The End? Can’t keep silent

This, our 16th post in our journey through Revelation, explores chapter 11 devoted to the Two Witnesses. A video recording of this will be available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.

In chapter 10 John was invited to take and eat the scroll containing God’s redemptive purpose, to embody God’s redemptive plan on earth.  The chapter concludes with John’s commission to prophesy – to participate in the Lamb’s redemption of creation by being a witness of God’s renewal of all things.  Chapter 11 continues with a vision of two witnesses, depicting the identity, purpose and destiny of the church in the Lamb’s renewal of all things.

This is a complex chapter, rich in symbolism from the Old Testament, but very helpful in understanding the role of the church in a wicked world.  To simplify the reading of the chapter, we will focus on three questions this chapter answers about the church:

  • who are we?  (identity)

  • why are we here?  (purpose)
  • where is this all leading? (destiny)

Measure_temple_EzekielA living temple. “After this”  John was sent to “measure the temple, the altar and those who worship there” (11:1). By the time of John’s writing, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed for more than 20 years – so the temple refers to the church (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 1 Peter 2:5 etc.). This “man measuring the temple with a rod” is a clear allusion to Zechariah’s vision (Zechariah 2:1 – 5).  Here in John’s vision there are no measurements given; what matters is that measures are taken. The temple, altar and worshipers are “measured” or counted because they matter to God.  The promise of peace and protection in Zechariah 2:5 is the intended message to John’s readers: “I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.”  God has measured his people, and not a single one will be lost (compare chapter 7 where God’s servants are “sealed” for protection).

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Vulnerable yet Invincible.  However, “the outer court” should not be measured, for it would be “trampled upon for 42 months” (11:2), “1,260 days” (11:3) or 3½ years (“time, times and half a time”). 42 is significant in apocalyptic genre, because it is an important number in Israel’s history.  For example, 42 is the number of stages in Israel’s journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land (Numbers 33).  42 months is the period that Elijah had stopped the heavens from raining to bring the nations to repentance (1 Kings 17; James 5:17). Matthew’s genealogy is portrayed in three sets of 14, amounting to 42 generations, showing that the birth of Jesus marks the end of waiting for Israel’s Messiah (Matthew 1).  Therefore, 42 represents the fullness of time in any stage of redemptive history.  For the readers of Revelation, 42 represents the period we live in – the time allowed for the nations to come to repentance, between the cross and Christ’s return.  Darrel Johnson writes:

“42 months represents the period of time from the day Jesus Christ constituted the new temple by the shedding of his blood, until the day when the new city without a temple, the city which is a temple, comes down out of heaven” (Discipleship of the Edge: An expository journey through the Book of Revelation; Regent Publishing: 2004)

In putting verses 1-2 together we see that the church is measured and protected by God’s seal until the Day of Judgment, but will be resisted and persecuted by secular nations until that time. We are simultaneously invincible and very vulnerable in this age – “like lambs in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).  Why then are we here?

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Two Witnesses. John sees two witnesses like olive trees and lamp stands.  Olive trees represent God’s covenant people, his new creation (Genesis 11:1) bringing peace and holiness as its oil is used in consecration (Exodus 29:1-2,7) and worship (Numbers 7:19, 25; 8:26; Leviticus 24:2).  The lamp stands are synonymous to the local church (Revelation 1:20), bringing God’s light to the world (Matthew 5:14-16). 

This vision of lamp stands and olive trees is an allusion to Zechariah 4:1-6.  In that vision, the olive trees provide unending oil to the lamp stands to show the enduring power of the witnesses during these hardships is “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)  The oil that provide light to the witnesses is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. (Compare with the parable of the five wise/foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13).

Why two witnesses and not just one?  In Jewish law a charge can only be verified by two or more witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15).  Many commentators feel that these two witnesses represent God’s elect in both old and new covenant; both faithful Israel and the faithful church display the just, peaceful and joyful reign of God to the nations.

Why witnesses? Who is on trial?  Not the church, nor the world is on trial here, but Jesus is.  Jesus who claims to be the Christ, the Son of God, sent to reclaim God’s reign as rightful ruler over all kingdoms and dominions.  For that claim Christ was killed, but rose again.  The church is God’s witness that Christ is risen and therefore his claims are vindicated – that “Jesus is Lord!” (Romans 10:9).  That’s why the world hates and quiets the witness of the church, because it rejects Christ’s claims of lordship.

These witnesses are said to prophesy with power like Elijah (1 Kings 17-18) and Moses (Exodus 4-11).  The miracles of these ancient prophets were signs to God’s claim as Sovereign Lord over Egypt, Israel and the nations, and these witnesses are said to bear similar signs to validate their witness of Christ’s Lordship.   They witness in and against Sodom, Egypt and Jerusalem “where [the] Lord was crucified” (11:8).  Here Sodom represents immorality, Egypt injustice and oppression, and Jerusalem false religion.

Note that these witnesses are dressed in sackcloth (11:3), representing a witness in repentance and humility, not superiority and power.  The witness of the church is a life of repentance and humility towards God.  Yet those who do them harm will be consumed by fire from their mouths (i.e. the wicked will be condemned before God’s Judgment by the very words of the witnesses they resist).  

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Death and resurrection. These witnesses are killed by the “beast that came from the bottomless pit.”  (Verses 7-14 foreshadow events that will be described in chapter 13).  Note that the beast kills the witnesses – that Satan is their real enemy, not people (Ephesians 6:12).  They are said to be dead for 3½ days (a relatively short period of time).   The nations rejoice at their death because the testimony of the witnesses trouble them, and dishonour the witnesses by refusing to bury their bodies.

Ironically, the people who bring this Gospel, the good news of freedom to the world are hated and killed for it. But like their Lord they are also resurrected for all to see (11:11-12), resulting in a cosmic shaking that kills many (11:13; compare with 6:9-17).

The glorious vindication.  After this, the seventh trumpet is blown (the final judgment), with the angel declaring the final victory of the Lamb over the nations in this world.  The praise “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” is the phrase of Handel’s Messiah’s famous  Hallelujah Chorus.

Summary.

In Revelation 10 we see John’s commission to prophesy/ witness his redemption of creation through embodied witness of God’s redemption.  In chapter 11 those who are called to witness are assured of the Lord’s protection but also warned of the world’s persecution.  The two witnesses are said to testify of Christ’s Lordship  from his coming, undergo hatred and suffering, until he returns to judge the world.

Even as this chapter begins with God’s temple on earth (his church), and God’s people being trampled underfoot, so the chapter ends with God’s eternal, heavenly temple opened and his enemies trampled underfoot.  The blood of the witnesses are avenged.

Bringing this home

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This rich and emotive chapter reveal three existential truths about the identity, purpose and destiny of God’s church on earth.

Identity: Who are we?  The church is God’s community of Spirit-empowered people.  We are empowered to witness the Lordship of Jesus both through powerful signs and miracles, as well as a life of continual repentance, resulting in progressive submission to God.  Both these shine the light of God’s kingdom in our world, calling our neighbors to submit to God.

Purpose: Why are we here?  The church is here to witness the reign of Christ.  We cannot be faithful witnesses until we make peace with the fact that we may be hated and hurt because of the message we herald.  Our lives cannot remain the most precious thing to us – our lives are given us to to be poured out (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6).  As such we are called to die, to “pick up our cross daily” and follow Him, to “present our bodies be living sacrifices” (Matthew 16:24-26; Romans 12:2).

But we are not only called to die, but also to be raised up with Christ (11:13-14).  We are called to live and reign with Christ eternally, assured that as Christ is raised from the dead, so we will raise with him in glory. We are called to witness this hope.

Destiny: Where is this all leading?  God’s redemption of creation will result in his victory over the nations, the judgment of sin and the renewal of all things.  His saints will be vindicated and rewarded, and God’s enemies destroyed.  He will unveil his new temple – his church – and we live with him in his benevolent reign forever.   

Come Lord Jesus!

 

The End? From spectator to participator

Our journey through Revelation in this is the 15th post brings us to chapter 10. A recording of this will be available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.

Let’s first catch up where we are in our journey through this apocalypse.  In that glorious scene of God’s throne room (ch 4) the Lamb received the Scroll containing God’s redemptive plans to renew all of fallen creation (Ch 5).  As the Lamb started opening the seven seals of the scroll, terrible judgments was released on earth (ch 6).  These judgments were paused to mark God’s servants with a seal of protection from the final judgment (ch 7). With the opening of the 7th seal, heaven became quite as God focused his attention on the prayers of his saints, which was mixed with the fire from his altar and poured out as six more severe judgments on the earth (ch 8-9).

In chapter 10, the scene continues but the judgments are interrupted again (as in chapter 7), but this time the focus is on John, who is invited to move from spectator of the vision to participator in Christ’s Revelation.

