Monday, November 12, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 4

My Darling has Forsaken Me

Prayer: God as we study today about Ephesus help us to learn from this powerful church, both from her successes & her failures.  Help us to be discerning and yet never failing in love.  Help us to do this as individuals, as a church body, and in the true Church - the body of believers in the world.  Amen!

This morning we start into the letters to the 7 churches, if you remember from last week when we looked at Revelation 1:19 you'll know we're entering the 2nd section of this book.  We've already covered what John wrote about what he had seen - the first and shortest section of Revelation being only 1 chapter long, now we're in the "what is now" section which is comprised of the letters to 7 churches of John's day.

It's interesting that though the letters were applicable to the 7 churches of that day there are additional levels of application.  Remember that this is a book of Prophecy - we were told that in Revelation 1:3, and it is common - even expected - for Prophecy to have multiple levels of fulfillment.  We have a God who is more complex, more amazing, than we can even begin to imagine - I don't think it's possible to give God more credit for complexity than He has.

Levels of Application for the letters to the churches:
1 - An Individual Church: the specified church of John's day to address a specific problem in that church at that time.
2 - All Churches: the 7 churches who received letters, and extending to all churches throughout the church age: each letter includes a statement about hearing what the Spirit has to say to the "churches" (plural).
3 - Personal: each has an admonition for all believers to "hear" what is being said and a promise to those who "overcome".
4 - Prophetic: the 7 letters outline a profile of church history from the Upper Room until the church joins Jesus in the Upper Air. (This is seen by some as controversial)

The letters contain 7 design elements, constituting a type of "Report Card" for that church: 
1 - Name of the City - the meaning of the name of the city has significance.
2 - Title of Christ - each is a title already seen in chapter 1, each title has significance regarding the message that is being given to the church.
3 - Commendation - what they are doing well (2 churches don't get this).
4 - Concern - what they are doing wrong (2 churches don't get this).
5 - Exhortation - a call to action (or to continued action).
6 - Promise to the Overcomer - blessing for those who overcome.
7 - Closing Statement - "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
One commentator stated that all 7 recipients were surprised.  Those who thought they were doing well weren't, those who thought they weren't doing well were.

Before we move on lets take a closer look at that Closing Statement "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches".  In addition to what I've already said regarding this I'd like you to notice a couple things.  It says "He who has an ear" - that means those who are willing to listen & spiritually able to listen.  God never forces anyone to listen to Him, and only those who have the Holy Spirit empowering them are able to hear Him.  It says "what the Spirit says to the churches", the Holy Spirit is already at work in these churches and is speaking to these churches.  I thought it was interesting that in chapter 1 we saw the 7 Spirits or 7-Fold Spirit of God, and here the Spirit is speaking to 7 churches with 7 messages.

I'd also like to point out a word that occurs in all 7 letters that I found interesting - the word for "overcome".  It is "nikao" and means to overcome, conquer, or triumph - and the word in the Greek implies a continuous action: continue to overcome, conquer, triumph.  I heard mentioned that the brand Nike may have gotten its name from this root.  Each of the letters calls the hearer to overcome some trial, and in overcoming to receive a blessing.  When you are facing trials how do you pray?  Do you pray to be freed from your trials or for God to give you the strength to overcome?  Beth Moore put it something like this:  "How do you overcome if you never underwent?"

Finally I want you to notice that each letter is addressed to the "angel of the church" of its city - some again think this is an angelic being watching over the church, others a pastor of the church.  We went over this a bit in our last lesson... and who knows, perhaps it's a bit of each, but it is interesting that the letter is directed in this way rather than simply to the church as a whole.

So our first church is the church in Ephesus, and I want to just give you a brief taste of the 1st century city of Ephesus - if you're interested in knowing more I'll let you do that on your own.

Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, located "where East met West" it was an important crossroads area with a pleasant climate (similar to Southern California) and fertile land.  It was a religious and commercial center and influenced peoples of both East (Asia) and West (Europe).  It was the largest city in the province of Asia having an estimated population at that time of somewhere between 250,000 - 500,000 people (approximately the population of Minneapolis), one source I read claimed that at times there were as many as 1 - 2 million people gathered in that city.  At one time it was a key Naval port with a nice harbor; however, at the time of the writing of Revelation the harbor had already begun to have problems with silt - and today the city is about 6 miles away from the coast.

It was a beautiful and wealthy city, constructed primarily of white marble with stunning well developed architecture.  Within the city were:
  • Library with over 12,000 volumes (before printing)
  • Renown Marketplace, 360' square with shops 40' deep along all 4 sides.
  • Theater 495' in diameter which could seat as many as 25,000 people.
  • A very long "Way" (road) made of marble, 7' wide running through the city and to the harbor.
  • It had gymnasiums and brothels and various temples all the other accouterment of large cities of its day.  Apparently from the Library there was an underground tunnel leading to the brothels in case you wanted to keep your matters private.
  • A distinctive feature was the Temple of Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world which is said to have been very beautiful both of form and material.  It was the largest Greek temple ever built and was 4 times the size of the Parthenon at Athens.  The goddess Diana was a fertility goddess, both male and female temple prostitutes were in residence at the temple.  J Vernon McGee describes it this way: "Around the temple of Diana were performed the grossest forms of immorality... The worshipers indulged in the basest religious rites of sensuality and the wildest bacchanalian orgies that were excessive and vicious."  This temple also served as a bank (may have been the first bank) which was run by the temple priests, and it was an art gallery with an extensive collection.

The gospel brought many changes to Ephesus.  It had been the center for the study of arts & magic, but became the center for missionary operations throughout the province of Asia.  Out of Ephesus many other churches had been founded and in John's day it was a large strong church.  Acts 19:19 records an incident in which the magic scrolls, valued at 50,000 drachma's (1 drachma = 1 day's wage), were burned out of a fear of the Lord.  4 Great Pillars were placed at the entrance to the harbor, each bearing a cross, with 1 each being dedicated to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Pagan temples were turned into churches.

The Letter to Ephesus: read Revelation 2:1-7

Name of the city: Ephesus, meaning Desired One or Darling

Title of Christ: He that holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.  Jesus title is a reminder to them of His position and power, that He is the one who is in control, He is the one who is dwelling in the midst of the churches.

Commendation: Jesus knows of their works & perseverance - they were strongly focused upon and insistent upon doctrinal purity.  They weeded out heresy & clung to sound doctrine, and "hated the practices of the Nicolaitans".

Who are the Nicolaitans?  We have no way of knowing for sure, but here are a couple possibilities that are widely acknowledged:
  • A Gnostic sect - much later a group of Gnostics that rejected John's teachings took this name on themselves (to spite John?).  But earlier there was a Gnostic sect (name may have been Nicolaitans) which taught that to understand sin you must first indulge in it.  They believed that flesh & spirit were separate to the point that sins of the flesh could not hinder the spirit.  This is obviously counter to scripture in so many ways that I don't think I need to discuss this farther.
  • Nicolaitans may be a word simply made up from the words "nikao" (overcome - discussed earlier) and "laos" which means "the people".  So the Nicolaitans may have been an early incident of clergy attempting to rule over the laity, and in several places in scripture this is discouraged (see John 13:14-16; Matthew 20:24-28).

Concerns: They have forsaken their first love. 

The word for "first" in Greek is "protos" which implies a priority, you could think of their "first love" as their "primary directive" - what is our primary directive as believers?  read Matthew 22:35-40

The Ephesian church had been warned (by Paul and others) about 35 years before this letter that heresies would try to enter in, and they had taken the warning seriously.  However, what seems to have happened is that they've gotten so busy at the business of the King that they've forgotten to give time to the King.  When I heard this I had to stop right there and get on my knees and repent because I tend to make this mistake and must guard myself.  God prefers Devotion to Doctrine, lets not get these mixed up!!  Jesus prefers the actions of a "Mary" to a "Martha" (see Luke 10:38-42).

