I didn’t realize NBC was going to play the previous week’s episode of “A.D.” at 8 p.m., an hour before the new episode, but apparently that is going to be the case.  At least it was this past Sunday, April 12.  So if you miss the previous week’s episode, you can still catch it right before the new one airs.

You can also watch episodes of “A.D.” on NBC’s website for the series.  Just google “A.D.” and you’ll be directed to the website.  Along with the episodes that have been aired, you can also view other shows that both summarize and give behind-the-scenes information related to the series.

Last Sunday’s (April 12) episode of “A.D.” depicted the gospel story from just after Jesus’ resurrection to His ascension.  This in-between time includes appearances of the risen Jesus, along with some scenes that were included for dramatic effect.

Conversations between Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia, are not found in the Bible, but they are plausible, if fictional.  Also fictional are the conversations between Caiaphas, the high priest, and his wife, Anna, whose father is Annas, the former high priest.  (Apparently it was good to marry into the high priest’s family if you wanted to become high priest yourself.)

Another conversation that was made-up for dramatic effect was a conversation that took place between Caiaphas and Pilate while Caiaphas was taking a bath.  This was not the only conversation between the high priest and the Roman governor that was included in this episode.  Again, they are all speculative in nature and are not included in the biblical accounts.

It is worth noting, however, that the priority of the governor, Pilate, was order.  He didn’t want trouble of any kind, especially from the “occupied” people of Jerusalem and their religious leaders.  Pilate wanted to be seen as a governor who was effective at keeping rebellion and insurrection at bay.  For him, to be perceived otherwise, was not only distasteful, but the worst that could happen to him.

Caiaphas had a similar agenda, but his centered on the Temple and the running of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem and, be extension, the entire country.  Of course, the center of the Jewish faith was the Temple and all of the rituals surrounding its life.  Jesus was a definite threat to that order, so he had to be dealt with.  Otherwise, as high priest, Caiaphas would be seen as an ineffective ruler of his religion and his people.

Pilate consider the “Jesus affair” to be a Jewish problem.  To make it his problem was to be a pain in his neck, which also might tarnish his image as an effective governor.  But because Caiaphas wanted the “Jesus problem” to be taken care of in such a way that Jesus would go away and stay away, he had to turn to Pilate to solve that problem.

The Jewish method of executing someone accused of blasphemy, of which Jesus was declared guilty by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council of 70 members in Jerusalem, was by stoning.  But, with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, the Jews did not have the right to carry out a death sentence.  They had to get the Romans to kill Jesus.  The Roman method of execution was crucifixion.  Only Pilate could authorize a crucifixion.

The religious leaders harassed Pilate into solving their problem, which was getting rid of Jesus once and for all.  Needless to say, Pilate was not happy to be used by the Jewish leaders this way.  So he “washed his hands” of the problem, after pronouncing the death sentence on Jesus, and told the religious leaders that he was not responsible for Jesus’ death.  His blood was on their hands, not his.  Hence the symbolic washing of his hands.

The many extra-biblical conversations noted above illustrated this tension.  Everyone had his or her own interests that they insisted be attended to and taken care of.  Pilate wanted to get away from Jerusalem to his place on the Mediterranean and away from all of this annoying trouble.  Caiaphas wanted to get the machinery of the Temple running smoothly again.  They both wanted to look good, competent, effective.  Image mattered.

Even though the disciples stayed hidden because they were afraid, their fear was not of the Roman guards, as depicted in “A.D.,” but instead of the Temple guards.  The Temple had its own police force or legion of guards, separate from the Roman soldiers of the occupying army.  It was Temple guards who arrested Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  It was Roman guards who flogged and crucified Jesus.  Getting Jesus from the shackles of the Temple guards to the deadly, crucifying hands of the Roman guards was what Caiaphas needed to pull off … and he did.

Roman guards chasing down the apostles and then pursuing them through Jerusalem?  Nothing biblical about that.  Nor is it biblical that the city was shut down so that no one could leave while a search for the apostles was on.

One interesting side note is the conspiring of the Sicarii, the insurrectionists known for their knives, with the apostles.  It is thought that Judas might have been a Sicarii, hence his biblical moniker, Iscariot.  The aid given to the apostles by the Sicarii in “A.D.” is speculation.  But it makes for good drama.

One of the most touching scenes of this episode takes place while the disciples are in hiding in Jerusalem and Peter says his deepest regret is that he didn’t have the chance to tell Jesus he was sorry for denying Him.  It is then that the risen Jesus appears in the locked room, puts his hand on Peter’s shoulder from behind and says Peter’s name, telling Peter to have peace.  The look on Peter’s face is priceless.  Forgiveness invades his heart and life.  He is given mercy by the only One who could adequately proffer it, Jesus Himself.  Liberation is granted.  Peter is free of guilt, shame and regret.  It was a moment of real, authentic and undiluted Christianity on display.

Jesus appears to His disciples in Galilee while they are fishing and it is after this that the famous series of questions and answers between Peter and Jesus takes place.  This is the conversation where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him.  We know that Peters answers yes each time the question is asked.  But, both in this episode and in the Bible, it is clear that the end of the conversation is not satisfying to either Jesus or Peter.  But nothing more is said by either one.  Not a perfect ending, but it’s what we’ve got.  It seems that Peter’s love for Jesus, and ours, still falls short of what is asked of us.  The good news is that grace fills the gap.

The episode ends with the ascension of Jesus which, if you follow the book of Acts, looks like it takes place near Jerusalem, probably on the Mount of Olives.  The small church of the Ascension is located at the top of the Mount of Olives today.  But this episode gives the clear impression that Jesus’ ascension took place in Galilee, following His appearances as the Risen Lord to His disciples there.  The end of the gospel of Matthew might lend itself to depicting the ascension this way.

