Revelation Lesson 10
Questions & Answers
Now that we have gotten our feet wet with the dramatic language of judgment in this book, it is time to consider some questions that generally arise at this point: How is this book relevant for us? Are there other ways to interpret these images? How well do the images fit with the history of Rome? How could Rome be the villain when Rome did not fall until 476 A.D.?
We addressed each of those questions in the introduction, and you should look there as well, but we will address them again briefly at this point, and add some additional information to what we said earlier.
(1) Does Revelation have any relevance for us today?
As you know, I have made the point several times that Revelation includes a time frame, and that time frame is that the events in the book were to come to pass shortly. That raises the question whether the book has any relevance to us today. We considered that question in our introductory lessons, but it’s probably a good idea to discuss it again now.
At one level, we know the answer is yes without regard to how we interpret this book. Revelation is God’s word, and that alone makes it relevant. When the creator of the universe hands you something to read, you don’t ask him whether it will be relevant to your “day-to-day” life! The Bible is our spiritual food, and few people question the relevance of food!
At another level, we have frequently compared God’s judgment of Rome in Revelation with God’s judgments in the Old Testament against Babylon, Egypt, Assyria, Edom, and others. In those judgments we learn valuable and very relevant lessons about the nature of God and his judgments.
Finally, we must agree that however much we compare Revelation to Old Testament judgments, this book is different in that it involves the church. Is this book relevant on that level? Absolutely! Have you ever wondered how Jesus views his church? Read Revelation. Have you ever wondered just how much Jesus loves his church? Read Revelation. Have you ever looked at the evil all around us and asked, How long, O Lord! Read Revelation. Revelation is relevant on any level!
(2) Don’t those seals fit the fall of Jerusalem pretty well?
The answer is yes, this language of judgment does fit well with the fall of Jerusalem. Indeed, we find very similar language in Matthew 24, which describes the judgment against Jerusalem. But it also fits well with judgments throughout the Old Testament against Babylon, Assyria, Egypt, and others. Similarity of language does not prove identity of subject.
In my opinion, the villain in this book is Rome and the judgments in this book are against Rome. Others have different opinions. Many take Jerusalem to be the villain in the book with the judgments being against Jerusalem, while others take Rome to be the villain but have the judgments being against both Jerusalem and against Rome. In my opinion, the best fit is to have Rome as the villain and have the judgments be against that same villain, Rome.
If we had more time, I would step through the arguments for and against the various theories as we came to each passage. But with the time we have, my plan is to tell you what I believe this book is about and then through citations to the Bible tell you why I believe that. But, as I’m sure you all know, there are many in the church who believe otherwise! All I can do is lay out my case from the Bible.
Do I think my view is the only possible view and that all other views are without merit? Absolutely not. In fact, if you compare the notes I wrote in 1993 (which are available on our website) with the notes you are reading now, you will see that I have changed my own views on some issues. There certainly are some views different from mine that are totally without merit (premillennialism, for example), but there are other views different from mine that do not ignore the timeframe (or at least do not totally ignore it) and that fit portions of the book quite well. But the view I am proposing in these notes, in my opinion, best explains the entire text and best makes sense of the book from a theological and a historical perspective.
One final comment on this point. In our introductory classes, we mentioned that some Old Testament had dual fulfillments — one immediate and another future. We know that because the New Testament reveals the secondary fulfillment. Absent being told, however, it is difficult to determine when a prophecy has a second, sometimes much later fulfillment. Our class is focused on the immediate fulfillment, but we could, if we had the time or the inclination, speculate as to a dual fulfillment that either occurred or is yet to occur.
(3) How do the images we have seen fit with the fall of Rome?
This is a question we will have more to say about as we proceed through the book, but a few points can be made now.
The images we have seen were intended to frighten, and I think we can all agree they succeeded. Even today, the pale horse of pestilence is the stuff of nightmares. Are we then to look for an actual pestilence that came upon Rome? I think the answer is not necessarily. Instead, we should look for why that image was so frightening to Rome, and to do that we can look to the history of that time.
The famines of Nero’s day preceded the writing of this book, while the famines of Domitian’s day followed it. The former was likely the source of the frightening image, while the latter reinforced it and reminded people of it. These historical events tell us why this symbol was so powerful and so vivid.
