Tag Archives: Persecution

Smyrna: Will I Suffer for Christ?

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Study #4: The Letter to the Church in Smyrna

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Debora Johnson Horse Picture of John Wesley

One of the best stories about John Wesley involves his expectation of persecution. One day he was riding along when it suddenly dawned on him that three days had passed without an egg or brick being tossed at him. But instead of than being happy about it, he worried. He slid down off his horse, knelt on the ground, and began to pray, “Lord, what’s wrong with me? Am I backslidden?” And for several minutes, he asked the Lord to show him the reason for his lack of suffering. Just then, an irreligious fellow looked over the hedge and spied the preacher praying. Recognizing him, the irreligious fellow said to himself, “I’ll fix that Methodist preacher!” and picked up a brick and threw it at him. The brick missed its mark and fell harmlessly to the ground. But Wesley saw it and leaped to his feet with joy. “Praise God!” he shouted. “It’s all right. I still have His presence.”

You may wonder, “Was Wesley crazy or just an old fool?” The answer is neither. He was simply taking literally what Jesus told us from the beginning. John 15:20, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” 2 Timothy 3:12 repeats the warning, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Today one of the big debates among Christians is the Tribulation. Will the church remain on earth and go through the Great Tribulation? That’s a question that we will address in Revelation chapter 3. But regardless of the position you take regarding the Tribulation, there is one issue on which all Christians can agree. Every church and every Christian will go through some tribulation. The enemy of our souls will not be content to let us serve Christ without some sort of opposition. If he can stop us through official persecution, he will do it. And if the Lord does not return soon, we in the West may begin to face a degree of persecution we have never experienced before. But even when that avenue isn’t open to him, he finds other ways to hurt us—personal insults and injustices, rejection by family and friends, financial disasters, mental and physical disorders. Satan never ceases in his search for something to weaken our faith and destroy our effectiveness for Christ.

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But as great as his opposition is, let’s not forget. God has a purpose and a victory in our suffering. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” One of the best examples is found in Revelation 2:8-11 where we meet the church of Smyrna, who suffered intensely for Christ. But they did it to the glory of God, providing a timeless example that we can follow today.

By the way, I failed to mention something significant when we began our study of the churches. But I want to mention it now because, as you’ll see shortly, it becomes very important in the study of this letter. The seven letters to the seven churches follow a common pattern. First, the destination of the letter is given along with a description of Christ which is intended to encourage them or warn them. Next a commendation is given citing the good deeds of the church, followed by a word of correction from Jesus. Finally, each letter closes with an exhortation and a promise of blessing to those who hear and obey it. But as we study the church in Smyrna, one of these features is intentionally missing.  There is not one word of correction. Let’s learn why as we look at several key factors about this city. They will help us understand what is said in the rest of the letter.

  1. City

The letter begins, “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write.” Historians report three facts about this city. First, its beauty. The Romans called it the “ornament of Asia.” For it boasted the safest, most beautiful harbor of its day and was an excellent example of city planning, laid out according to the specifications of its founder, Alexander the Great.

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Second, it was a Roman city. Even though it was located 500 miles from Italy, Smyrna was infatuated with Rome, so much so that even before Rome became a super-power, they erected a temple in its honor at the center of their city. Later, due to their loyalty in war, Caesar also made it a free city, granting Smyrna all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship. This was then followed by an even greater honor. In 26 AD, Smyrna was chosen as the site for a new temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. This not only deepened their devotion to Rome, it also made it a center of emperor worship. This delighted all but the Christians in Smyrna, for now the choice before them was: Worship Caesar or suffer.

But the most striking thing about the city was its name. The word “Smyrna” means myrrh—a spice used as an embalming agent and as an anesthetic for pain. As such, it became a symbol and synonym for suffering. For example, when Jesus suffered on the Cross, it was myrrh He was offered to drink, and it was myrrh that was used in preparing His body for burial. It is fitting, then, that the suffering church of Asia should be found in the city of myrrh. In fact, what is interesting about myrrh is that it has to be crushed to give off an odor. And the more it is crushed, the sweeter its odor becomes. That was the experience of the Smyrnans. God let the devil crush them, but the more he crushed them, the sweeter their testimony became. I pray the same will be said of us when we go through trial or persecution.

