The Book of Revelation — 4:1-6a

Today our family completed its study of Revelation 4:1-6a in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The passage describes John’s being ushered into the throne room in heaven. Yesterday we read Connelly’s exposition of it and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it, and today we considered Connelly’s look at alternative views as to when the Rapture will occur.

1 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

This is the beginning of the prophetic section of Revelation. Connelly says that John’s seeing a door into heaven standing open and his being invited to come up hints at the Rapture, Jesus’ return in the air to catch away believers. “From this point on, John sees events on the earth from the perspective of heaven—just like the church will see the events of the Tribulation unfold. The church does not appear again on earth until Jesus’ return is told about in Revelation 19. Believers or saints are mentioned in the intervening chapters, but these are references to people who believe in Jesus during the Tribulation. The church-age believers are taken to heaven in the rapture before the Tribulation begins.” (Douglas Connelly, The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007, pages 60-61) Not all scholars agree with Connelly that the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation. Connelly summarizes in a break-out section the main alternative views of when the Rapture occurs, which we discussed this morning and which I’ll comment on below after the Serendipity Bible questions.

On being caught up into heaven by the Spirit, John sees a throne with someone with a glorious appearance sitting on it whom Revelation 4:8 identifies as the Lord God Almighty. Around the throne are twenty-four other thrones with twenty-four elders sitting on them. Different suggestions have been made as to who the elders are–an order of angels, the saints of all ages, the church. Connelly argues that John’s calling them elders indicates that they are humans and not angels and that their being dressed in white and having crowns of gold on their heads, things which Jesus had promised to overcomers in his letters to the seven churches, suggests that they are leaders or representatives of the church. All church-age believers have been raptured, clothed in garments of purity, and given crowns of reward, and they are now seated around God’s throne to see and participate in what happens next.

Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

These questions are the DIG questions asked about the passage from the questions on Revelation 4 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups with a fourth question added to the three questions asked in DIG, 2. The answers are what I remember of how we answered them.

DIG, 1. Where does this scene actually take place: In the afterlife? In some perfect order of things after this world has passed away? Or on the level of spiritual reality here and now (as in (Eph 2:6), where good and evil are unmasked to be seen for what they really like?
After initial disagreement, we agreed that the scene actually takes place in the afterlife.]
DIG, 2. Who is the figure on the throne? What is he like? What are the 24 elders like? (Note: 24 seems to represent all of God’s people, coming from the 12 tribes before Christ and the 12 apostles after Christ; see 21:12-14.) [Connelly says, “I think the best view of who these elders are is that they are leaders or representatives of the entire church.” Who do you think that the 24 elders are?]
The figure on the throne is God the Father. He is glorious. We didn’t discuss what the 24 elders looked like. We thought that they are either the church or all of God’s people.
Of the four scholars whose commentaries I’ve been consulting regularly in our study, Craig S. Keener thinks that they are God’s people as a whole, Robert H. Mounce thinks that they are an order of angels, John F. Walvoord thinks that they represent the church, and Warren W. Wiersbe thinks that they symbolize the people of God in heaven.

Views of When the Rapture Will Occur

Connelly’s view of when the Tribulation occurred is called the pre-Tribulation rapture view. In a break-out section he describes three other views: the post-Tribulation rapture view, the mid-Tribulation rapture view, and the partial rapture view. According to the post-Tribulation rapture view, at the end of the Tribulation Christians are raptured and glorified and immediately return with Jesus. According to the mid-Tribulation rapture view, about the middle of the Tribulation before the most severe judgment occurs Christians are raptured. According to the partial rapture view, before the Tribulation prepared Christians are raptured but unprepared Christians are left behind to go through the Tribulation.

In our group study we considered just the two most popular views, the pre-Tribulation and the post-Tribulation rapture views. What we did was to read the arguments for each presented by Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), a book recommended by Connelly for use in studying the book of Revelation despite Grudem’s favouring the post-Tribulation rapture view. Below are brief statements of the arguments. For a fuller account of them, see https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/the-time-of-the-tribulation/.

