Tag Archives: Apostle John

Revelation Study #2: “See the Glorified Jesus”

Study #2: Seeing the Glorified Jesus (Rev. 1:12-20)

(To listen to the audio message, click this link – Revelation 1:12-20. To download the audio, right click the above link, choose “save link as,” give it a name, and save it to your computer. You can then burn a CD of it. To download the written message, right click this link, Written Message, choose “save link as,” give it a name, and save it to your computer. You can then email it to a friend. Help us get the word out! Jesus is returning soon, and we need to get ready! If you are a teacher, and would like to use these notes and our Powerpoint slides to teach the Book of Revelation to your group, click this link – Slides.)

_MG_4670_HDR-1What is the most beautiful sight you have ever seen?  The Grand Canyon?  A Hawaiian sunset?  The artwork of Italy?  Dr. Magherini, head of the psychiatric hospital at Florence warns that too much beauty can overwhelm us.  She says, “Some tourists fall to the ground with heart palpitations thinking they’re having a heart attack. Others suffer from delirium or disorientation. But what they’re really having could be called a ‘brush stroke.’ Mix one tired and lonely tourist with a heavy dose of Michelangelo, throw in a fresco by Giotto and a Bernini statue or two, and presto! You have a victim of art illness.”  But she says most victims recover quickly. “All they need to return to normal is a heavy dose of the familiar and the mundane.”

That is fascinating for two reasons: 1) It shows how accustomed we are to the ordinary. 2) It gives us a glimpse of how you and I would react if we witnessed the truly glorious. After all, if people faint from seeing something as mundane as Michelangelo’s David, imagine how we’d react if we came face to face with the Risen Christ!  Revelation chapter 1 is a case in point.  John the apostle has been banished to the Isle of Patmos for preaching the Word of God, when Jesus suddenly appears to him—altogether holy, glorious, and beautiful.  How does John react?  He says in verse 17, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead!” Why? Faced with the majesty of the All-Glorious Jesus, the only thing anyone can do is fall at His feet in worship.

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In this, our second study of the Revelation, John pulls back the veil and reveals the Lord Jesus as He really is.  No longer is He the meek and mild Savior; now He is the All-Glorious King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As John tells us what he saw, let the majesty of Jesus fill you with awe.  Four facts stand out about Him in Revelation 1:12-20.

  1. His Position

Verse 12 begins, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.  And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands One like the Son of Man.”  Two things to notice here.  First, notice what John sees when he turns toward the voice speaking to him.  He sees seven golden lampstands.  What do they possibly represent? There is no need to wonder because Jesus explains it in verse 20, “The seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”  That’s a fitting symbol for a church, isn’t it?  For just as a lamp is not the source of the light it gives off, but gets its flame from the oil burning inside it, so you and I have no glory of our own.  Instead, where do we get our light?  We get it from Jesus, the Light of the World who commanded His disciples, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  So yes, Jesus is the Light of the World, but it is through the churches, His lampstands, that He makes His glory known.

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That raises the question.  What kind of light are you giving off?  Is it bright enough for others at your workplace to see?  Or what about your neighbors?  Can they see the likeness of Jesus in you?  Several years ago I met with our church’s nominating committee to consider new elders and deacons.  Someone suggested the name of one of the sharpest and most successful men in our congregation.  But right away someone nixed his nomination.  Why?  They said a friend of theirs ran a store in town and whenever this man came into his shop, he acted like a “jerk,” cursing about this or that.  The friend said, “If that’s what the people at your church are like, my family and I will never attend one of your services.”  Anyone, of course, can have a bad day.  But apparently this was a habit, reminding me that people are watching! And if we say that we are Christians, they’re expecting to see a reasonable likeness of Jesus Christ in us.

Even more important, however, is where Jesus is in relation to the lampstands.  Verse 13 says He is “in the midst of them.”  This signifies two truths about Him.  First, His presence with us—that He will never leave us nor forsake us, but is with us until the end of the age.  For even though Jesus has ascended to His throne in heaven, He is still with us in the Person of His Holy Spirit.  And not only is He with us, He’s watching us.  This is the point of Revelation 2:1, which says He “walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.”  This is not a leisurely stroll He is describing; it is our Commander-in-Chief inspecting His troops, listening to our worship, watching the way we do business, and examining the thoughts and intents of our hearts.  Even in the heated atmosphere of a business meeting, we need to remember that Jesus is with us, watching what we say and how we say it.  So be careful what you say and do!

Second, it emphasizes His centrality.  Throughout the book of Revelation, Jesus is pictured at the center of everything.  Here He walks in the midst of the seven churches.  In chapter 4, He is the center of Heaven’s worship.  In chapter 6, He becomes the source of the world’s future judgment.  And in chapters 21 and 22, He becomes the Light and Temple of the New Jerusalem and the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells.

So an appropriate question to ask is:  Is Jesus Christ the central focus of your life?  If He is, what difference will it make?  Certainly, it will lead you to spend daily time with Him in Bible study and prayer.  It will also make you more faithful in serving the church to which you belong. But most telling of all, it will affect the decisions you make as a mother, a father, a student, an employee, a neighbor, and a citizen.  Simply stated, when you realize that Jesus is present in every part of your life, it will radically transform how you think and what you do.

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Are you familiar with this illustration from Campus Crusade?  The first circle represents a person who has given Christ center place in his life.  Self has been dethroned and Christ is in charge, bringing him joy and fulfillment by putting all things in their proper order.  But there is a second possibility for the Christian, illustrated by the second circle.  Christ is in this person’s life, but He is not in control.  Self is on the throne making the decisions.  As a result, life is filled with chaos, frustration, and discouragement.  Everything is out of order. Why?  Because you and I were never designed to be the masters of our lives.

Which circle represents your life?  The good news is nothing prevents you from enjoying the abundant life Jesus came to give you.  All you need to do is yield to Him the same place He enjoys throughout creation.  Will you step down from the throne of your life and give Jesus control.  My prayer is that you will do that right now in the quietness of your heart.

  1. His Appearance

Verse 13 continues, He was “clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girded about the chest with a golden band.  His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; He feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.”

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Bible commentators disagree about the meaning of Christ’s clothing.  Some say it is a symbol of His priesthood.  Others say it pictures His kingship.  I think it is a symbol of both. Like Aaron the high priest (Exod. 28:34), Christ does wear a robe reaching all the way to the ground.  But, unlike Aaron, His waistband is made of gold, not purple or scarlet, indicating that Jesus is our royal high priest.  Therefore, as Hebrews 7:25 puts it, He is the guarantee of “a better covenant” than Aaron.  Because “He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them.”

Doesn’t that make you feel secure?  Jesus offered Himself as the complete payment for your sins, crying out from the cross, “It is finished!  Paid in full!  Nothing more need be done!”  But He also loves you so much that He is praying for you before the Father’s throne, ensuring that nothing will ever steal your salvation.  It reminds me of Jesus’ words to Peter before his temptation and fall.  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you like wheat: but I have prayed for your, that your faith should not fail.”  If you are a disciple of Jesus, that is what He is doing for you each and every moment of your life as your royal high priest.  He is at the Father’s right hand praying for you, that your faith may not fail.

Notice also the color of Christ’s hair.  Verse 14 says, “His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow.”  Again scholars disagree.  Some say it is a symbol of His purity or wisdom.  Surely both are true.  But Daniel 7:9 gives the best explanation for this symbol. In describing the Messiah, it says, “His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool…I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated.” This, then, is a picture of Christ’s eternity, ruling forever and ever as our Lord and King.

