Revelation 21:9-27: The Eternal City.

9] Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.  10] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11] having the glory of God.  Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  12] Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelves tribes of the children of Israel:  13] three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.

14] Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  15] And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.  16] The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth.  And he measure the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs.  Its length, breadth, and height are equal.  17] Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.  18]The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.  19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones:  the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20] the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  21] The twelve gates were twelve pearls:  each individual gate was one pearl.  And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

22] But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  23]  The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.  The Lamb is its light.  24] And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.  25] Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).  26] And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.  27] But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes and abomination or a life, but only those are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (NKJV)

There is a city on this earth which claims to be eternal.  As we’ve seen in earlier posts, this claim will be shown to be incorrect.  Though it’s in a different context, something God said in the last part of Jeremiah 44:28 might apply here:  [They] shall know whose words will stand, Mine or theirs.  There is only one city which will endure into eternity.  That city is described in our text.

The city is almost beyond description, certainly beyond our ability to picture it.  The most important thing about it, though, is said right away.  It’s not it’s impressive size nor its unbelievable beauty.  The most important thing is – it has the glory of God, v. 11.  This is implied in the fact that the it’s called the holy Jerusalem, v. 10, but not everything that called holy in this world has the glory of God, and maybe not anything.  This city is not of this world.

John says her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  This is also the description of the wall surrounding the city, v. 18.  There’s some discussion about what this “jasper stone” is.  Some think it might have been green like an emerald, others think it is a diamond.  Whatever it is, the Shekinah glory of God shining through its crystalline structure will be breathtaking.  We’ve seen the beauty of light refracted through a diamond, or, for that matter, the beauty of light refracted through drops of rain in a rainbow.  I used to drive for a living.  One day, a storm had just passed and there was a rainbow, one end of which was right there on the hood of my truck.  It’s the only time I’ve experienced it, but that rainbow so close up was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.  I can’t even begin to describe it.  I don’t know exactly what the city will look like, but earthly examples will pale into nothing compared to what we will see in the New Jerusalem.

In v. 16, John tells us the city is laid out as a square, 1500 miles to a side, and 1500 miles high.  This is certainly like no earthly city!  It appears to be a cube, though Ironside envisioned it as a triangle, with the apex being at the throne of God.  Others see it as a circle.  It’s surrounded by a wall 216 feet high, with three gates on each side attended by an angel, though it’s unclear what their function will be in a holy and righteous environment, v. 12.

The really interesting thing about these gates in v. 12 is that each gate is named after one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  We’ll come back to this in a moment.

In v. 14, John tells us that this wall had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Cf. Ephesians 2:20.

Let me turn aside for just a minute.  The Lord Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb” 26 times in Revelation.  I think there’s something here that we need to remember.  It’s so easy to get all wrapped up in the splendor of this city and of the prospect of streets of gold and of pearly gates that we forget one vital fact.  In 5:6, the first reference to Him, John saw a Lamb as it had been slain.

“as it had been slain.”

You see, much of this would not be possible, at least as far as we’re concerned, if the Lord Jesus had never been born of the virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, died a substitutionary and atoning death on the Cross, and rose from the dead.  Heaven would still be heaven; we just wouldn’t be there.  We get so wrapped up in the blessings He bought for us that we tend to forget the price He paid for them.  But throughout eternity, He will be worshiped as the Lamb.

We should be doing that now.

John mentions our Lord’s twelve apostles as each being named on one of the city’s twelve foundations.  In v. 12, he mentions the twelve tribes of Israel.

What’s the significance of this?

There are a couple of major views of the place of Israel in God’s redemptive plan.  One view says that God is finished with Israel; she has no further place in God’s purpose.  When she crucified the Lord, she shut the door in His face – and in hers.  She’s done.  “The church” has taken her place and her blessings, though in a “spiritual” sense.  The OT prophecies will not be fulfilled “literally,” but spiritually, in the church.  A second view is that when Israel crucified her Messiah, God’s original plan was frustrated, and so He instituted “Plan B”: the church.  This is the view I was brought up with and held in the days of my youth.

Since then, though, I’ve come to look at this a different way.  The church is no “plan B”; how can a believer even have such a low view of God?  Sadly, too many do.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to change His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond plan B.  I know I’ve said that before, but it’s still true.  No wonder Christianity is in the mess it’s in!  Who wants to follow and serve such a feeble god?

No, no.  The Church is not some “Plan B”.  She is “Part B”.

