Understanding Revelation Part 4: The Seals

Revelation 4

Chapters 6-7: The Seals

Missed any previous posts? Get caught up:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

So far we have addressed the churches this book is written to and we have seen how powerful Jesus is and how worthy he is of worship. Now we started getting into the judgments. This is where the book starts to get dark, so let’s jump in. As always, it would be helpful to read chapters 6-7 along with this post.

The Four Horsemen

This is one of the most well known parts of the book. We saw earlier that Jesus alone was worthy to remove the seals from the scroll and the one who opens the scroll will carry out what is written inside. Christ is about to bring judgment.

Background: This vision is modeled straight out of the Old Testament, like most things in this book are. Read Zechariah 1:8-17 and Zechariah 6:1-8. The riders in Zechariah’s vision came to bring judgment to Babylon and Egypt. The riders we read about in Revelation do the same thing but for Rome.

The White Horse: This rider has a bow in his hand. In the Old Testament that represents Military Power. (See Jeremiah 51:56, Hosea 1:5, Psalm 46:9). Many people say this rider is Jesus, but I don’t think so. I think this image would have immediately struck fear in any Roman. Here’s why. At this time, the enemy Rome feared most was Parthia. In A.D. 62 something happened that had never happened before. A Roman army actually surrendered to the king of the Parthians. This freaked the Romans out and they feared an invasion from the east where Parthia was located. Oh by the way…The Parthians were known for riding white horses and were the most famous bowmen in the world.

The Red Rider: This rider is said to take peace from the world. Rome was known for bringing a time of peace to the world. Maybe you have heard of the Pax Romana. In the Old Testament, God’s judgment is often symbolized as a loss of peace. What’s more interesting is that a major reason for the fall of Rome was due to many civil wars that took place.

The Black Horse: This horse represents famine and tough times economically. The balance in his hand is for weighing food. We see a judgment of famine and bad economy coming to Rome.

The Pale Horse: The Greek world here that is translated as pale is “chloros” which means yellow-green or livid. This horse represents disease and epidemic. Here is a question: why do only a quarter perish? This judgment is not final or complete. There are still many more to come.

Important Note: So far these seals mimic the Old Testament. Ezekiel 14 describes God’s judgment against Jerusalem as sword, famine, and disease. Leviticus 26 shows the penalties for disobedience as sword, disease, and famine. John is using traditional images to describe God’s judgment. We should not get lost in trying to tie real historical events to every judgment we will see in this book. Most, if not all, are symbolic. The point is that God is going to judge Rome.

The “BIG” Question

Now that we have seen the four horsemen, the focus moves back to the people of God. We see an altar with people who have been killed for witnessing for Christ. Then the BIG question is raised. I would call this question our key to understanding this book. We read

“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”

The book of Revelation is an answer to this question. And what is the answer for right now? Wait…a bit…but not long.

The Sixth Seal

When this seal is opened we see more language of judgment. These are phrases that were used in the Old Testament to describe judgment against Assyria, Egypt, Edom, and other enemies of God. Wait! So all of this wording has been seen before? Yep!

  • Burning fire – Isaiah 34:9
  • Sun and Moon going dark – Joel 2:31, Amos 8:9, Isaiah 13 and 50, Matthew 24:29…(if this were literal we would have lost the sun and moon many times already)
  • Stars falling – Isaiah 34:4, Psalm 102: 25-26
  • God used the same language of judgment against the Babylonians. They came and went; yet the stars still remain in the sky. This language was not meant to be taken literal then and we should not take it literally here either. God is judging Rome here just as he judged Babylon, Edom, Egypt, Assyria, Judah, and Israel in the Old Testament.

Let’s Take a Break

Chapter 7 takes a little break between seal six and seven. This chapter is used to bring comfort to the church and reinforce that they would have victory in Jesus. Chapter 6 ends by asking the question “who can survive the wrath of God?” This chapter answers that question.

We start by seeing God holding back his judgments for a second so he can seal his faithful. Some of those suffering persecution may have wondered if God had forgotten about them. Revelation was written to remind them he had not. This chapter does just that. God marks his people to remind them he knows who they are. However, as in Ezekiel 9, we are not talking about physical protection, we are talking about spiritual deliverance. The kind that truly matters.

