Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE REVELATION

(I am currently writing a series on the last two chapters of the Bible. These chapters are the only two in the entire Bible that are dedicated exclusively to telling us what eternity will be like for the believers in Christ)

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We are coming near to the end of the book of Revelation – indeed to the end of the entire body of the revealed word of God. John is preparing to conclude his writings of what will become the final book of the Bible. From this point in the book of Revelation, verse six of the twenty-second chapter until the end of the book, John tells us no more of what he has seen in this vision of the new heavens and earth, or more of what he saw in the New Jerusalem. This final portion of his book can be considered an epilogue of his vision.

In verse six, John writes this: “He said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true.’”

To know who the “He” is, that is, who it was who told John that the words are faithful and true, we must return to what we might call the prologue of these two chapters, when John first began to have his vision of heaven and of the throne room of God. There, the one speaking is identified as the “Alpha and the Omega,” the same way that Jesus identified himself in the very beginning of the book of Revelation (1:18). The Alpha and the Omega are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and by identifying himself as these letters, Jesus is indicating that he is the beginning of all that there is, and he is also the conclusion of it all.

John wrote of Jesus in the beginning of his vision of the throne room of God, “He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new…Write, for these words are faithful and true’” (Revelation 21:5 NAS)

This twice repeated phrase by the one who sits on the throne, “These words are faithful and true,” speak of the certainty of what John saw. (to continue, please press the READ MORE button below)


The Revelation

In the opening sentence of this chapter, I called the words found in Scripture the revealed word of God. I used that word because the writings found in the Bible are not words that came from the minds of philosophers or the pens of writers of ethics. They do not come from religionists. The perspectives of life that come to us in the Scriptures are those that can only come to us from outside of human experience. We could never know the truths written in the Bible if they had not been revealed to us by God.

This is also what John said concerning all that he was shown, and which he also wrote for us in the book called “The Revelation of John.” John said in this book, “The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show to his bond-servants (doulos) the things which must soon take place” (Revelation 22:6b).

John told us this because he wanted us to know that these are not writings that came from his own thinking about the end times. These are events of the future days that were shown to him and that he was told to record for us to read.

The apostle Peter said much the same thing about the rest of Scripture. Peter writes: 

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV) 

Peter also is confirming the fact that the Scriptures are words given by God and transmitted by men so that all could read, hear and understand the message of God for all. These are not some “cleverly devised tales,” as Peter calls them. He then refers to the time when Jesus took him, John and James up to the mountain where they witnessed the transfigured glory of the Lord and heard the voice of God saying “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am will pleased.”

“We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven,” Peter writes, “for we were with him on the holy mountain” (vs.16-18. Please see the earlier post, To See the Face of God).

Peter’s point in telling this is that they actually heard the voice of God and saw at least a portion of the glory of God. It is this type of experience that motivated him, and which also motivated others to write the Scriptures. They were driven to do this. This was their purpose in writing. There was no benefit to them in their writing other than this. None of them became wealthy by selling books. They were not trying to gather a large following for themselves. In fact, most of them were killed because of what they said or what they wrote. No one who was given words by God to write into the Scriptures personally benefited from them. The writers of Scripture were simply transmitting what God had told them to write. 

No Apologies Necessary

Christians today often think that they must somehow “prove” to doubters that the Bible is the true word of God. It is for this reason that if you were to attend a Bible College or a Seminary, you would have some classes that deal with what are called “Christian Apologetics.” This title may sound like a class in how to apologize for being a Christian, but that is not at all the meaning. In fact, it is the opposite of what it means. Although, as you might expect, the two words, apologetics and apologize, have sprung from the same root word, they have come to have almost opposite meaning in today’s language.

The root for both of these words is a Greek word, and means something to the effect of “to give an account,” or “to give a verbal defense.” This definition goes along well with what the Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15a ESV).

For very many Christian leaders and for Christian people in general, what this means to them is that they have made their lives and ministry one long debate with unbelievers. We are confronted with a world that it is full of deceptive philosophies and religions. Even in the scientific community, there are some who begin their research with already entrenched false prejudices, and seem to have as their main objective in their research to “disprove” the existence of God.

Christians have rightly stood against this cultural tide by presenting scientific and archeological evidence to the contrary. We as believers need to be informed concerning the current thinking and the philosophies of the day. It is important that we as Christians do this because we stand against the rising tide of secularism. Paul told his young protégé Titus that a teacher must be prepared to stand against and rebuke any who would contradict the word of God (Titus 1:9).

He also wrote to Timothy,” The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25a NAS).

