THE BOOK OF REVELATION Review
Everyone seems to be intrigued by the Book of Revelation. There is no end to commentaries on it, and no end to speculation on its meanings. I am unable to offer any new thoughts that have not been expressed by someone at some time in the past, but maybe as we study through this important book this year, we will find it less obscure, and more understandable, and very relevant to our own day.
The book was written to ordinary people to encourage them through difficult times spiritually, politically, and economically, and to assure them that the revelation that Jesus gave to his church will carry them through to a glorious conclusion. In fact, the readers were new Christians for the most part, converts from Judaism, God-fearing Greeks, or pagans. They were not Biblical scholars although many may have had some familiarity with the writings of the Old Testament. And, of course, they had responded to the teachings of the Apostles, who were eyewitnesses to the life, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus. This book is a call to faithfulness to the ‘faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
As an overview in our study of this book, we might consider that the story of the Bible is the battle between the ‘seed of the woman, Eve’, and the ‘seed of the Serpent’. It is amplified in the battle between Abraham’s ‘son of flesh’, Ishmael, and the ‘son of promise’, Isaac; later Jacob and Esau; then Moses and Pharaoh; then Israelites and the Canaanites; Elijah and the prophets of Baal; etc. Interestingly, today we are at war with the sons of Ishmael in the guise of Islam. There is a war unto death between the church and Islam on one hand, and the church and materialist Marxism on the other. The seed of Satan is very active today. The book of Revelation describes this war. John assures us that the conclusion will be victory for the church, but the battle will be bloody.
We have looked at the Preterist, the Historicist, and the Futurist interpretations of the book of Revelation. Today we will continue with the Idealist view.
This view sees the Book of Revelation to be a symbolic portrayal of the conflict between good and evil, between the forces of God and of Satan. It depicts a timeless struggle. However, if it is completely timeless, then there is no final consummation to history and no final victory for God through Christ.
The best View will be an Eclectic View including Redemptive-Historical Form and a Modified Idealism
The church has been living in ‘the last days’ since the resurrection of Christ established the church, and events in the history of the church are depicted in allegorical language, but are applicable to the experiences of believers throughout the church age. There will be a final consummation and judgment, with salvation for the church. I suspect such a time is rapidly drawing nigh.
This letter was probably much less obscure to the readers in the 1st century. Apocalyptic literature was fairly common to the Jews, who would be familiar with the writings of Ezekiel and Daniel. The express purpose of the letter was to ‘unveil’ Jesus Christ to the churches. They needed to see how Jesus, the Christ (Messiah), was at work on behalf of his church in the time between his advent and the final consummation. It is a call to endurance as the believers share in tribulation and trials directed toward the church.
“The book of Revelation is not an appendage to the Bible, unattached, unrelated, or different from the sum total of divine revelation. This being so, we should expect the symbolism involved in the Apocalypse to be so directly related to the rest of the Bible that by proper interpretation we will find a confirmation of the old truth that the Bible is it own interpreter….
From the time sin entered the world, God determined He would prove His saving grace and love by sending salvation. Biblical history shows His ability to overrule the powers of Satan and accomplish His purpose and will. Evil, powerful though it may seem, is still subservient to good, and all things have, do, and will continue to work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose….
The winds of change blow so furiously we often question the purpose of events to the point of doubt. God speaks to us through the book of Revelation. We are not to doubt! Events of the future will be no less puzzling. But rather than doubt, we are to look up and see the salvation provided for us through Christ, for our God remains the Alpha and the Omega.” Clarence Vredevoogd
We have divided the entire letter into eight segments as follows. Different commentators have used different divisions, from four sections to seven. However, I think we will find the following division useful. Each segment is introduced by a verse that ties the preceding section to the following one.
1:1-3:22 Rev. 1:1-2 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, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
4:1-7:17 Rev. 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.”
8:1-11:14 Rev. 8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
11:15-14:20 Rev. 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
15:1-16:21 Rev. 15:1 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing,
seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.
17:1-19:10 Rev. 17:1-2 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”
19:11-21:8 Rev. 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.
