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Sample Pages from "Letters From The Lamb" by Timothy Archer & Steve Ridgell. Published by 21st Century Christian. All rights reserved.

Sample Pages from "Letters From The Lamb" by Timothy Archer & Steve Ridgell. Published by 21st Century Christian. All rights reserved.

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Letters From The Lamb Sample Pages Letters From The Lamb Sample Pages Document Transcript

  • For ordering information contact 21st Century Christian: 21st Century Christian, Inc. 2809 12th Ave S PO Box 40526 Nashville TN 37204 www.21stcc.com Local Phone 615-383-3842 Local Fax 615-292-5983 Toll Free Phone 800-251-2477 Toll Free Fax 800-292-5983 www.lettersfromthelamb.com
  • Table of Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 1. The Lion and the Lamb: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 The Lion and the Lamb: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 The Lion and the Lamb: Questions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25 2. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Questions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45 3. The Letter to the Church in Ephesus: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 The Letter to the Church in Ephesus: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . .55 The Letter to the Church in Ephesus: Questions . . . . . . . . . 61 4. The Letter to the Church in Smyrna: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . .63 The Letter to the Church in Smyrna: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 The Letter to the Church in Smyrna: Questions . . . . . . . . . 77 5. The Letter to the Church in Pergamum: Then . . . . . . . . . . 79 The Letter to the Church in Pergamum: Now . . . . . . . . . . . 87 The Letter to the Church in Pergamum: Questions . . . . . . .95 6. The Letter to the Church in Thyatira: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 The Letter to the Church in Thyatira: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 The Letter to the Church in Thyatira: Questions . . . . . . . . 113 7. The Letter to the Church in Sardis: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 The Letter to the Church in Sardis: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 The Letter to the Church in Sardis: Questions . . . . . . . . . 131 8. The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia: Then . . . . . . . . 133 The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia: Now . . . . . . . . . 141 The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia: Questions . . . . 147 9. The Letter to the Church in Laodicea: Then . . . . . . . . . . 149 The Letter to the Church in Laodicea: Now . . . . . . . . . . . 157 The Letter to the Church in Laodicea: Questions . . . . . . . 165 Postscripts: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167 Postscripts: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
  • Introduction Introduction As a teenage Christian, I was fascinated by the book of Revelation. In fact, I had delusions of “cracking the code,” discovering the meaning behind the book that no one had ever seen before. Captivated as I was by the sights and sounds, symbols and images of Revelation, I never paid much attention to the first few chapters. I wanted to read of dragons and monsters, of celestial combat between angelic forces and demonic hosts. I would skip over the first five chapters to get to the good stuff. But some things happened that led me to take another look at what I was missing. As a college student, I had the chance to audit a course on Revelation taught by Dr. Ian Fair, who was dean of the College of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University at the time. Not only did he teach me to appreciate the book of Revelation on its own terms, but he also opened my eyes to the beauty of the letters to the seven churches of Asia found in Revelation 2 and 3. He let me see the rich history behind those letters, and the powerful messages contained in those books. About the same time, I was fortunate to join the more than one
  • 8 Letters from the Lamb thousand students who sat in a Wednesday night Bible class taught each week by Steve Ridgell. One of the topics that Steve chose to teach was the letters to the seven churches. Steve’s approach was different from what I’d seen in the college classroom. While digesting the scholarly material himself, Steve took the Word and made it relevant to college students. His lessons took the powerful messages from the past and made them speak in the present. Through the years, I’ve continued to value these letters, continuing to delve deeper into the message of the book of Revelation. Now my temptation is not to skip the first five chapters; in fact, my current struggle is to continue on from there, to make myself leave the throne room scene in Revelation 5 and journey forth into the visions beyond. I’ve presented this material in churches from Argentina to Texas, and each time people have commented: “I’d never heard this before.” My dream for this book is to allow others to experience the thrill that