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The book of Revelation

 

We have already had a taste of apocalyptic writing in the last few chapters of Daniel. “Apocalyptic” is an ancient style of writing. It involves using rich picture language to convey a message. It is very effective, but unfortunately rather difficult for us to interpret years later. From chapter 4 of Revelation onwards, we are immediately immersed in the land of pictures and their meanings.

We are not to forget there was also a very real situation at hand for the people in the churches John writes to in this book (or, letter). Titus Flavuis Domitian had his time for power. By the time he was 30 he had a huge territory. He owned the whole of the Mediterranean and it was reported he also held 60 million slaves. His behaviour became intolerable. Those close to him assassinated him at age 45.

Revelation was written in 95 A.D when Domitian had one year left to live. To be a Christian was to live on a knife-edge. You had to worship Domitian as Lord and God. To look at this book is to look at the faith and confidence of the early church. The early church found reassurance and comfort in this series of pictures given to John, exiled to Patmos – a little island 6km long, 11km wide, 56km off the Turkish coast. It belongs to Greece now. The church was being severely and bitterly persecuted. It was dreadfully poor to the point of horrific poverty, except it seems the Laodiceans were in a comfortable place.

If you are lost, or dying, the one thing you really want to know is that you do not believe in vain. Is Jesus all He says He is? Can he really come and rescue us? It doesn’t seem like He is doing it now. Who is actually in control? It doesn’t seem like the ‘king’ is. Is this all for nothing?

The Revelations of John, exiled on the small island of Patmos, have caused more controversy and craziness than any other Biblical writing. There are four main ways to interpret the letter:

1. You may take it as referring solely to events in the first century (called the preterist view)

2. You may take it to refer to actual events in history that occur from John’s day until now and into the future (called the historicist view)

3. You may take it to refer solely to events in the future that occur just before Christ’s return (called the futurist view)

4. You may see principles and dynamics that are applicable to every stage of human history (called the idealist view)

As I write this, however, I’m sure a new view and way of interpreting it just appeared on a shelf somewhere in the world. No need for hopelessness though, Revelation is in our Bible sent by our heavenly Father for us! Each of the interpretive views above has parts to commend them and arguments to deny them. Why don’t we consider a few arguments that most people agree on, draw out a few interpretive principles, and then get to read the wonderful letter?

It reveals Jesus first

Firstly, we agree that the letter is primarily to reveal Jesus. If all we get out of the letter is the revelation we gain about Jesus then we have done well. Jesus the leader of the churches (Revelation 1:1-3:22); Jesus the Lord of history (Revelation 4:1-8:1); Jesus who reigns during judgement (Revelation 8:2-11:18 ); Jesus victorious over the dragon (Revelation 11:19-15:4 ); Jesus the one who holds the keys to death and Hades; Jesus the one who executes the judgment of God (Revelation 15:5-16:21); Jesus the mighty warrior who has conquered Babylon (Revelation 17:1-19:10); Jesus the returning king who brings in the new heaven and earth for his people (Revelation 19:11-22:21).

Read it in its time

Secondly, we are to agree that the letter was written to certain churches at a certain time and the primary reason was to encourage them. The character of all the writings we have in Scripture is essentially the same. Most books have relevant facts for now, truths that are always applicable, and securing statements about the future. Revelation is the same. It has facts about then, truth for then and now, security about the future.

It’s not a letter from Paul

Thirdly, we are not to read it as one would a Pauline letter. The letter is the unfolding of a great drama. “And after this I saw” doesn’t have to be a chronological statement. It could quite easily be the unfolding of the next scene in a great play. We are to read it firstly asking what are we supposed to see and then asking what it means.

Eight scenes

Our interpretive lines lead us to advise you to read the letter as eight scenes in a great play. Each time you read “After this I saw” or “Then I saw”, which will happen eight times, the curtains are closing and a new scene is about to begin. The new scene is putting to us in picture language what Jesus wants them and us to know. The scenes are not necessarily chronological as much as they are descriptive. They are describing reality from different angles and points of view. It could be history from the eye of heaven, from the perspective of the Christian, from the view of non-Christians, and so on.