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In John’s vision, a mighty angel comes down from heaven, standing with one foot on the earth and one on the seas (sovereign over land and sea, refer 8:7-8).  He was clothed in white, his face shone as the sun, and he had a rainbow around his head, his feet were like fire, and his voice like a lion.  John describes the Angel as Jesus himself (compare 10:1-3 with 1:15-18; 4:3).

The Angel had a little scroll in his right hand (compare 10:2 with 5:7), and when he spoke there were seven thunders. But when John wanted to record these seven thunders, like the previous seven seals and seven trumpets, the Angel prevented him and then raised his hand and vowed to God “that there should be delay no longer” (10:6).  This scene is a powerful allusion to Daniel 12 – a vision about the end, where the wicked will grow more wicked and the righteous will grow more righteous.

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John was commanded to take this scroll, and to eat it as the prophet Ezekiel was commanded, meaning “all My words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.” (Ezekiel 2:10-3:2, 10).  As John ate, it tasted “sweet as honey” but his “stomach became bitter” (10:9-10; compare Jeremiah 15:16 and Ezekiel 3:3).  Then John is sent to “prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” in the likeness of the commission given to God’s prophets and apostles  (compare 10:11 with Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 3; Acts 1:8; 9:15).

From spectator to participator.  This pause after the six trumpet judgments, which still left the nations unrepentant of their wickedness and rebellion (9:20-21), shows the mystery of God’s redemptive plan.  Here we see John was invited to not only discern and understand God’s work of redemptive acts, but to become a participant in his plan.  The scroll – whom no one was worthy to receive and open – was now handed tot John.  The scroll which unleashed God’s redemption of creation through terrible judgments,  was given for John to take and digest.  John, as with everyone who reads his words and “beholds” this Revelation, is invited to embody God’s plan – the renewal of all things.

This is a powerful allusion to the ministry of the prophets and Jesus.  Just like the prophets in the Old Testament pointed out God’s divine judgments on Israel and the surrounding nations, yet they repented not, so the seals and trumpets did not inspire true, lasting repentance (9:20-21).  Until Jesus, the Word of God who became flesh (John 1:1, 14) became a living witness of God’s restoring reign, because in his life God’s “grace and truth” was seen (John 1:17), and through his blood creation was redeemed (Ephesians 1:7).  This allusion is John’s invitation – and the invitation to the church – to become a living witness of the redemptive reign of God.

Christ’s invitation to John to “take and eat” (Matthew 26:26), is a reminder of the sacrament of communion – an invitation to share in Jesus’ broken body.  This is what John meant when he said the words of the Gospel of God’s reign is sweet, but the embodied witness thereof is bitter.  Words alone won’t work – we are invited to suffer with him, that we may “present the Word of God to the fullest” (Colossians 1:25; compare 2 Timothy 2:12, Philippians 1:28-29).

This vision of two suffering witnesses is what John sees next (Revelation 11).

Bringing it home

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What do we do with this interlude (ch 10)?  I believe the invitation to John is the invitation to everyone who reads these words.  We are invited to move from seeing and understanding God’s redemptive purposes on earth, to participate with it.  But in doing this, we must keep the image of Christ in this chapter before us.

Our witness of Christ and his reign is grounded in the security of Jesus’ sovereignty over all creation (“sea and land”, “all thrones and dominions”, Colossians 1:15-18).  While the nations reel under the judgments, we rest securely in the perspective of John in God’s throne room which brought him peace (ch 4).  Our witness and patient endurance is grounded in this peace that God is in control.

Secondly, we must know that some things will remain a mystery to us – like the seven thunders that are concealed in this chapter.  We will never understand everything that goes on, as “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).  This keeps our witness humble, dependent on the Great Shepherd’s guidance in all things.

Thirdly, our invitation is to move God’s scroll from our head to our heart, to eat it and digest it, for “the Word to become flesh” (John 1:14).  For so many people in our day the Word of God, and Revelation in particular, is a means to read and understand and even predict the events in our world as they passively wait on his return.  John’s invitation to “take and eat” urges the church to move from being onlookers to coworkers in his unrolling of God’s redemptive plan in creation – even when it hurts.  Engage the bitter claims of God’s Word that we may “present the Word of God to the fullest” (Colossians 1:25) – even through the hardships.  After all – nothing will change until “the word becomes flesh” so that the world may behold the glory of the Son of God in our witness (John 1:14; Acts 6:15).

 

 

 

The End? Blow the trumpets!

This post, the 14th in a series through Revelation, finds us in the second set of seven  judgments. We will look into chapters 8 and 9.  A recording of this post is available on Shofar Durbanville’s Toutube channel

In our day, it is often easier to imagine God as the Sacrificial Lamb slain for our sins than to see him as the Sovereign Judge over all.  That is why Revelation 5 reads so much easier than chapters 8 and 9 where the Lord rains down disasters on the earth as his redemptive judgments on sin.  What do these chapters on divine judgment reveal about God’s character and relation to mankind?

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Yes, God hears you! Unfolding the first six seals of the scroll unleashed chaos and cries on earth (ch 6), then came the command to cease all judgment so that God’s servants may be sealed to be spared the great Day of Judgment (7:1-3).  As the 7th seal is opened heaven becomes still, “silent for about half an hour” (8:1).   John then describes how God’s full attention is given to the prayers of the saints (8:3-5).

To the churches who received this letter at first, oppressed economically, excluded socially and persecuted religiously – in addition to the periodic earthquakes, famine and threat of war they faced – this was so necessary to hear.  It reassured them that “You matter; I listen to you.”  Faced with the daily troubles, their faith in a Almighty, Loving Father and hope for the return of Christ, the Prince of Peace, was waning.  They needed to be reassured that indeed, in spite of all the madness in the world and all the magnificence surrounding his throne, God pays attention to every single prayer of the simplest of his saints.  And these prayers are pleasing to him, like the scent of incense burning (8:4).

Yes, your prayers are powerful! But do these prayers make a difference?  Long-term suffering can often lead one to doubt whether God is good, or whether one’s prayers are good.  This was certainly the case for these seven churches in Asia minor, the recipients of the Revelation.  Their prayers did not seem to change their circumstances, because the suffering only intensified over time.  That is why this hopeful vision of prayers as incense mixed with fire from God’s altar and poured out in wrath on the earth (8:5-6), brought hopeful encouragement that indeed their cries are heard and their prayers are effective.  Christ’s kingdom was advancing by the power of their prayers.  These disasters that surrounded them were simply “birth pains” of the emerging Kingdom of Christ – all affected by their prayers.

Yes, God is just! If God is just, why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper? Does God not see? Does God not care about the injustice and oppression of the vulnerable and the righteous? These are the age-old question believers wrestle with in every generation (Psalm 73; Jeremiah 12; Job 21, etc.).  This was also the cry of God’s saints (6:10) during the vile and violent Roman empire into which John wrote this letter.  The vision of their prayers being mixed with fire from God’s altar, poured out over the earth, resulted in “noises, thundering, lightnings and earthquakes” (8:5).  This phrase is repeated another two times in this middle section of the book when God’s judgments are poured out, notably in response to the blood of his martyrs (11:19; 16:18; refer 4:5).  The image of “lightnings, thunder and voices” alludes to the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16), and occurs throughout Scripture in reference to God’s justice and judgment (eg. Psalm 77:18 and Hebrews 12:18).

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The seven trumpets which follows (8:6-9:21; 11:15-19) are God’s just judgment response in the prayers of the saints.  Christ’s message in this vision to these seven churches are “Yes, I am just.  These judgments on the nations are my response to your prayers for justice.”   But how do these disasters help God’s people?

The judgments of the seven trumpets contain allusions to the plagues of Exodus – the judgments by which God delivered his people from the oppressive, wicked Egyptian Empire ruled by a man who demanded worship as the Sovereign Son of God.  We read of water turning into blood, hail, darkness, locusts and the death of its citizens.  These allusions would have been very encouraging symbols of hope to the early church, oppressed within the Roman Empire ruled by a man who demanded worship as the Sovereign Son of God.   If God had delivered his people once, he could do it again!

We need to be reminded that this apocalyptic genre of Revelation does not allow us to take these images literally: that blood literally would fall from the sky (8:7) or that demon-like militant locusts would roam the earth (9:3-5).  These are symbols of various forms of destruction – natural disasters and warfare that are meant to shake earthlings out of their rebellious deception that mankind can live independent of God’s just, benevolent rule.

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What are these trumpet-judgments?  Trumpets (Greek salphinx) signify two things here: firstly,the blasts of trumpets accompanied royal decrees, and these trumpets were typically blasted to announce a military victory.  In this context both apply: By these blasts the Lamb announces the decrees of God’s redemption of his kingdom, and with every judgment announces his victory over and against the devil and the wicked kingdoms in this world.

wormwoodThe first four judgments (8:7-12) point to various forms of natural disasters that would affect great climatic change, causing crisis in food production, fresh water supply and economic sustainability worldwide.  These allude to the plagues which destroyed Egypt, and assert God’s sovereignty over all of creation. 

