Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hi all, It's been a while since I posted.

Currently I am preaching through the book of Revelation.  Here is what we have so far:

The book of Revelation was written by John while on the island of Patmos around the year 95 A.D. He had been banished by Emperor Domitian.
Unique qualities of the book of Revelation include:
                1.            Only book to pronounce blessing for reading, hearing, and keeping its contents.
                2.            More references to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book [400].
                3.            It is the only New Testament book of prophecy.
The book of Revelation starts with these words, “A revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. Christ made it known by sending it through his angel to his servant John” [1:1]. Basically, we have the two-pronged gist of the book. The intention is to “reveal” (exalt) Jesus Christ and to show what will take place on the stage of God’s eternal plan of redemption.
The word translated “revelation” is the word “apocalypse” in the Greek. It means “disclosure: - appearing, coming, lighten, manifestation, be revealed, revelation” [Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary]. However, our concept of apocalypse is that of cataclysm and violent upheaval. When studying the book of Revelation, a tendency is to focus on the turbulence rather than on the Lord.
The book of Revelation depends on theological perspective and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation). Let’s start with theological views. There are three theological ways to view the events of this book based on the key concept of the millennium mentioned in Revelation chapter 20. The theological views surrounding this concept can determine much of our theological conclusions. The three main views of the millennium are premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. The other main concept found in the book of Revelation is the tribulation. Sometimes called “the great tribulation,” it refers to what may be seven years of wrath God will pour out on the earth.
Premillennialism is a view that Christ will come back and set up a literal physical 1000 year reign.  Amillennialism is a view that the 1000 years began with Christ’s resurrection and are a figurative number. The reign is spiritual. Christ could come at any time. Postmillennialism says that Christians will set up God’s kingdom and then Christ will return to claim the throne.
Postmillennialism has a positive view of the trajectory of the history of the world and the church. It believes the earth will get better through the spread of the Gospel. Amillennialism holds to the idea that the millennium is now. Satan is now bound so that he cannot prevent the spread of the Gospel. Premillennialism suggests a negative view of the trajectory of the history of the world and the church.  The Gospel and missions will fail. (“Successful temptation of the devil to lure the church of God away from throwing all her energy to the task of preaching the Gospel to every creature” - unknown). It claims the world is getting worse and the kingdom cannot be established unless Christ destroys the wicked [Salem Kirban].
In the category of premillennialism are five different views.
1.            Dispensationalists believe the Bible is separated into seven dispensations or periods of time     in which God dealt with humanity differently. This view suggests following a strict literal           interpretation of Scripture (one lesson from a dispensation cannot be applied to another              dispensation).
2.            Historical premillennialists believe that the Bible is a historical record of God dealing with           humanity. Lessons can be applied and transferred to different dispensations. Interpretation of      Scripture requires common sense rather than a strict literal reading.
3.            Posts-tribulationists believe the church will go through the “great tribulation.”
4.            Mid-tribulationists believe the church will go through the first half of the tribulation and be       raptured in the middle.
5.            Pre-tribulationists believe that Christ could come at any moment. The church will be raptured before the tribulation.
These positions are often mixed together. Therefore, the post, mid and pre-positions can fit with dispensationalism or historic premillennialism.
There are essentially four hermeneutical views: preterist, idealist, historicist, futurist.
1.            The Preterist view maintains the events and symbols referred only to contemporary events of                 John’s day. This view denies the prophetic element of the book of Revelation.
2.            The Idealist view suggests an allegorical approach to Scripture spiritualizing the symbols of the book of Revelation. It claims no specific historical events or persons are literal.
3.            The Historicist view says the symbolism outlines the course of church history from Pentecost to              the return of Jesus.
4.            The Futurist view claims the first three chapters deal with the apostolic period. The major           portion of the book is future.
Concerning the book of Revelation Wesley wrote, “The revelation was not written without tears; neither without tears will it be understood.” This book requires both intellect and emotion to comprehend. The result should be a more tenacious and fearless witness in a hostile world.

