Jesus Wins! – Part 45: A Kingdom of Priests

//Jesus Wins! – Part 45: A Kingdom of Priests

Jesus Wins! – Part 45: A Kingdom of Priests

Revelation 1:4-8; 22:16-21

4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 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. [1]

 

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

John’s letter from Jesus to his congregations is arguably the most practical work in the New Testament. Now that we have spent 44 weeks studying this work, I’m hoping that statement makes some sense to you. Since Revelation is full of apocalyptic symbolism where colors, strange animals, places, and numbers all have prophetic meanings, we can easily lose sight of the fact that the Apocalypse is given for the most practical of reasons. Jesus wants his people to press on in their worship of him regardless of their circumstances and regardless of opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil.[2]

It’s easy to overlook the fact that Revelation is a letter, an epistle. The main purpose of the New Testament epistles was to tackle specific problems in the congregations addressed. “The writers of other NT letters appeal to the readers’ present and future participation and blessings in Christ as the basis for their appeals to obedience.” [3] All of the letters appeal to the same “already/not yet” theme that Christ’s work has been accomplished already but is not yet fully consummated. That consummation of all things, and the believer’s future in it, is so certain the apostle Paul writes of us being already enthroned with Christ (Eph. 2:5-7).

Revelation is intended to show us as much as we can comprehend of God’s glory and of the consummation of all things in Christ Jesus. Before John ever wrote this letter, Paul had already written the perfect dust jacket quote for it in 2 Cor. 4:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. [4]

Now that we have completed our study of this great letter and seen the panoramic overview of redemptive history, we can go back and see some of the main points of application. This work is, after all, the direct testimony of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ to his earthly church instructing us what to do until he returns. It is a divine commentary on how Christ fulfills all the open-ended prophecies of the Old Testament by providing all the children of Abraham (Jew and Gentile) a new land in which he will be their God, they will be his people, and he will dwell with them.

BIG PICTURE

So, our first application is that Revelation gives us the big picture of redemption, like a box-top picture for a jig-saw puzzle.  And the big picture is simply this: Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, he is the Lord of history, as well as Lord of his church, he is directing all things – corporate and individual, great and small, personal and impersonal – toward the glorious goal he has foreordained, which is his second coming, the defeat of all his enemies, including Satan, and establishing the new earth as our eternal home with him. There we will be priests in his fully-consummated kingdom.

In Genesis 1-3, we hear about the Garden of Eden, a Covenant of Works that allowed Adam and Eve to live with God on the condition of their perfect obedience, and of the Garden as the temple where God dwelled with man. Adam’s failure to keep God’s law was an act of rebellion that split heaven and earth in two, plunging the whole human race into the condition of sin, subjecting the creation to futility, and separating man from God’s physical presence. Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden-temple and their access to the Tree of Life was cut off. But just prior to their eviction, God promised the Seed of the Woman would destroy the work of the dragon-serpent, Satan. The rest of the biblical narrative, Old and New Testament, is the story of God working in earthly time and space to redeem man from sin and restore us to an eternal dwelling-place with him despite the struggle of the dragon-serpent against the work of the Promised Seed.

The new heaven and earth are depicted as Eden glorified. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the covenant of works for his people, giving them his righteousness, symbolized in the gift to his bride of white robes. But those who have spent their lives rejecting Christ in favor of idols (the earth-dwellers) are judged according to their own works and are eternally banished to the lake of fire. Revelation tells us repeatedly that history is rapidly racing toward the day of Messiah Jesus’ return in judgment and blessing.

Knowing how all things turn out provides hope in the face of our personal sufferings. In God’s upside-down kingdom, his people suffer in order to learn to depend more and more upon his sovereign rule of all things and to hope more and more into his return to set all things right. When we understand Revelation according to its intended purpose, we receive a profound sense of purpose in our own lives. As the Psalmist sang, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.[5]

At the end of the age, all of the horrible effects of the fall of the human race will be undone. The righteous who have suffered will be rewarded, the wicked – whether they have flourished or suffered – will be punished. Everything happens for a reason, even if that reason is known only to God. From world-changing events like World Wars, to the fall of the Soviet empire, to events like 911, to natural disasters (earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes) and man-made disasters (oil spills, nuclear meltdowns), to “disastrous” political maneuverings – all of these things are part of God’s eternal plan, working itself out in human history. The redemptive story takes us from creation, to the fall, to redemption, to a new creation. God not only will save his people, he will redeem and renew all of creation.