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Have you recognized this about Christ?  That He is God in human flesh? Most religious people are happy to call Jesus a great teacher or a mighty prophet.  Mahatma Gandhi, the holy man of India, openly declared his admiration for Jesus and said he was glad to give Him an equal place with Buddha, Confucius, and Mohammed.  But he said, “I cannot place Jesus Christ on a solitary throne.”  Yet, that’s what Jesus demands.  He demands that we give Him the throne of our lives.  For He is more than a prophet or a teacher.  He is God incarnate, co-equal with the Father and deserving of your worship and obedience.  Jesus said in John 8:24, “If you do not believe that I AM (the Old Testament name for God), you will die in your sins.”  So bow your heart to Him today.  Remember Doubting Thomas’ reaction when He saw the Risen Christ.  He fell at His feet saying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)  You need to do that.  You need to recognize who Jesus is and give Him the worship He deserves.

Verse 12 adds, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”  What does this mean?  Revelation 2:23 unlocks the mystery. Something we discover as we study this book is that each description in chapter 1 is repeated in one of the letters to the churches, emphasizing an attribute of Christ they were forgetting.  So how does Jesus describe Himself to the compromising Christians in Thyatira?  Revelation 2:18-25 says, “These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire…and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

This is a symbol of His perfect knowledge and judgment.  Often we fool ourselves pretending that Christ doesn’t notice the little compromises we make with sin—things we read, things we watch, the ways we talk, and the ways we spend our money.  But we’re wrong! As Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, nothing escapes His notice, for “all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”  So the challenge is to hide nothing from our Savior, but to confess all our sins to Him, asking for forgiveness and the grace to begin again. Do you know the song we teach children in Sunday School? It’s true for adults as well.

O, be careful little hands what you do. O, be careful little hands what you do. For the Father up above is looking down in love. So be careful little hands what you do!

There are other verses to it as well.  “O, be careful little eyes what you see.  O, be careful little ears what you hear.  O, be careful little lips what you say.”  The point is: Someone incredibly holy is watching over us who cares about everything we do.  So, in a grown-up way, we need to ask ourselves, “How will this look to the One with eyes like a flame of fire?”

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Notice also Christ’s feet.  Verse 15 says, “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.” In other words, they’re red hot and ready for judgment.  That is what furnaces picture in the Bible.  They are symbols of judgment.  Remember the fiery furnace into which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast?  The same is also true of feet.  The way that a conquering general demonstrated his power and victory over an enemy was by placing his foot on his neck.  Is there anything more like that mentioned about the feet of Christ in the book of Revelation? Yes!  Notice what Revelation 19:15 says the feet of Jesus will do.  First, it says He will rule the nations with a rod of iron, and then it adds, He will “tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”  To sum up, then, what does Christ’s appearance to John picture for us?  His eternal power and glory as earth’s coming King.  Now notice a third fact about Him.

  1. His Power

We immediately see a hint of this in verse 15, where John says, “And His voice was as the sound of many waters.”  I learned the meaning of this while visiting Narada Falls with my family.  Compared to Niagara Falls, Narada Falls is a baby waterfall.  But still I found as I stood in its spray, all other sounds were drowned out by the roar of its waters.  So it is with the voice of Christ.  When Jesus speaks, all other voices lose their impact.  At creation, He commanded, “Let there be light!”  And there was light.  At Bethany, He shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!”  And a dead man came hobbling out of his tomb.  But the greatest display of His power will be at His second coming.  Jesus said, “The hour is coming…when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God…and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:25-29)

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Today our ears are assaulted by the foolish babble of arrogant men trying to impress ud with their wisdom.  But one day soon Jesus will return, and when He speaks, all other voices will be silenced in His presence.  “For,” Isaiah 11:9 says, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”  In other words, what Jesus says will be the only topic of interest in that day.  So let me ask you.  Whose voice are you listening to today?  The voice of the political pundits and late night comedians?  Or are you faithfully studying what God says in His Word, eagerly responding to the promptings of His Holy Spirit?

Notice also how John describes Christ’s hand.  The hand of God is a symbol of His power.  Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”   But here John also emphasizes its contents. “He had in His right hand seven stars.”  To what does this refer?  Verse 20 explains, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”  What is that about?  Who are the angels of the seven churches?  The Greek word angelos simply means messenger.  It can mean a heavenly messenger if the context warrants it.  Or, as in this case, because of the context, it refers to a human messenger.  After all, what would be the purpose of writing letters to angelic beings?  For example, Revelation 2:1 says, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write.”

So, if these are not heavenly angels, what are they?  Most Bible teachers agree that it is a reference to the pastors of the seven churches.  I like what the late J. Vernon McGee wrote: “I like to think that it refers to the local pastors. It is good to hear a pastor called an angel; sometimes we are called other things.”  If this does refer to the pastors of the churches, it should be a great encouragement to church members. Why?  Because of where they are—right in the center of Christ’s hand.  Which implies that as faulty and flawed as we are, Christ is in control of us, and when you pray for us, your prayers make a difference.

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Next John says there is a “sharp two-edged sword” coming out of Christ’s mouth. This refers to the power of God’s Word.  Ephesians 6:17 calls it “the sword of the Spirit,” our weapon for destroying Satan’s lies.  Hebrews 4:12 adds that it is “sharper than any two-edged sword.”  But the word for “sword” is different in this passage.  It refers not to the small sword used by Roman soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, but to the large two-handed sword used to decapitate the leader of a defeated army.  As such, it signifies the complete and final victory of Jesus Christ over all His enemies. This is something that will come about not by some great excruciating effort on His part, but simply, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “by the breath of His mouth” and “the brightness of His coming.”  Revelation 19:15 adds, “Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations…”

Finally, notice how John describes the face of Jesus. He says that looking into the face of the glorified Christ is like staring into the “sun shining in its strength.”  Have you ever tried that? To stare into the brightness of the sun?  How long could you do it?  It’s actually not a good idea because it can damage your eyes.  But that is what the disciples saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.  (Matt. 17:2)  Jesus was transformed before them, so that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.”  It was so overwhelming that the disciples, like John here on the Isle of Patmos, fell on their faces in worship.  Why?  Because the face of Christ is simply the most glorious sight that human eyes can see.  Revelation 20:11 says it will be so glorious that heaven and earth will flee away from Him in terror.

But that is not His desire for us.  Instead, His desire is to comfort the Apostle John saying in verse 17: “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen.”  Maybe this is what John was looking back on when he wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears is not made perfect in love.” Just as comforting is His statement, “I have the keys of Hades and Death.”  In popular culture, the devil is in charge of hell.  But Jesus corrects that misconception.  The truth is that the devil is just a creature, whereas Jesus is the Creator in control of everything that happens in His universe.  Therefore, if we belong to Him, we never need fear death or hell again.

Those of you involved in jail ministries can appreciate this.  Once that door clangs shut behind you, you want to be sure the jailer remembers you and that your name is on his list. Why? Because he is the only one with the authority to let you out.  Similarly, we who belong to Jesus Christ don’t need to fear death anymore.  Why not?  Because He holds the keys to both death and hell.  And finally, consider one more fact about Christ.

  1. His Assignment

In verse 19, John is given an assignment: “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”  To miss what John is told here is to fail to understand everything else that is written in this book, for this is the key verse and outline for everything that follows.

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To summarize it, John was told to write about three things: (1) “The things which you have seen.” This refers to his vision of the glorified Christ in chapter 1.  (2) “The things which are.” This refers to the events of the seven churches which he will address in chapters 2 and 3.  This part of the outline will be helpful when we try to decide when Jesus is returning for His church—whether it’s before or after the Tribulation—for in chapters 2 and 3, much is said about the church on earth.  But in chapter 4, when John writes about (3) “the things which will take place after this” (the third division of the Revelation), nothing more is said about the churches on earth.  This should make us wonder.  If the church is still on earth during the Tribulation, why is there nothing more said about it until the Bride of Christ is mentioned in Revelation 19:7-10?