21:9-22:21 Rev. 21:9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
Christ’s reign – The millennial kingdom is not an event in the future, but Christ reigns now. His sacrificial death and his resurrection confirmed his triumph over Satan, and Satan’s power on earth now is restrained. The number 1000 is understood to represent a long period of time, not a specific number of years.
Rapture – When Christ returns he will immediately defeat the powers of evil. All will be resurrected and judged, and the believers and unbelievers will be delivered to their eternal destinies.
Tribulation – Tribulation is present throughout this time. Great tribulations, disasters, wars, and persecutions have occurred throughout the history of the church.
Israel – Most references to Israel in Revelation are symbolic references to the people of God on earth, true believers from Israel and from the church (Rom 9:6-8).
Prominent amillennialists include: Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, G.C. Berkouwer, Herschel Hobbs, Stanley Grenz, and J.I. Packer.
Supportive Scripture references: Ps 50:10; 90:4, 105:8; 2 Pet 3:8; Rom 11:13-15; Eph 2:1-4; Dan 12:2-3; John 5:28-29; Rev 13:7.
Revelation 2:1-7 Letter to the Church in Ephesus
Last time I said we would look briefly at Islam and its advances in the United States and in the world. We are in the midst of a worldwide clash of civilizations. Three major forces are contending for the hearts and souls of the peoples and of the nations.
The first is the socialist worldview clearly articulated by Karl Marx and modified by Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, the secular socialists of our universities and media, and certain political parties in our country and in Western Europe. The primary tenants are that there is no god to whom we are accountable, and that by the force of a benevolent state the labors and property of the working members of society shall be equally distributed to everyone in the society, thereby achieving a utopia in which everyone’s needs and wants are met.
The second is the Judeo-Christian worldview as developed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and fully disclosed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. The Bible envisions a time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14); and when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father Phil 2:10-11). We hope to achieve this through personal witnessing, preaching in and out of our churches, and through our worldwide missions enterprises.
The third is Islam. Islam once conquered a large part of the then known world, but was stopped in its hopes of conquest of the west at the ‘gates of Vienna’. It then lay relatively dormant for many centuries, confined to the Middle East and North Africa. In the past half century since the end of World War II, it has seen a dramatic resurgence, and now claims about one-fourth of the world population. This is close to the number of Christians in the world if we count all the divisions and sects that have risen in the church. Islam is intent on world conquest with the goal of establishing a single caliphate that will administer Sharia law and worship of Allah throughout the world.
Faisal Shahzad, the jihadist who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York’s Times Square 10 years ago, was sentenced to life in prison. After his sentencing, Shahzad launched into a 10-minute tirade against America. Here are some excerpts from this follower of the “religion of peace”:
“Brace yourselves because the war with Muslims has just begun. Consider me the first droplet of the flood that will follow. The defeat of the U.S. is imminent and will happen in [the] near future.
“We do not accept your democracy or your freedom because we already have Sharia [sacred Muslim] law . . . The past nine years, the war with Muslims has achieved nothing for the U.S., except for it has awakened the Muslims for Islam.
“If I am given a thousand lives, I will sacrifice them all for the sake of Allah, fighting this cause, defending our lands, making the word of Allah supreme over any religion or system.”
When the judge declared his sentence, he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greatest”). Shahzad also declared himself a “proud terrorist.”
Thankfully, Shahzad failed in his attempt to wage jihad in Times Square. Sixteen years removed from 9/11, it’s easy to be complacent, to underestimate the evil we are fighting. The FBI re-created the bomb Shahzad attempted to detonate. Had he succeeded, the results would have been devastating, as you can see here. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QufxuA21eCc>
Obviously most Muslims are not engaged in jihad. But millions of Muslims worldwide embrace the narrative of Faisal Shahzad and other “holy warriors.” That narrative is that Islam is oppressed by the West and that a great upheaval is coming that will bring down America, Israel and all of Judeo-Christian civilization. This is what links the stories of murder and mayhem coming in every day from every corner of the world at the hands of Islamists.
