Monday, August 31, 2015

The Final Act

Sunday we had our final lesson on Revelation, looking at chapter 21 and the new heaven and earth ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

In a few years from now, in an amusement park not so far away, there's going to be the most awesome addition ever.

Yes, Disney has announced that both Disneyland and Disney World are going to open "Star Wars Land," 14 acres of Tattooine, the Death Star, Jawas, droids, and hopefully a "dunk Jar-Jar" water booth.

The Disney CEO promises a "jawdropping new world."

(In case you need a reminder, we're only about 110 days from the new "Star Wars" movie.)

Needless to say, my level of expectation is high.

How does this connect with our study of Revelation?

Because as awesome as the new "Star Wars" movie can be, or the new park, it can’t begin to compare to what God is preparing for His people. There's a lot to look forward to with a new heaven and a new earth God will make for us.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Revelation 21:1–22:21

*** This is our final session in Revelation. During our study we've seen glimpses of God's throne room (ch. 4), the Lamb who is worthy (ch. 5), redemption for believers (ch. 9) and last week we saw that Jesus defeats Satan (ch. 12).

*** In chapter 20, Satan and his minions were tossed into the lake of fire, the wicked were judged and all that's left are the believers and the heavenly host.

*** After a history of battles, of struggles, of setbacks, all the judgment, in the end there will be a glorious happy ending. Now that sin and death have been destroyed, all that’s left is eternal life.

*** This week we'll see the New Jerusalem with a new heaven and a new earth.

GOD’S NEW PROVISION (Rev. 21:1-2)

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

*** Our Big Fat Heavenly Wedding.

--- Verse 2 says that the New Jerusalem will be prepared "like a bride adorned for her husband."

Think of the images that suggests. The beauty of a wedding. Everyone dressed up. The bride spending hours getting ready to be the center of attention. The groom's eyes filled with joy as she walks down the aisle.

Think about all the times you've been in attendance for this moment (and at our ages, there have probably been at least a dozen apiece!): Why do you think people are so captivated at weddings when the bride makes her entrance?

--- It’s a common New Testament idea. In other passages, a bride has symbolized the redeemed people of God. For example, the apostle Paul compared a husband and wife to Christ and the church (see Eph. 5:25).

--- If your wife is like my Darling Valerie, you wish you could re-do your wedding day at least once a year. A human bride is most splendid on her wedding day; after that she puts away her wedding dress. For this heavenly bride, the radiance will never fade.

*** Out with the old, in with the new.

--- The opening verse of the Bible says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), and it was declared "very good" (Gen. 1:31). But now that world is deeply flawed, so near the end of Revelation, there's going to be a new heaven and a new earth that is perfect.

--- There's debate about whether the entire universe will be an entirely new creation, or just a transformation of the existing elements.

Isaiah 65:17–25 and 1 Corinthians 15:35-57 also talk about how the old world is changed so much that everything is like a new creation.

--- "The sea no longer existed."

(Sorry, ladies, no beaches in heaven? Maybe large lakes with sandy beaches?)

This could reflect an ancient idea that the sea symbolized a source of evil, such as when the beast rises from the sea in Revelation 13:1. The oceans were seen as a source of chaos and sin (see Isaiah 57:20 – “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.”).

In Revelation 22:5, and perhaps with similar meaning, we learn that in the new creation “night will no longer exist.” Night, like the sea, could be seen as a source of evil. See 1 Thess. 5:5-7.

--- The New Jerusalem is like an even better Garden of Eden.

GOD’S PRESENCE CELEBRATED (Rev. 21:3-4)

3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.

*** Reasons to celebrate.

--- A voice proclaims from the heavenly throne room the good news.

*** God will dwell with His people.

--- Just as God walked among Adam and Eve before the fall, we will be among Him.

--- In the Old Testament God’s presence was made known through the sacred tent in the wilderness, then the Ark of the Covenant, and finally in the temple.

--- In the New Testament, John proclaimed that “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Jesus was fully human among us and fully divine.

--- Celebrate having fellowship with The One for all time!

*** A new you.

--- This is a new way of being human, free of things like sorrow and pain.

In this new form, even Captain Kirk in “Star Trek 5” will be proven wrong when he said that “You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”

--- Recall what is written in Isaiah 65:17 – “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”

*** Question - What pain or circumstance that will no longer exist in New Jerusalem do you think people look forward to the most?

THE PROMISE FULFILLED (Rev. 21:5-7)

5 Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. 7 The victor will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son.

*** God speaks.

--- This time it's the One seated on the throne, the Big Kahuna Himself, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who guarantees that what John has seen will come true.

--- God made good on every prophecy. Our Creator promised that the redeemed would live for eternity in a new creation (Isaiah 65:17-19). Jesus told His disciples, “I am going away to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Now here it is.

--- Just as Paul wrote that for those who are come to Christ, the old is gone and the new creation is come (2 Cor. 5:17), we will literally be free from the old creation.

*** Water, water everywhere.

--- The "living water" is all over the Bible as an example of salvation. Being thirsty means you need Christ; drinking means you trust what He provides.

--- Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that "whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14)

--- Then in John 7:37-38, Jesus issued His great invitation in these terms: “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”

--- In Isaiah 55:1, God invited people to salvation with these words: “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters.”

--- Those who admit their need and put their faith in Jesus will receive eternal life.

*** Victory is ours!

--- There are two final destinies for every person who has ever lived. The destiny of those without a saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ ends in the lake of fire. Those who are saved win the final victory and eternal life in the New Jerusalem.

--- Recall our study of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the letters from Jesus to the churches. He promised that those who heeded the warnings, obeyed and stayed loyal to Him would win the victory.

--- Paul wrote of his own race being won, the victory in sight: 2 Timothy 4:7-8 - "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

*** Question – What race are you running that you can’t wait to end?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

What changes would you make to your home if you could rebuild it from the ground up?

What makes a house feel so much better if it's been fixed up, rearranged or just cleaned?

We love new things, don't we? We love nice things, beautiful things. The new earth will be full of new things!

(Even better, we'll have new, resurrected bodies!)

