Category Archives: Worship

Firm Foundations – Study 5 – Colossians 2:8-23

Religion, spirituality and the body of Christ

Topics covered:
Which religion is right?
Church rituals (making a good thing bad)
Spirituality
The cross of Christ
Glossary: baptism; circumcision; true religion.

Discussion Question

What draws you to church?

Context

Paul has praised God for the way that the gospel message has reached Colossae, and affected the believers to produce faith and love flowing from their hope in Christ. Paul reminded them of how universally and singularly important Jesus Christ is to all the earth and he encouraged them to keep going and growing up in their knowledge of the faith. Their foundation is Christ and they are to continue in him.

Read Colossians 2:8-23

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. 

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

What did you see?

Structure

  • Christ is your new reality – realer than real (8-15)
  • Don’t go chasing shadows (16-19)
  • Why submit to things that are powerless? (20-23)

Christ is your new reality – realer than real (8-15)

“…hollow and deceptive philosophy…” Verse 8 was included in the last lesson too but it flows out of the last lesson and into this one. Paul actually has one long argument that stretches the entire book. The hollow and deception mentioned in Verse 8 feeds into the language of shadows and the appearance of wisdom but lack value, of false humility and so on. Humans can be easily swayed toward a thought because it is packaged so convincingly. Christians are no exception. We need to be on our guard against what people are trying to sell us.

“…depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world…” Verse 8 is also included in this section because of the repeated phrase in Verse 20 about ‘elemental spiritual forces’. As mentioned last time, the word ‘spiritual’ is not actually in the Greek but is included in the NIV and many other translations because of a perceived understanding of the context. I wish that translators would not go that far for people! The phrase in Verses 8 and 20 appear to suggest that there is a basic worldview that drives people everywhere to lead them into false and empty traditions. They are man-centred or humanistic and lend themselves to the difference between good things and bad things. If they were spiritual forces, then why are they sourced from hollow and deceptive philosophy. We can read Verse 8 with a clear mind and understand that anything that is not driving us to Christ, is hollow and deceptive. Other parts of scripture would agree that satan is the prince of lies and the prince of this world and so you could read spirituality into this verse in Colossians. But I don’t see a need to.

“…in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…” This could mean either, Jesus Christ is God in every sense of the word, or that God possessed Jesus Christ. Jesus said that everything He has belongs to the Father (which is what any servant of God must be able to say) and that all that the Father has is His – that last statement is a statement of deity (John 17:10; 10:29; 16:15). Jesus is God. As one person put it, if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen God (John 1:18). John 1:1-18, in fact, gives us a clear doctrine of Christ’s divinity, his eternal existence, equality with God and dwelling in the fullness of God in the fullness of humanity.

Paul picks up two amazing truths which blended together is one of the greatest miracles of all time. Jesus Christ is completely God and Jesus Christ is completely human. He, God, appeared in bodily form. This is referred to as the incarnation (think carnivore – think flesh). Paul is not talking about God in some mystical, out of reach, spirituality experience, he is talking about a historical figure who presented and proved himself to be God in the flesh! So this is not about empty or hollow deception. When we look at Christianity, we need to poke the historic character of Jesus of Nazareth.

“…and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Now notice the repeated use of ‘fullness’. In Christ we see the fullness or completeness of God, and because of Christ you and I have been made full or complete. Notice that in the latter instance, we are passively made complete.

“He is the head over every power and authority.” Jesus is the boss. This is what we mean when we call him Lord. Recall Paul’s description of Christ in Colossians 1:15-20. There is nothing nor no-one above Christ. He is not subject to anybody. His title as God is not because of some election and it has no expiry date and nobody will ever dethrone him.

“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands.” Now Paul moves from the physical and real kingship of Jesus to express how we have been made complete in him apart from any other authority. I hope you know what circumcision means. What it represented in the bible – for Jews – was their response of obedience and submission to God as their King. Even though this is an obviously male ritual, it was a national sign of inclusion. Someone has said that as God had promised to bless the world through the seed of Abraham, he ensured that Abraham and his descendants would never forget that it is God’s promise and not their strength that brings the blessing – so he gave a very graphic and fleshly reminder that it is God’s promises that they believe in. But, because of where Paul is taking this, let’s remember that circumcision is about cutting flesh. It was a sign of something and Paul is about to reveal what the sign pointed to…

“Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ…” What Paul says here is very impressive! He is saying that the ritual of circumcision was not enough. What was needed was a complete removing of the flesh but this time, it is not a brutal and mortifying ritual done to us, but something that was done in Christ. He is described as the fulfillment of the circumcision sign. It pointed to Christ himself being torn apart in the flesh. Remember that Verse 9 emphasised Christ being God in bodily form. In Chapter 1 Verse 22, Paul spoke of Christ’s physical body needed to reconcile us. And in Verse 24, he spoke about Christ’s afflictions in the flesh for the sake of the body which is the church. We need to see the picture that Paul is painting to see that, while circumcision has been a small sign, it has been fulfilled completely by Christ on the cross. And now we ourselves are ‘put off’ when circumcised by Christ. It is a spiritual circumcision that we do not do, but Christ has done on our behalf but now we live as those who belong, not to this earthly world but to Christ.

“…having been buried with him in baptism…” The word baptism is not an english word, it is Greek. One of the complications with the word, baptism, in the bible is that it has come to mean ‘water ritual’ in English. So, we need to stop and ask the bible text, what do you mean when you say baptism because it obviously does not always refer to a water ritual. You can see in this verse that it is about burial. The word, baptism, has the notion of being drowned or overwhelmed or dying. This makes sense when we think of the water ritual as a symbol of saying goodbye to who you once were and embracing a new community in Christ. So, Paul is talking about our becoming fulfilled in Christ and entirely his (Verse 10). What was done to Christ, by faith, is done to us. The burial and the resurrection are both ours when we are in Christ.

“…in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Keep in mind the subject of this statement: buried in baptism. Just as Christ physically died and was raised to life again, we who are in Christ have submitted ourselves to Him in faith and so are bonded to Him in salvation. It’s like being on an aeroplane bound for London. You get on the plane and you will land wherever the plane takes you (which is London). Christ is the plane. He died, paid for sins and was raised to life again. We don’t go through that process either literally or symbolically through rituals, but we are in Christ as if we are his body. The important word in this text is the word faith. We put our trust in Christ.

“…the uncircumcision of your flesh…” Paul is writing to a non-Jewish audience who were not raised to be circumcised. But he is not writing to tell them to be circumcised. Quite the opposite. While others may come to them and persuade them with hollow and deceptive words to be circumcised, Paul is saying, you are already circumcised through Christ.

“…God made you alive with Christ.” Once you were dead but now you are alive. Dead because we were in sin and guilty (Ephesians 2:1-5). I did not make me alive – it was God. I was not made alive through my own efforts or activities aimed toward life – it is only with Christ that I am saved. 

“He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Write down verses 13 and 14 and memorise it! It is clear. It is not ambiguous. It doesn’t speak of the cross as an example that Christ gives us for life but as a means by which God is able to bring guilty people to salvation. Our sins are not swept under the carpet but were nailed to the cross. As the songwriter puts it, “it was my sin that held him there” (How Deep the Father’s Love). God forgave us. God canceled our debt. He took it and He nailed it to the cross where His Christ in full deity took care of it for us.

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” How has Christ disarmed the powers and authorities? Isn’t it that when they tried to slay him, he got back up again? The worst they could do to him was only to play into his plans all along! The cross was meant to be a public spectacle of Jesus but Christ turns that around and proclaims that moment to be the victory over death and sin!

Paul has showed us that Christ is the new reality for us. Without Him we are still dead in our sin, and under the power of the basic rules of this world. But we put our faith in Christ who is bigger than everything and is the fulfillment of everything and who makes us holy, blameless, complete, clean, debt-free and alive! The world did it’s worst to Jesus on the cross and the cross of Christ gives his believers the best of everything! Christ is our new reality!

Don’t go chasing shadows (16-19)

“…do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink…” All scripture must be read in context. This verse pulled out of context would feel like we just don’t care what people think about us. This is not correct and is more like the words of a rebellious and carefree child. But Paul is concerned that his readers will make decisions of religion based on what people will read into those choices. We will care what people think because we don’t want people to feel we need to eat certain things or drink certain things in order to be right with God. We are already right with God!

“…religious festival…New Moon celebration…Sabbath day.” Paul gives examples of things that people put a lot of weight and importance in. Special days are ok to be special but Paul warns his readers against being forced to observe certain days out of fear that God will not love them.

“…a shadow of the things that are to come…” If something is a shadow, then it is not the real thing. We want the real thing.

“…the reality…is found in Christ.” Notice how everything in Paul’s letter begins, continues and even ends in Christ! Are we looking forward to the great Sabbath rest to come (heaven)? Don’t you know that it is all about Christ!!? We must not see Christ as a means to an end but that he is the end. We were made in him and through him and for him! We find our fulfillment in Christ!

