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Friday, March 16, 2018

Reaping the Grapes of Wrath

Reaping the Grapes of Wrath
Revelation 13-14
As the end draws near, the enemy fights more furiously.  The great Tribulation period is getting even worse. In chapter 13 of Revelation, John is given a vision of a beast coming from the sea.  This beast has seven heads and ten horns with ten crowns on his ten horns.  A blasphemous name is written on his heads. This beast blasphemes God and gets his power and authority from the dragon (Satan). 
As John watches, one of the beast’s heads is mortally wounded.  But then miraculously the deadly wound is healed.  The people of the world are so impressed that they follow the beast and worship the dragon who gives power to the beast. Every person on the whole earth worships this beast except the ones whose names are written in the Book of Life. 
In his vision, John sees another beast coming out of the earth.  This beast has two horns and speaks like the dragon (Satan). This second beast joins the first beast and causes the whole world to worship the first beast.  He makes war against the followers of Christ and murders them.  Scripture says: “And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.” (Revelation 13:7b)
The second beast performs miracles and great signs causing fire to come down from heaven.  And the people of the world are all deceived and they all worship these beasts. And these beasts are given authority to continue for forty-two months. (3 1/2 years). (Revelation 13:5) It seems that God puts time limits on how long evil can continue.
The second beast tells the people of the world to make an image of the first beast and after they make the image, the second beast gives breath to the image and it seems to live.  Now we seem to have a counterfeit Trinity. Two beasts and an image of the beast.  Satan deals in counterfeits.
Then the second beast orders every person on the earth to worship the image of the beast that they have made.  If anyone refuses to worship the image they will be killed. We have a world-wide dictatorship now, powered by the dragon (Satan).  It doesn’t get any worse than that, does it?   
This is what happens next: “He (the beast) causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads.  And no one may buy or sell except they have the mark of the name of the beast, or the number of his name. “  (Revelation 13:17)  The number of the beast is 666. (Revelation 13:18) 
Bible scholars believe that the number six represents the number of “man”.  Mankind or human kind is short of perfection.  We cannot be perfect on our own.  Seven is the number in biblical numerology for perfection.  So, the number 666 may represent doing things our own way, independent from God and with great pride, and missing the mark.  Whereas God calls us to trust Him and give our lives to Him.  When Jesus Christ covers us with His righteousness, I would guess that the number of our name is changed to seven, which represents perfection.
Some scholars believe that here these passages in Revelation 13:17 mean that perhaps the people of the world must give their allegiance to the beast.  Receiving the “mark of the beast” in the forehead may represent their will or their mind, while the hand may represent their activities.  But then it may be that the mark of the beast will be stamped on the forehead or hand of every person in the world.
Somehow the Beast- the dictator of the world -  will get his imprint on every person everywhere, causing all persons to serve him. The Bible warns us that if we have the mark of the Beast, we will not go to heaven, but share the fate of the beast.  (Revelation 14:11) Those last days of the Tribulation will be very scary times indeed!
We move on into the 14th chapter of Revelation where John sees more visions.  He sees the Lamb(Jesus) on Mount Zion with one hundred and forty-four thousand men.  Some scholars believe that these men represent 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Scripture tells us that these people were “sealed” and describes them as the “first fruits”. There are hidden meanings and truths here that we will surely understand later.  
Then three angels fly across heaven making announcements or proclamations.  The first angel preaches the gospel to those living on the earth – to every nation and tongue and people.  This angel also announces that “The hour of His judgment has come: and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (Revelation 14:7b)
A second angel follows the first saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city because she has made all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”  (Revelation 14: 8)  In the Old Testament, Babylon was a center of idolatry, the occult, and immorality.
And after the second angel, a third angel follows calling in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives the mark on his forehead or on his hand, he shall drink of the wrath of God,…”  (Revelation 14;9-11)
 And then John sees another vision – a vision of the Son of Man (Jesus) with a crown on his head, sitting on a cloud and holding a sickle in his hand.  An angel calls out that the harvest of the earth is ripe.  It is time for the reaping of the grapes of wrath.  (Revelation 15:17-20)  The scope of the coming judgments are revealed and some Bible scholars believe that this reaping or in-gathering depicts a time of separation of the wicked from the righteous.  
We read these frightening stories in Revelation and we may be fearful. There will be battles and judgments before all of sin is finally burned away and a sinless new heaven and new earth is created.  We are so used to our sinful world that we can scarcely imagine what this new world will be like. A world with no sickness or death, sorrow or tears. A world where every wrong will be made right.The Lord speaks through Isaiah with these words about this promised new world: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill brought low:  The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth:  The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.  And all flesh shall see it together.  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 4:4-5)



