Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Can you believe in Christianity without believing in a historical crucifixion? Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There is no way that you could ever be freed from the dominion, the power of your sin, from its controlling influence in your life, except for the shedding of the blood of Christ on Calvary. A cross-less Christianity is no Christianity at all.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Tuesday, August 1, 2017.

Jesus is coming soon. Some of us have been hearing that our whole lives, so much so that it just sounds cliché; but the nearness of Christ’s return is anything but routine. It can deeply affect the way you live today.

Yesterday, Nancy began a series called "A Vision of the Glorified Christ." It’s the first in many series we’ll hear over the next few months on the letters to the churches that begin the book of Revelation.

Here’s Nancy to pick that series back up.

Nancy: Late last night as I was preparing for today's recording session, I received an email from one of our staff. It said:

I just wanted you to know, dear friend, you are in my thoughts and prayers tonight and tomorrow as you embark on these teachings from Revelation. As you teach from the book written when the Church was undergoing such incredible persecution, I have to wonder if your words will not be soon used to exhort, encourage and undergird the Christians in our own country who may soon be faced with trials and sufferings, yes, even persecution, as never before. May God use you to boldly proclaim the hope of the gospel found in this book. May He anoint your words. Speak courage into the lives of those who may one day waver in their battle to be overcomers. For such a time as this. Carrie

I was so encouraged by that, because that has been my prayer and my burden as I've prepared this series that God would speak courage and hope into our hearts—not only for some way down the road possible persecution, but for things we have to endure today and tomorrow and the next day.

We started in the last session looking at the prologue, the first three verses of Revelation 1, so let me just review that passage. I’m reading beginning at verse 1.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near (vv. 1–3).

Now, before we go on to verse 4, in the last session I didn’t have time to get to that last phrase of verse 3. It’s an important one. It’s a theme that runs through the book of Revelation: “The time is near.”

We read in verse 1, these are “the things that must soon take place.” You see this word soon or near ten times, if I counted correctly, in the book of Revelation. There’s a sense of urgency about this revelation of Jesus Christ.

That’s important because we often think of Revelation as things that are going to happen decades or hundreds of years or maybe millennia from now. Nobody really lives, do they, in the thought that this might all happen soon, or that there’s any sense of urgency to this.

But God spoke through His angel to His servant John to speak to the churches in the first century, telling them these things must take place soon. The time is near.

Now, obviously, God’s idea of near is a little different than our idea of near; but it does say that there’s a sense of urgency about what we read. You see that concept all through the New Testament. Let me read to you just a few verses that illustrate this.

Romans 13:11–12:

You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Hebrews 10:24–25:

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

James 5:7–9:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. . . . Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

Company has come. The doorbell’s ringing. The time is near. The time for Christ’s return is at hand, in God’s economy, in His sense of time.

First Peter 4:7:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

Each time it talks about the time being near, the day approaching, the coming of the Lord being at hand, there’s a “So what?” to that. The “So what?” is that you should live with a sense of expectancy; you should live with a sense of urgency. It should affect the way you live here and now. Live in preparation. Live in a state of readiness. You don’t want to get caught off guard. We’re challenged to approach each day with an eternal perspective.

That’s important because I find (and don’t you find as well?) that the temptation is to get so caught up with the daily grind of responsibilities and activities here and now that we lose a sense of the brevity of life and the nearness of Christ’s return.

So the challenge of Revelation, when it says, “The time is near,” is to consider: So how shall I live today in light of the fact that the time is near?

Moms, let me encourage you to instill the sense in your children that they don’t necessarily have all of their lives to live. And even if God does give them a long life, as we measure long, it’s still not long as God measures long.

Measure your days. Count your days. Spend them in ways that will please the Lord, because soon we will be standing before the Lord and giving account to Him.

Now, in verse 4 we come to a greeting: “John, to the seven churches that are in Asia.” John is the author of this book, the human instrument through which the book was authored, the one who was given it to send to the churches.

