“Beginning at Jerusalem”: Preparation, part 1.

Scripture references:  Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:9.

When we get into the study of individual passages in Acts, we’ll return to printing them at the beginning of each post.  For now, we trust you will read the references yourself.  Remember, our attitude must always be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Introduction:  We cannot divorce the Book of Acts from what goes before it.  As we noted in our first post, Pentecost happened less than 2 months after what seemed to be the absolute crushing of the disciples’ hopes and expectations, cf. Luke 24:17-21.  We believe it will be helpful to see how the Lord instructed His disciples in the days between His resurrection and His ascension.  We have 5 records of such times.  Each record seems to have a different emphasis, so we’re going to look at each one of them separately over the next two or three posts.

1. Matthew 28:16-20, The Master’s Command.

The Master’s Authority.  Verse 18b reads literally, “has been given to Me all authority (“exousia,” the right to command, jurisdiction) in heaven and on earth.”  This emphasizes that it is the Lord Who has the authority.  Nowhere in Scripture is it said that He’s given or transferred it to anyone or anything else.  There is no “head of the church” on this world.

In some circles, we hear a lot about “church authority.”  I spent some time among folks like this in earlier days, and this seemed to be their whole thing.  If something wasn’t done under “church authority,” it couldn’t have been of the Lord.  Now, I’ll admit, I have some reservations about “para-church” organizations.  I know the rationale is that such organizations can do more than the local church, and that may be true, but it seems to me that the churches in Acts did pretty well without mission boards, Bible colleges or denominational hierarchies.  The problem with such things is that they take time, talent and money from the local church to support themselves.  I may be wrong, but it could be that if we’d quit depending on human wisdom and ingenuity and do things the way the Lord laid them out, we might be surprised at the results.

So what did the Lord “lay out” for His church?

The Church’s Ministry.  The church is to “disciple” all nations…..  We seem to understand that this simply means “to evangelize” all nations.  And, certainly, that’s where it starts.  The problem, it seems to me, is that is also where it ends.  But the word translated “disciple” means “student,” “learner”.   Cf. Matthew 11:28-30.  This doesn’t mean that every convert has to go to “Bible College,” but rather that, through the local church, they are to be taught by word and example what it means to be a Christian.

I admit.  Just a few month after I was converted, I left for Bible college.  And I’m thankful for that experience.  If nothing else, it indirectly led to the young woman I married nearly 47 years ago.  But there were many other things, as well.  But I was “adrift” in a manner, as well.  There were 800 students in the freshman class.  There was no one there to “mentor,” to “disciple” me, a young believer.  The NT pattern is that the older believers in the church teach the younger.  And there is the “gift” of pastor-teacher.  The man who stands behind the pulpit has an obligation which affects eternity as he teaches and preaches.  Spurgeon said that the idea of standing before the thousands in his church crushed him into the dust.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote to Timothy, And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed under the ministry of that godly elderly pastor – at least, he seemed elderly to me at the time.  

According to our text, “discipling” has three parts:

1. baptizing, v.19  Among other things, New Testament baptism is an identifying of believing sinners with their Savior, even as He was identified with them, Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 3:5, 6, 13-15.  I know there’s a lot of teaching about baptism and its saving power, etc., and it’s not really our purpose to get into all that here.  But baptism is supposed to be an evidence of our salvation and our willingness to obey our Savior.  It was never intended to be the means of being saved.

2. teaching, v. 20a.   This isn’t to be just some theoretical or academic exercise.  I have nothing against “books,” but the problem I see with most of our instruction is that it’s out of books, which are what some man says about the Bible.  These may be useful, but how much better would it be if we simply let Scripture speak for itself? Further, it’s to be some teaching that relates to life.  We do need to know about “doctrine,” what we think about God affects how we think about everything else.  But what does it say about marriage, about the family, about how I relate to God and to others?  And is this life “all there is”?

I admit, the Bible has a lot to say.  It takes a while to get around it – something I think isn’t possible in this life.  After all, Ephesians 2:7 tells us that its going to take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  This means in no way that He will have difficulty in this, just that we’ll never get to the end of it.  There used to be a TV show that promised “a world of never-ending wonder.”  This is it. 

3. understanding, v. 20b.  This is about our understanding.  It’s simply to remind us that it is the Lord with whom we have to do and not simply with church or some religious organization.  It’s not about “us” as all.  But it’s also an encouragement – He’s always with us.  The task we’ve been given is truly a “Mission Impossible.”  I know we don’t really think that:  it’s just a matter of the right approach or the right atmosphere or the right something else, but it’s not.  As well go to a cemetery and tell the people there to live.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)  Especially with the lost, we’re talking to people who are spiritually dead and at enmity with God, Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7.  Even with believers, we’re dealing with people who are involved in many things which make it hard sometimes to concentrate on what really matters.  But He is with us to strengthen and encourage us. The battle truly is the Lord’s, 1 Samuel 17:47.

2. Mark 16:14-20, The Manifestation Commending the Churches.

I know there is a lot of discussion over the authorship of these verses.  We’ re not going to get into all that.  It’s enough for our purposes that they don’t disagree with the apparent intent of this Gospel and there are many who distort them to their own discredit and to the discredit of the Word of God.

There is a three-fold “manifestation,” if you will, in these verses.

1. through “preaching,” v. 15.  Again, the thought of Matthew 28:18-20 in intensive preaching of the Gospel, not just in “evangelism,” but in discipling.  Evangelism is only the start.

2. through “profession,” v. 16.  Some cults us this verse to “prove” their doctrine of salvation through baptism.  That’s not what it and the other NT verses about baptism are talking about.

