Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Revelation of God's Throne

Part 11 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 4:1-11

GOD ON HIS THRONE

As I meditated upon John’s vision of God’s throne, I thought of what it would be like to be in God’s presence. I don’t think we can come close to imagining the majesty and glory of heaven.

When we think of standing before God’s throne, we might compare it to standing before Queen Elizabeth II’s throne. How would you act if you were in the presence of the Queen? There are certain rules you are expected to follow when in the presence of the Queen.
  • Whatever you do, don’t touch the Queen! (Did Michelle Obama break protocol when she put her hand on the back of the Queen?)
  • If the Queen extends her hand, you can shake her hand—but not firmly.
  • Your initial address to the Queen should be “Your Majesty.” After that, you may address her as “Ma’am.”
  • Don’t say, “Pleased to meet you.” This is considered redundant since it’s assumed that everyone who meets the Queen is pleased to do so. (Carole Middleton, the mother of Prince William’s fiancĂ©, said this when she first met the Queen.)
  • There are several other things you should not do in the Queen’s presence. Don’t chew gum. Don’t wear gloves. Don’t turn your back on her. Don’t keep eating after she has finished.
Being in the presence of the Queen is a humbling experience, but it’s nothing like being in the presence of the King of kings (and queens). In Revelation 20:12, John writes, “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne.” When the “great” stand before God’s throne, they will feel very small (including Queen Elizabeth II).

John’s vision of God’s throne is similar to two OT visions (Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 1:4-28). This vision requires our imagination. John doesn’t have the words to describe what he sees (“like”). (Illustration: It would be like John having a vision of today’s world and trying to describe it. How would you describe a computer to people of the first century?) This is not a literal description of God. (The Bible never gives us a literal description of God.)

After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne (vv. 1-2).

God’s throne is mentioned twelve times in this chapter.

God is in control, so be filled with worship, not fear of the future.

Some people see the rapture of the church in verse 1 (“Come up here”). It’s true that the “church” is never said to be on earth during the remainder of Revelation, but neither is it said to be in heaven. However, we do see “saints” both on earth and in heaven. If the church does go through the tribulation preceding the second coming, it's fitting that this vision of God's throne comes first. No matter what might happen, God is still in control.

WORTHY OF WORSHIP

Who are the twenty-four elders? Some say they are angels. Others say they symbolize the saints of all ages (12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles).

Who are the four living creatures? They are angels. They seem to be a combination of the seraphim of Isaiah 6 and the cherubim of Ezekiel 1. Why do they have the appearance of a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle? Some speculate that the lion, ox, man, and eagle represent how Jesus is presented in the four Gospels: the lion represents Matthew (royalty), the ox represents Mark (servanthood), the man represents Luke (humanity), and the eagle represents John (deity). Others believe that they represent the whole of animate creation, perhaps detailing what is the noblest (lion), strongest (ox), wisest (man), and swiftest (eagle).

[The four living creatures] never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (v. 8).

Why is God to be worshiped?

First, God is holy. He will always do what is right.

To be holy means to be separate—separate from creation and separate from sin. God is perfect in every way. There have been many kings, queens, and dictators who have done some horrible things to their people--but not God.

Second, God is almighty. He is able to do what He promises.

In Canada, the Queen is called the “sovereign.” But really she is only a figurehead. She has no power over us. Unlike the Queen, God is sovereign. John is told he will be shown “what must take place after this” (v. 1). Perhaps the rainbow that is around the throne (v. 3) symbolizes God’s faithfulness. The rainbow was given to Noah as a promise that God would never destroy the earth by water again.

Third, God is eternal. He is not limited by time.

The reign of an earthly ruler is limited to only a few years. God is in control of the past, present, and future.

MANNER OF WORSHIP

The twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (vv. 10-11).

How is God to be worshiped?

First, our worship should be unceasing.

The four living creatures “never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’”

Second, our worship should be humble.

The twenty four elders “fall down before [God].” He is our Creator. We would not exist if it were not for Him. To give us some perspective on how big God is and how small we as humans really are, check out this chart.

Third, our worship should be submissive.

The twenty four elders “cast their crowns before the throne.” We worship not only with our lips, but also with out lives.

WHY DOES GOD DESIRE OUR WORSHIP?

Augustine said, “God thirsts to be thirsted after.” Our worship is like a child giving his mother a bouquet of dandelions. She loves to receive the dandelions because she knows they are an expression of her child’s love.

Why does God long for our worship? Why does He even care if we worship Him or not? First, He deserves our worship (“worthy”). He is the holy, almighty, and eternal God. But there’s a second and less obvious reason why God desires our worship. He is our Creator and He knows that we—whether we realize it or not—desire Him (we thirst after Him). He has made us to be worshipers. We will either worship Him or we will worship a substitute. But only when we know and worship God will our spiritual thirst be quenched. Only then will we find our reason for existence.

