7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness

Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write” 

Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Amen tends to be a word, meaning “so be it!”, that is put at the end of a solemn statement to strengthen or guarantee it. Jesus thus comes as the One who brings truth to all we know of God, the One who confirms the revelation of the Old Testament, the One who is the “faithful and true witness”. To his disciples he said, If you really know me, you will know my Father as well …. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:7,9) To the crowds he taught, “I know him because I am from him and he sent me,” (Jn 7:29) and, “he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (Jn 8:26) Later the writer to the Hebrews was to write of Jesus, his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:2,3) This is the Jesus who comes to this church, the Lord of the earth.

Assessment – Half-Hearted: The one who walks among the church and who sees and knows all things declares, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (3:15,16) Neither hot nor cold? Must be tepid, half-way, half-hearted, lukewarm, and because they are neither one thing nor another, he warns, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Wow! This is serious.

Self-Deceived: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (v.17) I suspect the bigger the church (building) the more likely this is true today. Ours is not massive but it is beautiful and therein is the danger. We sit there week by week and we feel good about ‘our church’. We are well-dressed and well fed, and we have such a nice environment that we feel so good. If you worship in a great building, ponder on this deeply. Jesus said of this church that they were, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Check those words out: wretched – shameful; pitiful – pathetic; poor – weak and feeble; naked – undressed. Consider their opposites, what we should be: wretched – glorious; pitiful – glorious; poor – rich; naked – clothed. Can we say we are a glorious body of Christ (revealing the glory of God), rich in all the spiritual attributes, graces and gifts, clothed in the glorious robes of righteousness that distinguish us from the world round about us?

The big issue here is not only their state, but that fact that they don’t realize it. They are deceived into believing that they are all right, even more than that, that they are rich. Simply because we are well off, more affluent than any previous generation, does not make us spiritually rich. A spiritually rich church is one that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this hopefully wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformation, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life. We may think we are rich but if these things are absent, we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

The Threefold Answer: Jesus may be on the verge of spitting them out but he still brings them counsel to enable them to change: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (v.18) First, buy from Jesus (with your obedient, loving, sacrificial lives) refined gold – real faith formed through suffering (1 Pet 1:7), faith that stands out in its reality, its expression, lives that truly respond to the living word of God that continues to come. Faith is what makes us rich in Christ. Second, white clothes that reveal the work of Christ. When we are naked we are seen in all our weakness, our vulnerability, but when we are clothed with the robes of righteousness that God provides for us (see Zech 3:3-5 for a lovely picture of this) all that is seen is his work in us, and he is glorified. Third, salve to cleanse our eyes. Surely this must be truth, that clears out the deceptive muck and allows us to see reality as it truly is.

Hear Me!  “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:19,20) What an amazing offer. First of all, you repent. That has got to come first always. But then, second, hear my knocking, I want to come into your lives in a new way, I want to eat with you, sit and fellowship with you, hear your lives and share mine with you. This is a staggering approach of the Son of God, the Lord of all things.  This is the equivalent of the way he dealt with the apostle Peter when he had denied him three times. If we had been onlookers we would have been watching for Jesus to shred him to pieces but instead, he commissions him to lead the Church. Incredible grace! And now here, can we see this same thing? He has thoroughly condemned them and shared that he had even been thinking of spitting them out, but what do we now find? He is offering to come to them afresh to enter into a new time of intimate fellowship. Unbelievable! Well, not really, but yes it is incredible!

The Overcomer: Again he is not writing them off but offering a possibility that is mind-blowing, well certainly if you are a wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and motley crew. Get it sorted, he says, and then, “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  Note NOT stand or bow before him in abject surrender of the vanquished failures that they are, but to SIT ON HIS THRONE with him, i.e. to share in the role of ruling over all things! It comes through death to self, just as it did to him who had to pass through death on the Cross, but the reward is this mind-blowing offer that probably defeats our understanding so incredible it is.

I think we need to reflect again on each of these visions of Jesus and on these churches, their good points and bad, so let’s move on to do some summarizing of these two amazing chapters in the next studies.

