Revelation 12:1-6, A Damsel in Distress

1] Now a great sign appeared in heaven:  a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.  2] Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

3]  And another sign appeared in heaven:  behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  4] His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.  5] She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.  And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.  6] Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

In early days of man-making, when an area was unknown, sometimes dragons or other monsters were drawn in, with the phrase, “here be dragons,” or “here be monsters,” perhaps to signify the dangers of the unknown.  Truly, the chapter before us enters the unknown, because it talks about the spiritual world, and talks about forces and events far beyond our ability to discern.  In fact, with our eyes and ears and tactile senses, we’re able to “see” only a tiny, tiny part of what goes on around us.  Furthermore, unbelief and skepticism tells us there is no “spiritual” world, that the material universe is all there is.  There is no “spirit,” no “God.”

God says otherwise.  That, in fact, without Him, there would be no material world.

This chapter tells us something of the unseen happenings of this material world.

Chs. 12 and 13 introduce the first of a series of “7s” in the rest of the book.  There are: seven beings, chs. 12, 13; seven visions, ch. 14; seven bowls, chs. 15, 16; seven dooms, chs. 17-20; and seven new things, chs. 21-22.

Chapter 12 introduces us to five of the seven beings.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.  They are:

1. The woman, v. 1.

Many attempts have been made to identify this woman:  the church, the Virgin Mary, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White, a host of others.  It seems to me that Scripture identifies her in a description which reminds us of another, similar description in Genesis 37:9, 10:  And [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream.  And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”  So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed?  Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

“The sun, the moon, and the eleven stars.”

It seems to me that these two descriptions identify the woman in Revelation as Israel, but Israel from a particular standpoint:  in labor, that is, in childbirth.  A few verses later, more detail is given.

2.  The dragon, vs. 3-6.

This being is identified as Satan in v. 9.  Here again, though, there is a particular context.  The seven heads and ten horns identify a particular time, which we believe is yet future, as we’ll see, and the rest of these verses identify a particular theme: opposition to and attempts to destroy her Child, that is, the Lord Jesus.  Reference to His birth doesn’t change our view of Satan and that what Revelation tells us is still future; it simply tells us that it wasn’t just Herod trying to kill the infant Jesus, but Satan himself as well.  He has consistently opposed God’s revealed redemptive purpose.  It’s beyond the purpose of this post to pursue this study, but from the Garden of Eden onward, Satan has tried (unsuccessfully) to thwart God’s working.  All he’s managed to do is to further its accomplishment.

Two things only are said of her Child: that He was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and that He was caught up to God’s throne.  It’s important to understand that Scripture never says that He was caught up to His own throne, or that this is just a reference to His headship over the church.  Cf. Revelation 3:21.  We’ve mentioned this before and will visit it again later in these studies.

Perhaps there is one thing:  how can we say the woman is Israel, and yet it was not “the nation” who gave birth to the Lord, but the virgin Mary?  For most, if not all of her history, Israel has yearned for the coming of the Messiah.  It was simply through this young woman, this virgin, that God brought the Messiah into Israel.  The fact that Israel rejected Him because He didn’t fit their notions of what the Messiah would do doesn’t alter the fact that God has a redemptive purpose for Israel, and that she’s not permanently put aside.  That purpose will one day be completed.

Between vs. 5 and 6 lies the whole church age.

In v. 6, the woman flees into the wilderness to a special place prepared by God, where she will be preserved, protected and provided for during a time identified as 1260 days, or three-and-a-half years.  More details are given later in this portion of Scripture.

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 3:21, A Tale of Two Thrones.

“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  (NKJV)

I really hadn’t meant to have so many posts on these last few verses, but there’s just so much in them.

The idea of “thrones” brings up the subject of “kings” and “kingdoms.”  There is a great deal of discussion about “the kingdom,” and it’s not our purpose, at least as we start, to get into all that.

A Study Bible that I’ve used has a note on our verse, which it quotes like this:  the Lord Jesus…sat down on His throne (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, p. 2172.)  Even though the note goes on to say that our Lord “will be highly exalted,” I fear it misses the point of the verse.  It’s true that the Lord Jesus will indeed sit on His own throne, and be highly exalted, as the note quotes from Philippians 2:9-11, but that’s not what this verse says.  It says that right now He’s seated on, or at the right hand of, the Father’s throne.  This is in agreement with several other Scriptures.

