Revelation 11:15-19, The Seventh Trumpet.

15] Then the seventh angel sounded:  And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”  16] And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17] saying:

“We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
18] The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,
And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
And that you should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,
And those who fear Your name, small and great,
And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”

19] Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple.  And there were lightnings, noises, thundering, an earthquake, and great hail. (NKJV)

Revelation 10:5 refers to the days of the sounding of the seventh angel and says “the mystery of God” will be finished.  We talked about this some, that this “mystery” has to do with the “problem” of evil and why God doesn’t do something about it.  Our text and chs. 12-14 give us some more of the answer.  It gives us something of the scene in heaven and chs. 12-14 tell us about what will happen on this earth during this time.

To start, “loud voices” utter a bold statement:  “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.”   Some of you have Bible notes that tell you that the word “kingdoms” is actually singular, that is, the “kingdom of this world,” etc.  The voices aren’t referring to individual nations like the US or Canada, but the governance of the world, that is, mankind, itself.  We don’t often think about this.  It’s usually thought to be the province of fringe groups and conspiracy theorists, but Scripture tells us that it is so – not the theories of men, but the fact is that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, Ephesians 6:12.  It says the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one, 1 John 5:19.  It says that even believers once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:2, 3.

I’m glad Ephesians 2:3 isn’t the end of the story for us – “children of wrath, just as the others.”  If men wrote the rest of the story, it would be something like, “but we turned over a new leaf and began to live right, and we all lived happily ever after.”

That’s not what it says.  It says –

But God….

“But God….”

Those words occur elsewhere in Scripture.  I leave it to you to find them.  It’s a rich study.

You see, contrary to much of modern thought, we didn’t take the first step toward God.  He took the first step toward us, though that’s really a terribly inadequate way to put it.  We were going the other direction.  If He hadn’t stopped us, we’d’ve kept on going to perdition.

Our text is a “but God” for this world.  Men might turn everything upside down: redefining marriage, redefining “male and female,” promoting wickedness and unbelief on every side, and nothing seems to be happening.  The heavens are silent. There is coming a time, however, when He will step in and it will be obvious that He has.

God has always been in charge, though it may not seem like it, and men question the idea.  He’s always been supervising and superintending what goes on on this ball of dirt.  It just isn’t always apparent, though the results of our transgressions are evident: poverty, violence, political and social unrest.  When the seventh trumpet sounds, it will signal the beginning of His obvious rule.

V. 18 describes this time.

1. It will be a time of rebellion, the nations were angry.  When God steps in and cuts out all the immorality and wickedness of this world, folks aren’t going to like it.  We see something of this in the “marches” and rioting and uproar that happens at even the mention of curtailing some of these things.

2. It will be a time of recompense, the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints.

Scripture tells us that there will be several judgments, not just a “final judgment,” which some say is what is mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15.

a. There will be a judgment of the nation of Israel.  In Ezekiel 20:33-37, God said to Israel, “As I live,” says the LORD God, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you.  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out.  And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.  Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord God.
“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel.  Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”

Then v. 40 says that those who do make it into the land, every one of them, will serve the Lord.  This is what Paul was writing about in Romans 11:26.  And, by the way, these are the “brethren” of whom the Lord speaks in Matthew 25, to which we now turn.

b. There will be a judgment of nations, Matthew 25:31-46.  After the Lord’s return to this earth, He’s going to gather the nations together – there won’t be that many  people left after all the judgments of the Tribulation Period.  They will be divided into “sheep” and “goat” nations simply on the basis of how they have treated the Lord’s brethren, vs. 37, 45.  This has nothing to do with the homeless and disadvantaged, as those who think the Gospel is about nothing but social issues claim.  We have responsibilities toward these, to be sure, but that’s not the issue in Matthew 25.  The issue will be how nations have treated the Jewish people during the seventieth week, the Tribulation Period.

c. There will be a judgment of believers.

I Corinthians 3:11-15:  For other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has build on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

This has nothing to do with salvation, as the last verse tells us, but of reward or loss for our life’s work.  Contrary to the gospel saying, “every work for Jesus” will not be blessed.  There’s a great deal done in Christian circles “to be seen of men.”  Our Lord said that such already have their reward, Matthew 6:2, 5.  John was concerned about this.  He wrote that we should be careful, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward, 2 John 8, emphasis added.  There will be some who enter heaven with nothing but the clothes on their back, so to speak, their lives having been reduced to ashes.  That is a sobering thought in these frivolous and superficial times.

d. There will be a judgment of unbelievers, Revelation 20:11-15.

This will be a judgment of “works,” of how the life was lived, but the determining factor will be whether or not a person’s name is written in the Book of Life.  We’ll have much more to say about this later.

Evolution tells us that billions of years have passed, and billions will likely yet pass before the sun either flames out or burns out and life will be done on this planet.  Nice how they always put this way out there where no one who listens to them today will be around to prove or disprove it.  Kind of like what they do with our beginnings.  Nothing is going on now, it was all billions or millions of years ago, so that even though we can’t duplicate it today, that’s how it happened.

No one knows when the things spoken of in Revelation will happen.  Our Lord may come back before I get done typing this post.  He may not return for several generations.  Only He knows.

It really doesn’t matter.   Whether today, tomorrow, next year, or next century, the point is, we will all stand in His presence.  Only those who have received Him as Savior will enter heaven.  He Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by Me,” John 14:6, emphasis added.  The world may think that “all roads lead to heaven,” but our Lord says that’s a lie.  “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” Acts 4:12.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses.

