Friday, January 31, 2014

Sealing of God's People ...


John’s descriptions of events that led up to the coming of Christ are not an escalating level of peace, but rather carry an escalating level of destruction on a world-wide basis.  The opening of the sixth seal shows signs of abnormality in the physical universe around us; followed by great destruction as the face of Jesus is seen returning to the world.  Perhaps it is for this reason, that John introduces a pause in these revelations, a respite from the chaos, to reveal an event of special significance.  So in the 7th chapter of his book of Revelations of Jesus Christ, author of the weekly rest of the Sabbath at our creation, John seems to backtrack a moment in time and reveal this event.  In verse 1 he writes … “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.”  The phrase “and after these things” may well apply to this vision being granted after the tumultuous events described in the prior one of the opening of the six seals.  For what is to take place here on earth, has more meaning if it precedes the coming of Christ, than after the destruction that accompanies his second coming.
John then describes seeing 4 angels positioned standing at the 4 corners of the world, or strategically located in order for us to understand that what they hold back is yet another global event.  John tells us that these angels continue to hold back the “winds” in order that the earth, the sea, not even a single tree be hurt.  He continues in verse 2 … “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, [verse 3] Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”  John now describes yet another angel who ascends from the east and carries the “seal” of the living God.  In the time of John, rulers and kings carried a unique item carved with unique symbols and made of metals that when applied to warmed wet wax would form a unique indentation.  The wax would dry with the imprint of the seal.  This was usually done in order to keep the contents secured until the proper addressee could examine them.  If the seal was broken, it meant that the contents were compromised.  If the seal stood in tact, one could examine it and based on the unique symbols, could determine “whose” seal it was.  Generally only the king or ruler was allowed to carry the seal, in order that only documents which came from him could bear his mark.
In this case, the 5th angel ascending from the east, is carrying the seal of the living God, the God of creation.  He carries a message of delay to the 4 angels who are presently holding back the winds of destruction; that they should carry on holding them yet a while longer.  Before massive destruction is unleashed upon the world, time is needed in order for the 5th ascending angel to press the seal of the living God into the soft foreheads of those who serve God, thus making an indelible impression upon them.  Our minds are to be altered, to want different things, to view love differently, to see in harmony with our God of creation and life and love and truth.  The process of our sealing, is to end the doubt.  It is to end the vacillation, to end the back-and-forth of serving and backsliding.  Our sealing is to put a final stamp on the destiny we have chosen.  From this point forward, we are to become those who are holy still, rather than those who are unholy still.  Once again, this is NOT a process we do to ourselves.  We are not empowered to grasp His seal, and stamp ourselves with it.  Instead this is to only be done by an angel commissioned with that work.  It is done TO us, not by us.  It is done FOR us, not because we have earned it.  It is the mercy of God outstretched that we might find the greater faith that does not waiver any longer, but believes in the salvation of Jesus Christ with ALL its heart and mind and soul.
The servants of our God, are those who hold to His word, and the testimony of Jesus Christ – His word made alive in us by the power of His so great love.  While still living, these servants share the characteristic of the martyrs who preceded them and whose blood cried out from beneath the alter in the opening of the fifth seal.  The Word of God includes the stories of creation, of the establishment of the seventh day Sabbath, of the flood, of the patriarchs and prophets, of the Messiah, of the early church, and of the voice now given in end-time prophecies.  The Word of God cannot be discarded in part, or thought of as only partially accurate, and still hold meaning.  It is either the message of God to us in written and inspired form, or it is meaningless stories recorded for some unknown amusement.  It cannot be both.  There is a law of love that is outlined as a first step in the journey of what it means to love others, or the God who authored it is false.  It cannot be both.  The enemy would tempt the servants of God to discard His Bible as being simply inaccurate, so that salvation and re-creation are never sought or found.  But the God who inspired His book, and through His Son enables us to live in harmony with it, would not have it so.
Before calamity strikes the world, before the holy angels who currently hold back the results of the evil so many embrace are told to loose their grip and end their interference, the people and servants of Christ are to be sealed.  And what is the unique symbols that identify the true God from those who might try to pose as Him?  Obedience and submission that results in re-creation so that true obedience is possible help compose it.  His servants are brought into harmony with His laws through this process.  It is then, that the mind begins to see the beauty of His laws that outline what it means to love God, and to love others, and not ourselves.  The slavery of self-love and self-service are broken by the power of our God, not of ourselves.  As we trust in His wisdom instead of our own, we are molded in His image and not of our own.  We begin to be obedient, not through the power of our will, or the forced behavior of our hands, but because it becomes natural to us, it becomes a part of “who” we are. 
We keep His laws, because we cannot imagine otherwise.  We cannot imagine not taking time out to be with Him on the Sabbath; as we cannot imagine hurting another by stealing, or lying, or coveting, or killing.  We honor our parents because we love them.  We seek God first, because we know it is only through His power, that we can live as such, and have life worth living.  We seek out no idols.  We cherish no impure motive, nor cling to any once cherished sin; for through the salvation of Christ, we are remade in the here and the now, to be truly His servants.  We choose to obey this God, and in so doing we bear the imprint of His seal.  We prefer the edicts of God to the edicts of men, even if it causes men to seek our lives, like they did His, as a result.
To look upon the sealed servants of God, who are uniquely marked BEFORE the winds of strife begin to blow unrestrained by holy influence, is to find the unique symbols of our God.  We see His laws engrained in us.  We see His love engrained in us.  We find a lack of condemnation, and an abundance of redemptive love seeking others to swell our ranks.  We find these servants in harmony with the mission of their Lord.  They do not seek to compel the conscience of others, but instead respond to the love of Christ that gave them reason to seek His salvation in the first place.  While many will be redeemed and stand before the Lord on the sea of glass.  There are those who will have the special honor of being sealed before He returns.  They will live throughout the troubling times that are to come.  They will carry His seal through this time, and have a special work to encourage the faithful throughout it.  These may be the wise virgins who kept their oil and were prepared for the day that was to come.  These may be those who serve Christ today, and know the power of His re-creation within us, that leads us away from the sins we would otherwise seek.
John notes that this sealing occurs before the earth is engulfed in the woe that evil brings with it.  Today angels still hold the full winds of strife from wreaking their havoc across the earth.  It is the love of God that restrains these winds.  He holds back from us, the full weight of our sins, and the full weight of the woe they would result in.  He keeps at bay the punishment we deserve and the natural consequences of the evil we choose.  He does this in order to preserve us, so that we might still choose His redemptive love over the slavery of our self-service.  But it will not always be so.  There is an end to this period of probation, of testing, of opportunity.  At some point in our not too distant future, the angels holding back these winds will be told to do so no more.  At some point, the winds will be loosed.  At some point those who are sealed will be sealed.  By implication, when the sealing is completed, the winds will be set loose.
John then continues with what he sees as the numbers are described.  He writes in verse 4 … “And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.”  The symbolism of the number 12 seems to represent a level of completeness.  Perhaps in this number is intended to represent the whole of His servants, being 12 times 12 times a thousand.  Or perhaps this is a literal number that is intended to represent a literal 144,000 servants who are sealed for a special work before the Lord.  Perhaps these are they who represent the early victory through Christ of our salvation.  They are re-created ahead of the remainder of the servants of God, and see the beauty of His salvation enacted in them, before the masses begin to appreciate it.  So whether figurative, or literal, the number bears the symbolism of perfection and completeness as John continues to write.
