Revelation series, post #12

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Ask God to open greater understanding of Revelation’s message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Notice the response of the two groups that respond to the fall of the Great Prostitute – unbelievers first, and then the saints.
  3. Interpretation. Consider the original readers of Revelation as you read through this act – believers facing persecution and martyrdom for their faith. Ask what it would mean to them. Consider Revelation 17:6 and 17:1 and consider the relevance of the act to the original readers in their situation.

Act V Babylon, the Harlot, judged; 17:1-19:10

Setting

What is the setting of Act V from Rev 17:1-2? . . .

Judgement of the Great Prostitute. So who is the Prostitute?

Let’s firstly consider options for a literal interpretation. To the original readers, Babylon reminded them of their persecutors and time in exile due to sexual immorality and idolatry. It represents the evil that led them into sin. Rome at this time was often labelled as Babylon by Jews, so this could be one option. Other commentators say the apostate church, just as the woman is the Church faithful. Yet others have claimed the Roman Catholic church.

There are again a couple of options for a spiritual interpretation. Some claim that non-Christian world religion is subject to the whore; thus she represents idolatry against the true God. Others would say anti-God governments – killing God’s people and leading others into lives of sin as Babylon did to Israel.

Or simply the interpretation option of: “I don’t know . . .”

More importantly is the question: What is the relevance of this Act to the original reader. Consider Revelation 17:6 and 17:14 (as in the starting activity). We see this is God’s justice for His saints. The original readers would have had hope that they only had to endure a little longer. We don’t really need to know who the beast and prostitute are – because God wins and we win with Him! There is no trepidation for believers!

Now consider the big picture of this Act. The very beast that comes out to persecute the church destroys Babylon, the enemy of the church! God puts it into their hearts to destroy one another; God is in control and there is no need to fear!

Before getting into the scenes, we also need to consider the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns. This is the same beast as Rev 13:1-10 – the beast out of the sea. Some try to put a literal interpretation onto the 7 heads and 10 horns: such as Rome and 7 of its kings; or even (by an English commentator) kings of France ! Others try to place it with world Empires of the past and speculate on future ones. Others see the 10 horns ruling at the same time for one hour and prophesy a coming one world government.

The eighth is not merely one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God-opposed features of the previous seven concentrated and consummated; for which reason there are said to be not eight, but only seven heads, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.

Remember that they are all linked to the beast, who was and is not and is about to rise. The time when the beast “is not” is the time during which it has “the deadly wound”. This is a contrast to God: the Hebrew, “tetragrammaton,” or sacred four letters in Jehovah, “who is, who was, and who is to come”

Again, the identity of the beast is not that important. What is important is: Who wins? In Revelation 17:14 we see the winner . . .

The Lamb; the LORD of Lords and King of kings! Plus those with Him who are called and chosen and faithful.

Scenes 1-3

The first three scenes read a bit like an Old Testament lament.

Chapter 18 breaks my heart every time I read it. It is one of saddest passages of the Bible because it shows the heart of people who have turned against God. It shows the state of the people who refuse to repent. In these scenes we see the people of the world, unbelievers, mourning the Prostitute’s death. 

If this chapter doesn’t lead you to want to evangelise, then I don’t know what in Scripture will. The world is deceived. We need to bring the Gospel. We need to give our lives wholeheartedly to the preaching of the Good News! We cannot show people their need for God and His salvation if we live mourning the earthly pleasures we’ve given up to follow Him, or if we are still seeking those pleasures over Him. We must worship God alone. We cannot serve God and money. We cannot serve God and the world.

Revelation is a book of black and white. Either you are with God, or you are not. We must lay down our life for the Gospel knowing that we have inherited eternal life.

Scenes 4-6

Scenes 4-6 stand in stark contrast to the first 3 scenes. The first 3 scenes show the world mourning the Prostitute; scenes 4-6 show the praise of God by those in heaven. Worship is going on in the midst of all the destruction and chaos – by all His people, throughout all time.

Scenes 1-3 call us to evangelise; scenes 4-6 call us to worship. Seeing the brokenness of the world leads us to evangelism of love; seeing God’s victory and His awesome power leads to awestruck worship.

Scene 7

Then finally in Scene 7 (19:6-10) we get to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Act leads up in a crescendo: a great multitude praising the Lord and declaring the marriage feast of the Lamb has come. The original readers would be reminded that they have been made pure and blameless before God and that He is just and will not forget His promises. His timing may seem slow to them, but He will come and bring them to the great marriage supper.

The Bride to the original reader represented the church and they would see this as Christ having made believers pure and holy and justified – that they have nothing to fear because their future lies with Christ. This is what the original reader are told to endure for; this is what all believers are longing for: The Kingdom of God coming in its full glory when the Lord God Almighty will reign over all and we will be before Him as His spotless, pure Bride.

John is overwhelmed by this vision and falls down in worship of the angel, but the angel says “whoa! that is for God and God alone.

For the original reader, and us today, this book must lead us to deeper worship of God Almighty. Worship God despite what is going on around us. In the midst of all the destruction and chaos on earth, all the wars, violence and sickness He is still worthy of praise. There is no need to fear the evil in this world for Christ has conquered, and we have with Him.

Feel the emotions and atmosphere of this small scene. I’ve only seen Glenn cry twice from overwhelmed emotions. The first was on our wedding day when I was walking down the aisle towards him, and the second was when our son was born. Husbands, you know the joy and sense of wonder as your bride walks towards you, glowing and in white; imagine the joy of Christ as the waiting bridegroom. And wives, you know the joy and delight of walking towards your husband. Those of you who aren’t married, you still feel the anticipation and hope of the day. All these emotions and spirit cries are packed into this passage. This is the day we eagerly await. And what a celebration and feast there will be afterwards!!

Awaiting the marriage supper of the Lamb!

 

Next post we will get into the Sixth “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #11

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Ask God to open greater understanding of Revelation’s message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. The division of the 7 bowls into two groupings. Hints as to whether this is partial (for repentance), or final, judgement.
  3. Interpretation. Is this Act showing final or partial judgement?

Act IV; The 7 Bowls; 15:5-16:21

Setting

Where is the setting of Act IV as seen in Rev 15:5? . . .

Sanctuary of the Tent of Witness in heaven.

Note that Rev 15:8 is an allusion to the Day of Atonement that Israel kept once a year. The instructions for the Day of Atonement are found in Leviticus 16.

The 7 bowls: God judging man

This Act goes by quickly. The bowls are poured out in quick succession, displaying God’s complete victory.

Note that these judgements have no partial element to them; the time of God’s holding back and releasing only a ¼ and then a 1/3 is ended. This is Final Judgement!

