Acts 4:32-37: Generosity….

32] Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.  33] And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And great grace was upon them all.  34] Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  (NKJV)

These verses have been used by some to promote communal living, whether voluntary or required, as in communism.  We saw in Soviet Russia that communism doesn’t work, though there are increasing numbers, mostly younger people never exposed to the evils of that system, who want a socialist form of government.  As for voluntary forms of community living, there is no particular Scripture forbidding it, but neither is there a Scripture requiring it.  In the case in Acts, we will see that it didn’t work.

In Acts, the shared experiences of these people gave them a bond and a unity.  Remember, it still hadn’t been all that long since Pentecost.  Quite possibly, many of these had seen and heard the Lord Jesus and had witnessed the horror of His crucifixion.  Some of them might even have been among the 500 who saw the resurrected Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:6.

Further, there is a bond in the Spirit that the world cannot duplicate.  This bond has nothing to do with material things or ideas and philosophies put forth by the world.  It has to do with the Lord Jesus, who He was and what He did.  This is the bond these believers in Acts had.

This bond opened their hearts and their hands so that there was an open sharing of their possessions.  No one said, “This is mine!”  Though these words have been used to justify communism or other socialist ideas, nothing could be farther from the truth.  In the first place, this was voluntary.  No one was forced to do this.  Second, there was no government involvement or intrusion.  There was no outside compulsion for these believers.  Nor did they require others than themselves to do this.  And, it did not work, as we’ve said.

But it wasn’t just about “possessions.”  With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, v. 33.  As I write these words, it is Sunday, the day the early church rejoiced in the Resurrection.  Perhaps there was also an anticipation that the Lord was going to return very soon.  Perhaps this was part of what was in the mind of the early believers; the Lord was coming back and they wouldn’t need “things.”  Their hope was in the next world, not this one, cf. Philippians 3:19-21.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I toured the mansion that had belonged to the owner of the Oliver Plow Co.  In this day when too many people think that milk comes from the dairy section of the store and vegetables from the produce section, that may not mean much, but the Oliver Plow was a giant in farm implements in its day.  Oliver was a competitor with John Deere, perhaps a more familiar name.  Anyway, this house was ornate and beautiful and filled with treasures.  It bore the marks and personality of the lady who had lived there until her late 90s.  But nobody lived there anymore.

Our house is much more modest, and is not likely to be turned into a museum.  But there is coming a day, perhaps not so far off, when a “for sale” sign will be out in the front yard, and someone else will sit in this room and look out the window at the cardinal, the blue jays, the red-headed woodpecker, and the robins, sparrows and squirrels who share the yard with us.  Perhaps other children or grandchildren will run up and down the hill in back.  I don’t know.  We won’t live here anymore.

I don’t know where that lady is as I write about her.  She’s been dead for 20 or more years.  If the unbeliever and skeptic is right, she isn’t anywhere and her bodily remains have decayed into dust and bones.  (If you have recently suffered a loss, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your grief.)

For the believer, Scripture has a much brighter promise:

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens….For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.  Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.  For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,
2 Corinthians 5:1, 4-8, emphasis added.

“The resurrection.”

These early believers had a hope beyond this world and the grave.  But they had something else as well, something I don’t think we value like we should in this day of “free will,” and “human potential.”  Great grace was upon them all, v. 33.  Without the grace of God, we’re just animated bodies, capable perhaps of doing great things, but still wrapped up in this world.  Even if we believe in some sort of “higher power,” the most we’ll ever have is “religion.”  Without the grace of God, the Bible is just another holy book and Christianity is just another world religion.

But the grace of God comes in with resurrecting and creating power, and, in some incomprehensible way we are made new.   To one degree or another, we see that the Bible is truth, and this world is just a bus stop on the way to eternity.

The practical effect of all this to the early church was that there was not anyone among them who lacked, v. 34.  Needs were met and there was no lack to any of them.

Sadly, that’s not the end of the story.

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Acts 2:24-36, “…God Disposes.”

24] “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.  25] For David says concerning Him:

‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
26] Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
27] For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
28] You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’

29] “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  30] Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God has sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31] he, foreseeing this, spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.  32] This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.  33] Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

34] “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:

‘The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
35] Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ “

36] “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”  (NKJV)

One of the Scriptures for our last post was Acts 2:23, where Peter has accused his audience that they “by lawless hands, [had] crucified, and put to death” the Lord Jesus, even though it had been evident that His was no ordinary life.

