Tag Archives: Revelation

Armed and Dangerous

 

One can only imagine what it would have been like to have the Apostle Paul as a mentor and father figure, not only in the faith, but in life as well.  We can observe and note how this may have been through the letters that he wrote to his young protege Timothy.  His care, encouragement, and desire to impart wisdom is evident, particularly in a well-known passage from 2 Timothy 3.  In the midst of encouraging Timothy to follow and emulate the pattern of his life, Paul encourages him to continue in the faith and to recall his younger days when he was acquainted (literally know or understand) with the sacred writings.  Presumably, this mention of sacred writings leads the Apostle into a brief discourse on the nature of Scripture, which is our passage under consideration in this post.

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Two questions immediately jump out at the reader, first is what is defined as Scripture and second, who is the man of God.  The remainder of the passage seems fairly straightforward.  Whatever the Scriptures are defined to be, they are breathed out by God, theopneustos, literally that they are God-breathed or from the mouth of God.  It would not be difficult to see how the parallel concept of Scripture as the Word of God is likewise valid.

Scripture is the generic word, writings, but its contextual use in the New Testament is always a reference to the inscripturated revelation of God.  We find references to Scripture time and again in the gospel accounts of our Lord’s earthly ministry.  Here, as with nearly all of the other uses, it is a reference to the Old Testament or TANAK.  This fact was never in question.  The difficulty comes by way of trying to understand if Scripture can refer to the New Testament.  Without creating a brand new post for that defense, suffice it to say that there is internal evidence that this is indeed the case, particularly when one considers 2 Peter 1:16-21; 3:16; 1 Timothy 5:18 as well as the overwhelming number of references, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament, not to mention the words of Christ Himself.  It is therefore without question that both Old and New Testament’s collectively may be referred to as Scripture.

We then arrive at four given functions of Scripture.  The Apostle informs Timothy that the Scriptures, which have come from the mouth of God, are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  Strong’s defines profitable as helpful or serviceable, advantageous, each of which help to draw out more clearly the idea that is being conveyed here.  Combining this with our four functions and we see that the Scriptures are a helpful, even more – advantageous, companion for teaching or instruction, which elsewhere Paul has described as communicating doctrine (Titus 1:9).

Likewise, the Scriptures are helpful for both reproof and correction, which sound similar and would seem to be communicating a similar concept.  In reality however, it is likely that the former means the Scriptures are advantageous for correcting doctrinal errors and reproving those who would hold to beliefs that are contrary.  The latter however uses a different word, which the ESV translates as correction, which better communicates the idea of correcting moral behavior.  Together then, we see that the Scriptures are helpful for correcting both doctrinal deficiencies and moral deficiencies of character.

Finally, we arrive at our fourth function of Scripture, that it trains in righteousness.  Elsewhere in Scripture when this word for training is used, it is in the context of discipline and instruction, as with a Father to a son (Eph. 6:4; Heb. 12:5, 12:7, 12:11).  Turning to Strong’s again and we find that it also connotes the idea of cultivation.  In farming, this would include the entire process from plowing the ground to planting the seed and watering all the way to the production of the fruit.  It is easy then to see how the Scriptures would function in this way in the life of a believer, from the rather painful discipline of plowing the hard heart to the joyful producing of spiritual fruit.

All of this brings us to our second question, who is the man of God.  If we relied on some common understandings of this passage, we would be left with a limited application of the man of God referring exclusively to pastors or preachers.  But that’s too technical of a definition and would be a sad outcome leaving the rest of the “lay” population of believers on the outside looking in at this magnificent discourse on the nature and purpose of Scripture.  Along this line of thought, the everyday believer would figuratively hand over the Scriptures to the professional man of God so that they could be used properly for the functions as described.  But though the Scriptures are a sword, they are not the sword in the stone waiting only for the professional Arthur to come along.  The Sword of God fits all hands of believers who by faith wield it in the power of the Spirit, particularly for the functions mentioned here.

