Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The mighty angel and the little scroll (Rev. 10)

Following on from the sixth trumpet, which informed John of the powerful forces ranged against humans and of the refusal of humans to repent of their sins, he observes the arrival of a mighty angel with a little scroll in his hand. 

Who is this angel? He is clothed with glory (wrapped in a cloud), he is connected to the covenant that God made with the earth (a rainbow – the sign that God gave to Noah that the earth would not be destroyed again by a flood), his face shines like the sun (as did the face of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration) and his powerful legs look as if they are on fire (which could be similar to how Jesus is described in Revelation 1 with his  feet of burning bronze). 

Older commentators, such as the author of the comments on Revelation in Matthew Henry’s commentary, said that mighty angel was Jesus. Later commentators are not so sure, yet it is possible for us not to be so sure about the later commentators.

Moreover, this mighty angel is in complete control of creation (one foot above the sea and the other foot above the land). His very loud voice brings a response from seven thunders, although John is not allowed to record what they said. Instead he observes this mighty angel announce that the purpose of God is about to be completed (during the time of the seventh trumpet, which when blown would indicate the second coming of Jesus – 11:15). Both the control of creation and the management of time would suggest that the mighty angel is Jesus.

John heard a voice from heaven instructing him to take the little scroll out of the mighty angel’s hand. When he did so, the angel told him that the scroll would taste sweet, but then would have a bitter effect. The eating was followed by a form of re-commissioning in which John was informed that he would yet speak in a prophetic way to all classes of people. This must have seemed very unlikely at the time, given that he was in exile in Patmos for his commitment to Jesus.

Maybe those who say that the mighty angel is not Jesus are right, and maybe they are wrong. It does look as if John, in the midst of the awful visions he had received about the troubles that will happen in divine providence, was sent a special message that he still had a place to fulfil in the spread of the kingdom. And would it not be like Jesus to give another vision of his glory to his imprisoned servant when he was re-commissioned!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Trumpets Five and Six (Rev. 9)

The fifth trumpet is likened to a war between locusts and humans (9:1-12). The locusts describe demons, the followers of the devil; here he is called by names that mean destroyer. His army is described as travelling rapidly around the earth, inflicting damage everywhere. The targets of the demonic powers are all humans apart from believers (9:4). 
What should we learn from the fifth trumpet? One is that the powers of darkness are under the control of God. He decides when they can be unleashed. A second lesson is that there are times when God lets this happen for the detriment of humanity. It is possible that we are living in such a time because we can see much taking place that indicates evil influences in the world. This was the case when the Book of Revelation was written. The church of Jesus was undergoing opposition and God sent his judgements on the world by not hindering the powers that hate the world. 
The sixth trumpet (9:13-19) contains details similar to the fifth in that an army follows four angels who are released for a specific time in order to kill one third of mankind by various plagues. It may be that John is using one of the fears that dominated Roman thinking, which was that the Parthians from the other side of the Euphrates would invade the Empire and destroy it. Their soldiers were regarded as fierce and were a suitable illustration of an army that is far worse.  
The soldiers of this army ride on horses that have the power to poison their victims (like scorpions). This looks like another description of the demonic army. Since they are not allowed to commence their activities until God allows, we have here another reminder that he is in control of all creatures, and can use those who oppose him in the outworking of his plans. But it is also a reminder that there is a spiritual conflict taking place. God is working to save his people; the powers of darkness are working to destroy sinners eternally.  
What was the response of people to the judgements indicated by the six trumpets? John tells us that they refused to repent of their sinful actions and attitudes towards God or towards one another. Living under circumstances of divine judgement does not change the hearts of sinners. They remain opposed to God and his kingdom. 
We are reminded here of a basic perspective to have. John’s readers were informed that in the world there are basically two groups of people. There are those who are saved and there are those who are not. As far as the enemy powers of the bottomless pit are concerned, (a) they persecute Christians and (b) they work to destroy eternally everyone else. This is an obvious reminder why we should tell the gospel to those who are opposed to Jesus. 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The first four trumpets (8:6-13)