Perhaps the religious leaders who were behind the crucifixion of our Lord rubbed their hands in glee at the idea that finally they were rid of this One who had been a thorn in their sides for three or more years.  Little did they know!  John 11:48 reveals some of their reasoning; they were concerned for their own prestige and power in the nation.  The “removal” of Jesus of Nazareth was considered necessary for the preservation of these things.  And for a few days, it seemed they were right.

However, God’s purpose concerning Christ is an eternal purpose, Ephesians 1:4; 2:7; 3:11, spanning from eternity past, if we can put it like this, into eternity future.  See also Ephesians 2:7.  The events of a few days, months, or even years, are just threads in the eternal tapestry God is weaving.

In thinking of the death of Christ, Peter boldly proclaimed, “It was not possible that He should be held by it, v. 24.  As proof, in vs. 25-28 he quotes Psalm 16:8-11, speaking in those verses of being in the Lord’s presence in heaven, v. 25, then that “his” soul would not be left in Hades, nor would “his” body see corruption, vs. 26, 27.

Just in passing, there are some who knock on your door who claim that “Hades” is merely the the physical grave.  This really isn’t the place to get into that, except to say this.  In Luke 12:4, 5, our Lord said, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him.”  It’s obvious from these verses that more than simple burying in the ground is in view.

Then, lest it should be thought that David was speaking merely of himself, Peter continues that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day, v. 29.  Obviously, his body had seen corruption.  In Psalm 16, Peter says, David wasn’t referring to his own body, but to the body of “the Christ,” the Messiah, who would indeed die and be buried, but not be there long enough for His body to begin to decay.  Hence, the importance of “three days and three nights” in our Lord’s death and burial.  Jewish tradition believed that the body didn’t begin to decay until the fourth day.  So Psalm 16 refers to our Lord, whose soul was not left in Hades, not did his flesh see corruption,  v, 31.

In addition, God had made some promises to David.  We read of these in 2 Samuel, where God said to David,

“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever….And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you.  Your throne shall be established forever,”  2 Samuel 7:12, 13, 17, emphasis added.

While it could be said that some of this refers to Solomon – who did indeed build a “house” for God’s name – David himself seems to have recognized something more was involved.  In v. 19, in praying to and thanking God for this overwhelming revelation, David said, “…and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come.”  

There’s some discussion about the phrase, “according to the flesh,” in Acts 2:30, but I don’t think it makes any difference.  According to Peter, David knew that the Messiah, a physical descendant of his – “the fruit of his body” – would one day sit on his throne.

Having been raise from the dead, Jesus ascended and, Peter says, “being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” v. 33.

Thus, the apostles weren’t drunk; they had been recipients of the promise made to them by the Lord Jesus even before He was crucified, John 14: 16-18, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”   This last He did in the person and power of the Holy Spirit.

But Peter isn’t quite finished.  As for the Lord Himself, He has been seated at the Father’s right hand, v. 34, “waiting expectantly” for the Father to put down His enemies, those, for example, who cried out for His crucifixion, whose spiritual descendants we see today all around us who demand the removal of any vestige of reference to Biblical truth.  Those who heard Peter were reminded that even though they had crucified the Lord Jesus, God had made Him “both Lord and Christ.”  One day, when He returns to this sin-ruined world, that will become obvious.

God is faithful to His promise.

Revelation 22:6-21, “Even So, Come, Lord Jesus!”

6] Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true,”  And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.

7] “Behold, I am coming quickly!  Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

8] Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.

9] Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.”  10] And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of this prophecy, for the time is at hand.  11] He who is unjust, let him be unjust still;  he who is filthy. let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”

12] “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every one according to his work.  13] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

14] Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.  But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

16] “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

17] And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let take of the water of life freely.

18] For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19] and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

20] He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”

Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

21] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a witness to the authenticity of Revelation.  It says a lot about the wickedness of human nature that, over and over, God has to assure us that He can be trusted and that His word is true.

