May 30, 2006
Revelation 1:9, "I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."
As I begin this third installment into the study of the book of Revelation, let me begin by saying, that this is indeed a labor of love. Somehow, every week I find the time to commit a few thoughts and meditations concerning these verses on paper, and it is only by the grace of God that I am able to fulfill my promise and post these teachings so frequently. With that having been said, we turn our attention to the second part of Revelation chapter 1, wherein John describes in vivid detail the revelation of Christ to him while he was on the island of Patmos.
As John introduces himself he is not negligent in pointing out his spiritual credentials, stating that he is of Christ, a brother to the church, in tribulation, as well as the kingdom.
Throughout time, there has been one constant when it comes to the true witnesses of Christ on this earth, those who have committed their very existence into the hand of the almighty Father, and that is they were never without tribulation. Always despised, always rejected, and persecuted, they knew what so many today seem to be forgetful of, the fact that this is not our kingdom, but a foreign kingdom that harbors much animosity toward us. This world is like a stepmother, who would do anything in order to get rid of her unwanted stepchildren. The world is not our friend, nor can it ever be as long as we strive for righteousness, and purity of walk. Knowing it is impossible to please both God and the world, inevitably every one who calls themselves a child of God will have to choose a side, to align themselves as either friends of God, or enemies thereof. There is no middle ground, although some prominent Christian minds today would lead us to believe it were so. Light and darkness cannot coexist they cannot live in tolerance of each other, for they are sworn enemies. One will always strive to overcome the other.
Such was the life of Apostle John, a life of persecution and rejection throughout his existence here on earth. The rulers of that time so desired to pluck John out of society for fear of him converting others to Christ, that they exiled him on a deserted island, far from civilization by the name of Patmos.
What we know of Patmos, is that it is a small and rocky island in the Aegean sea, some twenty two miles off the coast of Asia minor. During the times of Roman rule, the island was used as a deportation point for those the state deemed its enemies.
When God has a purpose for your life, He will even use one's enemies to fulfill it. This was the case with John, whom the Romans believed they were punishing. When God chooses you for His service, no one can impede your progress, or your fulfilling of God's calling, except the old self, and the sin that would so easily beset us if we were not always watchful. All the enemy's opposition, all of the traps he lays in our path, do nothing more than elevate you to greater faith, and sanctify you for the work to which you were called.
John was sent to a deserted place, absent of human contact, away from his brothers, in the hope that he would be forgotten, left to the mercilessness of time. Due to God's sovereign intervention however, it was that deserted place, that island out amid the waves that was his greatest pulpit, from where he spoke not only to the people of his time, but even to those faithful believers of today. There, in the darkest of places, he received the most brilliant light, namely the revelation of God. There in the most torturous of loneliness he received the most precious fellowship, the Lord, and His angels. In the confines of what he thought would be his final resting place he glimpsed eternity.
Patmos was for John, the place of suffering, and the pinnacle of his walk, where God raised him up to be more than he had been until that time, that he may be seen as the faithful witness by those near and afar.
The place of suffering in Christ, is for us, that high place on which He has situated us, that we too may shine brighter still for His glory and the majesty of His kingdom.
It is a truth that the enemies of God will never understand. It is why throughout time they have tried to pluck believers from the midst, jailing them, killing them, or sending them to isolated and remote locations, in their hearts believing that these things will stifle our voice, never realizing that the sufferings are high places from which we can shine and be seen by all. It is in our darkest hour, that we see the light of God's truth with greater clarity, and are thereby strengthened by His promise, mercy and love.
Every soul that finds themselves on their own 'Patmos' will receive as John, 'the revelation of God' for in our faithfulness toward Him, He proves His faithfulness toward us.
It is far better to be on a deserted island such as Patmos with God, than in the center of Rome, with its sin and depravity without Him.
So to you, who are enduring your own isolation, to you who feel rejected by the world, to you who are mocked and sent away, I say rejoice. Rejoice, for He who is the Alpha and Omega will make Himself known to you, He will reveal the hidden truths of the kingdom to your heart, and though you may suffer for a season for His sake, you will say as Paul did: 'the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us."
When Luther was stripped of his freedom, he translated the Holy Scriptures into his native tongue, and in this way helped his fellow countrymen find the treasure of God's word, which had been until that time hidden from their face.
