers and unbelievers at the end of the age. Right now God allows saints and sinners to grow up side by side within the same home or church, so that it is sometimes difficult to tell the two apart, since many sinners know all the right religious terminology. I have served in churches where such people were present. As long as we stressed love and fellowship, they were “with us.” But the moment we called for personal repentance and commitment, they doused our zeal with opposition or indifference. Jesus spoke of this danger in the parable of the wheat and the tares. He said the enemy would sow tares (weeds) to hinder the growth of the good grain. But He also warned that nothing should be done about it until the harvest, lest we “uproot the wheat with tares.”

Well, the harvest has almost arrived. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is about to separate the wheat from the weeds. He Himself will not do the dividing. Matthew 13:41 says He will send His angels to do the reaping, gathering the wicked for judgment and leaving the righteous to enter the Kingdom of God and repopulate the earth that has been destroyed.

The second harvest is a harvest of grapes. Verse 17 continues, “Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

This is a preview of Christ’s final judgment at the battle Armageddon. There Revelation 19:15 says He will “tread the winepress of the fierce wrath of God.” Two other facts are worth emphasizing here. One is the place of judgment. Where will this great bloodbath take place? “Outside the city,” indicating that Jerusalem will be ground zero for God’s final blast of judgment. Speaking of the same event, Zechariah 14:2-3 says that the Lord “will gather all nations against Jerusalem” and then “the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle.”

The second fact to notice is the extent of judgment. Verse 20 says the blood of this winepress will rise “as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.” How far is that? If you look in the margin of your Bible, you may find the answer. My Bible says, “180 miles!” It is grizzly to think about, but the whole valley of Armageddon down to the Gulf of Aqabah will be filled with the blood and bodies of those who have followed Antichrist and rejected Jesus the Savior. It will be a terrible time of judgment, but what follows will be worth it. For it is not until these enemies are finally dealt with that God’s Kingdom can come and His will can be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

An old TV ad asked the question, “How do you spell relief?” Their purpose was to see a certain brand of antacid guaranteed to stop the pain of heartburn.

A similar question could be posed as we come to the end of this study. Having endured the heartache of life’s trials, we may wonder, “How and when will I ever find relief?” John’s visions of the future remind us that there is only one lasting solution to life’s troubles. We need Christ! Only when Jesus comes will there be lasting peace and rest. But that day is coming soon. So, hold on! When life’s trials begin to make you sad or mad, think back to these glimpses of the future and let them give you hope. For Christ is coming soon to give you an everlasting vacation from all the sorrow, stress, and suffering that you are currently enduring.

(To download a Word document of this lesson, click Word. To download a PDF file of this study, click PDF. To listen to or download an mp3 audio version of this lesson , click  Audio.)

“A Bittersweet Prophecy” (Rev. 10:1-11)

“REVELATION: BECAUSE THE TIME IS NEAR!”

Study #14: “A Bittersweet Prophecy” (Rev. 10:1-11)

(TO LISTEN to or download the audio version of this lesson, click AUDIO.)

Have you ever listened to the locker room interviews following the “big game?” The winners are delirious with joy, anointing each other with champagne and basking in the thrill of victory, while the losers suffer the agony of defeat.

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That fact came to mind several weeks ago as I watched a sports documentary about the Buffalo Bills, arguably one of the greatest teams in history. The 1990 to 1993 Bills were the only team to play in four consecutive Super Bowls. Sadly, they are also the only team to lose four Super Bowl in a row—to the New York Giants in 1990, the Washington Redskins in 1991, and the Dallas Cowboys in 1992 and 1993. Twenty-five years later, the sting of those losses has faded, but as I listened to the Bills players being interviewed, it was clear that the memory of those disappointments is still very strong. I came away from it wishing, though I was never a Buffalo fan, that both sides could have won. But that isn’t how life works. Whether it’s sports, politics, or spiritual warfare, there are inevitably two sides—the side destined for victory and the side doomed to defeat.

In spiritual warfare, which is the focus of this study, the winners are those of us who love our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We look forward to His coming with great eagerness, praying “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But before we lose ourselves in the ecstasy of that knowledge, let’s not forget that there will also be some tragic losers in that day. Unbelieving friends, neighbors, and loved ones face excruciating judgment, making the Second Coming of Christ bittersweet. In Revelation 10, John describes it as tasting sweet to his mouth like honey, but turning bitter in his stomach. Why? Because the longer he pondered this great revelation, the more he realized that though it means eternal joy and glory for him, it will mean eternal death and damnation for millions who have never accepted Christ.

