Pursuit of Us
Years ago an S-4 submarine was rammed by a
ship off the coast of Massachusetts. It sank immediately. The entire crew
was trapped in a prison house of death. Every effort was made to rescue
the crew, but all ultimately failed. Near the end of the ordeal, a deep-sea
diver, who was doing everything in his power to find a way for the crew's
release, thought he heard a tapping on the steel wall of the sunken sub.
He placed his helmet up against the side of the vessel and he realized
it was the Morse Code. He attached himself to the side and he spelled out
in his mind the message being tapped from within. It was repeating the
same question. The question, from within was: "Is…there…any…hope?"
The book of Revelation is written to give
us hope to inspire our relationship with Christ. Satan was about to unleash
his fury upon Christians at the close of the first century, so John begins
the book by reminding us of Christ's glorious coming in judgement upon
To him who loves us and has
freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and
priests to serve his God and Father-- to him be glory and power for ever
and ever! Amen. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will
see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will
mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega,"
says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
It is no accident that John refers to Jesus
as "firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth"
(1:5). During this period of history the kings of the world answered to
Rome, but Jesus Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth. As powerful
Rome began its persecution upon God's people, Christ reminds Christians
that they belong to God's kingdom over which the Almighty rules. The Roman
world seemed powerful, but the Almighty was in the process of judging Rome
for her crimes against God's people.
The book of Revelations endeavors to show
us that history will come out as God planned it. Jesus was at that moment
in the process of coming in judgment upon Rome. John writes, "Look,
he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who
pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.
So shall it be! Amen." It was crucial that persecuted Christians
know that God had not deserted them. He is near, and he is coming in judgment
upon their enemies.
The Grandeur of Christ’s Presence
Revelation seeks to instill hope as
the message reveals the grandeur of heaven's presence in our daily struggles.
We are reminded of the honor bestowed upon us as Christ made us kings and
priests to serve God as he washed us from our sins in his own blood.
Christ is not only present in the world, but
he lives within the congregations of Asia. John portrays the grandeur of
Christ’s presence as he sees him among the seven candlesticks, which represent
the seven churches of Asia. This the clue of Christ's presence in our world
today. The first thing John sees as he is caught up in his vision Revelation
is a vision of Christ presence among the seven churches of Asia.
I turned around to see the
voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
And among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a
robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.
His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes
were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace,
and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he
held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.
His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him,
I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me
and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living
One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the
keys of death and Hades. "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is
now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that
you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The
seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands
are the seven churches. (NIV)
Christ’s presence among the congregations
of Asia is more personal than his coming in judgment upon Rome. He knows
how they are struggling to live for him in an evil world. He knows their
shortcomings and their strengths. As he speaks to the seven congregations
in Asia, Christ expresses his desire and willingness to help them overcome
their enemies victoriously.
Life would be much easier if we could visualize
Christ's presence in our struggles. More than anything we need to understand
that he cares about what is going on in our lives. If we could truly understand
how deeply he is concerned about the outcome of it all for us, we would
be greatly encouraged. Christ knows the struggles of each local congregation
and he knows the personal struggles of each person within each congregation.
God's Love Affair with His People
The Bible describes God's struggle to
maintain a relationship with you, as one would describe a love affair between
two lovers. The book of Hosea portrays God as a lover pursuing
his people. Hosea marries a prostitute who repeatedly leaves him for other
lovers. Hosea pursues Gomer and literally takes her from the arms of her
lover. He takes Gomer home and she repeats her behavior. She even has children
by her lovers and Hosea continues to pursue her. Typically this is a picture
of God's love for each of us.
The LORD said to me, "Go, show
your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an
Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods
and love the sacred raisin cakes." So I bought her for fifteen shekels
of silver and about a homer and a half of barley. Then I told her, "You
are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate
with any man, and I will live with you." (NIV)
Do you ever think about Christ’s love
affair with you? The church is spoken of the bride of Christ. Christ
seeks to cleanse us so that he might present us to himself as a chaste
bride without spot or blemish (Ephesians 5:25ff). Do you remember the love
you had for your wife or husband before you were married? Do you remember
the feelings of your heart when you were walking down the aisle? Christ
has that kind of self-giving love for you. He has given himself fully to
you. Solomon describes the beauty of such a love.
