Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Seven Churches

1 “Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven gold lampstands (churches). . . . 8 Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the One who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive . . . . 12 Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Pergamum. This is the message from the One with the sharp two-edged sword . . . . 18 Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Thyatira. This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze . . . .” Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18 (NLT)

1 “Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the One who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars. . . .  7 Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the One who is Holy and True, the One who has the key of David. What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open . . . . 14 Write this letter to the angel (messenger) of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the One who is the Amen—the Faithful and True Witness, the beginning of God’s new creation. . . .” Revelation 3:1, 7, 14 (NLT)

Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are the most popular section of the book because the teaching of these sections continues to apply to all churches today (Revelation 2:1-3:22). The seven letters deal with the same challenges of today’s church culture. The seven churches are symbolic of all churches because seven means complete, all-inclusive, and whole.

Revelation chapters 1 through 3 revealed the exalted and resurrected Jesus Christ (Messiah) ruling, ministering, and caring for His churches. Jesus is the Head of the church, and He is living and reigning (Revelation 1:18; see also John 14:19; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). As the Head of the church, Revelation chapters 2 and 3 reveal that only Jesus “knows” every church’s true internal condition, motivation, and deeds as He continually examines and shepherds each church (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19, 23; Revelation 3:1, 8, 15, see also 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 7:9; Psalm 26:2; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 20:12; Romans 8:27). 

The true Author of the letters is Jesus and Jesus instructs the human author John to write these letters. Jesus intended all churches to read these letters and benefit from His instructions and encouragement (note the plural “churches” in Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; Revelation 3:6, 13, 22). Some scholars see in these seven churches various stages of church history from apostolic times (Ephesus) to the lukewarmness of the twenty-first century (Laodicea). Most biblical scholars believe these letters remind us that the exalted Head of the church (Jesus) “knows” what is going on in each assembly, and that our fellowship with Him and His Word determines the life and ministry of each local church.

There are several common features in these seven letters.

First, each of the seven letters begins with a personal description or designation of heavenly Jesus taken from John’s vision of Him in Revelation chapter 1 (see Revelation 1:12-16, 20). These glorious descriptions of Jesus unify the seven letters.

Second, Jesus tells the churches of their victory as “overcomers” against evil if they “hear” the letter’s instruction and remain continually faithful and obedient (see Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-29; Revelation 3:5, 12-13, 21-22; see also Revelation 12:11). If they overcome evil, the church will enjoy continual and eternal blessedness, life, and fellowship with God and His Son Jesus (Revelation 21:1-22:5).

Third, Jesus warned the churches to stay away from false teaching, false teachers, and false prophets such as the Nicolaitans, Balaam, and Jezebel (see also Matthew 7:15-20). These evil workers were inducing members of the church to compromise and engage in idol worship and sexual immorality (e.g., fornication, adultery, and other lustful offenses) (Revelation 2:6, 14-15, 20-21; also see Numbers 31:16; 1 Kings 16:30-33; 1 Kings 19:1-2; 1 Kings 21:25-26). Jesus provided a simple and practical method to recognize false teachers and prophets, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16, 20; Luke 6:43-44). True teachers and prophets of God will always have deeds, behavior, and actions of the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g., “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT).

Fourth, these churches were suffering persecution from the Romans and Jews because of their allegiance to God and His Son Jesus (Revelation 2:9-10, 13, 24; Revelation 3:9-10). Jews and Roman emperors such as Nero and Domitian directed bloody persecution against the Christian churches. Antipas was the first of many Christians who died because of their faithfulness to Jesus (Revelation 2:13).

Fifth, Jesus addressed each letter “to the angel of the church” and not to the church itself. Angels are very prominent in Revelation. The word “angel” means “messenger.” Scholars have long speculated the identity of the church’s angel. Some argue the angel was the church’s protective or guardian angel. Other scholars argue the angel represents church leadership, such as the bishop or the pastor.

Sixth, the Speaker and Author of the letters is the resurrected Jesus!

