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Archive for April, 2015

After These Things

April 30th, 2015

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.

Revelation 4:1-2

The phrase “after these things” - meta tauta in Greek - signals the third section of the Revelation, as the outline was given in Revelation 1:19. The scene has changed, not only in location - John is in heaven - but clearly also in time - “after.” An era has ended and a new one has begun. What is the meaning attached to these words?

A Vision of the Future Day of His Death? There are some scholars who take it as a description of John’s future passing in death. That the day would come when he, the oldest and longest living of the apostles, would die, and what would happen then? From chapter 4 on until chapter 19 the Revelation is a description of future historical events, the rising and falling of worldly powers, the attacks against the Church, the downfall of worldly and Satanic rule, and the final triumphant return of Christ.

In this view the verses above depict the death of John, and the experience of a Christian in death. Rather than all blackness, a door is standing open in heaven, and a voice with authority blasts like a trumpet, “Come up here!” The believer is then ushered into the throne room of God, and overwhelming image of glory, authority, power, purpose, and of clarity of knowledge. The rest of the book is a ministry to the soul of John that assures Him of the ultimate victory of Christ over all that opposes Him.

I do not believe that this is the best interpretation of this passage, by the way, yet even though a passage may have only one interpretation it may have many applications. And as an application of a Christian’s death and entrance into heaven, I believe the passage speaks to this future event in our lives for believers. I believe what John experienced in vision each Christian will experience personally. There will come a time when our bodies die and they are here no more, and after these things, after these earthly cares and concerns are over for us, we shall enter into the glory of the Lord.

There in heaven will be God, and there our understanding will be made complete. We will be made to see the true power of evil, and especially the true and overwhelming victorious power of God. Evil will be defeated. Christ shall be victorious. And we will be brought into knowledge that will equip us mentally and spiritually for eternity.

What a moment that will be for us all, when we leave this world, this “valley of tears” sometimes called this “vale of tears” from Psalm 84:6. Whatever sickness, suffering, trials, heartbreak, and pain we experience in death, heaven will be so much more glorious that we will be overwhelmed with the power, glory, and grace of God. Our souls do not enter into some vast holding tank where we are unaware of future events, rather we see fully the plan of God and the way He will accomplish His plan for the ages.

But, though this is an application of the passage, I do not believe this is the full meaning of the passage. The chief problem with this interpretation is that it then leaves The Revelation open to subjective and random interpretations, a free-wheeling and irresponsible treatment of the book. One scholar says a figure represents one emperor and another scholar says, no it is a different emperor, or not an emperor at all.

There is the transition of the human soul from earth to heaven described here but it is not just John’s, I believe. Though it is picturesque of every Christian’s death in someway, it is more than just that. It is not just the picture of what will happen at the end of the apostolic age or the end of the life of John. I believe the passage is a description of something more profound and widespread, that event in history known as “The Rapture” of the Church.

A Vision of the Rapture of the Church? I see this as representing the end of an era, the end of a time when the church will be removed from the earth in mass. The seven churches of Asia in chapters two and three represent more than just the churches of John’s day and represent all of the churches in the history of the church. This means that from chapter 4 onward, the Revelation depicts the last seven years of world history prior to the Return of Christ.

God promised to the church at Philadelphia, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). He also said that the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist, will not rise to power until “the one who now restrains” is “taken out of the way” (2 Thes. 2:7). I am of that group of Bible students who believe the best interpretation of this is that the Church of Jesus Christ has influence in the world and resists the rising of the Antichrist to power through their influence, even if they are aware of how they do this. When the worldwide Church is miraculously and suddenly removed, then the resulting chaos will allow the rise in power of the Antichrist.

Tomorrow we will examine the prophetic passages that bring these matters together.

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Our Challenges of the Church Age, Part 7

April 29th, 2015

I know your works, that you are neither cold not hot.

Revelation 3:15

The church at Laodicea was the Lukewarm church, unremarkable in their faith, neither worshipful nor service-oriented, and if we take these seven churches as historical eras then this will be the church at the end of great missionary era of the Philadelphian church. Some will place this church era in the future. Some will say that we are currently in it. Certainly all seven attitudes of these churches exist in every era, so some churches and some Christians are already in the Laodicean state of spiritual weakness. They are lukewarm and need to return to God’s hands to be changed by Him and become vibrant again in their faith.

I believe it is good to leap to the remedy given by the risen Christ: “Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:19b-20). Though this verse is often used for salvation - and I believe it has application there - its meaning was originally attached to a church who had locked Christ out of its fellowship. How can He come back in? Simple. If one person in the fellowship will hear Him knocking, will repent, and will let Him back into his own or her own consciousness, then Christ has a way back into the church.

In the coldest churches, if the gospel is still presented, if the love of Christ is still proclaimed, if the Word of God is still read, if there is anything of the truth that Christ’s Spirit can use to bring conviction, then there is the possibility of people having this experience. Often in the Laodicean church even the pastor and the leaders do not believe, but that does not mean that no one there believes. Often the most obscure person in the room, the one that appears forgotten and insignificant - in an otherwise dull and drab, formal church service - is enjoying rich communion with the living Christ because they heard His voice and opened the door to their lives and by doing so they have opened the door of the entire church to the living Christ.

Never under estimate your importance in a church if you are this person. If you worship the Lord with your whole heart and listen to His voice - through His Word and through His Spirit - then regardless of your status in the church in the eyes of others, you are someone of great importance to the work of God. Only through surrendered hearts does God do His greatest works. He might have others like you that you are unaware of. Just as Elijah the prophet thought he was all alone and God informed him, “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18), so there may be others around you also “dining with Christ” in their hearts.