Arguments for the pre-Tribulation rapture view:
“1. The entire period of the tribulation will be a time of the outpouring of God’s wrath on all the earth. Therefore it would not be appropriate for Christians to be on earth at that time.
“2. Jesus promises in Revelation 3:10, ‘I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth.’ This passage indicates that the church will be taken out of the world before that hour of trial comes.
“3. If Christ returns after the tribulation and defeats all his enemies, then where will the unbelievers come from who are necessary to populate the millennial kingdom? The pretribulation position, however, envisions thousands of Jewish believers who have become Christians during the tribulation and who will go into the millennial kingdom in nonglorified bodies.
“4. This view makes it possible to believe that Christ could come at any moment (his coming before the tribulation) and yet that many signs must be fulfilled before he comes (his coming after the tribulation, when the signs will be fulfilled.” (Grudem, page 1132; Grudem gives responses to these arguments on pages 1132-33.)

An argument made by those holding the pre-Tribulation rapture view not noted by Grudem is that an interval is needed between Christ’s taking away the church before the tribulation and his coming to the earth with it after the tribulation. Henry Clarence Thissen observes: “It [the Scriptures] reveals that there are two things at least that must take place between these two events: the judgment of the believers and the marriage supper of the Lamb…. In addition to these events in heaven, there are also developments on earth in preparation for the kingdom. God will be preparing a company of redeemed to enter into the millennial kingdom. This will include believing Jew and Gentile alike.” (Henry Clarence Thissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1979, page 375).

Arguments for the post-Tribulation rapture view:
“1. The New Testament nowhere clearly says that the church will be taken out of the world before the tribulation.… Moreover, it is very difficult to understand 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the only passage that explicitly speaks od the fact that the church will be ‘caught up’ (or ‘raptured’), to speak of the idea of a secret coming.
“2. The tribulation is quite clearly linked with the Lord’s return in some passages [such as Matthew 24:29-31].
“3. The idea of two separate returns of Christ (once for his church before the tribulation and then seven years later with his church to bring judgment on unbelievers) [is nowhere] explicitly taught in any passage, but it is simply an inference drawn from differences between various passages that describe Christ’s return from different perspectives. But ut is not at all difficult to see these passages as referring to a single event occurring at one time.” (Grudem, pages 1134-35)

The denomination to which my family belongs, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador, favours the pre-Tribulation rapture view, saying this in its General Constitution and By-Laws (1998, page 8): “The Rapture according to the Scriptures, takes place before what is known as the Great Tribulation. Thus, the saints, who are raptured at Christ’s coming, do not go through the Great Tribulation.”

However a leading scholar in a sister denomination, the Assemblies of God, gives this advice: “Let us not allow differences of opinions with respect to the time of the Rapture separate believers…. A ‘crown of righteousness’ is not limited to those who have right ideas about the Rapture, but is promised ‘to all who have longed for his appearing’ (2 Tim. 4:8). The commendation that we all want to hear is ‘well done, good and faithful servant!’ So let us all be about the Lord’s business and, at the same time, keep that longing for, that expectation of Christ’s coming, which might take place at any moment.” (Stanley M. Horton, Our Destiny, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1996, pages 133-34)

Advertisements

The Book of Revelation — 3:14-22

This evening our family completed its study of Revelation 3:14-22 in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The passage consists of a letter from Jesus to the church at Laodicea. We read Connelly’s exposition of it Thursday morning and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it this evening.

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”

(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Jesus opens his letter his letter to the church in Laodicea by describing himself as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “:Amen” and “faithful and true witness” emphasize the certainty of Jesus’ promises. “The beginning of God’s creation” doesn’t mean that Jesus is a created being. Craig S. Keener explains, “‘Beginning’ is in fact a divine title in Revelation, identical with ‘the First and the Last’ (21:6; 22:13—explicit divine titles in Isaiah (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12)” (Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000, page 162).

Craig S. Keener explains how Jesus’ describing the church at Laodicea as “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold” would ring a bell with it. “Laodicea lacked its own water supply, having no direct access to the cold water of the mountains or the hot water of the nearby springs…to the north.… It had to pipe its water [which] had grown lukewarm by the time of its arrival. The point of lukewarm water is simply that it is disgusting, in contrast to the more directly useful “hot” and “cold” water [for bathing medicinal purposes and for drinking, respectively]; all the churches would plainly understand this warning.” (Keener, page 159)

Thus Jesus’ describing the church in Laodicea as lukewarm indicates that he found it disgusting. He tells it, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” Each of the other six churches received at least some words of commendation from Jesus, but not the church in Laodicea. Connelly attributes Jesus’ reaction to it to its being self-righteous, relying on its own good works, and self-deceived, not seeing itself for what it really is. It says, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

