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Blessed: The Organization of Revelation with Vern Poythress (Episode 6)

This article is part of the Blessed: Conversations on the Book of Revelation with Nancy Guthrie series.

Understanding the Organization and Purpose of Revelation

Join Nancy Guthrie as she talks with scholar and author Vern Poythress about reading the book of Revelation not as a puzzle book to be figured out but as a picture book which should stir us up to be moved by Christ's rule and God's plan for history.

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Blessed

Nancy Guthrie

Blessed, by bestselling author and speaker Nancy Guthrie, gives individuals and small groups a friendly, theologically reliable, and robust guide to understanding the book of Revelation.

Topics Addressed in This Interview:

01:31 - The Structure of Revelation

Nancy Guthrie
My guest today is Rev. Dr. Vern Poythress. Dr. Poythress, thank you so much for helping us get a better understanding of this book of Revelation.

Vern Poythress
Nancy, thank you so much for inviting me. I’m excited about what you’re doing. I’m hoping that this podcast will enhance it still more, but I know you’ve written a book that’s coming out and it looks really good to me. It’s for ordinary people. I’m impressed with how it communicates to the ordinary person, and the person who struggles with the book of Revelation. I think you’re quite right that many of us are afraid of the book of Revelation, or feel we can’t understand, and that’s not true. If the Lord is with us, then the message, in its big picture, is available and is open to us.

Nancy Guthrie
That means a lot to me, Dr. Poythress, because I have such deep and profound respect for you. Dr. Poythress is the distinguished professor of New Testament, biblical interpretation, and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he has taught for forty-four years. I imagine, Dr. Poythress, some of our listeners haven’t even lived for forty-four years! One of the first books of yours I read that was very significant to me when I was just beginning to understand Christ through all the Scriptures was your book The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses. Of course, probably more regularly I benefit from your work of being on the Translation Oversight Committee for the ESV, including what you wrote for the ESV Study Bible—that wonderful part in the back, The History of Salvation in the Old Testament. I can’t tell you how much that section helped me when I was writing my Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible study series. I think most likely, though I wouldn’t have known your name at the time I read this, that probably the first book of yours that I read was your book on Revelation called The Returning King, which you wrote in 2000. I picked that up the first time I was asked to teach through Revelation in 2006 I think. I was totally intimidated by the idea of teaching Revelation, and your book was one of the resources that really helped me, so thank you for that.

Vern Poythress
And here you are now, and you are daring to do it. I’m glad that the Lord has helped you to get to this point.

Nancy Guthrie
Thank you, Dr. Poythress. You wrote in that book that many people either fear the book of Revelation or have an unhealthy interest in it. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Vern Poythress
The fear, I think, most people identify with because the visions are so odd to a modern reader that they think, I can’t possibly understand it. But Jesus is the one who brings it to us, and Jesus knows our need. With the unhealthy interest, what I’m thinking of is the people who think that they’ve got some secret clue so that they can calculate the date of the second coming—which the Bible itself says you can’t know before hand—or they find secret messages within the book of Revelation, or they speculate about the details of the second coming. They spend, as it were, half of their Christian life just trying to puzzle things out. My message is partly that this is not a puzzle book; it’s a picture book. It’s not something that we just calculate from, but it’s something that is intended to move us with the big picture of Christ’s rule and God’s plan for history.

Nancy Guthrie
For our conversation, Dr. Poythress, I have picked seven terms, mostly from your writing on Revelation, that I want to work our way through. As we do that, I also want to hear from you specifically about the structure of Revelation. I was really helped, as I was writing Blessed, to come across a resource that you’ve made available online (people will find it in the footnotes of my book) that has a number of different ways to outline Revelation, which is maybe the first challenge to understanding Revelation. Maybe we should start there before we dive into my seven words or terms, or make that one of them, and that is structure. Why is understanding how this book is organized, or put together, essential if we’re going to understand Revelation?

