Posted by: cghearn | 09/21/2014 | 12:00 pm
To whom was the letter written? What was the occasion?
In this part of the book of Revelation, we’re going to gain a bit of understanding as to what John was experiencing, what day it was, from where the letter originated, and finally who his target audience was. John does all this to ensure that this letter reaches who Christ has intended it to reach.
In my senior year, my mom used to work for UPS and I needed a job during the holidays. Every year, you can imagine the amount of deliveries needing to be made during the holiday season. I would run back and forth from the truck to the front door step, then drive to the next house and repeat the process.
The really long deliveries were the ones where someone had to sign for the package. Now it’s winter, I’ve been running back and forth so I’ve managed to keep warm…but then I’ve also been sweating. So you’d go to the front door, ring the doorbell, stand in the winter wind, and wait.
If it was an elderly person that the package was sent to (which happened quite a bit) you can imagine how cold you got from the time they heard the doorbell ring to the time that they had finally received the package and had signed for it. But you couldn’t leave until you got that signature.
John is ensuring in this passage, whether the addressees liked it or not, that they understood that this letter was primarily addressed to them. We’re going to see later on that Jesus, through the quill of his servant John, had some not so nice things to say about some of these churches. But sometimes, we need to call out things that we see as untrue or as damaging, particularly if it’s harmful to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t believe me?
- Jesus says to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
- Jesus says to the Pharisees in Luke 11:40, “You fools!”
- Paul writes to the Galatians who were trying to obtain righteousness from obedience to the law in Galatians 3:1-3, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish?”
- Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:15, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
- Paul even calls people out specific people in 2 Timothy 4:14-15, “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.”
- This letter will forever stand addressed to these churches for reasons that were either good or really bad. But just like the prophecies written to Israel during their history, we may be able to see things in ourselves, whether good or bad, because of this letter. Therefore, this letter is also addressed to you.
Doctrine of sermon:
We must read what’s been written to the churches because we ourselves are the church
We must read what has been written to these churches because we will face the tribulation
According to the apostle John, he was experiencing persecution, he was in THE tribulation, and it was because of the Word of God that he was experiencing these things. So according to the apostle John, he was already in the tribulation. Different translations may translate this word another way, but our Master uses this same word which is the Greek word, “θλῖψις” in John 16:33 when he said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I would argue that from my very humble understanding that John here is indicating that the tribulation (which many today think has not yet happened) that the tribulation was happening during his lifetime and that the tribulation isn’t simply isolated to a seven year period, but that it would span the period between the assent of Christ until the second coming.
Many would argue that we haven’t seen anything horrible enough yet to warrant the type of tribulation that is spoken about in some of the other texts concerning end times prophecy. But we in the West need to stop seeing ourselves in isolation from the rest of Christianity in our world who would see the type of tribulation mentioned.
- Christians in the former Soviet Union which lasted from 1917-1991 during which an estimated 12-20 million Christians were killed for their faith may disagree or have disagreed with our understanding of the tribulation and how it hasn’t started yet.
- How about the persecution of Christians by the Ottoman Empire which ruled from 1815 to 1989? The onslaught by the Ottoman army resulted in an estimated 2.5 million deaths which led to the devastation of ancient indigenous Christian peoples who had existed in the region for thousands of years. They would probably have disagreed that the tribulation hasn’t started yet.
- How about Christians that lived in Rome during the first 300 years of the churches infancy in which some estimate the numbers of Christians that were martyred, just in Rome alone, to possibly be as high as 100,000? They may have disagreed that the tribulation might not have started yet.
We’re not left with these hopeless numbers, however, because even when we face tribulation. we can always rely on God’s word.
We must read what has been written to these churches because it is a vivid prophecy
One thing that we would be forced to acknowledge as believer in Christ is that we believe in prophecy. When I read from the book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel I’m saying to you that these men were chosen as prophets by God and therefore the words of the text are divine! How do we know whether or not a prophet was actually a prophet according to Scripture?
–Turn to Deuteronomy 13:1-5
–Turn to Deuteronomy 18:18-22
So the one who was a prophet had 2 qualifications:
Now, we do have some interpretive issues here which I will unwrap and there’s two of them.
- The first is, “What did John mean when he was ‘in the Spirit’” and second, “What did John mean when he said, ‘the Lord’s Day?’” First, we can deduce that John was in some sort of trance like state. Just like the prophets of the Old Testament, John was experiencing a manifestation of the Spirit in order to see the things which he was seeing.
