Revelation 1:19, 20: The Seven Churches

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

John had been so overcome by the vision of our Lord that perhaps he had missed part of it, that is, what the Lord was holding in His hand.  He held seven stars and was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands.  Our Lord describes what these things mean:  the seven stars are the “angels” (“angeloi”) of the seven churches and the lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.

There’s some discussion about who these “angels” were.  Some believe the word is simply used in its primary meaning of “messenger.”  These are human messengers sent from the churches.  “Angel” is simply the transliteration of the Greek word into English.  And it’s true that angels often brought messages from God.  Another view is that they are actual angels, who watch over the churches.  We do read in Scripture of the activities of angels with regard to what goes on in this world, Psalm 91:11; Daniel 11:20, many others.  Others believe it refers to the actual pastors and leaders of the various churches.

I tend to the view that it does refer to the actual pastors and teachers.  It teaches us that pastors don’t belong to the church, or to the denomination or even to themselves.  They belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  They are His and, though they have responsibility to the church they lead, they are ultimately responsible to Him.  There is no greater calling in this world than to stand before people and open to them the Word of God.  But there is also no greater responsibility than that.  Even the simple posts that I write for this blog have eternal repercussions.  Spurgeon used to say that it crushed him into the dust to stand before eternity-bound men and women with the Scriptures.  I’m afraid we’ve lost that sense of awe in this day of mega-churches and Christian “personalities.”

The churches are depicted by seven individual lampstands.  These were lamps which would have burned olive oil.  This compares to the single lampstand with seven flames which burned in the Tabernacle, Exodus 26:31, 32, 37.  I think these portray the distinction between Israel and the church.  As a nation or as a people, Israel was a single entity.  They had a single “holy city,” and a centralized religion with its headquarters in the Tabernacle, then, later, the Temple in Jerusalem.  Later on, in the various dispersions and such, the “synagogue” sprang up as a local focal point of instruction and worship.  But the Jewish heart was always with the land of Israel, regardless of where the body was.

I don’t think Gentiles really understand the attachment the Jew has for his homeland.  I worked for a few months as a janitor in a conservative Jewish synagogue and saw firsthand their love for “eretz Yisrael”.

In contrast to the unity of the nation, “the church” knows no such centralization.  We have no “holy city,” no “headquarters” on this earth.  There is no such structure to the church.  Each church is directly responsible, not to some earthly leader or body, but to the Lord Himself.

Scripture describes the church as both an organism and an organization.  The “organism” is called “the body of Christ,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.  True believers are members of that one body.  If you are a believer, though you and I may never meet in this life and might be separated by thousands of miles, live on opposite sides of the planet and have different languages and cultures, we are still related through the Lord Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.  For lack of a better word, the body is “universal.”  There is only one.

But that one body functions in and through the local church, the local “organization.”  The problem comes in with the confusing of the organism and the organization.  There is no universal “organization,” no world-wide “church,” in Scripture.  Each local church is independent.  No other church can tell it what to do, and it can’t tell any other church what to do.  Certainly, churches can cooperate in various endeavors.  The problem is that the “endeavor,” whatever it is, tends to take on a life of its own and to overshadow the local church.

Through John, our Lord addressed each of the seven churches.  He didn’t have John give the message to some centralized authority, which then filtered it down to the various churches.

These were seven local, contemporaneous churches.  They all existed at the same time.  But “churches” are really just the people who make them up.  So our Lord isn’t just addressing some nebulous something out there.  He’s talking through them to you and me.  He’s giving each one of us counsel, warning, encouragement, promise.  We can find ourselves described in one of these churches, with the attendant counsel given by our Lord.

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“New Testament Christians”

This post was suggested by an article I recently read from Creation Ministries International.  This is a ministry, as its name suggests, that specializes in the defense and explanation of the opening chapters of Genesis as being authoritative, accurate and historical.  I highly recommend it and the publications it produces.  You can contact them at Creation.com.

The article refers to Christians, churches and individuals alike, who, for various reasons, downplay the importance of the Old Testament, and especially the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

Without getting into the article’s approach to the subject, may I suggest some reasons why Genesis is important and should be studied, not neglected.

