This study takes us to the last book of the Bible. We may not be familiar with the book of Revelation. As its name suggest, this is a book of that which is revealed. It was also previously referred to as the "Apocalypse of John", the mystery of the apostle John, Something is being revealed in this book, akin to a curtain being drawn back to reveal something. What is being revealed? The future is being revealed, and the Lord of the future is being revealed. The book is less about the events of the future and more about the God of the Future.
John writes this on the island of Patmos. He receives a vision, and Rev 1-3 forms a series of letters to churches. Today, we'll look at Rev 3, which is part of seven letters to seven churches. Before we look at the text proper, we need to realise that Jesus has a view on your life, and how you use the Bible. If Jesus could comment on your use of the Bible, what would He say?
(A) Who decides how to use the Bible: IT begins with Jesus Christ and His authority (Rev 3:7)
The letters to the 7 churches in Revelation are the only letters dictated by the risen Jesus in the Bible. Of the 7, only 2 churches receive commendation and praise. In this letter, Jesus addresses the angel (or messenger) of the church in Philadelphia. These were his first words to the church, and notice how He addresses them. He begins by saying, "the words of", emphasizing once more His words. This is also how He begins His other letters and always forms the subject of Jesus' opening statement. He wants to establish at the opening of the letter the authenticity and the authority of His words.
Rev 3:7 also describes Jesus in terms of his attributes, possessions and ability. The things that are highlighted here are different form the rest of the letters. Jesus is the "holy one" and "true one" who "has the key of David". Because He possesses this key, what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. What does He mean here? Here, Jesus is going back to the promise made to David, that he will have an eternal kingdom (c.f. 2 Sam 7:13). To have an eternal kingdom can only mean one of two things -- either his descendant will always rule forever and ever, or that there will be a king that rules forever. If we look at our human authorities, we know that it is highly unlikely that dynasties can last forever. The Bible therefore speaks about one who will finally unlock the promise of David, one whose reign will not end. The next phrase goes to emphasize the authority and power of Jesus. He is the only one with unquestioned authority and power, and this is established upfront.
With this authority, naturally, Jesus gets to decide how the Bible is read, how His words are read. These verses confront us today and we need to pause and consider what this means for us. Either we accept the authority and rule of this King, who is also the King of the Bible, or we reject this authority and treat Him as nothing. Who decides how you use the Bible in your own life? When was the last time you read the Bible on your own, not in a class, not in church? If we are honest with ourselves, we don't read His words because we don't have the same regard for His words as He has.
(B) What it means to use the Bible: it means faithful obedience and keeping Christ’s word (Rev 3:8)
In Rev 3:8a, He says that He knows their works (omniscient). He knows them and their deeds, and when we first read it, it may seem to be a bit hostile and pointed. What does he mean when he says that to a church? He is claiming full authority and therefore, the right to judge. How terrifying it is to stand before one who can say this? But at the same time, how encouraging it is to stand before one like this and receive a commendation?
Jesus commends the Philadelphians for keeping his word. We know that "keep" is the verb if emphasis because this word is repeated in verses 8 and 10. These verses also instruct us about how the church is supposed to use the word of Christ. From Rev 3:8, we learn that though they had "but little power", yet they were those that kept the words of Jesus and have not denied his name. This carries with it the idea of a conscious and active effort, and keep is an active verb. We are either actively keeping the word or not. In Rev 3:10, we are told that they also kept Jesus' word about patient endurance. There is an element of comprehension and understanding. Some versions translate this as "obey". Sometimes we are used to thinking that obedience is merely acting out an action in response to something. But the Bible does not separate obeying and understanding, and it certainly does not speak of it in a clinical sense. The Word is to be kept because it is precious, and because it is precious, it is to be obeyed. Hear the kind of reverence that we ought to have as we come to the Word! John, the writer of this book understood this firsthand. Jesus was one He loved, and when someone you love gives you his word and leaves, you'd keep it. To put it in another way, do you realise that the words of Jesus that we keep are inseparable from the person, and who He is? Only when we see this will we really treasure and seek it! What can we do today? One practical application for all of us is to think of it not just as "Bible" but as the "Bible, the word of Christ". Or maybe take it one step further and think of the Bible as the "Bible, the word of my Christ". After all, we can only keep something that has been given to us.
