Monday, November 17, 2008

Revelation 1:1-6 - Don't Be a Chicken

KNU International English Church
Pastor Josh Broward
July 2, 2006

Chicken Little: “The sky is falling. … It’s the end of the world as we know it.”

Sometimes when Christians talk about Revelation, they sound like Chicken Little. Throughout history, at different times and in different places, Christians have predicted the end of the world.1

  • In the 2nd Century a group called the Montanists believed that Christ would come again in their lifetime and establish the New Jerusalem. Their most famous member was Tertulian, who introduced the word “Trinity” to describe God. Christ did not come again in their lifetimes. They were wrong.

  • You remember the Y2K panic a few years ago. The same thing happened in Y1K. As the year 1,000 came and in the decades following, there was great panic that this could be the end of the millennial reign in Revelation. They were wrong.

  • In the 16th Century, Martin Luther, the great Christian Reformer, believed the End would come no later than 1600, and he declared that the Catholic Pope was the Beast described in Revelation. He was wrong.

  • John Napier, the math genius who discovered logarithms, applied his math to the Bible and came up with two possible dates for the End: 1688 and 1700. He was wrong both times.

  • Here’s the last and best example. In 1988, Edgar Whisenant, a NASA rocket scientist, wrote a book that swept through the USA: 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988. 4.5 million copies were sold. When 1988 came to a close with no big bangs, Whisenant could not be stopped, he published more books almost every year with predictions until 1997. Apparently, after 10 years of failed predictions, he finally gave up.2

All of these prophesies have two glaring things in common. 1) They were all basing their predictions on the Bible, especially Revelation. 2) They were all wrong!

What happened? They weren’t stupid or crazy. Some of these people were great theologians or mathematical geniuses. These were smart, God-loving people, trying to be faithful Christians. Where did they go wrong? Why do so many people in so many different times misunderstand what the Bible says about the End and misinterpret the book of Revelation? Why do good people with good minds end up sounding like Chicken Little (“The sky is falling!”) when they read the Revelation?

Let me suggest three basic mistakes people often make when they read or interpret the Book of Revelation.

First, most Christians actually misunderstand prophecy. We usually think that to prophesy means to “predict the future.” We usually think that every time a prophet speaks, God is enabling that person to predict some events in the future. That is not true. Sometimes prophecy involves prediction, but often not, and prediction is really a side issue for the main point of prophecy.

The point of prophecy is that God speaks to people. A prophet is someone who hears a message from God for the people and then tells the people what God wants to say to them. Nazarene scholar Dennis Bratcher summarizes this point: “OT prophecy was overwhelmingly concerned with speaking God’s message to people of the prophet’s own time, interpreting God’s will for them in light of then current historical events.”3 If some discussion of the future needed to part of that, then so be it, but the point was to understand the present.

So if we look to Revelation (or any prophecy) as a means of predicting the future, we are missing the point. Revelation, like all prophecy, was given to a specific group of people to help them hear God’s word to them, not to predict events hundreds or thousands of years later. To understand any prophecy, we have to understand first what it meant to the people who originally heard it. They must have understood the message, or else they would not have kept reading it until it became part of the Bible.

Now we’re moving into the second basic mistake: forgetting the context of Revelation. Today we read two Epistle readings because I wanted you hear the similarities between the way Paul starts Ephesians (and all of his letters) and the way John starts Revelation. Paul says who he is, who the letter is to, pronounces a blessing, and then starts praising God and Jesus (1:1-3). In a very similar way, John says who he is, pronounces a blessing, says who the letter is to, and starts praising God and Jesus (Rev. 1:1-6).

Scholars, preachers, and Bible readers usually understand that we need to understand something about Ephesus before we can understand Ephesians. We need to understand the context of the letter before we can really understand the letter. Revelation is a letter much like Ephesians. Its different style does not mean we can take it out of context and apply it like it was written express mail for people in the 21st century.

Revelation was written to the seven churches in the province of Asia, which is now modern day Turkey. Chapters 2 and 3 have specific messages for each of these churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philidelphia, and Laodicea. Even though, these churches are all in the same general area, they are each experiencing different struggles. Some are facing significant persecution. People are being killed because they believe in Jesus. Some are facing false teachers, people who want to change the message of the gospel to blend in more with the world. Some are facing a slow death of Christian faith. Their faith has lost its fire and love, and they are becoming arrogant and cold. Jesus tells some of the churches to repent and some to persevere, or both to repent and to persevere. Whatever Revelation means for us, it first of all means something for these seven churches. When we understand what God was saying to them, then we can understand what he is saying to us.

The last most common mistake in understanding Revelation is misunderstanding the genre. “Genre” is an unusual word that means: “a special type or style,” in this case a special style of writing. Revelation is apocalyptic prophecy. Apocalypse is a special style of writing most popular from BC 200 to AD 100.

Apocalyptic writing has two characteristics that are especially important for understanding Revelation.

1) Apocalyptic writing often moves in a circular or cyclical motion around repeated themes. Apocalyptic writings do not usually move logically from step one to step two to step three. They are like a fly circling around a piece of bread looking for a good place to land.

Let me give you an example. Sarah and I have different walking styles. When I walk, I want to go somewhere. I want to get on a mountain or on a trail and make visible progress. Sarah, on the other hand, is very happy to walk around track. She likes just going around and around the same track, seeing the same things again and again. You might say that Sarah is an apocalyptic walker.

What this means is that we cannot draw a timeline from the events in Revelation. John describes the same events again and again from different angles using different images. For example, in Revelation 6:14 it says, “And the sky was rolled up like a scroll and taken away. And all of the mountains and all of the islands disappeared.” But a few chapters later in 8:10, “The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great flaming star fell out of the sky like a burning torch.” I thought the sky was taken away! How did a star fall out of it? And again in 16:20 it says, “And every island disappeared, and all of the mountains were leveled.” Didn’t they already disappear? Did they reappear and disappear again? It sounds like God is turning a switch on and off: “Mountains and islands, poof! … No mountains and islands, poof! … he, he, he. That’ll really freak ‘em out!”

