WITH PASSION FOR JESUS

 

Week of March 30, 2008

 

Bible Verses:Revelation 1:9-13,17-18; 3:14-22.

 

Biblical Truth: The risen Lord Jesus holds the keys to victorious living, so He sternly warns believers against growing self-sufficient and becoming spiritually lukewarm.

 

Jesus is Present Even in Hard Times: Rev. 1:9-11.

 

[9]I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance, which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. [10]I was in the Spirit on the Lordís day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, [11]saying, ďWrite in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea†††† [NASU]

 

[9]John identifies himself with his readers in their suffering by calling himself your brother and fellow partaker. He obviously wishes to demonstrate commonality and shared experience in suffering and glory. The three areas of common experience is in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance. The first term means affliction or distress in general and is the basic term used for the tribulations of the last days. The proper response is perseverance, the major Christian response in the book. This term often speaks of the perseverance of the saints in the face of oppression by the enemies of God, often accompanied by the idea of faithful obedience to God [cf. 2:2,3,19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12]. It means both to wait upon God and to stand up against the temptations and evil of the world. Its vertical aspect is faithfulness to God, and its horizontal aspect is patient endurance of evil. The central term of the three is kingdom, the sphere within which their patient endurance is to function. In Jesusí teaching kingdom referred to the inbreaking rule of God that began with His first advent but would not be consummated until His second coming. Christian hope has its basis in the royal reign of Christ. The believer is already participating in the empire of God and Christ, although in the present that shared rule takes the form of spiritual conflict against the satanic kingdom and persecution by the world empire of this age. This is the key to kingdom in Revelation: in the present we are both kingdom and priests [1:6; 5:10] in the midst of the kingdom of evil [17:12,17,18] as we await the appearance of the King of kings [19:16], who will visit wrath upon the kingdom of the beast [16:10] and replace the kingdom of this world with the eternal kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ [11:15; 12:10]. All three (tribulation, kingdom, perseverance) are experienced in Jesus. The identity and union of believers is possible only because of our corporate identity in Jesus. All Christian suffering was interpreted in the early church as a participation in Christ [cf. Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5; 4:10; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:14; 1 Peter 4:13]. In a very real sense, affliction in the name of Christ was perceived as sharing in His life and glory [1 Peter 1:11].

 

[10-11]The phrase, in the Spirit, appears often in the New Testament, sometimes of the inspiration of Old Testament authors [Matt. 22:43] or of prophetic utterance [Luke 2:27; 1 Cor. 12:3] or of spiritual guidance [Acts 19:21]. John was given this vision on the Lordís day. The metaphor of the trumpet has great significance, for in almost every New Testament occurrence it has eschatological significance as a harbinger of the day of the Lord [Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16] or a theophany [Heb. 12:19]. The commission to write is the first of twelve such commands in the book. John then proceeds to enumerate the recipients of this apocalyptic epistle, the seven churches of the province of Asia. The order of the cities is significant, for they form the circular route of a letter carrier beginning at Ephesus and moving first north to Smyrna and to Pergamum, then turning southeast to Thyatira, south to Sardis, east to Philadelphia, and finally southeast to Laodicea. These seven cities were probably chosen because they formed a natural center of communication for the rest of the province.

 

Jesus is Lord over Life and Death: Rev. 1:12-13,17-18.

 

[12]Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; [13]and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. [17]When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And he placed His right hand on me, saying, ďDo not be afraid; I am the first and the last, [18]and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.†† [NASU]

 

[12-13]The key is the verb turned with its double accusative, seven golden lampstands and one like a son of man. The lampstands refer to the seven churches who are depicted as shining lights for God in the midst of a hostile world. Christ, the key figure that will dominate the rest of the chapter, is now introduced. First, He is in the midst of the candlesticks. This indicates that Christ is in the midst of the churches supporting them during trials and persecutions. This begins a progression of images, with Jesus in the middle of the lampstands [1:13], then holding the seven stars in His right hand [1:16; 2:1; 3:1], and finally walking among the seven golden lampstands [2:1]. All three images depict Christ involved in the lives of His people and sovereignly protecting them. Since Christ is Lord over the church, there is also a warning that He can remove them if they do not turn themselves around [2:5]. The son of man is a messianic deliverer who will reign over the people of God. The robe and the sash depicts Christ as an exalted, dignified figure.