Vern Poythress
I think many people who try to read through the book, when they get somewhere in the middle, they feel lost. It just becomes overwhelming because God has written it up as one vision after another, and they lose track and it just feels too complicated. But I compare the book of Revelation to a beautiful cathedral or a beautiful piece of music that is carefully structured. It’s been thought through by God and, of course, through a human author. It’s also so rich that you can’t absorb it all in one sitting. If you want to listen to a really complex and beautiful piece of music, you want to listen to it several times. Similarly, with a cathedral it’s really impressive and it takes time to absorb it. The book of Revelation is well-structured. The structure that I would start with, if I’m trying to introduce it, is the cycle of judgments, each of which leads up to the second coming. The second coming is obviously such a big theme in the book of Revelation. The book is meant to stir us up with the desire and prayers for God to return in Christ. That’s so obviously a theme, but as you read through the book, there are actually seven different points that describe different aspects of the second coming. What I call the cycle leads up to the second coming, and then you start over again but from another angle. You move forward to the second coming a second time and a third time and, actually, seven times altogether—at least as I see it. If you read commentaries, you will see they disagree. But the language of the second coming the first time that it occurs is with the sixth seal, where the kings of the earth and the great men say that the wrath of God is coming and who can stand because it’s coming. The language of the sixth seal is the language of the signs of the second coming—the moon turns to blood, the sun becomes dark. And those are associated elsewhere in the Bible with the second coming. So, I think that’s already the second coming actually at the sixth seal. The seventh seal is a tricky thing because it’s a kind of pause of a half-hour silence in heaven. I think that’s basically the silence before God appears in the new world. That’s complicated, but certainly, the language of the second coming in the sixth seal, I think, is pretty clear. Then, you have seven trumpets that are blown, and that leads up to the second coming—the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. The time for the dead to be judged, that’s already in chapter 11. And then there’s a series—and this is more complicated because it’s not numbered—a series, I think, of seven symbolic histories (that’s what I call them). There’s the woman, who is a symbol of the church; there is the dragon, who is a symbol of Satan; there is the beast and the false prophet who go together, and they are agents of Satan; there is the 144,000, and they are the church again. But this time, they are depicted in sexual purity. It’s basically the purity of the commitment to God alone as the bride. Then, there’s a series of three angelic announcements. But then you come to the vision of one like the Son of Man who comes on clouds. Well, that’s clearly second coming language again. That one is more difficult because the series of histories is not numbered. Then, there comes seven bowls, and with them the wrath of God is ended.

Nancy Guthrie
There were seven seals, then seven bowls, and you’re saying that in that interlude—chapters 12–14—there is a seven there that we could identify but it’s just not numbered?

Vern Poythress
That’s correct. That’s always a little more challenging. Again, you could dispute by combining some of the visions, or separate them and you can get six or eight. But it does seem to me there is a certain logic in saying there are seven symbolic histories, then seven bowls (those are numbered), and then seven messages about the fall of Babylon. The fall of Babylon is a judgment that is connected with the second coming and is connected with the vindication of the bride. Babylon is the unholy city, the bride is the holy city—the church. Those are two sides of a single complex.

Nancy Guthrie
From Revelation 17 to 19, you’re saying once again we could look for seven things there in regard to the fall of Babylon, even though they’re not numbered.

Vern Poythress
That’s right. It would be the fifth cycle, I’m sorry, because the sixth cycle is then the second coming because it’s the rider on the white horse who is identified as Christ. Then, you have the millennial passage, then the white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11. That constitutes altogether seven cycles, all of which have to do with leading up to the second coming. By the time you get to the latest cycles, you’re already at the second coming from the beginning.

12:51 - Seven

Nancy Guthrie
You’ve shown us how we can see these sevens within seven in these judgment cycles. How else is seven significant in this book?