Baptism is important, but not because that’s how we’re saved.  Remember, baptism is to be an identification with our Lord; we’re trusting Him with our souls.  In Matthew, He commanded believers to be baptized.  It’s the first step in the Christian life.  Many “believe” who “draw back to perdition,” Hebrews 10:38, 39; John 2:23-25.  There’s much more that could be said about this.  We did so in our study in Hebrews, but for now, baptism is one evidence, if properly done, that a person has truly believed.

This verse also goes against the Reformed view of infant baptism:  “The baptism [of an infant] becomes a seal of the blessing which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by an act of personal faith.  Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, p. 47, emphasis added.)  According to the Lord and the subsequent teaching of Scripture, baptism is the confirmation of faith, and not the other way around!  Baptism is our profession of faith.

3. through “proof,” v. 18.  This is the verse which causes most of the controversy, as some with more zeal than knowledge handle poisonous snakes and drink strychnine as “proof” of their “faith.”  This is not what the Lord meant.

Notice that these signs “follow” believers; they aren’t to be “sought out” by them or deliberately performed as “proof.”  Cf. Acts 28:3-6 and Paul’s experience along this line.

The teaching seems to me to be that there will be evidence that the message preached by the disciples is not just another religious message.  There were plenty of those in the Lord’s day and there are plenty of those in our day.  The Book of Acts abounds in miracles done to substantiate the message of the early church.  However, notice Acts 14:3; 19:11 and others.  These miracles were not “automatic.”  See also 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle. Evidently, miracles (and tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit) were apostolic only, and were not passed on by them.

Verse 20 seems to help our understanding.  If you notice, the word “them” is in italics, as not being in the original language, but added by the translators.  If we leave it out, the verse reads like this:  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.  (emphasis added). There was abundant evidence of a supernatural power behind the message.  Now, we believe that the age of supernatural miracles has passed, but we also believe that when the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is evident, and the conversion of a sinner is as dramatic as any miracle in the New Testament.

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Revelation 16:12-21: When All Hell Breaks Loose

12] Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared.  13] And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.  14] For they are the spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

15] “Behold, I am coming as a thief.  Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

16] And they gathered them together to the place called in the Hebrew, Armageddon.

17] Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”  18] And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.  19] Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell.  And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.  20] Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  21] And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.  Men blasphemed because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great

Perhaps the title sounds unusual, perhaps a little excessive, or even profane.  Sometimes the expression in it is used when some catastrophe or violence breaks out somewhere on earth.  It means something is really terrible.

In this case, however, it isn’t profane, but an expression of a solemn reality – hell will really break loose in one final attempt to defeat the purpose of God.  It will be “terrible” beyond anything this world has experienced.

There are two parts to this vision:

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.
2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

1. The Deception, vs. 12-16.

We’ve already been introduced to the dragon, the beast and the false prophet.  For more than three years, they’ve pretty much had the run of things, even though the dragon, that is, Satan, knows his time is running out, 12:12, hence the increased wickedness and violence.  Now, in this last few weeks, what turns out to be the final act begins.

For most of its existence, and certainly its recent existence, Israel has been the object of scorn and hatred.  Though it’s ancient history to a lot of people today, WWII was a nearly successful attempt to wipe out Jewry.  Though some today deny any such thing as the Holocaust, the times just after the war was over and the terrible pictures of emaciated men, little more than skeletons in skin, liberated from the death camps, or the piles of corpses found in those camps, the bodies of those murdered by the Nazis say otherwise.  Yes, it was real.

This will be far beyond that.

Satan hates God, and has tried to thwart Him at every turn.  He tried in the Garden of Eden.  He tried with Abraham.  He tried in Egypt.  He tried in the wilderness wanderings and after Israel entered the land.  He tried when our Lord walked the dusty roads of Palestine.  Even that very name – Palestine, a name given to the land by her enemies – is a denial of Israel and her claim to that land, a claim still vigorously and sometimes violently disputed.

At the beginning of our verses we’re told that the River Euphrates will be dried up so that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.  The longest river in that part of the world, the Euphrates has long stood as a barrier between Western Asia and the West.  Further, it is vital to the economy of the region, several nations being dependent on it for irrigation or hydroelectric energy.

Who are “the kings of the east”?  Older commentators understood them to be from China, with her teeming millions, or from other countries in the Far East.   That may be, but there are “teeming millions” much closer – in Syria and other nearby countries.  Because of overpopulation and overuse, the water table in many of these countries has dropped, in some cases severely, and the Euphrates itself has been affected to some degree, as its sources of water begin to dry up or are closed off with dams.  It may be more than Wiley the poet in the comic strip B. C. can understand, but there’s been more than one war started over water.  This may be the last one.  (And that no doubt by now obscure cultural reference may tell how old I am.  Oh, well.)

But there’s more.  And it’s not really a joking matter, though my sense of humor often gets in the way.  We read that the sixth angel will pour out his bowl over the River and what may have begun by natural and environmental forces will be finished all at once and the River will be gone.

This will open the door for much easier access into the Levant as, not only from the east but the kings of the earth and of the whole world, will gather for an onslaught against Jerusalem.  This will turn out to be Satan’s last attempt to destroy Israel.  We see his minions energizing the beast and the false prophet as no doubt they urge this invasion once and for all to settle “the Jewish problem,” v. 13.  I want to point out once more the Scripture mentioning that these demons perform “signs,” v. 14.  If he can’t get folks to deny the Word outright, then he’ll draw their attention to counterfeit things like “signs and miracles.”