“…false humility and the worship of angels…” Paul give further examples of hollow and empty philosophy. But this time, it appears spiritual. Some may present themselves as uber religious and spiritual. But don’t be mislead by them either!

“Such a person…about what they have seen…puffed up…” Gurus and people who claim to have a greater insight to spirituality are really just puffed up and deceived themselves. The way to eternal life is clear, it is through faith in Christ! Anyone who says otherwise is puffed up and unspiritual – even if they implore you that they are super-spiritual!

“…they have lost connection with the head…” The whole of verse 19 is a condemnation to anyone who claims to know stuff but speak about more than their knowledge of Christ crucified. Paul reminds us that we need to keep watch over things like this because following them can lead us to disconnection from Christ and therefore disqualification from eternal life. The message of Colossians is clear – follow Christ. Just notice the continued metaphor of the flesh and body that the church is made up of. We are not individuals but one church held together as we follow the head who is Christ.

Why submit to things that are powerless? (20-23)

I cannot see how to shed clarity on the words of Paul in these verses which are such a clear summary of the whole. Why pursue and persevere in things that just do not save us? Christ saves. It is by grace we are saved.

“Since you died with Christ…” This phrase just needs highlighting. It’s the same idea as being buried in baptism. We say goodbye to our old selves and, just as we received Christ Jesus as Lord, we continue to live our lives in him, rooted and built up in him. The Christian faith demands that we follow Christ with all of our heart. Read Luke 9 and ask yourself if Jesus is happy with a half-hearted follower?

“…have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” This is a powerful condemnation against religion as rules and rituals. They may appear to be wise and helpful but they do nothing to stop us from sinning! But life in Christ, while still a battle to grow in holiness, is about pursuing our new life in him, putting to death the deeds of the flesh and following the one who nailed our sins to the cross. That is already effective and completely fulfilling our destiny for us!

What did we learn?

Church life can be filled with rules, regulations, rituals and things that appear good for the soul, or church can be filled with mystical sayings, worship of angels and poems that inspire to grow, or it can be dedicated to growing in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ – celebrating his victory on our behalf at the cross and surrendering our lives to knowing him and growing in him. We don’t want hollow lessons on empty things – we want a real assembly of people surrendered to Jesus because he is our life, our hope and our fulfillment.

Now what?

Topic A: Religious rites such as baptism, holy communion, and correct conduct at church. What has the book of Colossians taught you about these things?

Topic B: Spiritual experiences such as speaking in tongues, summoning the Spirit through music, healings and speaking with angels. What has the book of Colossians taught you about these things?

Topic C: Dying with Christ. What does that mean?

Firm Foundations – Study 3 – Colossians 1:15-23

Jesus Christ is LORD and Saviour

Topics covered:
Our hope is found in Christ alone
The Trinity
What is the church?
Glossary: reconciliation; church.

Discussion Question

What are some things that you absolutely could not do without?

Context

The Christians in Colossae received a letter from Paul which begins by reminding them of how they received the true message of the gospel and how their reputation of faith in Christ and love for one another was generated by that gospel. Paul’s prayer is for God’s will to be fulfilled in their lives now. That is, for continuing to grow in their knowledge of God and to live out good godly lives because they have been saved from darkness and into the kingdom of God. They have been saved, not by their own good works, but because of the Son of God. They have God the Father to thank for his blessing on them, they have the Spirit of God to thank as they learn from Him through the scriptures, and they have the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to thank for his great sacrifice for them. Jesus Christ is the subject of Paul’s letter in this lesson.

Read Colossians 1:15-23

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

What did you see?

Structure

  • The Son is first in the world (15-17)
  • The Son is boss of the church (18-20)
  • The Son is the object of our faith (21-23)

The Son is first in the world (15-17)

“The Son…” Colossians 1:3 helps us to link ‘the Son’ as Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father. The bible teaches us that God is one but that the Father, the Son and the Spirit are all God and that all three are unique. Our God is three-in-one. Tri-unity – Trinity. That word does not appear in the bible but the truth behind that word is clearly taught in the scriptures.

Here is a PDF lesson on why we worship God as three in one. This could be handed out or used for a leader’s own learning.

“…is the image of the invisible God…” When we say that God is invisible, there’s no surprise there. We don’t see him but we see what he has created and we come to believe that the bible is his word. The concept of Jesus being the image of God is a statement like, ‘if you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen God.’ Mankind was described as created in the image of God  (Genesis 1:25) which to men and women being something of a mirror reflecting the glory of God. We fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and have Paul presents Jesus as the perfect image of the invisible God. John 1:18 says, ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’ This is the same sentiment that Paul is describing.

