Monday, January 29, 2018

The Love You Had At First (Revelation 2:1-7)

When people visit our church for the first time, especially if they have been more accustomed to congregations filled with more ritual or liturgy, usually their first impression revolves around how “un-churchy” it can seem. They might even walk away thinking, “Wow, I don’t even feel I was at church today.”

A similar experience belongs to those who are working their way through Revelation 1-3 for the first time. They might conclude, “Wow, the content in these first chapters seems pretty normal, practical, in fact, almost unremarkable”—especially if what they were expecting was to get into a great amount of fantastic material that talks about beasts, marks on your hand or forehead, battles, demons, angels, time charts, and the like. Through the first three chapters some might think, “It all seems just so practical and focused upon who the church is and how we are to function!”

And such a response is right on the money. After all, the book is not about appeasing our curiosity about the future. It is about how to function on mission as the church, especially as we face a hostile culture. This is why the opening to the book (1:1-8), along with its first vision in chapter one (what we have covered so far), speaks of living on mission, facing a hostile culture, and persevering.

You might be surprised to discover, as we get into the second and third chapters, we find much more of the same. Here, John, while exiled to the island of Patmos for his evangelistic work (1:9), addresses individually the seven churches he has already mentioned in 1:11—seven congregations located in what is Turkey today, and who represent the global church of all ages. It seems the order in which the apostle addressed them was based upon their location: “These churches formed a natural route for a circuit rider, starting in Ephesus and moving in a clockwise direction through Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” (this is the same order as his addresses).[1]

Each of the messages in Revelation 2-3 has a similar order to it:

1. Addressee: “Unto the angel in…, write.”

2. Identification and description of Christ, based on the vision in ch. 1: “The words of him who….”

3. Affirmation that Christ knows about the church.

4. An evaluation—either a rebuke, commendation, or both. We should note there is no commendation in the message to the church in Laodicea (3:14-22) and there is no rebuke in the messages to Smyrna (2:8-11) or Philadelphia (3:7-13).

5. An exhortation to the church to take needed action (either to remain true or to change their course).

6. A statement of what Christ will do, based upon how they respond.

7. A Promise to the one who conquers.

8. A call to hear: “He who has an ear….”

We should also note that numbers 7 and 8 can be in reverse order.

Something else we find out in these two chapters is that there is a good deal of repetition of subjects within them and repetition of subjects already addressed in chapter one. Because of this, we will approach these two chapters topically in three sermons. Nevertheless, we will briefly introduce ourselves to each church as we move through the two chapters. We will discover a number of application points given to the Church worldwide throughout this age for how we should function—application points we will cover in these next three sermons out of chapters 2-3.

The first application point we discover, the one we will focus on this morning, is this: Churches are to have and retain their love for Christ that leads to a love for gospel ministry.

We will begin by seeing how this message arises in Christ’s words to the church in Ephesus (2:1-7).

How This Message Arises
John starts by writing: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write….” Nowhere else does Scripture clearly teach that a person has a guardian angel, nor does it even imply that a local church would have an angel assigned to it. What appears to be taking place here is that the vision of the seven angels (or the seven stars, see Rev. 1:20; 2:1b) signifies the churches have a heavenly existence. In other words, though they are located on the earth in this age, their existence is largely in heaven with heavenly realities applied to them, and they are held in the Savior’s hand. So, to address the angel is to address the church itself.[2] This is a difficult aspect of this passage to understand and does not seem to have unmistakable Old Testament (or any other) background to help. However, whatever it means does not have great bearing upon the understanding of the passage one way or the other.  

Ephesus, a place where Paul ministered (Acts 19-20), which had a church to which Paul wrote (Ephesians), and which was the location where Timothy was when Paul wrote to him (1, 2 Timothy), was a major center for Christianity from the end of the first century through the fifth century, with some major Church councils held there. At the same time, it was also a major center for the worship of the goddess, Artemis (or Diana), the goddess of love (Acts 19).  So, no doubt there was a good amount of push back on the church from the surrounding cultures and they needed to be reminded they are in the hands of the sovereign Savior, who is also in their midst (1b-c): “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” This first description of Christ reminds us there is strong connection between the chapter one vision and the specific messages to all seven churches in Rev. 2-3.

It is not just Ephesus that needs this reminder. We need to hear this truth, which is a repetition of what Jesus promises his disciples when he commissioned us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:20): “And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  

The presence of the sovereign Savior among the church not only reveals he is with us to help and support, it also displays he knows our situation (verses 2-3): “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.” 

Here Jesus commends the Ephesians for the works they did, their endurance, the fact they are not giving up in the face of hard situations, and their opposition to false teaching. There is much for which Jesus can commend this local congregation!  These two verses remind us just how important these same traits are for us today. In these we should follow the example of the church in Ephesus.

Yet, there is one way in which we should not follow their example. In verse 4 we read: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” The way this is worded, they began leaving behind this love sometime in the past and still have not come back to it. I am of the strong conviction that what John has in mind here is the love for Christ that the Ephesians had when the first believers came to Christ and the church was new. Since Jesus goes on to say that if they do not return to that love, he will remove their lampstand—i.e. their light or mission to the world (Rev. 2:5), I believe he is saying that this love they had for Christ at the beginning led to gospel work, i.e. disciplemaking. This is also supported by the strong emphasis upon the church living on mission in the near (Rev. 1:5, 6, 9, 12, 20) and far (Rev. 5:10; 11:1-2; 12:11, et. al.) contexts of the book.

Additionally, this understanding is supported by the reality that in verse 5 “the works you did at first” appears to be connected to and parallel with their love they had at first. And, elsewhere in the messages to the seven churches “works” speak of missional works (see 2:19). There may also be a parallel in 3:15-20, where the church in Laodicea is addressed. There, in verse 16, the church is denounced as “lukewarm,” i.e. neither hot nor cold. In other words, they were no longer useful as a church. This description arises from the reality that, “There were well-known hot springs in Hierapolis, just 6 miles…from Laodicea [that were useful for therapeutic or medicinal purposes], and a good supply of cold running water in nearby Colosse [that was piped into Laodicea]. Laodicea itself, however, appears to have had a tepid and barely potable water supply. This would have been a potent symbol for this congregation of its church’s ineffectiveness [or uselessness].”[3]

This message to the church in Ephesus is rounded out not only with a call to repent (5a), a promise of what will happen if they don’t (5b), a further word of commendation (6), a call to hear what the Spirit is saying (7a), and a promise of full life to those who listen and conquer (7b). Consider: 
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

There are two realities we need to note before moving on to what is next. To begin, I hope you are seeing the book of Revelation has a strong emphasis upon outreach and mission. This is to be at the core of who the church is and what we do.

Additionally, each of these churches is addressed as a collective unit. Certainly, a church is made up of individuals who can experience God’s blessing or discipline apart from others. However, a local congregation also is a community that stands together and rises or falls together. God can bless, discipline, or judge whole congregations on their faithfulness or lack thereof. Along this line, we get the idea that what can often happen to churches that cease living on mission is that they die and close their doors. Responsible and faithful leaders, as well as teachers in the church, must cast vision for, equip, and call the church to live on mission that flows out of their knowledge of and love for Christ!

Now that we have seen how the main message arises, we must next discover just how a church leaves its love for Christ and gospel ministry.