Seventh, Jesus acknowledges each churches’ strengths and weaknesses, and He makes a repeated call for repentance, faithfulness, and endurance (see e.g., Revelation 2:5, 16, 22; Revelation 3:3, 19). In Greek, endurance refers to athletics or training. Endurance requires activity and not passivity. Revelation consistently calls for endurance, allegiance, and faithfulness to God and His Son Jesus throughout the book. Jesus calls the church for active living and not passively accommodating, secular, and compromising with the world’s evil culture and immorality (see also Romans 12:1-2).

Revelation chapters 2 and 3 remind everyone that the messages of the seven churches are the same message to all churches today:  never stop loving (Ephesus), do not fear suffering (Smyrna), stay away from false teaching (Pergamum), moral compromise (Thyatira), spiritual deadness (Sardis), call for faithfulness and perseverance (Philadelphia), and lukewarmness (Laodicea).  

Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Will Jesus Return

7 Look, Jesus is coming with the clouds, and everyone will see Him, even those who stabbed (pierced) Him. And all peoples of the earth will cry loudly because of Him. Yes, this will happen! Amen. Revelation 1:7 (NCV)

The overriding theme of Revelation is the return of Jesus to defeat all evil and to establish God’s glorious Kingdom on earth (Revelation 1:7; see also Revelation 2:16; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Revelation declares that Jesus will come “with the clouds of heaven” (Revelation 1:7). The event described in Revelation 1:7 will be witnessed by the whole world when all the peoples of the earth will see Jesus (the Son of Man) coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30-31; Matthew 26:63-64; see also Daniel 7:13-14).

However, Jesus’ coming at Revelation 1:7 is not the same as His return in the air to catch away His faithful people – the Rapture (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54). When Jesus comes to catch away (Rapture) His church, He will come “as a thief” or unexpectedly (Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15), and only those who are born again will see Him (1 John 3:1-3).

Bible scholars have not always agreed as to the order of events leading up to the return of Jesus and the establishment of God's eternal Kingdom on earth (Revelation 21-22). NO ONE KNOWS when Jesus will return (Acts 1:6-7; see also Mark 13:32-37; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). God sent Jesus at the right time for His first coming (Galatians 4:4), and GOD ALONE will decide Jesus’ second coming to earth (Matthew 24:36). The Holy Scriptures warned against an excessive fixation on the future (see e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).

Until Jesus' second coming, God’s people must continue to live by faith and do good in the world (see e.g., Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 25:31-40; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:1, 10; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 16-24; Titus 2:14). REPENT of your sins, turn away from wickedness, and turn wholeheartedly to the living God (see e.g., Ezekiel 18:30-31; Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Revelation 2:5, 16, 22; Revelation 3:3, 19). All Biblical scholars agree Jesus will return and the sure promise of Jesus’ return should lead everyone to repentance, obedience, and faithfulness to God (Revelation 1:3, 7; Revelation 2:5, 25; Revelation 3:3, 11; Revelation 22:7, 12, 20; see also 1 John 1:1-3).

20 Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20 (NLT)

New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Vision of Jesus

9 I, John, am your brother and your partner (companion) in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled (banished) to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus. 10 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. 11 It said, “Write in a book (scroll) everything you see (your vision), and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” 12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. 13 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across His chest. 14 His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. 16 He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid! I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave. 19 Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen. 20 This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in My right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels (messengers) of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:9-20 (NLT)

John wrote the book of Revelation to seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. John identified himself as “your brother and your partner in suffering” (Revelation 1:9, NLT). Sadly, John and the churches were fellow sufferers of severe persecution from harsh Roman emperors such as Nero and Domitian because of their belief in “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9, NIV). For John, the “word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” are synonyms or the same. John encouraged the churches patiently to endure all suffering and persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake because they too will share His Kingdom (Revelation 1:9).

Most likely, John was exiled or banished to the island of Patmos because he refused to stop preaching the word of God and for telling what he knew about Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:9). Early church traditions say that Roman Emperor Domitian banished John to the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony off the coast of Asia Minor. If this John were one of the Twelve Apostles, John would have been the last living eyewitness of Jesus. Placing John in exile would have been appropriate for a Roman ruler like Domitian to stop the spread of the Gospel (Good News) about Jesus Christ. To prevent any movement, authorities always separate the leaders from the group.