In the next 4 verses beginning in verse 5 he outlines a breakdown of those who comprise the 144,000.  John lists them in groups of three.  Four groups of three tribes in each verse.  They are NOT listed in order of birth.  They are NOT listed as identical to the original 12 tribes of Israel.  In verse 5 he begins … “Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.”  Rueben was actually the first born, so if this were a dissertation on the historical tribes of Israel, and done by right of birth, Reuben would have been listed first.  He was not.  John continues in verse 6 … “Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand.”  Manasses was the son of Joseph, and the grandson of Jacob.  So this was also not a listing of just the original 12 sons born to Jacob renamed Israel. 
In verse 7 he continues … “Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand.”  Neither Levi, because of the priesthood duties, nor Simeon who was absorbed into Judah over time, had any land to speak of in the nation of Israel.  So this list was not meant to represent only those who had possession of land in the promised land after Moses led them to it, and Joshua led them into it.  John continues in verse 8 … “Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.”  Joseph had been made viceroy of Egypt, or governor over all the land.  He married an Egyptian wife, and had non-Canaanite children in the form of Manasses and Ephraim.  But despite Joseph being perhaps as much Egyptian in life as he was Israelite by birth, He is included in this list.  Joseph is also listed after his son Manasses which would again defy order by birthright.  The tribe of Benjamin was always thought of as small, because it was nearly wiped out early in the land of promise due to an unfortunate incident with a prostitute.  Yet although being small it is still included in the list.  Ephraim Joseph’s other son is not listed here, despite being a historical tribe of significance, and owning land.  Neither is Dan, a son of Jacob whose tribe also had occupied land in the promised land.
So, if the tribes do not represent the original list of sons from Israel in order of birth.  If they are missing the historical Dan and Ephraim, but include Manasses and Joseph.  Then there must be something more than just a description of inclusion strictly by birthright as thought of in ancient tradition.  Perhaps these tribes are further symbols of the peoples they represent.  Perhaps the characteristics of the servants of Christ at the time of this sealing are similar to the historical patriarchs and tribes represented in this list.  The Lion of Judah, who is our Lord, and the Lamb, is listed as the first tribe from which 12,000 are sealed.  Perhaps this is why it is listed out of order by birth.  Joseph and Benjamin were the children of Rachel who held Jacobs greatest love, and they were the children of his old age.  Perhaps that is why they are listed last.  And perhaps they represent us in the last days of earth’s history, the remnant of His church, and His servants, who seek to be freed from self, and embrace His way of loving others.  Since the nation of Israel, and the Jewish faith, has all but rejected Jesus Christ as its Messiah and Savior, it is difficult to believe the 144,000 are found in the historical descendants of these tribes, or in a faith that rejects Christ as its cornerstone.
Also we should note, that the timing of this Revelation given to John is just after he witnesses the sixth seal being opened, and represents a pause in what is going on.  This would imply that the sealing is being done near the end of earth’s history, not before during the ascendancy of the Jewish nation before Christ first appeared.  These sealed followers are perhaps those who will be translated to heaven without tasting death.  They will have a special role here, and another one in heaven.  They will stand before His throne day and night serving God, which is a place of infinite honor and fulfillment and represents no higher calling of any in existence.  But in this sealing is revealed another dimension of mercy and love of our God.  This is after all, another Revelation of Jesus Christ.  That He would so honor us, as to see us redeemed to His service, and share with Him His message of redemption is yet another evidence of His so great love for us.  The 144,000 are not alone in His heaven.  But they are specially prepared and hold a special position as later writings will reveal …
 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Six Seals Opened ...

Chapter 6 of John’s book Revelations is a continuation of the vision that began in chapter 4.  The scene is set in heaven, God the Father has offered a book that is sealed with 7 seals, but only to one who is worthy to open and read it.  At first, no one is found who is worthy to take the book.  But then, Jesus the Lamb of God, enters the room and takes the book, at which all of heaven rejoices.  John picks back up with the scene here as in verse 1 he writes … “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.”  Now that the Lamb has taken the book, He begins to open the seals that were keeping it closed.  Upon opening the first seal, one of the 4 beasts (or other life forms) invites John to come and see what was revealed in the opening of the first seal.
John continues in verse 2 … “And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.”  A literal white horse and rider is probably not the true intention of this passage.  Throughout human history there have been many conquerors and this imagery is probably not intended to simply identify yet another one.  So given a probable lack of literal meaning in the interpretation, a more figurative or spiritual interpretation of the symbolism seems much more likely.  It might also be worth noting that the first beast was likened to a lion (a traditional symbol of power and conquering) that invites John to witness the opening of this particular seal.
The first parallel in the number of 7 seals, would seem to coincide with the previous revelation of messages to the seven churches.  While each of the seven churches might have also represented a time or period in church history, one might ascribe the opening of each of the seven seals to run in parallel.  In this instance, the first church of Ephesus and the purity of the white horse that conquers or brings in many converts may well have substantial synergy.  Jesus Christ had planted the seeds of salvation throughout His ministry here on earth.  After His death and resurrection it was the early Apostolic church that reaped the harvest.  And the harvest was substantial.  The state of the church in this early Christian infancy was likely far more pure than it has been since.  They shared resources (literally selling all their possessions and pooling it for distribution).  They keenly felt the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, transcending language barriers, healing all those in need, working miracles in the name of Christ.  If ever there was a time in the history or state of the church that would have represented the victory of Christianity it may well have been during this first period.
And like the message revealed to the church at Ephesus, the meaning is not restricted “just” to that audience.  He that hath an ear includes readers from every age.  Here too, the message of the gospel in the purity of Jesus Christ has an appeal to conquer evil within us and is extended down through the ages from Ephesus until His second coming.  So too, the rider on the white horse, may continue to carry His message of our salvation from evil down through the ages until the time of His returning.  The good news of the gospel is eternal in its ability to rid us of the sin we once embraced, and see us freed in the power of His so great love.  Contrary to the popular view that what is written here is a description of the 4 horses of the apocalypse, perhaps what is being symbolized instead is a picture of the church and a condition of the faith at various times in our history, and with a warning to readers in every age to heed what they see in the conditions it describes.
John continues then in verse 3 ... “And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.”  It appears there is a correlation between the opening of the seals, and the 4 beasts that invite John to come and see what is revealed as these events occur.  The first beast was identified as similar to a lion, perhaps the roar in the voice of this beast sounded like the thunder John heard on the first invitation.  The second beast had been identified as a similar to a calf and now seemed to be the one inviting John to witness the events surrounding the opening of the second seal.  John continues in verse 4 … “And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.”  The idea that wars have extended throughout our history is not a big surprise.  But perhaps a deeper meaning might include the motivations transcending from pure greed, to an attempt to compel the conscience of others.  Indeed, many wars have been waged throughout history in the name of God, or in the name of a particular brand of religion that purports to follow God.
