Monthly Archives: August 2014

Revelation 3:1-6

1“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches

 

 

The letter to the church at Sardis begins with a description of the risen Christ holding seven stars. The seven stars are the seven churches; all the people in all the churches of the Lord belong to Him. It is not a person’s church or a pastor’s church; it is the Lord’s church. The church at Sardis had a specific problem: they had degenerated into lifelessness and ineffectiveness. They were sleepwalking through life, performing some rote duties and looking for that sweet spot of ecclesiological comfort. Christ tells them to wake up: to rediscover what had fired them up in the first place. Horton speaks of the problem as pneumatological: they had “Pentecostal forms—but without the Pentecostal power.” But to the ones who are overcomers, Christ promises white garments (which symbolize purity) and to ever blot their names out of the book of life. Barclay explains this reference thusly: “In the ancient world, a king kept a register of his citizens. If a man committed a crime against the state, or when he died, his name was erased from the book of citizens. To have ones name written I the book of life is to be numbered amongst the faithful citizens of the Kingdom of God; it is to be included with those who belong to God.” We should bear in mind that a literal book is probably not in view here: but rather the reckoning of the individual with the people of God.

 

When church becomes a simple duty that is meaningless to us, we make the church lifeless. I am always astounded at the people who complain that church is “dead” or “boring” and don’t realize that they themselves are the reason for it. A church full of people who only see their participation in it as part-time and optional should not be surprised when the overall experience is more akin to a log nap. Those who refuse to embrace the community of Christ here on earth are also harboring a significant portion of hypocrisy when it comes to the “book of life.” These are individuals who wanted nothing to do with the community of Christ on earth (it was “boring” and “dead” and “unnecessary” and “optional”) but they assume they’ll be reckoned among the citizens of the Kingdom—the same citizens they abused as irrelevant and unnecessary in this life. Christ is coming back to rapture His Church, not a ragtag collection of individuals. If you were too good to devote yourself to His Church, why would you assume you’re a part of her on that day?

 

Is your church listless? Lifeless? Ho-hum? Take a look in the mirror. If your own spiritual life, church attendance and church participation have degenerated into a shallow and lifeless duty that you’d prefer to skip, you are a contributing factor to the death of your church.

Advertisements

Revelation 2:18-29

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

 

The church at Thyatira was a bustling hive of activity, though the town itself was a far cry from the significance of Ephesus or Smyrna: “the longest of the seven letters is written to the church in the smallest and least important town!” (Morris). This is the one letter to use the title “Son of God”—in fact, it’s the only place in Revelation where this occurs (Morris). The members at Thyatira were quite accomplished in their spiritual growth. They had progressed in their devotion to Christ and their works—very much the opposite of the strong start and eventual waning of Ephesus. Still, there is a problem at Thyatira: Jezebel. No historically minded Jewish person would have tolerated being called this: the original Jezebel had been a pagan woman married to Ahab the king of Judah, and she had introduced the worship of false gods and the immersion of pagan practices to God’s people. She had been a seducer of YHWH’s people. In the Bible, apostasy and faithless to God is always spoken of in sexual terms as adultery or fornication. Thyatira had this problem in her midst: “a church which is crowded with people and which is a hive of energy and a dynamo of activity is not necessarily a real church” (Barclay). Jezebel, in Thyatira, was likely either an actual prophetess who encouraged serious compromise with the world, or simply the overarching spirit of that compromise. She and her company claim to know the “deep things of Satan,” which could well be a reference to a common heresy of the day that it was a plain duty to experience every kind of sin (Barclay). In all probability, “Jezebel was teaching that a Christian ought to accommodate himself to the world, and ought not so rigidly to reject all the worlds’ practices” (Barclay). Note that at the end of this letter there is the usual formula of “to him who overcomes,” but this time it’s followed by “and does my will to the end.” There is a real contrast here between “her works” (2.22) and Christ’s. As Morris puts it, “The Christian life is not a battle but a campaign. Perseverance is important.”

