The Seal of the Living God: The Church, Sealed & Prepared for Battle – Revelation 7:1-8


The Church, Sealed & Prepared for Battle

Revelation: Every Eye Will See Him

Revelation 7:1-8


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 7:1-8. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

                12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

                12,000 from the tribe of Asher,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

                12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

                12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.


There are 7 basic plots to plays, movies, and novels:

  1. Overcoming the Monster

Definition: A protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic (often evil) force.

Example: Shark eats people. People hunt and kill the shark.

  1. Rags to Riches


Definition: The poor protagonist acquires power, wealth, and/or a mate, loses it all and gains it back, growing as a person as a result.

Example: Poor girl is mistreated by her stepmother. Fairy godmother helps her get to the royal ball. The shoe fits. Girl becomes the princess.

  1. The Quest.


Definition: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way.

Example: Archaeologist tries to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

  1. Voyage & Return:

Definition: The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to that location, returns with experience.

A little person joins the company of Dwarves to steal treasure from a dragon and returns more courageous & wealthy.

  1. Comedy:

Definition: Light and humorous conflict which becomes more and more confusing, but is at last made plain in a single clarifying event, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.

Example: A man and a woman meet online, striking up a romance over email, without realizing they actually know one another and hate one another in real life.

  1. Tragedy:

Definition: The protagonist is a hero with a major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing.

Example: A poor artist boards a ship heading for America, falls in love with a girl from a high social class. The ship sinks. He drowns.

  1. Rebirth:

Definition: An event forces the main character to change their ways and often become a better individual.

Example: An elderly miser is haunted by three spirits transforming him into a kinder, gentler man.

Plotlines help us make sense of the movie. They give us a framework for organizing all the characters, problems, and resolution. They tell us who to cheer for, and who we ought to root against. They build intrigue and interest.

It’s crucial to understand the plotline of the Bible, because the plotline of the Bible is actually the plotline of history. The story that the Bible tells is the true story of the universe and everything in it.

  • The Bible explains our origin: where did we come from?
  • It explains our destiny: where are we all going?
  • The Bible tells us who the important characters are: God, Satan, angels, humanity.
  • The Bible explains the problem: Being deceived by Satan, humanity has fallen from friendship with God, and through their sin have become his enemies. The punishment for this rebellion is death.
  • And the Bible explains the resolution: God has made a covenant both to redeem and regather rebellious people at great cost to himself.
  • How will he do it? God’s own Son willingly laid down his life for sinners, bore the penalty for their sin, and was resurrected.
  • He is now calling rebels to turn around, lay down their arms, and be welcomed back into God’s family, freely.

If you wanted a more succinct summary of the Bible’s plotline, you might say it’s the story of God gathering a people for himself through the work of his Son. And Revelation 7 contributes heavily to that plotline. But first, let’s set the context, because Revelation 7 isn’t to be read in a vacuum.


In the first three chapters, John addresses 7 first-century churches in Asia Minor. They are the book’s original audience. Most of them needed correction and encouragement because increasing persecution was coming. What would anchor them for the coming storm?

Chapters 4 & 5 give us the anchor.  Chapter is a heavenly vision of God’s throne at the center of all things. In his right hand is a scroll representing all of his plans for the earth. Jesus Christ is the Lamb who is worthy to take the scroll, break the seals, and unfold all of God’s plans.

Chapter six is the breaking of the seven seals on the scroll:

  • The first four seals send forth four horsemen representing conquest, war, famine, and death; all of which have been happening since Christ’s ascension.
  • The fifth seal breaks and we hear the cry of Christian martyrs in heaven, “How Long, O Lord, until you judge those who have persecuted and killed your saints?”
  • The sixth seal breaks and the final judgment of Christ comes to the entire earth with these words:

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Who can stand on that day? That is the closing question of Revelation 6. As John saw this final judgment poured out, he must have thought to himself, “I see how awful this day will be for God’s enemies. What will this day be like for God’s people, the church?”

When all of these judgments are poured out, how will God’s people survive, and even overcome? And Revelation 7 is the answer. It’s almost as if God said, “John, I can see the worry on your face as you see these terrifying judgments. Let me take a moment to set your heart at ease.”

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,

The chapter divides neatly into 2 sections:

  • Verses 1-8 describe a vision of the church on earth, militant, in the thick of the tribulation, yet sealed by God.
  • Verses 9-17 describe the church in the eternal state, in heaven, victorious over evil and at rest in God.

So, Revelation 7 is the story of God sealing his people, his people at war in this age against evil, his people victorious in heaven, and his people finally at rest in his eternal presence.

And that’s our outline. We’ll look at chapter 7 under four headings. Two this week, and two the next time we are in Revelation.

  1. The Church, Sealed by God (7:1-3)
  2. The Church, at War with Evil (7:4-8)
  1. The Church Victorious in Heaven (7:9-14)
  2. The Church at Rest in God’s Presence. (7:15-8:1)

Friends, there are many symbols and pictures to explain in this passage. But more than understanding symbols, my prayer all week has been that you would know you are a true believer, sealed by God, and that you would fight with faith against sin as you wait on our final victory and eternal rest.


And, if you have not yet put your faith in Christ as your Lord and redeemer, I pray you would do so even now as this passage is being preached.


God will gather and seal every single one of his people before the final judgment. That’s the headline. There isn’t a single person who is supposed to come to Christ who will fail to come to Christ before the end. That’s the first message of this text.

Before we elaborate that message, I need to explain a few features of this passage. A likely question you may have about this first point is, “Jonathan, you keep saying ‘the church,’ but these first 8 verses talk about 144,000 from Israel. What gives?”

First, if you look in verse 3, you find these words:

saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Virtually every time the term the “servants of God” appears in Revelation, it’s always in reference to the church. It occurs in 1:1: 2:20; 6:11; 19:2; 19:5; 22:3; & 22:6. The only times that term does not refer to the church are when it is applied once to the prophets and again to Moses.

Now hang with me for a few more minutes.

There are many Christians who love God and love his Word, who believe this 144,000 refers to ethnic Jews who will come to faith in Christ during a future 7-year tribulation after Christ has secretly taken the church off the earth.

But I don’t believe that view harmonizes with Revelation or with Revelation 7 for several reasons:

First, the list of tribes in Revelation 7 is out of traditional order. Reuben, the firstborn is mentioned second, while Judah, the fourthborn born comes first.

Second, Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel received no land in Canaan and are typically not mentioned as one of the twelve. But here they are. (v. 7) The same is true of Joseph, which is not a tribe of Israel. He appears on the list. (v. 8)

Third, two tribes are missing from the list: Dan and Ephraim. (Likely because they were idolatrous)

Remember, Revelation is a book of pictures. Something is being pictured here in this strange and inaccurate list of Israel’s tribes.

I believe we’re being given a highly stylized description of not just of redeemed Israelites, but all God’s redeemed in all ages using Israel’s tribes.

And we’ve already seen John take language that originally applied to Israel, and reapply it to the church. Take, for instance, Revelation 1:6, when John says that the church has been made, “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father,” That language comes directly out of Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The same thing happens in Revelation 21. There, the bride of Christ is pictured as the a city, the New Jerusalem. On the gates of the city are 12 names of the tribes of Israel. On the foundations are 12 names of the apostles.

So, the bride of Christ is made up of the 12 tribes, signifying saints in the Old Testament, and the 12 apostles signifying the church in the New Testament. You see what is being pictured? The tribes and the apostles—the entire church in all ages fill up the New Jerusalem.

Something similar is happening here in Revelation 7. What does the 144,000 picture? I believe it pictures 12 tribes multiplied by 12 apostles multiplied by a thousand, which in the ancient world was a huge number. 144,000 is symbolic of the total number of all God’s people Old Testament and New.

Now go back to verse 1. Verse 1 says, “After this I saw…” This doesn’t mean, the events in chapter 7 happen chronologically after the events of chapter 6. Rather, he’s saying, “After that vision, the next thing I saw was…”

And what did he see? Four angels, standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds. Another angel comes commanding the 4 holding back the winds to not harm the earth or the trees until we have sealed the servants of God. What’s that?

If you look back at 6:12, you see that the 6th seal unleashed a final cataclysm on the earth such that even the stars fell from the sky like a fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a wind. So, at the beginning of chapter 7, we see that God’s final judgment is being held back. It hasn’t come yet.

In other words, something is holding back God’s final judgment on the earth. What is it? Verse 2:

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.

God is first sealing all of his servants. Even today, while God’s final judgment is being withheld, God’s servants are being sealed.

What’s the purpose of a seal?

You have a king who drafts a letter, folds it, gets out his wax and imprints his signet ring into it, sealing it. The seal authenticated the letter; marking it as genuine. Seals also secured. A farmer would seal, or brand, his livestock. It wasn’t simply an identification. It secured against theft.

If you go into my library and thumb through my books you will find that many of them have an embossed seal: “From the Library of Jonathan Homesley” I even had a professor in college who under his seal would inscribe ancient Egyptian curses into the pages of the books for those who did not return them.

This seal is a declaration that we belong to God. We are his own possession. It also secures us. It spiritually safeguards our souls. You say, “So, what is this seal?”

I believe the simplest answer is found in Ephesians 1:13

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Friend, how can you receive the seal of the Holy Spirit? How can you belong to God and be safeguarded for eternity? It’s right there. Hear the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believe.

What is that gospel? It is that the God who will one day judge every sin, and melt the earth in holy justice, has already sent his only Son to bear his wrath against sin so that you might be forgiven all your sins. It’s what we sing about:

Who has felt the nails upon his hand?

Bearing all the guilt of sinful men.

God eternal humbled to the grave.

Jesus, Savior, risen now to reign.

Friend, turn to him today in trust. Revelation 7 is a picture given to John, and to us, comforting us; letting us know that the last day will not come until all of God’s people are gathered into the church.

Church, this is exactly what Jesus himself said would happen:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

This sealing of God is not a promise that you will avoid the tribulation brought about by the four riders of chapter 6; rather it is a promise that all who Christ effectually calls will come to him before the end and endure until the end.


Friends, it’s a picture of what the Apostle Paul told us in Romans 8:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35, 36)

There won’t be a single person who should have been found but wasn’t. God will save all his people before the end. And those whom he saves, he seals, not with a wax seal, but with his own Spirit.

A few applications:

  • First, God knows the exact number and the proper names of all his chosen people. We do not. This is why we offer the gospel to all. We do not know who God will save, so we ask all to come and believe.
  • Second, this is why we treat church membership, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper with care and caution. By admitting someone into membership and permitting them to come to the table our church is making a public statement that these are the people who God’s Spirit has sealed for the day of redemption. So, when you present yourself to join in membership we ask questions about your conversion, your beliefs in Christ, your walk with Christ.