The seventh seal that Jesus opens leads to the blowing of trumpets by seven angels. Blowing of trumpets was often a call to battle in the ancient world, and we can see from the details of what was signified by the trumpets that a battle, or series of battles, is about to take place between heaven and earth.  
The seven trumpets divide into two sections. Trumpets one to four are described in 8:6-12. Then 8:13 contains an introduction to the remaining trumpets, and a lot more happens when they are blown than took place under trumpets one to four. Trumpets five, six and seven are each said to bring woe, and since trumpet seven is concerned with the Day of Judgement (11:15) we should not be surprised that it is connected to a woe. 
The first four trumpets are concerned with judgements that affect everyday life. In the first trumpet, loss of trees affected produce and shelter in ancient times, and loss of grass affected pastures. The consequences of the second trumpet were destruction of ships, which would affect trade, and fish, which would affect food supplies. The third trumpet was connected to a basic need of humans, which is water supply, and when that is affected, the outcome is serious. Often confusion in political leaders was described by using cosmic disturbances, so the fourth trumpet points to confusion and upheaval in the ruling classes. We see here the consequences of rebelling against God and failing to recognise the authority of Jesus. 
The first four trumpets describe the outpouring of various divine judgements on the earth, sea, creatures and cosmic bodies, with each of the judgements affecting one third. Although these judgements are serious and affect a lot of people, as well as other daily circumstances, they are not yet the full judgement that will occur when the seventh trumpet is blown. So these four trumpets are reminders that greater judgement is coming. 
There seems to be a similarity between judgements connected to the four trumpets with the plagues that God sent on Egypt at the Exodus. Since the plagues were indicators that redemption for Israel was near, so John is being told that signs of divine judgement on the earth are indicators that eternal redemption is about to happen for those who follow Jesus. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Before the trumpets sound (Rev. 8:1-5)

The seventh seal is opened by Jesus and is accompanied by a period of silence that lasts for half an hour. What is the significance of the silence? Some commentators have suggested an allusion to a practice in the Jerusalem temple of praying silently before God. There is an obvious connection in the passage with prayer. In the Old Testament, silence was an expression of both repentance and reverence, and was therefore a form of response to God.

We are invited to consider an august moment in heaven. Elevated angels are involved because we are told that the trumpeters are seven angels who usually stand in the presence of God. We can regard them as administrators of his will, and when we read later about the contents of the trumpets we will see that their actions are solemn.

Before they blow their trumpets, another angel appears. He also is very important because the trumpets cannot be blown until he engages in what looks like a priestly activity. Who is this angel? His task is twofold. First, he is to make the prayers of the saints acceptable to God; second, he is to pour out judgement on the earth. Given those activities, it looks as if this angel is speaking on behalf of the Son of God because he is the One who performs those actions. He makes the prayers of his people acceptable and he can send judgement on the earth.

This vision is a reminder that the prayers of saints are made acceptable in heaven. There is not a reason in them why God should listen to them unless he has chosen to do so. We are also told that the prayers need much incense, which is a reminder that their prayers are polluted, and also a reminder that Jesus has a lot of grace to give. Moreover, we are told that it is the prayers of all saints that are made acceptable, which means that the Saviour is able to combine them and to answer them all.

God often functions in a manner that connects divine activities to the prayers of believers. This does not mean that the believers ask Jesus to send the judgements, but it does mean that God regarded judgements as one way to answer their prayers.

The ones making the prayers in the vision were the persecuted believers living on earth around the year AD 90. What power did they seem to have from an earthly standpoint? None. What power did they possess from a heavenly viewpoint? The powerless had power because they had access to the One who sits on the throne. The same is true today.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The crowd's future (Rev. 7:15-17)

John is informed that the great crowd will be worshipping God for ever in his temple. Where or what is that temple? It is the heavens and new earth in which righteousness will dwell. The redeemed will be priests in the worldwide temple, leading the praise of the restored universe. They will be the nearest to the throne, lifting their voices in the everlasting song that will reverberate throughout the new heavens and new earth for ever.

