In episode 1 we covered Revelation 1 verses 1-3. Our central point was that Revelation is a simple book with a simple message. There’s a clear and profound purpose within the words of Revelation – the call to faithfulness. It’s written to believers in the church, to encourage and challenge them toward a life of faith. In this episode, we continue in verses 1-3. We begin with a look into the historical context of Rome.
If you’ll study the Roman Empire, and how Romans thought, it will all be very familiar to you. Romans were awesome at technology. As a matter of fact, at the pinnacle of the Roman Empire, the Romans basically had everything we have today with the exception of trained electrons and internal combustion engines.
There was a mill that they found that could mill flour for a town of 50,000 people.
And if you go to places like Masada or some of these big works that they created, you’ll realize they had cranes and machinery and phenomenal engineering. As a matter of fact, the roads of Europe today are largely built along the old Roman roads, in some cases without much in the way of change.
They would build aqueducts that would go for miles and miles and miles and have barely any elevation change, but just the right amount to drain the water down from long distances.
The water system in Rome today still uses those ancient aqueducts that they built long ago. They were brilliant people that knew how to make life easy.
You can go to Beit She’an in Israel. It was a Roman city that was destroyed by earthquakes. They couldn’t rebuild it so they just left it, so it’s pretty well intact. They’ve got sewers that go right along the center of the street under this capstone of the street just like we would have.
You can go into the Roman bath and they’ve got whirlpools. They just shoot the water in at an angle so it whirlpools. They’ve got tepidariums and what’s the hot one? Caldariums. They’ve got this sauna thing. It’s a really advanced civilization.
And Romans, they liked to go to football games. And they would all go to these big coliseums and have football games and watch people smash into each other and somebody dies. Ah, too bad. We’ll just have somebody…Maybe next time he’ll do better.
They had trade, and entertainment, and order, it’s very familiar to us.
We went to a Roman villa and they had found some of the wall plaster where you could still see the color and the decoration that was in this villa. And I thought to myself, “I kind of like that. I would be real comfortable in this Roman world, in terms of how it’s situated.”
It’s because we’re Roman in our mentality. We’re still Rome.
On one hand, I think these churches do portray, in the western world, in the Roman world, what the dominant characteristics in these ages are.
On the other hand, there’s a lot more to the world than just the Roman center. Think about today. Today, the western church is probably the Laodicean church. It’s really rich, and it’s not willing to mess with the world too much lest you have problems.
But not the church in the Muslim world. At the church there, you’ve got kids standing for their faith and having their heads chopped off. And not in China. There’s official persecution and a lot of Acts 1-5 type stuff has happened in our lifetime in these places.
So, on the one hand, you can find all these churches’ characteristics at any point in time through history. On the other hand, in the Roman world, you’ve got this dominate thing.
Anybody have a different view? There is this thing that says if you read this wrong and teach it wrong, you have these plagues added to you, so I would appreciate the correction and instruction here. Usually, I’m a little bit forward with these things, but with this one I just really appreciate your input. If I show up one week, and I’ve got boils all over me, you’ll know to forget everything I’ve just said.
So John, to the seven churches which are in Asia—Now, who goes to a church? Ah, that’s a trick question because in our world, we think of a church as a building, right? And it’s something you go to. But the word church is the word ekklesia.
Does anybody know the basic background of the word ekklesia? There was no such thing as a Christian church before the church was founded, right? And this was a word that preexisted the Christian church. Do you know what it meant before? Assembly. Gathering.
In fact, the Brethren church still uses the term gathering. They won’t even use the word church.
It was a gathering. So if you had a vote, like the Greek city-states would have votes where the population would come and gather for the vote, that was an ekklesia, they’d gather in the street and have a vote. It’s a caucus.
So, the church in a town—that’s why they say it’s the church in the town—it was when the believers in the town gathered. That was the church. When two or three are gathered together, there I am. So if you gathered, then you’re the church.
Now they did have unbelievers who would sometimes come to the meetings, and you would see, like in 1 Corinthians 14, it says when you gather, don’t speak in tongues without an interpreter, because if someone comes, and everybody’s doing something different, they want to know what’s going on.
So there was some of that. People would come and visit. But that’s not who he’s writing this to.
You get this thing in the Bible where people say he’s writing to the churches, but really what he has focused on is the unbeliever that might be coming into the congregation because you have to get them saved. No! No, that is not what we’re doing here.
Anybody can read these words and an unbeliever can read any word in the Bible and it’s a testimony to them, and the Spirit can convict them. But they don’t have to read the Bible. They can just look at the stars, right? So there’s always a testimony going on to unbelievers. But this message is written to the churches which is the gathering of the saints.
Verse 4. 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. Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
The Seven Cities
So this is the opening of the letter. Now, I really can’t do this, but it’s still worth just the futile attempt. Just think about yourself as being a first century believer in one of these cities. And by the way, these were Greek colonies.
Greece is a big pile of rocks. You can’t really grow much there. And they burgeoned this empire-type civilization. And they started colonizing. And Turkey is a very fertile area. So the colony towns in Turkey actually became bigger than the towns in Greece.
