The Church of Thyatira

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Church of Thyatira

Sin will always justify itself.  It will always find reasons to satisfy its desires and lusts. Sin will try to convince us that it is okay to look at porn, commit adultery, cheat on our taxes, and lie so others will think better of us.  And sin will alway promise that we will not get caught.

But here in our fourth letter we see that sin is not secretive.  In verse 18 we read, “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”  What does this image mean?  This vision is very similar to the one we read about in Daniel 10:6.  There Daniel sees a man with eyes like flaming torches and legs that gleam of burnished bronze who will bring judgment on the pagan nations.  Is this a Christophany?  Perhaps.  Here in Revelation, Jesus is described in the same way as in Daniel and we see that He is going to bring judgment on those who live in rebelliousness.  The fact that Jesus has eyes like flames of fire ought to tell us that He does see all things and His legs of burnished bronze are ready for trampling those who do not repent.  Furthermore we see in verse 23 that Jesus searches minds and hearts and will give to each of us according to our works.  In verse 19, Jesus commends this church.  He says that He knows their works, love, faith, service and perseverance.  He has seen that their works have continued to increase and are greater than when they first began.  I love this.  Jesus sees us.  Jesus is not absent from the church but He perfectly knows the church.  He sees all that we do.  He truly is the perfect groom.

Now in verse 19 we move into the rebuke.  Evidently this church has tolerated the teachings of the woman Jezebel.  Now I don’t think there was an actual woman named Jezebel in the church, but this woman represents the O.T. woman named Jezebel.  In the O.T. Jezebel led people into idolatry (worshipping the false god, Baal) and committing acts of sexual immorality.  In verse 24 we see that her teachings were most likely promising a knowledge known has the “deep things.”  But these deep things were not from God but from Satan.  This is a common practice of false teachers.  False teachers can be very persuasive because they appear to know something we do not know.  But we must be wise and see that this knowledge does not come from God and His Word but often thought experiential and mystical means.

So what is going to happen?  Verse 21 says that Jezebel has had time to repent but has refused, therefore she will be thrown “onto a sickbed.”  And if those who have followed her do not repent they will be thrown “into great tribulation.”  In verse 23 we see the end result of those who refuse to repent, they will be killed.

Why will Jesus bring such severe judgment on this church?  In verse 23 we read, “And all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”  This church thought that being loving meant being tolerant of all lifestyles and teachings.  But Jesus shows us that real love is not measured by tolerance but by holy obedience.  Jesus will rain down judgment on the unrepentant in this church as an example for other churches.  Jesus will not tolerate tolerance when it comes to sin.

Now there are some who have rejected this false teaching.  What are they called to do?  Jesus say in verse 25, “Hold fast to what you have until I come.”  Jesus is calling the church to remain faithful and continue to grow in works, love, faith, service, and perseverance (v.19).

And the reward is that is we who continue to live faithfully will be given authority over nations and will rule with Jesus with a rod of iron.  Jesus shares the very authority that He has been given with those who believe in Him.  To be a follower of Jesus is not be a lowly person in the Kingdom of God but is to share in the rule of God.  Jesus also promises that they will be given the morning star.  In Revelation 22:16 Jesus will call Himself the morning star.  So here we see that those who persevere in faithfulness will be with Jesus.  Jesus is the true ruler of the world and the King of all creation and He is the one we will spend eternity with.

Side Note:

There are many points of application in this text.  We could look at the importance of eldership and guarding against false teaching.  We could look at the difference of holiness and tolerance.  We could look at the failing promises of sin and the true satisfying promises of God.  We could look at the joy we have that Jesus is with us and sees us and we are never alone.  We could look at the joy we have in knowing that no sin escapes the eyes of Jesus.  We could look at the necessity of church discipline.  We could look at the necessity of repentance.  This letter is surely has a message for every church.

Photo by Shyn Darkly

The Church of Pergamum

Church of Pergamum

The third church that is addressed in Revelation is to the one located in Pergamum.  In this letter, Jesus is described as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword” (1:16).  Why does Jesus describe Himself with a sword?  I don’t remember seeing this picture in my Precious Moments Bible.  Here, Christ is pictured as a judge and executioner over His church.

Now before Jesus rebukes the church, He offers them a word of encouragement.   This is an example that all Christians ought to learn from.  How much more effective would we be if we noticed the strengths of others and encouraged them to walk faithfully before giving words of correction?

