Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

The Gospel that Divides.

Presented by Senior Pastor Don Roy Hemingway Th.D.

Is religion relevant? Many people apparently do not think so. They don’t believe religion is necessary because they are convinced that all anyone really needs in life can be obtained through science and technology. For them, any attention given to spiritual matters is a waste of time.

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Such people sometimes reluctantly concede that religion might be useful as long as it focuses on humanitarian help at the individual level and universal unity and harmony at the societal level. In their minds, under no circumstances should religion ever be allowed to polarize or divide society. Instead it should relentlessly seek the utopian goal of “world peace.”

Did Jesus Christ come to this earth to usher in world peace? Hardly. Hear the biblical rebuttal to this erroneous notion in Jesus’ own words:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

With salty language, Jesus plainly said He did not come to bring peace to this world. Instead, He came to bring a dividing sword. The writer of Hebrews referred to that sword when he said: “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

The sword Jesus brought to this world is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The razor-sharp edge of that sword is the powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:16), and the Gospel of Jesus does not unify this world—it divides it.

The Gospel Divides Universally
Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth.” Not long before Jesus made this statement, He had sent out His disciples, declaring them to be apostles to preach, heal and cast out demons. He also warned them about the price they would pay for serving Him—being arrested, imprisoned and even killed. Some of them would be betrayed and delivered to hostile authorities by their own families.

Jesus went on to say, “Nevertheless, do not fear any man. Men only have the power to kill your body. Instead, fear God because He alone has the power to destroy not only your physical body, but also your soul in hell.”

It was in this context of demanding discipleship that Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace on this earth.” Jesus’ words were troubling then, and they are still troubling today. He came to divide, not bring peace.

The erroneous idea that Jesus came to bring peace to this world sometimes is based on the King James translation of Luke 2:14. It says the angels celebrated Jesus’ birth by singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.” That rendering is misleading. It obscures the actual meaning of the text. A better translation comes from the New American Standard Bible: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased.” God is pleased with those who have been born again in Christ.
Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth to just anyone regardless of whether he or she had been saved or still were lost. Instead, Jesus came to bring individuals the peace that comes exclusively through salvation. That’s what Paul was speaking of in Romans 5:1 when he said, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” You will have true peace only when you repent of your sin, put your complete faith and trust in Jesus, and call on His name to save you.

Jesus does not unite humanity. He divides it right down the middle. This division isn’t ethnic or regional. It has nothing to do with being white or black. It isn’t about being a Democrat, Republican, Tea Partier or an Independent. Jesus does not divide the world based on political ideologies such as capitalism or communism. The universal division created by the Gospel is that people either are saved or lost.

The Gospel Divides Intentionally
Was this division that Jesus came to bring a random accident? Hardly. It was God’s intentional plan all along. Jesus frequently illustrated this when He taught among the multitudes. For instance, Jesus spoke about the fact that everyone must enter one of two gates: the small or the wide gate. Each of those gates puts you on one of two roads: the narrow or the broad road. Those roads take you to one of two destinations. The small gate puts you on the narrow road that leads to life (heaven). The wide gate puts you on the broad road that leads to destruction (hell).

Jesus also compared people to two kinds of trees: good or bad. He said if you are a good tree, you’ll bear good fruit; if you’re a bad tree, you’ll bear bad fruit. We can know what kind of person someone is by analyzing the fruit of his or her actions.

Jesus also spoke about two foundations—the solid foundation of rock and the sinking foundation of sand. If your life is built on the solid rock of hearing and obeying God’s Word (the gospel), then you will withstand the winds, rain and storms of life. However, if you build your life on the unstable sand of rejecting the Gospel of Jesus, then you will experience destruction. Jesus used these and other similar illustrations to divide the world by the Gospel.

Wherever Jesus went, He divided groups of people. In John 9:16 we read, “Some of the Pharisees were saying, ‘This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ Others were saying, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ So there was a division among them.”

Likewise, when Jesus’ disciples preached, they also divided the crowds. We know that when Paul preached about Jesus, some believed and were saved while others rejected his message. At the end of the Acts 28:1-31 when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, as he proclaimed the Gospel, some believed; but others mocked, rejected the Gospel and turned away. That’s the way God designed the Gospel. It divides us intentionally.