I felt upon first coming to terms with the letters to the seven churches of Asia. I will do my best to present the scholarly side of things, the historical analysis that makes these letters come to life. Fortunately, I have some help in presenting the rest of the message that touched me so. Steve Ridgell is now my colleague, my companion in ministry and in writing. I do not have to try to recreate for you the life-changing applications that he can draw out of this material; I have the privilege of letting Steve do that himself. Come with me and journey back to a land and a time that are distant from our own. Then let Steve bring you back to the present with a message from God. Grace and peace, Tim Archer I have always been convinced that the Bible has lessons that make a difference in my life, and that has always been what I have most enjoyed in my personal study. It is how I preach. God’s Word speaks in very real and practical ways. But I have always been insistent that the original message must be understood to really find the lessons that change lives today. I think that is why I appreciate Tim Archer and the way he works
  • Introduction 9 to understand what the text meant when it was written. Every time I hear Tim teach on a passage I find myself thinking: “So that is what that means!” It is rare to find someone with the scholarly ability to understand the message in its original context, much less be able to communicate it in a way that keeps my interest. Tim has that gift. I have enjoyed reading his material on these letters to seven churches in Asia Minor two thousand years ago. I am going to confess that I have had a hard time understanding everything in the book of Revelation. It is fun to read but not so much fun to find the message from God for my life. Maybe that is because the whole book intimidates me. Maybe it is because I thought I had to understand all of it. But I have always thought these seven letters were rich in application to my life today. They have seemed as fresh today as they were two thousand years ago. As I have continued to work on this material, I have seen even more applications to my life today. There are lessons to be learned for my life and yours, and in our churches, that mean just as much today as they did then. Even writing this material, I have been challenged anew to see the core message of the Bible and to realize again how it plays itself out in my life. Tim and I have designed this book so that you hear two alternating voices throughout: a Then section written by Tim, and a Now section written by me. Tim focuses on what each letter meant in the context in which it was written. I focus on what each letter means for our lives today. There will be some natural overlap at times because Tim is also very much a preacher. And part of how I learn the message for us today is to imagine how the original message was received and lived out then. So we invite you into the message and into the life of these seven churches. It is our hope and prayer that these letters will come alive for you as they have for us. In the love of Jesus, Steve Ridgell
  • CHAPTER 1 The Lion and The Lamb: N THE After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it (Revelation 4:1, 2). As the scene opens, we realize that we are in one of the most incredible places we’ve ever been. It is a throne room, God’s throne room. We look in wonder at the great throne where sits the Ancient of Days. We are unable to see Him but perceive the reflection of the “unapproachable light”1 surrounding Him which seems like the shining of precious stones. The brilliance of the light produces the effect of a rainbow surrounding the seated figure. Lowering our eyes from the throne we make out smaller thrones for each of twenty four elders. We cringe as thunder and lightning leap from the throne, and our trancelike gaze is drawn to seven lamps which burn before the throne. Next we contemplate a smooth, almost glasslike sea, its might controlled by the will of the Lord who sits on the throne. We gaze upon the four living creatures, the guardians of God’s holiness, those mighty
  • 12 Letters from the Lamb beings which had been seen by prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel, whose likenesses had been carved on Israel’s ark of the covenant. We hear the continuing chorus of “Holy, holy, holy” that rises up before God as all of the heavenly beings proclaim His worth.2 It is a scene of wonder, a symphony of sight and sound that evokes praise from all who witness it. Heady Company Moses and the elders of Israel had a glimpse of what we are seeing. They even had the privilege of eating with God.3 Later Moses was given yet another look at the glory of the Lord.4 The prophet Micaiah witnessed this scene, but describing God’s throne room did not fit his purpose at the time.5 Isaiah had a vision of God on His throne surrounded by His angelic bodyguards.6 Ezekiel, too, saw the Lord with the living creatures that John describes here.7 Daniel beheld God on His throne with other thrones around Him and thousands of celestial beings surrounding Him.8 We are in heady company, a Who’s Who of prophets allowed