Friday, December 30, 2011

Revelation Bible Study - Lesson 4 – Revelation 1:10-11

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying,  "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."
When is the Lord’s Day? What Scripture can you find to determine this?

Most of us set apart Sunday as the “The Lord’s Day” and others insist that we should keep Saturday as “The Lord’s Day.”
 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. (Acts 20:7 NIV)
On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come. (1 Cor 16:2 NASB)

The first day of the week is Sunday. They gathered for two reasons, to break bread i.e. to celebrate communion and to hear the Word of God preached. It is also the day that Paul urged the churches to establish as a regular day of giving, most likely in their worship service. By the time that John wrote this book, the Christian community had established the custom of gathering together to worship on the first day of the week.
Why did the Church depart from observing the Sabbath and substitute Sunday?

Worshiping the Lord on Sunday and designating it “The Lord’s Day” is a significant departure from the observance of the Sabbath as required in the Old Testament. The first reason is that Jesus was raised on the first day of the week. His first two recorded appearances were on Sundays (John 20:19, 20:26).
 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps 118:22-24 NKJV)

How is designating the Lord’s Day on Sunday a fulfillment of this prophecy?

On Sunday, Jesus rose again to establish Himself as the head of the Church. In the context of this prophecy the day the Lord has made is Sunday and we are to rejoice and be glad in it. What better way than to have our worship service on Sunday?
Why is it no longer a requirement of the Law for Christians to keep the Sabbath as the designated day of worship?

 Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. (Matt 5:17 NLT)

It is only because Jesus has fulfilled the law that we are no longer required to keep the Law as the means of salvation. For Israel, keeping the law was a life and death matter. Anyone found working on the Sabbath was to be stoned. If we were to be legalistic and say that we should observe Saturday as the Lord’s Day, then we would also be obligated to observe all the law and that would include the penalty for those who don’t. Unger’s Dictionary says it better than I can.
The term “Christian Sabbath” is scarcely biblically defensible. This day of grace marks the beginning of the week with a day of privilege, whereas the Sabbath came at the end of a week of labor, an order expected under the law. It must carefully be remembered that the Lord’s Day, the term Sunday being of pagan origin, is strictly a Christian institution. It is not for all men, and it is scarcely justifiable to attempt to legislate its observance upon unsaved people. As Lewis Sperry Chafer points out, “Men are not justified in returning to the rules provided for the Sabbath in order to secure directions for the observance of the Lord’s Day...” [1]

Is it OK for a Christian to designate another day instead of Sunday as a day of worship? Provide your reason.

 One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:5-6 RSV)

In addition to all this, we have liberty in Christ. In many parts of the world, believers are unable to gather together on the first day of the week for worship because of the local culture. This is true in many Muslim countries where believers meet on Friday. We certainly shouldn’t hold anything against any Christian group that meets together on a day other than Sunday. Neither should any Christians who meet on another day condemn those who meet on Sunday.
Why is it important for believers to worship weekly with other?

The question should not be, “What day of the week do we gather to worship the Lord?” Rather it should be, “Do we gather weekly with other to worship the Lord?”  

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25 ESV)

The author of Hebrews tied our worship to the approaching “Day.” He wasn’t talking about Sunday, but the day that the Lord will return. Since the book of Revelation has much to say about the Lord’s return, it is fitting that He gave it to John on “The Lord’s Day.” This reminds us that we should be gathering together regularly because we will also need to encourage each other to go through tough times. We will need these times to build up our love and remember to continue doing good. If we neglect gathering together, we will also neglect other aspects of our Christian walk. If we don’t go to church on Sunday when there isn’t any persecution, what make us think we will go when there is? All backsliding starts one slip at a time.

In the Spirit

What does it mean to be in the Spirit?