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  1. Comfort

Notice also how fitting the description of Christ is in verse 8: “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.” “First and the Last” refers to His eternity, reminding us that nothing catches Him by surprise. Whatever hardships or heartaches lie ahead of us, He has already previewed them and made sure they all work together for our good. (Rom. 8:28) Remember that was you await that medical biopsy, make that pivotal career decision, or pray for that long-awaited need. Remember that “the eternal God is our refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms?” (Deut. 33:27)

“Was dead and came to life” is, on the other hand, a reference to His resurrection and the reason He can say to us in verse 10, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.” Why needn’t we fear? Because regardless of what we suffer in this life, Jesus promises that we will live forever, “Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19)

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Several years go, an ocean liner called the Empress of Ireland sank. On board were 130 Salvation Army officers, only 21 of whom survived, very few compared to the number of people on board the ship. Many wondered, “Why would God let so many of His children die?” When they examined their bodies, they learned why. Not one of those who drowned was wearing a life preserver! When interviewing the survivors, they said that when these brave souls saw there weren’t enough lifejackets to go around, they took theirs off and strapped them onto others saying, “It’s OK. I can afford to die. I know Jesus.”

Do you? Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you don’t need to worry about the future, because no matter what you suffer here, you’re going to live forever. And not only live forever, Jesus promised that whatever we give up for Him in this life—friends, family, or possessions—will be more than made up for in the life to come. What a comfort to those suffering saints in Smyrna. Now listen to His commendation of the Smyrnans.

  1. Commendation

In each of the letters to the churches, Jesus begins His commendation with the statement, “I know your works.” But in comforting the Smyrnans, He adds, “I also know your suffering.” That’s true, isn’t it? As the old hymn puts it—

Jesus knows all about our struggles, He will guide till the day is done;  There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus—No, not one! No, not one!

First, He says, “I know your tribulation.” There are many words for tribulation in the Bible. This one means “pressure from without,” referring not to physical illness or emotional stress, but to physical persecution from the world. Think of the torture of the first Christians—flogging, prison, mauled by lions in the arena, lit as torches in Nero’s garden, beheading by the sword. Yet Jesus says, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.”

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Next He says, “I know your poverty.” The word means “destitute.” As victims of the “ten percenters,” the Smyrnans gave up everything for Christ. Roman law stated that when someone was turned in for being a Christian, 90% of the victim’s property went to the government, but 10% was awarded to the informant as a reward, leaving the Christians absolutely destitute. And yet, Jesus could say to them in verse 9, “You are rich!”

How could that be? How can a person be both rich and poor? Because God’s definition of riches is radically different from that of the world. For example, there are many in today’s Christian culture who will tell you that if you have enough faith and you’re in God’s will, you will never be sick or impoverished. God always wants His children to be healthy and wealthy. But I can tell you without apology that those who say such things know nothing about the Kingdom of God. As James corrected his readers, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5) The truth is that God frequently lets His children go through lean times. Not because He doesn’t love us, but because He wants us to experience first and foremost of all the richness of knowing Him.

This reminds me of the Thomas Acquinas’ visit to the holy city of Rome. While there, the pope took him on a tour of the papal treasures. Smiling proudly, the pope said, “So, you see, Thomas, no longer can we say like Peter, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” To which the great man replied, “No, and neither can we say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” You see, as American believers, we are rich when it comes to creature comforts, but I wonder, how wealthy are we when it comes to knowing God?

Third, He says, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” In Smyrna there was a large Jewish population who claimed to love God, but rejected Jesus His Messiah and did everything in their power to destroy His church. For example, when Polycarp the pastor of this church was sentenced to be burned at the stake, history records that it was the Jews who stacked the wood for the fire.

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Synagogue in Ancient Smyrna

Does this mean all Jews are Christ-killers and deserving of our contempt? By no means! Paul reminds us in Romans 11 that the Jews are still the apple of God’s eye and that one day all Israel will be saved. Therefore, whoever curses them will be cursed himself. Still, the Bible is clear that the greatest enemies of the saints are often religious themselves—Cain, Caiaphas, the Inquisitors. That has been the devil’s strategy from the beginning. He uses religion and religious people to discredit and persecute the people of God.