Vern Poythress
In the Bible, sometimes the number seven is just a number. But there are times when it has symbolic significance, when it’s loaded. It depends on the kind of literature, it depends on the context, it depends on paying attention to how God is communicating to us. The start of it is pretty obvious. It’s the six days of creation followed by one day of rest. God worked six days and then rested on the seventh day, and that becomes a pattern for human work and rest leading to the final rest of the new heaven and the new earth. The number seven, almost from the beginning of God’s story, can have a significance of a cycle leading to a final stage. It’s the number of completeness, sometimes people say, so it’s fitting that there are lots of sevens in the book of Revelation because it is a book about how God is going to wrap up history. It is a book about completion. There are a lot of other symbols in the book of Revelation. It’s the kind of literature—and your book gets into this—which is visionary. A vision is not a photograph. It’s not just a one-to-one correspondence. There’s a vision, for instance, in chapter five. You know, Nancy, the vision of the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. It’s identified as Christ. Well, that’s not a photograph of Christ; it’s a symbolic representation. I think John was really given a vision that looked like that, but it’s to show something about the knowledge of Christ. The seven eyes are all-knowing. The seven horns, that’s power; he’s all-powerful. He’s a lamb because he was sacrificed to give us deliverance from our sins. So, the book of Revelation as a whole sets a context where many things are going to be symbolic, and the number seven is an obvious one. It’s the number of completion, but it’s no wonder, then, that there are these cycles of seven things and the seventh one, by the time you get there, you are at the second coming.

15:22 - Recapitulation

Nancy Guthrie
Lot’s of structures in terms of sevens, but structure also in terms of recapitulation. It is a term that if we’re really going to grasp Revelation, I suppose we have to reckon with a bit. Certainly when we’re trying to figure out how the book is put together, and specifically, are we reading a chronological presentation of how things are going to be brought to a conclusion, or are we reading something that perhaps is not chronological? Talk to us a little bit about recapitulation.

Vern Poythress
If it’s as I think, that the second coming is already being described in the sixth seal, then what is the rest of the book about? The sixth seal is in chapter six, so what’s the book going to do if you’ve already arrived at the second coming? The answer is that it’s going to cycle through the same time period—or really, the later parts of the same time period—six more times. You say, Why in the world would anybody do that? Because with each time you’re looking at it from a different angle, a different perspective. Each time you’re emphasizing something different about God and his rule of history. The symbolic histories, for instance, what you’re seeing there is the depth of the conflict—that there are evil powers that are opposed to God and his kingdom, and that those powers have to be taken seriously by Christians who are in a struggle, who are going to be persecuted from time to time, and who are going to suffer from time to time. That is a very important part of the book, but it’s unique to that cycle that it sort of digs underneath the surface to show you Satan and the character of Satan, and to show you the beast, in order that Christians would be equipped to live in a world where we’re being attacked by spiritual forces. That shows you just one of the angles that the book of Revelation uses as you go through these seven cycles, each of which leads to the second coming.

Nancy Guthrie
I think we’re not used to reading that in the Bible, but the illustration I use in the book is something we’re very familiar with, and that is instant replay when we watch a sports game. With a professional or college level football game these days, they’ve got so many camera angles on the same action. We watch some big play, and then they show us a different camera angle where we can see who really had the ball in the big pile up. In a sense, that’s what we mean by recapitulation, right? We’re going back and we’re seeing it again from another angle.

Vern Poythress
That’s actually an excellent illustration. I hadn’t thought of it, but it’s very helpful. Another thing to realize is that there are actually some places in the Old Testament that do a similar thing. The book of Daniel especially. There are several chapters that are covering overlapping periods of time. So the precedent is already there in Daniel and to some degree in Zechariah and Ezekiel—all of which have quite a bit of visionary material. I think those things in the Old Testament prepare us not to be shocked. The other thing about this is that the literary order—the order that John writes things up—is not necessarily the order of the events about which he writes. You just can’t assume that. You have to be guided by the material itself. If there are indications, as I think there are, that the second coming is being described several times, then that itself is a clue that now we’re going to go back and we’re going to look at the thing from a second angle and a third angle.