*** John saw four images in 21:1-7: a bride adorned for her husband; tears being wiped from people’s eyes; the thirsty receiving the gift of living water; and God adopting believers as His children.

--- Each image carries an appealing emotion that gives us hope for a future in heaven.

*** Celebrate! The New Jerusalem will be a place without grief. It will be a place of eternal fellowship with God!

--- Even better, there's room for everyone who believes!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Precious Penny

We rag on how out of control Penny is, but really, can you ever truly be frustrated at a little girl who is so cute?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cooper's first day of Kindergarten

It finally came. My boy's first day of school.

We were told to drop him off at 9:30 instead of 9 in order to avoid the other kids and the traffic. Of course, when we pulled up at 9:20 we saw kids streaming out of the school. We ended up standing in front of the school by the staff for ten minutes for what we thought was a weirdly timed fire drill, but it wasn't on purpose. One of the alarms went off somehow. So the fire truck came, cleared the scene, and we went in.

We dropped Cooper off, took our pictures, shook our heads at Penny running around the hallways and classroom, and said goodbye.

Val was feeling awful during all of this, I should note. She was been sick for two weeks with a sinus cold, and that morning was among the worst she's felt. So after dropping Cooper off, we dropped off Val at the doctor. She got an antibiotic shot.

Penny didn't seem to mind Cooper being gone all day. She got to sit in my lap and watch Octonauts, then go to Toys r Us where she got a new Octonauts figure, so she was happy.

I picked up Cooper in the lengthy car line at 4. I got there at 3:40 and was only about the 50th car in line. Within five minutes there were another 50 behind me, stretched far into the neighborhood where the school is. (It's in a subdivision, not on a main road.) But at 3:55 the kids started getting dismissed, so within five minutes I was picking him up. We all have assigned numbers for our cars and someone came to write down what order we were in, so by the time I got there the kids were already spaced out perfectly where we would pull up, and Cooper hopped in.

He told me how much fun he had and how much stuff he got to do. His favorite part was the computer lab. He's been looking forward to that, I think, since the Disney cruise last fall when the Oceaneers Club had a computer lab for him to play games.

Cooper has 19 kids in his class, and yesterday he was with three other boys. Interestingly, two of the boys in his class are named Knox.

Other than that he told me that they went out to the playground, did crafts, and he enjoyed going to the cafeteria to eat lunch. We figured we'd pack his lunch, but apparently he wants us to get one of the prepaid cards the school offers so he can buy his own drink and treats, so I guess we'll be doing that as well.

His teacher is Mrs. Baker (I keep calling her that. I can't make myself call her Jill. I figure if Cooper calls her that I might as well be consistent.) She's nice, and Val says she's pretty laid back, or at least she was last night during the parent-teacher meeting to go over the curriculum. Val sat in for that while I played with the kids in the hallways and playgrounds.

Jesus Defeats Satan

When you're reading a story, or watching a movie or a play, how important is it to you that a story have a happy ending?

Personally, mine need to end happily. Movies or shows that don't have happy endings, "The Break-Up," I never want to see again. I want my movies to have a happy-go-lucky ending. You know, like "Mannequin."

As we continue our study of Revelation, we can assume that John knew about the popular theater of his time. During his exile God showed him a vision of the best happy ending of all time!

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Revelation 10:1–20:15

*** Previously we studied God on his throne (ch. 4), Jesus opening the seals (ch. 5) and the locusts (ch. 9) as part of the judgments of seals and trumpets.

*** Today we'll study the ongoing spiritual conflict between good and evil. Revelation chapters 10 through 20 detail a monumental struggle between the Holy Trinity and Satan and his minions (who aren’t nearly as adorable as the ones in the movie).

*** The events of Revelation 12 are presented as a kind of drama in the skies—a cosmic drama.

--- The main point of this dramatic chapter in Revelation is the portrayal of the conquest of evil, and how we as saints are participants.

SATAN DEFEATED (Rev. 12:1-9)

1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in labor and agony as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: There was a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and 10 horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 His tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. And the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she did give birth he might devour her child. 5 But she gave birth to a Son—a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter—and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days. 7 Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels also fought, 8 but he could not prevail, and there was no place for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him.

*** The war of the ages.

--- Ever since Lucifer became the devil, the enemy of God, there has been a constant battle throughout the universe. (This is the real “Star Wars.”)

--- The conflict won’t end until Jesus Christ once and for all defeats Satan and casts him and his demons in to the pit.

--- The climax of the whole thing is during the Great Tribulation, as we see here in Revelation. God began His judgments on the world, and Satan brings everything hell’s got.

*** The woman giving birth.

--- The pregnant woman is a symbol of Israel, the Promised Land, the area specifically chosen by God to represent his Kingdom on earth.

--- The interesting connection of the woman to the sun, the moon and the crown of stars is that it has roots in Genesis chapter 37. Joseph has a dream in which he says "the sun and the moon and the eleven stars were bowing down to me." That was one of the things that made Joseph's brothers so jealous. So what happened? After he ended up in Egypt and the sun (Jacob), the moon (Rachel) and Joseph's 11 brothers eventually bowed to his authority. Joseph, of course, would be the 12th star, all of which refer to the 12 tribes of Israel.

--- She brings forth the Messiah and other offspring, described as Christians later in verse 17.

--- The woman cries out in agony giving birth. Israel agonized and suffered for centuries, waiting for the One who would set up a kingdom for His people. Satan has done everything to weaken and destroy God's chosen people.

*** The red dragon.

--- This image depicts Satan in his power and evil as he constantly opposes the plans of God. (Dragons in "Game of Thrones:" Cool. Dragon in Revelation: Not cool.)

--- When Satan fell he dragged a third of the angels into the war with him, and in the Garden of Eden he brought humanity into the war as well.

--- Satan has been repeatedly defeated in the great acts of God’s saving power (Gen. 3:1, 15; Ps. 74:13-14; Is. 27:1; Is. 51:9-10; Ezek. 29:3; Luke 10:18; Luke 11:14–23; John 12:31; Col. 2:15).

When Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt when Herod tried to kill the newborn Savior (see Matt. 2:13-15). When Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan continuously tried to tempt Him into sin (see Matt. 4:1-11).

