A Bible Lesson on Revelation 21:1-7 and 22-27

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns parts of the final chapter of Revelation.

Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

John sees what Isaiah had seen.

Isaiah 65:17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.

18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.

19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.

21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.

24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.

25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.

And he saw what Peter anticipated.

2Peter 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

John says that he sees a “new” heaven and earth. This is not just “another” heaven and earth, but ones new in kind. This is not just a second edition of what he’s known before, but something fundamentally different. “the sea was no more” In Revelation 13 the beast comes out of the sea. In Daniel 7, the four winds churn the sea (?humanity?) and out of it comes 4 great beasts representing kingdoms. The sea is never still or fixed, but rather is always changeable. Some scholars read this “no more sea” as a statement that humanity will be producing no more “kings” and the forces of evil will no longer be effective.

2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Physical Jerusalem is often called the holy city in the Old Testament. For example, there is Isaiah 52:1.

Isaiah 52:1 Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.

This, John sees, is from God. This city is from Him, built by Him. It is therefore both permanent and flawless, eternal and without blemish. And what is this city? It is God’s church. This city, this bride is God’s elect. These figures are familiar Biblical figures.

Jeremiah 2:2 “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.

Jerusalem is God’s bride. John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the bridegroom.

John 3:29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

Jesus pictures Himself as the bridegroom in the parable of the 10 virgins of Matthew 25.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

This is the fundamental promise of all Biblical revelation, that God will dwell with humans and be our God.

Leviticus 26:11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.

12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.

Ezekiel 37:27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

2 Corinthians 6:16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This is the fundamental expression of God’s purpose for us and His whole creation. It has been His intention from the beginning. He walked in the garden in Genesis 3. The promise here in Revelation 21 is that this purpose will be perfectly accomplished in eternity.

4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

These are the wonderful consequences of God’s presence with us in eternity. These promises have been made throughout the Scriptures. There are the words in Isaiah.

Isaiah 25:8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 35:10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Former things have passed away. Paul said something similar.

2Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

This is more than simply that unpleasant circumstances have passed away. There is a new relationship with our Creator. There is a new nature that we partake of. The new has come. What has come is freshly consistent with God’s nature and purposes. To this point, because of our rebellion and that of our first parents, all has not been so. But “the former things,” the things having to do with the first heaven and earth, have passed away.

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Behold I am making all things new. It is God’s doing. He will get the credit and the new order will be consistent with His nature. The words are trustworthy and true. They are accurate, incorruptible, and faithful. And they are genuine. How could it be otherwise?

6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

It is done. God’s word is as good as gold. Things will work out as He has ordained. He’s the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. But this is not just first and last in time, it is first in terms of origin, and last in terms of goal. He is both. The “I” is emphatic. The point is that He sovereignly rules over all that is.

To the thirsty I will give. This is repetition of the promise first made through Isaiah.

Isaiah 55:1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

Isaiah 49:10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

Recall that in Chapter 7, verses 15-17 John saw God with His people and they hunger and thirst no more. This is from the spring of the water of life.

Psalm36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The water is without payment. God’s gift is not grudging.

7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

The one who conquers/overcomes will have this heritage. This was the word to the 7 churches in Chapters 2 and 3. Here at the end of the book is the final encouragement to endure.

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

In verses 9-21 there is a picture of heaven. Two things to note in them are first the continuity of God’s working. There are 12 tribes/gates and there are 12 apostles/foundations. Second, there is the enormity and perfection of what God has done. The city is a perfect cube. So was the Holy of Holies.

1Kings 6:20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar.

The dimension of the new Jerusalem is 12,000 by 12,000 by 12,000 stadia.  That is 1,500 miles by 1,500 miles by 1,500 miles. This is simply huge.

John goes on.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

This only makes sense. Who needs a temple in a city that is the reality that the Holy of Holies only hinted at? God is everywhere worshipped and adored. Recall Jesus speaking to the woman at the well.

John 4:21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

God is the light of eternity. Far from being “gods” like many in the first century thought, the sun and moon aren’t even in the picture. Who needs them with the light of Christ? There is no need of a temple where God is and there is no place for light alongside Him.

24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,

Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Messiah, Jesus is the light.

25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

Isaiah 60:11 Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession.

What reason would there be to shut up the gates? They surely don’t need to be shut for security sake!

27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is no universalist picture. It is those whose names are written in the book of Chapters 19 and 20. It is the redeemed.

2Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 19:11-16 and 20:11-15

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns a selection of 11 verses from Revelation Chapters 19 and 20. Between Chapter 14 and these verses is description of the conflict between Christ and His church and the forces of Satan and fallen humanity. The verses of the lesson are in the middle of what is probably the most hotly debated part of the book, that dealing with the so called “millennium.” The intent here will not be to join that debate. Instead here we will try to stick to what is plain in two scenes from these chapters.

The pictures we’re given of Jesus in these scenes are just as true as the picture of the Lamb we saw in Chapters 5 through 7. To see one and ignore the other does violence to the truth. We will be wise to remember that Jesus is both the bleeding Lamb and the powerful Warrior and Judge of all.

Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

John sees a white horse. This is a military picture. White is both a symbol of purity and of victory. Conquering generals of John’s time rode white stallions. Here on a white stallion is the One called Faithful and True, the One who is completely and utterly reliable and who is both intrinsically truthful and fundamentally genuine/real. This is the Christ who identified Himself as the faithful and true witness in the letter to Laodicea in Chapter 3.

This mighty, conquering warrior judges and makes war with justice or righteousness. We should hear that in two related ways. For one thing, it is a statement about the manner in which Christ operates. He is completely just and upright in all that He does. Fallen humans are rarely just or upright. Our legal judgments are often perverted, and our wars conducted for entirely selfish motives. Christ is completely holy and righteous in His dealings.

We should also hear/see in this a statement of the means by which Christ operates. His righteousness/justice is the way He wars against sin and the way He brings judgment. His righteousness is the means of destruction of sin, and human refusal to acknowledge His righteousness is what brings judgment on us.

This reference to justice hearkens back to the messianic Old Testament prophecies. For example, there is this from Isaiah.

Isaiah 11:3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

 

12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.

We’ve seen the description of eyes blazing like fire before in the book. There is nothing hid from Him in the whole universe. And on His head are many diadems. These are the crowns of rulership. Christ rules over all the kingdoms of man. This is a picture that strikes us as odd, but in fact it was reasonably common in antiquity for kings with multiple kingdoms to wear several crowns. Jesus is Lord over all, and wears “many” crowns.

He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. Pagans believed that if you knew the name of a deity, you had some power over that deity. It may be that we’re being reminded here that God in Christ is sovereign. No one has Him in a box. No one orders Him about. And it is sure that none of us finite creatures will ever exhaustively know the wonder of our Creator. We are finite and He is infinite. Not only do we not order Him about, but our knowledge of Him is necessarily incomplete.

13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

The Jews had been looking for a Messiah whose robe was dipped in blood, that of their national enemies. Even Isaiah says it.

Isaiah 63:1 Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.”

2 Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

3 “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.

But this conquering warrior has a robe that most agree is dipped in His own sacrificial blood. This is the blood of the Lamb of God again here in verse 13. So while this is a picture of an overpowering warrior, the fundamental thing about His victory is not the slaughter of His enemies, but rather His own sacrifice on Calvary.

14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.

The armies of heaven may be angels, may be the redeemed, or may be both. Their clothing is white while that of their leader is blood-stained. Leon Morris had something most profound to say about this image. He pointed out that “Though they are called armies, there is no mention of weapons and neither here nor elsewhere are they said to take martial action. The victory over evil is won by their Leader alone.”

We often foolishly see a picture here of a multitude of combat-ready troops. What we ought to see is a single royal Warrior and His retinue/body of attending servants.

15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

Again, as in 1:16 there is the image of the sword of God’s Word issuing from the mouth of Christ. It is by the means of God’s Word that Christ does battle with the nations. It is the rejection of God’s Word that is the undoing of peoples and nations.

Jeremiah speaks about the power of the Word of God.

Jeremiah 23:29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

And the famous verse from Hebrews says this.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

John here quotes Psalm 2:9.

Psalm 2:9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

And he again alludes again to Isaiah 63.

16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

It may have seemed to most in John’s time that this name belonged to Caesar. In fact, it is Christ’s and His alone. Jesus alone is the conquering warrior, and this conqueror is also the righteous judge of Revelation 20.