The second clause refers to the Lord God of the holy prophets, reminding us of 2 Peter 1:21, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.  That’s why His word is “faithful and true.”  It isn’t just the product of man’s wisdom or imagination.  “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The Lord refers to His coming three times in this chapter, in vs. 7, 12 and 20.  In v. 7, it’s in connection with the prophecy of this book.  This doesn’t mean that prophecy is something to speculate or argue about or to sensationalize or trivialize.  It’s to assure us that the future is in His hands and that He has everything under control.  In v. 12, it’s in connection with His purpose to give everyone according to his work.  It’s too easy for us to seek a reward in the approval and praise of mere men, but the only praise that will amount to anything is the commendation of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.  The interesting thing is that He says it’s His “Reward.”  Unbelievers and skeptics, those who scorned Him at His First Coming and hanged Him on a Cross, and those down through the ages who have rejected Him or corrupted His teachings will discover that He is the Judge, not them!

Both the godly and the ungodly will find this to be true.  The godly, those who do His commandments, v. 14, will enter the city.  The wicked, described in v. 15, will never enter that city.  There will be nothing that corrupts or defiles allowed into that eternal paradise.

V. 15 says these things are to be testified in the churches.  Yet how seldom is this true, that churches are given the message in this book.  I know there is a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, about what that message is, but if nothing else, it concerns what is the emphasis in these verses:  that the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, that there is coming a time of reward or punishment, and that the invitation is freely given to “Come.”  I don’t have access to the original language at this time (I’m actually on vacation), but I wouldn’t be surprised if this word isn’t an imperative, that is, a command, for folks to come to the Savior.  This is similar to Acts 17:30, which says, God commands all men everywhere to repent.

There’s some discussion as to whether the Gospel is an offer or an invitation.  I think it’s actually a proclamation from the Court in Heaven that men are under condemnation because of their sin, but God, the High King of Heaven, has made a way of escape through His Son and those who repent of their sins and trust in Him for salvation will receive a full and complete pardon for those sins.

Verse 11 troubles some people:  He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.  Some might think that the verse means that God is ok with unjust and filthy lives.  Perish the thought.  We think our Lord’s teaching in Matthew 13 is the answer.  In this chapter, He is describing the Kingdom of God using various similes and pictures.  In vs. 24-30 he uses the analogy of a man sowing wheat in his field.  An enemy comes along and sows tares in that same field.  BTW, the NIV version saying “weeds” is terribly inadequate and misleading.  Our Lord isn’t talking about something like dandelions!  No, no, the idea is that tares are almost indistinguishable from true wheat until harvest, hence, the reference to harvest in v. 30.

The meaning is that we can’t infallibly tell the heart condition of anyone.  Some looked down on in “church” might actually be godly individuals, while some who have huge ministries but whose praise is from men might find that that is all the reward they will ever get, and the Lord will tell them to depart from Him, Matthew 25:41.  This does not mean that there can be no church discipline or that we can’t “judge” brethren whose lives don’t measure up to Scripture.  It does mean that we are neither infallible nor omniscient.

There is also a solemn warning against tampering with the contents of this Book.  There’s some discussion about whether this warning is only for Revelation or for the whole Bible.  I think it’s the latter.  This book is God’s Word, and it’s a terrible presumption and a great wickedness for anyone to believe that it can be improved upon.  There has been no revelation since John closed his writing and to say otherwise is a wicked sin.

We can have no better close for this  post and this series than the one John gave to his own writing:

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Revelation 22:1-5, Paradise Regained.

1] And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  2] In the middle of its street,and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  3] And there was no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  4] They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  5] There shall be no night there:  They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever.  (NKJV)

These verses continue and finish the description of “the new heaven and the new earth” begun in chapter 21.  So far we’ve seen something of the New Jerusalem and of the inhabitants of the new earth.  Now we see something of the blessings of that eternal life.

In Psalm 46:4, the Psalmist wrote, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.  We believe this is a prophetic reference to “the pure river of water of life” John described in v. 1.  By the way, this river flows “out of,” not “by,” the throne, as one religious song used to put it.

However, John describes some things the Psalmist didn’t mention.  V. 2 might be translated, “Between its avenue on this side and its river on that side was the tree [or, wood] of life bearing fruit twelve times, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree [or, wood] were for the healing of the nations.”