Church it should being us great comfort to know that while we are called to proclaim Christ to the nations, ultimately, the roster of heaven is in the hand of Christ, and he will lose none of all that the Father has given him.

So, we have seen the Church, sealed by God. Now…


As the text continues, we look at verse 4:

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

                12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

                12,000 from the tribe of Asher,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

                12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Levi,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

                12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,

                  12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

Why picture all of the redeemed in this way? Numbers from each tribe. Some tribes missing. What is the picture that is being communicated?

Richard Bauckham has argued convincingly that the numbering in vv. 4–8 suggests that those numbered are an army. The evidence for this view is manifold, but, above all, the language of from the tribe of recalls the repeated phrases “of the tribe of” in OT census lists (e.g., Num. 1:21, 23, etc.). The purpose of the census in Numbers was to organize a military force to conquer the Promised Land. The redeemed are thus depicted in military terms as a remnant called out of the world to do battle for God.[1]

Church, I wonder if you realize that you are engaged, everyday, in a spiritual battle. Over and over again, the Apostles instructed the church using military terminology:

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Cor. 10:3, 4)

11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Eph. 6:11)

Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Tim. 6:12)

What is the battle in which we are engaged? Over the last few years, a number of you have come to Lake Wylie Baptist because you have an uneasiness about the direction our culture is heading. Perhaps you’ve lost faith in institutions you once trusted. Or, maybe you see how the people of our nation have begun to redefine even the most basic and foundational categories such as “What is a woman.”

You may be tempted to believe that the insanity of our culture is just a phase, a kind of fever dream that will pass. Or you may think that all of this is simply just the fault of self-absorbed millennials who were never spanked as children.

If you are a new convert to Christ, or perhaps you are new to church in general, it’s important to know that the spiritual battle raging around us didn’t start in this generation. Millennials didn’t invent it. Neither did Gen Xers or Boomers. No. This spiritual battle has been going on since our first parents, Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan in Eden.

Who are the main antagonists in this battle? If God is on one side of the battle line, who is the enemy? Ephesians 2:2-3 tells us there are 3 enemies of God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The first enemy of God, according to this passage is the “prince of the power of the air.” That is, Satan, the fallen angel who appeared as a serpent and deceived Eve. The second enemy is what Paul calls, “the course of this world.” In other words, there are entire human systems of culture and government that exalt themselves in opposition to the rule and reign of God. So, you have Satan, the world, and the third enemy is what Paul calls, “the flesh,” by which he refers not to our bodies, but to our corrupted nature—our disordered loves. When we are born—we are not born as those who trust God to be our Savior, Lord, and Judge. Instead, we trust ourselves.

Thankfully, Paul follows up this indictment of our flesh, with these words of comfort:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

To be a Christian means that God has made you who were dead in your sins alive with Christ. It means that God has sealed you with his Spirit. And, it means that you have now switched sides in this battle.

  • Instead of following after the course of the world, you walk in opposition to it.
  • Instead of being under the power of Satan, you belong to Christ.
  • And, instead of giving in to your disordered loves, you are now able to love God supremely, and as a consequence reorder all your other loves.

Church, be on guard in your home. These enemies desire to weaken your home, What are you allowing into your home, onto you computer screens, on your TV, on the radio? You are to take every thought captive for Christ. You are to raise your children in the nature and admonition of the Lord. That is the command you have receive from your true Commander & Chief. Show me what you are looking at, and I’ll show you what you are becoming. Show me what your children are learning and watching, and I will show you what they are becoming.

Fathers, prioritize getting your family to church. Take that as your personal responsibility. That, unless we’re out of town, our family will go and meet with God’s people every week. Prepare the family for the Lord’s Day every week. That begins on Saturday night. Make it your priority to make sure Sunday morning goes smoothly.

Families, husbands, wives, parents, children: deal with sin in the home Biblically. That means confessing it, forgiving it, and not letting it pile up. Don’t allow Satan to get a military advantage in your home by holding onto bitterness and unconfessed sin.

We have to be on guard in our church as well. It seems like every month that passes I hear of more churches loosening their grip on clear Biblical truth; opting for ease and seeking piece at the price of their own conscience.

We need more Christians reading their Bible. More Christians learning good doctrine. More Christians stretching themselves, not being spoon fed, but learning to feed themselves. God is calling you to that.

Maybe this coming year is the year you read through the entire New Testament, or the entire Bible. Or maybe you do something really crazy like buy a Systematic Theology and read it cover to cover because you want to know what you believe.

We have to be on guard in our neighborhoods. One of the surprising ways that the church fights this war is through hospitality and charity. You want to push back against some darkness in your community? Bake some cookies, invite some neighbors over for dinner. Share some of what God has given to you, and when your neighbors as why you are doing this, tell them it’s all because of Jesus.

Church, we have to be on guard in our public and civic life. In less than one year we’ll be called to vote on new candidates in a variety of offices, and we should all want to do that as Christians. Those who make the laws will make it easier or more difficult for you to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They will make it easier or more difficult for you to live a peaceful and Godly life. They will make it easier or more difficult for churches like this one to freely preach Christ.

As we close, I want you to know that this call to spiritual battle is not new or unique to us. Just this week I was reading again about one of my heroes, the English Reformer William Tyndale.

Tyndale was a singularly focused man. He had no wife or children. Instead, he mastered languages and committed himself to translating the Bible into English. He wanted nothing more than for his own countrymen to be able to read the Scriptures in their native tongue. But in the 15th and 16th century, being found with a Bible in any translation other than Latin could be considered a capital offense.

Tyndale tried to do his work of translation through official channels. He travelled to London and sought the support of Bishop Tunstall. Sadly, Tunstall was a leader who always had his thumb in the wind, discerning favorable outcomes above what was right, declined to support Tyndale.

At 30 years of age, William realized he would never fulfill God’s call on his life in his home country. He crossed the channel into the continent of Europe. He would never see the land of his birth again.

Church historian J. H. d’Aubigne records the event with poignancy:

“And so Tyndale left England and sailed for Germany. A poor man in material things, he was soon to send back to his countrymen, even from the banks of the Elbe, the book which was to lead many of them to become “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to them that love Him.” With what greater boon can a man bless his native land?

When asked how he felt about exile from his country, Tyndale replied, ‘We be not called to a soft living.’”

No, we are not called to a soft living. We are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ. May we do so with joy knowing that we have been sealed for the final day.

[1] The Climax of Prophecy: Studies in the Book of Revelation (Edinburgh: Clark, 1993), 217–29.

How Long?: The Cry of Persecuted Saints – Revelation 6


The Prayers of Persecuted Saints

Revelation: Every Eye Will See Him

Revelation 6:1-17


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 6:1-17. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”

When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”



“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”

Grantland Rice, New York Herald Tribune, October 18, 1924. With those words, 4 Notre Dame football players were given football immortality. They would forever be known as the Four Horsemen. But the 1924 Fighting Irish football team are not the only way the term “The Four Horsemen,” has been applied in our lexicon. That name has been applied to a variety of people.

  • In the Marvel Comic Universe, Apocalypse is a supervillain, and the Horsemen are other villains who do his bidding.
  • There are the Four Horsemen of the Supreme Court, referring to four conservative judges in the 1930s who opposed F.D.R.’s New Deal.
  • “Four Horsemen” was also a song on the The Clash’s famous album London Calling.
  • And who could forget the Four Horsemen of the WCW: the Nature Boy Ric Flair, Arn & Ole Anderson, & Tully Blanchard?

The specter of these 4 apocalyptic riders permeates our culture. Movies, music, and famous novels have been written about them.

But who are these riders? Are they good? Bad? Are they past? Present? Future? Are they historic figures, or are they more symbolic of movements and events? Will the church experience the troubles they bring, or will the church be removed from the earth before they and their assault are released? All of these questions, and many more, have fascinated, puzzled, and even sadly divided Christians throughout the centuries.

But, at the risk of stealing thunder from the rest of the sermon, let me summarize all of chapter 6 right now:

These four riders symbolize all of human history between the time of Christ’s ascension and return. It’s a history characterized by conquest, war, famine, and death; and in God’s sovereign providence, his saints are not immune to, but rather experience them all. (6:1-8) In heaven, those who have been persecuted and martyred cry out to God, “Lord, since you are holy and good, how long will you let this go on,” and are told to rest and wait. (6:9-11) They wait because God is patiently rescuing others before the final day of his wrath and judgment. (6:12-17) There, that’s the entire chapter.

In 17 verses, John sets our expectations for life in this age, he teaches us how we ought to pray as we wrestle with the reality of these riders, and he shows us the hope we have in God’s final day of wrath. So, let’s learn from this chapter under three headings:

  1. The Authority of the Horsemen (6:1-8)

            – Who are they?

            – Why does Jesus send them?

  1. The Cry of the Martyrs (6:9-11)
  2. The Wrath of the Lamb (6:12-17)

It is difficult to trust God when in his providence, he sends troubles. Yet this passage teaches us that even the troubles he sends work for our good in this world and the next. Let’s begin our study by examining:


If you look down in verse 8 you see these words, “And they [the four horsemen] were given authority [or power].”

Who are these horsemen? Some have argued they are ancient Roman Emperors like Titus and Hadrian. Some see these riders as the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and therefore this section of Revelation is past. Others take the breaking of the first seal to be the beginning of a future 7-year tribulation after the church has been taken off the earth. Some believe the first rider to be the Antichrist, while others believe the white rider to be Christ himself.

These 7 seals are the complete (7) judgment of God. And who are these riders? They do not depict a specific war, famine, or earthquake, or specific events in Israel, but represent all the upheavals and wars and calamities in this age which lead up to God’s final judgment.

This is not a picture of a rapture of the church followed by 7 years of tribulation. The 4 horsemen are not a picture of specific people or calamities that occur during a 7-year tribulation. Rather, they are a symbolic picture of all that has been happening between Christ’s first advent and his second advent.

There are four riders, symbolizing that these calamites occur in all the earth. The first rider symbolizes conquest. It’s a picture of men and women who trample one another in the quest for power and domination. As the first rider, who leads out the others, it’s a reminder that envy and selfish ambition are the root of many other calamities.


Some have argued that this first rider is Christ and the message of the gospel going out into the earth, because Revelation 19 is a picture of Christ riding on a white horse. But there are several problems here.

  • First, the white rider in Revelation 6 carries a bow, but in Revelation 19, Christ carries a sword.
  • Second, the white rider in Revelation 6 wears a single crown (stephanos), while Christ wears many crowns (diadems)
  • Third, v. 8 tells us that authority is given to these 4 riders to kill.

