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 be 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.

Revelation 2:8-11, The Church at Smyrna: Rich In What Matters.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:  I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”  (NKJV)

This letter has the distinction of being the shortest of the seven.  It also is one of only two in which our Lord has no complaint.  The other is the letter to the church in Philadelphia.

1. The City of the Epistle.

Smyrna was founded about a thousand years before Christ.  In the ebb and flow of history, it had been destroyed and lay mostly dormant for several centuries.  Then it was rebuilt and, in fact, still exists today.  It’s called Izmir, in Turkey.  In effect, the city has “been dead and is alive.”

In these letters, and in His earthly ministry, the Lord used things with which people were familiar to teach spiritual truths:  sowing and harvesting, fishing, eating and drinking, the ordinary things of everyday life, to illustrate the extraordinary things of eternal life.  The people would certainly have made the connection with His statement about Himself living though once dead and their own city’s history.

Smyrna was known for its exceptional beauty.  As one looked up the slope from the harbor toward the city, with temples and ornate buildings on the rounded crest of the hill called Pagos, he would see what was known as “the crown of Smyrna.”  This would fit in with our Lord’s reference to a crown, not of dead buildings, but of eternal life.

The Greek word “smurna,” from which the city gets its name, named a fragrant and very valuable substance, used both for the living, Matthew 2:11, and the dead, John 19:39.  It’s fragrance was released by crushing, an apt metaphor for the suffering church at Smyrna.

2. The Contents of the Epistle.

– His appraisal of them, vs. 8-9.

“I know.”  So often we act as if the Lord doesn’t know what’s going on in our lives, but Scripture says otherwise.  For example, Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.  There is no escaping His omniscient eye.

There’s some discussion as to whether the phrase “your works” belongs in the text because some manuscripts don’t have it.  Certainly the main theme of the letter is about affliction and not activity.  Yet someone has pointed out that activity for God is likely to bring on affliction.

– tribulation.  An account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, 69-155 AD, a bishop (pastor) of the church in Smyrna, will give us some idea of what early Christians went through:

“Faithful unto death, this venerable leader was burned at the stake in the year 155 A.D.  He had been asked to say, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ but refused.  Brought to the stadium, the proconsul urged him, saying, ‘Swear and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ.’  Polycarp answered, ‘Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?’  When the proconsul again pressed him, the old man answered, ‘Since thou art vainly urgent that…I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian….’  A little later, the proconsul answers: ‘I have wild beasts at hand, to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.’  Afterward:  ‘I will cause thee to be consumed with fire, seeing thou despise the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.’  But Polycarp said, ‘Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.  But why tarriest thou?  Bring on what thou wilt.’  Soon after the people began to gather wood and faggots; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them.  Thus Polycarp was burned at the stake.”  (Quoted from W. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, pp. 79, 80.)  Other accounts add that he was also stabbed through the heart.

– poverty.  Quite possibly these believers were poor to begin with, but the pervasive place of religion in the society of that day, with every part of it being tied into the worship and service of whatever false gods were in that particular society, would make the believer an outcast from society, cutting him off from it and making it very difficult for him to make a living or even to live.

Strange,  isn’t it, that when religion is false, Satan has it all over the place, but when it’s true, Satan says, “Oh, no, we have to keep that out of everyday life.”  As in his current idea from the highest levels of our government that Christians may “worship” as long as they keep it in church, but they have to leave it there and must live like pagans and accept whatever ideas the world comes up with the rest of the time.

In spite of all their troubles, the Lord said to the church at Smyrna –

– “you are rich.”  Truly, our Lord doesn’t look at things like we do.  Even many professed Christians have fallen into the trap of “health and wealth” preachers and believe that blessing is based on the size of our bank account.  But the “riches of faith” have nothing to do with all that.

Our Lord said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36, 37.  Revelation 21:21 tells us the street of the New Jerusalem is pure gold, like transparent glass.  I’m not going to get into the discussion now as to whether or not this is “literal.”  But it certainly tells us that heaven’s idea of wealth is different from ours!    The asphalt we pave our streets with may be expensive, but it’s not worth anything.  No man takes a chunk of asphalt to the jeweler and tells him to put it in a fancy setting in a ring.  No woman wears a necklace of asphalt around her neck.