The death of Christ didn’t catch God by surprise.  It didn’t throw a monkey wrench into the works.  That’s why our Lord came into the world in the first place – not just to live, but to die.  Israel’s rejection was just the means of accomplishing that.  And it’s through that death that she will ultimately be reconciled to her Lord, Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26.

In Ephesians 3:6, Paul wrote that Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.  The early church had a lot of trouble with the idea that Gentiles could come to the Lord Jesus on their own without having to become Jews first.  This is what Acts 10 and 11 are all about: the extension of the Gospel and salvation to Gentiles.

In Ephesians 2:12, 13, Paul reminded the Christians at Ephesus, who were Gentile, about their pre-conversion state:  that at time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, emphasis added.  In 2:14, he wrote that it was God’s purpose through the Lord Jesus, who Himself is our peace, then in v. 15, 16, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two,…and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, emphasis added.

The church isn’t a replacement for Israel.  She isn’t some spiritual version of Israel.  She is a “new man”, a new thing:  a body composed of both Jew and Gentile.  Ethnicity counts for nothing in the church – or it’s not supposed to – where there is neither Jew nor Greek, Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11.  I suppose in our day he might have written, “there is neither black nor white nor brown.”  He doesn’t deny our ethnicity or our gender or our economic status; it’s just that at the foot of the Cross, none of that matters.  It’s a shame that so much of our thinking even in the church is shaped by politics rather than by the plain teaching of the Word of God.

Though united in the holy city, Israel and the Church will never lose their distinctive identities.

Having said all that John has, still the wonder of the New Jerusalem isn’t its physical beauty or size.  As he mentioned in v. 3, where he said that God would dwell with men and do away with sorrow and suffering, here in vs. 22-26, he elaborates a little on that thought.  We won’t get into that so much because we have nothing to compare it with.  Our history and culture as a world has nothing like it.  It may be that things will be somewhat like they might have been had our first parents never sinned.  The important thing is that God will be there.  All else is insignificant.

In v. 27, John closes on a solemn note.  God will be there, but not every person will be there.  There are some who will be excluded, some things not permitted.  There shall by no means enter into anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. 

Once again, we get into this idea of being saved.  Oh, that we might understand this.  Not everyone is going to “a better place.”  The truth is, not a single one of us deserves to go to such a place.  We’re all sinners by birth and too often by choice.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we live under God’s wrath and condemnation, John 3:18, 36.  Only through Him is there salvation from our sin and our condemnation.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, Acts16:31.

 

Revelation 8:12-9:21: “Woe, Woe, Woe.”

13] And I looked, and I heard an angel flying though the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”

9:1] Then the fifth angel sounded:  And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth.  To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.  2] And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace.  So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.  3] Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth.  And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4] They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green things, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.  5] And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months.  Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.  6] In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.

7] The shapes of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle.  On their heads were crown of something like gold, and their faces were like lions’ teeth.  9] And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle.  10] They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails.  Their power was to hurt men five months.  11]  And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.

12] One woe is past.  Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things.

13] Then the sixth angel sounded:  And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14] saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.”  15] So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind.  16] Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.  17]  And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.  18] By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed – by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths.  19] For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm.

20] But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.  21]  And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.  (NKJV)

Chapter 8 gives us the sounding of the first four trumpets, which themselves are part of the judgment of the seventh seal, 8:1, 2.  These trumpets herald what might be called “natural” catastrophes, as they deal with physical things happening to the earth and in some way we can’t understand, things also happen to heavenly bodies: sun, moon and stars.

8:13 introduces a new perspective, things which aren’t “natural” at all, at least as we understand it, but which come from the spirit world.  Science tells us there is no such thing; everything is natural and material, “spirit” doesn’t exist.  Now it’s true that the angel doesn’t specifically say “spirit world,” only that there are some things coming which will bring “woe” to humanity.  Chapter 9 gives us the first two “woes”.

1. Fifth Trumpet:  Locusts from the bottomless pit, 9:1-12.

The chapter starts out with a “star” having fallen from heaven to earth.  Unlike the “star” mentioned in 8:10, this one is an angelic being, whose only activity in the book seems to be the opening of “the bottomless pit.”  This pit is also mentioned in Revelation 20:1, 3 as the place where Satan will be imprisoned for the 1000-year reign of Christ and the saints.  We’ll have more to say about it when we get to that chapter.  One thing:  how can it be “bottomless”?  May I suggest that it doesn’t go straight down, like a well, but follows the curvature of the earth.  In this way, it could truly be “bottomless.”

