All posts by BradleyCobb

Methods for Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 7): The Preterist Method (part 2)

Last week, the Preterist Method of interpreting Revelation was introduced.  It says that the book was meant for the first-century Christians, and had a direct application to them.  It says that the events in Revelation were things that they would experience (see 1:1, 3).  It takes God at His word when He said that Revelation was “to show His servants things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1, 22:6).  But as with almost everything regarding the Bible, there are those who oppose this method.  Let us consider their main objections:

  1. This method makes the book ONLY have meaning for the original recipients, and has no message for us today.”

This is the most common argument, and those who use it claim it is the most powerful.  In the Old Testament, there were prophetic books written about impending destructions upon a specific people during a specific time.  Oddly enough, no one ever makes the claim that Jonah or Nahum or Obadiah ONLY had meaning for the original recipients and has no meaning for us today.  If the Old Testament historical books can still have a message for us today, then so can the book of Revelation.  If the Old Testament prophetic books can still have a message for us today, then so can the book of Revelation.  If the gospel accounts and Acts can still have a message for us today, then so can Revelation.  After all, each of them was written about things which have already taken place.

There are many lessons that can be learned and applied from Revelation when one interprets with the Preterist Method.  We can learn about the nature of God and of Christ, how God views rebellion, that faithfulness is rewarded and unfaithfulness is punished, etc…  This first objection is overruled.

  1. This method implies that the church – a spiritual kingdom – would be concerned about the overthrow of a physical kingdom.”

The church – God’s kingdom – was undergoing severe persecution from a specific physical nation.  This physical nation was trying to destroy Christianity, trying to get Christians to leave the faith and trying to coerce them to enter (or in some cases, re-enter) into a religious system that God did not approve of.  In other words, this physical kingdom was trying to steal Christians’ very salvation from them.  The book continually encourages Christians to remain faithful in the midst of this persecution.  The very fact that a book was necessary to encourage them shows just how brutal the persecution was.  This book is God’s way of saying, “I’ll take care of things; you just stay faithful.”  It is God who rules in the affairs of men, and who controls the rise and fall of nations.

One last thing to consider regarding this objection is this: Jesus was concerned about the overthrow of a physical nation (see Matthew 23:34-24:34).  If He—who was more spiritual than anyone else on earth—was concerned about it, why is it strange that His people also be?  This objection is also overruled.

Methods for Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 6): The Preterist Method (part 1)

Imagine yourself as a Christian in the first century, under constant persecution, even the threat of death.  Things seem to keep getting worse instead of better.  And in the midst of it, the thought enters your mind, “I thought we were supposed to have an abundant life.”  The truth was, for most Christians of the first century, dark times were ahead; times that would try the souls of even the most dedicated Christian.  There were those that began to have doubts about Christianity and were going back to Judaism (see the book of Hebrews).  There were others who—because they loved the present world—forsook Christ and His servants (II Timothy 4:10).  Some left Christ out of fear. Then, in the midst of this turmoil, you are presented with a letter written down by the apostle John.  The letter begins in a way that lets you know it applies directly to you: this letter is about things which are about to happen – the time is at hand! (Revelation 1:1, 3).

As you read through the letter, you read about congregations that have lost their first love, and you recognize the signs.  You have seen Christians undergoing persecution to the point where they finally decide Jesus isn’t worth it, and though they may not have openly renounced their faith, you can tell a difference – they aren’t trying to tell others about Him at all.  You read of other congregations, small ones, that have almost nothing, but they are holding on to Jesus for all they are worth.  And as you read this letter, you realize that it is Jesus Himself who tells these faithful Christians to keep holding on, and they will receive a victory crown of life.  As you near the end of John’s letter, you understand that Jesus will overthrow those who oppose Him, and that His faithful saints will be rewarded for not giving in to the persecution.  As you finish reading it, the final words are a reminder of what was said at the beginning: this letter is about things which are about to happen – the time is at hand! (22:6, 10).

