Friday, August 31, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #1 (Chapters 1-3)

Revelation WrightThis read-through of Revelation will conclude (probably in 4-5 parts) this year’s devotional read through of the General Epistles of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. The book of Revelation is a single (it is not "Revelations") revelation of the resurrected Jesus Christ in glory at the right hand of the Father. The point is that Jesus will defeat Satan and all the world's evil systems and bring in His promised kingdom. Therefore, unbelievers should take warning that God's judgment is coming and seek redemption. Believers should take encouragement in coming victory and justice and prepare for God's kingdom by godly living now. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The opening of the book prepares for the revelation of Jesus by explaining what the book is. It is a letter to the churches revealing Jesus in his glory. It opens up the heavens to the reader and connects Jesus who rules to those on earth and assures them of his upcoming victory. It provides a witness to God's people that their trials and persecutions are worth it because their oppressors will be judged, they will be vindicated and glorified as Jesus was in his resurrection. The big point is that this book is a revelation of the glorified Jesus. The rest of chapter recounts John's vision of the resurrected, ascended Jesus. The elements of this vision will keep showing up as we proceed through the book. The big point is that Jesus is the Son of Man of Daniel 7.13-14 who has the right to rule and judge. In the present, the churches (lampstands) bear the light of Christ and are held safely in his hands as they undergo persecution. Jesus shines with the glory of God and, through him, the church reflects that glory.

Revelation’ – the idea, and this book – are based on the ancient Jewish belief that God’s sphere of being and operation (‘heaven’) and our sphere (‘earth’) are not after all separated by a great gulf. They meet and merge and meld into one another in all kinds of ways...The early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth had become, in person, the place where heaven and earth met. Looking at him, and contemplating his death and resurrection in particular, they believed they could see right into God’s own world. They could then understand things about his purpose which nobody had imagined before. 3, Revelation 1.1-8

We are being asked to imagine: what would it look like if the curtain between heaven and earth were suddenly pulled up, revealing the Jesus who had been there all along but whom we had managed either to ignore or to cut down to our own size? This is the answer: a Jesus who is mind-blowing, dramatically powerful but also gentle and caring; a Jesus in and through whom we see his father, God the creator; a Jesus who has spoken, and still speaks, words which explain what is going on in the present, and warn of what will happen in the future. 9, Revelation 1.9-20

Chapters 2-3 contain the letters to the 7 churches. These churches represent all churches (the number seven) throughout the present age and emphasize their connection to the vision of Christ from chapter 1. They contain commendations, criticism, warnings, exhortations and promises. Ephesus represents churches with orthodoxy but who have lost their radical commitment to God and one another. They need to repent so that they can experience real life and maintain their place in the community. Smyrna represents the persecuted church. They are encouraged that persecution is temporary and, even if they die, they will not truly die because they will receive the crown of eternal life. Pergamum represents the steadfast church, but they are being tempted to compromise. They are urged to quit compromising with immorality, idolatry and heresy and they will experience real intimacy with Christ. Chapter 2 closes with the letter to Thyatira, the overly tolerant church. They are urged to resist compromise and hold on to the truth and commitment. Then they will avoid judgment and receive authority to rule with Christ.

Love’, in the early Christian sense, is something you do, giving hospitality and practical help to those in need, particularly to other Christians who are poor, sick or hungry. That was the chief mark of the early church. No other non-ethnic group had ever behaved like this. 13, Revelation 2.1-7

Do not be afraid to face the first death. Some of you will have to do that. To ‘conquer’ – to face that martyrdom in faithful patience – will mean that you will have nothing to fear from the ‘second death’. Be content to go with Jesus through the first death. He was dead, and came to life; and so will you. 18-19, Revelation 2.8-11

Jesus is promising to each faithful disciple, to each one who ‘conquers’, an intimate relationship with himself in which Jesus will use the secret name which, as with lovers, remains private to those involved. The challenge to avoid the false intimacy of sexual promiscuity is matched by the offer of a genuine intimacy of spiritual union with Jesus himself. 23, Revelation 2.12-17

Christian witness is meant to be a sign of the dawning of the day, the day in which love, faith, service and patience will have their fulfilment, in which idolatry and immorality will be seen as the snares and delusions they really are, and in which Jesus the Messiah will establish his glorious reign over the whole world. 28, Revelation 2.18-29

Chapter 3 continues the letters to the churches with letters directed to Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Sardis represents a church that is dead - has lost its viability. They are urged to "Wake Up," repent of complacency, remember God's Word and obey it or sudden unexpected judgment will come on them like the coming of a thief. Then they will have fellowship with Jesus and experience their eternal life. Philadelphia represents the persecuted church who is protected by Christ. They are encouraged to stay faithful because Christ is coming soon and they have an open door of service. In the end, even their persecutors will acknowledge that they are right. Finally Jesus addresses Laodicea, the hypocritical church. Jesus is faithful despite the fact that their hypocrisy, indifference and complacency had made them useless to Christ. They need to recognize their dependence on God for spiritual wealth, insight and righteousness and repent. If they do, Christ will come into their lives for fellowship and relationship and they will share in His victory and rule with Him. 

It’s a warning against presuming that belonging to the community of the people of God, irrespective of behaviour within it, is all that is required. To those who wake up, who stay unpolluted, and who conquer, Jesus finally reiterates another promise well known from the gospel tradition. He will ‘acknowledge their names’ before the father and his angels. To be acknowledged by Jesus himself will be amazing. To have him acknowledge us before his father will be the moment of all moments. Let’s wake up before it’s too late. 31-32, Revelation 3.1-6

(The Philadelphia Christians) are the ones, too, who carry the new name – now, the triple name of God, of the heavenly Jerusalem, and of Jesus himself, bearing his ‘new name’ of King and Lord. They are to be marked out publicly as God’s people, as Jesus’ people, as citizens of the city where heaven and earth will be joined for ever. No earthquakes there. Security, vindication, and the ultimate reward for patience. 35, Revelation 3.7-13

Jesus is a faithful friend, even if we are not – that he will tell them sharply and truly when they are in the wrong. Because he is not only a friend but their Lord, he will also punish them, not to devastate them but to bring them to their senses...As well as local colour, the letter to Laodicea carries the most striking descriptions of Jesus himself, and the most powerful promise. Strange, perhaps, that the one church that was in real trouble drew from the Lord the most intimate and loving promise. 39, Revelation 3.14-22

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