THE BOOK OF REVELATION
THE CHURCH'S TRIUMPH THROUGH CHRIST
Sermon #16 - The Passing of the Old Dispensation
and the Inauguration of the New Covenant
A Supplement to Our Understanding of the Book of Revelation
INTRODUCTION - The opening of Revelation presents us with an early church that was full of struggles and persecutions. Being attacked from within and without, it is a wonder that such a group of people could survive. Yet it is when the veil of heaven is pulled back in chapters 4 and 5 that we see how such a group could be victorious in its antagonistic world. God is on the throne. They are kings and priests before the Lord. Christ has taken His place at God's right hand to mediate the New Covenant. Though the church may look frail, its power and victory are as infinite as the God who supports them. Revelation 4 and 5 have been showing us how God has transformed the worship of His people from Old Testament symbols to New Testament truth. This morning's communion service is a perfect illustration of this type of transformation.
1) COMMUNION IS AN EXAMPLE OF OUR TRANSFORMED WORSHIP - At the Lord's Table, we come to receive grace and blessing from our Savior. He is present to strengthen His church as we look to Him and His work on our behalf. We come to the Table in repentance and faith, seeking our Lord and knowing Him through the elements. Communion is also a feast of the New Covenant in Christ. When Christ inaugurated Communion, He said "this is My blood of the new covenant" (Matthew 26:28). Yet do we realize that the Lord Jesus was taking an Old Testament feast and transforming it into New Covenant worship? Christ and His disciples had gathered in the upper room to celebrate the Jewish Passover. He took that feast, and instead of pointing towards the lamb in the feast, He pointed to Himself, His blood, His sacrifice, thus changing forever the meaning of Passover. The New Covenant believers were not to celebrate it as a remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt, but were to now celebrate Communion as a remembrance of their deliverance from sin through Christ. It is important that we understand how radical all of this was for the early church. We celebrate Communion as an accepted worship service for believers, but for the early church this was a major transformation. Old Testament worship was being substituted with New Covenant counterparts. The church's services, place of worship, and type of worship were being changed through the application of Christ's sacrifice to Old Testament pictures. We should also realize that just because this has happened with the Old Testament it does not mean that we throw out this part of the Bible. Unfortunately, many Christians are illiterate when it comes to the Old Testament for this very reason. We somehow think that those books are only for the Jews and not for us. Yet this reasoning cuts us off from our heritage as Christians. It also makes it impossible for us to really understand many New Testament passages when we set the Old Testament aside. We must realize that if we are going to understand Revelation, along with the rest of the New Testament, we must have a good understanding of the Old Testament. Many of the pictures of Revelation will be seen in the Old Testament. So, although our worship and perspective has changed in the New Testament, we are still to rely heavily upon the Old Testament, for it too is the book of God's people in every generation.
2) WE MUST GO TO OTHER BIBLICAL SOURCES TO UNDERSTAND THE BOOK OF REVELATION - This morning, and for the next few weeks, we are going to deviate away from the book of Revelation and look at other passages which will help us with our understanding of the upcoming chapters. In Revelation 6, all the action begins, and if we simply entered into that chapter without preparation, we would come up with all sorts of bizarre explanations and interpretations. We must have Old and New Testament preparation before we can begin to understand what John is recording for us. If the early church understood the message of Revelation, then it is through their understanding of the Old and New Testaments that they reached their conclusions. Most of our present day interpretations would never have occurred to the early church, thus making the book useless for them. Instead, we must realize that this book was written to encourage them, and so they would easily understand John's pictures and visions through their prior knowledge of the Scriptures. This is how we must interpret the book. Since Revelation 5 ends with the inauguration of Christ to the right hand of God, and since Revelation 6 begins all the action of Christ's rule and reign, we must ask -
3) WHAT IS THE FIRST THING CHRIST MUST DO IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH HIS NEW COVENANT KINGDOM? - We might suggest that the sending out of His disciples into the world with His Gospel would be the first command of the King. This is certainly one of His mandates, but with regards to the establishment of His church as the focal point of the worship and activity of God, there must be a cataclysmic overthrow of the old dispensation which will make way for Christ's New Covenant. As Revelation is recorded, the city of Jerusalem and its Temple are still standing. The Jews did not recognize Christ as the Messiah. They were still worshipping in Old Testament fashion, offering up sacrifices on the altar in Jerusalem. All of this must be overthrown, for it was in direct opposition to the kingdom which Christ was setting up. Therefore, the primary action of the King of kings at this time is to destroy both Jerusalem and its Temple so that the new kingdom and worship may be established. This was the thrust of Christ's teachings in the New Testament and we shall see from the Gospel of Matthew how these ideas are worked out.