In love Jesus tells the church in Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Robert H. Mounce comments, “It is frequently noted that Laodicea prided itself on three things: financial wealth, an extensive textile industry, and a popular eye-salve which was exported around the world. It is hard not to see here…a direct allusion to Laodicea’s banking establishment, medical school, and textile industry.” (Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977, page 126)

Then Jesus pictures himself standing at the door of the Laodicean church (or of a human heart) and knocking. He promises, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” and “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Although in light of the second promise some interpret the first promise as eschatological, in light of the preceding appeal to repent others interpret it as present. I agree with the latter but think that the present fellowship with Jesus that it pictures is a foretaste of how we will spend eternity.

Connelly concludes his exposition of Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea thus: “Before you shake your head in disgust at the Laodicean church, ask yourself one question: Would I be comfortable in the pews at Laodicea? It’s possible to do all the right religious things and still be lost. You can pray and read the Bible and attend church. You may even be in the leadership of your church, but you have never believed in Jesus as Savior and Lord. What pleases God is not all our religious garbage but faith in his Son alone. If you are trusting your religious activities to make you right with God, it won’t work.” (Douglas Connelly, The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007, page 57)

“Taken as a whole the messages to the seven churches of Asia constitute a comprehensive warning from Christ Himself as embodied in the exhortations to each of the churches. There is warning to the churches of today to ‘hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” The dangers are of losing our first love (Ephesus), fear of suffering (Smyrna), doctrinal compromise (Pergamum), moral compromise (Thyratira), spiritual deadness (Sardis), not holding fast (Philadelphia), and lukewarmness (Laodicea). “The invitation given long ago to the seven churches of Asia to hear what the Spirit says is extended to men today. A loving God would have men hear and believe, turn from their idols of sin and self, and look in faith to the Son of God, who loved them and gave himself for them.” (John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966, pages 99-100) May we hear what the Jesus is saying to us and act on it!

Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

These questions are those asked about Revelation 3:14-22 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The answers for DIG 1-2 are what I remember of how we answered them and for DIG 3 is my answer. Our answers to the REFLECT questions are personal and so I haven’t shared them.

DIG, 1. What does “the faithful and true” witness see when he looks at the Laodicean church? How does the church view itself? Why the contrast?
The “faithful and true” witness sees the Laodicean church as “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” but it sees itself as rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing. The difference is that it is looking at its religious activities but Jesus is looking at its heart.
DIG, 2. What does Jesus tell them to do in verse 18? Why? What does this say about true wealth?
Jesus tells them in verse 18 to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” This says that true wealth is what we obtain from Jesus.
DIG, 3. How would you describe Christ, based on what you have read so far in this book? How does this expand the picture of Jesus in the Gospels?
Based on Jesus’ appearance and words to John in Revelation and on his description of himself in his letters to the seven churches, Jesus is the glorious Son of God who has always been and always will be. He died and came to life again. He rules creation, is in the midst of the churches and upholds their pastors, and determines where we’ll spend eternity. This makes clearer than the Gospels do that Jesus is God Himself and not just His messenger.

REFLECT, 1. If Jesus took your spiritual temperature today, what would he find? Why?
REFLECT, 2. What is Jesus waiting for at the door of your life? Why not let him in?

Key Events in the Life of Peter — Encountered Simon the Sorcerer

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home studied the following account of Peter’s encounter with Simon the sorcerer.

14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” 24 And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

(Acts 8:14-24, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

The previous meeting I’d provided the group with some of the questions asked about the passage in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups (Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), my having permission from Serendipity House to reproduce material from it for small group use. I also suggested that they look at Mark Copeland’s summary of, outline of, and review questions on the passage at http://executableoutlines.com/acts/acts_08.htm.

In yesterday evening’s meeting I introduced our study by reading Acts 8:5-8 and giving some background information about the Samaritans. In preparation for the latter I read the articles on “Samaritans” in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans) and my Bible encyclopedias. Then we read Acts 8:9-24 and discussed the questions which I’d passed out in the previous meeting (see below). I closed by reading Acts 8:25 and noting Peter’s willingness to accept change.