These seven bowls once again have two groupings. The first four are distinguished from the last three, just as in the case of the seven seals and the seven trumpets. The first four are more general, affecting the earth, the sea, the sun, etc. The last three are more particular, affecting the throne of the beast, the Euphrates, and Babylon. Some of these later judgments are set forth in detail in chapter 17-20, again showing the cyclical nature of Revelation.

Note also that there is some correlation between the bowls and the trumpets.

Scenes 1-5 (Rev 16:2-11)

Scene 1 (Rev 16:2) – Notice that the sores are only on those who bear the mark of the beast.

Scene 2 (Rev 16:3) – In comparison to the trumpets, where a third of the living creatures in the sea died, here we see all the creatures dying.

Scene 3 (Rev 16:4-7) – In comparison to the trumpets, where a third of the fresh water is made bitter, here all fresh water from rivers and springs becomes blood. In this Act, the angels and the altar praise God for His just judgements against those who have harmed His saints; this is an encouragement to the original readers that their persecution is noticed.

Scene 4 (Rev 16:8-9) – Even in the midst of final judgement there is an opportunity for repentance!! How merciful is our God! And yet the people chose to curse God and not repent. This is the broken state of mankind.

Scene 5 (Rev 16:10-11) – The Kingdom of the beast is plunged into darkness, whereas at the forth trumpet one third of the sky was struck, and a third of the light darkened.  Again we see God’s heart in giving another opportunity for repentance, but again the people chose to curse God and not repent.

Scene 6 and 7 (Rev 16:12-21)

In Rev 16:13 we see what is sometimes referred to as the “satanic trinity,” as the enemies of God again seek to mimic Him: The Dragon (Satan), the Beast (beast from the sea) and the False Prophet (Rev 19:20 links the false prophet to the beast from the earth).

In scene 6 we see all the enemies of God coming together at Armagedon to do battle against God. Most people have heard the word “Armagedon” in association with the End of the World, and either watched a movie made about it, or read a book on it, or certainly heard opinions about it. Who remembers all the hype surrounding 2000? Lay all your preconceived ideas and previous exposure behind and let’s see what Revelation says . . .

The word Armageddon comes from two Hebrew words : “Har-Megiddon” (*Strong’s Bible concordance). Har means “mountain or range of hills”. Megiddon is a place in Manasseh in Galilee, but can also mean “rendezvous” (**Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible “says: “cut off” or “slaughter”)

Megiddo is a place of many battles of ancient history. It is in a strategic location that allowed control of trade between Asia and Africa. If you ruled this, you ruled trade and economy for the region.

Battle examples:

  • The Battle of Megiddo of the 15th century BC was fought between Egypt  and a large rebellious coalition of Canaanite vassal states.
  • Two great victories in Israel’s history:
    • 1) Barak’s victory over the Canaanites (Judges 4:15) and
    • 2) Gideon’s victory over the Midianites (Judges 7).
  • Two great tragedies in Israel’s history:
    • 1) the death of Saul and his sons (1 Samuel 31:8) and
    • 2) the death of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:22).

The original readers (who we must always come back to for sound interpretation) would be thinking “great land of conflict”.

Another great tool for sound interpretation is called “literary context” – bringing in context from elsewhere in the Bible. For example:

  • Joel 3 names “the valley of Jehoshaphat” as the scene of God’s final judgement.
  • Whereas in Rev 20:9, nations gather before Jerusalem and surround the camp of the saints.

The literal interpretation of this scene is that armies physically gather against one another at this place. The symbolic interpretation is that this is referring to, and showing aspects of, Judgement Day.

So what happens at Armageddon?

Read Rev 16:16 – Eish, scary!

But now read Rev 16:17 . . . IT IS DONE!”

Let that sink in! “IT IS DONE!”

Who wins? . . . God! God in a very decisive victory! There is no doubt about the end result. We don’t need to live in fear about who is going to come out victorious. Though all the enemies of God come against us, HE WILL WIN!

The application is easy: Live sold out lives from Christ, worshiping Him, sharing the Good News, and having peace because we know how the story ends.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

Next post we will get into the Fifth “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #10

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Ask God to open greater understanding of Revelation’s message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Who’s who? Make a list of the characters and their attributes (he imagery used to describe them) in this act.
  3. Interpretation. Try and see what you think some of the symbolism, especially numbers, around the characters might represent.

Division II = God’s view (11:19 to end)

We’ve seen what’s happening from the earth’s perspective; now we are going to see what is happening in the heavenlies.

Act III Cast of Characters; Revelation 11:19-15:4

Setting

Where is the setting of Act III (11:19)? God’s Temple in heaven.

Act 3 in big picture:

  • Scene 1 brings the Woman, Child and the Dragon
  • Scene 2 brings the Beast from the Sea
  • Scene 3 brings the Beast from the earth
  • Scene 4 brings the 144,000 back into spot light
  • Scene 5 brings 3 angels and the blessed martyrs
  • Scene 6 brings the son of man and 2 angels
  • The Intermission brings 7 angels with the last 7 plagues
  • Then finally the act concludes in Scene 7 with the conquers worshipping God

Let’s cheat for a second and skip ahead to the end of the act.

Read Revelation 15:1-4 and consider the question: “Who wins this Act?”

. . .

Jesus and those who conquer (His saints)!

There are different opinions on who’s who and when these events took place, will take place or are taking place, but remember that, through all of it, this scene again shows: the enemies of God defeated, God victorious, and the people of God worshipping Him as King over all.

Scene 1, the Woman and the Dragon (Ch 12)

The woman is shown to give birth to a male child that gets caught up to heaven and will rule with a rod of iron.

Who is the child?

. . .

Jesus (rod of iron – Rev 19:15)

So then, who is the woman?

Those who take a literal interpretation suggest the woman depicts either the Jewish believers, or Mary (although Mary is not as popular because of the time woman is in the wilderness and the woman’s other children are being persecuted).

Those who take a symbolic interpretation look at the 12 stars as again referring to the number of God’s people, and thus interpret the woman as symbolic of the church (all believers).

The symbolic interpretation would be the most encouraging interpretation for the original readers. They would look at it as God giving them nourishment and strength in the midst of persecution. They would see the “pains of childbirth” referring to the persecution of the church until Christ comes again to rule, but would be encouraged by the fact that childbirth is temporary and great joy comes at the end of it. Their pain and persecution is temporary, too.

So then, who is the dragon?

Remember we must first take meaning from the book, then the Scripture, and then only after conjecture.

Q: Who is the Dragon as per verse 9? . . .

= Satan.

And what of the different numbers that are linked to his imagery? He is seen to have 10 horns, with the number 10 representing worldly power. The 7 heads and diadems is linked to God’s perfect number, thus showing that he is setting himself up as God. This is not surprising since v9 says that he is the great deceiver. 

