Sunday, 27 February 2011

Life is longer than you think...

How long do you think you’ll live? You might think that if you make three score years and ten (that’s 70!) that you’ll be doing well. Actually, life goes on a lot longer than that.
This morning Marcus was preaching from Revelation chapter 2, the letter to the church in Smyrna, to Christians who were facing the very real threat of death. Into that context Jesus announced himself as ‘“ the first and the last, who died and came to life. ” (Revelation 2:8, ESV) and went on to say “... Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. ” A crown, or reward of life for people who die? Jesus goes on to explain how that works...“ The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ ” verse 11.

Let me explain. Remember what Jesus said to Nicodemus? He said that he needed to be born again. Nicodemus pointed out that he had already been born and that doing that again would be tricky to say the least! Jesus explained that he needed a second birth, he needed to be born spiritually, made alive by the Holy Spirit, and that life was eternal. So there are 2 births. Ever since Adam & Eve sinned, we have been spiritually dead - and predicted by God: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” ” (Genesis 2:17). The day they sinned they were banished from God’s presence; they died spiritually.

So, there are two births (physical and spiritual), and two deaths (physical and spiritual), and what Jesus was saying to the Christians in Smyrna who were in fear for their lives was this: “You don’t have to be afraid of the first death, physical death, because you are not going to be hurt by the far more important second death, spiritual death.!” Note, it is those who conquer who are promised this. Later we are told how it is one conquers: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. ” (Revelation 12:11,). It’s by Jesus’ blood! It’s through Jesus dying for us; He is the conquering King, and as we know, everything we receive in the Christian life comes to us through Christ, as we confess Him as Lord of our lives.

Two births, two deaths, and yes, there are two resurrections - the first spiritual, when you became a Christian, and the second, on the day that Jesus returns to make all things new! This will all come together when we get to chapter 20 and make that difficult chapter easier to follow! Just make a note of it now and remember - 2 births, 2 deaths and 2 resurrections! For the Christian, death is no longer what it used to be for us - and neither is life: it’s a lot longer than you think; it’s eternal!


Sunday, 20 February 2011

A message for the Church..

This week we moved on to chapter 2 of Revelation, and Toby preached on the message from Jesus to the church at Ephesus (check out the download on this website).
Can you imagine being on the receiving end of that message - in the church at Ephesus! Imagine the scene, one Sunday morning, when the church is gathered together, one of the elders standing up and saying: “Listen up church, John has sent us a special letter containing a message from Jesus himself to us!” Imagine the rapt attention, the anticipation! All texting, twittering and fidgeting stops! He reads on, quoting Jesus’ words: “I know your works....” Can you imagine? I think that morning would be life changing for many; the realization that Jesus is intimately interested in the daily life of everyone in that local church, that he is deeply concerned about their circumstances, their priorities, their attitudes and their personal devotion, would, I think, have a radical impact.

The truth is, of course, that all of the above is true for every local church. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, is not just vaguely interested in his church, he is walking among the individual lampstands. He knows each local church intimately. He commends, encourages, warns. We’re an open book to him and his longing for His bride is seen in his concern & ambition for each particular congregation. Every time we assemble there should be that same sense of awe and anticipation to hear His voice, to hear Him speaking through prophecy, the scriptures, the preaching, because Jesus really is present and active in His church. That is what these opening chapters of Revelation tell us, and we would do well to take it to heart.

I finish with a quote from Terry Virgo, from his book entitled ‘A People Prepared’. I quote: 'Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). She is his special delight in all the universe. She is his joy, his preoccupation, his passion, his darling bride. In all creation one thing fills the heart of Christ - his beloved church. We need to rediscover the incredible value & sig of the local church in God’s plan & perspective. She is not to be ignored and despised; she is to be honoured & cherished. Each lampstand is not plastic but golden - of peerless worth to Christ.’


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Revelation: speaking of the church..

I owned up this morning to having attended a Speed Awareness Course this week due to the fact that I was caught speeding a few weeks ago. That’ll teach me - maybe! One thing the course did teach me was just how much of the journey one can miss through lack of proper concentration. There we were, focussing on all sorts of things on the DVD, only to miss the glaringly obvious; there was a ------------- in the room! (I can’t tell you what, because you will probably end up on the same course!!)

Speaking of missing things on the journey leads me on to the prime purpose of the Book of Revelation. God did not give it us to confuse or amuse; he gave it us to alert us to his presence and agenda in this world, lest we get so preoccupied with the here & now that we end up at our destination (hopefully the right one) clueless as to how we got there. Revelation does, I believe, have much to say to the church of every generation. There are stunning truths and insights to be found that will transform fearful Christians into fearless Christians. But there is more, there are events described that we have yet to witness on the earth, events that will nonetheless take place. In saying the above I have aligned myself with a particular school of interpretation of Revelation of which there are several.

5 views on interpreting Revelation:

Historicist interpretation: This approach views the book of Revelation as one prophetic vision of church history, from John’s day to the Second Coming, something akin to one long calendar. It’s extremely difficult to establish who’s who and where we are in this process as there are all sorts of possibilities as to what refers to which event in history, and we seem to reach the final day on several occasions as we read.

Preterists’ interpretation: This view argues that Revelation was totally grounded in the days of its writing, that the visions only meant something to Christians then, and they were fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Babylon the Great then represents apostate Israel who aid Rome (the Beast) in persecuting Christians, and it was therefore written to encourage Christians that their Jewish persecutors will be judged.

