A Torn-up Love Letter

A Torn up Love Letter (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

You may wonder why we’re devoting such attention to the church in Ephesus.  Part of the answer is that Ephesus is arguably the pre-eminent Gentile church in the New Testament.  More is written about the Ephesian church than any other church except Jerusalem.  It’s thought the Gospel of John was written there.  What we can learn about the church in Ephesus serves us as a guide to our own problems and their solution, describing the way our life together should be, with God’s help.

CONTEXT = Between the description of Jesus in ch. 1 and the visions that begin in ch. 4, John’s Revelation has two chapters of love letters written to churches located in Asia Minor.  The fact that Ephesus appears first in the set may be suggestive of the pre-eminent place of the church in the history of how the Gospel spread throughout Asia Minor.

This morning we get to see the mind and heart of Jesus reflecting on the church in Ephesus.  The heart-breaking image communicated in RVN 2:1-7 is that of a torn-up love letter.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

  1. The Author identified Himself. (1)

First identifier: HIM WHO HOLDS THE SEVEN STARS IN HIS RIGHT HAND.  This image is repeated from 1:16.  The SEVEN STARS are identified in 1:20 as the angelic messengers to the seven churches receiving these letters.  STARS are associated with angels in JOB 38:7 and Revelation 9:1.  In Daniel 12:3, faithful witnesses are said to shine like stars.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority.  To be at a ruler’s right hand was to be in a place of power and security.  Put it all together and this is an image of the authority of Jesus over His church; the angels are His messengers.

Second identifier: HIM WHO…WALKS AMONG THE SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS.  This image is repeated from 1:12-13 and has already thereby been attributed to Jesus Christ.  In 1:20 the SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS are identified as the seven churches in Asia Minor.  In Zechariah 4 the prophet was given a vision of a golden lampstand with seven lights, oil fed to it directly from 2 olive trees.  The message there was, ‘NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT,’ SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY. (Zechariah 4:6)  Placing Jesus AMONG the LAMP-STANDS implies His closeness to His people.   He is with His people, not apart.  In total, the Author of the letter has identified Himself as an authority figure who is in relationship with His Church.

  1. The Author commended the church in Ephesus.

First, He commended them for their DEEDS; for their HARD WORK. (2)  This Greek word can be translated as “wearisome toil,” yet it has NOT made them GROW WEARY.  Presumably, this work includes good deeds and witness to the Gospel.

On a related note, He commended their PERSEVERANCE. (2+3)  The Ephesian believers ENDURED HARDSHIPS FOR MY NAME – for His sake – because of association with Him.  They had NOT GROWN WEARY to the point of giving up, but stayed true to Christ.  PERSEVERANCE is commended by Paul in Galatians 6:9, LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.

Second, Jesus commended the Ephesus church for their discernment. (2)  They did not naively assume fast talkers were apostles.  They did not TOLERATE WICKED MEN.  Rather than suffer the effects of wickedness in their midst, the rightly expelled WICKED people for the fellowship.  They TESTED THOSE WHO claimed TO BE APOSTLES, exposing their falsehood.  In this, they followed the teaching of John: DEAR FRIENDS, DO NOT BELIEVE EVERY SPIRIT, BUT TEST THE SPIRITS TO SEE WHETHER THEY ARE FROM GOD, BECAUSE MANY FALSE PROPHETS HAVE GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD. (1 John 4:1)

Third, Jesus commended their hatred of THE PRACTICES OF THE NICOLAITANS. (6)  Note they hated THE PRACTICES, not the people.  “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is the time-tested maxim.  One of the qualities of a love letter is that the text mentions things known to the lovers but unknown to another reader.  Similarly, we can only guess who these Nicolaitans were and why Jesus hated them.  Where they the WICKED MEN mentioned in verse two?  We don’t need to know the details; it is enough that the Ephesian believers didn’t put up with their false teaching and wickedness.

  1. The Author condemned the church.

The heart of the matter is expressed poignantly in verse four: YOU HAVE FORSAKEN YOUR FIRST LOVE.  This is our key verse.  This is a very emotional statement but we are not told its specific meaning.  Given the warning that follows in verse five, to REMOVE their LAMPSTAND, it is a sin, one so serious that threatened the church’s existence.  Also, the word FIRST indicates an earlier part of their Christian experience, something which they had more recently FORSAKEN. The phrase, REMEMBER THE HEIGHTS FROM WHICH YOU HAVE FALLEN (5) implies a way in which the church can regain their FIRST LOVE.

Though He commended their DEEDS, the Author called them to action. (5)  To call them to REPENT means that the church was guilty of a sin.  In addition to repenting, they were to DO THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST.  Here’s that word FIRST again.

Putting all of this together, we are not over-interpreting if we say that the church in Ephesus had somehow gone away from the spiritual status they enjoyed when the church was founded.  Going back to Acts 19:19 we’re reminded the new converts burned 50,000 drachmas worth of magic scrolls.  That showed a literal and figurative fire, a love for Jesus that cancelled all the appeals of superstition and the occult.  We can guess that the fire needed to be rekindled.  We have all experienced periods where our enthusiasm and the excitement of faith waned.  Whether on an individual or church scale, formalism, judgmentalism, legalism take the place of a living faith.  We quit learning and growing, and thereby start dying.

He warned them: IF YOU DO NOT REPENT, I WILL COME TO YOU AND REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND FROM ITS PLACE. (5)  Since the LAMPSTAND is the symbol of the spiritual existence of the church, this is a warning of death.  Church people tend to worry over the “Killer B’s,” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws; these are not the real life of the church.  The real life is our love for Jesus Christ and any time a church loses that, they’ve ceased to be a church.  At that point, the Killer B’s that are left merely mark the presence of a corpse.  To summarize, the most important church in the Greek-speaking world was in danger of not being a church at all.

  1. The Author made a promise to the “overcomers.” (7)

An overcomer is herein identified by two qualities.  First, an overcomer is one who listens to the Spirit = HE WHO HAS AN EAR, LET HIM HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT SAYS TO THE CHURCHES.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is one of the signs of true faith.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is verified by actions in conformity with what the Spirit teaches; an overcomer follows the Spirit’s lead.

Secondly, an overcomer is one who does what the Author commends, not what He condemns.  He is faithful in word & deed.  All believers are to do the whole work of righteousness: avoid evil and do good.  We learn about overcomers in these letters and elsewhere in RVN (7:14; 12:11; 15:2).

Jesus promised that overcomers will receive an eternal home in heaven: they are given THE RIGHT TO EAT FROM THE TREE OF LIFE.   The TREE OF LIFE bookends the Bible; it is PARADISE lost and restored.  It appears first in Genesis 2:9 as one of the trees given to Adam and Eve as food.  It was lost to them when they sinned.  It appears again in Revelation 22, where it gives life to the people who live with God in the New Jerusalem.  The TREE OF LIFE is a symbol of the eternal life God gives to His people.

In both Genesis and Revelation, the TREE OF LIFE IS located IN THE PARADISE OF GOD.  The word PARADISE was borrowed from the Persian language and refers to a park or garden, exactly the place you’d expect to find a tree.  It is a symbol of life after death, the reward God graciously gives to the people who are His.

Legalism & ungraciousness are signs of having forsaken Jesus Christ, our “first love.”

Jesus warned against this abandonment of love: “Because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12–13).  Notice that both the warning and the promise are the same ones delivered by angel to the church in Ephesus.

In an article entitled “Have You Left Your First Love?” Greg Morse wrote, “They had a zeal for orthodoxy, but they had lost their love for Jesus. They showed up for Bible studies and debated the heretics, but lost their pure love for their Lord. They stood against evil in their midst, but tolerated a sluggish love towards Jesus and each other.

“It is a scary reality that the road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, but good deeds and theological precision as well.”  He called it a “paralyzing lack of happiness in God.”

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revelation, Alan F. Johnson

Harper’s New Testament Commentary, St. John the Divine, G.B. Caird

And I Heard a Voice, Brett Best

Message #868

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/have-you-left-your-first-love

Paul: Mystery Man

Summertime Sermon Series: Return to Ephesus (Part 9)

The Apostle PaulPlease read Ephesians 3:1-13.

CONTEXT = FOR THIS REASON refers back to the previous section, which taught us that unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.  Unity is given to us as an act of grace through the Holy Spirit.  For our part, we are to maintain that unity by acting in accord with one another and avoiding sins of the tongue and all other sins that cause discord.

It’s a little surprising Paul used the word MYSTERY so frequently in this passage.  It was a term that was much-abused by “mystery religions” of his day, cults that prospered around the ancient world, and probably in Ephesus especially.  People involved in the mystery religions claimed to know something that nobody else knew.  To join the group, you had to be taught their secrets, their mysteries.

When we started this series last summer we learned there were a number of occult groups like this in Ephesus.  The people in Ephesus were infamous for their fascination with magic and the occult.  I believe Paul used this word deliberately, choosing to confront the false teachers by using a word they misused to deceive people.  We have already seen how Paul’s enemies reacted to his brave practice of telling the truth; they incited a riot!

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

  1. Paul’s qualifications to reveal the MYSTERY.

He was a PRISONER OF CHRIST JESUS (verse one).  Politically and physically, it would be more technically correct to say Paul was a prisoner of Caesar.  He wrote this letter in AD 61 or 62, while he was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting an audience with Caesar.

