Friday, January 29, 2016

The Churches of Revelation

How are we supposed to read prophetic literature? If all Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness,” does this mean that we need to receive all Biblical prophecies with an eye to the future? To answer this question, we must first understand that biblical prophecy was written nearly 2,000 years ago, and that it was originally written to a different group of people than those of us who are reading it now. Certainly when it was written it spoke of future events, but as we study Biblical prophecy many of those events have already occurred. They were future events to the original audience who heard it or read it when it was first given.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this is when we read Jeremiah 25:12, “when seventy years are accomplished I will punish the King of Babylon…and will make it perpetual desolations.” Jeremiah gave this prophecy as the Babylonian Empire was taking over the entire Middle East. It would be several decades later, after Jeremiah had died, that another prophet would be reading the scrolls of Jeremiah and would come across this prophecy. We read in Daniel 9:2, “I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.” Here Daniel realized that Jeremiah’s prophecy was related directly to his current situation and he was able to rejoice that the promise that God had made through Jeremiah was being fulfilled, then, in his own lifetime.
Seeing this prophecy and fulfillment of prophecy should help us to guard against presumptuous interpretations that imagine that we are the final fulfillment of prophecies in Scripture. We never want to presume that we are the primary audience being spoken to in the prophecy, and we do well to understand all biblical prophecies in light of the original audience who would have first received the message.
In John’s Revelation of Jesus, especially in light of the first three chapters, there is a wide range of speculation as to what John’s vision means. Some have come to believe that the seven churches of Revelation represent seven separate periods of church history over the past 2,000 years. This errant view says that each church represents a segment of church history and each messenger is a historical figure from this era. For example, the church of Ephesus is said to represent the first age of the church from A.D. 33 to A.D. 170. The messenger is claimed to be the Apostle Paul, although there is no argument from Scripture or any evidence for this beyond pure conjecture. According to this subjective extrapolation, other church ages were led by men like Irenaeus, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, none of which finds any authority in the pages of Scripture.
We do best to understand the Revelation of Jesus Christ speaking to His churches to represent first and foremost, Jesus speaking to his actual churches there in Asia Minor in the first century when John would have recorded this prophecy. We do not need a mystical explanation that goes beyond the original intention and reassigns new meaning to a perfectly clear and needful message. Seeing Christ rebuke and encourage His churches in the first century, we in the 21st century can understand that where we are similar to these churches, His rebuke or encouragement comes to us. Just as we might read in the gospel accounts of the loving correction of Christ to His disciples and understand the heart of the Savior towards His followers, we should read Christ’s loving direction for the actual, historical, factual, real churches in Asia Minor and understand that His desires for His churches have not changed.

Reflect: If the churches in Revelation are real churches, how is this section of Scripture profitable for us?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Revelation 3:14-22

Of all of the letters to the churches of Asia Minor, the last one, the letter to the church at Laodicea, was the most scathing. Of the previous six messages that John received by revelation from Jesus, four were rebukes and two were commendations. The churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia were patiently enduring hard times, but the churches at Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis each had succumbed to a slow-fade into false doctrine and sin. Now, in His final message, a message to the church at Laodicea, Jesus unleashed the direst of corrections for the lack of life and faith in the church.
While the church at Sardis was “mostly dead,” (to quote Miracle Max from the Princess Bride) there were still some in the church who remained faithful and were admonished to persevere. But this was not the case with the church at Laodicea. This real and historical church of the first century had departed from the gospel that was first preached there and now they were all “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” It wasn’t just that they were in danger of becoming these things, they were already gone. Sadly, in the rebuke we find that although they were completely bankrupt spiritually, they were self-deceived into thinking things were going quite well.
“Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” 

Their material prosperity had blinded them to their spiritual depravity. 
In a city so successful financially, the church had become a bastion of materialism. In Matthew 13, Jesus warned of this exact thing happening to one who would hear the word of God proclaimed but would then remain unchanged, “The care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” The deception of riches promised security. Instead of living by faith in the Providence of a loving God, they lived by faith in their well-managed bank accounts. Instead of relying on God for constant provision for every need in the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread,” they confidently passed on building bigger barns to store more and more goods for themselves.
Their physical state was regarded as highly successful, but their spiritual state was depressingly neglected. They disregarded the teaching of Jesus in Mark 8:36, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” Their investment strategy was too short sighted. They had worked up a 5, 10 and even 50 year plan, but they had neglected their eternal plan. Now, the Lord of eternity had called on them to repent and turn from their deception. Their negligence must become repentance. Their indifference must be changed to radical abandon. They must do as Christ told the rich young ruler and pursue the Kingdom of Heaven at all costs, or their unconverted, money-loving souls would be lost.
Finally, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.” This text is often used as a personal call to conversion, but that is not what this text is saying. Jesus is not knocking at the door of someone’s heart, he is knocking on the door of this faux church. The church is filled with self-secure non-believers, and Christ is beckoning them to open the door of the church and repent of their apathy and indifference. He is not threatening to condemn them, they are already condemned, he is offering them the only hope of escaping condemnation. If they as a church will open the door and turn from their wicked ways, their church will be spared from the impending destruction that comes on all unbelievers.