One other fact I must point out, though it is not found in chapter 1.  While there is only one revelation in this book—the Revelation of Jesus Christ—there are actually two prophecies.  Revelation 1:19 records the first prophecy, which is a chronological account of the Church Age, the Tribulation that follows, and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. An outline looks like this:

Prophecy #1—Revelation 1:19

  1. The Things Which You Have Seen—Revelation 1
  2. The Introduction to the Revelation—1:1-11
  3. The Vision of the Glorified Christ—1:12-20
  4. The Things Which Are—Revelation 2 to 3
  5. The Letter to the Church in Ephesus—2:1-7
  6. The Letter to the Church in Smyrna—2:8-11
  7. The Letter to the Church in Pergamum—2:12-17
  8. The Letter to the Church in Thyatira—2:18-29
  9. The Letter to the Church in Sardis—3:1-6
  10. The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia—3:7-13
  11. The Letter to the Church in Laodicea—3:14-22
  12. The Things Which Will Take Place After This—Revelation 4 to 11
  13. The Worship of the Church in Heaven—4:1-11
  14. The Seal Judgments—5:1—7:14
  15. The Trumpet Judgments—8:1—11:14
  16. The Return of Christ and the Hallelujah Chorus—11:15-19

But jumping ahead to Revelation 10, we find the second prophecy of this book.  John is told to eat the “little book” that lies in the angel’s hand.  This is all that remains of the seven-sealed scroll that Christ has opened.  When he eats it, he is told, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”  This is a characteristic of Jewish writing.  Having given a chronological outline of the last days, John is now told to go back and fill in the details.  In other words, chapters 12 through 22 is a topical study giving us details about characters and events like the Beast and False Prophets, the Bowl Judgments, the Battle of Armageddon, the Return of Christ, the Thousand-Year Kingdom, the Judgment of Satan, and the New Jerusalem. Here is an outline:

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Prophecy #2—Revelation 10:11

  1. War in Heaven Between Lucifer and Michael’s Angels—12:1-17
  2. The Beast and the False Prophet—13:1-18
  3. The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion—14:1-20
  4. The Bowl Judgments—15:1—16:21
  5. The Judgment of Religious and Political Babylon—17:1—18:24
  6. The Return of Christ to Earth—19:1-21
  7. Thousand-Year Kingdom of Christ and Great White Throne Judgment—20:1-15
  8. The Advent of the New Earth and the New Jerusalem—21:1—22:21

It happened one spring day just prior to the Civil War.  A young man stopped by Wrothy Taylor’s farm looking for work.  The farmer knew nothing about him except his name was Jim and he claimed to be a hard worker.  So he gave him a job milking cows, cutting fire wood, and doing other odd jobs.  Jim ate in the kitchen, slept in the hayloft, and as summer passed, found himself falling in love with the farmer’s daughter. So he summoned up the courage and asked him, “Mr. Taylor, may I marry your daughter?”  “No,” was his reply.  “You have no name, no money, no prospects for the future.”  And he roughly sent him away.  Thirty-five years later, the farmer decided to build a new barn.  So he tore down the old hayloft where Jim had slept.  And there wouldn’t you know it, the farmer found that Jim had carved his full name on one of the rafters—“James A. Garfield”—who went on to become the 20th president of the United States.

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We tend to overlook the meek and humble, regardless of what might lie beneath the surface. That is especially true of the One many of us worship today.  For 20 centuries, mankind has seen Him as the ever-patient Lamb of God, slain for sinners.  But that perception is about to change.  Jesus is coming soon, and when He does, we will see Him in all His glory.  What will be our reaction?  We will fall on their faces in worship, confessing that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  But it will be too late for salvation then.  Today is the day of salvation!  So if you have not yet given Him center place in your life, do so today.  It will bless you both for time and all of eternity!

(The next study? The letters to the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna.)

Revelation: Because the Time Is Near!

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(To listen to the audio message, click on this link – Revelation 1a . You can adjust the volume on your computer.  To save the message to your computer, so you can burn a CD of it, simply right click the link above, click on “save link as,” give it a name, and choose a folder on your computer where you want to save it. Slides of the presentation are available by right clicking this link Powerpoint, giving it a name, and then saving it to a folder on your computer.)

Study #1: The Reason for the Revelation

Most people are like the young woman engaged to Mozart before his rise to fame.  Pursued by wealthier and more handsome suitors, she became disenchanted with the musician and broke her engagement, marrying a taller, more successful, and better looking man.  Then the world began to praise Mozart for his talents and the women regretted her decision.  She admitted, “I knew nothing of the greatness of Mozart’s genius. I only saw him as a little man.”

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We do that, don’t we?  We make superficial judgments based on surface factors, when in fact, our first impressions are often wrong.  That was true of Mozart.  It was true of a young man named David before he killed the giant.  And it is even truer of the One that many of us worship today.  For 20 centuries, the world has glanced at Jesus, often without reading what the Bible says about Him, and concluded that He was a good man, a great teacher, and a wonderful example.  Many who attend church add phrases like Lamb of God, Messiah, and Savior without grasping with their hearts what those titles actually mean.  Because all they see on the surface is the meekness and weakness of a dying Savior.

But one day soon that perception will change!  The meek and mild Lamb of God is about to part the clouds and reveal Himself as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, taking His rightful place as King of the earth, every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  But it will be too late to worship Him then.  When He comes again, the time to worship will be over and the time for judgment will have come.For that reason, there are four facts I want to make clear in this opening study of the Book of Revelation.

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  1. Its Title

When people refer to this book, they often call it the Book of Revelations, because of the many visions in it.  But John makes it clear from the opening line.  Its title is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants.”  The word “Revelation” is singular because there is only one revelation given in this book.  Nor is it the revelation of John, as some Bibles entitle it, because it isn’t about John.  Its theme and chief character is Jesus, but not in the meek and mild form He once appeared upon earth.  This is the revelation of Jesus Christ in His eternal glory.  In other words, it’s all about Jesus, just as everything else in life ought to be.  And when we witness this Jesus together, there won’t be any doubt as to what we should do. We should bow down, worship and obey Him, and give Him center place in our lives.

  1. Its Timeliness

Many neglect the study of this book because it seems unconnected to our modern lives.  After all, what could a book written two thousand years ago have to do with my life today? The Lord Jesus quickly answers His skeptics in verse 1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.  Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

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Verse 1 warns of “things which must shortly take place.”  The word “shortly” means speedily emphasizing the acceleration of God’s judgment.  In other words, when these events begin to unfold, they’ll happen quickly, in rapid succession, leaving no opportunity for escape. Many believe they see an increase of evil in our day—the rise of Islamic terrorism, gun violence, the loss of individual rights, and the decay of morality and shame.  But this is just a foreshadowing of God’s judgment, when He withdraws His hand of protection and lets evil have its way upon the earth.  Revelation 6:15 describes the first part of the Tribulation: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Verse 3 adds, “The time is near,” emphasizing the imminence of Christ’s return, that nothing remains to be fulfilled before it happens.  Sometimes you’ll hear prophecy speakers talk about “signs of the times” and things that have to happen before Jesus returns for His church.  But that is a misunderstanding of Scripture.  The fact of the matter is, there are no signs of Jesus’ return for His church.  The Lord’s return for His church is a sign-less event and the spark which sets all other prophetic events in motion.  Famines, earthquakes, pestilences, and all other signs we hear so much about are not signs of Christ’s return for His church.  They are signs of the judgment that will take place during the Great Tribulation after Jesus removes His church from the world.  We will see that in detail when we come to chapter 6.

Verse 1 also explains why it takes effort to study this book. Jesus says, “He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.”  The word “signified” means it is full of signs and symbols that must be studied in order to understand them.  Don’t let that discourage you.  It takes work to obtain anything truly valuable.  Think about the parables of Jesus which hid the truth from those who did not love Him enough to investigate their meaning, but reveal great treasures to those of us who take the time and prayer to read and study them.  Furthermore, we will find that like most Scriptures, the meaning of the signs and symbols in this book are found in the very context we are studying and often take us back to earlier passages of the Bible.  For example, who do you suppose “the dragon” is who appears in Revelation 20:2?  We do not need to guess, for John tells us, “He is the serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan.”  This takes us all the way back to the Garden of Eden where he attacked our first parents, but it also helps us understand several other references to the dragon in the Revelation.