Lord of the Church Introduction

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  Lord of the Church Introduction

Rev 1:10,11   On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,  which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches

Why? God’s guidance comes in many different forms. I have recently, by accident I would have said, found myself reading a book in which a pastor tells his story and it involved the book of Revelation. Just a couple of words he said grabbed me and nudged me back to the familiar first three chapters of Revelation, and so here I am with a heart hooked and wondering what is coming. It had better start with the feel that I have. I have studied this book again and again over the years and marveled at it, but I fear sometimes that we analyze in such a measure that we fail to grab a sense of the reality of what was going on.

As I glimpsed into chapters 2 and 3 this morning it struck me what a kaleidoscope of experiences and challenges with find here. No two churches are the same for the Church comprises people and people all have their own life experiences and experiences of God, and so every local church, although it may have similarities to many others, will have their own struggles, and that I believe is what we will see here, that is the sense I have here.  We will first of all go through the seven churches individually in each study, and then will conclude with 3 recap studies; first focusing on how Christ portrays himself, second on different ways the struggles against the enemy are seen, and finally on the possibilities that are offered to over-comers of those struggles. That’s the plan!

To Whom: After the prologue of verses 1 to 3 in chapter 1, we see straight away the direction of what is about to come: John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:” (v.4a) The ‘Asia’ here was just one province in Asia Minor. If you have maps in the back of your Bible, possibly showing Paul’s journeys, you should see it there, together with the seven cities that are soon to be mentioned: “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (v.10,11)

The Greeting: As with many such letters in the New Testament, he starts his letter to them with, “Grace and peace to you.”  i.e. may God’s provision be yours and may it bring you peace. He speaks as a messenger from God: “from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne.” (v.4b) i.e. God who is eternal, God who is Spirit, God who rules on high. But this blessing to them also comes, “from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (v.5a) i.e. the Son who has faithfully testified to the Father in his ministry on earth, who was raised from the dead and who now rules over the earth (see Psa 110:1,2 & 1 Cor 15:25). John comes with all the authority of the Godhead.

John’s Testimony: Pastor John seeks to draw alongside those to whom he is about to write.  We’ve just said he’s come bringing the blessing of the Godhead and he comes with the authority of God, but that authority also comes because of what has happened to him and what is happening to him: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” (v.9a) He stands with them, he is a brother in Christ and he has shared in the suffering that believers so often experience, a suffering that requires endurance to ‘just hang on in there’. But there is more. He, “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v.9b) Patmos was a prison island and he is there because, as a faithful pastor, he was a thorn in the side of the authorities who banned him there. I have heard it said from the underground church in China, that a qualification for being a pastor there is, have you been in prison?

From Whom: After the instruction we saw in verses 10 and 11, he explains to his readers how this message came that he will shortly be passing on. In the vision he heard the voice speaking to him, turned around and, “saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,” (v.12,13) a term used by Jesus and seen in Dan 7:13 referring to the one coming from heaven, the Messiah. He appears, not as the one John had known on earth but as a priestly figure (v.13) of great wisdom (v.14a) but penetrating eyes (v.14b). He also appears as one who has been through the testing and trying of the furnace of life and yet who now speaks with immense power and authority (v.15).

He holds seven stars in his right hand (the hand of authority), he speaks with cutting authority and his face shines with the glory of God (v.16). His appearance petrifies John, because he is so unlike the one he knew before, so that he just falls before him lifeless (v.17a). The Son reassures him (v.17b) and John declares, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (v.17,18) The description is of eternal divinity in human form, a form that had died but had been raised. He explains that the seven stars are the angels or leaders (unclear which) and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

And So? So we have seen how John came to be writing: in exile on Patmos he gets this vision and in it he hears a voice and sees this figure who has to be Jesus and he is shown to be the one who has all authority over the seven churches amongst whom he walks. One might wonder why these seven churches and no other? Two main reasons are usually given. First, it may be that these were seven churches over which John had apostolic authority. It is thought he was an elder in Ephesus and perhaps it is significant that Ephesus is the first one mentioned. Second the number seven occurs many times in the book and seven is considered (for a variety of reasons) to be the perfect number that signifies completeness. Thus, it is reasoned, these encouragements, exhortations and challenges to these seven churches might be considered to be God’s word to the whole church. It is likely that these words would get spread over the whole area and so any church might read what was said to these seven and wonder how they stood before the all-seeing eyes and challenging voice of the ascended Son of God, the head of the Church, the Lord of all the earth.  In that sense these words should be a challenge to the whole Church.

