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Friday, February 23, 2018

The Door Opens in Heaven and John is Invited In

The Door Opens in Heaven and John is Invited In
Revelation 4 and 5
The central scene of the book of Revelation occurs when a trumpet sounds and John is invited up into heaven.  “Come on up and I will show you what must take place after this.” Jesus tells John.  (Revelation 4:1) We can know nothing of future events unless God is pleased to show us.  Otherwise the future is “within the veil” unless God opens the door.  But the door was opened for John and he was shown heaven and these future events and told to pass what he saw and heard on to us.  What a blessing! 
John sees a throne and the “Indescribable One” sits on it.  His appearance was like jasper and carnelian and transcendent brightness.  John sees an emerald rainbow about the throne. Twenty-four elders are surrounding God and many Bible scholars believe the twenty-four elders represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples.  They are dressed in white robes.  This represents the fact that they are dressed in righteousness.  And all twenty-four elders are wearing golden crowns, believed to signify the honor given to them by God.
 On each side of the throne are four living creatures with wings and covered with eyes.  One creature is like a lion, and another is like an ox.  The third one had a face like a man, and the forth creature is like a flying eagle. It remains a mystery to us what these four living creatures represent.  But the book of Revelation is full of mysteries. 
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures are all praising God without ceasing. (Revelation 4:4-11) Falling down before the One on the throne.  It is their glory to be glorifying God.  The God who is their creator and preserver and Redeemer. They are singing: “Holy, holy, holy to the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and is, and is to come.”  (Revelation 4:8b)
But then John notices a scroll in the right hand of God who sits on the throne.  The scroll is sealed with seven seals and we believe that what is written inside the scroll is related to God’s authority over the course of history.   Suddenly an angel appears and loudly asks a question: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Revelation 5:2)
There is silence in heaven as no one seems to be able to answer that question.  Scripture reads: “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is able to open the scroll or even look inside it. “(Revelation 5:3) No one is worthy to perform this task!  No one!  God’s will in history cannot continue unless someone is worthy to open the scroll.  The angel’s question echoes through the air, while each living being in heaven waits for some unknown hero to step forward. 
John realizes the seriousness of the dilemma and he begins to weep, because he thinks there is no one in heaven worthy. (Revelation 5:4) But then one of the elders tells John not to weep and reminds him that there is One who is worthy!  The elder tells John, “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5) 
We recognize today that the lion is an aggressive animal and “king of the beasts”. Jewish prophets in the Old Testament foretold that their promised Savior and Messiah would be from the line of David and called “the Root of David” from the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 11:1) Jesus would come from the line of Judah, where Judah is called a “lion with a scepter” (A scepter is a symbol of royalty.) (Genesis 49:9-10 -Jacob’s prophecy over his son Judah)    
So, Jesus Christ is this promised “Lion of Judah” and “Root of David” from ancient Biblical prophecy!  Will this Lion come and lead a political revolution?  Will this Lion come and open the seven seals from the scroll in heaven?  All heaven waits expectantly.  But no Lion appears! 
Instead John sees “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” This broken, bleeding and resurrected Lamb is encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.  He has seven horns (Horns are a symbol of strength) and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.    (Revelation 5:6-7)   He appears as a Lamb having seven horns and seven eyes, having perfect power (horns) to execute all the Will of God and perfect wisdom to understand it all. – having the seven spirits of God (Seven is a number representing completion.) 
This crucified Lamb comes and takes the scroll from the hand of the One on the throne.  He is the only One in all of earth and heaven worthy to open the seals of the scroll! 
Perhaps some humans would be disappointed if they did not see a victorious Lion come forward to fight and save the world.  But all the crowd in heaven understands and falls down “before the Lamb” singing a “new song” “You are worthy to take the scroll, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:8-13) John’s vision of heaven includes ethnic diversity!  The ground at the foot of the cross is level. No racial group is better than the other. We are all one in Christ. 
The Lamb (Jesus Christ) achieved victory over evil by submitting to execution and trusting in God to raise Him from the dead. We are called to follow this “Lamb” wherever He goes.  Following the nonviolent Lamb is risky - and always has been.  We may have to lose our life to gain it.  We will be out of step with the world. What are the political and economic costs of following this Lamb – this One who has been crucified?  Are we able to be crucified with Him?
The fifth chapter of Revelation ends with a glorious vision of millions and millions of bright angels and the four living creatures with eyes and the elders all bowing down and holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they are all loudly singing a new song.  This band of rejoicing heavenly hosts are encircling round and round the throne.  And in the center of it all is the Lamb.   