The main questions to ask regarding the book of Revelation and the approach one should take in interpreting it are these:

  • Was the book really written about “things which must soon take place” (1:1, ESV)?
  • Did the Christians who first received the book understand it? (see 1:3)
  • Did the book deal with things pertaining to the first century Christians? (see 22:10)

The Preterist Method of interpreting the book of Revelation says that the book had a direct application to the persecuted Christians who first received it.  It takes God’s word at face value when it claims to be about “things which must shortly be done” when it was first written (in the first century).  As such, anyone who wants to understand the book of Revelation must first understand what the book meant to the people who first received it.  As a result of this common sense approach, the Preterist believes that the specific events described in the book have been fulfilled.  This is the only method of interpreting the book which is in harmony with John’s inspired introduction (“things which must shortly come to pass…the time is at hand” – 1:1, 3) and his inspired conclusion (“things which must shortly be done…the time is at hand” – 22:6, 10).

-Bradley S. Cobb

Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 5: The Spiritual Method)

You open up the Bible, go to the most difficult, confusing book, and you can’t really understand what it is saying.  You know that somewhere in there, victory is promised to those who stay faithful, but beyond that nothing makes much sense.  So, instead of trying to figure out what it is saying, you decide to take a novel approach: the book really isn’t about anything specific!  No, the book is all about spiritual principles, the battle between good and evil, and the only thing the book teaches is that eventually, ultimately, good will triumph over evil.  Not surprisingly, this method is called The Spiritual Method.  Those who take this view claim it is the only one that makes Revelation have application to the church in all ages.

It has been accurately said that the Spiritual Method is the lazy way out of interpreting Revelation.  Anything in the book that doesn’t make sense to you, just claim it doesn’t really represent anything!  Some people who take the Spiritual Method have described it this way: “Many of the symbols are nothing more than extra details like props on a stage during a play.  They are completely unimportant, except to add to the scenery.”  One question must be asked in light of this: Are you willing to say that God placed completely unimportant things in His word?

Those who take the Spiritual Method have quite a difficult time explaining how Revelation isn’t referring to any specific events when the very first verse says otherwise.  “The Revelation of Jesus Christ…to show His servants things which must shortly come to pass…”  That verse shows that Revelation discusses events which were about to happen, but had not happened yet.  Did the spiritual battle between good and evil somehow not exist until shortly after Revelation was written?  Of course not.  Anyone who reads the Old Testament can see the battle between good and evil has been raging from the beginning.

Their claim that Revelation represents spiritual principles (good vs. evil) within the church in all ages runs into an interesting paradox at this point.  The church began over 30 years before the book was written.  Since the things described in the book hadn’t happened yet, it couldn’t apply to the church up to that point.

To simply “spiritualize” away the details in Revelation ignores the fact that there were real people discussed (such as Antipas, 2:12-13); real congregations addressed with their own real problems (chapters 2 and 3); real cities mentioned (Jerusalem, 11:8); real rulers mentioned (the kings of chapter 17); and an overthrow of a real “great city” that would cause the real blood of the real apostles and real prophets to be avenged (18:20-19:2).

Are there spiritual principles about the battle between good and evil to be learned from Revelation?  Absolutely!  But is that all that is under consideration?  Absolutely not!

-Bradley S. Cobb

Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 4: The Historical Method)

Imagine yourself living almost 2,000 years ago, and you’re undergoing heavy persecution, the threat of death, for being a Christian.  You worry about your own life and the lives of your family members who are also members of the church of Jesus.  You are in need of comfort in the face of affliction.  So, God sends you a letter of comfort, telling you that the whole church is going to fall away and turn into one large denomination, but that in 1500 years, Martin Luther is going to start another denomination.  Are you confused yet?  Welcome to the Historical Method of interpreting the book of Revelation.