But it isn’t just Satan and his minions and his subjects.  It isn’t just political maneuvering or racial hatred.  In Zechariah 14:2, the Lord God says, I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem,” emphasis added.  We never want to get the idea that somehow God is outside all this, or that He’s caught by surprise or unprepared for the doings of sinful men.  While I don’t want to get into the discussion over “free will” and God’s sovereignty, let me simply say that God is quite able to work His will in the context of His own creation.  This last battle is simply His preparation for the return of His Son.

There are other Scriptures which weigh in on this.  For example, Isaiah 66:16 says,

For by fire and by His sword
The LORD will judge all flesh;
And the slain of the LORD shall be many.

And further,

At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure
His indignation,
Jeremiah 10:6.

See also Ezekiel 39:17-20.

It’s interesting that in the midst of this description of one of the worst times in human history, the Lord Jesus interjects a promise, “Behold, I come as a thief,” Revelation 16:15.  But there’s also a warning:  “Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”

I don’t know how this last part will play out, but it’s a solemn warning not to get so caught up in current events or in trying to decipher “the signs of the times,” that we forget our personal responsibility to live holy lives, lives looking for more than the transient things of this world.  See also 1 John 2:28.  Satan will not have the final word, no matter how desperate things seem to get.

2. The Determination, vs. 17-21.

The seventh angel pours out his bowl of wrath in the climactic act of judgment in Revelation.  These judgments include a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth, v. 18.  This is the last of several earthquakes recorded in Revelation, and is likely the one associated with the physical return of our Lord as recorded in Zechariah 14:

And in that day His feet will stand on the
Mount of Olives,

Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in
two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the
north
And half of it toward the south.
…All the land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon in the south, Zechariah 14:4, 10.

By the way, this will more than make room for the temple and its environs spoken of in Ezekiel 40-45.

Isaiah 24:20 says, the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard.  With the physical and geological catastrophes ravaging this poor planet, we can certainly see why!

Revelation 16:19 refers to the judgment of the great city, identified a little later in the verse as great Babylon.  Since more than two chapters are devoted to the destruction of this city, we’ll save further comments until later.  The “chronology” of the book skips from 16:21 to 19:11.  The portion in between is explanatory, the “director’s cut,” the idea that inspired the title for this series.

Verses 20, 21 continue the description of the judgment of the seventh bowl.  Every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.  These catastrophes are accompanied by great hail from heaven, with hailstones weighing from 75 to 100 pounds each.

None of this moves men toward God, but further away.  They continue to blaspheme, to curse, not to repent.  It is the “great day of His wrath.”

Paul referred to the time of the beast in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10:  the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved, emphasis added.

You see, we’re not saved by faith in “signs,” but by faith in the Son, His perfect life and death, what He did for sinners on the Cross, taking their place and enduring the wrath of God against their sin.  They, and they alone, are saved.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Revelation 3:21, A Tale of Two Thrones.

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  (NKJV)

I really hadn’t meant to have so many posts on these last few verses, but there’s just so much in them.

The idea of “thrones” brings up the subject of “kings” and “kingdoms.”  There is a great deal of discussion about “the kingdom,” and it’s not our purpose, at least as we start, to get into all that.

A Study Bible that I’ve used has a note on our verse, which it quotes like this:  the Lord Jesus…sat down on His throne (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, p. 2172.)  Even though the note goes on to say that our Lord “will be highly exalted,” I fear it misses the point of the verse.  It’s true that the Lord Jesus will indeed sit on His own throne, and be highly exalted, as the note quotes from Philippians 2:9-11, but that’s not what this verse says.  It says that right now He’s seated on, or at the right hand of, the Father’s throne.  This is in agreement with several other Scriptures.

The first verse is found in Psalm 110:1, The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”  This is the only reference to this in the Old Testament, so far as I know.  Our Lord quotes this in Matthew 22:44, one of many confrontations with His enemies, who contested His every statement.  Without getting into the entire discussion between them, He uses this verse to ask them, “How can David’s son be David’s God?”

Just in passing, with regard to the phrase in Psalm 110:1, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies,” since many believe that “the kingdom” only involves Christ’s headship over His church, how does that fit in with His ruling in the midst of His enemies?

Psalm 110:1 is the foundational verse.  It’s quoted several times in the NT and more than 15 other verses refer to our Lord as being at the right hand of the Father.  The point is, what is He doing there?  Not in the sense of “deserving” to be there, but what is He doing as He sits there?  Scripture tells us.

Perhaps the main thing is that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father because His work is done.  Hebrews 1:3 says, When He had by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  The Book of Hebrews spends a lot of time talking about OT things the reader would have been familiar with, and showing how the Lord Jesus fulfills or is superior to those things.  For example, in the Mosaic Tabernacle, there was no seat, no place to sit down, for the officiating priest.  That’s because his work was never done.

There is one exception to the verses saying that He sits.  Acts 7:56 tells us that, as he was finishing his testimony before the Sanhedrin, Stephen told them that he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.  To these Jewish leaders, this was blasphemy, and, enraged, they killed him.  No reason is given as to why the Lord Jesus was standing.  Someone has suggested that it was to welcome home this first martyr of the church.

Our Lord sat down.  His work was done.  He had by himself purged our sins.  Notice that the writer did not say, “He died for our sins.”  “He made it possible for our sins to be purged.”

No. No.

He purged –

purged

our sins.  He got rid of them on the Cross, and then went home to heaven and sat down.  He was done.  And so were our sins.

This is a tough nut to crack.  We’re so inundated with the idea that there must be something that we have to do in order to make what He did effective.  We have to “validate,” as it were, by accepting Him, what He did on the Cross.  We’re told sin isn’t really paid for until we do that.  And, yes, without doubt, we are told to believe on Him to be saved.  There is no salvation apart from faith in Him.  But that faith rests on His finished, completed work – or there is no salvation, either.  He sat down because sin has been taken care of, taken away.