John describes what we would call a lush, beautiful park.  The Greek word is, “paradise,” hence the title.  As in the beginning, God fellowshiped with our first parents in a park, so throughout eternity He will do so in the New Jerusalem.

The leaves of the tree are for the “healing” of the nations.  The Greek word is where we get our word, “therapy”.  I don’t understand what might be involved in that thought, but Adam and Eve ate before the Fall.  Our Lord ate in His resurrected body, though it wasn’t necessary to His well-being.  Though the saints will have glorified bodies, there will be others who, though perfect and sinless, will have ordinary physical bodies, which perhaps will need some care.  As I said, I don’t really know.

V. 3-5 gives us the reason why eternity will be perfect for God’s people:  “there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.”  Never again will the glories of Heaven be marred by the intrusion of rebellion.  “They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.”  Only once or twice in Biblical history have men been allowed anywhere near to the God of heaven and that was only very briefly.  Here such association will be forever.

There are records of men having been caught up into heaven and telling their stories.  I make no judgment on these stories, but after being caught up into the third heaven, Paul wrote that he heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful to utter, 2 Corinthians 12:4.  The ESV translates this, he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.   There is only one source of “heavenly things” and it’s not the minds or experiences of mere men.  Besides, these things “cannot be told.”  How could we?  What do we have in this life or world to compare?

It will be a time of continual day, with no need of artificial light, v. 5.  Cf. 21:23.  We will have the “true light,” that One who said, “Let there be light…,” Genesis 1:3.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.

We live in a time when Christians are increasingly disregarded, even despised.  In some countries, the tag is a death sentence.  Somewhere in this world, a brother or sister may be killed while you read these words.  We won’t read or hear about them because, in the world’s eyes, they’re not important, maybe even deserve to die.

The time is coming when that won’t be true:  “they shall reign forever and ever.”  The devil will not forever have his way in this world.

This verse closes our view of the future.  Vs. 6-21 deal with other things.  We only have a brief glimpse of things which must shortly take place, v. 6.  Again, we don’t believe the angel was telling John that these things would happen soon, as we’ve said elsewhere.

But…

They will happen.

Revelation 2:8, The Christ Who Was Dead And Is Alive.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life.”

It’s with good reason that the Lord starts each letter with a reference to Himself.  Especially in this day of mega-churches and “personalities” (“Chrislebrities,” ugh! what a terrible word!), Jesus seems almost irrelevant.  Of course we believe in Him – we are Christians, after all – but with all the programs and projects and politics and all our efforts for the betterment of mankind, He kind of gets put on the back burner until something goes wrong, and then we run to Him, wondering why He doesn’t do something.  (Although, in this day of fast foods and microwaves, I wonder how many people know what a “back burner” is.  Anyway.)  If Christ were indeed to go away, how many churches would notice the difference?

I don’t mean to be critical, though I am, but without the Lord Jesus, there is no reason for “church.”  There is no salvation.  There is nothing.

Our Lord is simply reminding each church of that fact.  After all,

He is –

– “The First and the Last.”

Several cities in the Roman Empire claimed the title, “First (of something).”  There were several different categories for this.  Ephesus, Smyrna and Thyatira were among these cities.

I think the Lord was simply reminding them that long before Smyrna had been thought of, He could say, “I AM”, and long after the last ember of this planet has burned out, cf. 2 Peter 3:10, He will still be able to say, “I AM”.

We forget that.  Like Smyrna, there are places of incredible beauty and awe-inspiring scenery in this world.  Some of you have traveled all over it.  I’ve just seen a little of this country.  The vastness of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, fall colors in the Ozarks, the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak (the mountain in the header of this blog), the impressive vista of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the awesome feeling of the world’s highest suspension bridge holding sway 1000+ feet over the Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River.

And it does sway (move).  royal-gorge-bridge-again

Just a little….

You used to be able to drive over the bridge, but that’s long gone.  Cars got too big and heavy.

It’s enough to walk over it.

As an aside possibly only of interest to me, my grandfather worked in the steel mill in Pueblo CO where the steel cables were made that support the bridge.

With all that, there’s a great deal of beauty in this country that I haven’t seen.

Doesn’t matter.

One day, it’ll all be gone.

The Lord Jesus will still be the First and the Last.