Friday, March 9, 2018

Moving on through the Book of Revelation

Moving on through the Book of Revelation
Revelation 10,11, and12
The central messages of the book of Revelation is that “the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (Revelation 19:6) There are few references to specific events or persons of the past, present or future in the book of Revelation.  But rather there are “spiritual principles” intended to encourage Christians in every age.
The many symbolic visions in the book of Revelation set forth these main principles:  1) There will be a great time of trouble on the earth at the end of the age. (God’s judgments on a rebellious and sinful world) 2) The living Lord Jesus Christ is victorious over Satan and his allies. 3) The Lamb, Jesus comes again in glory as Savior and Judge. (Revelation 22:12) 4) Satan is defeated and bound. (Revelation 12:7 and 20:1-3) 5) Sin and evil are destroyed and there is a new sinless heaven and earth. (Revelation 21) 6) Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God has won the victory.  7) And, the followers of the Lamb(Jesus) will share in His victory!  (Revelation22)
These spiritual conflicts are recorded by John In the book of Revelation.  The glorified Jesus allows John in the Spirit to see a series of dramatic visions that show spiritual wars between Good versus evil taking place.  John’s visions describe what will happen in the last days.  These often-wild visions contain pictures pointing to spiritual realities behind things happening in history. And the symbols point to what is ultimately indescribable.  But these visions are not always written down in the order that they take place! And we can’t always understand them.
One of John’s many dramatic visions is one of a mighty angel coming down from heaven clothed with a cloud and with a rainbow on his head.  His face was like the sun and his feet are like pillars of fire.  The angel has a little book opened in his hand.  And the angel sets one foot on the sea and the other on the land.  (Revelation 10: 1-2) Bible scholars believe that this indicates that the angel has a message for the whole world. 
The angel tells John to take and eat the little book.  And when John was eating it, he found the book to be sweet as honey in his mouth.  But after he had eaten it, his stomach became bitter. (Revelation 10:9-11) John was told to prophesy to the whole world about the end times message in the angel’s little book.
 Some Bible scholars believe that the message from the little book was sweet as honey in John’s mouth because the good news of God’s new sinless heaven and earth where victory over sin and death is finally realized is indeed sweet as honey when we receive it. 
But perhaps the little book seemed bitter when it was in John’s stomach since there is a bitter war between the forces of God and the forces of Satan throughout the Tribulation period on earth before the sweetness of victory through the Lamb is finally realized.
John is given another vision.  This time John is given a vision of two witnesses during the end times who will prophesy and call out to a world in rebellion against God.  The two witnesses will go around witnessing in sack cloth and ashes – representing grief and sorrow.  And they will witness for forty-two months or 3 ½ years. (Revelation 11:3) And they will be able to perform some miracles.
 Some Bible scholars believe that the whole Tribulation period may be seven years in length because of their interpretation of various prophecies.  So, the two witnesses would witness for half of the Tribulation if that were the case. Other scholars do not read the Scriptures as literally. Scripture says: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now we know in part, but then we shall know even as we are known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
In describing these two witnesses Scripture says: “These are the two olive branches and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” (Revelation 11:4) Zechariah, a prophet in the Old Testament also had a vision of two olive branches and two lampstands.  It is believed that the two olive branches represented “oil” which is the symbol of the Holy Spirit’s power.  Joshua and Zerubbabel, the two “sons of oil”, were witnesses or “bearers of light” for their generation. They were anointed with Holy Spirit power to see to the completion of the temple.  (Zechariah 4:11-14)
After when these two end time witnesses in Revelation 11 finish their work, the beast (Satan, or the Anti-Christ) comes up out of the bottomless pit and fights and kills them. Their bodies lie in the streets for the whole world to see, (television?) for three and a half days, and much of the population of the world throws parties and rejoices that God’s two witnesses are dead!
But then the witnesses are resurrected by God just a few days later also for the whole world to see and fear and then the two witnesses ascend into heaven. (Revelation 11:7-14) “And the temple of God is opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant is seen in His temple.” (Revelation 11:19)
John is given yet another of his many visions.  This time John sees a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and a garland of twelve stars on her head.  The woman is crying out in labor, in pain to give birth.  And then there appears a great fiery red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his seven heads.  “The dragon stands before the woman(Mary) who is ready to give birth, to devour her Child (Jesus) as soon as he is born.  He is a male Child who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron.  And her Child is caught up to God and His throne.” (Revelation 12:4b-5)
Satan, the dragon, and his angels (demons) are cast out of heaven. (Revelation 12:9-12) The furious dragon persecutes the woman who gave birth to the male Child. (Mary, the mother of Jesus) But the woman is given two wings of a great eagle to fly to a place of safety.  And the enraged dragon makes war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Christians) (Revelation 12:13-17)  The dragon makes war with us.
These visions in Revelation 10-12 and all of the other visions recorded in Revelation, give us a glimpse of the many spiritual battles being fought by the evil principalities and powers of this world against the Lamb and His followers. The Great Deceiver knows that his time is running out and he is furiously fighting. But the book of Revelation reveals God as the Sovereign Ruler and Judge of the whole cosmic creation.
 And because God is in control, right is ultimately vindicated in the face of wrong, justice in the face of injustice and righteousness in the face of unrighteousness.  World history is moving on through tragedy and disaster to “a new heaven and a new earth.” 





