4) My Journey Through Revelation: The Church in Pergamum (Rev. 2:8-17)

“I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you have remained loyal to me.  You refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you there in Satan’s city.”  (Rev. 2:13) NLT

As I am reading through Revelation, I often wonder why all of these letters were included.  What is the main purpose for us knowing the content of these letters which held a specific message for a specific church?  The gist of each letter was to tell the churches that Jesus wants them to get their acts together.  If they kept to their ways, Christ would have no choice but to remove their lamp stands and the message of the Gospel would be lost forever.

The letters obviously did the trick, so what does this have to do with us?

Let’s find out.

The letter to the church in Pergamum is short but packed with so much wisdom.  At the start of the letter, Jesus praised the church for remaining faithful and obedient even after they witnessed one of their brothers being martyred for his faith.

The letter also tells us that this church’s address was in the same city where Satan had his throne.  Could you imagine living in the city where Satan had his throne?  His powerful influence kept this city’s air heavy with sin and blinded its citizens to kneel to a rule-set that flew in the face of Christ’s teachings.  As a believer, the oppression would have been both stifling and frightening.

The Church’s small voice attempting to shout warnings into this sea of blackness could easily get lost among the churning of the winds.

It is a good thing our God is not a God of good or bad odds.  In Pergamum, His flock is outnumbered, but numbers don’t mean much to Him.  Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed?  Miracles can occur if we are willing to close our eyes to our human measuring sticks and be willing to accept the vision of our King’s.

Jesus did have something against this church, though.  As strong as they were in their faith and obedience, they accepted some among them who still adhered to the teachings of Balaam—a false prophet.  This nasty man was hired by Balak, king of Moab, to bring a curse the Jews.  God protected the Jews from this curse.  Balaam then resorted to tricking the Jews into partaking in pleasures and practices that were not of God.  To make things worse, they also had those among them who still followed the teachings of the Nicolaitans. 

“Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Rev. 2:16-17) NIV

I am beginning to understand why we are receiving this particular letter and why it wasn’t just read and discarded into oblivion.  The comparison of what Jesus has against these churches, He also has against us.  If this church kept tolerating even a few who believed in these sinful teachings, their sickness would eventually pollute the believers around them.

Have you ever had a pint of strawberries that were plump and sweet?  I have noticed that when one starts going bad and it wasn’t caught early enough to remove, the rest seemed to quickly follow suit.  The ripe strawberries surrounding the rotten strawberry would turn wet and smooshy and end up in the trash.  My beautiful carton of strawberries suddenly decreased in number.

A teeny-tiny crack in the windshield could create a spiderweb effect in the glass if exposed to enough of the hot sun.

It really doesn’t take much to let things crumble.

These letters to the churches are just as relevant today as they were when first written.  Sin hasn’t changed much over the years.  While trying to adhere to God’s laws, we may allow ourselves a small sinful pleasure thinking nothing will come of it.  I mean after all, aren’t we mostly good?

The amazing pastor of a church who does great things and leads according to God’s Word suddenly finds himself in the headlines on the front page because of a small sin he allowed into his life.  The cancer grew and overtook his ministry, but He was mostly good, right?

How often are we “tricked” and led astray by turning our ear only slightly away from God to listen to the whisper of another who didn’t follow God’s laws? A few drinks a day  even though we have a family history of alcoholism: a quick peek on the internet of someone who isn’t our spouse: a married person’s acceptance of an invitation to have a bite after work to discuss the stresses from the day with a coworker of the opposite sex.

These small cracks can lead to so much more than we think.  When the unforeseeable becomes our new reality, Jesus would then have no choice but to use the sword of His mouth against the sin woven into the fabric of our souls.  We let in the enemy disguised as a small, innocent decision which allowed God to be slowly pushed out.

If we find ourselves shaking our heads at the place we’ve landed and see our souls now soaked with the darkness of the sin that has taken over, turn against the sin and towards your God.  Our God is not a God of odds, and He is able to do so much with so very little.  His Grace is sufficient, even if we see no way out.  We need to offer up our admissions and regrets to Him and through our repentance, He will turn back on the lights.

