Book Of Hope – Study Series Chapter -2

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As we enter the second session of  this study series,  we hope  you have  already begun to  read the Book of Revelation. May God shower his blessings on you in abundance  as promised: ‘Blessed is the one who reads  aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those  who hear and  who  keep what is written in it; for the time is near’ (Rev 1:3). In the previous  session our focus was  on  the outline of  the Book of Revelation, the nature of  messages and its purpose. First Chapter of  the Revelation  concludes by giving the reader  a hint as to what should be  expected  in the   following chapters. 

‘Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place  after this’ (Rev 1:19). It means Revelation deals with three distinct things, what John had already seen (past), what  was  happening  before him (present) and what is going to  happen (future). Thanks to the  misleading teachings of certain theologians, many  Christians are under the wrong impression that Revelation was written for a particular time period and for a specific audience. They  consider everything in the Revelation as already  happened  during the  early centuries. Nothing is far from the truth. Revelation  is a book  referring to the past, commenting on the present, and   prophesying  about the future. 

We should start our study  from a robust foundation lest we might  find  many things in this book incomprehensible. Like any other  book in the Bible, Revelation also has a four fold application. First, it is  directed at the  prevailing situation when it was written. It is addressed to the  people  of God living at that time. Second, it is written for a  universal   audience, ie. for  all the churches of all times. Third, it has a prophetic dimension. It  gives  a number of prophecies about future things. Fourth and most important is its personal   application. Like any other verse from the Bible, the  messages of  Revelation  also  are personally addressed to you and me individually.  Jesus told the  parable of the  good samaritan not as a story. He wanted every man and woman who read it  to become a good samaritan in their lives.   When  Jesus said; “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38), he had in his mind  every person getting the  anointing of the Holy Spirit, after his ascension.  Jesus  instituted the  Holy Eucharist for his  disciples as well as  for  all generations to come.  It is very easy to miss  this universal character of  the Bible, which is  one of the greatest  dangers  of our times.  At the  birth of  Jesus, the angel said to the shepherds: “I am bringing you good news of great  joy  for all the people”(Lk 2:10). God’s messages are  intended  to reach each and every person, irrespective of their place of dwelling or time of living. Revelation is no exception. 

Chapters 2 and 3 contain the  letters written  to  the seven churches and  today we will start with the message to the  church  in Ephesus. Remember that  they are  applicable  to  all churches of all times  and  contain messages of a  prophetic dimension as also a  message personal to you and me. At the introduction stage itself, Jesus  mentions the  universal nature of   the messages when he says: ‘These are the words of  him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks  among the seven  golden lampstands’ ( Rev 2:1).  We should not  try to limit  Jesus Christ within a  preset definition.  He is ‘walking  among’ all  churches. In the previous session we  found that the seven lampstands   represent seven churches and  seven stars represent the angels of those churches. Here ‘angel of the   church’ seems to  stand for the person in  charge of the  church like bishop, priest, pastor or elder.

As a rule Jesus starts with some  words of  appreciation. In the case of  Ephesians, the good things that Jesus wanted to commend are their  hard work, patient endurance, intolerance towards evildoers and their  discernment in  identifying false apostles. We need not be surprised at the appreciation  they received for their  hard work. It was the  legacy of  Paul the Apostle who  established the  church in Ephesus. The way in  which Paul edified them   is a classic example    to preachers, elders and priests to follow. In  Acts 19:9 we  read that he used to teach his disciples   in the  lecture hall of  a certain person named Tyrannus. Some  ancient authorities  mention that  he used to teach them  from eleven o’clock in the morning to  four in the afternoon. 

Now  read Acts 20: 17-35, where Paul addresses the Ephesian elders. He reminds them that he used to teach them publicly and from house to house. He  recollects that for three years he did not  cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. We know  Paul was a tentmaker, working hard to earn a livelihood and finding  time in between to preach the gospel . ‘I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing.  You know for yourselves that  I worked  with my own hands  to support myself and my companions’ (Acts 20:33-34).  He was a ‘part time minister’ doing full time  service to  the Lord.  If a tentmaker could  develop a  zealous church from  scratch  even while  toiling with   his hands for  his daily needs, what is the message it gives to our  full time ministers? What is the message it gives to  the  laity, who  hide behind the excuse that  they  have  a family and they have to  work hard to  support them  leaving   them with no time to spare for Lord’s work?  

Next commendation is for the patient endurance of Ephesians. It is a virtue we should acquire at any cost, because  it is a pre- condition to be saved. This is what  Jesus says: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13).  The church in  Ephesus has  this  big virtue.  Do we have this most essential  quality in us? If not we should pray for getting it.  Patient endurance  means continuing our   good works in  spite of  overwhelming odds and persecutions till the very last moment.  Let us remember the  words  of our  Lord: “No one who puts a hand  to the plow and looks back is fit  for the  kingdom of God”(Lk 9:62). Perseverance and endurance is a must  to  reach heaven. 

Next comes the  intolerance of the Ephesians towards evildoers. This is one area we should meditate through and through  in our times. In these times, a tendency is growing within the Church and also in society at large to tolerate everything evil in the name of  liberty and  personal freedom. We need not go into details as  we  are  quite familiar with  what is   happening around us.  A good church will never  tolerate evildoers. Loving the sinner is  not to be equated with  tolerating  his  sinful deeds.