The church of Pergamum is commended for holding fast the name of Jesus even when Antipas (a fellow believer) was killed for his faith. In verse 13, we read that Pergamum is considered Satan’s throne and the place that Satan dwells.  Pergamum was rich in idolatry.  This city was the first in Asia Minor to build a temple for emperor worship (Beale, 65) and at the pinnacle of the city was an altar for Zeus.  This church is located in the crosshairs of Satan, it is in a very hostile city.  Believers are being killed and rather than denying their faith to stay alive, they  cling to their faith in Jesus.  They refuse to deny their King and Savior.

In one sense this Church is a model for us as believers to follow.  They are unbending in their faith in Jesus.  And yet in verse 14, we read of a terrible rebuke against this church.

We are told that there are some people within this church who have watered down their faith and are holding on to the teachings of Balaam.  Balaam was an O.T. prophet who encouraged the Moabite King, Balak, to send “moabite women to seduce Israelite men into sexual immorality and and idolatry” (Johnson, 76).  Rather than seeking to only please God, Israel thought they could live in sin and still be the people of God.  So what did God do?  God came down and killed 24,000 people in a plague (Numbers 25) to show that He will not tolerate sin.  We cannot be citizens of God’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the World.  We can only have one citizenship.  So what does this have to do with church of Pergamum?  It appears that this group called the Nicolatians said that you can be a follower of God and eat food sacrificed to idols and commit acts of sexual immorality.  In essence the message was, you can be a Christian on Sundays and do whatever you want the rest of the week.

Do we do this today?  Sure we might not eat food sacrificed to idols but there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians and have no problem committing acts of sexual immorality.  Today, we are told it is okay for Christians to practice homosexuality and have sex before marriage. We are told you don’t have to gather with the church, you can spend your money on whatever you want, and what you do in your free time is your own prerogative.  Today, much of what is called Christianity, is nothing like what we see in God’s Word.  It is some kind of watered down soggy filth.  So this definitely is a message we need to hear.  As Christians we are constantly bombarded with messages from the TV, billboards, the radio, magazines, and our cell phones calling us to compromise in our faith.

First Jesus is going to tell the church what will happen if they do not respond appropriately and secondly He will tell them the reward they will have for following Him.

So what does Jesus call this church to do?

Repent.  Jesus says, turn from your wicked lifestyle.  Jesus says, follow Me.

What happens if the church doesn’t repent?

Jesus will come with the double edged sword make war.

Just like God killed 24,000 in the O.T., so Jesus will make war with those who are in His church and yet live like the world.  What does it mean to make war?  I’m guessing Jesus isn’t bringing His sword for cooking but for killing.

In 1 Corinthians 11 we read that there were people in the church who were taking communion improperly.  And Jesus responded by causing some of these believers to become sick, weak and even die.  If Jesus will discipline believers to the point of death, how much more will He judge those who say they are Christians but live as pagans?

And for those who repent, Jesus promises to give them the hidden manna, and white stone with a new name on it that only they will know.  Manna in the O.T. was the food that God gave His people to survive on in their wilderness time.  Jesus has now come as the bread of life who preserves us.  So what is this hidden manna?  Could this be an illusion to the wedding supper that we will participate in when Jesus returns (Rev 19:9)?  Or is this Jesus promising to nourish those who are “faithful with an unfailing supply of heavenly spiritual food” (Poythress,88)?  The manna in the O.T. was also described as looking like a white stone (bdellium) (Number 11:7).  In Pergamum pink granite dominated the construction of buildings and was easily found in the county side.  However, the ruins of this city have also revealed, stones of white marble with names inscribed on them.  It is believed that these stones would have been imported into this area and would have been very valuable and rare.

So it appears that those who are faithful to God are valued and nourished by His Word (which could mean now and when Jesus returns).  But what does it mean that a new name will be on these rocks? Possibly it means that we are given new names, but in Revelation 22:4 we read in the New Heavens and New Earth we will have a name written on our foreheads, but it will not be our name. It will be the name of God.

So whatever this name is on this rock, we can rejoice that God knows us and we are promised to be with Him forever sustained by His Word.

As Christians this letter is not meant to cause us to tremble in fear and question our faith.  Rather, it is to strengthen our faith that we would all the more make sure of our salvation.  It is a blessed reminder that God has saved us to live for Him and for Him alone.  If we need to repent of wrong living, then let us repent, knowing that God provides grace to forgive and strengthen us.

