Sunday, June 30, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 10, The Lord's Words To The Church At Smyrna/The Second Church Age

The Lord addresses Himself in our study today to the church located in Smyrna. Smyrna is the only church mentioned in Revelation for whom the Lord has no words of criticism. We will talk about why this is, and we will take a look at why Smyrna represents the second church age.

Smyrna is known as the "martyr church". Not only did the literal church at Smyrna endure a great deal of persecution, but Christians of the church age it represents (from about 100 AD to 312 AD) experienced so much persecution from the Roman government that some sources estimate as many as five million Christians were killed for their faith. It was during this age that it became a common practice for Romans to throw Christians to the lions in the public arenas for sport. Emperor worship was at its most prevalent during this time, and everyone living within the Roman Empire was expected to offer incense to the emperor and declare "Caesar is Lord"---a thing the Christians refused to do. Because they would not do this, they were considered blasphemers for calling Jesus Christ "Lord", and in many cases they were considered enemies of the government. It was during this age that one particular Roman emperor, Diocletian, tried to eradicate the written gospel from the earth. He wanted both the written name and the spoken name of Christ permanently banned. Because of this, the Christians of the large and prosperous city of Smyrna were shunned by almost everyone but their fellow Christians, which effectively served to prevent them from making a living at their occupations. In many cases their rights and their properties were taken from them. The Christians of Smyrna were often homeless, living on the streets and living on whatever scraps they could scrounge or on whatever few coins those who felt pity for them might throw to them.

The Christians of Smyrna and the Christians of the second and third centuries BC endured a great deal for the name of Christ, yet they refused to deny His name in spite of their suffering. This is why He has no words of criticism for them. He begins His message to the Christians of Smyrna like this: "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again." (Revelation 2:8) As we studied yesterday, the word translated "angel" in English is the Greek word "aggeloj" which means "messenger". It is generally accepted by many reputable scholars that the letters in Revelation are addressed to the pastors of the churches.

Just as He did yesterday when He spoke to the Christians of Ephesus, Christ picks out a particular aspect of Himself to emphasize. In this case, He reminds the church at Smyrna that He is the "First and Last, who died and came to life again". It may appear to the Christians of Smyrna that they are about to be wiped from the earth. They may have doubts whether Christianity itself will survive the age they are living in. So the Lord reminds them of another day when things seemed hopeless to those who believed in Him. He is the One who once lay still and dead in a dark tomb, and yet rose from the dead and is alive forevermore. What looked like the end was only the beginning.

Jesus Christ lets the Christians of Smyrna know that their troubles have not gone unnoticed by Him. "I know your afflictions and your poverty---yet you are rich!" (Revelation 2:9a) Notice that He doesn't promise to remove their afflictions and their poverty from them. But isn't it human nature for us to feel somewhat better just because someone acknowledges what we're going through? If the believers of Smyrna ever doubted that the Lord really sees what they're enduring for His name, He puts those doubts to rest. He knows what they've suffered by following Him. And though they are poor by the world's standards, they are rich by God's standards, for, "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mark 8:36) The Christians of Smyrna have gained eternal life, and if in doing so they have had to forfeit "the whole world", they are winners in the eyes of God. When compared to eternity, life is short. The things of this world are temporary. The church members of Smyrna have lost a great deal of temporary things by proclaiming the name of Christ, but they have stored up for themselves treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-21) They have an inheritance awaiting them that can never be taken away from them.

It's bad enough that he believers of Smyrna have been robbed of their livelihoods and possessions, but they've also had their good reputations slandered by a group whom Jesus declares were not who they claim to be. "I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." (Revelation 2:9b) We don't know specifically who these people were or what exactly they were doing to the Christians of Smyrna, but they added their persecution to the persecution that the Gentiles were heaping on the Christians. Jesus is not saying something anti-Semitic here; after all, He was a Jew. He's talking about people who claim to be something they are not. There have always been people who claim to belong to the Lord when in truth they are doing the deeds of the devil. Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) He said that everything in the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. So anyone who claims to be either a Jew or a Christian, and yet does not love God and their fellow man, is a liar and a hypocrite.

Jesus doesn't promise that things are going to get better for the Christians in Smyrna. Instead He encourages them to stand strong. "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown." (Revelation 2:10) The "ten days" He refers to are obviously not ten literal days. We know that their suffering continued on into the third century AD. It has been proposed by a number of scholars over the centuries that these "ten days" may symbolize the reigns of ten especially wicked Roman emperors of the first three centuries AD. Included in this list would be Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Severus, Maximinius, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian, and Diocletian. If this is the meaning of the "ten days" then it's clear why Jesus would use symbolic language rather than having John write down the names of the emperors who have already reigned, or the one who is currently reigning, or those who haven't yet come on the scene. It would not be good for a Christian to be caught with a letter that speaks of the wickedness of any Roman emperor of the past, the present, or the future.

In ancient Rome it was common to give a crown of laurel leaves to the victors of athletic competitions. These crowns would dry up within a matter of days and would eventually crumble to dust. But the Lord has an everlasting victor's crown in store for everyone who has endured the trials of this world and who has not denied His name. The Apostle Paul, writing to Christian Gentiles who were familiar with the athletic competitions of the Roman and Greek world, urged his readers to run the race to win it. He compared Christian training to the training the athletes undertake, and he reminded his readers that they were running to win an eternal crown, not a temporary crown. "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." (1 Corinthians 9:25)

The Lord Jesus completes His message in today's passage with these words: "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death." (Revelation 2:11) This concluding remark is meant for us all. We are to listen to the Spirit with our "spiritual ears". We are to keep in mind that the hardships of this world are temporary. Even if we should die for our faith, our persecutors can only kill us once. They can only kill our bodies, and even the death of our bodies won't be permanent, for someday we will rise in bodies just like Christ's, never to die again. But those who deny the name of Christ should fear not only physical death, but also what He calls "the second death". The second death will occur when they stand before the great Judge and are found guilty and are sentenced to an eternity far from the light of His presence. This is a fate far worse than the death of the body.

If you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, you can only die once. As He Himself said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) If we fear the Lord (if we have a holy and reverent and worshipful respect of Him) we don't have to fear anyone or anything else.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 9, The Lord's Words To The Church At Ephesus/The First Church Age

Now we are moving on into the individual messages Christ has for each of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation. These churches were in existence in the latter part of the first century AD, but each of them also symbolizes an era in church history. We are going to study the personal message Christ has for each church, and we are going to talk about how and why each church represents a period in history.

The Lord says to John: "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:19-20) The word often translated as "angel" also simply means "messenger" (the Greek word "aggeloj" means "to bring tidings"). When Christ refers to the angels of the churches, the most likely explanation is that He is speaking of the pastors. It doesn't seem logical that the Lord would ask a human being to write a letter to an angel. How would John deliver it? Why would Christ not speak directly to an angel Himself? So we are going to operate on the assumption that the letters are to be addressed to the pastors of the churches, and the pastors are to read them aloud to the congregations.

Today we are going to be looking at the Lord's message to the church at Ephesus. He begins with words of commendation. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary." (Revelation 2:1-3) This is the Apostle John's "home church". Early church history tells us that he was bishop of the church at Ephesus prior to his exile to Patmos. The church at Ephesus symbolizes the first church age, which began in about 33 AD and ended in around 100 AD. Christians during the first church age were met not only with a great deal of persecution, but were also bombarded with false teachers. This is why we find the Lord praising them for testing all who claim to be apostles and for persevering and enduring hardships for their faith.

We spent several days earlier in the week studying the symbolism of various aspects of Christ's appearance to John. In the letter to Ephesus, the Lord emphasizes two of these aspects, referring to Himself as the One who holds the seven stars (the seven pastors) in His right hand and the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands (the seven churches). He may have chosen these particular symbols to remind the church at Ephesus that they are to keep Him at the center of their lives and at the center of their church. They are not the ones holding the church together; Christ is the One who holds all things together. (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3) They have worked so hard to make the early church grow and prosper that some of them have begun to think they are the ones holding the church together. They think that without their hard work and dedication, the church will fall apart. This means they have taken their focus off of Christ and are depending on their own strength.