1. It gives an account of the origin of the earth and its inhabitants that is quite different from the science of our day.  It simply says that in the beginning God created….  Evolutionary science tells us that things just simply happened, without rhyme or reason, and we’re lucky that a planet evolved on which life could form and we could show up.

2. Genesis tells us that it took God six days to create everything and that He “rested” on the seventh day.  Evolution requires numerous billions of years for the development of nothing into everything.  Some try to get around this by saying that Genesis’ “days” are really eons of time.  Genesis describes them as “evening” and “morning.”  If eons of time are really involved, then how did vegetation, which was created on the third day, survive without sunlight, which was created on the fourth day?

3. Genesis tells us that man was a unique and separate creation, not just a development from a lower form of animal.  Nor does it tell us, as some have taught, that God took a couple of hominids with which to form a “special relationship.”  God formed man out of the dust of the earth, not from an ancestor of apes and monkeys.

4. Without Genesis, we have no account of why this world is so messed up, or how, as Paul put it, sin entered.  Genesis tells us that man is a fallen creature, under the judgment of God and driven out from His presence.

5. Genesis gives us the foundation and background of the Gospel.  It contains the very first promise of redemption, when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel,” Genesis 3:15.

There is a great deal more we could say about this, no doubt.  Simply put, Genesis is the foundation of the rest of the Bible.  Without it, we lose a great deal of what we need to understand it.

We need Genesis.

Having said that, there is another use of the term, “New Testament Christian,” a term very familiar in my own background and history.

Perhaps the majority of professing Christians believe, in one way or another, that we have to live according to the Old Testament, in particular, the Law of Moses.  They try very hard to mold New Testament believers according to an Old Testament pattern.  From this view, for example,  has come infant baptism, because Jewish male babies were circumcised, and, it is said, infant baptism and communion have replaced circumcision and the Passover.  However, circumcision and the Passover weren’t replaced by other symbols, but were fulfilled in that which they symbolized and foreshadowed.  Circumcision is fulfilled in regeneration, and the Passover was fulfilled in the death of Christ.  Baptism, believer’s baptism, the only kind commanded by our Lord and observed in the New Testament, is the believer’s profession of faith, and Communion or the Lord’s Supper, looks back to the death of Christ, not a release from Egyptian bondage.

From the view that we’re obligated to live by the Old Testament has come the idea of a “national church,” in which one is a member simply by virtue of being a citizen of that country.  Spiritual condition has nothing to do with it.  The New Testament knows of no such thing.  Salvation is a personal and individual thing, not a corporate thing.  Nor is it “familial,” that is, the infant has some sort of relationship with God simply because the parent does.  It was to one who perhaps exemplified an Old Testament relationship to God more than any other person in Scripture to whom our Lord said, “You must be born again.”

Though the term “church” is sometimes used in a general sense, its predominant use is in reference to a local group of believers in a given area.  The NT knows nothing of the monolithic religious structures which have risen since the days of the early church.

Along with the idea of a national church has come the idea of a priesthood, based on the OT idea of priesthood, in which the people of God are separated into “clergy” and “laity.”  While it is true that God has given only some men gifts and abilities to be pastors and teachers, every believer may come into the presence of God in prayer for himself and for others.  Such access isn’t limited to a certain “family” or class of believers.  There is no NT office of “priest.”

Well, then, if we’re not to live by the OT Law, does this mean that we can live as we please?

Certainly not.

While there are no instructions for animal sacrifice or any “ritual” in the worship of God, every commandment of the Ten except one is repeated in the New Testament, along with a great deal else unknown to the Old Testament.  The only commandment not repeated in the NT is the one about keeping the seventh day as Sabbath.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this.  It’s a minority viewpoint, to be sure.  Nevertheless, this is what “New Testament Christian” means:  that we live under the teachings of Christ in the New Testament, not under the rules and regulations of Moses in the Old.