 

 

3) My Journey Through Revelation: The Church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)

It has been a while since I wrote anything.  The passing of my mom in January has completely thrown me for an emotional loop.  She was sick for a long time and I knew it was coming, but just as I had a few seconds to process I was going to hit the car that pulled out in front of me, neither one of these foresight’s helped to alleviate the pain once the moment of impact occurred.

Our God is a patient God, and I am now ready to continue my worship of Him through my writing.

“I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!  I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (Rev. 2:9-10 NIV)

Jesus is pretty straight forward with the church in Smyrna.  He begins with, “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last,” and ends with, “The one who is victorious will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:8, 2:11).

What is most interesting about this letter is there isn’t any reference to, “I hold this against you,” as we have observed in other letters in Revelation.  There is no call to change, repentance, or insight into what the church needs to start or stop doing in order for their church to be the light needed for the Gospel to spread.  All it talks about is encouraging them to keep fighting the good fight.  They are afflicted, impoverished, imprisoned, and persecuted, but they are rich!  It doesn’t sound like a country club that I want to belong to, but Jesus’ main concern is the second death——the life of eternity we choose to live when we don’t accept Jesus’ sacrifice.  We should have much more fear of that spiritual second death than our first death of the human body.   

This side of Heaven we weren’t promised an easy life.  We live our lot because we chose to leave Eden.  I scrub toilets, pick out those pesky weeds from my flowerbeds, and watched a snake recently swallow a Robin whole from a nest above my front door because we chose to leave the perfection God planned for us.  We chose to live in a sin-packed world, and it stinks!  Animals must eat and weeds were given roots too, but I long for Eden.  I long for God’s vision of eternal life because this world just leaves me wanting.

There is a lot to take away from Smyrna’s letter.  How often do we covet our neighbors luck or things?  How many times have we cursed our place in life or been frustrated by closed doors?  Smyrna had a lot more to grieve than these small afflictions, and Jesus was giving them encouragement to keep going.  Their riches were not counted on this side of Heaven but instead, they are counted in the place where Jesus dwells.  A place that has no more death!

Truly, what do we have to fear?  Our human bodies wear out and death is inevitable for 100% of the population, but God did give us a promise on this side of Heaven when He sent His Son to pay for our sin punishment.  He promised there will be eternal life if we accept Jesus’ gift on the cross.  Look around.  We will die and we do live in a sin-packed world.  Our local news starts with the stabbings and shootings of the day and ends with sports or a funny/touching story.  It is hard to wrap our minds around the good and evil that continually dances around us from birth to death, but still Jesus asks us not to fear.  He has made a way for us.

Which second death would you like to face?  The one where Jesus promises eternal life and we never have to fear death again, or the one we chose when we decide not to accept God’s promises?  The church in Smyrna is being persecuted unto death.  We get upset when our neighbor pulls into their driveway with a better car than we own, or we get passed over for a promotion.  Our acceptance of Jesus in the U.S. so far doesn’t come with the fear of being thrown into prison or killed as in many other places around the world.  We are living in a time where Christians are persecuted and killed more often than any other time in our history combined.  We are so far removed from that reality that we are quietly lulled into a life of complacency.  Our possibility of a second death in the lake of fire doesn’t seem that scary.  Our eternity can wait while we enjoy the spoils of this life.  

Jesus is encouraging you to stay faithful, to walk the path He has lit for you, and to wear his love, mercy, and grace like a cloak around your body because He loves you that much.  His wish is for none of us to perish and everyone lives an eternity with Him.  Adam and Eve were given a choice and so are we.  Their choice affected all of human existence, but our choice affects our own personal eternal existence.  Be encouraged that Christ has you in His hands, believe in Him, and He will walk you into paradise. 

 

 

2) My Journey Through Revelation: The Church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7)

“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp-stands is this:  The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.”  (Rev. 1:20)

My journey through Revelation began with Jesus literally illuminating His authority.  In chapter one, John says Jesus’ eyes were blazing fire and a sharp double-edged sword protruded out of His mouth.  Jesus wanted it to be known His message was to be heeded and obeyed.