However, from our point of view, the sense that I have is that as we meditate on what the Lord says to each church, we will see the variety of experiences that confront church life and within that we will find encouragement, exhortation and challenge. To keep these studies simple I am going to avoid going into detail about each of the places, for the place does impact on what was happening, but I am simply going to take at face value the things said, as things that can face any church anywhere.  For the same reason I am not going to get into any of the various schools of interpretation about possible ‘bigger meanings’, we will simply see the church in that day and see what it says to us for our church today.

45. God of Salvation

Getting to Know God Meditations:  45. God of Salvation

Mt 1:21   She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Jn 3:17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Heb 2:1-4  We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Towards the end:  As we come to the end of this series it is perhaps appropriate that we try to sum up some of the key things we have considered as we have walked this particular path. If you asked me why we have the Bible, why it exists even, my answer would be that God has given us a mean of seeing reality in a way that no one or no thing anywhere else in all Creation does. That ‘reality’ explains why we are like we are, how we came to be like we are – indeed, it forces us to face what we are truly like – and it lays out possibilities of what can be, and all of these things are to do with God.

Restating the Problem:  The big picture presented by the Bible reveals the following:

  1. God designed and brought this world into being – it is no accident.
  2. God designed us with free will – necessary to enable us to be human beings with all of the creative potential we have. (we are made in ‘the image of God’ and so each of us can reflect something of Him – goodness, kindness, compassion, creativity – great potential).
  3. From the outset we chose to reject God’s design instructions and as a result we have never fully functioned properly since, i.e. actually every single one of us is dysfunctional – we aren’t living as we were designed to live.
  4. The Bible calls this propensity within each of us, Sin, what I define as self-centred, godlessness that leads to self-destructive unrighteous, seen in such things as pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath (the seven so-called ‘cardinal sins’ of the heart), and the outworking of those, lies, and deceit, violence, abuse etc. etc. We may be creative, compassionate etc., but it doesn’t stop us being self-centred and godless and doesn’t stop us making a mess of life – see the life histories of famous artists, writers, composers etc.
  5. As far as God is concerned He appears at a distance (if He exists) and so we are left to struggle through life using our own limited resources which often run out or fall short (hence so much ‘mental illness’ today).

Restating the Answer: The big picture presented by the Bible reveals the following:

  1. Although mankind ‘fell’ having rejected Him, He nevertheless was still there communicating and reaching out to us.
  2. To enable the world to see this in action, He called Abraham to start a family – Isaac, Jacob – that became the nation of Israel through whom He sought to reveal Himself in the way He provided for them, blessed them, protected and led them; yet they, like their ancestors, constantly turned away from Him despite all the incredible things He did for them, simply revealing even more clearly the fact of the presence of sin in each and every one of us.
  3. Eventually, now about two thousand years ago, He sent His Son from heaven, born as a baby, seen in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Through the ministry that Jesus exercised we saw the incredible love of God being manifest as he “went around doing good and healing,” and “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did … through him.”  
  4. His death by execution on a cross at the hands of the Romans, but incited by the Jewish authorities, was a travesty of justice in human terms but in divine terms was justice being satisfied in respect of every single one of us as the Son of God took our punishment, in our place.
  5. The result of this – and this is the Gospel – is that every one of us can come to God and receive forgiveness for our past dysfunctional, godless lives and receive new power to live new lives from Him, whereby we receive His guidance, His directions, His enabling to live godly, good lives, lives that no longer strive for acceptance because we are accepted by The One who counts, no longer striving for self-centred goals because He who knows best, has things on His heart for each of us so that we may have a sense of purpose, direction and fulfillment than can come from no other source.
  6. Because of these things, death is no longer to be feared for He imparts and conveys eternal life to us so that ‘death’ is simply passing on into the eternity that we have with Him where all limitations on receiving His love and goodness are removed. That is our inheritance.

And So? Dishonesty, that comes from a fearful sense of inadequacy, so often stops us facing what we are really like. Insecurity, not knowing the love of God for us, is what blinds us to the wonder of what He offers to us, and so the work of God towards each one of us is to watch over each of us, looking, watching for a chink in this self-protective deceptive armor, so that His word can penetrate our darkness and shed light which, if we respond, grows and grows and brings conviction that shows us the truth about ourselves and the truth of what He offers.