3] And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  

4] These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.  5] And if any anyone wants to hurt them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.  And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.  6] These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7] When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.  8] And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.  9] Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  10] And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11] Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  12] And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.  13] In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14] The second woe is past.  Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.  (NKJV)

There are several things of interest in these verses.

1. The ministry of the witnesses, vs. 3-6.

First, there are two of them.  This is in agreement with Deuteronomy 19:15, which says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Second, they have unusual power, being able to bring drought or to turn water into blood.  These abilities have led some to believe that these two witnesses are Moses, cf. Exodus 7:20, 21, and Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17:1, though they are never actually named.

What these powers do tell us is that this is a different time than the “church age,” that is, our own age or culture.  Cf. Luke 9:51-55, where the Lord rebuked His disciples for wanting to bring such judgment down on a Samaritan village which rejected Him.  Because it failed to make that distinction, history is filled with examples of “the church” doing things it never had the right to do.  The church was never given civil authority, that is, that it was the “power on the throne.”  When it assumed that role, it ceased to be a true church and began to persecute those actually were.  The Reformers could never have envisioned or embraced such a concept as “the separation of church and state.”  To their time and thinking, the church was the state.

Of course, the modern view isn’t any better, where the church is to be completely isolated from the state, and there’s no room in “the state” for “religious” thinking.  What the so-called anti-establishment clause in our Constitution means is that there will never be an “official” Church of the United States, as there is an official or “established” church in other countries.  It does not, repeat, not, mean that there is to be no Christian influence in our government at all.  I know that the Founding Fathers weren’t necessarily “Christian” in a Biblical sense.  Washington was a Unitarian.  Jefferson was a Deist and cut out large portions of the Old Testament which he found offensive.  This is known as “the Jefferson Bible.”  Ben Franklin’s greatest desire was for a society formed on the basis of reason.  I wonder what he would think of our society.  Nevertheless, these men had a respect for the Word of God that is sorely lacking in our culture.  When the Scripture was banned from public life, decay and depravity set it, resulting in what we see all around us today.  Many of these things were unthinkable in my youth.  We are truly reaping what we have sown.

One thing of interest isn’t actually there.  Verse 3 quotes God as saying, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”  In the original language, the verse reads, “and I will give to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy….”  There is no word for “power”.  So what is it that God is going “to give” to His servants, His “witnesses”?  I think it’s open.  Not to what we want, but what we need to do the job God has for us, whatever that may be.  He will give to the witnesses in Revelation 11 what they need, and He will give to you and me what we need to serve Him.

Finally, we’re told that the witnesses’ ministry will last 1260 days, v. 3.  This comes out to three-and-a-half years.  I believe this will be during the first part of “the seventieth week,” what we know as “The Tribulation Period.”  I believe that it’s the first part because their murder gives rise to a man called “the beast,” and the time of persecution where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot for forty-two months.  Remember the seven-year covenant or treaty we wrote of in an earlier post.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the witness’ ministry is to denounce that treaty and to point people to the true God.

2. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs. 7-10.

Here we’re specifically told that “the beast” kills them.  It’s what clinches his rise to power, cf. Revelation 13:4.  The world rejoices over this murder and now it’s time to celebrate!

Earlier commentators envisioned people making special trips to see the dead bodies of the witnesses, with special trains and excursions.  The advent of television changed that, so that people around the world could see all this in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Now, of course, with the ubiquitous cellphone, nearly everybody who’s there can take pictures and send them to their friends.

There will be a world-wide sigh of relief and joy that “these two bigots who dared to speak out against our wonderful leader have finally been silenced.”

3. The Miracle of the Witnesses, vs. 11-13.

For three days, the rejoicing and celebrating continues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be vendors selling “I was there” T-shirts and souvenirs.  In the middle of the fourth day, suddenly, the dead bodies come to life and stand up!  Wow!  That’s not supposed to happen!  I can imagine the stunned silence.  Hilarity is replaced by great fear.  Then a voice, a loud voice, saying to the two men, “Come up here,” and the world sees them ascend in a cloud into heaven, like their Master did before them.

That’s not all.  Almost immediately, there is a great earthquake, which kills seven thousand people.  This results in people giving glory to the God of heaven.  This doesn’t mean that they were saved or any such thing.  It simply means that they couldn’t deny what happened.  At the same time, neither would they receive what really happened.  Cf. Acts 3, 4, and the healing of a man born unable to walk.  When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the authorities for this healing, the man standing there with them made it impossible for them to deny that a miracle been performed.  Did this cause them to bow to the Lord Jesus?  Read their own words from Acts 4:14, And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But these leaders, who couldn’t deny the truth, v. 15, would not receive it either, and forbade the disciples from further talking about the Lord Jesus, v. 17.

We have lots of people today talking about and looking for miracles.  Large ministries have been build around the “performing” of them.  But by themselves, miracles mean nothing, especially if those who witness the miracles remain unchanged.  A momentary excitement means nothing by itself.

4. The “Meaning” of the Witnesses, v. 14.

Their ministry is called “the second woe.”  This simply means that one more stroke has been taken toward the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the third and final “woe” is coming quickly.  The seventh angel is about to sound.

Revelation 8:7-13: “As In the Days of Egypt”

7] The first angel sounded:  And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth.  And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.  

8] Then the second angel sounded:  And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  9] And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10] Then the third angel sounded:  And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  11] The name of the star is Wormwood.  A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.

