Revelation #3 LORD OF PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

Jesus with us

The first five verses of Revelation bring us incredible grace and comfort, by reminding who God is.

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Revelation #3. 1:1-5

 We have spent two messages on introductory material. There is much more to learn about the background and writing of Revelation, but my plan is to teach about those things as we go along. That way, you’ll get the information when you need it to understand the text.

I want to clean up just a few details from the first three verses. John says in verse 1 that what he is sharing what “will quickly take place.” This is the best way to phrase it in English because it shows the ambiguity of the phrase. It could mean “it will all take place soon,” or, “it will happen, whenever it happens, suddenly.” Also, at the end of verse 3, “the time is near,” speaks, in Greek, of physical nearness, more than chronological nearness. Make of that what you will, but I keep thinking of Peter, who wrote:

8Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. 9The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2Pet 3:8-9, HCSB)

This is very important to keep in mind as we read Revelation.

It is almost as if in verses 1-3 John is preparing his readers. He knows that the contents of his letter (the book of Revelation) are strange and weird. He is preparing us for that. Next, in verse 4, John writes a somewhat more traditional introduction:

4John: To the seven churches in Asia. Grace and peace to you from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven spirits before His throne; 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

John identifies himself simply by his name. Though some Christians believe there was another John, “the elder of Ephesus,” there really isn’t any hard evidence for that. This is almost certainly John the Apostle. The Greek of Revelation is very different from that of John’s gospel and his three letters, but I think that is easily explained. It is likely that John wrote his other works with the aid of an amanuensis, which was, basically, a secretary, or scribe in the ancient world. So, the secretary-person probably helped John with the Greek phrases of his other work (Remember, Greek was not John’s native language). For Revelation, (also sometimes called “John’s Apocalypse”) however, John was a prisoner, on an island that was used as a prison camp. It would have been very surprising if John had the use of a secretary. In verses 1&2, he identifies himself by name, and as the one “who testified to God’s word and to the testimony  about Jesus Christ, in all he saw.” This sounds exactly like the Apostle John in his gospel:

He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth. (John 19:35, HCSB)

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24, HCSB)

It also sounds like John in his first letter:

2that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — 3what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us (1John 1:2-4, HCSB)

 14And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent His Son as the world’s Savior. (1John 4:14, HCSB)

 This is also in John’s third letter:

12Demetrius has a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. And we also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true. (3John 1: 12, HCSB)

 I think we should certainly accept that this is John the Apostle. If for some reason, you still don’t want to think it was written by John the Apostle, that’s fine. Let’s understand, however, that Revelation is still the Word of God.

There is no reason to believe that the seven churches of Asia are symbolic, and every reason to believe that they were real, historical congregations of house churches in each of the named cities. When John writes, “Grace and peace to you,” that much is normal for most of the letters of the New Testament. His next phrases, however, are a bit different:

from the One who is, who was, and who is coming; from the seven spirits before His throne; 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

This description of God as the one who is, was, and is to come provides us with a clue for the whole of Revelation. Some of what we read in this book is past, some present, some future. God himself is Lord over all three “at the same time,” so to speak. Understanding this will help us to make sense of the some of the crazy things in this book.

When we read “from the seven spirits before his throne,” it sounds a bit strange. Most commentators believe that this is how John is representing the Holy Spirit. That makes sense. The first part (who is, was and is to come) is the Father. Jesus Christ, the Son, is named in verse 5. The seven spirits, then, represent the fullness of the Holy Spirit at work in the world. Later on, in Revelation 3:1 and 4:5, John explicitly calls them “the seven spirits of God.” In other words, together, they represent the work of the Holy Spirit.

This interpretation is bolstered by other parts of the Bible. The prophet Zechariah once had a vision. In the vision, he saw a golden oil lampstand with seven connected lamps, and oil channels running to each of the seven. Zechariah asked an angel what it meant, and this is what the angel said:

6So he answered me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts. (Zech 4:6, HCSB)

In other words, the seven oil lamps symbolized the Holy Spirit. Remember, like Zechariah, John is writing in apocalyptic language. It is reasonable to assume the same meaning: the seven spirits of God are the many-branches of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Number 7 in Revelation

We might as well pause here and deal with the number seven. For Jewish people, the number seven meant completeness, finality, and perfection.

For John, I believe it especially means the completion of God’s full and perfect work in the world. John, and all Christians after him, believed in a Triune God: one being, made up of three distinct persons, The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that three is the number of God.