Reflect: What was the problem with the church at Laodicea? How do we see some of these trends in American churches today?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Revelation 3:9-13

In his message to the sixth church of Asia Minor, the glorified Jesus lovingly commends the church of Philadelphia for their faithfulness and endurance in the face of opposition. Like the church of Smyrna, the church at Philadelphia was a small church, but they were unwavering in their commitment to Christ. Now, while the other churches were receiving reproof and warnings this church was praised as a devoted and persevering church. Like Smyrna, this church was also facing persecution from the pagan culture and from the Jewish leaders in the city, but this did not keep them from faithfully obeying the commands of Christ.
As a reward, Christ promised them a number of things in this message. The first promise they received was that those who stood in opposition to them would one day bow in subjection to the message of the gospel. This was not a call for revenge, it was just a promise that one day justice would be set right. For now, they endured mocking and abuse, but because they had faithfully endured it, Jesus said that the mockers and abusers were destined to be changed into worshippers. In this one promise, Christ addresses the heart of human sinfulness that often derails gospel proclamation. Hurt feelings become bitterness, and bitterness grows into hatred, and hatred blossoms into vengeance of word or action. Enemies are evil, and often we desire their destruction. But here we see what happens if instead of seeking revenge, we sought to endure. Just as God is long-suffering, we too should be.
Through endurance and patience grace finds its most marvelous work. Now, having endured patiently, the church at Philadelphia was promised as the reward of their patience the conversion of their enemies. What a wonderful thing to be able to see those who normally would have caused pain, bitterness, and hatred, to instead receive God’s transforming grace that causes them to become those who cause joy, peace, and spiritual strength. Perhaps we too often short-circuit the work of God because unlike the Philadelphians we desire to get even or to constantly voice our problems with those around us. May God help us to patiently endure wrongdoing so that we too can rejoice in the day of conversion.
Finishing his message to the church at Philadelphia, Jesus promises so much more than seeing their enemies brought to faith. From verse 10 through 12, Christ tells the church that their faithful endurance has brought them the riches of heaven that cannot be taken away. Their eternal reward is secure, and they can rejoice because the day is coming when they will receive that reward. No trials or tribulation or troubles will be able to keep them from receiving what Christ promised them. Rather, they were destined to enjoy God forever. All that was left for them was to hold fast and continue doing what they had been doing.
What an encouraging letter this must have been. They were not perfect, and they knew that, but Christ sent a message through the Apostle John to tell them that they were doing well. The persecution must have been daunting, but they continued to be faithful, trusting that God would reward them in due time. Like Paul they could echo Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” May God help us to patiently endure testing and frustration in the same grace and hope with which these dear saints persevered.
Reflect: What promises did Christ make to the church of Philadelphia? How do we sometimes undermine the promises of Christ?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Revelation 3:1-6

Following his untimely death in 1924, the leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum in Red Square at the heart of the Soviet Union’s capital, Moscow. For nearly 100 years scientists and curators have preserved Lenin’s body, and have kept it on display in an elevated bullet-proof glass case in the middle of the tomb. Every year, a group of preservationists remove Lenin’s body and ritualistically give him a bath and a clean outfit so that he can endure the next year. In effect, they wash and dress a dead man every year.
Imagine that happening to you after you died. Every year for the next century, a group of people take you out of your coffin, wash you, dress you, and put you back in your coffin for another year. The profound peculiarity of the entire process has left many in Russia wondering why the government doesn’t just bury him, but President Putin has continued to argue for the value of maintaining the memorial to the fallen Soviet leader. For him and for some of his countrymen, there is a great value to be had in washing and dressing a dead man. Perhaps it even makes them feel like he is alive again. 

The city of Sardis was an important city with historically popular figures like Aesop and Solon hailing from there, and even a notable church father and early apologist, Melito, coming from there. Before it was conquered by the Persians, Sardis had even served as the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom. However, the glory days were all in the past, both for the city and for the church. As Jesus began his message to the church through the vision of John He said, “thou art dead.” This was much worse a rebuke than any of the previous four churches had received. Ephesus had been loveless; Pergamos had been sinful; Thyatira had been theologically misled; but here, the church of Sardis was facing a fate that was much worse,
it was dead.
Sadly, the glory days lingered for Sardis. Those who heard of Sardis imagined that it was full of life, but the truth from the mouth of Jesus to this church was that they were just a fa├žade of what they used to be. They were a dead body that merely got a bath and a new suit. 

