Now that we have established Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, as the only one who is capable of opening the seven seals, Revelation 6 shows us what happens when the first six are open. The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode out as the first four were opened, the martyrs cried for justice as the fifth was open and a giant earthquake that literally rearranged the earth accompanied the six. I want to focus on the fifth seal.
Rev 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
This passage brings us to a somewhat sad conclusion. The martyrs who had been killed for believing in Jesus Christ ask for justice. However, it was said to them that justice would not be done until all those who were going to be killed were killed.
Martyrs are not a thing of the past. I think that in America it is so easy to take what we have for granted. I know there are legitimate concerns about religious freedom, and I don’t want to discount that, but in general terms, it is relatively easy to be a Christian in the United States.
No matter what your eschatology, I think that this passage is interpreted in essentially the same way. Christians are going to be persecuted until the end of time. The number has not yet been accomplished. This ought to encourage us all the more then to pray for the persecuted church. There certainly will be justice in the end, so we don’t need to worry about that. However, we can still pray for the strength of those who have to endure.
Revelation 5 provides us with a reminder that Jesus is not done with changing history yet. John sees a book sealed with seven seals, but no one is found who is worthy to open it until they come to Jesus Christ.
Rev 5:12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Rev 5:13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
Rev 5:14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
Again, it seems that this is something that points towards the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For those who want to believe that Jesus was just a good teacher who was not divine in any way, this passage seems to take issue with that claim. After all, if Jesus was just another human that the rest of us who had an unnatural dose of wisdom, then why would He receive all of the special acknowledgment in heaven? What would set Him apart from us that would make Him worthy to open the book?
Jesus was fully man and fully God. Even though it is somewhat hard to comprehend this type of union, He is undoubtedly unique. No angel or person could take His place. As we progress through Revelation, Jesus naturally has a large part to play, but here we begin to understand just how special He is and how He is the unique opener of the book.
Now we get to the fun parts of Revelation. Revelation 4 begins with John being told that these are things which must be. John is now having the chance to see the future, and he is told to write it down.
When he first sees is a worship service with 24 elders and four beasts. Although the identity of the elders is not entirely agreed upon, it seems to make quite a bit of sense that they are actual people from earth who have received crowns. That seems to be a reward for faithful humans as described throughout the New Testament. Therefore, it totally makes sense in context that the humans will be casting down there crowns and worshiping God.
The beasts are somewhat more interesting.
Rev 4:7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
Rev 4:8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
Rev 4:9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
Rev 4:10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Rev 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
Why these particular beasts? As soon as the beasts began praising God, the elders began to worship as well. Therefore, it seems that there is something about the beasts that leads the people. This is what seems to lead most of my commentaries to conclude that these beasts are representative of the characteristics of the true church.
The church ideally has the strength of a lion, the steadiness and industriousness of what has often times been translated as an ox or calf, the wisdom of humans and the swiftness of the eagle. When the church praises God continually as described in verse nine, the elders who are already in heaven get excited and worship as well.
There is a worship service going on in heaven to begin the heavenly vision of John. Worship is central to existence in heaven.
As we enter Revelation 3, the church of Laodicea has always been somewhat confusing to me. They are neither hot nor cold.
Rev 3:14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
Rev 3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Rev 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Rev 3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
Rev 3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
I think that my propensity to think about this verse in the wrong way has come from the dichotomy of hot and cold. We are often talking about Christians being on fire for Christ, so when you come to this verse where God is talking about preferring a church that is either hot or cold, it brings to mind that imagery of a church on fire, and why would God prefer a church that is far away from being on fire as opposed to one that is at least nearer? Cold seems like the absolute worst place to be whereas lukewarm might be approaching an understanding of how to be on fire for Christ.
However, I don’t think that this passage necessarily means that. Another thing about lukewarm water is that it really does not have very much use for human consumption. Hot water makes things like tea, and cold water is obviously refreshing. They are different, but they have definite purposes kind of like churches.
The church in Laodicea is a church that has become complacent. They don’t have need for anything materially, so they have lost their vision and their drive. I don’t know that the comparison here is about being on fire for God. Rather, I think that the illustration here might be about having a purpose. They have simply become indifferent. They don’t care.
