In the United States, history tells us that Old Testament teachings have combined with New Testament declarations to proclaim the sacred interior life of every human being – each created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27).
This sacred interior space, often called the “soul,” received prominence of place in the nascent nation’s first official document, the Declaration of Independence. On behalf of the new nation, the Continental Congress proclaimed to the world, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
As they won their independence from Great Britain the new government of the United States, struggling “ to form a more perfect Union,” ratified what we now know to be the U.S. Constitution ratified in September 1787.
This new American Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights (comprised of the Constitution’s first ten amendments, ratified in 1791) represented a new theory and kind of government, one in which the government gained its power from the consent of the governed and minority rights were protected from majority suppression.
This rather simple sounding concept was absolutely revolutionary in the world of the eighteenth century. Over the next more than two centuries it has proven to guarantee and protect more basic human rights than any government yet conceived and incorporated on this planet.
And, thanks be to God, over that expanse of time it has produced brave men and women of faith who understand the inviolate, sacred integrity God envisioned and planned for every human being. This has produced citizens of great and noble courage with an unshakeable sense of human dignity.
A beautiful illustration of this is Mr. Jack Phillips, the proprietor of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. Mr. Phillips, a devout Christian, on a summer afternoon in July 2012 declined to bake a wedding cake to celebrate a same sex union.
Immediately, the “cancel culture” war machine mobilized against Mr. Phillips and his little bakery. They believed that he must be forced to conform under penalty of law and bake the cake and thus affirm same sex unions. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission began a legal campaign against Mr. Phillips that the U.S. Supreme Court would eventually label as harassment.
Jack Phillip’s response to this campaign of vilification (“his objections must be simple prejudice; religion is just an excuse”) went through the entire legal system until the Supreme Court upheld Jack Phillips’ right to freedom of conscience (7 to 2) in Masterpiece Bake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Now, Mr. Phillips has written a book relating his almost decade long struggle to live out his understanding of how God desires for him to use his God-given talents in living out God’s purposes for his life.
Why not just bake the cake? Mr. Phillips’ answer to the question is brilliantly and beautifully illuminating. He says, “My objection is never to the person. . . asking me to create a cake with a particular message. My objection . . . is to the message itself. I can and cheerfully will serve anyone. I cannot and won’t communicate every message.”
Jack Phillips, in telling his story, discovers and displays a God-given talent for the written word that rivals his breathtaking skills as a baker and decorator of cakes.
Here is a riveting and moving example:
My beliefs are what make me who I am. My commitment to God and to . . . his holy word is the defining premise of my life. . . and the guiding direction for my actions. If you ask me to separate all of that from my work. . . I simply can’t do that.. .It’s like asking a contractor to build a great building, but first remove the foundation.
Then he asks what is really the crucial question:
Where do we think artistic creativity comes from? Something outside of ourselves. Of course not. It’s water from the foundation of our soul. It comes from a deep- down place inside each of us where our experiences, our understanding, our intentions, our deepest beliefs and convictions all stir together. These can’t be separated from each other anymore than you can sift out the various ingredients from a cake after it is baked.
Mr. Phillips goes on to explain that he does not disrespect anyone and affirms everyone as made in the image of God – and “as a person worthy of respect.”
He understands any talents he has were given to him by God and he has a responsibility to use these gifts to glorify God, not that which God disapproves.
Then he explains that demanding that he use his artistry to communicate a message that he believes is wrong is:
asking me to stop being me. . . . to deny the deepest convictions of my heart. . .that’s not something any person has a right to ask of another. . . or a command any government has the right to force one of its citizens to obey.
Well said, Mr. Phillips. As the seventeenth century Puritan preacher Roger Williams, aptly put it almost four centuries ago. for anyone to force the conscience of another person on religious maters is “soul rape!”
May God lead our people to demand that our government continue to hold that the sacred inner space of our citizens’ souls is beyond the purview of any government or merely human organizations.
I. Opening Video Information. A Testimony. An Outspoken Jew for Jesus. Dec 3, 2007. The 700 Club. Bob Siegel was a Jew whose mind was poisoned against Jesus at an early age. Then, in college, two strangers shared a message that changed his heart.
II. Subject scripture. Rev 17:5. There are many opinions of this verse. We will discuss the factors of the verse, as well as those of the total 17th Chapter of Revelation. We will consider the worldwide ecumenical religion that is driven by the forces of the antichrist, that will be responsible for the persecution and murder of Jews and Gentiles which choose not to become a follower of this worldwide religion, and will not worship the image of the beast (Rev 13:4-17), but whom come to saving faith in Christ during the tribulation.
A. Revelation 17:5 (NKJV)
5 And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
B. Revelation 17:5 (NAS77)
5. and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”
III. Consider “mystery.”
A. Text. Matthew 13:11 (NAS95)
11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
B. Note. MacArthur Study Bible. the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. “Mysteries” are those truths which have been hidden from all ages in the past and revealed in the NT.
1. Consider “kingdom.” The following verses relate to mysteries being revealed during the time of the Gospels and following times. The Kingdom Of God had been taught to Jews by Old Testament writers. Christ began teaching on the Kingdom Age, which was a mystery to those whom were in His audience of Jews. It was the Gospel of the Kingdom that Christ directed His disciples to teach to Jews (Matt 10:1-8). It is the Gospel of the Kingdom Age that must be taught to all during the tribulation, and will precede the return of Christ to earth at the end of the tribulation (Matt 24:14). It is important to know that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was taught to Jews prior to his ascension to Heaven (Acts 1:3-7). It is the context of Isa 2:2 (below) that tells of the Kingdom Age (the Kingdom of God). The Gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, with evidence of His being seen (1 Cor 15:1-8), is the “good news” (Gospel) that the apostles and their disciples began to teach to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, in obedience to Christ’s “great commission” (Acts 1:8, Matt 28:18-20).
2. Consider the “Kingdom Age” mystery, which is also known as the “thousand year” Millennial Reign Of Christ.
a. Isaiah 2:2. (NAS77)
2 In the last days, The mountain of the house of the Lord Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.
b. Note. MacArthur Study Bible. 2:2 in the latter days. The “latter (or last) days” is a time designation looking forward to the messianic era (Ezek. 38:16; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1).
c. Other Mystery Texts. Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Rom 11:25, 16:25. 1 Cor 2:7, 15:51; Eph 1:9, 3:3-4, 3:9, 5:32, 6:19; Col 1:26-27, 2:2, 4:3; 2 Thes 2:7; 1 Tim 3:9, 16; Rev 1:20, 10:7, 17:5, 17:7.
d. Note. 4:11 mystery…parables. A “mystery” in the NT refers to something previously hidden and unknown but revealed in the NT
3. Consider scripture translation of Rev 17:5. “a mystery, Babylon” and “MYSTERY, BABYLON.”
a. Greek Interlinear states, “a mystery” Babylon https://biblehub.com/interlinear/revelation/17-5.htm
b. NIV, NASB, CSB, NET translations state, “a mystery, Babylon.” (The NIV 2011 translation).
c. NKJV, KJV, KJV 2000, American KJV, ASV, ERV translations state, “MYSTERY, BABYLON.”
d. Necessary conclusions.
(1) What is the correct Bible translation that relates to Rev 17:5?
(2) What is the mystery of Babylon?
4. Location Considerations.
a. The city of Babylon.
b. There are 259 OT scriptures that identify the literal place of Babylon. In the NT, the following verses clearly identify the literal location of Babylon (Matt 1:11, 12, 17; Acts 7:43; 1 Pet 5:13; Rev 18:10).
(1) 1 Peter 5:13 (NASB) “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.”
(2) Rev 18:10, “Babylon, the strong city!” 18:21, “Babylon, the great city.”
