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Archive for the 'Gems in John' Category

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 151 - Revelation 22:1-21
Come, Lord Jesus

So we come to the final chapter. The key word of this last chapter is ‘come’ but before we get there, John has some further thoughts on the glories of his vision of the last things. This is where we expect to arrive after the second creation, the recreation of this world of ours. It is the time when it connects with the other world in which the Lord God and Jesus live.


To explain it he borrows the vision of Ezekiel from his 47:1-12. The river in Ezekiel’s vision flows from under the door of the temple, where the Lord was thought to dwell more specially than anywhere else. John changes that to be a direct flow from the throne of God and the Lamb. As with Ezekiel’s river the emphasis is on the fertility that it brings to all on its banks.

We have no cities in this country where water flows down open gutters at the sides of the streets all the time. Yet they are a wonderful feature where they do exist. We have seen them in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan where they bring a delightful freshness to the feeling of the street. But those gutters are at the side of the street; John’s water flows down the very centre of the main street of the city. This water is more important than anything else. The emphasis is on the fertility flowing from the tree of life for ‘the healing of the nations’ (22:2). That seems to suggest that many will be healed that we might not expect to be. Not everybody will be healed. There is an awful list later in the chapter of “the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” they have to remain outside for ever. But the basic picture does seem to suggest we may get some real surprises when we see who has been healed and is reigning for ever and ever.

We are coming to the end of this strange and wonderful book. There is so much about heaven and the new earth we can never understand however it is explained to us. John has done a wonderful job in showing us as much as he can and challenging our thoughts and imaginations, stretching them to their outer limits. As he says his words are trustworthy and true (22:6). This chapter is a mix of words from John, an angel and then, from 22:12 to the end, actual words of Jesus himself.

Before we get to those final words we have some warnings. 20:11 suggests that there is an eventual cut off point after which no one will be able to change their destiny. If we have set out to follow Jesus there is no moment when we may say ‘I’m done’. We should seek to follow him to the very end of our lives. As an old song says in quite different circumstances ‘keep right on to the end of the road’.

The other warning-which is a rather worrying one for anyone who, like me, sets out to try and help other people to understand this book. Hopefully, as I have not tried to include everything that this book says, I cannot be said to have taken any words away from the scroll (22:19)!

The final message of this book is quite clear-it looks for the final moment when Jesus returns to earth, not quite this earth but the new, restored, redeemed earth. Jesus says he is coming. The Spirit and the bride (all God’s people) and last of all John himself ask him to come. And he will. Be ready. It might be tomorrow!

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 147 - Revelation 19:1-10
4 Hallelujahs

We left this remarkable book in chapter 14. We are now at chapter 19, which is the next one that anything encouraging can be found i7. The intervening chapters have given a harsh but accurate view of human nature and how human societies work. Rome has been called Babylon to connect it with the worst city, from a Jewish perspective, of the Old Testament. Only now do we find some ‘hallelujahs’ as John unfolds his vision of the future. To quote just one of them:
“Praise our God, all you his servants,
you who fear him, both great and small!”

Most of the intervening chapters are taken up with the fall and doom of Rome/Babylon. There is a dreadful warning here. Our world could not do without cities. As the number of people in country after country rises the size of cities grows. When I was a boy the population of London was 7 or 8 million, which made it one of the largest cities in the world. Now it is about the same size and a small city by international standards. The way human societies work cities are inevitable. They are necessary concentrations of expertise and workforces. In commercial terms they are therefore a good thing. But in spiritual terms their value is much more suspect. That is what the chapters I am skipping over are all about. The world would surely be a much more spiritual place if it was all small country towns - as it will have been in Old Testament times.

My reason for saying this is largely because we get a newspaper from London, reflecting London values, which are far different from those evident in a small country town. They are more ‘advanced’ in matters of ethics and spirituality. And such is the influence of London on the whole country that those standards will eventually come to us. There is a curious doctrine widely believed and seldom challenged that today’s ideas are always superior to yesterday’s. The world must be progressing. In particular old ethics such as we believe the Bible teaches are considered to be inferior to modern ethics, even when it is very clear that human happiness is not being increased by the changes. It is in cities that the rich dwell. In our world the gap between the rich and the poor or even the only moderately well off, is increasing all the time. This cannot go on forever but it seems to be doing so at the moment. Again, human happiness is not increasing in most of the world we live in.

