Rev CH 3

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Rev 3 NKJV

Sardis: “The Dead Church” Revelation 3:1-6

Introduction

 The message to Sardis is written to a church that outwardly seems to be alive, that is, it was probably seen as successful by those both inside and outside of the church but in the eyes of Jesus it was inwardly dead (v1).  Nevertheless, even in this particular church there are some that are commended for their faithfulness (v4).

Commendation: Some have kept the faith.

Criticism: A dead church.

Instruction: Repent, strengthen what remains.

Promise: Faithful honoured and clothed in white.

 

Sardis

  • Sardis was an ancient city known today as Sart which is located in Asia Minor (Turkey).
  • The city itself was built on a steep hill and was considered unconquerable because of its situation.  However, both Cyrus (549 BC) and Antiochus (218 BC) were able to conquer the city because of its over-confidence and its failure to defend a secret path that allowed access to the city.
  • It was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 17 and although it had been rebuilt, it was no longer the great city that it had once been, though it still remained the capital of Lydia.
  • The local economy depended largely on the manufacture, the colouring and sale of wool and woollen goods.
  • It was the centre of the worship of the goddess Cybele whose worship included drinking, shouting, singing and immoral sexual activity.

 

1“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the  seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

 “angel” – The Greek word for “angel” here is G32aggelos” (pronounced ang’-el-os) which literally means “messenger” and according to the original Greek could either be speaking of an angelic representation of the churches themselves or their senior pastor/s.  Personally, I think this is speaking about the pastor or leadership team of the church.

“seven Spirits of God” – Biblically the number “seven” is used much in the same way as it is used today that is to denote a complete or perfect or immeasurable number (ie The way we might say “there were several types of cake in the supermarket”).  Here it is used to show not that there are “seven Spirits” but that Christ has the fullness of the Spirit, for this reason the NKJV translators capitalise the word “Spirits,” something that is only ever done when used in reference to the Holy Spirit.

“seven stars” – The term “seven stars” has already been translated in 1:20 as the “angels of the seven churches” because of the Greek term used for angel above this seems to be a metaphoric description of Christ being the One to whom all of the churches belong.  Literally the seven churches in Asia Minor and metaphorically all the churches, in all places and at all times.

“you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” – I like the way the NCV translates this: “people say that you are alive, but really you are dead.”  Basically, this church was able to deceive everyone into thinking that this church was doing better than it actually was.  However, the ambiguity in this phrase leaves us to wonder if this church was:

  • theologically dead (a church that tolerated or encouraged heretical teaching and/or theological immaturity).
  • emotionally dead (lacking in any emotional intensity to the things of God).
  • morally dead (a number of Christians would have come from pagan backgrounds therefore the tendency for immorality or a loosening of standards could easily been a reality amongst them).
  • missionally dead (as Revelation was written at a time of persecution it would not be beyond the realm of reason to suppose that the church was neglecting its mission to those outside of its confines).
  • spiritually dead (by this I mean a sheer absence of power to do any of the above).

There is no way of knowing for sure what was happening within this church, but whatever it was it seems that many people were deceived into thinking that this church was doing extremely well.

 

2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.

“strengthen the things…that are ready to die” Nowadays we seem to be constantly encouraged to think and talk positively and whilst that can be commended in part this church is strongly encouraged to look at their situation realistically.  It matters very little how this church is perceived from those inside or outside of it, what really matters is how they are seen by God.  This church is not seen as successful within the eyes of God.

“I have not found your works perfect before God” – Unfortunately, the NKJV translates the word G4137pleroo” (pronounced play-ro’-o) as “perfect.”  This is sometimes cited as a proof-text for sinless perfection.  However, although I believe we must strive for sinless perfection I believe it is unobtainable in our mortal bodies and within this fallen world.  Therefore, because of my theological presuppositions and my understanding of this word in the Greek, I think that this word should be translated “complete.” The word “perfect” is not used by a number reputable bible translations here (see YLT, NLT, NCV, ESV etc).

“Remember…how you have received and heard” – It seems that the main problem facing the church in Sardis is one which we face within our own time.  That is that although the church is always called to be culturally relevant, she is also called to be spiritually pure; built on the foundations of present leadership and the historical foundations of the Church’s teaching (see Ephesians 2:19-22 & 4:11-16).  For this reason, I am often sceptical of the faddish nature of ‘popular Christianity,’ which seems to be, in many instances, a scam used to sell goods and services.  Sardis is being reminded to “remember” the nature of the gospel she was given.

“hold fast and repent” – Hold onto to what you have received and been told and turn away from all conscious forms of rebellion.

“I will come upon you as a thief”In the same way that the city was historically taken by surprise with an earthquake and the military conquests, the church is reminded it is in the same way she shall be taken by surprise again.    

 “you will not know what hour” – I have heard it said that we might not know the hour but we might know the generation, the year, the month, week and the day.  This is completely ridiculous!  This phrase is repeated a number of times in Scripture and it talks here of temporal judgement and eschatological (end-times) judgement coming without warning (see Matthew 25).

“You have a few” – Even within the midst of a church that is predominantly unregenerate there are “a few…who…are worthy.”  This is known as the theology of the ‘remnant,’ which was the Old Testament belief that not all who called themselves Jews were Jews, something that is developed in the New Testament particularly by Paul (see Romans 9:6-8) and is applied to the Church by Jesus (see Matthew 25:31-46).

“who have not defiled their garments…they walk in white” – White clothes were not normally worn in the ancient world because of the dusty roads except by the religious or the rich.  They were also a symbol used by the apostle John to speak of “good deeds” (see 19:8) which may support an accusation that this church looked and sounded great but did very little in the way of deeds.  It must be pointed out to the reader that one is not saved by deeds but deeds are the natural outflow of a saving work of grace (see James 2:14-24).

“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white” – Sardis, as mentioned earlier, was renowned for the manufacture of dyed garments.  Possibly, the “white” mentioned here and in v4 are a reference not to “good deeds of the saints” (see 19:8) but the righteousness of God (see Isaiah 64:6a).  Consequently, that would mean that the problem was not the absence of “good deeds” but the church’s reliance on “good deeds” to earn them favour before God.  They did what they had to do for other motives and not as an outworking of their appreciation for what God has done (see Matthew 23:1-36).

“I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” – Citizens’ names would have been kept on a city roll and when they died their name was erased.  This, then, speaks of Zion, the heavenly city and is a reference to salvation, which brings up the question; can a believer lose their salvation?

Firstly, what must be understood is that salvation, in reference to the ‘parable of the Sower,’ found in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20 & Luke 8:1-13 is marked not by germination (the birth of a shoot) but by fruition (the production of fruit)

Secondly, Jesus promises that He and the Father are able to keep us from falling (see John 10:25-30).

You see although spiritual experience (ie visions, healing or dreams), emotion, intellect or tradition may play a part in bringing us to a point of repentance and faith, ultimately the work must begin, and continue in the Spirit or it is not of salvific merit.  We must come to God through Jesus and ask for the strength to give all we know of ourselves to all we know of Him.  As salvation is an act and process of God, we must refrain from trying to manipulate people into the faith through clever arguments or emotional pressure.  People must make a conscious decision to worship Jesus and become like Jesus.  Brainwashing and salesmanship are not biblical, sometimes our doubts are stepping stones to greater faith.

 

“I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” – Regardless of how much we can fall short of the standard of Christ, if our hearts genuinely cry to Him for mercy and if we long to be like Him then He Himself will confess our names to the Father and our place with him shall be secure and He will intercede for us (see Hebrews 7:25).

“Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – This is a standard close within this section and it means that although the message will be made public (churches plural) not everyone will be able and/or willing to listen.

 

Philadelphia: “The Faithful Church” Revelation 3:7-13

Introduction

 Within the messages to the seven churches (see ch2-ch3) Philadelphia is only one of two churches that receives no criticism – the other being Smyrna (see 2:8-11).  Interestingly enough both churches seem to be suffering for the sake of the gospel which has led some commentators to suppose that true faithfulness to the gospel invokes misunderstanding and persecution, something which seems to be in keeping with the teaching of Jesus and Paul (see Mark 8:34-38 & Romans 5:1-5).

Philadelphia seems to be suffering a double persecution, firstly from the Roman authorities and secondly from the followers of Judaism.

Commendation: Preserved in the faith

Criticism: None

Instruction: Keep the faith

Promise: A place in God’s presence, a new name, and the New Jerusalem

 

The City of Philadelphia

 

  • Philadelphia was known for its active volcanoes and its devastating earthquakes, in fact the city was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 17 and had to be rebuilt.
  • Philadelphia means “the city of brotherly love” and was a popular name in the ancient world as it is today.  For example it has been a popular name for churches, town/cities and even a Hollywood movie.
  • This particular city mentioned is now known as Alasehir and was found in the Roman province of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).
  • Alongside Smyrna (see 2:8-11) and Pergamum (see 2:12-17) it was one of the major centres of Emperor worship in which resident would have to burn incense in worship to the Emperor and confess that he was Lord (God).
  • Alexander the Great had conquered the known world and spread the Greek language, religion and culture this is known as Hellenism or what we would know today as Globalisation this is the reason that the NT authors wrote in Greek.  Philadelphia which was in Asia Minor (Turkey) was particularly proud of its Greek culture and continued to remain influential in its spread.

 

7“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:

“angel” – See 3:1.

“He who is holy (and) true” (brackets my own) – These are terms which are often applied to God within the Old Testament and here are used to highlight the divinity of Christ and express that He is the very essence of holiness and truth.  We should therefore not only place our faith in Christ, but acknowledge His life as the prototype on which we try and pattern our own (see Matthew 28:16-20).

He who has the key of David – This is an allusion drawn from Isaiah 22:20-23; Christ is the new Eliakim who holds the palace keys.