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The Gospel Divides Domestically
Jesus went on to say His Gospel sometimes would sever relationships within people’s families. “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. He who loves his father or his mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

Some may recoil when they think about Jesus dividing families, but that is exactly what Jesus meant. A lost son will be against his saved father, and a lost father will be against his Christian son. The gospel would cause a daughter to be at odds with her mother, and a daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Jesus was talking about the most intimate of all human relationships.

This means that our love for Jesus must transcend and supersede every other human relationship, even family relationships. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “I came to divide.” In Mark 10, Peter said to Jesus, “Behold, we’ve left everything, and we followed You.” Jesus didn’t say they shouldn’t have done that. Instead He said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will not receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.”

In other words, “If you leave family to follow Me, I’ll give you the whole body of Christ. Then look at all the mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters you’ll have; look at all the houses you have; look at all the lands you’ll have!” We are all one body.

On another occasion, someone said to Jesus, “Blessed is the woman who bore You and nursed you.” At that time, Mary and Jesus’ brothers were not following Him. Instead, they thought He’d lost His mind (Mark 3:21). Jesus responded to that person by saying, “No, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and do it.” Jesus was saying we should love Him so supremely that it supersedes every domestic relationship.

The New Living Translation is helpful in understanding Luke 14:26: “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.”

Some Christians say, “God is number one in my life.” God shouldn’t merely be at the top of a long list of our priorities. Rather, God is in a category all by Himself! He will have no other gods before Him, around Him or even near Him! That includes not making an idol or a god out of your family. Jesus said, “Your love for Me should be so sincere, so genuine and so deep in commitment that compared to every other relationship, even a domestic relationship, the contrast will look like the difference between love and hate.” There is no way around these words. Our love for Jesus Christ is to be superior to all other loves.

I know of a pastor who is Jewish by heritage, but became a Christian, thus a Messianic Jew (sometimes called Completed Jew). When he came to Christ, his Jewish parents were so angry with him that they actually held a funeral on his behalf and told him, “You don’t exist to us anymore.” The Gospel divided domestically.

I saw a man become saved, who suddenly didn’t want to drink, party and go to questionable places anymore. His wife didn’t want to become a Christian and became upset with him. I’ve also seen a wife become saved and want to take the children to church, but her husband who wasn’t saved became angry with her because he wanted to continue living his sinful lifestyle. I’ve even seen children become saved in Vacation Bible School and youth ministry and want to live for Jesus; but their parents made fun of them for coming to church. The Gospel often divides families!

The Gospel Divides Demandingly
Jesus said, “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Jesus demands those of us who receive His Gospel to die to our selfish desires. It reminds me of a hymn we sang when I was younger: “Take up thy cross and follow Me, I heard my Master say. I gave My life to ransom thee, surrender your all today.” The response was given in the chorus: “Wherever He leads I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so. Wherever He leads I’ll go.” That’s easier to sing than to do. The Gospel demands that we die to self, but there is no painless way to die.

Paul emphasized the demands of the Gospel when he said, “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31). He also said, “For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:19-20).”

Paul was dead to the things of the world. He said in Galatians 6:14, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Paul no longer cared about worldly things. He said they had died to him and he had died to them. Paul went to the cross every day and died in a sense because Jesus’ Gospel demanded it.

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The Gospel Divides Permanently
Last of all, the Gospel of Jesus divides the whole world permanently for all eternity. That’s what Jesus meant when He said, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” He was saying that those who think they have found their lives in this world actually have lost their lives and are on their way to hell. Those who have lost their lives in this world, by rejecting the world and receiving Christ actually have found eternal life and are on their way to heaven.

The prophet Daniel saw this eternal division coming. He said in Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” That’s an Old Testament reference to heaven and hell!

Jesus spoke about hell and heaven (in that order) in one breath when He said: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Jesus knew there was a hell to shun and a heaven to gain.