This method was very popular from the time of the Protestant Reformation (1500s-1600s) until the early 1900s.  Martin Luther, John Wesley (Methodist founder), Charles Spurgeon (famous Baptist preacher), Matthew Henry (famous Presbyterian preacher), William Miller (founder of the Seventh-Day Adventists), John L. Hinds (author of the Gospel Advocate Commentary on Revelation), and many others used the Historical Method of interpreting Revelation.

This view says that the book of Revelation is a continuous, chronological record of “the church” (most of it referring to the Catholic Church) from the time of John until the final judgment.  Most who take this view will say that the book describes the apostasy of the church into Catholicism, the rise of the popes, the attacks which destroyed Rome, the rise of Islam, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, Napoleon and Mussolini, among others.  Some in the Lord’s church who take this view teach that Alexander Campbell and the restoration of the Lord’s Church are referenced as well. It is noteworthy that no two Historical Method commentators can agree on which historical events are described in each section of the book.

Now, before we go any further, we need to ask some questions.

  1. What comfort does it bring to Christians who are suffering for their faith to say, “don’t worry, in a couple hundred years, pretty much the entire church is going to go into apostasy and become one large denomination”?
  2. How can this book be said to be made up of things which “must shortly come to pass” (1:1) if the overwhelming majority of the book is interpreted to be at least a thousand or more years away from when John wrote?
  3. Could the people who originally received this book have understood its meaning if it was about specific people and events—some of which were at least 1700 years away?
  4. If, as most who take this view will agree, we are living in the last section of the book before the judgment scene in chapter 20, what happens if there’s another 2,000 years of the church?

Another problem with this interpretation is that the birth and ascension of Christ are mentioned in the middle of the book (Revelation 12:1-5).  In 12:10, the kingdom is said to come with power.  If Revelation is a chronological record and Christ’s birth doesn’t even show up until chapter 12, exactly what is recorded in chapters 4-11?

While this view still has proponents within the church, it does not match up with the purpose of the book, nor the time which God said it would take place (Revelation 1:1, 3, 22:6, 10).  As such, this method cannot be the one God wants us to use in interpreting the book of Revelation.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 3: The Futurist Method 02)

You are hurting, being persecuted by a group of people that really don’t care that you’re trying to obey God and that you’re trying to live your life the best way possible.  These persecutors have no mercy on you at all.  While you’re trying to avoid being killed, you receive a letter.  It’s a letter of hope, a letter designed to bring you comfort…or so you thought.  You open it up, and you find out that it is a letter that really has nothing to do with anything you’re going through.  This letter instead contains predictions of governmental, political, and religious situations in the 41st century.  How much comfort will you get from that letter?

You may think the above paragraph far-fetched, but that is exactly what the futurist interpreters of Revelation want you to think God was giving to His people in the 1st century.  God’s people, the Christians, are going through horrible persecutions at the hands of uncaring, vicious men when the book of Revelation was written.  The book of Revelation was to give comfort to the Christians undergoing persecution.  Yet, according to the futurist interpretation, the book deals with things that wouldn’t happen for twenty centuries (at the very least) in the future.  Such a book would have no meaning for the people who John wrote it to.  Would God write a book, address it to specific people, and then make the contents of that book meaningless to them?

Another thing to consider when examining the futurist interpretation is that God promises a blessing on those who keep [obey] the things written in the book (Revelation 1:3).  If it is composed of things—none of which have yet happened—that means it was impossible for anyone, for the last 2,000 years, to be blessed by this book.

Taking this view also makes God a god of confusion.  With every generation, the futurists must re-interpret Revelation to fit the current world events.  Some futurists have seen Germany and Adolph Hitler in Revelation.  When that didn’t work out, it was Russia.  Then Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  Then Barack Obama.  And in another ten years, they will point to someone else.

Taking this view also ignores that John wrote down the Revelation for seven actual churches in the first century (Revelation 1:4).  As you read chapters 2 and 3, you will see that Jesus addressed actual problems that actual congregations were actually going through in the first century.