The recipients are those seven local churches in Asia Minor. John would have been familiar with those churches and the people in those churches. They would know him. In fact, John had served (as far as we know) as the pastor or spiritual leader of the church at Ephesus before he had been exiled to the Island of Patmos.

We'll come back to this issue of who these churches were and some more background about them later in this series. But I want you to note now that this message was intended for the churches. It was sent from God to the churches—not just the churches in the first century there in Asian Minor, but for every true Church in every time and in every place, and for the people of God who are a part of those local fellowships.

The Church, as we said in the last session, in that day was being intensely persecuted. Christians were hated. They were despised by many. They were struggling for survival. They had their backs against the wall.

Almost all those people who had known Christ personally when He was here on the earth had died. They had gone on, many of them martyred for their faith.

So you had here at the end of the first century a recipe for doubt, fear, discouragement, disillusionment, backsliding, because all the people who had been close to Christ in His physical presence here on earth were gone. Many of the believers would have been tempted to just throw in the towel: “Why buck the culture? Why go against the flow? Let’s just fit in.”

This book of Revelation is a challenge to swim upstream, to hold on, to hold fast to that which you have been given in the gospel and in Christ.

So John writes this to the seven churches in Asia, continuing in verse 4: “Grace to you and peace.”

Now, when you hear the condition of the churches of that time, the culture, and what the churches were up against, you can agree that grace and peace is exactly what they needed. They needed grace to press on, grace to endure, grace to be holy in an immoral culture. And they needed peace when they were being persecuted, the peace of God, peace in their own hearts.

But how were they to find grace and peace in the topsy-turvy world in which they lived? And how are we to find grace and peace in this topsy-turvy world in which we live?

Well, grace and peace to you “from him”—it comes from a person—“from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ” (vv. 4-5).

Here’s what John says to these churches who have their backs against the wall, who are struggling to survive. He says, “Grace to you and peace.” How do you get it? You get it by focusing on the reality and the existence of God. Turn your eyes to Him.

We see here a Trinitarian presentation of God. He is God the Father—eternally existent, the One who is now, the One who was in eternity past, and the One who always will be in eternity future. That’s God the Father.

Then grace to you and peace from the Spirit of God, “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” I think this is a picture of the sevenfold Spirit of God, the Spirit in His fullness—seven being the number of perfection, completion. The Spirit of God in His fullness brings to us believers grace and peace.

Then grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ. Father, Spirit, and Son—in troubled, needy, difficult times, it’s God who is our never-ending, never-failing source of grace and peace.

In the rest of chapter 1, we have a portrait of the resurrected, glorified, ascended Christ. What a privilege it is for us to be able to meditate on Him! In the midst of the most adverse circumstances, we find grace and peace as we consider Christ, His name, His character, His work, and His ministry on our behalf.

This chapter is so rich with assurance for those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. This description, as I’ve been meditating on it and memorizing it—I’m quoting it over and over in these last months—to me it evokes a sense of wonder and awe, but it also gives us comfort and encouragement and peace to know that this is the Christ we worship.

Now, let me say parenthetically: For those who have not repented and placed their faith in Christ—for the non-believer—this description we’re going to read should evoke terror, because He is a pure and holy and awesome and judging Savior—the Savior of those who repent, the Judge of those who refuse to repent.

So let’s just look into verse 5 as we see this description of Jesus Christ. We see first three titles for Christ: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”

Faithful witness. That word witness in the Greek is the word from which we get our English word martyr. The martyrs. The word actually means “one who bears witness,” but in the first century, many of those who bore witness to their faith in Christ came to die for their faith. So those witnesses became known as martyrs; so many of those early believers were killed for their witness.

Jesus was the first and the most and the ultimate faithful witness. He came “to bear witness to the truth,” we read in John 18:37 where Jesus spoke to Pilate. He gave a faithful witness to the gospel, to who He was, to who God was. When He was on trial, all the way to the cross, He was faithful in His witness.

