Christianity 201

November 7, 2017

3 Books by The Apostle John; 3 Goals in His Writing

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Morgan, who blogs in the UK at Digging The Word. Click the title below to read at source.

Believe, Be Sure About It And Be Ready

John’s advice is still important today

The apostle John was a close friend of Jesus, he was in the inner circle of the disciples, he is the man that took care of Jesus’ mother for fifteen years after Jesus’ death and he was an early leader in the church.

John’s books are very significant part of the Bible, he gives us more of the teachings of Jesus than any other gospel writer, he also wrote the most unique book of the Bible from the vision that he experienced while he was exiled to Patmos.

We can see in John’s books that he wants us to believe in Jesus, be sure about it and he wants us to be ready for his return:

Believe

John 20:31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

John wrote his first book out of a desire to help you believe. It is easy to find something to believe but there is only one belief that is going to get you to heaven. So what are we supposed to believe?

Eternal life is only available by belief in Jesus and his work on the cross as a substitute for the punishment that I deserved.

Be Sure

1 John 5:13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

John’s next book was written to help you be sure of what you believe. The same man that was unclear and lacked faith in who Jesus was wants to help you with your belief.

What you believe is so important to John because just like every other Jew, John held onto false beliefs all of his life, his beliefs didn’t get straightened out until after Jesus came back from the grave. Nobody understood that Jesus first coming wasn’t going to be his last.

In John’s three letters he wants to reassure troubled believers that they really do have eternal life so that they might enjoy it. (1 John 1:3; 3:18-19; 4:13; 5:13 / 2 John 5)

Be Ready

Revelation 22:20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

The first coming of Jesus was to give us eternal life and when he returns he will come to give us our eternal reward. Unlike the first time, when he returns again it will be too late to clear up any false beliefs, it is extremely important that you believe and that you are sure about it.

RELATED ARTICLES
10 Things Christ Promises To Reward (unlockingthebible.org)

 

July 10, 2017

The Comfort Found in John’s Revelation

ESV Rev 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Out of the Ordinary; this time around the writer is long-time blogger Persis. I really appreciated the topic she chose. Click the title below to read at source, then take a few minutes to look around at what others on the blog are writing.

Comfort in Revelation

There was a time when the book of Revelation was my least favorite book of the Bible. I thought its main message was to foretell all the horrible things that would happen before Jesus comes back, and those horrors would be my fate unless I achieved a certain level of spirituality whereby God would deem me mature enough to escape them. Cold comfort, indeed! At least, Revelation was at the end of the Bible so I could avoid reading it as long as possible. But what a terrible state to be in. I had no assurance as to my salvation. God and His gospel seemed weak and ineffectual, and I was afraid to read part of the Bible. But I couldn’t be more wrong.

The gospel isn’t the power of God to just get me in the door and then the rest is up to me. What Christ has accomplished covers the beginning, middle, and end of my Christian life. I am not living in a dualistic Star-Wars-like universe where good and evil battle one another on a level playing field. Who in his right mind would contend with the Almighty? God has no rivals. And what if Revelation is less about decoding the events of the 21st century but a word of comfort and consolation for Christians down through the ages?

Providentially my pastor has been preaching through Revelation, and I have grown to love this book because I need it just as much as my brothers and sisters in the 1st century. I need something greater than earthly security when I hear of the lives lost in the bombing in Manchester and gas attacks in Syria. I need hope when I read of the injustices that mankind has inflicted on fellow image bearers throughout history and even today. I need the promise of the life to come when loved ones suffer in body and mind. And I need to be reminded of these truths:

~ There will be trials and persecution, but Christ is seated on the throne even now. He has won and is worthy to bring God’s plan of redemption to completion. (Rev. 5:5-14)

~ We have all had our share in the thread of suffering that began in Genesis 3, but it ends in Revelation. Sin and evil will be no more. “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 NASB)

~ God’s purpose in redeeming people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will be fulfilled to the praise of His glory. And not only that, the good work He began in us will be accomplished. The Bride of the Lamb will be fit for her Heavenly Bridegroom (Rev. 7:9-17; Phil. 1:6; Rev. 21:1-2)