So, I don’t believe this can be Christ. In fact, thoughtout Revelation we will see Satan attempt to parrot and impersonate Christ. That’s what I believe is happening here. Many world leaders first appear as saviors before they cruelly become tyrants.

The second horse is red, like blood. Throughout the centuries, nations have warred against nations. Families have turned on one another. This red horse pictures the human heart, unrestrained in it’s sinful anger.

Some of you are students of military history, and you have read of the barbaric atrocities humans have perpetrated against one another. We look at the headlines of our own day and the surprise attack in Israel just weeks ago. This is the red horse running through the earth, taking peace.

The third horse is black, the color of deprivation and emptiness. The rider holds scales in his hand; a picture of scarcity, famine, and inflation. Throughout history there are seasons of scarcity, and starvation.

We’re told that a quart of wheat sold for a denarius, and three quarts of barely for a denarius. What does that mean? It’s a picture of rampant inflation. A denarius was a day’s wage, and a quart of wheat was a days subsistence. The idea is that people are living day to day.

The four horse is pale; literally green. It’s the color of sickness and death. You see the natural progression: selfish ambition and conquest, war, scarcity, death. The rider is named Death, and following behind him is Hades. Hades is close to the Hebrew word Sheol. It’s the holding tank where you go to await final condemnation or blessing.

Verse 8 says:

And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Remember, you don’t read Revelation literalistically. This isn’t saying that the population of the earth is divided into quarters and exactly one quarter are killed. This language of authority over a fourth of the earth symbolizes partial judgment, not full and complete judgement. Throughout history you find war in some nations, but not all. You see scarcity in some continents, not all.

What does all this mean?

Keep the context and original audience in mind: Christians, five decades after the resurrection and ascension of Christ were experiencing increasing persecution, alienation, rejection. And the question must have been in their mind: “If the Father is seated on the throne, and Christ has ascended to the place of authority and power… if he is truly reigning… why are we suffering?”

Remember some of the great promises Christ gave to the church:

“On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

“No one can snatch them out of my hand.” John (10:28)

What we learn in this passage is that painful persecution and deadly destruction do not occur indiscriminately, or in spite of Christ’s sovereign exaltation, but as a consequence of it. It is Christ, ascended and reigning who unfolds all of history in the breaking of these seals, even the trials and persecutions of his people.

Therefore, Revelation 6 is not a preview of calamities from which Christians will be removed. Rather Revelation is a heavenly explanation for the calamities Christians have endured ever since the ascension of Christ and will continue to endure until his return.

  1. THE CRY OF THE MARTYRS (6:9-11)

In many ways, verses 9 & 10 are the very heart of the passage.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

The perspective shifts from the devastation of the horsemen on earth back to the throne room of heaven. Here, John sees the souls of martyrs, presumably, Christians throughout the centuries who have been killed for claiming the name Christ.

Notice the question they ask: O sovereign Lord… how long?” How long will the Lord allow these horsemen to plague the earth? If Christ is risen… if he is reigning in heaven, then why is he sending out these riders?

Notice as well, their attention to the Lord’s attributes:

  • If you are sovereign (in control of all things), why is this happening?
  • If you are holy (morally pure) how can you allow evil?
  • If you are true, why do you allow deception?
  • And if you are the judge, why have you withheld judgment.

Church, this prayer of the martyrs is not unlike the questions Job asked God in his trial. It’s not unlike the questions the prophet Habakkuk asked the Lord centuries before. In fact, this is the prayer of persecuted saints in every century.

If we’re honest, it’s the question that gives us more trouble than almost any other. Why does God allow and even send all that he sends? You may have asked that question even this week. Friends, I take some comfort in knowing that even saints in heaven ask the same question that we are asking here on earth.

11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

In response to their prayer, these saints are given a white robe, symbolizing their own victory. Though they were martyred, their faithfulness is counted as victory. And, they are told to rest. Why? Because there are more martyrs to come.

What’s going on here? They are told to wait for the judgment of God because first there are more Christians to be martyred. Though it may not sound like it, I believe the Lord is showing his patience and mercy. If he were to initiate the final judgment, there would be none left standing.

But, by delaying the final judgment, God allows more time for sinners to repent, to turn from their sins and to trust in Christ. Friend, even this morning, God is showing you patience. If you have not acknowledged your sin, and admitted your need for God’s mercy—do so today.

There will come a day when God’s righteous anger against all sin will be revealed. Because he is good, he will not let a single sin go unpunished. But, because he is also full of mercy, his own Son became a man, lived a perfectly obedient life, and died bearing God’s wrath against sin. Look to Christ, and you will be forgiven. Friend, if you have more questions about what it means to be a Christian, talk to me after the service, or talk to one of the people around you.

John’s original audience, under the persecution of Domitian needed to know that nothing happens outside of the sovereign providences of the risen Christ. The saints today, in North Korea, or Iran need to know that nothing they experience has happened because Christ was weak, or ignorant, or malevolent. And we need to know the same thing.

We need to know that when Scripture says “all things work together for the good of them that love God,” it means even the troubles of today. Even the evil forces of this world, Christ has used as his agent to bring both the sanctification of his people, and the judgment of evil doers.

All Things for Good

Though your afflictions are naturally evil – the wise overruling hand of God disposing and sanctifying them – turn them toward good ends.

He’s teaching you to hate sin. When I preach on sin, that it defiles and damages, you may

He’s making you more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul say, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Was his head crowned with thorns, and do we think to be crowned with roses? It is good to be like Christ, though it be by sufferings.

He uses your sufferings to strengthen others. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24)

He’s strengthening your will to resist temptation. A tree that is shaken by the wind is more settled and rooted. Just so, the blowing of a temptation does but settle a Christian the more in grace. Peter was tempted to self-confidence. He presumed that his own strength was enough. But when he was put to the test, Christ let him fall. But it was for his good. He went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75). And he became less  self-reliant. When Christ asked him, “Do you love me more than these,” he dared not say so. He simply replied with, “Lord, you know I love you.” The fall into sin broke the neck of his pride.

Even if the circumstances themselves are not good, we need to be able to say that “God is working these things in such a way that the outcome will be for my eternal and everlasting joy.”

  1. THE WRATH OF THE LAMB (6:12-17)


The 6th seal is broken in verse 12:

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

What is being depicted here? I believe we’re seeing the final judgment. Because Revelation is a cyclical book, this earthquake will appear again in chapter 16. The focus here in chapter 6 is on the judgment of God against those who have persecuted his saints.

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

This is the complete overthrow of all earthly powers, rulers, movements, and systems. (Beeke) No matter how powerful the rulers of this world are, regardless of the craftiness of their schemes or cunning, they will all be confounded.

And it is the very Lamb who sent forth the riders who will confound them in the end, and not even the mountains will be able to hide them from his terror. The same Christ who died for sinners in his first appearing, will preside over them as judge when he returns.

The only thing that matters is that we are on the right side of Jesus. That we are able to look into his eyes and see one who has redeemed us from our sins. Philip Dodderidge put it like this:

Ye sinner seek his grace

Whose wrath ye cannot bear

Fly to the shelter of his cross

And find salvation there.

Worthy is the Lamb: Jesus Christ Unlocks History – Revelation 5:1-14


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 5:1-14. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10         and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.


What makes you celebrate? This coming Thursday our nation will sit down to tables spread with turkey, dressing, a variety of vegetables that all the children will pass over, and pumpkin pies. As a nation, we’ll celebrate all the many blessings we enjoy, giving thanks and enjoying family and friends.

But there are many other occasions for celebrations that we observe. Our entire year is full of celebrations. We celebrate national holidays such as Independence Day or Memorial Day. We celebrate religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas. We even celebrate holidays that we don’t understand.

Originally St. Patrick’s Day was called the Feast of St. Patrick, in which the church celebrated the conversion of Ireland from paganism to Christianity. But what about today? What are we celebrating? Ireland? The color green? Shamrocks and leprechauns?

Once a year we celebrate birthdays, which mark off another year of God’s sustaining our physical life. We throw showers and receptions for weddings and babies, celebrating the beginning of a new family or a new generation. You might celebrate a personal milestone, like the graduation of high school or college, or a promotion at work.

Celebrations set human beings apart from every other living creature. Dogs don’t celebrate wedding anniversaries. Cats don’t celebrate a month of weight loss with a cheat meal. Chimpanzees don’t throw parties when their children graduate from Ape School.


But why? Why do we celebrate? If you think about it, from an evolutionary perspective, celebrations are terribly wasteful; they are an unnecessary expenditure of resources that could be saved up for the survival of the species. So, why do we celebrate?

Friend, you might say that celebrations are part of what make humans human. Because we are made in the image of the Creator, we have an internal knowledge that our lives are significant. The events of history have real and lasting meaning, be they the founding of a nation in 1776, or the evangelization of Ireland. In fact, historical events are so imbued and charged with meaning precisely because God works within history.

That’s why we celebrate Christmas. We recognize that the Son of God, as a fact of history, took unto himself a human nature, and had a birthday. That same Son of God, as a fact of history, was crucified outside of Jerusalem bearing the sins of his people, and was raised again three days later.

You see, the Christian view of history is not like the evolutionary view, which requires blind chance to determine what happens next. Nor is the Christian view of history like the Marxist view, that the material world is all there is, and therefore history is determined by economic relationships.

Rather, we believe that God who spoke both time and space into existence; who created all things by the Word of his power, is the same God who in Christ Jesus is redeeming all things in heaven and earth. The end of history isn’t the frozen, dead universe of the evolutionist, nor is it some utopia brought about by the proletariat’s rebellion against the bourgeoisie.

No, the end of history is a cosmic celebration, and as we will see in our passage today, it is brought about through the person of Jesus Christ. As we consider the unlocking of history, and the celebration that awaits those who are in Christ, let’s work through this passage in 4 parts:

  1. The Scroll He Saw (5:1)
  2. The Tears He Shed (5:2-4)
  3. The Comfort He Received (5:5-7)
  4. The Song He Heard (5:8-14)

Church, as we examine this passage, I pray you will know that Christ alone unlocks all of history. And if you are not a Christian, I pray that even today you will see that your life fits into God’s plan to redeem all things in Christ, and therefore you will turn to him in faith.

  1. THE SCROLL HE SAW (5:1)

In order to set the stage, consider what we studied last week in Revelation 4. The Apostle John, exiled on the Aegean island of Patmos for preaching Christ, received a vision from Jesus Christ in which he was invited up into heaven and there he saw, at the center of all things: a throne. God, seated on his throne is the ultimate center of all reality, and John relayed to us the worship that eternally occurs there.

Now, in Revelation 5:1 we read the following:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.

Our attention is drawn from the one on the throne to a scroll or book in his right hand, the hand of God’s power.