Spiritually speaking, Paul was a “prisoner” of Jesus in the sense that he was dedicated to doing the will of Christ.  This expression is meant to remind the reader that Caesar could do his worst, but Paul belonged to Jesus, who ultimately decided Paul’s actions and outcome.

Paul was a PRISONER for the sake of the GENTILES (v. 1).  This phrase gives us a “big picture” view of Paul’s incarceration.  Even though his imprisonment can be traced back to his situation in Jerusalem and his decision to appeal his case to the emperor, it was for the sake of the Gentile churches that God allowed it to happen.  Paul’s unwavering commitment to serve God in the Gentile churches was part of the reason he was imprisoned.

Paul’s qualification to be the “mystery man” was based on God’s grace, not on his own merit.  Paul explained this in verses seven and eight.  Paul was an apostle and an administrator of the MYSTERY THROUGH GOD’S GRACE GIVEN ME THROUGH THE WORKING OF HIS POWER (v. 7).  We are obviously operating under GRACE when we’re doing something we are not personally qualified to do.  God gets the glory when His power is most evident.  This is the way Paul understood his ministry – God’s strength substituting for his weakness.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he wrote from God’s perspective, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Think about it.  Why should we bumble along in our own strength when our Creator offers HIS?!!

This was Paul’ humbling experience; ALTHOUGH I AM LESS THAN THE LEAST OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE, THIS GRACE WAS GIVEN ME (v. 8).  Though he had achieved so much, Paul had the faith and the good sense to give all the glory to God.  An understanding of how GRACE operates precludes all pride.  People who have received grace don’t waste time reciting their religious “pedigree.”  They thank God instead.

This is NOT Paul trying to impress anyone with false humility.  It is a recollection of his past – how he used to persecute the Church – as otherwise making him unfit for service.  Apart from GRACE, Paul would not have been so successful in making disciples and planting churches.

All of this was for the Ephesians.  For their sake, on their behalf, he received an ADMINISTRATION OF GOD’S GRACE (v. 2).  This is how ministry works: God’s grace empowers some of His people to serve Him by serving God’s church.  GRACE is always God-centered; it is given, not earned.  In fact, the most obvious examples of GRACE are gifts the recipient could not otherwise possess. The ADMINISTRATION to which Paul refers is the work of making God’s offer of salvation by GRACE known to those outside the Church and the maturing of those inside.  When you read ADMINISTRATION, think “application:” God wants us to apply His truth to our daily living.

God’s purpose in showing GRACE to Paul was to equip him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul describes his message with two phrases: TO PREACH TO THE GENTILES THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST (v. 8).  Though a Jew himself (in fact, a “Jew’s Jew,” see Philippians 3:3-8), Paul’s ministry was to non-Jews; TO THE GENTILES.

The word UNSEARCHABLE refers to the limitless generosity of God.  He makes rain fall on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45), a symbol of how salvation is offered to all people, whether we think they deserve it or not

The aim of Paul’s teaching was TO MAKE PLAIN TO EVERYONE THE ADMINISTRATION OF THIS MYSTERY (9).  When you think about it, making something UNSEARCHABLE become PLAIN TO EVERYONE is a tall order!  Attempting it without relying on God’s power would be ridiculous, illogical.

As he speaks about his preaching and his ministry in other letters, Paul consistently downplayed any strengths or gifts he brought to proclaiming the Gospel.  His ambition was to make the truth PLAIN.  Anyone who preaches while depending on technique, charisma, intelligence, or any other human power is preaching something other than Christ.

  1. What Paul revealed about the MYSTERY.

The content and true understanding of the MYSTERY had been MADE KNOWN to Paul by REVELATION, the personal witness of Jesus Christ (v. 3).  I believe Paul is referring here to his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and what he learned subsequent to that.

It was a MYSTERY because had not been MADE KNOWN TO MEN IN OTHER [previous] GENERATIONS (v. 5).  Here Paul seems to divide human history into two epochs: “BC” (Before Christ) and “AD” (After His Death and Resurrection).  (Of course, these are not the abbreviations we use.)

In the BC time, God’s plan to save humanity from sin had been hinted at, revealed in part, but not fully explained.  All through that part of history, God had promised salvation and was working to bring it to pass, but had not revealed it fully to all people.

Repeating this truth in a slightly different way, Paul wrote in verse nine, IN AGES PAST WAS KEPT HIDDEN IN GOD, WHO CREATED ALL THINGS.  KEPT HIDDEN = the Bible is a “Progressive Revelation;” as time passed, God revealed more about Himself and about His plan for humanity.  As we read from Genesis through to Revelation, we progress in our understanding of what God was saying.  We understand the Old Testament as we read it in light of what God revealed in the New Testament.  Both parts of the Bible are inextricably linked.  Because the fullness of God’s revelation did not enter into human history until the person of Jesus Christ, what appeared before was partial and predictive.  It was not the whole story but the foundation for what was to come.

Paul reminds us that God CREATED ALL THINGS to reinforce this point: God is in charge.  All of history is moving in the direction He wills.  God is working all circumstances to the end He has planned.

He was given insight into THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (v. 4).  Paul is not setting himself up as anything special, a holder of secrets.  He is not a priest in a “mystery religion.”  Instead, he set mystery religions on their head by doing the opposite; he shared the insights he’s been given with the widest possible audience, making God’s plan known to everyone.  For example, read 1:17, where Paul prayed for all people to know God better.

God’s MYSTERY had been REVEALED BY THE SPIRIT TO GOD’S HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS (v. 5).  Paul lived in the “AD” time of divine history.  In Jesus, the fullness of God’s plan for salvation had been revealed and accomplished.  The major revelation came in the person of Jesus, but God also announced it through the HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, the people tasked with leading the Church.

According to God’s plan, the Church is to be His means of revealing His MANIFOLD WISDOM TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS (v. 10).  Often we’re guilty of thinking too small.  We fuss over details and ignore the fact that our shared ministry is part of God’s plan to save the world.  Case in point: Paul’s mention of RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS means that our ministries have eternal consequences.  Spiritual forces beyond our control are affected by whether we are doing our jobs or not.  Think about that: no pressure!

If we weren’t living by GRACE, if we were instead asked to do this on our own strength, such a notion would be intimidating.  However, as we have repeatedly noted, God gives us GRACE to do these things.  This means there is no room for intimidation or distraction by petty, worldly things.

To further establish the centrality of Jesus in the revelation of the MYSTERY, Pal revealed in verse eleven that God completed His ETERNAL PURPOSE IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  The word ACCOMPLISHED means “realized, achieved.”  The passage makes it clear that God made His plan before creation, completed His plan in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and will one day bring it to a complete close when Jesus comes again.

Take a deep breath and let that sink in: you and I are partners with each other and with Jesus Christ.  All of creation is in its last days.  Everything we do has eternal significance.  The powers of heaven and hell are waiting with bated breath.  What we say and do MATTERS!

Here we come to it at last.  What we’ve all been waiting to find out.  What is the MYSTERY?  The MYSTERY is the formation of a single people of God.  Clinton E. Arnold wrote, “God’s people will now be identified by their togetherness in a multiethnic loving group endowed by the Spirit of God rather than circumcision, ritual purity, and bloody sacrifices.”  The distinction of Jew and Gentile is void.

This is what Paul meant by the phrase THROUGH THE GOSPEL THE GENTILES ARE…HEIRS, MEMBERS, and SHARERS with Israel, all in verse six.  When at one time God set apart a nation for Himself, now He has set apart a people, called out from all the nations of the Earth.

– HEIRS TOGETHER WITH ISRAEL = In 1:14 Paul stated the Gentiles were, along with the Jews, inheritors of the Holy Spirit.  He used this word picture again in 5:5.  It is a thread running through the letter.  Nationality no longer determines a person’s membership in God’s family.  Now it is faith in Christ that make one an heir.

– MEMBERS OF ONE BODY = Paul made up an entirely new Greek word (susoma) to say “with one body.”  Paul frequently described the Church as the Body of Christ in this letter (1:23; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30).  In Corinthians, he used this figure of speech to emphasize how different parts (people of different nations) form one body (the Church).

– SHARERS TOGETHER IN THE PROMISE IN CHRIST JESUS = What Paul had in mind was the Holy Spirit, whom he referred to as “the Holy Spirit of promise” in 1:17.  In John 14 Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers as the chief sign of salvation and the most important means of following Jesus’ teachings.  In Galatians 3:7, 26-29, Paul wrote how believing Gentiles are part of the fulfillment o/t promises God made to Abraham.

An important benefit of this revelation is the confidence we can have in prayer and in trials.  (This is our KEY VERSE on this Religious Liberty Sunday.)  In verse twelve the inspired apostle wrote, THROUGH FAITH IN HIM WE MAY APPROACH GOD WITH FREEDOM AND CONFIDENCE.  The greatest expression of FREEDOM is the ability to pray to God.  Prayer is the practice that brings all this GRACE to bear on our daily lives.  Without prayer, none of these Kingdom of God things get accomplished.  With prayer, the resources of heaven are put at our disposal!

The word CONFIDENCE in the Greek pictures a citizen rising at a meeting to speak his mind to an issue.  Or think of a friendly relationship you have where you can speak candidly without fear of being rejected.  Having that FREEDOM means we treasure it and would never abuse it.  We have that feeling out of gratitude, not fear that it might be taken away.

Notice this verse says twice IN HIM, making clear the source of this FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE is Jesus Christ.  In the Progressive Revelation of the Bible, this is closeness to God that previous generations did NOT enjoy.  We are very privileged God put us in this time and place!