The next two trumpet judgments point to the woes accompanying the military conquest of an invading army.  The 5th trumpet blast releases a terrifying army likened to armored locusts (9:1-11) lead by “The Destroyer” (Heb: Abaddon, 9:11). The 6th trumpet blast releases a destructive army of 200 million riders on poisonous, fire-breathing horses.  These two judgments has strong allusions to Joel 2 (compare Joel 2:3-5 to Revelation 9:7-8, 18), a chapter calling for Israel’s repentance from immorality, idolatry and injustice or face destruction by a ravaging army such as this.

Many New Testament authors read in these two trumpet-judgments the immanent invasion by the Parthian army, who were advancing East of the Roman Empire at the time of John’s writing.  As mentioned in a previous post this army was notorious for their swift and skilled horseback archers.   This army would probably have been the first thought from the first readers/ hearers of John’s apocalyptic letter.  But the accusation against the Roman Empire of their day is that, like Pharaoh,  in spite of these disasters, “they did not repent” of their pagan worship, violence, witchcraft, sexual immorality or thefts. (9:20-21)

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The image of God as a just, sovereign judge, pouring out his wrath in disasters, famine and war one the earth sits uncomfortable with our modern man and woman.  It seems cruel.  But we need to remember that judgment is good – the punishment of the oppressor leads to the deliverance of the oppressed, just like the judgment on Egypt resulted in the deliverance of the Hebrews.  So too the judgment on the violently oppressive Roman empire results in the deliverance of the viciously persecuted Church.  Justice leads to peace.

Herein we see a third character of God displayed in this chapter, that even in these judgments we see God’s grace.

Yes, God is gracious! As these prayer of the saints result in acts of God’s judgment, we see that it reaps destruction in a third of the earth.  Only a third.  We noted in the first seven judgement described in the opening of the seals (ch 6-7) that 1/4 of of the earth was touched.  In the seven trumpets 1/3 of the earth is touched (ch 8-9).  When the seven bowls are poured out, we see judgment results in the final and complete destruction of the earth.

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6 Trumpet judgments result in the destruction of 1/3 of creation (Revelation 8-9)

Therefore, even in these judgments we see God’s grace at work.  These judgments are redemptive in two ways: it leads to the release of God’s oppressed people and creation, and calls for the repentance of the oppressive kingdoms which rebel against his benevolent rule.  And repentance, yielding to God’s rule, will result in reconciliation and peace with God through the Lamb.  These temporary, earthly judgments warn of an eternal judgment, calling for repentance to avoid the wrath of God and the Lamb.  Therefore these earthly judgments display the mercy of the “Lord (who) is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

Bringing it home

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Worldwide natural disasters in recent past (source: statistica)

The occurrence of natural disasters are on the increase every year, with 409 catastrophic events recorded last year. Wars are on the increase worldwide, with 832 Militias-guerrillas and terrorist-groups involved in civil war around the world today.  Revelation 8-9 depict these disasters as judgments unleashed by the Lamb, asserting his Supremacy over all creation and every nation, while revealing our fallenness and inability to assure a peaceful reign apart from God.

But in these chapters filled with judgment, we are so encouraged to see God’s compassion and attentiveness to his servants.  We note the powerful impact of their prayers resulting in God’s sovereign justice ridding the world from evil.  Yet in this we see his merciful patience with his enemies.  Indeed,

Today as we are so acutely aware of the fallenness of creation, the corruption in government, and lawlessness in our society, we are encouraged by this vison of a God who hears when we pray.  We are encouraged that indeed, our prayers are liberating the world of evil.  We are comforted that Christ is not outside these disasters that ravage the earth – but rather through these advancing his kingdom.  Lastly, we are hopeful that these just judgments awaken individuals and nations to the sinfulness of man and the reality of God’s wrath, even as he graciously allows time for sinners to turn to him him and find mercy before the Day of his Judgment.

May this encourage your heart to pray, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

 

The End? The Lamb’s Army

This post, the 13th in our series through Revelation, is devoted to chapter 7 – the marking and listing of the Lamb’s army. A recording of this will be available on Shofar Durbanville’s Youtube channel as part of the Revelation Series.

Chapter 6 depicts Christ unfolding the scroll containing God’s redemptive plan for creation. This brought about terrible judgments, so that eventually everyone on earth hid themselves and cried out “Who can stand before the wrath of Him Who sits on the throne and the Lamb?” (6:17).  And chapter 7 answers this question.

Hold the wind! (7:1-3) Suddenly four angels were seen to hold back the four winds over the earth (7:1). Holding back the wind implies withholding the destructive forces released over creation by the first six seals (6:1-17; compare Ezekiel 5:12).  The reason for the pause in destruction until “we sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (7:3).  This protection from wrath by a seal from God alludes to Exodus 12:21-27 (destruction of Egypt, preservation of Israel) and Ezekiel  9:3-8 (destruction of Israel, preservation of the righteous).  

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Gideon’s army defeat the Midianites (Judges 6-7). (Source: Moody Press, Free Bible Images)

The 144’000 (7:4-8).  These servants of God are identified as John hears a roll call of Israel’s fighting men, like in Numbers 1 before the conquest of Canaan.  The 144’000 are said to be 12’000 from every tribe in Israel. Remember that in the apoplectic language of Revelation, images and numbers are not read literal, but should be read to signify something that comforted and challenged the first readers in their struggle against evil during their tribulation (1:9-11).

This number of 144’000 faithful Israelite have been used – and is still being used – by many cults worldwide who claim their veracity and special election.  But 144’000 is clearly a symbolic number (like the 7 horns en 7 eyes of the Lamb in chapter 5).  144’000 is made up of 12x12x1000.  Twelve in this literary genre points to God’s covenant people: the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Church.  1000 is a number meaning innumerable, all or fullness.  So, John hears “mark God’s people with his seal!” and is told Israel’s faithful, fighting ones are numbered.

In keeping with apocalyptic genre, Israel here should also not be viewed from the genetic line or national citizenship, but rather symbolical for God’s covenant people. Jesus said that “salvation is from the Jews”, not just for the Jews (John 4:22). Paul defined “a true Jew (as) one inwardly” (Romans 2:29), having a “circumcised” or transformed heart faithful to God.  This tribal list here in Revelation 7 is a picture of “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16).

But this list of Israel’s tribes is unlike any other found in Jewish scriptures (compare for instance Genesis 35:23-26; 49:1-28; Numbers 1:1-46; and Deuteronomy 33:6-25) – and that is the point of this part of the vision.  The discrepancies in this list highlight the truth Jesus wants to show John.

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  • Judah is mentioned first, not Israels’s (Jacob’s) firstborn Ruben. That is because Jesus is from the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5).
  • Dan is omitted.  Dan is notorious in Israel because of its idolatry, leading the Northen tribes away from God (Judges 18).
  • Manasseh is included.  Menasseh is a half-breed grandson of Jacob, born to Joseph by his Egyptian wife.
  • Gad, Asher, Naphtali are moved up. These were usually mentioned last in Israel’s tribes, because these are Jacob’s “bastard” sons, born not from his wives Rachel and Leah, but from his concubines.  They too were half-breeds, illegitimate in the eyes of their brothers.

What then do we make of this special Christian list of  Israel’s tribe?  We have a list of God’s covenant people that is distinct in that Christ is honored as firstborn over Israel, who welcomes half-breeds and misfits, but rejects idolaters. Salvation is through faith in Christ alone.  Dennis E. Johnson comments on this list:

“this genealogy symbolizes the reign of Jesus, the incorporation of outcasts, and the exclusion of idolaters from the covenant community that God shields from his terrible wrath.”

John hears the roll call of 144’000 covenant people championed by Christ.  But what John sees next is something completely different.

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The innumerable crowd in white (7:9-17).  John’s vision transforms into a vast sea of people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” in worship.  What the census of 144’000 fighting men of Israel suggested above, this vision affirms.  This is a vision of the Lamb’s army who heralds him with singing and palm branches as the inaugurated, homecoming King.  

The elder tells John that: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  In other words – the ones who endured the troubling times on earth, have trusted in Christ’s vicarious death for their sins, having been washed as white as snow (refer Isaiah 1:18).  These elect ones worship God by declaring “Salvation belongs to our God…and to the Lamb!” – God alone can save us from his wrath (7:10; compare Psalms 37:39; 62:7 etc).  These saints will enjoy peace and bliss in the Lamb’s presence before the throne for eternity (7:15-17).

What is this seal of God (7:3)?  As mentioned above, Ezekiel saw a vision where the Lord commanded an angel to mark (seal) his faithful ones “who groan over the idolatry in Jerusalem” with a seal on the forehead, to protect them from God’s wrath against unfaithful Israel (Ezekiel 9:3-8).  This seal also alludes to the marking of the blood on the door posts that protected God’s people from the wrath poured out over Egypt (Exodus 12:21-27).

