A new hymn: the pray of King Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:16-20.
O LORD Almighty, God Supreme by George vP
These seven churches existed when John received his vision.
They were the first recipients of Revelation; however, just as the book of
Revelation is for the church of all ages and places, so the seven letters are
for the church of all ages and places. The individual letters, although
originally meant for specific congregations of more than 1900 years ago,
contain instruction for the church today. This is not because we can make a
direct identification between, for example,
A few introductory remarks about the structure of these letters are in order. In general, they all have the same basic arrangement. First the Lord Jesus Christ called himself by a certain name that recalled some aspect of the vision John had of Christ in chapter 1. Then the Lord mentioned the specific situation of the church, both positive and negative aspects. Next Christ gave a relevant message of encouragement or of warning, or of both. Finally, he uttered a promise for those who overcome in triumph against sin and temptation.
While there is this basic structure to each of the seven letters, each has its own specific message for the church of yesterday and of today.
The Lord began each letter by referring to himself with a specific name drawn from John’s original vision of the exalted Christ related in chapter 1. These self-designations of Christ are important for understanding the message of the various letters.
In the letter to the church at
From the last verse of Revelation 1, we learned that the seven “stars” are the angels of the seven churches. The word “angel” means “messenger.” We should think of the church itself as a messenger of God with a message for the world.
He also called himself, “The one who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” From 1:20 we learn that the seven lampstands are the seven churches. They represent the churches of Christ as they are visible in the world. The Lord Jesus is walking among these churches, carefully watching their activities and their struggles. He intimately knows their strengths and weaknesses and how they are viewed by the world.
Both stars and lamps give light. They have that in common. If you are far away from the city and look upward on a moonless night, you will see the amazing sight of the heavens, full of stars. Stars also give direction. One who knows the night sky well can find his way home using the stars as a guide.
A lampstand also gives light. Of course it is not the lampstand that gives light but the lamp placed upon the lampstand. When a light is put on it, the light will fill the room.
The Lord Jesus addressed this guiding and revealing light, the church as it was heard and seen in the world.
Loyal to God, the church pierced the darkness of the world with its message and lifestyle. The church was not light in itself; rather, it was light only through its relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The church drew its light from him. In chapter 1, John saw a vision of Christ whose face was like the sun shining in full strength. Have you ever tried to look at the sun? I think everyone tries it at least once. When the sun is shining in full strength, it is impossible to look at it for more than a split second. Involuntarily, you will close your eyes and you will see spots for a good half minute.
That is what it was like for John. He had one glimpse of the bright shining face of Jesus Christ and he fell to the ground as though dead.
The Lord imparted that powerful and awesome light to his
church. As Christ was the light of God that came into the dark world revealing
sin and showing the way to the Father, so the
Ephesus was one of the more important cities in the province of Asia Minor, with a population of about 300,000. It was a harbour city intersected by three major trade routes. Thus it was a centre of trade and commerce, but more importantly, it was a religious centre.
Emperor worship was firmly established in
Artemis was a fertility goddess. If one paid homage to her, then, supposedly, he would receive good crops and many children. As all fertility cults, this one was replete with the depravity of temple prostitutes and other perversions. Immorality was common, accepted and expected in this city.
The Ephesians believers rejected, and witnessed against, the enemy outside the church. They also rebuffed the enemy inside the church. They fought against the teachings of false apostles and refused to listen to teachers who brought them something other than the pure word of God.
The Lord Christ commended them for this rejection of evil and for their loyalty to him. He said, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” The Lord Jesus had said in Matthew 7, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” His disciples would be able to identify the wolves. As Jesus said in Matthew 7, “You will know them by their fruits.”
Paul had also warned the elders of the church in
They were on their guard. They were on the lookout. When the
false apostles, wolves in sheep’s clothing, had come into the sheepfold and
begun to propagate false doctrine, the elders had said, “That is heresy.” They,
together with the congregation, had tested what the false teachers said and
discovered it was not in accord with what they had learned in the past. The
They also rejected, even hated, the works of the
Nicolaitans. We do not know very much about the Nicolaitans, who are mentioned
again in the letter to
The Nicolaitans were like secular Christians who come to church on Sunday but live in the thick of the world the rest of the week. They made a complete separation between the body and the soul and said that as long as the soul was pure, it did not matter what one did with the body. The typical attitude of a Nicolaitan was, “As long as my soul is okay as far as Christ is concerned, I can get drunk and gamble and party and visit the prostitutes all I want. What I believe with my soul and do with my body have nothing to do with each other.”
|The coliseum in Ephesus|
They tried to combine the religion of Artemis with the religion of Jesus Christ. “You can have both!” they argued. “Let Christ have your soul; let Artemis have your body!”