12] Then the fourth angel sounded:  And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened.  A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
13] And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”  (NKJV)

The title of this post is taken from Micah 7:15, in which God says “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders.”  In this verse, God promises something of a repetition of what happened just before Israel escaped Egyptian bondage.  This is important because similar things are said to happen in Revelation 8 as happened before the Exodus, e.g., water turned to blood, cf. Exodus 7:20.  Many scholars and teachers who will accept that things which happened before the Exodus were actual things will say that the same things mentioned in Revelation are only “symbolic” and not actual events or things at all.  It seems to me that Micah 7:15 tells us that they are “real”.  That God will once again intervene in the affairs of men in such a way that it can’t be denied, cf. 6:17.

1. The first trumpet, 8:7:  Vegetation destroyed.

Ezekiel 38:22 foretells of a time when God will rain down on him…flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.  The “him” refers to those forces who will gather for what seems to be one last time to overthrow and destroy Israel, as seen in Ezekiel, chs. 38-40.  I believe that Ezekiel refers to the same thing as  Zechariah 14:1-3.  It will seem that at long last Israel has been defeated, Jerusalem has been captured and terrible atrocities committed against her inhabitants.  Learned scholars will likely appear on television and proclaim that, at last, the “Jewish problem” has been solved. Little do they know!  This is also likely what Paul referred to in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8 as he describes the scene when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I would sound one note of caution in the study of prophecy, even in our study.  Some ministries devote their whole attention to it.  That’s fine.  I don’t agree with those who say we ought to ignore it because there is so much discussion and controversy over it.  If God said it, we ought to study it and know as much about it as we can.  At the same time, there is an enormous amount of material throughout the Bible about the future, not just ours, but things future to those to whom it was originally given, much of which we view as history.  Much of it has been fulfilled; much remains.  And it isn’t all neatly strung together for us like pearls on a necklace.

I believe prophecy is about actual history and events told about before they happen.  It is not merely symbolic teaching about something or other.  Having said that, I expect that, when all is said and done, what is done will not be exactly as we, that is, teachers and preachers, might say it will be.  We will, however, see that it was fulfilled exactly as God has said it would be.

With regard to the effect of the first trumpet, I don’t know exactly how it will be fulfilled, whether every tree in a certain area will be destroyed, or just some trees over a wider area.  It doesn’t matter.  It will be evident what has happened: a lot of trees gone, as well as all green grass.  People will no doubt be aghast as this blow to the environment, that environment so many seem almost to cherish, even almost worship.  And we ought to take care of it; after all, we live in it.  But there is coming a time when that which is so important to us, even vital to our lives and well-being, will be greatly affected and destroyed.

2. The Second Trumpet, 8:8:  Oceans struck.

This trumpet and the next one refer to separate events which will greatly affect the waters of this planet.  The thing mentioned in this verse seems to be very large, perhaps like an asteroid or other larger cosmic body.  It won’t be the first time this has happened, cf. the meteor crater in Arizona.  There are other places as well which also bear witness to the violence this world has suffered before.  Our atmosphere has protected us from much of it, but still, some things get through.  Whatever this is will get through.

Its impact will result in great loss, as well as a great change in the ocean itself.  John says a third of it will become blood.  There is some discussion about this. Some say it will simply be a natural occurrence, like the Red Tide.  This phenomenon is caused by a harmful red algal bloom, which produces a neurotoxin that can be fatal to marine animals who ingest it and then to humans who eat the marine animals.

I don’t know if this will be the explanation or not, though I don’t think it will be.  I do believe these events will be beyond the ability of “science” to explain.

As for the destruction of ships, imagine the tidal wave, or tsunami, produced by the collision of this object with the ocean.  It will dwarf the one which made headlines a few years back.

3. Fresh water affected, 8:10-11.

This seems to be a smaller object, what we might call a shooting star.  It will affect a third of fresh water, so that many people die from drinking it.

4. Cosmic disturbances, 8:12.

A third of the heavens will be affected.  Even time itself will seem to be affected, with the shortened length of day and night.

How will all this be done?  Only God knows.

But that’s the point.

Today’s materialistic science prides itself on asserting that things are simply the results of natural processes, operating over billions of years.  There is no God involved, no supernatural interference with the natural order of things.

Science says that everything can be explained.

These phenomena will show that to be a lie.

5. A supernatural announcement, 8:13.

Newer translations say that an eagle flies through the heaven with this announcement.  However it’s accomplished, men are put on notice that there is worse to come.
__________

Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.  We live in a time when there seems to be little, if any, evidence for God in everyday life.  The Bible has little effect, indeed, is forbidden in our government, in our schools, and in much of everyday life.  Secular philosophy rules the day.  Men and women live as if this life is truly all there is; there’s nothing “out there”.

God gave us books like Revelation to be something more than the subject of discussion.  It’s not just to be dabbled in or made a subject for speculation.  Granted, we may not understand a lot of what it says.  It says enough, though, to warn us that this life is not all there is, that in the words of Hebrews 9:27, …it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

The thought of Hebrews 9:27 is continued in v. 28:  And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.

We can’t even begin to understand those verses.  We’ve sanitized and cleaned up the idea of crucifixion.  We’ve made the cross into pretty jewelry.  But it wasn’t pretty; it was an awful, bloody, painful thing.  Beside all that, our Lord endured the wrath of God against sin.  There’s no way to picture that.

So, you see.  There is coming a time of judgment, for this planet and for every single individual who’s ever lived on it.  For those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that judgment is past.  He endured it in our place.  Apart from Him, that judgment is still to be faced.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

Revelation 8:1-6, The Sound of Silence.

1] When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  2]  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.  3] Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne.  4] And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.  5] The the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth.  And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

6] So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.  (NKJV)

This title has nothing to do with the song originally put out by Simon and Garfunkel in the 60’s, which I remember, and later versions, which I do not know or remember.  I’d forgotten about the song when I decided on the title for the post.