 

In our own day and age, we marvel at the apparent ecclesiological abilities of those who are able to build mega churches. We obviously value these hives of activity, since so many of us go there. Our own small church has tried so many things to attract the students of the local Bible college to attend, but the larger college crowds at the local mega church far outweigh the practical ministry experience and mentorship that we can provide. While I’m not suggesting that the mega church is wicked or evil, I am noting that, in a marketplace of ideas, their product is much more attractive to the consumer than our simple perseverance, evangelism and growth. But a greater problem exists than the college-aged “church shopper” mentality: the propensity to compromise with the world. Like the church in yesterday’s readings, The Thyatiran church had a core of people who were quite ready to roll over for the world. I see this propensity in the American church as it relates to the so-called “culture wars.” Despite the fact that the postmodern American culture declared war on Christianity, we are nonetheless blamed for these culture wars in the popular media. The sad movement of fundamentalism swept through evangelicalism in the 1920’s, and led to the unbiblical separatist mentality with which many of us grew up. After almost a century of refusing to take part in our culture’s aesthetics and philosophical conversation, we scratch our heads in disbelief that the world disregards us when we offer our two cents. We left the conversation, after all. This was an extreme to which we shouldn’t have gone; the inability to exegete the culture as well as the scriptures robs the Christian of his witness. We must know the music, art, and philosophy of our day in order to give a good answer for the gospel.

 

However, in a misguided attempt to overcome this fundamentalist problem, today’s hip and trendy Christian often swings to the other extreme—throwing fellow Christians under the bus while embracing the practices and arguments of the world around us. The trendy Christian of today doesn’t want to be associated with the pro-life people of the 80’s and 90’s. They don’t want to be associated with the anti-pornography campaigns of the 1980’s. They don’t want the world to look at them and see Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. In an attempt to curry favor with the culture, this kind of Christian usually spends more time lifting his one voice in support of the culture and against the perseverance of the Christian. When a scrape occurs between the world and the Church, this Christian inevitably takes the side of the world, thinking himself highly intellectual and much more valid.

 

Trendy Christians think they’re cultivating favor with the culture. They imagine that they’re building a bridge to the unbelievers, enhancing their own credibility so that they’ll realize that it’s reasonable to be Christian. It’s really the grown-up version of the silly idea of youth ministry that’s been so pervasive for 40 years: come hang out with us because we’re also cool and you’ll have more fun. I am not a fundamentalist; I would prefer it if everyone in my church were involved in the culture in some way. But I also will not compromise serious positions with the world. It is always wrong to kill babies, and in that respect I find nothing objectionable about my forebears who stood against this abhorrent practice. I recognize a hypocrisy in the politically correct speech code movement that seeks to shut down discourse with Christianity—and I am not going to play along. I believe the Wheels-Off Theologian put it best when he wrote this.

 

The best application for this reading is to remember that this pagan spirit is described as a Jezebel. She’s seductive. The propositional truth of the gospel is not to be compromised. The Christian is always to stand for His word, not the culture’s rejection of it. When we lift our voices in support of a friend—or against a foe—whom are we helping or hurting? Are we helping Christ’s Body? Or are we bruising it so that we can help our pals in the world? I wish every Christian would think seriously about these matters.

 

Exegete your culture. Don’t avoid the film, music, art, and sporting events of the day because you don’t think they’re “spiritual.” But remember the truth that has saved you, and never lose sight of your mission of spreading that truth to others. This is not to be compromised. Sooner or later, you will look exactly like Falwell to them. Might as well make sure you’re on Christ’s side, rather than your own.

 

Revelation 2: 12-17

There is a time and a place for compromise. If my wife and I are going to a restaurant, we might compromise on how many times in a row she has to eat Mexican food. But if my suggestion is to drive our car off a cliff, she will be unbending in her position that we should NOT do that. That situation is neither the time nor the place for compromise. Those of us in the faith are constantly faced with the temptation to compromise. How do we respond?

 

12And to the angel of the church of Pergamum write: the One Who has the sharp, double-edged sword says this: 13“I know where you live, where Satan’s throne is, and you hold fast My name and did not deny My faith—even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14But I have a few things against you: because you have there some who hold fast to the teachings of Balaam, who was teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat meals offered to idols and to commit sexual immorality. 15So you also have some who in the same way hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. 16Therefore repent: or else, I am coming quickly and will right against them by the sword from My mouth. 17He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone, which nobody knows but he who receives it.