~ Fellowship with God was severed, and Adam and Eve were barred forever from Eden. But we will be united with Him forever with no shadow of sin, never to be parted again. And we will see His face. (Rev. 21:3, 22:4)

This is quite different from how I had previously viewed the book of Revelation. A source of fear has now become comfort and consolation indeed. May it take root in my heart.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
 

January 26, 2017

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Letter to Smyrna

by Clarke Dixon

Convert to another religion, pay a heavy tax, or die? Which would you choose? This is a choice which many Christians have had to make as ISIS spread its evil. We do not face that kind of pressure in North America, but we do face subtle pressures that can gnaw away at our passion for Jesus. There is the pressure to choose materialism as a worldview. This is not materialism meaning a love of things, but a way of looking at the world that will not admit the supernatural. And if we will not be materialists, well then there is a pressure to affirm every religion as equally valid. Such pressures are subtle, but they are there.

Pressure on Christians is nothing new. In fact in our second letter of Revelation chapter two we read of a Christian community under pressure.

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. Revelation 2:8-11

What pressures are the Christians in Smyrna under? In the Roman way of doing things, emperor worship was expected, as was fitting into a society which had many beliefs and practices that went against the Christian way of life. Stick to your, or rather Christ’s, principles, and you could find yourself estranged from the majority, shunned as odd and stupid, and your business boycotted. This may be behind the reference to the Christians in Smyrna being in poverty in verse 9. As an aside, whenever we Christians are the majority, we do well to remember the “Golden Rule” of Jesus in the area of economic opportunities.

Due to some wise decisions from Rome, some religions could get a pass and be lawfully different, as happened at times for the Jews. But here is another side from which there is pressure against the Christians. The Roman officials often thought of Christians as being a sect of Judaism, and hence Christians could also enjoy some peace. However, if the Jews turned on the Christians, they could be out in the cold and would need to fend for themselves. That will not be easy when they consistently claim that “Jesus is Lord,” which means of course that Caesar is not. You can think of it this way; it is as if the Jews are travelling through Roman territory on a bus. They are allowed to do this safely so long as they remain on the bus and don’t disturb the locals. Some of the Jews on the bus realize that the driver of this bus is, and has been all along, Jesus, and so become Christ followers. Some don’t like that and throw the Christ followers off the bus. Actually they throw the Christ followers under the bus. This explains why at least some of the Jews in Smyrna are referred to in a not-so-nice way in verse 9: “I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” These particular Jews are actively working against the God they profess to love and serve. So with pressure from Jews and Romans alike, what are the Christians to do? What are we to do with the pressures we might face today?

First, do not fear: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (verse 10). Fear has its tightest grip on us when we do not know what to expect. But we know what to expect.

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. . .” John 15:20

“Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim3:12

It should never surprise a Jesus follower when pressures come. It does not surprise God. He knows about it: “I know your affliction and your poverty” (verse 9)

Second, remain faithful: “Be faithful until death” (verse 10). Jesus gives us the example:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:5-8

Third, look to Jesus. He is described as “the first and the last” (verse 8). What a contrast between He who has all eternity in His hands and those who have their hands on the Christians for only “ten days” (verse 10). Whether we are to take those as being ten literal days or as symbolic of a set time, it is a limited, and very short time in comparison to eternity.

Looking to Jesus, we are also to know that He “was dead and came to life” (verse 8). If the Christians in Smyrna face death, they can know that Jesus faced it first. And remember how that turned out in the end!

Fourth, look to what lasts into eternity. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (verse 10). This is not the crown of a king or queen here, but the crown given in ancient times to victors in athletic games. Being killed for following Jesus is not the end of life, but the completion of a race. Celebrations come next.

