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Feb 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation 1:4-20



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion!                                         Grace and Peace to you!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Ready, Willing, and Able”?  I’ve always thought of it as kind of a formula:  You’re Ready if you’re Willing AND Able.  In other words, we need both aspects, willingness and ability, to be ready to move forward.

I’ve been in a kind of stuck place in one area of my life, wanting to do better, asking God to give me the ability to see differently, to act differently, trying to conjure up compassion and wisdom.  This week, when I was again talking to God about it, I heard kind of a catch in my Spirit and a Voice, “You are able, just not willing.”  “What?  Of course, I’m willing, I cried;“ That’s why I keep asking You to help me!”  But something in my heart knew that the Voice spoke truth, and that’s why I couldn’t move along.  My judgmental attitude, my attempt to control, my hidden anxiety, my rules all created blocks to my full willingness.  God used MY phrase against me!  Imagine that. 

We do have a loving Heavenly Father, and we have a Holy Spirit who is relentless about our freedom.  And that’s what it was for me, a lack of freedom from some things that did not allow for the free flow of the Spirit of Wisdom and Compassion.  When a Holy God arrests us and calls us to drop our weapons, we’d be best to listen. 

When you’re arrested for carrying deadly and loaded weapons, you can’t just agree with the authorities.  They ask you to raise your hands denoting surrender AND to drop your weapons.  I knew God was asking me to drop my weapons.  Well, I didn’t have a gun. MY weapons were stored and kept in place to protect me, to control, to cover.  They are weapons of offense and defense, swords and shields, my attempt at making life work. 

The act of surrender is only the beginning, of course, and it has been the only way forward for me.  The freedom to love wisely and well from a full, free heart…yes please.  Today, if we hear his Voice, let’s not harden our hearts as in the old ways of protecting, but surrender our weapons in faith to a True and Good God.

Join me to pray, will you:

God, we can see that the more we are free from the old ways, we can move forward in the new ways of Grace and Peace, Wisdom and Compassion.  We want to be whole and holy.  We’re learning to hear your voice; we’re learning to listen; we’re learning to love.  Thank you for calling us out and calling us forward.  May your kingdom come, your will be done, in us as it is in Heaven.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen
Revelation 1:4-5a

Intro: Revelation gives us a unique picture of the inner life of our Christian experience

It is much different from Paul’s carefully structured teaching
– with his separation of the new self from the old self
• and his contrast of having the mind of the Spirit versus the mind of the “flesh”
• Revelation reaches into our inner lives through symbols and bizarre events

Therefore, I feel comforted when reading the first few words of verse 4
– they have a familiar ring–like finding a street you know when you’re lost
• we recognize this same type of greeting from many of Paul’s letters
i.e., “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus . . . . To the saints who are in Ephesus . . . . Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Ep. 1:1-2)
• but already we see a difference: this introductory letter was written to seven churches!
◦ and then John takes a sharper turn, not identifying God specifically,
◦ but according to a timeless attribute – who is and who was and who is to come
– then it gets even weirder – John adds another source of grace and peace
“and from the seven spirits who are before his throne”
• this has caused a lot of discussion among commentators
◦ many of whom opt for the sevenfold Spirit of God
• I’m going to suggest something else

Seven may be the most important number in the Bible

For instance, reading through Leviticus over the last couple of weeks,
– it took seven days to complete ordination of priests and altar (8:33)
• there were seven weeks between the Feast of First-fruits and the Feast of Weeks (23:15)
◦ during that feast, they were to offer seven lambs (23:18)
◦ another feast was celebrated in the seventh month (23:24)
half-way through that month, there was another feast for seven days (23:36)
• every seventh year they were to let the fields go fallow
◦ after every forty-nine years (specifically 7X7) was a Jubilee year
– in verses 12-16 we’ll come to seven lamp stands and seven stars
• we’re told they represent seven angels and seven churches
• there are a lot more sevens in Revelation (seals, bowls, trumpets, etc.)
◦ some commentators divide Revelation into seven sections

The most frequent explanation I’ve read on meaning of seven,
– is that seven is the number of completion
(so some commentators interpret the seven spirits to be a sevenfold Spirit)
• but that may be too obvious and too rational
• it would simply substitute a different word for “complete”
◦ a word that means the same thing
◦ that is not how symbols work
– the number seven arrives in the world from primordial time
• it was no coincidence that Revelation was placed at end of Bible
◦ it corresponds to Genesis, where everything began
◦ and Revelation is the story of where everything ends;
and then, begins again!