IV. Full Text. Revelation 17 (NASB) (Notes taken from MacArthur Study Bible).
A. The Doom of Babylon. Chapters 17, 18 focus on one aspect of those bowl judgments, the judgment of Babylon.
1. Verses 1-7.
1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. 7 And the angel said to me, “Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
2. Notes: 17:1-7.
vs 1: “great harlot.” Prostitution frequently symbolizes idolatry or religious apostasy. “sits on many waters.” This picture emphasizes the sovereign power of the harlot. The picture is of a ruler seated on a throne, ruling the waters, which symbolize the nations of the world (see v. 15)
vs 2. “committed fornication.” The harlot will ally herself with the world’s political leaders. Fornication here does not refer to sexual sin, but to idolatry. All the world rulers will be absorbed into the empire of Satan’s false christ. “wine of her fornication.” The harlot’s influence will extend beyond the world’s rulers to the rest of mankind. The imagery does not describe actual wine and sexual sin, but pictures the world’s people being swept up into the intoxication and sin of a false system of religion.
vs 3. “a woman.” The harlot of v. 1, Babylon. “scarlet beast.” The Antichrist, who for a time will support and use the false religious system to effect world unity. Then he will assume political control (cf. v. 16). “having seven heads and ten horns.” This pictures the extent of Antichrist’s political alliances.
vs 5. “forehead.” It was customary for Roman prostitutes to wear a headband with their name on it. The harlot’s forehead is emblazoned with a 3-fold title descriptive of the world’s final false religious system. “MYSTERY.” A NT mystery is truth once hidden, but in the NT revealed. Spiritual Babylon’s true identity is yet to be revealed. Thus, the precise details of how it will be manifested in the world are not yet known. “BABYLON THE GREAT.” This Babylon is distinct from the historical, geographical city of Babylon (which still existed in John’s day). “MOTHER OF HARLOTS.” All false religion stems ultimately from Babel, or Babylon (cf. Gen. 11; see note on 14:8).
vs 6. “the blood of the saints…martyrs of Jesus.” Some see the first group as OT saints, and the second as NT saints—an unimportant distinction since this pictures the martyrs of the Tribulation. John’s point is that the harlot is a murderer. False religion has killed millions of believers over the centuries, and the final false system will be far more deadly than any that preceded it.
vs 7. “mystery.” Not that Babylon is a false system of religion, because that is already known, but that the beast will fully support the harlot and together exert vast influence over the whole earth.
3. Verses 8-13.
8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. 9 Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11 The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13 These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.
4. Notes: Verses 8-13.
vs 8. “The beast.” Both a king and kingdom are referred to by this term. was, and is not, and will ascend. A reference to the Antichrist’s false resurrection (13:3, 4, 12–14). “out of the bottomless pit.” After his “resurrection,” the Antichrist will become possessed by a great demon from the abyss. “perdition.” “Eternal destruction. “This is the lake of fire, the place of Antichrist’s destruction (19:20). “Book of Life.” Written in eternity past by God.
vs 9. “seven mountains.” The Gr. word is often used of hills. the final worldwide system of false religion includes. the 7 mountains in context likely symbolize the 7 kingdoms and their kings of v. 10.
vs 10. “seven kings.” Representatives of the 7 great world empires (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and that of the Antichrist). Cf. Daniel’s image in Dan. 2:37–45. Five have fallen, one is, and the other. When John wrote, the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek empires had gone out of existence; Rome still existed; and the Antichrist’s empire had not yet come. When it does, it will be brief (12:12; 13:5) and he will end in perdition.
vs 11. “and is not…the eighth.” The Antichrist’s kingdom is said to be both the seventh and eighth kingdoms because of his supposed demise and resurrection. He is the seventh king before and the eighth king after his “resurrection” when he destroys the harlot’s religious empire and demands exclusive worship of himself (v. 16).
vs 12. “ten kings.” (cf. Dan. 2:41, 42). These kings are sub-rulers under the Antichrist, whose empire will apparently be divided into 10 administrative districts. “no kingdom as yet.” Thus, the kings cannot be identified with any historical figures. “one hour.” Symbolic of the brief 3½ year period of time (cf. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 12, 14; 13:5; 18:10, 17, 19).
B. Victory for the Lamb.
1. Verses 14-18.
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” 15 And he *said to me, “The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17 For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
2. Notes. Verses 14-18.
vs 14. “make war.” A reference to the battle of Armageddon (16:14–16), where the Lamb will utterly destroy the kings (19:17–21). “Lord of lords and King of kings.” A title for God (19:16) that emphasizes His sovereignty over all other rulers to whom He has delegated authority.
vs 16. “these will hate the harlot.” After using the false religious system to unify the world kingdoms and gain control of all, the Antichrist—with the help of his 10 sub-rulers—will turn against the system, plunder and destroy it, and seize all power and worship for himself. They will be carrying out God’s will (v. 17). Cf. Gen. 50:20.
vs 18. “great city.” Here is another identification of the capital city of Babylon, centerpiece of Antichrist’s empire.
A. Conclusion 1. “Babylon means Babylon.” The NIV (2011 Translation), NASB, CSB, and NET are correct in their translation of Rev 17:5, “a mystery, Babylon.” The closing video, that is provided by Dr. Andy Woods, provides a clarifying discussion of this subject. Check out my Equipping Site Page, “About Sources,” to see Andy’s credentials, “degrees and linked experiences.”
B. Conclusion 2. The MacArthur note on verse 7 provides the answer to the question about the mystery of the text: “mystery.” Not that Babylon is a false system of religion, because that is already known, but that the beast will fully support the harlot and together exert vast influence over the whole earth.
VI. Closing Video.
A. This video digs deep into the facts that reveal the location of Rev 17 Babylon.
B. Closing Video. This video has a duration of 29:31.
Andy Woods – Revelation (Crash Course) Part IX: Chapter 17-19. Oct 11, 2019. 29:31.
Unravelations. Dr. Andy Woods teaches 10 sessions of 30 minutes covering the entire Book of Revelation. These presentations were featured on the College of Biblical Studies’ TV program entitled “Up With the Son.”
In their book, What If the Bible Had Never Been Written, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe write:
“The impact of the Bible on our culture, on our nation, on world history has been enormous. Author and former Yale professor Williams Lyons Phelps observed, ‘Our civilization is founded upon the Bible. More of our ideas, our wisdom, our philosophy, our literature, our art, and our ideals come from the Bible than from all the other books combined.’
“But what if the Bible had never been written? That’s a frightening thought! And yet, with Christian-bashing the only safe form of bigotry in practice today, it seems that many people wish that were the case.”
Indeed, many do wish that were the case. Last week, various news media carried the shocking story of Portland protesters burning stacks of Bibles and the American flag.
Twitter user Ian Cheong, who posted a video of the Bible burning, asked, “I don’t know what burning the Bible has to do with protesting against police brutality. Do not be under the illusion that these protests and riots are anything but an attempt to dismantle all of Western Civilization and upend centuries of tradition and freedom of religion.”
Amidst the destruction of the sacred Scriptures, there were silent voices which weren’t that way a decade ago when the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center, Terry Jones, announced his plan to burn copies of the Koran.
Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the plan, saying that it was “outrageous and distressful,” and a “disgraceful plan.”
Then-President Barack Obama said of Jones, “I just hope he understands that what he is proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans, that this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.”
Crickets. Crickets. Where are these voices today on the burning of Bibles? What does it say about the Democratic Party when its flag bearers are mute on an issue of such significance? Seems the Presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, Joe Biden, is silent too. Does silence equal violence in this case?
No book in human history has suffered more from suppression and the attempt to destroy it than the Bible. Evil men hate it because of its essential goodness. It advocates the rights of the individual, claiming that even the humblest and lowest of society is of the utmost value to God. Its content has always been, and will forever remain, a rebuke and irritant to the tyrannical.
Over and again, throughout the centuries, there have been efforts to get rid of the Bible.
Roman emperors decreed that along with the early church and its sacred writings, the Scriptures should be hunted down and torched.
Later came the nefarious forces inside the church itself that bitterly opposed every effort to translate the Bible into the common language and make it readily available to the masses. The worst of this opposition, unfortunately, came from the religious authorities. Thank God for courageous men like John Wycliffe, the English scholar and theologian, whose purpose was to translate the Bible and get it into the hands of everyone possible. He was so despised for his work and love of the Bible, after his death his body was exhumed and burned.
William Tyndale, who was also well-known for his translation of the Bible from its original languages, was the object of much disdain. He was tied to a stake, strangled with a rope, and then burned. The bishop of London had ordered that every copy of Tyndale’s translation be collected and burned. Nevertheless, the Scriptures and Tyndale’s translation for the commoners survived and would later be immortalized in the King James Version.
