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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. . .