Further: “Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death” (verse 11). The second death refers to complete removal from the presence of God and the removal of all the blessings that come from His presence. While the Christians in Smyrna ought to be full of hope, their persecutors ought to be full of fear. We are reminded of the words of Jesus:

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 

Fifth, be ready to die, not kill. While this is not stated explicitly, we should note that there is not a hint in this letter to Smyrna of “you will face incredible pressure, so get ready to fight.” In fact there is not a hint of this attitude anywhere in the New Testament. Being faithful to Jesus means dying, not killing. You might justify killing in the name of a nation; for example, killing for the common defence of people who could happen to be from all kinds of religious backgrounds. But violence in the name of Jesus, or for the sake of Christianity is not an option for the follower of Jesus. Where it has happened, there have been complexities around the forces of history and confusion around the separation of Church and State, or lack thereof. Jesus carried a cross and not a sword. He encourages the Christians in Smyrna to do likewise.

Is there an increasing pressure on Christians in Canada to be less passionate about Jesus? It is not the first time Christians have faced pressure. May we not fear, but instead remain faithful, looking to Jesus, looking to what lasts into eternity, and resisting every urge toward violence.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Weekly C201 contributor Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read today’s and other sermon summaries at his blog, or go directly to this article via this link.

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

“I have some good news and I have some bad news.” Such is how we could summarize the words of Jesus to the Christians of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. So let us begin with the good news:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. . . . this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:2,3,6

Works, toil, endurance, standing up to false teaching and also to bad practices. Sounds like a good report. However,there is a ‘but,’ coming. And it is a really big ‘but.’ It is something very serious, so serious that here are the consequences:

Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5

What does it mean to lose the lampstand? We are told in John’s vision that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In other words, the Christian community will cease to be relevant in Ephesus, there will be no church there. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

If the Christians in Ephesus do not change course there will be no lampstand in Ephesus which means no Christian witness which means no glory to God.

So what is the ‘but,’ the bad news that needs fixing?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

What does this mean exactly? At first reading, it certainly seems as if the Christians in Ephesus are good at expressing their love for God. Remember they are commended for their works, toil, endurance, and standing up to false prophets and bad practices alike. On the surface of it, it looks as if they are expressing a great love for God. In fact it seems they are very religious about expressing their devotion to God. And maybe that is the clue. 

The Christian journey can sometimes look like this: We fall in love with God. In fact we become religious about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we become RELIGIOUS about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we can become VERY RELIGIOUS about expressing our love for God. Then we just become VERY RELIGIOUS. And we have left our first love. We have replaced it with religion.

We can leave our first love in two ways:

The first way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

There is an easy way to tell when this is happening. We enter a church, or enter into prayer, and say, “look at me, Lord. Look at how good I am. Look at my works, toil, endurance, and how I stand up to false prophets and bad practices.” We know religion has replaced love when we find ourselves at the center of it all. We have no capacity to impress God. Nor do we need to. When God’s love is at the center rather than our religiosity, we are free to enter into church, or into prayer, and say, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.” We enter into church, or into prayer, not because we have a chance of impressing Him, but because He loves us. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosever is really religious shall not perish but shall have eternal life?” You know that is not how it goes! It is “whoseover believeth in Him, or better, whosoever trusts in Him.

The basis of our relationship with God rests first of all on His love and the fact that He gave Himself for us. We leave our first love and trade it in for mere religion when we trust, not in the love of Jesus, but in our own efforts. If the Christians in Ephesus don’t get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we replace love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

The second way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with others.

You can see the challenge the Christians in Ephesus faced. They were in a very Roman world with very Roman practices, which were very far from Christian practices. There were huge pressures to cave. It is commendable that they have not. They are to be commended for enduring, and standing up to false teaching and bad practices. However, the easiest way to endure when all the world around you is putting pressure on you to cave is to crawl into one.  Crawl into a cave and disconnect yourself from all that pressure. Hunker in a bunker. There is such at thing today as “hunker in a bunker” Christians. There we are free from pressure and temptation. We are free in a bunker, sheltered from the world around us to excel in being religious. Religion becomes the main point of connection with our friends, and the main point of disconnection from everyone else. We can excel at being religious in, but we cannot love the world around us from, a bunker. We are called to love!