And then Rome came in and just, basically, expropriated all the things Greece had. So these are Greek colonies that became Roman cities.
A Letter From The Apostle John
So, just think about yourself being one of these Romans, who’s converted and become a believer, and you come to assembly one week and somebody stands up and says, “We got a letter from the Apostle John. I’m going to read it to you.”
Would that not be mind blowing? That would really be something. There’s no way I can imagine what that would be like. But, man, what a situation!
And the first thing he says when he gets that letter is “Grace to you and peace.”
Now, if I got a letter from God, and I wanted him to tell me two things that I could have—like I’m giving you these two things—what would come first to my mind? I probably would say happiness, great riches, long life, well being. Because those are all pleasant circumstances, that’s what would come into my mind first.
And instead he says grace and peace. Now grace is the word charis which means favor. And we typically will define grace in the Bible as unmerited favor. And when it comes from God, that’s appropriate.
It’s not always used as coming from God. Like there’s a verse that says “and Jesus grew in favor with God and man”. So that is man giving favor to God by giving favor to Jesus. And in that case they did so because Jesus was an amazing person, so they’re comparing him to a standard.
But when God gives favor it’s because he chooses to, because there’s no standard he’s comparing to. He just gives it.
What about God’s favor and peace is notable? I think, perhaps, it is that those are two things that are completely disconnected with the circumstances of this life. Because the circumstances of this life have a lot of brutality to them. Your body decays a little every day once you become an adult. First you can’t play sports anymore. And then you can’t run anymore. And then you have trouble walking. And then you get up and you have aches. And it just kind of goes through this decay.
And everything’s like that. Bad things happen.
And, there’s a lot of suffering. And as we’re going to see in this book, what we have to look forward to is—it gets worse. But God’s favor, if we’re his witnesses, is something that supersedes the circumstances of this world.
And God’s peace surpasses understanding. And that’s what God wants us to have, because our life in this world is not always going to be pleasant. Especially if we stand against the principles of this world and live as a witness.
Grace and peace. From who? Well, from three different things:
1. Him who was and is and is to come. Some of the kind of Greekish things I looked at show that this is to come is the tense of “is coming.” So was, is, is to come, that’s the first one.
2. And from the seven Spirits before His throne.
3. And from Jesus Christ the faithful witness.
So, here we have the Father, the Spirit, and the Son.
It’s interesting, though, how the father is described: Who was and is and is to come. Why was and is and is to come? Why not Creator? Why not Shepherd? Why was, and is, and is to come? Well, I think perhaps that is because verse 7 is an emphasis in this book.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds.
One of the underpinnings of this book of Revelation is the inevitable return of Jesus again.
I heard a sermon once that I thought was awesome. It made the point that Jesus, the King of the Universe, is coming to earth to take full possession of his kingdom, as is prophesied in the Bible over and over again. That’s a no brainer. That’s logical. It’s expected. It really makes no sense for anything else to happen.
Jesus coming as a servant, taking on the form of a lowly person, tended by shepherds, living a life as a servant, and dying like a criminal makes no sense humanly speaking. No sense whatsoever.
The only reason that makes any sense is because God so loved the world. That’s the only reason that makes any sense whatsoever.
So the idea that it makes sense that he came the first time but we’re not sure about him coming the second time, that’s a crazy thought. It’s just the opposite. Of course he will come to redeem the world. The crazy thing is that he came the first time and did what he did. That’s the hard one to understand.
So, the idea that Jesus is coming and he’s going to fulfill everything he promised, and he’s going to take his rightful place as king of the world, of course that’s going to happen. So was, is, and is to come. This is a really important characteristic of God; everything is already mapped out, and it is going to happen.
Now things are going to get worse, but the outcome is predetermined, which is a wonderful thing to think of, especially as things get worse.
And then you have this Spirit. So you’ve got the Father, was, is, is to come; and you have the Spirits before his throne. So you’ve got the throne room here, and you’ve got the Spirit. But it’s seven Spirits. Why seven Spirits? Because you’ve got the Holy Spirit? I thought the Holy Spirit is one person, and now he’s described as seven Spirits? What’s going on there?
I don’t know. I don’t actually know what’s going on there.
A Link Between Heaven And Earth
But John is going to tell us in verse 10 that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.
There’s this thing that happens in Revelation that we’re going to see over and over again that’s very fascinating; and I want you to be thinking about it, and maybe we can have some mutual combined insights about this. Because it’s very interesting.
We’re going to see that there are seven churches on the peninsula of Turkey that are Roman cities with brick buildings and physical people with flesh and blood. And then there are seven candlesticks that are in heaven that represent those churches. So you’ve got seven physical, tangible churches, seven candlesticks, and Jesus is going to say, “if you don’t straighten up, I’m going to remove your candlestick”, like they’re totally connected.
And then we’ve got seven messengers, which my best guess is, the person who’s going to read these letters when they come out. And then you’ve got seven stars that are in Jesus’ hand. And somehow they’re connected.
