When Christ speaks, we are to listen

When Christ speaks, we are to listen.  In an age where we don’t think much about authority and we overvalue human autonomy, we would do well to remember that.  Revelation 2:1 says, 

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. – Revelation 2:1

Here begins the letters from Jesus to the seven churches, which we shared in a previous bleat are representative of the church universal.  And first, he writes to the church in the city of Ephesus, a metropolitan city, full of idolatry and sin.  

Notice there the words, “the words“.  This is the authoritative tool of the Savior.  The words need no qualification.  What He speaks is gospel, as the old saying goes.  What He speaks is true and authoritative.  

And these words are “of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands“.   In chapter 1, the Savior is seen in the midst of the seven golden lampstands and holding the seven stars in His right hand.  (The lampstands are the churches and the stars are the angels/messengers of those churches.)  Here, we see stronger language.  Here, the word translated “holds” is stronger than the word translated “held” in chapter 1.  This one is more of a firm hold, like when Jesus says that no one can take His sheep from His grasp.  

And where He may have been standing in the midst of the lampstands in chapter 1, here it says He is walking.  Walking in activity.  Active involvement among His lampstands.  Jesus is not merely watching from afar like a lifeguard.  He swims in the pool as an instructor.  

So, when He speaks, we listen.  We listen attentively.  We listen humbly.  And when we say, “speaks”, here, we mean from the Bible, the complete and perfect revelation, the one that is living and active, through which He speaks authoritatively.  

So, when we read the Bible, we listen.  When someone preaches from it faithfully, we listen.  When the Holy Spirit brings to mind a passage we know well, we listen.  For it’s not mere words.  It is the words of Him who grasps the seven stars and who walks among the lampstands.  

How to apply the seven stars and lampstands in Revelation 

The book of Revelation, packed with symbolism, can be a challenge to read and apply.  For example, Revelation 1:20 says,

As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. – Revelation 1:20

The Savior explains the vision

Jesus has just instructed John to write what He was about to reveal to him, and to start, He begins to explain the meaning behind what John saw in verses 12 and 16.  It was a “mystery” to John, and now the Savior would explain it. 

The seven stars

Notice that the “seven stars” were in His right hand.  The right hand symbolizes power and authority.  He has power and authority over these seven stars. 

What are these seven stars?  The Savior says, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”.  There has been much discussion about what these angels are.  Some think it refers to actual angels, i.e. something like guardian angels.  But it doesn’t make sense that the Lord would rebuke the angels for the church’s misgivings.  Others say that the angels are presbyters or pastors or messengers.  (The word translated “angels” means simply, “messengers”.) 

In any case, the messengers here are representatives of the church, as we see in the fact that the letters written to them coming up in the next couple of chapters is not written to one person, but to the whole church.  But human leaders are accountable, as well, so it would make sense if these messengers were actually elders of the churches.  

The seven lampstands

The Savior says, “…and the seven lampstands are the seven churches”.  So, the stars are the angels of the seven churches and the lampstands are the seven churches themselves.  

But surely there were more than just these seven churches.  And surely Christ had more than just the seven stars in His hand.  

Seven is a number of perfection and completeness, so what likely is going on here is that these seven stars and seven lampstands are representatives of the church as a whole, at the time and throughout church history.  The temptations they faced and the weaknesses they had are not unique to them; we face them even today.  

And so as we review the letters in the coming days, may we not distance ourselves from these seven lampstands.  Instead, we should ask how this book may speak to our churches today.  

How to react to Christ’s sovereignty

Jesus is Lord.  Christians typically don’t have a problem with that statement.  But what do we do with it?  What is our proper response?  Revelation 1:19 says,

Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. – Revelation 1:19

In this verse, we’ll see why John was to write, what John was to write, and what it means for us. 

Why John was to write 

The word “therefore” tells us that the command that Christ is giving to John is based on or because of what He had just said.  In verses 17 and 18, He said to John,

17 . . . Fear not, I am the first and the last,

18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. – Revelation 1:17-18

These verses we examined in previous bleats, but in a nutshell, Jesus is almighty God and ruler over all.  This is the reason that John is to write.  