 

Pergamum is called the “seat of Satan” in today’s readings, due to the amount of persecution taking place in that city. The term Μάρτυς (2.13) is literally translated “witness,” but is the origin of our term “martyr,” so that both terms are interchangeable in this context. Gabelein’s view that each church letter represents a different epoch in Church history leads him to conclude that this is the time of Constantine. Though Constantine is largely credited with legalizing Christianity, what he actually did was antithetical to the gospel (making the Empire into a theocracy). Those of us who see the letters as having been written to real churches will recognize Pergamum as a wicked city that was also the seat of a faithful church. They had stood fast in the midst of horrific persecution; apparently, a martyr by the name of Antipas had been quite faithful, all the way to his death (which tradition has stated was by the means of being placed in a large copper bull and roasted to death). But some of the people among the Pergamum church were going after the teaching of Balaam. “When he could not curse Israel, he put the daughters of Midian and Moab amongst the people of God and in the unlawful mixture which followed he succeeded in hurting Israel (Nu 31.16, 25.1-2, Jude 2)” (Gabelein). Horton describes the problem in similar terms: “compromising their faith with the lax morals and heathen social customs of the day.” Gabelein’s view that this letter is symbolic of the time period of Constantine leads him to conclude that the error of the Nicolaitans was the priestly assumption—the beginnings of recognizable Roman Catholicism—since the Greek compound of “Nicolaitan” is “domineerers of the people.” To the one who is able to overcome this tendency to compromise, there will be given a white pebble, which was used in judicial matters as a vote of not guilty (Horton).

 

Particularly in a free country, in which we face virtually no persecution but have large swaths of time on our hands, there is a tendency to compromise our faith. When we invite the Midianite and Moabite women into our midst—the comfort level with sexual immorality and idolatry—we compromise the faith. Jesus’ harsh words to the compromisers is unmistakable: I am coming to fight against you. In our minds, perhaps we’re able to rationalize why this temptation or that act is fine for the moment, and doesn’t threaten our faith, which is internal. But this compromise with the enemy rots our effectiveness as witnesses from the inside out. Contrasted in this passage is the faithful witness of Antipas and the morality of the compromisers.

 

Are you compromising your faith? Are you sold out for the gospel, like Antipas? Or are you “getting by” with the least level of dedication? Balaam’s compromise was what eventually destroyed the sons of Israel; it’ll destroy us, as well. Jesus says “repent.” Turn from compromise and walk the path of sanctification. Don’t turn to the right or the left.

 

No compromise today.

Revelation 2:8-11

When we moved to the metroplex in 2009, we were in the market for a house. We “prequalified” for a mortgage that seemed—to us, at least—obscenely high. We knew, however, that there was no way we could afford the payments on such a home. It was tempting, but we considered the cost. Today, we live in a very modest home—but one that we can afford. Such budgetary thinking is good for our faith, as well. So many Christians fail to count the cost of discipleship. They believe that it is a freebie, like the gift of salvation itself. They don’t recognize how very expensive this faith truly is, when lived appropriately and biblically.

 

8To the angel of the church of Smyrna write: The One Who is the first and the last, Who was dead and has come to life, says this: 9I know your affliction and poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say that they are Jews and are not—but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear that which you are about to suffer. Behold: the devil is about to cast some of you into prison in order that you might be tested, and you will have affliction for ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: He who overcomes will by no means be hurt by the second death.

 

Smyrna was a bustling city famous for its loyalty to Rome and its games. The competition was akin to our Olympics, and Smyrna was the place for it. It was a city that had been destroyed and had not existed for almost 400 years—and then had sprang back to life as one of the few planned cities in the ancient world. Gabelein, working from the assumption that each of these letters stands for a different epoch of time, sees Smyrna as the next period in the history of the Church up to about A.D. 313. Those who see Smyrna as a specific church in Asia Minor recognize the literal suffering of many of the saints as something that would, indeed, repeat itself throughout history. Polycarp was a bishop of Smyrna who had been trained by some of the apostles, and when he was captured and led out to the arena to be burned alive, he was given the opportunity to recant his confession of Christ and declare Caesar as Lord. His response, recorded on 23 Feb A.D. 155, was “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

 

