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 15 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 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).

Revelation can be very hard to understand. John was in the spirit in eternity. Does Revelation make more sense if what John saw and describes are actually the spirits of nations, empires and kings and not physical views of those things? What 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.

Revelation 12 and the great casting down

“Up from the grave He rose with a mighty triumph over His foes!”  The words of the old hymn reflect a theme which is well known, that of Jesus’ triumph over the devil when He rose again.  So here is another take on it inspired by studying Revelation 12 (as part of my ongoing study of Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hays).

In the Old Testament Satan turns up in some unusual places:

The Garden of Eden (Genesis 3)

Among the sons of God in the presence of the Lord (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7)

Standing before the Angel of the Lord accusing Joshua and being rebuked by the Lord (Zechariah 3:1-2)

And is he the one among all the host of heaven that Micaiah saw in 1 Kings 22:19-22?

But whatever his place in the Old Testament there is no doubt about his place after Jesus was risen and glorified.  Revelation 12 makes it clear:  Israel bears a Child and that Child is caught up to God and His throne and now, because Jesus is there, there is no longer any place for Satan nor his angels.

“Now salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of the brethren, who accused them before our God day and night has been cast down.  And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives to the death.  Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea!  For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Rev. 12:9-12)

Rising from the Sea

As people who are born from above we ought to walk on the Sea in heaven (Rev. 15:2) and not live beneath its surface nor be earth bound in our thinking.  There, before the throne, sprinkled on the mercy seat, the blood speaks a better thing that Abel’s did.  His blood cried out for vengeance, Jesus’ blood cries out “Forgive!”  Mercy triumphs over judgement.

What is your testimony?  Can you say: “This is what God did for me today” or “This is what He spoke to me today” or “This is how I obeyed His calling on my life today.”  Today is the day of salvation.  The word of your testimony is that God is alive and active in your life constantly pushing back the devil’s claims of this age and his way of looking at things.  The word of your testimony says that you have direct communion through the Holy Spirit with God the Father because of the finished work of Jesus.  This defeats one of the devil’s main lies that you have to go through some man with a collar (or without) to find God.

Is your life constantly laid down for another in Christ?  Do you continually walk in the death of Christ so that you may also know His resurrection? (Phil. 3:10-11). This is the great challenge for comfortable Christendom in this age.

Oh God!  May I also be given the grace to walk in the light of heaven with my eyes fixed on the throne where Jesus is seated at the right hand of God when the devil turns up with a fair face and in that delusion that, if possible, would even deceive the elect! (Matthew 24:24 and 1 Thessalonians 2:10 -12)