We are called now to be His faithful witnesses, and I think part of Revelation is that Christ, the faithful witness, will enable us, by His Spirit, to be faithful in our witness regardless of what it may cost us—what it may cost you in your family, what it may cost you in your workplace, what it is costing some believers today in other parts of the world who are imprisoned and actually laying down their lives for their faith.

I read a report this morning about the small handful of believers (we don’t even know how many) in North Korea, many of whom over the years have laid down their lives for their faith. God is the One who, through Christ the faithful witness, gives us the courage and the grace to be His faithful witnesses.

Jesus is not only “the faithful witness,” He is “the firstborn of the dead.” Now, a few others, prior to the time of Christ, had been raised from the dead, so in what sense is He “the firstborn of the dead”?

Well, the others who had been raised from the dead were raised only to die again, but Jesus was the first to be raised never to die again. Those who would be martyred for their faith were following in the steps of Jesus Christ, “the firstborn of the dead,” the firstborn of many, ultimately. These martyrs would one day be raised to live forever with Christ.

“The firstborn of the dead” means that death has no more power over Christ, and that means death has no ultimate power over us or over those we love who are in Christ. This is the promise of the resurrection. Christ was raised never to die again, and we too shall be raised from the dead, never to die again.

He’s “the faithful witness.” He’s “the firstborn of the dead.” And He’s “the ruler of kings on earth.” This is the ultimate, key title, I believe, for Christ in the book of Revelation and throughout Scripture—“the ruler of kings on earth.”

For years and years, for centuries and millennia, earthly kings have done their best to stamp out Christianity. The Emperor Domitian was trying to do it in the era when John was given this revelation of Christ.

There are rulers in this world today in many countries who are trying to stamp out Christianity, but all of those rulers—presidents, prime ministers, kings, potentates—are ultimately subject to Christ, who is the King of kings, “the ruler of kings on earth.”

This says to us that Christ reigns; He rules sovereignly over all earthly kings, all kingdoms, all rulers, and all authorities. Now, He is not yet exercising the full extent of that reign and rule, but He will one day, and the kings of the earth will bow down before Him.

Remember that, when it seems that there are wicked and pagan kings on the throne or in positions of government or in leadership in our country or in other countries of the world. We worship the Ruler of kings on earth.

Each of these three names, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth,” would have encouraged those first-century believers who were suffering persecution under the fist of the Roman Empire.

In verses 5 and 6, we have a doxology. We see first the past redemptive work and ministry of Christ on our behalf.

We’ve looked at His three titles, the three names, and then it says in verses 5–6, “To him who loves us” present tense, and then it moves to the past tense.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

It’s the first of a number of amens in the book of Revelation. Amen: “So be it. It’s true. Let it be so.”

“To Him who loves us.” Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:9, “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.”

If you question whether you’re loved . . . You may have felt rejection; you may be experiencing rejection from a mate or a child or parents or friends or ex-friends or an ex-mate, but there is One who loves you with an undying love, with an infinite love. As the Father has loved Christ, so Christ has loved us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [Or any circumstance or person in life? No!] As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things [in the midst of all these things] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35–39).

“To him who loves us . . . be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:11).

And not only to Him who loves us, but to Him who “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (v. 5). If you are using the New American Standard there, it says, “to Him who has released us.”

To Him who has freed us, who has led us out of prison. He has unshackled us. He has taken off those chains that bound us. He sets the captive free. He has freed us.

What was it that bound us? It wasn’t our circumstances. It isn’t your in-law. It isn’t your mate. It isn’t your children. It isn’t your health. It isn’t any other person.

What keeps us in prison is our sin. He has freed us from our sins. How? By His blood; by shedding His blood; by paying the penalty of death for our sins.

Christ “loved me and gave himself for me,” the apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20. He loves us. He’s freed us from our sins by His blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7).