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Letter to the Seventh Church in Revelation - Laodicea

A Letter to the Seventh Church in Revelation
When the book of Revelation was written in approximately 95 A.D., there were seven Christian churches in Asia Minor.  Jesus Christ in His glorified body appeared before John and told him to write letters to each of His seven churches. Jesus’ gives seven messages to the seven churches along with many visions, and John faithfully copies all of this down.  The visions concerned what would happen during the end times, along with a glorious vision of the final consummation of human history at the end! The letters and the visions make up the book of Revelation.
In a vision, John sees Jesus in His majesty standing before him, with a double-edged sword coming out of His mouth.  His eyes are like blazing fire and his feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace and His voice is like the sound of rushing water.  Jesus is standing among seven candlesticks, with seven stars in His hand. 
Jesus tells John that the seven stars are the seven angels of each of His seven churches.  And the candlesticks that He is standing among are His seven churches.  Jesus is always with His churches. The double-edged sword coming out of His mouth is the sword of judgment. 
We have reviewed the letters Jesus sent to the first six churches already and today we will review the letter to the last church, the Church of Laodicea. Here is what Jesus had to say to the Church of Laodicea. “To the angel of the Church in Laodicea write; These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm ---neither hot nor cold --- I am about to spew you out of my mouth. 
You say, ‘I am rich: I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich: and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne.  Just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:14-22) 
Here in the letter to the church in Laodicea our Lord Jesus Christ introduces Himself as the “Amen” We use the word “Amen” at the end of a prayer. The “Amen” that we use at the end of our prayers means “Let it be”.  We say it to give in to God’s will.  Many Bible scholars believe that Jesus is called the “Amen” of God because through Jesus “the purposes (or will) of God are established.”  (2 Corinthians 1:20) We cannot begin to understand the mystery of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior and all that He is and does.
Jesus also introduces Himself in this letter as the “ruler of God’s creation”.   Scripture says this about Jesus Christ: “All things were made through Him (Jesus) and without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of humankind…” (John 1:3) One of Jesus’ Names is the “Word.” Scripture tells us that Jesus is part of the God Head.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1) “The Word became flesh (became a person) and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9) 
Jesus tells the church in Laodicea that they have a luke-warm faith! They are neither hot or cold! If our faith in Christ is worth anything, it is worth everything.  Christ expects us to love Him all the way – or not at all.  All or nothing.  There is no room for being on the fence!  No place for a watered- down belief. If we offer Him a boring half-hearted love, He may “spew us out of His mouth!”  Is Jesus only speaking to the church in Laodicea two thousand years ago, or is He speaking to some of us in His church today? 
Jesus warns the church in Laodicea that even though they think of themselves as being rich and having it all, the real truth is that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! “ (Revelation 3:7) These Laodicean Christians are blind.  They can’t see themselves for what they really are!
Perhaps their physical needs are well provided for. And perhaps they wear fancy clothes, costly jewelry and keep themselves constantly entertained with games, wine and good food.  Perhaps all their money gives them power over others.  Perhaps they turn their backs on gross injustices and take bribes from wealthy donors to keep justice from being served.  But they say the right words, brag that they have “principles” and go to church every Sunday!  
Whatever this Laodicean church did, Jesus is not impressed!  Their souls are starving in the midst of all of their worldly abundance!   He bids them come to Him for spiritual riches. – “gold refined in the fire”.  Perhaps the fire refers to persecution and trouble.  When we follow Christ our precious faith will be “refined” through discipline.  Jesus tells them: “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.”  (Revelation 3:19) 
Jesus goes on to encourage the church in Laodicea to “buy white clothes from Him to cover their shameful nakedness” (Revelation 3:18) The white clothes refer to Jesus covering us with His righteousness.  White refers to purity.  When Jesus washes us then we are clean in Him.  Our sin is exchanged for His righteousness.  And He also calls the Laodicean church to buy “eye salve” from Him so that they can see.  – spiritually see. They are to give up their own wisdom and reason and resign themselves to His Word and Spirit, and their eyes will be opened. 
How does this Laodicean Church “buy” these gifts of gold, white clothes, and eye salve from our Lord Jesus?  Jesus tells them the answer, and that is to “Repent” (Revelation 3:19b) To turn from their worldly ways and come back to Him. He calls us to “buy” these gifts from Him also!
 And Jesus also tells the Laodicean Church that He stands at the door and knocks.  If they will just open the door and let Him in, He will dine and fellowship with them and they with Him.  (Revelation 3:20) And He will give them all that they need.  Our Lord Jesus Christ extends this same invitation to us too.  Oh, that we would open the door and let Him in.
Jesus closes His letter to the church in Laodicea with the call to “Overcome”.  He gives that same call to all of His churches.  And He gives that call to us today.  To repent and come back to Him. We will be overcomers through Him. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:22)  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Letters to the Churches in Revelation - Sardis and Philadelphia