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This chapter is important to study, then, for two reasons. First, it includes several interpretative problems which could, if answered wrongly, undermine the doctrine of the Deity of Christ. Second, it provides us with a powerful reminder as we look forward to His Return. It reminds us that we have an obligation to do more than enjoy our salvation; we have a duty to rescue as many souls as possible before the fire of judgment falls. Let’s strive for both goals—comprehension and compassion—as we study what John has written.

JOHN MEETS A MIGHTY ANGEL

1. Who Is This Mighty Angel?

John says in verses 1 and 2, “And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven … and he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.”

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The first issue to resolve is the identity of the “mighty angel” in verse one. Many commentators say it is vision of Jesus Christ returning to earth. Their reason is the similar description of Jesus in chapter one (e.g., the rainbow on His head, His face like the sun, His feet like pillars of fire). But this claim is both wrong and dangerous. The danger is seen in what Jehovah’s Witnesses do with this verse. They use it as one of their proof texts for denying the Lordship of Christ. They say this “mighty angel” is Michael the archangel who is, in fact, Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus Christ is not Lord; he is a creature—one of God’s archangels. Given this distortion, we should be careful about identifying this angel as Jesus Christ. Two facts make such an identification impossible.

First, the meaning of the word “another.” John literally describes this angel as “another angel, a mighty one.” The Greek word is allos, which means “another angel of the same kind.” But that isn’t the word John would have used if he were describing Jesus. He would have used the word heteron, which means “another of a different kind.” For the Scripture indicates that Jesus Christ is uniquely different from every other being who has ever existed. For example, Hebrews 1:4-6 says that He is “better than the angels,” and that all the angels are commanded to worship Him. Furthermore, John 3:16 calls Jesus “the only begotten Son of God. That phrase means “one of a kind,” indicating that there will never be another one like Him.

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Second, the timing of the Second Coming. According to Zechariah 14:4, Jesus will “touch down” on the earth in much the same manner as this angel. But the question is: When will He do so? This angel stands on the earth just prior to the blowing of the seventh trumpet, whereas Jesus Christ will return to earth at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 19:11-14), at which point the Mount of Olives will split in half, creating a new valley and freshwater source, and Christ’s kingdom will begin. Furthermore, when Jesus returns to earth, it won’t be as an angel but with angels surrounding Him like the clouds of heaven. (See Matt. 25:31.)

Who, then, is this “mighty angel?” It is possibly the archangel Michael who is not Jesus Christ, but one of the “mighty angels” of God. Daniel describes him as “the great prince who stands guard over” the people of Israel. (Dan. 12:1) John later describes him casting the devil and his angels out of heaven.

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But here he simply forewarns the Antichrist and his followers that Christ is about to repossess the earth for man. The place where he stands is also significant—“his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land.” In ancient times, the purchaser of a piece of property would show his ownership by putting one foot on what he already owned and the other foot on what he was acquiring. In other words, he is symbolizing God’s sovereignty—that the kingdoms of this world (including both the land and the sea) are about to become the “kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)

2. What Does The Angel Look Like?

John continues, “And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.” (Rev. 10:1)

Picture5If this is not Jesus, but simply an archangel, then why does he look so much like Jesus? The simplest answer is usually the best. He is ministering in the power and authority of Christ. For example, Jude 1:9 says that when contending with the devil about the body of Moses, Michael did not dare to bring a reviling judgment against him, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you.” He stood in the Lord’s power and authority. Here that power takes on a visible appearance. That shouldn’t surprise us, for it’s not the first example of its kind. Exodus 34 says whenever Moses entered into God’s presence, his face shone with God’s glory, so he had to veil his face so as not to startle the people. Likewise, the same can be true of us. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Is this happening to you? Are you taking on more and more of the likeness of Jesus Christ? Nathaniel Hawthorne pictured what can happen in his story, “The Great Stone Face.” Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled so perfectly than when their great monarch died, the people determined that they would never have another king until they could find a man just like former ruler. Then, to keep his memory alive, they carved a great profile of their king on the side of a cliff. Beneath that cliff lived a little boy named Ernest. His mother assured him that one day another great man like king would come to rule their kingdom. But as the years passed and searches were made, no one like him was found. Then, one day, one of the king’s counselors stopped at the humble cottage at the base of the cliff and listened to a young man named Ernest deliver a discourse to his neighbors. Suddenly, in that young man’s face he saw the likeness of the king! How did the change take place? By meditating upon that great image day by day, as he plowed his field and cult his wood, the little boy grew to be like him, not only in the way he looked, but also in the way he thought and talked.