Friday, March 2, 2018

The Tribulation

The Tribulation
Revelation 6-9
The book of Revelation was given by Jesus Christ to John to pass on to the Church.  Most of the book (chapters 4-22) reveals things to come during the end times.  There are many mysteries and symbols in the book of Revelation.  Some of the symbols are explained and some are not.
Shortly before Jesus comes again, a terrible time is foretold in the book of Revelation.  A time of trouble like no other is prophesied to come and Bible scholars have called this future time the “Tribulation”.  But all’s well that ends well.  And the book of Revelation ends very well!  It ends by giving us a glorious vision and a joyous hope to cling to!
It ends with visions of the final consummation of human history!  (Chapters 21-22) Here we see a sinless and glorious “new heaven and new earth,” a “holy city” with open gates providing hospitality for the saints.  And the Lamb of God is there in all His glory.  We also see a “pure river of the water of life” flowing through the new heaven and giving out the water of eternal life.  And perpetual fruit-bearing trees are in this new heaven, whose leaves are for the “healing of the nations.”  Scripture says: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the imagination of man what is prepared for those who love God.”  ((1 Corinthians 1:9)
But then before we enjoy this new sinless heavenly home, it seems that the whole earth will go through a scary time when all hell breaks loose!  We learn in Revelation chapter 5 that Jesus Christ, the Lamb, is the only One who is able to open the seven seals of the scroll of human history.  When Jesus opens the first seal, a rider on a white horse with a bow and a crown rides out to conquer.  Most likely to proudly conquer on his own and leave God out.  (Revelation 6:1-2) His methods of conquest at first do not seem to include open warfare.   But many Bible scholars consider him to possibly be an Antichrist. 
The second seal is opened by the Lamb and a fiery red horse rides out representing war.   Peace is taken from the earth and everywhere soldiers and civilians are killing one another.  The Lamb opens the third seal and a black horse with a rider ride out.  (Revelation 6:5-6) This seal seems to represent famine around the world.  The fourth seal is opened, and a pale horse rides out.  it’s rider was named “Death” and “Hades”.
The fifth seal is opened, and there is no horse or rider but instead we see the souls of those who have been martyred or killed because of their faith in Christ during this dreadful tribulation period.  These souls are under the altar calling out to God and asking, “How long until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:19) Scripture says that these martyrs were “given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” (Revelation 6:11) Why do these martyred saints have to wait longer?
I am guessing that there are principalities and powers, and spiritual laws that we humans cannot understand now since they are from another realm.  Perhaps one of these laws is that human sin and rebellion are allowed to work their way through stages to reach a certain point before the cup is full and God steps in and judges them. God surely puts up boundaries that we are not able to see or recognize.  And for reasons that we do not understand.  We can only trust our gracious God to do what is right and loving and good as we follow Him where He leads.   