At Revelation 1:10, John said he was worshipping “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” when suddenly he heard a great or mighty voice behind him, a voice that sounded like a trumpet blast (Revelation 1:10). Jesus Christ was speaking! The voice told John, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11, NIV). These seven churches received the seven letters from John in Revelation chapters two and three. These seven churches represented prominent cities in Asia Minor. The book of Revelation was born out of John’s profound spiritual experience while exiled on Patmos.

John says he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” on the day of his revelation (Revelation 1:10). The phrase “in the Spirit” was common among writings of the Old Testament prophets and apocalyptic literature. “In the Spirit” means the prophet or the apocalyptist experienced an ecstatic experience or revelation from God (see also e.g., Actos 10:10; Acts 22:17). Both Isaiah and Ezekiel began their ministry also with a great vision of the glory of God (see Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1). Now, John tells readers of his calling or commission to pass on to the churches this revelation of Jesus.

Moreover, John’s uses the phrase “the Lord's Day” at Revelation 1:10. In the early church, the “Lord's Day” was Sunday or the first day of the week. The Lord's Day is not the Sabbath. The early Christians moved the worship day from Saturday (the Sabbath) to Sunday (the Lord’s Day) to accommodate Jewish Christians so they could participate in both communities of faiths on Saturday with Jewish activities at the synagogue and Sunday for Christians. More likely, scholars believe the Lord’s Day became a celebration and reenactment of Easter to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Sadly, the Roman government also considered Sunday the “lord’s day” to worship their Roman emperors. Rome sometimes called their emperors “our lord and our god.” John wanted to emphasize in Revelation that the true “Lord and God” that deserve our wholehearted worship and allegiance was God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (e.g., see Revelation 1:6; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:12; Revelation 11:15-17).

In the opening chapter of Revelation, John saw a glorious vision of the reigning and ruling Jesus! The entire Holy Bible speaks of Jesus, the living Word of God (Revelation 19:13; see also John 1:1-5); but the book of Revelation especially magnifies the greatness and glory of Jesus. Revelation, after all, is a revealing or unveiling of Jesus Christ and not simply the revelation of future events.

Images of the living Jesus abound in Revelation. John reveals Jesus as a King (Revelation 17:14), a special Child (Revelation 12:1-6), a Warrior on a horse (Revelation 19:11-16), the Lion of Judah and Root of David (Revelation 5:5) and the Judge (Revelation 19:11). Revelation 1:13-16 gives the first glorious appearance of Jesus. Then, the second greatest image of Jesus comes in Revelation chapter 5. In Revelation 5, John sees a “Lamb, looking at if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6-13). This powerful image of Jesus as Lamb often resurfaces in Revelation (see e.g., Revelation 6:1; Revelation 7:9-10). Jesus the King is also the sacrificial Lamb who died and redeemed us to take away our sins (Revelation 5:9-14). Jesus’ sacrificial death, seemingly a great defeat, actually ushered in a decisive victory, for Him and all faithful believers. Jesus’ sacrificial death destroyed and triumphed over evil. Definitely, Revelation is a book of victory and faithful believers are seen as “overcomers” (see e.g., Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; Revelation 3:5, 12, 21; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 21:7). Although through the eyes of unbelief, Jesus and His church are defeated in this world. However, through eyes of faith, Jesus and His faithful people are the true victors and overcomers (see also 1 Corinthians 15:42-57).

When describing Jesus in Revelation, John often takes attributes from the Old Testament book of Daniel attributed to God and applies these same attributes to the ruling and reigning Jesus. In John’s vision, the ruling and resurrected Jesus is God. Throughout the book of Revelation, John refers to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit interchangeable. To hear God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit speak is to hear God.

