Monday, December 28, 2015
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Letter to the Church in Laodicea
The 7th and last letter is to the church in Laodicea.
Laodicea was a prominent and wealthy city. It sat on both a river and a highway. It was known for banking, commerce, and wool. When the city was damaged by an earthquake, the wealth citizens rebuilt it without help from Rome.
|the road into town|
|They built temples to Zeus, Apollos, and the emperors|
The letter begins, as the other letters, with Christ revealing himself with different names. (14) The names for Christ revealed to Laodicea are:
The faithful and true witness; and
the beginning of God’s creation.
The word “Amen” is a Hebrew word, where the “e” is pronounced with a long “a”. The New Testament writers transliterated it, rather than translate it. So does the English Bible. It occurs many times in the Bible. However, this is the only time in the New Testament it is used as a name.
It is also used as a name only one time in the Old Testament. That verse is Isaiah 65:16. Most translations translate it in that verse as “of truth”, referring to the God of Truth.
Isaiah 65:16 in the English Standard Version says:
“So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes.”
Most translations use “God of Truth” to translate the Hebrew word “amen”. Jesus, by calling himself the Amen, was applying Isiah 65:16 to himself, that he is God and he is truth. Since he is truth, he can tell this church a hard truth it needs to hear. He is also the “faithful and true witness” as he also said in 1:5.
He is the beginning of God’s creation. It might be that he means a reference to the creation of the world, as described in Genesis 1 and John 1. But it may be a further description of the term “first born of the dead” used also in 1:5., where it also followed the words “faithful witness”. God’s new creation starts with Jesus. He started it and he rules over it.
Sadly, this church is the only one about which Jesus had nothing at all good to say. Although there was no persecution or heresy to put pressure on the church, it had become complacent and worldly. It had been seduced by wealth. Despite receiving letters from Paul, it had not continued to diligently seek the Lord. (Colossians 4:16) They were complacent, saying “I am rich”. (17) Jesus did not see it that way.
In verse 15, Jesus proceeded to his admonition, or correction, of the church at Laodicea. He said they were lukewarm,neither hot nor cold. We might call it tepid. No one likes cold drinks more than us Texans. We drink iced tea in the coldest weather. We also drink hot coffee, even in the hottest weather. But we do not like lukewarm drinks. Neither did Jesus, evidently.
The legend behind this analogy is that Laodicea water came from a long way away, channeled by pipes. By the time it reached the city it was lukewarm and not that tasty. In contrast, nearby Hierapolis had hot springs and Colossae had cold mountain water.
It is so easy to be lukewarm. The fact is, if you come to church regularly and sit there looking pious, people think you are good. You do not have to burn hot to be well thought of in the average church. But that is what Jesus wants. Jesus said, since you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. He would reject them. (16)
The reason this church was lukewarm might have been that they were rich. (17) They did not feel that they needed anything. They were self sufficient in their own thinking. Riches can do that to us. They make us feel we have it made, that we do not need anything from Jesus except heaven when we die.
Jesus disagreed. He counseled them to seek spiritual riches based in holiness. He told them to buy gold refined by fire and white garments. (18) By this he means to seek Christ rather than riches and holiness rather than riches and a place of honor in the pagan community.
He also encouraged them to get salve for their eyes so they could see spiritually. This is a reference to the salve made at the medical school, of which the city was proud. What Jesus was saying is, you have become spiritually blind and complacent because of your material wealth. You need to wake up and discern the need to pursue Christ in holiness.
In verse 19, Jesus reminded them that he reproves and discipline those he loves. This is a threat. He encouraged them to repent and seek the Lord zealously so that they would not be disciplined. Jesus wants zeal, not complacency. It is also a reference to Proverbs 3:11-12, which says “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. The writer of Hebrews also quoted the proverb in Hebrews 12:5-6 as he discussed struggling against sin.
Verse 20 is one of the most abused verses in scripture. Jesus told them he stood at the door and knocked, and would come into anyone who opened the door to receive him. This verse is often used to preach an evangelistic sermon. But Jesus was not addressing the unbelievers. He addressed the church. His message was for the church to repent and re-enter intimate fellowship with him. He is warning of his return and their ability to participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb.