But He also is the One –

“Who was dead and came to life.”  The Greek reads, “Who became dead and lived.”

It’s a study in itself just to consider the Lord’s “becoming.”  That’s why we split this letter into two parts.

In the first place, He became flesh, John 1:14.

The thing about this is, who was He before He became flesh, before He was born to the virgin in Bethlehem?  Everything rides on the answer to that question.

If, as some who knock on your door insist, He was just another created being, albeit maybe a little higher than you or me, if that’s true, then there’s no hope for any of us.  As and if only a creature like us, He would be completely responsible to God for Himself.  He would have to be perfection Himself in order not to be condemned.  His life would have value in this way only for Himself.  He would have nothing left over, as it were, for anyone else, or you or me.  We’d be doomed.

But John 1:1 says that before He became flesh, He was God.  Those same folks who knock at your door insist that John meant that Jesus was only “a god.”  It is true that in the original, there is no article, no “the,” before “God” in John 1:1.  If there were, then the Word would be the God, and the “oneness” folks are right.  But there is no article before the word, “God.”  In the Greek, there is no indefinite article, no “a,” and thus no way for John to write “a god.”

So?

The difference might be seen in comparing these two phrases:  you are the human; you are human.  The first phrase, “You are the human,” indicates a particular person.  It’s true, in English, to say, “You are a human” is possible, meaning that you are one among several, or as distinguished from them, but in NT Greek, you can’t say that.  To them, “You are human” would mean that you have the characteristics of a human, as opposed, say, to fish or birds.  And, no, we are not animals, although that’s another post.

What John is saying is that, whatever characteristics God has, the Word has.  He is God, not “a god.”

But these same folks again, persistent, aren’t they, will say, “Yes, but Jesus Himself said that the Father is greater that He is, John 14:28.  According to them, this means that He isn’t equal with God.  He isn’t Jehovah God.

Is that true?

Not at all.

When the Word became flesh, He laid aside His divine prerogatives, His “rights,” and came to this earth as a human being.  And He was truly human, not a phantom or apparition, as some teach.  In doing so, He did not cease to be God.  He just quit acting like it, for the most part.  Walking on water isn’t ordinarily a human thing.  When He comes back, He will act like it.

As a man and as a Jew, He was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and was as responsible to obey it as any other Jew.  In this way, because He was truly human, the Father was greater than He.  This doesn’t deny His deity at all, but merely affirms His humanity.

Further, He didn’t come to glory and fame.  He wasn’t born in Rome to a wealthy or noble family, but in Bethlehem, to a poor family from a despised race.  How do we know His family was poor?  When His mother, Mary, made the required offering after His birth, she offered turtledoves or pigeons, the offering prescribed for the poorest Jew, Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8.

He made Himself of no reputation, Philippians 2:7.

But more than all that, and the reason for it, He became a sin offering, Hebrews 9:26, but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  

Then there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21, For He [God] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  I don’t even begin to understand all that’s involved in that.  I don’t think we ever will.

But the cross and the tomb weren’t the end of it.

“He became alive.”

This was the message of the apostolic church, And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:33.  It’s what they were supposed to preach:  Then He [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations,” Luke 24:46, 47, emphases added.

Why go through all this “doctrine”?  Why emphasize it?  Because if that isn’t who Christ was to Smyrna, they had no hope.  They were suffering for nothing.  And if that isn’t Christ to us, we have no hope.   Indeed, as Paul put it, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

(photo credit:  2roadsdiverged.com)

Revelation 1:9, “Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make”

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  

The title of this post is taken from a well-known phrase in the last stanza of a poem written by Richard Lovelace, an Englishman, in 1642.  He was in jail for opposing the idea that bishops should not have civil authority.  His poem has the viewpoint that, because of his love for a woman and her love for him, those who wine and dine festively, or the fish who swim in the sea, or the birds who soar through the air, didn’t enjoy the liberty he did.

While John certainly never knew this poem, he did know the liberty of which it speaks.  Though imprisoned himself, he had a freedom in spirit that the world knows nothing about.

Indeed, although the Lord could have brought it about any other way He chose, without John’s experience on Patmos, we might not have the Revelation.  It’s a testament that, in the words of Psalm 48:14, God will be our guide, even to death, though it wasn’t yet time for that for John.  Still, Psalm 23:4 indicates that the paths of righteousness of 23:3 may lead through the valley of the shadow of death.  Unless the Lord comes back first, they will lead through that valley.