Photo by Lemsipmatt

The Church of Smyrna

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To the Church of Smyrna: Revelation 2:8-11

I recently read an article on the website persecution.org about a bombing that took place in Pakistan.  Last week on Easter, a suicide bomber ran into a park in Lahore where he detonated a bomb that killed 69 people and wounded 300 more. “In March 2015, suicide bombers also attached to Pakistani Taliban attacked two churches in Lahore, killing over 20 and wounding another 70.”  In the article it says that those responsible have said they are specifically targeting Christians. My heart is saddened and broken for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in such intense ways.  However, the good news is, the Bible is not silent about persecution.

Jesus said in John 15:18–21,

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

In Matthew 5:10–12 we read,

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So how is it that we can rejoice in persecution?  How is that we can stand strong in our faith when facing death because of our faith?  And for that we turn to the letter to the church of Smyrna.

First, the description of Jesus is exactly what the church needs to remember.  “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”  Here we are reminded that Jesus conquered death.  He died but then He came to life.  Death could not hold Him, death could not conquer Him.  In fact, Jesus defeated death by dying and then raising again.  He now holds the keys of death and hades (Rev. 1:18).  Jesus calls this persecuted church to remember that their Savior, their King, their Lord has defeated death.  Because of the resurrection, death has lost it’s sting (1 Cor. 15:55) and we can also echo Paul’s words, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).

Next, notice how Jesus describes the church, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich)…”  Even though this church, by all physical appearances looks defeated, Jesus says, they are rich.  May we be reminded that suffering does not require us to think that we are doing the wrong thing.  The church of Smyrna is suffering greatly not because of idolatry and sinfulness but because they are standing strong in their faith. Perhaps we are to be reminded of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.  In Babylon, they stood strong in their faith unwilling to compromise and bow down before an idol.  The result: they were thrown into a fiery furnace.  But not even the fire could destroy they, for Jesus had come down with them in the fire and protected them.

At the end of verses 9 and 10 we see where much of the persecution is coming from.  Jews are slandering the Christians before the Romans and thus they are being persecuted and killed.  One commentator wrote,

“The Jews who sometimes had no qualms in semi-revering other deities (especially the Roman Emperor) along with their OT God, often were too willing to make the Roman authorities aware that the Christians were not a Jewish sect….The mention of Roman persecution in v.10 directly following that of Jewish slander conforms to historical reports of Jews allying with and encouraging Romans and Gentiles to oppress Christians (e.g., Acts 13:45, 50; 14:2-7, 19; 17:5-9; 1 Thess. 2:14-16)” (Beale, 61).

In verse 10 we read that through the work of Satan, some of the Christians will be arrested and experience tribulation for ten days.  “Ten days” most likely is not a specific time but rather refers to a short period of time.  It does not appear that after these ten days the Christians will be released but that they will be killed.  After all, Jesus says, “be faithful unto death”.  Imagine being apart of this church.  Imagine hearing this being read.  Imagine knowing you will experience intense persecution that will most likely end in your death.

So what do you do?

Jesus says, “do not fear what you are about to suffer” but “be faithful unto death.”  How Jesus?  How am I not to fear death?  What comfort is there?

At the end of verse 10 and 11 we read two beautiful promises.

The First Promise:   “I will give you the crown of life.”  A crown was given to who were victorious in the athletic events.  So here Jesus says, though you died, you are not defeated.  Though it appears the world won, you are victorious.  Jesus is reminding the church that just as He defeated death and now sits on a throne with a crown so we who are faithful will also sit victoriously with him.

And the Second Promise is that “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”  What is the second death?  It is eternal suffering in hell.  In Revelation 20:14–15 we read,

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

So here Jesus reminds the church, if they remain faithful they will not only receive a crown but they will forever dwell in the perfect holy presence of their King.  They will forever enjoy living in God’s perfect Kingdom.  They will never taste the wrath of God that will be poured out on all who have rejected Him. Now that is good news!

So here we see that suffering is not something that only comes upon those who are sinful, but it also comes upon the faithful.  And we who have faith in Jesus do not need to fear suffering or death for it has no power over us.  For even if we die, we will live forever with Jesus.  Death has lost it’s sting.

This passage is meant to fortify the church.  It strengthens our faith and confidence in our Risen King. This passage echoes the famous Romans 8:33–39.

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Praise God for our Risen King, the First and the Last!

The Church of Ephesus

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The Letter To Ephesus
Rev 2:1-7
A Description of Jesus:
“The words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
We already know the stars represent the angels of the church (this was discussed in a previous post) and the lampstands represent the churches. So here we have a picture of Jesus with the church. Jesus is not somewhere distant minding His own business. He is present with the church. Isn’t this good news. Jesus is with His bride, His body, His family. This means when Jesus gives us a description of the church, we know it is accurate. He is with them. Jesus is not getting his information second or third hand. He knows the church.

