Revival – starts with me
Revelation – A love letter to the churches from Jesus
Revelation 1 -5
With Peter Veysie
George Methodist Church
Sunday 5th May 2019
INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION.
The book of Revelation is a complex, endlessly fascinating book. Eugene Peterson in his book Reversed Thunder calls it the “last word on Scripture”, amongst other things. Careful study of this book will yield rich fruit for individuals and for the Church. But this is also a book that must be approached with reverence, care and caution. There may not be one “right” way to read Revelation, but there are certainly many “wrong” ways to read it. This book has been used to justify countless end-times countdowns, create wild theories about the meaning of its symbols (no, it’s not about helicopters), and sell many “apocalyptic” movies and books. All of these tend to miss the point of Revelation, and lead us down paths that, while interesting, even entertaining, do not bring us any closer to the main object and subject of the book, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who shows up in a magnificent vision in Chapter 1, identified as the Son of Man, dressed as a Priest, holding the cosmos in his hand, and delivering his message to John. And this message is about Jesus, beginning, middle and end. So let us not be distracted by anything else, because only Jesus is worthy of our utmost, worshipful attention.
When approaching any book in Scripture, it is vital to gain an understanding of the type of book that it is, the genre in which it is written. We read the Psalms as poetry differently than we would read one of Paul’s letters, or one of the History books, or one of the Prophetic books. Many mistakes are made when we fail to recognise that what we are reading is designed to be read in a certain way.
So what type of book or genre is Revelation? Revelation actually straddles three literary genres: Prophetic, Apocalyptic, and Pastoral Circular Letter. It is written by John, a Jewish Christian prophet/pastor who is writing from the island of Patmos, probably because he has been exiled there by the Roman authorities for his Christian witness. In an attempt to silence John, they had in fact put him in a place where God would speak to him, and where the whole church – indeed the whole world – would hear the message. And so, after receiving his heavenly vision, John writes his prophetic, apocalyptic, pastoral circular letter, and the book of Revelation is born.
Revelation is a prophetic book not because it tells of the future (it does, but this popular understanding of the word prophetic is not the criteria for prophesy in the Bible) but because it is the word of God spoken directly into the world, specifically into the Church. John, the author of the book, clearly understood himself to be standing in line with prophets in the Jewish Scriptural tradition. John is here pronouncing the fulfilment of the prophecies that God gave to Hebrew prophets in the past, as seen in and through the person of Jesus. And he is concerned not simply with future events, but with how God’s word will impact the Church in the immediate present. A prophet in the early Christian church was a recognised position, one who would give prophecy in the midst of a worship service. John is delivering this vision as a prophecy, but it must also be said that he has written his prophetic vision down very, very carefully, with utmost skill in composition. That is, he did not just see his vision, dash the words down on paper, and send it off. Every part of the Revelation story is connected in a remarkable unity, a unity which also extends to prophecies and scriptures that have come before. Because Revelation is a prophetic book, it is meant to be read as Christ’s word to the immediate Church in a concrete world; these are not flights of fancy, or timeless symbolic images, but the word of the Lord meant to impact the real-world situations of the Churches it was written to, and to be understood by all those “who have ears to hear”. Above all, Revelation is a prophetic witness to the Church of the person of Jesus Christ, revealed here as Christ Victorious. This is made clear in chapter one’s imagery of a risen Christ being the object and the source of the prophetic vision.
Revelation is an apocalyptic book not because it deals with eschatology / the end times (it does, but the word apocalypse as it is understood today – a disaster, a holocaust, the end of the world – is not what the word really meant in John’s day), but because it is about unveiling or uncovering something which is there, but which people don’t have the eyes to see or ears to hear. That is what apocalypse means: to uncover or unveil, and the word apocalypse is the very first word of Revelation. Its purpose is to reveal something otherwise hidden, and it does this through a vision narrative, a story, given by a heavenly being to a human. This vision narrative reveals transcendent reality (heaven’s perspective). In Revelation, this breaks open the normal Roman view of the world and displays it as false and temporary compared to the eternal rule of God. This is designed to give suffering or struggling Churches a broader picture of what their struggles mean, and as a reminder that Christ is victorious over all, even when the Roman Empire seems to be the only true power. Thus, the message of Revelation is prophetic in nature (God’s word to the immediate Church), but its form is largely apocalyptic in its use of symbolic imagery and heavenly perspective. (There were many other apocalyptic works circulating at the time which John and his audience would have been very familiar with; John’s Revelation is similar in some ways to these other apocalypses, but is also distinct and unique.) Because Revelation is an apocalyptic book, the Churches it was addressed to were encouraged to understand their situation from the perspective of the much larger, cosmic war that was being waged, and as part of the great salvation history that God had orchestrated and brought to fruition in Jesus Christ.