This may be answered in many different ways depending on your Christian or even non-Christian experience. Many of the charismatic persuasion would conclude that John was praying in tongues at the time. A shaman would conclude that he was in a trance or on some kind of “quest.” I think that it is simply a statement about John’s attitude of prayer and submission to God as he worshiped. He was absorbed in prayer to the extent that his own circumstances didn’t matter. There are many references that we can look up to discover a bit more about this. 
Is praying in the Spirit something that all Christians can or should do? Explain your answer.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Eph 6:18 NIV)

We are all commanded to pray in the Spirit as Paul wraps up his commands on Spiritual warfare. We are to be praying with all kinds of prayers and requests if we are praying in the Spirit. Some say we shouldn’t pray for trivial things like parking spots. Praying in the Spirit means we are talking to the Lord about everything that we are doing including finding a parking spot or how to help a friend struggling with cancer. We don’t know what spiritual battles are going on around us, and sometimes things that seem trivial to us may have eternal consequences.
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (Jude 20-21 NIV)

When we make our whole thought life a prayer – a constant conversation with the Lord – our faith will be built up. When we neglect talking with Him during the day, our faith will be more dependent on seeing the answers we want than on seeing Him. We can pray in the Spirit when we keep ourselves in God’s love. We do this by being conscious of the mercy Jesus has provided for us on the cross so that we can have eternal life. The full extent of that eternal life is yet to come as we will see in the Book of Revelation.
Is it always possible for us to know what or how to pray? Explain your reason and provide the Scriptures you use to support your answer.

If we are praying in the Spirit, there are times when we simply won’t know what to say in our prayers. We don’t know the mind and will of God for most specific circumstances. 
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27 NKJV)

We can usually be sure about some things when He has made it clear. For example, we know that He desires all men to be saved. (1 Tim 2:4) When we pray for the salvation of any person the Spirit doesn’t need to intercede to make our prayer in accordance with His will since that is already His will. However, we don’t always know His will for prayers such as healing. He hasn’t promised healing for all diseases of believers. But it doesn’t matter that we don’t know His will. We have His promise that the Spirit will intercede for us and present our prayer to the Father according to His will. This is a burden-lightening truth, especially for those of us on prayer chains. We constantly see requests for people we don’t know and whose circumstances seem beyond their ability to bear. If we are faithful to lift them up in prayer, then we can be assured that our words will reach the Father correctly, even if we aren’t asking for the right thing. It is more about our attitude and willingness to pray than what we say. This is what I would call praying in the Spirit.
Do you want to be in the Spirit? What do you think is the most important requirement to be in the Spirit?

Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. (1 Chron 16:11 NLT)
But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him. (Deut 4:29 NLT)
If we want to be in the Spirit, one thing is clear. We need to be seeking the Lord’s face. When we are seeking Him and not just what He can do for us, our minds, hearts, and souls will begin to be aligned with His.  
What is the benefit of seeking God’s face?

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17-18 RSV)

When we seek His face, we are transformed into His likeness. It doesn’t come all at once but is a progressive process where we become more and more like Jesus. This is sanctification – becoming holy just as He has already declared us to be in Jesus.
Do you want to be in the Spirit? If so, then seek His face continually and believe when you pray that the Holy Spirit intercedes in our prayers. By faith we believe that we pray in the Spirit since we are told to. He wouldn’t tell us to do something we all couldn’t do.

Out-of-Body Experience

What is an out-of-body experience?

Does being in the Spirit require some sort of out-of-body experience?

Can a Christian have and out-of-body experience or is this something satanic?

In spiritual encounters outside of Christianity many people have out-of-body experiences in which they talk about being able to look back and see their body asleep or unconscious.
Some think that being in the Spirit requires some sort of out-of-body experience. I don’t think so because John had not identified anything like this. He did have what may have been an out-of-body experience later. In the end times, many will be deceived as will become evident during this study. It is important to look at this and other experiences in the Bible to be able to discern satanic activity from experiences that are from God.  
After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." (Rev 4:1-2 NASB)
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; (Rev 17:3a NASB)
And I fell at his feet to worship him. (Rev 19:10a NASB)
John isn’t intent on his experience, but on what God wants to convey to Him. He is focused on God and His throne in heaven. As John was moved around to other places the emphasis was always to accurately convey the message the Lord was giving him in his visions. John’s ultimate response is to worship. At this point, he fell down before an angel who had to tell him to stop, but the point is that even though he was in the Spirit, he had the capability of physical movement. This doesn’t fit with my concept of satanic out of the body experiences where things happen to people but they don’t actually have any control of their bodies.

