Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Understanding the Book of Revelation - Chapter Two, The Last Shall Be First

Chapter 2 - The Last Shall Be First

Do you enjoy a good mystery? Have you ever taken a look at the last chapter of a book to see how the story is going to turn out before you begin? Well, that’s what we’re going to do now.

One of the most Jewish books in the Bible is The Revelation to John, the last book in the New Testament. I believe it is also one of the most misunderstood. Over the centuries it has been allegorized and misinterpreted in the worst ways. Because of a lack of understanding of the Old Testament and by not taking the whole of Scripture into consideration, multitudes have been stymied at the mere mention of Revelation. But the key to unlocking the marvels of this book does not lie in popular theories or bending the latest news headlines to make them fit a popular scenario. The key lies in the whole of Scripture. Before diving in, let’s look at the name of the book and what it means.

The Revelation of John, usually simply called Revelation (always singular, never plural), is just that – a revealing or unveiling of information. In chapter one, verse one, we are told exactly what this is a revealing of – the revelation of Jesus Christ, given to Jesus by Father God in order that Jesus could then make it known to John the apostle, who subsequently made it known to Christians throughout the world down through the centuries.

First, Father God had to give this revelation of Jesus to Jesus. But since Jesus is part of the Godhead, wouldn’t Jesus have full knowledge just as God the Father does? Well, it seems that when Jesus chose to step out of heaven to be born a human child He temporarily laid a few things aside for our sake.

In Matthew 24:36, Jesus Himself said, “But when that day and hour will come, no one knows — not the angels in heaven, not the Son, only the Father. ” We also see Jesus’ temporary position described in Hebrews 2:9, “But we do see Yeshua — who indeed was made for a little while lower than the angels now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by God’s grace he might taste death for all humanity. ” From these statements we can conclude that at that time, while Jesus was on earth He was not privy to the fullness of knowledge that Father God was, but when we get to Revelation, God the Father has unveiled that which had been hidden from Jesus until that point. Then Jesus is ready to tell the world!
In the remainder of the first chapter we are given magnificent descriptions of the Messiah, of His Name, and of His purpose: the One who is, who was and who is coming; the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the earth’s kings; the one who loves us, who has freed us from our sins at the cost of his blood, who has caused us to be a kingdom, that is, cohanim (priests) for God, his Father ; the ‘A’ and the ‘Z'; God of heaven’s armies; someone like a Son of Man, wearing a robe down to his feet and a gold band around his chest. His head and hair were as white as snow-white wool, his eyes like a fiery flame, his feet like burnished brass refined in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, out of his mouth went a sharp double-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
On first reading this chapter it can feel quite intimidating, but you must remember that the writers of the New Testament – under direction of the Holy Spirit – were writing with the assurance that their readers were either well versed in the Old Testament or under the discipleship of someone who was. Why did they make this assumption? Because at the time that the New Testament writings were being penned there were no other Scriptures aside from the Old Testament!
Here are a few examples from the first chapter of Revelation showing the verse from Revelation, then the Old Testament passages that correspond to them. I have italicized or bolded the corresponding text in each set of verses.

“John to the seven assemblies (churches) that are in Asia: May grace (God's unmerited favor) be granted to you and spiritual peace (the peace of Christ's kingdom) from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come, and from the seven Spirits [the sevenfold Holy Spirit] before His throne,” – Rev. 1:4
“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him--the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the reverential and obedient fear of the Lord - ” – Isaiah 11:2

“And from Jesus Christ the faithful and trustworthy Witness, the Firstborn of the dead [first to be brought back to life] and the Prince (Ruler) of the kings of the earth. To Him Who ever loves us and has once [for all] loosed and freed us from our sins by His own blood,” – Rev. 1:5
“Also I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” – Psalm 89:27

“And formed us into a kingdom (a royal race), priests to His God and Father – to Him be the glory and the power and the majesty and the dominion throughout the ages and forever and ever. Amen (so be it).– Rev. 1:6
And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation [consecrated, set apart to the worship of God]. These are the words you shall speak to the Israelites.” – Exodus 19:6
“But you shall be called the priests of the Lord; people will speak of you as the ministers of our God. You shall eat the wealth of the nations, and the glory [once that of your captors] shall be yours.” – Isaiah 61:6

“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall gaze upon Him and beat their breasts and mourn and lament over Him. Even so [must it be]. Amen (so be it).– Rev. 1:7
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, on the clouds of the heavens came One like a Son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.” – Daniel 7:13
“And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace or unmerited favor and supplication. And they shall look [earnestly] upon Me Whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him as one who is in bitterness for his firstborn.” – Zechariah 12:10

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, says the Lord God, He Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty (the Ruler of all).– Rev. 1:8
“For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father [of Eternity], Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

These are just a handful of examples showing our need for greater understanding of the whole of God’s Word. Some things just won’t make sense without that firm underpinning, and when things don’t make sense that’s when we run the risk of interpreting things our own way – and that can lead to gross error.

In John 8:31-32, we read, “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” Then in John 14:6 we read, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” In these passages Jesus is telling us that if we know the truth we will be set free and that it is Jesus Who is the Truth. In Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (in other words, the Old Testament) (Matthew 5:17-18), therefore we must take into account every portion of the Word of God when studying the Bible. Now, back to Revelation.

Moving a little deeper into Revelation, in chapter 4, we begin seeing some wild things going on both on earth and in heaven. Over the years there have been equally wild speculations about what’s happening, why it’s happening and to whom it’s happening. But again, if you take the whole of Scripture into account – not just Revelation – you are able to set aside speculations and see God’s truth.

In chapter 4 of Revelation, John is shown a vision of the throne room of God in heaven. It is quite magnificent and is a perfect parallel to similar visions given to Daniel (Daniel 9) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6) centuries before, with one exception. In John’s vision there are twenty-four elders present in heaven. These elders are conspicuously absent in any Old Testament visions of the heavenly throne room, and we will explore the reasons for this later.

Then, in chapter 5, John sees Him Who is seated on the throne holding a scroll that has writing on it inside and out, rolled up and sealed. Unfortunately there was no one found in heaven or on earth who was qualified to open the scroll until the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (one of the titles for Jesus) comes forth and takes the scroll from Him Who sat on the throne (God the Father). Prior to Jesus stepping forward, John is so upset when no one can be found to open the scroll that he begins weeping bitterly. But why? What did John know about that scroll that is not plainly evident from the text in Revelation? Why is Jesus the only One able to take the scroll and open it? And what does His opening the scroll mean exactly? So many questions! But don’t give up. We’re going to take it one question at a time, looking only to God’s Word for our answers. Ready? Here we go!

No comments: