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Archive for the 'Gems in Revelation' Category

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 132 - Revelation 3:12
The city of the name

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 Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.


11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Names are important in the letter to Philadelphia. People are named for one of 3 reasons:
i) the parents liked the name, the way it sounds or some association it brings to their minds;
ii) it is a family name handed down through the generations - though that may be a trap as some names may go very out of fashion, for example someone who ought to be call Euphemia, a very old fashioned and clumsy name in our culture, may be called Effie for a generation or two and then that is boiled down to Fay, a much nicer sounding name;
iii) the name may be given to express the character and personality of the person.
All 3 can be found in the Bible but the important one for our purposes is the last, the name that expresses personality and character.

To start with the name of the city is significant, phila = love and delphia = brother, so brotherly love.

The small Christian community in the city did not enjoy brotherly relations with the Jewish community. The latter would have been a large and respected part of the city with many good buildings, big houses and a well understood part in the community including non-participation in some activities because of their belief in one god. The Christians would probably have been only a few dozen strong and from the poorer section of the society with no great respect shown to them.

 
So their problems were not with the pagan groups as in most of the cities that received letters but with the ancient people of God who they were always trying to convince should now be setting out to follow a convicted criminal Jew! Hence the talk about keys of David “ I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (referring to a new leader of the people; Isaiah 22:22) etc. They had survived and done more than just survive - they had used what strength they had well and earned the promise that they would be kept from further trials.

As a result they are told they will be pillars in ‘the temple of my God’, bearing the names of the great city of the new heaven and the new earth, the name of God and the new name of Jesus. That is a promise that all the power and personality of the triune God will somehow be theirs. That is a tremendous promise to them - and to us. That makes it well worth persevering in our walk with Jesus even if we have but little strength. It is not necessary to be a member of some great and famous church. A little struggling church will do provided it has ‘kept my word and not denied my name’.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 131 - Revelation 3:5
Walking with the Lord

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[a] of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits[b] of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

What a magnificent promise that is, walking with Jesus! Unfortunately it is not given to to all the church members in Sardis but only to those who ‘have not soiled their clothes.’ It is not hard to see why it was restricted to the few because the church ‘has a reputation of being alive, but you are dead’. There are few clues as to what the problem was. The majority of the church had ‘deeds unfinished in the sight of my God’. What that meant in the first century is not clear. But, sadly, it is a description that can all too easily be applied to many churches today. Too many, in this country at least, are hives of activity with all sorts of things happening but seem to be more social clubs than true centres of spirituality. Perhaps that was the problem in Sardis; it would certainly fit the scant evidence we have in John’s description.

What, in our day, are the necessary aspects of a church which is truly alive? There has to be plenty of activity to be sure. What is truly important is where is the focus of what goes on. It must be Jesus, his worship, living in step with him and his promotion before all. To accomplish that a true and accurate study of scripture is essential. That is always necessary but it is not sufficient. It is possible to have the scripture properly studied from the front and yet the focus not to be on Jesus. It may instead be on people in general, or the leadership, on those in the church, or those outside the church, on organisations within the church, on the vigour of the worship, on the splendid accuracy of the doctrine taught in the church, on how modern they are or how well they maintain ancient thinking. It may even be on the building, on the finances, on the splendour of the robes worn by the leaders, and a hundred and one other considerations, worthy in themselves but not the appropriate place to focus the efforts of the fellowship.

It is never possible to be sure what is happening. It is easy to set up an organisation to keep a check on things like schools or hospitals. A count can be kept of how many students have passed external examinations at a good level or how many patients have survived difficult and dangerous operations, but it is not possible to send someone in to check on what is happening in a church. That would have to be in terms of how deep its spirituality is, which means, of course, what progress are people making in following Jesus, something largely well hidden from the sight of all but the Lord.

All this means that no one is a good Christian because they go to church, read an internet site like this every day, were baptised as a baby, belong to a Christian community, hold a passport which says ‘Religion - Christian’ or reckon they are ‘a decent, good living person’, once upon a time went forward at a big Christian rally, were ‘born again’ that way or any other way, and so on. No! Things are much more difficult than that. Ultimately only the Lord knows who are truly his. We may have a good idea of whether we personally are or not if we are honest enough, but not really anyone else,

Being a true follower of Christ is a process, not a once off single event. Of course lives start with a birth and all processes have a start point and this one is no exception. It may sometimes be so well hidden in our childhood or at the end of a lengthy process that we scarcely know when it all began. There should be no such doubt about the continuing process that follows.

Hopefully we, you who read this and I, will be amongst those who walk with Jesus, dressed in white as it says here, to signify our purity and holiness developed over the days, or months, years, or decades that we have been walking with the Lord getting stronger of leg and lungs and heart beat as we go. May it be so, dear Lord.

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Gems in the book of Revelation

Part 130 - Revelation 2:26
Given authority through Christ


 

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 Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.28 I will also give that one the morning star.

