March 8, 2011 on 8:50 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on STARS AND LAMPSTANDS, Rev. 1:19, 20

In these verses John is commanded to write down what he has been shown pertaining to the past, present, and future. This lends credence to the historicist pattern of interpretation which starts at the time of the writer and continues into the future until Jesus comes–a continuous unfolding of prophecy. In verse 20 Christ talks of two more major symbols–stars and lampstands. These figure prominently in the next two chapters. Fortunately, He helps us out by interpreting these two symbols for us.

The stars He says stand for the “angels” of the seven churches (represented by lampstands). In the original Greek language, the word translated as “angels” means literally “messengers.” In other words, this can refer to regular human beings or to heavenly beings. Sometimes the word is indeed used in the Bible refer to a normal human being, though most of the time it appears to refer to angelic beings. But because of the dual meaning, commentators are divided as to its application here. Some believe there is an angel representing each church; others believe it is referring to the human church leader of each congregation. I lean toward the latter, as the messages are directed to very fallible human beings with great needs.

In verse 11 it was discussed that there are three ways of applying these messages to the seven church congregations, all of them equally valid and meaningful. The first is that they apply to the very real congregations in these particular cities in John’s day. They would have recognized themselves and found the counsel to be very helpful. Understanding more about the cities and churches of that day can help us interpret these along those lines. The second is that these unique congregations came to symbolize the Christian church through the following centuries as their particular characteristics seemed to correlate with the state of the church during those eras, as history seems to bear out. The third application is a spiritual one. There are spiritual lessons all of us can learn today from what has gone before. And in a sense, though the last day church is labeled Laodicean, yet in another sense it is also to some degree a composite of all that have gone before. For example, in the church of today you can find those who have lost their first love, those who have apostatized, those who are being persecuted, those who are lukewarm, etc.

Before we go into these seven church letters, there is a paradigm–a pattern or template– which each one follows that will help us in understanding the messages. Here is how I look at this outline:

1. Christ–The first thing we see is Christ presented to the church with a selection of characteristics from the vision in chapter one. The particular characteristics chosen are those which will meet the special needs of this congregation.

2. Commendation–With one exception, Christ looks for something to praise them for before He points out problems.

3. Censure–Now Christ begins to point out problems in the church that are serious hindrances to its growth. There are a couple exceptions to this one.

4. Counsel–Christ doesn’t leave the church hanging by merely pointing out problems. He has a solution for those problems and counsels them what should be done to remedy the problem.

5. Covenant–Finally Christ makes a covenant with the church, a promise He gives them if they submit to Him and become overcomers.

This is the template we will apply to each of these church messages to see what lessons we can learn for our own spiritual growth and walk with Jesus. We can see that Christ is intensely interested in His church on earth and does all He can to uphold and assist His people who still have to live in a messed up world while awaiting His return.



As I write this (March 14, 2011), the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan dominate the news, not to mention the nuclear reactor/radiation concerns. It seems Japan has been hit with a triple whammy. The quake itself is reported as the largest one to hit Japan in recorded history, though it appears most of the damage has been caused by the following tsunami. The question may arise, was this quake predicted in Revelation? Does Revelation have anything to say about earthquakes in the end time?

The short answer to the second question is yes. Earthquakes are mentioned five times in Revelation. The worst one is discussed in chapter 16:18-20. Is this the Japan earthquake? Short answer–not likely. First of all it says this one is the worst ever to happen in earth’s history. That is not true of the Japan quake. There have been several of greater magnitude and others more deadly. The one in the Bible is so bad even the islands and mountains disappear. That has not happened yet. It appears that it is virtually global in extent, whereas so far what we have seen are more regional quakes. They can be devastating, but still don’t measure up to the one in Revelation 16, which is still future–probably happening in conjunction with the actual coming of Christ to this earth. This is probably the same one referred to in chapter 6:14 where people are crying for rocks and mountains to fall on them to hide them from Jesus on His triumphal return to earth.

What can we expect for the future? Likely more of the same. Does it mean we are at the end? Earthquakes by themselves don’t indicate the end per se, but they certainly are part of what we can expect in the end times. In Matthew 24:6-8 Jesus predicted the following: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” And for 2000 years earth has seen these things take place. We are fortunate that the major catastrophes that have occurred in recent years have been spaced out so the world could bring adequate resources to assist in each instance. If we were to have a period of calamities with several happening at once, we could be in more dire straits. Certainly, Christians should take these events as wake-up calls. We need to be ready to meet Jesus all the time, whether we are alive when He comes or whether we die before then. Often the end comes unannounced. How much we need to know Jesus personally today!