In heaven, what we think is one of the most precious and valuable commodities is used as pavement!  James 2:5 refers to the poor of this world rich in faith.  The poor believer who has nothing of this world’s goods and is hard pressed to feed his family is wealthier than that person who lives in a fancy gated community and has more than heart could desire.  We just can’t see it and don’t think of it like that.  But “faith” deals with things which can’t be seen, Hebrews 11:1.

But there’s something else the Lord knows about them:

– “the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  This seems like a very harsh statement, but it’s the assessment of the Lord Jesus.

The Book of Acts reveals the difficulties Paul had with the Jews and how they hindered and persecuted him at every turn, cf. Acts 13:45, 50.  Even many believers had difficulty in accepting the idea that one no longer came to God through Israel, but through the Lord Jesus, and that the Gospel was to be preached to every nation.  Peter especially had difficulty with this idea.  This was the reason behind the happenings in Acts 10.

There’s a lot of discussion about the place of the Jews in the current age.  Some say that they have no place at all, that God is done with the nation of Israel as a nation.  Others say that they are still God’s chosen people and try to get them to “accept” Jesus as their Messiah.

I think both views are unScriptural.

If words have any meaning, God is not done with the nation of Israel.  The prophetic books of the Old Testament are filled with promises of Israel’s future restoration – if words have any meaning at all, and aren’t wrested from their context and their message.  At the same time, it is equally clear that Israel has been temporarily set aside and the Jews are not, in this age, God’s chosen people. That place is filled by true believers.

Jesus is not to be presented as the Jew’s Messiah, but is to be proclaimed as Savior.  There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, Romans 10:11.  While it’s true that that verse talks about salvation, there’s not one message for the Jew and another for the Gentile.  Indeed, Paul goes on to say that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, Galatians 3:28.  There are no ethnic distinctions at the foot of the Cross.  We all stand condemned as sinners, regardless of where else we may stand in this world.  A biological link to Abraham means nothing, Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8.  Apart from the grace of God and faith in the Lord Jesus, we are all under the influence and control of Satan, the god of this world, Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4.  It doesn’t matter what we say.  This is what God says.  It’s what the Lord Jesus said in Revelation.

At the same time, this gives us no right or reason to hate and despise the Jews, as some of the early church fathers did.  Some not so early, too….  And some folks today….

– His advice to them, vs. 10.

– “Do not fear…”

Fear is a natural reaction to the idea of pain and suffering.  Jesus doesn’t tell these believers that they have to like what they’re about to endure, just that they’re not to be afraid of it.  It won’t last very long – ten days, however that’s to be understood in this context.  The point is, these things are not permanent, but, in light of eternity, are almost insignificant.  I know.  That’s easy to say in comfortable surroundings, but difficult to hold onto in unpleasant situations.  It’s still true, and, by God’s grace, we’re able to hold onto God’s promises.

I was thinking about this the other day.  Sometimes we can’t really think of a pertinent promise from God for a particular situation.  In such cases, perhaps we just need to “pray Christ,” because all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, 2 Corinthians 1:20.

– His affirmation, v. 11.

Some folks try to use this verse to “prove” salvation can be lost.  I think it says that those who “persevere” are the only ones truly saved.  In speaking of false prophets, who were plentiful even in his day, the Apostle John wrote, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us, 1 John 2:19.  This is true of professing Christians, as well.  There are multitudes of people who’ve been led to “make a profession of faith” who are nowhere to be found.  In fact, many have become avid opponents of “Christianity.”  I believe this is where so many of the “fundamentalist-turned-atheist” websites and such have come from.

The church at Smyrna was threatened with terrible forms of torture and death.  Our Lord was simply saying that there are worse things.  Warning His disciples of persecutions to come, He said, “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.