- The second issue is a little more complex because some say that the Lord’s day was a Sabbath, some say that John was whisked away to see the “Day of the Lord” in the Old Testament understanding, and some say that the Lord’s Day is a separate day in which Christians would gather to break bread and hear teaching.
- What he has spoken must come true—For the dispensationalist, this is tricky because they predominately see John’s prophecy in the light that it has not yet come to pass. However from my understanding as a Historicist, I can say that what John has written here has already been coming and is continuing to come because the tribulation has already been happening!
- He must speak only on the authority of the one true God– In order for John to be considered here, we must measure his words by the text. He has already acknowledged that this text comes from Jesus Christ who is God, otherwise he is not speaking the truth.
- Ignatius of Antioch was one of the earliest writers outside of the New Testament. Ignatius was a disciple of both the apostle John and Peter (whom he actually succeeded after Peter’s death in Rome). On his way to be martyred by being eaten alive by wild animals in Rome, he wrote 7 letters. In one he writes, “those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny—a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher.” So clearly, the Lord’s Day could not have been a Sabbath, why would Ignatius desire to mar the teachings of the apostles that he had learned from first hand immediately before his death?
- A futurist (many of them) have claimed that John was whisked away in the Spirit to a FUTURE event which was the day that Christ returned and set things right. However, myself not being a futurist but rather a Historicist, I don’t see it this way. Not only that, but the term, “the Lord’s day” is independent in the original language from “in the Spirit.” This interpretation forces an idea on the text which isn’t there.
- The third opinion is that this was a day that early Christians would have recognized as an actual day of the week. How is “the Lord’s Day” which John writes here different than “the day of the Lord” which the Old Testament prophets wrote?
–Compare Amos 5:18 “τὴν ἡμέραν κυρίου” compared to Revelation 1:10 “τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ”
If John, being a first century Jew and Christian wanted to communicate the exact same idea from the Old Testament into the New, why not just use the exact same words; which he didn’t? Instead, it’s my belief that John was communicating that he was in a trance in the Spirit on the first day of the week.
“We hold common assembly on the day of the sun, because it is the first day, on which God put to flight darkness and chaos and made the world, and on the same day Jesus Christ our savior rose from the dead.” – Justin Martyr, 150 AD
We can see already that much theology and practice within the church is derived from this vivid prophecy, which is authoritative, in our modern times…
We must read what has been written to these churches because we ourselves fall under this text’s authority
I need to say, as I’ve said before, that this letter was written to 7 actual churches that were actually operating and functioning in the world.
There are a few different reasons why John would have written to these 7 specific churches:
- They were on a very prominent trade route in the empire at the time.
- They were in succession along this trade route.
- They were extremely close in proximity to where John was at the time.
- There were obviously some issues, some trouble being faced (as face every church) that Christ wanted to deal with concerning these particular churches.
It was around the year 1796 and a young classical artist with remarkable talent by the name of Ludwig van Beethoven was losing his hearing. This drove him mad as he wrote letters and spoke to his closest friends about the desire to commit suicide; simply just to give in to the pressure that surrounded him. He became more reclusive and avoided conversation to attempt to ease his suffering and embarrassment.
It is said that in order for him to continue writing his music that Beethoven had to cut the legs off of his piano and lay the piano on the floor, pounding the keys in order to write his symphonies. Remarkably, it wasn’t until 28 years after he had gone almost completely deaf that he wrote what we know as his 9th symphony.
After some of the music from this piece was played, Beethoven was so deaf that he couldn’t hear the thunderous applause of the audience behind him until he was turned around to see their reaction. Beethoven once said, “This is the mark of a really admirable man: steadfastness in the face of trouble.” The man who said this, knew trouble at some of the deepest levels.
Outside forces including depression, persecution, and even a change in the culture around us may happen, but when we read this letter, we must understand that Christ has called us to stand firm.
This letter gives us something to look forward to in times when we face tribulation, because the time is near.
Doctrine of sermon:
We must read what’s been written to the churches because we ourselves are the church
Illustration: Let me return for a moment to Beethoven. Let me play just one part of his 5th symphony to you:
Application: Can you imagine being Beethoven, being able to write some of the most beautiful and influential music of all time; yet being the only one who is unable to truly hear it? The church of Christ may never be able to see what good it has done in the world. We may never be able to experience what kind of influence that we’re going to leave behind even though we go through the tribulation of life. But we must make the choice in what type of church we are going to be, whether for the good of those around us and a beacon of light to the world; or not. We must understand that if the apostle John wrote (through the revelation of Christ) something down to be followed by one church, then it is authoritative for all churches. This time, this letter, these circumstances in history have fallen to you church. What will you do?