Revelation 21-22: New Heavens & New Earth, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Tonight, I want to start by reading a little bit to you from C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  It’s the last book in the series and it’s called The Last Battle.  In it, Lewis tries to explain the difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia.  As you listen, think about your reading in Rev 21-22 of the New Heavens and Earth.  (This story is going to give us a picture of what that new earth is like).

“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste.  Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.  You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains.  And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass.  And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking-glass.  And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.  The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that.  The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.  I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.” (Lewis,The Last Battle, 212-3)

Tonight we’re going to look at God’s glorious picture of the New Heavens and Earth. I want you to think back over our past few lessons, what are some things we’ve spoken of happening at the 2nd coming?

  • spoke about judgment: either you have believed in Christ as savior and been covered by his blood and his work on the cross at the judgment, or you stand based on your own works, which over and over the Bible tells us is not sufficient to win any favor with God: only trusting your life to him is.
  • God’s kingdom becoming kingdom on earth
  • peace

Great, these are all things that will happen at the 2nd coming.  The last picture we get from Revelation is this vision of Rev 21-22: the New Heavens and Earth. Get out your Bibles. We’re going to be flipping around, and I want you to look at and see the different passages we’re discussing. Open to Revelation 21…  We’re going to look in these chapters at 3 sections; we’re going to organize it into 3 parts: 1) A Preview of the New Heavens and Earth in Ch. 21:1-8, 2) A Description of the City in 21:9-22:5, and 3) A Final Call in 22:6-21.

Revelation 21:1-8: A Preview of the New Heavens and Earth

First, 21:1-8: A Preview.  The first 8 verses are a sort of bridge from last week’s talk, where Ashley went through the sections on the judgment of all people, either to eternal life or death in the lake of fire.  The verses we went through ended with the judgment and a focus on the negative side of God’s judgment: what happens to those who don’t believe.  (I know last week’s material was tough.  I know many of you left with a lot of questions about God and left feeling burdened.  But Ashley pointed us to the hope that we have in Christ as well.  ) These 8 verses show us the positive side of God’s judgment, what happens to those who do believe.  This is what’s in store for those who believe and are covered in the blood of Christ, who have washed their robes in his blood. These verses also give us a preview of what we’ll see in the rest of Chs. 21 and 22.  This vision is so beautiful and important.  Let’s look at some of it together.

Read Rev 21:1-5

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.””

What are some things that John sees?  What do we learn in this passage?

  • We learn about the New heaven and earth, New Jerusalem, bride, God dwelling with man, being their God
  • he will wipe away their tears, no more death or mourning or crying or pain!

I want to focus right now on two things in this section: the “old” order of things and the “new” order of things…

The “old” order of things

Verse 4 speaks of “the old order of things” passing away and verse 5 of God “making everything new.”  These verses tell of a start of something new, a new creation that will happen.  Turn to 2 Cor 5:17, Paul says here that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Interesting…Paul uses the exact language that John in Revelation has used.  Paul also says that “the old has passed away” (but Paul’s not talking about the 2nd coming, he’s speaking in the past tense in his own day).  He says the new has come.  The new has already broken into the current creation.

Why does he say we are a new creation if we’re in Christ?  Why does Paul say this?  Well, when we were baptized and believed, scripture tells us that we entered into Christ’s death and resurrection.  So if anyone is in Christ, you have entered into new creation.  We’ve entered into Christ’s triumph over death and the old “order” of things.

We, like Jesus, will receive resurrected bodies.  Our current bodies won’t be destroyed, like his wasn’t, but they will be transformed and immortal.  Jesus, in his resurrected body, ate, drank, was recognizable to his friends, had scars, but was also glorious beyond words.  Jesus’ resurrected body shows us what happens to the old order of things when they have been made new…  When God says he is making all things new, it doesn’t mean he is making them from scratch, but he’s taking what we see in the current, or old, order of things and making them glorious, transforming them.

Back in Revelation 21, verse 1, it says that “the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”  The heaven and earth we know of are part of the old order of things then.  Well, what does that mean for our current earth? What happens to the earth we live on?  Is it destroyed, is it burned up, where does it go?  Is it worth caring for how we treat the earth?

Read Romans 8:18-22:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.   22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

This passage, in verse 19, says that the creation waits in eager expectation.  So the creation is waiting for the 2nd coming.  Verse 21 says that at that time, the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage, and it will be brought into glorious freedom.

That doesn’t sound like the earth is going to be destroyed and burned up, does it?  Paul is saying that the earth too is waiting for redemption, like our bodies are.  So when Rev 21:1 says that “a new heaven and a new earth” come, we see not a death to the old, but a new creation.  A freedom from the effects of sin and the curse that the earth has been under since Adam first sinned.  It will be glorious, that is what the new heavens and earth will be, a redeemed and whole and perfect form of what we currently see around us, of all the beauty that we are able to see even now, but in much greater form.  So our bodies and our current earth will be made imperishable, they will be new creations.

The New Order of Things

So Revelation 21:1-5 gives us a glimpse of what new creation will look like.  There will be no more tears, no more death or crying or pain.  There will be new, resurrected bodies, and a new heaven and earth.  Remember the story I just read from C.S. Lewis, he described the new order by saying: “it’s like looking into that mirror, but seeing that things are in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time, they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.” The opening section of Rev 21 gives us a picture of the new order of things.

So, is this vision of the new heavens and new earth, something that came along in the NT?  Have you even heard of this before?  Well, this is not a new story.  This isn’t something new that Jesus spoke when he came, actually, the new heavens and the new earth were prophesied about, long before Jesus ever came. Turn to Isaiah 65:17-20…  I want you to see the similarities between what the OT prophesied and what John saw.

17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; 

Isaiah prophesies of this future peace, of the New Heavens and Earth, of a New Jerusalem that will be a joy and a delight to his people.  He goes on to say that they will dwell there, they will build houses that will be theirs forever, they will plant vineyards and eat the fruit, and no longer will they toil in vain. So back in Revelation 21, John sees a vision of this same New Heavens and Earth, this same New Jerusalem that Isaiah had prophesied about nearly 2500 years ago.

Revelation 21:9-22:5: A Description of the City

So, let’s turn to the 2nd section of our reading Chapter 21:9-22:5.  If the first 8 verses of the chapter gave us a preview of the New Heavens and Earth and the New Jerusalem, this next section gives us a description of them. The section from verses 9-14 describes the New Jerusalem.  Look in verse 9, an angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.” Remember that in the past few weeks, we’ve talked about how the bride of Christ is the church.  In verse 10, the angel takes John up “in the Spirit to a mountain great and high” to show him the bride, and he sees a city coming down out of heaven from God.  The city is the bride, it is the church. In verse 11, it says the city shines “with the glory of God, and its brilliance is like that of a very precious jewel.”  In verses 12-14, we see the number 12 showing up again with the 12 tribes of Israel represented in the gates of the city and the 12 apostles in the foundation of the city.  The entire church of the OT and NT is represented and seen in this city.

Measurement 

In verses 15-17, John sees the angel measure the city.  The NIV translation keeps the original numbers, so that we can see their symbolic significance.  We see a multiple of the number 12 again.  The city is 12,000 stadia in length, and in width, and in height.  It’s a perfect cube.  But just to give you a visual of the size of what is described here, 12,000 stadia is equal to roughly 1,400 miles.  This is roughly the distance from here to Los Angeles.  So the length is described as the distance from Dallas to LA (this is a city), the width is the same length, and so is the height.  Well, when the World Trade Center was still standing, it was only one ¼ of a mile tall.  ¼ of a mile.  This city is 1400 miles high.  My point isn’t to tell you this will literally be the dimensions of the city, I don’t know, but these numbers are the same highly symbolic numbers we’ve seen over and over again the last few weeks.

Jewels 

Next, verses 18-21 speak of the beauty that this city and the bride are covered in.  She is covered in rare and precious jewels.  The bride is dressed for the final feast, decked in jewels for her husband, Christ (21:2).  There are twelve of them.  Twice in verses 18, then 21, we learn that the city and its streets are of pure gold, somehow as pure and transparent as glass.

No More Temple

Next, in verses 22-27, we see the fulfillment of two biblical themes.  The first theme is God dwelling among his people: verse 22 says there is no more need for a temple, because God is the temple.  God will dwell perfectly among his people.  In the OT, God had to be separate from his people because of his holiness and their/our unholiness.  In our broken condition, we weren’t given direct access to God, not until Jesus came.  Through the Holy Spirit, we gained that access to God.  He dwells in us now.  We have a foretaste of that access to God.

God is Light

The second biblical theme is carried out in verse 23-25, is that of God as light.  When Jesus came the first time, he said “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  We have a foretaste of it now, when we seek and follow God, he does enlighten us, “his word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto the way” (Ps 119:105).  In the new city, we will know this perfectly.  The sun and moon won’t be our sources of light, but God and the Lamb will be (see also Isa 60:19-20).  Verse 24tells us that the nations will walk by the light of God.  Like I saw a few weeks ago, our races and identities aren’t going to be wiped out.  We’re not going to all look the same in heaven.  Even here we see that the nations are visibly recognizable.

Verses 25-27 speak of the city’s security with no need for protection-the gates are open.Verse 27 says it’s a city that will only be inhabited by those whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life.  This is the future for the church: for Christ’s bride, and we have a foretaste of it now.

Creation/New creation motifs

As we move into Ch. 22, we continue getting a picture of what this future city will be.  The first 5 verses are meant to make us think of the Garden of Eden from Genesis 1-3.  In verse 1, the angel shows John “the river of the water of life…flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city.”  In Gen 2:10 (through v. 14), there was a river that watered the entire garden.  But now, it’s called the river of life.  Ezekiel andJoel, OT prophets, spoke of the waters of life that God would give to his people (Ezek 47:12; Joel 3:18).  If you were here last fall, you heard Ashley teaching on John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well, who Jesus offers living water (John 4:10-14).  That living water, we learned in John 7 was the life that the Holy Spirit gives us (John 7:37-39).  So we see that we have a foretaste even now of new creation.  We have access to this river of life, through the Holy Spirit.

The waters of life, the Holy Spirit, give us rest when we’re weary.  When you feel pulled in many directions, whether from too much travel or being in a new city.  The living water from the Holy Spirit gives us peace and rest.  It nourishes our soul, especially when we feel distant from God… we must ask for his Holy Spirit to fill us even more, to give us the water of life.  God, through Christ, already offers us wholeness and restoration from our broken lives, even now.

Verse 2 recalls the tree of life, except now this tree super-abundant.  It’s on both sides of the river, it has 12 different types of fruit on it, and it bears fruit once a month.  And, notice that the garden is in the midst of the city.  Our lives are moving towards a city, not a return to the garden.  In verse 3, we see that the curse will be finally gone.  We won’t be exhausted from our work and have little to show for it.  We won’t feel like we have to prove ourselves to anyone.  There will still be work, but no more toil in work.  We know this because even Adam in the garden had work before the fall (he had to name the animals), but it was only after the fall that his work was hard and a burden.  This work won’t be anything like we can imagine, because it won’t be under the curse.  Work will be redeemed and transformed; it will be joyful and fulfilling.

Christ came and was crucified, died on the cross, to begin this work, to give us freedom from the effects of sin to show us what new creation is.  This is what the NT is about.  The new creation has begun and yet we see that there’s a radical transformation that’s still to come.

Already/Not-yet

So, now we’ve learned a lot more about the New Heavens and Earth, about the new city called Jerusalem that is coming to this restored and whole earth.

We’ve seen that it’s a future hope, one that is still to come, but I’ve spoken of it as a foretaste, as something present already.  We see glimpses of it in this earth already.  This is what people mean when they speak of “the already/not-yet.” We have a foretaste of new creation already, but not yet fully.

So, it’s not just a totally future hope.  God calls us now to be a part of his kingdom work, of bringing wholeness now to earth, living into the resurrection work Christ has begun.  We are called to live this way, but we don’t do it out of duty, but out of love and thankfulness that God wants to have us be a part of his work, part of his will here on earth.  We are motivated by what God has already started and what he’s done in our own lives.

How can you and I be a part of bringing God’s restoration right now in our own areas of life?

  • engaging the work of “shalom,” restoring God’s peace
  • in our relationships– apologizing and telling someone they hurt you instead of avoiding them
  • to the earth– our part in caring for it-recycling, paying attention to things that corrupt- being a part of change; social causes that have eternal significance

Remember that Christ’s resurrection is what began the change in the old order of things on earth!  Remember too, that Christ died to make this possible.  His death and resurrection are what motivates us.  Ultimately, he is the one who will accomplish it, but he graciously and lovingly invites us, calls us, to join him in his work.

Revelation 22:6-21: A Final Call

As we turn to the final section of these chapters, Ch. 22, verses 6-21, we see John, the angel and Christ all giving final exhortations, final encouragements for the church.   In verse 6, the angel testifies to the trustworthiness of these words, of these visions.  In verse 7, Christ reminds us that he is coming soon.  In verse 8, John testifies that he heard and saw all these things, and then in verse 9, he does the same funny thing that Ashley brought out last time inRev 19:10.  He’s so overwhelmed and taken aback by everything that’s been revealed to him that he falls down and worships the first thing he sees, the angel, who says “get up, don’t worship me, worship God.”  Verse 10 says: the time is near.

In verses 12-16Christ speaks again, reminding us of who he is, what he does and what we’ve already learned about him from the rest of the book of Revelation.  He is coming soon, he gives his reward, he’s the beginning and the end, and he clothes us in his blood, gives eternal life, and judges the actions of those who aren’t wearing the clothes he bought for us with his life. He is the one who sent his angel to give this testimony for the churches, for us.

Invitation

As the book ends in verses 17-21, we see even here an invitation to come to Christ (it’s kind of like the Bible’s last altar call).  Even in the last verses of the Bible, God is still reaching out to people saying come to me.  In verse 17, the Spirit and the bride, the church, say “Come!”  All you who are thirsty: come.  All who want to take the free gift of life: come.  God doesn’t want us to miss his call, to miss this free gift which he gives willingly and lovingly, at the cost of his life.