Letters to the Churches in Revelation
Sardis and Philadelphia
The book of Revelation, the last book in our Bible, was written by the beloved disciple, John when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos.  The date is approximately 95 A.D., a time of great persecution and suffering for the Church. The Roman emperor demands that all the Christians in the Roman empire renounce Christ and worship him, their emperor, as their god.
 Some frightened Christians deny Christ and give in to the popular emperor worship.  Some Christians run away and try to hide from the brutal Roman soldiers who come with swords and spears to carry out the emperor’s orders.  But some Christians stand firm in their faith and refuse to deny their Lord and Savior.  These brave ones die painful deaths, often being burned at the stake as martyrs. 
It was during these terrible days of persecution and suffering for the believers that Jesus in all His glory appears to John and tells him to send letters from Him to each of His seven churches in Asia Minor.  We have already studied the first four letters that Christ gave to His churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira.  Today we will study Christ’s fifth and sixth letters to the churches of Sardis and Philadelphia. 
Here is Jesus’ short message to the church in Sardis.  “These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars(angels).  I know your deeds.  You have a reputation of being alive.  But you are dead!  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of God.  Remember therefore what you have received and heard.  Obey it and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothing.  They will walk with Me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.  I will never blot out his/her name from the Book of Life but will acknowledge his/her name before my Father, and His angels.  He/she who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:1-6)
Bible scholars say that Sardis is said to have been the first city that was converted by the preaching of John, the beloved disciple.  And sadly, the Sardis church was the first church that did not hold onto their precious Christian faith! Jesus tells them that they are dead!  It doesn’t get any worse than that, does it? Once the church in Sardis had the reputation of being so alive, Jesus says. What did they do to end up like this? So very sad!  How many other churches, today and down through the ages, were once thriving with truth and love and spiritual life, but turned away from the Truth and are now dead? 
Bible scholars say that Sardis was a city of great wealth and fame. Rich with material possessions but poor in the Spirit! Jesus sees that there are a very few people left in the church of Sardis who still love Him.  He encourages this small remnant and reminds them that they will walk in white robes (sinless purity) with Him in heaven and their names will be in the Book of Life. 
But Jesus begs His church in Sardis to repent and to strengthen what remains.  He loves them and wants His church back. Otherwise He says He will come as a thief.  When Christ’s Presence as Savior and Lord is no longer welcome in a church, He can come back to the church in His judgment. 
Jesus gives John the sixth letter to the Church of Philadelphia.  This is His message to this church.  “Here are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.  What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts, no one can open.  I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My Name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 
Since you have kept My commands to endure patiently, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming soon.  Hold onto what you have so that no one will take your crown.  Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of My God.  Never again will he/she leave.  I will write on him /her the Name of My God, and the Name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of the heavens from My God, and I will also write on him/her My New Name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:7-13)
Jesus finds no fault in this church, the church of Philadelphia!   The name “Philadelphia” means “brotherly love.” This was its ancient name because of the love and kindness which the citizens had for one another.   Jesus opens a door of opportunity to the Church of Philadelphia.  And He reminds them of what He has done for them.  He opens doors for our church too. When He works, no one can hinder Him!  Are we aware that He is opening doors for us, or do we take these good gifts for granted?   Wicked people envy the open door of liberty and freedom that we Christians have. 
Jesus tells the Church of Philadelphia that they have little strength.  But true grace, though weak has His divine approval.  Christ would make this church’s enemies subject to her!  He tells them, “They shall worship at thy feet:” and “They shall know that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)  
Christ calls out to His seven churches to “overcome”.   He calls all of His churches then and now to “overcome”.  He will write His Name on the overcomer.   And He promises never to leave the ones in the seven churches who want to follow Him, - a precious promise that He gives to all of His followers.  He will never leave us.
In these letters to these churches, Jesus makes them many glorious promises if they will only stay with Him. Jesus Christ has so many amazing gifts He desires to shower onto His own.  These gifts are so over the top that we cannot even begin to take them in.
His followers are to reign and rule with Him!  To be His bride! The crooked ways are to be straightened.  And the dark things shall be made plain.  Grief and pain are banished. 
Only faintly now we see Him.  With the darkened veil between.  But a blessed Day is coming.  When His glory shall be seen!  What a Day that will be! 







