Forum Class for January 30, 2005
Revelation Chapter One
1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. 9 I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea." 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; 14 his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; 16 in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (RSV)
Background: The book of the Revelation, or the Apocalypse (from the Greek word which means "unveiling") contains 400 verses. Some commentaries say they can find 800 allusions to the Old Testament in those 400 verses. There are no direct quotations from the OT in Revelation, however and no NT references. The probable date is 95 AD, during the reign of Domitian who died in 96. The author is assumed by most to be John the young disciple of Jesus, "whom he loved" -- who also wrote the Gospel of John and the three epistles of John. (So Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertulian, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Clement) According to church tradition John was pastor of the church of Ephesus for many years and when he moved from Jerusalem he took with him Mary, the mother of Jesus, to care for her the rest of his life. John has obviously not seen Jesus in person for more than 60 years. The Apostles were all long dead--Peter and Paul for about 30 years. (Note John 21:15-25). There are four principal interpretations of this book:
(1) The preterist, which views the prophecies of this book as having been fulfilled in the early history of the church (by 70 AD).
2) The historical view understands the book as a panorama of the history of the church from the early days of John to the end of time. Adopted by Luther, Isaac Newton, Elliot.
(3) The idealist or allegorical (non-literal) view considers the book a pictorial unfolding of great principles in constant conflict, without reference to actual events. Adopted by Augustine (354-430) in regard to prophecy.
(4) The futurist interpretation considers most of the book (especially chapters 4-22) as prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
Position 4 is my view and that of Ray C. Stedman. As one might expect there are multiple levels of meaning in the book of the Revelation. Understanding Revelation presupposes the reader is familiar with the preceding 65 books of the Bible! Many great themes which begin in Genesis and branch out into many threads woven though the books which follow, come back together for consummation in the book of the Revelation. The imagery of Revelation is more Jewish than any other NT book except for Hebrews.
the one who reads the words of this prophecy,
Introductory Notes by William Barclay:
APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE: In any study of the Revelation we must begin by remembering the basic fact that although unique in the New Testament, it is nonetheless representative of a kind of literature which was the commonest of all between the Old and the New Testaments. The Revelation is commonly called the Apocalypse, being in Greek apokalupsis. Between the Old and the New Testaments there grew up a great mass of what is called Apocalyptic literature, the product of an indestructible Jewish hope.
The Jews could not forget that they were the chosen people of God. To them that involved the certainty that some day they would arrive at world supremacy. In their early history they looked forward to the coming of a king of David's line who would unite the nation and lead them to greatness. There was to come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Isa. 11:1,10). God would raise up a righteous branch for David (Jer. 23:5). Some day the people would serve David their king (Jer. 30:9). David would be their shepherd and their king (Eze. 34:23; Eze. 37:24). The booth of David would be repaired (Am. 9:11); out of Bethlehem there would come a ruler who would be great to the ends of the earth (Mic. 5:2-4).
But the whole history of Israel gave the lie to these hopes. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom, small enough to begin with, split into two under Rehoboam and Jeroboam and so lost its unity. The northern kingdom, with its capital at Samaria, vanished in the last quarter of the eighth century B.C. before the assault of the Assyrians, never again reappeared in history and is now the lost ten tribes. The southern kingdom, with its capital at Jerusalem, was reduced to slavery and exile by the Babylonians in the early part of the sixth century B.C. It was later the subject state of the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. History for the Jews was a catalogue of disasters from which it became clear that no human deliverer could rescue them.
THE TWO AGES: Jewish thought stubbornly held to the conviction of the chosenness of the Jews but had to adjust itself to the facts of history. It did so by working out a scheme of history. The Jews divided all time into two ages. There was this present age, which is wholly bad and beyond redemption. For it there can be nothing but total destruction. The Jews, therefore, waited for the end of things as they are. There was the age which is to come which was to be wholly good, the golden age of God in which would be peace, prosperity and righteousness and God's chosen people would at last be vindicated and receive the place that was theirs by right.
How was this present age to become the age which is to come? The Jews believed that the change could never be brought about by human agency and, therefore, looked for the direct intervention of God. He would come striding on to the stage of history to blast this present world out of existence and bring in his golden time. The day of the coming of God was called The Day of the Lord and was to be a terrible time of terror and destruction and judgment which would be the birth pangs of the new age.
All apocalyptic literature deals with these events, the sin of the present age, the terrors of the time between, and the blessings of the time to come. It is entirely composed of dreams and visions of the end. That means that all apocalyptic literature is necessarily cryptic. It is continually attempting to describe the indescribable, to say the unsayable, to paint the unpaintable.
This is further complicated by another fact. It was only natural that these apocalyptic visions should flame the more brightly in the minds of men living under tyranny and oppression. The more some alien power held them down, the more they dreamed of the destruction of that power and of their own vindication. But it would only have worsened the situation, if the oppressing power could have understood these dreams. Such writings would have seemed the works of rebellious revolutionaries. Such books, therefore, were frequently written in code, deliberately couched in language which was unintelligible to the outsider; and there are many cases in which they must remain unintelligible because the key to the code no longer exists. But the more we know about the historical background of such books, the better we can interpret them.
THE REVELATION: All this is the precise picture of our Revelation. There are any number of Jewish Apocalypses--Enoch, The Sibylline Oracles, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Ascension of Isaiah, The Assumption of Moses, The Apocalypse of Baruch, Fourth Ezra. Our Revelation is a Christian Apocalypse. It is the only one in the New Testament, although there were many others which did not gain admission. It is written exactly on the Jewish pattern and follows the basic conception of the two ages. The only difference is that for the day of the Lord it substitutes the coming in power of Jesus Christ. Not only the pattern but the details are the same. The Jewish apocalypses had a standard apparatus of events which were to happen at the last time; these events all have their place in Revelation.
Before we go on to outline that pattern of events, another question arises. Both apocalyptic and prophecy deal with the events which are to come. What, then, is the difference between them?
APOCALYPTIC AND PROPHECY: The difference between the prophets and the apocalyptists was very real. There were two main differences, one of message and one of method.
(i) The prophet thought in terms of this present world. His message was often a cry for social, economic and political justice; and was always a summons to obey and serve God within this present world. To the prophet it was this world which was to be reformed and in which God's kingdom would come. This has been expressed by saying that the prophet believed in history. He believed that in the events of history God's purpose was being worked out. In one sense the prophet was an optimist, for, however sternly he condemned things as they were, he nonetheless believed that they could be mended, if men would accept the will of God. To the apocalyptist the world was beyond mending. He believed, not in the reformation, but in the dissolution of this present world. He looked forward to the creation of a new world, when this one had been shattered by the avenging wrath of God. In one sense, therefore, the apocalyptist was a pessimist, for he did not believe that things as they were could ever be cured. True, he was quite certain that the golden age would come, but only after this world had been destroyed.
(ii) The prophet's message was spoken; the message of the apocalyptist was always written. Apocalyptic is a literary production. Had it been delivered by word of mouth, men would never have understood it. It is difficult, involved, often unintelligible; it has to be pored over before it can be understood. Further, the prophet always spoke under his own name; all apocalyptic writings--except our New Testament one--are pseudonymous. They are put into the mouths of great ones of the past, like Noah, Enoch, Isaiah, Moses, The Twelve Patriarchs, Ezra and Baruch. There is something pathetic about this. The men who wrote the apocalyptic literature had the feeling that greatness was gone from the earth; they were too self-distrusting to put their names to their works and attributed them to the great figures of the past, thereby seeking to give them an authority greater than their own names could have given. As Julicher put it: "Apocalyptic is prophecy turned senile."
