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Current study: Spiritual Warfare

24 December 2012

Week 52 - December 24

December 24
Revelation 1-5

If you've never read Revelation before, you're not alone. If all you know about Revelation comes from “educational television” shows or The Left Behind series, you have much to learn. If you've read Revelation over and over, you'll have new discoveries.

Revelation is about the end of the world, of course. God clearly showed John what was going to happen to our earth and everyone in it. Can you imagine how he must have felt when he was swept into the heavenlies to see future history? He saw vehicles unimagined in his time, nuclear war, fires, horses, death, destruction, and people who could not participate in commerce because they refused to take a loyalty mark. It was not so long ago that we couldn't figure out how anyone could be prohibited from buying or selling for lack of a mark, but every day we see news reports of additional surveillance measures, set up for our own good of course, which make it clear that the Bible's predictions are true and accurate.

Some think that this book is as symbolic, like the historicist, who believes that Revelation is a panoramic view of history. They see symbolism in the invasions of Rome and the French Revolution. The idealist thinks that it's simply a description of the cosmic war between the forces of good and evil, which severs Revelation from literal events and makes it merely a collection of stories with a spiritual truth. Others, like the preterists, believe that it was all fulfilled in AD70, which can't be true because the book claims to be prophecy! The futurist holds that Revelation 6-22 is in the future and depicts atual events which will occur, including Jesus' second coming, the Millennium, and judgments. I stand firmly in the futurist camp and believe that God put this information in the Book to warn us and make us aware. As we see our freedoms erode, as we see speaking ALL the words of the Bible becoming “hate crimes”, as we watch formerly staunch evangelical denominations fall to the world and ordain people to ministry whose lifestyle is called abomination by God, we can look at the end of this Book and know that God knows what's going to happen. If He could tell us about it 2,000 years ago, He can protect His people! His promises are true.

When you read this Book, God promises that you are blessed!

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Rev 1:3 (ESV)

John has a vision, and he sees Jesus! He's standing in the middle of the seven candlesticks (remember that there were also seven lampstands in the tabernacle and the temple (Exodus 25:37). Seven is the Biblical number for completeness, and these seven lampstands represent all churches.

We read the seven letters to the churches – actual churches in John's day, and representative of churches that exist in the church age (now). Do you see your church in any of these (or a combination)?

Ephesus was a considered the gateway to Asia, and the people worshiped Artemis (Greek) and Diana (Roman). Diana/Artemis' temple was one of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Paul, Timothy and John all served the Ephesian church, and John was serving there when he was arrested and exiled to the island of Patmos. This church had spiritual discernment and was faithful, but they were no longer passionate about Christ. This reminds us that no matter how doctrinally sound we may be, without love...

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Cor 13:1 (ESV)

If the church doesn't repent, they would see God's judgment. Have you lost your first love? Are you reading, praying, going to church and maybe even sharing Christ without the passion? Turn from the “deeds of the Nicolaitans”, which brought sexuality into the church. As Clement of Alexander said, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence”. Repent! Return to your first love. Jesus promises:

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Revelation 2:7 (ESV)

Smyrna means “myrrh” and this city was the center of science and medicine. They worshiped the Emperor, and it was the pastor of Smyrna, Polycarp, who was burned at the stake for refusing to worship Caesar. There was a large carnal Jewish population who were allied with the pagan culture to wipe out Christianity. God promised that their tribulations would last only for a short time and promised life eternal for those who overcame and remained faithful.

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. Revelation 2:11 (ESV)

Pergamos/Pergamum means “citadel” and was built on a 1,000 foot hill. We get our word parchment from Pergamum, which brings the reference “two edged sword”, the sword of the Spirit or the Word which brings judgment, to life.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

Pergamos was the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor for over 250 years. It was the capital of the cult of Caesar worship and host to the pagan cults of Athena, Asklepios, Dionysius/Bacchus and Zeus. The doctrine of Balaam referred to Balaam's prostitution of his prophetic gift. God promises Christians that He will give both a new name and a white stone (in John's time, a white stone was given to the victor as a pass into the winner's celebration). The name we receive will be private and personal – just between Jesus and me! I look forward to hearing the name Jesus bestows, don't you?

To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. Revelation 2:17 (ESV)

Thyatira was located between Pergamos and Sardis. It had no natural defenses and was constantly being destroyed and rebuilt. This church was carnal and filled with sexual immorality. It was given time to repent and refused. God promised to destroy those who did not repent, but promised the faithful remnant that they would not only be spared, but they would rule (2:26).

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. Revelation 2:26-28 (ESV)

Sardis sat on a natural acropolis 1,500 feet up and was nearly impregnable. This church was populated by unredeemed and unregenerate people who were legalistic and works based. They had the plans and programs in place and had a good reputation in the community, but to God, they were spiritually dead. Yet, there was a remnant and Jesus encouraged them. His promise to the overcomers at Sardis:

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Revelation 3:5 (ESV)

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. This church was small but mighty, following God's doctrines. They persevered in their faith, and God promised them:

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. Revelation 3:12 (ESV).

And finally, there is the church in Laodicea. In John's time, Laodicea was wealthy and important, known for banking, wool and medicine (their eye salve was very famous). The city didn't have enough water, so they built an underground aqueduct, and their water was known to be dirty and tepid. A nearby city, Hierapolis, was famous for its hot springs, and Colosse was known for its cold mountain stream. People who didn't know about the water in Laodicea would take a drink and spit it out. Like that water, the church wasn't cold (completely turning their back on Christ), nor hot (zealous). They may have thought they were Christians, but Jesus said otherwise. He gave the church a stern warning to repent, along with a precious promise to those who were able to overcome.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. Revelation 3:19-21 (ESV)

Now that the churches have been warned, we see John transported to heaven where he sees events that will happen at the end of the church age. He describes God's throne as best he can (I am certain that as magnificent as it sounds, seeing it in person will make this description pale in comparison). It is a place of reverent worship.

Chapter 5 opens with a picture of a sealed scroll (is it the title to the earth?) and an angel asking who is worthy to break the seals. In John's time, contracts and important documents were sealed. The more seals, the higher its importance, and seven is the Biblical number of completion. The only One worthy to break these seven seals is Christ.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, it's fitting to focus on the songs we read at the end of today's reading. That tiny baby, born in obscurity and poverty and laid in a dirty and smelly stable is the One Who is worthy to open the seals and bring God's ultimate plan into place. Worship the Baby tonight – and come and worship the King of all creation now!

And they sang a new song, saying,

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain,
and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,
saying with a loud voice,

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 5:9-14 (ESV)

Come and worship. Worship Christ the newborn King. Worship the Lamb Who will receive blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. See you tomorrow.

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