Our political, media and academic elites are unable or unwilling to confront and defeat this onslaught. Some aren’t even sure Western Civilization is worth defending. Gary Bower
The attacks we have witnessed in London, Paris, Belgium, Sweden and our country affirm that the religious fervor of Faisal Shahzad is not diminishing in the extremist Muslim world.
In this battle for the hearts and minds of the world we can eliminate the secular humanists and socialists as meaningful contenders. Secularism cannot hold a candlestick to theism in the end. Man is basically religious and has an innate realization that he will at some point be held accountable to God. That leaves the battle to Christianity and Islam. The secularists can blur the battle lines for a while, but they will be crushed under foot in the end.
All I have written is preliminary to my thesis that if Christianity is to succeed it needs to re-affirm the commitment of the early believers who willingly suffered imprisonment and death for the faith. We have become overly complacent in the near utopian world our founding fathers gave to us. That world is crumbling before our eyes as it loses the last vestiges of its earlier moral capital.
We can see in Islam what true commitment to the faith involves.
Islam is a religion on the rise. Its followers are demonstrating a commitment that Christians need to mimic.
The children are fully immersed in the study of the Koran in Madras schools funded by their religious right. They learn how Islam governs their entire lives, religious, social, legal and political. They are constantly anticipating the glory of an Islamic world.
Young men are willing to give their lives to bomb market places and drive airplanes into buildings.
Mothers willingly sacrifice their children as suicide bombers as well.
The men pray 5 times a day.
The Halal and Haram dietary restrictions are spreading through our food industry, much like kosher foods, which have been available for years.
Holy days are kept holy and not just days off to do as the Muslims please.
Tithing is expected of each family and the monies go to the advancement of the faith.
All this is done in the name of and for the glory of a powerful, evil, but real deity, Allah.
Some say that only 10 % of Muslims are extremists like Isis, the Taliban and Al Queda. But that means 125 million potential terrorists are willing to die for their faith. Also, most who consider themselves moderate Muslims would like to see their faith become the faith of the world, and therefore do not speak out against the actions of the more extreme.
Can we Christians avoid being conquered by Islam and falling under its governance if we do not develop the same intensity of sacrificial commitment; if we do not teach our children the love and glory of God as Moses taught: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deut. 6:7); if we do not pray with greater frequency than the Muslims; and if we do not tithe our resources for the spread of the kingdom.
First we must realize that we are involved in a clash of civilizations. The battle that is taking place today is between God and Allah, between the church and the mosque. But even in Muslim lands the church is growing rapidly and defiantly. The church in the west is faltering, but throughout Africa, the Middle East, and China the church continues to grow steadily. We should pray for our Muslim neighbors and seek to witness to them as God provides opportunity.
Next we must realize that Allah is a powerful god who controls the hearts and minds of one quarter of the world population. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Eph. 6:12).
Then we need to “lay aside every weight, and the sin that so easily besets us”(Heb 12:1). We can no longer pick and chose which precepts of Scripture we will adhere to and which we will ignore, but we must prepare fully and scripturally for the conflict that is bearing down on us.
And finally we need to don the whole armor of God as found in Ephesians 6:13-18, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…”
We are taught that right will win in the end, and Satan will be defeated and cast into hell, but there will be hard times leading up to the end. “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
Many faithful will fall away from the faith because the battle will be so severe, but: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
All this is relevant to our study today and in the weeks to come, because Revelation deals with the ongoing clash between God and Satan. It took one form in the days of this letter and has another today, but it is the same war. Also, we know now that the battle between God and Allah that happened in the sixth and seventh centuries was devastating to the churches addressed in this book, and all the churches addressed are now under Muslim domination.
Jesus recognizes that there are false teachers of the gospel who have evil intent, or at least are deceived and used by the evil one. Paul warned the Ephesians of these 30 years earlier when he met with the elders on his last missionary journey. .
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Acts 20:29-30. See also 1 Tim 1:3-11; 4:1-8; 6:2-7, 20-21; 2 Tim 3:1-17.
The three epistles of John address the teachings of the evil deceivers and call them the antichrist. We studied the false teachings and false teachers more completely in our study last fall. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist2 John 7.
