Revelation 1:9-16 Part 1

As we enter into verse nine and beyond, I am drawn to, and fascinated by, the apostle’s worldview. (I guess you would have to be, since the heavens were opened to him and he saw the King of Kings from the throneroom/sanctuary of God, and then wrote it down for all to see!) We’re going to explore humanity’s “worldviews” a bit, as we go, and compare and contrast them to John’s. And let’s all remember that we now have the Word of God written which, as the apostle Peter said, is more sure than sight or experience.

Some of you may remember from our lengthy exposition of the Gospel of Matthew that we searched the Scripture with regard to the word “simple”. Some exceptional insights came to us from God’s Word as we did that study.

The insights came as we were contrasting the word “simple” with its opposite – “doubleminded”. In Scripture the simple are not to be equated with the intellectually or emotionally impaired. It has nothing to do with a low IQ. And neither has it anything to do with those who are so self-focused that hardly anything interests them other than what they’re thinking and doing. And neither has it anything to do with the ones who can do only one thing at a time (like the accusations sometimes applied to me).

In Scripture the “simple” are contrasted with the “doubleminded”. The doubleminded have something under the surface. The Greek word actually means “beneath the fold”. To illustrate that……if you were to fold a sheet of paper in order that half of it was underneath, then you’d have a surface on the top and one underneath…..”beneath the fold”.

The “simple”, in the Scripture, are the ones without guile. In other words, there isn’t a “fold”. So there isn’t anything hidden underneath. On the other hand, the opposite of simple is doubleminded. More than one! There may be one way of looking at things and doing things; and mixed in with it are contradictory things! The doubleminded man contradicts himself. He shows himself to be one way, but “beneath the fold” he may be another way…… or, maybe, more than one other way!

It’s often been said that there is always more than one way of looking at things. This world order is very complicated for most folks. And in order to deal with it they make philosophical adjustments. And in doing so, they become duplicitous. In other words they refuse to be “simple”; and they remain “doubleminded”.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church in Rome, said that the glory and power of God is clearly seen in His creation! Yet many obstinately refuse to glorify the Creator of it all. So, they remain doubleminded.

Paul, as well as the other apostles, exalt the Scripture as the written Word of God, given to prophets and apostles, for the purpose of further revealing the God of creation and salvation. Yet many purposefully and stubbornly refuse to glorify the God of heaven and earth. So, they remain doubleminded.

Then the express image of God, Jesus the Christ, The Logos, the very Word of God, was revealed to men, many of whom were, and are, defiant of His Revelation…..preferring other options. So, they remain doubleminded.

But John’s worldview is “simple” (as we see in verse nine). That doesn’t mean “easy”…… It means it’s all right there on the surface; and there are no “optional” worldviews. There are no other perspectives. There are no other prospects; there are no competing philosophies of life. There is nothing opposing the full power and glory of God in the revelation of His creation or His written Word or His express image – Jesus Christ. It is simply “simple” – in other words, it’s in full view for all to see.

But man invariably prefers something “other”. And he weighs in with his own appraisal of things, surveying all the options as he perceives them. That makes him duplicitous and doubleminded, because, as the apostle says, man “knows” what’s right-there-on-the-surface to be true!

How can that be? Because that’s what the apostle Paul says. All men know it to be true. But men (women and children) are antagonized by it. They are alienated and estranged from it; they are insulted by it; they are offended and repelled by it. And they struggle with all their might against it. They wish to compete with it, and they wish to replace it with something of their own making. So they invent, or fabricate, high-sounding philosophies and worldviews as they improvise from a position of enraged discontent!

The meaning of life; the origin of the universe; the source of knowledge; the significance of humanity; what’s the definition of “is”; is anything “real”; is there anything other than “cause and effect”; infinite existence; is anything “spirit”, or is anything “matter”, or is there both spirit and matter; can the environment be destroyed? Can we know whether we really exist?

I just want to mention, not deeply explore, the primary philosophical inventions of mankind. And as we do this, please count on the fact that there is nothing new under the sun. These have all been around since the fall of man. Only in the last couple of hundred years have philosophers, poets and musicians put names on them. Even those thought processes that seem to correspond to our 21st century culture really aren’t new. They’re as old as the fall of man. They were deadly then; and they’re deadly now. There is nothing new; nothing fashionable; nothing contemporary; nothing unique. It’s just plain old, common rebellion, brazen provocation, against that which is open right before the eyes of all men, on the surface – “simple” – nothing hidden – nothing “beneath the fold”.

Since mankind is so dissatisfied with the Truth that is constantly before their eyes, and (as the apostle Paul puts it) even in them, man tends to organize a given set of his own ideas into an “ideology”. We even call them “-isms”.