If we are reading Revelation like a straight line, this and other repetitions create serious problems for understanding. But if we let Revelation be what it is, apocalyptic writing which works in thematic cycles, then the repetition stats to make sense. It is like John is flying a small plane around a big mountain, slowly moving up to the peak. Each time he flies around we see that side of the mountain from a slightly different angle, but it’s still the same mountain, and we’re still getting closer to the same peak.

2) The second important point about apocalyptic writing is that it uses emotional images not code language. John talks about some very weird things in Revelation: a lion with six wings with eyes all over, a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, riders on different color horses, beasts and dragons and world wide battles – and that’s just getting started.

Down through the centuries, Christians have tried to identify what each of these symbolic expressions mean. The Beast is this. The seal is that. The mark is this. Looking for a one-to-one relationship of images with real events or persons misunderstands John’s method. John uses words like Picasso used paint. Picasso’s obscure pictures with upside down heads and rearranged arms don’t relate directly to reality. He is trying to create an emotional impact on the person looking at his work. In a similar way, John uses shocking word pictures to make an emotional impact on his readers (or hearers).

I remember the poems of one my roommates in college. He was a long-haired singer in a hardcore rock band, and when he wrote poetry about the pain in his life it was vivid. I remember one particular poem went something like this: “crawling over broken, bloody glass … screaming into the night, my throat bleeds.” There was no one-to-one literal relationship for his images. He was just trying to express with word pictures how he was feeling. The poems definitely made an impact on me.

John is using similar word pictures to make an emotional impact on his readers as he moves round and round the same themes, building up to a climax toward the end of the book. There can be no timelines or codes to break the symbols of Revelation.

If this is true, and if teachers and preachers usually “get it right” on other books of the Bible, why do Christians usually miss it on Revelation? Dan Boone suggests we miss the boat on Revelation because of our desire for control. We believe if we study hard enough, we can know everything. Once we know it, we can control it or manage it or at least prepare for it. We want to have a detailed map of the future, so we go looking for what we want in Revelation.

If many good Christians through the centuries have gotten it wrong, and if popular Christianity often gets it wrong today, how can we get Revelation right? Basically, we need to let Revelation speak for itself within its own context.

That is what we’re going to try to do as we study this book. When we let Revelation speak for itself, we will see one basic message: Jesus Christ is the King of the universe, and his Kingdom is coming to earth despite the apparent power of the kingdoms of this earth. Jesus’ Kingdom gains victory through defeat (like dying on the cross or dying as a martyr), but through all the struggle, God is in control. Through it all and beyond it all, we will learn to worship God in Jesus Christ as our beautiful, redeeming King. Therefore, we can have an unshakable hope no matter what happens in this world. Jesus is King, and Jesus is coming to establish his Kingdom with his people.

So, church, don’t be a Chicken Little. The sky is not falling, yet. And don’t be chicken (afraid). Read Revelation for yourself. Read it, and live with deep hope and courage. For Jesus is King, and he is coming to establish his Kingdom.

As we read and study, we will be blessed. In fact, we are already a blessed community. For Jesus is King, and he is coming to establish his Kingdom in us. “Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 1:6).

1 Unless otherwise noted, all information in this section is from the website: “A Brief History of the Apocalypse,”

2 “Edgar C. Whisenant,”, downloaded 6.28.06.

3“Interpreting the Book of Revelation,” downloaded.6.26.06.

Revelation 1:4-20 - What Do You See?

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward
July 9, 2006

In the 80’s and 90’s a sunglasses originally designed for NASA were sold to the public in the USA. Let me show you their most famous TV commercial. Show: Blublockers commercial

Blublockers work by blocking out “the dangerous UV (ultraviolet) and blue spectrum light waves.”1 Although I’ve never owned my very own pair of Blublockers, I have tried on a pair. They really do change the way the world looks.

In reality, we all have glasses through which we view the world. Some people call this our “worldview.” Our worldview works like Blublockers to filter our world through its lenses, to help us make sense of the world. Not everyone has Blublockers (Thank goodness!), but everyone has a worldview.

The problem we face is that our worldview is not always accurate. Sometimes our worldviews distort reality. Instead of making sense of reality, sometimes our worldviews hide reality and trap us in a virtual reality.

I remember a sermon Dr. Cho preached here almost two years ago. He preached on the story of Elisha when his city was surrounded by a large attacking army. Elisha’s servant looked out at the enemy and was afraid, but Elisha could see a different reality. “And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17). Dr. Cho pointed out that what the servant could see with his physical eyes was only the virtual reality. The army of angels surrounding Elisha’s city was the Actual Reality.

In our world, we often live in virtual reality. The point of the Revelation is to help us see the world from God’s perspective. The point of the Revelation is to free us from the faulty worldviews that the world sells us or forces on us and to see Actual Reality God’s perspective.

In the Actual Reality described in the Revelation, one image shines brightly: Jesus as King. Let’s read Revelation 1:4-20 and allow the image of Jesus to come into focus.

Who is this King who comes so clearly into focus for John? Let’s move through this passage again to help King Jesus come into focus for us, too.

First, let’s look at how Jesus is King in ways we would expect.

In verse 5, Jesus is “the commander of all the rulers of the world.” This is an incredibly bold statement. Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Caesar and all his governors, the kings and queens and emperors around the world are all under Jesus Christ! The Roman pledge of allegiance was something like: “Caesar is Lord.” The Christian pledge of allegiance is: “Jesus is Lord.” John is saying Jesus is King over all, and everyone is under his power whether we realize it or not. No wonder Rome killed Christians.

