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March 1, 2020 “The Revelation and Message” (Rev. 1:1-8)
March 8, 2020: “The Vision” (Rev. 1:9-20)
March 15, 2020: “A Call to Faithfulness” (Rev. 2-3)
“The Revelation & Message”
There is perhaps no book quite like Revelation. It is one of the most debated and complex books in the Bible, and some come away from reading its pages with confusion, fear, anxiety, or even excitement. Yet, Revelation is a powerfully hopeful book that was, and is, meant to encourage Christian communities to remain faithful to the one true God. It provides Christians with a wonderful sense of security, hope, and discipleship, even in the midst of suffering, persecution, and temptation. But, what is Revelation in the first place?
The very first word in the Greek text of Rev. 1:1 is “apocalypse.” This does not mean “end of the word,” “end times,” or “rapture.” It is best translated “revelation,” which means to “unveil,” “uncover,” or “disclose.” It is like a present that is being unwrapped. The present, or revelation, is from and about Jesus Christ. It was most likely written by the Apostle John in the late 1st century during the reign of emperor Domitian. Revelation was written to seven churches located in Asia Minor (Turkey). During the time of John’s exile on the island of Patmos, Christians were living in a world of persecution where there was a strong temptation to give in to the norms of the pagan culture. While this explains some of the historical setting, it is important to understand what type of literature we are reading in Revelation.
Simply put, Revelation is a hybrid of genres. It is apocalyptic literature, so it serves to sustain the people of God in the midst of crisis, by expressing hope in God’s ultimate defeat of evil. It describes present realities about God and the supernatural realm by using highly symbolic, vivid imagery. Revelation is also prophetic literature that speaks words of comfort and challenge from God to his people. It is a pastoral letter written by John to challenge and encourage seven historical churches. Finally, it is also a liturgical text meant for worship, and a theopolitcal text, urging Christians to faithful follow Jesus Christ.
With that said, what does the beginning of this letter teach us? As stated earlier, this “revelation” is from and about Jesus Christ, which God the Father gave to him, who gave it to an angel, to give to John and to all believers about what must soon take place – the 2nd coming of Christ (vs. 1-2). John goes on and to say that blessed is the person who not only hears these words, but actually takes them to heart and lives by them (v. 3). He reminds the churches that this message is from Almighty God (v. 4, 8, cf. Ex. 3:14), and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth (v. 5). This explains who Jesus is, but then John describes what Jesus does – he loves us, he has freed us from our sins, and he has made us to be a kingdom and priests to God (v. 5-6).
These words are meant to give believers great security and hope for their lives and for the future in the midst of the chaos around them. These words are also meant to show Jesus Christ as the ultimate example that all Christians are to follow. Therefore, Revelation is a hopeful, powerful book that should shape and mold Christian communities to look more like Christ. May it be so!
The word “revelation” in Rev. 1:1 can be translated as an “unveiling” or “disclosure.” It is an unveiling and disclosure from, and about, Jesus Christ. This revelation was given to the Apostle John to send to seven churches in Asia Minor that needed to hear these words. John was on the island of Patmos because of the “word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9), when he receives an amazing message and vision from the risen and glorified Jesus Christ.
Before he receives this vision, John states that he is a “brother and companion” with his fellow believers in suffering for the Gospel, in the power of his Kingdom, and in the patient endurance that are theirs in Jesus Christ (v. 9). In other words, John is a partaker along with them in the good times and bad, in the sufferings, in patiently waiting for Jesus’ return, and in the reality of God’s rule and reign. Therefore, in Jesus Christ, they had hope and the perfect example of faithfulness. This language would have spoken words of encouragement, security, hope, and discipleship to the brothers and sisters in these churches, as they faced various trials, temptations and persecutions.
John then turns around to see the voice that was speaking to him, and what he sees is quite amazing. Before him stands “someone like a son of man” who is dressed like a priest, and who has a face like the sun, hair as white as snow, eyes like a blazing fire, feet like glowing bronze, and a voice like rushing waters. This figure also is standing among seven lampstands, is holding seven stars (representing the seven churches and the seven “angels” of the churches – v. 20), and has a sharp, double-edged sword coming out of his mouth (vs. 13-16). This description and its imagery is similar to what is found in Daniel 7:9, 13, where the Ancient of Days (God Almighty) sits on his throne as someone like “a son of man” approaches him to receive all glory and power.
