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Archive for the 'Gems in John' Category

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 133 - Revelation 3:21
Lukewarm

The ‘gem’ is in the promise that ends the letter following the words ‘to the one who is victorious’. Here is the rest of the letter :
4 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The last of the seven cities is probably the best known one. Laodicea was the most important and wealthiest of three cities relatively close together in the Lycus valley. Unfortunately, it did not have a good water supply of its own so it had to get water from the other two; from Hierapolis where the water came from hot springs and was heavily mineralised. By the time it reached Laodicea it was lukewarm and not really drinkable. Alternatively, the water from Colosse was cold mountain water but it had to come so far in the heat of the day that it was no longer cool but well warmed up. Hence the picture of the situation of the city as applied to the church - ‘neither cold nor hot’ and fit to spit out. The riches of the city were founded on banking, a medical school focused on ophthalmology (eye treatments), and a particular type of black sheep’s wool. All these facts are used in the description of the church as being ‘poor, blind and naked’.

It all adds up to the most remarkable description of any of the churches in terms of their surrounding situation. There is no mention of any sort of persecution or antagonism from neighbours, so we must conclude that their problem was apathy. There was simply nothing in their situation that excited any sort of positive reaction.

That is a situation all too familiar in much of the Western world. Because our culture says that everyone’s ideas are as good as those of the next person we encounter no real resistance to our beliefs except the sort of comment of ‘that’s what you think, that is fine for you, but I think differently’ we too can be described as lukewarm in our beliefs, and thinking we are doing fine as a society, a church or an individual when the reality is that we are spiritually ‘poor, blind and naked’.

The solutions offered are interesting. First there is the well-known ‘I stand at the door and knock … open the door ... and I will eat with that person’ statement. This is often used as a call to unbelievers to faith but, in context, it is a call to the lukewarm believer to let Jesus have a greater and complete role in their lives in the figure of having him sit down to a meal with the person.

Then there is the even more startling suggestion that the one who is a truly victorious believer will have a significant part in the final judgement ‘the right to sit with me on my throne’. The mind boggles at the very idea! It suggests that Messiah Jesus is so close to his believing people that he will share his sovereignty, his progress and even his justice with them. Yet it is in line with other statements in scripture: ‘Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world’ (Paul in 1 Corinthians 6: 2). What a challenge it is to live in a way worthy of such trust and confidence!

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 129 - Revelation 2:17

Puzzles in Pergamum

 

The ‘gem’ is in the promise that ends the letter following the words ‘to the one who is victorious’. Here is the rest of the letter :
To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

This letter to Pergamum is full of puzzles. We do not know what the things said about the church actually refer to, nor do we know quite what the gifts for those who were victorious mean. However it would be a pity to do only 6 gems for the 7 churches - so here goes!

Pergamum was a considerable city with more than 120,000 inhabitants. It had a vigorous and prosperous life so there will have been a great many small firms giving an active but somewhat chaotic life to it. This seems to have been reflected in the church. We do not know exactly what the imitation of Balaam implied - he seems to be vilified in the New Testament for what he did when the Israelites were in the plains of Moab although the Old Testament account scarcely seems to merit such ill favour. What the Nicolaitans taught we do not know. We can conclude that the church was a bit of a mess with several factions teaching things that were quite wrong.

Yet, even so the church had remained faithful through persecution severe enough to lead to the martyrdom of at least one man, It is probable that the main problem the church members faced when not being actively persecuted would arise from the need for those involved in the main trades to belong to the appropriate guilds. There will have been a Baker’s guild, a Butcher’s guild, a Tent Maker’s guild etc. The problem these caused members of the church was that they would hold regular social meetings, which members would be obliged to attend, at which there would be much feasting, much eating of food offered up at the idol temples, much drinking and much revelry often of a sexual nature. The big and contentious question was how Christian were to cope with all that. They were the same sort of problems that caused so much trouble in the church in Corinth and indeed in the churches all round the Roman/Greek world but seem to have been particularly acute in Pergamum since it is said to be ‘where Satan has his throne’ (Revelation 2:13).

Jesus told the members of the church to repent else he would ‘fight against them with the sword of my mouth’ strongly suggesting that things were very wrong and it is words and argument that are needed to put things straight.

As a result of all their difficulties and struggles the promised gifts for the victorious are ‘hidden manna’ and ‘white stones with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it’. Both those are puzzling. The best guesses seem to be: first, that the hidden manna is a reference back to the journey of Israel through the wilderness when they ran out of food. The people of the church in Pergamum will receive something, still hidden, which will encourage and sustain them for their onward journeys of faith. Second, the white stones are an even greater mystery, particularly in the matter of whose name is on them. Pergamum was built on a very dark, almost black, rock and white stone tablets were used for inscriptions. Was the name the very special name of Jesus “ that no one knows but he himself” mentioned in Revelation 19:12 etc.?, It is possible. Or was it the new name that was to be given to every disciple to fulfil the prophecies of Isaiah 62:2 (“The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow”). This latter would seem the most likely. They would be given a new name signifying a new start in life and a new relationship with the Lord.