to look upon the glory of the Lord. We stand gazing upon wonder after wonder and try to take it all in. The Sealed Scroll In the midst of all this, a man weeps. John, the apostle, the one that Jesus loved, stands and cries bitterly. Tears seem out of place in the presence of God, in the midst of this spectacle, but John cannot help himself. He has learned that the scroll, the one bearing seven seals, that scroll with writing both inside and out, cannot be opened. The seals cannot be broken and the contents cannot be revealed. It is not idle curiosity that moves the apostle to tears. No, John knows what is in that scroll. It is not a scroll of information nor a scroll of teaching, although both can be found within. The scroll contains the marching orders for the hosts of God, the commands that will set in motion God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Until that scroll is opened, the advance of the kingdom of God is stymied. God has prepared great things for His people, so many plans that they had to be written on both sides of the paper, yet none of them can come into being because the seals on the scroll cannot be broken. To open that scroll, one would have to be worthy. Ancient royalty
  • The Lion and the Lamb 13 placed seals of wax on their documents. Only those of the proper rank could break those seals. If no one of sufficient rank could be found, the seals could not be opened and the scroll could not be read. It might be compared to a military security system; select individuals have different levels of clearance. Some are cleared to read “Secret” materials, while fewer are cleared to read “Top Secret” documents. Some highly sensitive documents can only be read by those of maximum rank. When a document is received for which no one has clearance, it remains untouched until someone arrives who is authorized to examine it. For security clearance purposes, the ancient world often used seals, such as those we see here in Revelation. A king or high official would put a bit of hot wax on a document, possibly with a cord through the wax, encircling the document. While the wax was still soft, the official would press his ring into it, leaving an impression that bore his mark. Such a seal proved authenticity and provided for security. Only a person of the required standing could break the seal and read the document. This scroll has seven such seals, requiring the presence of someone with enough clearance to open the seals. If the seals are not broken, the orders will not be given, and God’s plan will not be put into motion. All that is needed is one person worthy of opening the seals, someone trusted by God, someone who has earned the privilege of bringing God’s saving plan to earth. But a search of heaven and earth and all of creation comes up empty. There is none worthy. So John weeps. His tears flow freely until one of the elders stops him. “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). The Lion of Judah The Lion of Judah! Of course! The conquering King. The promised Messiah. Descendant of David, rightful heir to the throne. How obvious! He was worthy. The tribe of Judah was the tribe of kings, and the lion was the symbol of Judah.9 Of all the kings of Israel, the greatest was David, the king of whom God had said: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Naturally his true heir would be worthy of breaking the seals and opening the scroll. The
  • 14 Letters from the Lamb Lion of the tribe of Judah would be a king, no, the King. Descended from the mighty warrior king, David, who had been God’s chosen to push back his enemies. The Lion of Judah is certainly worthy of taking the scroll and breaking its seals. Lions are powerful. Awe-inspiring. A lion could tear those seals off with one sweep of his mighty claws. King of the beasts, lord of the jungle, the lion is one of the most terrifying animals around. His roar sets lesser animals to flight, and his appearance strikes terror in his prey. From culture to culture, for thousands of years the lion has been the symbol of royalty, a representation of power and bravery. This Lion is no ordinary lion, no brute animal. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Descendant of David. Messiah. The Anointed One, the Chosen One. Behold the powerful creature. The Lion Is a Lamb “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it has been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Oops! We must have stepped into the wrong vision. Excuse me, poor little lamb; we are looking for the Lion. You know, the conquering Lion of Judah. The one who triumphed. No offense, but the blood on your throat does not speak of triumph. Who ever heard of a conquering lamb? In the United States, we choose mascots for our sports teams. Lions. Tigers. Bears. Fearsome animals. Did anyone ever choose to call their football team “the Lambs”? How about “the Lambs with Their Throats Slit”? Would that strike fear in the hearts of our opponents? No, this cannot be the one we are looking for. There must be some mistake. We are looking for the triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah, and we find a Lamb that someone has killed. God’s people are facing persecution. Their very existence is threatened. It is time for the Lion to roar, for the house of David to rise up once again with swords drawn. It is time for action. War! And someone has sent a lamb by mistake. But there is no mistake. In fact, this verse is the key to our understanding of the entire book of Revelation, if not the whole New Testament. The triumphant Lion is a Lamb. A sacrificed Lamb. Could John have presented us with a more startling contrast? The mighty, royal lion contrasted with the poor lamb with its throat cut. While we may not be familiar with the meaning of a slain lamb, John