Once opened, this pit emits a huge billow of smoke, and out of the smoke, a horde of what John calls, “locusts,” though they’re unlike any locusts this earth will have seen before.  John specifically says that these locusts were commanded not to harm the grass, or any green thing, or any tree, but only certain men, Revelation 8:4.  This is in stark contrast to the locust plague described in Exodus 10:15, which decimated the land of Egypt:  For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left:  and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Perhaps Joel refers to them in Joel 2:1-11, where their destruction is described like this:  The land is like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness, v. 3b.

Further, their ability to harm men will be limited to torment like the torment of a scorpion, and that only for five months, vs. 5, 10.  This torment will be so severe that those afflicted will want to die, but will not be able to, vs. 5, 6.  John describes them as fearsome creatures, with stings in their tails like scorpions, and with an angelic leader with a Greek name of Apollyon and a Hebrew name of Abaddon.  Both names mean “destruction.”

2. Sixth Trumpet:  The Angels from the Euphrates, 9:13-21.

This trumpet heralds the release of four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, to kill a third of mankind.  Note, these angels were prepared for this specific time and activity.  As difficult as it might be for us to accept the idea, all the things Revelation describes don’t catch God by surprise, but are part of the outworking of His eternal purpose.  He will demonstrate once and for all that sin brings His judgment.  And apparently these angels will be accompanied by an “army” of fearsome horsemen numbering 200 million.

The interesting thing is that the rest of mankind, those who are left, refuse to repent of their attitudes, but willfully continue in their wickedness and rebellion, vs. 20, 21.  According to John, the root of all this is the fact that they are idolaters and, in fact, are worshiping demons.

Daniel 5:23 has something to say about this as well.  Confronting Belshazzar after the appearance of a hand writing on the wall stopped a drunken orgy in its tracks, Daniel said to this wicked king, “And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven.  They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them.  And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified.”

Daniel told Belshazzar that his actions were a great insult to the very God who held his life and all its activities in His hand.  The word “owns” doesn’t mean that God approved of these things, but rather that the breath which enabled Belshazzar to do them came from the God he was insulting.  That’s true of every single person alive today, regardless of what they do or why.  The breath that gives them the life to do things comes from God – every single breath.

Not every idol men worship is stone or wood.  Whatever keeps them from worshiping and serving God is an idol.  Position, possessions, family, things in general: if these get in the way between us and God, they are idols.  Our Lord put it like this:  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of me.  And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.  And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for Me sake will find it,” Matthew 10:34-39.  We can’t serve God and something else at the same time.

There are some today who believe that all that is needed to convince men and women to turn to Christ is enough “evidence.”  This is not to say that there isn’t “evidence;” the Lord Jesus and the early church didn’t happen in a vacuum, but may I suggest that the sixth trumpet demonstrates this idea to be untrue. These men see the hand of God against their wickedness, but refuse to let go of it.

For that matter, who had more “evidence” than those who saw the Lord Jesus and witnessed what He did and what He said?  True, many did follow Him as long as He fed them, but when He began to impress spiritual truth on them, most deserted Him, John 6.  Even the leaders of the nation, who should have been first to receive Him, for the most part rejected Him and demanded His crucifixion, because He didn’t fit their ideas of the Messiah.  More is needed than mere “evidence.”  Our Lord is not on trial.  We are.  Actually, the verdict is already in and, apart from saving faith in the Lord Jesus, just like these men we all stand condemned in His sight.

Revelation 2:19-29, The Church at Thyatira: Where Service is Not Sufficient

“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.  Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.  Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.  And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.  But hold fast what you have till I come.  And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations –

‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed in pieces like the
potter’s vessels’ –

as I also received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘

As we’ve mentioned before, this is the longest of the seven letters.

– continued from the previous post –

3. Contents of the Epistle, 2:19-29.

Commendation, v. 19.

This is the warmest commendation of any, which perhaps emphasizes the severity of what follows.  Thyatira had so much, and yet fell so far short.  The Lord indicates there had been real spiritual progress.  “Works” are mentioned twice, “the last more (or, better) than the first.”  Jesus commended them for four practical aspects of their Christian life:

1. Love.  This is the first and chief of all Christian graces, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This is what Ephesus lacked.

2. Service, “diakonia,” voluntary service for our brethren, or those around us, by which they are benefited.  This is different from “doulos,” the word used by Paul and translated “bondservant,” whose only duty was to obey his master.  This is an apt word for our service to God.  What we do as God’s servants does not “benefit” Him!  Cf. Job 35:7.