*** The child.

--- Verses 5 and 6 describes Jesus as the One "who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter."

--- The King of Kings and Lord of lords, victorious over every wicked effort against Him.

--- Just as God provided and protected Jesus even through death, "the woman," a.k.a. His followers, will be protected.

*** Michael and the angels toss Satan and his demons out.

--- This is a serious fight, melee, fracas, brouhaha. It could be one of three things: (1) a heavenly battle of holy spirit-beings versus evil spirit-beings (led by Lucifer—that is, Satan), which occurred prior to events in the garden of Eden; (2) some as-yet-future battle; and (3) a representation of the ongoing warfare of godly forces against evil forces.

--- No matter what, evil would not prevail. Evil can cause chaos and destruction, but in the end it's a giant FAIL.

--- We are called to fight. Ephesians 6:11-12 - "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Question - How do these scenes help you understand the nature of spiritual warfare, as compared with how Paul described it in Ephesians 6:11-12?

THE LAMB PRAISED (Rev. 12:10-12)

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death. 12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time.

*** Victory in the blood of Jesus.

--- Satan appears intimidating and offers power to humanity, the heavenly host triumphs.

--- Satan has spent time after time accusing believers (see Job 1:9-11), but no longer, he has been thrown out.

--- We conquer not through our own means, but our testimony. In the face of pressure to turn away, true saints stick with it and show their faith is the real deal. Loyalty to Christ overcomes the Devil and brings reward.

Peter writes in 2 Peter 2:20b – “When you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”

*** Question - Does knowing about Satan’s ultimate defeat give you confidence each day in living for Christ?

THE DRAGON REGROUPS (Rev. 12:13-17)

13 When the dragon saw that he had been thrown to earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent’s presence to her place in the wilderness, where she was fed for a time, times, and half a time. 15 From his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river flowing after the woman, to sweep her away in a torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth. 17 So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus.

*** The Devil went down to Georgia.

--- He was looking for a soul to steal, alright, and while the heavens rejoice, woe to the earth as Satan spends his last fury on the people of Christ through persecution.

--- There is protection, however, after a period of intense testing.

--- Christ has promised to preserve His church (see Matt. 16:18). Despite this, the Devil has tried his best to destroy the church throughout time. But he has failed.

*** Question - Think about ways Satan is attacking today. What do we need to remember about God when our testimony of Jesus is met with hostility?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Even now, around the country there were celebrations, including sailors kissing women in Times Square like the famous photo from V-J Day in 1945.

It was a celebration as the war ended, after tens of millions were killed in just six years of world war.

Today we talked about the ultimate war of the ages. It started at the beginning of time and it will last until Satan is destroyed for good.

Imagine if there was a newspaper headline that says "WAR ENDS" or "SATAN DEFEATED" for the end of the war of the ages. Think of how it would make you feel.

There will be cause for celebration one day, starting today, because we know that the events of Revelation will happen!

*** Remember that we’re called to focus on God and His eternal plan.

*** Have confidence in living for Christ as a winner!

*** Think of someone who needs to hear this message, and share it with them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Redeeming Judgment

My Sunday School lesson for August 16, 2015 …

A few weeks ago in Sabula, Iowa, a bridge over the Mississippi River had to be cleared with a snow plow.

No, it wasn’t snowing in July.

The bridge was impassable because there were too m any bugs. Specifically a swarm of mayflies had taken over.

They were piled so high that any vehicle trying to cross slipped, and you couldn’t even see out the windshield because of the swarm. The Iowa DOT cleared the bridge with snow plows and sprinkled sand for traction.

It's like something out of a horror movie.

Or Revelation chapter 9 as we’ll read today. During today’s study we’re going to look at part of God’s judgment on the world, especially through big nasty demon bugs.

During today's study we're going to look at God's judgment, some of which comes through natural disasters, especially including a lot of big nasty demon bugs.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Seven seals, then seven trumpets.

--- Revelation chapters 6 through 9 have been so thoroughly picked over by Bible scholars that there is no definite way of knowing what it all means:

The "preterist" view holds that John was describing events of his own time. In this view, the locust plague of Revelation 9 may have referred to an invasion of Parthians from the east, the scourge of the Romans. Parthian warriors were said to have shot poison-tipped arrows and to have worn long flowing locks (see 9:8,10).

The “futurist” view holds that John was describing future events to be fulfilled only during the end time surrounding the glorious return of Jesus Christ. In this view, the locusts are thought of as satanically motivated (demonic) forces that have yet to arise against forces of good and God.

Yet another view—the “historicist” view—interprets these chapters as a forecast of centuries of Christian history, from John’s time until the final consummation, during which God’s people will continually struggle with hostile opposition, although not without the divine promise of ultimate victory.

Finally, some Bible students hold the “idealist” view. This view seeks to avoid looking for single, specific historical events as fulfillment of this part of Revelation. Rather, the imagery is to be understood as symbolic portrayals of the ongoing conflict of God (and His kingdom of righteousness) versus Satan (and his powers of evil). Again, Bible students agree to disagree!

*** The focus should be on what every scholar can agree, that God’s righteous judgment will ultimately be used for redemption of followers of Jesus Christ.

*** The chapter uses images that evoke a sense of dread, panic and destruction.

LOCUSTS UNLEASHED (Rev. 9:1-3)

1 The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2 He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then locusts came out of the smoke on to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth.

*** The trumpet sounds.

--- Once the seven seals were opened, starting in chapter 8 the seven angels began blowing trumpets to unleash plagues with images that evoke a sense of dread, panic and destruction:

(1) Vegetation was destroyed (8:7);
(2) Sea creatures were destroyed (8:8-9);
(3) Pollution of fresh water (8:10-11);
(4) Celestial bodies were darkened (8:12).

--- None of these affected people directly. But the fifth trumpet was different. It was about to unleash hell on earth, so to speak.

*** The star from heaven.

--- Is this an angel, or is it Satan? Isaiah chapter 14 refers to Satan as "star of the morning." Luke 10:18, Jesus says, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning."

--- Either way, someone is given the “key” to open the pits of hell.

--- Even in John’s day people understood God and heaven to be “up there” and hell to be “down there.”

