Saturday, November 28, 2015


Letter to the church at Sardis

Sardis was an ancient city. It was built at the top of a steep mountain. It was famous for silver and gold. There was a temple to Artemis there.

There was a large Jewish population there. They built a large synagogue.

Behind the story of this church is the story of the city. Its fortress lay at the top of the steep mountain. It was thought to be impregnable. But the Persians found a way to the top that was not guarded. Believing themselves to be strong, the people of Sardis did were not vigilant and were conquered.

Jesus described himself to the church at Sardis as he who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Again, these are part of Jesus’ initial revealing of himself to John in chapter 1. The seven spirits is a symbol of the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the seven stars are the angels of the churches. (1:20) The Holy Spirit sees and knows all. He is present everywhere. It is the Spirit that has the power to revive a dead church.

This church looked sound on the outside. It had “the reputation of being alive”. (3:1) But it was living on its reputation. It was really dead. Many churches have been great at one time, but slowly died. It often takes a while to realize the church is spiritually dead because of its past reputation.

Sometimes the members themselves do not realize the church is dying. They are comfortable, they enjoy their past reputation and they are acclimated to the way things are. It is the old analogy of the frog boiling slowly in a pot will not jump out. They are more worried about the condition of the seat cushions, the taste of the communion crackers and who gets to use what rooms.

Ironically, there seemed to be no persecution, no suffering. But, conforming to the local pagan or Jewish culture was more comfortable than preaching the gospel to it. In its comfort, this church was dying.

Jesus told them to wake up. They had gone to sleep spiritually. It was time to wake up. They were to find what life remained, but was about to die, and get busy reviving the church and completing the work God assigned to them. (2) Jesus commanded them to repent, which is part of waking up. (3) They needed to remember the gospel they received and to keep it. Likely, many of us have “gone to sleep” spiritually one time or another. God usually acts to wake us up. When we “wake up”, we realize how we have slipped, we repent, and we get back on the path of devotion to Christ and reaching others for him. A dying church seldom witnesses to its city. A living church does.

Jesus threatened punishment for this church if it did not turn things around. He would come against them. (3) He did not say how he would do this, but we know it would be unpleasant and, possibly, deadly. He would arrive unexpectedly, as a thief in the night. (3) A few years ago, someone broke into our house at 3:00 in the morning. My wife and I were sound asleep. The alarm system began to beep. I awoke, startled and confused. If I had been expecting the thief, I would have stayed awake and been ready for him. This is the image Jesus employs. I do not think Jesus refers to his second coming here. That is because this coming is conditional: Jesus will come only if they do not repent and recover. The second coming will be at a time set by the Father and definite, not conditional. Rather, he means to come to punish or correct or remove the church because of its spiritual malaise. I think there is an implied reference here to the attack by the Persians which caught the residents unaware, or sleeping, instead of vigilant.

There is a small ray of hope in this church. There are a few who have not “soiled their garments”. They have not given themselves over to sin. The word for “soiled”, also translated as “stained” in other versions, is used elsewhere in the New Testament for idolatry. Either the church had not stood against it or took part in it. But some had not. Therefore, they will walk with Jesus “in white”. The image of white robes symbolizes purity and holiness in those who are believers. It is the opposite of “soiled”. Jesus said that those who conquer (persevere in the faith until the end) will receive white garments. This symbol of white garments will repeat throughout the book of Revelation. In 7:1, Jesus referred to those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. The 24 elders are clothed in white in 4:4. In 6:9-11, those who had been slain because of the word of God were given a white robe. It is the ideal of purity that comes from faithfulness through the test of opposition. It reflects Daniel 11:35 where those who stumble will be refined and made white until the end of time, and Daniel 12:10 where many will purify themselves and make themselves white.

Jesus had taught this same truth in his parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. A king invited people to the wedding feast of his son. The king is God the Father, the Son is Jesus and the invitees were the Jews. The original invitees, the Jews, did not come to the feast. So, they were destroyed. God invited others symbolizing the Gentiles. All but one of these came in wedding clothes. That one, who did not have the white robe, was cast into darkness. Those who believe in Jesus and receive him as Savior and Lord receive salvation. This includes an invitation to the wedding feast, the celebration of Jesus and the church in eternity. It includes a white robe, which is the symbol of the righteousness we receive from Jesus when we receive him.

