Morning Stars

“To all who are victorious, who obey Me to the very end, to them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from My Father, and I will also give them the morning star! “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:26-29‬ ‭NLT

These are difficult verses to get our minds around. We understand the need to be victorious, to be able to come to the end of our journeys through life, intact but triumphant, perhaps a bit bruised and battered, but able to stand before Jesus, saying, like the Apostle Paul, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Tim 4:6-7). An obedient and faithful end to our lives ticks the “victorious” box. 

But Jesus then goes on to say we victors will have authority over all the nations. But wait a minute! We’ve just crossed the Great Divide into our new life in Heaven and Jesus gives us a new assignment. We’re told we will have authority over all the nations. What about the rest we read about in Hebrews 4, “So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labours, just as God did after creating the world.” What about the wonderful fictional stories of getting to Heaven where we will be kitted out with a pair of wings and given a harp to play while sitting on a cloud? 

But Jesus goes on to say that the “victorious” will be ruling the nations with an iron rod. Someone who rules with an iron rod brings to mind a person who is maintaining strong discipline, if necessary using physical force and punishment. Nothing wishy-washy here. No democratic shenanigans. And we read that the iron rod approach will smash the nations like clay pots. Why is Jesus proposing such a hard line? We must bear in mind two events portrayed in the Bible. In Psalm 2 we read that there will come a time when the nations of the world will conspire to destroy the Kingdom of God. Verse 2 reads, “The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against His Anointed One“. Such arrogance! And in verse 9 we read again, “You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots“. There will come a time when God’s righteous judgement will prevail, and from today’s verses in Revelation, it looks as though we will have a role to play. You see, as Christian we have picked the winning side. There will one day be a pay back time for rebellious and sinful nations and generations, and Jesus has delegated to us His authority over them. However, how that will all pan out in practice is still hidden from us.

The second event prophesised in the Bible concerns Jesus Himself. We are told unequivocally in several places in Scripture that one day Jesus will come again. In some ways we are living between two major events – Jesus’ first coming as a baby, born to a young peasant girl in Bethlehem, and His second coming, with power and glory. Matthew 24:30, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory“. 

So what do we make of this revelation that we will be ruling the nations? These verses today give us a tiny glimpse of what may be coming. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. That’s good enough for me. And as we stay close to our wonderful Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus, we are assured of our future. His love and grace will cover us like a cloak, and one day we will be in His presence. 

As well as His authority, Jesus promised to give the Thyatiraeans “the morning star“. In astronomical terms, the morning star is the planet Venus, reflecting the light of the sun, giving a hint of the coming day. So those who will be ruling and reigning with Jesus will perhaps reflect the glory of God in the life to come. And in our time here and now in 21st Century planet earth we have the opportunity to show the glory of God to the people in our families and our communities. In our schools and workplaces. In the supermarkets and gyms. How do other people see us? As a God-reflection or as a misery? As a morning star or a black hole? Hmmm…

Dear Lord, we thank You for Your revelation of our future in Your presence. And we thank You that You have entrusted to us Your mission to the communities and families around us. Please helps us to be as effective in this life as we will be in the life to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Keys

“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.”
Revelation‬ ‭1:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If we ourselves suddenly came face to face with Jesus, in the way John did, would we too fall at His feet as though dead? You see, with the limitations of our human minds and imaginations we would be totally unable to grasp and discern an other-worldly vision of the Son of God. John lived with Jesus for a few years and that was enough for him to know who the Person amongst the lampstands was. But we have never known a physical Jesus, as He was all those years ago in His mission to His people, the Jews. I think in reality, we would know Him, because we know Him through our prayers and encounters in times of worship. We would know Him through the love He has for us. So I’m sure I would fall at His feet. What else could I do, coming into such an encounter with my God? There would be that moment of total vulnerability. Perhaps a feeling within me that everything was suddenly exposed under His gaze. And fear would be a dominant emotion within me somewhere I’m sure.

John was prostrated before Jesus, as though dead. But the first words Jesus said to him were “Don’t be afraid”. There’s something about an encounter with God that induces fear. Remember the occasion when Jesus was walking on water? The disciples in the boat were not shrinking violets, scared of their own shadows. They were mainly fishermen, afraid of little in their lives, but when they saw Jesus the first thing He said to them was “Don’t be afraid”. There were other times recorded in the Gospels, when Jesus had to tell those around Him to not be afraid. And it wasn’t just Jesus’ presence that could make people afraid. The Roman soldiers sent to guard the tomb became as dead men, when the angel turned up, rolled away the stone and then sat on it.  Human beings are reasonably secure and unafraid in their own time-space world, but when something unexplained happens, a natural emotional reaction is to feel afraid. So John would have connected with Jesus telling him not to be afraid – he would have remembered the times when Jesus had said that before – and he would have been reassured.

We also read in the verse that Jesus laid His right hand on John. Oh, what a great place to be, to feel the physical touch of our Saviour. The hand that was so compassionate, even to the point of touching someone with the dreaded disease, leprosy. How John would have been enthralled by that touch. It was also interesting that John recorded that Jesus touched him with his right hand. There are several Scriptures that record the significance of God’s right hand. For example, we read in Psalm 44:3, “They did not conquer the land with their swords; it was not their own strong arm that gave them victory. It was your right hand and strong arm and the blinding light from your face that helped them, for you loved them“. In the Bible, when we see a reference to God’s right hand, we immediately know that the Scripture is telling us how great and strong God is. 

After telling John not to be afraid, Jesus then went on to assure him of His status. He said that He had been around for ever, and that he was alive, even though He had once died, and would be with us, alive for all eternity. Jesus finally told John, in this verse, that He held the keys of death and the grave (other translations say Hades). In other words, Jesus was saying He had the power to control when death would happen, and when it could be reversed. Jesus had the power over His own life and death, as we read His words in John 10:17-18, “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded“. And He also has the power to release us from death as well. We saw Him doing just that when He called Lazarus out of the tomb (John 11:43). 