DIG Questions from Serendipity Bible for Groups (Serendipity House, 1988):
1. What do Simon and Philip have in common (vv. 5-11)? How are they different? How has the crowd responded to both men in the past? [This question provides background to vv. 14-24
Both Simon and Philip performed signs that amazed people. However Simon performed them through sorcery but Philip performed them by the Holy Spirit, and Simon boasted that he was someone great but Philip proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ. The crowd was amazed by what both men did and gave attention to them.
2. Given that the Samaritans were considered to be outcasts by the Jews (see Jn 4:9), why would Peter and John come to them?
We thought that Peter and John came to the Samaritans to verify that they’d actually accepted the gospel preached by Philip. We also noted that Jesus had a favourable attitude towards the Samaritans, as shown by his encounter with a Samaritan woman recorded in John 4:1-42 and his telling the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.
3. In light of the Jewish-Samaritan division, why would the Father delay pouring out his Spirit until Peter and John were on the scene? Do you think this was more a lesson for the Samaritans or for the apostles?
We suggested two reasons, that God gave special powers to the apostles and so that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem would believe that the Samaritans had really received the Holy Spirit. We agreed that the delay was more a lesson for the apostles than for the Samaritans.
4. In what ways does Simon’s reaction to the apostles (vv. 18-19) show his deep misunderstanding about the gospel?
Simon’s reaction to the apostles showed that he didn’t realize that the Holy Spirit was a free gift from God and not something that could be bought.
5. Do you think that Simon’s words in verse 24 reveal a change in his heart? Why or why not?
We didn’t agree on this, some thinking that Simon’s words revealed a change in his heart and others thinking that they didn’t reveal a change in his heart because his concern seems to be to escape punishment and not about his relationship with God.

From REFLECT Questions in Serendipity Bible for Groups (see above):
2. What was your primary motivation in first receiving Jesus Christ as Savior? What is your primary motivation for continuing in the faith?
My primary motivation in receiving Jesus Christ as Saviour as a child was to have Jesus come into my heart, and my primary motivation for continuing in the faith is to continue to have that relationship with Jesus. I won’t share the answers given by the others in the group as they’re personal.
4. How has jealousy of other Christians hindered your faith?
Jealousy of other Christians hasn’t hindered my faith. The others in the group gave a similar answer.

The Book of Revelation — 3:7-13

This morning our family completed its study of Revelation 3:7-13 in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The passage consists of a letter from Jesus to the church at Philadelphia. We read Connelly’s exposition of it yesterday morning and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it this morning.

7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

8 “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”

(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Matthew Henry introduces his exposition of Jesus’ letter to the church in Philadelphia by commenting on Philadelphia’s meaning—brotherly love: “We can hardly suppose that this name was given to it after it received the Christian religion, and that it was so called from that Christian affection that all believers have, and should have, one for another, as the children of one Father and the brethern of Christ; but rather that it was its ancient name, on account of the love and kindness which the citizens had and showed to each other as a civil fraternity. This was an excellent spirit, and, when sanctified by the grace of the gospel, would render it an excellent church, as indeed they were, for here is no one fault found with this church, and yet, doubtless, there were faults in it of common infirmity; but love covers such faults.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, volume 6, page 1133)

In his letter to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus describes himself as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” Thus he is able to set before the church “an open door, which no one is able to shut.” “The key of David” is “a metaphorical expression indicating complete control over the royal household. Specifically, in view of the following clauses, it means the undisputed authority to admit or exclude from the New Jerusalem…. It may be an intentional contrast with the practice of the local synagogue in excommunicating Christian Jews [suggested by verse 9]” (Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977, page 116)

The church in Philadelphia is commended by Jesus with the words, “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Some have taken “but little power” as criticism. “It is obviously short of a full commendation, but it is evident that the thrust of the passage is that Christ recognizes in the Philadelphian church at least a significant degree of spiritual power which comes from God, and this assured them a continuance of their testimony through the open door which He had set before them. Also they are commended for having kept His Word; that is, they had guarded and kept the truth of God as it was committed to them and had not departed from the faith, that system of doctrine which was held by the apostolic church.” (John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966, page 85)