  • The Lion and the Lamb 15 and his readers would have been. We might think of an animal that had been attacked by a coyote or one that was struck by a vehicle. We might even picture a slaughterhouse scene, with lambs being killed to provide meat for humans. But to readers in the first century, the image of a slain lamb was one of sacrifice. While other animals were used in sacrifice, the lamb was by far the most common. The image of a lamb with its throat cut evoked the image of the altar, the image of men offering sacrifice to their God. The Lion of the tribe of Judah is the Lamb of God. The triumph of the Lion comes about through the sacrifice of the Lamb. If we have any doubt about the matter, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders remove it by singing: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9, 10). Then tens of thousands of angels join the chorus, singing “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12). The Lamb is worthy not in spite of being slain; He is worthy because He was slain. The sacrifice of the Lamb is the triumph of the Lamb. John tells us that this is no ordinary lamb; He has seven eyes and seven horns. Later on we will see some of the details of the interpretation; for now let us just say that John is telling us that the Lamb has perfect power and perfect vision or knowledge. And the Lamb stands on His feet, although He triumphed by allowing His own slaughter. The Lamb lives. The Lamb conquered through His death and the Lamb conquered Death itself. His life is a promise to all who would follow the sacrificial path to triumph. All-powerful, al-knowing, the Lamb allowed Himself to be slaughtered, knowing that through that sacrifice He could bring to light life and immortality.10 This is the message of the vision that John saw. The Triumph of the Lamb All that we have heard about triumph and kingdoms and glory,
  • 16 Letters from the Lamb all that was prophesied about the Messiah, all that we understand about power, all must be filtered through the vision of the Lion that is a Lamb, through the triumph of sacrifice. In the book of Revelation, the term most commonly used to describe Jesus is “lamb.” The image of the one who conquered through sacrifice is what John wants us to have in the forefront of our minds. As we read the book, we must remember that God’s people triumph by completely giving up their lives; and by being faithful to the point of death and beyond. The Lamb triumphed by being slain. He gave His life. God’s people are called to do the same. And they can do so knowing that the sacrifice is temporary, that death is a momentary transition, that the Lamb has triumphed over the tomb and offers the same victory to all who would imitate His sacrifice. This is not just the message of Revelation. It is the great mystery of Jesus’ coming and Jesus’ sacrifice. John is telling us plainly: When you read “lion” in Old Testament scripture, insert “lamb.” When you read of “conquering,” insert “sacrifice.” Those who had studied the Old Testament were waiting for the Messiah. There was some debate whether He would be a king or a priest, but there was no doubt about this: the Messiah would come in power, sweeping His enemies before Him and restoring the nation of Israel to its former glory. That is why it was hard for people to understand Jesus when He came. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The servant Messiah. The Messiah who gives His life. That is not what people were expecting. But that is who Jesus was—and is. He calls His disciples to be like Him: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34, 35). Lose your life to gain it. Jesus specializes in going against conventional wisdom. Soren Kierkegaard compared Jesus to a burglar who enters a store by night. Instead of stealing, He merely changes all the prices. What was once expensive is now inexpensive; what was once without value is now costly. That is what Jesus did with the values of this world. He says that we come to greatness not through asserting ourselves but by serving others. He declares that we save our lives by losing them. He calls people to suffering