But He’s doing something else, as well.  In the words of the KJV, But this man after he had offered one sacrifice forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool, Hebrews 10:12, 13, emphasis added.  Newer versions translating “expecting” as “waiting,” and though accurate, it’s incomplete.  The word means “to wait expectantly.”

What did the Father say to the Son?  “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  Our Lord is waiting for, expecting, His Father to fulfill that promise.  Has that happened?  Or is He just talking about some “spiritual” victory, in which the great majority of the world continues to ignore, reject, or violently oppose His rule?  Follow some false religion?

Christmas is 4 days away as I write this.  Who’s the most prominent figure at this time?  Who are little children told to expect?  Not our Lord.  Oh, He might get an “honorable mention,” so to speak, with a nativity scene tucked away among the ornaments and decorations, but He’s not really the center of attention, is He?

When the Father fulfills His promise to the Son, such treatment will not be the case, or even possible.  God made a second promise which goes along with this.  In Psalm 2:9, 10, He told the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Revelation 19:11 tells us this will happen when the Lord returns to earth, not before.  Verse 15 says, He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  The word translated “rule” means “to shepherd”:  “He Himself will shepherd them with a rod of iron.”  This gives quite a different picture than the idea that He’ll return, there will be the final judgment, and then eternity.  Zechariah 14:12-21 gives us further details of events at and following His return.  These indeed portray a “rod of iron.”

But there’s more.  As our Lord sits there waiting, He’s not inactive.  I believe that He is calling His sheep.  In John 10:14-16, our Lord says, “I am the good shepherd; and know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they well hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one Shepherd.” 

“Other sheep I have…, them also I must bring.”

Those for whom He died must be brought home.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He’s calling His sheep to Himself.  We can only know them because they follow the Shepherd.  Not just “religion,” not just some religious figure or authority, but the Lord Jesus.  He is their Lord and Savior.  There is some discussion, sometimes heated, about this idea of Lord and Savior, but we can’t cut the Lord Jesus into two parts, only accepting Him as “Savior” and leaving behind the idea that He’s Lord, or that He has any claim on us.  We seem to think He has to save us if we “accept” Him, but that He’s not supposed to tell us what to do until we decide that He can.  That may be a lot of fundamental or evangelical Christianity, but I don’t believe that it’s true.  It certainly isn’t Biblical.

He is Lord, and He has willing subjects.  Are we among them?

There is one final thing.  He intercedes for us.  Hebrews 9:24 says, For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us. 

“To appear in the presence of God for us”….

I don’t even know how to begin with this.  This whole truth of the Incarnation, the death, the resurrection, the return, of our Lord….  Who can really describe what these things mean?  The God of the Universe, who spoke and it was done, that One who upholds the stars in their courses and calls them all by name, that One who has numbered – not counted, numbered the hairs on our head, that One who holds every breath of ours in His hand, that One whom we continually rebel against,…that One.

That One came and lived the life we could never live, died a death we can’t even begin to imagine, with our sanitized pictures and crucifixes, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and now prays for the very ones who put Him on the cross.  The Romans might have physically nailed Him to it, but you and I, if we’re believers, we were there, too.

Matthew 25:31 says that the Lord Jesus will not sit on His own throne until He returns to this earth.  Other Scriptures tell us that He will do so at Jerusalem, where He will assume His rightful place as Lord and Ruler of this world.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 1:9-11, The Kingdom and Patience of Jesus Christ

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 for the testimony of Jesus Christ.  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, the Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”  (NKJV)

John uses an interesting phrase in v. 9, where he mentions “the kingdom and patience” of our Lord.  I don’t know that I ever hear or read those four words together in any discussion of “the kingdom.”  In fact, when I first typed the verses to begin this post, I left out the words “and patience” myself.  We’re so used to hearing about just “the Kingdom.”

John isn’t the only one who mentioned “the patience of Christ.”  In 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul also referred to it.

Why did John use the words “and patience”?  Why did the Spirit lead him to use them?

After the Lord’s resurrection, Scripture says that He was exalted to the right hand of God in heaven.  I don’t know that there’s much disagreement among Christians about that’s where He is right now.  The discussion centers around the idea of what He is doing there.  Perhaps most Christians believe that He’s ruling from there, in what’s called His “Heavenly Session.”  His Kingdom is now, in the church.  It has nothing to do, except perhaps providentially or incidentally, with the rest of the world.

What does the Scripture say?  Romans 4:3.

There are some eighteen references in the NT to our Lord at God’s right hand.

Matthew 26:64, Jesus said to him, “It is as you said.  Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Along with the next reference, this verse happened during one of the “trials” of our Lord before His crucifixion.  The high priest had just asked Him if He were the Messiah.  Among other things, Jesus answered that the High Priest would one day see Him sitting at the right hand of “the Power” and this would be irrefutable proof of who He was.  He didn’t say “God” because the Jews were very careful never to say that for fear of breaking the third commandment about taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Mark 14:62, Jesus said, “I am.  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

The high priest and the others who heard the Lord were offended because they recognized that Jesus was claiming to be the One to referred to in Daniel 7:13.

Luke 20:41-44, And He said to them, “How can they say that Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the book of Psalms:  ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”‘  Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then His Son?”

Religious officials had been questioning Jesus about various Scriptures, trying to get Him to say something that they could use against Him.  When they finally quit talking, the Lord used their own Scriptures against them.  Quoting Psalm 110:1, He asked, in effect, “How could David’s God be David’s Son?”