In the first vision, John saw the living Jesus standing among the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12-13). The Lord Jesus Christ was dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest (Revelation 1:13; see also Daniel 7:13; Daniel 10:5). John also noticed that Jesus’ hair was white as wool or snow, and His eyes flashed like flames of fire (Revelation 1:14; see also Daniel 7:9). Moreover, Jesus’ feet gleamed like burnished bronze, and His voice thundered like the waves against the shore (Revelation 1:15; see also Daniel 10:6). In His right hand, Jesus held seven stars (Revelation 1:16, 20). From Jesus’ mouth, there came a sharp, double-bladed sword. Most importantly, Jesus’ face shone like the power of the sun in unclouded brilliance (Revelation 1:16). Jesus’ shining face reminds us of His transfiguration (Matthew 17:2; see also Matthew 28:3; John 1:4-5) and the prophecy of Malachi 4:2 (“the Sun of righteousness [shall] arise”).

When John saw Jesus, he fell at Jesus’ feet as dead (Revelation 1:17). However, Jesus laid His right hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid!” (Revelation 1:17, TLB). Jesus announced to John, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17-18, NLT). As faithful believers in Jesus, we need not fear life or death, because Jesus is “The Living One” and He is always with us (Matthew 28:20; see also Romans 8:35-39).

Perhaps, the most important part of John’s vision is the ever-living and exalted Jesus in the midst of the seven lampstands (Revelation 1:12-13; 20). The seven lampstands represent the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 1:11, 20) and the seven stars in Jesus’ hand represent the angels (messengers or perhaps pastors) of the seven churches (Revelation 1:16, 20). John wanted to encourage the churches that the glorified Jesus stands in the midst of their suffering and persecution. John sees a vision of Jesus not as a lowly Lamb but as the ruling, reigning, and resurrected Jesus present with His people to provide and protect them with His all-encompassing love and reassuring power. Through His Spirit, Jesus Christ is still among the churches today. When any faithful believer faces persecution, Jesus is in the midst with God the Father and His deep love and compassion through the Holy Spirit (see 1John 4:4).

Life Application Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Jesus Is Coming!

4 This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace to you from the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before His throne; 5 and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the Ruler of all the kings of the world. All glory to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding His blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God, His Father. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen. 7 Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see Him— even those who pierced Him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for Him. Yes! Amen! 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” Revelation 1:4-8 (NLT)

The book of Revelation unveils some of the future events that will occur in the life of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1). God the Father permitted His Son Jesus Christ to reveal these future events through to His servant John in a vision; and then an angel was sent from heaven to explain the vision’s meaning (Revelation 1:1). In turn, John was to make this unveiling of truth known to the Church for moral and spiritual formation. To understand what is involved in a visionary experience, one may consider the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of a valley full of dry bones from the Old Testament (see Ezekiel 37:1-4). Also, the Acts of the Apostles from the New Testament reports various instances of visionary experiences (see Acts 9:10; Acts 10:11; Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9; Acts 22:17; Acts 27:23).

John wrote the vision down—the words of God and Jesus Christ and everything he heard and saw (Revelation 1:2). The source of the Revelation is God, who speaks this truth through His Son Jesus Christ and He shows to God’s people things that are about to happen. Revelation is apocalyptic literature. Christian apocalyptic literature is mainly Jewish apocalyptic literature as they discuss God’s coming Kingdom. Both Christian and Jewish apocalyptic literature comfort God’s people, encourage them to remain faithful to God and assure that God is fully in control of the world and all world events. History is not a random sequence of unrelated events but a divinely decreed ordering by the true and living God.

Scholars note that apocalyptic literature is constantly “telescoping time.” Apocalyptic literature looks into the future through a telescope and sees the nearness of God’s coming Kingdom. Telescoping time does not invalidate John’s visionary work. John sees God’s Kingdom with clarity, but he merely misjudges the distance because of telescoping. One day, Jesus will return when the prophecy will all come true (Revelation 1:3).