In the New Testament we read that the Holy Spirit dwelling within the believer is God’s “seal and guarantee of salvation” (2 Corinthians 1:22; also Ephesians 1:13 -14).  We also note that this apocalyptic army of God are blood-washed, like the houses in Egypt escaping the wrath of God (7:9).

Who can stand before the wrath of God? (7:9)  This description of sealed ones is an answer to the cry “who can stand before the wrath of the One who sits on the thrown and the Lamb?” (6:17) The answer: those who have been sealed by the Spirit, washed in his blood – the Lamb’s army (7:3, 9).  These not only “stand before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9), but they are found joyfully worshiping him.

Protected from wrath, not trouble (7:3,14).  It must be noted that these sealed ones are protected from God’s wrath on the Day of Judgment (as seen above), but it does not shield them from trouble.  Note that these blood-washed ones are “coming out of the great tribulation” (7:14); they are not spared the difficulties that other people endure on earth.  In fact, as we have seen in our discussion on the previous chapter these believers endure religious persecution in addition to all other difficulties.

But why does the seal of God not prevent tribulations?  Jesus promised “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world(John 16:32-33).  As Christ overcome the tribulations and temptations of this world in his suffering, so these seven churches ought to overcome the tribulations and the temptations to opt for a comfortable life by compromise and disobedience to Christ.  Paul encouraged the church in Rome during Nero’s persecution “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).  The church’s victory is not from suffering, but to overcome the temptations in spite of suffering.  As we read in chapter 5, our victory is in the way of the Lamb.

Bringing it home

white-throne-judgment

As discussed in the previous post, the judgments of Christ are visible all around us in warfare, disasters, epidemics, poverty and violent persecution.  These troubles are meant to wake up the world (and the church) to the reality that God is sovereign and he will judge the world – who can escape his wrath?  Revelation 7 beautiful depicts the ones that are sealed from God’s wrath on that Day of Judgment.

The church, “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16) are those who worship Jesus as supreme, who recognize their insufficiency, and renounce every form of idolatry.  They are the ones who are washed in the Lamb’s blood of the cross, and sealed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, trusting Christ alone for their salvation before God’s seat of judgment.

Although this seal of God does not protect us from troubles on this earth, these tribulations and temptations in itself are daily reminders of Christ’s final judgment and the establishment of his kingdom – a realm where

“We shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
    the sun shall not strike us,
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd,
    and he will guide us to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (pronouns personalised)

 

The End? Release of the Four Horsemen

This 12th reflection in our journey through Revelation displays the rich apocalyptic genre of this prophetic letter.  A recording of this post is available on Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel, as part of the Revelation Series. Follow the link below.

The middle section of Revelation we now enter (chapters 6-16) contain three sets of seven judgments each:

Scroll_Seven_Seals

  • the opening of the seven seals (chapters 6-8a),
    • interluded with roll call of the Lamb’s Army (chapter 7)
  • the blowing of the seven trumpets (chapters 8b-11),
    • interluded with description of the Lamb’s temple and two witnesses (chapter 10)
    • and the seven signs of warning (chapter 12-14)
  • the pouring out of the seven bowls (chapters 15-16).

These judgments that proceed from the throne room of God, as the Lamb opens his scroll, are acts of God’s redemption of creation, “reconciling all things to himself… by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20)

How do you read it?

There are various interpretations of Revelation, and especially of this middle section.

interpretations_revelationThese judgments are generally interpreted in four ways: Preterists see all fulfilled before either the 1st or the 4th century.  Historicists  believe these are being fulfilled throughout history.  Idealists do not read Revelation literal, but see all as symbolic of the struggle between good and evil.  Futurists await the chronological fulfillment of these events (Ch 4-22), which they believe will result in a crisis period leading up to Christ’s second coming.

I believe that these three sets are not limited to events of the past or events in the future, but are indicative of crisis that occur in every generation.  I believe these three sets of seven are not to be read as a chronological prediction, but rather as three different perspectives on the many crisis the world and the church face throughout history (from there the many repetition in these chapters).  Remember, this prophesy was written as encouragement and exhortation to seven real congregation who experienced much of these crisis in their own time.

The four horseman of the apocalypse

seven_seals

In keeping with the nature of the apocalyptic genre, all three sets of judgments draw richly from Old Testament literature.  The opening of the seven seals start with the unleashing of the four Horsemen of Zechariah (1:7-14; 6:1-7) who would unleash “four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!” (Ezekiel 14:21; compare Deuteronomy 32:23-25).

It is important to note that these acts of judgment proceed from the decrees of the scroll, as the Lamb unrolls God’s redemptive plans for creation, bringing all other kingdoms in subjection to his reign (compare Colossians 1:15-20).  The judgments are initiated by Christ; the horsemen are subservient to Christ, instrumental in his reign.

With each of the first four seals being opened, one of the four living creatures around the throne cry out “Come!” (6:1, 3, 5, 7).  As discussed in a previous post, these four living creatures represent the fullness of creation (compare 4:6b-8) – and these four judgments are directed to creation.  Their calling “come!” draw John’s attention to the impending judgments, but in the scope of Revelation the cry to “come!” is a cry for Jesus’ return (1:7; 22:17, 20).  Even as these four horsemen are coming, so too Christ is coming through the unpacking of these seals, one by one.

The first seal unleashes the first rider on a white horse armed with “a bow”, empowered with a victor’s “crown” and commissioned “to conquer.” (6:2) The first judgment unleashed upon the earth is of conquest – victory through subjection in warfare.  To the first readers of John’s letter this archer on a white horse would remind them of the Parthians, “the only mounted archers in the first century; white horses were their trademark” (Boring 1989:122).  These dreaded horseback archers were an immediate threat to the seven churches on the eastern border of the Roman empire.

The focus here is on the unleashing of military conquest, forceful subjection of kingdoms and people groups to a foreign ruler. Jesus’ teaching on the end times in Matthew 24 mirrors Revelation 6. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”  (Matthew 24:6-7).  The call to the church is to not fear – the Lamb is sovereign over this, and has given him this “crown”, and his victory in conquest.  All authority, all dominion belongs to the Lamb (5:11; compare Matthew 28:19-20).

The second seal’s opening unleashes “a bright red horse“, and it’s rider “was given a great sword… permitted to take peace from the earth… people will slay one another” (6:3-4).  This is war.  Where the first seal unleashes conquest (nation against nation), this second seal unleashes civil revolt (domestic warfare).  Here Jesus’ warnings that “brother would betray brother to death” has reference (Mark 13:12).   For the first readers this was common occurrence, as emperors were frequently murdered by their usurpers who would rise to claim the throne.  In 68-69 Rome had four emperors as a usurper would kill the ruler to take his place; Domitian, ruling during John’s writing, had 12 ex-consuls executed for treason, alongside two of his own cousins!

Again we must note that the Sovereign Christ gives this horseman “a great sword” and “permits” him to do warfare – to bring about his redemptive purposes.

With the third seal, Christ unleashes “a black horse” whose rider had a pair of measuring scales in his hand, decreeing a time of scarcity resulting in outrageously high food prices:“A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius…”  This decree implied poverty, hunger, starvation. Jesus warned that “there will be famines and earthquakes in various places…” (Matthew 24:7).  Within the underdeveloped agricultural and trade fair of John’s day, scarcity and famine were common occurrences, as food production and transport were more vulnerable to weather, pests and raiders (refer Acts 11:27).

Note the restriction in the command “…and do not harm the oil and wine!”  Wine and oil were/ are luxury items, reserved for the rich of their day, and seem to be untouched by the scarcity sent out over the earth.  This may allude to social inequality, where the poor become poorer and the rich become richer – a phenomenon we read about in throughout the Bible, and of which we are painfully aware of in our day.  Or this reference may be part of the sovereign limitation by God on this judgment – as we will see progressive suffering in the visions of the Seven trumpets and the Seven bowls. Regardless of the meaning, note the sovereignty of Christ over food production and distribution.

With the opening of the fourth seal, death was unleashed on a pale horse (6:8) the color of a corpse.  This rider is followed by Hades and together they unleash death to a fourth of the earth “with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth” (6:8; compare Deuteronomy 32:23-25 and Ezekiel 14:12-23).

Note again that Christ is the one who gives this permission to strike a fourth of the earth.  In the Seven trumpets, there is permission to strike a third of the earth, and in the Seven bowls, there is the threat of complete destruction.

Where is the church during these troubled times?

Futurists believe that the church will be spared these judgments, as we will be secretly “raptured” to heaven before these ordeals. (I will write about the popular, contemporary view of the rapture in another post).

Robed_in_White

But the opening of fifth seal reveals the opposite (6:9-11). John’s attention is drawn to the martyrs in heaven who had been killed for their witness of Christ. These cry out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  They are honoured with “white robes” and “told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”  The church is still on earth, enduring the suffering of the four horsemen along with the rest of the world – in addition to the suffering implied by this seal: persecution for the sake of Christ and his Gospel.