A few years ago in the LA Times there was an article about an emergency training session in August of 2001 conducted by FEMA. They tried to determine what the three most likely catastrophes in the US were that they might have to cope with. Their final conclusion was: 1) A terrorist attack in New York City 2) A super-strength hurricane in New Orleans, and 3) a major earthquake on the San Andreas fault in California. It is interesting to note that the first occurred a month after that meeting. The second took place in 2005. The third has not yet happened and of course no one can predict that. Experts simply say it is inevitable, but can’t say whether it will happen next week or years from now.

This morning on NBC Today a guest being interviewed suggested that most earthquakes happen in clusters. He likened the Pacific Ocean to a large square. He then noted the earthquake in Chile (8.8 February 27, 2010) in the southeast area. Then came the quake in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month (6.3, 7.1 earlier, February 22) in the southwest area of the square, followed by the Japan quake (8.9 March 11) in the northwest part of the square. His suggestion was that the next one would be in the northeast area, though he of course could not give any reliable time frame. He mentioned the San Andreas fault (from LA to northern California), the Hayward fault (Oakland, east of San Francisco), and the Cascadia subduction zone off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. He said if a 9.0 should take place at the Cascadia location, it would not only create quake damage, but would also stir up a large tsunami (perhaps 80 foot wall of water on the west coast) that would also cross the Pacific.

The Bible doesn’t give specific predictions about the time for the final global earthquake, nor does it predict particular quakes before then, other than to say they will happen in many places, so we shouldn’t be surprised. The important thing is that we know Christ as our personal savior and friend and are growing daily in Him. Then it doesn’t matter when He comes as far as our salvation is concerned. But we can have confidence in Him and His presence with us no matter what happens, and we can look forward to a better place without the danger of all the disasters we experience here.


I stated above that Revelation doesn’t predict any specific quakes before the last one at Christ’s coming. However, in Revelation 6:12 there appears to be an exception to that. It does talk about a great earthquake at the time of the sixth seal. I will have more to say about that when I come to that chapter in the revelation for beginners category. But just a brief note about it for now.

We have noted in the past that Revelation follows a generally historicist pattern, that is, it is a continuous unfolding of prophecy from the prophet’s day to the end of time. We can see it also in the book of Daniel and will see it in the seven churches of Revelation. Following that paradigm, then, the sixth seal should be sometime near the end. History supports that idea. The earthquake here listed can’t be the final one mentioned in Revelation 16:18-20 because there is still another quake to come as stated under the seventh seal in chapter 8:5. Here is the text in question (6:12, 13): “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.” The next verses refer to the coming of Jesus, so these events must precede that appearance. Historicist interpreters see at least an initial fulfillment of these events as follows: the great earthquake referring to the great Lisbon earthquake in 1755 which affected much of Europe, including a deadly tsunami in Lisbon (they used to call them tidal waves); the notable Dark Day and moon to blood (in appearance the following night), May 19, 1780, primarily in the New England area; a spectacular meteor shower November 13, 1833, which some thought was indicating the end of the world. These are seen as ushering in the time of the end, a means of drawing the attention of the world to the fact that the coming of Jesus again to this world was nearing.

Other than this one and the final one at the coming of Jesus, there is no evidence from Revelation that any other earthquake is specifically predicted. They are simply reminders that we do live in the end times and may well see more such quakes in the future. May the tragedies of this old world create in us a longing to see Jesus and live with Him eternally in a re-created new earth (see Revelation 21).


March 17, 2011 on 2:42 pm | In REVELATION AND CURRENT EVENTS | Comments Off on REVELATION AND MAY 21, 2011

There seems to be a spike in interest in end time events lately, perhaps because of the natural disasters occurring. In the current (April 2011) Reader’s Digest there is an ad stating “The Bible guarantees the end of the world will begin with Judgment Day, May 21, 2011.” I can guarantee that will not take place on that date. How can I be so sure? Let me explain . I have watched this type of prediction come and go through the years, and each time I say the same thing–it isn’t going to happen. The danger in predicting such a date is that it becomes a little like the boy who cried “Wolf!” But since each time he did so he was just joking, eventually no one believed him when a real wolf actually did appear. The organization behind this message is based in California, and according to a news article on CNN, they have actually organized bus caravans to different parts of the country to warn everybody what is coming. They apparently maintain that on May 21 the rapture will take place to be followed by 153 days of death and horror before the world actually ends on October 21. Keep in mind that the same leader of this group also predicted the same thing for September 6, 1994. They are no doubt sincere in their belief and their zeal is commendable. Yet in Romans 10:2 the apostle Paul commenting on some people of his day stated, “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” So what does the Bible actually have to say about this?