19:37 - Holy War

Nancy Guthrie
Let’s talk about holy war. You talk about Revelation in terms of being holy war. Both that and spiritual warfare might seem really unfamiliar and distant to us. Maybe even some people are uncomfortable with the idea of holy war. Why do we need to reckon with the whole notion of holy war in the book of Revelation?

Vern Poythress
Already in the Old Testament there are passages that depict God as a warrior. I think we’ve got to wrestle with it. You’re singleing that out is a wise thing because human warfare is so ugly. People die, they’re injured, they’re maimed, there’s hatred between the warring parties. It’s so bad we think, How could God possibly adapt that kind of language without compromising his own holiness and without compromising his own goodness? But the answer is there is evil in the world. It has come in not because God himself is responsible for it, but because Satan has rebelled against God. That was the beginning. And, of course, Satan tempted Adam and Eve, and now, let’s face it, we ourselves—every human being except for Christ—is contaminated with this same evil. It has to be demolished; it has to be destroyed. The thing about God’s war is that it’s perfect war. He doesn’t hurt the innocent people who are sometimes caught in the crossfire. God is all-powerful and is able to discriminate perfectly between good and evil. We’ve got to completely change our emotional attitude. It’s right that we should be horrified by war in human terms because it’s so destructive. Even when it has to be done because you’re in a protective battle of some kind, it’s not nice and it’s not pretty and there’s going to be collateral damage. God brings a perfect destruction of evil. And that is exemplified at certain points in the Old Testament. For instance, with the fall of Jericho. That is a symbolic picture of the final fall of Babylon and the final destruction of evil. We’ve got to see that the source of evil is not simply human, but it’s supernatural; it is with Satan and his agents. They’re real. Some countries of the world know this better than the United States does because basically dealing with idolatry and there are people who are trying to manipulate the spirit world and they get themselves into this whole area. Satan and his agents really do exist, and part of the message of the book of Revelation is these agents—these spiritual beings—are real, but also that God is real and his kingdom will triumph. He is in complete control of events, even before the end, because it’s he who basically depicts what Satan is going to do even before he does it.

Nancy Guthrie
It makes sense to me that the book of Revelation is going to present us with a final conflict because if we think about the Bible as one story, it begins in Eden. We get to Genesis 3:15 and we’re presented with the whole crisis which drives the rest of the story of the Bible, where we’re told that God has put enmity between the woman and the serpent—between her offspring and his offspring. But it tells us that one of her offspring is going to come and he will crush the head of the serpent, but in the process, his heel will be bruised. So, we expect conflict. We’re not surprised throughout the Old Testament as we see these conflict between her offspring and the offspring of the serpent. I think one of the things that helps us with Revelation and this war is to recognize that this is the culmination. God is finally dealing with the evil that’s had its way in the world for so long, and now it’s finally destroyed. I almost feel like John, and certainly the divine author, recognized that we are going to need some help to accept what might not on the surface to us seem just. It’s so interesting to me in Revelation that we have coming off of the lips of the believers in heaven, they are celebrating the justice of God. They don’t see this warfare and those who are destroyed in the midst of it as a problem that somehow diminishes God and his glory. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They take hold of his justice and use it as cause for praise.

Vern Poythress
Yes. I think that’s in every human being. We’re made in the image of God. There is a longing for justice. The trouble is that justice will mean our destruction because we’re part of the problem—each of us. And that’s why Christ had to come. He had to be a substitute. He had to bear the wrath of God. God’s justice is very serious, and instinctively, because God made us in his image, we know that. It simply gets messed up and distorted by human conceptions of justice that are not in line with God. One of the things about this is we see a preliminary form of it also during Jesus’s earthly life because he cast out demons. Many people from the Western world are not used to that kind of thing, and it seems, Is this real? This is shocking! But what’s happening is you’re seeing this element of spiritual war. You’re seeing people who are captive, like the Gadarene Demoniacs for instance, they almost become sub-human. The one that’s described as out there is naked, living in the tombs, and it’s just terrible. And God, through Christ, delivers him. That’s a picture of deliverance from the kingdom of darkness. Colossians 1 says—and I know you will recognize the passage—“he has delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son, in whom our sins are forgiven.” It’s forgiveness of sins because Satan is the accuser and says, You’re guilty, guilty, guilty! We’re delivered from his kingdom—the kingdom of darkness—into the kingdom of God’s Son. That’s real for every Christian, but it seems that the book of Revelation wants to expand that and is, as you’re saying, it’s anticipating the final battle in Revelation 19 where Christ appears and all the forces of wickedness are subdued and put to shame.