However the second church was identified as Smyrna and generally identified as being the time of early persecution of the faith.  Note too that a calf has the unique characteristic of being a sacrifice in days of old, perhaps not a coincidence it was the beast who invites John to see the opening of this seal.  Indeed, many martyrs were created by Jews who believed Christianity was an abomination to the Jewish faith and purity they held by birthright.  In addition, persecution was conducted by pagan Rome and other pagan faiths against those who bore the message of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  In this much blood was spilled as the faith marched on.  But also, instead of remaining gentle like a dove, Christianity began to embrace the idea of picking up the sword.  Perhaps initially done with the idea of only defending itself, it is not difficult to begin to see other useful purposes of bringing a sword into our efforts to promote the gospel.  Christians even today, are not typically opposed to carrying guns in the name of defense.  Like our ancestors, there is a perception that we too, are persecuted or killed for our faith, and perhaps we too, need a sword to defend ourselves.  But perhaps also like our ancestors, we too, would think of other uses for our swords and weapons – perhaps we too would attempt to use the sword to enforce His laws, rather than allow His love to inspire that free will choice.
John continues in the beginning of verse 5 writing … “And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. …”  The third beast was described as having the face of a man.  And the third church was Pergamos.  John continues in verse 5 … “And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. [verse 6] And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.”  From a sheer color perspective the state of the church could be seen to be degenerating.  We have moved from the purity of white, to a red soaked in blood, to now a black color.  The balances in the hand may well symbolize a transition in the church from giving selflessly to now deciding how much to give and how much to retain.  In effect men turn from the purity of Christ, and begin to look inward and please self instead.  This condition in Pergamos was reflected in the temptation to forsake monogamy (or in spiritual terms, to introduce worship of things other than God).  Man often looks in the mirror if he follows his natural inclinations, and does not seek to submit himself to Christ in order to be remade.
Perhaps the color of red, and persecution that resulted in much blood, had ended because now the church was more in harmony with its oppressors than with its originator.  The saying that describes the prices of food is said to represent an unusually high cost, perhaps representing a full day’s wages for a single meal.  The notation not to hurt the oil or the wine may well be a further statement not to waste what little there is in a time of famine or deprivation.  In spiritual terms, famine is a certainty, when we abandon seeking the leadership of Christ, and supplant His leadership with our own.  The minute we believe we understand scriptures enough, and only our versions, or doctrines, or understandings are the right ones, we testify that we look inwardly instead of to Him.  This leads to a spiritual famine where little manna from heaven is able to reach us, for we seek it no longer.  Perhaps the sayings here were to point out to the church in that time, and in ours, that it is easy to find spiritual famine when we abandon seeking Christ first.  These are, after all, revelations about Jesus Christ.
John continues in verse 7 … “And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.”  The fourth beast was likened to an eagle in appearance, traditionally known for speed and ability to cover vast distances in a short period.  The fourth church was Thyatira.  John continues in verse 8 … “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”  At this point the state of the church has degenerated so far it has become dead.  Instead of being a beacon of light and love, it now seeks to kill with the sword, or with forced deprivation of hunger, or with the savagery of beasts any who oppose its will.  And the Dark Ages enter our landscape.  Thyatira had entertained Jezebel who had sought to keep the Word of God from being given to the people of her day.  She introduced the ideas of self-pleasure and infidelity to offset the purity of faithfulness to God.  So, in the dark ages, the church had grown completely corrupt, and completely dead.  It chose to restrict the Word of God from the people at large, and punish them savagely if they dared to question any of its practices.  The parallels are striking.  While not being attributed with a red color, the church did create a great number of martyrs during these dark days, where light was rejected.  And the span of the church was over a great deal of Europe.
But the message of the pale horse or condition of the church is not restricted only to the times of the Dark Ages.  When we forsake the pure worship of God, by introducing the worship of self, and beginning to ignore His word, in favor of our own, we too join with the pale horsemen that characterizes this state of the church, or those who purport to follow God.  It is easy to attempt to use the forgiveness and mercy of God, to give us license to embrace our sin all the more.  Instead of seeking freedom from sin, we seek only forgiveness for it.  Thus who we are is as dead as the horsemen, instead of seeking renewed life in Jesus Christ.  It is when we rely on self for salvation that this occurs.  Self is interested only in its own needs, not in reform, or re-creation.  Our natural inclinations will never see us saved.  If we are to be saved, it must only be by the power of Jesus Christ.  In our complete submission to Him, we can be re-created and find ourselves wanting different things.  Challenging the authenticity of the Bible does not lead to this result, it leads away from it.  Jezebel knew the keeping the true Word of God from the people, would lead them astray.  The Catholic church of the Dark Ages, knew that power over the people could not be maintained if they had the freedom to seek the Word of God for themselves.  And today, Satan knows that if we retain faith in the accuracy and literacy of the Bible, it will lead us to Christ and His redemption.  So he attacks the Bible and suggests that perhaps it is not entirely accurate.  He insinuates that science knows better than God, and that we can trust our own reason ahead of our Creator.  Thus he seeks to make pale horsemen of us all.
John continues in verse 9 … “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:”  Notice here the FIRST reason why these martyrs were slain was for “the Word of God”.  These were men, women, and children who chose to die an earthly death rather than give up their faith in the Word of God, the Bible as we know it.  But it was not for scripture alone that they died.  Scripture absent Christ is worth little, as the Pharisees bear witness to.  These martyrs were also slain for “the testimony which they held”.  Jesus Christ was alive in these followers.  They had a personal testimony of what Jesus Christ had done for them.  Indeed it was this testimony that was so real, and so meaningful, they would choose an earthly death rather than deny it.  The scriptures were made alive in these followers because of the real work of Jesus Christ in re-creating who we are.  When this occurs, it creates a passion that will not be made silent.  Thus the Word of God is combined with power of Christ, and the world must kill us to keep us from spreading it.  Then and now, nothing has changed in this regard.
Notice there were only 4 horses and riders, as there were only 4 beasts who invited John to witness the events of the first 4 seals.  The fifth seal was witnessed without invitation.  The fifth church was Sardis.  The message of revelation to Sardis was to preserve what was ready to die, or to stop the bleeding.  There were a few who had remained unsoiled by the degeneration of the state of the church all through history.  And now as this seal is opened, the aggregate of the faithful who had gone before speaks out to our God as John continues in verse 10 … “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”  The injustice of being slain for the truth of Jesus Christ causes much pain in this world and in heaven.  Should evil be allowed to continue forever, the pain it causes would also only be magnified forever.  The blood of the martyrs is a testament to the enduring intention of evil to kill all who oppose it, or stand in its way to please self.  This injustice cries out to heaven and to our God, “how long?”
John continues in verse 11 … “And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”  But the response of infinite love, is that they must have patience, in order that the redemption of others still steeped in evil might be accomplished.  He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment.  This was the promise given to the church of Sardis, and here during the opening of the fifth seal, it is once again on display.  Those who were slain for sake of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ made personal in their lives, are granted white robes of His righteousness as promised.  In fact white robes, were given to every one of them.  No one dies in vain, for sake of the Word and its Author.  While we are not perfect, nor deserving of His righteousness, He imparts it still as a gift to us.  Notice too, that the answer given is that they should “rest for yet a little season”.  Those who have been slain for the Word and Testimony of Jesus are to continue to sleep in their graves for a while longer.  They have not been forgotten by God, and will soon wake to be clothed in white raiment by their Savior.
As John concludes this chapter he describes a sequence of events that occurs upon the opening of the sixth seal.  You will remember that the book in the right hand of God the Father offered only to the Lamb who is worthy contained 7 seals that kept its contents protected.  This chapter ends having only opened 6 of them, which means the book itself could still not be revealed until after the seventh seal was opened.  John writes as follows in verse 12 … “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; [verse 13] And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.”  The first series of events are signs of the returning of Christ witnessed in the physical universe that surrounds us.  A great earthquake, the sun becoming blackened, the moon appearing as blood, the stars appearing to fall; all of these have found fulfillment in our recent history.