Let’s go through one scene to help you. Scene 2 begins in chapter 4:1 and ends in 8:2. My title for the scene is ‘suffering for the church’. Jesus tells the church they will suffer. But that is not all He wishes to tell them. He is there, He is in charge, He is still working out history no matter what it looks like. We will need to peer into heaven to see Jesus as he really is because looking with the world’s eye gives the wrong picture. And so the scene begins:

  • John is beckoned into heaven – the sphere of spiritual reality to see things as they are.
  • He sees a breathtaking throne. The church is there (twenty-four elders) and creation is there (living creatures) and all worship Him who sits on the throne.
  • A scroll is there – the scroll of the annals of history. But only one can open it. Jesus is the one in charge of history.
  • Jesus begins to open the scroll of history. And history unfolds, explained by horses riding out. Times of trouble, tyrants, famine, death, persecution, inequality, economic difficulty are all riding out into the world. And so they have, do, and will continue.
  • BUT chapter 7 says there is something else to see in the picture. The people of God are indestructible. The people of God cannot be touched. God knows every one of them and could number them (144,000 – not a literal number, but a picture) but they cannot number themselves (a great multitude). They are washed, around the throne and kept safe.

This is a small example. Don’t take the pictures literally: that is surely a mistake. Keep asking ‘what does John see’ and then ask what it means. Eventually you’ll find yourself a little more at home with the picture language and the apocalyptic style. If you’re left scared, worried or unsure about your faith in Jesus your interpretation is wrong. If it leads you to watch the news worried about loosing your salvation if you bank in certain way or get a tattoo on your wrist, you are also wrong. If it leaves you sure, knowing that Jesus is in change of everything including you and your life forevermore, you’re on the right track. If it leaves you with a sense of hatred for worldliness and a desire to get away from the world and be at home with God – again the right track. Your interpretive style can be judged by its fruit in your life.

Pic: Albrecht Dürer

Want to study Revelation in greater detail? Download our Revelation study guide or preaching series.

RevelationBookletCover

Predictions of the end have always been with us. In our day, too much of our understanding of Jesus’ second coming is influenced by science fiction and TV documentaries. Some spend their lives in conspiracy theories and current affairs, trying to discover who the antichrist is or what 666 means.

But the book of Revelation isn’t actually that difficult to understand. It’s not scary or difficult. You don’t need charts or a degree in world history. It is a practical book that you can apply today. This study book is based on a two-year preaching series on the book of Revelation where we uncovered the encouraging and highly relevant message of this book.


The book of 1 John

The now old apostle John pens this letter to all Christians in about A.D 90, probably from Ephesus. He tells us why he is writing to us – “So that we may know that we have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). This letter was written to assure us.

It seems as though John’s readers were encountering three wrong teachings: (1) that Jesus never really came in the flesh; (2) there is knowledge about spiritual matters to be gained outside of Jesus that really matters; and (3) godly living doesn’t count for much. 1 John deals with all of these troubles. He tells them of the Jesus of history they touched and felt. Godliness does matter because it has to do with love and learning to love is the Christian life, if nothing else. He refutes special knowledge by saying that the Holy Spirit knows everything and there is nothing to know that the Spirit doesn’t already know.

We are to remember that John wrote 1 John to assure his readers. Since the 17th Century the letter has been used differently. In some circles it has become a type of manual that says, “If you do this then it proves you are a Christian after all.” 1 John can cause great introspection – questions of how well and loving we really are. If we are thinking that the level of our love proves our salvation we will have trouble. John should not be taken this way. 1 John 3:1 says he writes to children of God, and that is what we are! He is not causing doubt but assurance! John then tells us that the more we have fellowship and the more we love, the more we will experience being genuine children. Our experience will match up to what we are. Read it this way and it will be a great blessing to you.

