Dear Student of the Word,
It's time to proceed to our second study from the book of Revelation. This week we finish up chapter one and look at the first part of chapter two, which addressed the church in Ephesus. Here is what I wrote in part of this week's study, which you can download in its entirety below:
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
1:17 – John had known Jesus in person. Although John was old and had served the Lord for many years, he was still overcome by the presence of God when He appeared. We should never grow accustomed to that presence. It should always inspire awe and a sense of reverent fear.
If Jesus didn’t want John to fear, why did He appear in such an overwhelming manner? Perhaps Jesus appeared in such a manner to add emphasis to the message and revelation He was delivering. John knew Jesus “in the flesh,” but when he saw Him as the revelator, he collapsed as a dead man. When you say, “Lord, I want Your presence,” do you understand that God may not come in a form that is comfortable or intimate?
I heard a pastor once say, “When God says to anyone ‘Fear not,’ it’s generally too late!” Think of some of the instances in the Bible when the Lord said, “Fear not.” At that point, something had already happened to make that person fearful! Saying, “Fear not,” doesn’t mean there’s the absence of fear, but the need to carry on in the midst of something fearful.
Jesus repeats what was stated in 1:8: He is the beginning, the Alpha, and the end, the Omega. Everything starts and ends with him. Thus, any spiritual pursuit that doesn’t start or end with an awareness of Jesus and His will is an exercise in futility.
1:18 – If anyone holds the keys, they are in charge of who gets in and when they are able to enter. They open and close a door at will or at least as someone directs them. What gave Jesus this authority? His resurrection gave Him that power! If you have put your faith in Christ, don’t exalt any wisdom or system above what God and His word have to say to you about how to live your life. Jesus holds the keys and used His authority to open the door for you to God the Father. He is worthy of you absolute allegiance above labor union, tribe, family, culture, country, ethnic identity, or philosophy.
Yet Jesus said that He had given the keys to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This verse has sparked much debate and controversy, but it seems that Jesus has given the keys to the Church so that it can open the doors for as many as possible to enter God’s kingdom through faith in Christ. This is further explained later in Matthew:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
How are you using the keys that God has entrusted to His church?
Jesus said He had the keys to death and Hades (Hades is just a term for the realm of the dead and not for hell). That is real power: to assign people to their eternal place of reward or punishment. Imagine what this meant to the early Church that was experiencing persecution. Jesus had the real power. Even though temporal rulers could kill someone in the flesh, they could not kill anyone in spirit. Jesus rules supreme there because He holds the keys.
By the way, if you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, then your faith is powerful! You can believe God for anything.
By Jesus’ own testimony, He was dead. He did not just look like a dead man or exist in some coma-like state. He was dead. Now also by His own testimony, He is alive forever.
1:19 – Because Jesus was in charge, He ordered John to write down what he saw about the past, present and future. How is your journal coming? Are you behind in your entries? Don’t give up; keep writing! Nothing is too simple to record for your future reference
1:20 – Scripture interprets itself, and if it doesn’t, then we should be careful before we assign a meaning. This is especially true in Revelation. Much of the book employs apocalyptic language, which is figurative and flamboyant. When Revelation wants to define its images, however, it does so. When it does not, then we are best served by not forcing a meaning on those images that the Spirit never intended.
Here we are informed that the seven stars represent the seven angels of the churches to which the revelation is addressed. Here is an example where Jesus explained what the stars represented. When the explanation is not present, do not impose one on the image.
It seems that each of these churches had an angel assigned to it. Who this angel was, we can only speculate. We cannot assume that they were guardian angels, and we cannot assume that this referred to the church leaders, for the word “angel” can simply be translated messenger. Of course, the ultimate messenger was Jesus, so this could be a reference to Him.
Let’s establish at this point that there is much about this book of Revelation we don’t understand and never will. It is best not to try and force an interpretation where there isn’t one that is clear or convincing. It is tempting to appear to have a lifeline from heaven that is imparting special revelation given to few others, but that is a dangerous role to assume. There is plenty in Revelation that is clear upon which we are safe to dwell without pursuing fantasies concerning unexplained images used to create an affect, not a doctrine.
The recipients of Revelation were the churches of Jesus in many locations, all under pressure from persecution. What we have seen thus far is the existence of another spiritual realm where Jesus rules supreme because He conquered death and hell. There is no mention of the specific world governments; they have no place in the spiritual focus on His church, yet the work of the enemy of the church is often carried out through earthly kings and governments.
Jesus’ main concern wasn’t politics, commerce, economics or even individuals. His concern is His church and its condition, which for the most part wasn’t healthy as you will read. That is still Jesus’ concern today and in some ways the condition of the Church hasn’t improved.
Are you suffering? Have you been trying to avoid the suffering that is part of your development and discipleship? Perhaps it would be good to read Peter’s first epistle. It has much to say about suffering and how to handle it. As you read, write down what you learn in your journal.
You must always work at and grow in your knowledge of God. To that end, choose a spiritual book, video, or audio message that has a spiritual perspective and read or listen to it this week. Let God speak to you through something that talks about Him. Let this reading or listening supplement your Bible reading. Don’t forget to write down what you “see” in your journal.
As always, I welcome your comments to this week's study. For additional Bible studies, check out my website archive, which contains a complete collection of all my verse-by-verse New Testament studies, along with the daily devotional entitled Your Life Matters: Daily Reflections from the Book of Psalms. Thank you and soon I will begin sending you my edited studies from James' epistle. After that, we will only have the book of Revelation to complete before the entire New Testament is on the site where this study is posted.