The Ephesians did not need to be DISCOURAGED BECAUSE OF Paul’s SUFFERINGS FOR YOU, WHICH were for their GLORY (13).  Paul presented all this theology in its grand scope and concluded by making it completely personal in verse.  This is to be our practice every time we sermonize and study the Bible.  Learning factoids is fruitless if we do not take it personally. We must apply (administrate, as above) the truth.

In this case, Paul does not want his Ephesian friends to feel badly about his imprisonment.  Instead, he wants them to be consoled, knowing that his SUFFERINGS serve two important purposes in the plan of God.

First, it serves the purpose of enabling Paul to write this letter.  If he had not been imprisoned, he would not have had the time to devote to it.  In this way, God used Paul’s SUFFERINGS to benefit the believers in Ephesus.  By the way, at the time of this writing, Paul had been imprisoned 3 or 4 years!  Discouragement would have been a real possibility for those who cared for Paul and looked on.

Second, his SUFFERINGS brought about GLORY.  Remember GLORY is the presence of God somehow manifest in human experience.  Sometimes His presence was manifest in brilliant light, sometimes in dark clouds.  But in every circumstance, the GLORY of God blessed His people, drawing them into deeper fellowship with Him.

Interestingly, Jews of Paul’s day believed that the plan of God required a certain amount of suffering be experienced before God’s plan would come into consummation.  He may have been thinking of this when he wrote that his SUFFERING was “for” the Ephesians.  This belief is implied in Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

          This passage gives us a perspective on Paul’s ministry as an Apostle to the Gentiles.  It is his perspective.  His imprisonment provided opportunity to reflect on all God had done during His ministry, understanding the source and measuring its impact.

Because of GRACE, the MYSTERY has been solved.  Because we have FREEDOM and the CONFIDENCE that a loving relationship bestows, we can pray with authority.  Because God is in control, we do not have to be DISCOURAGED.  Just the opposite; we should be encouraged beyond doubt and fear to have an adventurous and joyous experience of faith in our daily living.  Who needs Sherlock Holmes?  We have Mystery Man Paul explaining the will and work of God in providing us with salvation.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

 

 

The Savior You Need

jesus

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare this article.

If you were asked, “What kind of savior do you want?”  How would you reply?  Some would question whether they need a savior at all.  Many people assume they’re good enough to deserve a place in heaven or deny that heaven exists at all.

Biblically, we know that is nonsense.  No one is good enough, because God’s standard is perfection and none of us can live up to that.  We all need a savior as human nature alone keeps us out of heaven.

In an article entitled, “Why do I need a Savior?” Eric Segalini compared human nature with the famous literary character Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde.  After a disturbing dream, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote feverishly for days to complete the book.  Segalini sees the dual nature of the title character as illustrating the dual nature of every human being.

Dr. Jekyll is a symbol of the polite, public side of most people while Mr. Hyde is the private side that we want to “hide” from others.  You recall that the story revolves around the good doctor’s experiments leading to a formula that split his personality and transformed him physically.

Eventually, the brutal Mr. Hyde committed murder.  His evil alter ego showed up at bad times and fought Dr. Jekyll for dominance.  It was Hyde that murdered, but Jekyll was no less guilty.  The two personalities shared the guilt, and that’s how we can show everyone needs a Savior without having to open our Bible.  Every person with enough sense to be honest must concede to having their own Mr. Hyde.

Segalini concludes: “Instead of leaving us to the harsh demands of justice, Jesus stepped in on our behalf. He extended both justice and mercy. He offered to be our Savior.

“If we come to Jesus in surrender, sick by our sin and certain of justice’s demands, He will take our place.

“In exchange for our sin, Jesus gives us love, gives us hope, gives us Himself.

“Things didn’t end well for Jekyll, by the way. He kept thinking he had Hyde under control, but they both wound up dead.

“The good Dr. Jekyll disappeared first.

“Jekyll and Hyde’s case is not as strange as the novel’s title suggests. The problem isn’t out there; the problem is me.

“I know what I need, like it or not. I need a Savior.

“Because my dark side lurks. And so does yours.”

(https://www.cru.org/us/en/how-to-know-god/why-i-need-a-savior.html)

We learned Wednesday night at our Study of Proverbs that the “foolish” or ungodly person is self-deceived.  They have rejected God on the basis of the mistaken belief that they are OK all on their own.  This is a difficult deception to dislodge.  Once the problem of sin becomes personal, the search for the Savior can rightly begin.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs. 4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

V. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.

V. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.

V. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.

V. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.

V. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.

V. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!

V. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

V. 7 = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM = Self-condemned people will lost.

V. 8 = ALPHA AND OMEGA, FIRST AND LAST (v. 17)

V. 8 = THE ALMIGHTY = Jesus has all power.

V. 13 = “LIKE A SON OF MAN” = Jesus is divinely empowered.

V. 13 = DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.

V. 13 = WITH A GOLDEN SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.

V. 14 = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW = Jesus has a purity of spirit.

V. 14 = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE = He judges fairly.

V. 15 = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.

V. 15 = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.

V. 16 = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.

NEW

V. 16 = OUT OF HIS MOUTH CAME A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD.

A SHARP DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD is a biblical symbol of judgment. Hebrews 4:12 is the example of how the word of God cuts through the externals and reveals a person’s true self: FOR THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING AND ACTIVE. SHARPER THAN ANY DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD, IT PENETRATES EVEN TO DIVIDING SOUL AND SPIRIT, JOINTS AND MARROW; IT JUDGES THE THOUGHTS AND ATTITUDES OF THE HEART.  As words come out of a person’s MOUTH, this is an obvious symbol of Jesus’ pronouncing judgment.

V. 16 = HIS FACE WAS LIKE THE SUN SHINING IN ALL ITS BRILLIANCE.

This reminds us of the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration (see Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9), where we read THERE HE WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE THEM.  HIS FACE SHONE LIKE THE SUN, AND HIS CLOTHES BECAME AS WHITE AS THE LIGHT.  In the Bible, the presence of God is often described as a brilliant light and is called the “glory” of God.  Artists have illustrated this brilliance by painting a halo around the head of Jesus.

The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a Savior.

V. 5 = HIM WHO LOVES US AND HAS FREED US FROM OUR SINS BY HIS BLOOD.

LOVE is something easily claimed; it is proven by sacrifice for the beloved.  That’s why John’s claim Jesus loves us is paired with the greatest evidence; His self-sacrifice for us.  Jesus demonstrated His love by freeing us from slavery to our sin nature and from the penalty for our sins.  His death on the cross did it.

In the Old Testament, blood sacrifice was the God-given means to forgive sin. As Paul explained in HBS 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of there is no forgiveness.”  When Jesus came, God did not just drop that system.  He accepted Jesus’ blood as the final and perfect sacrifice, satisfying forever the demand for blood. In 1 John 1:7 it is written, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

V. 7 = EVERY EYE WILL SEE HIM, EVEN THOSE WHO PIERCED HIM.

This is borrowed from Zechariah 12:10: THEY WILL LOOK ON ME, THE ONE THEY HAVE PIERCED.  This verse tells us two things about the Second Coming.  One, everyone will see Jesus at the same time.  This is possible because He is God and is present everywhere at once.  Two, to people who reject Him, it will be a sudden reversal of what they expected.  This will be as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:37-38 and Luke 17:27; “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”

It’s natural to expect things to continue in the way we’re used to – some people can be quite insistent on it – but people of faith are supposed to know better.  Jesus’ Second Coming will bring about the completed work of God and with it, a complete change to life and the world as we know it.

V. 18 = THE LIVING ONE: “I WAS DEAD AND BEHOLD I AM ALIVE FOR EVER AND EVER!”

His death on the cross is not the end of Jesus’ story.  He does not remain dead, but is alive; THE LIVING ONE.  This expression is used of God the Father, enthroned in Revelation 4:10 and 10:6.  We have identical descriptions of God the Father and God the Son, showing they are as one.  Jesus was not defeated by death; He lives and defeated death: THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH. (1 Corinthians 15:26)

V. 18 = “I HOLD T KEYS OF DEATH & HADES.”

Biblically, KEYS are a symbol of authority.  In Matthew 16:19 Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Jesus holds two keys.  One is the key to DEATH.  The One who has authority over DEATH has the authority to give life.  The other is the key to HADES.  This Greek word refers to a place where the spirits of the dead reside until the Second Coming.  It is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol; it is not a place of torment; it is just a kind of residence or holding area.  This is consistent between Jewish beliefs and Greek mythology.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

          Another way to approach the self-reliant person is to invite them to think about what they have based their self-view on.  A person’s self-worth is likely based on these five areas:

  1. Approval from others.
  2. Appearance.
  3. Achievement.
  4. Your character.
  5. Your faith.

The first three items on that list are material, worldly, and temporary.  Character takes some time to form and good character takes the Holy Spirit and some effort on our part to achieve, but can still be subject to compromise and change.  It’s only the fifth   item that is unchanging and reliable.

Here’s a new thought: what we believe about Jesus Christ is the only good basis for what we believe about ourselves.  It is ironic, but a faithful focus on Jesus is the surest foundation for our self-image.

Here in Revelation 1, we have seen the divine side of Jesus emphasized.  We have had our hope in Him renewed by focusing on the Second Coming.  When we center our life on the person of Jesus, we will be less invested in what others think of us, how we appear to them, what worldly achievements we have piled up, and even our own personal growth.  What should be most determinative of who we are is who Jesus is.  When we seek to duplicate Jesus in what we say and do, one of the beneficial effects is that we find freedom from worries about anything this world says about us.  The truth sets us free!