The Lord reminds the members of the church that He should be at the center of their lives and at the center of their church. He does this because they are not walking as closely with Him as they once did. "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Revelation 2:4-5)

The Lord isn't threatening the church members of Ephesus that they are in danger of losing their salvation. What they are in danger of losing is their church. What He's saying is something like this, "If you don't look back and see how far you have drifted from Me, and if you don't get back in step with Me, I will remove My blessing from your church. The Holy Spirit will depart from your church, and your church will die." Have you ever seen a church die? I can think of one in my local area that is dying right now. This church began to become quite ill when its deacons hired a pastor whose mode of living didn't meet the Biblical qualifications of a church leader. He had a reputation in the community for repeatedly entering into sexual relationships with women of congregations he pastored. His long-term marriage had already broken up because of his behavior. Yet the leadership of the church hired him anyway, and soon he began an affair with a woman in the church. Members of the church began leaving in droves, and the offerings dropped to the point that they could no longer afford to pay the pastor. He departed at that point, but the church hasn't recovered. A once large and thriving church is down to about twenty members right now, and they can't afford to hire a pastor, so currently they are just inviting students of the local Bible college to come and practice preaching on Sunday mornings. I don't know whether this church will ever revive, but if it does it will be because its members obey the Lord who commands them to "repent and do the things you did at first".

The Lord doesn't want to close the message to Ephesus on a low point, so He ends on a more positive note. "But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (Revelation 2:6) History doesn't tell us who the Nicolaitans were. It has been proposed by a number of scholars that "Nicolaitans" doesn't represent their name but is a description of what they were doing. "Nicolaitains" may be derived from a combination of the Greek word "nikos" which means "to overthrow", and the Greek word "laos" which is a reference to "the common people". You may be familiar with the word "laity", defined as "lay people, distinct from the clergy". It could be that in the first century AD there was a growing tendency to allow the overseers of the church to control everything in the church---including what the people were allowed to read. If the church leaders were taking the Scriptures out of the hands of the church members, and not allowing them to study for themselves, then this opened the door for false teaching to creep in and deceive the members. If we can't read the Scriptures for ourselves, how will we recognize false doctrine? If we can't read the Scriptures for ourselves, how can we make godly decisions for our lives? The Lord gave us the Scriptures so that each of us can study them for ourselves, and so that each of us can develop a personal relationship with Him, and so that each of us will have a guide by which to conduct our lives.

The Lord concludes His personal message to the church of Ephesus, and to the first age of the church, and to all of us who belong to the church as a whole, with this: "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7)

The Lord urges the people of Ephesus, and us as well, to have "willing ears". It's possible to hear something and completely disregard it. He's telling us to hear His words and take them to heart. This is the attitude we should always have whenever we are listening to the word of God or reading the word of God. This is the attitude we should have whenever we are praying. We need to have "willing ears" so that we can hear and accept whatever the Holy Spirit says to us. If He points out an area of our lives that need work, we need to repent and do what He tells us to correct the problem.

The Lord wants us to maintain a close relationship with Him. It's natural to want a close relationship with someone we love, isn't it? This is how the Lord feels about us. He also wants us to stay close to Him for our own good. He knows that the closer we walk with Him, the farther we are walking from sin. And the farther we walk from sin, the less harm we will do to ourselves and to those around us.
He's not telling us to take stock of where we are so that He can scold us and punish us for it, but so that we can enjoy all the peace and blessings that come with walking closely in step with Him.


Friday, June 28, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 8, The Keys Of Death And Hades

We are going to study two very thought-provoking and mind-boggling statements in today's passage as John wraps up his introduction to the message of Revelation.

On Wednesday and Thursday we studied the appearance of Christ to the Apostle John. Now let's take a look at what John did when Christ appeared to him. "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead." (Revelation 1:17a) John didn't run up to his friend, throw his arms around Him, and express how happy he was to see Him again. No, this man who lived and worked alongside Jesus for three years, whose heart broke when he witnessed His death, whose soul rejoiced when He saw the resurrected Lord in the flesh, fell at His feet as though dead. He was so overwhelmed by the glory and majesty of the Lord that he fainted. 

This is a very serious statement which ought to abolish any idea anyone might have that they will go through this life without Christ and then be able to put on a successful defense before the judgment seat of the Lord. I've actually had people who are rejecting Christ say to me, "I'll just take my chances," as if they will talk their way out of answering for their sins by impressing Almighty God by brilliantly arguing their case before Him. What I'm about to say is coming from a loving heart that doesn't want anyone to have to face a holy God without Christ on their side: If John, who was one of Jesus' best friends on earth, fainted dead away at the sight of Him in His glorious appearance as Lord of lords, how will anyone who has rejected Him find the strength to stand in His presence?

I personally don't believe anyone will speak on their own behalf at the judgment, not because God won't allow it, but because being in the presence of such holiness will render us all speechless. I think that when we see the Lord as He really is, we will see ourselves as we really are, and that realization will cause us face the fact that we have earned any sentence He hands down. But, if we have made Christ the Lord of our lives, He will stand up for us in His role as defense attorney! He will speak on our behalf! You can be certain that Christ will not find Himself unable to speak in the presence of the Judge who also happens to be His Father. And you can be certain that God will accept the testimony of His Son.

When John faints, the Lord revives him and brings him back to his feet by placing a hand on him, and the Lord makes a declaration that never fails to thrill my soul. "Then He placed His right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hades.'" (Revelation 1:17-18) Having the keys to something means having ownership and authority over it. For example, we have the keys to our dwellings and to our cars. This means we have ownership and authority over them. This means we have the right to use the keys to open the doors. The keys to death and to the realm of the dead are in the hand of our Savior! They are not in the hand of Satan. They are not in our own hands either. They are in the hand of the only One who can be trusted with them.

In some versions of the English translation of the Bible, the last half of verse 18 has been rendered as "the keys of death and hell". This is not an error of doctrine, because of course through Christ we will avoid an eternity separated from God (hell, in other words). But it is somewhat of an error in translation. The Greek word "hades" simply meant the realm of the dead, and it is equivalent to the Hebrew word "sheol" which was believed to be the abode of the dead. The point here is that the realm of the dead could not hold onto Christ. "But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him." (Acts 2:24)

Death could not keep Christ in its clutches. When He rose from the grave, He had the victory over death. Because He triumphed over death, we who trust in Him will share in His triumph, rising someday from the dead ourselves. Like Christ, we will rise in immortal bodies, never to die again. The prophet Isaiah foresaw this awesome victory, saying, "He will swallow up death forever." (Isaiah 25:8a) The prophet Hosea related to the people a promise made by the Lord, who said, "I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?" (Hosea 13:14) These prophecies will come to their complete fruition on this day: "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'. 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting'?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

The poet John Dunne was moved to write about the victory we have over death through Christ, and we will conclude with his words which beautifully sum up the way death will be swallowed up forever. "One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die."

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 7, Christ's Appearance To John And The Symbolism Of His Appearance, Part Two

In yesterday's study John said that when Christ appeared to him, this is what he saw: "I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest. The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." (Revelation 1:12b-16) Although Christ did literally appear to the Apostle John, the manner in which He chose to appear to him is filled with symbolism. We are going to take each piece of information about His appearance and discuss what it may symbolize.

First, Jesus is standing among seven golden lampstands. There was a golden lampstand that stood in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the temple, but that was a single lampstand with seven branches coming up from it. But John saw seven separate lampstands. Since Jesus has just commanded John to write a letter to seven churches, the most logical explanation is that these seven lampstands represent the seven churches: the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These were seven churches in existence in John's day, but as I mentioned earlier in our study, these churches also represent the seven ages of the church as a whole. So by extension, the seven lampstands represent the church in every era.

It's important to note that Jesus is standing "among" the lampstands. This is generally taken to mean that the lampstands are standing in a circle and Jesus is in the center of them. This is where He should be. Everything the churches do should revolve around Him.