Chapter 1: The Prologue and the Vision of Jesus.
The chapter begins with the use of the “tricolon.” It starts with a blessing,Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” [1:3]. Notice the three-fold blessing. John says there is something special about reading, hearing, and obeying the things found in the book. Some have turned this into a general principle referring to Scripture in general.
John greets the seven churches of Asia mentioned in the book of Revelation with grace and peace. It seems that what follows has little to do with grace and certainly will disturb peaceful thought. John uses the Trinitarian greeting in verses 4 and 5. The Father is described as who is and who was and who is to come.” The Spirit is described as “the seven spirits.” Another way to translate this is “seven-fold Spirit,” an image from Isaiah. Jesus is identified as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth… loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”
John reassures the readers, “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” [verse 7]. A problem the church faces is the delay of Jesus’ return, while maintaining its confidence. The New Testament suggests that the first generation of believers had the confidence that Jesus would return in their lifetime. This declaration is the first prophetic declaration of the book of Revelation.
Verse 8 states, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” This is another statement concerning the divinity of Jesus. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, while Omega is the last. God is saying He is the beginning and the end of all things. The tricolon formula focuses attention on three perspectives of time; “is” refers to the present tense, “was” refers to the past tense, and “is to come” refers to the future tense. This is the second time this formula has been used.
John identifies the circumstances surrounding the writing of this book in verse 9. He describes himself as “suffering and kingdom and patient endurance.” Again notice the threefold repetition. Suffering, kingdom, and endurance are the three essential themes that run throughout the prophecies of the book of Revelation. John also identifies his location as the island of Patmos. The significance here is that John firmly plants circumstances of this revelation to an actual event in an actual place at an actual time.
In verse 10 John identifies the day as “the Lord’s day.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this expression is used. This was the first day of the week. Already within the first century the church had shifted its worship from the Sabbath day (in Genesis this was the day of rest) to Sunday (in Genesis this was the day light was created; in the Gospels this was the day Jesus was resurrected and typically met with His people).
John identifies the fact that he was “in the Spirit.” This is what we would call a “trance.” One unique idea from this book of prophecy is that this is a single prophecy. This vision was not given on multiple occasions but on one single occasion. All the parts depend on one another. In the book of Revelation there will often be a picture of what is happening on earth contrasted with the reality of the view in heaven.
Verses 12 to 20 describe Jesus appearance. First John hears then he sees; often this is the pathway of faith. We hear God speak then we see (believe). The first thing John sees is the seven lampstands referring to seven churches of the book of Revelation in Asia [verse 12].
In verse 13 Jesus stands in the middle of these seven lampstands. This is a nod to the Old Testament temple of the golden candelabras in the Holy Place. Jesus appears as “Son of Man” or in other words human. Jesus is wearing a long robe and a golden sash. The long robe is reminiscent of the robe the high priest in the Old Testament wore, while the sash was typically worn by royalty symbolizing their position of leisure.
In verse 14 John describes Jesus the same way as Daniel described “the Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:9. Once again is another clear connection to the divinity of Jesus. Wool is commonly the image for eternity, while snow conveys purity. The eyes like flaming fire give the feeling of being able to look and see anything at any time anywhere. Basically, this is an image of Jesus’ omniscience.
Verse 15 has the image of Jesus with feet as bronze heated in the fire. This image comes from the Old Testament altar in the temple. It is an image of someone who is been tested in the fire. Bronze was also the typical footwear for Roman soldiers. His voice was like the sound of rushing water. Patmos was devoid of water, yet running water is one of the more comforting sounds.
In verse 16 Jesus holds seven stars, probably symbolizing the angels (messenger, pastor) of the seven churches. Out of his mouth is a double-edged sword. The Greek emphasizes that this sword is sharp. In Hebrews 4:12 the image of the Roman double-edged sword is the Word of God. This image appears in Ephesians 6:17 as the Word of God (Scripture). Jesus’ face shows like the sun in all its brilliance.
When John saw this image, even though he was in Jesus’ inner circle, he fell down at his feet “like a dead man.” We do not know if this was terror or a natural reaction to the glorified appearance of Jesus. Jesus’ response in verse 17 is to say “fear not.” Possibly this expression is to calm John and the readers of Revelation and to remind of God’s grace in our life and the confidence we can have in that grace.
Jesus then describes Himself, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” [verses 17c – 18]. Again we are reminded of Jesus’ position as being the first and last and that Jesus died on the cross and is now resurrected and living. Jesus holds the keys to both death and Hades. Hades was the Greek concept of the afterlife. The Jewish concept of the afterlife was symbolized in the word Sheol. The American concept is often translated as the grave. The translators of the King James Version used the word hell. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the understanding of the word hell and tend to mislead ourselves with its use. Basically Jesus is saying is that He has scored an indisputable victory over death and controls both the thing that we fear as death and what happens to us after we die. This fits the theme of “fear not!”
Verse 19 repeats of the three-fold image of time. Jesus commands John to write for the second time. In verse 20 the mysteries of the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands are explained. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. The word angel can be translated as a messenger or a spiritual being. It is highly unlikely Jesus is referring to a spiritual being. Probably Jesus is referring to the human individual responsible for the church (Wesley).
Chapters 2-3 The 7 churches of Asia.
Views about the seven churches include that these are seven historical churches, symbols of “ages” the church went through or is going to go through, types of churches common at any point in time, anywhere, types of individual people, or combinations of the above.