John isn’t the only person in the Bible to have an out-of-body experience.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. (Ezek 37:1 ESV)
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. (2 Cor 12:2 ESV)
Paul had a similar experience. Even though he was taken up to heaven to see a vision, he could not distinguish whether or not he was physically moved or only his spirit had ascended. The Spirit took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones. His description of the experience is similar to Paul’s and John’s.
In each of these experiences, there is one thing that is important. The emphasis is on the message that the Lord has to deliver. The emphasis is not on the experience itself. This is a primary difference between the Biblical experiences and extra-Biblical experiences. 
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. (Matt 4:5, 8 NIV)
Satan took Jesus to the temple and to a high mountain; explain why or why not these were out-of-body experiences.

What warning should we take regarding Jesus’ experience?

I have always pondered how the devil had the ability to take Jesus anywhere and to give these experiences to Him. But think about it. If the devil could produce what appears to be an out-of-body experience for Jesus, is it not possible for him to do it to us? This in as a warning for anyone who may seek out-of-body experiences as evidence that they are in the Spirit. All the cases above where the Spirit provided the experience occurred to godly men who were not seeking an experience, but the face of God. In each situation, God initiated the experience. If a person is seeking the experience instead of God, the devil may very well provide it to mislead and subvert God’s will.
What is even scarier is that Satan attempted to do this when Jesus was seeking His Father in the desert. If Satan would try this with Jesus, what makes us think that he wouldn’t try to deceive godly men with tricks to make them think they are having some sort of new Christian experience of the Spirit only to find, after many wrecked lives, that it was from the devil?

Loud Voice

Why is it possible to hear God’s voice and not understand what He has said?

Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. (John 12:28-29 KJV)
When the Father spoke from heaven, Jesus was able to hear and understand Him. The crowd of people could only hear thunder. They were spiritually deaf as is evidenced by the next few verses and by their actions. Only a few days later they called for Jesus to be crucified. If John hadn’t been in the Spirit – attuned to God – he would not have recognized or been able to understand the voice just as the people couldn’t understand God’s voice. I wonder how many times I have missed His message to me because I have been too engrossed in everyday life to set aside time to be in the Spirit.
What is the significance of the voice like a loud trumpet?

When the Lord speaks with a voice like a trumpet, He has something important to say.  
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. (Ex 19:16, 19 NASB)
This was one of the most significant times in the history of mankind. It was the only time God spoke in such a dramatic fashion. It is when God came to Mount Sinai and began revealing the Law to Moses. In the same way, this message to the seven churches is vitally important to all Christians. It is coming with the authority and power of the Almighty. 
Why is it significant that John was told to write down what he saw?

Many times the prophets wrote what the Lord had for them to say. However, there are only a few times in the Bible where God commands them to write it down emphasizing its importance. When it was, it often had to do with future events and God’s judgment upon a nation or people. The fact that John was commanded to write the message down demonstrates the importance that it has to these seven specific churches. As we study the churches we can see characteristics of individual churches that are in the world today. We can also make general observations of the spiritual condition of the Church throughout history that match the characteristics of these churches.
How can we apply Revelation 1:10-11 in our lives?

Let’s make sure that we are honoring the Lord every week whether we gather together on Sunday or some other day. We need that time not only to honor Him, but also to strengthen our walk with Him. The Church will only be strong when we do this.
Let’s continually seek His face so that we too, can be in the Spirit when He returns and avoid the pitfalls of false spirituality.
As He speaks to all of us in His Word, let’s listen for His voice and act on what we hear.

[1]From The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Revelation Bible Study Lesson 3 - Revelation 1:7-9

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." I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. (NKJV)

What are three key elements regarding Jesus’ return are revealed?