27:17 - Counterfeits

Nancy Guthrie
We look forward to that day, don’t we? Let’s move on to counterfeits. I read about this a little bit in your book, but I footnoted in my book a larger article that you wrote in a theological journal that really helped me with this in terms of counterfeits in Revelation. Tell us about that.

Vern Poythress
There are three major evil figures: Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. They are counterfeits; they are reverse images of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s also a fourth figure, namely, the worshipers. Babylon is the corrupt city of worship, and the bride of Christ is the city of true worship. There’s a counterfeit trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—one God; but then that’s counterfeited by Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. Satan is like the planner and instigator, the beast is a kind of counterfeit Christ who wants to have the nations under his allegiance, and the false prophet is a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit and the witness of the Spirit that is a witness to Christ. The false prophet, likewise, witnesses to the beast. To me that’s fascinating, but there’s a lesson in it. Once you see what Satan is doing—that he’s imitating God but in a perverse way. I use the language of counterfeiting to try to capture that. For example, a $100 bill. A counterfeit $100 bill has to look like the real thing, or nobody will be deceived. Similarly, Satan has to do things that are sort of like true religion and that are sort of like the true God, or nobody will be deceived. He is the arch-deceiver. He is promoting the worship of false gods, and those false gods are always enough like the real God to pull people in. That’s part of the seductive aspect of what Satan is doing. It’s helped me to understand false religions because there are always some good things here and there within false religions. There are always some things that make you think, Well, wait a minute. Isn’t that like the Christian faith? How do I know that the Christian faith is the true faith? That’s exactly what Satan is going to do. There’s somethings that have to be close enough to the truth, like the $100 counterfeit bill. I think it helps us to understand the work of Satan.

30:01 - Bipolar Contrasts

Nancy Guthrie
Let’s go on to what you call “bipolar contrasts.” You outline three of them, that in Revelation we see the bipolar contrast of purity vs. corruption, beauty vs. ugliness, and truth vs. deceit. When I read those, I think mostly of when we get to Revelation 17–19 in regard to Babylon.

Vern Poythress
I think it is there with Babylon. It’s there throughout the book. I like to make a comparison sometimes to 1 John and to the Gospel of John. Because 1 John is short, it’s very easy to see that it’s major themes are these bipolar things: darkness and light, love and hate, faith and unbelief. Those go all the way through the letter of 1 John. Sometimes I think we have problems reading that saying, Is there no gray area? Where am I in this picture because I’m not completely pure and I’m not as bad a sinner as I could be? But all you’re giving me are the options of complete darkness and complete light. But the point of it, I think, is not to say that things are visibly polarized within this world completely. There are all kinds of people who seem on the surface to be in between—including we ourselves because we’re not yet made perfect—but it’s to show you what are the principles involved, what is the underlying force of the conflict. Once you get clear about that, then you begin to identify things. I’ve used the example of TV ads. There are some ads that are just cute and good, but there are some of them that are seductive that say, If you buy this kind of car, then you will have the woman sitting in the car too. It’s not said in so many words, but it’s saying, You buy our product and you will be satisfied—with a kind of divine satisfaction. Well, once you see the black and white conflict—once you have it identified through the book of Revelation—then you can go to an ad and say, I know your trick! I know what you’re trying to do and I’m not going to go that way because God is the ultimate source of satisfaction. This polarity is actually a very important interpretive grid that God uses to teach us about what are those basic principles.