Foxes Book of Martyrs tells the stories of a seemingly exhaustive number of people who gave their lives at a time when even the possession of Holy Writ was a crime. Yet despite the persecutions, and the Bible burning that went on in those days, the sacred book lives on.
In more recent years, at least until Portland, the attack on the Bible was less direct, and more of an effort to discredit its content. There have been assaults on its historicity, claims that it is anti-science and full of myths and fables. But repeatedly, contrary to the claims of the so-called experts, the sciences have proven the Bible’s claims, and never successfully disproven any of them.
John Clifford’s poem, The Anvil of God’s Word, has a pointed message for the current generation of Bible haters:
Last eve I paused beside a blacksmith’s door, And I heard the anvil ring the vesper chime; Then looking in, I saw upon the floor, Old hammers worn with beating years of time.
“How many anvils have you had,” said I, “To wear and batter all these hammers so?” “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye, “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
“And so,” I thought, “The Anvil of God’s Word, For ages skeptic blows have beat upon, Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard, “The Anvil is unchanged, the hammers gone.”
The Bible burners in Portland have no concept of the futility to which they set their hands when they literally and symbolically struck a match to its pages.
“What if the Bible had never been written? Consider the implications of such a scenario,” concluded Kennedy and Newcombe. All of these things came about because of the Bible:
“There would be no salvation, no Salvation Army, no YMCA, virtually no charity, no modern science, no Red Cross. There would likely be no hospitals, for hospitals as we know them were born in the Christian era, and Christians have built hundreds of hospitals all over the globe. There would be no universities; they were created in the Middle Ages in order to reconcile Christian theology with the writings of Aristotle. There would probably be no capitalism, no accounting, no free enterprise. Millions of people would have been killed off by STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) – without any kind of inhibition against sexual promiscuity. Literacy and education might well be the exclusive domain of the elite. Many of the languages around the globe would never have been written down because there would have been no motive to do so. Many of the barbarians the world over would have never been civilized. Cannibalism and human sacrifice and the abandonment of children would still be widespread, even as abortion and infanticide plague us as we continue to move away from the Bible. Slavery might still be practiced, as it is in pockets of the world where the Bible is forbidden. And we might not even be in the New World – as Columbus clearly stated, it was the Lord who inspired him to make his historic voyage. If the Bible had never been written, there would be no Wilberforces, no George Washingtons, no Lincolns, no Dantes, no Miltons, no Shakespeare’s, no Dickenses. [We might also add no Frederick Douglas’, no Booker T. Washingtons, no Martin Luther King, Jrs.] Above all, if the Bible had never been written, we would be cut off from God, groping in the darkness and without hope.”
Burning Bibles is not just wishing away its incomparable message on vast subject matter fundamental to human happiness; its not only wishing away what made Americans the most liberated people on record, its the same as wishing away hope!
God forbid that these foolish people would be allowed to deprive us of our hope. The Bible will survive their assaults, but we won’t survive without the Bible.
Rev. Mark H. Creech is executive director of the Raleigh-based Christian Action League of North Carolina Inc.
If you tried to read the Old Testament in one sitting, you’d better have some coffee–it could take up to 50 at an average reading speed! And it would be time well invested. But most people need a big picture first, which is why you can watch a summary of the Old Testament in 5 minutes. It’s true: this is NOT the same thing as reading the Bible, but you can use this summary of the Old Testament in 5 minutes in plenty of worship settings: pre-meeting video; as an introduction to a preaching series, or in small groups.
This video wisks your viewers through creation, covenant, the blessing of Abraham and on through the story of the nation of Israel. When you present the Old Testament in 5 minutes it’s sure to have some gaps, but those gaps may actually stimulate questions and discussions among your congregation.
The Old Testament in 5 minutes still manages to provide the overall message of God’s redemptive heart and plan for all of his creation: the earth itself, the people of Israel, and indeed, for all of humanity. Here are some conversation starters for people after they watch the video:
National policy of religious tolerance facing headwinds
A decision to prevent citizens of Indonesia from being able to access a Bible application for cell phones and mobile devices is sparking arguments amid that nation’s openly tolerant campaign to allow people to choose their own faith and practice it.
The worldwide Christian ministry Barnabas Fund is reporting that the Bible application for the Minangkabau people was removed from the Google Play Store for residents of Indonesia following a demand from Irwan Prayitno, the governor of West Sumatra.
He claimed it was causing discomfort in the Minangkabau people who are living in his province, the majority of whom are Muslim.
Only about 1.43% of the people there, about 69,000, are Christian.
The Indonesian Ulema Council supported the censorship by the nation’s Communication and Information Ministry, with a statement of secretary general Anwar Abbas that said, “The guidance of the Minangkabau people is not the Bible. Hopefully there will not be a Bible [published] in the Minangkabau language.”
“The decision to ban the Minangkabau Bible App failed to take into account the rights of Minangkabau Christians,” the Barnabas Fund reported.
And the decision was criticized by the chief of the nation’s longtime Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education, which advocates for tolerance.
That agency’s opinion is that holy books could be translated into any language as long as they were not misinterpreted.
The chief of the agency said, “Every individual is given the freedom to observe their beliefs as long as they do not cause disruption in the public. And, of course, some of the residents of West Sumatra are also Christian, and the governor himself is governor to everyone, not a certain ethnicity or religious belief.”
Pancasila is a formal doctrine instituted in Indonesia to encourage tolerance for religions – and discourage extremism. It prevailed for many years, with Christians and Muslims living as equals. That started changing only a few years ago.
Then, Barnabas Fund reported, the nation saw “a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology in recent years. A generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals in accordance with Pancasila.”
“In 2019, the government took several steps to counter the spread of fundamentalism by urging members of the public to report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material.”
That battle against “hard-line Islamist ideology” includes requests to the public to “report extremist content posted online by civil servants and taking action to replace school textbooks deemed to contain radical material,” Barnabas Fund said.
Indonesian Communications Minister Johnny G. Plate said the intention was “to bring together and improve the performance of our civil servants, as well as to foster higher levels of nationalism.”
Indonesia has the world’s biggest population of Muslims, and reports suggest that 19% of civil servants and 3% of military personnel favor an Indonesia under Islamic rule. About 18% of private employees and 23% of students share the view.
I remember with amusement my weekday morning routine as a child. Since the school bus arrived at 7:40 am, I would have to be dressed and at the kitchen table by 7:25 am for breakfast. Ugh. It was like going to the dentist . . . every morning! However, there was one redeeming aspect inherent in the routine—the cereal box. The box was so captivating that I and my siblings would usually quarrel over whose turn it was to take possession of it as we ate our breakfasts.
What was the allure? Sometimes the box served as a convenient wall to shield against the glares of those same siblings. But often it was the games and riddles printed on the backs of those boxes. I especially liked the word puzzles that required decrypting. The challenge was to crack the riddle without the help of the key, which was usually found at the bottom of the bag of cereal inside the box. Although I found the games far more stimulating than my classes at school, I cannot say that my record as a wannabe codebreaker was that inspiring.
The concept of coded language is not limited to children’s riddles printed on the back of breakfast cereal boxes. It is often assumed in the reading of Scripture itself—particularly of the Old Testament. For example, a surprising number of Christians approach the Old Testament as if it is partly—if not mostly—unintelligible apart from a decoder key. While readers may try to guess at its real meaning, that meaning cannot be confidently known apart from the decryption provided by the New Testament. This assumption is expressed by the popular refrain, “You can’t rightly understand the Old Testament without the New and you can’t rightly understand the New Testament without the Old. The Bible is one cohesive story.” For some, the saying even functions as a shibboleth for a high view of Scripture.
But does this refrain truly advance a deep reverence for God’s word? A careful examination of the wording reveals reasons to be cautious.
What the Statement Gets Right
To evaluate the statement, let us consider its three assertions—two of which unquestionably affirm a high view of Scripture.
We can begin with the final assertion of the saying: “The Bible is one cohesive story.” Indeed, from beginning to end, the sixty-six books of Scripture—written by at least forty men of differing times, backgrounds, and cultures—provide a unified witness to the character of God, the nature and consequences of sin, the means of salvation, the exclusivity of the Savior, and the glory of God. As John MacArthur states, “It is one book. It has one plan of grace, recorded from initiation, through execution, to consummation. From predestination to glorification, the Bible is the story of God redeeming his chosen people for the praise of his glory.” This cohesiveness is due to the fact that the Scriptures ultimately originate in God (2 Tim 3:16), and because of this, as Charles Hodges asserts, “it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture.”