Revelation is a pastoral circular letter because it is explicitly sent to seven churches in Asia. These seven cities were located along a Roman postal circuit, and probably the order in which the messages to the churches were written reflects the order in which the cities would be visited. There were more than seven churches in Asia at that time, but the number seven represents fullness or wholeness, so these churches represented the broader Christian church. That said, the messages to each church are specific to them, and deal with actual pastoral concerns that existed. John probably knew these churches well, and he is writing from a pastoral perspective. The whole book is a letter to the churches, not just chapters 2-3. Those chapters, with seven sections written specifically for seven churches, form a type of introduction for each church into the main body of the letter. Chapters 4-22 are for all the churches; chapters 2-3 explain to each individual church how they should read and understand the following chapters. In particular, the Churches are told to conquer, and in the specific messages given to them they are told what they are meant to conquer in their situation. It is essentially a description of the battle they are called to fight in the midst of the larger cosmic war. The war is described in detail in the later chapters, as is the method and joy of conquering. Because Revelation is a pastoral circular letter, we have to take the actual circumstances of each of these churches seriously, and cannot just assume that the messages to the churches are written to us. If it was only written to be understood by people who cracked a biblical code 2000 years later, Revelation would have no pastoral value whatsoever to the people it was written to. So Revelation is not written to us, but its message can be for us, if we have ears to hear. We can see how the word of Christ is being applied directly into pastoral circumstances, and can make applications into our own church lives as a result. Each Church message takes the basic form of a picture of Jesus (who himself is delivering the message), an affirmation (for most of the churches), a correction (for most of the churches), and a motivating image of eternal life.
Use of OT Imagery
The symbols and imagery being used within Revelation are not timeless, nor are they random, nor are they to be understood literally. They have a theological meaning within the context of the Churches and world of the time. They are not directly transferable to our current time and context, but if we understand something of what they meant to the first century churches, we can then make applications to our own time and circumstances. This does take a little work, because most of the images are drawn from the Old Testament, or occasionally from symbols prevalent in the Roman Empire at the time of writing. John’s initial Jewish-Christian audience would have understood his allusions on a level that we do not, at least not without some study and work. No New Testament book makes more use of Old Testament sources than Revelation. Every chapter contains within it elements that cannot really be understood without reference to something that has gone before. John’s favourite OT sources were Daniel, Zephaniah, Exodus, Isaiah and Ezekiel, and we will have readings from these books in each cell outline, in order to give some context to what we are reading.
Reversed Thunder, by Eugene Peterson. A very accessible and beautifully written book about Revelation, seeing it as the last word on Scripture, Christ, the Church, Worship, etc.
The Theology of Revelation, by Richard Bauckham. A more scholarly look at the various theological themes present in the book of Revelation.
Contours of Christology, Chapter 13, entitled “Stories of Jesus in the Apocalypse of John” by David Aune. A work examining the picture of Christ in the Revelation as part of a narrative vision.
Author – Aaron White, along with his wife Cherie and their 4 kids, live and minister in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, labeled North America’s poorest postal code. He serves as leader of Vancouver 614, and spends most of his time working with neighbours in the Downtown Eastside and helping lead the 24-7 prayer movement in Canada. He loves Jesus, loves authentic Christian community, loves reading, and loves eggnog.
And so a summary of the essentials of the first five chapters :
- The revelation from Jesus Christ – the last love letter and letter of warning correction and deep spiritual guidance via the angel and through to John on the Island of Patmos.
