Revelation is a single letter to seven churches. Through this letter, God is honoring what is honorable and correcting what is detrimental. We need to expect this same type of treatment from Him in our personal lives.
October 27, 2023
Speaker: Greg Sanders
Passage: Revelation 1:1-8
We’re going to be in Revelation chapter one, picking back up with our systematic study through the book of Revelation. We’re going to go verse by verse. I know that given what’s going on in the world today, everybody wants to rush to the good stuff. But I want to take our time building that groundwork correctly.
As we open to Revelation, I want to give you some reminders of themes to keep your eyes on. Number one, we’re going to see this theme of seven show up multiple times in the book of Revelation. 55 different times, the number seven is used. In Jewish culture, seven is indicative of perfection. So the writer John is using this number seven for a purpose. He’s constantly pointing our attention at Jesus Christ being the fullness, the totality, the agent, and the aim of creation.
I loved Pastor Dustin’s challenge during bread and cup, to realize that sometimes discouragement is just a tool of the enemy, and other times it’s a tool of the Lord to let us know that we’re trying to lead.
The writer here is Hebrew, and John’s a Jewish fisherman. He understands that seven will cause them to realize he’s pointing at perfection all the time. We’re going to watch for that as we study. We’re going to see a bit of that today.
The other thing that John is doing is a theme that we want to constantly watch for, which is this overarching lordship of Jesus. I don’t know that most people approach the book of Revelation with the belief that it will teach us about the Lordship of Jesus and how supreme He is.
I almost grew up with the belief that the book of Revelation was kind of held in mysticism–like you’d say it with a hushed tone. But really, what John’s trying to do is point our attention to Jesus and to see what happens with Jesus Christ on earth and how it works out into the future of humanity.
Lenses to consider — and I want us to always be looking for these as you study. My hope and my dream in this is that you’re not showing up only on Sunday to study Revelation. I hope you’re in Revelation on your own and you’re writing down questions and observations and avoiding Google. If you Google what Revelation says, you’ll find a lot of stuff that it doesn’t say. So be careful with that.
The heavenly lens. The first thing I want to challenge us with is what Revelation is revealing. I hadn’t seen this until maybe the last two or three years. It shows us and reveals what Heaven looks like. Not just what it looks like, but what’s going on in Heaven, the activity of Heaven. Why is that important for us? Because the activity of Heaven is eternal. This means it’s always been going on, and it always is going on. It helps us understand the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
All these pictures that John’s going to bring to light about the throne room are an absolute focus on Jesus. When he stands in the room, every time the narrative shifts to talk about Him. I can’t wait till we get into this. There’s this passage in chapter five that talks about the lamb as He steps forward to take the scroll. It’s almost like chills come over me, and I get this sense of who He is. It’s showing us what Heaven looks like.
The earthly lens. This is probably the one that I’m the saddest about and the one that I think we need to pay the most attention to. Revelation will teach the church and her culture on earth what it is to be and what it is not to be. We’re going to focus on the seven letters, but interestingly enough, I said that phrase last weekend, and I realized Revelation is not seven letters. It’s a letter to seven churches. It was always intended to be read together. That helps us understand.
Interestingly, Jesus exposes what’s going on in these churches to the other churches. There’s no posturing. Nothing is hidden. He’s not ashamed of their failures. I’m getting ahead of myself, but as I was studying it again this week, I thought, if He’s not ashamed of those failures and He was willing to talk about them, maybe we should stop being so weirdly ashamed and be able to say, “Look, we’re not good at this, we’ve got to get better at this.”
Thirdly, the lens that John will use is what I would call the “Jesus lens.” I want you to always look at the end-time events through this lens. Some events are being communicated as the byproduct of what Jesus Christ has done on the earth and is continuing to do. The very name, the very presence, the very identity of Jesus has caused something to happen in the earthly realm. We’re looking at how He’s impacting and influencing everything.
The whole antichrist spirit that is talked about in Revelation is the spiritual reality that is against Christ. What that is is a response to Jesus. All through Revelation, we’re going to see that, and those lenses are going to help direct the way we study this book.
Now, we’re going to do something every time we study Revelation because I believe it matters. It’s not because I’m trying to be fun. It’s not because I’m trying to introduce some old liturgy into our gatherings. I want us to stand as we read the Scripture. Last week, we studied the phrases “that there’s a blessing upon the hearing of this, the reading of this, and the obedience to this.” I want you to posture yourself mentally and spiritually in a way that says, “Lord, I’m ready to receive blessing. I’m ready to receive instruction to obey.”