The first verse is found in Psalm 110:1, The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”  This is the only reference to this in the Old Testament, so far as I know.  Our Lord quotes this in Matthew 22:44, one of many confrontations with His enemies, who contested His every statement.  Without getting into the entire discussion between them, He uses this verse to ask them, “How can David’s son be David’s God?”

Just in passing, with regard to the phrase in Psalm 110:1, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies,” since many believe that “the kingdom” only involves Christ’s headship over His church, how does that fit in with His ruling in the midst of His enemies?

Psalm 110:1 is the foundational verse.  It’s quoted several times in the NT and more than 15 other verses refer to our Lord as being at the right hand of the Father.  The point is, what is He doing there?  Not in the sense of “deserving” to be there, but what is He doing as He sits there?  Scripture tells us.

Perhaps the main thing is that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father because His work is done.  Hebrews 1:3 says, When He had by Himself purged our sins, [He] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  The Book of Hebrews spends a lot of time talking about OT things the reader would have been familiar with, and showing how the Lord Jesus fulfills or is superior to those things.  For example, in the Mosaic Tabernacle, there was no seat, no place to sit down, for the officiating priest.  That’s because his work was never done.

There is one exception to the verses saying that He sits.  Acts 7:56 tells us that, as he was finishing his testimony before the Sanhedrin, Stephen told them that he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.  To these Jewish leaders, this was blasphemy, and, enraged, they killed him.  No reason is given as to why the Lord Jesus was standing.  Someone has suggested that it was to welcome home this first martyr of the church.

Our Lord sat down.  His work was done.  He had by himself purged our sins.  Notice that the writer did not say, “He died for our sins.”  “He made it possible for our sins to be purged.”

No. No.

He purged –

purged

our sins.  He got rid of them on the Cross, and then went home to heaven and sat down.  He was done.  And so were our sins.

This is a tough nut to crack.  We’re so inundated with the idea that there must be something that we have to do in order to make what He did effective.  We have to “validate,” as it were, by accepting Him, what He did on the Cross.  We’re told sin isn’t really paid for until we do that.  And, yes, without doubt, we are told to believe on Him to be saved.  There is no salvation apart from faith in Him.  But that faith rests on His finished, completed work – or there is no salvation, either.  He sat down because sin has been taken care of, taken away.

But He’s doing something else, as well.  In the words of the KJV, But this man after he had offered one sacrifice forever, sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool, Hebrews 10:12, 13, emphasis added.  Newer versions translating “expecting” as “waiting,” and though accurate, it’s incomplete.  The word means “to wait expectantly.”

What did the Father say to the Son?  “Sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  Our Lord is waiting for, expecting, His Father to fulfill that promise.  Has that happened?  Or is He just talking about some “spiritual” victory, in which the great majority of the world continues to ignore, reject, or violently oppose His rule?  Follow some false religion?

Christmas is 4 days away as I write this.  Who’s the most prominent figure at this time?  Who are little children told to expect?  Not our Lord.  Oh, He might get an “honorable mention,” so to speak, with a nativity scene tucked away among the ornaments and decorations, but He’s not really the center of attention, is He?

When the Father fulfills His promise to the Son, such treatment will not be the case, or even possible.  God made a second promise which goes along with this.  In Psalm 2:9, 10, He told the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Revelation 19:11 tells us this will happen when the Lord returns to earth, not before.  Verse 15 says, He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  The word translated “rule” means “to shepherd”:  “He Himself will shepherd them with a rod of iron.”  This gives quite a different picture than the idea that He’ll return, there will be the final judgment, and then eternity.  Zechariah 14:12-21 gives us further details of events at and following His return.  These indeed portray a “rod of iron.”

But there’s more.  As our Lord sits there waiting, He’s not inactive.  I believe that He is calling His sheep.  In John 10:14-16, our Lord says, “I am the good shepherd; and know My sheep, and am known by My own.  As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they well hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one Shepherd.” 

“Other sheep I have…, them also I must bring.”