How A Church Leaves Its Love For Christ And Gospel Ministry
Though John does not explicitly tell us this in these verses, there are hints in this passage and in the context.

1. If we keep in mind the strong connection these messages have to the chapter one vision and its explanatory preface (1:9-20)—a vision designed to help the church step up to the plate and endure on mission, we see that ignoring the Word of God, the very Word that reveals to us Christ and the importance of his mission (1:10-11), leads to loss of that mission. This does not mean that the Bible is not being taught at all within such a congregation. After all, Ephesus is commended for endurance, having some works among them, and opposing false teaching. However, when individual members are not tracking with the Scriptures and so are not being strengthened and equipped to live on mission and if the leaders are not teaching in a manner that is equipping people to live on mission intentionally and effectively (see Eph. 4:12), this can lead to loss of that gospel ministry-producing love for Christ.

2. At the end of each of the messages to the seven churches (including here in the message to Ephesus: Rev. 2:7) Christ says through John to the churches, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is an allusion to Isaiah 6:9-10 and the hardness of heart, that unwillingness and even moral inability to hear, that most likely comes from idolatry and the truth we become like the idols we worship—namely, blind and deaf (cf. Isaiah 44:9). When we understand that idolatry is at the heart of all sin (cf. Ex. 20:3-6; 2 Kings 17:7; Is. 65:7, 11-12; Rom. 1:23; 1 Cor. 10:7; 10:14; Gal. 3:5; 5:20; 1 Pt. 4:3), this further supports the reality that idolatry leads to our loss of love for Christ and gospel mission. We have so many things in our present world vying for our attention and heart allegiance that can easily displace the preeminence of Christ in our hearts and schedules and our putting his mission on the back burner (or ignoring it altogether).

3. The first two factors behind losing our mission lead to two more:
a. Our surrounding cultures. The word “culture” refers to how we seek to make order of the world around us, to define it, and to make it rich and flourishing. We can see this from the use of “culture” in “agriculture,” that act of bringing order to the land in such a way that it is fruitful and flourishes. As a result, the word “culture” can also refer to how we seek to find purpose and meaning in the world, which can be seen in the use of a related word, “cult,” which can refer to a sect, religion, or a way of explaining ultimate meaning and purpose in the world. The cultures that surround us (made up of the people around us) have made decisions about how we find meaning and purpose in life, what makes for a successful life, and the kinds of actions that are acceptable. At the very least we can say here that virtually all cultures that surround us oppose speaking into the life of another person so that they can come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. It is “none of our business.” That part of our surrounding culture is strong, along with all the other idols in those cultures that compete for our attention and take our eyes off Jesus Christ. If we are not intentionally fighting off these strong influences, we will most likely give into them and will not live on mission.

b. Our fear of what others think. Related to the cultures and people around us, most of us are fearful of living out our faith too specifically or being missional in it, since this is not what is socially acceptable. Such cowardice is probably referenced in Rev. 21:8. Again, we must be much in God’s Word and must depend upon the empowerment we have through the presence of Christ and his Spirit in us, if we are to overcome this (Rev. 1:12-20). Such need for empowerment also means we will be praying much so we can be faithful to Christ on mission.

So, given what we have seen here it should not be too hard to outline how we can overcome the things that help us stay on mission. However, we will say more about this in our sermon Sunday.

[1] “The Seven Churches Of Asia Minor,” in the Archaeological Study Bible, 2051.

[2] This seems to be similar to what we find in Daniel (See Dan. 10:20-21; 12:1).
Another possibility is that since “angel” can mean messenger, it could mean that the angel represents the pastoral leadership of the church. The problem with this understanding is that it does not seem to have a parallel anywhere else (including in Revelation). However, the sense of the passage would not really be different if this is what is meant.

[3] “The Seven Churches Of Asia Minor,” in the Archaeological Study Bible, 2051.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Resources For The Church On Mission To Face A Hostile Culture (Revelation 1:9-20)

In the previous passage in Revelation we studied we discovered how to find the courage to “step off the cliff” and into the ministry of serving Jesus and sharing him with others so they can turn around and do the same. Many of us are afraid to do this because the various cultures in which we live do not look on this favorably.

In our next passage (1:9-20) we will uncover even more in the way of resources for facing a hostile culture. These will largely come from an increased knowledge of Jesus Christ, a knowledge uncovered in the first vision John relates in the book.

John begins by describing for us where most churches and Christians find themselves. Here is what John writes: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

John begins by defining himself as the brother to the readers and a partner with them. As He identifies the things in which he participates with them, he hits to the heart of the church’s typical current situation.

First, he says he is a partner “in tribulation.” In other words, he assumes his readers will face tribulation in this age. According to what we find later in the book, tribulation includes persecution for our faith and also can speak of God’s judgment upon the world (ch’s. 12-13; 16:9). Both kinds of tribulation arise because God ordained that he would permit men to sin and, as a result, for the world to be under a curse and for all mankind to have a corrupt nature and disobedient hearts. What this means is that as the Church lives out its faith before God, the world hates us—just as it hates Jesus Christ (John 15:18ff.).

Unfortunately we have been wrongly conditioned in the United States to expect that Christians will experience tribulation only at the end of this age or after Jesus Christ returns. Yet, Revelation teaches that tribulation is expected throughout this age (Rev. 1:9; 2:10; 3:10; 11:1-13), even though it will escalate at the end of this age (Rev. 11:7-10; 16:12-16).

It is also a shame we have been taught that if we are living properly on mission, people will like us and we will get along fine with those who oppose God. Of course, the only way the world will get along well with us and we with them is if our mission consists only of living a good life before them and never giving testimony to Jesus. But, of course this is such an incomplete mission, it is more accurately a false mission.

The only way we can live faithfully before God and on mission is to give testimony to Jesus Christ before others. And this invariably brings some level of persecution (at least push back). This is why John assumes all readers who truly are followers of Jesus will be partners in tribulation.

Additionally (note the word “and”), John writes he is a brother and partner “in the kingdom.” A promise that God made in the Old Testament was that he would send a future king, a shepherd, to shepherd his people in the blessings of living underneath his forever reign, defended and protected by him always (2 Sam. 7:12-14; 1 Chron. 11:2; Psalm 89:20-37; Jer. 33:14-22; Ezek. 34:15-24; 37:24). When Jesus began his public ministry, he proclaimed that the kingdom of God has come near—implied, in him (Mark 1:14-15). This is why the good news Jesus preached was that of the kingdom (Mt. 4:23) and those who truly know him are part of the kingdom (Mt. 5:3, 10; Col. 1:13). As such, John knows that if readers truly know Jesus, they are partners with John in the kingdom.

These first two realms of partnership form not only a way of saying, “Hey, I know you are believers, partners in the gospel,” it also is a way of saying, “Hey, I know you are kingdom laborers and such people will face a hostile and persecuting world (Mt. 5:10-12). As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted….”

Both of these first ways John is a partner prepare for the third and final way: “and the patient endurance.” In the book of Revelation saints are not only called to endure in their faith and mission (13:9-10, 18; 14:12-13) and given motivations to endure, such as the power and presence of the Lamb (14:1-5), the avoidance of God’s judgment (14:6-11, 14-20), and the promise of the rewards of rest and happiness (14:12-13); it is also expected that they will endure by God’s grace and power (e.g. 3:5; 15:2).