  1. Courage

So for what did Jesus correct the church at Smyrna? He didn’t. Unlike the other churches, the outstanding feature of this letter is they needed no correction. For one of the benefits of persecution is that those who have suffered for Christ normally demonstrate a deeper purity and loyalty to Christ than those who are comfortable in their faith. 1 Peter 4:1 talks about this, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Is Peter saying that those who suffer physically reach a state of sinless perfection in which they are no longer susceptible to sin? No. He is reminding that suffering can, if we let it, purify our values, break our infatuation with the world, and deepen our love for Jesus.

Hal Lindsey described a conversation with a European Christian who made frequent trips behind the Iron Curtain prior to the fall of communism. This believer witnessed amazing examples of faith and devotion to Christ. He added, “One church that was undergoing considerable persecution said they were praying for God to send persecution upon their Western brothers, so that they too might be purified.” That’s a little unsettling, isn’t it? To realize that God may be answering their prayers even now, as we experience more and more opposition in our country. But let’s not forget that suffering can be a blessing if it purifies and intensifies our love for God.

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Corrie Ten Boom talked about this in one of her books. She told about a group of Russian believers meeting behind closed doors. Suddenly two soldiers burst into the room with machine guns, giving the believers five minutes to renounce their faith and leave, or they would be shot on the spot. A few fearfully got up and left. Then the soldiers walked to the door, locked it, and announced, “We’re believers too! But we can’t risk worshiping with anyone who isn’t totally committed to Christ. May we join your fellowship?”

Jesus did not correct the church at Smyrna. He encouraged them. First, He said to them, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.” Let’s see what we can learn about suffering from the Savior’s words.

The certainty of suffering. You say, “I’ve had enough suffering. Now it’s time for some peace and pleasure.” But who knows what’s coming? The testimony of those who are mature in the Lord is that trials are often constant. That’s what the word “suffer” in this passage means. It means to be “constantly suffering.” Listen to the words of Dr. Edward Judson at the dedication of Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Referring to the life of his father, Adoniram Johnson, the great missionary, he said, “Suffering and success go together. If you are succeeding without suffering, it is because others before you have suffered. If you are suffering without succeeding, it is that others after you may succeed.”

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The source of suffering. Jesus adds, “The devil is about to thrown some of you into prison,” making it clear that our suffering is not always the result of our sin. Sometimes it’s the result of doing what is right. You see, now that Jesus has ascended to His throne in heaven, the only way for the devil to show His hatred for Christ is by attacking those of us who love Him. But the Savior encourages us not to be afraid. Why not? Because of two more facts about suffering.

The purpose of suffering. “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested.” The word “tested” means to prove the value of something. In other words, Satan may mean it for evil against us, but one day, if you belong to Jesus, you’ll be able to look back on what you’ve suffered and say with the Patriarch Joseph, “God meant it for good. He used it to bring out the best in me and bless others in the process.” Or as Job the Great Sufferer put it, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

The brevity of suffering. Jesus says, “You will have tribulation ten days.” Those who believe the seven churches represent seven ages of church history say this refers to the ten Roman emperors who persecuted the church. That may be true. Others think it is an homage to Daniel and his friends. For when they were tested by King Nebuchadnezzar, how long did the test last? Ten days after which they were exalted to high positions in the king’s court. But whatever the reference, its meaning is clear. Our suffering will not last long. Life is like a mist that is quickly vanishing, and as we suffer the things of this life, 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

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  1. Crowns

You wonder, “Is it worth it to suffer for Christ?” Jesus answers that question in verse 10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Jesus could have said, “Be strong or smart or successful,” something that would fit right in with our success-driven culture. But He didn’t. He said, “Be faithful.” Why? Because that’s what we lack—in our marriages, our families, our work, our churches. All it takes is a little opposition and we are ready to quit. Yet faithfulness is what God treasures most. Remember the master’s words in the parable of the talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you’ve been faithful over a few things. I will make you ruler over many things.”

But you say, “I’ve tried to be faithful, but I always end up failing.” Then try David Livingstone’s formula. The great missionary to Africa was standing before a group of students at the University of Glasgow, the signs of suffering evident in his body. Thirty different illnesses had left him emaciated. His left arm, crushed by a lion, hung limp at his side. But he offered the students hope for the trials they too would face. He said to them, “May I tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world.’ On these words I staked everything and they have never failed me.”