In verse 6, “Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen!” No earthly person has everlasting glory. Glory fades. Fame withers. Power dies. But Jesus is worthy of everlasting glory. Why? Because he rules forever and ever! Earthly kings could hope, at best, to rule for a few decades, 30-40 years if they are lucky. Sometimes Caesars in Rome didn’t even last a few months. Jesus rules forever and ever. He is an eternal King of an eternal kingdom.

Most people cannot see Jesus as King now, but one day they will. One day everyone will see him. In verse 7, “Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him” even those who rejected him. In that day everyone will see the Actual Reality.

Verse 10, John hears a voice that sounds like a trumpet blast. When I think of trumpets, I usually think of Louis Armstrong and jazz music (Bee-bop-i-do. …), but I think what John heard was more putting your ear right next to a fire truck’s siren: (WHAAAOOOOOOUUUUU!!!!!). We find out in verse 12-13 that the trumpet-blast voice was Jesus, the Son of Man. In verse 15 John tries again to describe his voice: “his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves,” not like the gentle rolling of waves on a sandy shore, like the violent crashing of huge waves against rocks, so loud that you can’t hear anything else.

Now John sees him, Jesus, the Son of Man. Dan Boone explains, “John saw the Risen Christ. He wanted to tell us what he saw, but how could he describe the indescribable? It’s like a poet … looking at a sunset. … Trying to describe his vision of Jesus stretches John’s imagination… He reaches for the “-est” words – brightest, whitest, loudest, strongest.”2 The gold sash is a sign of Jesus’ Kingship, like a crown. The stars in his hand communicate “the sheer cosmic magnitude” of Jesus.3 Jesus holds stars in his hand like a sack of marbles. Jesus’ words are as powerful as a two-edged sword; “it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Amazingly, Jesus then rephrases the words of God just a few verses earlier. God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the A and the Z - the beginning and the end. I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come, the Almighty One” (1:8). Jesus says, “I am the First and the Last” (1:17). If you have ever wanted Jesus to say with his own words that he is God, this is it. Jesus is saying, “I am what God is. I, too, am the beginning and the end. I, too, am the Almighty One. I am alive forever and ever!” Jesus clearly understands himself as God. John clearly sees Jesus as the divine King of the universe.

But John also describes Jesus in ways that we don’t normally associate with a King, and these are very important for our understanding of Jesus.

In verse 5, Jesus is the “faithful witness.” The word witness and the word martyr come from the same Greek root. Jesus is the archetypal martyr-witness. He testifies to the truth no matter the cost. Jesus asks the believers to follow this example (2:10).

Again in verse 5, Jesus deserves all our praise, not first of all because of his overriding power, but first of all because of his love. He loves us “and freed us from our sins by shedding his own blood for us.” Jesus is like no other King. He gave his life for us, his people, so that we could be free – not just from outside oppressors but from the inner oppression of our own sinful selves. Jesus is King with a self-sacrificing love that cost him his very life.

In verse 6, Jesus has made us his kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom is not defined in terms of geography. North and South Korea are divided by the 38th parallel. No lines like this define Jesus’ kingdom.

In verse 9, John says, “In Jesus we are partners in suffering and in the Kingdom and in patient endurance.” If we are already participants in the Kingdom of the King of the universe, why do will still suffer? This is what theologians call the already and the not-yet. Jesus is already King, but not everyone sees it yet. We are already Jesus’ Kingdom, but the world has not yet fully become his Kingdom. Because his Kingdom has not fully come, suffering is still part of living in a not-yet world.

In verse 17, when John sees the amazing vision of the blazing Jesus, John falls at his feet like a dead man – not surprising. I would probably pee my pants! What is surprising is Jesus’ response. Jesus responds with gentle compassion. The same right hand that held seven stars gently touches John. Extending the right hand was a gesture of friendship,4 so Jesus is saying, “Even though I am the overwhelming, shining King, I want us to be friends. In fact, you know me. I am the living one who died. I am Jesus of Nazareth. I am the man Jesus who lived and died on the cross. Look, you can see that I am alive forever and forever, and I am standing with you in your churches. Now, you are my kingdom and my priests. You are my partners in my kingdom. I want you to tell everyone what I’m going to show you.”

Jesus is surely King, but he is a different kind of King in a different kind of Kingdom. Jesus’ as King and Jesus’ Kingdom can’t be seen by the world at large, but only with eyes of faith. His Kingdom is not about domination and power. Jesus is extremely powerful. John will use the word “Almighty” nine times in Revelation, but Jesus uses his power in a different way. Jesus’ power as King moves in service, sacrifice, love, and empowerment. Jesus doesn’t beat us down. He lifts us up. Jesus doesn’t imprison us or crucify us. He frees us through his own pain. Jesus doesn’t kill us. He gives us life. Jesus doesn’t enslave us. He invites us to join him as partners in his kingdom, to bring more of the not-yet into the already.

If Jesus is the one true King of the world, then who or what is not King? The seven churches would immediately reply, “If Jesus is King that means Caesar is not the ultimate King, and his governors are not part of the ultimate power. They may abuse us, imprison us, or even kill us, but Jesus is still the King.” Pastor Brian McLaren says that Jesus’ Kingdom challenges the authority of not only physical powers like Caesar, Kim JeongIl, presidents, or bombs, but also other more intangible empires which hold even more power over us: “The Kingdom of God, then, is a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement – proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against the tyrannical trinity of money, sex, and power.” McLaren calls the quest for money, sex, and power the “invisible Caesar” which really rules most people this not-yet world.5

What does it mean for us to recognize Jesus as King above all powers in this world? What will it look like for us to live in the Actual Reality, focusing every day and every minute on Jesus as King?