 

Resources:

The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leon Morris

He’s Something Else

liverbirds

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) as my resource for this article.  This is the second of three articles in a series.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “he’s something else” (the title of today’s message) can mean, “unusual; extremely good or extremely bad.”  (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/something-else) As I’m pointing to Jesus and saying “He’s something else,” I feel it’s necessary to make it perfectly plain that Jesus is SO unusual He’s one of a kind, and so extremely good He’s God.  So – make no mistake about that.

I also want to make certain that no one thinks I’m applying to Jesus the hit song “He’s Something Else,” made famous by the all-girl band, the Liverbirds.  Like some other rock group I won’t mention, the Liverbirds were from Liverpool, England, performing from 1963-1968.  They took their name from a mythical bird, a symbol of Liverpool.  In 2009 Irene Cara covered the song, changing the title to “My Baby.”  That song has nothing to do with Jesus either.

Now that we’ve got all that settled, let me tell you what I DO mean when I say “He’s something else.”  We will continue our look at Jesus in Revelation one to see Him in a different light, to emphasize the divine side of His absolutely unique existence as both God and man.  We will also, along the way, be reminded that when He comes the second time, it will not be as a helpless peasant child, but as the All-conquering Hero, the One who restores creation to its perfection, according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the second in a series of three messages to view Jesus in this way.  Yes, I think it’s that important.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs.  4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

  1. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.
  2. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.
  3. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.
  4. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.
  5. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.
  6. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!
  7. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

NEW

Verse seven = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM.  This sounds very negative but consider this: in Revelation, a SIMILAR phrase – INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH – is a euphemism for wicked, self-condemned, unbelieving folk (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).  They are OF THE EARTH, not of heaven in their spirituality and moral life.

They will MOURN because only at the end they will see they’ve rejected Jesus at their peril.  They may cry out, but it will be too late.  Zechariah 12:10-14 speaks of mourning, but there it is a cry of repentance provoked by the Holy Spirit, not at all what John records.

Verse eight = Jesus is the ALPHA & OMEGA, FIRST & LAST (v. 17). The words “I AM” remind us of God’s declaration to Moses, naming Himself as the “I AM,” or Yahweh.  ALPHA/FIRST refers to Jesus activity in the creation of the world (see Colossians 1:16).  He is the source, the beginning of all that exists.  OMEGA/LAST = His Second Coming is the event signaling the end of the universe, Jesus is also the end of all that exists.  This proclamation is repeated twice at the end of John’s vision; Revelation 21:6 & 22:13.

Verse Eight = Jesus is THE ALMIGHTY.  This is how the Hebrew words Yahweh Sebaoth are translated; “Lord of Hosts.”  The Leader of the Angels is one aspect of God’s complete power over His creation.  God is all powerful but He chooses to not use His power to negate the free will of the people He’s created.  Instead, He relies on the guiding power of love.  We do well to follow His example, using love to influence others.

Verse thirteen = “LIKE A SON OF MAN.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” more than any other to refer to Himself.  It is important we understand this choice.  It may sound less powerful than “Son of God,” but it is a title no less divine.  The title SON OF MAN originates in Ezekiel 2:1, where an angel addressed the prophet in this way and repeated it dozens of times in the book.  In Daniel 7:13, a figure endowed with divine power is said to be LIKE A SON OF MAN.  In Daniel 8:17, Daniel himself is called a SON OF MAN.  This phrase is repeated in Revelation 1:13 in a description of Jesus and in 14:14 as a description of an angel.

This title is used for prophets, angels and Jesus Christ.  It refers to someone endowed with a message from God and the divine power to make it known to all people in miraculous ways.  I assume Jesus saw this as His ministry and that is why He referred to Himself in this way.

Verse thirteen = He was DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.  Wearing a full-length robe was a sign of wealth and/or authority.  Persons so dressed did not do menial work for a living; they would be the ancient equivalent of what we call a “white collar” laborer.  This is yet another symbol of Jesus’ personal authority.

Verse thirteen = WITH A GOLD SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.  In Old Testament times, the high priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve semi-precious stones.  Perhaps this SASH is meant to remind us that Jesus is our High Priest.

In Revelation 15:6 the seven angels who carried the plagues wore gold sashes.  The image of a gold sash is an ancient equivalent of having a badge or ID.  It verified the person wearing it had authority.  Whether high priest or angel, they represented God and enacted His will.

Verse fourteen = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW.  White is a biblical symbol of purity.  The fact that His head is white indicates a purity of Jesus’ inner man.  This also directly associates Jesus with the Ancient of Days described in Daniel 7:9, whose head of hair is also WHITE LIKE WOOL and whose clothing was as WHITE AS SNOW.

Verse fourteen = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  Fire is, among other things, a biblical symbol of judgment.  That His eyes are ablaze indicates that Jesus sees accurately and judges fairly.  This description is repeated in Revelation 2:18 & 19:12, marking it as important.

The phrase EYES OF THE LORD is repeated over 100 times in Scripture, it refers to God’s omniscience, His attention to His people, and whether or not they obey His moral law.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it is written, FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD RANGE ALL OVER THE EARTH TO STRENGTHEN THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO HIM.  This is also seen in Hebrews 4:13; NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD’S SIGHT.  EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

Verse fifteen = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.  FEET were considered the lowliest part of the human body; washing the feet of others was done by the lowest slave.  To sit at someone’s feet was a place for a learner, showing their humility before their teacher (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39).  To be under someone’s feet was to be utterly defeated (Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6).  Given this cultural understanding, how extreme is this statement? HOW BEAUTIFUL ON THE MOUNTAINS ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD TIDINGS, WHO PROCLAIM SALVATION, WHO SAY TO THOSE IN ZION, “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (Isaiah 52:7).  I mean, beautiful FEET?  Really?

The prophet Ezekiel described FOUR LIVING CREATURES he saw in a vision.  One detail is that they had feet that BEAMED LIKE BURNISHED BRONZE (1:7), but theirs were calf-like (hooved?).

In the Bible, BRONZE is a sacred metal.  Many of the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made of bronze.  When a plague of snakes killed many of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to raise up a bronze snake and all who beheld it were saved (Numbers 21).

GLOWING IN A FURNACE = a FURNANCE is a biblical symbol of judgment, a place where fire melted metals to refine them.

Put all these elements together and in this one detail you get a picture of God defeating the enemies of His people, one of the things that will happen in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:25 = FOR HE MUST REIGN UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

Verse fifteen = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.  In Ezekiel 43, the prophet was given a vision of the glory of God returning to His temple.  He wrote that the VOICE of the glory WAS LIKE THE ROAR OF RUSHING WATERS; a sound that commanded attention.  Like a mighty waterfall, no one should miss the message of God or His commands.  This image requires us to sit up and take notice!

Verse sixteen = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority; a king’s scepter was held in his right hand.  Verse twenty explains the SEVEN STARS as being the ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES to whom the letters of chapters 2+3 are addressed.  In some way, the angels represent these churches and are responsible for their condition.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

          “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is the witness of the writer of Proverbs (9:10).  “Fear” in this sense is the realization that God is all-powerful.  He can do as He wills and it is only because He wills good for us that we are able to stand.

My prayer is that this study of John’s vision will reintroduce some awe and wonder, some reverence and holy fear back into our conception of Jesus.  While He is the Gentle Shepherd and the Great Physician, He is also the Conquering King of Kings and Divine Judge.  Both sides of Jesus are necessary, not just for biblical accuracy, but for a balanced view that promotes salvation.

 

RESOURCES:

Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, G.B. Caird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your Bible.  I’ve used the NIV (1984) as my resource for this article.  This is the second of three articles in a series.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the phrase “he’s something else” (the title of today’s message) can mean, “unusual; extremely good or extremely bad.”  (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/something-else) As I’m pointing to Jesus and saying “He’s something else,” I feel it’s necessary to make it perfectly plain that Jesus is SO unusual He’s one of a kind, and so extremely good He’s God.  So – make no mistake about that.

I also want to make certain that no one thinks I’m applying to Jesus the hit song “He’s Something Else,” made famous by the all-girl band, the Liverbirds.  Like some other rock group I won’t mention, the Liverbirds were from Liverpool, England, performing from 1963-1968.  They took their name from a mythical bird, a symbol of Liverpool.  In 2009 Irene Cara covered the song, changing the title to “My Baby.”  That song has nothing to do with Jesus either.

Now that we’ve got all that settled, let me tell you what I DO mean when I say “He’s something else.”  We will continue our look at Jesus in Revelation one to see Him in a different light, to emphasize the divine side of His absolutely unique existence as both God and man.  We will also, along the way, be reminded that when He comes the second time, it will not be as a helpless peasant child, but as the All-conquering Hero, the One who restores creation to its perfection, according to the plan of God the Father.  This is the second in a series of three messages to view Jesus in this way.  Yes, I think it’s that important.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

REVIEW

Vs.  4 + 8 = HIM WHO IS, WHO WAS, WHO IS TO COME.

  1. 4 = He is enthroned = He exercises His authority.
  2. 5 = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS = He is trustworthy and truthful.
  3. 5 = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD = He leads us to life.
  4. 5 = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH = He triumphs.
  5. 6 = He MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER = He delegates power for service.
  6. 6 = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER!
  7. 7 = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS = Just as He ascended.