So, why this title?

How can “silence” have “sound”?  Isn’t silence the absence of sound?

Let me tell you a story.  I had a friend in Bible College whose family I would visit every so often.  One time in particular I remember.  The room they put me up in had the air conditioner in the window.  It gets hot in Tennessee.  Anyway, this one time it was running, very noisily.  As morning drew near, someone turned it off.  That was what woke me up, that sudden, deafening, silence.

As we come to our text in Revelation, remember the scene John has set:  chorus after chorus, anthem after anthem, shout after shout, of praise, adoration and worship continually being voiced by the multitudes gathered around the throne.  Then, suddenly,

there was silence in heaven….

Perhaps for the first time ever.

The sound of silence….

No “background music” to set the scene.

Just utter, complete silence.

Then…

Seven angels are given trumpets.

Another angel holding a golden censer approaches the golden altar in front of the throne.  He’s given “much incense” to offer “with the prayers of all the saints” on the altar.    Then he takes the censer, fills it with fire from the altar and hurls it to the earth, which results in noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.

The seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets.

We don’t often think of heaven as having an altar or censers, but Hebrews tells us that the OT tabernacle was modeled on things in heaven, Hebrews 9:24.

It’s interesting that the prayers of the saints are mentioned twice.  And by “prayers,” I don’t think John meant those repetitive, formal prayers recited during church services or repeated during quiet times.  To be sure, they can be heart-felt and fervent, but I’m afraid that too often our mouths are saying one thing and our mind is thinking of something else.

When the Lord wanted to convince Ananias that it was safe to go find Saul of Tarsus, He said, [B]ehold, he is praying,”  Acts 9:11.  Now, Saul had been a zealous Pharisee before his conversion and, no doubt, like that Pharisee mentioned in Luke 18:11, had often “stood and prayed…with himself,” telling God what a great guy he, Saul, was.

What was the difference?  Before, he had simply “said” prayers.  Now, he was “praying.”  He wasn’t just going through the motions; he had literally been stopped in his tracks.

“The prayers of the saints.”  Those prayers themselves are described as “incense” in Revelation 5:8.

Without getting into the typology of the Tabernacle and offerings, the incense offered with the prayers of the saints refers to the merit of the Lord Jesus.  It is He who makes them presentable to a holy, righteous and just God.  That’s why, in Colossians 3:17, we’re told, Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

John brings up a subject we don’t really think about, don’t even like to think about, apparently.  Paul mentioned it in Romans 11:22:  consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness.  Otherwise you also will be cut off.

Our society and culture is all over the idea of “the goodness of God.”  “God is love” is apparently all the theology many people have.  And we are thankful that “God is love,” else we’d all be in trouble.

There is more to God than “love.”  That same book that mentioned the love of God also said of God, This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all, 1 John 1:5.  “This is the message” – not that “God is love,” but that “God is light,” that is, that He is holy, righteous and just.  That is the God with whom we have to do, not this sentimental, grandfatherly type that we seem to have today that chuckles over the foibles and folly of His children.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we ARE NOT His children, in spite of what is commonly believed today.  We are His subjects, He is our God and King, against whom we are traitorous rebels who are doing everything we can to dethrone Him.  We are the subjects of His wrath.  There is coming a time when that will be plain to all, when the inhabitants of the earth will have to acknowledge that wrath, Revelation 6:17.

The truth is, apart from the Lord Jesus there is nothing but wrath and condemnation for the unbeliever:  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. … He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him, John 3:18, 36, emphases added.

That’s true of nations, as well.  Psalm 9:17 says, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.  History is littered with the ruins of nations that have come and gone.  This country will not be exempt.  I’m encouraged by recent events that perhaps God has given us a breather, so to speak, but still, there is abundant evidence that the voice of the enemy has not been silenced, only muted a little.  Indeed, those same events may stir the enemy up.

Heaven may seem to be silent for the time being.  Life goes on.  But there is coming a time, sooner or later, when it will speak loudly and clearly, and finally, to the inhabitants of this world.

We do not rejoice in the idea of judgment.  God Himself has no pleasure in judgment.  Ezekiel 33:11 says, “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’  And Isaiah 28:21 calls judgment, His unusual work.

Indeed, God has gone to great lengths to make a way of escape from the judgment rightfully due us.

Seeing a mankind that would universally reject Him, He chose from among these rebels a vast number to be saved.  For those who object to such an idea, for Him to have chosen only one to be saved would be more than any of us deserve, let alone the countless multitudes that He has chosen.

Having chosen these otherwise condemned sinners to be saved, God sent His Son to take their place under His wrath.  The Lord Jesus suffered what we should suffer, who are by nature children of wrath, just as the others, Ephesians 2:3.  Because He suffered, there is no more wrath for us, those for whom He died, Romans 5:9.

But there was still something that needed to be done.  Because we were dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1, because we once were alienated from the life of God, Ephesians 4:18, and were alienated and enemies of God, Colossians 1:21, God sent the Holy Spirit:  God has revealed them to us through his Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:10.

Our Lord referred to this work of the Spirit in John 3 as the new birth, a birth not of flesh and blood, but of or by the Holy Spirit.  Without this birth, we are unable either to see or to enter into the things of God, John 3:3, 5.  Without His work, there is no understanding at all of spiritual truth.  Religion, yes, spiritual truth, no.

Oh, there is so much more we could say about this.  It’s enough for now to say that judgment is coming.

Only those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ will be spared that judgment.