He who opens and no one shuts… – It seems that some group or groups (probably the pagan authorities and the Jewish religious authorities) were trying to close this church down or shut them up.  Here Christ is saying it is He that “opens” and He that “shuts.”  As Philadelphia was known as a missionary city for Greek culture and religion and because of the wider context it is highly probable that “opens” and “shuts” is a reference to opportunities for mission/service.

“I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” – With a full understanding of this church’s “works” Christ assures this church of its continued survival.

“you have little strength” – It is likely that this church is numerically small, possibly a number of the saints have been martyred or fled to nearby cities because of persecution (it was located between Sardis (see 3:1-6) and Laodicea (see 3:14-22), two cities in which persecution seemed absent).  Although it is also possible that some may have betrayed the church and sought sanctuary in the synagogue (Jews were allowed to practise freely at this point) or had conceded into worshiping the Emperor it seems that the bulk of this church’s losses were not due to betrayal.

“kept My word…not denied My name” – There is the implication here that in the midst of adverse situations this church had remained faithful to the faith and example of Christ.

those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews” – Historically, because of Luther’s anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) beliefs and his particular reading of the book of Romans, a number of Protestant groups see two people of God (Christians and Jews)  divided into two separate and distinct covenants (Law and Grace).  However, what Romans teaches that God has always dealt with people in accordance to His grace (see Romans 4:9-12) and therefore there is in fact only one people of God which is made up of Jews and Christians who have come to God by grace and through faith (see Romans 9:6-8).

This “synagogue of Satan” then seems to be a derogatory term for a Jewish group/s that had rejected Christ and were actively persecuting the church.

“I will make them come and worship before your feet” – Partly as a result of the Holocaust and partly due to the influence of American Christian media (there are more Jews in New York than in Israel) many Christian went from an anti-Semitic stance to a pro-Semitic stance in which all things Jewish seemed to be desirable.  However, although there should be a deep reverence for the Jewish roots of our faith, the role of the church was actually to “provoke the Jews to jealousy” and not to imitate them (see Romans 11:11-14).

This particular phrase promises a small, persecuted group that a day would come when their faith would outgrow Judaism and the Jews would seek its protection from Christians, something that was to happen a few hundred years after the birth of the Christian Church.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial” – It is possible that this is talking about a temporal “trial” such as famine or persecution or an eschatological (end-times) “trial” such as the final judgement.  Whatever, it is this church will be saved because of its perseverance in the face of hostility.

“whole world” – This can be understood a number of ways, such as:

  • Every nation which would imply eschatological (end-times) judgement.
  • This could be an example of hyperbole, which is basically metaphoric exaggeration. This is a literary term popular within Scripture, for example we are told that “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews…from every nation” in Acts 2:5 but when they are listed in Acts 2:9-11 they seem only to be Jews from the Diaspora.  What I mean is, it is highly unlikely that there were any Jews even in England let alone at the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, and if there were, they are not listed.  If this is an example of hyperbole it would emphasise the severity of the judgement.
  • If the “trial” spoken of earlier is temporal it is also possible that this is a reference to the ‘civilised world,’ which was the Roman Empire.

Personally, there is no way of being sure but personally I think that (a) seems to be more likely.

“Behold, I am coming quickly!” – As I read the “trial” in v10 as a reference to the eschaton (the end-time) I think this is a reference to the second coming which is normally spoken of in Scripture with a sense of urgency and immediacy.  This is one of the reasons why all generations have always considered their generation as the last for we are to live in such a way that we are not taken by surprise if Christ suddenly appears.

“crown” – The Greek word here is G4735stephanos” (pronounced stef’-an-os) which although here is translated “crown” is in fact a wreath made up of foliage or precious metal.  This was given to athletes and royalty and probably implies the combined virtues of endurance and dignity.

“He who overcomes” – Salvation is both an event and a process; this myth of salvation being a one-off event is a half-truth and negates the importance of finishing well (see Matthew 13:3-8).  Here the emphasis is focused entirely on finishing well.

“I will make him a pillar in the temple” – To understand what is meant here we need to be aware of two things:

Firstly, because the main antagonism seems to be coming from the Jews this is a metaphor that the temple of God, that had been destroyed earlier in 70AD, was now made up of  people and not bricks and mortar (see Ephesians 2:19-22).  The reference to “pillar(s)” here would be a reference to the two pillars within the porch of Solomon’s temple (see 1 Kings 7:13-21).  The pillars were called “Jachin” (H3199 – He will establish) and “Boaz” (H1162 – strength).

Secondly, because Philadelphia was known for the regular activity of volcanoes and earthquakes the metaphor of huge pillars named “He will establish” and “strength” would serve as a reminder that even under the most adverse circumstances God would enable them to remain standing as a church.

“I write on him the name of My God and…the city of My God” – Within the pagan world people often wrote upon their forehead the name of their god, here Christ shall not only write upon people the name of God but the name of the heavenly city.

“the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven” – Within our own age there seems to be a flippant and casualness about the Church in which there are many who believe in Christ but have little if anything to do with His body the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-18).  The term “the New Jerusalem” is synonymous with the Church and seems to be extremely important here, in fact its name is written upon the pillars alongside God’s.

Due to our present state we have those who have been deluded into thinking that Christ came preaching a message of individual conversion and not the message of a new society – the Kingdom.  The Church is supposed to be a counter-cultural community but has become a group of individual spiritual consumers.  Here the heavenly nature of the Church is illustrated.

“My new name” – Alongside the name of God and the name of “New Jerusalem” is the “new name” of Christ.  Possibly, this is an illusion to the picture of the all-conquering Christ found in 19:11-16.  You see although it is important to pattern our lives upon the earthly Jesus, we must not forget that He is also the cosmic Jesus and that He shall return again in great glory and splendour.

 “Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – This is a standard close within this section and it means that the message will be made public (churches plural) and highlights the doctrine of illumination.  That is that the truth of God is revealed (revelation) and written for further generations (inspiration) but remains truly hidden unless illuminated by the Spirit (illumination).

 

 

 

Rev CH 2

“The Loveless Church” – Revelation 2:1-7

Introduction

[Rev 2 NKJV]

 Before, we begin to look at the text in any great depth, I must assert that these seven messages which we are going to be looking at are seven real messages delivered to seven real congregation and therefore must be understood in their original context.  There are some within the church known as dispensationalists, that is those who see that history has been split into certain ages (or dispensations) who read the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 as a commentary on the Western Church as follows:

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Although this may cater to those who are always in search of conspiracy theories and secret knowledge, its reading does serious damage to the original context and fails to explain why the history of the Western Church would have meant anything to the persecuted churches in the East.  It may also be interesting to note that the Bible deals with objective truth and the only people in the early church that sought out secret knowledge were a heretical group that latter became known as the Gnostics (pronounced nos-tiks).  In fact, the name itself derives from a root word that means, “pertaining to knowledge.”

 

Another popular way of interpreting these messages is to apply them to the individual.  Although this may be valid, it should only be done when both the speaker and his audience understand that this is addressed to real churches.  Therefore, the message speaks predominantly to the original congregation, secondly to a congregation of believers in the context of a local church and finally to us as individuals.

 

Ephesus

 Ephesus is port-city located near modern-day Anatolia. It was the largest city in Asia-Minor and one of the most important cities in Rome.

  1. It contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple to Artemis (Greek)/Diana(Latin). Artemis/Diana was a many-breasted goddess known as the “Lady of Ephesus.”
  2. As a port city Ephesus was renowned for its idolatry and its sexual immorality. The temple of Artemis would have used temple prostitution in its “worship” as a way of generating funds for the upkeep of the temple and its priesthood.
  3. It is highly probable that the Apostle Paul planted a Church in Ephesus around 46-52 AD (see Acts 18:18-20:11, particularly 19:9-10).
  4. According to non-biblical tradition Ephesus may have been the home of John the Apostle and the resting place for Mary the mother of Jesus who was taken into his care at the end of Jesus’ earthly life (see John 19:25-27).

 

*Please note that “Thayer’s Greek Definitions” and “Strong’s Greek Dictionary” have been used and are annotated in the following way. A bold G for the Greek language followed by a number for the reference 32 and so will appear as following G32, G378 etc.  This will make it easier for you to find the original Greek through reference works or online http://www.net.bible.org*

 

“angel” – The Greek word for “angel” here is G32aggelos” (pronounced ang’-el-os) which literally means “messenger” and according to the original Greek could either be speaking of an angelic representation of the churches or the pastor of the church.  In light of chapters 2 and 3, which deal with the churches, I personally feel that it is the shepherds of the flock that are being dealt with, but I would be more than happy to concede this may be an angelic representation of the church because of the use of symbolism in the book.

 

“He who holds the seven stars in His right hand” – The seven stars are symbolic of the seven messengers or angels (1:20) and the original Greek would imply that Jesus holds these messengers/angels with firmness, possibly to illustrate that the only way that a separation could occur is wilful disobedience.

 

It must also be noted that within the culture and context, the “right hand” was considered the hand of authority and power.  To this day many people within the East would use the left hand for unclean tasks such as going to the toilet.  It has been unclear in my studies whether this was something that was practised amongst Jews within that culture and in that time but it may be a possibility.

 

“who walks in the midst” – It is easy that this metaphor may be overlooked but because of two other illusions to Genesis in v7 many commentators have seen this as a reference to Genesis 3:8.  We would do well to remember that the day in which the vision began was on a Sunday (see Rev 1:10), which was the first day in which the world was created and the day in which Jesus rose again and appeared to His disciples (see the notes on 1:10), as this is the first church the metaphor seems rather fitting.

 

“seven golden lampstands” – The lampstands are probably the seven-stick candleholders known as menorahs which are symbolic of the churches (1:20).  It is these churches, both good and bad that Jesus is walking amongst.

 

“I know your works” – As the book was written at a time when Christians had been removed from synagogues and suffering persecution, Jesus is reminding this church that He has been exalted to the place of the omniscient (all knowing) One.

 

“your labour, your patience” – The word “labour” in the Greek is G2873kopos” (pronounced kop’-os).  It is a word that implies grief, beating and sorrow and comes from a root G2875kopto” (pronounced kop’-to) which means to cut, to strike, to smite, to lament and to mourn.