The 144,000

Stick with me; we are going to have a math lesson. But first, some symbol explanations from scripture

  • 12 – God’s people (12 patriarchs, 12 tribes, 12 apostles)
  • 10 – number of completeness (10 fingers, 10 toes)
  • 3 – number of divinity (think the trinity)

Ok so how do we get 144,000? Take 12×12 (the completeness of God’s people) and get 144. Take 10x10x10 (complete divinity) and get 1000. Now multiply the two numbers together. Can you see how much symbolism is wrapped up in this number? This is a beautiful symbol of all of God’s people protected by the power of His divinity. This number is the Church.

Why are they called Israelites? Israel is the original name for God’s people. It means “He who prevailed with God”. What a perfect name for this situation.

Wrap it Up Please

Ok fine, just a few final things. Revelation 7:9-12 is written to model the Feast of the tabernacles. This feast looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. In Revelation we are doing the same thing.

We see this group of people dressed in white and the question is asked, “Who are these?” We see they are those who have come out of the great tribulation. People who died from Roman persecution. Are they depressed? Are they in despair? No! They rejoice! They stand before God’s throne and he wipes every tear from their eye.

Next Week – Part 5: Judgments

Why the Blood Moons have Nothing to do with Jesus Returning

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About one week ago was the most recent blood moon and all of the “prophets” are pointing to the end of the world and the return of Jesus. The theory that the blood moons signify Jesus is returning, or at least that something majorly significant is about to happen, has been blowing up my Facebook feed. If you haven’t heard about this, you can get caught up to speed here. However, I firmly believe that the blood moons have absolutely zero to do with Jesus coming back. So let’s answer 5 questions regarding the concept.

  1. What is the theory?

The most recent blood moon is the 3rd of 4 in a row that will take place over a two year span.

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What has interested people is not just the number of blood moons, but the timing. Each one takes place on the first day of Passover and the first day of Sukkot (both significant Jewish holidays). This has people thinking that these are a sign from God.

  1. Where are people getting this from?

There are 3 main places in the Bible where this idea comes from

  • Revelation 6:12 – I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood.
  • Matthew 24:29 – Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
  • Joel 2:30-31 – And I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives.
  1. Does this language usually mean something in the Bible?

Yes! What a great question! In the Bible, the shining of the sun, moon, or stars represents a time of prosperity. In contrast, the darkening, or falling from the sky, or one of them changing to blood, represents a time of judgment or hardship. These images are not literal. The destructions of many kingdoms in the Old Testament are predicted with this language. Last time I checked, those kingdoms are gone but the stars are still in the sky and the sun is still shining.

  1. So what do these verses actually mean?

Revelation – This is figurative language used to describe the judgment coming against Rome for persecuting the church. I have a whole series on my blog I’m working through on understanding this. Check it out here.

Matthew – Jesus is not talking about the moon literally turning to blood before he returns. He is not even talking about when he returns. He is talking about the destruction of the temple. This passage begins with Jesus telling the apostles that someday not one stone would be left on another in the temple. They ask when that great event will happen. Jesus says, this generation will not pass away until this takes place, and it didn’t. That event happened in AD 70. In the verses following he tells them that there will be NO SUCH SIGNS of the end of the world. (Including blood moons).

Joel – I’ll spend the most time on this one because it’s the main passage used. Most people don’t know very much about the book of Joel so here’s a quick recap

  • A plague of locusts comes through and destroys the food supply of Judah. According to Joel, the plague was not random. He sees it as a judgment from God. He sees the locusts as God’s army.
  • Joel tells the people to repent and turn back to God. When they do, the Lord answers. Here’s a few things he says
    • He will send food and drink that will satisfy fully (sound familiar? Whoever drinks this water will never thirst again…)
    • He will make up for what the locusts have taken
    • The people will eat until they are full
    • (if you haven’t figured it out yet, he is talking about Jesus)
  • After he talks about Jesus. Here is what Joel says

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike. And I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth—blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved, for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape, just as the LORD has said.