It’s possible, each set of sevens–as destructive as they may appear in Revelation–
– are derived from the original seven days of creation
• that sequence of events brought something new into being each day for six days
◦ the new creation was the effect of an infinite power and wisdom
• although Revelation depicts the universe in upheaval,
◦ the message to the reader is about God at work in the cataclysms and catastrophes
◦ and that work is ultimately a creative work
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [they are] a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God (2 Cor. 5:17-18)
– seven is God’s work in the world
• this is how I see the spiritual value and numerical value of seven
• however, even if that is so, any symbol can contain multiple truths
◦ that is the nature of symbols–they are fluid

Grace and peace come to us also from “Jesus Christ”

There are three statements made about Jesus:
– he is the “faithful witness” – not just his teaching, but Jesus himself,
◦ Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God ever to enter our world (Jn. 14:9; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:1-3)
“firstborn of the dead”; we’ll delve into this more in a moment
“the ruler of kings on earth”
• we will encounter these themes elsewhere in Revelation

John moves from greeting to doxology
(a doxology is praise that includes the Greek word doxa, “glory”)
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen Revelation 1:5b-6
(By the way, there are seven doxologies in Revelation)

Here, the glory is given to Jesus – he liberated us into God
– the purpose of our liberation was so we could become “a kingdom, priests to his God”
• this, like much of Revelation, picks up a theme from the Old Testament
“and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6)
– this was God’s covenant with Israel
• in the New Testament, the covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus
• John gives glory to Jesus for accomplishing this

John has more to say about Jesus
(this will be a preview of what lies ahead)
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Revelation 1:7-8

John uses “Behold” to call our attention to the arrival of Jesus
– the he draws on two quotations from the Old Testament
coming with the clouds quotes Daniel 7:13 (Jesus also used this image in Mt. 24:30 and Mt. 26:64)
every eye will see him and mourn – a paraphrase of Zechariah 12:10
◦ he is telling us, this event will fulfill biblical prophecy
– suddenly, without introduction, God speaks through John
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of Greek alphabet
◦ God is the beginning and end of everything
◦ he is the Genesis and the Revelation of the world, the promise and fulfillment of his kingdom
who is and who was ad who is to come
◦ when Moses asked God to tell him his name, God said his name is I Am
◦ this tells us something about God himself — he simply IS – everywhere, all the time

The story begins in the next three verses
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book [scroll] and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Revelation 1:9-11

By John’s time, the Romans used Patmos Island for exiled offenders
– John described his experience there as:
the tribulation and the kingdom and endurance that are in Jesus
• in other words, it was a miserable place to be, but made tolerable in Jesus
– as far as Rome was concerned, John was there because of his ministry
• but while imprisoned on Patmos, he discovered it was God, not Rome, that placed him there
• and it was on Patmos that God gave him the Revelation

I imagine John alone, perhaps on a rocky bluff overlooking the Aegean Sea
– it was the Lord’s day, which could mean Sunday
• and he was in the Spirit – he was given an awareness of the presence of God’s Spirit
• his experience began with a sound behind him
◦ I wonder why that would matter that the sound was behind him — why would he mention it?
◦ perhaps the “behind him” means that it reverberated in the hidden depths of his own heart and mind
– he probably jumped at sudden sound of a loud voice
• immediately he was given instructions
• he was to document in a scroll what he was going to be told,
◦ and then send it to seven churches, listed in order

What John describes is almost exactly what Daniel experienced
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. The hairs of his head were white, like wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades Revelation 1:12-19

The gold belt, the shining face, the fiery eyes, the burnished bronze (feet), and the loud sound–
– even John collapsing, but then being touched and given strength to stand,
• all of it you can find in Daniel 10:5-10
• also in Daniel’s vision in chapter 7:13, we find a rare reference to the son of man of his prophecy
– missing from Daniel’s vision but included in John’s is the observation that
from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword
• the language here is similar to the image in Hebrews, where we read,|
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul an of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12)
• it is true that Jesus cuts with his words — he inflicts an inner wound without violence

John is given another writing assignment and explanation
Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches Revelation 1:19-20

What I think needs to be understood and emphasized is the following:
First: Jesus is the first and last–not only of the history of humankind, but of each one of us
• he is the full distance of our spiritual journey
Second: Jesus is the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore
• this is the whole story of Revelation, and Jesus is the model
• his death and resurrection were a necessity; through them he fulfilled his mission
◦ Revelation shows us end of the world, and then what follows is a new world
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1)
◦ for a new world to come, the old has to be cleared away
– the events recorded in Revelation are to work us into a newness of creation
• to do that, we will follow Jesus through our own death and into life
• some things within us must die in order that other, better things, can come to life
◦ last night I heard a quote from Lao Tzu
Lau Tzu, “What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

John on Patmos, cut off from the world, his friends, the normal comforts,
– suffered tribulation, witnessing all the horrors of a worldwide destruction
• but at the same time that he was dying with the old world,
◦ he was being created into a new life in Christ
• this is the journey we will take through this book
◦ God will reveal to us all the things that must Go,
reaching deep inside our hearts and minds to the place where dreams are formed
– for centuries, mystics have adopted death-like disciplines to enhance their spiritual perception
• fasting, sleep deprivation, wearing “practical” clothing for covering their bodies (neither for fashion or comfort), and so on
• John was forced into those sacrifices, and there he discovered the creative power of new life
Revelation will bring to the surface the darkness within us and force us to do something about it

Conclusion: My final thought is the first line of verse 20, “As for the mystery”

Revelation is difficult, because it is full of mysteries
Those mysteries work the systems that drive our world
Our lives are also driven by things hidden from us
we do not fully why we are the way we are or do the things we do
As for those mysteries, Revelation will help open our eyes as it opens to us the heavens,
and enable us to deal with what we see

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