NEW

Verse seven = ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH WILL MOURN BECAUSE OF HIM.  This sounds very negative but consider this: in Revelation, a SIMILAR phrase – INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH – is a euphemism for wicked, self-condemned, unbelieving folk (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).  They are OF THE EARTH, not of heaven in their spirituality and moral life.

They will MOURN because only at the end they will see they’ve rejected Jesus at their peril.  They may cry out, but it will be too late.  Zechariah 12:10-14 speaks of mourning, but there it is a cry of repentance provoked by the Holy Spirit, not at all what John records.

Verse eight = Jesus is the ALPHA & OMEGA, FIRST & LAST (v. 17). The words “I AM” remind us of God’s declaration to Moses, naming Himself as the “I AM,” or Yahweh.  ALPHA/FIRST refers to Jesus activity in the creation of the world (see Colossians 1:16).  He is the source, the beginning of all that exists.  OMEGA/LAST = His Second Coming is the event signaling the end of the universe, Jesus is also the end of all that exists.  This proclamation is repeated twice at the end of John’s vision; Revelation 21:6 & 22:13.

Verse Eight = Jesus is THE ALMIGHTY.  This is how the Hebrew words Yahweh Sebaoth are translated; “Lord of Hosts.”  The Leader of the Angels is one aspect of God’s complete power over His creation.  God is all powerful but He chooses to not use His power to negate the free will of the people He’s created.  Instead, He relies on the guiding power of love.  We do well to follow His example, using love to influence others.

Verse thirteen = “LIKE A SON OF MAN.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” more than any other to refer to Himself.  It is important we understand this choice.  It may sound less powerful than “Son of God,” but it is a title no less divine.  The title SON OF MAN originates in Ezekiel 2:1, where an angel addressed the prophet in this way and repeated it dozens of times in the book.  In Daniel 7:13, a figure endowed with divine power is said to be LIKE A SON OF MAN.  In Daniel 8:17, Daniel himself is called a SON OF MAN.  This phrase is repeated in Revelation 1:13 in a description of Jesus and in 14:14 as a description of an angel.

This title is used for prophets, angels and Jesus Christ.  It refers to someone endowed with a message from God and the divine power to make it known to all people in miraculous ways.  I assume Jesus saw this as His ministry and that is why He referred to Himself in this way.

Verse thirteen = He was DRESSED IN A ROBE REACHING DOWN TO HIS FEET.  Wearing a full-length robe was a sign of wealth and/or authority.  Persons so dressed did not do menial work for a living; they would be the ancient equivalent of what we call a “white collar” laborer.  This is yet another symbol of Jesus’ personal authority.

Verse thirteen = WITH A GOLD SASH AROUND HIS CHEST.  In Old Testament times, the high priest wore a gold breastplate adorned with twelve semi-precious stones.  Perhaps this SASH is meant to remind us that Jesus is our High Priest.

In Revelation 15:6 the seven angels who carried the plagues wore gold sashes.  The image of a gold sash is an ancient equivalent of having a badge or ID.  It verified the person wearing it had authority.  Whether high priest or angel, they represented God and enacted His will.

Verse fourteen = HIS HEAD AND HAIR WERE WHITE LIKE WOOL, AS WHITE AS SNOW.  White is a biblical symbol of purity.  The fact that His head is white indicates a purity of Jesus’ inner man.  This also directly associates Jesus with the Ancient of Days described in Daniel 7:9, whose head of hair is also WHITE LIKE WOOL and whose clothing was as WHITE AS SNOW.

Verse fourteen = HIS EYES WERE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  Fire is, among other things, a biblical symbol of judgment.  That His eyes are ablaze indicates that Jesus sees accurately and judges fairly.  This description is repeated in Revelation 2:18 & 19:12, marking it as important.

The phrase EYES OF THE LORD is repeated over 100 times in Scripture, it refers to God’s omniscience, His attention to His people, and whether or not they obey His moral law.  For example, in 2 Chronicles 16:9 it is written, FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD RANGE ALL OVER THE EARTH TO STRENGTHEN THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE FULLY COMMITTED TO HIM.  This is also seen in Hebrews 4:13; NOTHING IN ALL CREATION IS HIDDEN FROM GOD’S SIGHT.  EVERYTHING IS UNCOVERED AND LAID BARE BEFORE THE EYES OF HIM TO WHOM WE MUST GIVE AN ACCOUNT.

Verse fifteen = HIS FEET WERE LIKE BRONZE GLOWING IN A FURNACE.  FEET were considered the lowliest part of the human body; washing the feet of others was done by the lowest slave.  To sit at someone’s feet was a place for a learner, showing their humility before their teacher (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39).  To be under someone’s feet was to be utterly defeated (Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6).  Given this cultural understanding, how extreme is this statement? HOW BEAUTIFUL ON THE MOUNTAINS ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD TIDINGS, WHO PROCLAIM SALVATION, WHO SAY TO THOSE IN ZION, “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (Isaiah 52:7).  I mean, beautiful FEET?  Really?

The prophet Ezekiel described FOUR LIVING CREATURES he saw in a vision.  One detail is that they had feet that BEAMED LIKE BURNISHED BRONZE (1:7), but theirs were calf-like (hooved?).

In the Bible, BRONZE is a sacred metal.  Many of the furnishings of the tabernacle were to be made of bronze.  When a plague of snakes killed many of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to raise up a bronze snake and all who beheld it were saved (Numbers 21).

GLOWING IN A FURNACE = a FURNANCE is a biblical symbol of judgment, a place where fire melted metals to refine them.

Put all these elements together and in this one detail you get a picture of God defeating the enemies of His people, one of the things that will happen in connection with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:25 = FOR HE MUST REIGN UNTIL HE HAS PUT ALL ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET.

Verse fifteen = HIS VOICE WAS LIKE THE SOUND OF RUSHING WATERS.  In Ezekiel 43, the prophet was given a vision of the glory of God returning to His temple.  He wrote that the VOICE of the glory WAS LIKE THE ROAR OF RUSHING WATERS; a sound that commanded attention.  Like a mighty waterfall, no one should miss the message of God or His commands.  This image requires us to sit up and take notice!

Verse sixteen = IN HIS RIGHT HAND HE HELD SEVEN STARS.  The RIGHT HAND is a symbol of authority; a king’s scepter was held in his right hand.  Verse twenty explains the SEVEN STARS as being the ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES to whom the letters of chapters 2+3 are addressed.  In some way, the angels represent these churches and are responsible for their condition.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is the witness of the writer of Proverbs (9:10).  “Fear” in this sense is the realization that God is all-powerful.  He can do as He wills and it is only because He wills good for us that we are able to stand.

My prayer is that this study of John’s vision will reintroduce some awe and wonder, some reverence and holy fear back into our conception of Jesus.  While He is the Gentle Shepherd and the Great Physician, He is also the Conquering King of Kings and Divine Judge.  Both sides of Jesus are necessary, not just for biblical accuracy, but for a balanced view that promotes salvation.

 

RESOURCES:

Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, G.B. Caird

a

 

Superman or Son of Man?

superjc

Please read Revelation 1:4-20 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

The comic book character Superman turned 80 on April 18th last year.  Did anybody celebrate?  Imagine the effect if he used his “super breath” to blow out the candles!

Twelve years ago the movie “Superman Returns” had a line in it that got me thinking about the subject of Superman and Jesus.  From the first time I heard it, it sounded like a paraphrase from the Bible and it offended me to hear it used that way.

The line is spoken by Sir Anthony Hopkins, voicing Superman’s father, Jor-El.  As Superman orbited the earth, we hear Jor-El say, “They are a good people, Kal-el, or they want to be.  But they need someone to lead them, to show them the way.  That is why I have sent you to them, my only son.”

The director of this picture, Bryan Singer, is quoted as saying, “Superman is the Jesus Christ of superheroes.”  This is evidence of many intentional parallels between Superman and Jesus as a means of making the comic character more popular.

Ironically, the character of Superman was created by two Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster.  A compelling argument can be made that Superman was created as a counter-point to the growing threat of Nazi Germany in 1938.  I’ve read that Superman was modeled after Moses and seems designed to counter the Nazi ideal of an ubermensch, a member of the Master Race.

Superman may have started out being modeled on Moses, but there’s no doubt his handlers have turned a New Testament corner since then.  I have compiled a list of parallels between Jesus and Superman.  There’s too much evidence there to explain it in any way other than a deliberate attempt by those who’ve handled the character for EIGHTY YEARS to wrap Jesus in blue tights and a red cape.  It may be shrewd marketing, but I don’t like it and between the two – Superman and the Savior – there’s no question who’s real and who’s more powerful.

In order to deepen our understanding of Jesus, we’re going to use this occasion to take a look at Him in a slightly different light – the supernatural portrayal of Jesus in Revelation.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

  1. The descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1 point to a powerful being.

Verses four and eight = HIM WHO IS, AND WHO WAS, AND WHO IS TO COME.  This expression of praise is offered by the FOUR LIVING CREATURES to God the Father, seated on His throne in Revelation 4:8.  It refers to the present, past, and future – all three tenses of time – as a way of saying God is eternal.  As God, the Son of God existed before His birth in this world, He lived in a particular era of human history, and He will come again to this world to complete His victory.

Verse four = He is enthroned.  He is KING OF KINGS in 1 Timothy 6:15.  That same title is used in Revelation 17:14 and 19:16.  This title is a way of saying Jesus has the right to rule over all creation and that His authority and power have no limits.

