Tag: Letters to the Churches

Cosmic Warfare – God’s Wrath is Complete

Revelation 14:14-15:8

First two cycles (seals and trumpets) 7th element brought things to conclusion: silence in heaven as God’s plan for mankind is fulfilled; the city of man destroyed at sound of trumpet and Christ’s rule is fully established. Seventh main character involved in this cosmic warfare appears in our text. In another view of the Second Coming the Son of Man is seen carrying out the harvest about which he spoke in parables during his earthly ministry.

When began study of Revelation, said one purpose of book in revealing Christ and showing big picture of redemptive history was to tie up loose ends. Bring together into a complete picture various pieces found throughout rest of Scripture. Not a surprise then to find numerous allusions to concepts and prophecies found elsewhere in Bible. Since Revelationrevealsthe Lord Jesus, should find references to messianic prophecies and connections that show how Christ fulfills them. In this portion of Revelation: references to Daniel’s vision of chapter 7; harvest imagery of Isaiah 63 and Joel 3 as well as Jesus’ parable of the tares in Matthew 13:24ff; also allusions to Jesus’ own teaching about the end of time.

Since God has appointed the day when he will judge the world, we should expect to find something like our text. Must remember that God has a dual purpose for that day: display the glory of his mercy in the salvation of the saints, display the glory of his justice in condemnation of the wicked. Thisshouldcause fear and trembling among the reprobate (which it doesn’t – 9:21; 16:11, 21) and great comfort for the righteous (which it does). The world will be put to rights, the saints will be vindicated, God will be glorified forever.

A. the last player: the Son of Manv.14-20

how he comes (14)

At least seven times in the Gospels Jesus himself speaks of his future return to earth: coming on the clouds of heaven, coming in his glory, coming with great power. (Matt 16:27;Matt 24:30-31;Matt 25:31ff;Matt 26:64;Mark 13:26-27;Mark 14:62;Luke 21:27-28) It will be a glorious appearance, seen by all, as King of kings returns to bring final judgment. His authority is unquestioned, his identity unmistakable, his purpose clear – seated on a cloud throne wearing his kingly crown and holding the means by which judgment would be carried out. What is pictured here is indeed the Lord Jesus returning to earth filling the role of harvester and judge.

what he does

harvest imagery – both old and new testaments, both negative and positive connotations depending on who is in view, saved or lost.

Rev. 14:4These were redeemed from among men, beingfirstfruitsto God and to the Lamb.

Joel 3:13Let loose the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. / Come and tread, for the winepress is full. / The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great.

Picture of harvest designed to give saints courage: “The godly do groan under their afflictions and troubles, desiring to know what end at length shall be put to their evils. On the contrary, Tyrants and Antichrist do tumultuously rage without let (hindrance) or punishment, promising to themselves perpetual prosperity. Lest, therefore, the faithful should be discouraged, seeing the son of perdition thus to rage, and themselves overwhelmed with divers sorrows and calamities, here the last judgment is propounded (put forward) to John, in which shall follow a wonderful change of things.”David Pareus

harvest of grain (15-16)

ReadMatthew 13:24-30,36-43. The wheat, saints, will be gathered into the heavenly barn; the tares or weeds will be bundled up and cast into the fire. Distinction is made by character, not appearance or association. Harvest means separation: wheat and chaff, wheat and tares; that which is kept, stored in the barn, that which is treated as refuse to be discarded. Once the harvest is complete, that which has been separated never comes together again.

harvest of grapes (17-20)

no question here: just as the harvest is ripe, the cup of mankind’s sin is full as is the cup of God’s wrath. The time has finally come for God to act in judgment.

Gen. 15:16“But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

perhaps prominent in John’s thinking as he penned this passage:Isa. 63:1-3

no escape for the lost from the winepress of God’s judgment, experiencing the cup of God’s undiluted wrath against sin. It is a horrific picture of judgment – the blood of those judged mounting up to 5 feet deep for nearly 200 miles. This is God putting final action to his words: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord”–Romans 12:19

B. the final judgment15:1-8

As John introduces next scene in his vision, it’s quickly apparent what he sees defies full description and comprehension. A scene of great rejoicing and great horror – rejoicing on part of saints and holy angels, horror at the ferocity of God’s judgment against rebellious sinners. This is the beginning of the end – the last (εσχατας) plagues, identified as such because when they are finished God’s wrath will have reached its goal: final judgment. The bowl judgments are God’s final series of warnings to sinful mankind to repent; as horrific as the bowl judgments are, hell will be worse – no end, no break, no letup in intensity. Less intense forms of these judgments occur throughout this age but their fullness is reserved for the very last days of the age.

song of victory (1-4)

Reminiscent of Hebrew children, John sees saints standing on a sea that is now calm, its chaos having been subdued by an almighty God. Yet it is scene of great tension – victorious saints are standing with their God-given harps, in same picture are angels with final plagues. What are saints going to do? Mourn because of what is yet to come? No.

