He who Overcomes, Part 4: Background Information

The seven churches mentioned in turn through Revelation Chapters 2 & 3 are all situated in a small geographic area in south west Turkey.

Geography of Revelation Churches

 

The letters that John wrote to them were given to him using Jesus’ own words which makes them quite special among all the New Testament writings.  Apart from some sentences in Acts to Paul, there are no other places in the NT where Jesus speaks after his ascension like this that I can recall.

A messenger could go to each church delivering the message for that church in the order in which they were written.  However there is no doubt that though each church had a specific message (or at least the angel of that church did), the message of each letter was of value to all the churches.

Each letter follows the same format.  Each starts with an address to the angel of the church.  What exactly that means is hard to know.  I like to think that it means that it is the culture /collective spirit of the church that is being addressed and not just individuals in it or the main pastor or anyone else who may or may not have responsibility in it.  It always amazes me how different churches led by the same Spirit can have different spiritual cultures – different angels if you like.  We spent 18 years in our first church together and coming up to 10 years in our present one (www.openarms.ie) so we have got to know both pretty well.  There is no doubt that the same Holy Spirit that led one also led the other but you would be hard pressed to come across two more different cultures.  It seems from the short descriptions that we have that each of the seven churches of Revelation were equally diverse.  Is this what is meant by the seven spirits of God (Rev. 3:1, 5:6)?

The overall format is:

1) A command to write to the angel of the church

2) A description of Jesus in his glorified state

3) A commendation or praise of the church (only Laodicea doesn’t get this)

4) A complaint or rebuke (but not to Smyrna or Philadelphia)

5) An exhortation or warning

6) A promise to the overcomer (or he who is victorious as the NIV puts it)

It is the last of these sections of the letters that I want to look at in this series of blogs.

It is interesting that the promises to overcomers are set in the context of letters to some local churches.  They didn’t have to be.  In some ways they don’t have anything to do with the messages to each church and could have stood on their own.  I believe that the reason they were put in this context is because the Holy Spirit is indicating that you probably won’t be an overcomer in any other context than full participation in the life of Christ’s body in a local church.  A local church is full of those that need a doctor – those who are well rarely come in (Matt. 9:12).  The spiritually poor, hungry and often lost people that are welcomed into a healthy church give lots of opportunities for those who have been made well by the grace of God to be overcomers.  If you can stick it in a local church it is because you have had to come over and over again to the throne of grace to find help in time of need.

I know, church can be wonderful, just saying…. stick around, overcome…..

Always remember, I could be wrong about anything I write here (1 Cor. 8:2).  Let the Holy Spirit instruct you and not me (Hebrews 8:11).  And ask your pastor or whoever you trust in this kind of thing if you need to.

[Acknowledgements to SpritandTruth.org for the picture but I have to confess I haven’t read their Revelation commentary – or anything else their writers have written (at least not yet)].

He who Overcomes, Part 3: Heaven is for Real

heaven

There is no point in me talking about the promises to overcomers unless you also share my understanding of what the Scriptures say about heaven.  Overcomers are at the end of their sometimes long, and always testing, journey with the Lord and are looking forward to rewards.  A lot of these rewards are related to the next life so it is good to know a bit more about that.  Scripture is full of revelations about heaven.

First let us draw a (biblical) distinction between the heaven and earth that now exists (2 Peter 3:5-7) and that which is to come, i.e. the new heaven and new earth:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  (Rev. 21:1).

(I’ve written in an another article about the significance of the mention of a sea in this verse.)

Everyone who lives on it is familiar with this old earth and the heaven we can see in all its glory around us on a starry night.  Most people also vaguely think about heaven in terms of where they might go when they die.  Very few think about the distinctions between the old and new heaven and even fewer think about the implications of there being a new earth to come.

nature_clouds_heaven_019281_

Heaven Now.

Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 that he knew someone (evidently himself) that was caught up to the third heaven or paradise. This implies that there are three heavens.  The rest of Scripture would lead one to believe that the first one is the heavens we see around us physically (Psalm 8:3), the second is where the prince of the power of the air and other various spirits rule (Ephesians 6:12).  The third is where God, Christ (and us in Christ) are seated.  There is an authoritarial hierarchy to these heavens, the third rules over the second and first, and the second rules over the first.

There is also a connection between each of these heavens and predestination and free will.  From the view point of the third heaven everything is predestined – we ought to live in that as much as possible (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25) – the devil looks up from the second heaven and knows his time is short and manipulates all he can in the first.  The first is all most people see and they think from there that their choices determine everything – as indeed they do.

Do you believe in predestination or free will?  The answer is yes.