Maybe you have heard this scripture before, but not in Joel. That’s because Peter quotes it in Acts 2, after the Holy Spirit comes. He quotes it because he says that when the Holy Spirit came, this passage from Joel was fulfilled. Wait a minute! How can this passage refer to blood moons in 2015 when Peter said the passage already came true almost 2000 years ago? Exactly!

So what was Peter talking about?

The coming of the Holy Spirit began the fulfillment of this prophesy that God would pour out his spirit on all people (it’s in Acts 2). He said wonders would happen (we read about a ton of miracles in Acts). Then the sun will become dark and the moon will turn to blood (which we known means struggle and hardship) before the day of the Lord. I would say the Church has definitely faced struggle and hardship, and will continue to, until Jesus returns. Jesus made it clear that would be the case. The amazing part is at the end though. Even though we will face hardship, those who call on the name of Jesus will be saved. Jesus brings deliverance for his church, and for all who accept him as their savior. What an amazing message.

  1. So what do we know about when Jesus will come back?

Unfortunately, not much. Jesus said he himself doesn’t know when he will come back. He says the day and the hour are not known. There are no signs laid out in scripture. It may be soon, it may not be. I can tell you though, that the blood moons have absolutely nothing to do with when he will come back. So instead of counting down the days until September 28 and the next blood moon, go out and start telling people that even though this world is full of struggle and hardship until Jesus returns, if they call on his name they can be saved.

God is Not a Control Freak

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God’s will… What do you think of when you hear that? Typically we think of what God wants, and this leads to the question everyone is always asking…”What is God’s will for my life?”

This question was never on the forefront of my mind more than it was as my high school career neared an end. Apparently at age 16 or 17 I am already supposed to know what I want to do for the rest of my life, and as a Christian, I better make sure that whatever I land on is exactly what God wants for me. That is a lot of pressure! What if I get it wrong? What if I spend tens of thousands of dollars and four years of my life studying something that God doesn’t have in the plan? What if I end up going my entire life against God’s will? These questions plagued me so I had to begin a journey in search of God’s will. I was praying, I was asking trusted mentors, I was reading my Bible, all trying to figure out what in the world God’s will for my life was and how I find it. Then things started to pile up. God has this planned out specific will for life, so the questions started rolling in. What college does God will for me to go to? Who does God will for me to marry? What job does God will for me to take? How many kids does God will for me to have? Which house does God will for me to buy? You can see where this is going. IT NEVER STOPS! What if I get one wrong? How do I find out what God wants from me? This is so frustrating…

But then something clicked. I had a major revelation. I was going about this all wrong. As I began really searching through the Bible, I began to realize this: For every one story that I read in the Bible where God gives someone an extremely specific directive, there are countless stories where there is no specific will.

But wait you tell me…doesn’t the Bible say somewhere that God knows the plans that he has. Plans to make me prosper and bring me hope and a future? Yes. So doesn’t that mean that God has my life all mapped out? No! I will save you the rant on that. You can read more about that here.

So why do I not think God has a specific detailed will for each of us? Because I don’t think God is a control freak. That is not how his character is displayed throughout scripture. What do we see? A God who very much works in the context of people making life decisions and following their passions.

I love this quote from Donald Miller. He says, “God gave us a heart filled with desire and longing. It’s as though God sets before us a big sheet of butcher paper and hands us a box of crayons and tells us to dream.”

But weren’t there people in the Bible God had a specific will for? Of course! According to Scripture, here are some ways you can know if God has a very specific will for your life:

  1. An angel shows up and tells you that you are going to be pregnant even though you’ve never had sex.
  2. A donkey talks to you
  3. A burning bush talks to you
  4. You hear God’s audible voice and he tells you to go to Nineveh.

Do you catch my drift? When God has this crazy specific will for you, YOU’LL KNOW with no doubt. Jonah knew absolutely he was going against God’s will when he got on that boat. There was no doubt in his mind what God wanted from him.