Because of the faithfulness of the church in Philadelphia, Jesus makes these promises to it:
– “I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not…come and bow down before your feet.” This refers to unbelieving Jews who had likely expelled the believers from the local synagogue and who were opposing the witness of the Gospel in Philadelphia. Although “bow down” could be translated “worship,” here it means that the unbelieving Jews would be constrained to show respect to the believers—“It does not mean necessarily that they themselves would be converted to Christ, but that, as they had been accustomed to revile and oppose those who were true Christians, they would be constrained to come and render them the respect due to those who were sincerely endeavouring to serve their Maker” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1962, page 1567).
– “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” Connelly says, “That is the clearest promise that the church will not enter the Tribulation…seven years of judgment on the earth in the future.” However some interpret the passage as just meaning that Jesus will protect believers during the Tribulation. Connelly summarizes the main views of the church and the tribulation when considering Revelation 4:1-6a, and I’ll do so then too.
– “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God…and my own new name.” Warren W. Wiersbe comments, “The symbolism in this verse would be especially meaningful to people who live in constant danger of earthquakes [as was Philadelphia]: the stability of the pillar, no need to go out or to fell, a heavenly city that nothing would destroy. Ancient cities often honored great leaders by erecting pillars with their names inscribed on them. God’s pillars are not made of stone, because there is no temple in the heavenly city (Rev. 21:22). His pillars are faithful people who bear His name for His glory (Gal. 2:9).” Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989, page 579)

“ I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” stresses the need for the members of the church in Philadelphia to persevere to be recipients of the promises. Commentators disagree on what a Christian’s losing his or her crown means. Craig S. Keener asserts, “The ‘crown’ is a victor’s wreath appropriate to overcomers…and losing it means roughly the same as the warning to the preceding church: exclusion from the kingdom (3:5)” (Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000, page 151). On the other hand Connelly claims, “Compromising our commitment doesn’t mean we will miss out on the rapture; it means we will lose our rewards, our crown of recognition, given by Jesus to those who hold fast to him in faithful obedience to the end” (Douglas Connelly, The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007, page 52). Personally I find the former a more natural interpretation.

Connelly closes his exposition of Jesus’ letter to the church in Philadelphia with an appeal to us based on Jesus’ telling it that he had set before it an open door: “What doors of special opportunity stand open in your life? If you see an open door, don’t hesitate. Step through it. The door was put there by Jesus. The door may seem small and unimpressive, but as you are faithful in small things, God will give you opportunity for larger things. God is absolutely loyal to us. How can we be less than wholeheartedly loyal to him?” (Connelly, page 53)

Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

These questions are those asked about Revelation 3:7-13 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The answers for the DIG questions are what I remember of how we answered them. Our answers to the REFLECT questions are personal and so I haven’t shared them.

DIG, 1. What does the “key of David” open (vv. 7-8; see Isa 22:20-24; Mt 16:19; 1Co 16:9; Rev 3:20; 4:1)?
In Isaiah 22:20-24 the key opens the palace door; in Matthew 16:19 the keys allow entrance to the kingdom of heaven; in 1 Corinthians 16:9 the door is to effective ministry; in Revelation 3:20 the door is to one’s heart; and in Revelation 4:1 the door is to heaven. We took it has opening the door to heaven or to the new Jerusalem referred to in verse 12.
DIG, 2. How is this church able to persevere? Describe their enemies. How does their reward (v. 12) fit their faithfulness?
The church in Philadelphia was able to persevere because it had a little strength and because it kept Jesus’ word and didn’t deny his name. Their enemies are unbelieving Jews who likely expelled them from the local synagogue. Their faithfulness to Jesus is rewarded by their entering and remaining forever in the new Jerusalem.

REFLECT, 1. What open doors has Christ put before you? How have you taken advantage of the pathways he’s made available to you?
REFLECT, 2. What are some closed doors he’s placed in your career? In you social life? In your schooling? How have you responded to each of these closed doors?
REFLECT, 3. In what ways are you like the Christians in Philadelphia? Unlike them? Why?
REFLECT, 4. What is the Spirit saying to you now?

The Book of Revelation — 3:1-6

This morning our family completed its study of Revelation 3:1-6 in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The passage consists of a letter from Jesus to the church at Sardis. We read Connelly’s exposition of it yesterday morning and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it this morning.