It is helpful to look again at the parallel text of Ezekiel 14.  The chapter states that that these judgments of “sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, [and death]” are brought about by the Lord to correct rebellion and idolatry.  It explicitly  states that God’s righteous people shall not be removed from these troubles but will be preserved during these seasons of judgments: “even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God (14:21).  Just like Daniel’s friends were not spared from the fire, but were preserved within the fire, the church also has the company and grace of One “like the Son of God” in their fiery trial, preserving and comforting them (refer to Daniel 3:25.)

Celestial signs

The prayers for vengeance form the martyrs (6:10) is answered in the opening of the sixth seal as the sun becomes black, the moon like blood, stars fall, the earth shake, mountains erupt and islands sink into the sea (6:12-14).  This is a paraphrase of Jesus’ prophesy of the last days when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Mark 13:24-25; compare Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:25-26).  John sees how this cosmic collapse brings universal panic to “everyone” – rulers to lay people, rich to poor, warriors to the weak – causing hide away in caves in awe-filled fear of God’s impending day of judgment.

The chapter ends with the question of these awe-filled crowd: “who can stand” before God in this day of his wrath?  That question is answered in chapter seven when The Lamb’s Army roll is called.  The seventh seal is opened in 8:1, there was “silence in heaven for about half an hour” and then the seven trumpets are blown.

Bringing it home

 

There are currently 69 countries at war, and 832 Militias-guerrillas and terrorist-separatist-anarchic groups involved in civil war around the world today.  In 2019, 409 natural disasters have been recorded.  In 2018 there were 37.9 million people living with aids in the world (www.hiv.gov). Today more than 1.934 million people have been infected with the Covid-19 virus in a short span of 4 months, causing a pandemic of fear resulting in the lock-down of nearly a third of the world, toppling economies worldwide.  These judgments on creation and the nations are not some future events – it is the reality on every continent, in every generation.  The Lamb is right now opening the seals that unleash judgments on the world, bringing nations to the realization that mankind is limited and answerable to a Sovereign Ruler.  These temporal judgments are acts of mercy – allowing people to turn to God in repentance.

Where does this leave believers like me and you?  Do we sit back and wait for “The End?”  like defeatist or pacifists?  No, our call is to witness the benevolent and just reign of God in a harsh world.  We, the church, are a taste of things to come.  We are a light in the darkness, a city of refuge in violent world.  We are an ark where sinners may run in to escape the flood of judgment to come.

Our call to witness in both in proclamation and demonstration of what the King and his Kingdom is like.  Like Leslie Newbigin said: the church is a sign pointing to the kingdom; a foretaste of what that kingdom will be like; and an agent that labors with Christ and the Spirit to bring about His kingdom to earth.   That is what the Lord’s Army is doing, until the day of his great and final judgment.

The End? The Lion and the Lamb.

In this 11th post of Revelation we come to Revelation 5, where Christ is worshiped as the One who is worthy to unfold God’s redemptive plan for all creation. A recording of this session is available here

John and the oppressed church in his day struggled to make sense of their suffering in the light of their belief that Christ is Lord of all.  Then, while in prayer, John receives the comforting vision that the resurrected Jesus is still among his church (Chapters 1-3), and that God is indeed sovereign over all of creation (Chapter 4).  His vision of the throne room in heaven continues in chapter 5 as he sees a scroll and a shared throne.  

An important scroll (5:1-5)

In keeping with the apocalyptic genre of Revelation, the importance of the scroll is indicated in several ways.  (The opening of this scroll sets the script for the next eleven chapters).   The scroll is “on the right hand of Him who sits on the throne”, a position of prominence and power.  It is inscribed on the front and back – an unfamiliar practice in John’s day – meaning the scroll was full and complete, with nothing to be added or taken away (compare 22:18-19).  The scroll is sealed perfectly “with seven seals” so that no one could lift a corner to peek into it.  When “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll” John “began to weep loudly.”  John’s response should be our response, because this scroll’s unfolding is of paramount importance to end the tyranny, seduction and deception under which the church and the world is bent.

What is this scroll?  The following chapters will reveal that this scroll contains God’s redemptive plan for his creation – the King’s decrees for the restoration of his Kingdom.  Chapter six through sixteen will show how this progressive unfolding of God’s redemption of creation aligns with the opening of the scroll.  The scroll is his victory over sin, Satan, and the gentile kingdoms that resist his reign and oppress his church.  As such, this scroll contains the answer to the cry of John and the church in his day, and ever suffering saint since: “Lord, don’t you care, don’t you see? If you are the Christ, when will your kingdom come?”

Who then is this champion for God’s redemptive quest with creation?  “Who is worthy to open the scroll?”  This question reveals the central figure of Revelation – the only one who is worthy to unfold this scroll.  John hears the elder’s reassurance “Weep no more!  Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  The elder’s words paint the picture of a mighty Messianic figure, a lion-like leader from the loins of David.

Lion_2

But like so many times in Revelation, what John hears and what John sees are two different things.  Christ hints that things are not like they seem, church!  When John joyfully turns around to look at this valiant freedom fighter, he sees a slain Lamb (5:6).  The rest of this chapter is devoted to show the worth of this Lamb.

The worth of the Lamb (5:5-7)

The elder already revealed that the Lamb is powerful (“the Lion of Judah”), has prestigious rank (“the root of David”), and has been victorious (“has conquered”).  John notes that the Lamb is “amidst the throne” – in the place of rule and judgment; God regards this Lamb worthy to share his throne with!  The Lamb is said to have perfect strength (“seven horns”)  and perfect wisdom (“seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God”, refer Isaiah 11:2).  

In addition to who the Lamb is (Messiah), where the Lamb is (amidst the throne), and what the Lamb has (perfect strength and wisdom), the Lamb is worthy because what he has done and what he does. The Lamb is described as “slain” – killed as a sacrifice.  The image portrayed is of a violent death.  The Lamb is worthy because of what this all-mighty, all-wise Lamb had willingly endured.  As Jesus said “no one takes my my life from me, but I give it of my own accord.” (John 10:18)

The slain Lamb points back to Egypt, to the Passover Lamb that was slain for the redemption of God’s people from the oppressor (Exodus 12; compare John 1:29).  It reminds the reader of Isaiah’s prophesy of the Messiah who was oppressed, and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.(Isaiah 54:7, see verses 1-6 for context).  This vicarious Lamb is worthy of honour!

Yet John points out that this Lamb is not only worthy because of what he had done, but what he is doing.  He is slain, yet “standing”!  He had endured and overcome the worst the enemy could do to him, yet he stands victorious over sin, suffering and death!

Because of his worth, his honour, the Lamb ” took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”   This act causes all of Heaven to erupt in worship.

The worship of the Lamb (5:8-14)

elders_bowing_throne2

Where chapter 4 of Revelation centers around God’s Sovereignty over creation, chapter 3 centers around God’s redemption of creation.  In chapter 4 God (the Father) is worshiped as Creator and Sustainer of creation, but in chapter 5 Christ, the Lamb of God is worshiped as Redeemer of creation.  This truth should not be brushed over too quickly.  Jesus Christ is not only applauded for his sacrifice – his is worshiped together with his Father (5:13). Yet where the Creator is worshiped with three-fold praise (4:11), the Redeemer is worshiped with seven-fold praise (5:12) – in the very presence of the Father.  here in this chapter, the Lamb is the focal point of worship.  

Yet their is no hint of jealousy or competition among the the Godhead.  In his study of the Christian Triune God, Daniel Migliore (Faith seeking understanding, 1991:177) concluded that the relationship between the Three Persons of the Trinity reveal our God to be “eternally self-expending, other-regarding, community forming love.”  As we see here in the Throne Room scene of Revelation 4-5, with God the Father, the Seven-fold Spirit, and Christ the Lamb together, their relationship is indeed eternally self-giving and other-regarding, forming a community of redeemed ones to share in their loving joy and peace.  Truly, God is worthy to be praised forever!

The redeemed (5:9-10)

Every nation tribe tongue

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

As part of the procession of worshipers, the elders sing this song (5:9-10).  Much can be said about these two verses, but I want to highlight only three things.  Firstly, their song show that the Lamb’s work of redemption is rooted in the Old Testament Messianic expectation that the Christ would deliver his people from the woes of the evil kingdoms of this world, like he did when he saved the Hebrews from Egypt in the evening of the Passover.

Second, seven times in Revelation this phrase “from every tribe and language and people and nation” is used in variant forms (5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15).  Israel had a messianic expectation that the Christ will rule over every nation (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 2:8-9; Isaiah 49:6; 56:6-8 to name a few).  Christ’s commission to his disciples was to proclaim his reign “to every nation” (Matthew 24:41; 28:19). All these were redeemed from various ethnic groups by the blood of Christ (compare Mark 10:45; 1 Pet 1:18-19).  This universal reach of his redemption is to showcase both his grace and glory (Romans 15:9).

