Text: Rev 1:1-20
OT Text: Zechariah 4:1-13
Featured Verse: Rev 1:12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.
Main Idea: Because we understand that Jesus is the son of man and that the lampstands represent the seven churches of Asia minor, we understand that John's vision is meant to show us that Jesus dwells in the midst of his church and that he is able to help us in our Christian journey.
Welcome to the CRPC 2023 Reading project. In the last two years we have done some very ambitious reading projects. In 2021 we read through a large part of the history sections of the Bible and talked about the "story of salvation in Scripture." Last year, for 90 days, we read through all 150 Psalms and talked about worship. This year, the number of readings will be less - only 50 days. Also, the amount of reading each day and the amount of devotional material will be reduced. The goal is to make the reading program more manageable and sustainable. However, as you will see the task before us is no less challenging and no less rewarding. We will be reading through the final book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. It is a book filled with strange and provocative images. It can be both intimidating and bewildering. It has produced in the church opposite reactions of morbid fascination or silent dismissal. What we shall see if that Revelation is a book designed for pastoral purposes. It is meant to stir faith and repentance in the church by revealing the spiritual realities of our present struggle and the power and presence of God in human history as it moves toward his final victory.
A word about the website
The homepage for our website has three "buttons" on it. The first goes to an 8-page intro to the book of Revelation. I recommend reading that before you start. It will give important theological background on the book. The second button links to daily readings. Each day a new blog post will pop up which will work through the section of Revelation assigned for that day. (If you are reading this now, you probably found out how to use that button and access the blog posts.) The final button links to a 50-day reading schedule. This shows you the big picture of what we are hoping to accomplish between now and Easter.
A word about the daily posts
The daily posts will be a little shorter this year. We will not have a full liturgy of prayers and songs. I encourage you to continue to incorporate our daily readings into a larger time of personal worship. You can use the weekly liturgy from Sunday (in the bulletin) as a guide for worship throughout the week. As with former years, you can engage with the reading in several levels of involvement.
- The fullest engagement is to read both the passage from Revelation and the accompanying passage listed at the top of the post. Today, the reading from Revelation is chapter 1, and the accompanying passage is from Zechariah chapter 4. Because Revelation has so many biblical allusions, we will best understand the meaning of this book when we see it in its biblical context.
- However, if you don't have time to read everything, you can simply read the passage from Revelation and the devotion which follows.
- Finally, we will also include a "featured verse" and a "main idea." If you are really pressed for time, you can simply read the featured verse and the main idea and get a sense of what we are talking about. This will provide a good summary of what we see in each passage and will be written with one eye toward the purpose of being a resource for families to use together.
A word about prophecy
The most important thing to understand is that Revelation is a book of prophecy. We are told that explicitly in verse 3, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy." As such it has similarities to other book of prophecy in the Bible. But reading prophecy is not natural for us. There are several things that we need to consider as we seek to read this together.
(1.) Biblical prophecy is God speaking to his people. John understands that to be the case. In his very first sentence he titles this work "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants." When we read Revelation we expect to hear God speaking to his people.
(2.) Prophecy uses symbols to show spiritual truths. Revelation is a highly symbolic book. This can be confusing, because sometimes people associate reading the Bible symbolically as being unfaithful. Some people make it their goal to try to read the book as literally as possible. The only real question to ask is, how did John intend for this to be understood? The most faithful reading of anything is to follow the author's intention when receiving input. In this case, it is actually quite clear. Most biblical prophecy is highly symbolic. Furthermore, in the first passage, John shows us that his vision has symbolic value. He tells of a vision of the son of man in the midst of lampstands (Rev 1:12.) Then, he interprets the vision by showing us the symbolic value of the images that are shown. In verse 20 he tells us, "the seven lampstands are the seven churches." If you were to try to interpret this vision literally you would miss the whole point. It has nothing to do with a literal lampstand. The message of Rev 1 is that Jesus is standing in the midst of his church ready to support them in their hour of need.
(3.) Symbols are interpreted by context. (This is discussed more in the "Introduction" paper.) In short, the rest of the Bible provides biblical context and the situation of the seven churches provides historic context. These two contexts guide our interpretation so that we understand the meaning of the symbolic visions. This is (admittedly) not always an easy thing to know for certain, but grounding our interpretations in biblical and historic contexts is a helpful and necessary guide. In the case of Revelation chapter one, the visionary image of the son of man is drawn from Daniel 7 (more on that on Day #2), and the visionary image of the lampstand is drawn from Zechariah 4. Zechariah's use of the lampstand image would indicate that we are meant to understand it as representing the church in need of divine assistance. Which is exactly what John tells us it means in verse 20.