THE APPARATUS OF APOCALYPTIC: Apocalyptic literature has a pattern; it seeks to describe the things which will happen at the last times and the blessedness which will follow; and the same pictures occur over and over again. It always, so to speak, worked with the same materials; and these materials find their place in our Book of the Revelation.
(i) In apocalyptic literature the Messiah was a divine, preexistent, otherworldly figure of power and glory, waiting to descend into the world to begin his all-conquering career. He existed in heaven before the creation of the world, before the sun and the stars were made, and he is preserved in the presence of the Almighty (Enoch 48: 3, 6; 62: 7; 4 Ezra 13: 25-26). He will come to put down the mighty from their seats, to dethrone the kings of the earth, and to break the teeth of sinners (Enoch 42: 2-6; 48: 2-9; 62: 5-9; 69: 26-29). In apocalyptic there was nothing human or gentle about the Messiah; he was a divine figure of avenging power and glory before whom the earth trembled in terror.
(ii) The coming of the Messiah was to be preceded by the return of Elijah who would prepare the way for him (Mal. 4:5-6). Elijah was to stand upon the hills of Israel, so the Rabbis said, and announce the coming of the Messiah with a voice so great that it would sound from one end of the earth to the other.
(iii) The last terrible times were known as "the travail of the Messiah." The coming of the Messianic age would be like the agony of birth. In the Gospels Jesus is depicted as foretelling the signs of the end and is reported as saying: "All these things are the beginnings of sorrows" (Matt. 24:8; Mk. 13:8). The word for sorrows is odinai, and it literally means birth pangs.
(iv) The last days will be a time of terror. Even the mighty men will cry bitterly (Zeph. 1:14); the inhabitants of the land shall tremble (Jl .2:1); men will be affrighted with fear and will seek some place to hide and will find none (Enoch 102: 1,3).
(v) The last days will be a time when the world will be shattered, a time of cosmic upheaval when the universe, as men know it, will be disintegrated. The stars will be extinguished; the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood (Isa. 13:10; Jl. 2:30-31; Jl. 3:15). The firmament will crash in ruins; there will be a cataract of raging fire, and creation will become a molten mass (Sibylline Oracles 3: 83-89). The seasons will lose their order, and there will be neither night nor dawn (Sibylline Oracles 3: 796-806).
(vi) The last days will be a time when human relationships will be destroyed. Hatred and enmity will reign upon the earth. Every man's hand will be against his neighbour (Zech. 14:13). Brothers will kill each other; parents will murder their own children; from dawn to sunset they shall slay one another (Enoch 100: 1-2). Honour will be turned into shame, and strength into humiliation, and beauty into ugliness. The man of humility will become the man of envy; and passion will hold sway over the man who once was peaceful (2 Baruch 48: 31-37).
(vii) The last days will be a time of judgment. God will come like a refiner's fire, and who can endure the day of his coming? (Mal. 3:1-3). It is by the fire and the sword that God will plead with men (Isa. 66:15-16). The Son of Man will destroy sinners from the earth (Enoch 69: 27), and the smell of brimstone will pervade all things (Sibylline Oracles 3: 58-61). The sinners will be burned up as Sodom was long ago (Jubilees 36: 10-11).
(viii) In all these visions the Gentiles have their place, but it is not always the same place.
(a) Sometimes the vision is that the Gentiles will be totally destroyed. Babylon will become such a desolation that there will be no place for the wandering Arab to plant his tent among the ruins, no place for the shepherd to graze his sheep; it will be nothing more than a desert inhabited by the beasts (Isa. 13:19-22). God will tread down the Gentiles in his anger (Isa.63:6). The Gentiles will come over in chains to Israel (Isa. 45:14).
(b) Sometimes there is depicted one last gathering of the Gentiles against Jerusalem, and one last battle in which they are destroyed (Eze. 38:14-23; Eze. 39:1-16; Zech. 14:1-11). The kings of the nations will throw themselves against Jerusalem; they will seek to ravage the shrine of the Holy One; they will place their thrones in a ring round the city, with their infidel people with them; but it will be only for their final destruction (Sibylline Oracles 3: 663-672).
(c) Sometimes there is the picture of the conversion of the Gentiles through Israel. God has given Israel for a light to the Gentiles, that she may be God's salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6). The isles wait upon God (Isa. 51:5); the ends of the earth are invited to look to God and be saved (Isa. 45:20-22). The Son of Man will be a light to the Gentiles (Enoch 48: 4-5). Nations shall come from the ends of the earth to Jerusalem to see the glory of God (Wis. 17:34).
Of all the pictures in connection with the Gentiles the commonest is that of the destruction of the Gentiles and the exaltation of Israel.
(ix) In the last days the Jews who have been scattered throughout the earth will be ingathered to the Holy City again. They will come back from Assyria and from Egypt and will worship the Lord in his holy mountain (Isa. 27:12-13). The hills will be removed and the valleys will be filled in, and even the trees will gather to give them shade, as they come back (Bar 5:5-9). Even those who died as exiles in far countries will be brought back.
(x) In the last days the New Jerusalem, which is already prepared in heaven with God (4 Ezra 10: 44-59; 2 Baruch 4: 2-6), will come down among men. It will be beautiful beyond compare with foundations of sapphires, and pinnacles of agate, and gates of carbuncles, on borders of pleasant stones (Isa. 54:12-13; Tob. 13:16-17). The glory of the latter house will be greater than the glory of the former (Hag. 2:7-9).
(xi) An essential part of the apocalyptic picture of the last days was the resurrection of the dead. "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dn. 12:2-3). Sheol and the grave will give back that which has been entrusted to them (Enoch 51: 1). The scope of the resurrection of the dead varied. Sometimes it was to apply only to the righteous in Israel; sometimes to all Israel; and sometimes to all men everywhere. Whichever form it took, it is true to say that now for the first time we see emerging a strong hope of a life beyond the grave.
(xii) There were differences as to how long the Messianic kingdom was to last. The most natural--and the most usual--view was to think of it as lasting for ever. The kingdom of the saints is an everlasting kingdom (Dn.7:27). Some believed that the reign of the Messiah would last for 400 years. They arrived at this figure from a comparison of Gen.15:13 and Ps.90:15. In Genesis Abraham is told that the period of affliction of the children of Israel will be 400 years; the psalmist's prayer is that God will make the nation glad according to the days wherein he has afflicted them and the years wherein they have seen evil. In the Revelation the view is that there is to be a reign of the saints for a thousand years; then the final battle with the assembled powers of evil; then the golden age of God.
Such were the events which the apocalyptic writers pictured in the last days; and practically all of them find their place in the pictures of the Revelation. To complete the picture we may briefly summarize the blessings of the coming age.
THE BLESSINGS OF THE AGE TO COME: (i) The divided kingdom will be united again. The house of Judah will walk again with the house of Israel (Jer. 3:18; Isa. 11:13; Hos. 1:11). The old divisions will be healed and the people of God will be one.
