Why Jesus had to die

Why Jesus had to die to save people to eternal life: What problem was solved by His death? Did He die to pacify an angry God? Or was Jesus the Lamb of God whom God used to reconcile all things to Himself?

Summary of this article

The Qur’an teaches that some Israelites conspired to kill Jesus, but Allah rescued Jesus.  In other words, Jesus did not die.  The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that people are saved to eternal life only through the death of the Son of God.  If Jesus was not killed, then the entire Christian faith is futile and in vain.  The primary purpose of this article is to explain why Jesus had to die.

Similar to the Qur’an, the Bible teaches that God is one.  The Bible clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus and teaches that Jesus is completely dependent on God.  However, the Bible also teaches that Jesus created everything, upholds all things, has all the fullness of Deity in bodily form, is the Judge, has life in Himself and gives life to whom He wishes.  This contradiction we are unable to understand because humans are unable to understand God. 

A Muslim would disagree with the notion that God would allow His Son to be killed.  However, one of the fundamental principles of the Christian religion is self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.  This is a Christian principle because that is how God is.  He humiliated Himself to become a human being, and even humiliate Himself to die in the hands of evil man. 

Christians agree that Jesus had to die, but disagree on why Jesus had to die.  His death is the solution to a problem.  To understand why Jesus had to die, one needs to know what the problem was.  The typical Christian understanding of the problem is that God is angry because of our sins.  Jesus then died to placate His anger.   But since the Bible is clear that it was God that sent Jesus, and that He did it because of His love for the world, the problem is defined below as follows:

Firstly, sin originated in heaven in a large rebellion against God. This rebellion later spilled over to earth.

Secondly, God allowed sin to developed because He created His intelligent beings with the ability to choose against Him, for the only worship that He accepts is the worship of love. He therefore grants His creatures full freedom, which is freedom without fear of retribution.

Sin caused terrible conflict in heaven. Satan argued that God’s laws are deficient; that it is not possible to comply with His laws in all circumstances, and that it is therefore unfair of God to forgive some sinners but condemn others.

God was not able to prove conclusively to the heavenly beings that Satan’s accusations were false. He therefore had to allow Satan to continue until Satan’s character and purpose were fully revealed.

To protect the creation God must destroy sin and sinners, but since God is accused of unfairness, if sin and sinners are destroyed before His intelligent creatures fully understand the truth, rebellion would erupt again in the future.  God wishes to make an end of rebellion once and for all.

The problem is therefore much larger than simply that human beings sin.  The problem affects the entire universe; not only this microscopic planet.  Christ’s death, which is the solution to the problem, similarly has a much wider impact than only this earth:

The Son of God became a human being to make an end to the war in heaven.  Christ’s life demonstrated that it is possible to comply with God’s law in all circumstances.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with God’s law.  His death was the full demonstration of this fact, and also revealed Satan’s cruel nature and the self-sacrificing nature of the Son of God.

Pakmamin Wrote:

Picture of the Qu'ranThe position of the Qur’an about the mighty Messiah Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the belief of Muslims in this respect: The Qur’an tells us that some of the Israelites rejected Jesus, and conspired to kill him, but Allah (God) rescued Jesus and raised him to Himself by swapping him.  Allah says in Qur’an that they neither killed Jesus nor crucified him, but it was made to appear so unto them.

Quoting the Qur’an: “and their saying: we killed Christ Jesus, son of Mary, The messenger of Allah – but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but it was made to appear to them so … For surely they killed him not; but Allah took him up unto Himself”.

The Muslim belief is that Allah changed the face of the person who betrayed Jesus, showing to the rulers the place where he was hiding, into a face resembling Jesus.  So, they crucified that betrayer instead of Jesus.

Response:

Since this article responds to a comment by a Muslim, it does not provide full Biblical evidence for the concepts discussed, but explains certain very complex Christian concepts as briefly and as clearly as possible.

The Bible teaches that people are saved to eternal life only through the death of the Son of God.  If Jesus was not killed, as claimed by the Qur’an, then the entire Christian faith is futile and in vain. 

A Muslim would object to a number of issues in the Christian viewpoint.

God Is One

The Bible teaches that God is One.The Bible teaches that God is one (Deut. 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-30; James 2:19) and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus (e.g. John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:5).  On the other hand the Bible refers to Jesus as “God” (e.g. John 1:18; Titus 2:13-14).  How do we reconcile these facts?

The first thing we have to say is that humans are unable to understand God.  He exists outside time, space and matter.  He is simultaneously in all places and in all times; past, present and future.  He exists without cause.  In fact, He is that which exists.  Things exist because God exists.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.  It is our privilege to study about Him, but we must do it with humility, for “the secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29).

According to the Bible His Son Jesus is completely dependent on God, but also:

  • Existed before He became a human being, was sent by God and descended from heaven;
  • Is “the Beginning“ and created everything; both in the heavens and on earth;
  • Upholds all things;
  • Has all the fullness of Deity in bodily form;
  • Is the Judge and has authority over all flesh;
  • Has life in Himself and gives life to whom He wishes;
  • Must be worshiped as we worship God;
  • Is the visible image of the invisible God and the exact representation of God’s nature;

The Bible and Jesus teaches that God is One.The contradiction, namely that the Bible on the one hand teaches that God is One, and maintains a clear distinction between God and His Son, but on the other hand says that “all the fullness of Deity dwells in Christ in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), I personally explain as follows:s:

This universe consists of time, space and matter.  The universe was brought into being by the Father’s will.  God the Father is therefore not limited or defined by time, space and matter.   He is everywhere in the universe, but also everywhere outside the universe.  Humans are not able to conceive of something that exists outside the universe, but the Intelligence and Power that created the universe exists outside the universe.