In the Greek of v. 11, there’s a double negative – “he who overcomes shall not at all be injured by the second death.”  These saints may have to bow their heads to those who execute the first death – as many are now doing in our day – but who have nothing more that they can do after that.

Our Lord had said something about this in His earthly ministry.  In Luke 21, He said, “Take heed that you be not deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He’, and, ‘The time has drawn near'[date setting]. Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions [increased news coverage ability – radio, TV, internet], do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”
Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there shall be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.  But it will turn to you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you shall be hated by all for My name’s sake.  But
not a hair of your heads shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls,” vs. 8-19, emphasis added.

“Not a hair of your heads shall be lost.”

It probably sounds corny in this context, but there’s a phrase the world uses that used here goes so much farther than the world can imagine:

He has our back.

This was His promise to Smyrna.

It’s His promise to us.

Revelation 2:1-7, The Church at Ephesus: Duty, not Delight

“To the church at Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  Nevertheless I have something against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘
(NKJV)

As we go through these seven letters, we’ll look at the city in which the church lived.  Our Lord uses what they experience there in His counsel to them.  Then we’ll look at the description Christ uses of Himself, descriptions which come from the vision opening the book.  Then we’ll look at the content of the letter and what our Lord said to each church.

The City of the Epistle.

Ephesus was a very important city of the Roman province of Asia, which, as we’ve seen, was not in the Far East, but was in what we know as Turkey. Until the harbor filled in with silt, it had been a prominent sea port.  It remained a center of commerce, a point of contact between Greek and Asiatic cultures and was noted for its riches and trade.

By NT times, Ephesus had enjoyed a rich and varied history.  A focus of that history was the famed Temple of Diana (Artemis), the pride of the city.  It had been burned down on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, but was rebuilt larger and more beautiful.  Its construction took 220 years and required contributions from the whole province of Asia.  Paul saw it at the height of its glory, when it was listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.  There was, in addition to and connected with this temple, a tremendous emphasis on magical powers.  Paul had to deal with this while he was there.

The NT records a period of intense activity, Acts 20:20, 31, and of unusual miracles by Paul, Acts 19:11.  These “unusual miracles” (Gk. “uncommon works of power”) are no basis for the so-called “prayer cloths” or “handkerchiefs” some have offered, but were designed to counteract the pagan focus of the city.  Even to  Paul, these things were “uncommon.”  And “signs and wonders” weren’t permanent, even to the apostles.  We read later in the NT of the sickness of one of Paul’s associates.  We read nothing of Paul “healing” him.

As a result of Paul’s ministry, we read that many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.  And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.  And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, Acts 19:18-20.

Now this true revival and work of God in turning many from falsehood to the worship and service of the true God led to a tremendous decline in the commercial side of the worship of Diana, with loss to the business of selling the little shrines used in her worship, and the consequent loss to those who made and sold them.  And about this time there arose a great commotion about the Way.  For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen, vs. 23, 24.  The resulting riot forced Paul to leave Ephesus and there are no further recorded visits to the city.

The Christ of the Epistle, 2:1.

Each of the seven letters begins with a characterization of Christ taken from the vision John saw in chapter 1, a characterization suitable to the spiritual condition of the church addressed.  In this letter, Christ is described as the One holding the seven angels, or ministers of the churches, in His right hand.  He is the One who places them there, and it is to Him they are answerable.

Christ says, “I know.”  The word He uses here is instructive.  One of the words the NT uses for “knowing” means, “to progress in knowledge.”  We might say, “to learn” because there’s something of whatever we do “know” that we still  don’t “know.”  That’s not the word our Lord uses here.  The word He chose means “to know completely.”  There’s nothing about this church, or about us, that He doesn’t know everything about or that He has to “learn.”

This means He knows our “secret” sins, our failures, our shortcomings.  There’s no use trying to hide them or to gloss them over.  He knows them.