Verse five = THE FAITHFUL WITNESS.  Palm 89:37 refers to the moon as a FAITHFUL WITNESS God set in the sky.  It is a dependable predictor of tides and is regular in its phases.  Revelation 2:13 refers to Antipas as a FAITHFUL WITNESS.  In John 14:6, Jesus referred to Himself as THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.

Taken together, this is a way of saying as the moon is dependable and predictable in its appearance and effects, Jesus can be trusted to tell the truth about God the Father.  In fact, theologians refer to Jesus as the “Personal Revelation” of God.  In His words and deeds Jesus taught and demonstrated God’s begin and His character.

Verse five = FIRSTBORN OF THE DEAD.  Throughout the Bible, the FIRSTBORN always gets special treatment and the “first fruits” are the most special part of the harvest, offered to God in gratitude.  Paul applied this to Jesus’ resurrection in Colossians 1:18; AND HE IS THE HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH; HE IS THE BEGINNING AND THE FIRSTBORN FROM AMONG THE DEAD, SO THAT IN EVERYTHING HE MIGHT HAVE THE SUPREMACY.  In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul similarly described Jesus as the FIRSTFRUITS of the dead.  All this reminds us that Jesus has led the way into eternal life.  Our resurrection will be like His; if we want to know more about our life after death, we need to study His.

Verse five = RULER OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH.   THE KINGS OF THE EARTH is an expression is found four more times in the Revelation (6:15; 17:2; 17:18; 18:3), each time denoting the rulers of worldly kingdoms that have allied themselves to resist God.  The fact that Jesus is RULER over them is not meant to imply that He is responsible for their bad behavior, only that His rule is complete.  Though THE KINGS OF THE EARTH oppose Jesus, it is a futile gesture; His power is irresistible.

To His disciples enduring persecution, this is welcome news.  Though the KINGS of this world seem to hold power, God is in charge; He will sustain His people.

Verse six = He has MADE US TO BE A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS TO SERVE HIS GOD AND FATHER.  KINGDOM = Because Jesus Christ is RULER over all, He is able to make us part of His KINGDOM.  We are called out of earthly “kingdoms” to be obedient to Jesus’ will first and foremost.

PRIESTS = Way back in Exodus 19:6, Moses told the people that God’s will was to make them a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS.   This promise is mentioned again in Revelation 5:10, virtually word-for-word. This promise is unusual because only rarely in the history of God’s people have priests also been kings.  But that’s part of the point – when Jesus comes again, the world will be set back in the order God intended.  The New Testament makes it plain that all believers are PRIESTS and no longer need another human being to intercede between us and God

The purpose of all this is plainly spelled out: TO SERVE our GOD AND FATHER.  We do not rule on our own authority or serve as priests on our own will.  Instead, God delegates this power to us so that we can serve Him.

Verse six = TO HIM BE GLORY AND POWER FOR EVER AND EVER! This verse reads like a hymn of praise.  It is repeated as such in Revelation 19:1.  It is here to remind us that the focus of true service is never on self, but is always, only on God.  He deserves the GLORY and alone possesses the POWER.

Verse seven = HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS.  In Mark 13:26 and Luke 21:27 Jesus predicted that at the end of this age, the world would see Him appear in the CLOUDS with great glory and power.  Psalm 68:4 locates God in the clouds, a symbol of His rule over the Earth; SING TO GOD, SING IN PRAISE OF HIS NAME, EXTOL HIM WHO RIDES ON THE CLOUDS; REJOICE BEFORE HIM – HIS NAME IS THE LORD.  (see also Psalm 104:3).  In Ezekiel 30:3, the prophet linked the appearance of CLOUDS with THE DAY OF THE LORD, which is the Old Testament’s way of referring to the events related to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  In the book of Exodus, God directed His people on their travels with a PILLAR OF CLOUD during the daylight hours and by means of a pillar of fire at night (13:21-22).  In the DNL 7 vision the Son of Man came from the CLOUDS and is clearly God; this also predicts how Jesus will appear to us. At the end of the Gospel of Luke and the beginning of the book of Acts, we are told that Jesus left His disciples and returned to heaven, disappearing among the clouds.  Angels standing nearby promised that He would return the way He’s left: among the CLOUDS (Acts 1:9-11).

This expression looks ahead to the day when this promise is kept: Jesus’ Second Coming.  It is reassuring to know this will happen; it can happen any time.

Only the Son of Man is powerful enough to save us.

We’re so entrenched in the “Gentle Shepherd” version of Jesus that we’re troubled by John’s depiction of Jesus.  It’s as if we expect the Second Coming to arrive as a gentle tap on the shoulder, followed by an apology for disturbing us.  It’s ludicrous that we should expect the sudden appearance of Jesus as conquering king to be meek and mild, accompanied by a gentle swell of violin music.

The end of the universe as we know it will be with a bang, not a whimper.  John’s vision of the ultimate triumph of Christ should mobilize us to action, not bore us into a little nap!

This is important because Jesus’ Second Advent will occur without any warning other than what we’ve been given, so preparedness is the issue here.  Are you ready?  Are you helping others become ready?

Readiness comes after accepting God’s gracious offer of salvation.  It is doing the daily work of prayer, study of Scripture, and loving one another.  We demonstrate our eagerness for heaven by making earth as much like heaven as we can.

Resources:

Message #1172

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce

Getting in Touch with His Masculine Side

Please read Isaiah 42:10-13 and Revelation 19:11-21 in your favorite version of the Bible.  As usual, I’ve used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

God is our Father and our King; a full view of God and humanity celebrates masculinity and femininity.

God is our Father.  As we learned last month on Mother’s Day that does not mean that His character is limited to masculine behaviors.  Scripture occasionally describes God in terms that are maternal as well.

May we agree that “male” and “female” refer to scientific states that can be objectively established, while outside of biology, “masculine” and “feminine” are terms that reflect a more subjective reality?  Can we acknowledge that the vast majority of us are a mix of character traits that can be described as “masculine” and “feminine”?  God Himself is described in both ways, and we are, both genders, made in His Image.

This set of Mother’s and Father’s Day messages is an attempt to satisfy our curiosity about the nature and character of God.  What we’ve learned is that in His nature, God is NEITHER male nor female; instead, He is a spiritual being.  We’ve learned God’s personality is both fatherly and motherly.

In honor of the day, a little story is required.  One summer evening during a severe thunderstorm a mother tucked her young son back into bed.  She was about to turn off the light when the boy asked, a tremor in his voice, “Mommy, will you sleep with me tonight?”

The mother smiled and said sweetly, “I can’t dear, I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”

A dark, angry look crossed the little face and his lower lip began to protrude.

“The big sissy!”

Last month, on Mother’s day, we got in touch with the “feminine” side of God’s character.  This month, for the sake of truth and equal time, we will look at two passages that clearly point to the “masculine” side of God.

  1. The LORD is a MIGHTY MAN (Isaiah 42:10-13).

Context: Sandwiched between a description of the Lord’s Servant (ch. 42) and Israel’s Savior (ch. 43), we find this passage of praise that affirms God’s nature has characteristics we could call “feminine” (v. 14) and “masculine” (v. 13).

The heading reads “Song of Praise to the Lord.”  Verse nine states that the LORD is doing something NEW; this song may be the announcement promised in this verse.

Comments: The passage juxtaposes the paternal/masculine image of a warrior (v. 13) with the maternal/feminine image of a child-birthing mother in the very next verse (v. 14).  The fact that these images are side by side says to me we needn’t obsess over God’s gender identity, but see them as two sides of the same coin.

The LORD is a victorious warrior.  This martial imagery is quite a contrast to the gentleness of the SERVANT in verses two and three.  THE LORD WILL MARCH OUT is the ancient expression for an army taking the field to fight.  Let’s look at the particulars of Isaiah’s portrayal of the LORD in verse thirteen.

The LORD is a MIGHTY MAN; this phrase reminds us of the soldiers who served King David (2 Samuel 23).  Their conquests and exploits are legendary.

The LORD is a zealous WARRIOR.  The word translated here as ZEAL can also be translated as FURY.  This is His wrath against the wicked and vengeance on those who persecute His people.  God’s eagerness to rescue His people is also measured by the feminine imagery of verse fourteen.

The phrase the LORD will RAISE THE BATTLE CRY gives us an exciting, dramatic picture of God as a general, leading the battle.  It is typical for soldiers to take the field with a shout.  This is done to excite their own courage and intimidate their enemy.  God is taking the field to lead His people into battle versus evil.

The LORD will TRIUMPH OVER HIS ENEMIES.  The identity of HIS ENEMIES is not revealed here, but we can safely generalize it to include the nations persecuting His people and all idolators.  (Verses ten to tweleve have a “four corners of the earth” kind of theme, so His ENEMIES are all over.)  Elsewhere, God is depicted as victorious over the primeval chaos (Psalm 93), the Egyptians (Exodus 15), Babylon (Isaiah 47), death (Isaiah 25:8), and the devil (Revelation 20:7-10).  These all give us information about the ENEMIES the divine WARRIOR has vanquished in battle.

This is masculine imagery, comparing God to a man of action, dynamism, and victorious over all opposition.  This is the kind of stuff that nourishes a man’s soul!

  1. Jesus is the Conquering King (Revelation 19:11-21).

Context: Between a scene of heaven rejoicing over the victory of God (ch. 19) and Judgment Day, we are treated to a description of the King who is the object of worship and the warrior who defeated the enemies judged guilty and destroyed.