There are different options presented for the time frame that the battle in heaven is occurring. Some say this is the church age/ the age of tension that we are in now (time from Christ’s ascension to His second coming). People in this camp would say that Satan has been thrown out of heaven (consider Luke 10:17-20), partially defeated, but is still free on earth. Others would say he has already been bound in the bottomless pit as per Rev 20:2 and that we are in the millennial reign of Christ.

There are also two interpretations for Satan being thrown down. The literal interpretation would be geographical, where the symbolic interpretation would be in regards to his spiritual authority and power. Regardless of which option you side with, the original readers would see that Satan is here defeated in heaven, and in Rev 20:2 Satan is defeated on earth. This is ENCOURAGING;  God will prevail against Satan!

Consider who won in 12:7-8?  . . . Angels

Who was defeated? . . . Satan

And what is seen of believers in 12:10-12? . . . Overcame by the blood of Lamb (Jesus’ death and resurrection), their testimony (Gospel and our life), loved not their own lives (endurance). We are conquers thanks to the blood of Christ, shed for us!

Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Over chapters 12 and 13 we again see two sets of 3 ½ years. Chapter 12 has the saints nourished for 1260 days, and Chapter 13 has the beast allowed to exercise authority for 42 months. In Revelation, days are representative of good and months are representative of evil.

Scene 2 and 3 Beast from the Sea, and Beast from the earth

There are so many different interpretations for who these beasts are! Just whether you think they are literal (e.g. Rome and Caesar worship; different great empires of the world; Islam; Pope and Catholicism . . .) or spiritual (e.g anti-God government and anti-God religion) depends on your interpretative view of Revelation.

The first beast seems to be an amalgamation of the 4 beasts in Daniel 7 [but these are kingdoms in Daniel]. Remember that horns represent power and the diadem represents authority, so there is some kind of connection with governments. He dies and then is resurrected, again a counterfeit Jesus. But the end of the matter in Rev 19:20 is clear . . . he is destroyed.

The second beast appears like a lamb: another counterfeit Jesus. The main options presented include:

  • ? the false prophet
  • ? some link to the Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess 2:3-4)
  • ? some link to the Antichrist (1 and 2 John)
  • ? economic persecution (from v17)

Somehow the beast ties to false religion. But the end of the matter in Rev 19:20 is clear . . . he is destroyed.

The big picture here can be gathered be a repeated word: allowed.

  • 13:5 allowed to exercise authority
  • 13:14 allowed to work
  • 13:15 allowed to give breath

Implication: GOD IS IN CONTROL! The message for the original reader is a call to endurance (13:10) and wisdom (13:18).

In this scene we are also given the mark of the beast. Remember that the saints HAVE ALREADY BEEN SEALED BY GOD and in Rev 14:1 we again see the faithful church sealed by God!

There are two interpretations of the beast’s mark: Literal interpretation is that there is a physical mark – either his name or the number of his name. The symbolic interpretation looks again to Hebrew understanding of numbers. 6 is the number of evil, so 666 = evil evil evil. The original readers would probably be thinking more along the symbolic lines.

Regardless, the number of 666 should not create fear in believers! There is a mark given to believers (sealed in Christ!) and one for unbelievers; God is again symbolising two sides. People live in fear of this mark in things like bar codes, but to fear this is to say that if we make one mistake we lose salvation because we miss a barcode! Salvation is through Christ and Christ alone. And yet people live in such fear of losing salvation from a credit card or food product. If you are in Christ, you are sealed and you DO NOT NEED TO FEAR the mark of the beast!

Scene 4 brings the 144,000 back into spot light (14:1-5)

Remember that John heard the number 144,000 but saw a great multitude and we said that, symbolically, this was representative of all believers. But if it is in reference to all believers, why does it refer to them not defiling themselves, and remaining virgins? Look at the language that is used. Adultery in the Old Testament was a reference to the people’s idolatry against God; it was about God’s people being faithful to Him alone. Here the white robes are further symbolism of the purity of their faith and their blamelessness.

Scene 5 brings 3 angels and the blessed martyrs (14:6-13)

This is a preview to chapters 17 and 18, which depict the Fall of Babylon. It is a warning of the final judgement that has come and what will happen to those who do not turn from the beast to worship God.

What is the overall message of this scene given in Rev 14:12? . . .

It is yet another call to the endurance of the saints. The book of Revelation is all about encouraging the original readers, and all believers, to remain firm in their faith and endure the evils of this world until the end – because Jesus wins, and so do we!

What is the reward of the saints? . . . blessed rest.

What is the reward of God’s enemies? . . . judgement and wrath.

Who wins? . . . God and His saints!

Who loses? . . . Babylon and those who worship the beast.

Scene 6 brings the son of man and 2 angels (14:14-20)

Make sure you don’t miss the two distinct groups being marked here. The earth is reaped first, then comes the second sickle of judgement. This is another key message throughout Revelation: There is no GREY in God’s coming judgement. You are for God, or you are against Him; You have His seal, or you have the mark of the beast; You triumph with Christ, or you suffer with the beast; You enter eternal rest, or you enter an eternity of torment with no rest. This scene is yet another encouragement for the original readers, and ourselves: they are safe from God’s judgement that IS COMING against unrighteousness.

The Intermission brings 7 angels with the last 7 plagues

Anticipation of the final plagues of God’s wrath in Ch apter 16/Act IV.

Scene 7 concludes the Act with the conquerors worshiping God

What encouragement to the original readers and for us! This Act has called saints to endurance and their reward is worship of the Lamb in heaven and blessed rest.

Are we living as conquerors? Are we living as those who have overcome in Christ? Hold on to the truth of the Gospel, live a blameless life before God, and stand firm in your faith in the midst of the world’s evil.

 

Next post we will get into the Fourth “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #9

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Ask God to open greater understanding of Revelation’s message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Choose a coloured pencil and draw a line under the commencement of each of the 7 trumpets. See if you can find the Intermission of the “Act” and mark its commencement, too.
  3. Interpretation. Consider as you read the Act: Are these final judgement (or some of them)? What is the purpose of the judgements of the trumpets?

Division 1 = creation’s view

Act I looked at man judging man; now looking at creation judging man.

Act II The 7 Trumpets; Revelation 8:2-11:18

Setting

From Revelation 8:3, we see this vision taking place at the altar, and that the angel has a golden censer. In 8:4 we see that the censer is offering up incense to God with the prayers of the saints. Again, we see how comforting this would be for the original readers – the prayers of the saints rise before God as a fragrant offering, even as God‘s fiery judgements are about to descend on the Church’s foes. What an amazing encouragement to pray during times of injustice and persecution! God hears our cries and He is storing up justice against the persecutors of His people.

In Revelation 8:6 we see that 7 angels now prepare to blow 7 trumpets. Remember that the number 7 is God’s number of perfection and completion. Meanwhile,  trumpets in the Old Testament were used for the announcement of war. We know what is about to happen -> judgement and war are coming.

