Ann Rice (just what you want right? Revelations and Ann Rice in the same sentence) recently gave up Christianity while continuing her pursuit of Christ. Why? Because she agreed with Gandhi who said that Christ was good but Christians not so much. So while thinking about what something constructive we as Christians could do to take steps against this, I thought about the book of Revelations.
Please don’t freak out that I’m talking about the nastiest, most violent, misogynist, and generally controversial book of the bible….believe me I’m freaking out enough for both of us. My exegesis of The Book of Revelations is based on the ideas that Brian Blount uses in his book Can I Get a Witness which deals with the same text from a specific cultural background which boils down to a simple conclusion: look through the lens which God has already given you.
Now I’m not sure how exactly to describe my lens, but I would like to share what I see when I read this book…at least, I’d like to share from the 1st three chapters.
After John’s greeting and the doxology, we have in 1:10 a manifestation of the Spirit of God which instructs John in verse 11 to send seven messages to the seven churches in Asia. The seven churches are then represented by the seven golden lamp stands that surround Jesus as He appears to John. It’s important to note that Jesus appears while surrounded by the churches, by the body of Christ. “Where two or more are gathered there I am among them” He said. The unified presence of the body of Christ is what allows Jesus to appear in the vision.
Chapters 2 and 3 are the specific messages given to the seven churches in Asia which are represented by the seven lampstands. These are the instructions given to the churches.
- Ephesus – remember your first love.
- Smyrna – be faithful
- Pergamum – Repent and return from false teachings.
- Thyatira – Remove the false prophet and stay strong to what is true.
- Sardis – You praise with your lips, now praise with your life.
- Philadelphia – You have endured, now hold fast.
- Laodicea – Commit! There is no middle of the road.
In other words, these messages to the churches are focused on addressing the most serious blocks in the faith and spiritual growth of the people of that church. 3:19 reads “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.” Jesus is telling these churches that they need to clean up if they are to be a lampstand in the temple.
If these churches want to be a landing light for the fulfillment of the Kingdom, they first need to address the imperfections of their own character. That there are seven churches is not an accident.
God created the world in seven days; it is a sacred number in the Jewish tradition that represents fulfillment. The exile was prophesied by Jeremiah to be fulfilled after 70 years. Jesus said that we are to forgive a man seven times seventy times which suggests infinite fulfillment. That there are seven churches means that the body must seek fully developed and matured character.
Now I’m sure I could spend all kinds of wonderful fun time looking at the exact characteristics that Jesus calls out in chapters 2 and 3 here to understand what that fully developed and matured character looks like, but I want to focus on the first and the last. The other five can fall into a category of the nine fruits of the spirit which suggests to me that life in the spirit, in genuine pursuit of Christ is going to get you most of the way. After all the fruit of the Spirit are EFFECTS of being a Christian, not the means by which we become a Christian.
But the other two characteristics are presented as follows. 2:4 “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love.” And 3:15 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other!”
Now I can’t prove this in the Greek, or by using other bible passages (though I’m sure I could if I tried hard enough and stretched hard enough) but I’m reasonably certain that the phrase “1st Love” would be better translated as “1st Lover.” Because as people there are plenty of things that we love, and even when we are born again, it is entirely possible that Jesus isn’t the top of our list. I know He wasn’t for me. But I do know that He loved me first. He knitted me in my mother’s womb, His thoughts for me outnumber the grains of sand on the beaches of the world, and He loved me enough to die for me. He is my 1st Lover in that He loved me first. And we always need to remember that. No matter what else may happen, no matter what kind of glory He reveals or the kinds of works we can see done it is all about the love that Jesus Christ had for us.
Second “You are neither hot nor cold.” I really think that our ho hum “let me pray about it” “Let’s avoid confrontation” “we don’t want to offend anyone” “there’s no such thing as labels” and so on has really put us in this place. How can we claim to have any kind of character, any kind of integrity without knowing what we stand for? How can we call ourselves Christians if we are sitting on the fence about every other issue? Post-modern’s out there, this is for you (and yes I include myself in that brushstroke). We need to make a choice, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong choice because God says “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”
Now I would like to go on and talk about the rest of Revelations in a series of posts, but I want to stop here for a week or so and see if anyone has any objections or questions to what I’ve written because while we may put on the robes of Christ to be like Him, that doesn’t excuse us from personally seeking to be more like Him.