A Commendation of the the church:
In verse 2, Jesus commends the church for it’s patient endurance and that they test everyone who calls themselves an apostle. They are serious about guarding the teaching of God’s Word. They do not let just anyone wander in and start teaching. It seems they have taken the words of Paul very seriously (Acts 20:28-31).

A Rebuke:
In verse 4 we read, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” What love have they abandoned? Have they lost their love for Jesus, for the Word, for each other, for unbelievers?
It does not appear they have lost their love for Jesus or for the Word. After all, in verse 3, we read they are “bearing up for my name sake.” This means the church’s perseverance has been for the sake of Christ. And we know they have not lost their love for the Word because everything about Jesus’ commendation is that they are guarding the Word. So have they lost their love for each other and/or unbelievers?
It appears the church is working together in guarding the Word. And it appears that church has unitedly rejected the teachings of the Nicolations. So I think we are pretty safe to say they are loving one another and working together. This would leave us to conclude that the love they have lost is primarily directed towards outsiders. Which this cannot be to hard for us to understand. They are in a very idolatrous culture. False apostles are bombarding the church. They are constantly on guard against false teaching. They are zealously adhering to the Word as they pursue a life of holiness. Because of their actions, they have unfortunately become very inward focused. I doubt the church ever voted to intentionally not love those in their city but because of their inward focus they drifted away from from being loving. I think this could be said of many churches today in America. At one time, they were very evangelistic. They regularly were sharing the gospel with unbelievers. But as the world has become more hostile to Christianity, many churches have turned inwards.

A Response:
In verse 5, Jesus says, “repent and do the works you did at first.” When confronted with sin, the first step is always to repent. It easy to neglect this step and just think, “okay, I now know that I was doing something wrong, so now, I’ll just start doing it the right way.” When we fail to repent, we forget the fact that our sinful wrong actions have offended our King. The solution is not just tweak what we have been doing, it is to be made more like Jesus. So first, we are to repent. Secondly, we are to live in accordance with our repentance. Based upon the knowledge of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit we now live as Jesus calls us. For the Ephesians that means loving others, especially those outside the church. They can no longer be a holy huddle escaping the world but rather they are to be a light drawing unbelievers to their glorious King. They are to develop relationships with unbelievers and share the gospel with them. They are to obey the Great Commission.
What happenes if they church of Ephesus doe not repent? What happens if the church thinks it’s okay to remain as a holy huddle? What happens if the church ignores the great commission? Jesus says in verse 5, “I will remove your lampstands.” Wait a minute, Jesus will remove the lampstand. Does that mean He will come and remove this church and He will no longer allow them to gather in His name?
So what do we learn? Jesus does not support an unloving church. If a church is not loving then surely the only conclusion is that they do not know God. For in 1 John 4:7 we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
A distinguishing mark of God’s people is that they love. Surely this warning is something we as the church today need to think about. Are we loving each other? Are we loving our neighbors, our employees, our bosses, our politicians, our president, other nations? As the church, we have been saved by the love of God that we would reveal His love through our lives.

A Promise:
In verse 7, Jesus gives the motivation to repent. He says, if they repent, they will “eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” The tree of life is the very tree that we have been separated from ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden. Surely this represents eternal life in the presence of God for all eternity. What a promise. Through their repentance and faith in Jesus they are promised eternity with God.

So here in this first letter we learn that a church can drift towards being unloving. Just as we guard our doctrine so we must guard our lives that we live like Jesus.

The Glorious Vision of the King

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In this post I am going to look at Revelation 1:4-20.  If you are new to reading this blog I am currently going through the book of Revelation and simply blogging as a means to share my study, my questions, my thoughts and hopefully create discussion.

Recipients:

In verse 4, John says that he is writing to the 7 churches of Asia.  We read about these 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3.  Real quick, here is a little background on these churches.   The Asia minor of John’s day had become quite oppressive for Christians to live.  No longer did they enjoy the protection of being considered an offshoot of Judaism, which was tolerated by Rome.  Jews were often the ones accusing christians before the Roman government.  Life was full of persecution and suffering.  We must keep in mind that the audience  John was writing was to was largely under persecution.

