Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Kings of the Earth and the Lord's Annointed (Revelation 2-5)


The church in John’s day is not unlike the church in many countries of the world today, and throughout history. Christians exist in empires who unashamedly trumpet their authority to rule the world as they see fit. When the church is not being actively persecuted, it is marginalized. They simply don’t matter. It is this church – the suffering and insignificant church of the first century – who first receives John’s vision of Jesus, “the ruler of kings on earth.”

To these churches, John transcribes seven letters with one message. Some are sterner than others, but the thrust is the same. Here’s the letter to Thyatira:
I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 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. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 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, 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. 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. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 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. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
There’s recognition of their works and perseverance, and stern warnings against their complacency and compromise. The church is implored to stick it out under pain just a little longer until the Lord comes. The church that conquers will be given authority over the very nations where it now suffers – to smash them into bits.

The number seven is the number of creation. It is used in scripture to imply “fullness” and “completion”, and so I think it no stretch whatsoever to understand this urgent message sent to “seven churches” as meant for the entire church. If we mean to take John’s unmistakable urgency seriously, then let it be clear - these letters are to us. It is we who must persevere amidst empires who are glad to run the world in rebellion against God and oppression of man. It is we who are tempted to compromise and collude with the destructive idolatry that we find ourselves in. It is we who are urged to conquer, and dash the nations into pieces with a rod of iron.

So, what are we waiting for? Time to strap on our swords and crush our enemies for the kingdom of God! But not so fast. Unless we are to make the same mistake as the Jews in Jesus’ day, we need to be careful to understand that the ruler of kings on earth whom we serve has radically redefined what it means to conquer and wield authority, and given us very counter-intuitive stories about how his kingdom comes.
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
And again:
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”
And again:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Lest we have any doubt of the means to the end, John gives us a vivid glimpse into the heavenly reality behind the world. He sees a scroll of the purposes of God sealed up, with none worthy to take and reveal. It is then announced that the “lion” of the tribe of Judah has conquered and is worthy. But John sees not a lion, but a slaughtered lamb standing there. And then he hears the chorus:
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
The lamb has conquered by being slaughtered. Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, triumphing over them by his cross. The church in John’s day conquered the greatest empire in the world has ever seen, dashing its power to pieces by their patient and loving endurance to suffering and death and their willingness to forgive their enemies. And we are called to do likewise with an urgency that cannot be exaggerated.

Our king is coming, even as we speak.

Comments:
I've never seen a more beautiful Jesus.
 

Thoughts on who the Nicolatians were? You're the one doing the Revelation Bible Study.
 

Wikipedia didn't know, and neither did Google, so I assume no one does. They must have been bad, though. ;-)
 

I checked myself before even asking you. I find it curious that know one knows.

In his letters to the seven churches, John has no problem detailing what he thinks is wrong.

For the record, I agree with your interpretation, that they are letters to all the churches of all time to remain vigilant and not compromise. Although I think sexual immorality and food offered to idols are listed for they are methods of Roman religious practices, not because they are good or bad in the abstract.

As for the Nicolatians, to me it reads like John is aware of other Christian groups that he does not quite approve of. Modern readers might be tempted to call them the first "heretics" that the emergent church will have to confront.

However, we don't know why they are bad, i.e., what is their great "heresy." I don't think that's quite an accident. For if the Bible does not tell us, then it is not important.

I think there is an implicit message in that. Although there might be people who we might consider "heretics" in the post-Biblical era, it is for God to deal with them, not us.
 

Nicolatians eat food sacrificed to idols and their agenda is pretty much the doctrine of devils. Sorry, I just got to this post.
 

Eating food sacrificed to idols is not so much about outward observance of Jewish dietary laws as it is about consciously rebelling against the Holy Spirit and the sin of rebellion is the sin of witchcraft, the source of all heresy.

But we are subject not to the law of sin and death but to the law of grace and love manifest in Christ Jesus.

Not that we do not sin, but when we do we do, we have a ready intercessor in Christ, who pleads to the Father on our behalf.
 

Are you honestly saying that Jesus, who made all foods clean, gives a flying toot about food that may have been offered to idols?

Or that perhaps, it's participation in pagan rituals, which threatened the very survival of the early church, that antagonized John of Revelation?
 

That's actually what I take him to be saying, Royale.
 

My point about Jewish dietary laws was not that they were man-made laws, but simply that "God said so" at a time when the Jews were dabbling in pagan rituals.

This led of course, to the controversial and lively discussion that simmers to this day in the form of the Christianisation of Judaism/ Judaisation of Christianity debate.

I can say that in the Adonai, we are at once in AWE of God's eternal love for the people of Israel.

Yes, what I'm saying is that in Christ, God makes all things new.
 

Great post. Do you think this passage is referring to us now, part of the current reign of God? Are we ruling? Hmm.. I'll have to study this passage some more. Thanks!

"Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
 

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