Hopefully it has been made clear that the futurist position (that all—or even most—of the events in Revelation are still in the future) is in opposition to clear statements from God’s word, from the book of Revelation itself, and—as such—the futurist position must be labeled as “false doctrine.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

Methods of Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Part 2: The Futurist Method 01)

The most popular method of interpreting the book of Revelation today is the Futurist method.  Popular books are written about it, movies have been made about it, and it has pervaded the modern mindset more than we even realize.  Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s a sign of the apocalypse”? Or perhaps, talking about something being part of the Battle of Armageddon?  These have been popularized by those who employ the futurist interpret the book of Revelation.  But what is this method?  Is it possible that it is the correct method of interpreting this last book in the New Testament?  Is this the way God would have us understand the book?

The futurist method of interpreting Revelation says that everything in it is still in the future, and that none of it (or very little of it) has been fulfilled.  Does the Bible have anything to say about this?

One of the biggest keys to understanding the book of Revelation can be found in the first verse of the book.  It is such an important key that it actually is made clear twice in the first chapter, and twice in the final chapter.  Revelation 1:1 states very plainly that the book of Revelation was written to “show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.”  Two verses later, God’s inspired word says that “the time is at hand.”  Now, perhaps that might grab your attention.  If John the apostle came to you today, and before getting to his message said, “I’m going to tell you things which must shortly come to pass,” and then said, “the time is at hand,” would you imagine that he was really saying “I’m going to tell you things that won’t happen for at least 2,000 years”?  At the conclusion of the visions and incredible imagery of the book, we have John reminding us of how the book began.  He says that the things in the book were “to show his servants things which must shortly be done” (Revelation 22:6).  He’s also told, “don’t seal the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10).  Now, John has told us ahead of time that the things in the book were about to happen, and then at the end of the book reminds us that the things in the book were about to happen.  What do you think he means by this?

The futurist method must ignore or disregard the fact that God said the things “must shortly come to pass.”  Oh, some will say, “but to the Lord, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day!” Explain that to Paul, who was told by Jesus “Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem” (Acts 22:18).  The word “quickly” in this verse is the same word that is translated “shortly” in Revelation 1:1.  Was Jesus really telling Paul, “hurry up and get yourself out of Jerusalem sometime in the next 2,000 years”?  Of course not.

My friends, do you think God knows how to tell time?  God told Daniel to “seal up” the prophecy because the time was still “many days” away (Daniel 8:26).  That prophecy was fulfilled less than 400 years later.  But God told John “don’t seal up” the prophecy of Revelation, because “the time is at hand.”  God knows the difference between near and far when it comes to time.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Methods of Interpreting Revelation (Part 1: Intro)

It’s hard enough sometimes to understand what people are trying to say when they’re talking normally.  Now imagine that they are talking to you in symbols, in fantastic imagery, of books, of a Lamb, a dragon, of beasts with seven heads and ten horns that come out of the water, of colored horses, and a myriad of other words that you recognize, but put together in ways that are very strange and foreign to you.  How are you to make sense of what is being said?

If you are given a 5,000-piece puzzle, and are asked to put it together, could you do it?  Now imagine that you’re just given the pieces, but you aren’t allowed to see the box that shows you what the picture is supposed to look like.  How likely are you to stick with trying to piece the mystery puzzle together?  Yet this is exactly what people try to do with the book of Revelation!  They go about it, reading through without any real idea of what they are trying to figure out or what the big picture is.  People do this every day, and it should come as no surprise that they soon quit in frustration, thinking they can never understand it.

It is important that we—if we are going to derive any benefit from the book of Revelation—have an idea of what the book is about, know what message it is teaching, and understand how to interpret it.  God pronounces a blessing upon those who read, hear, and keep the things written in it (1:3).  Can anyone keep the things written in it if they don’t know what it’s saying?  Of course not.  Now a more important question: would God have created a book that CANNOT be understood?  My friends, it IS possible to understand the book of Revelation.  Of course, in order to understand it, we have to know how to interpret the language in it.

