Encourage one another with these words

I was talking to a friend the other day, someone very astute, who observed that he had never seen the Christmas and New Year Celebration ‘feeling good’ stuff disappear so quickly. Basically, I think it comes down to the impact of our financial situation. People’s security has been in a continuing rising standard of living. Now it’s become apparent that it is a fantasy and a bubble.

Christians have a better hope. Preaching my way through the One Year Bible last year, I began to see how powerful the coming of the Lord Jesus was. After hundreds of years of waiting, when The Messiah arrives there is such a buzz and the New Testament reflects the buzz of that new life. Then as we got towards The Book of Revelation, I recognised we would not be able to tackle that during the Christmas period! So, now we are going to do it over 11 weeks from the beginning of February through to Palm Sunday. I feel really excited about it.

So many people tell me they are confused by The Book of Revelation and don’t understand it. Yet, it has 348 direct quotations from the Old Testament and 100 allusions. It draws together the teaching of the Old Testament and the revelation of the New Testament all in one. It is the crowning point of the whole Bible. Why is this relevant to our financial situation and people’s sense of depression? - Because it was written to a church under pressure and increasingly coming under persecution. It was almost certainly sent out to a church being oppressed throughout the Roman Empire by Domition who reigned in Rome from AD 81 to AD 96.

The book itself is full of signs which invite us to look beneath the surface of everyday events and see the hidden purposes of Heaven. 54 times the number 7 occurs – why is that? – Because it is a representative number, symbolic of perfection and completeness. We are to understand that while we feel confusion in the culture all around us; God is pulling everything to the final completion of the end.

One of the most helpful ways to begin to understand this great book is to look at the order suggested first by the great Bible Teacher J Sidlow Baxter. There are 6 major parts:

First is the Prologue in which Jesus appears, challenging the church and calling her to himself. Baxter called this Christ Communicating.

Then comes the first vision – Christ in the centre of the Church as Lord of Heaven. He is in the heavens and he is the centre of the church. So he is the one who is a permanent link between the Church Militant here on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven. We are one church joined by one Lord. This, Baxter called Christ in the Church. The major part of this vision consists of letters written to seven churches in Asia Minor who are representative of the nature of the church throughout the ages. There have always been prosperous and poor churches, always churches blessed and others persecuted and others luke-warm. This is the first vision.

The second vision Baxter called Christ in the Cosmos. It begins with a vision of Christ the Lord of creation seated in heaven in all his glory and surrounded by the angels. Then come a series of massive events in the creation which shake the whole earth and prepare the way for the coming of the King. This vision stretches from chapter 4 to the end of chapter 16.

Chapter 17-21, Baxter called Christ in Conquest, because it is the moment when the Lord comes seated on his white horse at the head of the armies of heaven to bring down Satan’s counterfeits, destroying his attempt to parody the Holy Trinity and to present a false church – Babylon.

Chapter 21:9-22:6 is vision 4. It is quite short. Baxter called it Christ in Consummation because this is the moment when the Bride and the Groom are joined together. A new heaven and a new earth is inaugurated, all heaven breaks loose throughout the whole of creation and hell is reduced to nothing.

Chapter 22:6-21 is the Epilogue – Christ Challenging. It’s the place where Jesus says read this book, read it aloud; you will be blessed when you do. Almost the last words of the book say ‘Christ is coming quickly’. Of course, that is God’s perspective. For us, 2000 years seems like a very long time. But for God it is the blink of an eye. It is more likely that we should take the alternative meaning of the Greek here and that is ‘He will come suddenly’. It will happen very quickly when it happens.

So, here’s the deal folk – the rest of the world around us has no idea where it’s all going. But we know where it’s all going. It’s going towards times of difficulty and danger but it is also going towards the moment when Jesus will be joined to his bride and they will take their place on the throne of Heaven and the greatest hallelujah chorus ever will ring out. Not the hallelujah chorus that tells us The Lord our God Almighty Reigns. That has always been true and always will be. But heaven’s amazement is reserved for the fact that as it says in chapter 22 referring to us, the Body of Christ ‘They shall reign forever and ever‘. What a prospect! The New Age is coming in. We are citizens of that New Age and we shall reign with Jesus forever and ever.

No wonder the Bible says ‘Encourage one another with these words’.