This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave Him considering the events that will happen soon: an angel was sent to God’s servant John so that John could share the revelation with God’s other servants. “John faithfully reported the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, everything he saw. God blesses the one who reads this prophecy to the church, and He blesses all who listen to it and obey what it says. For the time is near when these things will happen. This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia, grace and peace from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come from the sevenfold spirit before His throne and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the rulers of the world. All praise to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins, by shedding His blood for us. He has made us His Kingdom and His priests who serve before God His Father, give Him everlasting glory. He rules forever and ever. Amen. Look, He comes with the clouds of heaven, and everyone will see Him, even those who pierced Him. And all the nations of the earth will weep because of Him. Yes, amen. ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,’ says the Lord God. ‘I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come, the Almighty one.'”
Holy Spirit, as we put our attention to this text. Would You lead us and guide us into all truth? Lord, that there isn’t a revelation that will come that’s not from You. I don’t want my or our knowledge to be part of this. I want Your revelation. Would You open the eyes of our hearts to see what we need to see? Lord, thank You for the blessing that comes just by reading this. We could stop right now, call it a day, get to lunch early, and be blessed. But more than that, I want to know what it looks like to walk in the obedience of this text. So we love You, and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I’m going to walk through some observations. That’s how we’re going to do the early parts of this study. We’re going to read the text. We’re going to walk through observations and then look at applications.
The first observation I want to give us is the simple reality that this is a single letter to seven churches. Again, this number “seven” comes up here. We know that “seven” means “its completeness is perfectionist totality.” It’s interesting that it’s to seven churches. I know that it was initially written to seven specific churches. I want us to see the number “seven” as a unification number that allows us to understand that this letter overlays into the church.
I would say that the seven churches probably each uniquely have a single problem and that most churches have all those problems. He’s using them and He was dealing with them. But I want us to always carry our interpretive lens. We can’t have it say something to us it didn’t say to them. We have to understand how it was received by them first. We need to see this is a letter to the church.
It’s interesting to see that when Jesus directs His analysis of each church, it’s to them specifically, but it’s open. I have been thinking about this aspect all week. I can’t shake it. Because it shows me something about the way He deals with his church, meaning how He deals with us. We want to always believe that the things He’s dealing with in us, nobody else can see.
I think that’s not true. I think people can see it. I think we should take up the attitude that if the Lord’s dealing with it, we should no longer be afraid of it being exposed. He’s only dealing with it to grow us. Sometimes, having the vulnerability to allow other people to know what we’re going through invites them to have the vulnerability to let us know what they’re going through.
Jesus deals with it openly. It’s not in a hushed tone. It’s not a secret. I love what He’s doing. It is something He’s taught me privately: honor what’s honorable and correct what’s detrimental. It’s what we see Him doing in these churches. He’s honoring them with what’s honorable.
How many know with your kids that works? How many have tough parental system issues? You might not have the greatest relationship with mom and dad? I had some spots in my journey where I was hung up on some things about my dad. The Lord whispered to me one morning, I want you to honor what’s honorable. It freed me to go, you know what, I don’t have to deal with the stuff that bothers me. I can just honor the things about my dad that are amazing and leave the rest to Jesus.
That’s what we see Him doing with the church. I’d love to challenge us to model what we see Jesus doing in our lives. We’re so hardwired to assess everything around us that’s wrong, and we never learned to ask the question, “What’s right?” I’ve given these words before that are phenomenal for going through life: what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing, what’s confused?
All of us have things that are right. All of us have things that are wrong. If you think you don’t, I for sure can show you one. There are things in all of our lives that are missing, and there are things we’re confused on. If we learn to flip just the first two on the world around us, what’s right, make that the first focus. Perhaps until you’ve learned to assess what’s right in someone, you don’t have the authority to criticize what’s wrong.
What we see Jesus do here at the church is honor what’s right. I think we should expect that same type of treatment in our lives. That’s what He’s going to do. If you only hear Jesus say good things to you, you’re not listening hard enough. I’m not trying to be funny, and I’m not trying to be mean. Our King is gentle, but He is corrective.
He will assess things. Learn how to listen for that. Have the courage to sit with the Lord long enough to say, “How am I doing, Lord?” and expect Him to say, “You’re doing great!” I always assume He is just totally irritated with me at all times. I just feel like I’m always getting called into the principal’s office, and I have to work through that.