John tells us that Jesus looked like "a son of man"---like a human being. When He rose from the dead, He rose in an immortal human body. He appeared to the disciples and to his brothers and to many other followers in human form following the resurrection. He appeared to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos in human form. He will forever exist in human form because it is a badge of honor. It is a glory and a credit to Him that He---the Son of God and the heir of all things---was willing to lower Himself to become like us and to offer His life for us.

John saw Jesus wearing a long white robe. In the first century AD, extra long robes were considered a symbol of power and authority. White robes were intended to represent purity and to show that the wearer of the robe did not do manual labor but that his occupation involved the study or the teaching of the word of God. Remember how Jesus criticized the teachers of the law who were hypocrites? If they had truly been faithful to the Lord, they would have had the right to wear the long robes that marked them as people who were able to give godly advice, but instead He said they were wearing the robes only for show because in truth they were breaking the law by defrauding widows. He said they liked to make lengthy public prayers for the purpose of being admired by their fellow man. (Mark 12:38, Luke 20:46) Jesus, a righteous teacher of the law, has the right to wear the long white robe. We can go to Him in full confidence that any instruction He gives us will be perfectly in line with the word of God.

There was a golden sash tied about Jesus' chest. The high priest wore a sash around his chest that was interwoven with golden threads. But while the sash of the high priest contained only threads of gold, the sash Jesus is wearing appears to be woven entirely of golden threads. This is because His priesthood is far superior to the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priesthood was made up of mere human beings who were as prone to making mistakes as anyone else. But Jesus lived a perfect life, and therefore His priesthood is perfect, and the sash He wears as high priest represents the perfection of His priesthood. The high priest took the blood of the atoning sacrifice (animal blood) into the Most Holy Place once a year, and this rolled the sins off the people for a year. The high priest would have to perform the same duty the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, on and on. But Jesus took the blood of His atoning sacrifice (His own blood) into the Most Holy Place in heaven, and He only had to do this once. His sacrifice is enough to cleanse forever those who put their trust in Him.

John tells us that the Lord's hair was white. There are several things this could represent, or it may represent all of these things at once. White hair comes with age. Wisdom comes with age. Both of these things are compatible with Christ who has existed forever and who wants to instruct us in wise godly living. White is associated with purity, for in the book of Isaiah we find the Lord pleading with the people to repent so He can cleanse them of their sins: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18) In King Solomon's day, it was considered proof of godly living to survive to an old age and to have hair that is turning white. This is because those who lived wickedly often died at a younger age, either as a result of their own foolish actions or as a result of God's judgment. Solomon said, "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness." (Proverbs 16:31) So we see that the Lord appears to John with white hair that may symbolize His eternal existence, His wisdom, His purity, His righteousness, or all these things combined.

John says, "His eyes were like blazing fire", and, "His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace". In the Bible, fire is often connected either with judgment or with a process of refining. The eyes of fire could symbolize the coming judgment. The glowing of His feet like bronze in a furnace could symbolize the refining He does in our own lives, or it could represent the refining fire He Himself walked through. For although Jesus was perfect, the author of Hebrews says of Him, "Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered." (Hebrews 5:8) This doesn't mean the Son of God was ever disobedient, but that when He took on the form of man, He learned what it's like to obey God as a man. This is why, as the author of Hebrews says, He is in the perfect position to be our great high priest who is filled with compassion, because He knows what it's like to be us.

His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. Have you ever stood near a large waterfall? Were you able to hear anything other than the sound of the water? The sound of a huge rushing waterfall drowns out all other sounds. This is how powerful and commanding the voice of our Lord is. This is the voice that spoke out of darkness, "Let there be light!", and the universe sprang into existence. He had the first word, and He will have the last word. Have you ever heard the expression that someone's "word is law"? In the case of Christ, this saying is absolutely true: His word is law.

John says He's holding seven stars in His right hand. Many reputable scholars think these seven stars represent the pastors of the seven churches to whom John will write.

As we mentioned yesterday, the double-edged sword John sees coming out of the Lord's mouth most likely refers to the word of God, about which the author of Hebrews said, "The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) In Revelation 19, when we see the Lord returning to earth to defeat His enemies, He judges the wicked of the world with the double-edged sword coming out of His mouth, meaning that He judges them by the word of God.

Lastly, John tells us that the Lord's face was shining like the sun. This reminds us that He is "the light" that came into the world at His incarnation. (John 1:4-9) It also reminds us of the Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John went up on the mountain with Him and saw His entire form become radiant with glory. (Matthew 17:1-7, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) And it reminds us of what is called the "shekinah" glory of the Lord, the glory that would come down and rest on the mercy seat on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. The shekinah was also represented by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led the children of Israel through the wilderness. This glory was the visible proof of God's presence with them.

The symbolism of the Lord's appearance to John represents many of the offices the Lord holds and many of the duties He performs. I hope our study today has helped us to view Him in a new light. Join us tomorrow as we begin our look at what the Lord has to say to the churches.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 6, Christ's Appearance To John And The Symbolism Of His Appearance, Part One

John was called by Christ to write down the prophecies He will give him about things to come. In today's passage John relates to us how this came about. He is going to tell us what was going on when Christ appeared to him, and he is going to describe what Christ looked like when He appeared. Today and tomorrow we will discuss what these highly symbolic aspects of Christ's appearance may mean.

We are moving through the first half of Chapter 1 quite slowly, but I promise you the pace is going to pick up very soon. Revelation is an action-packed book. But we needed to settle some things firmly in our minds from the very beginning, and one of these things is the power and authority of the One who is providing us with the prophecies of the end times. We (like John) are going to glimpse Christ as He has never before been seen: in the glory that was restored to Him upon His return to heaven, the glory He referred to in prayer with the Father as "the glory that I had with You before the world existed". (John 17:5) Christ temporarily laid aside this glory in order to take on human flesh and offer Himself as a ransom for us. (1 Timothy 2:6) But now, restored to heaven and restored to glory, awarded the highest honors for His obedience to God the Father (Isaiah 53:12), He appears to us on the pages of Revelation in a new and awe-inspiring way.

John wants to be clear from the outset on whose authority he is writing the prophecies of the end times. He was given these visions by the greatest authority of all, by the One who says of Himself: "'I am the Alpha and Omega,' says the Lord God, 'who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.'" (Revelation 1:8)

How did John receive these revelations from the Lord? He sets the scene by saying, "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: 'Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.'" (Revelation 1:9-11) All of us who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit indwelling us at all times, but sometimes we receive an extra outpouring of the Spirit. John is observing the Sabbath (likely on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath), and has probably been praying and studying the word of God. Suddenly, while worshiping the Lord in the Spirit, a voice speaks to him.

Naturally, this loud voice startles him and gets his attention. "I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me." (Revelation 1:12) Did John think a mere human being had walked into his room? If so, what he sees quickly tells him otherwise.

"And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest. The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." (Revelation 1:12b-16)

Many churches and many homes have pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls, but none of them look like this! Have you ever seen a picture of Jesus with a double-edged sword coming out of His mouth? I certainly haven't. The appearance of Jesus to John is highly symbolic, so we are going to take a look at each aspect of His appearance and discuss what it might mean. For example, I don't think that Christ literally has a sword coming out of His mouth. But what is it that the Scriptures refer to as a double-edged sword? The word of God. (Hebrews 4:12) And what will Christ use to judge the world? The word of God. (Revelation 19:15)

We most often think of Jesus in His human incarnation, as our Friend and Savior. And so He is! But He is also Almighty God. And because He is God, He is to be regarded with the utmost reverence---with a holy fear. It is by the word of God that every thought and every action will be compared, and since Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh, we owe Him all our respect and allegiance and adoration. As we move through the book of Revelation, we are going to see how the Word of God will, in all righteousness and fairness, judge the rebellious. So from the very beginning in Chapter 1 we are presented with a symbol (the two-edged sword) which reminds us that Christ has the authority, the power, and the right to judge.

