Friday, June 29, 2012
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father— to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “ who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Many commentaries place these 4 verses under the moniker of 'Greetings'. While there is indeed that element, we cannot discount the fact that there is much more going on here than just a simple greeting.
John explicitly tells us that this letter is aimed at the "seven churches of Asia" v4. Grace and peace are given, not from John, but from God the Father and the Holy Spirit and the Son and also from the seven Spirits. John does not elaborate much on these except to tell us that the seven Spirits are before the throne of God, which tells us they are in direct contact and communication with Him, like generals who meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to plan the strategy of the battle.
John's exultation of Jesus is a thing to behold. This is not merely a mention in passing, it's a royal announcement! "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father— to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." v5-6 You just need to close your eyes and imagine you are at a formal gathering when the official announcer takes the invitation from the guest, turns to the gathered ones and belts out this litany. Just thinking of it wants you to kneel in His presence! And kneel we shall, along with everyone on earth, when He returns. 'Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess'
John makes it very clear that this is no ordinary vision; this is no ordinary letter he is sending. It is of utmost importance because it comes from the King himself. The one and only who has redeemed us with His blood, who has sacrificed Himself for our sins and who has become our pattern, our Lord. By doing so, he has made us priests to His Father...the Great King. The master of the universe. He eagerly waits for His return and here we see Him coming back in the clouds! What a glorious vision! What privileged communication and he is sharing ti with us.
Verse 8 are the first words which we hear from His lips...a proclamation of who He is. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “ who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. So in essence He is saying, I am the beginning and the end. He was not only the present during the creation of the world...the literal beginning for us...He is also the end of all things. He encompasses everything..eternal..never ending..never beginning since He existed before there was anything but Him. This is perhaps the simplest He can even express Himself in which we may even have a chance to comprehend part of Him.
John wants us to realize that what he is saying and communicating to us is of the utmost importance because it is coming directly from a source that is of utmost holiness and power...from God Himself. What will be following then is pure grace...simple and unadulterated...pure and powerful. It's like when Jesus was talking and says, "Those who have ears, let them hear." So let's pick this apart.
1) He brings this special news to the 7 churches in Asia
The number seven is important in Biblical theology. God made the earth and everything associated with it in six days, and he stopped on the seventh. Most translations tell us he 'rested' although hat is an incomplete translation. It is more like He stopped because he was done and everything was perfect. The seventh day he sanctified...He set it aside as a special day for us. To rest...to remember..to give thanks and worship Him for what He did. The seventh day gives us time to rest in His peace...His grace and to meet together for worship. In this world at this time, this is something that is becoming harder and harder to do. But we as Christians, have more of a responsibility that everyone else to understand and to communicate the importance of doing this simple act.
[Do you think this message is for us today as well as the seven churches in Asia? Why? Are we doing our part? What does the Sabbath mean to you? What should it mean?]
2) The message is coming from a very special source.
The source is spiritual. The message is coming from the triumphant Godhead. And triumphant He is! This was an important message to bring. Remember, John is an old man at this time, eagerly waiting for the Lord's return. This message could not have come at a better time for him or for the world. Christians all over the Middle East were being persecuted and tortured to death. John had witnessed his own fellow Apostles martyred and killed. He alone was to bring this message of hope...and warnings...to the Church...from one Faithful Witness to another.
The significance of the "seven Spirits who are before His throne" might be understood in the theology of Biblical text and how the ancients understood great struggles. Paul said:
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
This is common Biblical theme carried over from Old Testament times. The idea here is that the battles and struggles which we witness here on earth are really a reflection of the battles that are going on in the Heavenly realms. So we can associate these 7 Spirits which are before the throne of the All Mighty with the seven churches mentioned in Revelation.
Another example of this is found quite plainly in the book of Daniel. I might also add that Daniel and Revelation are often studied in unison. This is because many of the events found in the book Daniel are also repeated in the book of Revelation. There are numerous commentaries which are written about this but one of my favorites is from one of my former Seminary professors, "Daniel and Revelation: Riddles or realities?" by A. Berkeley Mickelsen. I highly recommend you read it if you get the chance.