The second promise to the overcomers is that their names will not be blotted out of the book of life. This is the book that records the names of all the faithful. Jesus will confess them before the father because they had confessed him before men. He said this in Matthew 10:32 also. No matter the pressure of the culture, we are to stand firm in faith and confess Christ. He will reward us for all eternity.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Letter to the Church at Thyatira

Thyatira was an insignificant city. Yet, Jesus’ letter to its church is the center mark of the 7 letters and the longest. From this we ascertain that Jesus said something here that is important to all of the 7 churches and to present day churches as well.

The city relied on manufacturing and trade. It had many trade guilds, each dedicated to a patron god or goddess. That created much economic pressure on the church to be true to Christ and not compromise with idols. One of its products was purple cloth. Lydia, that Paul met and led to Christ in Philippi, was from Thyatira and was a “seller of purple goods”. (Acts 16:14) She was saved and baptized along with her entire household. They may have helped start the church in Thyatira.

Jesus described himself to the church at Thyatira as the Son of God, the one who has eyes like flames of fire and whose feet are burnished bronze. The reference to “the Son of God” is a reference to Psalm 2:7-9. That passage says “I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”. It is a picture of the Father giving rule and authority to the Son. Hebrews 1:5 also quotes passage in the context of Christ sitting down at the right hand of the Father in heaven becoming superior over all of creation, even the angels. It is also a fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-17 to establish David’s throne forever (Jesus being of the line of David). As king and exalted Son, Jesus has the authority to judge.

The eyes of flame also suggest that Jesus sees and judges. In verse 23, Jesus says he is he “who searches mind and heart”. Nothing is hidden from him. He sees past appearances to the heart. Remember when the Lord picked David to be king, he told Samuel “For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)

The feet like bronze might be a reference to the work of the bronze smith’s in the city, who likely made idols of bronze, and suggests Jesus is the one with the real strength of bronze. (2:18)

Jesus commended the church for its love, faith, service, patient endurance, and increasing works. (2:19) Ephesus may have lost its first love, but not Thyatira. It has grown in love and good works. It is a good commendation. A church should be known for all of these and this church was.

Despite these good things, this church has a significant problem. Jesus mentioned one big one. It was a lack of discernment, or maybe a lack of will to deal with a problem. The church tolerated a woman, a member of the church, who called herself a prophetess and taught that sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols was acceptable. (2:20) This refers to having sex with women priestesses in the pagan temple, in effect joining oneself to the god. It also refers to dinners and parties in which mean was offered as a sacrifice, then eaten in a meal dedicated to the pagan god.

Jesus calls the woman Jezebel. This is a reference to an Israelite queen in the Old Testament. She was the queen of Ahab, a very bad king. He “did evil in the sign of the Lord more than all who were before him”. (1 Kings 16:30) She was from Sidon, not a good Hebrew girl. She worshipped Baal. She might even have been a priestess. She turned Israel to the worship of Baal until Elijah came on the scene. As with many pagan religions, sexual intercourse with women dedicated to the worship of Baal was part of his worship and also of fertility rites for crops.

This indicates that Jesus was saying this woman encouraged Christians to participate in similar pagan rites in Thyratira. The city was known to have many trade guilds. Most of the guilds had a specific pagan god they worshipped and sought the favor of. It would be hard to practice your trade and not participate in these pagan rituals. This prophetess was likely teaching it was acceptable to do so. This would be a great temptation for those who were struggling economically. She probably led many astray.

This woman called herself a prophetess (20). She claimed to speak for God. She led people into what she called the “deep things”. This is so common in our day. People claim to have a special knowledge from God, to be a new prophet or prophetess. There are multiple books claiming to reveal secrets and hidden meanings in the Bible. Jesus calls these the “deep things of Satan”. (24) People are drawn to secrets and mysteries, to hidden knowledge and power. But the Bible was given to us as God's word. It is not a secret, as this book of Revelation is not, but God revealing himself to us through the writing of men he chose for the task. Peter wrote “For we did follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

The heart of Jezebel’s message is that Christians do not have to suffer economically or socially for their faith, that it is acceptable to Jesus to partake in idol worship and sexual immorality to get along with the culture. It is a secret, because that message is not in the Bible.

Participation in pagan rituals, even for business purposes, is idol worship to Christ. The most common image in the Bible for idol worship is adultery. In the New Testament, Christ is portrayed as the groom and the church as the bride. If the bride devotes herself to anyone other than her groom, she commits adultery. so Jesus said those who follow Jezebel commit adultery with her.