The loyal Christians said, “No way!” They wanted nothing to
do with this unchristian way of thinking. In fact, they rejected this
compromise and excommunicated those who propagated it. All those who attempted
to wed the darkness of the world with the light of the church had no place in
the congregation of
What do we think about such an attitude? Were they too radical? Were they too strict, too ultra-conservative? We should think not. Please notice that the Lord Jesus commended them for this. He said that he too hated the works of the Nicolaitans. The church was in a situation where the darkness of the world was pressing against it from the outside and the pitch-black of false doctrine and compromise was infiltrating from the inside. Such times called for decisive action, and the church was loyal to its Lord. It let the true message be heard and was not afraid to be seen doing right. The church, as angel messenger, continued to speak the truth and let the lamp shine.
In this way the
Although the Lord had high praise for the church at
In the commentaries there are different opinions about whether the “love” mentioned here refers to love for God or love for the brotherhood. It must refer to the latter.
Had they abandoned love for God, they would not have maintained so zealously and loyally purity of doctrine and holy lives but would have given up long before. The teachings of the false apostles would have taken control of the church and the congregation would have fallen into the trap of compromise espoused by the Nicolaitans.
It was precisely their love and zeal for God that gave them the energy to maintain these principles. The Lord Jesus was warning them that he knew they did not love each other like they had at first. They had abandoned the mutual love that had carried them along in the days the gospel had first broken into their lives. Love for the brotherhood had died out. The church was strong on doctrinal precision and obedience but weak on mutual and brotherly love. This is what they had forsaken.
We can imagine how it happened. The church was into its second generation, being about forty years old. The council of elders was made up of men who had been taught from their youth to be on the lookout for wolves dressed as sheep. Each member took seriously the warning of the Lord Jesus, and later of Paul, to be on the alert for false doctrine. No worldliness was allowed to enter from outside. Any false teaching that tried to rear its head from within the church was quickly squashed. This was good.
However, the people had become edgy and nervous, and another deadly attitude had taken control. Always being on the alert for false teachers had filled the Ephesian Christians with mistrust and suspicion, even for each other. When one brother stood up in a meeting to say something, the other brothers turned deaf ears, because, well, “We know what he’s going to say anyway.” When one wrote an article in the church magazine, the others said, “I’m not reading it. He never knows what he’s talking about.”
“Come now,” said the Lord Jesus, “think about the height from which you have fallen.” He had said in John 13, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is the hallmark of Christians, mutual love. The Lord called them to repentance and back to the love they had for each other at the beginning. Without love, a church ceases to be the church. Christ warned the congregation that if they would not repent from their lovelessness, he would remove their lampstand.
As Paul said, without love, we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals (1 Cor 13). Even though the church was thoroughly orthodox with faithful preaching and church discipline, yet it was in danger of becoming something grotesque because the congregation had abandoned love.
Return to that, said the Lord. It was critical. Regaining this love would not be done through emotional outbursts, nor by talking and theorizing about it; rather, as verse 5 says, they were to do the things they did at first. It would be a matter of deeds, of lending a helping hand to someone who needed help, of visiting that lonely person or inviting him over. The return to which the Lord called them would be seen in their being open to each other, and not prejudging or being suspicious. It would be a matter of speaking well about each other and not murdering each other with gossip and slander.
This is what it had been like when the gospel had first won over their parents. They had loved God most of all and their neighbours as themselves. The church needed to recapture this attitude. It needed to avoid not only the temptations of the world and the corrosion of false doctrine but also the emptiness of abandoned love. The church was to be doctrinally precise, loyally obedient, and filled with mutual love for the brotherhood. That is the church. Those are Christians.
If the church were to recapture the love it had at first by doing the works of love, then the Lord would not remove the lampstand. That is the first promise the church received. If they would be faithful to their Lord and King and obey his command to love the brotherhood, then he would establish them more and more. Then the Lord would continue to allow them to be his messenger to the world.
