Steadfast Love

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 

Revelation 1:9

John was on the island of Patmos, exiled for his faith in Jesus. He was an old man. He witnessed most of the other early disciples be executed for their faith. Surely he saw many abandon their faith under the pressure of persecution. But not John. As he wrote to other believers about the vision that he saw, he called himself a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.

What does it take to have that kind of patient endurance? What does it take to stick to your commitments? Surely there is a bit of struggle along the way whether one is committing to their spouse, their church, or to Jesus. Surely John had opportunities to give up, yet he remained true to the end.

As I get older, I am less and less impressed with the flash of starting something new. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve started new things a few different times and starting new things is hard work. But I am just more and more impressed with perseverance these days. Eugene Peterson called it “a long obedience in the same direction.” This is what it takes to finish a marathon and finish well in life. It’s the ability to stay with something through thick and thin. There is a richness there that can’t be acquired in any other way.

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. My wife and I are going to celebrate as 15 years married is no small thing! My parents and my in-laws have been married for nearly 50 years. As I get older I am more and more impressed with that kind of commitment. The commitment it takes to stick through hard things and not quit, not bail out. It seems more and more rare in our culture these days.

John’s reward for his patient endurance, his faithfulness to the end, was that the glorified presence of Jesus stood in his midst and spoke to him directly. John said:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feetand with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Revelation 1:12-16

This was such a gift. The glorified presence of Jesus standing right next to John. This was just the beginning of his reward for his steadfast faithfulness and patient endurance. Jesus himself was the one who said:

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

The one who stands firm to the end is the one who didn’t let their love grow cold. This applies to marriage. This applies to being an active part of the church. This applies most of all to our relationship with Jesus. Keeping the fire of our love burning bright, tending the fire, keeping fuel on the fire, these are key to longstanding commitments. It is love that is our most powerful weapon, and it will be love that keeps us faithful to the end.

Glorified and Ascended Jesus

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Revelation 1:12-18

John was worshiping the Lord on a Sunday and Jesus came to him in powerful way. The lampstands were prophetic imagery representing the seven churches of Asia Minor. Jesus was standing “among the lampstands.” The glorified, ascended Jesus looked magnificent.

John had seen Jesus in a glorified state with Peter and James when Jesus transfigured before them and talked with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-8). John had also seen the resurrected Jesus a few different times–the upper room (John 20:19-22), in Galilee (John 21:7), the ascension (Matthew 28:16-20). But this is the first time John encounters Jesus in His glorified and ascended state.

Yet, John is not the only one to encounter the ascended Jesus in a vision. The apostle Paul had Jesus show up to him a few different times. The first time was during Paul’s own conversion experience (Acts 9:1-9). The second time was when Paul was ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10). The third time was when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11).

We get a somewhat detailed description of what the glorified, ascended Jesus looks like. He was glowing white all over. His eyes were like blazing fire. All of John’s descriptors give us an image of glowing and fiery bright light. His voice thundered as the double-edged sword came out of His mouth–prophetic symbolism for the word of God (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17).

In the presence of such power and majesty John drops to the ground as if he is dead. I believe that this would be true of all of us. Our physical bodies can’t handle that kind of proximity with the Alpha and Omega. Yet, with one touch from Jesus’s hand, John is strengthened. And Jesus reminds us all that He is not dead but alive for ever and ever! One of His names is the Living One!

Inheritance (Part 2)

Paul writes down some of his prayers for the Ephesians. By looking at what he prays for we can learn more about what parts of our inheritance in Christ are available to us now. These things that Paul prays for aren’t automatic or he wouldn’t need to pray that the Ephesians receive them. Instead, they are available but must be pursued.  