Nancy Guthrie
When I look at those, what strikes me is that John has been given this vision that’s coming to him from God. He’s being enabled to see things as they really are. That’s part of what, it seems to me, creates the contrast. We might look at “Babylon”—what the world around us has to offer—and we look at it and it seems beautiful. It’s as if John is being given the perspective of heaven to look at those things and he sees its true nature and can see through the glitter that might look beautiful on the surface but see more deeply into seeing its ugliness. He would also see through its truth claims into deceit, to use your category.

Vern Poythress
Babylon the prostitute is a good example. I realize women have to make the reverse adjustment, but for men, the prostitute that is described is decked out with gold and jewels and pearls. She is offering you wealth and beauty, but underneath it’s abomination. The book of Revelation spells that out in saying, “Holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations.” It’s warning you that this is a counterfeit.

34:54 - Witness

Nancy Guthrie
All is not as it seems. Another key word or idea in Revelation that you write about is witness. Tell us about that.

Vern Poythress
More than once the book of Revelation talks about Jesus Christ as the faithful witness. Christ is the number one witness himself. He is a witness by his death and resurrection. That’s an important message for Christians who are followers of his. In John, the author is a witness, and there are the prophets that are witnesses. But then every Christian is called on a subordinate level to be a witness. How so? By confessing that Jesus is Lord, that he is reigning. That’s a dangerous thing to say in the Roman Empire because the emperors claimed to have virtually divine power. There was a conflict, and the threat was that you would be persecuted if you confessed Christ to be Lord. That witness was a witness to the reality of Christ’s reign in a situation where you might be martyred for it. You might die, but your death would imitate, in that respect, Jesus’s death. Jesus alone atones for our sins, but a martyr’s death is in some ways an invitation of Christ’s, and the message is partly that you, too, will be vindicated. Death is not the end, even though it looks like a defeat. This is a tremendous message for Christians under persecution. Sometimes in the Western world we don’t appreciate it in full depth because it’s other countries where Christians are under the most serious pressure. But still, even in the West the lesson is don’t find yourself compromising the faith, but stand for it when it’s hard to do.

Nancy Guthrie
John puts out a really strong call for bold allegiance to Jesus Christ. From the very beginning he calls the people he’s writing to partners in the patient endurance in the kingdom and tribulation that are in Jesus. This book is a call to bold allegiance to Jesus Christ that results in proclaiming boldly his kingdom in the world.

Vern Poythress
Yes. It should be an encouragement to us, but I think also an encouragement to pray for Christians in other parts of the world and to be informed reasonably. There is a book, Operation World that goes country by country and tells how Christians are doing. It’s a good source for praying for Christians in other parts of the world.

38:16 - Reward and Punishment

Nancy Guthrie
Let’s get to our seventh, final one, Dr. Poythress, and that is reward and punishment. I’ll just say I want one of those more than the other one, by the way. What is the message of Revelation in regard to reward and punishment?