It is a battle but as we surrender, all we find is that, contrary to the lies we have been fed, He is there for us and His arms of love are open to us. When we surrender our pride, our past and our present perversity and lay it down before Him, He takes it, removes it and replaces it with the most wonderful sense of being loved, accepted, forgiven, cleansed and remade. When that happens it is but the start of an eternal future, the wonder of which will never be fully appreciated this side of death – but we will some sense of it immediately. This is what this series has been all about.

It is possible that you may have only found it near the end – well, catch the wonder and go back when you have the time to see the detail that has been here in the previous 44 studies. It is possible you have been reading as an unbeliever. That can change; it just needs honesty, acceptance of the truth and a surrender to Him, receiving His salvation through Christ, a new life, and all this will happen as you pray. Don’t worry about the words, just utter your heart. For those who have been reading and you are already believers, let the truths we have been laying out, touch your heart afresh with the wonder of it all, and worship Him. Be blessed.

44. God of the End Game (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  44. God of the End Game (2)

Dan 12:1,2   There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Mt 13:48  This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous”

Continuing:  In the previous study we started pondering on the limited life this earth appears to have and how views of the future can be so different. The secular materialist looks at the various doomsday scenarios being painted today and sees only death and destruction and gloom and doom (hence Doomsday), but the Christian sees all this simply as a path through a scarred battlefield, on the other side of which is something so glorious that it is difficult to comprehend.

A Winding Up? The thought of all these various doomsday scenarios coming to a head simply suggests a bringing to an end of what had been a relatively short human history, but the Bible doesn’t leave the end in the hands of sinful mankind. As we considered before, the Revelation of John brings us prophetic insights that may or may not be literal or they may be figurative, but what is conveyed above all else, is that God is in charge and that His angels open up the way ahead, a way that is supposed to bring mankind to a point of repentance, but which instead simply shows the intransigence of sin: “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts,” (Rev 9:20,21) and then later, “the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him,” (Rev 16:8,9) and, “People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Rev 16:10b,11)

How bizarre sin is, this self-centred, godless propensity we cling to in the face of a God who says, “I love you and want to bless you,” but still, as a world, we reject Him. In many ways, I believe, although the overall image is of God bringing these things into being, nevertheless when we look at them in the light of what – today – we see mankind doing, most of these things in Revelation are the result of the works of mankind and Revelation is merely a warning of the strongest kind of where we are heading.

The First End: What is referred to as the Second Coming of Christ is, if the concluding chapters are to be read as chronological history (and it’s not always clear with prophecy), the bringing to an end of the reign of mankind. The picture is of Christ returning as a conquering king (see Rev 19:11-21) who is resisted but who conquers and destroys those who hold out against him. Now I have called this ‘the first end’ because it does not end there. Satan is bound and removed from the scene for a thousand years, the source of deception and temptation and outright destruction is removed (see Rev 20:1-3) and it is clear that mankind – “the nations” (v.3) – continue on in this period until Satan is released and is used to allow him to sift the hearts of men and women and deceive who will be deceived who rebel against God (yet again) and seek to move against God’s people in Jerusalem (see Rev 20:7-9) but fire from heaven simply ‘devours’ them.

Judgment: This is then followed by the Final Judgment, a time when every person who has ever lived has to stand before God and face their past life. All non-believers are consigned to a second death, the ultimate end of them with no further possible future (see Rev 20:11-15).  Again, I would simply comment that scholars struggled with these passages over the centuries, pondering whether they are a chronological rolling out of events involving mankind or whether this is some figurative description of what will yet to come, and so I leave you to make your own assessment. What is quite clear, however else we may understand it, is that a) God is in control always, b) He has the will and power to bring about the end He wants and c) that end involves the activities of mankind being put under the microscope, if you like, to bring a faithful conclusion whereby justice is seen to be done and salvation through the work of Christ on the Cross brings forth large numbers of redeemed members of the human race.