I hope you can join us tomorrow as we delve deeper into the meaning of the symbolic appearance of Christ in verses 12 through 16.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 5, The Reaction Of The World To The Second Coming Of Christ

In our introduction we talked about the need to study the prophecies of Daniel, along with those of other prophets, in order to understand Revelation. In today's passage John quotes both Daniel and Zechariah in reference to the return and the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. "'Look, He is coming with the clouds;' and, 'every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him;' and all peoples on earth 'will mourn because of Him.' So shall it be! Amen." (Revelation 1:7)

It's at this point that we must clearly fix in our minds the difference between two events: the calling up of the church from the world (often referred to as "the rapture of the church"), and the event known as the Second Coming of Christ. There is a period of time which separates these two monumental happenings. As we are going to establish in this study, Christ will call His church out of the world either at some point prior to the beginning of the Great Tribulation, or at least before the dreadful final half of the seven years of the Great Tribulation. His return to the earth, known as the Second Coming, will occur at the end of the seven years of the Great Tribulation.

The prophecies John quotes in today's passage refer to the Second Coming of Christ. The Bible doesn't tell us that when Christ calls the church out of the world, "every eye will see Him". In fact, many theologians propose that the rapture of the church will take the form of a sudden mass disappearance. The Bible certainly doesn't tell us that "all peoples on earth will mourn" when the rapture of the church takes place. If this were so, then we'd find every citizen of earth repenting who is left behind to endure the Great Tribulation, but that's not how things play out. There are people who will come to Christ during the Great Tribulation, as we will learn later on in this book. But there are far more who will choose to follow the Antichrist and who will "curse the name of God". (Revelation 16:9,11) Those who are going to mourn when they see Christ returning to reign over all the earth are those who have, at every opportunity,  refused to bow their hearts and their knees to Him. He is the last person they ever want to see. His appearance means nothing but an inescapable judgment for them.

The first verse that John quotes comes from the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel. In this prophecy Daniel saw the Son of God being given authority over the earth by God the Father. It is Christ's coronation day, so to speak, when He is crowned King of kings over all the earth forever. "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, all nations and peoples of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14) Daniel saw one who looked like a son of man (like a human being) approaching the very throne of God and being honored by God with an everlasting kingdom. Who could this be other than Christ? What human being other than Christ could approach God as an equal and be honored by God with a kingdom that will never end?

The people of Old Testament times clearly understood this prophecy to be about the Messiah, for when Jesus quoted this passage in reference to Himself during His trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest tore his robes in a rage and declared Him guilty of blasphemy and worthy of the death penalty. (Matthew 26:65) The high priest knew Daniel was talking about the Messiah, and he knew Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah by quoting Daniel's words in reference to Himself. In using the words of Daniel's prophecy, John is reminding the world that a day is coming when Christ will reign over it forever in complete holiness. We can either be prepared to bow reverently at His feet, or we must be prepared to suffer the consequences of our refusal to let Him be Lord of our lives.

There is another type of mourning that will take place on the day Christ returns to the earth. In our passage today John quotes the prophet Zechariah, and in this passage of Zechariah the Lord promises to give Israel an eternal peace from all her enemies. On the day when He fulfills this promise, the Lord says, "I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on Me, the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zechariah 12:10) In that day the people of Israel will mourn, not because they are lost like those who have rejected Christ, but because during the end times they have accepted Christ as Savior. They will mourn the knowledge that at one time the religious leaders of their nation rejected and pierced the One who came to His own people and was not received by them. (John 1:11) This is no way means that the Jewish people were any more responsible for the death of Jesus than were the Gentiles. Every human being on the face of the earth (past, present, and future) is responsible for the death of Jesus because every human being has sinned and fallen short. (Romans 3:23) All peoples of the earth were spiritually responsible for nailing Jesus to the cross. In addition, all peoples of the earth were legally responsible for nailing Jesus to the cross, for it took both the Jewish religious leaders and the Gentile Roman government to sentence Jesus to death and to carry out the death penalty on Him.

So we see that all those who were left behind at the rapture of the church will have a reason to mourn at the Second Coming of Christ. Those who persisted in rebellion all their lives, and who refused to repent even in the end times, will mourn because judgment is at hand. Those of the nation of Israel who have come to Christ during the Great Tribulation will experience sadness over the way the Messiah was treated at His first advent. And lastly, those Gentiles who didn't come to Christ until the Great Tribulation will feel sorrowful that they didn't accept Him before the darkest days the world has ever seen came upon it. They will experience grief that they wasted so many years of their lives living in sin and rebellion before, in the midst of the terrible plagues of the last days, they recognized the end times for what they were and at last gave their hearts and lives to the Lord. They will wish they had lived for Him and had gone to be with Him at the rapture of the church.

Why is John talking about the Second Coming of Christ at this point in the book of Revelation? Since this event will not take place until the end of the seven years of the Great Tribulation, why does he speak of it before he even tells us about the Great Tribulation? Because he wants everyone to get his or her heart right with the Lord before the rapture of the church, so that they will not be present on the earth during the terrible plagues of those final seven years. John quotes the prophecies of Daniel and Zechariah as a warning to those who are rejecting the holy Son of God. He knows time is short because Christ has told him so. We have been living in the last days ever since Christ ascended to the Father, and no prophecies remain to be fulfilled before Christ calls His church out of the world. This could happen at any moment, and when it does, the events connected with the Great Tribulation are going to begin to take place swiftly. Those years are going to be a dreadful time to be on the earth. That time is going to be so bad that, as the saying goes, we wouldn't wish them on our worst enemy. Those days are going to be so dark that they will either drive people to their knees in submission and worship or they are going to drive those with evil hearts even further away from the Lord. The choice is up to each individual, and John presents that choice to us from the very beginning of the book of Revelation: we can either accept the love and salvation offered to us by the One who gave everything He had to pay the penalty for our sins, or we can reject the sacrifice He made and bear the penalty ourselves.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 4, He Who Was, And Is, And Is To Come

In the beginning of Revelation, the Lord commands John to write a letter to seven churches which were literal churches in his day. Each of these churches also symbolically represents a period of time in church history, as we will see as we move through the first three chapters. We will be talking about which church ages are past, which church age we are currently in, and the one church age which is yet to come---although it could be argued that the final church age is not a "church' at all, for it is the apostate church that will be present during the end times.

We begin this morning with John's greeting to the seven churches and with a doxology about the preeminence and eternal existence of the Lord. "John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth." (Revelation 1:4-5a)

No matter how far we go back into eternity past, God is there. No matter how far we go into eternity future, God is there. It's difficult for our human minds to grasp the concept of anyone or anything that did not have a beginning, but God has always existed. He never had a beginning. He will never have an end. So John speaks of His existence as one that is continuous and ongoing in every age: He was, He is, He is to come. To put it another way, he's saying, "The Lord always did exist. The Lord exists now. He will always be existing."

We can say these same words of the incarnation of God the Son. He was: He lived on this earth in a human body. He is: He rose from the dead and is alive in an immortal human body. He is to come: This is a twofold prophecy, for He will return in the clouds to call His church out of this world, then at a later date He will return to the earth itself to rule over it forever from the throne of David.

John speaks of the seven spirits which are before the throne of God. The most popular and accepted theory about this is that since the number seven in the Scriptures is used to symbolize things that are complete or perfect, the seven spirits represent the Holy Spirit in the completeness and perfection of His ministry. The second most popular theory is that these seven spirits are seven angels of very high authority who minister before the throne of God. We can't say with any certainty what John means by speaking of the seven spirits, but we can rest assured that anything God does is perfect and complete. He keeps all His promises. He carries out all His plans. He speaks of future events as if they have already come to pass, because when God makes a promise, it is as good as done.

John calls Jesus Christ "the faithful witness" and "the firstborn from the dead". Christ faithfully showed us the heart of God by the things He said and did. He said the things God told Him to say and He performed the works God told Him to perform. Because of His faithfulness to God's instructions and to God's plan of salvation for mankind, "God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name." (Philippians 2:9) And because Christ was obedient to the Father's will, He rose from the dead to prove that He was who He said He was and to prove that God accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. This is why John refers to Him as "the firstborn from the dead", because He rose from the dead never to die again, and because He is the first of many who will do so. We who have trusted in Him for salvation will also someday rise from the dead in bodies like His, never to die again.