Jesus created everything and therefore existed before all things, but in my view He exists within time, space and matter.  He is the exact representation of God’s nature within the universe.  Jesus did not exist before the universe came into being because time did not exist before the universe came into being.  Jesus is also “the Beginning“ of time, space and matter.  The “big bang” was an immense explosion of Energy that brought this universe into being.  In my view Jesus is the Power behind the big bang.  He guided the energy to convert to particles, and He guided the particles to form stars, galaxies and planets.  There never was a time that He did not exist because time came into being with Him. 

These are very difficult concepts.  Perhaps I am trying to explain something which cannot be explained.  Perhaps it will be better to simply say that, during the millions of years ahead of us, we will continually learn more about God.  But since He is infinite, we will never be able to understand Him fully.  Please see the article Son of God for an analysis of the relevant Bible texts.

Son of God Killed

The Cross of ChristA Muslim would also disagree with the notion that God would allow His Son to be killed.  However, that is one of the fundamentals of the Christian religion, namely that it is according to God’s character that He would humiliate Himself to become a human being, and even humiliate Himself to die in the hands of evil man.  Paul wrote to the Philippians that Christ Jesus “existed in the form of God”, but “emptied Himself … being made in the likeness of men” and further “humbled Himself … to … death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

That is how God is revealed in the Bible.  He is not an authoritarian.  He does set laws and He does execute judgment, but always His motive is love.  He so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Jesus was genuinely humble. On one occasion, He washed the feet of His disciples, a service usually performed by a lowly servant.

Why Jesus Had to Die

A Muslim might also object to the statement that the Son of God had to die to save people to eternal life.  Christians generally agree on this point, but they disagree on HOW the death of the Son of God saves people.  His death is the solution to a problem.  To understand why Jesus had to die, one needs to know what the problem was:

Many Christians define the problem as that our sin angered God, and that He needs a sacrifice to placate His anger.   Or to state it slightly different, the righteousness of God required death as a penalty for sin, and Jesus became a human being so that He Himself would die in our stead, so that our sins can be forgiven.

This website objects to the concept that God demands penalty for sin.  Rather, the purpose of His laws is to be for our good.   God does punish people for their sins, but the purpose is then to teach them.  His punishment is forward-looking; to ensure a better future

God is Love - His every motive is loveThis website also objects to the idea that God is angry.  That seems to be a horrible distortion of the Bible message.  Throughout the Bible we find evidence that it was the Father that loved the world and sent His Son to die for us, that we may live.

I would like to present to you a different explanation for why Jesus had to die for people to be saved to eternal life.  This is based on a different definition of the problem.

1. Sin originated in heaven in a large rebellion against God.  This rebellion later expanded to earth.

Few Christians are fully aware of this fact.  The Bible is essentially a history book of events on earth, written by many different authors over thousands of years.  For that reason it gives very little information about the events in heaven.  But sprinkled throughout the Bible one finds evidence of the heavenly source of evil, for instance the statement that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places“ and that God made peace with things in heaven, by the blood of his cross.  Please refer to the article Origin of Evil for a discussion of the evidence from the Bible. 

In the Bible we find evidence of a massive rebellion in heaven against God.  Satan, the leader of the rebellion, later expanded the rebellion to earth by tempting our first parents into sin.  Sin did not originate on earth.

Sin is defined here as anything that harms the well-being of God’s creation.  Since God’s laws are designed to ensure the happiness of His creation, one can also define sin as disobedience to God’s law.  God’s law does not change, but is explained differently to different people, just like you would explain a law differently to a three year old than to a wise old man.  Also, different laws apply to angels and people, just like the maintenance manuals for cars and computers are different.  The Sabbath commandment, for instance, is unique to this planet, and angels do not have to honor their fathers and mothers because they do not have fathers and mothers.

2. God allowed sin to developed because He created His intelligent beings with the ability to choose against Him, for the only worship that He accepts is the worship of love.  He therefore grants His creatures full freedom, which is freedom without fear of retribution.

Some think that God decides who will be saved irrespective of what the person is or wantsOne then may ask why God allowed sin to develop in heaven, and why He allowed the rebellion to spread to earth.  Again, this is not a question that Christians often think about.  It is proposed here that God allowed sin to develop because God grants His creatures full freedom.  Many Christians would object to this idea.  They believe that God decides who will be saved and who will be lost.  In their view God controls the minds of people, and that people (and angels) have no real freedom.  But if God controls intelligent beings in that manner, then it also follows that God created evil; that sin was God’s invention, which we cannot accept.

In contrast it is proposed here that God grants His intelligent creatures full freedom.  That was why God, who has all power and all knowledge, allowed sin to develop in the first place.  That is also why He did not destroy sinners immediately and why He even allowed Satan access to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Full freedom means freedom without fear of retribution.  Lucifer understood this.  He had a very high position in God’s kingdom.  He was God’s main spokesperson to His creatures, and he knew that God will not penalize His creatures for their sin.

If we have full freedom, why did God say to Adam and Eve that, if they eat of the tree, they would die?  It is proposed here that that was not a threat, limiting their freedom, but a warning, intended to protect their freedom.  As already stated, God’s laws are not arbitrary, but designed to ensure the happiness of His creatures.  Created beings have the freedom to act contrary to His laws, but there are natural consequences.  The cruelty, sickness and death that we see around us today are not God’s penalty for disobedience, but the natural consequence of acting contrary to His command.  God therefore warned Adam and Eve against the natural consequences of sin.

3. Sin caused terrible conflict in heaven.  Satan argued that God’s laws are deficient; that it is not possible to comply with His laws in all circumstances, and that it is therefore unfair of God to forgive some sinners but condemn others.