What John was to write

He was to write the things that he had seen, those that are, and those that are to take place.  Some have taken this to be the outline of the rest of the book, as if to say that what he had seen was this vision of Christ, the things that are refers to the next few chapters about the existing churches, and the things that are to take place are future events.  However, this may not be the case, because each section addresses past, present, and future.  

Instead, what this might be is a pattern corresponding to the reality of who Jesus is.  He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.  He is almighty God, who “is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (v8).  Thus, John was to write down what Jesus told him, which included what is, what was, and what is to come.  

Jesus, as God Himself, is the Author of all things and thus has the authority and ability to tell John anything, whether it had already happened or not.  He is sovereign Lord. 

What this means for us 

If you don’t believe in Jesus, what this means is that He is very God Himself, who knows all things and controls all things.  And it is He who will come and judge all who do not believe.  It is also He who will come and save those who do believe.  If you will turn to Him, even today, and trust in Him as Savior, you will be saved and not judged. 

For we who do believe, this should cause us to bow down even more.  He who was, is, and is to come is Almighty over all.  Obey, therefore, all that He has commanded.  And do it not as one who begrudgingly obeys merely out of terror, like the demons do, but as a loving child obeys his loving Father, who shows His children immeasurable love and grace and mercy. 

Jesus, Lord over death

Death can be scary.  It is the final enemy.  Yet there is one who is Lord over it.  Revelation 1:18 says,

and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. – Revelation 1:18

In this verse we see four realities about Jesus.  First,

1. He is God. 

The first part of this phrase is better attached to the previous verse.  He is the first and the last “and the living one”.  And just as “the first and the last” is a designation of Yahweh, the God of Israel, so is “the living one” such a designation.  Jesus is the first and the last.  He is the living one.  He is God.  Secondly,

2. He died. 

He says, “I died”.  Now, in the mystery of who God is, three persons in one, and one of those persons, the Son, having both divine and human nature, we are to understand this as the Son, in His human nature, dying.  Now, what was that for?  It was in order that He may die on the cross to pay the penalty of the sins that people like we deserve.  He actually, truly died, for sinners like us.  And all who believe in Him will not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).  So, Jesus is God, He died, and 

3. He is alive forevermore.  

“And behold, I am alive forevermore”.  Jesus didn’t remain in the grave, having been defeated.  No, no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down on His own accord, and picks it up again.  He showed Himself to be victorious over sin by being raised.  For His resurrection is proof that His sacrifice for our sins was worthy.  And He showed Himself to be victorious over death by rising again.  Death could not beat Him.  And He is alive forevermore.  He’s God, He died, He’s alive forevermore, and

4. He has authority over eternal life and death. 

Having died and now living forevermore, Jesus says, “and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Keys here are a symbol of authority.  He has been given the keys of Death and Hades.  It’s debated whether “Hades” here is referring to the abode of departed souls or whether it’s just a metaphor for the grave, but either way, Jesus is the Lord of it all.  He decides matters of eternal life and death. 

As one preacher put it, “He’s got away! He’s got away! And He’s got the keys!”

If you don’t worship this Jesus, your soul is in peril.  The One you reject is very God, the beginning and the end, the One who lives, who died, and lives forevermore.  And He holds the keys to death and Hades.  If you put your trust in Him, then all your sins will be forgiven, and you will have eternal life and joy in His presence forever.  If you don’t, He will grant you the punishment you chose over Him. 

This is the Jesus whom we worship.  And these four realities we see packed in this one verse should cause our hearts to bow down even lower, in reverence to Him, to the praise of His magnificent glory. 

Fearing a loving Savior

Are we to fear Jesus or love Him?  The answer is “both”.  Here’s an example of what that looks like:

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, – Revelation 1:17

John’s reaction

This was John’s reaction to seeing the vision of the Lord Jesus.  And we should pause for a moment and reflect on who John is and who Jesus is, in relation to John.  Remember that John was one of the Savior’s closest disciples during His earthly ministry.  Remember that John was the one whom Jesus loved.  Remember John’s deep love for Him.  In light of all that, note His reaction to seeing the Savior in His glory:

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.  

This was not an uncommon reaction to being in the presence of heavenly glory.  We see it in various places both in the Old Testament and the new.  But again, remember that Jesus and John were very close.  Yet this was John’s reaction. 