Jesus also spoke about two men who died. One was a rich man who went to hell. The other was a poor man named Lazarus who went to heaven. Jesus said, “Now the poor man was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (heaven/paradise); the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades (hell) he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-31).

The rich man desperately desired for Lazarus to put some water on his tongue because he was in such torment in the flames. Abraham said, “Lazarus cannot come. There is a deep chasm separating us so that no one can cross from here to there or there to here.” They were permanently divided. The rich man was in hell forever, and Lazarus was in heaven forever.

Jesus spoke often about this eternal division between believers and non-believers. For instance, He said, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear God’s voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to the resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

Likewise, Paul said, “God will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance and doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath, and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:6-11).

The Roman Catholic concept of Purgatory and the Hindu concept of reincarnation are unbiblical. When a person dies, he or she stands before God in judgment and is then assigned to heaven or hell for all eternity. Where someone spends eternity depends on what he or she does with Jesus during this life.

Charles Spurgeon was a great preacher in the late 1800s. He preached to approximately 6,000 people every Sunday morning in London for almost 40 years. In 1886, while preaching at the massive Agricultural Hall in London, Spurgeon shouted this toward the end of his message:

“To each one of you I say with deepest earnestness, let a division be made by your conscience. Let your understanding separate between him that feareth God and him that feareth Him not. Let each man question himself this morning: ‘Am I on the Lord’s side? Am I for Christ or for His enemies? Do I gather with Him, or do I scatter abroad?’ ‘Divide! Divide!’ they say in the House of Commons. Let us say the same in this great congregation this day. Political divisions are but trifles compared with the all-important distinction or division which I would have you consider.

“Divide as you will be divided, to the right or to the left, in the great day when Christ shall judge the world in righteousness. Divide as you will be divided when the bliss of heaven or the woes of hell shall be your everlasting portion. ‘Choose you this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ ‘Who is on the Lord’s side?’ says Moses. ‘Come and follow Me.’ ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God,’ said Elijah, ‘follow Him and serve Him; but if not, if Baal is God, follow him. But choose you this day.’”

Spurgeon understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ divides mankind!

Can you hear Jesus’ call to divide today? It’s the message of every genuine Christian preacher and teacher—”Accept or reject Jesus. Be divided into one of two categories—saved or lost. There are only two eternal destinies—heaven or hell!”

Sinner, can you hear the divisive call of the Gospel? Which side are you on? What will you do with Jesus who is called the Christ?

No, the Gospel of Jesus does not unite this world—it divides it universally, intentionally, domestically, demandingly; ultimately, it divides the world permanently.

That is exactly what Jesus meant when He said: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword!”

You cannot be neutral about Jesus. You’re either for Him or against Him. You either follow Him or you oppose Him. He will not allow you to be indecisive.

In the words of Spurgeon, “Divide, divide!”

What is This World Coming To? Exactly What Jesus Said it Would.

Every so often I hear someone say in despair, “What is this world coming to?” This kind of comment usually comes in response to a doomsday report of some kind. You know the kind I’m talking about…

Statistics show that kids are more sexualised now than ever, and that 70% of kids will have sex before graduating high school!
A new report says that 45% of Americans think that God wants them to be happy more than anything else!
A pew poll report shows that church attendance is at the lowest mark in twenty years!
Studies now indicate that the current presidential administration is the most anti-Christian administration of the modern era!
When we hear these kinds of reports and stats, our gut instinct can be to throw our hands up in despair, panic, or disgust. We are shocked at the behaviour of young people these days. Shocked at the levels of immorality at universities. Shocked at the apathy of people toward spiritual things. Shocked at the spike in gay marriages. Shocked at the smut being produced by Hollywood. Shocked at the increase in sexual promiscuity in our culture. What is this world coming to?!?

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Whatever happened to the good old days, when a fella could leave his car unlocked without fear of having his stereo stolen? Whatever happened to the days when kids would actually respect authority? Whatever happened to the good old days when young men and women actually treated each other with courtesy, instead of trying to sleep around with each other?