“…the firstborn over all creation.” This phrase is not to be confused with any concept that the Son of God had a time when he was not. It does not mean that the Father gave birth to the Son. The Father and Son titles describe their relationship but not their origin. So too, ‘firstborn’ describes the position that the Son holds throughout eternity. There is no other Son other than this firstborn Son over all of creation. Before anything else was, the Son was there. Let’s refer again to John Chapter 1, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. […] The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ (John 1:1-2, 14) Jesus is the heir of everything – not from the mercy of God but because he is God.

“For…” because. What follows in Verse 16 is an expansion and something of an explanation of Verse 15.

“…in him all things were created…” Everything and absolutely everything that is has come because of Jesus. Look out your window right now and you will not be able to find anything that is here apart from Jesus causing it to be. That brick house – thank Jesus. That sky – thank Jesus. That grass and those insects – thank Jesus. Paul makes sure we know that all things is all inclusive by his list: things in heaven and things on earth – things that you can see and things that you can’t even see – think of the most powerful thing or being or object in the universe and it is not more powerful that Jesus because he put it there! He is the first! Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Paul is saying that the Son is the Almighty God.

“…all things have been created through him and for him.” Not only is he the creator but he is also the reason that everything exists. It is all for him. That means that you and I have been created through him and for him. We exist for Jesus Christ! Whether you are a Christian or not, this is the reality. Sin is a three letter word for: I don’t care that this is all about Jesus ‘cause I choose to make it all about me! But Jesus is the boss of everything and everyone.

“He is before all things…” This speaks of Jesus’ eternal nature. He always has been and nothing in this universe is older than him. This is significant because we must not speak of ‘mother nature’ or ‘the universe speaking’ and phrases like that which push God out of the equation. Before anything was, Jesus was. He hinted at this himself in John 8:58, “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” This is saying more than that he is older than Abraham but he is picking up a phrase that Yahweh (the LORD) said to Moses in Exodus 3:14 – that HE IS! It’s a reference to his eternal attribute.

“…and in him all things hold together.” Paul takes this whole God-ness of Jesus to the next level! Not only is everything here because he put it here and because it is made for him – but it is all held together through Jesus too! The reason that we are here right now, still breathing, still standing, still reading words on a page/monitor – is because Jesus wills it! Our existence is due to him from beginning to end. And the fabric of the universe is in his hands. So, when we sing that childish song: he’s got the whole world in his hands – it is a figure of speech but it is not untrue!

As we close this section – thank God that you exist. Thank God that it is by his will that we exist and have our being. Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

The Son is boss of the church (18-20)

“And he is the head of the body, the church…” Obviously the ‘he’ is referring to the Son of the Father who is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:3). Having established his authority over all of humanity for all of time, now Paul focuses on the importance of Jesus to the Christian church. The word ‘church’ means gathering or  assembly rather than a club, organisation or society. So, it refers to people who gather for a common reason. They are people who Jesus has assembled through faith in him. This gathering is described as a body which has Christ as the head! Without Christ, there is not church. The church is not a building – that is just a building. It is not a denomination either, although under God a good denomination will manage the people of God and their affairs faithfully. Christians believe and become members of one universal and spiritual church when they turn their lives to Christ. But the local church that you attend is a manifestation of the universal church. When people gather together in the name of Christ, they are gathering with Christ as the head and they are the body (Matthew 18:20). The head of the church is not a Pope or a Bishop or a Minister or a Pastor – the only head of the church is Christ. Paul described himself and Epaphras as servants of Christ. They will oversee and protect and teach a church but they are fellow servants like you and I but fulfilling their particular role as God has gifted them. It has been said that we don’t go to church – we are the church. And Christ is the chief.

“…he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead…” To clarify the meaning of ‘head’, Paul expands firstly that Christ is the starting point among the dead. The Christian faith is all about the resurrection – both Christ’s resurrection and the promise of our resurrection because of his. Being described as the beginning brings in the notion of being foundational. His resurrection comes first and stands before all resurrections that will follow because of his. So, the use of ‘firstborn’ here does not refer to his origin but to being the established one of the church.

“…so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” Paul uses words like ‘firstborn’, ‘beginning’, ‘head’, and ‘supremacy’ to describe the position and rank of Jesus in the world. He must not be our afterthought in life nor in religion.

