The Vision of Peter, Paul and John

Christian Chen

"So then King Agrippa I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven." (Acts 26:19).

Thank the Lord that we can be together this weekend. As you know the theme of this conference is 'the heavenly vision'. Now this term, 'the heavenly vision' is borrowed from the book of Acts, chapter 26. It was the testimony of the apostle Paul, who addressed king Agrippa, and said, 'I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.' So here we have the heavenly vision. You remember the story of the apostle Paul, how that heavenly vision changed His life. Once he was caught, he never escaped and that heavenly vision indeed explained the whole life of Paul. In that vision, Paul saw the risen Lord. He not only saw Christ, the head, but he also saw the church, His body. So on the way to Damascus, Paul saw a heavenly vision and that vision indeed governed his whole life. Now this is his testimony and he dared to say, 'I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.'

The heavens opened three times

Thank God, in the New Testament, not only Paul saw this vision. When we study the book of Acts, we find in a city called Joppa, which is today's Tel-a-Viv that Peter also saw a vision and we are told that heaven was opened; Peter was under an open heaven. We are told that he saw a vision, a vision of an inverted tabernacle where there were all kinds of animals, and God said to Peter, 'Get up Peter, kill and eat.' So Peter also saw a heavenly vision. But more than that, when we study Revelation, we find that the apostle John was on the island of Patmos, and we are told that a door opened in heaven and John saw the vision of the heavenly throne. That vision becomes the key to the whole book of Revelation. Today we do not know much about the book of Revelation, because we do not see what John had seen. If we discover that a door has opened in heaven, if we really see the throne in heaven, again that vision will govern and control our whole life.

So here we not only see the vision of Paul, but also the vision of Peter and the vision of John. Now why in the bible are we told that these three people saw an open heaven? Because it has something to do with the eternal will of God. So when we study the New Testament, we find the ministry of John, the ministry of Peter and the ministry of Paul. Now God has put these three ministries together for us to have a complete vision from heaven. So thank God, through the ministries of Peter, Paul and John, we are able to see an open heaven. We are meant to receive a heavenly vision. Without that vision, we may work very hard, we may even live a very Godly life, but brothers we will still somehow be far from the eternal will of God. Sooner or later we have to see this wonderful vision from heaven.

Now you remember the story of Peter, when he met the Lord and he was casting out the nets. Then the Lord said to him, 'I will make you a fisher of men. Follow me.' This was the wonderful call of our Master and Lord. So from that time on, Peter was entrusted with an important and unique ministry. His ministry was always casting out the nets. You remember in the day of Pentecost when he cast out the nets and three thousand fish entered into the nets. Then another casting of the nets, and five thousand fish came in. So here we see the birth of the church of Christ, here we see the beginning of Christian life, the beginning of church life. So Peter has something to do with the fundamentals of church life. He had been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. So on the day of Pentecost, it was Peter who used the keys to open the door and many people were able to enter in to the kingdom of heaven.

Then in the house of Cornelius, Peter used another key to open the door and the door to the kingdom of heaven was opened once again. So it is very clear; this is the ministry given to Peter. Thank God, today we live our Christian life, our church life, knowing how important the fundamentals of our life are. So this is the ministry of Peter.

Then comes Paul. You remember when our Lord met him on the way to Damascus and Paul was caught by the vision from heaven. We all know that he was a tentmaker. So he has been given a ministry, to build up the church. With Peter, the birth of the church, with Paul, the growth of the church. Christian life doesn't only revolve around the birth, but also ought to grow and reach maturity. It is true with an individual life, but it is also true with a corporate life. Thank God for the ministry of Paul, and we've not only been born from above, but we need to be built up together, to become mature together. This is the ministry given to Paul; so thank God for him.

Then comes John. Now in the time of John, it was almost the end of the first century and our Lord had ascended to heaven for nearly seventy years. John was the only one left among the apostles and was very lonely on this earth. He was able to see the development of the church, after almost seventy years of the life of the church. He was supposed to see the growth and the wonderful final manifestation of the life of Christ in the church. But very sadly, before he went to be with the Lord, he saw the declension of the church.

Then we discover the wrinkles in the church. Now this is not just pollution; pollution is something from outside, something from the world. But when the bible talks about wrinkles, there is something wrong within, which shows us that the church had developed, but unfortunately it had developed abnormally. Now in the beginning, it was not so. In the process of growing, it was not so, but rather it was after seventy years. The most difficult part of our race is not the beginning, but the very end. Whether we are going to get our crown or not doesn't depend on how you run your race in the first few seconds. You have to wait until the last second of the race.