John, and all Jews before him, thought of the number of four as indicating all of creation. We will see this when we get to chapter four in Revelation. Jews as far back as Ezekiel (590 BC, or so) imagined the world as divided into four parts: 1. The Wilderness 2. The Rural Areas 3. The Cities, and Cultures of Humankind 4. The Air.

So seven equals three (the number of God) plus four (the entirety of creation). It signifies God’s perfect work, plan, and will, expressed in the world.

Returning to our text, we don’t worship seven separate Holy Spirits. Instead, John describes him as “the sevenfold spirit of God” or “seven spirits of God” to express the work and will of the Holy Spirit in God’s creation. We are meant to know from this that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world.

Next, John brings Greeting from “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” It seems like a somewhat strange title. Aren’t the followers of Jesus witnesses for Christ? Why is He a witness? It might help to  know that in Greek, the word for “witness” is the same as the word for “martyr.” In John’s time, many Christians were being imprisoned, and some were even killed, for holding to their testimony that Jesus Christ is the God-man, savior of the world. I think John means to remind everyone that they are following in the footsteps of the original martyr: Jesus himself. Those who have died for their faith are in the best possible company: Jesus, the faithful martyr. Finally, Jesus is called, Ruler of the kings of earth.

I think, for now, we have enough to apply to our lives. Let’s begin with remembering that our Father is, was, and is to come. Nothing has ever happened to you that God cannot redeem for good (Romans 8:28). Even if you did not know him until later in life, He is the God of your past. If you let him, he can go back even to the muck of terrible things that you did, even to terrible things that were done to you, and redeem them through Jesus Christ. If you struggle with your past, I strongly urge you to pray about it. Invite the Lord of the past into your past. Give him permission to forgive, heal and redeem.

Our Father is also present. Nothing going on in your life right now is out of God’s control. He isn’t wringing his hands, saying, “Oh my! I never thought my people would ever get into this situation! What shall I do?” His plans are sometimes difficult – or even impossible – to understand (we only have to read on in Revelation to realize that). As I write this, I am fighting chronic pain in my left kidney that has been present for more than two years. I also have a new, arthritis-type pain all over my body, and I feel nauseous, two days out of three. But my greatest hope is to know my Father better in this present moment. Of course, I want pain relief and healing. It’s just that I want more to experience Him. And the wonderful thing is, that is what He promises I can have, here and now. He is my God, not just in the past or future, but now.

Our Heavenly Father is also our future. Nothing that comes to us in the future will be without God. When we worry about the future, the primary reason is that we are leaving God out of our calculations. He has already been to the future. He is there, and if we trust him, we can have peace about what is to come. Also, in the ultimate future, we will have more than just peace of mind. This book we are studying tells me that I will have pain relief and healing – if not now, then for certain, one day in the future. Paul wrote:

19If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1Cor 15:19, HCSB)

We have an unimaginably glorious, thrilling, joyful, meaningful, PERFECT future waiting for us if we persist in our faith. John will describe it in detail at the end of this book.

Perhaps we need to remember that the Holy Spirit, in all its fullness, is at work in the world, and in our hearts. If we are followers of Jesus, the Spirit of God is in us. Revelation will go on to show us that the Spirit is work all around us in the world, though we usually don’t notice it.

John describes Jesus Christ as the faithful martyr. Sometimes we feel alone in our suffering. Perhaps a divorced woman, suffering the results of the unfaithfulness of her husband, feels all alone in her emotional pain. Maybe a man who lost his wife to cancer feels the death of all his dreams about their future together. Jesus has gone ahead of you. He too died – not just in part, but in every way. And somehow, he took upon himself all of the struggles of humanity. He has experienced all of the same struggles we have:

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens — Jesus the Son of God — let us hold fast to the confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. (Heb 4:14-16, HCSB)

Sometimes, ridiculous as it is, I feel like a martyr. No one else I know seems to struggle like I do. I suspect, however, that my feelings are quite common among all people. Jesus Christ was the faithful martyr who suffered unjustly, yet remained faithful. I am in good company when I suffer in any way. Not only that, but he is with me in my suffering. He is here to give me grace and mercy as I struggle. His presence is right here in the middle of struggles, suffering, and loneliness.

Jesus is also the firstborn of the dead, which is another title of hope. My future is tied to his. His resurrection ensures my own. I won’t always suffer or struggle. There are wonderful things ahead. Paul, thinking of this wrote:

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18, HCSB)

Lastly, John writes that Jesus is also the ruler of the kings of the earth. That seems like a strange title, doesn’t it? When John wrote, there would have been almost no Christians in government, and very little hope (apparently) of there ever being Christians with influence in a worldly government. The most powerful man in the world insisted that others worship him as a god. He and his government were brutal, cruel, immoral and greedy. But John has just seen a vision of the world as God sees it, and he knows that no matter what it looks like, ultimate authority belongs to Jesus. Regardless of how it appears, Jesus Christ is over every king and ruler, and there is no power on earth greater than Him.