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…” This refers to God the Father and reminds us of his opening statement that ‘the Son is the image of the invisible God’ so that everything between Verses 15 and 19 have been describing the supremacy of Jesus over the universe and over eternal life. God the Father delights to have all of his character represented and present in the Lord Jesus.

“…and through him to reconcile to himself all things…” Paul is transitioning his comments from the WHO of Jesus to the WHAT of Christianity. All of humanity is at odds with God because of our innate refusal to serve him. Jesus Christ is the means of us being reconciled in relationship back to God. The Father is reconciled with us because the Father is pleased to make Jesus the mediator. Christ doesn’t force God to love us. God is pleased to make reconciliation happen by the means of the cross of Christ. When he says ‘all things’, he does not mean that everybody is reconciled, but that everything is put in the right place because of Christ. True order is set as all will see Jesus as Lord one day, willingly or unwillingly. But there is nothing or no-one outside the scope of God’s reconciliation. You are either made right or you remain un-right. Either way, it is through Christ that all things are reconciled. Think of a financial statement where everything is accounted for. Everything is reconciled and nothing is left overlooked. Whether for Christ or against him, this is how everything is reconciled.

“…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” This is the moment in all of history where things are set in order by God. No other event has the same level of impact as the crucifixion. Coming close are the moments of Creation and the moments when God promises to set things right. But the crucifixion is the watershed moment in all of history for everybody. By this one act, he has made peace. Colossians 2:13-15 describe this moment as the separation between death and life for everybody.

We bring this section to an end by admiring how supreme Christ is over all and are left with the question: ‘Is He Lord in my heart?’ Paul moves us to ponder this further in the next section – the resurrection and salvation will be real and established in you if you prove it by your perseverance. In other words, if you believe this, then you will hold tight to it!

The Son is the object of our faith (21-23)

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.” What a neat description of someone who is not a Christian. It is not about being a ‘bad’ or ‘wicked’ human being. It is about being alienated from God and about being on the opposing side to him in your mind. The most gentle and sweet human can still live life apart from God as their Lord. If they salute themselves, or Mother earth, or science, or family, and continue their lives apart from God, then they are not allied with him. Take up the two imageries here: 1) alienated – like you are not from the same planet or country as God and 2) enemies – you are not allied with Him and therefore you are on the wrong side. Paul lastly blames it on evil behaviour. True, there are evil behaviours like greed, sexual immorality, drunkardness, selfishness, anger, jealousy and so on which we can all shake our heads at as ungodly. But the very act of Adam and Eve eating fruit from a tree that God told them not to is regarded as evil because at the heart of their action is their disobedience to God. Romans 3:10-18 draws quotes from the Old Testament to conclude that everybody sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20). We are all guilty of excluding God from our lives, denying Jesus as head over us, and living self-centred lives while only pretending to be sacrificial in love and relationships.

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight…” How does God perform a magic trick where he views wicked enemies as his pure and holy friends? The cross of Christ is the answer. What Jesus did for us on the cross was to take the penalty of sin for us. His clean record is given to us while the punishment we deserve is dished out on the Son of God. And it happened at a real time and place in human history – on the cross at calvary. Christ did not wave a magic wand and make us pure. He took on the pain and physical misery to save us.

“…without blemish and free from accusation…” Paul expands on his description of ‘holy in his sight’. When we invite someone over for lunch, we may overlook some dirt on their trousers or some slightly crued manners so that we can enjoy the meal together. We look past things. But God does not look past sin. Rather, he changes our state. When he sees us, we are without blemish and with no residue of guilt. He does not ignore our sin. He transfers it from us and onto the Son he loves.

“…if you continue in your faith…” It seems like this might be the catch in the Christian faith. We have talked about grace and salvation by the works of Christ but now we see the IF statement. But this is perfectly right and to be expected! We are asked to do one thing – to believe with faith – to trust. This is an action word. We don’t simply hear the gospel and make a note of it in our diary and then forget it. Jesus becomes the object of our hope for the future. The proof of our conversion is that we continue in our faith. This is called perseverance. Paul will talk about this more in chapter 2.

“…established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” Being a Christian is like building a house that will stand forever. It begins with a good, firm, established foundation. This foundation is Christ crucified. Christ the head over everything. Christ the firstborn from the dead. Christ the substitute for my sins. My hope for the future begins with Christ. It is a strong conviction that is needed if we are going to continue on in the faith. If it is shallow or unresearched, then it will falter and fail when the storms of life hit it. Jesus told a parable of four soils that each heard the word of God but only one of the soils grew real fruit. Mark 4:1-20. 