Clearly, the early days were good at the church, but by A.D. 90, this church had gone so far away from Christ that they didn’t have any life left in them. 
The truth of God was not being ministered through the Spirit of God, and there was nothing but lifeless and cold formality. The church of Sardis had become little more than a lifeless corpse of its former self. Perhaps the most saddening truth was that this spiritual death had happened and it seemed like no one in the church had even noticed.
In His reproof to the church, Christ called for a renewing of energies and a striving to bring life back into the dead church. It was not ok to simply give the corpse a washing and a new suit, it needed the spiritual life and vitality breathed back into it. Now, Jesus was telling the church that the few good things that remained from before, should be strengthened and fostered. The truth that was left behind, the love that had been forgotten, the fighting for purity and holiness that had been abandoned all would need to be rekindled and a revival would need to be started.
We don’t have much history of what happened after the church at Sardis received this letter from Jesus through the Apostle John, but we do know that Melito was the Bishop of the church nearly one hundred years later and that he was serving God with all his strength. 
Perhaps revival came. 
Perhaps after hearing the reproof and rebuke, the church at Sardis repented of their cold, dead indifference and began striving to love, and learn, and encourage one another. May God help us to do the same. May we not be known as a church that is dead or trapped in hollow routines, may we instead pursue life and strength in Christ. May we guard against cold formality and ritualistic rigidity, and instead pursue Christ with white-hot intensity and life in the church.

Reflect: What was wrong with the church at Sardis? In what ways can our churches tend to be similar?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Revelation 2:18-29

As John continued transmitting the messages from Jesus to the churches of Asia Minor, he began the letter to Thyatira. Of the towns addressed so far, Thyatira was by far the smallest. Although the town was small in size, by all indications of the letter, the church there was growing at an incredible rate. As with the other churches’ letters, the glorified Jesus began with commendation. Here, the church at Thyatira was doing incredibly well in a number of areas. They were full of love, and service, and faith, and patience and good works. This seemed to be a very healthy church. Earlier in the chapter, we had seen that Ephesus was reproved for lacking love, but not the church of Thyatira. They were doing very well in their love and service for one another.
Sadly, however, they failed in a key area that the Ephesians had succeeded. In verse 2, the Ephesians were commended for being able to disprove wrong teaching and lies and that had tried to creep into the church. They may have struggled with loving, but they were not short on right theology. Now, the church at Thyatira was quite the opposite. They were not short on loving, but they were in grave danger of accepting wrong theology. In verse 20, Jesus began his reasons for what he had “against” Thyatira.
In their acceptance and love, they had apparently fallen prey to false teaching and specifically the false teaching of one who called herself a prophetess. Here she is even called by the name, Jezebel, although that does not necessarily mean it was her name. “Jezebel” could perhaps be a reference to the Old Testament pagan queen who perverted the doctrine of God’s people by calling them into sin. This woman in the church at Thyatira had assumed a teaching position and was peddling a blend of Christianity and sin. In His rebuke against her, Christ mentions directly that she was leading others in sexual sin, seduction, and idolatry. 
She was clearly a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. 
For too long she had been preying on the members of this bustling little church in Thyatira. Now, for the purity of His church, Jesus was calling her out and commanding those who were following her to repent.
To this polluted church came the warning of Christ. He was the One whom we saw in the beginning of this vision standing in the midst of the seven candlesticks. He was there in the presence of his seven churches ministering to them and cultivating them. Now, he gave a warning to one of those churches that He was intimately tending. The warning is found in verses 22-23. This woman who was teaching that sin was acceptable in the church would be cast out and would face the dire consequences of her perversion, and those who chose to follow her would also face equal devastation. Sin in the church was unacceptable. Those who taught such lies and those who followed those lies would be cast out of the church by Christ and destroyed.
Thyatira is a case study for sin in the church. There are those who are convinced that some sins are less grievous than others. They imagine that since they are not committing the dreadful sin of fornication they are not that bad. However, in the presence of a perfect and holy God, all sin is unacceptable, and any who would knowingly continue in unrepentant sin fool themselves into thinking that God does not care. God desires that His church be pure and constantly repentant. He wants His people to put away all sins, great and small - the sin of fornication and the sin of complaining, the sin of false doctrine and the sin of gossip, the sin of deception and the sin of selfishness. God desires that His people be pure and holy and that His church reflect His Holy character.