Thirdly, these redeemed ones are not only forgiven, but are given the right and responsibility to reign with God, as these crowned, enthroned elders depict (4:4; 5:8-9).  They praise Christ for making them “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).  This image of Christ’s full redemption, where mankind are invited to reign with God, is an allusion to the original intent God had with Adam and Eve: created in his image, to rule and reign with him (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8).  Christ has come to restore all things, including man’s original position in God’s kingdom.

Bringing it home

take_scroll

“Weep no more!”  This vision encouraged these seven suffering churches (1:4, 11) that God has a scroll – a plan for the fulfillment of his redemption and restoration of fallen creation – and that Christ was championing this charge.  They could stop their weeping: Christ is on the move! (The next 11 chapters reveal how).

“Reign with me!”  But these churches understood that their redemption did not merely mean that were reconciled with God; they were also rightful rulers with God in Christ.  Even now they were kings and priests to reign on earth with him.  They were privileged and empowered to participate in his Kingdom witness and work.

Today also, to a church afraid, bewildered and confused by the mess the world is in, the Spirit says “Weep no more! Don’t despair! There is a Champion at work!”  We will see in the chapters to follow how all the calamities and confusion is serving Christ’s conquest, and how “in all these things were are more than overcomers through him who loves us.” (Romans 8:37)

But likewise the Spirit reminds us that were are not helpless victims or passive onlookers in this struggle – we are positioned to “reign with Christ” (Romans 5:17) over sin in this world, now and forever.  However, our reigning is not meant to be in the way of the Roman leaders, not in the way of the Lion, but in the way of the Lamb.

“Walk in the way of the Lamb!” Like Paul learn, we rely on his grace to reveal his power – not ours.  This means that like Christ, we who reign with Christ should humble ourselves (Philippians 2:5-10).  It means that we should consider ourselves merely as “jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)  It calls us to be content and patiently rely on the sufficiency of Christ’s grace during suffering, to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).   This does not imply resignation to all the world throws at you, but rather a reliance upon Christ to vindicate one than self.

My friends, weep no more – there is Champion!  The Lamb has conquered, and has redeemed and esteemed you to reign with him over evil in this world – today and always.  But he calls us to walk in his way – in the way of gentleness, meekness and sacrifice.  Be of good cheer – His grace is sufficient for all you face today, and will return to wipe every tear and banish every fear.  He makes all things new! 

The End?A Throne set in Heaven.

In this 10th session in our series of Revelation, John is invited to “come up here” and see God’s throne room, and view life from his perspective (Revelation 4).   A recording of this will be made available at Shofar Durbanville’s Youtube channel.

Revelation 4 starts with the phrase “after this” – after the first part of the vision of Christ among the seven churches, addressing each of them with a specific word of comfort and correction (chapters 1 – 3).  Then John looks up – shifts his perspective from down here on earth to what is going on in heaven.  He sees “a door open in heaven” and is invited to “come up here” – to gain Godly perspective on the chaos and conflict the church endures on earth, and to identify with the Sovereign reign of God.

Imagine this! The only instruction the reader receives in this chapter is to “behold” (4:1,2) – to imagine this or picture this.  John invites the reader twice to see what he sees – because this hopeful message to the church is contained in the vision of what takes place in heaven.  John sees a throne, the Ruler, and the response of those around the throne.

A Universal Throne (4:2).  As he entered the door, John sees a magnificent throne.  the early church was familiar with a throne over many peoples and nations – and that was not good news to them. Emperor Domitian’s reign (like those before him) was egocentric and brutal.  But this throne John sees was universal over all of creation – he was the true King of kings and Lord of lords who Domitian claimed to be.  The throne was not the problem – the one who sits on the throne determines whether his subjects will weep or rejoice.  And this is what John sees next.

A Regal Ruler (4:3-5). The first thing John notes of “him who sat” on the throne, is the beauty – “the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” (4:3a)  Jasper was a clear stone like a diamond, and carnelian deep red like a ruby.   A diamond (or jasper) conveys the image of clarity, perfection, flawlessness – justice, righteousness.  A ruby (or carnelian) is deep red like blood, and conveys the image of love, sacrifice and mercy.  John sees this ruler as righteous and rich in loving mercy.  Indeed, His “kingdom is ruled by justice and fairness with love (mercy) and faithfulness leading the way.” (Psalm 89:14, CEV)

Secondly, John sees “a rainbow, appearing like an emerald.” (4:3b)  The rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant with Noah and all life, is God’s reminder to himself to never again destroy all life on earth with a flood (Genesis 9:8-17).  John sees God’s throne encapsulated in goodness and faithfullness, preserving of life.  God’s reign is “good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

Thirdly John describes “around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.” (4:4)  Unlike the egomaniac Domitian, this graciously humble Ruler chooses to share his reign, to include others to rule with him over all his realm!  In this apocalyptic genre, the 24 elders imply the fullness of God’s covenant people of the Old and New Testament (12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples/ apostles of the church).  God’s renewed people reign over his creation, as the offspring of Adam and Eve were always meant to rule and reign with him (Genesis 1:26-28; Revelation 5:10).

Next John notes “flashed of lightnings, and rumblings and peals of thunders” (4:5) coming from the throne. This phrase appears three more times in Revelation when God pours out judgment on the peoples (8:5; 11:19; 16:18), and it draws from Exodus 19:16 where God gave the Law to Moses atop Mount Sinai.  Therefore, here as elsewhere in Scripture (eg Psalm 77:18 and Hebrews 12:18) the flashes of lightning and peals of thunder from heaven refers to God’s perfect justice and judgmentJudgment has a negative connection in our day; but judgment is very good news when you’re the oppressed – like the church was in the first century.  Moses sang “His work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

God judges with complete knowledge and wisdom, as the next image that John describes reveal.  John sees “seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” – an allusion to the 7-fold lamp stand in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40) and 7-fold Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:2), implying that God sees all and knows all; his judgment is true and right.

Unlike the ruler Domitian who ruler the great Roman Empire at the end of the first century AD, John caught a glimpse of this Universal Ruler who is righteous and merciful, good and faithful, graciously humble, perfectly just and all-wise.  Then John notes the response of those around the throne.

A Proper Response (4:6-9).  When John looks around the throne of God he first sees that the sea are “of glass, like crystal.” (4:6)  In the ancient world, the oceans were regarded as mysterious, menacing and full of monsters; seafarers would frequently disappear into the unknown depths of the sea, never to appear again.  The sea (4:6) here represented the worst of John’s world: that which is uncertain, dangerous, and out of control.  But suddenly he sees that, from the perspective of this Regal Ruler’s throne, even the seas are at peace and crystal clear.  The higher your perspective, the calmer the seas.  From God’s perspective, nothing is our of control, nothing is mysterious, nothing is dangerous.  All is well, and there is no need to be anxious.

Next John sees, around the throne, four awesome beasts: one with the face of a ox, one with the face lion, one with the face of an eagle and one with the face of a man.  These all have wings like seraphine.  The ox is the mightiest of domestic animals; the lion is the mightiest of the wild beasts; the eagle is the mightiest of the birds; man is the mightiest of God’s earthly creatures; and seraphine are the mightiest of the angelic beings.  Yet these four awesome beings (representing the mightiest of all God’s creation) erupt in awe-filled praise at the sight God’s glory.  They relentless cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (4:8; compare Isaiah 6:3 and Exodus 3:14).

John then describes the complete surrender of the 24 elders around the throne: every time the four awesome beasts praise God, the elders bow down, casting their crowns and declare “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.” (4:11)  The elders recognize that all creatures and all powers are subject and subservient to God, created to serve his purpose.  And, rightly so, subject themselves to willingly serve him.

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Bringing it home

John was confused by the chaos and conflict that the church suffered – where was the reign promised by Christ?  After being assured that Christ is among his church and fully aware of what was happening on earth, John is invited to see God and look at creation from God’s perspective (ch 4, continuing in Ch 5-20).

John invites us to see that there is a door open to heaven where One is seated one his Sovereign seat.  John comforts us that this One can be trusted to reign over all: he is described as righteous and merciful. good and faithful, graciously humble, judging with complete wisdom and  perfect justice.   When we become aware of the power and presence of his reign, we are filled with peace and awe, prompting praise and surrender.

How do I respond?  Whenever the cares of the world and the chaos of our day overwhelm me, in prayer, I choose walk through that door to the throne room of God and imagine what John saw.  I see him for who he is, and allow peace and praise to strengthen my heart, that I may entrust myself to his sovereign plan.

The next post (on Revelation 5) will start to answer the questions that this vision begs us to ask: If God is in control, why do evil persist in the world?  And how does Christ’s reign fit in the chaos and conflict of our world today?  

The End? Lukewarm waters

This ninth post in our journey through Revelation brings us to the last of the seven letters to the recipients of Revelation, the letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22).  A recording of this post will be available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel.   