The Ultimate End – a New Beginning: But there are still two chapters of revelation to go. Chapter 21 shows us a new heaven and a new earth (v.1,5), a new Jerusalem (v.2, 10-21) where God and His people dwell together in total peace and harmony (v.3,4) with no more death or pain or tears.  Chapter 22 shows a river flowing from the throne of God, down through the new city that brings life wherever it flows (22:1-2). When the angel says to John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near,” (22:10) and later Jesus says to him, Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done,” (22:12) it leaves one wondering if these words give warning and promise of what each of us will face when we die and step out of time-space history. For those who live and are yet to come, the judgments, battles etc., are still to be rolled out in history, but for those of us believers who ‘die’, do Jesus’ words to the penitent thief apply to what we have just been reading: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ?(Lk 23:43)

Questions, wonderings, speculations, but all in the face of the Scriptures before us. As one wise preacher once said, ‘It will all pan out right in the end’. God knows how it will all happen but in the meantime you and I have so much before us in His word, that we will never ever be able to say, “You didn’t warn me.” We don’t need to understand it all to be able to see that God has an end-game on his agenda (whether immediately after we die or yet in times ahead) and if we respond to His Son, Jesus, we can have a glorious part in it. If we refuse him, our part will be truly inglorious! The warnings of things to be avoided are there, the promises of blessings to be received are there, it is up to us how we will respond to it.

43. God of the End Game (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  43. God of the End Game (1)

2 Pet 3:7   the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Pet 3:10  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare

2 Pet 3:11-13  You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

Limited:  Perhaps there is no greater untruth that the human mind has held onto than, “This is all there is and this is all there ever will be.” In science, once upon a time, there was the belief that everything that is had always existed, but now scientists believe in a beginning. In the world today there are rumors of doomsday scenarios, the definition of which is, ‘an extremely serious or dangerous situation that could end in death or destruction.’  The possible end of this world has, in recent years, become a topic of frequent conversation. Interesting!  No longer is that untruth held so strongly.

Throughout the Bible the are many clear references to both the beginning and a purposeful end to all we know, and it is clearly by the design of God. The duration of this world is thus seen in the Bible as limited, and increasingly the world is agreeing with that.

Work of Mankind? The question that must lurk behind all this talk is, is the beginning and the end a work of chance (beginning) AND of mankind (ending) or are both the design and will of God? In the ‘doomsday discussion’ the environment features largely, population explosion used to be but not so much now, but other ends at the hands of mankind also now feature largely: the continuing threat of nuclear holocaust and terrorism (may be one and the same thing, very high probability), robotics & human destruction (the Matrix scenario), ‘Star Wars’ weaponry and warfare (growth of technology to kill which, in the wrong hands may be devastating), cyborg lives (technology within the body changing us out of all recognition), superhumans (intellect/memory enhancement, ditto with all the ensuing problems, social and economic), biological pandemics (on purpose & accidental). All of these things in one form or another have in recent years become possible realities, realities that end the human race and possibly the very existence of the planet.

Work of God? When we turn to the Bible, the last book, Revelation, which is mostly a prophecy of the ‘end times’ and ‘The End’ confirms the probability (not merely ‘possibility’) of large scale destruction, seen as angelic prophetic figures apparently bring destruction, for example, “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Rev 6:8) War, famine and plague are observable features of history, one thing leading on to the other so that when the population is wiped out, wild animals roam the earth unhindered. We also read later, “A third of the earth was burned up.” (Rev 8:7) When I was young I could not think how such destruction could be but in my lifetime so much has changed that it is easy to conceive it now.

But is God the instigator of these things, and how do they come about? Well clearly, as we have been considering with the talk of doomsday scenarios, these are all the work of mankind. What the Bible does show is that sometimes, mankind seems to get to such of rebellion against God that we find the words, “God gave them over to…” (Rom 1:24,26,28) suggesting that His acts of judgment often take the form (and we see it again and again in the book of Judges) of Him lifting off His hand of restraint so that mankind is given the freedom to do exactly what it wants – and that ends up being self-destructive – but it is our choice! The book of Revelation is, remember, pure prophecy and prophecy is sometimes literal and sometimes figurative. The angels cited above may or may not be figurative but the outcomes, we have just demonstrated, could be the work of mankind and the destruction literal.

A Glooms-day Scenario? Is this just gloomy talk or is there something more here? May I make a suggestion which I don’t think is expressly stated in the Bible yet I believe is clearly there. Again and again God sets up mankind to live and be blessed but each time the consequences of free will mean that Sin (self-centred, godlessness leading to self-destructive living) prevails. We see it in the beginning and we see it in the establishing of the nation of Israel that we have considered in earlier studies. Israel went into hiding for two thousand years (see Rev 12) but have now been restored to their land. With the development of science and technology, God has enabled us to provide for the whole world (if we will only use it for that) so that every human could benefit from it. That could have been the possibility but instead, the very presence of all these doomsday scenarios shows us clearly that we are more bent on destruction than on life and blessing and so John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation simply record that. Godless mankind, bent on doing their own thing,  appear bent on their own destruction. That unfortunately includes you and me!

