The End? Renouncing the lie

For a short video recording of this 6th session through the book of Revelation, click here or on the image below. 

How much freedom do we have in Christ?  What may we do with our freedom?  These are the questions that the church in Thyatira grappled with towards the end of the first century.  Plagued by trials and temptations under tyrannical Roman rule, John penned words of comfort and correction to this and six other churches in Asia Minor about the victory we have in Christ; the circular letter is known as the Revelation of Christ.

Thyatira is known today as Akhisar in far west Turkey. This ancient city was strategically located as a buffer to the Roman empire, obstructing the path of its enemies and giving it time to gather military strength.  It was found in a rich agricultural area, famous for its purple dye and wine. This city prospered during the Roman Empire through the security of the army and the trade routes through it.  The archaeological discoveries of temple ruins, monuments and its amphitheatre give us a glimpse of the historical culture.  Ancient manuscripts reveal that many Jews settled in Thyatira during the reign of Seleucus I (305-281 BC).

Collage_Thyatira

Thyatiran coins of that era reveal strong trade guilds of weaving, leather, pottery, and bronze melting active in this city.   These guilds, forerunners to our trade unions, formed leagues who promoted and protected their trade and its workers.  In this pagan environment, the guilds had their own gods whom they worshipped in the hope of success and prosperity.  These regular religious rituals involved sharing in a feast consisting of the meats offered to the gods – ending in revelries and religious orgies, symbolizing the prosperity of their trades.

Because of the pagan association of these trade guilds, Christians found it hard to work in cities with strong guilds: firstly because of a refusal to participate in the worship of pagan gods; secondly because they refused to eat meat offered to idols, and thirdly, because of the perverse nature of these communal meals.  And this was the contentious issue for the church in Thyatira at the time of John’s writing.

lydia_of_Thyatira3
Lydia of Thyatira through whom the church was presumably planted (Acts 16:14-15)

The letter of Christ to the church in Thyatira is the longest and sternest of all seven letters to the churches (Revelation 2:18-28).

 Revelation (2:18).  Christ reveals himself to be present with this church as “the Son of God” – implying the True Son of God.  In Thyatira, both emperor Domitian and the god Heracles were worshipped as “son of god”; yet Jesus starts this letter by asserting his authority and supremacy over the city and the church.  He continues by revealing himself as One “whose eyes are like blazing fire” – who sees everything, with nothing hidden from his sight; “and whose feet are like burnished bronze” – a strong ruler with a secure reign (compare Daniel 2:31-35).  Jesus comforts the church that his reign is lasting, but warns them that he sees everything and “searches the hearts and minds” (2:23) of all men.

 Commendation (2:19).  Jesus begins his letter to Thyatira with an affirmation of their steadfast “works, love, service, faith and patient endurance” in this harsh and hostile environment, lauding that they have even increased!  With this clear statement, Christ honours the faithfulness of this church.

Accusation (2:20-23).  But in this church, the Lord also sees something abominable. This congregation allows a false teacher, “Jezebel… mislead(ing) my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” It is very improbable that there was a woman named Jezebel in the congregation at Thyatira because of the name’s origin and unfavourable connotations. Instead, the apocalyptic genre of Revelation invites us to read this “prophetess” as a type of Jezebel in the Old Testament, revealing something of her character and conduct in the church, which Christ strongly condemns.

Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, was a Sidonian princess married to Ahab, king of Israel for political association (1 Kings 16:31; around 850 BC). She is infamous for being the most wicked and destructive queen in Israel’s history which records her as a priestess of Baal and Asherah, a witch practising sorcery, who was set on making these pagan religions Israel’s official state religion (1 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 9:22).  Jezebel not only promoted the worship of these Canaanite fertility gods by erecting places of (immoral) worship and training Baal and Asherah priests, spreading them throughout Israel – she also violently persecuted all the priests and prophets loyal to God.

Therefore, as elsewhere in the Bible, Jezebel’s name in Revelation 2:20 is synonymous with leading God’s people into idolatry and immorality; she is one who turns the hearts of God’s people away from him through seduction, manipulation and intimidation.  This Thyatiran “teacher and prophetess” sins against God and his people by permitting the church to participate in the perverse guild festivities – presumable under the guise of “freedom in Christ” (see Paul’s instructions in Galatians 5:13-26).  Grace does not give the church freedom to sin, but freedom from sin.

Warning and exhortation (2:21-25).  Christ states that he had given this prophetess time to repent. However, He is about to judge her and all who hold on to her teachings.  The judgment will be some severe sickness.  The exhortation to the church is to turn away from this false prophetess’ “so-called deep secrets of Satan” (2:24) before the judgment begins.  As God did with Ahab’s wife Jezebel, so the Lord promises to “kill all her children” to remind the Church “that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (2:23)

The phrase “searches the heart and mind” points to the core of the issue: the false prophecies by this woman gave permission for the church to live out their carnal desires for social acceptance and sexual appetites. It revealed that they loved the world more than Christ.  Like Paul warned, these transgressors “are being lead astray by their carnal desires.” (2 Timothy 3:6)

However – the Lord sees and honours those in this church who do not follow Jezebel’s deceptive teachings.  To the faithful ones Christ “do(es) not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” (2:24-25).  The phrase “no other burden” reminds the readers/ hearers of the First Apostolic Councils in Jerusalem which stated that gentile converts to Christianity did not have to fulfil the whole Torah, “except to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.” (Acts 15:28-29).  Just remain faithful to Jesus as you do now – He will come and reward you!

Promise (2:26-28).  To the those “who overcome” Christ promises to share in his victorious reign (quoting from Psalm 2:9).  He also promises “the morning star” – to share in Christ’s own glory (Revelation 22:16).

 What should this church overcome? The only power Jezebel had over them was deception: telling them that what they really wanted was indeed permitted by Christ.  This church’s desire for social inclusion and sensual lusts at these pagan feasts were what they had to overcome.  They had to overcome the lure of temporal pleasures by the surety of superior pleasure.  Their refusal to partake of these pleasures in this pagan culture was witness to their allegiance to Christ and their hope of a better kingdom (Hebrews 11:16).

 Bringing it home.

Although our work environments might not require outright worship of pagan gods, social pressure to conform is still intense, and refusal to participate in work-place customs often lead to exclusion and limiting career options.  The temptation to conform to immoral or unethical work practices is in force today.  But this means unfaithfulness to Christ.