Revelation 1:17-20, Encouragement

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.  But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.  Amen.  And I have the keys of Hades and Death.  Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My hand, and the seven gold lampstands:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  (NKJV)

Isn’t it interesting, in Scripture, when people see the Lord or a demonstration of His power, they don’t get all excited and jump up and down.  They’re more likely to fall down, in fear and awe, in amazement and wonder.

As one example, Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, Isaiah 6:1.  His response?  “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the king, the LORD of hosts,” v. 5.

We’re not given an example of what Isaiah meant by “unclean lips.”  Because of the “fame” of Uzziah, 2 Chronicles 26:15, as a result of the things listed in that chapter, it could be that the people were lamenting his passing and saying, “What shall we do?  Uzziah is dead.  How can we replace him?”  It could be that in the midst of this mourning and depression, Isaiah saw the LORD, reminding him that even though Uzziah might be dead, God was not.

This is pretty much the thrust of our text in Revelation.  Now though no  one was dead, John was in dire straits.  But the Lord whom he served, and on account of whose word he was in exile, v. 9, was very much alive and in charge.

Who is this One whom John saw?

Hear His own testimony.

“I am the First and the Last.”

Someone else had already said that.

Isaiah 41:4, “Who has performed and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?  I, the LORD, am the first; and with the last, I am He.”

Isaiah 44:6, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:  ‘I am the First and I am the Last; beside Me there is no God’.”

Isaiah 48:12, “Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called:  I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last.”

These three verses quote God speaking to Israel, telling them that He was First and Last.

In Revelation, Jesus applies this title to Himself.

He says, “I am the First and the Last.”

The original language is stronger: “I, I am the First and the Last.”  As it were, He underlines the statement.  He had already called Himself, “the Almighty,” v. 8.  Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that Jesus is never called, “Almighty.”  According to them, He’s only ever called “Mighty God,” as in Isaiah 9:6.  I don’t really see how this helps them.  What kind of God is Jesus?  And, then, how many “gods” are there, after all, if He is only a “mighty God” and not “Almighty”?

Was He deluded?

Deranged?

Deceived?

If He was any of these three, – if He is not God – then, in truth, He is no better than any of the founders of other religions.  In fact, He might be worse; I don’t know that any of them actually claimed to be God.

If He is not God, then He was guilty of blasphemy and the Jews were right to want Him dead.

There are those who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, that such an idea was tacked on later by Christians.  That is not true.  The Jews who heard Him in John 8:58 clearly understood His claim.  That’s why they tried to kill Him, v. 59 – and why they couldn’t.  Indeed, that was the real reason He was crucified, John 19:7; Matthew 27:39-43.

Our Lord’s comment to John was “do not be afraid.”  And throughout the rest of the book, with all the judgments, all the terrible things, that John saw, we don’t read that he “feared” again.  His Lord was alive.

This is the crux of the matter.  Resurrection was the “sign” that the Jews would be given that Jesus was who He claimed to be, Matthew 12:39, 40; 16:4; Luke 11:29.  Matthew’s accounts follow two notable miracles, the healing of the demon-possessed deaf mute and the feeding of the four thousand (men only.  There were likely several thousand there, counting women and children).  Luke’s account gives our Lord’s denunciation of the Jewish leaders for their refusal to recognize Him and their demanding of “signs” – in the face of the signs they saw!

As far as the world is mostly concerned, Jesus is still dead, or might as well be.  That is, if He even existed.

But the Cross is empty, and so is the tomb.  Christianity is the only “religion” of which that can be said.

The tomb is empty.

The One who lay in it says, “I am He who lives,” v. 18.  “I am the Living One.”

Now, He did die; He was dead.  Literally, He “became dead.”  There are those who blasphemously assert that He only fainted, or that there was some sort of a “Passover plot” in which the Lord faked His death.  But it’s hard to imagine that the disciples would suffer all that they endured following a Man who had appeared to them barely alive.