A previous post about 2012 and the hype associated with it is relevant to this date also. The Bible in Matthew 24:26 gives the definitive statement about this concept of predicting dates. Jesus is speaking: “But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Still later, as recorded in Acts 1:6, 7, the disciples asked Jesus after His resurrection if He was going to set up His kingdom at that time. His response was, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” Those references seem pretty clear, don’t they? Revelation gives no dates regarding the time for the end of the world. So how does this group deal with this? Their response is that “the rules have changed now.” Really? Who decided that? In Malachi 3:6 God says, “I am the Lord, I do not change.” Well, they will say, the book of Daniel has been unsealed and new truths revealed. That statement is true, but not as they apply it. The book of Daniel has been unsealed, and there are some dates prophesied (especially in Daniel 7-9), but none that pinpoint the date of the return of Christ. I plan to start a new category soon on how Daniel and Revelation relate to and explain each other and will go into more detail then. I have studied these books for a number of years and never have found a text giving the date for the end of the world.

One other item to note. This group, according to the CNN article, also believes that the elect are predetermined. If that were true, they why bother proclaiming their message–those who are going to be saved have already been selected and it matters not what others do, since they couldn’t be saved anyway.

The consistent message of Jesus Himself was always “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.” Matthew 24:44. And if I should die tonight, that would be the same as the end of the world for me. So while we may know that His coming is near “even at the doors,” (and I do believe it is near) it is not for us to know specifics. We are simply admonished to be in right relationship to God at all times. Then the timing is irrelevant as far as our personal salvation is concerned. The most important thing? “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3


March 25, 2011 on 11:40 am | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on THE MISSING INGREDIENT, Rev. 2:1-7

Have you ever made a recipe and then realized you had left out something critical? I have made oatmeal mush only to discover I had forgotten to add salt. That really made a huge difference–it tasted pretty blah! We’ll see something similar in the description of this church, but first note what our approach will be.

As we begin our journey through the seven churches, keep in mind we are looking for three types of application. 1) It would be relevant to the local congregation itself–they would recognize themselves in this message 2) This congregation would serve a symbolic role to describe the Christian church’s general characteristics during a particular era of history and 3) There are spiritual lessons to be learned from each congregation that are relevant to us today. In one sense, while exhibiting the qualities of the church characteristic of this era, God’s followers today are also to some degree a composite of all that have gone before.

In the previous posting a basic paradigm, pattern, or outline for each of the church descriptions was listed. Here is how it would look for the church at Ephesus:

He holds the 7 stars in His hand and walks among the 7 golden lampstands.

I know your works, labor, patience, you can’t bear those who are evil,
you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars, you have persevered, have patience, have labored for My name’s sake and not become weary, you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate

You have left your first love

Remember from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works, (or else I will
come quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent), hear what the Spirit says to the churches

Covenant (promise):
To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

What is the point of all this? Why is it all included here? Jesus had promised in John 14:1-3 that He would come back again to take His followers to heaven to be with Him. But He also knew that they would face many trials and challenges before that time should come, so He wanted to prepare them to “endure to the end.” As He walks among the 7 golden lampstands–representing the 7 congregations/churches–in one sense it is almost like an inspection of the space shuttle before launch when the inspectors want to make sure there is nothing that would destroy the shuttle during the stressful trip about to take place. We know from experience how critical that is. The whole idea is not a final judgment to destroy but an evaluation to enable a successful mission. Jesus has an intense desire to see His church successful.

It is important to note that the first item in this outline is a picture of Jesus. We see that specific characteristics from Christ’s description in chapter one have been selected, and as we go through the outline, we will see that those specific characteristics are the very ones the particular congregation needs to meet its deficiencies and needs. Isn’t that just like Jesus?! He has a solution to every problem before we realize we even have a problem. It is also encouraging to see that Jesus looks for things He can praise the church for before He gets into the problems it has. And then He has sound advice for the church, which if followed, will resolve the problem. And finally, every church, no matter how problematic it is, has the possibility of change and a wonderful promise to those who respond. None are automatically cast out as long as they meet the conditions, not even Laodicea. And that is important for us as individuals as we are not saved by church or denomination, but as we individually have a saving faith relationship with Jesus.