The fact that Smyrna had been dead and was by then alive again was fitting for Christ’s emphasis to the church in that city. His words to them begin by reminding them of Christ’s eternity and of His death and resurrection” (Horton). Morris points out that the verb tense back in 1.18 emphasized continuity (“I am living”), whereas in this reference “the aorist tenses put the stress on the actual happenings: ‘he became dead, and sprang to life again.’” The “ones who call[ed] themselves Jews and are not” are probably Judaized Christians who had perverted and obscured the gospel (Gabelein). By calling them a “synagogue of Satan,” John is surely hearkening back to the day when he heard the Master telling the legalistic Jews that they were of their father, the devil. Morris points out that “their assembly of worship did not gather together God’s people, but Satan’s, who is ‘the accuser of our brothers’ (12.10).” The Smyrnan church has endured afflictions, and the Greek word here means “serious trouble, the burden that crushes” (Morris). He promises them that they will continue to endure this horrific trouble for ten days (2.10), which is a curious time reference. There are a couple of ways to take this: Gabelein, for instance, believes this to be a reference to the ten great persecutions of Christians by the Roman emperors until Constantine. Barclay recognizes that “in ancient custom ten days was an expression for a short time which was soon to come to an end. So this prophecy is at once a warning and a promise.” Christ promises the church, however, that the person who “overcomes” (νικῶν) will not ever be hurt by the second death. This second death—the lake of fire which will be discussed at greater length in chapter 20—is completely powerless against those who have trusted Christ and have overcome the power of the enemy by His blood. In fact, the Greek verb tense here is an aorist subjunctive that is a type of emphasizer—he “will by no means be hurt” (μὴ ἀδικηθῇ). Rather, the overcomer will receive the crown of life. This crown (2.10) is not a king’s crown, but a “crown, or wreath, placed on the head of the victor, or winner, in a race or athletic contest” (Horton). This was a fitting reference for the church in a city famous for its games.

 

It is difficult to pinpoint when it started, but somewhere along the way American evangelicals began to believe that the purpose of the Christian walk was comfort and prosperity. We developed youth groups that contained kids who were being “babysat” for the kingdom—cloistered clubs of teenagers with Christian-themed t-shirts and music who didn’t have to see themselves as functioning members of the broader church, and who were never given a sense of mission to the world around them. Little wonder, then, that those kids have grown up and kept that bad ecclesiology: church is a place where others do stuff. And I get to enjoy the fruits of that stuff if I go. Today’s average evangelical would be shell-shocked to witness the fury of the persecutions that swept through Smyrna. Is today’s clownish youth pastor preparing his young people to be burned alive for confessing Christ? Do today’s Christians count the cost of discipleship? For most in the world, it has been quite expensive.

 

That day is coming again. We have enjoyed a season of freedom, but the tide of cultural opinion is decidedly against us, and the motion of history certainly is. If we are serious about our faith, we’ll carefully and diligently pass it on to the next generation of believers as a precious thing that is worth dying for—because they quite possibly will be required to. And in the meantime, let us meditate today on the costs of our faith as they currently exist. You are surely not being asked to recant your faith confession under penalty of being burned alive—so what is the cost of trusting and confessing Christ? And in such an environment of relative freedom and comfort, shouldn’t the gospel message be that much easier to “get out”? In an age in which you are still free to attend church, shouldn’t it be easier to willingly go, volunteer to serve, and be part of His community?

 

As we go through our day of freedom and comfort, let’s ask ourselves about our own dedication to the gospel of Christ. And respond accordingly.

Revelation 2:1-7

Sometimes, the only thing keeping a man and wife together is the commitment that was originally made. The “first love,” as it were, is no longer there. When a marriage is based entirely on duty, it can become monotonous and unpleasant; it is a necessity that the spark be renewed. The first love must be recaptured. Many Christians fall into this same paradigm with God.

 

1To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: The One Who holds the seven stars in His right hand, Who walks in the midst of the seven lampstands, says this: 2“I know your works and your hard labor and your steadfastness, and that you cannot endure evil men—and you put those who call themselves apostles to the test, and they are not, and you found them to be false. 3And you have steadfastness and have endured for the sake of My name, and have not grown weary. 4But I have something against you: you have left your first love. 5Therefore, remember the place from where you have fallen and repent and do the works you did at first, or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand from its place—if you do not repent. 6But this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolatians, which I also hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give to him to eat of the tree of life that is in the Paradise of God.