John gets it right. After all those chapters about the fall of the city we have this chapter with no less than 4 hallelujahs ( = praise the Lord) in it. We live where we live and if that is in a city it is very unlikely that we will be able to do anything about it. What theses chapters bring to our attention, and what we must not overlook, is what is happening. We, the Lord’s people, do not set our standards by the standards around us. We live in the light of Jesus and walk in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5: 25).

March on - with Him.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 146 - Revelation 14:1-5
The army of God

The picture of the Lamb standing on Mount Zion takes us straight to Psalm 2:6-11 where we read:


“I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
7 I will proclaim the LORD’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.
8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.

What John has written here is clearly a pictorial representation of how that prophecy will be fulfilled. Here we have 144,000 marshalled as the army of the Lamb. Not of course an army, which is to go out with Kalashnikovs etc. but one, that is to fight with love and mercy for the glory of the Lord. As before this number is carefully judged so that when it was first written it might not be so big a number that everyone who heard it might presume that they would be included and not so small that they might worry that there was no room for them. Now it has to be several billion to have the same meaning for all the Christians alive today. They are a mighty army heralded with great natural sounds of water and thunder and great human sounds of harps and singing. In the early days when a Jewish army had to go to war they were instructed to abstain from sexual relations so that they might be symbolically as pure as possible. That is what is referred to here in the statement that the Lord’s army were to be virgins. It should not be taken literally. They are to be followers - the word so often used in the Gospels to refer to those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah.


Once again this chapter will be read between by those Christians in countries where faith is a nice comfortable way to live your life and in a very different way by those who live where to believe in Jesus puts them into an unwanted category and possibly constant danger.

Even in the comfortable countries there are points to note here. 14:4b-5 talk about following the Lamb wherever he goes - not just on Sunday mornings! And goes on to remind the followers that they have been purchased - at a terrible price; that they are but part of a mighty army - now found throughout the world in all except its most hidden corners; and that purity expressed as absolute honesty in every word is the mark of the true believer.

For the uncomfortable countries there is the promise of a future judgement when all the greatest citadels of evil will be destroyed and there will be eventually a terrible display of the wrath of God against all the wickedness and failure to worship the true and only God.

Perhaps the most important thing of all to note in this chapter is that after the great description of the Lord’s army we are not told that it was ever used. All the action is carried out by spirit beings. We are not to go to war on behalf of the Lamb.

However those days will call for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who are to keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

Dear Lord, please, may we so live that you count us amongst those, we pray.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 145 - Revelation 13:1-18
The Christian and the State.

There is another way to look at this chapter 13. It is not particularly encouraging but it is important so we will consider it. It is the contribution of this chapter to what the Bible says about the relationship between Christians and the State. The usual passage to which people turn for comment on this is Romans 13 where the clear teaching is that the Christian is to obey the State even if he or she does not agree with what the State requires.

1 Peter 2:
13 teaches the same thing. What happens if the State is teaching things that are completely against scripture? The classic case in the Bible is Acts 5:29 where Peter says: “We must obey God rather than human beings! Another example of this is the apartheid State of South Africa in the second half of the last century. What does this chapter say which might be taken as throwing a different light on how the Christian and the Christian church should react in that sort of situation?

There are several hints here that the Christian church may be colluding with an evil force. In 13:3 we read that the whole world was filled with wonder (at the recovery of the beast from a fatal wound - which is somewhat like what happened to Jesus!). Everyone follows the beast and worships the dragon. As a result it was given ability to promote its beliefs, and authority to oppose the Lord. Then the second beast comes and deceives the inhabitants of the earth (13:14). It deceives them to the point where they are forced to receive a mark (13: 16) on their right hands or their foreheads if they want to continue to trade in the markets.

In other words there was great evil abroad in the world and people were being deceived to the point where they were actually co-operating with the sources of evil. And it is not at all clear that those co-operating were only non-believers in Jesus. Believers may have been actively co-operating with the evil that was going on. Two obvious examples of this in the fairly recent past were the apartheid teachings in South Africa, already mentioned, and the church in Germany co-operating with the Fascists in the 1930s. No doubt there are other less obvious examples going on all the time in lesser countries.

The fundamental teaching of the book of Revelation is that evil is abroad in the world and it is to be resisted at whatever cost, up to and including martyrdom.