Is that all? So is a burnt-out earth all we can look forward to? If aliens (should they exist) turn up in a hundred years, will all they find is a scorched earth, a devastated earth that so many films portray as a possible outcome? The Biblical prophetic answer of Revelation says definitely not but to see that we will need to move on into another study to be able to cover it in the required detail.

And So? So what are we left with? We have considered a scenario where God creates this wonderful world and us on it. To enable us to be human in the sense we know, not robots, thus able to be creative, loving, thinking, reasoning, etc., He gave us free will. The truth, that has been made obvious multiple times in the Bible, is that we have used that to do our own thing to the exclusion of God and whenever we do that it has destructive consequences, often allowed by God but motivated by us.  That sequence has been seen a number of times and appears to be in its final phase where the science and technology we have been given to bless the world is, in fact, being used by us to bring about greater destruction than ever before possible – our choice.

Nevertheless, godlessness still prevails and so the end will come either by the hand of God (which we’ll look at in the next study) or by the hand of man, permitted by God, but with a yet further goal in mind. The future holds questions marks but some things are clear from the Bible: first, it is not ‘out of control’, it is all happening by the permissive will of God; second, He has an ultimate ‘end game’ in mind which will be achieved; third, the duration of the existence of mankind on this earth is strictly limited; finally God’s intent is that there is yet to be something infinitely more glorious to come than we can possibly comprehend at the moment and this, too, will be the subject of the next study.

42. God of Resurrection (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  42. God of Resurrection (2)

1 Cor 15:3-5   Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….  he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

Rev 20:4,5 They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

Jn 11:25,26    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Resurrection?   Resurrection, I suspect, is something that again rarely crosses the mind of the average person and maybe for that reason they might struggle with the very idea. In the previous study we merely noted that there were instances, prophetic and poetic of the belief that God can raise us up when we are dead, that there is more after visible physical death. Yet it is fairly obvious that the very idea of Jesus’ death and resurrection were alien to the disciples. Again and again Jesus told them these two things would happen – see Mt 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:17-19 – and yet when the events rolled out and he was crucified, they simply could not believe that he was alive again – see Mk 16:11, Lk 24:11,12,37,38, Jn 20:2,9,25. I find these very human responses very reassuring when it comes to the veracity of the Bible – who would have recorded this unbelief unless it was true?

Past Examples: The strange thing about this unbelief is that, not only had the disciples heard Jesus a number of times prophesying that this would happen, but they had seen his power at work raising the dead.  He had raised a woman’s dead son (Lk 7:11-17), he raised Jairus’s daughter (Lk 8:49-56) and of course, the big one, he raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11). The son would have been dead many hours, Jairus’s daughter was clearly dead and “her spirit returned” (v.55) and Lazarus had been dead several days. When Martha, Lazarus’s sister, challenged Jesus when he eventually turned up, he responded, “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.23,24)

She is a good Jew and well taught and so knows this teaching. It is then that he responds with one of our starter verses, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”   “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn 11:26,27) There are three significant parts to those verses. First, Jesus’ declaration, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” Death may come he says, but life will follow! Wow! What a reversal. Second, he says, “and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” This goes a step further by emphasizing that it is belief in Jesus that brings us life, and so having received that new life from him, when physical death does eventually come, as it will, that does not mean that the believer is lost; it just means that ‘that life’ received from Christ, was the precursor or first stage of the eternal life they will experience when they pass through death. The third thing is Martha’s response of belief: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Now the Messiah was to be the deliverer who came from heaven and by making this declaration she is saying, “Of course I believe you because I know who you really are.”

The Concept Applied: The apostle Paul wrote along these lines to the Romans: “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:10,11) The paraphrase Message version puts this interestingly, “It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” The emphasis of that version directs us to see that Christ’s life is what is conveyed to us when we come to him, so we come alive to God. It can’t help but also accept that that life will impact us physically as well, which implies something about the body going on after death.