The number seven in the Bible represents “completeness”, and the number seven plays an important role and is mentioned often in the book of Revelation.  In our lesson today, we have the scroll with seven seals, and later in the book of Revelation we read of the seven trumpets and the seven bowls.  (Revelation 8:7-16:21) All are symbolic of God’s judgments on a rebellious world.  And they all run to completion with a glorious ending.
The sixth seal is opened by the Lamb of God and: “There was a great earthquake.  The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, and the whole moon turned blood red.  And the stars in the sky fell to earth….The sky receded like a scroll rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” (Revelation 6:12-14) People hid themselves in caves and rocks and tried to kill themselves because they were so terrified.  But then judgments are delayed until 144,000 Jewish people can be sealed: and protected supernaturally. 
Then there is an interlude and we see a great multitude or group of people from many races who have found Christ during the Tribulation. These millions of people who have died during this war of Good versus evil are praising God in heaven.  When Christ opens the seventh seal there is silence in heaven for about half an hour.  And it seems that out of the seventh seal there are seven angels (demons) with seven trumpets.  (Revelation 8:1-9:21)   
When each angel sounds his trumpet, more judgments are poured out upon the earth.  A third of the vegetation is burned.  Four demon angels are loosed, and they inflict more harm and death.  A third of the sea is contaminated.  A third of the fresh waters are contaminated.  A third of the sun and a moon and stars are darkened.  There is increased demonic activity on the earth.  The Abyss (Hell) is opened and smoke and scorpion like demonic locusts come upon the earth. And a third of mankind is killed.  All of these are the judgments poured out onto the earth when the trumpets are sounded during this Tribulation time.  God is judging evil and  ending it so He can inaugurating His kingdom.
After all of this, those left on the earth refuse to repent of their sins.  Scripture says: “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands, they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood.  -idols that cannot see or hear or walk.  Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”  (Revelation 9:20-21) Scripture says: “There is a way that seems right to men, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”  (Proverbs 14:12)
The religion of many on the earth during the Tribulation seems to involve demon and idol worship, according to Scripture.  We see the hardness of human hearts of some of the people left in the Tribulation times, even after all this destruction. Though God has revealed His wrath from heaven against them, they stubbornly hold onto their way of life and refuse to change.
Some believe that God is not loving when He judges the human race because of sin.  But God loves the human race too much to allow us to remain stuck in our sin forever.   When we are finally completely free of sin through Jesus Christ, Scripture says: “Surely the day is coming: It will burn like a furnace.  All the arrogant and every evildoer will become stubble,……But for you, who revere My Name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.  And you will go out and leap and frolic around like calves released from the stall.”  (Malakai 4:1-2) That will be the Day!      

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Door Opens in Heaven and John is Invited In

The Door Opens in Heaven and John is Invited In
Revelation 4 and 5
The central scene of the book of Revelation occurs when a trumpet sounds and John is invited up into heaven.  “Come on up and I will show you what must take place after this.” Jesus tells John.  (Revelation 4:1) We can know nothing of future events unless God is pleased to show us.  Otherwise the future is “within the veil” unless God opens the door.  But the door was opened for John and he was shown heaven and these future events and told to pass what he saw and heard on to us.  What a blessing! 
John sees a throne and the “Indescribable One” sits on it.  His appearance was like jasper and carnelian and transcendent brightness.  John sees an emerald rainbow about the throne. Twenty-four elders are surrounding God and many Bible scholars believe the twenty-four elders represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples.  They are dressed in white robes.  This represents the fact that they are dressed in righteousness.  And all twenty-four elders are wearing golden crowns, believed to signify the honor given to them by God.
 On each side of the throne are four living creatures with wings and covered with eyes.  One creature is like a lion, and another is like an ox.  The third one had a face like a man, and the forth creature is like a flying eagle. It remains a mystery to us what these four living creatures represent.  But the book of Revelation is full of mysteries. 
The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures are all praising God without ceasing. (Revelation 4:4-11) Falling down before the One on the throne.  It is their glory to be glorifying God.  The God who is their creator and preserver and Redeemer. They are singing: “Holy, holy, holy to the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and is, and is to come.”  (Revelation 4:8b)
But then John notices a scroll in the right hand of God who sits on the throne.  The scroll is sealed with seven seals and we believe that what is written inside the scroll is related to God’s authority over the course of history.   Suddenly an angel appears and loudly asks a question: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Revelation 5:2)
There is silence in heaven as no one seems to be able to answer that question.  Scripture reads: “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is able to open the scroll or even look inside it. “(Revelation 5:3) No one is worthy to perform this task!  No one!  God’s will in history cannot continue unless someone is worthy to open the scroll.  The angel’s question echoes through the air, while each living being in heaven waits for some unknown hero to step forward. 
John realizes the seriousness of the dilemma and he begins to weep, because he thinks there is no one in heaven worthy. (Revelation 5:4) But then one of the elders tells John not to weep and reminds him that there is One who is worthy!  The elder tells John, “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5) 
We recognize today that the lion is an aggressive animal and “king of the beasts”. Jewish prophets in the Old Testament foretold that their promised Savior and Messiah would be from the line of David and called “the Root of David” from the prophet Isaiah.  (Isaiah 11:1) Jesus would come from the line of Judah, where Judah is called a “lion with a scepter” (A scepter is a symbol of royalty.) (Genesis 49:9-10 -Jacob’s prophecy over his son Judah)    
So, Jesus Christ is this promised “Lion of Judah” and “Root of David” from ancient Biblical prophecy!  Will this Lion come and lead a political revolution?  Will this Lion come and open the seven seals from the scroll in heaven?  All heaven waits expectantly.  But no Lion appears! 
Instead John sees “a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.” This broken, bleeding and resurrected Lamb is encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.  He has seven horns (Horns are a symbol of strength) and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.    (Revelation 5:6-7)   He appears as a Lamb having seven horns and seven eyes, having perfect power (horns) to execute all the Will of God and perfect wisdom to understand it all. – having the seven spirits of God (Seven is a number representing completion.) 
This crucified Lamb comes and takes the scroll from the hand of the One on the throne.  He is the only One in all of earth and heaven worthy to open the seals of the scroll! 
Perhaps some humans would be disappointed if they did not see a victorious Lion come forward to fight and save the world.  But all the crowd in heaven understands and falls down “before the Lamb” singing a “new song” “You are worthy to take the scroll, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:8-13) John’s vision of heaven includes ethnic diversity!  The ground at the foot of the cross is level. No racial group is better than the other. We are all one in Christ. 
The Lamb (Jesus Christ) achieved victory over evil by submitting to execution and trusting in God to raise Him from the dead. We are called to follow this “Lamb” wherever He goes.  Following the nonviolent Lamb is risky - and always has been.  We may have to lose our life to gain it.  We will be out of step with the world. What are the political and economic costs of following this Lamb – this One who has been crucified?  Are we able to be crucified with Him?
The fifth chapter of Revelation ends with a glorious vision of millions and millions of bright angels and the four living creatures with eyes and the elders all bowing down and holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they are all loudly singing a new song.  This band of rejoicing heavenly hosts are encircling round and round the throne.  And in the center of it all is the Lamb.   

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Letter to the Seventh Church in Revelation - Laodicea