First of all, we will have the faith of the early Christians that led them to keep their faith in Jesus no matter the cost. We will have confidence of peace in the end even as missiles are tested over our heads. More importantly, we will stick to our faith even when this world challenges us in direct or subtle ways.

Second, we will put more faith in love than in power. We will put more faith in giving than in making or keeping money. We will have more faith in purity and good self control than in the philosophy of instant gratification (whether it be sex or food or alcohol or whatever).

Third, we will live together as partners. “In Jesus we are partners in suffering in the Kingdom and in patient endurance” (1:9). We are in this together. We need each other. When we see the Actual Reality of Jesus as King, we also see our actual need for each other.

Last, we will join the King in bringing in his Kingdom. We are his kingdom and priests. We are his partners, his agents, his coworkers in this world. He asks us to stand up and join him in the field of action.

The book of Revelation is a revelation of Jesus Christ as King of the universe. It is a revelation calling for a revolution. The Revelation is Jesus’ call that we overthrow the false, virtual kingdoms which oppress us and involve us in oppression. The Revelation is the call to see Jesus as King and to join him in his Kingdom, where everyone has a place to serve. Nazarene pastor, Jim Dorsey says, “Revolutions start with people like you who see a different possibility and resolve to cause a new reality.”6

What do you see? In what reality are you living?

2 Dan Boone, Answers for Chicken Little: A No-Nonsense Look at the Book of Revelation, (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 2005), 18.

3 M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation, (Louisville: Knox, 1989), 83.

4 Marva Dawn, Joy in Our Weakness: A Gift of Hope from the Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 43.

5 Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything, (Nashville: W Publishing, 2006), 134.

6 Jim Dorsey, “Revolution,” Grow Magazine, Fall 2005.

Revelation 2:1-7 - You've Lost that Loving Action

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward
July 16, 2006

Revelation is a book about battles. It is famous for its battle imagery. Consider some of the famous battle scenes. First come the four horsemen of Revelation 6. (I remember a WWF wrestling team named the Four Horsemen.) In chapter 9, even the bugs get in on the battle action as locusts are “like horses armed for battle” (9:7-11). In chapter 12, there is a war in heaven between angels and a dragon (12:7-9). And of course there is the great battle of Armageddon (16:14, 16).

Even our little passage today uses battle imagery. It is hidden in one little word: “victorious” (2:7). In fact, this word is used at the close of each of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches. These churches are in the midst of a great struggle in which they must be victorious. In fact, these churches seem to be in the middle of the very battles described in Revelation. Some have called this time of struggle “the tribulation.”

The church at Ephesus definitely understood that it was in a battle. Paul explained it to them like this: “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms. Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in this time of evil, so that after the battle you will be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:11-13). The Ephesians knew they were in a spiritual battle in this world.

Paul had warned them. Beware because some people can “cleverly lie to us and make the lie sound like the truth” (4:14). “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse” sexual immorality and greed (5:6). “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, rebuke and expose them” (5:11).

Evidently the Ephesians listened to Paul. The church in Ephesus put on their battle gear and painted their faces with war paint for the spiritual and moral battle that confronted them. They would not “tolerate evil people” in their churches (Rev. 2:2). They “hated the actions of the immoral Nicolaitans” (2:6). They studied their theology books, and they could see a doctrinal mistake with their eyes closed. They knew all the right things to believe and all of the wrong things to avoid.

Conservative Christians can often be like the Ephesians. We understand clearly that a moral battle engulfs our world, and we often feel that it is our obligation to fight for the cause of morality and goodness in the world. We can feel the moral fabric of our society wasting away. We can see that even our churches fading morally, and we get defensive. We have hot topic moral issues like: sexual immorality (especially homosexuality), pornography, financial fraud, abortion, and sometimes, tobacco, and gambling. Some Christians get red in the face and start growling when someone even mentions these words.

Jesus says to the church at Ephesus and to us, “It’s good that you are enduring in this moral battle. It’s good that you know right from wrong, truth from error. It’s good that you hate what is wrong and stand for what is right, but I have one complaint against you.”

The Righteous Brothers sang a song in the 60’s that paraphrases what Jesus’ complaint against the church in Ephesus. (Play video.)

You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips.
And there's no tenderness like before in your fingertips.
You're trying hard not to show it, (baby).
But baby, baby I know it...
You've lost that loving feeling,
Whoa, that loving feeling,
You've lost that loving feeling,
Now it's gone...gone...gone...wooooooh.
Now there's no welcome look in your eyes when I reach for you.
And now you're starting to criticize little things I do.
It makes me just feel like crying, (baby).
'Cause baby, something beautiful is dying.

You lost that loving feeling,
Whoa, that loving feeling,
You've lost that loving feeling,
Now it's gone...gone...gone...woooooah
Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you.
If you would only love me like you used to do, yeah.
We had a love...a love...a love you don't find everyday.
So don't...don't...don't...don't let it slip away.
Baby (baby), baby (baby),
I beg of you please...please,
I need your love (I need your love), I need your love (I need your love),
So bring it on back (So bring it on back), Bring it on back (so bring it on back).
Bring back that loving feeling,
Whoa, that loving feeling
Bring back that loving feeling,
'Cause it's gone...gone...gone, and I can't go on, noooo...
Bring back that loving feeling,
Whoa, that loving feeling
Bring back that loving feeling,
'Cause it's gone...gone...”

“You’ve lost that loving feeling!” Jesus says, “You know guys, it’s great that you are fighting immorality and all, but you’ve lost your love. Fighting immorality doesn’t mean much if you aren’t loving.”

In this spiritual battle, there are two possible errors: we can get mean, or we can get lazy.