Verses 18-19 describe what will happen to anyone who changes the words of this book.  This may seem like a strange way to end, but it’s actually very similar to how the last book of the OT, Malachi, ends as well: with a blessing and a curse.

In verse 20, we hear Christ speaking again, saying these things are true. He says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Then we with John say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”  And verse 21 ends with a benediction, like other letters, saying “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, life on this earth matters.  It’s the beginning of a life that will continue without end-this life is the precursor of the life on the new earth.  When we follow Christ, and invite him into our lives, this has already begun; our lives have greater importance.  Our lives take on purpose and meaning.  We have purpose.

I want to close by reading to you from The Jesus Storybook Bible (by Sally Lloyd-Jones) about the end of Revelation:

“One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again.  And he knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for once having been so sad. And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun. ‘I’m on my way,’ said Jesus.  ‘I’ll be there soon!’ John came to the end of his book.  But he didn’t write ‘The End.’ Because, of course, that’s how stories finish. (And this one’s not over yet.) So instead, he wrote: ‘Come quickly, Jesus!’ Which, perhaps, is really just another way of saying… To be continued…”


Questions for Application and Discussion:

  • How should the idea of new creation already being here, yet not being here fully, affect the way you live your life right now? How?
  • What are ways that you personally can be a part of God’s plan for this earth?

Revelation 12-20 Overview

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What I really want to do tonight is give a birds eye view of Revelation. We are not going into detail and interpreting every little thing, but instead we are trying to give an overall understanding of what Revelation is about and also an understanding of the structure and what it generally means. So it would be like seeing a play and then giving someone a 3 or 4 bullet pointed explanation of the jist of the plot based on what happened in each act without getting into every little detail. So let’s start by reviewing what we learned last week which is very important to understanding what we’ll talk about tonight.

  1. How to approach Revelation – As we seek to understand the strange content we find in this book of the Bible it is important to remember that Revelation is a picture book, not a puzzle. We are not suppose to approach it to decode some secret message, but instead to look at the visual imageries and allusions it gives us to understand the spiritual reality of the world we live in today and of what will come in the end. Revelation helps us to make sense of the things we see in our world today, it shows us that God and Christ are at the center of it all, and it points us to the second coming of Christ and the reality of eternity which those who believe in Christ will receive. What we read in Revelation is meant to encourage and nourish us as we live in a fallen world where evil and Satan are present and working, to help us to endure to the end because of the victory of God that is sure to come. Most of what is in Revelation is already in the New Testament but is present here in symbolic form. So to understand the message of Revelation is to have an eternal perspective on the things that happen in our lives today.
  1. What is the 2nd Coming – Another thing to remember, which this is all leading up to, is the Second Coming. The first coming of Christ was when He came to earth as a man and lived for 33ish years. So the second coming is when He will return to earth to gather believers. Matt 24:30-31 (also in Luke 17).

“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

So when Jesus returns he will gather those who belong to Him and user in the renewal of the earth.

  1. The 7 cycles of judgment – Look at the Handout. The area between the lines are the 7 cycles of judgments. The bulk of the book of Revelation is a repeating pattern of judgments, most of them carried out in a cycle of 7, and the pattern repeats 7 times. The significance of the number 7 throughout the Bible is that it signifies something that is perfect and complete. As Keeley told us last week, we are not suppose to understand these cycles as occurring in chronological order, but instead as parallel, repeating the same themes of God’s judgment leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. If you remember some of the themes are destruction of the earth, of our resources, of commerce, of those who do not believe in Christ (the inhabitants of the earth), and so on…all as a part of God’s judgment on the wicked. But each cycle offers a unique vantage point on God’s judgment and the later cycles focus more on the most intense phases of conflict and on the 2nd Coming. Keeley gave us a good picture of this by telling us to think of them as each being stacked on top of the other. And another aspect of the pattern of these cycles that we learned last week is that in each cycle there is a sort of interlude, between the 6th and 7th cycle of the numbered cycles, in which the people of God are given a promise to comfort them and encouraged them to endure.

CH. 12-14 THE SEVEN SYMBOLIC HISTORIES & FIGURES

We are starting tonight with the 3rd cycle of 7’s. This cycle is distinct from the first 2 in that rather than a series of numbered “events” focused on the judgments of God, we are given 7 un-numbered figures/characters and their histories which depict spiritual warfare. So let’s walk through these, and I want you to look at the verses as we talk about them. Beginning in chapter 12, verses 1-6 begin with a brief opening scene which introduces us to the woman and the dragon. Then the following verses unfold the story/history of each.

  1. The Woman – The Woman’s story is told in verses 13-17, but she is described in 12:1 as being clothed with the sun. She represents God’s people, the church. And the characteristic of the church that is depicted is that of being a witness of God’s light. And we also see a picture of the Messiah being born out of the people of God.

 

  1. The Dragon – In verses 7-12 we read about the dragon. We are explicitly told in 12:9 that the dragon is Satan, who is the head of the evil spiritual forces in our world. His actions represent his nature to constantly oppose the plans and people of God. His seven heads represent the different ways in which Satan manifests his power. When he fails to destroy Christ, he takes out his wrath on the woman, the people of God, but God protects those who are His.

 

  1. The Beast – In Ch. 13 we are introduced to the beast (v.1-10) and in v.2 it says the beast’s power and authority comes from the dragon, satan. Most likely the beast is not a person, but represents political powers. Powers that might demand worship and persecute those who won’t worship them. Or it could be more subtle in it’s insistence to be looked at as the cure to all earthly problems and trials, in a sense like a messiah. The beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, what people are to look to instead of Christ. So the Beast represents human institutions that are created to have power and authority over people and to meet our needs instead of Christ.

 

  1. The False Prophet – Starting in 13:11-18 we read that another beast comes who has authority on behalf of the first beast and who made the people worship the first beast. If the first beast is Satan’s replacement of Christ, who would the false prophet be? A replacement of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit leads believers to worship and know Christ, the false prophet leads non-believers to worship and know the beast. Just as God puts a seal on those who belong to Him, the false prophet marks those who follow the beast.

 

  1. The 144,000 – Again, we are given in 14:1-5 a description of God’s people but this time it is of the 144,000 who (v.4) “did not defile themselves with women, [but] kept themselves pure” So first the church is shown as those who witness to the truth, but now they are shown as those who have remained pure and separate from the way the world has become corrupted.

 

  1. 3 Angelic Messengers – In 14:6-11 we read that three angels come to offer three messages. Their role is to give a final warning that judgment is coming for those who have not repented. Not only will Babylon (who we will talk about in a little bit) fall, but those who don’t repent will face God’s wrath.

 

  1. The Son of Man – 14:14-20 provide us with the 7th figure, the Son of Man, Jesus. This is a vision of the Second Coming of Christ when Christ will come to harvest those who belong to him. We are also given a picture of God’s wrath on those who don’t belong to Him as grapes being trampled on in a winepress.

This clear picture is meant to give believers a strong picture that there are two sides to the spiritual battle that we live in. There is no gray. There are not “many ways” that lead to heaven, there is only one. In the end, we will be found to be on one side or the other. So part of having an eternal perspective is understanding the spiritual reality of the world we live in.

In 14:12-13 we read the interlude for this cycle. What encouragement is given to the saints? To endure patiently, to obey God’s commands, and to remain faithful to Christ. And then a reminder is given that those who die in the Lord are blessed, they will receive spiritual rest because of how they lived.

CH 15-16 THE SEVEN BOWLS OF GOD’S WRATH

Next we find another numbered cycle of 7 judgments. In chapters 15-16 we read of seven bowls of God’s wrath that are poured upon the earth bringing 7 plagues as judgment against evil-doers. The plagues are horrible and bring complete and final destruction upon the earth. They communicate to us again, that God’s judgment will come upon the earth and He will destroy evil and wickedness completely. And there are just a few interesting things here I want to point out:

16:5-7 In these verses the angel in charge of pouring out the bowl of wrath on the waters to turn them to blood, stops and proclaims….

“You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6 for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” 7 And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”

“The altar responded”, what does that mean? Who was under the alter in Rev. 6:9? The “altar” refers to those who had been killed for their faith in Christ.

Just as we recognize God’s goodness, His love, His mercy as being good and right. We must also too recognize, like the angel here, that His justice  and judgments are good and right. As we talked about a couple weeks ago, we can’t just worship God because of ½ of who He is, we worship Him for the whole of who He is which includes what we read here. When we read of God’s wrath it should not cause us to question Him, but to stand in awe of Him.

16:15 Is the interlude, the encouragement for the saints. It says,

“Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

In light of these horrible plagues that will come upon the earth as a result of God’s wrath, the saints are encouraged to stay awake, to not become complacent or lukewarm, but to stay strong in their faith. Then they are told to keep their clothes on, which represents Christ, the truth, spirit, God’s Word, which covers over our sins so we will not be found to be naked and shamefully exposed. So in the  midst of this terrifying description of what God’s wrath on the earth, mankind, and evil will look like, believers are suppose to hold fast to their faith and be clothed with the righteousness of Christ, knowing His wrath will not be directed at them.

CH 17-19:10 BABYLON JUDGED & CHURCH VINDICATED

So now we turn to the 5th cycle of 7’s. And it begins when one of the angels holding one of the 7 bowls takes John to see the fate of “the great prostitute.” So look at chapter 17 and we’ll figure out who this is referring to.

Verses 1-6 describe for us who the “great prostitute” is. These verses tell us…

  • kings of the earth committed adultery with her
  • the inhabitants of the earth/non-believers got drunk on her adulteries
  • sits on a 7 headed scarlet beast – look at 13:1, this is the beast!
  • dressed in purple/scarlet, glittering gold, precious stones, pearls
  • held a golden cup full of abominable things & filth of her adulteries
  • Wore the title: Mystery, Babylon the Great, Mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.
  • She was drunk with the blood of the saints

So what would this mean she represents in our world today?

  • She represents the seductions of the world – worldliness, pleasure, sensuality, power, wealth, and so on.
  • She is the worship of anything other than Christ – idolatry & false religions or beliefs
  • And what does it tell us by describing her as riding the beast? That she is directly connected to the beast, has the same goals, and the same father: Satan.
  • She seduced the world to give her allegiance
  • Babylon represents everything apart from Christ which seduces us away from a life lived for Christ and according to God’s ways.

And, what we see next are 7 judgments against Babylon… 17:7-18:8 The judgment on Babylon begins with three messages/announcements

  1. Explains that war will be waged against he lamb but the lamb will overcome and Babylon will be destroyed. (17:7-18)
  2. Announces that Babylon has fallen. (18:1-3)
  3. Warns the saints to come out from Babylon to not take part in her sins or her fall. (18:4-8)

18:9-20 The judgment comes in the form of laments from those who were “friends” of Babylon, whose lives and lively hoods depended on her, who looked to her for their prosperity and well-being.

  1. The kings of the earth will be terrified and mourn over Babylon’s destruction (9-10)
  2. Merchants will weep and mourn over the loss of commerce and profit (11-17a)
  3. Sea Captains/Sailors will weep and mourn over the same and look longingly at the city burning (17b-19)

When Babylon falls their lives are ruined, their lives lose meaning, they are lost without her because they were dependent on her and had built their lives upon her foundation.

18:21-24 Then we read the 7th pronouncement against Babylon in 18:21-24. An angel announces the final destruction of Babylon and focuses on the finality of it, that it is irreversible and complete.

19:1-10 After the 7 proclamations of judgment against Babylon the vision is followed by a sound of celebration from heaven. As John looks upon this scene of utter destruction of Babylon, he hears rejoicing in heaven. In v. 1 it describes it as a roar of a great multitude shouting, in v.6 he says it was like the sound of rushing waters and loud peals of thunder. We could only imagine what it was like. But we can see what hearing this praise in heaven caused John to do in v.10, he fell to his knees and began worshipping the angel, which of course the angel stopped and told him to worship God!

How can we summarize the message of this 5th cycle? What is it’s unique vantage point? How is it different from the previous 4 cycles?

  • It shows clearly that those who live for worldly things are living for something that is from Satan and is not eternal. And when it is taken away they will be left with nothing, lost and confused.
  • As Christians we talk about this, but do we really believe that it will absolutely and definitely come to an end? That the destruction of worldly powers and institutions will be irreversible and complete?
  • For those whose lives were built on the foundation of Christ and the truth there really will be incredible rejoicing and celebration.
  • So when we are feeling left out from the things of the world because of our faith and the choices we make, this is where we should turn for encouragement knowing that what we live our lives for is eternal.

CH 19:11-21 THE FINAL BATTLE

Now the 6th and 7th cycles are different in structure than the first 5 and do not give us a “numbered” account of God’s judgment but instead focus on the final judgment. The 6th cycle which we find at the end of chapter 19 focuses primarily on the Second Coming of Christ and what happens immediately before and after it. And we are given a very vivid and tangible picture of the consummation of spiritual warfare and what it is about.

In the first half of this passage, verses 11-16, there is a detailed description of Christ. And each aspect of this description affirms His right and authority to judge the world and to conquer evil. When Jesus returns He will come to redeem those who are saved and renew the world, but part of that is the complete and final destruction of evil. So this passage focuses on that aspect of Jesus’ return before then turning to the redemption of His people and of the earth.

Then, in verses 17-21 we are given an image of what this destruction will be like… Verse 20 tells us that the beast and the false prophet will both be thrown alive into the lake of burning sulfur, which is hell. The lake of burning sulfur is always final and irreversible….so they are destroyed fully and finally when Christ returns. Then verse 21 says those who followed the beast and the false prophet, will be killed by the sword in the mouth of Christ, which is the Truth/God’s Word. Their death will come as a result of their rejection of Christ. And verses 17 & 21 tells us that the birds of the air will eat the dead remains of kings, generals, mighty men, and so on. And throughout the OT this is the picture of a dishonorable death. Jezebel and Ahab’s bodies were eaten by dogs as if they were animals themselves. This is the same, those people who lived for the things of this world and for themselves and were “honored” in this world will die in the most dishonorable way.