Again, like at the tomb when Jesus was raised from the dead, the archangel Michael is “guarding” Jesus’ ascension, along with a number of other angels.  Shown this way for dramatic effect, it is not consistent with the biblical description of His ascension.  “A.D.” has Jesus commanding the disciples to “go into Jerusalem and preach.”  It would have been a lot longer walk to Jerusalem from Galilee than it would have been from the Mount of Olives, located just across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  The ascending Jesus could have pointed to the Temple Mount as He gave this command and the disciples could have turned their heads to see what He was pointing at if the ascension took place on the Mount of Olives.  Not so in Galilee.

Overall, I like the series so far.  The “dramatizations” are okay, even if they are extra-biblical.  The essential points are still being covered: Jesus was crucified, dead and buried.  He rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven.  Sounds a lot like the Apostles’ Creed.

(As an additional note, it is a distraction that both Peter’s eyes and the eyes of Caiaphas are blue.  That would not have been the case for people living in the ancient near east.  Today, if someone living in the middle east has blue eyes, they are outcast because people don’t want them to look at them, believing they have the “evil eye.”)


Episode 1: April 5, 2015

The initial offering of “A.D.”, NBC’s 10-episode depiction of the first ten chapters of the biblical book of Acts, did not contain anything from Acts but did provide the necessary backstory.

Acts is a post-crucifixion, post-resurrection, post-ascension of Jesus account of the Acts of the Apostles (the traditional name of the book of Acts).  In other words, Acts is the story of the birth and early years of the Christian church.

The first episode covers the arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial of Jesus, along with Jesus’ time in the tomb and His resurrection.  Last Sunday’s episode ended with the empty tomb.  It’s safe to assume that next Sunday’s episode will include resurrection appearances of Jesus.

While some of the conversations of episode one were fictitious, the liberties taken were fair.  Of particular note were the conversations between Pilate and his wife, and the one among the disciples following the death of Jesus.

Among the liberties taken that were not biblical took place around the resurrection of Jesus.  There is no biblical warrant to assume that the angel who descended on the tomb of Jesus during His resurrection was the archangel Michael, nor is there anything in the Bible that describes what happened at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection.

“A.D.” showed a brilliant light emanating from Jesus’ tomb while the stone was still in place, sealing the grave.  No such thing is described in the Bible.  One gospel (Matthew) does say that an earthquake occurred when the angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb came down and removed the sealing stone from the entrance to the grave.

Anything related to the moment of resurrection is speculation on our part, for the Bible is silent about that time.  It is nice to assume that there was a bright light, just like it’s nice to assume that the warrior archangel, Michael, was there to make it clear that no unauthorized person was to mess with the tomb of Jesus, but it is all speculation.  But both make for good television, so the producers can be forgiven for these additions for dramatic effect.

Episode one ends with the empty tomb.  We’ll see how far episode two leans into the actual book of Acts.

There is still some backstory to be told, such as the resurrection appearances of Jesus, before moving on to Acts, which depicts Jesus’ ascension, the selection of a replacement twelfth Apostle (taking the place of Judas Iscariot) and the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

(Note:  This is an article I wrote for the Bremen Enquirer at the beginning of Summer 2014.  Jim Morse)

My grandmother’s October death is shrouded in mystery, even 30 years later.
I had visited my mother’s mother the week before in the Springfield, Vermont, hospital, which was about two and one-half hours from the town in Massachusetts where I was living, about eight months into my first full-time pastorate after completing seminary and being ordained.
It was in that hospital where the medial collateral ligament of my left knee had been repaired.  During that week-long stay, in the middle of one of the nights, the curtain between my bed and the bed of my roommate, an older man, was suddenly yanked, waking me up.
People rushed into the room and, beneath the bottom of the curtain, I could see the mattress of my roommate’s bed deforming almost into a V as someone pushed it rhythmically down very hard, again and again.  In the morning I was told that he had died.  Our conversation the night before, just prior to saying good night, I remember as very comforting.
The first funeral I ever attended was that of my grandfather, twenty years before my grandmother died.  I missed school that day.
In the Springfield Cemetery, a sprawling municipal burying ground on a floodplain above the Black River, my grandmother took her place next to my grandfather in the family plot.
As the casket was descending slowly into the grave, I was shocked to see one of my aunts jump onto the coffin and begin riding it into the ground.  She cried out in a loud voice, filled with tears and grief, “Don’t go, mom!  Don’t go!”
Someone stopped the casket from being lowered further into the ground and got my aunt out of the grave.  My wife, Jan, and I did not know what to think.  We had nothing to say to each other about what we had just experienced.  But now Jan knew there was some weirdness on some of the branches of my family tree.  We are still married and, after my grandmother’s funeral, I am relieved and grateful.
The following summer, I did the funeral for a young man who had been killed by a drunk driver.  The other car crossed the center line and sliced into the vehicle in which he was the passenger in the front seat.  His mother lived in a tenement apartment building across the street from the front of the church.
We traveled west to the next town for the burial.  The young man’s friends and his family were clumped together in groups at the cemetery, weeping and sobbing and hugging each other at the end of the committal service.
I kept vigil to one side, as is my practice, praying for those grief-stricken people.  When we’ve lost someone we love to death, perhaps the most difficult thing we do is walk away from their grave.   It’s an act of finality.  There is nothing we can do to change things.  We are helpless and powerless in the face of that moment.
But walk away we must.  So I keep vigil, as a symbol that God will watch over their loved one and is ever-faithful.  When they get in their cars and begin their exit from the cemetery, their last glance back is to see this solitary pastor standing vigil over the grave they have just left.  My hope is that God will use that moment to assure them of His promises and goodness and that, somehow, they will turn their hearts toward Him.
As I stood vigil on this day and as the casket was being lowered into the grave, one of the grief-filled friends of the now-deceased young man jumped onto the coffin and sprawled on top of it.
He wailed, “Don’t leave!  I can’t stand it!  Don’t go!”
His friends reached down and drew his crumpled form out of the grave as the casket continued to descend.  I glanced at the mother whose son was descending into the earth and could see that this act of grief had only pierced her with greater sorrow.  She swooned and fell to her knees.
I have seen and experienced the impact of death on those who have no hope.  Without faith in God and the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ death brings a crushing finality and profound meaninglessness to human life.
And the bromides we tell ourselves, like people becoming angels or that the spectral spirits of those who have died still linger around, comforting us, or that our souls reincarnate to begin the cycle of karmic misery over again (and again), are, to be honest, just whistling in the dark, attempting to keep the fears and bleak hopelessness at bay, tolerable.
I am a Christian because Jesus is risen and has promised me, along with everyone else, a resurrection like his.
However, for now, death is still a formidable enemy, wreaking havoc and bringing sorrow.
I am a Christian because Jesus is risen and has conquered death.
There is hope and renewal beyond the grave.
As Christians, we bury our loved ones in the hope of the resurrection.
As Christians, we pray for those who have no hope, that the God and Father of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, will comfort them in their sorrow and continue to draw them into His love and goodness.
Because without Jesus and faith in Him, it makes a certain kind of macabre sense to ride the descending caskets of our loved ones into the grave.