Sin, which originated in heaven, caused war in heaven, represented in the Bible as Michael and his angels at war against Satan and his angels.  This was a terrible war, not fought with physical weapons, but with much more terrible weapons than we can imagine.

But what was the war about?  I do not think we are able to understand what the angels disagreed about.  It was a being of wonderful power and glory that had set himself against God.  The Lord says of Lucifer, “You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12).  He was “the anointed cherub who covers” (v14), which means that he once stood in the light of God’s presence.  He was the highest of all created beings.  He was the one who taught the universe about God.  How could we hope to understand the arguments which Satan presented to the angels?

Satan accused the High PriestHowever, we have some indications in the Bible of what the war was about.  In Revelation 12 Satan is called the accuser of the brethren.  In Zechariah 3 he stands next to the high priest to accuse him.  It is therefore implied that there was disagreement about God’s judgments.   God judged Satan and his angels as guilty, but forgave certain sinners, such as Moses.  Therefore, the once mighty angel Lucifer, now called Satan, accused God of inconsistent and unrighteous judgment.  He seems to argue that the sins of God’s people cannot be forgiven; that mercy was inconsistent with justice; and if God should cancel the punishment of sin, He would not be a God of truth and justice.  Please see the article Disarmed the rulers and authorities for more information.

There are also indications in the Bible that Satan argued that it is not possible for created beings to always and fully comply with God’s laws:

Job tormentedThe oldest book in the Bible tells the story of a man named Job.  Job was a “blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil”, but Satan said to God “touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face”.  God then allowed Satan to destroy everything that Job owned, even his children, but Job remained faithful.  Then Satan went back to God and said “put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face”.  Satan obtained permission from God and “smote Job with sore boils”.  Satan also incited Job’s wife to say to Job, “Curse God and die”.  This is what Satan hoped Job would do.  Satan also sent Job’s friends to him to tell him that God has rejected him (Job).  The purpose of this message was to sever the link of faith and trust that joined Job to his Creator.  But “in all this Job did not sin with his lips”.  Satan’s purpose with this test seems to be to show that, given the right circumstances, everybody will lose his hold on God and sin against God

That also seems to be the purpose of the test which Adam failed.  When man defied the will of God, Satan exulted.  It was proved, he declared, that the law could not be obeyed, and since man could not be forgiven, that the human race must be forever shut out from God’s favor.

Two of Satan’s arguments were therefore:

  • That it is impossible for created beings to always and fully comply with God’s laws.
  • That it is therefore unfair of God to forgive some sinners but condemn others.

Ultimately, the War in Heaven is about God’s judgments.

4. God was not able to prove conclusively to the heavenly beings that Satan’s accusations were false.  He therefore had to allow Satan to continue until Satan’s character and purpose were fully revealed.

The book sealed with seven sealsAs already stated, God does not force His beings to accept His judgment.  But neither was He able to conclusively convince the loyal angels of the error in the accusations of the super-brilliant accuser.  This was a terrible time in heaven.  It seemed as if Satan had the upper hand, and as if evil would exist forever.  In the last book of the Bible the inability to understand these things is symbolized by a closed book which nobody was able to open.  See the discussion of the Introduction to the Seven Seals for more information. 

If God destroyed Satan and his host at that point in time, before Satan’s character and purpose was fully revealed. it would not have been apparent to heavenly beings that the destruction of Satan and his host was the inevitable result of sin.  Doubt of God’s goodness would have remained in their minds as evil seed, and the rebellion would arise again in the future.  Satan claimed that his principles are superior to God’s principles.  Since God’s purpose is to secure the eternal safety of the universe, He had to allow Satan time to continue until the principles of his system of government has been fully developed, that they might be seen by all the universe. 

5. To protect the creation God must destroy sin and sinners, but since God is accused of unfairness, if sin and sinners are destroyed before His intelligent creatures fully understand the truth, rebellion would erupt again in the future.  God wishes to make an end of rebellion once and for all.

God will eventually destroy sin, including every creature that is permanently corrupted by sin, but not as retribution or penalty for sin.  He will destroy sin to protect His creation.    As stated in Revelation, He will make all things new.

However, even though sin destroys, and even though God can very easily destroy Satan and his followers, God cannot destroy sin and sinners unilaterally because God never forces anybody to agree with Him.  To compel opposition is found only under Satan’s government.  The Lord’s authority rests upon principles such as truth, goodness, mercy, and love.  These are the means by which the Lord overcomes evil.  The Lord can only destroy sin if His intelligent creatures, in full freedom, agree with Him and ask Him to do it.

The five points above are the proposed definition of the problem which Christ’s death had to solve.  The problem is therefore much bigger than simply that human beings sin.  The problem affects the entire universe; not only this microscopic planet.  Christ’s death, which is the solution to the problem, similarly has a much wider impact than only this earth:

The Son of God became a human being to make an end to the war in heaven.  Christ’s life demonstrated that it is possible to comply with God’s law in all circumstances.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with God’s law.  His death was the full demonstration of this fact, and also revealed Satan’s cruel nature and the self-sacrificing nature of the Son of God.

Jesus as human babyWith the war of accusations in heaven still raging heavily, God sent His Son as a human being to this planet, which Satan claimed as his own; as a vulnerable baby in a world controlled by Satan. 

At first Satan did everything in his power to physically destroy the little One, but God protected His Son. 

Then Satan changed His tactics; he tried, in every possible way, to lead Jesus into sin, to discourage Him, to get Jesus to act selfishly; to get Jesus to use His power or position to benefit Himself.  The Bible records an incident where Satan tempted Jesus: 

After fasting for forty days Jesus was very hungry, and Satan tempted Him to use His power to turn stones into bread, but Jesus refused. 