However, then John describes events that occur only AT the second coming of Christ.  This means that upon the opening of sixth seal, events occur which lead to His returning to take us home.  John records in verse 14 … “And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. [verse 15] And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; [verse 16] And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: [verse 17] For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”  These are clearly events of worldwide epic proportions that would only occur at the time of His second coming.  Notice they are not hidden, or quiet, or done in secret.  They are instead open, loud, and easy for the entire world to witness.  This would seem to preclude the idea of a secret rapture where the saved have quietly been taken from the planet.  The second coming described here is quite a noisy and cataclysmic affair.
In keeping with our earlier comparisons, the parallel with the messages to the churches would begin with Philadelphia or the sixth church and the physical signs that occurred in nature that corresponded with this church in history.  It then ends however with the seventh church period of Laodicea despite not actually having opened the seventh seal as yet.  This lends some credence to the ideas that perhaps both remnants of Philadelphia and Laodicea are present at His second coming.  There does not appear to be a clear break in the sequence of events described, nor is there a clear break in the transition between Philadelphia and Laodicea.  Perhaps this is by intent, or perhaps it is merely we do not have the complete understanding of how it is to take place.  
In any case what is clear, is that every eye shall behold Him.  In this case, people of great and small stature are asking the rocks to fall upon them to hide them from “the face of Him that sitteth of the throne”.  The wicked of every variety are seeing the face of Jesus Christ, and the evil within them cannot stand in its presence.  When evil is confronted with the holiness of the Love of God, it shrinks away and seeks out darkness.  Evil does not desire to stand in the light.  It does not want to be revealed.  It prefers the comfort of darkness to hide what it does.  When evil is seen and illuminated by the light and love of Christ, it is revealed for the pain and death that it brings.  No one desires evil when they see it for what it truly is.  Thus evil relies upon deception to make us believe it is something we should want, instead of something we should be running from.   Evil attempts to lure us with the gratification of the moment, because it knows that righteousness offers eternal fulfillment with which it cannot compete.  Thus at His return, evil withdraws to hide itself, and run from the purity of His love.
This chapter ends with the opening of the sixth seal.  The book remains unread.  And the time of His second coming is described in the opening of the sixth seal.  Chapter 7 describes a momentary interruption in the events that are about to transpire.  We will explore this pause in the next section …
 

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Important Book Revealed ...

Chapter 5 of John’s book of Revelations seems to follow the same thoughts and vision that began in chapter 4 without any apparent breaks or change in topics.  As noted earlier, John is in vision, he has entered heaven through an open door at the bidding of an angel.  He found himself in the throne room of God.  What he sees there besides the throne and God sitting on it, is 4 other beasts or life forms, and 24 elders seated around the throne.  This was the setting of the stage we discovered in the previous chapter.  Now he begins to describe events that unfold in immediate succession beginning in verse 1 with … “And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.”  Keeping in mind, the one who “sat on the throne” is God the Father as later texts will reveal, this means the book in question was likely authored by the Father.  The contents of the book remain a mystery as what the book will say is not revealed here.  However the idea that God the Father may have authored it, and at the least is currently holding it, gives this book great importance to John.  In addition, the book is sealed with seven seals.  Noting as before that the number seven represents perfection, the idea is that this book is perfectly sealed and casual perusal or reading cannot be accomplished without first opening the seals that keep the book closed.
John continues in verse 2 … “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”  Again notice that John identifies speakers and participants easily, in this case he remarks the participant asking the question is a “strong” angel.  It is not a man asking, or beast / other life form, or God, but rather a strong angel.  This would add further evidence that there is a clear distinction between angels, elders, and sentient beings who may also be present, adding to the idea that the 24 elders are of human origin.  But the salient question here, is that the angel poses the perhaps rhetorical question, of “who” is “worthy” to open this book in the hand of God the Father, and to loose the seals that bind it?  This implies that the time has come for the contents of the book to made open or else the question would not be posed.  It also implies that not just anyone may make the book available, but that it will take someone worthy of opening and reading it.
John continues in verse 3 … “And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.”  So despite the offer to any who might be worthy to loose the seals and read the book, no “man” could be found that was able to do so.  Interesting that John offers locations that were examined to find such a man as being in heaven itself, or in earth, or under the earth (to which location I have no idea where he is referencing).  But while Enoch, and Moses, and Elijah may have taken residence in heaven due to the mercy of our God, and were joined by other first fruits that Christ took back with Him on the day of His ascension into heaven, none of these redeemed men or women were found to be able to open the book held by God the Father.  Men on earth, perhaps both the living at this time or at any other, were also unable to open this book and reveal its contents. 
This situation deeply affected John, and he notes his response in verse 4 … “And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.”  John perceives the importance of the contents of this book, and the reality that no man is worthy or able to open it and read it.  For all he knows, he was brought to heaven in vision to receive the message contained in this book and now despite everything he has witnessed the point of his journey here appears to be about to remain a mystery to him.  This deeply affects John.  It does not just cause him to be “sad”, or to cry, but instead it causes him to “weep much”.  But in our human frailty, the courts of heaven are not immune to our sadness, or ignorance, or diseased condition of pain we choose to embrace in our sins.  Instead, all in the courts of heaven are engaged in the mission of our redemption and salvation from pain and sadness. 
To this end, John is given comfort from one of the elders present there in verse 5 he continues … “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”  One of the elders (notice again, not ascribed as being anything more than a human man), offers John the comfort that there is One man who is able to open the book.  Like the angels who asked the question “Who is this King of Glory” on the return of Christ to His heavenly home, only because they so love hearing His name.  The “strong angel” has asked the question “who is worthy” and the participants in this scene know there is only One answer to this question.  Notice now, the answer of what man is worthy, has a genealogy that is important as it fulfills the prophesies in our Word of God.  He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  He is the Root of David.  He is the Messiah who descended from Adam to Abraham to Judah to David to Christ.  He does not descend through Ishmael or Esau or Mohammed.  Nor does He come from a random Nordic, or Asiatic tribe.  Christ has a defined historical genealogy that traces back through our Word of God to our creation.  He establishes and fulfills the religion that began in Eden, found renewal in Abraham, and again in Moses, and again in the tribes that made up the Israelite nation.  But the religion of our God did not end in exclusivity of the Jewish birthright.  Instead as was always His intention, our reconciliation to God was made open to the world by the Lamb of God.
John continues in verse 6 … “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”  Symbolism is used in the imagery John sees of the One who is worthy to open the book.  First, he sees in the midst of this scene, a Lamb as it had been slain.  No clearer image was ever set for what Christ did in taking on our punishment to see us redeemed.  He who was completely innocent (as is a lamb, a young creature who has committed no crime), is slain for our iniquity.  The sacrificial system employed in the Old Testament was to remind us how innocence would be slain for our iniquity.  How our sins hurt more than just ourselves, they hurt the victims or objects of our actions and motives.  Our sin causes pain to others, often to those who do not deserve to be hurt.  So One who did nothing to deserve our pain and anguish volunteered to suffer it, so that we might be made free from it.  Lambs were not to die to teach us that there is “no” cost to the choice of breaking trust with God, but instead how terrible are the results of that choice.  Our hearts were meant to be broken as the blood of the innocent was shed for our worship of self.  We were meant to see that keeping trust with God could avoid this pain and death in the future.  The sacrifice of our Lamb made possible a freedom from the slavery of sin, not a continued indulgence in it.