The first horse with the conquering rider is another a good example. I identified it with a Parthian warrior because of Rome’s fear of an invasion from the east. Did Parthia conquer Rome? No. Were the Romans scared to death of Parthian warriors? Yes. God is looking into their minds, pulling out the things that scare them the most, and telling them that and much more is on its way! Rome feared invasion from the east. Rome feared a loss of the Roman peace. Rome feared famine and disease. Why did they fear these things? Because they were actual threats— they had happened and would happen again. The church saw Rome as invincible, as did Rome itself. God is reminding both Rome and the church that Rome is not invincible!
But how and when did these judgments come to pass against Rome? As we will see and have already seen, Rome, and particularly the Roman emperors, suffered literal punishments in this life, but before we conclude that is all there is, let’s pause to ask a question: The reward of the martyrs under the altar, was it in heaven or on earth? It was a heavenly reward. The punishment of Rome — was it on earth or in Hell? I think that what we are seeing in these descriptions is a vivid portrait of what Paul told us in Hebrews 10:31 — “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” You take everything thing that scared Rome, and it was nothing compared to the eternal punishment that awaited. I think we are sometimes too quick to put the reward in Heaven while putting the punishment on earth. Remember that a theme in this book is that things are not always as they seem. This book invites us to view things through God’s eyes — and in God’s eyes there is not any earthly punishment that compares in any way to an eternity in Hell. Some of these events would happen on earth, but the real punishment would happen in the next life, just as would the real reward for those who remained faithful to death.
Think about some of the figures we have seen and are about to see — the sun blackened, the stars falling to earth, the sky rolled up like a scroll, every mountain and island moved out of its place, hail and fire with blood, the sea becoming blood, a great mountain cast into the sea, the stars darkened, horses with serpent tails, and unclean spirits like frogs coming from the mouth of a dragon. Figurative? Then what about the famine, the war, and the pestilence? Literal? If so, why? Remember our general rule with apocalyptic language is to take images figuratively unless forced to do otherwise.
Our plan is not to try and match each of these images with some particular historical event that happened to Rome. Instead, these images are all describing the same judgment, just with different pictures and with an ever building intensity leading finally to the bowls of wrath. But these seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls are figurative.
We see similar language used in the Old Testament. God told the Babylonians in Isaiah 13 that he would leave their land in such a wasted condition that no Arab would ever pitch his tent there again. Is that literally what happened to them? No. Was that a frightening image intended to convey the horror of what God had in store for them? Absolutely. Hosea told Israel that it would go into Egyptian bondage again. Did that literally happen to them? No. Was that a frightening image from their past that God used to depict the judgments to come? Absolutely.
(4) How can this book be about the fall of Rome when that event did not occur until AD 476?
I think we can all agree that if Rome had been sacked in 110 instead of 410 then no one would doubt that Rome is the villain in this book and that the judgments in the book are directed toward Rome. But with the actual end occurring when it did, we have reason to wonder how well such a fall really fits with the timeframe of Revelation. To answer that question, let’s first review what we mean by the “fall of Rome,” and then let’s look to the Old Testament for a comparison.
First, although a key event in Rome’s fall happened in A.D. 476, the fall of Rome was a gradual process that started much earlier. Here is a brief account of the process from The Fall of Rome: A Reference Guide by Alden M. Rollins:
By the fall of Rome I mean primarily the events of the fifth century when the military and political integrity of the Roman power was smashed in the western provinces and on the Mediterranean Sea, a disaster soon to be followed, though in a more subtle way, by a cultural and economic regression so profound that later generations called the centuries from about 600 to 1000 the Dark Ages. Mediterranean civilization had not been without its strains before, but the political disintegration of the fifth century, the monstrous plagues and earthquakes and wars of the sixth and subsequent centuries, and the economic and further political dislocations of the seventh and eighth centuries guaranteed the trend towards localization and deprivation. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse fared well in these times.
Symbolically the signal dates are 410 when the city of Rome itself was sacked by barbarian hordes for the first time since 390 B.C., and 476 when the last western emperor to reside at Rome was retired by a barbarian general who already held political and military supremacy in Italy, which was now completely detached from its ancient provincial territories in Gaul, Spain, Africa, and Britain, and was harassed from the sea by a Vandal fleet. Other events on both sides of the fifth century either inclined the empire towards, or guaranteed the results of, the disasters of the fifth century; and these come within the scope of the fall of Rome. Examples are the political instability of the third century, the Battle of Adrianople in 378 A.D., and the Gothic wars in sixth century Italy.