This “son of man” is a divine figure in Daniel who will one day rule over all the earth, and one that Jesus, the Messiah, uses to describe himself. Yet much of the description of the “son of man” in Revelation matches the description of God Almighty in Daniel. Therefore, the figure in John’s vision is the risen and glorified Jesus Christ, who is both God and man. The fact that he is walking among the lampstands (churches) means that he dwells among his churches and his people, shaping them and empowering them to be like him.
After this John falls down on his face trembling, only to hear Jesus say, “do not be afraid.” Jesus goes on to say that he is the first and the last, and although he once was dead, he is alive forevermore and holds complete sovereign control over all (vs. 17-18). This is a powerful vision that assures John, the churches, and all Christians, that they can trust in Jesus Christ in every circumstance of life. Jesus is not only ruler over all, but he walks among his churches, and gives them ultimate security and hope.
At the end of the first chapter in Revelation, the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ tells the John to write on a scroll the things that he has seen, and will see, in the vision, and to send it to seven churches (1:11, 19). These churches are historical congregations located in mostly large, urban cities in Asia Minor, or modern-day western Turkey. They are filled with Christians who are living in some chaotic times at the end of the 1st century CE. They face persecution for their faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ, as well as various temptations and pressures to accommodate their values and beliefs to fit the pagan society around them. Therefore, John’s words offer security, hope, discipleship, comfort and challenge to God’s people in crisis and suffering.
Each letter has a very similar structure which includes, an address to the “angel” of that church, a description of Jesus Christ (taken from ch. 1), Jesus’ knowledge of the church, commendations (except for Laodicea), condemnations (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia), challenges or warnings, promises for those who are faithful and victorious, and then a call to hear the Spirit. To the churches:
In Ephesus (vs. 1-7): Jesus acknowledges their hard work and perseverance, and the fact that they cannot tolerate wicked people. But they have abandoned their first love. This love is not towards God, but towards one another as sisters and brothers in faith. Therefore, they are called to repent and to do the deeds they did at first.
In Smyrna (vs. 8-11): Jesus acknowledges the tribulations, material poverty, and slander that they are facing, but he calls them to be faithful and suffer well until the end. If they do so, he will give them the crown of life.
In Pergamum (vs. 12-17): Jesus acknowledges that the believers have held fast to his name in the midst of extreme persecution, but some of them have become indifferent to heresy, and have compromised their beliefs in regards to sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Therefore, Jesus calls them to hold to the truth and to repent.
In Thyatira (vs. 18-29): Jesus acknowledges their deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance, and the fact that they are doing more than they did long ago. Yet, Jesus says that some of them have tolerated, and given into, evil, pagan practices. He reminds them that he searches all hearts and minds and will give to each person according to how they lived their lives. Their call is to hold fast and overcome.
In Sardis (3:1-6): Jesus does not much good to say about this church. He starts off by acknowledging that they have a name for themselves and think they are alive, but in fact, they are dead, and their deeds have been found incomplete in God’s sight. They need to wake up (!) and repent. If they do, Jesus will never erase their name from the book of life and he will confess their names to his Father in heaven.
In Philadelphia (vs. 7-13): Jesus acknowledges that although they have little power, they have kept his word, not denied his name, and persevered. Therefore, if they hold fast, he will keep them from the “hour of testing” and give them a new name.
In Laodicea (vs. 14-22): Jesus has harsh words for this church – they are arrogant, wretched, blind, complacent, out of fellowship with Jesus, and the most accommodating church of them all. Therefore, Jesus urges them to seek him wholeheartedly, so that they may one day sit with him on his throne.
There are many take-aways from these letters that the Church then (and now) should apply, but the main point is to: remain faithful and hold fast to Jesus Christ (alone) in how you love him and love others, with every word spoke, every action committed, and every thought given. May it be so. Amen.
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