So this passages reminds us that Jesus will return, that He will conquer evil, and that those who have not put their faith in Him and who live for the things of this world will be judged by His Word and face eternal death because of it.

CH 20: REIGN OF THE SAINTS & THE LAST JUDGMENT

The final cycle is found in chapter 20 and it is going to focus on the destruction of Satan and the judgment of mankind. If you remember from chapters 12-14 we were first introduced to the dragon/Satan, then the beast, then the false prophet, then in chapter 17 to the prostitute/Babylon. Each is in a way built upon the other. And their destruction has happened in the opposite order, leading us to the foundation of them all, Satan. If you look at chapter 20 we can basically divide it into two sections.

The Fate of Satan – 20:1-10

The first section deals with the fate of Satan. In verses 1-6 we learn that Satan is bound for 1000 years and during this period of time he is kept from deceiving the nations and those who have been martyred in Christ are resurrected and reign with Christ in heaven.

Again, we are not going to get into the little details for now, but what we need to do is understand overall what is going on here. The first week we presented to you the different views of the 1000 years called the Millennium. (handout on the dresser). So we know that there are many different takes on what this 1000 years refers to and if it chronologically will follow the Second Coming of Christ or not.

But if you follow the view that these cycles are not chronological but instead develop and unfold the principals and concepts of God’s judgment leading to the Second Coming and that these cycles are symbolic not literal – then we would believe that we are living in the time of Satan being bound now. While he is active and working on earth, because of the death & resurrection of Christ, his power is limited and the gospel of Christ is being spread and the kingdom is growing. The reign of Christ on earth began at the resurrection and continues in the hearts of all believers until the Second Coming of Christ.

Then verses 7-10 tell us Satan’s sure fate. He will gather his followers in all the nations to war against Christ, but Christ will destroy them all. And, satan will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the prostitute, the false prophet, and the beast have all been thrown. So regardless of your view of the millennium the overall message here is the same. Satan will be fully and finally defeated.

The Fate of Non-Believers – 20:11-15

All of evil has been destroyed. But now each and every person will be judged “according to what they have done as recorded in the books” that are in heaven. And we are told in verse 15 that these books include the book of life which holds the names of those who belong to Christ. Chapter 21 will deal with the fate of believers but first we learn what is the fate of those who did not put their trust in Christ, of non-believers.

v.12 Gives us an image similar to that of a courtroom. Where every person stands before the judge and is held accountable for how they lived.

v.15 But what it says in verse 15 is really what seals the deal. For those whose names are not listed in the book of life, their sins are not covered over with the blood of Christ. And because their sins are not atoned for, and they are unable to atone for their sin, they too are thrown into the lake of fire. Verse 14 tells us this is the second death. The first death was physical, but this death is spiritual and final.

And again, the message we hear in this final cycle is that God has the greatest authority, that all He has said will happen will come to pass, that evil will be judged, He will conquer and destroy all evil, and all of mankind will be held to account and face an eternal fate. While the passage we ended on tonight is sort of a downer, for those who have put their faith in Christ it is meant to be an encouragement. When we stand before the throne, if our names are in the book of life, we will not face the second and final death. This is meant to give us hope and encouragement in our lives today no matter what we are facing so that we will stand fast and hold tight to our faith.

Questions for discussion & Application:

●       The beast, the false prophet, and Babylon all represent the things we are tempted to turn to and worship aside from Christ, the things that seduce the people of the world. What are some of those things in our world today and what do you struggle most with?

●       If the main message of the book of Revelation is to give us hope as believers, how can we apply what is in Revelation to the struggles and temptations that we face today? Try to offer an example of something you are struggling with right now.

Revelation 4-11 Overview, By Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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A 12-year-old girl read the book of Revelation for the first time. When she finished, a teacher her asked her if she understood it. She said, “I think so. It’s kind of like a fantasy, except I knew it was true.” Years later, when the teacher retold this story, an adult student came up to the same teacher and said “I felt like that 12-year-old girl. I remember reading it when I was around that age and thinking I understood it, but now I understand it less and less!” (adapted from Poythress, The Returning King).

As we dive into the visions, symbolism, and imagery of Revelation over the next three weeks, let’s try not to overanalyze the book, but to read it like a 12-year-old, and view it from an imaginative, creative point-of-view, where it reads like a fantasy, except we know it is true.

Apocalyptic Genre
Revelation reads like a fantasy because it is in the genre of “apocalypse.” Apocalypse isn’t a genre most of us are familiar with, like we might be with the gospels, or letters, or historical books of the Bible. But, knowing the genre helps us know how to read and interpret better the section of the Bible that we are dealing with.

So what does it mean that Revelation is in the genre of “apocalypse”? During the time between 200BC and AD400 (surrounding the time of Christ), there was a huge influx of writings in this genre. We know of at least 12 writings in this style, and in the Bible, there are examples in parts of books and more fully in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation.

An “apocalypse” was a particular style of Jewish writing that had several key features. Apocalypses were known for revealing “secret things” of God, which are normally not accessible to humans; for speaking of a great catastrophic event that will establish God’s rule; for bizarre and wild symbols that tell us about historical movements or events; for visions of things in heaven; and for a concern about the end times. In John’s day, readers of this book would have recognized this type of genre and would not have thought it to be as wild and fantastical as we think it is. The use of complex symbolism was “in the air” during the time this book was written. Revelation is not presenting “new” ideas, but is repeating a lot of the themes and ideas found elsewhere in the NT, but in symbolic form. The visions given to John add color and expression to things that our minds couldn’t otherwise grasp.

As a reminder, Ashley and I are teaching from the perspective that is called amillennialism, which is the belief that we currently live in the end times where Christ reigns now over the earth from a throne in heaven (and not from a future throne on earth). Even within the “amillennial” perspective, there are still many ways of understanding the symbolism of Revelation.

For your reference, I want to give you an outline of what we’re going to cover tonight. We’re going to divide tonight’s (long) reading into 3 sections 1) Chs. 4-5: The Throne Room, 2) Chs. 6-8:1: The 7 Seals, then 3) Chs. 8:2 through the end of Ch. 11: The 7 Trumpets.

Revelation 4-5: God and Christ at the Center of the Throne Room
The first section of our outline is chapters 4-5: The focus of these chaptersis on the throne room of heaven with God and Christ at the center of it all, ruling from the throne. These chapters will be the anchor for the rest of the book… John’s vision starts with him being taken up “in Spirit” to the throne room. God’s place at the center will give spiritual security to his people(they can’t be harmed or lost spiritually)and it will give his people, us, confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Chapter 4
In Chapter 4, we see God is worthy as Creator. There’s an angelic court surrounding him. There are 24 elders, who are seen to represent the entire church from OT and NT times, 12 from each (the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles are sometimes suggested). There are 7 lamps shining which are the spirits of God (Rev 1 spoke of the 7-fold spirit of God). Then there are the 4 living creatures. In them, we can see a reflection of the things God has created on earth: a great and fierce lion, a strong ox, a majestic eagle, and a ruler in man. These animals show us meaning, but also humbly remind us that we can’t fully understand God right now. Another noteworthy part of this scene is the praise all the angelic beings are offering to God. He is holy, Almighty, God of the past/present/future; he is “worthy” “to receive glory and honor and power, for [he] created all things” (v. 11). There is a focus here on God as the Creator. The point of the book of Revelation is to show us God, not to tell us the future, but to show us God, who will bring all things to pass in his time and in his way (Poythress, The Returning King). Revelation is about God and his greatness. Keep this in mind as we journey through the rest of the book.

Chapter 5
In Chapter 5, we see that the slain lamb, Christ, also is worthy. As chapter 5 opens, we are introduced to a scroll held in God’s hand. Only Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” is able to open it. Only he has triumphed, says the elder, triumphed over death and the grave in his resurrection. He is the only access point we have to God and to understanding the things to be described in the scroll. Again, notice the praise that is offered to Christ in verses 9-10 and 12-13. “By his blood he purchased men for God.” In verse 13, he too receives “praise and honor and glory and power.”In this chapter, Christ also stands at the center with God the Father. God was praised for his act of creation and now for his act of redemption, which allows men and women access to God through Christ’s death.

Chapters 4-5 show us God the Father, the Son, even the Spirit, at the center of all things. God is on the throne, he is ruling now, he has power and might. Knowing God is at the center of all things gives us confidence.

Revelation 6-8:1: The 7 Seals
The second section of our outline is Chapters 6-8:1. As look into this section, I want to draw your attention to the structure we’re going to be seeing throughout the book. Be sure and hear what follows: it’s important for helping us conceptually understand what’s going on in the book.

Cycles of 7 
So, the structure that I want you to keep in mind as we read through Revelation is what we’ll call “The Cycles of 7.” The cycles provide an important literary device for helping us understand the book. You’ll notice that we have the 7 seals in this section of our outline then the 7 trumpets in the next.

What these “cycles of 7” are going to show us is different perspectives on the same group of events. Each cycle will recapitulate, or restate in a new form, the same events. We’re going to see the cycles lay out in the book of Revelation sequentially (one after the other), but they represent all the same events. (Imagine stacking them.) They explain and elaborate over and over again the same complex of events leading up to the 2nd coming. They are not listed in order that they will happen, as if Rev is meant to be a detailed, step-by-step guide to the end times.

(If you’re interested in going deeper, I highly recommend these two excellent books: Revelation by Michael Wilcock and The Returning King by Vern Poythress. Both these books are pretty easy to follow and have very accessible language.)

Illustration…

So to try and better understand the concept of what I mean by these cycles of 7 giving different perspectives on the same event, I want you to think of how we sometimes need many different sides of a story to understand all of its pieces…Maybe some friends went to a conference and you want to find out what the main speaker had to say. One friend will describe certain aspects of the talk and will leave others out. They will say what they got from it, but they won’t remember everything. If you ask another friend, you might see some overlap in what they say, but will also learn different parts of the same event. The more people you ask, the fuller picture you will get of what the speaker actually said. The difference here in Revelation is that the perspectives are all coming from one person, John, who is in the Spirit. John needs to receive these different perspectives of the same series of events to see a fuller picture of the whole, just as we need it.

The cycles of 7 are going to show us events that are happening now in our day (and in the past in John’s day), events that are still future, even events associated with the 2nd coming of Christ. In the gospels, Jesus tells us what the end times will be like in Matt 24 and its parallels (Mark 13, and Luke 21). We’ll use his depiction of things as a guiding control for the cycles of 7. The cycles will increase in intensity, the further we move through Revelation, the more intense they will be and the more they will tell us about the 2nd coming.

Chapter 6
With this “cycles of 7” structure in mind, we’re going to look in brief at the cycle that is the 7 seals on the scroll that Christ is to open. In Ch. 6 the first 6 seals are opened, then Ch. 7 will provide an interlude (or break from the action for a specific purpose), and verse 8:1 will describe the opening of the 7th seal. (This pattern will also repeat in the third section of our outline. We’ll encounter the first 6, have an interlude, and then see the 7th.)

In the first 4 seals, we see 4 riders coming to bring judgment on the earth. They bring 1) conquest of earthly warfare and fighting, 2) violent conflict and mass killing, 3) famine and great economic difficulty, and 4) death. In Jesus’ account in Matt 24:6-8, he says,

“6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

These events happen today, they have happened in the past, and they will happen in the future.

In the fifth seal, we see the cry of the martyrs or the suffering of God’s people. The lesson for us, is that we in the church are not immune from these physical disasters that are happening. We will suffer for our faith, and we may come to physical harm just because we live on this fallen earth. This passage applies to all believers who suffer for Christ’s sake and desire true justice to come on earth. Jesus said in Matt 24:9-11:
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”
These events too are happening now, and happened in John’s day as we saw in the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia (persecution) and Thytira (false teachers-Jezebel). We can expect them to continue in the future.

In the 6th seal, we see the events that will immediate precede the 2nd coming. The vision is of a great earthquake, the darkening of the sun and moon, and stars falling from the sky. Verses 16-17 say it is the “great day of the wrath” and it”has come.” Jesus in Matt 24:29-30 describes it, saying:

“29 “Immediately after the distress of those days [what’s occurred in the previous 5 seals]
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”

So the 6th seal describes events immediately preceding the 2nd coming, and not necessarily things that are happening in the past and present.

How do these events/seals help us understand what’s going on right now in our world?
We can have confidence that it’s according to plan. Not be scared about what we hear. Know that God is with us in the midst of our suffering, and that these disasters will affect believers too, because we live in a fallen world.

Chapter 7
After the opening of the 6 seals, we expect to see the opening of the 7th seal, but we have to wait an entire chapter as we see what’s going on in Ch. 7, before it’s opened. Chapter 7 is an interlude in the action of opening the seals, and it is there for a specific purpose-to give comfort to Christians about their spiritual security in Christ in the midst of all these events.

Chapter 7 begins by saying he saw this after the first 6 seals, but it doesn’t say this happened after. We’re going to read this section as an interlude in the action, one that describes something in time that happens distinct from the cycles (the seals in this case). So what happens? The sealing of God’s people: his 144,000. Like the rest of numbers in Revelation, we’ll see it as symbolic. Ezekiel 9 speaks of God’s faithful receiving a mark on their forehead, and Eph 1:13 speaks of believers being”sealed with the Holy Spirit.” Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit at the moment when they believe. We don’t need to wait to receive a distinctive mark on our foreheads; we’ve already been sealed when we first believed. From God’s perspective, we are all God’s people and part of Israel, the tribes listed; God knows and numbers his people.