Jesus’ Return

It seems that Jesus’ return is one thing that is acknowledged by many people, believers, and unbelievers alike. You can read the magazines at the grocery store checkout stands and almost every week there is a headline promising some new revelation about the return of Christ. They claim that these revelations come from such various sources as Nostradamus or even from the Bible. So what does the Bible say about His return?

First, verse 7 says that He will be coming back with the clouds and this is in keeping with the way He left.

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!" (Acts 1:9-11 NLT)

I can imagine that it will be very much like running a video backwards. There will be at least one cloud in the sky and it will part, revealing Jesus who will then descend back to the earth. In Acts, Jesus had been standing on the Mount of Olives with His disciples giving them His last minute instructions. It makes sense then that He will return and stand on the Mount of Olives as is confirmed by Zech 14:4.

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. (RSV)

The importance of Him coming back with clouds is both prophetic and symbolic. The prophecy is in Dan 7:13-14 when One like the Son of Man is ushered into the presences of the Ancient of Days and He comes with the clouds of heavens. He is given dominion over all and forever. Jesus quoted this prophecy to His disciples (Matt 24:30) and when He was asked who He was at His trial (Matt 26:64). The symbolic nature of the clouds can be seen in Rev 19:14 as He returns with the armies of heaven all mounted on white horses.

Second, everyone will see His return. This is important to understand that when Jesus comes back to put His foot down on the Mount of Olives, it will not be a sneak appearance.

How do you think it will be possible for everyone to see Jesus’ return?

Is it possible that a massive cloud formation will appear over Jerusalem and that it will be broadcast all over the world? Do you think that Jesus will slowly descend so that TV cameras and web cams will catch the action? Perhaps, since there will probably still be people living in primitive areas, God will provide a vision or apparition in the skies for everyone to see. What is important is to not limit His appearance to our technology or our abilities. The glory goes to the Father through Jesus, not to our inventions even if He chooses to use some of them. This will be a demonstration of His power and authority.

When He returns, it will be with authority and power.

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matt 24:30 KJV)

This theme is repeated in Matt 26:64 and is also recorded in Mark 13:26, 14:62. When He left, only a handful of people saw Him go. They were still unsure of what His plan was since they were still asking if “now” was the time He would restore the Kingdom to Israel. There will be no doubt that He has returned to establish His Kingdom when He comes again as all nations will be able to see Him. Some will mourn because of His arrival while there will be rejoicing for others.

Why do you think the people on earth will mourn when Jesus returns?

Third, the tribes of the earth will mourn when Jesus returns. This phrase “tribes of the earth” is a key that will later be repeated in various forms in the Book of Revelation. It refers to those who are living on the earth, but have not accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. There are only a couple of reasons why anyone would mourn when Jesus returns. The first is that they had not believed in Him and are now facing a terrible judgment. The other reason is that their eyes have been opened to who He is and they are mourning because their ancestors had missed His first coming and were responsible for His death.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him,  as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zech 12:10 ESV)

These Jews will receive grace from our Lord indicating that they will be saved; however, they will mourn as a people because their ancestors rejected Jesus when He came the first time. Mourning for the sins of our fathers is a concept that we don’t have in our culture; however it is understood in the historical Jewish culture. (Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 9) They may also be mourning because they will be entering the millennial reign of Christ as mortals instead of having resurrected bodies. Being mortals, they will still be subject to the ability to sin. They will have to wait until the end of Christ’s millennial reign before they will be completely free from sin. It will be interesting to find out the timing of these events to see when the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem are no longer classified as “tribes of the earth” but become believers in Jesus.

What do you think the day will be like when Jesus returns? See Zech 14:6-7.

There has always been a lot of speculation about the day Jesus will come back. One of the things that bother people is that every eye will see him. How can that be if He returns to the Mount of Olives? Other problems deal with the fact that He will be coming with the clouds. How can that happen when there are so many places in the world that are sunny while it is cloudy elsewhere (Seattle)? And there is this “sign of the Son of Man” that will appear in the sky (Matt 24:30). What is that and does that mean that everyone will be able to see it? The only thing that I can say is that the Lord has already told us that it won’t be like anything we have ever seen before.