Luke 22:59, Jesus said, “Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Like the first two references, this is a detail from the questioning of our Lord. Regardless of what His enemies do to Him, they won’t have the final word about Him.

Acts 2:33, 34, in his sermon explaining what had just happened on the Day of , Pentecost, Peter said of that One whom his listeners had crucified, “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.  For David did not ascend into heavens, but he says himself:  ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand….”‘  Another reference to Psalm 110:1.

Acts 5:31, Peter, this time speaking to the Sanhedrin and referring to that One whom they had recently murdered, “Him God exalted to His right hand to be a Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Leaving aside the reference about “repentance to Israel,” Peter told the Sanhedrin that they might have crucified Jesus, but God has glorified Him.

Acts 7:55, 56, Here is the account of Stephen’s witness before the Sanhedrin.  It became evident that his message would be rejected and so Luke concludes his account, But he being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look!  I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  This is the only reference to Jesus standing at God’s right hand.  Some have suggested that He stood in order to welcome home this first martyr of the church.

Romans 8:34, Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

We’ll have more to say about this verse later.

Ephesians 1:20, In this discussion of the greatness of His power toward us who believe, v. 19, Paul goes on to tell us that this is the same power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.  The power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that raises us from spiritual death.

Colossians 3:1, If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

If we’ve been raised from spiritual death and made spiritually alive, then we should live like it.

Hebrews 1:3, Who [Christ] being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sin, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

That One who died on the Cross wasn’t just another criminal, but was God incarnate, and His death on the Cross was the only payment that could be made for sin, and that had to be made for sin.  Afterward, He sat down.  This is something the OT priest could never do; his work was never done.  Christ sits, because there is nothing more that needs to be done for our redemption as far as its being paid for.  There is still the work of the Spirit, applying the benefits of that death to us and bringing us to faith in the One who died for sinners.
Further, it seems to me, if the Lord is truly reigning as some believe He is, this verse should say something to the effect that “He sat down on the throne of the Majesty on high,” not that He sat down at its right hand.

Hebrews 1:13, But to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool?”

Here the writer asserts the superiority of the Lord Jesus over angels, because none of them has ever gotten the promise he quotes from Psalm 110.  This is in keeping with the writer’s desire in this chapter to show the superiority of the Lord over things in the OT that his readers would have held in high regard:  Moses, Aaron, the priesthood, etc.

Hebrews 8:1, Now this is the main point of the things we are saying:  We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

We have a High Priest who isn’t dependent on an earthly lineage or earthly service, one who never ceases to be High Priest because He lives forever, and One whose work in offering a sacrifice for sin is done.  Indeed, He Himself was that sacrifice, something no mere earthly priest would be or could be.

Hebrews 10:12, 13, OT priests had continual sacrifices to offer, sacrifices which could never take away sins.  But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.

 Hebrews 12:2, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God.

The Cross was no walk in the park for our Lord.  For all our learning, I don’t think we understand any more of what really happened on that implement of agonizing death than an infant has of the suffering of his mother in bringing him into this world.

1 Peter 3:22, where Peter tells us that, after His resurrection, who [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and power having been made subject to Him.

With the possible exception of Peter’s statement, none of the verses we quoted speak of our Lord as sitting as King on the throne, and even here, His reign is over angels and other spiritual beings, cf. Ephesians 6:12.  Indeed, He is never called “King” except in reference to His Second Coming.

Jesus is called “King of Kings” or some similar title in four verses:  1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 1:5; 17:14 and 19:16.  Even in His own description of His judging the nations in Matthew 26, and sitting on the throne of His glory to do so, it is only after He has returned to this earth in His glory, v. 31.

Later in Revelation, we’ll see our Lord’s promise to faithful believers who are in an unfaithful church, To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throneRevelation 3:21.  He made the same promise to His disciples when He was still with them, So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you that in the regeneration when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28, see also Luke 22:30.
Here He makes a distinction between sitting on His own throne, and sitting with His Father on His, the Father’s, throne.
I really can’t see how this might be or is “fulfilled in the church”.

Well, if He’s not ruling, then what is He doing?

Ah.

Romans 8:34, Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us, emphasis added.

Paul says that Jesus is interceding for us.  I expect we keep Him busy.

When the High Priest had finished sacrificing on the Day of Atonement, he took some of the blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat.  This foreshadowed both the sacrifice and the intercession of our Lord.  Hebrews 9:24 says, For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us, emphasis added.

The right hand of the throne is a place of honor.  We see this in Solomon’s life, when he had a throne placed at his right hand for his mother, 1 Kings 1:19.  He wasn’t making her co-regent or anything like that.  He was simply honoring her.  For her, it became a place of intercession for Adonijah, one of Solomon’s brothers.  So it is for our Lord.  This world rejected, and rejects, Him;  God honors him, cf. Philippians 2:5-11.

Our Lord is doing something else, as well.

Hebrews 10:12, 13 says that He is waiting:  But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies be made His footstoolemphasis added.  The word translated “waiting” means “to expect from the hand of another.”

After the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6.  It seems to me that this would have been an excellent time, if it were true, for the Lord to have explained to the disciples that God was done with Israel and there would be no kingdom for her.  But that’s not what He said:  “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority,” v. 7, emphasis added.

He simply told them that the time of the setting up of the kingdom was up to the Father.  That’s true for Him, as well.  It’s up to the Father.

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.

Revelation 1:1-3, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”

[1]The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place.  And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, [2]who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.  [3]Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (NKJV)

Revelation 1:19 seems to give a natural division of the book:  “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”  Many expositors follow this outline.  However, we believe that one purpose of the book is to reveal the Lord Jesus Himself, and so we have the following outline:

1. The revelation of Himself to the reader, ch. 1.
2. The revelation of Himself to the churches, chs. 2, 3.
3. The revelation of Himself to the world, chs. 4-22.