Horizon’s Christmas Eve service will be this coming Tuesday, December 24, at 6 p.m.

Note:  This is intended to be an “open source” commentary, meaning that additions and corrections by readers are welcomed and necessary.  In fact, such a way of commenting on the Bible is and ought to be “normal” in the life of any church or group of Christian believers.  Such a method is the way theology is done.  With that said, please feel free to make your own comments and additions to what is written here by either replying via email or by making a comment on one of Horizon’s web sites: Facebook: “Horizon Ministries” or Horizon’s WordPress Blog   —Jim Morse


Introduction to Revelation 4:1-6a

          After a tour of the seven churches, we now come to one of the great scenes in the Bible, the great throne room of God.  Here we see reality as it really is.  We see that the obstacles facing the seven churches are parodies, pretenders, of the real thing.  The real thing, the real ruler, is seen in his throne room, and chapter 4 introduces us to that great and awesome place.

          Like other people of the Bible, John is ushered by the Spirit to the throne room.  We can hear echoes of Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel. 

          But there is something hidden in plain sight here and we need to take a moment to ponder it.  The issue is heaven and where it is located.  When we think of heaven we usually think it is “up there,” in some other location, probably beyond our sight somewhere in the universe.  And while it is true that earth is not heaven, it is also true that heaven and earth are not that far apart.

          John merely “looked” and saw “a door standing open in heaven,” which indicates that heaven and earth are not far apart.  We would probably be better served by thinking about heaven as being another dimension and that it is accessible not be traveling a great physical distance, but by traveling, somehow, to another dimension (in this case, with the aid of the Spirit).  Paul talked about such an experience in 2 Corinthians 12.

          The work of physicists indicates the theoretical existence of multiple universes, parallel universes and/or multiverses.  They may be dovetailing with what is described here in Revelation, that different realities exist and are closely related to each other.

          Of course, such an understanding has always been the biblical view.  It is only when we think literally of things that are described symbolically that we become confused on this matter. 

          Let’s leave it at this: heaven is a real place that is different from here.  Different but similar physical laws may apply.  But heaven is the place where God is and where his will is perfectly done.  As we know, because Revelation was written after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, heaven is also the place where Jesus is and that he rules the earth as King from his throne, which is right next to the Father’s throne.

          Heaven and earth are close and they, at times, intersect.  According to Revelation, rightly so, there is interaction between heaven and earth right now. 

          This is entirely consistent with the biblical view of how God has interacted with his creation.  Throughout scripture there are times when heaven and earth intersected, touched.

          In the beginning, where human beings were made in God’s image and he then “rested” in the midst of that union.

          In the Garden of Eden, where God “hung out” with Adam and Eve.

          Jacob’s ladder.

          The tent of meeting in the wilderness, called the tabernacle.

          The temple in Jerusalem, where God “rested” between the cherubim on the top of the ark.

          Ultimately, in Jesus.

          All of these, and more, indicate that heaven and earth are not far apart and that God’s continuing desire is for the full and complete union of heaven and earth as one place.

          The goal of God’s purpose is not for us to join him in heaven, it is for him to join us on earth.  God’s redemption of humanity and creation is his plan of salvation to make that happen.

          Therefore, human beings will not be removed from earth when the Lord Jesus returns.  Instead, they will meet him as he returns to complete the work of making earth a fit habitation for God.  We won’t go to heaven with Jesus.  Jesus will come to earth to be with us.

          Those who teach the dispensational Rapture mislead Christians.  They get it backwards.  God loves us and creation so much that he wants to “make us right” so that his original plan of living on earth with us will be realized.  His desire is to renew creation, not abandon it.  What kind of a loving God would he be if he abandoned his creation and gave up on his original plan, clearly stated in Genesis (until things went radically wrong)?  God is going to fix things, not give up on them.

          In addition, the picture of heaven that is depicted in Revelation 4 & 5 is one of what heaven looks like now.  The heaven that exists now is not the heaven that will exist following the return of Jesus to fully establish his rule on earth.  Then, as we see at the end of Revelation, heaven and earth will be joined in one reality.  Heaven will “come down” to earth, for God’s great desire is to live on earth with human beings. 