Now then, the number 7 is used many times in the book: 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls.  In apocalyptic literature numbers are largely used symbolically.  So while this letter is written to 7 specific churches it would seem that this message would also be for all churches, as the number 7 refers to wholeness or completeness.  To give to support to this is the fact that at end of each letter, we read “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

John now wants his readers to know that as they read this letter they are receiving grace from God.  But John is not content with just writing the word God.  No, he wants to unpack who this God is.  Therefore, he speak of the Father (“from him who is and who was and who is to come”) the Spirit (“the seven spirits who are before His throne”), and Jesus Christ (“the faithful witness of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth”).  John make sure his readers know that grace is coming from the entire Godhead.  And then as if his heart has been moved greatly by mentioning the triune God he breaks out into doxology in verses 5b-7.

Isn’t that amazing that John so easily breaks out into absolute praise by simply mentioning the Father, the Spirit, and the Son?  I am convicted that my heart is not so easily moved to praise.

Two more things to mention here.

First, the description of Jesus’ return.  Jesus’ return will be full of praise for those who know Him and love Him but it will be full of judgment for those who have rejected him (“all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”).

Secondly, John begins and ends this section with mentioning the eternality of the Father (v.4, 8).  John is drawing specific attention to the fact that God is the eternal and invincible Ruler of all history.  This is the God who has been present at all points of history, past, present and future.

The Vision:

In verses 9-20 we have the vision of Jesus.  This is an amazing vision full of rich O.T. imagery from passages like Ezekiel 8 and Daniel 7,8,10, and Zechariah 4.

In verses 9-10, John reminds his readers who he is and let’s them know what he was doing when he received this vision.

Interestingly, John does not refer to himself as an apostle but rather emphasizes his solidarity with his readers.  He is a fellow brother and partner in the tribulation.  He is a member of the Kingdom of God and he, just like his readers is patiently enduring until Jesus returns. He has been exiled because of his faith.  So He is writing from exile to a people (the 7 churches) that might feel like they are in exile.

Next, he lets us know what he was doing when he received this vision.  On a Sunday (“on the Lord’s day”) he was in the Spirit.  Surely we are to take this to mean He was worshipping God.  Possibly he was worshipping God  through the written word or merely praising His name in song.  It is at this moment, while worshipping God, that he hears a voice like a trumpet announcing to him that he is to write all that that he sees.

Side note: Trumpets often sound judgment (Ex. 19:16, 19-20; Joshua 6:4-5,16-17).  Is this vision going to be one of judgment?  In the book of Joshua, the trumpet signaled the victory of the Israelites and the defeat of Jericho.  Could that be similar here?  Does this trumpet signal to us the victory the church has in God and the destruction of those who do not follow Him?  Something to thing about as we progress through the book.

In verses 12-18, we are given a description of Jesus.  I am not going to go much into the description right now because we will look at it again as we move through the chapter 2 and 3.  Parts of  Jesus’ description is given to each of the 7 churches in chapter 2 and 3.

Here is a brief synopsis:

The Son of Man clothed with a long robe and a golden sash around his chest (v.13)

He hair on head is white like wool, like snow and His eyes were like flames of fire (v.14).

His feet are like burnished bronze, His voice like the roar of many waters (v. 15).  I wonder if His voice is like standing next to Niagara falls.

In His right hand He holds 7 stars.  His tongue is a sharp two-edged sword, and His face like the sun shining in full strength (v.16).  Here we have a picture of immense holiness, brilliance, and strength.

Now if stop and think for a moment, this picture is very different than the nice paintings of Jesus that many people have in their homes.  Those paintings make Jesus look very kind, very teddy bear like, and sometimes possibly effeminate.  But this is not like that at all.  Jesus’ face is so bright that it is compared to the full strength of the Sun.  A doubled edged sword is coming from His mouth.  Jesus is brilliant and powerful.  He is no teddy bear.  Surely John had to put his hand before his face so he could look at the Son of Man.

How did John respond to this vision?

In verse 17 we are told he falls down as if he died.  Now just think about?  What was your response when you read this passage?  Did you (did I) have any emotional response at all?  I am once again convicted about how easy it is to read the Bible and then put it down as if I just read some fact from the encyclopedia (or I guess I should say wikipedia).  But isn’t John’s response supposed to inform us about how we are to respond?

As I have thought about this passage for about 2 weeks now I am more convinced that God is leading me to repent from areas of hardness and comfortableness in my heart.  Here we have a vision of our holy King, the one who died for us, the one who hold the keys of death and hades. It is because of what Jesus has done at the cross that I do not need to fear death.  Jesus has given us life, not just life now but life forevermore in Him.  There is no good reason that when I read this I should not follow in John’s example and also fall down.  ,

One more thing to think about.  Jesus is revealed as a man.  Jesus became incarnate when he was born as a baby and He has kept His earthly body.  Upon rising from the dead, Jesus did not say good ridden to this body, but He has kept it.  Jesus is not just our King, He is our Elder Brother, the First Born of all creation.