The Ephesians had discernment but not love, this kind of combination pushes people away and can kill a church. We need discernment, but there must always also be love.  It's interesting that it says they had "forsaken" their first love, this is the Greek word "aphiemi" which means "send forth, send away, let go from oneself".  We might use the term "wander" in the same manner, indicating that someone is either in active rebellion or in passive rebellion has simply gotten out of habit of following the good ways they once had.

Exhortation: Remember & Repent.  Remember the great love we have in God, return to that place of loving adoration.

Closing Statement: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"

Promise to the Overcomer: The right to eat from the Tree of Life which is in the paradise of God.

The word paradise here is from a Persian word that means "pleasure garden".  For the one who overcomes the Tree of Life, which could no longer be accessed by man in the Garden of Eden after the fall is now available again to man in God's pleasure garden. 

How is your life like the life of the church of Ephesus?  Are you diligent concerning doctrine?  What do you do when faced with heretical teaching?  How's your devotional life?  Are you making it a priority to keep your "first love" strong & lively?

How is our church like the church of Ephesus?  Is our church based upon and standing up for sound doctrine?  How does our church deal with heretical teaching?  Does our church encourage times of devotion (prayer / meditation)?  Is our church as a whole making it a priority to demonstrate and grow in love?

Prayer:  God, how easy it is to get so busy doing that we forget to stop and simply spend time your presence.  Help us Lord to be a people and a church of listening ears, a people and a church that are marked by Love while clinging to sound doctrine, help us to be a people and a church that are overcomers - receiving as many of your blessings as possible.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 3

Look Who's Talking

Prayer: God help us to be like John, to be testifying about you, to be willing to be exiled or even killed for the sake of your marvelous word.  Thank You for giving us your word through John.  Help us to take in this message, to marvel at it, to meditate on it, and to learn from it.  Amen!

We are continuing to work our way through the first chapter of the book of Revelation, for any who may have missed either of the last two lessons I'd encourage you to go to the blog and read - you will probably want to pick up what you've missed.

To bring us back into perspective before we start examining things closely we're going to read all of Revelation chapter 1.

v9-10: John introduces himself and the circumstances under which all of these wonderful things are occurring.  He is a fellow believer, dealing with the suffering common to believers and the patient endurance required of all who walk in faith.  He was on the isle of Patmos, in exile specifically because he was testifying to his faith.  Historically we know he was exiled by Domitian, an Emperor of Rome.  Domitian was one of 3 Emperors that wanted to be worshiped as a god while living, in general the Romans held that Emperors we deity once dead.  It is rumored though not known as historical fact that Domitian tried to have John killed but John couldn't be killed, so he sent John away.  This places the timing of the writing of Revelation at approximately 100 years after the birth of Christ.  After Domitian dies John gets released and returns to Ephesus and continues his work for the Lord with the churches, and he does eventually die of natural causes. 

The following is from Fox's Book of Martyrs:

John was "in the Spirit" - we don't know exactly what he meant but we can presume that he may have been in prayer and meditation, in communion and submission to the Holy Spirit.  It's possible he was in a trance- or dream-like state, such as Peter was in Acts 10:9-16, or as described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  In any case John was purposefully in the act of worshiping God.

"On the Lord's Day" - there are various opinions.  Some say the Sabbath, others say Sunday, and there are even those who think it is "The Day Of The Lord" though the original language doesn't support this 3rd view.

He heard a voice "like a trumpet" - more accurately it should read "like a shofar" - the horn used to gather the people of Israel or the armies of God.  A powerful voice!

v11: In many of our translations we're missing something here, and I don't know why it has been omitted.  In the Greek this verse starts with another "I Am", this time saying "I Am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last".  Perhaps most translations don't include it because this is already stated in verse 8, or because this will be stated again in verse 17, I don't know - but it clearly points out that the speaker is God.