You see, we don’t know the first thing about a crucifixion.  We’ve cleaned it all up and sanitized it – made it “respectable”.  We wear a cross as pretty jewelry.  But there was nothing pretty about it, nothing “respectable.”  In the first place, condemned criminals were often scourged before and as part of their execution.  Our Lord was scourged, Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15.  Again, we know nothing of such a thing.  We’re all concerned about “the rights” of the poor criminal, regardless of how violent he is or how many horrible crimes he’s committed.  We handle him with kid gloves.  There was no such insanity with Rome.  I’m not advocating harsh or unjust treatment of offenders, but perhaps less emphasis on them and more on their victims and what they did to them might be in order.

The Roman scourge was made of leather strips embedded with bits of bone.  At least one description of a scourging tells us that the flesh and muscles of the back were torn away and one could see ribs.  Some died because of it, never making it to a cross.  Then there was the crucifixion itself.  Crude spikes driven through wrists and ankles and the cross dropped into the hole made for it, jarring and tearing the already suffering body.

We know that Jesus actually died.  He “became dead.”  Pilate was astonished when Nicodemus came to ask for the body and sent a centurion to make sure that Jesus was really dead, Mark 15:44, 45.  Those crucified sometimes lingered for days; it had been only a few hours with Jesus.  The centurion wouldn’t have been a new recruit, but a hardened veteran, well-acquainted with what death looked like.  It would have been his life if he had been mistaken or lied about it.  In addition, there had been that spear driven into Jesus’ side, John 19:31-37.  This had been because the Jewish leaders wanted the executions to be completed before the Passover began.  What the soldiers saw with the spear satisfied them.  He was already dead.  There was no need to break His legs.

This is why Nicodemus wanted the body.

There was no doubt; He died.

He died, and….

…was buried, and that was the end of it?

That’s what the enemy wants us to think.

He was “dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

Someone has commented that the “behold” should have come before the idea that such a One as Jesus could have died….

That’s why He came.

Sometimes you will hear someone say that God died for our sins.

While I understand what they’re saying, it isn’t true.

God cannot die.

This is the ultimate reason for the incarnation.  God doesn’t just “forgive” sin.  His justice and holiness require that sin be paid for.  An animal couldn’t do that, though its sacrifice looked ahead to that One who could.  An angel couldn’t do it.  There would be no correspondence between its death and the sin it was supposed to pay for.

Man sinned; man must die.

But “Man” is flawed, sinful, rejected.  He has no currency with which to pay that sin debt.

His death is the result of sin, not its remedy.

There isn’t a single individual born of the union of a man and woman whose life and death can do anything about sin.

This is why God sent His own son, born of a woman, in the likeness of sinful flesh to do something about sin, Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4.  There is no Biblical basis for the idea that Mary herself was sinless or had been conceived without sin; she herself admits her need of a Savior, Luke 1:47.  Why would she “rejoice in God my Savior” if she were without sin herself?  She wouldn’t need a Savior.

It was necessary to Jesus be born of a human mother in order to be fully human, but without a human father in order to be completely sinless.  It was also necessary that His conception be of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35, in order that He be fully God.

But not only is Jesus “alive”; He is alive forevermore, v. 18.  Paul put it like this, Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.  Death no longer has dominion over Him, Romans 6:9.

On the contrary, Jesus says that He has dominion over death:  I have the keys of Hades and Death,” Revelation 1:18, emphasis added.

I think it can be said that we live in “perilous times.”  I don’t know what’s going to happen in and to this country.  I’m afraid the country of my youth is irretrievably gone.  Regardless of who wins in November, January will usher in new and uncharted territory.

It doesn’t really matter.

Democrats and Republicans don’t hold the keys to the future, to death.  My Lord holds them.  Only when He returns to this earth will things be straightened out.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

 

Revelation 1:12-17a, “One Like the Son of Man”

Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.  And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;  He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.

As we get into this description, we have to remember that, to a great degree, Revelation is a book that uses symbols.  Someone has said that there are 65 such symbols throughout the book.  For the most part, they are explained in other verses or are pretty much self-explanatory.  This means that the book describes things that are real.  We have to take them as such and not look for some “deeper meaning” lying below the surface.

