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,


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