Category Archives: Revelation

Sense of wonder

Wonder. I need to recover a sense of wonder. That goes for much of my spiritual life, but especially as regards Bible study. Specifically when thinking about the Book of Revelation, which I’m preparing to teach in the very near future.

I need to see the monsters and disasters and events, then proclaim “Wow!” like the boy in the above video. Then I need to remember that they are tiny compared to my God.

That should make me erupt in “Holy, holy, holy!”

Do Not Be Afraid

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A Facebook group that I’m part of, called Compadres, is having a blog tour. The general theme is The Glory of The Son and each of us will pick a story, event or teaching of Jesus that reflects His glory. Here are the posts so far:
June 3: Jeremy Schopper: Leaving the Noise Behind
June 5: Danny Holman: Jesus Challenge
June 10: Carl Jenkins: Give A Man A Fish
June 17: Jonathan Dobbs: Why Me, God?
June 19: Scott Elliott:The Beauty of the Gospel
June 24: Chris Hodges: The Glory of the Son
June 26: David Smith: then they can see my glory, which you gave me
July 1: Jeremy Hoover: Matthew and Mission
July 3: Allen Carr: The Glory in the Welcome
July 10: Daniel Burns: Not So With You
July 15: Rex Butts: A Place For Lepers
July 22: Jennifer Rundlett: A Vision of Harmony
July 24: Don Middleton: Come To The Table
July 29: Tim Archer: Do Not Be Afraid

Did you notice that last name and date on the list? (last for now… more to come) Yep, I forgot to make my contribution to the blog tour! So here it is, a couple of days late:

Do Not Be Afraid

“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.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. 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. His head and hair were 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 out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. 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 behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:10–18)

John knew Jesus well. John formed part of the inner circle of disciples, along with Peter and James; these three participated in Jesus’ ministry in a way that no one else did. Yet now, when John sees Jesus again, he faints.

This was the glorified Christ, the Risen One in all of his glory. The description is bathed in Old Testament imagery, filled with symbolism of prophetic authority and messianic identity. But what really catches my attention are Jesus’ words:

  • Do not be afraid. As we read through the Bible, we see heavenly messengers giving these reassuring words. It’s a scary thing for an earthly being to find himself in the presence of a celestial visitor! But in Revelation, these words have a special meaning.
    Christians were being killed for their faith. John was in prison for his. One of the key phrases in this book is “do not be afraid.” More suffering was to come. More prison. More death. But Christians were to face these things with courage.
  • I am the First and the Last. Jesus wasn’t just another prophet. He was God made flesh, using terms that described God and applying them to himself.
  • I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! Christians needed to remember that Jesus had the perfect résumé to be able to talk to others about not fearing death. His was not mere theoretical knowledge. He had been there and back.
  • And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Jesus didn’t just die; he stripped death of its power. Christians could face death with confidence; Jesus had entered the realm of the dead and emerged with the keys. He had promised that the gates of Hades would not overcome his church. How could they when he held the keys to those very gates?

The resurrection of Jesus changed history. Not just as something in the past nor something to wait for. The resurrections transforms our living today. We don’t have to fear earthly powers. We needn’t be concerned about those who can only threaten our lives. We face death with our heads held high, knowing that our Lord has forever conquered.

Do not be afraid.

Courage to wait

In our adult Bible classes, our church is studying the Book of Revelation. It’s a whirlwind tour. I was supposed to teach chapters 2 and 3 yesterday. I wrote a book on those chapters, and I’m supposed to present it in 30 minutes? I got 6 out of 7 churches done. Not too bad.

One thing that I appreciate about the Bible is that no matter how many times I’ve studied a passage, I can always find something new. Or I come to recognize new connections between passages.

In preparing these lessons, I tried to put myself in the place of the Asian Christians who were the first to receive this book. They found themselves under increasing pressure to conform to the worship around them. John had been banished to Patmos. Some people had been imprisoned. Now Antipas has been killed.

Their principle question would have been: how do we respond? I don’t think they were looking for theology or philosophical debates. They wanted to know what they were supposed to do.

One option was to fight. The Old Testament contains more than enough stories to show that numbers don’t matter when it comes to God’s people. If He wants them to fight and win, they will win, no matter the odds. Maybe John would write them and tell them that it was time to rise up and strike down their oppressors, like the Jews in the Book of Esther.

Another option was to flee. Jesus told the Jerusalem church to flee the city when the Roman armies approached. History tells us that many Christians were saved because of that. Maybe John would write and tell them to leave Asia to the punishment of God; there were times when God gave such instructions.