If you were a first-century Roman citizen, you would instantly recognize the significance of a seven-sealed scroll. That’s because, in ancient Rome, the last will of a person’s estate and inheritance was written front and back on a scroll and sealed by seven witnesses. Only upon the death of a testator could the seals be broken and the legal inheritance be executed. So, this scroll is a deed of inheritance.

On the other hand, Jews reading this knew that centuries earlier, God had worked powerfully in the life of the prophet Daniel. Daniel gave many prophecies of the kingdoms of Babylon, the Medes & Persians, of even Greece and Rome.

Daniel was also told of the last days when God would judge sin and evil. In Daniel 7:13 we read these words:

13 “I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.

14 And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.

In the final chapter of the book, Daniel inquired of the Lord when these last days would take place. But instead of giving Daniel an answer, the Lord told Daniel to “shut up the words and seal the book until the time of the end.” (Dan. 12:4, 9)

Amazingly, the Lord Jesus, in Mark 14:62, foretelling his resurrection form the dead and ascension to the Father, quotes this very passage.

62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

You see, Daniel’s prophecy had been sealed up because the saints of the Old Testament could not have understood the full meaning of the Messianic age without direct knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, and what he came to do. But now that Christ has been revealed in the flesh, history has entered its final phase.

Church, you are living in the last days. The prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, foresaw a future age in which God’s Messiah would rule and reign, it would be a time of peace when the nations would come to Christ, they would learn to obey God’s commands, and God’s glory would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

But, when you turn to the New Testament, you realize that this reign of Christ, which the prophets saw as taking place at the end of the age, actually overlaps our current age. In other words, the kingdom reign of Christ is inaugurated not at the end of history, but right in the middle.

If we take both of those together we begin to form an understanding of what this scroll represents. This scroll represents the title deed to the earth, the plans, purposes, and judgments of God. It is written on both front and back, therefore nothing can be added to this plan.And, this scroll represents the unfolding of all history between Christ’s first and second advent. And John desperately wants to see what is in this scroll. How will God unfold the end of history and bring it to its consummation?

  1. THE TEARS HE SHED (5:2-4)

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

The only way to unlock all of God’s redemptive plan and judgment is to break the seals and open the scroll. And the question is, as Joel Beeke says, “Who is equal to the task of executing God’s plan, realizing his decrees, and carrying out his purposes in the universe? If it were left to us, there would be no kingdom of God, no salvation for mankind, no spread of the gospel, and no final righteous judgment.” And therefore, John weeps.

Friend, what do you weep about? What brings tears to your eyes? Do you weep over your own need for forgiveness? Do you weep for those who have not heard the gospel? When you see hostages taken in Israel, cities bombed in Ukraine, and abortion legalized in our own nation, do you weep; longing for the day when God will set things to right? Church, apart from Jesus Christ opening this scroll, there is no hope for us, for the nations, for good.

Friends, notice that the question asked is not whether someone is strong enough to open the book. Rather, the question is, “Who is worthy?” Is there anyone who has the character, the righteousness, the quality of life to receive this title deed to the earth? And John weeps, for no one in heaven was worthy.

Consider who was in heaven when John received this vision. The Apostle Paul had already been beheaded by Nero nearly two decades earlier, as had Peter within a few years of Paul. But neither of these men, hand-selected by Jesus himself were worthy.

What about David, Israel’s greatest king, the man after God’s own heart? Or what about Moses, the great prophet and deliverer of the children of Israel; the man who split the Red Sea and saw the glory of God on Sinai and delivered God’s law to the people. What about Abraham, the father of the faith, who believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness?

Friend, no one in heaven, not even the holiest saint was found worthy to receive this book.

The search expanded to earth. Surely there were great and powerful leaders of men, kings and emperors who might be able to enact and bring about God’s plans of redemption and judgment. But no. No man or woman on earth could be found. Not the Emperor Domitian, or any of the early church fathers.

Church this is a reminder that even the best of men, are men at best. As important as it is that we elect godly men and women to public office, and it is, none of them are able to enact God’s eternal plans of redemption. No politician, no pastor, no spouse, no child. If we place the hope of our immortal souls in any of these, not only will our hearts be broken, but we’ll become idolaters; looking to men for what only the Son of Man can do.

We have seen:

  1. The Scroll He Saw
  2. The Tears He Shed



As John weeps and no one can be found who is worthy, one of the 24 elders notices his tears and speaks words of tremendous comfort:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Who is this Lion of Judah and Root of David? Well, those are two Old Testament references to Jesus Christ. The first comes from Genesis 49:


Judah is a lion’s cub;

from the prey, my son, you have gone up.

He stooped down; he crouched as a lion

and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

And the second is from Isaiah 11:9

10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

These were prophecies that would help Israel properly identify the Messiah of God. He would descend from the tribe of Judah, and more specifically, from the lineage of Jesse and King David.

Of course, Jesus perfectly meets these two prophetic requirements. He is the Lion of Judah. As the Root of Jesse, he is the rightful heir to David’s throne. And, as John turns to see this conquering Lion he is utterly shocked because when he turns around, instead of a Lion he sees a Lamb. And not just a Lamb, but who somehow appears to have been offered as a blood sacrifice. Yet this Lamb is standing and alive.

What is happening? Who is this one who is both a Lion and a Lamb? And what makes him worthy of taking the scroll? Church this is Jesus Christ, and what qualifies him is his victory: he conquered. But unlike every other human conqueror, Jesus victory is greater and his means of victory are more surprising. What did he conquer? While other warriors conquered nations, Jesus conquered the power of sin and the plans of the devil. In his perfectly obedient life Jesus conquered sin. He did what the first Adam did not do; where we failed to obey God, Christ the Son perfectly obeyed the Father on our behalf and received our punishment. And, in his resurrection, he conquered the plan of the devil to destroy him. Church, who could possibly execute the contents of this scroll if he could not first be master over sin? Who could bring about God’s redemptive plan and judgments if he was not able to first triumph over Satan? This is what makes Jesus, and Jesus alone, worthy to unlock all of God’s plans for history. And this is what brought John comfort.

Friend, this is what will bring you comfort in your distress, in your disappointments: Christ has conquered. Has your life not worked out the way you had planned: Christ has conquered. Have you received a diagnosis that has shaken you: Christ died in your place and was raised. Are you daily weighed down with concerns for your future? Friend, not one of God’s redemptive purposes will fail because Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, the Root of Jesse, the Lamb who was slain has taken the scroll and he will execute every line of God’s eternal plans not just for the cosmos—but for you personally.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

The Scroll he saw, the tears he shed, the comfort he received…

  1. THE SONG HE HEARD (5:8-14)


When Christ takes the scroll from the one seated on the throne all of heaven and all of earth break out in song. John says “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” acknowledges the kingly rule of Jesus Christ. And as they sing about the worthiness of the Lamb, I want to draw your attention to two details in their song.

First, I want you to notice that the Lamb possesses the same power and authority as the one who is seated on the throne. When heaven worships the Lamb, they are worshipping God. When heaven worships the one on the throne in chapter 4, they are worshiping God. Just as the elders fell before the throne in chapter 4, they now fall down at the feet of the Lamb. This is because the Lamb is the Second Person in the Holy Trinity. Though the Son of God is distinct from the Father in his person, he is equal in essence or nature. One of the greatest statements on the deity of Christ comes from the Nicene Creed, written in A.D. 325. Of the son it says:

[I believe in] one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.

I don’t know if you realize this, but the Christian view of Jesus is different from the Islamic, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon view of Jesus. The Islamic view of Christ is that he was a mere human prophet. The view of Jehovah’s Witness is that Jesus Christ was a created by Jehovah as the archangel Michael and is a lesser God. The Mormon view is that Jesus is the offspring of a “heavenly father” and “heavenly mother,” who became exalted to godhood and, even more strangely, that Jesus and Lucifer (who were brothers) both offered to be the Messiah. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus a created being. Church, we may have family, friends, or neighbors who are Muslim, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Mormon, and we have a responsibility to love them by explaining to them, from passages like Revelation 5, that Jesus Christ is clearly the eternally existent Son of God.

The second detail I want you to note in their song is this: Jesus Christ ransomed a people.

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

When Jesus Christ went to the cross, he was not dying for the possibility that some might be saved. No, he ransomed actual people. He didn’t die for the prospect that sinners in general might be saved. Rather, he took a list of names to the cross. He died for the sins of his people. But notice where his people come from: every tribe, every language, every people, every nation. The death of Christ embraces all sorts of men and women: all ethnic groups, and linguistic groups. There is no favoritism or partiality. He did not save us because we were beautiful, but to make us beautiful. He did not ransom us because we were righteous but to give us his perfect righteousness. Friend, though God chooses to save, “that choice is not elitist, or snobbish. There is no preference or bias.” (Beeke) He welcomes the weakest, the vilest the poor.

So, if you hear his voice today, if you believe he has died to redeem you from your sins today, then trust him. Confess your need of him. If you have more questions about what that means, after the service come talk to me, or even talk to one of the people sitting near you. This church is full of people who love Jesus and can help explain the gospel to you.

That soul who on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not I will not desert to its foes

That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake

I’ll never no never no never forsake.

Holy, Holy, Holy: Worship in the Throne Room of Heaven


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 4:1-11. Our text can be found on page 1030. These are the words of God:

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

                        “Holy, holy, holy, is he Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

            11          “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

                        for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.


For as long as human beings have recorded history, we have records of ancient people looking up into the night sky, seeing stars and planets wheeling around, and wondering, “What is it that holds the universe together?” You are likely familiar with some of the most famous answers to that perennial question.

Claudius Ptolemy, a mathematician and astronomer who lived in Egypt just after the time of Christ, recognized that from any point on Earth, one gets the impression that the Sun, moon, stars and planets all revolve around the Earth once every twenty-four hours, and the earth appears to be an unmoving, stable, and stationary foundation. This theory, widely held during the ancient world and the Middle Ages became known as the Ptolemaic system.

But there were problems. Astronomers noticed that at different times of the year, the planet Mars appeared to reverse its course and move backward. Venus, which ought to orbit the earth inside the orbit of the Sun should only be seen in crescent or new phases, but never full, yet the astronomer Galileo looked through his telescope and saw her shining in a full phase.

Clearly, the Ptolemaic system, with the Earth as the center point, was not sufficient to explain the true nature of the universe. It would be 1,400 years before Nicolaus Copernicus would publish his famous work, “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Sphere,” which theorized that the Sun, not the Earth was the center of the solar system.

As an interesting side-note: Copernicus was convinced to publish his theories by a man named Rheticus, a mathematician from Wittenberg Germany who had been introduced to him by none other than Philipp Melanchthon, the close friend of the German reformer Martin Luther.