Some Christians get mean. One person attending our church now said that before he had stopped going to churches because everyone just tried to argue with him and tell him how he should live. They didn’t seem genuinely concerned with him. They just wanted to tell him how he was wrong.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our battles that we take on the world’s mindset of a battle. We develop an us-against-them mentality. We start to think of the people in the world and the people who don’t think like us as our enemies. We attack people instead of practices. We get defensive and argumentative. We start to shoot before we look. In short, we get mean. Too many Christians are just plain mean.

We develop an us-against-them mentality, but Jesus’ philosophy of spiritual battle is not us-against-them. It’s us-for-them. Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44). In this battle, we will win not by fighting a direct fight. That only causes more hostility. We will win when we follow Jesus example and live the Kingdom way of a life for others, loving others, lifting them up, blessing them even when they curse us, helping them even when they hurt us, giving to others regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

Some so-called Christians miss the point of Jesus’ message. Like the church in Ephesus, we hear all of the language about battles and defending the truth, but we forget the rest of the message: “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. … Hold to the truth in love” (Eph. 4:2, 15).

But there’s another possible error for people in this battle. We can get lazy. For some Christians, Christianity is all about believing the right things and not doing the wrong things. Throughout the centuries, Christians have made the mistake of thinking that Christianity is a passive belief and a passive avoidance of wrong.

Jesus says that’s not what his Kingdom is all about. For Jesus and for all of the Bible, true relationship with God is about active faith and actively doing good in the world.

The Righteous Brothers sang, “You’ve lost that loving feeling.” But actually, Jesus’ criticism of the church in Ephesus is more like: “You’ve lost that loving action.” For Jesus, love isn’t just a mushy feeling that comes and goes beyond our choices. For Jesus, love is a practical choice. Jesus says, “Look how far you’ve fallen from your first love!” And this is his cure: “Turn back to me again, and work as you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).

In the battle for morality and truth, the church of Ephesus neglected the basic actions of love. As they fought for endurance and victory in this world full of spiritual battle, they unknowingly gave in to the Enemy by adopting his unloving ways.

Jesus says, “You have turned away from your first love. Now turn back, and start doing the work of love again. Bring back that loving action. Bring it on back now.” The Kingdom way of Jesus is a way of love, but love is hard work. Loving like Jesus is hard work. Loving like Jesus has great rewards, incredible rewards, but it requires making difficult choices in the everyday moments of life.

Jesus says, “If you are going to be victorious in this battle, if you are going to live as a citizen of my Kingdom, you have to live life my way, with a heart full of love, a heart so full of love that it overflows with good actions.”

Loving like Jesus means taking time to talk to that person who stops us when we’re in a hurry. Loving like Jesus means sharing our resources with the poor. Loving like Jesus means taking the time to build deep relationships with other Christians. Loving like Jesus means becoming friends with people who aren’t like us. Loving like Jesus means moving out of our religious circles to become friends with people who have been hurt and pushed out by religion. Loving like Jesus means giving up things that are important to us so that we can show hospitality to others. Loving like Jesus means valuing service over entertainment. Loving like Jesus means taking time to rest and to recharge with God so that we can keep making good choices to keep loving like Jesus.

The really scary thing about this message to the church in Ephesus is the end of verse 5. Jesus says, “Turn back, and live lives of love again. If you don’t, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” If love dies, the church dies. Biblical scholar Craig Keener points out, “Some churches, like the church in Ephesus, may risk simply killing themselves off by how they treat others.”1 When love dies, the church dies.

How is your love? How active is your love? Maybe, Jesus’ words are for you: “Look how far you have fallen from your first love! Turn back to me again and work as you did at first.”

The message of the Revelation is that we are in a real battle, a battle for the world. The Kingdom of God is coming into the world amid and against the kingdoms of power, oppression, and materialism. The Kingdom of God wages this war through the simple, faithful, loving lives of citizens of the Kingdom. The message of the Revelation is that Jesus is the victor in this battle and that we can join him in victory by living his way of life: unselfish, genuine, honest love.

Live a life of love. Live it now with each other. Live it at home with your family. Live a life of love at work. Live a life of love here at church as we serve each other and the new people who will be coming here to look for God. Live a life of love as we serve our community and open our hearts to them in hospitality. Live a life of love and watch the Kingdom come! Live a life of love and watch as God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven!

1 Revelation, NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 113.

Revelation 2:12-17 - Secret Agents

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward

July 23, 2006

Meet Secret Agent Ethan Hunt

Profile: Ethan Hunt is an American secret agent working for the IMF, the “Impossible Missions Force.” Played by Tom Cruise, the “dream guy” for countless women, Ethan Hunt is daring, intelligent, and handsome.

Setting: Ethan Hunt’s exploits span the world. He chases the bad guys from one continent to another in just a few seconds.

Mission: Ethan Hunt’s missions are always classified as “impossible.” They range from discovering double agents to keeping weapons of mass destruction away from terrorists. In short, Ethan Hunt’s mission is always extremely dangerous, nearly impossible, and absolutely necessary to save the world. (Hence, the drama!)

Dangers: Hunt faces bombs, missiles, bullets, knives, speeding cars, helicopters, terrorists, kidnappers, and double agents – all out to hurt him or those he loves.

M.O. (Mode of Operation): Ethan Hunt is Evil Kanieval + James Bond + MacGyver. He works with a tight team of highly skilled and extremely courageous people. They consistently trust each other with their lives. The IMF supplies Ethan and his team with amazing technological gadgets which they use fearlessly. His success comes from his audacity to do what everyone else believed was impossible.