Likewise, 2000 years of human development have not changed our sensual desires.  The temptation to conform to contemporary immoral norms is as strong in our day as back then in Thyatira.  This too amounts to unfaithfulness to Christ.

Like the false prophetess “Jezebel” in Thyatira, there are many who say Christ’s grace covers these sins and therefore it is permitted.  But Christ’s warning and exhortation to us is the same as to them: he is the judge who sees everything – so remain faithful until he comes and he will reward you.

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

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The End? No more Compromise.

This post is the fifth post in a series through the book of Revelation.  Follow this link to a video recording of this post.

The Revelation John received was sent as a circular letter along a logical postal route through Asia Minor which started at the bustling city of Ephesus, moving north to ancient Pergamum, inland through Thyatira, and southeast to the wealthy city of Laodicea.  This letter contained a prophecy from Christ to these seven churches to comfort them during the tyrannical reign of emperor Domitian (AD 90-92), to correct their perspective in their fight against evil, and to charge them to remain faithful to Christ. There is a reward for those who remain loyal to the end!

Seven_Churches
The Seven churches in Revelation 2-3 (Asia Minor, present-day Turkey)

Pergamum, set on a hilltop overlooking the Caicus plain below, was a magnificent ancient city which exited from the springs of civilization in Asia (around 500 BC).  Pergamum (modern-day Bergama) lay about 55 miles north of Smyrna, inland from the Aegean coast.  The archaeological findings in this great city are rich in religious artefacts, including statues and temples of Zeus, Athena, Dionysos (Baccus in Roman mythology), and especially Asklepios, the god of medicine, whose cult was strong and accounted for the prestigious school of medicine in Pergamum. Asklepios’ serpent was a prominent brand in the city, displayed on many of the coins pressed there.

Apart from the medical school, the city was famous for its vast library, university, big parchment industry and the large amphitheatre overlooking the valley.  It was also a strategic Roman stronghold and inland regional administration, boasting the first Asian temple of the Imperial Cult in honour of Augustus (AD 29).  

collage_Pergamum

Within this ancient citadel which worshipped Domitian as king and lord, valued entertainment, education and science, was a vulnerable church who received this letter of comfort and correction, a charge to not compromise their devotion to Christ in word or in deed (Revelation 2:12-18).

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (2:12).  Christ is revealed as the one among them with the sword – sharp and double-edged.  This description of Christ’s character in the judgment of the world, and in particular the church, occurs seven times in Revelation (Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16, 35; 6:8; 19:15, 21).  Roman officials had the right to carry this sword – and with it the right to life and death.  Christ here implies that his judgment can lead either to life (salvation through repentance) or death (judgment if the accused does not repent) – the reader or hearer must choose.  This brief revelation of Christ among them sets the stern tone of the rest of this short letter.

Commendation (2:13).  As in the previous two letters, Christ comforts the church by his awareness of their works and world. “I know your works, and where you dwell – where Satan’s throne is.  Yet you hold fast to my name…” Christ honours their “works” of witness, their allegiance to him (“my name”), as well as holding on to “my faith” – true Christian faith undefiled by other religions. This is praiseworthy in a city dedicated to the worship of Domitian who claims to be sovereign king and lord of all (“where Satan’s throne is”), along with all the other gods.  Their confession and faith are pure in a defiled city.

Jesus mentions the martyrdom of Antipas. Being the regional seat for Roman administration, Pergamum held the court which tried those in rebellion against Rome.  Where the accused was found guilty, an opportunity was given to repent or face immediate execution by the Roman proconsul.  Antipas refused to worship Nero during his reign (AD 54-68) and was tried before the proconsul at Pergamum.  He refused to recant his oath that “Jesus is Lord” and was executed in the cruel and unusual way of being burned to death in a brazen bull-shaped altar designed to cast out demons.  The goal was to intimidate the church, but Christ commends the Pergamum believers for remaining faithful to him despite these horrific trials.

Collage_Pergamum Antipas Martyr 92AD
Antipas was martyred in Pergamum during emperor Nero’s reign (AD 54-68).

Condemnation (2:14-15).

Yet the believers in Pergamum started to compromise. “Some (held) to the teachings of Balaam”, a non-Jewish prophet who had a tremendous impact on Israel during their Exodus (Numbers 22-25; 38:8,16), and his influence remained a snare even to the New Testament church (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:1, 11; Revelations 2:14). I’ve written on “The Error of Balaam” before. Still, I will summarise here: Balaam was an extremely gifted man of God who could hear and speak the pure words of God accurately, but he led an independent lifestyle.  With his mouth, Balaam worshipped the God of Israel, but he lived his life like the immoral Canaanites “who ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality” (2:14).  The “teachings of Balaam” was that God’s people are chosen, holy and saved in God’s eternal covenant and therefore, nothing can change that reality – not even their sensual lifestyle.

Christ implies there were groups within the Pergamum church which worshipped and associated with the church but chose to blend with the rest of the population by participating in their pagan, secular feasts to avoid social and economic isolation and persecution.

Secondly, Christ condemns “those who hold the teachings of the Nicolaitans” which the Ephesian church hated (2:6).  Not much is known about this sect, apart from what we can derive from the name: “Nico” means conqueror, “laity” refers to the ordinary people.  It seems that in the Pergamum church, some asserted power in the world’s way, who claimed rights and privileges with power over others in an undue way.  As in the gospels, Christ condemns this style of leadership – “the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-28).

Warning (2:16).

Christ charges the church to “Repent”, or else he will “soon make war against (them) with the sword of his mouth”.  This is strong language, a stern warning hinting to the judgment against the 24’000 “men who were joined with Balaam” (Numbers 25:5).  The reason is that the church is Christ’s witness of his kingdom – a living community that displays what he and his coming Kingdom are like.  Therefore the compromise of Balaam (right professing but immoral living) and the compromise of the Nicolaitans (abusive leadership misrepresenting Christ’s character of loving, servant leadership) is a wrong witness of who Christ is and what his kingdom is like.  This congregation, although professing truth, had some who lived like the world they were in. Their witness was compromised, and Christ called them to repent or be removed.

Promise (2:17).