The problem at Ephesus

According to the bible, seventy years is almost our life span. Now the church had almost gone through seventy years at this point. The church of Christ always begins very well. On the day of Pentecost, you can imagine that those athletes, when they began their race, ran so well to start with, but it was only John who was so privileged and was able to see the end of their course.

After seventy years, he ought to see something glorious in the church. The church at Ephesus was a wonderful church thirty years before - that church was so mature and they received that letter, the letter to the Ephesians in which we see the highest revelation of God being revealed to the church. Because they were mature enough, they were able to receive that heavenly vision. So if you go through the whole of the New Testament, if you find a model church, no doubt it would be the church at Ephesus. Paul was able to pour out his heart to the church in Ephesus. But brothers, that was thirty years before. But don't talk about your victory thirty years ago, God wants to know about today. So when we study the book of Revelation, again a letter was addressed to the church at Ephesus.

Now brothers, when God spoke to the church at Ephesus, the Lord said, 'you have to repent'. Why did the Lord use the word repent? Repent is a word to be used for the unbelievers, but now our Lord was preaching repentance to the church. My brothers and sisters, do you know anything about repentance? We certainly do. Before we were saved, we repented. But brothers, when the church forgot about repentance, then you know very well that the church was no longer as it was thirty years before. So brothers, when the Lord spoke to the seven churches He said, 'repent' to five of them. What does that mean? After seventy years, brothers and sisters, they had been so blessed but now the church needed the ministry of John.

When our Lord met the apostle John, he was mending the nets. Why? Because the nets were broken. So if you have a broken net, you cannot hold the blessing any more because the fish will be lost. The net is supposed to contain the blessings of Christ, but when the net is broken, you discover that the blessing is somehow leaking out. So now we need the ministry of the apostle John. Why? Because in the time of John, God's word had been preached for about sixty or seventy years. But for some reason, the church had lost some of the original vision. They were not very clear about Christ being the Son of God. Now in order to mend that net, thank God, John received a burden, and that's why he gave us the gospel according to John. Now you know why John was very different from Matthew, Mark and Luke. In that wonderful gospel, you realize that after many years they had unconsciously missed the mark. Among the four gospels, every bible scholar recognizes that John's gospel is the most spiritual.

The ministry of John

Now my brothers and sisters, after seventy years, everything was the same. Nothing appeared to be wrong with the organization, or with the theology, but the church at Ephesus had lost their first love. Theology is very important, organization if it is formed from life, is also very important. But brothers, what the Lord wants is first love. Do you see that brothers and sisters? That's why we need the ministry of John - to mend the nets. We can go on with our life, we may be very satisfied with our fellowship, we think we see something, we think we see Christ and also His church and everything just goes on as normal. But what the Lord wants is a place where there is something spiritual, where there is something heavenly, something according to the eternal will of God.

So thank God, that's why we have the gospel of John. But more than that, we have the epistles of John. Now we no longer find so much about the order of elders, deacons and saints. Now John is talking about the reality. When the church is declining, when the church is going into desolation or declension, then you find that we need the ministry of John. Now the emphasis is not just on elders, deacons and saints. Now the emphasis is on the fathers, young men and children. Again it is a matter of life. Now when the church is in human hands, after a few years you can see the declension. You can see that gradually everything will become very orderly. But now when John was mending the net, what he is telling us is something about life. So thank God for the epistles of John.

But more than that, we have also been given the book of Revelation. Now in that book, John told us what he had seen from heaven and we discover that a door opened in heaven. Sometimes when we study the book of Revelation, we are so fascinated with the seven trumpets, seven seals and seven bowls. We are so occupied with the first beast, second beast and the dragon. These are important prophecies, but if we give up the key to open this whole book, it's no wonder we don't understand it. You remember how Paul addressed the seven churches. Paul wrote thirteen letters, some of them to individuals but there are seven addressed to churches. That's what happened in the time of Paul. Then John also gave us seven letters, which are also addressed to seven churches, but there you discover that the structure of the letters is different. When Paul wrote his letters, after a greeting to the church, he immediately went on to share something in his heart. Now the same thing is found in John, but before he enters into the core of the letter, there is something unique to John's letters.

He spent the first chapter of the book of Revelation telling us why and how he received his revelation. Then we discover that he was exiled to the island of Patmos and on the Lord's day heaven opened for him. Then he saw the Christ in glory and he heard a trumpet from behind. Why do you need a trumpet? Now a trumpet means that you want the people from afar to hear your message. When you have twenty people, you don't need a trumpet but when you have twenty thousand people living in tents, then you need a trumpet so that people can hear the sound either for war or for action. They need to receive a message. So this message is meant for the people from afar.