In verses 9-17, John sees a great multitude of people. In verses 1-8, John hears the number of 144,000 who are sealed, and now he sees the people, it is a crowd so large that it cannot be counted. These two groups are meant to represent one in the same, they are the people of God, who God knows by number and yet John cannot count them, they are so large. They are both listed as God’s servants (v. 3, 15) and so the first group can’t be exclusively Jewish, as some believe. In seeing the crowd, it says in(v. 9) that John sees people from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne. God’s people come from every race, every nation, and every different language group.

What does this multi-cultural aspect of God’s people tell us about how we should live among people who are different from us?
Most of God’s people will not be like us. They will not speak our language, but they might live among us-especially as our cities become more multi-cultural; we have to love them for whom they are, including the color of their skin and the language they speak. God’s people, like our cities, are truly multi-cultural.

The purpose of Chapter 7, as an interlude, is meant to be a comfort and security to Christians. They have been sealed.Spiritually no harm can come to them, though physically, it says that there will be martyrs and we will suffer. Knowing we are eternally, spiritually secure, gives us the confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Chapter 8
In Ch. 8, verse 1, we come to the opening of the 7th seal, and it says “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour,” it says. The cycles of 7 all move to the 2nd coming, but here, it’s like “oh, that’s it…” But what we see here is a picture of silence and peace and completeness. Christ is not yet ready to reveal what the 2nd coming will be like, but we will see it as we continue to move through the book, and we’ll see it most fully in Rev 21-22, which we’ll study in 2 weeks. Now we just have an anticipation of the peace it will bring. And this finishes our first cycle of 7, our first perspective of history.

So far, we’ve seen in Section 1 (Chs. 4-5) andSection 2 of our outline(6-8:1) that knowing God is at the center of all things and his people are spiritually secure gives us confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Revelation 8:2-11:19- The 7 Trumpets
The third and final section of the outline, 8:2-the end of 11, presents another perspective or view on past, current, and future history. Another cycle of 7 begins, complete with an interlude, and moving toward a picture of the 2nd coming.

In chapter 8, we are now introduced to 7 angels holding 7 trumpets. Their message will be similar, but more intense than the message of the 7 seals. The first 4 trumpets affect 4 parts of the natural world They are not sequential events but aspects of history that are true at any time period. So, the first 4 trumpets strike 4 parts of creation: 1) the dry land (environment), 2) sea (commerce- shipping imp. in ancient world), 3) fresh water (our resources), and 4) sky (our vision). The instruments of destruction in this cycle of 7 are symbols of any kind of destruction which at any time damages the earth on which man lives. These cycles retell aspects of the same events, and they’re meant to remind us of the plagues of Egypt. Then in verse 13, an eagle comes to announce that the next 3 trumpets will be woes to the inhabitants of the earth, or nonbelievers.

Chapter 9
Chapter 9 begins with the 5th trumpet announcing a swarm of locusts that stays for 5 months torturing and tormenting nonbelievers (we know it’s nonbelievers, because verse 4 says they could only torment only those that did not have the seal of God on their foreheads). We do not need to imagine that real locusts looking just like this are to come to earth, but remember them as symbols. Let’s not ask the question “How does this happen?” but “Why does this happen?”

The 6th trumpet and 2nd woe is the last warning (in this cycle) for the inhabitants of the earth, bringing destruction. By the time of the 7th trumpet, it will be too late to repent. The armies here, like the rest of the images, are not to be taken literally. The point is that many nonbelievers will see death all around them, but they will still be unrepentant; they continue to not see God in the midst of their struggles, continued to not hear God’s voice. Verse 20-21 says, “they did not repent the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons…and idols…” These events foreshadow the 2nd coming when there will not be another opportunity to repent, this is why they are woes to nonbelievers. The answer to why this happens is that they are unrepentant. It’s are a wake-up call, meant to draw people to God’s mercy, but to show his justice as well.

How must we be careful in interpreting when bad events happen? How have you seen people in the church misusing them? People said that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s judgment on the country for allowing voodoo and false worship there for so many centuries. A lot of the time, what people are saying is going to have to do with their theology-the 4 millennial positions we talked about the first week in Rev 1. We also can’t just say that if something bad happens, then they were all unbelievers and it was God’s judgment-remember that the seals happened to believers too.

Chapter 10
Chapters 10-11 form another interlude in this “cycle of 7.” In chapter 10, an angel holding a little scroll appears. The angel announces in verse 6 that “there will be no more delay!” The 7th trumpet is coming and the mystery of God will be accomplished at the 2nd coming (the 7th trumpet). What is that mystery? Rom 16:25-27 says that it’s just the gospel, that Christ came to redeem men and women and to reconcile them to God (also Eph 3, 5; Col 1, 2, 4). So the gospel age, that mystery, will end with the 2nd coming.

Next, John is told to eat the scroll, one that tastes sweet going down, but that turns his stomach sour. After eating the scroll, he is told to prophesy. John’s prophesying is a model for the church’s witness to the world before the 2nd coming, we are to digest the words of God and speak them. The gospel is sweet in the ears of those God has drawn to him, but bitter and sour to those who do not want to hear what God has done and is doing in the world.

Chapter 11
In Chapter 11, the 2nd part of the interlude, John goes and measures the temple of God. We should not expect this to be a literal temple rebuilt on the old site in Jerusalem, like your tour guide will tell you, if you’ve ever been there. This is because Christ has told us already that we, his church, are the temple of God (Eph 2:19-22); he’s already been building it. This chapter describes, rather graphically, what happens to the two witnesses of God. Again, they are a symbol of the witness the church has. The two witnesses are called lamps, just as Christians are called lights in the world in Phil 2:15, witnessing to Christ. This interlude again reassures Christians that they have spiritual security in the midst of these tribulations and trials as they witness to their faith.

Finally, we come to the 7th trumpet in Ch. 11, verse 15. And now in this trumpet we get a beginning picture of what the 2ndcoming will look like. We see the last judgment occurring (v. 18), and God’s rule being established (vv. 15, 17). We see the opening of the temple and the viewing of the ark, which symbolizes God fully revealing his glory. This trumpet is the third woe for those who do not know Christ because there’s not more time for them, not more opportunity for repentance. God’s kingdom has fully become the kingdom of the world, just like we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It will be complete in his 2nd coming.

For now, we’ve finished looking at two cycles of 7 within Revelation. We know that God stands in the center of it all. We know that we are spiritually secure: we can’t be lost; God knows us and numbers us. This confidence and security are what move us to witness to who God is, to live out our faith.

Application and Conclusion
As we think application, I want to remind you of an illustration I gave a few weeks ago in our study of 1 Samuel. I spoke of people wanting to know the minimum they have to do to follow Christ and not fall off the symbolic ledge of the circle of faith/Christianity. I then said how we shouldn’t be looking backwards, but should be looking inwards to how we move toward the center, toward God. The vision of his throne room give us just that: a picture of what the center looks like, of what it is that we are meant to be moving towards: God and Christ, ruling this earth. We move closer to God’s glory and to understanding God’s death for us, so we can know his mercy and forgiveness better. This is a picture of what he looks like in the center.

How do we apply these lessons, this story, these symbols to our day to day life? How does knowing God is at the center of all things and his people are spiritually secure give us confidence to live out our faith in the day to day? This is the hard part, and I want us to talk about it in our small groups…I want you to work through it together.

The thought to take with you into your groups and into your week is: knowing that God is at the center of all things and his people are spiritually secure gives us confidence to live out our faith day to day.

Questions for Discussion and Application…

  • Does the vision of God at the center of the throne room help you view your life situation differently? How?
  • What keeps you from witnessing to your faith or living it out daily (this is more than just sharing the gospel with someone…)?

Revelation 2: Thyatira

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So we are in the book of Revelation and we have learned that it was given to John on the island of Patmos to “unveil” what is to come. It was given as a picture book not as a puzzle. So it wasn’t given to us to decode it like the Davinci Code, but more to give us a picture of what is to come. Jesus himself gave John the revelation to send to 7 churches in his day, and in chapters 2 and 3 we have been studying the letters Jesus had John write to accompany the revelation. Each letter follows the same structure (handout) and basically offers three things:

  1. Jesus tells them how they are doing, whether good or bad
  2. He urges them to either repent and change their ways, or stay faithful under persecution and struggles
  3. He gives them a promise for those who overcome what they are facing

Tonight we are going to look at one letter, the letter written to the church in Thyatira. So go ahead and turn to Revelation 2 starting in verse 18 and we are going to be studying this letter verse by verse tonight.

The Letter To Thyatira

In each letter, Jesus begins with a description of Himself, and we should all know by now that the description He chooses for each church is directly related to who they are and what they are facing. So to Thyatira He describes Himself as,

 “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

 If you look at the full description of Jesus by John in Revelation 1:14-15 the exact same description. Look at those verses…

“…his eyes were like blazing fire.  15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace…”

 And in the book of Daniel, which is also a book containing end times prophesy, it uses a similar description of Jesus, Daniel 10:6….

6 “… his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze…”

 Eyes Like Blazing Fire

The first description of Jesus’ eyes being like blazing fire might be a little easier to understand. If you look at little later in this letter, in verse 23, Jesus describes Himself to Thyatira as, “he who searches hearts and minds.” So Jesus’ eyes are different than ours, we can only see what is on the outside, but Jesus can see what is on the inside. What is in our hearts and what is in our minds. His eyes of blazing fire can see our true motives and the true state of our hearts.

Feet Like Burnished Bronze

The second description is of His feet. It says they are like burnished bronze. Burnished means highly polished, so they are shiny. And in Revelation 1 they are described as bronze glowing in the furnace. If we look at descriptions of the feet of God and what the represent in other passages in the Bible we find that they stand for God’s judgment. In Isaiah 63 we read a description of God judging those who did not look to Him as God – in this description those who do not trust in Him are grapes in a winepress, and God carries out His judgment and wrath on them by trampling on the grapes. It is a very sobering picture of the truth of God’s judgment and wrath. By reminding those in Thyatira of His bronze feet He is reminding them of His judgment that is sure to come to those who turn away from Him and walk in wickedness. He goes on from here to commend them for what they have done well.

19 “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.”

 This list is amazing, look at all they have done well in their church….

  • Deeds – they serve God in their actions and good deeds
  • Love – the opposite of Ephesus who had lost their first love, they have not lost their first love, instead their love for God and love for others is evident
  • Faith – they continue to have faith in God, trusting Him in their lives and looking to Him as God
  • Service – they are reaching out to those in need and serving the less fortunate
  • Perseverance – they are holding on to their faith even in the face of trials and hardships
  • Doing more than they did at first – this is probably the best compliment of all. They are growing! Imagine if Jesus said this to you how encouraging it would be – to know that you are making progress in your walk with Christ.

If someone came to you and gave you a review, like a year end review with your boss, on how you were doing as a Christian and this is how it began – you would probably not imagine that any flaw or weakness of yours could be all that big in light of how well you were doing. But that is not the case here, what Jesus says to them next is truly devastating. The harsh words He uses let’s us know it is no minor problem. He is basically going to tell them their faith is incomplete because of this one issue and it could destroy everything they have been doing well.

Look at verse 20. In this verse Jesus tells the church what He has against them. What have they done wrong? What is their problem?

“I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel…”

Their problem is first and foremost, not what has come because of Jezebel in their midst, but Jesus says what He holds against them is their toleration of her. Think about this. Let this sink in. Jesus is telling them that their greatest blindspot in their faith is toleration of another person’s sins in their church.

Let’s talk about this. How might this be shocking or offensive to someone in our culture today?

  • We live in a time when a person’s individual rights and freedom to live however they choose is emphasized
  • If someone is doing something that you don’t agree with you don’t have a “right” to impose your views or belief system on them.
  • And this view has even infiltrated the church. Many in the church today do not believe that anyone in the church has a right to call out someone for their sins. But clearly, Jesus is saying the opposite to the church here. Let’s keep reading as we unfold this…

Looking at verses 20-21, what do we learn about this person Jezebel? What has she done wrong?

  • She calls herself a “prophetess” – this means that whatever she is teaching to others in the church, she is claiming is from God, that it what she is teaching is truth.
  • Look at verse 24, it calls her teaching “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” So in her teaching she is implying that there is more for us to know than what God has revealed to us. Like there is more to God’s truth.
  • By her teaching she is leading followers of Christ in the church into sexual immorality and idolatry – she is leading them into sin. (eating food sacrificed to idols was a form of idolatry)
  • In verse 21 we are told that she has been given time to repent but is unwilling. The literal translation simply says “she does not want to.”

Understanding what Jezebel has been doing that they have been tolerating helps us even more to understand why it was wrong for them to tolerate her. The Definition of “Tolerate” is “to allow and not interfere with the existence, occurrence, or practice of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with.”

 Our culture tells us toleration is a virtue. But as Christians we live by a different belief system, toleration is not just good, but at times it can be bad, very bad. So, first, when is toleration a good thing?

  • when it involves bearing with someone who is different than you in personality, background, interests, appearance, etc….
  • Basically, when it doesn’t involved false teaching or sin

 When is toleration a bad thing as a Christian?

Toleration for a Christian is bad when it means we are:

  • Unwilling to recognize sin as sin based on God’s truth
  • Indifferent towards sin and the way it destroys not only that person but also those around them.
  • Unwilling to deal with sin in another’s life and root it out as God’s Word commands us to do
  • When we only focus on the good and ignore/tolerate the bad in order to live at peace and be “P.C.”

God’s Word is very clear on what is sin and how we are to deal with sin. His Word even instructs us on what to do when someone in the church is living in sin and even leading others into sin. Never does God give us any reason to not deal with sin in the church or to tolerate it. So by allowing someone to teach something that does not line up with God’s Word and is even leading people in the church into sin, they are being disobedient to God’s commands to deal with sin and to discipline those in their church who are living in that way. The church in Ephesus, the first letter in Revelation 2:2, is commended for not tolerating sin in the church – Jesus said to them, “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” But unfortunately this is the blindspot for the church in Thyatira, since they have tolerated wicked men, and sadly Jesus is telling them it could destroy everything they have.