1.            Ephesus [2:1 – 7]
                Overview: population around 250,000, Temple to the Sebastoi (family of Vespasian, Titus, and                                   Dopmitian), temple of Artemis (seven wonders)… pictured as a palm tree on coins. Pliny called it "the light of Asia." It's name means "desire." It was known for it's mild climate and magical arts. The temple of Diana/Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This temple was considered the "wealthiest and most secure bank" in the ancient world.  Paul spent three years there. John (and Mary) lived here.  Timothy and Onesimus are thought to have been it's Bishop's.
                REVELATION: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks                                               among the seven golden lampstands.”
                Strengths: good deeds, hard work, perseverance, does not tolerate wicked people, test false                                   apostles, endured hardship (for Jesus), not weary, and hate the Nicolaitans.
                Weakness: forsaken first love.
                Threat: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
                Remedy: remember, repent, and do what you first did.
                Promise: “overcomer” the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in paradise.
(Pentecost to 120 A.D. à Apostolic period).

2.            Smyrna [2:8 – 11]
                Overview: modern Izmir, north of Ephesus, first city to perform emperor worship, temple to                                     Tiberias, temples to Zeus and Cybele, tree lined streets produced resin for myrrh, image                              of a crown used to honor the dead. The Greek poet Homer was born and wrote here.
                REVELATION: “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to                                   life again.”
                Strength: rich despite afflictions and poverty.
                Weakness: NONE!
                Encouragement: don’t be afraid, be faithful.
                Promise: “crown of life” – no harm by the second death.
(120 – 325 à “Ante-Nicene” a.k.a. “the Apologists”).

3.            Pergamum [2:12 – 17]
                Overview: modern Bergama, known parchment, administrative center for the Roman Empire,                                  temples to Emperor Augustus, Athena, and forty-foot altar to Zeus, healing cult of                                   Asclepisus (snake as symbol).
                REVELATION: “These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.”
                Strength: true to Jesus despite the fact this is where Satan has his throne.
                Weaknesses: some hold to the teaching of Balaam, eating meat sacrificed to idols, hold to the                                   teaching of the Nicolaitans.
                Threat: “I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
                Remedy: repent.
                Promise: hidden manna, new name.
(325 – 476 à Council of Nicaea, canon set, Papacy began, Christianity becomes official religion).

