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Category Archives: Revelation

A six-week study of the book of Revelation

Over the past six weeks, I taught a summer series on the book of Revelation at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on Wednesday evenings. We met for 90 minutes each night from July 3 – August 7. Because of time constraints, we only focused on the book of Revelation rather than do an extended study of eschatology and pull in all the references to end times prophecy in the Old & New Testaments. Much of the material was gleaned from Dr. Tom Constable’s Expository Bible Study notes. (Dr. Constable was one of my profs at Dallas Theological Seminary.) Here are links to the various outlines I distributed each week.

 

Don’t take the summer off from God

Don’t take the summer off from God is the theme of a letter I recently sent to the congregation of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. I encourage you to take it to heart and apply it to the congregation where you worship.

 

Why I believe in a pretribulation rapture

While teaching the class on Revelation in Russia, I shared with the two groups that there are four basic positions on the timing of the rapture.

  • Pretribulation rapture – The church is removed from the earth before the Tribulation begins.
  • Partial rapture – Only spiritual Christians are removed before the Tribulation. Carnal Christians go through the first half of the Tribulation.
  • Mid-trib, or Pre-Wrath Rapture – The church goes through the first half of the Tribulation and is removed just before the judgments begin.
  • Posttribulation rapture – The church goes through the Tribulation and is removed just prior to Christ’s return, making a quick U-turn to return with him.

I explained that I hold to the Pretribulation Rapture for the following reasons. They build upon one another and the strongest one is the last one.

  • The church is mentioned in Revelation 1-3, and 19-22. It is not mentioned in 6-18 when God judges the world.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:10 – Believers are exempt from God’s coming wrath, the time known as the Great Tribulation.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9 – Paul excludes believers from the Day of the Lord and the outpouring of God’s wrath.
  • Revelation 3:10 – In the letter to the church in Philadelphia, God says that they will be kept from the hour of trial.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:18 – The doctrine of the pretribulation rapture should be a comfort and encouragement to believers.
  • The doctrine of imminency –1 Thessalonians 1:10 supports the imminent return of Christ, that he could return at any moment.
 
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Posted by on April 24, 2018 in Revelation, Russia

 

To the Church in Laodicea: A Church that was Self-Sufficient

In a recent series of comic strips, my favorite theologian, Calvin & Hobbes, conspired to keep his babysitter nemesis, Rosalyn, locked out of the house.

While it is humorous in a comic strip, it is sad in real life. It is even sadder when the person we lock out of our lives is Jesus Christ. In Revelation 3:14-22, the church in Laodicea had pushed Christ out of the church, but didn’t even know he was missing.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Jesus rebukes the church in Laodicea for its self-sufficiency and materialism which blinded them to their spiritual poverty. He exhorts them to repent and open their hearts to pursue a deeper relationship with himself. This letter tell us that We need to repent of our self-sufficiency and materialism. We must pursue a deeper relationship with Jesus.

The Church (14a) – It is possible that the three sister churches—Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae—were established at the same time by Epaphras, who founded the Colossian church (Colossians 1:7) as well as evangelized Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) during Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19).

The City (14a) – The city was located about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia on the road to Colossae. It was the greatest city of the Lycus River Valley. The city had material wealth through its banking industry. They were renowned for producing a garment of black wool fabric. The city was famous for its medical school that exported a powder used for eye salve. The independent nature of the city is demonstrated in the fact that when it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, wealthy citizens paid to rebuild the city themselves without outside help.

The Character of Christ (14b) – Jesus described himself as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. As the Amen, whatever Jesus says is true and certain. As the faithful and true witness, Jesus is reliable and trustworthy. As the beginning of God’s creation, Christ existed before creation and is sovereign over it. As the supreme creator and ruler of the universe, Jesus Christ has every right to critique his wayward church.

The Condition of the Church: Concern (15-17) – There is no commendation given to this church. Instead, Jesus soundly criticized the church. Their biggest failure was that the church was self-sufficient and blasé towards God.