During and after the disasters in the west, the remaining eastern provinces, administered from Constantinople, were more fortunate in the short term; but between 500 and 750 these too were transformed by war, pestilence, earthquakes, famines, religious fanaticism, and economic and political upheavals from a plausible continuation of the Roman empire and Roman culture into a small, compact, narrow minded, Greek maritime state completely dominated by its last remaining city of Constantinople, whose population was reduced at one point to under 50,000 and where a formerly high and varied culture was reduced to religious platitudes.
Note that even a secular author sees parallels between what we are reading in Revelation and what happened to Rome. But, as we discussed before, we need to be careful before we match the famines and plagues in this book with specific famines and plagues from Rome’s history. These images were intended to frighten, and one reason they were so frightening is that they had happened to Rome before and would happen again.
As for the “fall of Rome” happening hundreds of years after Revelation was written, it may be that in Revelation we are seeing the judgment and then later in history we are seeing the sentence resulting from that judgment carried out. This was the case with Jerusalem, for example. Jesus judged them in Matthew 24. The sentence was carried out about 40 years later in A.D. 70.
Not every judgment happens like Sodom and Gomorrah. In that case, there were very few of God’s people inside the city, and so he went in, got them out, and then dropped a bomb. With the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus gave a warning so that the Christians could leave on their own when the time was right. Perhaps with Rome, God also delayed the sentence for the sake of the righteous. But, and this is the key point, that judgment was certain. In fact, that judgment had been written about by Daniel 600 years before Revelation was written and 1000 years before the events in the fifth century. (Some may object that the delay could not have been for the sake of the righteous because the righteous were being persecuted during the delay, and that’s a fair point. But continued persecution during the delay was also true with Babylon and Jerusalem. We need to see the situation from God’s eternal perspective. Also, we should note that the fierce persecutions under Nero and Domitian did result in a swift punishment for Nero and Domitian.)
Who was given the harsher penalty? Sodom and Gomorrah, which were taken out in a spectacular, but very quick, manner? Or Rome, which died a slow death of a 1000 cuts? Perhaps that is another reason the sentence was delayed — or should we perhaps say prolonged?
The city of Rome, for example, experienced a steep decline from its heights at the time this book was being written. Diocletian, for example, who ruled from 284 to 305, established four capital cities of the Roman empire — not one of which was Rome! In fact, as one author described it, he reduced the status of the Roman senate to that of a municipal council.
Also, we should keep in mind (as we will discuss at length later), the two central villains of the first century as far as Christians were concerned were Nero and Domitian. Revelation was written in between their two reigns, and each met his fate during that first century. Domitian, for example, was murdered by his own servants in A.D. 96, his body then being unceremoniously cremated. So much for “Our Lord and God Domitian”!
Rome’s judgment was certain and its punishment began soon after the book was written, just as the book said it would, but that punishment did not end soon after the book was written. Rome was not built in a day —and Rome did not end in a day!
Finally, we can yet again look to the Old Testament for a similar judgment and a similar punishment. Isaiah 13-14 contains a prophecy about the destruction of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. The imagery and language used suggest a destruction that would happen swiftly and dramatically, and yet, as Wayne Jackson tells us in his commentary on Isaiah, “the fulfillment of this remarkable prophecy was progressive.” He writes:
After Cyrus invaded Babylon (539 B.C.), he substantially left the city standing, making it one of his capital centers for awhile. Eventually, though, the city revolted against its captor; hence, in about 516 B.C., Darius, the Persian king, invaded the city and dismantled the walls. In 482 B.C., the Babylonian settlement again revolted, which rebellion was put down by Xerxes with much damage being visited upon the city. Alexander the Great sought to restore the place to its former glory. He employed 10,000 men for two months clearing away rubbish in preparation for construction, but he abandoned the project shortly thereafter. In 20 B.C., Strabo, the Greek geographer, described Babylon as a “vast desolation.”... The famous archaeologist Henry Layard, who excavated the area between 1845-51, described it as a “naked and hideous waste.”
Hailey’s commentary on Isaiah addresses the same point with regard to Isaiah’s comparison of Babylon’s fall with that of Sodom and Gomorrah:
One might infer from this that the destruction would be immediate, but this was not the case. Delitzsch says that Cyrus left the city still standing with its double ring of walls. “Darius Hystaspis, who had to conquer Babylon a second time in 518 B.C., had the walls entirely destroyed, with the exception of fifty cubits. Xerxes gave the last thrust to the glory of the temple of Belus. ... At the time of Strabo (born 60 B.C.) Babylon was a perfect desert.”