“This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven…” This does not mean that every ear on earth has heard this gospel but that there is no other gospel for this earth. When we talk about Firm Foundations of the Christian Faith, we are talking about the same gospel that has been laid down by Jesus Christ through the Apostles. There is only one way to be reconciled to God and it is through Christ. Being established and sure of our faith is the most important thing to do in life. It all comes down to knowing God in truth and trusting your future into Christ’s hands – always.

“…and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” Paul was not born into a Christian family. When he was a young man, he was fiercely and violently opposed to the Christian faith. But when he encountered Jesus and was given a second chance to consider who Jesus is and what the gospel is, then he gave his life to Jesus Christ and the gospel. He describes himself as a servant of the gospel. Every part of his life is now in service to spreading the gospel. Paul was convicted of this truth and his prayer to the Colossians is that they would be established and firmly rooted in the gospel of Christ.

What did we learn?

When it comes down to who the most important person in the world ever was, the answer was and is and will always be Jesus Christ. He deserves our reverence because every single thing ever made was made because of him. And he deserves are dedication because only through him can we be made right with God. There is no human institution or club that you can follow to be right with God. But being sure of who Jesus is and deciding, forever, to follow him – to serve him – is the only right way to be blameless before God.

Now what?

Topic A: Do you honour Jesus as king over everybody, whether they like it or not? Verses 15-17 establishes the truth that Jesus is Lord over everybody. When we see people walking down the street, we must remember that their boss is Jesus. But everybody begins as aliens and enemies of God until they see Christ for who he is and put their trust in him for salvation. Christianity is for everybody.

Topic B: Jesus is the head of the church. Preachers and teachers and ministers and pastors are all significant roles that God uses in the church (see Ephesians 4:11-13) but none of them are Jesus. They must give an account one day for their life and they must trust in the physical death of Jesus Christ on the cross for their salvation. Be sure that your involvement in church is as a fellow member serving Jesus Christ as the head. Our trust and hope is in him alone. We will discuss the concept and importance of church again in lesson 5. But right now and always, our faith and hope is in Jesus Christ.

Topic C: Our firm foundations. Verse 23 gave us the challenge to be established and firm and unmoving from our hope in the true gospel of grace through Jesus Christ. It’s a description of a tree that must be planted well for the long haul. We cannot meet this challenge unless we understand what a Christian is, who Jesus is, and how to grasp the gospel for ourselves. Ideally, a church will provide great resources for growing its members up in the faith. Things such as daily bible reading assistance, regular church services that preach the word of God and small groups that meet for Christian encouragement and training in bible reading. When a tree is left without water, without good soil, and perhaps even removed and dumped on the roadside, it will not stand. But firmly planted and established, the Christian can grow and mature in the right direction – the way that God meant for you to be.

Revelation 1

A vision from God to the churches

Discussion Question

What would you rather: to know all the details of a holiday before you go on it (the events of every day right down to all the problems that will occur) or to have a guide that promises you will be fine and to just go on the journey?

Background (Context)

We are at the very end of the bible and in a book that gets way too much attention for the wrong reasons. Being the last book of the bible, we must consider all that has gone before it! Creation, the Fall, the promise of salvation, the suffering servant-king, the gospels, the spread of the church with the message of resurrection, forgiveness of sins and persecution. The Bible, as a singular book, ends with a vision of all that is and will be. Whenever it is treated as an isolated book it is mistreated by the reader.

The scope of these notes will not be exhaustive on the book of Revelation. As we have always done, we will take each chapter at a time, each section at a time and uncover what the author wants us to see and hear and how to respond. There is no end to the amount of commentaries written on parts of the bible but there is no substitute to the bible itself for gaining understanding and good context.

A note on apocalyptic writing. Readers can get stuck in this book whenever symbols and ideas emerge that spark our imagination. While the genre of Revelation is different, it still uses the same constructs of language. Words build up sentences which build up a message which, in context, can be understood when we look for the clues. We will see in chapter one that questions are raised in the text and then resolved – in the text! We may not always know what exactly is meant but we will avoid jumping to whimsical conclusions.

So, Jesus has come to this earth and laid down his life. John 3:16 is not a prophecy but history. In this book we will remember that there is no greater truth than that Jesus is King and He’s going to take care of everything.