John refers to Jesus as "the ruler of the kings of the earth". Because God the Father has given Him the name that is above every name, a day is coming in which "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11) At this present time we don't see Christ treated on the earth as the One who has the name above every name. In fact, His name is often blasphemed by unbelievers. We don't see Him seated on a throne, crowned with many crowns (Revelation 19:12), with every knee bowing at the mention of His name. But God the Father has promised Him this authority, and anything God promises is as good as done, so we can truthfully and legitimately already refer to Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:16) The Old Testament prophet Zechariah foresaw the day in which the Lord---the greatest King of all---would reign over the earth forever. "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9) In that day there will be only one Lord; idolatry will be cast down forever. In that day there will be only one King; His kingdom will last for eternity. The prophet Daniel received a vision of the King and of the eternal kingdom which would do away with all the kings and kingdoms that came before, and he said, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." (Daniel 2:44)

The Apostle John concludes the doxology with words of praise for the King of kings and Lord of lords: "To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father---to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!" (Revelation 1:5b-6) We know Christ loves us because He shed His blood for us to save us from our sins. What greater way could anyone prove their love for us than by giving their life in our place? Now that we belong to Christ, we are the children of God. We are part of the royal family. We are co-heirs with Christ of the great inheritance God has in store for those who love Him. We didn't deserve this great honor and we didn't earn it. We have it only because of the Lord's great love for us and because we have accepted the sacrifice He made on our behalf.

No wonder John breaks into praise at this point. Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us! Amen!

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 3, Apocalypse

Today we begin our look at the first chapter of Revelation with these words: "The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, who testifies to everything he saw---that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." (Revelation 1:1-3) 

The word translated as "revelation" is the Greek "apokalypsis" which means "an unveiling, uncovering, or revealing." This word has come to have a negative connotation since it has to do with the Great Tribulation. But in John's day it simply meant to reveal something that wasn't previously known. The purpose of the message of Revelation is for the Lord to reveal to us the way future events are going to unfold. In this book we will learn about the Lord's plans for the church. We will find out how He is going to fulfill all the promises He's made to Israel. We will gain an understanding of the order in which final events on this earth will come to pass before the eternal kingdom is put in place with Christ as King forever.

When the time appointed by God arrives, end time events will begin to take place suddenly. When John speaks of those days being "near", he uses the Greek words "en tekei" which means "quickly or suddenly coming to pass". John isn't telling us to live in fear that the end times will begin at any moment, but he's saying that when these events are set in motion they will happen one after the other in quick succession, much like when you stand dominoes up in a line and knock the first one over. When the first domino falls, the others fall one at a time right behind it.

We have to keep in mind, though, that even if some of the end time events begin to occur while the church is still on the earth, the church will not be left here to endure the worst days of the Great Tribulation. We will study the evidence for believing this as we go through the book, but it is my opinion and the opinion of many who know far more about the Scriptures than I do, that from the beginning of Chapter 4 on, the church is in heaven with Christ. In the beginning of Chapter 4, in John's vision a loud voice from heaven commands him to, "Come up here,". After that we do not see the church mentioned on the earth again until she returns from heaven with Christ to reign with Him. (How can the church return from heaven with Christ unless she has already been in heaven with Christ?) There's no logical explanation for the absence of the church on the earth during the Great Tribulation unless Christ has already fulfilled His promise of taking His bride (the church) to be with Him in the place He has prepared for her. (John 14:2-3)

When Jesus spoke of preparing a place for those who love Him, He was using terminology that a man of his day would use in a marriage proposal. A young man, after having had his proposal accepted, would go home and build onto his father's house a room or rooms in which he would dwell with his bride. When the young man felt the dwelling place was complete, his father would inspect it to make certain everything was as it should be, and if all looked just right the father would say, "Son, go get your bride." During the days between accepting the proposal and being called to the wedding, the bride waited in anticipation to hear the voice of her bridegroom calling for her as he approached her house. She kept her bags packed for the honeymoon because she didn't know what day her beloved would return for her. This is the time period we, the church, are in right now. We are waiting for our Bridegroom to call for us. I believe that before the worst days this world has ever known come to pass, the Lord Jesus will have completed the dwelling place He has gone to prepare for us. I believe God the Father will inspect it and find it to be absolutely perfect. At that moment He will say, "Son, go get Your bride." When that happens, our Bridegroom will call our names and we will go to be with Him, for what man in love would leave his bride on the earth to endure the worst times this world has ever seen? Would the One who gave His life to save us from our sins not also do everything possible to spare us from the dark days of the Great Tribulation?

We who believe in Christ aren't to be looking fearfully about us for signs of the end times, but like a bride of Old Testament days we are to be listening for the voice of our Bridegroom calling us to the wedding. We may recognize the signs of the end times based on what we are going to learn in Revelation, but our main focus should be on Christ our Redeemer. Because we love the Lord, He is graciously revealing to us the things that are to come---even the things we won't witness with our own eyes. The Lord doesn't have to share His plans with us; He's sharing them with us out of love and respect for us. As He said on the night before He went to the cross, if we love Him we are His friends, and friends share their plans with each other. "I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15b)

Another reason for revealing His plans to us is that the Lord wants to bless us. Revelation is the only book of the Bible that promises us a blessing for reading it. Every book of the Bible is profitable to us, as the Apostle Paul says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17) No time spent studying the Scriptures is ever wasted, but the blessing we are promised in Revelation indicates that there is a special blessing in reading these prophecies and in taking them to heart. Who doesn't want extra blessings from the Lord? Personally, I want every blessing that He's willing to pour out on me! I want my cup to run over, don't you? I believe we will be blessed by studying this book. I don't know yet what form this blessing will take, but let's study God's word in anticipation. Let's study it in an attitude of being willing to receive whatever He chooses to reveal to us. He honors an attitude like that. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 2, Why Did The Lord Choose John To Write Revelation?

Before we move on into the message of Revelation, we need to take a look at its messenger. The identity of the messenger is very important because it proves to us that the Lord can use us to do great things for His kingdom, no matter who we are and no matter where we are and no matter how old we are. We are going to discuss some reasons why the Lord Jesus chose an elderly man living in exile in a Roman penal colony to write the magnificent book of Revelation. 

There is no legitimate reason to doubt that the Apostle John, one of the twelve disciples, is the author of this book. Along about the third century AD some scholars arose who questioned the authorship of the book of Revelation, but there is far more evidence for John's authorship than there is against it. Early church history credits the apostle with authorship, and this information was widely known and accepted while John was still living. In addition, the author of this book will clearly state that he received these prophecies while in exile on the Isle of Patmos. It is considered historical fact that the Apostle John was exiled to Patmos under the reign of the Emperor Domitian as punishment for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Domitian does not have a reputation comparable to Emperor Nero when it comes to persecution of the Christians, but Domitian does have the reputation of being fiercely loyal to the gods of Rome, and he dealt with what he considered blasphemy (the preaching of Christ) by banishing outspoken Christians to Roman penal colonies. If the author of Revelation were some other man pretending to be the Apostle John, we might expect him to have written it during a time when the Apostle John was still a free man and still operating as a famous pillar of the Christian church, not during a time when he was living out his old age in exile. Furthermore, men such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement, and Origen all ascribe the authorship of Revelation to the Apostle John, and I will not argue with such learned historical minds such as these.

Who better than one of the original twelve disciples to see the glorified Lord and to receive His words about what is to come? John, (believed to be the youngest of the twelve because he sat in the place of the youngest child at the Passover supper), maintained a childlike faith throughout his life, and this is the type of faith our Lord asks us all to have. Every single one of the twelve could have called himself  "the disciple whom Jesus loved", but only John does so when writing his account of the gospel. I think it's because John never doubted or questioned the Lord's love. He simply accepted it as the truth, the same way a child accepts the word of his father. Because of John's trust in the Lord, he had the courage to follow Jesus not only to the scary and illegal nighttime trial held at the home of the high priest, but also to the foot of the cross. The gospel accounts do not record the presence of any other disciple at the crucifixion, and it is generally believed they were afraid to be seen there lest they also be arrested and crucified. When John stood beneath the cross comforting Jesus' mother Mary, Jesus chose John to take Mary into his own home and treat her like his own mother, which John faithfully did. I believe that the man whom Jesus trusted with His dear mother is also the man whom Jesus trusted to write Revelation.