The following is from The Interlinear Bible, published by Sovereign Grace Publishers:

God is telling John to write down what he is seeing, and to send it to seven churches.  John has been a faithful witness of what he has seen in the past, he has testified to the life & impact of Jesus, now he is being asked to testify once again to the things of God.   The seven churches listed are seven real churches that existed in John's day, and as I pointed out when back in verse 4 the word for church is indicating a local gathering of believers.  The thing that might give you goosebumps is that there are those who point out that the letters also outline church history through the ages since the death of Christ, and if they were in any other order this wouldn't hold true.

The seven churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  If you peek ahead and look at chapters 2 & 3 you'll notice that the letters specifically written to these 7 churches are in the order listed in this verse.  If you look at a map of the locations of these cities you'll notice that the order is given starting at Ephesus and going in a clockwise manner.

The following is from Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts & Maps:

v12-16:  John turns to see, and who does he see?  He sees the one who's favorite title for Himself in the gospels is "Son Of Man", this title is used more than 80 times, this is none other than Jesus!  If you aren't sure of his identity hang on, because we're going to see this more clearly a little later in this chapter.  Daniel 7:13 -14 gives us another picture of this one that is "like a son of man".  He is described as wearing this long robe with a golden sash, and I can't help but think of this as His High Priestly garments because we know that He now acts as our High Priest interceding for us (Hebrews 7:23-28).

We start to get into some of that symbolic language now when it comes to Jesus description, it's kinda nice that we were warned about this in verse 1 (check out Lesson 1 if you don't recall this).  This description sounds a bit strange, perhaps even a little grotesque, but God is not grotesque - He is beautiful beyond the description of human words!  With that in mind one thing to look for when you're reading text that may be symbolic are the words "like" and "as" - these words tell us that we're getting symbols and/or figures of speech.  His hair was white "like" wool or "as white as" snow, His eyes were "like" blazing fire.  If we think about His eyes being like fire we could think of them as being penetrating - like when Jesus looked at Peter in Luke 22:60-62.

His feet were "like" fine brass glowing in a furnace - if you're someone who likes a challenge I'm going to suggest you do a word study on "brass" (or bronze depending on your translation).  You'll find an odd incident in Numbers 21 dealing with a bronze serpent... I'll leave it at that and let you discover the significance of this on your own.  His voice, previously described "like" the shofar is now described "as" the sound of rushing waters - and I couldn't help but think of the thundering of a large waterfall like Niagara - a deep rumble, if you're standing nearby it's hard to speak to the person beside you.  He's holding 7 stars in his right hand, that doesn't sound too freaky and we'll find out in a couple verses what those are.  

Out of His mouth is coming a sharp double-edged sword... ok, time to back up a a bit and look at some other scriptures as well, because this sounds really weird.  Back in verses 8 & 11 He said He was the "Alpha" & "Omega" - the first and last letters of the alphabet that John was using.  John 1:1 & 14 - Jesus is the Word, in Greek that would be the Logos, so it's only fitting that the Word would mean the whole Word, everything revealed by God from A-Z, we've got the same author here (John) who wrote John 21:25 - there is something very significant about Jesus being the Word.  What is this two-edged sword, it may very well be the active word of God as described in Hebrews 4:12-13.  We get the sense because of the symbol used that Judgement will be ushering forth from His mouth - and in later chapters we will see that happening.  One commentator I've been listening to mentioned that Jesus mouth is a weapon that cannot be disobeyed - when He speaks people do as He says whether or not they want to Isaiah 45:23 & Philippians 2:9-11, when the time comes He will need no other weapon to defeat rebellious mankind (Ephesians 6:17).