When John wrote, the Roman emperor, and everyone around him, believed he was the most powerful man on earth. No doubt, in our time, the current president of the United States believes he is the most powerful man in the world. They are all wrong. Jesus is the ultimate power. Though for a little while, Jesus gives rulers and kings a limited ability to do what they want, the buck stops not with the president, but with Jesus. He is in control. This calls for faith, because it sure doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. Yet, that is why John writes, and shares his vision: to encourage our faith. This is a call to believe these things that John has written. One way to “take hold” of these things in faith is by thanking God for them. I encourage you to take some time right now to thank God for being there in your past, here in your present, and in control of your future. Thank Jesus for his faithful death on our behalf, and that he allows us to be part of his company of witnesses. Even thank him for the “little deaths” that you might have to die here and now, knowing, like Jesus, that our reward is certain. Thank him for his many-splendoured work in the world, and in your heart, through the Holy Spirit. Thank him for being in control of the world, even in control of those who have worldly authority over us.

Let the Holy Spirit continue to apply these verses to your life right now.

KEEPING PROMISES, CONQUERING TERRITORY

davidchariot

God keeps his promises, but not always on our timetable. David illustrates physically in the land of Israel what Jesus wants to do spiritually in our hearts and minds.

2 Samuel #9 . 2 Samuel Chapter 8

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Chapter eight chronicles many of the conquests of David after he became king. These did not all necessarily take place at one point in his life; rather this is a record of what David did over a lifetime of military leadership.

In verse one, the writer tells us that “Metheg-ammah” is taken from the Philistines. This is an Hebrew expression that gives translators trouble. Some think it refers to the city of Gath. Literally it says that David took “the bridle out of the mother” of the Philistines. It may be a kind of slang meaning he took control (the bridle) of the chief Philistine city (which would be Gath). The main point is clear – the Philistines have lost any kind of control or initiative that they once had against the Israelites, and they are, for all intents and purposes, subdued. The Philistines had been a problem for Israel for several hundred years, now, through David, the Lord ends the problem.

The second verse describes how David defeated the Moabites. This is a bit troubling, because David was quite severe with them, apparently executing two thirds of the men who fought against him. This is made even more perplexing when we remember that David’s great-grandmother was a Moabite, and David had left his elderly parents in the care of the king of Moab when he was running from Saul. Some Jewish scholars believe that the Moabites killed David’s parents. There is no record of them after David left them in Moab. In addition, the Lord told David not to remain there (1 Samuel 22:5). So it is possible that the Moabites planned all along to betray him, and that the Lord told David to leave there to protect him from their betrayal. His parents, however were still there when the Moabites turned on him. This seems plausible to me.

There is more as well. In Numbers chapters 22-25, the Israelites had left Egypt and were wandering in the wilderness. This was more than four hundred years before the time of David. The Israelites camped near the country of Moab, and the Moabites were afraid of them. They didn’t want to fight the Israelites, so the king of Moab hired a prophet of God to curse the Israelites. Only, the prophet was a true prophet, and he couldn’t curse Israel in God’s name. Instead, he blessed them. The Moabites tried to trick the Israelites into becoming one people with them, and worshipping their false gods. But the prophet prophesied about the future of the two nations. He said:

I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites. (Num 24:17, HCSB)

David fulfilled this prophecy in 2 Samuel chapter 8. Now, I don’t think was consciously trying to fulfill the prophecy. I think he was punishing them for killing his parents. But as it happened that also fulfilled the prophecy given more than four hundred years before.

clip_image002In fact, at one level, this whole passage is about the fulfillment of ancient promises and prophecies. Eight hundred years before David, God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. In Genesis 15:18-21, that land was described as extending from the Red Sea in the South to the Euphrates river in the north where it runs southeast through modern-day Syria. Other promises in Deuteronomy 1:7, 11:24 and Joshua 1:4 describe those same borders, and lay out an eastern border that included almost all of modern day Jordan and Syria. However, in all the time that the descendants of Abraham lived in the promised land, they had not possessed nearly that much territory. For four hundred years, they had lived on far less than God had promised. The map at left shows the region. The area outlined in yellow is the area that the Israelites controlled during the time of the Judges and during Saul’s reign.

They were living in far less than God had promised.