 

The word “patience” is G5281 “hupomone” (pronounced hoop-om-on-ay’) which is a word suggesting patient endurance and perseverance in a time of immense suffering.

 

“you have tested those who say they are apostles and…are liars” – It is obvious that this cannot refer to the 12 and so logically this must apply to others who claimed to have a special “calling” or “gift.”  All leaders must be regularly tested for character (see Luke 6:39-49) and doctrine (see 1 Timothy 1:3-7).  There seems to be many who can be easily swayed through “charisma” and “gifting” which has lead to great destruction both inside and outside of the church.  “Gifting” and “charisma” are NOT necessarily the New Testament evidence for orthodoxy (correct belief) (see Matthew 7:15-27).

 

“laboured…and have not become weary” – Although much of what is said of v2 can equally apply to v3, this phrase would suggest that this Church in Ephesus was not only suffering but seemed to be suffering “well.”

 

“I have this against you” – In light, of what has been said this phrase seems startling especially as this church appears to being so well externally.

 

“you have left your first love” –  The Greek here would imply that you have left/intensively sent away/forsaken/laid aside/let alone/omitted/remitted or yielded up your first/best/chief in order and importance love, which has left commentators wondering at what exactly has been left:

 

  1. It could mean the “first love” for God. They may have been serving Him zealously but their personal relationship with Him was beginning to wane.
  2. It is also possible that it might mean their “first love” for one another. In this atmosphere trust may have begun to fade, some may have recanted and informed the authorities or returned to the synagogues.
  3. Finally, it could mean their “first love” for the lost. It is highly likely that this persecution would have turned the group inward and the “endurance” mentioned in v2 could have been used as an excuse to abandon mission.

 

Unfortunately, we cannot be sure, but with the use of the word G26 agape” (ag-ah’-pay) for “love,” the historical context (including the of Ephesians), and the illusions to Genesis in v1 and v7 it is probable that it may have been all three.  The word “agape” was not a word used in classical Greek writing and was taken by the early Church from the marketplace and loaded with their own particular meaning that is the sacrificial, selfless love: from God, expressed to God and shared amongst the brethren and the lost.

 

“I will come…and remove your lampstand” – Basically, Jesus is warning the congregation that it is not the persecution, which will destroy the fellowship, but their lack of “first love.” Bizarrely, enough persecution, imprisonment and death have always improved the quantity and quality of believers in the church.

 

“unless you repent” – The congregation would have known that prophecy was ‘usually’ conditional (see Jonah).  Here Jesus is offering a chance to alter the almost inevitable future through a change of heart and life.

 

“this you have…you hate” – Again this letter is seeking to close with encouragement, this church hates and detests false teachers something that Christ sees as commendable.

 

“the Nicolaitans” – We do not know who this group is but John had a disciple named Polycarp and he had a disciple named Irenaeus who wrote that they were followers of Nicolas, an deacon in the early church (see Acts 7:1-7).  They taught that because the “flesh” was evil, God was not interested in what people did with their bodies and therefore this particular group became involved in sleeping with temple prostitutes.  This whole concept of separating the flesh and spirit, sacred and secular is known as dualism, the central belief in a heresy that would become known as Anti-Nomian Gnosticism (that is its liberal form for the legalistic form please read Colossians).

  

“He who has an ear, let him hear” – It isn’t unlikely that some would find this prophecy ‘unacceptable’ so Jesus is calling for discernment from the churches.

 

“The Spirit says to the churches” – Even though this message is personally addressed to one congregation it is given to all, hence the use of the word “churches” as opposed to “church” and thereby acting as a public commendation and rebuke.  Theologically this lends wait to the “one church doctrine” found in the creeds (see John 17:20-23), a reality that seems almost absent among Protestants.

 

“To him who overcomes” – Eternal security (that is the once saved always saved) and the perseverance of the saints (holiness teaching) are different sides of the same coin.  So we should have assurance and perseverance.

 

“tree of life…Paradise of God” – These are two phrases that look back to the beginning (Genesis 2:8-9) and forward to the renewal of all thing at the end (Revelation 22:1-5).  One thing that you may have already picked up on and one thing that has been mentioned in previous weeks is that John is constantly going to the final judgement.  Backward and forward.  Backward and forward.  Again, showing that Revelation cannot be read chronologically.

 

“The Persecuted Church” – Revelation 2:8-11

Introduction

 

What is remarkable in the message to the church at Smyrna is that it is only one of two churches mentioned in the seven that does not receive the slightest rebuke from the Lord Jesus.  This shows that it is uncommon yet purely possible to be a church which walks in accordance with the leading of the Lord, something that all churches must strive for but something that will only be reached by minority.

 

Smyrna

 

  1. Smyrna is port-city located near modern-day Izmir, Turkey.  It was the one of the most influential cities in Asia-Minor and vied for capital status with Ephesus (v1-7) and Pergamos/Pergamum (v12-17).
  2.  Smyrna was the capital of Emperor worship in the region and the capital of the worship of the goddess Roma.  Roma was a female deity who symbolized the Roman Empire and was the goddess of civilization/progress.  She was often depicted as a warlike figure wearing a helmet (or wreath), with a shield, carrying a sword or spear, which probably became influential in the portrayal of Britannia, an image that can still be found on the back of a standard 50 pence piece today.
  3. It is likely that Smyrna contained a large Jewish community; it appears by the text that this Jewish community was overtly anti-Christian.
  4. Smyrna was the home of John’s disciple Polycarp, who would become bishop of Smyrna, and died as a martyr aged 86+ because he would not offer incense to the Emperor (there is a slight debate about his age as his disciple Irenaeus records him saying that he has served Christ 86 years and scholars disagree whether this date should be taken from his birth or his conversion).

 “angel” – see 2:1.

 

“the First and the Last” – The NKJV translator have capitalised the “F” and the “L” in “the First and the Last” to show they are referring to titles.  Jesus is “the First” as in he is primordial (that is before time) (see Col 1:15-17) and Jesus is “the Last” as in He is eschatological (that is after time). This seems also to be a snipe at the cyclical concept of time. That is the concept that time does not have a beginning or an end and is not going in any particular direction a belief that is very popular in the New Age and in some of the Eastern religions.  The cyclical concept of time is a never-ending cycle of death and life, winter and spring but this IS NOT the Judeo-Christian concept of time.

History began in Christ and shall be culminated in Christ, and regardless of things may have looked to this congregation or to our own, history is moving in a certain direction.  It is for this theological reason that the Church dated the calendar according to Christ (BC and AD) and embraced the liturgical year (that is advent and lent, Christmas and Easter), to show that Christ was the God of time as well as eternity.

 

“was dead, and came to life” – This is obviously referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus and again would be a snipe at the cyclical concept of time.  Jesus died once and for all and is now alive for evermore.  Reincarnation is incompatible with the Christian faith.

 

“works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)” – Jesus goes on to commend this particular congregation for their “works,” that is their toil/labour/deeds/efforts amidst “tribulation.”  The Greek word for “tribulation” here is G2347thlipsis” (pronounced thlip’-sis) which can mean pressing under a weight, affliction, oppression, persecution, distress and trouble which seems to have involved a material or monetary aspect to this particular congregation.

 

The word “poverty” used here is G4432 ptocheia (pronounced pto-khi’-ah) which means absolute destitution.  These Christians were not struggling to afford the luxuries in life but were being crushed under the weight of economic injustice for the bare necessities, something that would have invoked ridicule from the pagans and the Jews, who often taught that material prosperity was a sign of God’s (or the gods) blessing.  Nonetheless, Christ commends them with the encouragement “but you are rich.”

 

This may seem confusing to the reader particularly as there seems to be a tension in Scripture between material prosperity (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and material simplicity that must be endured by the believer (see Luke 6:24-26).  In the light of ALL biblical revelation it seems that the Bible teaches that material prosperity is meant for the commonwealth of all mankind and is not to be squandered on self.  That is “make as much money as you can, save as much money as you can and use as much money as you can for the furtherance of the Kingdom.”

 

I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews” – Although there was much hatred between the Romans and the Jews, the Romans allowed the Jews to worship in the way in which they saw fit.  Christianity was therefore safe as long as it was considered a movement within Judaism, but as the split between the synagogue and the church began to widen, Christianity began to suffer persecution from the pagan state and the Jewish synagogue.

 

This particular verse echoes the New Testament teaching that not all those who claim to be Jews are Jews (see John 8:37-47).  Your understanding of the Bible and “End-Times” particularly will be coloured by one of two theological lens, Covenant Theology or Dispensationalism.

 

Covenant Theology teaches that although God holds a special place for Israel, her promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and therefore there are not two people of God, Israel and the Church, but one (see Romans 11:11-36).  Covenant Theology sees that the book of Revelation as dealing primarily with the Church.

 

Dispensationalists teach that God has a special place for Israel and therefore there are not one but two people of God.  Dispensationalists have been very influential within the Zionist movement, advocating support for the State of Israel and read Revelation as primarily dealing with the Church and the modern state of Israel.

 

“but are a synagogue of Satan” – Again the author of Revelation seems to be making a direct allusion to John 8:37-47 which would lend weight to the Apostle John’s authorship.  The term used “a synagogue of Satan” would imply that John not only sees them as not Jews buts sees them as anti-Christ.

 

*Please note, I do not capitalise the name satan or devil (or judas) unless directly quoting from the text – this is purely for theological reasons*

 

“Do not fear…you are about to suffer” – The Greek implies that the Church is already afraid and Jesus is not promising them deliverance from suffering but is offering His encouragement in and through suffering.  This concept of redemptive suffering has major implications in our concept of Christianity and should act as a tonic to the complacent comfort-loving Christianity of our own day (see Philippians 3:8-12 or 1 Peter 4:1-2).