And how is this judgment described by Isaiah? Read Isaiah 13:21-22 ― “But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.”
Isaiah 13 was written after the death of King Ahaz in 715 B.C., which places it comparatively late in the prophet’s ministry. (See 14:28.) If we take 715 B.C. as the date of this prophecy, then it began to be fulfilled about 175 years later in 539 B.C., when Cyrus invaded the city. If we take the destruction by Xerxes in 482 as the death blow, then that blow came about 235 years after the prophecy was penned. Jumping ahead to Rome, the invasion of the city in 410 occurred about 340 years after the prophecy was penned. In short, not only are the prophecies similar, but the time tables are also similar. We will explore these similarities further as we work our way through this book.
(5) Are we kings or are we a kingdom?
Last week, we noted that Revelation 5:10 in the KJV says that “we shall reign” while the ASV says “we reign.” Both have good textual support in the Greek manuscripts and so we cannot tell for certain which was in the original. But, as we noted last week, they are both accurate descriptions. Christians reign in life with Christ, but with the judgment of Rome that reign would continue and be reaffirmed.
That same verse is the source of yet another textual disagreement. In the KJV, we read, “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests,” while in the ESV, we read, “and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God.” Which is correct? Again, each has textual support and so we cannot say for certain which was in the original. However, as before, each is accurate. Recall that the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4 represent the church and are wearing crowns. God made us kings in the sense that we reign in life with Christ (Romans 5:17, Revelation 3:11, Ephesians 2:5-7), and God made us a kingdom by establishing his church, the eternal kingdom, in Acts 2. We are a kingdom of priests, and we are also a kingdom of kings — with Jesus as our High Priest and the King of all kings!
Chapter 6, Continued...
6:12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale; 14 the sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?”
The removal of the sixth seal reveals the wrath of the Lamb and the judgment of the ungodly.
Does this seal describe the final judgment and the end of time? Most commentators say it does, but in studying Revelation I am always reminded of something Mark Twain once said — when you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is probably time to change sides!
This language is language of judgment, and as language of judgment it could be used to describe many different judgments, including the great and final judgment yet to come. But what is the context here? What is the time frame of this book? Is there another judgment under consideration here?
Remember one of our key interpretive principles — similarity of language does not prove identity of subject. There are many judgments in the Bible, and many are described with the same symbols and the same images.
As one commentator reminds us:
We must take the trouble to learn as much as possible concerning the historical situation to which the book of Revelation belongs. It is only when this historical situation is reconstructed that Revelation comes alive and we are able to enter sympathetically into the mind and heart of the author and his readers. Perhaps no other book of the Bible has suffered more from being wrenched from its historical context than has Revelation.
The language used to describe the opening of the sixth seal is a mosaic of phrases used in the Old Testament to describe past judgments against Assyria, Egypt, Edom, and other enemies of God.
What about burning fire and brimstone? See Isaiah 34:9 regarding a judgment against Edom ― “Its streams shall be turned into pitch, And its dust into brimstone; Its land shall become burning pitch.”
What about the darkening of the sun and moon? See Joel 2:31, which Acts 2 tells us was fulfilled in the first century ― “The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.” See also Amos 8:9, Isaiah 13:10, Isaiah 50:3, Ezekiel 32:7, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24, and Luke 23:45.
What about the falling of the stars and the removing of the heavens? See Isaiah 34:4 ― “All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree.” See also Isaiah 13:13 and Psalm 102:25-26.
Also, recall Matthew 24:29, which we know from Matthew 24:34 describes something that happened in the first century (the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) ― “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Let’s look more closely at Isaiah 13:4-22, which describes a judgment against Babylon carried out by God through the Medes —
Hark, a tumult on the mountains as of a great multitude! Hark, an uproar of kingdoms, of nations gathering together! The LORD of hosts is mustering a host for battle. They come from a distant land, from the end of the heavens, the LORD and the weapons of his indignation, to destroy the whole earth. Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every man’s heart will melt, and they will be dismayed. Pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in travail. They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame. Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, and lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make men more rare than fine gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. ... And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomor’rah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabited or dwelt in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there, no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there. But wild beasts will lie down there, and its houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there satyrs will dance. Hyenas will cry in its towers, and jackals in the pleasant palaces; its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged.