Jesus critiques the church by saying they were lukewarm and that he wished they were hot or cold. The tendency is to think he is talking about one’s spiritual temperature. However, he seems odd that Jesus would rather someone was turned off toward him rather than lukewarm. The description makes more sense when you understand the geography and background of the city.

Laodicea was near two other cities, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis was a spa known for its hot mineral baths and medicinal waters. Colossae boasted the finest supply of cold, pure, refreshing water. While Laodicea was blessed with prosperity, their water supply was a problem. An aqueduct brought water to the city. Over time, mineral deposits accumulated in the pipes. The water that arrived in Laodicea was lukewarm and mineral laden. It was nauseating and disgusting to drink.

Like the city’s water supply, the church was neither a cold, refreshing drink nor a warm, healing bath. Some churches make the Lord weep, others make him angry; the Laodicean church made him sick. Lukewarm spirituality makes Christ gag.

Their biggest problem was they did not even realize they had a problem. Like the city, the church thought it was rich and self-sufficient. In reality, they were poor. The church thought it was clothed with righteous character. In reality, they were spiritually wretched, pitiful, and naked. The church thought it had spiritual insight. Instead, they were blind.

The Command (18-19) – While he finds the church repulsive, Christ takes time to offer counsel. They were urged to buy three things they did not think they needed.

Refined gold. A goldsmith subjects the gold to intense heat that liquefies the gold. The impurities rise to the top and are skimmed off. What remains is a purer gold of higher carat.

White clothes. Though they had beautiful clothes, they were urged to wear white, which was symbolic of righteousness which would cover their spiritual nakedness.

Salve for their eyes. The medical school offered a special salve to heal common eye troubles of the Middle East. What they needed was not this medicine but spiritual sight.

Christ’s criticism is based on his love. The most undeserving church is still loved by God. Christ rebuked them because he loved them.

The Commitment (20-21) – In addition to gold, clothing, and eye salve, Christ wants them to enjoy his person and his fellowship.

Christ pictured himself as standing outside and knocking on a door. Sadly, the church had pushed Christ right outside but did not even know he was missing. The appeal is for those who hear to open the door. To them Christ promised, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me.

With Christ on the outside, there can be no fellowship or genuine wealth. With Christ on the inside, there is wonderful fellowship and sharing of the marvelous grace of God. To those who respond, Christ promises to give the right to sit with him on his throne and share his victory.

The Challenge (22) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

Perceived assets

True condition God’s solution
Banking Poor

Refined gold

Medical school

Blind Eye salve
Textiles Naked

White garments

Independent

Self-sufficient

Wretched

Pitiable

Relationship with Christ

Principles (1) Self-sufficiency and materialism can blind a person to their spiritual poverty. (2) Jesus rebukes and disciplines his children in order to heal them. (3) To experience renewed fellowship with Jesus, we must be serious enough to change.

Questions to consider: (1) Are you making progress in the Christian life? (2) Where do you need to change and/or grow? (3) Are you willing to change? (4) Who will hold you accountable? (5) If “YES,” repent & pursue a deeper relationship with Christ.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 25, 2018. It is the final message in a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

To the Church in Philadelphia: A Church that was Faithful

While I was in the rehab center back in November, I applied for a disability parking placard from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). When I called two weeks later, I was told it took two months to process and I would receive it in February. Frustrated by the bureaucracy, I forgot all about it. Two weeks ago, I received a letter from the RMV asking me to surrender my driver’s license because the doctor who signed my original application noted I was medically unable to drive. I called to explain that was three months ago and was no longer valid. I was told I needed a note from my doctor saying my condition had improved and I was medically cleared to drive.

Rather than taking your driver’s license away, what if someone wanted to take heaven away from you? What if you were told that the door to heaven was closed and you were no longer welcome? What if your church told you to stay away and you could no longer attend?

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. While the believers in Philadelphia may have been excommunicated from the Jewish synagogue, Jesus send them a letter (3:7-13) encouraging them that the door to heaven is always. That hope would help them remain faithful in the midst of trying circumstances and persecution.