When John Bunyan was jailed for twelve years for His faith in Jesus Christ, and God's holy word, there in his isolation, in his jail cell, he wrote the immortal 'Pilgrim's Progress."
Suffering for the sake of righteousness, suffering for God, proving one's faithfulness in the face of hardship, deprivation, and even death is always followed by great and uncommon blessings from Him.
We have been conditioned in today's modern times, to look upon suffering, and persecution as some sort of punishment rather than the means by which God wants to elevate us to greater glory. Those that suffer are mocked, those who endure persecution are ridiculed, and the preachers of today no longer want to acknowledge the fact that if we are of Christ, we are bound to suffer for His name's sake.
Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, once wrote: 'You may perhaps be cunning enough to avoid suffering and adversity in this life, you may perhaps be clever enough to evade ruin and ridicule and instead enjoy all the earth's goods and you may perhaps be fooled into the vain delusion that you are on the right path just because you have won worldly benefits, but beware you will have an eternity in which to repent! An eternity in which to repent, that you failed to invest your life upon that which lasts: to love God in truth, come what may, with the consequence that in this life you will suffer under the hands of men.'
The truth of God's word must compel us to look inward, to analyze our existence, and draw our own conclusions based on what we know of ourselves. If the world so loves us, are we truly God's? If the world accepts us, is Christ evident in us?
2 Timothy, 3:12, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."
This is an assertion upon which Paul stood fearlessly, a certainty that emboldened him to forewarn all who would hear, that if they chose the path of righteousness, if they desired to live Godly in Christ Jesus, they would ultimately, and inevitably suffer persecution.
There is another aspect of John's introduction that I found compelling, the fact that in his humility, John neither used the title of apostle, or prophet, nor one chosen of Christ when it came to relating the revelations he was about to share, but made himself one with all the redeemed of God, a brother with them, and a companion of tribulation.
There is a lesson to be learned from John's humility especially by those whom God has called with a greater calling in this present age. It seems that many men today are anxious to be called into ministry, because they like the way the title sounds before their name. I've met men who upon meeting me shake my hand, and begin with a vast array of titles, even before I get to know their first name.
"Hello brother, I am apostle, prophet, anointed reverend and shepherd, so and so."
What many self-proclaimed luminaries of our time don't want the sheep to know is that all men are equal in the sight of God. We are on equal footing, none greater than the other, and if we desire to be greater than our brother, than we must learn to serve our brother. Pride is a dangerous and often times deceptive foe, which would blind us to the knowledge that God gives grace to the humble, but is against the proud.
In order for one to be of use for the kingdom of God one must first and foremost deny himself.
Luke 9:23-25, "Then He said to them all, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?"
I realize it's easier said than done, and though many claim to have denied themselves, they are contradicted by their own actions, their lust for recognition, and the desire to be seen as great in the eyes of their contemporaries. If I am no longer my own, then whether men hate me, or praise me, should be of no relevance to me. All that should matter is that I am doing the Father's will, and as long as He is pleased nothing else should be of concern.
If any man desires to be a companion of Christ in His eternal kingdom, then he must be a companion of Christ in His tribulation and patience here on earth. One cannot receive the crown of victory without having waged battle one cannot glory in finishing a race that he never began running in the first place. It is easy to speak of the paradise that awaits, of the heaven that He has prepared for us since the beginning of time, but far fewer believers are willing to hear of the endurance, and the trials, the tests and the battles they must wage in this present life in order to be welcomed into that paradise.
John found himself on the island of Patmos, not due to some heinous crime he committed, not due to some law he broke, but for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Often times we find ourselves in certain situations due to our own disobedience, rather than for the cause of Christ, and we are anxious as to why we are not receiving the revelation of God, promised to all who remain faithful in adversity. Only when we suffer rightly, when we are innocent of wrongdoing, and the only reason for our hardship is the word and testimony of Jesus, will we receive the fullness of His grace.
Faith that is obedient to the Word of God always attracts hatred and persecution from those who are unwilling to submit to God and the path, which He has traced before them.
Stand for truth, be unwavering and uncompromising having the strength of your convictions even in the face of your enemies, and you will suffer persecution. Truth is purchased at the cost of suffering.
