To the Church Like Philadelphia," Revelation 3.7-13

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>"To the Church Like Pergamum," Revelation 2.12-17

>Here is the fourth sermon in my current sermon series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Are you tired in your Christian walk? Do you feel rundown and weakened because of the burden to maintain your confession of Christ in a world and culture that is hostile to your faith? Then don’t give up!

“Give up? I would never give up,” you may be thinking. And I believe you that you would probably never outright denounce Christ; yet, when we are feeling the struggle that faith creates in this life, we can become tempted to implicitly do what we would never explicitly do. In our exhausted and wearied state, we can forget that life is only found by way of the cross. As a result, we can become tempted to think that we can lighten the struggle by mixing a little bit of the world with our faith–that we can compartmentalize our faith between the Sabbath and the rest of the week.

But as we see in this text, Christ’s sword of judgment is directed towards persons who fall prey to that lie. We must remember who we are in Christ and resist the temptation to compromise ourselves with the world. Instead of looking for comfort in the world, find your comfort in the one who has overcome the world, who offers you heavenly manna to nourish you along the way and promises heavenly life and rest to those who maintain their faith in Christ.

I have been told that the audio did not record, but you can read the sermon here.

>"To the Church Like Smyrna" Revelation 2.8-11

>Currently I am enrolled in the Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC in the Homiletics practicum and one of our assignments is to video record a sermon. I recorded my sermon from last night, which is my third sermon in my short series in Revelation.

So often today we are told that a faithful walk with Christ results in earthly blessings, and that the problems we face are the result of our being out of accord with God. However, that is a lie and is the opposite of the teaching of the gospel–and it is the opposite of the teaching of Revelation 2.8-11.

The faithful church is a persecuted church, and the persecuted church is a suffering church; but the suffering church is a triumphant church for she suffers and conquers in union with her Lord who maintained his witness unto death and was raised to life before her. The hope of the church is found in the person, work and promises of the risen and exalted Christ who is the first and the last, who died and came to life, and who awards the faithful with the crown of life. In Christ, there is nothing on earth or in heaven for us to fear.

Christ’s story is our story. And as he conquered through humiliation, suffering and death that led to resurrection and glorification, we too, wage a warfare of humiliation, suffering and death that leads to our resurrection and glorification in Christ.

>"To the Church Like Ephesus" Revelation 2.1-7

>Here is my second sermon from the new Revelation series. Just what does a faithful witness to Christ consist of? Often we are told by some that it consists of maintaining the true faith once for all delivered to the saints. Others will say that it consists of loving service. Who’s right? See what Christ has to say.

You can read the sermon here.

(Update: I found out today that the audio did not record, so there is no audio available for this sermon.)

>The Exalted Prophet, Priest and King of Revelation 1 (Part 2)

>In addition to portraying Jesus Christ as the divine eschatological prophet, Revelation 1 also portrays him as the divine eschatological king. In 1.13, John describes the exalted on commissioning him to write as “one like the son of man,” who had hair that was white like wool. This language is an allusion back to the vision of the Ancient of Days and the son of man in Daniel 7.9-14. In Daniel 7, God provides Daniel a vision using apocalyptic imagery to encourage his exiled people that despite the way things appear because they are pilgrims outside the land of promise and enduring persecution at the hands of God’s enemies, God has a purpose for these things and is moving all of history to his appointed ends, according to his appointed means. God is sovereign and in control in the midst of their affliction (sound familiar?).

In the vision of Daniel 7, world history is set forth (similar to Daniel 2 and the vision of the statue that is alluded to in Rev. 1.1-3) and shown to be under the control of the Ancient of Days. He is this great judge figure enthroned in righteousness and fire–this is a picture of God himself, ruling and reigning and who calls the kingdoms of man (his enemies) to account for their rebellion and wickedness. The kingdoms of man stand before his throne, are judged, and stripped of their dominion.

Yet, after this judgment there is another who comes and is presented before the throne of the Ancient of Days. This figure is described as a son of man who comes with the clouds of heaven. This is not any man, this is a heavenly man. And this son of man is not judged but given a kingdom–an eternal kingdom with everlasting dominion. His kingdom will rule forever and never be defeated. This is the messianic king, receiving and ruling over the eternal Kingdom of God.