There’s a song lyric that asks, “Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of You be still?”  Now, perhaps eventually we will dance.  But it would be safe to guess that our first reaction would be like John’s.  

It’s also important to note that just because John fell down in fear, it doesn’t mean that this wasn’t mixed with other powerful emotions, like rapture and bliss.  But what we know for sure is that seeing Jesus like this made John fall down like a dead man. 

Jesus’s love

Notice that Christ’s response to John’s falling down was to put His right hand on him.  What a tender act.  What an act of humility and love to reach down and comfort His friend, brother, co-heir, and servant. 

And in conjunction with the physical comfort, He also adds, “Fear not“.  Again, this is a common saying from God or His angels when they appear with a benevolent purpose.  Fear not.  

Jesus’s deity

Fear not, He says.  “I am the first and the last“.  It’s difficult to understand why these words would be comforting.  In essence, what this means is, “There was no one before me, and there will be no one after me.”  It speaks to infinity and eternity.  In the Old Testament, this is often and only said by Yahweh.  Yahweh is the first and the last.  Jesus is the first and the last.  Jesus is God. 

If anything, that should just bring more fear.  But in addition to fear, those who know God and through faith in Christ are right with Him also experience comfort and peace and joy, by virtue of His being the Comforter, the Prince of Peace, and our very Joy.  

Do you know this Savior?  If you don’t, you have only reason to fear Him.  He is King and He will come back to judge those who reject Him.  But even now, you can turn from your wicked ways and like John fall at His feet.  He died on the cross for sinners like us, so that He could in His resurrection, defeat sin and death for all who believe in Him.

Do you know this Savior?  If you do, yes, He is still worthy of our fear.  But the fear is in the context of love for He who first loved us and gave Himself as a payment for our sins.  Love Him and fear Him this day. 

Graciously called to suffer

We’ve been graciously called to suffer.  This should be a comfort to us when we inevitably face persecution because of the gospel.  

Timothy, it seems, was feeling discouraged, and perhaps prone to being ashamed of the gospel.  Paul, his beloved mentor and friend, encouraged him to not be ashamed, but to share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,

who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, – 2 Timothy 1:9

In this verse, we see two actions that God did to believers in Jesus and two reasons why He did them.  The first action was that

1. God saved us 

Paul describes God as He who saved us.  He saved us from the wrath that we deserve because of our sins, by dying on the cross for sinners like us and rising again.  And if you believe in Jesus, you are saved by Him.  Praise God!  He saved us, and secondly, He 

2. Called us to a holy calling

He saved us and called us to a holy calling.  Now, who’s the “us” that Paul is talking about here?  You could say that he’s talking about him and Timothy, and that may be true, but it’s true for every follower of Jesus.  He has saved us and called us to a holy calling.  Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  We have been given a holy calling. 

So, a Christian is not a person who is saved and then does nothing.  A Christian is one who is saved and is called to a holy calling, a life set apart for Jesus Christ, in service to Him.  

So, we see those two actions that God has taken for believers, and then we see two reasons why:

1. His own purpose

It was not because of our works.  In other words, neither Paul nor Timothy nor any of us were saved or called because we were good people.  We didn’t do anything that merited favor in His sight.  Instead, it was because of His own purpose.  The overriding reason for why He saved and called anyone was because He wanted to.  

And this isn’t a “just because” kind of thing, like a child might say.  His purposes are always good and perfect.  He did it because it pleased Him and because it was the best thing to do.  

This should humble us.  He didn’t save and call us because of anything in us.  He did it primarily because of His own purpose.  And secondly,

2. His grace. 

He did it because of His own purpose and grace.  These two cannot be disconnected.  For His purposes are gracious.  Grace has always been part of the plan, and it will always be part of the story.  

In fact, He established His gracious purposes toward us before the ages began.   Paul says of God’s grace that He gave it to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.  It’s fair to say this is talking about before the beginning of creation, before Genesis 1:1.  He had already decided to save and call us before even the universe was created.  How amazing is our God!

Why say this to Timothy?  When we are tempted to be ashamed or to be timid, we need to run back to what God in Christ has done for us.  Grace motivates us to press on when we are suffering for His name. 