I would venture to say that many conservative television shows, and radio shows, and blogs, and podcasts, perpetuate the “what is this world coming to?” attitude. It’s not uncommon for talk radio hosts to spend three hours lamenting the decay of morals in the world.

But we shouldn’t be shocked or dismayed. The world is coming to exactly what Jesus said it would come to, and this actually gives us a lot of hope.

A GODLESS WORLD

The simple reality is that we live in a godless world. Of course, I don’t mean that there isn’t a God, or that the true and living God is not active in our world. I mean that the natural state of every person is wickedness, godlessness, and evil. It has always been this way, and it always will be this way.

In Genesis 6:5, God looked down on the earth and was grieved by what he saw:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

God brought the great flood upon the earth because the wickedness of man was great. Every intent, every desire, every thought, bent toward evil. Doesn’t sound that different from today, does it?

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Acts 17:16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” As Paul walked through the city of Athens, he became acutely aware that the city was absoutely jam packed with false gods. Athens was not a moral, upright, virtuous city. It was a city full of idolatry.

When we see evil and wickedness in the world, we shouldn’t throw our hands up in despair. We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised. Evil and wickedness is not an anomaly; it’s the norm. The evil we see in the world isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s not like things have suddenly gotten out of control in the last fifty years. Wickedness has been standard practice since Cain killed Abel.

So why does this give us hope? Hold on. I’m getting there.

IT GET’S WORSE

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but things are going to get worse. Before Jesus returns, evil and wickedness is going to increase in the world. Speaking of the last days, Jesus said:
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)

Lawlessness and wickedness and godlessness aren’t going to decrease; they’re going to increase. In fact, they’re going to increase to such a degree that many Christians will find their love for Christ going cold. Dang, son. That’s some serious, intense, lawlessness. Contrary to what the Beatles proclaimed, it’s not getting better all the time. It’s not going to get better; it’s going to get worse.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9–11, Paul spoke of the “man of lawlessness”:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

At some point, the “lawless one” will come, and he will come in power, with false signs and wonders. He will be so impressive, so powerful, that many unbelievers will be deceived by him. The wickedness promoted and perpetuated by the lawless one will be on a colossal, sickening scale.

It’s already bad, and it’s going to get worse. But don’t throw up your hands in despair. There’s good news.

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DON’T DESPAIR

The good news is that, in spite of the wickedness which fills the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ will continue saving sinners! Yes, evil is powerful, but Jesus is more powerful! Yes, Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, but Jesus is the great lion slayer. Jesus encouraged Peter that the church would not be overcome, and would even stand against hell itself:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Jesus isn’t particularly concerned with the most recent Barna report, or church growth study, or the state of Hollywood. He will build his church, and there is absolutely nothing that can stop him.

Even as Jesus talked about the spike in lawlessness, he also promised that the gospel would be proclaimed in ALL nations:

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

And when the big, bad, man of lawlessness appears, Jesus will take care of him too:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8)

When Jesus returns, he will utterly decimate the man of lawlessness. Farewell, lawless one! King Jesus has arrived!

DON’T LOSE HOPE

Should we be concerned about increasing immorality in the schools, and on television, and in politics? Sure. Where appropriate, we should stand for righteousness. And, of course, we should instruct our kids how to think biblically about the sin they will most certainly encounter.

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But if we’re constantly outraged, disgusted, discouraged, or panicked, then we haven’t come to grips with the Bible’s grim description of the world, and we aren’t fully trusting in our coming, conquering, reigning king.

Yeah, it’s bad. Yeah, it’s gonna get worse. But the gospel will continue to triumph, Jesus will remain on the throne, and Jesus will finally rid the world of wickedness.

All pictures are from my last trip to Jerusalem in November.

Tribulation (Revelation 1:9-11)

 Revelation Bible Study.  Tribulation (Revelation 1:9-11)

As we approach Revelation 1:9, John is beginning his explanation as to why he is writing this book. John is going to let his readers know that he did not sit down and decide to write a letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Rather, John was instructed to write these words. John begins his explanation for writing in verse 9 of the first chapter.