So what about the rest of us who feel like God has not made it 100% obvious that there is a specific will? How do we know if we are doing what God wants? It’s actually pretty simple. What does Jesus say in Scripture?

In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment and he responds by saying, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives this commission “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded, and surely I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

So as you are asking yourselves this question during whatever season of life you are in…”what is God’s will for me and how do I know if I’m doing it?” let me ask you this…

Are you loving God with your whole self and loving people selflessly? Are you making disciples? Are you baptizing people and leading them to Christ? Are you teaching them how to live like Jesus?

If you answered yes to these, guess what…YOU ARE DOING GOD’S WILL!

Unless God has made something painfully obvious to you, he really doesn’t care if you are loving God, loving people, and advancing his kingdom as a pastor in Katy Texas, an actor in LA, an accountant in New York, or anything else. He doesn’t care if you have no kids or ten. He doesn’t care if you get married when you’re 22 or 92. As Donald Miller would say, take those crayons and dream!

Now, one final note. Just because God may not care if you go to school in state or across the country, or if you study business management or education, doesn’t mean there is not a better option. God knows you best and he can see all things. Even though he is not some puppet master planning out every aspect of your life does not mean that He cannot help reveal to you which spouse or which job will work the best for you and your future, so prayerfully seek Him in the big decisions. That being said, do not let this fear of “God’s will” paralyze you. If God is going to send you a burning bush, I promise, you won’t miss it. Until then get moving, loving God, loving people, and advancing his kingdom. If you are doing that, I can guarantee God will bless it no matter where you are doing it.

8 Things to Know for Ministry from the Media Summit

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If you are in ministry and you don’t know what Mashable is, you need to learn. If we want to reach the culture around us with the message of Jesus, we need to understand that culture. Today, as millennials are continuing to take on more prominent roles in society, and Generation Z is forming their own identity, culture is changing constantly. Mashable is one of your best friends to stay updated on that change. To give you an idea of what Mashable is like, think Buzzfeed, but instead of reading about the 18 cutest cat forts you can read about the 15 Mobile Trends to Watch for in 2015 or read up on current Facebook trends. On this website you can read about the latest developments in social media, technology, business, and entertainment. This is the first place I go every Monday morning in order to be aware of all the new developments in the culture my students live in daily.

In December, Mashable held a media summit. This included some of the world’s most innovative TV Producers, authors, media moguls, news anchors and more. All of them were there to talk about what direction the future of the media industry is taking and how to best interact with our current culture. This summit can and should be extremely beneficial to us in how we work to communicate the Gospel to the current culture most effectively. Here are 8 things that stood out to me.

  1. The Importance of Storytelling

Best Quote: “Storytelling is the bedrock of all great media companies and all great brands.”

Storytelling is the essence of media and it’s what our current culture cares about. It’s why we love to binge watch tv shows on Netflix; we are captivated by innovative and well-crafted storytelling. At their core, all successful media and branding have a story. We have the greatest story ever, but how good are we at storytelling? Are you using the art of storytelling in your teaching? More importantly, are you telling stories through media. People don’t want to hear stories, people want to SEE stories. People don’t just want to hear your vision, people want to see stories of it being achieved. People want to see stories of changed lives. Stories are the things that get people fired up. Look at how well organizations like Toms or Invisible Children have done with this. They have become a successful and well established brand because of the story at the heart of what they do, and the creative ways they share it. How are you incorporating storytelling (especially through media) in your ministry?

 

  1. The Power of Simplicity

The Summit showed that the most successful media campaigns have a message that relies on simplicity. The best example of this displayed at the summit is the new campaign President Obama has helped to launch to combat sexual assault. The campaign is simply 8 characters, and just 3 words, “It’s on us”. The message is that it’s on us to stop sexual assault. This campaign has quickly gone viral. You can check out the video here

There is power in simplicity and it helps the content go viral. These were the words spoken by Jason Harris, one of the campaign’s founders. How often are we making sure we rely on simplicity when we communicate our messages, our visions, and what we are about as the Church? Simplicity makes our content more memorable and more effective.