On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime — a day known to the Lord. When evening comes, there will be light. (Zech 14:6-7 NIV)

A lot of Scripture suddenly made sense when I realized the implications of these verses. We have to think “outside of the box” to fathom any part of it. He will take care of all the details and answer these questions in a way that will be unexpected. His sovereignty His power can overcome any of the problems we may have with understanding how He can do anything.

John’s Situation

Describe John’s situation at this time in His life.

John was not immune to suffering. He was on the island of Patmos because he had been exiled for the Word of God and his testimony about Jesus. In the Roman Empire, John didn’t enjoy freedom of religion. While we do have a great degree of freedom in the U.S., this is not the case in most of the world now or in the past. By the time John had written this, he was the only one of the original twelve apostles that was left alive. All had been martyred for their faith. Apparently the Roman government didn’t want another martyr on its hands and instead, tried to minimize his influence by isolating him after he had been tortured. It is worthy of note that his exile wasn’t because he was standing up for some cause such as freedom of religion, his opposition to slavery or the violence in the gladiator games. It was simply because he was preaching salvation through Jesus Christ.

What is there about John’s situation that would lead you to believe that this message isn’t just for his time?

Many believe that this book was written only for John’s era and should only be studied as history. However, John’s identification as a brother in suffering spans all ages. I think it shows that there will always be persecution. For this reason we can study the Book of Revelation as history with application for the present as well as God’s plan and warning for the future. In verse 8, the eternal nature of God is described and adds to the confirmation that this book is for all ages.

Why shouldn’t we look at the Book of Revelation only to make sure Christians will escape the Great Tribulation? See 1 Peter 5:8-9.

One thing is for sure; there will be suffering in the future just as there is now. We shouldn’t look at the Book of Revelation simply to try to figure out whether or not Christians will escape the Great Tribulation described later in the book. The fact is that there are currently Christians who are undergoing tribulation that rivals the problems in Revelation. More important than the fact that suffering occurs throughout history is our attitude toward it. We can learn a lot from John’s attitude.
He identifies with all others in the kingdom of Christ who are suffering when he states that he is our brother and companion.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV)

Peter also understood our need to identify with those who are suffering. It is a kingdom thing. We belong to either Christ’s kingdom or Satan’s. As a part of Christ’s kingdom, we will have opposition from the enemy, which in various parts of the world manifests itself in persecution. One way of being alert and resisting the devil is to remember that others have the same or worse problems than we do. We need to be holding them up in prayer.

Why does suffering and tribulations come to Christians?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13 NASB)

We have been told over and over again in the Bible that we will suffer because of our relationship with Jesus.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (Matt 5:11 KJV)

However, there is joy and blessedness in participating in the sufferings of Christ and we need to be prepared for it.

If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Rev 13:9-10 NKJV)
Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Rev 14:12 NKJV)

Two more times in the Book of Revelation, the phrase that John used for patient endurance (here is the patience) is used to let the saints know that they will have to be patient and endure suffering.

What should our attitudes be in the face of suffering, tribulations, and persecutions?

The battles we endure tempt us to give up, complain or fight back with worldly weapons. John suffered with patient endurance.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord's return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don't grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9 NLT)

We need to be like farmers who continue to plant and wait year after year. Some farmers watch their crops burn up in drought or destroyed by insects, yet they continue to plant because they know they won’t receive a harvest if they give up. When we identify with others who are undergoing suffering, we are more apt to be able to stand firm in our faith and continue to plant seeds from the Word of God. If we start grumbling about our situation, it is likely that we will eventually grumble about everything, including other brothers and sisters in Christ and end up being judged for that instead of reaping a harvest.