(ii) There will be in the world an amazing fertility. The wilderness will become a field (Isa. 32:15), it will become like the garden of Eden (Isa. 51:3); the desert will rejoice and blossom like the crocus (Isa. 35:1). The earth will yield its fruit ten thousand fold; on each vine will be a thousand branches, on each branch a thousand clusters, in each cluster a thousand grapes, and each grape will give a cor (120 gallons) of wine (2 Baruch 29: 5-8). There will be a plenty such as the world has never known and the hungry will rejoice.
(iii) A consistent part of the dream of the new age was that in it all wars would cease. The swords will be beaten into plowshares and the spears into pruning-hooks (Isa. 2:4). There will be no sword or battle-din. There will be a common law for all men and a great peace throughout the earth, and king will be friendly with king (Sibylline Oracles 3: 751-760).
(iv) One of the loveliest ideas concerning the new age was that in it there would be no more enmity between the beasts or between man and the beasts. The leopard and the kid, the cow and the bear, the lion and the falling will play and lie down together (Isa. 11:6-9; Isa. 65:25). There will be a new covenant between man and the beasts of the field (Hos. 2:18). Even a child will be able to play where the poisonous reptiles have their holes and their dens (Isa. 11:6-9; 2 Baruch 73: 6). In all nature there will be a universal reign of friendship in which none will wish to do another any harm.
(v) The coming age will bring the end of weariness, of sorrow and of pain. The people will not sorrow any more (Jer. 31:12); everlasting joy will be upon their heads (Isa. 35:10). There will be no such thing as an untimely death (Isa. 65:20-22); no man will say: "I am sick" (Isa. 33:24); death will be swallowed up in victory and God will wipe tears from all faces (Isa. 25:8). Disease will withdraw; anxiety, anguish and lamentation will pass away; childbirth will have no pain; the reaper will not grow weary and the builder will not be toil worn (2 Baruch 73: 2-74: 4). The age to come will be one when what Virgil called "the tears of things" will be no more.
(vi) The age to come will be an age of righteousness. There will be perfect holiness among men. Mankind will be a good generation, living in the fear of the Lord in the days of mercy (Wis. 17:28-49; Wis. 18:9-10).
The Revelation is the New Testament representative of all these apocalyptic works which tell of the terrors before the end of time and of the blessings of the age to come; and it uses all the familiar imagery. It may often be difficult and even unintelligible to us, but for the most part it was using pictures and ideas which those who read it would know and understand
THE DATE OF THE REVELATION: We have two sources which enable us to fix the date.
(i) There is the account which tradition gives to us. The consistent tradition is that John was banished to Patmos in the time of Domitian; that he saw his visions there; at the death of Domitian was liberated and came back to Ephesus; and there set down the visions he had seen. Victorinus, who wrote towards the end of the third century A.D., says in his commentary on the Revelation: "John, when he saw these things, was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the mines by Domitian the Emperor. There, therefore, he saw the revelation... When he was afterwards set free from the mines, he handed down this revelation which he had received from God." Jerome is even more detailed: "In the fourteenth year after the persecution of Nero, John was banished to the island of Patmos, and there wrote the Revelation... Upon the death of Domitian, and upon the repeal of his acts by the senate, because of their excessive cruelty, he returned to Ephesus, when Nerva was emperor." Eusebius says: "The apostle and evangelist John related these things to the Churches, when he had returned from exile in the island after the death of Domitian." Tradition makes it certain that John saw his visions in exile in Patmos; the only thing that is doubtful--and it is not important--is whether he wrote them down during the time of his banishment or when he returned to Ephesus. On this evidence we will not be wrong if we date the Revelation about A.D. 95.
(ii) The second line of evidence is the material in the book. There is a completely new attitude to Rome and to the Roman Empire.
In Acts the tribunal of the Roman magistrate was often the safest refuge of the Christian missionaries against the hatred of the Jews and the fury of the mob. Paul was proud that he was a Roman citizen and again and again claimed the rights to which every Roman citizen was entitled. In Philippi he brought the local magistrates to heel by revealing his citizenship (Ac. 16:36-40). In Corinth Gallio dismissed the complaints against him with impartial Roman justice (Ac. 18:1-17). In Ephesus the Roman authorities were careful for his safety against the rioting mob (Ac. 19:13-41). In Jerusalem the Roman tribune rescued him from what might have become a lynching (Ac. 21:30-40). When the Roman tribune in Jerusalem heard that there was to be an attempt on Paul's lift on the way to Caesarea, he took every possible step to ensure his safety (Ac. 23:12-31). When Paul despaired of justice in Palestine, he exercised his right as a citizen and appealed direct to Caesar (Ac. 25:10-11). When he wrote to the Romans, he urged upon them obedience to the powers that be, because they were ordained by God and were a terror only to the evil, and not to the good (Rom. 13:1-7). Peter's advice is exactly the same. Governors and kings are to be obeyed, for their task is given them by God. It is a Christian's duty to fear God and honor the emperor (1 Pet. 2:12-17). In writing to the Thessalonians it is likely that Paul points to the power of Rome as the one thing which is controlling the threatening chaos of the world (2 Th. 2:7).
In the Revelation there is nothing but blazing hatred for Rome. Rome is a Babylon, the mother of harlots, drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs (Rev. 17:5-6). John hopes for nothing but her total destruction.
The explanation of this change in attitude lies in the wide development of Caesar worship which, with its accompanying persecution, is the background of the Revelation.
By the time of the Revelation Caesar worship was the one religion which covered the whole Roman Empire; and it was because of their refusal to conform to its demands that Christians were persecuted and killed. Its essence was that the reigning Roman Emperor, as embodying the spirit of Rome, was divine. Once a year everyone in the Empire had to appear before the magistrates to burn a pinch of incense to the god-head of Caesar and to say: "Caesar is Lord." After he had done that, a man might go away and worship any god or goddess he liked, so long as that worship did not infringe decency and good order; but he must go through this ceremony in which he acknowledged the Emperor's divinity.
The reason was very simple. Rome had a vast heterogeneous empire, stretching from one end of the known world to another. It had in it many tongues, races and traditions. The problem was how to weld this varied mass into a self-conscious unity. There is no unifying force like that of a common religion but none of the national religions could conceivably have become universal. Caesar worship could. It was the one common act and belief which turned the Empire into a unity. To refuse to burn the pinch of incense and to say: "Caesar is Lord," was not an act of irreligion; it was an act of political disloyalty. That is why the Romans dealt with the utmost severity with the man who would not say: "Caesar is Lord." And no Christian could give the title Lord to any other than Jesus Christ. This was the centre of his creed.
We must see how this Caesar worship developed and how it was at its peak when the Revelation was written
One basic fact must be noted. Caesar worship was not imposed on the people from above. It arose from the people; it might even be said that it arose in spite of efforts by the early emperors to stop it, or at least to curb it. And it is to be noted that of all the people in the Empire only the Jews were exempt from it.
Caesar worship began as a spontaneous outburst of gratitude to Rome. The people of the provinces well knew what they owed to Rome. Impartial Roman justice had taken the place of capricious and tyrannical oppression. Security had taken the place of insecurity. The great Roman roads spanned the world; and the roads were safe from brigands and the seas were clear of pirates. The pax Romana, the Roman peace, was the greatest thing which ever happened to the ancient world. As Virgil had it, Rome felt her destiny to be "to spare the fallen and to cast down the proud." Life had a new order about it. E. J. Goodspeed writes: "This was the pax Romana. The provincial under Roman sway found himself in a position to conduct his business, provide for his family, send his letters, and make his journeys in security, thanks to the strong hand of Rome."