Second, the Lamb is noted as having seven horns.  Generally a horn symbolizes a kingdom or power structure or government over a group or nation.  In this instance, having seven horns, is to symbolize that the Kingdom of Christ or the Lamb is a perfect kingdom that is without end.  He is not just a King.  He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Lastly, the Lamb is noted as having seven eyes, and symbolism of the eyes is immediately identified as being the seven Spirits or Holy Spirit of God that is sent forth into “all” the earth.  The Holy Spirit portion of our Godhead is not idle in the work of our redemption, but rather has a very active role.  He is also not constricted to visit only the perfect, or only those with a correct doctrinal understanding, or only those who see the need for Him.  Instead as this text points out, He is sent into “all” the world.  He works on the hearts of ALL men and women, trying to point them to the source of their redemption and salvation.  And notice too, His work is not untied from Christ, but rather tightly tied to Him.  The seven eyes are a characteristic of the Lamb, they are bound to the Lamb.  The Holy Spirit does not offer a path to redemption that is absent the ministry of Christ, but instead the only way and the way based on Him.  There are not “many” paths to God, instead there is only one, in the person of Jesus Christ.
As has already been noted, there is only One who is able to loose the seals of a book that is presented by God the Father to this heavenly setting.  There is only One method of our redemption and salvation and that comes through the person of Jesus Christ.  John continues in verse 7 … “And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.”  Here is where the differentiation takes place that establishes it was God the Father on the throne, and Jesus Christ who enters the scene and comes and is worthy and able to take the book from the hand of His Father.  This act of Christ in doing this must have been a tremendous relief to John.  It was an end to his sadness, and a beginning to his joy.  Our Savior is an end to our sadness and a beginning to our joy.  It is not a life of self-denial that is intended to see us never happy, but instead it is a life of freedom to serve others that is intended to see us happy beyond our wildest imaginations as it is with our God.  John records the jubilation that ensues as Christ takes the book from the hand of His Father.
In verse 8 he continues … “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. [verse 9] And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; [verse 10] And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”  Notice the jubilation and worship that is so steeped in gratitude begins at the event of Christ taking the book.  But the worship is made by both the 4 beasts or other life forms, and by the 24 elders.  There is not a clear distinction between the beasts and elders as to having harps and golden vials of incense that represent the prayers of the saints.  Incense has long been used as a symbolism of prayers of the people of God rising up to Him.  Perhaps one of the roles of the participants in this scene is to be witness to the prayers of the people of God, and to see the mercy of God in His answers to our requests.  But then it does seem once again that the perspective of the 24 elders is a very human one.  For they praise Christ as being the One who was slain, and who has redeemed “us” to God by Thy blood.  They further seem to self-identify as being out of “every” kindred, tongue, people, and nation.  The 24 elders seem to originate from every nationality, every ethnicity, every language, and every kind of family or community.  While the genealogy of Christ is specific to the lineage of Abraham, the 24 elders represent the wider salvation He was to enact for mankind.
The gratitude expressed in the song they sing, and reflected in the lyrics in verse 10 are not intended to be a reflection of power over others, but as their role in the service of others.  In the Kingdom of God to reign as kings and priests is to have a place of honor in the service to those whom you “reign” over.  As our God serves us, and loves us, and never tires of doing great acts of mercy and love for us – He is the King, the model of a King, to which we also aspire to be.  He does not exist in order to be served, He finds joy in His existence through the expression of love and service to those who He creates.  So we, begin identified as kings or priests unto God, will find our fulfillment not in being served, but in serving others.  This is a radical departure from the kingdom and goals of Satan.  Satan wishes only to be served, by those he would enslave.  Your purpose in the kingdom of Satan is only to amuse his every whim, no matter what cost to you.  Whereas your purpose in the kingdom of God, is to find the purest joy in the voluntary service to others.  You are free to express love to others without limitation.  You are free to know the joy of the choice to love, not the slavery that would bind you to serve only self, and find only emptiness. Kings and priests of our God, know the joy of service to others, they wish not the servitude of others to themselves.  This is the key distinction between the 2 types of kingdoms, of good and of evil.
John continues in verse 11 … “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;”  By my math. 10k times 10k, would be eight zeros or 100million (though math is not my strong suite).  But added to that idea thousands of thousands (or additional millions), I would surmise that John now sees angels beyond counting that are present at this scene.  Angels do not ever wish to miss an opportunity to tell our God just how much they value His love and want to return it.  So they add their voices to the jubilation already underway as in verse 12 he writes … “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.”  Angels too, long to praise our God and His Son.  Their millions or billions of voices join in the praise.  John continues in verse 13 … “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. [verse 14] And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”
Perhaps at this point, John is taken forward in time to a point where all evil has been fully eradicated.  Perhaps this ultimate scene of jubilation and worship of our God and His Son is a reflection of how it will be one day in the not too distant future.  John notes in his description that every creature regardless of location praises God.  It may be a movement forward in time, only because we know that at present the evil in our world would preclude “every” creature from praising God.  While sin remains, and our slavery to it, it prevents our full worship of our God.  The worship described here, seems to be unencumbered by our selfishness.  It reflects the full statement of the worthiness of our God, and why He deserves our unbridled gratitude.  It is a picture of worship that includes angels, men, sentient life from across the universe, and 24 elders, and every creature or creation regardless of location.  That is a picture of love that seems to be complete and without omission, and is a scene I hope to participate in, in a life that nevermore lacks opportunity to do so, now and forever.
The Revelation of this scene, began with a book that God offers to us.  It ends with our most important recognition; that Jesus Christ is the means through which the book will be offered to the world.  Jesus Christ alone is able to loose the seals that bind this book.  Jesus Christ remains our method of salvation, our singular path to the Father God who sits on the throne of the universe.  This revelation teaches us that there is abundant activity in heaven by all who sit in its courts to see us redeemed.  And that all sentient life understands the nature of our God, and longs to return the love He shows, back to its source through freewill expression. 
And the content and message of this vision had not ended yet …
 

Friday, January 10, 2014

God of Life Revealed (24 Elders & 4 Beasts) ...

Whereas the messages of revelation regarding Christ were mixed with symbolism in their delivery to the seven churches; the coming revelations seem to favor symbolism and representation far more than a strictly literal interpretation alone might allow.  There do appear to be literal things and messages described in what would come next, but often a strictly literal interpretation would seem to be lacking to find the deeper meanings Christ was trying to convey to us, regarding the great conflict between good and evil, between love and hate, between free-will and the compulsion of the conscience.  Perhaps these revelations were conveyed in this manner in order that people might gain value from their study in any time period of church history or world events.  Perhaps they were intended to remind us that we need to be led by Christ to fully understand any scripture, particularly those steeped in symbolism and imagery we just do not understand.  But to better understand what would follow, it is important to remember that our salvation is founded within Jesus Christ alone, and that the point of any of these revelations was to help us better understand who we serve, and who loved us enough to save us from ourselves even to the point of giving up His own life that we might have life.  In that context we move forward as John sets the stage for what is to come.