“1 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ “

(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Jesus describes himself as “him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” Warren W. Wiersbe explains how the description is especially suited to the church in Sardis. He understands “the seven spirits of God” to be the Holy Spirit (for other views, see https://opentheism.wordpress.com/2018/12/30/the-book-of-revelation-14-8/) and observes, “The Holy Spirit gives life to the church, and life is exactly what the people at Sardis needed.… All of the church’s man-made programs can never bring life, any more than a circus can resurrect a corpse. The church was born when the Spirit descended on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and its life comes from the Spirit. When the Spirit is grieved, the church begins to lose life and power. When sin is confessed and members get right with God and with each other, then the Spirit infuses new life—revival!” Revelation identifies “the seven stars” as the angels of the seven churches, whom Wiersbe understands to be their pastors and warns, “Sometimes it is a pastor’s fault that a church is dying, and the Lord of the church must remove the star and put another in his place.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989, page 576)

Robert H. Mounce summarizes the spiritual condition of the church in Sardis thus: “The church at Sardis comes under the most severe denunciation of the seven. Apparently untroubled by heresy and free from outside opposition, it had so completely come to terms with its pagan environment that although it retained the outward appearance of life, it was spiritually dead.” (Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977, page 109). Craig S. Keener suggests that the reason that the church at Sardis was free from persecution despite Sardis’ being full of sophisticated paganism was that in contrast to the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia (Revelation 2:9, 3:9) Jesus’ followers coexisted peacefully with the Jewish community in Sardis and thus, because of that community’s being significant and powerful, with the city establishment as a whole (Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000, pages 142-43).

Jesus doesn’t praise anything about the church in Sardis as a whole. He commends a faithful few, but to the church as a whole he says, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” and “I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Connelly describes the church’s condition thus: “The people in the church at Sardis prayed, b ut their prayers never connected with the Lord. Prayer was just empty words—beautifully spoken but powerless. The worship at Sardis was well planned, masterfully performed, but it never went higher than the ceiling. The offering plates overflowed, but the people gave to impress others, not as a sacrifice to God, If you’ve ever been in a dead church, the program runs well. It’s just empty and mechanical, with no connection to the life and power of the Holy Spirit.” (Douglas Connelly, The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007, page 47)

Connelly identifies five commands that Jesus gives to the church at Thyatira:
– “Wake up.”
– “Strengthen what remains and is about to die.”
– “Remember…what you received and heard.”
– “Keep it.”
– “Repent.”

Mounce says that for grammatical reasons the Greek for “wake up” should be translated “show yourself watchful” instead. He observes that the encouragement to watchfulness would be especially meaningful in Sardis “because twice in its history the acropolis had fallen to the enemy due to lack of vigilance on the part of its defenders” (Mounce, page 110; he gives details about the two occasions). For an indication of what the five commands mean for us, see my closing quotation from John F. Walvoord.

Jesus adds this warning to the advice that he gives the church at Sardis, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Jesus’ coming “as a thief” doesn’t refer to his second coming as in Revelation 16:15 (and Matthew 24:42-44 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2) but to his coming against the church in Sardis in judgment because here his coming depends on the church’s refusal to repent.

Jesus commends the faithful few in the church at Sardis and makes these promises to them:
– “They will walk with me in white.”
– They “will be clothed…in white garments.”
– “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”
– “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”

The first promise is made to the “few…people [in Sardis] who have not soiled their garments.” The other three promises are made to “the one who conquers.” However I understand these to be the same people. Walking or wearing white seems to describe those who are justified, but it could refer to purity. Jesus’ saying that he wouldn’t blot their names out of the book of life implies that some names would be blotted out of it, indicating that they have lost their salvation.

John F. Walvoord concludes his comments on the letter to the church at Sardis thus:
“The message is…a series of exhortations not only to the church of the first century but to those who need the same exhortations in every century. To such the commands are given to be watchful, to strengthen the things which remain which are ready to die, to remember the truth and experience of the past, to hold fast what remains, and to repent in mind and heart. The message also includes the warning of the alternative of divine judgment, The promise of the benefits of eternal life is given to those who heed the invitation, who are represented here as a godly remnant within the church in Sardis. As in the other churches, the message closes with the individual invitation, ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966, page 83)

Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

These questions are those asked about Revelation 3:1-6 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The answers for the DIG questions are what I remember of how we answered them. Our answers to the REFLECT questions are personal and so I haven’t shared them.

DIG, 1. What is the contrast between reputation and reality in Sardis? What dangers exist for Christians who rely on an image instead of nurturing a genuine Christian life?
The church in Sardis had a reputation of being alive but in reality was dead. Christians who rely on an image instead of nurturing a genuine Christian life might lose what life they have and might have their names blotted out of the book of life.
DIG, 2. What is the only hope for survival of the church in Sardis?
The only hope for survival of the church in Sardis is to repent.