          In the meantime, the earth must be made fit for the habitation of God.  And that, my friends, is what Revelation is really all about.  There, I’ve said it.



Revelation 4:1-6a (NIV) 

    After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” [2] At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. [3] And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. [4] Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. [5] From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. [6] Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.




           At the beginning of chapter 4 we find a dynamic that occurs throughout Revelation.  Several times, John hears something and then he looks.  In this instance, the looks and then hears a voice.  But it is the dynamic of looking and seeing, or seeing and looking, that is interesting because what is seen is often different from what was heard, or what is heard is different from what is seen.

          At the beginning of chapter 4, John first sees the door standing open in heaven (he’s been given “spiritual eyes” by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that was conveying Jesus’ message to the seven churches), and then he hears the inviting voice that sounds like a trumpet.

          He is invited into the throne room of God.  The one sitting on the throne is described as having an appearance of precious stones.  Are we to now think that God is made up of precious stones?  No.  This is a way of saying that God’s appearance is beyond description and that even though John needs to use words to describe what he’s experiencing, his choice of words indicate that he’s using the words in a symbolic, not literal, way.  Therefore, God is not made of jasper and carnelian.

          John sees a rainbow encircling the throne.  Throughout Revelation references from the Bible appear.  This important one is a reminder that, in the throne room of God as it now exists, the rainbow of Genesis that symbolizes God’s covenant promise to never again wipe out the people of the earth is present.  The rainbow encircles the throne.  It is surrounds the throne.  It is a covenant promise that God will not break.  People are very, very important to God’s purpose and plan in his creation and new creation.  To wipe them out would be to go against God’s stated purpose and plan that were revealed in Genesis.  Human beings are vital to God’s purpose of building a creation in which both he and his creatures will dwell in harmony.

          We see that in the next verse.  The 24 other thrones surround the one throne of God.  It is easy to see that the 24 elders on these thrones represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles.  It is important to realize that God’s plan and purpose have been in play in both sets of people, Israel and the apostles.   

          These elders wear white robes and have golden crowns.  The white robes symbolize purity and victory.  But the crowns are the interesting aspect of their appearance.  Rulers wear crowns.  So these elders are rulers.  Rulers?

          God’s desire is to have human beings rule earth with him.  That’s what’s going on in Genesis 1-3.  The big snag in this plan occurred when Adam and Eve wanted to take over and rule without God.  They wanted to be God.  They wanted to be in charge of everything, their own lives especially, ignoring God’s desire to co-rule with them. 

          In the throne room of Revelation we see that God has co-rulers with him.  God does not give up on his plans for creation and for human beings.  We’re just on a long detour now.  But we’ll get there.

          What’s revealed (hence the name “Revelation”) in the throne room is how we’ll get there.  And it will be through the Son, Jesus Christ.

          All sorts of natural pyrotechnics occur, as John sees what’s going on in the heavenly throne room.  Again, this is a symbolic representation that the Lord of the universe, the God of creation, is in the house.  Much like Ezekiel 1.  Much like Mt. Sinai when Moses was ascending and descending it during the early stages of the wilderness wanderings of Israel.  Much like Isaiah’s experience in the “holy of holies” of the Temple.

          We’ll run across other instances in Revelation where earthly cataclysms occur.  But they always symbolize the same thing:  God is on the scene!

          We then see that the throne room is adorned with seven lamps, symbolically representing the “seven spirits of God.” 

          Seven spirits of God?  We would think there is only one Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit.  So what’s up with seven spirits of God?

          Good question.

          The NIV and other translations try to skirt the problem by either inserting a footnote to the translation or directly translating these words as the “sevenfold Spirit.”  But the Greek says it is seven spirits of God.

          Let’s not panic.

          We met the seven churches of Revelation in chapters two and three.  Here we meet the seven spirits of God.

          The number seven is very important to the book of Revelation and to the Bible as a whole.  It is the number of perfection and of completion.  It is the perfect number and the complete number.  When the number seven is used, it is used to symbolically represent something that is both perfect and complete.

          It comes, first, from Genesis, where God completed his perfect creation in seven days.  He used six days to make everything, but it wasn’t complete until he “rested” or dwelled in the midst of all that he had made.

          As we proceed through Revelation we will meet the number seven again and again.  But we will also meet the number six again and again.  Six of the seals of the scroll will be open and then there will be a pause until the seventh one is opened (with the first trumpet).  Six trumpets will be blown and then there will be a pause before the seventh trumpet is blown.  And of course we remember the number of the beast, 666, in chapter 13.

          Perfection and completion are represented by the number 7.  The number 6 represents that which is incomplete but is pretending to be as good as that represented by the number 7.  The number 6 is the Pretender’s number.  It is the number representing a parody of the true reality.  It is the number of Satan, the Pretender to the throne of God.  And God is the true reality.

          We live in a world of competition between the sixes and the sevens; a world where Satan and God are doing battle.

          Revelation is book that reveals that reality to us and encourages us to cling to the true reality, represented by the God who is always sevens.

          Therefore, the seven Spirits are emissaries of the God who is sevens.  Better said, the seven Spirits are a symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit, the true emissary of God, who is also perfect and complete.

          There was an angel for each church addressed in Revelation.  We can rightly assume that each church had its own individual angel.  But it was the one Spirit of God who spoke to the angels and told them what to say.  And the Holy Spirit, the anonymous person of God, got his words from the Son, Jesus Christ (see John 14:26 & 16:13-15).

          We have to be cautious in attempting to apply the words of Revelation literally.  The words carry symbolic weight, attempting to describe something that is beyond the scope of mere words.  It’s like saying someone’s face glowed like the sun.  It would be a misunderstanding of what’s being said to then go and try to draw the person’s face as a literal sun.