Reflect: What specific warnings does Jesus give to the church at Thyatira in verses 22-23?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Revelation 2:12-17

In His letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus told John to write that He had something against the Ephesians, namely, that they had left their first love. Their Christian love was lacking and now, Jesus warned them against trying to continue on in cold duty and heartless theology. After that letter, John wrote on behalf of the glorified Jesus to the church at Smyrna. Smyrna was doing well, and the letter was full of commendations for their endurance during a difficult era of persecution. In spite of being tormented, they held fast to their faith and hope in Christ.
As Jesus dictated to John his third letter, a letter to the church at Pergamos, a similarity with the letter to Ephesus appeared. In verse 14, a phrase is repeated from verse 4, “I have something against you.” Here, the church at Pergamos found themselves in the crosshairs of Christ’s judgment. It was not that Christ was just a little bit concerned with the churches. It was not that He was just beginning to see a trend that may become a problem. Rather, the very thing that He saw in them stood as opposition to Him. This was no passing trifle, this was enmity against Jesus. Jesus had something “against” them.
In Ephesus it was their lack of Christian love. In Pergamos, the indictment revealed a more widespread issue. In Ephesus the problem was their heart; in Pergamos, the problem was their whole lifestyle. The city of Pergamos was a vital city in ancient Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). As most other Roman metropolises, Pergamos was a place of polytheistic paganism with temples erected throughout for worshipping the false gods of the ancient world.
However, their love for other gods was matched with an equal hatred for the Christian God. This hatred led to the eventual persecution and even the martyring of Christians in Pergamos. In this letter, Jesus mentions one martyr by name, Antipas. Church history tells us that he was placed inside of a brass bull which had fire under its belly, where he was essentially cooked to death.
But the whole church at Pergamos was not faithful and devoted like Antipas. There were those referred to as “them” in verses 14-17, who clearly were in the church but were not acting like Christians. Instead of being fully devoted to purity, and the truth of the gospel, they found themselves wrapped up in idolatry and fornication. Their lives were marked by superstition, covetousness, and sinful sexuality, yet they called themselves Christians. They had been deceived into thinking that living lives of blatant sin while calling themselves Christians was in some way acceptable to God.
Jesus compared them to the wayward Old Testament profiteer Balaam. In an effort to make money, Balaam convinced an enemy king that to defeat the nation of Israel he must corrupt them through covetousness and sexual sin. His plan worked, and the people of God fell into sin and ultimately were judged by God. Now, in similar ways, the church at Pergamos was living in sin like the world. Some in the church were excusing sin in their lives and encouraging those around them to live equally sinful lives.

“Know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” - James 4:4
This doesn’t mean that you should not have friends who are non-Christians, rather it means that you shouldn’t pursue the sinful lifestyles of the world and assume that everything is right between you and a holy God. Purity and holiness matters in the life of every believer. Here Christ declares war on all those who have set themselves in lifestyles that are “against” Him. We should see the warning to the church at Pergamos and be reminded that Christ desires us to be a pure people, sanctified and set apart to Him.

Reflect: Read Matthew 10:28. How did the teaching of Christ in this verse cause Antipas to be different from the “them” in the church at Pergamos?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Revelation 2:8-11

The second message from Christ to the churches in Asia Minor is addressed to the church at Smyrna. Unlike the message to the church at Ephesus, this one does not contain any rebuke. The Ephesian believers had grown cold in their love for Christ, and their church would eventually be dissolved. If you were to travel to Ephesus today, all you would find is the ruins of an ancient city with no remnants of a church. The judgment that Christ forewarned them of had apparently come, and the church at Ephesus had its candlestick removed.
Now, the message of Christ came to Smyrna. Smyrna is a very special city in church history. John’s own disciple, a man named Polycarp, was the bishop of Smyrna. He faithfully pastored the church there into his eighties. From the message to the church at Smyrna we find many of the things that church history affirms. First, the church at Smyrna was a church of great physical and financial poverty. This was compounded by the second thing we know of the church, they endured overwhelming opposition and persecution.
According to this message from Jesus, some of the believers were cast into prison, others were forced to face death. This was a very dangerous place to be a Christian, but the Christians of Smyrna were not like the Ephesians. The Smyrnans loved Jesus more than they loved their own lives. The greatest testament we have of this love is the testimony of the Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp. The day came when the pagans and the Jews in Smyrna called for Polycarp to be killed. Instead of fleeing and hiding, Polycarp willingly surrendered to the Roman soldiers.
The guards that took Polycarp even sought to spare his life by beckoning him to simply recant his faith in Jesus and proclaim that Ceasar was Lord. The famous reply of Polycarp echoes through history, and stands as a challenge and a bolster of faith to all those who follow him to stand fast in the face of persecution. He said, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior.”
For this proclamation he was taken to an arena and burned alive while the crowds cheered. This church was greatly persecuted. However, they never caved to the pressure of oppression. Their faith in Christ withstood the overwhelming opposition they faced both physically and financially. Their love of Jesus endured the sharpest pains and greatest tribulations, and they were rewarded by Christ for their faithfulness.
Finally, because they were willing to face the first death, physical death, they would never have to endure the second death, eternal death. Their endurance had assured them of their eternal life. They could trust the One who according to verse 8 had overcome death and now offered eternal life. Their faith was not without works, instead their genuine faith allowed them to rest secured in the promises of Christ to them.