Place me like a seal over your
heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy
unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were
to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.
It is little wonder that when we turn from
Christ as we are seduced by the world that James calls us adulterers and
adulteresses (James 4:1-5). The beautiful thing about this relationship
with Christ is that he desires to maintain the relationship regardless
of our failings. Jeremiah was seeking to call Israel back to God after
their unfaithfulness. Jeremiah writes, "How skilled you are
at pursuing love! Even the worst of women can learn from your ways" (Jeremiah
2:33 NIV). This gives us a glimpse of God's love for us.
"If a man divorces his wife
and she leaves him and marries another man, should he return to her again?
Would not the land be completely defiled? But you have lived as a prostitute
with many lovers-- would you now return to me?" declares the LORD. (NIV)
However, God continued to seek Israel through
Jeremiah the weeping prophet.
Christ Love Affair with the Churches of
The book of Ephesians is a love letter written
to lovely people who are enjoying the blessings of a loving God. In the
book of Ephesians Paul reminds the Ephesians of the glorious blessings
in Christ. He lifts them up to sit in heavenly places with Christ as he
elucidates the exalted position they enjoy in Christ. He expresses Christ
desire to present the church to himself as a chaste bride. No problems
are addressed throughout the book as Paul writes in AD 64. However, as
we visit the Church about thirty years later with Christ in the book of
Revelation we see a much different situation. (Revelation 2:1-7)
After over a thirty-year marriage to Christ,
the church of Ephesus was leaving her first love (2:1-7). It is obvious
that the grandeur of Christ's love for them has not diminished. John portrays
Christ holding seven stars in his hand as he walks among the seven golden
candlesticks, which represent the seven churches of Asia Minor. Christ
was still exalted far above the stars (Ephesians 1:20-23). The church at
Ephesus still enjoyed Christ's passionate pursuit of them, but their love
was growing cold. They had lost their heart for the message. They were
doing godly things for ungodly reasons. They had left their first love.
The Ephesians had fought spiritual battles
heroically. Christ commends them for their hard work, perseverance and
intolerance for error. He praises their vigorous struggle against the evil
powers of Satan. . They had left their first love. The amazing thing is
that they had stood patiently and solidly against the false apostles, as
those false teachers sought to harmonize the immoral indulgences of idol
worship with the Christian faith. The Ephesians hated the evil deeds of
the Nicolaitans who sought a license to sin.
Nonetheless, somewhere along the way they
had left their first love. They had stopped preaching the truth in love
as Paul had instructed, and they had ceased growing up in love (Ephesians
4:15-16). They are reminded of the heights from which they have fallen.
They had a great sense of duty about fighting
for the right, but they were becoming indifferent and half-hearted to Christ.
They were preaching the truth, but it was a loveless effort. It is like
a husband or wife going through the motions of providing for one another,
but the fire has gone out. They end up loving what they are doing for each
other more than love each other. It is highly possible to defend the truth
so long and so hard that we lose sight of the people the truth is designed
to save. We may even lose sight of the love that the truth is designed
to cultivate in our own hearts.
We can see the heights from which they have
fallen. Thirty years earlier they were basking in God's blessings of love,
but now they have fallen to great depths. They have left their first love.
adultery" describes the depth to which we fall, and "first love" describes
the heights Jesus seeks for us each time we fail. What a contrast!
Christ is not a disinterested lover; he is
a lover in hot pursuit of the Christians in Ephesus whose love has grown
cold and hard. He seeks to woo them back to himself. As Jesus walks among
the churches in John's vision, he seeks to rekindle the love of a lover
that has gone astray. Christ had washed them from their sins in his own
blood (1:5). Now Christ is urging them to return to what they once had
in their first love through repentance.
Jesus’ doesn’t lose interest; he pursues those
whose love has grown cold.A young sixteen-year old was in love for the
first time. He was hitchhiking home one afternoon after school when he
saw his girl friend’s car coming his way. His heart began to throb, but
as she came down the road she drove right passed him. She had another guy
in the car. After that he never had much to say to her. Jesus is not like
this young lover whose heart is too broken to pursue.