The first one that I would mention is “theism”. Remember now, an ideology is man’s attempt at organizing a set of his own ideas. (After all, ideology is the study of ideas) And theism is a man-made set of his own ideas about God. It is the Greek word “Theos”- God, and “-ism”. Theism.

Even during periods of time in which Christian thought has been prevalent, man had to impose his own ideas on God’s Revelation. Theism admits that God does exist and that the universe was created by Him. But it also says that the universe is an “open” system. All human beings can know both the world around them and God Himself, because God has built into them the capacity to do so. And all men (women and children) have the freedom to remain, or not to remain, in a relationship with their creator.

I hope you’ll recognize this as man’s ideas about God and about man’s own transcendence and freedom in an open creation. Theism is an organized set of ideas – an ideology – about God and about man from man’s perspective.

Next we have another set of ideas – an ideology – about God and man and creation. This ideology, called “deism”, says that God isn’t personal, but only “transcendent”. He made the universe and set it into motion on its own. Therefore, if we wish to “know” God, then we must study the universe. Deism rejects all special revelation, and it depends solely on human reason. Since the universe is, then God is; and whatever is, is right. You see, this is a “closed” universe according to Deism. We observe the clockwork structure and workings of the universe and its “clockmaker god”, and we act accordingly. That’s deistic ethics.

This too is a worldview about man and God and creation from man’s perspective. And, by the way, Albert Einstein was a deist. He “saw” a higher power at work behind the universe; and, at the same time, maintained human reason as the source of all knowledge about God and His universe.

Thirdly, there is a philosophy of life, a set of ideas, an ideology, a human perspective called “naturalism”. Carl Sagan, the astrophysicist, once said, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” As another scientist/philosopher (this one French) said, “the cosmos is ultimately one thing. In the whole universe there is but a single substance with various modifications.”

Even the human mind is a function of the substance of the cosmos. Even though we are complex functions, we are that and only that….complex matter functioning by chance. And we are valuable in this universe because we are complex. There is no overarching purpose of the universe; it just “is”. Charles Darwin is the one who gave naturalism a “mechanism” to hold on to. And now there are hardly any public school systems that don’t teach naturalistic Darwinism.

By the way, in naturalism death means extinction. Matter is only matter; and when complex matter ceases to function, it becomes extinct and passes into less complex matter. To the naturalist philosopher/scientist, this is very attractive, for he believes only that which can be shown by scientific investigation to be fact. All this is extremely important to the avid environmentalist too, because “functioning matter” needs “complex functioning matter” to make it stable, or it might not function properly. Otherwise all “functioning matter” might deteriorate, or even pass into extinction.

Well, naturalism is just another case of abject hostility to God’s Revelation.

Let’s move on now to “nihilism”. Remember that these are ideologies – worldviews – set by men in direct hostile rebellion to the open, surface, clear (simple) Revelation of God in His creation and in His special Revelation and in O Logos Himself – the Word of God. Mankind suppresses the clarity of the power and glory of God by provocatively creating these competing ideas which he prefers over God’s Truth.

Nihilism means “nothing-ism”. We here in a Christian and Reformed Church, worshipping God in His sanctuary may find it hard to imagine that nihilism would be a seriously held worldview. But it is. There are many who prefer this philosophy of life – this worldview – over God’s clear Revelation of Himself.

In order to decipher the present circumstances in which we find our culture and society, you need to know the worldview that philosophers now call “nihilism”.

Nihilism is the denial that anything is of value. Nothing has any meaning. Whatever is is just “there”. Humanity has no meaning. In fact, if a pebble on the beach has any meaning at all, it’s certainly more than that of a human being, because it survives longer! A human being is just a part of impersonal cosmic forces. We are the sole result of chance. And chance is causeless, purposeless, directionless.

And, of course, chance opens everything up to absolute absurdity. The brain is only functioning matter; and matter has no interest whatever in leading one to true perception or to logical conclusions. So there is no such thing as knowledge or reason. So people end up in an ironic paradox. How can one state that there is no knowledge or reason unless he believes that the statement is true? If there’s no such thing as truth, then how can that statement be true?

Neither is there any such thing as ethics to the nihilist. If one buys a sandwich, or steals the sandwich, makes no difference. To the nihilist “should”, or “ought”, don’t exist. We’re just “matter” in a closed, universal system, so right and wrong are non-existent. That’s another paradox, by the way, since, to the nihilist, a true conclusion has been reached: i.e. that right and wrong are non-existent.