The problem of fitting into the culture we are in and in which we have to live is very real for us all. The promises of new spiritual food and a new relationship with the Lord are wonderful promises for us all. So despite the puzzles of Pergamum there are good and rich things to be learnt here.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 128 - Revelation 2:11

No second death.

 
The ‘gem’ is in the promise that ends the letter following the words ‘to the one who is victorious’. Here is the rest of the letter :

8 To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

The church in Smyrna had its problems and was soon going to get more and greater ones! We don’t know how John knew enough to say this unless it was a prophecy. More serious persecution was coming their way. It wasn’t a rich church, as people normally counted richness, but they were rich in the way they lived their lives, particularly their spiritual lives. Jesus, through John, is promising them that he will be with them whatever may happen to them so they should be high in confidence, in courage and faithfulness. Then he makes a promise to them that is hard to understand: “you will not be hurt at all by the second death”. There are two problems here: what is the second death and why should they be at all concerned about it anyway.

Second death is a phrase that only appears in Revelation at 20:6 and 14, and 21:8. The first of these says that those who share the first resurrection (with Jesus) have nothing to fear from it, the other two are both about ‘the lake of fire’. This seems to be about the place of everlasting torment often mentioned in the New Testament, particularly by Jesus in places like the parable of the sheep and he goats where he says ‘depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire’ (Matthew 25:41) and this is ‘eternal punishment’ (Matthew 25:46). These statements seem very much at odds with the other things Jesus said.

There are places in the world where such language would be deemed right and proper by the followers of other faiths in relation to the ‘infidels’ but for those of us in the Western world it strikes a strange note. It may simply be a different way of expressing things where only analogies can be used but it still seems very strange.

The best way round the problem is probably the word picture drawn by C. S. Lewis in his children’s book The Last Battle (one of his children’s books about Narnia but they are full of deeply spiritual insights!). At the end of the book and the world all the characters, human, animal and mythical, are forced to look into the eyes of Aslan, the lion, who is the image of Christ. ‘When some looked the expression of their faces changed terribly - it was fear and hatred …. And all who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to his left and disappeared into his huge black shadow …. The watching children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in at the face of Aslan and loved him though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the door, in on Aslan’s right. …’.
‘I don’t know what became of them’ is a very wise comment we should take for ourselves.

The faithful people of Smyrna did not have to worry about such things for they would not ‘be hurt at all by the second death’. The same goes for all those who are faithful in these days!

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 126 - Revelation 1:16

Words

 
The main theme behind much of this passage and right on into the next two chapters about the seven churches is words, summarized in the image of the sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. John was on the island of Patmos ‘because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’, which probably means he had been banished there because the authorities did not like the effects of his preaching, his words, in his home area. Then the ‘voice like a trumpet’ tells him to write things down. That instruction is repeated in 1:19. All these are about words, conveying to people the message about Jesus and his kingdom.

All of which gives us some major problems in this 21st century. As never before including the time John was living, the emphasis of communication is switching from spoken and written words to pictures. Never before have people been able to produce pictures as easily as they can now in this age of computers, laptops, ipads and smart-phones. There used to be a saying that a picture was worth a thousand words but that is no longer true. Too many pictures are how too many people want to be entertained and informed. Pictures, moving pictures on these devices, suffer one great disadvantage - they are swiftly gone and cannot be easily recalled while a book can be read, referred to, looked back at and generally thought about before one moves on.

What would a truly modern day image of Jesus look like? He would not have a sword representing words coming out of his mouth; he might well be carrying a laptop shining with golden radiance all around it!

We must not avoid the implications of this remarkable change. In this country the original job of Sunday Schools was to teach the children of the poor to read so that they could read the Bible. What must we do to encourage people not used to reading to turn to the scriptures and read them, regularly consistently, in big chunks so that they get the sense of them properly, with true understanding so that their ideas are personally developed and not those implanted from some other authority?

 

Then there are the many millions round the world who cannot read anything in their own mother tongue because it does not yet exist or they are illiterate anyway. Do we support the agencies that are constantly working to try and remedy that situation?