Jesus wants us to remain faithful in difficult situations. We must keep his word if we want to remain faithful.

The Church (7a) – The church was possibly founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (7a) – The city was located about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was located in an area noted for its grapes but afflicted with earthquakes which destroyed the city several time, most recently about AD 17. With an economy based on agriculture and industry, Philadelphia enjoyed considerable prosperity. Because it was located in a vine-growing district, the worship of Dionysus was its chief pagan cult.

Philadelphia was situated in a strategic place on the main route of the Imperial Post from Rome to the east, and thus was called “the gateway to the East.” It was also called “little Athens” because of the many temples in the city.

The Character of Christ (7b) – Jesus described himself as the one who is holy and true, who holds the key of David, and is able to open or shut a door which no one else could open or shut.

Holiness speaks of his purity and total consecration to God. He will not lead his people into moral error. True or faithful would remind the believers that Christ can keep his promises and carry them to completion. Jesus is reliable. He can be trusted. The key of David refers to Isaiah 22:20-23 where Eliakim was the steward of Hezekiah and possessed the key of David. He was the gatekeeper who allowed access to the king and the king’s presence.

Christ alone has the authority to admit persons to his heavenly city. Because he is holy and true, no one can ever argue that his admission of some and refusal of others is unrighteous.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (8-10a) – Though small in number, the congregation had a powerful impact. Though they had little strength to oppose the forces of evil, they kept Christ’s word and were faithful. It is not the size of the church that determines its ministry, but faith in the call and command of the Lord.

Jesus has placed before the church an open door. This could mean an open door for evangelism (1 Corinthians 16:9). As the “gateway to the East,” they had a unique opportunity to carry the gospel to the cities of Phrygia. It could also mean an open door to heaven (Revelation 4:1). Christ has placed an open door into the eternal kingdom, and no one can shut it.

The believers were faithful and loyal. They had not denied Christ even though they had opportunity to do so. Despite the pressure, they were faithful.

Christ refers to their enemies as the synagogue of Satan. They were Jews who opposed the believers’ Christian testimony. The day will come, however, when all opponents of the faith will have to acknowledge the truth. This probably refers to a future event of judgment.

The Commitment (10b-12) – Because the church was faithful and willing to endure patiently, Jesus promised to keep them from the hour of trial. The hour of trial will be terrible for all who live on the earth. Christ also promises that he will coming soon. They were encouraged to hold on to what they have so that they do not lose any heavenly rewards because they fell into sin.

Everyone who is an overcomer will become a pillar in the temple of God. This is a picture of stability and security. Because believers have identified with Christ by faith, he will identify himself with them. Jesus will write his name on the faithful believers.

The Challenge (13) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

Principles (1) God is more interested in faithfulness than success. Perseverance is the key to receiving the rewards God has for us. (2) Jesus has the key of David. He is able to provide access to heaven to those who keep his word. He can be trusted to keep his promises.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 18, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

To the church in Sardis: A Church that was Dead

In 1968, the Swiss dominated the watch industry producing 65% of the watches in the world and 80% of the profits, however just ten years later they had only a 10% market share. What happened? Their own researchers invented the electronic (Quartz) watch and the Swiss executives rejected it. The Japanese on the other hand saw a new paradigm with this technology and took over the market that the Swiss dominated with the technology that the Swiss themselves invented. The Swiss were so sure that electronics were not the future of watch making that they didn’t even protect their own invention with a copyright.

What is true of industry is also true of churches. If we rest on past accomplishments, we can start to slide. If we are not careful, we will become increasingly irrelevant.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. In the letter to the church in Sardis, Jesus rebukes the church for its compromise that is leading to spiritual death and reassures the faithful few with promises of heavenly citizenship. This letter points out the key principle, We need to take an honest look at our present circumstances. Rather than rest on past accomplishments, we need to obey Christ and live for him in the present.