For example, the verses before us describe a real person that John saw.  He saw the glorified Lord Jesus.  Cf. His transfiguration as described in Matthew 17:2.  As we get a little further in the book, we’ll see that, in dealing with His churches, the Lord will use one part of this description with each church.

What kind of “Jesus” do we have to deal with in this age?

In the 60s I mentioned in the last post, He was viewed by some as a hippie, a “revolutionary.”  To a large part of professing Christendom today, for all practical purposes, He is dead, because they portray Him as still on the Cross.  To an even larger portion of professing Christendom, He is largely irrelevant, because we have developed enormous denominational structures and organizational hierarchies which wield that authority which is His only or which He gave to the local church.  The local church itself has become largely irrelevant, except maybe as a source of income for all the “para-church” organizations which have developed.  These organizations may be well-meaning, but our Lord intended the local church to be the source of evangelism and education and edification, not some far-off seminary, mission board, or religious association.  Yes, it might argued, but how can the local church accomplish all this?  The early church in Acts had no problem.

In short, we have built a religion and a picture of Christ based on our own image and wisdom.

This isn’t the image John described.

1. His clothing, v. 13, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  A similar description is given of the clothing of the seven angels who dispense God’s final judgments on this earth, Revelation 15:6.  It’s also reminiscent of the clothing of the High Priest.  Among other things, the High Priest was responsible to see that everything in the Tabernacle or, later, the Temple, was according to pattern, Exodus 25:9.

2. His head and hair, v. 14, His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow.  This same description is used of the One called The Ancient of Days and seated on the throne of heaven, Daniel 7:9.  This description is used of no other beings in the universe, only the Father and the Son.

3. His eyes, v. 14, like a flame of fire, to search out and destroy all that is opposed to God.  It’s significant that Paul describes our Lord’s return to the earth as one in which He will be revealed from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord when He comes on that Day, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10.  See also Revelation 19:12.
This is not the “Jesus” of way too much of modern, “contemporary” Christianity, to say nothing of all the other religions floating around this world.  It’s true that He is not now executing judgment on His enemies.  This is indeed a time of grace and salvation, but it’s a great mistake to believe that He will never execute such judgment.  One of these days, this world will run headlong into the end of God’s patience, and then, as Peter put it, If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? 1 Peter 4:18.

4. His feet, v. 15, like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.  This goes along with His description in Revelation 19:13 as being clothed in a robe dipped in blood, a verse which describes the result of Isaiah 63:1-4, which says,
Who is this who comes from Edom (cf. Isaiah 34:5, 6), with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength? –
“I who speak in righteousness, might to save.”
Why is Your garment red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me.  For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes.  For the day of vengeance is in My heart….”

Revelation 14:20 describes this slaughter as being so great that blood will be up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs,  or nearly 200 miles.  I used to imagine rivers of blood that deep, but probably arterial spray would account for it.  He will indeed strike the nations which gather against His people, Zechariah 14:2, 3.  Many people will recoil at the idea of God doing this, but it’s what He says He will do, regardless of what men think about it.  Man will not forever be able to thumb his nose at God.

5. His voice, v. 15, as the sound of many waters.  Psalm 93:4 says, The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea.  We’ve all seen what flood waters can do.  We’ve seen what the mighty waves of the sea are able to accomplish as they crash against a rocky shore line or when stormy seas break through man-made barriers.  This will be nothing compared to the might of our Lord when He returns.

6. His right hand, v. 16, holds seven stars, which will be identified later on as the angels of the seven churches, v. 20.  We’ll have more to say about them then.

7. His mouth,v. 16, out of which is pictured a sharp two-edged sword.  Scripture says that He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, Isaiah 11:4.  Revelation 19:15 echoes this description:  Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword that with it He should strike the nations.  And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  It will be no “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” who returns to this earth.
This “sword” is not just some little decorative item.  The Greek word refers to a long, heavy sword, almost as tall as a man and requiring two hands to wield.  It’s the same word used in the Septuagint of Goliath’s sword, that same sword which David used to cut off Goliath’s head.  The assembled armies of the world will be no match for our Lord.
Scripture says that Jesus will rule in the midst of His enemies, Psalm 110:2.  Worship and serving the Lord will not be optional.  Zechariah 14:16-19 describes this time:

And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth which do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there will be no rain.  If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague  with which the LORD strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.  This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

I think Ezekiel 40-48 will come into play at this time, as well.  A time is coming in which the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea,  Isaiah 11:9.  Jesus will recognized and glorified for who He is.  He will not be  mentioned with religious figures of this world, like Buddha or Gandhi or the prophet, but will have sole place of worship and authority.  It will unmistakeably and forcibly be seen once and for all that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 2:12.