Now brothers, John was on the island of Patmos, just like you and I who are on this earth. So when heaven is going to speak, we know how far the heavens are from earth. How could you hear the voice from heaven? No wonder in Revelation you find the word trumpet. Every time you hear the trumpet, it means something is from heaven. The scope of that voice is supposed to reach every corner of the universe. So my brothers, when you read your bible and you discover that John heard the trumpet behind him, remember that it's something from heaven. So when you come to chapter four, when John saw the open heaven, again, he heard the trumpet. The trumpet means: here is the heavenly message. Thank God, because John has received that message. Now he was able to write this wonderful book of Revelation.

John received the heavenly vision. When the church is in declension, when the church is full of wrinkles, when the church is getting old, we must ask - is it possible for the church to get old? The life of Christ never gets old. If there's anything old, it definitely belongs to the old creation, to the old Adam. After seventy years, my brothers and sisters, the life of Christ has really grown. But unfortunately we have become so smart, we think we are so wise that now we can have some contribution or opinion on the church. Unconsciously, we project ourselves onto the church and then you discover that the church begins to get old.

Michaelangelo was a great artist. You know he has some wonderful sculptures. When he was making his masterpiece, he used to wear a lamp on his forehead so that when he was creating his masterpiece, he always had a light shining on the work. Then people asked him, 'Why are you doing that?' He replied, 'I'm afraid, that unconsciously I will cast my shadow upon that structure and then the whole thing will be ruined.' That's the story of the church in church history. Now you understand, if you and I are not careful, even if we are being used by the Lord in a wonderful way, if we are not careful we may cast our shadow upon the church. When that happens, the church begins to have wrinkles.

So today we face two dangers. One danger is from outside, the world - that's why we sometimes have pollution. But remember another danger comes from within. Brothers, when you are before the Lord, you have to remember, the problem in the church is not this brother or that brother. I am the problem. Do you see that brothers? Do you see that? That's us. So because of that you find that the church starts to get old.

The restoration of the church

So brothers, with Peter, the birth of the church, with Paul the growth of the church and with John, the recovery of the church. What is recovery? Recovery is very simple. Let us read one verse from Revelation, chapter two verse five, 'Remember the height from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first'. What does that mean? In the beginning through the ministry of Peter, the church was born. Then through the ministry of Paul, the church really grew. That was all in the beginning. So 'remember the height from which you have fallen and repent and do the things you did at first.' That means that the ministry of Peter is important. The fundamentals are very important and the growth of the church is also very important - we have to march on towards maturity. So these are the things which were happening at first. The ministry of John is not just recovery, its not just another thing, no brothers and sisters. When church is getting old, just like in church history after 2000 years, can you imagine how many human hands have got involved in the church? Now today, when you look around, you have to confess that the church indeed is in ruin and desolation.

Now brothers and sisters, if you compare the church condition today with the church in the bible, we have to say that the church is getting old. On the one hand, you have pollution from the world, and you'll find strange things in the church - some things from Babylon, some things that belong to the pagan world. That's one danger. But also remember that human hands enter into the life of the church. Today the church is not only full of dirt, but also full of wrinkles. Brothers and sisters, we need the ministry of John. In this condition, we need John the most, but that doesn't mean we only need John. If the Lord is going to do the work of recovery, with the church today in ruin, declension and desolation, we really have to see what John saw. But then what is the result? The result is repent, and do the things you did at first. Remember how you were born, remember how you grew unto maturity.

Today many people talk about the restoration of the church, and all the concern is for the church order, all the preoccupation is for the outward things and these are very important. But that's only the beginning, because we have to repent. Now if you really repent, you will never be satisfied because you know how empty we are. We have to start from the very beginning; we have become children again. Who can enter into the kingdom of heaven? Only those who become like a child. This is the call of repentance.

All this began at Pentecost. What happened there is fundamental for every one of us. But from there, the church ought to be built up and thank God for Paul. He really taught us how to grow and enter into maturity. He wrote thirteen books of the bible which can be put into four groups. Now the first group contains first and second Thessalonians. Five years later, another group of letters containing Romans, Galatians and first and second Corinthians. Then another five years, and you find Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Finally, after another five years, first and second Timothy and Titus.

Now if you really study these four groups of letters, you will find that Paul gave us a pattern of how the church will grow from infanthood all the way through to adulthood. First and second Thessalonians tells us the springtime of the church life, when the church is in infanthood. When we come to the second group of letters, then we are being led into the school of Christ. Then the church enters into the adolescent period. Then, when we come to the prison letters, we discover that the church has entered into the autumn period which signifies maturity in the church life. When we come to the last stage, when we study the last group of letters, we find that the church becomes the testimony to the world and becomes a useful vessel in the hands of the Lord. So brothers and sisters, through the ministry of Paul, we have been given the pattern of church growth from infanthood all the way through to adulthood. Thank God, this is the ministry of Paul.