Have you believed on Him?

Revelation 7, “In Wrath, Remember Mercy.”

1] After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree.  2] Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God.  And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, 3] saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servant of our God on their foreheads.”  4] And I heard the number of those who were sealed  one hundred and forty-four of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed:

5] of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed;
6] of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed;
7] of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed:
of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed:
8] of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.

9] After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10] and crying out with a loud voice, saying “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  11] All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12] saying:

“Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever.
Amen.”

13] Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”

14] And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  15] Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.  And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.  16] They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17] for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Our title is found in Habakkuk 3:2, a prayer by the prophet as he was trying to figure out how God could use a wicked nation like the Chaldeans to judge His own people Israel.  Knowing what the Chaldeans did to their victims, he prayed for mercy in the midst of judgment.

Revelation is essentially a book about judgment.  Yet this chapter tells us there is also mercy.

It also gives us one of those behind-the-scenes looks we mentioned earlier and which gave us the title for the series:  “Revelation:  Director’s Cut.”  In the first three verses, we’re introduced to several angels, four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, and another angel having the seal of the living God.  There is possibly a second group of four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea.  Until just two minutes ago, I believed that these two groups of four were the same; now I’m not so sure.  It doesn’t really matter, there are more than enough angels to go around.

Though unseen, angels have a great deal to do with the providential dealings of God with this world.  Here we see that they even have responsibilities in nature.  The four winds of earth likely refer to the trade winds which continually circle our planet.  As for the four corners of the earth, I’m not so sure.  Even those who believe in a flat earth admit that it’s a circle, though I’ve seen diagrams of a flat rectangle.  Perhaps it refers to the magnetic field of earth.  Perhaps it’s just an expression to tell us that the angels have it covered.  Regardless, that’s not really the point in the chapter.  These angels are kept from harming the earth because something needs to be done first.

Verses 4 through 8 tell us of the “sealing” of the servants of our God on their foreheads, v. 3.  Then there is a listing of one hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel, emphasis added.  Then twelve tribes are listed, with twelve thousand being sealed from each tribe.

The reason we emphasized “the children of Israel” is because there is some discussion as to who these people are.  Some even believe that this portion refers to the church, which they consider to be “spiritual Israel.”  If that’s so, then why does the Spirit go to the trouble of so closely identifying these people as Jews from a particular tribe of the nation of Israel?

In spite of what men say, God is NOT done with the nation.  Though during this present age, they are “set aside” and the church has been given their place of “favor,” though not the promises given to them in the OT, Scripture clearly says that there is coming a time when –

Israel shall blossom and bud,
And fill the face of the world with fruit,
Isaiah 27:6.

Israel shall be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; You shall not be ashamed or disgraced forever and ever,  Isaiah 45:17.

And so all Israel will be saved, Romans 11:26.

With regard to this last verse, it doesn’t mean that every single Jew who ever lived will be saved, but rather that all the Jews who are alive at that particular time will be saved.

Revelation 7:4-8 give us the beginning of that work.

There is something else here.  These elect Jews are said to be sealed on their foreheads, v. 3.  I believe it will be a visible mark, right there for anyone and everyone to see.  There will be no doubt that these are servants of God.  Perhaps this will be the reason for the “mark of the beast” later on.

The rest of the chapter, vs. 9-17, describes a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, v. 9.  In v. 14, John is told that “these are the one who come out of the great tribulation,” literally, “the tribulation, the great one.”

These who will be willing to die for the Lamb will spend eternity with Him.  The terrible things they endured on earth will be as nothing compared to the blessing they will enjoy in heaven.

Without getting too much into what these faithful believers have to look forward to, I believe there is a great deal for us, as well.

I’m afraid that too often we fall into the attitude of the world regarding death and the hereafter.  Granted that, unlike many in the world, we believe that there is a “hereafter,” but I fear we still fall far short of our views on it.

For example, in a conversation a while back with a brother concerning sickness, he said, “Well, that’s better than the alternative.”  No, it’s not.  Not for the believer.  At the funeral of a dear sister and friend, someone said, “It’s good to be alive.”  My response to that:  “She’s more alive now than she’s ever been.”

I suppose it’s natural to fear death.  It seems like such a final and irrevocable thing.  (If you’ve recently suffered such a bereavement, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your grief).  We don’t even like to say the word “die.”  We say, “So and so passed,” or some other phrase which lessens the impact of the reality of it all.

Apart from Scripture, we have no word about what happens at or after death.  Those who deny Scripture deny the only source of comfort and help at such a time for those left behind, or instruction for those who have gone ahead.

And the Scripture does have something to say about it.

In speaking of his own trials and difficulties, the Apostle Paul wrote,

…[W]e do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

In Romans 8:18-23, he wrote,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willing, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered form the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.  Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

To the church at Corinth, he wrote,

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell you a mystery:  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:   “Death is swallowed up in victory,” 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.

And finally, though there is much more we could say about this,

…I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren,  concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope,  1 Thessalonians 4:13.

Why not, Paul?  Why aren’t we to sorrow in the same way as though who have no hope?  What hope do we have?  And notice that Paul doesn’t say that we’re not supposed to sorrow at all.  We sorrow, but that sorrow is to be mitigated –

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, emphasis added.

“Comfort.”

Death isn’t to be feared; it’s only the door into eternal blessing.

But these words are only for believers.  There is altogether another message for unbelievers, for those who deny Scripture, for those who think it’s all imaginary or just the views of ignorant and uniformed people – those who aren’t really “with it.”

Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment. 