The immediate recipients of John’s prophecy were to the seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern day western Turkey (Revelation 1:4). Seven is a number symbolizing completeness; therefore, these seven churches are representative of the Church. In his letter, John greeted the churches with the source of grace and peace. All grace and peace come from the Godhead (Trinity) – the eternal God who is, and was, and is to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness who reveals all truth to God’s faithful people (Revelation 1:4-5; see also John 3:32-33; John 18:37). John writes to assure God’s faithful people that the Godhead – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is ever-present with them.

Moreover, John reminds the churches that Jesus Christ was the first to rise from death to die no more and the Ruler of all the kings of the world (Revelation 1:5; see also Colossians 1:18; Revelation 19:16). The churches must give all glory and praise to Jesus Christ because He loves us and graciously freed us from our sins by shedding His sacrificial blood for us (Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9-14; see also Philippians 2:10-11). Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:10; see also John 3:16). Furthermore, Jesus Christ has made all faithful believers in Him a Kingdom of priests for God, His Father (Revelation 1:6; see also Revelation 5:10). At Mount Sinai, God promised that if the emerging Jewish nation would obey His voice and keep His commandments, He would make them a “kingdom of priest and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6; see also Isaiah 61:6). The early church understood itself to be in a genuine succession of Israel and thus the inheritors of all the blessings promised to Israel (see 1 Peter 2:5, 9-10). Corporately, the church is a Kingdom with Jesus Christ as Ruler and individually as priests. Therefore, all glory and power belong to Jesus Christ forever and ever (Revelation 1:6). Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, the Son of Man, Lion of Judah, the Revealer, and Word of God.

The focus and theme of Revelation is the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the definitive establishment of God’s Kingdom at the end times. The book of Revelation promises that Jesus Christ will come again surrounded by clouds; and every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him (Revelation 1:7; see also Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:69; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). John said that the nations would weep in sorrow and terror when Jesus comes! In reporting his visionary experiences, John uses various symbols, visions, and metaphorical language to describe Jesus Christ’s return and God’s Kingdom. Ultimately, John sees believers’ hopes fulfilled with Jesus Christ’s glorious return, God’s establishment of His Kingdom, and the final judgment of all sin. 

Based on Jesus Christ’s coming, the structure of Revelation involves a series of three seven-part judgments (see Revelation chapters 6 through 7; Revelation chapters 8 through 9, and Revelation chapter 16). Each judgment is parallel, yet ever progressing. Chapters 6 through 19 of Revelation are the most complicated, confusing, and the largest sections of the book. Most people avoid chapters 6 through 19 because of the sections' bloody, violent, and bizarre scenes of three judgments.

However, this middle section of Revelation repeatedly brings before the reader, but in climatic form, the struggle of God’s people but their victory over evil through the sovereign power and judgment of Almighty God and Jesus Christ (Revelation 6:15-17). Starting with chapter 6, Jesus as the Lamb breaks seven seals and judgment breakout on the earth. The judgments of Revelation are similar to the plagues sent to Egypt from the Old Testament book of Exodus. Even more, this middle section includes three interludes separating the judgment scenes – Revelation 7:1-17, Revelation 10:1-11:14, and then Revelation 14:6-20. In the interludes, John addresses faithful believers and brings comfort to God’s people during the time of judgment. Some scholars interpret these three sets of judgments from chapters 6 through 19 in a sequential fashion. However, most biblical scholars view these judgments as a recapitulation of the same judgment in three different vantage points. Essentially, each judgment retells the same story again but with a different emphasis or detail. Thus, most scholars believe John retells the same story with these three set of judgments in chapters 6 through 19 not as three sets of chronological judgments but the same judgment with three different vantage points.

Then in Revelation 1:8, the Lord God spoke to John and said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8, NIV). The true and living God is eternally existent, without beginning or end; and He is the sovereign Lord over the universe. We must love the Lord God with all our hearts, with all our soul, with all our mind, and all our strength (Matthew 22:37; see also Deuteronomy 6:5-6). In the book of Revelation, God speaks at the very beginning (Revelation 1:8) and the end of the book (see Revelation 21:5-6). Interestingly, John speaks about God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit interchangeably and without distinction throughout Revelation (see e.g., Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 22:13).

ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Metzger, Bruce. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).