What we see in the ninth verse of Revelation chapter one, is John's obvious suffering for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ. These two must be wholly united in the lives of all believers. Although the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ are as one, when perceived in the context of witness or testimony they are two different aspects. One can speak of the Word of God, and all he speaks is truth, but if he does not reveal the crucified Christ, the One who rose again, went to the Father, and will return again, in that which he speaks, if he does not have the character of Christ, simply speaking the Word of God, quoting scripture, retains no power to save. Satan is not troubled or disturbed by men who simply quote scripture, but do not live the life of a Christian, or testify to Christ's sovereignty, divinity, and the fact that Jesus is the crucial element needed for salvation. There is no salvation absent of Christ. There is no redemption absent the cross.
The word of God is whole and complete, of use to mankind, only when it is united with the testimony of Jesus Christ, and the testimony of Jesus Christ is fruitful and enlightening when it is built upon the foundation of God's Word.
Revelation 1:10, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice as of a trumpet."
The word of God is truth, and there is only one truth. It is singular, and not given to debate as some would choose to believe. It is in the context of this knowledge that we would study this book, and though there may be varying opinions on certain issues, such as on what day was John in the Spirit in, if we are sons of truth, and our goal is to know the truth, in every matter, we must revert to God on issues that are clouded or uncertain.
It is in prayer, and self-denial that our search for God's truth would bear fruit, and in all that we do, it is our duty as His beloved to bring glory to His name, and further His work on earth. This is why I will not debate as some choose to do the exact day that John was in the Spirit, whether it was a Saturday, or a Sunday, because such debate takes away from the larger issue, namely that which John was shown, and its relevance for us, God's children today.
I realize for some this is an issue of great importance, and each camp believes they retain the truth, but none are willing to say, that if the Bible didn't specify the day, then we will simply receive the verse as is, and believe that on the Lord's day John was in the Spirit.
If you are unfamiliar with the differing opinions, I will encapsulate the reason for the debate.
There are three major opinions on what day John was referring to, and though you may have only heard of two of them, the third is one that has been whispered by theologians and men of great knowledge for centuries.
On one side, there are those that believe the 'day of the Lord' is Saturday, or the Sabbath, because this was the day chosen of God in the Old Covenant as the day of rest for His people Israel.
The second opinion on this subject is that the day John spoke of was Sunday, the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, and the day He chose to reveal Himself to many of his disciples after his resurrection, on differing occasions. Sunday was a day highly regarded by the Apostles, the early Church fathers, and those who were the forerunners of the faith.
The third take concerning the day of the Lord that John spoke of, one that is not as widely espoused is that it was neither Saturday, nor Sunday, but that the day mentioned in this verse was in effect the great day of the Lord, the day when He returns in glory to establish His kingdom on earth for a thousand years. The theory goes, that John in his spiritual state actually saw that future time when Christ would appear, and every eye would see Him.
Now I realize most are anxious to hear my opinion on what day it was, but all I can say, is what I believe in my heart, and that is any day we are in the Spirit, when we are no longer tethered to the earthly plain, but touch the Spiritual and eternal one, it is the day of the Lord. All days are His, and when we as His followers reach that apex of spiritual knowledge, when we have attained the clarity to peer within the Spiritual, it is the Lord's Day, and a reason to rejoice.
All that the Bible tells us, and all we can say without running the risk of injecting our own notions and ideas, without adding to the Word, is that John was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day.
Only when we are in the Spirit, are we on the Lord's Day, but when the Spirit is absent from our lives, whether we worship on the Sabbath or on Sunday, we are not partakers of His revelation, we have not entered into His Day. When we are indeed in the Spirit, not only are we in the 'Lord's Day' but in the Lord, and in Him we have all things in abundance, including the light to clearly see the mysteries of truth that lay before us. Truth is light.
John 15:4-5, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."
When we are in the Spirit, when we are in Christ, our spiritual senses become well developed, that we may hear the voice of truth, like we would the sound of a trumpet. This was John's experience when once being translated in the Spirit he heard a loud voice. When we learn to hear the voice of God, with clarity, nothing can shake us from the truth, no matter how well presented or how nicely packaged the lie may be. It is because so many Christians today lack discernment, it is because they do not hear their Father's voice loud and crisp, that deception so easily enters in, and begins to devour all in its path.
John 10:27, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."
John 10:1-5, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep he goes before them; and the sheep follow him for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him for they do not know the voice of strangers."
Once you have heard the voice of God, you will never mistake it for any other. It is distinct, it is pure, and it cannot be imitated to such a level that a discerning heart, and a diligent listener, couldn't know the difference. It is when we let our guard down, when for lack of hearing any voice we believe the first voice we hear, that we are led astray, away from truth and toward death.