What followed was a scientific revolution. Having knowledge about the center of the solar system explains every other orbiting body. Or, put another way, a false understanding of the center will cause you to misunderstand everything else.

In Revelation 4, the Apostle John gives us a picture of the center, not simply of the solar system, or even the entire universe. He directs our attention to the center of all things material and spiritual, past, present, and future. This center is not a planet or a star, it is the very throne of God in heaven. As we begin to understand these eleven verses, a few reminders.

First, Revelation is not linear, but cyclical, and chapter 4 begins the second of seven cycles which repeat the same essential message: God rules history and will bring history to it ultimate consummation in Christ. That message is repeated in every section of visions, but from slightly different vantage points. For this reason, Revelation is a book for today, for us, for our difficulties.

Second, Revelation speaks to us in symbols. We are not to read this book in a literalistic manner. It is not a puzzle book, it’s a picture book. Revelation addresses spiritually anesthetized saints, employing vivid, and often terrifying symbols in order to shake us, wake us, and sober us to cosmic realities.

Friend, as you watch the news unfold, there is no question that the world is heaving in tumult. But Revelation reminds us that the violent storms of human history cannot be explained in merely human terms. Rather, these storms are part of a war in the cosmos.

What is it that will keep us buoyant and bear us up through the storms of history? What will keep us anchored and settled? John shows us that at the center of all things—there is one who is seated upon the throne. And, as we look to this throne, and learn who it is that sits upon the throne, not only are our hearts more settled and composed, but we even begin to rejoice and sing.

Church, we learn the identity of this one upon the throne as we see:

  1. Where He Is (4:1-2)
  2. Who He Is (4:3-7)
  3. What He Deserves (4:8-11)

And friend, if you have not yet placed your faith in Christ as the only savior of sinners, well I pray that even as this sermon is preached, you will begin to turn to him and believe.

  1. WHERE HE IS (4:1-2)

In Heaven. (v. 1)

This is the second vision of Christ given to John in Revelation. The first vision is found in chapters 1-3, and this second vision begins in chapter 4 and concludes in chapter 7.

Notice several similarities. Both the first vision in Chapter 1 and this second vision begin with a voice like the blast of a trumpet, and John is told that he will see things which must soon take place. In both visions, John tells us that he is in the Spirit.

In this vision, John is invited to step outside of time and space, into heaven. From this heavenly vantage point, John will see the sweep of all future history in the following chapters, but the first thing he sees in heaven is a throne.

On the Throne. (v. 2)

The throne is the symbol of kingly authority and dominion. The king, seated on the throne, shows us that the Lord God rules and reigns. Because this is a heavenly throne, the understanding of this king is exalted. The judgments of this king are uncontested. The sovereign will of this king dominates.

You might even say the word “throne” is one of the main themes of Revelation. The word occurs 62 times in the New Testament; 47 times in Revelation, and 17 of those 47 are found here in chapters 4 and 5.

The Centrality of the Throne. (v. 2 & following)

This throne is not simply in heaven. Notice that this throne is the centerpiece of heaven. Everything else in the passage surrounds the throne. Around the throne is a rainbow. Around the throne are the 24 elders. Out from the throne come lightening. Around the throne on each side are the four living creatures.

Friend you must read this passage imaginatively. John isn’t just telling you about a throne “up there.” He is painting a picture of a throne at the center of everything that is.

The center point of history, the center point of your life, that around which all else orbits is the eternal throne of God. Friend, your life is not an accident. The events of this last week were not random.

We may not understand why God allows all that he allows in the world today—but thanks be to God that the center of the universe isn’t the empty vacuum of space, rather it is the occupied throne of heaven.

I wonder if you live as if God is on the throne, or if you are living as if your life is an accident or mistake. Friend, if God sits on the throne, then the year of your birth wasn’t a mistake. The gender of your body is not a mistake. The role that God has called you to fulfill as a man or woman is not a mistake.

John is showing us that everything, from war in the Middle East, to even the chromosomes in our body find their meaning and significance in relationship to the occupied throne in heaven.

So, we see that the Lord God is in heaven, seated on a throne, and that throne is the center point of all that is. That’s where he is. Now, let’s see:

  1. WHO HE IS (4:3-7)

Surprisingly, John does not give us a physical description of the one seated on the throne. In this passage, we do not learn who he is by looking at him, but by noticing who and what it is that surrounds his throne.

When we see these images of thunder, and elders, and living creatures we must remember that they are not the focus. They are present in this vision in order to direct our focus towards the throne. Their individual characteristics shed light and understanding on the identity and character of the one seated on the throne. So, what do we see?

First, in verse 3, we see colors.

And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

Jasper, which can reflect a myriad of colors, symbolizes the multifaceted glory of God. Carnelian, an opaque red stone stands for wrath and judgment. Finally, a rainbow like an emerald, reminds us of God’s mercy; for when God judged the earth in the days of Noah, he set a rainbow in the sky as a sign that he would never again flood the earth in judgment.

We won’t turn there now, but in Exodus 28, God instructed Moses to work these same stones into the breastplate and shoulder pieces of the priestly garments of Israel.

We also see these same stones in Revelation 21:18-21, where they serve as the foundation and walls of the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven. The walls and foundation of the new Jerusalem reflect God’s glory, his wrath, and his mercy.

What does all this mean? I believe John is showing us that this one who sits on the throne is the same one who forgave the sins of his people in Exodus, he is the same one who builds a new heavens and a new earth. From the first to the last, he is the glorious, wrathful, and merciful sovereign God. Everything, from the priestly worship of Israel to the very walls of the new creation rests upon the brilliance of God’s glory.

After these colors, we see 24 thrones and 24 elders seated upon them.

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

Who are these elders? Are they human? Angelic? These elders appear 12 times in Revelation. In Revelation 7 they are distinguished from the great throng of common angels.

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, (Rev. 7:11)

In the same passage, they are also distinguished from Christians who endure through the tribulation.

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. (Rev. 7:13)

They do, however, represent the saints of God before the throne.

the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev. 5:8)

I believe these 24 elders are a special order of angelic beings who represent the church before the throne. But why are there 24? Well, I believe the answer is that just as there were 12 tribes in Israel and 12 apostles of Christ, these 24 elders represent the true church in all ages, Old Covenant and New, before the throne of God.

Here we see that the one on the throne is aware of the needs of the church in every age. Today we are being represented in heaven. Our prayers are being heard. You may not be able to get through to the President, the Governor, or even your cable company representative. But if you prayed to the Lord this morning, you were heard.

And friend, if you are not a Christian, these 24 elders show us that God, who is the creator, is also the redeemer of sinners; those who have ignored God, disobeyed his commands, and instead lived for themselves.

How has he done that: by sending his own Son to become a human, to live a life of perfect obedience, and to receive the just punishment that we deserved. And that’s exactly what Jesus Christ did.

Friend to become a Christian means to turn from a life of ignoring and disobeying God, towards Jesus Christ—believing that he has taken your place, received your condemnation in his death, and that he was raised again. Turn to him today. Believe today. Look to Christ, and know that the Lord of heaven and earth has received you, hears you, loves you, forgives you, and welcomes you.


After the 24 Elders, we see that lightning and thunder shoot from the throne. This same language of “lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder” occurs again in Revelation 8:5, 11:19, and 16:18 and each time represents the judgments of God poured out on earth. In fact, if you read those three passages you will see this common theme. The thundering of God’s judgment always is presented as the final judgment upon those who persecute God’s people. God’s people are oppressed, they cry out to the Lord, and the result is the swift and final judgment of God.

So we have seen colors, elders, lightnings and now a sea of glass.

In the ancient world, the sea was a fearful place. Storms at sea wrecked ships. The seas were the source of mythical monsters. If you go back to Genesis 1, before God made the land, the earth is said to be one giant chaotic ocean. In Revelation 13, a beast rises out of the sea. But here, the sea isn’t foaming and threatening; it isn’t chaotic and unruly. Rather, it’s so still it looks like solid crystal. In the presence of God’s throne, the seas are tamed and docile.

Friends, this should also remind us of the power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had the ability to speak to the winds and the waves and command them to be still.

Finally, the last sight John sees are these four living creatures.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within

You say, “What are the living creatures?” Well, just as the church is represented by the Elders, I believe we are seeing the heavenly representatives of all created living creatures. The lion is the king of the wild animals. The ox is the strongest of the domesticated animals. The eagle is Lord of the sky, and man is the ruler of the animals. Why are they said to be full of eyes? Because they are representing every animal on the globe, who see and behold all of creation.

So, who is this one upon the throne? Though we do not see him directly, those who surround his throne paint a vivid picture. He is the sovereign Lord. He alone can silence the tumult of the seas. He is the redeemer, who will pardon and receive all who come to him asking for mercy. He is the ruler over every creature, from the greatest to the smallest. Church, there is no one like him.

And for that reason, when we come face to face with the enthroned Lord of heaven and earth, the only proper question is, “What does he deserve?”

  1. WHAT HE DESERVES (4:8-11)

These four living creatures, the heavenly representatives of all ensouled life on earth, serve one purpose; they have one responsibility. Verse 8 tells us that:

day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

      who was and is and is to come!”

Church, much like the seraphim in Isaiah 6, these four living creatures, from the moment of their creation, have never stopped in their worship of the one true God. They declare his holiness; that is, he alone is totally and utterly set apart from creation. God is not to be identified with anything else in creation.

There exists an infinite chasm between the everlasting God and the world he made. He is not mortal. He is not material. He is not created. He is not finite. He is not time-bound. He is not space-bound.

And, every time these four living creatures give honor and glory to God, verse 10 tells us that:

10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

            11          “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

                        for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.”

Once again, they stress God’s unique nature—that he alone is the uncreated God who made all things. That he alone is the self-sustaining, self-causing, eternal being who creates and sustains all else.

Church, day and night, morning and evening, through every season, through every tumultuous century of human history, heavenly praise has been offered before the throne of God.

While evil men and women mock God on earth, the Lord has received all that he deserves in heaven. This is one of the reasons Christ taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

One of the questions you may have, as you consider this passage is, “Is this what heaven is going to be like for us? One long eternal song?” Well, no. This is but one portrait of heaven. We will see others that give more detail in this book. But friend, let me just say that if the idea of an eternal song of praise bores you, then perhaps you don’t truly understand who God is and what he deserves.

Church, consider all that John has seen: 7 churches who are persecuted. Consider what is to come: the unleashing of judgments, a beast who persecutes the church, Babylon which wars against the saints. Yet, as great and terrifying as these visions are, when you are in the presence of the throne—they aren’t even worth mentioning.