In the classic passage on resurrection that Paul writes in 1 Cor 15, after having laid out the evidence for Christ having being raised, Paul goes on to lay out some theological thoughts (v.12-34) but then goes on to consider the nature of the resurrection body (v.35 on) and concludes, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.42-44) i.e. our physical body dies but in eternity we will receive a new ‘spiritual’ body. The word ‘spiritual’ is open to question but note it is a body, a means of life being carried, identifiable and able to interact with other such bodies. Sometimes commentators point to Jesus’ raised body that appeared to move about more speedily than before and even appeared to be able to pass through locked doors, though the writers make the point that this is not a ghost but a body who could be touched, spoken to and listened to.

Uncertainty: However, a variety of words are used to describe what may yet happen to us in the future. For example when Peter was preaching shortly after Pentecost he declared, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19) The timing of those words may suggest that refreshing or new life is what always follows repentance. Jesus, speaking had said, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne…” (Mt 19:28) which could mean after his ascension or after his second coming, which may be more likely in the light of Peter’s preaching again, Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21)

A Specific Resurrection:  So far we have observed Jesus’ resurrection and the apostle Paul making some comment about us having the same power, in us now, that raised Jesus from the dead, and then the different ways of describing what will yet happen. Now let’s consider some of the more specific things that are said about the End. For example, Jesus himself, speaking of the end times presumably, said, a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (Jn 5:28,29) The picture is of a resurrection at some future date. The apostle Paul, presumably referring to the same event, declared, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thess 4:16,17) The message seems quite clear – there will come a time of resurrection.

The apostle Paul, before Governor Felix declared, “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (Acts 24:15) Note a resurrection of both the good and the bad. In Revelation 20, John shows the division between the two, the first being the believers at what was referred to as ‘the first resurrection’ (Rev 20:4,5) who were raised and brought to life to reign of a set period, before all the rest (unbelievers) who are raised in what must be implied as the ‘second resurrection’ (although those words never appear) when all have to stand before God and be accountable (Rev 20:12-15) in what is referred to as the Final Judgment.

The Difficulty: I have said previously, do not think in material-time terms. Whether these things take place in a split second or in eternity where time does not exist, we will not know until it happens. The nature of the prophecy of Revelation means that many of us try to be too specific, I suggest, and it will only be when we are in it, part of it, that we will fully comprehend how it all works out. The ‘activities’ may be clear, but maybe the ‘timing’ is not so.

The Clarity: What does seem to be clear is that following physical death (some time?) there will be an experience of another ongoing life. For the believer it will be to reign with Christ and then spend eternity with God. For the unbeliever, it will be a time of being presented before God to account for their past life experience and confirm that justice would be right in condemning them to ultimate death where there will be no further chance of any future. Both of those experiences are what is being referred to when we speak of ‘the resurrection of the dead’. One is to confirm eternal life, the other to confirm NO future whatsoever. Before we approach the end of this series, we will do well therefore to seek to clarify what I will refer to a God’s ‘End Game’ and that will be the purpose of the next study.

41. God of Resurrection (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  41. God of Resurrection (1)

1 Cor 15:3-5   Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….  he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

1 Cor 15:13  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

Resurrection?   Resurrection simply means being raised to life when dead. The order is always life – death – resurrection, an order seen a number of times in the Bible, and most especially in the New Testament. Is it important? Well yes, because the defining act in respect of Christ is his resurrection but, as the apostle Paul said, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

Even more, the idea of resurrection is arguably the most powerful argument for the power of God in respect of human beings. We cannot bring ourselves back when we have fully died, but God can. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection,”  (Jn 11:25) he was declaring that he was both the life source that could enable resurrection to take place and the cause or reason that it can take place.

Resurrection Explicit in the Old Testament? Jesus challenged the unbelieving religious authorities before him, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. . . . As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God?” (Mt 22:29,31).  He was clearly implying that the Old Testament taught resurrection.

Daniel was told, at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1,2) An apparently end-time picture that features resurrection.

Isaiah prophesied, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isa 26:19) Whether he meant that literally, physically or allegorically is unclear, but the picture of resurrection is clearly there.

The Psalmists also contributed to the concept. In Psa 49 the psalmist declares that all will die, good and bad alike but adds, “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;  he will surely take me to himself.” (Psa 49:15) Resurrection there is linked with life after death, but nevertheless, still resurrection. In Psa 16 we find, “my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful  one see decay,” (Psa 16:9,10) verses that find an echo in the New Testament, applied to Jesus (Act 2:24-29). In Psa 71 we find, “you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.” (Psa 71:20) Again whether allegorical or literal is unclear but a resurrection reference, nevertheless.