God will speak, only when we are ready to hear, only when we are prepared to receive. I have met too many people who continue to wallow in spiritual infancy, yet expect to hear the voice of God, and begrudge God for not acknowledging their righteousness or brilliance by speaking to them. They grow impatient, and frustrated, get angry at God, and they begin to chase after voices rather than prayerfully wait in patience and humility for the day God will choose to speak. It is only when the shepherd comes that the sheep, hear his voice and follow. How tragic that in today's day and age, there are more thieves and robbers, who would snatch up a sheep or two, to fleece their wool, and devour their flesh, then there are true shepherds. One knows a true shepherd from a thief, by the way in which he came, and if he has not entered by the door, but climbed some other way, if he does not present Jesus, and point you to Jesus, but preaches some other gospel, some other truth, then know him for what he is and sound the alarm, for he will not stop, his appetite will not be satiated by one or two sheep, he will devour the entire flock, then move on to the next.
God bless the faithful shepherds. Those who would, if called upon, lay down their very lives for their sheep. But it is those who care for their sheep that are most often mocked, it is those that are careful and try to lead their sheep away from danger that are ridiculed. We praise the wolves, and mock the shepherds, we honor thieves, and belittle men of God, for truly until the blade slices across the sheep's neck, the thief does all he can to keep the sheep comfortable and at ease, make it unaware of the danger, and the doom that is about to befall, while a true shepherd will confront the disease that threatens to kill his sheep, will fight valiantly against the wolves that stand ready to devour, and will often discipline because he must.
I realize I got sidetracked, and I apologize. The point I was trying to get across, what I feel is something we need to be aware of, is that John did not chase the revelation, he didn't grow impatient with God, he had been exiled for his faith, and in his obedience he continued to bring his prayers and petitions before the Lord, he continued to be a faithful servant even when no one was watching, and as he was in the Spirit God chose to speak, knowing that John was ready to listen.
Revelation 1:11, "Saying, 'I am the Alpha and the Omega the First and the Last,' and, "What you see write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."
At first glance, this would seem like a repetitive verse the same words, 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last' were used both in verse 4, and verse 8 of the first chapter. Upon closer introspection however, we realize that the One, who says, 'I am the Alpha and Omega', in this present verse, is not God the Father, but rather Jesus Christ, His Son. In this, we once more understand the great truth, that the Father and Son are One but not one, or singular. I realize for some this may merely be semantics, and once again, we can debate the Godhead, the Trinity, the Oneness theology, but in the end, we must allow the word of God to illuminate us, to guide us, and reveal truth beyond human understanding to us. Human opinion is just that, opinion, and when it comes to the sovereign things, when it comes to God's word, we must receive it even if it contradicts our opinion.
Some say that when Jesus says, I am the Alpha and Omega in this verse He is referring to the beginning of the revelation, rather than the beginning of creation. Whichever way one may perceive the intricacies of this verse, one thing is certain. Truth is simple for those with simple hearts, and convoluted for those whose hearts are bound in the restraints of their own mortal wisdom, or in the spirit of religious affiliation and grouping.
After the brief introduction John is given his first set of instructions, namely to write what he saw in a book. There is an old Latin proverb that says, though words evaporate, though they are forgotten, and lost to time, that which is written remains. This is the truly amazing thing about the book of Revelation, which it is not some third hand account of a story someone heard from someone else, but rather a first person, firsthand account of all that he was shown.
That which is mandatory for us to know concerning salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, God, and Christ His beloved Son, was left to us in writing. It is God's Holy Word, our instruction manual concerning all we must do in order to enter into His glory. Blessed is the man who does not go beyond the boundaries of this book, who does not add his own ideology to the written word, and who follows and obeys the voice of the Father.
1 Corinthians 4:6, "Now these things brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other."
On the day of Judgment when we stand before the Creator of all that is, we will give account not only for what we did not fulfill, and the commands we did not obey which were written in God's Holy Word, but also for the unwritten things that we practiced, the strange doctrine that we received, the deception that we allowed in our hearts. We must always be aware that a form of godliness, and godlessness itself are equally dangerous for a soul, impeding it from finding truth, keeping it from the precious gift of salvation.