(C) What using the Bible like this entails: it comes with Jesus’ own promises about the future (Rev 3:9-13)
Jesus’ letter comes with promises for the future. They are promises directed to two groups of people -- the false people of God (Rev 3:9) and the true people of God (Rev 3:9). The false people of God are "those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not". The synagogue is the distinctly Jewish place of worship, so He is drawing attention to fake Jews, those who claim to be orthodox but are not. But why is He talking about Jews here? He is playing up the idea that these are the ones who claim to be God's people. To put it in our context, it is akin to the religious who might turn up for Bible studies! The false people of God can be found even amongst those who claim to be religious. How can we tell who are the true people of God? Rev 3:10 tells us that the true people will keep His word with patient endurance. These 2 groups will be marked by how they treat His word, whether they keep it or not.
There are also promises that await both groups. At some point in the future, there will be a day when the true are separated from the false. Those who are false will see how loved the true really are (Rev 3:9). Here, Jesus is not being exclusive and mean. In fact, He is merciful and kind enough to reveal what is to come, and to provide a warning in order to give enough time to repent and to pursue the truth. Surely such warning is kindness! And to the true people of God who obey and keep His words, they can be confident that He will also keep them. Whatever hour of trial that lies before them will not destroy them (Rev 3:10). This promise is a great encouragement to us, not only because it points to a hope we have in the future, but is also a real hope for today. The Christian life is not always smooth-sailing and easy. Perhaps you feel the difficulties keenly today, that serving God and being faithful costs so much and it is weighing you down. In whatever "hour of trial" that you're facing, stop and consider how His grace has brought you safe thus far, and that you are still here in the faith! Do you realise that you are still a Christian today not to your own credit, but according to Rev 3:10, it is because He keeps us! Isn't this wonderful, and doesn't this change everything?
Jesus has more to promise about the future when He comes again (Rev 3:11a). He makes two conditional statements – one simple and one complex - that are meant to drive our actions.
|Rev 3:11b||"Hold fast what you have"
To hold fast doesn't me to grab hold of it quickly, but rather, to hold on to it tightly.
|"So that no one may seize your crown"
Note that you are not holding on to your crown. We are to hold on to the words, and by doing so, we are assured of our crown. How do we hold on to words? In other parts of the Bible, we are told to meditate and memorise His words (Ps 119:9-11. Josh 1:8). But it also means to let that word be brought into who you are, shaping your life, priorities,decisions and joy. Let your life be built on this word, so that this word becomes a part of who you are and cannot be removed from you. It is about becoming the kind of person that reads and breathes and dies on the word of Jesus. Can you imagine what it looks like to be a Bible person, so much so that the Bible becomes part of your life in a natural way? Use it, until the Bible becomes so natural to you.
It means to overcome or triumph over a problem or adversary.
|"Make you a pillar in the temple of my God"
"Never shall he go out of my temple"
"I will write on him the name of my God, the name of the New Jerusalem and my new name"
This is not to be taken literally, as if we will all turn into pillars. Rather, He promises that the one who conquers will be secure and safe in the temple of God. The one who conquers will also have 3 names written on Him, including the new name of Jesus. The person who keeps His word and conquers becomes someone who is respected and trustworthy in the presence of God, safe and secure in that status, and will never fall out. This identity is so much subsumed and associated with God, that he is transformed in every way. Doesn't this sound like a great promise?
These are great promises! Look at what Jesus is promising us today. His promises are always great, but we often fail to see the true value. What He is promises will only seem like treasures to those who are utterly God-centered, because He is promising us God Himself. We will only treasure the value of the promise, only if we read and live in His Word. This is what Rev 3:7-13 means. Jesus Himself has revealed a way that the Bible is to be used. It is important to recognise the authority and person of Jesus Christ as the starting point for the Bible. Some people think of the Bible as a narrative/story to be enjoyed, others, a wisdom book meant to be analysed, still others, a holy book to be revered. Rev 3 reminds us that these are the words of a person, words that are to be obeyed and treasured, with a promise that will be fully fulfilled in the future. He also calls us to obey and keep these words. Jesus is making a claim on our lives tonight. How will you respond today?