The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

DECEMBER 24

Reading 358

WASHED IN THE BLOOD Revelation 6–7

“They are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst” (Rev. 7:15–16).Beyond the judgment lies blessing for God’s own.

Background

Apocalyptic language.

In these and future chapters we find language that may puzzle us. Take, for instance, Revelation 6:12–14. There John speaks of the sun turning black like sackcloth. He mentions a blood red moon; stars falling to earth from the sky. He sees the sky itself recede “like a scroll, rolling up.” Mountains and islands are “removed from [their] place.” Many reading these descriptions have struggled to understand them in modern terms. The black sky and red moon might be explained by massive dust clouds filling the air. Perhaps this suggests atomic warfare, with mushroom clouds hurling ton upon ton of dirt and dust into the air. Are the falling stars meteorites? Or are they laser beams shot from satellites? What exactly does John see? The difficulty with such visions lies in a simple feature of language. The words available for use are limited to concepts existing in the writer’s time. If you lived in the United States just 300 hundred years ago, and suddenly were given a vision of giant planes landing and taking off from Chicago’s O’Hare field, and saw expressways filled with speeding cars, how could you begin to describe what you saw? You have no terms for planes, cars, airports, superhighways. These would all be so strange you would have no way to talk about them—except to speak perhaps of giant shining birds that roar, of horseless carts that hurtle toward each other with astounding speed. And even then, your listeners would be unable to grasp what it really was that you saw. It’s the same with much of the language of Revelation. John saw something. He used the words available in his culture to describe them. But those words are inadequate. If John had seen an atomic explosion, he would not know what it was, much less be able to tell others about it. Perhaps all he could say would be, “the sky receded like a scroll.” Given then the limitations of language, we shouldn’t expect to explain every scene described in Revelation. Yet even when we can’t grasp the “how” or “why,” what is happening is still relatively clear. The awesome and terrible nature of the events we are about to witness is unmistakable. And, when they do occur, we’ll say, “Of course! I see now what John was talking about.” And, if we know Jesus, we will survive judgment’s final, awesome storm.

Overview

The Lamb begins to open the seals, and awesome judgments are poured out on the earth (6:1–8). Slain saints cry out for Christ to judge (vv. 9–11), as further devastation strikes earth’s terrified population (vv. 12–17). A sudden halt is called to the judgment as 144,000 Jewish witnesses are sealed (7:1–8). In heaven the saved and angelic hosts praise God, who deals mercifully with those who have suffered for His name (vv. 9–17).