Moreover, the Lord, who sits on the throne, guarantees their permanent safety and satisfaction. In this life they had known times of deprivation; often life had seemed as if they were travelling through a desert, at least in the spiritual sense. But in heaven it will all be different. Instead of hunger and thirst, there will be satisfying provision; instead of sunburned deserts, there will be heavenly springs.

There is also a sense of continuation between what Jesus had done for them as the good shepherd in this life and what he will do for them as the eternal shepherd. In this life, he had given them times of spiritual refreshment, as described in Psalm 23. He made them lie down in green pastures beside the waters of rest, a picture of occasions when he fed their souls, by various means, on his wonderful acts and promises. But they had to get up and continue their journey through the valley of the shadow of death. The Jesus who fed them on earth will feed them in heaven, with the big difference that it will be a constant supply of heavenly provision.

The third detail to observe is that each of the great crowd will receive personal consolation from God: ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’ Why will they have tears on this great occasion? Who can say? A more important question is, Who can take these tears away? The gentle, tender touch of the heavenly Father will wipe away every tear. This suggests that God will take the time to deal with every tear that his people have had or will have on that day. Samuel Rutherford once commented that ‘It is the sweeter, that no napkin, but his own immediate hand, shall wipe my sinful face.’  None of the Lord’s people there can deal with my tears, any more than I would be able to deal with theirs. We don’t know how he will take them away. But he will.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The attire and the song of the crowd (Rev. 7:13-14)

John saw that the great crowd are all dressed in the same attire and all are holding the same emblems: they are clothed with white robes, and have palm branches in their hands. If it were only white robes that were mentioned, then the reference would be to holiness and purity. But the inclusion of palm branches tells us that a prominent emphasis in the vision is that of victory.

 Standing with palm branches was a common way for crowds to celebrate an important triumph (they would also wear white robes on such occasions). To get the point, we must recall that throughout history these people have been on the receiving end, with many of them martyred for their faith. Often the church has seemed to be on the verge of destruction by its enemies. But here is the church triumphant, sharing Christ’s victory.

 The angel explains to John that each person in the great crowd has washed his or her robes in the blood of Christ. It is a common biblical image to use clothing to depict a person’s behaviour.  Also, it is clear that John is referring to Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary when he took his perfect life and offered it up to God in the place of sinners. He was their substitute as there he paid the penalty of sin by enduring the wrath of God against it. But notice, each person in the crowd took their robes and washed them in the blood of Christ. Each one responded individually to the message of the cross.

 John also describes the song of the crowd: they ‘cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.’ They sing with meaning, because they knew what it was to be unconverted. But Lord in his mercy saved them and brought them to heaven. And they sing with wonder, as they consider the place to where they have been brought. It is a song to God, about his wonderful grace.

 So their song is a message to us. It is a reminder that the day is coming when the redeemed shall stand before the throne. It is being sung to us to cause us to prepare to join the song.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Great Crowd (Rev. 7:9-12)

The Bible often refers to the Book of Life, but never tells us how may names are in it. Even here, when the complete number gather together in the presence of God, we are not told how many will be there. But we are invited to look at them, and marvel.

We see in this crowd the fulfilment of the promise that God gave to Abraham which declared that his spiritual seed would number as many as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. No one can count the number of the stars or the grains of sand. Yet it is obvious that if we tried, we would run out of numbers. It will be the same with those who make up the people of God.

Moreover, we can see that there are converts from every people group. Ultimately, there will be one family of God and the members will come everywhere. Real disciples will have come from every nation. This vision of the size of the great crowd is a great encouragement for spreading the gospel.

John tells us that the crowd stands before the throne of God, and before the Lamb. Obviously this is a place of honour, highly exalted. Although they are in such an august presence, the crowd is marked by confidence because they all know that they are accepted in Christ, and will rejoice in that reality for ever.  As they stand there, they will express thankfulness to the Father for sending his Son to be their Saviour.

