Unlocking Revelation (WEEK 4)

Unlocking Revelation (WEEK 4)

The historical situation behind revelation gives context for the Revelation

We have been learning about the historical reality that sat behind the Book of Revelation and how the message of the Apostle John received from Jesus makes sense when you understand this backdrop in which it is written.

In particular we have been learning how the Roman Caesars from Augustine’s time set themselves up as the personification of God on earth and the intermediary between heaven and earth who had been sent from the gods to bring about universal peace and prosperity to the planet.

We also saw how these Caesars and specifically Nero (although this was true of the majority of them) was evil personified.

Jesus is Lord not Caesar

Last week I showed you how whilst the Apostle John is in exile on the Isle of Patmos from the Churches he is pastor of, He has a vision of the risen Lord Jesus Christ which powerfully reminds Him of the truth of who Jesus is.

John sees 23 things about Jesus in his encounter:

Verse

Meaning

[He] who is, and who was, and who is to come (1:4)

Jesus is the Great Apostle sent by the Father to bring about redemption to the earth

{he has] seven spirits before his throne (1:4)

Jesus is God

[The] faithful witness (1:5)

Jesus is the Covenant enforcer

the firstborn from the dead (1:5)

Jesus is the preeminent one

the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5)

Jesus is the King of kings

him who loves us (1:5)

Jesus is the true expression of Father

freed us from our sins (1:5)

Jesus is the liberator of humanity

coming with the clouds, (1:7)

Jesus is the Judge of the Earth

I am the Alpha and the Omega (1:8)

Jesus is God

the Almighty. (1:8)

Jesus is the One who has all power and rules over everything

and among the [7] lampstands was someone (1:13)

Jesus is the light of the world

like a son of man (1:13)

Jesus is the Messiah

dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest (1:13)

The Great high priest

the hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow (Rev 1:14)

Jesus is the glory of God

his eyes were like blazing fire (1:14)

Jesus is Holy

His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace (1:15)

Jesus is the glorious one

and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters (1:15)

Jesus is the glorious one

In his right hand he held seven stars (1:16)

Jesus has all authority in heaven and the earth

coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. (1:16)

Jesus has all power

His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (1:16)

Jesus is the glorious one

I am the First and the Last. (1:17)

Jesus is supreme ruler over all of history

I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! (1:18)

Jesus is the victorious one

And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (1:18)

Jesus is the Lord of Life and the victor over the grave

  

Despite everything around John that would testify the that Caesar Nero was Lord and God, John is reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ was God’s Son who was sent to earth as a human to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth and bring healing to the earth and heal the human condition.

Things were going to get worse before they got better

Despite Jesus’ Lordship things were about to get a whole lot worse for the Christian believers. Jesus wants to encourage His Church that the heat being turned up was actually the result of His Lordship and the cosmic forces of evil being stirred up. At the end of Chapter 1 Jesus instructs John to send a dictated letter to the angels of the the 7 Churches in region of Asia Minor.

The Futuristic view foretells events

I have shared previously that the most commonly held view of Revelation today is that Revelation is a mostly prophetic book that foretells events that were to come and that we’d recognize these events when they happen.

The Futurists were right about Revelation being prophetic. It did largely tell the future, but not the future thousands of years from John’s day like they assume.

Jesus tells John that he was to write about things that must take shortly (Rev. 1:1) and the time of the things he was to write about was “near” (Rev. 1:3).

The Greek word for “shortly” (tachos) in Revelation 1:1 means “quickly, shortly, speedily”; in other words right round the corner.

John prophesies the details of events so precisely that many scholars think that John would have had to written them after the fact. But this is the nature of prophecy. Prophecy prophesies.

Revelation chapters 2 to 6 are a prophetic rewriting of the Domitian Capitoline Games that would happen 15 years on from the time John writes this letter.

Caesar Domitian: Thinks he is a God

Just a few short years after Caesar Nero died there arose a Caesar called Domitian who was Roman emperor from 81 to 96. He was the younger brother of Caesar Titus and the son of Caesar Vespasian, his two predecessors on the throne.

We have learnt that the Caesars projected a persona to the people that they ruled over that they were god incarnate in order to control the populous – you don’t want to disobey god because your life doesn’t go well when you do. Caesar Domitian though actually thought he really was as a god.

Everywhere he went had a choir of 24 singers who chanted “Our Lord and our god, you are worthy to receive honour, glory and power” (see Rev. 4:11). He even demanded that his own wife to call him, “My Lord and God,” whenever she addressed him.

Domitian’s belief that he was god turned him into a megalomaniac.