The Command:

In verse 19 John is once again told to write the thing that He has seen.

There is much to say about verse 19 and therefore I think I will leave that for a future post.

Mystery revealed:(v.20)

In verse 20 we are told what the 7 stars and the 7 lamp stands represent.  The 7 stars are the 7 angels associated with each church.  And the 7 lamp stands are the 7 churches.    Who are these angels?  Each of the letters are not addressed to the churches but to the angel of the church.  Some have thought these angels to be human messengers or the pastors of the churches.  But elsewhere in Revelation, angels are always God’s special messengers sent from heaven.

Dennis Johnson in his commentary also added to the possibilities by saying, “Jesus is evoking in John’s mind the picture of guardians charged with protecting the people of God and bringing his messages to them, such as the angel sent to Daniel, who reports having been delayed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia for twenty-one days…” (Johnson, 62-63).  The problem with this thought is that the letters are addressed to the angels and the message is a mixture of faithfulness and sin.  But if these are divine angels, how is their faithfulness being questioned?

I found G.K. Beale very helpful here:

The observation that ἄγγελος (“angel”) refers without exception to heavenly beings in the visionary portion of Revelation (about 60 times) points to the same identification here. These angels could be identified with the seven archangels known to Jewish tradition (e.g., 1 En. 20:1–8; Tob. 12:15), though this is far from certain.

The ἄγγελοι (“angels”) in 1:20 include both heavenly beings and the earthly churches, according to the idea of corporate representation, which is suggested further by recognizing that angelic beings are corporately identified with Christians as their heavenly counterparts elsewhere in the book: the angel in 19:10 and 22:9 says, “I am a fellow servant of you and your brothers.” In addition, the angel in Rev. 8:3–4 seems to represent saints, since he receives their prayers and presents them before God. Consequently, the “angels” in 1:20b refer to heavenly beings who also represent the church

Perhaps, referring to the angel of each church is meant to remind the church that not only do they exist on earth but they have (at least partly) a heavenly existence also.

Understanding that the 7 lamp stands represent the 7 churches is  much more straightforward.  But what is incredible is that in verse 13 we saw Jesus standing in the midst of the 7 lamp stands (churches).  How amazing, Jesus is in the midst of the 7 churches.  He is no far from them.  He is with them.  He knows them.  Again, if we understand these 7 churches to to be representative of all churches then we are comforted that our King, the Son of God, the one who possesses the keys of death and hades is in our midst also.  He is not far from us.  He is near us and extends His grace to us.

Conclusion:

There is much to absorb and think about in this opening chapter.  But the message seems to be clear.  This is a message of grace and judgment coming from the full Trinity that is meant to strengthen the church that they would persevere in the tribulation.

Photo by nicksieger

Revelation: A Gift from God

bible photoI have decided to do a study on Revelation and blog some of my notes and thoughts as I make my way through this book.

The first 3 verses of this book serve as a simple introduction as well as a summary of the book.

Revelation 1:1–3 (ESV)

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

There are 3 things that stand out in this opening verses.  The source, the timing, and the promise.  Let’s look at these one at a time.

The Source:

Revelation is a book that comes from God, to Jesus, to the angel, to John and then to the servants (representing believers).  This is a message that comes to us from God.  This is not a message that John is making up.  This is not a message that Jesus sneaks to the church while the Father is not paying attention.  It comes from the Father through Jesus and eventually to us.  The Father and Jesus are working together.  The book comes to us with the full authority of the Godhead.

The Timing:

We have two references to timing in these first few verses.  In the middle of verse 1 we read, “the things that must soon take place.”  And at the end of verse 3 we read, “for the time is near.”  At the end of the book we read very similar words, for example in 22:6 we read, “what must soon take place”, and then in verse 7 we read, “I am coming soon.”  In 22:10 we also read, “for the time is near.”

So at the beginning and end of this book we read that the contents of this book are about to take place.  Surely God is wanting us to understand that this book refers to the immediate future.  But I would say it also refers to fact that these events WILL take place.  In Daniel 2 when Daniel is about to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream he says that God has revealed “what will be in the latter days.”  Daniel was revealing what God said WILL happen, not “maybe” happen and not what “might” happen.  And that is what is happening here in Revelation.  Revelation is not a book about maybe’s but about definite’s.  God is revealing to the church what will happen (and very well may have already begun at Jesus’ first coming).