Jesus, in John 17:24, on the evening before his death, had prayed about the gathering together of this crowd. His request was, ‘Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ Now it has been answered and his desire is taking place. We can imagine the gladness of Jesus as well as the gladness of his people.

We also can read here about the response of the angelic host as they see those for whom their Master died gathered together with him. Often, many of those angels would have helped the heirs of salvation as they travelled to heaven. Now they and their protectors are together in the presence of God.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The 144,000 (Rev. 7:1-8)

The vision of the 144,000 opens with a reference to heavenly control of the elements. We perhaps do not see the significance of this, but John’s readers would have. In the ancient world, the elements were regarded by pagans as being ruled by different false gods. John here says the elements are under the control of the only God.

The four angels are depicted as being ready to unleash storms on the earth, which is similar to what happened with the seals. It is very likely that the four angels function in a similar way to the four horsemen of chapter 6. Before they do begin to destroy, another angel appears and commands them not to do so until the servants of God have been sealed. Then we are told that the number to be sealed was 144,000, made up of 12,000 from each of the tribes of Israel.

Who are the 144,000? Personally, I think the vision refers to the same people as in the next vision, the great crowd, but looked at from different viewpoints. The first vision, the 144,000, describes God’s people during the time of God’s judgments on those who rebel against him and the second vision, the great crowd, describes them after the time of judgment is over. The point of the vision of the 144,000 is to show that the people of God are safe despite what is happening throughout history. The 144,000 are mentioned again in Revelation 14.  In Revelation 14 they have arrived in heaven, which is another reminder that they reached heaven safely. 

John tells us that the sealing process of the 144,000 began before the troubles commenced (7:3). The seal was the mark of ownership, whereby God intimated that the sealed people were his. Believers belong to God in a variety of ways: by creation, by choice and by salvation. They were sealed in order that they would not be harmed by God’s judgements, although some of them would be harmed by human opposition.

It is important to note that they are numbered as an army. This list of twelve tribes of Israel obviously has an Old Testament allusion and those readers who were familiar with the Old Testament would see the point. During the history of Old Testament Israel it was common for each tribe to provide soldiers for a military campaign. John here is reminding his readers that they are involved in a battle against God’s enemies. To each of them came their call-up papers, which is the gospel invitation asking them to leave the army of the enemy and come and join the army of the King. They serve under a Commander who knows how to win the war, who has provided most of the victory already, and who will make each of them more than conquerors. They will receive a great reward for serving in his army.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Day of Judgement (Rev. 6:12-17)

The previous seals of the scroll that Jesus received describe the period between his ascension and his second coming. The sixth seal is more focussed on a particular period and depicts cosmic turmoil and human despair linked to the appearance of Christ as the Judge (6:12-17). 

The terror of the Lord makes all people equal. Both the rich and the poor and the free and the slave are petrified at the prospect of appearing before Jesus as the Judge. In verse 15 we are given a list of those who will be afraid when Jesus returns. Political power, economic power and military power cannot provide a way of escape. They sense that there is no escape and would endure being buried alive rather than face the awful wrath of a rejected Lord.

What a description of the kind God and gracious Saviour! Jesus, the tender-hearted Saviour, will be angry on this awful day. He will come with vengeance in his heart. Think of these words of Paul: ‘And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thess. 1:7-8).

The lost in this vision ask an important question, but they ask it too late. It is strange how often important issues are left till the last minute. But in this case, it is later than that – too late. The question is, ‘Who will be able to stand?’ The answer is given in the next chapter, when we see a great multitude standing around the throne. They found the answer in time – they believed in Jesus.

But where are the Christians throughout this period? The answer is given in the next chapter.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

What say the martyrs? (Rev. 6:9-11)

The fifth seal of the scroll received by Jesus is different from the others because it moves the readers from the experience of earth (as depicted in the previous four seals) to the response of heaven. Like the four seals, it describes details that picture what goes on in the period when Jesus is opening the seals.

In this seal, we are given a snapshot of heaven and are shown a picture of the church in heaven. No doubt, many Christians would have died because of the causes mentioned in the previous seals. Like them, this seal also ends in death, although for unique reasons. 