Study the life of Paul and you will see that despite all the pressures on him, he never hunkered down in a bunker. He rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting his light shine. Jesus rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting His light shine. It is good to do those commendable things the Christians in Ephesus were doing; not countenancing evil, weeding out the false prophets, enduring. But it is not good to become isolated and a closed community. If the Christians in Ephesus do not get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we don’t keep love as the basis of our relationship with others.

Jesus shows the way:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1

Jesus is the example of love, walking among the the seven gold lampstands, a living presence of love. In everything he has done and everything he does, he gives us an example, not of what religion looks like, but love. May we be more like Jesus, and not so much like the Ephesians.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


Read today’s and other writing by Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 20, 2015

The Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ

And He Shall Reign Forever

On my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, I get a lot of traffic each Christmas for a 2010 item I wrote concerning whether or not audiences should continue to stand for the Hallelujah Chorus in G. F. Handel’s Messiah. There are currently 6-dozen comments reflecting different sides to the debate.

The song itself is actually rather sparse lyrically, but in those few words there is great, great power.

Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever.

King of kings, and Lord of lords

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Musicians can and do try to analyze the piece musically.    But we know different.   The force of the song is in the lyrics, taken from Revelation 11:15

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (KJV)

Other translations — even the NLT and The Message — stay with this overall form, but the New Century Version simplifies it for younger ears:

“The power to rule the world now belongs to our Lord and his Christ, and he will rule forever and ever.”

This occurs in Revelation at the end of what we call The Seven Trumpet Judgements.

The second cycle of judgments (8:2–11:19) closes with a second description of the Second Coming by focusing on the last judgment (v. 18) and the triumph of God’s kingly rule (vv. 15, 17). (Reformation Study Bible)

Go deeper with the IVP Bible Commentary:

We all know the feeling summed up by the expression “the future is now.” It may be graduation, marriage, the birth of a first child or a long-awaited trip to some faraway place. Someday it will be retirement, and one day it will be the hour of death. It is something we knew was coming, something anticipated and imagined for years, with excitement and joy or with dread. Sooner or later a time comes when it is upon us, and we experience either realization or disappointment or relief, depending on what our expectations were and how closely their fulfillment matched them.

John’s expectations about the seventh trumpet must have been a strange mixture of excitement and dread, not unlike those of any Christian facing simultaneously the mystery of death and the hope of heaven. On the one hand John had been warned of three terrible “woes” to come on the earth, but had only witnessed two of them (8:13; 9:12). One remained, possibly the worst of all, and it was to come “soon” (11:14). Yet he had also been told that “when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets” (10:7). Now that he hears the trumpet, it sounds more like the fulfillment of a promise than an oracle of woe. Loud voices in heaven announce that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever (v. 15).

Clearly the announcement introduces a major division in the book. At once the twenty-four elders in heaven, who have not been heard from as a group since the opening throne-room scene in chapters 4-5, fall on their faces in worship, just as they did twice in that opening scene (4:10; 5:8), offering thanks to God for what he has done and what he is about to do (vv. 16-18). It appears that these verses form a kind of inclusion with chapters 4-5, framing the seven seals and seven trumpets and preparing the way for still more visions to follow.

At the same time, the singular expression, the kingdom of the world, echoes the prophecy just completed about “the great city” of this world, “which is figuratively Sodom and Egypt” (v. 8). The world has many cities and “many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (10:11), but John knows, just as Augustine knew in his City of God, and Bunyan knew in The Pilgrim’s Progress, that these are all one city, all one kingdom, whether we call it the City of Man or the City of Destruction or Vanity Fair. Only when that city’s citizens “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (v. 13) was it possible to say, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. The seventh trumpet is significant, therefore, both in relation to chapters 4-11 generally and to the end of the sixth trumpet in particular…

How do we end this consideration today? Perhaps with these words familiar words from The Lord’s Prayer:

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

April 13, 2013

A Reflection on the Slaughtered Lamb

This was published just yesterday at the blog of Allan R. Bevere, who we featured here a year ago.  The text was linked but I’ve reproduced it here as it uses the Oremus Bible Browser which allows you to omit verse numbers.  To read this at the original site, click here.