As John pens these words, Christ's love for
the church of Ephesus is as strong as ever. He seeks to woo them back to
himself as he promises to reward their repentance with the tree of life
in the midst of paradise. He promises to remove their candlestick if they
failed to repent.
The church at Ephesus no longer exists. Christ
removed their candlestick. There is a time that love must be directed toward
a more worthy object. But it is amazing as to how far Christ is willing
Christ pursues the church in Pergamum
while she is pursuing a love affair with Balaam. The church was
allowing those who were teaching the doctrine of Balaam to seduce those
Christ loved into eating food sacrificed to idols and into sexual immorality.
Christ reassures then of what they have going for them in their relationship,
but they are having an adulterous affair with Balaam. He understands that
they’re living where Satan’s throne is established. He recognized their
faithfulness when Antipas was put to death, but the relationship is going
sour. They are drifting away, but he seeks their repentance to restore
Christ pursued the church at Thyatira
while she was pursuing a love affair with Jezebel.
You only have to remember the story of Jezebel from the Old Testament to
understand the depth of wickedness they were being seduced by. Jezebel
was seducing Christians to eat meat offered to idols and sexual immorality.
The church had many great qualities. Christ recognized her good deeds,
love, perseverance and faith; but she was unfaithful. She was in bed with
Jezebel. He threatens to judge those in bed with Jezebel, but first he
offers them a chance to return to their first love.
Christ pursued the church at Laodicea
when she was having a love affair with the world. She had become
rich and no longer needed Christ. Her riches kept a hostile world at bay;
who is going to fight with you if you’ve got the moneybags? The church
at Laodicea was escaping much of the persecution because of her riches.
She turned away from Christ, as she trusted in her riches. She was a church
whose dying embers of a once passionate love were only lukewarm. Christ
threatens to spew them out of his mouth, but he reminds them that he is
rebuking them because of his love for them.
Christ pursued the church at Sardis
whose love was dead. She had a reputation for being alive, but
she was dead. She put on such a good front that others thought her love
for Christ was still blazing, but she was dead. Christ reminds them of
the love of the gospel they received when they first fell in love with
him, and he urges her to hear, obey and repent.
Christ knows how difficult it is to make a
relationship work, but he wants our relationship with him to survive. Christ
knows about the strengths and shortcomings of our relationship with him.
He knows and cares about the struggles we have as we strive to maintain
a relationship with him. He is unwilling to give up on us. His love calls
us back to our first feelings of love for him.
If it is dead he desires to resurrect it to
new heights. He not only speaks to those who have serious problems in their
relationship with him. He speaks to those who have been faithful for the
purpose of strengthening their resolve to love him more.
"To the angel of the church
in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last,
who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty--
yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and
are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are
about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to
test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even
to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has
an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes
will not be hurt at all by the second death. (NIV)
There are times in our relationships with
others, when things couldn’t get any worse for us and the only thing that
keeps us holding on is the love the person has for us. When our difficulties
go from bad to worse as we seek to live for Christ, we must remember Christ’s
love for us. We must remember that he will eventually have the last world
in our final destiny.
It is no accident that John’s vision recognizes
Jesus as the first and last as he is referred as the "alpha" and "omega".
This portrays Christ having the first and last word in our salvation. John
sees only difficulties as Christians in Smyrna seek to hold on to Christ.
However, as fiery trials try their faith they will come forth as pure gold.
He promises them a crown of life and encourages them to be faithful through
death. He wants them to know that no matter how bad it gets that Christ
is still in charge.
The beautiful thing about being a part of
the church that makes up the bride of Christ is that one-day Christ will
make the world bow at our feet and recognize the love he has for us.
"To the angel of the church
in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true,
who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he
shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you
an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength,
yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those
who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are
not, but are liars-- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and
acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure
patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to
come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming
soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him
who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again
will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of
the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven
from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (NIV)
For those of you who are seeking worldly recognition,
here is the best way to get the recognition of the world.