*** The locusts emerge.

--- Think about in "Ghostbusters," when Walter Peck shuts down the reactor and the ghosts burst out of the firehouse. The sky was full of them and they unleashed terror on New York City. That, of course, is just a movie.

--- Like the plague of locusts in Egypt in Exodus 10, only worse, locusts will devour everything in their path. The prophet Joel observed locusts invading Judah. The swarm was so big that it blotted out the sun. God showed Joel that the plague was a harbinger of His wrath that was coming on the Day of the Lord (see Joel 1:2-15).

--- During a locust plague people are not generally attacked. These locusts, however, were given scorpion-like power. Scorpions have venemous stinging tails that can seriously hurt us. They are symbols of evil, and Jesus Himself had used “snakes and scorpions” figuratively to refer to evil spirits that serve the Devil (Luke 10:19).

*** God was in total, complete control of this event.

--- It's important to remember that the angel that fell from heaven was carrying out the express will of God. Whatever judgments come on the earth come by the design of God. Likewise, whatever evils are present operate only by His permission (see Job 1:9-12). As the One on the throne, God always achieves His purposes by His power.

QUESTION - How do these verses assure you that the Devil and his demonic forces are not beyond God’s sovereign rule? How would you explain this truth to a non-Christian?

BELIEVERS PROTECTED (Rev. 9:4)

4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads.

*** God's protects His people.

--- In Revelation 7:1-8 God’s believers are marked with a seal on their forehead.

This is another passage about which Bible students have come to differing conclusions. Three points are clear, however:

First, the Old Testament background for this is Ezekiel 9:3-4 - 3 Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

Second, later on in Revelation, followers of the wicked “beast from the earth” are also marked on the forehead (see 13:16). So in this time you either have God’s mark or the beast’s mark.

Third, the apostle Paul wrote that all believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 1:13 - When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit; 2 Cor. 1:21-22 - Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.).

--- Similarly, during the fourth plague in Exodus, God promised that the swarms of flies would not affect the part of the land where the Israelites lived. In this way God made a distinction between His people and the Egyptians (see Ex. 8:22-23; see also 9:25-26).

Both Exodus and Revelation affirm God’s saving, protecting power over his people.

*** QUESTION - When should believers expect protection from God’s judgments on others? When should believers expect to experience the same difficulties (and evils) of life as everyone else?

DEATH SOUGHT (Rev. 9:5-6)

5 They were not permitted to kill them but were to torment them for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.

*** The locusts could fly freely but were not allowed to kill people.

--- Similar to Job 1:12, God allowed Satan to test Job but not to take his life: The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

--- This is a chilling passage. People are going to wish they were dead. Their hope is gone. Their spirit is broken. Yet they won't be able to kill themselves.

--- This is also a reminder that God is in control of this event. He was calling them to repent. This shows God's grace, He's giving them chance after chance to see the light.

--- QUESTION - What do you think the role of believers should be during the torment of the unbelievers?

JUDGMENT ADMINISTERED (Rev. 9:7-12)

7 The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. Something like gold crowns was on their heads; their faces were like men’s faces; 8 they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9 they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10 and they had tails with stingers like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11 They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12 The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this.

*** Imagery, imagery, everywhere.

--- This is a dreadful picture, full of fear. John sees an army overtake all of humanity and torment them for five months.

--- These are no ordinary locusts. These are locusts from hell. Beyond having stingers like scorpions, they have something “like” (not necessarily literally):

• Like horses—In Joel 2:4, the prophet had described the locust plague of his day as being like battle horses. This army of “locusts” in John’s vision was as well organized as the fearsome Roman cavalry.
• Like gold crowns—The idea of a crown (victor’s wreath, not a royal diadem) represents success at the intended mission.
• Like men’s faces—Perhaps this image represents the intelligence and cunning behind what the “locusts” do.
• Like women’s hair—Some interpreters have suggested that this points to Parthian warriors, who wore long flowing hair. Others suppose the antennae of locusts are behind the image. The picture is certainly not intended as one of weakness.
• Like lions’ teeth—Joel wrote of the locust plague in his day: “its teeth are the teeth of a lion” (Joel 1:6). Lions are fierce and ravenous, and of course devour with tooth and claw.
• Like iron breastplates—The scales on locust bodies can look like iron-plated armor, which in the first century was stronger than the usual Roman breastplate of bronze and leather.
• Like the sound of chariots—Real locust swarms are quite loud. The sound was unmistakable, resembling the rumbling of chariot wheels.

*** QUESTION – Which description is the most ominous to you? What do these verses teach about Satan’s true opinion of humanity and what he wants to do? How can you use these verses to warn others of Satan’s nature and desire to destroy them?

*** The locust leader.

--- This is another one of those times when Bible scholars disagree. “The angel of the abyss” led the locusts, and could be different than the “star angel” in 9:1. This is a title found nowhere else in Scripture. Some think it is Satan because of the name Abaddon (Hebrew)/Apollyon (Greek), both of which refer to destruction. Others say it is not because Satan makes a grand appearance in Revelation 12 where he is identified as a dragon.

*** God’s wrath is intended to move humanity to return to Him.

--- Clearly, to live through this would be a horror no one would be able to endure.

--- Even when it’s over, verse 12 makes clear that this is just the first woe that was warned about in Revelation 8.

--- The second woe would kill a third of mankind, and yet Revelation 9:20-21 makes clear that unbelievers still hardened their hearts: The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

*** QUESTION - Why won't they believe? Why go through this and continue to reject God? Men love darkness rather than light. They love their sin even to the death.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

There is still time.

This isn’t God’s final judgment. Those being tormented in these verses could still wisely turn to God. Instead, they choose poorly.

Think of the release of the videos showing Planned Parenthood to take pride in cutting up babies and selling off the parts. Even though the horrors of abortion are on display for everyone to see, supporters are more in the bag for PP than ever. They can’t give an inch.

Ezekiel 33:11 says, "God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked." There are over 600 warnings in Scripture about hell. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Our study of the woe of the fifth trumpet reminds us that God’s judgment is terrible and sure. Refusing to repent leads to ruin. Yet Jesus rescues from judgment those who belong to Him.