That description of Babylon’s judgment looks familiar, doesn’t it? The same language is used here to describe the judgment of Rome, which was the Babylon of John’s day. Was the language in Isaiah 13 a literal description of events? No, we know it was not. Isaiah 13 says that no Arab will pitch his tent there ever again, and yet we know that quite a few Arabs have pitched their tent today in the location of ancient Babylon (which is modern day Iraq).
Does this passage from Revelation apply to the end of the world? Many would say, “well, yes, the context seems to imply it was going to happen soon. But this vivid language could only apply to the end of the world.” Tell that to Babylon! God applied the same language to its end, and yet the world continues on to this very day.
Our investigation of this language provides an important reminder ― we cannot study Revelation apart from the Old Testament. No other book in the New Testament refers to the Old Testament more often than does the book of Revelation.
Barclay: “Strange as John’s pictures may seem to us, there is not a single detail which is not ... in the Old Testament ... We must not think that these pictures are to be taken literally. Their point is that John is taking every terrifying thing that can be imagined and piling them all together to give a picture of the terrors” to come.
What about the staggering of earth and mountains in verse 14? The manifestation of God at Mount Sinai caused a literal trembling of a mountain. This trembling then became a symbol for the manifestation of God’s holiness. When God comes in judgment, the earth shakes and the mountains tremble! Recall the original event in Exodus 19:18 ―
And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.
And then recall its many subsequent symbolic uses:
• Haggai 2:6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.
• Nahum 1:5 The mountains quake before him, the hills melt; the earth is laid waste before him, the world and all that dwell therein.
• Jeremiah 4:23-25 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled.
• Micah 1:4 And the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will be cleft, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place.
• Isaiah 13:13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the LORD of hosts in the day of his fierce anger.
The mountains literally quaked at Sinai. Afterward, that literal quaking was used as an image to depict other divine visitations.
Symbols are often based on previous literal events. Their purpose is then to remind one of that earlier event. Israel, for example, depicts God’s people. The new Jerusalem depicts the church. Egypt depicts slavery and bondage. Babylon depicts Rome. The ten plagues depict God’s judgments.
But here the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky, and the whole earth is affected. Why do we see such global terms used in reference to Rome? First, of course, the immediate answer is that to the people of this day, Rome was global! It ruled almost the entire known world! But, also, whenever the ungodly are dominant and oppressive, the world is said to be theirs. Isaiah 13:11 says, “I will punish the world for its evil.” And 2 Peter 2:5 tells us that God brought the flood upon “the world of the ungodly.” Thus, the picture is one of God dismantling and attacking his own created world, and it symbolizes God’s judgment upon the ungodly, who seemed to be in charge of that world. God is letting them know who is really in charge!
Generally we should try to see things from God’s point of view or the early church’s point of view, but here it helps to see things from Rome’s point of view. The picture here is one of a total and unexpected breakdown of order. Rome thought it had covered every base, but it had forgotten to include God in its plans. And men always find themselves in trouble when they forget to factor God into their equations!
Christians can look forward to the day of the Lord, but that is not the case for the ungodly. See Isaiah 13:6-8; Zephaniah 1:14; Joel 2:1; Micah 1:1-4; Malachi 3:1-3; Joel 2:11; Hosea 10:8; and Luke 23:30. Notice from verse 15 that this fear touches all levels of society from the least to the greatest.
Is this language of judgment literal? Literal darkness? Literal stars falling? Literal dismantling of the earth? In the Old Testament, God used the same language against the Babylonians. Was it literal then? No. The Babylonians are gone and yet the earth remains. We should not take it literally here either. God is judging Rome here just as he judged Babylon, Edom, Egypt, Assyria, Judah, and Israel in the Old Testament.
Just as symbols can be based on literal past events, they can also be based on literal future events. Some day the earth will literally be destroyed by fire and the heavens will literally be rolled up like a scroll —and God sometimes uses those literal future events associated with the final judgment as symbols to depict these earlier judgments.
The search for a hiding place in verse 16 is also seen in Isaiah 2. There is no place to hide from God. It is interesting to watch the ungodly try to hide in a book entitled Revelation! God reveals! The ungodly hide! Swete: “What sinners fear most is not death, but the revealed presence of God.”
The “Wrath of the Lamb” in verse 16 is one of the most remarkable and fearful expressions anywhere in the Bible. The word “wrath” is applied to Jesus only one time in the gospels ―
Mark 3:5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
We all know what makes God happy. But it is just as important that we all know what makes God angry!
C.S. Lewis — “In the end that face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.”
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)