Now when church fell into declension, then we find the message from John and we learn how the Lord is going to do the work of recovery. But don't forget, John always talks about the restoring of the church because the ministry of John is referring to that of Peter and Paul. Today we need the working of the cross to take away the pollution from the world. Today we need the life of the Holy Spirit to be injected into our wrinkles. Then our wrinkles will be taken away and the church will become young again. So we don't just need death but resurrection.

Brothers and sisters now you understand how important the heavenly vision is. Without heavenly vision, we are without the ministry of Peter, without the ministry of Paul and without the ministry of John. Now in the vision of Peter, the Lord said 'get up, kill and eat' - why? Because in the temple of God, there was a dividing wall between gentiles and the Israelites, but when our Lord died for us on the cross, He didn't just die as our Saviour, but at the same time He destroyed that dividing wall. So the burden of Peter is the church and the temple of God; that's why he tells us we are all living stones. We all come to that great living stone which is our Lord, and then we may be built up into a spiritual house. Now that's the ministry of Peter.

What of the ministry of Paul? On the way to Damascus, he saw the head in heaven and the body of Christ on earth. That's why, the emphasis of Paul's ministry is the church as the body of Christ. But when we come to the ministry of John brothers and sisters, in the beginning he saw our Lord walking among the seven lampstands - why seven lampstands? According to the bible, seven lampstands means seven churches. So what was the vision received from heaven by John? The main emphasis is the church as the lampstand of God, the testimony of God.

So you see that all three have a different emphasis. In the beginning when you find the lampstand, we ask, where is the lamp? Where is the light? You have to wait until you come to the last two chapters of Revelation; there we are told that the Lamb is the lamp. Now we know that we are the lampstand, but we are not the lamp. Only Christ is the lamp. Who then is the light? God is the light. Why? In the beginning you find seven lampstands, but at the very end you see only one lampstand which is the New Jerusalem. New Jerusalem is the ultimate and final manifestation of God's will. Finally you see a huge great lampstand in the whole universe. The city is the lampstand, Christ is the lamp and God is the light. Now you know the mission of the church.

So my brothers and sisters, today we still live in time. How is God going to have His testimony? It began at Ephesus, at Pergamum, at Philadelphia and at Laodicea. Now when the saints gather together as the church in Ephesus then you will find the one lampstand in heaven and for the other church in Laodicea, you'll find another pure gold lampstand in heaven. My brothers, remember that the whole book of Revelation is trying to tell us how the church can live out the testimony. That's why, from the first seven churches, to the church everywhere - in Santiago, Temuco, Sao Paulo, New York and Tokyo; wherever the saints gather together, they still need to receive the ministry of John. Then they will cooperate with the Holy Spirit. So finally, one day, when we come to the last chapter of the book of Revelation, we find a truly wonderful New Jerusalem. Finally, God has got what He wants.

So in the heavenly vision of John, we are reminded after we have summarized everything in Peter and John and Paul and put it all together, why Revelation is a very important book. When you go through the whole New Testament, you understand why the heavenly vision is so important. No heavenly vision means no heavenly message and without a heavenly message how can we be born as a church? How can we grow as a church and how can we be restored as a church?

The heavenly vision from different angles

That's how wonderful the work of the Holy Spirit is. That's why, thank God, he has given us a wonderful conference this time. Now we have several speakers here and we would like to approach this heavenly vision from all different angles because this has something to do with the way of the church. Now today how can we go on as a church even though we are so confused? Now brothers, the ministry of John is going to give us a definite answer. Thank God, that's why, we believe that in this conference, the Lord in His mercy is trying to give us the whole picture of the heavenly vision from all different angles.

Now my responsibility when I am before the Lord, is to dwell upon the vision of the apostle John, because I think there is a message there for today especially when the church is in confusion and the people of God do not know where to go. We need to be reminded of this wonderful message and that does not mean that you don't know it at all. Thank the Lord that somehow we have received something from Him before we need to be reminded this weekend - the heavenly vision as seen by John. Now we want the Lord to speak to our hearts and we pray that this weekend we will really receive something solid from the Lord and really see Christ. Just like the wise men who saw Christ and we are told that they did not return the same way.

Now brothers, we pray that through this conference if we really meet Christ and really see Him we may no longer remain the same, we will never go home the same. Thank God, remember Patmos was still Patmos, the seven churches were still seven churches, Asia Minor was still Asia Minor, everything was just the same. But John was different, after he received the heavenly vision. Temuco is still the same Temuco, Santiago is the same Santiago, but if we really receive Christ if we really receive His heavenly vision, we will no longer be the same. So may the Lord really speak to our hearts that we may go on with Him. This is our prayer, so may the Lord speak to us through these words.

International Conference 2004 "The Heavenly Vision".

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