*** God has power over everything for His purpose.

*** Pray for those who are being tormented by Satan now, and ask God to soften their hearts to return to Him.

*** Focus your mind and heart this week on the images of Revelation 9. How can we keep as many people from being affected as possible?

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Worthy Lamb

My Sunday School lesson for August 9, 2015 ...

So far there are approximately 144 candidates for president for the 2016 election.

Actually, 21, 17 Republicans and 4 Democrats. So far.

The first Republican debates were last Thursday, with 17 candidates comparing their views and experience to woo our votes.

With all these candidates, how will you decide who is worthy to be President?

Experience? Values? Name recognition? Do you vote on someone because they are a good communicator, or because they have integrity, or because they can get things done?

We elect leaders we think are worthy enough to move us towards a shared goal of a better future for our families and our country.

No pressure, right? Today we'll look at how the apostle John wept because he didn't find see anyone worthy to open God's scrolls. He quickly saw that there is One who is worthy.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Revelation 5 continues the vision of God’s heavenly throne that John began in chapter 4.

--- In chapter 4 John was taken through a door standing open in heaven and into the throne room. God's glory shines in bright colors, lightning and thunder rumbles, the cherubim and 24 elders surround and worship Him, the Holy Spirit shines from seven lampstands.

*** This chapter is the opening scene for the first cycle of judgments that lead up to the Second Coming of Christ.

THE SEARCH (Rev. 5:1-4)

1 Then I saw in the right hand of the One seated on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. 4 And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it.

*** Who is worthy?

--- God holds a scroll that no one in heaven or on earth can look in, let alone open any of it seven seals.

This was typical of a contract in the ancient world. Marriage contracts, leases, slaves, bills, all kinds of legal documents were done like this.

Roman wills were sealed seven times, so this scroll might represent a number of things—God’s covenant, His law, His promises, His plans, or perhaps a legal will.

Two Biblical references from prophetic scrolls in the Old Testament point to God’s plan for the end times:

Ezekiel 2:9-10 - Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

Daniel 12:4 - But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.

--- In chapters 6 and 7 the first six seals are broken, then after the seventh seal is broken (8:1), John described the final judgments and the ultimate salvation of the faithful.

*** No one in heaven or under the earth could open the scroll. Not angels, not the elders from chapter 4, not men, not evil spirits, deserved this honor.

--- Think of those assembled. The angels Michael and Gabriel couldn’t speak up. None of the Old Testament saints could open it. All of the Apostles are there, not a one is worthy.

--- Think about if you went to a store and started opening cans of soup or jelly or those Gerber puffs? You’d get in trouble. Why? Because purchasing an item gives you the right to open it. Only Jesus purchased the right to open the sealed scroll through his death, burial and resurrection.

*** John wept.

--- He didn’t just cry. He “cried and cried.”

--- QUESTION – So why do you think John was so upset?

John wanted God’s will to be accomplished, in earth as in heaven (Matthew 6:10), but if no one can open the scroll then it can’t happen.

John shed the same tears of anyone who thought that God wasn't moving as they though He should so that good would defeat evil. Think of Adam and Even being driven from Eden. Think of the Israelites who made the exodus only to die before reaching the Promised Lane. Think of John, seeing the church persecuted, of all the apostles dying before Jesus returned.

THE DISCOVERY (Rev. 5:5-7)

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 Then I saw One like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. 7 He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne.

*** There's no crying in heaven!

--- John's grief is short-lived when one of the 24 tells him to watch.

--- Though these verses never say the name "Jesus Christ," we know that there's only one Lamb qualified to open the scroll and execute God's plan.

Since the beginning of time, many have desired to be the ultimate ruler of the world. There were figures such as Nebuchadnezzar. There was Xerxes. Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan. Napoleon. Hitler. Stalin. One day there will be the Antichrist. All have them ultimately failed to conquer the world for all time. Only one has the power to take back the world from sin and Satan. Not even the religious leaders sucha s Moses, Elijah, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul, no evil man and no good man is capable. (John MacArthur)

*** The Lion, the Root of David.

--- Prophecy said that the Messiah would descend from the tribe of Jacob's son Judah. (Gen. 49:9-10 - "You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.")

--- The idea of the Messiah as a lion provokes images of strong and powerful, even menacing. That's why so many Jews didn't belive in Jesus. They expected someone who would come with ferocity and destroy the ungodly invaders. They didn't realize that his work as a lion is yet to come.

--- Prophecy also said that the Messiah would come from the line of David. (Isaiah 11:1 - "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.")

*** The Lamb.

--- The imagery here is striking. Even though the elder refers to a lion, John sees a lamb that had been slain that stands alive in the center of heaven's throne room. The lamb is the lion. It is an eternal reminder of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.

--- Think of the symbolism of lambs in the Bible. For the ancient Israelities, sheep were an important part of the sacrificial system. In Exodus it was lamb's blood that was smeared over doorposts on Passover. (Ex. 12:21-23) For the New Covenant, the Lamb of God would take away all sin.

--- Two features stand out:

(1) The seven horns represent power, as horns suggest an animal's strength.

Psalm 18:2 - The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 89:17 - For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn.

Psalm 92:10 - You have exalted my horn like that of a wild ox; fine oils have been poured on me.

Daniel 7:8 - While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a human being and a mouth that spoke boastfully.

Daniel 8:3 - I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later.

(2) Notice the use of seven again. Seven is the number of perfection or completion. Seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, represent vision and knowledge. It's also a connection to the Holy Spirit, which as we saw in Revelation chapter 4 was represented in the throne room by seven lampstands.

*** QUESTION - What difference does it make to us as Christians whether we think of Jesus more as a lion? Or as a lamb?

(Both taken together bring a vision of Jesus' triumph, His worthiness to open the scroll.)

THE HONORING (Rev. 5:8-14)

8 When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth. 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands. 12 They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! 13 I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say: Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! 14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

*** Every creature will bow and worship Jesus one day.

--- In these verses the scene in the throne room turns to worship of the Lamb.

What an image! Remember, this scene takes place in the future, and now the end is in sight.