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John, Your Partner (1:9)

John does not begin this letter by announcing his credentials. John could say, “I, John, the apostle of the Lord.” John identifies himself as their brother and their partner. John is joining himself with the Christian readers in three areas. John is a sharer in the suffering, in the kingdom, and in the patient endurance.

John’s sharing in the tribulation seems to be explained in the rest of the verse. John was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. This is all that is told to us. It is believed that the island of Patmos was used by the Roman Empire as a place of exile, but there is little evidence of anyone being banished there. So we must be careful not to make too much of John’s condition while on the island of Patmos. John appears to be telling his readers that he is on Patmos because he is suffering on account of the word of God and testimony of Jesus. John’s preaching of the word of God concerning Jesus has landed him in trouble. This persecution could have been brought about by the Jews or by the Romans. We read through the book of Acts that the Jews were trying to use the Roman authorities against Christians (see Jews take Jesus to Pilate for trial, Jews take Christians for judgment with the city authorities in Thessalonica, Jews take Paul to the Roman tribunal in Corinth). We also read Paul and Silas getting into difficulties with Roman authorities in Philippi because, “They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:21). John could be on Patmos because of the Romans directly dealing with him or because of the instigation of the Jews. Either way, John is telling the Christians that I am with you in the suffering. We are together in this.

Not only does John share in the suffering, but he shares in the kingdom with them. You are suffering but you are in Christ’s kingdom. It is hard to feel that truth of being in the kingdom of Christ when we are suffering. John says that he is suffering with us and we are partners and partakers in the eternal kingdom. John also shares with his audience their steadfastness. John has not given up but continues to serve the Lord in the face of suffering.

In The Spirit (1:10)

What happens to John was extraordinary and special. It is the Lord’s day. By the second century, “the Lord’s day” was the customary way of referring to Sunday. Sunday was the day when Christians gather for worship and for partaking the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). It was Sunday when our Lord Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:1). It was on Sunday when Jesus made his appearance to his disciples (John 20:19). Sunday is the Lord’s day.

John is in the Spirit. This is the way the scriptures speak of someone having a divine vision. One example is in Ezekiel. “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.” (Ezekiel 37:1 ESV) Ezekiel did not physically transport to a valley because he was in exile in Babylon. The scriptures are telling us that Ezekiel is in a visionary state. So also with John. John is in the Spirit which tells us that the divine vision has begun.

Command To Write (1:10-11)

Finally, John is commanded to write what he sees in this vision in a book and send it to the seven churches. Notice the power with which the command comes. John hears a loud voice like a trumpet. We read this event happening at Mount Sinai in the giving of the ten commandments (Exodus 19). This is the voice of the Lord, speaking with authority and power. We are partners and sharers in the kingdom. Suffering and persecution may come upon us at any time. Christians participate now in Christ’s rule over the earth, as well as in the future. We are called to be steadfast during his reign.

Blessing.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

May God bless you all and ‘The Church of the Christian Nation’, Amen.

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The CCN Bible Study….

Here we are again Brothers and Sisters, once more we join together to study the word of God, this series of studies is devoted to the book of Revelation.  As always, we welcome any comments you may have and certainly welcome any discussion you may wish to initiate on this most important subject in Biblical understanding. May God bless each and all of us who undertake this ‘Bible Study’ in the name of Christ Jesus and may he be with us throughout our reading and ultimately grant us His understanding of His Scripture. In Jesus we pray. Amen.

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Revelation.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The first three verses of the book of Revelation contain the preface. These verses told us the interpretative grid we need to apply to the book to appropriately understand it. (1) This book is the revelation. It is the unveiling of things that were previously concealed. (2) The book is written in symbols. The angel signified the book and the first three verses point out that these things are seen, not heard. Symbols and signs represent a historical, literal fulfillment. Since the book is written in symbols, we need to understand what the symbols represent and not be caught up with the symbol itself. (3) The time in near. These are things “that must soon take place.” Therefore we must look for the message of the book of Revelation to directly impact its first century audience. (4) The book is revealing things that were about to happen shortly to the first century audience. It is not describing thing before when the book was written. It is a book of prophecy and it is speaking of things to come.