  • The Lion and the Lamb 17 and hardship, rather than offering politicians’ empty promises. He chooses the weak, the poor, the lowly and the foolish. He teaches His people that suffering is the path to glory. He calls Himself a Lion but comes as a Lamb to be slaughtered. Troublesome Times All of this has special relevance for the first recipients of the book of Revelation. As members of the Lord’s church in the province of Asia (located in modern day Turkey), they were about to undergo a time of persecution at the hands of the Roman government. Specifically, they were about to be pressured to deny their faith and accept the worship of the emperor as a divine being. Domitian, who reigned as Caesar at that time, was a tortured, paranoid man with a deep sense of inferiority. He sought to overcome this inferiority through cruelty, called “the replica of Nero’s cruelty” by Tertullian, and by forcing his subjects to worship him. Emperor worship caught on in the province of Asia as it did nowhere else in the Roman Empire. It became a test of loyalty; all citizens would be called upon to honor the emperor Domitian as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. For most Romans, this was no problem, whether or not they really believed the words. They worshiped a multiplicity of gods; adding one more to the group was not a problem. But Christians could not do it. They could in no way deny their Lord. Jesus is Lord; there is none beside Him. To call Domitian “Lord” would be a betrayal to the true Lord. Many Christians refused to do their civic duty. They refused to worship this false god. Because of their unwillingness to worship the emperor, Christians in the province of Asia would come under persecution. They would be threatened with prison and even death. From an earthly point of view, such times of persecution represent a triumph for the enemies of God and a defeat for the church. When Christians are imprisoned and killed, it can seem like Satan is winning. That is why John is writing: to replace that earthly point of view with a heavenly point of view. These Christians need to see that the path to triumph is not through armed uprisings and military resistance. They are to emulate the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lion who was willing to be sacrificed as a lamb. They are to be lambs unto slaughter, faithful
  • 18 Letters from the Lamb witnesses who will not deny their testimony that Jesus is Lord, even if it costs them their lives. Just as Jesus triumphed through His death, their deaths will help bring about the triumph of God’s kingdom: Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death (Revelation 12:10, 11). They will overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. It will be their willing sacrifice that brings about the downfall of the demonic kingdom. So John is instructed to write to these Christians, to share with them not only this vision of the throne room, not only the story of the Lion who is a Lamb, but to share with them a special revelation from Jesus, a special message for His embattled saints. That message begins with seven letters to seven churches, seven communiqués from the Lamb to His followers. The letters were addressed to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Seven churches which symbolically represented all the others. Seven letters written specifically to those churches, to those believers at that point in time, but letters with an eternal message for all followers of Jesus in every age. A timeless, heavenly message that still echoes today, almost two thousand years later. Let us take up those letters and hear the message. Let us pledge ourselves again to follow in the steps of the Lion, even as they lead us like lambs to the altar of sacrifice. Let us hear the words the Spirit says to the churches. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
  • The Lion and The Lamb: NOW So what does it mean for me? The scene of Revelation 4 and 5 is full of wonderful imagery: stones, thrones, storms, creatures and a lamb. But so what? What is the point? Why does it matter to me? If John’s recording of the revelation of Jesus has meaning in the here and now, then what is the message of two chapters devoted to a scene from heaven? Is it to show me what I have to look forward to after this life is over? Or is it to help me see the fundamental truth about Jesus—and about me? I appreciated reading Tim’s work on the background of this text. It is his conviction that this passage holds the key to understanding the Revelation of John. The more I read it, the more convinced I am that this view of heaven shows the core message of the Bible. In fact, it shows us the message of good news that God wants us to know, understand and accept. What Am I Doing Here? Have you ever been somewhere you did not belong? It happens to me occasionally with golf. I am not a good golfer. I am one of those guys who has trouble breaking 80, and that is before I play the last six