 

[17-18]Falling down before visions of the Deity of His angelic messengers was a common reaction. Johnís reaction heightens the sense of apocalyptic power. When Jesus touched John, there was both comfort and reassurance being given. Jesus places His right hand, the one that holds the seven stars [1:16], on John. It is likely that the image of power and control is intended in this passage. Throughout the Bible laying on the hand is a commissioning act invoking as well as passing on authority and power. Here it probably means the commissioning with authority to write what John sees. Christ begins by commanding John to stop being afraid. The basis of the reassurance is who Jesus is. First, the description of God from 1:8 is here applied to Christ. The first and the last title derives from Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12, where it refers to God as creator of all and sovereign over history. The addition of the living One tells us that the primary thrust of the previous title is not so much sovereignty as eternality. This title itself is a common designation of God in the Bible. It is God and Christ alone who are eternal and make it possible to dwell in eternal bliss. This eternality is exemplified particularly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The contrast between dead and alive is intended to highlight not just the death-resurrection but even more to emphasize the reality of His eternality. He was dead but now He is alive forevermore, the strongest possible reference to eternity and the form used throughout this book. The final description of Christ (the keys of death and of Hades) refers to His power over the cosmic forces. Christ through His death and resurrection has defeated the powers of evil (death and Hades) and gained control over them. In the New Testament key in an eschatological text always has the idea of power or authority over a thing. Thus here He has overcome and gained mastery over the cosmic forces.

 

Jesus Rejects Spiritual Apathy: Rev. 3:14-17.

 

[14]To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: [15]I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. [16]So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. [17]Because you say, ďI am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,Ē and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,†††† [NASU]

 

[14]The focus of the prophetic messenger formula in each of the letters to the seven churches focus on the character of Christ. It is clear in each of the letters that the character of Christ adduced in each letter is perfectly chosen to address the needs of that church. In the letter to the church in Laodicea, Christ is identified as the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God. The Hebrew for amen means to confirm or verify and was often used in the Old Testament to affirm a prayer or a hymn. Jesus used it often to authenticate a particularly important or solemn truth. Here it emphasizes the truthfulness and divine origin of the message. This first title is defined further in the second, the faithful and true Witness. All three terms are major concepts throughout this book. It is clear that Jesus is the model for persevering faithfulness as a testimony to the world of the superiority of Godís way. All three terms are in deliberate contrast with the lukewarm Laodiceans, who were neither faithful nor true to Christ and whose witness was virtually nonexistent. The third title is the Beginning of the creation of God. Godís truthfulness is particularly seen in His control of creation, and here this is also a major attribute of Jesus as the Son of God. This is a message to the Laodiceans. In their wealth and complacency, they thought of themselves as in control; Jesus is telling them that He alone controls creation; He is the very source of their wealth and power.

 

[15-16]As with all the other churches, the Lord says, I know. He knows the true inner state of each church. He knows where there is strength and where there is weakness, where there is faithfulness and where failure. He who as the Amen is altogether true lays bare all that is false and hypocritical. The condition of the Laodicean church is extremely unhealthy. Its members have lost all zeal and commitment. The lukewarm church is a church stamped with contradiction. Lukewarmness is totally incongruous in comparison with the unrestrained self-giving of God the Father, who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all [Rom. 8:32], and of God the Son, who came to give His life a ransom for many [Mark 10:45]. The Lordís total self-renunciation for our redemption should unfailingly inspire our total self-renunciation in His service [Luke 14:26,33]. Because of their lukewarmness the members of the Laodicean church were not worthy of the Master with whose name they were associated. Self-satisfaction had been allowed to take the place of self-renunciation; cross-bearing had been driven out by complacency.

 

[17]The Laodiceans show a spirit of self-adequacy and self-congratulation, which in fact is self-deception. The church in Corinth, puffed up with self-esteem because of the wealth of their charismatic and philosophical competence, had lapsed into a position comparable to that of the Laodicean church. They were closing their eyes to the truth that every good and perfect gift comes from above [James 1:17]. Like the Corinthians, the Laodiceans had been blessed by God. But their self-preoccupation, which was a symptom of ingratitude, showed that they had yet to learn that spiritual pride is a wasting disease. The attitude of self-sufficiency severs the relationship with God as the source of all our sufficiency and induces spiritual atrophy. The true condition of the members of the Laodicean church was quite the opposite of what they had persuaded themselves to believe. Through self-inversion they had actually ceased to know themselves. Indeed, they imagined themselves to be the opposite of what in reality they were. Far from being rich and wealthy and in need of nothing, and therefore, as they thought, secure and unthreatened, their state was one of the greatest danger.