Revelation 5

The Scroll and the Lamb

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!’
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’
And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshipped.

Worthy Is the Slaughtered Lamb: A Lectionary Reflection on Revelation 5:1-14

In the throne room of heaven on the right hand of the One on the throne, there is a scroll of unprecedented importance. It is written on the inside of the scroll and on the back, something not often done as it was more difficult to write on the reverse side of the scroll, which was against the grain of the papyrus. It is sealed seven times to insure its secrecy; for it contains the full account of the destiny of the world and human history. It is a book on the course of history (see Psalm 139:16).

An angel appearing as a town crier calls for one who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. The summons has been put forth through all of creation and no one is found who is worthy to reveal the meaning of history. No one is able to read and ponder the scroll’s words. It appears as if the promise of Revelation 4:1, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this,” will remain unfulfilled. Understandably, John breaks down in bitter weeping. Without the unrolling of the scroll, God’s plan for creation will be circumvented. The destiny of the world will no longer be assured.

But, John is now assured that the scroll will indeed be opened. One of the elders tells him that there is one who has indeed conquered and therefore is worthy to break the seals and unlock the meaning of history. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is worthy. And as John gazes upon the Lion, he sees not a strong and mighty beast, but a small lamb; and it is a lamb that has been slaughtered as a sacrifice. And yet, this slaughtered lamb is standing ready to act. Here is the key to the book of Revelation– God does not conquer evil with the sword, but through cross and resurrection! John Howard Yoder profoundly notes,

But the answer given to the question by the series of visions and their hymns [in the Book of Revelation] is not the standard answer. “The lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power!” John is here saying, not as an inscrutable paradox but as a meaningful affirmation, that the cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history. The key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness, but their patience (13:10). The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict; the triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God’s people and the triumph of God’s cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection (The Politics of Jesus).

Any attempt to envisage a literal seven-horned, seven-eyed lamb will discover that the meaning of the vision is missed. John’s vision is symbolic in character. This scene in the throne room of heaven is not descriptive, but symbolic of the decrees and action of God in human history, in particular as it centers on the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now that the Lamb has creation and its destiny in his hand, John witnesses a scene of universal worship. Three reasons make the Lamb worthy to open the scroll: 1) he was slaughtered, 2) his death purchased women and men for God, and 3) he made those whom he purchased a kingdom and priests.

It must not be missed that the same kind of adoration given to the Lamb in chapter five is quite similar to the worship given to the One on the throne in chapter four.

February 16, 2013

Strengthen The Things That Remain

Rev 3:2  Rouse yourselves and keep awake, and strengthen and invigorate what remains and is on the point of dying; for I have not found a thing that you have done [any work of yours] meeting the requirements of My God or perfect in His sight.  (AMP)

Rev 3:2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. (NIV)

Bob Dylan borrowed this text and asked the question, “When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?”

But what are the things that remain? Matthew Henry writes:

Some understand this of persons; there were some few who had retained their integrity, but they were in danger of declining with the rest. It is a difficult thing to keep up to the life and power of godliness ourselves, when we see a universal deadness and declension prevailing round about us. Or it may be understood of practices, as it follows: I have not found thy works perfect before God, not filled up; there is something wanting in them; there is the shell, but not the kernel; there is the carcase, but not the soul—the shadow, but not the substance. The inward thing is wanting, thy works are hollow and empty; prayers are not filled up with holy desires, alms-deeds not filled up with true charity, sabbaths not filled up with suitable devotion of soul to God; there are not inward affections suitable to outward acts and expressions. Now when the spirit is wanting the form cannot long subsist.

Warren B. Smith at the blog titled Herescope, looks at the difference between a succumber and an overcomer, in reference to today’s scripture and others:

Overcomer –one who patiently waits for Jesus Christ’s return, hates evil, tests and tries false teachers and false apostles, labors for the true Jesus Christ with patience and does not faint under pressure (Revelation 2:2-3); one who does not fear suffering and is faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10); one who holds fast to the name of Jesus Christ and does not deny the true faith of Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:13); one who holds fast, is not seduced by false teachers and false teachings and keeps the works of Jesus Christ unto the end (Revelation 2:20-26); one who is watchful and strengthens the things that remain, remembers what he has received, holds fast, and is always ready to repent (Revelation 3:2-3); one who keeps the Word of Jesus Christ, does not deny His true name, and holds fast to what he has (Revelation 3:8-11); one who is willing to be rebuked and chastened (Revelation 3:19).
 