DIVINE JUDGMENTS

We have heard how, throughout this present evil age, God continues to pour out judgments against the earth and those living on it. We saw three different camera angles of the judgments God pours out, described as broken seals, sounded trumpets, and poured-out bowls of wrath. Each camera angle shows the same judgments increasing in intensity. Each camera angle ends with the seventh and final great judgment of all creation leading to the new earth. None of these camera angles predict specific wars, famines, earthquakes, economic or ecological disasters. They do show us God disrupting the things into which the earth-dwellers trust for their false sense of security.

Like the Egyptians during the time of the Exodus, the earth-dwellers further harden their hearts toward God. We heard in Revelation 9 that despite the preaching of the gospel, the earth-dwellers refused to repent and continued to worship their idols and the demons behind them:

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons …nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. [6]

Not only do the earth-dwellers continue on in their worship of idols and demons, we hear in Revelation 16:9 how they actively curse God rather than repent: “… they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”[7]

What Jesus wants us to understand is how deeply the unregenerate people hate God and his free offer of salvation in Christ. We should never underestimate the hostility earth-dwellers have for Jesus Christ and all who belong to him. So, Revelation shows us civil governments actively opposing Christ’s kingdom in the same way as do individuals.

In John 15:18-19, Jesus told his disciples: 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. …I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.[8]

John preached to his Ephesian congregation, “13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.[9]

But for those whose names have been written in the Book of Life from before the creation of the world, and who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, the end of the story is different. We will be spared from God’s wrath. We need never fear other people, hostile governments, hell, or the day of judgment. So, we need never fear our death to this present evil world.

METHODOLOGY

Another benefit of Revelation is hearing why Satan hates God’s people and learning his various methods of attack. Throughout the Old Testament record, Satan repeatedly tried to wipe out the line of the Seed of the Woman. Once Jesus is born, Satan attempts to stop him by arranging for Herod to slaughter all of the male infants in Bethlehem. And after Jesus grows to manhood, but before his messianic ministry begins, Satan leads our Lord into the wilderness to tempt him with the kingdoms of the world. But after Jesus Christ dies upon the cross and rises again from the dead, Satan is a thoroughly defeated foe. The devil rages like a wounded animal.

In Revelation 12, John reports Satan’s disbarment from his position as the great prosecutor of the heavenly courtroom. Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father provided the final and perfect defense for all God’s sinful people. Jesus lived the perfect earthly life Adam failed to live. He died the blood-shedding death that all sinners deserve. His perfect life and sacrificial death were imputed to his people as their defense against the prosecution’s calls for the death penalty. Satan, the great prosecutor, was now out of his favorite job and left only as the earthly persecutor of the church. Enraged because he knows his time is short, the dragon makes war upon the woman (believing Jews and Gentiles of the visible church).

In Revelation 20, we hear of Satan being bound in such a way that he cannot hinder the proclamation of the gospel and the faith of the elect. We also hear that at the end of this present evil age, he will be released for one final all-out assault upon the church that will end with his and the armies of his demons and earth-dwellers being cast for eternity into the lake of fire. Though the dragon is bound from stopping the advance of the gospel, he still can and does attack both earth-dwellers and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. What he cannot do is take away our citizenship, our salvation.

In Revelation there are three ways in which Satan attacks believers. First, he attacks by using civil governments or organized religious groups to arrest, kidnap, and kill. The second method is more subtle, and often more effective. He introduces false doctrine and heresy into the churches to deceive and divide the body of Christ, drawing as much attention as possible away from Jesus. Satan, the father of lies, is the author of all false doctrine. The third way Satan works is through the seductive efforts of the harlot (Babylon the Great, the city of man) which lures professing church members away from Christ through the promise of wealth, popularity, power – the idea of somebody-ness, of being in the “in crowd” – all of which the great city of man offers to those who pursue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16), rather than the things of God.

When John writes this letter, Satanic assault is happening in the seven churches Jesus addresses. Smyrna, Pergamum and Philadelphia were already facing persecution from the Roman empire. A number of people had already been put to death. Several churches were struggling with false teachings. Pergamum had the hateful Nicolaitans. Thyatira had the teaching of one Jesus called “Jezebel.” The church in Laodicea had become so complacent in dealing with these matters that Jesus called them “lukewarm.” These false teachings encouraged Christians to engage in idolatry, to pursue their own self-generated happiness instead of pursuing Jesus.