Understanding the Text

“The Lamb opened the first of the seven seals” Rev. 6:1–8. The first four seals that are opened by the Lamb unleash on earth what are known as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.” These four are conquest (v. 2), warfare (vv. 3–4), famine—represented by the inflated price of grain—(vv. 5–6), and death-dealing plague (vv. 7–8). None of these scourges are unknown in any generation. The thing that makes the judgments of the seals so terrible is that they strike the whole world, killing a fourth of earth’s population. Always before wars, famine, and plague have been localized. It was terrible in Europe during the era of the Black Plague. It was terrible in Poland when the panzers rolled in, and the SS rounded up and killed that land’s elite as well as its Jewish population. But what John pictures is worldwide terror. Always before there was someplace to flee; someplace safe. But as God’s final judgments begin, all hope is stripped away. It’s difficult, gathered at church for a candlelight celebration of the birth of Jesus, to imagine the future John portrays. Gathered together to celebrate, we feel safe, secure. And we are! For in the Babe of Bethlehem, God has provided a hiding place. We find our peace in Christ. Yet a most terrible fate awaits the world outside of Him. “The souls of those who had been slain” Rev. 6:9–11. In this world we are subject to persecution. Over the centuries many believers have given their lives for the cause of Christ. Every indication is that as history draws to a close, and God’s judgments are poured out on a terrified earth, intense persecution will resume. Now John is shown the souls of many slain “because of the Word of God,” and he hears them cry out for vengeance. These slain saints are told to wait, for others will be added to their number. But it is totally clear that God will not hold back judgment for long. As we hear the victims cry, let’s remember that it is right for God, who is “holy and true,” to judge the inhabitants of earth and to avenge His murdered own. The offer of salvation has been extended to all for many thousands of years. Each Christmas, despite tinsel and commercialism, the world is reminded that God has come in the flesh to bring salvation. Those who reject the gift of God, who continue willfully in sin, and who then persecute God’s people, deserve to be—and must be—judged by God. Christ’s birthday is a promise, and a threat. To those who believe, the birth promises salvation. To those who will not believe, it is a dreadful reminder that God can and will act in our world of space and time. But when He comes again, it will be to judge. “Fall on us and hide us” Rev. 6:12–17. As the next onslaught of judgments crash on the earth, it becomes clear to all that “the great day of [God’s] wrath has come.” Those who have refused to take God seriously, and scoffed at the promise of salvation, are now certain that God is, and that the dreadful day of His judgment has come. What strikes us is their reaction. There is no suggestion of repentance. All men seem able to do is try, futilely, to hide. If we will not respond to grace, we will surely not respond to punishment. If God’s love has not drawn us to Him, His anger most certainly will not either. “Holding back the four winds of the earth” Rev. 7:1–8. There is an unexpected interlude, like the eye of judgment’s awesome hurricane. The pause comes that God might place a protective seal on 144,000 individuals, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Many see in this listing of Israel’s tribes a rejoining of the stream that separated over Jesus. In the first century the faith of some of the Jewish people flowed to the right. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour predicted in the Old Testament, and became the first members of the Christian church. The faith of others flowed left, turning away from our Lord and holding fast to the old traditions as if He had never come. Yet Paul in Romans 11 looks foward to a day when the streams will meet again, and all Israel recognizes Christ as the Messiah for which the Jewish people continue to yearn. As the Prophet Zechariah says, “They will look on . . . the One they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for Him as one grieves for a firstborn child” (Zech. 12:10). If this passage is linked with the restoration of Israel, it describes 144,000 newly converted missionaries, who amid the terrible Tribulation that marks the end of history, witness joyfully to one who is Messiah, Saviour, and Judge. “From every nation, tribe, people and language” Rev. 7:9–17. Now John’s eye is drawn back to heaven, and he sees the innumerable company of the saved. Drawn from every people and tribe, dressed in the white robes of salvation, they join in offering praise and glory to God. Some have drawn from this verse the notion that before Christ can return, every people must hear the Gospel. How else, they ask, can there be those from every nation, tribe, people, and language in heaven? A better answer displays even more fully the love and grace of God. Uncounted millions of babes, some unborn, some barely entering childhood, have died since time began. All these, gone before old enough to make any personal response to God, will join us before the throne of God. No tribe, no nation, no people of history, will be unrepresented. God’s salvation has already overflowed, to encompass all. Christ can come at any moment. Every precondition has already been fulfilled. How good to know, as we celebrate the meaning of Christ’s birth, that the overflow of God’s love has surged around us. How good to know that we are guaranteed a place with the multitude that will praise Him in that day.

DEVOTIONAL

Were You There?(Rev. 7:9–17)

The angels and elders fall down and worship God. The joy they feel is shared and expressed by all of heaven’s multitude. Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen! The words of praise echo throughout the unseen universe, as all join in. But then a new song is begun. The angels fall silent. They can speak the words, but never sing them. They can observe, but never join in this chorus. For this is the song of salvation. To join in one must be a man. One must have known the anguish of sin, the painful grip of evil. To sing this song, one must know what it means to have been soiled—and then cleansed. To have fallen to the depths—and then been lifted up. The song of salvation found in verses 15–17 is only for those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). And so there is another song we need to sing at Christmastime. Not “Joy to the World,” not “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” Were you there? Not as an observer, but as a participant. Not as a scoffer, but as one who was so perfectly united with our Lord through faith that His death was yours, His blood payment for your sins, His suffering your passport to eternal joy? If you were there, at Calvary, you can be sure. One day you will stand with the white-robed throng before God’s throne, and know the joy of the redeemed. Never again to hunger. Never again to thirst. Never again to weep a tear. For then the Lamb, at the center of God’s throne, will be your Shepherd and your joy.

Personal Application

The Christ of Christmas, the Christ of Calvary, and the Christ of Glory, are one. And all are yours.