Those for whom He died must be brought home.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He’s calling His sheep to Himself.  We can only know them because they follow the Shepherd.  Not just “religion,” not just some religious figure or authority, but the Lord Jesus.  He is their Lord and Savior.  There is some discussion, sometimes heated, about this idea of Lord and Savior, but we can’t cut the Lord Jesus into two parts, only accepting Him as “Savior” and leaving behind the idea that He’s Lord, or that He has any claim on us.  We seem to think He has to save us if we “accept” Him, but that He’s not supposed to tell us what to do until we decide that He can.  That may be a lot of fundamental or evangelical Christianity, but I don’t believe that it’s true.  It certainly isn’t Biblical.

He is Lord, and He has willing subjects.  Are we among them?

There is one final thing.  He intercedes for us.  Hebrews 9:24 says, For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us. 

“To appear in the presence of God for us”….

I don’t even know how to begin with this.  This whole truth of the Incarnation, the death, the resurrection, the return, of our Lord….  Who can really describe what these things mean?  The God of the Universe, who spoke and it was done, that One who upholds the stars in their courses and calls them all by name, that One who has numbered – not counted, numbered the hairs on our head, that One who holds every breath of ours in His hand, that One whom we continually rebel against,…that One.

That One came and lived the life we could never live, died a death we can’t even begin to imagine, with our sanitized pictures and crucifixes, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and now prays for the very ones who put Him on the cross.  The Romans might have physically nailed Him to it, but you and I, if we’re believers, we were there, too.

Matthew 25:31 says that the Lord Jesus will not sit on His own throne until He returns to this earth.  Other Scriptures tell us that He will do so at Jerusalem, where He will assume His rightful place as Lord and Ruler of this world.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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 2:12-17, The Church at Pergamos: Married…for Worse.

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword. “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.  And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.  Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.  And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘ 
(NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, 2:12.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, and a period of struggle, his empire was divided among four of his generals.  Two of them, and their successors, are the kings “of the north” and “of the south” mentioned in Daniel 11.  Another general took Asia Minor, the area of the seven churches in Revelation.  This dynasty of Greek rulers centered in Pergamos, making it a royal city, and their luxurious living raised that city to the rank of “First of Asia” as regards splendor.  Thus  Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos vied for, and claimed, the title of “First,” although for different reasons.

Pergamous was famous for several things.  Among them were the magnificent temples of Zeus, Athena, Apollo and Aesculapius, who was the god of healing.  His symbol was the caduceus, entwined serpents of a staff of wood, the symbol of medicine to this day.  His temple was a sort of Lourdes of its day and people came from all over to be healed.  Pergamos was also the birthplace of Galen, who is second only to Hippocrates in medical history.  His voluminous, if somewhat inaccurate, writings were authoritative into the Dark Ages.

In addition, Pergamos was noted for the invention of parchment, probably as a result of the impressive library which was there, which rivaled the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  It also enjoyed the distinction of having  the very first temple dedicated to emperor worship, built for Augustus in 29 BC.  There were many others built in other cities, and even others in this city, but Pergamos had the first one.  It was, therefore, sort of a “cathedral city” for emperor worship.  Moreover, it was the center of Roman provincial government.

The name “Pergamos” seems to have two meanings: high and lofty, and marriage.  Thus the church at Pergamos seems to foreshadow that period of time beginning with the conversion of Constantine, thus ending the persecutions, but entering the church into an uneasy marriage with the world which saw it lose its true purpose and power to become engulfed in a quest for political power and prestige.

At its beginning, Christianity was tolerated by Rome because it was viewed as just another weird Jewish belief.  When it became evident that even the Jews hated the sect of the Nazarene, that toleration ceased and varying degrees of persecution began, which lasted about three centuries.  Then Constantine arrived on the scene.  Christianity was never to be the same.

The “conversion” of Constantine is well-known, how he says he saw a vision in the sky of a shining cross with the words “hoc signo vinces” (“By this you shall conquer”) written across it.  Facing an important battle at the time, he took this to mean that, in this new sign, he would victorious.  He was.  (By way of irony, his motto was for a time on a certain brand of cigarettes.)