So why read and study what is written in this book?  Because what it describes may happen much sooner than we think, and we want to learn how to escape them.  The second reason it’s important to read and understand is because of…

  1. Its Blessing

Every book of the Bible contains a blessing for those who read it and obey it. But this book offers a “money-back” guarantee.  In fact, it both opens and closes with a blessing. Verse 3 promises, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”  Revelation 22:7 adds, “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”

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Part of the blessing comes from knowing that we’re on the winning side.  All around us today people are worrying, “Where is the world headed, and what will the future hold for me?” But when we who love Jesus read this book, the worry subsides.  Why?  Because we know how the story ends, and this book tells us how to prepare for it.  In addition to that, because of the promises given, I believe there is a special sense in which the Holy Spirit comforts our hearts as we read this book.  Consequently, anyone would be a fool not to study it.

But what triples the blessing is the source of this prophecy.  It is blessed by all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Verse 4 continues, “John, to the seven churches which 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 His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

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God the Father is the Great I AM “who is and who was and who is to come.”  “The seven Spirits before His throne” is the Holy Spirit.  Why is He said to be seven Spirits?  The key that unlocks this symbol is in Isaiah 11:2 where he made this prophecy about the Messiah.  He said seven Spirits would rest upon the Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”  Does this mean Jesus was filled with seven different spirits? No! Seven is the number of perfection in the Bible. Therefore, what we are seeing here is the One Holy Spirit in the seven-fold fullness of His power.

But the description I love most is of Jesus.  He is the One “who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father.” What a wonderful Savior! Not only has He freed us from our sins by washing them in His own blood; He has also made us princes and princesses of the Most High God! How can we help but agree with John?  “To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

  1. Its Purpose

The first purpose it was written was to glorify Jesus Christ.  But someone may wonder, If Jesus Christ is “ruler over the kings of the earth (v. 5),” how can the things on earth be glorifying Him today?  Our very culture and civilization are about to collapse.  The truth is Jesus has allowed men to have their way for a time, but do not fear. He has them on a short leash.  Napoleon met his Waterloo.  Hitler faced his D-Day.  The wall fell down in Eastern Europe.

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The same will be true of every tyrant and evildoer when He returns in glory.  This is the promise of verse 7: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds.”  Thirty times John uses the word “behold” urging us to strain all our powers of observation to see something eternally significant.  What is that?  The Second Coming of Jesus.  You may recall in Acts 1:9 how the disappointed disciples stood gazing into the sky wishing Jesus had not gone away.  So what did the angels say to them?  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” So, yes, He is coming again, and yes, it will be with clouds!

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But then John adds something interesting.  He says, “And every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.”  When I read that, I wondered, “How can that be true?  Is it because of satellite television that we now enjoy.  Will we all watch Him return on our TV sets?”  No, John had something more miraculous in mind.  “Every eye” means not just everyone living on earth at the time, but every eye.

As Jesus said to Caiaphas the high priest at his kangaroo trial, “I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64) That sounds odd, doesn’t it? After all, Caiaphas died two thousand years ago and has been suffering in Hades ever since.  But still the Bible promises, “Every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced Him (Caiaphas, Pilate, the Roman soldier with his spear), and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.”  For God “has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

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A second reason for the Revelation was to encourage those suffering persecution.  The situation in Asia was dangerous for Christians at this time.  Nero committed suicide in 68 AD, leading to civil war between the army and senate, and three short-lived emperors—Vespasian and his two sons, Titus (the general who destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple), and Domitian, who tried to raise the moral level of Roman society by banning all new religious (such as Christianity) and declaring himself Dominus et Deus (“Lord and God”).  Billy Graham describes the situation like this in his book, “Approaching Hoofbeats.”

“Imagine a village in the suburbs of Ephesus or Laodicea.  Christians are working at tanning leather, dying cloth, harvesting crops, studying math, raising families worship, at work, or at play. Then, suddenly, hoofbeats are heard clattering up the cobblestone streets.  The horses are reined in by a Roman centurion and his honor guard.  A leather camp table is unfolded.  An incense burner is placed upon the table.  A flame is lit. Heralds sound the trumpets.  There is no place to hide, no time to decide.  Believers must join their neighbors in that line.  Just ahead the village mayor tosses his incense into the flames and exclaims proudly, ‘Caesar is Lord!’ Others follow.  he line grows shorter. The moment of decision draws near. Will you avoid the conflict and protect your life muttering, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and then sneak back to the safety of your home?  Or will you see that act as a symbol of a wider disobedience, refuse the incense, proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and pay the price for your disloyalty to the state?”

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That was the decision John faced?  What did he decide?  Church history tells us that while serving at Ephesus, he refused to worship the emperor, insisting that Jesus is Lord.  For that “crime,” he was sent bound to Rome where Domitian cast him into a pot of boiling oil.  Yet John came out without a burn.  So Domitian then exiled him to the Isle of Patmos where we now find him at the age of 90, sentenced to hard labor in the mines.  But he is not alone in his suffering. Notice how he describes himself in verse 9, “ I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”  John could have called himself an apostle, for that is what he was.  Instead, he shows his solidarity with those who are being persecuted by calling himself a brother and fellow-sufferer for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Then he adds, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”  The Lord’s day is Sunday.  From the very beginning, the church began to worship on the first day of the week rather than the Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. It was a testimony to their belief in the resurrection of Jesus–that Jesus came back from the dead on the first day of the week. But what is inspiring is John’s mood.  Like many of you, I don’t like to suffer and it often affects my attitude.  But here, doomed to breaking up rocks in an island quarry, John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”  Can you say that when you’re suffering? I am filled with the Holy Spirit!  Or are you more apt to say, “Lord, you’ve really let me down this time!”

John didn’t do that. He trusted that God still had a plan for his life and rejoiced that he could serve the Lord in difficult circumstances. As a result, God honored his faith by using his time in exile to give him the final revelation of His Son. And once that task was completed, John was released and returned to his ministry in Ephesus. For instead of dying in exile, it was Domitian who was assassinated and John who continued to serve our Lord until the ripe old age of 100.

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Finally, a third reason this book was written was to complete God’s revelation.  Since we know that God is a perfect Redeemer and God of order, planning the end from the beginning, it shouldn’t surprise us to find that this last book of the Bible pulls together all the loose ends of His work with mankind!  For example, all sad themes begun in the book of Genesis and the other books of the Bible now find their perfect fulfillment in the book of Revelation.

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Get ready, then, for an inspiring study.  For you are about to witness what the Church has been waiting two thousand years to see—Jesus Christ adored by angels, worshiped by the saints, and honored by those who have rejected Him.  But more important than getting ready for this study, I remind you to get ready for that day.  Because He is coming again very soon.

The story is told of Ernest Shackleton, the great explorer who, while on expedition in Antarctica, was forced to leave some of his men behind on Elephant Island with the promise that he would return for them soon.  But unexpected matters delayed him, so that by the time he tried to return, the sea had frozen over, cutting him off from his men. Three times he tried to reach them and failed.  Finally, in his last attempt, he discovered a narrow channel in the ice.  Guiding his ship through it, he was delighted to find his men not only alive, but instantly ready to board ship.  When the excitement died down, Shackleton asked them why they were so prepared to load their gear.  They told him that every morning their leader had rolled up his sleeping bag with this reminder, “Get your things ready, boys, the boss may come today!”

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Friends, the return of our Master is far more certain and needed than that of Lord Shackleton to Elephant Island.  So get ready.  He may come today!

(Please help us spread the important news of Jesus’ soon return with your friends.  Download the written message and email it to your friends by right clicking this link – Revelation 1a – choosing “save link as,” giving it a name, and then saving it to a folder of your choice on your computer. Thanks! In our next study, we’ll join John in witnessing the beautiful vision of our Glorified Christ.)