This may also be a reference to Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:35-40. There Jesus said to remain dressed for action and keep your lamps burning. He refers to servants who wait for their master to return from a wedding feast. They want to be ready when he knocks on the door to let him in immediately. Christians are to be prepared for the return of Christ so that he will find us faithful, not complacent. We must stay ready every day because we do not know what day he will return. (Luke 12:40)
As with all the churches, Jesus reiterated his promise that all who conquered will rule with him. (22)
This letter seems to me particularly relevant to the American church. By the world’s standards, we are so wealthy. We have many beautiful buildings with beautiful furnishings. We must not lose our zeal for Christ because of the comfort and cost of our surroundings.
All of the letters to the churches remind us of pressures that are exerted upon the church today. There is the interference of the state, paganism, economic pressure, social ostracism and harassment. On the other hand, there is also comfort and prosperity. In the face of these, it is easy for a church to retreat and find peace with the community by compromising its message or cooling its passion for Christ. Christ’s messages to these churches, though, show that compromise and retreat are not acceptable to him. He still requires passionate faith and practice. If not, he is willing to come in discipline.
I do not want him to come to my church in disciple, taking away our lamp or bringing disease and death. I do not want him to spit us out. I only want him to come at his second advent, taking up the church in victory to be with him forever.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Sunday, December 06, 2015
Letter to the Church at Philadelphia
Philadelphia was established in 189 B.C. by King Eumenes II of Pergamon. He named the city for the love of his brother and successor, Attalus II.
Philadelphia was greatly damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 17. The Roman emperor Tiberius aided the city by relieving it of its annual tribute. In gratitude, the city erected a monument to Tiberius and renamed the city “Neocaesarea”.
Jesus described himself to this church as the holy and true one. He took the title of the Father in the Old Testament: the Holy One of Israel. He has the key of David and has the power to open doors which no one may shut. The Jews would have told the converts that they were locked out of the kingdom of God as long as they followed Jesus. One of the benedictions recited in the synagogue each Sabbath said “For the renegades let there be no hope, and may the arrogant kingdom soon be rooted out in our days, and may the Nazarenes perish and be blotted out from the book of life and with the righteous may they not be inscribed.” Jesus says he, not the Jews, decides who enters the kingdom and no one can undo his decision. The “open door” is the door to the kingdom. Only Jesus has the key. No one comes to the Father except through him. (John 14:6)
This is the second church that receives no admonition, only praise and encouragement. Jesus acknowledged that the church had little power. (8) They had not denied his name. It must have been a church of Jews who believed in Jesus and became the target of Jewish persecution. That is why Jesus referred to the Jews as the synagogue of Satan. (9)
Despite its lack of power, this church remained faithful. They kept God’s word and did not deny him. (8) This was likely in the face of pressure from the Jews to coerce Jewish converts to come back to Judaism. The fact that Jesus refers to it as the synagogue of Satan again indicates he views his followers as the true people of God and not the Jews. We know this because Jesus said they say they are Jews but are not. This is in line with Paul’s teaching that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”. (Galatians 3:29)
As Jesus promises vindication to all believers, he promised it to this church. He said the Jews who persecuted them would come and bow down before them and know that Jesus loved them. (9) This is a picture of our vindication, and a picture of believers reigning with Christ. It refers also to Isaiah 60:14, where God promised that the oppressors of God’s people will bow at their feet and acknowledge that they are the city of the Holy One of Israel. Paul said that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, even those who do not confess it on earth. (Philippians 2:10-11)
Jesus also promised the would keep them from the “hour of trial” coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth. (10) This usually means to protect them in the time of trial rather than to remove them from it.
It is a sort of side note, but I am impressed with the similarity of the messages to the 7 churches with the message of the book of Hebrews. The two major admonitions in Hebrews are for faithfulness and endurance. Chapter 11 is often called the faith chapter, for it lists Old Testament believers who were known for their faith. Believers in the churches to whom Hebrews was written were encouraged to be like the Old Testament heroes of faith as the looked forward to the final fulfillment of God’s promises for the deliverance of the saints into eternal glory.
To what “hour of trial” does he refer? He could mean Roman persecution. Especially if you accept the early date for the writing of Revelation, you could see this as Nero’s persecution of Christians that the Lord would protect this church from. It could mean the destruction of Jerusalem as described in Mark 13. That would not really affect them in Asia, though. It could mean the final, intense period of tribulation before the end of the world. If the latter, means they would not experience judgment. The problem with this view is Jesus says he is coming soon. (11) Since we still await the tribulation and judgment, he hardly came soon in that sense. So, it appears to mean a time of trial this church will experience. Jesus’ coming soon may mean he will increase his presence and power with them to keep them from falling from the faith during the trial.