There were four major groups of people in the church communities. There were Jewish-Christians who professed commitment to Jesus, but still felt a loyalty to Judaism. They understood Jesus to be the promised Messiah, but may have found it difficult to accept the deity of Jesus. They would emphasize the importance of Jewish Law as well. Paul addressed this in his letter to the Galatians.
The second large group of believers was Hellenistic Christians who had come from a pagan background and were still influenced by the dualistic beliefs of the Greeks and were easily enticed by Gnostic teachings. They would find it hard to accept the full humanity of Jesus and moved toward the heresy of Docetism. They taught that Jesus only appeared to be truly human, but he remained God really.
Docetism, (from Greek dokein, “to seem”), Christian heresy and one of the earliest Christian sectarian doctrines, affirming that Christ did not have a real or natural body during his life on earth but only an apparent or phantom one. Though its incipient forms are alluded to in the New Testament, such as in the Letters of John (e.g., 1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 7), Docetism became more fully developed as an important doctrinal position of Gnosticism, a religious dualist system of belief arising in the 2nd century ad which held that matter was evil and the spirit good and claimed that salvation was attained only through esoteric knowledge, or gnosis. The heresy developed from speculations about the imperfection or essential impurity of matter. More thoroughgoing Docetists asserted that Christ was born without any participation of matter and that all the acts and sufferings of his life, including the Crucifixion, were mere appearances. They consequently denied Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. Milder Docetists attributed to Christ an ethereal and heavenly body but disagreed on the degree to which it shared the real actions and sufferings of Christ. Docetism was attacked by all opponents of Gnosticism, especially by Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century.
A third group of people in the church we can call the Johannine Christians. John had been a pastor in the church in Ephesus until he was exiled to the island of Patmos. He taught the true gospel to the believers in his church, and this teaching spread throughout the countryside. He is teaching a balanced understanding of the person of Jesus, both fully man and fully God. He is addressing those who thought of Jesus as less than God, and to remind them of his divinity; and those who thought of Jesus as other than man, to remind them of his humanity.
A fourth group was present, the secessionists. These are believers who clashed with John and his teachings. They drifted away from John’s orthodox teachings for a number of reasons and became false teachers. They were inclined toward one or another of the many heresies attacking the true church and could no longer remain comfortable in the Johannine churches. Cerinthus was one of the false teachers who were contemporary with John.
Cerinthus (Greek: Κήρινθος; fl. c. 100 CE) was a Gnostic and to some, an early Christian, who was prominent as a heresiarch in the view of the early Church Fathers. Contrary to proto-orthodox Christianity, used the Gospel of Cerinthus, and denied that the Supreme God made the physical world. In Cerinthus' interpretation, the Christ came to Jesus at baptism, guided him in his ministry, but left him at the crucifixion.
He taught that Jesus would establish a thousand-year reign of sensuous pleasure after the Second Coming but before the General Resurrection, a view that was declared heretical by the Council of Nicaea. Cerinthus used a version of the gospel of Matthew as scripture.
Cerinthus taught at a time when Christianity's relation to Judaism and to Greek philosophy had not yet been clearly defined. In his association with the Jewish law and his modest assessment of Jesus he was similar to the Ebionites (Qumran community), and to other Jewish Christians. In defining the world's creator as the demiurge, he emulated Platonic philosophy and anticipated the Gnostics.
Early Christian tradition describes Cerinthus as a contemporary to and opponent of John the Evangelist, who may have written the First Epistle of John and the Second Epistle of John to warn the less mature in faith and doctrine about the changes Cerinthus was making to the original gospel. All that is known about Cerinthus comes from the writing of his theological opponents.
Dionysius, who was bishop of the parish of Alexandria in our day, in the second book of his work, On the Promises, where he says some things concerning the Apocalypse of John which he draws from tradition, mentions this same man in the following words: “But (they say that) Cerinthus, who founded the sect which was called, after him, the Cerinthian, desiring reputable authority for his fiction, prefixed the name. For the doctrine that he taught was this: that the kingdom of Christ will be an earthly one. And as he was himself devoted to the pleasures of the body and altogether sensual in his nature, he dreamed that that kingdom would consist in those things which he desired, namely, in the delights of the belly and of sexual passion, that is to say, in eating and drinking and marrying, and in festivals and sacrifices and the slaying of victims, under the guise of which he thought he could indulge his appetites with a better grace.” These are the words of Dionysius.