This complacency has been made them unaware of the problems that they do have as a church. Even though they seem to be together from the outside, they have to address these issues. They simply don’t care because they are stuck in neutral. They don’t have a vision for the purpose that God has for them, and as a result, they are simply not acceptable where they are.
Obviously then, we don’t want to see this happen in our lives or our churches. We don’t want to become lukewarm. We don’t want to become indifferent and to virtually useless. Rather, we want to find out what purpose God has for us specifically, and it might be different than the purpose for someone else. You might be hot, or you might be cold. However, when God calls us to a purpose, the worst thing to do is simply not care about it and ignore that type of message. It did not work out well for Jonah.
Revelation 2 presents us with the messages for four of the churches. I want to focus on the church at Ephesus.
Rev 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
Rev 2:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Rev 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
This somewhat feels like the evangelical church in America. Although I understand that church attendance is falling in general, evangelical churches are remaining steady, and the people who are deciding to remain in church are recognizing the need for figuring out what is true and what is not. I think that we are doing a better job of recognizing what is false teaching as people realize the necessity for moving beyond cultural Christianity in our society which is moving farther away from God.
That being said, I think the criticism is valid as well. We might be intellectually learning more and more, but we need to make sure that we are actually out there with passion. Knowledge is undoubtedly an important part of the Christian faith. We have to know why we believe what we believe. However, there needs to be that passion there as well. A relationship is also the most important part of the Christian faith. It is living a life walking with Jesus Christ. We need to make sure we remember that.
I know that for myself, I can easily become wrapped up in purely intellectual arguments. However, God is more than the conclusion of a logical proof, so it is important to remember that first love.
Well, we made it to the final book of the Bible! Revelation is clearly one of the most interesting and controversial books in the entire Bible which people have disagreed on for years and years. Let’s see what we can do by going through it together.
Revelation 1 begins with John seeing Jesus Christ. He turns around to find a frightening vision of the Man that he had known very well during his time on earth, but John essentially passed out in fear.
Rev 1:12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
Rev 1:13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
I want to highlight the candlesticks because later in the chapter we a given a direct interpretation from Jesus Himself that the candlesticks are representative of the seven churches this letter is addressed to.
Rev 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
Jesus did preach that Christians need to be the light of the world, and as we will find out over the next few chapters, some of them were doing it better than others. However, even among the ones that were not doing well, and this chapter says that Jesus was among all seven of the lampstands.
This seems significant to me. Even when we are running away from God, we really are not. Maybe we are refusing to recognize that He is there or are trying to run away from Him, but as Jonah found out, it is really not possible to do anything on earth that will take God away from us.
As we read about what is said to each of the churches, it seems significant to me that God was still among them. Even if they were struggling, God was willing to forgive them. Granted, they had to ask for forgiveness, but it is not as if God gave up on them because they had shortcomings. God will be there for us as well.
Jude 1 encourages Christians to stand up for the fact that we are Christians. Even though we are supposed to be peaceful and show love towards all people, that does not mean that we simply cave in at the sign of any resistance.
Jud 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Jud 1:4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Although we don’t know all the details, it seems that certain people were corrupting the church, and it became necessary for those who were following Christ to stand up to them and earnestly contend for the faith.
This is why apologetics is vitally important for the church today. Apologists are people who make it their business to try and interact with people about the reasonability and rationality of following Jesus Christ. We are called to essentially enter debate. We are not called to kill unbelievers or put them in jail. We are not called to run away and hide. We are called to contend earnestly. We’re supposed to engage these people on the issues.
Of course, this presupposes that we know what we’re talking about. We need to be informed Christians. I think that is a large reason for the decline in the American church today. Because our country has been largely culturally Christian for very long time, many people who called themselves Christians really did not know why they were Christians. As a result, now when they cannot stand up to arguments from another source and contend earnestly, they fall away.
It is the responsibility of all questions to learn how to do this. Jude was not just written for the clergy or people who might be predisposed to study apologetics. It was written for everyone.