And please consult some good commentaries. You will agree that the ‘sin that leads to death’ is to not believe in the gospel at all, while every other sin God will forgive.

Pic: St. John the Evangelist at Patmos – Alonzo Cano (1645)

The Gospels

An introduction to the Gospels might prove fruitful for you. As you will have seen by now, context is very important when reading the Bible. If we don’t know what it meant to those at the time it was written, we don’t know what it meant at all! It is a very recent idea that we should read the Bible and then come to the conclusion of ‘what it means to me’. There is nothing wrong with that if you know ‘what it means’ first. Whatever it means is then what it means to you as well. This is most important. The Bible will never mean what we think it means. It means something outside of us and it’s our job to find out what as best we can.

The gospels are the first four books of the New Testament. They’re not called the ‘gospels’ by themselves but were given that name, which means ‘good news’. They are four witnesses of the truth about Jesus. There are differences in them and similarities. In court, if all the witness’s stories were identical, their authenticity would be questioned. Each author tells the bios of Jesus in their own way, emphasising specific details.Matthew, Mark and Luke are strikingly similar. They are referred to as the Synoptic gospels (a view together). John’s gospel stands by itself as rather different in focus.

Before the Gospels were written the accounts were all oral and the most important stories were spoken over and over again preserving their accuracy. Once written down from their own angle they tell us the eyewitness account of what Jesus said and did. Matthew tells us about Jesus Christ as the King. Mark tells us about Jesus Christ as the servant. Luke zooms in on Jesus’ humanity and John tells us plainly – Jesus is the Son of God. All of them put us into the context, revealing all the most important information about the life of Jesus Christ. The Gospels are God’s presentation of what we need to know about His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are many good background books out there with plenty of detail on the gospels. This introduction won’t go into such detail. Below are a few details and hints that will help you as you are reading the gospels. The inter-testamental detail about who the Pharisees are etc. will also make the text come alive in a richer way.

What we are reading is actual history

Lately there are attacks on the authenticity of the Gospels. But Jesus was a real man. He lived in the history of the world. Other historians (Tacitus, Suetonius and more) attest to this fact. Make no mistake, these are historical, real facts we are reading here.

The gospels are full of teaching and narrative

At times we are being told what Jesus and the other characters did. The teaching from these situations is inferred. Then at other times the teaching is direct – we are told exactly what we are to know as though Jesus were teaching us directly. A helpful hint in this regard is to make sure that you are aware of ‘who is talking to who’. You will notice sometimes Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, at times the disciples alone, other times the crowd. This context does make a big difference to the reading and understanding.

How to deal with the parables

Jesus was famous for talking in parables. They are very simple stories and generally the meaning is very easy to understand. People tend to read more into parables than is necessary and warranted. The parables can mean only one thing, or at most two teachings come from a parable.

For example, the complicated story of the virgins in Matthew 25 has been taken to mean all sorts of things about the Holy Spirit. The teaching of the parable is most probably only one thing – to be ready. Just like the bride had to be ready because she didn’t know when the groom would arrive according to custom, be ready at all times for Jesus’ coming! You will be tempted to sleep and get lazy. Don’t! Be ready! And that’s it!

A brief overview of Jesus’ life and ministry

If you put the Gospels together this is the basic story of the life of Jesus:

  • The Birth and childhood of Jesus

The gospels detail all that is necessary to know about his birth and upbringing. Jesus was born in obscurity – a little town called Bethlehem. There are only a handful of events recorded about his early life. Shepherds and wise men visited him. Herod tries to take his life and at a young age Jesus is found in the temple learning the Scriptures and talking with leaders about the Father. This period is about 30 years long.

  • Jesus’ preparation for ministry

Just before he started his public ministry, Jesus is baptised by John. The Holy Spirit anoints him and he is tempted in the wilderness. All three synoptic gospels record these events.