To the one who conquers Christ will give of his “hidden manna” (referring to the manna preserved in the ark of the covenant Exodus 16:33-34) – a sign of God’s providential grace.  Also, the promise of “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” This white stone, a tesseron, was customarily given to special guests invited to partake in feasts at the pagan temple at Pergamum – consisting of meats offered to their idols.  This tesseron would bear the secret name of the deity represented by the god, revealed only to the recipient. Christ’s promise of the “white stone” implied an invitation of intimate communion with him – even now.  And this invitation is “to all who has an ear to hear.”

But what should this church overcome?  The spirit of compromise – the seduction of worldly sensuality (Balaam) and power (of the Nicolaitans).  The tendency to think that mere cognitive faith (agreement to Biblical truths) results in right standing with God.   Christ desires a renewed heart resulting in holy living as a witness to his kingdom.

Bringing it home.

Pergamum the sacred tunnel
A secret tunnel for worshipers to a temple in Pergamum.
Many writers have noted that “Pergamum” comes from the Greek word “gamos”, meaning marriage.  This church professed to faithfulness to Christ but was married to the world regarding power and pleasure, according to the culture in which they lived. 
Like the ancient Greeks in Pergamum, we too live in a world which values pleasure, power, scientific progress and independence.  The invitation to us today is clear: to recognize where we, the church, are “married to the world” in this regard, and repent.
Turn your heart, that you too may share in the intimate pleasures of Christ reserved for those who live devoted to him.

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26

The End? Faithful until death.

This post is the fourth in a series through the book of Revelation.  The link below takes you to a video recording of this blog-post.

How does one endure hardship? And why? Why does God allow his people to undergo seasons of suffering? And where is God when it hurts? These are some to the questions that Jesus answers in the Revelation, a circular letter written by the apostle John to seven congregations in Asia Minor during the tyrannical reign of Emperor Domitian (AD 90-92).

St_Polycarp_of_Smyrna
Polycarp, Pastor at Smyrna (69 – 155 AD)

“Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour? …You threaten me with fire that burns only for an hour… but you are ignorant of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. What are you waiting for? Bring on what you will!” 

These were the last words St Polycarp, a famous martyr during another wave of heightened Roman persecution, revealing the grit and the attitude of the church in Smyrna.  Polycarp was a pupil of the Apostle John, and probably the “angel of the church” (messenger or leader) in Smyrna whom Jesus was addressing in Revelation 2:8-11.

Smyrna, present-day Izmir in Turkey, printed coins which claimed it was “the biggest and most beautiful city in Asia.” This coastal city was prosperous because of the trade routes and its natural beauty.  The town was filled with magnificent temples and statues – a number of these are well preserved today.  The figure of Bacchus (Roman) or Dionysus (Greek), god of wine and immoral revelling, tells us much about the culture of the day.  So also the statue Cybele, mother of the gods, reveal that in this city women were honoured or even venerated within certain people groups.  The citizens of this Greek city were loyal to Rome, dedicating a temple to the goddess Roma around 195 BC.  It also had a temple preserved for the Imperial Cult, devoted to the worship of the emperor.

collage_Smyrna

Persecuted by the Jews. At the end of the first century (AD) Smyrna boasted a large community of Jews, bolstered by the migration of Judeans after the destruction of Jerusalem during The Jewish War (a significant rebellion against the Roman Empire, 66 AD – 73 AD). These Jews were especially hostile to Christians – in part because during the siege of Jerusalem (70 AD) Christian Jews fled the city (prompted by a prophetic Word from the Lord), just before the total destruction of the city and its temple. Also, the Jews viewed the worship of Jesus as an abomination.  These Jews were often the first to hand known Christians over to the Roman authorities for punishment.

Poor Christians. In this city, as in the broader community, Christians were often excluded from the formal employment sector because of the refusal to partake in the worship of the gods of the guilds (first-century trade unions).  In this pagan society, each guild had its god(s) who demanded tribute in exchange for prosperity.  Since Christians refused to worship any other gods, conversion implied the end of their careers.  The only jobs they could take were for the “cursed” in society: garbage removal, sewerage cleaning, the burial of the dead, etc.  In the early Church, therefore, being Christian was synonymous to being poor.

The letter to Smyrna follows the same structure as the other letters: opening with a unique and personal Revelation of Christ to them, it complies with a commendation, a charge, then a warning and finally a promise of reward.  However, note that this church receives no condemnation or correction from the Lord as the others.  What an inspiration!

The Revelation of Christ (2:8).  Christ reveals himself to this suffering community of believers as “The First and the Last” the Sovereign Lord over all creation, the Lord of Heavens’ Armies (Isaiah 44:5-6).  He is indeed Sovereign over Emperor Domitian who claimed to be “king of kings and Lord of lords” – yes, He is even higher than the mighty Roman army!

But Christ further reveals himself as “He who died and yet lives”, as the One who conquered death itself – he did not avoid it, but endured and overcame it.  By revealing himself in this way to these persecuted believers, Christ sets the tone for the rest of the letter.  He comforts them that even if he does not save them from execution, death is not the end of their lives – as it was not the end of his.  He lives forever, and they in him.

 Commendation (2:2-3).  As with the Ephesians, Christ commends the church in Smyrna for their faithful works. He affirms that they represent him well, even during the tribulation, despite their poverty, and under the incessant slander of the vengeful Jews.  We can almost hear Jesus applauding them for their steadfast devotion to him in this harsh environment.

The hostility from the Jews in Smyrna is evident by Christ’s phrasing “the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Contextually, he states that even though these Jews read the Torah, they are no different from those who worship at the Imperial temple or even Satan himself! Paul clarifies that a real Jew is not one by birth or circumcision, but one “inwardly, brought about by the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit” (Rom 2:29). The church is God’s real Jews, God’s chosen people.

As mentioned above, Christ has no correction, no condemnation for this congregation.  He praises and encourages them to keep on doing the good works they are doing.  Their suffering is not a result of their flaws of faithlessness.  Why then do they suffer?

Exhortation and warning (2:10). Before revealing the reason for their suffering, Christ warns them that they “are about to suffer (more)”. Things will not get more comfortable – it will get worse.  This is never good news! But being forewarned is being forearmed – they can strengthen their hearts for what lies ahead.