Looking at the description of Christ, why are the 7 stars in His hand significant? Note the problem of the church–you have left your first love. Apparently the church was really in love with Christ and zealous for Him, even being very careful to have sound doctrine and reject those who were false professors. But evidently, while they held to straight doctrine, they lost something they once had–their first love experience. Perhaps it became just routine, they went through the motions without love. Christ makes it plain that while He commends their faithfulness to the truth, love is not optional. Consider 1 Corinthians 13 where the apostle Paul states in verses 1-3: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” We know that Paul was also a stickler for true doctrine, but He makes it clear that without love it is all meaningless. The author of Revelation, the apostle John, adds that “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8

I remember reading a story one time about a couple who were having some difficulty. The husband traveled a lot and the relationship left much to be desired. One Monday morning a local florist delivered a box of a dozen roses to the wife from her husband, who was out of town. She was thrilled. Then the next Monday there was another box of roses. Again she was delighted. The next Monday there was another, the next Monday another, etc. Finally she called the florist about it and was told her husband had left a note to deliver a dozen roses every Monday till further notice. After awhile, the wife came to hate Mondays when the roses were delivered because she came to realize there was no love involved. He didn’t even have to think about her. Apparently God had a similar experience as told in Isaiah 1:10-15–He came to hate all their sacrifices and religious ritual, even though He had told them to do such things. He told them in verses 16-20 what He really wanted from them–true heart service. It is still our hearts and committed service He desires today.

What do the stars in the hands symbolize here? If the members in Ephesus had remained “in Christ,” they would have maintained their first love experience, they would have been allowing Him to keep them in His hands, they would have been abiding in Him. Jesus promised if they would do that, “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:28 So Jesus wants them to come back to that intimate relationship they once had. In Job 38:31 it talks about God holding the 7 stars in His hands, referring to the Pleiades. He is in control of the heavenly bodies and just so He wants to be our guide, to control us according to His benevolent will. And so He wanted to hold the church leaders in His hands, so to speak.

We have more information about the church in Ephesus than some of the others because the book of Ephesians was written to them. The first three chapters talk all about the close relationship God plans for His followers by being “in Christ.” The last three chapters discuss how that impacts everyday relationships–in the home, in the church, in the workplace, etc. Perhaps we can take a closer look at that book at a later time. It mirrors the two great commandments–love to God and love to man. If the Ephesians had taken the counsel in that letter to heart for the long term, perhaps we would not be reading about them losing their first love experience.

You may be wondering who those Nicolaitans were. As near as I can discover, they were a heretical sect in the early church. Their beliefs apparently included dismissing the law as a guide, i.e. they believed deeds had nothing to do with salvation so you were basically free to do anything you were inclined to. Perhaps they carried the love idea too far–i.e. just love and do as you please? Jesus certainly didn’t approve of their practices.

What about the 3 levels of application? I think you can see from what has been covered so far how the congregation in Ephesus (which was in what is present day Turkey) would find the message to them very relevant for their immediate challenges. Secondly, this church, according to historicist interpreters, would also become a symbol for the Christian church in the apostolic era (to about 100 A.D.–the dates are approximate and not really critical for the interpretation). The early church was in its “first love” experience but in danger of losing it. And thirdly, what lessons are we supposed to learn from this? Actually, the last-day church–Laodicea–seems like it is in need of a good dose of “first love” experience, for it has become very lukewarm and somewhat apathetic. If you are a Christian, perhaps you can remember when you first came to the Lord and how on fire you were, but now you may have lost that early fervor. It is easy for our experience to become like that described in Jesus’ parable of the soils. “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22

So what is the remedy? Jesus said the need was to repent–ask for forgiveness. Then go back to basics, back to the last place you saw the light, when your experience was on fire. Seek to know Jesus personally, study His life in the gospels again, talk to Him about anything on your mind, learn to recognize His voice and trust Him implicitly. Let Him live out His life in you through the power of the Holy Spirit and put your energies on His side to cooperate with Him. Seek His counsel and as He Himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” not as a means to gain salvation or favor, but as an outgrowth of a relationship with Him. After all, if Jesus is living in you (see Galatians 2:20–“Christ lives in me”), what kind of a life will He live? Will He lead us to be obedient or disobedient? But most of all, let’s allow His love to be the controlling force in our lives personally and in the way we relate to others. The counsel to the Ephesians is good for us too.

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