 

Revelation 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

Here’s the final reality. Earth and sky are gone and what remains is the Judge.

Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,

27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.

Isaiah 51:6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

2Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

There is judgment before the pure white throne of the Holy God of the universe. This is a terrible scene if one is there only on one’s own merits.

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

“The dead” are there. Many people teach that this does not include Christians. But “the” dead sounds pretty inclusive. And there are New Testament verses like the following.

Romans 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;

2Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

The books are opened. God is omniscient, but the point here is not a suffocating constant watching and keeping score, as if God were some celestial Santa Claus making a list of who has been naughty and who has been nice. Rather, the point is that the judgments made here are accurate. There are no mistakes, no false convictions or unjust acquittals. The basis is what they had done. This is not judgment on the basis of good intentions or big promises, but rather on the basis of actions. We know that this cannot mean that one’s good is weighed against one’s bad to see if the good is good enough to merit salvation. In the words of Mounce, “The issue is not salvation by works, but rather works as the irrefutable evidence of a man’s actual relationship with God.” Indeed the most important of these books is the “book of life.” Barclay said “The idea behind this is that every ruler had a roll-book of citizens living under his control; and, of course, when a man died his name was removed from the roll. Those whose names are in the Book of Life are those who are living active citizens in the kingdom of God.” That’s something that has visible evidence. The verdict of the book of life is not something that contradicts the record of one’s life. It will be consistent with that record.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

Ancients apparently had a real concern with dying at sea and failing to get a proper burial. The point here is that no accidents of death will derail judgment. No one will escape. All will be judged.

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

When sin is completely and finally dealt with, then our enemy death will be done with as well.

1Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

This is plain. All will be judged and when the judgment comes, our only place of refuge is Christ. If we remain at war with Him, the end of it will be eternal damnation. There is no happy ending if we choose to continue in defiance of Christ. He is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. But He is also the conquering Warrior and righteous Judge of all people.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 14

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This chapter from Revelation deals with eternal mercy and judgment of God on sinful humans.

Revelation 14:1 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

John sees another scene of heaven. He sees the Lamb, and with Him the 144,000. In Chapter 7, there were 144,000 sealed and protected through the difficulty of life in a hostile world. Here, not one of them has been lost. They are here with the Lamb. They form the city of God.

2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps,

3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.

The singing is “new” (as in Revelation 5:9) and special to the 144,000 “who had been redeemed from the earth.” This is “new” in kind, absolutely unparalleled in the experience of the universe. Again, there’s not been a reason for this song before, and none other fits the occasion. It has to do with the experience of the redemption of the 144,000. It’s about deliverance of humans from sin, hell, and the grave. It’s truly a mystery that God’s salvation plan for such insignificant creatures as you and I is unique in the experience of the universe, and cause of special adoration for the Creator of all. The “redeemed from the earth” is “redeemed from earthly things and earthly people.”

4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb,

5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

“It is these, it is these, these.” This triple draws attention to the distinguishing marks of the 144,000. First, they have not defiled and are virgins. Almost surely John is speaking here in figurative terms of purity. The gist is that these are ones whose devotion is, and always has been, to God alone. Paul says of the church

2Corinthians 11:2 I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

Second, they follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They are not in charge or calling the shots. That’s for the Lamb. Their lives are not their own. And third, they have been redeemed/purchased from mankind. They are specially set apart for holy use and they are completely truthful. This is a strange-sounding description in a time when people in ordinary society pretty much expect to be constantly lied to. Christian people ought to stand out like beacons in a time like ours because of their uncompromising truthfulness.

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.

7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

John sees an angel with an eternal gospel, good news that is eternally valid, good news that is universally applicable. It is for every nation and tribe and language and people. He comes with what is the final warning, the final appeal to rebellious humanity to bow the knee and turn to the King for mercy. Judgment is at hand. The judgment that is implied, is absolutely necessary when rebels persist in their folly. It is judgment that is good news in the sense that all WILL be set right. The angel speaks with a loud voice that reaches all of humanity with a final generous plea for surrender.

Martin Kiddle said, “Here is the bitter irony of their lot: though they damn themselves eternally by their refusal to face the truth, on that day they will be forced to face it. Sooner or later, the ‘glory’ they refuse to ‘give’ the Creator willingly will be torn from them by the spectacle of his wrath.”

8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

Fallen, fallen is Babylon. Fallen is the pride of mankind. Fallen is the symbol of humanity banded together in opposition to the things of God, humanity intent on spitting in the Creator’s face. She is fallen because of her bad influence, fallen because she corrupts the nations with her evil ways and brings down on them God’s wrath.

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,

10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

God’s wrath, is poured full strength. Literally, this is something like “mixed without mixing.” It’s not broken down in any way. God’s wrath will not be mitigated at all. Moderns may have decided to cancel hell, but no one seems to have told St. John. St. John sees here eternal suffering of the most awful sort imaginable for those who choose the side of the enemy of God. And that, in some way, is in the plain sight of heaven.

11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

These choices that we make in this life are not for this life only. Sign on with the rebellion, and eternal torment awaits. Make peace with this world’s system, and that lives on into eternity. At the end of the 1st century John was seeing for people who could easily face martyrdom. Those people could be tempted to think they would be better off to deny the faith. He says they should be under no illusions about what the choice is. Choose your side now, for eternity. If that sounds harsh to postmodern 21st century ears, that’s our problem. The truth is eternally the truth.

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

If we are thinking right at all, the long view gives us endurance. In the end, the truth will be vindicated and sin punished, eternally. In this short life now, that ought to give God’s people staying power. This is for “those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Reliance upon Jesus is inseparable from right behavior.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. That is true in all times and all situations. It is especially true in times when people are called upon to suffer persecution up to an including death for the name of Christ. Blessed indeed. An alternative (and probably better) rendering of “rest from their labors” is “rest from their pain.” The fundamental thing about heaven is not so much a vacation as it is the end of pain, and all being right. The Spirit says their deeds follow them. Far from being without significance, what is done on earth in obedience to Christ, goes with one into eternity.

Three angels have pronounced judgment. Now one is sent to reap. The harvest is the climax, and now is the time for the harvest.

14 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

“a son of man” is apparently a slightly different phrase than the one rendered “the son of man” that always refers to Christ. It seems pretty clear that this is an angel and not Christ. Angels don’t give orders to the second person of the Godhead, and another angel speaks to this “son of man” and tells him to go to work.

15 And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”

16 So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.

There is a terrible finality to this. He swung and the earth was reaped. You can just about see this in your mind’s eye. It’s in black and white and the sound has gone dead. All there is in the picture is the blade of the sickle slicing through grain like it was hot butter.

17 Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.

Another angel comes, the 6th in this series. And like the one in verse 14, his sickle is specifically called sharp. And then in verses 18-20 there is a 7th angel in this set who speaks to the 6th angel, bringing the final harvest of God’s wrath.

18 And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.”

19 So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

20 And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

1600 stadia is 184 miles. Various interpretations have been offered for the meaning of the 1600 number. For one, it is the approximate length of Palestine, north to south. At the end of the day, the clear meaning of any interpretation is the destruction of all those who set themselves against God.

The contrast could not be more clear: life eternal as part of redeemed humanity pictured by the 144,000, or eternal misery as objects of the just wrath of an absolutely holy God.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 7

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson primarily concerns the 7th chapter of Revelation. In Chapters 4 and 5, John has been given a vision of heaven and the Lamb. In Chapter 6, the Lamb opens 6 of the 7 seals on the scroll containing God’s plan for the wrapping up of redemption history. The picture John is shown is grim indeed. Man’s sin brings on him both the implied judgment of God and misery that comes about as the inevitable outworking of human rebellion, and God’s active wrath poured out on rebellious man. Both pagans and the church are suffering (see the 5th seal), and things are so bad that the pagan rulers cry out to the rocks.

Revelation 6:16b “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,

17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Indeed, who can stand? A natural question is “What is the real situation of the church in this period of God’s wrath?” And it seems like (at least in broad terms) Chapter 7 answers that question. It is answer to the question “Who can stand?” Wilcock commenting on this chapter titles it “Yet the church is indestructible.”

We won’t here intentionally promote any particular theology’s version of the meaning of the various images in Chapter 7. Most of the famous questions/issues about this chapter have been argued for nearly 2000 years by well-meaning orthodox people, with no clean resolution, and it seems pointless to leave what is plain and important and speculate over what is not plain.