  • Jesus’ first year in ministry

The early part of Jesus’ first year of ministry is exclusively covered by the gospel of John and can be found in John 1:19 – 4:42. After Jesus’ temptation he made initial contact with five of his disciples in the area of the desert of Judea. They then went to Cana where they attended a wedding where Jesus turns water into wine – his first miracle.

They then travelled back to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. This would be the first Passover of his public ministry and it would also mark the beginning of the first year of his ministry. There Jesus presented himself to the Jews. He did it by clearing the temple, performing miracles, and teaching. After the Passover he returned to Galilee and on the way witnessed to a Samaritan woman and to her town.

Jesus leaves Nazareth (where he grew up) because he was rejected there when he claimed himself to be the Messiah. Capernaum, a poor town, becomes his base, and for the remainder of His first year of ministry we find Jesus here, enlisting disciples, engaging in preaching tours and performing miracles. This period ends with the second Passover festival mentioned in Luke 6:1-5.

  • The second year of his ministry

Jesus’ second year was particularly fruitful and busy. It ends with his feeding of the five thousand. He designated twelve apostles and sent them out, continued extensive teaching, performed many miracles in and around Galilee.

  • His third year

In the first six months Jesus concluded his Galilean ministry before setting out to minister in Judea for the last six months of his life. A significant turning point in his ministry comes when Jesus challenges the Galilean crowd after feeding the five thousand about their real motives for following and listening to him. The crowd and many followers reject him. His strategy changes from crowd ministry to house to house.

The last six months show Jesus changing his ministry area to Judea and Perea. He visits Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles and spends time in and around Jerusalem until his last week.

  • The last week

Six days before the Passover Jesus arrived in Bethany. This would have been on the Saturday, seeing that the Passover and Jesus’ crucifixion was on the Friday. On Sunday morning Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey where a large crowd shouting his praise met him. On Tuesday, Jesus disputed with the Jewish religious leaders for the last time. He openly refuted their objections and therefore sent them away silenced. There’s no reference to anything happening on the Wednesday in the Gospels. On Thursday, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his disciples, known as the “Last Supper”. A lot happened that night. After the dinner Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He was arrested there that night. After some illegal trials in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin, Pilate finally succumbed to the pressure exercised on him by the Jews and sentences Jesus to be crucified. Jesus hung on the cross for about six hours before he cried out, “It is finished” and he breathed his last.

Face to Face pt 3

By Mark Meeske
13 April 2014 – Sunday AM at Bedfordview
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Seven Signs in John – the Sixth Sign

By Waldo Kruger
6 April 2014 – Sunday AM at Rosebank
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Face to Face Part 1

By Marcus Herbert
30 March 2014 – Sunday AM at Bedfordview


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The Twelve: John

TITLE: The Twelve: John
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 23 MARCH 2014 – Sunday AM at Bedfordview

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TITLE: The Twelve: John
PREACHER: Craig Herbert
DATE: 23 MARCH 2014 – Sunday AM at Rosebank

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BIO: JOHN

Nickname: Together with his brother James, they were known as the “Sons of the Thunder”
Marital status: Unknown
Hometown: Bethsaida (was living in Capernaum)
Profession: Fisherman
Age: 16-18 years old
Relatives: Father – Zebedee
Mother: Possibly Salome (according to some Church tradition)
Brother: James
Social Status: Uneducated. He was in partnership with Peter and James. Fishing business
Personality: Bold, loyal, zealous, intensive, passionate (“son of thunder”)
Death: He was never martyred according to tradition. He died in Ephesus around 98AD. Died as an old man, outlasting the other disciples.

General facts: According to many interpretations, he was, for a time, a disciple of John the Baptist and was called by Christ from the circle of John’s followers, together with Peter and Andrew, to become Jesus’ disciples (John 1:35-42). The apostle John also is credited with writing five books of the New Testament: the gospel according to John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John and the book of Revelation.

