Is it possible for people call themselves Christians to fail? Can we be wrong?
That’s not a serious question, and the answer is yes. The famous Pentecostal television preacher Jim Bakker went to prison.
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And the Roman Catholic Church is trying to recover from the scandal of sex abuse by priests.
Sometimes we fail, and our failure has two sides; if we do something wrong, we are prevented from doing good things. Damage control to recover from our failures doesn’t leave room for all the good that we should be doing in this world.
I think that is a good starting point to understand the Apocalypse.
Everyone should read the book of Revelation. In the Christian Bible, it’s the last book, and one that we often talk about. What we seldom do is read the whole book. For me, that is the best starting point to understand the last book in the Bible.
“Revelation” gives us images like the Anti Christ and 666, and the seven seals, and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Armageddon is probably the final battle in chapter 19. The images are part of modern culture, but the book is not.
The book is literature, with one long story, one narrative with a beginning and an end, and action in the middle. At the beginning we are told “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Chapter 1, verse 3)
The story opens with the author, an old man, sentenced to prison in a rock quarry, on an island called Patmos. His enemies probably thought that his life was over, a man his age could not survive long in a quarry-prison, but he did his greatest life work in that prison. He wrote a famous book.
“Revelation” in English is from “Apocalypse” in Greek, which means to fold a cloth covering. Imagine something hidden under a cloth, and someone peels the cover back, revealing more and more. John peeled back the cloth for us and showed us the future.
The book is organized around four series of seven; the seven churches, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of God’s wrath, in that order. The seventh item in each series introduces the next series.
The book is a letter “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia:” (1:4), and the action starts with the first series of seven, the churches. “Asia” was a Roman province, now western Turkey and John was an overseer, like a bishop, of the churches there.
You can read about the seven churches, in the first three chapters. I call it the boring part of the Apocalypse. The revelation is about our future, but the first section is about us today, or about them, in their day.
It’s easy to apply the messages to the ancient churches to any church, and I have clear memories of sermons in church warning us to be like those Christians in Philadelphia, and not to be like those terrible people in Laodicea. God was so offended with the Laodicean Christians that He promised to spew, or vomit them out of His mouth.
Imagine being a Christian and learning that God was grossly offended by your church, and He was going to forcefully reject the whole group. That was written at a time when Christian were severely persecuted, their leader John was in prison; and still one group of persecuted Christians was totally rejected by God.
The message is clear, if we identify ourselves with the seven churches. We have our successes and failures, but the final message to the Laodiceans shows that they were not getting the job done. Whatever they were supposed to do, in the end, their boss fired them, and that’s when the interesting action starts in the Apocalypse. The failure of a Christian congregation brings the end, and the cloth is peeled back.
I don’t think the failed Christians were condemned to hell or punished severely. They were rejected; “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (3: 15 and 16) They were also told how to make their relationship with God right again.
The message is clear, people who follow God have responsibilities “deeds” in this world, and God wants the job to get done. Our worst failures will trigger the end.
[the beginning] The revelation from 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 (1:1) … [the end] He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (22: 20 and 21)
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