But not all methods of interpreting this book are equal.  In fact, some of the approaches are polar opposites of each other, and if one is right, that means the other one must be absolutely wrong.  Though there are variations on each view, and some people take hybrid views (where they take parts of one view and parts of another), we can generally classify the methods of interpreting the book of Revelation into four categories: Futurist (all the events in Revelation are still in the future), Historical-Fulfillment (that the book records the complete history of the church from Pentecost to Judgment), Preterist (all the events in Revelation were fulfilled soon after the book was written), and Spiritual (the book describes no actual events, just symbolic language describing the battle between good and evil).

Next week, we will start taking a closer look at each of these four methods.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Doubting…John?

We often hear references to a famous doubter in the Bible, doubting Thomas. I won’t get into why he really doesn’t deserve that moniker here, but I would like to point your attention to someone else who had some very intense doubt.

His name was John. And he is best known for baptizing people. In fact, he is known to history as “John the Baptist.” But the last words we have recorded from him express doubt.

John had been called by God to preach. He had baptized thousands. He had even received divine revelation and confirmation that Jesus was the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1). But John had expectations—expectations that didn’t match the reality he found himself facing in Matthew 11.

John is sitting in a prison, locked up for speaking the truth to Herod. He has been taken out of the picture, so far as his life’s work was concerned. He’s unable to teach the masses, unable to baptize anyone, unable to point repentant souls to a life of relationship with God. Surely this can’t be part of the plan, he must have thought.

So John, who had already known and proclaimed the truth, sent some messengers to Jesus. He told them to ask one simple question: Are you the one we’ve been waiting for, or is there someone else? In other words, Was I wrong, Jesus, when I told people you were the Messiah? John needed confirmation (and he got it by Jesus’ response). But for the moment, John had doubts.

It’s not wrong to have doubts. But when we have them, we need to be like John and go to the right source for the answers.

-Bradley S. Cobb

Haman the Agagite

If you’ve read Esther, then you know Haman is a bad guy, whose hatred for the Jews knows no bounds. He schemes a plan to have the entire Jewish nation wiped from the face of the earth, by decree of the Persian king. But why did Haman hate the Jews so much? The answer might just be found in the title of this short article. Haman was an Agagite—that is, he was descended from a man named Agag.  So who is Agag? I’m glad you asked.

Back in 1 Samuel 15, King Saul was instructed to completely kill all the Amalekites. But he disobeyed God, and in addition to saving many of the animals, he also spared the king, Agag. When Samuel showed up, he corrected that problem and “hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord.”

But it appears that Agag had children who didn’t live there (or who weren’t in the city when it was destroyed), because Haman is an Agagite. Even though hundreds of years had passed since that incident, Haman would have heard the story about how the Jews slaughtered his people—and even though Agag was spared temporarily, they finally executed him too. And Haman wanted revenge by doing to the Jews what they did to his ancestors so long ago.

Note: Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, book XI, chapter 6, paragraph 5) says “He [Haman] rather determined to abolish the whole nation. For he was naturally an enemy to the Jews: because the nation of the Amalekites, of which he was, had been destroyed by them.”

-Bradley S. Cobb

Be of Good Cheer, I Have Overcome the World!

It is Jesus’ darkest hour.  The hour when His disciples abandon Him.  The hour when one of the men who had performed miracles, who had preached “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” betrayed Him with a kiss.  The hour when He agonized in prayer, sweating as it were great drops of blood.  His final 24 hours of life before being tortured, beaten, mocked, and killed.

They bound the hands of Jesus in the garden where He prayed; They led Him through the streets in shame; They spat upon the Savior, so pure and free from sin; They said “Crucify Him! He’s to blame!”

And in this hour—the hour in which Jesus pleaded with the Father, “Please, let this cup pass from me”—we catch a glimpse of Jesus as an encourager.

How is it that someone who knows they are about to suffer excruciating pain [the word “excruciating,” meaning out of the crucifix, was created because there was no word strong enough to convey the pain of being on a cross]—how is it that He could possibly think about encouraging people at a time like that?