There does appear to be a clean break or distinction between chapter 3 and 4 of the book of Revelations.  The messages to the church appear to end at the end of chapter 3, and chapter 4 seems to open a new dialog, setting the stage for what is to come.  John begins in chapter 4 and verse 1 saying … “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.”  John begins by setting the destination of where the coming scene was to take place, in heaven as he would enter through an open door.  The messenger sent to guide John through the scene was noted as having a voice like that of a trumpet speaking.  And what was to be revealed seems to have more of a future context perhaps not as directly relevant to the people and readers of John’s day.  He continues in verse 2 … “And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. [verse 3] And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.”  John begins by noting that he did not actually travel to heaven through the open door, but was taken there “in the spirit” or in vision.
He then begins to describe where he is and what he sees.  He begins by seeing a throne and someone sitting on it.  The person sitting on the throne has an appearance of a jasper and a sardine stone.  Jasper is noted in scripture as being used in the breastplate of Aaron the high priest as well as in the foundation of the city of New Jerusalem.  It was generally thought to be green in color, though it also may come in yellow or brown.  It is opaque and able to be brightly polished for a shine.  Sardonyx stone is also mentioned as a part of the foundations of the New Jerusalem city and is generally thought to be a mix of red, brown, and white striped colors, opaque and able to be highly polished as well.  John was not describing a stone statue of course but he may have wished to convey that the person on the throne was a mix of color and had a shiny appearance to look at.  The throne itself was surrounded by a rainbow with a heavy favor of green similar to that of an emerald in appearance.  At first glance, we might believe we are gazing upon a view of Christ in heaven, but subsequent texts describe a book that is sealed and must be opened that only the Lamb of God could do, and that Lamb enters this same scene to accomplish this task.  This may indicate that instead of another revelation of Christ described here, we are actually getting a revelation of God the Father in His throne room, since Christ will enter later.
John continues to describe the scene as he writes in verse 4 … “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”  God is not alone in His throne room.  Around the room are 24 seats, and upon them are seated 24 elders.  The elders are wearing white raiment, and upon their heads are crowns of gold.  John does not describe them as being winged, nor as having a bright or shiny appearance.  So it seems less likely they are angels.  He does mention how they are dressed, in white raiment.  This has special significance in that each of the saved or redeemed are given clothing of white raiment by Christ (in effect taking on His righteousness for our own).  He also mentions that they wear crowns of gold, another gift promised to those who are saved and redeemed by Christ.  John seems comfortable in their presence and does not feel the need to associate any non-human descriptors with these 24 elders, such as an appearance like a particular stone, or voices as trumpets, etc..  So given these descriptors it is possible to surmise they are 24 elders of human origin. 
The number 24 could have symbolism in that there are 12 tribes descending from Abraham, and 12 apostles who worked in the early church of our God.  Perhaps these elders represent both the belonging to God by virtue of birth, and by re-birth in the believing in Jesus Christ.  Elders, in the historical context of the time in which John wrote, would have had a chief role as providing counsel and insight though the experience of age.  Though our God is all wise, and needs no instruction, He may have brought these 24 representatives into His throne room as a gesture of love, and to allow them to join with Him as ambassadors of humanity in His ultimate mission of redemption of all mankind.  Regardless of His reasoning, throughout the remainder of the book of Revelations these same 24 elders are referred to periodically, so at the least, this is not a one-time occurrence.  These 24 elders appear to have a permanent place in the throne room of God the Father, and a role He has them fulfilling.
As John was the apostle writing this book, obviously he was not one of the 24 elders.  Many have speculated as to “who”, by name, they might be?  There have been those humans who have found an early place in God’s heaven ahead of the rest of us.  Enoch, for example, was translated to heaven without ever tasting death.  His journey of dependence upon Christ grew so close, that he was ready for heaven without the need of further reformation or reform.  The work of Christ’s perfection in Enoch was completed in his lifetime.  Thus even in a world so wicked it almost caused God to be sorry he had made us; Enoch had managed to rely upon Christ and find perfection regardless of his surroundings.  Perhaps he served in this group of 24.  Elijah, Moses, and perhaps others had either been translated, or resurrected and brought home with Christ at His own death and resurrection to God.  These first fruits may have contained those who now occupied the seats John saw.  John did not reveal the names they carried, perhaps he never knew them, nor was he personally introduced to them.  But their number, proximity to God, and position of elder seemed very clear to him.
John once again turns his attention back to the throne itself as he continues in verse 5 … “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”  The throne of God is active.  There are visual and auditory events emanating from it.  And before it or in front of it, is the seven lamps of fire burning, that represent the Holy Spirit that exists before His throne.  Indeed, God is not alone in His throne room.  John then begins to describe the surroundings a bit more and something else he sees as he writes in verse 6 … “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.”  So first, John notes that before the throne was a sea of glass like unto crystal.  This same notation is made elsewhere to describe heaven itself.  Sometimes the redeemed are noted as standing upon the sea of glass.
Then John proceeds to identify some other life forms that surround the throne of God.  These beings are clearly not angels.  Had they been angels John would have noted them as such.  They are also not men, as with the elders, they could have easily been described as such.  This leaves them as being something else entirely.  John uses the term “beasts” to describe them, but this may not have been terribly flattering or with our imaginations entirely accurate; it might have been better understood in our day and vernacular as “other” life forms.  And these life forms are sentient.  They are capable of language and understanding and appear to have a role in the service of our God.  So whether they are species of highly evolved animals we have never seen, or whether they are representatives of sentient life created in other parts of the universe remains a matter of opinion.  But John sees them as relevant to the scene and what is to take place and tries to describe them as best he can.
He begins to note one feature that is common to the 4 beasts surrounding the throne of God.  They all have eyes before and behind, or perhaps they have multiple eyes that encompass their heads in front and behind, perhaps able to see what is coming and has transpired.  He continues his description in verse 7 … “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.”  Notice that each beast bears a resemblance to animals we are familiar with in our world, but none of them is exactly like what we know.  The first beast is compared to a lion.  The second to a calf (not an adult cow, but a young one).  The third has the face as a man (notice no body is described here per se).  And the fourth is like a flying eagle.  John continues to further ascribe common attributes in the first part of verse 8 as he writes … “And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: …”  So all 4 of them had 6 wings a piece, and perhaps each of the wings were full of eyes as well.  At this point it is clear that the physical description of these four life forms is wholly dissimilar to the animals we see in our world.  The multiple wings, and multiple eyes alone take care of that. 
However, evidence that these beings are sentient is revealed in the last part of verse 8 going forward he writes “… and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. [verse 9] And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,”  The 4 beasts then have language and understanding to praise and worship God the Father.  They have gratitude for life and His blessings revealed in their thanks.  They understand who God is, and what He does, and they realize that God is eternal.  At the instigation of their worship of God, the 24 elders respond in verse 10 … “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, [verse 11] Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”  The image of casting crowns before our God is noted elsewhere as a response of the redeemed to the love of God, a further indication the 24 are truly human.  In their praise and gratitude the 24 elders reveal again the importance of our God as being the God of creation.
Love ever desires an object to serve and share with.  Because of His love, He derives pleasure in bringing into existence new life that He can pour His love out upon.  It is this pleasure of sharing love that has caused God to create, and to bring into existence all forms of life.  He has made man, but He has also made angels, and here John gives us our first Biblical exposition on other kinds of sentient life that have been created.  Perhaps as the 24 elders represent mankind, these 4 beasts represent a host of other unfallen sentient creations that God has made.  The important point revealed here is that God is the God of all life, and of all creation.  What we have seen is only a small glimmer as to what is out there, and what He has made through the power of His love and will. 