REFLECT, 1. If Jesus addressed this “wake-up call” to you, what would he want you to strengthen?
REFLECT, 2. Right now, would Jesus need a fire alarm to wake you up, or would a quiet call do it? Why?

The Book of Revelation — 2:18-29

This morning our family completed its study of Revelation 2:18-29 in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The passage consists of a letter from Jesus to the church at Thyatira. We read Connelly’s exposition of it yesterday morning and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it this morning.

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ “

(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Jesus describes himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” The Asian churches may have taken “Son of God” as a challenge to the imperial cult. However Thyatira had a special temple to Apollo, the sun god, and so Jesus may have had that in mind. Robert H. Mounce comments, “Thus it is not the emperor or the guardian deity of Thyatira [Apollo], but the resurrected Christ, who is the true son of God” (Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977, page 102). Regarding the rest of Jesus’ self-description, Mounce says, “The flaming eyes suggest the penetrating power of Christ’s ability to see through the seductive arguments of Jezebel [see below] and those who were being led astray by her pernicious teaching. Feet…like burnished brass convey the idea of strength and splendor.”

Although Jesus knows that the church in Thyatira is doing his works more than they had before, it has a serious flaw‒it is tolerating a teacher of compromise. Jesus calls her Jezebel. Likely that wasn’t her real name, but it describes her character. In the Old Testament Jezebel was the non-Jewish wife of King Ahab who supported the worship of Baal in Israel and had prophets of the Lord killed (1 Kings 18:19, 13). Warren W. Wiersbe observes, “It is interesting to contrast the churches at Ephesus and Thyatira. The Ephesian church was weakening in its love, yet faithful
to judge false teachers; while the people in the assembly at Thyatira were growing in their love, but too tolerant of false doctrine. Both extremes must be avoided in the church.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989, page 575)

Jesus makes three accusations against the Jezebel in the church at Thyatira:
– She “calls herself a prophetess” and teaches “what some call the deep things of Satan.”
– She “is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality”; Connelly charges that “the church dinners were nothing more than hook-up opportunities for sexual sins.” However more likely the sexual immorality was associated with pagan feasts (see the next accusation).
– She “is teaching and seducing my servants…to eat food sacrificed to idols.” Craig S. Keener suggests that this resulted from the importance of trade guilds in the economy of Thyatira. Their meetings included a common meal dedicated to the guild’s patron saint and thus off-limits to Christians (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 10:19-22). However those who refused to join trade guilds risked success in their trade. (Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000, page 133)

The problem in the church in Thyatira was that the Christians had tolerated Jezebel and her teaching too long. Thus Jesus says that he “will throw her onto a sickbed.” He says he will make those who follow her teaching also suffer unless they repent and bring death to her children. The commentators that I consulted identify “her children” with Jezebel’s spiritual children rather than with her physical children.

Connelly comments:
“The church that tolerates in, the Christians who refuse to deal with open disobedience in their lives, will find themselves facing catastrophe at Jesus’ hands. Jesus fights against them. All that you can do for a wicked church is pray for repentance. If the leaders refuse and the people continue in disobedience, find a new place to worship. Get out of Dodge.” (Douglas Connelly, The Book of Revelation Made Clear, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007, page 42)

Jesus tells those who don’t hold Jezebel’s teaching that the only burden he will impose on them is to “hold fast what you have until I come.” He promises that to the one who does “I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron” and “the morning star.” According to Revelation 22:16 “the morning star” is Jesus himself.

Beginning with this letter the exhortation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” comes last in contrast to its position before the promise in previous letters. Matthew Henry concludes that this means, “We should all attend to the promises as well as to the precepts that Christ delivers to the churches” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, volume 6, page 1127).

Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

These questions are those asked about Revelation 2:18-29 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. The answers for the DIG questions are what I remember of how we answered them. Our answers to the REFLECT questions are personal and so I haven’t shared them.