We know from history that the church at
The second promise is in the last verse of the letter. There the Lord Jesus said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
One of the sacred symbols of the goddess Artemis was a palm
tree. Many of the coins struck in
The last chapter of Revelation mentions once again the tree of life which will be in the paradise of God. Adam and Eve were shut out of the first paradise so that they could not eat of the tree of life after they had fallen into sin. Because the Lord Jesus has paid for that sin, and for all the sins of those who love him, we will be allowed to eat of that tree of life in the new paradise. That tree will give immortality and eternal life. That is the promise.
This blessing of the tree of life is given to “him who overcomes,” that is, to him who triumphs over lovelessness. It is given to him who remains loyal to God in the face of secularism and false doctrine, and who loves his neighbour. This promise was for every member of the congregation just as the command to regain the love which had been abandoned was for every member.
All of this–encouragement, warning, promise and command–comes to the church of today. Every congregation and every individual member of the congregation has a responsibility to make the communion of saints work as the Lord Jesus Christ created it to work. We are to be loyal to God and to show true Christian love to each other.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Scripture reading: Acts 19:23-41
Songs: Psalms 16, 115, 133
This is a contribution to a Facebook discussion on how to approach Revelation.
It is the introduction to The Glorious Victory: An Exposition of Revelation.
The complete book can be purchased here at my bookstore, in hard copy or in e-version.
Revelation, with its angels, trumpets, earthquakes, beasts, dragon, plagues, bottomless pit and lake of fire is like no other book in the Bible. Parts of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah come close, and yet Revelation is first among the visionary books. Revelation is a blend of three distinct literary types: apocalypse, prophecy, and epistle.
“Apocalypse,” the opening word in Greek, means “unveiling” or “revelation.” The primary background for Revelation is the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament, Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah. A secondary background is the non-canonical apocalyptic literature written during the intertestamental period. Apocalyptic writings anticipated the time when God will bring a decisive close to history, a consummation that will mean the triumph of righteousness and the final judgment of evil. Apocalyptic literature was written in the form of visions and dreams using cryptic and symbolic language. For example, in Revelation we read of a beast with seven heads and ten horns, of a woman clothed with the sun, and of locusts with scorpion tails and human heads. Another typical feature of such literature was the symbolic use of numbers. In Revelation, the numbers three, four, seven, ten, twelve, and one thousand occur with frequency.
|(Artwork by Karyn Schutten)|
There is a significant difference between the canonical apocalyptic writings and the non-inspired literature. Whereas other apocalypses claimed to have been written by people long dead, John identified himself as the author and spoke to his contemporaries. Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah, in similar fashion, also identified themselves and addressed the people of their time.
A common misconception is that prophecy only foretells the future. A biblical understanding of prophecy does not have such a limited view but is aware that to prophesy is to speak forth God’s word, usually in terms of judgment and salvation. Revelation is God’s prophetic word to the church undergoing persecution and oppression from the world, as well as some decay from within. As a book that prophetically declares the word of God, Revelation is itself deeply rooted in the Old Testament. To understand Revelation one needs to keep the Old Testament open at all times.
Revelation is a combination of apocalyptic and prophetic elements cast into the form of an epistle or letter. The opening and closing verses are typical of both canonical letters and the non-canonical letters of the day. Since it is a letter, John addressed himself with “I” and his readers with “you.” The whole book is actually a letter sent to the seven churches of Asia Minor.
At both the beginning and the end of the book, the author identified himself as John. Traditionally, this John has been understood as the Apostle John, the author of the Gospel According to John and the three Epistles of John; however, this has been disputed mostly on account of the different style of writing between the Gospel, the Epistles and Revelation. The significant differences in genre between these three can account for differences in style, and so there is no reason to abandon the traditional view of authorship.
Reading Revelation indicates it was written during a time of persecution, which the church experienced during the time of Emperor Nero, A.D. 54-68, and during the latter part of Emperor Domitian’s reign, A.D. 81-96. Very early tradition gives the date of circa A.D. 95, and this commentary accepts this view largely on the strength of the testimony of the early church.
Revelation was written during a time of persecution. John, himself, was in exile because of his fidelity to Jesus Christ, and the book is replete with references to martyrs, tribulation, suffering and death. During this time, emperor worship was demanded of all citizens, at the threat of death.