In fact, as we will see next week—the only way these judgments come to be is because the Lord God, and the Lamb who was slain decree and enact these judgments.

Friend, if you believe that the kings and rulers of the nations of the earth are the center of the universe, if you even believe your own life is the center of all things, you will be tossed about, up and down, anxious and confused.

But, if like John, you see that at the center of it all is a throne, occupied by the holy and sovereign creator, even when you are anxious, even when you are confused, you will not be overwhelmed. This is the anchor of your life, the center point around which you orbit.

The Lesser Magistrate

In this letter, I desire to impress upon you the importance of every election. Too many Christians who love the Lord, who obey his commands, and who love their country sit out local elections. “I’ll vote when it counts,” one might say as they wait for the next “big” election like a presidential or senatorial race. Here’s the problem with this line of reasoning: there are no small elections. Elections have consequences, even the local elections. In fact, having the right local and state representatives is a bulwark against corruption at higher levels of civil government.

During the high-insanity days of 2020, one only had to pay attention to how different states and municipalities managed the COVID pandemic to understand the importance of local and state magistrates. When unelected federal regulators sought to wield unbridled authority, it was up to Governors and local magistrates to stand up to tyrannical overreach. In those states where Governors went along with the program, the only recourse for citizens was disobedience. It was a perfect illustration of what the Reformers John Calvin and John Knox called the doctrine of the lesser magistrates. They used the word doctrine because it was formalized by German pastors, but it essentially states that “when the superior or higher civil authority makes unjust/immoral laws or decrees, the lesser magistrate or lower ranking civil authority has both a right and a duty to refuse obedience to that superior authority. If necessary, the lesser authorities even have the right and obligation to actively resist the superior authority.” (Trewhella, Doctrine, 2.)

The Christian church historically has taught that when the state demands what Christ demands or demands what Christ forbids, Christians are obligated to obey Christ rather than men. (Acts 5:29) The danger, of course, is that disobedience to civil authorities, though sometimes necessary, is fraught with peril and can be destructive. Just think of the French Revolution. Rather than the rebellion of the citizenry, a lesser magistrate, such as a Governor or Mayor, may interpose himself between the tyrant and the people. The lesser magistrate opposes tyranny so that the people don’t take up arms. We see this happen in Scripture. When Pharoah demanded the slaughter of Hebrew boys, the midwives interposed themselves between the Pharoah and the birthmothers and, in doing so, defied the edict of Pharoah in service of a higher authority. (Exodus 1) A civil magistrate is duty bound to protect the person, liberty, and property of those who reside within their jurisdiction. This entails their opposition of any tyrannical law or edict from a higher authority. They cannot plead that they are “just doing their job,” as they enforce unjust laws handed down.

On November 7, 2023 you will be called upon to vote for various mayoral and school board candidates as well as several referendums. You will give an account to the Lord Christ for how you used your vote. As I always say, it is not my job to “stump for Smith.” The church is political, but we are not partisan. We are political because we declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” But we do not represent any earthly nation or party. We represent the commands of the King eternal. (1 Tim. 1:17)

But here’s what I want you to pray about: When a federal anti-bullying law requires your school children to erase the distinction between male and female (in the name of love), which school board member will stand up against the tyrant? No, that school board member may not have as much power as a president, but they represent your interests, and they are a line of defense between you and higher magistrates. This is but one example of the importance of down-ballot votes. We need men and women leading with conviction and principle at every level of the civil government.

So, Christian, do not waste this opportunity to cast a vote. Politics is not a savior. But righteousness exalts a nation (Prov. 14:34), and unrighteous leaders make the church’s mission of gospel proclamation difficult. Now, more than ever, we need the right mayors, city council members, school board members, sheriffs, and governors. As you prepare to do your civic duty, pray that the Lord will guide your decisions. Ask other Christians for guidance and information. Pray that the Lord would grant a spirit of repentance upon the citizens of our nation. Pray the Lord would grant the church boldness in these trying times. And ask God to give us lesser magistrates who have the fortitude to stand up for their constituents against the oppression of tyranny.

To learn more on the doctrine of the lesser magistrates, I recommend reading: The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates by Mathew Trewhella

Keep My Word: Christ’s Word to a Faithful Church – Revelation 3:7-13


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 3:7-13. Our text can be found on page 1029. These are the words of God:

7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

8 “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’


Standing at 5’ 6” and weighing only 133 lbs., Spud Webb was one of the smallest ever players in the NBA. Playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Spud seemed to defy gravity with a 46’ vertical leap. Not only could Spud Webb dunk a basketball, he famously won the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie. It just goes to show you that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the dog in the fight.

The same can be said of the church in Philadelphia. They weren’t big. They weren’t powerful. They made zero headlines. But they were faithful in everything Christ providentially placed in front of them. And, for that reason, they were the only church of the 7 to last through the centuries.

How did such a small church not simply endure, but overcome the collapse of the world around them? They understood who Christ was. They rested in his power not their own. And, they held fast to their simple faith. They didn’t become masters of great things—they were mastered by the greatest and most glorious thing of all.


7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

What is this key of David? It’s a reference to Isaiah 22:22 when a faithful man named Eliakim was given the authority of the house of David. In other words, he alone could open the door into the king’s domain, and Eliakim is a foreshadow of Christ. He is the warden of history. The keys of the ages and epochs are securely in his hand. He alone opens a new century, and he alone can close another. He makes nations rise and fall. We may cast the dice, but he determines the result.

More importantly, he alone can open the door to his Father’s house. If he has opened that door for you, then you will walk through it. If that door remains shut, you can’t push it open through your own efforts.

Do you think the president, or the World Economic Forum holds the keys of history? They are merely pawns on the king’s chessboard.


When you realize that Christ is the warden of history, you worry less about how big, strong, or influential your life or church is. This is the God of disproportionate results.

He says to Philadelphia, “You have but little power.” In other words, they were a tiny congregation. He says they are persecuted by the “synagogue of Satan.” Their Jewish friends in the city had betrayed them to the civil authorities. So they’re small and the obstacles are big.

At the same time, he says to them, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Though they were small, their gospel reach was big. Concerning the “synagogue of Satan,” Christ says, “I will make them come and bow down before you,” in repentance and belief in Christ. Though a trial was “coming on the whole world,” Philadelphia would be preserved through it. Why?

First, they kept the Word of Christ. It was the one thing they would not let go. Can the same be said of you?

Second, they endured patiently. They didn’t get their feathers ruffled. They weren’t like a dandelion, blown by the wind. They were like oaks, deeply rooted in Christ. Enduring the storms that threatened.


The passage concludes with promises too glorious for a single sentence, so Christ heaps up heavenly potentialities:

“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” (v. 12)

Though you may be labeled a disturber of the current state of affairs, you are the one who upholds and supports the only building that will outlast this state of affairs: the church.

“I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (v. 12)

The threefold name given to the faithful church is the name of the Father, the new Jerusalem, and the very name of Christ himself. There is no greater title that can be placed upon you. To be a child of the Father, a citizen of the new creation, and a co-heir of Jesus Christ. When every skyscraper falls into dust and the castles of sinful men are proven to be made of sand, you will have a city that only becomes more beautiful in every eternal age.



Pastoral Sabbatical

The full text of the Deacon’s Pastoral Sabbatical Announcement is printed below. You may also access a PDF version of the information here: Pastoral Sabbatical Document


Prepared by the Deacons of Lake Wylie Baptist Church 

The following was presented by the Deacons to the church body of Lake Wylie Baptist Church in a congregational meeting on October 22, 2023. 

* * * 

Dear Father in heaven, 

We thank you for the privilege of worshipping you. We thank you for the cross of Christ which brought us redemption. We thank you for our church and the blessings upon blessings you have given us. We thank you for the blessing of our pastor and his family. 

Now, Father, as we discuss an exciting chapter in our church’s life, would your Spirit work in each heart. Enlarge each of our hearts to have a big vision of the open door you have given us as a church as we step out in faith and trust in you, the Almighty, Sovereign, and Good God whom we serve. 

* * * 

Sabbatical Overview (Jim Brooks) 

Several months ago, we deacons began a discussion among ourselves of how to care for our pastor. Once we reached our decision, we then let Pastor Jonathan in on the conversation, which has been ongoing for the past few months. We now want to bring the church into the conversation. 

The deacons wrote a letter to Pastor Jonathan that was shared and discussed with him in person when we first told him of our decision. I would like to read the first few sentences of this letter. 

We, the Deacons, give thanks to the Lord for your consistent hard work and dedication on behalf of Lake Wylie Baptist Church. Thus, the Deacons, without reservation, have unanimously embraced the following resolution: 

Resolved, Pastor Jonathan and his family will take a three-month sabbatical, during which time he will be relieved of all pastoral and ministerial duties. The purpose of this sabbatical is to give the pastor and his family an extended time to pursue physical and spiritual rejuvenation. 

The deacons want you to know that this resolution was totally, absolutely, and 100% deacon initiated. Pastor Jonathan did not ask for a sabbatical and he gave no hints whatsoever that he wanted one. The pastor was totally surprised and moved when we informed him of our decision for him to take a sabbatical. 

The idea of a sabbatical is rooted and grounded in Scripture. A few weeks ago, Ricki taught an excellent Equipping Hour series on the Sabbath. He emphasized that the word “sabbath” means “to cease.” God himself modeled for us what a Sabbath rest looks like. The Scripture says: 

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2) 

The word of “rested” in this passage is the word “sabbath.” God ceased from his creating work. 

Embedded in God’s instructions to Israel was the command for the people to take a Sabbath rest every seventh day, meaning the people were to cease from their work. Every seventh year, the land was given a Sabbath rest for the entire year. The land ceased from producing crops so it could rejuvenate. These Sabbaths were given as a preventative against overwork and burnout. 

You may not know, but I have pastored two churches and I have been around a lot of pastors. Most of the pastors I have known are like Pastor Jonathan—hard-working men who love the Lord and love their churches. Yet, they are but men. I have known too many pastors who have suffered ministry burnout to the detriment of their churches, their families, their marriages, and their health. Trust me, much exhausting work goes on in a pastor’s ministry that the congregation never sees and will never know about. 

The Lord has blessed our church with our pastor and his family. And the Lord entrusts Lake Wylie Baptist Church with the stewardship of taking care of our pastor and his family. The deacons do not sense in Pastor Jonathan any signs of distress or burnout, and we want to keep it this way. Our purpose in giving him a sabbatical is to prevent ministerial burnout by giving him an extended time of much deserved rest. This sabbatical also serves as tangible evidence that we deeply care for the spiritual and physical well-being of our pastor and his family. 