 

Different expositors take the seven letters differently; some say that these are a literary device—that the message is directed to the church at large, and the “seven” division is arbitrary. Others say each letter stands for a different epoch in history (“Ephesus representing the first century, Smyrna the period of persecution, Pergamum the age of Constantine, Thyatira the Middle Ages, Sardis the Reformation era, Philadelphia the time of the modern missionary movement, and Laodicea the apostasy of the last days”). But “much more probable that the letters are letters to real churches” (Morris). Gabelein points out that “There were many hundreds of churches in existence throughout the countries where the gospel had been preached. But messages form the Glorified Son of Man were not sent to all of them. Only seven, and these closely connected in the province of Asia, were selected by the Lord.” Ephesus, the first church among the seven has a name that means “desired.” This church was the object of His love, “so beautifully stated in the Epistle to the Ephesians. He loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Gabelein). It was the most important and bustling city in its area, and its temple to Artemis (Diana) was one of the seven wonders of the world. Paul stayed there longer than any other city (Ac 20.31), Timothy was first bishop (1 Ti 1.3), and we find Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos (Ac 18.19, 24, 26). When Christ appears in this reading, He is once again in the midst of His Churches. He knows exactly what each church needs. The Ephesians are commended on their “steadfastness” (ὑπομονην)—which Barclay calls “courageous gallantry which accepts suffering and hardship and loss and turns them into grace and glory.” They had been particularly diligent in guarding orthodoxy; folks who showed up and claimed to be prophets were put to the test. They were fierce guardians of correct teaching. But in their case, orthodoxy cost too much: “the gallant endurance was there; the unimpeachable orthodoxy was there; but the love was gone” (Barclay). “They had yielded to the temptation, ever present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching. In the process they lost love without which all else is nothing” (Morris). “They were giving the Lord their service, but not themselves” (Horton). It is also noteworthy that Christ promises the overcomer that he will be in the “Paradise of God” (2.7). This word is Persian in origin, and was used to describe the lush pleasure gardens enjoyed by kinds. It is associated specifically with the garden imagery of Genesis 1; the garden that God created is both “already” (existing in the presence of God Himself) and “not yet” (the bliss in the created world to come).

 

The last century has seen a serious attack on orthodoxy, particularly in our own country. The evangelical tendency to throw out anything that smacks of liturgical ritual has resulted in “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” so to speak. It is now possible to believe any of a number of silly and unbiblical things about God and man. Heretical and dangerous perversions of God’s word sell briskly from the shelves of Christian bookstores (Jesus Calling). Men stand in pulpits without ever having learned to divide God’s word diligently and carefully. People wander into and out of churches and cavalierly claim to be prophets and prophetesses of the Living God. In such an environment, sound biblical teaching and historical Christian orthodoxy have taken a backseat—indeed, have often been vilified themselves as “too intellectual.” This has been a time for the revival of the Ephesian church’s propensity to test the spirits and to diligently guard the historic faith that has been handed to us. But in the pursuit of such a high calling, we sometimes forsake our first love. Is it possible that we give the Lord our service, but not ourselves? Is our love for the Lord and for others waning as we push ahead to make certain that we’re doing our duty for Him?

 

We must never lose sight of the fact that we belong to the Living God. He loves to meet with us experientially in time. He loves your company. Do you love Him? Do you love being in His presence? There’s more to your “time with God” than just reading; engage Him in prayer, and don’t forsake the assembling together of His Body, where He meets with you. When you spend time with Him, you’ll love Him and be reminded of His love for you.

 

Revelation 1:9-20

It is easy to lose sight of Whom we serve when our circumstances gang up on us. I am a Christian, but when I look at my budget I can get overwhelmed by the status of things in there. I remember what it was like to live under the most dire of all medical diagnoses, and attempt to reconcile that with my faith. We may not be living in a cave on an island, but we are contending with the misery of the fallen creation, and we need, occasionally, to be reminded that the Ancient of Days is still in charge. He is still standing in the midst of His Church, telling us to stop fearing.

 

9I John, your brother and sharer in the affliction and kingdom and patient endurance [steadfastness] in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and heard behind me a great voice, like a trumpet, 11saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamum and Thyatira and Sardis and Philadelphia and Laodicea.” 12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and having turned, saw seven golden lampstands. 13And in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like the son of Man wearing a long robe and wrapped around His chest with a belt. 14And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow, and His eyes were as a flame of fire, 15and His feet were like brass that has been refined in the furnace, and His voice was as the sound of many waters. 16And in His right hand He had seven stars and from out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword, and His face was as the sun shining in its strength. 17When I saw Him, I fell down at His feet as though dead. And He placed His right hand on me and said, “Do not fear; I am the first and the last, 18and the living One, and One Who was dead—and behold! I am alive forever and ever, and I have the keys to death and Hades. 19Therefore write the things that you have seen, and the things that are—and the things that will take place after these things. 20As to the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are seven churches.”