Under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb. 9:22).

Listen, there is no way that you could ever be free from the dominion, the power of your sin, from its controlling influence in your life, except for the shedding of the blood of Christ on Calvary. A cross-less Christianity is no Christianity at all, and a cross-less Christianity cannot deliver you, cannot free you from your sins.

We have all kinds of support programs for people today who have all kinds of sin issues and addictions, but I want to tell you, if they don’t get you to the cross—if they don’t get you to Christ—you will never be set free from those addictions and those sins.

“To him . . . be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The one “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and [verse 6, there is more] made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”

He has made us a kingdom. Who is the King of this kingdom? Jesus is! He is the King, and as believers, we are subjects of His kingdom, and we are priests. We’ve been separated out for holy service.

That’s not just for people who are ordained. That’s not just for pastors and elders. We all, as believers in Christ, are priests. We’ve been set apart, separated out to serve God.

We have access into His presence. We have the ministry of intercession given to us. We serve God. We serve one another. “He has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”

So “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him [Christ] be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Then, not only what has been true in the past, His past work and ministry on our behalf, but His future and soon coming and return to earth. Verse 7,

Behold, he is coming with the clouds [this is yet to come], and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

We’ll come back to it in this series, but the return of Christ is one of the most important themes of Revelation. It has been the hope of God’s people, of the Church, in every generation from the first century until now, the blessed hope, the second coming.

Christ’s first coming to earth was seen only by a few. He came that time to die.

The next time He comes, He will come triumphant. He will come in glory. He will come not just to be seen by a few but to be seen by all. Every eye will see Him, and He is coming this time not to die, but this time to reign and rule and to judge.

It's that judgment, by the way, that is the reason that the tribes on earth will wail on account of Him. Those who are unrepentant will wail as they come under the judgment and the wrath of God amighty.

That’s what we read, kind of as a signature here in verse 8, where Christ Himself speaks. After John gives this description of Christ, Jesus Himself speaks and says, “I AM.” That’s Me John is talking about.

I AM. That’s an Old Testament name for God. Jesus is God. He says, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

Jesus affirms what John has just said about Him. He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” That’s the first and the last letter in the Greek alphabet, and between them in the alphabet all knowledge is contained. He is the sum total of all knowledge, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

He is eternal. He is pre-existent. He will be forever. We see Him as the powerful, personal Ruler and sovereign. We see Him as pure. We see Him as majestic.

We see not only His names and His character, but we see His redemptive, saving work. “He has freed us from our sins by his blood.”

And then we see that future promise that is our hope for today: “He is coming with the clouds,” coming to reign, coming to rule, coming to judge, coming to deliver those who have believed in Him.

So we join with the apostle John in saying, “To Him—to You, Lord Jesus—be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Leslie: The book of Revelation will point you to Jesus. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been explaining how in a series called "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 1: A Vision of the Glorified Christ."

This is the first of several series we’ll hear this year on the letters to the churches in Revelation. As you listen along, I hope you’ll explore the meaningful letters in your quiet time. Nancy's here to tell you how you can do that.

Nancy: I've spent a lot of time over the years soaking in these messages that Jesus gave His Church. Every time I do, I realize what richness there is for us today in these letters. And I hope you won’t just listen to me talk about it on the program, but that you’ll grow personally in your understanding and appreciation of the treasures found in this passage.

I’d like to send you a booklet that will help you dig into these first chapters of Revelation. It's called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. We’d love to send you a copy as our way of saying thank you for a gift of any size to support Revive Our Hearts and to help this program continue. Ask for the booklet from Revelation, Ears to Hear, when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com and get a copy of this resource.

Do you ever feel stuck—stuck at home, stuck in a job, stuck in a tough relationship? Nancy will give you incredible encouragement if that’s how you feel. Join us tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to remind you of how glorious Jesus is. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version. 

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