Quotable

Praise God for Christmas. Praise Him for the Incarnation for the Word made flesh. I will not sing of shepherds watching flocks on frosty night or angel choristers. I will not sing of stable bare in Bethlehem or lowing oxen wise men trailing distant star with gold and frankincense and myrrh. Tonight I will sing praise to the Father who stood on heaven’s threshold and said farewell to His Son as He stepped across the stars to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. And I will sing praise to the infinite eternal Son who became most fine a Baby who would one day be executed for my crimes. Praise Him in the heavens. Praise Him in the stable. Praise Him in my heart. -Joseph Bayly

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

DECEMBER 23

Reading 357

PRAISE IN HEAVEN Revelation 4–5

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12).All in heaven praise Jesus. Praise Him here on earth!

Background

The Jews were scandalized that Jesus should be identified as equal with God (cf. John 8:48–58). The sophisticated first-century pagan believed in one “great God,” with many subordinate deities. Jesus might possibly be granted the status of a hero or subordinate deity. But it was shocking to the pagan that Christians would claim that this crucified Galilean was in fact the great God come in the flesh. Against this background of hostility and resentment, John’s vision of the scene now unfolding in heaven is especially powerful. John was granted a vision of the great God Almighty, identified as the Creator. And then, standing on the very throne of the High God, John saw Jesus! And the inhabitants of heaven fell down and worshiped Jesus, granting Him the same praise and honor offered to God Himself. Whatever else Revelation may teach us this Christmas season, it begins with the exaltation of Jesus. The Babe of Bethlehem, despite the skeptics’ sneers, is the eternal God come in the flesh. All heaven joins us today in worshiping Him. And, when history draws to a close, and John’s vision of the future is fulfilled, the universe will join in honoring Jesus Christ as Lord.

Overview

John was raised to heaven, and saw God on His throne, surrounded and praised by living creatures (4:1–11). A call went out for one worthy to open a sealed scroll (5:1–4). Jesus was then introduced as a Lamb slain (vv. 5–6), standing on the very throne of God and receiving worship as God (vv. 7–14).

Understanding the Text

“I will show you what must take place after this” Rev. 4:1.