But it also means that He knows our secret struggles and sufferings.  Sometimes Christians are amazed when suffering in one form or another comes to us.  And there are those who make a good living teaching that the Christian life is “without a care,” as an unfortunate “Gospel” song used to say.  But the fact is we live in enemy territory.  This world, under the leadership of Satan, “the god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, is no friend to us.  In this country, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve enjoyed many years of relative peace and protection.  That’s coming to an end.  It probably won’t too many years, maybe months, before Christianity and the Bible are declared illegal in this country that was founded by those who had respect for both of them.

Further, we live in a world that’s been cursed because of sin.  It should be no surprise then to find “thorns” in whatever “field” we are in, Genesis 3:17-19.

Our Lord knows all about it.  In fact, I believe He knows it far better than any of us could, having experienced it Himself.  We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:25.

He walked in our shoes.

The Contents of the Epistle, 2:2-7.

1. commendation, vs. 2, 3.

– Our Lord commends the church for their faithful labor:  “your works, your labor, your patience.”  They had labored and persevered to the point of exhaustion.

– He commends them for their faithful diligence.  They could not bear those who are evil.”  There are two main words used in the original for “evil,” often interchangeably, but there is still some distinction between them.  One word is “poneros,” which means destructive, injurious evil.  It’s used of Satan, that “wicked one,” in several places in the NT.  The other word, used here, is “kakos,” and denotes what is useless, incapable or bad.  It describes one who is “useless” in an area in which he ought to be useful:  a cowardly soldier, a lazy student, an unproductive employee.  The Ephesian church could not bear those whom we might call “dead wood,” for example, folks whose bodies are in the pew, but not their minds and hearts.

– He commended them for their faithful listening:  “you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”   Elsewhere, John put it like this, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  I wonder what he would say today, with all the means of communication we have:  TV, radio, the internet, print, Twitter.  More than ever, we need that attitude of some who heard Paul, who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, Acts 17:11, emphasis added.

Satan has no problem quoting Scripture, cf. Matthew 4:5.  In fact, he probably “knows” it better than most folks.  I once received a tract denying the Trinity, which claimed that Jesus is the only God there is.  It had about 90 Scripture references.  The thing that fascinated me was that several of these same Scriptures are used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to “prove” that Jesus isn’t God at all, but only a created being.  Thus both groups totally miss the point, though using lot of Scripture.

We need to know what it says!

Actually says….

– He again commends them for their faithfulness in serving Him, v. 3. “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  This is the second time He’s mentioned their works and labor.  One would think that’s enough; it certainly seems to be in our time.  Church calendars are full of activities of all kinds.  But there’s more….

2. complaint, v. 4, “Nevertheless….”

Oh, what a solemn word this is!  The average pastor would likely be glad to have a zealous church like this, yet our Lord sees a grievous imperfection:  “you have left your first love.”  Note, they left, not lost, that love.  The love of Christ and the church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride, yet how little fervency there is in the average Christian.  I’m afraid we’ve grown to want what He gives us, but not Himself.

“Love” is a key word with regard to this church.  In Paul’s letter to this church, there are some 18 references to “love,” beginning with God’s love toward us in eternity past in choosing and predestining us to adoption as sons, then focusing on Christ’s love and the effect it should have in our lives as believers, and closing with that grand crescendo of a man’s love for his wife.

With regard to this last, I think of Genesis 29:20, which happens during Jacob’s troubles with his father-in-law, Laban.  Remember the story in Genesis 29.  Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters.  He agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to be able to marry her.  However, when the time came, Laban tricked him and gave him his elder daughter, Leah.  Genesis 29:20 gives us Jacob’s attitude during this first seven years, and I like the KJV rendering here:  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.  “Seven years…a few days…for love…to her.”

Ephesus had lost that view, that lightness of spirit that make hard things easy.  Serving Christ had ceased to be a delight; it had become simply a duty.

What should they do?

Our Lord tells them.

3. Counsel, v. 5.

– remember (lit. “keep remembering”).  See the same word in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:31.  Remember the first ardor of salvation.  Remember who He is.  Remember what He did.  Remember what He has promised.  Remember, remember, remember!

Yet how quickly we forget!

