Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 2]

You do, though, have this in your favor: you hate what the Nocolaitans are doing, and I hate it too. ~REVELATION 2:6

In chapters 2 and 3 we have seven messages to these seven churches in Asia Minor. This first message is addressed to the church in Ephesus. After some opening affirmations, then an area to work on, the risen Christ goes back to another compliment: “You do hate what those Nicolaitans are doing, and so do I.” Wow. You don’t get the Risen Christ talking about something He hates very often. What in the world is going on??

There were some within the church apparently following a dude named Nicolaus. (Early church historians say this is Nicolaus the proselyte from Antioch in Acts 6:5.) And it seems this group was advocating participation in the idolatrous culture of Ephesus–specifically, eating meat that had been offered to Greco-Roman deities, and “immorality.” Now Ephesus was pretty darn idolatrous. They were dominated by the cult of the fertility goddess Artemis, and her temple, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, had thousands of priests and priestesses with heavy involvement in prostitution. They also had two temples dedicated to Caesar worship. A significant portion of the quite prosperous economy of Ephesus was dependent on trade associated with their temples. So the Ephesians’ resistance to accommodate the idolatry and assimilate with this highly immoral culture was no doubt pretty hurtful to themselves and, therefore, very commendable.

The immediate aspect of the Nicolaitans’ actions we notice worth hating is that this affront is coming from within the church; it is not an attack from without. William Barclay noticed, “To John the Nicolaitans were worse than pagans, for they were the enemy within the gates.”

The second aspect worth noting is their sin of assimilation or accommodations. Says Brian Blount in his Revelation commentary, “For John, persons who eat meat that has been sacrificed to foreign gods gives credence to the reality and lordship of those gods; those persons have therefore prostituted themselves to a foreign faith.” John harped on this half a dozen times in Revelation, pronouncing these idol-offered-meat eaters as guilty of spiritual prostitution, for they were in essence saying that it was necessary to give in to the empire and compromise in order to live the abundant life.

Whenever we succumb to the world’s system of economics, politics, or social practices that are in direct opposition to the Kingdom of God and Jesus’s ethics, we are aligning ourselves with a foreign faith since we are proclaiming that God, the Creator of the universe and Savior of humanity, is not enough, so we need something else for life. John says that things will get pretty rough here on earth, but we must resist acquiescence and persevere in Christ to the end. Remember, our real life is hidden with Christ in God. Our purpose is not mainly about living comfortably and getting ahead in the world.

A silly illustration to make a serious point:

Now it is quite possible that the Holy Spirit did indeed prompt you to buy that fog machine for Sunday worship. Who am I to judge? And if truly evoked from the Spirit, then you better get on with buying that fogger. But if not, you might wanna ask yourself why you’re going thru with it, because if it’s to have some sort of cultural relevance, or to attractively fit in with the world, well, you should read Revelation’s warnings carefully, and proceed wisely from there.

We must guard against the world’s culture influencing and infiltrating the church instead of the other way around. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church charging forth in spreading the Kingdom of God. But if you start adapting yourself to those gates of hell, then there’s nothing for them to prevail against, for you are pedaling the very false wares they are selling! If the Holy Spirit isn’t enough for people, diluting said Spirit sure as hell won’t be anywhere close to enough for satisfying the soul.

I’ve been a part of some amazing prayer groups and spiritual retreats that were so transcendently filled with the Spirit of Jesus that the thought of any worldly offering being as good or better is just…laughable. Why on earth would I ever exchange the love and presence of Yahweh for a sugary processed substitute??

I guess if I forgot where I came from–literally. The tenor of the warnings in these seven messages to the seven churches is basically to not forget what is most important, where you came from, or, as was specifically written to this church at Ephesus, do not forsake your first love. Return. Always.

I’ll leave you with yet another pithy summary from William Barclay worded so well:

The Nicolaitans were not prepared to be different; they were the most dangerous of all heretics from a practical point of view, for, if their teaching had been successful, the world would have changed Christianity and not Christianity the world.

Revelations from REVELATION [chapter 1]

A revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what things must soon take place. ~REVELATION 1:1

Apokalypsis–The Greek word which opens this book comes from the verb apokalypto. Apo meaning away or away from, and kalypto meaning cover or veil. So it means to uncover, to reveal, to disclose. Thus our translation to Revelation or Apocalypse.