          The seven Spirits before the throne of God, represented by the seven blazing lamps (fire is always a sign of the Holy Spirit), is a symbolic way of saying it is the Holy Spirit who is standing before the throne of God in all of his majesty and mystery, perfect and complete.

          Interestingly, at the foot of the throne in heaven is a sea of glass that is as clear as crystal.

          The sea is an important symbol in Revelation.  At the end of the book, when everything is said and done and the new heaven and the new earth are established, together at last, there will be no sea.

          The sea is the place from which the dragon comes.  Symbolically, that is saying that Satan comes from the sea.  So the sea is the symbolic representation of evil.  Biblically, if evil dwells somewhere, it is in the sea.  If evil has a home, it is in the sea.  So it makes sense that Satan comes out of the sea.

          But what is this sea doing in heaven?  Right now?  Even as we speak?

          First, it tells us that God is allowing the realm of evil to exist right now, even as close as his throne room.  That is the current state of things.

          But it also indicates to us that evil is confined.  It doesn’t get to do all that it wants to do.  It is under the sovereign rule of God.

          This is a great mystery and we aren’t going to get any answers that satisfy us.  But the sovereign God allows evil to exist and to exist even in his throne room in heaven.  But things will not always be that way.  There will come a day when the sea will exist no more.  Which means that in God’s new creation Satan will not be there and his dastardly, evil ways will not be in play. 

          That’s good news.  The world will be made right.

          Second, the sea is made of glass, clear as crystal. 

          In Revelation 21 we learn that the New Jerusalem will be a city of pure gold, as pure as glass (v. 18).  We also learn that the streets of this city are also made of pure gold, like transparent glass (v. 21).

          When gold is refined to a purity that is close, very close, to 100 percent, it changes color.  It is no longer gold-colored but clear, as clear as glass.  It becomes transparent.

          The heat required to accomplish such a state of purity is immense and rarely used.  In fact, it used to be that most people thought such an accomplishment was in the realm of alchemy, turning ordinary metals into gold through the use of an almost-magical catalyst.  Alchemy does not exist.  It’s not possible.

          What we have with the sea in the throne room of Revelation 4 is a sea that has been refined.  God has allowed the sea into the throne room—for now.  But he has changed it, purified it and refined it, so that it can be there under his sovereign and righteous control. 

          The stage is set; we are now ready to meet some of the others who inhabit the throne room of God.



          We have been ushered into the throne room of God as it is now.  There is more to be seen, but it is a place that is near, but far; filled with wonder and glory.

          As we move through the rest of chapter 4 and chapter 5, keep in mind all that is happening in heaven right now. 

          When you lose heart, know that God and all of the others in heaven are awake and active. 

          Know that God is mindful of you and of all of his creation. 

          Know that God is actively making things right, making them as they are meant to be.

          Know that there is a King in heaven who will one day make all of the sixes of this wo

Note:  This is intended to be an “open source” commentary, meaning that additions and corrections by readers are welcomed and necessary.  In fact, such a way of commenting on the Bible is and ought to be “normal” in the life of any church or group of Christian believers.  Such a method is the way theology is done.  With that said, please feel free to make your own comments and additions to what is written here by either replying via email or by making a comment on one of Horizon’s web sites: Facebook: “Horizon Ministries” or Horizon’s WordPress Blog   —Jim Morse


Introduction to Revelation 3:14-22

          The letter to the church in Laodicea is probably the best-remembered and most-quoted church letter of Revelation.  It is the letter which contains the admonition to not be lukewarm and also Jesus knocking at the door.  This section will explain the meaning of both of those important parts of this letter.

          The recipient of the previous letter, the church in Philadelphia, were reminded that there was going to be some rebuilding, of the temple especially, and that they were going to be a special part of that rebuilding effort.  The Philadelphians were familiar with rebuilding.  Their city had been devastated by an earthquake in the first part of the first century and had received significant assistance from the empire in rebuilding their city.

          The church in Laodicea was also devastated by an earthquake in 61 A. D. (A. D. means Anno Domini—“Year of our Lord”).  But unlike Philadelphia, Laodicea was able to rebuild without the assistance of the empire.  They had the means to finance the rebuilding on their own, without any help.  They were self-sufficient in that regard.

          Why?  It just so happened that Laodicea, located in the Lycus valley, was well-positioned economically.  The city was at the junction of important and well-used trading routes and was a banking center.  But there was more.  The city was home to an excellent medical school where many people came to train to be doctors.  Laodicea also had, alongside its medical school, a school that specialized in ophthalmology or the healing of the eyes.  The city was a good place to get a well-known Phrygian (named after the region in which the city was located) eye powder.

          Also, the shepherds of Laodicea had developed a breed of sheep whose black wool was of a high quality.  The presence of this wool created its own fashions, which made both the clothes and wool of Laodicea in high demand.

          So it seems the city had a lot going for it.  But like people and other towns that think they are self-sufficient, they can get carried away with themselves.  It seems the church in Laodicea had been bitten by this virus, if we’re going to go by what Jesus had to say to them.


Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV) 

    “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write

      These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. [15] I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! [16] So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. [17] You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. [18] I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

[19]   Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. [20] Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

[21]   To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. [22] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”





         The letter opens recounting another few attributes of the One addressing the church in Laodicea.  It is Jesus, the Amen, the faithful and true witness and the ruler of God’s creation.

          It is tempting to stop here and remind ourselves that Revelation was written after the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  Let’s just say that Jesus has been established as Lord and King and is ruling the earth from his throne in heaven (to which we will get in the next couple of chapters).  Jesus’ work has been accomplished, it just awaits its fulfillment.  That’s what Revelation is really all about.