What John writes here is instructive into what he sees as typical circumstances for Jesus followers, that is, kingdom laborers living on mission: They are persecuted, but they also endure. This should lead the typical Jesus follower in the United States today to ask some pointed questions:  If I am not being persecuted for my faith, why is that?  Is it merely due to God’s grace at the moment that though we are living on mission, yet we are not experiencing push back?  Or, is it because we are not truly living on mission?   

It is also important to see in verse nine that the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance are all “in Jesus.” In other words, this phrase reveals the reason why we face persecution, why we are in the kingdom, and why we are able to endure. United to Jesus Christ, we have his righteousness imputed to us and so are part of the kingdom, which means we also are transformed and desire to live by, for, and like him, which puts us in a place where those in the world who are not being saved hate us. Yet, we endure this because we are united to Jesus and so his continual resources and empowerment enable us not to quit. This last point will be expanded upon later in the chapter, in the vision of Jesus.

In the last half of verse 9 John tells us more about his current circumstances: “[I]…was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The implication appears to be not only that John was exiled to the island for his gospel ministry, but this is what also lands other Christians in “hot water” with those around them. Commentator, Dennis Johnson, explains: “John’s confinement on Patmos, an Aegean island to which Rome exiled political criminals, shows that he is a partner with the churches’ tribulation and patient endurance.”

What John is writing here at the very least should make us think twice before concluding that if we are doing evangelism and/or outreach properly, people will always like us, patting us on the back for what we do. Though it would be unwise and ungodly to be intentionally and unnecessarily caustic toward others, nevertheless, if we are engaged in faithful gospel ministry, it most likely will lead at least to some push back, if not greater persecution.

So, as John unveils the revelation of Jesus Christ, he gives us a picture of what life is like for the church, those part of the kingdom. It is one of persecution and hardships because of this broken world and one in which we are called to endure in it all. With that understood, we now turn to the third main point of this passage.

There are three resources John affirms the church needs for patient endurance in the face of hostility.

A. The Word Of God. 10-11
We know the Word of God is in view here because John writes: “…and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book.’” Additionally, we know that what was being revealed to John were “…the things that…are to take place after this” (1:19), which deal with the end-times fulfillment of things Daniel had seen centuries earlier off in the distant future (Dan. 2:28-29, 45). This is none other than new revelation of God’s Word about how the end-times and the kingdom of God have been started. What is more, in context, this Word of God will display how the church can endure in faithfulness.

There are several things we see that are true of this Word of God.

(1) It Is The Inspired Word Of God: “I was in the Spirit.” 
What John writes here means he was being led along and controlled by the Spirit of God and it was under that state that Jesus revealed to him this Word. This is similar to what other New Testament writers affirm about God’s Word, which is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), i.e. it comes as “men…were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21).

John needed a God-given Word to endure and prepare the church to endure. We need that same Word-from-God today that we can learn how to stay faithful to him.

(2) It Is The Christ-Focused And New Covenant Word: “on the Lord’s day.” 
By the time John wrote Revelation at the end of the first century, “the Lord’s day” was the day of Jesus Christ, that is, the first day of every week, when New Covenant believers now assembled to worship together and encourage one another (Acts 20:27; 1 Cor. 16:2). The early second century instructional work known as the Didache, affirms that the New Covenant Church now gathered on Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ (after all, he was resurrected on Sunday). 

Perhaps it was merely incidental that John received this Word on the first day of the week. However, given the nature of the Book of Revelation and its symbolism, I think it most likely is signifying that this was a Christ-focused Word for New Covenant people. The body of teaching that forms the New Testament (a part of which John is now receiving) reveals the glorious good news that the New Covenant believer has an empowerment to live for God that believers previously did not have—Christ in us, applied by the Holy Spirit. This is the heart of the vision that John is about to receive and it reminds all readers that if we are going to persevere on mission in the midst of hostile cultures, we must do so while trusting in the One who promised he would be with us always on mission, even unto the end of this age (Mt. 28:20).

We must learn from Scripture how to trust in him and what difference this makes.

(3) It Is The Christ-commissioned Contemporary Word: “…and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book.’”
John is not only receiving this Word from and about Christ, but is commissioned by the Lord to write down what he sees about the things unfolding in this age between the first and second comings of Christ so that the church can have fresh words about how to survive what they face and also what God is doing to preserve them and enable them to overcome. We grasp this if we see the present commission in light of the vision in this chapter and how, after this vision, it is revealed how God will work in and for the church during this age.

(4) It Is The Word for the Church Universal: “and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
As we have already discovered, John most likely intends for these seven churches to represent the full worldwide church throughout all history in this present age. What this means is that the inspired, New Covenant, Christ-focused, Christ-commissioned, contemporary Word that is for all the church is none other than part of God’s timeless New Testament Scriptures.  

So, the first resource for our endurance is the Word of God. We must think carefully about what this implies for our need to take in God’s Word! Think about your own situation. You will not live faithfully, on mission, and persevere in it apart from taking in, believing, and living out the Bible!

And that same Bible also unveils in its pages over and over again the second resource.

B. A Sense Of Purpose, Empowered By The Spirit. 12, 20
John writes in these two verses part of what he saw in his vision and also its significance: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands….  20 As for the mystery of…the seven golden lampstands…the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

John is revealing that the New Covenant (or New Testament) Church, the end-times temple of God (Rev. 1:4, 12; 4:4; 11:1-13; 14:1) has taken up the mission that the Old Covenant people of God (Israel) had. Israel was given the tabernacle and later the temple (both of which had lampstands in them [Exodus 25:31-35; 2 Chron. 4:7]) to show that God dwelt in their midst and also how other people could come to the true God (Ex. 25:8). As a people with God present among them and with instructions for how to approach God in true worship, they were to be a light to the nations (Is. 42:6; 49:6), to draw them to the true God.

When the Solomonic temple had been destroyed due to God’s judgment and then it was later being rebuilt, the prophet Zechariah received a vision of a lampstand with seven lamps connected to a perpetual supply of olive oil signifying that in the same way the lampstands might continually burn, Judah could see that the resumption of their mission to the nations could be carried out only by the perpetual power of God’s Spirit working in and through them (Zechariah 4:1-7). Since the empowerment of the Spirit is tied into that former vision given to Zechariah (Rev. 1:4; 4:5) and since the New Testament Church is here in Rev. 1:12, 20 identified as the lampstands to give light (and that light appears to symbolize their mission to the world [2:5]), it seems that John is saying that the church must realize we have a purpose to fulfill. And, that purpose can be fulfilled only by the power of the Spirit working in and through us.

The context here in chapter 1 implies strongly that a large part of endurance is persevering in the mission God has given, no matter how hard it is. So, realizing our purpose and that purpose can be fulfilled only by the power of the Spirit is the second resource Christ reveals to John.

We must also note that here we see one of the myriad of ways Revelation reveals Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ won for us the more permanent, powerful, and penetrating presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33) and part of what the Spirit does is to apply the person, power, presence, and work of Christ in us (Rom. 8:9-11). So, part of what Jesus Christ is revealing here is how he works in us through his Spirit (also known as the “Spirit of Christ” [Rom. 8:9]) that we can endure whatever comes our way.

The first two resources prepare us for the third resource.