In Revelation 1, John alludes to both of these visions together by describing Jesus as the son of man, but also as the Ancient of Days. Jesus Christ, then, is the divine, messianic King ruling and reigning over the Kingdom of God forever, and which will never be defeated.

And this is true of Christ now. This is not some far off distant truth that will only become reality in the future at his second coming. He is the glorified, divine, eschatological king, now. And in this role of divine eschatological king, he no longer rules as he did in his earthly ministry. Christ did not become a king, but was born a king. But his kingdom rule did not play itself out according to Jewish and even Gentile expectations. Kings were to be victorious through battle and were to subdue their enemies through superior military might. Yet, Christ overcame his enemies not through a display of military might, but through his death and crucifixion on the cross. Christ waged the warfare of humiliation, love and the cross.

But in Revelation 1, we find that this is no longer the case for the divine eschatological king, for now in his resurrection and ascension, he rules as a victorious warrior who is bringing his judgment to his enemies. Revelation 1.16 describes him as now having a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth and a face like the sun shining in its full strength. The imagery of the sword alludes to Isaiah 11 and 49, where one who is the royal stem of Jesse that will be full of the Spirit who will rule in the name of God in righteousness and faithfulness. He rule is characterized as striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and as having a mouth like a sharp sword. His rule has two purposes: 1) to bring salvation to his people (consisting of both Jew and Gentile) and 2) to conquer his enemies to bring victory to his persecuted people.

The imagery of his face shining like the sun alludes to a combination of Judges 5.31 and Daniel 10. The main idea behind the symbolism is that of victorious warrior. In Judges 5, the song of Deborah is recorded celebrating God’s victory on behalf of his languishing people through Jael. The end of the song says, “Thus let all your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength. So the land had rest for forty years.” The result of God’s victory was salvation from bondage and rest in the land from all her enemies. And those who are on God’s side and part of God’s victory are described like the sun when it comes out in full strength–this is what the victorious Israelite warrior who rests in God’s victory is described.

Later in Daniel 10 a figure comes to Daniel, to once again give him revelation from God that is supposed to encourage God’s people in the midst of their affliction. And the content has to do with God’s ultimate victory over his enemies. This one who comes and delivers the message is described as having a face like lightening, wearing linen girded with gold, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and body like burnished bronze and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. At the sight of this figure, Daniel collapses and is told by him “Do not fear,” (once again, sound familiar?). This one is described as being in a great cosmic battle that is raging behind the scenes of history, of which history itself is a part. And at the end of the struggle, he is ultimately victorious, and all his people will share in that victory and the salvation and they will “shine like the brightness of the firmament.” The victorious warrior is described as having his face like lightening and his victorious people too are described as shinning like the firmament.

The point here is that Jesus, as the son of man whose face shines like the sun, is the victorious conquering king who is putting down his enemies and bringing his people to salvation. Christ as the divine eschatological king rules as a victorious warrior bringing history and his enemies to their appointed end, as well as, ushering in eschatological salvation for his people as he consummates the new heavens and new earth. He is the divine, eschatological king, who is a victorious warrior, who is bringing the judgment of God to his enemies and salvation to his people.

It is this conquering, divine, eschatological king and warrior-judge that speaks to us in the Book of Revelation to comfort us in the midst of the battle, to call our attentions to the heavenly perspective of our current ordeal, and to warn that his judgment is coming. What better hope can be found than in being found to be in union with this Christ by faith, for those who are shall shine like him as they share in his victory. He is presently, now, exercising his messianic rule.

>The Exalted Prophet, Priest and King of Revelation 1 (Part 1)

>The answer to Question 23 of the Shorter Catechism teaches that, “Christ as our redeemer, executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” In Revelation 1, we find a glorious and majestice presentation of Christ executing his three-fold office as the divine, eschatological prophet, priest and king.

The Book of Revelation opens with a self-disclosed revelation from God to his church–and its principal author is the resurrected and reigning Jesus Christ. Jesus, as the author, declares to the church the will of God for their salvation from the heavenly perspective, in order to aid and guide the church into faithful perseverance as pilgrims living away from their heavenly home. Using language that hearkens back to Daniel 2 (see previous post), Jesus sets forth in Revelation the unfolding of human history that will be brought to its eschatological completion according to Christ’s good pleasure. Until that time, there is a battle of cosmic proportions, raging behind the scenes of history that is bringing itself to bear on history. As such, as the victorious and conquering Christ puts his enemies down, his enemies will manifest their hatred of him and his rule by pouring out their own wrath upon the church.