Then Satan tempted Him to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple to prove that He is the Son of God, but Jesus refused. 

Lastly Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world if He would fall down and worship Satan, but again Jesus refused. 

This was simply one example of Satan’s strategy throughout the earthly life of the Son of God.  The cross was the ultimate test.

The story of Job helps us to understand why Jesus had to die to end the war in heaven.  Perhaps Satan similarly went to God and said that, if you allow me full access to Jesus, including to His life, I will show you that Your Son will “curse You to Your face”.  We know from the Bible that God did give Satan full and unlimited access to Christ; including to kill Him.  God’s Holy Spirit was always close to Jesus, but on the Cross Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  During His last days God withdrew His protection and support from Jesus.  The “rulers and authorities” (Col. 2:15), elsewhere called the powers of darkness, assembled around the cross, bombarding Christ with thoughts of unbelief, resulting in cruel depression and despair.  Just like God, on the basis of His principle of freedom, allowed Satan access to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a test, God allowed Satan full access to the Son of God.

This was a test.  Could one sin be found in Christ, had He in one particular yielded to Satan to escape the terrible torture, the enemy of God and man would have triumphed.  But in spite of the physical, emotional and spiritual agony, Jesus did not use His power to relieve His agony.  Satan was allowed to use every means available to him, but Jesus did not sin in a word or a deed or a thought.  The more mercilessly Satan’s wrath fell upon Him, the more firmly did the Son of God clung to the hand of His Father, and press on in His bloodstained path.  All heaven was filled with wonder when Christ prayed in the midst of His terrible suffering,–“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Christ revealed God to the universe. 

We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings” (1 Cor. 4:9 NIV).  All heaven witnessed the controversy with intense interest.  They watched the Son of God enter the garden of Gethsemane, His soul bowed down with a great darkness.  They heard His bitter cry, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39).  As the Father’s presence withdrew from Him, they saw Him filled with a sorrow that is worse than the last great struggle with death, causing bloody sweat to fell in drops to the ground.  Heaven saw Satan’s frenzied work, and his power over the hearts of men, causing them to deride, torment, condemn, and crucify the Son of God, while the daughters of Jerusalem wept and the mob jeered. 

Satan was defeated.  The evidence which Jesus gave through His life and death brought an end to the war in heaven (See War in Heaven).   There-after the consensus of the loyal angels was that Satan is wrong and God is right, and they requested God to banish Satan from heaven. 

Christ’s life, including the Cross, which was the highest test which Jesus had to go through, but still only one of a continuum of tests during His life, revealed at least three things:

It showed that this human being (Jesus) would remain faithful to God’s principles in all circumstances, showing thereby that it is possible for human beings (and angels) to comply fully with God’s law in the most agonizing circumstances.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with God’s laws

Christ’s death revealed the cruel nature of Satan and his evil angels.  Not until the death of Christ was the character of Satan clearly revealed to the heavenly beings.  The exalted position which he had gave him power to deceive.  Satan had so clothed himself with deception that even holy beings could not understand his principles or the nature of his rebellion.  But the Cross torn away his disguise.  His administration was laid open before the heavenly universe.  He had revealed himself as a murderer.  By shedding the blood of the Son of God, he lost any remaining sympathy he still received from the heavenly beings. 

Lastly, His life and death revealed the character of the Son of God.  When nothing else was able to end the war in heaven, He was willing to humiliate Himself to becoming a human being, and to run the risk of eternal loss through a torturous death to save sinners.  Throughout His life His concern always was with the people around Him.  These things revealed His true character.

It was for this purpose that He became a human being and this is why Jesus had to die; not only a normal death, but a voluntary slow death through torture.  His death was voluntary, for if He gave the command, legions of angels would have come to His aid.

But Satan also had another argument, namely that God is unfair when He forgives one sinner but condemn another.  Jesus’ death did not fully answer all of Satan’s accusations.  For that reason God has not yet made an end to sin.  There is more to be revealed.  For the sake of the future happiness of the universe, Satan was allowed to continue his work, but only on earth (Revelation 12).  Man as well as angels must see the contrast between the Prince of light and the prince of darkness.

In Conclusion

Sin caused terrible conflict in heaven.  Satan, the highest of all created beings, used the sins of people—their inability to keep God’s law—as evidence to prove that God’s intelligent creatures are unable to fully keep God’s law, arguing that God is therefore inconsistent and unfair when some of His sinning creatures, such as Adam and Moses, are forgiven while other people and sinful angels are condemned.  Even the loyal heavenly beings could not conclusively answer Satan’s accusations against God.  The problem is therefore much bigger than simply that human beings sin.  The problem affects the entire universe; not only this microscopic planet. 

Christ’s came to the earth to validate God’s judgments.  Jesus, as fully human, showed that human beings (and angels) are able to comply with the Law of God in all circumstances.  If Jesus did not really die, as the Qur’an maintains, then we have no hope.

God’s Children

So, who are God’s children?  To call yourself a Christian does not make one His child:

The person that views God as an authoritarian tyrant, and is pleased with that view of God, will himself be an authoritarian tyrant, and is therefore not a child of God. 

God’s people are those that admire God’s willingness to suffer for His creatures.  They find joy in the thought that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to become a human being to suffer for our benefit.  God’s people are those that want to be as humble as God, and those that want to serve other people, particularly lesser people.  They find joy in the concept of freedom, and they grant other people freedom to differ from them.  They do not act selfishly, but are willing to suffer for the benefit of others. 

God will judge each person according to his circumstances.  To be saved by the blood (death) of Christ does not require one to know His name.  Even a person that rejects Christ, but accepts His principles, is one of His people.  God does not belong to Christianity.   There is only one true God, and He loves and talks to all peoples, through His written word, through nature, through other people and through His supernatural communication with each human being.  Each of us will be judged relative to what we have received.  From the one that has received much, much will be expected. 

