Revelation Chapters 2 & 3 Supplemental
Why do we do this? Why do we turn to Scripture? Why do we care about Revelation or any other book?
I mean, we want to be changed by this stuff, right? We want God to meet us through it, be different because of what we discover in the Bible, and how it discovers things in us. For the Christian, we begin here, and with our perspectives ordered by the Bible we look out on the world.
We aren’t supposed to have casual relationships with Scripture. It’s supposed to be more like the best marriage relationship. Sure, there are highs and lows, but, man, our perspective on the world is shaped by the relationship, our perspective on ourselves and our responsibilities and what’s important is shaped by the relationship.
This is why we bother with Revelation and any other book. It’s supposed to change the default view we have of the world. I just wanted to remind us.
So how can we bridge the gap between these letters to these seven churches and our situation as a church. Because again; the most natural way to read these letters is as a church, not as an individual, right?
Foundations 2&3: Black & White:
And John’s world is a black and white world. You are either loyal to Jesus, acting like the faithful witness he was, or you’re loyal to the devil, to God’s enemies, who are embodied in Rome.
His world is not a world of tolerance. John would ask us: “Can you be tolerant of Satan? The enemy of Jesus and all God’s people? The one who tricked the whole world, so that it plunged into death and terror and pain and grief?”
And if we call someone Satan it’s because we really don’t like them, because they’ve done terrible things to us or others. We use the name as an identifying label we can put on people we really, really dislike–legitimately or illegitimately. We “demonize” our enemies.
But John is using the word to talk about spiritual realities. We rarely mean that in fact the person we’re talking about really is actually possessed by Satan. We tend to not go that far, no matter how deeply we dislike the person or their behavior.
John is saying that Rome is in fact possessed by the devil, and wholly used by the devil. He’s not demonizing them. He’s just telling us about the reality that Rome & it’s institutions have been demonized, possessed in the worst way: their institutions, their leaders, the whole shebang.
So while our contemporary sensibilities bristle a little, we want John to just get along with Rome: for him “getting along” with Rome or those who are in league with Rome just isn’t an option. We have to take seriously his perspective in this context; because frankly, it’s the perspective Jesus is promoting in this book. We may, at some point, talk about how that relates to our present situation; but for what it’s worth, this doesn’t give us permission to demonize whatever institution we don’t like.
Foundations 2&3: Scripture:
Something else we need to mention. John knows his Bible. He knows Scripture better than you and me and I think all of us put together. We will see in every passage of Revelation references and images drawn from all over Scripture, but especially borrowed from the prophets, from Exodus and other Old Testament narratives.
Expect this. For those of us who have even the most basic Bibles, there will be notes that point out some of these quotes and allusions. For those of us who have a Bible with some sort of study note thing attached to it, we can rabbit trail all around the Old Testament searching through the references that John makes. We could spend most of our time each Sunday just talking about these. We probably won’t too much, but it will come up.
Foundations 2&3: Apocalyptic Worldview:
Again, spiritual realities are more than theoretical for John; entities & institutions in our world have beings who represent them in the unseen spiritual world. So Jesus can tell John to write to the angels of the churches in such and such a place, because a view of the world that is informed by apocalyptic sensibilities knows that every institution has a spiritual counterpart, that exists objectively and interacts with spiritual realities that are outside our normal perception.
And many Christians today take this far more seriously than we often do; and honestly: we ignore the spiritual reality around us to our detriment and to the pleasure of those spiritual beings who are antagonistic to us.
Foundations 4&5: Numbers:
We need to talk about numbers in the book of Revelation. Because they are all over the place. We saw them again and again in the letters. And today we heard mention of seven seals, seven spirits, seven lamps, and 10,000 times 10,000 people, 24 elders. Numbers are all over the place, right?
But one thing to note, which will come up when we talk about “the number of the beast,” which is a “human number,” “666,” is that all letters have numerical equivalencies in both hebrew and greek. People who will talk about “the Bible code,” and things like this, utilize this fact to try and decode all sorts of words and numbers in the Bible to mean various things. And while I think this is largely misguided, at the end of the day it’s misapplication not misinformation: letters and words do have numerical value.
Also: certain numbers have meaning that is more than numerical, bigger than quantity. We can use certain numbers to talk about the quality things have; and when we use those numbers, the qualities those things we’re describing have become more important than their quantities. Does this make sense?
The numbers used to describe a thing tell us, the readers not how many of x, y, or z, there are, but what these things are like, the qualities these things have.
So the number seven often communicates to us perfection: wholeness, completeness. This probably isn’t new for many of us.
And the number 12 does the same: It became important because of the 12 tribes of Israel, the people God worked through to redeem humanity. And Jesus took 12 disciples, right? Probably as a way to communicate the New Covenant God was making with humanity around himself.
Tens and multiples of tens–especially 1,000–are numbers that communicate again perfection; a lot of these special numbers do, you know. 10 is a nice round number, so especially when it comes to lengths of time, it can communicate to us an appropriate length of time, the perfect length of time as far as the biblical writer is concerned. 1,000 tends to be shorthand, then, for a length of time that’s long, a long time–but perfectly long, you know–not too short, not to long: like the baby bear’s porridge.
77 is great, right? 7 times 7 is fantastic too! Can you all imagine, gosh, 777? That would be a great number, wouldn’t it. So complete & perfect. But you know what would be terrible? 666? It’s so close to 777, but its very closeness points out just how far away it is. We’ll talk about this further down the road, because 666 is probably the famousest–yeah, I said famousest, who’s paying attention?–famousest number in the Bible maybe.
Or you know what would be fantastic? 12×12: and maybe not just 12×12–which would be 144–but man: what about 12x12x1000: That would be an awesome number! 144,000 of something would be so rad, so perfect and complete, it would communicate to us so much information about the rightness of whatever is being counted. And we’ll see, soon, 144,000 people worshipping God in this book, and when we get there we’ll talk more about what this communicates to us as readers.
We could talk about other numbers, but these are some of the most relevant ones for apocalyptic literature, and Revelation, too.
Now: sometimes numbers are just numbers: John was writing to seven “real” churches, you know. But there is an added depth to the fact that there were seven churches, and not eight, you know?
So let’s look at an example of this Commission, Character, Commendation, Condemnation, Correction, Call, & Challenge Structure. We’ll look at the first letter in this section, the letter to Ephesus.
Let’s look at Sardis. This is in Revelation 3:1-6
Uh-oh! Right! No commendation for them. There’s a hint that they’ve got a few people who are still reckoned faithful, but it reads more like a consolation prize than anything else. We could see the flip-side of this situation in, say Smyrna. Revelation 2:8-11.
There’s nothing to condemn here; just a further call to faithfulness. Next week, I think, we’ll talk about the view of suffering that Revelation has, and the way that that this “ten days of affliction” relates to that.
1 “To the angel [a] of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To those who are victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
1 “To the angel [a] of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits [b] of God and the seven stars.
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
5 Those who are victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge their names before my Father and his angels.
6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Those who are victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.