Jesus  appreciates the  Ephesians in another  area too, which is  perhaps the  most important: 

‘You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have  found them to be false’ (Rev 2:2).  In simple  words, the church in Ephesus had the gift of  discernment, that too in abundance.  For us, who live among false prophets whose numbers outnumber that of  true prophets, the gift of discernment is  what we need the most.  Jesus has warned us that  a time will come when  false prophets will appear and  try to lead  astray even the elect.  For the Ephesians, it was the fulfilment of the words of  Paul: “I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will  come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them” (Acts 20:29-30). 

Jesus himself says: ‘Beware of false prophets, who  come to you in  sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (Mt 7:15). Identify them and  run away from them so that Jesus will  appreciate us also.  Do not be afraid  of their  strength or numbers.  We have prophet Elijah  who  challenged Ahab, as our  model. “Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the  four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at  Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:19).  A single true prophet is  enough to  challenge hundreds or even thousands of false prophets, because it is God who helps him.

Peter the   Apostle  reminds us that   false prophets of the kind  that destroyed the faith of Israelites will appear  in the  church also. ‘But false prophets also arose  among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even  deny the Master who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Even so, many will  follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned’ (2 Pet 2:1-2).  Peter wrote these  lines for the  guidance of our  generation as well.  Have  you  not seen false teachers, secretly bringing in destructive opinions? Have you  not seen those who  deny the  divinity of Jesus and the  sacrifice  he  accomplished for our salvation? Have you  not noticed their licentious ways, and their attempts to legitimize sin ? Have you not felt the  pain of many   Christians following  their evil  ways? Are you not concerned  about the  disgrace these  wolves in sheep’s clothing bring to the  Church? Living among false prophets in a  time of  apostasy is not an easy thing. But we have to hold on.

Ephesians  have    undergone persecution for the sake of the name of Jesus but  they have not grown weary either.  Jesus commends them  for this trait too.  Their patient endurance helped them during those difficult times. They never  felt like running out of steam. Whenever we   feel that  we are  running out of steam in our spiritual journey,  we have  to hold on with  patient endurance. There is no other  way. 

After a long list of appreciations, now it is  time for Jesus to warn  the church in  Ephesus. His complaint is about  only one thing, that the Ephesians have abandoned the love they had at first. Jesus tells them to  introspect what went wrong with them, how loving  they  were in the initial days, and how they lost that love in course of time. It is not difficult for us to imagine ourselves in the place of  Ephesians  as this is our everyday experience. Somewhere down the line, we realize that  our ministries are done  not for love but for  name and fame. Paul reminds us  that  by  speaking in the tongues of mortals and of angels, or having prophetic powers or having  the understanding about all mysteries or  having  all knowledge or  such great faith as to  remove mountains or even  giving away all  our possessions and handing over our body to be burned,  we gain  nothing unless they are  done with love. 

We started everything with love, but at some point, that love gave way to arrogance in charity, rituals in  worship and self- justification in conduct. Jesus the great  physician has prescribed  a  remedy for this lack of love, which is the most dangerous pandemic the world faces: “Remember  then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works  you did  at first” (Rev. 2:5). If not, what will happen? Jesus  says: “If not, I will come  to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5).   We know that  seven lampstands were  the symbols  of seven churches.  In the vision, Jesus  was seen walking among  those seven golden lampstands.   If the  lampstand is removed from its place, it simply means  that  the church is  separated from Christ!

None among us would   want to belong to  a church that is to be   removed from the presence of our  Saviour.  We will repent and  start afresh the works of love which is  nothing  but  keeping the commandments. ‘They who have my commandments  and  keep them are  those who love me’ (Jn 14:21).

We have already seen that the  message of Revelation, like any other part of the  Scripture, has a  four fold application. They are  local, universal, prophetic and personal. In other words,  what  Jesus  told the  church in   Ephesus is equally applicable to  us also. It means that  if we work hard, endure patiently, do not   tolerate evildoers, hold on  until the end,  discern  good teachers from  false prophets and  finally  regain the initial zeal and  love, we will be  honored in  his presence. ‘To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of  God'( Rev. 2:7). 

We read  about this ‘tree of life’ first   in the Book of Genesis. ‘Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the  sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the  knowledge of good and evil’ (Gen. 2:9). The right to  eat from this  tree of life was  forfeited  by the first sin. God, in His  infinite wisdom, knew that  eating from the  tree of life  in a state of sin will bring them eternal damnation. It was  God’s mercy that prompted Him  to send them forth  from the  garden of Eden. ‘Then the  Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of  us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the  tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Gen 3:22).  Human history, as we know it today, starts from this  expulsion from paradise. It is  quite logical that the  consummation of history coincides with the re-entry of the  humankind to the  very place from where they were  once expelled.  Final  chapters of the Book of Revelation describe Heavenly Jerusalem where the  tree of life  stands. ‘On either side of  the  river is the tree of life with its twelve  kinds of fruit…..’ ( Rev. 22:2).

Once we are  there  in Heavenly Jerusalem, we can eat from the tree of life as  well, but the  condition of re-entry remains unchanged. It is to  come out of sin, and  be in a state of grace at all times. ‘ But nothing unclean will  enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the  Lamb’s book of life’  (Rev. 21:27). 

Let anyone who has an  ear to  listen to what the Spirit is  saying to the churches ( Rev 2:7)

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