Worship puts our troubles into perspective. God is on His throne. He is in control. So worship Him. Don’t fear the future.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Devotion)

Part 10 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 3:14-22

A LUKEWARM CHURCH

“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation’” (v. 14).

The city of Laodicea was famous for its financial wealth, its popular eye salve (there was a medical school in the city), and its textile industry (black wool). Its one weakness was its lack of an adequate water supply.

Sixteen kilometres to the north, Hierapolis was known for its hot springs. Ten kilometres to the east, Colosse was known for its cold drinking water. But Laodicea’s water was lukewarm. Laodicea had to pipe in its water from the hot springs of Denizila (ten kilometres to the south). By the time the water arrived in Laodicea, it was lukewarm.

Spiritually, the church in Laodicea was like its city’s water: lukewarm.

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” (v. 15).

The popular interpretation of verse 15 is that “hot” is good and “cold” is bad. But both hot and cold water is good. (Does Jesus really prefer people to be spiritually cold than spiritually lukewarm?)

If any of the seven churches of Asia could represent the North American church, it would be the church in Laodicea (wealthy but lukewarm, casual Christianity).

Jesus expects us to be devoted to Him.

We devote ourselves to many things (money, sports, shopping, a political party, television, a hobby). How is your devotion to Jesus?

RENEWING OUR DEVOTION

Three reasons why we should eliminate spiritual lukewarmness from our lives:

1. Lukewarmness makes Jesus sick.

"So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (v. 16).

Not only was Laodicea’s water lukewarm, it also contained bad-tasting min-erals.

The Greek word for “spit” could also be translated “vomit.” Jesus is saying, “Don’t you know that you make me sick? You make me feel like vomiting.”

"For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see" (vv. 17-18).

Laodicea was a wealthy and self-sufficient city. Following the devastating earthquake of A.D. 60, the Laodicea was rebuilt without financial aid from Rome. The Roman historian Tacitus said, “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us.”

Because the Laodiceans were materially rich, they assumed they were also spiritually rich.

"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent."

Jesus is not an enabler of lukewarmness. He will discipline us if we don’t repent. This is tough love. (Illustration: We can enable a child’s/spouse’s/friend’s bad behaviour, or we can show tough love.)

2. Lukewarmness reveals a lack of desire for Christ’s presence.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (v. 20).

Jesus is not knocking on the door of an unbeliever’s heart (thought there were probably several unbelievers in the church in Laodicea). He is knocking on the door of the church!

In Christ’s message to the church in Philadelphia, He tells them that He has set before them an “open door” (to heaven). But in Laodicea, the door of the church is closed, and Jesus is left outside. Is Jesus knocking on your heart’s door? Do you have any time for Him?

The Laodicean’s attitude of self-sufficiency led to complacency. They felt they were in need of nothing. But they were lacking a longing to be with Jesus.

In the Psalms, the writers often express their deep longing for the presence of God.

“As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2a).

“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10).

“One thing I have asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD, all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4a).

“You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, LORD do I seek’” (Psalm 27:8).

Can you honestly say that you have the same desire for Christ’s presence?

3. Lukewarmness is an improper response to Christ’s promises.

"The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (v. 21).

The one who wants to spend time with us is the one who is coming to rule the world! And He promises that we will reign with Him! (This is the premillennial interpretation.) (Illustration: Imagine receiving a phone call that you’ve won a million dollars. What would your response be? Jesus has promised us something much more valuable than a million dollars.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Trust)

Part 10 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 3:7-13

TRUSTING THE “TRUE ONE”

“Philadelphia” means “city of brotherly love.” Both the modern and ancient cities of Philadelphia haven’t always lived up to their name. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is notorious for its rabid sports fans. Phillies fans once threw “D” batteries at outfielder J. D. Drew. Eagles fans cheered when Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin suffered a career-ending neck injury. In ancient Philadelphia, Jews were throwing Jewish Christians out of the synagogue. Jesus says these Jews are the “synagogue of Satan” (v. 9; cf. 2:9). “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly” (Romans 2:28; cf. Deuteronomy 30:6; Galatians 6:16). “Satan” means “adversary.” He is “the accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10). The Jews in Philadelphia thought they were God’s people, but they were actually doing the work of Satan, persecuting the church (the people of God in this age).

Jesus expects us to trust Him, even in our darkest days.

The church had only a “little power” (v. 8). They needed to depend on Jesus.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens'" (v. 7).