Revelation 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

We’re at an interlude here. The first 6 seals have been opened and before the 7th is opened we have the images of Chapter 7. The “after this” refers to when John was seeing. It doesn’t necessarily say anything about when the content of Chapter 7 takes place. For that matter, it’s not even clear that the order of the seals says much of anything about chronology.

What we have here that is plain, is a picture that says that it is only at God’s command that the destructive forces of nature (specifically great winds) are released on earth. Standing at the 4 points of the compass, mighty messengers of God restrain them until God ordains that they blow. We humans have no ability to control these mighty forces of nature. And they don’t somehow independently do what they wish. They are God’s alone to command.

2 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea,

3 saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

God’s wrath is going to come on the earth in the form of natural disaster. But before the wind can even begin to blow, it first must be clear that God’s people are to be protected. The fifth seal in Chapter 6 shows some of God’s saints martyred, so the church is surely not spared difficulty in the world. But the servants of (the “slaves” of, ones completely devoted to) God are here marked with His seal. They are specially identified as His and preserved. Does that mean they are spared living through natural disasters that the 4 winds seem to represent? I don’t know, but it seems unlikely. What’s the chronology here? Is John seeing the time of most intense earthly difficulty that Jesus said in Matt 24 would come at the end times? Or is this simply what has gone on since the beginning of time, and still in it God has “marked”/preserved His own? I don’t think anybody really knows. What is plain is that God is in control, He knows who are His, and in some essential way He preserves them. He preserves them probably as much “through” as “from” the hard stuff. They are marked with His protection. They are marked as belonging to Him.

4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

Exactly who are the 144,000? People have argued exact identity for going on 2000 years. Verse 3 says the servants of God have been sealed. I’m inclined to reject an interpretation that doesn’t encompass both Old Testament and New Testament saints, both Jew and gentile. The 144,000 looks more like an expression of completeness (12 times 12 times 1000) than a statistic, and looks more like “all saints” than some special group at some special point in history. The listing of the tribes that follows is a strange one if we’re supposed to read verse 4 literally. Dan is missing and Joseph is listed along with Manasseh. (There has been speculation that Dan was traditionally associated with idolatry and was thus naturally left out.) And every family gets 12,000 regardless of its size. It just seems more plausible that this is a picture meant to stand for the complete elect of all time.

5 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad,

6 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,

7 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,

8 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

In verse 4 John hears. Now in verse 9 he looks and sees. And I think he sees those he was hearing about, an ocean of the redeemed. The 144,000 he heard about in verse 4 emphasized the completeness of the elect. None were missing. The ocean of believers he sees here emphasizes its vastness and universality. It’s not homogeneous along political/governmental boundaries, nor in terms of race, nor in terms of culture, nor in terms of language. The complete number known to God in verse 4 and described as God’s chosen people Israel in 5-8 is to John a vast sea of the redeemed in verse 9, from all tribes, peoples, and languages.

This multitude of the redeemed (ones whom God has sealed) now stand where the 24 elders stood in Chapter 5, in front of the throne. They are dressed in white robes and hold palm branches. The white is symbolic of both purity and victory (conquering Roman generals wore white robes). The palm branches are symbolic of both victory and general celebration.

10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Babel has been undone, and the great multitude who on earth spoke different languages together sing the same song, the song of praise and thanksgiving for salvation. Again, we see clearly here that God who sits on the throne and the Lamb are two persons, one deity.

This is a wonderful picture of eternity, the redeemed before God’s throne crying out in gratitude for His great grace. People reconciled to their Creator by His mercy alone. Note that unless Jesus truly is Lord of a person’s life, this is not a picture of heaven, but of “hell.” That is, this is not a scene that would be the least bit attractive to someone who thinks they’d like the benefits of “salvation” but wishes to continue to do their own thing. The whole “Can I have Jesus as savior and not Lord?” discussion makes absolutely no sense in light of this great scene. This is where saints are headed. Those without interest in this great picture simply aren’t His.

11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,

12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

As in Chapter 5, recitation of God’s great works prompts a spontaneous chorus of praise and worship not only from redeemed humanity, but from the angels as well. These beings fall on their faces and cry out. And it comes in a “7”: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might, forever and ever! Amen! Apparently, in the Greek, there is a definite article in front of each of these things that belong to God. That is, it’s not blessing or a blessing, but “the” blessing. It’s the blessing above all other blessings. It’s the glory above all other glories. It’s the wisdom above all other wisdoms, the thanksgiving above all others, the honor above all others, the power above all others, the might above all others. In chapter 5, the wave of praise radiates out from the 4 living creatures, to the elders, to the angels to the multitudes. Here it comes reverberating back in, in reverse order.

At the beginning and at the end of what the angels say is “Amen”/so be it. They are in wholehearted agreement with the multitude, though they themselves have never had the firsthand experience of the misery of sin.

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”

14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Who are they and where did they come from? This is not asked to gain information, but rather to teach John what is true. John replies that the elder knows, and he says that they’ve come out of the great tribulation. It does say “the” great tribulation (the definite article is there in Greek) and it is standard to then worry about whether these are some special martyrs from an end time tribulation, and if so how that’s all to work out. But it doesn’t seem to me that kind of interpretation is necessary or even very productive. It is sure, for example, that John’s first century Christian readers would have seen themselves among this group, having come through “the” great tribulation of life in a fallen world. Their lives were hard and constantly at risk, and they lived in the constant expectation of Christ’s imminent return. With over 1900 years of perspective, most people would judge that even so, they didn’t experience the “end times” travail that Jesus spoke of in Matt 24. It seems fruitless to then argue about whether they were wrong.

What is vital, though, is the means by which their robes were made white, the source of their purity and victory, namely, the blood of the Lamb, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. The tense of the verbs indicates that the washing and making white was a once for all thing. It’s a tremendous comfort that these folks really are dressed in white. You and I don’t just get some kind of pass to show up in our filthy rags, but instead are genuinely given the righteousness of Christ. We will stand before the throne not just forgiven, but pure in the eyes of our Creator. We don’t really grasp how wild that is. Naturally weak and sinful creatures though you and I are, we’ll stand there fully justified, because once for all, we were made right through the blood of the Lamb.

The tenses of the verbs in verse 14 are significant. They have washed and they are coming. The washing is a done thing in the past. In light of it, they presently have life in spite of suffering.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

Therefore/for this reason/because they are blood-washed they are before the throne. Indeed. It is only right that those so justified will be truly grateful and serve Him day and night. They are “before the throne” with direct access to the One on it. And the phrase the ESV translates “shelter them” is more literally “spread His tent over them.” It hearkens back to God “tabernacling” with Israel and His Shekinah glory dwelling with them. The picture is one of intimate fellowship and contact.

Mention of the word “temple” prompts comparison between that universal intimacy and the restrictions on who could be where when in the Jerusalem temple (e.g. gentiles being restricted to the very outer court, and one priest being in the Holy of Holies only once per year). God has truly done a “new thing” in Christ.

16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.

You and I in the west have had it pretty easy. Hunger, thirst, scorching heat are all foreign to us. They weren’t so foreign to 1st century Christians, who more often than not were at the very bottom of the social and economic order. This is real comfort for those bearing heavy burdens.

17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Why is it that they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat? It’s the Lamb. They will not thirst, not because they are somehow sated, but because the Lamb will constantly provide. The Lamb is their shepherd. Jesus is both sacrifice and the one who guards their souls and provides. He is at once, Lamb and Shepherd. God in His mercy reveals that which we would never have discovered on our own.

And God will wipe away every tear. This is the infinite tenderness of the one true and living God. There is the picture here of Him bending down like a loving earthly parent to wipe tears from a little one’s eyes. The final promise here is not for deliverance from the hard things. But those that are sealed will be preserved and comforted.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 5

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Remember Revelation 4:1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” John is being given a picture of the way things really are. Chapter 4 describes the throne of God the Father. In Chapter 5, Christ enters the picture. Chapter 4 gives us a glimpse of God the Creator, Chapter 5 gives us a glimpse of God the Redeemer, Jesus the Lamb.

Revelation 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.

“in the right hand” is literally “on the right hand.” This is a picture of a scroll in the open “palm” of the Father. The writing on both sides is an indication to us that the scroll is very full. Papyrus scrolls were apparently made from two layers of strips of reeds set at right angles to each other. Writing on the side where the strips were horizontal was easier than on the other. Only when there was very much to write were both sides used. This scroll symbolically has in it the complete plan and purpose for the entire world throughout all ages from beginning to end.