The Church (1a) – Not much is known about the church. It was possibly founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (1a) – The city was located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and about 50 miles inland from Ephesus. It was located on an important trade route that ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. The city was one of the most ancient, founded about 1200 BC. It became the capital of the wealthy and powerful Lydian kingdom.

The citadel of the ancient city of Sardis occupied a long ridge on Mount Tmolus which rose about 1,500 feet above the area below. The city occupied a large portion of the valley below; and the acropolis, to which threatened citizens could repair in time of war, served primarily for the defense of the city. The approach to the acropolis was sheer at any point except across the saddle of Mount Tmolus, which was also steep and difficult. Hence, Sardis was considered to be almost impregnable for opposing armies.

The city was conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and finally by the Romans. On two separate occasions, the city was conquered because the sentries failed to keep watch and defend the city. It had fallen due to overconfidence and the failure to watch. “Capturing Sardis” became a saying for achieving the impossible.

Important industries included jewelry, dye, and textiles, which had made the city wealthy. It was the center of the dyeing industry. It was known for its manufacture of woolen garments. From a religious standpoint it was a center of pagan worship and site of a temple of Artemis. The temple dated from the fourth century B.C. They worshipped the mother goddess, Cybele. Her worship was of the most debasing character, and orgies like those of Dionysus were practice at the festivals held in her honor.

The Character of Christ (1b) – Jesus holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven spirits represent the Holy Spirit. The seven stars are the pastors of the churches. Christ holds each one in his hands. Christ introduces himself as the one who works sovereignly in the churches through the Holy Spirit and godly leaders.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation – What sounds like a word of approval is actually a word of rebuke. There is no compliment, only criticism. Their “strength” is their “weakness.”

The Condition of the Church: Concern (1b) – The church had the appearance of being alive. They were regarded by their contemporaries as an effective church. The reality is that the church was dead. Their outward appearance was a façade hiding their lack of life. The church had grown comfortable and content living off its past reputation.

The Command (2-4) – Jesus exhorts the church using five commands.

Wake up – Wake up from their spiritual slumber. The first step toward revival in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong.

Strengthen what remains – The verb means to “support” or “stand something on its feet” and has the idea of establishing a thing by making it strong. This was vital because what little that remained was about to die.

Remember – Remember the time when they had been spiritually alive. It is not merely a matter a remembering past truths, however, it is also putting them back into practice. “Received” refers to the truths they have been taught. “Heard” refers to believing and acting on the teaching.

Keep it, Obey it – Be obedient to the heavenly vision. Spiritual vigilance is seen in perseverance and obedient living of these spiritual realities.

Repent – Change direction of your life. The church needs to change its downward spiral and get right with God.

The Consequences (3b) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. He will come suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief to destroy them. Just as the city of Sardis had succumbed to unexpected military attack, so the church of Sardis will be visited by Christ’s judgment—if it does not change.

The Commitment (4-5) – While the church is dead and dying, Christ recognized a godly remnant in the Sardis church who had not soiled their clothes with sin. He promised the true believers will be dressed in white, symbolic of the righteousness of God. Their names will remain in the book of life. Christ will acknowledge them as his own before his father and his angels.

It is possible for a dead church to change. As long as a few people remain faithful, God can breathe new life into the church.

The Challenge (6) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

When Mickey Cohen, a famous Los Angeles gangster of the late 1940’s, made a public profession of faith in Christ, his new Christian friends were elated. But as time passed, they began to wonder why he did not leave his gangster lifestyle. When they confronted him concerning this question, however, he protested. “You never told me I had to give up my career. You never told me that I had to give up my friends. There are Christian movie stars, Christian athletes, Christian businessmen. So what’s the matter with being a Christian gangster? If I have to give up all that—if that’s Christianity—count me out.” Cohen gradually drifted away from Christian circles and ultimately died lonely and forgotten.