Christ continues: “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days, you will have tribulation.” They are looking towards a season of heightened persecution that involves imprisonment.  (In the Roman world, life in prison was harsh, including torture, withholding basic needs like food and bedding – friends and family on the outside had to take care of the inmates).

But Christ’s good news is that this season will be relatively short. “Ten more days” of hardship is not to be read literally in this apocalyptic genre; instead, it speaks of a full measure.  Measuring what?  Their devotion to Christ, the authenticity of their faith. Like Peter, Jesus tells them that this season of “testing”, this fiery trial they are about to enter, is to prove “the genuineness of (their) faith.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Christ says the Devil will throw them into prison – but we know that Roman soldiers will execute that command. The suffering does the testing of the faith – will they remain faithful to Christ during this season?  This reminds us of the drama in the life of Job (chapter 1) – the devoted worshiper whom God boasted about, and whom Satan accused of not being sincere in heart.  The Father smiled and said, “Test him”, and the Devil had the power to take all he had, even laid severe sickness upon him.  But poor, worn-out Job refused to turn his back on God even though he could not understand why God  allowed this.  In the end, Job’s faith was honoured by God and his faithfulness rewarded (chapter 42).

Christ’s exhortation to the church in Smyrna agrees with this similar kind of testing of Job, in that as his suffering by the hand of the devil proved his devotion to God, likewise the devil was granted permission to test some in the church in Smyrna for a short season to prove the veracity of their faith.

Christ promises a reward to those who remain faithful until the end: “the crown of life.” The Olympian golden wreath, “The Crown of Life”, was given to the victors in these Greek Games as a prestigious honour.  This was the ultimate award to victors, and Christ, the True Emperor, promises to bestow this spiritual reward on those who remain faithful until the end.

Promise (2:11).  The letter ends with a promise – not just to Smyrna but “to all who hear”, wherever this letter was circulated: “The one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” Even though you might die and be hurt during this season of severe persecution, you will not suffer a second death – you will be spared from the Great Judgment.

But this promise is “to those who overcome” – overcome what? Overcome the fear of death, the fear of suffering, the love for this life.  They are charged to endure and overcome the Devil and his Beast Rome, his Prostitute Babylon, and his False Prophet (the many pagan religions).  Overcome the intimidation of the most terrifying threat the Beast of Rome could bring: death.  Overcome the lure of a comfortable life of pleasure like all those who bow to the Devil in Babylonian-style living.  Overcome the deception of the False Prophet and his false religions that says there are other ways to pure goodness and peace.

And we read how some have overcome “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” And by how their pastor Polycarp died, we can see that this church took the warning and exhortation to heart.

Bringing it home. suffering

Like the pagan world from which John wrote Revelation, much of Western Christendom today believes that prosperity is a sign of God’s approval of us. Therefore suffering must be a sign of God’s displeasure – his blessing having been removed from us.  The letter to Smyrna brings Job’s life lesson to us: that hardship is a test of our faithfulness to Christ (do I only worship Him when all goes well?), and that he rewards loyalty to the end with the Crown of Life.

Secondly, we read that suffering will come, and we need to ready our hearts by knowing it is but for a brief moment, and our faithfulness is seen and will be rewarded by Christ.

I pray that this message will help to give you perspective on your own seasons of hardship and will strengthen your heart – as it was meant to do for the church in Smyrna.

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

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The End? Living from the heart.

This post is the third stop in our reflective journey through the book of Revelation, bringing us to the letter to the Ephesian church (2:1-7).  For a brief video recording of this post, click here or on the image below.

Remember that song “You’ve lost that Lovin’ Feeling” from the Righteous Brothers, popularized by the original Top Gun movie (1986)?  It gets to the heart of Jesus’ first letter to the churches, the church in Ephesus.

Ephesus was a prominent port city in the Aegean Sea, on the Western shore of modern-day Turkey, about 80 km south of Izmir, rich in archaeological discoveries.

Collage_Ephesus

Ephesus became the provincial seat of Roman government into Asia. It was renowned for its scholarship, housing Heraclitus’ first university and the Great Library of Celsus (top left). The city was a cultural hub as witnessed in the well-preserved great Amphitheatre (bottom right).  The city was a religious centre, most notably because of the temple (top right) of Artemis (Greek, central image) or Diana (Roman), and later because of the Christian influence.  In contrast, Ephesus was also known for its “sin industry” through the sailors frequenting its busy seaport.  Its unique setting and well-developed harbour (bottom left) made it a trade hub into Asia and Greece – notably the Silk Trade Route.

These political, religious, educational, cultural and trade hubs made Ephesus very influential in the region.  No wonder Paul stopped and spent more than 2 years there (Acts 19).  It is fair to say that, after Antioch, Ephesus was the most prominent church in the New Testament.  Other big apostolic leaders made Ephesus their headquarters, including Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy and John. In some way, the church in Ephesus still has the greatest influence in the church today because many of the New Testament letters were written either from or to the church in Ephesus.

collage_ephesus_pastors
Apostolic leaders that settled in Ephesus for a significant time in the first century.

It is therefore not strange that the first church Christ addresses in his letters is the church in Ephesus.  By the time John penned these words of Jesus the Ephesian church was more than 50 years old – a second-generation church that had grown significantly and endured a few waves of severe persecution from various emperors.

Keep in mind that this short, personal letter to the Ephesian believers is part of a circular letter to the seven congregations (1:11) with the aim to comfort the persecuted believers and to correct their perspective in their struggle against evil.  As with each of these seven letters, this letter starts with a unique revelation of Christ, followed by a commendation, a condemnation, a charge, then a warning and finally a promise of reward.

 Revelation of Christ (2:1).  

The letter, addressed to the “angel of the church” or “messenger/ elder/leader of the church”, starts with the comforting reminder that Christ is among them, and securely holds and steers his church.  Their suffering is not because He has abandoned them or that he has lost control; Christ is present and at work amidst this turmoil.

 Commendation (2:2-3).  

Then Jesus affirms their persistent good works and their efforts in the witness of His kingdom. He honours their devotion to him in the midst of this seductive, immoral city.   He praises them for enduring the suffering and yet remaining faithful to him.