This scroll is sealed with seven seals. Various theories of the significance of this have been put forward. One points out that Roman wills were sealed in this fashion, and this is perhaps to interpreted as the final declaration, will or testament of God concerning the consummation of redemption history. At the very least, 7 means that it is thoroughly and completely sealed.

Michael Wilcock suggests something pretty interesting about all the 7s in Revelation. He points out that from the 7 day week of creation, through God’s repeated use of 7s in the setting up of Old Testament worship, it seems that God has chosen to structure things in 7s. We are used to saying that the ancients thought of 7 as being a number of perfection or completeness, but it may be more accurate to say that 7 represents the essence of a thing. It represents “the way things really are.” It may be that what is fundamental and intrinsic, God has for His own reasons chosen to cluster in 7s, and so the number appears repeatedly in this picture of how all really is and will finally be resolved.

2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”

There is a “strong angel.” Surely. This creature’s voice is to be heard in the whole universe. Notice the issue here. The issue is worthiness (not whether one might be capable, but rather whether one has any business doing this). And it is evident that no other being in the universe has any business touching that scroll, save Christ alone. This is things as they really are, and when seen for what they really are, no created being (fallen human nor angel) dares to claim this place. The issue is the real goodness of the One who would open the scroll.

3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it,

No one save Christ is qualified to open the scroll. Opening that scroll means setting in motion the final chapter of God’s redemption plan for the world. That’s not your place, nor mine, nor the place of any other created being. Not any creature in the totality of the universe is qualified call the shots. In and of ourselves, we’re not even qualified to know about God’s intentions!! Quoting the Heidelberg Catechism: “Q: Can there be found anywhere a mere creature able to satisfy for us? A: None; for, first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin man has committed; and, further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, and deliver others from it.”

4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

This weeping is weeping and wailing. And John is not just throwing a two-year-old’s temper tantrum because he doesn’t get to hear the end of a good bedtime story. This is profound grief. At stake here is the wrapping up of human history. Christ has secured salvation for us all, but the universe has not yet been completely righted. We still live in a fallen world. John and his Christian brethren are suffering persecution for the faith. The final setting right of all things has not taken place, and at this point, it looks to John like it may never come. For God’s final intentions for the world to come to pass, they must be declared and executed. At the moment it seems like there’s no one to do this, and John’s heart aches for all things to be set right.

5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Again, Chapter 4 mentions 24 elders and that exactly who these are is not sure. Probably by counting 12 sons of Israel and 12 apostles we get to 24, representatives all of all time who have loved God. But it’s not absolutely clear. Whoever these are, one informs John that all is not lost.   Messiah, the lion of the tribe of Judah (see Genesis 48:8-10), the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1,10) is qualified to open the scroll. Messiah is qualified by virtue of His once-for-all triumph over sin, hell and the grave. It is Jesus’ place to set in motion the will of the Father for the end of time. He has conquered. This is good news. We don’t have to hope against hope that He will conquer. It’s a finished work, and on its basis He can bring history to its glorious end. He has, in space and time, already conquered those powers that seem to threaten His church in John’s time and in ours.

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

John looks, surely expecting to see a warrior, one who could be described as a lion. What he sees is a lamb! He sees the Lamb of God, Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, still bearing the marks of having been slain. This One is “as though it had been slain,” yet very much alive. Leon Morris says the Greek perfect tense here indicates that “not only was the lamb slain at a point of time, but that the efficacy of His death is still present in all its power.” The Lamb is slain but alive, with all the benefit of that sacrificial death present. So stands the Lamb in the center of the throne. If this isn’t a true picture, this is the worst of blasphemy. Jesus stands where only God should be. Either He and the Father are indeed one, or this is an abominable picture.

This sacrificial Lamb of God has seven horns and seven eyes. Horns are usually symbols of power or honor. He is completely (and in reality) all powerful, and worthy of all honor. Eyes clearly stand for seeing/knowing. Jesus is omniscient. And seven spirits are sent. The Holy Spirit in all His fullness/completeness has been sent out into all the world. We have in verses 5 and 6 the incredible simultaneous meekness and majesty of Christ. He is all powerful and all knowing, and has secured for us salvation through His atoning sacrificial death.

7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.

This is the rightful place of our risen Savior. He takes the scroll from the Father’s right hand. With the explicit approval of the Father, He will conclude salvation history. He will unfold the end of time. The truth of this fact produces three spontaneous outbursts of worship and praise. The first is from the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders.

8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The representatives of the angelic beings and redeemed humanity fall in worship before the Christ. They delight in God’s plan and purpose. They rejoice in His salvation. On earth, John and his fellow believers have no position and are counted as of no importance. The reality is that their prayers are precious and are brought into the presence of God.

9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

A “new” song is sung. This “new” is not so much new in point of time, as it is new in point of quality. This is a thing that has not only been recently produced, but there has never been anything like it. It is fresh. There’s not been a reason for this song before and none other fits the occasion.

What it is that qualifies Jesus to declare and execute God’s intentions for the wrapping up of history is what He did on Calvary. That’s the crux of all that is. That is what you and I should be saying and saying again as long as we have breath. That is what is essential. Christ’s work on Calvary purchased salvation for everyone who will trust Him, regardless of race, language, culture or government. There is no barrier to that salvation except for foolish human pride and unwillingness to bow the knee. You and I have been ransomed for God, not for ourselves, but for God.

10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Christ’s work has made for God a people. He has finished what was begun with the call of Abraham. Christ has made a kingdom and priests to God. The typical English version’s “will”/”shall” is not literally there. If it’s not intended, then the statement is a statement about what is really going on at the present. To those seeing with only temporal eyes, the church is insignificant in comparison to the great powers of John’s time and of ours. But the reality is different than that. The redeemed comprise a kingdom, are priests to God, and shall (or in fact presently do) reign on the earth.

The worship and praise rightfully going to Christ now expands out in a larger concentric circle.

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,

It is “myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands.” The meaning is “innumerable” angels.

12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

Worthy is the Lamb by virtue of His atoning sacrifice, to receive a 7– the essence of all that is. Jesus is here at the center. And power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and praise are correctly His, these things that are God’s alone. The angels testify to the truth that this Lamb is one with the Father.

Finally, the circle widens to all of creation. Every creature joins the hymn of praise to God the Son.

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Leon Morris wrote, “In the last resort there is no creature, wherever found, which does not recognize the superior worth of the Lamb.”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Amen, so be it. The first to sing to God in John’s vision of what is real (Revelation 4:8), the ones closest to the throne, say “Amen!” And redeemed humanity as represented by the elders falls down and worships the Lamb.

The destiny of creation is not up to chance or some blind fate. Salvation history is not hanging in the balance. It is in the sure hands of a loving Father and a Savior who died for us. Through the Lamb, the victory is won.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In Revelation 4 we’re given an awesome word-picture of what is really true in the universe. It is too common for people to read Revelation as if it were some kind of puzzle to be solved, looking for clues for specific timing of particular future events. In the process of that kind of thing, we can miss the real intent of the book, namely to show us the way things really are. The book shows us this in a variety of pictures and symbols that are hard-to-impossible to nail down with perfect precision. But then, John is trying to tell us about things that are beyond our human vocabulary and categories. This is no puzzle to be solved, it is a revelation of how things really are.

Remember that as he writes, John and the church are under severe persecution by the most powerful empire the world has known to this time. Their situation might look impossible from the point of view of earth. But they are reminded of what really is. We humans mostly have it backwards. God is the really real person, and we’re the ones that have only a derivative existence. It’s not what we see and touch that are fundamental, but rather the One who made those and all things who is fundamental.

Revelation 4:1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

John is on Patmos. He is invited to come and see how things look when earthbound blinders fall away and we see reality clearly. The voice of the glorified Christ calls to John, and he is to be shown inevitabilities. He’ll see things that MUST be. These are things that are not matters of chance or contingency, but things that follow from who God is and what is essential. They are outworkings of God’s nature and His will.

In Exodus 24:1 Moses is invited up onto Sinai to learn the will of God in the same language that John is invited into heaven.

Exodus 24:1 Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.