(4.) Prophecy relates to present and future events. One way theologians talk about his is to say that prophecy is both foretelling (future) and forthtelling (present.) The vision of Jesus among the lampstands is an example of forthtelling. It is not about some future event, but it shows a present reality in a visionary way. In a similar manner, the next two chapters involve prophetic addresses to the seven churches. In those addresses, we hear Jesus address each church directly, calling them to greater repentance and faith. By contrast, other parts of Revelation (especially the last couple of chapters) are clearly about future events. We see a powerful depiction of the return of Jesus and the restoration of all things. In between, the visions of Revelation combine some mixture of the two - which we will try to sort out as we move along.
(5.) Prophecy calls for action. The point of prophecy throughout the Bible is that God wants his people to respond with greater repentance and faith. This is what the OT prophets do. This is what Jesus did in his earthly ministry. It is precisely what the seven churches are called to do in chapters 2 and 3. But we can easily lose sight of this core principle. The dramatic images of Revelation can stir our fascination. But if we are not led to repentance and faith, then we are missing the point. Others are tempted to see in Revelation an exact template for understanding the events which accompany the end of the world. They try to match the visions to modern day events and develop a timeline for the return of Christ. Considering that Jesus himself said, "No one knows the hour or the day of my return", (Matt 24:36) this is clearly a mistake. More importantly, this fixation often distracts from the primary message of the book. Revelation was not given so that (so-called) experts of biblical prophecy could tell us the exact dates for the end of the world. (Again, this is a possibility that Jesus, himself, excluded.) Rather, it is written that we would be led to deeper repentance and faith. When he addresses the seven churches they are called to "repent" (v.2:3,18, 3:19), "not fear" (v.2:8), "hold fast" (v.2:25, 3:11), "wake up" (v.3:2), and "hear the voice [of Jesus]" opening our lives up to up. In fact, this first chapter ends with a call to action. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
A word about the lampstands
Most blog entries will not be so long. In fact, most Sundays the blog entry will be replaced by a link to the sermon. But given that there is so much groundwork to cover, it seemed good to start with some more introductory comments. But Revelation chapter one also includes a very powerful visionary image. In addition to several comments about what the book is (prophecy) and how we should respond ("listen"), the opening image is powerful. On day #2 we will explore the background image of Jesus as the son of man. But I want to briefly consider the significance of Jesus standing among the lampstands.
The seven churches in Asia Minor were facing many difficulties. There was opposition from outsiders. It seems likely that this was written in the face of increased persecution from Rome. John himself was exiled on the island of Patmos because of this beginning "tribulation." (v.9). They were also facing increased danger from within as false teachers were beginning to corrupt the churches (see chaps 2-3.) And they were wrestling with their own sinful hearts as their "first love" for Christ was beginning to fade (v2:4.) Finally, in all of these things a massive spiritual battle was being waged in which Satan was seeking to destroy the church. Much of Revelation will serve to reveal the nature of that spiritual battle.
What was the church to do? Through repentance and faith they were called to hold fast to Jesus. As we shall see throughout the book, those who hold fast to Jesus in the face of all this opposition will be "overcomers."
And how do we overcome? We overcome by trusting that Jesus is able to care for us. That is why the opening vision is so important. In this vision we see "one like a son of man" (Jesus) standing amidst the lampstands (churches) with the stars (leaders of the churches) in his hands. Think about what this means. Jesus is with us. Jesus is holding his saints in his hands. When all the armies of Satan war against the church, and when we are wracked by spiritual division, persecuted by Ceasar, and when we face the dullness of our sinful hearts - Jesus is with us. We can trust him. We can trust that he has the ability to defeat our enemies and bring us into his heavenly kingdom. His final victory is certain and as he dwells in the midst of his people. He has the power and position to give them grace to help in times of need. Revelation brings hope in the midst of conflict.
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Matt Koerber (unless otherwise noted). Because this devotional links so closely with the sermon series, the preacher for a given week will also write the daily devotionals.
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