At the same time, the “cohesive” nature of the Bible’s contents should not be understood as though both Testaments, each of their books, or every chapter repeats the very same knowledge about God, sin, salvation, the Savior, or glory from beginning to end. On the contrary, each text of Scripture makes its own unique contribution to this unified storyline. Each pericope has its own role to play. There is a beautiful diversity in Scripture, ranging from its variations in literary types to its variations in revelatory focus to its variations in the styles of its human writers to its variations in the way its portions respond to the needs of the original recipients.
Therefore, we must reject the notion that the propositions of Scripture are true only if they are abundantly repeated. The truthfulness of a divine revelation is neither enhanced nor diminished based on the number of times it is restated. Even if God reveals something just once it is enough to be believed and obeyed. Furthermore, we must resist the impulse to flatten out Scripture’s contents to make it nicely into a prefabricated form. Certain portions of Scripture will emphasize truths found nowhere else. Such peculiarities are not contradictions; nor do they betray a weakness.
We can wholeheartedly affirm another portion of this refrain: “you can’t rightly understand the New Testament without the Old.” God not only revealed His knowledge through dozens of human writers, He did so over a vast period stretching from Moses (who wrote the Pentateuch between 1445 and 1405 bc) to the Apostle John (who wrote Revelation around ad 96). God unfolded His truth progressively (Heb 1:1-2), meaning that He began with basic truths and furnished them with detail and development over time.
But the amplification and development provided in later portions in no way create disagreement with the earlier ones. Neither does progress imply that a mutation in meaning has occurred. Analogous to the construction of a house, progressive revelation begins with the foundation and expands upward, but no part of the ongoing construction changes the essence of the original foundation. Concrete piles remain concrete; they do not morph into iron—even after the windows, shingles, and siding has been added! As Robert Thomas explained,
Progress in divine revelation is quite apparent in tracing through the books of the Old and New Testaments chronologically, but “progress” in the sense only of adding to what has already been revealed, not in any sense of a change of previous revelation. To change the substance of something already written is not “progress”; it is an “alteration” or “change” that raises questions about the credibility of the text’s original meaning.
Consequently, the New Testament—like the top floor of a house—is directly dependent upon the Old Testament—which is the foundation. A reader cannot adequately understand it unless he reads from the beginning, with a forward-looking approach. The Old Testament must have priority, not in terms of preference or appreciation, but in terms of an epistemological starting point. There must be a forward reading approach to comprehend successfully the progressing storyline contained in Scripture. Yes, let the reader understand: you cannot rightly understand the New Testament without the Old.
Where the Statement Goes Wrong
It is the first part of the refrain that contains the problem: “You can’t rightly understand the Old Testament without the New.”Taken at face value, the statement implies that the knowledge revealed in the Old Testament remained necessarily hidden, obscure, or otherwise unintelligible until the full contents of the New Testament canon were not only recorded by the designated human writers but also recognized as Scripture by the early church. In other words, until the Apostle John finished the last words of the book of Revelation, and until that revelation was made known to believers of the New Testament era, Christians were not adequately equipped to interpret the knowledge revealed in the Old Testament. Only once the final word had been recorded could readers interpret the Old Testament adequately, using a backward reading, New Testament priorityapproach. This conviction is reflected in the argument of Michael Lawrence when he writes,
We need to remember that revelation is progressive, and in the revelation of Jesus Christ, we’ve been given both the main point and the end of the story. This means that we have an advantage over Old Testament readers. We work from the story of the whole Bible back to the prophecy, not the other way around. . . . Therefore the New Testament determines the ultimate meaning of Old Testament prophecy, not the other way around.
What challenges does this assertion introduce to a high view of Scripture? There are several:
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New undermines the ministries of the Old Testament prophets—the very mouthpieces of this revelation. If their words were not understandable until the New Testament was complete, they would have been the first to not understand, misunderstand, or generally miss the point of the words of the Lord that came directly to them. It lessens the significance of the blood spilled by the earliest prophet of the Old Testament, Abel, to its last prophet, Zechariah, the son of Berechiah (Matt 23:34–36) in their effort to communicate the words of God. Could they understand what were they paying for with their lives if they did not understand their own messages?
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New minimizes personal responsibility on the part of the original recipients of the Old Testament texts. If the Old Testament on its own merit was obscure, its authority to bind the conscience, render its readers without excuse, and provide its recipients with knowledge of redemption was necessarily limited. This not only calls into question the severe judgments God prescribed for disobedience in Old Testament times, but it throws into doubt the profundity of the faith of Old Testament saints.
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New diminishes the apologetic value of Old Testament prophecy. While many references could be made, the logic of Isaiah 40–48 is particularly important as Yahweh compares Himself repeatedly with the false gods of the nations. Central to the argument of Yahweh’s incomparability is His ability to speak clearly through His prophets, and in particular, to make predictions that come to pass exactly as stated. For example, Isaiah 45:18b–19 states, “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.” This whole argument is thrown into disrepute if God, in the Old Testament, was speaking in darkness.
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New contradicts Jesus’ assumptions that His audiences should understand the Old Testament—and these assumptions were made well before the first books of the New Testament were even written and even, in many cases, before His work of redemption had been completed. He repeatedly castigates the religious leaders of His day by asking, “Have you not read?” “Have you not read in the Law?,” or “Did you never read in the Scriptures?” (e.g., Matt 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:6, 42; 22:31). He even calls His disciples “foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). Jesus explicitly lays the blame for this misunderstanding at the feet of His followers; He never suggests the fault was the obscurity or temporary inaccessibility of the prophets’ writings.
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New undermines how the New Testament writers so often cite or allude to the Old Testament without commentary or qualification. True, there are several instances where New Testament writers use the Old Testament in ways that challenge modern interpreters, but these are by far a minority of cases. Like the Apostle Paul in Berea, the New Testament writers reference the Old Testament in ways that allow for simple, straightforward examination “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New gives an excuse for shoddy Old Testament exegesis. When the interpreter assumes that the New Testament must be read back into the Old Testament text, that the Old Testament text will be misleading if it is not interpreted through a New Testament prism, he inevitably diverts his attention away from that Old Testament text to the New Testament. In that case, priority is given to the New Testament not only in terms of an epistemological starting point but also in terms of preference. Moreover, it pushes the interpreter closer and closer toward allegorical forms of interpretation, wherein the Old Testament text is spiritualized to make it repeat exactly that which is stated in the New.
That the Old Testament could not be understood without the New is not even consistently held by proponents of this refrain. In all fairness, many who repeat this saying actually produce quality exegesis in Old Testament texts without ever reading the New Testament back into their texts. So why then the assertion? It is not really about the Old Testament in general, but only about certain parts—particularly, about the prophecies concerning the future of Israel. An illustration of this can be seen in the esteemed Old Testament professor, E. J. Young. Much of his exegesis of Old Testament texts reflects a forward-reading approach. He interprets many Old Testament texts—especially narrative texts and even prophetic texts related to the Messiah’s first advent—according to their historical and literary context. But when he comes to prophecies concerning the nation of Israel and the Messiah’s second advent, his approach changes. He explains as much in his classic work, My Servants the Prophets:
Since the revelation granted to the prophets was less clear than that given to Moses; indeed, since it contained elements of obscurity, we must consider these facts when interpreting prophecy. We must therefore abandon once and for all the erroneous and non-Scriptural rule of “literal if possible.” The prophetic language belonged to the Mosaic economy and hence, was typical. Only in the light of the New Testament fulfillment can it properly be interpreted.
But when such an approach is taken it raises a question fundamental to a high view of Scripture: “How can the integrity of the OT text be maintained? In what sense can the OT really be called a revelation in its original meaning?”
Therefore, the next time you hear the refrain, “You can’t rightly understand the Old Testament without the New and you can’t rightly understand the New Testament without the Old; the Bible is one cohesive story,” think carefully through each assertion. Consider their implications. Treating the Old Testament as a riddle and the New Testament as its decoding key may be intriguing, but it posits many significant challenges for a high view of Scripture that is consistent.
 John MacArthur, “Introduction to the Bible,” in The MacArthur Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), xii.