There is in the universe one central throne, and it is the eternal God, Creator and Sustainer of all, who occupies it. He has always been on it and will always be on it. There used to be (and may still be) a silly evangelistic tract that talked about the “throne” of our lives and how we might (generously?) offer Jesus the chance to sit on it (instead of occupying it ourselves). That’s nonsense. Such thinking is a delusion. We don’t sit on any central throne. The emperor of Rome in John’s time didn’t sit on any central throne, much less puny little people like us. The fact that we humans have delusions of grandeur and have our imaginary kingdoms in opposition to the real King doesn’t change the reality that John is shown.

3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

John doesn’t try to describe God in human terms. There is no (human or other) form to be described. Instead, John tells us about light, light seen as if it were refracted through precious gemstones, light seen as if refracted through the atmosphere and split into its gorgeous components.

Psalm 104:2 covering yourself with light as with a garment.

1Timothy 6:16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

In comparison, what is any person who has sat on an earthly shadow throne? In reality, the only legitimate authority in the universe proceeds from the central throne.

The rainbow there is a reminder that God’s promises are eternal. The promise made to Noah in Genesis stands into eternity. And the glory of that absolute steadfastness and reliability of God surrounds and radiates from the throne of God.

4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.

Around the central throne are 24 derivative thrones. Who are these “elders” and why 24? No one can say with certainty, but the best guess seems to be that these stand for all of all time who have known and loved God. They are likely representatives of the church universal. For example, 12 Old Testament patriarchs plus 12 New Testament apostles would make 24. Momentarily, it might not seem so to John and the beleaguered Christian church of the late 1st century, but the reality is that the authority of the rightful Sovereign of the universe extends to His church. There are crowns of gold indicating positions of high honor and estate.

5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God,

At Sinai there was this:

Exodus 19:16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.

Ezekiel saw a vision of God and:

Ezekiel 1:13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.

John sees an awesome manifestation of the presence of God. And there is a “7” referring to the Spirit(s) of God. This is poetic assertion of the perfection and completeness of the Spirit of God.

6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:

In front of the throne there was “as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.” Glass of this time was not typically clear like glass of our time. So this is a picture of impossible brilliance and costliness. And there is in the picture, a sense of distance. God is forever both immanent and with His creation, and at the same time absolutely holy and separate from it. John always expresses a proper reverence and respect for the complete perfection of God. Between John and God lies a huge, brilliant, and unbelievably pure barrier. John doesn’t just go skipping up to the throne. There is a glassy sea. None of us can approach God in and of ourselves.

And around the throne are these “living creatures.” There are four of them, probably indicating the 4 points of the compass and the totality of the created order. They are close to the throne, and so somehow important/special. They are also in harmony with it. But beyond this, it’s not clear what can be said.

7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight.

Various systems have been suggested since ancient times for identifying the important characteristics of the animals giving their faces to these angelic creatures. But at the end, the total comes down to what is said by Swete: “The four forms suggest whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest, swiftest in animate Nature. Nature, including Man, is represented before the Throne, taking its part in the fulfillment of the Divine Will and worship of the divine majesty.” The truth here is that all of creation, when properly carrying out that for which it was made, is engaged in an act of worship to its Creator

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

Psalm 103:22 Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

 

8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Like the seraphs in Isaiah 6:2, these creatures have 6 wings and can see everything around them. Their constant cry is “holy, holy, holy.” Three times holy, perfectly holy! So said the Seraphs in Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And this comes first. The creatures never cease to testify to the moral perfection and complete separateness/purity of God. And this Holy One is the Lord God Almighty. Contrary to present appearances, righteousness is not on the losing end, defeated, and mocked. The One who is completely holy is omnipotent. Real power in the universe is ultimately not with evil but with God. And this is not some temporary or passing thing. The Holy One is the One who was, and is and is to come.

Lift up your heart Christian, the One who created the world for good (Genesis 1:31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.) is unchanging, all-powerful, and eternal. Whatever you must presently suffer is temporary. The fact that the One who is absolutely perfect and good is also almighty is guarantee that ultimately and forever, all will be set right.

9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,

10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

What is true in the rest of creation is true for human beings. The creatures as representatives of creation constantly testify to the goodness of God. And in response, the 24 elders as representatives of those who through all time have loved Him, also bow in worship and adoration. They cast down the crowns He’s given them. In comparison to Him and His great majesty, they understand themselves to be nothing. They understand themselves to be only His humble subjects. They see it to be improper that they would have marks of status in His presence.

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

What is true in nature is true in the affairs of mankind. From the most powerful to the humblest person in the world, those that carry out what they were made and called to be, do so to the glory of their Creator. Those who humbly cast down their crowns do so in harmony with the way things really are. The One who made all is on the throne of the universe. He is absolutely holy and perfect. He is eternal and omnipotent. He presently sustains all things. In the end, all things WILL be again, as in the beginning, set right. However pressed and exhausted a Christian person might find himself or herself in the present, a look again at the reality John shows us ought to cause that Christian person to take heart and carry on in reliance upon the King.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 3:7-22

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns the letters to the churches at Philadelphia and Laodicea, the last two of the seven churches of Asia.

Philadelphia was a city built as an outpost of Greek culture, and it had been very successful in that mission. Its nickname, “the city of brotherly love,” derives from the fact that its founder (one Attalus II Philadelphus of Pergamum) was famous for his love for his younger brother.

Revelation 3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

This letter identifies Jesus as the one who is “holy and true.” Those are adjectives most fundamentally reserved for God alone. Again in this salutation Jesus is identified as God. Jesus is holy, completely “other,” separate. And He is “true.” This adjective means “real.” Jesus is the ultimate reality. And this Jesus holds the “key of David.” This is an allusion to Isaiah 22:22 and Hezekiah giving Eliakim, son of Hilkiah the faithful priest, the key to the “the house of David,” possibly referring to the royal palace. The notion is one of a faithful servant controlling access to the presence of the king and participation in the community. And the point is that this risen Christ has that kind of authority. He governs who enters God’s presence and who does not and who is part of the chosen race and who is not.

8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

“I know your works/deeds.” Most of these letters begin this way. The issue is what these people have done, and these at Philadelphia have done well. The risen Christ who has the authority of entrance into the presence of the Father and membership in God’s people has set the door open before the saints of Philadelphia. Why? It is because they have been faithful. It seems like they may be few in number and of no great standing in the community, but they are keeping on. They are faithfully declaring the Lordship of Christ.

The “have not denied” would make it seem like they are under pressure from either the pagan Greeks, or more likely the Jews in Philadelphia. In fact

9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.

Here again is the phrase “synagogue of Satan” in contrast to the way that the Jews thought of themselves, as God’s special people and exclusive heirs of His promises. Jesus says that by their rejection of Him, their Messiah, they forfeit their place and in fact things are turned topsy turvy. The Jews expected at the last day to have the gentiles falling down at their feet and acting as their servants. The reality is going to be quite different. They are going to fall down before the Christian church that they have persecuted and acknowledge that the Messiah has loved the church.

10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

Christ endured patiently the suffering that brought us salvation. He in turn asks us to endure patiently those troubles that come to us as His people. His promise to us is His presence. The word translated “from” the hour of trial here is just as plausibly/correctly rendered “through/in” the hour of trial. People of different eschatologies want it rendered differently. What is clear is Christ’s promise that He will ultimately deliver.

11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

Hold on. Keep on keeping on, so that no one will take your crown/garland/victor’s wreath. No one can take from a person his or her standing with Christ, but we do have the power to forfeit it of our own choice.

12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

The background of this verse may well be the practice of a provincial priest commemorating a term of service by erecting a pillar in a pagan temple and inscribing his name on it and that of his father. Here Christian people are the pillars and in fact make up the temple of God’s Spirit. On them is written the name of Christ and the Father and the community of faith.

13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Take heed.

Now Christ speaks to the church at Laodicea. This was an extremely wealthy city, a center of banking. It was also famous for its production of lustrous black woolen goods and garments, and for its medical college and special eye medicine made from “Phrygian powder.” Interestingly enough, its biggest civic problem was a poor water supply. Apparently water was brought in by aqueducts from hot mineral springs at nearby Hierapolis and a good cold water supply at Colossae. Water from neither of these sources likely arrived in Laodicea in its original condition.

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“Amen” is literally, “it is true.” What is said is to be utterly relied upon. This may go back to Isaiah 65:16 where God is called the God of truth or literally “the God of Amen.” Jesus is utterly reliable. He is the “faithful and true witness.” (Recall Revelation 1:5.) This stands in sharp contrast to the unreliability of Christians in the city. The word translated “beginning” carries the meanings of having supreme authority and being the origin of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!