This is Christ’s way back into a church - through the hearts of those willing to repent and return to Him.

Now the exegesis of the passage:

The church at Laodicea was connected in its founding to the church at Colossae. We may assume the church was started in a similar way as the church in Colossae, through the ministry of Epaphras who came from the region, and the cities lay close to one another. A letter was written to them by the Apostle Paul* (Col. 4:16), and the letter we call Colossians was also written to be shared with the church in Laodicea.

The name “Laodicea” is a combination of words meaning “rights of the people” and this appears in part to describe the attitude of their hearts - their rights were more important than Christ’s rights to His church. The city was noted for a medicine they produced, an eye salve, and it was a relatively affluent city. The one thing that Laodicea did not have was good water, so they either imported warm water from nearby Hierapolis or cool water from Colossae. This explains the statement about “lukewarm.” As a whole their faith was cold, not lukewarm, as they had locked Christ out of their church. The lukewarm statement compared them unfavorably to the churches at Hierapolis and Colossae - their Christianity was unremarkable. they offered neither the healing properties of warm water nor the refreshing properties of cool water.

We may understand this from some churches we have known personally. Some are focused on refreshing worship and when you come to them they offer you encouragement through music and the preaching of the Word. Other churches are known for their ministries and their service for Christ and they help people recover from the wounds of life in this world. The best churches offer both of these, but Laodicea offered neither. Just as lukewarm water can be nauseous, so their apathy made them appear so to Christ.

This is not a statement that any would lose their salvation - there is no picture in scripture of Christ holding us in His mouth, in His hand, yes, but not in His mouth - rather it was a statement of how their apathy affected Christ. This is similar to what God said to Israel about their religious exercises that were done without devotion or faith in the Old Testament, Isaiah 1:11, which the New Living Translation puts,

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the LORD. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

The risen Christ called them to repent, to see their spiritual need. They had been proud of their wealth, their garments, and their success. Another money-maker of Laodicea was its textile industry, so the risen Christ used their wealth, their medicine, and their clothes as symbols for their true spiritual poverty: ” And do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17b).

His solution was for them to return to him for true spiritual blessings: “gold tried in the fire” - meaning to purchase the wisdom, grace, and mercy of Christ not through works but through repentance, admission of spiritual poverty, faith in Him, and surrender of their lives to Him. They must turn from their pride and turn to Him in repentance. This is what every true believer must do daily, to turn from ourselves and to turn to Him. “White garments” - no question but a reference to being clothed with the righteousness of Christ, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). “Anoint your eyes with eye salve” - a reference to the enlightened instruction of the Lord, through His Word and through His Spirit, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Wherever pride and self-sufficiency are dominant, the Word of God, the righteousness of Christ, and the leadership of the Spirit will be neglected.

The one who overcomes the Lord will allow to sit on His throne, which is the promises of scripture, especially Ephesians 2:4-6

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us live together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly paces in Christ Jesus.

This is letter is a call to all believers to be sure that we are in Christ, that we are aware of our spiritual poverty, that we do not let our pride, our culture, our education, our wealth, our worldly success draw us away from God. There is always a temptation to do so, to imagine that we have truly become too educated for some aspects of the faith, to disregard the scripture based on a bias against old superstitions and be blinded by pride. Were we transported suddenly before the high and holy God, we would be appalled at our poverty in knowledge, spirit, wealth, and righteousness. Every church and every human being of every age, of every culture, of every class will always need the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

So this concludes our study of the challenges of the churches and the Christians of the Church Age. We are blessed in this age more than any other age in history -

• We have the whole story of redemption. We know how God will redeem us, through Christ, through the cross.
• We have the completed Bible to read the study
• We have fellowships of love all over the world
• We have the Holy Spirit with us, indwelling us, to guide us into all truth and to empower us for worship and service.
• We have the record of the many promises that God has fulfilled in Christ
• We even know what our eternal state will be through the resurrection of Christ, for the scripture says that we will be like Him, clothed in incorruptible bodies.
• We are given a clear mission for Christ to achieve - the expansion of the gospel throughout the world.

Yet we also have temptations and challenges: (1) for our love for Christ to grow cold, (2) for our witness to be snuffed out in persecution, (3) for us to compromise the truth of God with the falsehood of the world, (4) or to be corrupted in our morality and teaching, (5) or to live by our reputation rather than live the true life of the Spirit, (6) to continue to be faithful to the task of world evangelization, and (7) to remain aware of our need of God’s grace in Christ. Christ knows the challenges the church will face until He returns and He will be with us to encourage and strengthen us. Without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5) but through Him we can do all things (Phil. 4:13).

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*What happened to the Pauline letter to the Laodiceans? That is a subject of some dispute among biblical researchers. There was an attempt to fabricate one in Latin at one point in church history, but the vast majority of biblical researchers have rejected this letter - which says nothing remarkable anyway - as a forgery. Others have suggested that Paul referred to the epistle to the Ephesians, which was circulated through the churches of the region. And some have also suspected Paul meant Philemon, about the runaway slave Onesimus, who was converted and served the Lord with Paul and others, and was originally from the region as well (Col. 4:9). Yet it appears that the writing ministry of Paul was complete, and that no essential doctrine or admonition is missing from his letters to the churches. I believe the greater likelihood is that this is a reference to the letter to Philemon - the names were only added to the letters of Paul later.

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