INTRODUCTION

We can’t talk about the twelve disciples without looking at the life of John in detail. Although we looked at him earlier along with his brother James, we need to also look at him specifically. Remember, the point of this series is to bring back a clear understanding of discipleship and how Jesus did it. As we come to Jesus, some of us have run into dead ends, but we’re given the Gospels in particular to go back and check and see what Jesus intended and find answers to the question of why he called us. Read more

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The Twelve: James and John

TITLE: The Twelve: James and John
PREACHER: Marcus Herbert
DATE: 16 FEBRUARY 2014 – Sunday AM at Bedfordview

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James_John_end_slide

Name(s): James and John. Jesus nicknamed them ‘Boanerges’, the sons of thunder.

Marital Status: Unknown

Home town: Zebedee, (the father of James & John), was a fisherman of Lake of Galilee, who probably lived in or near Bethsaida, perhaps in Capernaum

Profession: Fisherman

Age(s): James 30 years old, John 16-18 years old

Relatives: Zebedee was their father, Salome was their mother.

Social status: Uneducated and had a fishing business with their father, and in partnership with Peter and Andrew. The fishing business was considerable as they owned several boats and employed servants (Luke 5:11; Mark 1:20).

Personality: Both brothers were loud, passionate (at times over the top), eager, fervent, forceful, self-centred.

General facts: We know little of James’s interaction with Jesus, except those incidents with his brother. John was intimately associated with Jesus; he was the disciple whom Jesus loves John 13:23-2, John leaning on Jesus John 21:20. When Jesus was on the cross, He committed His mother to the disciple He loved, John (Luke 19:26-27). John is also credited with five books of the bible, the Gospel of John, 1,2 and 3 John and Revelation. These brothers, like with Peter and Andrew, left everything to follow Jesus!

Position amongst the twelve: Along with Peter, the brothers were part of Jesus’ smaller ministry team. He would select this smaller group to accompany Him, exposing them to more than the rest of the disciples, because later they would play leading roles in the church. The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29), at the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37), at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28), with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:37; Mark 14:33). Jesus prepares these three uneducated, but passionate fishermen for three very different leadership roles in the church.

Death: James became the first to be martyred amongst the twelve, and the only one recorded in scripture. Acts 12:1-3 – “1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.”

Herod wanted to destroy the church, he would not have gone after James if he wasn’t a threat. The influence he had was known by the Jews, so much so that it pleased them when Herod killed him. It seems like James had a prominent leadership role amongst the twelve.

James was the first to die, John the last. John was never martyred, he died as an old man in Ephesus around 98AD, after having being exiled to the island of Patmos, because of his faith.

MEET THE BROTHERS

In this series, we’re learning how to be Christ-followers by looking at the lives of Jesus’ twelve disciples. We integrate into a local church to become Christ-followers. It would be sad if we would become followers of the leaders here and not followers of Christ. You might recall that Paul rebuked the Corinthians for being followers of Apollos and Paul and forgetting about Jesus. Leaders may have a part of your life but we need to be desperately following Jesus.

We’re looking at the disciples and seeing their humanity and watching how Christ dealt with them and transformed them. This then points to what we can expect and how we can develop the right character, and develop the mission, in our lives.

This time we’re looking at James and John, labelled the Sons of Thunder in the Scripture (or the Sons of Zebedee). See their bio posted above. Why were they called Sons of Thunder? Because they seemed to be loud-mouths, always having an opinion. And look at their age – James was probably around 18 years old! In Cornerstone, we’ve ordained an elder of 19 years old and we got a lot of flack for it. But God is bringing us young guys and girls and we want to release them into ministry! Why should we wait? When God gets hold of a life, it doesn’t matter the age.

We will look at John in detail later in this series, but focusing on these two brothers together provides many lessons. They were both good and not so good for each other. Read more

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John 3:16

TITLE: John 3:16
PREACHER: Taryn Herbert
DATE: 29 SEPTEMBER 2013 – Sunday PM1

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Three Truths from John 13

TITLE: Three Truths from John 13
PREACHER: Mark Meeske
DATE: 25 AUGUST 2013 – Sunday AM

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