Jezebel

Let’s talk a little about Jezebel. Across the board, scholars agree that Jesus here is not referring to an actual woman in the church in Thyatira named Jezebel. But that He is referencing the Jezebel of the Old Testament as a picture of what is going on in Thyatira. Everyone there would have been very familiar with Jezebel in the Old Testament and would take very seriously the accusation that they have tolerated a Jezebel-like person and her sins in their church.

Let me give you a picture of who Jezebel is in the Old Testament:

●       1 Kings 16:29-33 – We are introduced to her first in 1 Kings 16 where it tells us that the most wicked king who ever ruled over Israel, Ahab, married Jezebel. She was the daughter of a Baal worshipping, pagan king And she influenced Ahab to also worship Baal. So the king of God’s people is now leading the people of God into worshipping a false God all because of the influence of his wife, Jezebel.

●       1 Kings 18:4 – Then a couple chapters later we learn that Jezebel is not only now leading God’s people into worshipping a false God, but she is also having the prophets of God killed. Not good.

●       1 Kings 19:1-2 – In the midst of this we meet God’s prophet Elijah and he proves to all the people of Israel and all the worshipers of Baal that their god is false and YHWH is real. When Jezebel hears about this she is infuriated and sends a message to Elijah saying that she will have him killed within 24 hours.

●       1 Kings 21 – Then in chapter 21 we learn that after a man refuses to sell his property to King Ahab, Jezebel derives a plot to have the man killed and make it look like a freak event, so then the king can have the man’s land. Elijah announces God’s judgment on both Ahab & Jezebel, and while Ahab repents, Jezebel refuses to.

So Jezebel is a real classy lady. Her life is characterized by not just the worship of false gods, but also false teaching and leading others into sin and idolatry, murdering anyone who disagrees with her, and especially murdering anyone who stands for God’s truth. In 1 Kings 21:25 Elijah prophesies about Ahab and Jezebel and how they will die, and he makes it clear that the evil Ahab did was incited by Jezebel. So Jezebel is guilty of leading God’s people into sin through her seductive and deceptive ways, and being unrepentant of her actions. But, what we can’t fail to see is how God’s people responded. They didn’t fight her, but instead they tolerated her and allowed her to influence them which slowly turned them away from God and towards a false belief system with false gods.

Jezebel in Thyatira

So taking that understanding of Jezebel back to Revelation 2:20, we can assume that what’s going on in the church in Thyatira is that someone is teaching those in the church things that are contrary to God’s Word, but claiming that what they have to teach is truth. Remember verse 24, this person claims to know some deeper and secret truths about God and the world. Through her deceptive teaching she has misled other believers into somehow thinking it is ok to engage in some sort of sexual immorality and idolatry. And while this person appeared to be enlightened, to understand things that others didn’t, the truth was they probably didn’t truly know or worship God. And like the Israelites in 1 Kings, the people in this church tolerated and let it go on to the point that they began to believe what she was teaching and allow it to turn them away from God and to a different belief system.

Jesus’ Response

So what does Jesus say He is going to do about this woman who has misled believers in the church and about their toleration of it?

22 “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely…. 23 I will strike her children dead. …and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

  1. First, God will judge Jezebel for what she has done. In contrast to the bed where she found temporary sexual pleasure on earth, He says she will find a bed of suffering in eternity.
  2. Second, He will judge those who have followed her ways, who have joined in her spiritual adultery by turning from God and His truth. Remember the Bible often uses marriage as an illustration of our relationship with God, so when we turn away from Him to other beliefs and false gods it is likened to adultery.
  3. Third, He will strike her children dead. This is not referring to her actual children, but to her followers. Those who choose to follow her instead of God will also be judged as she is.

Jesus’ explanation of the judgment that is to come shows them the seriousness of sin and what has been going on in their church. If they can understand how serious sin is and even more the judgment that is sure to come because of it – then they will surely not tolerate or ignore it anymore. Yes, God is love, but we can’t just pick and choose what we want to focus on about God. The full picture of God includes his justice, His wrath, and His hatred and judgment of sin and evil. The culture around us is trying to tell us that toleration is love. But God’s Word shows us that what is truly loving is to intervene in the lives of those who are headed towards eternal judgment and speak truth and light into their lives. Why? Because there is hope…

Look at verse 22. What hope is offered to those who are living in sin and have been misled by false teaching?

“…unless they repent of her ways.”

If those who have listened to Jezebel and engaged in sexual immorality, or idol worship, repent – then they will not face eternal judgment. In the midst of this horrible revelation of the sin in their church, Jesus offers them hope, mercy, forgiveness.

And then in verses 26-28 He gives them not just hope, but an incentive and a vision of what will be theirs if they repent of their sins, hold on to God’s truth, overcome this major obstacle in their church, and do His will.

Authority

First, Jesus says he will…

26 “give [them] authority over the nations…27  just as [He has] received authority from [His] Father.”

One day the truth of God will be revealed to all and they will all know that all authority lies in the gospel. So those who follow God will share in God’s authority over the nations as they bear the truth. He quotes there this same promise found in Psalm 2:9 and says this promise will be fulfilled in the end. The truth of God will dash to pieces the lies of Satan in the end and those who held to them. The truth will be revealed.

Morning Star

Second, in verse 28 He tells them they will be given the morning star. Does anyone know what the morning star is literally? It is Venus, the last and brightest star in the night sky. It appears just before daybreak and is an indicator that the night is coming to an end and a new day is about to dawn. Who is our morning star figuratively? Who is our sign and hope that a new day is about to dawn? Jesus.

In Revelation 22:16 Jesus says,

“I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

 To those who overcome, who repent, who persevere and follow God. They will receive Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and the right to enter into eternity with God.

Are we like Thyatira?

Anytime we study the scriptures we need to ask ourselves how it applies or relates to us today. This is a hard passage to do that with. But last week was too. I talked to a few of the small group discussion leaders last week after Bible study and we all agreed it was a little like pulling teeth trying to think of ways we had been persecuted for our faith. And the very difficult and challenging thought I want to leave you with tonight is: Maybe that is because we are more like Thyatira than we think.

The belief system that infiltrated the Israelites and also infiltrated the church in Thyatira is very different from those we see today. Baal worship involved performing sexual acts in the temple with prostitutes as a form of worship and drawing near to the gods. They sacrificed food to idols and ate it as a sign of their faith. But today the false beliefs that infiltrate our church look very different.

Can anyone give an example of some beliefs in the world today, that are counter-Biblical, but have subtly infiltrated some churches today?(then answer for each how it affects the faith and lives of believers.)

●       All roads lead to God – keeps us from living out our faith publicly, sharing our faith with others, and challenging the beliefs of others. We say instead, you have your faith and I have mine. Or even worse, we believe it.

o      Eat Pray Love – this is the message in the book. If you read the book then you know that she claims Christianity as her faith of choice but also acknowledges that there are a lot of very valid options out there, just choose one.

o      My Aunt was married to a Methodist priest and after he died she told me that because of her travels around the world, spending time with people of different cultures and faiths, that she now “understood” that there wasn’t just one way to God.

●       Issues of Homosexuality – Christians who choose to believe that God made gay people that way and that it is ok in the eyes of God to live a gay lifestyle, completely ignore the many passages in the Bible that say the opposite. I know people who because of this issue have decided that the Bible has flaws and human errors. When we give an inch, it will always lead to much more.

When the non-Biblical world-view begins to infiltrate the church the result is a desire to blend with the world rather than stand-apart. It also results in us not sharing our faith with a lost and dying world….seeking to be P.C. and accepting of others’ more than desiring that they know truth and have eternal life. Do you see how so easily the faith systems of the world can infiltrate the church over time if we tolerate them, and how it leads us to decisions, beliefs, and actions that are the opposite of how God calls us to live.

The definition of compromise is “to weaken a principle by accepting standards that are lower than is desirable.” The question we really need to be asking ourselves after looking at this passage is: Have I allowed my faith to be weakened by accepting standards/beliefs that are not God’s? Look at Jesus’ encouragement to us as we face the challenge of not allowing the views of the world to infiltrate our faith in verse 25…

 25 “Only hold on to what you have until I come.”

Questions for Discussion & Application…

●       On a scale of 1 to 10, how seriously do you take sin in your life? (after everyone has answered) If you saw sin as God saw it how would that affect your life and behavior?

●       How do you see the views of the world today infiltrating YOUR Christian beliefs? (another way to say this is: How have you compromised your faith in order to blend in with the world around you?)

Revelation 2-3: Smyrna & Philadelphia

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Here’s a quick overview of the role of the 7 letters in the book of Revelation and where we are at in this study….The book of Revelation was given to John on the island of Patmos to “unveil” what is to come. It was given as a picture book not as a puzzle. So it wasn’t given to us to decode it like the Davinci Code, but more to give us a picture of what is to come. Jesus himself gave John the revelation to send to 7 churches in his day, and in chapters 2 and 3 we read the letters Jesus had John write to accompany the revelation. Each letter follows the same structure (handout) and basically offers three things: First, Jesus tells them how they are doing, whether good or bad. Second, He urges them to either repent and change their ways, or stay faithful under persecution and struggles. And Third, He gives them a promise for those who overcome what they are facing.

Tonight we are going to look at two letters. The letter to Smyrna and the letter to Philadelphia. And these letters have everything in common. They have a common struggle and they both need great encouragement as they continue to persevere and stay faithful to Christ. So we are going to be looking at both letters tonight.

The Problem

So the first thing I want us to understand here is who they were and what their common struggle was. Smyrna was one of the largest and most thriving Roman cities. Today we know it as Izmir in modern day Turkey. While Philadelphia was not as prominent of a city as Smyrna, it was also under Roman rule. What is most important for us to know about the history in order to understand this passage is the political climate of the day. Being under the rule of Rome meant they were required to do things such as calling Caesar lord, sprinkling incense on a fire which burned for the emperor, and worshiping in the temple erected to the goddess of Rome, and so on. For those who refused to do this they faced the possibility of being accused of treachery and even being killed for it.

In light of that, it is surprising to learn that the greatest threat for the Christians in both cities originated from the Jews. The Jews had received political asylum by Rome and were exempt from emperor worship. What we learn from history and the scriptures is that the Jews hated those who had put their faith in Christ and believed he was the Messiah. The persecuted Christians even to the point of death. We see this in the death of Jesus, the persecution of Paul and other apostles, and even the martyrdom of apostles, missionaries, and believers by the hands of Jews. So we can only imagine what life was like for the Christians in Smyrna and Philadelphia living amongst large numbers of Jews.

In verses 9 of both letters we read Christ’s description of the Jews in their cities:

 To Smyrna Jesus says “I know your afflictions and your poverty… I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

Then to Philadelphia he also describes the Jews there as“…the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars…”

Jesus himself calls them a “Synagogue of Satan” and liars…they call themselves Jews but Jesus says they are not. Why? Why such a harsh description and why aren’t they really Jews?

Why are they not Jews? Because, they have rejected the son of God, Jesus. Everything that God had been telling the Jews since the beginning of time was leading them to Jesus, God’s tool to save mankind from sin. So being a Jew was actually about anticipating the Messiah, Jesus. So to reject Jesus meant to reject what they believed as Jews.

Secondly, why such a harsh description? In John 8 Jesus is talking to the Jews and He explains to them the point I just made, that if they are really Jews then they would believe in the one God sent. And he tells them, the reason you do not understand that is because,

 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. … 47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

So Jesus says, those who do not serve God are actually serving the desires and will of the devil. And truly the Jews proved this in their actions. They persecuted the Christians in their cities by turning them into Rome, hindering the growth of the Church of Christ, and rejecting Christians in society and business and marketplace.

So we read in the letter to Smyrna, in verse 9 that the result of this persecution is that they are afflicted and poor and that they are facing slander. We can only imagine for the Christians in Smyrna & Philadelphia what their persecution probably looked like and the results of it. Their reputations were most likely greatly impacted, they were probably not able to be prosperous in business, and because of it they probably felt the afflictions of this daily. In verse 10 we read that the persecution at times even resulted in imprisonment and death.

 Last night in the TV show “The Good Wife,” the main character actually said to her daughter “Christians aren’t a threatened minority group” – and this speaks to the truth today that, we live in a very different day and age where Christianity is very accepted and we are able to live and work alongside many different religions. So the ways we are persecuted and suffer because of our faith in Christ looks different than it did for those in Smyrna & Philadelphia. Can you think of ways that we suffer because of our faith? How does this look today for Christians in the United States? How have you suffered when you acted on your Christian beliefs?

 At times we are questioned and ridiculed for obeying God’s Word. Some examples of this is when we resolve to not having sex before marriage, to only date believers, to practice self-control rather than just letting loose and indulging in sensual pleasures (which the Bible calls debauchery), or to be faithful in a difficult marriage. If you make any kind of stand for Christ that looks “different” then often you are labeled a religious fanatic or called irrelevant. Dishonesty and selfish gain is obviously still a large part of the market place today so if a Christian resolves to be honest and forthright in business then she risks his job and ability to succeed and prosper. Our outward life may suffer if we choose to put others before ourselves – which is very counter-cultural in a world that says to take care of yourself first

Example

I have struggled with my family ever since I became a believer when I was 14. I can honestly tell you that often my family treats me with an undeserved hatred, they have been outright malicious towards me at times. And I have struggled to understand what I have done to deserve the things they do to me and the ways they slander me. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how much of that is because of my faith in Christ. When I thought of persecution I thought of what the people faced in the past, being told to renounce their faith or die. So as I looked at the way my family treated me I didn’t think it was persecution because they never verbalized that their hurtful behavior towards me was because I was a Christian. But now as I look at the strange way they treat me as opposed to those who are not believers, I realize that there is something very spiritual behind their behavior and feelings towards me, and the only explanation is that their treatment of me is a result of my faith in Christ.