God created us as body and soul, which necessarily interact with and influence each other: the body affects the spiritual and the spiritual affects the body. The deacons have stressed from the beginning that we wanted Pastor Jonathan to craft his sabbatical in such a way that would include both restful bodily pursuits and spiritually invigorating activities for him and his family. 

To hold Pastor Jonathan accountable, the deacons asked him to submit a general plan with moderate details of what he and the family would do during the sabbatical to accomplish these goals of physical and spiritual refreshment. He has done so, and suffice to say that the deacons are pleased with the seriousness and thoughtfulness that Pastor has taken with our request. 

A Deacon’s Journey From Sabbatical Skeptic To Sabbatical Believer (Jeff Williams) 

I was asked to share my initial view and my initial reaction to a pastoral sabbatical, which was one of skepticism. After gaining additional information and engaging in some of my own personal reflection, my viewpoint regarding a pastoral sabbatical actually evolved to not only to simply better understand the intent. but to full support and advocacy. 

“Reluctance” would describe my initial reaction when the sabbatical proposition was on the floor for consideration during our deacon’s meeting. My corporate and management consulting career has simply not prepared me to accept willingly a sabbatical as one’s normal experience in service to any organization. So, my initial reaction was one of reluctance because it simply was not normal or expected, and it was not what myself or my colleagues in my sphere of influence or network do. 

After listening to vastly wiser men on the deacon board, researching on my own, doing some personal reflection, and after doing a lot of listening, I see not only the value, but also the necessity of a pastoral sabbatical. I have completely reversed my initial skeptical position because of a few key areas. I would encourage everyone to think about these areas if you are having the same sort of initial reaction to a pastoral sabbatical as I did. 

First, this is an investment in Lake Wylie Baptist Church as a whole. Clearly, this is an investment in Pastor Jonathan, as it should be, to offer him some rejuvenation, an opportunity of separation, an opportunity of education, to focus on family and self. These are the things that go without being said. But it is also an opportunity and an investment for congregational growth and development at Lake Wylie Baptist Church for everyone that attends. I think about how growth and development can be applied to each of you—whether it is getting involved in music, or youth ministry, or maintenance, or whatever it is and however insignificant or significant—it is an opportunity for the growth and development of our congregation. So, it is an investment for our church as a whole, both for our pastor and for those who attend. 

Second, what really stood out to me was simply becoming more informed and gaining visibility in learning more about how the actual extended time would be spent. Again, focused on spiritual rejuvenation, passion, education, refocused on family and self. When you think about the very limited quality time Pastor Jonathan has to spread across all these important areas—he has done a wonderful job—but having an extended sabbatical would allow him to repurpose and reground in each of these areas. A healthy functioning Pastor Jonathan cascades down to a healthy church and how he serves our church. 

I would ask that you spend some time reflecting on these areas that stood out to me to help me change my course and reorientate me to think differently about a pastoral sabbatical. Along with the other deacons, I am more than happy to speak with you one-on-one and share more, if it would be helpful as you think through this as well. 

The Operation Of The Church During Pastor Jonathan’s Absence (Ricki Ingalls) 

I would like to take a minute to tell you what a great group of men lead this church and serve this church as deacons. All of the deacons that I have served with over the last 3 years have a heart for God’s church, and especially for Lake Wylie Baptist Church. That love for Lake Wylie Baptist is shown in this proposal for a pastoral sabbatical. 

Unlike Jeff, I was very familiar with the idea of a sabbatical, both in academics and in the church. I understood the benefits of a sabbatical both for Jonathan and for the church. But… I had a very basic question, “How is the church going to function while Jonathan is gone?” It’s not like we have a huge pastoral staff to fill in. I am sure than many of you have the same question. My goal today is to answer that question for you.

Jonathan’s sabbatical will begin on May 26 and conclude on August 11. As Jim said, a sabbatical is for the pastor to “cease” his responsibilities. What that means for a Jonathan is that he doesn’t show his face at this church for 3 months. If he did, he would be roped into work that would defeat the purpose of the sabbatical. We do not want that to happen. 

We believe that God has blessed us with men that have the experience and ability to lead the church in Jonathan’s absence. It is our goal to fill the needs of the church, as much as possible, with the people of the church. It is an opportunity for each of us on this stage this morning, the new deacons that will be in place in January, and all of the members of this church to use this gifts that God has given us for His glory. 

Since I’m an organizational kind of guy, I’m going to talk about who is responsible for different aspects of the ministry and how we expect to see them functioning during the time Jonathan is gone. The first question I want to answer is, “Where does the buck stop?” 

  • First, Jim Brooks, who is a former pastor and has a PhD from Southern Seminary in counseling, will be responsible for Sunday worship service and any counseling that needs to be performed during that time. 
  • Second, I will be responsible for the other ministries and administration. In bigger churches, this would be the role of “Executive Pastor”, which is close to my current role at work of “Chief Operations Officer.” 
  • Jonathan, Jim and I will be meeting several times before the sabbatical in order to plan and execute the transition. 

Now, to the second question – “How’s it really going to work?” 

Sunday Service 

  • The Sunday Worship Service is handled today through a schedule where men sign up for different parts of the service such as the opening and the prayer of confession. That will not change. 
  • Casey will continue to be responsible for the music during the service. That will not change. 
  • The sermons during the Sabbatical will consist of preaching through the Psalms, as we do every summer. 
  • So, now the big question – who is going to preach? The answer – It will primarily be men from the church. Jim Brooks, Randy Warner and I have already volunteered. We are looking forward to additional volunteers from the church body. It is also possible that we could have an outside speaker for 1 or 2 weeks during this time. 


  • As I mentioned before, Jim Brooks will be taking on the counseling ministry in Jonathan’s absence. Any on-going counseling situations will be transitioned from Jonathan to Jim during that time. 

Equipping Hour 

  • Equipping Hour will not meet during the months of June and July, just like we did this year. For those Sundays that we will meet, Randy Warner will coordinate the Equipping Hour teaching, as he does today. 

Vacation Bible School 

  • VBS will run as it does today. Marcy does an outstanding job of running the VBS and that will continue. However, we are searching for someone to take a pie in the face in Jonathan’s absence. 

Other ministries will be coordinated with Deacon’s serving in their ministry role. 

We are looking forward to the sabbatical so Jonathan, Chelsea and the kids can have a time of refreshing. We are also looking forward to it as we see the members of Lake Wylie Baptist flourish in the ways that God has gifted them. 

The Finances Of The Sabbatical (Randy Warner) 

Jeff has already spoken about the importance of sabbatical not just for spiritual rest and renewal for our pastor and his family, but also as a pre-emptive measure to prevent burnout before it happens. 

One of our goals is providing a sabbatical for Jonathan and his family was to give them an opportunity for rest and renewal in a stress-free environment of his choosing. A major part of making it “stress-free” is to relieve the concern about any financial impact to him and his family that might result from stepping away from the pulpit and travelling somewhere where significant cost might be involved. 

Prior to discussing the sabbatical with Jonathan, we the deacons met, discussed, and agreed upon a number of important criteria that we felt would make the sabbatical both productive and effective. One of those criteria was that Jonathan would not incur any expense as part of the Sabbatical period. We felt very strongly that Jonathan and his family should have the freedom to pursue spiritual rest and renewal without being encumbered by finances. So, the obvious question is: how are we going to pay for this? 

I’m not sure if all of you are aware of just how financially blessed we are as a church, and just how generous our members and regular contributors are. If you take the time to look in your bulletin each Sunday, you will find a section that details our weekly and annual giving. Not only 6 

have we kept our expenses at or below budget, but our weekly giving has exceeded our needs to-date by over $60,000! Praise God! I am so humbled and blessed to be a part of a church body that honors God so well with their finances. 

So as we look to fund the sabbatical, we plan to do so primarily in 3 ways: 

  1. At year-end, using a portion of the funds received above and beyond the budget expenses to pay for the sabbatical; 
  1. Add the sabbatical as a line item in the budget for 2024 (essentially, build the cost in total or in part into our expenditures for next year). We will be finalizing the budget for 2024 over the next few weeks, and will considering the sabbatical as part of that budget planning. 
  1. Give you as a church body the opportunity to participate financially with gifts designated specifically for the sabbatical. 

We have scheduled a follow-up meeting to discuss the sabbatical in more detail. At that meeting, I’ll be providing you with more information about detailed costs, as well as the final plan for payment to cover those costs. 

We look forward to giving this gift to Jonathan, Chelsea, and their family. Our hope and prayer is that through the sabbatical, that they will be restored and refreshed, ready to serve the Lord and serve our church with renewed strength and purpose. 

Concluding Thoughts (Jim Hughes) 

Thirty-five years ago, last month, the Lord Jesus Christ came into my life and saved me. During that time, I have had the privilege of serving five terms as a deacon with four different pastors in three different churches. 

I can say without hesitation that the combination of spiritual maturity, biblical knowledge, discernment, power in the pulpit, devotion to God and family and humility are unique to the man who stands in this pulpit each Sunday. 

Something else that’s unique is the unity that God has chosen to give us over the last eight years. Unity is like reputation-it requires time, effort and commitment, and it can be lost in the blink of an eye. Among other things, unity is a function of God’s grace and mercy, the love of God’s people for one another and the attitude and character of the man who stands in this pulpit. 

If you think only in terms of what you see each Sunday morning, you might wonder how challenging this role really is. Well, let me tell you: it requires hours and hours of intense study, planning, preparation, practice and prayer each week. In addition, our pastor is responsible for providing guidance and direction to our children’s ministry and our music ministry, he ensures the integrity and vitality of our missions’ program, he provides confidential counseling to church members when needed, he mentors and teaches in a local home school coop and he is on call 7 

24/7/365 when one of us has an emergency. Oh, and he is also a husband and father of four children. His plate, as they say, is full. 

The deacons and I want to be very clear about one important point. This sabbatical was not the result of a request from Jonathan. He did not ask for it and it was not his idea. The genesis for and the support of the sabbatical comes 100% from your deacons. At the same time, Jonathan and Chelsea are overwhelmed by our generosity and willingness to provide them with this opportunity. They are excited, have a sense of anticipation and yes, they are relieved that a season of rest is coming in their ministry. 

If you were not here before Jonathan and Chelsea arrived, it would be hard for you to appreciate how dramatically the composition of the church has changed. During the last two years of Pastor Alan’s ministry, there were roughly 30 regularly attending members. Brian and Janice, Jeff and Marcy and Jennifer and I were the three youngest couples in the church. You could count the number of young people under the age of 18 on one hand and a couple of fingers. Today, the church has several young parents with young families who are becoming the new anchor of our church. The children’s ministry is vibrant and growing, if not busting at the seams! These young parents are playing an increasingly vital role in the life of God’s church. 