The first 20 verses give us the introduction to the book, telling us its origin and purpose.  We’ll look at the first three verses in this post.  In them, we see:

1. God’s purpose in giving the book, v. 1.

Through the Lord Jesus, the purpose is to show His servants things which must shortly take place.  In the first post, we discussed something of the different ways that men understand what this means.  It seems to me that it refers to verifiable, identifiable things – events – which will clearly demonstrate the knowledge and power of God, not just ongoing processes or principles, not just vague generalities, but real, tangible happenings.  Our Lord did on occasion speak in general terms, as in Matthew 24, where He told of wars and rumors of wars, of strife and violence, of false Messiahs and prophets, but He also gave specific details about some things, things which were to prepare His people to act when they saw them.  For example, in Mark’s account, He said, “But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.”  This isn’t the place really to enter into that discussion, except to say, similarly, that Revelation isn’t about generalities, but about specific things designed to forewarn of and prepare God’s people for that which lies ahead.  I believe that’s as true for today as it was for John’s day.

“shortly”.  What does this word mean?  Some say that it means that the things in the book happened during the early days of the church, that it was designed to encourage and strengthen them during the oncoming trials.  No doubt, the book did encourage those early believers.  But, unless these folks believe that all the book has been fulfilled, even they have to admit that some things still haven’t happened after nearly 2000 years.

The same expression in the original language is translated “speedily” in Luke 18:7, 8.  This is how I think it should be translated in Revelation 1:1.  In other words, I believe that John was saying that when these things began to happen, they would happen very quickly, and not that they would happen very soon.

And come to pass they must.  Ephesians 3:11 refers to the eternal purpose which [God] accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:30 says that in the mind and purpose of God, believers are already glorified.  One need only look in the mirror or the medicine cabinet to see that that hasn’t yet happened.  But it must happen, and so must these things in Revelation.

2.  God’s procedure in giving the book.

He sent and signified by His angel to His servant John.

Several years ago, I read a rather odd comment about the word “signified.”  The author maintained that, even though the word was usually pronounced “sig-ni-fied,” in this verse, it’s supposed to be pronounced “sign-i-fied.”  This, he said, is because Revelation is given in “signs.”  As I said, “rather odd.”  However, the word translated “signified” is used five other times in the NT (John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27) and means “to give a clear record.” I suppose it could be argued that Revelation is given in signs, or symbols, and that’s why it’s so hard to understand.  That’s true, but nearly every symbol is explained somewhere in the book, and so, in spite of our difficulties, it “gives a clear record”.

by His angel.  

This isn’t the first time such a thing has been said.  For example, at Sinai, Exodus 20:1 says that God spoke all these words, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Yet, in two other places, the Bible says that God spoke through an angel at that time, Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2.  There is no contradiction.  God may have spoken through angels, but it was still He Who spoke.  So here.  Even if it were an angel through whom the Lord Jesus spoke to John, it was still the Lord Jesus Who was speaking.

His servant John.

Unbelieving scholars maintain that Revelation is simply the delusional ravings of an overworked old man suffering from Roman imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos.  If that’s true, then John isn’t simply deluded, but a liar and a fraud, because he claimed that what he wrote came from God.  And if that’s true, then there’s no reason to study the book, any more than the rest of Scripture, which unbelieving scholars also deny as divinely inspired.

John said that he bore witness to:

1. the word of God.  Again, he states the source of his writing as being from God and not just his own thought.

2. the testimony of Jesus Christ, Who, in just a couple of verses, is called the faithful witness, v. 5.  The rest of the book is His testimony, not only to what was then current in the churches He addressed, but also as to what was coming down the road.

3. to all things that he saw.  John isn’t merely a puppet or a robot, transcribing what he was “programmed” to say.  He, too, was a “witness”.  The doctrine of verbal inspiration doesn’t mean that the writers were mere automatons.  God used men of different abilities, backgrounds, education, even nationality, to write His Word.  Moses wrote differently from Ezekiel, and Paul wrote differently from Matthew or Luke.  It was, and is, still God’s Word.

3. God’s promise in giving the book.

a. He promises blessing for those who read.

Until the invention of the printing press, copies of the Scripture were laboriously copied out by hand, so very few had their own personal copy.  Indeed, one of the instructions for Israel’s king was that he was to write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites, Deuteronomy 17:18, a copy he was continually to read and obey.  (Even though most of us have easy access to Scripture, this might be a good idea for us.  The time and effort it would take to write out the Scripture by hand – not on a typewriter or computer, but pen in hand, might help us to do a better job of knowing what it says.)  At meetings or gatherings, one person would read aloud to the others.  There is an excellent example of this in Nehemiah 8:1-11, which describes a service in which the Word was read aloud from morning until midday.

The ESV translates v. 3 this way: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy….

b. He promises blessing to those who hear.

There is something to be said for hearing someone else read the Word out loud.  I’ve told elsewhere the story of my wife’s and my reading of Genesis 15 and hearing her read v. 12 and me reading v. 17.  Hearing these verses that I had read silently many times gave me a whole different insight into that chapter.  (“Look Now Toward Heaven.”  Sorry, I don’t have the technical savvy to give you the direct link.  You know, “old dog, new tricks.” 🙂 )

c. He promises blessing to those who “keep” what it says.