 

Jesus continues his imaginary journey through his churches in the city of Thyatira. It was another manufacturing centre though not as large as the last one, Pergamum. It seems to have had much the same problems as Pergamum. The main difference seems to have been that where the Christians in Pergamum had a rather fragmented fellowship with several splinter groups teaching different things these folk had only one split - though that a big one. A woman, here referred to as Jezebel (unlikely to be her real name), had a considerable following in the church. She was leading people astray, probably not teaching sexual immorality directly but encouraging people to enter fully into the culture of the city, which would rather inevitably lead to participation in various sexual events.

The reason for that was the same as in Pergamum: the necessity to be in a guild with its strict rules about who might or might not carry on a particular trade in the city. You had to be a member of the Guild of Bakers if you wanted to bake and sell bread as a business etc. You would then be required to attend a certain number of the regular feasts, eat the food provided, some of which would probably have reached the table via a sacrifice at a pagan temple, drink the alcohol provided, and participate in the general socialising, which might well include sexual activity with cult prostitutes. Much of that was contrary to Christian teaching. But ‘Jezebel’ was encouraging her disciples to full participation in all that went on.

Most cultures round the world today have not descended quite that far, but many are on a slippery slope headed that way. So what do we do? The depth of your problem will depend on what is going on in the particular society you are in, or would like to be in.

The fundamental principle has to be ‘no’. Of course, you may, with a clear conscience, do all you can to fit in with the society you want to be in provided you do not do anything that following Jesus would mean you should not do. The WWJD, What Would Jesus Do, slogan has rightly been criticised by many people but in this particular situation it is good and appropriate to use it.

We simply cannot step right outside our culture and society. When Christians have tried to do so, in Calvin’s Geneva, some early American States and so on, it has never worked satisfactorily. It is not possible to get those who have not set out to follow Jesus, of whom there are always some in every society, to follow the same pattern of behaviour as those who have done so. It cannot be done and shouldn’t be attempted. That is the way human behaviour has been since the Fall.

So we, who do strive to follow Jesus, must accommodate ourselves to the situation around us. To help us do so we have the great promises given to this church in Thyatira. When we set out to follow Jesus he comes to us, loves us in a new way and grants us the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, his Spirit. We receive something of his authority and status over all nations.

(The words are a quotation from Psalm 2:8, 9.) But we have always to remember who he was and how he behaved.

Of him it was said that ‘“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4). As we receive him into our lives we must be like that too. Tough, but infinitely rewarding.

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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 127 - Revelation 2:7

Eating from the tree of life.

As with all the other seven cities the ‘gem’ is in the promise that ends the letter following the words ‘to the one who is victorious’. To put those promises in context we need to read the rest of the letter in each case so it is printed first.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

These seven letters to churches in what is now west Turkey are not full of gems. They tend rather to analyse the specific churches and that implies finding faults. Only two, Smyrna and Philadelphia, escape without words of condemnation.

However each church receives words of encouragement towards the end of their letter following the words “To the one who is victorious, I will give …”, or some minor variation on it, and these we will consider gems, particularly as it is quite clear that the gifts are available for all people of all times who qualify in the same way as the folk for whom they were first designed.

What did being victorious mean in real everyday terms for people in churches under increasingly hostile attention from the authorities? It means having succeeded in moving forward along the narrow and difficult path that leads onwards towards the final great day.

The first and largest city in this journey of the imagination is Ephesus. The congregation in the church here are strongly criticised. They have done many good things but in doing so have failed to live up to the standards they originally set for themselves. It is not hard to form a story suggesting what might have happened:

By the time John wrote this the church in Ephesus had been going for probably at least 30 years. They had started off with a great flash of enthusiasm imitating Jesus as much as they could in all their relationships with their neighbours. But – guessing a bit - probably some legalistically minded guys had got hold of the reins of control and, with the best of intentions, set out to bring system to what was going on in so many small, diverse and apparently chaotic ways. They wrote down what should happen, made sure it did and generally brought order to a confused situation. Unfortunately in doing so they had succeeded in killing off that first flush of enthusiasm and leading of the Holy Spirit - they had never really begun to understand the Holy Spirit and how he works. That sort of scenario fits rather well the very brief comment about what was going on. Is it a familiar picture?

What is shocking is the depth of the punishment the church was to receive. Although it survived for a long time it eventually disappeared, as Jesus said it would.

On the other hand for those who survived the problems, sorted them out and returned to the attitudes of love that had motivated them at first, all would be well. The tree of life first appears in Genesis 2: 9 and in Genesis 3: 22 is described as the way to live for ever. It reappears in Revelation 22: 2 and 29 where it is clearly implied that it is the way to eternal life, which we may think of not only as a life that will go on for ever but one of the greatest possible quality to be lived on this earth here and now.

And the implication is that this is available for us!

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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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