Our goal as a congregation is not to prove that we can run the church without our pastor. The church may or may not run as smoothly while he and his family are away, but I know we will do our best. One thing is for sure, there will be numerous opportunities for us to step out on faith and play a larger role. 

As the sabbatical term winds down next summer, Jonathan and Chelsea will be rested, refreshed, excited about coming back and ready to begin the next chapter in their ministry. By God’s grace, the rest of us will have grown stronger and closer as we serve the Lord together, eagerly anticipating their return and ready to help them as they begin the next chapter. 

Following the meeting, I have asked the deacons to stay around for a while so that you can talk with us one on one and ask any questions you may have. Our phone numbers and email addresses are now listed in the bulletin, and I encourage you to call us or drop us an email. Your questions and input will help us form the content for our second meeting on this topic which will be two weeks from today. 

We believe our plan has a firm foundation, but there is still much work to do between now and May. You may be wondering what you can do to help. I’m so glad you asked! First, you can consider giving to the sabbatical project over and above your regular tithes and offerings. Second, you can begin praying about the role God would have for you in the months ahead. 

* * * 

O God, as we step out on faith, we look to you, the Author and Finisher of our faith. We pray for your mercy and grace, your wisdom and your blessing. Please bless your church with unity, singleness of purpose, faithfulness to you and a heart full of gratitude for all you have done and will do. We pray all these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen 8 

Next Steps 

Get informed! 

A Google search on the term “Pastoral Sabbatical” will result in thousands of returns. The Deacons recommend the following resources as a starting place to help you become informed about the nature of pastoral sabbaticals. 

  • Why You Should Make Your Pastor Take A Sabbatical 

This article gives six reasons a Pastor should take a sabbatical. The author gives several excellent links that will direct you to other good posts concerning pastoral sabbaticals. 

‘Why don’t I get a vacation, too?’ How to talk about clergy sabbaticals 

The author of this article works with the Lily Foundation, which works with a variety of churches that are planning pastoral sabbaticals. This article puts the concept of a pastoral sabbatical into a larger context. 

  • Ten Steps To A More Fruitful Sabbatical 

This article is from a pastor associated with the 9Marks ministry. The author is a pastor writing to other pastors who are taking sabbaticals. Many of the ideas found in this article helped the Deacons think through the physical and spiritual aspects of Pastor Jonathan’s sabbatical. 

Ask Questions! 

We urge you to contact any one of the Deacons with any questions or comments you may have. Contact information for the Deacons is found in the bulletin and is given below. Deacon  Email  Phone 
Jim Hughes  704-995-9590 
Jeff Williams  704-609-5474 
Randy Warner  904-819-3750 
Ricki Ingalls  405-612-4111 
Jim Brooks  502-939-0916 

Attend The November 5th Congregational Meeting 

The October 22 meeting gave a general overview of Pastor Jonathan’s sabbatical. The November 5 meeting will give specific details of the sabbatical. 


Please be in prayer for Pastor and his family, the Deacons, and the entire church as we take this significant step as a church. Pray for the Lord to show you how you can minister to the church body in the Pastor’s absence. 

Pastoral Prayer

Prayers for the Church

God, Our Father,

The fear of you is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10), and we pray that you would give us that holy and reverential fear. May we keep your Word (Rev. 3:10), and obey your commandments (Eccl. 12:13)

Give us also the grace to love you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mk. 12:30) May your Son, the Lord Jesus, be very precious to us (1 Pet. 2:7), and though we have not seen him, yet may we love him and believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible. (1 Peter 1:8)

Father, let the love of Christ control us to live, not for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

Prayers for the Lost


Father, you have promised to give the nations as a heritage to your Son (Ps. 2:8), and so we ask this morning for the nation of Algeria. Though your church there is small, we know your arm is mighty to save. So, we pray, bare your arm in the sight of Algeria. May your gospel sweep across that nation and claim every heart.

Father, you are the God over the great and the small, every continent and every molehill. No nation is too great to resist you, and no island is so small that you would forget it. We pray for the island nation of Kiribati in the Pacific and ask that you bring spiritual renewal to a once-thriving church. Cause them to run from false teaching and hold fast to your Word.

Prayers for Members


Thank you, Lord, for your protection and your care for your sheep here at Lake Wylie Baptist. We are weak, and our faith fails so often, yet your love never fails us.

I pray for those in our church who are tempted to struggle with sin; and those for whom sin remains attractive. Lord, help them to see the destructive power of sin. Give them a sip of the bitter taste of the cup of which your Son drained on the cross. May they see the folly of sin and turn instead to repentance and obedience.

Father, for those who have become captive to sin, who have given up the fight, who perhaps long to be free but no longer feel the strength—may they know that Christ has broken sin’s power as he was broken on the cross. Give them a renewed love for Christ alone which enables them to forsake sin and return to him.


Prayers for those in Authority


Lord God, we know that Christ holds the keys of history. We know that nothing can happen outside of his knowledge and your decree.

Therefore, we plead your mercy over the bloodshed in Israel and Gaza. We ask that you make a way for both justice and peace. We ask that lives be preserved so that more can hear of the saving love of Christ.

To that end, we lift up the civil authorities in Israel, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, China, and all others involved. Lord God, defy the purposes of evil men. Show favor to the plans of righteous men.

And we do pray for the peace of Israel, may they soon see Christ as your Messiah, and turn to him in faith along with the nations of the world.


Prayers for Churches & Missionaries

Father, we lift up Relevant Church as Josh Hair has now become their Lead Pastor. Fill him with your Spirit. May he walk in holiness, proclaiming Christ faithfully. Give their church even greater reach and influence in our community.

We pray for FBC Clover and their pastor Mike Stafford. Thank you for their gospel witness in the town of Clover and we ask that you multiply their efforts. May you raise up more leaders and teachers and evangelists and missionaries from among their congregation.

Finally, Father, we give you thanks through our tithes and offerings. The work of your church is precious to us. May our gifts now demonstrate the gratitude in our hearts for the ministries and missions that are shaping us and forming our families into Christ-likeness. Increase our joy and our generosity even as we give.

We offer all of this in the name of Jesus Christ and for his sake. Amen

When Spheres Collide – The Governments


Take a deep breath because this installment may require multiple readings, but I promise it’s worth your effort. In 1880, Abraham Kuyper (pronounced kie-per) delivered a public address at the inauguration of the Free University in Amsterdam which he entitled “Sphere Sovereignty.” The basic idea is this: Jesus Christ is sovereign over all. Underneath his total sovereignty, Christ has instituted various spheres of human society and established the boundaries (or spheres) of their authority, responsibilities, and competence. In this post, I’m going to apply Kuyper’s concept of sphere sovereignty to our topic of the three governments directly instituted by God.

The family government possesses authority and competence within its prescribed sphere. The same is true with the civil government and the church. Sphere sovereignty, therefore, is concerned with the relationships between these human governments. Although Sphere Sovereignty isn’t a perfect system (no system truly is perfect a world of fallen human beings), we can gather several valuable inferences and applications from Kuyper’s thought.


In an earlier post in this series on the governments, I made the case that parents, not the state, have the authority and right to teach and discipline their children. Several of you wrote me and asked an important question: “Do parents have a right to subject their children to so-called “gender reassignment surgeries.” Sadly, of course, many states in our nation grant the legal right for parents to do so. In a saner society, the government would legally prevent parents from doing so. Why? Sphere Sovereignty. Parents do not have the right to mutilate their children’s bodies. In such a case, the government is not transgressing the boundary (sphere) of the parent’s authority. Rather, the parent is transgressing the civil and criminal laws which the government is required by God to enforce.

In other words, these spheres (family, state, church) cannot be isolated from one another. Instead, they all bear a responsibility to one another. The church cannot act in any way it pleases, nor can the family or the state. Let me give two more examples.


Christians (especially Roman Catholics) have long taught a social doctrine called “subsidiarity.” The idea is that the responsibility to provide for human flourishing subsides at the most basic unit where it can naturally be exercised. Larger social units should only step in when smaller social units cannot provide solutions.

For instance, if a person is physically unable to work in order to support themselves it does not immediately fall to the federal government to give assistance. Rather, the individual’s nuclear family is the first line of defense. They have a greater responsibility, a greater knowledge of the needs, and a greater motivation to assist than the federal government. If the nuclear family is unable to assist, the need then moves to the next largest social unit, the extended family/church, then the town, then the county, then the state, and so on. But the further you get from that smaller unit competence falls as does motivation and accountability. This is why a government can “lose” $6 Billion but families don’t.

If you and I want to see greater health in our nation, we must reassert the family as a sovereign sphere of responsibility and authority. We have to break the mentality that Washington, D.C. is responsible for solving our problems. We need a greater appreciation for the responsibilities entrusted to each of these governments.


Generally speaking, the church is to honor the civil magistrate. We are to be a good-faith member of society. We are not to be scofflaws. We pray for and submit to police officers as well as other government officials. We believe every single word of Romans 13:1-2:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)

But we also know that the Apostle Paul, who wrote those words constantly disobeyed the governing authorities when they demanded disobedience to Christ. Paul, along with many of the apostles, were fugitives who regularly angered the civil magistrates by their preaching. So, all-things-even, Romans 13:1-2 always applies as a general rule. But, there are some demands from the civil government that the church cannot obey. Just as we believe every word of Romans 13:1-2, we also believe every word of Mark 12:17:

17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17)

Go back, for a moment, to March 13, 2020. I was standing in the parking lot of our church with several men who had gathered for a workday. We were spreading mulch and discussing whether we ought to have worship service the coming Sunday. The COVID-19 virus was making headlines, and it wasn’t hours before all of civilization around the globe came to a halt. In those first couple weeks, our church tried its best to honor the civil magistrate’s authority in asking us to all stay home. However, after several weeks it became clear that our church could begin meeting again without presenting a grave health threat to congregants. We began meeting outside and then moved indoors. We did all of this even while civil magistrates continued to ban or place draconian limitations on gatherings. It was an act, albeit a mild act, of civil disobedience. We didn’t shout and post about it. We didn’t protest outside of the county offices. We simply felt that Christ’s commands to gather and worship outweighed the guidance of the local magistrates. Some Christians may disagree with our course of action. There is certainly room for Christian liberty and freedom of conscience. We showed patience within our own congregation with those who were not yet comfortable gathering. All this is to say that two spheres of authority collided: the church and the state, and we could not honor both equally.


Each of these examples demonstrates both the reality as well as the limits of “spheres” of governmental sovereignty. As Christians, we have a responsibility to understand the three governments directly instituted by God (family, state, ecclesiastical) and their boundaries. We need to know what God has required of the family, the state, and the church. We need boldness to tell the state what it can and cannot do. We need conviction to live under the authorities which God has prescribed.