At this point the stage has been set.  The scene is ready.  The players have been credited.  What follows seems to have more meaning as messages continue to be revealed to us …
 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Messages to the Church Revealed (Laodicea) ...


The last church to receive a revelation of the nature of Christ and a special message from the author of Christianity was to be Laodicea.  Historically the city of Laodicea was along a major trade route in the Roman Empire and was one of only a few cities declared to be a “free” city by the Roman Emperor.  The wealth of its residents was so great that even after an earthquake had destroyed the city, the residents declined imperial funding and rebuilt the city themselves with their own means.  Traveling merchants were common visitors to the region and the residents seem to have amassed a good degree of wealth trading with them on a regular basis.  The city had a thriving medical school, and enough means to have an interest in the arts.  Paul mentions the church at Laodicea in his writings to the Colossians, and even a letter he had for them which appears to be lost in antiquity.  So perhaps the church of Laodicea was thought to be the jewel of the Christian church, located in a place of commerce where wealth would offer means to fund the ministry throughout the world.  Sound familiar?
Jesus begins His message through John in Revelations chapter 3 and verse 14 saying … “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;”  He begins his message with a reference to the end of all things, “the Amen”.  The end of our salvation is to be Jesus Christ alone.  He begins by reminding us that all things are asked in His name.  Our final state will be determined by what we ask for from Jesus Christ.  He proceeds to identify Himself as “the faithful and true witness”.  The Word of God can only be properly understood by the faithful and true witness to it, Jesus Christ.  The Word, absent Christ, can never be fully comprehended or understood.  The life of Christ shows us the depth of love and care of the Father.  It was a living example of what His Word was to reveal to us.  When Christ is removed from scripture, false interpretations are possible, as was the case with the Pharisees who reasoned it was “work” to show love and healing to those in need on the Sabbath day.  The author of Love did not see it this way and so began their quest to eliminate these radical ideas brought by the Messiah Himself.  But the witness remained faithful and true in the form of Jesus Christ.
Lastly, Christ identifies Himself was being “the beginning of the creation of God”.  Strange that the sequence begins with the ending of all things, followed by the middle, and concludes with our Genesis.  But how relevant to the church of today, that the revelation we need most of Jesus Christ, is one of being our Creator.  How many a modern believer has succumbed to the ideas of evolution, relegating the story of our Genesis to mere allegory, without scientific fact.  How many forsake the idea of our God having the power to create, and worse, the power to re-create by His sheer will and command.  This central tenet tears at the fabric of our very salvation, for if we are to be remade, it must be by the power of a God who is able to create and re-create in the first place.  If all our God did was offer a spark of life that evolved dinosaurs into primates into man, then what hope do we have, that is He is able to will us into the creations He intended us to be.  Our enemy attacks our origins because he understands this very well.  Satan wishes no finer achievement than to eliminate the hope of re-creation out of the capabilities of our God.  So he attacks the ideas of the story of our Genesis, followed by a full assault on the literality and accuracy of the Bible itself, to which Jesus Christ is the faithful and true witness.  The war our enemy wages is to cause us to set aside the Bible as accurate, and the idea that our God is our creator.  Should he win, he robs us of hope, and the only way to see our salvation fulfilled.  So to the Laodiceans, and to us, Christ reminds us, and reveals to us, that He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, and the beginning of the creation of God.
The revelation continues in verse 15 … “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. [verse 16] So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”  Again Christ reveals that He has an active knowledge of the goings on in the church belonging to Him in Laodicea.  And His assessment is that this church is neither dead nor alive in Him, but somewhere in the middle; in mediocrity.  The condition is not hopeless, but it is far from where He intended the church to be.  His preference would have been to be either cold, or hot.  It is the state of mediocrity that appears to cause Him to want to spue us out of His mouth.  He explains the reason behind this state of the church in verse 17 … “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”  Ouch.  There it is.  The reason behind our condition is that commerce has blinded us to our true spiritual state.
We, like the Laodiceans who preceded us, live in a vibrant free economy.  We trade, and conduct commerce, and have a higher standard of living in this world than in any that preceded us.  We have the most modern medicine.  We have the ability for leisure and an interest in the arts.  We are made rich by our trading with merchants from around the world.  We mint our own currency and trade it for low cost imports for the value added skills and innovations we bring to the world.  In so doing, our employment makes us see ourselves as wealthy and in need of nothing.  And we carry this attitude into the church; for we are rich with the printed word of God at our disposal.  The availability of the Bible has never been so prevalent as it is today.  It is printed in nearly every language, in multiple versions, accessible online, and taught in a wide variety of denominations each with a particular view on how it is to be interpreted.  Our latest gospel of success, teaches us that the favor of God is available to us in this world, in this life, through the acquisition of material blessings, God is longing to give us.  In short, we have determined to serve both God and our lifestyle of success.  We labor for our “survival” and define the term according to our means.  We then also “go to church” and attempt to “serve God” as we are able, allowing for the fact that we must work in order to eat and fund the ministry.  We consider ourselves the jewel of the Christian church, able to fund with our means, the ministry that must be spread into all the world before He returns.
But this is not the reality in which our God sees us.  He reveals to us that our true state is one that begins with wretchedness.  Our modern medicine has not prevented our degeneration, nor has our modern Christian teachings prevented us from becoming truly wretched before our God.  We have too often abandoned the salvation of Jesus Christ that begins with our full submission and dependence on Him alone, with a trust in ourselves and our will power, and our Biblical knowledge and doctrines.  We have determined to partner with God to enact our salvation, doing our best first, and trusting Him to make up the difference.  We believe our own actions must happen “ahead” of the transformation He offers.  We believe our salvation depends first upon us, and is only made up for, by Christ who bridges the difference in our self-made-holiness and our God.  In so doing we turn ourselves away from His Holy Spirit and real reform, choosing to continue wrestling with our sins, and our desires to sin.  In this we have become wretched creatures completely unaware of our true state of being.
We fail to see that we are miserable in this state of constantly fighting within ourselves the losing battle of wanting to sin all the time.  Our lives are spent in misery and guilt over what our hands find to do, in spite of the knowledge they should not.  We struggle and lose against sin over and over again, knowing we should not sin, yet choosing to do so, again and again.  We have no joy in our Christianity, for we are not living the life of freedom, but still stuck in the mire of what we know we should be doing.  This state of misery is made worse for us, because we have not the time to see it corrected.  We must get back to work, in order to “survive”.  Our American dream is founded in the idea that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, work hard, and reap the rewards of success.  We bring these ideas into the church and believe if we but work harder on ourselves, we will become better people.  But like the alcoholic that remains an alcoholic all of his life, we reject the fundamental healing Christ would bring to us.  We reject His longing to see the desire for sin itself, removed from who we are.  So we remain in misery and deceive ourselves as to our true condition.