Only the churches in Ephesus and Philadelphia are commended for keeping sound doctrine. But in Ephesus, while the church tenaciously held to sound doctrine, it had lost its first love. Members hardened their hearts towards one another and toward Christ. As is often the case, good theology becomes a merit badge of self-glory rather than a celebration of Christ’s one-way love. Jesus threatens to come and take the lampstand of the gospel away from them. The devil even uses sound teaching to divide the church by encouraging people’s arrogance.

I recently re-heard the same false figure Christians love to quote that an average of 100,000 to 160,000 Christians are martyred for the faith every year. That figure originated with the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts based on estimated figures extrapolated between 1990 to 2010. They have since withdrawn that number to much less fanfare than it was trumpeted in Christian publications and pulpits at the time. They falsely included deaths in several African tribal wars of the 20th and 21st centuries which had nothing to do with Christianity. They now admit the number of Christians martyred per year across the world is about 10,000.[10] That’s still tragic, but it tells us presently Satan is busier with false doctrine and worldly temptations than he is with hostile governments and radical ideologies.

You should certainly pray for your brothers and sisters across the world who suffer political, economic, and physical persecution. But you need to be acutely aware and on guard over the more frequent and subtle means the world, the flesh, and the devil use to sideline believers and attack the church – the appeal to our desire to idolize anything and everything other than Jesus, including all things church related – like music, methods, ministry, membership, and money.

JESUS WINS!

The final application to draw out of Jesus’ letter to his church is this: Jesus wins; so, we win! In the opening chapter of this book, John tells us that the Risen Christ holds in his hand the keys of death and of Hades. This means that Jesus is Lord over all things, including death. Because of sin, death is our greatest enemy; but Jesus Christ has conquered it. Should the Satanically-empowered beast take the life of one of God’s saints, John tells us that they come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years – that ideal time taking place in the current heaven as glorified saints await the new heavenly earth and their new bodies, their perfect hardware.

In Revelation 14:13, John speaks of blessedness of all those who die in the Lord;  they will rest from their labors and their deeds will follow them. And what comfort this should give us should illness strikes, and our own deaths become inevitable. And what comfort this gives to those of us who have stood beside the grave of those we love most in life. All those who die in Christ are among those so blessed, and who now stand beside the crystal sea, worshiping and praising God and beholding with their eyes, those glories of God’s throne that we can but imagine. And so, while we all fear dying–the pain, the suffering–we need never fear death. For we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Our names are written in the Book of Life. Our white robes and palm branches await us when we die.

Not only is there comfort in death, there is comfort in life. We read in Revelation 8 that the prayers of the saints ascend before the throne of heaven where the Risen Christ hears them and answers them according to his will. In fact, the trumpet judgments are sounded against the earth, because God hears the prayers of his suffering people and answers them. Jesus himself instructs us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Christ’s church must be a praying church, and we must be praying constantly with the expectation that God hears our prayers when we cry out to him, and that he acts to help us when we are in need.

COME!

Finally, because life in the present evil age is not the end-goal of believers but living face-to-face with God apart from the presence and power of sin is the end-goal, Jesus also instructed us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” It is an instruction repeated in 22:17. In response to Jesus’ testimony, the Holy Spirit and all God’s people cry out to Jesus. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ [11] All of us who are given ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches are to cry out for Jesus to come as our response to this letter’s reading. “And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’[12] That is the last command of Christ to his church in this letter. We are to long to be with him face-to-face.

Finally, Jesus gives an invitation to all the earth-dwellers and the make-believers who sit in church but trust in themselves and not into his perfect life and sacrificial death. He loves all the skeptics, all the pagans, all the doubters, all the idol worshippers, all the addicts, all the atheists, all the Democrats, all the Republicans, all kinds and colors of people who will but flee to him with dirty garments and filthy hands thirsting for his righteousness. To them, Jesus says:

let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.[13]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 1:4–6.

[2] Except where otherwise noted, the majority of source material for this message is taken from Kim Riddlebarger, To Him Who Loves Us — Revelation 1:4-8; accessed 10/24/18 at: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/downloadable-sermons-on-the-bo/To%20Him%20Who%20Loves%20Us%20%20revised%2032.pdf

 

[3] Beale, 1156.

[4] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 2 Co 4:16–18.

[5] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ps 30:5.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 9:20–21.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 16:8–9.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 15:18–19.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:13.

[10] https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24864587

 

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:17.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:17.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 22:17.

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