Read Revelation 1

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The revelation (1-3)
  • Grace and peace from the Triune God (4-8)
  • Write what you have seen (9-19)
    • The writer to the churches (9-11)
    • What he saw (12-16)
    • How to respond to Revelation (17-20)

Part a (1-3)

The revelation (1-3)

“The revelation from Jesus Christ…” The bible does not waste words. These three verses and the rest of this chapter give us great insights to uncover the whole of this book. We start by reading that this book is about a revelation from Jesus Christ. A revelation is simply the uncovering of something previously unknown. Jesus is revealing something to John, the writer, and to us. The whole bible is a revelation – knowledge of God that would otherwise be unknown to us.

“…which God gave him…” So the revelation is from Jesus but it was given to Jesus from God. The doctrine of the Trinity does not simply state God is One but that God is One and Three. Throughout the book of Revelation we will be amazed at the revelation of the Trinity in action! Jesus is a servant of the Father.

“…to show his servants what must soon take place.” It is a little bit exciting to know that we read this book knowing that certain elements of it are still yet to be fulfilled. We are reading the finished bible with still hope for what God has promised. We will see, I hope, that the book is not forecast for a sequence of events that will devastate us all but that the events to take place all involve the consummation of the work on the cross. This is a book filled with hope for those who love Jesus and fair warning for those who do not. 

“He made it known…” John, an angel, Jesus Christ and God are all involved in the writing of this book. John’s hand is used to give exactly what he heard from the angel/messenger sent by Christ to convey the word of God. Although there are many hands in this kitchen, the authority of God is not bent. Again, the whole bible follows this kind of pattern.

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and who hear it and take to heart what is written in it…” We hold in our hands a message from God that is promised to be a blessing to those who take it to heart. We may very well pray for our church right now that we will take these words to heart and do more than treat it like a toy or puzzle to solve but to love God more dearly as we hear him speak to us.

“…because the time is near.” Jesus claimed not to know the hour when he would return but told his disciples to be ready. They died before his return. Many have died before Jesus’ return. The time is still near. We must not get trapped in the popular thought that the days are getting closer now. Everyday is one day closer of course. But the day has been near even in 90AD.

So, The Revelation is new and it is more of the bible. God has spoken, Jesus has served as the Word of God and with the help of messengers and writers, the things that God wishes to reveal to us have been made known.

Grace and Peace from the Triune God (4-8)

“John…” This is John the disciple whom Jesus loved. Perhaps not that Jesus had a special relationship with John but that John, the author of the 4th gospel, loved that Jesus loves him, and chose to refer to himself by that identity rather than just his name. Tradition tells us that John was the last disciple to die and died of old age, although suffered as much as the other apostles. He wrote three epistles and is known to have been ‘imprisoned’ on Patmos for his faith.

“To the seven churches…” The churches are listed in Verse 11 and are the focus of Chapters 2 and 3. The whole letter of Revelation is addressed to these churches. 

“Grace and peace to you from…and from…and from…” Like many of the letters in the New Testament, grace and peace set the tone of the greeting. This means that there is no war between the writer and the recipient. Even when Paul writes stern words to a church and when John here writes rebuking words to the seven churches, it is in the context of grace and peace. You see, we are not at war with one another. The gospel sets us free from that. There are no higher and lower orders of people but we are all servants of Christ and indebted to him for the grace received. We are at peace now with God and must be at peace with one another. The status we share is grace and peace – the reality must be matched as far as we are able.

“…from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…” This can be applied to Jesus specifically and will be done later on, but because Jesus is mentioned a few clauses later, this must refer to God – Father and Trinity. The eternal one. Probably no simpler identifier of God is that he just is. He is independent in every sense of the word. See Exodus 3:14-15.

“…from the seven spirits before his throne…” What is this? With the mention of the eternal One before and the Christ after, it is tempting to see this as somehow the Holy Spirit. And  perhaps it is. The term, “seven spirits” appears in 3:1 held along with the seven stars (which are the angels of the seven churches according to 1:20); in 4:5 described as seven lamps; and in 5:6 described as seven horns and seven eyes which are sent out into all the earth. You would know that seven is a perfect number in Revelation but what do we make of all this information? We may not be able to conclude that this refers somehow to the Holy Spirit but there is a will of God behind every metaphore provided in this list. Grace and peace are sent from the seven spirits and they seem tightly bound to both God and to the church. I won’t speculate any further.

“…from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who does everything that the Father desires, the resurrection and the Lord of Lords. This is Jesus. Let’s not overlook this person. He is God’s promise. He is God’s faithful one able to represent God and man. He conquered death in a way that promises the same resurrection to us and he is the boss. Jesus is number one. In Bible study, this is not something to treat as theory but we follow Him, we praise Him and we thank Him. While He is the messenger and faithful witness here in Chapter one, He will continue to take centre stage in the story of salvation and the end of all things as we know it.