How many have ever been like that? When somebody says, “Hey, I need to meet with you,” your first question is, “What’s wrong?” We assume people want to meet with us because we did something wrong. Learn to hear His voice in kindness as He coaches what’s right in your life. Enjoy that. Feel great about it. But learn to hear Him say, hey, these are the things I want you to focus on. These are the things I want you to adjust.
The second thing I see here is the seven churches represent a really small portion of the world. I have two maps for us. If we look at Pergamon, all the way down to Laodicea, that entire region is about the same geographic space as Cheyenne, Wyoming to Fort Collins. We’re talking about an incredibly small part of the world. Patmos is the little island off the coast. This is modern-day Turkey. There’s another slide that shows you where it’s located currently.
You see, that island Patmos is just off the edge. It’s obvious he could see the shoreline while he was writing these letters. I want to remind us by looking at these maps, just how simple it is to look at a map, of the microclimate of this space. My point is that if Jesus spends this much time writing a letter to these seven churches, speaking things directly to the seven churches, it should give us an understanding that He knows where we are.
I know some of this is so obvious, but sometimes we miss the obvious because we’re looking for the deeper things. Let’s just look for what’s here. Your King knows where you are. There’s not a single facet of your life right now that is lost on Him. He knows what you face. Let me go one step further. He knows where He’s placed you. He sees what’s great and what’s good in our church families. He also sees what’s lacking. Because of this, we can sit in this truth and rest in it. We have a shepherd that’s watching over us. He’s caring for us and He’s assessing us.
Something that I think is concerning in the modern church and is plaguing her is we don’t ask often enough, “What does it look like to live under the sovereignty of God?”
What does it mean to live under the sovereignty of God? If we see Jesus here having specific detailed words about churches, it lets us know that He knows where we are and He knows who’s in there. He knows where we’re at. He knows where He’s placed us.
The book of Acts says that He added to the church daily. I would love to put this in front of you. You didn’t add yourself to the Kingdom. He did. His movement to you was first. We love Him because He first loved us. He woos us. He draws us. He builds us. He adds us. I’m going out on a ledge and say, I think we’ve lost sight of the reality that He knows what He’s doing.
If we understand and trust His sovereignty, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in our lives we have to be willing to stay put in. Let’s say you’re in a marriage that you want to get out of. If you understand His sovereignty, you can’t because your assumption is Christ put me here. You may have been the one that chose that person. But the moment you chose them, He chose them. He aligned Himself with your free will, and He invited you into the covenant that He gave.
I was doing a wedding yesterday and I came across the Matthew passage. I had never seen a phrase like this in Matthew 19. “He answered, ‘Haven’t you read in your Bible that the Creator originally made man and woman for each other male and female? And because of this, a man leaves his father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh, no longer two bodies, but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart.'”
I don’t know why it hit me, but the poignancy of that phrase, “no one should desecrate his art,” struck a chord. All of a sudden, I’m standing in a gathering, fighting with microphone feedback at the Windsor Mill, and also my mind’s blowing that the moment we say I do, the moment we step into the sanctity of marriage, God aligns Himself to our free will and creates an artistic beauty. That is our marriage.
We feel like, at times, it was our choice and we misunderstand sovereignty so much that we believe we can start removing ourselves from something He put us in, and it won’t affect who we are. More than that, it won’t affect the world around us. Even though in First Corinthians six and seven, Paul teaches that healthy marriages — Kingdom marriages — are moral scrubbing agents for the culture. His goal is that we honor Him with our marriage, we live for the Kingdom, and it shows the rest of the world what it’s supposed to look like.
If we don’t understand sovereignty, we start to believe we have the freedom to walk away from this. But didn’t He place you there? Yeah. But you know what, I changed my mind. The moment you decide to change your mind, from a sovereignty situation, you’ve now put yourself on the throne and become God.
The original sin that the enemy is guilty of was the desire to be God. We align with the enemy when we try to be God. Meaning we align with the enemy when we violate sovereignty. Sometimes He’s got me in places I don’t like. I 100% agree.
Rick Howard, was one of my favorite teachers growing up. Pastor Gary used to bring him into our church all the time. He said something once that just hung with me. “You see, human beings are like sponges, you don’t know what’s in them until you squeeze them.” You don’t know what’s in you until you get squeezed. Sometimes our King, being sovereign, puts us in situations that are intended to squeeze us so we learn what’s in us and we can cry out to Him.
All too often, instead of wanting to be squeezed, we just argue and go, “Nope, I’m out. I’m done. I’m leaving.” Whether it’s marriage or job or church family, it doesn’t matter. The principle is the same. If we would learn to rest in the sovereignty of this one who could call and pinpoint seven churches in Turkey that live in a 120-mile geographic region, we have to assume He knows who we are. We have to assume He sees who we are. We have to assume He knows the life He’s put us in. If we could just take a deep breath and go, “You know what? I may not like it, but I trust You.” It works.