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
- Written to the churches that John had ministered to in a geographical area but also to those churches who would have an ear to listen. Seven golden lamp stands the churches and one who walked amongst the lamp stands – this is where revival begins is acknowledging that God is still walking with me – my walk along the beach on Sunday – mist, dead blowfish and then the national sea rescue and three of my friends.
Greetings and doxology
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
‘Look, he is coming with the clouds,’[b]
and ‘every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him’;
and all peoples on earth ‘will mourn because of him.’[c]
So shall it be! Amen.
8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’
John’s vision of Christ
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’
- Someone like the son of man – all pictures from scripture of Jesus Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel etc.
12 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
19 ‘Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
- The messages to the churches in summary :
Rekindle your desire for your first love – if there is one thing that I believe brings revival it is restoring the first love you have with Jesus. I have found especially in a weaker state that my faith walk has been stronger. Christine Caine and the Chinese church.
To the church in Ephesus
2 ‘To the angel[f] of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Overcome your fear and stay faithful. In the light of elections coming up on Wednesday there is a temptation in each one of us to become fearful. Remember that John is in prison when he writes to the church of Smyrna to stay faithful even in fear, Fear is real but if we focus on it we will lose our ability to see that God is in control of our beautiful nation South Africa and he will prevail above all. We have to vote though so that our cross counts but not out of fear – rather out of faith.
To the church in Smyrna
8 ‘To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Guard your heart against false teaching – many will try to guide us away from the truth which sets us free and remember that this books central theme is Jesus at the beginning and the end. Don’t let the focus be on anything else otherwise we will be moving very dangerously towards false teaching and there is enough of that around today. (Itching ears and Paul’s charge to Timothy)
To the church in Pergamum
12 ‘To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
Be careful that in lawless days it can be very easy to become immoral – what does this mean to you as an individual and think of how it might impact on others before you do it ??? Keep focused on love and faith service and perseverance. The more you are doing for Jesus – first love stays alive with this as practise.
To the church in Thyatira
18 ‘To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, “I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.”
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – 27 that one “will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery”[g] – just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Strengthen what remains and be careful that you don’t go to sleep. In our world we have to be careful to not give up because there are others waiting to educate our children and ourselves!!!
Discipline in quiet times and prayer in service and worship is so critical to revival and this starts with me!
To the church in Sardis
3 ‘To the angel[h] of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits[i] of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Hold fast to your faith – what kind of faith do you have to hold fast to – being confident of what we hope for and sure of what we do not see! Crazy stuff but it keeps us secure. Someone’s deep faith is a powerful testimony when everything else is crumbling around us. Just see what happens in a crisis and how folk gather for prayer.
Persevere -don’t stop or lose focus on the finishing line.
To the church in Philadelphia
7 ‘To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
A call to zealously repent from being lukewarm. It’s the cry of the heart of God for us to rise up and let it begin with ourselves. Let’s just repent and reignite the passion we had when we first fell in love with Jesus. Let’s stay faithful choosing to move away from immorality. Let’s wake up to the call of God to be counted and let’s persevere so that we will never be found to be lukewarm again. Amen
To the church in Laodicea
14 ‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
- And finally we are ready for worship (lots more on this next week as well as the power of revival in prayer.)
When we get this right we will start to find ourselves ready to move into a deeper understanding of what it really means to worship the Lord. Into the throne room to worship and the power of Jesus at the centre represented by the LAMB who is able to open the scroll – worthy is the Lamb. When we truly get the first things right as a church then we will begin to see even the religious and irreligious being drawn to worship the Almighty. We drop our guard and authentically move towards the Lord just as we are. It is this that we all long for and to find it in a real honest and vulnerable way. Our response to the cry of the first love to our souls from Jesus will determine how we will respond in worship.
The throne in heaven
4 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[j] of God. 6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the centre, round the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and behind. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all round, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
‘“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,”[k]
who was, and is, and is to come.’
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.’
The scroll and the Lamb
5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’
6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[l] of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign[m] on the earth.’
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!’
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!’
14 The four living creatures said, ‘Amen’, and the elders fell down and worshipped.