The crucial part of the discipling that Jesus instructed us to do (Matthew 28: 19) is to lead people to understand something of the wonders of the Word that he has given us. That is easy for those of us who are written word oriented in much that we do. It is not so easy for the many more people who do not naturally turn to reading for their pleasure but prefer the many images of today. Our, your - the readers - task is to lead many more people to a proper understanding of the Word of God.

The seven stars and seven lampstands amongst which John stood, and was to work, were representative of all churches of all ages. Let us stand amongst them with something of the same sense of urgency and devotion that John did in his day and generation that we should teach those struggling with words.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
Part 125 - Revelation 1:9-20
A Portrait of Jesus
 

We do not know what Jesus looked like. Paintings, by Westerners, show him as a tall Nordic type, broad shouldered, blond and blue eyed. All of which is very unlikely. If we may guess what he looked like he was probably fairly small by modern standards, dark skinned, with black hair and dark brown eyes. It will have been his personality rather than his size that enabled him to walk through a crowd intent on lynching him (Luke 4: 30). I hope by now you are saying to yourself something like ‘so what, does it matter’. Of course, it doesn’t.

So when John wants to tell us what Jesus was like he says something quite different:

 

“and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:13-16).
 

It is an impossible picture if taken literally but it isn’t meant to be taken literally; it is a word picture. The different parts of the image are copies of Old Testament images. The ‘son of man’ is described in Daniel 7: 13 and is a figure of a human being but also stands for all the people of God. It was also the way that Jesus referred to himself. He did not say ’I’ or ‘myself’; he talked about himself as the ‘son of man’. The ‘robe and the golden sash’, the blazing eyes’ and the ‘glowing bronze feet’ are all reminiscent of the divine messenger in Daniel 10: 5, 6, who is described as a man but might be an angel or even Jesus or God himself. ‘White hair’ is like that of the God figure in the vision of Daniel in his 7: 9. The ‘sound of rushing waters‘ uses the image of the approach of God’s glory in Ezekiel 43: 2. His ‘face like the sun shining in all its brilliance’ resembles the ‘likeness of the glory of the Lord’ in Ezekiel 1: 27, 28. You will note that I have deliberately left out the image of the ‘sharp double edged sword’ reserving that as the next great gem for next week.

The whole picture is not a gem but more like a necklace of gems strung together to glorify our Lord. This is Jesus - beyond ordinary words to describe and therefore described with images drawn from Old Testament visions, with which it has much in common. Images like these have to be employed to try and give some impression of his glory.

The description goes on as he touches the worshipping John. He describes himself as the first and the last, which is the same as being Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet, so the A and the Z in English), the resurrected one, who will be alive for ever and ever. Therefore he is of the same status as the ‘Alpha and the Omega, the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’, all descriptions of God in the very recent verse 8. Thus we see something more than a hint of the Trinity in his self-description.

But in the end, it is no good me explaining the image or you reading about it - it is meant to be thought about and meditated upon. Do just that.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 124 - Revelation 1:5-6

What Jesus did and does.

To complete his great statements of the worth of Jesus in these first few verses of his book John describes something of what Jesus has done and is still doing. He lists 4 things he does or did: he loves them, he gave his life blood to free them from their sins, he welcomed them into his kingdom and he established them as his priests.

He loves us. The word ‘love’ appears only 3 times in the whole of this book as something about his attitude towards us. But … if a mother does not tell her very young baby that she loves it but spends her whole day looking after it, feeding it, cleaning it, rocking it to sleep etc. would we say she did not love it? Of course not. Her actions speak of her love louder than words. So it is with the Lord Jesus towards us.
He gave his life blood that we might be freed from our sins just as the ancient Israelites were set free from Egypt that they might travel through the wilderness to the promised land. We call that redemption. We have been the subjects of redemption and have a journey to make and a wonderful destination to look forward to.

He has made the world’s most unlikely kingdom out of us! Yes, we, you and I, are citizens of the Lord’s own kingdom. We have(at least) 2 passports. One is that of the country in which we live; the other is a passport for heaven. We do not need a visa to go there; we cannot be refused entry for the king of the kingdom will vouch for us at the point of entry. Finally for his fourth attribute John says we are now priests. All of us - not just those that wear special coloured clothes and funny high hats. We have direct access to the Lord of all. We do not have to go through any intermediary, no one is a superior being with better access to Jesus and Father God than us.

To confirm his ability to confer these glorious things upon little you and me John describes him as the Cloud Rider (1:7). That was an Old Testament description of the Lord God himself. King David describes God that way in Psalm 18:6, 9 - 13. Isaiah describes the Lord as ‘riding on a swift cloud’ (19:1). In his prophetic vision of Jesus Daniel sees him that way in his 7:13. What a God we have in the person of Jesus - to him be glory and power for ever and ever! (1:6)

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