7 Trumpets

You will see that the 7 trumpets link to creation judging man. The first four are connected together and all feature an aspect of creation; for example, trees, grass, the sea etc. These could be literal future events, or could be referring to natural disasters occurring on our earth throughout the church age.

The question from “Try getting into the method”: are these complete, final judgement? 

No. These creation judgements talk about the destruction of 1/3. 

So then what is their purpose (see also Revelation 9:20-21)?

They are a call for REPENTANCE! We see this throughout the prophet books of the Old Testament when, in His great love and mercy, God constantly calls Israel and Judah to repent of their sins. God’s heart is always that people will turn and be saved. This needs to be our heart, too. Jesus calls us to bless those who persecute us. We are to continue in intercession and evangelism for those who are turned from God.

The last three trumpets consist of three proclaimed woes and all link to man’s life with pain, death, and hell. Woe in the Old Testament is always linked to a warning of God’s coming judgement. So again, God is using these judgements to call sinners to repentance.

You’ll also notice that the 7 trumpets use language linking the original readers mind’s back to the plagues of Egypt – God’s judgement on the enemies of His people. The Egyptian plagues were also creation plagues of natural disasters.

In the 5th trumpet (9:1-12) we have some funky locust-type creatures. Good literary context from the Old Testament is Joel 1-2. There are different opinions regarding the locusts and what they are. Popular interpretations include:

  1. Actual funky locusts (many believe they are literal)
  2. Helicopters
  3. Demons, as they come from the pit (what I believe to be most likely)
  4. Literal army of the anti-Christ

The big question: Should these judgements cause fear in the hearts of the original reader? Read Revelation 9:4.

They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

The original readers would not fear these locusts – they are sealed in Christ, just as we are! Ephesians 1 tells us that believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit and our position is above everything as we rest seated with Christ; do not fear. The book of Revelation should bring COMFORT to God’s people.

We see also in this trumpet that the locusts have the angel of the bottomless pit as their king. 

Apollyon literally means “destroyer”

Abaddon is the Hebrew word for “destruction”

So one translation is personified, whilst the other is conceptual. Abaddon/Apollyon is often interpreted as another name for Satan; however, Scripture seems to distinguish the two. Abaddon/Apollyon is likely one of Satan’s underlings, a destroying demon and one of the “rulers,” “authorities,” and “powers” mentioned in Ephesians 6:12.

What is the Bottomless pit?

  • Apollyon and the locusts come out of it in this chapter.
  • The beast who makes war against the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7-8 comes out of it.
  • At the beginning of the millennial kingdom Satan is bound in it (Revelation 20:1-3).

It may be associated with a place called Tartarus. This Greek word is translated as “hell” and is used only once in Scripture, in 2 Peter 2:4. It refers to the place where “angels who sinned” are reserved in chains of darkness for judgement. If Tartarus is the same as the Abyss, then the inhabitants of the bottomless pit are the same angels who sinned and left their first habitation.

Then the 6th trumpet (9:13-21) brings 200,000,000 cavalry. Revelation 9:14 tells us they are coming from the great river Euphrates, which is in the middle of modern-day Iraq. This was the edge of the Roman Empire. The population of Rome at this time (also the largest city in their known world at this time) was 1 million. The cavalry of 200 million was bigger than the earth’s entire population at this time. We see that they do not kill with a frontal attack but be fire, smoke and sulphur. 

There are two main views: (1) Anti-Christ battle to conquer the world (literal view); or (2) Spiritual warfare (amilleniumist) -> e.g. by drugs, suicide etc. Regardless, remember that God is in control of this. He is the One that released the four angels, and He is the One who had bound them for the specific time of their release.

Intermission

Again we have a pause in the release of the trumpets for an intermission. In this intermission:

  • (10:4) John is told to seal up the 7 thunders

This is a bit like Paul being taken up to 3rd heaven, but isn’t allowed to say what he saw. Try not to speculate; it is probably for our good John didn’t write it down.

  • (10:8-11) Then John is given a scroll to eat that tastes sweet but becomes bitter

There is a link here with Ezekiel 3, who also had to eat a bitter-sweet scroll. The Gospel is also often described as bitter sweet news -> bitter to those who reject Him and sweet, sweet news to those who receive Him.

  • (11:1-2)The Temple, but not its courts, is measured

God did the exact same thing in Zachariah 2:1 where the measuring of Jerusalem was a demonstration of God’s protection over His people. Note that He is measuring inside, but not the courts. In the physical temple, the courts were for Gentiles, so here it is representing unbelievers. The implication? God is saying: “I am protecting my people”. 

  • During this time of protection, we see that unbelievers are given free reign outside the Temple, in the city. But the time they are allowed is set -> 42 months which = 3 ½ years. And believers are protected, they are safe in God – again, no fear.  And then (11:3-13), after the 42 months, the 2 witnesses come to earth and prophesy for 1,260 days, which is also = 3 ½ years

Symbolically 3 ½ = part of time but add together = 7, which = perfect amount of time, God’s perfect time

Many interpretations for this period of two 3 ½ years. One interpretation = church time -> Age of Tension. The Age of Tension is where we live now. It is the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming.

Two main interpretations for the two witnesses: (1) Literal witnesses. Actual people who demonstrate amazing amounts of power and testifying to God. Favoured interpretations are Moses (plagues) and Elijah (shutting the sky). (2) Lampstands earlier = church, so referring to the church. Witnesses amongst lampstands and olive trees are also seen in Zachariah 4.

  • Come back to the big picture of this intermission: 

The saints are protected in the Temple of God. The two witnesses, the Church, testify and then are martyred. Yet they only die for 3 ½ days = small amount of time. Then God’s very breath resurrects them to life and they go up to heaven to God.

7,000 unbelievers are killed in God’s judgement of the city = God’s perfect number. And then the remainder give GLORY to GOD; the remnant come to God!This is an encouragement towards evangelism in the face of persecution, and even martyrdom! We need to accept the idea that we will be hated by the world, but by witnessing we can save some. Are we witnessing? Are we experiencing God’s power as we witness?

7th Trumpet

What happens with the blowing of the 7th trumpetJudgement for unbelievers, reward for God’s people, and complete rulership of Christ.

 WHO WINS? 

CHRIST!

AND?

The saints

What is our response as saints?

Worship!

This brings us to the end of Man’s view of judgement

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23)

 

Next post we will get into the Third “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #8

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Revelation is a visual book. It is told as an unfolding drama. It has been referred to as the message of the rest of Scripture, in 3D. As such, it is REALLY helpful to picture each scene. It is thus helpful to sketch each Act before studying it. This also helps you to connect with what the text ACTUALLY says, not what you have heard people say about Revelation. Take time now to draw Revelation 4 and then Revelation 5 – the setting of Act 1. Don’t worry if you aren’t an artist – this is for your understanding of the chapter!