Some understand Revelation as a symbolic statement of God’s sovereignty. Others see it as apocalyptic, meaning that it is a powerful but again symbolic description of the writer’s impressions of events to take place at the end of time. The angel who called John up to heaven seemed to identify the rest of this powerful book as prophecy. From this verse on John will watch future history unfold, not from man’s viewpoint on earth, but from the viewpoint of a an observer in heaven. What a privilege this is. And what a reminder for us. You and I are limited to physical eyes that see only what is taking place in the material universe. John’s vision reminds us that all around us God and His angels are active, struggling with Satan’s hosts in an invisible war. You and I are part of this warfare. Though we cannot now understand how the part we play contributes to final victory, through John we know that God will surely triumph in the end. “A throne in heaven” Rev. 4:2–9. The vision of the throne, of the Person seated on it, and of the “living creatures” who constantly cry, “Holy, holy holy,” recalls the vision of God granted to both Isaiah (Isa. 6) and to Ezekiel (Ezek. 1; 10). This identification of the God John worshiped with the God of the Old Testament is vitally important. One of the early criticisms of Christianity was that while the church claimed to be a development from and a fulfillment of Judaism, Christians departed from worship of the Old Testament’s God to worship a mere man. But the vision that John had of God in heaven is unmistakably that of the very God who revealed Himself in similar visions to Isaiah and to Ezekiel! Here, in the last book of the New Testament, we have final reassurance that the God we know in Jesus is the one God who has revealed Himself in sacred history. Our faith is secure, rooted in a revelation that spans the millennia, a fulfillment of promises made to Abraham over 4,000 years ago. “Twenty-four elders” Rev. 4:4. Those who study Revelation look for meaning in every detail. Thus the faces on the “living creatures,” which we know from Ezekiel and Isaiah as a special order of angels called cherubim, are taken to represent the highest representative of each order of warm-blooded animal creation: the lion for predators, the ox for domesticated animals, the eagle for birds of the air, and above all, man. What might the meaning of the 24 elders be? Most take them to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 Apostles introduced by Christ. Thus the elders, like the vision of God Himself, tie together Old Testament and New, reaffirming the unity of God’s plan, and the glorious truth that saints of every age have been saved by faith, through the salvation won for us all by Jesus Christ. “You are worthy, our Lord and God” Rev. 4:9–11. The figure on the throne, “our Lord and God,” receives perpetual praise from the living creatures and the elders. Inhabitants of both the spiritual and material universe unite to praise His name. This first paean of praise focuses on God’s worth as Creator. He created “all things.” Again we see a sharp departure from first-century culture, where God was viewed as a craftsman who shaped pre-existing matter into its present shape. The God of the Bible, however, created all things. All things material, all things spiritual, owe their existence to Him. We too owe our existence to Him. As our very being is a gift from God, how fitting it is to join the heavenly throng, and offer Him our own perpetual praise: You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being. “A scroll with writing on it” Rev. 5:1–5. John’s attention was drawn to a sealed scroll held in the hand of God, and he heard an angel calling for someone “worthy to break the seals and open the scroll.” While the nature of the scroll was then a mystery to John, he was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency. When no one was found “in heaven or on earth or under the earth” who was worthy to break the seals, John was overcome and weeped uncontrollably. Later we learn the significance of the scroll. It is the book of history’s end, and contains all the judgments that God must pour out on the earth to satisfy justice, and to bring in everlasting righteousness. Now we can understand John’s emotional outburst. He wept for all who experience injustice now. He wept for all who endure suffering and pain. He wept for all who are in anguish because of the sin that warps and twists every human society, crushing the hopes and the spirit of the individual. John wept, and his tears expressed all our yearnings for a world purified and purged of sin; a world made forever new. We can search all of heaven and earth, we can search time past and time to come, and none worthy to bring history to God’s intended end can be found. None—but One. The Jesus of history. Born a Babe. Born to die. But born to be raised up, and to come again. “I saw a Lamb” Rev. 5:5–14. The stunning aspect of John’s description is found in these words: “standing in the center of the throne.” John had seen God seated on heaven’s throne, and suddenly, there on the throne beside God, Jesus stood. He took the scroll, and as He held it the living creatures and the elders fell down and worshiped Him. What clearer affirmation could there be that Jesus and God the Father are One God? Distinct Persons, yes. But One in essential being, both equally worthy of our worship and our praise. And suddenly heaven is filled with praises. Praises for the Lamb. Praises for One born in order to die, to purchase with His own blood “men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” You. And me. Men and women for God, to be a kingdom and priests, to serve our God and reign in Jesus Christ, forever and forever and ever. Amen. No wonder we join this wonderous season with the crowds of heaven, and in a loud voice sing, Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!

DEVOTIONAL

Praise to the Lord(Rev. 5:6–14)

In theA.D 406 a 16-year-old English boy named Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. Later he escaped, trained for the priesthood, and returned to Ireland as a missionary, where he played a central role in converting the Irish to Christianity. This prayer, developed from Patrick’s original version, helps us sense what it can mean for us to be ever aware of Jesus, triumphant with the Father on heaven’s throne. I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to harken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward; The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard. Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in mouth of friend or stranger. I bind unto myself the name, The strong name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same, The Three in One, the One in Three, Of whom all nature hath creation; Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Personal Application

Take the enthroned Christ with you, within you.

Quotable

“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”—Roy L. Smith

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

DECEMBER 22

Reading 356

SEVEN CHURCHES Revelation 2–3

“These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1).Today too Jesus walks in our churches.

Background

The seven churches.

Tradition says that John moved to Ephesus some 40 years before the Book of Revelation was written. He maintained close contact with believing communities in the seven major cities of the area to which he now transmitted Christ’s message. The seven churches were historical and symbolic congregations. Undoubtedly the issues each letter touched on were real at the time John wrote. Yet commentators through the ages have noted that these churches are also representative of churches of every place and time. It is helpful to look at each church, to see how its characteristics fit our own experience, and apply the words of commendation and corrections that John conveyed. Each letter follows a pattern. Jesus identifies Himself, assesses the church’s condition, and offers both commendation and criticism. With the criticism comes correction, and then a final promise. In the words Jesus addresses to these seven first-century churches, we can still hear Him speak to you and me.