(C) The Powerful Presence Of Jesus. 13-18
There are five key truths revealed through John about Jesus that we must see, if we are to appreciate how his presence with us is sufficient to help us endure.

1. He is The Divine Messianic Son Of Man First Revealed In Daniel (13-15): “and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.” 
There are several allusions to the Old Testament here. That Jesus Christ is described as “one like a son of man,” is a quote of Daniel 7:13, in which Daniel was given a vision of one coming in the future who was “one like a son of man.” He would be given dominion and glory and an everlasting kingdom, which will include all peoples, nations, and languages serving him (Dan 7:14). “Son of man” was the favorite self-designation of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels (e.g. Mt. 20:28).

Additionally, it is said that this son of man came to the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13), that is, God on his throne, and God was described earlier in this manner: “his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him…” (Dan. 7:9-10). Those descriptions of God in Daniel 7 are now applied to Jesus Christ.

The final two descriptions (Rev. 1:15), “his feet were like burnished bronze” and also “his voice was like the roar of many waters” are descriptions elsewhere of angelic beings who come from God’s presence (Ezek. 1:7; Dan. 10:7) and of the redeemed in heaven who are in God’s presence (Rev. 14:2) respectively.

The point of the vision is to show that Jesus is the expected coming King, the Messiah, who not only is sent from God the Father, but also would bring the kingdom of God, along with the blessings of the kingdom. Even more, it shows he also is himself God.

Yet, notice where it is said Jesus is seen: “In the midst of the lampstands” (1:13), which means he is in the midst of the churches (1:20). Since the vision of the lampstands for the churches depicts them as living on mission as God’s end-times temple, Jesus’ divine, messianic presence in their midst signifies he is there to empower and protect (see Mt. 28:20; Rev. 1:9).

2.He is our high priest (13): “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.”
Jesus is envisioned as being dressed like the Old Testament priest, in a robe (Ex. 28:4, 31, 34; 29:5; 39:22) and in a sash (Ex. 28:4, 39, 40; 29:9; 39:29)—and even more specifically, a golden sash that marks him as having a heavenly origin (Rev. 15:6). The point is that Jesus Christ is presently our high priest who is interceding for us and applying his saving work continually (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:23-28). As such, no matter how much people in the world oppose Christians and make false accusations against us, the ongoing work of Jesus Christ as our high priest gives us assurance that God’s favor remains upon us and his promises will be fulfilled in us, his people.

3. He Is Our Protecting Lord and judge (16): “In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” 
There are three realities about Jesus unveiled in this verse. To begin, since the seven stars represent the seven angels of the seven churches (Rev. 1:20), this most likely signifies that the glorious Savior holds the churches in his hand. The point would be that he protects them and also that he is Lord over them, to determine what will happen with them.

Additionally, since the sharp two-edged sword signifies his judgment elsewhere in Revelation (see 19:15), this also means that he is judge. He not only can direct what happens to the churches, but will judge those who unjustly harm his people, and he will judge those who profess to know him, but don’t (Rev. 21:8, 27). Both sides of this truth are meant to motivate the true Christian to persevere that he might avoid judgment, and to persevere by trusting in Jesus.

Finally, the fact that his face was shining so brightly is a sign elsewhere of divine glory (Mt. 17:2) and so displays he is our glorious God. We can trust in him.

4. He is the sovereign God (17): “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last” 
This fourth key truth about Jesus is similar to what has been revealed about God the Father previously (see Is. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Rev. 1:4, 8)—and it displays that he is sovereign over history. This emphasizes and adds to the truth found in verse sixteen, that Jesus is king over our lives and whatever happens to us. No suffering, no persecution, can take place in our lives that he does not ordain and permit. What this also means is that he can both bring good out of it, and he can also take care of us and bring us through it without being destroyed in the ultimate way.

5. He is the one risen from the dead who also gives life to others (18): “and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  
The fifth and final key truth that is revealed about Jesus that strengthens us for endurance is that, as the crucified and risen Savior, he is able to give eternal life and bring us into our future reward. The reference to the “keys of Death and Hades” shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of Eliakim, mentioned in Isaiah 22:20-22, who was given the power of giving or denying access to the kingdom.

The other reminder this gives most likely is that Jesus Christ can use us in and through our suffering and persecution to bring others into the kingdom, thus rendering our missional living fruitful and successful. In light of this, our remaining faithful and enduring is well worth it—not only for our own eternal benefit, but for the benefit of others and for God’s glory.

What we see, then, in this vision of Jesus that John received, along with his preface to it, is that we must get to know Jesus Christ more intimately and powerfully through his revelation of himself. This is a necessity, if we want to grow to be like him, serve him, and share him with others, and endure in faithfulness, no matter what comes our way. Additionally, opening up the Bible is not merely a spiritual discipline and the acquiring of data, it is getting to know the Second Person of God that we might endure!

I pray we will make use of these resources as we live on mission in the midst of hostile cultures!

Joyfully Growing In Knowledge Of Jesus Through His Word With You,


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Proof For Our Approach To Understanding Revelation, Part 3

In my last two blog posts I have sought to give proof from throughout the book of Revelation for why I understand the book the way I do. In this post I provide proof that the bowls/plagues of chapters 15-16 recapitulate the same period and material covered in the trumpets (8:6-11:19), with some progression.

To review, the approach we are taking to Revelation, based on internal evidence in the book, is that chapters 6-20 provide several views of this current age, from the first coming of Christ to his second coming--each one recapitulating and making some additional progress in explaining what is happening now, why it is happening, how God takes care of his people during this time, and why we should persevere on mission as worshipful joyful followers of Christ, even in the face of great hostility.[1]

Though many commentators believe the trumpets and bowls deal with different judgments due to the argument that “the first four trumpets appear to affect only nature, whereas the first four bowls affect wicked people,[2] and…[due to the fact that] the first six trumpets are said to be partial in their effect…[and] the bowls seem to have universal effect,” the reality is that “the similarities overshadow the differences.”
Both trumpets and bos present each of the plagues in the same order: plagues striking the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the realm of the wicked with darkness, the Euphrates (together with influencing the wicked by demons), and the world with the final judgment (with the same imagery of lightning, sounds, thunders, and earthquake, and hail). The overwhelming likeness of the trumpets and bowls is a result of both being modeled on the Exodus plagues. Each woe in each sevenfold series (except for the sixth trumpet) is an allusion to an Exodus plague.

How, then, do we explain more fully the relation between these two sections of Revelation? We can make the following points:

1. “The trumpets state in a highly figurative manner [what] is stated more directly in the bowls.”

2. “The difference in the relative extend of their effect may merely suggest that the trumpets are part of a larger process of judgment which, according to the bowls, strikes the entire world at the same time.”

3. “The bowls go back in time and explain in greater detail the woes throughout the age which culminate in the final judgment.”[3] (emphasis added)

4. “The purpose of this recapitulation is to explain further the extent and application of God’s latter-day exodus judgments, which began to be explained with the trumpets. The trumpet  visions may be compared to incomplete snapshots and the bowls to fuller photographs. The bowls reveal more clearly that the trumpets are predominately plagues directed against unbelieving humanity.”

5. “Like the trumpets, the bowls are God’s further answer to the saints’ plea in 6:9-11 that their persecutors be judged. Such a link is apparent in 16:5-7 by the reference to the altar and to God as ‘holy” and His judgments as ‘true.’”