Interesting that the name of this book we find so confusing actually means an unveiling of necessary information, rather than a deliberate concealment of it.

Why so confounding then?

Well, part of that answer seems to come in this very first verse. The revelation is to show what must soon take place. Already we have our first of over 240 allusions to the Old Testament. The wording has its roots in Daniel 2:28-30,45-47 with the exception of the word soon. Daniel was writing (a few hundred years or so before Revelation) about what would transpire “in the latter days”, but John rewords it to say that these events will happen soon. John reiterates in verse 3: “the time is near.” What Daniel expected to occur in the last days, John is announcing as imminent, or beginning to occur now.

From G.K. Beale’s commentary:

There is no doubt that John saw the resurrection of Christ as fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel regarding the inaugurating of the kingdom of God. This indicates that what is about to be written concerns not just the distant future, but what is before us here and now….Therefore, John’s book is a prophetic work which concerns the imminent and inaugurated fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom in Jesus Christ.

This book we call Revelation was indeed written to, and immediately for, believers around Asia Minor living in the late first century under Roman domination—a starkly different context than our own in 21st century America.

And this is one reason it is a bit odd to us today. Being the only apocalyptic book of the New Testament, it uses language and imagery pretty foreign to us, but not so much to its intended first readers. As William Barclay commented, “it uses all the familiar imagery. It may often be difficult and even unintelligible to us, but for the most part it was using pictures and ideas which those who read it would know and understand.”

Another reason for our deciphering difficulty is that all apocalyptic literature is necessarily cryptic because it is attempting to describe the indescribable, to paint the unpaintable. John, like a good artist or poet, is painting a vivid picture in order to startle, challenge, and call to action–to be dissident disciples of Jesus Christ under the cruel rule of Domitian who demanded Caeser worship.

It seems to me that much of the book of Revelation is to encourage believers to persevere through brutal Roman rule, recognizing Babylon when they see it, and to absolutely avoid any collusion with it. This of course applies to believers in every generation and culture, so it isn’t like we have nothing to glean from this fantastic book. And it doesn’t seem that everything in the book has already happened either. . .

Revelations from Revelation [introduction]

Illustration by Evangelia Philippidis

For quite a while I’ve been thinking about seriously digging in to Revelation, doing a “deep dive” as they say. As you no doubt know, it’s a rather intriguing book–probably the most fascinating book of the Bible, according to most readers. Then, in early December, I felt that unmistakeable Pneuma-nudge to read thru this apocalyptic book by John. And that I did.

It felt like a really fresh read. It was exciting and, somewhat surprisingly, greatly encouraging! The overall zeitgeist I took from my reading of it was that no matter how bad it may look, Yahweh is ultimately in control, and does indeed win in the end. Therefore, persevere, stay faithful no matter how bleak or depressing the world may look or get, or whatever trials befall you; keep trusting in the One who made it all by speaking it into existence, for He, our Father, is always with us and will not allow His children to be plucked out of His hand.

I just love how twentieth century commentator William Barclay summarized Revelation:

It’s aim is to tell of the terrible events of the Day of the Lord which will precede the new heaven and the new earth, and to strengthen mankind for the trials which should come. There is much that is obscure in the book of Revelation, but one thing it does say with absolute clarity is that in any time of trial, God is with his people, and that in the end victory is sure.


Now this book is not without its controversy, obviously. It has been notoriously difficult for a very long time. Way back in the fifth century Jerome said that Revelation contains as many secrets as words. It’s the only book in the New Testament which John Calvin did not write a commentary on. And did you know that Martin Luther, at least early in his career, did not even regard it as Scripture?? “I hold it,” he said “to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…My spirit cannot acquiesce in the book…Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” Dang. But years later Luther would write that Revelation provides assurance that “through and beyond all plagues, beasts, and evil angels, Christ is nonetheless with his saints, and wins the final victory.” Way to turn the ship around, Martin.