3 John 1 brings us to a very interesting discussion about those who are capable of doing good deeds. In context, John is warning the church about a leader among them who is very self-centered and does not want to welcome fellow leaders into the church. After saying how this is not right, John brings us to a very interesting point.
3Jn 1:11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.
Immediately, I can see the objections flying for many people. Christians are not the only people who do good things on earth. Is John saying here that for example a Hindu individual cannot perform good deeds? I don’t think so. This verse says that they have seen God. It does not specify that they have a relationship with Him or not. The Pharisees saw Jesus, but they did not have a relationship with Him.
Consequently, as Christians, we also believe that God has made Himself evident in the world. The heavens certainly declare the glory of God, but there are also other things that showed the fingerprints of God if you will. Think about what CS Lewis wrote about the concept of the Tao. There is a sense that all of humanity has shared certain moral teachings around the world and across time. Perhaps God has implanted these ideas in the people that He created. You could say that people who have recognized these universal rules like do not murder have seen God for instance. They might not recognize God, but there have seen Him.
This verse makes more sense in that context. God created the universe, and it was good. Therefore, everything that is good comes from God. Evil comes when there is rebellion against the will of God. It was not created by God. When we do things that are good, we are only capable of doing that because God made those things good. We don’t have to acknowledge them as good or even recognize God, but the simple fact that doing good is possible points towards the existence of God who is all good. Perhaps this is then common ground to speak to our nonbelieving friends. They know that they want to do good things, but they might not have a reason why. We can help fill in the blanks and give a reasonable basis for that belief they hold.
Christianity is often attacked as a religion that was developed hundreds of years after the life of Jesus Christ. The obvious problem with that hypothetical situation is that hundreds of years is a long time for doctrine to be modified. However, in 2 John 1, it struck me that even early in the life of the church, there was the idea that doctrine was something worth preserving.
2Jn 1:4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
2Jn 1:5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
The evidence seems to point towards the fact that John was legitimately the author of this letter, and if that is the case, then this was written at some point around 95 A.D. I point this out because John is referring back to a tradition here. I do not have a new commandment for you, but I want you to remember what we talked from the beginning.
This message of love came from Jesus Christ Himself. The rest of the book speaks about avoiding people who are coming and teaching misleading doctrine. As a result, it is easy to see here that there was a very strict commitment to doctrine in the early church. They cared about following Jesus Christ, and they wanted to remain faithful to that which was taught.
It is also significant that John refers to the idea that these people were walking in truth. Again, this is an affirmation of the Christian idea that Jesus is truth. John did not refer to Jesus as one of many truths. Rather, this exclusivity and even seen here.
Early in the history of the church doctrine mattered. Doctrine matters today. We need to make sure that we are faithful to what has been taught from the beginning and not how modern interpretations want to twist certain passages to make political points.
1 John 5 would be hard to reconcile for anyone who wants to remain as a Universalist.
1Jn 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
1Jn 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
It seems rather straightforward here. This entire chapter is talking about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, and this is the summary of the first section. This seems to square with Jesus claiming that He was the Way. It is a rather straightforward dichotomy. Either we have Jesus and we have life, or we do not have Jesus and do not have life.
I understand that these types of statements don’t seem very comforting, and many Christians might be hesitant to take this type of position. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, salvation is a free gift from God. All it takes is a decision to follow Jesus Christ. You do not need to be rich; you do not need to be powerful. You need to recognize the reality of Jesus and make a commitment to following Him.
Second, while many people might argue that as Christians we should not be criticizing the religions of other people. Maybe it is all one mountain of truth, and we are simply climbing up different sides of it. Remember that this is not a position that we are taking because we feel like it. I believe what the Bible teaches because I believe that God is the best explanation for the way the world is. The Christian worldview makes the most sense. Therefore, I don’t take this position simply to disparage other religions. I take this position because the Christian worldview is the one worldview that corresponds best with reality, and you simply cannot erase parts that society might not be comfortable with. If Christianity is true, then the teachings of Christianity are true, and this is one of them.
Some people might be uncomfortable with this type of narrow gate to God. However, for Christians, we need to recognize that it one reason Jesus is so important is because He is the Way.