Jesus is described in three ways: (1) He is “the holy one.” In Scripture, this is a title for God (cf. Isaiah 40:25; Habakkuk 3:3; Mark 1:24; John 6:69). (2) He is “the true one.” This means either “the genuine one” (the Jews in Philadelphia thought Jesus was a false Messiah) or “the faithful one” (He can be trusted). (3) He “has the key of David” (cf. Isaiah 22:22; Matthew 16:19). He is the one who provides access to the kingdom of God. The Jews in Philadelphia had shut the door of the synagogue, but Jesus had opened for them the door of the kingdom.

ENCOURAGMENT FOR OUR DARKEST DAYS

In your darkest days, remember:

1. Your acceptance

“I have set before you an open door” (v. 8).

“I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you” (v. 9).

What is the “open door”? Is it a door of opportunity for ministry? “A wide door for effective work has opened to me” (1 Corinthians 16:9; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). Is it a door of access to the city of God? In “the new Jerusalem” the dark days of this life will be no more (cf. Revelation 21:1-4). (Illustration: “My door is always open.”) This interpretation fits the context better.

2. Your hope

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (v. 10).

“I am coming soon” (v. 11).

What is “the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world”? “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been sine there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1). “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22).

“Those who dwell on earth” always refers to unbelievers in Revelation (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:2, 8).

What does “keep you from” mean? Does it mean deliverance from (pretribulation view)? Or does it mean deliverance through (posttribulation view)? There are examples of this in Scripture (the Israelites during the plagues in Egypt, Noah and his family during the flood). There will be believers on earth during the great tribulation prior to the second coming (cf. Revelation 6:9-11). (Will these believers be on earth because there is no rapture prior to the “hour of trial,” or because many will put their faith in Christ after the rapture?) If believers will be delivered through the “hour of trial,” how is there any comfort in believers being kept from God’s wrath but not being kept from Satan’s wrath? There is a great difference between the wrath of God and the wrath of Satan. In the NT, persecution is seen as a great privilege (cf. Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 3:13-14). In Revelation, martyrdom is seen as victory over Satan, not a defeat. “They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (7:11). As when Satan (with the help of wicked men) put Christ on the cross, he defeats himself whenever he takes the life of one of the saints (there is no greater witness than a martyr’s death). Someone has said, “Pray for ‘pre,’ but prepare for ‘post.’”

Was Jesus wrong when He said, “I am coming soon”? (Illustration: “But, Dad, you promised!” Jesus doesn’t forget or change His promises.) The hope of Christ’s return is certain, even if (from our perspective) it has been delayed.

3. Your security

“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God” (v. 12).

The entire city of God is a temple. “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22).

Philadelphia experienced a devastating earthquake in A.D. 17. There is a sense of insecurity after an earthquake. (Illustration: The earthquake and tsunami in Japan.)

A pillar is a permanent part of a building (not like a piece of furniture that can be moved out). There is security in knowing that believers will be with God forever in His city. “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’” (Revelation

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Authenticity)

Part 8 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 3:1-6

ARE YOU REALLY WHAT YOU CLAIM TO BE?

Michael Guglielmucchi is a former Australian pastor. In October 2006, he announced that he had gone to the hospital for a series of tests and was diagnosed with “quite an aggressive form of cancer.”

As he struggled with his battle with cancer, he wrote the popular Christian worship song “Healer.”

You hold my every moment,
You calm my raging seas.
You walk with me through fire
And heal all my disease.

I trust in You,
I trust in You.

I believe You’re my Healer;
I believe You are all I need.
I believe You’re my Portion;
I believe You’re more than enough for me.
Jesus, You’re all I need.

On YouTube, you can find a video of Guglielmucchi singing “Healer” with an oxygen tube in his nose.

Guglielmucchi’s story and song became an inspiration to many Christians—especially those struggling with illness. There was only one problem. Michael Guglielmucchi didn’t have cancer. He was living a lie.

He faked symptoms of cancer. He wrote bogus emails from doctors. He sat in hospital waiting rooms alone while his family assumed he was getting treatment.

What do we call a person who lives a lie? A hypocrite.

Hypocrisy was a problem in the church in Sardis. Their reputation did not match reality. “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (v. 1c).

Many people call themselves Christians but don’t live as Christians. They are Christians in name only (“nominal” Christians). That’s hypocrisy.

Jesus expects us to be authentic Christians, not hypocrites.

An authentic Christian is not a perfect Christian.

THE IMPORTANCE OF AUTHENTICITY

We hate hypocrisy, but we often tolerate it in our own lives.

Here are four reasons why it’s vital that we be authentic Christians:

1. Jesus hates hypocrisy.

Jesus hated the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of the Jews. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Hypocrisy leads people away from Jesus. (“There are so many hypocrites in the church.”)