Monday, October 10, 2016

Revelation’s Call for Faithfulness

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. Revelation 14:12 (ESV)

The book of Revelation is a unique book. Revelation engages readers’ imagination while also causing much confusion, misunderstanding, and mystery. Much of the confusion comes from Revelation chapters 6 through 19 with the book’s strange numbers, symbols, judgments, and peculiar visions experienced by John. Revelation chapters 1 through 5 and Revelation chapters 21 and 22 are often the most read chapters of Revelation. Understanding the Holy Bible is incomplete without reading all of Revelation. Revelation contains the most exalted and majestic portrait of the true and living God, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (see Revelation chapters 4 and 5).

Scholars classify Revelation as apocalyptic literature. Revelation describes the second coming of Jesus (Revelation 1:7), the judgment of God at the end of the age (Revelation 6 through 20), and the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21 and 22). Most of the Holy Scriptures focuses on God working within human history through various narrative stories, parables, and poetry. However, books such as Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation focus on God’s future reigning and judgment. Even more, Revelation is also prophetic such as the books of Old Testament books of Jeremiah and Amos. Revelation reveals the true and living God heaven and earth, and He is reigning, sovereign, omnipotent, and omnipresent (Revelation 4:1-11; Revelation 19:6; see also Exodus 15:11; 2 Chronicles 6:14, 18). Finally, the author John wrote Revelation as a letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor to assure the churches of God and His Son Jesus’ ever-presences with them (Revelation 2:1-3:22). Seven represents completion. Thus, John is writing to all churches of God and His Son’s care and presence.

One of Revelation’s themes is the importance of continual faithfulness and obedience to God and His Son, Jesus (see e.g., Revelation 12:17; Revelation 13:10; Revelation 14:12). At the time of John’s writing, the churches in Asia Minor were suffering at the hands of the Roman government. John assured the churches that God and His Son Jesus promised redemption, blessing, and victory for those who faithfully and obediently worshipped Him and His Son, Jesus, as their Lord and God (see e.g., Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26-29; Revelation 5:9-14; Revelation 14:3-5). As Jesus informed His disciples before His death and crucifixion, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NLT; see also Revelation 3:5, 12, 21; Revelation 21:7).

Scholars have dated John’s writing of Revelation as early as Claudius (A.D. 41-54) and as late as Trajan (A.D. 98-117). Many scholars believe John wrote Revelation approximately A.D. 95, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. Domitian enacted an old Roman practice of emperor worship, and he demanded all people worship him as “our lord and our god.” However, faithful Christians during Domitian’s reign refused to worship Domitian and only acknowledged God and His Son Jesus as “Lord and God.” The earliest Christian’s confession was that “Jesus is Lord” (see Revelation 19:16). The Christians’ refusal to worship Domitian led to severe persecution as the Roman government threatened and pressured early Christians to accept the practice of emperor worship. In fact, early church tradition believes that Domitian exiled John to the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony off the coast of Asia Minor, because of his faithful testimony of Jesus Christ (see Revelation 1:2, 9).

Some biblical scholars maintain that John wrote the book of Revelation during the latter part of Nero’s reign (A.D. 54 – 68). During Nero’s reign, faithful Christians suffered great persecution. In fact, Romans writings report that Nero even set fire to portions of Rome and unjustly blamed the Christians. Nero’s persecution of the Christians was so severe that even other Roman gentiles sympathized with the Christians. However, scholars note that Nero centered his persecution of Christian mainly in the city of Rome. Revelation primarily discusses Christian suffering persecution in Asia Minor. Scholars note that there was no evidence that Christians suffered persecution outside Rome during Nero’s reign.

Thus, most biblical scholars believe that John wrote Revelation during the harsh reign of Roman emperor Domitian (A.D. 81 - 96). Roman historical writings support Christians’ widespread suffering and persecution during Domitian’s reign. The book of Revelation does not specifically mention Domitian’s name or the Romans. However, John personified the Roman Empire as a beast who demanded universal worship (see e.g., Revelation 13:4; Revelation 14:9; Revelation 16:2; Revelation 19:20) and insisting that everyone bear his evil “mark” or be put to death (see e.g., Revelation 20:4).