John’s Revelation aims to comfort and challenge the church in its uncertain times.  This book reveals three great threats against the churches during the last decade of the first century: the intimidation by Rome (“the Beast”), the seduction of sensual living (“Babylon the harlot”), and the deception of false religions (“the False Prophet”) – all agents of Satan (“that Great Dragon”) attempting to snuff out the faith of the church.  In Christ’s letter to Laodicea, the lure of sensual living was the greatest threat against the church’s devotion to Christ and their witness of his Kingdom.

Laodicea was situated southeast of Philadelphia, close to major trade routes that connected it to Ephesus, Smyrna and Sardis.  It was a wealthy city, renown for its banking industry, wool industry, medical school, boasting an elaborate aqueduct system bringing water four miles from the springs at Denizli.  

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The ancient city of Laodicea was a wealthy city renown for its banking, wool and medicine as well as its impressive aqueduct systems.

The church in Laodicea was probably founded by Ephafras (Colossians 4:13; 1:7). It was prominent and privileged to receive correspondence from both the Apostles John and Paul (Revelation 1:11; Colossians 4:16).  This church, unlike the other churches in its time, was wealthy and self-sufficient (Revelation 3:17), and is the focal point of Christ’s message to the Laodicean believers. 

Revelation of Christ (3:14).  Christ reveals himself as “The Amen”, the one who is able to bring to fulfillment the purposes of God. He is “the Faithful and True Witness” – the martyr who witnessed the Kingdom of God with authenticity, to the end, paying the highest price.  He is also “the Beginning of God’s new creation” – the initiator and proof of God’s renewed creation.  Seen together, Christ’s revelation to Laodicean church calls them to look to him as example in witness and proof of his ability to rightfully usher in the new Reign of God; it comforts them that he will complete what he started and calls for their allegiance to him.

Condemnation (3:15-18).  Christ offers no commendation for this congregation.  His knowledge of their works reveal that, like the water from their elaborate aqueduct system, their witness is good for nothing – “neither cold (like the springs in Collosi) nor hot (like the springs at Hierapolis)“, inducing vomit.  This is often intepreted as a lack of zeal in the church, but the reference here implies that either hot or cold water is consumable, useful; lukewarm water is undrinkable, useless.  Christ’s condemnation is that the Laodicean church’s witness was compromised like their water supply – it was neither distinctly Christian nor worldly.  Somehow these believers found a loophole to remain in this market economy, avoiding direct Imperial cult worship and appeasing the trade guilds while soothing their conscious (more on this in a previous post).  This left the “streams of water gushing” from them luke-warm, unpalatable and therefore unable to satisfy the thirst of its community (refer to John 4:14).  Christ also found it to be disgusting.

Christ justifies his accusation: the church in Laodicean boasted in their riches, prosperity and self-sufficiency (3:17) – just like Babylon the great harlot (18:7).  In contrast to the church in Smyrna who were materially poor but rich in God’s sight (2:9), Christ reveals the Laodicean church as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (3:17).  Note the irony: this charge is made to a wealthy church in city known for banking, eye medicine, and wool industry.  Yet this group of believers were blinded by pride; their focus on material prosperity made them blind to their state spiritual deprivation.

Exhortation and warning (3:18-20).  Christ urges this church – who is “wretchedly poor” to buy from him “gold refined by fire” and “white garments” (3:18).  This invitation to satisfy one’s needs “without costs” alludes to Isaiah 51:1, a familiar phrase in Revelation (21:6, 22:17).  Both “gold refined by fire” and “white garments” invite the comfortable Ladicean believers to embrace persecution which refines faith like fire does gold (1 Peter 1:7) and purifies the believers, leaving their characters spotless (compare 3:4-5; also 7:9, 13-14).  Eye salve was something the Laodiceans were famous for, but Christ says “I want to heal your sight, to correct your perspective!”

The exhortation is to “be earnest and repent” (3:19) from their self-sufficiency and in humility turn to Christ as their source – a sober assessment to their pitiful state and honest decision to change their ways.  This “rebuke” of Christ is wrapped in the loving concern of a father who sees his child growing complacent to immanent danger (3:19; compare Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6).

As a final appeal Christ urges the church that note that they are gathering without him – he is standing outside the door of their feast.  Note that Christ has not abandoned them; he is patiently knocking and calling to be welcomed back into to their fellowship.  His invitation is gracious. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (3:20)

Promise (3:21-22).  To the one who overcomes the lure of self-sufficiency in riches, Christ offers to share in his eternal reign. “Just as I overcame” is a reference to Jesus’ victory over Satan’s temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), in particular the temptation of materialism (v9-10).

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Bringing it home

The big warning in this text is that material self-sufficiency often lead to spiritual self-sufficiency and ultimately self-serving.  Comfort breeds complacency, bringing compromise.  The Old Testament affirms this: prosperous Israel grew perverse.  And our own lives often reveal how abundance makes the heart grow colder.

It is easy for us in our self-indulging, materialistic age, to sympathize with the Laodicean believers who were tempted to compromise their witness in order to maintain their socio-economic status, high living standards and financial security.  It alerts one to the reality of Jesus’ warning “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24)

This letter to Laodicea leads us to examine out hearts and habits regarding our material world.  To us as to them Christ calls the church to repent – to forgo our compromise and embrace the testing of our faith and purifying of our character which comes through hardship and persecution.

In a wider context it begs us to answer the question: are we merely maintaining fellowship with the church, or feasting with Christ?  Answer the call, invite him in, and join in his feast.  The cost might be great but brief, yet the rewards glorious in eternity.

The End? Standing strong

This post, the eighth in a series on Revelation, looks at Christ’s letter to the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13).  A recording of this session is available on the Shofar Durbanville YouTube channel as part of the Revelation Series.

During the reign of Domitian, emperor of Rome (AD 90-92), Christians were persecuted for refusing to worship him as “king of kings, lord of lords.” He charged the Roman army and Roman courts to cleanse his realm from any subjects who denied him this glory. Not only the state persecuted disciples of Jesus: the trade guilds of the day refused to do business with people who did not worship their pagan gods, claiming they were the cause for bad karma resulting in natural disasters.  In addition, Jews especially hated the Christian “sect” who blasphemed their God by worshiping Jesus as his equal.

This left first century Christians generally poor (unemployable), persecuted by the state, hated by their Greek and Jewish neighbors, and pushed into the corners of society.  These social pressures, in a world pursuing sensual pleasure and social power, filled with pagan spiritualism, left believers vulnerable to doubt, desertion and dualism (to believe in Christ and live like the pagans).   After all, if indeed Christ is Lord of all, why should they suffer like this?  Where was their God?  Will he still return to reign?

These were the cries of the apostle John, when imprisoned on Patmos, Christ revealed himself as the One among the Lampstands – as present among his church. This letter to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) is the fifth church Christ addresses in the opening section of the Revelation (unveiling) John received.

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Remains of Ancient Philadelphia testify to the prominence of massive pillars – a sense of security and stability in a city plagued by earth quakes.

Philadelphia (“brotherly love”) is situated in the fertile Kuzucay valley between Sardis and Laodicea.  The city was built by the Pergamon king Eumenes who named it in honor of his love for his brother Attalus.  During the first century the city was renamed often, from Decapolis, to Flavia (in honour of Emperor Vespasian AD 69-79), to Neo-kaisaria. The city was also called “Little Athens” because its many pagan temples and public buildings were set on propagating Greek culture within Asia.

This city was known for its quality of wine, for the color of its “burnt soil” (volcanic ash) and the frequent earth quakes it suffered.  These tremors caused many to flee the safety of the city walls, choosing to stay outside the city in fear of the big structures collapsing on them.  The size of the pillars that remain today give some indication of the tenacity of the early settlers to build a civilization in this unstable place – and this sets the background for the letter to the church in Philadelphia.

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The key given to Rudolph Guiliani, the 107th Mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001 – a symbol of authority and entrustment.

Revelation of Christ (3:7).  In this volatile, insecure environment, Christ reveals himself to this congregation as “holy” and “trustworthy (true)” – one without corruption who can be trusted.  He furthermore reveals himself as the one “who holds the key of David” who, like Eliakim, the gatekeeper in Isaiah 22:20-23, wields the power of God’s eternal kingdom.  Christ has received the right and responsibility to govern the earth in the interest of his father.

Commendation and promise (3:8-12). There is no condemnation or correction for this faithful church – only praises and promises.  Note that this church chose to stay in this city – persecuted by its officials, betrayed by its big Jewish community, impoverished by its trade guilds, and terrified by its earthquakes – to witness Christ and his kingdom among them.  Therefore Christ, the one who holds the Key of David, promises this faithful church is to “an open door.”  This may refer to a favorable season to witness the Gospel among the gentiles (as in Acts 14:27), or simply access into God’s throne room (as in Revelation 4:1), into Christ’s eternal kingdom (thus, assurance of their salvation).  Christ probably implied an open door into his realm, but the heart behind the promise is reward and goodwill from the Lord.