The Promise:

In verse 3 we come across an amazing promise.  God says those who read, hear, and keep this Word are blessed.  I think we need to pause for a moment and unpack this promise.  If God is promising those who read, hear, and obey this message will blessed, then are we to conclude that this book is to be a difficult mystery that we are to stay away from?  Is God warning us with these words or inviting us?  So many believers talk about Revelation as if it is a complete mystery and we have no hope of understanding it.  Others seem to say that only if we make lots of timetables and charts can we understand it.  But is that what God is communicating here? I think God is warmly inviting us to come an partake of the blessing that will be received if we read, hear, and obey this book.  We should not be scared about this book.  And yes, we will have to study and try to understand what the author is saying.  But isn’t that what we are to do with every book of the Bible?

I want to point out one other thing also.  John says we are to “keep what is written” in this book.  This book has implications about how we are to live.  Revelation is a book about how the church is to live in holiness as we journey through the tribulation (1:9).  So as we read, we must look for what we learn about who God is and what He has done through Jesus.  But we are also to then think about how those truth’s affects the way we live.

Here is my conclusion about these first three verses:

Revelation is a gift from God about the things that will soon take place so that we, the church will be blessed as we await the immanent return of Jesus.

Where He is, There I Shall Be Also

judgment photo

Martin Luther once wrote to a young friend of his who was struggling with guilt and failure:

When the devil throws our sins to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: “I admit that I deserve death and hell.  What of it?  Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation?  By no means.  For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf.  His names is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Where He is, There I shall be also.”

 

Excerpt from Michael Reeves book: Rejoicing in Christ, pg. 63.

 

The tradition of shaking hands

shake hands photo

In the first church I served in, the pastor every week went to the back of the sanctuary to shake people’s hands.  And many people in the congregation would kindly line up and wait their for their opportunity to shake his hand and saw a few words.  Eventually that pastor retired and I was asked to take his place as the Senior Pastor.  And so when the service ended I also went to the back of the room in order to shake people’s hands.  However, overtime I began to notice a few things:

  • I was not able to have meaningful conversations with people.
  • It was hard to have deep conversations with people when there was a line of people waiting to shake my hand just so they could leave.
  • I was not able to spend time in prayer with people.  Again, there was a line of people waiting to leave.  Now sure I could have prayed with people but there seemed to be a “rushed” mentality that did not allow for more time.
  • Most of the conversations were brief and superficial.  Most people who would shake my hand would simply say something like, “have a good week”, “nice sermon”, “thank you”, or of course there were the few who would say something very encouraging like, “you mostly kept my attention today.”

So those are a few of the things I began to notice as I stood in the back of the sanctuary.  So one Sunday I thought I would try something new.  I told the congregation at the end of the service that I would be remaining up front and if anyone would like to talk or pray I would be available.  Now two crazy things happened next.

First, people were still able to leave the building even if they did not shake my hand.  It was a miracle.

Secondly, I began to have real conversations with people.  I talked with people about the sermon, about problems at work or at home.  I had opportunities to sit and pray with people.  I’ve even been able to grab a few other people so we could pray for healing.  Over time I began to notice something else also.  I noticed that some of those who used to immediately leave the sanctuary through a side door began to stick around and ask for prayer.  In addition, no longer did I feel rushed but I felt free to really talk and love on people.  And from what I can tell, others felt more free to talk about things that were really concerning them.

Now there are still many pastors who do stand in the back shaking hands and I think that is wonderful.  It’s just not for me.

Biblical Motivations to Forgive

forgive photo

This last Sunday I preached on forgiveness.  There were more questions and responses to that sermon than I can count.  Forgiveness is definitely something that is difficult and to some degree we all struggle with.  A book that has been helpful in my understanding of forgiveness is by Chris Brauns, and it is titled, Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds.

One thing that I was unable to talk about during the sermon was the motivations God gives us to forgive.  So here are 3 motivations that we have to forgive.  The first two points are foundational truths that can be applied to forgiveness while the third point specifically addresses forgiveness.