 

Jesus Offers Intimate Fellowship: Rev. 3:18-22.

 

[18]I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. [19]Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. [20] Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. [21]He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. [22]He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.††† [NASU]

 

[18]Even though the condition of the Laodiceans was desperate, it was not beyond repair as shown by the counsel Jesus gives in this verse. The Laodiceans were putting their trust in riches that in the end would prove to be counterfeit and would never pass the test of human persecution or divine judgment, for genuineness of faith is immeasurably more precious than all the perishing commodities for which our fallen society barters its soul [1 Peter 1:7; Matt. 16:26]. The only ultimate and imperishable wealth is to be rich toward God, to lay up treasure not on earth but in heaven. Christ, who is the concentration of all riches, is the believerís true treasure. In the light of eternity all else is worthless. Moreover, this priceless wealth is offered free of charge, simply because the infinite cost has been met by the incarnate Son of God who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood [Rev. 1:5]. Consequently, the counsel to buy gold refined by fire, that is, authentic wealth, corresponds to the invitation issued through the prophet Isaiah to come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost [55:1]. The white garments represent the covering of the shame of their unholy self-righteousness, which is their nakedness before God, with the spotless righteousness of the incarnate Son. Thus clothed, they are able to walk with the Lord in white, living holy lives and enjoying the enriching bliss of His fellowship. Their blindness is the self-induced consequence of their complacency. Turned in upon themselves, they have closed their eyes to the will of the Lord and to the needs of the society in which they are placed, with the result that their own urgent need is for the healing salve of divine grace and forgiveness to enable them to see things as they really are.

 

[19]Stern words of reproof and admonition are not incompatible with affection, but are rather an expression of the deep concern of genuine love. The aberrations of the loved one cannot be viewed by the lover with complacency. The purpose of the Lordís chastening, or discipline, is positive, not hostile. It is designed for our good, so that we may share His holiness [Heb. 12:10]. The exhortation to be zealous and repent indicates that there can still be a bright future for the church in Laodicea.

 

[20]Though frequently used in evangelism, this appeal is not addressed to outsiders but to church members. It is an exhortation to the latter to rouse themselves from apathy and lukewarmness and to open their lives unreservedly to Christ so that the pre-eminence may be His alone. In their complacency the Laodiceans have in effect been closing the door against Him. Self has subtly usurped the place of Christ. Spiritual apathy is an indicator that one is neglecting to live in the light of the Lordís return. The appeal to the Laodiceans is an appeal to the church whose lukewarmness has made it careless and unwatchful. To hear the Lordís voice is to be receptive and obedient to what He has to say. Those who hear in this way and open the door to Him are His true sheep [John 10:3,16]. To open the door is to invite Him to come in, and His coming is to be at home with us and we with Him [John 14:23]. Our home becomes His home; the lordship we had assumed becomes His lordship.

 

[21-22]The Lordís promise to him who overcomes that he will sit with Him on His throne is founded on the reality of the believerís status in Christ and therefore His union with Christ. It is indeed a present reality in that the incarnate Son, who has been raised from the dead and exalted to the transcendental glory, now sits, enthroned, at the Fatherís right hand in the heavenly places. This means that all that has happened to Him has also happened to our human nature which He took to Himself to redeem and glorify. That is why Paul affirms that God has raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [Eph. 2:6]. His enthronement is the enthronement of His redeemed who are one with Him. In Him our glorification is even now a reality. But the promise indicates that there is also a future dimension to this reality: that while our salvation is already complete in Christ there is even so a Ďnot yetí as well as an Ďalreadyí.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††††††† What are the three areas of common experience John shares with his readers? Why are these three terms key to Johnís Book of Revelation? Why is kingdom the central term?

 

2.††††††††† In 1:12-13, 17-18, Jesus is introduced. How is He described? Why is the meaning of these terms significant for the well-being of the church?

 

3.††††††††† Why has the church at Laodicea become lukewarm? Why is this such a danger for the church today? In 3:14-17, Jesus is described with three terms. How are these three terms in deliberate contrast with the lukewarm Laodiceans?

 

4.††††††††† What solution does John give in 3:18-22 to the lukewarmness of the Laodiceans? How can this solution be offered free of charge [see Isaiah 55:1]?

 

References:

The Book of the Revelation, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

Revelation, Grant Osborne, Baker.