Division 1 = man’s view

The book of Revelation can be divided into two main sections. The first section looks at man’s view of the judgement of God and the people of God, and the second division looks at events from God’s perspective. We’re in division one at the moment.

Act I The 7 Seals; 4:1-8:1

Remember, too, that I said we would be studying Revelation from now on like an unfolding drama. Today’s blog will look at the first “Act” of the play, with each act containing a “setting” and “7 scenes”; a couple of the acts also have “intermissions”.

Setting; 4:1-5:14

Setting, Act 1 – My sketch of the setting as per your activity. You can see that it isn’t the prettiest, but it really helps me “see” the setting!

Where does this vision take place (4:2)? The setting of this act is the very throne room of heaven.

Let’s look at some of the characters in the throne room and what they might represent, starting with the four living creatures, full of eyes. Firstly, the number four is representative of the created world. There was a Rabbi teaching at this time that said: “the mightiest among birds = eagle, mightiest amongst domesticated animals = ox, mightiest amongst beasts = lion, mightiest of all = man”. Thus we see in the four living creatures that the mightiest of everything is worshiping Him. The most accepted interpretation = all creation worships the Lord (because this would makes sense to the original readers). This is supported by Rev 5:13 (still the same setting) that says every creature in heaven and earth and in the sea worships Him.

The throne room also contains 24 elders. So who are they? 12 is the number for the church and God’s people (12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles). 2 is the number for companionship, strength and power. So some say that the 24 elders represent the 12 apostles and 12 patriarchs, whilst others say they are symbolic of the whole people of God (Old Testament and New Testament people of God; Jews and Gentiles). I tend towards the second interpretation and will be following through with this interpretation for the rest of Revelation. Notice that they are wearing crowns of victory and robes of purity; they are encouraging the original readers to hold fast to their faith and overcome their temporary trials.

In chapter 5 the setting continues to evolve with an angel asking the question in vs2: “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” Take note of the emotions in the book of Revelation; it is an emotive book. John weeps, because no one in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth was able to open the scroll.

But then who is found worthy in Revelation 5:5?

The Lion who conquered. As you go through Revelation, keep the big picture in mind. Keep asking: “Who wins?” Here, the lion wins. Jesus, the Lion of Judah is found worthy.

Once again the Trinity has now been depicted in this scene: the Father on the throne; the 7 torches equal the 7 spirits which are symbolic of the Holy Spirit; and now the Lion, Jesus, appears on the scene.

Now consider: what did John see Revelation 5:6?

The Lamb who was slain. Consider the significance of this image. The lion and the lamb are both symbolic of Jesus, but it is in His sacrifice that He appears worthy to take the scroll. Imagine what this would mean to the original readers; their steadfastness amidst persecution finds them worthy!

The image of the lamb may seem a bit intimidating, so let’s consider the symbolism. Why the 7 horns of the lamb? 7 is the number of divine perfection and completion and horns are symbolic of power. The lamb has complete power. Revelation tells us that the 7 eyes of the lamb are the 7 spirits of God, which represent the Holy Spirit.

So who wins? The Lamb who was slain.

Revelation tells us that the golden bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints, encouraging the original readers by showing that their prayers are right there in this scene of the Lamb’s triumph and the Father’s glory. Their prayers (and ours) go up before God as part of His worship. Revelation 5:9-14 continues the theme of worshiping the Lamb, who reigns over all the earth. He is worthy of all praise, honour, and glory and might – forever! The original readers needed to see that, if their God died for them, then He is also worthy of their deaths; God is worthy of their worship, despite earthly circumstances.

This book should make us want to worship God. We need to consider: Do our fears outweigh God’s worthiness and what He has called us to do? Do we put our fears for family, food, marriage, comfort etc before God’s calling in our life? Do you keep listening to excuses to run away from where God is leading you? Are your fears holding you back?

Worship Christ!

That said, living for God doesn’t always = suffering. Many are willing to hold firm to Christ in a split second to die the death of a martyr. But even harder is laying down all our life and rights to LIVE daily for Christ. We are called to lay down our dreams, hopes, comforts, rights, and security for Him.

So ask: Is He worthy of your life?

7 Scenes

Now we move into the 7 scenes of the Act – we’re getting into the action of the play!

Christ opens the 7 seals, one by one. These seals represent mans judgement upon man.

The first 4 seals = horseman

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the 4 horseman of the apocalypse! There are different views on who these horsemen are. Some people think they are literal horsemen who will come in judgement; whilst others feel they are representative of things happening in the world; seals representing different things that are happening during the church age (this is part of the amilleniumist belief). Regardless of your belief, stay big picture with what they do.

They seem to represent: war, peace being removed, oppression and judgment. Let’s consider them one by one:

White horseman (6:1-2). Some think it is Jesus because it is white, but this doesn’t seem to flow with the rest of the Act. Also, Jesus is opening the seals as these horseman appear. The white horseman is a picture of destruction and conquering; men conquering men. Many will seem him as symbolic of the wars of man happening throughout the church age (the time between Christ’s first and second coming).

Red horse (6:3-4). He takes the peace away, yet he doesn’t slay people – the people slay one another. This seems to be representative of continued violence occurring in the world. Some say this could be referring to persecution of the church, but this does not seem to fit in with Christ opening scrolls of judgement.

Black horse (6:5-6). We need to explain some terms and measures that might not be immediately understood today. A denarius was equivalent to one day’s wage, and a quart of wheat was the minimum amount of wheat to feed one person for one day. Essentially, it is estimated to be about 16 x more expensive then should be = economic oppression or famine going on. The economic persecution is due to the oil and wine not being removed; the luxuries are not taken, thus the rich people seem to still be eating well.

Scales represent justice, so this rider is bringing a lack of justice; unfaithful scales, weighing unevenly between rich and poor. Men practising injustice against other men. The original readers of Smyrna were experiencing such persecution, and in many nations today believers continue to face economic persecution.

Pale (yellowish/ green like a corpse) horse (6:7-8). The rider’s name is Death and brings death in all its forms -> diseases, pestilence, sword, wild beasts etc. A quarter is a partial measurement, so many are being killed, but not the majority. This is not final judgement.

In the 5th seal the slain souls told to rest awhile until their full number comes in (6:9). So what has happened to the friends of the original readers who died in Christ?

REST whilst waiting for them! Again, Jesus gives no promise of protection from martyrdom, but He does give the promise of rest after their temporal trials. This book focus on eternity.

In the 6th seal we see the wrath of the Lamb (6:16). Verse 17 calls it “the Great Day of their Wrath”. In the Old Testament this is always a reference to Final Judgement. Evidence of this is furthered by the sky vanishing and every mountain being removed. But isn’t this Act about man judging man? We see that God is in control; He will bring the final judgement.