What Scripture teaches us is that the world lives in darkness, and Christ is the light….but darkness hates the light and wants nothing to do with it. For those who live in darkness, if when they are exposed to the light of Christ they don’t turn to Him then they will hate the light and anyone who lives in it. When Paul writes his second letter to Timothy he explains to him what those living in darkness will look like, 2 Timothy 3:2-5 says,

 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—  5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

Sounds a lot like the world we live in today. And not only does Paul tell Timothy not to have anything to do with it, but look at what he tells him in verse 12 to know that,

 12 … everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”

Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:11) that

 “…people [will] insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of [Him]”

And then in John 15:20,

 “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…”

We must be aware that as we choose to live according to God’s Word, as we speak the truth of Christ to the world, as Paul said to Timothy if we want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus – we will face persecution. Jesus tells us that for those who truly live for Him it is inevitable, just as the world persecuted Him they will persecute His followers. But we need to also recognize that in our day and culture the persecution is going to be more subtle and passive, it’s going to look different than it did back then, but the message is the same. The way we are to respond to the suffering we face because of our faith is the same as it was then.

CHRIST’S COMFORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT

So how does Christ tell the believers in Smyrna and Philadelphia to respond to the persecution and suffering they are facing? What comfort and encouragement does He offer? Three things…

1.     He reminds them of who He is. To Smyrna He describes Himself in verse 9 as:

“…him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”

 If you lived in Smyrna and were facing potential martyrdom for your faith, how might this description of Christ give you comfort and encouragement? Describing Himself as the first and the last is the same as saying in Rev. 1:8 that He is the Alpha and the Omega. It means He is eternal, He is God. To remember that Christ died and rose again reminds us that He conquered death for us, that He is victorious over death. So, just as Christ died and then lived, we too will die and then receive life, eternal life. So we should not fear death because through it we will have eternal life.

To Philadelphia He gives them a two-fold description of Himself in verse 7:

“…him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”

 So in the face of persecution and suffering because of their faith, Jesus reminds them first that He is God, holy. That what they believe and are suffering for is truth. When we suffer we are tempted to doubt our faith and beliefs, and we read in verse 8 that they were weak, so He strengthens their resolve reminding them that their faith is real and He is God.

Second,He says He holds the key of David and what he opens no one can shut and what He shuts no one can open. This refers to a prophesy in Isaiah 22:22 which says “…the key to the house of David; [will be given to Eliakim and] what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” And what this is, is a picture of being given the right and authority to speak with the same authority of the King. The one who holds the keys to the kingdom has all authority and has the right to open or close the door.

So when Jesus says to Philadelphia that He holds the keys of David, He is saying He has all authority and no one can reverse what he does. He holds the keys to the kingdom, to heaven just as we read in Rev 1:18 that He also holds the keys to death and Hell. So because He is the only one who holds the keys and because He has all authority – Only Christ can give salvation and ensure eternal life. In Matt 23:13 we are actually told that the Jews “shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” So they tried to tell people that they held the keys to heaven and they would not let others in. But then Jesus told Peter in Matt 16:19 that the keys to the kingdom have been given to them so that men could enter heaven through Christ. So through this description He is remind them that ultimately no man has control over our destiny, only Christ does, and they can know that what He does for them no man can reverse. The Jews cannot keep them from God, because Jesus holds the keys and has opened the door for them.

 He also reminds Philadelphia of who He is in verse 9, how does what He says in verse 9 remind the Philadelphians of who He is? He says “I will make…” which reminds them that He is sovereign over all, even over evil people. He is reminding them that He is the judge and He will judge all people in the end! And when they are judged they will know that the Christians they persecuted were the children of God living in His truth.

 Cling to who Christ is

So the first way we are shown her to stay strong in the midst of persecution and suffering is by reminding ourselves and one another of who Jesus is. If you are being faced with a decision in which you know that if you obey God’s Word you will face persecution or suffering from those around you – then get in God’s Word and be reminded of who He is. Remember that the worst thing that could happen to us on this earth is to be killed – but that because of Christ we know that we will have eternal life after our physical death. Remind yourself that He is God and that He is truth. That only He has ultimate authority over your destiny and future. And all the other things we learn about God and Christ in the scriptures. And cling to those truths as you choose to live out your faith.

2.   He reminds them that He knows To Smyrna He says…

9 “I know your afflictions and your poverty…I know the slander”

 Then to Philadelphia He says…

8 “I know your deeds…I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name… 10 you have kept my command to endure patiently”

How many times when you are suffering do you just want to know that others know you are suffering? And even to know the ways you are obedient and faithful during that hard time? Just the fact that someone knows helps us to not feel so alone and to continue enduring and moving forward.

Here Jesus tells them that He knows. He sees it all….their struggles, the unfair treatment of them, their great needs, and even their perseverance and faith in the midst of it. And by telling them this He gives them comfort and encouragement knowing they are not alone, their lives are not going unnoticed even though they are unimportant in the eyes of the world. They are important enough for the creator of the world to care and notice. He is communicating to them that they are never alone or unseen. And He tells Smyrna in verse 10 that He even knows what is to come, He knows their future.

Example

In my twenties I was single, making below poverty level doing youth ministry, and feeling very alone since I did not have a family to lean on and help provide for me. When I was in Rockport doing Young Life, I was very alone, for two years my closest friend was my dog and I experienced many lonely nights and weekends. Doing ministry you face lots of persecution and spiritual warfare. And I remember one of the things that gave me the greatest comfort was knowing that God was there with me every step of the way. That He knew when I was treated unfairly, He knew when I was lonely for a friend, He knew the ways I had been faithful and obedient, and He knew what my future held. And at times it was that knowledge that gave me strength and confidence to keep going. When you are struggling and feeling isolated because of your faith, remember that God knows, He is with you, you are not out of His sight.

3.    He reminded them of what is theirs through Him – In the letter to Smyrna, in verse 9, Jesus says although they are poor, they are rich. Why did Jesus say they were rich? Because they have what is of the greatest value – life in Christ. James 2:5 says that those who are poor in the world can still be rich in the faith and heirs of the kingdom of God. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17 our eternal glory far outweighs anything we could gain on earth. The riches we have in Christ far outweigh any riches on earth.

In Revelation 21 we find the description of heaven, which is ours in Christ, and what is to come for those to believe. And in the midst of this description God says to John in verse 7,

 “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

In each of these 7 letters, Jesus describes a piece of what is ours through faith in Christ. And with each letter He chooses something that speaks directly to what they are struggling with, just as He did with His description of Himself.

Smyrna – Eternal Life

First, in the letter to Smyrna, He says, to those who overcome the struggles of this world through faith in Christ…He says in verse 10, they will receive the crown of life. And then in verse 11 He says they will not be hurt by the second death. What do the crown of life and the second death represent? What do they refer to? To heaven and hell.

Crown of Life…

James 1:12  says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

The crown of life is the reward to those who are faithful. Eternal life. Heaven. In their day crowns were given to the victors of sports events who endured physical hardships. Our crown for enduring spiritually is that much greater than the accolades that can be won on earth for earthly achievements.

 The Second Death…

Rev. 20:6 says, “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

And Rev. 20:14 says, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.”

 Rev. 21:8 says, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

The second death refers to hell. Our first death is physical and we will all experience that. But the second death is spiritual, and only those who lack faith in Christ will face that.

So for those in Smyrna, who may face death for their faith in Christ, Jesus reminds them that it is not then end – after that they have eternal life! The crown of life. And they have nothing to fear because they will not face the second death.

Philadelphia – Eternal Security

To those suffering in Philadelphia who overcome through faith in Christ, He tells them three things in verse 12

1.     They will be a pillar in the temple of God

2.     Never again will He leave

3.     He will write on them God’s name, the name of the city of God, and Jesus’ new name

To these believers who are so weak and shakey, who have struggled with fearing that the Jews can take what is theirs in Christ – Jesus affirms them of the security that is theirs in eternity. He tells them that not only will they be in the temple of God in heaven, but that they will be a permanent part of the structure. Then He tells them Jesus will never leave the temple, so they will be with Jesus for eternity. And finally, they will not just be with Jesus, they will bear His name, His Father’s name, and the name of the city of God. They will belong. Bearing those names is a sign of ownership, family, and protection….everything they were lacking on earth. Jesus was reminding them that true security is only to be had after this life in eternity, and what they had waiting for them could never be taken away.

Can you imagine how sweet these words were for those in Smyrna and Philadelphia to hear? Do you realize too that these words aren’t just true for them, but they are true for us. The promises that He makes to all 7 churches for those who overcome in Christ are ours as well. So when you are struggling with obedience to Christ in this world, thinking about compromising your faith and beliefs….remember what is yours in Christ. Keep in mind the things of eternity so that they will outweigh the things of this world and help you to live for Christ.

Our Response

In response to all of this Jesus urges these believers to not be afraid (2:10), to be faithful even to the point of death (2:10), and to hold on to what they have (3:11). Yes, even in the light of having our very lives threatened Jesus Christ tells us to not be afraid, to walk in our faith, and to cling to the future hope we have in Him.

No matter what you are facing or how your faith is being tested and challenged, this is God’s call to you. If you are faced with an ethical situation at work, or you are celebrating someone’s bachelorette party in Vegas, or you are tempted to have sex with the man you love who isn’t your husband yet, or your friends are encouraging you to leave a tough marriage, or you are tempted to date someone who isn’t a believer…Whatever it is that puts you in a situation where you can either choose to walk in God’s ways or in the ways of the world, stop and hear these words from Christ. Remember the bigger picture. Remember who He is, remember that He knows your struggle, and remember what is yours through faith in Him. Do not be afraid, be faithful, and hold on to what is yours in Christ.

And if you aren’t struggling in the world today, if you don’t face any persecution or isolation because of your faith – then maybe you need to stop and evaluate the way you live. Do you live for Christ in every area of your life making decisions that may not be accepted by those around you? Do you make the hard decisions that result in the world knowing your faith in Christ…or do you compromise your beliefs in order to blend in to the world around you? Are you going out into the darkness of this world and sharing the light of Christ or do you dilute the gospel to make it more PC and not offensive? Jesus tells the disciples repeatedly that they will suffer when they live out their faith so we can know that the same will be true in our lives, even in a culture where persecution looks different.

Revelation 2-3: Ephesus & Laodicea by Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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I’m sure many of you have had the experience where you’re taking a nice, hot, refreshing shower, when all of a sudden, the hot water goes out.  Maybe you just lathered your hair with shampoo or put the shaving cream on your second leg.  As soon as the hot water is gone, we start making quick decisions for how to get out of there as fast as possible.  Maybe I can just rinse my hair and wash it better tomorrow.  I’ll just wear jeans and nobody will notice my legs.  While the water may not be ice cold, it’s no longer hot though, and it’s uncomfortable.  Nobody wants to be in that shower anymore.  This gross, lukewarm temperature is not what we want in a good shower.  The lukewarm water will need a new fire under it to turn back to hot water.

Christ uses this image of lukewarm water to describe the faith and passion of the church at Laodicea.  They are not cold or hot.  The church is not dead, but it’s not thriving.  No one would want to be a part of the lukewarm church.  The message Christ gives the Laodiceans and us in our passage tonight in Rev 3 is that lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hotChrist calls the church of Laodicea out of mediocrity, out of its lukewarm faith, and into a faith that it hot.  Lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot.

Tonight’s lesson begins our look at the 7 letters to the churches in Revelation.  We won’t have time to look at each one in depth, so Ashley and I have chosen the ones we think have the most content or can cause the most confusion, and those will be the ones we will focus on over the next 3 weeks. As we read through these letters, I want to remind you that the lessons and events had meaning in the 1st Century/John’s time, they have meaning to the current church in whatever time they are read, and they have meaning for the future times which are still to come.  Note that the repeated phrase/exhortation to each letter (see handout) is “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Each letter is written to “the churches” (plural).  The words of each letter are important for all churches in all times to hear God’s message.

EPHESUS: Loss of Love

The letters we had you read in preparation for tonight were Ephesus and Laodicea.  Both letters speak of a loss that the church has experienced, it’s a theme of the two.  Ephesus has lost its love and Laodicea has lost its passion.  Ephesus is accused of losing their first love, of falling from the height they used to know.  They are praised for their deeds, their endurance, and their orthodoxy (they are great defenders of the faith from attack), but along the way they have lost their love.  People wonder: did they lose love for God or for each other?  Well, probably both.  Just as Jesus summarized the law, we are to love the Lord our God and then love our neighbor as ourselves, the two are bound together and if you lose one, the other will certainly go as well.  So Christ rebukes them, calling them to remember their first love, to repent, and to resume their previous deeds.  When they do, they will experience full life, in the presence of the one who is LOVE himself…  This is a quick summary of the letter to the Ephesians.  We’re not going to focus on this letter tonight, so if you had more questions when you were reading it, please feel free to come and ask Ashley or me about them.

LAODICEA: Loss of Passion

We are going to spend the rest of the evening focusing on the church in Laodicea and what it means that they have lost their passion, their fire.

Background

What do we know about the church at Laodicea?  Laodicea is mentioned several times in the book of Colossians.  In his closing to the Colossians, Paul writes that his coworker Epaphras is working hard for Laodicea and Hierapolis and that after his letter is read to the Colossians, it should be read to the Laodiceans, and then the letter to the Laodiceans should be read to the Colossians.  You may be thinking, um, my Bible doesn’t have a letter to the Laodiceans.  You’re right.  Unfortunately, the letter to the Laodiceans has not be preserved, so we don’t know what it says, although we do know that this church would be familiar with the letter to the Colossians and Paul’s teaching about Jesus. 2 things about its background that are important for understanding this letter are: its water source and industries.

1)  Water: From archeology, we know that the city of Laodicea didn’t have its own water source.  Aqueducts have been found traveling both from Hierapolis, a town 10 miles to the North with hot springs, to Laodicea, and from Colossae, which was 6 miles east and had cold springs, to Laodicea.  They had to import water from other cities.  The sources of their water were both hot and cold, but unfortunately, by the time it reached Laodicea, it was only lukewarm at best.  The aqueducts and water system will provide the context for Christ’s rebuke to this church.

