Well, we are starting into our final book in the 90-day series through church history. This final book will be the most unusual and the most difficult to understand. The book of Revelation is notoriously challenging, but it plays an essential role in understanding the flow of Biblical history. Part of what makes it hard to understand is that it covers history that has not yet happened. We get to see the arc of the Biblical story from God’s perspective because he reveals it to us. It is unlike any other history that we ever talk about – because it is history that has not yet happened. Only God can reveal it, because only God has the capacity to know future events. In the next post we will go into greater depth, but we want to begin by thinking about the original audience. We will ask, who was the book of Revelation written to and what was the original purpose? (While all of the Bible is for all of God’s people, each book or letter had an original audience. For the letter of Ephesians, it was the church in Ephesus. For I & II Chronicles it was the Jewish people after exile. For Titus it was… Titus as he ministered to the church. Keeping the original audience in mind, helps us to ground our interpretation.)
The book of Revelation describes a series of visions that John saw while on the Isle of Patmos. Traditionally, this was understood to be the Apostle John, who also wrote the Gospel of John and the letters of John I, II, & III. The letter doesn’t say this explicitly, but this was affirmed from the earliest periods of church history. The first vision is from Jesus Christ himself, who is (v.17) “the first and the last… the living one, [who] died and behold is alive forever more.” What we need to see about the vision is that Jesus is “in the midst of the lampstands” (v.13), which represent the church of Asia Minor. Jesus is standing in the middle of the church and he is working to build his kingdom even when the world opposes the gospel. Like the book of Acts, Revelation is a book about the continuing work of Jesus, in and through the church. (Again, the whole time frame thing, is going to get tricky, more on that tomorrow. But we need to build this insight as the foundation.)
Jesus brings an address for seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. These cities are all real places that existed in the first century and everything about the letter indicates that this is intended to be a prophetic word of correction and rebuke for each of these churches. The number seven is a biblical number of completion and is used figuratively throughout the book. It may be that John chose to list seven churches because they are representative of other churches and this was a way to show the totality of Jesus' interactions with the first century church. But, we can ground our interpretation in recognizing that the letter is addressed to actual people and interacts with their specific situation. From here, we will be given a scope of Biblical history that can apply to all of us, but it starts with a word that is personal and specific for particular people.
And what does Jesus say to the churches in Asia Minor? He brings encouragement and correction. This is not a surprise, because nearly every prophetic word in the Bible includes some combination of encouragement and correction. Jesus is speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15,19) to the church for their good and for their growth. We see a pattern for all seven churches in that Jesus acknowledges something specific about how they are doing. Then he gives a promise (“to the one who overcomes”) and in many cases he offers a warning, (“I have this against you”, and “if you don’t stop then there will be consequences.”) For the purpose of our study, we will have to draw back from looking at the details, but they are very interesting. When our reading program slows down, I would suggest going back and looking at each church – What does Jesus get concerned about here? What are his priorities? How can I learn from these rebukes and be encouraged by these promises?
Reflect: When we see that Jesus is offering a prophetic word of correction and encouragement to the people of God, we can understand that this book is fundamentally similar to the rest of the Bible. Just as the prophets came to bring encouragement and correction to the people of Israel, and just as the apostles wrote letters to encourage and correct the early church, John offers a prophetic word straight from Jesus to accomplish these purposes. The principle holds true for us. Every church needs to be reformed or it will go astray. We all need a cycle of renewal if we are going to stay spiritually vital.
Connect: The book of Hebrews shows that discipline and correction are an act of love from God toward his people.
Hebrews 12:5-7 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.
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This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.