Jesus said he had given her time to repent, but she had not. (2:21) Even in her great apostasy, Jesus gave her time to repent. But, since she refused, he imposed a punishment of sickness for her and her followers. When Jesus says “strike her children head”, he is not referring to her literal children, just as she is not literally Jezebel, but to her followers. He would submit them to tribulation unless they repented. (22) Christ takes our devotion and worship seriously, just as the Father did in the Old Testament times.

This again shows us that Jesus, although full of grace, will not ultimately tolerate false teaching. This is a grave warning for all those who twist the scripture or say it is no longer valid.

But to those who did not follow this prophetess, Jesus was kind and compassionate. He said “I do not lay on you any other burden”. (24) He only charged them to continue to hold fast to their faith. And if they did this, he promised them authority and ruling with him. He has already received authority to rule and he will share it with those who conquer. (27)

Jesus quoted Psalm 2:8-9 to show he had the authority to reign: “Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

2 Timothy 2:11 says “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.; If we endure, we will also reign with him”. This will be the fulfillment, in Christ, of God’s command to Adam to have dominion, to rule, over the earth. (Genesis 1:26) Revelation shows us this in the new earth in chapter 22. It says “they will need no light of lamp or sun for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever”. (Revelation 22:4)

The last thing Jesus promised the faithful was the “morning star”. (28) I think this is a reference to Jesus himself. Balaam prophesied to the King of Moab concerning what would happen to his people in the latter days. He said” I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near ; a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall arise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:17) Jesus declared it himself at the end of the book of Revelation, saying “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16)

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Letter to the Church at Pergamum

Pergamum had been loyal to Rome since at least 200 B.C. By the time John wrote Revelation, Pergamum had lost its status as capital of the Asian provinces to Ephesus. We are not told in the Bible how a church was started in Pergamum, but there was one.

Jesus revealed himself to this church as “him who has the sharp two-edged sword”. (12) This was part of his appearance to John in 1:16. It is a symbol of the Word, discerning hearts and judging. This appearance indicates that correction and even judgment are coming.

Jesus described the city as “where Satan’s throne is”. (13) This is a reference to the pagan worship of the city. It sat high on a hill, with an altar to Zeus on the ridge. He was sometimes called Zeus the savior.

There is a replica of this altar and temple in Berlin, Germany.

It also had a temple to Dionysus on the side of a hill, along wit a 10,000 seat theater. Dionysys, or Baccus in Roman terms, was the god of revelry and theater. There was also a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing, and Serapis, the Egyptian god of the underworld, but also of healing, especially for the blind.

There was also a temple to honor the Roman emperor Augustus. We can see, then, that much pagan worship occurred.

1 Corinthians 10:20 equates the worship of pagan idols with the worship of demons: “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” So, a town with much pagan worship could be called the location of Satan's throne.

Jesus commended the church for holding to the faith, even in the face of persecution. (13) A man named Antipas was martyred for his faith there. The legend is that Antipas was a physician. He may have been connected with one of the temples dedicated to healing until he converted. Jesus calls him “my faithful witness”. (13) Since John called Jesus the faithful witness (1:4), that is a high compliment.

Despite holding to the faith, the church in Pergamum had allowed corruption to come in. Jesus said that had some members who held to the teaching of Balaam. (14) The story of Balaam is told in the book of Numbers, beginning in chapter 22. He was hired by the king of Moab to curse the people of Israel on their journey to Canaan. He was some type of religious figure. The king of Moab said whoever Balaam blessed was blessed, and whoever Balaam cursed was cursed. (Numbers 25:6) However, God did not let Balaam curse Israel. Afterward, the men of Israel began to consort with women from Moab. The women seduced the men into worshipping Baal. Ballaam had advised the king of Moab to do this. Balaam was later killed by the Israelites in Midian.

Balaam did not exist at the time John wrote Revelation. So, Balaam must be a symbol. Evidently, some men of the church consorted with women from the pagan temples, leading them to sexual immorality and participation in pagan rituals. The church should have disciplined these men, but seem to have tolerated them instead.

A similar situation occurred in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 5 records Paul’s horror that the church included a man who lived with his father’s wife in a relationship. The church evidently felt enlightened by their acceptance of this man. Instead, Paul said, they should mourn and exclude the offender.

Jesus also warned that some of the church members held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Instead of opposing them, as the church at Ephesus did, the church at Pergamum tolerated them. But Jesus did not tolerate this blending of the Christian faith with pagan practice.