Friday, February 2, 2018

Letters to the Churches in Revelation - Pergamum and Thyatira

Letters to the Churches in Revelation
Pergamum and Thyatira
The book of Revelation, the last book in our Bible, was written by John, the disciple, around 95 A.D.  when he was on the island of Patmos. One day while John is worshipping, his eyes are opened, and he sees the glorified risen Jesus standing there in front of him.  John sees Jesus standing among seven candlesticks!
 The risen Christ tells John that the “candlesticks” are His churches and He has letters for John to give to each of His seven churches.  John faithfully writes down everything that Jesus tells him.  Along with the letters to the churches, Jesus also gives John visions concerning the end times.  The letters and the visions that John receives all become part of the book of Revelation.  
Last week we studied the letters that Jesus gave John for the first two churches, Ephesus and Smyrna.  This week we will study two more letters from the risen Christ to the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira.
Here are Jesus’ words to the Church in Pergamum.  “These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.  I know where you live - where Satan has his throne.  Yet you remain true to My Name.  You did not renounce your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you.  You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.  Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent, therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives.” (Revelation 2:12-17)
Pergamum today is the modern city of Bergama, Turkey.  Jesus praises His church in Pergamum because they remain true to Him even while they live in Pergamum, the city where “Satan has his throne”.  Satan’s influence is felt throughout the whole world however his “throne,” I would think, would be in a place that is infamous for wickedness, error and cruelty. Pergamum was such a place.  It was the official center of emperor worship in Asia at that time, and a Christian in Pergamum would be killed if he or she refused to renounce Christ and worship the Roman emperor.  
Jesus mentions Antipas, His faithful witness, who was put to death in Pergamum.  Antipas was murdered because he refused to renounce Christ and worship the emperor.  According to tradition, Antipas was slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle during the reign of Domitian.  And this did not scare many in the church in Pergamum from continuing their illegal activity of refusing to worship the emperor and only worshipping Christ. When we stand up for Christ and reject what we know is wrong there is often a price to pay.  Are we willing to pay the price?
Jesus called His church in Pergamum to repent.  They had members in their congregation who had brought heresies into the Christian faith and compromised the Truth with worldliness.   It seems that these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” are always around trying to destroy the Christian faith.  Jesus encourages His church in Pergamum to be faithful to Him, to “overcome”. Jesus promises to give the “hidden manna” and a white stone with a new name written on it to those who stay faithful and overcome.  Christ has wonderful spiritual food “manna” that He gives to His own.  This “manna” is “hidden” from the world.  Also, there will be a “new name” written down in glory for the overcomers.
Jesus sends a letter to the fourth church, the church in Thyatira.  These are His words to the  church in Thyatira: “These are the words of the Son of God; whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.  Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.  By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.  So, I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead.  Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. “
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching, and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, I will not impose any other burden on you: Only hold on to what you have until I come.”  To him who overcomes and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.  He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery.  Just as I have received authority from my Father, I will also give him the Morning Star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 2:18-29)
In John’s vision, Christ appears before him with a double-edged sword in His mouth, which scholars believe to be a sign that Jesus is coming again as Judge.  In Christ’s letters to His churches He speaks of His judgment.  To the church in Pergamum Jesus says,” These are the words of Him who has the sharp double-edged sword” (Revelation 2:12b) And after He calls the church in Pergamum to renounce their false doctrines He warns them: “Repent, therefore!  Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”  (Revelation 2:16)
And it seems that the church in Thyatira is also plagued with false doctrines and false teachers who would try to destroy the Christian faith.  Jesus is also coming to this church not only as a Savior but as a Judge.  He tells them: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.  By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  … I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.” (Revelation 2:20-22) Jesus, the Judge, is not liberal towards those who would teach heresies to His churches. Or to the churches who tolerate these heresies. 
Jesus calls the church in Thyatira and to all His followers to stay true to Him and hold on to what they have until He comes for us. He tells the church in Thyatira: “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. “(Revelation 2:26) One of Jesus’ names, according to Bible scholars, is the “Morning Star”.  And He also promises to give the Morning Star to those who overcome. (Revelation2:28) Jesus calls each of His seven churches to love Him, to be faithful and stay the course no matter what.  To resist false teaching and endure persecution for His sake.  And to be among those who will be called the “Overcomers”.  Will we be in that number?