Vision: What motivates Ethan Hunt is a vision of a safe world where good people are free to live their lives without being harmed by those who work for evil. He and his team risk everything to bring safety to others.1

Meet Secret Agent Antipas

(Read Revelation 2:12-17)

Setting: Pergamum. Jesus calls this “the city where the great throne of Satan is located” and “the place where Satan lives” (2:13). That doesn’t sound like the kind of name that will ever make it on a city sign. What is Jesus talking about? Scholars have lots of suggestions. Pergamum was a very religious city with major temples to at least 6 different gods. Most notable were there worship of Asclepius – a god of healing, a huge temple to “Zeus the Savior,” and a temple for Roman emperor worship. Jesus could be talking about any of these or a combination of all of them, for they all threatened the church.2

Pergamum had many trade guilds or labor unions. As part of their union meetings in this religious city, they worshipped the gods of the city. The dinner was steaks and ribs straight from the sacrifices to the idols, and the after dinner entertainment involved prostitutes from the city temples.

Profile: We don’t actually know much about Antipas, but one thing we know that he stuck to his beliefs no matter the cost. I imagine Antipas was a skilled craftsman. He made things with his hands: maybe jewelry, maybe furniture or houses. Antipas was probably a member of one of the city labor unions.

Mission: Live as a Christian in a very un-Christian place. Live as a child of God in a society ruled by Satan. Be a “faithful witness” to Jesus Christ no matter the cost (2:13).

Dangers: The dangers were obviously huge for Antipas. He was killed for his faith. He faced direct opposition from those outside the church, but he also faced a more dangerous temptation. The church in Pergamum had “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). Some false prophets acted like innocent sheep but were really wolves who wanted to tear the church apart.

Jesus says they were like Balaam (See Numbers 22-25, 31). Balak, king of Moab, paid Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, to put a curse on God’s people. Dan Boone says, “The only problem was that the curses kept boomeranging into a blessing.”3 Eventually, after three or four failed attempts to curse God’s people, Balak was getting mad, and Balaam had a new plan. Balaam realized that the only way to get to God’s people is to get God’s people to turn away from God.

Balaam and Balak came up with a sneaky plan. They sent the Moabite women into the Israelite camp. The women had a mission: Sleep with the men, and get them to join you in worship to our gods. Well, men will do just about anything for sex, so their plan worked. Then Balaam and Balak finally got their curse. God cursed them himself, and he sent a plague on the people to correct them and bring them back to worshipping God alone.

The church in Pergamum had some dirty, cheating prophets like Balaam. The church remained faithful when attacked directly (2:13), so Satan came up with another plan: “Just get them to compromise. Make them believe that sin isn’t sin or that sin is worth the cost.”

M.O.: What was Antipas’s Mode of Operation in this difficult city? No compromise! Whether the attack was direct or indirect, Antipas stuck to his beliefs. He would not turn away from Christ no matter the issue: life or death, rich or poor, popular or unpopular, temporary pleasure or temporary pain. He refused to compromise Christian standards for success in an unChristian world. He decided he would be 100% percent Christian, not 10%, 50% or even 90%.

Vision: What motivated Antipas in this struggle? When he turned down the labor union’s barbecued ribs and garlic bread, he remembered the heavenly banquet that will be his (2:17) and is already his in Christ, the heavenly manna, the “Living Bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:30-51). When the labor union kicked him out, and when his friends betrayed him, he remembered that Jesus loves him and has included him (2:17).

Meet Secret Agent Dana Preusch

Profile: Secret Agent Dana is one of my good friends. She is a single, female pastor who courageously and gently proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. She loves books and StarTreck and movies, and it was in her church where I first heard the cry: “More movies, less preaching.” After a difficult and painful exit from a church where she served for 10 years, Dana refused to give up on her calling. She is continuing her education at Duke and is serving as an assistant pastor at a Nazarene church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Setting: Raleigh is the home of IBM and other high tech companies. The church located between three major universities. Dana says there is a Starbucks on every corner, and everyone drives an SUV (those expensive, gas-drinking, off-road car-trucks that people always drive on nice concrete roads). In this place the top values are: education, stuff, fun, stuff, money – and did I say, stuff?

Mission: Live as a Christian in an un-Christian place. I emailed Dana this week and asked her what her specific mission is. This is what she said, “My mission? Restore community among a people who have become too busy with life in general … and trips to the mountains and beach … to connect with each other in meaningful ways.” Her mission is to help disconnected people get connected through Jesus Christ.

M.O.: Dana has a few different strategies for accomplishing her mission. She is encouraging her church to make small group life a priority for them as individuals and as a church. She is trying to help the church people connect with each other again, despite their busy lives. She is helping people connect with a poor inner-city church so that they can see a different side of life, something different than the rich-stuff-culture where they live. Last, she is living a simple life in a stuff-oriented over-busy culture, hoping that they will see her example and see a healthier way to live.

Vision: What keeps Dana going is a consuming vision of a simple, loving community. Her vision for the church is a loving community that freely shares our love among ourselves and with the community and world around us.

Meet Secret Agent X

Setting: Secret Agent X is serving the Kingdom of Jesus Christ as a secret missionary to far-western China.

Profile: She is a simple, quiet woman. She wears simple clothes, not particularly fashionable. No one would suspect her of being a secret agent.

Mission: Live as a Christian in an un-Christian place. Agent X’s specific mission is to share the gospel with a minority group in China – the Tajiks. Most are Muslim by name but not by practice. They speak Sarokoli but have no written language. The Tajiks in western China are considered an “unreached people group.” This means that as a culture, they have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Agent X is giving her life to share Jesus’ life with the Tajiks.

M.O.: The Tajiks are so isolated that in order to learn their language Sarokoli, Agent X first had to learn Chinese. Then she had to learn Uigur. Then finally, after many years of language study, she could learn Sarokoli. All along the way, Agent X has introduced her language teachers to Jesus Christ and helped them become part of the family of God.

Now Agent X works in a university for most of the year and spends the vacations riding bicycles into Tajik villages. When she gets to the villages she tries to become friends with the people, and then she shares the gospel with them through comic books, audio tapes, or anything else she can think of.