 

  1. Reacting vs. Predicting

Best Quote: “Media: It’s not about reacting. It’s about predicting”.

 If you want your approach or your content to take off, you have to be the first to the game. The most successful media predicts what will happen or where things will go instead of reacting to them. As a Church, are you being innovative in your approach? Are you predicting issues that will arise before they happen or are you constantly reacting to them? What are some ways to predict instead of react? The Summit answered that question too.

  • Collecting Data: Mashable has hired full time data collectors just to predict the future of sharing online. This will help them stay ahead of the game. What type of data have you collected on where your church and community are headed?
  • The second can be summed up perfectly by the following quote from the summit. “The young people are telling you the future if you are willing to listen to them.”

 

  1. The Importance of Content

Best Quote: “Focus on great content. Don’t focus on a mechanism that makes your content go viral.”

Everything that has been said so far means nothing if you neglect to produce good content. It doesn’t matter how brilliantly or creatively you tell a story if the story has no content. The media that is the most successful and goes viral has the best content. However, many ignore their content and instead focus on gimmicks and distribution methods to go viral. If your media has great content, people will watch/read it. What is our focus in the church? You can have the coolest stage, the best building, the prime location, a great live streaming platform, produce high quality videos, but if your content sucks it won’t matter. Focus on making your content great before you focus on how you can make it be heard by the most people.

 

  1. Shorten Your Material

Best Quote: If it’s more than 90 seconds, it better be really (expletive removed) good.

With the amount of media consumed by our culture, you have to learn to get your message across in a short form before the viewer/listener moves on to something else. Our culture has short attention spans. It’s why instagram videos limit to 15 seconds. As they said at the Summit, short form gets the viewer in that second. This is truly the new wave of communication. ABC news is taking this head on by introducing Facecast. This is a video posted of your entire news update IN ONE MINUTE. Check it out here. As the Church, maybe we need to consider shortening our material in order to be heard. Maybe the 30-40 minute sermon isn’t going to work anymore. (Is that blasphemy?). Maybe we need cut sermons into multiple shorter sections broken up by short media pieces and music. I don’t know what the answer is, but a lot of our material is really long and not anywhere near as good as the stuff being produced under 90 seconds.

 

  1. What to do with the Women?

Best Quote: “We’ve not yet seen the Golden Age of women in leadership” 

Why is this in here? Well, this is a summit on media and culture trends. Many media leaders are women and culture is trending toward increased roles of leadership for women. Some prominent and rapidly growing churches like Willowcreek Community Church and Eastside Christian Church have already added women as elders. I’m not saying that is right and I’m not saying that is wrong. I’m not trying to stir the pot on the issue. What I am saying is that culture is elevating more and more women into high levels of leadership and if you are a church leader, you are going to have to decide how you will respond to that. Is this an issue the church needs to embrace culture on or one it needs to push against?

 

  1. Use Your Platforms

What platforms are you using to communicate your content? Is it from the stage only? Is it from Facebook only? Research is showing that people (especially young people) are on a larger variety of social media apps than ever before. Facebook has the most users, but Instagram has the most engagement, but Youtube has the most widespread usage. Only super hip people use Twitter, but it’s still out there. You never know which platform is going to get you the most traffic because the usage is constantly fluctuating. The Summit recommends that media campaigns get launched on all platforms and then you narrow the focus to the one that seems to be working best.

Another stat that should floor you: “In the evenings, the average person checks their phone EVERY 6 SECONDS!” If you have not found a way to make the content of your ministry mobile (an app, mobile giving, texting service, etc…) you are behind the game. If you didn’t read the linked article on mobile trends for 2015 at the beginning of the post, DO IT! Mobile is about to get even bigger and the Church needs to learn how to communicate through that platform.

 

  1. Know Your Audience

There were so many good quotes from this section I am just going to mostly let them speak for themselves

“Narrow down your audience and figure out what’s important to them. Remember, it’s not always about what YOU want to say.” 

“The people who are drawn to your content are the people who are going to gain something from it”

Things to consider

  • Do you know your ministry/congregation well enough to know what is going on in their lives and what they really need hear in that season? Are you only teaching on what YOU want to teach?
  • Are you satisfied with the answer you give when you ask yourself “what are people gaining from this?”