2) Industry: Laodicea was wealthy.  They were the wealthiest city in the region.  (Think Highland Park in Dallas…) We know that they had several successful industries.  Three in particular are important for understanding this letter.  1- Finance – they were a banking center in the region. 2- Garment Industry- The fertile lands around Laodicea were good for sheep grazing, and the city was known for successfully producing black wool from their sheep to make clothes with. 3- Medicine- in particular, Laodicea was a center for the study of the eyes, and they had produced a powder, a salve, that could be put on the eyes to heal them of diseases.  The industries of Laodicea will provide the context for Christ’s call to change for this church.

So, the things for us to keep in mind as we go through this letter are that 1) they didn’t have a good water source and 2) they had great wealth from their different industries.

Christ’s Rebuke

As the letter begins, Christ jumps right into condemning their faith.  This is the only letter that has no praises at all for the church.  The rebuke starts in verses 15-16.  As we read these verses, it’s clear that when Christ calls them neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm, he’s using the temperature of their imported water to speak to the temperature of their spiritual life.

Lukewarm Christians

What are some ways that we can be “lukewarm” in our faith? What does it mean to be lukewarm spiritually?  We can be: complacent, self-satisfied, self-reliant, pretending, putting on a show, pride, indifference, absorbed with the culture, being proud of our money, our clothes, our accomplishments, etc. So these are great examples of what faith that is lukewarm looks like.  Notice that Christ wishes they were either hot or cold: even cold would be better than where they are.  Cold faith would basically be no faith or nominal faith; there would be no recognizable difference between them and the world/the culture.

I once met a man who told me he doesn’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.  I said, sure it is, that’s the point.  We may mess up, but we go to church to learn how to grow and change and receive forgiveness from Christ when we do slip up.  The point of the gospel is that we have new life, now, in Christ, we have forgiveness and restoration.  But, unfortunately, some people don’t go to church to change; there are many Christians that are content living lives that are hypocritical: that are out of sync with their faith.  But we shouldn’t knowingly continue to live opposite to the life that Christ calls us to, so we have to know what he calls us to.

So Christ says he would rather we have no faith than be lukewarm.  And lukewarm faith actually disgusts Christ: in verse 16, he says he is about to spit (or spew) them out of his mouth.  The “faith” of lukewarm Christians nauseates Christ.  He wants so much more from us, but what?

A Faith that is Hot

What does a faith that is hot look like then?  On first thought, we think of a hot faith, being one that is “on fire,” characterized by passion for Christ, passion for faith, passionate to serve God and carry out his desires and will on earth.  Hot faith is excited faith, fresh faith.  It represents a change in your life.

Two weeks ago, a woman had a prayer request that she would feel good all week, like she does when she leaves Bible Study.  Her request is a great example of how being in God’s word, being in community, being in prayer helps us grow and develop a faith that is desirable, passionate.

Further Rebuke

Next, Christ uses the second aspect of their context: their industry to further rebuke them and to call for change. Let’s look first at verse 14 and the description of Christ as:

“the Amen, the faithful and true witness.”

This description of Christ, like all the descriptions of Christ in the 7 letters (top row of chart), was also found in Rev 1, which we talked about several weeks ago.  Because Christ is faithful and true, his observation of their spiritual state is faithful and true.

In verse 17, Christ points out the difference in how the Laodiceans view themselves and how they really are.  They say, “we are rich; we have gained wealth; we do not need a thing.  But Christ says they don’t realize that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  They can’t see their true spiritual state because they’re blinded by their physical state; they can’t see their spiritual poverty because their physical riches get in the way.

Their Industry

Christ then speaks to their true need, to their true spiritual state, by calling them to change.  He tells them to buy from him.  What does he tell them they need from him?: Refined gold (versus their own banking), white clothes (versus their black wool), and eye salve from him (versus the eye powder from their medical schools).  Christ gets to the heart of their condition.  They are lukewarm because they place their value and their worth and their identity in the things of their own city.  The church has become proud and boasts in the very things that the city is known for.  There is no real difference in the city and the church.  Their wealth, their clothes and their medicine has blinded them to their true selves.  They have the physical, but not the spiritual.

What are the industries found in Dallas?  What do we pride ourselves on as a city?  Things like: fashion, shopping, arts, banking, technology, etc. How are we tempted by these things?  Do we trust in the money we make, where we live, with being in and near such a successful city like Highland Park?  Do we worry about what clothes we own, spend large amounts of time shopping to look the part?  Do we trust in our accomplishments, in our renown for what we can do for the community?

For Laodicea, their true spiritual condition was one of poverty, nakedness, and blindness.  Christ’s rebuke to them is harsh: these would be hard words for them to hear because they saw themselves as so self-sufficient, but Christ means to awaken them, to open their eyes, so that they can move from being lukewarm to having a faith that is full of passion, one that is hot.

 Christ’s Call to Change

How do we get a hot faith?  Well, we have to hear the rebuke of Christ and recognize our true spiritual state.  Christ lists 3 things (in verse 18) that we need for change:

1) We have to turn to him for gold, to get from him gold, refined in the fire.  In Isa 55:1, God says to “come, buy from me, you who have no money, come and buy without money and without cost” (paraphrase).  He is just saying, come to me and receive from me my free gift of mercy that I offer.  He offers us gold, but refined gold that has gone through the fire to remove the dross, the impurities.  It’s a process of taking off the bad to be left with a more beautiful and precious substance.  It may hurt to go through the fire, through trials, but the end result is a more beautiful version of you—when you turn to Christ in that trial.

2) We have to turn to him for our clothes.  He counsels them to buy his white clothes.  Elsewhere in Revelation, like in the letter to Sardis, we see that there are a few who have not soiled their clothes and who wear white because they are worthy in God’s eyes.  The 24 elders of Rev 4 who sit around God’s throne are dressed in white.  In Rev 7, the people who have come out of the tribulation are before God’s throne serving him day and night.  Their clothes/robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb and thus made white…  It’s hard for us to imagine how washing something in blood can make it white, yet this is the very image of purity God uses to show us what we have through his son, through his death and resurrection.  It’s counterintuitive…So, people shouldn’t be dazzled by our amazing fashion sense and ability to put together a great outfit, but by our faith; our faith and love are what people should notice about us.

3)  We have to turn to Christ for salve (an ointment or medicine) to put on our eyes so that we can see.  Laodicea may be known for curing eye problems with their powder, but their true spiritual condition is one of blindness.  They base their fame on their ability to make others see, and yet they cannot even see themselves.  They need to come to him to open their eyes.

Christ goes after everything that they have based their worth and identity on and shows its falseness.  He shows their real need for him.  They may think they have physical wealth and are so safe from judgment, but God shows them that they have no spiritual wealth and calls them to change.  We have to recognize how much we need him—each day.

A Level of Suffering

I want to point out how being refined in the fire, wearing blood-soaked clothes, and having spiritually open eyes involves a level of pain, of suffering.  Next week, we’re going to look at two churches that suffered a lot and were praised for it.  We shouldn’t be afraid of growing through suffering. So, Christ rebukes lukewarm Christians so that they can gain a faith that is hot, full of true passion. But they have to go to him for the source of change.  He calls them, and he enables them.

Gaining a Faith that is Hot

Where do we go from here then?  We may want to have a faith that is hot, we don’t want to be lukewarm, but how do we get it?

First, think about where you are.  Do you feel like you’re just drifting through, giving the bare minimum engagement with your faith?  Are you lukewarm?  If Christ were to look at your life, would he see evidence of growth and fruit in your life.  The first step is for you to examine yourselves.

Second, stop doing the things that are holding you back in your faith.  You probably know already what they are.  Pray for Christ to give you the strength to stop.  That he will give you the courage to stand up for what you know he wants you to do.  Prayer and self-reflection are important parts of learning to stop doing the things that make you lukewarm in your faith.

Third, hear Christ’s rebuke: repent where you stray, humble your hearts, listen to Christ as he speaks to you.  Listen to the Holy Spirit.  Lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot.  Notice in verse 19 that Christ says “those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” It really is out of his love for us, that Christ rebukes us and challenges us to wake up/open our eyes.  He wants us to live truly meaningful lives.

Fourth, we need to hold onto the promises of God and his call for change.  We have to go to the source of true change: Christ himself.  His promises to us are also, gold, white clothes, open eyes.  We have to come to him daily to ask for it; to ask for his transformation in our lives. Christ also promises that those who hear his message, who are earnest and repent and want to have a true faith, those will have the right to sit with him on his throne (verse 21), just as Christ overcame and sat on the throne with his father.  This is a promise that we can hold onto now, because Christ is already reigning, but we just don’t see it fully yet.  We can be his good agents of change in the world, though.  So hold onto the promises of God, grasp them, and make them real in your life.

Fifth, involve the Holy Spirit in your changed behavior.  Ask him to move you, to change you, to refine you, to turn your heart, to open your eyes.  Ask for that passionate faith, for a faith that is hot.

Walk yourself through all these steps. Examine where you are lukewarm, make a commitment to change and to stop doing what’s keeping you lukewarm, hear Christ’s rebuke and repent, hold onto his promises, and finally, involve the Holy Spirit, who is the only lasting agent of change—and change IS possible through the Holy Spirit—and don’t forget that this is a refining process, it will be difficult. In conclusion, we’ve seen tonight, how lukewarm Christians need to hear Christ’s rebuke to gain a faith that is hot.

 Questions for Discussion & Application…

  • What are you passionate about? How does your faith factor into this?
  • What is the state of your current spiritual life? Cold, lukewarm, or hot, and why?

 


Revelation 1, by Keeley Chorn

The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”

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Helpful Handouts:

1. Handout that goes along with this lesson

2. Another handout explaining different views on how to read Revelation and also views on the Millenium

3. A brief outline of Revelation

A couple of months ago, I bought a book I’d wanted to read for a while: Dante’s Inferno.  The book is an epic poem about Dante’s descent into the rings of hell where he encounters various men and women from the past and from his own time period.  As I started, I saw a lot of ornate language, symbolism, rich description, and images of intense suffering.  I felt like I couldn’t understand its content and I was afraid it was too complex for me.  I set it down on my bedside table to collect dust.  I just wasn’t up for the challenge or intensity that would come with reading Inferno… but this book is a classic, and I felt like I was going to continue wanting to read it until I was able to finish it.  To do this, I was going to have to see Dante as less remote.

Over the Christmas break, I finally decided to dust it off and give Dante another shot.  As I started, I realized it wasn’t as difficult as I thought.  The language was descriptive, but it flowed.  The images were scary and other-worldly, but believable.  My fears about the complexity, strangeness, and obscurity were dispelled.  What dispelled these fears?  Well, starting the book did; picking it up and reading.  I realized that it wasn’t as remote as I thought.  It wasn’t too hard to read.  Now, I did consult a few notes on the background of the story, so that I understood his context, but other than that, I found the writing to be accessible.

Our study of Revelation is meant to show you, that this last book of the Bible, is also accessible.  Through God’s Holy Spirit and our knowledge of the rest of his Bible, we can read and understand Revelation.  Our goal in this study is to introduce you to the book, to show you how important it is for Christian living, and to encourage you to pick it up and start to read it; to see that it too is accessible.

Introduction to book of Revelation

To help us study Revelation, let me give a little background.  Revelation was written by John.  Tradition has it that this is the same John that wrote the gospel of John and the 3 NT letters by the name of John.  The book was actually a circular letter written to 7 churches that are in modern-day Turkey.  By circular letter, I mean that it was written to all 7, and was meant to be passed between them, read, and understood.  We know from Ch. 1, verse 9 that the writer John was on the island of Patmos (a Greek island located about 100 miles SW, as the crow flies, of the city of Smyrna, modern-day Izmir).  John was on the island because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  He says he is the believers’ companion in suffering and patient endurance.  The book was written to speak to real needs that the church was suffering.  The book was to be an encouragement for those under great pressure and suffering pointing them to Christ, and it’s a challenge to combat the forces of evil all around them (even within them).

Their form of persecution might have been different than ours today.  Today we are told to leave our faith at home, in private, to not bring it into the workplace.  We can end up scared to say anything, because someone might think less of us.  It might hurt our chance for promotion.  But the encouragement, the focus on Christ, and the challenge to resist evil are still relevant to us and should cause us to pause and think about how we live.

Four millennial views

Because Revelation deals with many heavenly and future things, it has been interpreted in many ways.  I’ve put together a handout for you of the four major variations of interpretation of the book and end times.  The sheet is meant to be a quick reference for you, if you ever need it…  Why are there different views, you might be thinking?  Well, basically Christians disagree over how to interpret the end times.  All the views wrestle with the Scriptures, but come to different conclusions.  This isn’t that different than why we have different denominations.  Christians agree on the major points of faith, but disagree on how it plays out in the day-to-day life of the church.

What is a millennium?  A period of 1,000 years.  To help us understand the meaning of “millennium,” I want you to remember the year 2000.   People were worried that it was going to be the end of the world.  All the computers were going to malfunction, cause widespread chaos, potentially damage, and perhaps even the end of the world as we knew it… People were afraid of the uncertainty, of what might happen.  Besides fears about the unknown, it was also 2000 years after the birth of Christ.  It was the beginning of a new millennium, and many predicted that it was going to usher in the return of Christ and the final judgment.  I tell you this, so that you can see how having a specific end-times view can cause you to interpret our current times.  Having this view shows one of the interpretations…

Looking at our handout, we see that there are shared beliefs that Christians have about the end times.  The difference is that Christians disagree on the order in which these events will take place.  A lot of the differences stem from an interpretation of Revelation 20 which refers to a thousand-year period in which Christ reigns and Satan is bound.