Eventually, Constantine became emperor and took his belief with him.  At first, he simply made Christianity legal, thus stopping generations of persecution.  It was alright if you wanted to be a Christian, but other religions were ok, too.  Eventually, though, he made it official, that is, it was the only allowable religion.

Over the years, Rome came severely to persecute true believers, those who refused to go along with it, wanting simply to live by the Scriptures and not as “the church” insisted.  This was also a practice followed for a long time by the Reformers against the Anabaptists and other dissidents, whose beliefs one Lutheran writer described as “dangerous propaganda.” (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, pp. 216, 217.  This was my church history textbook in college.  The Anabaptists weren’t without flaws, true, some serious, but they were mainly despised because they refused infant baptism and rebaptized those who had been sprinkled as infants, after they professed faith in Christ.  Hence “anabaptist: “rebaptizer”.) Though they no longer murder dissenters, that attitude can sometimes still be seen among Reformed writers in their views on certain subjects.

More importantly, Constantine used the Empire as a pattern for how things were to be done.  Granted, the idea of how the church was to be organized had developed and changed since the time of the apostles; he just put the final touches on it.  Gone was the NT idea that the local church was independent and self-governing; it now became just a tiny part of an enormous religious monolith, with Constantine as its head, and Rome as its headquarters.  While there was some adherence to Biblical teaching for a time, (it was during this time that the Arian controversy was settled,) this gradually came to be almost completely replaced by a continually evolving Roman dogma. It did indeed become an extensive and impressive “religion,” with towering church buildings, lavish and impressive ritual, and an overwhelming and authoritarian hierarchy, but all of this has little to do with Scripture, which itself has largely been replaced by Papal decree and “official” church dogma.  What little of it that’s left must be held in agreement with how the church “interprets” it.

It’s not supposed to be about adherence to any particular organization: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, or any other, but about faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.  In everything, He is to have the preeminence, Colossians 1:18.

2. Christ of the Epistle 2:12.

He who has the sharp two-edged sword.

This referred to the usual sharp-pointed double-edged sword of the Roman army.  It was also a symbol in that army of a certain level of authority.  Roman officials were divided into two classes: those who had the power of life or death, and those who did not.  The sword was the symbol of this greater authority.  In this way, the Lord presents Himself to the church as having life and death authority, authority He possesses in a higher sense than Rome ever dreamed of.

He would remind us that there is no earthly power which supercedes His, no authority which can annul His own.  We are certainly commanded to be good citizens, Romans 13:1-7, but if push comes to shove in a contest between this world and our Lord’s teachings, then our Lord must have the preeminence.  Cf. Acts 4:19.  And remember, Romans 13 was written by a man who lived at the height of the Roman Empire and was not afraid to assert his rights as a citizen.

Our Lord would strengthen the believers of Pergamos against the fear of the human sword by the greater fear of His own sword.  Also, He would remind them of His power against His, and their, enemies.  The Lord did not want His people to forget Him in the midst of troubles.

3. Contents of the Epistle, vs. 13-17.

 – A reference to their perilous position, v. 13.

The letter to Smyrna emphasized their sufferings, so the Lord said, “I know your tribulation.”  The letter to Pergamos emphasized their situation as being in the very seat of the Roman government in Asia, hence in a place of special danger, so Jesus said, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”

The citizens at Pergamos were known as “chief temple-keepers of Asia.”  A Babylonian cult called the Magians, being driven out of Babylon, found a haven in Pergamos.  The title of the Magian High Priest was “Chief Bridge Builder,” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts.  It was acknowledged as the highest priestly office in paganism and was a title held by Roman Emperors, including Constantine, who kept it.  In Latin, this title is Pontifex Maximus.  (Who, today, bears that title?)

“you hold fast to My name.”

The Lord commends His people for their faithfulness to His name in the very center of the worship of the emperor’s name.  This is especially important in view of the problems in the church with some who seem to have wanted to compromise with that worship.  We note that it wasn’t the name of the church or the name of the pastor which was lifted up, but the name of the Lord Jesus.  Baptists aren’t the only ones who emphasize a denominational name, instead of that of the Lord Jesus.  And how many pastors, etc., want to “make a name” for themselves?  As a young man, I worked for a pastor who required that my car carry a sign urging people to “hear (his name).”  There were some wonderful people in that church and I was privileged to know and work among them, but they were woefully untaught in the things of God.