I used to tell my mom that she could look at me from across a busy room and just by her look, I knew I’d better stop doing what was making her unhappy.  She might as well have had a double-edged sword coming out of her mouth because just by her look, I heeded and obeyed.  Jesus had more than a look.  Every part of His body was described from His hair (white like wool) to His feet (bronze glowing in a furnace), so we should probably listen carefully to what He has to say.

In chapter two, Jesus gets right to the point.  The number seven signifies perfection, and I don’t think it was by any accident that there are seven original churches (lamp-stands) by which Christianity was spread throughout the world.  The seven lamp-stands represent each church and the seven stars represent the angels of each of the churches.  The Greek word angelos means “messenger,” but it is not clear exactly who is the messenger of the church.  The messenger could be an actual angel (not exactly sure why a letter would have to be written to an angel.  Wouldn’t they just know what Jesus wanted?), the leaders in the church, or anyone who read and relayed the message to the congregation.  I’ve read various articles and everyone is in agreement that no one is sure.  This is where our need to know isn’t necessarily important.  It’s the content of the letter we are privy to that is described with such clarity that should be the focus of our attention.  We, along with the church in Ephesus, need to take heed of their message.

I just love how Jesus starts out with a positive.  That’s how I teach my students:

“Let’s talk about what you are doing right.  Great job!  Keep that up!”

Then we focus on the areas we need to strengthen.  If I just focused on my student’s areas of strength, the weight of their areas of weakness would eventually frustrate and bring down what is working well.  Growth will cease unless they are challenged to grow in every area—not just what comes easily.

This is what the church in Ephesus was doing right:

  • Good deeds, hard work, perseverance
  • Not tolerating wicked men
  • Testing those who claimed to be apostles and proving their falsehood
  • Enduring hardships in the name of Jesus without showing weariness.
  • Hating the practices of the Nicolaitans (people who ate food sacrificed to idols and sexually sinned as a form of their church doctrine).

This is what the church in Ephesus was doing wrong:

“Yet I hold this against you:” (Rev. 2:4)

  • They have forsaken their first love
  • They have fallen from the heights of this love into a place unacceptable by Jesus

If they do not repent and turn back to their first love, Jesus will remove their lamp-stand.

The first thing that struck me was man, that’s harsh!  Look at all of the great things they were doing.  Then I realized what I was saying to myself.  It’s that works belief again.  We can’t earn salvation by what we do.  They were doing great things and persevering through hardships, but where was the love?  Without love, the drive will eventually fizzle out and the works will end.  Their ability to be a light will fade and 2000 years later I may not be writing about my love for Jesus.  It would be more like, “Jesus who?”  They needed to return to their first love and remember what all of their efforts are for.  A car driving 70 mph with the oil running low will eventually burn out the engine.  Works without love is eventually going to die.  Our future salvation depends on knowing about our great Savior!  Thank you, Jesus, for being harsh and honest and demanding more from Ephesus.

Now, it’s easy to say, “Yeah!  Works without love don’t really matter, Ephesus!  Get with the program!” but what about our time today?  How many churches have the heart beating just a little slower, the congregation too busy doing God’s work to notice the hurting member sitting right next to them, or tallying up the good deed’s points and forgetting it’s in His name we do these things?  How many lamp-stands are facing the threat of being snuffed out right under their noses?

When I think of God referring to the churches as lamp-stands, the obvious reference is to spreading light.  Lamp-stands cast light beyond their original source while exposing all within the proximity of its circumference.  The more lamps, the more light can be spread.

During the time of Ephesus, there was much darkness.  The truth of Jesus’ life and sacrifice hadn’t spread across the globe, yet.  It was only illuminated within the circumference of their lamp-stand.  Jesus message and truths were only concentrated among these seven lamp-stands who were attempting to shine and expose the dark within their circle of reach.  Jesus is giving them instruction because through these churches, the truth will eventually spread.  Without these churches, it would scatter into history as another legend or dissipate like a vapor in the wind.  Our salvation depends upon these churches thriving and burning brightly.