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This, the Bible says, is our goal as well—to be transformed into our King’s likeness by meditating upon His greatness.

3. What Is In The Angel’s Hand?

Revelation 10:2 says, “And he had a little book open in his hand.” This is the second interpretative question we need to solve. What is this little book in the hand of the angel? Some say it’s a new book that John is about to be given. But a better explanation is that it’s the same scroll we’ve been reading for the last three chapters. However, now that all but one of the seals has been opened, the scroll is described as a “little book open” in the hand of the angel. It is “little” compared to when we first read about the scroll in Revelation 5. Having read and released its judgments, all that remains of it now is the title deed to the earth, which gives Jesus the authority to reclaim and redeem the world for mankind.

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4. What Warning Is Given to John?

Revelation 10:3-4 continues, “and (he) cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars. And when he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voice, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered and do not write them.’”

Notice two important facts here. First, the roaring of the angel. This is a symbol of God’s power and authority. Several Old Testament passages (Isa. 31:4-5; Hos. 5:14; 11:10; Amos 3:8) use it as a metaphor of His coming in glory. Whereas Satan often roars like a lion to frighten his prey (1 Pet. 5:8), this roaring is a declaration of victory. Standing in the authority of Christ, Michael lets loose with a mighty roar notifying the earth that the King is about to appear.

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The second fact is the sounding of the seven thunders. Why was John forbidden to write what they said? Because there are some things about the future that God wants to keep secret. This should be a warning to those who seek “new revelations” today. The truth is everything we need for “life and godliness” has been revealed to us in the Bible. (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17) Hebrews 1:1-2 further emphasizes that no “new revelations” will be given beyond what has been revealed through the prophets and apostles about God’s Son. He is God’s final word to mankind. In fact, the book of Revelation issues a strict warning on its final page. “If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18)

So be careful about anyone who claims to be receiving “new revelations” from God! The Book of Mormon, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, tracts left at your door by the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), and the teachings of Rev. Moon are not new information from God. They are deceptions from the devil designed to confuse your mind and lead you away from the one true Christ.

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JOHN HEARS GOOD NEWS FROM THE ANGEL

In verses 5 to 7, the angel announces the most important and welcome news the world has ever heard. Its significance is seen in two ways:

1. By the Oath Taken

Revelation 10:5 continues, “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it.”

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The scene is that of a courtroom. The angel lifts his hand in a solemn oath that what he’s about to say is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” This should not surprise us. When God first made His promise to Abraham, He took a similar oath. (See Hebrews 6:10.) It’s not that God’s Word was ever in doubt; it’s that you and I are people who are given to doubt. Therefore, to help us trust Him, God puts His messenger on the witness stand, reassuring us that every word we are about to read is faithful and true.

Isn’t that interesting? American presidents will not testify in court during their terms of office because they feel it could be a threat to the independence of the presidency. Consequently, no president in modern history has appeared in court. Even Gerald Ford would not appear in court to testify against his would-be assassin. Instead, he appeared by videotape. But Christ has no such misgivings. The promise which is about to be given is so wonderful that He doesn’t want us to miss a bit of its blessing. He is so patient with our doubts that He orders His messenger to take a solemn oath, swearing to its utter veracity.

2. By the Promise Given

Revelation 10:6 adds, “… that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.

The promise at the end of verse 6 is highly significant. The angel swears there shall “be delay no longer.” To what does this refer? He’s promising that the Tribulation is about to end and the long-awaited Kingdom is about to be set up. This is another evidence for the position I’ve taken earlier—that chapter 11 marks the end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Kingdom. For notice, what does John say will happen when the seventh angel has sounded? “The mystery of God will be finished.” Or as Revelation 11:15 announces, “The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.”