  • 20 Letters from the Lamb holes. When I am asked what I “lie,” I take it as permission and not as a question. However, I sometimes get invited to really nice courses to play with friends. That is how I learned what a golf shirt was. I was told to wear my golf clothes. Helpful hint: cut-offs and a t-shirt are not golf clothes. I am always intimidated. Even if I hit my first shot straight, it may not make it past the ladies’ tee box. It is so hard to make a swing and miss look like a practice shot. I know everyone watching is wondering what someone like me is doing in a place like this. I certainly know I am not good enough to be in a place like that. Even worse, I will never be good enough to play those courses. Ever. I feel somewhat the same way when we are invited to view the throne room of God in Revelation 4. The physical description is amazing. Just reading about it is intimidating. Read that passage again. I certainly do not belong in a place like this. Nor do I belong among such company. I am not in any way worthy to be among the twenty-four elders. I am overwhelmed by the four powerful creatures assembled. I sense that even this word picture is inadequate to convey how awesome this place is. And So I Weep We have all been there. We have done something that we knew we could not fix. Sometimes something is said that you would give anything to take back but cannot. Sometimes something is done that is not repairable. If you ever totaled a vehicle you know what that means. It is wrecked beyond repair. Sometimes we fail to do something. No matter how much we regret our actions, no matter how many times we apologize, some things are beyond our ability to repair. That is exactly how I feel seeing the throne room of the holy God. I have done things I know I should not have done. I have failed to do things that I know I should have done. A holy God is not going to put up with the likes of me. Sin and holiness do not go together. And so I weep. I cry for the things I have done that make me unholy. I cry because I know that my life does not fit in a holy throne room. God is holding a scroll that reveals His plan for the reign of His kingdom. How exciting it must be. Maybe there is even a place for me
  • The Lion and the Lamb 21 in that plan. How I want to be a part of something this exciting. I long for my life to have purpose. I desire to belong to something greater. And so I weep. John cries because there is no one worthy to open the scroll. There is no one who can set this plan in motion. He knows he himself is not worthy. If John is not worthy, then there is no use even looking my way. I feel that way about my own life. Who can fix my life? Who can open the scroll of my life? And so I weep. Who is worthy? Who is it that can connect unholy me with the holy God who made me? That is the question for all people every- where: Who can pay the price for the sin that makes us unworthy to be in God’s presence? I wish I could do that for the people I love. I would pay the price for them, but I cannot. I am not worthy either. I have my own debt of sin. I do not even know how to pay off my own debt of sin. I would work off my debt, but how? What do I have to offer? I need someone worthy to pay my debt. And so, like John, I weep. Worthy Is the Lamb This is the best news we could ever hear: the Lamb has been slain. Jesus is worthy. The sinless Lion of Judah is worthy to open the scroll. He can initiate God’s plan. The triumphant Lion is a sacrificed Lamb. Before the throne of God, in the midst of thrones and fear- some creatures is a slain Lamb. The One who will change weeping into rejoicing has been slain, yet now lives. The Christian message that changes my life here and gives life forever with God is built upon death. Listen to the song of praise sung in heaven about Jesus: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9, 10). There is the answer to my need. Jesus purchased me with His blood. He is worthy to pay for my sins. That is the crux of Christian- ity. That is how I become worthy to enter the throne room of heaven.
  • 22 Letters from the Lamb That is how I can live forever in the presence of God. The unholy me becomes holy; not because of what I have done, but in spite of what I have done. I am holy because my sin is gone. I am sinless before God because the blood of the Lamb has purchased me, paid my debt, and redeemed me. No wonder Revelation 5 bursts into songs of praise. I was able to sing at least nine songs from this very text. When I read this chapter, I am reminded that I am part of a kingdom greater than any kingdom this world has ever seen; a kingdom that transcends borders. We are not citizens of any earthly kingdom. I remember what the writer of Hebrews said: [T]hey admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been think- ing of the country they had left, they would have had op- portunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16). We see a visual of that city in Revelation. I am a priest. I am a holy man. So are you. So what do we do? We serve God. We are part of the reign of God on this earth. The Lion Is a Lamb Lions are not lambs in this world. We have a hard time grasping the concept of unholy people becoming holy by the act of someone else. Christianity is counter cultural by nature. Our world does not get it, and they hate what they do not understand. So persecution becomes inevitable. The world is scared of us. We reject its standards. We will not submit to its rules. We do not accept its logic. We will not fight about it, but we will give our lives for it. We have. The world believes so much in the power of the lion that it never understands the power of the slain lamb. That is why Revelation became so important to the early church. They were about to undergo intense persecution because of their conviction to follow the Lamb of God. It still happens. To follow Jesus is to reject the world. It is to live in a radically different way than the culture around us. And the world
