Sin, Baptism, Resurrection and the Book of Revelation
Question: Dear brother Luginbill, Thank you for your kind message. I feel the most important need of today is to make sure that we prove worthy of our calling. I quite agree with you that our names are already in the book of life as these go there as soon as we have accepted Lord Jesus as our Lord and savior and are baptized. However Rev.3:5 very clearly states that our names would be blotted out from the book of life if we don't follow the directives of our calling. God, I feel has given us a one time general amnesty and even the handwriting of our past sins is destroyed. However after having known the truth, if we continue to sin there remains no more sacrifice for those sins, please see Hebrews 10:26 read with Romans 3:25 and Jn.5:29 and 30.These are those sins that one would be accountable and Rev.20:12-15 would apply. Another thing to note is that God has very clearly defined as to who would be in the first resurrection. Not all Christians for sure as the Word of God lays down that many will be called but few would be chosen. Again, Rev 20:4 lays down that only those (note not all Christians) who have been beheaded for the sake of the word of God will find themselves in the first resurrection and none else. All others will be in the second resurrection. Once again the WOG lays down in Rev.22:18-19 that the Book of Revelation shall reign supreme and nothing can be added or removed therefrom. God very well knew that Doctrines and Mis- interpretation of the Word of God shall occur and therefore He sealed this aspect by stating that in case there is any doubt and something contrary understood in the Bible, this would be the Book of Revelation that shall reign supreme. In other words the book of Revelation is a Supreme Court Judgment not appeal-able any further. And if there is anything contrary stated (rather understood) between other books of the Bible and Revelation, the latter would apply. Could you kindly enlighten me further by the power of the HS. Thanks for your time and attention. Warmest greetings and regards.
Response: Thanks for your e-mail. While I agree with the main principle addressed (that of the necessity for the disciple of Jesus Christ to continue in Him firm until the end), there are a few particulars I would wish to clarify. I too believe that it is one of the most pernicious heresies currently at work in the Church to hold that one can be "once saved - always saved", no matter what course a person should take after making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Clearly, there is some seed which "falls on the rocky places" where the plant of faith springs up rapidly, only to later be scorched and perish. The seed that falls on the rocks represents those who fall away from faith in Jesus Christ because of the pressures of this world. The mechanics of this loss of faith, however, are somewhat different from the way described. It is very clear from scripture that continuing to abide in our Lord is the issue for the believer (Jn.15:1-10; 1Jn.4:15), not sin per se. For we have in Jesus Christ forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43; Rom.3:24), provided we are truly in Him (Rom.8:8-11; 11:19-21). Everyone sins (1Ki.8:46; Ps.130:3; 143:2; Prov.20:9; Rom.3:23; 5:12). But believers are redeemed from the curse of sin through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom.3:9; Gal.3:13), and forgiven all sin thereafter upon confession of it to God in Jesus' name (1Jn.1:9; cf. Jn.13:1-17). And though we are called to sanctification (1Thes.4:7; 1Pet.1:14-16; cf. Rom.8:12-14; 12:1-2; Eph.4:22-24; Col.3:9-10), and though that process of separation from sinful behavior in time is crucial to our relationship with Him (2Cor.7:1; Heb.12:14), complete sinless perfection is an impossibility for all who inhabit this flesh (saying otherwise makes God out to be "a liar": 1Jn.1:10).
But between the dedicated disciple of Christ who is striving to put away sin and one who has ceased to be at all concerned with how our Lord wants us to live lies a huge gulf. For all who have professed faith in Christ but turned aside from Him to live as if they were not believers at all, severe discipline from our Lord is to be expected (with the view towards turning these wayward children of God back to Himself: Rev.3:19-20). There are those, however, who of their own free will continually refuse to respond to God's loving and fatherly discipline (Heb.12:4-13). And for those who persist in rejecting God's calls to repentance long enough and deliberately enough, sin eventually leads to death, the death of faith (1Jn.5:16-20). It is important to note that it is not sin per se which has caused such individuals to fall away from the faith. Rather, all sin is disobedience to God (1Jn.3:4; 5:17), and it is impossible to continue disobedience to Him beyond a certain point and still acknowledge Him and His Son as the true rulers of one's life. There is a point beyond which God will not allow hypocrisy to progress, so that, over the course of time and continued rejection of God, even those who had once professed faith can, through intense rejection of God and God's authority, so harden their hearts against Him and against His Son that the faith they once possessed is completely quenched by their own willful choice, and the seed of faith that had once sprouted is withered and dies. At that point, these individuals are no longer believers in Jesus Christ. Not only have they not been following Him for some considerable time (indeed, the opposite is true), but they have also come to the point where they do not in any way or any longer feel, or demonstrate any allegiance to Jesus Christ. They are no longer His disciples in fact. In such cases, true faith has died. This is not a case of God deeming certain sins so unforgivable that a believer is lost, but rather of a believer pursuing his/her own sinful and selfish desires past the point of no return, destroying their own faith by extensive and willful rebellion against the One who bought them to such a degree that they, by their own efforts and despite God's continued calls to repentance, destroy their own faith.