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You see, down through the centuries, unbelievers have scoffed at the idea of the Second Coming, especially in this scientific age. Corrie Ten Boom told about a heckler who interrupted one of her meetings. He laughed, “Don’t tell me you believe that Jesus Christ is coming back to earth again! Fools have been predicting that forever!” “Yes,” she said. “In fact, I’m more certain of it now than ever. Your very words convince me that His coming is very near.” “What do you mean?” the heckler asked. “Well,” Corrie explained, “you’ve just fulfilled Peter’s prophecy. ‘Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”’ So, you see, these must be the last days! Because you’re the very kind of person Peter was talking about.” Gulp!

Christians, on the other hand, believe this promise with all their hearts. And yet, even we wonder, “Lord, why so long?” That, you’ll remember, was the cry of the Tribulation martyrs in Revelation 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” Now the Lord answers both questions with a resounding, “No longer! There will be delay no longer. They mystery of God will be finished.” To what does the “mystery of God” refer? The word means “a sacred secret” which has been hidden to the world, but has now been made known to the people of God. The specific mystery to which John is referring is the age-old problem of evil. Why does God allow the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer? Just as in Job’s case, the answer to “why” is not given, but the final solution is. All sin and sorrow will now be put to an end by the return of the King of Kings!

Consider your situation for a moment. Have you allowed the disappointments of life rob you of your joy? Then arrest that joy-stealer by remembering the coming of Christ. Titus 2:13 counsels us, “Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Why is that helpful? Because when He comes, all tears will be wiped away.

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Oft-times the day seems long, our trials hard to bear, we’re temped to complain, to murmur and despair; but Christ will soon appear to catch His Bride away, all tears forever over in God’s eternal day.

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus, life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ; one glimpse of His dear face all sorrows will erase; so bravely run the race till we see Christ.

JOHN IS GIVEN BITTERSWEET INSTRUCTIONS

Chapter 10 closes with two bittersweet instructions to the Apostle John. First, he is told to eat the little scroll which remains in the angel’s hand. Second, he is told to prophesy again about several key topics and characters that are to be involved in the Tribulation and the Second Coming of Christ.

1. John’s Bittersweet Reaction

Revelation 10:8-10 continues, “ Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, ‘Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.’ And I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’ And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. But I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter.”

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The eating of the scroll is important because it pictures God’s attitude toward judgment. In Ezekiel 33:11, the Lord says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” 2 Peter 3:9 adds, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance.” Here in verse 10 that attitude become visible as John eats the “little book.” At first, its news is “as sweet as honey” in John’s mouth, because he realizes that now the righteous will finally be avenged! But as he swallows it, it upsets his stomach realizing that though it means joy for him and God’s people, it also means death and damnation for millions of others.

Let that be your sentiment as you look forward to the Lord’s coming. Be excited about the blessings you and God’s people are about to inherit. But don’t be in a hurry for judgment to fall. Remember, there are multitudes who are to perish without Christ, multitudes who need your prayers. Will you do that for them? More than that, will you make a conscious effort to tell them about Christ’s love? The choice is up to you. Who will be the model for your life? Will it be John? Or will it be Jonah, who longed for God’s judgment to fall.

2. John’s Bittersweet Responsibility

Finally, Revelation 10:11 is a commandment to John, “And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’” This is the most important verse for understanding the rest of the Revelation. As I’ve said before, chapter 11 marks the end of the Tribulation. As soon as the seventh trumpet sounds, “the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” (Rev. 11:15) You ask, “Then where do the rest of the chapters of Revelation fit in the chronology of events? Verse 11 is the clue. It reveals that following the seventh trumpet, John is to prophesy a second time.

 

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You’ll remember back in Revelation 1:19 John was instructed to “write the things which you have seen (his vision of the Glorified Christ in chapter 1), and the things which are (the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3), and the things which will take place after this” (the events of the Tribulation found in chapters 4 through 11.) However, before he can finish the first prophecy, a second assignment is given to him. In Revelation 10:11, he is commanded to “prophecy again about many peoples, tongues, nations, and kings.”

Don’t miss this point! The details in chapters 12 to 19 are not events that follow chapter 11 chronologically. Instead, they are topical studies about key figures and events that will occur during the Tribulation which was just described. John is approaching his work like an artist preparing a canvas. Having sketched the general outline, he is now ready to go back and color in all the details. And again, the reason it upsets him is because of the horror of judgment to come.

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Judgment is always a blessing and a tragedy. For those who love Jesus, it’s a blessing, because of the deliverance it brings us. The Bible tells us that the planet itself will breathe a sigh of relief at Jesus’ return. (See Rom. 8:19-22.) But it won’t be a blessing to everyone. This chapter reminds us that for those left behind at the Rapture, it will be a tragedy of eternal proportions.