Caesar worship did not begin with the deification of the Emperor. It began with the deification of Rome. The spirit of the Empire was deified under the name of the goddess Roma. Roma stood for all the strong and benevolent power of the Empire. The first temple to Roma was erected in Smyrna as far back as 195 B.C. It was no great step to think of the spirit of Rome being incarnated in one man, the Emperor. The worship of the Emperor began with the worship of Julius Caesar after his death. In 29 B.C. the Emperor Augustus granted to the provinces of Asia and Bithynia permission to erect temples in Ephesus and Nicaea for the joint worship of the goddess Roma and the deified Julius Caesar. At these shrines Roman citizens were encouraged and even exhorted to worship. Then another step was taken. To provincials who were not Roman citizens Augustus gave permission to erect temples in Pergamum in Asia and in Nicomedia in Bithynia, for the worship of Roma and himself. At first the worship of the reigning Emperor was considered to be something permissible for provincial non-citizens, but not for those who had the dignity of the citizenship.
There was an inevitable development. It is human to worship a god who can be seen rather than a spirit. Gradually men began more and more to worship the Emperor himself instead of the goddess Roma. It still required special permission from the senate to erect a temple to the living Emperor, but by the middle of the first century that permission was more and more freely given. Caesar worship was becoming the universal religion of the Roman Empire. A priesthood developed and the worship was organized into presbyteries, whose officials were held in the highest honor.
This worship was never intended to wipe out other religions. Rome was essentially tolerant. A man might worship Caesar and his own god. But more and more Caesar worship became a test of political loyalty; it became, as has been said, the recognition of the dominion of Caesar over a man's life and soul. Let us, then trace the development of this worship up to, and immediately beyond, the writing of the Revelation.
(i) Augustus, who died in A.D. 14, allowed the worship of Julius Caesar, his great predecessor. He allowed non-citizens in the provinces to worship himself but he did not permit citizens to do so; and he made no attempt to enforce this worship.
(ii) Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) could not halt Caesar worship. He forbade temples to be built and priests to be appointed for his own worship; and in a letter to Gython, a Laconian city, he definitely refused divine honors for himself. So far from enforcing Caesar worship, he actively discouraged it.
(iii) Caligula (A.D. 37-41), the next Emperor, was an epileptic, a madman and a megalomaniac. He insisted on divine honors. He attempted to enforce Caesar worship even on the Jews, who had always been and who always were to remain exempt from it. He planned to place his own image in the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem, a step which would certainly have provoked unyielding rebellion. Mercifully he died before he could carry out his plans. But in his reign we have an episode when Caesar worship became an imperial demand.
(iv) Caligula was succeeded by Claudius (A.D. 41-54) who completely reversed his insane policy. He wrote to the governor of Egypt--there were a million Jews in Alexandria--fully approving the Jewish refusal to call the Emperor a god and granting them full liberty to enjoy their own worship. On his accession to the throne, he wrote to Alexandria saying: "I deprecate the appointment of a High Priest to me and the erection of temples, for I do not wish to be offensive to my contemporaries, and I hold that sacred fanes and the like have been by all ages attributed to the immortal gods as peculiar honors."
(v) Nero (A.D. 54-68) did not take his own divinity seriously and did nothing to insist on Caesar worship. It is true that he persecuted the Christians; but this was not because they would not worship him, but because he had to find scapegoats for the great fire of Rome.
(vi) On the death of Nero there were three Emperors in eighteen months--Galba, Otto and Vitellius, and in such a time of chaos the question of Caesar worship did not arise.
(vii) The next two Emperors, Vespasian (A.D. 69-79) and Titus (A.D. 79-81), were wise rulers, who made no insistence on Caesar worship.
(viii) The coming of Domitian (A.D. 81-96) brought a complete change. He was a devil. He was the worst of all things--a cold-blooded persecutor. With the exception of Caligula, he in as the first Emperor to take his divinity seriously and to demand Caesar worship. The difference was that Caligula was an insane devil; Domitian was a sane devil, which is much more terrifying. He erected a monument to "the deified Titus son of the deified Vespasian." He began a campaign of bitter persecution against all who would not worship the ancient gods--"the atheists" as he called them. In particular he launched his hatred against the Jews and the Christians. When he arrived in the theater with his empress, the crowd were urged to rise and shout: "All hail to our Lord and his Lady!" He enacted that he himself was a god. He informed all provincial governors that government announcements and proclamations must begin: "Our Lord and God Domitian commands..." Everyone who addressed him in speech or in writing must begin: "Lord and God."
Here is the background of the Revelation. All over the Empire men and women must call Domitian god--or die. Caesar worship was the deliberate policy; all must say: "Caesar is Lord." There was no escape.
What were the Christians to do? What hope had they? They had not many wise and not many mighty. They had no influence or prestige. Against them had risen the might of Rome which no nation had ever resisted. They were confronted with the choice--Caesar or Christ. It was to encourage men in such times that the Revelation was written. John did not shut his eyes to the terrors; he saw dreadful things and he saw still more dreadful things on the way; but beyond them he saw glory for those who defied Caesar for the love of Christ. The Revelation comes from one of the most heroic ages in all the history of the Christian Church. It is true that Domitian's successor Nerva (A.D. 96-98) repealed the savage laws; but the damage was done, the Christians were outlaws, and the Revelation is a clarion call to be faithful unto death in order to win the crown of life.
THE BOOK WORTH STUDYING: No one can shut his eyes to the difficulty of the Revelation. It is the most difficult book in the Bible; but it is infinitely worth studying, for it contains the blazing faith of the Christian Church in the days when life was an agony and men expected the end of the heavens and the earth as they knew them but still believed that beyond the terror was the glory and above the raging of men was the power of God.
Notes from Ray Stedman:
Behind the Scenes of History
We have just come through the earthquake of October 17, (1989) and can give thanks that most of us survived without serious damage. There is one thing that can be said about an earthquake -- it is a great priority adjuster! When the World Series was being held it was regarded in its beginning games as one of the greatest events taking place on this planet at the time. Almost everybody thought it was tremendously important which team would win. But at 5:04 p.m. on October 17, there was a remarkable and visible change. At 5:05 all priorities were suddenly different.
An earthquake is admittedly a scary event as is also, of course, a great hurricane, such as the East Coast recently went through. The reason these natural disasters frighten us is because they are entirely out of our control. We have nothing to say about them. They come when they want to; they do what they want to; and there is nothing we can do about it. Many people learned that during this recent quake. It awakened much fear among the people, and fear makes us often change our minds about what is important in life.
That is also the attitude often produced by the book of Revelation. It is the scariest book in the Bible. It contains fearsome revelations of plagues and earthquakes, wars, and frightening invasions of strange creatures upon the face of the earth. It makes us all wonder whether we would be able to survive the judgments depicted there. Dr. Earl Palmer, [former] pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, has said in his fine exposition of this book, "Revelation is hard to understand, but it is impossible to forget." And so it is!
It is not an accident that this is the last book of the Bible. It gathers themes from the whole Bible and brings them into focus in its pages. Someone has well said that the book of Genesis and the book of Revelation are like two book ends that hold the Bible together. In Genesis you have the story of the beginning of human sin; in Revelation you have the end of it recounted. In Genesis there is the beginning of civilization and of history; in Revelation we learn the end of both. In Genesis you learn of the beginning of the judgments of God upon mankind; in Revelation you see the end of them. These two books belong together.