 

Two phrases exist side-by-side in today’s readings: John was in Patmos, and John was in the Spirit. IF you visit Patmos today, tour guides will take you to a small cave in the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. John was sentenced to hard labor and ate off the floor and lived a generally miserable existence. Barclay estimates that he was possibly banished about A.D. 94 and liberated around A.D. 96. In that cave, one can hear the sea constantly—little wonder, then, that the sound of waters and the sea play such a large role in this book. But in the midst of this misery, we note that John was “in the Spirit.” He claims to be a sharer in the affliction and steadfastness of the Church (1.9), and the word that he uses for steadfastness is ὑπομονη, which means “an active and manly endurance, not a negative resignation” (Morris). He is pushing forward in the midst of a backward-moving force. He exists in misery, but is in the Spirit. Suddenly, he hears a voice like that of many waters—a borrowed bit of imagery from Ezekiel 43.2, when the old prophet used the sound of many waters to describe the voice of YHWH. When he turns to look, He sees “one like unto the Son of Man” (1.13, ὅμοιον υἱὸν ἀνθρώπου)—and his audience will immediately recognize the phrasing from Daniel 7.13, a description of the Ancient of Days. This powerful spectacle contrasts sharply with the Patmos surroundings: the Ancient of Days is the Son of Man—He is God Almighty, and He is the Giver of vision and mission to John. He has a robe reaching to His feet, which is a mark of a person of distinction. Horton sees it as symbolic of ““both priestly dignity and royal office,” and once again John’s audience might recall that the person Who gave Daniel God’s word was also dressed in linen and gold (Da 10.5). He has white wool hair—just like the Ancient of Days in Da 7.9—and while some see this as a symbol of wisdom and dignity of age, Ladd notes that this is a symbol of deity. Note also the description of Christ in this passage; refer back to it as we read the letters to the seven churches in the days ahead. Each of the aspects of Christ’s description here will show up again, piece by piece, in those letters—demonstrating that this book is also a carefully crafted work of literature as well. John’s response to this spectre is the same as Isaiah’s and other prophets: he falls on his face. The presence of God is enough to remove all pride and arrogance from Man, who thinks of himself as able. John is on his face like a dead man. And just like in the gospels, the Lord says Μη φοβου—“Stop fearing!” or “Do not fear!” (1.17) to John. His announcement that He holds the keys to death and Hades—the place of the dead—is a statement of supremacy that is “such as tyrants who persecuted John’s readers never dreamed of” (Morris). He calls Himself the “Living One,” which is a title of God. He stands in the midst of the seven lampstands, which are the churches. He is ever in the midst of His Church. Some debate has been occasioned as to the identity of the “angels” in the passage. The Greek for angel is also translated “messenger.” Swete thinks of these as the essential “spirit” of each church—the prevailing spiritual attitude. Horton and many others take it as the leaders or pastors of each church, and Gabelein says “the lampstands represent the visible, professing church; the stars represent the true believing element in the church.” Somewhere between Horton’s and Gabelein’s position seems most preferable.

 

In the midst of great trial, He still stands in the midst of His Church. He still holds the keys to death and Hades, because He is still the Ancient of Days. When our budgets, medical diagnoses, and worldly afflictions loom large in our consciousnesses, we need reminding that the Ancient of Days is still in charge. The Son of Man is still among His Church. He is still saying to us, “Stop fearing!” It looks like the “bad” is winning, but we’re talking about the Ancient of Days here! He loves us enough to have revealed Himself to us, and He’s going to win. What is called for on our parts is a resolute steadfastness—even when things don’t go the way we’d like.

 

While you’re on Patmos, be in the Spirit. His presence is real, and His power is absolute. Stand in it, and stop fearing.

Revelation 1:1-8

When I taught high school literature, it never failed that each year someone would complain that the reading assignment I had given was simply too boring. “I can’t read this,” someone would invariably complain, “because it’s boring and I can’t get into it.” 100% of the time, this was an individual who hadn’t done a lot of reading in his life; he’d played a lot of video games or watched a lot of television, though, and those are passive forms of entertainment that make very little demands on the imagination or the brain. To read Emerson or Shakespeare is to invest yourself mentally in the text. Once you do that, you’ll start getting out of it what you put into it. The same students, once they began reading, were amazed at how exciting and awesome the reading assignment was. They simply had to invest in it first. The same paradigm exists with the modern evangelical and the practice of reading the Bible.