2. Jesus is not fooled by hypocrisy.

“I know your works” (v. 1b).

The Greek word for “hypocrisy” means “an actor.” (People are often surprised when an actor is nothing like the character he portrays.)

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

3. Jesus will not tolerate hypocrisy.

“If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (v. 3b).

Twice in the history of Sardis, the city was captured because the people were not watching (“thief in the night”).

Why were the asleep? Were they feeling too comfortable (no persecution is mentioned)?

4. Jesus offers no hope to those who are content with hypocrisy.

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

Can we lose eternal life? No. Salvation is by grace. But those who are content with hypocrisy should examine themselves.

Are “nominal” (name-only) Christians real Christians? Gangster Mickey Cohen once made a profession of faith in Christ. But later, when he didn't change his lifestyle, he said, “You never told me I had to give up my career. You never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter with a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that—if that’s Christianity—count me out.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Holiness)

Part 7 of a series through the book of Revelation

Text: Revelation 2:18-29

STAYING PURE IN A DIRTY WORLD

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write….” (v. 18a).

In Thyatira, doctrinal compromise was leading to moral compromise. Wrong beliefs lead to wrong behavior.

In Thyatira, there were many trade guilds. Inscriptions mention the following: wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, and bronze-smiths (W. M. Ramsey, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, pp. 324-35). Lydia, “a seller of purple goods,” was from Thyatira (Acts 16:14).

Christians in Thyatira were feeling economic pressure to join the trade guilds. These guilds led to participation in idolatry, and idolatry led to sexual immorality.

Compromise was a problem in both Pergamum and Thyatira, but apparently it was a greater problem in Thyatira. To the church in Pergamum, Jesus says, “You have false teaching in your church” (2:14). To the church in Thyatira, He says, “You tolerate false teaching in your church” (v. 20).

In the letters to the seven churches, Jesus declares His expectations for each church (and for us today). The expectation Jesus had for the church in Thyatira was holiness.

Jesus expects us to be holy, no matter the temptation.

Holiness is often viewed as old-fashioned. If you’re “holy,” you’re “weird.” But “different” doesn’t necessarily mean “weird.” When I was a teenager, if I would have worn a winter hat, gloves, and boots to school during winter, I would have been considered “weird.” But I actually would have been smart. Sadly, I usually wasn’t very smart.

“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2; cf. 1 Peter 1:16).

Another word for “holiness” is “purity.” Purity is extremely important to Jesus. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Sin is spiritual adultery. When Israel turned to a false god named Baal, God said to the people through Hosea the prophet, “You have played the whore, forsaking your God” (Hosea 9:1).

We can look “pure” on Sundays, but what about the rest of the week?

We have our own idols (false gods) today: the god of materialism, the god of sex, the god of “me-first.”

When we think of “impurity,” we often think of sexual sins. But consider also the sins listed in Ephesians 4: falsehood (v. 25), anger (v. 26), stealing (v. 28), corrupting talk (v. 29), bitterness (v. 31).

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO A SIN-TOLERATING CHURCH

Not only is being holy the right thing to do; it’s also the wise thing to do. Why is it unwise to tolerate sin in our lives? Two reasons:

1. I can’t get away with sin.

“The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (v. 18b; cf. 1:14-15).

Apollo was the divine guardian of Thyatira. In the message to Thyatira, Christ seems to make a contrast between Himself and Apollo. Apollo is the son of Zeus. Jesus is the “Son of God.” (This is the only time in Revelation that Jesus is called the “Son of God.”)

I can't get away with sin because, first, Jesus sees everything.

Apollo was considered a god of the sun. Jesus has “eyes like a flame of fire.”

“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refused to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works” (vv. 19-23).

I can't get away with sin because, second, Jesus will judge everyone.

Bronze-working was an important industry in Thyatira. Jesus has “feet…like burnished bronze.”
“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

“The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

Important: Good works do not make us right with God (law and grace/punishment and reward).
“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10).

2. Sin promises more than it delivers.

Sin is like those commercials for "as seen on TV" products. They promise more than they deliver.

“The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star” (vv. 26-28; cf. Psalm 2:8-9).

What is the meaning of the “morning star”? It could be an allusion to Numbers 24:17 (Balaam’s prophecy) with its use of a star and scepter as messianic symbols: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Or it could be a reference to the planet Venus. Venus is called the “morning star” when it appears in the east before sunrise. Roman legions carried the symbol of Venus on their banners to depict Roman invincibility. Rome considered itself to be invincible, but Rome was nothing compared to Christ.

Jesus promises and delivers—more than we can imagine!