Comments: Jesus is the conquering King of Kings.  The WHITE HORSE he rides is a symbol of victory.  We will examine the particulars.

He is CALLED FAITHFUL AND TRUE in verse eleven.  See 3:14, where the letter to the church in Laodicea is the words of the one who is FAITHFUL AND TRUE.  Jesus can be counted on to do the right thing.  Unlike earthly military commanders, He never abuses the might at His disposal.

It is promised that WITH JUSTICE HE JUDGES AND MAKES WAR (11).  This reads a lot like Isaiah 11:3-4, the description of the BRANCH OF JESSE (Jesus).

HE WILL NOT JUDGE BY WHAT HE SEES WITH HIS EYES, OR DECIDE BY WHAT HE HEARS WITH HIS EARS; BUT WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS HE WILL JUDGE THE NEEDY, WITH JUSTICE HE WILL GIVE DECISIONS FOR THE POOR OF THE EARTH.  In Revelation, the theme of a holy war at the end of time is introduced in chs. 13+14.

In verse twelve, it is written that HIS EYES ARE LIKE A BLAZING FIRE.  This description has already been used in Revelation 1:14 for the figure of the SON OF MAN, and for the SON OF GOD in 2:18, addressor of the letter to the church in Thyatira.

ON HIS HEAD ARE MANY CROWNS (v. 12); obviously, CROWNS are a symbol of authority.  It’s the number and origin of the CROWNS that’s interesting.  Without specifying a number, one might guess the rider wears more CROWNS than the seven on the DRAGON’s head (12:3) and the ten on the BEAST’s head (13:1).  These CROWNS may be the ones the 24 ELDERS laid down before Him (4:10-11) represent the worship offered the LAMB in Revelation 5.

The rider is wears a ROBE DIPPED IN BLOOD (v. 13). Some alternative ancient manuscripts of the Revelation use the word “sprinkled” here.  That translation makes more sense in light of Isaiah 63:1-3, where the conqueror’s robe is STAINED WITH CRIMSON, the blood of the Edomites, enemies of Israel.

However, as this is a figure of Jesus, it is more likely His own blood that makes his ROBE crimson-colored.

IN HIS MOUTH, A SHARP SWORD (15) reads like a startling detail, but it’s not unique to John’s Revelation.  Something similar is mentioned in Psalm 2:9 and Isaiah 11:4: HE WILL STRIKE THE EARTH WITH THE ROD OF HIS MOUTH; WITH THE BREATH OF HIS LIPS HE WILL SLAY THE WICKED. This description has already been used twice in the Revelation.  In 1:16 it appears as part of the description of the One like the Son of Man.  In 2:12+16, we read it in a warning to the church in Pergamum.

The SWORD symbolizes judgment and the MOUTH is the source of words.  Together, this odd-sounding image is one of the powerful words of Jesus, judging sin and condemning sinners to God’s wrath.

The name of the rider is both a mystery and a revelation.  Or, more likely, He has three different names.  Verse twelve relates that HE HAS A NAME WRITTEN ON HIM THAT NO ONE BUT HE HIMSELF KNOWS.  In verse thirteen we read HIS NAME IS THE WORD OF GOD, a name used for Jesus in John 1.  In verse sixteen the location of his NAME (ON HIS THIGH) is revealed to be KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS.  This designation is used for God in Deuteronomy 10:17 and for Jesus in Philippians 2:9.  In Matthew 11:27 Jesus said;

“ALL THINGS HAVE BEEN COMMITTED TO ME BY MY FATHER. NO ONE KNOWS THE SON EXCEPT THE FATHER, AND NO ONE KNOWS THE FATHER EXCEPT THE SON AND THOSE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.”

His victory is described in verses 17-21.  There are two important things to note.

One, His victory will be FINAL. In a grotesque image, the scavenging birds and beasts are invited to feast on the flesh of those fallen in battle (17-18, 21)

Two, His victory will be TOTAL.  In vs. 19-20, the BEAST and FALSE PROPHET, two symbols of the spiritual evil that is behind worldly evil, are defeated and destroyed in THE FIERY LAKE OF BURNING SULFUR.

Even though militaristic images are used here, the ultimate triumph over spiritual evil and its human accomplices was not accomplished by military might, but by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  It is a spiritual victory.

God is our Father and our King; a full view of God and humanity celebrates masculinity and femininity.

What I’ve learned from this set of two messages is that if gender is not an issue where God is concerned, it shouldn’t be an issue where His people are concerned.  Were we to investigate the issue further, we’d find that God’s ideal is that all His children experience a kind of wholeness that comes from having both maleness and femaleness in our character and thinking.  In the plan of God, both genders exist so that each can supply what is typically lacking in the other.  Starting with Adam and Eve, men and women are to complement one another.  This is the genius of God’s plan where marriage and the Church are concerned; the people coming together to be one, and that one being more than the sum of their parts.  That strikes me as a virtue worth working toward.

Speaking of work…

A father was conversing with his young daughter, showing off her knowledge of geography to proud grandparents.

He said, “Where does mommy live?”

“Minn-e-apolis” the little voice answered, carefully forming each syllable.

“Right!  Where do grandpa and grandma live?

“Bal-ti-more.”

“Good job!  And where does daddy live?”

“At work.”

Convicted, the father took the next day off and spent it with his little girl.

Apart from having truthful theology that recognizes God as our Father and King, what difference does all of this make?  It is crucial in at least two ways:

  • You can bow before Him now or later, but later is too late. Believe on Him today!
  • Don’t just acknowledge His kingship, make Him YOUR King. Bow to Him today!

Make a personal commitment, not just a profession of faith.

A Heavenly View (Part Three)

(Please read Revelation 21 & 22 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I prepared this message using the NIV.)

Perhaps you’ve read about the tizzy people are in about the “Nones,” the growing statistic of Americans who self-identify as having no religious affiliation.  Depending on who is commenting on the trend, it is either the death-knell of denominational Christianity or a call to reformation of the Church.  I recently read a Bible study by Rick Ezell that addressed this subject.

“William Hendrix’s book Exit Interviews is about why today’s generation is leaving the church. He summarizes the views of many worship dropouts: ‘Perhaps the most common complaint was that worship services were boring. It was not just that these gatherings were not interesting; they were not worshipful. They did little to help people meet God.’ (p. 260)

“Sally Morgenthaler writing in Worship Evangelism says ‘[When] Worship services that are not worshipful, people not meeting God, people not being allowed to participate in a worship relationship with God – it is as if the very essence of worship has been quietly removed. . . . The most significant benefit of a worship service is connecting with God. It does not matter how chatty and interesting the celebrity interviews, how captivating the drama, how stunning the soloist, or how relevant the message. When personal interaction with God is absent, church loses much of its appeal.’ (p. 23)

“George Barna surveyed thousands of churchgoing Christians. The question was asked: ‘Have you ever experienced God in a worship service?’ Only one-third said that they regularly experience God in church.”

(Retrieved from http://www.lifeway.com/Article/sermon-presence-of-worship-exodus-33 on 10/30/15.)

Of all the things that we’ve learned about our eternal home these last three weeks the most wonderful thing is that we will enjoy the presence of God.  Simply put, God’s presence is what makes heaven “heavenly.”

MESSAGE: If we live today with a view toward heaven, today will be a better day as we will be better people.

  1. God is at the center of the Holy City.

First and foremost, it is the presence of God that makes heaven heavenly.  Ezekiel’s vision of the Holy City bears a lot of similarity to the account of John’s vision which we’ve studied.  He wrote that the SANCTUARY stood at the center of the city he envisioned (48:8, 10 21).  This is another way of saying what John said; God is present at the center of the city. Ezekiel’s vision ends with the name of the city: “AND THE NAME OF THE CITY FROM THAT TIME ON WILL BE: THE LORD IS THERE.” (Ezekiel 48:35)

This is the most obvious and most important fact about our eternal home and it is mentioned often in these chapters.  The presence of God is developed in four different ways:

DWELLING: In 21:3 the angel announces, “NOW THE DWELLING OF GOD IS WITH MEN, AND HE WILL LIVE WITH THEM.  THEY WILL BE HIS PEOPLE AND GOD HIMSELF WILL BE WITH THEM AND BE THEIR GOD.”  DWELLING is used only by John in the New Testament.  It literally means “tabernacle” and refers to the “Tent of Meeting” that was the place for worship of God before the temple was built.  This is one of many places in Revelation that employs Old Testament images to communicate John’s vision.  The tabernacle, as the original meeting-place with God, was dear to the heart of John’s Jewish readers.  However, unlike the tabernacle – which was a temporary structure – God will permanently dwell with His people.  This is the future fulfillment of the promise made in Ezekiel 37:27: “MY DWELLING PLACE WILL BE WITH THEM; I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE.  The word PEOPLE is actually plural in the Greek; a fact which demonstrates the multinationality of the Church on earth and in our eternal home.

THE ABSENCE OF A TEMPLE: In 21:22 we read I DID NOT SEE A TEMPLE IN THE CITY, BECAUSE THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY AND THE LAMB ARE ITS TEMPLE.  The city itself is the temple!  The entire structure is the place of God’s dwelling so no separate structure is needed.

– As we’ve observed, every detail in the construction of the New Jerusalem points to God, just as a temple would. In his vision, Ezekiel saw a perfected temple.  Here, John sees a better vision: God and His people dwell together in the same building.

