Jesus’ command to John to “fear not” was also the motivation for the writing down of the visions he was to receive- namely to encourage believers to not be afraid in the face of persecution and an unknown future.
1. How has what we have read thus far in Revelation chapter 1 already been of help to you in combatting a fear of the future? What are some ways these visions of Christ might embolden believers in the face of suffering and, even, death?
2. We continue to see that the Old Testament is referenced quite often in the book of Revelation. This should lead us to conclude that no one can possibly understand what is contained within it without some working knowledge the OT, especially the writings of the prophets. It also helps us to understand why there is such a wide variety of interpretations of the book of Revelation that differ in so widely in their conclusions. For example, if someone believes that the prophecies of the OT prophets are limited in their application to Jews or the nation of Israel and, for God to be faithful to His promises, they “must” find their fulfillment in a Jewish/Israeli context (a dispensationalist approach), how might they read Revelation differently than someone who understands the prophets to be speaking to the elect people of God which includes both believing Jews and Gentiles (the church)?
3. John says that he was a “partner in the tribulation” (1:9). He had also written in 1 John 2:18, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (also: 1 John 4:3 “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already”), how do these verses help us to understand John’s perspective on when he was living in relation to the “end times” and how does it differ than what most people today assume?
4. Some have argued that the 7 churches are listed in the order they are because they represent 7 different church ages. By this way of understanding, the church in Ephesus represented the early church and Laodicea represents the church right before the return of Christ. Look up a map of the 7 churches of Revelation. Assuming that the ‘church age’ view is incorrect, based upon the map why do you think the churches are listed in the order that they are?
5. At the time of writing Revelation, John clearly assumed that his readers would know what “the Lord’s day” was. In the late 90’s it became fashionable for churches to try ‘creative’ approaches to worship which included some churches changing when they would gather for worship. For example, Willow Creek Community Church (at the time the most influential evangelical church in the country and a trend setter for ‘seeker sensitive churches’) devoted Sunday mornings to an evangelistic service to which non-believers (or ‘seekers’) were invited, while church members were expected to gather on Thursday nights for worship. What would you say to such an approach?
Our confession (Chapter 22, paragraph 7) says this regarding the proper day of worship:
It is the law of nature that in general a portion of time specified by God should be set apart for the worship of God. So by his Word, in a positive-moral and perpetual commandment that obligates everyone in every age, he has specifically appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy to him.(28) From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ the appointed day was the last day of the week. After the resurrection of Christ it was changed to the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s Day.(29) This day is to be kept to the end of the age as the Christian Sabbath, since the observance of the last day of the week has been abolished.
(28) Exodus 20:8. (29) 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10.
Some Christians argue that the day when the church gathers for worship is unimportant. Why does our confession disagree?
When many Christians consider the 10 commandments, they recognize the importance of 9 of the commandments, but the commandment regarding the Sabbath is the exception. Typically, they will appeal to Paul’s comments in Romans 14:5-12 and Colossians 2:16-17 to argue that the requirement to meet one day out of seven and on a particular day was abrogated by Christ. Our confession (and, thus, CRBC) argues that this interpretation of these passages is in error. Expecting that some of you still struggle with understanding why we would say that this command is still binding on believers, engage in this activity: Assume for the sake of argument that Paul, while writing Romans 14 and Colossians 2, fully expected believers to understand that gathering on Sundays for worship was, indeed, binding on them as the proper approach to Christian worship. How might we reconcile that expectation with what he has written?
6. Some argue that Revelation 1:19 is a key verse for understanding the structure of the book. In this verse Jesus tells John, “write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” The argument is that “the things that you have seen” include Revelation chapter 1; “those that are” refers to Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and which describes the ‘age’ that we are currently in (i.e., the church age); and “those that are to take place after this” refers to everything from chapter 4 to the end with those events still lying in the future. Glance over Revelation 12 (or read it slowly if you want) and consider why this approach to understanding the structure of the book might be a little too rigid.
Some helpful hints for answering the questions:
Question 2: For those who believe that the prophecies “must” be fulfilled in national Israel/Jews as opposed to the church, there are so many prophecies alluded to in Revelation that they “need” to have a way to make a sharp distinction between the church and Israel and limit many of the visions to Israel. This is why the teachings behind a “pre-tribulational rapture” are so important in a dispensationalist framework. The rapture removes the church from the earth leaving behind only Jews with whom God then “rebegins” the work He put on hold when He began the so-called “church age.” Since God had made land promises to the Jews, they believe that God must restore national Israel to prominence or He could be accused of being unfaithful. Thus, portions of Revelation are looked at as God being faithful to His promises to the Jews while Christians are resting in the presence of the Lord.
Those who understand the promises of the OT in a more “covenantal” way as being for all believers- Jews and Gentiles alike- no such approach is necessary. A covenantal approach is the approach of Reformed Baptists. Some of the key passages for us are:
· Romans 4:16-18- Abraham is the “father of us all.”
· Romans 11:17 – “you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree.”
· Galatians 3:28-29 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek…If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
· Galatians 4:21-31- “the Jerusalem above is free; and she is our mother” and “now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”
· Galatians 6:16 – “peace and mercy be upon…the Israel of God.”
· Ephesians 2:11-22- “(Jesus) has made us both one…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two….you are no longer strangers and aliens, bu you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
· Ephesians 3:6 – “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
· The whole book of Hebrews where the shadows and promises in the OT are all fulfilled in Christ and His church.
We understand, as those who have been ‘grafted in’ and who are able to count Abraham as our father and are, therefore, heirs and children of promise, that the promises in the OT are ours as well, recognize no need for a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church (in fact it is the Church that is called “the Israel of God”) and, therefore, are able to see the whole of Revelation as a book written to us.
Question 3: John clearly believed he was living in the last hour (not just last days but the last hour of the last day!). Does this mean that there will not be an uptick in persecution and a “great tribulation”? No, Jesus indicates that persecution will increase in Matthew 24. Does this negate the idea of “an antichrist” character arising in the future? Again, no. BUT it does mean that we need to be sober in our approach and not understand that we are living in the calm before the storm. We are in the storm now but it will get worse. And we might want to consider if there are already “antichrists” that are around, then he will not be like a character out of the movies but someone of prominence that fits in with the current political/cultural scene.
Question 4: It seems that the order of the churches is nothing more than the order in which they lay on the route a messenger would have taken to deliver this letter from John from church to church.
Question 5: The way that we would understand Paul’s writings would include:
a. Christians did not need to observe the “Sabbath” in that they did not need to go to the temple on Saturdays. This was a common practice of the early Christians as seen in the book of Acts. Paul is saying to them- “You can do that if you want, but you are under no obligation. Rather, we gather in the Lord’s Day for worship now.”
b. “Festival, new moon and Sabbath” (Colossians 1:16) was a way of referring to old covenant laws (as seen in Hosea 2:11) and, therefore, Paul is saying that believers are not bound to old covenant religious structures given under the Mosaic Law but he is not saying that we should not gather weekly for worship. Also, various gatherings on the Jewish calendar were referred to as “Sabbaths” not simply meeting for worship on Saturday.
Question 6: Revelation 12 concerns the events of the Savior’s birth, hence it is describing events from the past rather than something we are looking to in the future. The fact is that there are several places where past events will be referenced and so we can’t simply say that everything from chapter 4 forward is something that is yet to come.