Jesus commanded them to repent. He demands worship in spirit and truth. Just as God would not tolerate pagan worship mixed into or added to the Levitical worship, Jesus will not tolerate worship in the church that is mixed with pagan practice. That is why we must examine every new practice in light of the Scripture.

What does Jesus tell us to do in worship? We are to:
meet together;
read scripture;
observe the Lord’s supper; and

What does Jesus say will happen if this church does not repent? He said he would come soon and war against them with the sword of his mouth, the word of God. He would intervene to destroy false teaching. I do not know exactly how he would do that, but it likely means the end of that church. Paul noted that the Corinthians abused the Lord’s Supper and some, as result, got sick and some died. Since the punishment for the sin of Israel with the women of Moab was a severe plague, it could be that sickness and\or death is the intended punishment.

Conversely, those who hold to the faith without corruption (the one who conquers) receive two things from Jesus:
some of the hidden manna; and
a white stone with a new and secret name.

What are those things or what do they mean? Well, first, we know what manna was in the Old Testament. When the Israelites were traveling through the wilderness, God fed them with manna from heaven. In Exodus 16, God rained bread from heaven to feed them in the Wilderness of Zin. It tasted like honey and coriander. They ate it for 40 years. (Exodus 16:31) It also seemed to have appearance of a stone. (Numbers 11:7)God sustained his Old Testament people in the wilderness. He will also sustain his New Testament people in the wilderness of persecution and tribulation. But this sustenance will be spiritual more than physical. Jesus, during his own temptation and trial in the wilderness, said “man shall not live by bread alone, but by ever word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3) He said this in response to the devil’s temptation to turn stones into bread. Manna, by the way, was white. Jesus also said that he was the bread from heaven that would sustain men and women. John 6:32-35 says: “ruly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the read of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Jesus also promised to give a white stone to each believer. That stone would have a new and secret name on it. This may be a fulfillment of Isaiah 65:15: “but his servants he will call by another name”. I take this to mean that the believer has a special relationship with Jesus and the church has become his special people.

These things will come to complete fulfillment when Jesus destroys all of is enemies and brings all those who believe in him to the wedding supper of the Lamb. We will be known by him and enjoy intimate fellowship with him forever.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Principles of Biblical Interpretation

We want always to interpret the bible in such a way as to not violate the basic principle of Scripture's unity and integrity." R. C. Sproul

The "analogy of faith" means that Holy Scripture is its own interpreter. We interpret Scripture according to Scripture. Behind this principle is the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Since it is, it must be consistent and coherent.

Principles of Interpretation:

1. The "analogy of faith", a doctrine espoused by the Reformers, means that Scripture is its own interpreter. We interpret Scripture according to Scripture. We interpret the meaning of a verse in light of the overall teaching of the Bible. Since God is omniscient, he would not contradict himself.

2. We interpret the Bible literally ("sensus literalis"). We interpret passages in the sense in which they were written. For example, we interpret a parable as a parable, not as narrative. We do not interpret narrative as metaphor. We read the Bible as we read any book in this manner. God, through the Biblical writers, conveyed his messages in ways the original audience understood, and as we can understand. This means we do not impose secret meanings (Bible Code). But it also means we do not take symbolic passages as narrative in a "wooden literalism". We use ordinary rules of language to interpret the Bible.

3. We interpret the implicit by the explicit. That means we do not imply a meaning to a passage greater that what it actually says or in a manner that contradicts other passages. This is often done to "proof text" a point. For example, if this verse says "x", it implies "y"must be true. If other passages show "y" is not true, that cannot be a correct interpretation.

4. We interpret obscure passages by clear passages. We do not reverse that process. That is how heresies often start. We do not use an obscure passage to show the whole message of the remainder of the Bible is not true. We always interpret scripture in a way that preserves the integrity and unity of the whole.

Sources: various readings, including R.C. Sprout's "Knowing God" and "Knowing Scripture", TableTalk Magazine, Vo. 35, No. 1, January 2011, p. 4 et seq.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Rejoicing in the Gospel

Here is the gospel, according to Paul (and the rest of the biblical writers): God became flesh, fulfilled all righteousness, bore our curse, and rose triumphantly on the third day. That is the gospel." Michael S. Horton

Since that is the gospel, that is what we must believe to be saved. And once we are saved, it is what we remind ourselves of every day and rejoice.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


Church at Smyrna

Jesus addressed this church as the one who is the first and last, or eternal, and the one who died and came to life (resurrected). This foreshadows the death of believers in Smyrna.