God the Son Cleans House!

6a00d8341d171f53ef01156f3ca329970bHave you ever done any spring housecleaning? What about weeding your garden or doing some of those summer projects that you can only do when the sun is shining and before the rain begins again in the fall, like painting your house or fixing the roof? Why do we take time to do these things?

So Proverbs 24 doesn’t happen to us! Solomon warned, “I passed by the field of the sluggard and the vineyard of the man lacking sense, and behold, it was overgrown with thistles; its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it…I received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man.”

An older Christian sister warned me years ago, “You can tell what a woman is like by the way she takes care of her home and her hands, and you can tell what a man is like by how he takes care of his car and his shoes.” So I washed my truck this week, bought new shoes, and started painting the trim around our house not just because they needed it, but to please the Lord who gave us these things to manage for Him, which brings me to tonight’s topic—“God’s Housekeeping Project” found in John 2:12-25.

1By way of review, we’ve been following Jesus along with His disciples, for a week and about 35 miles now—from the Jordan River where John was baptizing to Bethsaida, 25 miles north where He met Philip and Nathanael. Then we hiked 9 miles west to Cana where Jesus He performed the first sign of His Deity by turning water to wine. For those of you who are visual learners, you can see how it was laid out with Bethsaida to the east at the right of the screen, Capernaum in the center, and Cana of Galilee off the screen to the west in the foothills above the Sea of Galilee.

2But now John says in verse 12, “After this He went down to Capernaum with His mother and His brothers and His disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.” The Hebrew name is Kafer Nahum, meaning “the village of Nahum.” That’s where the minor prophet Nahum was from. Why stop there? Because from this point on, that’ll be the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry when He’s in Galilee! Because though it was small, Capernaum was located on the trade route connecting Africa and Europe and with all the traffic between the two passing through that village.

4Capernaum was also the village where Peter’s home was located and out of which Jesus conducted His ministry. That’s also where He healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever early in His ministry. Cheryl and I visited there on our trip to the Holy Land several years ago, not only seeing the stone house that belonged to Peter and was later the meeting place of the church in Capernaum; we also visited the first century synagogue there and stood on the very spot where Jesus preached on the Sabbath!

5But as verse 13 says, they only stayed there a few days at that time because “the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” So Jesus made Aliyah—He “went up to Jerusalem,” as the Law commanded every adult male to do at Passover. John records four times He did that with His disciples, which is how we know His ministry lasted just over 3 years.

78366017But there was also a second reason He went up to Jerusalem. For the first 30 years of His life, Jesus was always busy about His mother’s business, working in the carpentry shop to provide for her and His younger siblings after Joseph, His stepfather, died. But now that they’re old enough to provide for themselves, it’s time to be about His Father’s business, presenting Himself as Messiah to the religious rulers in Judea and cleaning up the mess they’ve made of His Father’s House. In fact, He’ll spend the entire first year of ministry in or about Jerusalem proving His Deity by the miracles He performs.

But the first task at hand is spring cleaning in the House of God. In doing so, we’ll witness 3 things about Him we haven’t yet seen—His anger, His authority, and His omniscience—each one a clear sign of His Deity. But as John warned us in chapter 1, verse 11: “He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him.” So He knows He won’t receive a warm welcome. And yet, He’s absolutely fearless about it, letting the chips fall where they may, His Deity evidenced in His anger towards sin.6

  1. The Anger of Jesus

Did you know that Jesus gets angry? That may be difficult to believe in this day and age when we’re told we have to tolerate every kind of sin and abomination, or we are guilty of hate speech. You know what a crock of baloney that is! We take our lead from Jesus who gets very angry and uncompromising when it comes to sin! Oh, He’s good and kind and forgiving towards those who repent. But even then, what does He always add? “Your sins are forgiven you. Now go and sin no more!”

That’s the tough love we see in verses 14 to 16. It says, “He found in the Temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money-changers seated, and made a scourge of cords and drove them all out of the Temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” Why did Jesus become so angry about this? 3 reasons:

jesusclearstemple31) Their defilement of the Temple with their buying and selling. You see that phrase “house of merchandise” in verse 16? That’s the Greek word emporium!” They had turned God’s House into a livestock exhibit like you’d see at the State Fair. It was noisy; it was dirty; it was smelly! Not that it was wrong to sell animals or exchange money for use in the Temple. But that was to be done outside in the streets leading up to the Temple. For what was the Temple’s purpose? Jesus said in Mark 11:17: “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves!” The Temple was to be a quiet retreat away from the world where a person could get alone with God and pray. Can you think of anyone who did that? What about Anna the prophetess who met Mary and Joseph when they dedicated Jesus in the Temple? Luke says, “She never left the Temple serving night and day with fasting and prayer.” But how do you do that with a carnival going on around you?

2) It wasn’t the Jews only who were hindered by it. Jesus said His house was to be house of prayer for all “nations.” The word “nations” means “Gentiles,” and there was only one place in the Temple where a Gentile was allowed to worship, and that was right here in the Court of the Gentiles where all this hawking of wares was going on, making it impossible for a repentant Gentile to meet God. Is it any wonder then the Lord Jesus was angry about it!

73) The third reason for His anger was the way the poor were being cheated when they came to worship. First, there was a cover charge to worship in the Temple. So the pilgrim would save up his pennies for the trip only to be told when he got there that his money was no good. “That’s Caesar’s image on your coins! You can’t use those in the Temple! That’s idolatrous!” But to buy the special coins used in the Temple, He had to pay an exorbitant exchange rate. And that lamb he raised and brought to the Temple to sacrifice? “That’s no good either! Just look at those scars and blemishes!” Forcing him to sell his perfectly good lamb at a discount, buy a more expensive one, and then watch as the buyer turned right around and sold it to another worshiper for a big fat profit.

But did Jesus have the right to get angry? Let me say two things about that before we move on. First, it was a holy anger. No one was hurt with His whip, nor did He spark a riot that endangered anyone. For if He had, the Roman cohort stationed at the Antonio Fortress overlooking the Temple would have taken action right away. But they didn’t need to, for Jesus was in perfect control of every aspect of the situation. He was simply driving trespassers off His property and claiming what was rightfully His! I know you’d do the same thing yourself if you could. Imagine, for example, going on vacation and returning home two weeks later to find someone holding a garage sale in your yard. How polite would you be in asking them to leave? Not at all! You’d order them to get off your property immediately, and if they didn’t, you’d call the sheriff to remove them. But Jesus couldn’t do that because the authorities were in on it.

8Nor did He need any help removing them. Why not? Because His anger is also infinitely powerful! It’s amazing when you think about it. Josephus the Roman historian says the attendance at Passover exceeded two million pilgrims at this time, which means there would have been tens of thousands crowded into Temple square. Think Safeco Field when Felix is pitching and one person trying to clear the stands and concourse with a homemade whip! You think you could you do it? No way! Someone would wrestle you to the ground before you got started! That’s the herculean feat Jesus took on, faced, and yet, He had no problem doing it. Why not? Because He is God!

safeco-fieldWe’ll see the same thing again in chapter 7 when guards are sent to arrest Him. They return empty-handed saying, “No man ever spoke like this man?” Then again in the Garden when they come to arrest Him, He asks, “Whom do you seek?” And when they answer, “Jesus of Nazareth,” He says, “I AM!” and it says they all drew back and “fell to the ground.” No one could arrest Him if He hadn’t wanted to be arrested.

Of course, that’s only a tiny foretaste of the unrelenting anger He’s going to pour out on His enemies at His return. His anger is so powerful that those on earth in the time of Tribulation will hide themselves in the caves and rocks of the mountains begging them, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.” For though He’s forgiving toward those who repent, His anger is unrelenting toward those who persist in their rebellion! So Psalm 2 warns, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in the way. For His wrath is quickly kindled.” But then it graciously adds, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

13But you pay a price when you stand up for what’s right in this world, even if you do it with the right type of anger. Our Lord knew that and refused to be cowed by His enemies. We see that more clearly as we look at the second sign of His Deity. We’ve witnessed the anger of Jesus. Now let”s consider the authority of Jesus.