“Emotion is what drives people to take action”

“We are in an era where EVERYONE has the power to have their voice heard”

 Things to consider

  • When you know your audience and present content and an experience people will be drawn to, their emotions will be affected and it will drive them to action. Isn’t that what we ultimately hope for? That people will be moved by Jesus to the point that they act on it?
  • If we can inspire people to act, it can change the world. In the current culture of media, everyone has the ability to be heard. Imagine if the entire Church was utilizing that power.

Do you agree or disagree? Even if you didn’t watch the Summit, what other cultural and media trends do you see that need to affect how we do ministry?

Understanding Revelation Part 3: The Scene in Heaven

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Chapters 4-5: The Scene in Heaven

(Note: It would be helpful to read the chapters along with the post)

Missed any of the previous posts? Get caught up.

Part 1

Part 2

So now that we have addressed the churches, we start getting into the meat of this vision. God invites John to heaven where he sees the throne of the Ruler of the Universe. While there, he sees lots of symbols. All of these symbols are used often in the Old Testament. That is how we know what they typically represent. So, what do they all mean? I’m just going to make quick notes about what I believe they represent.

Jasper: A clear rock crystal – God’s holiness and righteousness

Carnelian: A blood red stone – God’s judgments

Rainbow: A reminder that God keeps his promises

(A similar description of all of this is used in Ezekiel 1:28)

 

Next we see the 24 elders

What do they represent? – A priesthood

How do I know that? – Read 1 Chronicles 24-25

What are we seeing here? – 1 Peter 2:9 describes the Church as a royal priesthood. I think in this scene in heaven we are seeing the Church. Their white robes are what were promised to the church in chapter 3. Their crowns are what were promised to the church in chapter 2. Their thrones are what were promised to the church in Matthew 19. This is the Church

Thunder and Lightning – represents God’s wrath and judgment

The Sea – Represents separation.

 

The Creatures

What do they represent? – Most likely all of nature

How do I know that? – There are 4 of them. The number four represents the created world. 4 elements, 4 seasons, 4 directions, etc…

Why do they have so many eyes? – They miss nothing. They proclaim God’s holiness, his unlimited might and power. ALL of creation cries out in praise to God.

 

So here is the real question. What is the point of all of this? What are we setting the stage for? What is the message?

The message: You think Rome is powerful? Just look at how much more mighty God is!

“You are worthy our Lord and God” was a phrase used to worship the emperor. Here we see the Church using this phrase to worship the true God.

 

OPENING THE SEALS

The Number Seven – This is a very important number in this book. Throughout the Bible, the number 7 represents being perfect and complete. The seven seals on the scroll show that is was perfectly and completely sealed. No one was worthy to open it and John wept.

Why would John start crying? – Because it looked like there would be no help for the church since no one could open the seal. But wait!!!

The Lamb

The lamb is obviously Jesus. Why does the lamb have seven horns? Well you know what the number 7 means and horns depict power (Deuteronomy 33:17, 1 Samuel 2:10). So put two and two together. You got it! This shows that Jesus has complete and perfect power. Horns also represent kings (as we will see later in this book) so we also see that Jesus is the true and perfect king.

Here, the angels and every living creature worship Jesus. He has the power to open the scroll! He has the power to defeat Rome. That’s what we see in this scene, the power and worthiness of Jesus. And most of all, he is worthy to receive worship from every creature.

 

Next Week: Things are about to get hardcore! Part 4: The Seals

Understanding Revelation Part 2: Letters to the Churches

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If you missed Part 1 check it out here

Chapters 1-3: Letters to the Churches

So let’s start understanding Revelation is talking about. Remember, verse 1 gives us an important message about how to read this book: “Things that must SOON take place.” And then again in verse 3 we read “the time is NEAR”.