For the church to bear up and persevere through this battle, Christ reveals to them what they need to know. But the real thrust of his prophetic ministry here is not in foretelling historical events to the church, as much as, it has to do with his forthtelling how the church is to live and respond to the coming affliction. And so there is a blessing attached to the reading and hearing of his words–specifically when the reading and hearing are attended by obedience to what he says. So on the Christian Sabbath, Christ calls the apostle John up into the heavenly places and delivers an audible message to the apostle that he in turn is to write down and deliver to us!

But Christ is not just any prophet and this is not his first time to reveal, or witness to, the will of God; according to verse 5, Jesus is the faithful witness. In his earthly ministry Jesus was the eschatological Word who came and dwelt with his people in order to testify of grace and truth and to make the Father known (John 1.1-18). The prophetic ministry of Jesus was basically twofold: 1) he disclosed the blessing of salvation that God was procuring for his church; and 2) he discloses the coming covenant curses for failure to repent and believe.

As Christ fulfilled this calling he came under much opposition and tribulation at the hands of evil and wicked men. But Christ did not back down and give in to the pressure to stop testifying–and that faithful testimony was then sealed with his death on the cross. Jesus’ testimony in a nut shell was that he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14.6), and that everyone who believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3.16); yet, his testimony led to the cross and the grave.

Revelation 1.5 goes on to say, however, that Christ did not remain in the grave, because in addition to being the faithful witness, he is also the firstborn of the dead! His faithfulness led him to more than just the cross and death–it led him to resurrection! He is the firstborn of the dead. “Firstborn” tells us that he is not the only–but the first–to be born from the dead. There are others that he will resurrect from the dead as well. His testimony is not negated by his death, but rather confirmed. It is only by way of death that one enters the glory of the resurrection. This is what it means for him to be the faithful witness who died and rose again–that in his testimony one truly finds life; not a better earthly existence–but true, resurrection, glorious, heavenly life! The one who speaks to us gives us words of life.

However, as a prophet, Jesus is also a guardian of the covenant who brings God’s covenant lawsuit and speaks of the coming covenant curses. For example, in Matthew 21.44, Jesus alludes to the prophecy in Daniel 2 to tell the pharisees that because they oppose him, they are in opposition to the Kingdom of God itself. And as the prophecy in Daniel 2 foretells of the Kingdom of God as pictured by a great stone that crushes all competing kingdoms of man, so they too will share in the defeat of the Gentiles and be crushed by that same stone. In the context of the passage, it is clear that Jesus is that stone. The result of the pharisees’ opposition to Christ is that they will not inherit the blessings of the kingdom, but instead will receive the curse of the covenant and be cut off from its inheritance. So the one who brings words of life because he himself received the curse of the covenant on the cross and was raised back to life, also brings words of judgment that call for repentance and faith. In Revelation 1.7, his prophetic words include not only the possibility of judgment, but the certainty of the coming judgment that had been foretold from Genesis 3. In his heavenly prophetic ministry, Christ is the mediator of God’s words to his church and to all mankind of both the blessing of life and the curse of death.

The hope of the church and world, then, rests in the life and words of this divine, eschatological prophet. If you struggle to believe that there is a coming eschatological judgment of God, then look at the cross, for that judgment has already begun. And if you struggle to believe the promise of eternal life, then look at and listen to the resurrected and glorified Christ, for in him that life has already begun. The only means for the church to endure and persevere faithfully through the trials of faith is found in the one who embodies the realities of both the curse and the blessing–we must give heed to his words.

(There will be more on this theme of Christ’s heavenly prophetic ministry in Revelation 2 in an upcoming post)

>Reading Revelation Literally – Which Means Symbolically

>In a previous post and in my first sermon on Revelation, I advocate for reading Revelation as an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter to the Church throughout the period between the advents of Christ, since the opening verses of Revelation indicates this. This perspective believes that Revelation should be read symbolically.

In my class on the book of Revelation at the Dispensational Bible college I attended, I was taught that if you did not read Revelation “literally” then you had a liberal view of the Bible. Only the literal reading of Revelation maintains the evangelical doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. I was also taught that reading Revelation symbolically was to read it allegorically.