  1. Forgivness is how we pursue God’s glory.
    1. God has created us to glorify Him.  Therefore when we obey Him we are glorifying Him.   When we obey Ephesians 4:32, “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” God will be glorified.  Obedience to God glorifies God.  And not only is God glorified when we forgive but we maximize our joy. And that is the next point.
  2. Forgiveness is how we pursue our joy.
    1. All of humanity pursues happiness.  We are hardwired that way.  Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness, this is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.  The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views.  The will never takes the least step but to this object.  This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves” (Brauns).
    2. God created us to image Him, to reflect Him in all that we do.  In Ephesians 5:1 it says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”  When we image God we are living as God created us.  We are fulfilling the very purpose that God created us for.  And it is when we image God we will experience great joy.
    3. The beauty of these two truths is that forgiveness is not some bitter pill that we have to swallow so that God is glorified, rather we can pursue forgiveness because it glorifies God and maximizes our joy.
  3. Forgivness is critical for our salvation.
    1. In Matthew 6:14-15 we read, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
    2. Now Jesus is not saying that His forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiveness.  That would mean we earn God’s grace through works, and that is not the case.  Rather, Jesus is saying, we can have confidence that our sins are forgiven when we forgive others.  And thus if we do not forgive others we should not think that our sins will be forgiven.  The point is, forgiveness is to characterize the followers of Jesus.
    3. Matthew 18 is a goldmine for understanding forgiveness.  In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Here Peter thinks 7 is a big number.  Jesus responds by saying, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  490 is a much bigger number than 7.  But forgiving someone 490 times is not the point.  Rather Jesus is saying  as a follower of Jesus you are to forgive.  Right after these verses, Jesus gives a parable on forgiveness to explain what He means.
    4. Here is a summary of the parable.  A servant is brought before the King.  He owes the King ten thousand talents which is a ridiculous amount money.  One talent is equivalent to about 20 years of wages.  Obviously this guy has no chance of paying the King.  So what does the King do?  He forgives the man the debt.  Here we see that this King must have immense riches to forgive such a debt.  We also see how gracious and merciful this King is.  But the story is not over.  The servant who had just been forgiven leaves the king and then runs into someone who owes him money.  The amount was 100 denarii.  A denarii is about a days wage.  So it’s a decent amount of money but nothing compared to what the servant had just been forgiven.  So what does this servant do?  He begins to beat this other person and then throws him into jail until he can pay what he owes.  Other servants saw this and they quickly told the king.  The King then summoned this servant and said, “You wicked servant!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.”
    5. So what do we learn here?  God has mercy on us so that we will have mercy on others.  In fact, one way we know we have tasted God’s great mercy is because we are merciful to others.
    6. What does it mean that the servant is thrown to the jailers?  We should not think that this him getting his hand slapped.  The servant is not just experiencing a “timeout” because of bad behavior  No, the word jailers can also be translated torturers.  And because of the immense debt the servant owes, we should not think that the servant will ever be able released.  I believe Jesus is giving us a picture of hell here.
    7. And in verse 35, Jesus closes this teaching by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  Jesus is pretty clear here.  He is not beating around the bush.  If we do not forgive then we will not experience the eternal blessed presence of God.  Everyone who has experienced the forgiveness of God is called to forgive.  Jeff Vanderstelt said, “What God has done to us He also wants to do through us.”  God has forgiven you that you would forgive others and thus reveal the amazing gracious forgiveness of God.
  4. So why should we as believers forgive?  When we forgive others, we are glorifying God and maximizing our joy.  Our forgiveness of others also demonstrates that we have been forgiven by God.  Let us joyfully pursue forgiveness that we would glorify God, grow in joy, and have our faith strengthened.

 

Photo by timlewisnm

Praise God for the Gospel

I just finished reading Romans 3. It’s easy to read 3:9-18 and think of the wickedness and evil of the world and other people. But if I read it that way then I miss the meaning. This text is not just about others but it is about me. It describes me apart from the grace of Jesus.

I am not righteous.
I don’t understand.
I do not seek for God.
I have turned aside.
I am worthless.
I do nothing good.
My throat is an open grave.
My tongue is deceitful.
My mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
My feet are swift to shed blood.
My path is full of ruin and misery.
I do not know peace.
I do not fear God.

Conclusion: I deserve the full wrath and judgment of God. I am full of sin. Sin naturally flows from me like water flows in a river. Because I am sinful, I am not good enough to save myself. I have no means of rescuing myself. I cannot earn or merit the help of someone else. I am helpless and hopeless.

And that is why verses 24-25 are so amazing. I am “justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

God’s grace in Jesus is what saves me. Praise God for His grace and mercy. Praise God that He is full of love and patience. Praise God for pursuing me when I ran from Him and wanted nothing to do with Him. Praise God for making me beautiful when I was not beautiful. Because of God’s grace in Jesus we who are helpless can have hope. Jesus has come to save and by faith in Him we are saved. May I never forget that glorious truth. May I never forget how wonderful and beautiful and necessary the grace of God is. Thank you God!