8.  His appearance, like the sun shining in its strength.  The Greek word speaks more of His general appearance than of His face.  His whole demeanor was one of incredible strength, glory and majesty.  This is what Saul saw on the road to Damascus, Acts 26:13.

John’s reaction?

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.

I wish we could get this vision of our Lord.  Isaiah saw it in his day, Isaiah 6:1-5; John 12:41.  It would go a long way toward curing the ills in our churches and our culture.

Revelation 1:10-13, A Loud Voice

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia:  to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea,”
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.  And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands, One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. (NKJV)

John might have been in exile, but he wasn’t alone.  Other than that he was a prisoner, we don’t know anything about his situation on that island, except that it was Sunday and he was “in the Spirit.”  I doubt that means what seems to be a lot of what is associated with that in our time; perhaps he was simply musing about the Lord, you can do that in the midst of the most mundane and boring tasks as well as in church.  In fact, it makes those tasks much better.  Regardless, suddenly he’s aware of a Presence.  He’s not alone.  He hears a voice.

Sometimes the Lord speaks very quietly.  He did that to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11, 12.  There had been a violent, stormy wind, an earthquake, and then, lightning, but Scripture tells us that the LORD wasn’t in those things.  After all these things, there was a still small voice, or as someone has translated it, “the sound of a gentle quietness”.  That seems to be strange, but sometimes after a lot of noise and commotion, silence is all the more noticeable.  The Lord sometimes speaks quietly.

Not here.

John hears a loud voice, as of a trumpet, v. 10.  In fact, Scripture often represents the voice of the Lord as noticeable and attention-getting.  John himself later describes it as having the sound of many waters, v. 15.  Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2 also describe God’s voice like that.

In our culture, at least some folks seem to think God has to speak in a timid, hesitant voice, lest He offend someone.  Better yet, He doesn’t speak at all.

But He does speak.

He speaks in the calamities and catastrophes which happen because we’ve told Him to go away.  He’s telling us to pay attention to what happens when we defy and deny Him.

One of the advantages of being old is that I can remember a time when it wasn’t like this.  People could leave their doors unlocked.  Women could walk down the streets at night and be safe.  I used to wander around at night – in an area of town which is probably a very high crime area today.  No problem.  Yes, there was crime, but nothing like we see today.  The high school I attended, which was in the “tough” part of town, had a rifle range in the basement, with live ammo.  I qualified as a marksman there.  Never any hint of trouble.  You could buy rifles at the local dime store.  Rifle racks in the cabs of pickup trucks were common – complete with rifle(s).  The boys all carried pocket knives.  No biggie.  Now, people are terrified if a person tries to take a nail file onto an airplane.  And guns?  Why, to some people, they are the greatest evil in our time.

What happened?

The 1960s.

People decided drugs were cool.  Love should be “free.”  “Free speech” meant filthy speech.  We should throw off those old puritanical hang-ups of decency and modesty.  We rejoiced in the “new morality,” which was just the old immorality brought up to date.

We decided we knew better than God.

We jumped off the cliff.

We had no idea what we were doing.

“Presentation”

In this post, we’ll take a little side-trip from our study in Revelation.  It’s just something that’s been on my mind the last few days.

My wife is an excellent cook and enjoys watching TV shows about cooking.  I watch with her sometimes.  There are several shows where different professional chefs are challenged to take unusual ingredients and make them into something tasty, with other chefs who judge their efforts.  One of these judges in particular I don’t especially like because he’s always concerned about “presentation” and “texture”.  I’ve remarked to Sharon that perhaps he should go to a food bank and learn about folks who are happy just to have food on the plate and don’t worry about how it’s arranged or how it looks.