 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1873),187.
 See Brad Klassen, “Premillennialism and Hermeneutics,” Master’s Seminary Journal 29, no. 2 (Fall 2018), 137–45.
 Robert L. Thomas, “The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism,” Master’s Seminary Journal 6, no. 2 (Spring 1992),90 n. 47. In the words of Article V of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, “We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive. We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it.”
 Some attribute this saying to Augustine. The closest wording in Augustine that this writer has found is as follows: “To the Old Testament belongs more fear just as to the New Testament more delight; nevertheless in the Old Testament the New lies hid, and in the New Testament the Old is exposed” (Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, VII 2.73).
 Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 49.
 Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1952), 215 n. 21.
 Paul D. Feinberg, “Hermeneutics of Discontinuity,” Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 116.
Have you ever walked in on someone midway through telling a story? Certain details that are pertinent to understanding the point of the story are missed. Paul Harvey made a career telling “the rest of the story” to his radio listeners. In 1976, Harvey provided hearers with forgotten insights or little known facts on a variety of topics with one key element, usually the name of an individual, kept to the end of the broadcast. He always concluded with the words, “And now you know the rest of the story.” Most Christians read the Bible in a similar way, spending time in the New Testament at the expense of the Old Testament. By only reading a quarter of the book, we miss the “rest of the story.” We can’t truly appreciate the New Testament without an understanding of the gospel in the Old Testament.
Our preoccupation with part of the Bible—and our neglect of the other part—is brought to light in our gospel presentations. The history of the nation of Israel is all but removed from our evangelistic conversations. By doing this, we eliminate three-fourths of our modern Bibles. I have been guilty in years past of this oversight as well.
At one time, my gospel presentations started with creation in Genesis 1, moved to the fall in Genesis 3, and made a beeline to the New Testament with the birth of Christ.
Examples of the Gospel in the Old Testament
But what about:
The punishment for sins running rampant among mankind in Noah’s day in Genesis 7
The expulsion of the nations for building a tower in Babylon to be like God,
The call of and covenant with Abraham to make him the father of the nation of Israel (this is God’s response to Adam’s sin)
The messiah-like figure Moses, whom God used to liberate the people from the bondage of Egypt
The giving of the law and festivals as a foreshadowing of the Messiah (what Moses was incapable of doing by bringing the people into the promised land, the Messiah will do)
Joshua’s campaign to claim the promised land
The building of the Temple as a reminder of God’s promise to dwell among His people
The Babylonian captivity as judgment for the rebellion of the nations
The prophets who warned and encouraged the people to turn back to God
The silence after Malachi for 400 years, setting the stage for John the Baptist crying in the wilderness as the Elijah-like figure promised from the days of old?
If none of this is pertinent for salvation, why devote three-fourths of the Bible to recording its history? I’m not suggesting that every gospel presentation must walk the hearer through the entire meta-narrative of Scripture, for many times we only have a short time to explain the gospel. However, we should understand how God brought His people out of captivity so He could be with them. Biblical scholars B.T. Arnold and B.E. Beyer wrote, “The purpose for the exodus from Egypt was so God could dwell in the midst of His people.
When we explore a biblical concept, it is standard practice to examine the first instance of the concept you are studying. Where are biblical readers first introduced to God reigning as a king? You may think of the dynasty of King David or his son Solomon. Others may call to mind the rebuilding of the Temple in Nehemiah’s day. Neither of these answers are correct. The kingdom of God is not a locale we enter into, but rather God working among His people. In reality, the first mention of God’s kingdom in the Bible is in the context of the exodus from Egypt. The people have just been set free from captivity through God’s miraculous works. God Himself was showing He reigns supreme over any false god who would try to usurp Him.
Gospel In The Old Testament – Appearance of the Kingdom
While Genesis alludes to the kingdom concept, Exodus explicitly screams, “The God of Israel is superior to the gods of Egypt.” When God liberated the people from the bondage of Egypt and delivered them through the waters of the Red Sea, Moses sang a praise song to God in Exodus 15 for obliterating “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea; the elite of his officers were drowned in the Red Sea… The floods covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone… Lord, your right hand shattered the enemy… You stretched out your right hand, and the earth swallowed them” (Exod. 15:4–6, 12). This song of victory concludes with the establishment of God’s Temple in connection to His kingdom reigning forever. Moses pens the first words about the “kingdom of God” in the Bible.
“You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your possession; Lord, you have prepared the place for your dwelling; Lord, your hands have established the sanctuary. The Lord will reign forever and ever!” (Exod. 15:17–18). Reigning forever pronounces God’s kingship over His people. No longer will the people serve the Pharaoh of Egypt. God’s chosen people are free now to worship and serve Him.
“Will reign” is an imperfect verb in Hebrew, signifying that the future is up in the air; it’s dependent upon some present action. An example of this in English would be, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The future isn’t actual yet, it is dependent on a present action. The doctor being kept away is dependent on whether you eat an apple a day. Moses is saying that they have observed God’s miraculous act of salvation. They have observed firsthand God’s glory as King, and His worth is not found in palaces, chariots, gold or silver. His inheritance is the nation He saved. Because of what they observed, they can say with certainty, “God is reigning today and will reign forever.”
Their response for God’s gracious act of salvation would be obedience to His Word, which is why the next stop before the Promised Land was a mountain. Was their freedom from the bondage of Egypt the result of their own good works? Did God rescue the nation because they earned it? Did their redemption come about because they would pay God back one day? No. God set them free as a demonstration of His unearned and unmerited favor.
The law was not the prerequisite for redemption; it was given as a gift after they were emancipated from Pharaoh’s rule. God established His kingdom by proving His majesty and by delivering His people from slavery. And His subjects demonstrate their loyalty by obeying His decrees. It is a joyful adherence to the commands of God in response to what He has already done for them.
Scripture records the whole history of God’s people from their birth in Exodus 15 to their future renewal in Revelation 15. In between is language of the kingdom, a kingdom not coming, but one that is already, to some extent, here.
Notice how believers in Revelation sing the same song of Moses: “They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty; just and true are your ways, King of the nations’ Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All the nations will come and worship before you because your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3–4). In one sense, the culmination mirrors the commencement. The good news for all followers of Jesus is that there is no need to wait to enter the kingdom. Jesus instructed His followers 2,000 years ago, “Seek [today] first the kingdom” (Matt 6:33). The end times consummation has broken into the present time. The entire Old Testament message can be summed up in the phrase: “Our God reigns forever and ever.”
The Bible is the authority, the only authority, the only book that God wrote. It contains 66 books – 39 books in the Old Testament, which is the revelation of God before Christ; 27 books in the New Testament, the revelation of God since the coming of Christ, together makes up the 66 books of the Bible.
In the Bible, God speaks. It is His Word. When we come together, we don’t come together to hear men speak, we come to hear God speak. The responsibility then of the pastor and the preacher is to take the message from God and bring it to the people. I’ve always seen myself, not as a chef, but as a waiter. My responsibility is not to create the meal, but try to get it to the table without messing it up. And that is the responsibility which I try to discharge, as we all do whenever we open Scripture.
So as we come to the 15th chapter of John, like anywhere else in the Bible, we are listening to God. The writer is the apostle John. But the writer is also God, the Holy Spirit who inspired every word that John wrote. Because of this, the Bible is without error, it is accurate, and it is authoritative. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. And when God speaks, we listen, because God says to us what we must know.
The Bible should dominate every life and all of human society, for in it is contained all necessary truth for life in time and eternity. And when a nation or a person rejects the Bible, they have rejected God, and the consequences are dire, dire. Those who listen to God through His Word are given life and blessing, now and forever.
And so we come to the 15th chapter of John. Just to set the stage a little bit, starting in chapter 13 and running through chapter 16, we find ourselves on Thursday night of Passion Week, the last week of our Lord’s ministry. Thursday night was an important night. He gathered with the 12 disciples to celebrate the Passover on that Thursday night when the Galilean Jews would celebrate it.
They met together in a kind of secret place that we call upper room, and our Lord spent that night telling them many wonderful things, giving them many, many promises. As that night moved on, our Lord exposed Judas as the traitor, and dismissed him. And Judas left to go meet the leaders of Israel to arrange for the arrest and subsequent crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. By the time we come to chapter 15, Judas is gone, and only the 11 are left, and they are true disciples.