A Letter to the Seventh Church in Revelation
When the book of Revelation was written in approximately 95 A.D., there were seven Christian churches in Asia Minor.  Jesus Christ in His glorified body appeared before John and told him to write letters to each of His seven churches. Jesus’ gives seven messages to the seven churches along with many visions, and John faithfully copies all of this down.  The visions concerned what would happen during the end times, along with a glorious vision of the final consummation of human history at the end! The letters and the visions make up the book of Revelation.
In a vision, John sees Jesus in His majesty standing before him, with a double-edged sword coming out of His mouth.  His eyes are like blazing fire and his feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace and His voice is like the sound of rushing water.  Jesus is standing among seven candlesticks, with seven stars in His hand. 
Jesus tells John that the seven stars are the seven angels of each of His seven churches.  And the candlesticks that He is standing among are His seven churches.  Jesus is always with His churches. The double-edged sword coming out of His mouth is the sword of judgment. 
We have reviewed the letters Jesus sent to the first six churches already and today we will review the letter to the last church, the Church of Laodicea. Here is what Jesus had to say to the Church of Laodicea. “To the angel of the Church in Laodicea write; These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.  I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm ---neither hot nor cold --- I am about to spew you out of my mouth. 
You say, ‘I am rich: I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich: and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne.  Just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:14-22) 
Here in the letter to the church in Laodicea our Lord Jesus Christ introduces Himself as the “Amen” We use the word “Amen” at the end of a prayer. The “Amen” that we use at the end of our prayers means “Let it be”.  We say it to give in to God’s will.  Many Bible scholars believe that Jesus is called the “Amen” of God because through Jesus “the purposes (or will) of God are established.”  (2 Corinthians 1:20) We cannot begin to understand the mystery of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior and all that He is and does.
Jesus also introduces Himself in this letter as the “ruler of God’s creation”.   Scripture says this about Jesus Christ: “All things were made through Him (Jesus) and without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of humankind…” (John 1:3) One of Jesus’ Names is the “Word.” Scripture tells us that Jesus is part of the God Head.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1) “The Word became flesh (became a person) and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9) 
Jesus tells the church in Laodicea that they have a luke-warm faith! They are neither hot or cold! If our faith in Christ is worth anything, it is worth everything.  Christ expects us to love Him all the way – or not at all.  All or nothing.  There is no room for being on the fence!  No place for a watered- down belief. If we offer Him a boring half-hearted love, He may “spew us out of His mouth!”  Is Jesus only speaking to the church in Laodicea two thousand years ago, or is He speaking to some of us in His church today? 
Jesus warns the church in Laodicea that even though they think of themselves as being rich and having it all, the real truth is that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked! “ (Revelation 3:7) These Laodicean Christians are blind.  They can’t see themselves for what they really are!
Perhaps their physical needs are well provided for. And perhaps they wear fancy clothes, costly jewelry and keep themselves constantly entertained with games, wine and good food.  Perhaps all their money gives them power over others.  Perhaps they turn their backs on gross injustices and take bribes from wealthy donors to keep justice from being served.  But they say the right words, brag that they have “principles” and go to church every Sunday!  
Whatever this Laodicean church did, Jesus is not impressed!  Their souls are starving in the midst of all of their worldly abundance!   He bids them come to Him for spiritual riches. – “gold refined in the fire”.  Perhaps the fire refers to persecution and trouble.  When we follow Christ our precious faith will be “refined” through discipline.  Jesus tells them: “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.”  (Revelation 3:19) 
Jesus goes on to encourage the church in Laodicea to “buy white clothes from Him to cover their shameful nakedness” (Revelation 3:18) The white clothes refer to Jesus covering us with His righteousness.  White refers to purity.  When Jesus washes us then we are clean in Him.  Our sin is exchanged for His righteousness.  And He also calls the Laodicean church to buy “eye salve” from Him so that they can see.  – spiritually see. They are to give up their own wisdom and reason and resign themselves to His Word and Spirit, and their eyes will be opened. 
How does this Laodicean Church “buy” these gifts of gold, white clothes, and eye salve from our Lord Jesus?  Jesus tells them the answer, and that is to “Repent” (Revelation 3:19b) To turn from their worldly ways and come back to Him. He calls us to “buy” these gifts from Him also!
 And Jesus also tells the Laodicean Church that He stands at the door and knocks.  If they will just open the door and let Him in, He will dine and fellowship with them and they with Him.  (Revelation 3:20) And He will give them all that they need.  Our Lord Jesus Christ extends this same invitation to us too.  Oh, that we would open the door and let Him in.
Jesus closes His letter to the church in Laodicea with the call to “Overcome”.  He gives that same call to all of His churches.  And He gives that call to us today.  To repent and come back to Him. We will be overcomers through Him. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:22)  