 

“the devil is about to throw some of you into prison” – the NKJV does not capitalise the word “devil” even in areas when it obviously speaking about “satan” (see Matthew 4:1) a word that it does seem to capitalise.  The word used here is G1228 diabolos (pronounced dee-ab’-ol’os) and can be used to speak of a human false accuser or of satan himself (v9).  Going on my understanding of the NKJV Bible and the context I think this is speaking about satan and not a human accuser that is responsible for them being thrown into prison.  Though it is wise to remember that satan normally works through human instrumentality (see Mark 8:31-34).

 

“you may be tested” – The term used here is G3985peirazo” (pronounced pi-rad’-zo) which often used of the testing done by satan and usually implies testing with a view toward destruction rather than testing to refine, which is done by God (the word for testing with a view to refine is G1381 “dokimazo” pronounced dok-im-ad’-zo).

 

“ten days” – This is an unspecified period of time.

 

“be faithful until death” – Although these believers are suffering from persecution (v9), absolute poverty (v9), imprisonment (v10) and death (v10) it does not in any way show that they have moved outside of the will of God.  Remember this is one of only two churches that are commended, but neither does it mean that God is not in control.

 

A heretical group that would later become the Gnostics had a belief it in what is called cosmic dualism.  That is, everything that is good comes from God and everything that is bad comes from the devil.  This, however, is not the theological teaching of the Judeo-Christian faith.  Judaism and Christianity actually teach that there is only one form of sovereignty and that is God.  It is God who gives life (see Genesis 1), it is God who takes life (see Genesis 6:1-8), God who sets up governments (see Romans 13:1-2), God who heals (see Luke 11:20) and God who causes illness (see Exodus 9:1-12).  Not that we can charge God with wrong or negate human responsibility or not see the workings of satan but all that is and will be is found in the preordained parameters of God’s will, this including satan (Job 1:6-12).

 

“I will give you the crown of life” – The word “crown” here is G4735 “stephanos” (pronounced stef’an-os), which means a victor’s wreath and should be seen as completely different from the word “crown” which is worn by Jesus, which is G1238 “diadema” (pronounced dee-ad’-ay-mah) which is a royal crown.

 

The word for “life” used is G2222 “zoe” (pronounced dzo-ay’) which refers to fullness of life or eternal life, this may or may not have earthly connotations.  Most commentators see this as a reference to eternal life, though this can also imply that the full life is one that is consumed by an over-arching belief in Christ and His Kingdom amidst certain death (see Matthew 5:10-12).  A point that is made by other commentators.

  

“The Spirit says to the churches” – The author is divine, “the Spirit,” and the audience is collective, that is “the churches” plural.  Jesus wants to commend this church publicly in the same way He has and will rebuke others publicly.

 

“He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” – Jesus is exhorting this church to hold firm and promising them that they will escape “the second death” which is hell.  Again, you will see a repeated pattern in Revelation where the book gives some information and then goes directly to the final judgement.  This constantly occurs throughout the book, and is known as progressive parallelism.

 

Pergamos: “The Compromising Church” Revelation 2:12-17

Introduction

 

The message to Pergamos is a letter to a church that historically has done well but finds itself compromising with those that hold false doctrine.  This serves to remind us of the vigilance that is needed to walk as a people who are corporately holy regardless of how unpopular that may make us.

 

Pergamos

 

  1. Pergamos is some times called Pergamum in other translations and Pergamon in other ancient texts and is located in the North West of modern-day Turkey.
  2. It was a prosperous city, which vied for capital status with Ephesus (v1-7) and Smyrna (v8-11) and was the location of one of the most prestigious libraries in the ancient world, which was second only to Alexandria in Egypt.
  3. Pergamos was a pagan city, which contained temples to Zeus (who was the king of the Greek gods), Roma (a symbol of the Roman Empire and the god of civilization/progress), Asclepius (a god of healing whose symbol was the snake upon a rod, which is still used as a symbol of the medical profession – Pergamos was the centre for the worship of Asclepius) and the Emperor himself.

 

“angel” – see 2:1.

 

“He” – The “He” in this verse is a clear reference to Jesus Christ and has been capitalised by the NKJV accordingly.

 

“the sharp two-edged sword” – This is a military metaphor which is often used to describe the word of God (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8 & Hebrews 4:12).

 

“works” – The Greek word for “works” here is G2041ergon” (pronounced er’-gon) which can be translated as toil, labour, effort, works or deeds and would probably be a direct reference to the strenuous nature of the church’s ministry within that particular city.

 

“where Satan’s throne is – This can be understood in one of several ways:

  • This could be a generic reference to the earth being under the control of the evil one (see Matthew 4:8-9, John 12:31, 16:11 and 1 John 5:19).
  • This could also be a specific reference and some (though very few) state that it is possible that this is where satan was actually operating from at this time, something that I feel seems to force a text, which is highly symbolic, into an understanding that is far too literal.
  • Pergamos was the centre of the worship of the god Asclepius whose symbol is a serpent a symbol that is also used of satan by John (see 20:2).
  • It could be a reference to the throne of Zeus, which was located in Pergamos. As Zeus was the chief god among the Greeks (the Romans adopted the Greek gods) this would be a condemnation of Greco-Roman religion in its entirety.
  • As Pergamos acted as an administrative centre for Emperor worship its importance in the Emperor cult may be what invoked this particular metaphor.

 

Although there is no possible way of knowing what the author intended, it seems likely that some possible combination of the above is quite feasible.  It is good to remember that the original congregation would have been predominantly illiterate so the metaphors used would have to be understood quite easily, which would imply that it was a common phrase used by John and/or this congregation.

 

“hold fast to My name…did not deny My faith” – It seems that even within a hostile environment this church predominantly held firm.

 

“Antipas was My faithful martyr” – The Roman Empire was made up of city-states and the persecution of Christians was localised.  Pergamos seemed to be one of the cities that suffered intense persecution.  “Antipas” seems to be one of those who were martyred for the faith.  In fact, later church tradition records that he was roasted alive in a bronze cauldron.

 

“But I have a few things against you” – Although this church has been commended for its faithful witness it must also be rebuked for its compromise (Smyrna v8-11 and Philadelphia 3:7-13 are the only churches that escape rebuke among the seven).

 

“those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” – Balaam was a prophet whose story is told in Numbers 22-24.  He was hired to curse Israel but when he was unsuccessful he counselled his employer King Balak of Moab to entice Israel into sexual immorality so that God himself would judge Israel (see Numbers 25, 31:16).  Balaam was later killed under the leadership of Joshua (see Joshua 13:22) and serves as a New Testament model of the corrupting nature of wealth (see 2 Peter 2:15-16 & Jude 1:11).  It is an interesting thing to note that Balaam appears to begin as a genuine follower of God and even prophesised the coming of Jesus (see Numbers 24:2 & 24:15-19).

“eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” – It must be understood that the majority of Christians seem to have been poor (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29) which therefore means many Christians would not have been able to afford the luxury of meat.  Nonetheless, free meat would have been available at pagan feasts.   This meat, however, would have been sacrificed to idols, something which was permissive to the believer but something that may have troubled those who were of weaker conscience (see 1 Corinthians 8).  It is also something that would have brought the Christians into disrepute as the feasts were also accompanied by temple prostitution and sexual orgies.  Some commentators believe that those who would have attended these feasts were “Christians” who were seeking to improve their social standing within the community as a means of financial gain or to avoid future persecution.  This is something, which may illuminate the early reference to “the doctrine of Balaam” and explain the fact that persecution seems to be past tense in v13.

  

“the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” – The Nicolaitans were a group that also seem to have been active in the church in Ephesus v1-7 (see v6).  We do not know who this group is but John had a disciple named Polycarp and he had a disciple named Irenaeus who wrote that they were followers of Nicolas, an elder in the early church (see Acts 6:1-7).  They taught that because the “flesh” was evil, God was not interested in what people did with their bodies and therefore this particular group became involved in sexual immorality.  This whole concept of separating the flesh and spirit, sacred and secular is known as dualism, the central belief in a heresy that would become known as Gnosticism (this is its liberal form, Anti-Nomian Gnosticism.  There was also a legalistic form of Gnosticism in which the adherents would punish their bodies through severe disciplines this is what is addressed in Colossians).

 

“I hate” – The term “hate” used here is a strong term, G3404 “miseho” (pronounced mis-eh’-o), which means to hate, to detest and to pursue with hatred.

 

“Repent” – Again Jesus, is beseeching the whole church to repent; the reprobate believers for their sins of commission (that is what they have done) and the genuine believers for their sins of omission (that is for what they have not done).  It is important to understand that there is a collective guilt incurred for sin.  This is something that we may struggle with as the philosophy of individualism has infected the biblical understanding of corporate responsibility (see Joshua 7).

 

“I will come to you quickly and will fight against them” – This could imply temporal judgement and/or eternal judgement for the reprobate.  Unfortunately, this is likely to have a negative effect on the whole church as to a certain extent the church is supposed to be a mixed community but Christ cannot tolerate these particular groups.  The uprooting however, may destroy the whole fellowship as these weeds have become established (see Matthew 13:24-30 & 47-50).

 

“the sword of My mouth” – An earlier reference was made of the sword in v12.  The interesting point about this reference, however, is that the sword is not in His hand but in His mouth, which could imply that this congregation will be condemned by the preached or prophesied word or that in the same way Christ was active in creation as the spoken word of God He will be active in their destruction (see Genesis 1 & John 1:1-3).

 

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – This seems to be the standardised close, which implies that the message may not be readily received apart from the Holy Spirit and the this message is being made public.  Note the use of the term “churches” plural.

 

“To him who overcomes” – Again Revelation goes from its original context and straight to the final judgement, something that is known as progressive parallelism, and something we have come across a number of times before.  Progressive parallelism is common throughout Revelation and should warn us against a chronological reading of the book.  Revelation is written in interlocking cycles and not in a start-to-finish format.