Principles (1) What matters most is not our religious reputation before human beings but our standing before God, which is related to how we live. (2) For a sick and dying church to regain its health calls for specific action prescribed by Jesus Christ, and made effective by the Holy Spirit.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 11, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

To the Church in Thyatira: A Church that Tolerated Sin

A recent post on Facebook read, “Marching tomorrow. No tolerance for intolerance.” Today, tolerance is the ultimate virtue and intolerance is the only vice. The church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) not only tolerated the presence of evil, but actively participated in it.

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. The letter to the church in Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters, even though it was written to the smallest of the seven cities. In the city of Thyatira, a false teacher was leading many Christians to embrace open immorality. The believers need to know that an all-knowing, all powerful Lord will punish her followers severely. Jesus wants us to be morally pure.

The Church (18a) – Not much is known about the church. Perhaps they heard the gospel through the witness of Lydia (Acts 16:1) or through the ministry of the apostle Paul (Acts 19:10).

The City (18a) – The city lies about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum. It was a much smaller city than Pergamum. The city was located on a plain and was the first line of defense for Pergamum. However, the city was poorly adapted to such military purposes and found itself repeatedly overrun by marauding soldiers across the centuries.

The city boasted a special temple to Apollo, the “sun god.” He was the primary god worshipped in Thyatira. His title explains why the Lord introduced himself as “the Son of God.”

The city was known for the development of trade guilds to which Lydia, the seller of purple mentioned in Acts 16:14, may have belonged. From what can be pieced together, the trade guilds, which consisted of clothiers, metalsmiths, and others, became such a predominant feature in the city that they eventually took on both political and religious significance. Each guild had its own patron god or goddess.

Since the guild’s feasts were the heart of the social and commercial life of the city, there was great pressure on Christians to participate in the idolatrous life of the people. To refuse to participate meant the loss of both goodwill and business.

The Character of Christ (18b) – Jesus presents himself as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

The eyes of blazing fire represent that Jesus sees and knows everything. It signifies his all-encompassing knowledge. The bronze feet emphasize his all-encircling power. Together, the eyes and feet emphasize the indignation and righteous judgment of Christ.

Christ is the one who searches mind and heart (23b). Nothing can be hidden from the penetrating gaze of the Lord of the churches.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (19) – While there is much that is wrong with the church, Jesus commends them for their love, faith, service and patient endurance. The first two are motives. The second two are deeds. Their love produced greater service and their faith led to patient endurance. Unlike the believers in Ephesus, these folks were doing more and more as time went on. They were not content to stand still in loving deeds and faithful perseverance. They had grown in faith and thus were stronger in love than when they first came to know Christ.

The Condition of the Church: Concern (20-21) – The criticism Christ has is severe. They tolerated the intolerable. The major condemnation concerned a woman named Jezebel (most likely a nickname). The name, Jezebel, suggests she was corrupting the church much like Ahab’s wife Jezebel corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33). She claimed to be a prophetess. She convinced gullible Christians that she spoke for God. She taught believers to compromise and engage in sexual immorality. She deliberately led Christians into sexual immorality. She encouraged believers to violate their conscience. If the believers were part of a guild, they were required to participate in the guild feasts, which themselves involved meat sacrificed to idols, the patron god of the respective guild was always worshipped at the feasts.

Their departure from morality had gone on for some time. She had multiple opportunities to repent but had not done so. She refused to repent.

The Command (21-22, 25) – Jesus exhorts those who compromised to repent. He encourages those who were faithful to hold fast. Today, believers who find themselves in liberal or apostate local churches can usually leave and join another fellowship. That was impractical under the circumstances in Thyatira.

The Consequences (22-24) – Jesus promises sudden and immediate judgment. The judgment would be so dramatic that all the churches would know that Christ is the One who searches hearts and minds.

There are three types of people identified in these verses. Christ will repay each according to their deeds. The first group were those who commit adultery with her. This indicates those who had compromised morally. The second group were her children, those who wholly committed themselves to her teachings. Suffering would extend also to her followers. The third group were the faithful believers who did not follow her teachings.