Like their counterparts, the Hebrews, they stand on far side of the sea from the plagues and rejoice. They sing again the song of Moses: it is a hymn of praise to God and the glorious triumph he has had in delivering his children and destroying his enemies. (Ex. 15:1-19) The Lamb sings a song with the same theme: praising Almighty God for his wondrous works, the beauty of his perfections, the display of his holiness and righteousness and justice.

The King displays his “holiness” by showing himself to be “set apart” from all others as unique, the one and only God, without rival. He displays his “righteousness” by keeping his new covenant promises to destroy the forces of evil and save his faithful saints. He displays his “justice” by giving his enemies the punishment they deserve.College Press

heavenly temple (5-8)

the “real deal”, first seen in chapter 11, tabernacle and earthly temples copies of heavenly prototype. In 11:19, as temple was opened, ark of covenant could be seen within; here John calles it “tabernacle of the testimony”, a reference to stone tablets contained within the ark.The ark was a symbol that God was present among His people, that His covenant blessing was resting upon them.

seven angels (5-6)

Angels appear as God’s minstering servants, dressed for priestly activity, wearing garments that emphasize God’s holiness. In whatever they do, will be acting as God’s express agents to carry out his divine purposes. To reinforce the idea that when these angels have finished their task, all things prior to final judgment will be complete, there are seven of them.

seven bowls (7-8)

John piles up the imagery to indicate the bowl judgments will be unprecedented in scope and fury.

four living creatures – no part of earth/creation escapes God’s wrath

seven angels, seven bowls – completion for certain

bowls full – no room for further judgment short of eternity

As tabernacle and temple after completion were filled with smoke and glory of God, so, too, heavenly temple. That the bowl judgments proceed from temple make it clear they are expression of God’s holiness.

The ground upon which the offenders against God’s law are punished, is not simply the fact that a law of God has been broken, but, that, in the breaking of that law, essential right has been violated and wrong committed. …the law of God is based upon the immutable distinctions between right and wrong, and sin and holiness, as they exist in the nature of God. Its violation, therefore, is sin. It is a destruction of the right. Hence, that which impels God to punish, is not his rectoral (ruling, governing) character, but his holy nature.”J P Boyce

If the reason for God’s punishing was founded only in God’s arbitrary will, then he could not be said to hate sin, but only to love his own will, or, if his reason for punishing sin rested upon governmental considerations, then, he could not be strictly said to hate sin, but only its consequences.” But both conscience and Scripture teach that God does hate sin, and love holiness.A A Hodge

When God’s holiness, righteousness, justice are displayed for all the world to see, the saints rejoice. When the saints rejoice, they sing – the song of Moses, the song of the Lamb, a song of praise to God who is victorious over his enemies.

Shaken but Faithful

Revelation 3:7-13

John, apostle, exiled to Patmos for the sake of the Gospel; received a message from the exalted Christ: “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.” Rev. 1:11 Located in western Turkey, situated along major highways, likely that six of the seven were the results of church-planting efforts centered in Ephesus.

In word and prophetic vision, Christ communicated to John:

the promise of Matt. 28:18-20 wasn’t simply words intended to give temporary comfort; he truly was with the Church to the end of the world

his ongoing, active, intimate involvement in the affairs of the Church as her Shepherd

his right of rulership over the Church as her King

Christ’s managing of the Church is not solely from the top-floor office, never to be seen on the shop floor; he is a “hands-on” type of manager, fully informed and actively involved in every detail of the lives of his followers.

he is seen walking among the candlesticks

he speaks through John to seven local churches and thus to the Church at large

he doesn’t use a form letter; each is individually and precisely targeted

specific and non-repeating references to characteristics seen in the vision (1:12-20)

particular commendations and criticisms

culturally relevant message and, in this text, words of encouragement; words perfectly tailored to Christ’s purpose for the hearers

The letter to Philadelphia – one of two with no criticism (the other, Smyrna). Situated near a main trade route through the mountains but on a geologic faultline, on the edge of an area of substantial volcanic activity (called Burntland); destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt AD 17.

“Strabo, the geographer, writing in AD 20, noted the troubled nature of the place, and the continuous visitation of earth tremors.”

“It lay on a frontier of culture, the gateway to central Asia Minor with its non-Greek, non-Roman patterns of life.” Pictorial Encyclopedia, Tenney

A church in a city shaken physically, financially; church shaken by opposition from religious enemies. In need of reassurance, a message of stability and security. Needing encouragement to remain faithful in the face of the turmoil around them and perhaps within their own ranks.