 

“hidden manna to eat” – Manna was a miraculous bread-like food-stuff which was given to the children in the desert wonderings by God and continued until they entered the promised land (see Exodus 16:1-4,31 & Joshua 5:12) and is therefore a symbol of God’s miraculous provision.  As it appears that the author of Revelation is also the author of the gospel of John it is more probable that this is a metaphor of the person of Christ who is like bread, which is the basic requirement for life (see John 6:31-35).

 

“white stone” – The word for “white” used is G3022 “leukos” (pronounced lyoo-kos’), could mean white, bright, brilliant or dazzling. This was a commercial commodity mined in Pergamos and probably can be understood in one of several ways:

  • Some sort of precious stone.
  • Given as a sign of acquittal at court.
  • A magic amulet worn for protection or favour.
  • An invitation to an elaborate feast.
  • Used as a ticket to a gladiatorial game, that is probably a sign of martyrdom.
  • Given to a slave as a sign of freedom.

 

All seem to fit popular descriptions of Christian victory which may mean a small amount of ambiguity and/or a popular phrase known to the church is likely here.

 

“a new name written which no one knows” – Within the ancient world names were used to describe ones character for example Jesus means “YHWH (the covenant name for God) is salvation.”  There are many individuals within scripture that were given new names that publicly described the change in their characters (Abram-Abraham, Jacob-Israel, Saul-Paul etc).  The phrase “no one knows” in reference to the name is also important as names were often used in incantations this may have been one of the reasons why this degenerate behaviour was not addressed within the church.

 

Thyatira: “The Corrupt Church” Revelation 2:18-29

 

Introduction

 

Thyatira is a church that is applauded by Jesus for its endurance.  However, the church is warned not to tolerate or participate in the false teaching of a woman referred to as Jezebel.  Due to the use of the term “Jezebel” within the text, it is highly probable that this woman is a leader within the church or a woman who seemed to be exerting a negative influence on the church.

 

Thyatira

 

  1. Thyatira was the name of a small garrison city that is now known as Akhisar in modern-day Turkey.
  1. Although it was small it was located on a major trade route between Pergamos (2:12-17) and Sardis (3:1-6) and was renowned in the ancient world for its guilds (or trade unions), each of which worshipped its own particular guardian deity (god).

 

“angel” – See 2:1.

 

“Son of God” – Thyatira was the centre of the worship of Apollo, who was the son of Zeus the king of the Greco-Roman pantheon (group of gods).  Apollo was often referred to as the “Son of God.”  It is obvious here that Jesus is ‘borrowing’ the term to show that it is in fact He that is the “Son of God.”

 

“eyes like a flame of fire” –  This metaphor was used to depict Jesus in 1:14 and is probably a reference to the messianic figure found in Daniel 10:5-6 and/or a reference to the all-seeing eye symbolised by small glass image which – according to the commentator Hill – are still sold to tourists today.  The all-seeing eye was a pagan symbol that was used by the church to symbolise the omniscient God – that is the God who sees and knows all things.  This may trouble some Christians but Hebrews and Christians often converted pagan symbols and names for religious purposes (ie baptism, circumcision, the cross, the name El in reference to God, wedding rings, Christmas etc).

 

You see the faith is not one that destroys culture but one that seeks to redeem it.

 

“feet” – Considered vulgar and filthy within the ancient world.

 

“fine brass” – Again, this metaphor is found earlier within the book (see 1:15) and within the picture of the messianic figure in Daniel 10:5-6.  Historically, Thyatira was distinguished because of its bronze work so the metaphor of an alloy made through combining a strong metal like iron (which would become brittle and rust) and flexible metal like copper (which wasn’t particularly strong), would have been relevant and spoken of a saviour who was both firm and gentle and even whose feet contained great beauty.

 

“I know your works…the last are more than the first” – This church is not being affirmed for their “works” in the past but something that still seems to be dynamic and growing amongst them.  Please remember that the words found in italics, such as “are” here have been included and are not found in the original Greek.

 

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you” – Regardless of how well this church has been doing, Jesus is going to rebuke them for their failure to address false doctrine.  Do you see the collective responsibility?

 

“You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach” – “Jezebel” was an OT figure who used her privileged position as queen to bring idolatry to Israel and persecuted the true followers of God.  Her story can be found in 1 Kings 16:29 – 2 Kings 9:37.

 

The metaphor of Jezebel is used here to probably describe a “woman” who was given authority (“You allow”) by the church “to teach.”  This woman “calls herself a prophetess” and therefore not only teaches but teaches as the mouthpiece of God.

 

“seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” – It seems that this particular leader, who was a ‘prominent leader’ within the church at Thyatira was teaching false doctrine similar to that which was found at Pergamos (see 2:12-17).

 

It must be understood that the majority of Christians seem to have been poor (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29) and were therefore unable to afford meat, nevertheless free meat was available at various pagan feasts.  This meat was sacrificed to pagan gods, something that was permissive to the believer if bought at the market place (in theory all meat had been sacrificed to idols – see 1 Corinthians 8) but something that was condemned at pagan feasts (see 1 Corinthians 10:14-22).  Participation in pagan feasts brought believers into disrepute (particularly among Jews), involved the worship of other gods and opened up the temptation of drunkenness and temple prostitution and sexual orgies.

 

Some commentators believe that those who would have attended these feasts were “Christians” who were seeking to improve their social standing within the community as a means of financial gain or to avoid future persecution.  This would seem to fit the historical context, as these feasts would have been linked to the trade guilds.  These were mutual societies not too dissimilar to our trade unions today; therefore, the picture that is painted is a church which is seeking to safeguard against physical and financial hardship by becoming more like the people of this city.

 

“I gave her time to repent…and she did not repent” – It seems that Jesus has already addressed the issue and time has been given for genuine repentance but no repentance was been forthcoming.

 

“Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed” – Idolatry is often described metaphorically as sexual immorality (see Hosea) and ironically, here the woman who has committed spiritual adultery will be taken from the bed of adultery and “cast…into a sickbed.”  This seems to be speaking of temporal and/or eternal punishment.

 

“and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation” – Not only shall she be punished but all those who follow her teaching shall be punished also.  The term “great tribulation” is an important term within the book of Revelation (used in 1:9, 2:9, 2:10, 2:22 and 7:14) and comes from two Greek terms G3173megas” (pronounced meg’-as) and G2346 thlipsis” (pronounced thlip’-sis).  “Megas” can mean “great” as in intense or “great” as in lengthy and “thlipsis” can mean tribulation, oppression, affliction, distress.  Regardless, though of whether this “tribulation” is intense or lengthy (or both), what is interesting however it is used within a historical setting some 2000 years ago.  Possibly this is a way of reconciling the disparity between the “great tribulation” of 7:14 and the whole concept of not-knowing and the relative peace found in Matthew 24:36-44 (particularly Matthew 24:38a) as a “great (as in lengthy) tribulation” stretching from His first coming until His return.  This is my own favoured understanding of the concept which is informed and supported by a number of reliable commentators.

 

Through some strange twist of irony, it seems that Jesus throws those who are trying to escape persecution headlong into it for their deliberate disobedience.

 

“I will kill her children with death” – Obviously, the reference made here to “children” describes the followers of this false teacher and the mortal consequences of their particular actions.

 

“the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” – Again, this is probably a reference to the ‘all seeing-eye’ which is sometimes used as a non-biblical metaphor for God (see notes on 2:18).

 

“I will give…according to your works” – The bible seems to deal with varying degrees of reward and punishment for our actions in this life (see 22:12).  Bizarrely though it seems to me that those things that I see as afflictions are considered valuable (see 2 Corinthians 11:22-33) and the things I would consider hallmarks of blessing seem to carry no innate worth (see Matthew 7:21-23) this is sometimes referred to as the “upside-down-nature of the Kingdom.”  St Augustine’s distinction between the “gifts” (that is what is done or what is given) and the “fruit” (that is the motive behind it) is an important distinction and is helpful considering that we shall be judged by our fruit (see Matthew 7:15-20).

 

“Now to you” – The “you” here is the “angel” referred to in the beginning of the letter (see the notes on 2:18) which again adds to my hypothesis that it is the pastor or senior leadership team of this church which is addressed as opposed to an angelic representative.

 

“I will put on you no other burden” – You see although it is popular to see Christianity as a form of legalistic moralism, Christ is keen to show this church that although His demands may invoke hostility among the local populace, they are not meant to keep people from Him unnecessarily or to make their lives particularly difficult.  Christ’s requirement should really be seen as functional – that is for the sake of our own or others’ ultimate happiness rather than laws that are legal or moral in themselves (see Acts 15:22-29).  That is why the purpose behind a particular law seems to override the law itself (see Mark 2:23-27), God has always been a God of grace.

 

“till I come” – This is a reference to death and/or the second coming which is always described in way that focuses on its imminence.

 

“keeps My works until the end” – The church is being reminded that the “cornerstone” to the faith is the person of Christ.  “My works” would thus imply that the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the prism in which salvation must be understood.  That is Christ is not only our saviour but also the archetype on which we must pattern our lives.  For this church who faced the potentiality of persecution this might actually involve martyrdom.

 

“I will give power over the nations” – Some would say that the saints are reigning with Christ at present in a symbolic millennium or church age (see Matthew 28:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28), something that started small but shall fill the whole earth (see Daniel 2:31-44 & Luke 13:18-21).  Equally, there are some who would see this as a something that will come in a future millennial age (see Revelation 20:1-6).  Personally, I believe that we are reigning with Christ now but the promise mentioned above will not become a full reality until the return of Christ, something that fits the cyclical non-chronological nature of Revelation and is integral to both a-millennial and post-millennial positions.

delete

He shall…like the potter’s vessels– This is a modified quote taken from Psalm 2:9 that has been placed in italics by the NKJV translators.  The NKJV red-edition highlights this text in red, as the words of Jesus but this might be parenthesis (that is added information) made by John and therefore should be in black.  There is no real way of telling.