I can’t help but to compare the then to the now.  The seven churches’ purpose was to light other wicks so the truth message would spread. One by one lights have been lit, re-lit, and shared until His message found me and you in our lifetime.  That was the then—a forward spreading of the flame of His Word.

In the now, it seems like our lamps are wavering and flickering.  There is less oxygen to keep the flames strong and bright.  Our wicks are getting smaller and our lights are getting dimmer.  Instead of spreading light, we are going in the opposite direction and one by one our lamps are being extinguished.  Where once the light was spreading, it’s now getting darker one puff of air at a time, one wick shortened from broken faith, one cracked globe from stepping away from our original love, one sin that is now acceptable.  We are snuffing out light after light and reversing ourselves back into a time before Jesus’ life and message mattered.  For a forward moving world, we are sitting in the dark and not even knowing it.

We have a lot to learn from the message in Ephesus.  When Jesus said, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7), I don’t think it was only their ears He was referring to.  If that were so, what would be the purpose of us knowing the content of their letter?

Jesus ends with, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).  Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden because God did not want them to eat from the tree of life.  Here we are given an open invitation to come and taste if we are only willing to heed and obey.

1) My Journey Through Revelation (Rev. 1:1-19)

“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Rev. 1:3)

I am not a theologian, and I don’t play one on TV.  I never went to Bible school or claimed to have an in-depth understanding of the totality of the Bible.  I am a sinner saved by Grace.  Those are my only qualifications.  We are asked to read the Bible because it is God’s voice speaking to us, and we are told that those who read will be blessed and fed by the Holy Word of God.  His Word is active and alive and it’s only when we open its pages will we feel the closest to our Holy Father.

That being said, how many of us wanted to shave off Revelation from the end of the book because man, it seems complicated!  John saw things his mind could only comprehend in the Spirit and attempted to use layman terms to describe what He saw.  It is probably similar to us trying to use age-appropriate vocabulary to explain to a two-year-old the gist of quantum physics.  At least that is how I feel when I read Revelation.  The above scripture, however, didn’t say “Blessed is the Bible scholar” or “Blessed is the theologian,” it says, “Blessed is the ONE” (emphasis mine).

Lately, God has been stirring in me to read His Word and specifically the book of Revelation.  He has given me a peace to enter into its pages and not stress about what my human brain can’t fully comprehend.  You and I are asked to read it anyway.  I am going to blog my journey through Revelation, and I would love to hear your insights and thoughts to your understanding of this Book.  My heart is eager to learn what my mind is trying to understand.

When I opened to the first chapter, I felt for John.  I imagined how scared, exhilarated, and bewildered John must have felt when Jesus called upon him.  Being exiled to the island of Patmos, John was probably  finding his “new normal” and going about his business.  Without warning,  John instantly transitioned into the Spirit.  Turning around, he saw his Savior unlike any other time he saw him before: hair like white wool, eyes blazing fire, bronze feet glowing in a furnace, voice like rushing waters, and a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth (Rev. 1:14-16).  No wonder John fell to the ground at his feet.

Jesus doesn’t mince words, either; He gets right to the point.  John is asked to write down what he hears and sees (thank you, John, for trying your best so we can better understand) and his first entry targeted the seven churches.

I read through Jesus’ encouragement and admonishment of what these seven churches excelled and failed to do and determined Jesus really needed these churches to shape up or ship out, so to speak.  After my third time reading through the letters, I realized He was also speaking to US!  Our Bible’s practicality reaches far past the copy-write date, and this is no exception.

I heard a scary statistic at church a few weeks ago.  We are one generation away from our churches closing their doors because as our children exit Sunday service with their backs to the front door, that is where they are remaining.  We have an exodus of people leaving the physical building of the church and its people.  How could this be?

If Jesus called someone else into the Spirit today and had them write letters to us, I have a feeling they would sound very similar to what was spoken in the letters to the seven churches.  I am going to read through each letter slowly, and pray for God’s wisdom and understanding.

And so my journey continues…