THE GLORY OF THE LORD is manifest visually as a bright light.  God is present in brilliant light (21:23-24; 22:5).  1 John 1:5 describes God’s nature as being light: THIS IS THE MESSAGE WE HAVE HEARD FROM HIM AND DECLARE TO YOU: GOD IS LIGHT; IN HIM THERE IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL.  In the Bible, LIGHT is the symbol of knowledge and holiness. Light is also comforting; it dispels the threatening darkness.  Imagine the LIGHT of God’s presence being so strong that it makes the sun redundant!  The SUN and the MOON, the two most luminescent bodies in our sky, will not be missed.  22:5 essentially reiterates 21:23, but adds that even artificial light – a LAMP – will be unnecessary in the unfading illumination provided by God Himself.

This promise was first made to the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60:19; THE SUN WILL NO MORE BE YOUR LIGHT BY DAY, NOR WILL THE RIGHTNESS OF THE MOON SHINE ON YOU, FOR THE LORD WILL BE YOUR EVERLASTING LIGHT, AND YOUR GOD WILL BE YOUR GLORY.  The reference to KINGS in 21:24 is a symbol of trivial glory of the worldly kingdoms coming to an end in the new age.  It too was anticipated by Isaiah; NATIONS WILL COME TO YOUR LIGHT, AND KINGS TO THE BRIGHTNESS OF YOUR DAWN. (ISH 60:3)

THE THRONE OF GOD (22:1+3 and 7:17) is  in the HOLY CITY. The presence of God will be immediate; there will be no intermediates like priests or a temple.  God will be – for all eternity – right before His people.

It is called THE THRONE OF GOD AND THE LAMB because God the Father has placed everything under the authority of Jesus.  It is as Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22-23 = AND GOD HAS PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER [Christ’s] FEET & APPOINTED HIM TO BE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING FOR THE CHURCH, WHICH IS HIS BODY, THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY.  After His Ascension, the Bible tells us that Jesus was at the right hand of God the Father.  That was a place of honor, but now in Revelation we see the greater honor of God the Son sharing the throne with God the Father.

A second indicator of God’s presence is the promise that God will remove the grief-causing things of this age.  21:4 develops this thought…HE WILL WIPE EVERY TEAR FROM THEIR EYES and remove the things that cause us to shed tears: THE OLD ORDER OF THINGS HAS PASSED AWAY.  Here are found four causes of grief.

– DEATH. According to 1 Corinthians 15:26, THE LAST ENEMY TO BE DEFEATED IS DEATH.  In Revelation 20:14 we read, DEATH AND HADES WERE THROWN INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE for their destruction.  GOOD NEWS!  We will never again be separated from our loved ones, but joined with them for eternity.

– MOURNING can be translated as “wailing.” It is a degree of grief that is so extreme it cannot be contained or controlled, it must be released.

– CRYING covers everything in this life that causes us to despair.

– PAIN covers suffering & weariness in body and/or spirit. There will be nothing to regret.

Using words echoed in both John and Paul’s writings, this promise occurred first in Isaiah 25:8; HE WILL SWALLOW UP DEATH FOREVER.  THE SOVEREIGN LORD WILL WIPE AWAY THE TEARS FROM ALL FACES; HE WILL REMOVE THE DISGRACE OF HIS PEOPLE FROM ALL THE EARTH.  THE LORD HAS SPOKEN.

Revelation 22:12 reads, “BEHOLD, I AM COMING SOON!  MY REWARD IS WITH ME AND I WILL GIVE TO EVERYONE ACCORDING TO WHAT HE HAS DONE.” For the inhabitants of the Holy City, Jesus not only takes away everything that hurts, but He bestows honors on those who chose to obey His commands in this life.  This is good news compounded!  We can learn the meaning of this verse from Elliot’s commentary on this passage: “The warning has been given that men by continuing in sin (Revelation 22:11) are inviting against themselves the law by which act ripens to habit, and habit makes character, and character forms destiny.” (Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/revelation/22-13.htm on 10/29/15.)

Thirdly, our hope is founded on who Jesus is.  Jesus is the very definition of creation; the brackets of human history: THE ALPHA AND OMEGA, THE FIRST AND LAST, THE BEGINNING AND END (21:6; 22:13).  The importance of this fact underscored by the fact that it is repeated in each chapter, the only difference being the words FIRST AND LAST added in 22:13.  (Jesus referred to Himself as the ALPHA AND OMEGA in 1:11.)  Salvation is entirely the work of Jesus Christ.

By now it will not surprise you to learn that the prophet Isaiah testified to this truth centuries before John: “THIS IS WHAT THE LORD SAYS – ISRAEL’S KING AND REDEEMER, THE LORD ALMIGHTY: I AM THE FIRST AND I AM THE LAST; APART FROM ME THERE IS NO GOD.” (Isaiah 44:6).  Because He has all authority (see Matthew 28:18), we can rely upon and utterly trust the promises of Jesus.

Jesus is depicted as the LAMB in 21:9, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3 and in Revelation 5:6; 19:7. This symbol is appropriate because His sacrifice for our sins has made heaven available to us. The first mention of the LAMB in revelation is a strange and pathetic but pivotal figure in 7:6, THEN I SAW A LAMB, LOOKING AS IF IT HAD BEEN SLAIN, STANDING IN THE CENTER OF THE THRONE, ENCIRCLED BY THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES AND THE ELDERS.  HE HAD SEVEN HORNS AND SEVEN EYES, WHICH ARE THE SEVEN SPIRITS OF GOD SENT OUT INTO ALL THE EARTH.

– I say “pathetic” because the lamb looked as if it had been SLAIN. This is a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross.

– I say “strange” because of its seven horns and eyes. The number seven symbolizes perfection.  Horns symbolize power and eyes are a symbol of knowledge.  This refers to the perfect power and knowledge of God the Son.

– I say “pivotal” because the LAMB is the only being who could open the seven seals on the scroll and thereby begin the series of events leading up to the end of this creation and the New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem.

In the Greek, there are three words translated as “lamb” and they offer three slightly different views.

Amnos looks to the sacrificial use of the animal.

Aren refers to the harmless nature of a lamb.

Arnion is the word used in Revelation, where it is entirely symbolic of the paradoxical nature of Christ, who is both Sacrifice and Savior, God and Human, Judge and Mediator.

Revelation 22:16 confers two more titles on Jesus.  Taken together, these titles focus on Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophecy.

– THE ROOT AND OFFSPRING OF DAVID. God promised King David that his descendants would rule forever.  As a descendant of David, Jesus fulfills this promise.  In their Gospels both Matthew and Luke give genealogies for Jesus that establish this as fact.  In Isaiah 4, the BRANCH OF THE LORD is promised, and in Isaiah 11, a SHOOT OF JESSE (David’s father) is foretold.  Jeremiah 23 also uses this title, as does Zechariah 3 and 6. These promises were part of what the Jews of Jesus’ day expected as they looked forward to the Messiah.  In Revelation 5:5 He is referred to as THE ROOT OF DAVID.

– THE BRIGHT MORNING STAR. This is the most noticeable light in the sky near the horizon just prior to dawn. As such, it is a symbol of hope.  As the dark night of this present age will soon end, the light of Jesus shines as a preview of the glorious light that will soon follow and shine brightly, as we’ve already noted.  Way back in Numbers 24:17, Moses predicted the rising of a STAR OUT OF JACOB.  In Revelaion 2:28, THE MORNING STAR is promised to the overcomer.

Lastly, we will see God in all His glory; face to face (22:4).  In Exodus 33:20, God told Moses, “YOU CANNOT SEE MY FACE AND LIVE.”  With only a few exceptions, this has been the rule ever since.  The reason behind this rule was to reinforce the holiness of God as indicated by His separation from this sinful world.  However, in the next world – where is sin no more and grace has eliminated guilt, this reason will cease to exist.

In the New Creation, as 22:4 promises, all God’s people WILL SEE HIS FACE.  These words offer a word picture of the new closeness between God and His people.  It’s heart-warming to think of being face to face with our Creator, the One who loves us so much.  Jesus made a similarly heart-warming statement in Matthew 18:10: He said, “SEE THAT YOU DO NOT LOOK DOWN ON ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES.  FOR I TELL YOU THAT THEIR ANGELS IN HEAVEN ALWAYS SEE THE FACE OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  In the “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul expressed this hope in the wonderfully poetic language of that chapter; NOW WE SEE BUT A POOR REFLECTION AS IN A MIRROR; THEN WE SHALL SEE FACE TO FACE.  NOW I KNOW IN PART; THEN I SHALL KNOW FULLY, EVEN AS I AM FULLY KNOWN. (1CT 13:12)  In the OT, Job (JOB 19:26) and Isaiah (ISH 52:8) expressed this hope; that they should see God.

Theologian A.W. Tozer wrote a short but influential book called The Pursuit of God. In it, he wrote a couple of things that should sharpen our appetite for an experience of God’s presence.

– “The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God, and the church is famishing for want of HIS PRESENCE.” (P. 38) – “Let us say it again: The universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.” (P. 71)

So it comes down to this.  All we’ve noted about our life to come, all we can hope for in this life, it all hangs on wanting to experience God’s presence.  The things of this world that try to captivate our attention or cause us to worry, all of that needs to fade and vanish.

How do we do that?  Let me give you some simple advice.  Experiencing God happens only in the context of a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  That must come first.

Second, it won’t happen while your attention is trained on this world or yourself.  We must make time to be quiet.  Prayer is the key that opens the door to let God in.  No amount of Bible knowledge, no number of attendance pins, no variety of church service will do for us what prayer will accomplish.