  • The Lion and the Lamb 23 will hate us for it. So we too need this book. We need to hear the mes- sage of Revelation. Too Good To Be True He was one of the best athletes I have ever known: all-state in foot- ball and recruited to play baseball at a major university. As happens with so many athletes, he used pharmaceutical help to play through pain. Then he became addicted. His life began to be controlled by that addiction to the point where he ended up losing his scholar- ship and returning home a shell of the man he used to be physically and emotionally. I was one of the first people he came to see. Some of his family knew me and suggested I would be a good one to talk to. So we talked about the power of Jesus to change lives. We visited about God’s love, His forgiveness and His grace. We talked about surrendering all of ourselves so we might really find ourselves. I told him how it had worked in my life. We talked, prayed and cried. And he did absolutely nothing about it. It was just over one year later that it all clicked. He realized one night that he wanted to be baptized and die with Jesus. He was ready to act on what he knew. He was ready to have his sins washed away. Then he got “cold feet.” He could not get up and go into the baptis- tery. After visiting for some time, the real issue came out. He said: “This is just too good to be true. There is no way God can forgive all I have done.” That is when I knew he got it. He was right. It really does seem too good to be true. That is the whole point. I am not good enough but Jesus is. And by the way, we did baptize him. Because he was not good enough either, but Jesus is! So who am I to stand in the throne room of heaven? I am a child of God, adopted into the family of God by the sacrifice of Jesus. No More Tears At the end of the book of Revelation, we read where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). In many ways, that is the story of God’s work among us—to wipe away our tears. It reminds me of the woman who encounters Jesus in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus is reclining at the dinner table when this woman comes and stands behind Him. She is crying so hard that her tears begin to wet
  • 24 Letters from the Lamb His feet. I think I know why she is crying. She has “lived a sinful life in that town” (Luke 7:37). What a reputation. You can imagine what people thought of her. Yet she heard about Jesus, heard where He was and showed up. Then all she can do is stand there and cry. Why? Maybe she understands how unworthy she is to be in His presence. Maybe she cannot believe that forgiveness is possible for someone like her. Maybe it is emotional overload at the contrast between her life of sin and the sinless Son of God. Or maybe she gets it. Maybe she realizes that someone worthy will enable her to come into the presence of God as a clean, forgiven child. Then it happens. Jesus forgives her sin, commends her faith, and sends her out with a blessing of peace. I understand this story because I am her: a sinner unworthy to be in the presence of God. I under- stand because I have been forgiven, and I stand in the throne room of heaven forgiven and pure. God has wiped away my tears. There is someone worthy to justify my presence among the holy. Worthy is the Lamb. Endnotes 1 1 Timothy 6:16 2 This scene follows the description of Revelation 4:1-8. 3 Exodus 24:9-11 4 Exodus 33:18—34:7 5 1 Kings 22:19 6 Isaiah 6:1-3 7 Ezekiel 1:1-28 8 Daniel 7:9, 10 9 From Genesis 49:9 10 2 Timothy 1:10
  • The Lion and The Lamb: ? The Lion and the Lamb: Then 1. Why do you think certain men (Moses, Isaiah, John, etc.) were given glimpses of God’s throne room while others were not? What is the significance of seeing God in this way? 2. What is the significance of the scroll and the seven seals on the scroll? Why is Jesus worthy to open the scroll when no one else is? 3. How would things be different if we only knew Jesus as the Lion of Judah and not the Lamb? How do you think that His teach- ings would change? 4. As Christians, how do we respond to situations in a “lamb way” rather than a “lion way”? Give some examples. 5. Do you agree or disagree with this statement: “The church grows better in times of persecution.” Give reasons to support
  • 26 Letters from the Lamb your answer. The Lion and the Lamb: Now 1. Do we ever think we are worthy to enter the throne room on our own merits? 2. How do we sometimes “justify” ourselves to God? 3. A number of hymns and contemporary praise songs have been written based on this material. How many can you think of? Why do think this material lends itself to praise? 4. Discuss the difficulty of belonging to the kingdom of God while living among the kingdoms of men. 5. What is the most difficult challenge in your life in terms of liv- ing counter-culturally?
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