There’s a lot in these verses today. And we can only marvel about this wonderful God we serve. The God who created the universe and all in it, but also cares intimately about you and me. 

Dear Lord Jesus. Thank You for this glimpse in Your word, of the meeting that John had with You all those years ago. We thank You that You are alive and waiting to set us free from death when the time comes. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

The Son of Man (2)

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across His chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.”
Revelation‬ ‭1:13-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

John describes the Person in his vision as “someone like the Son of Man”. Of course, John knew Jesus personally. He walked around Palestine with Jesus for over three years, living with Him, eating with Him, observing the miracles, hearing the teaching. He was part of the disciples’ inner circle, along with Peter and James. He would definitely recognise Jesus again. So perhaps this encounter in his vision provided enough clues for John to recognise Jesus, and he described Him with the label Jesus Himself used, the “Son of Man“.

But it wasn’t Jesus’ earthly qualities, the clothes He wore, or the way He carried Himself, that grabbed John’s attention. In fact, I think he encountered a problem. The vision was real and dramatic, of that there are no doubts. But John’s ability to translate what he saw into language his readers could understand was difficult. If only he had a smartphone or camera! Ready and waiting to take a picture. But John didn’t do bad with his description of the risen Jesus. His eyes took in a vision of a Person central in a place containing lampstands, the seven churches to which He would later address some instructions. I won’t repeat what John wrote in his vision – the verses above are clear and graphic, but I believe it was a vision displaying both physical and spiritual qualities, somehow bound together in a visible way. Jesus came to this earth as a human being, and that was how He returned to Heaven. But He was also the Son of God, with all the divine qualities that that would include. John perhaps saw Jesus as He was, and is, in Heaven. 

As pilgrims, have we had a vision of the risen Jesus? How do we mentally picture Him? John would have had no doubts – the vision he received “on the Lord’s Day” all those years ago would have remained with him for the rest of his life, short though it was. But I’m challenged today about what picture I hold in my mind of Jesus. Is it flavoured by an actor’s portrayal of Jesus in one of the films that have been made about Him? Or is it something else, perhaps equally dramatic and real, put there by my years of relationship with Him? I suppose my “vision” of Jesus is very much that He is a very real and significant “presence” in my life. I’m conscious of His love. I’m aware that He is always with me. I know He listens to my prayers and provides answers when required. But the vision I have of Jesus is not one of a middle Eastern man with a beard and wearing a robe. Is that a problem for me? Not at all. One day I know that I will meet Him and, like John, I’m sure I will fall at His feet in worship, because I will somehow inexplicably know Him.

Dear Lord Jesus. We worship You today, in gratitude for who You are and for all You have done. Thank You that You came to this world to save us by Your grace, love and mercy. We worship You today. Amen.

The Son of Man (1)

It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man…”
Revelation 1:11-13a NLT

In the previous verse we remember that John hears a voice “like a trumpet blast”. But who’s voice was it? As we read on, we find out that the Speaker was none other than Jesus Himself, the Son of Man. And He was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands. What was their significance, I wonder? As usual, with the Book of Revelation, several possibilities have emerged. But in verse 20 of this chapter, Jesus explains that the seven lampstands are the seven churches, as he previously listed in verse 11. Why seven though? The number “seven” in the Bible denotes completeness and perfection. God’s promise that He would never flood the earth again was sealed by a rainbow, consisting of seven colours. God rested from His creation work on the seventh day, and there are other examples of “sevens”. So, coming back to our churches located in what is now Western Turkey, perhaps Jesus’s message extended beyond them to all churches everywhere. 

Jesus, the Son of Man, personally gave this message to John. In other places in Revelation John had a dialogue with an angel, but this message was so important that it was Jesus Himself who delivered it to John. Perhaps another reason that we cannot assume the messages Jesus gave were just for the seven churches.

As Christian pilgrims, we enjoy a personal relation with God and the other parties to the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and Jesus. But how do we hear God speaking to us? Jesus’s voice was dramatically heard by John. We read it was loud and like a trumpet blast. Not like the still small voice heard by Elijah at the mouth of the cave (1 Kings 19).  But how do we hear Him? If asked, Christians will say they hear God through Scripture, or through other Christians, perhaps through a prophecy. Occasionally, but rarely, they might hear the “still small voice” of God. Personally, I have heard God audibly. On one occasion it was when I was driving and the voice was so real that I turned in my seat to see who was sitting in the back seat. On another occasion, God engineered a physical event, accompanied by a whisper in my mind, that gave an immediate answer to an anguished prayer. I also hear and see God through His creation. Seeing the explosion of growth in the Spring in the woods near where I live, animals and plants busily doing what they are designed to do, I sometimes catch a glimpse of God and hear His voice . The bird song, the wind rustling the tree tops, the stream trickling even onwards. The consequent thoughts as I rest in His presence.

John turned to see who was speaking to him. He was willing to open his ears to a message about to be delivered. And that is perhaps an encouragement to us all. There will be many things said in this life that we don’t want to hear, but we must always be ready and waiting to recognise the voice of God speaking. What a tragedy if we filter out His voice, as we do the other voices, thereby missing out on an important and personal message, tailor made just for us. Ananias heard the voice of God and as a result he found Paul in Damascus and prayed for him. What an important message that was. And how disappointing it would have been for him (and for Paul) if he had ignored it. So who knows – God might be about to deliver a message for us, you and me, that might change the course of history.

Dear Father, we thank You for those times when You have lovingly spoken to us and encouraged us on our journey. Please let us never miss out on hearing Your voice. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.