Ezekiel, in his valley of dry bones vision (Ezek 37), is presented with an extreme possibility that involves resurrection, a valley of dry bones, the final remnants of dead people, and is challenged whether God can make them live, i.e. can they be resurrected?  But then God spells it out: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” (Ezek 37:12-14) Israel as a nation were as good as dead and as far as the world was concerned, they were lined up to die in graves there in Babylon – yet the work of God redeeming them and restoring them to their land would be without any doubt, an act of resurrection.

Resurrection Implicit in the Old Testament? Although in some of the above cases resurrection may be allegorical, symbolic of what would happen in life, nevertheless resurrection is quite explicit. However there are also a number of instances where resurrection – the bringing of life where only death exists – is implied or can be seen in what takes place. This is the study of ‘types’, seeing pictures (historical incidents) in the Old Testament as illustrating or foreshadowing things in the New Testament. For our purposes here, those ‘types’ or pictures are all in respect of resurrection.

Noah’s ark (Gen 6-8) is one such historical event, the nature of which speaks of a bigger reality. The world (Middle East or all of world) was doomed to destruction – death, end of mankind – but Noah and his family were carried through the flood, survived and continued what became the Hebrew family. In 1 Pet 3 the apostle Peter referring to the Ark says, “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you ….It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 3:20,21) The sense is that ‘in Christ’, even as Christ was raised from the dead, so are we and even as the Ark carried Noah safely through the judgment, so ‘in Christ’ we are saved from the Final Judgment, dead but now raised to eternal life.

Abraham (Gen 11:29,30) the childless nomad, married to a barren woman, is promised a son by God even though his wife’s body is beyond the capability of bearing a child. As far as child-bearing is concerned, she is dead, but God enabled her to conceive. Life flows in her body afresh – resurrection. Later Abraham is asked by God (Gen 22) to sacrifice the miracle son, Isaac, and as he goes to do it, God stops him and provides a substitute, a ram stuck in a nearby thicket. The writer to the Hebrew comments on this, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) A picture of resurrection.

Joseph surely has to be a similar picture. God has prophesied, in dreams Joseph received, that he would be ruler and savior of the family. Instead he is sold as a slave and imprisoned. He is as good as dead. There is no future – but then through more dreams God has him released from prison and made the second most powerful man in the region; the prophetic dreams fulfilled. He is raised from the dead, figuratively at least.

Moses, the Prince of Egypt who gets it wrong and has to flee Egypt and live as a shepherd in the desert of Sinai. He is as good as dead; he has no future and so the years just keep passing – forty of them – until God comes to him and takes him and uses him as the greatest shepherd of history (next to Jesus!). He is resurrected, figuratively at least.  Then there is Israel, the people, slaves in Egypt, as good as dead with no hope of liberation, doomed for eternity – and then God comes and delivers them. The Exodus has to be one of the great examples of resurrection, and it is finalized by the Passover where a nation’s inhabitants are all under the shadow of the angel of judgment who will destroy every first born son – in every family – except in the homes of those who will kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts so the destroying angel will see it and ‘pass over’ and leave them untouched. Death and resurrection because of a lamb of God. (Now see Jn 1:29,36 & Rev 5:6)

Barren Wives: The Old Testament almost seems littered with such women – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, all barren, all with apparently ‘dead’ wombs, who were then enabled to conceive – resurrection.

The Exile: We have already seen reference to this with Ezekiel but when Nebuchadnezzar utterly destroyed Jerusalem and took all the inhabitants into exile in Babylon, Israel were as good as dead, literally. It was the end of their time in the Promised Land, it was the end of them as a people – or so it seemed. God had destroyed them; they were dead. And then some forty years on, God stirs their current pagan overlord-king, Cyrus, who sends them back and they and Jerusalem are restored. Resurrection!

And So?  Well we have the New Testament to look at yet, but here we have both explicit words and implicit pictures again and again in the Old Testament, that testify to this amazing concept –  of the God who takes ‘dead’ people and ‘dead’ situations and raises up new life. The end of it is that He offers to take our ‘dead’ lives and raise them to new life, but for that we’ll have to wait until the next study that takes us into the New Testament.