4) THE JUDGMENT PRONOUNCED AGAINST THE JEWS BECAUSE OF THEIR REJECTION OF CHRIST - There is an incredible progression of warnings and judgments given to the Jews in Matthew's Gospel, all culminating with the final pronouncement that the Temple and Jerusalem will be annihilated.
A) JOHN THE BAPTIST'S CONDEMNATION OF THE JEWS - Matthew 3:7-12 - As John the Baptist baptized at the Jordan, some Jews came to him in repentance and faith. Yet among them came the religious rulers whom John thoroughly condemns by telling them that the wrath of God is coming and that if they did not repent, they would be destroyed. John tells them that being "a descendant of Abraham" is meaningless to God, for it would save no one. "The ax is laid at the root of the trees," in other words, judgment was at the door for that generation. This is in reference to what Christ would send upon the city in 70 AD.
B) THE SONS OF THE KINGDOM ARE CAST OUT - Matthew 8:11,12 - When a Gentile Roman centurion comes to Christ and displays a faith which was missing in the Jewish nation, Christ commends the centurion and predicts that His kingdom will be filled with "many from east and west" - the Gentiles. The Jews, on the other hand, are the "sons of the kingdom" who are cast out. As they reject Christ, so Christ rejects them from His kingdom. They are no longer to be considered the people of God.
C) NINEVAH WILL JUDGE THE JEWISH GENERATION OF CHRIST'S DAY - Matthew 12:41 - Jonah was a horrible preacher, yet the people of Ninevah repented, despite his sarcastic preaching. Yet what an insult it is to Christ, who is greater than Jonah, and the people of Israel reject Him. That generation will be judged by Ninevah's repentant population. We see that as Matthew progresses, so the message of judgment becomes stronger against the Jews of Christ's day.
D) THE KINGDOM WILL BE TAKEN FROM THE JEWS AND GIVEN TO ANOTHER - Matthew 21:33-45 - In this parable we see God the Father giving His kingdom to the Jews. They were to maintain it and bring forth its fruits, but instead they rejected God, His prophets, and eventually, His own Son. As a result, the Lord will take the kingdom from the Jews and give it to the nations. Christ has rejected the Jewish nation and has established His kingdom through the church.
E) THE KING'S WRATH AGAINST THOSE WHO REJECT HIM - Matthew 22:1-9 - This next parable shows that the Jews were invited to be part of God's kingdom, but they rejected the invitation, again, killing the prophets of God. As a result, God will send out His armies and destroy that generation along with their city (Matthew 22:7 - a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD). The kingdom of God is then expanded to include the Gentiles, for the Jews had rejected their God.
F) CHRIST'S WORDS OF JUDGMENT AND WRATH AGAINST JERUSALEM - Matthew 23:33-39 - This chapter is full of curses against the Jews living in Christ's day. The religious leaders are especially singled out as "fools, hypocrites, blind men, and vipers." The language is full of wrath and condemnation. The house of Israel will be left desolate, for God has turned from them to build His kingdom somewhere else. That generation of Jews living during the time of Christ, if they did not repent and turn to Him, would suffer annihilation as Jerusalem is overthrown.
G) CHRIST'S PROPHECY OF THE FALL OF JERUSALEM AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE - Matthew 24:1,2 (Parallel passages which should be looked up - Mark 13:1,2; Luke 21:5-6; Luke 19:43,44) - Jesus leaves the Temple, never to return again. God has turned His back on the Jews as His people. It is then that Christ predicts that "not one stone shall be left here upon another." In the parallel passages, we see He is speaking of the Temple and the City. Here we see Christ predicting what the Roman armies would do in 70 AD - the complete overthrow and destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples of Christ would see this actually happen and would remember what Christ had said about the Jews and Jerusalem's destruction.
Here is the primary action of Christ as King of kings. In order to set up His New Covenant kingdom, the old must be dismantled and changed. This begins with the destruction of the earthly Temple, the Holy City, and the judgment upon that generation of Jews who rejected Christ. It is this destruction that the book of Revelation will also reflect in its language. Therefore, for the next few weeks we shall carefully look at Matthew 24 - Christ's prediction of the fall of Jerusalem - to show how these events fit in to the unfolding of the book of Revelation.