You can find this perspective represented in the work of Robert L. Thomas. Thomas has argued that reading Revelation primarily as apocalyptic renders one guilty of utilizing a non-literal approach. For Thomas, this non-literal approach is not biblical and leads people to subjective interpretations instead of the true meaning of the text.

For instance, he argues that the apocalyptic genre is not a biblical genre, but has come about because of scholars utilizing extrabiblical literature. Scholars are forcing an extrabiblical model onto the scripture of Revelation. And what is worse, is that according to Thomas, is that this approach is like the contextualizaton interpretive approach of the liberals of the World Council of Churches. For Thomas, reading Revelation as apocalytpic leads you into a subjective reading of Revelation, substituting personal preferences for the one correct interpretation, which is a careless regard to the book’s meaning and is an abuse of the text, and is not evangelical– “Allowing this liberty for subjective opinion cannot satisfy the criteria of a grammatical-historical system of hermeneutics such as characterized an evangelical Christian understanding of Scripture” (emphasis mine).

Thomas argues instead for a literal approach to reading Revelation according “normal principles of grammar and facts of history.” This literal approach says that the default reading of Revelation and its symbols and visions is to be literal unless otherwise indicated by the text. Check first to see if the symbol or vision can respond to a normal, physical reality, if not, then it is figurative and concerned with the future. In other words, you are to interpret literally until you are forced conceptually to interpret figuratively/symbollically. He concludes that Revelation should be read like the rest of the Bible–it should be read as a prophecy and treated like all other prophecies. For Thomas, if you read it apocalyptically, then you are not reading it literally, but allegorically.

So are these charges true? Does reading Revelation apocalyptically mean that you are not reading it literally? Does it mean that your approach is dependent on extrabiblical literature (coming from outside the Bible)? Does it mean that you are engaging in liberal theology? Is Thomas right?

When we look at the opening verses of Revelation 1, we find at the very beginning an allusion to Daniel 2. In fact what we find is that the opening of Revelation is structured in accordance with Daniel 2. In Daniel 2 we find the narrative of where King Nebuchadnezzar is troubled by a dream that he does not understand. He calls in his magicians, enchanters and sorcerers to have them interpret his dream for him. When they arrive, they are surprised to hear that Nebuchadnezzar is not going to tell them the dream so they can interpret it; they have to tell him the dream and then interpret it.

They are unable to do so, so Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree for all the wise men to be killed. In steps Daniel. He approaches the king and arranges a time to tell the king his dream and its interpretation. Daniel then prays to God and God makes known to Daniel the dream and its meaning—through a vision. In 2.18-19, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which is the thing that needs to be made known, is called a “mystery.” Daniel then praises God in for “revealing” this mystery to him and “making it known.” In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Greek words behind “reveal” and “make known” are the same words used in the Greek NT in Revelation 1.1 for “revelation” and “made known.” Later in 1.20, the vision of Christ and the seven stars and seven lampstands is called a “mystery,” and the Greek word for mystery is the same as used in the Septuagint in Daniel 2 for the “mystery” of the king’s dream. Daniel, then, is sent by God as his servant to reveal and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Next, we find that the content of the vision concerns a large statue that consists of four parts. The head is fine gold, the chest and arms are silver, the middle and thighs are bronze, its legs were iron with its feet a mixture of iron and clay. This large statue is then shattered and destroyed by a rock that then grows into a great mountain that fills the earth. Daniel informs Nebuchadnezzar that the dream is God’s means of revealing the future of human history. The four parts represent different human kingdoms. After these four kingdoms, there will be a final kingdom that is established by God, God’s kingdom, which will be eternal and victorious and will bring an end to human kingdoms. God is letting the king know what will come after his kingdom, which consists of the coming eternal victorious kingdom of the one true God, which will bring human history to its close.

Now, obviously, this communication is prophetic—God is revealing what is going to come to pass. But how does he reveal this prophesy? How was this prophecy understood? God revealed his plans for history through a vision, which could only be understood symbolically. If Daniel had interpreted the vision “literally” he would have gotten it wrong. The statue, the rock, the mountain, these were all symbols being used by God, and only when understood as God intended could it be rightly interpreted. The “mystery” of God’s plan for history, which will reach its goal with the establishment of God’s victorious and eternal kingdom, was “revealed” symbolically and “made known” symbolically through a mediator sent by him.