In short, one who is faithful to Jesus Christ and all that He teaches in His true Holy Word.
 
Succumber — one who does not wait patiently for Jesus Christ’s return, does not hate evil, does not test and try false teachers and false apostles, does not labor for the true Jesus Christ with patience and does faint under pressure (Revelation 2:2-3); one who does fear suffering and is not faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10); one who does not hold fast to the name of Jesus Christ and does deny the true faith of Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:13); one who does not hold fast, is seduced by false teachers and false teachings and does not keep the works of Jesus Christ unto the end (Revelation 2:20-26); one who is not watchful and does not strengthen the things that remain, does not remember what he has received, does not hold fast, and is not always ready to repent (Revelation 3:2-3); one who does not keep the Word of Jesus Christ, does deny His true name, and does not hold fast to what he has (Revelation 3:8-11); one who is not willing to be rebuked and chastened (Revelation 3:19).
 
In short, one who is not faithful to Jesus Christ and all that He teaches in His true Holy Word.

At the blog, For His Glory:

When a church is tolerant of sin, when it stops moving forward spiritually, it becomes a sick church, and eventually a dead church. That was the case with another church, the church in Sardis. And here was Jesus’ prescription for spiritual recovery: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:2 (NIV)

This church in Sardis looked good on the outside, but the fire was gone. So Jesus essentially told them, “Wake up! Stay with me – there is still hope.”

And he says the same to those today who are tolerating evil, who have gone from a little compromising to full toleration rationalization of it. It’s time to wake up.

Chris Crain examines the waking up theme; here is a short excerpt:

Sardis was captured two different times while the watchmen failed to watch.  The city was taken by Cyrus II (547 BC) and Antiochus III (214 BC) by sneak attack.  This church was asleep.  They had missed opportunities.
Spiritually, the church was in a coma (cf. ESV Study Bible) and close to dying, but there was still hope.
Jesus is able to wake the dead.  Jesus gives life to the church.  No man-made program can resurrect the dead.  The church was given life on Pentecost.  The life of the church comes from the power of the Holy Spirit.
When the believer (or church) becomes dull, lifeless and sinful, the Holy Spirit is grieved and the fire is dimmed.

Romans 13:11-12 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Dr. Stacy L. Spencer offers some application:

  1. Wake Up! Sometimes, we can fall into a lull or go through the motions and not realize that we are sleepwalking through our best years. Every morning you ought to wake up earlier so you can spend time with God and get to working on your future. You still have time to do it but you have to wake up now.
  2. Strengthen what remains and is about to die. There’s something you were doing that was great but it’s in danger of dying because you’ve neglected it. You still have time to get it back because it’s not dead you just have to strengthen what remains.
  3. Jesus has not found your deeds complete. Have you done everything that God put in your heart and mind to do? If not, then you are not finished. You can’t move on to the next level until you’ve finished everything on the previous level. Finish what God told you to do so he can take you to the next level this … year.

On the ‘wake up’ theme today, we’re including Keith’s Green video, Asleep in the Light.

July 20, 2012

Seven Letters; Five Problem Churches

John’s Vision of Christ

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t tell me they’ve heard a sermon, or are doing a study, or want to do some reading on the letters to the churches recorded in Revelation.  I think this particular passage simply strikes so close to home that it reads like a very contemporary message.  Caleb Jennings Breakley wrote about the five problem churches in a post entitled: 5 Kinds of Messed Up Churches—Should We Stay?

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, Jesus speaks to seven different churches (5 messed up), acknowledging them for what is good, rebuking them for what is not (except for the churches in Smyma and Philadelphia), and lovingly calling them to turn from their wrongs.