This chapter must be placed alongside those others that, speaking to different situations, seem to suggest that the state authorities must always be obeyed. This is a very tricky subject. I can only say I hope that comment may help someone somewhere as they struggle with what they should do when faced with an antagonistic state.

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Gems in the book of Revelation
(Authored by Roger Kirby)

Part 144 - Revelation 13:1-18
The opposition

What a chapter this is! It would seem there is nothing in it to find any sort of comfort from with its two beasts from the sea and the land representing the way mankind finds itself governed, the mark of the beast and the number of the beast, 666. But if you look deeply and carefully there are some comforting lessons to be learnt from it.

The first is the fact that there had to be three symbols of evil, one was not enough, it couldn’t get anywhere by itself. The dragon of chapter 12 thought he could catch and deal with the woman who represented the people of God but he couldn’t. First she was given wings and flew away from him. Then when he hoped to catch her in a flooded river she was saved by the earth swallowing the river. The dragon could not defeat the people of God because the Lord was protecting them, even in their difficulties.

So he called forth a beast from the sea (the sea in Jewish thought in those days was the realm of evil - they didn’t trust it!) and set it to work. In a shortened version of the account of the 4 beasts of Daniel 7 he gets quickly to the fourth, the Roman Empire that had conquered the whole world (that they knew), controlled it, taxed it and boasted of the peace it brought. But even that was only going to last for forty-two months, three and a half years again. So its sway was not going to be forever but only a comparatively short time. And the beast had to be given all the things that it had: authority, power to wage war against the Lord’s people and power to imprison whoever it wished. (The regimes in some countries are seeking just those three things today). But all those did not give it the ability to do what it wanted so another beast came from the earth to help.

That beast, third member of the trinity of evil, had power and authority over all communications. It did not just put a spin on the news it produced fake news! That has rather a contemporary ring to it as I write this. Our world is up to its ears in a gross mud of false information. Everyone thought the power to send communications round the world in no time at all would be a good thing but we are discovering that fake news, porn, commercial interests and personal slander have taken over the Internet. Like the first beast this second one can only proceed when it is ‘given power’.

There is only one God. Many things that happen on earth are much easier to explain if you have two gods, a good god and an evil god. Then if something bad happens you can say the evil god is winning at that moment. But we cannot do that. There is only one God and when evil happens the Bible usually introduces intermediate agents like these here. That is not easy to understand but it seems to be the way things are. This chapter is emphasising that in the end only God has power and authority. Some of the things he does, or rather allows to happen, are very puzzling but that is the way it is.

This book of Revelation is very realistic in the way it deals with the things that happen on earth. We all live in nations that have governments that do not always act the way we would like. Furthermore they always seem to attract undesirable characters to them. The people in government always seem to take a delight in telling other people what to do and in getting as much out of it for themselves as they can. Very few governments can avoid the accusation of corruption. Even as I write more than one ex-president of a country is in court accused of corruption. All that is reflected in the remarkable images in these chapters.

Next to nothing in these chapters is to be taken literally. John did not expect his readers to think that there were real beasts, one with ten horns and seven heads (which heads were the horns on!) and one with two horns like a lamb. These are picture characters to express truths about evil.

The ‘mark’ that people were to receive (13:16, 17) is another picture. People have got all excited about things like credit cards, thinking the numbers on them might have something to do with the mark. John is talking about the way in which Christians were being excluded from some possibilities in the markets of the Empire because they were Christians. And the same goes for that these days wherever Christians are being excluded from some activities because of their faith.

Finally we come to the famous number 666 (13:18). It was widely recognized that this was the number of a man and if you added up the numeric values that letters had in some languages of those days (Greek, Hebrew) you got Nero Caesar. Much more important is the fact that the number is not 777! If it were it would be saying this was complete, consistent, perfect. But it isn’t. 666 is saying all this is incomplete, inconsistent and imperfect because the Lord God reigns. His son defeated all imperfections when he died on the cross. These chapters deal with some pretty awful things that happen on this earth of ours but the Lord God still reigns, our Saviour Jesus is at his right hand. They have the victory and are still in control whatever the appearances.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 143- Revelation 12:7–12
The Kingdom has come

In 12:10-12 there is a quite remarkable statement from heaven. Here it is:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”

It tells how events in heaven have effects on earth. How there is evil in this world and it is not just the individual evil of one person and another but a sort of evil that at times seems to be a general evil affecting communities as it did in Germany during the days of Hitler. How can this be? Many people wish that we lived in a world where nothing ever goes wrong. There are never natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Where people never die young because of diseases. There are never accidents on the roads that kill and injure people. Where good people live long and wicked people die young.