TO: General Table of Contents

What book is this?

The book sealed with seven seals

In Revelation 5 Jesus receives from God a book sealed with seven seals. What is this book, when did He receive it, why is only Jesus able to open the book, and why did He not open the book immediately?

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the book of Revelation.

Italics are used for quotes; not for emphasis.

Summary

The seven seals in Revelation 4 to 7 is one of the seven main divisions of the book of Revelation.

In Revelation 4 John is called up to heaven, where he saw God’s throne; symbol of God’s authority over the universe.  God is described rather vaguely becauseno man has seen or can seeGod (1Ti 6:16).

Around God’s throne were 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones.  They are interpreted in this article as human beings.  Their task is to judge.

Seven lamps—“which are the seven Spirits of God”—burn before the throne (4:5).  The number seven is a symbol, meaning from beginning to end.  Through His Spirit, God is always with us.

This chapter shows the joyous worship of the four living beings and the 24 elders.

While Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which “every created thing” (5:13) is gathered around God’s throne to see the Lamb taking the sealed book.  This sealed book is a symbol of concealed information, causing much sorrow in heaven.  But then Jesus arrives at the Father’s throne and it is announced that He “overcome so as to open the book” (5:5), causing much joy around the throne.

This event, when Jesus received the sealed book, was when He was exalted or glorified at His father’s right hand at His ascension, about 40 days after the Cross.  This is indicated by the following:

  • The New Testament often indicates that Jesus, at His ascension, was exalted at the Father’s right hand, and in Revelation 5 He took the sealed book from God’s right hand.
  • Jesus appears as a slain Lamb.
  • Jesus appeared “in the midst of the throne” (5:6 KJV).
  • He became worthy to open the book because He overcame.  “Overcame” is what He did during His life on earth.  According to 3:21 He sat down with His Father on His Father’s throne after He overcame.
  • In Revelation 4 the Holy Spirit is before the throne. But when Jesus appears in Revelation 5, His Holy Spirit has been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6) , apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

In the dispensational approach Revelation 4:1 is the rapture, and Revelation 5 therefore refers to an event after the rapture.  According to the arguments above, the dispensational view is incorrect.

The Cross gave Christ the authority to open the book, and He received the book immediately after His ascension, but He did not open the book immediately. The Cross did not open the book.  Revelation 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the seals.

The sealed book is the book of life, which indicates who will live and who will die.  This is indicated by the following:

  • Jesus purchased for God with His blood men from every nation and consequently became worthy to open the sealed book (5:9). The sealed book is therefore about redemption.
  • The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8) and “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27), linking it directly to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).
  • The sixth seal will be opened at “the great day of their wrath” (6:17; 8:1), which is the return of Christ, which means that one seal remains to be opened after the return of Christ. The book of life will also only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ (20:7).  Both books are therefore opened after the return of Christ.

Series of articles

This is the first article in a series on the seven seals.  These articles, which will also explain the relationship of the seals to other parts of Revelation, are:

  1. Introduction (this article), which identifies the book and defines the historical starting point of the seals;
  2. The sixth seal, identified with the seventh plague and as the great day of God’s wrath at the return of Christ;
  3. The fifth seal, identifying the plagues as the revenge requested by the souls under the altar;
  4. The sealing of the 144000; who are they, when are they sealed and for what purpose?
  5. The first four seals, identified as the experience of God’s people;
  6. Why questions; asking why was the book sealed?  Why was Jesus not “worthy” before the cross to open the book?  Why is the book only opened 1000 years after Christ’s return?
  7. Summary

Main Divisions of Revelation

The main divisions of Revelation are:

  1. The seven letters in chapters 1 to 3;
  2. The seven seals in chapters 4 to 7 including 8:1;
  3. The seven trumpets in chapters 8 to 11
  4. The seven wars in chapters 12 to 14
  5. The seven plagues in chapters 15 to 19 (*)
  6. The millennium in chapter 20
  7. The new heaven and new earth in the last two chapters

(*) Babylon receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh trumpet at the end of Revelation 16 (16:17-19).  Revelation 17, 18 and 19:1-10 are an interlude that explains the origin, nature and end of Babylon.  The return of Christ is described in the latter half of Revelation 19 (19:11-20:3), and therefore chronologically follows immediately after the plagues of Revelation 16.  Stated differently, the plagues conclude with the return of Christ.  For more information on the relationship of the plagues to the return of Christ, see Return of Christ in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 4

The first three chapters of Revelation focus on the church on earth, but in 4:1 John saw “a door standing open in heaven”, and hears the invitation:

Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.

God’s throne – This shifts the focus away from earth to heaven and away from John’s time to a different time.  In heaven John saw God’s throne.  A throne is a symbol of authority.  God’s throne symbolizes His authority over the universe. God’s throne is mentioned many times in Revelation—in 16 of the 22 chapters.  In Revelation 4 everything is described relative to the throne:

  • 24 elders sit on 24 thrones around the throne (4:4)
  • Out from the throne come lightning, sounds and thunder (4:5)
  • Before the throne there was something like a sea of glass (4:6).
  • In the center and around the throne are four living creatures (4:6).

In Revelation the throne often signifies God.  For instance, “a loud voice … from the throne” (16:17) means that God speaks, and to stand “before the throne” (7:9) means to stand before God.

God Jesus is described in detail in Revelation (1:13-18), but God is described rather vaguely in Revelation 4 (4:3).  God created everything that can be seen and cannot be described in terms of things that can be seen.  God does not exist somewhere in the universe.  The universe exists somewhere within God:

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Ti 6:16).