The Domitian Capitoline Games

To consolidate his power he inaugurated the Capitoline Games – think Olympic Games today and you have an idea of what it was like except whereas the Olympics celebrates sporting excellence, the Capitoline Games celebrated Domitian’s divinity.

Some 70-80,000 people from all over the Empire would gather for the games in an amazing stadium.

The Opening Parade

Our modern day Olympics Games today starts with a celebration of the athletes and their country of origin. Domitian’s Capitoline Games began with the the leaders from his provinces marching before him, reporting tidings from each corner of Domitian’s empire.

Domitian then proceeded to grade his leaders. He would address each by saying ‘To you the leader of such and such province, I have this for you, you have done this well.” Then he would tell them where they failed and the consequences of their unchecked failures, “I have this against you. If you do not amend this I will have you snuffed out.”

Sound familiar? It mirrors what we read in the 7 letters to the Churches.

The Worship Service

After this there would be a worship service to Caesar Domitian led by 24 singers priests dressed in white robes and who had golden crowns on their heads. On their crowns were written on them the divine titles of Caesar.

Again we see this scene mirrored in Heaven for Jesus not Domitian.

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

Revelation 4:4

There were ten royal crowns on [the Beast’s] horns and blasphemous names on its heads.”
Revelation 13:1

Some of the worship liturgy they sang at these games were. See how this is mirrored in Heaven:

Domitian Worship Liturgy

Revelation 4:

Great are you, our lord and god.

Worthy are you to receive honour and power and glory.

Worthy are you, Lord of the earth to inherit the Kingdom.

Lord of Lords, highest of the high

Lord of the earth, God of all things

Lord God and Saviour for eternity.

4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads… 

10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,

    to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

    and by your will they were created

    and have their being.”

The Four horsemen of the Apocalypse

As the worship service reached its crescendo, from each corner of the stadium emerged a gladiator riding on a painted horse: one painted white, one black, one red and one pale (chestnut) .

Again where have we heard this before?

2 I looked, and there before me was a WHITE horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest…

4 Then another horse came out, a fiery RED one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.

5 … I looked, and there before me was a BLACK horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand… 

8 I looked, and there before me was a PALE horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Revelation 6: 2-8

These riders would converge on the centre of the arena where they would fight it out to death.

After the bloody battle man in a mask, depicting a classic Roman hero called “Hades” or “Death”, would enter the arena and clean up all the dead bodies and body parts.

The Letters to the 7 Churches

It was against this backdrop that King Jesus tells John to write a letter to the angels of the 7 Churches in the region of Asia Minor.

The all follow a similar format. The first of these letters is to be sent to the believers in Ephesus (Revelation 2):

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Jesus Holds All Authority in Heaven and Earth

Jesus reveals Himself as the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp-stands.

We know from Revelation chapter 1 that the “stars” that Jesus holds in His hand are the angels connected to the Churches and the 7 lampstands are the Churches.

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

The Role of Angels: God’s Heavenly Senate

Surprisingly many quarters of the Church are clueless as to the role of angels in God’s plans. The world is in many ways more comfortable with the idea of angels than Christians. Apparently 60% of Canadians believe in angels.

The Bible shows us that angels are integral in God’s work  through out history. It seems that He does not do much with out them. 

Throughout both Old and New Testaments angels feature a combined 299 times:

  • Old Testament – 117 times in 108 verses
  • New Testament – 182 times in 172 verses

Holy Spirit is only mentioned 1 more time in New Testament.

–  Zechariah and the birth of his son (John the Baptist) (Luke 1:11)
–  Gabriel sent by God to tell Mary about Jesus and to give her his name (Luke 1:26, 30)
–  Joseph told to take Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:20)
–  Joseph instructed when it was safe to return to Israel (2:19)
–  Shepherds told by angels of Jesus’ birth and mission (Luke 2:10)
–  Angels minister to Jesus in the wilderness (Mark 1:13)
–  Angels minister and strengthen Jesus in the garden before the crucifixion (Luke 22:43)
– An angel rolls the stone away at the tomb (Matthew 28:2)
– Mary sees 2 angels in the tomb (John 20:12)
– Peter set free from prison (Acts 5:19)
– Angel of the Lord directs Philip to go to speak with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26)
– Peter told to minister to the gentiles (Acts 10:3)
– Peter set free from prison (Acts 12:8-11)
– Herod killed for his pride by an angel (Acts 12:23)
– Paul instructed by an angel concerning the fate of the ship he is travelling on (Acts 27:23)

The function of angels in God’s purposes are best understood in overarching mission of God’s Kingdom come to earth. God’s purposes from the very beginning of creation were that His invisible Kingdom would overlap with the physical reality that He Created.