  1. The first view says that Christ will come the second time, a literal 1000 years will follow in which Christ literally and bodily reigns on earth, and at the end of this “millennium” the last judgment will occur.  This view gets its name from the fact that Christ returns prior to the millennium, or premillennium.  Holders of this view are called premillennialists. Some famous premillennialists are some of the early church fathers, Fuller Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
  2. The second view is really a sub-category of the first.  They insert a period of 7 years between the 2nd coming and the millennium calling these 7-years the time of tribulation.  The period of tribulation is to gather in more Christians, and then Christ will come the 2nd time (again) to start his earthly 1000-year rule.  Holders to this view are often just called Dispensationalists.  Famous dispensationalists are the authors of the Left Behind series, Dallas Theological Seminary.  This view is often seen in association with Bible churches throughout the evangelical movement.
  3. The third major interpretation of the millennium, or the 1000 years, is that we will continue living as we currently do, and at some point in the future, the millennium will begin.  We will recognize it because the gospel will win more people, nations will become Christian, laws will all become Christ, and evil grow less, more and more during this time.  This view gets its name from the fact that Christ returns after the millennium, or post-millennium.  Holders of this view are called posmillennialists. I struggled to find some famous postmillennialists that I thought you would know.  It’s not as widespread in American churches as it was in other time periods.  (A few theologians who hold to this view are Greg Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry.)
  4. The fourth major interpretation of the millennium, says that we currently live in the millennium.  Christ has already triumphed over death and Satan on the cross, and ever since then, he has been reigning over the earth.  He will still return at some point in the future.  The 1000 years are seen as symbolic, because they appear in apocalyptic visions in a symbolic book.  Holders of this view are called amillennialists, because they don’t distinguish a millennium from our current circumstances.  Proponents of this view are Episcopalians, Catholics, and many Reformed people, including Presbyterians, specifically PCPC, and most people at Westminster and Redeemer Seminaries.

Whew! That’s a lot to cover in 5-10 minutes!  You might be thinking, what does it matter?  Do I have to choose one of these beliefs to be a Christian?  No, you don’t have to choose one of these views to be a Christian or even to come to this Bible Study.  Ashley and I hope that by at least introducing you to them, you’ll be better able to understand why people interpret the end times and Revelation so differently.  The next time you encounter the words rapture or tribulation or millennium, you’ll know that these words are associated with how people read the book of Revelation (and other end times prophecy statements).

Revelation 1: What is “revealed” about Jesus?

Okay, let’s dive into Ch. 1 of Revelation now.  I’ve already given you a little background on the book.  Now, I want to look at its content. When I think of “apocalypse,” I think of end times, maybe the great battle of Armegeddon, the end of the world, a great disaster, or some sci-fi movie, even Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto about the Mayan end of calendar in 2012.  There are many things that come to mind.

The word “apocalypse” actually comes from the Greek language (apokalypsis) and is the same word as the English “Revelation.”  An alternate title for the book of Revelation has traditionally been “Apocalypse.”  So, the word apocalypse (or revelation) means an “unveiling,” a lifting of the veil, a revealing of something.  It’s supposed to be a disclosure of something hidden.  That’s what we have here in the book of Revelation.  Ch. 1 reveals or makes known the risen Christ, as God, to us. In the first verse of the book, we learn, even though the book was written by John and he received the vision while he was in the Spirit, that this is “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to show his servants [that includes us!] what must soon take place.” It’s this message and testimony of what John’s seen that has landed him in exile (verse 9).  He stood up for what he heard and believed, and he suffered for it.  Right off, we know that as Christians when we live out our faith, life is not necessarily going to be easy for us; it’s going to be a struggle.…

This vision of Christ in heaven, after his resurrection, helps shape the way we view our future, what heaven will be like (or a vision to share with a loved one who is dying), but it even more importantly shapes the way we view our present day and life (this vision should change the way we view God and the resurrected Christ). To give you a quick and short outline, this chapter can be divided into two main parts: one, the Prologue in verses 1-8, and two, the son of man and his message, in verses 9-20.

The Prologue

The Prologue, in verses 1-8, goes through a lot of the important background information I’ve already talked about.  For now, I’m just going to focus on some of the details about Christ that are shared with us in this section.  Revelation 1 is revealing Christ to us.

Think of the way when you look through the lens of a camera, you can adjust and focus your view on the world.  Reading Revelation is like further focusing our view on God and on Christ.  It allows us to see him in a bigger and more magnified way.  The more we study and read and learn about him, the greater our picture of him is and the better we will know him and how much he loves us.  The more powerful our lens and the more we use it, the better prepared we will be to face the struggles of life, because we will know God better and we’ll be able to understand better what he’s doing.

About Christ, it is revealed, in verse 5, that Jesus is the faithful witness, he’s the firstborn from the dead—this means that he was the first to be resurrected to eternal life, he’s the first of many more to come—, and he’s the ruler of the kings of the earth.  Christ is now already the ruler of the kings of the earth.  Verse 6 tells us what he has done for us: he’s loved us—you and me—he’s freed us from our sins by his death and blood, and he’s made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve God, the Father.  In verses 7-8, we see that the urgency of the letter is because Christ is coming again; the NT often describes him as returning with the clouds.

As his servants, you and I have an important role and mission for our lives. We are to show his kingdom to the world and to serve him, either through our words or our actions.  We do this by living out our faith at work, at home, in our relationships.  We must honor our employers and their time; our spouses or significant others, our friends.  We may be called to speak up about our faith or leave a situation that’s not in accord with our beliefs.  These are further ways that sharpening our focus on Christ helps us live more consistently with our beliefs.

The Son of Man

Let’s move to the second part of this chapter in verses 9-20.  In these verses we learn a lot about what the risen Christ looks like.  We didn’t get descriptions like these of Jesus when he was on earth, after the resurrection.  This is after he has ascended to heaven and where he reigns over the earth now.  These descriptions add depth to our understanding of who Christ is.  They help us focus our lens.

These verses reveal Christ even more to us as God. In verse 10, we are introduced to the voice of, which verse 13 reveals is, one “like a son of man.”  He is described as having a voice like a trumpet and like the sound of rushing waters.  His feet are glowing.  His head and hair are white like wool and snow.  His eyes are blazing; his face is like the sun in all its brilliance.  He is radiating!  This is a picture of the glory that he has now that he is resurrected.  Out of his mouth comes a sharp, double-edged sword.  At first I thought, oh, that’s a bad sign, someone’s going to get cut, but in the context of the rest of the Bible, specifically Hebrews 4:12, we see that a double-edged sword is used to describe the word of God.  So Hebrews 4:12 says,

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

So, I think we can safely say that what he holds in his mouth is the word of God, which is able to penetrate our hearts, souls, and thoughts.

What is the reason John refers to Christ as “one like a son of man?” Why does the text call Christ this? How can we be sure it is Christ?  Here’s where we want to use the context of the whole Bible to help us interpret this passage.

Let’s look to the OT, to Daniel 7:13-14:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Daniel prophesied of one coming on the clouds, one like a son of man, who would approach the Ancient of Days, another name for God, and he would be given authority over the whole earth,.  When John wrote Revelation, he meant for the people to understand that he was referring to Daniel’s vision.  We also know that in the NT, in the gospels, Jesus repeatedly takes the title “Son of Man” to describe himself.  Jesus says, “I am the Son of Man.”  Finally, when he predicts his return he tells them (citing the Dan 7:13 passage) that they will see the son of man coming with the clouds (Mt 24:30, 26:64; Mk 13:26, 14:62; Luke 21:27).  So we see this was predicted in the OT, Jesus says it about himself, and then it was revealed to John in his vision.

I also want you to notice that it says his kingdom will not pass away and will never be destroyed.  This gives us hope as we live today, even when we see the brokenness of the world, fighting, war, dirty politics, maybe the erosion of America as a “Christian” nation, Jesus has established his kingdom, we are part of it, but he is the one ultimately carrying out his purposes, so we don’t have to despair when things don’t look like what we think they should.  We don’t have to get overwhelmed at all the work to be done, but to trust in God’s purposes and desires to see his kingdom fully established on earth.

We saw in the Daniel verses, the son of man approaches the Ancient of Days, who we have a description of just a few verses earlier in verse 9.

“As I looked,/ “thrones were set in place,/ and the Ancient of Days took his seat./ His clothing was as white as snow;/ the hair of his head was white like wool./ His throne was flaming with fire, /and its wheels were all ablaze.”

Notice how the description of the Ancient of Days in Daniel matches, now in Revelation, the Son of Man, the risen and glorified (his shining glory) Jesus Christ.  This reference reminds us that Jesus is God in the flesh.  Revelation is taking OT images about God and applying them to Jesus, saying, look: “Jesus is God.”  The God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT.  The story of what God has been doing throughout all history is continuing even now.

Flip back to Revelation 1, verse 17.  I want you to notice that Jesus reaches out and touches John and tells him to not be afraid.  Just as Jesus did for John, he does for us: wanting us to not be afraid of what we’re going to read and see in the book, but also what we might see going on in the world.  His hand is a comfort and is to calm our own fears.  God is not some big absent presence off in the heavens, but he has come down to live among us and be near to us.  See Christ as always close to you.

After touching John, Jesus identifies himself as God, the First and the Last, just like in verse 8, the Lord God said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet—he encompasses the start and the finish of all things). John, as the writer, and Jesus do not want us to forget that the risen Christ is God.  Jesus is the Living One, he is alive now and forever.  Death no longer has power over him (Rom 6:9).

The chapter concludes with the risen Christ telling John to write what he has seen, what is now, and what is to come. So, there are going to be parts of the book of Revelation that were true in John’s day, are true in our current days, and there are parts that are still to come.  We’ve seen tonight Revelation 1 revealing what is currently true about Jesus Christ.

Application: How does this Revelation Impact the way we live?

How does this Revelation of Christ change the way we live then?  I’ve talked a lot about it as we’ve gone through the lesson tonight.

1.     It gives us a vision of our future hope for death.

2.     It gives us a present hope in our own struggles.

3.     It gives us a lens to better understand God and the world.  It helps us focus and it magnifies.

4.     It shapes the way we live and go about our work, and even view politics

5.     It teaches us that Christ is near too.

Conclusion

In conclusion, seeing the risen Christ, knowing him better, helps us face our struggles, because we know that we follow a triumphant and risen Savior.

Questions for Discussion & Application…

●       How has your current view of the end-times shaped the way you live?  Should it?

●       How can you apply this picture of Christ (the “lens”) to your current situation?

Revelation Intro

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A  brief word about this study in the book of Revelation. Tell me, quickly, why you want to study the book of Revelation? Be honest, what would draw you to a study of the book of Revelation?

  • Rarely ever taught or explained – never studied it
  • Hard to understand on your own
  • Intriguing, mysterious, yet holds the secrets of our future
  • Left Behind series made it appealing
  • To know what the future holds

There are two responses or approaches to the book of Revelation that I want to point out.

  1. Some people approach the book of Revelation kind of like something out of the Da Vinci code. Like it’s a secret code that needs to be cracked. As if all we need to do is de-code it and then we will fully understand what is to come. But that is not what Revelation was meant to be. I thought the Left Behind books were entertaining and fun to read, but I don’t think God intended for us to fully be able to understand what He put in that book.
  2. On the other hand, some people might be put off by Revelation. Frustrated that God would give us such a strange description of what is to come and that there are so many interpretations of what it all means. Maybe it’s just a fairy tale type story with a moral to it. But this is not the way we are suppose to react to it either.

Open to Revelation 1 and let’s briefly look at 2 verses together. Here John begins by telling us what he’s about to write, what is the book of Revelation and how are we suppose to approach it? Revelation 1:2-3 he explains this revelation as,

“the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (and then he says)3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it…”

So here John tells us that what is written in the book of Revelation is:

  • the Word of God
  • spoken by the resurrected Jesus
  • we are to read it, hear it, and take it to heart
  • and, when we do, he says we will be blessed.

Now, the first time I read that I immediately thought it meant that just simply by reading the book through once I would receive a magical blessing. But this is not what John means. For something to bless us means that it has a direct and immediate affect on our lives today. So John is saying that if you read and take to heart what is in the book of Revelation you will be blessed by it today, it will have a positive impact on your life.

But how is that possible? If we aren’t suppose to decode it, and there are so many interpretations, and we can never fully understand it in this lifetime? Well, we find the beginning of this answer in how the book begins. The first thing you will see in this book, after the introduction, is that it was addressed to 7 churches and a letter was written specifically to each one. Look at chapters 2 & 3. Notice the 7 letters. Each written to a body of believers, addressed to those who call themselves Christians. Each letter offers encouragement for the good they are doing, but most of them also offer a criticism of a sin that is prevalent among them. Each ends with a promise for those who persevere and overcome the things on earth. And as you continue to flip through Revelation you will see that after the 7 letters, the rest of Revelation is the unfolding of those promises.

So why do we have the book of Revelation? Why should we study it?

  • To help us persevere by giving us a bigger picture of what we are striving for
  • To encourage us in our suffering on earth, by telling us of what we have to look forward to in heaven
  • To give us confidence in how it will all end
  • We live in a very secular world so we need to be reminded of what is eternal and of the spiritual reality of life. So the book of Revelation helps give us perspective.
  • And it blesses us by re-aligning us with the truth and giving us an eternal perspective with the promise of fulfillment in the end.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like for Christians today if we did not have the book of Revelation? Can you imagine not truly knowing that God will be victorious over evil in the end, or that we have heaven to look forward to? Revelation has so much to offer us that we would be foolish to neglect it.

So here is our plan the next 6 weeks. Next week we are going to study chapter 1 and talk about the book of Revelation in general. Then, we want to spend a good amount of time on the 7 letters, actually the majority of the time. And I believe it is going to be a great encouragement to us and very convicting to. And then the last night we are going to do an overview of the rest of Revelation and really give you a great picture of what the rest of the book says. We are not going to spend any time on interpretation or trying to guess who the beast is or any of that. So I hope you’re not disappointed.

Preparation: Read chapter 1. If you have 10 minutes, then also read ch. 2-3. If you really want an idea of what the book of Revelation is about, which I recommend, then find 45-1 hour to read the entire book.