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  1. The Authority of Jesus

Notice what comes to His disciples’ minds when they see His anger. They may not have been book smart, but they knew their Bibles. That’s how they spent almost all their time in synagogue school—memorizing the Old Testament Scriptures. And what immediately comes to mind as they watch Jesus, the Son of David, cleanse the Temple are David’s words in Psalm 69:9—“Zeal for Thy house will consume me.” In other words, they thought, “This could destroy our Master if He’s not careful.” And they were right to think that, because notice what John adds in verse 18! He says, “The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”

farisei-caifaThere was no question in their minds. This was a direct challenge to their authority as the religious rulers of Israel. By the way, critics of the Bible have a heyday with this passage because Matthew, Mark, and Luke put His cleansing of the Temple at the end of Jesus’ ministry, whereas John has it at the beginning. “So try to explain that if you can! See! This is just one more example of all the contradictions in the Bible!” OK. Here’s the explanation, and it’s very simple. Jesus cleansed the Temple two times—once at the outset of His ministry and again just days before His death. In fact, His second cleansing of the Temple is what confirmed His rejection by the high priest and his cronies and brought on Jesus’ promised death for our sins. For they weren’t about to tolerate any more disrespect for their authority by this young preacher from Galilee. Why such a sudden dismissal of His claims as Messiah? They had four reasons for doing so:

Questioned1) He was a “nobody” who lived in humble obscurity the first 30 years of His life, and He had no credentials to speak of. He wasn’t a priest, He never tried to join in any of their “reindeer games,” and He didn’t look special. No Superman cape or logo under His shirt. Of course, they could have asked John the Baptist about Him or checked their Temple records to see where He was born and what His lineage was. Born in Bethlehem of the House of David and the Tribe of Judah, just as the prophets predicted! “But don’t confuse me with the facts! I already know what I believe!” Besides, credentials didn’t matter to them. John the Baptist was the son of a priest, and they never listened to him!

3-elders-judging-church-discipline2) They were sure when Messiah came that He’d attack their enemies. But He attacked them instead! Of course, if they’d read their Bibles, they would have known to expect that. For Malachi 3:1 warned them, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple…and who can stand when He appears!”

3) He hit them where it hurts. I heard another preacher say that there’s a major nerve running from the pocketbook to the pain center in the brain, which is why people start to squirm when you talk about money in church. But Jesus didn’t hesitate to do so. He talked more about money than any other topic, for what we do with money is the #1 indicator of what’s important to us. And money was of utmost importance to the high priest and his cronies. For they didn’t just tolerate what went on in the Temple; they were the ones behind it—rich Jewish thugs who got a kickback from everything that bought or sold in the Temple, and ready to break legs if they didn’t get their cut.

jesus-christ-with-pharisees-1138108-print4) But the most infuriating thing Jesus did was call the Temple “My Father’s house.” Don’t be confused about this! Jesus didn’t come to set an example or teach us a new way of relating to God. He came to assert the truth about Himself, and He did so from the outset of His ministry. What truth was that? “I am God manifest in human flesh!” And they knew that’s what He was claiming. That’s why they wanted to kill Him, because He a mere man (they thought) claimed to be God. That will become even clearer in John 10:33 where Jesus says to these same religious thugs, “I and My Father are One.” To which they’ll respond by picking up stones to stone Him. Jesus will say to them, “I showed you many good works from My Father, for which of them are you stoning Me?” And they will answer Him (John 10:33), “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy because You, a mere man, make Yourself out to be God.” They knew what He was claiming, and they were right! He was claiming to be God.

35_jesus-cleanses-the-temple_900x600_72dpi_1So they ask for a sign. John 2:19—The Jews said to Him, “What sign do You give us, seeing that You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty six years to build this Temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” Herod’s Temple had taken 46 years to build at this point and, in fact, when it was finally destroyed by the Romans 40 years later, it still wasn’t finished. But as John explains, that isn’t what He was talking about. What Jesus was referring to was the Temple of His body. The Jews misunderstood that and misquoted Him and the gossip, as it usually does, went viral, so that three years later at His kangaroo trial, false witnesses were still accusing of saying, “I will destroy this Temple and raise it up in three days.” But that isn’t what He said or meant. He was referring to His body, and He never said He would destroy it. He said they would destroy it—another evidence of His Deity in that He knows they’re going to kill Him even before they know they want to kill Him.

At the same time, He also claimed to be omnipotent. For He adds, “Destroy this Body, and I” (Not the Father, though you can never separate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) But “I will raise it up!” How does a dead man raise himself from the dead? Not a problem if you’re God, and that’s who He is! Jesus is God! That’s even more obvious to His disciples, and I hope to you too, as they witness the third mark of His Deity. We’ve seen His anger and His authority. Now let’s take a closer look at His omniscience!11

  1. The Omniscience of Jesus

When we come to the final chapter of John’s Gospel, John will say: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” For he adds that if all the miracles of Jesus were written down, “I suppose even the world itself could not contain all the books that would be written.” I mention that because many of those unwritten miracles take place here in verse 23 where John closes the chapter like this. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”

43_i-am-the-bread-of-life_1800x1200_300dpi_1Jesus performed countless miracles in Jerusalem before, during, and after the Passover with countless people coming up to Him and saying, “I believe in you, Jesus. I believe that you are the Messiah.” Do you know what today’s preachers would do if they got a response like that? “Quick! Count how many hands were raised, take an offering, and add their names to my email list!” But Jesus didn’t do that.

Instead notice John’s play on words in verse 23. I’ve underlined the key words: “believed” and “entrusting”—because they’re the same word in the Greek—pisteuo meaning to believe or trust in someone. In other words, what John is saying is that the people were believing in Jesus, but He wasn’t believing in them! Why not? Because He knows what’s in each one of us, and what’s in us is not good. As Paul admitted in Romans 7:18, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” Have you recognized that about yourself, that apart from Jesus, there isn’t one good thing in you, for within in your flesh are the seeds of every evil thing under the sun!

12In fact, John says even your faith in Jesus may not be a faith of the right kind. Over and over again he’ll warn us of that in this book—that there is a belief which is not a belief, a belief that is superficial, self-serving, and certain to sell out our Savior just as Judas the traitor did. And Jesus knows the difference between the two. That’s why Peter, who denied Him 3 times and was later asked by Him 3 times, “Do you love Me?” finally blurted out, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you!” We need Him to test our faith as well, because the sad fact is there are millions of souls in hell today who thought they were believers and weren’t and will say to Him, “Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, cast out devils in Your name, and do good works in Your name?” And He will say to them, “I never knew you. Depart from Me, you evildoers!” How do we make sure that doesn’t happen to us? By cleaning out our temples now before His anger flares up and He does it Himself!

Most of you have heard the story of my little sister’s party when I was in college and she was still in high school living at home. My parents were gone for the weekend, but I stopped by on Friday night to pick something up on to find 50 to 100 teenagers in their house drinking beer, smoking dope, and doing others things they shouldn’t have. So what did I immediately do? I drove them out and then helped my sister clean up the mess before the neighbors called the cops and my parents found out about it.

9Jesus is also coming back very soon! When He does, will He find your heart ready to be His home? As you may know, John the Apostle also wrote a letter with this warning. Let me finish with that. In it he begged use, “Little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming. For if you know that He is righteous, you know it’s only those who practice righteousness who are born of Him.” So let’s stay close to Him and keep ourselves righteous, for He is coming soon—much sooner than any of us think.

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His First Sign: Water to Wine!