Look at John 13 with me.  We’ll start there.

You’re Going to Suffer

We are in the final evening of Jesus’ life.  He, along with the twelve apostles, have been in the upper room, sharing what would be their final meal together before the darkest event in human history took place.  The Passover has been celebrated, Jesus has washed their feet, then Judas leaves—setting everything into motion for the grand finale of the Jews’ plans to rid themselves of this Jesus.  This is the setting in which some of Jesus’ most famous statements are found.

It is here that Jesus said, “I shall [only] be with you a little while longer…Where I am going, you cannot come” (13:33).  The person that they had followed for 3 ½ years, that they were dedicated to—the man who was both their hero and their friend—says He’s about to leave, and from here on out, they won’t be coming with Him anymore.  If you’ve ever had to say goodbye to someone you loved, knowing that you’d never see them again this side of eternity, you can understand the pain and heartache this would cause in the disciples.

It is here that Jesus cryptically tells Peter specifically that the apostle will be killed too: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward [or, later]” (13:36).  Peter expresses his devotion to Jesus, says that he will die for the Lord, only to hear the words “Will you lay down your life for my sake?  Most assuredly I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times!” (13:37-38). Peter, especially, suffers internal disappointment here, knowing that his Master doesn’t believe him.  Worse yet, the Master thinks that he will forsake Him.

Just a bit later, in chapter 15, Jesus drops another bomb on them.  Once He leaves, things are going to get bad.  “The world hates you…If they persecuted Me [and oh did they ever], they will also persecute you” (15:19-20).  You can imagine their thoughts here: Wait, you’re leaving, and then they’re going to start attacking us?

“They will put you out of the synagogues” [literally, make you outcasts from the synagogue] (16:2).  The Jews will excommunicate them.  The synagogue was the center of the Jews’ religious life week in and week out.  Being an outcast from the synagogue in essence made you an outcast among the Jews—the very ones they wanted to save.

“Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (16:2).  Wait, what?  KILL us?!?  They will be so rejected, so persecuted, their names and character besmirched so much that the Jews would think that killing them is actually doing God a favor, a service, by removing the worst kind of false teachers possible.  This is some heavy-duty hatred and persecution that they’re in for.

“Because I’ve said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart,” Jesus says (16:6).  “Most assuredly I say to you, that you will weep and lament” (16:20) because Jesus was going to “go away”—that is, going to die.

Then Jesus completely cuts the legs out from under them.  Not only will all these bad things happen to you after I leave, Jesus says, but “Indeed the hour is coming—yes, has now come [it is here!]—that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave me alone” (16:32).  Outside pressures are hard.  Persecutions are hard, but if you know you’re being persecuted for doing the right thing, at least you have some kind of peace in that knowledge.  But Jesus tells them, in essence, ‘Y’all are about to cave to the pressure; you’re about to show your weakness; you who claim to love me are going to completely abandon me, run away like scared little children, and hope no one knows you were my disciples.’  They were going to have internal character failure, which is often the most difficult kind of persecution there is—knowing that you failed someone else in their time of need.

Really put yourselves in their sandals.  No one wants to be persecuted, but they were going to be—that had to scare them.  No one wants to be hated, but they were going to be—that had to cause their heart to drop.  No one wants to be thought of as a coward, but that’s what they were going to be—and that had to make them sad.  No one wants to lose their hero, their friend, but that was about to happen—and that would make them sad for their own loss.   But the worst part of it all is that no one wants to watch their friend get tortured, mocked, spat upon, beaten, and killed—the helpless feeling had to overwhelm them as they realized they couldn’t save Jesus.

We all like to think that we could be a hero, stopping injustice, stepping in when someone is being wronged, standing up for the ones who are falsely accused or punished.  But seeing Jesus on the cross, they wouldn’t—couldn’t—do anything.