So who wins? GOD – Him on the throne (Father) and the Lamb

7:1-17 Interlude

Next we would expect a vision of heaven for the 7th scene in the cycle, but instead we have an interlude. “Interlude” means a break, or a pause, in the main event or story. In this interlude, we have the first mark of Revelation.

When you hear of a mark related to Revelation, what comes to mind?

Usually “666” is what people know: the number of the beast.

Read Revelation 7:3 and ask: Who is marked first in the book?

GOD’s SERVANTS!

Let’s unpack this further. What does John hear in Revelation 7:4?

John HEARS the number of the sealed 144 000.

Then what does John SEE in Revelation 7:9?

He SEES a great multitude that NONE COULD NUMBER.

All ages; all nations; all races

All ages; all nations; all racesSo who are the 144,000? Some say this is a literal number (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses think they will make it up). Others look at the symbolism of the number. So what would 144,000 relate to as a symbolic number?  1000 is the number of perfection. 12 (the number of God’s people) squared (12×12) equals 144. Thus 144,000 is God’s perfect number of people; the saints; the saved of Christ; the Bride of Christ.

In the case of the one worthy to open the seal, John first HEARS that it is the Lion, and then SEES the Lamb -> with both a reference to Jesus. So here, John hears the number 144,000, but sees a great multitude = many. It is not a literal 144 000, but rather refers to all believers throughout all time.

One other view: Some say the 144,000 is a reference to Jewish Christians, and the Gentile Christians are the great multitude.

Again, this interlude seems to supports the “Acts” of Revelation being cyclical, not chronological. We’ve just read of angels given power to harm, but then God calls them not to do harm until God’s people are sealed and safe. This gives our original readers further encouragement – they are sealed, they are safe from God’s judgement of the unrighteous.

Big picture of Act 1 until now

God has just shown the judgement that is coming on man. But then He shows the image of all the believers sealed and worshipping God. The original readers were surrounded by evil, they’d lost loved ones to martyrdom, but God shows them that His judgement is coming against those who persecute them, and that they are perfectly safe from His wrath and judgement.

They are to persevere in the faith. They are to continue to worship. They were to rest assured that they were sealed servants of the King. The application is the same for us today. We can spend our lives unafraid and in worship of the King of kings, the Lamb who was slain.

7th Seal

Finally we open the 7th seal and . . . there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. The seventh seal, to the original readers, would depict their entering into the very presence of God.

Up until now the seals have shown chaos and destruction. Now the original readers get to step out of their current situation of turmoil to reflect on the complete peace that they will come into. They are confronted with the glory of God and the silence it brings.

This ½ hour also implies a short period of time. It is almost like God is giving them a chance to catch their breath before bringing in the 7 trumpets in Act 2.

Application

So how should we respond to this first Act? Persecution of believers is a reality in the present time, not just the early church. We can expect to be hated by the world, but we have comfort that God won’t allow it to continue forever.

We can have comfort:

  • Knowing that our prayers rise before Him
  • knowing that God has sealed us
  • knowing that He sees what is happening
  • knowing that the time will come when we will all come before His throne and behold His glory

 

Next post we will get into the Second “Act” of Revelation as the drama continues to unfold.

Revelation series, post #7

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. As you look at the seven churches, you’ll see a pattern emerge in the format of Christ’s words to them – again the number 7 is seen (remember it is the number of completion).See if you can observe the following in each church’s message:
    1. Christ’s summon of the church
    2. Christ’s character
    3. Christ’s commendation: “I know”
    4. Christ’s complaint: “I know”
    5. Christ’s challenge
    6. Christ’s threat
    7. Christ’s covenant promise -> each gets promise of eternal life

The 7 Churches; 1:9-3:22

Consider 1:12-16. What is the first thing that John sees in his vision?

7 golden lampstands, and between them one like the son of man clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

We see from v18 that this Son of Man is Jesus – the one who died and is alive. 

Then we go on in v20 that: The 7 stars are the 7 angels of the 7 churches, and the 7 lampstands are the 7 churches. There are two main views about the angels of the churches; angel literally meaning “messenger”. The first view is that it is referring to the eldership of the church (pastors). Alternatively that it refers to an actual angel standing in protection over the church.

So the  first thing John sees = Jesus is standing in the midst of them.

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE IMAGE FOR THE ORIGINAL READERS! Jesus knows what they are going through, and He is right in their midst as they endure it. He was also killed, but now He lives forever. What’s more, He lives in power and in glory.

And what encouragement for us too. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He sent us His Spirit to dwell within us, and He walks amongst us.We have a God:

  • who died for us
  • who rose to life again
  • who lives forevermore
  • who brought us into life with Him
  • and who has not deserted us, but continues to walk us through any trial or suffering that we endure on His behalf.

We read Jesus’ words in John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So if Christ standing with the 7 churches was the first thing that John saw, what is the first thing that Jesus speaks to John in v17?

. . .

FEAR NOT!

Why? Because Jesus defeated death and holds the keys of Death and Hades. They are SAFE in HIM. What scares you most about following Christ? Where are you prepared to go for Him? What are you prepared to do for Him? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him? Challenging, yes, but this book shows us that Christ is sufficient!

Report cards

Now we are going to see Jesus address each of the 7 churches individually as they get their report card from Jesus. Remember the pattern mentioned in the “Activity” section at the start (we won’t be going through it here as it is all observation, but I recommend you write it out for yourself in table form):

  1. Christ’s summon of the church
  2. Christ’s character
  3. Christ’s commendation: “I know”
  4. Christ’s complaint: “I know”
  5. Christ’s challenge
  6. Christ’s threat
  7. Christ’s covenant promise -> each gets promise of eternal life

There are two main  streams for how to interpret the churches. Firstly, as literal churches in Asia Minor at the time of Christ. They have symbolism thrown in, but most of Christ’s words to the churches can be literally interpreted. John is commanded by Christ is 1:11 to send these words to these 7 churches so this seems the best interpretation to me. Alternatively some will see each church as representing a different periods of history. One of the problems with this is to set the exact time frame of history when each “church” starts and ends.

The big picture is simple: the churches are messed up, but Jesus stands in the middle of them, in the middle of his people (Jesus stands amongst the lampstands).

Map of the churches

Let’s look at each church’s report card. As we do, imagine how each church would feel as they received their report card from Jesus.

Ephesus

This is the church you probably know most of from Paul’s epistle to them. Paul’s letter was all about emphasising who they are in Christ, and how to walk worthy of their position in Christ. Now we read that they are doing that well! They are toiling and enduring. They are holding up against evil influences. BUT what does Jesus have against them in v4?

. . .

They have abandoned the love they had at first.

What are the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us?

. . .

Love God, and love others. The Ephesian church began to let works come before love for God and love for others. We need to be sure we do not fall into this same trap – getting too caught up in good works and taking our focus off God. Everything must flow out of intimacy with God.