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First Century Letter Format (1:4-6)

Verse 4 begins the book and you will notice that it begins in a typical first century Greco-Roman letter format. The author of the letter (not of the Revelation, which is from Jesus Christ) is John. The letter is written to the seven churches that are in Asia. Recall what we learned from the preface of the book of Revelation. The book is written in symbols. Therefore, we must read the book as written in signs and symbols unless something in the text demands a literal interpretation. Most understand the seven churches symbolically. That is, each of the seven churches represent a possible condition of any local church. The conditions of the seven churches of Asia are quite applicable today and we learn about how a local church ought to be and ought not to be. However, there is a very strong reason as to why we must understand that this letter was written to seven literal churches. The reason is that the churches are named in verse 11 as well as in chapters 2-3. The naming of the churches is the flag in the context that tells us that these are not symbolic seven churches, but actual churches in Asia Minor.

The salutation is the next part of a first century letter. This letter is no different. “Grace to you and peace….” Nearly every letter has a salutation with the words, “Grace and peace.” Paul most often use this kind of salutation. Grace and peace is always given from God. The same is true in the book of Revelation. The one “who is and who was and who is coming” refers to God the Father. We also see this salutation from Jesus Christ in verse 5. The question then is who are “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” It is important to note the location of “the seven spirits” in this salutation. “The seven spirits” are sandwiched between God the Father and Jesus Christ. This is the first reason to understand “the seven spirits” to refer to the Holy Spirit. The second reason to understand “the seven spirits” as the Holy Spirit is because every salutation and blessing has a divine source. Salutations are not from created beings, but from the divine.

Why is the Holy Spirit called “the seven spirits” in Revelation? The most satisfying answer is to connect the reader to the similar description given in Zechariah 4:1-10. The book of Revelation is immediately using images from Old Testament prophecies to show that this book is interacting with those symbols. Revelation uses language that is found in previous prophecies so that the readers can connect the message of Revelation to the prophecy in the Old Testament. Zechariah 4 will be referred to in Revelation a couple times, and we will examine Zechariah 4 in more detail at that time. It is enough at this point to observe that the Spirit of God has the number seven tied to it in Zechariah 4:2 and 4:10. Seven has the symbolic meaning of perfection. Therefore, the salutation to the churches is from God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ.

Seeing Jesus (1:5)

John proceeds to give a number of descriptions of Jesus. He is called the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth. These three descriptions are found in Psalm 89. Psalm 89:37 describes the Messianic offspring of David as a faithful witness. In Psalm 89:27 the Messianic offspring of David is described as the firstborn and the highest of the kings of the earth. All three images reveal Jesus as the Davidic king who rules on the throne. As the faithful witness, Jesus rule will endure forever as the sun (Psalm 89:36-37). Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. His resurrection proves his authority and proves he is ruling from his throne. Ruler of the kings of the earth shows Jesus’ absolute power over all rulers, kings, and kingdoms. Revelation refers to Psalm 89 to show the fulfillment of the promises made to David regarding the eternal kingdom. Jesus is on that throne. By quoting Psalm 89 the book of Revelation is setting up the conflict between the exalted Christ and the earthly rulers. Even more to the point, Jesus is still in charge and is still ruling even though there are other rulers who will cause the people of God to suffer.

The Work of Christ (1:5-6)

The end of verse 5 and all of verse 6 is a statement of praise and glory to Jesus for what he has done. Jesus has loved us. Loving us is the reason that he died. Even during our difficult times and suffering, Jesus still loves us. He has freed us from our sins by his blood. These benefits are derived through his blood, that is, in his death on the cross. If Jesus is the king, which the previous verse asserted, then we are citizens in his kingdom. The readers are not citizens in the Roman Empire, not citizens in Judaism, but are citizens in the kingdom of Christ. Jesus has provided a new family relationship by which all believers have a priestly ministry to God. We are subjects in Christ’s kingdom with direct priestly access to God.

Coming With the Clouds (1:7)

Verse 7 comes from two places in the scriptures. Daniel 7:13-14 is the most likely reference that Revelation is alluded to.