Even the most vocal opponent of Scripture has to admit the truth of the first part of this verse.  Everyone dies.

However, the verse doesn’t stop there.  Neither does existence…

…after this, the judgment. 

John describes this judgment for us later in Revelation:

And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.  And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.  And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books….  And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire, Revelation 20:11, 12, 15.

“the lake of fire.”

Hell.

I saw something just yesterday that is a classic illustration of what the world thinks about “hell.”  There was a truck delivering a certain brand of beverage.  According to the slogan on the side of the truck, this product “tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”

To many, it’s only a swear word or something to mock.  Others believe it’s just the difficulties of this life.  I had a lady tell me that she thought this life was hell.  Still others will knock at your front door and tell you that it’s just the grave.  If that’s true, then what did the Lord mean when He said, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Luke 12:4, 5.

“A loving God wouldn’t do that!”

No?

That God is love is certainly taught in Scripture, 1 John 4:8.  Many Christians seem to believe that all that is necessary is to preach the love of God and they’ve preached the Gospel.  However, according to another verse in 1 John, the message is about not the love of God at all.  1 John 1:5 says, this is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

In the words of Habakkuk 1:13, God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.

“This is the message….”

What does this mean?  It means what is the nature and character of this God who is love?

It means that God is holy, righteous and just.  He cannot and will not tolerate sin.  It must be judged.

It means that apart from the Lord Jesus, we’re all sunk.

 

Revelation 3:14-19, Laodicea: The Church of the Good Self Image, part 2.

“And to the church of the Laodiceans write,
‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I could wish that you were cold or hot.  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, having become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked  – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may be not revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.  Be zealous, therefore, and repent.  (NKJV) 

In our last post, we looked at the city of Laodicea and how our Lord used the situation of the city to instruct His church.  We saw how the Lord presented Himself to the church as the True and Faithful Witness, as the One who shows the credibility of God’s Word (the “Amen”), and as the One through whom everything had been created, even the very environment in which Laodicea found itself.  He had quite a lot to say to the church there, this church which was so very pleased with itself.

How they saw themselves, v. 17,  ‘I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing.’

In short, they had arrived.

How the Lord saw them“you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,” v. 16. “You are wretched, poor, blind, miserable and naked,” v. 17.

In short, they hadn’t even started.

What about this thing of “cold and hot and lukewarm”?  Mostly, it’s thought that “cold” is either lost folks or Christians whose names are on a church role, but they’re not at all active in the church.  “Hot” speaks of feverent service to the Lord.  “Lukewarm” is kind of the Christian who comes to church once in a while, puts a little money in the plate, “believes” the Bible, but has no real enthusiasm for the things of God.  One maybe who serves “God and mammon”.

The Laodiceans would likely have understood it differently.  They were dependent for their water supply on aqueducts bringing water from two different springs some distance away from the city.  The thing is, one of these springs was hot and the other was cold.  By the time the water from either of these springs reached the city through these aqueducts, it had become lukewarm.  These waters were also heavily contaminated with minerals, so that lukewarm water would be undrinkable, hence the reference to “vomit,” or as the KJV has it:  “spue” (the old spelling of “spew”).  Have you ever taken a drink of something that was repulsive?  You don’t swallow it; you immediate spit it out, you “spew” it out.  You get rid of it right away.

When the Lord said that He wished they were either “cold” or “hot,” He wasn’t saying He wished they were either lost or saved, or fervent.  Cold water and hot water both have their uses.  Jesus was saying He wanted them to be useful to Him.

How different is their view of themselves and the Lord’s view of them!  There is so much that could be said about this!  They judged themselves by what they saw in the mirror, so to speak.  Perhaps they looked down on some of the other churches as not being quite up to their standard.  This is contrary to Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 10:12, For they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.  You see, we can always find someone “worse” than we are.  The trouble is, “they” aren’t the standard.  The Lord Jesus is.  Only a fool thinks he or she measures up to that standard!

What He counseled them, vs. 18, 19.

“To buy”.  This reminds me of Isaiah 55:1, 2, Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat.  Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? 

This doesn’t mean that the things the Lord offers and requires are for sale.  There is no amount of money or wealth which can “buy” a single blessing.  At the same time, there is a “cost” to obtaining these things.  We have to let go of the world if we want to take hold of the blessing.  We cannot serve this world and the Lord.  Cf. our Lord’s teaching in Luke 14:25-33.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t have responsibilities in this world; it means that we can’t let them come between us and serving the Lord.

– “gold refined in the fire.”  This refers to “faith.”  Cf. 1 Peter 1:5, which speak of faith as being more precious than gold that perishes.  

“that you may be rich.”  James 2:5 refers to the poor of this world rich in faith (KJV).  The poorest believer has more wealth than the richest billionaire can even begin to imagine, Matthew 16:26.

But pay attention to the fact that the Lord says, “Buy from Me.”  It isn’t enough to have the faith of your parents or your spouse or your church.  They may have true faith, but they can’t give it to you.  They might be able to show you the way, but you have to get it from the Lord yourself – and that’s done through reading and studying the Bible, the Word of God:  So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, Romans 10:17.  You can hear it through faithful preachers and teachers or from others, but faith must become yours and not just theirs.