When you feel like all is lost

The Apostle John was exiled on an island called Patmos.  He was the last one standing.  All the other Apostles were martyred.  It seemed like Christianity was being squashed.  But then, he was given this vision:

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,

13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.

14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,

15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.

16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. – Revelation 1:12-16

Here was the risen Savior, the Messiah, in utter glory and total reign over the universe.  Here is Jesus, given dominion over all of creation.  This is the vision that John needed when he felt that all was lost.  

Jesus reigns.  

He has not lost control.  He is reigning over all world events, and He will accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises.  

When you feel that is lost, remember this vision.  Run to the Savior, our King. 

Why Christians believe what they believe

Why is it that some believe the Bible and others don’t?  It’s not because some are smarter than others—some geniuses believe in Jesus and others don’t.  It’s not because some are more cultured than others or more open-minded than others.  It’s not that some were more inherently good than others.  Christians believe what they believe, because it was given to them.  1 Corinthians 2:12 says,

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. – 1 Corinthians 2:12

Now, this verse is not saying that there’s such a thing as a “spirit of the world” in the sense of a spiritual being, but rather the disposition of the world, in all of its worldliness.  That is not what Christians have received.  

Instead, in a play on words, Paul tells us that we have received “the Spirit who is from God“, that is, God the Holy Spirit, who gives us understanding of “the things freely given to us by God“.  It is He who is the determining factor as to whether a man or a woman, smart or dumb, rich or poor, noble or common, trusts in Jesus Christ. 

What this means for us

What this means for us is that we have absolutely no room to boast.  We didn’t believe because we were better people or more spiritual or more in tune with our hearts and minds.  We believed because we have received the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand. 

What this also means for us is that we can confidently share the good news of Jesus with others.  We don’t have to worry about whether we are speaking smartly enough or communicating prolifically enough.  No, we can faithfully preach Christ and Him crucified, and if the person receives the Holy Spirit, they will understand and believe.  

And of course, all glory and praise goes to God. 

Christianity is foolishness

Christianity is foolishness.  Here’s what we mean by that.  1 Corinthians 1:18 says,

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth that the word of the cross is folly.  Now, it’s not folly, per se, but it is folly to those who are perishing.  In other words, its foolishness to those who do not yet believe.  

Why is it foolishness?  Well, to the Jews of that time, Jesus was hung on a tree, if you will—the cross.  That meant that He was cursed.  How could someone claiming to be the Messiah be crucified?  It’s foolishness.  

To the Greeks, they had their own set of gods, and so the idea that the God of the Christians would undergo the most vile, disgusting punishment (crucifixion) was laughable.  It’s foolishness. 

For others today, it’s foolishness for a motley of other reasons.  It’s foolishness, because it supposedly doesn’t line up with science.  It’s foolishness, because it’s not right that God would crush His own Son.  It’s foolishness, because it’s just an ancient book that had it’s purpose, but that’s all that it is.  

But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  This message, that Christ came down and lived a poor man’s life, wrought with suffering that would culminate to the cross to die for sinners like us, is not foolish to us.  Because God has shown us the veracity of it, because God has shown us His love and justice through it, it is far from foolish; it is the very power of God to save.  

Why use such a foolish message to save?  Because when men and women all over the world, from different walks of life and different cultures, with varying levels of education and vastly different experiences, hear this message and believe, it makes no sense to those who are supposedly the wisest in the world.  It confounds the sages.  And all that can rightly be concluded is that salvation is not from man’s wit or spirituality or logic or whatever.  Salvation is from God and God alone, and so no one can boast.  We can only praise God. 

Christ Himself could be seen as a person whom only fools would follow.  He was born in a feeding trough to a carpenter’s family and raised in a town of ill repute.  His mother probably was suspected by the community of being an adulterer.  Later, when He rode into Jerusalem, it wasn’t on a glorious horse in a majestic procession, but on a colt.  And then, He seemed to have failed His ministry when He was taken and crucified, which was a brutal and humiliating death.  Who would follow Him?

We will.  We who are being saved.  We have been given new life by the power of God.  You may be reading this and be thinking that it’s foolishness that we believe what we do, and truthfully, we can’t convince you otherwise.  But the message is true.  If you believe this foolish message, you will be spared from the wrath of God that you’ve earned from decades of sin, and you will be saved by the power of God through Jesus Christ.