4.            Thyatira [2:18 – 29]
                Overview: modern Akhisar, crossroads of trade, known for trade guilds (pagan rituals),                         combined local and emperor worship, known for its purple. Home of Lydia (Paul's first convert in Europe, Philippi).  It's streams were full of leaches. Principle deity was Apollo (Roman Zeus).
                REVELATION: “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and                                           whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
                Strengths: love, faith, service, perseverance, doing more than at first.
                Weakness: tolerate a false teacher (Jezebel)), sexual immorality, food sacrificed to idols.
                Threat: “I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her                              suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead. Then all                                   the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay                                              each of you according to your deeds.”
                Remedy: don’t hold to false teachings, don’t explore “Satan’s so called deep secrets,” and hold                                                on to what you have.
                Promise: authority.
(476 – 1500 à the “Dark Ages,” head of John the Baptist found, veneration of icons, places, and people, Rome and Orthodox church split, crusades, Islam controls Spain, North Africa through India, large sections of Eastern Europe, Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe.)

5.            Sardis [3:1 – 6]
                Overview: modern Sart, ancient capital of the region, gold (King Croesus/Midas), 17 A.D major                                  earthquake. Once the ancient kingdom of Lydia (ruled most of Asia Minor).  It sits on           a plain at the foot of Mt. Tmolus.  Excavated by Harvard and Cornell in 1958 (currently University of Wisconsin). Had the largest Jewish synagogue in the Diaspora. Temple of Artemis/Diana was the seventh largest temple.  It's temples covered twice the area of the Parthenon. Pliney claims the art of dying wood was invented in Sardis. Pagan goddess Cybele (Mother Earth, Mother of gods) was here.  Male followers would castrate themselves and wear women's clothing.  There was a Christian basilica dedicated the "the Mother of God."
                REVELATION: “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven                                        stars.”
                Strength: NONE!
                Weakness: reputation for being alive but “you are dead.”
                Threat: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I                                                 will come to you.”
                Remedy: wake up, complete your deeds, remember (received, heard), obey, repent.
                Promise: dressed in white.
(1500 – 1700 à the Reformation, Erasmus, Puritan movement, Bible translated in to “common tongue,” East = “post imperial era” dominated by Islam)

6.            Philadelphia [3:7 – 13]
                Overview: modern Alasehir, poor city, devastated in 17 A.D. by an earthquake, most citizens                                      lived in the ruins. It was in a wine growing district.  Coins featured Bacchus. Called the "city of brotherly love." Now called Allah Shehr ("city of God"). It was built on five hills. Possibly Demetrius was appointed Bishop (by John). Ignatius wrote a letter to it.
                REVELATION: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.                                       What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
                Strengths: Jesus has provided an open door that nobody can shut, little strength but kept “my                                 word” and “not denied my name,” endured patiently.
                Weakness: NONE!
                Encouragement: hold on to what you have.
                Promise: pillar.
(1700 – 1900 à “The Great Awakenings,” Wesley, John Newton, Count Zinzendorf, William Carey, the missionary movement, D.L. Moody)

7.            Laodicea [3:14 – 22]
                Overview: known for its water system (pipes inserted into stone), water was from the hot                                         springs in Hierapolis six miles away. Name meant "justice of the people." It was also a common name for women in the area.  It was a banking center and manufacturing center with an extensive wood trade, wool carpets, and clothing. Cicero distinguished it for its science, art, and literature.  It was known for it's medical school.  Like Rome was build on seven hills.  First city to be called a "metropolis."  Eventually abandoned due to frequent earthquakes.  Theater measured 450 feet in diameter.
                REVELATION: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s                              creation.”
                Strength: NONE!
                Weaknesses: deeds are not hot or cold, rich in your own thought but really wrenched, pitiful,                                    poor, blind, and naked.
                Reality: (no threat necessary) “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my                                      voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
                Remedy: find wealth in Jesus, accept rebuke and discipline, be earnest, repent [3:20].
                Promise: the right to sit on the throne with Jesus!
(1900 -- ?? à self-focused indulgence and prosperity, “liberal” theology [no supernatural element in the Bible, personal relationship with God], Scopes Monkey Trial, C.S Lewis, Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, Karl Barth, The twentieth century had more Christian martyrs than all the other centuries combined).