 

“I also have received from My Father”“have received” is past tense, which would support my belief that Christ’s reign is not something in the future, but something that is active now (see the notes on 2:26).

 

 “the morning star” – Like many things, there is a number of ways this can be interpreted:

(a) The “Him” referred to could be capitalised and therefore would be a reference to God the Father that would mean that the “morning star” could be referring to:

  1. satan (see Isaiah 14:12).
  1. The angelic praise (see Job 38:4-7).

 

(b) If the “him” referred to is the one who “overcomes” in 2:26 then it could be a reference to:

  1. Christ Himself (see Numbers 24:17, 2 Peter 1:19 and                                                      Revelation 22:16).
  1. The resurrection of the dead (see Daniel 12:2-3).

 

It must be remembered that the use of capitalisation is not found in the original Greek and has been placed in by the various translators.  Did you know that the Message makes “Morning Star” a title for a person by capitalising it (therefore reading it as option A1 or B1) when all other translations I have looked at keeps it in lower case (therefore reading it as option A2 or B2)?  Due to the use of the same phrase, by the same author from the same book (22:16) I would be inclined to agree with the Message translators in this particular case (B1).

 

“He who has an ear…what the Spirit says to the churches” – This is a popular closing phrase within Revelation 2 and 3.  Firstly, it is characteristic of the earthly Jesus, showing that the message needed to be perceived spiritually (see John 8:43-45) with the plural term “churches” shows that this letter was open to all.

 

APPLICATION

If Christ was to spiritually evaluate your Church

(a). What would He commend?

(b). What would He condemn?

(c). What difference could we personally make?

 

 

 

 

How to Teach a Bible Study [Capernwray Lecture Notes]

Introduction

“I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house.” Acts 20:20 NKJV

 

[1]. Different Bible Studies for Different Contexts

                [a]. Different Types

  • As a husband or parent.
  • As part of the local Church (men, women, youth, mixed).
  • As outreach.
  • You could be working of pre-set curriculum (commentaries, sermons, videos)
  • I will teach you how I do home group studies.

 

[b]. Some Presuppositions

  • The bible as originally given is divinely inspired [2 Cor 4:2].
  • There is a law of non-contradiction [2 Tim 3:16].
  • The bible is the word of God and changes lives [John 17:17].
  • The bible cannot be understood apart from the Holy Spirit [1 Cor 2:14].
  • The bible is to applied [James 1:22].

 

[2]. Pre-Bible Study

Before, I begin I try to do complete four movements, which I call the 4 waves this may also be something which you can get people to do before the study (stick the text in the newsletter, online or give them next week’s text in advance).[1]  The greater their level of participation the more that they will learn from your studies.

 

[a]. Wave 1 (initial thoughts)

Take the text and write out any initial thoughts.  I highlight the verbs (doing words), make a note of the characters, and write down any ideas,  reoccurring or interesting words, quotes it makes or it reminds me off, pray through the passage and look at possible questions that come to mind.  Something that may help is this poem by Kipling.

 

“I KEEP six honest serving-men
 (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
 And How and Where and Who. Kipling (English Poet)

 

[b]. Wave 2 (other translations)

When preaching or teaching bible study you must be aware that others may have different translations and therefore it is important to see what the differences might be (see Luke 24:24 KJV and in another translation).  As a rule of thumb, I look at my normal translation NKJV, the KJV (classic translation), the NIV (popular evangelical translation) and the ESV (the popular reformed translation).  I may also look at other translations depending on the context ie MSG (as a contemporary paraphrase which I might look at with young adults), the NRSV (in a mainstream or academic setting).[2]

*If speaking in another setting try and always find out what translation they use

 

[c]. Wave 3 (commentaries, homilies (which is another name for sermons), dictionaries and systematic theologies)

In this wave, you are digging deeper into the text and consulting the ideas of others.  For this reason, I would encourage, at least, a couple of tools.

  • A good study bible (I’d recommend ESV study bible or the NLT Life Application).
  • A whole bible commentary. freebiblecommentary.org is available for free and contains audio and video commentaries.
  • A systematic theology in which I would be looking at key concepts contained within the text like the nature of Church or salvation etc (I’d recommend Grudem because he lists other systematic theologies from all of the main theological perspectives).

 

[d]. Wave 4 (experiential exegesis)

This is the most creative step within the process.  You look at the text through the eyes of the characters involved in the text (and even the author and audience).  Here you are looking at their experience (looking through the 5 senses – what do they see, taste, feel, smell or hear?) and  possibly what this might look like if it was written for today in your own words.  The key here is not to go beyond the text but to make it come to life.  Experiential exegesis will also help you to understand the meaning of scripture.

 

[3]. The Bible Study Itself

[a]. Ice Breaker and Prayer

Before, beginning it is always good to begin with refreshments and catching up with people.  If someone finds out they are expecting or if there husband has been diagnosed with cancer it will have a huge effect on the rest of the study so it is best to be aware of things before they become an issue.  At the set time, I would begin with a single worship song and by asking an ice-breaker question, ideally related to the text/topic we are about to study and then I would pray.

 

[b]. I then Set the Context of the Passage

Here I explain the author, the audience, the section which we find ourselves in and what is going to happen.  If the group is more competent I would get them to do this.  The easiest way to do this is to find the section within an outline in a commentary or study bible.

 

So, if I was teaching on the Ask, Seek and Knock passage (Matthew 7:7-12) I would look at my outline, I have pulled this one randomly off of the web and look at how the book is broken up focusing particularly on the section in which my passage is to be found (The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew ch 5-7 in this particular case).[3]  In my study I would begin by telling them the author, the time of writing, the reason for writing and where my passage was located within it’s context (all of these can be found in a study bible or commentary – the more in-depth you seek to go the more you will have to read).  I would then be keen to show them what came before the passage and what comes after.  Here we have a command not to judge (Matthew 7:1—5) but then we have countless examples of what appears to be value-judgements on true and false believers (Matthew 7:1-6, 7:13-29).  Therefore, in light of the context I would hope that my group would be able to see that Matthew 7:7-12 is teaching us how to judge without being judgmental (Christian discernment).

 

Matthew 7:1-5 – Hypocrites with planks in their eyes (coveting change in others)

Matthew 7:6 – Casting pearls before swine (using wealth wisely)

Matthew 7:7-11 – Seeking good gifts

Matthew 7:12 – The Golden Rule sums up the Law

Matthew 7:13-7:29 – Advice on choosing well

Matthew 7:13-14 – The narrow and broad ways

Matthew 7:15-20 – How to judge a prophet

Matthew 7:21-23 – Crying ‘Lord, Lord’ is not enough

Matthew 7:24-27 – Building on the right foundation

Matthew 7:28-29 – The crowd’s reaction

 

[c]. Some One Would Read the Passage

Do not have people read if they feel uncomfortable.  Although, it is the role of the leader to challenge it is also the role of the leader to protect those under his/her care.

 

[d]. Finally, I Would Walk Through the Text

I would be partly teaching and partly asking open questions always trying to include people and stop others dominating the meeting.  My focus would be around explanation, objections, illustration, application, connection (how does this passage connect to the rest of the bible or the Gospel?) and celebration (what Good News can we take from the passage or can it cause us to praise).

 

[e]. Close in Prayer

Again, I would try and stay as close to the text as I can in my prayer.

 

Conclusion

Whilst there are so many different ways to approach the preparation and delivery of bible studies this system has worked faithfully for me for a number of years and well I would not encourage you to follow it exactly it is my hope that some points may be found helpful.

 

[1] These four waves have been taken from a preaching course conducted by Sherman Hayward Cox II from soulpreaching.com
[2] For more information on translations see “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” by Stuart and Fee.  A free PDF should be available online.
[3] http://www.sermononthemount.org.uk/SermonOnTheMount/MainOutline.html
At an intermediate level I would consult a number of outlines and at an advanced stage I would write an outline myself (checking it against others only after I was finished).

Rev CH 1

revelation-banner-large

An Introduction to John’s Revelation – Revelation 1:1-3

Foreword

I became a Christian in 1997.  At that time a number of people within the Christian church, luckily only a handful within my own, became obsessed with the subject of eschatology.  Books were handed around discussing issues like the millennium bug, how Tony Blair, Bill Clinton or Saddam Hussain were the antichrist and how our national insurance numbers, barcodes or microchips were, in fact, the mark of the beast.  Thankfully all the commotion came and went.  Well, at least until the next round of end-of-world scares and therefore, in 2011, following the predictions of Harold Camping, I was asked by the members of my church to preach through the book of Revelation.  Since we stopped for Lent and Advent this took me a two-year period.  Two years in which I listened to between twenty to thirty sermons a week, read countless commentaries and read through Revelation over a hundred times.  To enable my sermon construction, I began to compose detailed study notes.  However, although these were only intended for my personal use, they began to be disseminated throughout my congregation and it is these notes that make up the bulk of these notes that you have before you.

 

Author

Before I begin I must emphatically state that the authorship of Revelation is disputed.  In fact, all we know from the text is that the author was called John (1:1. 1:4, 1:9, 22:8) and he saw himself as a “brother and companion in the tribulations and kingdom” (1:9) with the congregations to whom he was writing.  Although I personally believe that the book was written by the Apostle John, here is a list of the suggested authors:

 

  • John the Apostle: Son of Zebedee, who was amongst Jesus’ inner circle (Peter, James & John) and the undisputed author of John’s Gospel and 1 John.
  • John the Elder: also active in the early church and possibly the author of 2 & 3 John.
  • John Mark: who was a disciple of Peter and who wrote Mark’s Gospel
  • An anonymous author: who wrote on behalf of those listed above.  The use of scribes was a common practice in the ancient world.

 

Those who agree with John the Apostle’s authorship:

state that it is included in the Muratorian Canon and has the support of the early Church, all of whom claimed that the Apostle John was the author.