But as we come to chapter 15, they’re no longer in the upper room. It is deep into the dark of night. But chapter 14 ends with Jesus saying this: “Get up; let us go from here.” Apparently at that time, they left the upper room, Jesus and the 11, and they began their walk through Jerusalem, headed out the east side of the city to a garden where our Lord would pray in prayer so agonizing that He sweat as it were great drops of blood. And while He was praying, they would fall asleep. And into that garden later would come Judas, and the Roman soldiers, and the Jewish leaders to arrest Him. And there, Judas would kiss him; the betrayal would take place; and the next day, He would be crucified.
As they leave the upper room and walk through the darkness of Jerusalem, our Lord continues to speak to them, and what He says to them is recorded in chapters 15 and 16. Of all these things that He says, nothing is more definitive than the first eight verses of chapter 15. Our Lord here give not really a parable – although I guess in the broadest sense could be considered a parable because it is an illustration. It’s really a word picture, a metaphor, a simile.
Listen to what He says, I’m going to read verses 1-8: “I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
Now it should be pretty obvious from that final sentence what the point of this analogy is. This is about a vine and branches and fruit-bearing that proves someone to be a true disciple. This then is about the nature of genuine salvation. This is about the nature of genuine salvation. This is a concern to our Lord, a concern to all the Bible writers, and a concern to all faithful Christians, and has been through history. How does one know that one is a true disciple? How does one know that one is genuinely headed to heaven? How does one know that he or she will escape hell? How do we know?
Nothing is more important than this. Nothing is more important than salvation. Nothing is more important than eternal life. Nothing is more important than heaven. How do you know? In this word picture, we have everything we need to know.
But before we look at the nature of salvation, just a reminder: there is also, in the verses that I read you, statements that point to the nature of Christ. Before we get to the nature of salvation, the essential reality of salvation, we have to acknowledge the nature of Christ, the essential reality of Christ.
The divine nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is here declared in verse 1: “I am the true vine,” He says. And in verse 5 again: “I am the vine.” How is this a claim to deity? Because of the verb “I am.”
Back in Exodus, chapter 3, when Moses came before God in the wilderness and asked His name, God said, “My name is I Am That I Am.” The tetragrammaton: the eternally existent one; the one of everlasting being; the always is, and always was, and always will be one. Theologians call it the aseity of God, the eternal being of God. He is the I Am.
Throughout His preaching, teaching, healing, discipling ministry, Jesus continually declared that He is God, He is God. He said things like, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
In a context of discussion about the Sabbath, He reminds them that, “The Sabbath doesn’t apply to God because God is at work all the time; and the Sabbath doesn’t really apply to Me either because I, like God, am at work all the time.” They were infuriated that He would make such a claim. That was in chapter 5 of John’s gospel.
Later in chapter 8 Jesus said, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ And therefore if God, who is your God, glorifies Me as God, you ought to also glorify Me.” And again they were offended at such perceived blasphemy.
In chapter 10, He even said it more concisely: “I and the Father are one, one in nature and essence.” In that same chapter, chapter 10 and verse 38, He said, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works that you may know that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”
All through His life and ministry, He claimed that He is God. Every time Jesus said, “My Father,” which He said many, many times – every time He said, “My Father,” He was underscoring that He had the same nature as God. And His Jewish audience did not miss the claim. They were not at all confused.
In fact, in chapter 5, verse 18, this is what we read: “For this cause, therefore, the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” They understood that that is exactly what He was doing, exactly. And one of the ways that He did that was by taking to Himself the name of God “I Am” and applying it to Himself.
There’s a series of those claims throughout the gospel of John. He says, “I am the Bread of Life. I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. I am the Light of the World. I am the Door, I am the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” And then He makes the stunning, inescapable claim, chapter 8, verse 58, “Before Abraham was born, I am eternally existing.”
Jesus is none other than the great I Am, the eternal God in human flesh. Is that important to believe? Listen to this, John 8:24, “Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
Can I say that another way? If you don’t believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus, you’ll go to hell, that simple. No matter how religious you are, how moral you are, how well your intensions might measure up with the best of humanity: if you do not believe that Jesus is God, you will go to hell. If you believe He is a created being of any kind, no matter how noble or how elevated, you will go to hell. You will die in your sins, which means you will die without forgiveness. The penalty is eternal punishment.
The Jews understood exactly what He was saying. It’s a shocking, shocking, devastating assault on Jewish theology. Their theology had deviated from Scripture, the Old Testament. But it was a well-developed system. And Jesus attacked that theology. He attacked their understanding of God, He attacked their understanding of the law, He attacked their understanding of righteousness, He attacked their perspective on works and faith and grace, He attacked all of the elements of their theology. And then if that isn’t bad enough, that caused them to hate Him. Then He claims to be God, which they see is the ultimate blasphemy, and that becomes the reason they want Him dead.
So here He is on the final night with His disciples, and He reveals another powerful declaration of His divine nature and says, “I am the true vine, I am the vine.” Having looked at that, I want to take you to the most important part of the passage, and that is the nature of salvation, the nature of salvation. I don’t think this is clearly understood by many people, but there’s no excuse, given these simple words.
The drama that unfolds in this analogy is simple: there is a vine, there is a vinedresser, and there are two kinds of branches – branches that bear fruit and pruned to bear more fruit; branches that don’t bear fruit, cut off, dried, burned – that simple. As you well know, our Lord could say profound things in the most simple ways; and that’s exactly what you have here.
We know that the first two characters, Jesus said, “I am the vine – ” verse 1, and He said “ – My Father is the farmer, the vinedresser. So we know the vine is Christ, and the farmer who planted the vine and cares for the vine is the Father. But the question here is, “Who are the branches? Who are the branches?”
There are branches attached to Him. They’re all attached. All the branches are attached. But the ones that don’t bear fruit are cut off, dried, and burned. So who are they? Let me remind you of the context. This all begins back in chapter 13 in the upper room, and it’s pretty clear that there are two types of disciples in that upper room.
Jesus is there, verse 1, very aware that His hour of death is coming. And it says, “He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the max. He loved His own who were in the world, and He loved them to the max, to the eternal limits of His capacity to love.” However, there was somebody else there, verse 2. One of those disciples attached to Jesus, Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, it says in verse 2, “The Devil had already put it into his heart to betray Him.”
I don’t really think there’s a lot of mystery about the two branches. What did Jesus have in His mind that night? They had just left the upper room. The drama that took place there over Judas, the exposure of Judas, the disciples, when Jesus said, “One of you will betray Me,” they said, “Is it I? Is it I? Is it I?” which is to say they had no idea it was Judas.
There was nothing manifestly obvious in the life and character and behavior of Judas that would have distinguished him as a false disciple. He was visibly attached, and for all intents and purposes, looked like everybody else, did what everybody else did. But, clearly, there were two kinds of people in that room that night. There were those who bore fruit and there was that one who did not. There were those who remained abiding in, remaining in, attached to the vine; and there was that one who’s cut off.
I’ve had some discussions with people around the world about this passage, and folks have said to me, “Well, this is proof that you can be in Christ, you can be attached to Christ, and you can lose your salvation.” The Bible does not teach that, and the words of our Lord Jesus, in the gospel of John, are very explicit: “My sheep hear My voice – ” using another metaphor “ – and I know them and they follow Me. And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one. Together, we hold those who belong to our flock.”
In John 6, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me and I’ll lose none of them.” This is not talking about believers, fruit-bearing branches that all of a sudden are cut off and thrown into hell. This is talking about people who are attached, but there’s no life because there’s no fruit.
Judas had that very night just a few hours before walked away from Jesus terminally, finally. He is what the Bible would call an apostate, an ultimate defector. He had been for three years close, so close that people didn’t even know there was no life. Judas now was on his way to the leaders of Israel to set up the deal to arrest Jesus to get his 30 pieces of silver, and to go from there to hang himself, and catapult into hell.
This is the reality of that night, and this has to be what’s behind our Lord’s thinking and speaking here. He needs to explain to these men Judas. Wouldn’t it seem natural to you that in this intimate talk with the beloved 11 that are still with Him, that they’re all still trying to process Judas. He was high profile. He was the one who carried the money, trusted. They were trying to figure out just, “How did it happen? Who is he? How does he fit? What’s going on?” and our Lord gives us an explanation.