Futurists and Dispensationalists interpretation: Moving to the other extreme, Futurists think that most of Revelation will take place in a period of final crisis just before Christ’s return. The most popular form is Dispensational futurism which sees the seven churches written to in Revelation as referring to the church in its seven stages throughout history, ending up with Laodicea which speaks of the lukewarm church at the end of the age, i.e now. This view has the difficulty that it would have had little relevance to the lives of the Christians in John’s day (and indeed Christians throughout history) yet John clearly expects his readers to make connections between the visions he sees and the circumstances of the first century.

Idealists (Symbolic) Interpretation: This approach avoids all the difficulties of trying to identify the happenings in the book of Revelation by identifying its purpose as being to convey spiritual lessons to believers. The imagery is not to be interpreted, cannot be interpreted, as it speaks of happenings in the realm of spiritual warfare. However you just have to read chapter 1 verse 1 to see otherwise.

Progressive parallelism interpretation: This view acknowledges that Revelation spoke to Christians in John’s day, to Christians in our day, and everywhere in between! But as well as conveying timeless truths and lessons for believers, there is also a final, ‘actual’ consummation in view, and so the symbolism does take on actual, tangible fulfillment. This view acknowledges a prophetic, predictive content to Revelation, but gives due credit to the apocalyptic nature of the book, drawing on Old Testament imagery to give interpretation to the symbolism. This view also identifies a series of visions, each with a message of its own. The ‘end’ is therefore reached several times, at the conclusion of each vision, before another vision brings us to the same conclusion from a different standpoint. This is the view that we shall be following.

Meanwhile, as we make the journey, the Church is shown in Revelation for all she is - radiant, resplendent, Golden Lampstands in whose company the risen, ascended, glorified Christ walks and makes his presence known. Jesus is in his church, working in and through her.
Last word from Michael Eaton: You can’t say ‘I love Jesus but I don’t love his church’. If you don’t love the church you don’t love Jesus. For he loves it. He was the one who Himself announced that his plan for the world involves building his church.

Have you seen it? Are you taking your place & playing your part? Next Getting Connected course is this coming weekend (see The Loop for details).


Sunday, 6 February 2011

Revelation: A strategy for seeing..

Today I began our new preaching series ‘Living Life with Heaven’s Perspective’ based on the Book of Revelation, and I shall be using this blog to post some of my preaching notes, plus information referred to in passing while preaching.

Revelation is a book to be understood - that’s the whole point of the last book in the Bible, and revelation in general. Revelation is to reveal! ‘Apocalupto’ means to uncover, to draw back the curtain. What is needed, amid all the confusion over Revelation, is a strategy for seeing, and that’s what this morning’s message was all about.

Revelation is a book to be seen. It is, for the large part, a vision or series of visions, and visions need to be seen and interpreted. The phrase ‘I saw..’ occurs again and again. How then should we interpret it? How do we go about finding the ‘correct’ meaning for the images and symbols presented to us?

Revelation is the last book in the Bible! Apart from stating the obvious, what I mean is that in it John, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance draws together many strands of Biblical images and expectations into their fulfillment here in Revelation. John’s mind is saturated in Scripture (518 references in total) and he draws widely from Genesis to the Prophets. Revelation only makes sense in the light of the Old Testament - and that’s where we should look in seeking to interpret symbols & prophecies - not to science fiction.

Numbers count in Scripture. Numbers carry significance in the Bible and in Revelation in particular. That need not mean that they don’t carry a literal meaning as well.
7 is the number of completeness, being the Sabbath, celebrating the completed work of Creation Gen 1, Lev 8
4 seems to be a number that expresses the completeness of the created world, i.e. there are references to the 4 corners of the earth (ch7:1, ch20:8), the 4 winds (ch7:1), the 4 living creatures (ch4)
6 is the number of man, created on Day 6. Gen 1
12 is the number of completeness in terms of God’s people in the OT., there being 12 tribes forming 1 nation.
Add the 12 Apostles, and you have 24 elders (ch4 etc) speaks of the heads, or foundation of both Israel and the church, 12 tribes plus 12 apostles.
144,000 It is suggested that this is the whole company of God’s people.

Revelation exposes Satan as a counterfeiter. Many of the symbols & images begin to make sense when we realize this. For instance, there is a counterfeit trinity. Satan counterfeits God the Father by producing a counterfeit “son”, the Beast ( Rev 12:3 & 13:1). Then there a counterfeit Holy Spirit - in Rev 12:11-18. another beast comes out of the earth (13:11). This beast is later identified as “the false prophet.” (16:13) The false prophet works “miraculous signs (13:13) reminiscent of the miraculous signs worked by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. Through miraculous signs, the Holy Spirit draws people to worship Christ. Analogously the false prophet promotes worship of the Beast. The Beast has 10 crowns on his head (13:1). In 19:12 Christ has many crowns on his head. The beast has blasphemous names (13:1), Christ has worthy names (19:11-13,16). The beast has great power (13:2), Christ has divine power and authority (12:2,10). The beast experiences a counterfeit resurrection and receives worship. He puts his mark of ownership on his followers as opposed to the seal of the Spirit - and so on. Other counterfeits: the prostitute as opposed to the Bride of Christ etc

The Controlling Centre of Revelation is Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. Right from the start, in chapter 1, we are introduced to Jesus Christ, no more veiled by his humanity as he was when walking this earth. Now he is all glory! He is awesome - really awesome, so much so that John falls down as if dead. This is the One at the centre of Revelation; this is the One who presides over world history, and is the One who is coming in the clouds!
It seems to me that this is the biggest key in interpreting the Book of Revelation and getting heaven’s perspective (which our materially focussed generation so badly needs) - we need to see Jesus for who he is, awesome in splendour.
Only when we encounter his majesty will we discover his mercy; only as we glimpse of his glory will we appreciate his grace.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,..” Revelation 1:17

Next week ‘The Church as you’ve never seen it before’