Jesus also promised they would become a pillar in the temple of God if they held fast to their faith and conquered. This is a sign of permanence. Since Philadelphia experienced many earthquakes that caused buildings to fall, this is a relevant promise to them. God’s temple is where his presence is. In this age, it is in the church. In the age to come, it will encompass the new earth.
Other signs of permanence are that the believer will never go out of it, will have God’s name written on them, and the name of the New Jerusalem from heaven. They are God’s in Christ, sealed by the Spirit, and no one takes them out of his hand.
Jesus taught this before, in John 10. He used the metaphor of the sheep and the shepherd. He said “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
1 Peter 1:4 says believers have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in seven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Believers are preserved for eternal life.
Believers will be vindicated.
Thursday, December 03, 2015
God’s Word to Isaiah on the Future of the World
What an honor God bestowed on Isaiah. He told him the entire future of the world with Jesus at the center. And, indeed, Jesus is the focus of God’s plan for the world.
In Isaiah 10, God spoke of judging nations by way of the metaphor of chopping down a forest. He continued with this metaphor in chapter 11, referring royal house of Israel as a stump. The line of David would be cut down in the exile. The stump is Jesse, King David’s father. The prophetic word of the Lord is that, out of Jesse’s line, would come another king, a shoot or branch, that would be the greater David. This is a prophecy of the Messiah, Jesus.
The New Testament shows us this prophecy fulfilled. Matthew 1 traces the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, who was the son of Jesse. He ended the genealogy with the birth of Jesus, “who is called Christ”. (Matt. 1:16) Christ is the transliteration of the Greek word “christos”, which is a translation of the Old Testament word for “anointed” or anointed one. “Messiah” is our transliteration of that Hebrew word.
Then we are told things about this Messiah. First, the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him. He would be anointed with the Spirit. This prophecy was fulfilled at Jesus’ baptism. Matthew recorded the event. The Spirit of God descended like a dove and came to rest on him. (Matthew 3:16)
The Father said the Spirit would endow the Son with three specific things:
wisdom and understanding;
counsel and might; and
knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Is. 11:2)
With wisdom and understanding, Jesus would lead his followers to know and obey God. With counsel and might he would carry out the mission given to him by the Father. With knowledge and fear of the Lord, Jesus would do the will of the Father completely. In fact, he would delight in this fear of the Lord, enjoying the holiness and might of the Father as a holy and devoted son.
Jesus, as the descendant of David, was the promised king. (2 Samuel 7:14-17) He inaugurated, or began, his kingdom while ministering on earth. His first message was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. (Matt. 4:17) He said “the kingdom of God has come near to you”. (Luke 10:9) But Jesus did not complete his kingdom work, for he came the first time to save rather than to judge.
But God gave Isaiah an even greater vision of the kingdom. For God revealed that the day would come when Jesus would judge and rule the nations. He would destroy the wicked with his word, the “rod of his mouth” and “ breath of his lips”. (Is. 10:3-5) This will occur when Jesus returns, resurrects the faithful and judges the world.
Then the Lord revealed even further into the future. After the resurrection and the judgment will come a new earth, a restored creation, inhabited by believers of all the ages in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah described it as a time when predator and prey are no longer at odds. (Is. 11:8) It will be a time when children need not fear any animal, when there will be no hurt or fear. (Is. 11:9) Revelation 21 describes the new creation as one where no evil exists, where everything is made beautiful for the church and where the Father and the Son dwell in the midst of their people.
The scope of the prophecy given to Isaiah is breathtaking! Three hundred years before Jesus is born, God described him to Isaiah. Two thousand three hundred years later, we still await the consumption of the kingdom, the return of Christ and the new earth. Yet, God revealed it to Isaiah.
Yes, Jesus came to earth as a baby as we celebrate during Advent and Christmas. As the faithful waited for him then, we await his return now. This Jesus who lived for us and died for us will return for us.