The News Tribune printed such a real-life horror story. It described the events following midnight exercises in the Mojave Desert. The men were anxious to get back to base. To remain in the scorching heat ((1200)) and dehydrating humidity (4%) not only meant misery, but certain death for anyone left behind.

080306-M-8774P-051 U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mendoza, of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, leads fellow Marines during a live-fire village raid exercise on Range 210 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., on March 6, 2008. Marines with the unit are participating in Mojave Viper, the Marine Corps’ premiere pre-deployment desert training. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Chad J. Pulliam, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

So the trucks began to roll, carrying thousands of Marines back to the safety of Twentynine Palms Base. Everyone except Marine Lance Corporal, Jason J. Rother. He’d been assigned to direct traffic in the dark. Before the final truck pulled out, he was to be picked up and carried back to the base with the rest of the men. But signals got crossed. No one remembered Rother until it was too late. The Marine in charge of arms reported that his rifle was missing, but the officers assumed that he was AWOL. In fact, it wasn’t until two days later that they decided to return to the desert and search for him.

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Imagine the terror that gripped Rother’s heart as he watched that last truck disappear from sight? As the hours passed, he must have wondered, “What do I do now? Do I stay here and hope they come back for me? Or do I start walking while the night air is still cool?” No knows for sure how long he sat and waited and prayed, but finally he began to hike toward the highway 18 miles away. He made it 17 miles. Then overcome by the heat, he laid down and died.

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What a needless tragedy! What a horrifying way to die! That’s a small picture of the eternally greater tragedy that’s about to befall many unbelievers you know. Christ is about to call His troops home, and when He does, a time of suffering will begin the likes of which no one has ever seen. But you can do something to make the bitter news a sweeter. You can begin to pray for one of the unbelievers in your life, that God will use you to lead them out of danger to safety in Christ. Remember, wherever there’s a spiritual winner, anticipating the thrill of victory, there’s a spiritual loser suffering the agony of defeat. So act now while there is still time. It’s the only thing that makes sense in light of His grace and love.

(To download the written message, click on this link – WRITTEN MESSAGE.)

 

THE ORIGINAL “NICK AT NIGHT”

1Have you ever stopped to consider the things that God cannot do? Let me suggest a few. The first thing He can’t do is lie. Number 23:19 explains: “God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” God cannot lie, for that would be a violation of His own holy character.

That’s why many of the questions posed by skeptics are often just plain silly, like this. Have you ever come across this one? They ask, “If your God is all-powerful and able to do anything, then let’s see Him create a rock that is too big for Him to lift!” But then that’s  just double talk, for what they’re trying to do is to pit God’s creative power against His power to do miracles, asking Him to violate His own Almighty character, something He said He will not and cannot ever do. God cannot lie, nor will He ever contradict His own holy character.

One more question while I’m at it! Are there are sins God can’t forgive? Only one! Am I right? And that’s rejecting Jesus as Lord, for other than that one unpardonable sin, He died for every sin and blasphemy we have committed or ever will commit, which means if you worship Jesus as Lord, your every sin has been forgiven—past, present, and future! But “unless you believe that I AM,” Jesus warned, “you will die in your sins.” For He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your and my Only Savior and Hope of Salvation! But except for these few things, Jesus said, “Nothing shall be impossible for God!”

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Now let’s talk about ourselves. Is there anything we can’t do if we put our minds to it? “Absolutely not!” the New Agers, the humanists, and the followers of the cults will tell you. “You can do anything if you just learn to believe in yourself!” Fools! The list of what we can’t do is absolutely endless. But the one that tops the list is the one before us tonight—the impossibility of being born again!

Let me remind you, as we get started, where we left off last week. We were in Jerusalem following the Passover where Jesus performed a countless number of miracles for over a year, proving that He’s God with hundreds of people coming up to Him and saying, “I believe in you, Jesus, I believe you’re the Messiah!” We saw that in John 2:23 – “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many were believing (The word is pisteuo meaning to believe in someone.) in His name when they saw the signs He was doing.   But verse 24 adds, “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them.” (That’s the same word pisteuo.) In other words, they were believing in Jesus, but He wasn’t believing in them! Why not? John says, “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” And what He knows us isn’t good! For as the Bible says about us in many places, “In me, that is, in my flesh dwells no good thing.” The only good thing about you, if your faith is genuine, is that Jesus now lives in your heart and has changed your fundamental nature.