Gnosticism was in its infancy still, but it was drawing some true believers away from the faith. John encourages the believers to carefully evaluate their teachings concerning who Jesus truly was. One group of false teachers taught that the Messiah was only God and not man. Jesus only appeared to be a man. He was never crucified, because God cannot die (Docetism, dokeo, in Greek, meaning seemed). Others, especially the Jewish believers, taught the humanity of Jesus. He was the promised Messiah, but was a man and not God. Both false views of Jesus led to a false Christianity.
The heresies tend to center on the nature and person of Jesus. Any teaching that diminishes either the humanity or the deity of Christ leads to a cascade of false teachings and immoral practices. Such teachings are brought about by false spiritual influences that John calls the antichrist. Contemporary versions of some of the heresies are Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism, even Islam. The true believer knows the true nature of the Christ because the Holy Spirit has revealed it to him. No one can ascertain such truth without the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
: 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
The founder of the Nicolaitans was thought to be Nicolaus, one of the deacons appointed by the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5). The Nicolaitans taught that some degree of participation in the idolatrous culture of Ephesus was permissible. The temptations and even pressures to become so involved were great since the city’s life was dominated by the pagan temples. Ephesus was known as the “temple warden” of the goddess Artemis and thousands of priests and priestesses served in the temple precinct. The city’s prosperous economy was partly dependent on trade associated with that temple (Acts 19:23-41). The city had also been declared a “temple warden’ of two temples dedicated to the imperial cult, which meant that this resistance to internal pressures to accommodate to aspects of this idolatrous society was very commendable.
The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Revelation. P.233.
Polycarp - A Father of the Christian Church
Polycarp is a celebrated figure in the history of Christianity. A direct pupil of the apostle John, Polycarp lived between 70 and 155 A.D., connecting him to both the biblical apostles and the age of the early church fathers. Several ancient sources document the contributions of Polycarp to Christianity, including his letters written to the church at Philippi, in which he encourages the members to remain strong in their faith and to flee from materialism. He also instructs the members in the proper handling of financial dishonesty that was creeping into the church. Polycarp served as the bishop of the church at Smyrna (modern day Izmir), and was recognized as one of the early combatants of Christian heresies. He rejected the teachings of Marcion, an influential heretic who tried to create a "new brand" of Christianity by redefining God and rejecting Old Testament teachings. In his well-known thesis, Polycarp combats Gnostic heresies that were beginning to spread throughout the Christian church.
Polycarp - A Martyr for Truth
Polycarp's greatest contribution to Christianity may be his martyred death. His martyrdom stands as one of the most well documented events of antiquity. The emperors of Rome had unleashed bitter attacks against the Christians during this period, and members of the early church recorded many of the persecutions and deaths. Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian -- a member of a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord". If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake.
Polycarp - A Relevant Testimony for our Lives
Polycarp's martyrdom is historical reality. He died for one reason - his unyielding faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet Polycarp's well-recorded death is only one of many lives that were given to reveal and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. In light of the cruel and torturous deaths of the first and second generation Christians, all theories that Christianity is a fabricated myth, created for the personal gain of its followers, must be rejected. Even today, many will die for a belief, but none will die for a lie. God allows the deaths of His saints not because He is a helpless or indifferent Lord, but because their deaths are powerful declarations of the free gift of life that is offered to us through the Person of Jesus Christ. If you have any doubts about the truth of Christ as revealed in the Bible, reexamine the biblical text in light of the willing deaths of nearly all of its writers, men who were eyewitnesses to Christ's life and ministry. Polycarp, like many other Christians to this day, was only able to die for Christ because he lived for Christ. His life was radically transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit -- the desires, worries, pains and fears of this world no longer bound him. Polycarp's life and death provides an inspirational example for all Christians. He gave his earthly life for Christ, and in the midst of his sacrifice, he gained eternal life.
The Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy written to specific churches undergoing specific challenges. It is written with words of warning and with words of encouragement to the churches of John’s day. It was not written with esoteric information about things that will be happening in the remote future. However, it is relevant to the church throughout history because it addresses issues that face the church in every age.
The admonitions are to repent, to remain faithful, to persevere and to conquer. Persecution is increasing against the churches addressed. The persecution is coming from the state, from the Jewish community, and even from within the church in the form of false teachings. I am impressed as we read this that there is no relief from the persecution for the ones who remain faithful or who return to faithfulness. They do not gain a life of ease or even a let-up by the opposition. All the promises as we go through this book are in the afterlife. If you are faithful unto death you will receive a crown of life (2:10).
Such persecution of the church has not happened in our American Christian experience. It has always been far away where our missionaries go, but not here at home. It is very real for the churches in Islamic countries today. But times may be changing for us, and we ought to heed this book more closely so that we will be prepared spiritually for the spiritual battle that is descending on us (Eph 6:10-12). In Matthew Jesus describes to his disciples what the church should anticipate.
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt 24:3-14)
The church at Sardis was described as being “dead”. It appeared to be alive – had “a reputation of being alive” – looked spiritually vibrant on the outside – but was spiritually lifeless. The church was Christian in name only. This recalls Christ’s scathing rebuke of the Pharisees who “look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27).
Says G.R. Beasley-Murray: “The appearance [of the Sardis church] is that of a beautifully adorned corpse in a funeral parlour, but the Lord is not deceived”. The church needed to stir up the living Spirit of God in order to come to life.
What was dead about the church and what needed reviving? First, there was no indication of persecution or trouble from outside forces. Neither was there any heresy within, in contrast to some of the other churches. Things seemed to be peaceful and religiously correct. Perhaps it was a church that was too good to be true. Its religiously proper appearance may have only meant that it had fully and silently compromised with the truth and the pagan society around it. G.B. Caird calls Sardis “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity” (A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine, p. 48).
That might explain its calm and sedated outward appearance. George Eldon Ladd defined the Sardis church as “a picture of nominal Christianity, outwardly prosperous, busy with the externals of religious activity, but devoid of spiritual life and power” (A Commentary on the Revelation of John, p. 56)
Paul had described such Christians by saying they seemed quite religious but denied God’s power in their lives (2 Timothy 3:5). This community of the living dead needed the power of God to bring it back to life.
Western Christianity in Europe and unfortunately in the USA is losing ground both spiritually and demographically. We are becoming a pagan nation and are losing our status as a Christian nation. Islam is moving into the vacated space, much like it did in the churches in Turkey in the 600’s.
In free Europe ,where there has been prosperity and democracy, the church is almost completely dead. The church has ceased to have any impact on the society. Atheism and humanism have taken over. Government and public policy is governed almost totally by philosophies that are antibiblical and even intolerant of the truth of Scripture.
If you look at the U.S., you find much the same thing. Government and the media, which affects the thinking of so much of America, are, for the most part, liberal and intolerant of Christianity. Leadership in both Europe and the U.S. are working for a one-world government while the populace is preoccupied with their comfort and pleasure or the good life. The moral climate or condition of both free Europe and the U.S. is rotten to the core. According to a number of polls, if you compare the values, priorities, practices, and pursuits of professing Christians and non-Christians alike, you find very little difference on the whole.
Yet, much of free Europe and all of America owe their freedom, their prosperity, and blessings to the preaching of the Word of God, to the reformation in Europe, and to the ministries of men like the Wesley’s, George Whitfield, and Jonathan Edwards in America.
Revelation 4 John’s First Glimpse into Heaven
So far the Lord has been addressing real churches existing in real time with real issues and real solutions. The letters address the situation in the churches of Asia Minor. The churches are being challenged from without and within. Some of the churches have lost their love for witnessing. Others have become so enmeshed in the culture of the day that they have lost their effectiveness. False teachers in the churches enticed members to succumb to the sexual temptations of the day, and thus they have been led astray. Others have been attracted by the lure of riches. On top of all their internal problems, the churches were experiencing increasing persecution by the state and by the religious institutions of the day, including the Jewish community. All the churches have been addressed by Jesus himself through John the Apostle, with gracious offers to accept their repentance, but strong announcements of the consequences of failure to change their ways.