– repent.  There are those who tell us that repentance is a “Jewish” doctrine and that it’s now unnecessary.  Yet our Lord told His church in Ephesus to “repent” (twice).  He told five of the seven churches to “repent.”  Ephesus was to repent of leaving His love (cf. Jude 20, 21), and to –

– return, “do the first works.”

This is not a call to “service”!  What is needed is not just more “service:” more activity, more items on the church calendar, more “things to do,” but a return to that supreme love to and for Christ.  This love is the only acceptable motive (to God) for our service, a love that would make that service so much easier, not because we would do less (we likely would do more!), but because such love would change it from a “duty” (which is usually a burden) to a “delight” (which is something altogether different!)

– remain, “or else….”

This refers to our Lord’s coming in judgment to remove the church’s witness as a light-bearer.  The church in Ephesus has been gone a long time.  So have the other six churches.  We wonder how many Christians and churches are still going through the motions, but have their true witness removed.  And how many church buildings have been sold and are being used for something else.  I think of one here locally that’s now a beauty salon.  There are countless others.

It’s a solemn thought.

4. Commendation, “But this you have, that you hate the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

There is some discussion as to what this means.  I tend toward the view that it refers to the separation of Christians into “clergy” and “laity.”  This distinction has no basis in Scripture and introduced a great evil into the churches, namely, the evil of seeking for, and pride in, “position.”  Such easily becomes the goal, instead of that love of and for Christ that is the only worthy and acceptable motive for service.

5. Conclusion, v. 7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

What does this mean?

It’s pretty clear that it means salvation.

“I thought we’re saved by grace through faith.”

Amen and amen.

We are.

Hear, or read, Paul:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

There is a lot of stuff in this world that calls us away from the Lord Jesus.  As we saw in our study of Hebrews, there’s danger in leaving Him; it might mean we were never His to begin with.  This is why He calls the Ephesian church, and us, back to that loving faith in Him which is the only acceptable motive for Christian living, and that perseverance which is the only real evidence that we’re His.

Revelation 1:9-11, The Kingdom and Patience of Jesus Christ

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia:  to Ephesus, to Smyrna, the Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”  (NKJV)

John uses an interesting phrase in v. 9, where he mentions “the kingdom and patience” of our Lord.  I don’t know that I ever hear or read those four words together in any discussion of “the kingdom.”  In fact, when I first typed the verses to begin this post, I left out the words “and patience” myself.  We’re so used to hearing about just “the Kingdom.”

John isn’t the only one who mentioned “the patience of Christ.”  In 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul also referred to it.

Why did John use the words “and patience”?  Why did the Spirit lead him to use them?

After the Lord’s resurrection, Scripture says that He was exalted to the right hand of God in heaven.  I don’t know that there’s much disagreement among Christians about that’s where He is right now.  The discussion centers around the idea of what He is doing there.  Perhaps most Christians believe that He’s ruling from there, in what’s called His “Heavenly Session.”  His Kingdom is now, in the church.  It has nothing to do, except perhaps providentially or incidentally, with the rest of the world.

What does the Scripture say?  Romans 4:3.

There are some eighteen references in the NT to our Lord at God’s right hand.

Matthew 26:64, Jesus said to him, “It is as you said.  Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Along with the next reference, this verse happened during one of the “trials” of our Lord before His crucifixion.  The high priest had just asked Him if He were the Messiah.  Among other things, Jesus answered that the High Priest would one day see Him sitting at the right hand of “the Power” and this would be irrefutable proof of who He was.  He didn’t say “God” because the Jews were very careful never to say that for fear of breaking the third commandment about taking the name of the Lord in vain.

Mark 14:62, Jesus said, “I am.  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

The high priest and the others who heard the Lord were offended because they recognized that Jesus was claiming to be the One to referred to in Daniel 7:13.

Luke 20:41-44, And He said to them, “How can they say that Christ is the Son of David?  Now David himself said in the book of Psalms:  ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”‘  Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then His Son?”