3. Faith.  Cf. Hebrews 11:6.  Faith isn’t simply agreement with a set of teachings, a catechism, a statement of faith, as good as these may be.  It isn’t some sort of “feeling” or experience by which we enter a supposed “higher plane of Christian existence.”  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an obedient response to the Word of God.  We read over and over again in that chapter, “by faith,” so-and-so did this or that.  Noah built a huge boat, when it had never rained.  Abraham left a comfortable life in a metropolis of his time and everything he knew to follow a promise.  Enoch just disappeared one day.  These and many others didn’t simply “believe” God, they did what He said.  Some of what they did seems unreasonable, even wicked, to unbelievers,e.g., Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac.  But they pleased God.  That’s all that matters.

4. Patience, endurance under hardship.  We see examples of this later in Hebrews 11, Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tested, were slain with the sword.  They wandered around in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, vs. 35b-38.

We’ve been spoiled in this country.  What we just read above is more likely to be the treatment of God’s people in this world, and it is in many countries even as I write these words.

Thyatira had much that was good, but they also had much that was bad.  This leads to:

Condemnation and Judgment, vs. 20-23.

1. Condemnation, v. 20.  Thyatira was very active in works, but they seem to have neglected the Word.  This is why all the things wrong with them happened.  They weren’t really guided by the Word of God.  Because of this,  –

– they permitted false teaching. Perhaps, like the church at Corinth, they thought it was an evidence of “Christian love” or some such thing, to tolerate this teaching.  I don’t really know.  Regardless, “tolerance” is not permitted in defiance of plain Scripture teaching.  “Gender fluidity,” unScriptural views of marriage, of the family, of morality in general, of the roles of men and woman, of the place of Scripture in society, to name just a few, have no place in a Biblical worldview, regardless of how popular or prevalent they, or any other social idea, might be, or how unpopular the Biblical view is.

What about the idea that a woman was responsible for this teaching?

We don’t know who this woman really was, or if this was even her real name.  So we have to ask, who is Jezebel in Scripture?  She’s first mentioned in 1 Kings 16:31-33, where she is married to Ahab, king of Israel, a king who followed in the idolatrous and rebellious practices of Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided kingdom, see 1 Kings 12:25-33, who thereafter was known as  “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin,” and future kings of Israel are faulted for following him.

Ahab was a weak king and Scripture says of him, there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up, 1 Kings 21:25.  She did the same thing to her son, 1 Kings 22:52.

She was a “mixer,” mixing the true religion of Israel with the false religion of her homeland.  Whatever she was to the northern kingdom, that’s what this other “Jezebel” was to Thyatira, mixing the true and the false.  It doesn’t matter what she called herself, she was wrong, and the church got into trouble for following her.

At the same time, I think Christ has something to say to those who turn to mere human authority, rather than hearing what the Spirit says to the churches.  One of the Puritans used to say, “I want to hear but two things.  First, does God speak?  Second, what does He say?”  Unless we have this attitude, and aren’t content merely to follow some preacher, teacher or school of thought, we are in Thyatira.

As for the idea of a woman teaching men, the Scripture is quite clear on this, in spite of the rampant feminism, “Biblical” or otherwise, that has engulfed even our churches, 1 Corinthians 14:33-37; 1 Timothy 2:8-12.  Lest, as some have done, it is said these verses just show Paul’s “rabbinic prejudice,” he wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:37, these things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

This in no way is intended to demean women.  Their value and contribution in this life cannot be overstated.  It’s just that the world has an entirely different definition of those ideas than Scripture.  This is not to say in any way that man is “superior,” or that women are “inferior.”  It is God Who is superior and He has set an order in the church, in the home and in society.  He has one set of rules; the world has chosen to reject those and go by their own set of rules, with the resulting chaos we see all around us.

– they tolerated idolatry and immorality.  Possibly this centered around the trade-guilds and the idolatry and immorality they fostered.  We don’t know how Jezebel might have reasoned about these things in the church, but it doesn’t really matter.  Regardless of why it happened, the Lord was having none of it.

2. Judgment, vs. 21-23.

With reference to the actual church in Thyatira, we don’t know what happened when the Lord judged this wickedness, just that it happened.

With reference to any typical teaching, we believe this church represents the Reformation and Rome’s response to the true gospel.

– grace before judgment, v. 21. The Lord said, “I gave her space to repent….”   Savonorala in Italy, Wickliffe in England, John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in France – all men whom God raised up throughout their world to call Rome to repentance, but “she repented not,” and instead set up a “Counter Reformation” to strengthen her grip on the souls of men and to counteract the preaching of the truth.

– judgment on her and her followers, v. 22.

See above for remarks about the actual church situation in Thyatira.