He says, “There are branches that have an outward appearance of attachment, but bear no fruit. They’re taken away and they’re burned.” And He has to be thinking of Judas. Judas, who was in close connection to Him, has left on his way to eternal hell. And, in fact, the Bible says he went to his own place. It says it would have been better for him if he’d never been born, Mark 14.
So our Lord helps us to understand the elements of the parable. He is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser; the branches that bear fruit are the true disciples; the branch that bears no fruit, cut off and burned, is a false disciple. That’s the way we understand His words.
There are, in the kingdom of God, possessors of life and professors: “Not everyone that says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into My kingdom,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. There are people who build a religious house, but they built it on sand, and rather do not build it on rock. So Jesus really has gathered all the figures in the final night’s drama and formed them into a strong analogy full of meaning.
As we look at this metaphor, many truths unfold for us to consider, and we have to take time to deal with them to some degree. But I think you can now see what the simple understanding is – and we’ll fill that in. Let’s start with the vine, the first character in this picture. The vine, Christ Himself: “I am the true vine,” verse 1, verse 5, “I am the vine.”
He chose to see Himself as a vine, to present himself as a vine. He had earlier, in chapter 10, presented Himself as a shepherd with a flock. He had earlier presented Himself as light. He had earlier presented Himself as, through the Holy Spirit, water. So He drew from familiar analogies.
And you might say, “Well, He referred to Himself as a vine because a vine is lowly, and a vine is in the earth and in lowliness. The vine, if it weren’t propped up by some kind of wires or something, would just run along the ground, and this speaks of His lowliness.” It’s a good metaphor to speak of His lowliness.
Somebody else might say it’s a good metaphor because it speaks of union, it speaks of the closeness and communion of those who are Christ’s with Him, the very same life flowing through the vine, flowing through the branches. Others might say it’s a good symbol, it’s a good word picture because it talks about fruit-bearing, fruitfulness, the result of being in Christ is manifest. Others would say it illustrates dependence, as our Lord said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.” It illustrates that kind of dependence.
All the life comes from the vine. It emphasizes belonging. If you are connected, you belong. And I think all of that is true. But there’s another, much more important reason why He says, “I am the true vine,” and that is because there was a defective vine.
There was a corrupted vine. There was a degenerate vine. There was a fruitless vine. There was an empty vine. Who? Israel, Israel. That’s right. The covenant people of God, the Jewish people.
Israel is God’s vine in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 5, Israel as presented as a vine. God says, “I planted My vine, My vineyard in a very fertile hill,” Isaiah 5. And that chapter, verses 1-7, goes on to talk about everything God did to give them all that was necessary for them to bring forth grapes. They produced beushim, sour berries, inedible, useless. Israel was the vine. And that metaphor carried through the history of Israel during the Maccabean period between the Old and the New Testament.
The Maccabeans minted coins, and on the coin was a vine illustrating Israel. And on the very temple, Herod’s massive temple, there was a great vine that literally had been carved and overlaid with gold, speaking of Israel as God’s vine. God’s life flows through the nation. That was a symbol of Israel. There’s much in the Old Testament. Psalm 80 – sometime you can read Psalm 80 in its fullness – but Psalm 80 tells us the tragedy of Israel’s defection as a vine.
Just listen to a few of the words from Psalm 80: “God removed a vine from Egypt, bringing Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Drove out the nation’s, planted the vine – ” like Isaiah 5 “ – cleared the ground before it, took deep root, filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shadow. The cedars of God with it’s bows, it was sending out its branches. It shoots to the river.” Then this: “Why have You broken down its hedges, so that all who pass that way pick its fruit? A bore from the forest eats it away. And whatever moves in the field feeds on it.”
God planted Israel and then turned on Israel in judgment. Psalm 80 then says, “O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech you. Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine, even the shoot which Your right hand has planted. It is burned with fire. It is cut down.” Yeah, that’s Israel, that’s Israel. Ezekiel said it is an empty vine, no fruit. Isaiah says it produces sort of toxic, useless, inedible results.
Israel had been the stock of blessing. Israel had been planted by God. His life would come through Israel to all who attached to Israel. But Israel was unfaithful, idolatrous, immoral, and God brought judgment. That’s what the Old Testament lays out for us.
The disciples, like all the other Jews, thought, “Hmm, I’m Jewish. I’m connected to God.” Israel, the people of God, the Jewish people, are the source of divine blessing: “I am a Jew; I was born a Jew. I’m the seed of Abraham; I’m connected to God.” Not so.
Our Lord comes along and says, “If you want to be connected to God, you have to be connected, not to Israel, but to me. I am the true vine, althinos. I am the true vine. I am the perfect vine. Through Me, the life of God flows.”
Paul understood that. He said Israel has all the privileges in the book of Romans. They have a form of godliness, but they have no life. They don’t know God. They’re alienated from God. He’s the true vine.
Just to give you a comparison, in the 8th chapter of Hebrews, the writer of Hebrews says, “Jesus is the true tabernacle.” He’s the true tabernacle. He is the true vine. He is the true tabernacle. He is the true temple. It is through Him that the life of God flows.
Colossians 2:7 says, “We are rooted and built up in Him.” These disciples know Israel is going to be destroyed. They know the temple’s going to be destroyed. He already told them that just hours before this. They know it’s all coming crashing down. It’s over. He pronounced judgment on them, not one stone upon another. The fury of God is going to be unleashed.
It’s important that we understand that the stock of blessing is not Israel. “Not all Israel is Israel,” said Paul. Christ is the true vine just as He said in John 1, He is the true light. And in John 6, the true bread. He is the true vine.
Anybody who’s going to know the life of God has to connect to Him, and has to connect to Him genuinely as God, as the I Am. All other vines are false vines. Israel is a degenerate, dead vine. Christ is the true and living vine.
Isaiah says Israel, as a vine, has run wild. Jeremiah says Israel has become a degenerate plant, a strange vine. It’s as if Jesus was saying to those men, “You think that because you belong to the nation Israel, you are secure in your connection to God. Not so. You think that just because you’re a Jew and a member of the chosen race, you are connected to the blessing of God? Not so. I am the vine and life flows only through Me. I am the way, the truth, the life.” So He is the vine.
Now the second character in this picture is the vinedresser, verse 1: “My Father is the vinedresser.” That’s the farmer, the person who cares for the vine. Christ pictures Himself as having been planted by God, and that’s true. The Father was behind everything that Jesus did.
The Father sent the Son into the world, right? That’s what Scripture says. The Father laid out the plan. Jesus said, “I only do the will of My Father. I only do what the Father tells me to do, shows me to do, commands me to do. I only do what pleases the Father.”
The Father cared for Him. The Father provided a virgin so that He could be virgin-born. The Father provided everything for Him. The Father provided the Holy Spirit to empower Him through His ministry. The Father provided everything He ever needed. So it was the Father caring for the Son, and it is the Son who is the One who possesses true, divine life.
Now verse 2 then introduces the branches, the branches. And there are two kinds of branches. “They all appear in Me, every branch in Me.” They all are attached, just like there were lots of people attached to Israel in the past. But not all Israel is Israel, and not everyone who is a Jew is really connected to blessing. They were attached, they were connected, but there were branches that – it says at the beginning of verse 2 – that do not bear fruit. And He takes those away, the Father does – the Father is the judge. And then there were branches that bear fruit, and He pruned those so that they would bear more fruit.
The Father is at work and He’s doing two things, two very divine works. He is judging false branches – cutting them off, drying them out, and sending them to hell; and he is pruning true fruit-bearing branches. This is the Father’s work.
Now let’s look at these branches and just consider what this is saying. The vine is flourishing, growing luxuriantly, but some serious steps are taken by the vinedresser, the farmer. First of all, when He sees a branch that has no fruit, He takes it away, He takes it away. Down in verse 6, He throws it away, it dries up. Those branches are gathered, cast into the fire, and burned. That is drastic judgment by God on false believers, false believers. No fruit.
You say, “Does every Christian have fruit?” Yes, every Christian has fruit. That’s how you know you’re a Christian. What is fruit? Righteous attitudes, righteous longings, righteous desires, righteous affections, righteous virtues, righteous behaviors. That is the manifestation of life; and where the life of God exists, the fruit must be there.
