Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Lamb and Scroll

Outline: Seven Seals - Lamb and Scroll
Passage: Revelation 5
Discussion audio (59 minutes)

The scene setting for the Act of the scroll and seven seals continues from where it left off in chapter 4 of Revelation. When the chapter is read through the eyes of watching a stage drama, the description has both suspense and surprise. It ends with a grand crescendo of a huge chorus (think of a modern musical) before the events of the rest of the Act continue.

The focus of chapter 5 is on the evolving description of Jesus. In the previous Act (the Seven Letters) he was seen as one walking amongst the churches on earth, evaluating their conditions and taking steps to correct, if necessary. In this Act Jesus is described as Lion and pictured as a Lamb who appears to be slain. His equality with God is again reiterated and as such is worthy to open the scroll and to receive praise and worship.

Jesus is no longer pictured on the earth, but in heaven, holding the authority and power to do something about the conflict raging on earth. Christians on earth might feel the oppressive power of Rome, but Revelation reveals that there is one in heaven who is greater than the emperor. The emperor may hold the power over temporal life and death over his subjects, but even he must submit to the Lamb who holds in his hands the scroll (book) of life – life to those whose names are written in it; judgment for those who have rejected the source of life.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Scroll and Seals–Interlude

Outline: Seven Seals - Interlude
Passage: Revelation 4
Discussion audio (53 minutes)

We now enter the second Act of the drama that is depicted in the book of Revelation. This chapter (4) is primarily a static description of the scene that sets the background for the next few chapters dealing with the Lamb and the Scroll with the seven seals. As in a theatre production I imagine backdrops and props being moved around and changed. Some elements of the old scene remain while new ones enter for the next scene.

Whereas the setting of the previous Act (the Seven Letters) began in heaven but shifted primarily to what was happening on earth, this upcoming second Act is set primarily in heaven: the throne in the temple of God and the activities (praise, worship, and adoration) surrounding it. Act One ended by raising some questions among which was: how is God/Jesus going to confront and resolve the conflict that his churches on earth are experiencing? Act Two appears to be part of the answer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Laodicea

Outline: Seven Churches – Laodicea
Passage: Revelation 3:14-22
Discussion audio (1 hour 36 minutes)

This seventh letter concludes the series of letters found at the beginning of Revelation. Towards the beginning it was noted that Revelation may be seen as a work of dramatic theater. With the seven letters the main characters of this drama are introduced, the broad outlines of the major conflict are defined, and the earth-side setting is laid out. We know that truth will overcome, but the question remains, how? The remainder of Revelation dramatizes how the conflict between good and evil, truth and lies, and the church and the world will play out.

This seventh letter to Laodicea contains more echoes of earlier letters than any other letter. As such, it seems to be a fitting conclusion and summary of the series of seven letters. The letters began (in the prelude to the letters) with a throne room scene in the heavenly temple. The letters end back with an image of the temple (Philadelphia, #6) and the throne (Laodicea, #7).

For those belonging to certain Christian traditions, this letter to Laodicea is one in which long-standing traditions and interpretations must be set aside, at least for a little while, in order to hear what the letter is and isn’t saying. It must be read and interpreted foremost in the context of this first Act and Scene of the Revelation drama.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Letter to the Seven Churches–Philadelphia

Outline: Seven Churches – Philadelphia
Passage: Revelation 3:7-13
Discussion audio (1 hour 32 minutes)

Powerless and discouraged, under attack, falsely accused… These words appear to describe the state of the church at Philadelphia. In spite of external pressures, this church remains faithful to Jesus and he has no criticism in regards to this church. He exhorts the church to remain faithful and promises that he is working to make things right.

In this letter, once again, true Israel (or in this letter specifically, true Jews) is composed of all who are faithful to God in Jesus. The term “Israel” as found in Revelation is not about race, nationality, or religion. This letter describes Jesus himself closing the door to the former means of access to God: the Hebrew and Jewish religious system based on the sanctuary and the temple. Jesus tells his audience that access to God based on that particular form will never, ever be open again. Instead Jesus describes himself as the new, open door which is the new means of access to God.

I am reminded of Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. When the woman asks which religious system is correct, Jesus’ response is neither (John 4:19-24). What this means is that salvation will never come through faithfulness to religious systems. At the time spoken, it would have meant Judaism, the Samaritan system, and also Roman and Greek religions. Today it would include the various eastern religions, Judaism, Islam, paganism, scientific naturalism, and yes, even Christianity. No tradition, forms, rituals, or a system of doctrinal beliefs can save. Just as Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman and to the church at Philadelphia, he is the one who saves and all who choose to be led by His Spirit are saved. Profession and words do not save; only the Spirit saves.1

The reality of our existence is that frequently we will feel discouraged and powerless. We often feel as if the world is against us. But what this letter to the church at Philadelphia tells us is that feelings and appearance does not always correspond to ultimate reality. The ultimate reality is that Jesus is with us, he loves us and claims us as his own, and he will reveal all that is true in his own time. Our work is to trust in his power and to depend upon his goodness and justice (i.e., righteousness).

1In case anyone is wondering, my soteriology falls into the camp of Inclusivists. In other words, I do not believe that a specific confession of the historical Jesus is necessary for salvation. Rather I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in all people and that the work of Jesus at the cross covers all who choose to be led by the Spirit, whether or not they ever literally confess the name “Jesus.”

Other soteriological views are universalism, which says God will save everyone, regardless of choice, confession, or Spirit; exclusivism, which says a literal confession of Jesus is the means to salvation; and specificism, which says not only a literal confession of Jesus is required, but a specific set of “right beliefs” are also required.