24 elders – John also saw 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones around the throne, clothed in white and with golden crowns on their heads (4:4).  Some believe these elders are a special class of angels, but for the following reasons it is proposed here that they are humans:

  • The title “elder” is never used in the Bible for angels—only for humans.
  • The Bible never says that angels will sit on God’s throne, but humans will (3:21).
  • The elders have stephanos-crowns on their heads, which is used in Revelation as the crown of the overcomer—or the crown of life (9:7; 2:10; 3:11; 12:1; 4:4; 6:2; 12:1; 14:14).
  • The number 24 is derived from the number 12, which is the number of God’s people. The New Jerusalem has 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel written on them (21:12).  It also has 12 foundations with the names of the 12 apostles written on them (21:14).  The number of the sealed is 144000 (7:4), which is equal to 12 x 12 x 1000.

For these reasons the 24 elders probably are human beings.  They might be the beings to whom the responsibility for judgment is given in Daniel 7:9, 10, 26 and in Revelation 20:4.

The number seven Seven lamps—“which are the seven Spirits of God”—burn before the throne (4:5).  God does not literally have seven Spirits.  The number seven must be interpreted symbolically.  It originates from the seven days of the week, is mentioned 56 times in Revelation, and is interpreted as a symbol for ‘the full period’.  Many of the sevens in Revelation are different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stands in chronological sequence to each other—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh as the last or end.  The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10 and 12.  The number seven therefore has to do with time, and should be understood as completion or perfection of time—the full period.  The seven Spirits of God therefore perhaps symbolize that He is present from the beginning to the end.

Worship Before the throne is a sea of glass (4:6).  In the center and around the throne are four living creatures; full of eyes in front and behind (4:6-7).  They ceaselessly say (4:8):

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come.

One may think that continual worship is boring, but to be in the presence of God is an extremely emotional experience, because God is the most emotional Being in the universe.  To be in His presence is the highest joy possible.

When the living creatures give glory to Him who lives forever and ever (4:9), the 24 elders fall down and worship Him, saying (4:10-11):

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.

Revelation 5

Specific EventWhile Revelation 4 presents a continuous state, Revelation 5 presents a special event in which “every created thing” (5:13) is gathered around God’s throne to see the Lamb taking the sealed book.

Sealed book –  John saw, in the right hand of God, a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals (5:1).  This is not a real literal book.  A book is a symbol of knowledge and a sealed book is a symbol of concealed information—something that is not understood.  Daniel was similarly told “seal up the book until the end of time” (Daniel 12:4) and “these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time” (v9).

Sorrow in heaven At first nobody is “worthy” to open the book (5:2-3), and John began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book (5:4).  John’s tears represent the sorrow of the entire universe.  We see the universal nature of the sorrow when Jesus arrives at God’s throne and, by taking the book, converts the sorrow to joy throughout the universe (5:8-14).  The sorrow therefore represents the time before the Cross, when no one was able to open the book.

Worthy – John saw a “Lamb …  as if slain” (5:6), and heard “one of the elders” say that Jesus “overcome so as to open the book” (5:5).  Then John saw, around the throne, millions and millions of angels (5:11), saying with a loud voice (5:12):

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.

Then John heard every created being say:

To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (5:13).

At His Ascension

Revelation 5 depicts a special and critically important heavenly meeting, as indicated by the millions and millions of angels looking on (5:11) and by the interest of “every created thing” (5:12).  They are gathered to see Jesus receive the sealed book from God.  For the reasons provided below, this was when Jesus was exalted at His Father’s right hand at His ascension (12:5), about 40 days after the Cross:

FIRST: He appears as a slain Lamb, which implies that the event described by Revelation 5 followed immediately after He was slain.

Jesus is described as a “Lamb, as if slain” (5:6) and the beings in heaven said to Him, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain” (5:8-9). 

SECOND: He earned the right to open the book because He overcame, and therefore logically received the book immediately after He overcame.

In Revelation 5 Jesus is declared worthy to receive and open the book because He overcame:

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5).

The “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” is Jesus.  He overcame on earth, as a human being (3:21).  Since He overcame during His earthly life, He logically received the book immediately after the end if His earthly life.

THIRD: He appears on God’s throne; on God’s right hand, which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

The New Testament frequently mentions that Jesus was glorified at the Father’s right hand at His ascension to heaven, for instance:

when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority“ (Eph. 1:20-22; cf. Acts 2:32-36; Rom. 8:34; Hebr.  8:1; Acts 5:30-31; Phil 2:6-11; Col 3:1; Hebr. 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:21-22; Rev. 3:21). 

In Revelation 5 we see Jesus at the Father’s “right hand”:

The NASB reads that the book is in the Father’s right hand (5:1), but this can also be translated as “on” (epi Strong G1909) God’s right hand.  The point is that, to receive the book, Jesus had to take up His position at the right hand of God. 

In Revelation 5 we also see Him sitting on the Father’s throne:

Jesus appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts” (5:6 KJV).  The four living beings are “in the center and around the throne” (4:6).  Jesus therefore appears at the center of the throne. 

In Revelation 5 Jesus is furthermore glorified.  He is—along with God—praised by “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” (5:13).

Revelation 5 is therefore very similar to the statements elsewhere in the New Testament, that Jesus was glorified and seated at the Father’s right hand when He ascended to heaven.

FOURTH: His appearance on God’s throne sent out the Spirit of God into all the earth as His eyes (5:6), which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

The New Testament links Jesus’s glorification at the Father’s right hand to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, about ten days after His ascension:

for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

In Revelation 4 “the seven Spirits of God” are “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” (4:5).  But in Revelation 5, when the Lamb appears on the throne, “the seven Spirits of God” are said to have been “sent out into all the earth” (5:6), apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  This links the outpouring of the Spirit to the event described by Revelation 5.

