Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
The Book of Revelation was one of the topics studied in a Woodbrooke Bible Reading Course a few months ago. Here is a summary of a talk from it’s notes together with the meaningful commentary by William Barclay. We were encouraged to share with our meetings.
There is a spirit that runs all through the bible, and Revelation stems from what has gone before.
The Bible begins: In the beginning, God created so The Almighty existed before creation.
God does not change and we have an on-going living Creator who sustains the universe.
Next we’re given a mythical picture with a spiritual meaning - the ideal of a garden in which man and woman live in perfect peace with God. Here was all provision found to be wonderfully content.
Then we see utter faith that Abraham had in God that puts God above all else
We move on to four accounts of the Gospel, the Good news of Jesus, God made flesh to come amongst mankind as one of us. Jesus showed us the spiritual Messiah, the image of God.
Jesus told them ‘I and the Father are one’ and ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’.
Before he was arrested Jesus had forewarned his disciples but assuring them they would receive a spiritual Advocate or helper to empower them. The disciples did receive this Spirit, its wisdom and power. When the Book Revelation was written, about 60 years later, they numbered hundreds of thousands all over Asia who followed Christ as Lord.
The Early Quakers were well versed in the Bible; especially Revelation. It was the only book of the Bible that George Fox gave a point by point interpretation about.
With the traumas of a bloody Civil war and painful legal persecutions that countered the Catholics in the mid 17th C they could identify with those first Christians under their harsh Roman rule.
So we come to the book of Revelation written about AD 90.
The larger Churches in Asia were about the same size as Bournemouth meeting. Some Christians became itinerant travelling ministers (rather like many early Quakers). One of these was John who wrote down the visionary message.
Rome dominated everything politically and socially. In AD 90 the Emperor was Domitian - a man of savage cruelty who had a propensity for torture. In Revelation he was code-named the Beast.
He instigated a unifying law that every person throughout the realm must once a year publically declare that he, Domitian was Lord and God. A mark was then put on the forearm to show compliance, without which they were outlawed. This was impossible for Christians who received their power through commitment to the risen Christ. If they were not martyred, economic ruin confronted those who refused - they would not be accepted in trade associations and so were unable to buy or sell. Rome epitomised pride and arrogance.
Revelation is also known as Apocalypse meaning unfolding or revealing. It exposes the true nature of things through its symbolism and imagery in order to inspire hope and faithfulness.
Domitian condemned John the writer of Revelation to two years exile with hard labour and scourging, in the mines on the Isle of Patmos. Here he received the vision of Revelation which he most likely committed to paper in Ephesus after his release.
The book begins: ‘Through an angel John receives a vision from the risen Christ.’
The vision began with a voice as loud as a trumpet. John turned to see Christ himself :
Christ is defined as the first and the last – in other words the source of all truth.
Mankind can never create the truth; we receive the truth from God.
The particular 7 churches were all great trading cities with active communication links throughout Asia. The number 7 is considered the number of perfection and completeness so Revelation was written in effect for all established churches.
These seven Churches were given the code ‘lampstands’. Light comes from lampstands, but they are not the light themselves. Jesus declared himself the giver of the light - ‘The light of the world’.
‘Let him who has an ear, hear’ - in other words, THIS IS FOR EVERYONE.
The messages to these churches convey particular understanding of their situation and culture.
Jesus declares his presence amongst them all, ‘holding all the churches in his right hand’. The first church at Ephesus was known as the Highway of the Martyrs. It had a temple to Artemis, a strong pagan religion with much crime and immorality. Today the place is in ruins.
For the loyal church at Smyrna Christ has undiluted praise and were promised the Crown of Life.
Pergamum was built on a great hill topped with a huge shine to Athene known as Satan’s throne. But Christians remained loyal. Some were persuaded by teachings of Balaam towards conformity with the world’s values and morals. Christ declared his ‘two-edged sword’, his word that went deep into man’s being for conviction. He promised a ‘white stone (of purity) with a new name’ (representing a new self and character) for those who remain true to him.
Jezebel, at the Thyatira church, led a movement advocating compromise with the world’s standards in the interests of commercial prosperity. Membership of tradesman’s guilds depended on inclusion at their meetings, but this meant eating food sacrificed to idols and much sexual immorality. Christ showed eyes like fire in hatred of sin warned against such. But the faithful were praised for their love, faith, service and patient endurance.
The Sardis church was wealthy – but degenerate. There was no life, no spirit there, and the Christian church was lacking vitality. Church members were busy but ‘dead’ in the sins that came to captivate and rule them. Sin kills the highest part of human nature, so Christ called them to wake from their lethargy.
Those in the church at Philadelphia are described as ‘a pillar in the Temple of God’ for their loyalty despite persecution. They are presented with ‘an open door’ into God’s kingdom.
Laodicea was the only Church of which the Risen Christ had nothing good to say. It was a big banking and financial centre and one of the wealthiest cities in the world. They were proud and felt that they didn’t even need God. The vision says: ‘You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.’ It became a great manufacturing centre of clothing, but they didn’t realise that in the sight of God they were naked. It was a famous for their eye ointment exported abroad, but it was not realised that in the sight of God they were spiritually blind.
Their indifference, ‘neither hot nor cold’ made them nauseating to God. When one does not care one way or the other Love is frustrated and defeated.
We’re given the vision of a picture: 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. Jesus, much as He greatly desires to enter, never imposes. There is no handle on the outside of the door - it’s for us to open. His knock is continuous, but he uses just a light knuckle. When we invite him we gain his personal fellowship. Christ at the door portrays yearning and love knocking at the door of hearts. No religion other than Christianity portrays God as the seeker of people. George Fox wrote in 1676: ‘So what is this door that Christ knocks at? Is it not the door of your hearts, minds, and souls? And therefore, do not you stop your ears and close your eyes like the Pharisees, but hear Christ’s voice, by turning at the reproofs (or disapprovals) of his spirit and his light; and then he which hath enlightened you will ‘come in, and sup with you and you with him.’
The book of Revelation moves on with visions of terror in the last times – the ultimate workings of God for mankind, signs of the last and final battle between God and the forces of evil.
Beyond that were seen blessings and glory in the power of the Almighty God.
At the end of the book of Revelation: God creates A new heaven and a new earth.
‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God’.
This is not a literal city. Jerusalem as a symbol becomes a mirror of humanity, we’re offered a new, perfect place coming to us from heaven to spend our lives with God.
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