The enemy loves to do the thing he always loved to do in the Garden. What we see him do is challenge the sovereignty of God. The Lord said, you can have everything you want. Just don’t eat that thing. The enemy comes and says, did the Lord actually say you can’t eat it? He knows why. Here’s why He doesn’t want you to eat it. If you eat it, you’ll be like Him. He lays the original sin, the desire to run your life. The desire to not be under authority.
If we think in our day and age that we’re exempt from that, we’re crazy. It shows up in really interesting places. We feel the freedom to disconnect and dislocate and disassociate because we don’t trust that God’s sovereign. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thrown stars into space and had them stop. I’ve never spoken to the ocean. I tried it just to see if I could do it. It didn’t work.
He’s King. He’s God. It’s not lost on me who He is. What I would love to see in us is that we grew up trusting His sovereignty, and we stopped believing we can just pick and choose what we want, and we learned to rest before Him. Because He’s the King who writes a letter to seven churches.
Can you imagine if somebody walked in with a letter to Vintage City Church from Jesus? As we read it, we’re like, yeah, that was for sure. The problem is, we would all worship that like the Bible, and we’d let go of this beautiful thing we have here.
I want you to hear my heart. The church at large is getting ready to walk into another season like we’ve never seen. These last three or four years have been a little interesting in the church. You cannot be rooted and grounded in His love if you’re not rooted and grounded where He put you. That’s an illusion if you believe you can. We have a bunch of believers right now who are running around AWOL. Militarily, “AWOL” means, I’m out from underneath my authority. That authority is Him. That authority is not here. I’m just an idiot in the parade. That’s all I am.
In your marriage, to be under His authority means you choose to stay faithful to your spouse. It means you choose to deal with your addictions because you’re under His authority. Being addicted to pornography doesn’t work, being addicted to alcohol doesn’t work, being addicted to marijuana doesn’t work, and being addicted to anything doesn’t work because you’re under the authority of Heaven.
If Heaven’s government isn’t running your life, you’re not under its authority. It means that at work, you’re the best employee that they have because you’re under the authority of Heaven. You can’t be insubordinate at work and honor the King. He places all leadership and authority. It means at church you settle into where He placed you. If you hate it, you just say, “Lord, I hate where you put me, but I’m here because You told me to be here,” because you’re under His authority.
It means you let go of this crazy thing we’re seeing in our culture. Everyone’s itemizing the gatherings and the teachings and deciding where to go. Stop it. Do you think we don’t feel that way from my lens? I don’t know if I want to go to this church anymore. Everybody has that.
The answer for me is I’m here because He told me to be here. I will leave the day He tells me to leave. If you look me in the eye and go, “Pastor, I love you, the Lord told me to go,” then at that moment, I’m out of the conversation. Bless you. It’s between you and Jesus. If you’re lying, that’s on you. But I’m going to bless it because it’s the right answer.
We’re heading into a season where you’re going to watch the church be fissured politically. If we’re not rooted and grounded, our lives are going to be absolutely ridiculous. Stay out of the argument. Stay out of the conversations. Look at people and say, “You know what, I’m not sure what’s going on with that. I’m following the King. I’m doing what He tells me to do.” Get off of Facebook. Please get off of Instagram with this stuff. Get under the King. Just say you want to follow Jesus. I’m shutting it out and shutting it off. I’m just going to follow Him.
I’m sure Instagram and Facebook have good uses. I just don’t like them. I got rid of them because they were a waste of my time, privately. I got rid of them because all I ever did was get mad when I read stuff. I’m not worried about Instagram or Facebook.
I’m worried about the church. I’m worried about the thing that He gave His life for. I’m more worried that we’re not doing our job. I’m worried that the enemy doesn’t have to do very much because we do it for him. I’m begging us to get her eyes back on the King. Understand, He knows exactly where we’re at. Nothing’s lost on Him. So get your eyes on Him and follow Him.
Jesus, we love You, and we honor You. We say those two things, and at times in our lives, we praise You, but our hearts are far from You. Would You forgive the places where we’ve assumed too much? We place ourselves under Your headship. You’re the King. You’re the ruler. You’re the commander. Would You teach us what it looks like to walk in honor towards all the places that You sovereignly set us, whether that’s marriage or work or church or neighborhoods, whatever? We just want to be led by You. We love You. We honor You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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