Some principal points to keep before us which may be helpful as we embark: Revelation has more allusions to the Old Testament than all other books in the New Testament put together. Therefore, one of the main keys for understanding Revelation is to understand how the Old Testament is used in the book. And as far as the 30,000 foot view, there are three main theological messages:

  • Willingness To Suffer For Christ Is The Path To Ultimate Victory
  • The Sovereignty Of God In Human History
  • The New Creation As Fulfillment Of Biblical Prophecy

So these are just a few of my personal revelations as way of introduction. I thought it would be interesting, and hopefully encouraging, to share something learned from each chapter as we take a look again at this mysterious last book in the Bible. (My goal is to do at least one chapter per week, maybe with some other short, non-Revelation reflections sprinkled in. We’ll see how it goes.)

To be clear from the outset, what I’m not interested in is predicting the end of the world. I’ve been decidedly turned off from that nonsense ever since that pamphlet “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988” circulated around my high school and freaked a bunch of people out. If my memory serves me correctly, the so-called “rapture” did not occur that year. There have been many dubious predictions since, complete with bumper sticker reminders.

What I am interested in is doing some excavating of this mysterious writing, reading it in context as best we can, and listening for what the Spirit of Jesus might want to say to us thru its interesting language and vivd imagery.

Let us wonder together. . . .

Afraid of Silence?

My view as I type this….

I’m sitting here this morning on day 6 of our paradisaical vacation on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. In case you’re not familiar, it’s about 400 miles southeast of The Bahamas, and 100 miles or so north of Haiti/Dominican Republic. It’s absolutely Edenic gorgeous, and not overly crowded to boot–pretty dreamy. In fact, Grace Bay Beach here is consistently, and currently, ranked as “Best Beach in the World” by Tripadvisor.

This particular morning I sit in silence with Papa Yahweh, doing some lectio divina in John 14, then simply sitting still as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean sweetly serenade me into holy tranquility….perhaps my favorite song. As I enjoy so vividly our good God’s wonderfully excellent handiwork in this richly uninhibited atmosphere, in which it is so conducive to calm and for hearing the whispers of Pneuma, these thoughts come to mind:

Coming to a place such as this is much like entering the Divine Presence of Jesus in reverential silence. Who in their right mind would not jump on this if given the opportunity??

Being afraid of, averse to, or avoidant of silence, is kind of like being averse to going on a paid vacation to paradise. What you find there is too good not to go. It’s worth overcoming whatever obstacles may be blocking your way. Maybe you’re nervous about flying, or being away from your family or work, or getting sick while you’re there…

But if you do indeed push thru and make it to the island, you realize that no sacrifice was too small to get there. The beauty, the air, the sound of the ocean; it’s all magnificent, and extremely favorable to regaining perspective which may have been lost, and clearing your mind of accumulated clutter.

Now this doesn’t mean that everything is smooth as glass to get there. You may have to wake up super early for that morning flight. then there’s the layover, going thru customs, finding your luggage and a ride to your abode for the week. But again, once you get to that house on the beach, you realize just how worth it all of the hassle was, just how small those obstacles look in the rear view mirror now, with the ocean right in front of you.

I think this metaphor illuminates nicely the rich experience of silence with our Maker, Father, Friend.

It might take a minute to get there, but once you settle in with Jesus alone, with the gaze of your heart transfixed on Him, open to what His Spirit would like to say to you or give you, it is then that you realize and experience what we’re made for–communion with our Creator.

I know I hammer this silence thing a lot, but I can’t help but notice what a lack we suffer from, and how much I believe God desires to share with us. Talking with a close friend on this trip, he was telling me how he’ll sometimes try to start a small group time with just five minutes of silence, asking everyone to be still and wait to talk or write until the full five minutes is up; inevitably, someone will start writing something down only two or three minutes in, which gives some sort of unspoken permission for everybody else to start talking, and they’ve barely made it halfway thru 5 minutes of silence. At the other end of the spectrum, another friend on this same trip shared with me his monumentally transformative experience years ago at The Great Banquet, a retreat in which pretty much all outside noise is quelled so that you’re actually able to hear God and tangibly feel His love.

I’m telling you, we’re missing so much of what the Holy Spirit would love to give us. It’s like going to the airport and getting a coffee at the food court, but not getting on the plane. You just go back home and think, “Oh what a nice little getaway that was!”


You had tickets to literally the best beach in the world, but you settled for airport Starbucks.

Take the time, go thru the hassles, and break away to the island where Jesus wants to meet with you alone. It’s always worth it.