DIG, 1. What are the strengths of this church? Its weaknesses?
Jesus praised the church because its works, love, faith, service, and patient endurance were better now than when they began. However, he condemned it because, encouraged by a woman whom Jesus called Jezebel, it practised sexual immorality and ate food sacrificed to idols
DIG, 2. What does the symbolic name “Jezebel” reveal about the woman in this church?
The symbolic name “Jezebel” reveals that the woman in this church was wicked.
DIG, 3. How does Jesus describe himself? How do you interpret this description? What is he saying about himself? Why is this appropriate for the church at Thyatira?
Jesus describes himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” He is saying that he is the glorious Son of God. The name is appropriate for the church at Thyatira because it worshipped Apollo, the sun god, and participated in emperor worship and Jesus is asserting that he is the only one who should be worshipped.
DIG, 4. How is the nature and source of the temptation in Thyatira like (and unlike) that in Pergamum?
In both Thyatira and Pergamum some in the church practiced sexual immorality and ate foods sacrificed to idols. However in Thyatira they did those things because they listened to a woman called Jezebel, but in Pergamum they did them because they held the teaching of Balaam.
DIG, 5. What do think Jesus’ promise in verses 26-27 means?
Jesus’ promise in verses 26-27 means that overcomers will rule with Jesus in the Millenium and will be with Jesus, the morning star, in eternity.

REFLECT, 1. Which of the qualities in verse 19 apply to you this week? Why?
REFLECT, 2. Who or what has played a role similar to Jezebel in your life (names aren’t necessary)? How? How did the Lord free you from that influence?
REFLECT, 3. What do you appreciate most about the promise to overcomers in this serction? Why?

Key Events in the Life of Peter — Denounced Ananias and Sapphira

Yesterday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home studied the following account of Peter’s denunciation of Ananias and Sapphira.

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

(Acts 5:1-11, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

The previous meeting I’d provided the group with some of the questions asked about the passage in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups (Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), my having permission from Serendipity House to reproduce material from it for small group use. I also suggested that they look at Mark Copeland’s summary of, outline of, and review questions on the passage at http://executableoutlines.com/acts/acts_05.htm.

In the meeting I introduced our discussion of the passage by referring to the healing of the lame beggar and reading the passage. Then we discussed the Serendipity Bible questions.

DIG Questions from Serendipity Bible for Groups (Serendipity House, 1988):
1. Compare Acts 4:32-35 with 2:42-47. What qualities mark this church. [This question provides background to Acts 5:1-11.]
Acts 4:32 tells us that the members of the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” and both passages tell us that they shared everything that they had and that sometimes members who had land or houses sold them and gave the money to the apostles for distribution to the needy. These actions show us that the church was faithful and generous.
2. Were Ananias and Sapphira required to sell the land and lay all the money at the apostles’ feet? Why or why not? What was their sin?
No, Ananias and Sapphira weren’t required to sell the land and lay all the money at the apostles’ feet because this was a voluntary activity. Their sin was telling the apostles that they were donating all the money that they got for the land although they had kept some for themselves,
3. What would Ananias and Sapphira gain by lying about the money they received? How is your answer related to Acts 4:32-35?
Ananias and Sapphira would gain esteem from the church by lying about the money they received. How this was related to Acts 4:32-35 other than that their giving was because of the practice described in Acts 4:32-35.
4. Given that we all do bad things, why do you think God punished Ananias and Sapphira so severely? How might “great fear” be useful to God at this point?
We thought that God punished Ananias and Sapphira so much as a warning to others to not do the same thing. However all of us sympathized with Ananias and Sapphira for being the ones God used to give an example of what can happen when we do bad things. For me this was despite having read the lengthy answer given to the question in Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Albert Barnes, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications). He expands on each of these considerations:

1. This was an atrocious crime; a deep and dreadful act of iniquity.
2. God has often, in a most solemn manner, showed his abhorrence of hypocrisy and insincerity.
3. The apostles were just then establishing their authority.
4. This case does not stand alone in the New Testament.
5. Neither does this example stand alone in the history of the world.

See https://www.ccel.org/ccel/barnes/ntnotes.viii.v.ix.html for what what Barnes says.
5. How would the incident with Ananias lead to the response of the people in Acts 5:13-14? What words might outsiders use to describe this church? [This question provides follow-up to Acts 5:1-11.]
Acts 5:13-14 says, “13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” Because of what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, outsiders would be afraid to join the church and believers would want to make their salvation certain for fear that the same thing would happen to them. We couldn’t suggest any words by which outsiders might describe the church.

From REFLECT Questions in Serendipity Bible for Groups (Serendipity House, 1988):
3. When have you tried to “fool” God? What happened?
4. How have you experienced the “fear of the Lord”? How has that changed your life?

The incident illustrates the role that Peter had come to occupy in the early church, the other apostles letting him speak on their behalf and God’s inflicting judgment on Ananias and Sapphira through him.