v17-18:  Nobody knows Jesus like John did, yet what does John do when faced with Jesus in His glory?  He falls down on his face as if he were dead!  Isaiah also had an interesting reaction in similar circumstances (Isaiah 6:1-5).  Jesus doesn't leave John on his face, He touches him and reassures him - there's an amazing parallel to a similar account involving Jesus & John in Matthew 16:28-17:9.  At the transfiguration John got a glimpse of the glory of Jesus, this time John sees Jesus in full glory.  It's interesting to note that Jesus prophetic words in Matthew 16:28 were fulfilled partially at the transfiguration, and fully in the events of the book of Revelation.  That John was specifically set aside for this purpose may be hinted at in another place in scripture  (John 21:20-24).

Jesus tells John "do not be afraid", these same words are echoed many times in scripture, each time followed by a special commissioning by God - this is no exception.  God, Jesus in this case, has a specific job for John, the recording of His revelation.  Jesus claims to be the "I Am" (two words in Greek - see Lesson 2), the First and the Last.  We know it's Jesus by what is said in verse 18 - He is the Living One, he was dead and now He is alive.  He holds the keys of Death & Hades - He is victorious over death (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

Has anyone of you ever had a J.W. come to your door?  These verses, 17 & 18, in their favorite book of the Bible, is one of the best arguments you can present to prove to them that Jesus is God (they believe Jesus is a "g" god).  He makes multiple claims to his deity here but they would be likely to discount most - what they won't discount is this: "the First and the Last" is always the one they call Jehovah God.  Then all you need to do is ask them "when did Jehovah die?"... verse 18 specifically says "I was dead" - that can be no other than our Lord Jesus Christ!!
A full list of verses (this will be on the blog) to show to a J.W. would be as follows, each time asking "who is the First and the Last?" or "who is the Alpha and the Omega?": Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, 48:12; Revelation 1:8, 1:11 (in a version that has the I Am statement), 1:17-18, 2:8 (which also speaks about Him dying and coming to life again), 22:13.

The following is from The Interlinear Bible, published by Sovereign Grace Publishers:

v19: This verse actually gives us God's outline of the Revelation:
Chapter 1 - what you have seen
Chapters 2-3 - what is now
Chapters 4-22 - what will take place later
John is instructed to write these things down for all to see.

v20: Jesus specifically interprets some of the images John has seen: 

7 Stars: Angels of the 7 churches - the term for Angels as used in Revelation is exclusively used to mean Angelic beings, though some interpret the Greek word (Angel = Messenger) to indicate the pastor/elders of the churches.  I disagree with the pastor/elder view for the following reasons: angels & elders are both called out later in the book (Revelation 7:11) & if Jesus meant elder here He could have used that specific word but He didn't, stars are frequently used figuratively to represent angelic beings and this is not true of pastor/elders.  I believe that angelic beings minister to God's people (Hebrews 1:14, Matthew 18:10) and it is not a stretch that angelic beings might also minister to individual churches.

7 Lampstands: 7 churches, which we should conclude are the 7 previously mentioned churches.  It's interesting that if we glance back up at verse 13 we see that Jesus is among the seven lampstands - He is in the midst of His churches, inspecting His churches, and working on their behalf (Matthew 18:18-20). Each church, like each believer, has an appointed mission to bear light to the world.  That was also the appointed mission of Israel - this may be why her official symbol is a Menorah (not a Star Of David), though Israel appears at this time to have failed in this mission she still has a future light-bearing mission that we will see later in Revelation chapter 7.

Are we as a church fulfilling God's mission?  Are we shining light into the world?  Or have we become like Israel was in Jesus day, inwardly focused and paying little attention to the unsaved world around us?  This is something we should carefully consider!

Prayer:  Lord, there's so much in this first chapter yet we have so much more yet to come.  Help our understanding of this passage, help us each to testify as John has testified, help us as a church to be a lampstand that shines brightly for the world to see.  Amen!