You live in a world in which difficult and unexplained sufferings strike God’s people. Sometimes it’s persecution for the sake of Christ. Sometimes it is the difficulty and tensions which arise simply because you are God’s people living in a sin-cursed world. Jesus’ message to the churches in John’s day are words to people caught up in similar situations. What do you need to see when things seem unexplainedly difficult? Read Revelation 4 (and 5).
Be aware of what you cannot see. Come through the door with John. Some of the believers in the seven churches had suffered for the sake of Christ, scorn from neighbors, economic loss, persecution, and even martyrdom. John will be shown “what must take place after this,” but the focus of the vision is not a detailed map of the future, but rather a throne, and One sitting on it. John sees a throne. Around it is a rainbow. The promise of Genesis 9 still stands. God is faithful to his Word. Continue reading
We may be nearing the peak of the influenza season. But our North American society also has a problem with affluenza, combining affluence with influenza, “the negative psychological or behavioral effects of having or pursuing wealth, as irresponsible acts and feelings of self-doubt or guilt.” The term had not yet been coined when Jesus told John what to write to the church at Laodicea, but it could be used to describe the problem that plagued that church, Revelation 3:14–22. If you don’t think affluence is affecting our culture, this Lord’s Day is Super Bowl Sunday—with 30 second TV ads selling for $5,000,000…because we buy what they are selling.
What is the problem? Beware of the poverty of riches. The letters to most of the other churches (except Smyrna and Philadelphia) contain warnings about shortcomings or sins in the church. All the preceding six contain some measure of praise, even if it is only to a few (Revelation 3:4). But Jesus has no words of commendation or praise for this church. It is a letter of warning—though it does contain a call to repentance and holds out an offer of grace. The city of Laodicea was wealthy. An important trade city, it considered itself self-sufficient. When damaged by the same earthquakes that had devastated Philadelphia, it declined aid from the emperor, choosing to rebuild on its own. The city was noted for making black woolen garments. It had a medical school, where physicians had written about ophthalmology, and may have produced eye salve for treatment. The church at Laodicea reflected the atmosphere of the city. It considered itself wealthy and self-sufficient. This seems to be not just a pretense, but the way the church actually saw herself. But Jesus sees below the impression. He describes the condition of her heart: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. The church believed herself to be affluent. But Jesus says she is sick. Continue reading
What happens when a church is small and weak? When it seems too tiny to survive? What would Jesus say to such a church? You don’t have to wonder, for Revelation 3:7-13 quotes him! The congregation at Philadelphia (the city in Asia Minor, not the one in Pennsylvania) is a church that has little strength. Apparently it does not have the respect of the shakers and movers in the city. It is suffering opposition, and perhaps persecution from the local synagogue. Certainly the pagan idol worshipers were no supporters of the church.
Trust the one who holds the key of David. Your Lord holds the key of David. He identifies himself as the one who is holy and true. Think of the holiness of God seen in Isaiah 6. Remember how often the prophets called Israel away from idols to the true God. Jesus properly takes to himself those divine characteristics. He also speaks of himself as holding the key of David. In Revelation 1:18 he proclaims his sovereignty as he claims to hold the keys of death and Hades. Here he also holds a key, but it is the key to the house of David. Isaiah 22:20–25 identifies Eliakim and the position with which he was entrusted (in contrast with the self-serving official, Shebna). See 2 Kings 18:26 for his activity during the Assyrian seige. His role is defined, not just with respect to King Hezekiah, but his oversight extends to the Davidic dynasty. Here is the fulfillment of that Old Testament anticipation. “Just as the master possesses the key to that house, and has complete authority with respect to permitting anyone to enter or leave, and so entire authority over the house, so God will give to Eliakim a key to the house or dynasty of David. This key will be placed upon his shoulder, an expression which means that the responsibility of of the Davidic government is is to rest as a burden on Eliakim’s shoulder. The importance of the position is seen in that this same description is applied to the risen Christ in Revelation 3:7.” (E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, p. 114). “Christ’s authority is a surpassing fulfillment of the ‘key of David’ prophecy in Isaiah 22:20-25. What neither Eliakim nor any other saint of the Old Testament could do, Christ has done. His reliability and strength are such that one can rest on him all the weight of the redeemed people and their destiny.” (Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King, p. 91). Continue reading
Having a reputation or a name can be crucial for a business. Some names have become synonymous with quality. But let that quality drop, and the name means little. That is true not only in business, but as Jesus tells you in Revelation 3:1-6, it was true for the church in Sardis. It is true for the church today and for us as individual members of the church.
Beware of having only a name. The one who holds the seven Spirits of God knows you. Jesus holds the seven Spirits of God. John is not confused about the personality of the Holy Spirit. Rather, this is a way, with good biblical precedent, of describing the fullness of the third person of the Trinity, see Zechariah 4: 6, 10; Revelation 1:4 and 4:5. Picking up the description of Christ from the first chapter, he also holds the seven stars in his hand. He knows the church far better than the church at Sardis knows itself. Remember that he knows you and me better than we know ourselves. “Jesus calls himself ‘he who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars’ (Rev. 3:1). The seven Spirits are God’s one Spirit, who is limitless, knowing all, present everywhere, and almighty. In Revelation 5 John will see the Spirit symbolized by by the Lamb’s seven eyes, which “are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” 5:6; cf. Zech. 3:9; 4:10). The Son of Man who sees his churches also holds their identity (stars/angels) securely in his hand. This church has underrated Jesus’ present knowledge and therefore faces a shocking awakening at his coming.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 84). Continue reading
“This is the accepted position in our society. Believe what you want in your mind, but if you do business, conform. It’s not enough for you to tolerate positions with which you disagree—you need to actively support the standards of our culture.” This is not just a matter that affects a cupcake maker in Gresham, a baker in Colorado, and a florist in Washington. This was the message delivered to Christians trying to do business in Thyatira in the first century, as we see in Revelation 18:18–29. Located in a broad valley, Thyatira lacked strong natural defenses. It was a commercial city, selling dye (Lydia), burnished bronze, and other products, strongly influenced by the trade guilds. If a Christian declined to participate in the worship of the idol that was the patron god of the guild (and related sexual immorality) he or she could easily be ostracized and cut out of business dealings.
Listen to the praise from the Son of God. When the Son of God speaks, listen! Jesus identifies himself as the Son of God. Later in the letter he quotes from Psalm 2, but an earlier part of the Psalm has the Father saying, “You are my Son. This day I have begotten you.” The One addressing the church is Son of God from all eternity—as well as the triumphant messianic King. Paul and Peter quote the passage in connection with Christ’s resurrection. Flaming eyes penetrate to hidden things, and feet like burnished bronze are powerful against the enemy. Continue reading