Many of the great themes of Scripture are brought into final focus in the book of Revelation. It is, therefore, a most important book to read and understand. It has been likened to being at a major airport when planes are landing. Go down to SFO and watch the people get off the planes. You may see a crowd of people who have well-tanned faces and warm smiles and are wearing leis around their necks. You know immediately where they came from -- from Hawaii! Watch another group and they have raincoats over their arms, are carrying umbrellas, and their faces are wreathed in gloom. They are obviously from Seattle! Another crowd may have a murky pall of smoke and grime on their faces. They are obviously from Los Angeles! So also as we go through this book you will recognize many of the great themes of the Bible and will know from what Old Testament book they originate. Let us let the book introduce itself in the three verse prologue, or preface, with which it begins:
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw -- that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads 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. (Revelation 1:1-3 NIV)
There are two words in this paragraph that tell us the nature of the book. The very first word, "The revelation," is the Greek word apocalypse which means "an unveiling," a taking away of that which obscures. Apocalypses have to do with mysteries -- and their meaning. So, throughout this book we will find many mysteries made clear. The mystery of evil is unveiled. Why does it persist on the earth and what is its ultimate end. That is revealed to us, unveiled in this book. The mystery of godliness is made clear. How can one live a godly, righteous life in the midst of a broken and evil world. That is unveiled. Many other mysteries are unveiled. That is why the book begins with that term.
A little later in that same paragraph we read, "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy." This book is not only an unveiling, it is also a prediction. It deals with persons and events which are yet to come, as the prologue tells us; "What must soon take place." We will learn what personalities are yet to appear on the stage of history in the last days, and what great events will unfold as history rolls on to its final consummation. This book will make that clear.
Now, the process by which all this comes to us is stated. The second sentence of the preface states, "He [i.e., Jesus] made it known by sending his angel to his servant John." In those words "made it known" there is a hidden meaning. It is actually one Greek word which in English should be translated signified, or, if you want to pronounce it more accurately "sign-i-fied," i.e., made known by signs or symbols. He symbolized it to his servant John. That is one of the first things we need to know about this book. It is a book largely of symbols. Symbols are important. They are ways of understanding things which you cannot draw a picture of. Something that is rather abstruse or difficult to understand can be made known by symbols.
I once heard of a boy who was trying to explain to a younger boy what a radio was like. He said to him, "You know that a telegraph is a long wire that runs between two cities. It is like having a big dog with his tail in Los Angeles and his head in San Francisco. If you step on his tail in Los Angeles he barks in San Francisco. Now a radio is the same thing only you don't have no dog!" That is a wonderful way of making clear what is difficult by the use of symbols! The book of Revelation is like that. It has strange beasts and fearful scorpions and many other weird persons and animals that appear, but they are symbols of something real and literal. We will need, therefore, to carefully interpret them.
We will be guided by the fact that almost all the symbols of Revelation are given to us before in the Bible. That is why it is wrong to read the book of Revelation without reading first the whole Bible. If you start with the book of Revelation you will soon be terribly confused, but if you read through the Bible, when you come to Revelation you will understand many of the symbols immediately. So let that fact guide you as you read this book through on your own.
The author is not John the Apostle, as many suppose, though John is certainly involved in giving us this book. The author is God himself! Notice the words, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him." This book began among the Godhead, and God, the Father, is its author. He revealed the book to his Son. It all began in the mind of the Father and then was revealed to Jesus, his Son. Remember that in Matthew 24:36 Jesus said that though he understood many of the events of the last days, he did not know the time when it would all happen. He said that knowledge belonged only to the Father. Now, of course, risen and glorified, he knows all these things, but at that time he did not know. It had not yet been revealed to him when these events would occur. But now Jesus is given this revelation and he passes it on to an angel who in turn makes known by symbols to John the Apostle what is in the mind of God, and eventually it comes to us. This means this book is unique in the Bible. No other book was given in quite this way. It comes from the mind of God the Father, through the agency of the Son of God, to an angel of God, and thus to the apostle of God, John the writer of this book.
Notice also the blessing that is promised. I do not want to miss that. "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take it to heart." The word blessed is probably based on a Hebrew word which is not the usual word for blessing: The usual term is Barak, which means "to bow down," but the word Esher, which means "to guide," is more likely in the thought of John. That is what is being promised to us. If we pay attention to the book of Revelation, and keep it, take it to heart, we shall be guided through the morass of ideas and conflicting philosophies which abound in the world today. We will find the right pathway through all the confusing pathways that exist around us. That is the special blessing conferred by the book of Revelation.
Now, in the next section, beginning with Verse 4 through 8, we are introduced to the Dramatis Personae, i.e., the people, the personalities, who will appear in the book. First, of course, is John as he states in Verse 4:
John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia. (Revelation 1:4a NIV)
That is all we are told about the author at this point, his name alone. We know from comparison with other Scriptures, and from the tradition of the early church, that this was very likely John the Apostle, the brother of James, and son of Zebedee. There is some question about that, however. Some raise the possibility that another John (called John the Presbyter) wrote this, but there is so much evidence that links this writing with the Gospel of John and the three letters of John in our Bibles that it seems difficult to view this as coming from any other hand than the apostle's. He wrote this toward the end of his life; probably he was in his eighties when this vision was given to him. The usual dating of the book is around 94-96 A. D. It comes to us, as he says, as a letter written to a series of seven selected churches located in the Roman province of Asia. These churches are named for us later and we will spend time with them as we go on in this series. The province of Asia is modern Turkey today.
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come... (Revelation 1:4b NIV)
That describes God the Father, the Eternal One. His name in Hebrew, Yahweh, means "I Am," and this statement is a parsing of that verb. "I am he who is, and he who was, and he who is to come," thus he is the eternally Existing One.
...and from the seven spirits before his throne, (Revelation 1:4c NIV)
This is the first of a series of sevens that are mentioned in the book of Revelation. Seven is the key number of this book. When you find seven of anything in this book, it is a symbol of completeness, of perfection or plenitude. This is the Spirit of God in the plenitude of his being. This is confirmed to us by a verse in the prophecy of Isaiah. In Chapter 11, Verse 2, the prophet speaks of The Spirit coming upon the Messiah, and he says:
The Spirit of the Lord [number one] will rest on him --the Spirit of wisdom [number two] and of understanding [three], the Spirit of counsel [four] and of power [five], the Spirit of knowledge [six] and of the fear of the Lord [seven] -- (Isaiah 11:2 NIV)
So the seven spirits are the Holy Spirit in his fullness. It is he who gives us this book, the Spirit of God in the plenitude of his being, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Our Lord Jesus is the central figure of the book, as we will note often as we go through it, but here he is introduced to us for the first time, in a threefold manner. He is the "faithful witness," i.e., what he says is true. You can count on it. He utters absolute basic reality. I do not think anything means more to me in reading the Bible than to understand that here is the revelation of things as they really are. This is a confusing world in which we live. We are bombarded by conflicting philosophies, many ideas are widely different, many value systems are wholly antagonistic to others, and we must often ask ourselves, "Which is right?" Well, here is the word from the Faithful Witness, the one who tells us the truth. He is also called "the firstborn from the dead." That is a reference to his resurrection. He is the first one to rise in glory from having once been dead. All others who were raised from the dead in the Bible returned to the same earthly life they had before, but not Jesus. When he was raised, he was glorified, and it is that glorified life which he gives to those who believe in him. He is the life giver. Third, he is introduced as "the ruler of the kings of the earth." Is that not encouraging? All these powerful leaders which we have today claim to be sovereign and able to work their will, and yet here is one who appears as the "ruler of the kings of the earth." He sets the limits in which the others must live. Thus he is the great law maker, king over all other kings.