However, the motivation in Christian apologetics must never be to “win a debate” or an argument. Paul continues by writing to Timothy about those who are opposed to the truth of God’s word but, who would listen to correction, “…Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” 

The Very Most Important Task

However, despite the importance of Christian apologetics, our most important task as Christians in this world is not to build convincing evidences to argue against secularism. It is important to know how to respond to the false philosophies and religions of the world, but I think that it must be a rare occasion when someone comes came to believe in Jesus because of argumentation or debate. The true problem that people have with the message of Christ is not an intellectual one, but a spiritual one. It is not a problem of the mind. It is a problem of the heart.

I mentioned that Peter said that we should be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us why we have such hope within us, but even in this statement, he is not speaking primarily of apologetics. Rather, he is speaking of the Christian living a life so exemplary, that should someone attempt to slander us, there will be nothing in our lives that they could use to substantiate their claims. This is our best defense against any who would deny the validity of the word of God. One can argue science, but one can never deny what has happened in one’s life. 

Perhaps the best apologists and debater of all time was the Apostle Paul, one who laid out his reasoning in a very clear and logical fashion. Yet, even Paul said, “it is with the heart that one believes” (Romans 10:10). He knew that the true argument was not of the intellect, but of the will. In the end, it is our desires that determine whom or what teaching we follow.

Jesus, in his way of stating deep concepts in very simple terms, compares the spiritual decisions made by people, to sheep with their shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice…[in the same manner] My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:3-4, 27-28 NAS).

When we hear the voice of the Shepherd, those who have ears to hear follow him because they recognize this as a voice of security and truth. To those who have a heart to know God, when he says to John in the book of Revelation, not once, but twice, “These words are faithful and true,” we have no trouble believing him. He is our Good Shepherd. 

Paul’s Priority in Teaching

I mentioned that the foremost Christian apologists of all time was perhaps the Apostle Paul. Nevertheless, Paul was very careful not to present his teaching in a way that would cause people to follow him as a man. Paul’s goal was that his hearers would come to learn about Christ and begin to follow Jesus. Paul wrote in First Corinthians: 

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV) 

Paul’s Vision

It is interesting to note that the Apostle Paul, like John, was also given a vision of the heavenlies. Nevertheless, he was careful in telling of his insights into what God had shown him so that they would not draw attention to himself. Paul’s message was Christ, and nothing more.

Thus, when he speaks of the vision, he puts it in the third person as if it had happened to someone else. It is obvious that it was Paul himself who was given this vision however, since he said that he was given what he calls “a thorn in the flesh” by God to remind him not to boast of superior knowledge. Here is what Paul said concerning his vision: 

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 2:2-4 ESV) 

Given this incredible experience of Paul’s, we might expect him to speak of this often in his ministry and to claim spiritual authority over others. Yet, Paul said that he decided not to refer to this experience, in order to not detract from the message of Jesus Christ - that is, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 

Paul’s Encounter with Christ

Because of this priority in Paul’s life, he referred to this vision only once, and then as if he were talking about someone else. The experience he did talk about however, was when he was on the road to the city of Damascus. There, he did not have a vision, but rather was temporarily struck blind. It was because of that blindness that God was able to speak to him, and Paul became a believer in Christ.

Unlike his vision of heaven, Paul did not mind talking about this experience, because it was the time when God put him on his knees in repentance. It was at that point that Paul realized that he was nothing, and God was everything.

“If I must boast, will boast in the things that show my weakness.” Paul says (2 Corinthians 11:30 ESV). He then continues on to speak of the experience in Damascus, when he had to flee for his life become of his new-found faith in Christ. Paul had met Jesus, and his life would never be the same. 

The Revelation of John

As we have seen in the book of Revelation, John, unlike Paul, did speak of the vision that he had received from God. He did so because God specifically instructed him to do so (Revelation 22:7,10). However, by the time John had his vision of the heavens, he was already an old man and forced to live in exile on the small Greek island of Patmos, which was probably a Roman penal colony at the time. John did not write of this vision in order to impress his readers with his spiritual insights and privileges. Indeed, he would never meet those who would read his words.

Rather, like Paul, when John spoke with people about Jesus, he simply spoke of his experience in knowing Jesus, and what Jesus had done in his life. Here is how John begins his writings: 

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:1-4 ESV). 

These men, Paul, John and Peter, despite the visions and experiences that they had and persuasive arguments that they could have made, what mattered most to them was their personal experiences with Christ. Similar things could be said about the other disciples as well. They believed Christ not because of a great debate among competing philosophies and religions and the arguments for Jesus won them over. No, they believed Christ because of what he had done in their lives.

That is why, when John heard the one sitting on the throne say, “These words are faithful and true,” he had no difficulty believing him. Nor do I have any difficulty.
His words have changed my life. 

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