In summary, for the following reasons the event described in Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement at His ascension to heaven:

  • He appears as a slain Lamb, which implies that the event described by Revelation 5 followed immediately after He was slain.
  • He earned the right to open the book because He overcame, and therefore logically received the book immediately after He overcame.
  • He appears on God’s throne; on God’s right hand, which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.
  • His appearance on God’s throne sent out the Spirit of God into all the earth as His eyes (5:6), which the New Testament indicates happened at His ascension.

Rapture – In the dispensational approach 4:1 is the rapture, and Revelation 5 therefore refers to an event after the rapture.  This seems to do an injustice to the text, and cannot be supported by Revelation 5.  The following are some further reasons for not agreeing with the view that 4:1 is the rapture:

  • The interpretation of 4:1, where John is called “Come up here”, as the rapture of the Church, rests on very slender evidence. It is much more likely that 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called “Come up here“, represents the rapture of the church. 
  • The purpose of John’s ascension to heaven in 4:1 is not to rescue the church from tribulation, but, as explicitly stated, to show John “what must take place after these things” (4:1).
  • In 10:1 John sees an angel coming down from heaven. He therefore is again or still on earth.  John represents the church when he receives the little book (Revelation 10).  The church is therefore still on earth in Revelation 10.

Judgment at Christ’s return – Many understand Revelation 5 as the judgment prior to Christ’s return to the earth, as in Daniel 7, but:

  • No books are opened in Revelation 5, as in Daniel 7:16. Jesus is praised for taking the book, but He does not open it in Revelation 5.  The books are only opened in 20:12.
  • We find no typical judgment language (judge, avenge) in Revelation 5. Such language we only find in the second half of Revelation (except for the fifth seal—but this is only a request for judgment).
  • If Revelation 5 was the judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 would have been His return, but, as discussed below, the first five seals represent the history of the Church.

Still sealed – The Cross gave Christ the authority to open the book, and He received the book immediately after His ascension, but He did not open the book immediately. The Cross did not open the book.  Revelation 6 describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the seals.

The Book of Life

Many books will be opened in the last judgment, one thousand years after the return of Christ (19:11-20:12).  The book of life is one of these books (20:12).  It contains the names of the saved (Ps. 69:28; Ph. 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27).  It indicates who will live and who will die (21:2, 27; 20:14-15):

and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it (the holy city, new Jerusalem), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.   This is the second death, the lake of fire.

A fundamental concept, which will greatly influence the interpretation of the seals, is that the sealed book, which Jesus receives in Revelation 5, is the book of life.  This statement is justified as follows:

Both the sealed book and the book of life are about redemption. God’s Lamb was slain, with two consequences.  The first is that He purchased for God with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).  The second and subsequent consequence is that He is considered worthy to open the sealed book (5:9).  This context indicates that the sealed book is about redemption, and therefore could easily be the book of life, which contains the names of God’s redeemed people (20:15).

The book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8) and “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27), linking it directly to Revelation 5, where a slain Lamb receives a book (5:6, 9).

The book’s sixth seal will only be opened at “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), which is the return of Christ, which means that even then one seal remains to be opened. The book of life will also only be opened in the final great judgment (20:12)—one thousand years after the return of Christ, which is described in Revelation 19:11 and following.  Both books are therefore opened after the return of Christ.

Conclusion

In Revelation 5 we read about sadness in heaven due to a sealed book, which nobody is able to open.  A sealed book symbolizes concealed information.  It was concluded above that the sealed book is the book of life.  The concealed information is therefore the names of the people that will receive eternal life (20:14-15).  The questions remain, why was this information concealed, and why did the fact that it was sealed cause so much sorrow?

After the sorrow was mentioned, Christ appears on the Father’s throne in the form of a slain Lamb (5:6), and we are told that He “has overcome” (5:5).  It was concluded above that the heavenly meeting in Revelation 5 describes what happened when He ascended to heaven, 40 days after the Cross.  As Jesus said “I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (3:21).  He was slain when He died on the Cross.  The sorrow therefore refers to the time prior to the Cross.  He overcame Satan’s temptation by being faithful to God, even to death.  In this way he purchased men from all nations for God (5:9).  These things are not new to us, but we would like to ask: How did His faithfulness purchase men for God?  Why was it necessary for Him to die?

What Revelation 5 further adds is that, because Jesus overcame, and because He was slain and purchased men for God with His blood, He became worthy to open the sealed book (5:5, 9).  We might have expected Him to open the book immediately, but He does not open the book in Revelation 5.  The seven seals are things that prevent the book from being read, and they are only broken in Revelation 6.  This is a bit strange, for it means that, although He bought people for God with His blood, something else must still happen before it will be known who those people are.  We may also ask what things prevent the book from being read, and why was He not worthy to open the book before He was slain?  The seven seals are broken by the happenings described in Revelation 6.  Only after those things happened will we know the names of the saved.  We will next investigate Revelation 6 with these questions in mind.

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Metaphors of salvation

Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols, including many metaphors of salvation. We must be very careful not to literalize his metaphors.