Think of it like a movie, focused on Jesus, pulling out to see the four living creatures and elders falling down in worship, then the camera pulls out even more to see angels, thousands upon thousands of thousands – which adds up to the tens of millions, then every creature in the universe proclaiming Jesus is Lord.

--- It’s a similar scene to what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

--- If everyone in heaven is worshiping Jesus, we should be following suit.

*** QUESTION - What does it mean to you that every creature will bow and worship Jesus one day? How should we respond to this?

TAKE AWAY POINTS

To start the lesson we talked about qualities that make for a qualified president.

Isaiah 11:2 may have a better method of picking someone worthy, listing traits of the Spirit: "The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord."

While important, a president will still only serve two terms, or eight years, at the most.

Jesus will reign forever. Over every tribe and nation. Only Jesus is worthy, no matter what happens in the next election. And as Paul writes in Ephesians 1:14, His followers will be redeemed to the praise of His glory.

*** The central truth to these verses is that Jesus is the Lamb of God who redeems the earth from sin.

*** Only He is worthy of our worship. And all will eventually worship Him as Lord.

*** Think of those you know who won't be a part of the kingdom of Jesus. What can you do to help get them there?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Glimpse of the Throne

My Sunday School lesson for Aug. 2, 2015 ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What do you anticipate most about God and heaven?

What kind of things are you sure will be up there? What won’t be?

Today we’re going to find out how our understanding of God reveals our expectations, and compare it to what John writes in Revelation chapter 4 about what heaven is really all about.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Revelation 4:1-11

*** Chapter 4 is when Revelation really gets interesting.

--- Now we're getting into the imagery of Revelation that makes it such a fascinating book.

*** This was a time of trials.

--- When Revelation was written, Christians were suffering a lot of persecution, including death, at the hands of the Roman Empire.

--- Christians understandably might have wondered where God was during all of this? Was He really on the throne and in charge?

--- In Jesus’ revelation to John, we see that God is sovereign, He has a plan, and followers can endure if they stick to their convictions.

GOD’S GLORY (Rev. 4:1-6a)

1 After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit, and a throne was set there in heaven. One was seated on the throne, 3 and the One seated looked like jasper and carnelian stone. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne. 4 Around that throne were 24 thrones, and on the thrones sat 24 elders dressed in white clothes, with gold crowns on their heads. 5 Flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder came from the throne. Seven fiery torches were burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. 6a Something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal, was also before the throne.

*** Hard to describe.

Do you remember walking into a big, busy, bright room before, and it took you a few minutes to adjust?

--- The vivid sights and sounds around God’s throne described in Revelation are hard to grasp. Our senses would have been overloaded with all the sights, the colors, the sounds.

--- Notice that the splendor of heaven is so difficult for even John to comprehend that he uses phrases such as “something like” or “looked like.”

--- Any language we have falls short of describing the realities, and any imagination we let loose still can’t compare.

Let’s take a look at the elements that John describes in vivid detail:

*** The open door. (v. 1)

--- John already had a vision of Christ in chapter 1, and was given seven letters for the churches in chapters 2 and 3.

--- Now John was invited in to receive a vision of God ruling from His throne as a show of power that helps us understand that He is in control, no matter what.

--- John wasn't the first follower to receive a special invitation. Moses was invited to the top of Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 19:20) and Paul was up in heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2) to receive special revelations. In the first chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet describes the heavens opening to allow him a vision of God. Isaiah and Daniel also had visions of God on His throne.

--- Jesus then speaks with a trumpet-like voice. It’s clear, it’s commanding, it’s authoritative.

--- "Must take place" reminds us that there is a certainty of the events that Revelation describes. The future, with both blessings and woes, is fixed.

*** In the Spirit. (v. 2-3)

--- We don't know whether John went to heaven in person, or if was simply allowed to see and hear what is beyond us.

(If this was “Star Trek” John would be out of the time-space continuum, in a spiritual reality unknown to us.)

*** The Throne of God.

--- The central theme of chapter 4 is the throne.

--- We are told that John saw "the One" on the throne, but His appearance isn't described. All we see is that He appeared "like Jasper and carnelian stone." His glory is beyond comprehension.

--- What John sees isn’t one of peace and comfort. It’s a flashing, brilliant, glorious, splendorous, magnificent, wrathful kind of frightening experience. The appearance of the Almighty God was clear and brilliant and blazing and fiery. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel write of falling on their faces before the throne. We can’t even comprehend the magnificence.

--- Ezekiel saw the same thing John saw, in Ezekiel 1:28, "There was a radiance around Him and it had the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day." It looked to Ezekiel like just a...just a multicolored rainbow. It looked to John like a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

*** 24 elders. (v. 4)

--- Any earthly king’s court is filled with attendants, messengers and servants. It signifies the splendor of the king.

--- Who are the 24? Many Bible teachers suggest they represent 12 representatives from the Old Testament, and 12 from the New Testament. Others say they are representatives from the church.

--- Their crowns weren't the same as a kingly crown, though. It was more of a laurel wreath of the kind given to athletes or warriors who went through the struggle and won victory.

*** Thunder and lightning. (v. 5)

--- Just as God’s presence at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16) was depicted through lightning and thunder, John describes God’s throne.

--- The Holy Spirit appeared like seven fiery torches. Zechariah 4:2 and 4:6 also speak of the Holy Spirit as a seven-branched lampstand.

*** Like a sea of glass. (v. 6a)

--- John again struggles to describe what he’s seeing, something like a sea of glass that was like crystal, as the floor of the throne room. Exodus 24:10 and Ezekiel 1:22 similarly describe the ground around God.

--- The view John had of God was that of power, might, and strength. He was in charge and ruling. Everyone else worshiped Him, because He was and is worthy of the worship. John described this worship in the next scene.

*** QUESTION – Which element described by John best conveys God’s glory to you?

GOD’S HOLINESS (Rev. 4:6b-8)

6b Four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back were in the middle and around the throne. 7 The first living creature was like a lion; the second living creature was like a calf; the third living creature had a face like a man; and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings; they were covered with eyes around and inside. Day and night they never stop, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming."