Reflect: How do you think you would face persecution? Does the example and unwavering faith of Saint Polycarp challenge you? Click on this link to read some of Polycarp’s writing to the early church at Philippi.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Revelation 2:1-7

In Acts 18 Paul went to Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila and left them there to plant a church while he travelled back to Jerusalem. It was their task to establish the church in Ephesus. Eventually another preacher, Apollos, travelled to Ephesus and worked alongside Priscilla and Aquila. Together they saw quite a great work accomplished, and when Paul returned he found that Apollos had been greatly instructed in the gospel by the husband and wife team and was now boldly declaring it throughout Asia Minor.
Eventually, the church at Ephesus would grow through the efforts of these four saints and we find that within a couple of years the gospel had spread throughout most of Asia Minor from this cultural and commercial hub. The Christian revolution left a number of icon artisans furious at the mass conversions of the citizens of this pagan metropolis, and in Acts 19 they lashed out against some of Paul’s companions who had laboring for the gospel there in Ephesus.
Finally, the church was established and Paul would eventually write an epistle to encourage the Christians in Ephesus and Asia Minor as they faced regular persecution. Following Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, we don’t hear anything else about them until Revelation. Here, the first message in John’s revelation of Jesus is a directly addressed to those Christians who are in trials and trouble there in Ephesus. Church history indicates that before the Apostle John was exiled to Patmos he had been the leader of the church there at Ephesus.
This church had quite the pedigree. Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos, and the Apostle John had all personally invested in the congregation there. A number of things had apparently gone very well in Ephesus. As the glorified Jesus addressed them in Revelation 2, He first praised them for their hard work and their striving to accomplish much in the face of such opposition. They had also grown to a level of commendable discernment and had been able to refute those who came into their midst who were theologically misled.
Sadly, however, the message from Christ carried with it a grave rebuke for the Ephesians. In spite of their laboring intensely and pursuing right doctrine, they had departed from the right motivation for service and pure theology. It is not that they had followed false doctrine, or that they were spiritually lazy, rather, they had let their love for Christ wane. In striving to accomplish good things, they had left off the one most important thing.
The grand mark of Christianity is love for Christ and for His people. Here the church at Ephesus was distracted from the passion and affection that had first motivated them in their spiritual pursuits. They were heatless light. The truth remained, but the heart was unaffected by it. Now, they were receiving a warning from Jesus through John that if they did not repent of their lack of love they would be undone. The only hope for survival of their church would be repentance for their lack of love and a striving as a church to love once again as they had at first.
This did not mean that all was lost for every member. In Christ’s message to Ephesus was one final point. To the individual who would persevere and continue in love and pure doctrine and serving others, this one would receive the reward of heaven. In dissembling the loveless congregation Christ would not abandon the true believers. His love for His own would always remain.

Reflect: Do you see any areas in your life where your service or your doctrine is not carried along with love for Christ as much as other influence? Read verse 5 again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Revelation 1:9-20

The first vision that John has in the book of Revelation comes at the end of chapter 1. This vision came to John on Sunday (he refers to it as “the Lord’s Day”), and John was given specific instructions to “write in a book” the things that he would see. John was then to make a total of seven copies of this revelation and send it to each of the churches in Asia Minor. From church history, we understand that John more than likely led the churches of Asia Minor until his persecution and exile on the island of Patmos.
Since Patmos was a penal colony, it didn’t matter that John was 90 years old, he would have been forced to labor in the rock quarries on that island while in exile. We must also remember that his suffering was caused by one thing – an unshakable conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached even if the government told him not to preach it. Now, in spite of his tribulation and suffering, John was sending letters back to the seven major churches of Asia Minor (which Jesus mentions by name in verse 11) attempting to encourage them with the revelation that he had of Jesus Christ. The times were hard. The church was persecuted. But in this vision, John would be able to see and then share that Jesus was in control of all things.
In John’s vision, he heard the voice of Jesus, and turned to look at Him. There in front of John were seven golden candlesticks described as the seven churches to whom John was writing these seven letters, and in the middle of them all was Jesus. Here, John used a phrase to describe Jesus that hearkened to the Old Testament prophecies and Jesus’s own claims during His ministry.