One final literary characteristic of the bowl judgments needs to be highlighted because of its impact upon the rest of the book of Revelation (From Beale, Campbell):

The former chapters envision the rise of the dragon (ch. 12), followed by that of the beast (13:1-10) and the false prophet (or second beast, 13:11-18), and finally Babylon’s success in deceiving the nations is noted (14:8). Ch. 16 begins a segment which reverses this order in explaining the demise of these evil protagonists: Babylon (alluded to briefly in 14:8, but expanded on in 16:7-21 and chs. 17-18), followed by the beast and the false prophet (19:17-20), and finally by the dragon himself (20:10). This reversal points further to the lack of concern for chronological sequence in the book. The elimination of the four foes in fact occurs simultaneously, as is evident from the same wording and same OT allusions being utilized in the descriptions of their defeat (note the references to their being “gathered together for war” in 16:14; 19:19; 20:8).

On conclusion, a side-by-side comparison of the trumpets with the bowls displays their recapitulating nature.

 The Actual Comparison Of The Parallel Trumpets And Bowls (With Corresponding Exodus Plagues

Text Box: Bowls:
1. A bowl is poured on earth, resulting in malignant sores on those with beast mark. (6th Exodus Plague)
2. A bow is poured on seas. This becomes blood, killing all living things in them. (1st Exodus Plague)
3. A bowl is poured on rivers and fountains, and they become blood. (First Exodus Plague)

4. A bowl is poured on the sun, which scorches men with fire. (7th Exodus Plague)

5. A bowl is poured on the throne of the beast. His kingdom is darkened and men are in anguish. (9th Exodus Plague)

6. A bowl is poured on the Euphrates, which dries up for kings from the east. Demonic frogs deceive kings of the world to assemble for battle at Armageddon. (2nd Exodus Plague)
7. A bowl is poured into the air, and a loud voice form God’s throne announces, “It is done.” Lightning, thunder, and an unprecedented earthquake occur, and terrible hail falls. (7th Exodus Plague + Sinai vision of God’s glory description)
Text Box: Trumpets:
1. Hail, fire, and blood fall on earth, 1/3 is burned up. (7th Exodus Plague.

2. Blazing mountains fall in sea. 1/3 of sea creatures die and 1/3 of sea is blood. (1st Exodus Plague)
3. A blazing star (Wormwood) falls on 1/3 of rivers and fountains, and their waters are poisoned and many die. (1st Exodus Plague)
4. 1/3 of sun, moon, and stars are struck. Darness results for 1/3 of a night and day. (9th Exodus Plague)
5. Shaft of pit is opened. Sun and air are darkened with smoke from which locusts emerge to torment men without God’s seal. (8th and 9th Exodus Plagues)
6. Four angels bound at the Euphrates are released, with their 200 million cavalry. A third of men are killed by them. 

7. Loud voices in heaven announce the coming of the kingdom of God the Father and of Christ. Lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail occur. (7th Exodus Plague + Sinai vision of God’s glory description)

Joyfully Studying Revelation with you,



[1] Taken from G. K. Beale, with David H. Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 326-329. Note that the seven trumpets are found in 8:1-10:7, and the bowls in 15:1-16:21.

[2] Beale, Campbell, 326, highlight the reality that, “the second and third trumpets are said explicitly to affect humanity (8:9-11)….”

[3] Beale, Campbell, 327-28, add: “The phrase ‘seven plagues, which are the last’ in 15:1 was seen to refer, not to trials occurring after the seals and trumpets at the very end of history, but to the bowls coming last after the seals and trumpets in the sequence of formal sevenfold visions seen by the seer. They are ‘last’ [also] in that they complete the thought revealed in the preceding woe visions and portray the wrath of God in a more intense manner than in the previous visions (see further on 15:10. This means that the bowl judgments do not come chronologically after the series of judgments in chs. 6-14. The bowls go back in time and explain in greater detail the woes throughout the age and culminating in the final judgment.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Proof For Our Approach To Understanding Of Revelation, Part 2

In my last blog post I began giving proof for two key reasons behind the way I understand Revelation. We looked at the first one, that the book is to be read symbolically. 

In this post we take up proof for a second reason for understanding the book as I do.

2. Proof For the Tightly Structured Book That Also Recapitulates From Chapters Six Through Twenty.
Now we will turn to the second important point we need to consider when understanding Revelation and for which we want to offer support from the book. What I will do here is to list a number of places where we see clear repetition that collectively demonstrates the tight structure of the whole book and also the recapitulating nature of chapters 6-20.

a. The vision of Jesus (1:12-20) and the Greeting (1:4-8) are tightly connected to the addresses to the seven churches in chapters 2-3. 
(1) Compare 1:12-13 with 2:1 (Jesus walking among the lampstands).

(2) Compare 1:5, 8, 17 with 2:8 (first and last and resurrected).

(3) Compare 1:16 with 2:12 (two-edged sword) and also to 19:15, 21.

(4) Compare 1:14-15 with 2:18 (eyes like flames, feet like burnished bronze) and also with 19:12.

(5) Compare 1:4, 16 with 3:1 (seven spirits, seven stars).

(6) Compare 1:18 with 3:7 (keys of death/hades, David).

(7) Compare 1:5, 8, 17 with 3:14 (Amen, faithful and true witness, beginning of God’s creation) and also with 19:11.

b. Evidence For The Tight Structure And Repetitive Nature Of The Book On A Larger Scale. 
(1) Compare 14:14-20; 16:14, 16 with 17:14, and with 19:11-21. All these texts speak of the Second Coming of Jesus and the ensuing battle in which he will defeat all enemies, which includes his judging them. When we grasp this, we also understand that 8:1-5 and 11:15-19 also take us to the end of the end-times, to judgment and that this judgment is in response to the prayers of the saints (compare 8:1-5 with 6:9-11). All of this makes us lean in the direction of seeing these chapters as recapitulating the message of what God is doing in this age.

(2) Compare 2:11 with 20:6, 14 (second death).

(3) Compare the promised rewards in ch’s 2-3 with material later in the book (e.g. 2:7 with 21:7 and 22:2; 2:11 with 20:14-15; 2:17 with 22:4; 2:28 with 22:16; 3:5 with 20:15 and 21:27; 3:12 with 20:9 and 21:2, 10; 3:21 with 20:4 and 6 and 22:1). 

(4) Revelation 4:1-2 appears to be connected to 1:10 (trumpet, being in the Spirit).

(5) Revelation 4:5 (seven torches and seven spirits of God) is connected to 3:1 and 1:4.

(6) Revelation 5:6 (seven spirits) and the church as a kingdom and priests (5:10) are connected to 1:4 and 1:6 respectively, and so also 1:16 and 3:1.

(7) The call to “anyone who has an ear” in 13:9 shows the connection of the material in Revelation 4-20 to 2-3. Also note the Spirit speaking to confirm the truthfulness and importance of the statement in 14:12-13, which seems connected to the statements at the end of each of the messages to the seven churches in ch’s. 2-3 (“…what the Spirit says to the churches”). See also a similar phenomenon in 21:5 (only here it is God on the throne speaking and calling John to write down what he says b/c it is true).

c. Evidence For The Recapitulating Structure Of Revelation 6-20.
(1) Rev. 6:1-2 (part of seals), along with 12:1-9 (located among the trumpets), demonstrate Satan going forth in this inter-advent age to wreak havoc in response to the saving work of Christ—the first showing he is a Christ substitute and the second showing him for who he is and his anger. The key is that these are parallel and recapitulating in nature.