 

  • Justin Martyr of Rome (110-165 AD)
  • Irenaeus of Lyon (120-202 AD)
  • Tertullian of N Africa (145-220 AD)
  • Origen of Alexandria (181-252 AD)

 

Those who disagree with John the Apostle’s authorship:

state a number of discrepancies:

 

  • Textual differences: John’s gospel is arguably the best Greek found within the NT and Revelation is among the worst.  The stylistic problems might be addressed by the fact that John used an Aramaic syntax in the Greek language to emphasise the prophetic nature of the text.
  • Thematic differences: The emphasis in John’s Gospel on themes such as love and truth are absent from Revelation.
  • Revelation seems to look back to an apostolic age (18:20, 21:14): Due to the large use of symbolism in Revelation and its non-chronological nature, this seems a highly contentious criticism of the text.  
  • John’s age: This is purely dependent on dating; nevertheless, the early Church and many modern theologians agree that the bulk – and possibly all – of the disciples would have been in their teens when they began to follow Jesus; this would mean that the Apostle John would still have been able to write the book.

 

Date

Although there are a small number of people who would disagree (as there always are), due to the many illusions of persecution and emperor worship, most scholars place the date of writing in one of two timescales:

 

  • Nero (54-68 AD):  Those who support this view would be keen to show that the first main persecution of Christians came under Nero’s reign and that the numbers that make up Caesar Nero in the Hebrew are 666.  Nero was also the first leader to be called “the antichrist” by the Church and “the beast” by his own subjects.  
  • Domitian (81-96 AD): Those who support this view would point out that this was the view held by the early Church. It was the second great persecution and many Christians and non-Christians alike thought that Nero would return from the dead; a tradition which lasted until the 5th century, known as the legend of Nero Redivivus.

 

Domitian may have been a possible candidate. In the same way that John the Baptist symbolically represented Elijah, many saw Domitian as a representation or reincarnation of Nero.  It is also highly probable that the book was written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, because the reference about the New Jerusalem not containing a temple (21:22) may have been used to console the Jewish Christians, who were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (2:9).

 

Recipients

Although the book is only addressed to the 7 churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), given that they are large cities and follow the Roman postal route, it is more probable that the intended audience was all of Asia Minor.

 

Styles of Interpretation

Having looked at a brief introduction of the book, let us now look at the way in which the book has been interpreted over the years.  Four main styles of interpretation exist:

 

  • PRETERIST – from the Latin “praeteritus” meaning “gone by”…Primarily, or entirely, related to the 1st recipients, the seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).
  • HISTORICIST – Sees the book as giving us a broad view of history but focusing almost entirely on Israel and the Western world.  This is sometimes known as popular eschatology as this has been popularised by American Christian media such the film “The Omen” and the book series “Left Behind.”
  • FUTURIST – Is similar to the HISTORICIST view but sees the bulk of the book as regarding the eschaton.
  • IDEALIST – Sees the book symbolically and as a struggle between good and evil in every age.

 

Even if individuals are unfamiliar with these terms, they will rely on at least one of these particular perspectives in reading the text.  If you would like to study the book of Revelation in any great depth I would encourage you to read commentaries from all of the given perspectives, although I personally encourage PRETERIST and IDEALIST texts.  I have personally found HISTORICIST and FUTURIST texts less helpful and sometimes bizarrely contradictory.     
Introduction & Benediction: v1-3

v1 –  “The Revelation” – The Greek word here is apokalupsis (where we get the word apocalyptic from) which actually means:

 

  1. Laying bare or making naked
  2. A disclosure of hidden truth or instruction (ie a revelation)
  3. An appearance

 

Although the word apocalyptic may have particular connotations in our own day, it was a popular type of literature in the ancient world and contained a number of characteristics:

  • It was written at a time of persecution and therefore was often written in a code that could only really be understood by the author and the recipients (like the enigma code in WW2).
  • It contained otherworldly journeys, visions and beings and was highly symbolic and would often make reference to the throne room of God.
  • Commonly it used dualism (that is the contrast of opposites: good and evil, God and the devil, Babylon and Zion, the beast and the Lamb etc) for emphasis.
  • It usually carried an eschatological (end-times) thrust.

 

The Church Bible kept on our communion table of my last Church read in its introduction to Revelation:

 

“For the most part the book consists of several series of revelations and visions presented in symbolic language that would have been understood by Christians of that day, but would have remained a mystery to all others.” (pg 311)

 

v2 – “prophecy” – The gift of prophecy can be exercised through various mediums of expression (spoken, written, musical, dramatic etc). However, ecstatic and trance-like states, as recorded here, seem to be the exception rather than the rule (1 Cor 14:29-33).  Here are some key points regarding prophecy:

 

  • Prophets would speak as the spiritual, social and political mouthpiece of God – to the Eastern mind these things were inseparable.  So the prophet was a preacher and social commentator.  
  • The bulk of their prophecy had a concrete historical fulfilment as well as a Christological or eschatological (the end-times) fulfilment (compare Matthew 1:23 pg 849 and Isaiah 7:10-17.  Please remember Ahaz was a real king and the prophecy was fulfilled in his life time and was then applied to Christ) and therefore was not purely predictive.
  • Prophecy is usually but not always conditional (1 Samuel 15:22-23, Jonah 3:5-10 etc).

 

v3 – “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things” – This is the first of several beatitudes or blessings within the book, here the blessing is pronounced upon the preacher, “he who reads” and the congregation that hears and acts upon the information that is given from this text.

 

v3 – “those things which are written” – The book of Revelation is also an epistle or letter and therefore follows the pattern of many Greco-Roman and NT letters.  

 

  • It must be noted that, because many people could not read in the ancient world, letters were read aloud and often would repeat things in a number of ways to reinforce their message and to avoid any misunderstanding – this explains the large amount of repetition that is contained within the book.  
  • Letters have real authors and real recipients and speak about real problems, particularly if they have been written by a church leader (John) to his churches (the churches of Asia Minor).

 

v3 – “the time is near” – Within prophetic books there is a prophetic urgency.  “The time is near” the book of Revelation addresses a specific age and every age within human history and, because the next major event upon God’s calendar is the return of Christ, this is to be considered theologically near even if it may be chronologically distant.

 

Conclusion

In light of this, we must interpret Revelation according to the conventions of these three different types of literature; failure to do this will mean that the book, called Revelation, will remain closed or will become the subject of endless speculation.  

 

MEMORY VERSE: 3Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

APPLICATION: If a blessing is pronounced upon the readers of the book; why not read the book through this week or listen to it on audio.  Free audio bibles are available online.

 

Greeting the Seven Churches – Revelation 1:4-8

 

Introduction

Before, we can properly enter the text of Revelation we must understand have an interpretive lens in which we can read not only it but the whole of scripture.  Although, numerous models of interpretation may exist I advocate that a text must be understood in 3 ways.

Theological – means the study of God (Theo) and applies to the study of scripture in its original language, culture and context.  This means you must read whole sections and not just pull out single scriptures out randomly.  It also requires the reader to interpret the text in light of the context of the whole scriptures ie the bible teaches that man is saved by faith alone (Romans 9:30-33) but it also appears to teach that he is saved by faith plus works (James 2:24).  This may appear to be a contradiction, however, when read in light of all scripture we come to see that “we are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

Christological – is the study of the Word (see John 1:1-5), in relation to the person, life, death and resurrection of Christ.  Therefore, although we are unable to place Christ in a text in which He is not mentioned, unless this is done by the NT authors, it means that the scriptures can be used to illustrate Him (see Luke 24:44-49).  So, He left His homeland like Abraham, was betrayed by His brothers like Joseph, taught the law like Moses, used His death to defeat His enemies like Samson and is a great shepherd king like David.

It also means that the historical teaching of the Church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22), although not as inspired as Scripture also helps to our understanding of the text.  It is for this reason I often encourage believers to purchase study bibles and commentaries.   

 

Pneumatological – “Pnuema” is the Greek word for Spirit.  In the light, of its original context and in the light of the way in which the text deals with Christ we apply it to ourselves, our families and our churches.  Unfortunately, this is often done first, however the reader must understand that although God speaks to His sheep and that we should expect His guidance in our everyday lives (John 10:27) the scripture is not intended for personal interpretation (2 Peter 1:19-21).

 

Revelation 1:4-8

“John” – Although there has been some debate, this is probably John the “beloved” apostle, the son of Zebedee, the author of John’s gospel.  Regardless of who this is however, it seems that this John is exercising oversight over the churches in Asia.

 

“the seven churches” – Seven is the symbolic number for ‘perfection or ‘completeness’ and appears often in Revelation symbolically which would suggest that it applies directly to seven real churches and indirectly to all churches.

 

“Asia” – This is the Roman province of Asia known as Asia Minor but today is better known as Turkey.

 

“Him who is and who was and who is to come” – This is God the Father, though this metaphor is fluid and can be used of Christ, but not in this particular instance.

 

“The seven Spirits” – The “S” in “Spirits” has been capitalised by the translators of the NKJV because they see it as referring the Holy Spirit, which would make sense as you have the Father and the Spirit in verse 4 and the Son in verse 5, which makes up the Trinity.  This would make the “seven” a metaphor for completeness/perfection.

 

“the firstborn from the dead” – It is sometimes more helpful to think of the raising of Lazarus or Dorcas from the dead as resuscitations.  Jesus was the first who was raised from the dead in His new resurrection body.  Lazarus and Dorcas would die again; Jesus went from His earthly life to His resurrected life.

 

“the ruler over the kings of the earth” – Revelation is book that was written to Christians suffering intense persecution (probably under Nero or Domitian).  They were often mocked by the Jews or by the pagans about the sovereignty of God and would inevitably doubt God’s protection under such intense persecution.  A popular heresy, which later became known as Gnosticism taught a dualistic worldview which is that there was a cosmic struggle between a good and evil.  This is not the orthodox position of the Judeo-Christian faith; they teach that God is in control of everything, and although the devil tries to thwart His plans he must submit to His will (see the book of Job).  Although this persecution was evil and from the devil, Jesus was “the ruler over the kings of the earth” and was using it to bring about His ultimate aim which would be not the health and prosperity of some but the commonwealth of all mankind.  