God delegated the responsibility of seeing this worked out on the physical plane to Humanity in His instruction “Let them have dominion…” (Gen. 1:26-28).

It appears in Scripture that the angels had jurisdiction to the spiritual plane. When God says  “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” He isn’t talking to the Trinity but rather to the Hosts of Heaven.

Angels are depicted in the story of Job of gathering to the courts of Heaven where God consults and interacts with them on the comings and goings of Earth.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord

Job 1:6

Angels in this sense are depicted as the senators of the invisible realm and pre-fallen humanity the senators of the visible realm.

The church is God’s senate on the earth.

The “Church” is one of the terms Jesus uses to describe His faith community by. The Greek word for Church is “Ecclesia.”

The term “ecclesia” was not a religious term in Jesus’ day. In fact it was a secular term referring to an appointed group of people (the Elders) over a city or town to interpret the laws passed down to them from the Emperor. This group had the full backing of the emperor and whatever they decreed came into effect with the full backing of the emperor. One of their main gathering places was the city gates.

Also, this group of individuals only became the ecclessia when they gathered to perform this judicial function. 

Jesus in calling His faith community “the ecclesia” was telling them something outstanding. They were the ones He appointed to stand at the gates of Heaven and Earth to decree God’s Kingdom over the areas of the earth they had been assigned to rule over.

There is an ongoing interaction between Heaven and Earth which has God’s people, the Church and also the Angelic as the key players appointed to bring about God’s Kingdom on the Earth. This interaction is meant to be harmonic in its relationship.

Jesus is the supreme Ruler of Heaven and earth

We see this in Jesus’ instruction to John to write to the Angels of the Churches in Asia Minor.  But we also see in Jesus’ letter to the Ephesians that Jesus is the Supreme ruler over the Lord of Hosts and the Churches.

Jesus holds the Hosts of Heaven in His right hand. This tells us that they are to do His bidding and that it is His power and authority that they carry. Secondly Jesus walks in the centre of the seven lamp stands, similarly tells us that the Church is dependant on Him for their light. In other words Jesus is at the centre of all government.

But there is another important revelation we get from this picture. Jesus reveals Himself to the the Church of Ephesus as the supreme ruler of Heaven and Earth not simply to encourage them, although this was important for them. He also wants to reveal His supreme authority through them. The Church of Ephesus are meant to carry this revelation and operation. It was a distinction that was unique to them. In fact each of the 7 Churches uniquely carries a revelation of Jesus which they are meant to steward and protect. No one Church carries a complete revelation of Jesus.

I think that this revelation of Jesus that they are meant to carry echoed the realty on the regions they were in. Ephesus was the governing city of its region and the most important city in Asia Minor (Western Turkey today).

Artemis the Fertility Goddess

It was a port city which sat as the gateway city to the West and connected the East. It is estimated that two hundred thousand people lived in and around the region.

The luxuries of the East were sold in the market, the Agora. The Ephesians grew to be prosperous, which they put down to the influence of their local goddess Artemis – the fertility god.

Since Goddess Artemis was seen as being so powerful and influential the local priestesses were able to use this as a leverage to get people to deposit their money in the Temple, like a bank. As large amounts of funds came in the priests loaned out money at significant interest growing the wealth of the region.

The Mark of The Beast

Ephesus had one central “supermarket” for the whole region called the Agora. Everything bought and sold in the region happened at the the Agora. Before you were permitted to trade you had to offer a sacrifice to Nero at the altar by Nero’s statue. The priests would watch you as you paid your homage to Caesar and after having done so they would put an insignia on you, which most scholars think was an colourful ink mark on the a person’s forehead.

The question the first century Romans asked of people wanting to trade was “Have you received the mark of the Emperor?” The questions the Christians in Ephesus asked was, “Do I take the mark of the Beast?”

The Jewish-Christians referred to Nero as the “Beast” because Nero was evil through and through. Nero had had his own mother murdered because he grew suspicious towards her that she was plotting against him. He also brutally kicked his own pregnant wife to death.

The Apostle Paul in Ephesus

In the years prior to the Book of Revelation the Apostle Paul spent two years in Ephesus. He preached the gospel there daily and within two years the entire region had heard the Gospel. That’s 200,000 people!