The Commitment (26-28) – Christ promises that those who are faithful will join him in his millennial rule. They will not simply be administering justice but will also, like a shepherd using his rod, be dealing with his sheep and protecting them as well. Believers will have authority just as Christ does.

In addition, they will receive the morning star. This has two possible meanings. (1) Since the morning star appears just before dawn, this may refer to the church being removed in the Rapture before the Tribulation and the dawn of the millennial kingdom. (2) Later in the book, Jesus is referred to as the morning star (22:16). This may refer to fellowship with him. The reward is Christ himself, who will end the long night of sin’s rule in the universe.

The Challenge (29) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

It is not known how many in that congregation responded to Christ’s warning, but, tragically, the Thyatira church as a whole apparently did not heed it. History records that it fell prey to the Montanist heresy (a movement led by a false prophet who claimed continuing revelation from God apart from Scripture) and went out of existence by the end of the second century.

Principles – (1) God will judge continued, unrepentant sin in the church. (2) A pattern of obedience marks true Christians. (3) In spite of our struggles with sin and error, God’s gracious promise is that believers will experience the fullness of Christ as they reign with him in his kingdom.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 4, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

70 Days

I leave for Russia in 70 Days. By that date, I need to be able to:

  • Walk without crutches, or at a minimum be able to walk with a cane
  • Stand up in the shower without support
  • Be free of medication (blood thinner)
  • Travel without fear of blood clots
  • Carry a suitcase and backpack up a stairway without using an elevator
  • Travel without any restrictions

I am reminded how desperately I need God to heal my leg/hip, restore my strength and mobility, and help me to function. So much to pray for. And that doesn’t even begin to mention how much insight I need to be able to teach the book of Revelation and answer questions.

Oh, Lord …

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2018 in Health, Personal growth, Prayer, Revelation, Russia

 

To the Church in Pergamum: A Church that Compromised

In her book, When is it Right to Die: A Comforting and Surprising Look at Death and Dying, author Joni Eareckson Tada makes a statement about euthanasia and assisted suicide that could be applied to any number of social issues today.

“In the last few decades, though no one can say exactly how it happened, the unthinkable became tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And now, God help us, applaudable.”

In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Though each message is different, the letters have some similarities. The letters address the problems churches have faced throughout history and provide insight into how Christ evaluates local churches.

The message to the church at Pergamum (2:12-17) is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against deviating from the purity of doctrine required of Christians. Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.

The Church (12a) – Not much is known about the church. Most likely it was founded during Paul’s three years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).

The City (12a) – The city was about 70 miles north and 20 miles inland from Smyrna. As the ancient capital, Pergamum was considered Asia’s greatest city. Pergamum was a wealthy city, but it was wicked. People in pagan cults worshiped Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, and Zeus. It was a religious hub. Pergamum was the first city to worship the emperor. In other cities, Christians might be in danger one day a year when a pinch of incense had to be burned in honor of the emperor. In Pergamum, however, Christians were in danger every day of the year for the same reason.

The city was an intellectual center. Pergamum was famous for its university with a library of about 200,000 volumes. It was also known for manufacturing parchment resulting in a paper called pergamena. There was a famous hospital and temple of Asclepius located on the plain close to a large modern military command.

The Character of Christ (12b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has a sharp, double-edged sword. The sword is the long, flat, heavy sword, used by the Romans in battle to kill their enemies. This sword symbolized Jesus’ power to judge and conquer his enemies. This note gives the letter an ominous tone.

The Condition of the Church: Commendation (13) – Jesus recognized the difficulty of their situation. He is well aware of the efforts of Satan to destroy the work of Christ and of Christians in the city of Pergamum through its various pagan affections. They lived where Satan had his throne. This may refer to the great temple of Asclepius, a pagan god of healing represented in the form of a serpent. It may also refer to the huge altar to Zeus that overlooked the city.