 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. (Ps 37:7-8 RSV)

Many people are becoming extremely anxious as they watch the world economy crumble. They are concerned about the leaders of their nations and the evil direction they are heading. This isn’t the first time in history that evil has threatened. It may be the last but no one knows for sure. If we are fretting over evil then we need to examine our relationship with the Lord. He tells us over and over to wait patiently for Him. When we get upset and angry we don’t accomplish God’s work because our anger only leads to more evil. James 1:20 tells us that man’s anger doesn’t accomplish God’s righteous desires.

News Alert: Christians will not resolve the evil in the world by political means. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to establish godly laws, but the ultimate victory isn’t going to be accomplished by man’s efforts. We need to wait patiently.

What is your relationship with Jesus? Are you ready for His return?

John says that both suffering and patience are the results of our relationship with Jesus. Does the thought of Jesus coming back in the clouds give you joy or cause you to mourn? Are you ready to greet Him with great joy as a close friend who has been away on a long journey? Do you fear His return because He is coming back with power and authority to judge? Is it possible that you want to see Him come back again, but you don’t want it to happen now because you have things to do, goals to achieve? If you can relate to either of these last two situations, then I would urge you to get your relationship with Jesus straightened up - something is dreadfully wrong that will have eternal consequences.

When you are suffering for any reason, not just persecution, what is your attitude? Do you consider others who are suffering? Do you suffer with patient endurance or grumbling? If you aren’t suffering, are you willing to suffer for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus? You may have to.
Let’s work on our relationship with Jesus so that regardless of the situation we will have patient endurance and would welcome His return right now!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Revelation Bible Study - Lesson 2 - Revelation 1:4-6

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

How would you describe John’s role in this Book of the Bible?

John now addresses the seven churches that are specified by Jesus later in this chapter. John identifies himself, not as the author of the letter, but the scribe who has faithfully written everything that Jesus has commanded. He is concerned with getting the message across as it was given him and was very careful not to add or subtract anything from the message. Later in the book, we’ll talk more out why. If you want to peek ahead, look at Rev 22:18, 19.

Why do you think God speaks of grace and peace in these first few verses?

Grace and Peace – in the same way Jesus greeted the disciples after His resurrection, He greets us with Grace and Peace. In verse 17 He tells us not to be afraid. This is the greeting to the Church, His holy people. It is significantly different from the greetings later in the book, to those who don’t belong to Him. This is written shortly after Nero’s persecution of Christians, yet even in troubled times it is His greeting to us. This book is full of more trouble, but the message to the believer is still grace and peace.
Earlier we said that the message was from God. Now He reveals to us the triune nature of God. The message is from the Trinity.

Who do you normally think of when you see the phrase, “Who is and who was and is to come?”

How is the Trinity indentified in these verses?

The Father

"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." (Rev 1:8 NKJV)

Generally, when I think of the One who is to come, I think of Jesus, but these verses clearly identify that this is the Lord God, the Almighty, the Father. The phrase, “who is and who was” is repeated in verse 8 with the additional references to the Greek letters.

What is the significance of using the Greek letters Alpha and Omega to describe God?

Alpha is the beginning of the Greek alphabet and Omega the end. This shows that God includes all of time. There is not a time He did not exist because He says that He is the first and the last. Three times (also in Rev 21:6 and Rev 22:13) He emphasizes that He is beyond all time and therefore has knowledge of all that has or will happen. With this concept firmly in place, the rest of the book can make sense.

Describe God’s kingdom in the these verses: Ps 145:1-2, 4, and 13.

How does God reveal His eternality in Ex 3:6?

How does this knowledge help provide us grace and peace?

I will extol You, my God, O King, And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You, And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
 One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty acts.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
(Ps 145:1-2, 3, 13 NASU)

From generation to generation we have the same God and these verses describe His continuity through history. He is faithful to all His promises and to all He has made. As the Book of Revelation unfolds, it is important to remember this because His wrath will be revealed against some of His creation. We will see His promise fulfilled in the culmination of the Book when He restores all creation. Even as we view this Psalm with an eternal perspective, we need to view the Book of Revelation in the same way, not always in the same time order as it is written down. God reveals it this way because His kingdom is everlasting.