That’s why Ephesians 2:10 says that we have been saved by grace through faith, unto good works, which God has before ordained that you should walk in them. It can’t not be that way, because where there is the life of God and the soul of man, it becomes evident. That’s what it says at the end of verse 8. When you bear much fruit, you prove to be a true disciple. James said, “Faith without works is – ” what “ – is dead,” it’s useless claim. The only way you know faith is real, salvation is real, is by the evidence.
Matthew 7, Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit,” and that’s repeated a number of times in the gospels. Paul in Romans 6 says, “You were slaves to sin, and now in Christ you become slaves of righteousness.” We’re known by our fruit. We’re known by the manifest evidence of transformation.
That’s the only way you can tell a person’s a Christian – not by remembering an event, not by remembering a prayer, not by some wishing and hoping. The way you know someone has been transformed and regenerated and born again is because the fruit of righteousness is manifest in that life. It’s not perfection, but it’s a dominating direction. There are people who attach to Christ and are fruitless.
Look, the whole nation of Israel is seen in chapter 11 of Romans as a branch attached to God. But they were cut off because of unbelief and sin, and a new branch, the church, was grafted in. They had an attachment to God, but it was fruitless. There are many people who are attached to Christianity, attached to the church, attached some way to Christ. But time and truth go hand-in-hand. Given enough time, the truth will come out. And ultimately either in this life or the next – for sure in the next – the Father will send them to the fire. This is a concern all through the gospel of John. In fact, in chapter 6, many of His disciples walked no more with him. Remember that? It’s a call to true discipleship.
There are Judas branches in every age superficially attached. But let’s look at the possessing branches in verse 2. Every branch that bears fruit, evidencing the life God, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. So the Father does hard work. He completely whacks off the entire branch that is fruitless so that it doesn’t suck the energy out of the vine uselessly. They’re gathered and burned.
But He comes back at the fruitful branches and He prunes them. He purges them. It’s actually a verb kathair that means to make clean. But it was used in agriculture for pruning. It could mean removing waste matter after winnowing grain. It could mean cleaning weeds out of the soil before planting grain. But it also can mean anything that cleans the plant to make it more productive.
Philo, the Jewish theologian at the time of the early New Testament said this: “As superfluous shoots grow on plants, which are a great injury to the genuine shoots in which the vinedresser cleanses, and he uses kathair this same word, and prunes because he knows it’s necessary. So God whacks off some branches completely, false believers who spend eternity in hell. But for the rest of us, God goes to work on us with a knife, with a knife.
In ancient times, I’ve read that sometimes there was a pinching process. It even started with the hand between the first finger and the thumb to literally pinch the end of a growing shoot that could cause it to die. There was sort of a removal of kind of a dead end of a branch. And then there was the thinning of all the sucker pieces coming off that branch. Lots of ways to do that, but all had the same purpose in mind, and that was so that the branch would be more productive. That’s the work of the Father for what He does. The Father comes into our lives with a knife to cut away sin and was us superfluous.
In Hebrews 12:1 it says, “Laying aside the weight – ” right “ – the weight and the sin.” We all have sin in our lives; it ought to be cut off. But we also have stuff that doesn’t necessarily get categorized it’s sin. It’s just unnecessary, wasted, superfluous. Sucker branches.
The Father comes along in our lives with a knife – it’s painful – and He cuts. He cuts sin. He cuts useless, wasteful behavior, preoccupation with things don’t matter. How does He do that? He might do it through sickness. He might do it through hardship. He might do it through the loss of a job or loss of a friend, loss of a loved one, loss of material goods. He might do it through the loss of reputation, slander.
He might do it through failure, something you worked really had to pull off. And He might do it through persecution from people outside, and people you know and even love. He might do it through grief. He might do it through disappointment.
It might be extremely painful emotionally. It mist be extremely painful physically. God orders trouble. This is God providentially using the knife. God orders trouble.
The best thing that can happen to us to prune us is trouble. Second Corinthians 12: “When I am weak – ” the Bible, Paul says “ – then I am – ” what “ – strong.” I would rather be content with afflictions, difficulties, weakness, trials, because in my weakness God’s strength is perfected. James 1: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, because the testing of your faith produces patience, and patience has a perfecting work.” Peter put it this way: “After you’ve suffered awhile, the Lord makes you perfect.” That’s the knife.
You want to welcome that because you want to be more fruitful. You can chafe in self-pity and wallow around in disappointment complaining, brooding, full of anxiety when things don’t go the way you think they ought to go. Or you can look heavenward and so, “God, thank You. Thank you for working on me to bear more fruit. More fruit.”
You could say, “Why me, God? Why me? Why did this happen to me? How could it ever be?” Or you can say, “Thank You. Thank You, Lord. Thank You. I embrace this like the apostle Paul. I embraced this like James: ‘Count it all joy.’ I embrace this, because this pruning means God intends for me to bear much fruit.”
Another way to look at that is in the language of the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12. Listen to what he says: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline, nor faint when you are reproved by Him, for those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He received. It is for discipline that you endure. God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom his father doesn’t discipline.
“But if you’re without discipline of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them. But He disciplines us for our good so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful. Yet, to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” More fruit, more righteousness is the product of divine discipline – trials, tribulation, trouble. The believer is to expect this to be fruitful.
And I want to add something here. The vinedresser has a knife. What precisely is that knife? Verse 3 answers that: “You’re already clean because of the word which I’ve spoken to you.”
You’ve already been saved, and you were saved through the Word, right? Faith comes by hearing the Word. You were saved by believing the Word. It was the Word that did its work in you, begotten again by the Word of Truth, Scripture says, and you will be pruned by the Word.
In the final analysis, it’s not the afflictions themselves that are the knife, it’s the Word of God that is the knife. Now let me explain that. It is not the affliction itself that is the knife, it is the Word of God that is the knife.
Now we should understand the Word of God is a knife from Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It’s a two-edged knife and it cuts every direction, the Word does, the truth of God.
So here’s the idea. The Father is the discipliner. The Father is the one who in His providence, brings about the trials, the troubles, that cause us concern. The Word becomes, however, the actual cutting instrument, because when the trial comes and we react wrongly, the Word convicts us. The Word cuts into our disrespect for God’s purposes. The Word cuts into our hostility. The Word cuts into our anger. The Word cuts into our questioning, and it indicts us. Trials are the handle of the knife. The blade is the Word of God. The Father brings the trial, and the blade is the Word of God. The Word is the knife.
Listen to how Spurgeon explained this: “It is the Word that prunes the Christian. It is the truth that purges him. The Scripture made living and powerful by the Holy Spirit eventually and effectively cleanses the Christian.”
He says, “Affliction is the handle of the knife. Affliction is the grindstone that sharpens the knife. But the knife is the Word. Affliction is the dresser.” He says, “Affliction is the dresser that removes our soft garments and lays bare the diseased flesh, so that the knife may get at it.” Affliction makes us ready for the knife, to feel the Word of God.
The true pruner is God. Affliction is the handle and the occasion. But the pruning, the Scripture is the knife that cuts. Why? So that we would bear more fruit. The more you know the Word, the more you love the Word, the better you react to trials, right? The more you allow the knife to do its work.
You know, we should be praising God all the time here because, as a church, we are so submissive to the Word of God. We know it so well, that when we get into these issues of life that surround us, whatever they may be – these disappointments, these elements of suffering and trial that are so much a part of life – we know the Word of God. And we not only know it, we trust it. We not only trust it, we love it. We not only love it, we want it to do its work, and so we submit to the knife.
And I believe that that is why this church is so fruitful. That is why the fruit from this church circles the globe. You bear much fruit because you have suffered and let the Word do its work, bringing conviction, cutting away the sin and the things that don’t matter. That’s how it is in the kingdom, that a lot of people attach to Christ. Some will be cut off and burned, some bear fruit; and those that bear fruit, the Father works on to bear more fruit, much fruit. That’s the kingdom.
We’re thankful, aren’t we, that we know that we are fruit-bearing branches. If you don’t know that, you’re in a very dangerous situation. Take warning from this passage. Come truthfully to Christ, genuinely to Him.
Father, we are again this morning so blessed together, so thankful. We ask now that You would confirm to our hearts the truth, and set it loose in every life to accomplish Your purpose. We pray in Christ name. Amen.