 

“to Him who loved us” – This is a Greek implies a continuous action – “To Him who once and always and continues to love us.”

 

“and washed us from our sin” – This is a Greek construct known as a aorist active participle which means: AORIST – a one off, completed action, ACTIVE: standard form of speech, PARTICIPLE – a form of grammar, which implies that Jesus has washed us from our sin once and for all.  This brings us into the question of whether a Christian can lose his/her salvation.  I would say that although some people are “converted” through tradition, emotion, intellect etc, a true conversion of the spirit is an everlasting work (see John 10:27-30).

 

What I mean is this: if your salvation began and continues in the Spirit you will naturally produce the fruits of the authentic Christian life and although there may be times of trial and struggle through your relationship with Jesus (His Word, His Body and His Spirit) you will inevitably change.  Therefore, it is not grace or works but grace being outworked through action (see James 2:14-26).

 

“and has made us kings and priests” – this can be read in the Greek as a Kingdom of priests, which is followed by the NASB (New American Standard Bible) and the NRSV (New Revised Standard Bible) and because it mirrors Exodus 19:6 (Revelation borrows a lot from the Exodus) and because it fits my theological prejudices about a Kingdom-based gospel opposed to a conversion-based gospel, I prefer this BUT it can be read either way.

 

The sentence is also an aorist active participle, which means a continued action (see v5).   So “we were, are and always will be a kingdom of priests” this is a doctrine known as ‘imparted righteousness.’  Basically, this means that our righteousness has been given to us by grace and through faith and is not something we can work at or earn (see 1 Corinthians 1:30).  

 

“He is coming with clouds” – This is a sign of divinity and God’s presence in the Bible and is applied to Jesus.

every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” – This takes Revelation straight to the end of the world.  This happens a number of times in Revelation, and is one of the main reasons it is misunderstood.  The book is built on a system called ‘progressive parallelism’ which means that it gives a little information and then goes to the end, it then may overlap and then go straight to the end again and again.

—–END

  ————END

            ——————-END

                               —————-END

 

“Alpha and the Omega” – “Alpha” and “Omega” are capitalized as they are titles which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

 

the Beginning and the End” – the word “the” has been put in italics by the NKJV translators because they ARE NOT in the original Greek, Jesus is “Beginning” and “End” which emphasises His eternality.

 

“who is and who was and who is to come” – is used in v4 to speak of God the Father, here it speaks of God the Son. They are distinct but One, which again is focusing on the divinity of Christ.

 

“the Almighty” – “The Almighty” or “El Shaddai” in the original Hebrew was used by the patriarchs to speak of God until the divine name was revealed to Moses (Exodus 6:2-3), here it is being used for the Son.

 

MEMORY VERSE: 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

APPLICATION: Have a look at some passages in the OT does Christ appear, is He predicted or can He (or His message) be illustrated by this?

 

The Vision of the Son of Man – Revelation 1:9-20

“your brother” – Although, John exercises apostolic authority over the churches that he is writing to and probably all the churches within the area of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) he refrains from the use of a title.  Whilst titles may be helpful to describe someone’s function or role I do not think that the NT sanctions the use of religious titles except ones, which emphasise our equality (Matthew 23:6-12).  Today this might be seen as an example of servant leadership.

 

“companion in the tribulation” – Revelation was written at the time when the church had been kicked out of the Jewish worshipping community (the synagogue) and was suffering under the great persecution of Nero (reigned 54-68 AD) or Domitian (reigned 81-96 AD).  The use of the term ‘the tribulation’ as opposed to “tribulation” suggests an intensity of suffering which was already taking place.

 

“kingdom” – A Kingdom-based-Gospel is the crux of Jesus’ teaching and ministry and has been replaced by a conversion-based-gospel by many Christians and churches. God is interested not only in the conversion of individuals but of media, law, education, government, the family structure, economics and the whole of creation.

 

John is reminding His flock that regardless of how insignificant they look; the Kingdom shall continue to grow (see Isaiah 9:6-7) and a day shall come when it shall be “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  However, even though they were living, working, praying and hoping for it, ultimately it would only come about fully at the return of Jesus – in theological circles, this is sometimes called the ‘now and not yet’ of the Kingdom.

 

“on the island that is called Patmos” – According to the Roman historian Tactitus, political prisoners were exiled on the island of Patmos and therefore it functioned as an ancient Alcatraz.  According to Church history, John was boiled in oil but not killed and placed in exile on the island of Patmos by the Emperor Domitian.

 

“I was in the Spirit” – This is probably a trance. It must be remembered that ecstatic trances are rare exceptions; predominately the individual is in complete control; phenomena that is popularly called ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ or ‘slaying in the Spirit’ (which can be seen in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles) is something that individuals submit themselves to as opposed to something that overwhelms them (see 1 Corinthians 14:26-33).

 

“the Lord’s Day” – Jews celebrated their day of rest/worship on Saturday; this was commonly called the Sabbath (see Genesis 1:1-3).  This would mean that the first day of creation was a Sunday, known in the NT and amongst Jews as “the first day of the week.”  Sunday is the day that Jesus rose again (John 20:1-18) and appeared to His disciples (John 20:19 & 20:26-31) and the day when the early church would meet together to remember this (Acts 20:7 & 1 Corinthians 16:2).  Although, I do not believe in the elevation of sacred days (see Romans 14:1-13) I and most Christians around the world conduct our worship services on Sunday, this is a continuation of NT tradition and is a reflection of the Church’s belief that the new creation has already begun.

 

“What you see, write in a book and send it – This would suggest that the contents in the scroll was intended for its original audience (there were no books in the ancient world, just scrolls), which would make sense as the persecutions of Nero and Domitian were localised and not Empire-wide.  This is why some of the seven churches seem not to be suffering from persecution (see Revelation 2-3).

 

“the seven churches” – Since the number is used symbolically in the book of Revelation and because the churches that are listed seem to be in major cities it would imply that the book was intended for all of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey).  It is interesting to note that the Romans created a network of roads which could be used for mail and the speedy dispatch of troops.  The churches listed seem to follow what was probably an established postal route.  Reinforcing the fact that God is a God of order.

 

menorah_0307seven_churches

 

“lampstands” – Because of the use of OT symbolism this is probably the menorah (see Exodus 25:31-40) which symbolises the church as the people of God (v20) (see Romans 11:13-24).

 

One– Although the NKJV translators have capitalised this use of the word “One” so it can be used as a title this word does not appear in the original Greek and has been placed in to help the reader hence the italics.

 

“Son of Man” – Even a casual reading of the gospels will show that this was Jesus’ most preferred title for Himself.  It could be used to refer to humanity or divinity but most importantly it was a term that was not used by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day in reference to the Messiah, so Jesus was able to load it with His own particular meaning.

 

“a garment…girded about the chest with golden band” – robes and sashes were usually only worn by priests (see Lev 16:4) and royalty (Ezekiel 26:16), so this metaphor would emphasise Jesus’ role as King and priest.

 

“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow” – It seems bizarre to imagine that Jesus has gone through the ageing process in heaven.  This probably is a reference to two ideas: either His hair is white so as to identify with John who was now considerably older than when he first knew Jesus in the flesh, or what seems more likely is that this is identifying Jesus with God.  God the Father is known as the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:9, a term that reflects God’s wisdom and pre-existence and here it is being applied to Jesus.

 

“His feet were like fine brass” – In the Eastern tradition, the dirtiest part of a person’s body was their feet.  Even today in Arab lands people will show their feet in a sign of disgust when driving, like us showing the finger (neither of which I advocate J).  Jesus’ feet however were “like fine brass,” probably, showing the fact that, in the same way brass is an alloy made of a strong metal like iron (which can become brittle and rust) and flexible metal like copper (which isn’t as strong), Jesus is both firm and gentle.

 

“His voice as the sound of many waters” – Again, this may be likened to a natural phenomenon (ie John was on an Island and heard the tide regularly going in and coming out) or heavenly description of deity (see Ezekiel 1:24 or Daniel 10:6).

“He had in His right hand seven stars” – Obviously, a metaphor of the power of Jesus has over the Church (v20).  The right hand was the hand of power.

 

“out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” – the word “sword” here is “rhomphaia” (pronounced “hrom-fah’-yah) which is the large and broad cutlass used by the Roman soldiers, who were probably guarding the island, or used for the supervision of labour camps that may have been in force.  Here, though, it is used as a reference to word of God, another title used for Christ by John (see John 1:1-5 and Revelation 19:11-16)

 

“I have the keys of Hades and of Death” – As the church was pushed out of the synagogue (who were still legally allowed to congregate and had a special legal dispensation not to worship Caesar) and was persecuted by the Romans, many must have doubted Christ’s sovereignty, that is His control over the affairs of men, particularly life and death.  Jesus says “I have the key of Hades and of Death.”  That is, He has the authority of death and the afterlife, which was called “Sheol” in the OT.

“Sheol/Hades” was a holding area before the great judgement and according to Jewish religious teaching was divided with an area for the righteous known as “Paradise” and a place for the wicked known as “Tartarus.”  This is incorrectly translated “Hell” by the KJV, a term which is used only by Jesus and is the Greek word “Gehenna.”

 

v19 – Basically, this means that Revelation deals with the past, the present and the future and John is to write it down for his congregation.

 

“the angels of the seven churches” – The Greek word for “angels” here is “aggelos” (pronounced ang’-el-os) which literally means “messenger” and according to the original Greek could either be speaking of an angelic representation of the churches or the pastors of the church.  In light of chapter 2 and 3, which deal with the churches, I personally feel that it is the shepherds of the flock, which are being dealt with.

 

MEMORY VERSE: 20The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.

APPLICATION: Do you worry about the condition of the local/national Church?  Although, I believe it is important for you to pray and participate in it I would like to meditate on the fact that Christ has the Church (and it’s leaders) within the palm of His hands.

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