You may also wonder who the Nicolaitans refer to. The simple answer = we don’t know. Some suggest they were a first-century sect claiming apostolic authority. Others suggest it is an untranslated word(nika = conquer, rule; lao = laity) and say that certain leaders were using their clerical stature or position to rule over the laity (when Christ commanded that those who will lead will be the servant; John 13).

Again, there is no clear interpretation for Christ’s threat to “come and remove your lampstand” unless they repent. There have been many opinions offered. Perhaps the interpretation is as simple as that they will lose their prominence, losing their influence as a church (not salvation). Remember John, himself, was based in Ephesus so it would have been a very prominent church. Another common suggestion is linking it back to the lampstands at the start of Revelation, and that Christ will remove His presence from the church as a body.

Smyrna

You’ll see when you make your observations that a couple of the churches have a few things missing. The churches of Sardis and Laodicea have no commendation given to them. Jesus had nothing good to say about them! On the other hand, Smyrna and Philadelphia have no complaint made against them; not that they were perfect churches, but Christ was content with their hearts in the midst of their situations.

Smyrna became the centre of Emperor worship from 23AD. When believers stopped falling under the protection of Judaism (that was allowed to be monotheistic, and not thus not required to worship Caesar), the Jews would often inform the Roman authorities of the Jewish Christians who had been cut off from their synagogues. Christians then had the choice to worship Caesar or be persecuted under Roman law.

Smyrna was known at this time as a rich city, and yet we read these believers were poor. Participation in emperor worship and pagan cults was expected in all areas of life and to abstain from such was to put yourself at a disadvantage in business and occupational dealings.

Believers in Smyrna were suffering financially for their faith, and remaining strong in their testimony despite the personal cost, and so Jesus lays no complaint upon them. He gives them warning of more woes to come, but reminds them that their eternal state is assured and safe in Him.

Revelation 2:10 says they will have tribulation for 10 days. Some will give this to mean a literal period of 10 days; others, a short time; or alternatively, looking at 10 as a symbolic number = worldly power, they will give it as the period of  complete human time of their suffering. The application is that Jesus does not promise us safety in this life!

I have been told by well meaning, Christian friends many times that if Jesus has told me to do something then He will keep me safe in it. This just doesn’t align with the New Testament! Some of us will face persecutions; in fact, the New Testament promises it! Revelation is a book of comfort for the security we have in Christ – that we are in the book of Life; our hope is an eternal hope.

What is your report card – as a church, and as an individual?

Pergamum

What description does Christ give of Himself in V 12?

. . .

Jesus is the One with the 2-edged sword. Pergamum had the Roman governor living there, who held “jus gladii”, “the right of the sword”.This meant that “the governor had the power to determine if someone was deserving of capital punishment. Jesus is making a play on words: “You think you have the right to determine life and death, but you don’t; I DO.”

Another potentially difficult verse is 2:13, which says they dwell where Satan’s throne is, where Satan dwells. Again, there are a few different  opinions: 1) In reference to them dwelling in the location that was the centre of Zeus worship; 2) A lot of evil they are in the midst of; or 3) Referring to things occurring within the church, although this is less likely because they are believers.

What we see is overall is that the Pergamum Christians are holding fast to His name, but some hold to the teachings of Balaam. So what are these teachings? In the Old Testament, Balaam was paid to curse the Israelites. Three times he tried to curse them, but could only bless them. Revelation tells us that he understood Jews weakness was sexual immorality and, since he couldn’t curse them, he told the king how to weaken them and this was through intermarriage and immorality. So the wrong teaching in this church is related to sexual immorality.

One final question you might have is around their promise: hidden manna, and a white stone. What might the hidden manna refer to? Manna is what the Israelites were fed in the wilderness, so the Pergamum church will receive their sustenance in Jesus. The white stone has many interpretations. One that I think likely is the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet.Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven.

Thyatira

What is their positive report, as per 3:19?

. . .

They’re doing well in love, faith, service and endurance. That sounds pretty good!

But they tolerate Jezebel. So what does this mean? It is unlikely that the reference is to an actual woman. There is a ton of theology on Jezebel in existence, and 99% of it has no Biblical reference! When we look to the Bible, we go to the book of Kings. She was an evil woman (and queen of Israel) who turned Israel to the worship of Baal and idols, and killed God’s prophets. Baal worship involved abhorrent practices including a lot of sexual immorality. So Jesus is saying that they tolerate a lot of sexual immorality and idol worship (similar to the church of Corinth).

Finally, what about their rebuke about eating food to idols? Paul told the Corinthians that they had the right to eat it, but not if it hurts others. So it is likely that some in the church are weakening the faith of others by eating these foods, or they are going to the temple to be involved in festival and cult rites. Food and sex was often mixed in the pagan rites.

Sardis

Sardis is the first church that gets no positive report from Jesus. Imagine waiting for your report card from Christ . . . only to find that you are failing in all areas!

Jesus gives them some strong words! Consider Rev 3:1a-2 “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

They think they are doing well, they look good on the outside, but in reality they are a living corpse. And they are close to losing their salvation! Yet there are a few who are holding firm to Christ. This is a call to seek God, before works. He is to be our first priority. It is His praise we are to seek, not man’s praise.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the second of the two churches that only get commendation from Jesus. This does not necessarily mean all A’s  on their report card, as we all have room to grow, but no failing marks!

How does Jesus refer to Himself in 3:7?

. . .

Jesus calls Himself the One who holds the Key of David, and hold the doors. The Jews had a practise of putting people outside of the synagogue, but Christ reminds them not to fear Jewish persecution, there is nothing they can do to you. God holds the keys to life; only He can determine who is in Him and who is not.

The one who conquers is promised to become a “pillar in the temple of my God“. We know from the end of Revelation that there is no Temple in eternity, because God dwells in our midst. So what does this mean? God is saying they will have a place of prominence and significance in the Kingdom of God; they will be upheld before His people. What an encouragement to the original readers that they will be pillars for God, and have His name upon them. This is a call to endurance.

Laodicea

The final church also receives no positive report from Jesus.

What is Jesus’ complaint in 3:15-17?

. . .

They are called lukewarm, although they claim to be rich.

Laodicea was a very rich city from industry, banking and commerce. It lay on an important cross-roads and was surrounded by fertile land. When many cities in the area were destroyed by an earthquake, they were the only ones that did not have to appeal to Rome for help. They rebuilt on their own, and their self-sufficiency was a source of pride for them. However the city had no permanent water supply and thus had to pipe water from hot springs, which arrived lukewarm as was not pleasant to drink.

Jesus reminds them that physical gold is not what they are to take pride in. He is the one that gives refined gold and pure garments. He is the One they are to seek if they will be truly rich – like the Smyrnan church. Jesus reminds them that He disciplines and reproves those He loves, and He expects them to welcome the refining. We, too, need to welcome His refining and allow the Spirit to transform us.