So he is introduced here, as the truth teller, the life giver, and the law maker. The text goes on to tell us what he does, in Verse 5:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father -- to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:5b-6 NIV)
This is the first doxology of the book. A paean of praise that recognizes the greatness of our Lord. Notice the threefold division: First, he loves us. That is in the present tense. It is not past tense. It is true that he loved us. He loved the whole world for "God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son," (John 3:16). But Jesus loves us now. That is the point John makes. Everything in the life of a believer ought to be based upon the love of the Lord Jesus. It is the most amazing thing, that we who know in our hearts that we are faithless and foolish and often arrogantly sinful and selfish, still he loves us. What a difference it makes when one begins to believe that.
Years ago, when I was traveling with Dr. H. A. Ir onside, we were in the state of Virginia, and there met a man who was Rector of an Episcopal church. He told us the story of his conversion. I have never read this story anywhere, but I have never forgotten his amazing story. He said that he was a student at Cambridge University when D. L. Moody was invited to speak to the students there. He was one of a group of students who were very angry that an invitation would ever be given to a backwoods American preacher like Moody, who murdered the king's English (He was said to be the only man who could ever pronounce Jerusalem in one syllable!). When these young men knew that he was coming to what they regarded as the center of culture of the world, they determined that they would upset the meetings by mocking and jeering at him. When the meeting began, the young men were right on the front row ready to call out names, and upset the meeting. But before Moody spoke, Ira B. San key, his great gospel singer, stood and sang. His voice quieted the crowd and immediately when he finished, without a word of introduction, D. L. Moody stepped to the platform, pointed his finger at the young men in the front row and said, "Young gentlemen, don't ever think God don't love you, for he do." They were so stunned by this ungrammatical beginning, that they listened quietly to Moody. He came back to his theme a little later and said it again, "Young gentlemen, don't think God don't love you, for he do." This man said that Moody went on to speak of the love of Jesus for a lost race, and he told us, "I began to see myself in a different light, and by the end of the meeting I gave my heart to Christ."
That is what John is seeking to emphasize here. He dedicates the book to "Him who loves us" and, in addition, "has freed us from our sins by his blood." He breaks the shackles of evil habits in our lives. He sets us free from the dependencies that we have allowed to harass us, shackle us, and limit us. Some of you here, I am sure, have struggled with drug dependency or alcohol dependency and you know what a horrible grip they can get upon your life. But here is one who frees from our sins! We are all sinfully dependent people. We have all been shackled by evil of one sort or another: Selfish attitudes and hot tempers, or lustful passions, or angry self-centered talk, etc. We are as much victims of evil as any alcoholic or drug addict may be, but here is one who has freed us by the sacrifice of his own life.
"He breaks the power of canceled sin, And sets the prisoner
His blood can make the foulest clean; His blood availed for me!"
But more than that he "has made us a kingdom of priests to serve the Lord our God." A priest's work was to heal the sense of alienation which people felt with God. Sinners feel estranged from God. They cut themselves off by their behavior from a God of holiness and justice. But they are to be brought near by priests. In the Old Testament, the priests explained the meaning of the sacrifices and thus brought people near. That is the work of believers today. We are to help people in their agony and their injury, their darkness and lostness, to realize that God is longing to draw them to himself and to heal their alienation. For this work Jesus has made us "a kingdom of priests." Do you ever think of yourself as a priest? That is what God has sent you to do and sent me to do as well. So our Lord is introduced to us not only as to who he is and what he does, but also what he will do in the future.
Look, he is coming with the clouds, (Revelation 1:7a NIV)
This is the focal point of history. This is "that one far off, divine event, toward which the whole creation moves." One of these days he will break through the skies, as he once left this earth, and come again in glory. His coming will have universal impact. First,
...every eye will see him, (Revelation 1:7b NIV)
Jesus himself tells us this. If you have read the 24th chapter of Matthew, you know that he himself describes this event.
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30 NIV)
No one will miss it. You will not need a television set to see him come. He will appear everywhere in that uniqueness of Deity that can be visible to everybody around the earth at once. So when he comes he will be visible to all. Paul calls this event, "the splendor of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8b NIV), literally, "the outshining of his parousia." Then, even the Jews will recognize him. John tell us:
...even those who pierced him; (Revelation 1:7c NIV)
This is a reference to a prophecy in Zechariah, the 12th chapter, where we are told that when he appears those who pierced him shall look upon him and shall mourn for him with a great mourning. They shall ask him "What are these wounds in your hands," and he will say, "Those which I received in the house of my friends," (Zechariah 13:6 KJV).
I was with a number of rabbis some years ago in Los Angeles, and we were discussing the differences between Christianity and Judaism. One of them said to me, "You know," he said, "when the Messiah does come, the Jews will say, 'Welcome' but you Christians will say, 'Welcome back,'" And I said, "But what will the Messiah say?" He said, "I think he will say, 'No comment'." One of the puzzles of history has been why the Jewish people have so resolutely turned their backs on the evidence that Jesus is their promised Messiah. It is the "blinding in part" (Romans 11:7, 2 Corinthians 3:14), that Paul says will happen to the nation because of long standing unbelief. But it will not be forever. The day will come when Israel will recognize their Messiah. Prophecy predicts it, and Jesus here confirms it; "even those who pierced him" (Zechariah 12:10), shall see him in that day. The third result is:
...and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. (Revelation 1:7d NIV)
I believe this is a reference to that great event that is described in Philippians, the second chapter. There we are told that, "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father," (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV). At last men will realize, in the appearance of the Lord himself, where they have stood in relationship to him. They will mourn because they will see how terribly they have treated him and his work for them upon the cross. Now we get, in Verse 8, a most impressive thing. It is as though God takes a pen, and with his own hand, signs this book with his own name:
I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, [Alpha and Omega are the first and last characters of the Greek alphabet] who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty [One]. (Revelation 1:8 NIV)
In no other book of the Bible do we have this wonderful imprimatur of God. God has signed this book with his own name, and has identified himself for us. When we read this book we are reading a copy autographed by the author! Finally, in Verses 9-20, which we will conclude with, we get the history of this encounter with Jesus.
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a short double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:9-16 NIV)
Even this early in the book of Revelation we begin to get truth imparted to us by symbols. This is not what Jesus will look like when you see him in glory. It is not the way he will look when he appears. These are symbols that tell us what role he is fulfilling at the moment, not what he looks like but what he is like, his character, or some aspect of it that he particularly wishes to stress.
John tells us that all this happened to him one Sunday morning when he was on the island of Patmos, a tiny island only 4 miles wide and 6 miles long, just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. There the Roman Empire maintained certain mines and quarries, and John, apparently, was banished to this island because of his testimony and preaching of Jesus. He was a prisoner on Patmos. But one Sunday morning, (that is what is meant by "the Lord's Day," for the early Christians began immediately to meet, not on Saturday as the Jews did, but on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection), John was "in the Spirit." What that means is that he was worshiping. It does not mean he was in a state of high ecstasy. It meant that he was honoring God, thinking about him, paying tribute to his majesty, his greatness and his power, worshiping God.