Some people believe these churches are representative of seven church ages. I’m of the peeps who believe these were seven actual churches in Asia minor. Either way, we can learn from them today, especially the 5 rebuked ones. As you read, consider how these churches mirror churches of our age.

5 Kinds of Messed Up Churches

  • To the church in Ephesus, Jesus speaks highly of the people’s hard work, perseverance and how they do not tolerate false teachers and doctrine, but rebukes them for abandoning their bleeding-heart zeal and joy of when they first believed (passionless church?)
  • To the church in Pergamum, He speaks highly of the people for staying true to the name of Jesus and not denying Him in spite of terrible times of tragedy, but rebukes them for mixing doctrines and following wicked teachings of sexual immorality (biblically shaky church?)
  • To the church in Thyatira, He speaks highly of the people’s ever-growing love, faith and service, but rebukes them for tolerating the teachings of a seductive prophetess (letting leaders say what they want, even-if-it’s-against-God church?)
  • To the church in Sardis, He only acknowledges that there are a few followers who have not soiled their garments, then rebukes them for being known as a church that’s alive, when it’s actually dead (self-centered church that doesn’t focus on the truth and love of Jesus?)
  • To the church in Laodicea, He acknowledges nothing, then rebukes them for being neither hot nor cold in their faith, which He considers wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (this one might be the most scary).

Churches are good in some areas, messed up in others, and God is calling us to overcome the messed up stuff and to run into His arms. The question is: should we stay in messed up Bodies of Christ? Should we be the hands and feet for God in the 5 messed up churches? To what extent? Is there gray area?

~Caleb Jennings Breakey

August 9, 2011

Is Heaven and The New Jerusalem One and the Same?

While the blog The Pursuit of the Deeper Truth and Proper Christian Experience has a rather long title, and a bias toward the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, here at Christianity 201, we’re an equal opportunity blog with a bias toward anything that gets us thinking and studying.  In today’s spiritual climate, there is much interest in heaven and the afterlife, and it’s so easy to hear a phrase like “New Jerusalem” and rush to the conclusion “New Jerusalem = Heaven.”  Thomas Marvin sees each differently and clarifies that with this post originally titled Heaven or the New Jerusalem — Is There a Difference?

“And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2)

 Fundamentally Different, Not Just a Matter of Semantics

Many people unintentionally, mistake the New Jerusalem for heaven. When I was a child, I remember singing a song that says:

“I’ve got a mansion just over the hill top
 in that bright land where we’ll never grow old
and some day yonder, we’ll never more wander,
but walk those streets that are paved with gold.”

I may have gotten a few words wrong, but the gist of the song is pretty clear.  That is, that we’re going to heaven—“to that bright land where we’ll never grow old” and “walk those streets that are paved with gold.” However, in aspiring to heaven,  the writer was, in referring to golden streets,  addressing an attribute of the holy city, New Jerusalem.

In the many years since my childhood days of singing that song, I’ve never once read in the Bible where it says that heaven has golden streets. However,  Revelation  21:21, in speaking of the New Jerusalem, does say “the  street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” You can see from this illustration, the thought of heaven having golden streets,  is just one example of the confusion of heaven and the New Jerusalem.

Well, someone may say, “Aren’t they one and the same—heaven and the New Jerusalem? I say heaven. You say New Jerusalem. It’s all about the same.” However, the opening verse I referenced points to a distinction. In Revelation 21:2 it says that the holy city, New Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. This verse directly indicates a difference, for the New Jerusalem to come down out of heaven indicates that the two expressions are not synonymous.

Then what is the distinction?

Heaven, God’s dwelling (1 Kings 8:50), the place of His throne (Isa. 66:1), and the place where Christ ascended physically after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11)  is no doubt a physical place. However, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place “to which we go” but the greatest sign in the entire Bible (see Rev. 1:1) signifying, God’s spiritual, eternal building of divinity and humanity.  It is the eternal, consummation of all God’s work in humanity throughout the ages, a mingling of God and man to be the mutual dwelling place for both God and all His redeemed people for eternity.