“I know your works/deeds.” Again, the risen Christ sees how they are living in Laodicea. They are neither hot nor cold. There is probably the picture of the two water sources is here. Laodicea is neither hot nor cold, neither fish nor foul. Barclay points out that the words for hot and cold here are intense ones. The Laodicean church seemingly was rather an indifferent, lackadaisical, complacent one, and Christ says something to it that we in the west just plain do not believe. Christ says the condition is worse than being at any extreme in relation to Him. We simply don’t see much of anything wrong with trying to mix hot and cold water, a little of the world with a little of Christianity, trying to work both sides of the street. But if you mix hot water and cold and you have neither. You have something else, good for the purposes of neither. A nominal Christian isn’t a real believer, but isn’t even an honest pagan. The person brings dishonor to the name of Christ and is effectively immune from the gospel message because he’s already pretending to belong. That state is repugnant to Christ.

16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

“I will spit, am about to spit,” says Christ. Christ’s reaction is imminent, but not yet at this point inevitable, but fundamental Laodicean attitudes must change.

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

These people, like the church in the west in the 21st century, have taken on the attitudes of the secular people of their city. Their material wealth seems to assure them that all is well. It’s an interesting fact that this area was subject to earthquakes and that when one of them had destroyed Laodicea, the city was so wealthy that it had declined “federal aid” (aid from the Roman empire) preferring to rebuild using only its own resources. As a people, they literally figured that they didn’t need a thing. But their perception doesn’t match the reality. The reality is that they are wretched and pitiful, like all of us outside of the gracious action of Christ. And all they pride themselves on in Laodicea is backwards from the reality. Instead of being rich because of their banking industry, they are poor. Instead of having eye healing medicine, they are blind. And instead of being clothed with elegant black wool, they are naked before the God who sees all. The only cure for all of this is in Christ.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

It is in Christ that there are true riches. His righteousness becomes the pure white garment that covers our sin and it is by His work that we truly see what is.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

This letter is not hopeless, because of God’s love and seeking mercy. Christ says to these arrogant, complacent people at Laodicea that He loves them. The word for “reprove” here is the kind of rebuke that causes a person to see the error of his or her ways. The perfect Biblical example is Nathan’s rebuke of David after his sin with Bathsheba. The right reaction is David’s reaction. It’s to admit “Yes Lord, it’s me,” and to repent. This reproof doesn’t call for minor adjustments but rather a complete change of course.

By the way, the “those” is an “all who.” It is all inclusive. The Laodiceans are in serious danger, but His rebuke and discipline is universal to those who He loves.

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

We usually quote this verse out of context as a general invitation to salvation. In the context, it is more the request of a gracious Savior, that those who name His name would in truth fellowship with Him. Though He is the one with the keys of the kingdom, He will stand and knock, not forcing His way in. But His desire is to share with us the big evening meal, that was lingered over and was a time of intimate fellowship. (The “eat” refers specifically to this meal.)

21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

The Christian does the works of Christ, and by the grace of God shares the benefits secured by Christ.

22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”

Take this seriously.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 2:18-29

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

These verses comprise the letter to the church at Thyatira. This city was the smallest and least significant of the seven sent letters. It was not a center of government or culture, but rather a city of industry. We know of Lydia from the book of Acts, and the fact that she dealt in purple cloth. Thyatira was a city where woolens were produced, dying was done, leather working was important, there was metal working industry, etc. It was a mill town. Thyatira wasn’t remarkable in religious terms, at least for a city of the ancient world. It wasn’t a special center of pagan worship, but had its usual allotment of pagan practices. But what is most likely significant for the purposes of this study is that it did have a remarkable number of craft guilds. These associations functioned like unions, and apparently had their own patron “godlets.” It would have been hard to live in Thyatira and run a successful business without belonging to one of these and participating in pagan practices that apparently came along with membership.

This, by the way, is the longest of the 7 letters and it is safe to assume that there is something here we ought to hear.

Revelation 2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

Again Jesus addresses a church using the hard-to-understand phrase “to the angel (or messenger).” This time He identifies Himself as the Son of God (not as the “Son of Man” used in Revelation 1:13 that is reminiscent of Daniel 10:16.) The description of his eyes harks back to Daniel’s vision in Daniel 10:6. Christ sees and knows. And the burnished bronze of His feet is a reminder of His immutable, powerful nature. This is not a picture of a God to be trifled with by such as you and I. In His great kindness He treats us gently, but we need to bear in mind that Jesus is the all-powerful sovereign of the universe.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

The risen Christ (whose eyes are penetrating and blaze like fire) knows the situation of the church in Thyatira, and the situation is in some respects quite good. The love of the people for Christ is strong and has produced appropriate corresponding deeds/service. Their faith/dependence upon Christ is real and has born the fruit of perseverance. And what is essential, is that this love and faith has not been some flash in the pan, but has been increasing with time. It is not sufficient that we start strong for Christ. Rather, it is essential that we also see the race through to the finish.

So far so good, there are Christian people who would read verse 19 and immediately conclude that all is necessarily fine in Thyatira. Their presumption is that if a group of people is “sincere” in its love for Christ and each other, is active, and continues on as a body, it must be that the group is a healthy church. But the risen Christ has more to say.

20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

All is not well in Thyatira. Barclay made an interesting comment about this (particularly in light of the fact that he’s not uniformly conservative). He said, “Here is a warning. A church which is crowded with people and which is a hive of energy is not necessarily a real church. It is possible for a church to be crowded because its people come to be entertained instead of to be instructed, and to be soothed instead of confronted with the fact of sin and the offer of salvation; it may be a highly successful Christian club rather than a real Christian congregation.” There is more to a real church than warmth and activity, even warmth and activity sprinkled with mention of Christ. A real church maintains purity of doctrine.

“I have this against you: that you tolerate …” This letter is as fresh as today’s newspaper. Here is the cardinal secular “virtue” of our time, “tolerance” pointed out by the risen Christ as a serious deficiency of the church at Thyatira. The problem at Thyatira is one of tolerating bad doctrine, and it brings strong condemnation from Christ.

It is not clear exactly who this person is. She’s called Jezebel, after Ahab’s wicked pagan wife. But she has gotten a place of authority in the church at Thyatira. Apparently all it took to get this place was to announce that she was a prophetess. This too is as up-to-date as today. Even decent well-intentioned people sometimes allow themselves to be intimidated by a person who comes on strong as having some special spiritual insight or spirituality. People can then fail to apply any real discernment and swallow what the person says without asking whether it is consistent with Scripture or really makes any sense at all. The supposed special one often plays the game that “to question me is to question God who sent me.”

Bad teaching leads inevitably to bad conduct. This false prophetess has led people into two things specifically prohibited to gentile converts by the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Exactly how they got to the place of eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality isn’t said. A possibility that has been widely discussed by commentators is that belonging to a craft guild in Thyatira meant that one needed to attend dinners of the organization (much as if one needs to attend Shriner or JC functions if one is going to be a Shriner or JC). These were likely held in the banquet halls of pagan temples, and then in the package comes the sexual immorality associated with the pagan worship. If this hypothesis is correct, then the teaching is essentially accommodation to the standards of the current culture. It’s a little of the “let’s get along here … after all, it’s not that big a deal … we can’t stick our heads in the sand …” kind of stuff that always goes around in Christian circles. After, if we’re going to reach them we have to go where they go, right? (Besides, it would be bad business not to go where they go!)

21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.

God is merciful to us fallen and stubborn humans. The real mark of our wretchedness and what will ultimately damn us is our unwillingness to repent. This is our unwillingness to embrace righteous rebuke, admit that we’re wrong, turn around and go the other way. This false prophetess has refused to change. She’s not without light, but is dodging it.

22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,

The risen Christ says that He will take action in the here and now to punish this woman and those who follow her. Notice here, that there is no free pass for those who have been taken in by the woman’s teaching. We each stand responsible before God to keep our doctrine and conduct right. We cannot just pass blame for error on to a strong personality that introduces us to it and hold ourselves to be innocent. We’ve each got the Book, the example of sane, godly, saints and the restraint of the Holy Spirit.

23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

This is serious business. Bad doctrine and the bad living it produces are deadly. Presumably the “children” here are those who have fallen into the error of the false teacher. The same Christ who views the church at Thyatira with eyes blazing like fire and stands with feet as of burnished bronze will punish in this life and the next unrepentant sin. He sees and will act.