Religious officials had been questioning Jesus about various Scriptures, trying to get Him to say something that they could use against Him.  When they finally quit talking, the Lord used their own Scriptures against them.  Quoting Psalm 110:1, He asked, in effect, “How could David’s God be David’s Son?”

Luke 22:59, Jesus said, “Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Like the first two references, this is a detail from the questioning of our Lord. Regardless of what His enemies do to Him, they won’t have the final word about Him.

Acts 2:33, 34, in his sermon explaining what had just happened on the Day of , Pentecost, Peter said of that One whom his listeners had crucified, “therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.  For David did not ascend into heavens, but he says himself:  ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand….”‘  Another reference to Psalm 110:1.

Acts 5:31, Peter, this time speaking to the Sanhedrin and referring to that One whom they had recently murdered, “Him God exalted to His right hand to be a Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Leaving aside the reference about “repentance to Israel,” Peter told the Sanhedrin that they might have crucified Jesus, but God has glorified Him.

Acts 7:55, 56, Here is the account of Stephen’s witness before the Sanhedrin.  It became evident that his message would be rejected and so Luke concludes his account, But he being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look!  I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  This is the only reference to Jesus standing at God’s right hand.  Some have suggested that He stood in order to welcome home this first martyr of the church.

Romans 8:34, Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

We’ll have more to say about this verse later.

Ephesians 1:20, In this discussion of the greatness of His power toward us who believe, v. 19, Paul goes on to tell us that this is the same power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.  The power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that raises us from spiritual death.

Colossians 3:1, If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

If we’ve been raised from spiritual death and made spiritually alive, then we should live like it.

Hebrews 1:3, Who [Christ] being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sin, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

That One who died on the Cross wasn’t just another criminal, but was God incarnate, and His death on the Cross was the only payment that could be made for sin, and that had to be made for sin.  Afterward, He sat down.  This is something the OT priest could never do; his work was never done.  Christ sits, because there is nothing more that needs to be done for our redemption as far as its being paid for.  There is still the work of the Spirit, applying the benefits of that death to us and bringing us to faith in the One who died for sinners.
Further, it seems to me, if the Lord is truly reigning as some believe He is, this verse should say something to the effect that “He sat down on the throne of the Majesty on high,” not that He sat down at its right hand.

Hebrews 1:13, But to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool?”

Here the writer asserts the superiority of the Lord Jesus over angels, because none of them has ever gotten the promise he quotes from Psalm 110.  This is in keeping with the writer’s desire in this chapter to show the superiority of the Lord over things in the OT that his readers would have held in high regard:  Moses, Aaron, the priesthood, etc.

Hebrews 8:1, Now this is the main point of the things we are saying:  We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

We have a High Priest who isn’t dependent on an earthly lineage or earthly service, one who never ceases to be High Priest because He lives forever, and One whose work in offering a sacrifice for sin is done.  Indeed, He Himself was that sacrifice, something no mere earthly priest would be or could be.

Hebrews 10:12, 13, OT priests had continual sacrifices to offer, sacrifices which could never take away sins.  But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.

 Hebrews 12:2, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God.

The Cross was no walk in the park for our Lord.  For all our learning, I don’t think we understand any more of what really happened on that implement of agonizing death than an infant has of the suffering of his mother in bringing him into this world.

1 Peter 3:22, where Peter tells us that, after His resurrection, who [Jesus] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and power having been made subject to Him.

With the possible exception of Peter’s statement, none of the verses we quoted speak of our Lord as sitting as King on the throne, and even here, His reign is over angels and other spiritual beings, cf. Ephesians 6:12.  Indeed, He is never called “King” except in reference to His Second Coming.

Jesus is called “King of Kings” or some similar title in four verses:  1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 1:5; 17:14 and 19:16.  Even in His own description of His judging the nations in Matthew 26, and sitting on the throne of His glory to do so, it is only after He has returned to this earth in His glory, v. 31.