It’s possible that John’s message took them by surprise. Don’t fight. Don’t flee. Just be faithful and wait for God to act.

That’s not a message that sits well in our culture. We want to act and do. Give me a hammer, give me a shovel, give me a gun. “God helps those that help themselves.” (It’s not in the Bible, but we often think it should be)

Wait.

Patiently. Prayerfully. Faithfully.

And let God bring about justice, in His own time.

I daresay that requires much more courage than fighting or fleeing. Wait for God to act.

I’m sure the Book of Revelation was of great encouragement to the church, but it also presented a daunting challenge. But who ever said discipleship was easy?

The Sword-Bearing Prince of Peace

Since I’ve discussed Romans 13 at length in the past, I don’t really see the need to go back over that passage. So let’s turn our attention to the Book of Revelation. When seeking to refute pacifistic ideas, many look to Revelation 19. There we see Jesus in a robe dipped in blood, killing His enemies with a sword.

The word “dipped” can throw us off here, for, in Revelation, the martyrs have previously washed their robes in blood, but it wasn’t the blood of their enemies. It was the blood of the Lamb, the blood that won the victory over Satan. However, in Chapter 19, Jesus is “trampling the grapes of wrath.” In Chapter 14, when these grapes were harvested, it was said that the blood flowed as deep as the horses’ bridles. Whose blood? Probably a reference to God’s enemies, though that’s never made clear.

But no matter where the blood on His robe came from, Jesus’ intentions are clear. He is there to “strike down the nations.” This is a time for vengeance.

So there we have it. Christians are called to exact vengeance on God’s enemies. Or are they?

Let’s back up. Revelation is written to a group of Christians who are about to undergo persecution. The message to them is that they are to patiently endure, overcoming by being faithful witnesses. There’s a reason why the Greek word for “witness” became the English word “martyr,” for Jesus is held up as the example of what a faithful witness is. The mighty Lion of Judah turns out to be a lamb that was slain. He conquered on the cross, by dying for His faith. Now He calls His followers to be unafraid to risk the same.

The promise is that God will exact vengeance on their tormenters. Just as Second Thessalonians promises that those who persecute the Christians will be punished by God, so Revelation emphasizes that Christians are not to seek to bring about “justice” by their own hand, but they are to leave vengeance to God.

(By the way, did you notice what sword Jesus is using to strike down the nations? The sword which proceeds from His mouth. It doesn’t take much knowledge of apocalyptic symbolism to see that the judgment against the nations will be exacted by the Word of God. The scene is that of ultimate judgment, the final defeat of evil. The weapons are spiritual ones, just as the armies are heavenly armies and not earthly ones.)

So how did early Christians read Revelation? Did they see in it a call to arms, a summons to exact justice on the Romans via the sword? No. They saw it as a reminder that they were to submit to the authorities, honor the king, and leave vengeance to God. To get Revelation to say something else, you have to strip it from its original context.

(Do I really have to address the numbers question? Probably, because it always seems to come up. “Christians didn’t fight back because there weren’t enough of them. Had they had a chance of winning, God would have told them to fight.” Should you be clinging to that idea, might I suggest a quick perusal of the Old Testament? Stories like Gideon, Samson, David vs. Goliath, Jonathan and his armor bearer vs. the whole Philistine army… God doesn’t need numbers to win a battle. If violent resistance had been the answer, God was more than capable of enabling His people to triumph.)

I’d like to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions.

The letter to Laodicea: Who at the door is standing?

The imagery of Revelation 3:20 captures the imagination, Jesus standing and knocking at the door of the sinner’s heart. Many have used this as an image of conversion, taking this passage as a teaching verse for non-Christians.

lettersThe only way to do that is to ignore the context. This letter isn’t going out to the unconverted. This is an appeal to the Christian who has fallen away. In Letters From The Lamb I wrote:

Jesus is speaking to a group of people who already profess to be his followers. They need to recognize that they have reached the point where Jesus is no longer in their lives, no longer in their hearts, and they need to find the way to let him back in… Christians can reach the point where Jesus vomits them out of his mouth, they can travel to the place where Jesus is no longer in their lives. That’s when we stop, repent, and open the door to let him back in. Or we will have our name blotted out of the Book of Life.

(Letters From The Lamb, pp. 154-55)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these excerpts from the book. Starting next week, we’ll move on to another topic.