John’s attention is drawn to those who have suffered martyrdom because of their loyalty to Jesus. At the time of receiving this vision, about sixty years had passed since the ascension of Jesus. During those decades, many believers had been slain for their witness to Jesus. This seal informs readers that those believers are conscious in heaven, that they are not in some kind of inertia. They can recall the past and anticipate the future, and they have conversations with Jesus.

What is the concern of the believers who have reached heaven? Perhaps surprisingly, for us at first, they cry for God to bring justice to the world. This is not because they are vindictive, for heaven rejoices in mercy being displayed. Instead they long for God to act on all the horrors of history, to take on his role as avenger of the weak and needy.

The temporary answer to their concern is to experience what is signified by the white robes: participation in the victory of Christ and purity of heart in the perfect world. They are also encouraged to rest, to refresh themselves with the beauty of heaven.

They are also informed that the church on earth will continue to suffer, and many others will join their number. This was to be the norm. Yet their suffering will not be in vain. As was noted long ago, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’ Many Christians become more devoted disciples when they hear accounts of dedication unto death and many opponents are won as they see the love and loyalty of the believers.

One value for us of receiving the details connected to the fifth seal is that they explain troubles that Christians faith. Nothing is chaotic or out of control; rather it is under the control of Jesus. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Four Horsemen (Rev. 6:1-8)

In chapters 4 and 5 we have a description of the enthronement of Jesus, which occurred at his ascension to heaven. At his enthronement he was given a scroll sealed with seven seals. The scroll cannot be opened until the seven seals are removed.

In chapter 6, Jesus takes the seals of the book. As he opens each one, he releases a power that will help bring about the opening of the book of life. What are these powers that are in the hand of Jesus the king that he will use to accomplish his own purposes?

The first four seals concern the well-known four horsemen of the Apocalypse. The first seal describes a king on a white horse riding out to battle (6:1-2). Some people think this refers to Christ riding forth with the gospel, because he is described in this way in 19:11. However, I think the list in chapter 6 is made up of sources of trouble for Christ’s people. I would suggest that this rider depicts tyrants or oppressive rulers. The second seal is a red horse, and it is evident that he represents those who make war (6:3-4). The third seal is a black horse, and he depicts famine (6:5-6). The fourth seal is a pale horse, and he represents death in all its forms (6:7-8).

As we think of this description of human history, we see it is a very accurate picture, for even today, with all our advances, we still have tyranny, war, famines and death. We only have to watch the news programmes to see that they occur.

What are we to make of this description of human history? First, we must get rid of the idea that Jesus only does comforting things and the devil does all the bad things. History is not about a battle between two equal forces. Also we have to move from focussing on secondary causes and see that there is only one primary cause for all events.  Jesus either initiates an action for a specific purpose or directs an action to overrule it for a specific purpose.

This chapter tells us that these distressing situations are brought about because Jesus is determined to open the scroll that he has been given, which is to gather his people to himself. So why does Jesus send these judgments?

One answer is that they are samples of divine judgement before the time of the final judgement, as well as samples of the variety of divine judgements within time. They tell us that Jesus does something about our sinful behaviour. In his providential control of human actions, Jesus brings foretastes of judgment into our lives. They are sent to urge us to prepare for eternity.

They are also sent to give opportunities for his church to act as agents of mercy. Through them, the Lord enables his people to give both practical and spiritual help to those in need. So, in many cases the trouble they went through becomes a means of spiritual good. These judgements are limited to some in order that the many will listen. We cannot say that those who suffer because of wars and famines are worse sinners than others. The point is that the Lord Jesus is the judge of all.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Jesus is worshipped (Rev. 5:8-14)

The remaining verses of the chapter describe the response of the onlookers to the reception of the scroll by Jesus. Now the same honour that was given to the Father in chapter 4 is given to Jesus in chapter 5. He becomes the object of praise of the heavenly host.

The song of the elders focuses on the worldwide ingathering of the people of God and of the great blessing they are going to receive as rulers of the future world. The song of the angelic masses rank concerns the slain Saviour being accorded divine honour. The song of creation focuses on both the Father and the Lamb, and the fact that they will reign for ever.