          Jesus is the “Amen.”  He is the “so be it,” meaning that his word is to be trusted and is always true.

          Jesus is the faithful and true witness.  He is the one who is both Israel’s Messiah and is also Savior and Lord for all of people and all of creation.

          Jesus is the ruler of God’s creation.  He is king.  He rules earth (all of the cosmos, really) from his throne in heaven, where he is seated (meaning that his work is finished) at the right hand of the Father.

          With these three things said, as reminders of who is addressing the church in Laodicea, it would seem that the church would be well-advised to listen!  As it says at the end of this letter, in v. 22, it is wise and good to grow a good set of ears.

          Remember how well situated Laodicea is.  It is a prosperous city.  Many Christians think, as did the Jews of first century Israel, that prosperity is a sign of God’s favor.  To be rich was to have God’s favor on you.  To be poor was to be in God’s doghouse.  So the rich gave themselves permission to hold themselves in high esteem, compared with the poor.

          But this letter starts with the deeds of the church in Laodicea, which are well-known to Jesus, who doesn’t miss a thing! 

          But what does the Lord mean when he says they are neither hot nor cold, but are lukewarm?  Where does this come from?

          Laodicea had a lot going for it, but it had bad water.  And its two water sources, one to the north and the other to the south, were as different as night and day.

          The one to the north, the city of Hierapolis, stood on a cliff and had hot springs.  When the river near Laodicea would dry up, as it would almost every summer, Laodicea would depend on water from Hierapolis that would be transported via aquaducts.  The mineral-rich water would travel the 4-5 miles to Laodicea but would no longer be hot when it reached Laodicea.  It would be lukewarm!  It would also be so concentrated with minerals that it would be, essentially, unfit to drink.

          From the south, from the city of Colosse, 11 miles away, there was an excellent supply of cool mountain water that flowed off Mount Cadmus.  However, by the time this water reached Laodicea it was no longer cool and refreshing.  It was lukewarm!

          When Jesus says the Laodicean church is neither hot nor cold, but is lukewarm, they know exactly what he’s talking about! 

          But Jesus is disgusted by this attribute.  He wants to spit them out of his mouth. The wording is even stronger in the original language.  Jesus says he wants to vomit them out of his mouth.  In other words, the Laodicean church makes Jesus sick.  Now is a good time to listen.

          Jesus then goes on to remind the church that, even though they might be wealthy when it comes to money and things, they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  But they don’t realize it.  Jesus is not impressed with the smugness brought on by their riches and self-sufficiency. 

          It is also true that Jesus is not impressed by our self-sufficiency and our quest to be rich according to the standards of the world.  As we proceed through Revelation, we will find that Jesus calls us to give up everything if need be in order to be his faithful followers.  Modern American ears don’t have a high tolerance for such challenges.  We think it virtuous to be self-sufficient, depending on no one else.  In our self-delusion we think that to be otherwise is to be weak.  Jesus is not impressed.  He knows that we use wealth to hide our weaknesses from both him and from each other.

          Jesus tells the Laodicean church to buy gold from him, spiritual gold of great value that comes through the refining fire of his Holy Spirit, rather than depend on their accounts in the local banks.  Then they will be rich.

          Jesus tells them to put on white clothes, the purity given through the Holy Spirit, rather than the fashionable clothes made from the fine black wool taken from the local sheep.  At this time new converts to Christianity, when they were baptized, would put on white robes, signifying the purity that results from having their sins washed away and forgiven through the blood of Jesus.  To where white robes was to signal commitment to this new life, this holy life, in Jesus.

          And then Jesus tells them to put the salve that he provides on their eyes.  Remember that Laodicea was known for its local medical school for eyes and the Phrygian balm for eyes.  Only when our vision has been cleared up by Jesus can we see this world and ourselves as we really are. 

          It is easy to be self-deluded.  But having our eyes opened to see ourselves, the creation and Jesus for who/what they really are is a sober challenge.  Many would rather not know, but would rather persist in their false beliefs and delusions.

          In v. 19, Jesus tells the Christians in Laodicea how he treats his friends.  He rebukes them and disciplines them.  Hard to hear then.  Hard to hear now.

          But they are still his friends.  Even after the lengthy list of things he has against them, the band of followers in Laodicea are still the close personal friends of Jesus.  If he punishes them, disciplines them, speaks harsh words of correction to them, he does so only in the interest of bringing them to their senses.  We should never think that Jesus wants to devastate his followers.  Instead, he wants what’s best for us.

          A side story:  St. Teresa of Avila was known for her close communion with the Lord.  One time, when she was complaining to the Lord about her suffering, he told her, “This is how I treat my friends.”  To which she is reported to have replied, “Then you shouldn’t be surprised that you have so few of them.”

          As the British Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”

          The Lord encourages the Laodicean Christians to repent, to turn back to a true and authentic discipleship, letting Jesus lead the way.  The way will not be easy, but it will lead to life.

          As much as Jesus gets after the church in Laodicea, more than any other church, it is to the Laodicean church that he gives extravagant promises. 

          He says he is standing at the door and knocking and that he earnestly desires to eat with them, and they with him.

          But the question is this:  Whose door are we talking about?

          Remember how self-sufficient the Laodiceans thought they were?  How independent?  It would be tempting, as so many do today, to think that the door being talked about is MY door.  It is the door to my house.  It is the door to my heart (as it’s been preached so often).

          But remembering the gospels tells us that this is, instead, a picture of the master returning to his own house after he’s been away and has left his hired hands in charge of his vineyard, his crops, his property, his stuff, his house.  The hired hands are not owners, they are stewards who have been commissioned to take care of things so that there is a good harvest.