The saints were commended for being true, even when Antipas was martyred. Nothing is known about this incident. “Martyr” and “witness” are the same word. A martyr is one whose witness for Christ led to his death. While believers in other places may have buckled under pressure, these believers did not renounce their faith in Christ. Jesus complimented them for this.

Obedience in one area does not cover for or make excuse for disobedience in other areas.

The Condition of the Church: Concern (14-15) – The believers in Pergamum were guilty of tolerance. Rather than testing and rejecting false teachers like the church in Ephesus, they had uncritically accepted people who held the teaching of Balaam. Balaam had counseled King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and through idol-worship (Numbers 22-25). Intermarriage with heathen women was a problem in Pergamum where any social contact with the world also involved worship of idols. The issue of eating food sacrificed to idols is that Christians are never to violate their consciences. They may have been subtle pressure to say that sin is all right.

They were also condemned for following the Nicolaitans’ teaching. The name means “devourer of the people.” It probably speaks of a group that dominates rather than serves people. While the details are unknown, this sect probably is tied in the practices of Balaam which involved sexual sin in worship. The religion tried to redefine faith to allow Christians to fit in with the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship.

The Command (16a) – Jesus rebuked the church with an abrupt command, “Repent!” They were warned. They needed to recognize and forsake their sins. The church must take action if we want to receive the blessings of God.

The Consequences (16b) – If they don’t repent, Jesus will be their enemy. The Lord himself will become their opponent and will fight against them with the sword of his mouth.

There is a distinction between “you” and “them.” The Balaam-like teachers and Nicolaitans are not truly part of the people of God, even though they have succeeded in infiltrating the congregation. Using the sword of his mouth, Jesus would contend with them. The word of God sharply judges all compromise and sin.

The Challenge (17a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (17b) – There is the promise of hidden manna and white stone with a new name written on it.

The children of Israel received manna. The hidden manna may refer to Christ as the bread from heaven, the unseen source of the believer’s nourishment and strength. Whereas Israel received physical food, manna, during their 40 years of wilderness wandering, the church receives spiritual food (John 6:48-51).

There are different meanings for “white stone.” One is found in a legal setting. In a courtroom, a white stone was given to someone who was acquitted while a black stone was given to someone who was guilty and condemned. Another meaning is that a white stone was given to the victors in an athletic contest. The stone, possibly with the athlete’s name on it, was their ticket to the awards banquet. In this sense, Christ promises the overcomers entrance into an eternal victory celebration in heaven.

Principles – (1) It is difficult to persevere in certain environments. (2) Staying faithful to Jesus is directly related to being a faithful witness. (3) Christians are often tempted to compromise with the world in the areas of idolatry and immorality. (4) Jesus’ future promise of acceptance, fellowship, and identity can help us endure now.

Jesus Christ does NOT approve of compromise. Don’t Flirt with the world.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on January 28, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

To the Church in Smyrna: A Church that is Suffering

Most Christians would prefer that suffering and especially persecution be an elective course. We don’t like Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We would just as soon avoid the topic and experience all together.

This is precisely why we need to learn from Christ’s letter to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). The letter to the church in Smyrna reminds us that when we face persecution, we should remember that the one who conquered death promises us eternal life.

The Church (8a) – Not much is known about the church. There is no record how Christianity came to Smyrna. It was most likely planted during the time the apostle Paul ministered in Ephesus (Acts 19).

The City (8a) – Smyrna was a large and wealthy city about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna is still a large seaport known as Izmir with a present population of about 200,000. In all of Asia, there was no more beautiful city than Smyrna—at least, if one wishes to accept the judgment of the citizens of Smyrna. Their coins had the inscription, “first city of Asia in size and beauty.”

They had a land-locked and protected harbor. The city began at sea level and climbed, even as it does today, up the slopes of Mount Pagus. The city planners laid out the architecture to make it blend together. As you stood at the sea harbor looking up toward the top of Mount Pagus, you could see a panorama that led it be called “a crown.” The winding thoroughfare, “the street of gold,” ascending Mount Pagus passed the magnificent temples to Cybele, Apollo, Aesculapius, Aphrodite, and toward the top a notable shrine to Zeus. The winding thoroughfare looked like a necklace of jewels around the neck of a statue.