The word “advent” is an English transliteration of the Latin word “adventus”, which meant “coming”. In our time, we think of it as celebrating Christ’s coming as a baby. But early Christians celebrated it in anticipation of his second coming, his return to gather the faithful to himself for all eternity. There is nothing wrong with celebration the coming of Christ as a baby. But as we do, we can look forward as well as backward, for “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven”. (Acts 1:11) As the Apostle John said, at the end of his vision of the end of this age, “amen, come Lord Jesus”. (Rev. 22:20)
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:
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
As Jesus prepared to give messages to the 7 churches, he explained to John the symbolism of the lamps and the stars. The golden lamp stands are the 7 churches of Asia.
Jesus walks among them. He knows them and is with them. In each letter, he will say “I know”. The 7 stars are the angels of the 7 churches. They will receive the messages on behalf of the churches.
There is some debate about the angels of the churches. Some believe they are a type of guardian angel for each church. Some believe the mean human messengers. Some believe they just symbolically represent the churches. Regardless, Jesus will address each of these churches individually. He will also tell them to hear the messages to the other churches.
The letters all follow the same format. It is the form of a royal edict or proclamation. It is the edict of the real king and lord, in contrast to that of Roman emperors.
In each letter, Jesus will identify himself differently as is appropriate for the problems of each church. But he will also tell them to heed what the Spirit says to the churches, showing that these problems occur in churches of all ages and localities. All of the letters deal with the issue of witnessing for Christ in a pagan culture.
Letter to the church at Ephesus
Ephesus is probably the best known of the 7 churches, at least to the readers of the New Testament.
Acts 19 tells us of Paul coming to Ephesus and finding disciples baptized in the baptism of John the Baptist. They may have heard the gospel from Apollos before he learned the full truth from Priscilla and Aquila. Paul instructed them and they received the Holy Spirit. Paul then preached in the local synagogue for three months. When he received opposition, he moved to the hall of Tyrannous and preached every day for two years. After that, the silversmiths that made idols of Artemis rioted against Paul because he preached that man made idols were not gods. The Temple of Artemis was one of the “seven wonders of the world”.
There were also temples to the deified Roman emperors there.
Ephesus also had a big library. It was a center of occult arts.
Paul later met with the Ephesian elders as he started toward Jerusalem. Acts 20 records this. He left Timothy there to shepherd the church. Paul later wrote the church from prison in Rome (Acts 28). We call that letter “Ephesians” commonly. He also wrote letters to Timothy to deal with problems at the same church. Later, the Apostle John is thought to have lived there. This church had the best pastors imaginable.
Jesus began his word to the church in the same way God spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament. He says “the words of him”. (2:1) Remember how, in Ezekiel, we read “these things says the Lord Almighty”, or “thus says the Lord God” (Ez. 38:17) at the beginning of each prophesy. Jesus is assuming the role of God, of Yahweh, speaking a prophetic word.
Jesus identified himself to the Ephesian church as “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks among the seven lamp stands” because he will threaten to remove their lamp stand if they do not repent.
Jesus commended the Ephesian church for many things:
their patient endurance for the name of Jesus;
not growing weary;
they hated to works of the Nicolaitans (6); and
they did not bear with those who are evil, but testing false apostles.
We can see the Ephesians were discerning. They tested and resisted false apostles. They resisted the Nicolaitans, whose works Jesus hated. We do not know what the Nicolaitans believed, but it was not the gospel. With all the paganism, mysticism and pluralism swirling around them, the Ephesians maintained true doctrine from the teachings of Jesus. Paul had earlier commended them for their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love toward all the saints. (Ephesians 1:15)
This was politically incorrect for the time. Had they been willing to accept these other teachings and practices, along with Christianity, they would likely have not faced opposition. But, their insistence on one true doctrine made them subject to opposition and persecution.
But Jesus did have a strong criticism. He said they had abandoned the love they had when they were first converted. This raises the question: is it love for Christ or for each other that Jesus references?
It dos not appear that the Ephesians had lost any love for Christ. They rejected every attempt to corrupt his teaching. They held true to him despite persecution.
So, it seems Jesus refers to a loss of love for others, especially non-believers. Remember that the church is represented by lamps, shining light into the darkness.If we do not shine, the darkness takes over. If we do not proclaim the gospel to our community, we are indistinguishable from nice, unsaved people.
Jesus warned of this very thing. Matthew 24:9-12 records Jesus saying:
“They 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. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Ad many false prophets will arise and lead my astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
Jesus also said “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
It is easy, in face of persecution and false teaching, to withdraw from others and even to hate them. We may not hate them, but be indifferent to their eternal fate. But Jesus calls us to show love to others by proclaiming the gospel and performing acts of service. We must both hold to truth and love others by proclaiming it. Otherwise, we risk losing our very identity as Christ’s church.