I would also not want to sell the grace of God short and say that a believer can only get into serious spiritual trouble once and be able to recover - would that we all would cleave unto Him from beginning to end with no falling away, no need for serious repentance at all (but such is often not the case). The Hebrews 10:26 passage which you quote is, it is true, often employed in this regard, but it is really specifically addressed by Paul to those Jewish Christians who had fallen back into the temple worship rites at Jerusalem, accommodating with the old practices for various secular reasons rather than purely following the risen Christ: there is no more sacrifice for sin than the one which He has wrought for us on the cross, so that "crucifying Him afresh", that is, continuing to engage in sacrifices which had looked forward to His coming death is to say, in effect, that what He had recently done on the cross was of no effect - a terrible witness and a type of sin/compromise that is just the sort of thing which can threaten and even come to quench faith (what could be more dangerous?).
Finally on this issue, it should be pointed out that (water) baptism plays no role at all in our salvation. Water baptism is a ritual with a two-fold symbolism, portraying 1) the washing away of previous sins; 2) the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the new believer (whereby he/she comes to be "in Christ"). The reality of forgiveness of sins, redemption through the blood of Christ, happens when one believes in Him. The reality of the baptism of the Spirit, union of the new believer with our Lord as demonstrated by the presence of the Spirit, is given at the point of salvation. Both of these blessed things happen without water. Both of these things are real and true for all who believe in Him whether or not water is administered. Only the apostles of the Lamb had the power to actually forgive sins in Christ's name (Jn.20:23). Those who baptize with water since only portray through this ritual the reality of God's forgiveness of all who believe. Only the apostles of the Lamb had the power to actually impart the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-23). Those who baptize with water since only portray through this ritual the reality of God's gift of the Spirit to all who believe. John baptized with water, but the Messiah has baptized us with the Spirit (Mk.1:8), and that is why there is only truly one baptism in the Church, the baptism of the Spirit (Eph.4:5), not literally washing off our sins with actual water, but the forgiveness of our sins and the cleansing of our consciences which is the legacy of all who put their faith in Jesus Christ (1Pet.3:21), and the sealing of our salvation through the Spirit's presence (Eph.1:13; 4:30).
As to your comments on the specifics of the resurrection, I see in Revelation 20 a completely consistent picture with the other representations of the resurrection in the Bible and in all respects: all believers from Adam to the Second Advent are resurrected at our Lord's return (not just the martyrs: cf. Paul's three-fold echelons of resurrection in 1Cor.15:23-24: 1) Christ; 2) those who are His at His coming; 3) the end); all unbelievers wait in torments until the end of the Millennium for their resurrection. The fact that Revelation 20:4 says "I saw the souls of those who were beheaded" is not an excluding statement (in the Greek text or the English translation). I understand that this is never the way that someone speaking English in the 21st century would ever put the matter if he/she wanted to be clearly understood to mean that all believers are included, but it is indeed very typical of a native ancient Hebrew [or Aramaic] speaker's syntax such as is also found throughout Revelation, John, and the Johannine epistles. In other words, John says in the beginning of the verse "I saw thrones and [those who] sat on them ... AND I saw the souls of those who were beheaded" - John sees all the resurrected believers, but takes special note of those who were killed by the beast, in keeping with the tribulational focus of the book of Revelation. So that this statement about those who were beheaded is parenthetical according to Hebrew/Aramaic syntax. Therefore when we get to "they came to life and reigned" we leave the parenthesis and are again talking about all the resurrected dead as we were at the beginning of verse four.
Finally, the book of Revelation is indeed a blessed book - as is the entire canon of God's Word (to which nothing can be added). But there is nothing at all inconsistent in the Word of God, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. When there appears to be, it is we who have erred in translation, or interpretation, or dogmatics, etc. One passage helps explain another, in all the books of the Bible. To my mind, this is more true of Revelation than any other book, for in the book of Revelation, all the strands of prophecy from the beginning of the Bible are woven together into the marvelously detailed description of the end times it provides - but it is surely a description which cannot be fully understood without these passages from almost every book in the Old Testament and in the New.
Thanks again for you kind words and persistence in the Word of God.
Yours in Jesus Christ,