Another reason for choosing John to receive the prophecies of Revelation is that, at the time the Lord gives these prophecies, John is the last living disciple. It is estimated that John would have been in his nineties when he was sent to Patmos. John may have felt cast aside in his later years, living on that rocky island where the prisoners were forced to perform hard labor in the mines day after day. That's no job for an elderly man. That's no job for a man who spent his life sharing the gospel message of love to a world that desperately needed to hear it. It could be that John felt like there was nothing more he could do for the Lord. But the Lord was by no means finished with him! This should encourage us all that we are never too weak, too sick, too old, too uneducated, or too restricted by the responsibilities of this life to be effective workers for the kingdom of our Lord. Jesus Christ will never take His eyes off anyone who belongs to Him. He is going to keep watch over us until He brings us safely home.

We can view our troubles and trials in this life as hindrances or as opportunities. John probably didn't feel like there was much opportunity to work for the Lord when he was sentenced to spend his final years doing hard labor in exile, but John was willing to do anything the Lord might assign him to do. I want to put forward the opinion that it wouldn't have been possible for John to write Revelation anywhere else other than in exile on an island that (much like Alcatraz) offered little chance of escape. I believe the Lord chose the solitude of that desolate island for John to write one of the greatest books of the Bible. The Lord sometimes orchestrates our circumstances so that we will be alone with Him. We could complain about this and feel sorry for ourselves, but it's far better if we ask, "Lord, what is Your purpose for these circumstances? What is it that You would have me do?" I think that's the type of questions John asked the Lord. Because he had this attitude, the Lord honored him with the wonderful opportunity to write a book we are still studying here in 2019.

John, in his own account of the gospel, tells us that after the resurrection the disciples went fishing. They weren't sure what their mission was anymore. They hadn't yet been given "the great commission" which was to share the gospel with the world. After a long night of unsuccessful fishing, the Lord appeared on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and called out to ask them if they had caught anything. He knew their net was empty. The ones whom He called to be fishers of men can no longer be fishers of fish. They weren't sure what to do anymore and they wondered whether He had revoked His calling upon their lives to be fishers of men, so they tried to go back to their old way of living. But as soon as the Lord commanded them to cast their net once again on the right side of the ship, they received a great catch, and this is when John immediately said, "It is the Lord!" (John 21:7)  Jesus was standing so far away from them that they couldn't recognize Him by sight, but John recognized Him by heart. John was always so quick to understand and believe! This is another reason why the Lord chose John to write Revelation. John wasn't the type of person to question the Lord, to doubt the Lord, or to argue with the Lord. Whenever the Lord spoke, John believed and obeyed. 

After the disciples enjoyed an early morning fish fry with the Lord, the Apostle Peter asked Him about the future of John. Jesus replied, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.' (John 21:22) Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that Jesus would return for the church before John died. But Jesus didn't say that; He only commanded Peter to be concerned with the work Peter was assigned to do---not worry about what John would be assigned to do. In a sense, though, John did remain alive until Jesus "returned", if we think of this "return" as the appearance He made to John on the Isle of Patmos. Jesus wasn't promising that John would still be alive when He returned to call the church out of the world, but maybe He was promising that John would see Him again in his lifetime. The Lord fulfilled this promise when John, full of faith, aged in years, thinking he was no longer useful to the Master, was chosen to write the final book of the New Testament. The Apostle John endured to see the Lord in all His glory and to put pen to paper and write one of the finest books in the word of God. 

I would love to have been able to see the face of John when he realized the Lord was once again commissioning him to do a great work for the kingdom of God. I picture him white-bearded and wrinkled, maybe with his back bowed over from age and from the forced labor in the mines, with his skin brown from many years spent under the sun sharing the gospel, with his body lacking the bold strength he had in his youth---the strength which caused the Lord to nickname him and his brother James "The Sons Of Thunder". I see John on the Sabbath, his shrunken and roughened hands folded in prayer. And suddenly.....a presence! A voice! And the voice says, "Write!" Oh, how thrilling this command must have been! 

Why the Apostle John? Why did the Lord Jesus Christ choose him to write the final book of the Bible? I believe it was because of John's lifelong unshakable faith, because John lovingly took Mary into his own home as his own mother, and because John was the last of Jesus' closest friends still alive. I think another reason is that the Lord wanted the elderly Apostle John to know that strength comes from Him. Real inner strength doesn't depend on a person's youth or health. The Lord can use us for His kingdom work if we let Him, no matter how aged or weak we become, because our strength comes from Him. If the Lord Jesus chose a man of feeble physical strength in his nineties to write the final book of the Bible, what great work may the Lord have in store for us?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 1, Introduction

Welcome to our new Bible study of the book of Revelation! It's a very exciting book because it's about the glorious future of the church and about the fulfillment of God's beautiful promises to Israel. There's no reason why we should fear the book of Revelation or why we should avoid the study of it. We are going to dispel the myth that it's too difficult to understand, and we are going to see why we don't need to be afraid of the vivid imagery contained in this book. Yes, troubled times will come upon the earth during the years known as the Great Tribulation, but we are going to see why anyone who has trusted in Christ need not live in fear of those dark days. 

Before we embark on our voyage through the thrilling book of Revelation, we must discuss the premillenial interpretation from which this study will be taught. It's important to fix certain things in our minds from the very beginning so we don't become confused as we go along. I am going to present the book of Revelation in what I consider to be the most mainstream point of view among Bible scholars, which is that from Chapter 4 on the book deals entirely with future events. There have been some scholars who tried to claim that this book represents historical events which have already taken place. If we attempt to make this book fit with the past we will soon run into serious trouble. There are things in Revelation which simply won't fit into historical events. Trying to do so may be what has caused some scholars to conclude that Revelation is full of bizarre symbolism impossible to be understood. Nothing could be further from the truth! Revelation is an orderly and very understandable book when we study it in the proper context which is known as the "premillenial" or "futurist" context. If all the events of Revelation are past, then where was the rapture of the church? The Second Coming of Christ? The millennial kingdom? And where would that leave us? To quote Dr. Thomas Ice, "If all was fulfilled in the past, then we have no future." (from The End Times Controversy, page 429

I believe in a pre-Tribulation rapture of the church and I feel that there is a great deal of Scriptural evidence to back it up. The word "rapture" derives from the Latin "rapio" which means to be "caught up". The Apostle Paul clearly explains the doctrine of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 when he says that when the Lord Jesus comes in the clouds and calls for us, we will be "caught up" to be with Him forever. This is why no one who is in Christ need fear any of the things we find in the book of Revelation. We will not be on the earth during the terrible days of the Great Tribulation because we will be with our Lord in heaven. As we move through our study we will take a look at the compelling evidence for believing that this is true.

In order to do a comprehensive study of the book of Revelation, we must study it together with the Old Testament book of Daniel. In Daniel's day, the prophecies of the end times were sealed. Following the prophetic revelations made to Daniel while in exile in Babylon, the Lord said, "But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end." (Daniel 12:4a) The book of Revelation unseals the book of Daniel. When the Lord tells John of things to come, He says, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near." (Revelation 22:10)

In Daniel's day the end times were far off. It was impossible for Daniel to understand the prophecies of the end times prior to Christ's redemptive death on the cross. But by the time John writes the book of Revelation, the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and John is able to understand the visions he is given of the end times. Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven we have been essentially in the times of the end. The clock of this world is winding down. This is why John says in the first sentence of Revelation, "The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place." (Revelation 1:1a) The book is unsealed because it must soon take place. 

When Daniel asked to know more about the times and the seasons of the end, he was told, "Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end." (Daniel 12:9) Daniel and the people of his day didn't need to worry about these things because they would not take place in their lifetime. But now, in the church age, the prophecies of Daniel are relevant for the times we live in. The day is at hand. "Behold, I am coming soon!" the Lord Jesus says in Revelation 22:7. 

