8 Nov 2020
In the last sharing on the challenges facing the church, we considered the prayer of Jesus in John 17, particularly His prayer for the apostles and the disciples in the future (which includes the church and us). We noted His desires in His prayer and His emphasis on truth, holiness, mission and unity for His people and church.
We now turn our attention to the message and revelation of the Lord Jesus to His church in the book of Revelation.
The chain of the giving of this revelation is clear: God, Jesus Christ, angel, John, reader, hearers. At the point where the revelation moves on from John, it is in the form of words, and as such, it has remained available not only to the seven churches, but also to Christians all down the ages, offering the same blessing today to those who read, hear and keep. We are told that what matters is the response to the words, adding to or taking from the words is the opposite of keeping the words (Rev. 1:3; 22:7); and the judgements are severe and are about the eternal destiny of the hearers. Nothing is more important than exact hearing and keeping of the words (revelation).
Note the repeated call “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” at the end of each of the messages to the seven churches (Chapters 2,3). It is a summons also to the churches today to listen to what the Spirit is saying. As Revelation is the last book in the Bible and the summons is made in this book, we need to hear rightly and to keep and hearken to what the Spirit is saying to us and the churches today. We cannot miss the fact that powerful visions fill the book of Revelation. However, we do not have the visions; we have not seen them: what we do have is John’s account of the visions in words, words that are the substance of the revelation we have received. The biblical pattern is of interpreted visions. There is a subtle and important range of connections between the visions and the words.The words convey the visions; the words explain the visions, and the words provide complementary truths about the visions. At times, God not only gives the vision but also its interpretation. Where the meaning of the vision remains unclear, the explanation is often found elsewhere in Scripture. However, since Revelation is written in an apocalyptic manner, visions can be precise or imprecise according to their purpose. Some visions are intentionally more open-ended; we need to be careful not to be so dogmatic about the meaning when the visions are not given their interpretation and other parts of Scripture also cannot help in pinpointing the exact meaning.
A helpful way to understand Revelation is to realise that the application of the message comes not towards the end, as in other books of the New Testament, but in the beginning, in the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. The visions are then added to bring home to the people of those churches how great is their God, how wonderful and powerful is the Lord Jesus, and how dangerous is compromise with evil and idolatry. The visions are meant to shock the churches into realising the eternal consequences of their daily actions, in which they either identify with God and the Lamb, or with the dragon and the beasts. In the letters to the seven churches each letter is also addressed to all the churches in all generations, including us.
What is the essence of Jesus’ message to the churches? What is His message to the church today? Firstly, there should be no compromise as far as evil and apostasy are concerned. The church should not be seduced away from the spiritual chastity required of Christians in practice and in teaching. The actions of some in the church affect the state of all, and the state of all makes some more liable to sin.
The church needs to learn a spirituality of repentance and put away from them the false spirituality and idolatry which might have arisen.
With the warning comes an encouragement to persevere, to endure to the end, to look forward and wait for the coming of Christ. The church needs to be forward-looking, enduring victoriously, looking forward to the blessed hope as they await the return of the Saviour.
The positive response of the church is not a luxury but a dire necessity. The visions show the enormity of evil, the power of the dragon, Satan, and the political and religious pressures of his servants, the two beasts. The language of ‘plagues’ comes from God’s judgement on the gods of Egypt, now His judgment on the whole world. The name Babylon points to the greatness of the opposition to the people of God, At the same time, God rules from His throne. Christ the Lamb has died and risen and will conquer, and God’s people are kept safe by God’s power. Babylon will be destroyed, and the new heaven and the new earth, the new Jerusalem will be prepared as a bride for her husband. We must listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches! We must be clear of the challenges facing the church in the last days. God has revealed to us beforehand so that we may be ready and not be caught unprepared and surprised.
If there has been compromise, if there has been idolatry, if there has been sins and failures, there needs to be the spirit of repentance.
If there is despondency, discouragement and self-pity, we need to ‘wake up’, for our deliverance is nearer than we think; we need to be encouraged, to persevere and to endure until we see the Lord Jesus at His second coming.
Let our ‘eyes of faith’ be focused on the blessed hope that awaits us; let us look forward to that celestial city where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow or death, and we shall be with the Lord forever! Come Lord Jesus!