We are in fact, poor, blind, and naked.  Our spiritual condition is one of poverty, not one of riches He so longs to give us.  We are blind, in that we do not see what it is like to love others like He loves them.  We are naked in that we do not have His robe of righteousness to cover us, instead trying to knit leaves from our garden to hide our shame, and failings.  We stand naked before our God, because we have refused to take up His covering.  We want our own.  We continue to approach God trying to wear righteousness of our own making, instead of accepting His for ourselves.  We continue to try to reform our actions with an unreformed heart and we fail miserably at it.  But to compound our error, we are blind to our failures.  We hold fast to the ideas of partnering with God, and so offer Him a measure of dependence, but not enough as to see us completely changed.  For while we hold on to the ideas of self-reliance, we hold on to our wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked state.  We deceive ourselves that our financial success is mirrored in our spiritual lives.  It is not.  Our money no more makes us pure, than does our determination to see ourselves made pure.  Only Christ can make us pure, only Christ can change who we have become.
The remedy begins in verse 18 for our state … “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”  Christ likens Himself to a traveling merchant who frequents the city of Laodicea.  He counsels us to buy of Him the commerce that alone is important.  We are to acquire “gold tried in the fire”, or gold that has been made pure by the fire of affliction and trials.  Pure gold is gold without other contaminants.  The gold or currency Christ offers is not mixed with a desire for wealth in this world, but for wealth in the life He offers.  His currency is faith that transforms how we love others.  To be rich is not to be found in the acquisition of partial impurity, but in the pure service of love to others, made possible by a faith that He will re-create us to be who we are supposed to become, instead of who we are.  The white raiment He offers is to give us His righteousness instead of our own.  It is not bridging the difference between our best intentions and actions and our God that He offers, it is the full distance.  As we have no righteousness of our own, He offers us His instead.  Our victories will never be our own, they will be His wrought within us.  We can ONLY be clothed, if we accept His clothing to cover our shame.  Lastly, He offers us eyesalve to anoint our eyes to see truth.  He does not wish us to remain blind to our condition whether as it is, or as it should be.  We are offered His Spirit to bring to life the Word of God within us.  We are offered an end to our self-deception, and our self-reliance, and to be made free by our Creator.  Our eyes are to be opened to the truth of Jesus Christ, this is the beginning of wisdom.  Our reliance on self has kept us blind, but as we rely on Him for our salvation, we begin to see clearly what it means to love others and not ourselves.
As with the six revelations to the churches that preceded Laodicea, the message and intent of our God is ever to see us redeemed and saved.  He again reiterates the reason for His admonitions in verse 19 … “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”  Christ does not reveal the truth of our condition to see us wander into depression.  This by contrast is a message of hope.  It is His so great love for us, that He reminds us, it is the motivation for the hard news of our true spiritual state.  We may endure His rebuke, because it comes with love and with a means of our salvation.  We are to be zealous and repent.  Zealous not in ourselves and in our own strength, as that has just been revealed to be of no value.  We are to be zealous in our submission and dependence on God.  It leaves us free from the burden of judgment, allowing us to live in the joy of loving others.  We do not need to purge others of sin, but instead are free to love them while God enacts the reforms they need in their hearts, and does so likewise with us.  Our repentance deserves our zealous attention.  We cannot repent for others, but we can repent for ourselves.  Thus is the basis for His ministry revealed, we are to love others, and repent for ourselves.
Christ again likens Himself to a traveling merchant visiting the city of Laodicea in verse 20 … “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”  This reveals to us, that Christ does not take a passive stance in the work of our salvation.  He is not sitting in His house, waiting for us to find Him.  Instead He is standing right outside the door of our home, knocking to try to get in.  We must open the door, but need go no further to find Him, for He is right there waiting.  He does not kick down our door (despite times when I wish he would).  It is left to us to open it, or ignore it.  The door of our hearts is not much different than the door of our homes.  While Christ remains outside of our home and our hearts, the inside remains unchanged, unaltered, and struggling between what we know to be right, and what we want and do.  This is the condition He proposes to change.  He proposes to bring into harmony our desires with what is right.  He proposes to change what we want, from the inside out, and therefore what we do.  He proposes a level of intimacy with us.  He wishes to eat with us, and we with Him.  We receive of Him the gifts of pure gold or love made pure by faith.  He proposes to offer us His purity in exchange for our corruption, His white raiment for the shame of our nakedness.  He proposes to have us see the truth of who He is, instead of remaining blind to who we are.  And He is actively pursuing us, for no other reason that He loves us just that much.
Then, as if all the previous promises were not enough, the gifts again just begin to boggle the mind as in verse 21 we find … “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”  What must be overcome then?  The desire to serve our lifestyle of success while trying to serve God, the belief in ourselves that we may partner with God to see ourselves saved, the idea that we can craft our own righteousness instead of just accepting His;  all these things must be overcome the same way in which Christ overcame.   Christ was victorious because He ever submitted His own will fully to that of His Father.  Christ did not trust His own humanity or strength, but instead trusted fully the Love of His Father to see Him through this world.  We are to overcome by no other means.  We are to trust to Christ, that He will reform who we have become.  We are to trust to Christ, that He will offer us His gold of love made pure by faith in Him.  That He will clothe us with His righteousness and white raiment.  That He will anoint our eyes that we may see the truth of who He is and stay focused only on Him.  This reliance alone on something outside of ourselves is the same method He used, and the only method that will work for us.  There are no alternatives.  If we are to be saved from ourselves, it will be Christ alone who saves us.
Upon allowing that salvation to take place, we are to be granted the privilege of entering His home, and sitting down at His throne with Him, just as He did with His own Father.  No longer is He standing outside the door of our pitiful homes asking to gain entry to see us saved.  Instead we are brought to His home, to be invited to go into His very throne room, and have a seat with our God of the universe, and of love itself.  This is an elevation for us that we do not deserve.  But then, nothing of our salvation is something we deserve, it is ALL a gift.  We are to see and sit near the very throne of Christ Himself.  For me, I would be happy to curl up under His seat and find the blissful sleep of a child at rest.  It is enough to know you are near Him, and are so safe in His presence.  But it is not merely rest He offers, He offers fellowship, interaction, and a continued intimacy with us we have yet to begin to understand.  Even the very throne of God is not to be restricted from us, we are to be able to enter that room and fellowship with Christ because of the gift and promise He offers to us.  Nothing is withheld from a love so great for each of us.
The final revelation to the church of Christ is concluded in verse 22 … “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”  The Holy Spirit once again joins in the message to us and to the churches in the day of John.  The final time period to which Laodicea belongs is not clear, other than to believe it is the final time period before His returning to us.  Its beginning is unclear, perhaps in the mid 1800’s, but its ending is marked by His return to take us home.  However, the condition our church finds itself in today; is much like the characteristics that marked the church of Laodicea in its time.  We are affluent.  We have modern medicine.  We have the luxury of an interest in the arts.  The conditions that plagued Laodicea plague us today.  It is not our affluence, or medicine, or interest in the arts that is our enemy.  It is our belief that these luxuries somehow make us spiritually ready and spiritually wealthy.  Only a reliance on Christ can do that.  Only He offers us true wealth.  Only He offers us real healing.  Only He can reveal to us the truth of who He is, philosophies and ideologies based in Him exceed any found in the art of our day.  It is Christ alone who remains our hope and our salvation.  This was the common theme throughout all the messages to each of the churches that composed His perfect church.  His admonitions, exhortations, and promises remain all centered on our redemption.  Despite our state, none is without hope, or beyond the reach of His redemption.  We need but accept what He so longs to give us, and we see His salvation re-created in who we are, and who we are to become.
This concluded the first revelations to the church of Jesus Christ in book John relayed.