The deprivations and persecutions that the churches are now experiencing are part of God’s ultimate plan in some incomprehensible way. Their faith will be vindicated. The persecutors will be punished.
Revelations 6:1-8 The Four Horsemen
For the past two weeks we have been looking with John through an open door that leads to heaven. God’s throne is the central element seen, and the throne is surrounded by 24 additional thrones. Four unusual appearing living creatures are seen. And finally, John sees the Lamb that appears to have been slain, now standing before the throne.
Also, we noted that John sees the whole spectrum of time all at once, from the fall of mankind to the final events of time in which every knee in heaven and earth and under the earth and under the sea, join in praise and worship of the Lamb. There is no clock any longer. Every event of time is eternally present. God sees all of history at once, and John is given a glimpse of what this entails.
The Lamb received a scroll sealed with seven seals. We discussed the possible contents of the scroll, and then suggested that it contained the covenantal deed to the whole earth that originally belonged to Adam, but was taken from him by Satan at the time of the fall.
This week we will begin to see the scroll unsealed. The unsealing is not a benign process. All of Satan’s fury has been directed at the Lamb and subsequently to his body, the church. Also, as sin took the deed to the earth from man, payment must be made by man to regain the deed. That which Adam sowed, his children will have to reap. It is not a pretty sight.
Rev. 6:12-17 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,
for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?
It is hard to read this without seeing it as a true end-time picture. It sounds like the last judgment is about to begin. But it could also refer to the moment of Jesus crucifixion. At that moment all history changed. Satan was defeated. His judgment was established, and we will see the consequences of this near the end of this book (Rev 20). The sky was darkened, and all history was rolled back like a scroll. Now history made sense. Jesus established himself at the true heir of mankind and of the earth, and he inaugurated his new kingdom.
John could well have understood what he was seeing from his reading of Isaiah and Joel.
Isaiah 34:1-4 Draw near, O nations, to hear, and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.
For the LORD is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their host;
he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
the mountains shall flow with their blood.
All the host of heaven shall rot away,
and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall,
as leaves fall from the vine,
like leaves falling from the fig tree.
God is the God of history. All things and events are under his control. Nations rise and fall, but only with his permission and at his command. The apocalyptic picture John sees has been seen by many a nation in the past, and especially by Israel itself.
Revelation 8:1-13 The Seventh Seal
Until now there has been a lot of activity in Heaven as John looked through the door into it. There was music, active creatures and elders, myriads of angels, martyred saints, prayers, songs of worship, and for the past two weeks the pounding of hoof beats.
Today the seventh seal is released and it is accompanied by silence. Some commentators suggest that the seal had no content. I think will find quite the opposite today.
The sixth seal was opened in chapter 6.
Rev. 6:12-17 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?
Last weeks study of chapter 7 was an interlude, an interruption, placed to encourage the believers that God is on the throne and that all they are suffering will be well rewarded.
Now the last seal is opened. The sixth seal sounded like a description of final end times. The 7th seal expands this view. It occurs during the final judgment. Although the final judgment was inaugurated at the crucifixion it is not complete until the last and final day, which is still ahead of us.
Revelation 9The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets
Last week four trumpets sounded. They wrought havoc on earth and possibly on the universe itself, but most men were spared the consequences. The intent of the trumpet plagues was primarily to punish unbelieving man, but it was possible that they were redemptive for some. The trumpets resembled the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26; 7:20-21; 10:21). The response of Pharaoh and the Egyptians was a hardening of their hearts rather than turning to the living God. At the same time the plagues were directed to the redemption of the Israelites, God’s chosen people.
As you recall, the intent of the seals that were loosed was to bring the believers to repentance and to strengthen them in their faith. The unbelievers could still be drawn to the faith. With the trumpets turning to the faith will be harder, and most hearts will be hardened as in the days of Moses.
Today’s lesson begins with the ominous words of the 13th verse of chapter 8: Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”