Then in verse 33, Jesus gives the understatement of the evening: “In the world, you will have tribulation.”  The sinful world, the world that doesn’t follow God, who doesn’t care about the doctrine of Jesus Christ—they will do their best to destroy you.  They will try to undermine your efforts for God.  They will make fun of you.  They will mock you.  They will try to discredit you.  They will try to make you feel guilty for sharing the truth.  They will try to pass laws to keep you from speaking up against sin.  And that’s every bit as true today for us as it was for the apostles.

If we just left it here, it would seem like Christianity is a life of constant misery.  If Jesus just stopped with the things we’ve touched on, then who could have blamed the apostles for running off?

But Jesus didn’t stop there, and we shouldn’t either.

Cheer up!

A quick glance through the same few chapters gives us some interesting insights.  It seems that Jesus wasn’t trying to scare them, He was trying to prepare them.  He wasn’t trying to frighten them, He was trying to enlighten them.  He didn’t want to bring them fear, but cheer!

“Let not your heart be troubled,” Jesus said.  “You believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (14:1-3).  Jesus says, Yes, I’m going away, but don’t be afraid or sad.  I’m going to get a place ready so we can all be together forever and never have to separate again!  I’ll be coming back to get you.  This separation is only temporary!

“My peace I give to you… Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  You have heard me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for the Father is greater than I.  And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe” (14:27-29).  Jesus says, Don’t be sad, and don’t be afraid.  In fact, you should be happy for me, because I get to go home to be with the Father!  But I want you to know what is going to happen ahead of time, so it doesn’t take you by surprise.

“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are my friends…” (15:13-14). I’m going to die, the Lord says, but I am doing it for you—because you are my friends.

There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one; No, not one.

“They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service… But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them” (16:2, 4).  Yes, bad things will happen to you, but you will be prepared, and not be taken by surprise at the persecutions.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” (16:20).  My death will cause you great sadness, but it will lead to a greater joy than you’ve ever known.  I will be coming back, and your world—nay, the entire world—will never be the same.  You will be persecuted, but instead of depressing you, you will rejoice over it!  You will be blessed beyond measure to see some who persecute you turn in humble repentance and become your friends, co-laborers, and fellow-heirs of salvation.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake indeed!

“You now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one can take from you” (16:22).  When I come back, nothing will be able to take away your joy, your inner happiness.  Because when I come back, you will know that your work is vindicated.  You will know that you are truly serving the one true God.  You will know that death is no longer anything to fear—because I will have conquered death.  And if I am raised, you can know assuredly that you will be raised too.

On that resurrection morning when the trump of God shall sound, we shall rise (Hallelujah) we shall rise!

“You will be scattered…and will leave Me alone.  And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (16:32).  You are going to see me alone on trial, alone on the cross, and you’re going to be sad for my sake—but don’t be.  The Father is with Me—I’m never truly alone.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace” (16:33).  It is turbulent, trying to live in the world, living by the world’s standards and judgments, being surrounded by people who don’t know or don’t care about God and His word.  But there is a peace—a peace that surpasses all understanding—that I want to give to you.  Put your trust in Me, keep my commandments and be My friend, and know that I will come back to get you.  Know that I will have a place prepared for you in the home of the One who loves you, who cares for you, and who wants to take care of you and be with you forever.  I want you to know that in Me, you can have that peace.

“In the world, you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (16:33).  The god of this world will come after you—He came after me too.  But I won.  His power is broken. It might seem like the world—his world—wins later today, as I am lifted up on a cross and murdered, but it will really be his undoing.  And through my overcoming, you can overcome.

Then Jesus prayed for them (John 17).

Throughout this time of stress, this time of impending doom and trial, Jesus gave His apostles encouraging words.  They were going to suffer, but they would be able to endure.  Not just endure, but rejoice.  Not just rejoice, but emerge victorious!

But Does this Mean Anything to You?

Obviously, we aren’t the apostles—we weren’t the ones specifically being spoken to on that fateful night/early morning.  So what, if anything, do these sayings of Jesus mean to us?  The answer is plenty!

