I was fortunate enough to be asked to give a series of neurology lectures for a cruise that has traveled from Copenhagen to Estonia, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, today Stockholm, and eventually on to northern Germany, Oslo and Amsterdam. Thus far our city tours have revealed a dramatic contrast between the “haves and the have not’s” in earth’s history. For example, our tour guide in St. Petersburg was describing the poverty and financial hardships in the history of Russia just as we arrived at Catherine’s palace which was perhaps the most decadent place I have ever seen. One gold covered room after another and another! I was amazed at first, but eventually reached a point where I was numb and could no longer generate much enthusiasm at the site of gold, fountains, and spectacular architecture. It was easy to judge and condemn Catherine…but then the reality hit that just because someone of extreme wealth did not help the poor and suffering does not excuse my own deficiencies in this area. By the way, the picture attached to this article is Catherine’s Palace. It does not begin to capture the wealth of this place!
Thus far in our study on the book of Revelation we’ve spent a long time discussing the centrality of chapter 12 and the “war in heaven” motif that forms the underlying theme for the entire book. We have considered that this war is ultimately over God’s trustworthy character and I’ve made the claim that the book of Revelation reveals how Jesus vindicated God’s character, defeated Satan, won the cosmic conflict, and ultimately heals his children in the process. In addition, we’ve noted the frequent sanctuary symbolism used in Revelation, that we are to be priests and that this function involves the very specific task of revealing God’s love, character, and kingdom to everyone around us. Our workplace as priests is the temple, which represents the mind, and we are to invite everyone to come through all the veils of lies and distortions about God and to enter into his immediate presence where they will experience a joyful marriage relationship Him.
Now, let’s consider the seven churches. In his words to the seven churches Jesus is described as standing in the Holy Place among the 7 lampstands, which represent the church. In my opinion, this description of the seven churches does not encourage us to try and pin down dates or a specific 2,000 year chronology of church history. Jesus’ words are rather a timeless representation of positive and negative attributes of all God’s friends (“the church”) since the Cross. For example, while many consider today’s church to represent Laodicea (the last of the seven churches described in Revelation), has the church never seen an individual with a Laodicean attitude prior to the last few generations? I would rather see the seven churches as representative of all God’s friends on earth – warts and all. Each friend of God needs a tailored message to fit their circumstance and specific needs. Some receive praise, most also hear some painful words that call for reformation, and all receive encouragement and hope for the future.
What I will focus on in this article is that God invites all of the seven churches to come closer and to understand something of great importance. Beginning with chapter 4, the entire rest of the book of Revelation is a message of clarity for these seven churches so that they can look behind the curtain and understand why this world is such a mess and to see what God has done, is doing, and will do about it.
First, let’s establish that God wants the members of his family to come closer. To the faithful church in Philadelphia God’s opens a door and invites them in:
“This is the message from the one who is holy and true. He has the key that belonged to David, and when he opens a door, no one can close it, and when he closes it, no one can open it. I know what you do; I know that you have a little power; you have followed my teaching and have been faithful to me. I have opened a door in front of you, which no one can close.” (Revelation 3:7-8)
We will expand on this point later, but the incredible promise to this church as they stand before an open door is that, “I will also write on them my new name” (Revelation 3:12). “Name” of course is synonymous with character. The character of God was not understood until Jesus came and for these people a door has been opened for them to come in and to experience complete unity with God and in the process to experience transformation into God’s “new” character. Of course, it’s not that God really has a “new” character it’s just that we now understand that he is the same in character as Jesus and as we begin to experience relationship with Jesus we become like him (i.e. – a “new name” or a Christ-like character).
Standing in contrast to the church of Philadelphia is the luke-warm church of Laodicea. They have closed the door in God’s face. They believe themselves to be spiritually rich and do not recognize that they are in complete poverty in their understanding about God. These people literally make God want to vomit. Most translations say, “I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16) but this doesn’t really capture the meaning. The Greek word used here is “emeo” (which is usually translated as “to spit out”). But it’s worth noting that the word “emetic”, which refers to a class of medicines that are used to induce vomiting, is derived from this Greek word! So perhaps The Message Bible is perhaps more accurate on this verse, “You make me want to vomit!”
But as always, God’s rebuke to these people comes from a heart of love, “I rebuke and punish all whom I love” (Revelation 3:19) and he also wants these people to come closer, to see and to understand! “Buy also some ointment to put on your eyes, so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18)
Much more could be said about the church of Laodicea, but for now, let’s appreciate that although they have closed the door, God is still there….knocking.
“Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me. To those who win the victory I will give the right to sit beside me…” (Revelation 3:20-21)
There are several important points on this passage. The first is that God doesn’t knock the door down and threaten these people into his kingdom. In other words, God’s methods are not coercive. Later on we will see that Satan uses fear, threats and intimidation to force people into his kingdom. Not so with God. He respects our free will choice, and he knocks.
The second point is that when we respond to God’s gentle yet persistant knock on our heart, the result is to enter into an experience of intimacy. “I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me” (Revelation 3:20). How would you like to share a private meal with God? The language used here very much parallels with the other book written by John:
“I pray that they may all be one. Father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be one…just as you and I are one: I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one…I want them to be with me where I am…I made you known to them, and I will continue to do so, in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and so that I also may be in them.” (John 17:21-26)
To the faithful church of Philadelphia the door is wide open and the invitation is “Come in!” To the unfaithful church of Laodicea, God knocks and entices them with the offer of a special meal together. Once again, we hear God asking “Please come closer!” All of this climaxes with Revelation 4:1 where it is implied that all of the churches described as located in the Holy Place are asked to walk through the door, to experience intimacy with God, and to really understand:
“At this point I had another vision and saw an open door in heaven. And the voice that sounded like a trumpet, which I had heard speaking to me before, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.’” (Revelation 4:1)
Some have understood everything after the seven churches in the book of Revelation to be a major break or shift in direction. Not at all! We are all invited to come with John and to walk through this door. Revelation 4:1 is an offer for everyone to come in and to understand. It is a backstage pass like no other!
On the point of continuity of Revelation 4:1 with the seven churches, notice that the one speaking is still Jesus, “…the voice…which I had heard speaking to me before said…” In addition, right after the discussion of an open door (Philadelphia) and a closed door that God is knocking on (Laodicea) there is now another open door, “I…saw an open door in heaven.” The point is that the seven seals, trumpets and bowls are an important message of understanding for the seven churches.
It is sometimes suggested that understanding is not that important (“God’s ways are above our ways” so lets just stay in the dark), but according to Jesus, being a friend of God means to understand what he is up to! “I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” (John 15:15) Jesus’ invitation to the seven churches is to be a real friend, to come in and to understand.
Those who enter into this door will experience something spectacular. They will get the inside scoop! These people will see and understand something so amazing that they are literally left speechless. I can hardly wait to write the next entry on this subject as this is something that I have not really understood until just recently and to me it is quite remarkable. For next time, read Revelation 4 and 5. What do you see behind the curtain?
– Written by Dr. Brad Cole