Smyrna was known as a center of learning, especially in science and medicine. Smyrna claimed to be the birthplace of Homer.

The name, Smyrna, means “bitter,” and was associated with myrrh, the fragrant plant used in anointing oil and the process of embalming. It was associated with death and suffering.

The city was known for its wickedness and opposition to the gospel. Life was difficult and dangerous for the church in Smyrna. Under the emperor Domitian, it became a capital offense to refuse the yearly sacrifice to the emperor.

The Character of Christ (8b) – Jesus presents himself as the one who has power of time (the first and the last), and the power over sin (the one who died and came back to life). The fact that Jesus was persecuted and resurrected would be especially relevant to a church experiencing severe persecution. This will be just what the persecuted saints in Smyrna need in order to carry on.

The Condition of the Church (9) – Jesus comforts them by saying that he knows about their suffering. “Afflictions” refers to extensive tribulation rather than mere affliction. “Poverty” refers to extreme poverty. They most likely lost possessions, land, income, etc., because of persecution. Despite their physical poverty, Jesus reminds them that they were rich in the things of the spirit.

They were being persecuted not only by pagan Gentiles but also by hostile Jews and ultimately Satan himself. The believers in Smyrna were being falsely accused which caused them to be arrested. During the first and second centuries, believers were slandered for various reasons:

  • Cannibalism – “eating the body” and “drinking the blood” of the Lord
  • Immorality & incest – calling each other “brother” and “sister”; giving a “holy kiss”; participating in “love feasts.”
  • Atheism – refusing to accept the Greek or Roman gods
  • Political disloyalty – unwillingness to pay homage to Caesar as lord
  • Arsonists – spoke of the fire of the Spirit and the fires of divine judgment
  • Splitting families – Jewish families would disown those who became Christians

There is no rebuke for these faithful, suffering Christians. Of the seven churches, only Smyrna and Philadelphia escape criticism. Suffering, though extremely difficult, helps to keep believers pure in faith and life.

The Command (10a) – Jesus exhorts them to have courage; not to be afraid of future suffering. This is probably a message they were dreading. The suffering is about to get worse. They were facing a season of persecution which would include imprisonment and possibly death. It would be short in duration (10 days). Suffering does not prove God is powerless. This particular suffering comes because has determined to test the church. While painful, God’s testing has a good goal.

Suffering can be expected for the ungodly, but why should the godly suffer?

  • Discipline – 1 Corinthians 11:30-32
  • Preventive – 2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Teach what we can’t learn otherwise
    • Learn obedience – Hebrews 5:8
    • Develop character – Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4
  • Provide a better testimony – Acts 9:16

The Consequences (10b) – Jesus promises the crown of life to those who endure persecution. This is not the crown of royalty. This is the victor’s crown, given to an athlete who was victorious in an athletic contest. The crown symbolizes eternal life.

Up to this point, no one had died, but it could be expected. 50+ years later, Polycarp, who was bishop of the church in Smyrna, was martyred, and undoubtedly others were killed as well. When Polycarp was about to be martyred and told to recant his faith in Christ, he said, “Four score and six years have I served the Lord and he never wronged me: How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”

The Challenge (11a) – Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.

The Commitment (11b) – There is the promise given to overcomers that they will not be hurt by the second death. The first death is physical, the second is spiritual. We don’t need to be afraid of losing our life when persecuted because our future in heaven is secure. The believers were not promised escape from tribulation or persecution. They were promised something far greater—the grace to endure afflictions without fear and the pledge that the one who died and came to life again will certainly bring them through to the crown of life.

Principles – (1) Those who follow Jesus faithfully can expect opposition/persecution. (2) It costs to be a dedicated Christian, in some places more than others. (3) The great Christian hope is not removal from trouble but resurrection from the dead.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 21, 2018. It is part of a series on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.