I’ve never understood the fascination with “gourmet” plates of food with a dab of this and a dollop of that arranged artistically on a plate.  That little mound of edibles in the middle of the plate always looks lonely.

Maybe it’s just me, and my palate has never been properly educated.  I spent a lot of my formative years with my grandmother.  She took in roomers and boarders to help make ends meet.  When I was there, there would be six of us around the  dinner table.  And there was plenty of food!

Meat.

Potatoes.

Vegetables.

Dessert.

Stuff that a lot of people today raise their hands in horror at the idea of eating, except maybe the vegetables.

I got to thinking about this idea of “presentation” the other day after one of my rants to my wife about this judge and it occurred to me that a great deal of what this world does and is concerned about is nothing more than “presentation.”

Advertising types call it “marketing.”

Manufacturers are concerned about “packaging.”

We used to call it “putting our best foot forward.”

am not advocating a haphazard life style of slovenliness.  There’s nothing wrong with being neat and orderly.  It’s just that there’s more to us than what people see on the outside.  Life isn’t about how the food is arranged on the plate.

When our Lord came into this world – and I’ve already seen a TV commercial for “Christmas stuff” this year – He didn’t come to fanfare and big crowds.  He didn’t come to live in a palace or to hobnob with the rich and powerful.

No, no.

He was born to a young woman in the midst of scandal and, no doubt, gossip.   I wonder sometimes what happened when it became obvious that she was with child, in a society where that wasn’t common or accepted as it is in our society.  After all, she wasn’t yet married.  Scripture tells us how she became pregnant, but the world doesn’t accept the testimony of Scripture.  Even when Jesus was an adult, though there is some discussion about what the verse means, references to His birth were thrown in His face, John 8:41.

And Joseph, His earthly father, wasn’t rich.  Some versions call him a carpenter, but the Greek word simply means a craftsman.  He worked with his hands to provide for his family.  He didn’t have a life of ease and luxury.  Neither did our Lord.

Jesus’ life was spent in relative obscurity.  Even though He had large crowds around Him for a while, when He began to talk about things more important than how the food is arranged on the plate, so to speak, people left Him, John 6:66,  and He wound up with just a handful of followers at the time of His death.

And what a death!

Executed like a common criminal, naked and alone, in one of the worst ways to die ever conceived by the twisted mind of mankind.  Granted, He rose from the dead three days later, but as far as the world is concerned, He’s still dead.

And the message He left behind for His disciples to preach!

It wasn’t about building us up.

Making us feel good about ourselves.

Being all we can be.

The message was about how messed up we are.

It was about the fact that we’re all sinners, falling short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  It was about the fact that we’re not going to be judged by the fickle, changing standards of this world, but by the inflexible and eternal Word of God.

It was about the fact that the best we can do by ourselves, the things we might think of as being “righteous,” even our “religion,” is still vile and filthy in the sight of God, Isaiah 64:6.  It’s about the fact that even the most backward and primitive societies and cultures have a definition of “right” and “wrong,” as varied and different as those might be, but have failed even to live up to their own standards, let alone the righteous and holy standards of God.  It’s about the fact that, apart from Divine intervention, we’re all doomed to spend an eternity in hell.

It’s about the fact that God did intervene and sent His Son to do what we cannot do – be righteous and perfect in the sight of God.

And to suffer on the Cross that penalty due to our disobedience and sinfulness, that penalty that not all the “goodness” we could perform in a thousand lifetimes could even begin to pay.  In fact, it would add to the penalty because it would say that we know better than God and that we are able to please Him in and of ourselves.

The message is about the fact that those who turn from themselves, their sin and their “goodness,” and turn to the Lord Jesus, trusting who He is and what He did on the Cross for sinners, they, and they alone, are saved, that is, made righteous in God’s sight and the penalty due to their sins is paid and erased.

Life.

There’s more to it than meets the eye.