Of course only God can make all three views true at the same time.  Equally, because all three viewpoints are true we quickly reach the inadequacy of intellectual comprehension and rational thought to describe it all.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I’ll continue to use my mind anyway whilst knowing its limits.

As far as the third heaven is concerned there are others who have gone into it and returned.  Jesus of course came from it and returned to it.  The others went to it and returned from it like Paul.  Moses looked into it when he went to the top of Mount Sinai and copied what he saw when he made the tabernacle (Exodus 24 – 31 and Hebrews 5:5).  Daniel saw Jesus presenting His blood to the Father on the mercy seat after His resurrection (Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 9:16 – 10:22), Isaiah saw the throne room and got his sins forgiven there (Isaiah 6:1-7) and Ezekial saw the motorised version of the Lord’s throne (Ezekial 1).  Zechariah saw Jesus there (Jesus in Greek = Joshua in Hebrew) (Zechariah 3-4).  Stephen looked into it when he was being stoned (Acts 7:55, 56). However the person who gives us the most detailed description of what it looks like is John in Revelation.  As homework, look up each of the passages above and note down all the similarities between what each of them saw.  I think  you will find that the same place is being described in each case.

[I’m quite convinced that others have gone to the third heaven and returned since like Colton Burpo (of Heaven is for Real) but, while interesting, I don’t think we need to go outside Scriptural examples to prove the point.]

picture-for-heaven-blog-post

The new heaven is not of this creation.  In the sequence of events detailed in Revelation 20-22, the old heaven and earth are done away with, the great white throne judgement occurs and then the new heaven and earth are ushered in.  There is a three fold aspect to this new heaven also.  The new heaven exists on the new earth, the new earth holds the third heaven (or inner sanctum) which is the heavenly Jerusalem.  Which of these heavens we can enter into can be deduced from the messages to the overcomers as well as other Scriptures which I shall deal with later in this series.

And of course there is the lake of fire also.  We’ll deal with that a bit too.

I’m going to write this disclaimer at the end of the rest of this series:  Always remember, I could be wrong about anything I write here (1 Cor. 8:2).  Let the Holy Spirit instruct you and not me (Hebrews 8:11).  And ask your pastor or whoever you trust in this kind of thing if you need to.

Knowing the Truth and Systematic Theology  

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter but it is the glory of kings to find it out.  Proverbs 25:2

Aragorn's considering that

I know the Truth because I know Jesus (John 14:6).

But of course that is not the same thing as saying I know every particular detail of everything there is to know.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a systematic theology that told you all or at least most of what there is to know about Jesus?  Of course there isn’t but that is not the same as saying there is no value in systematic theology.

Now by the phrase “systematic theology” I mean an intellectual construction of arguments and proofs that explain something about the Truth.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is systematic theology.  He builds argument upon proof to show the basic doctrines about the Gospel and judgement (chapters 1-4) the flesh and the spirit and the relationship between the two (chapters 6-8) as well as dealing with predestination (chapters 9-11) and other fundamental subjects.  These have been of great value to the church over the centuries and show just what a good systematic theology can do.  Paul had special revelation and built his theology on that and used the Old Testament to back up much of what he said.  Nothing he wrote was independent of his relationship with Jesus, and nothing was a lie about Him or was not found in Him.  Christ for Paul was the beginning and the end of all revelation as it ought also to be for all systematic theology.

Being a logical kind of thinker (or at least I think I am, others can judge) I love systematic theology.  It is so like the engineering discipline that I use every day.  There are fundamental things that are true about creation, maths and machines that have to be obeyed and considered if I am to do my job right.  As an example I was drawing a correlation recently between the stress being put on the processor of a computer and the interactions that are occurring between staff and other machines using it.  There is a direct cause and effect – the more interactions, the more stress.  However it turns out that there is not a linear relationship between the interactions and the processor stress as I initially thought.  Once the average daily peak utilisation of the computer processor (the CPU) rises above about 75% things begin to change.  If peaks hit 100% the CPU cannot handle the interactions in time and so they begin to back up.  A vicious cycle then begins to occur and the computer is in danger of failing to do its job correctly.  I’m an IT Capacity Manager, sounds great, but it needed the Chief Architect (not God, a human in this case called Gareth) to get me to look at this relationship between interactions and stress more closely before giving my conclusions.  You see I didn’t have all the facts, I had to go looking for more data and analyse it more closely to arrive at the truth.

So you can see, perhaps, why I like systematic theology.  If there is any subject that I like to dig deeper into and find out more about it has to be Jesus Christ.  And I believe there is a place for deductive reasoning and analysis when doing so.  The creation that Jesus Christ is in, through and for, and the ways he wants us to act in it are simple in one way:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
  • Love your neighbour as yourself.