Revelation 4:  Rapture Positions

Note:  Throughout section, all bold face in Scripture is mine for emphasis.

 Revelation 4:1 begins; “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

The expression, “after this” occurs six times in Revelation (4:1, 7:1, 7:9, 15:5, 18:1, 19:1).  This is a formula that allows the reader to understand that the events of the book are sequential.  Many prophecies are difficult to place, because there are no clues to the sequence of the events.  The formula also allows the reader to understand each section as distinct and connected.  These are natural section breaks but allow us to see them as a whole and how they relate to each other.

Revelation 4:1 continues“…and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.”  Notice that heaven is open… not shut.  God seems to always be issuing an open invitation to “whosoever will” (KJV). The feel of the book is the “wrath” is mixed with opportunity to repent. 

Revelation 4:1’s statement, “Come up here…” is a possible reference to the “rapture.” Rapture is a theological expression to describe an event.  The actual word is not used in Scripture. One picture of the rapture comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

There are three main positions about WHEN the rapture will occur.  The first is the PRE-tribulation rapture.”  One of the ideas behind this stand is that the “tribulation” is a time of God pouring out His wrath on humanity.  Revelation 6:17 states, “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” The idea here is Christians will not suffer wrath.  This position refers to 1 Thessalonians 5:9: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Another idea behind the Pre-tribulation rapture position is the identity of the “restrainer” found in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” The main arguments have to do with the church and the Holy Spirit.  The thought is that if the individual that restrains (holds back) is the church, then the rapture will occur before the tribulation.  The problem is understanding the church as a singular person. If the restrainer is the Holy Spirit, it makes sense to think that if the Holy Spirit is in the believer, then the believer is taken as well.  The problem here is the restrainer is “taken out of the way,” not out of the world.

Another key thought in the Pre-tribulation rapture position is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:1 – 3. “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” Here the idea is the tribulation is not obvious, and we cannot date Jesus’ return.  The problem is it may be arrogant to think we KNOW times and dates and can accurately identify the events in the book of Revelation. However, we are told about these events.

The second position about WHEN the rapture will occur is the “MID-tribulation rapture.”  The first idea comes from the trumpet call.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16 states, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” The main idea is the connection between the trumpet in Revelation and the timing of the first trumpet blowing half way through the tribulation.

A second supporting idea behind the Mid-tribulation rapture comes from Matthew 24:22 which states, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” The thought runs this way: Jerusalem was destroyed by Romans in 70 A.D. and two-thirds of the Jewish population died.  This destruction was prophesied and has occurred twice already.  Some have suggested this will occur at least once more during the tribulation. The “elect” generally describes “the church.”

The Mid-tribulation rapture position may also be supported by 1 Corinthians 15:51 – 52, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” The reference is to the seventh trumpet, specifically.

The last position is the POST-tribulation rapture.  Starting with Revelation 6:9-11 we read, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. The line of reasoning is as follows: “Fellow servants” to be slain because of Jesus during the tribulation are Christians. The blood shed will continue through the tribulation. Therefore, Christians will be here throughout the tribulation.

The Post-tribulation rapture also suggests that if the Holy Spirit were removed then the possibility of salvation would be lost. John 16:8 states, “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Since the possibility of salvation is offered/open during the tribulation, then the Holy Spirit (or His body) cannot have been removed from the world.

Another argument for the Post-tribulation rapture comes from Revelation 13:7, “It (the beast out of the sea) was given power to wage war against God’s holy people (“saints”) and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” “Saints” is generally a term referring to the church.  This reference comes up again in Revelation 17:6, “I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people (saints), the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” This is seen as another reference to the church… late in the tribulation.

When will rapture happen?  Answer: it is uncertain.  Peter put it this way in 2 Peter 3:10-12, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief… Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming [as you wait eagerly for the day of God to come].”

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