We see this same structure once again in Revelation 1. As was mentioned above, all of these same key words are found in Revelation 1—but more importantly than just the presence of the words is the form in which those words are found. God once again is portrayed as the revealer of human history that will conclude with the consummation of his eternal and victorious kingdom. This revelation once again comes by way of a mediator sent to “reveal” it and “make it known.” And the mode of revelation is a vision that consists of highly symbolic imagery. Dare we say that God has purposely repeated himself here on purpose, or is this mere coincidence? Are we to interpret Revelation as the vision in Daniel 2, since they have been communicated the same way, or are we to do something different? If we read Daniel’s vision according to Thomas’ hermeneutic, do we run that risk again?

John’s allusion to Daniel 2 suggests that Revelation 1 should be read not just as a prophecy—but an apocalyptic prophesy and therefore the apocalyptic/symbolic methodology is the proper method for reading Revelation. Greg Beale suggests that in this allusion between Daniel 2 and Revelation 1, what we find is that Daniel 2 is programmatic for Revelation. Thomas’ idea that Revelation should be read literally unless forced to read it symbolically, is then on the one hand wrong, while at the other hand he is right and just doesn’t realize it.

With Revelation being an apocalyptic prophesy, it should be read primarily symbolically unless forced to read it literally. The irony here, however, is that we come to this conclusion by reading Revelation 1 literally! It is the literal reading of Revelation 1 that helps us to see the allusion to Daniel 2 and hence, the fact that it is apocalyptic literature that should be understood symbolically. This is how God has designed it and intended it to be read and understood. The true meaning of a literal hermeneutic is to allow the original intent of the author establish the meaning of the text, and God (the author) communicates to us that it is to be read symbolically.

The literal reading of Revelation necessitates a symbolic reading.

Well, it is interesting to me that Thomas states that if the book could be shown to be apocalyptic, then maybe it should be read in a way different from his way. The irony is that it is when one utilizes his hermeneutic, that the apocalyptic nature of Revelation is established. Reading Revelation symbolically is not the product of liberal scholarship, it is not the product of utilizing extrabiblical material, it is not allegorical and it does not lead to an abuse of the text–it is God’s intended method for reading his intended message.

>"The Blessing of Revelation for You," Revelation 1

>Yesterday I began a short series in the book of Revelation. I will not be preaching through the entire book, but the oracles to the seven churches in chapters two and three. This first sermon is from Revelation 1. The purpose is not to provide a thorough presentation of the first chapter, but to unfold the clues that the first chapter provides for rightly understanding chapters two and three.

The position that I take is that Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter that is written to the church throughout all of the church age. As such, it extends a blessing to all who read it, especially in public worship, and obey it. The blessing is not just for those living at the time of John’s writing, nor is it just for those who live just prior to Christ’s return, nor is it only for persons living at particular points in history. The blessing is for you!

My approach to Revelation would most closely fit with the “Idealist” position, however, not completely. The idealist position (also called recapitulationism) sees Revelation as a series of repeated symbolic visions that portray the cosmic struggle between Satan and Christ and the church’s place in that struggle. It is heavenly commentary that unveils the struggle from the perspective of heaven at times, while at others from the perspective of earth. And each vision does this, for example, Revelation 1-3 is one vision that looks at this struggle that rages between the two advents of Christ.

But, like Greg Beale in his commentary on Revelation, I utilize the idealist perspective with an intentional redemptive-historical perspective. Revelation 1 teaches that because of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, he is the Lord over all of history and rules in majesty. And what is striking is that as this is true of him, it is also true of his church because of their union with him by faith. The same three-fold description provided of Christ is later used again to describe his church. As such, the risen Lord and his persecuted church throughout the Church age are intimately united to one another. This unity is pictured towards the end of the first chapter with the description of the exalted, majestic Christ dwelling in the midst of Church–and nothing can change that reality. The result of this is two-fold. One, obviously the church has noting to fear. But two, and more importantly for this sermon, this means that when you see Christ in this book, you should see yourself. His life is your life.

This book and its blessing is written to you and for you because you are united to its author and its hero. You are given a heavenly interpretation of your earthly pilgrimage. The blessing of Revelation is for you!

You can read it here, or listen to it here.