Since the church, by this time, had been in existence for one or two generations, there was also, sadly, the evidence of some backsliding and apathy, which called for stern warnings to remain faithful.
John received this vision from the Lord to encourage the church and to prepare it for even more difficult times. It was clear that the church and the state were on a collision course, but whereas it seemed that the victory might belong to the state, God was in control of all things, Christ held the keys of history, and the church would prevail. The church may experience tribulation, but God’s enemies will face God’s wrath.
The first audience was the seven churches of Asia Minor of circa A.D. 95, which were either being persecuted or backsliding. Beyond that immediate audience is the church of all ages. The prophetic message of Revelation is for the church of today no less than it was for the church of the first century. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” is an exhortation that rings down through the ages.
The theme of Revelation is that the Lord Jesus Christ will win a glorious victory over Satan and his demons, a victory in which the church will participate.
A. Chapters 1-3 introduce the three main characters.
1. John (1:1-11), who had been exiled to the island of Patmos for his faith in Christ and there had received and recorded the vision.
2. The Lord Jesus Christ (1:12-20), who appears as the Lord of history and Head of the church, who holds the keys of death and Hades and who rides on to victory as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
3. The church (2-3), to whom Christ communicated letters via seven real churches in history. The letters encouraged, warned, and promised God’s blessing upon those who overcame in the face of persecution from the outside and decay from the inside. Although the letters were written to real churches at a specific time in history, they are messages of Christ to the church of all ages.
B. Chapters 4-22 unfold history from the ascension of Christ to his return.
The history of the church and the world is painted via seven large brush strokes, each stroke on the canvas of history showing a picture of the whole period between the two advents of Christ. This understanding of Revelation is called progressive parallelism or recapitulation. The seven strokes are historically parallel, but there is also a deepening of the revelation from the one to the other.
1. Chapters 4 and 5 is a vision of heaven. The multitudes of heaven praise God and Jesus Christ for the victory won over Satan to redeem the church.
2. Chapters 6 and 7 announce the opening of the seven seals which reveal the persecution of the church, the judgment on the world and the deliverance of the church.
3. Chapters 8-11 sound the seven trumpet blasts which herald judgments on the ungodly world and the great city. The witnessing church is persecuted but it is delivered and vindicated.
4. Chapters 12-14 show Christ and his church attacked by Satan and his followers; however, Christ is victorious.
5. Chapters 15 and 16 picture the seven bowls of God’s wrath being poured out upon a rebellious world.
6. Chapters 17:1-19:10 unveil the destruction of the ungodly prostitute and liberation of the bride of Christ.
7. Chapters 19:11-22 proclaim the final judgment of the world and the perfection of the church.
This book takes a modified idealist and amillennial approach. For further study on this, one is referred to the book by Clouse and to the introduction of the commentary by Beale, both mentioned in the bibliography.
 “We will not, however, incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of Antichrist; for if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him who beheld the apocalyptic vision. For that was seen no very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign.” – Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202), Adversus haereses 5, 30, 3.
 Hendriksen and Beale advance this approach, and this commentary follows it as well.
 The idealist view in its most radical manifestation contends that Revelation, a symbolic portrayal of the conflict between God and Satan, does not depict any consummation in history whereas a modified idealist approach affirms such a consummation in the final destruction of Satan and victory of God. Please see Beale, pages 48 and 49, for a sound explanation of a modified version of the idealist approach.
 Thus neither preterist nor futurist.
 Thus neither pre-millennial nor post-millennial.