I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire… and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days…and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. - Daniel 7:9-14
Here was one standing in the midst of the candlesticks who sounds remarkably like the one prophesied of in Daniel 7. This one who was given a kingdom and authority, dominion and power, dwells in the midst of His churches. At a time of unrest and concern for the churches, John could clearly see that Christ had not failed to keep his promises to never leave or forsake his church. Although they may not have known it or even felt it, the churches were ever in the presence of their High Priest who was constantly making intercession for them.
In John’s vision, Christ held seven stars in his hand that represented the messengers of Christ to each of the churches. Christ had not forgotten his own. The tribulation of the Christians under the Roman Empire was certainly increasing, but the love of Christ for His church would never diminish. He would continue to speak to them through His Word, and would lovingly guide them through this difficult time.
The message of Revelation was meant to be a comfort for those churches that faced times of crisis in the first century. Although things were difficult for them, Jesus would continually care for them and guide them through the Spirit through His Word. Similarly, we can rest confidently that Jesus loves and cares for us. We too have the Scriptures and the Spirit. We too can be cared for and ministered to by Christ. Let this be a comfort to you today - the one with all power and authority loves and cares for you.

Reflect: What was John’s response when he saw Jesus fully glorified and glowing with splendor? Why do you think that was?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Revelation 1:4-8

In addressing his Revelation to the churches in Asia Minor, John goes beyond a simple greeting and moves directly into doxology and praise. The Book of Revelation tells of the majesty and glory of Jesus, and as John begins recording it, he cannot keep from getting carried along in the wonderful truths that surround the person of Jesus Christ.
John first explains that Jesus is a faithful witness. There is no questioning the authenticity of the message of Christ. He came as God in the flesh to represent God to humanity. There is no purer or clearer representation of God than Jesus. Jesus made this point clear when he told his disciples in John 14:9, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” There was no better representation of the grace and mercy of God than the selfless sacrifice of Jesus, and there is no greater demonstration of the wrath and justice of God than the selfless sacrifice of Jesus. God is most clearly revealed through the faithful witness and testimony of Jesus.
John further describes Jesus as the first begotten or firstborn of the dead. This has less to do with the order of resurrection than it does with the importance of resurrection. There were several who resurrected before Jesus (even some that Jesus raised to life himself), but the resurrection of Jesus stands as the most important of all resurrections. In it, we find the validation of His message. In it, we find power against temptation, comfort in suffering, assurance in doubt, and an unshakeable hope in the future. No other resurrection accomplished that, only the resurrection of Jesus.
According to Romans 14:9, Jesus rose from the grave so that He could be Lord both of the living and the dead. Here in verse 5, John calls him the prince of the kings of the earth. Every ruler is under the reign of Jesus and has received delegated authority from the true sovereign One, Jesus. He is the one who rules and reigns and will ultimately claim His victory over all of the kingdoms of the earth.
Among the many glorious truths that John includes in this doxology however, we find truths that are especially comforting. In Jesus we find a death-defeating, God-revealing Sovereign, but we also find a loving and selfless Savior who died for us. In Christ’s exaltation, He does not leave us or forget us. Rather, in love, He has saved us and has called us to join in worship as kings and priests.
He truly is praiseworthy. Those who followed Him at His first coming and follow Him now in His absence will find their reward at His return. But those who defied Him at His first coming and scorn His loving call now, will “wail because of Him.” He is the great Sovereign Savior and we would do well to worship Him as such.

Reflect: In what ways is John’s doxology truly a revelation of Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Revelation 1:1-3