So, to the nihilist nothing has meaning. And from meaninglessness, nothing follows. Or, to put that another way, anything follows! And one can respond to meaninglessness in any number of ways, all of them equally appropriate. In response to meaninglessness, one can commit suicide, or one can sit all day and listen to rock music, or one can go to Disneyland. All of them are equally appropriate.

And here’s the greatest paradox: all men are created in the image of God. And all men know God. So the problem for the thousands and millions of practical nihilists out there is that they can’t live with themselves without severe psychological damage. Because they’re made in God’s image, every fiber of their being, during every waking hour, calls for meaning, value, significance, dignity and worth! These are the ones, denying that anything has meaning, that we end up treating as schizophrenic and hallucinogenic.

I’m going to have to go through the remainder of these quickly, since we’re running short. But the next major worldview is existentialism. This philosophy of life is naturalistic; but it further holds that man makes his own value. And whatever means he uses to make that value is right. The existence of humanity demands that, they say. To the existentialist, the chosen action that he takes is the good one. Because he chooses it, it’s good.

It’s necessary, because of time, that we pass right through all of the mystical, pantheistic eastern worldviews by saying that the primary focus of their rebellion against God’s Revelation is called “monism”. Monism is the philosophy of life having to do with oneness with nature. Humanity is one with all other things. And the “new age” phenomenon in western societies is an attempt to “westernize” eastern pantheism and pagan animism. It’s all “monistic” – all is one!

But now, before we run out of time, we have to get to the last of the major “isms”. Once again, remember that an ideology is man’s philosophical attempt at organizing a set of his own ideas. And even with “postmodernism”, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s as old as sin. Just because it has reared its ugly head here in our time, it’s not new. And it is as deadly as it ever was, because its purpose is to replace the simple, glorious worldview expressed by John in verse nine of our text.

We have spent a little bit of time on postmodernism previously; so I’ll just highlight it for you today. And the first thing that has to be said is that god is dead. Not that some supreme deity has actually perished, but that no longer is there a supreme “being” of any kind mentioned in the conversation! In postmodernism the idea of god, or gods, is completely gone.

In every other philosophy, or ideology of man, a deity of some kind is at least a topic of discourse. Not in postmodernism. Even the topic has vanished. It is dead. Each individual, or small group, is self-defining; and there are no longer any paradigms. All metanarratives are excluded; and language is no longer right and wrong – but whether it is useful! And small communities identify themselves by the stories they construct for themselves. There is no objective value in anything; value is given to something based on the needs of the individual.

And this one last thing (and we’ll have to quit): the findings of scientific inquiry, the writings of historicists, the works of musicians and artists, the planning of sociologists….. all of these (and many others) are of no value, for they aren’t “real”. Postmodernists are antirealists. They deny that there is any known or knowable connection between what we think and say with what is actually there. So any narrative about any subject is false unless it speaks to the needs of the individual or small group. So stating facts or metanarratives on the truths-of-the-matter is rejected. Since there is no reality that can be known, we can only tell stories about things that are helpful.

Well, those are the major philosophical constructs of man-in-rebellion-against-God. And, in one form or another, they are all still held by many….. if not with the philosophical and ideological language, at least in their practical outworking.

We’ll have time just to introduce the apostle John’s worldview in verse nine; and then continue with it next Lord’s Day. Listen:

“I John, your brother and co-sharer in the affliction and kingdom and steadfastness in Jesus, came to be in the island called Patmos through the Word of God and the witness of Jesus.”

John “shares” with all the others in the Churches. He is a fellow servant, with them, of Jesus the Christ. He shares what with them? He shares Jesus’ affliction; he shares Jesus’ Kingdom; he shares in steadfastness – or perseverance – in Jesus.

He’s not banished to Patmos because of his own testimony; he’s there because of the Word of God and the witness of Jesus. It is Jesus’ witness and Jesus’ affliction that he shares with them. It is Jesus’ kingdom (a present Kingdom) that he shares with them. It is perseverance in Jesus that he shares with all the other fellow servants. Do you recognize the worldview of John here?

It is Christ the Faithful Witness Who has borne the testimony against the would-be “gods” of the earth and their man-made ideologies. And they have fought back by banishing the apostle and persecuting the Church. The witness of the Christ determines the course of history; and that’s why the affliction and the Kingdom and steadfastness are all IN Christ Jesus.

Because of that witness, the witness of Jesus, the ideologies of men are hostile and malevolent. John is a co-sharer, with the other servants, in Jesus’ affliction, in Jesus’ Kingdom, in Jesus’ steadfastness.

We have more to do with verse nine, and we’ll continue next Lord’s Day.

NOTE: The order in which the ideologies of men appear here comes from James W. Sire’s book THE UNIVERSE NEXT DOOR. Downers Press. 1997.