1. His Coming p. 7
2. Lampstands and Angels p. 15
3. Ephesus: The Distracted Church p. 23
4. Smyrna: The Suffering Church p. 33
5. Pergamum: The Compromising Church p. 43
6. Thyatira: The Weak Church p. 53
7. Sardis: The Lifeless Church p. 63
8. Philadelphia: The Faithful Church p. 71
9. Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church p. 79
10. Worship the Creator p. 87
11. The Cosmic Chorus p. 97
12. The Lamb p. 105
13. Salvation Belongs to our God p. 113
14. A Censer Hurled to Earth p. 121
15. The Eagle Has not yet Landed p. 129
16. The Locust Plague p. 137
17. Red, Yellow and Blue p. 145
18. Bitter-Sweet p. 153
19. Two Witnesses (A) p. 161
20. Two Witnesses (B) p. 169
21. The Victory of God p. 177
22. The Woman, the Dragon, and the Child p. 185
23. Counterfeit god p. 195
24. A New Song for Zion p. 205
25. Rest for the Righteous p. 213
26. The Harvest p. 221
27. Danger! Angels Ahead! p. 229
28. It is Done! p. 237
29. The Harlot, the Beast and the Lamb p. 245
30. Come Out! p. 253
31. The Wedding p. 261
32. The Rider on the White Horse p. 267
33. Christ is King, Today and Forever p. 275
34. Satan’s Doom p. 283
35. The Holy City p. 289
36. Amen! Come! p. 297
37. Bibliography p. 303
Wes Bredenhof wrote on his blog: "As of May 1, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) no longer exist. In the Netherlands they were known as the Gereformeerde Kerken – Vrijgemaakt (GKV). As of May 1, the GKV merged with the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken to form a new federation of churches. The new federation is called the Nederlandse (note the extra ‘e’) Gereformeerde Kerken (Dutch Reformed Churches)."
What follows is an excerpt (pp 109-111) from the biography I wrote on my father, Jules Taco van Popta (1916-1968). I am including this in my blog because of how the GKv and the NGK, on May 1st, 2023, merged into one federation of churches. The NGK are the children of the Open Brief. My father, like many fathers of the ecclesiastical liberation of 1944, would be very sad.
The Open Brief
As the difficulties in connection with the Form of Subscription [the C. de Haan affair] played out in Canada, a news item from the sister churches in the Netherlands reported on similar tendencies emerging there. An Open Brief had been published in which its twenty-five signatories expressed the desire for greater latitude in doctrinal matters than they felt that the Form of Subscription afforded them. The twenty-five brothers of the Open Brief also denied that the ecclesiastical liberation of 1944 was a work of Christ; rather, said they, it was merely a human work motivated by an ideology. The twenty-five brothers declared that those who held that it was a work done in harmony with Article 28 of the Belgic Confession were subscribing to a false faith.
Jules published a six-part critique of the Open Brief in Canadian Reformed Magazine (CRM).*
Jules recalled the issues of the Liberation of ‘44 under seven points.
1. In 1942 the general synod adopted the doctrine of presumptive regeneration.
2. The synod imposed that doctrine upon the churches and proscribed any teaching or preaching that was not in accord with the doctrinal deliverances.
3. The synod forbade the teaching that the Holy Spirit works regeneration through the preached word, even though this is what Scripture plainly teaches and the confessions profess.
4. By this strict binding to these doctrinal statements the synod put a yoke on the churches, which was not the easy yoke of Christ (Gal. 4, 5; Col. 2).
5. In a letter dated Feb. 25, 1944, the synod informed the churches that all had to carry out the decisions of synod. A church did have the right to appeal, but in the meantime the church was required to put the decision into effect. Such a church polity is in conflict with itself, that is, with Article 31 of the Church Order.
6. This rule was strictly upheld. Office-bearers who did not put into effect the decision of the synod were deposed from their offices. Those who continued to teach that the Holy Spirit regenerates us by the preaching of the gospel, rather than that the baptized infants were presumed already to be regenerate, were deposed. Those who refused to carry out the declarations of the synod were accused of raising “discord, sects, and mutiny” in the church, and were treated accordingly.
7. The synod claimed to be the highest authority in the church with respect to doctrine.
The signatories of the Open Brief rejected the very thinking of which they themselves had once been convinced and wrote it off as a human ideology. Jules explained that the Liberation of 1944 was a plea for the proclamation of the preaching of the Word of God unencumbered by theological opinions. He reminded the reader of how the Dutch synod had usurped the place of Christ by arrogating unto itself power and authority that belong only to the Word of God.
Jules pointed out that some of the signatories took steps that were consistent with their position and left the GKN-Liberated to join the synodocratic GKN. It was not given to Jules to complete the series of articles, but his point is clear. These men did not remain in the freedom into which Christ had set them free. Rather, they exchanged the easy yoke of Christ for the heavy burden of theological opinions and systems.
(Further note: The "Open Brief people left the GKv and eventually formed a new federation, the NGK).