If the first instruction John received was to write the things he saw in a book, his second set of instructions was to distribute this writing of the vision he would be shown, to the seven churches in Asia.
Although all these seven churches existed, historically, in Asia Minor, the number seven, as well as the names of these churches, in this prophetic book full of symbols and symbolism, have a deeper meaning, and are intended for a wider audience than what some would lead us to believe.
Many have interpreted both the names and the number of these churches in various ways. To this day there have been over one hundred commentators that ventured to interpret the book of Revelation, beginning in the third century up to present day.
While some support the claim that it is only toward those specific and particular seven churches that this letter was addressed, others believe they are the seven stages through which the church of Christ has gone throughout its history, seven distinct periods whose spiritual maturity was defined by these letters.
I have read many commentaries on Revelation, in fact over 20, and each makes a compelling argument that supports their theory. Although it would be easy to go along, and say that the seven churches, represent the seven periods of universal church history, after much prayer and meditation I have come to the conclusion that the spiritual condition of these seven churches could be found at any given moment in history. I believe that when it refers to these seven churches, it does not refer to differing fragments of time, but the condition of the church at any given time throughout the world. So at any given point in history, somewhere in the world one would find a church likened unto Ephesus, another likened unto Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These pertain to the spiritual condition of a church body at any given moment throughout time. Although there are times when those likened unto Sardis or Philadelphia outnumbered those likened unto Laodicea, and times when those likened unto Laodicea outnumbered all the others combined, these stages of spiritual maturity have always existed throughout the history of the Church.
In further studies, we will be discussing each church individually, and when that time comes I would ask that you take an impartial look at the defining markers of each congregation, and see which of the seven churches your congregation mostly resembles. I ask this not to stir your anger toward me, or to be controversial, but rather, if you are truly seeking truth, and the entire body is plagued with deception, truth will be a very difficult thing for you to find under those circumstances.
Taken in the context of existence, one begins to see that indeed this could not be speaking of time fragments, for life has always been the same, Satan, the great deceiver has always been the same, and his plan to destroy God's children on earth have gone unchanged for millennia. What's more relevant however, is that Christ, remains the same as well, yesterday today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8-9, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them."
There have never been better times, or worse times in the life of the church on earth. Persecution has always existed, and it will continue to exist until the day of His return. Good times, and bad times can only be applied to the life of the individual believer, which is part of the body of Christ, but not to the entire body as a whole. One member may grow ill, but not the entire body. One region may suffer intense persecution, but as yet not the whole world; one nation may have to stand unwaveringly for their faith in the face of death itself, while others enjoy freedoms and honors. The seven stages, and conditions of the seven letters, written to the seven churches, have always existed throughout history within the body of Christ.
Just as apostle John, in Revelation, apostle Paul the apostle to the gentiles, was led by the Spirit to send his gospels to seven churches, namely Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Galatia, Thessalonica, and Rome, representing by this symbolic number, the entire Body of Christ throughout time. All who choose the path, and all who follow Christ, are continually, spiritually fed by these gospels that are the word of God.
In seeking to imitate these two giants of the faith, who had been sent of God, namely Paul, and John, Ignatius the bishop of Antioch, also wrote seven letters to seven local churches in Asia. Due to the fact that he had not been sent of the Holy Spirit, that he had not been commissioned of God to do this, his letters have no intrinsic value, but their age. Those who simply have a passion for history read them. Why do I mention this? Because all things, which God has inspired, all things, which God has put into motion, are of eternal importance and relevance. Those things, which are of God, have consistency, and weight, they last beyond the boundaries of time, not given over to the forgetfulness of history. Those things that men of their own volition have tried to form, and make relevant, are soon discarded, are soon forgotten, soon lost to time itself.
Even in our modern age we have seen man inspired movements that have come crashing down even though in the beginning they seemed so promising. Sad to say, but within God's own house, movements abound, that are not centered on Christ, whose primary objective is not to reach lost souls for Him, but to raise up a certain doctrine, a certain man, a certain project. Though such things seem to get off to a good start, it is the consistency, the longevity of a thing that proves whether or not God is in it.
God's word, God's truth, is not merely a doctrine, but a mirror into which we much peer daily, assess ourselves, and be honest with ourselves, remedy the faults, strive for greater knowledge, and do what is in our power to do to ensure that God has access to our hearts, that He can mold us, and make us into that which He desires us to be.
Truth will outlast us all, and the works of God will remain long after we are no more.