That brings us to chapter 3 where we meet a man from Jerusalem who has seen the miracles of Jesus and concluded, “This is a man sent by God!” By the way, do you think that’s a coincidence, that John immediately introduces us to someone who pictures what he’s just told us at the end of chapter 2? Of course not! John is a fisherman, and if anyone knows how to tell a story, it’s a fisherman. Except in this case, it’s true and inspired by the Holy Spirit who, Jesus said, is the Spirit of truth, which means whatever you find in this Book, you can trust. Unfortunately for this man, he isn’t a true believer because, he doesn’t yet have the right kind of belief. That’s something John warns us again and again in this book, that there is a belief which is not a belief because it’s a belief that’s superficial, self-serving, and stubbornly refuses to give Jesus the glory He deserves as God the Son.

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Open your Bible with me, then, to John chapter 3 where we’re going to meet “The Original Nick at Night,” and therein discover both what it means and why it’s imperative to be “born from above.” My outline for our study has 3 parts: the Sinner’s Crisis, the Savior’s Counsel, and the Spirit’s Conversion.

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1. The Sinner’s Crisis

John 3:1 says, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” By the way, did you know that no one ever doubted Jesus’ power to do miracles? His enemies certainly didn’t. Instead, what did they say the reason was that He could do miracles, so they wouldn’t have to bow to His Lordship? They said His power to do miracles came from the devil, thereby blaspheming the Holy Spirit and committing the one sin that can’t be forgiven – the sin of rejecting the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, it’s only twenty centuries later that skeptics and liberals are so wise in their own eyes that they set aside the testimony of eyewitnesses, comforting themselves with the thought that “those ancient people weren’t smart enough to know what I know today!”

But who was Nicodemus? He had a Greek name as many of the Jews did at that time. Nico means conquer and Demus means people. So put it together, and what do you get? Nicodemus, “victor over the people.” Now don’t read too much into that. It was just a name. Nor should you read a lot into the fact that he came to Jesus by night. I don’t think, as some preachers suggest, that “night” is a metaphor for the darkness of his soul. He just hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus yet and was being careful because he knew the Pharisees were opposed to Him. Instead, what we need to understand about him are these three facts:

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1) He himself was a Pharisee. The word means “separated one.” These were the ultra-conservative, Bible believers of Israel who interpreted the Bible literally. They believed in angels, devils, miracles, the six days of creation, heaven, hell – all of which made Nicodemus anxious because he knew he wasn’t ready to stand before God in judgment. They were also conservative in lifestyle. You know the ultra-orthodox, Hasidic branch of Judaism? These were its founders, and they were absolutely rabid about keeping the Law, not only priding themselves in the fact that they kept all 613 commandments of the Old Testament (Remember the rich young ruler? “All these things I have kept from my youth!”), but they had also come up with over a thousand laws or mitzvot of their own, just to make sure they never came close to crossing over the line.

For example, one thing a Pharisees would never do, or let his wife do, was look in a mirror on the Sabbath. Why not? Because she might find a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it, which was considered working on the Sabbath! On the other hand, a Pharisee could eat an egg laid on the Sabbath, but only if he killed the hen that laid it for working on the Sabbath. That’s how ridiculous it got. And all for nothing! Because as holy as they thought they were and seemed to be on the surface (We’re good at fooling ourselves and others, aren’t we?), Jesus called them whitewashed tombs who looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones and every kind of uncleanness.

By the way, based on everything that’s said about the Pharisees in the Gospels, you might think they were a large group. Not so! There were only 6,000 of them in all Israel at the time. But then it doesn’t take a large group to change the world for good or for ill, does it, just a highly dedicated group? That’s what they were! The Pharisees believed if they could get the entire nation to keep the Law for one day, the Kingdom would come. “But now, with this carpenter from Galilee defying our laws and challenging our authority, the Kingdom will never come!” No wonder they were of all Jesus’ enemies the most rabid. They hated Him so much that only one Pharisee in the Bible, other than Nicodemus, ever came to Him. You know who that was? The Apostle Paul who would have never bowed to the Lordship of Jesus if He hadn’t been struck him blind on the Damascus road! Later he said this of his life as a Pharisee. Philippians 3:6, “I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless! But whatever things were gain to me…I now count as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”

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2) He was a ruler of the Jews, meaning he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council made up of its 70 most powerful leaders, plus the high priest, and comprising what was in essence the Congress and Supreme Court of Israel—which means Nicodemus was a very powerful man. Church tradition says he was also one of the three wealthiest men in Jerusalem at the time.