As we mentioned in the first post, the word translated “keep” is the same word used of the soldiers who “guarded” the tomb of Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we’re to hide away the Word under lock and key like a valuable treasure, or that we merely have it on display, like a wheel-barrow-sized copy on the coffee table, but that we pay attention to it, honor it, read it, not just because it comes up on some “reading schedule,” but because it’s God’s word to us.

Long ago, I fell for a young woman in a different state.  We wrote.  Oh, how I waited for those letters!  I devoured them when they came in the mail.  I didn’t have to have a “schedule” to read them.  I didn’t have to force myself to read them out of some sense of “duty.”  I didn’t just read here and there in them.  I didn’t have to try to “memorize” them.  I read them.  Over and over.  And over.  I was eager to read them!  I loved the one who wrote them!

It turned out she wasn’t the one God had for me, but I had the same attitude toward the one who was later on.  I couldn’t wait to be with her.  That was more than 45 years ago, and she’s out in the kitchen fixing something delicious to eat while I sit in here trying to write something “delicious to read.”  I can’t imagine her not being here.

I wish that we as individuals, as churches, and as a nation, had that same  intense desire, that same fervent longing, for God and His Word.

4. God’s perspective in giving the book.

the time is near….

Yes, it’s been nearly 2000 years.  Yes, in one way or another, people are saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4).  Yes, things are out of control and getting worse.  Jesus said things would be like that before He came.  But, as James said, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door,” James 5:9, and one of these days, He’s going to open it and step through.  It may be before I finish this post.  It may not be in the lifetimes of our grandchildren.  He doesn’t look at our calendar.

But, one day, He will open it and step through.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation: The Future/Director’s Cut

The Director’s cut of a movie is a feature that shows us how some of the scenes were shot, how special effects were produced or perhaps what the director had in mind for a particular scene.  I love it.  I love to see behind-the-scenes, as it were, in these things.

I’ve come to believe that the Book of Revelation is a Director’s cut of the future.  It goes behind-the-scenes and shows us that human history isn’t just a jumbled chaos, but that there is purpose and direction behind it, even the worst of it, cf. 17:17.  To me, this is a great comfort, especially as I look around and see the things going on in our society, things just a few years ago that would have been thought unimaginable.

Granted, there is a lot of difficulty and speculation involved in the study of this book.  And many don’t think that prophecy is a worthy study, not a “fundamental of the faith.”  And it’s true that it’s not a matter of “salvation.”  At the same time, prophecy takes up a large portion of the Bible.  If we believe in the authority and inspiration of Scripture, then we have an obligation to study that part of the Bible as well as the other parts.

Generally speaking, Revelation isn’t taught or studied in churches, except perhaps for a few verses or a topic or two, but one of the last things the Lord told John as He was finishing giving him the book was, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches,” Revelation 22:16.  I think He meant for us to know what “these things” are.

1. Importance of the Book.

Beside the fact that the Book comes to us from God, which, in itself, makes the Book important, there are some other things as well.

a. It’s the only book in the New Testament devoted to prophecy.  Almost every other book in the New Testament has elements of prophecy, but Revelation is the only book called “a prophecy,” 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19.

b. It’s necessary to complete Paul’s eschatology.  Paul revealed many prophetic truths – the Revelation puts them all into perspective. Indeed, Revelation is the capstone of all Biblical prophecy.

c. It fully reveals Christ’s present relationship to His churches and His prospective relationship to the world.

d. It’s the only NT book in which is given a blessing for the fulfilling of our responsibilities toward it, 1:3; 22:7.  This responsibility is three-fold:  to read, to hear and to keep.  The Greek word translated “keep” doesn’t mean simply to pay attention to, but “to watch over,” “to guard.”  It’s the word used of the soldiers who “kept guard” over the tomb of Jesus.  It says to me that there is supposed to be more than the casual attitude many professing Christians have, not only to this book, but to all Scripture.

e. It ends with a curse against those who tamper with its contents.  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; 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, 22:18, 19.

Regardless of what one thinks about what these verses mean, or even what the book itself means, it’s a serious thing to approach the book with anything but the utmost reverence and respect.  God will not have His Word to be meddled with, mocked, or misused!  It’s not to be sensationalized, trivialized or minimized.

2. Interpretation of the book.

There are four basic approaches to interpreting Revelation.

a. Preterist.

According to this view, all the Revelation, except possibly the last two chapters, were fulfilled during the early history of the church, although there are some who believe that even they have been fulfilled.  Preterists call the book “A Tract for Troubled Times,” teaching the early believers to hold fast during the troubles they were facing, and would face, and encouraging them that these trials were not to be permanent.

b. Historicist.

This view teaches that Revelation is continuously fulfilled through the Church age.  The various things and events in the books, such as seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., don’t refer to specific happenings, but to “principles” or “processes” at work throughout history.

c. Allegorical or Spiritualizing.

This view says that, using symbols, Revelation portrays the ongoing conflict between good and evil.  John is said not to have expected a “literal” fulfillment of his words.  We’re not supposed to, either.

We want to deal with this view a little more than the others because it has had such an impact on Church history and on current views of The Revelation.

One author wrote,

“In the figurative or symbolic language of the Apocalypse hardly anything is called by its ordinary and direct name, but things are indirectly alluded to under some other name, and words have to be understood as implying something other than their ordinary connotations….”
(William M. Ramsey, The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 111.)

Then he goes on to assert that “the most dangerous kind of error that can be made about the Apocalypse is to regard it as a literal statement and prediction of events,” (p. 112).

The allegorical method had its roots in the ancient Greek culture of Alexandria.  It arose as the result of the dilemma the Alexandrian Greeks faced in seeing the differences between their philosophical heritage and the often grotesque and immoral stories about their gods.  They resolved this dilemma by treating the religious stories allegorically, that is, as not literally true, but as merely illustrating various virtues or as describing the struggle between good and evil.