Jesus tells them that He stands at the door and knocks. Remember that this is being spoken to the church, not to unbelievers, so it is not in reference to salvation. The Laodiceans are living lives of hypocrisy, self-sufficiency and pride. Christ is saying “I’m standing here waiting for you; let me in, let me fellowship with you”. They thought they didn’t need God; Jesus is reminding them that they do, and desperately!

This church reminds us to check our source. Are you doing this on your own? Are you relying on Christ, or your own strength? Are you walking in self sufficient, or complete reliance on Christ?

Are you earnestly pursuing God every day?

Comparing the Churches

The ones God goes after the most are: pride, self-sufficiency, not pursuing God, and  being spiritually dead. The messed up churches don’t get as great of a rebuke because they are growing, they are enduring, and there is passion remaining as they strive to know Him more. He is most concerned about dead people. He isn’t demanding perfection; He wants growth as we seek Him. He wants people who pursue Him. He is knocking on the doors of the churches who are dead to Him, and calling them back to pursuit of Him above all else.

Application from the churches

The churches call us to evaluate how we are walking. 

  • Are we seeking Him in Scripture, or Knowledge?
  • Do we care about His approval, or man’s?
  • Are we walking in love of God and others, or relying on works
  • Are we willing to suffer loss for Him – of name, job, opportunities, respect, finance . . . ?
  • Are we willing to endure persecutions, and even martyrdom, whilst holding to the promise of eternal life in Christ?
  • Are we counting all as loss except the upward call of Christ? (Phil 3:13-14)
  • Are we counting it all joy when we meet trials (James 1:2)?
  • Are we content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for Christ’s strength (2Co 12:10)?

As you study Revelation, you will see that it is not a book that promises us temporal relief, physical blessings, or reprieve from trials. But it is a book that puts eternal comfort and hope into our hearts, and strengthens us to live for Christ in this life so that we might win our reward in the next.

 

Next blog, we will get into the unfolding drama of Revelation as we start to look at the acts.

Revelation series, post #6

Firstly, let me apologise for the delay between posts – trying to prepare teachings whilst looking after a toddler is hard work and I had to put the post series on hold until the teachings were finished!

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. Then practise some observation skills. You have already read through the book out-loud, hopefully in one sitting. You could now read through it again in a different translation, to renew the text in your mind as we open it up.
    Observe: Another great observation tool to help you really “see” what is going on in the text is to use colouring. I can be hard to start drawing on your Bible if it is new to you, so you can always print out a copy of the book from online and colour that to start with. Two great starts with colour coding Revelation are: the character, nature or names used for God (I colour mine yellow); and “who” words, for example: “church in Ephesus,” “servants,” “beast from the sea,” and so on (I draw a purple triangle for my colour code).

Setting the stage

Revelation can be seen as a drama play being acted out before us. Just like a play (for those of you who did drama at school), it can be helpful to break the book into different “Acts”, each Act having different “Scenes”. This is how I am going to walk through the book. Remember that I mentioned in a previous post that Apocalyptic literature is usually highly structured. There are different ways of studying it, but this is a way that I have found really helpful to see its structure. It is the one that is used in YWAM’s School of Biblical Studies.

So in the coming posts we are going to go through the book like a play, breaking it into 7 Acts, plus Jesus’ words to the 7 churches.

Big Picture:

The book starts with Jesus giving words of encouragement and reproof to the 7 churches. We then see God give the OR the same picture of the world’s coming judgement, but from three different angles:

  • The 7 seals: man judging man
  • The 7 trumpets: creation judging man
  • The 7 bowls: God judging man

These all move us towards the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.

The book is not random in its progression -> it has a purpose. The same message is proclaimed throughout the book: “God wins, God wins, God wins . . . and so do we as His saints!”

Into the text

Salutation; 1:1-4  

Remember who was the true author of this Revelation.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, (Revelation 1:1).

In this book John in not the author!  God is the author. When we consider why the author wrote something – we are asking about God’s reason!

 Remember also what we saw of the original readers of this book. God gave this revelation to his hurting, fearful, persecuted church. They were asking “Where’s God in our circumstances? Is he worth holding on to?” As we get to God’s message to each of the 7 churches, we will see that some of them are choosing to compromise in their faith for a comfortable life now.

This revelation came as a message direct from God especially for them in the trials. This isn’t another epistle from an apostle. This is an epistle (letter) for them that came directly from God and His Son! This is a letter that they are going to understand. This is a letter that they would have found hope and joy and comfort in.

It is also such a beautiful thing that God entrusted John with this message when we remember what he had been through in his life. John knew persecution: he was literally thrown in a boiling pot of oil. He understood what it meant to watch the death of loved ones: he saw Jesus die and was the only apostle not to  die the death of a martyr. He knew hardship: having been sent into exile on the Island of Patmos. And He had seen the Christ’s flock suffer through trials and tribulations.

Prologue; 1:5-8

The purpose of a prologue is to establish the context and give background details for the main story. So what is in the prologue of Revelation? If you turn to Rev 1:5-8 you will see the focus is JESUS: Who He is; what He did for them; and that He is coming soon. We learn from the prologue that this Revelation is going to be about JESUS.

What else do we see of Jesus from the start that would be so critical to the OR?

Jesus suffered! The words that are translated in most texts as “faithful witness” can also can be translated as “faithful martyr”. Jesus went through what they are going through, and he endured faithfully, becoming the firstborn of the dead. He was killed, but now He rules over all. If Jesus suffered, they will suffer (John15:18), but God will show them their hope through the rest of the book: that they will also conquer with Him.

We also see the Trinity again, right from the start. Consider 1:4-5 and see who sends the original readers greetings.

him who is and who was and who is to come, (Father)

seven spirits who are before his throne, (Holy Spirit; the number 7 is symbolic of perfection, and Isaiah 11:2 with the 7 characteristics of God usually being interpreted as the Spirit further supports this interpretation.)

and from Jesus Christ (Son)

Then in 1:8 we see clear evidence of the divinity of Christ. Reading from 1:5, no one would deny v7 refers to Jesus . . . so when you follow with:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

And again:

Rev 22:12-13 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

You can’t deny the connection of these verses to Jesus being God, and being eternal.

So if you were the original readers, facing financial, social and physical persecution for your faith, would it be worth enduring, and even dying for Jesus?

YES – He is everything; He is completely sovereign so they have nothing to fear. They can faithfully endure knowing Him who suffered first to bring them eternal life. The book of Revelation is all about enduring seasons of trial, persecution and suffering in order to win Christ and to enter into His eternal rest.

Worship Christ!

Let us also think of what Christ is worth to us so that we can grow to declare as Paul does in Philippians:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

Next post we will look at the message of God to the 7 churches.