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…”

Ephesians 1:17-20

Here are more things that come with the inheritance of Christ. Every believer has access to these but must pursue them:

  1. “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation”: this is when the Holy Spirit in us begins to supernaturally download God’s wisdom to us. It is insight that can’t be attained through natural means. God reveals things to us by His Spirit. When we get glimpses of the mind of Christ, we get to know Him better.
  2. “eyes of your heart…enlightened”: this is the ability to see and sense things that we couldn’t before. Sometimes it is sensing things about another person. Sometimes it is an “ah ha” moment when reading Scripture. Sometimes it is just the ability to view a hard situation from God’s perspective. Specifically, Paul prays that the Ephesians would have the eyes of their hearts enlightened so that can come to know two things – hope and power.
  3. “the hope to which he has called you”: hope is part of our inheritance as believers. Part of the reason we can have hope in any situation is because of the riches of this glorious inheritance that has been given to us by Christ. The hope of the gospel is an unconditional hope not dependent on circumstances. But this hope isn’t automatic; it must be pursued and held onto.
  4. “his incomparably great power”: believers have access to the same power that rose Jesus from the dead. This is part of our inheritance! This power comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Romans 8:11 says, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you.” This power is not something to take likely. More power is entrusted to those who are good stewards of what they’ve already been given. Miracles become a more regular part of a believer’s life when they begin to operate in more power from the Holy Spirit.

As one can see, we’ve not only been given salvation in Christ but so much more!

Imagine a teenager living in poverty with a huge inheritance sitting in his bank account untouched. He doesn’t know it’s there and he doesn’t know how to access it. When family members have tried to tell him about it, he doesn’t believe them. When family members tell him that the first step in receiving what’s in the account is believing it is really there, he skeptically responds, “If this inheritance was real, I shouldn’t have to believe it is there for it to exist.” He ignores their response as they tell him his unbelief doesn’t change the reality of its existence but instead hinders his ability to access it. The longer he refuses to access his inheritance (or learn how to access it) the more he struggles in poverty.

This is much of the American church. We live in such spiritual poverty that we struggle to believe in the reality of the inheritance that has been given to us. The “riches of his glorious inheritance” is beyond measure! Are we willing to pursue it and receive it?

By Revelation

Paul was very concerned about the Galatians believing a gospel other than the one they were originally taught. He didn’t want them “deserting” Christ and “turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7).

In order to convince them to believe in the gospel he preached, Paul reminds them that this gospel was not a teaching he received from the other apostles. Instead, Paul makes the extraordinary claim that he “received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12).

What is Paul talking about here?

Let’s put the pieces together. First, Paul had an encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). So Paul begins his Christian life with a “revelation from Jesus Christ.” But it didn’t stop there.

Paul lays out his journey immediately after his conversion:
“…my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem…”(Galatians 1:16-18).

What was Paul doing in “Arabia” for all those years? I believe he was being discipled by the risen Jesus himself and taught by the Holy Spirit.

Think about what Jesus did for the other men who became apostles. He spent 3 years discipling them and revealing the Kingdom of God to them. Then, “after his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The risen Jesus kept showing up to the disciples to 1) convince them He was still alive, and 2) speak to them about the Kingdom of God. Before Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He needed to make sure the disciples were fully aware of the truth of the gospel and the Kingdom of God.

So when the risen Jesus would show up in those 40 days, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). And “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

What Jesus did for the other men who eventually became the first apostles, I believe He did for Paul in those first few years after Paul’s conversion. I believe Jesus appeared and reappeared over and over again, teaching Paul the truths of the Kingdom and the power of the gospel. This is why Paul can say he received the gospel, not from men, but “by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

And that wouldn’t be the last time Jesus appeared to Paul. We know Jesus appeared to Paul in Jerusalem right at the start of his ministry. Paul said, “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:17-18, 21).

We know Jesus appeared to Paul to encourage him in Corinth. “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

We also know that toward the end of Paul’s life when he was arrested in Jerusalem, “Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome'”(Acts 23:11). All of these accounts point to the reality that Jesus continued to appear to Paul throughout his life. This confirms the probability that Jesus started these regular encounters with Paul back in Arabia where Paul received the teaching of the gospel “by revelation from Jesus Christ.”