Revelation 1:9 opens the second part of the chapter, which deals with the vision John saw that opens the book.  Verses 1-8 give us the verification of the truth, accuracy and authority of the book.

Our verses tell us –

What he was suffering:  tribulation.

Literally, “the tribulation,” that is, a particular one.

Perhaps a look at the mental and religious climate of the times might help us to understand this phrase.

“Religion” was the binding factor of ancient society, with each nation or region having its own gods.  Rome was faced with the fact that it was an international empire with a multitude of peoples, civilizations, languages, customs, histories and religions.  Rome tried to solve this problem and give a sense of unity to such diversity by personifying the State under the name of the goddess Roma.  Rome still tolerated other religions, although considering them to be inferior, seeing this as a logical and reasonable way to foster unity.  Rome felt that one more god, the imperial god, wouldn’t bother the polytheism of the day.  She even went so far as to recognize the unusual stubbornness of the Jews, who would not worship any god but theirs.  Gradually, however, the emperor became the focus of worship, with this finally become mandatory under Domitian, during whose reign John was imprisoned.

For a time, Christianity was viewed as merely another sect of Judaism and shared in Roman toleration, as we see in the life of Paul, who used his Roman citizenship more than once to his advantage.  Yet the violent hatred of the Jews for the “sect of the Nazarene” showed that these two beliefs differed radically.

Rome generally frowned on any club or society, viewing them with suspicion because of the ease with which such organizations could hide or foster unrest.  Clubs had to register, they could not have a leader and they could not meet more than once a month.  It’s doubtful that local assemblies of believers followed any of this.

There were several other puzzling aspects of this new belief, as well.  Christianity was neither a local or national religion, but spread rapidly among all the nations of the Empire.  Worse, it spread among all classes, even among the countless slaves, who were always a possible source of trouble.  At the same time, it wasn’t long before even members of the household of Caesar named the name of Christ, cf. Philippians 4:22.

Furthermore, Christians kept aloof from much of ordinary society.  The worst thing about them, though, the thing that finally led to their attempted destruction, was their absolute refusal to give the customary reverence to the Emperor.  To the Roman, this was no big thing; it was merely showing loyalty to the State.  We might call it “patriotism.”  The first-century Christian viewed it as an act of blasphemy, with a narrowness the Roman officials couldn’t understand, though the records show that they tried to reason with them.  It all boiled down, especially in the eyes of the Christian, but finally also to the Roman, if in opposite directions, to this:  Who is superior, Christ or Caesar?

As we mentioned above, emperor worship rose gradually.  Julius Caesar was the first to be deified after his murder in 4 BC, and his adopted son and heir was called “son of god.”  Emperors after him had varying attitudes toward this practice, most accepting it, though some didn’t take it very seriously.  Domitian was the first to demand divine honor and saw in Christianity a threat to his claim.  Serious, widespread persecution began during his reign.

It’s true that Nero had persecuted Roman Christians in about 64 AD, blaming them for the burning of Rome, but his persecution, though cruel beyond words, was confined to Rome and believers suffered for supposed crimes, not for their faith.  After Domitian had become Emperor, he executed his own cousin, Flavius Clemens, and banished his own wife, who was also his niece, Flavia Domitilla.  They had become Christians.

It was under the persecution by Domitian that John was sent to Patmos.  And we know that John suffered as a Christian because he was imprisoned for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid we’re headed in that direction ourselves.

Revelation 1:6, “Kings and Priests”

And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen. (NKJV)

For the most part, we live in the moment.  That’s all any of us really have.  The past is over with and done, and we have no guarantee of the future, even to our next breath.  So this, right now, this is it.  That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t plan for the future, but simply that we realize, as James 4:15 says, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.

And we live in the flesh, that is, our natural bodies.  This means that we see and know and experience what our physical bodies are able to see and know and experience, abilities which can diminish or be destroyed.  And even in this world, we know that there are things we can’t see or hear, things in the light spectrum or as sound, things which animals or other creatures can see or hear.  When it comes right down to it, even with all the advances mankind has made over the centuries, I’m not sure we really know any more about our environment than an ant knows about its.