(2) The seals take us through this inter-advent age, showing war, death, famine, illness, persecution of the church (6:1-11) and then final judgment (6:12-17)—followed by an interlude that sets forth the preservation and perseverance of the Church (7:1-17). The seventh seal (8:1f) gives way to the seven trumpets (8:6ff.). They are interlocked at that point. Chapter 11 and then chapter 12 each appear to reflect what happens in and to the church in regard to persecution throughout this age. Chapter 11 spans the entire NT Church and eventually focuses upon the end. Chapter 12 spans from the birth of Christ to his Second Coming.

(3) The seven seals…trumpets…plagues/bowls provide a structure for much of the book (ch’s 6-16), one that appears to recapitulate. Note that the different visions that portray seven…seven…seven do not portray events that chronologically follow each other (though the visions chronologically follow each other). Rather, they recapitulate and progress.

(4) One of the strongest ways to demonstrate the recapitulating nature of this section of Revelation is to look at the trumpets and bowls and the clear proof that the latter recapitulates the former.  To help us look at this in more detail I will post again tomorrow with a comparison of these two sections of Revelation.  

(5) There is an interlude (an interpretive parenthesis) between the sixth and seventh seals (cf. ch. 7) and between the sixth and seventh trumpet (cf. ch’s. 10-11). This suggests a recapitulating structure.

(6) The mention of the Euphrates river in the sixth trumpet (cf. 9:13-14) seems, in part, to anticipate the battle of the sixth bowl where it is also mentioned (16:12).

(7) The mention of the beast and/or the abyss appears to speak of the same realities: See 11:7; 13:1-18; 17:8; 20:7-10.

(8) Rev. 11:15-19 take us to the consummation of the kingdom and judgment. This appears to be parallel to 6:12-18, as well as to 20:11-15 (cf. “small and great” in 11:18 and “great and small” in 20:12) and 21:1ff. This is also parallel to 14:7-11, 14-20. Note also the language in 14:14-20 is parallel to 19:11-16. Also, when we compare the trumpets and bowls we are taken to the end of this age, ultimate judgment, and the consummation of the kingdom (6:12-17; 16:12-21).

(9) Chapter 13 appears to be parallel to ch. 12—both depicting the Danielic prophesies of persecution and tribulation for God’s people that John sees taking place in the inter-advent age.

(10) John intentionally interlocks the seven histories/visions (12:1-15:4) with the seven bowls/plagues (15:1-16:21). The introduction of the latter is the conclusion of the former. One flows out of the other. It shows the tight and intentional structure.

(11) The idea that with the coming of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom judgment and salvation are finished is seen in 15:1 and 16:17 (i.e. at the beginning and end of the seven bowl judgments) is also repeated in 21:6 (same wording as in 16:7), where we see the kingdom, the new heaven and new earth consummated.

(12) Rev. 20:1-10 appears to be parallel to 17:8 (which is built upon and as an antithesis to the threefold description of God).

Though I know my understanding of Revelation fits with how many through the history of the Church have understood it, I also know it differs from what many of you have been taught. I want you to know I am seeking to read Revelation in the way it was intended by God through John, rather than reading into it an interpretation not there. That is why I am giving significant space in this blog to offer proof for my approach to Revelation.

Seeking To Understand The Bible, Especially Revelation, Accurately With You,


Monday, January 15, 2018

Proof For Our Approach To Understanding Revelation, Part 1

In our study of Revelation we have made two important points that guide our interpretation of the entire book: (1) It is highly symbolic in the manner in which it conveys truth. (2) It is a tightly-structured book from beginning to end, one whose visions in chapters six through twenty recapitulate what is taking place from the first coming to the second coming of Jesus Christ. In that recapitulation, each cycle also progresses beyond the previous ones in conveying the full picture of what is happening in this present age, as well as how God is applying his salvation to his people and taking care of them.

In this post and the next I want to provide proof for these two points, especially since they lead us away from the way the book has been most popularly understood for the past century or so.

In this post we will look at proof for the first point. 

1. Proof For The Symbolic Nature Of The Book.

a. Proof Of Symbolism In General.

There are several proofs we offer here. 

(1) As we have already seen, Revelation 1:1 tells us that God “signified” (or symbolized) the truth in the book. We need not spend more time on this verse. Simply-put, because of what we are told here, we should expect a good deal of symbolism.

(2) In addition to being a prophetic letter, the genre that comprises the book is what scholars call apocalyptic literature. There are other examples in Scripture (in Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah, especially) and also in books outside of Scripture between the testaments and in the first century A.D. These works, with a great amount of symbolism, tend to “pull back the curtains” on what is happening in history to reveal other-worldly visions of what is taking place as God defeats his enemies, takes care of his people, and applies the work of salvation and the work of judgment throughout history and into the age to come. None of these works are meant to give to us merely chronological depictions of what takes place either in history, at the end of history, or in the age-to-come.

(3) “The teaching of Balaam” is used in 2:14 to refer to false teaching that threatens to lead astray the church in Pergamum, most likely for material gain. It is highly doubtful that false teachers were literally going back to the literal teaching of the diviner whose story is told in Numbers 22-24, but that the errors of the false teachers in Pergamum resembled the errors of Balaam.

(4) Likewise, in 2:20f. the label “Jezebel” for a false teacher in Thyatira most likely is not intended to suggest her name literally was Jezebel, but that she was very much like the infamous and idolatrous Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, whose story is told in 1 Kings 16-2 Kings 9. 

(5) The “soiled garments” in Sardis (3:4), in the immediate context and the far context of Revelation, would speak of unrighteous actions that are unfaithful to and disobedient to God. The “white garments” of 3:5 would be just the opposite. Both speak of important truths, but both are symbolic, not literal references.

(6) In 3:15-16 the church in Laodicea is told its testimony and mission have been so compromised, they are good for nothing. The way this is communicated is by referring to two water sources in the area that were well known. There was cold water that came by aqueduct that was useful for drinking and there were also hot springs utilized for medicinal purposes. That they were neither hot nor cold created a picture, then, of them being useless for service to God in the same way the cold water mixed with the hot would be no good—either for drinking or medicinal purposes. It would be good for nothing. 

(7) The vision of the locusts in 9:3ff., which in context, are clearly demons, appear to be built upon both the book of Joel and the Exodus plagues before that in the Old Testament. The intent does not appear to be that we can expect such beings in the future (that is not how apocalyptic works). Nor is it intended to be understood in light of some kind of modern or future helicopter or the like. They are symbolic and to be interpreted by context and their Old Testament background. 

(8) In chapter 12 “woman” (referring to the people of God ), “dragon,” and “serpent” (referencing Satan) are all figurative—to be understood in light of their Old Testament background and the rest of the book of Revelation, but clearly not literal references. 

(9) In chapter 20 the text speaks of chains being used on spiritual beings who are placed in a “prison” or abyss. How would such physical entities hold a spiritual being?  Most likely these are symbolic reference. 