Moreover, Jesus commends their keen discernment and scrutiny of people who claim to be sent of him but are not.  This is significant because when the apostle Paul greeted the elders of this church 40 years earlier, he warned that “after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you… even from among you men will rise up, speaking misleading things, trying to draw away disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29-30) The testing of what is true and who is genuine has evidently become a value for this church – and Jesus applauds this.

Jesus also commends the Ephesian church for their character displaying steadfastness, endurance and pursuit of the truth.

 Condemnation (2:4). 

However, we see in this letter that although they keep on doing the right things, they have lost their first love.  Initially, this community’s good works, witnessing and gatherings sprung from hearts set ablaze with newfound love.  But now it was a duty, merely (good) habits.  They did and said the right things like before, but their hearts had grown cold.

Notice that Jesus does not say “You lost your love for me” – he points out that they lost that lovin’ feeling as a whole.  Their good works in the city, their care for one another, their worship in their gatherings – all these good rhythms had lost its passion.  It became a duty, not a delight as before. And the greatest command, which ought to be the mark of the church, is a life motivated by love for God, overflowing in love for your neighbour (Matthew 22:38-40; John 13:34-35).

You only have one heart from which you live.  When you’re in love everyone notices; your joyful heart gives you a joyful attitude which breeds joyful actions, bringing joy to others.  But when love wanes because of disillusionment or disappointment, one’s attitude becomes apathetic or bitter, producing actions bound by duty or dread, resulting in dead works which do not give life.  Just as joy over one thing overflows to all of life, so also disillusionment dulls all of life.  That’s why the teacher warns us to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

How could this vibrant community’s passion fade?  Many years of hardship could make their hearts hard.  Consistently showing kindness to a city which in unkind to you can make a heart callous.  Incessant business and the cares of this world can make a heart cold.  Unanswered prayer and unmet expectations cause disappointments and disillusionment, which breed carelessness and apathy.   “Loving can hurt sometimes” Ed Sheeran reminds us.

 Exhortation (2:4b).  

How can a cold, callous hard be revived?  The answer is in Christ’s charge to them.  Firstly, “remember” the times when your heart burned with passion when love overflowed in joy.  Reflect on how you lived and felt from when you loved well.  Then “repent” – decide to love and live like that again.  Do those “first works” which flowed from your “first love“.

But note the key: “first” – the moment you met Christ and felt his love.  That first kiss, that first taste of true love revived your heart and erupted in ardent adoration, generous giving and shameless witness. That first discovery of true love brought freedom, joy and delight to every aspect of your life.  The call is to remember that moment, to relive that love by returning to those works.

Note that the Ephesian church was not accused of being passive; rather Christ commends their good, faithful works.  Christ is not seeking more activity – there is something in their performance that Jesus calls attention to: it is loveless, lifeless, lightless.  The works have become disconnected from Christ himself – void of the display of love that would light up the city.

 Warning (2:5).

The church is a witness to God’s kingdom, a city on a hill, the light to the world. They ought to be known by their love.  Therefore Christ warns them that unless they return to their first love, “he will remove their lampstand from its place.”  The church is a lamp to the dark world and gives it its light.  A lamp with no light has no point.  A church with no love has no witnessing power.   Even preaching of the truth or demonstration of power without love is mere “clashing symbols” (1 Cor 13:1-7).  Love is the essence of the Kingdom of God – it is the life of the church and the hope of the world.

 Promise (2:6). 

Before closing, Jesus commends the church for hating what he hates – the Nicolaitans.  (No, they were not a family who left the church!)  “Nico” means conqueror, domineering the “laity” – the common people.  Apparently, this church resisted a church culture which allowed for forceful, harsh leadership that elevates some above others.  Apparently, the Ephesians had a healthy culture which honoured the “angel of the church” (2:1) – a leader recognized by God to serve the people – but hated domineering leadership that is the nature of this world (Matthew 20:24-28).  And for this Jesus commends them, implying “you hate what I hate, now love as I love.”

He closes with a promise, “eat from the tree of life” – enjoying the fullness of his life and goodness – even in this harsh city filled with immorality and violence.  Living from his love is sharing in his Kingdom.

Bringing it home

heart

It is easy to identify with Jesus’ letter to the Ephesians.  We admire their faithfulness to Christ and consistent good deeds in a hostile, immoral environment.  And one can understand, even associate with their devotion degrading into duty.

That’s why Jesus’s accusation to them strikes us in our own soul: “you have lost your first love.”  Have you?  Does your heart still burn for Jesus as before?  Are you known by your love for the community of believers?  Does your love for the city overflow in generous goodness?  The question is not so much about what you do as is it is do you live and act from a heart of love?

The invitation is clear: remember and return to your first love by doing the works that sprung from your first taste of Jesus’ love.  Let the Lord revive your heart and restore your joy.

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

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The End? Do not fear

This is our second post in our journey through Revelation.

Never before in recorded history have people been so aware of the fragility of our existence, of human life.  My newsfeed informs me of natural disasters, plague-like diseases, terrorizing wars, economic depression, political instability, brutal kidnappings and drug syndicates as they occur.  These updates and images are on every screen that catches my eye.

Knowledge of these threats leaves us uncertain and afraid.  We feel angry at the loss of innocence, the (illusion of) peace that we once enjoyed.  We live in a pandemic of panic, in a world longing for peace, stability and security.  We wall up, save up, or pack up in the hope of keeping the evil outside – but we learn that the spores of terror have landed on every continent, every community, every child.  Is This The End?  Is this THAT END?

Awareness of the destruction of our Father’s world brings believers down to our knees, looking up, praying our fears with tears.  “How long, Lord?”  “Lord, do you see?  Do you care?”  “Are you in control?”  “When will you act?”

There were the cries and concerns of John and the believers during the tyrannical, egocentric reign of Domitian, Emperor of Rome AD 90-92 who banished the old disciple to Patmos.  But John’s prayers were answered when this island prison became his inner chamber with his Beloved Lord, containing a window into the throne room of God revealing the cosmic conquest of Christ’s victory over evil, culminating in the glorious restoration of all creation.

This letter of Revelation was a message of hope and comfort, to help and correct the early church in its struggle with evil – to endure both trials and temptation in faithful witness of Christ’s coming kingdom.  Although this prophecy was written for them, it is preserved for us.  Therefore, everyone who reads these holy words today and hears its invitation to “behold!” will also see how Christ is near to us, is moving in us, through us and for us his Church to accomplish the culmination of his glorious kingdom.  This revelation of Christ’s victory over evil in this world brings comfort and strength to endure until The End.