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If that is not enough motivation, cling to the double promise in verses 10 and 11. The first half is found in verse 10. Jesus says, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The Bible talks a lot about crowns, promising that just as the ancient Olympic athletes won laurel wreaths to celebrate their victories, you and I can win imperishable crowns to signify our loyalty to Christ forever. One crown is the crown of glory, given to faithful elders. Another crown is the crown of joy, given to faithful soul-winners. A third crown is the crown of righteousness, given to those who look forward to the Lord’s return. But this is the crown of life, given to those who are faithful until death.

“Then it’s a martyr’s crown!” you say. “Something only martyrs can wear.” No. Jesus doesn’t say to be faithful in death. He says to be faithful until death. James makes the same point in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” So it isn’t only martyrs. It’s for anyone who loves the Lord and proves it by being faithful under trial. That’s the real test of our faith – not how often we go to church, read the Bible, or pray. The real proof is how we respond to temptation and how faithful we are under trial. So ask yourself: How much do I love Jesus? Am I as holy in private as I seem to be in public? Am I as cheerful when things go wrong as when they’re going well?

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Verse 11 gives the second half of the promise—escape from the second death. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” What is the second death? According to the Bible, those who reject Christ die two times. The first death is separation of the soul from the body. James 2:26 explains, “The body without the spirit is dead.” But that’s not the end of it. The Bible says those who reject Christ will be resurrected one day to stand before Him in judgment, and because they’ve not given Him the worship in this life that He deserves, they will be separated from Him forever in eternity to come. Revelation 20:14 says, “This is the second death…anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

Those are two powerful reasons, then, why it is worth it to be faithful to Christ until death: 1) Because we’ve been forgiven and will live with Him forever in heaven; and 2) Because every act of loyalty in this life will be rewarded in the life to come.

Let the testimony of Polycarp inspire you. It was towards the end of February. His congregation urged him to get out of Smyrna and escape the persecution that was beginning again. But he didn’t want to leave. So they forced him. They hid him in a cave, certain no one would find him. But they did. And to the surprise of his captors, he offered them something to eat and drink when they arrived. When they finished, he asked if he could get them anything else. “No,” they said. So he asked for permission to pray. “What can it hurt?” they thought looking at the old man. Little did they realize that he would go on in prayer for more than two hours. Imagine his words. “Dear Lord, we know that all men are sinners, and that no one can come to God except through your Son, Jesus Christ.” And on and on he went, giving them a full-length presentation of the gospel.

Finally, they took him away, back to the city. The officer in charge kept urging him to recant. “What harm can it do to sacrifice to the emperor?” Polycarp replied, “Jesus is Lord, and I cannot compromise that fact.” On arrival, to impress the crowd, they pushed him out of the carriage and onto the ground. Then they led him into the amphitheater and made him stand before the pro-consul. The pro-consul said, “Have respect to your age, old man. Swear that Caesar is Lord. Swear once and I will let you go and die in peace. Revile the Christ. He cannot be Lord.” Polycarp said with fearless devotion, “Eighty and six years I have served Him and He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” The pro-consul persisted, “Swear by the genius of Caesar. I have wild beasts you know, and if you will not change your mind, I will throw you to them.” Polycarp was unmoved. He replied, “BID THEM BE BROUGHT!” (I love that!) But that angered the pro-consul all the more, so that he went on, “Since you despise the beasts, unless you change your mind, I will make you to be destroyed by fire.”

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Infuriated by the old man’s composure and eager to see him suffer, the mob began to gather wood for the pyre. Polycarp stood by the stake and said, “It will not be necessary to fasten me. I have strength from my Lord and Christ.” Then he prayed, “Lord, Almighty God, Father of Thy Beloved Son, Jesus, through Whom we have received knowledge of Thee, I thank Thee that Thou has thought me worthy this day and hour to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses.” Then the fire was kindled. But the wind kept driving the flames away, prolonging his agony. So finally, no longer able to stand it, a soldier drew his sword and put an end to his misery. Misery? He continued to praise Christ till the moment of his death.

That was the pastor of the church in Smyrna. He was faithful until death and is now enjoying the crown of life. Do you love Jesus enough to follow his example? The truth is: Nobody likes to suffer. But suffering is a fact of life. The only unresolved issue is: How will you respond to it? By God’s grace, let’s respond with faithfulness and love. For Jesus has promised, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

 

 

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.)