This is especially true about this thing we call salvation.  Without getting into any of the other things we could think about, when was the last time you heard a sermon or read something on our verse today?

What does it mean:  “kings and priests”?

The second word is easy:  “priests”.

This simply means that, through the Lord Jesus, every single believer has direct access to God.  This is called, “the priesthood of the believer.”  This is something largely lost in the denominational view of the church that has sprung up over time.  But there is no NT office known as “priest” which divides believers into “laity” and “clergy.”  This is an idea which was born out of the effort to mold NT believers by an OT pattern.

There are men who are called as pastors and such, but that doesn’t give them a monopoly on God’s presence.  Through the Lord Jesus, the humblest believer in the pew has the same access to God as the man behind the pulpit.  The believer out in the middle of nowhere has the same access as the believer in the most ornate cathedral, and perhaps more, because we tend to get distracted by all the glitter and pomp and ceremony in such places.

Through the Lord Jesus, we can come directly into the presence of God.  We don’t need saints or ceremony or our Lord’s mother.  There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, 1 Timothy 2:5.  Through Him alone, we come to God.

But we must come through Him.  There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.  Without Him, we are shut out from the presence of God.  With Him, we are completely welcome.

The other word is a little more difficult:  “kings”.

After all, look at John himself.  He was no “king” as the world counts it, but a criminal, exiled onto a tiny and barren island in the Aegean Sea.

To the Corinthian church, Paul wrote, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

There aren’t many among the world’s intelligentsia and elite who name the name of Christ in truth.  There are a few, but not many.  For the most part, God’s people are made up of those whom the world ignores or hates.

So what does it mean?

“Kings”?

I think it’s a promise.

It’s a promise for the future.

Without getting into all the discussion about the future – I do that enough, as it is – let me just say that Scripture says that this world isn’t the end-all and be-all of our lives.  There is coming a time when wickedness and error will be put away, and righteousness and truth will be all there is.  And Scripture seems to indicate that believers will have a key role in the administration of things in that future time.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about all the troubles they were having in their midst, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…Do you not know that we shall judge angels? 1 Corinthians 6:2, 3.  Cf. also our Lord’s parable in Matthew 25:14-30.

But I think it’s also a promise for the “right now, this is it.”  It may be that, with the Psalmist, we can say that the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, Psalm 16:6.  This was a reference to the division of the land early in Israel’s history, as also seen in v. 6, with the reference to inheritance.  But it may be that, like Daniel in the lions’ den or his three friends in the furnace, Daniel 6 and 3, we have to spend some time in less than pleasant places.

God said to Israel, “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel:  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.  For I am the LORD your God…,” Isaiah 43:1-3a.  While it’s true that the whole chapter is addressed directly to Israel, I think we can take shelter under a corner of the promise in these verses because God refers to “everyone who is called by My name,” v. 7.  While that also refers to descendants of those in vs. 1-3, are not true believers also called by the name of Christ-ians?

The promise in Isaiah doesn’t mean that Israel won’t suffer as it goes through the river or the fire.  And it doesn’t mean that believers won’t suffer in this world.  As I write these words, and as you read them, many are suffering in ways that words can’t describe.  Many throughout church history have suffered.  And the idea of “kings” doesn’t mean that we “rule” these things.  We still live in a world in which Satan is its “god.”  As his presence becomes increasingly evident, as it has recently in the political and social upheavals, I expect things will get worse for Christians.

Some Christians seem to have the idea that life should be “without a care,” as a “gospel” song I’ve mentioned before says.  It should all be health and good times.  But Scripture and life itself tell us that that isn’t so.  I think Paul gives us the idea in Romans 8 when he wrote, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Some Christians seem to think that God’s love can’t possibly include such things.

But Paul continues:   As it is written:  “”For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, Romans 8:32-39, emphasis added.

The word “kings” does have a promise for the future, but it has a promise for the present.  It means that God has made it so that we can rise above whatever our circumstances might be.  Sometimes when one is asked how they are doing, they’ll reply, “Under the circumstances….”  That’s a terrible place to be.  God intends for us to be above the circumstances.

There’s nothing that life can throw at us that, by the grace of God, we can’t catch.