However, as a result of the conquest made by David, as described in 2 Samuel chapter 8, the borders of Israel were extended to almost the exact boundaries described in God’s promises to Abraham and to the people through Moses. This next picture shows the approximate area of David’s clip_image004kingdom, outlined in purple. As you can see, Israel now had influence from the Euphrates river to the Red Sea. This is not to say that all of this area was considered “Israelite” however David’s court in Jerusalem controlled and influenced all of it. If you are still having trouble picturing it, look at a world map. This area includes modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and most of Syria.

So what does all this mean for us today? I think it always helps to ask, “where is Jesus in this passage?” I see him here in two places: he is fulfilling promises, and defeating enemies. First let’s talk about the promises. On one hand, this seems to show us that God’s promises don’t always get fulfilled in what we consider a timely fashion. It was more than eight hundred years between God’s promise to Abraham about the size of the land, and the complete fulfillment of that promise. That’s a long time, and many generations didn’t live in the full reality of what God had promised. On the other hand, God doesn’t forget his promises, and he does truly bring them to pass. If you wanted to take the time, you could go through the bible, and find dozens of examples of promises that He made and then kept. Many times in the past I have explained where the bible came from, and how it has been verified time and again as a historically valid document. Here, I want to emphasize that it is also a spiritually valid document. We have a historical record of a promise from God and a historical record from a different period showing its fulfillment.

A natural question is “Why did it take so long for God to fulfill this?” The only completely honest answer is “I don’t know.” I do have some thoughts, however. God told Abraham when he made the promise that it wouldn’t happen for at least four-hundred years. He was giving the residents of the land a chance to repent. But when the Israelites came out of Egypt four hundred years later, the Lord told them through Moses to go into the land, drive out the other nations and possess it. They simply didn’t do it. The reason they didn’t do it is because they lacked faith in God’s promise to be with them. In Numbers 13, Moses sent twelve spies into the land prior to invading it. Ten of the spies came back and said it would be impossible to drive out the nations who lived there. But two said it could be done. Their names were Joshua and Caleb. They said:

The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!  (Num 14:7-9, HCSB)

But the people didn’t listen to them. Instead they gave into fear and blaming. The result was forty years more of wandering for that generation, and then four-hundred years more of living in only part of what God promised.

I don’t think the lesson here is “do more.” I think it is “trust more.” As I have said many times, believing comes before doing. If the people were living in trust, they would have done what they were supposed to do. If they had attempted to do it without trust (as indeed they often did in the next four hundred years) their results would also have fallen short. The key is believing what God has promised, and trusting Him. We have seen that the one thing that makes David a hero is that he trusts God. David isn’t perfect. But he lives out of the understanding that his life belongs to God; that through him, God can and should do whatever he wants. So when David came along, the Lord finally had someone he could use, someone who trusted Him enough so that God could fully give everything that was promised.

We can’t always understand why God doesn’t completely fulfill his promises in our own lives. It isn’t always about our faith – sometimes it is about God’s bigger purposes in the world. For many years, David did not live in the fullness of God’s promises to him. That wasn’t his fault – God was arranging other things, because it wasn’t just about David – it was about God’s purposes. So don’t feel badly if you truly trust God, and yet you don’t see the complete reality of his promises in your life. It isn’t just about you. But at least, we can try to eliminate lack of faith as a reason that we don’t experience the fullness of God’s promises to us. David trusted him fully, and eventually, the Lord used that trust in a huge and positive way for both David and the entire people of God.

Now let’s talk about Jesus defeating enemies. is there “unconquered territory” in your life? I mean, are there certain areas of your life that are outside the control of Jesus? Hebrews 2:8 says this:

You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, (Heb 2:8, NET)

Like with God’s promises, we often see a partial fulfillment of the Lord ruling in our lives. I’ll be honest and say, usually this is for the same reason – our own lack of trust. But it has the same solution. If we trust Jesus, and let him have us more fully, he will supply the power to defeat the failures, temptations and self-will that we struggle with. Paul writes about the struggle this way:

For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (2Cor 10:3-5, NET)

Like David, we are called to wage war while trusting in God’s promises. But our war isn’t physical – it is the war of a mind, to let the Lord conquer all that he has promised for us. Now I could do an entire sermon series on the battle for the mind – maybe I will soon. But for now, I think we should understand this from our text: the key is to trust our Lord, and to be willing to do whatever that trust leads us to do. Sometimes that means opposing whatever opposes the truth of the Word of God in our thoughts. David illustrates physically in the land of Israel what Jesus wants to do spiritually in our hearts and minds.