The man of God, as the footnote in some Bibles indicate, also means the messenger of God and echoes a common Old Testament reference.  Essentially it is the man (anthropos), belonging to God (possessive) that articulates or communicates the truths of God’s Word, the Scriptures.  This could occur on a street corner, at a dinner table, in a gathering of believers, 1 on 1, 1 on 50, anywhere that a person takes a stand and proclaims the Word of God.  Which brings up a second point.  Anthropos here is not restricted to males only.  It is most often used generically as a reference to mankind.  So, therefore, women need not feel inferior that the power and function of Scriptures are limited to men only.  This promise is for the man or woman of God who communicates the message of God using the Word of God (1 Timothy 2:12 & 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is for another day).

Take heart believers, God has equipped us in this twisted and corrupt generation to proclaim His Word.  Not only has He fulfilled His promise in giving His Holy Spirit, but He has armed us with the Sword of the Lord, His Scriptures, which have proceeded from His very mouth.  These Scriptures complete and equip the man or woman of God for every good work.  We are not adequate for such things on our own, literally we are unarmed.  Thus the power of Scripture to equip, or to furnish us with the means necessary to do the good work that God has set before us.  Be bold and confident in the Lord.

The Alpha and Omega

 

In a recent post, we looked at an exposition of Colossians 1:15 in light of the Jehovah’s Witness belief that Jesus was a created being by God the Father. Working through that passage we saw that the basis for their belief is an erroneous understanding of the Greek word prototokos, translated firstborn in many faithful translations. In this post, I hope to set forth a polemic from the book of Revelation as a proof of Christ’s deity through the assertion that He is the Alpha and Omega.

As in the post mentioned above, it is important to engage the Jehovah’s Witness in a dialogue, not necessarily a debate.  Typically, this will better allow the truths of Scripture to be unfolded before their eyes. Therefore, it is often helpful to have them read passages for themselves and even where accurate, from their own New World Translation (remember though that this is not a faithful translation). That said, utilizing the Alpha and Omega argument from Revelation allows you to both reference the NWT and provides an opportunity for the Jehovah’s Witness to reach their own conclusion from Scripture’s assertion that Christ is God.

One can approach the A&O argument from two different angles, first is within Revelation itself utilizing the JW understanding of the passages and the second is the correlation between Revelation and Isaiah utilizing Scriptures understanding of the passage. Keep in mind, the goal of this polemic is to assert that Jesus is God, or that Scripture often refers to Jesus as Yahweh. Remember that in the mind of the Jehovah’s Witness, Christ is neither; he is a created being and one of many “gods”.

First, have the Jehovah’s Witness read Revelation 1:8 (it may be helpful when engaging JW or Mormons to reference a King James Version of the Bible; I’ve included that particular version in this post):

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” Revelation 1:8

ASK: Who is this passage referring to?

By reason of their own NWT translation, the JW is forced to conclude that this passage is talking about Jehovah, note the NWT: “’I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says Jehovah God, “the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.” Obviously, the JW insertion that this is Jehovah/The Father for the purpose of advancing their own doctrinal beliefs, is wrought with problems. First is context, which is clearly a reference to the second coming of Christ, “Behold,  he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” Revelation 1:7

Verse 8 obviously corresponds and continues this thought by concluding that Christ is the One coming again. Where in Scripture does it ever say that God the Father will return or is coming? Or where does it say that the Father was pierced?

This minor (it’s really not) contextual issue aside, there is a bigger fish to fry in this argument. After getting the JW to consent that Jehovah (i.e. the Father) is in reference here as the Alpha and Omega, turn them to Revelation 22 and have them read aloud the following verses either in their own “translation” or in the KJV:

“Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:7

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.  I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Revelation 22:12-13

ASK: Whom is being referenced as the Alpha and Omega in these particular passages?

Keep them reading:

“I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches.  I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.” Revelation 22:16

“He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

A consistent JW will again conclude that the Father, Jehovah, is in view here. However, continuing to read through the end of the chapter will reveal the voice of the One who has been speaking, namely Jesus Christ, and it is upon Himself that He takes the title of Alpha and Omega. There is simply no getting around this. I’ve had experienced, hardened JW’s tell me that they would have to do some research on this; younger JW say they’ve never seen that before and stand dumbfounded under this truth; however, I have had another JW leader try to pass it off as “my interpretation”. If the latter defense is played against you, ensure the JW that you have offered no interpretation of any kind, but have simply allowed the Scripture to speak for themselves. It’s best to proceed back to Revelation 1 and finish reading that chapter with the thought in mind that this is now speaking of Christ.