Overview

John recorded brief messages to the seven churches of Asia: Ephesus (2:1–7), Smyrna (vv. 8–11), Pergamum (vv. 12–17), Thyatira (vv. 18–29), Sardis (3:1–6), Philadelphia (vv. 7–13), and Laodicea (vv. 14–22).

Understanding the Text

“The church in Ephesus” Rev. 2:1–7. (See DEVOTIONAL.) “The church in Smyrna” Rev. 2:8–11. Smyrna was a beautiful city of some 200,000 when John wrote. It was also the center of emperor worship, which was more a symbol of political allegiance than of religious devotion. Even so, Christians refused to perform the act, holding that Christ alone is to be honored as God. This created prejudice and persecution, and cost many not only their possessions but even imprisonment and death. But persecution only strengthened the resolve of these Christians. And from Jesus they—and we—hear words of encouragement. We may suffer loss of wealth, but we are rich in Christ. We may suffer death. But we will receive a crown of everlasting life. “The church in Pergamum” Rev. 2:12–17. Pergamum was the provincial capital of Roman Asia. It was known for its wealth, but also for shrines to gods of healing, and many made pilgrimages to the city. This active center of paganism might rightly be called a city where Satan resided! While holding fast to Christ, the believers in Pergamum were affected by their surroundings. The reference to the teaching of Balaam suggests a relaxing of moral standards in the church. While little is known of the “Nicolaitans,” the meaning of the words, “conquer the people,” suggests that the church permitted false teachers to establish some authority among them. We too live in a society where moral standards are lax. It is all too easy for us, bombarded as we are by the attitudes of the world, to relax our standards as well. Christ sternly warned Pergamum, and us, against this course. But we are also given a promise. If we refuse the sweets of the world, Christ will provide “hidden manna.” We will be fed a diet of goodness which will sustain life forever, while the moral “junk food” of this world destroys. “The church in Thyatira” Rev. 2:18–29. This city was a commercial center when John wrote. Christ’s description of Himself, with burning eyes and feet of burnished bronze, creates a setting of aura for this letter. Though the church was active and faithful in many respects, it had accepted the leadership of a woman characterized as “Jezebel.” The first Jezebel introduced idolatry and gross immorality into ancient Israel, and we must assume the name signified the Thyatiran woman who did the same. Thus what was known as “the church” was divided into faithful and corrupted segments. The apostate and the genuine still exist within Christendom. The continued existence of the apostate reflects God’s grace: He has “given her time to repent of her immorality.” But the day of grace is drawing to a close. God will surely bring judgment on Jezebel and her followers. The spirit of Jezebel still stalks the churches, and settles in wherever she can find room. Don’t expect to purge Christendom, or even your denomination, of her influence. What Jesus says to those who do not accept her teaching is, “Hold on to what you have until I come.” We who hold fast to Christ and the authentic Gospel are to concentrate on good deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance (v. 19). In doing Christ’s will, we will find the spiritual authority we need to overcome (vv. 26–29). “The church in Sardis” Rev. 3:1–6. Sardis was a prosperous and strategic city, known for its successful defense against invaders. It was also known for burial mounds, raised like a thousand hills on the skyline some seven miles from the city. Sardis, with a reputation for vitality, was as dead spiritually as the nearby necropolis (“city of the dead”). Orthodoxy is never a substitute for spiritual life and vitality. And mere orthodoxy, like this church, receives and hears God’s Word, but does not obey it. What a challenge for us today. It’s not enough to be doctrinally correct. We must be spiritually erect. It’s not enough to know the Word. We must do it. Righteousness is not a shroud, but working clothes. If you and I should find ourselves in a dead church, let’s remember that even in Sardis there were saints dressed in white, the symbol not only of purity but of overcoming. The deader the faith of those around us, the more alive and active our faith must be. “The church in Philadelphia” Rev. 3:7–13. This city of “brotherly love” lay on a major highway, and was also a major fortress. But the district in which Philadelphia was sited was earthquake-prone. Devastating quakes had made the people fearful, so at the slightest tremor crowds rushed out from behind the city walls. The weakness of the earth beneath this city is reflected in the weakness of the church. But Christ spoke words of encouragement rather than rebuke. “I know that you have little strength,” He said, “yet you have kept My Word and not denied My name.” Jesus is never contemptuous of our weaknesses. He understands our vulnerabilities only too well. So don’t cringe from the Lord when you feel overwhelmed and ashamed. Jesus understands and praises you for what you have done rather than rail at you for what you have been unable to accomplish. Christ does even more for the weak. The letter to Philadelphia says that Jesus holds the key. He opens doors, and no one can shut them. Christ goes with us, and before us. He opens doors and keeps them open. Even those most hostile to the claims of Christ will in time be forced to acknowledge that He has loved us. And each day we will find strength in the assurance of His continuing love. “The church in Laodicea” Rev. 3:14–22. Laodicea was a wealthy city. The district around it also produced famous black wool. It was also a center for the production and distribution of “Phrygian powder,” a famed cure for eye diseases. The church at Laodicea apparently shared in the prosperity. Self-satisfied and comfortable, the Christians fit in with the rest of the population, just another of the many private clubs that characterized first-century social life. Christ’s church can thrive under persecution, and triumphantly survive all sorts of suffering. But material prosperity and social acceptability have consistently threatened the vitality of the church. When Christians fail to stand for something, they end up standing for nothing. The lukewarm church is the most pitiful church of all. Christ’s word to the lukewarm church, and the lukewarm Christian, is one of rebuke. He stands at the door and knocks, and asks us to exchange fellowship with the world for a more intimate, challenging walk with Him.