3) He was, according to verse 10, not just a teacher, but “the teacher of Israel.” Jesus uses the definite article indicating that of all the rabbis in Israel at the time, Nicodemus was the best and brightest of them. As such, he would have been like a walking Bible dictionary, able to quote the entire Old Testament by memory. That means when talking to him, all Jesus had to do was mention a topic and every verse on that subject would have immediately come to his mind.

But above all things, he was a lost and desperate soul. After all, what do you do when you’ve spent your whole life scaling the ladder of self-righteousness and reached the pinnacle of your religion only to discover that it’s all been in vain? The only thing left to do is to turn to Jesus! So that’s what he did. He comes to Jesus lost, fearful, and wondering how to be saved. That’s the sinner’s crisis. Now look with me at the Savior’s counsel for sinners like you and me.

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2. The Savior’s Counsel

Nicodemus says to Jesus, “Rabbi” meaning “teacher.” That was something Nicodemus was called every day of his life, for of all the teachers in Israel, he was the most respected. But now his soul is in trouble and he’s desperate for help! So he turns to a Teacher who surpasses him in every way saying, “Rabbi, we know that You’re a teacher from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” How does Jesus answer? “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Sounds like a non sequitur, doesn’t it? In other words, how did what you said have anything to do with what I said? Ever had a conversation like that with somebody? But that isn’t how Nicodemus takes it. He realizes that what Jesus has just done is read his mind. He knows his guilt and his fears, and He knows yours too!

Nicodemus has heard Jesus preach several times by now. So he’s aware how superficial his righteousness is. That’s something every hypocrite knows in his heart. He knows he’s a hypocrite. And the Pharisees were hypocrites—every one of them! How can I say that? Because that’s what Jesus said 5 times in Matthew 23 alone: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then He adds, “You travel over land and sea to make one convert, and when you finally win him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!” Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a hypocrite, and a son of hell! And he was well aware of it!

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So what does Jesus do? He ignores the compliment and goes straight to the heart of his problem. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That means He’s about to correct a false teaching Nicodemus was guilty of. What false teaching was that? The false teaching of apostate Judaism that you can earn God’s favor by your good works and self-righteousness! Jesus corrects that saying to him not once, but 5 times in 8 verses, “You must be born again!” Jimmy Carter made that a household term when he ran for president and claimed to be a born again Christian. Since then it has been misapplied to everything from born-again athletic careers to second-hand books and used cars. So here’s a suggestion when talking to someone about your faith. Use the second, not the first meaning, of the word. What do I mean? The word anothen can actually be translated two different ways—“born again” or “born from above.” And the second meaning is what Jesus is really saying – without receiving new life from above, you’ll never see the Kingdom of God.

The analogy of birth is also the best way to explain salvation to someone like Nicodemus who is self-righteous. Because just as an unborn baby is helpless to contribute anything to his own birth, in the same way you and I are helpless to contribute anything to our salvation. Religion is useless, no matter what group you belong to or how sincere you are, because everything you do is corrupted by your sinful nature. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag.” Consequently, what you need if we want to enter God’s Kingdom is the new life which only Jesus can give you. Remember what John said in John 1:12? “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So don’t waste your time looking for any books telling you how to be born again. Sometimes you’ll hear that. Here are four steps to being born again. But that contradicts the very thing Jesus is teaching us here. His point is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself, except to throw yourself on His mercy and ask Him to give you new life, and He will.

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Nicodemus gets that better than most Bible-believing Christians. He knows he’s helpless to save himself. But still, like most of us, he’s thinking, “If I understood all of this just a little bit better, it’d be so much easier to believe.” You can see that in verse 9 where he wonders, “How can these things be?” But that’s not how it works. Understanding doesn’t come before believing. On the contrary, there are many things about Jesus you’ll never understand until you believe in Him. So Jesus corrects him again, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” You see in his case, his lack of understanding was due to his lack of belief, not a lack of information! After all, this was the teacher of Israel who had the entire Old Testament hidden in his heart! Read on and you’ll see that yourself. Jesus continues, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. (Remember receiving is another word for believing!) If I have told you earthly things, and you do not believe, (Unbelief was his problem!) how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” His problem is he’s an unbeliever – his mind blinded by the devil, his will enslaved to sin, and his affections corrupted by the world. So he’s going to need help if he’s to believe.