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13–14 ESV)

The point in Daniel is the same point is the enthronement of Jesus as the king who has kingdom. All people are to serve Jesus. But we cannot miss that the imagery of coming in clouds is consistent used of judgment. Jesus is enthroned and will come in the clouds of judgment against his enemies. Notice the following passages that use this language.

Behold, he comes up like clouds; his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles— woe to us, for we are ruined! (Jeremiah 4:13 ESV)

For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. (Ezekiel 30:3 ESV)

A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness…. (Zephaniah 1:15 ESV)

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30 ESV)

Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64 ESV)

These usages show that the phrase “coming in the clouds” is not a sign of the end of the world, but a symbol of national judgement. Christ has authority implying that those against him are worthy of judgement.

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The rest of Revelation 1:7 is alludes to Zechariah 12:10-13:1. The meaning in Zechariah 12 is very important to understanding what the book of Revelation means. Notice that Zechariah 12:10 says that God is going to pour out a spirit of grace and mercy on the Jews. The Jews are mourning because they have pierced the Messiah. The picture is weeping for repentance because they have pierced the Messiah. God is going to pour out mercy and grace so that they can repent. Zechariah 13:1 clarifies that God is going to open a fountain to cleanse them from their sins and uncleanness. When we read the phrase, “those who pierced him,” we must understand that the scriptures is pointing to the Jewish nation. They will seek repentance and God will give that opportunity.

Turn to Matthew 24:30 and notice the image from Zechariah 12 is used here also. Notice in Matthew 24:1-3 that Jesus is discussing the coming judgment against the Jewish nation as seen in the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew 24:29 reveals that judgment is coming. When the scriptures read, “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light,” it is a reference to the judgment of a nation. That nation will not longer see the sun, moon, and stars. It will be “lights out” for the nation. Matthew 24:30 sounds just like Zechariah 12:10 and Revelation 1:7. The Jews have pierced the Messiah and he is coming in the clouds (judgment) with power and great glory. Verse 31 reiterates the message of Zechariah 12:10-14. There will be an opportunity for repentance. Repent now before this judgment comes and you will avoid the coming doom. The elect will be gathered because they are the repentant.

Come back to Revelation 1:7. Notice that all the language is the same except for one small phrase. Revelation adds something that Zechariah 12 and Matthew 24 did not have. The added phrase is, “Every eye will see him.” Let’s put all the pieces together now so that we can understand what Revelation 1:7 is teaching. “He is coming in the clouds” refers to Christ on the throne ruling in authority and he is coming in judgment. “Every eye will see him” means that no one is excluded from this judgment. Everyone is being brought under Christ’s coming judgment. I think we would be right to say that judgment is coming against the Roman Empire as it rebels against the authority of Christ. The Romans are included in this judgment. “Even those who pierced him” refers to the Jewish nation both in Zechariah 12 and Matthew 24. So also here in Revelation. The whole world is coming under judgment. The Roman Empire will be judged. But not only will they be judged, but even the Jewish nation. They also will be judged. “And all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” is the final phrase. Remember that the mourning in Zechariah 12 was mourning for repentance. The purpose of these judgments is to bring about the repentance of the nations. Christ is seeking for the Jews and Gentiles to repent and become part of the kingdom of Christ.

The call to repentance is a key concept in the book of Revelation that must not be missed. The book of Revelation twice points out how the judgements did not bring about the repentance God desired.

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The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20–21 ESV)

They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds. (Revelation 16:9–11 ESV)

These pictures set the table for what is coming in the book. Judgments have come with the intention to bring repentance. The repentance does not come as God desired. Therefore the nations must be fully judged for its rejection of Jesus as King of Kings.

The paragraph concludes with a description of the Lord God as the Alpha and Omega. Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. Jesus is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, and everything in between. Jesus is ruling. Jesus is in control. He is the “I AM.” He is the Lord Almighty. Despite all that is going on in the world God maintains control and authority over all the earthly powers and forces. Jesus declares that he is the Almighty Lord of armies, the unchangeable God. He will accomplish all his will, fulfil all his word, and execute all his judgements.

Until next time…. May God go with you, Via Con Dios. Amen.