The book of Revelation is relevant for the whole world in our times. The premillenial viewpoint is really the only viewpoint from which this entire book of prophecy makes any literal sense and I am firmly convinced that it was intended to be taken literally. What would be the use of a prophecy we can make no sense of and make no use of? The Lord gave this message to John so the church could benefit from it. Jesus wanted to "show His servants what must soon take place". Not only that, but we are promised a blessing for studying this book. "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." (Revelation 1:3) Our Lord guarantees us a blessing for reading this book! How can we turn down an offer like that? 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 22, Do Not Imitate What Is Evil But That Which Is Good

John concludes his third letter today by speaking of someone who is making trouble for the believers, then by commending someone who has a good reputation in the church. One of these men is setting a good example and the other is setting a bad example. John urges us to imitate that which is good, not that which is evil.

"I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us." (3 John 1:9) John is writing this letter to his friend Gaius, so we can assume that when he says "I wrote to the church" he means the church Gaius attends. Diotrephes is evidently someone of authority in that local church. When John made an offer to visit the church, Diotrephes reacted with an unwelcoming attitude.

Why is this man refusing to show hospitality to John and his friends? Because, as the apostle says, he "loves to be first". In the KJV we find this verse rendered as "loves to have the preeminence among them". The word "preeminence" is synonymous with "authority, control, power, and supremacy". Diotrephes doesn't want anyone visiting who will take attention away from himself. He's a big fish in a small pond. If someone famous like the Apostle John visits, this prideful man is going to feel jealous of the attention John gets. Instead of being thrilled that one of the personal friends and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ wants to come and meet with his local church, Diotrephes is rude to him and tells him they don't need his help.

John intends to visit anyway, and when he does he's going to make it clear to the church members all the ways Diotrephes is doing harm to them. This man is putting his own selfish interests ahead of the wellbeing of the church. "So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." (3 John 1:10) Diotrephes doesn't want anyone coming to town who has more authority than he does. He doesn't welcome apostles, preachers, teachers, or missionaries. He makes up lies about anyone who intends to visit. If anyone in the church tries to show hospitality to these visitors, he excommunicates these church members. This discourages others from being hospitable. Who wants to be thrown out of their local body of believers? No one, so Diotrephes has been getting away with a lot of bad behavior.

This man is a bad example of Christianity. But thankfully we have many good examples of Christianity, and those are the people we should commend and try to imitate. Anyone who is a good example will be someone who is trying to imitate Christ---the One who set a perfect example. "Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God." (3 John 1:11) Jesus warned us to be on guard against those who pretend to be something they're not. He said, "By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:16a) Does the one who claims to be a Christian live as a Christian should live? Or is his life ruled by pride and selfishness? Does his mode of living back up who he says he is? Does he "walk the walk", as the saying goes? Talk is cheap, but the proof is in how a person lives his life. John now mentions a man known to both him and Gaius who is the real deal. "Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone---and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true." (3 John 1:12) It's thought by many scholars that Demetrius is the man who delivers letters from John to Gauis' church. This man is devoted to the Lord. The very word of the Lord backs up Demetrius' claim to be in Christ, for he has "fruit" in his life that proves he's living for the Lord. This man has a good reputation among the believers. Gaius is to consider him a good example to follow.

John concludes his letter with the promise of visiting the church soon. "I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name." (3 John 1:13-14)

The book of Jude follows the three letters of John, but since we have already taken a look at the book of Jude this year, we are going to move on tomorrow to a new study called "Reasoning Through Revelation". This is going to be an easy, step-by-step guide to understanding the great book of prophecy. We are going to dispel the myth that this book is too difficult to understand. We are going to calm any fears anyone may have that this book is too scary to study. Revelation is Christ's personal message to us regarding the things to come. Revelation describes the glorious future ahead of the church and it explains how God is going to fulfill His beautiful and eternal promises to the nation of Israel. The book of Revelation promises a blessing to those who read it. I wouldn't say no to an extra blessing of the Lord, would you? So please join me for what will be a wonderful investment of time as we study all the wonderful things the Lord has planned for us.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 21, The Value Of Showing Hospitality To Fellow Believers

As we take a look at the first half of John's third letter, we find him praising the hospitality that a believer named Gaius has shown to missionaries of the gospel. Out of love and admiration for the work Gaius is doing, John prays for the Lord to bless his friend's physical and spiritual health.

Although John mentions his friend Gaius by name (Gaius being an extremely common name in the Roman Empire in the first century AD), he refers to himself only as "the elder" as he did in his second letter. When we studied the second letter we spoke of the need to write somewhat "in code" due to the growing intolerance toward Christians in the Roman Empire. John referred to the church as a lady in his second letter and he called the church members the children of the lady. He didn't mention anyone by name other than God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this third letter John will make reference to God, which wouldn't be a serious offense if the letter were found by a Roman official. But the name of Jesus Christ could very well be considered divisive or even a threat to the Roman government, so John doesn't mention Christ at all in this letter. His only reference to Him is veiled when he speaks of the spreading of the gospel as doing work for the sake of "the Name", meaning the name of Christ. So if someone comes across this letter it would be difficult for them to prove who wrote it, or to whom it is addressed (since there were probably thousands of men named Gaius), or to whose "Name" it refers.

"The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth." (3 John 1:1) In his other letters John commonly uses the term "the truth" to mean the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He's saying to Gaius, "You are my friend, whom I love in the Lord."

He now prays for his friend, which is something we should do for our friends every day. Our friends are struggling in this broken world. They face all sorts of trials and temptations. They need the strength to stand firm, as did Gaius, and this is why John prays that Gaius will be strong both in body and spirit. "Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (3 John 1:2-4) Some scholars believe that Gaius converted to Christianity under the preaching of John since John refers to him as one of his children. That could be the case, or it could simply be that John, who has been in the faith for a very long time now, takes on a protective fatherly role with younger believers.

In John's day, men and women are busy fulfilling the great commission by sharing the gospel with as many people as they can in spite of the fact that it is difficult and dangerous work. It can be dangerous to be associated with them, but Gaius has shown them love and hospitality. He has sheltered these missionaries under his roof. He has served them food and water. He has refreshed them not only physically but also spiritually by giving encouragement. John has words of praise for his faithfulness. "Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans." (3 John 1:5-7)

These missionaries were not aided by any of the Gentiles who were still living in idolatry. Believing Gentiles no doubt often helped their fellow believers, but those who were still heathens did not. The unbelievers of the world don't often help those who are working to share the name of Christ. Sometimes unbelievers even do their best to hinder this work. But Gaius went out of his way to give aid to those who were sharing the gospel. And that's the attitude we should all have toward fellow believers. We are being a hindrance to them if we don't have this attitude. We can give to their ministries financially. We can support them with our love and encouragement. We can pray for the Lord to keep them strong physically and spiritually.

As Christians, and as the children of God, we must think of ourselves as one big family. We show hospitality to our family members, don't we? We love and pray for our family members. We help our family members out when they fall on hard times. We all work together as a unit for the good of the family. John concludes today by reminding us that we are all in this together, and that we must work together for the good of the family of God. "We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth." (3 John 1:8)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 20, Beware Of Deceivers

John concludes his second letter today, the one which is written "to the dear lady and to her children". This is believed by many scholars to be a reference to a church and its members. John reminds his readers that they are commanded to love one another, then he tells them to be on guard against those who want to deceive them.

"And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love." (2 John 1:5-6) This is the same thing John said to the recipients of his first letter. God has commanded us to love Him and to love our fellow man ever since the beginning. If we love God, we will naturally want to obey Him, and that obedience includes loving others.