In Revelation, John warned the churches against coming opposition and the importance of worshiping only God and His Son Jesus as “our Lord and God” (see e.g., Revelation 1:6; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:3, 10). Also, John wrote Revelation to encourage Christians to remain faithful to God and His Son Jesus as Lord (Revelation 1:18) and not compromise their faith (see e.g., Revelation 2:10; Revelation 20:4). Like the church today, accommodation and compromise were issues facing these early Christians. Some within the church were advocating a policy of compromise (see e.g., Revelation 2:14-15, 20).

Sadly, every Christian in every generation faces temptations to compromise to the world and their values. Previously, the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter wrote to the Church not to be conformed to this world’s values (see Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 1:14; 1 John 2:15). Revelation is John’s call to Christians to remain faithful to God and His Son, Jesus and not to accommodate or compromise their Christian values and worship the beast of this world. John assured Christians of God’s presence, redemption, and blessings as a reward for their continual faithfulness to Him and His Son Jesus as Lord. John encouraged Christians to stand firm against persecution and compromise in light of the return of Jesus to deliver the righteous and judge the wicked. At God's appointed time, the risen and ascended Jesus will burst onto the world scene and reveal He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14). Then everyone will know that Jesus is Lord of the universe (see also Philippians 2:6-11)!

Revelation promises a happy conclusion to all faithful worshippers of God and His Son Jesus. God would seal His faithful and holy servants from judgment and wrath by placing His name and Jesus’ name on their foreheads (see e.g., Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4). Even more, John says that God will create “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). On this new earth, there will be no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:4). God will be with His faithful servants, and they will reign with Him forever and ever (Revelation 22:2-5). Out of the bad news predicted in Revelation, Revelation ends with hope and good news – specular Good News. For all the faithful believers, Revelation becomes a book of hope that the faithful will be with Jesus forever.

So, REPENT of your sins and turn to God and His Son, Jesus (see Revelation 2:5, 16, 21-22; Revelation 3:3, 19; Revelation 16:11; see also Matthew 4:17). Revelation promises a happy ending is coming for the faithful of God!

New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Metzger, Bruce. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Interpreting Revelation

9 I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus. Revelation 1:9 (NLT)

The author of Revelation is identified throughout the book as John (see Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 22:8), and John was a prophet (Revelation 22:9). The book of Revelation reveals that the author was a Jew, well versed in the Holy Scriptures, a church leader, and a deeply devoted to Jesus. Revelation contains a series of symbolic visions that exhibit the influence of Old Testament prophecies, especially those received by the prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah.

Revelation is an unveiling or disclosure by the divine Author of the book, Jesus Christ to His servant John for communication to the church (Revelation 1:1-3). John was exiled to the island of Patmos for faithfully preaching the word of God and for his testimony about Jesus (Revelation 1:9). Patmos was a small island off the coast of Greece similar to Alcatraz. On that desolate island, John had a series of vision he wrote down as Revelation.

Early church tradition has identified this John as the son of Zebedee and the beloved disciple of Jesus, Apostle John (Matthew 10:2). The Apostle John was one of the original twelve Apostles of Jesus. If this John is the Apostle John, then John would have been very old and the last surviving eyewitness of Jesus and the twelve. However, some scholars have argued against the Apostle John’s authorship of Revelation since the writing style of Revelation is very different from that of the Gospel of John and the three Epistles of John – 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. However, some biblical scholars argue that the very nature of apocalyptic literature, the fact that this revelation was given in a vision, and the circumstances of John's being an exiled prisoner could easily account for the differences in writing style. John probably wrote Revelation 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Consequently, the problem of interpretation of Revelation is complex. Few people today agree on exactly what Revelation means. Because of the conflicting theories about Revelation, readers are tempted to respond in one of two ways. Some judge the book so complicated and confusing that they can find no reason to read Revelation. Others fall prey to the opposite, and they pour over Revelation to discover Revelation’s secrets while ignoring the rest of Scripture. Every generation since the first century has come up with different interpretations of the message from Revelation.

