Nicaragua, South Texas, and Revelation

I’ve been on the road a good bit lately. Sometimes I can keep up the blog while traveling, sometimes I can’t. I used to worry about it, but I’ve come to accept that the world goes on turning, even when I can’t post.

Spent a few days in Managua, Nicaragua, doing some follow-up for Herald of Truth. Along with discussing the media project we recently did there, Steve Ridgell and I also got to do some teaching on leadership and on marriage.

Last week I was in Stockdale, Texas. It’s always good to be back there, to see what God is doing among the people of that small South Texas town.

I did six lessons on Revelation. Whenever I have to teach a book in a new format, it’s a real learning experience for me. I purchased Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder and gained some insights from that book. I also got study notes from several friends who have taught Revelation in the recent past.

In Bible class on Sunday morning, we did an introduction to the book. When talking about Revelation as poetry, I included a clip from Dead Poet’s Society, where Robin Williams has his students tear out the introduction to their poetry books. I used that to talk about the folly of taking a poetic book like Revelation and trying to pull out a timeline for the future.

During the morning worship, I preached on Revelation 4-5, the fact that the Lion of Judah turned out to be a sacrificed Lamb. In the evening, we did the first 3 chapters in a whirlwind blitz; fortunately I had some copies of Letters From The Lamb for anyone that wanted to go deeper into that material.

The last three lessons were “Scenes of Judgment,” “Scenes of Triumph,” and “New Heaven, New Earth.” It was a quick overview, but people seemed to find it helpful. More than anything, I sought to prepare them to read the book on their own.

Lots of learning for me. Hope it was a blessing to others.

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.

Letters From The Lamb book video

I’ve shared some of Herald of Truth’s videos over the past few months, but I never shared the video I put together for our book. Book trailers have become common over the last few years, so we developed one for Letters From The Lamb. It’s only 90 seconds, so why not take a moment to watch it?

Speaking of the book, we’re preparing some promotional materials with quotes from readers. If anyone would like to submit a “blurb,” we’d be thrilled to have it.

Have a great weekend!

Revelation’s warnings about losing one’s faith

Adam and Eve driven out of gardenOK, so I guess I did lapse into a bit of proof-texting in the last post, although that wasn’t my intention. That is, I wasn’t trying to say, “Here are these verses that trump your verses.” I was trying to show why one particular argument by Edward Fudge doesn’t hold water.

Oh, well… so be it. I didn’t express myself well. At least it gave Randall the opportunity to teach us all a bit about Calvinistic views.

Let’s take some particular examples, and see if that helps. Since I’ve been working so much with the letters in Revelation over the last few years, let’s start there. First, there’s the Ephesus church. Hard-working. Sound doctrine. But they’ve lost their first love. Because of it, Jesus says: “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 2:5) Since the lampstands are the churches themselves, Jesus is saying the church can cease to be a church. (Just as he will later refer to synagogues that aren’t really synagogues) This would necessitate the removal of these Christians from the body. How else do I say it? They would no longer belong to Christ.

Let’s skip down to the letter to Sardis. Jesus tells them: “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:4-5) The minority in that church are ready for Jesus’ return; most need to wake from a spiritual slumber. The ones that overcome (remain faithful, not renouncing Christ during persecution) will not have their names blotted from the book of life. What does that say about the others? That they ran the risk of that very thing, of being removed from the book of life (I gave a fuller explanation of the Book of Life in an earlier post).

Next is the letter to Philadelphia. This is a healthy church, but Jesus warns them: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11) Take your crown? The word for crown is the word for the laurel wreath given to the victor in athletic events. The church in Smyrna was told that the crown was the crown of life, that is, life would be their crown for having endured. Jesus says that if Christians don’t hold on to what they have, they can lose that crown. (It’s not the image of the crown being snatched, but of failing to win. We talk of someone getting someone else’s gold medal when the original winner is disqualified. It’s that sort of idea.)

The last church in the group is Laodicea. Note that these Christians have gotten into such a state that Jesus is asking to be let back into their lives (“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20) If they do not change their ways, Jesus will vomit them out of his mouth.

The letters in Revelation were written to prepare the Christians in Asia Minor for a time of testing, a time of persecution. They had to guard their faith, for the risk of losing it was very real. They needed to be willing to lose their lives rather than lose their faith.