We live in a fallen world that tries to tell us our attitude should be, "Every man for himself." But this is in opposition to the holy word of God. The Lord didn't command us to do something He wasn't willing to do Himself, for if Christ had had the attitude, "Every man for himself," He would not have unselfishly come to this dark and sinful world to offer Himself in our place as payment for our sins. John knows that believers are confronted every day with the temptation to look out only for themselves, and that temptation can be especially strong when false teachers twist the word of God in order to make their message appeal to our worldly tendencies. This is why John keeps repeating the message of love, so that we will test every teaching and every temptation by these questions: "Through my actions, am I loving my neighbor as myself? Am I treating others the way I want to be treated?" John tells us his readers that his purpose in constantly reminding them to love one another is because there are those who seek to deceive them. "I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world." (2 John 1:7a)

If a teacher claims to believe in Christ, yet denies that He actually came to earth in a human body, he is a false teacher. John was trying to combat Gnosticism and the teachings of various other cults and sects whose members claimed to believe Jesus was the Christ, yet at the same time they declared that His bodily form was an illusion. They didn't think God would literally die for human beings, so they rejected the idea that Christ actually took on human flesh. They taught that He only appeared in human form so that human beings could see Him and interact with Him, but they would not accept that the Lord suffered and died in the flesh. One who does not accept that Christ came into the world as a human, and that He suffered and died as a human, and that He rose from the dead in a human body that is now immortal, cannot legitimately be called a Christian at all. To deny these things is to deny the very message of the gospel, therefore John says, "Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist." (2 John 1:7a) He said something similar in his first letter, warning his readers that the "spirit of antichrist" was already in the world. We know that there will be an actual person someday who will be known as the Antichrist, but the spirit of deception that will inhabit him is already in the world trying to deceive as many people as possible.

"Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully." (2 John 1:8) Rewards will be given to believers according to what they have accomplished for the kingdom of God. John isn't telling the believers that they are in danger of losing their salvation, but that it is possible to miss out on rewards. The Apostle Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) Paul was talking about those who were saved "by the skin of their teeth", so to speak. They had truly accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, but then they did nothing to lead others to Him. It's not that they were wallowing in sin, but that they were content only to know that their names were in the book of life, and that they had no desire to do anything to ensure that the names of others were in the book of life. They were not living in accordance with the Lord's commandment to love others, for if we love others, we are going to want them to know the Lord. We are going to want to tell them what He has done for us and to tell them that He loves them more than He loved His own life. John doesn't want his readers to miss out on any of the joys of heaven, so he warns them not to let their guard down and let false doctrine in. False doctrine will always have an element of selfishness to it. It will appeal to our carnal natures instead of to our spiritual natures.

We aren't to put up with false teaching. John says not to even let false teachers in the door. "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work." (2 John 1:9-11) John isn't telling us to be deliberately rude to people, but there's nothing to be gained by allowing a false teacher to even begin sharing his or her message. It's best to cut false messages off before they even get started. Some of us were raised to feel intensely uncomfortable with the idea of being impolite. I'm from a southern state where it's very common to wave at anyone you pass on a two-lane road or to nod and smile at strangers in the grocery store. I was raised to maintain an attitude of courtesy at all times, but this doesn't mean we are to allow people to sit in our living rooms or in our church sanctuaries and fill our minds with the poison of false doctrine. John's not telling us to rudely yell, "Go peddle that nonsense somewhere else!" But he's giving us permission to say, "I'm sorry, I don't share your beliefs. I won't disrespect my Lord by listening to them."

John has further instructions for the church, but he'd rather visit with the members in person. We spoke yesterday about his need for writing "in code" by not naming himself or any of the recipients of this letter. There was a great deal of prejudice in the Roman Empire against Christians, and although the current emperor (Domitian) was not cruel toward them in the manner of Nero, a person could be banished permanently to a penal colony for proclaiming the name of Christ. One reason for not saying more in this letter could be because John doesn't want anyone caught with the letter to suffer penalties for possessing it. Another reason is that he longs to see these believers in person. He wants to hear all about what the Lord is doing for them and for their community. He wants to rejoice with them about their mutual salvation. "I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete." (2 John 1:12)

Writing "in code" again, John sends greetings from the members of the church at his current location. "The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings." (2 John 1:13) John has veiled the wording of his letter in such a way that, if a finder of the letter doesn't delve deeply into it, it looks like a personal message and not like a religious message. A finder of it might only take a quick glance at it and not realize it contains things that the emperor would consider "blasphemy" against his own gods. John lets the church members know that he hopes to visit them in person soon, and then they will be able to talk about all the things that it isn't safe to discuss in a letter.

Tomorrow we will move on to John's third letter. After we've finished our look at his third letter, we will do a comprehensive, step-by-step study of the book of Revelation.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Letters Of The Apostle John. Day 19, Walking In The Truth

We begin John's second letter today, which is only one chapter long. In this letter he does not name himself or the person (or persons) to whom he is writing. However, authorship has been attributed to the Apostle John since the early days of church history. We will immediately recognize his writing style. There has never been any logical reason to doubt that the Apostle John is the author of this letter.

Why does John appear to have written this letter "in code"? Likely due to the growing persecution against Christians. It's believed he wrote this letter not long before he was banished to the Isle of Patmos for declaring Christ as Lord. There could be only one Lord in the Roman Empire, and that was Caesar, not Jesus Christ. John was banished during the reign of Emperor Domitian who was not known for the type of cruelty such as Emperor Nero perpetrated against the Christians, but whose preferred form of punishment was to exile those whom he considered blasphemers. This may be why John is careful not to mention anyone by name in order not to bring unwelcome attention upon them from the Roman government. He touches on some of the same subjects he addressed in his first letter, but then he states that he prefers to say little with pen and ink but would rather discuss these subjects face to face.

John simply refers to himself as "the elder" in his salutation. He addresses the recipient of his letter as "the lady chosen by God and to her children". Many highly respected Bible scholars throughout the centuries have expressed their opinion that this "lady" is not an actual person but a church. This would make "her children" the members of the church. We know John is addressing fellow believers because he will refer to them as "those who know the truth", meaning the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"The elder, To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth---and not I only, but also all who know the truth---because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever." (2 John 1:1-2) If a Roman citizen found this letter along the roadway, a quick scan of the first line might cause him to conclude that it's a love letter. It's possible he would immediately throw the letter down and go on his way. If he read on to the next line, the mentions of "the truth" might puzzle him, but he could take the same philosophical attitude as Pontius Pilate who asked, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) A person would not immediately guess that "the truth" refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ unless he read further. Anyone who came across this letter might discard it before reading any more of it, and even if he did read further, no one is mentioned by name in it and no one can be reported for blasphemy against Caesar.

"Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father's Son, will be with us in truth and love. It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us." (2 John 1:4) John doesn't say that all of the children are walking in the truth, so it could be that some of the church members are struggling or that some have drifted away from the main body of believers. No apostle, teacher, or pastor expects everyone to be converted and transformed by the hearing of the gospel. Not everyone who heard Jesus preach believed in Him, not even after witnessing His miracles. John is happy just to know that some of these people are walking in the truth, which means that they are walking with the Lord Jesus Christ. We can't walk with someone unless we are going in the same direction they are going. In the same way, we can't truthfully say we are walking with Christ unless we are going in the direction He would go and doing the things He would do and saying the things He would say.

Some years back the acronym "WWJD?" became popular. It stood for "What Would Jesus Do?" All sorts of merchandise was sold with this acronym on it, so much so that unbelievers managed to scoff at it almost to the point of turning it into a joke, but the question is valid. In fact, it's a question that anyone who claims to be walking with Christ should be asking himself all day every day. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do if someone cut Him off in traffic? What would Jesus say if a customer was rude to Him at work? How would Jesus react if someone talked about Him behind His back? Would Jesus turn His eyes away from impure things? Would Jesus resist the temptation to handle money dishonestly? Would Jesus combat the lies of the devil and of this unbelieving world with the truth of the holy Scriptures? Would Jesus love His neighbor as Himself?

We could go on and on, but you see where this is going. If we belong to Christ, we should want it to be said of us that we are walking in the truth. And if we are walking in the truth, we will be doing and saying the things Jesus would do and say. John has heard that there are people in the area to which he is writing who are daily asking themselves, "What would Jesus do?" By this he knows they belong to Christ. This knowledge, he says in verse 4 above, "has given me great joy". Like John, we should experience great joy not only because we ourselves are in Christ, but that others are in Christ as well. Nothing should make us happier than to know that another human being has entrusted his eternal soul to the Lord Jesus.