Saturday, June 29, 2013

How the Christian church thrives amidst adversity

Revelation 1:10 "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet."

In yesterday's post we considered how the Christian church survives.  We noted that the church is able to survive because of three things spoken of in Revelation 1:9a - "I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus....".  Tribulation or persecution is how the Christian church is deepened, the kingdom is how the Christian church is motivated and perseverance is the calling the church has to endure to the end.  Jesus promised in passages such as Matthew 16:18 and Paul wrote in passages such as Ephesians 4:11-12 that God's grace would equip and ensure the church's victory and incapability of ultimate defeat.  In today's post we want to consider how the church can take God's ordained "survival kit" and thrive in the midst of adversity.  In this post we will note two truths brought out by John concerning a thriving Christianity: Reliance upon God's Word and Revolving ourselves around Jesus Christ.  

The Church thrives when relying upon God's Word.  Revelation 1:10-11
We read these words in Revelation 1:11 saying, Write in a book what you see, 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."  We must remember that the churches to which John wrote were under increasing persecution by the Roman Emperor Domitian. New Testament Scholar Merrill Tenney writes: Domitian was hard by nature and suspicious of rivals.  Lacking the geniality of his brother Titus, he made numerous enemies.  When their plots were discovered he was pitiless in his revenge.  The last years of his reign were a nightmare....". 1

What was Christ's words to John to get the churches to thrive amidst difficulty? Simply put: "write in a book".  Whenever the church of the Living God turns back to the Book, the Bible, that is when she thrives.  Dr. Steve Lawson, a Southern Baptist pastor and author notes: "Doing God's work God's way requires an unwavering commitment to feeding people God's Word through relentless biblical preaching and teaching."2  

Christianity in general and Baptists in particular have been known simply as "a people of the Book." Quite literally we believe that the Bible is the only Book on planet earth revealed from God and through which God speaks forth to call sinner's to repentance and saints to greater commitment.  The  Book of Revelation is one book in God's great encyclopedia of 65 other revealed "books" which when considered together equal "The Book", the Bible.  We turn to the Book of God to meet Jesus Christ, the chief subject of it.  The Christian church can only thrive when she is relying upon God's Word, but notice secondly...

The Christian Church thrives when she revolves around Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:12-16
Why is it that the church must turn to the living book of God? Because only when I turn to the scriptures can I meet and hear the voice of the Living Christ.  In Revelation 1:12-16 we see a seven-fold description of Jesus Christ in His post-resurrected, glorified state.  Commentator Steve Gregg notes: "The description of Christ in verses 13-16 is the only description the Bible gives of His features, though this (like the descriptions of Revelation 5:6; 14:14; 19:11-13) is without doubt a symbolic rather than a literal description."3

John would had been writing to churches composed of Christians from Jewish and Greek/Roman (Greco-Roman) background.  Revelation 1:13-15 employs the imagery of the Jewish Old Testament temple such as the Golden Lampstand (compare Exodus 25) and High Priestly garment with its golden sash and flowing white robe.  The imagery of Christ's head and hair "white like wool" fits the "Son of Man" vision from the Jewish prophet Daniel in Daniel 7:13.  Hence Christ is reminding those of Jewish background that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy and expectation.  In short - Jesus Christ is to be central to Jewish Christians.

To the Greco-Roman Christians who were familiar with the cult of the Emperor, Revelation 1:16 would had been startling.  Many of the symbols and pictures used in Revelation are purposefully revealed by God to combat the false pagan system of emperor worship that would had been familiar to John's readers.  For example, the coinage of those days had the image of Emperor Domitian's deceased son, sitting on a globe of heaven playing with seven stars.4  The following picture is of the coin in question:

The revelation given to John for the churches was saying that the one to be worshipped is Christ the Living Son of God, not a dead imitation.  John's readers would had recognized what John was saying.  Much like what Jesus did in using a coin to point people to the fact of His authority (Matthew 22:18-21), John most likely does the same here to unfold the Sovereign authority of Jesus Christ over His church and the world. 

Furthermore, Jesus Christ is Lord over His church and Lord over the Roman and Greek world.  No other deity exists and no other Supreme Ruler of the Cosmos exists save the One God who is revealed perfectly by the Son. Hence Jesus Christ is also the center of Greco-Roman Christian life.  Whether Greek/Roman or Jewish, Jesus Christ is central and Supreme (or should be) in the life of the church composed of both.  In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, and thus he is to be central to every Christian and every church - period!  

Application for you and I today For you and I living in this 21st century, Jesus Christ is Supreme Lord and center of life.  The historical details unfolded above provide the backdrop to the doctrinal truths of Christ's three-fold office of Priest, Prophet and King revealed throughout the Bible.  Revelation 1:12-16 uses these three offices to underscore why Jesus Christ is necessary for the church to thrive.

a. Revelation 1:12-13 underscores the fact that He is the High Priest who represents His people before the Father in Heaven. 

b. Revelation 1:14-15 uses the imagery from Daniel 7 to underscore Christ being the Prophet who reveals the Father's glory to His people by way of the scriptures here on earth.  Assumed in Christ's revelation of Himself is the co-equal activity of the Holy Spirit who makes the voice and Person of Christ known.

c. Revelation 1:16 thirdly shows Jesus Christ to be the Supreme Emperor or King over His church and creation.  By right He reigns invisibly and when He returns he will reign by fact and sight.  The truth of the "sharp two edged sword" is repeated again near the end of Revelation in Revelation 19:15.   

In order for the church at large and for Christians individually to thrive in the midst of adversity, we must rely upon the scriptures and revolve around Jesus Christ.  May the Lord be with us as we aim ourselves toward this two-fold goal.  
1. Merrill C. Tenney. New Testament Survey. WM.B Eerdmans Publishing. 1985. Page 12.  

2. Steven J. Lawson. Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching. Moody Publishers. 2003. Page 27

3. Steven Gregg. Revelation: Four Views a Parallel Commentary. Nelson. 1997. Page 59

4. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Page 45.  Dr. Walvoord in his commentary gives a great description of this coin which I find helpful and insightful. 

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