God the Spirit of Revelation - Revelation 11:1-14
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~~God the Spirit of Revelation 7.7.19
The Christian writer Max Lucado tells the story of what happened to him as he was taking a flight across the United States. He says, ‘The flight attendant told us to take our seats because of impending turbulence. It was a rowdy flight, and folks weren’t quick to respond; so she warned us again. “The flight is about to get bumpy. For your own safety, take your seats.” Most did. But a few didn’t, so she changed her tone, “Ladies and gentlemen, for your own good, take your seats.” I thought everyone was seated. But apparently I was wrong, for the next voice we heard was that of the pilot. “This is Captain Brown,” he advised. “People have gotten hurt by going to the bathroom instead of staying in their seats. Let’s be very clear about our responsibilities. My job is to get you through the storm. Your job is to do what I say. Now sit down and buckle up!”’ And guess what? They did! What is the moral of that story? It is this: a good pilot will do whatever it takes to get his passengers safely home.
Now here’s the question: How is God going to make sure he is going to fulfil his responsibility- if I may put it like that- of getting his people home safely to heaven, ensuring they will make it through all the turbulent storms of life which invariably come their way- the storms of persecution, the icy blast of illness, the diseases of doubt and distress?
You see, from what we have so far had the privilege of seeing with John in the throne room which lies at the centre of the universe, we might be excused for thinking that God is rather distant and remote. After all, God is presented as the One who occupies the throne so making his dwelling place in heaven, not on earth- chapter 4. Jesus, the Lamb is certainly victorious through his death on earth, but he too now shares his Father’s throne in heaven- chapter 5. So if God is in heaven and we are on earth- how does God connect with us, how is he to make his presence known and the fruits of his victory shared? Or to put it another way in terms of our illustration: how will the pilot get his people to the safety of heaven as they make their journey on earth?
Well, this is where the third person of the Godhead comes in- the Holy Spirit, or as he is sometimes referred to in the Book of Revelation-the Seven Spirits of God or the Seven-fold Spirit of God. Not that God has Seven Holy Spirits, but rather the number seven is the number which represents perfect completion- lacking nothing. It is this Seven-fold Spirit who is the divine agent of God in all his works- in both creation and redemption. Sure, it is God and the Lamb who occupy the centre stage in this unfolding drama, but that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t important because he has a number of vital roles to fulfil as we shall see.
Someone once described the Holy Spirit as the ‘God-between God’ which is a great description when you think about it. In the glory and splendour of heaven the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit equal in divinity, supreme in majesty- reign over all, hence the blessings which comes from the divine throne to God’s people having a threefold source- 1:4, ‘Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits’ before his throne, and from Jesus Christ.’ By speaking of the Holy Spirit being before the throne suggests that he too rightly belongs on the divine side of the created order, but there is a kind of distance from the throne too, he is like a royal servant poised to do the bidding of the King. He is the ‘go between God’ who links heaven and earth, God and man.
As you know numbers have great significance in the book of Revelation. The number four is the number of the world, as when we speak of the ‘four corners of the earth.’ And the seven Spirits of God is mentioned four times in this book- 1:4; 3:1; 4:5 and 5:3 so indicating that he is the one who will implement God’s will and the victory of the Lamb throughout the entire world. And this is in line with what Jesus himself taught in John’s Gospel. So in John 15:26, Jesus says to his disciples, ‘“When the Advocate comes [another name for the Holy Spirit], whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.’ Here Jesus is about to go back to his Father by way of the cross, and when he returns to heaven as Sovereign- the victorious Lamb- together with his Father he will send his Holy Spirit not only to ensure his presence with his followers on earth, but enable them to carry out their task of witnessing to him to the world. So let’s see how this works out.
First, the sevenfold Spirit provides the revelation of God.
The apostle John is in exile in the slave mines of the isle of Patmos on earth- quite a long way from the presence of Christ in heaven- to put it mildly- and yet it is the Spirit who catches him up to heaven so he can have this revelation. On four occasions John says he was carried away ‘in the Spirit’ and on each occasion it marks a significant turning point in the book (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). To speaking of being ‘in the Spirit’ is a way of saying that John is a receiver of genuine divine revelation, just like the prophets in the Old Testament (Ez. : 1:24). He wasn’t on some kind of drug trip, it was a divine trip, a transportation by the Holy Spirit, who comes to earth to enable John to glimpse heaven and what is to come. Again this is simply a fulfilment of what Jesus promised, ‘When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.’ (John 16:12). It is the Holy Spirit who is the giver of revelatory experience.
What is more, it is the Holy Spirit who communicates the message of Jesus. You see this in the letters to the seven churches. Each letter begins with something like, ‘These are the words of him who is the first and the last’ - that is Jesus, but they end with ‘whoever has ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’- present tense. Sometimes in the Church of England General synod you will sometimes hear people who want to introduce some innovative off the wall idea, with ‘we need to listen to what the Spirit is saying’. Well, if you really want to know what the Spirit is saying- you go to this book because this is what he is saying to us today. You do not create a gap between the Words of Jesus recorded in Scripture and the speaking of the Holy Spirit to his people today. The Spirit takes the words of Jesus and enables the church to understand and apply them- and they do not change as he does not change- he is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’.