Guillaume-Francois Colson
Guillaume-Francois Colson, The Spirit of Evil Is Hurled into the Abyss After the Arrival of the Messiah, 19th century.

A note on my approach towards Revelation: In this discovery through Revelation, I will not write scholarly or critical, but rather devotional and encouraging.  The posts will be like all my other posts: an attempt to read the text from the view of the first readers.  How did these seven congregations make sense of this apocalyptic prophecy from their imprisoned apostle?  What was the message of hope to them?  For this I will keep to the explicit nature of the book: Revelation is an apostolic letter to seven congregations in Asia Minor (1:4,11), which contained a prophecy from the Lord (1:3), in the apocalyptic genre (1:1) which is rich in symbolic images and numbers, rooted in (a) their first-century geopolitical context, and (b) Old Testament literature.  If we stick with these principles, the symbolism in this remarkable book becomes alive and life-giving. (I expounded more on this in the first post in this series).

 

Greeting and blessing (Revelation 1:4-8)

This short greeting by John is a masterful introduction and succinct overview of the book’s message.  He blesses his readers (and hearers) with grace (divine help) and peace (wellness) from the Triune God.  His name for the Father “(He) who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4) takes the readers back to God’s self-revelation to Moses (Exodus 3:14) before His great deliverance from Egypt.  The Spirit is titled “Seven Spirits” (1:4) from Isaiah 11:2 in that great chapter that speaks of the Messiah’s divine wisdom and righteousness by which he will destroy the oppressive nations and restore all of creation in peace. Here John says “God had delivered his people before from the tyranny you suffer, and He has promised to end this violence once for all!

Next, John answers the question “Can Jesus save us?” with a loud “Yes, he can, and he will!”  Jesus is first introduced as the “Christ” (1:5) – the long-awaited Messiah who will restore the righteous rule of God on earth.  Then Jesus is hailed “the faithful witness” to a church struggling to maintain their faithful witness under brutal persecution and the seduction of a perverse society.  He is held as their example who faithfully proclaimed and demonstrated God’s kingdom and eventually accomplished it by His vicarious death and resurrection: the ultimate witness of God’s Kingdom coming to earth is Jesus’ rank “Firstborn from (or over) death” (1:5).  Not only does Jesus have authority over every spirit, even death, he is also “Ruler over the kings of the earth” (1:5) – good news to the readers oppressed by Emperor Domitian!  These titles stirred flickers of hope to those battered congregations wondering whether Jesus is indeed the Christ who will bring righteousness and peace to the earth.

The next portion answers the question in the heart of every suffering believer: Does God care about me?”  John writes YES HE DOES!  Jesus is called “Him who loved us and loves us and frees us from our sin by His own blood” (1:5). This phrase, a reference to the Cross, is a clear allusion to the Passover lambs slaughtered to deliver God’s covenant people from Egypt by judging the oppressors and preserving the Israelites (Exodus 12:21 ff).  And as God adopted and honoured the delivered Hebrew slaves, these battered believers were called “kings and priests to God” (1:6, compare Exodus 19:6), sharing in his eternal reign.

“But does God not see how we suffer by the hand of our oppressors?” Yes, he does, and his Day of Judgment will come!  Alluding to Zechariah 12:8-10, John writes how the Christ will defend and deliver his covenant people from their oppressors, and how he will reveal Himself in glory to those oppressors so that they will weep at his fierce judgment (1:8).

As the nature of the letter is prophecy, the greeting ends with Jesus introducing himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End who is and who was and who is to come” (1:8).  For the contemporary reader of the day, the Greek alphabet was known to have each letter attributed to a major Greek god.  Thus, Jesus’ self-revelation comforted his hopeless church “I am the All-powerful, Ever-living One – your covenant God and Saviour. Do not despair!”

Section 1: Christ among the Lampstands (Revelation 1:4-3:22)

seven-golden-lampstands.jpg

Like prophets of old John describes how and where he received this prophetic message to these churches (1:9-10).  Imprisoned on the island Patmos, John was “In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” – meaning in fellowship with the Holy Spirit in prayer and worship on resurrection day – what we call Sunday.

This is significant.  Although this beloved disciple was isolated, shamed and cruelly treated, his suffering did not lead him away from Christ to self-pity; instead, it drew him to Christ as he drew near to the Lord in Spirit.  And his cries and concerns in Spirit gave birth to one of the most excellent messages of hope the church had ever received.

A question every suffering believer asks is Lord, where are you when I suffer?” This is the question the Lord clearly answers in the first section of Revelation (Ch 1-3).

John hears Jesus declaring with a loud voice with the clarity and urgency “like a trumpet”: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last”, followed by the instruction to write what he sees in a letter to seven specified churches (1:10-11).  (Throughout Revelation, what John hears and what John sees is very revealing, because things are not always what they seem to be at first).

John turns and sees Jesus walking among seven golden lampstands – the precious, sanctified churches of Jesus, the recipients of the letters (1:12-13, 20).  Where is Jesus, while these churches are suffering? “I am among you,” he says, “and I am intimately aware of what you are enduring for my name’s sake.” (Ch 2-3).

Then John describes how he sees Jesus, a vision that makes him collapse with awestruck terror (1:17).  John sees the Son of Man as described in Daniel: One who has received eternal dominion (Daniel 7:9-14; compare 10:4-9).  The white hair, long robe and golden sash reveal Christ’s dignity and honour. His burnished feet portray the strength of his kingdom. The force of his voice cannot be ignored. His fiery eyes see everything – open and hidden. The sword represents judgment from his mouth which brings both justice to the oppressors and mercy to the oppressed (1:13-16).  This is Christ in his ascended glory.

 “Do not be afraid – I’ve got this”

The first message of comfort this exalted King Jesus speaks to his suffering churches is “Do not be afraid” (1:17).  Why not be afraid?  Because this exalted, glorified, All-mighty King Jesus is with you, and for you.  He is not distant or disinterested.  He is with you, knows what you face, and cares for you.  What’s more comforting is that he has met with the worst this world can throw at you (death), and conquered the grave, holding “the keys to death and Hades in (his) hands” as eternal comfort to his followers.