How a person is saved, is explained differently by different people:

In Christian circles we often hear that a price had to be legally paid, and Christ paid that price by His blood.  But words such as “redemption” and “justifications” are only metaphors.  We should not literalize them.  Paul uses many other metaphors for how God saves sinners.  For instance, in the letter to the Colossians, he also says that the believers have been:

  • Qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints (1:12)
  • Rescued from the domain of darkness (1:13)
  • Transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13)
  • Redeemed (1:14 – paid the required price. )
  • Reconciled – as to an old friend (1:22)
  • Received Christ Jesus the Lord (2:6);
  • Made complete (2:10)
  • Circumcised with a circumcision made without hands (2:11)
  • Buried with Him in baptism … raised up with Him (2:12)
  • Made alive together with Him (were dead in your transgressions 2:13)
  • Raised up with Christ (3:1 – died with Christ 2:20; 3:3) -)
  • Canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us (2:14)
  • Chosen of God (3:12)
  • Forgiven (their sins – 1:14; 2:13)

Some of these expressions are very symbolic.  Others, like the forgiveness of sins, are more literal.  Paul used a very rich variety of metaphors and symbols.  He sometimes even changes his metaphors in mid-sentence (e.g. 2:7).

Another famous metaphor of Paul is Justification.  Reformed theology, clinging to the word Justification, hold to the Forensic View of Atonement.  The Justification metaphor appears often in Romans and Galatians, but is not used even once in Colossians, probably because the Colossians Christians were Gentiles, and Justification was the way in which the Jews thought of how people are saved.  They recognized their sins and saw God as their judge, before which they stand guilty.  But they also thought that they were justified (put in a right legal standing with God) by the works of the Law (by the rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies prescribed by the law).  This included circumcision and ceremonial washings.  They thought that these things will compensate for their sins and legally justify them before God.  Therefore Paul used forensic metaphors when speaking to Jews, arguing that one is not justified by the works of the Law, but simply by grace through faith.

But the Forensic View of Atonement under-emphasizes God’s love and mercy for mankind.  It is often explained from pulpits that Christ stands between God and man, continually pleading His blood for the sins of His people.  This is a horrible distortion of the good news.  To mention a few:

It is the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light, rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:12-13).

God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).

Christ is the Lamb of God (John 1:29).

Jesus said, “I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you” (John 16:26-27)

Therefore, by over-emphasizing and literalizing one metaphor of salvation, the Forensic View of Atonement paints a very unbiblical view of God.

Reconciliation is another one of Paul’s powerful metaphors (Col. 1:20-21, Eph. 2:16; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 20).  He presents God as our friend from whom we have been alienated (Col. 1:21), and to Whom we must be reconciled.  This God has done through the cross.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer isn’t merely forgiveness; it is reconciliation.

The point is that we must be very careful not to literalize Paul’s metaphors.  These are all descriptions in human language of what happens when we put our faith (trust) in God.  We learn something of reality from each of these metaphors, but we should not promote one at the expense of the others, or interpret any of them unduly literal.  As discussed in the article titled “Disarmed the rulers and authorities”, the problem that was solved by the Cross is much more complex.  See also the discussion of the word “Atonement”, where it is explained that the Greek word translated Atonement in the KJV of the New Testament is simply reconciliations.

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Atonement

Atonement has come to mean paying a penalty to meet legal demands. When the Bible was first translated to English Atonement referred to the state of being in unity – being AT-ONE.

Making amendsCommonly, in the last century or two or three, atonement has come to mean making amends or paying a penalty to meet legal demands, to propitiate wrath or to adjust one’s to legal standing.  To some atonement is the thing Christ did to reconcile the Father unto us and assuage His offended wrath.

But that is not the original meaning of the term, and it is definitely not the meaning of the word in the Bible.  The only place you’ll find the word, in the King James Version, is in Romans 5:10. But the word in the Greek is the very common word ‘katallasso’.  There’s no hint of making amends in this word.  It means ‘reconciliation’. Holman’s Bible dictionary defines this word as follows:

Reconciliation … specifically the reconciliation between God and humanity effected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  … The New Testament rarely uses a word for atonement. The basic Greek word is usually translated “to reconcile”.  The basic meaning is to establish friendship.

Therefore Romans 5:10, in the NASB, reads:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).

The dictionaries agree that this word ‘atonement’ is a made-up word, namely ‘at-one‐ment’. That’s the way the word started.  It was based on a verb, ‘to one’. Two people are fighting, and you are sent out to ‘one’ them. Not ‘win’ them; to ‘one’ them.  And then when you have succeeded in ‘one-ing’ people, then, hopefully, they would remain in a state of oneness.  It is the state of being ‘at one’ that is atonement, not the process ‘one-ing’ people. Atonement therefore means to be in harmony or unity.  That is what “atonement” meant when the Bible was first translated into English.  In the Bible it is God, because He loves us, that sent His Son (“the Lamb of God”-John 1:29) to bring His people back to Him (John 3:16).

There’s only one dictionary that really give the history of the word, and that’s a multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. It shows how, for a long time, it was used in its original sense of being at one, reconciling people to harmony; friendship is often mentioned, unity, and so on. Now, later on somehow, it was changed to mean ‘making amends, paying penalty’, and that’s the way it’s commonly used now.

So how did the meaning of the word atonement change so much?  It was the forensic doctrine of salvation that changed the meaning of “atonement” over the centuries.  The forensic doctrine of salvation teaches that somebody must pay for sins committed.  TIt presents God as angry and the death of Christ as a sacrifice to pacify God.  It was because the reformers had this understanding of the purpose of Christ’s death that the meaning of “atonement” has slowly changed over the centuries to “reparation for an offence or injury” (Merriam-Webster).

But that is not how we should understand the purpose of Christ’s death.  It is not God that must change.  The blood of the Cross did not change how the Father feels about sinners.  The opposite is rather true, namely that the blood of Christ was the means by which the Father changed the hearts and minds of His creatures; to be reconciled to Himself (Colossians 1:20).  It is us that must change.  It is not God that is angry; it is His creatures that are “hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).  In the Bible God is never reconciled to us.  Colossians 1:20-22 indicates that God, through Christ, reconciled all things “to Himself” (1:20).

Please also see the article Christ’s death reconciled us to God for further information.

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