Vision: The vision that motivates Agent X is seeing a people who have never heard the gospel experience the life transforming power of a friendship with Jesus Christ. She will be part of an entire people group hearing about Jesus.

Meet Secret Agent Chris Cheon

Profile: Chris Cheon also goes by the code name: Christian in Cheonan. Chris is smart, well-educated, and financially stable (especially in comparison to the rest of the world).

Setting: Chris lives in the city of Cheonan. Cheonan is a booming city, with sky-rise apartments and office buildings going up overnight. The reigning values of Cheonan are education, stuff, money, stuff, power, entertainment, stuff, sex, - and did I mention, stuff? The people of Cheonan tend to be well educated, and most have two primary goals: advance financially and have fun. People in Cheonan are also isolated. Most of them have moved away from their families and friends to find work or education in this growing city, and now they live in a world of surface relationships.

Mission: Live as a Christian in an un-Christian place. Chris Cheon’s mission here is to live the Kingdom Life so beautifully that the people of Cheonan want to be part of it.

Dangers: Cheonan constantly cries out to Chris to compromise Christian standards, to give in a little here and a little there. Some people in Cheonan are workaholics. They work night and day, neglecting family, friends, church, God, and self. On the other side, some people here live for fun. This group focuses life on entertainment and adventure, again neglecting real relationships, church, God and self. Chris always feels the press for materialism: a bigger apartment, a faster computer, a nicer car, better clothes. In Cheonan sexual immorality is freely available (or available for a price) through the internet, bars, love motels, and even seemingly healthy relationships.

Chris Cheon must always be on guard and must always be prepared, for here the enemy’s attacks are very, very subtle.

M.O.: Chris constantly works to maintain his relationship with God. Chris knows that if he drifts from God, that is where the danger starts. Chris meets every week with a fellow Christian so that they can hold each other accountable to living in the Christian way, not in the Cheonan way.

Chris is constantly looking for ways to show hospitality. Chris is involved in a small group. Chris serves in his church, knowing that this is a key display point for the Christian way in Cheonan. Chris also shares his heart and life with nonChristians in the community. Chris has dinner with them, goes to movies with them, and generally tries to become their friends. Eventually, Chris invites them to a dinner at his church or even to a worship service. When the time is right, Chris explains to his friends how Jesus has changed his life and invites them to meet Jesus, too. Those friends usually tell people that they have actually seen Jesus today in the life of one Secret Agent Chris Cheon.

(Mission Impossible song here.) This is your mission should you choose to accept it: Live as a Christian in an un-Christian place. Be a Secret Agent Chris Cheon. Live like Jesus so people meet Jesus. This mission is often classified: “impossible,” but “Nothing is impossible with God!” (Luke 1:37).

1 Thanks to the plot summaries at

2 Marva Dawn, Joy in Our Weakness: A Gift of Hope from the Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 64.

3 Dan Boone, Answers for Chicken Little: A No-Nonsense Look at the book of Revelation, (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill, 2005), 30.

Revelation 4 - Eternal Worship

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward
August 6, 2006

Last week we read Revelation 3 where Jesus says to the church in Laodicia, “Look! Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends” (Rev. 3:20).

This week Jesus calls our attention to an open door to heaven.1 Even when our doors are closed to Jesus, His doors are always open to us. Jesus calls out to John, “Hey! Come on up here, and let Me show you what’s going on.”

The Spirit brings John straight into the throne room of heaven. John sees the throne and someone sitting on the throne, but he can barely describe what he sees.2 God is like one great big diamond shining in His own light. An emerald colored rainbow surrounds His throne.

Throne is a really important word in Revelation. John uses the word throne 47 times. Different people or things – good and bad – sit on different kinds of thrones. But here we see THE throne – God’s throne in heaven, and God sits on this throne.

This chapter is like an anchor point for the whole book of Revelation. At the heart of everything, God is King on his throne.3 Later in Revelation, John is going to describe some really bad scenes on the earth, and he wants the churches (and us) to know that even though all of this junk is going to happen, God is still the King. No one has knocked Him off His throne. No person, no thing, no event, no cause can take God’s place as King and Ruler of the universe. God is forever “the One who sits on the throne.” This is the key to life.

Let’s look at what is happening around God’s throne. 24 elders are sitting on smaller thrones around His throne (v. 4). The 24 are the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, and they circle God’s throne as the representatives of all God’s people. They are all wearing white robes and gold crowns. They have conquered. They are victorious. They have passed through the great tribulation of life, and they wear the robes only Christ can give. God has blessed them with the victor’s crown.

There are 7 torches representing the perfect fullness of God’s Spirit (v. 5). Lightning and thunder come from God’s throne (v. 5). Even in heaven where we can look at God face to face, he is still awe-inspiring.

“In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal” (v.6). In the Bible the ocean often represents chaos. In this shaky world, we often feel like we are floating on a stormy sea, tossed up and down by the chaos of life. When John sees heaven, he sees an ocean that is as smooth as glass. There is not even a teeny, tiny ripple on this sea. God has brought complete peace. God has totally dominated and pacified chaos and destruction.

Amazingly, when John sees the new Jerusalem at the end of Revelation, the sea is gone, and the buildings of the new Jerusalem sparkles like crystal (21:11). Could it be that God takes all of the chaos and junk of life, calms it, and then reforms it, recycles it to make the joyful walls of heaven out of what was our pain? What caused us pain is rehabilitated into the most beautiful city we have ever seen! That sure sounds like God to me!

And now for the first really weird thing in Revelation: Four strange beings prowl around God’s throne – a lion (king of the beasts), a cow (king of domesticated animals), a human (highest of all created animals), and an eagle (king of the birds).4 They each have six wings, and the wings are covered with eyes, meaning that they can see everything everywhere. But the main point of these strange unearthly creatures is not what they look like but what they say. They see everything (all of life’s joy and all of life’s sorrow), and yet “Day after day and night after night they keep on saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty – the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come’” (v. 8).