The second prong of this argument comes by way of Isaiah 44:6 which reads, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God”. You may in fact wish to start with this passage, before progressing into Revelation 1. It’s likely that this is the basis for their interpretation that Revelation 1:8 is speaking of the Father, since it too says “saith the LORD”.

ASK: Who is this passage in Isaiah referring to?

Rightly, the JW will assert that this is a clear reference to Jehovah (the Father) because the translation indicates that the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking. Holding this passage in concert with Revelation and the assertion that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, gives a clear witness to the Witnesses that Scripture makes the connection of Christ as Yahweh. There is simply no way around this. If you start with this passage, simply progress to Revelation 1:8 and follow the flow of thought above into Revelation 22.

The A&O argument serves several purposes, not the least of which undermines the integrity of the NWT and sheds light on their desire to mask Christ as Jehovah. Secondly, it asserts clearly the deity of Christ in plain language by making the OT connection with Christ as Yahweh. Thirdly, assuming the title of Alpha & Omega connotes all that this means. Literally, it is the title of eternality applied to Christ, which the JW denies; along with all of His intrinsic attributes. It is similar in function as the title “I AM”. He is the beginning and the end.  Simply put, it is a statement of supremacy.

Clearly the “god” and “jesus” of the JW is not the same as the God and Jesus of Christianity. Though they share similarity in name, the real meaning comes from the attestation of Scripture and this proves that the beliefs of of the Jehovah’s Witness is nothing other than heresy.

 

Strengthen What Remains

“Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Revelation 3:2

The interpretation of the book of Revelation has been somewhat controversial in modern church history.  This is due primarily to a shift from a historic interpretation, majority held until roughly the late 18th early 19th century, towards a more futuristic interpretation.  By that I mean that the majority report for interpreting Revelation today is to usher the events and prophecies recorded by John to sometime in the future.  Predominantly this has occurred for chapters 4-22, but has also been the case for the letters to the 7 churches, found in chapters 2 & 3.  What this futuristic view sometimes overlooks is that these were 7 actual churches addressed by Christ, through John’s letter, and that the message to these churches has had a practical, real application for the Church throughout history, even down to this day.

Our Lord instructs John to write to seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  Of the seven, only two, Smyrna and Philadelphia pass by the watchful, flaming eye of Christ without rebuke.  Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira, though each receiving rebuke, were commending for varying levels of faithfulness; from strong doctrinal defense, to faithfulness and acts of love.  Yet when Christ directs His gaze to the Church at Sardis, He offers no commendation.  He finds no evidence in the Church’s works worthy of positive comment; neither strong doctrine, nor endurance, nor strong spirituality.  The church receives rebuke for a reputation of being alive, though Christ sees them as dead.  In other words, because they put on a nice show, perhaps even having large attendance, and having gained a reputation in the community for being alive, through the examining eye of Christ, the opposite is actually true.  He finds their works to be dead.  This is the danger of the pragmatic church founded on doctrinal quicksand, focused mainly on attendance and success, and unconcerned with centrality and sufficiency of the Word of God.

One thing has often puzzled me about these churches and Sardis in particular.  While, not commended for any outward evidences of faithfulness, Christ does notice something positive; the presence of a faithful remnant.  He charges the church to “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.”  Later we read of Him saying, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4)  Two quick observations are in order: 1. That these faithful members were in the minority is explicitly stated (a few names) 2. That they were not in leadership is implied.  While the identity of the “angel” to whom each letter is addressed is somewhat debatable, it would seem the context of the statement “you have still a few names” seems to lend itself to mean a small group that are not responsible for leading the church in the path of dead works.  So, in the midst of this church façade dwelt a remnant of faithful believers who had not been tainted by the dead works of the majority.  The puzzling aspect of this fact is perhaps obvious.  Why didn’t this faithful remnant pack up and move on to another church?  Here they were in the middle of a dead church, though still faithful in their stewardship and worship.  Why?  I’ll offer a couple thoughts below.