The last thing we mentioned that Jesus did for the apostles was pray for them.  But did you know that Jesus also prayed for you at the same time?  Yes, you, sitting there in the pew, were prayed for specifically by Jesus Christ less than 24 hours before He was brutally murdered.

Neither do I pray for these alone [the apostles], but for them also who shall believe on Me through their message (John 17:20).

How do we believe in Jesus Christ today?  We didn’t see Him in person; we didn’t walk with Him or see His resurrected form ascend into heaven.  No, but we have the written accounts from eyewitnesses, and from those who were inspired by God!  This is what we need in order to believe! (John 20:31).  Therefore, Jesus prayed for us before He died!  This message of hope, of peace, of cheer—it is for us too!

There is a peace that comes only in Him (16:33).  Now, if it is possible for us to be “in Him,” then we, too, have access to that peace.  And it so happens that we can!  When we believe in Jesus with all our heart, turn to Him in repentance, and are baptized “into Christ,” we can enjoy all the spiritual blessings that can only be found “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:27).  We can take hold of the peace that is so powerful that it surpasses all understanding.  It allows us to be content when the world is crashing around us.  It helps us to rejoice when we are tempted, knowing it helps to create patience.  It helps us to endure the fiery darts of the wicked and continue to march in the fight against Satan’s wickedness (Ephesians 6).

We look at these passages of encouragement from Jesus, and we can know that it extends to each one of us as well.  It reaches through the centuries, up from the pages of your Bible, and deep into your heart—if you will let it—to cheer you on your journey through this land.

Footprints of Jesus, that make the pathway glow!

“In My Father’s house are many mansions”—that’s because we have a place there too!

“I go to prepare a place for you.  I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  When He comes again, the dead in Christ shall rise, and the living Christians at that time will rise to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4).  Brethren, this is a promise for every Christian throughout the last 2,000 years, and through the end of time itself—and it includes you!  Jesus is coming back to get you, and take you home to be with Him!

“Greater love has no one than this: than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are my friends if you keep My commandments.”  Jesus’ death is for His friends—His church (Acts 20:28)—those who are trying to walk in the light (1 John 1:7).  Does that describe you?

I’ll be a friend to Jesus.  My life, for Him, I’ll spend.  I’ll be a friend to Jesus until my years shall end.

We know that we will have trouble in this world, because the god of this world is Satan.  But Jesus died to crush the power of Satan, to give mankind hope, to bring about the eternal kingdom of God, to make salvation possible, and to bring true joy and peace.  Yes, we will have tribulation in this world.  But cheer up—celebrate!  Because Jesus overcame the world—and He did it for us so that we can do it too.

For whoever is born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith (1 John 5:4).

Or to put it a more familiar way:

Encamped among the hills of light, you Christian soldiers, rise and press the battle ‘ere the night shall veil the glowing skies.  Against the foes, in vales below, let all our strength be hurled.  Faith is the victory, we know, that overcomes the world.

His banner over us is love; our sword the word of God.  We tread the road the saints above, with shouts of triumph, trod.  By faith they, like a whirlwind’s breath, swept on o’er every field!  The faith by which they conquered death, is still our shining shield.

On every hand, the foe we find, drawn up in dread array.  Let tents of ease be left behind, and onward! To the fray!  Salvation’s helmet on each head, with truth all girt about, the earth shall tremble ‘neath our tread, and echo with our shout!

To him that overcomes the foe, white rainment shall be given.  Before the angels, he shall know his name confessed in heaven.  Then onward from the hills of light!  Our hearts, with love aflame, we’ll vanquish all the hosts of night in Jesus’ conquering name!

Faith is the victory!  Faith is the victory!  O, glorious victory that overcomes the world!

Listen to the confidence, the certain hope, the peace, the joy in knowing that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

There will be tribulation, but don’t be sad.  We will overcome the world too.

-Bradley S. Cobb