They never stop to think what a boring world that would be! If there were no earthquakes there would be no mountains because no part of the world would ever clash against another. If there were no diseases we would all have to know how old we would be when we would die - everyone would have to die on the afternoon of their 70th birthday! No accidents on the roads would only be if no one ever drove at more than 15 miles an hour. Everything would be carefully mapped out so that we would know in advance what was going to happen. What a terrible world to live in. God understood that so he created a world of infinite variety for us to enjoy - and sometimes make a mess of.

That is what is described in these verses. There are rulers and authorities and powers in this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms as Paul put it (Ephesians 6:12).


They have all been triumphed over by the blood of the Lamb as our portion puts it but they are not yet all dead and buried. Many of our brothers and sisters have had to die ‘12:11. But God is in control of what happens. He has put us in this sometimes awkward world that we sometimes do not like because it doesn’t quite work the way we wish it did.
 
Thank you Lord for this world in which we live. Thank you for all the bits we do not like. May we ever be faithful as so many of our predecessors have been.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 142 - Revelation 12:1-6
The woman, her child and the dragon.

Chapters 12-14 constitute the central story of the book of Revelation and a mighty strange story it is. More even than the rest of the book, it is concerned with the context to which John was writing. It is about the small fellowships in the Roman Empire either suffering persecution or fearful that they will do so very soon. That means it is difficult for us to understand and get any good teaching out of it unless we too are under persecution or liable to be so soon. Probably the majority of you who read this are not in that situation - but some of you are. So my job is particularly difficult: to find any good things for both sets of you. But let’s see what we can do.

The easiest identification is the boy child who must be Jesus, identified by the reference to Psalm 2: 9. The woman must be those who believed in Israel. She is a sign and the description and subsequent event mean she cannot be Mary the mother of Jesus, although that Mary had the great privilege of representing the holy nation in bearing Jesus. The dragon is also known as Satan. He is cast down from Heaven (12: 10), an event to which Jesus refers when he says

He saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven (Luke 10: 18). (There are an amazing number of references to the Old Testament and the Gospels in these chapters. We will look at just some of them.)

We are seeing again, as we have done many times in this book, that all the problems of earth, particularly those affecting whole nations, are but pale reflections of the troubles there are in heaven. We see nation colliding with nation driven on by leaders who think theirs should be the greatest so that they are the greatest. It all looks very earthy. Revelation teaches us that there is another higher realm in which such things also happen.

The church was under attack from the Roman authorities and the future would probably be even worse. But the church would find refuge in the wilderness, not the real wilderness, as Israel had done centuries earlier when they fled from Egypt and Pharaoh. It had been an ordeal then and it would be in the next few years but as Israel for all its struggles and weaknesses had successfully come through the wilderness to reach the Promised Land so the people of God that John was writing to would come through all their difficulties to be with the Lord eventually.

And how long would it take? 1,260 days is three and a half years (with 360 days in a year - oops!). A complete period of time was seven years so this was a shortened version of what it might have been. This was an encouragement, for them, for us. Persecutions never last forever and the church often emerges from them stronger than it was when they started.

That is the encouragement that you must take from these verses if you are in a part of the world where there is persecution now. If you are in a part of the world where there is no serious persecution you must pray for your brothers and sisters where there is and be prepared to give them practical aid whenever possible.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 141 - Revelation 11:1-18
Persecution is limited

Revelation 11 is yet another one where it is hard to find any very helpful verse. Gems are hard to come by! Yet this is the concluding chapter of the first part of Revelation and will have been designed to encourage the Christians of those days. And that is the problem: what is largely meaningless for us will have been full of meaning for them. We have to remember that this vision was designed to help and encourage the members of the seven churches and they were in a tricky position. It was clear that considerable persecution was likely to affect them very soon. The comments on Smyrna and Pergamum indicate that the problems had already started in those two cities. So we have to try and read this chapter as if we were them. Not easy, it is widely regarded as the most difficult passage to understand in all this difficult book.

There are many references to the Old Testament in these verses, not always from the bits we are likely to know well either. The prophecy of Zechariah provides the main structure for the vision. It is there (Zechariah 2-4) that we find a man measuring Jerusalem, two witnesses: Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the King, two olive trees and two pipes for the oil lamps. There are also many references in these verses to the writings of other prophets, particularly Ezekiel.