12 Then he said to me, “ Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. 14 Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.”
Here we have a classic confrontation between good and evil. The angel tells Daniel that as soon as he started praying for understanding, the angel left and was coming to Daniel, but he was by the " prince of the kingdom of Persia". This evil spirit is associated with the country of Persia, but importantly with the King over that territory. This evil spirit was so powerful, that if it were not for Michael, one of the chief angels we here about in the text, that he would likely not have even gotten there, having been stood up for 21 days prior. This is an amazing story! It illustrates exactly what the Biblical text and the writers have told us. Our conflict on the earthly realm is a reflection of goes on in the Heavenly (spiritual) world!
[Do we believe in angels? How about demons? Many popular movies and books of the day have a good vs. evil theme. Is that the same thing? How should a Christian respond to the events of today? Study of the end times is called 'Eschatology' in theological terms. Do you think we are in the 'End Times'? Why/whynot?]
3) This message is all about Jesus
Lastly and most importantly, this message is by and for Jesus and for the people of Jesus. This message is a gift of holy revelation. It explains why Jesus should be considered Lord and it proclaims that Jesus is coming back. It is He who is THE Faithful witness. It is He who loves us. It is He who was pierced for our transgressions. It was He who elevated us to be a kingdom of priest's for His name sake.
This same Jesus who was condemned by his own people, crucified by his own people and buried by his own, will come again and show the whole world just what power He has. This sets the stage by which we read the rest of the message. We cannot help but be intrigued. We cannot help but want to hear more. In literary terms, this is the 'hook'. We know about Jesus, but now John is setting the stage to hear another part of the story...one which we have only heard bits and pieces of up till now. This is one part we cannot miss. I for one am looking forward to what is coming, when everyone shall see Him...and acknowledge Him as the one true God!
What's that He says? “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “ who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” v8.
Amen and Amen!
[ Has your idea of who Jesus is and what he has done changed in any way from reading this passage? How? Are looking forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face? Why/Why not. What is the picture you get in your head when you read these passages about Jesus' return? What feeling does it evoke?]
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Background: I am teaching Revelations this Fall and decided it would be beneficial for me to go through the entire book verse by verse. What will follow in the coming days is a digest of that study. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am enjoying doing it!
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Tradition has it that Revelations was written by the Apostle John while he was an old man on the island of Patmos. In Biblical times Patmos was located off the coast of Phrygia which is part of what is now known as Turkey. The island of Patmos today is part of Greece. Located among the Sporades group of islands in The Aegean Sea near the west coast of Turkey. It is a small member of the group of islands, measuring only about 6 by 10 miles / 10 by 16 kilometers, with a very irregular coastline.
According to Eusebius, John was sent to Patmos in the year 95 by the Roman emperor Domitian and was released about 2 years later. Since he, and all of The Twelve Apostles were roughly the same age as Jesus, John was probably well over 90 years old - making him very likely the only apostle to survive to old age. All the rest were martyred earlier. (If you want to read more on the martyrs of the Early Church, I recommend "Fox's Book of Martyrs". The link will take you to a free PDF download.)
It was on this island where John wrote the Apocalypse. 'Apocalypse' is derived from the Greek word apokalypsis. It's often used to describe a great devastation or cataclysm, the literal meaning of apocalypse is actually an unveiling, or revealing. That is where we get the English translation of the Book Of Revelation (or, perhaps more accurately, revelations, since it reveals many things).
The first part or Revelation is a prologue, which is common in writing of the time. It sets the stage, so to speak, of what is to come.
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
John wants us to know, just like Paul did, that this revelation is not from him, but from Jesus himself. John is only the messenger of what he was given. This message was given to him in a mystical way by means of an angel directly to John. Later we will understand that visions that John saw, he did not always understand, but that he was faithful in relating them to his readers. Compare this vision with what Ezekiel saw in Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 37.