– “white garments that you may be clothed.”  This speaks of righteousness, and since it must come from Christ, it refers to the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, For He [God] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

It’s just a couple of weeks until Christmas.  But that little “babe in a manger” didn’t stay there, though the world leaves Him there.  He grew up to die on a Cross, not as an accident, not as a criminal, but as a substitute.  That little, helpless infant was to be God’s substitute for believers.  He would grow up to live that life we could never live, be that person we could never be, and die that death we could never die.  His life satisfied God’s law by obeying its every provision.  His death satisfied God’s law by paying the price for every broken provision.   He paid the price for the sins of believers.  God looked at Him on the cross as He looks at us in our sins.  He looks at us, if we’re believers, and sees us as righteous and perfect as His Son was, and is..  Mind you, we’re neither righteous nor perfect in ourselves, but we’re accepted in the beloved, Ephesians 1:6.  It will only be because of Him that we make it to heaven, forgiven of our sins and considered to be righteous.

“that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.”  I admit that I don’t understand all that’s involved here, or any of it, really.  The idea seems to be prevalent that everyone will make it into heaven and all will be sweetness and light.  That doesn’t seem to be the picture here.  The Lord is talking to one of His churches!  About their shame….  And 1 John 2:28 speaks of being ashamed before Him at His coming.   Clearly, there is something here to think, and to pray, about.

As for those who are not His –

Revelation 20:11-15 paints a scene with which we really have no comparison, and which many reject or try to water down:  this idea of final, eternal judgment.  To many, hell is only a swear word, but Scripture says it’s an awful reality.  Apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, that’s what every man and woman faces.

“anoint your eyes with eye salve.”  As we mentioned earlier, Laodicea was famous for three things:  commerce, fashion, and medicine.  This last is what our Lord refers to here.  Laodicea was especially noted for an eye salve, or a poultice, to be placed on the eyes.  Jesus uses that word here.  He wants them to be able truly to see what they really are: “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”  To see that He and He alone has what they need: true riches, a covering for their sin, and understanding of spiritual truth.  And that they might see that they do need these things.

Some people might think all this isn’t very “loving.”  We seem to have the idea that “love” means tolerance, that we just accept anything and everything.  We seem to have lost the idea that anything can actually be “wrong.”

It’s because the Lord did love this church that He told them to repent, to change their attitude and their activity.  If He didn’t love them, He would just have let them go their way.

You see, unlike modern, unbelieving child psychology, our Lord believes in raising His children, not letting them raise themselves.  And that sometimes requires discipline.  A godless world equates the idea of discipline, which in Biblical terms includes corporal punishment, with child abuse.  But the Lord at His most foolish, as the world thinks of it, is wiser than all the people who oppose Him.  We see the results of Dr. Spock and his disciples in the chaos that has enveloped our young people and our culture the last two or three generations.  That’s the real child abuse.  To let youngsters run wild, to grow up as rebellious and miserable adults, with no thought or understanding that actions have consequences.  To wonder what went wrong when their world falls apart, or to blame everyone else for what they themselves have brought upon themselves.

I didn’t really mean this to be about raising children, but this is what the Lord does for us.  This is what the Lord was doing to the church at Laodicea.  They were so satisfied with themselves.  He wanted them to be satisfied with Him.

Revelation 3:7-13, The Church in Philadelphia: The Church With an Open Door.

“And to the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:   ‘I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,which comes down out of heaven from My God.  And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 7.

The city got its name from Attalus II, 159-138 B.C., whose truth and loyalty to his ailing brother Eumenes won for him the epithet, Philadelphus (“brother-loving”).  Philadelphia was founded as a center for the consolidation and spread of the Greek culture and language, so was a “missionary” city from the beginning.

The city obtained world-wide fame through a disaster.  Philadelphia lay on the edge of a now extinct volcanic field, but in AD 17 a severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities, including Sardis and Philadelphia.  Evidently, the aftershocks continued for some time and so terrorized the inhabitants that most of them remained outside the city.  Those who did return to the city lived in constant fear of another earthquake.

The Emperor Tiberius helped these stricken cities and in commemoration of his generosity, Philadelphia took on a new name:  “Neokaisareia,” “New Caesarea,” though this name was gradually abandoned.

Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several things:  it was a “missionary” city, there was constant danger, much of the population remained outside the city, and the city took on a new name from the imperial god.

In the last stages of the struggle of the decaying Roman Empire and the growing Turkish power, Philadelphia played a heroic part and held aloft the Christian banner long after the surrounding countryside had been conquered.  During the fourteenth century, it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free and self-governing city against and amidst the Turkish lands which surrounded it.  Twice, Turkish armies reduced the city to starvation, yet the city stood.  Finally, about 1370-1390, it fell to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army.  What the Turks could not do by themselves, they did by taking advantage of the division and jealousy among the Christians.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 7.

His Personality,

1. “Holy.”  This refers to His inward character.  As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, He is holy, harmless, undefiled.

2. “True.” – “genuine,” as opposed to the claims of “those who say” in v. 9.  This refers to the outward manifestation of the inward character.  In the final analysis, what we do is determined by what we are.

His Power, “opens” and “shuts” and no one hinders.  We greatly need the assurance of this in our day.  There’s too much of the idea that we can somehow “hinder” or “frustrate” the God who created everything.  While we in no way deny our responsibilities or that our actions have consequences, we do deny that these in any way “mess up” the God of heaven.  I firmly believe this is why the churches – and indeed, the world – are in the shape they’re in.  We have the (false) idea that we can “mess Him up”.  The end and obvious result of such a view is the blatant skepticism and atheism we see all around us.  Who wants so feeble a god?

3. The Content of the Epistle, vs. 8-13.

The letter has three promises here:

Operation, “An open door”.  This clause is a perfect participle, meaning that the door is still open.

“able to shut,” implying that someone or is trying to shut the door and stop the missionary effort, but is not able to interfere with the Lord who keeps it open.