– judgment on her “children,” v. 23.

Who are “her children”?  Are they not the Reformation churches?  Calvin and Luther and others never repudiated their Catholic ordination.  When Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to that door in Wittenburg, he wasn’t trying to start a new “church,” but was attempting to call the church that ordained him to repentance and a return to the truths of Scripture.

– “kill with death.”  We think this phrase contains a vital, but generally overlooked, truth.  What brought about the Reformation?  Wasn’t it largely due to the recovery of the Scriptural teaching of justification by grace through faith?  We’ve already noted Luther’s and Calvin’s views on preaching and interpretation.  The Reformers did preach the Word to a degree unheard of for centuries.  It’s sad that they brought so much with them when they left Rome.  But they did at least start with a foundation of Scripture.

What happened?

The Reformers themselves were men of the Spirit, but their doctrines of infant baptism and the state-church, whereby everyone who was a citizen of the nation was by virtue of that citizenship also a member of the state church, soon filled their churches with unsaved people, and their method of allegorical interpretation, in spite of the “literalism” they started with, soon reduced the Gospel to nothing more than a series of ethical maxims.

We think very little of this in our day, but Scripture says that the Word of God will inevitably have one of only two results:

For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life…, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 3:6, emphasis added.

Apart from the ministry of the Spirit of God, the Word of God produces death, whether it’s preached in a Reformed church, a Baptist church, or someone just picks it up and reads it.  According to Paul, there is no middle ground.  Protestant churches have the Word, but, to a great degree, have reduced it to teachings on ethics and morality.  However, ethics, even biblical ones, do not give “life.”  So Rome’s children have been “killed with death” by the very Scriptures of which Protestant churches make their boast.

– “give to each one of you..,” v. 23.

Whatever may be said about “typical” teaching from these verses, the Lord is here addressing the actual church in Thyatira.  There is a judgment of persons as well as of systems, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  The believer’s sins aren’t in view in these verses; they were taken care of on Calvary.  His works will be put to the test – what he did with the life God gave him.  The word translated, “loss,” has two meanings: loss of what has been gained, the works of wood, hay and stubble, but it also means “to forfeit” – the reward that would have been received if the works had been gold, silver or precious stones.  Such a one faces a double loss:  all the works of his life, as well as any reward.  Paul put it like this:  he himself will be saved, yet as through fire, v. 15.  The picture is of a person who has gone through a disastrous fire, losing everything and escaping only with his life.

It’s a sobering thought.  20, 30, 40, 50 years of ministry, perhaps outwardly great and wonderful, gone up in smoke.  This is why John warned his readers – and us, Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward, 2 John 8 (ESV), emphasis added.

Closing remarks, vs. 24-29.

1. Responsibility, vs. 24, 25, “hold fast.”

The phrase means, to hold by strong hands, tugging for it, with those who would take it from them.  It indicates an ongoing and difficult struggle to retain what they still had.  The world has no use for the things of God, and even many in “the church” see no value in them, being content with ritual and routine.  In Thyatira, there were those who were actively opposed to the truth of God’s Word.  The believers weren’t to let them win.

2. Reassurance, vs. 26 – 28.

As difficult as it might have seemed to these Thyatiran believers, their struggles would come to an end and they would be richly rewarded.  They were promised power (authority) over the nations.

A Reformed writer had this to say, “One by one, as we reach the end here on earth, we shall pass into heaven and there sit with Christ on His throne and together with Him exercise kingly rule and authority over the nations until His Parousia. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, p. 122.)

Sorry, but I must differ.  Where is there a single place on earth today that bears any evidence of Christ’s “kingly rule”?  Where He is honored and revered?  What kind of “rule” is that, where the King is ignored, even ridiculed and rejected?  This quote is a very shallow and irreverent view of “the kingdom.”

Our Lord Himself said that He is seated with His Father on His Father’s throne, 3:21.  He will not sit on His own throne as King until after His return to this earth, Matthew 25:31.  He isn’t referred to as “King” until then, either.  According to Zechariah 14:16-21, when our Lord is ruling this earth, there will be no question about it – and no escaping it.  He, and His people, will rule the nations “with a rod of iron,” because not everyone will be glad to see Him!  We see this graphically portrayed in Revelation 20:7, when Satan is released from his prison at the end of the 1000 year reign of our Lord (not just “hindered” by the preaching of the Gospel, but actually incarcerated), and he will have no trouble at all in gathering a world-wide rebellion against the King, a rebellion that will be quickly snuffed out.  Just in passing, if the Holy Spirit didn’t mean an actual 1000 years, why did He mention it six times in six verses?