*** Four living beings. (v. 6b)

--- Isaiah (Is. 6:1-4), Ezekiel and John all had visions of the throne room. Ezekiel (Ez. 1:4-25) and John both had glimpses of the "four living creatures" in the middle and around the throne. The details are almost exactly the same in their accounts.

--- Cherubim and the seraphim are also mentioned as angelic ministers of God in Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:17–22; Psalm 18:10; 1 Chronicles 28:18.

*** “Holy, holy, holy.” (v. 8)

--- What is more important than what the creatures are is what they do. John understood that the creatures worshiped non-stop.

The Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit. Each is equally holy. Though we may be frightened, to be exposed to a holy God because of our sin, it is His mercy and grace granted us in Christ that allows him to reach out and say, "Get up, you're forgiven."

The heavenly court worships Him as the One without limit as to time. He is eternal, the Creator of time; therefore, all times are in His hand. Once again, we can’t even fathom God as the Creator, eternal, for all time.

*** QUESTION - How do the worship and words of the creatures remind us that God is holy?

GOD’S SUSTAINING POWER (Rev. 4:9-11)

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to the One seated on the throne, the One who lives forever and ever, 10 the 24 elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, worship the One who lives forever and ever, cast their crowns before the throne, and say: 11 Our Lord and God, You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because You have created all things, and because of Your will they exist and were created.

*** He is worthy to be worshiped.

--- Their praise is twofold. First, God’s creation has come about because of His will and proceeds from it. Second, God’s power is demonstrated by creation.

--- Just as the creatures and elders give glory, honor and thanks to our Creator, so should we. Their entire existence is about worshiping God.

(This is one of those scenes we see, and you kind of wonder, "Is that all there is in heaven? Sounds boring and tedious. Are there harps?" No, that's not all there is!)

*** QUESTION - Does this worship, which John witnessed in heaven, happen on earth today? Why or why not?

(This is a good question of our motivations. Do we worship to give thanks? Because you are in awe of His power? Because you think if you pray hard enough He’ll give you cool toys?)

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Did anyone else pay attention to the fly-by of Pluto a couple of weeks ago?

If you didn’t, consider this: Nine years ago NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft. It flew billions of miles and nine years later passed just 7,000 miles from the planet to reveal information about the dwarf planet that we never knew.

It’s the kind of feat where you look up at the stars and can’t help but be amazed by God’s creation. If the wrong side of heaven is this beautiful, what must the right side of heaven be!

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the eye hasn’t seen or the hear heard what God has in store for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9)

*** How does your understanding of God impact your worship of Him?

*** Do you worship God as if you know that He has the whole world in His hands?

*** What are you doing to bring others to God's glory to the world?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Words from Christ to a Church at War

We did it a little bit different of a lesson Sunday than the rest of the adults. Instead of using Lifeway’s guide exclusively, I mixed it with a small-group guide by David Platt’s former church. It was a focus on all of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, and not just a handful of the verses.

FIRST THOUGHTS

What's the difference in HEARING versus LISTENING?

What are some of the things that can get in the way of hearing clearly?

Today we're going to talk about how Jesus instructed believers back then to listen to what the Holy Spirit was saying, and how we are still expected to heed His commands today.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** Revelation was written by the apostle John about 95 A.D. while exiled by the Romans on the island of Patmos. (That's in the Aegean Sea, just south of Ephesus.)

*** Revelation is a prophetic book as given by Jesus to John. At first it seems like a frightening book full of apocalyptic imagery, but it’s really about Jesus Christ and a reminder that He is the ruler of the kings of the earth, not any earthly emperor.

*** Christians were being persecuted and followers were understandably discouraged.

*** Revelation chapters 2 and 3 focus on letters Jesus told John to send to seven important churches along the Asia Minor road (modern Turkey):

Ephesus
Smyrna
Pergamum
Thyatira
Sardis
Philadelphia
Laodicea

(The mailman of Revelation, arriving in Ephesus from Patmos, would have followed the road north and then traveled in a general clockwise direction. In this way, the letter carrier would have come to each of the seven cities in the order listed, arriving at Laodicea last.)

--- These churches had been founded 30-40 years before John wrote Revelation. Some had fallen into decline, and each church had its strengths and weaknesses, as pointed out in the letters. Jesus gives each one a distinctive challenge.

--- Even today we can still learn from the churches and their challenges. We will see that overcoming was in part about Christians hearing the message from Christ, trusting and obeying Him, and persevering in faith.

Revelation 2-3: The Letters to the Seven Churches

The Letter to Ephesus
2 “Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:
“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: 2 I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. 3 You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.

The Letter to Smyrna
8 “Write to the angel of the church in Smyrna:
“The First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life, says: 9 I know your affliction and poverty, yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death.

The Letter to Pergamum
12 “Write to the angel of the church in Pergamum:
“The One who has the sharp, double-edged sword says: 13 I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is! And you are holding on to My name and did not deny your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14 But I have a few things against you. You have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to place a stumbling block in front of the Israelites: to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. 15 In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
17 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.

The Letter to Thyatira
18 “Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira:
“The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says: 19 I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first. 20 But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices. 23 I will kill her children with the plague. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you. 25 But hold on to what you have until I come. 26 The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations—
27 and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter;
he will shatter them like pottery—
just as I have received this from My Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star.
29 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Letter to Sardis
3 “Write to the angel of the church in Sardis:
“The One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. 2 Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent. But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you. 4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. 5 In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.
6 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Letter to Philadelphia
7 “Write to the angel of the church in Philadelphia:
“The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens says: 8 I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close. 9 Take note! I will make those from the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews and are not, but are lying—note this—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept My command to endure, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is going to come over the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11 I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown. 12 The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name.
13 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Letter to Laodicea
14 “Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea:
“The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. 21 The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.
22 “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

WORDS FROM CHRIST TO A CHURCH AT WAR

Revelation 2-3 reveals four truths from Christ to the church:

*** Jesus knows us truly.

*** Jesus loves us deeply.

*** Jesus guards us zealously.

*** Jesus uses us purposefully.

--- Jesus wants to send us out so that others may know His grace, His mercy, and to advance His kingdom.