Remember Jesus said to the woman at the well in John 4, "The time is come," he said, "when they that worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth," (John 4:23). John was "in the Spirit" on this Lord's day when he heard a voice behind him like a great trumpet blasting out. The voice said, "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches." John did what you and I would have done, he turned around to see who it was that sounded so powerful, and what he saw was the Lord standing among seven golden lampstands, holding seven stars in his hand. There is the second series of seven in this book. He was dressed in priestly garments, revealing his role as the Great High Priest.
This vision is given to help us see that our High Priest is still ministering among his churches. His ministry is characterized by what is revealed here. He had on, first of all, a long robe reaching down to his feet with a golden sash about his chest. Gold speaks of deity in Scripture. So it indicates Jesus is a priest who is himself God. His head and his hair were white. These symbols are used in the book of Daniel to speak of wisdom and of purity. Here is one who is characterized by these virtues. His eyes were like blazing fire, from which nothing could be hid. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace and his voice like the sound of rushing waters. His face was like the sun shining in its strength. Fire speaks of judgment and his face was lighted with unbearable brilliance, symbolizing the intensity of truth.
I wonder if John was not taken back in memory to that scene in the north of Israel when he and James his brother, along with Peter were led up a high mountain by Jesus and there, as they prayed, suddenly Jesus was transfigured before them. His garments began to shine with a whiteness that nothing on earth could equal, and his face shone like the sun. Undoubtedly that scene would have flashed into John's mind when he saw Jesus here. Peter tells us in his second letter that that experience on the mountain was a preview of the coming of Jesus. This, perhaps, explains why at the close of the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus was asked by the other disciples, "What do you want this man to do?" referring to John. Jesus answered with a strange word. He said, "If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" (John 21:22-23). The word went out among the disciples that John was never to die because Jesus had suggested that he would remain until he came. But here in this book of Revelation is the explanation. John did remain alive till he saw the coming of Jesus in this vision given to him. Though he died at the age of 90-some years, and was buried in Ephesus, as tradition tells us, yet he did see the coming of the Lord.
The voice he heard was like the sound of the surf as it dashes on the rocks, the sound of many waters, a great roaring voice. The two-edged sword is clearly a symbol of the Word of God. These symbols tell us what he will be doing in this book. He is the Great High Priest ministering to his own in a scene of desolation and judgment, yet he is in charge of all the events and in the midst is revealing truth by the Word of God. Now, throughout the book, Jesus also appears in other capacities: He is a Lamb in Chapter 5. He appears also as a lion there. He is a rider on a great white horse, in Chapter 19. He is a Bridegroom, coming for his Bride in Chapter 21. So various symbols are employed as descriptions of the various ministries of our Lord as he seeks to minister to his people. In Verses 17-18 we learn John's reaction to this remarkable vision.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later." (Revelation 1:17-19 NIV)
This is John's commission to write this book, and his reaction is one frequently seen whenever a man encounters the glorious God. He "fell at his feet as though dead," struck dumb by the awesomeness of the character of God. Isaiah does the same when he sees the Lord high and lifted up with his train filling the temple. Job does this also when to him is revealed the wisdom and wonder of God. Throughout the Bible it is the only place to be when God appears -- fall on your face as though dead. But the reaction of Jesus is typical, very characteristic of him. Notice that he does three things. First, he touched him! He laid his right hand upon him. Read the Gospels and Jesus is always touching people. When he healed a leper he touched him. When he opened the eyes of the blind he put his hands upon their eyes. So here, he touched him. And, then, he reassured him. "Fear not," he said. "Don't be afraid. I am not your enemy. I am your friend. I am the First and the Last. [i.e., I set the boundaries of time and history. Everybody must live within the limits that I have determined]. I am the Living One [I am always available.] I am alive forevermore, for ever and ever. [There will never be a moment when you need me that I will not be there, available to you.] And I hold the keys of death and Hades [death, the enemy of the physical life]; Hades [or Hell], the enemy of the spiritual life. [I am in charge of both places, both forces.] So you need not fear." Then he commissioned John: "Write!" And he told him what to write -- in three divisions. "Write what you have seen," That covers what we are looking today in Chapter 1. And write "what is now," i.e., Chapters 2 and 3 of this book, the letters to the seven churches. And write, "what will take place later." This would be Chapters 4-22, the rest of the book of Revelation. So Jesus himself gives us the divisions of this book, and if we follow them carefully we will be able to understand what he is saying.
Now, in Verse 20, which really belongs with the next chapter, he explains the two symbols that John has seen: the seven golden lampstands and the seven stars. Jesus says:
The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:20 RSV)
That will introduce us to our study next Sunday. We will explain more of these symbols when we come to that. But the point of this first chapter is to focus our attention upon Jesus. He is the central figure of the book, as he is the central figure of all history. No life can ever be lived realistically without reference to him. Christians are called to live as seeing him who is invisible. Everyday this ought to affect us. Here is the One who goes with you to work tomorrow. This is the One who rides beside you as you drive your car. This is the One who watches as you sleep. This is the One who selects the circumstances of your life. He is ready to impart, at any time you need it, courage, peace, forgiveness, wisdom, and help in time of need. So John fulfills the purpose that he was given: to elevate and focus our attention upon the figure of Jesus that we might know him, who he is, and understand what he is willing to do. (Behind the Scenes of History, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/revelation/4189.html)
God's Final Word, by Ray Stedman, is in the book store and the edited book version of this sermon series.
Studies in Revelation from Bible.org: http://www.bible.org/passage.asp?passage_id=66
On line commentary on Revelation by Ross A. Taylor, http://www.apocalipsis.org/contents.htm#initial (A thorough discussion of the various ways of interpretation Revelation).
Revelation Illustrated: http://www.revelationillustrated.com/
The Apocalypse of John, http://www.ambs.edu/LJohns/APJN.htm
Interpretative Models of Revelation, http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=2164
William Barclay's Commentary on Revelation, http://www.ldolphin.org/barclay/revelation1.html and http://www.ldolphin.org/barclay/revelation2.html
Notes and audio of class web site: http://ldolphin.org/cleanpages/
Email: Lambert Dolphin, email@example.com
January 25, 2005
Will the coming Messiah be a King, a Rabbi or a General?
Generally speaking there is in Israel and among the Jewish people a lack of clarity concerning the person of the coming Messiah, and what his characteristics are meant to be.
This uncertainty about the longed-for and anticipated Messiah has led to a number of individuals in history believing themselves to be possible candidates. Thus, because of this ambiguity, different people throughout Jewish history have been able to claim for themselves the title of Messiah, beginning with the legendary figure of Bar Kochba -- who some believed to be the Messiah -- through modern times to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson of New York. Some believed themselves to be the Messiah, others let others do the believing for them. But the fact that this all fluctuated between national heroes of a more political nature on one hand, and spiritual charismatic leaders or rabbis on the other, reveals the absence of a broad consensus as to what the Messiah is to be.
This takes us right back to the biblical times where we find
this duality also: spiritual leaders or prophets like Moses and
Samuel who led the Jewish people in God's name and anointed warrior
leaders like Joshua and King David, or specially anointed heroes
like Samson and Gideon during the time of the judges.