This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:10

Because of the preaching of the Gospel there was a revival and many Jews, and Gentiles became believers. This was no doubt also linked to the breakout of unusual miracles:

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul
Acts 19:11

The Gospel had such an impact on the region that people stopped worshipping the Goddess Artemis which began to threatened the local economy. Suddenly the Christians became a threat to establishment and Paul was arrest and nearly killed there.

Christians in the days of Revelation suffer extreme persecution

Fast forward a few years to the time of the Book of Revelation and the Romans are still trying to quash this pesky little sect.

When Jesus says to the Ephesians “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” )Rev. 2: 2-3) it is this intense backdrop which He is writing into to.

The Compromise of the Nicolaitans

There were a group of Christians in Ephesus who came along and said “It’s not a big deal… Caesar is not really a god. Just take the mark. It’s not going to matter because the sacrifice is not in your heart.” This group of Christians were called the Nicolaitans.

Their willingness to compromise sounds so understandable doesn’t it. Compromise seems more acceptable when to not compromise would cost you your life, your livelihood, or your reputation.

Jesus called the Christians of Ephesus to a radical life. Following Him would cost them their all. Some of them would die because of their testimony.

Jesus commended the Ephesians for their lack of compromise:

… You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Revelation 2:6

This stance would ultimately cause this city to be entirely won for Christ. Some thirty years after Domitian Ephesus became the most Christian city of the region 85-90% of the inhabitants thought to be followers of Jesus.

Sometimes we think our work for Jesus is having no impact but our stance regardless of our circumstances quietly seeds a tipping point of change. The temptation always is to give up before we see breakthrough.

Left their First Love

There was one thing Jesus pinpointed as threatening the Ephesians very existence as a faith community. He told them that they had left their “First love.”

What does Jesus mean by “First love?” In another of John’s letters “1 John”, first love means “Who you love first of all.”

Scripture is clear in both and Old Testaments that the one we should love first of all is God.

In the midst of this high pressure environment that the Ephesians lived in their love for God had waxed cold and silted up like the harbour of Ephesians was continually doing in John’s day. Today the ruins of Ephesus stand 7 miles from the ocean which they once stood beside. It happened little by little, almost indiscernibly.

A decision here and decision there. A compromise here a compromise there. It all added up and killed their vitality.

Steve Addison is a church planter who has researched Christian movements over history which have changed the course of time. In his research he pinpointed the number one change agent in each of these movements as a quality he calls, “White hot faith.” White hot faith is another way of describing first love.

Left not Lost

The very agent of change which would cause this city to be won for Christ had been lost in the faith community. Jesus tells them that He would shut up shop unless they recovered this love.

Note Jesus tells them they had “left” not “lost” it.

There is a difference. One implies something as accidental. The other implies they are complicit.

First love needs to be nurtured and guarded with all our might.

How do you get first love back? Scripture tells us that “We love because we He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Psychologists have discovered that there is an exercise they can get couples to do that will engender strong feelings of connection and attraction. It couples stare in each others eyes for 5 minutes or more they will feel attracted to each other. It even works for couples that don’t know each other previously.

Jesus is the one whose eyes are like flames of fire. When we stare into His eyes of love something sparks in our soul which combusts into first-love. But we have to put ourselves in a position where we allow His loves to connect with us in a way that moves us. This can look like “Holy Habits.” But disciplines as helpful as they are are only helpful when they give us life. Sometimes in one season a habit we have nurtured stops moving us. In these times we have to discover what keeps the love affair we have with God viable.

The Christian faith is primarily a love affair between Jesus and His Bride, the Church (us). Bill Johnson tells us that “passion takes us where our heads wouldn’t go.” A friend of mine, Chris Gore puts this another way reminding us that if you would thought about kissing with your head you would never no it. The mouth after all is bacteria ridden.

Our passion for Jesus is our very lifeblood with Him and the explosive fuel that transforms the world. The Church are an army of lovesick warriors. The fervour of our love is linked with how brightly we shine.

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Matti was born in the UK and lived there until 2001 when he moved with his New Zealand wife, Jodie, to her homeland. He worked in online travel marketing up until 2004, when he attended Bible College to train as a pastor. Following his training he led a Baptist Church in Auckland for a number of years before moving with his family to Redding, California where Matti and Jodie attended the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. They then returned for two years to London, UK where they led a pioneering ministry, ministering in Central London, training and equipping believers to see the Kingdom of God in and through their lives.Over this time they saw God move on the streets of London seeing signs, wonders and miracles and numbers of people saved. In August 2016 he accepted a call to lead New Life Church Kelowna. Matti and his wife Jodie have 3 children, Grace, Olivia and William. He loves the outdoors, socialising and having fun.

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