We start off by reading that Jesus is coming! He is going to set things right! The wording comes straight out of the Old Testament and reminds us that God does not fail to deliver His people. Many people will point right away to us reading of Christ coming in the clouds as Jesus coming back at the end of time. I don’t think that matches the time frame we read right at the beginning of the book. I think as we continue to read this book it will be obvious to us that we are reading of Christ coming to rescue his Church from the persecution of Rome. In the Old Testament we often read of coming in the clouds as a way to describe God’s judgment. In the same way, the sound of a trumpet is often used before the voice or appearance of God.

Next we read about lampstands. This was a familiar picture (think menorahs) for the Jews. This first chapter tells us that these seven lampstands refer to the seven churches John is writing to. Who is standing in the middle of them? Jesus of course! How do we know that? A few things

  • Son of Man is often used as a title for Christ
  • The clothing he is wearing is what a High Priest wears (Hebrews 4:4 tells us Jesus is our high priest)
  • He has white features since he is pure and holy
  • His bronze feet show strength (Daniel 10:6 and Ezekiel 1:7)

Basically, Jesus is super powerful.

John gets told to write everything down. Already John is told that the lampstands are churches and the stars are angels so what does that mean? This book has lots of figures and we should not read it literally.

So now we get to the letters to the churches. Why are these here? They are not separate from the rest of the book. It’s important to remember that this whole book was written to churches going through a very specific experience. Not to people thousands of years later. Also note the creativity in the description of Jesus to each church.

Church in Ephesus

Ephesus had a major harbor and was the wealthiest city in Asia. It contained temples dedicated to Roman Emperors. Ephesus was also a center for crime and immorality. It was filled with sacred prostitutes. This church had worked hard and endured patiently, but they had lost their focus. They had lost their first love for Christ. It makes me think of what Paul says about works for Christ without love in 1 Corinthians 13:3 – “If I give away all I have and deliver my body to be burned, but don’t have love, I gain nothing”

Church in Smyrna

Having a temple to the Emperor was something the city of Smyrna was very proud of. Refusing to worship the Emperor there was seen as a disgrace and un-patriotic. It was dangerous to be a Christian here. There was no knowing what might happen. Jesus tells them to expect prison, death, slander, and especially poverty. Why? To do business there you had to worship Caesar at the altar once a year. It also didn’t help that the Jews were giving Christians up to the authorities. Jesus tells them to endure and be faithful to death.

Church in Pergamum

Pergamum was a great religious center with an altar to Zeus set 800 feet up on the side of the hill. The altar looked like a very large throne which is probably what is called “satan’s throne”. Roman governors were divided into two groups: those with the right of the sword and those without. The governor of Pergamum had the right, which meant he could execute Christians for any reason. However, Jesus refers to himself as the one with the sword. Jesus promises them a white stone which is what was used to indicate someone was found innocent in a trial. They may be found worthy of execution by the government but they are found blameless by Jesus. However, they do have a problem. Some are being swayed by false teaching.

Church in Thyatira

This church has the opposite problem of Ephesus. They have love, but they are falling to false teaching. Jesus warns them because he is going to bring judgment.

Church in Sardis

The church is Sardis had a reputation of being alive and thriving. It was the cool thing to be a member of the church in Sardis. But God saw something different. Jesus says their works were not right in the sight of God. When that’s the case, it doesn’t matter how good the things are that men say about you. Maybe when the world doesn’t have anything bad to say about you it’s a sign that you are too much like the world.

Church in Philadelphia

In the Bible, an open door is an opportunity for evangelism. The church was weak and faced opposition but Jesus was still providing a way for them to make his name known and he expected them to go through it.

Church in Laodicea

This is the only church Jesus has nothing good to say about. This city was proud and felt like they needed nothing. In fact, they were once destroyed by an earthquake and refused help from the Romans because they wanted to rebuild on their own. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world yet Jesus tells them they are poor. It was a major manufacturer of clothing yet Jesus tells them they are naked. It had a medical enter famous for its medicine for eyes yet Jesus tells them they are blind. Then we have the water metaphor. Loadicea was in the middle of Hierapolis which was known for it’s hot healing springs and Colossae which was known for its cold pure water. Both are useful, but lukewarm water (which was the temperature the water was from both places by the time it was piped to Laodicea) is good for nothing and Jesus spits it out. Also, remember what the door stands for? Well Laodicea is not taking advantage of that opportunity. In fact, we see Jesus knocking at HIS OWN DOOR. He wanted to be let back into his own church.