 

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, given to him by God to show His servants the things that must soon take place; and He sent and made known through His angel to His servant John, 2who testified to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ—even all that he saw. 3Blessed is he who reads aloud and those who hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things that are written in it, for the time is near. 4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the witness, the faithful, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him Who loved us and released us from our sins by His blood: 6and has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the power forever, Amen. 7“Behold: He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him—yes, amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “Who is, and was, and is to come, the Almighty.”

 

To the Jewish mind in the late 1st century, there was no hope left of a special dispensation as God’s people. There were only two ages: the present age, and the age to come, in which God would ultimately set things right. In this present age, creation is fallen and the times are wholly bad; in the age to come, God will redeem His creation. We note that 1.1 tells us that all revelation begins with God; He is the source of all truth. John is writing these words during a time when men were cognizant of the transcendence of God—that is, “they were impressed above all things with the difference and the distance between God and man” (Barclay). There was not yet a tendency to think of God as a “buddy,” but more like a—well, a God. To have a communication like this was significant, and John knew it.

 

He writes in 1.3 that the man who reads this book aloud (ἀναγινωσκων) is blessed. In the early churches, the liturgy was based on the ancient Jewish tradition of reading the Torah aloud in the synagogue. In many churches, the public reading of scripture is still sacred. Those who read aloud the Word are honoring it, and to hear it and not obey it would have been mindless and infantile: “there is no real Christianity in the man who hears and forgets, or ho hears and deliberately disregards. Every privilege brings with it a corresponding responsibility; and the privilege of hearing brings the responsibility of remembering and obeying” (Barclay). We also note that all the tribes of the earth mourn when they see Jesus—these are those who didn’t honor His word, but went their own way.

 

John uses the number 7 in this book 54 times; it is a number that would have symbolized completeness and perfection to the audience to whom he was writing. Christ, the perfect man, is the faithful witness on whom we may rely. He is the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth, and has loved us and set us free from our sins. The imagery John employs of “every tribe of the earth” is deliberately reminiscent of Daniel 7.13-14, and we also note that he cites Zechariah 12.10—the Old Testament will play a huge role in this prophecy. In addition to the identity of Christ, he lists three elements of the identity of God, as well, drawing the two together.

 

The “Lord God” (κυριος ὀ θεος, 1.8) is a term used in the Old Testament to refer to the one true God, the I AM. In this same verse, when Jesus says “I am the alpha and the omega,” He is deliberately assuming that role. He is the beginning of all and the end of all. He was, is, and is to come—is ever-constant, never-changing, and wholly “other.” He is also the “Almighty” (παντοκράτωρ). The same God Who created is the One Who redeems.

 

If this is true, then blessed truly is the one who reads and keeps the word of God. One of the big disconnects in our modern western world is the almost total absence of awareness of ramifications. If He is God, His word is true. If His word is true, we ought to read it and keep it. But how much time do we really spend in the Word? How much time do we spend meditating on its precepts and keeping it daily? To many evangelicals, the Bible is simply an expensive book that we bring to church. The high level of honor that the early church afforded the word is instructive: they stood and read the word aloud in the congregation, honoring it—and thus emphasizing the importance of keeping it.

 

Two problems exist with today’s Christian: the first is that he has a difficult time recognizing the transcendence of God. Jesus is his pal, after all. There is no real mystery or “other-ness” to Him; He’s the guy with the beard and robes and the children on his lap. He’s smiling warmly and speaking of the dignity of being poor. He’s like a kindly uncle. We’ve lost sight of the concept of reverence—acknowledging the “wholly Other” nature of God Almighty. Another of the problems with today’s view is that people assume that they just can’t understand the Word when they read it. This is a nonsensical view, however: God revealed Himself to you through His word—therefore, He expects you to understand it. Will you have to invest yourself in it more than you do a television show or a video game? Yes…and that takes some effort. But blessed is he who takes this effort.

 

Still yourself before the Alpha and Omega today. The ruler over all the kingdoms of the earth is before you, and has redeemed you by His blood. Read His word. Meditate on it. Invest some time in it. Keep it. Behave toward His word as though He really is the One coming Who will cause the self-absorbed to mourn when they see Him.