The New Testament can be separated into three sections: Past, Present, and Future. The first five books of the NT (the Gospels and Acts) tell of events that have already taken place in the first century. The next twenty-one books (the Epistles) are written for us in the present and deal with the nature of the church. The last book (Revelation) is written expressly about future events, and stands alone as the only prophetic book of the New Testament. We learned last time that it is called “Revelation” because it is the unveiling of truths that have been previously unknown. These are the truths that prior to A.D. 95, God had not yet chosen to give the church.
Revelation is truly a book of extremes. The truths revealed will be grave at times, as God executes His wrath on sinful humanity and destroys Satan once and for all, but there will also be glorious truths revealed as Christ is exalted and the redemption of all creation is accomplished. As we begin the text of Revelation, we see that the Apostle John writes that this is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” He continues by saying that it is the revelation that “God gave to Him.” To understand the book of Revelation, we must understand that the number one thing to be revealed in the entire book of Revelation is the glory and exaltation of Jesus.
When we first meet Jesus in the New Testament he is announced as the coming Savior of the world. However, as He comes in the gospels it is in humility and without much dignity. Born in a stable, raised by poor parents, and maligned by an entire nation, Jesus does not come with much glory or fanfare. However, the prophecies of the Old Testament foretold of the day when He would reign in power. Now, in the revelation of Jesus Christ, we see a glimpse of the forthcoming glory of Jesus. Worshipped and revered, no longer is Jesus seen in a meek and humble place, rather, in this prophetic glimpse into the future, all of creation joins together to worship Him as it should.
Through the unfolding story of the end of all things, Jesus is seen above all and over all. Just as Paul had written in Philippians 2:9 that God has “highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name.” Jesus is exalted and glorified, and in the revelation of all things, God shows John that in the future all those in rebellion against the authority and reign of Jesus will be punished and done away with. Jesus is revealed as the final victor and the restorer of all things.
God in His omniscience and in His Sovereignty would have nothing else but the victory of Christ over all His foes. Now, the future has been plainly shown. The events of Revelation cannot unfold in any other form. Satan and his minions will certainly be destroyed. And although the book of Revelation speaks of such dire destruction, in the end it reveals the glorious restoration of God’s perfect design in creation. Every believer seeing Jesus glorified and realizing the glory that awaits us can only turn in wonder and worship through the unfolding of this revelation of Jesus Christ.

Reflect: In your own words, explain why John would write that Revelation is the “revelation of Jesus.”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Introduction to Revelation

Imagine what it would be like if we travelled back in time, captured Hammurabi, the great emperor of the Ancient Babylonian Empire, and brought him to 2016 in Time Square in the middle of Manhattan, and then took him back to his ancient empire. If he hadn’t completely lost his mind yet, how do you think he would describe it to his fellow Babylonians? What words would an ancient Babylonian be able to muster to describe modern marvels like the automobile, airplanes, cellphones, light bulbs, skyscrapers, highways, air conditioning, and the football-field-sized digital billboard screen? The range of vocabulary in ancient Babylonia would never suffice the nuance of every object that he could see. A lack of understanding of how electricity, steel, internal combustion, condensers, and a myriad of other technological advances would leave him feeling as though he was in a mythical place of wonder and magic.
Now, imagine that you, a person who lives in 2016 were to travel to heaven. What would it look like? How would you describe it? What things would you compare it to? A place unmarred by sin and full of the glowing glory of God, how would you put into words the beings that you saw there? What words could you possibly muster? You certainly could never describe in full detail the things you were seeing. At best, you would have to use words that referenced things that you were familiar with or could imagine to describe the things with which you were unfamiliar.
When we come to the book of Revelation, we must understand that this is sort of what we are handling. The title of the book should give an indication as to the subject and body of the book, something is going to be revealed. The book is also known as the Apocalypse, and many who refer to the Apocalypse have something of the Book of Revelation in mind with the end of the world, destruction, and catastrophe. The word Apocalypse should not distract us from the purpose of the book however, because the word Apocalypse simply comes from the Greek word apokalypsis which means “revelation or unveiling.”
Here in the Book of Revelation we have the unveiling of future events not yet seen or experienced. The author is the Apostle John who followed Jesus and would help to establish the church after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. From the time that Jesus came on the scene and began teaching of a future day when all wrongs would be made right and when sin would be undone, through the entire First Century, Christians heard of the great culmination of the redeeming work of Jesus. The majority of the New Testament books reference this great conclusion of sin and restoration of a holy and righteous creation. Now, through the revelation of God and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John would pen down what this great conclusion would look like.
The promises of heaven and eternal rewards had been made, there had been a claim that God was in heaven and we had access to Him through Jesus, Christ had promised that we would one day be with Him in heaven, and now, through the Revelation of the Apostle John, the church could have a glimpse into the heavenlies and the final age. What would it look like? What would it be like? What sights and sounds and feelings would we feel in this wonderful place that we have been promised?
In verbal plenary inspiration, the Holy Spirit used John’s own vocabulary to describe John’s experience in heaven. As we read and study the Book of Revelation we must remember to take Scripture literally where it is meant to be literal and that we can understand that some other things merely reflect John’s personal vocabulary limitations. However, as you read, do not lose sight of the main point of Revelation, and as we study it know that John saw the things in heaven that exist and the things that will certainly come to pass in time.