DEVOTIONAL

First Loves(Rev. 2:1–7)

Just now several of the comic strips I glance at in the mornings are on the topic of divorce. I don’t know how it happens, but it always seems that when one strip launches a particular theme, all the others quickly follow. At any rate, Sally Forth and Gasoline Alley both are exploring the painful loss of first loves. Not that they have any answers. But painful topics have their humor, and the cartoonists are working hard to dig it out. Actually, while the cartoonists have no answers for us, Christ’s letter to the Ephesians has a great one. It’s applicable to relationship with our spouses, and to relationship with God! And it may come as a surprise. Ephesus was the site of the great temple of Artemis, famous in all of Asia. It was to this congregation Paul addressed a letter exploring the spiritual nature of the church as the body of Christ. Now, some 40 years after Paul’s ministry, the church was commended for hard work, perseverance, and its commitment to holiness. Despite opposition this congregation has not tired of expressing a firm faith in Jesus as God’s Christ (vv. 1–3). But the church had a fault of which many of us are guilty. We keep on serving. But somehow in the struggle we lose the glowing love for Jesus that motivated us at first. It’s good to be faithful. But faithfulness is no substitute for passion. What can we do when we lose our first love? The text says, repent, and recapture it. And here’s the surprising instruction: “Do the things you did at first” (v. 5). We have the notion today that feelings and actions aren’t tied as tightly together as they really are. Are you “falling out of love” with your wife? Don’t try to change your feelings. Instead, begin to “do the things you did at first.” Bring her flowers. Call her up, just to say “Hi!” and hear her voice. Tell her how much you love her. Write her little poems or notes. The wonder is that as you do these things that express love, the emotion of love returns. It’s just the same in our relationship with God. Are you faithful, but somehow unfulfilled as a Christian? Then look back, and remember some of the things you did as a young believer, just because you wanted to and not because they were religious duties. Do them again. And watch your feelings follow.

Personal Application

Love shown stays alive and vital.

Quotable

“God is Truth. To be true, to hate every form of falsehood, to live a brave, true, real life—that is to love God.”—F.W. Robertson

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

Revelation

DECEMBER 21

Reading 355

THE LIVING ONE Revelation 1

“I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!” (Rev. 1:18)To truly understand Christmas we must see Jesus in all His glory.

Background

Revelation.

Revelation is a stunning and powerful affirmation of God’s sovereignty in all things. Through John’s vision we are taken into heaven, to observe from that viewpoint as God pours out devastating judgments on a rebellious earth. Many commentators view the book as predictive prophecy, depicting events which will take place at history’s end. Others view it as a metaphorical affirmation of God’s control over all, while still others see in it veiled allusions to John’s own time, intended to encourage persecuted believers by symbolic representations of God’s spiritual warfare. While it is important to commit to a framework when one’s object is to interpret a book, this is less important when treating a book like Revelation devotionally. Believers from each interpretive school agree that Revelation is a towering affirmation of the sovereignty of God, of the primacy of Jesus, and of the certain judgment God will bring on all evil—including the evil one, Satan, himself. We can profit greatly this season of the year as we meditate on the glory of God revealed in Jesus, and the ultimate triumph of God, which Christ’s birth as a Babe portends.