So there’s this idea that there’s some stuff going on in heaven, and then there’s stuff going on on earth, and it’s connected.
This is a little bit of a rabbit trail, but I think this is an important concept because we’re going to see so much of this, so much connection between what’s going on in heaven and what’s going on on earth.
The Prince Of Persia Prevents The Angel From Going To Daniel
Let’s go to Daniel 10 for just a second. This is a really fascinating episode that happens in the book of Daniel. Daniel saw this vision, and then he had been praying to understand what this vision is. If I remember right, he’s been praying for three weeks.
Verse 2. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning three full weeks. So he’s fasting. He wants to understand this vision.
Daniel 10:10. Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. So I was dispatched 21 days ago, and I’m just now getting here.
Verse 13. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. Now I’ve come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days—What?
So Daniel is a bureaucrat in this Persian administration, in the government. There’s a king of Persia on the throne of Persia. And here comes this angel—let’s say it’s Gabriel—and he says, “I came to give you this message, but the king of Persia withstood me.”
You know, it’s pretty clear that this is not the physical king that Daniel knew. This is some spiritual dominion happening.
So, again, it appears that there’s stuff going on on earth—like there’s a king on earth—and then there’s a demonic king in the heavenly realm that parallels the king on earth.
And this guy comes and says you can’t come and talk to this person in my kingdom. So they’re fighting for 21 days and the angel can’t get through.
And finally, Michael comes, who’s kind of the guardian of the people of Israel, and knocks this prince of Persia aside so the angel can get through and talk to Daniel. Isn’t that bizarre?
You see movies like this where there’s this thing happening in this realm where they’re playing chess, and every time they move a chess piece something happens down on earth.
And, actually, in Greek mythology it’s like this. Greek mythology has this idea that there are all these gods up in heaven, and when somebody bowls there’s an earthquake down on earth. Or if somebody shoots somebody with an arrow up in the god realm, then somebody falls in love on earth. There’s this connection. And if you read the Greek mythology, there’s a connection.
Well, all those mythological ideas are some perversion of something that’s true. There’s this real connection between heaven and earth.
And we, as Romans, scientific, cause-effect people don’t tend to think of that. But, you know, if you get to know someone from an eastern culture, they go to the other ditch.
So some friends of mine went through this episode where they got lost on a river. And I actually felt really bad when it happened because it was like 10:00 at night and they still weren’t back. They were supposed to be back at 6:30 or something, and they were still not back. Everybody started freaking out, calling the police and stuff. And I kept saying “it’s Ken and Ron, they’re lost, don’t worry about it”. And I started thinking, maybe I’m just heartless.
Well, sure enough, they had gotten three miles past the take-out point, or something. And they came back, and they started telling about the guys who came and rescued them. And they started sharing with them, “You’re not the only idiots this has happened to. There’s other idiots we’ve fished out of here. One group of them were some Caribbean guys from an eastern culture, and they were canoeing down this Llano river, and suddenly they came, and there were some black cows in the river. And they insisted they cannot go any further!” Because everybody knows that the spirits are in everything.
They’re animistic. And the African culture is an animistic culture. So if you see black cows, that means the spirits are telling you to stop because that’s what a black cow means. So they couldn’t go any further. And these guys had to go rescue them.
Our friends, the Cambells, who are missionaries in Africa, they say in villages, even today, if somebody dies, they’ll get the casket, and they’ll start walking around the village with the casket to find out who killed this person.
If somebody gets eaten by an alligator, they’ll take the casket, and they’ll start, “Who killed this person?” because there has to be some sort of spiritual cause-effect for everything.
And they’ll finally hone in on this person, and they’ll come out and say, “You killed this guy. The casket said so!” And the guy will say, “Well, I had no idea I did. I must have done it in my sleep!”
So they’ll take some knives and they’ll cut some little holes and put some spices down in there to exorcise the spirits, and now everything’s OK. There’s a full explanation for what happened. We know what the spirits did, and we also exorcised it.
So they have a spiritual explanation for everything. And, of course, the truth is both: There’s a cause-effect world that God made and there’s this connection with the spiritual world going on all the time.
And we’re going to see that a ton as we go through this passage.
Isn’t this awesome? We’re getting blessed because we’re reading, and we’re trying to understand. So we’ll get to the do part as we go through here and see the seven churches and hear what he tells us to do. And every one of them is going to be applicable to us.
But right now what we can do is just understand that this world doesn’t like the things of God. And when you come into conflict with them, you have a basic choice to make, and that is—am I going to be a witness or not?
And what we’re going to see in Revelation is, this has nothing to do whatsoever with whether we’re a servant. It has to do with whether we’re an awesome servant or an unfaithful servant.
And the big point in this book is going to be how worth it it is to bear the tribulation of fighting the world and standing for Christ. Because it’s so incredibly worth it.
And this is being told to us by someone who has paid the price, and he is now on this deserted island and saying, “boy, this is a great place to be. I’m just where I need to be.”