The book of Revelation can be difficult to understand with the book’s various visions and elaborate symbolism. Many scholars assumed that the first readers of Revelation in the first century knew the book’s original message without undue difficulty. With the passing of each generation and the apparent failure of the book’s eschatological promises to find fulfillment, confusion began to set in the church. Since the first century, there have endless variations for interpreting Revelation.

Traditionally, biblical scholars have established four major approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation. The benchmark that distinguishes each interpretation of Revelation is the future forecast. The early Christians saw Revelation as a forecast of the future but there were groups of Christians that rejected that idea of Revelation as a forecast.

First, the preterist interpretation, also called the contemporary-historical, understood the book of Revelation as exclusively regarding first-century setting, claiming that most of Revelation events have already taken place. The preterist only saw the last two chapters of Revelation as a forecast of future events and rejected any future orientation. Preterist believed that Revelation is not a book of the future but that author John was a responding to a current first-century problem of the church similar to Apostle Paul's first-century letters to the various churches. Thus, the preterist views Revelation as being fulfilled in the early history of the church. The preterist view developed early and prominent during the time of the Reformation. Most reformers were preterist.

The second approach is commonly called the historicist view. While the preterist placed the book of Revelation entirely within the first-century world, the historicist interprets Revelation as a forecast of the course of history from Patmos to the end of history. Historicist approach views Revelation as a symbolic depiction of the church’s history beginning with the first century and going to the end of the age with such events as the various popes, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, and individual leaders such as Mussolini. Thus, the historical view understands Revelation as portraying a panorama of the history of the church from the days of John to the end of time. This view is not very popular today because this view is strongly anti-Roman Catholic.

The third approach is the futurist or eschatological view. The futurist is prominent among writers who find in Revelation a major emphasis on the final victory of God over the forces of evil, the “Great Tribulation,” and the establishment of God’s everlasting Kingdom on earth. Many futurists regard everything from Revelation 4:1 to the end of the book as belonging to future events. Futurists are the very opposite of preterist. Preterist believes the book of Revelation focuses primarily on first-century while the futurists support prediction seekers of future events. The futurist views are depicted in such movies at the Left Behind series. Essentially, the futurist says that the book of Revelation is a forecast of future events and those strange visions and symbols are predicting events in our current day. Interestingly, if a futurist makes a prediction and that prediction does not come true, then the futurists makes another revision.

The fourth method of interpretation is the idealist or timeless symbolic. Idealist views Revelation as literature that does not reference to any specific historical event but as an expression of the eternal truths as the victory of good verse evil. The idealists see Revelation as a theological poem setting for the ageless struggle between the Kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. The idealist view is popular in university settings and church setting where Christians see the book of Revelation as a form of literature of the endless battle of good versus evil.

Possibly, the book of Revelation is both futurist and preterist. Revelation is a “prophecy” (Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:7) not only of future events but also of God’s message for the present. The theme of Revelation focuses on the risen Jesus and His second coming. The author John writes about the living and glorious Jesus, which is the second part of Easter (see Revelation 1:7, 18; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 19:11-16). Jesus is the slain and risen Lamb to whom worship is directed (see Philippians 2:6-11). When God raised Jesus from total death, Jesus ended evil and death. However, Jesus’ death and resurrection did not have much impact at the first Easter except Jesus’ close followers that witnessed the living Jesus (see e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). The New Testament says that when God raised Jesus from the dead, Satan's reign ended and Jesus’ death purchased redemption for all who faithfully believe in Him (see Revelation 5:5-14; Revelation 12:10-11). Thus, Revelation is Jesus’ second coming and the second act of Easter (see Revelation 19:11-21). No one knows when Jesus will return nor how specifically Jesus will return (see e.g., Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32-35; Acts 1:7). John uses metaphorical language and not literal language in Revelation to describe the end of the ages. John's description of the end of the age is beyond comprehension and therefore John uses metaphorical language.

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ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
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Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of the New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).