Write what you have seen (9-19)

The writer to the churches (9-11)

“… on the Lord’s day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” There is not much normal about this although it sounds normal coming from John’s mouth! The Lord’s day? Is this Sunday? Is it, like many will content, the Sabbath? In the Spirit? Was he in prayer? He pre-empty the rest of the story with the classification that he was not just sitting in a cave but he was engaged with God somehow – not with reality but with God.

“…write what you see and send it…” The vision is not intended for John to keep to himself. This vision and Revelation is not for John’s personal spiritual benefit alone. John is a messenger and scribe for the benefit of the church who are firstly the seven churches (that number seven again – why these seven and why only seven except that it represents the whole of the worldwide church) and then us.

What he saw (12-16)

“…I saw seven golden lamp stands…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” There are two many elements to list and go through. We will hear these elements reappear. It is easy to see, however, the imagery of purity and power at the same time. There is strength but life giving – not entirely terrible. Jesus is of course standing in the middle of the churches. What John saw was a kaleidoscope of imagery mashed together to tell a story of one who upholds and speaks, he is nothing like a human and yet is one like a son of man. This is Jesus.

How to respond to Revelation (17-20)

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” One might expect John to respond in reverence and awe but he is stunned into submission – like one who is dead!

“Do not be afraid.” This is the juxtaposition of Revelation: at the same time terrifying and peaceful. When you are on the side of Jesus, you are on the side of the one who stands with his face as brilliant as the sun!

“I was dead…I am alive for ever and ever.. I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The whole New Testament teaches this. Jesus is the centre of our faith because he died and is NOW alive and wil never die BUT he holds the key to the eternal death of others. There is not rival to Jesus’ power and authority. Our God does not fight with other gods for who owns hell etc. Jesus is the king of everything. The book will talk more of death and Hades later. Who wouldn’t want to know the One who has the key to death in their hands?

“Write, therefore…” Again, this vision is not for John’s binge watching alone but news to be written down. What we find in this book, however, is not a brand new ending but the ending that the gospels and Epistles point to also.

“The mystery of the seven starts that you saw…” Here we have some clues provided. Not everything in Revelation is like this. We need to listen to the imagery, sometimes referenced elsewhere in the book, sometimes it is an Old Testament reference we need to relearn. It is helpful to know the overall story of the bible when reading this book and it is helpful to have a bible word-search tool.

“…angels of the seven churches…” It is not for us to conclude that every church gets its angel. An angel is a messenger and the whole book is metaphor, simile and apocryphal/pictorial language. The churches do not stand in isolation but are provided for by God by messengers. Jesus is at the center and He holds all the ingredients in his hands: the church which is purchased by his blood (to come later in the book), the messengers of the church who presumably bring the gospel, and the keys to death and hades. Jesus is not a spectator but the power behind what is, what was and what will be.

We respond to Revelation by avoiding mystery and fear and running to Jesus in awe and wonder. The imagery is out of this world but that is also the future that we are called to. Keep in mind that everything is picture language that point to real truths. 

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Christianity will not die out with the last remaining Apostle. God has got more to say to the church of Christ to confirm that Jesus is still alive, he is the king and he holds everything in his hands. We are not to be afraid when there is someone eternal and all powerful who has already provided victory over death and Hades. We must be ready to listen properly to this book so that we can be blessed by it.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Reflect on the person of Jesus. Take a breath and reflect on how central Jesus Christ is to all eternity. Take your eyes off your worries about tomorrow and consider that Jesus holds tomorrow in his hands. Ask yourself, is there anybody else in all the world and time and space worth knowing more than Jesus Christ? Respond to these reflections with praise and prayer.

Topic B: What questions do you have of God? As we get ready to read the rest of the book, what do you want to know from God about the future? If he were to list you a chain of events to be prepared for or give you confidence in a Person who has already defeated eternity, which would be better information to hold? Will it disappoint you to not have every question you have answered but be assured that God has already won? The image of Jesus in Verses 12-18 is of a divine man who has already won. He is to be feared but touches us gently and says, do not be afraid.

Topic C: Because the time is near. This is scary and comforting. Jesus warned his disciples while in Judea that they need to be ready. He told parables about bridesmaids and invitations to feats. He warned us that if we get distracted by this world and forget the kingdom of God then the kingdom of God may forget us. And so, Revelation instructs us to hear this word and to take it to heart. Pray that we will do just that.