??In what ways are Ezekiel's visions the same as John's?? Different? ??
The audience of this writing are "His Servants" Some who are already born and some who are yet to be. A vision for the future..exactly when, we are not told only that it will be and that it will, "soon take place".
The Lord's timing has always fascinated me. Sometimes it honestly frustrates me as well.
?? Has John's warning been fulfilled? Why/Why not? When do you think? ??
3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
John calls people who read or speak or hear this message...and take it to heart...Blessed! Not just fortunate or lucky as I have heard some say, but blessed. The dictionary gives several possible meanings to this word. I think what applies here is 'divinely or supremely favored'. We are chosen by God to read this message, to speak this message and to take it to heart. Because, as John says, 'the time is near.'
Again we have the concept that this event is eminent. Something that will happen soon, perhaps in John's time. This is very common in Biblical prophecy. Many times the writers are presenting the message that these events will happen within the lifetimes of the audience, maybe even tomorrow. This is not a bad way of looking at the things that are predicted by God. Act as if this will happen soon and you will be more motivated to change your life around NOW rather than wait. Now, then it comes to changing your life is always better than 'someday'. The Bible even tells us that NOW is the time of salvation.
?? What state are the ones who hear this message? Why? ??
?? Again, when are the events to take place? ??
?? Why is it good to believe this? ??
?? How has this passage changed the way you think and/or act? Why? ??
I hope you have had fun going through this first part. There are very many exciting things in store for us to explore here. I am looking forward to it! Comments and constructive criticism are always welcome.
Friday, June 15, 2012
It was Saturday June 14th, 1975. Flag day. There was a band outside the church starting the procession through the main street of the town. They started with playing 'Taps' and the sound echoed throughout the church as the wedding began. I thought, "I hope this is not a portent of things to come." But as I looked, I had never seen someone so beautiful as my lovely bride as she was led down the center isle by her dad. We smiled, took hands and turned to the minister for instructions.
The service began and all of a sudden, from outside, came the Boom! Boom! Boom! of the base drums as the high school band started playing '76 Trombones'...and off they went. The Priest stated, "I have never had my sermon drowned out before and it will not happen now!" I had my doubts. The sound was loud. But as the band started marching down the street in became softer and softer. The church became quiet once more. The Priest had us kneel and then after a while he motioned for us to get up. Since I have ADD I was not really paying much attention and my bride stood up before me, which would have been OK if I was not kneeling on her wedding gown, which promptly ripped and everyone heard the sickening sound. 'Rrrrrrriiiiipppp!!!' echoed in the church which just moments before had been filled with the noise of drums and trombones and trumpets. I quickly got up because my bride was by then, shooting me with her eyes in an unapproving way.
After the ceremony we went back to her parent's house for the reception. Her family, being Italian-American (much more Italian than you could ever imagine) had things set up in a way where I was brought before the whole community and given the once-over by the Patriarch and Matriarch of the lot. I ended up kissing their hands and cheeks. My self-esteem floating away in the processes. Feeling quite doomed by this point and I remember just how much I wanted to get out of there.
But as it turned out, my wife and I have had a lovely and exciting life together and I am looking forward to many more exciting years with her. She really is the spice in my life and I love her with all my heart. We have remarked at times that this is a marriage which was made in heaven. After all, if it was made any where else, it probably would not have lasted as long, would it?
Jesus has planned a Marriage for us all as well. One that is certainly made in Heaven and one that will last for eternity! We read about it in Revelations 19. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. I look forward to that day when the believers are united with their true husband. The thought here is that this is ordained by God, it is initiated by God and it is for eternity! What a wonderful time this will be!
My question to you is, "Are you invited?" How do you know? This marriage feast is by invitation only. I am inviting you right now! All that you need to do is accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Think about it. There is no better time. If you do decide to accept Jesus, then you too will be united with Him in heaven for eternity. Certainly, a Marriage made in Heaven!