Agonizomai: Letters to Seven Churches<br>Introduction

Friday, March 20, 2009

Letters to Seven Churches

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We know that the whole of creation speaks of the nature of God and that it was all brought into existence through the eternal Son. {John 1:1-3} So God the Son is revealed in His creation, as we read in Romans 1:19-20. He is also God the Son revealed in the history and prophesies of national Israel from Abraham to Malachi. {Luke 24:25-27,Heb 1:1-2} By these things we know that God the Son was also the Christ who came from heaven to save his people from their sins. What nature revealed generally was revealed explicitly in the incarnation. God the Son entered into His creation, lived and died as a fully human being and made the Father known by his whole life. This was revelation - specific, historical, factual, actual, touchable, discernible, believable revelation.

But it was such a revelation as to be a terrible condemnation upon all those who refused to see and to receive what was plainly visible. {John 1:5,3:17-19} Yet for those whom he called by name, and in whom God was pleased to reveal his Son there was revelation of an entirely different sort - that form of revelation which is to the heart, through faith - and which shows forth to the child of God the beauty which is in Christ. Just as God acted to reveal Christ in creation, in history, in the prophets and via the incarnation - so it is God who acts to reveal Christ to the heart by faith.

But there will be a final revelation of the Christ. After the revelation of the Son in all the saints militant throughout the church age to which the unbelieving world will remain wilfully blind, then there will be the ultimate revelation of Christ as the One made visible to all men - the Christ Whose Name every tongue shall confess and at which every knee shall bow, to the glory of God the Father.

John’s vision, though variously interpreted by devout men in all ages, undoubtedly portrays Jesus Christ, the conquering King because He is the Lamb that was slain. He conquered by righteousness. He conquered through "weakness" in order to show the wisdom and power and glory of God. But at His final revelation the Son will be seen in all of His glory and righteousness, bright shining like the sun, with a sword in His hand to smite the wicked.

For a time He veiled his glory while in the temple of his flesh - but now He is risen, in a glorified human body, and has taken up once more the glory that was His with the Father before the world was made. In the fullness of time, when God has rendered all Christ’s enemies His footstool - at the end of the age when the last saint has believed - God will reveal His Son to all in the fullness of His glory.

John’s vision is an intense and sometimes controversial message written in the Hebrew apocalyptic style, full of imagery that is typical of the genre. Is it to be taken literally or is it written in idealistic symbology to picture the spiritual conflict that precedes the final conflagration? Is it a message in coded language to the saints living under the cruel persecutions of the Roman emperor Domitian? Is it a picture of as yet future events? Is it a blueprint for what will happen throughout the course of church history?

Good men throughout the age of grace have all held one or other of these views. Differences still abound. I myself have no fixed opinion on the matter. When pressed I would probably admit to a partial preterism but I would not be dogmatic about it. I have, frankly, avoided an exhaustive study of this book for reasons which I find difficult to share. Suffice it to say that the prevailing premillenialism of much of North American dispensational evangelicalism did me much harm in my early walk - harm that took decades to undo, and which still creates difficulties for me to this day.

All that said, John’s "Revelation of Jesus Christ" is the Word of God, fully inspired God-breathed truth given purposefully to the church for her use, benefit and edification. And while I have not come to a systematic understanding of it all, I can draw some extremely helpful lessons from it - especially the early part dealing with letters to the seven churches, which is the main thrust of this particular study.


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