It’s still true that not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends, 2 Corinthians 10:18.

– A Rebuke of Their Perverse Practices, vs. 14, 15.

1. the doctrine of Balaam, v. 14.  Cf. Numbers 22-25.  Balaam was the one who taught Balak to seduce Israel by tempting them to break God’s law against idolatry and immorality.  It seems there were some in the church at Pergamos who saw nothing wrong with going to pagan temples, where gross immorality was part of their “worship.”  Perhaps it was simply to escape persecution, perhaps merely to make it easier to make a living in that world of pervasive paganism.  When religion was ungodly, Satan persuaded men that it ought to affect every part of their lives.  Now that Christ has revealed the true religion, which is to make men holy, Satan persuades men to limit it to an hour or so on Sunday.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who had a similar problem, that they were not to have fellowship with demons, 1 Corinthians 10:20.  We’re to separate from all sorts of falsehood, regardless of the reasons given for it.  Some of the believers at Pergamos seem to have forgotten this.

2. the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, v. 15.  What was isolated deeds in Ephesus, 2:6, was doctrine or practice in Pergamos.  In a city as government-oriented as Pergamos, such a development perhaps is not surprising,  But again, we see Satanic contradiction.  In the state, which is to govern men, we find a rebellion against authority and the desire to be free of all restraint, while in the church, which is to be self-governing and independent, we see the development of great denominational structures which drown out the voice and vote of the local assembly.  Constantine was probably as responsible for this as anyone because he made it fashionable, even mandatory, to be a “Christian” and gave the bishops great position and power.

– A Repetition of a Peremptory Prerequisite, v. 16.

Repent….

It’s not enough that things are done because everyone is doing it, or that’s how we’ve always done it.  Things must be done in according with the Word of God.  Granted, there’s a lot in our world that the Word says nothing about, for example, the laptop on which I write these words or the car out in the driveway.  I don’t think that means that God expects us to go back to laborious hand-copying of things on parchment or riding on donkeys and camels.  It isn’t so much what something is, as how it’s used.  For example:  again, the computer.  A marvelous invention, yet the most popular websites are pornographic.  Because of that, should we get rid of all computers?  1 Corinthians 10:31 is still true, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Concluding some instructions covering various situation in life, Paul also wrote, and those who use this world as not misusing it, 1 Corinthians 7:31.  We have to live in this world, but we’re not supposed to forget that we’re going to have to live in the next one, as well.

Christ wants us to clear out the “leaven” of this world in our worship and service of Him.  He tells the church to repent.

– A Revelation of Precious Promises, v. 17.

1. Again, the promise isn’t made to every professed believer, but only to those who “overcome.”  Now, this doesn’t mean some sort of perfection, or some sort of exclusive “club” which only the very best are able to join.  It means those who are faithful to the Lord Himself, not just to some church or other organization.

2. the rewards.

There’s a lot of discussion about what these various things mean.  Based on the circumstances of each church and letter, here’s what we think.

the hidden manna.  Believers have a source of nourishment and strength this world knows nothing about and can do nothing either to supplement or hinder.  This is a promise of “resource.”

– a white stone. – a “tessara”.  Such stones seem to have had several uses.  The one relevant to Pergamos was probably the judicial one.  A black stone indicated guilt; a white stone, innocence.  The believers at Pergamos, and other believers, were being found guilty of atheism because they refused to offer incense to the Emperor’s statue.  Our Lord says He finds the overcomer innocent, regardless of what men might say.  This is a promise of reconciliation, that those who once were enemies of God and rebels against His rule are now His servants, yes, even become His children, as we see in the final promise.

– a new name.  This idea occurs a couple of other times in Scripture.  Perhaps the best known is Paul, whose name originally was Saul.  There’s an example of this in the Old Testament, as well.  In Isaiah 62:4, Israel is given a new name.  In both cases, this change signifies a change in relationship, a permanent and irrevocable change.

To this church, who lived in constant danger of losing their lives, our Lord promises everlasting life

We also have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, 2 Peter 1:4.