Things Are Not What They Seem

A paradox is something that seems contradictory or impossible. Perhaps you’ve seen Waterfall, a lithograph by M. C. Escher, depicting an impossible waterwheel and aqueduct. Some of Jesus’ teaching seemed paradoxical, such as the Beatitudes. Jesus’ address to the angel of the church of Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11, contains seeming paradoxes.

You are poor, but rich. Your Lord knows your tribulation and your poverty. Smyrna, located on an important trading route, was a prosperous merchant city. It may be named after the myrrh it harvested and sold. It was loyal to emperor worship and local deities. It seems that business and worship of idols were deeply intertwined. Those who refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord may well have been excluded from jobs and other economic opportunities. The refusal to participate in idolatry resulted not only in economic loss (“I know your poverty”), but also in tribulation or affliction—persecution, imprisonment, and even the real threat of martyrdom. To this suffering church, Jesus says, “I know.” He knows their affliction and poverty. Similarly, he knows you and your situation. There is no trial you are experiencing, no suffering you face, of which he is not aware. Continue reading “Things Are Not What They Seem”

Eat from the Tree of Life!

What is the best possible food? In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus offers the fruit of the tree of life, Revelation 2:1-7. Revelation 2 and 3 contain letters addressed to each of the seven churches. They follow a similar format: a greeting or address, Jesus’ self-identification, commendation (except Laodicea), rebuke (except Smyrna and Philadelphia) accompanied by a warning, exhortation, and a promise. In the case of Ephesus, that promise is amazing.

Be intolerant! Persevere. Ephesus was the best port city for traders coming into the province. Business and religion mixed in the city. It was the site of a great temple to Artemis (remember the riot described in Acts 19) as well as temples connected with emperor worship. If you lived in Ephesus you faced tremendous pressure to conform, to join (even if just for business reasons) in the idolatry that permeated the city. But the church had not given in. Jesus, who holds the seven stars (representing the angels of the seven churches) walks among the lampstands (representing the churches themselves). He knows the churches and how they are doing. He has seen the faithful hard work of the church. He has seen them persevere. Perseverance is crucial to your life as a believer and to the life of the church as a whole. Your good works, never the basis for your salvation, must be there if you are to see the Lord. Continue reading “Eat from the Tree of Life!”

One Like a Son of Man

What do you do when you see something strange? I am tempted to stand and look. The Book of Revelation is full of strange sights—or at least the description of strange things. That includes Revelation 1:9-20. John’s purpose is not to make you exclaim and stare in amazement. Rather, he writes to encourage and comfort you—and to motivate you to trust in and serve the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

Patiently endure suffering. John, in exile, is a companion in tribulation. John was in exile on the island of Patmos because of his faith. He writes to suffering churches, but not as someone outside looking in. He is a fellow sufferer. He is in exile. Words to a suffering church are relevant to you and me. Last Sunday before some of us had left the building, we learned of the murder of many members of the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. John’s vision took place on the Lord’s Day, the day that particularly belongs to the risen Lord. (There is a reason the church worships on the first day of the week. As those who suffer along with John and his first century hearers, we need to persevere. How can you do that? Listen to what John hears and look at what John sees. Continue reading “One Like a Son of Man”

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

How challenging is the Christian life—not just in the Middle East or parts of Asia—but right here? The Book of Revelation gives hope, strength, and comfort to suffering and challenged Christians. Revelation 1:1-8 not only introduces the book, but points you to the heart of the comfort—the revelation of Jesus Christ.

God has revealed Jesus Christ. This book is the Apocalypse. You may have heard it called by that title, which is simply a transliteration of the word John uses, which we more often translate as revelation. Perhaps because some of the visions in this book describe earth-shaking events, the term apocalypse has come to have overtones of disaster. But John uses it to mean showing or unveiling what is there, but is perhaps not clear to the superficial look. Revelation has suffered from both overexposure and neglect. How do you understand it? Continue reading “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”