“the morning star.”  2 Peter 1:19 refers to the morning star rising in our hearts.  There’s a lot of discussion about what this “star” is.  I confess I don’t know.  Whatever it is, is probably beyond the ability of words to convey.

 3. Reminder, v. 29.

These aren’t just the delusions of a tired old man in prison.  They are what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pay attention….

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.

Revelation 1:5, “To Him Who Loved Us…”

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

For the most part, the Revelation is a book about judgment, of the outpouring of God’s wrath on this sinful and rebellious world.  This world scoffs at the idea of God’s justice and wrath.  There is coming a time, however, when even it will be forced to admit that it exists.  There is coming a time when men will cry out to the mountains to fall on them and hide them “from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of His wrath has come and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:16, 17.

“The wrath of the Lamb”!

Who ever heard of a lamb being wrathful?  That most inoffensive and defenseless of creatures!  Rising up in anger!

John describes something unheard of, something unexpected.  This most certainly is true in our time.  We have a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and truly, as He walked the dusty roads of Israel, our Lord was gentle.  Hebrews 7:26 describes Him as “harmless”.  In much of our teaching and preaching, we have Him standing on the sidelines of His own creation, anxious to bless us, but He can’t do anything unless and until we let Him.  We have reduced Him to little more than a supplicant at the throne of the human will.  He has little relevance to our culture.  Even many of our churches seem concerned only with programs and personalities.  And, by and large, we seem to be getting away with it – if you don’t count the mess our world and society is in.  Yet even in our Lord’s life, to those who rejected His teaching and authority, there were flashes of anger, cf. Matthew 23.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, behold, now is the day of salvation.  We live in a time of salvation, not of wrath and judgment, certainly not as Revelation describes it.  This is one reason why, from chapter 4 onward, I don’t believe it describes things that have already happened or are happening now.

Granted, even during that time there will be salvation, Revelation 7:9-17, just as there is some judgment in our day as God lets us reap what we’ve sown, individually and as a culture.

Verse 5 shows us how salvation is even possible.  It’s not because of something we’ve done or figured out.  It’s not because of our religion or good works, but because of the grace and mercy of that One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

(There is so much I’d like to say about this, but limited space makes it impractical.  I have done a whole series of posts under the title, “The Kindness of God.”  If you do look it up, the last post will be listed first.  At least, that’s how it comes up for me.  Just scroll down to the first post.  They build on each other, from first to last.)

washed us  from our sins in His own blood.

I talked to a lady who didn’t like all the references to “blood” in the Old Testament.  And, indeed, our faith is sometimes describes as “a bloody religion.”  Folks just don’t understand what it’s all about.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness, Hebrews 9:22.  It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul, Leviticus 17:11.

God didn’t ask for animal sacrifices just for the sake of bloodshed.  He was teaching Israel something, using the sacrifices as an object lesson.  He was teaching Israel the truth of something about sin, that those who committed sin were subject to death.  If it’s said that the animal wasn’t guilty, there’s a second lesson: substitution.  The animal was a “substitute” for the guilty Israelite.  It died.  He didn’t.

When the Israelite brought a sacrifice, he was required to put his hand on the head of the animal, cf. Leviticus 1:4.  In this way he identified with the animal.  It was a confession that he, the Israelite, deserved to die, but the animal was taking his place.

All these countless sacrifices pointed to the ultimate sacrifice: the death of the Lord Jesus.  He committed no sin.  He did not deserve to die.   We commit nothing but sin, even in the providing of daily necessities, cf. Proverbs 21:4.  We do deserve to die, Romans 6:23.

The OT animal had no say, no choice, in the matter.  The Lord Jesus had every say, every choice, in the matter.  When it had become obvious, even to the slow-witted disciples, that the Lord Jesus was about to be arrested, He told them that He could ask the Father for more than twelve legions of angels to come and protect Him, Matthew 26:53.  Considering what just one angel could do, 2 Kings 19:35….

Our Lord was no helpless, unwilling victim.  He could easily have escaped, as He had done at other times, Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59; 10:39.  Though He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, Isaiah 53:7, no power on earth could have put Him on that cross if He had not been willing to go, cf. John 19:10, 11.  No power on earth could have kept Him away from it, either.

This doesn’t mean that He enjoyed it or looked forward to it.  It is not without reason that Scripture says that He endured the Cross, Hebrews 12:2, emphasis added.

He was willing to go through all because He loved us, and because there was no other way for us to be saved.