Later in Revelation, we’ll see our Lord’s promise to faithful believers who are in an unfaithful church, 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 throneRevelation 3:21.  He made the same promise to His disciples when He was still with them, So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you that in the regeneration when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,” Matthew 19:28, see also Luke 22:30.
Here He makes a distinction between sitting on His own throne, and sitting with His Father on His, the Father’s, throne.
I really can’t see how this might be or is “fulfilled in the church”.

Well, if He’s not ruling, then what is He doing?

Ah.

Romans 8:34, Who is he who condemns?  It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us, emphasis added.

Paul says that Jesus is interceding for us.  I expect we keep Him busy.

When the High Priest had finished sacrificing on the Day of Atonement, he took some of the blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat.  This foreshadowed both the sacrifice and the intercession of our Lord.  Hebrews 9:24 says, For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us, emphasis added.

The right hand of the throne is a place of honor.  We see this in Solomon’s life, when he had a throne placed at his right hand for his mother, 1 Kings 1:19.  He wasn’t making her co-regent or anything like that.  He was simply honoring her.  For her, it became a place of intercession for Adonijah, one of Solomon’s brothers.  So it is for our Lord.  This world rejected, and rejects, Him;  God honors him, cf. Philippians 2:5-11.

Our Lord is doing something else, as well.

Hebrews 10:12, 13 says that He is waiting:  But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies be made His footstoolemphasis added.  The word translated “waiting” means “to expect from the hand of another.”

After the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6.  It seems to me that this would have been an excellent time, if it were true, for the Lord to have explained to the disciples that God was done with Israel and there would be no kingdom for her.  But that’s not what He said:  “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority,” v. 7, emphasis added.

He simply told them that the time of the setting up of the kingdom was up to the Father.  That’s true for Him, as well.  It’s up to the Father.

Revelation 1:8, Alpha and Omega

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (NKJV)

“Red-letter editions” of the Bible have these words in red, indicating that they were spoken by the Lord Jesus.  While I do agree that the Lord spoke these words, John didn’t have two colors of pen when he was writing.  The idea of highlighting our Lord’s words in red was originally a marketing tool, developed by one company to distinguish its editions of the Bible from its competitors’ editions.

This verse is a very bold statement by our Lord, especially if He is nothing more than the religious figure many seem to believe Him to be.  He is no longer that One who walked along the dusty roads of Israel, for the most part ignored except for what He could provide in the way of food or healing for His audience, cf. John 6:26.

These are the words of deity, echoing what the LORD said in Isaiah 41:4, “I, the LORD, am the first; and with the last I am He.”  Or Isaiah 44:6, “I am the First and the Last….”  Many times, the New Testament takes OT verses which refer to the Father and refers them to the Son.  Our Lord Himself did this in Revelation 1:4.

Another example is found in Hebrews 1:10, where the writer quotes Psalm 102:25-27, “You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,” and, taking this reference to Jehovah, applies it to the Son, v. 8.  Some have taken verses like this and used them to teach that Jesus is the only God there is.  Others have seen the difficulty in this and try to teach that Jesus is only “a” god.  The problem with that is, well, then, how many “gods” are there?  Either view denies any idea of a “Trinity.”

Without wanting to get too deeply into the discussion, the only illustration I’ve ever found that does justice to the idea of a “Trinity” in the Godhead is found in a cube.  A cube consists of height, length and width, all the same measurement.  But the height isn’t the length or width, the length isn’t the height or width, and the width isn’t the height or length.  But the cube at one and the same time consists of height, length and width.  If you take away any one of these things, you no longer have a cube.

Likewise, the Godhead consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Father isn’t the Son or the Spirit, the Son isn’t the Father of the Spirit, and the Spirit isn’t the Father or the Son.  If you take away any one of these, you no longer have “God.”

Our Lord also calls Himself, “the Almighty.”  There are those who will knock on your door and tell you that Jesus is only ever called “Mighty God.”  He’s never referred to as “Almighty.”  Leaving aside the problem of “how many gods are there?”, Jesus refers to Himself as “Almighty.”   

We live in troubling times.  But can’t we trust Him who is “First” and “Last” and “the Beginning and the End” to be everything in between?