This vision is a reminder that the One in charge of the universe is Jesus. He has been given the place of highest honour. To know that Jesus the man who once walked through this world, is on the throne is a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort because he knows what it is like to live in difficult situations and can sympathise and provide help and assurance. It is a challenge to us to submit to the One who went to the cross on behalf of sinners, and has now been exalted to gather in sinners into his kingdom.

This knowledge is a source of great confidence. The early church in all its weakness would survive because Jesus was on the throne. (The troubles that we face at present will be overcome because Jesus is on the throne.) Jesus will conquer the nations is the message of this vision.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Problem Solved (Rev. 5:1-7)

John mentions a scroll sealed with seven seals. The fact that the scroll is sealed indicates that it is complete. Yet it cannot be opened until all the seals are taken off. I think the scroll is the book of life, and we are told in chapters 6 and 7 what the seals are, which are taken off one by one. When the last one is removed, the contents of the scroll will be revealed at the second coming of Jesus. 

The problem that the angel has identified concerns finding one able to open the scroll. The angel cannot do it, even although he is a strong creature. John thinks that no-one in the universe had the capability to open the book. In that book are the names of the church members in Ephesus, Smyrna and the other places. What is going to happen to them? And it caused him great sorrow. 

But John is told that there is one person who can take hold of the scroll and bring about its details. That person is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Calling him the Lion is the same as saying that he is the Messiah promised through the tribe of Judah, that he would be the descendant of royal David (Gen. 49:9). But he is also divine, for he is the Root of David, that is, he is the origins of David.

John’s eyes are directed towards the throne and there he does not see a Lion standing there, but a wounded Lamb. He sees Jesus, the one who suffered on the Cross when he paid the penalty for sin. The scars of Calvary are on his body as he stands before the throne of God.

Yet he is more than a wounded Lamb. He has seven horns and seven eyes. The number seven indicates perfection. A horn symbolised power; seven horns depicts all power. An eye depicted awareness and knowledge; seven eyes depict perfect knowledge. The power and knowledge that Jesus possesses are linked to the fact that he has sent the Holy Spirit into all the earth.

Here we have a wonderful picture of Jesus. He is the answer to the problem because he is the divine Messiah, the suffering Saviour, and the One who sends the Spirit to bring blessings to the world. Yes, he is worthy to open the scroll. So he proceeds to the throne and takes hold of the scroll. That was a great moment for the human race. The Son of God, now with a human nature, has universal power.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Heavenly Throne Room (Rev. 4)

The experience of John in Revelation 4 and 5 answers some questions that readers of the letters to the seven churches must have had. Those readers would be aware that churches have real problems. And they would have seen that Jesus is the answer to the problems. Yet where is Jesus and what power does he possess to deal with those circumstances? The answer is to think of the ascension of Jesus. In Revelation 4, John describes the place where Jesus now is (even although Jesus is not mentioned in the chapter). What did he see?

The first object that John sees is a throne. On the throne sits one marked by purity and beauty, and the vision highlights those features by comparing him to various jewels. Jewels were items of beauty and were items through which light shone. Defects could be seen easily. There were no defects in the One on the throne. Instead only purity and beauty were revealed.

Next John sees a rainbow, which is a reminder that God rules on his throne according to his own promises. The rainbow was given to Noah as an indication that God would never again destroy the earth by a flood.

Then John notes some lesser thrones, occupied by twenty-four elders, indicating that heaven is a place of delegated power. We are not told who the elders are, only that they are holy creatures (dressed in white) who rule (crowns of gold) under God. They are probably angels who have been given a special authority by God (Ps. 89:6-7).

From the throne came lightnings, thunders and voices. This is very similar to the way God appeared on Mount Sinai when he gave the law. These phenomena remind us of his opposition to sin; they are often used in the Bible as pictures of God’s anger and judgement.

John also noticed the presence of the Spirit, illustrated by the seven lamps of burning fire.