And it is important to see how the main focus is on Jesus himself, the Spirit getting God’s people to fix on him. And so you have these magnificent, awe inspiring introductions to the churches, ‘ These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands’; ‘These are the words of him who is the first and the last, who died and came to life again’; ‘These are the words of him who has a sharp, double edged sword’; ‘These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.’ Again this is in line with what Jesus said the Spirit would do, ‘He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.’ (Jn. 16:14). I love the way C.H. Spurgeon describes this role of the Spirit. Just listen to this: ‘It is ever the Holy Spirit’s work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan’s work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ….We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by ‘looking to Jesus.’’ The Holy Spirit is like the sun, we are not meant to look directly at him, but by him look to Jesus and understand everything else in his light.
Secondly, he communicates the presence of God.
Take a look at 5:6, ‘Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.’
As we saw last week, horns symbolise strength and power- in this case seven horns meaning perfect power. The eyes denote Jesus’ all seeing capacity; note again the number seven, meaning his knowledge is perfect and complete- he discerns all things, including the thoughts of people’s hearts. So how is this perfect power and knowledge of Jesus in heaven to be communicated on earth? We are told that it is by the seven Spirits- the Holy Spirit. He brings Christ’s strength and wisdom to the world which amounts to him mediating Christ’s presence- that is how the ascended Christ who is in heaven is able to stand amongst the lampstands of the churches in Asia Minor on earth to whom John is writing. And so not surprisingly sometimes in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Jesus- (Acts 16:6).
And notice he does this work of mediating Christ’s presence throughout the world. This is why Christ while in heaven can be anywhere at any time at the same time on earth. This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, ‘But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ (Jn.16:7). While he was on earth in the flesh Jesus was limited by space and time- he couldn’t be in two places at once. But now, with the sending of the Spirit, everything has changed because there are no barriers of time or space to prevent his followers having an intimate relationship with him everywhere at every moment. In fact it is even more intimate because while on earth Jesus was with his disciples, now by His Spirit he is in his disciples. Isn’t that an amazing thought- that as a believer Christ is closer to you here today than he was with John when he was walking with him by the Sea of Galilee? That is what this symbolism signifies.
R.A. Torrey unpacks one implication of this which should help us when dealing with temptation. He says, ‘How often some young man has had his hand on the door of some place of sin that he is about to enter and the thought has come to him, ‘If I should enter there, my mother might hear of it and it would nearly kill her,’ and he has turned his back on that door and gone away to lead a pure life, that he might not grieve his mother. But there is One who is holier than any mother, One who is more sensitive against sin than the purest woman who ever walked the earth., and who loves us as even no mother ever loved. This One dwells in our hearts, if we really are Christians, and he sees every act we do by day or under cover of the night; he heard every word we utter in public or in private; He sees every thought we entertain, he beholds every fancy and imagination that is permitted even a momentary lodging in our mind, and if there is anything unholy, impure, selfish, mean, petty, unkind, harsh, unjust, or any evil act or word or thought or fancy, he is grieved by it.’ There you have it- ‘The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.’ And of course as well as the eyes- the one who sees all, there is power- the horns- the one who provides all as we are changed by the Spirit to increasingly love what he loves and despise what he despises.
Finally, the Spirit enables the witness of God.
Back in chapter 1 and verse 5 the blessings which come to the church from the throne of the Triune God identifies Jesus first and foremost as ‘the faithful witness’. And given the close connection between Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus, it would be reasonable to presume that one of the primary roles of the Spirit will be that of witnessing. But who does he facilitate witnessing to the Gospel on earth? Well, the churches which are symbolised as golden lampstands. Now, in chapter 11 these are all brought together by alluding to a prophecy in the Old Testament, Zechariah chapter 4, where the prophet saw a golden lampstand with seven lamps, together with two olive trees, whom we are told, are servants of the Lord who will carry out their work, ‘Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord’ (v6). So without going into all the details what we have here in chapter 11 is that the churches are to be God’s witnesses (v3), standing for God’s truth in the face of opposition, just as Elijah and Moses had done in their day (v6), and Jesus in his day (v8). And although some will be killed (in Greek the word for witness is marturia from which we get our word martyred), nonetheless, by the breath of God, which is the same as the Spirit of God (v11), not only will it be as if they had not died because witness to the Gospel goes on in the power of the Spirit, but ultimately they will be raised to life by the Spirit just as he raised Jesus to life after three days. Do you see?
Again this is in line with what Jesus said to his disciples in John’s Gospel. ‘“When the Advocate, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify.’ The role of the Spirit is to enable Christians to fulfil their role of testifying to the nations by proclaiming the Gospel. And part of the witness is the unstoppabilty of the Gospel inspite of persecution.
Let me tell you something: in 178 AD a Gallic slave girl, Blandina, who was a recent convert to Christ was brought before the local authorities for her faith and said, ‘I am a Christian woman, and nothing wicked happens among us.’ She was then forced to watch the murder of her Christian friends, then was heated on a gridiron and, thrown to the wild dogs and finally impaled on a stake. Totally true to her Christian character she died praying for her persecutors. And you know what? Her death nerved a 15 year old boy, Ponticus, to follow her example. As one of the early church leaders, Tertullian, put it, ‘The oftener we are mowed down by you the more we grow in number. The blood of Christians is seed.’ And so it is today and we have brothers and sisters here from abroad who know that only too well and yet in those countries the church just keeps on growing. How do we account for that? Here is the answer- the Spirit of God is at work bringing in his people throughout the world and throughout the ages.
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