Do you believe that God exists and that Jesus is Lord? If so, what reason would you give to someone who asked you why you believe? Here is a list of the most common reasons Christians give for believing. See which one comes closest to your own: 1) Answers to prayer; 2) Reading the Bible; 3) Marveling at what He has created; 4) Seeing changes in the lives of believers; 5) Sensing His presence in the worship services I have attended.

Picture1I ask you that question because that’s our topic for this study. In John chapter 2, we come to a turning point in John’s Gospel. The purpose for everything John wrote, I’d remind you, was to prove that Jesus is God. He states it clearly in John 20:31—“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name.”

You see, according to John, it is only by believing in the Deity of Christ that you gain the eternal life He offers. For that reason, he have seen him call eyewitness after eyewitness in chapter 1, each one testifying to the Lordship of Christ. First, it was John the Baptist, then Andrew and John, then Peter, James, Philip, and Nathanael in that order. Six ordinary guys who became the greatest men who ever lived because they were willing to believe! Don’t get confused about that. The reason people go to hell is not a lack of evidence. There’s always more than enough evidence to believe if you’re willing to believe. The reason is a hardness of heart and unwillingness to believe the evidence God has given us.

Oxygen Volume 17But now in chapter 2, John moves on from the testimony of eyewitnesses to a second, even more convincing argument. He presents the first of eight great signs Jesus performed—each one something only God could do. He walks on water, creates new eyes for a blind man, creates food to feed 20,000 peoples, raises a friend from the dead whose body has been decaying for four days, and in the passage before us—John 2:1-12, if you’ll open your Bible with me—He turns water into wine.

I know it also helps sometimes to have a map of where you’re going, so let me do that briefly as we get started. Let me give you a short overview of John’s Gospel. It can be broken into four parts—chapter 1 which we’ve studied where John calls several eyewitnesses to testify to the Deity of Christ, chapters 2 to 11 where John describes the public ministry and miracles of Jesus, chapters 12 to 17 where he describes the private ministry of Jesus to His disciples on the last night before His death, and chapters 18 to 21 which describe His death for our sins and His bodily resurrection from the dead.

Picture2But here we are looking at Jesus’ first great sign described in John chapter 2:1-12 – water turned to wine. To guide our study, I’ve divided it into 4 parts—the feast, the faux pas, the feat, and the faith it gave His disciples as a result.

  1. The Feast

Have you attended any weddings this summer? I attended the reception of my niece and goddaughter a week ago Saturday, and it was beautiful! Beautiful bride! Beautiful decorations! Beautiful setting! It was held at her father-in-law’s 3-acre country with beautifully manicured lawn and garden, just outside of Monroe, Washington. And the food was delicious! The affair lasted all night for those who wished to stay. That was a little too long for some of us older folks. But nothing compared to weddings at the time of Christ.

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_WCA0116-1800Read verses 1 and 2 with me. Here John recalls where the wedding took place: “On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.” The third day means it was the third day since He met Philip and Nathanael in Bethsaida. So if it was a Sunday they met, it’s now Tuesday—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—which means everything we’ve read so far has happened in a week. They heard John the Baptist call Jesus the Lamb of God, they stayed with Him all night, they walked with Him from the Jordan to Bethsaida where He met Philip and Nathanael, and now they’re at a wedding with Him in Cana of Galilee. So if you think your schedule is crazy, don’t imagine for a moment that you’re busier than Jesus. He was always about His Father’s business.

Cana was also the hometown of Nathanael according to John 21:2 and about 9 miles from Bethsaida with a population of maybe 100 at the time. So it’s no surprise to find Nathanael there, as well as Mary. Having lived in Romania for 5 years, I can tell you that in old-world rural areas, you not only know the folks in your own village; you have friends and family in the next village too. Joseph isn’t because he’s died by this time. He died during the silent years when Jesus was working in the carpenter’s shop to support His family as the Firstborn Son. We know that because later, when Jesus is dying on the cross, He commits His mother into the care of John the Apostle, who was her nephew, something that wouldn’t have been necessary if Mary hadn’t have been a widow and Joseph was still alive. And as you’d expect of the mother of Jesus, she was busy serving at the wedding, maybe as the wedding coordinator, because you’ll notice in a moment, she feels very free to tell the servants at the reception what to do.

Picture3But the most important fact is that Jesus was there and performed His first public miracle there to emphasize the sanctity and importance of marriage in His eyes. So pay no attention to those who say that marriage is just a piece of paper! They don’t know what they’re talking about! Weddings matter and marriage matters. Marriage is a holy covenant made between one man and one woman in the presence of God and their family and friends, vowing they’ll be faithful to love one another as long as life itself. For that reason no other relationship on earth is as important or wonderful as marriage. Peter calls it “the grace of life,” meaning that of all God’s common graces—the graces He showers upon all people whether they love Him or not—of all His common graces, marriage is the greatest, which means any society that honors marriage as the sacred union of one man and one woman will be blessed, whereas any society that fails to honor marriage is headed for chaos, judgment, disaster, and destruction. So watch out, America, how far you go! God is watching and will not bless what you’re doing!

For that reason, weddings have always been the most important celebrations on earth. I wish I’d understood that better as a young pastor. I would have preached it with even more conviction. The ancient world, especially the Hebrew culture, recognized that fact and considered a wedding the most important event of the year. Romania, where we served as missionaries, was also an old-world country in many ways, and they believed the same thing. Weddings would start in the late afternoon with a two to three hour ceremony at church, followed by a reception that lasted all night long, for anyone who could stay awake.

Picture4So it was in Cana of Galilee! Weddings often began on a Tuesday or Wednesday and lasted until the weekend. Or if you were well-to-do, they could last all week. And everybody came! Everyone was aware of the couple’s engagement that took place the year before, because an engagement was a legal contract that officially bound the partners to each other and could only be broken by divorce, even though the marriage itself wasn’t consummated until after the feast. What went on during that year prior to the wedding? That takes us to point #2—

  1. The Faux Pas

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0530-1800All year long the bridegroom worked to prepare a place for his bride to live, often a room added onto his father’s home. And he was also responsible to pay the full cost of the wedding. All of this to prove to her father that he had what it takes, that he was could provide for her once she became his wife! You see where the story is headed. The feast is in full swing and everyone is enjoying himself when the wine runs out. And that presents a problem.

As John MacArthur puts it, “Maybe he can’t plan! That’s what all of us fathers who marry off our daughters fear. Maybe he’s all smoke and mirrors and doesn’t know how to earn a living? I hope my daughter isn’t going to have to bring home the bacon!” They ran out of wine in the middle of the greatest celebration this couple would ever have—a huge embarrassment and a big question mark hanging over the head of this groom and his family. So verse 3 says: “When they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’”

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Now why do you suppose she would she say that to Him? Most preachers assume that she wanted Him to do a miracle. But why would she expect that? Had He ever done a miracle? No! Not that He couldn’t, but verse 11 says this was “the first of the signs” Jesus did. So there’s no reason for her to expect Him to do something He’s never done before. Again I think MacArthur gives the best explanation for this. When Mary had a problem, who did she always turn to, especially after Joseph died? Jesus, of course! Think about it. He never had a bad idea or made a bad decision in His life! He always led her in the right direction and had the perfect solution to every problem. If anything ever went wrong in their home, He always knew why it went wrong and exactly how to fix it. He was the smartest, wisest, and most resourceful person who ever lived. And He grew up in her home. By the way, He was also the compassionate person who ever lived! So who else would she turn to with this problem?

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0694-1800But wait a minute, is that the way a son ought to talk to his mother! Listen to what He says to Mary in verse 4. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” Why such harsh words to the mother He loved? First, they didn’t sound nearly as harsh to Mary as when we read them out of context. For one thing, this is something He said to her in private, not publicly so as to embarrass. Remember that the next time you have something hard to say to someone you love, especially to your husband or wife. Wait until you’re alone with them instead of saying it out loud for the whole world to hear. That’s Matthew 18:15. Go to them in private and try to resolve things between the two of you before you let anyone else know about it. Tone of voice also makes a difference, and I know Jesus said it as gently as He could. And He was polite! The word “woman” is the same word He used at the cross when He entrusted His widowed mother into John’s care. Pointing to John, He said to her, “Woman, behold your son!” We have no equivalent in English, but He was saying in effect, “Dear Lady, what does your concern have to do with Me?”