But it can be more complex than a computer system as Paul’s letter to the Romans explores.  I want to explore God the way Paul did and I believe there is value and endless depths in doing so.

Having said that, it is essential that we recognise the limits that our intellects have.  Firstly, we actually can know nothing that is not revealed to us.  As Christians, creation and the Scriptures are our main means of revelation and prayer and preaching are the best delivery mechanisms (catalysts if you like) for revelation.  According to the Christian gospel you can’t even begin to have this kind of revelation unless you are born from above (John 3:3, 1 Cor. 2:9, 10).  Secondly, there is a limit to what the intellect can know about God.  As Paul, quoting from Isaiah, says at the end of his discourse on predestination in Romans: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgements and his ways past beyond finding out!  For who has known the mind of the Lord that he should be his counsellor?”

But we do have the mind of Christ.  And God does want us to use it.

The posts I am putting up currently about “He who Overcomes” are a form of systematic theology.  The subject matter is mainly eschatological and the conclusions are not always main stream evangelical but the application is here and now and the hope is eternal.  I’ve found the understanding of what an Overcomer is and the implications of the promises to an overcomer very helpful for the last 20 years or so since God first began to show me these things.  I’m really praying you will too.

There is a warning though, if you are looking for a debate I’m not interested.  If you think I am wrong prove it from the Scripture but please do it in love, I’m not that young anymore and I have a heart condition 🙂

He Who Overcomes Part 2: What is an Overcomer?

Everyone who loves the Lord is called by Him to be a disciple, next they are called to become a saint and then an overcomer. There is progression but there are also so many similarities between these terms that they could be thought of as similes. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, a saint is in fellowship with the Church and an overcomer keeps on coming over and over again to the Lord, s/he perseveres.word_of_god_jesus1

The Scriptures are only really written for disciples/ saints/ overcomers. It is unlikely that you will read them consistently, over and over again unless you are one. Only those who love the Lord will continue to receive from Him the freshness of His speaking through them. Saints don’t have to read the Scripture but they will probably want to. It has a way of getting in on you when you love Him. But like anything else it would be a mistake to be prescriptive about these things. A disciple doesn’t have to read the Scripture to be in a living and ongoing relationship with Jesus. But if you can read it you probably will if you are an overcomer.

So as you read through the New Testament note the progression and similarities between disciples, saints and overcomers. An overcomer comes last in the progression. As you persevere in being a disciple and a saint you become entitled to be called an overcomer – or at least you do if you persevere to the end, until the day you die in Christ.  As we explore the promises to overcomers we will see why that is important.

For those interested in this kind of thing, the word for overcomer in the Greek has the same root as nike – the brand that took its inspiration from the Greek god of victory. There is a finality to it which is very fitting.

To be continued …

He Who Overcomes, Part 1: A way to interpret Revelation

Some people say Revelation is purely symbolic.

Some people say it is literal.

Personally I consider most of the images of Revelation open to a literal interpretation, i.e. it was literally what events on earth looked like from the vantage point of heaven to a human transported there (i.e. John).

John is in the third heaven where Paul went, the same place Moses saw from the mountain and others like Daniel and Isaiah also saw.  He is in eternity looking down at events on earth occurring in time.  There is bound, even for this reason alone, to be considerable differences between what he saw of the same events in comparison to someone viewing them from an earthly viewpoint and in time.

I also believe that he was looking at the spiritual rather than the physical bodies of each participant.

This should make the imagery in Revelation more easily understood (perhaps ….).

Here are some thoughts:
Rising from the SeaThe sea is how time looks and it also gives a spiritual view of events on earth – c.f. Rev. 13, Daniel 7:2.  All the images in Revelation to do with this earth and time arise from the Sea.  In Chapter 13:1 we see a spiritual being (the dragon or Satan) standing on the shore of the Sea.  Jesus is of course enthroned above the Sea, seated at the right hand of the Father.

Animals represent creatures/ corporations with no relationship with God.

Humans represent creatures/ corporations capable of a relationship with God.

Corporations in this sense are collectives of people with one spirit, e.g. nations, empires, etc.

When Revelation speaks of life and death it is normally spiritual life and death that is meant. Of course, this is far more important than physical life and death (see Matt. 5:29-30).

Try it out and see if Revelation doesn’t make more sense if the images in it are actually images of the spirits of things not physical things, if the sequence of events recorded in Revelation is not in time (where it is linear) but in eternity (the events happen more like a disk).

In particular take note of Rev. 15:2 – those who can be seen rising up and standing on the Sea and praising God, I believe this is us the Church worshiping here and now.