We ought to take to heart what happened in Thyatira. Christ says “all the churches will know.” If we have any sense we will let the example of Thyatira suffice and not have to learn their lesson over again for ourselves.

24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden.

25 Only hold fast what you have until I come.

There are some in Thyatira who haven’t been sucked in. They are to stand fast. They are to hold on to the truth they have been given till Christ returns.

The phrase “the deep things of Satan” might have any of several possible intended meanings. For one, it could be irony based on the how the woman was describing her teaching. It is our falleness that we think we should have some special “deeper” knowledge of God not available to others. She may have been advertising such and Christ here is saying “so far from being the deep secrets of God, what she was teaching really belonged to the evil one.” A second, perverse, possible meaning comes from the Gnostic teaching that to really win victory over the forces of evil, one needs to experience the depth of sin. Another (crazy, but fairly common) possibility is that she might have been saying that in order to really defeat the forces of darkness, one needs specialized knowledge of the deep secrets of Satan. That kind of thing is always around and it’s nonsense. What we need to know is Christ and Him crucified, not specialized stuff about how Satan and the demons work.

26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,

“I will give authority over the nations.” I hear that say something about what happens now as we do the will of Jesus to the end. Believers have the authority of Christ to carry the Gospel to the nations. Christ has given that even now. It seems unlikely this is not about us as magistrates in the future. It is rather about Christ reigning supreme even as we speak.

27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.

The quote is from Psalm 2:9.   It is a Messianic Psalm. It is Christ who rules or “shepherds” with an iron scepter, who dashes to pieces the imaginations of men. It is He who has the authority from the Father. It is His Word that is the believer’s authority to speak to the nations.

28 And I will give him the morning star.

Jesus is the morning star and the Christian’s reward. To him who overcomes there is the promise of an eternity in the presence of Christ. As the catechism says “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him eternally.” That is the Christian’s present and eternal future.

29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 2:8-17

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns two of the letters to the churches of Asia, the ones to the churches at Smyrna and Pergamum.

Smyrna was a wealthy, well-situated city. It had been loyal to Rome from before the time that it was clear that Rome would turn out to be a world power. The earliest temple to the goddess “Roma” had been established at Smyrna. Smyrna had a large Jewish population that, it seems, was especially hostile to Christianity.

Revelation 2:8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

This letter is “to the angel/messenger of the church.” This is unusual wording, but the meaning is clearly that what follows is intended for the Christian church at Smyrna. These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. It is Jesus who speaks to the church. The “First” is especially appropriate for these people.   Smyrna liked to call itself the first city of Asia. It was full of local pride. To the church at such a place the First and the Last of the Universe speaks. It is an interesting point too, that in Smyrna’s history it had been destroyed and later rebuilt as one of the few planned cities in antiquity. In fact, much of its beauty derived from the orderliness coming from this rebuilding with wide and beautiful streets, etc. To believers in such a city the Savior who tasted death for all men and rose from the dead speaks.

9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

This risen Christ knows what these believers of Smyrna are suffering. “Afflictions” are crushing difficulties. And the poverty is not just lack of anything to spare, it is lack of anything at all. This is abject poverty of a kind essentially unknown in our country in our time. Remember that this is a wealthy commercial city, but in it Christian believers suffer crushing afflictions and poverty. Why? Surely it is a result of their persecution at the hands of the Jewish population (who considered them to be heretics) and their refusal to go along with the state religion of emperor worship.

They are slandered by “those who say they are Jews and are not.” The New Testament is full of instruction that one isn’t a member of God’s family by virtue of birth, but rather by faith/ reliance upon and trust in Him. So the Jews persecuting the church, who have rejected their Messiah and Savior, are not members of God’s assembly, but on the contrary are members of the assembly/synagogue of Satan.

10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Now this is an interesting statement. Suffering is going to come. There’s no promise of avoiding it.   What the church is promised, however, is that Christ sees and understands it (and that He is with the church in it), that while it will come it will be of finite duration, and after it is endured there is an eternity of reward.

“The devil” will put some in prison. Humans are the agents of persecution, but Satan is the origin. Being put in prison in Roman days was not typically a means of punishment. One was put in prison pending trial and execution on capital offenses. So the imprisonment in verse 10 leads naturally to the being faithful to the point of death. This Christianity was serious dangerous business in these days in Smyrna. It could not only bring you to poverty, but to death as a traitor to the Roman state as well. One of the most famous early Christian martyrs was Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, martyred in 155 AD for refusing to denounce Christ and acknowledge Caesar as Lord. Interestingly, Polycarp was martyred on a Saturday, but the Jews of Smyrna broke their Sabbath to bring fuel for the fire in which he was burned.

The crown of life is not a royal diadem, but rather the wreath of a victor in an athletic contest or the festive laurel worn at a banquet or celebration.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

“The second death” is identified later in Revelation 21:8. Physical death is the first one. Eternal condemnation and torment apart from the goodness of God is the second. Remaining faithful through life spares Christians the second death.

Pergamum was the Roman capital of Asia. As such, it was the center of emperor worship. It was also a city full of other pagan temples. In particular it was the center of worship of one Asclepios, the god of healing, usually called “Asclepios the savior.” (It has been called the “Lourdes of the ancient world.”) It was famous for its library, second only to that of Alexandria, consisting of over 200,000 volumes. It is also interesting, and probably relevant, that the Roman governor situated in Pergamum was unusual in that he was one of the few that had the right of imposing capital punishment. That is, the Roman proconsul had the so called “right of the sword” and people could be executed on the spot at his command. He could, for example, at any moment use that right of the sword against the Christian believers in Smyrna.

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

It is “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword,” Him who is the Word of God, who speaks. Christ is speaking to the church at Pergamum. It may be that the governor there has “the right of the sword,” but the One who speaks is the One from whose mouth issues the Word of God, the powerful sword of the LORD. This sword will liberate those who believe and embrace it, and will slay those who reject and ignore it.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

I know where you “dwell.” That is an interesting word. It means to have a permanent residence. We understand that most fundamentally we are sojourners on earth and that this is not our home. But these words of Christ remind us that we are in the world. As Barclay said, “the principle of the Christian life is not escape, but conquest.” As much as we might prefer to run from the hard things we encounter in the sovereign will of God, this is “where we live.” Our job is not to flee difficulties, but to face them in the power and the name of our Savior.

Christ says they dwell where Satan has his throne. Presumably this is a reference to Pergamum being the center of worship of the emperor and other false gods.

These Christians in Pergamum have remained faithful to Christ in hard times. They have continued to rely upon, to trust in, and to cleave to Jesus, apparently refusing to acknowledge Caesar as “lord” despite threat of death. Christ says “even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness.” That is quite a compliment for this person Antipas. Remember Revelation 1:5 and that it is Jesus Himself who is the faithful witness. The Spirit of Christ has apparently strengthened one Antipas to refuse to deny Jesus, even when it meant death. These are courageous Christian people who will not cave in to external pressure. But

14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

The church at Pergamum has stood resolute against the persecution from the outside, but has to some extent apparently been suckered by the deception of false teaching from the inside. From the beginning of human history, Satan’s first line of attack against man and his relationship with God has been deception. And this has been effective at Pergamum. Apparently the story put forth at Pergamum has been that there’s nothing wrong with a little compromise with the prevailing pagan idolatry, and that sexual immorality was not such a big deal either. (Balaam, after being unable to curse God’s people for Balak king of Moab, helped Balak figure out that by enticing the Israelites into idolatry and sexual immorality, he could bring God’s wrath on them).

How you get to that kind of thinking is to have a low view of the Scriptures. You play games like deciding that some of them aren’t relevant to your situation. It seems possible that the folks here had adopted the line of thinking that since one doesn’t come to God by approving oneself through being good enough and keeping the law, one can then disregard the law of God. That’s pure garbage (but stuff you can hear on any day of the week from religious “experts” these days). God’s character and righteous requirements for human behavior haven’t changed a bit in all of time. The fact we are frail and fail to keep the law perfectly doesn’t cancel it. What it does, is drive us to Jesus, our only hope.

15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Exactly what the Nicolaitans taught is not clear, but it seems to have consisted in de facto compromise with the standards of the surrounding pagan culture, possibly by taking a wrong view that the body is nothing. Then making a perverse twist, these people ended up claiming that one could do anything with the body that one pleases, moral or not, maybe including joining with the pagans in sexual immorality and/or worship at pagan temples and feasts.