Christ’s message of comfort ends with the declaration that He holds the angels (messengers/ leaders) of these seven churches in his hand (1:16, 20). Thus, Christ directs the world rulers and affairs towards his eternal reign (1:5) while protecting and leading his church in service of his unfolding reign, holding the leaders in the palm of his hand.  What great comfort this must have brought to these struggling churches!

“Sounds great, but I don’t see it (yet)”

For a church in an uncertain, harsh world, these introductory words brought so much peace.  The All-powerful, Ever-living Lord, is among his people, promising to fulfil his long-awaited prophecy to eradicate evil from the earth and establish his reign of eternal peace – as it was in Eden.

But how is Christ working out his Great Restoration if it seems that this world is ruled by evil through violence, seduction and deception? For that answer, we are invited to look from God’s perspective, to “Come up here” (4:1).  But first, the Lord will encourage and exhort each congregation (unpacking the church’s battle against evil), thus revealing Jesus’ intimate knowledge and care for each community of believers (Chapters 2-3).

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

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THE END?  An introduction to Revelation

This is the first post in a series through the book of Revelation – a letter meant to bring comfort and encouragement during times of uncertainty and hardship.

What have you heard or read about the book of Revelation?  How does that make you feel?

For many, their response to this book include feelings of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety.  These feelings are precisely what the Revelation aims to address in its readers, leaving them feeling comforted, encouraged and hopeful in Christ’s presence and victory over evil in the world.

7 trumpets - mountains

How then should we read Revelation to make the meaning clear, leaving us peaceful and hopeful during times of uncertainty and hardship?  John states this clearly in his introduction: this document is an apostolic letter (1:4), containing prophecy from God (1:3), written in the Jewish apocalyptic genre (1:1).   Reading the book with this in mind will leave you encouraged and exhorted to live confident in Christ through tough times.

 

THE NATURE OF REVELATION: A letter containing prophecy in the apocalyptic genre

Revelation is a letter of encouragement and exhortation to suffering believers.  This epistle was penned by John (1:1,9; probably the Beloved disciple), while imprisoned on the island Patmos (1:9) addressed “to seven churches in Asia” (1:4; 1:11).

The meaning of the book becomes apparent when it is read from the perspective of the first readers – the seven congregations in Asia minor listed as recipients.  Like every other apostolic letter by Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John, this letter answered real questions, brought instruction, warnings and encouragement to the first readers. The message was written to them, yet preserved for us. The truth becomes clear to us as we see what the letter meant for them.

Secondly, Revelation is called prophecy (1:3) ­– God’s Word to a people in a specific context. Like Isaiah, Amos, Malachi, etc. this book contains prophecy (God’s spoken word) to the seven congregations in the seven towns in Asia minor.  This message from the Lord brought real comfort and confidence as the Lord revealed love and care for them, but also corrections and challenges as prophecy always calls God’s people to covenantal faithfulness.

Prophecy is often addressed to his people in a particular time and place. However, Revelation, like many old Testament Prophets, places this Word from God in the context of his cumulative redemptive work through the ages.   It is said that 287 of the 404 verses in this book contain allusions to Old Testament texts, notably from Exodus, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah.  This means that John, here in a prophetic capacity, aimed to ground this accumulative message to these seven, suffering churches in the history of God’s great redemptive plan for his people.  God is bringing his great work of salvation to a climax.

Again, the reader is invited to read this book primarily as a prophecy from God to the persecuted believers in these seven congregations.  This message was clear and made sense to them.  If we want to understand God’s word to us, we have to understand God’s word to them first.

Thirdly, this book is self-titled as “Revelation [or apocalypse] of Jesus Christ” (1:1).  This Jewish literary style, of which Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah are prime examples, was at its most popular during the time of John’s writing.  Apocalypse means “unveiling” or “uncovering” and aims to show that things are not entirely as they seem – there is more at play than meets the eye. More specifically, it reveals the heavenly drama behind our earthly struggles – that “our fight is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).  Note how Revelation starts with the earthly reality of the seven congregations and shifts realms to show the cosmic drama behind everyday events.

Apocalyptic writing makes use of symbolism through vivid imagery and representative numbers in dramatic scenes that aim to evoke powerful emotions, and a sense of participation in the story told. Secondly, this genre is rooted in Old Testament literature; Revelation is filled with Old Testament references (but not one direct quotation, as this is uncharacteristic of the style).  Thirdly, Apocalyptic language is rooted in the historic-political context of its day; the message of the writing was clear to the 1st Century Greco-Roman believers of their day, and this ancient context is our key to unlock its meaning.  Lastly, this genre (like most Jewish genres) is not chronological.  The reader should not ask “what happens next?” but rather, “what does John see next?”  The letter is written in the sequence of John’s visions, not chronological time – and therein is much meaning.

 THE CONTEXT into which John wrote Revelation

The letter of encouragement and exhortation is set during the terrifying reign of Domitian, Emperor of Rome (AD 90-92). This egomaniac revived the Imperial cult (much like the infamous Nero thirty years earlier) and decreed that all his subjects worship him by offering incense, exclaiming “Caesar is Lord.” For most of the Greco-Roman pluralists, this was an easy instruction to comply with… unless you lived by the confession that “Jesus is Lord.”  This led to the severe persecution of Christians, resulting in their imprisonment, torture and execution. Sadly, due to their hatred for the “blasphemous” Christians, Jews were often the first to turn their Christian neighbours over to the Roman authorities.

Suffering did not only come by Roman persecution.  Many communities in Asia minor suffered from disasters such as earthquakes, droughts, barbaric raiders and widespread disease.  People lived in fear. Convinced that these disasters were the result of followers of Jesus’ refusal to worship the gods of the elements, this led to the cruel treatment of Christians by their pagan neighbours, leaving them ostracized, excluded from public social life and the market economy.

This severe persecution and hardship caused many late 1st century Christians to lose hope in Christ’s return and to doubt his power over the affairs on earth.  Is Christ’s kingdom indeed more potent than that of Domitian?  If so, how?

Jezebel2

However, a more significant threat was the seductive nature of the Greco-Roman lifestyle: sensuality, perversion and revelry were the order of the day and frequently associated with the worship of pagan gods.  Against the backdrop of persecution and the pain and poverty resulting from social exclusion, the pleasure and prosperity associated with participation in this sensual society could seem attractive. Believers were naturally tempted to draw away from the public witness of Christ and blend in with this contemporary pagan culture.