Then John mentions the sea of glass, which reminds us that heaven is a place of peace because nothing that causes disturbances is found there. The sea also functions as a barrier to keep out unwanted intruders.

John also notices the cherubim, strange looking creatures who are similar to the seraphim mentioned in Isaiah 6. They are depicted as seeing all that goes on. This may suggest alertness as well as knowledge.

Heaven is a place of praise, as seen in the song of the cherubim and of the elders. The cherubim celebrate the holiness, power and eternal existence of God and the elders praise him as the great Creator. The elders, angelic beings who have been given authority by God, cast their crowns before the throne of God, confessing that he alone is King.

The effect of this description is to stress both the majesty and the mystery of God. Compared to him, all the pomp of earthly rulers is but tinsel. But there is someone missing from the scene of chapter 4, for both the Father and the Spirit are mentioned, but not the Son, which brings us to a problem articulated by the angel at the beginning of chapter 5. We will think about that problem tomorrow.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Laodicea - its message for us (Rev. 3:14-21)

Although the letter to Laodicea was sent to a specific church, it was also read by other congregations. So it is legitimate for us to use this letter to assess our individual spiritual state and the condition of our local congregation. Here are four details to consider.
First, there is reality of the Saviour’s searching of the churches. This means that he searches every congregation. While from one perspective it is frightening that Jesus is the searcher of each church, from another perspective it is an opportunity for realism. We should join with the Psalmist and ask the Lord to search us to see if there are wicked ways in us (Psalm 139:23-24). Our prayer should be for spiritual reality. 
Second, the letter to Laodicea reminds us of the danger of a congregation being blinded spiritually by materialism. Materialism is an obvious feature of life in the Western world and it would be foolish for a church to imagine that its members are not affected by it and the desire for more and better things. These things can take first place in believers’ lives, and when that happens it will be evidenced by lukewarmness in their devotion to Jesus. 
Third, the letter to Laodicea tells us that comprehensive restoration is given to believers when they repent of their sins. Restoration involves fellowship with each person of the Trinity. Forgiveness from God is a precious reality that opens the way to rich experiences of divine grace. Such experiences can be known in this life, but larger blessings will be known in the eternal world. 
Fourth, Jesus assures the overcomers that they will be kings in the next world. This is an incredible future that they can look ahead towards and reflect on. They will yet experience Paradise restored, where unlike Adam who lost his role as king in Eden, they will in ways currently unimaginable share with Jesus the wonders of the new heavens and new earth. And they will do so forever.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Laodicea - the comfort of Jesus (Rev. 3:20-21)

In his promises to the overcomer in Laodicea, Jesus refers to both present and future blessings. To penitent believers who would welcome him into their midst Jesus gives a wonderful promise. Their spiritual restoration means that once again he is the provider of their spiritual food. Jesus uses the imagery of a meal to illustrate the spiritual warmth and intimacy that would exist between him and restored disciples. What ideas come to mind through this imagery of a shared meal? 
It is possible that Jesus is referring to the shared congregational meal (love feast) of which the Lord’s Supper was part. In those days, most Christian gatherings on the Lord’s Day would have included the Lord’s Supper, and that spiritual meal was designed as enabling communion between Jesus and his people in a special way. It was a visible reminder that he had given his life for them in order that they would have spiritual life. 
Even if Jesus was not referring to the love feast, it is not difficult to work out what is depicted by the imagery of a meal. Usually, a host would invite his friends out of love for them, and his love would ensure he would provide the best for them. That is what Jesus does – he shares with his people what his activity on the cross has procured for them. He has numerous spiritual blessings to give to them. 
This means that it was possible for those rebuked members to be restored to a life of spiritual fruitfulness. The outcome would be dedication to Jesus and ongoing growth in grace. Instead of being unreliable and worldly, they would become faithful. They could still live the kind of spiritual life that would get an eternal reward from Jesus. Truly amazing grace! Those who were indifferent to his claims, but who repented of their sins, would share the throne of Jesus when the new world comes. 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Laodicea - the counsel of Jesus (Rev. 3:17-20)