Overview

John had a prophecy given him by direct revelation (1:1–3), which he sent to seven churches in Asia (vv. 4–6a) and dedicated to Christ as God (vv. 6b-8). John described the setting and his stunning vison of the resurrected Christ (vv. 9–20).

Understanding the Text

“The revelation of Jesus Christ” Rev. 1:1–3.

This is both a revelation of Jesus, and from Jesus. John was stunned as he saw the glorified Christ, still, and yet no longer, the Master that John loved so well during Christ’s years on earth. It is helpful for us too to remember. The Jesus of Bethlehem shines brighter than the most brilliant galaxy. The Babe in the manger created and sustains the world He entered. We who honor Jesus in His humility as a man must also hold fast to the conviction that He is now exalted in glory, ruling over all. John’s language also suggests that what he was about to describe is a vision from Jesus: a direct revelation from the risen Lord to all mankind. For this reason a special blessing is associated with the “words of this prophecy,” and is granted to all who take to heart the truths and images conveyed. What an exciting book then for us to read. Especially at this time of year, when we look back to Christ’s birth, and ahead to a bright new year. “The seven churches in the province of Asia” Rev. 1:4. Seven is a number with great symbolic significance in Scripture, speaking of perfection or completion. Thus many have taken the churches John wrote to as symbolic of the church universal, even as the “seven spirits” (or “sevenfold spirit”) is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Clearly John drew together the persons of the Godhead, showing that each is fully involved in what he was about to share. And that all Christians, the church universal, is intended to pay close heed. “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood” Rev. 1:5–8. Revelation is rich in the language of worship and praise. Perhaps these exalted sayings were part of the worship language of the church when John wrote. Certainly they now deserve to be woven into our prayers, and fixed securely in our minds. Jesus, in His love and sacrifice, has indeed “made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve His God and Father.” Let us dedicate ourselves to serve. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” Rev. 1:8. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega the last. Christ is the beginning and end, not only of our faith, but of history itself. The Creation owes its existence to Him, and when at last time shall be no more, Christ will be the One who brings all things to completion. It’s easier for us to conceive of a Babe in a manger than One who overflows the vastness of the universe around us. Yet Jesus truly is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the fountainhead and climax of existence itself. The seven cities to which John wrote (Rev 1:11; cf. 2–3) are sometimes taken to represent different periods in church history. What is clear is that they do represent the church universal. The messages John had for them are for us as well, and show us how to remain faithful till the glorious Lord of Revelation 1 returns triumphant. “Because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” Rev. 1:9–11. Early church tradition suggests that John was exiled to Patmos near the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian (A.D 81–96). The church was experiencing official persecution for a refusal to worship the emperor as a god. It’s no wonder that John identified himself as a companion “in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” It’s important that we remember these three are often linked in Christian experience. We are citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. Yet here on earth we often suffer, and must commit ourselves to endure until Christ returns and His rule is established over all. It is particularly important during times of suffering that we see the Jesus that John saw in his vision, and described in this powerful New Testament book. For the Jesus of Revelation is God, exalted in power, about to triumph over every foe. Though we suffer now, when His kingdom comes, we will rule with Him. Sustained by this hope, we patiently endure. “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead” Rev. 1:12–18. At first John heard only a voice. When he turned to look, he saw a figure whose radiant appearance literally stunned him. The description John gave is filled with symbolism from the Old Testament (see DEVOTIONAL). But what is significant is the impact on John. John was that disciple whom Jesus loved. John rested his head on Jesus’ shoulder at the Last Supper. John was probably closest to Christ on a personal level. And through the last decades of John’s life he preached and wrote about love for Jesus and love for brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet John, so close to Jesus while our Lord was on earth, and so near to Him in heart for over 50 years beyond the Resurrection, was shaken to his very core when he saw Jesus in His essential splendor. We love Jesus, and feel close to Him. And this is right. But may we never become so casual in our thoughts of Him. For the Lord we love is Lord indeed, and were we to glimpse Him in His fundamental glory, we too would fall, stunned, at His feet. “Write” Rev. 1:19. This verse is viewed by many as the key to interpreting Revelation. “What you have seen” corresponds to chapter 1, “what is now” to chapters 2–3, and “what will take place later” to the rest of the book. If we take this approach the bulk of Revelation is predictive prophecy, and deals with what will happen on earth as history draws to God’s intended end. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” Rev. 1:20. Some of the symbols in Revelation are explained in the text itself, as here. Others are clearly derived from the Old Testament, and so can be explained by reference to earlier Scriptures. But some of the most powerful symbols cannot be easily explained at all. In most cases, it’s best not to try. Linking disasters that Revelation describes to atomic holocausts, or germ warfare, is simply too speculative to help. What we need to seek is not some modern match to Revelation’s imagery, but the trust of the passage itself: the broad impact of the passage on our view of God, of judgment, and of earth’s future. The details remain open to debate. But the impact of most passages is unmistakably clear.

