Monday, 6 September 2010

Revelation 1:12-20

Revelation 1:12-20

Read these verses over again. Go on, once more.
You can't read them often enough.

Seven is the perfect number, a complete number. So seven lampstands, which are the seven churches, represent the complete church. The glorious Lord Jesus Christ is with, in the midst of, his church.
How can we be downcast? What shall we fear? The Lord is with us.
[Seven here is not about the seven churches of Asia - the use of this phrase in 1:4 is probably the only 'real' number, i.e. non-symbolic number, in the whole book.]

Son of Man is a designation the Lord Jesus uses often of himself. I think its use comes from Daniel 7. In this context when we read 'one like a son of man', I think the emphasis falls on the likeness of the Lord Jesus to humans. If we had been alive and seen the Lord Jesus we would have seen arms and legs, a head, a body - a human. What John sees is the glorious Lord Jesus, but he is like a human, in human form. The incarnation doesn't end with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His body is raised from the tomb. There is a human in heaven.
Yes, the Lord is with us.

The Lord Jesus is seen by John in purity and power. He is without sin or any kind of failure and he is the one who exercises justice with the sword of justice.
It keeps getting better, he was dead and now is alive and will never die again. He holds authority over death and hell. He is the one who can be depended upon.

We will read later in Revelation of John falling before a heavenly messenger, but this is the only time such prostration is not corrected. It is entirely correct to fall on your face before the Lord Jesus.

The seven angels of the churches, a perfect number of messengers to the churches. It could be the teachers/preachers in the church, or could be a perfection of God's message to the church. The point in this passage is that the seven stars are in the hand of the Lord Jesus. The message of God to the church is in Christ's hand, and nowhere else!

It really is all about Jesus.

Go on, read it again, it will do you good.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Revelation 1:9-11

Revelation 1:9-11

Having spoken in exalted terms of the Lord Jesus and his reign it may surprise us to read of 'tribulation' and the need for 'patient endurance'. v. 9.

The kingdoms of this earth, the enemies of God: the devil, death, sin, will not simply roll over and die. They continue to war against the Lord and his Christ, and his Kingdom now established.

We need to learn this again, patient endurance, not deliverance, is the sign of the Spirit at work amongst us. Our Lord and Saviour suffered and endured patiently, if we follow him, how can we expect not to follow him here?

John describes a vision for us, note that he writes 'Write what you see in a book ...' v. 11. Sometimes it is easy to put into words what we see, sometimes it is impossible. How do you use words to describe the range of colours in a sunset? Big clue here! John is going to have to put into words in a book indescribable visions of the glory of God. If we push the words John uses into their literal sense we end up with nonsense. Literalism is not a good way to read the Bible. This is not to say that what John is trying to describe is not real, objectively real. God is real, the Lord Jesus who was slain but now lives for ever is real, but sometimes the language John uses to describe these things pushes our words to the edge of their meaning.

Symbol and story, metaphor and analogy - the tools of the poet and prophet to convey that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard and the heart of no human can comprehend. Beward of readings of Revelation that try to nail all the words in this book down too tightly.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Revelation 1:4-8

Revelation 1:4-8

John makes it clear that this letter is addressed to 'the seven churches that are in Asia', v. 4.
John didn't make a mistake here, this address is as inspired as every other word in this text. The book of Revelation must have meaning for the seven churches that are in Asia, it cannot only be a text that has meaning for 20th century dispensationalists.
We hear God speaking to us in Scripture by submitting our reading of the text to that shared with our sisters and brothers who first received the text. United in Christ as one people the distance between us is not as great as sometimes it is presented. There is one God, one Lord Jesus, one Spirit at work in the writing of Scripture, its first reception in the first century and its present reception in the 21st century.

The traditional Christian letter greeting, 'Grace to you' is extended in a wonderful celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some points to note:
'the seven spirits' - not seven (one more than six) but a perfect spirit, the Spirit.
'the faithful witness' - in his life, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ bears witness to the faithfulness of God to his covenant promises.

The kingdom language in v. 6 is important as this text will present Jesus not only as Christ, but also as Lord, the King of all Creation over all other challengers. Combined with the eternal language in these verses we see that the reign of the Lord Jesus has begun and will never end.

The work of Christ is freeing us from sins is introduced early in Revelation. This is not the whole of salvation, but remains a daily prayer that we would know the joy of sins forgiven and peace with God through the blood of the Lord Jesus shed on the cross.

Is this how we know Jesus? Is this the Jesus we try to share with others when we speak to them of him?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Revelation 1:1-3

Revelation 1:1-3

There is something that God wants to make known - a revelation from God.
This revelation concerns things that must soon take place, as we will see in chapters 4+5, the fulfilment of the purposes of God.
This revelationis given by God to Jesus Christ, God has chosen to make known the fulfilment of his purposes through Jesus Christ, and him alone.
It is Jesus Christ who engages the service of the angel who is sent to John and discloses this revelation to John.

John is not properly the author of this text. The author is God, the revelation is his to make known. John then serves in the role of recorded, he writes down what he is shown and what he hears. The principal objection to this John being the author of the Fourth Gospel is the marked difference in the style of the Greek. However, given strong thematic links and the united testimony of the early church we should not hesitate to think of this John as the same John we know from other New Testament texts.

