Yearly Archives: 2019

And what about emeritus-angels?

The first chapter of Revelation in one of my favorites Bible passages. I find the first vision of John to be extremely relevant and encouraging.  John sees “One like the Son of Man”.  That “One” is, of course, to be identified as Jesus Christ. This “Someone, like the Son of man” (vs. 13)  walks among seven golden lampstands, while he holds seven stars in his right hand.

Some symbols in the Revelation are hard to decode, but in this case the explanation is given straight away. The lampstands symbolize the churches in Asia Minor to which the message that follows is to be sent. And the stars stand for the “angels” of the seven churches.

I have always doubted whether the traditional application of the letters to the seven churches in the chapters 2 and 3, as seven periods in church history, is correct. There seems to be nothing in the text that brings us to that conclusion. These messages were intended for seven literal congregations in what is now the coastal area of Western Turkey. However, the very fact that Providence has seen to it that the Apocalypse became a part of the Word of God suggests that it has a meaning that goes beyond the first century, and has something to say to Christians, everywhere and in all times. The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 reflect the diversity in religious experience of the church universal. Therefore, the picture of Jesus walking among the lampstands, while holding seven stars in his right hand, continuous to be meaningful.

What an encouraging thought, that Jesus walks among his churches. He did so in the time of John and he does so today. And when reading the word “churches” we must think of local congregations rather than denominations. Let us hope and pray that Jesus also walks in the corridors and meeting rooms of denominational headquarters, but in Revelation 1 the focus is on local faith communities. I know of no perfect local church. But it is clear from the descriptions of the churches of Ephesus and the other churches that are mentioned by John that none of these churches were perfect either. However, in spite of all their imperfections, Christ walks among them!

But what about the stars?  The stars, we are told, are the “angels” of the churches.  Who are these “angels”?  Are they perhaps guardian angels that each have a specific assignment in watching over one particular church? That does not seem very probable. (In any case, the existence of “guardian angels” has no biblical basis.) The word “angel” is the translation of the Greek word “angelos”. This simply means “messenger” and can refer both to heavenly and human messengers. Clearly, in this passage in Revelation it refers to the leaders of the churches.  Christ holds these in his right hand–the symbolic expression for power and authority.

What a marvelous thought, also for elders and pastors in local churches today. They can feel safe. They may face problems in their churches, perhaps rivalry or opposition. They may at times feel insecure and misunderstood. But they need not have such feelings. Christ holds his “angels” in the churches in his mighty right hand. I take the liberty to assume that this also includes emeritus-”angels” like myself.

Let me just add one further thought. If Christ cares so much for his “angels”, perhaps that should inspire church members also to take greater appreciation for their local leaders. Their job can be difficult and challenging. God’s “angels” in your church need your love and support. Say with words that you support them and show it in tangible ways!

Anxiety or confidence?

During my ministerial internship—now about half a century ago–I visited an Adventist family in Amsterdam. Our brother had just bought a large American car and I wondered what had prompted him to make this unusual purchase. Most Dutch people, if they could afford a car at all, tended to buy small European or Japanese cars. Our brother explained that he needed a large vehicle for the moment (in the near future) when he would have to flee, together with his family, because of the predicted persecution of all Sabbath-keeping Christians..He would then take his family and essential belongings to a wooded area in Sweden, where he felt he would be safer than in the densely populated western part of the Netherlands. (He seemed to have forgotten that this car would need a lot of gas, and that he might “not be able to buy or sell” while en route). Most of his fellow-believers did not take these same precautions, but I remember that, at the time, there was a rather general sense of impending doom among Adventists. Many were afraid that scary times were soon to come.

Even today many Adventist believers are frightened when they think of the difficulties that will be part of the Adventist  of end-time scenario. Will they be able to stand tall during the “time of trouble”? What will happen to them when Sunday laws will make Sabbath-keeping a very risky business? And what about the close of probation and the time when they supposedly can no longer rely on a Mediator?

I am worried that in the coming quarter some of those fears may return or increase, as we study the book of Revelation in our world-wide Bible study hour. I fear that there will once again be a lot of emphasis on the dragon and the beasts, and that the kind of enemy-thinking that (I believed) was beginning to disappear will get a new impetus. Many Sabbath School members may be unaware of the fact that the study guide for this quarter has been significantly changed, at a very late stage, because church administrators discovered “serious theological mistakes” in the manuscript that had already been sent around to all Adventist publishing houses for translation and publication. Unfortunately, these changes were made to ensure that only the traditional viewpoints would be circulated.

Happily, there are a number of initiatives to point members to alternative perspectives and new ways of looking at the last Bible book. In my blog of three week ago I pointed to the weekly comments that are prepared by Pastor Werner Lange, a retired editor of the German Adventist publishing house and that are published in German and English on the website of the Hansa Conference (https://hansa.adventisten.de/aktuelles/offenbarung-diy/). An English version is also published on the website of Adventist Today (https://atoday.org). I also recommend the website of dr. Jon Paulien, who has many inspiring insights in the meaning of Revelation (http://www.thebattleofarmageddon.com).The weekly Sabbath School comments on the Spectrum website may also offer many fresh ideas.

As I study the book of Revelation in the coming months I plan to constantly keep in mind that this book is not a revelation of the dragon and the beast from the sea or the beast from the earth, but of the Lamb—Jesus Christ. I also want to keep in mind that the book begins with a vision of Jesus as he is walking between the candle sticks, which represent his churches. And that it ends with his presence in the midst of his people on the earth made new. Everything else must be related to this overall theme. Everything else is part of the pattern of Christian life that marks our pilgrimage with Christ: individually and collectively. Indeed, it is a story of ups and downs and we will meet challenges, in ever-changing constellations. But whatever happens, the Christian life can be a life of victory. That is the meta-story-line. Revelation should not give us a sense of dread, but rather a sense of destiny and victory. I hope that many who study their weekly lesson during this quarter will see something new and exciting in the Book of Revelation, and that their aim will not be to learn more about their enemies but to become better acquainted their Friend, whose revelation it is.