There is no one and no thing like God! He is holy, completely separate and beyond anything or anyone else. He is eternal. He always was. He always is, and He’s not finished yet. God is still coming even more.

When the 24 elders (who represent all of God’s people) hear this song of praise, they get down off their thrones.5 They fall down on the ground. They fall face down on the ground before God. They don’t hold anything back. They don’t care what anyone thinks. They worship God with all of their bodies. They submit everything they are to God. They “worship the one who lives forever and ever” (v. 10) with full-bodied, full-hearted worship.

Then, they lay their crowns in front of God’s throne. Their crowns are their own glory. These are the things that say they are important, the things that other people look at to see that they are special, their accomplishments, their successes, their achievements, the things they are most proud of. For us in our world, our crowns might be trophies, diplomas, degrees, awards, Super Bowl rings, wedding rings, pictures of our kids in our wallets, academic awards, bank books, or gold stars from the teacher. These saints take all of their “glory,” all of their crowns, everything that says they are worth something, and they lay it before God. They say, “No, God you are the One who is worth all glory. Anything that I have You have given me. Any good thing that I have ever done, any good thing that has ever happened to me is all because of You. I lay it all before You. It all belongs to You, not me or anyone else!”

In this act of worship, these 24 elders (and all of God’s people who worship like them) are rebelling against the rulers of this world. True worship is subversive to earthly status quo. Revelation talks so much about thrones because so many people and things want to rule on the thrones of our world. In John’s world and Jesus’ world the Roman government made people say “Hail Caesar! Caesar is King and God.” Hitler made people say, “Heil Hitler!” In our current world, no one human person is calling us to hail him as the ultimate king, but we still have thrones. We have our own cries of allegiance:6

  • “All hail the stock market! You are worthy of all our hopes and fears.”

  • “All hail sports and entertainment! You are worthy of our time, our passion, and our energy.”

  • “All hail professional success! You are worthy of everything I am. I sacrifice everything else to you.”

  • “All hail our bodies! You are worthy of our time, money, and effort. Diets, pills, gym memberships, tanning beds, whitening creams, and spandex are small prices to pay to look good.

  • “All hail the kids! Your educational success is worth any and all costs.”

  • “All hail romance! You are worth my very identity. I’ll give up anything if you make me feel loved.”

When these 24 elders fall face down before God and give Him their crowns, they are participating in the basic Christian rebellion against the ruling powers of this world. Christian worship shouts that God alone is worthy. “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created” (v. 11).

These great worship leaders forget themselves all together. They don’t remember their former sinfulness. They don’t remember their former success. All they can think of is giving praise to God and thanking Him for His goodness.

God is like a great magnet that draws out our worship. When we really see God for who He is, we naturally worship Him. Chapters 4 and 5 slowly move toward a great climax of worship. First, the 4 living beings worship God (4:8). Then, the 24 elders fall down and worship God (4:10-11, 5:8-10). Next, thousands and millions of angels join in the singing (4:11-12). Finally, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” sings in worship to God (5:13). God is a great magnet, an eternal sponge drawing out the worship of everyone and everything in the world. He is worthy of our worship both now and forever, and He will get our worship because He draws it out of us.

When worship God together on Sunday mornings, we are joining in the eternal, heavenly worship of God. We aren’t just singing by ourselves. We are singing with all Christians everywhere. We are singing with all the angels. We are singing with everything that was ever made, plant, animal, and rock. Everything everywhere sings out in worship of God: “Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power forever!”

But if we worship God just on Sunday mornings, we are truly missing the point of worshipping God. God doesn’t want our worship if it’s only one day a week. He wants our worship 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. He wants us to live lives of worship. Paul said, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). This day, today living for God is our spiritual act of worship. Every day is an act of worship. Every minute we live for God is an act of worship. Every time we choose God’s way, we bow down and lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus. Every time we act with love and speak a word of kindness, we cry “Holy, holy, holy.”

This week, as part of my research about this passage which talks about casting our crowns before the throne, I researched the Christian band Casting Crowns. One of their newest songs is “Lifesong.” The idea is that our lives become a song of worship to God. Below the title, the band leader, Mark Hall, wrote: “Worship is so much more than the songs I sing. Instead, worship is in the heart that lifts the song. If you think about it, worship began when I woke up this morning. My life purpose is to give God glory through everything I do. If my life does not worship Him, my songs don't either.”

Let me read some of the lyrics of “Lifesong” to you:
Empty hands held high -
Such small sacrifice.
If not joined with my life,
I sing in vain tonight.
May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing,
Bring a smile to you.
Let my lifesong sing to you.
Let my lifesong sing to you.
I want to sign your name to the end of the this day,
Knowing that my heart was true.
Let my lifesong sing to you.

The picture in Revelation 4 is a picture of eternal worship. “Day after day and night after night they keep on” worshiping God. Eternal means forever – as in nothing left out. We can begin the eternal worship now by worshiping God every minute of every day, by living lives of worship. Leave nothing out. Live an eternal life. Live an eternal worship. Live every minute, and live every minute as worship!

We are going to practice this eternal worship in a few minutes by singing some more worship songs together. This is worship, but this is the fuel or the practice for living lives of worship. Let’s sing with all our hearts, and live with all our hearts – all in worship of our great God!

Before we sing, I want you to listen to the song, “Lifesong” by Casting Crowns.

Lord, let our lives sing in praise to you!

1 See Pat Marvenko Smith’s idea of what this looks like at:

3 Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Knox, 1989), 102.

4 Boring, 107.

5 See Smith’s picture of this at:

6 Dan Boone, Answers for Chicken Little, (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill, 2005), 43-44.