8Why didn’t He call her “Mother?” Because the relationship between them had changed! For 30 years Jesus had been about His mother’s business, doing whatever she asked of Him. But now, with the cross looming before Him, He has just 3 years to be about His Father’s business. His mother, like His disciples, didn’t really get that until after His resurrection. But it’s imperative to let her know that from this point on, His only concern is the mission for which His Father sent Him into this world and nothing, not even familial relationships—can stand in His way. He gave her a warning of this early on in Luke chapter 2, when He was 12 years old and they found Him asking and answering questions of the scholars in the Temple. She scolded Him for worrying her. So He reminded her, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

BoyJesusLater He had to remind her again when she and his brothers stood outside a home where He was teaching, waiting to speak with Him. “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” He said. Then stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He explained, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in Heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” That’s true, isn’t it? We who love the Lord Jesus and do the will of His Father in Heaven are His brothers and sisters and mother. You see He wasn’t being unkind. But it had to be said. “I am the Son of God and I’m on a mission of infinite importance, and I can’t allow anything—not even family relationships—stand in My way. And thank God He didn’t let them get in the way. For if He had, you and I wouldn’t be saved today!

Nor is Mary offended. She may not understand the implications of what He’s said. But she knows who her Son is, and she trusts Him. So what does she immediately do? Verse 5: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’” Wise counsel! Wouldn’t you say? Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it! That would save us a lifetime of grief, wouldn’t it? So what does Jesus tell them to do? That’s the third chapter in this thriller. We’ve been to the feast. We’ve witnessed the social faux pas. Now let’s watch Him as He performs His first miraculous feat.

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  1. The Feat

Do you know what the truly marvelous thing about this miracle is? Even though it wasn’t his mother’s place to give Him ministry advice…By the way, we’re going to find that Jesus never took the advice of anybody when it came to ministry. Why not? I thought a humble man always seeks the counsel of others? Not in Jesus’ case! He was humble. No question about that! More humble than you and I have ever dreamed. Try hanging on a cross for a crime you didn’t commit without defending yourself or trying to get even with your enemies! The reason He didn’t seek the counsel of sinful human beings is because He couldn’t trust us and didn’t need it. For this is no mere man we’re talking about. This is the Holy God become Man whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. So though it wasn’t Mary’s place to give Him advice (nor do I think she was asking for a miracle), women’s intuition may have told her something wonderful was afoot. And it was! By God’s grace her concern, the need of that young couple, and God’s will all came together in one miraculous moment of time, leading to one of the greatest feats He ever performed.

Picture5You see contrary to popular belief, this miracle was not an unexpected and premature event, interrupting God’s plan for His Son, due to a well-meaning but interfering Jewish mother. This was Plan A from before time began—for the first sign of Jesus’ Deity to be a miracle performed at a wedding in Cana of Galilee for His mother, His family, and His friends. Wasn’t that gracious of Him? And here’s how it happened. Verse 6 says: “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim.”

This wasn’t water for washing their hands or taking a bath. It was for ceremonial purposes. Before a Jewish family would eat a meal, they’d pour water over their pots, their pans, their plates, and their hands, not to get them clean, but to be ritually pure. So for a feast of several days, you had to have a lot of water. But why did He have them fill the jars to the brim? So there would be no question about something being added to the water. Skeptics always try to explain away a miracle. Remember Pharaoh’s magicians and how they tried to copy Moses’ miracles? So they filled the jars to the brim. Ought to last till the weekend, don’t you think? But why so much wine? To picture the super abundance of God’s grace—“Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will be poured into your lap.”

Picture6“And,” verse 8 continues, “He said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine…” Wait a minute, you say! I think I missed it. When did He do the miracle? In between the lines, there between verses 8 and 9! But then that’s how the Bible always describes the miraculous—very matter of fact. You really didn’t expect Jesus to make a big deal out of it, did you? Drum roll, please! “Tuh-dum!”

But what a miracle it was! Verse 9 says: “When the master of the feast (the headwaiter) tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew, (he) called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” That’s true, isn’t it? When we invite guests for dinner, we get out our best china, put flowers on the table, pull out our best recipe, cook our best meal, and serve them in style. But if they stay a second or third or fourth day, it’s: “There’s the fridge. Try your luck! I think there are leftovers in the back if you look hard.” But in this case, it’s far different! The maître d says, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk too much, he serves the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Good wine! This was the best wine anyone ever tasted—like new wine freshly squeezed from the grapes of Eden!

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  1. The Faith

But we can’t leave it at that. We need to take a step back before we finish and ask the big question: Why did John tell us this story in the first place? Answer: To help us relive it with him and discover with His disciples who Jesus really is. Remember they’re only a week into following Him and this walking by faith thing is new to them. So Jesus performs a miracle, and John tells us about it, so that both they and we will believe. We have been to the feast. We have witnessed the faux pas. We have seen the miraculous feat He performed.  Now it’s time to solidify our faith in Him. That’s what this miracle did for them and should do for us. Verse 11 says: “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”

jesus-turns-water-into-wine_MG_0586-1800 Remember there are only 6 of them at this time: Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, and Nathanael—all of them good friends, fishing partners, and strong believers in the God of the Bible—but not one has ever seen a miracle. Nathanael got a taste of His omniscience when Jesus said to him, “Before Philip found you under the fig tree, I saw you!” But not one of them (or you either, for that matter) ever saw a miracle like this. We’ve seen some amazing answers to prayer, but nothing like the magnitude of this miracle! 150 gallons of water instantly turned to wine!

The impact was so great two things happened right away. First, all six of His disciples put their faith in Jesus. I know. I know. They already believed in Him. Or they wouldn’t have followed Him all the way to Galilee. They called Him “Rabbi.” They called Him “Messiah.” Then Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” But Jesus said they would see even greater things than these. And the first and one of the greatest was this—seeing their Creator make something out of nothing just as He had in the beginning. And for what purpose! So that both they and we would never doubt.

People-surround-Jesus-1024x744But even more important is the second thing that happened. John says they saw His glory! Isn’t that the purpose of our lives and what we’ve been longing for since we first met Him? I want to see His glory. And they did, at least in part! What glory? The eternal glory He shared with the Father before time began! You know the verse. So say it with me. John 1:14, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And the best thing about is you didn’t have to be there to experience it. You can experience it this moment if you have faith to believe. As He said to Thomas, who finally believed and fell at His feet in worship saying, “My Lord and my God,” “Because you’ve seen, you’ve believed. But blessed (That means happy, elated, and overcome with joy!) “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed!” And so we believe without seeing, and we behold “His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus-Face-Paintings-01But someone will say, “I’d believe too if I saw a miracle like that!” Don’t be so sure. The Israelites witnessed 10 miraculous plagues in Egypt and the Red Sea splitting in half before them, and they still didn’t believe and died in the wilderness as a result! And the people of Jesus’ day saw even greater miracles than that. In fact, nowhere in the Gospels does anyone ever question Jesus’ power to do miracles. What His enemies claimed was that He performed miracles by the power of Satan, earning a place in hell as a result of it. The truth is Jesus performed miracle after miracle after miracle, day after day, for three years until virtually all disease was eradicated from Israel. But they still didn’t believe, because faith isn’t about evidence. It’s about a willing heart.

Jesus PleaThat means, if your heart is willing, you can know Jesus this very moment through simple childlike faith. So if you’ve never believed before, open up your heart to Him now as I lead us in a closing prayer. Say these words or words like them with me in the quietness of your heart and, if you truly mean them, Jesus promises that He will come into your life this very moment and live with you forever.

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