--- 3:22 – “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” Let us all have ears to hear what Jesus says to us.

Jesus commends His church.

*** For faithful perseverance in the Word of Christ.

In the letters to the churches, 5 of the 7 begin with criticism of the church, then transition to encouragement for those who do Christ’s work.

--- Jesus commends the church for guarding the church internally.

2:2 says Jesus knows that the Ephesians “tested those who call themselves apostles and are not.”

*** For faithful proclamation of the name of Christ.

--- In the midst of opposition (religious, governmental, social, and economic).

Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that you’re going to be tested. Trust God and you will be given the crown of life. You don’t understand, but trust. Persevere in faith.

Polycarp, a bishop in Smyrna, refused to blaspheme God by worshipping Rome, and he was burned alive at the stake. His statement to his judge was that he had trusted Jesus for 86 years and not been let down, so why would he abandon God now?

*** For trusting God amidst testing in the world.

--- The church at Philadelphia was commended for its perseverance, for enduring despite a weakness:

3:8 - “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close.”

--- God is sovereign, and he uses suffering to sanctify us.

We will have to stand strong even though we might be tempted to lighten our faith to fit in. Remember in January when two Muslim terrorists murdered several people who worked at Charlie Hebdo magazine for daring to criticize Islam and Muhammed. Leaders marched, everyone said “Je Suis Charlie,” but in the end, fewer publications are willing to publish images of Muhammed than ever before. It’s easier to give in than to challenge the world and take the risk that someone will criticize you, or in some places, even kill you.

*** For loving God amidst temptation from the world.

--- Even the churches that are rebuked are given credit for those who haven’t fallen away, such as Thyatira who avoided false teachings:

2:24 “I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.”

Jesus rebukes His church.

*** For compromise.

--- Tolerance of evil (idolatry and immorality).

The churches at Thyatira and Pergamum were infected with sexual immorality and they were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

--- Tolerance of error (false teaching and false teachers).

Teachers were not confronting evil in their midst.

The church at Pergamum was tolerating false teachings, to Balaam and to the Nicolaitans.

*** For the sake of financial gain, social acceptance, and personal safety.

Teachers were saying to go ahead, compromise your faith to fit in, to not stir the waters. It is so easy to try to blend in with the world and avoid being the center of attention in a world that considers you backward, a zealot, a bigot.

--- QUESTION - Why were the churches in today’s text tempted to compromise their beliefs? In America, why is it often easy for the church to blend in with the world? What happens when Christians’ lifestyles are indistinguishable from the world? In what areas of your life are you indistinguishable from the world?

*** For complacency.

--- To the church in Laodicea, Jesus criticized them for being neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, The thrill was gone. The joy was gone. And the Christian routine took over. The city was wealthy and healthy, so they didn’t need anything from Rome, and they didn’t perceive that they needed anything from God.

This was so distasteful that in 3:16 Jesus says he will “vomit” them out of His mouth.

Jesus commands His church.

*** Remember…

--- Who you are and what Jesus says.

The church at Ephesus had forgotten how it used to love: “You have abandoned the love you had at first.”

The church in Ephesus was one of the most important in all of Christianity. It’s where Paul set up shop and Timothy took over. It’s where John the apostle took leadership. Making this church work was very important. It's a sad day when a church fails to shine in the darkness.

*** Repent…

--- Turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

The church at Sardis thought of themselves as spiritually healthy, but they were actually dead.

Jesus isn’t writing off the churches. He tells Sardis to “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent.” There is time.

*** Receive…

--- Find your treasure in Jesus, clothe your life in Jesus, and fix your eyes on Jesus.

A key danger the church faces: When lured by physical prosperity, we become blind to our deep spiritual poverty. If we are not careful, we surround ourselves with all our wants and wane in our want for God.

--- QUESTION - How does what we choose to value affect how easily we are enticed? What habits reveal your values? What habits change your values?

Jesus warns His church.

*** God gives warnings to Christians about falling away to keep Christians from falling away.

3:3 – “But if you are not alert, I will come like a thief, and you have no idea at what hour I will come against you.”

3:19 – “As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline.”

What of those you know who have fallen away? 1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

*** By grace through faith, true followers of Christ will persevere to the end.

--- Anyone who is born again, will never perish.

1 Peter 1:3-5 - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."

*** By grace through faith, true followers of Christ work to persevere to the end.

--- The Christian life is never described as a smooth life. It’s a race, it’s a battle.

Matthew 24:13 – Jesus says “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Hebrews 3:14 – “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”

Hebrews 10:36 – “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”

Jesus rewards His church.

Jesus promised his followers glory in heaven for not bowing to the world:

*** Total vindication of Christ’s ways in this world.

--- 2:17 – “I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

*** Triumphant victory over Satan’s powers in this world.

--- Every letter uses the term “victor” to talk about Christians who resist Satan’s temptations.

2:11 – “The victor will never be harmed by the second death.”

*** Secure protection from the horror of hell.

--- 3:5 – “In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.”

*** Shared participation in the reign of Christ.

--- 3:21 – “The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

*** Permanent citizenship in the city of God.

--- 3:12 – “The victor: I will make him a pillar in the sanctuary of My God, and he will never go out again. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My new name.”

*** Perpetual celebration in the presence of God.

--- 2:7 – “I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.”

TAKE AWAY POINTS

Spoiler alert: Jesus wins. And we, because He promised to bring us with Him, also win.

But there are truths in these seven letters that cannot be understood in terms of human wisdom; they are spiritual truths.

Every letter uses this phrase: “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 - "Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people."

The Holy Spirit talks to us. Talks through us. But if we aren't seeking the Spirit, we are in trouble.

Dr. Carl Bates said years ago “if the Holy Spirit were to suddenly die, most of our churches would meet next Sunday and go right on and never know the difference.”

We have to deal with background noise from the culture around us —and sometimes from problems within Christianity — that demand careful listening to know what the Spirit is teaching.

*** If you are in a spiritual rut, remember those precious days when you first found joy in the Lord. Go back and do it the way you worshiped back then.

*** Go over the promises of Jesus to the churches this week during your Bible study. Be assured of your salvation as a believer in Christ, and of your future in eternity!