But salvation is more than just an escape from hell.  It’s more than just the fulfillment of earthly desires for health and wealth and all the things the prosperity false prophets talk about.  Indeed, salvation may lead to our losing those things, Matthew 16:24; Philippians 3:7, 8; Hebrews 10:34.  Even in this country, we’re beginning to see that, with all the furor over gender and marriage issues.

No, no.  Salvation isn’t about deliverance from hell;  It’s about deliverance from that which would send us there:  our sins.

When the angel came to Joseph to explain to him what was going on with his fiancee, he said that the Son she would bear would “save His people from their sins,” Matthew 1:21.

That is the issue.

Sin.

Sin is not defined by current social trends, but by the Word of God.  Current social trends emphasize and legalize sin.  It’s a sad commentary that so many religious organizations go right along with these things.  We expect this from the world.  Those who profess to be God’s people should know better.  It’s a shame – and a sin – that we allow the world to define the narrative, and not the Word.

To be saved from sin doesn’t simply mean to be forgiven for them.  The angel said that the coming Savior would save His people from their sins, not in them.

To be saved from sin means to turn from it, to reject it.  This is called repentance, which is the other side of the coin of salvation.  But this isn’t simply asceticism.  It’s not enough that we “don’t drink or chew or have friends who do.”

There are those who teach that repentance is a “Jewish doctrine.”  At the risk of being misunderstood myself, these folks misunderstand the Bible’s teaching on salvation by grace through faith.

What does the Scripture say?

When the Gospel first went to Gentiles and they were saved, this led to a confrontation with those who believed that the Gospel was only for Jewish folks, Acts 10.  In Acts 11, these folks finally realized and admitted that “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life,” v. 18, emphasis added.

As Paul’s recorded ministry was beginning to wind down, he called for one last meeting with the leaders of the church at Ephesus, Acts 20:17-38.  He was about 30 miles away, at Miletus.  We could make this trip in a half-hour or less.  It probably took them a couple of days.  And it probably took a couple of days for Paul’s message to get to them.  We tend to forget that folks in this time traveled on foot or animals.  They didn’t have fast cars and freeways – or phones.

When the elders finally got to Paul, he reminded them of his own ministry among them.  For three years, he had been among them, and “did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears,” Acts 20:31.  He said that his method and message was that he “taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” vs. 20, 21.

This last verse gives gives us the two sides of that coin of salvation I mentioned earlier:

repentance toward God….  

It’s His Law, His Word, we’ve ignored or rebelled against.  We can’t keep doing that and be saved.  That is not legalism.  We’re not saved by keeping His Word, but we can’t be saved if we continue to disobey it.

faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

It isn’t our obedience that saves us; it’s the obedience of the Lord Jesus.  He is the only one Who could ever truthfully say that He pleased the Father in everything, John 8:29.  If He had fallen short in even one tiny little thing, He couldn’t be the Savior.  And we couldn’t be saved.

But it isn’t only His life that saves us.  His life provided the righteousness we need if we’re ever to stand before God uncondemned.  We have sinned; we have fallen short.  We stand under the judgment of God:  “the soul who sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18:4.  So, not only did He live in our place; He died in our place, as well.

That great debt we owe to God’s justice – that debt we could never even begin to pay?

He paid every last penny.

There is no debt left.

Does this mean that we can live as we please – without regard to God’s word?

Not at all.

The Mosaic Law was entirely external, with no provision to help the Israelite obey it.  Cf. Deuteronomy 29:4.  But believers don’t fall under the Old Testament Law.  We’re saved under the terms of the New Covenant.  True, it’s revealed in the Old Testament, but it goes far beyond the Old Testament Law.  The New Covenant provides help for the believer.  It’s an internal covenant, with the Word of God being put into our minds and hearts, and the Holy Spirit given to us to enable us to live by that word.

It’s not without reason that the Psalmist wrote, He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, Psalm 23:3.

Revelation 1:4, Greetings

John, to the seven churches which are in Asia:  Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. (NKJV)

In this verse, we see those to whom John originally wrote, as well as the blessing he desired for them.

1. the seven churches which are in Asia.

First of all, the “Asia” John knew isn’t the Asia we know, that is, the Far East: China and such, but was a part of the Roman Empire in what we know as southwestern Turkey.  It sat between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.  The “seven churches” were within a fifty square mile area and are listed in order clockwise from the first to the last.  We’ll have some more to say about each of them when we get there, but it’s important to remember, whatever else might be said about them, that these were seven actual, contemporaneous, churches.

2. the blessing he desired for them.

a. its substance:  grace and peace.