The Alexandrian Jew had the same difficulty.  Raised with the Mosaic viewpoint, he was surrounded by the great Greek philosophical tradition.  Instead of holding faithfully to Moses, he did as the Alexandrian Greek had done before him, allegorizing Moses and interpreting Plato literally, thus making Moses teach the philosophy of Plato.

The best known advocates of the allegorical method in the early church were Clement of Alexandria and Origen:

They applied it generally in the interpretation of Scripture.  They applied it even more readily in this instance [that is, in the interpretation of Revelation] as it furnished them with the possibility of denying the millennial reign of Christ, to which they were opposed.  By this method all the prophecies of the book were deprived of any prophetic meaning, thus becoming spiritual principles for the aid and comfort of the Christian in his unceasing fight against evil.  This method was adopted by the rationalistic schools as being in agreement with their aversion to the prophetic and, consequently, the supernatural character of the content of Scripture(George A. Hadjiantoniou, New Testament Introduction, p. 340, emphasis added.)

With regard to Ramsey’s statement above, I can’t think of a more “dangerous” way to interpret any Scripture than to say that it has to be “understood as implying something else than [its] ordinary connotations”!  To be sure, interpreting prophecy can be difficult, but in Scripture, prophecy is about predicting events, things which must…come to pass, not just laying down “principles.” After all, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?

And perhaps it’s still true that the main bone of contention for the allegorist today, as it was with Clement and Origen centuries ago, is how to deal with the “1000 years” of Revelation 20.

d. The Futurist View.

As the name implies, this view holds that most of Revelation is future, even to our own time.  Futurists accept Revelation to employ language generally to be understood literally.  They don’t deny the use of symbols; they do deny that everything is symbolic, or that these symbols don’t teach actual, literal truth or portray actual events.

Premillennialism, which is what the debate is really all about, is accused of being of recent origin in the 18th or 19th centuries.  This isn’t true.  Under the name “chiliasm” (from chilias – “thousand,” Revelation 20), it was the belief of the early church, though their view did differ in some details from the modern view.  In his book, The Millennium, Loraine Boettner claims that this means nothing:

“As far as its presence in the early church is concerned, surely it can be argued with as much reason that it was one of those immature and unscriptural beliefs that flourished before the Church had time to work out the true system of Theology as that its presence at that time is an indication of purity of faith.  In any event, so thoroughly did Augustine do his work in refuting it that it practically disappeared for a thousand years as an organized system of thought, and was not seriously put forth again until the time of the Protestant Reformation,” (p.366).

There are some interesting things here.  The “thousand years” to which he refers from Augustine to the Reformation are known as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which the Scriptures themselves almost disappeared, let alone a difficult subject like prophecy.  I believe the adoption of the allegorical method led directly to this dismal time in church and human history.  I further believe that the Reformation itself would not have happened, humanly speaking, if Luther and Calvin and others hadn’t restored a measure of literalism to their expositions of Scripture.

In his Bondage of the Will, written in 1525 to answer a volume written by the humanist scholar Erasmus on the subject of free will, Luther had this to say:

“…let this be our conviction:  that no “implication” or “figure” may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such be required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.  Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rule of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men; for if anyone may devise “implications” and “figures” at his own pleasure, what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind, and as a sort of chameleon?” (p. 192, emphasis added).

In his commentary on Galatians, written about 1548, explaining Galatians 4:22-31 (the “allegory” of Sarah and Hagar), Calvin had this to say:

“Again, as the history which he [Paul] quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives it an allegorical interpretation.  But as the apostle declared that these things are ‘allegorized’ (‘allegoroumena’), Origen, and many others with him, have seized the occasion of torturing the Scriptures, in every possible manner, away from the true sense.  They concluded that the literal sense is too mean [common, ordinary] and poor, and that under the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories.  And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred by the world to solid doctrine” (p. 135, emphasis added).

This doesn’t mean that the Reformers themselves had any use for or agreement with chiliasm.  They thought as little of it as had Augustine before them.  Calvin classed chiliasts with Origen, no compliment to them.  He never did a commentary on Revelation.  And Luther said, “My spirit cannot adjust itself to this book.”

Reformed scholars today, though willing to expound Revelation, have about the same attitude toward premillennialists as their ancestors had toward chiliasm.  I remember reading one author who sneered at such for having only a “Bible college” education, as opposed to those who had spent years studying in seminary.  No wonder.  If God doesn’t mean what He says, especially about the future, then, no doubt, it would take a considerable amount of “learning” to decipher what He does mean.

I admit that many of those with whom I might otherwise agree have given them plenty of reason to dislike this viewpoint.  In spite of the fact that, even after centuries of trying and failing, and no one has ever successfully given the date on which the Lord will return, people still insist on “setting dates”.  And there are ministries devoted, it seems like, every time someone sneezes in the Middle East, to rushing to Daniel and Revelation to see what prophecies were fulfilled.  History is littered with the wreckage of such attempts.

Nevertheless, we believe the futurist interpretation is the only one which makes sense of the intent God had when He gave us this book.

Now, no doubt, for those who received it originally, it was indeed “a tract for troubled times.”  It comforted and encouraged them.  It gave them hope and assurance.  But we believe that The Revelation is also “a testimony for terminal times”.  That is, when the end times do come, whether in our lifetimes or centuries from now, the Revelation will testify by the unmistakable fulfillment of its predictions as to the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, both the written word, and that personified in the Son of God:  “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” Revelation 19:10.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Amen,  Revelation 22:20.