DEVOTIONAL

Picture Perfect(Rev. 1:9–18)

The famous German artist Albrecht Durer did a woodcut of Jesus as portrayed here by John. For all the artist’s skill, the figure looks awkward and stiff. Somehow none of the awe John felt is conveyed by the carved figure, with rays representing the brilliance around His head, and a literal sword protruding from His mouth. That’s one of the advantages of verbal symbolism over representational art. Somehow the images drawn by words can express with overwhelming power the most abstract ideas. That’s what we find here in Revelation 1. The utter glory of Jesus stunned John, and he struggled for words to express what he felt and saw. The robe was a common piece of clothing, and though the sash was golden, it was not unusual in itself. What stunned John was Jesus. And all he could do to describe the glorified Jesus to us was resort to Old Testament symbolism. Though human in form, His hair was “white like wool, as white as snow.” The image calls to mind Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9; 10:5), about to exercise judgment. His eyes “like flaming torches” (cf. v. 6) indicate the fierceness of the judgment He metes out. Bronze feet, the metal heated until it glows, also represents judgment. The Old Testament image is one of treading or trampling enemies, and bronze is the metal from which the altar of burnt offering was constructed. There sins were purged by sacrificing a substitute. Now Jesus is about to judge sinners themselves. The voice is overpowering, a rushing Niagara of sound, and the “sharp doubled-edged sword” issuing from His mouth indicates both the war He will wage against sinners, and the means of His triumph. That simple spoken word by which Christ initially called all things into being will not be directed against the creation, and crush it to dust. DÃurer’s figure remains a curiosity. It is almost laughable. Not so the vision of Jesus that John had, and not the words he used to describe our Lord. Those words remind us that the One who lay in a cradle, and hung from a cross, will fill the whole universe when He comes again. And He will crush evil under His feet.

Personal Application

Look at the Christmas creche—but look beyond it too.

Quotable

“Looking unto Jesus and thinking about Him is a better way to meet and overcome sin than any physical austerities or spiritual self-reproaches. It is by looking at Him that we are changed.”—Harriet Beecher Stowe

The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

Revelation

INTRODUCTION

Revelation reports a vision seen by the Apostle John while exiled to the island of Patmos, in the mid A.D. 90s. At the time the church was undergoing persecution, and the book was intended to encourage believers suffering for their faith. A variety of schemes for interpreting Revelation have been developed. It has been treated as pure prophecy, but also as a book whose symbols deal primarily with the situation in John’s own lifetime. In any interpretive framework, however, it is clear that John presents us with an exalted vision of Jesus, and unmistakable images of the divine judgments to be executed on rebellious mankind. Even when the symbolism is most difficult to understand, we are shown with overpowering clarity a God who is in sovereign control of history and of His universe. And we are assured that this God will deal with evil, and one day rule a cleansed and purified new world, populated by His saints.

OUTLINE OF CONTENTS

I.The Glorified JesusRev. 1
II.Letters to Seven ChurchesRev. 2–3
III.Visions from the Unsealed ScrollRev. 4:1–19:10
IV.Visions of Christ’s ReturnRev. 19:11–20:15
V.Visions of the New EarthRev. 21–22

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