Jesus commanded them to repent and to do the works they did at first. This was no light rebuke. We know this because Jesus said, if they failed to repent, he would come and remove their lamp stand. In other words, he would take their church away, or it would no longer be his church.
The last word to the Ephesian church is a wonderful promise: to the one who conquers, Jesus will grant to eat of the tree of life with is in the paradise of God. We conquer when we when we hold to the testimony of Jesus until then end. Jesus rewards us, as those in Ephesus, by letting us eat of the tree of life.
Remember the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. It’s fruit gave life. Mankind was banned from it after Adam sinned. But, in the new earth, the new Jerusalem, those whose names are written in the book of life again have access to it. They have eternal life in the paradise of God, the new earth. (Revelation 22:2)
Christians today need to follow the example of the Ephesian church in maintaining orthodox doctrine. We must know and understand our Bible. We face an onslaught of heresy blatant and subtle. Pluralism is urged on us. Immoral behavior is thrown in our face. Alternate religions and ways to salvation are proposed. We must be diligent to preserve the gospel.
But we must also be faithful to proclaim the gospel. Those who love Jesus proclaim him. That is the example of the church in the book of Acts.
Monday, October 19, 2015
Jesus promised that his followers would be with him in heaven. They had followed him on earth every day for several years. But then he told them he was going somewhere they could not follow. He was telling them he would die and go back to the Father in Heaven. They were troubled by this, because they did not want to give up their daily fellowship with him.
Jesus told them not to be troubled, but to believe in him. (John 14:1) Specifically, he wanted them to believe they would be reunited in heaven. He said "I go and prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you maybe also." (14:1-2)
The words "come again" lead some to think this is about the second coming. But the context is clearly Jesus going to join the Father in heaven and the disciples following later. That is why Jesus said "no one comes to the Father except through me". (14:6) The Father is in heaven. Jesus joined him there. If we want to be in heaven, with the Father, we must do it "through the Son". Belief in Jesus as the Son of God allows us into Heaven.
The words of Jesus are comforting. He said "I will come again and take you to myself". When we die, Jesus will come for us and bring us to heaven to dwell with him and our heavenly father. Death for the believer is not a deep sleep, or an abode in darkness or pain, but the moment we are ushered into the presence of our savior and lord. Take comfort in this. "Let not your hearts be troubled" by death.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
"Forgiveness is related to our willingness to forgive. Unless you have forgiven others you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord's prayer." C. H. Spurgeon
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" was Jesus' instruction for prayer. (Matthew 6:12)
Paul wrote: "as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive". (Colossians 3:13)
The Appearance of Jesus with Glory
In the midst of the lamp stands was one “like a son of man”. This is an allusion to Daniel 7:13. There, Daniel saw one like a son of man who appeared before the Ancient of Days, or God the Father. The Father gave Jesus the Son dominion, glory and an everlasting kingdom, and decreed that all should serve him. At the time Jesus appears to John, he has received this kingdom and dominion. Therefore, he does not appear as the humble, Jewish man John knew on earth, but as a powerful and glorious king.
Before analyzing the parts of Jesus's appearance, take in the whole. What does it show? It shows Jesus with power and glory, the hight priest of the church, ministering to the churches, purging sin and punishing those who persecute the church.
The vision is not to show us what Jesus looks like, but who he is!
John described Jesus as wearing a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. (13) His hair was very white, his eyes like flames, and his feet like bronze. His voice was like the sound of many waters.
The robe and sash show Jesus acting as a priest tending to the churches. HIs clothing and his appearance resemble that of a man in Daniel’s vision in Daniel 10. His appearance was so overwhelming that Daniel fell to the ground.
The description of his hair is the same as Daniel’s description of the Ancient of Days (God the Father) in Daniel 7:9. His voice was like a the roar of many waters. This again reflects Daniel’s description and the divine appearance to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:24.
His voice is powerful and overwhelming. The language comes from Ezekiel. Daniel also described his voice as that of a multitude.
His eyes of flame are symbols of Christ’s role as judge.
All of these attributes show us that Christ is portrayed as God. He is deity. He is our high priest, as we learned in Hebrews and he is eternal and powerful.