(10) “Babylon” (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:1, 2, 10, 21) and “Euphrates” (9:14; 16:12) are used figuratively and with universal implications—speaking of the kingdom (even a city at one point, like in Is. 25:3: 16:19) that opposes God. These are clearly symbolic.

(11) In Revelation 21 we are told that the wall around the new Jerusalem is 216 feet thick (and most likely intended that is also its height [v. 17]). However, the city itself is just under 1,400 miles high (v. 16). What is more, the gates on the wall are never shut (v. 25). So, when we put all these together, the most likely conclusion is that the visions convey symbolic and yet very real truths, but are not intended to be taken literally. 

(12) Interestingly enough, there are many bits of evidence in in Revelation 21 that the temple pictured in the new heaven and new earth is the ultimate fulfillment of the end-times temple Ezekiel envisions in Ezekiel 40-48 and it is clearly not a physical or literal temple (see 21:22). If this is correct, not only do we see symbolism here in Revelation 21, but it also leads us to see Ezekiel 40-48 as intended symbolically. 

(13) There are many other proofs for the presence of symbolism we could offer (in fact we could take them from every page of Revelation, if not most paragraphs), but the point is sufficiently made. When we say that Revelation is “highly symbolic,” this is not merely an interpretation that we must follow in order to achieve our desired understanding. No, it is taken from the text itself and from the knowledge of other literature like Revelation. 

b. Proof Of The Symbolic Use Of Numbers.
Not only do we find symbolism in general, but also the symbolic use of numbers in the book, which would fit with all that we have seen about the expectation of symbolism.

(1) There are several uses of “seven” in the first chapter, a number that symbolically depicts perfection or fullness: “seven spirits (1:4)…seven stars( 1:16)…seven golden lampstands…the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (1:20).

(2) The use of “ten days” in 2:10, to speak of a time of tribulation, is most likely drawn from the book of Daniel—as one of the many times in the book of Revelation in which we see what Daniel looked forward to in the far future is now being fulfilled—and yet it is not necessarily to be taken as literally 10 days. The point seems to be that God will take care of the believers in Smyrna as he did Daniel and his friends when they were tested for ten days (Dan. 1:12, 14, 15). 

(3) The Twenty-four elders of 4:4 (12 x 2), as well as the twelve patriarchal/tribal names on the New Jerusalem gates (21:12) and the twelve apostle names on the wall foundations of the new city (cf. 21:14) all depict the presence of the full people of God (Old and New Covenants [12 x 2]). 

(4) As we have already seen in the previous two weeks of study, the seven spirits and seven lamps of 4:5 are symbolic—referring to the Holy Spirit, through the eyes of the Zechariah 4 vision. 

(5) In 7:1-8 careful observation of the 144,000 redeemed in heaven (esp. as we look at the use of the tribes, the perfect numeration of 12,000 of each, the 12 x 12,000, and the parallelism between it and “a great multitude that no one could number” in 7:9) shows we almost certainly have a figurative or symbolic use of numbers in this text. It represents the full number of the people of God. 

(6) Of course the book structure of seven seals…seven trumpets, seven histories…seven plagues/bowls…all speak of both symbolism and a very tight structure for the book.

(7)  In Rev. 10:6 the clause “that there would be no more delay” is parallel to the clause, “it would be for a time, times, and half a time” (in its Old Testament source, Daniel 12:7). Elsewhere (Rev. 12:6, 14) it appears that 1,260 days (3.5 years with a 360 day year) is parallel to “a time, times, and half a time.” This coupled with the many times in Revelation when it appears that Revelation unfolds the fulfillment of Daniel’s end-times prophesies (including his seventy weeks of 9:24-27, that include the last week divided into two halves of 3.5 years)—and the strong indications that Revelation deals with events of this current inter-advent age—all suggests that the 3.5 years (and the implied seven years if we consider its doubling in Daniel) is a symbolic use of numbers. See also in Rev. 11:3, 9, 11, where 1,260 days (v. 3) is used in conjunction with 3.5 days (vv. 9, 11), in the context of the witness of God in this inter-advent age proclaiming God’s word and also being killed, but also be raised. When all this is put together, the 3.5 years or the 7 (if doubled) are pictures of trials, tribulations, that take place throughout this present age (although they are intensified toward the end). The 3.5 years also has special significance as roughly the same period of time Antiochus Epiphanes greatly persecuted the people of God and desecrated the temple a couple centuries before the days of Jesus. 

(8) In 11:9 the “three and a half days,” understood in context, is symbolic—meaning a short period of time and most likely drawing upon the parallel between the saints’ death and resurrection, and that of Jesus. It also is contrasted with the 3.5 years of v. 2—as a much shorter period. 

(9)  In 11:13 we find the statement, “there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed,” is clearly symbolic. The inference is that 1/10 = 7,000, which means 70,000 people = the total population. That much too low for Jerusalem or any other literal city to which this could refer. At the same time, the presence of 7 and 70 (7x10) all suggests completion or fullness. In other words, this is the city of fear-inspiring nations (cf. Is. 25:3). 

(10) In 13:18 the number of the beast (666), which also equals his name, expresses this full state of being incomplete and evil. Though the dragon-beast-false prophet seek to be a counterfeit Triune God and Savior, they fall short, they are incomplete. They, working on humanity and like humanity (sinful) mark and rule their followers and their followers share in their character. These are all intended as symbolic depictions. 

(11) What we see from this list is that Revelation has a strong tendency for using numbers in the same manner it does many other things—symbolically. Again, we are not reading this into the book so that we can make it say something we desire it to say. Rather, we are deriving this from the book itself, seen in accordance with its structure, in light of Old Testament background, and in some cases in accordance with clear use of symbolism in numbers in some cases. Where this will become very significant in reference to a large current debate is when we get to the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:2, 4, 5, 6. If we discover there is strong evidence in that text and its context for understanding that number symbolically and to refer to a current period of time that spans from the first to second coming of Christ (which is what we will affirm when we get there), we are not all of a sudden treating numbers in a way that runs counter to how John uses them elsewhere in Revelation.

Joyfully Working Through Revelation With You,

Monday, January 8, 2018

Courage To Step Off The Cliff (Revelation 1:4-8)

A truth that emerges from the pages of Revelation over and over again is that the nature of the church is to live on mission. In our congregation we talk about living for the glory of God as Joyful followers who know, grow in, serve, and share Jesus Christ so others can do the same. This means that, as we run around the bases of life, we will be involved not only in serving others in some meaningful way, but also sharing with them how they can come to know and grow in, serve, and share Jesus also. 

Yet, we all know living on mission is usually not easy. Whether Christians are facing persecution for their faith or whether they are simply afraid of how others will react to them, it is easy to feel as if living on mission is like stepping off a cliff. How can we gain the courage?  

Since this is an important purpose of Revelation, John points the way to this courage in four main ways as he greets the churches to whom he is writing in Revelation 1:4-8.  

1. We Find Power And Peace That Comes From Our God. 4-5a

John lets readers know right away that this power and peace are available to the Church throughout the world in all ages, as he writes, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia.” We discovered last week we can expect a great deal of symbolism in Revelation, including in the use of numbers. Most likely John did in fact write and send this entire prophetic letter work to the seven churches he mentions here and in chapters two-three. However, it also is most likely that the seven churches represent the universal church. We know at that time there were more than seven churches in Asia Minor (what is today southern Turkey). Why did he address these seven, no more, and no less? At least part of the answer may be that he wanted to signify something with these seven churches. This leads to the next point. 