First, in 21st century America we live in a country with a landscape littered with churches.  From my window at work, I can literally see 7 or 8 large churches within 2 blocks of each other.  It doesn’t mean they are all good and faithful, but options abound.  If someone is offended by the First Baptist Church of Your Town, USA they can move on to the Second Baptist Church of Your Town, USA.  In first century Asia (and really in large rural areas throughout the world today) however, this luxury was not present.  Sardis was about 40 miles from Philadelphia and about 60 miles from Smyrna.  Nobody was going to pack up the kids on donkeys every Sunday morning for a trip to a faithful church that far away (and you thought you had trouble getting the family to church on time!).

Which begs a second question; Why not plant another church in Sardis?  This is the puzzling part and where we’ll land in this discussion.  Though much of the territory where in now is speculation, I think it’s still possible and beneficial to think through this question. It’s of course possible that this small, faithful remnant had not been called by God to plant another church nearby.  Christ does not instruct them to leave, but calls the church to “Wake up” and “Strengthen what remains”.  Who’s to wake up?  Perhaps the faithful, though more likely not.  Who’s to do the strengthening?  Most likely the faithful.  They were called to stay and work reform in the church.  How do we know this?  I think it’s because on the heels of commending the faithful, who had not stained their garments and were given the promise to walk with Christ in white, He states, “The one who conquers will be clothed in white garments” and they will not have their names blotted “out of the book of life” and will have their names confessed by the Son before the Father.  Certainly these promises extend to the faithful, as previously seen in verse 4, though in verse 5 the introduction of the condition, “the one who conquers” would seem to extend these promises beyond the small faithful remnant to the rest of the church who overcome their deadness and lack of zeal for Christ.  Regardless, these faithful few were called to stay and do the work of reformation with the hope that the Holy Spirit might do the work of revival among the church.

This brings me to three exhortations on the benefit of remaining in an unfaithful, dead church for the purpose of working reformation.

  1. For the Glory of God.  This is the chief motivating factor for all that a believer does (1 Cor. 10:31).  The Westminster Shorter Catechism affirms that the chief end of man is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  God is glorified through the work of His faithful saints who labor in difficult places, be they churches or hostile countries, for the sake of spreading the Gospel, seeing the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of saints.
  2. For the Fame of Christ’s Name.  Any church that flies the Christian banner represents the name of Christ.  It doesn’t matter whether the church is liberal or fundamental, neo-orthodox or orthodox.  If they pretend to be a church at all, then they are representing Christ.  His name is either smeared in the mud or it is exalted on high, but either way His name is involved.  The same is true for professing Christians.  It is therefore imperative that we “let our light so shine before men that they see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)  The church that continues in dead works, pretending to be a faithful witness for Christ ultimately brings reproach to the name of Christ.  Therefore, when laborious work for reform is achieved in a dead church it brings fame to the name of Christ rather than reproach.
  3. For the Repentance of Sinners and the Restoration of “Backsliders”.  Would it be right for a faithful few to wash their hands of a dead or dying church situation and move on?  Maybe, in some situations.  Though it seems to lean heavily towards self-preservation.  As believers we are called to the Great Commission, i.e. spreading the Gospel to the lost.  That mission field might be as far away as New Zealand, or as close as your own backyard.  And it might even be your local church.  A dead or dying church most always has sin in her midst (Rev. 3:2, 4), it therefore needs Christ proclaimed boldly and relentlessly by the faithful for the purpose of bringing sinners to Christ and to awaken those who are asleep.

I’m sure planting a church brings with it a level of excitement and adventure for the cause of Christ and it certainly must have its challenges and discouragements.  But re-planting is restoration and reform and that is the heart of Christianity.  To take a person who was once dead and bring them to life by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit is the purpose and plan of God for the salvation of sinners.  To take a church that was once dead and bring it to life by the reforming power of the Word of God and His Holy Spirit is the work of His saints.  Strengthen what remains.