In his apocalyptic letter, John describes this struggle as the intimidation from the Beast (worldly power), the seduction from Babylon the great harlot (sensuality), and the deception of the False Prophet (false religions and ideologies) – all three servants of the Great Dragon (Satan) warring against the church.

John, far from the churches in his care, was praying for these believers who were subjected to hardship and vulnerable to temptation.  Then Christ invited him to see their present reality in the light of the cosmic struggle as it played itself out on earth.  In and through this, His Kingdom was advancing!

THE AIM of the Book of Revelation

The Revelation shows Jesus Christ as victorious over the forces of evil, leading his church in victory over their enemies (17:14).  This prophecy aims to firstly comfort the church in its struggle against evil by showing them that Christ is among them (1:12-20) and that he is intimately aware of their unique situations (ch. 2-3).  He steers the world affairs in the interest of his church (5:7,8), in response to their prayers (8:3,4).  The revelation shows that God sees their tears (7:17, 21:4) and will avenge their blood (19:2), yet their victory is assured (15:2).  Lastly, the revelation reassures them that Christ is coming to take his people to Himself to live with them in His renewed creation (21:22), stirring confidence for His return (22:17).

Secondly, this prophecy is a correction of the church’s perspective in its struggle against evilThough it may seem that their prayers are ineffective (6:10), we see God’s response (judgments) as a result of it (8:3-5).  Though they seem defeated, they reign now on earth (5:10), and will reign with Christ (20:4) forever in the renewed creation (22:5). Though it may seem that the dragon (12:3), the beast (13:1), the false prophet (13:11) and Babylon (14:8) wield power on earth – they are all defeated (18:2; 19:20; 20:10) and will be bound forever. All is not as it seems.

Thirdly, this revelation calls for a renewed commitment to Christ in the believers’ struggle against evil, patient endurance in trials and steadfastness in resisting temptation. For this, there are great rewards (22:12).

Compromise

HOPE TO THE CHURCH IN ANXIOUS, UNCERTAIN TIMES

The structure and layout of John’s Revelation letter brings much hope to fearful, confused believers during hardship.  The Spirit shows John firstly that Christ is among his people (ch. 1-3), secondly that God is on his throne. Christ is unfolding his Kingdom reign in history (ch. 5-16), thirdly what this world is really like and how Christ will conquer it (ch .17-20), and lastly the renewed creation in beauty and peace, with rewards for the faithful (ch. 21-22).

1: Christ is with his church

The first thing John sees is that the church is not abandoned by God during their hardship. The Spirit reveals Christ walking among his people, between his suffering congregations (1:10-13).  Then Christ reveals his intimate knowledge of every congregation’s faithfulness, challenges, struggles, and promises (ch. 2-3).

The comfort for every believer and believing community today is the same: Christ the Victorious One is with us, always among us.  He knows our efforts and struggles and will reward our faithfulness.

2: God is on his throne, and Christ is unfolding his redemptive plan for creation

The second thing that the Spirit shows John is God on his throne in all his goodness and glory (ch. 4), and Christ receiving the Scroll of God’s redemptive plan with his creation (ch. 5).  As Christ opens the seals, rolling out God’s kingdom reign with cosmic consequences, he calls the nations to repentance before the Great Day of Judgment (ch. 6-16).

This reassures the church during turbulent times that indeed God is in control, and that these events which shake our world is part of Christ’s work in establishing his peaceful reign on earth – even through the hardship we face.  In some way, these events are answers to the cry of his saints (5:8; ch. 16).

3: The nature and spirit of this world (Babylon and her Beast)

The third thing the Spirit reveals to John is the true nature of this world, which is likened to seductive Babylon and her power-hungry Beast (ch. 17).  John also sees her fall and judgment – with all who follow her (ch. 18-20).

The unveiling of this fallen world stirs our hope in Christ and strengthens our resistance to temptation because we know that the best this perverse, power-hungry world has to offer is corrupted and temporal.  But one day, Christ will return to bring lasting justice and goodness and peace, to restore lasting joy to His people.

Furthermore, the knowledge of judgment on this greedy and oppressive world brings much comfort and hope to those suffering under this regime – as was the case in John’s day.  Judgment of the consuming lust and abusive power of rulers (and their allies) means the vindication and deliverance of the oppressed.   In God’s kingdom, the oppressed are freed, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed because their oppressors are judged.

4: The New Heaven and New Earth

The last thing that the Spirit shows John is God’s new creation (ch. 21-22) – the marriage between heaven and earth. John is encouraged to see that God’s creation will be reconciled with its Creator, and his image and reign will be restored in mankind.   Indeed, John is comforted that the pain and sorrow of suffering and death that now marks the church’s existence will be no more, because “Look! I make all things new!” (21:4-5).  The faithful are richly rewarded, the perverse are judged (21:7; 22:12-14).

This unveiling of Christ’s great renewal stirs much hope that our tears of suffering and sorrow are short-lived; he has conquered sin and death forever.  Furthermore, overcoming the temptations of sin and terrors of persecution does not go unnoticed; our short endurance of hardship secures our eternal rewards in Christ’s eternal reign.  This is great encouragement and exhortation to hold on to Christ’s promise: we will inherit His kingdom and receive His rewards.

TAKE IT TO HEART

Reading the Revelation as a letter to seven real congregations facing severe hardship on every front, as a prophecy of encouragement and exhortation from God about his redemptive work in and through them, in the emotive, unveiling genre of the apocalypse makes the main message clear.  (Yet there are parts that are difficult to understand – as in every Bible book!)

Even this simple outline encourages me that Christ is always among his church, ready to comfort, correct and call his church to faithful commitment during hard times.  It reminds me that God is still in control and that Christ is always busy unfolding his redemptive plan with creation.  This unveiling calls me to see that this fallen world in all its splendour and power is at best corrupted and temporal, but Christ’s kingdom is eternal, and his reign will be marked with restored beauty, justice and peace, eternally.  And the bonus: my faithfulness and your faithfulness during these hard times will be rewarded!

How do you feel about the message of Revelation now?  Ready for a more in-depth look into chapter 1?

Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26