Reflect: Why is it dangerous to take the John’s descriptions of heaven and future events in Revelation too literally?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Ephesians 6:21-24

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: - 1 Peter 2:9
Through his entire epistle to the Ephesians, Paul labored to reveal the realities of God’s love and grace to those who are His chosen people. In Ephesians 1:4, God of His own sovereign grace chose us before the foundation of the world. In 1:11 and 18, we learned that as His chosen people we have been promised the extravagant promises of a future with God and an eternal promise of His power and provision.
After seeing the grandeur of God’s grace and glory, in chapter 2 Paul turned to the darkness of undeserving mankind. In disobedience and wickedness, every person has rejected God and followed after their own hedonistic desires. Whether comfort or pleasure, all have departed from obedience and worship and have become followers of Satan himself. Being set against this depraved situation, the grace of God sparkles with an even greater luster. It was not that in grace we merely received what we did not deserve, rather, in His grace God blessed us with the exact opposite of what we deserved. Without pulling any punches, Paul reminded us that it is by grace that we are saved and that we are God’s workmanship.
Having established these truths of God’s grace to believers, Paul continued his letter by explaining the need for believers to live in response to those truths. As undeserving recipients of the grace of God, Christians should respond according to Ephesians 4:2 with lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering and with forbearing love. Furthermore, every avenue of the believer’s life should reflect a transformed and converted nature. Whether a husband or wife, father or mother, child or employee, every believer must view themselves in light of the transforming work of God in their lives.
Paul finally concluded his epistle with a reminder that believers will face spiritual battle but that God has provided an unending fountain of help. Every Christian must rely on the power of God and should turn constantly in faith and trust in God. Here we see that the entire Epistle to the Ephesians mirrors 1 Peter 2 in that we have been chosen and transformed that we might show forth the praise of God in our lives.
Closing his letter to his friends in Asia Minor, Paul sent his parting love and care to them. He was never simply a cold and distant teacher. Paul’s life was consumed with relationships and serving others. He genuinely loved the believers in Ephesus and longed for them to continue to grow in love and faith long after he was gone. Awaiting a trial and ultimately execution, Paul was moved with care for the brothers and sisters that were hundreds of miles away from him. Clearly he had already been transformed by the truth that he was teaching. Perhaps we can see his final teaching revealed by his own heart and be challenged to compassionately love and care for those around us.

Reflect: What are some of the emotions that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:21-24?

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ephesians 6:18-24

How often do you think about oxygen? This morning when you woke up did it cross your mind? As you poured the bowl of cereal or dropped the bread in the toaster did you take a moment to mull over the beauty and blessedness of oxygen? Throughout the day, sighing, whispering, talking, although you used oxygen incessantly, did you ever actually slow down to imagine the little O2 molecules that tumbled into your lungs and sustained your life? Perhaps, you thought of oxygen very little today, but do you know who probably thought about oxygen a lot? The one in the oxygen mask who was gasping, begging doctors to help in whatever way possible, because the absence of oxygen in their lungs is so startling. There are those in crisis who think about oxygen…and although oxygen sustains us all, there are the rest of us that live life as though oxygen doesn’t even exist, giving less than a passing thought to it.
When we come to the end of Ephesians, Paul calls believers everywhere to fight against a similar neglect of prayer in their spiritual lives. Like the lack of oxygen-awareness pervades the bulk of humanity, similarly, a lack of God-consciousness infects many professing Christians. We say that we love God, and we speak of Him at church and with our ultra-spiritual friends, but when it comes to the day-to-day grind, any thought of the One who sustains our very life is shuffled to the back of our minds and we go on living and ignoring the Sustainer of all things.
This should not be the case. Every day of our lives should be filled with a constant God-awareness. Some might argue, “but life is so busy and so urgent, how could I ever remember to pray to God at all times?” Others might say, “I forget to think about God, if I simply had a reminder to remember that He is there, I would pray more.” I would give two thoughts as a reflex to these common retorts.
First, those who find themselves in desperate and seemingly out of control circumstances somehow find ways to turn to God for help. Even in simple cries of petition, the human heart begs the Divine for any assistance. Perhaps the greatest reason that most don’t turn in prayer constantly is because they have a false sense of security believing that since things are going well this instant, they have no need of God. The problem is not that they are busy and that life is urgent as much as they feel self-secure and believe that they are sustaining themselves through their busyness and urgency. For these, the self-deception of security and safety needs to be replaced with a firm grasp on their constant need of the sustaining hand of a gracious God.
Second, to those who wish they had a reminder of the presence of God so that they would more often turn in prayer to Him, I would simply point out the myriad of forgotten and neglected reminders that God placed around them. Clearly the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. Beyond that, every human being is created in the image of God. There is not a lack of reminders, simply a lack of awareness to those reminders.
Paul finishes the Epistle to the Ephesians with this call to be constantly aware of God’s presence and His power to help. Prayer will be the evidence to us that we truly believe in God. It will demonstrate to us whether or not we truly have faith in the One who sustains all things. If prayer is lacking in your life, allow the reminders that God has placed throughout Creation to bring you back to a constant awareness of His presence and power.

Reflect: Read through Ephesians 6:18-24. What things does Paul tell the Ephesians to be always praying for?