Christ commends this church for keeping his “word” (holding on in faith to the Gospel), for “not denying (his) name” (faithful allegiance under persecution) and for “keeping (his) command to patiently endure” (steadfastness).  Therefore the Lord will bring the persecuting Jews “who worship at the synagogue of Satan” (compare Revelation 2:9) to bow down in honor of these saints.  This is an ironic play on Isaiah 45:14, 49:23 and 60:14  where God promised to vindicate oppressed Israel when their Gentile oppressors bow down to them. This allusion is a reminder to the shamed church in Philadelphia that they are indeed God’s covenant people, and these Jews are Gentiles at heart (unbelievers in God’s chosen Christ).

Because this church has remained faithful under persecution, Jesus promises to keep them from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world(3:10).  As we will see of the two faithfulness witnesses (11:12) and the woman who bore the child (12:5), this church will be spared from the wrath of Christ that comes to a rebellious world, being “raptured” into God’s eternal kingdom.

In this comforting letter to the church in Philadelphia we see several parallels with Jesus’s prayer for his disciples in John 17.  “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (v6). “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me… While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (v11-12). “I pray not that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (v15). “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v23).  The italics above indicate similarity with Revelation 3:8-10 “you have kept my word and not denied my name… they will acknowledge that I have loved youI will keep you from the hour of trial.”  In reminding them of his prayer Christ comforts the church in his love and his grace which abounds towards them in their hardship.

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Ruins of St Johns Basilica in Turkey

The promise to this church is a dignity and security which they are denied in their world (3:12).  Christ promises they will be as “pillar in the temple of my God” – a very strong image of prominence and permanence in ancient Philadelphia.  He assures them that they “never again will leave it” as the citizens of this city need to flee the quakes; the eternal city “coming down from heaven” will be stable and be free of fear.  Lastly, unlike their earthly city which changes names with every emperor, this city’s name is as unchanging as the Christ who will rule it forever.

Exhortation (3:11).  The church is called to “hold” course, to patiently endure and faithfully witness as they do. Christ is “coming soon” and they will be rewarded with the prestigious Olympian wreath of victory (compare 2:10), reserved for those who endure in the race to the end.

Bringing it home

Creation is fallen.  The fall of sin scarred society, human identity, and the earth itself.  In our day we are as aware of the corruption of both society and creation as the Christians in Philadelphia were.  Yet Christ promised them, if they remain faithful to the gospel, to him and the call as witnesses, they will share in his restored creation, his reign.  In his kingdom there will be shalom – no division, no disaster, no dread.

Do you long for this restored creation, where the Prince of Peace reigns?  Then “hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (3:13) and patiently endure, hold on to Christ’s word and faithfully witness his coming reign in this passing age.  There is a place prepared for you in the New Jerusalem among the saints through the ages.

The End? Be Watchful!

This 7th post in our reflective study through Revelation hones in on the letter to Sardis (3:1-6).  An video recording is available on the Shofar Durbanville Youtube channel. See the link in the image below.

 

Revelation, a prophetic letter written in the Jewish apocalyptic genre, was written to seven churches during the harsh reign of Emperor Domitian (AD 90-92) to comfort and challenge them in their struggle against the evil they endured.  As is typical with this symbolic genre, Revelation draws much from the Old Testament canon to reveal what is at play in their day.  In noting these symbolic references and the historic context, we get a clear understanding of the intended message to the first readers, which in turn breaks open the message of encouragement and exhortation to us in our day.

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This is the case with our reading of Christ’s message to the church in Sardis today.  Sardis (present day Sartmustafa in western Turkey) was once an impenetrable mountain fortress, a wealthy agricultural and wool-trading city characterized by arrogance associated with religious adherence and learning.  Temple ruins and statues to the gods of Dionysus (Roman name Bacchus), Artemis, and Cybele remain as witness to the culture of the day.

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Images depicting the Siege of Babylon and the Siege of Sardis – two “impenetrable cities” conquered by Cyrus the Great. The ruins of Sardis are on the top of the cliffs (right top and bottom).

During his Persian conquest, Cyrus the Great lie siege to both the impenetrable cities of Sardis (547 BC) and Babylon (539 BC).  The night of the Fall of Babylon is described in the Bible by  the prophet Daniel.  The arrogance of emperor Belshazzar and this great city lead to its fall when, besieged by the Persian army, they continued feasting, trusting in it’s secure walls.  That night the Lord wrote in blood on the palace walls “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN…—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end… you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up… your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:24-28).  Ironically, this siege is known as the Bloodless Battle: Cyrus the Great simply diverted the Euphrates river which flowed through the city and marched his army into the capital.  Babylon woke up to a conquered city.

The great Lydian capital Sardis fell in the same way: while the citizens kept their feast, trusting in their ancient, secure walls, a Persian scout noticed how a lookout’s helmet fell and how he retrieved it through a gap in the wall.  That night Cyrus lead his army through that gap, surprising the gaurds who were enjoying the feasting inside.  And this arrogant security sets the background and tone to Christ’s letter to the church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6).

Revelation of Christ (3:1a). Christ reveals himself as the One among them “who has the seven spirits of God” – a reference to Isaiah’s promised King endued by God’s Spirit, who will judge the earth and bring about his eternal, peaceful reign (Isaiah 11, esp. verse 2).  He is also the One “who has the seven stars”, preserving and directing the affairs of his church.  What great comfort to be held securely by this Great King!

Commendation (3:1b). There is no commendation for this congregation, apart from the fact that Christ knows the the activities of this community.    Form the context it appears as though this church gained “a reputation” as pious in the city and/ or neighboring churches, through these works of religious adherence.

Condemnation and exhortation (3:1c-3).  Christ has two charges against this church, both pertaining to their works.  Firstly, “you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.   Although there is much activity, there is no proof of life-giving witness.  Secondly, “I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God”: your works have been “weighed and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27) – it lacks substance.  These works are paraded by this church as evidence of Christ’s life and kingdom, but these are merely pretenses, void of the life-giving impact it should have on the city.

Christ exhorts the church to “wake up!” and “put on strength” (Compare Isaiah 52:1).  It is a call to arms, alerting the members of this church to be on the lookout for immanent, “unexpected” danger “like a thief” in the night.  By telling this church they have been weighed and found wanting, and by calling them to be watchful, Christ is drawing their attention to his charge against Belshazzar’s Babylon, warning that there is an enemy outside the city walls, ready to destroy this church.

But in this letter – unlike the other six in Revelation 2 and 3, there are no enemies mentioned. No Jews or trade guilds, no Nicolatians, no Roman procounsel or Jezebel. We know surprising little of this church.  Yet what we read is enough to wake up the reader: we know that they were spiritually dead, in spite of much religious activity.  By alluding to the fall of Babel (a stinging reminder that Sardis fell the same way), Christ charges them that their pride prevents them to recognize how truly vulnerable they are.

Evidently the accusation against ancient Edom, that mountain kingdom, could be said of the church in Sardis: “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3).  Indeed, “pride come before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)     

Warning and Exhortation (3:3-4).  If there is no enemy in this letter, who should they be on the lookout for?  Christ warns the church that he himself is poised and ready to scale the walls of this seemingly secure city and bring judgment on this proud church.  Because it is void of life-giving witness, Christ will come to bring judgment on it.

This is a grim warning, but there is hope – a chance to “remember” what they had, to “obey” Christ’s commands and “repent” from their religious callousness.  This letter is a gift of grace – the opportunity to turn and avoid immanent destruction.

Perhaps the commendation to “some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their (white) clothes with evil” give us some insight into the decay of this congregation.  The phrase here points to the strong Sadrian cult of Cybele whose “pious” worshipers wore white ceremonial clothes.  Yet these worshipers would participate in the most vulgar immoral acts during their worship rituals, soiling their clothes.  This reveals that the Sardian church fell into acedia – a state of spiritual apathy or carelessness that unravels into immorality.

Although they upheld their religious habits, they were dead spiritually.  Therefore their listless hearts gradually degraded into the sexual promiscuity of their city.  This left the church callous towards God and their witness were void of the life and kingdom of Christ, resembling their hypocritical, religious community.

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Acedia depicted by Pieter Bruegel the elder.

Promise (3:4-5).  This grace-filled letter holds two promises.  First, those who have stayed pure can be sure that they are “worthy”” to be received by Christ in his Kingdom, “walking with him in white.”  And second, those who overcome this acedia, this spiritual apathy leading to carefree sinning, will also be clothed in white with Christ, and their name will never be blotted from Christ’s book of life – another hint to the cult of Cybel whose worshipers were recorded in her “book of life”.  To those who repent, Christ declares complete forgiveness and shameless association: I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

Bringing it home.

This sobering message to Sardis calls us to be aware that sin in all its forms are seductive and deceptive – that we should always “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8)

Pride can give a false sense of security, leading us to fall into acedia.  Acedia leads to dead religion at first, allowing our consciousnesses to be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), causing us to live a double life of hypocrisy – like the cult of Cybele and some in the church of Sardis.

How living is your public and private habits in Christ?  Search your heart.  Remember what you had a first, return to Christ, our Life, and his supremacy as Lord of your life.