It is interesting that both “Balaam” and “Nicolaitan” have the meaning “conquer the people.” This business of compromise with the prevailing culture is and always has been serious. If left to run its course, it means the conquering of the church by the world.

16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

It is so serious that the church of Pergamum is to repent. Doctrinal purity is not something to ignore or take lightly. It wasn’t in 95 AD and it isn’t now. That is true in spite of modern insistence on “tolerance” and the impulse to be “ecumenical” and “humble.” The Lord of the church sees it as serious business, something that will bring His intervention.

17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Christ promises future glory for those who remain true. There have been many many suggestions made regarding the possible meanings of the hidden manna, the white stone and the new name. It is impossible to say with any authority exactly what is intended. The Jews expected the Messianic kingdom to include renewed provision of manna. Another tradition was that before the destruction of the temple, Jeremiah had saved the sample of manna in the ark and hidden it on Mt. Sinai and that Messiah would bring it with Him at the establishment of His kingdom. The white stone might refer to the practice of juries voting not guilty with white stones and guilty with black ones. Or stones were sometimes used as tickets of admission to public events like grand banquets. Or it might refer to the stones on the robes of the Jewish priests with the names of the 12 tribes on them. Or 76 other things are possible. The new name might refer to Christ, presently not known to the world, or perhaps in the tradition of Abram who became Abraham or Jacob who became Israel, the new name may refer to the believer who is in vital relationship to God and takes on a new character and a new call.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Revelation 1

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is the first of a series of lessons on parts of the book of Revelation.  Revelation may be the hardest of all books of the Bible for us to understand.  It is loaded with word pictures that we cannot (and were not meant to) quite pull together.  And typically, we’re not really conversant enough with the Old Testament Scriptures to pick up on all the allusions that are used.  And, I think, we often try to read it as if were a puzzle to be solved instead of a letter meant to give us courage and assurance that in the end, it is God who will have the last word.

The best guess is that the book was written around 90 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian.  By this time emperor worship was a serious part of life in the Roman world, and Domitian was ruthless in requiring it.  It is interesting and important to realize where this whole thing came from and what it entailed.  The Roman armies had actually brought more sanity to life than had ever been known in the pagan world.  Life was stable, there were sane laws and ways for people to lead ordinary lives without worrying much about attack by local criminals or foreign barbarians.  Worship of first Rome, and then the emperor, was something that initially was the misguided response of the people themselves to the Pax Romana.  Some of the early emperors actually forbade the practice.  But Domitian was quite brutal about requiring it.  People had to once a year burn incense to him and declare him to be “lord.”  They were then free to turn around and practice whatever religion they chose, as long as they had acknowledged Caesar first.  It was really a political matter.  (Its arguable that this is really, in fact, not all that far from where we’re headed.  As long as one bows down to the grand god of tolerance and pluralism it’s then OK to do whatever peculiar religious thing one wishes.  But one must first swear allegiance to the notion that the “pluralist”/secular government is supreme.)  Christians, of course, refused to acknowledge anyone but Christ as Lord, and that  led to their intense persecution across the whole Roman empire.  A reasonable question was then, how could this small, completely uninfluential bunch of Christians withstand the force of the Roman government?  No nation to that time had managed to stand against Rome.  How in the world could the church do so?  Those are the circumstances and questions to which Revelation is addressed.

Revelation 1:1  The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

This is the revelation of Jesus Christ, the unveiling of truth belonging to Jesus, truth from God that Christ makes known to you and me.  Is this completely new truth outside of the Old Testament and other New Testament Scriptures?  No.  But nevertheless, this is truth that you and I, mere mortals would not have reasoned our way to on our own.  This is God’s truth that we can only know because He makes it known to us.  And here He has used an angel and John to bring it to us.  This is probably John the Apostle, though he doesn’t identify himself as such.

2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

Blessed is he who reads aloud.  The notion is the public reading of this book, in keeping with standard practice in Christian churches of the day.  The Scriptures and letters were read aloud and here a blessing is invoked on the ones that will read.  And so too is there a blessing for those that will hear and take it to heart.  It never suffices to hear only.  We must take the truth to heart.

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood

6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Here is quite a salutation.  This is written to the seven churches.  There were more than seven in the Roman province of Asia by this time.  But seven is a number of wholeness and completeness, and this should probably be read as a symbolic reference to the whole church.  In fact the particular seven churches that are mentioned are in towns arranged in a kind of circle in that area (again giving us a picture of completeness).

John says “Grace and peace.”  May God’s unmerited favor and wholeness rest on you.

From whom does this ultimately come?  It comes from the whole of the Trinity, from the great “I AM,” the Spirit, and the Son.  The “seven” used in regard to the Spirit is not meant to teach that somehow the Spirit of God is fragmented, but again there is the notion of completeness and probably also the notion that this same Spirit is actively at work in all of the churches to whom this letter is addressed.

Jesus is described as the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  We’re reminded that Jesus was completely in harmony with and submission to the Father, that He was raised, and lest you persecuted Christians are tempted to think otherwise, He currently reigns over the affairs of men.

He loves and has freed.  Notice the tenses.  He currently and into the future loves.  His action on Calvary once and for all freed us in the past from the bondage of sin.  It is done.  And that righteous action has made us to be kings and priest–you and me, fallen, frail human beings.  We’ve been made to be kings and priests.  That’s a “hallelujah” or “amen” and John breaks into one.  To Him be glory and power forever, Amen!

7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

John flashes ahead to the second coming.  He sees Jesus just as Paul promised in 1 Thessalonians.  He is coming in the clouds with every eye on earth looking at Him.  And not all will be glad at His coming.  John is, by the way, essentially quoting from Zechariah 12:10 here, alluding to the piercing of Christ on the cross and looking a head to His return.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

“I AM the A and the Z,” the whole story.  Nothing exists independent of Him.  This wonderful God always has been and always will be, and in all things He is sovereign.  He is the Almighty.

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

John identifies himself and starts to say how it is that he came in possession of this revelation.  He is a brother, a fellow servant of Jesus, and what’s more, he’s been through the same kind of persecution that the recipients of this letter have endured.  He’s not standing outside their experience giving advice from an easy chair.  He’s on the island of Patmos for the sake of the Gospel.  Patmos was used as a penal colony by the Romans.  People speculate that John (since Christians were considered serious criminals at this point) may well have been doing forced labor in the quarries on Patmos. at an age exceeding 80!  Even if this is not the case, the best circumstances for exiles here would hardly have been livable.

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet

It was on the Lord’s Day, on a Sunday.  This terminology had likely grown up in contrast to the terminology “the emperor’s day” when all were supposed to pay him homage.  And I was in the Spirit and heard a loud voice.

11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

In addition to being arranged in a ring in the center of the Roman province of Asia, these towns were also postal hubs.  They were centers from which this letter could go out into the whole of the province.

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,

“See the voice” is an interesting turn of phrase, especially in light of the fact that Jesus is the “Word” of God.  There had been in the Jewish temple a golden candlestick that held seven candles.  Here the seven are separated, dispersed, but not really so in essence, since:

13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.

Here is Christ, standing in His church.  It is a standard and important thing to note that the lampstand only holds the light.  The light is really that of Christ.  The terminology “like a son of man” goes back to Daniel 7:13.  The long robe and golden sash are appropriate for either the high priest or for royalty.  Christ is both, our high priest and the King of kings.  Again, there is a picture of such a person in Daniel 10:5-6.

14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,

15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.

The whiteness is clearly a picture of the complete purity/holiness of God, and John sees clearly that Jesus shares the holiness of the Father.  Ezekiel 43:2 characterizes the voice of God as being like the roar of rushing water.  Daniel 7:9 pictures the Father as having hair white as wool.  The Father and Son are one God.

16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

John saw the seven star “in his right hand,” in a place of favor and protection.  The strong Son of God holds in His right hand the seven churches.  They are not perfect, but they are under His protection.  This is a dazzling, overpowering picture, terrible and fearsome for the enemies of Christ.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,

18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Even John, not an enemy but rather a servant of Christ, is overpowered.  He faints away.  But there is comfort in this powerful One and Christ revives John and commissions him to write, to write what presently is and is to come.

19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.

20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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 are the seven churches.

This is the “mystery” in the sense that it is something we would never have worked out for ourselves, but that Christ has now made known.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.