We also see in Revelation that the number 7 has a symbolic meaning—suggesting fullness (see later in 1:4, as well as the seven seals, seven trumpets, seven symbolic histories, and seven bowl judgments of chapters 6-16, as well as Gen. 2:2-3; Lev. 25:8). Most likely the addresses to these seven churches are intended to speak to the Church worldwide, and so this power and peace are given by God to all true believers throughout the world and throughout history.  

Next, in his greeting, John expresses his desire, i.e. his prayer, for all who read Revelation: That we would experience God’s saving and transforming unmerited power, as well as the wholeness of life also known as peace: “Grace to you and peace.” As we will see shortly, these divinely-originated resources are, in part, so we can live on mission.  

To begin, this grace and peace come from God the Father: “from him who is and who was and who is to come.” Based upon similar phrases found in Isaiah (Is. 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12) that appear to have originated in Exodus 3:14 and the statements there on the divine name, this description of God emphasizes that he is the self-existent, ever-present God who is able to do all that he promises. This is especially true of the part of the description, “the one who is.” Additionally, because it appears again in 1:8 in conjunction with “the Alpha and Omega” (a name that emphasizes God is the origin of all the world and history and controls the end of all things, as well as all in between), and in conjunction with “the Almighty,” the two last parts of the description, “who was and is to come,” emphasize that God is in control in, over, and behind all things. He is absolutely sovereign. He also is all-powerful. 

So, to know that grace and peace can and do come from such a God is to know that we have great resources! 

Next, John expresses his desire or his prayer that this grace and peace also come from the third person of God, the Holy Spirit: “and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Because of other trinitarian prayers for (or statements of) God’s resources elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1), there can be little doubt, sandwiched in between God the Father and also Jesus Christ, this reference is to the Holy Spirit. Here the Spirit is depicted as the perfect and full Spirit, the one who is perfectly capable of empowering saints in whatever way is needed. This reference to the Holy Spirt also is an allusion to Zechariah 4:2-9 where Zechariah receives a vision of a lampstand with seven lamps on it that receives perpetual olive oil from nearby olive trees and symbolizes the continual empowerment the Spirit gives to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, and to others to rebuild the temple. In 4:6 we read: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Likewise, John is being shown that the Spirit empowers those who are kings and priests (Rev. 1:6), the end-times temple of God (cf. 1:20).  

Yet, to emphasize that these divine resources come from all three persons in the one true and living God, John adds in verse 5: “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Here, readers are reminded that Jesus has gone before us as a faithful witness to God the Father, to the plan of salvation, and to all that the Father had wanted him to communicate (John 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 1:10)—even in the face of great trials and persecution! He is not calling us to do anything that he himself has not already done (see John 20:21!).  

Yet, it is not only as an example that Jesus Christ can help us to be faithful witnesses. He also can do this since he is the firstborn from the dead (which means that his resurrection leads to our resurrection). Because Jesus conquered sin and death, we can conquer it and live out true resurrected life now. And, we go out into the world with the power of and representing one who is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (see also 17:14; 19:16). Usually in Revelation this kind of reference to kings speaks of those in opposition to Jesus Christ, so the focus is upon this age we now live in (when there still is opposition) and not the age to come (when there is none). Because this is true of Jesus, he can empower and take care of us in the ultimate sense so that nothing or no one can separate us from our eternal reward, his protection, or his love (Rom. 8:31-39), and so that we can carry out our mission faithfully and fruitfully.   

Additionally, we need to see in these three descriptions of Jesus Christ (“faithful witness,” “firstborn of the dead,” and “the ruler of kings of the earth”) John is alluding to Psalm 89:27, 37, where all three phrases are used to speak of the king who will rule over his enemies and whose seed will sit on his throne forever. Jesus Christ is the one who brought and started this new kingdom and the new creation that transforms and empowers us.  

So, the reality we can have such grace and peace from this God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is no small thing. As we go out into the world to give testimony to Jesus Christ, we do so in the greatest power known to man—that of the infinite eternal God!  He will never command us to do something that he does not also give us the more-than-sufficient-ability to do.  

The mention of Jesus Christ leads John to break into a word of praise in the rest of verse five and into six. As John does this, he also expresses the second way we can have courage. 

2. We Live For The Glory Of The One Who Saved Us, Jesus Christ, And Can Live For His Glory Because He Saved Us. 5b-6

That John is breaking into praise is evident from what we read at the beginning and end of these statements: “To him…to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Whenever we see this form (e.g. Eph. 3:20-21), it suggests that the person breaks into a statement of a desire to give God glory (here to God the Son), and then must also state what has moved him to do so. For John here, it is the reality that that Jesus “continually loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”  

John not only celebrates the love of Christ that motivated his saving work, but the fact that he has freed his people from the penalty of sin, is freeing them from the power of sin, and someday will free them from the presence of sin—and all this through his substitutionary atoning death on the cross.  

Yet, it is not just forgiveness of sin and eternal life which motivates John’s praise, it is also that, as a result, we are part of his kingdom and are priests who serve him and thus bring others to know him! The wording of verse 6 (“and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father”) is an allusion to Exodus 19:6 and what God said of Israel after he brought them out of their Egyptian bondage and when they were at Mt. Sinai. As kings and priests, Israel was to be a light to the nations, but they failed. Revelation clarifies that what Israel failed to do, the new and true Israel (Jew and Gentile), that is, the New Testament Church, will carry out (see also Rev. 5:10; 11:7).  

If there were any doubt that this passage was providing courage and strength for mission, it should now be removed. John highlights that Jesus’ salvation of us results in our living on mission. And John praises him for this! 

The third way John points to the courage we can have as we live on mission is found in verse seven.  

3. We Focus On The Certain Coming Of Jesus Christ And The Fulfillment Of All God’s Promises. 7

Here John writes: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” Here John not only seems to be emphasizing that Jesus’s first and second comings start and complete the fulfillments of that to which Old Testament authors looked forward (Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10), but also is calling our minds to the certainty of God fulfilling all he promises to us in Christ. 

What this means is that God will not only enable the Church to fulfill her mission and that includes whatever part God has determined each saint play in that mission, but he will also preserve, protect, and reward his people as he promises throughout Revelation, and will bring them into his blessed and favorable presence forever (Rev. 21-22).  

The final way John points us to the way of courage is in verse 8.  

4. We Find Courage In The Knowledge Of Our Almighty God. 8

John writes: “‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” 

Since we focused upon these descriptions in verse four, we don’t need to repeat here what we said. The main point is as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26: “With God all things are possible.”  

Too often, when we think about serving and sharing Jesus Christ so that others can come to know, grow in, serve, and share him also, we conclude that it is something we have to make happen. We are confident or we lack confidence based upon what we ourselves can or cannot do. 

What John encourages us to do in these five verses is to look beyond and outside ourselves, to our triune God and the work he has done, is doing, and will do in us. Our living on mission is more about what he can do through us than what we can do for him! 

This is an emphasis that is started here and runs throughout the book of Revelation.  

So, step off the cliff with courage! 

Joyfully And Courageously Living On Mission With You,