“no one” – not even Satan, though he certainly would like to.
1. No one can shut the door because the church “has a little strength”.  This is a great encouragement.  The church was evidently small, unimportant and feeble, especially when compared to the church at Pentecost, yet there is nothing but commendation.  No church can be judged, or may judge itself, by any other church.
2. No one can shut the door because the church “kept My word.”  Cf. John 14:23.  This implies obedience to, as well as, belief in Scripture.  This is a great responsibility.  Too much of our preaching and teaching is out of some commentary – what men say about the Bible.  While such things have their place and can be useful, we need to go to our primary source, the Word of God itself.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not “what does this source or that source say the Scripture says.”
3. No one can shut the door because the church has not “denied My name.”  With reference to the typical teaching from the church, perhaps this is a hint as to the great hour of trial yet to come upon the world – to deny Christ by receiving the “mark of the beast”.

Vindication, v. 9.  There are two interpretations of this verse:
1. The Jews will be forced to confess to the truth of Christianity at the Judgment, or,
2. Some Jews, now opponents, will be saved.

Both interpretations might be said to be true, though we believe the first one is more correct.

Many people, including Christians, forget that this life is not all there is to life.  A preacher of another generation, Rolfe Barnard, used to tell a story, something like this:

“There was a little country church surrounded by the fields of an ardent atheist.  One year, he decided to show his contempt for the church and what it taught.  The church had no air conditioning and so, in the spring and summer, had to have its windows open.  This atheist decided to plow his fields on Sunday, to cultivate his crops on Sunday, and finally, to harvest them on Sunday.  When the season was over, he wrote a letter to the paper in that town.  He said, ‘I planted my crops on Sunday, took care of them on Sunday, and harvested them on Sunday.  And I have a bumper crop.  A bumper crop.’
“The editor replied, ‘My friend, God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October’.”

“God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Countless millions have died, and are dying at this very moment, and their graves are unsung and unhonored.  Their names are cast out as evil.  Perhaps a believer will be killed while you read these lines.  Even those who aren’t called on to give their physical life are often called on to suffer persecution in one form or another.  Even in our culture, businesses are forced to close because the owners will not do things which violate their faith.  Things which once were unthinkable are now said to be “rights” and woe to those who don’t agree.

God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.

There is coming a time, however, when He will settle those accounts, a time when righteousness is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.  Many Scriptures speak of this and it is unwise indeed to expect real justice in a time when justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off.  For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails and he who departs from iniquity makes himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14, 15.  Though Isaiah was speaking directly to his own time, what he said of his nation and culture is applicable to this one.

“a synagogue of Satan.”  Because they had rejected the Messiah, no longer was their worship acceptable to God, nor was their synagogue of God, even though they carried the name “Jews,” and nominally worshiped Jehovah.  I wonder if God thinks that of those churches of our day and time which deny every truth of His Word.

“but lie”.  Romans 2:28, 29 describe a “real” Jew:  one who not only has the outward symbol of circumcision, but the inward reality that his circumcision symbolizes – the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Separation, v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole earth.”

There are several elements to this.

1. A recognition of past faithfulness, because you have kept My command to persevere….  Contrary to what a popular Gospel song used to teach – that the Christian life is “without a care,” we’re called upon not simply to “believe” something, but to live as if that something were true.  While it’s certainly true that we have responsibilities in this present world – we’re children, siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, bosses, etc. – we have an ultimate responsibility with a view to the next world:  it is appointed for men once to die, but after this, the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometime we have to go through flood or fire, figuratively speaking, Isaiah 43:2.

2. A promise of future protection, I also will keep you from the hour of trial….  In Luke 21:18, after a description of what the disciples would be likely to suffer, even to death, our Lord promised that “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”  But in v. 19, he finished, “By your patience [endurance] possess your souls.”  All that’s not limited to the first disciples.  I think we see it playing out before our very eyes.  In parts of this world, men and women are suffering unbelievable, indescribable, things for the name of the Lord Jesus.  But they will stand before Him perfect, complete, whole, having lost nothing, but having gained everything.

As far as “the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world,” I’m not sure exactly what that might have meant to the actual church at Philadelphia.  Severe persecution under Diocletian was on the way.  It might have been that.  Or something else we don’t know about.  As far as any typical teaching might be concerned, and again, there is discussion about this, it seems to me that the Lord is promising that believers will be spared from that coming time of trouble  in which He said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, Matthew 24:22.

3. a plea for present faithfulness, v. 11, “Hold fast.”  It isn’t enough that we can look back and see how the Lord has blessed us, or what service we might have performed.  Nor is it enough simply to look ahead to that time when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Right now, there’s something for us to do.  To be.

The reason for that is that there’s a danger of loss.  Not our salvation, as some teach, but our Lord warned the Philadelphians that they could lose their “crown,” that is, lose the rewards they might have had.  John had something to say about this in one of his epistles.  In 2 John 8, he was concerned that his readers receive a full reward.  And Paul gives the picture of a person going through the judgment and discovering that everything he did was nothing but wood, hay and stubble, and losing everything, though he himself is saved, [yet] as through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:15.

As an encouragement, the Lord said He is coming “quickly.”  From the world’s standpoint, it’s been a long time since these words were written.  From an eternal standpoint, it’s only been a second or two.  Jesus may come before this day is over, or I finish writing this post, or you finish reading it.

John closes this letter with our Lord saying some things that it’s difficult to understand, to picture.  I won’t even begin to attempt it.  But there’s a feeling of permanence, of “belonging,” of things this world knows nothing about.  Our “hope” isn’t in this world, but in the One coming to straighten things out in it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.