          In other words, the door being talked about here is the door to Jesus’ house!  He is the owner.  He is the Master returning to see how well his followers have done stewarding his creation.  To refuse entry to the rightful owner of the house is not only rude, it is unwise.

          Even more, the servant is to stay awake, expecting that the Master might return at any moment.  Constant vigilance is required.  This is a constant biblical theme for the faithful people of God.  We are to keep watch and be vigilant, for the Lord can return at any time.  It is best to not be found asleep.  And it is best to be alert and ready to open the door.

          The promise is that there will be the intimacy of table fellowship with the Lord, echoing Psalm 23 and the promises of the Good Shepherd.

          Even after being taken to the woodshed by the Lord, the Laodicean Christians are still promised a deep and abiding intimacy with the risen Jesus.  Us, too.

          And we are reminded of this close relationship every time we break bread and raise the cup of the covenant in the Lord’s Supper.  This is the meal that reminds us that we are not alone.  We have a Savior who does not forget or forsake us.  He might be a little hard on us once in a while, but he doesn’t give up on us.  Holy Communion is a reminder of that truth—the Lord comes in and eats with us, and we with him.

          But it gets better, and more mysterious.  Jesus promises that those who hang in there and subsequently overcome the temptations to give up following Jesus and instead follow him to the end (which is really the new beginning!), will sit with him on his throne and rule with him.

          Stop and think about that.  Sitting with Jesus on his throne in heaven. 

          Jesus rules from that throne.  So we will also rule from that throne.

          We get that right to share Jesus’ throne.

          It is good that we should never forget that God does not accomplish his purposes apart from human involvement, right down to the smallest part.  He shares his throne.  He shares the rulership.  He makes us into a royal priesthood.




          We’ve come to the end of the letters to the seven church of Revelation.  A lot was said.  We’ve covered a lot of ground and we’ve only just gotten started.  Revelation is a “deep” book that is multi-layered.

          We’ve been told over and over again to grow ears and listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. 

          But the kicker is that the Spirit is saying the same thing to the church of today as he said to the churches of Revelation.  What was said then is also a word for now.

          Therefore, Revelation is always a contemporary book.  It is always a book of the present time.  It is not locked in the past and easily relegated to a time gone by.

          And now we are ready to see what’s going on in heaven these days, as we enter into the awesome world of chapters 4 & 5.


Note:  This is intended to be an “open source” commentary, meaning that additions and corrections by readers are welcomed and necessary.  In fact, such a way of commenting on the Bible is and ought to be “normal” in the life of any church or group of Christian believers.  Such a method is the way theology is done.  With that said, please feel free to make your own comments and additions to what is written here by either replying via email or by making a comment on one of Horizon’s web sites: Facebook: “Horizon Ministries.:—Jim Morse


Introduction to Revelation 3:7-13

           As we read through the letters to the churches of Revelation, it is always appropriate to remind ourselves that these words are for us, perhaps even more than they are/were for the churches named in Revelation. 

          We know this because all but one of the letters ends with a sentence like this: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Not past tense, but present tense.  This is the Spirit’s word to we who are now living, just as it was, indeed, for those who went before us, including the people who were the churches of the first century who are mentioned in Revelation.

          These are, in a sense, timeless words even though they are rooted in both history as we commonly understand the term and in God’s salvation history, which is the grand narrative which captures the reality and trajectory of all of creation, including the trajectory of humanity.

          We find in Revelation the roots of our problems and the ways in which God has, is and will solve them—all of that work rooted and grounded in the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

          In this letter to the church in Philadelphia, we hear that the entire creation is going to pass through a trial and be tested.  Therefore, when we hear how bad things are, we are reminded of two things after reading Revelation.  First, that God is going to allow evil/Satan to do its worst upon the earth, just as the Lord God allowed the worst of humanity to fall upon his Son on the cross.  Second, that God calls the followers of Jesus to continue the way of the cross as God executes his judgment upon Satan once and for all, allowing God’s wrath to fall upon them in the time before God’s full wrath falls upon the one who deserves it—Satan.



 Revelation 3:7-13 (NIV) 

    “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

    These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. [8] I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. [9] I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. [10] Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

[11]   I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. [12] Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. [13] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”




          Again, the letter starts with another attribute of Jesus the Risen One and King being trumpeted.  He is the one who holds the key of David.  He is the King.  He is in control.  If he opens something, no one can shut it.  If he shuts something, no one can then open it.  To be King means to have power.  Jesus is the Powerful One.

          The church needs this kind of reminder as we slug it out here on earth.  We need to be told again and again that Jesus is King and that he is the Powerful One.  We, mired in the swamps and forests of our lives, can easily lose this perspective.  Reading the letter to the church in Philadelphia is a good reminder of who is in charge and who holds the keys.

          Opportunity abounds to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is the open door that stands before the church in Philadelphia.  But more needs to be said because it would seem that all of the odds are stacked against them—and against us much of the time.

          About 50 years before this was written, the city of Philadelphia had been shaken by a tremendous earthquake.  It had damaged or ruined many of the major buildings, including some of the temples.  Rebuilding is always an arduous task. And destructive and hurtful experiences always leave their mark in our memory.  We don’t want to experience such terror and heartache again.  We remember all too well the earthquakes we have experienced.

          The Spirit admits that this little church in Philadelphia is not ready for heavy lifting, it is a small band.  But they are reminded that it is not their strength that matters, it is the strength of the Lord Jesus that matters for he is the one who holds the keys.  He has real power.

          The fact that the church is described as having kept the word of Jesus and have not denied his name means that they have probably experienced some persecution already.  And what follows might give an indication of the source of that persecution.