Therefore God exalted him to
the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that
at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and
under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to
the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always
obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue
to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works
in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (NIV)
The church at Philadelphia had little strength
to combat the forces against her, but Christ’s love for her was all she
needed. Sometimes we think the world is too powerful to overcome. We may
think that the world is making it impossible for us to maintain a relationship
with Christ and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively, but we must
remember who is in charge. John sees Jesus as the only one capable of opening
and closing doors of opportunity for us. The doors he opens no one can
shut, and the doors he closes no one can open.
Jesus’ willingness to make us a pillar in
the temple of God expresses the solid confidence we can have in what he
is doing to maintain his relationship with us.
In Revelation Christ is seeking to woo the
church to himself. He not only seeks to woo the unfaithful churches back,
he seeks to keep those who are faithful by wooing them deeper into his
love for them.
To the church of Ephesus, who had left her
first love, Christ seeks to woo them back by promising the tree of life
in the midst of paradise. He takes them back to Eden to remind them of
the depth of their fall and the possibilities of their relationship with
him. Do you long for the purity of the relationship that Adam and Eve had
with the creator in Eden? You can have it through Christ!
To the Church at Smyrna facing more difficult
times ahead, Christ promises them they will not be hurt by the second death.
This is an indication of the sustaining relationship Christ has with each
of us. The curse of death, which was given in Eden, is removed for those
who seek a relationship with Christ. Christ has removed the seemingly impossible
barriers between God and us.
To the church in Pergamum established where
Satan’s throne was, Christ promises hidden manna and a white stone with
a new name on it that no one else would know. Those who bowed at Satan’s
throne as they worshipped the emperor in Pergamum were given physical evidence
of their willingness to pay homage to the emperor of Rome. They could prove
to the world by their documents their loyalty to the emperor. Christ promised
the Pergamum Christian’s hidden manna and a new name that only he knew.
I think that expresses the intimacy of his relationship with them. It is
like two lovers that know things about each other that no one else knows.
(Don’t forget, those lovers are supposed to be married.)
To those who are barely holding on in Thyatira,
Christ reassures them that they have something to hold on to. Jezebel was
seducing them so intently that they needed to understand that they had
something to hold on to. Temptation, especially sexual temptation, may
make us think that we are powerless to withstand. Temptation seeks to take
authority over our lives, but Christ promises them, "To him who overcomes
and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--'He
will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'--
just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him
the morning star" (Revelation 2:26-28 NIV). He reassures them of
their power to hold on.
It is amazing that Christ promises to clothe
the dead church at Sardis in white. She had gone so far into spiritual
adultery that she was dead and needed a new wedding gown. He promises a
wedding gown rather than a burial dress. Christ promises not to erase her
name from marriage certificate, that is, the book of life.
To the weakened faithful church in Philadelphia,
Christ promises them that his love is strong enough to maintain the relationship.
To the church of Laodicea whose love was but
a dying ember, Christ was at the door knocking wanting back into the relationship.
How many love affairs with the world have
you had since you have become a part of Christ bride, the church? How many
love affairs have you had with pride, arrogance, duty, work, food, drugs,
television, cars, houses, sex and even truth to the exclusion of proper
love for Christ? Do you live in a fantasy world that denies Christ’s presence
in many areas your life?
It is not how many affairs we have had, because
most of us have had more than we can count--the astonishing thing is that
each time we have an affair Christ seeks to woo us back to himself. Although
Christ recognizes our right to give up on a lover that has had one affair
on us, he is not willing to give up on us when we have had numerous affairs
with the world.
How’s your relationship with Christ? Are your
falling out of love with Christ? Maybe you are having a difficult relationship
with Christ because of your trials and tribulations and maybe things aren’t
going to get any better. Are you in bed with Balaam or Jezebel? Have you
allowed your love for Christ to die? Do you feel as though there is nothing
to hold on to? Are you maintaining your relationship with Christ, but you
know your struggles are seeking to weaken your faith?
If this is the case, only the book of Revelation
can inspire you to new heights of living for Christ.