There is a lot of paradox in this address. (A paradox is a statement that leads to a seemingly contradictory or illogical conclusion.) The church experiences poverty, yet is rich. They are persecuted by those who call themselves God’s people (Jews), but are really of the synagogue of Satan. If they are faithful to death, they will receive a crown of life.

These believers already suffered persecution. Jesus said he knew their tribulation and poverty. Some of that tribulation likely came from the local pagans. Smyrna was proud of its history of loyalty to Rome. The city built a temple to the goddess Roma way back in 195 A.D. It also built a temple to the emperor Tiberious in 23 B.C., incorporating emperor worship into the worship of Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. Christians who would not worship the emperor would be seen as disloyal and a smear on the reputation of the city. It may have hampered their ability to do business or work in the city. This is similar to the “mark” of the beast in Revelation 13 and 16.

The Jews in the city also persecuted the Christians. Jews especially hated converted Jews. Jesus spoke of them harshly. He called them the synagogue of Satan. Although they saw themselves as the people of God, they actually served Satan in the persecution of Christians.

In Matthew 24:9, Jesus said “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake”.

Jesus spoke of greater suffering to come. The devil, working through government officials, would throw them into prison. The Romans used prison for pre-trial detainment more than punishment. Punishment was more likely to be death. We saw this in Paul’s life, recorded in Acts, as he stayed in prison for a long time before he was exonerated and freed. Later, of course, he was again imprisoned and executed.

Like Paul, death was the likely outcome of trial for these believers in Smyrna. That is why Jesus told them to be faithful unto death. (10)

Jesus said for 10 days they will have tribulation. I take the number 10 to be symbolic. This is, first of all, a reference to Daniel 1:12-15. There the Jewish boys refused the food and table of the pagan king who claimed to be divine. They would not express loyalty to him over Yahweh. They would not conform to pagan practices. In a similar way, the believers of Smyrna would be tested in prison to prove their loyalty to Christ and refusal to conform to pagan practices. In addition, there are numerous times the Old Testament uses the number 10 for a period of thorough testing. The number 10 is also used symbolically several times in Revelation.

Polycarp, who became bishop of Smyrna in 115, was martyred later because he refused to worship the emperor. He refused to say the emperor is lord and insisted only Jesus is lord. He took great comfort from this letter of Jesus to the church at Smyrna as he faced execution.

Jesus said those who prove faithful will receive the crown of life. That phrase can also be translated as the crown which is life. This is the emblem of eternal life. It is a picture of the laurel wreath given to an athlete that completes a contest. For example, Paul wrote: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self control in all things. The do it to receive a perishable wreath (crown), but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25) The contest of the believer is life on this earth: struggle and persecution that assaults our faith.

James 1:12 says “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Those who believe in Christ receive eternal life as God’s gracious gift. Eternal life includes our resurrection to live with Christ forever.

Finally, Christ said the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. The second death is eternal punishment in hell. For example, Revelation 20:14 says “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”. Revelation 21:8 refers to the “lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death”. The believers in Smyrna would experience the first death, but not the second death.

And the same is true for us.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Justification By Faith

On October 31, you probably saw articles and Facebook posts about Reformation Day. What was the issue with the Reformation? There were several, but the main one was the doctrine of justification. Justification is the state of being declared righteous by God. The Reformers insisted that justification was by faith alone. The Roman Catholic Church taught it was by faith and works.

Paul devoted much of the book of Galatians to this concept. A group called the Judaizers convinced some of the Galatian Christians of the necessity of keeping the law, after conversion, to be saved. Paul condemned this harshly. He called it “another gospel”. He said anyone who taught any gospel other than justification by faith is accursed. (Galatians 1:9) Also, anyone who relies on works is under a curse. (Galatians 3:10) No one is justified before God by the law. (Galatians 2:15; 3:11)

God justifies believers for the sake of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:21) His righteousness is imputed to us. It is credited to our account. (Romans 5:18) When we believed in Jesus, God justified us, he declared us righteous. (Galatians 2:16)

That was the heart of the Reformation debate. Why does that matter to you now? It matters because there are people who will constantly put you back under the law. They add requirements to faith, saying you must do this or refrain from that to be saved. If you succumb to this pressure, you will lose the joy of salvation because of the oppression of the law.

In this sense, the church must constantly be reformed. Believers must stand firm on the doctrine of justification by faith. Believers must be allowed to rejoice in the freedom provided by Christ’s sacrificial death, thanking God for salvation and spreading the good news.