The Saviour uses various aspects of the city’s activities to illustrate the sad state of the church. First, Jesus alludes to the banking system when he urges the church members to buy gold from him in order to be truly rich. This is in contrast to the opinion of the Laodiceans of themselves, for they thought they were rich already. We are not told what Jesus’ promised wealth involved; perhaps it is a reference to spiritual blessings in general. Of course, when Jesus urges them to ‘buy gold’ from him, he is not suggesting that his blessings can be purchased by money; rather he is using the picture of trade that was common in the city. 
Second, the wool industry is alluded to in Christ’s advice that they should buy from him fine raiment with which to clothe themselves. While this could be a reference to nakedness that requires the robe of righteousness given in justification, with the accompanying assumption that they needed to be converted, it more likely means righteousness in the sense of holiness of life.  
Third, the medical school is alluded to when Jesus tells them to buy from him eye salve in order for them to see clearly. They were spiritually blind to their poverty of Christian experience. They were like the believers described in 2 Peter 1:9, who because of a lack of spiritual growth had become short-sighted, unable to see into the future. What the Saviour is promising to them is true spiritual vision, vision to see how to serve Christ and vision to look beyond the visible to heaven. 
What about the posture of Jesus knocking at the door? Often this image of the Saviour knocking at the door is depicted as the Lord Jesus knocking in a gospel sense on the heart of a sinner. I do not think that fits with the context. Rather what we have here is the Master of the House (Jesus and the church) coming to deal with a church whose behaviour had brought it to the place where it was about to lose its role as a lampstand.  
The knocking indicates that Jesus is outside and not involved in the activities of the church. He has come demanding access to what they are doing. His demand is strong because he desires fellowship with his people. He was in no doubt that chastisement was needed, and therefore he calls on them to repent, a demand that Jesus also made of the churches in Ephesus (2:5), Pergumum (2:16), Thyatira (2:21-23), and Sardis (3:3). 
Jesus takes the initiative in arranging their spiritual recovery. The reality is that unless God took the initiative and drew us back to himself we would not return. How thankful the penitent Laodiceans would have been for the grace of the sovereign Saviour, for the restoring ministry of the Holy Spirit, and for the tender mercy of the Father!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Laodicea - the assessment of Jesus (Rev. 3:15-16)

Jesus’ assessment of the church is that it is neither cold nor hot. In order to appreciate this point we need to know that a major lack in the city of Laodicea was a suitable water supply for is inhabitants. Nearby Hierapolis had hot springs famous for healing qualities and Colosse was known for its cool drinking water, but Laodicea did not have either. Instead water was carried from another location, via a six-mile long aqueduct that could not keep the water either hot or cold. This is the allusion in Christ’s statement that he would have the church members either cold or hot.  
These words do not refer to one’s spiritual temperature, in the sense of ‘hot’ being an ardent spiritual state and ‘cold’ indicating a backsliding state. Instead they describe the inability of the church to provide spiritual healing or spiritual refreshment for the city. Their contribution to the city was equivalent to the tepid water that flowed along the aqueduct. They should have been conveying the gospel of Christ to their community, but because of their lukewarm spiritual state they were incapable of being used by Christ and faced the real possibility of losing their lampstand, graphically illustrated in the Saviour’s threat to spew them out of his mouth.  
A second criticism that Jesus makes is that the church seems to have read their providences as a sign of God’s blessing rather than symptoms of spiritual problems. They were doing very well in material things. Of course, possessions in themselves are neutral; the possession of them can be a sign of blessing or they can be a means of backsliding. But it is easy to assume that getting on well is a sign of God’s approval.  
There is no hint in the letter of the church in Laodicea facing the problems encountered by the other six churches, such as persecution or false teaching. Rather the church was marked by self-sufficiency and complacency. So those to whom Christ was speaking were in a sad and potentially dangerous state – their spiritual ignorance had resulted in spiritual wretchedness, poverty, blindness and nakedness, with the looming prospect of their cessation as a church. But in his mercy the Lord Jesus draws near to them.