Which raises the question: What kind of Messiah can we expect -- a spiritual prophet like Moses or Samuel, a warrior/king like David, or an anointed military commander like Joshua? Who are we to expect or, what is perhaps a better question, what kind of Messiah does Israel most need at this moment in her history to bring her through all her problems -- an anointed king, a commander, a spiritual guide and prophet, or an exceptional peace maker -- a man of peace?
That there is a natural longing to see some kind of leader emerge one day is evident whenever a popular Israeli politician appears and crowds chant 'melech Israel' -- king of Israel.
This nation is destined ultimately to have a Messiah King -- not just a Prime Minister or President who, especially with such a divided people and parliament, would never be able to accomplish the task.
Perhaps all the elements of the Israel's leaders who were previously anointed by God and given to the people -- Samuel, Moses, Gideon, Joshua, King David and King Solomon -- will be present in Prince Messiah when He comes.
In a way, King David comes closest to the Person we can all expect. He was at once a very spiritual prophetic man, an amazingly effective military commander, and a true political leader and king of his people.
In each of these previous leaders we see only a certain aspect of the characteristics of the promised Messiah.
Moses was more of a spiritual leader and prophet, and the promise was made even during his time that one day God would raise up unto His people "a Prophet like him" (see Deuteronomy 18:15), signifying that the Messiah would therefore definitely have the prophetic powers and calling of a Moses. Moses, an elevated spiritual leader, met the Lord high up in the mountain where he received the Torah -- the Ten Commandments from God -- which he brought then down to his people.
Joshua, a more down-to-earth leader, a warrior, met the Lord
down in the plain of Jericho, when He called Himself the Captain
of the hosts of the Lord -- before Joshua was able to militarily
conquer the Promised Land.
In King David we find all these different elements combined: the priest and prophet who prays and sings his prayers and songs of worship before the Lord his God, even in his tent of tabernacle; the soldier, who experiences the Lord teaching him to fight as a mighty warrior, training his hands to war and conquer (see Psalm 18:34); and the king who rules over God's people in God's Name.
Also his son Solomon foreshadows the coming Messiah King, especially during his early reign as a true son of David when in peace and justice he rules the whole kingdom entrusted to him.
This is why one of the special titles for the Messiah is "Son of David" - - not only because King David had all these three elements of priest/prophet, king and warrior in himself (and so in this way was a typical forerunner of the coming Messiah), but also because David was born in Bethlehem, a city where according to the prophet Micah the Messiah too would be born.
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2)
This is why, as someone once told me, it was possibly the saddest
day when the Israeli government decided in 1995 to give the city
of Bethlehem away to Arafat and the Palestinians to be Juden-rein
Muslim territory, so rendering impossible the birth of a Jewish
Messiah in this city of David. From that day, no Jews have been
permitted to live in Bethlehem.
The Messiah, to be the genuine Messiah, must therefore resemble King David -- He must not only be a royal descendant from David's house; like David, He must also born in Bethlehem, and like the direct physical son of David, Solomon, He must be a Person who will establish peace and justice over the whole earth, beginning in the city of Jerusalem.
In the Tanach (the Hebrew Scriptures), the Person of the Messiah is so identified with King David that He is sometimes even named "David" as in Ezekiel 37:25:
Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.
But like David He will also be a Man of war -a Lion of Judah who will fight for His people Israel, trampling in the winepress of His wrath the nations that have come to swallow up Israel. As Zechariah prophesies:
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You. It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to the Lord - neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light. And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be -- "the Lord is one," and His name one. (Zechariah 14:3-9)
So the Messiah is not just One Who is brought as 'a Lamb to
the slaughter' (Isaiah 53:7); He will also will be like a roaring
Lion -- "the Lion of Judah."
There are equally many passages in the Scriptures which describe clearly and forcefully this aspect of the coming Messiah. He will in the end days go out to war for His people:
The Lord shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yes, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies. (Isaiah 42:13)
Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from
Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in
the greatness of His strength? -- "I who speak in righteousness,
mighty to save."
Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?
"I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me. I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, made them drunk in My fury, and brought down their strength to the earth." (Isaiah 63:1-6)
However He will also be the spiritual guide to His people, a prophet like Moses -- a High Priest and Prophet combined, like Moses and Aaron in One, who will guide His people in all matters of faith and Torah, eclipsing the need for a chief Rabbi or a Chief Rabbinate in His days!
So the Messiah will be like Moses the true Law giver and in His days -- this law will go forth from Zion not only to all Israel but to the uttermost parts of the world.
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:1-4)
His coming will be sudden and only after His temple, the house of God, will have been built upon God's holy hill in Jerusalem, rightfully called "the Temple Mount".
"Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)
And the glory of the Lord came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple. (Ezekiel 43:4, 5)
So He will suddenly come to His temple - coming when people least expect Him -- "as a thief in the night" -- yet with great power and glory, as Daniel describes, on the clouds of heaven.
"I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the cloud of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." (Daniel 7: 13, 14)
It all has to be like this, because unless He, the Messiah,
comes with unmistakable power and glory, He will not be seen for
what He is, the true King and Messiah of Israel, the Ruler of
the world - as so many self-appointed ego maniacs, in both the
religious as well as the political world, will surely first try
to present themselves as saviors and messiahs of mankind!
Thus does the Tanach, or Holy Scriptures, seem to imply that at an hour when people least expect it, when darkness will cover the earth and the nations - when because of all the earthquakes, disasters, wars and rumors of wars men's hearts will be failing them from fear - when the general situation of this planet and its inhabitants has come to the brink of utter hopelessness, God's light will come in the powerful person of Israel's King Messiah, Son of the house of David. As is written:
When darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)
In the run-up to that time, every ruler in this world, of whatever nation -- especially of course of the nation of Israel -- has the possibility -- by the grace and inspiration of God, to foreshadow, even as King David did in His reign and rule, some of the characteristics of this coming King and Messiah of mankind. He can choose to put God and His laws first and foremost, seek Him continually for wisdom and direction, seek His council -- even as David did -- even as how to fight and overcome the enemies of his nation. All this David did, and on top of it he, David, was a great lover of His God -- putting the place set aside for His God in his city above everything else, as he expresses in Psalm 132:
A Song of Ascents. Lord, remember David and all his afflictions; how he swore to the Lord, and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob: "Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house, or go up to the comfort of my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob." For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: "This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it." (Psalm 132:1-5, 13-14)
May God inspire a future leader in Israel to prepare again a dwelling place unto God in Jerusalem.
So equally now -- an Israeli or other nation,s prime minister
or president can make sure that his first holy duty is to the
God of heaven and earth, and in this case Israel's leader has
a unique privileged possibility and calling to prepare in this
fateful 21st century a house for the Lord God of Israel, to thus
show in the first place to his own Israeli people -- but then
also to the nations of the world -- that Israel will not suffice
with just having a religion for some of their people -- as most
of the nations indeed have also -- but that Israel's leader --
may God grant it soon -- will like David be seen to want God (and
not just a religion) to again take up His residence through the
majestic and powerful person of the Messiah on His holy Hill in
Jerusalem for all the world to see.
May that day come soon!
Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Director
International Christian Zionist Center
P.O. Box 49063
91490 Jerusalem, ISRAEL
Telephone: +972 (0)2 581 9701
Fax: +972 (0)2 540 0133
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org Web-site: www.israelmybeloved.com