That’s the point of verse 4. “How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Nicodemus isn’t dumb. Nor is he challenging Jesus at this point. Then what’s he doing? He’s asking for a clue, which Jesus graciously proceeds to give him. We’ve seen the sinner’s crisis and the Savior’s counsel. Now notice the Spirit’s conversion.

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3.  The Spirit’s Conversion

The first clue Jesus gives him is in verse 5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Spirit, of course, refers to the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean to “born of water”? Some say it refers to baptism. But how can that be true? Baptism does not save us. Baptism is a testimony that we’ve already been born from above. Others say it refers to the waters of birth. But that can’t be right either. First century Jews weren’t yet aware of the role amniotic fluid plays in the birth of a child. Nor did Nicodemus have to be told that you have to be born the first time before he could be born the second time.

So what was Jesus referring to? Remember Nicodemus was an Old Testament scholar whose mind would have immediately tracked with Jesus, taking him to passages like Ezekiel 36 where God promised His people, “I will…sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness…and I will give you a new heart and…put my Spirit within you and make you walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.” Jesus was talking about the New Covenant that was about to come true in His blood, a promise that Nicodemus had known since he was a boy. But like all the religious leaders of Israel, he was an apostate Jew who, because he hadn’t experienced the miracle of new life himself, had given up on God’s promise. And once you do that, what do you next? You reject what the Bible says about sin and that we aren’t all “good kids” with good hearts. The fact is there’s not one good person among us. Because if you admit that, that we all deserve eternal punishment in hell, how do you cope with the fear? Answer: You ask God for the gift of faith to believe His promises of new life and forgiveness!

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The second clue is in verse 8. Jesus continues, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Ever done that? Stood outside surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and heard His wind roaring through the trees? I did that the other night. I was outside watering the flowers when I suddenly heard and felt a cool summer’s breeze blowing past me. And I thought, “What a perfect way to describe the power and refreshment of the Holy Spirit!” I didn’t know where it came from or where it was going. Nor could I control it! Ever tried to get the wind to blow when you want to fly a kite? But I felt the results of it! And you can see the results when the Holy Spirit touches someone’s life, for what happens? Just as the dead man heard Jesus shout, “Lazarus, come forth!” I heard a voice – not audibly, but just as real – saying, “Gary, believe!” And for the first time I believed in Jesus, and my spirit, which had been dead for so long, came to life, and I’ve been following Him ever since.

But what about Nicodemus? Was he ever born from above? John doesn’t say. He fades from the scene in verse 21, and we don’t hear from him again until chapter 7 where his colleagues on the Council decide that Jesus has to go. So he takes issue with them on a point of Law. John 7:50—“Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before and was one of them, said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what He does?’” So he hasn’t taken a public stand for Him yet, but I’m feeling better about him. Aren’t you?

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And the last we hear of him is John 19:38 following the crucifixion. He and a rich friend by the name of Joseph of Arimathea summon up the courage to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, so they can prepare it for burial and lay it in a new tomb that belongs to Joseph. And now I’m starting to love this guy because of his love and loyalty to Jesus! But that’s all the Bible says about him.

Thankfully, church tradition fills in the rest of the details. It reports, for example, that Nicodemus was the only person who stood up for Jesus at His trial, that he was baptized after the Resurrection by Peter and John, and that his preaching of Christ was so powerful that the Sanhedrin he served removed him from his position as teacher, confiscated his property, and banished him from Israel subjecting his wife and children to abject poverty. His daughter was so poor it’s said she had to dig through the dung piles to find a few pieces of grain to eat. A rabbi saw her doing so and took pity on her. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the daughter of Nicodemus.” “Whatever happened to him?” he asked. “He became a follower of Jesus and was banished from Israel.” So the rabbi refused to help her. And as for Nicodemus himself, he became one of the first martyrs of the church, beaten to death by a mob for preaching in the name of Jesus.

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That’s the story of Nick at night. He had everything and then gave up everything to gain what the world can never take away. So even though John doesn’t give us the details, we have our answer: His sins were washed away and he was given new life from above. For so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(To download a written copy of this message, click on Written Message. And if you think it would be helpful to someone you know, please pass it on!)