A. The messenger

1. His authority v.7

Pattern typical of each letter: emphasizing characteristic from Chapter 1 vision, 1:18 in particular – “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

A message from:

the holy one – identified throughout Isaiah as “the Holy One of Israel”; by demons as “the Holy One of God” Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34 The one acknowledged by demons but rejected by antagonistic Jews from the local synagogue.

the true one – a necessary consequence of his holiness; not only true, but truth, the true God in spite of what those who claim to know the truth might say.

the sovereign one – absolute authority in and over the church, independent of man and unable to be resisted by him Isa. 22:22 (Eliakim succeeding Shebna) and Isa. 9:6-7

holding the keys: to the kingdom which is of life and death (see 1:18)

having complete access to all of his Kingdom

regulating access into and out of the Kingdom

reminder that not only is Christ with his church, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to” Him Matt 28:18

the exercise of his universal rule and his right to command his church is unquestioned

B. The message

1. Your opportunity v.8

To those who remain faithful, regardless of size or strength, Christ will provide opportunity for service. We know they were faithful because:

you have kept my word v.8c

you have not denied my name c.8d

you have kept my command to persevere v.10

Twice in warning his disciples of impending persecution Jesus declares “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. Matt 10:22; 24:13

I have opened a door

for effective work 1 Cor. 16:9 2 Cor. 2:12-13

Paul spoke of a great or wide and effective door for ministry open to him in Ephesus; he refers to a similar door of opportunity open in Troas, one opened for preaching the Gospel.

It is Christ who sovereignly appoints opportunities for the Gospel work to be done. He gives those opportunities to churches who are faithful. Notice the condition Christ observed is faithful obedience, not size, power, or money. Since it is Christ who opens the door, no earthly power can shut it, can prevent the saints from carrying out their appointed task.

for the word Col. 4:3

Paul requests the church at Colosse: pray for a “door for the word” to be open for him. Christ not only opens doors of opportunity, he also opens the doors of mens’ hearts and minds, to enable them to receive Gospel truth.

Christ declared to the saints in Philadelphia that he had opened the door; he gave them assurance that if they went through it boldly in the strength he would provide, they would be effective witnesses for him – their enemies would learn that he had loved them (v.9).

2. His sovereignty v.9

I will [deal with] them v. 9

God is sovereign over all mankind regardless of spiritual state. He governs not only circumstances but people as well.

there are many adversaries (1 Cor 16:9)

those who claim God (or Abraham) as their Father, who assert they speak for God, for the church yet refuse to acknowledge Christ or obey his commands

Christ will make it obvious who faithfully speaks for him and has his approval, and in the end they and their message will prevail. Not because of their genius but because the exalted Christ has guaranteed it.

The immediate promise was to the Philadelphian church and their Jewish opponents but it has application to the church in all ages. Remember, Christ’s is an everlasting kingdom and he exercises his sovereign authority when he makes his enemies his friends.

“the sense is, that the convinced and converted Jews shall come to the church, and in the most lowly and contrite manner acknowledge their former blindness, furious zeal, and violent hatred of the Christians, and shall profess their faith in Christ; shall join themselves to the church, and partake of the ordinances of the Gospel with them; and shall worship God and Jesus Christ, their Lord and King, in their presence, and at their feet:” Gill

It is the same ascended and exalted King of glory who confronted the apostle Paul on his way to Damascus. The same sovereign authority that conquered Paul’s murderous heart will be exercised to bring other Jewish blasphemers to faith in Christ there in Philadelphia. King Jesus is still opening doors to mens’ hearts today to give entrance to the Gospel.

3. Your stability v.10-12

I will keep you v. 10

Isa 26:1-4

I am coming, hang on v. 11

words of encouragement from the one who walks among the lampstands

this life with its trials is of short duration; the best is yet to come Psa. 39:4-7 (David)

4 “O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.
ESV

I will make him a pillar v. 12a

a permanent fixture v. 12b

a pillar erected in honor of God’s grace; Christ promises persevering grace to the saints, equipping them for the coming trials and enabling them to remain faithful to their King.

I will write on him v. 12c

the name of my God – ownership

the name of the city of my God – membership

my own name – guardianship

C. The bottom line

Two points:

Opportunities for ministry are not the results of strategic planning; they are the reward for faithful obedience. That’s not to say we shouldn’t plan; but we must keep the main thing the main thing. Faithful proclamation of the Gospel by word and life will be given opportunities for further expression by Christ, the one whom we are proclaiming and modeling.

Stability in the church depends on Christ, not circumstances. Christ encourages us to look beyond and above our circumstances to the treasure and security we have in him. If God owns our hearts and affections, if we are loyal members of Christ’s kingdom, we can count on his unfailing guardianship to bring us safely home to glory.