Vern Poythress
That is a serious theme in the book of Revelation, and again I think Americans are emotionally challenged here because we don’t like to think about such things. Particularly, I think we know from the Bible itself that we are saved by grace. It’s not because of what we have done, not because of works of righteousness that God has saved us, but of his own mercy. That’s Titus 3:5. That’s at the core of the message of salvation. But God also shows us that he’s pleased to reward even imperfect works of Christians. It’s a vast encouragement, in a context like that of the book of Revelation where Christians are under persecution, not to give up, not to cave in, to say there is a reward. God knows everything you’re going through. He understands the suffering. He’s there to supply the Holy Spirit, to strengthen you. In a sense, the glory all goes to him, but he’s pleased to reward when we endure and when we do hard things for his namesake. That message sometimes doesn’t come out. Sometimes the message of grace is allowed to overwhelm everything else so that it’s as if our obedience doesn’t matter. Well, our obedience does matter to God. It’s not the thing that’s the basis of our salvation, but it does matter and God is pleased to reward that obedience. He sees every little thing that is done for the sake of Christ. That’s the reward aspect. The punishment aspect is for unbelievers, but in a sense there is also the fact that a Christian can suffer loss not of his salvation, but of aspects of what he’s done because it wasn’t done on a proper foundation. That’s 1 Corinthians 3, talking about building the church and saying that if the things that somebody has built are burned up, he will have to suffer the loss but he will escape as though through fire. It’s not a question of salvation but are the works you’re doing solid? Are they based on Christ? Are they empowered by the Spirit, or are you just doing it for your own glory? Christians themselves need to be challenged for us to be loyal followers of Christ, as you yourself have put it. It makes a difference then in terms of God being pleased to reward or there being the vice versa—there being no reward because your work wasn’t solidly based.

Nancy Guthrie
I suppose, if we’re trying to get at what the essence of what reward is, because it’s not necessarily spelled out for us, and yet maybe in other ways it is. As we think about this promise of blessing that the book begins with, and seven times in the book of Revelation we are told what it will mean to be blessed. Then we get to the end of the book of Revelation and if Revelation 21 and 22 is spelling out for us what the reward is—and you can push back on that if you think I’m wrong—if Revelation 21 and 22 is showing us what this ultimate reward is going to be, then it seems to me that by reward we’re going to enjoy this new intimacy with God, this inheritance of a place, belonging to him, being a part of this multi-national community, living in an atmosphere of pervasive holiness, and then perhaps the ultimate that we get in Revelation 21 is that we will see his face. As we move into Revelation 22, there is this sense of such complete satisfaction. Am I getting at what the heart of reward is, or would you say it differently?

Vern Poythress
No, I think that’s right. I think the heart of reward is communion with God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We get off base if we say, I’ll have this big mansion, and you’ll have a shack. You’re still thinking in worldly terms, of how many toys you have accumulated. That’s a worldly way of thinking. If it’s communion with God, then there’s no sense of envy: Well, you have more than I do. But Jesus does say to store up treasures in heaven where no moth destroys and no thief steals. I think it needs to be said that the basic reward is eternal life. The basic reward is entering the presence of God and enjoying him forever. That is true for every Christian believer, for everyone who trusts in Christ for salvation. In a sense, it’s all the same. But then there are these other verses, and I don’t think they should be shoved aside, that talk about this laying up treasure in heaven and that indicate that every little thing that we do in genuine service to God he’s pleased to reward. How that works out in detail I think is unimaginable. But certainly, I can see that if you have served the Lord with love and faithfulness in this life, your capacity to enjoy him has grown.

Nancy Guthrie
That reminds me of what a college Bible professor said about this topic. Since then I’ve read this in Jonathan Edwards, so maybe he got it from him. The way he put it was that for all of us our cups may be full, but we may have different sized cups.

Vern Poythress
Yeah, that’s a good statement.

45:32 - A Summary of Revelation

Nancy Guthrie
Dr. Poythress, this has been so much fun and such an honor and privilege to get to talk through Revelation with you. Maybe let’s end our conversation this way: Would you give us your one or two sentence summary of Revelation? If somebody says, Boy, the book of Revelation—what’s that book even about? What is your one or two sentence statement describing what Revelation is all about?

Vern Poythress
God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ. That’s it. God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ. I tell people—and you know this, Nancy, but I’m reminding others—I tell people if you read the book with that message in mind and ask the Lord to help, you will understand it.

Nancy Guthrie
You won’t be frustrated, I think, right? Thank you so much, Dr. Poythress.



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Introducing the Blessed Podcast with Nancy Guthrie

In this new podcast, Nancy Guthrie—author, Bible teacher, and podcast host—leads listeners to a deeper understanding of the book of Revelation through conversations with respected Bible scholars, pastors, and other Bible teachers.


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