          When the Spirit mentions the “synagogue of Satan,” we need to again remember that Satan is the adversary or oppose of God and God’s purposes. 

          And we know that God’s purposes have been done both through his Son, Jesus the Messiah, and through the people who are the church, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, who are the body of Christ on earth, who are the bride of Christ and will one day be united as one spiritual body with the Groom Jesus.

          Therefore, if you do not follow Jesus as Messiah, then you are calling God a liar and are opposed to him and his purposes of redeeming the earth and its people.  This is doubly true if you are a Jew.

          Now in Philadelphia there was probably a large Jewish congregation.  But the church was composed of perhaps only a dozen or two people.  The synagogue looked more powerful.  It was certainly bigger.  The church looked like a minor player.

          It is quite probable that, as the Christians tried to explain that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and the Savior of not only Israel but all humankind, they were opposed.  But the Spirit says that those in the synagogue, those not acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, are not really Jews!

          This is not the first time the issue comes up in Scripture.  In Romans 9:6, Paul writes: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”  What Paul means is that it is not a flesh and blood inheritance that matters when it comes to being Israel.  Instead, with the coming of the Messiah in Jesus, it is those who recognize Jesus as Messiah in faith who are now the true and authentic Israel.  In other words, it is the Christians who are the real Israel.  In other words again, it is the Christians who are the real Jews! 

          The Spirit calls those in the synagogue in Philadelphia liars.  They are liars because they deny the Messiah who was sent to them by God.  They are saying, in effect, “We don’t believe you, God, that Jesus is the Messiah.”  Obviously, judging from this letter to the church in Philadelphia, God isn’t thrilled with being called a liar!

          Remember the story of Joseph from Genesis?  Remember how he got into all kinds of trouble because he had a couple of dreams in which he was shown that his brothers, some older than him, would one day bow down to him.  When he told his brothers about the dream they weren’t thrilled.  In fact, they removed Joseph from the scene and Joseph ended up in Egypt where he became a very powerful man.     When Joseph’s brothers were sent by their father Jacob to Egypt to see if they could get some grain, who did they end up in front of—Joseph!  They bowed down to him.  The one who was discarded and thrown away by his own brothers, was now the one in power.

          With that story in mind, we can now understand the context for the Spirit saying to the small band of Christians in Philadelphia that those in the synagogue, who appear to be strong in number, would one day “come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”  God is saying to them, “Have courage and persevere because they day is coming when the truth about who you are will be evident to all.”

          Whenever you feel, as a follower of Jesus, discouraged and that you don’t have much power in this world, remember the words of the Spirit to the church in Philadelphia.  We might appear to be on the bottom of the pit now, but the day is coming … the day is coming.

          A battle is brewing.  The hour of trial is coming and it will involve the whole world.  The battle is between Satan and his followers … and Jesus and his followers.  And the battlefield is this earth, where the followers live.  More to the point, the battlefield is the hearts of human beings, with the entire creation affected by the outcome of the war.

          The test is this:  Satan or Jesus?  Not you or Jesus.  Not some other god/idol or Jesus.  Satan or Jesus?  And each one of us will have to answer this question.  Who is the king of your heart?  To whom have you given your allegiance?  Who is Lord?  All will be tested.  It’s a pass/fail test.  Even better—it’s a life/death test.

          When Jesus says he is coming soon in v. 11, it is more proper to hear “soon” as a “be ready” kind of warning.  We know that because of the next sentence in that verse, which encourages the believers in Philadelphia to hang on so they don’t lose their crown.  Remember from the first part of this comment:  Jesus has the power to put the crown on your head and he has the power to take it off. 

          However, he doesn’t really want to take the crown off the heads of any of his believers.  It is probably more true that it is we who would take the crown off.  If we change our allegiance from Jesus to Satan, then it is clear that we have switched sides.  We moved from the victorious side to the defeated side.  And if we move to the defeated side, then we don’t get to wear the crown of the victors, who are victorious in and through Jesus.

          Remember the history of earthquakes in Philadelphia?  A city that was both shaken and stirred (with apologies to James Bond!)?  The public buildings would have had large pillars holding them up.

          Here, the Christians in Philadelphia are told that, if they hang in there and persevere in their faith, then they will become pillars in the temple of God.  They will be the strength and support of the church.

          The temple is the place where God dwells.  We know from Paul’s letters that now the church is the temple of God because the church is now the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.  So rather than being a building, the temple is a people—the people who call upon the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior and follow him.

          We hear next that God is faithful and will not abandon his people, his temple, his dwelling place, on which are written both God’s name and the name of his city, the promised New Creation, the new city that we read about more fully at the end of Revelation.  It is the city that comes from heaven.

          God’s faithful people.

          God’s temple.

          God’s dwelling place.


          We who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord.


          Remember the story from 2 Kings 6:8-23, where the prophet Elisha is being chased by the Arameans and is trapped in Dothan?  The king of Aram sent a large army and surrounded Dothan, laying a trap for Elisha because he was a pain in the neck to the king of Aram.

          Elisha’s servant gets up the next morning and, when he goes outside the tent he sees the Arameans who have surrounded the city.  And like a good servant shaking in his boots, he asks Elisha, “What shall we do?”  In other words, the servant is saying, “I know you’ve done some great things, but now is the time to do your best stuff or this is not going to be a very good day!”

          Elisha answers the servant this way (v. 16, one of the great verses in the Bible): “Don’t be afraid.  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

          Then, after praying that the Lord would open the servant’s eyes so he could see what was really going on, we read (v. 17): “Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and say the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

          Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.

          The church in Philadelphia was told that someday … someday … those in the huge synagogue would bow down to them.

          They would be wearing the crowns.


          Because the One who is with them is more than those who are with them.

          Us, too.



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