Seven times in this book a blessing is pronounced: see also 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14. Seven is the perfect number, the number of completion and so these seven blessings together describe the perfect blessing. One who is blessed knows the favour of God, and is one who reads this book so that others may hear and learn of this revelation. But also one who keeps what is written, obeys, submits to, allows the words to change them and their life. This is the blessed life.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Revelation - and Apocalyptic

Sometimes this book is called 'The Apocalypse', see the title of Smalley's commentary, amongst many.
In this context I think 'apocalypse' refers to the Greek work 'apokalupsis' which is rendered in English versions as 'revelation', e.g. 1:1 - 'The revelation of Jesus Christ'.

Another term, 'apocalyptic' can be used to describe the genre, or type of writing that is employed in this book. Here the term refers to a form of writing in which standard symbols are used to represent usually elements of a vision which has been granted by God. There are examples of apocalyptic writing in Daniel 7-12 and Zechariah 9-14. It seems a strange form of writing to us, however, if we were to read a number of second Temple Jewish texts it would quickly become familiar.

From this I would make the following points:
1. John is trying to describe something which cannot be contained in human language. How can you describe the Lord Jesus as both one who has been slain and who is now reigning?
2. The code to the symbolic language would have been widely known, certainly to the Christians in Asia who received this text. It is not a code designed to be hard to break, to keep things secret from agents of the Roman Empire.
3. This is code, or picture, language we should not press the details into physical relality. The numbers are all symbolic and should not be treated as mathematical or arithmetical representations of quantity or value.

That this text is apocalyptic does not however change the nature of the text as a letter. It is from beginning to end a letter to the seven churches and intended to have meaning and be useful to them.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Revelation - an outline

I always find it helpful to have an overview of a book of Scripture before diving into the details. The challenge with Revelation is that I don't think you will work one out before you have worked through the text. I suppose at best you can make a starting point and as you go through amend your outline in the light of your new understanding of the text.

Here is my current attempt, this after preaching through the text twice.

1:1-20 - Introduction
              This chapter introduces the whole book, giving us the key theme that this book is a revelation 'of Jesus Christ' v. 1.
2:1-3:22 - The seven letters
               This text, like other New Testament books touches down in a particular time and place, it was in the first instance to these seven churches.
4:1-5:14 - A vision of God's purposes achieved
               These chapters give the assurance to churches under pressure, which is elaborated in the following chapters.
6:1-8:5 - The seven seals
8:6-11:19 - The seven trumpets
12:1-14:20 - Scenes of cosmic conflict over God's purposes
15:1-16:21 - The seven bowls
                  I think the three sets of seven are repeating the same story. The first two sets have an interlude at the end, which reflects chapters 12 to 14. God's purposes will be achieved, not matter what opposition rises against them.
17:1-20:15 - Scenes of judgment and celebration at God's judgment
21:1-22:21 - In the presence of God, the hope of God's people

I know some of these are quite big portions, but we'll break them down as we go through. The main thing here is to note the deliberate parallels in the sets of seven (seals, trumpets and bowls). The text is not recording three successive stages of history or salvation, but the one event, the one salvation of our God. The three fold repetition gives us great assurance that the matter is certain and fixed by our God for his glory.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Revelation - books

If it is true that of the writing of books there is no end, this seems especially true of Revelation.

I'm not going to mention all the books I have, just one or two ...

John Richardson 'Revelation Unwrapped: Revealing the blessing of John's Vision' MPA books, 1996.
This is a superb book, only 82 pages, but each one of them is solid gold. A brief book gives an overview, and with Revelation I think too many people get lost in the details. If you decide to buy only one book on Revelation, buy this one.

Michael Wilcock 'The Message of Revelation' IVP The Bible Speaks Today series, 1975/1989.
Another very good book, longer than Richardson, but now comes with a study guide. Very helpful on the shape and structure of the book.

Philip Edgcumbe Hughes 'The Book of Revelation: A Commentary' IVP 1990.
Hughes offers his own translation of Revelation aiming to make clear what he sees as the meaning of the text, this is very helpful. Hughes seeks to unpack the symbolism of Revelation that we might better see how such a text works.

Eugene H Peterson 'Reversed Thunder' Harper Collins 1988.
This is not a commentary on the text and should not be approached in that way. However, this is a wonderful, rolling meditation on the themes arising from Revelation and may be a good guide as to how we are to respond to this text. I'm a great Peterson fan so this is another highly recommended book.

Stephen S Smalley 'The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of teh Apocalypse' SPCK 2005.
I was amazed to pick this up very cheap in a sale in Dec 2007 and it would be my recommended commentary on the Greek text. The Greek of Revelation is challenging and if you are trying to use the Greek you will need a good text, this one is recommended.

I have Charles in the old ICC series from 1920, 2 volumes and I have two of the three volumes by Aune in the Word Biblical Commentary series. These are helpful on the Greek of the text, but I think loose there focus on the whole by following too many side roads. If you use the Greek books like these will be essential, but you really need something shorter to keep you on track.