This week we look at letters to the young churches in Revelation
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 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.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’
Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
This week we are going to look at part of the Book of Revelation. This is the last in the New Testament; it’s name comes from the opening sentence. In the Early Church it was believed to have been written by St John the Apostle but modern scholarship simply names the author as “John of Patmos” about whom we know very little. It is believed to have been written during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian (81-96) even though the Beast with Seven Heads and the number of the Beast, 666, are believed to refer to Nero who reigned somewhat earlier (54-68). The author sees himself as a Christian prophet who has been given specific messages for seven churches in what we’d now call Turkey. Traditionally the book was seen to offer comfort to Christians enduring persecution but current scholarship often poses the idea that the book was about the debate within the Church about how far Christians should withdraw from or accommodate pagan society when withdrawal would have been a hard choice inviting derision, exclusion and, perhaps, persecution.
The Church, in every age, has had to battle with its relationship with the wider culture within which it was placed. For a lot of our history we have had pride of place in the pecking order. After the Emperor Constantine converted (after a fashion) to Christianity he made it the state religion and endowed churches and bishops with great wealth and status. Even after the Reformation the Church in the West, either Catholic or Lutheran and Reformed, had great status in society; in the East, of course, Orthodoxy lost that status after Constantinople was taken over by the Turks; it had to find a new accommodation with its society just as it, much later, had to with Communism in Russia. Now, in the West, the Church is seen as being largely irrelevant and we have to find our way through a confusing culture which has very strong, but not always traditional, views on spirituality and morality. The older certainties have gone and we have to navigate between opposing and condemning what secular folk get up to and jumping on the cultural bandwagon; both these temptations can easily be seen in Church history – I think of the sects, like the Amish, that try to live separately so as not to be polluted and the German Christians who tried to find an accommodation with Nazism. In our own age we have to find our way between these two extremes; to work out where God is at work in our culture (often because He has got tired of waiting for the Church to respond to His leading) and to discern what in our culture needs redemption.
God of our world,
help us to discern where You are at work,
to get alongside You in the social movements of our age,
as we work for the coming of Your Kingdom.
God of the ages,
help us to discern where we need to proclaim Your Kingdom,
Your Values and, even in all humility, Your coming judgement
so that Your world may be saved.
Andy Braunston is an ordinand at the Scottish Congregational and United Reformed Church College and co-ordinator of the URC Daily Devotions project.