What difference does it make anyway?

 The view you have between the heaven and the New Jerusalem can change your entire Christian life. If your view is that a Christian’s eternal destiny is simply to “go to heaven” when we die, you may feel that as long as you are born again or regenerated, you are basically waiting to go to heaven. In addition, one with this concept might consider their service to God in this age ends with helping as many perishing people as possible to also go to heaven when they die. This heaven or hell gospel has unfortunately caused many a well-intended Christian to miss out on the deeper meaning of their Christian life on earth today. This kind of view of a Christian’s eternal destiny is “locational,” basically a change of place, from earth to heaven, instead of hell.

From Revelation 21:2, however, we can see that the New Jerusalem is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  From verses 9-10, we can see that the bride, the wife of Lamb is the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. I’d like to point out again that this city is “out of heaven,” so it is not heaven. Second, I’d like to point out that this city is married to the Lamb, Christ (John 1:29). Such a bride is adorned for her husband (v. 2). This implies that a process of getting ready is necessary. A bride must match her husband, to be his counterpart.

Likewise, we must be “adorned” to marry Christ, to be His corporate counterpart, His wife. Anyone you marry must be “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, even as Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:23). To be bone of Christ’s bones, and flesh of His flesh, we must be the same as Christ in life and nature. We also must grow up in His life unto maturity (Eph 4:13, 15-16). Christ, would be humiliated to marry an immature bride. He would rather wait. Such has been the case for nearly 2,000 years of church history. Christ is waiting for His bride to be prepared.

Where is the bride for Christ to come back for?

So to make my point, the New Jerusalem is not a “locational” matter—a change in location, but an “intrinsic” or “essential” matter—a change of essence or constitution. We’re not just going to the New Jerusalem, we’re becoming the New Jerusalem. To be in the New Jerusalem, one must first become the New Jerusalem.  Through the process of God’s complete salvation—the regeneration of our spirit (John 3:6), the transformation of our soul (Rom. 12:2), and the glorification of our body (Rom. 8:30), we must become the same as Christ in life and nature but not in His Godhead, being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Such a change in essence requires that once we are saved, we cooperate with God’s central work, that is to allow God to work Himself into our entire being (1 Thes. 5:23; Eph. 3:17). Only in this way can we become the proper constituents for the building of Christ’s Body today and of the New Jerusalem for eternity. Only in such a way can we be Christ’s bride, adorned for our dear Husband.

How is this Bride-city being prepared today?

In between the type of Adam and Eve, the first couple, in Genesis 2:18-23 and the fulfillment of this type, in the eternal couple in Revelation 21-22, we have the process of preparation in Ephesians 5:25-32. Here we can see the church, for whom Christ died in the past (v. 25), being sanctified in the present (v. 26), and presented to Christ,  as His glorious bride in the future (v. 27). If we see that our eternal destiny is to become Christ’s bride, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, we will not foolishly waste our precious time today. Rather we will redeem every day to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:12), to gain Him and be found in Him (vv. 8-9) and to be sanctified by Christ, by enjoying the daily washing of the water in His word (v. 26). In this way we will be daily renewed (2 Cor. 4:16) to become as “new” as the New Jerusalem.

Such a life of redeeming the time, by understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-18), will bring us onward to God’s eternal goal and cause us to daily live a bride-preparing life, a life of preparing ourselves to become Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem,  for our eternal marriage.

I believe, I’ve made my point, that is, that we need to be spiritually preparing today for our coming marriage to Christ. For those who still have some concerns about believers going to heaven, and how that fits with the New Jerusalem, Witness Lee does a better job than I can of addressing the matter in chapter 18 of his book, The Church as the Body of Christ.

September 26, 2010

The Seven Letters in Revelation

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little.   There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time.   Maybe, as the pastor at the church we visited this morning suggested, the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church.

Zoom back in.   Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras.

Zoom in again.   Churches like the seven so-described exist today.   If you’ve been around you could put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more.   Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply.   Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. These letters have application to each one of us.   Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now.   Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on!   (But it’s actually a good summary, too.)

Click the image for original source site.