Friday, February 9, 2018

Letters to the Churches in Revelation - Sardis and Philadelphia

Letters to the Churches in Revelation
Sardis and Philadelphia
The book of Revelation, the last book in our Bible, was written by the beloved disciple, John when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos.  The date is approximately 95 A.D., a time of great persecution and suffering for the Church. The Roman emperor demands that all the Christians in the Roman empire renounce Christ and worship him, their emperor, as their god.
 Some frightened Christians deny Christ and give in to the popular emperor worship.  Some Christians run away and try to hide from the brutal Roman soldiers who come with swords and spears to carry out the emperor’s orders.  But some Christians stand firm in their faith and refuse to deny their Lord and Savior.  These brave ones die painful deaths, often being burned at the stake as martyrs. 
It was during these terrible days of persecution and suffering for the believers that Jesus in all His glory appears to John and tells him to send letters from Him to each of His seven churches in Asia Minor.  We have already studied the first four letters that Christ gave to His churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira.  Today we will study Christ’s fifth and sixth letters to the churches of Sardis and Philadelphia. 
Here is Jesus’ short message to the church in Sardis.  “These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars(angels).  I know your deeds.  You have a reputation of being alive.  But you are dead!  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of God.  Remember therefore what you have received and heard.  Obey it and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothing.  They will walk with Me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.  I will never blot out his/her name from the Book of Life but will acknowledge his/her name before my Father, and His angels.  He/she who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:1-6)
Bible scholars say that Sardis is said to have been the first city that was converted by the preaching of John, the beloved disciple.  And sadly, the Sardis church was the first church that did not hold onto their precious Christian faith! Jesus tells them that they are dead!  It doesn’t get any worse than that, does it? Once the church in Sardis had the reputation of being so alive, Jesus says. What did they do to end up like this? So very sad!  How many other churches, today and down through the ages, were once thriving with truth and love and spiritual life, but turned away from the Truth and are now dead? 
Bible scholars say that Sardis was a city of great wealth and fame. Rich with material possessions but poor in the Spirit! Jesus sees that there are a very few people left in the church of Sardis who still love Him.  He encourages this small remnant and reminds them that they will walk in white robes (sinless purity) with Him in heaven and their names will be in the Book of Life. 
But Jesus begs His church in Sardis to repent and to strengthen what remains.  He loves them and wants His church back. Otherwise He says He will come as a thief.  When Christ’s Presence as Savior and Lord is no longer welcome in a church, He can come back to the church in His judgment. 
Jesus gives John the sixth letter to the Church of Philadelphia.  This is His message to this church.  “Here are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.  What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts, no one can open.  I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My Name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 
Since you have kept My commands to endure patiently, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming soon.  Hold onto what you have so that no one will take your crown.  Him who overcomes, I will make a pillar in the temple of My God.  Never again will he/she leave.  I will write on him /her the Name of My God, and the Name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of the heavens from My God, and I will also write on him/her My New Name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  (Revelation 3:7-13)
Jesus finds no fault in this church, the church of Philadelphia!   The name “Philadelphia” means “brotherly love.” This was its ancient name because of the love and kindness which the citizens had for one another.   Jesus opens a door of opportunity to the Church of Philadelphia.  And He reminds them of what He has done for them.  He opens doors for our church too. When He works, no one can hinder Him!  Are we aware that He is opening doors for us, or do we take these good gifts for granted?   Wicked people envy the open door of liberty and freedom that we Christians have. 
Jesus tells the Church of Philadelphia that they have little strength.  But true grace, though weak has His divine approval.  Christ would make this church’s enemies subject to her!  He tells them, “They shall worship at thy feet:” and “They shall know that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)  
Christ calls out to His seven churches to “overcome”.   He calls all of His churches then and now to “overcome”.  He will write His Name on the overcomer.   And He promises never to leave the ones in the seven churches who want to follow Him, - a precious promise that He gives to all of His followers.  He will never leave us.
In these letters to these churches, Jesus makes them many glorious promises if they will only stay with Him. Jesus Christ has so many amazing gifts He desires to shower onto His own.  These gifts are so over the top that we cannot even begin to take them in.
His followers are to reign and rule with Him!  To be His bride! The crooked ways are to be straightened.  And the dark things shall be made plain.  Grief and pain are banished. 
Only faintly now we see Him.  With the darkened veil between.  But a blessed Day is coming.  When His glory shall be seen!  What a Day that will be!