Grace comes first.  Grace must come first – always, because without grace, we’re only under God’s condemnation and judgment.

A common definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor toward us.”  That’s true, but I like to think of it more as “God’s unmerited favor toward us in spite of our merited disfavor from Him.”  Or just three words, “in spite of….”  You see, for all our supposed goodness and greatness, there’s nothing good in us Godward, Romans 7:18.  We all sin and fall short of His glory, Romans 3:23.  What does that mean: “fall short of His glory”?  I think it means that we fall short – far short, when it comes to glorifying Him, giving Him the honor, respect and worship that He deserves.  Our every breath is in His hand, and yet, like the man to whom that statement was originally made, we have not glorified Him, Daniel 5:23.  All we deserve is His condemnation and judgment.  Without grace, we would all perish in our sins.

Peace.  In John 14:27, our Lord promised the disciples, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”  What does this mean, “not as the world gives”?  The world’s peace depends on what is happening, on outward things, things going well,  things going “our way.”  The peace Jesus spoke of depends on none of those things.  It rests simply on the fact that God is in control of the “outward things.”  It looks up, not around.

What might this mean in the context of John’s writing, if anything?  I think it could simply mean that, regardless of what happens in much of the rest of the book, chs. 21, 22 will put an end to all of that and usher in, as Peter put it, new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, or as it could be translated, “is at home,” 2 Peter 3:13.  It certainly isn’t at home in this world.

b. its threefold source:

From Him who is and who was and who is to come.

This refers to God the Father and describes Him as being present right now, as He present was in the past and as He will be present in the future.  In other words, there has never been a time, and never will be a time, when, or where, He “isn’t” and isn’t on the throne of the Universe.

From the seven Spirits who are before His throne.

See also 4:5, which also refers to the seven Spirits of God.  There is some discussion about who these are.  Many expositors look to Isaiah 11:2 and what they say is his seven-fold reference to the Spirit, and, so, John refers to the Holy Spirit.  Thus, it is said, we have a reference to the Trinity:  Father, Spirit and Son.  Others say, “No, it’s a reference to the seven angels (of the seven churches) who stand before God’s throne.”  There were no capital letters in the original language.  Everything was written in lower case letters.  Isaiah 11:2 is a sixfold description of the Spirit of the LORD which rests on the Messiah.

Which view of the “seven Spirits” is correct?  At different times, I’ve held to each of them.  At this time, I don’t really know which view is correct.  So I put forth the discussion, though there is more that could be said, and leave it at that.

From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

the faithful witness.

This refers to His life and earthly ministry.  At His trial before Pilate, Jesus said, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth,” John 18:28.

the firstborn from the dead.

This refers to His resurrection.  “Firstborn” refers to His priority, even in this.  Colossians 1:18, In all things, He may have the preeminence.

the ruler of the kings of the earth.

This refers to His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The question is, is that true of Him now?  In the sense that providentially He rules in the everyday affairs even of kings perhaps it is true.  Is that all John meant?  That His rule is unseen and unacknowledged?

Perhaps the majority of Christians believe that, yes, He is ruling right now in His “heavenly session.”  It’s a spiritual rule in the hearts of His people.  Yes, but how many of “His people” are “kings of the earth”?  Where is there, right now, even one world leader who acknowledges and tries to live and govern by His Word?

“Ruler of the kings of the earth” is more than a meaningless title.  It refers to a time when He will be universally and openly acknowledged as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”  That title is always and only used in connection with His Second Coming.  There is coming a time, believe it or not, when Washington, London, Moscow, all the other capitals of the world, and their leaders, will submit, willingly or not, to the rule of the Lord Jesus.  We’ll have much more to say about this as we get into the book, Lord willing.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

“…entitled to substantial compensation”

This title is taken from an advertisement on TV of some attorney trolling for customers, in which he says, “You may be entitled to substantial compensation.”  You’ve likely seen it yourself.  We live in a very litigious society.  If something offends or bothers someone, they are very likely to file a lawsuit, and there are multitudes of lawyers like the one we mentioned above who are more than willing to help them with it.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate needs for lawyers and that there aren’t good lawyers.  It’s just that there are too many who aren’t.

In an earlier post, we looked at Exodus 22 and what the LORD said was to be done in the case of theft or loss of property.  We passed over a verse that might have some bearing on our subject today.  Verse 9 says, For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.

If our country hadn’t become so corrupt, perverse and lawless, that last clause would do a lot to fix the glut of frivolous and fraudulent lawsuits:  “whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.”