Now that the letters are complete we will see what will happen to God’s enemies that are persecuting his Church. The book of Revelation is a book of judgment. First we get judgment against the people within the church, now we will get it for the people outside.

Next Post: The Scene in Heaven

Understanding Revelation Part 1: The Context

revelation

Revelation is one of the most intriguing, yet least understood books of the Bible and lots has been said about it, especially recently. People want to know what will happen at the end of the world and look to the different theories on the book, but it’s difficult. What do all of those crazy images mean?! I decided I would get in on the conversation as well, so here’s a mini blog series on how to read and interpret the book of Revelation. But first, a disclaimer: I think that the questions “How do I explain the book of Revelation?” and “What happens at the end of time?” are two different and un-related questions. However, the book of Revelation is a beautiful picture of the way Jesus loves His Church. So these next several posts will be MY INTERPRETATION of the book of Revelation. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s ok, but over the next several weeks I will be going over what I think is the most accurate way to dive into the book. So let’s get started with

THE CONTEXT: WHAT WAS GOING ON BACK THEN?

Who Wrote It: The apostle John wrote the book of Revelation while he was banished to the island of Patmos. Patmos is a rocky and uninviting island located about 70 miles southwest of Ephesus. The island is about 10 miles long and 6 miles across as its widest point. The sea almost pinches it off in one place, forming a harbor. Maybe that’s why the word “sea” shows up so often in this book.

What’s the Time Frame: This is super important. The major question is: “Is Revelation talking about what happens at the end of the world?” I think that question is answered in the very first verse. “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants WHAT MUST SOON TAKE PLACE”. John is seeing things that were supposed to take place soon, not at the end of the world. Want more proof? Daniel was given a vision (Daniel chapters 7-8) and was told to seal it up because it was going to be a long time before it happened. His vision came true 400 years later. John is told (in chapter 22) not to seal up his vision because the events would happen soon. If 400 years is long enough to seal up a vision then why would almost 2000 years be considered soon enough to keep that vision open?!

Why was the Book Written: The book of Revelation was written to provide comfort and encouragement to the people of God and let them know that God had not abandoned them. God was not comforting persecuted first century Christians by telling them about what would happen 2000 years later. The focus of the problem was first century Roman persecution, and the focus of Revelation is first century Rome.

How is the Book Written: Revelation is written in Apocalyptic language. What is that? This is found in many Old Testament books. This type of language uses tons of symbols and figurative language. Apocalyptic language is almost always used when God judges an oppressor and saves his people.

How do we Read the Book: When reading the Bible, the best approach is to read it literally UNLESS we are forced not to. For example, when Jesus says, in the Sermon on the Mount, to cut off your hand if it causes us to sin, we understand not to take that literally. With Apocalyptic language, we do the opposite. We should read it figuratively, unless forced not to. Why? Because it uses vivid and dramatic symbols to describe dramatic events. Revelation is also full of references to the Old Testament. We must understand that in order to read it as well.

What was Happening: Christianity upset Rome because it taught that all men were lost without Christ. They worshipped a criminal that Rome has executed. The persecution of the church was especially bad during the reign of Emperors Nero and Domitian. In AD 66, a fire destroyed much of Rome and a rumor spread that Nero started it. Nero got scared and blamed the Christians for it since they were expecting an end of the world that involved fire. Christians were covered with skins from wild animals and torn to death by dogs. They were fastened to stakes and burned to provide light during the night.

We have to read Revelation from the view of a Christian being persecuted by Rome. During the time Revelation was written, Caesar worship dominated Rome. Christians who refused to worship Caesar were persecuted and killed. Everyone was required to confess, “Caesar is Lord”. Christians were left with a choice; Caesar or Christ. The book of Revelation is a call to be faithful till death in order to win the crown of life.

Next Week – Part 2: Letters to the Churches