The fundamental question is: who are the two witnesses and why are there two of them. General opinion seems to be that they stand for the Christian church and all its members who are likely to be persecuted in the near future. Why two? Probably to allow reference to the two outstanding prophets: Moses and Elijah. Elijah was taken direct to heaven rather than dying. In spite of the account of his burial in Deuteronomy it was also widely thought that Moses went directly to heaven. Moses was the prophet of words above all else (in spite of what happened in Egypt) and Elijah was the great prophet of action. So they were good models of what the infant churches should be.

Seven years represented an ideal length of time so half that, listed here as 42 months or 1260 days, represented a shortened ideal period, a set short period, not a long one. So for a short and defined period of time the churches would have a significant and successful time of witness in which many would come to faith. Then the beast (Rome, through the emperor) would attack them, persecute them, kill many of them until the whole Christian movement would appear to be dead. Usually when you are dead you are dead but this is the book of Revelation where such logic does not operate! But then they would revive, life would come to them as it did the bones of Ezekiel 37, and they could look forward to golden days of life in heaven and, of course, life on earth.

Here is the gem of this chapter. It looks as though we too in many parts of the world may be facing a period of greater persecution and loss of freedom to witness coming from both secularism and Islam. We too can rely on these things not lasting for ever and eventually there being a great revival when the Spirit wind of God comes back and breathes on the bones of the church to make it once again a mighty force in all the world.

It was said a long time ago that the ‘blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’ and that has proved to be true many times over. It has seldom, or never, been so obvious as what has happened to the Chinese church over the last 70 years. Most onlookers reckoned the communist take over in the 1950s would be the death of the church but when the oppression finally eased in the 1980s it was discovered that the tiny church of the 1950s had grown many times over and was amongst the strongest and most vibrant churches of any country in the world.

How we react to all this will depend very largely on which country we live in. Many of us are fortunate enough to live where these things seem only remotely possible. For a few of us it may well reflect the future for the church in your country, not a prospect to be welcomed, even if the outcome will eventually be good. We are but human and can only reflect the situation we are in and are likely to be in for years ahead.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 138 - Revelation 6:9–15
Patience!

The first four seals gave us an all too accurate picture of the state of the world caused mainly by the failure of mankind to resist the work of the devil. The obvious question to ask is why. Why does the Creator God not take action to stop the world; to judge mankind for its great errors and renew the world right now, without further ado. The fifth seal answers that difficult question by telling us what the view of the martyrs for their faithfulness to Jesus is. No wonder they took this position for, if the Lord God had acted sooner they would not have been martyred. So their great cry is “how long, oh Lord, how long”. They want the great judgement to begin right now and so they would be avenged.

They have to wait, in the same way as in Genesis 15:16 Abraham, impatient to secure the land he had been promised, was told that he had to wait until the sins of the Amorites reached their peak and they were only then to be judged. So the martyred ones had to wait, and so do we. It is tempting to suggest that our current world has seen the zenith of the activities of the first two horsemen: the conquest by leading individuals of first one country or part of the world and then another; and in Fascism, Communism and extreme Islam the pinnacle of attempts to reorganise people at whatever cost; the height of the pressures of of famine and disease are still to come in spite of our ever increasing ability to increase crop yields and control disease. Are there still to be world-wide crop problems and mega-uncontrollable diseases still to come? We must hope not but they would fit the situation outlined here.

In the meantime, before those things happen, perhaps the sixth seal is suggesting that there will be a great crash for the welfare of those who think they have it all. The picture John paints is highly symbolic. Earthquakes, eclipses of the sun, and impossible events like stars falling to earth were the way that they talked of great calamities in his day. It seems that the fear of these things was greatest amongst the rich and powerful of the world. Serve them right we may think. But it does go on to say that everyone else also panicked in the face of what seemed to be happening. Perhaps the major plus here is that they would all seem to be recognizing that these events were part of the results of the judgement of the Creator God and of the Lamb.

We, like the martyred ones, have to wait in patience for God to act. He has a plan for the world. It has to descend to even more difficult situations before it will be ripe for judgement. In the same way as fruit picked too early when it is not ripe is no good so the direct action of the Triune God now would be too soon. We have to wait.

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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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