Moreover He said, "I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (Ex 3:6 NKJV)

The Lord speaks in the present tense, not the past tense. Our God is beyond time and all is the present to Him. No wonder Moses hid his face, no wonder David said he would praise His name forever! When we contemplate the eternal nature of God, how can we do anything other than worship Him?
Do you remember the grace and peace He promised? We can have that grace and peace because we know that He knows exactly what will happen to us in the next five minutes as well as the next thousand years. God is never surprised. He doesn’t see either a tragic or a happy ending to a problem and say to Himself, “I didn’t think it would turn out that way!” He knows how it will turn out because He is in control.

The Holy Spirit

How do we know that the seven spirits before the throne is a reference to the Holy Spirit? See Rev 3:1 and 4:5.

The NIV translation never capitalizes references to God such as “He” or “His” like many other versions. I don’t know why, because it is a help to me. Several other translations capitalize the word spirit to make it clear that it is referring to God. However, to make sure we aren’t just taking someone else’s word for it, a little research will clarify that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. In Rev 3:1, Jesus refers to the seven spirits as the seven Spirits of God. Again in Rev 4:5, there are seven lamps before the throne of God and they are also identified as the seven Spirits of God.

Why does God identify the Holy Spirit with seven spirits?

Seven is a sacred number to the ancient Hebrew people. The word is used often in the Bible to symbolize perfection, fullness, abundance, rest, and completion. This number was also considered holy or sacred by other cultures of the ancient world. It may have received its significance from the seven “planets” visible in the heavens-the sun and moon and the five planets known to the ancients.[1]

If seven represents perfection, abundance, and completeness, then how do the following verses describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives as sufficient for all we need?
1.      John 16:13

2.      John 14:26

3.      John 14:26 and 1 John 2:27

4.      Eph 1:13-14

5.      Acts 1:8

6.      Rom 8:14

7.      John 16:8

1.      He is the Spirit of truth. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. (John 16:13 NLT) He teaches what He hears from in front of the throne about the past, present and future.
2.      He is the Counselor (or Comforter in some versions). But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26 RSV) Believers certainly need counsel and comfort now as well as in the days ahead.
3.      He is the Teacher in John 14:26 (above). But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything—and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you—abide in him. (1 John 2:27 ESV) Just as He reminded the disciples of everything so they could accurately recorded the gospels, so He teaches us today. Wherever the Word is banned or hard to find, the Holy Spirit is able to keep the Church alive and functioning.
4.      He is the Earnest - the promise or down payment on our inheritance. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession — to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14 NIV) There are times today when we need to remember that His Holy Spirit seals us forever, otherwise we would give up.
5.      He is our Power for witnessing. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8 NASB) His power is especially needed during times of persecution. For many, admitting allegiance to Christ will bring a death sentence, not only in the times of tribulation to come, but also in today’s world.
6.      He leads us. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 KJV) He leads us in paths of righteousness so that we won’t sin. This is vitally important for us in today’s age. Think also how those living through the tribulation years will need His leading when the world will be much more evil than it is now.
7.      He convicts the world. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. (John 16:8 NKJV) One way the Spirit convicts is through the Word of God. The book of Revelation is especially convicting when people finally realize that there will be a judgment and that they will be held accountable for their actions and rejecting Jesus.

Obviously there are more than seven functions of the Holy Spirit; however these are some that come to mind as they will be important for believes that are alive during the end times as well as for us in an ever increasingly evil age.

Jesus - The Son

What are the three titles given to Jesus in this passage?

See Isa 55:4 and John 18:37. Why is Jesus called the faithful witness?

Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. (Isa 55:4 KJV)

Long before the book of Revelation was written, Jesus was referred to as a witness. When He came the first time, He said that He was here to do the Father’s will. God the Father had announced through Isaiah that the Messiah would be a witness. He would speak what the Father wanted Him to say and would carry out that witness.

Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." (John 18:37 RSV)

It certainly makes sense that if one of the reasons that Jesus was born was to testify to the truth, then we had better listen!
He knew what God wanted of Him and He obeyed, knowing that it would lead to a horrible and painful death. In the end times as described in the Book of Revelation, many will have the same choice, expressing faith that will result in death. We are called in times of trouble to remember He was a faithful witness and to follow His example.

What does Jesus’ title of Firstborn of the Dead mean?

How does this help people going through tough times?

While there have been several people who were raised from the dead, they all died again. Jesus is the first born from the dead because He was raised with a new and glorified body. He will never die again. Being raised from the dead was one of His rewards for being a faithful witness.
First born implies that He isn’t going to be the only one raised in this way. 1 Corinthians 15 expounds in detail about His death and resurrection as well as the fact that we can also look forward to this reward. God invented carrots - things to help get us through troubled times and this is one of them. But His rewards are eternal carrots, not temporal things with which we eventually tire. The issues in the Book of Revelation are eternal and can be applied whether there is tribulation or not. Rev 1:18 adds that Jesus holds the keys to death and this adds to our hope. We don’t need to fear the things of this life - especially death.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt 10:28 ESV)

We need to have an eternal perspective and remember that Jesus has been through it all and has come out victorious. This is at the heart of getting through all tribulations, now and in the future.

Explain Jesus’ title, Ruler of the Kings.

Jesus is the prince (or ruler in many translations) of the kings of the earth. He has the authority to rule and it was given to Him long before His first coming.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6 KJV)

I just love this verse. It clearly identifies the Messiah with the same attributes of God the Father! I sometimes wonder why people can’t see the truth in this verse and can’t admit that Jesus and the Father are one. Anyway, it was foretold thousands of years ago.

… [God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph 1:20-23 NIV)

He is at this time exalted above all rulers. We don’t see it yet, but we will see it take place in the book of Revelation when He steps forward to exercise His right as ruler of all things. He now reigns as head over the Church, which guarantees that no matter what happens, the Church will never disappear regardless of persecution now or in the future.

Praise to Jesus - The Gospel

What are the two most basic elements of the Gospel revealed in these verses?

He loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood. Every time we share the basic facts of who God is (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and that we are freed from our sins by the blood of Jesus, we are giving praise to Jesus. The gospel is always at the heart of the Bible and is the reason there is a Book of Revelation. However, we can become so caught up in His splendor (which is good) that we forget His purpose for coming the first time. When we share His second coming we need to point people back to the first coming so that they won’t fear His second.

What is our future because of His salvation? See also 1 Peter 2:9.

Verse six also summarizes our inheritance and our service. The Book of Revelation is full of kingdoms and demonstrations of authority. We have His reassurance before all this unfolds that we who know the Lord are not included in the demonstration of God’s wrath toward these kingdoms since we are His priests and in His kingdom.
Today we ordain ministers to do the “work of the Lord.” Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to go out and ordain ministers so that they would do all the work. We often overlook the fact that we are all members of the priesthood of believers.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9 NASB)

How is our ministry as priest different from the priest in the Old Testament?

Priests were the intercessors between man and God; they performed certain duties that the common man was not allowed to do, and even some of the priests could not do all things. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and then only once a year. We are called to intercede for people in the most significant ways. First of all, we have the privilege of praying for people, sharing the gospel, and hopefully leading them to the Lord. It doesn’t stop there since there is nothing in the Bible that says we can’t baptize or even lead in sharing the Lord’s Supper. I’m not advocating that we should all run out and start our own little churches, I’m only pointing out that we often limit our service to the Lord because we aren’t “ordained.” Whenever we serve others, whether it is preparing for a communion service, washing baptism cloths, or teaching children, we are being priests as well. This brings glory to Him when we use the power He has given us to be priests. Giving Him praise is the way it will be – forever and ever.
May you be blessed as you ponder the Trinity and His shed blood that has freed us from sin and given us the power to serve Him as priests. May fear be far from you as your ponder His victory over death and our promised eternity with Him.

[1] From Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers