Monday, February 14, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Truth)

Part 6 of a series through the book of Revelation

TRUTH OR COMPROMISE?

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write....” (v. 12a).

Jesus describes the city of Pergamum as “Satan’s throne” (v. 13). It was a city consumed with idolatry. Pergamum was home to a temple dedicated to “the divine Augustus and the goddess Roman,” another temple dedicated to Asclepius (the god of healing, who carried a serpent-entwined staff; cf. Revelation 12:9; 20:2), and a large altar dedicated to Zeus (ESV Study Bible).

The church in Pergamum faced both internal and external opposition.

Christ expects us to uphold the truth and refuse to compromise, no matter the pressure.

Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, is an example of someone who has felt the pressure to compromise the truth.

On June 20, 2005, Joel Osteen appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live and was asked if faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. Osteen’s reply: “I’m going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell.” Later, Osteen apologized for his disappointing answer. He returned to Larry King Live on December 22, 2006, and stated, “I believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven.”

On January 26, 2011, Osteen appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight and was asked if he believes that homosexuality is a sin. Osteen’s answer: “I don’t believe homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life.”

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO A WAVERING CHURCH

In Christ’s message to the church in Pergamum, we find three reminders for those feeling the pressure to compromise.

When you feel pressured to compromise, remember…

1. Christ is the right one to please.

“The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (vv. 12b-13).

Pleasing both Christ and the world is not always possible. A man in Pergamum named Antipas was not able to please both. He was killed for his faithfulness to Christ (“martyr,” martoos, means “witness”). According to Christian tradition, Antipas was slowly roasted to death in a brazen bowl.

Paul wrote that government bears “the sword” (Romans 13:4). This was known as ius gladii (“the right of the sword”). The Roman government had the power to execute, but Christ, the One “who has the sharp two-edged sword,” is the ultimate authority. In John’s vision of the second coming, “from [Christ’s] mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” (Revelation 19:15; cf. v. 21; Isaiah 11:4; 49:2). But Jesus is not only the judge of the world; He is also the judge of the compromising church.

2. Compromise never has a happy ending.

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (vv. 14-16).

Balaam is the prototype of all false teachers who lead believers into compromise.

“While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods” (Numbers 25:1 NIV).

“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD” (Numbers 31:16).

“And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand” (Numbers 22:23). (Many scholars believe “the angel of the LORD” in the OT is Christ.)

Balaam was killed “with the sword” (Numbers 31:8).

3. What can be gained in the present by compromise is nothing compared to the future Christ has planned for us.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (v. 17).

Compromising is short-sighted.

Those who are faithful to Christ will receive “the hidden manna” and “a white stone.”

Manna is what the Israelites ate in the wilderness. A jar of manna was “hidden” in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 16:34). Manna is called “the bread of angels” (Psalm 78:25). The “hidden manna” could refer to the meal with Christ that will be “hidden” until the end of time—the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).

In ancient times, a white stone was used to gain entrance (like a ticket) to banquets. Those who put their faith in Christ will be admitted to the banquet of Christ.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Faithfulness)

Part 5 of a series through the book of Revelation

WHAT IF?

The second church Jesus addresses in Revelation is the church in Smyrna. This church was a persecuted church.

Persecution of Christians still exists today. According to one recent estimate, 100 million Christians presently face persecution. These persecuted Christians live in countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, India, Nigeria, and China. Right now, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, is sentenced to death for blasphemy.

What if you were faced with the decision to either deny Christ and live or remain faithful to Christ and die? What would you do?

Jesus expects us to be faithful to Him, no matter the circumstances and no matter the consequences.

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO A SUFFERING CHURCH

Smyrna is the only city of the seven that still exists today (Izmir).

Among the seven churches in Asia, the church in Smyrna is one of only two churches that Christ does not rebuke. The other church not rebuked is the church in Philadelphia. Surprisingly, these two churches were the least significant of the seven in terms of numbers and influence. The lesson? It’s more important to be faithful than to be powerful.

The message to the church in Smyrna gives us four reasons to be faithful to Christ during times of suffering:

1. When you suffer, Christ is still in control.

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life” (v. 8).

The title “the first and the last” is found in the book of Isaiah. “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and the last; besides me there is no god’” (Isaiah 44:6; cf. 48:12).

When you suffer, God hasn’t forgotten about you. Even in suffering, He can work out His plan for our lives. Jesus recognized this truth. Before His crucifixion, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

2. When you suffer, Christ is still able to bless.

“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation” (vv. 9-10a).

The Christians in Smyrna were experiencing “tribulation,” “poverty” (they were poor economically but rich spiritually--in contrast to the Laodiceans, 3:17), and “slander.” We view these things as problems, but Jesus sees them as strengths. He is able to use suffering to bless. The greatest example of blessing coming out of suffering is the cross.

We often pray, “Lord, thank You for the freedom we have to worship” (as we should). But if we didn’t enjoy this freedom, would we pray, “Lord, thank You for persecution”? Many years ago, Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Apologeticus). Persecution purifies and grows the church.

The slander against the church was coming from Jews in Smyrna. The city had a large Jewish population. Smyrna was a center for emperor worship. (Only Jews were exempt from worshiping the emperor.) The Jews may have been informing the Roman authorities of the Christians’ refusal to participate in worship of the emperor. These Jews considered themselves the people of God, but they were actually doing the work of Satan (“adversary”). Jesus calls them the “synagogue of Satan.” (Christians should never promote anti-Semitism. Both Jesus and John were Jews.)

Would the church be “tested” by God or the devil? Perhaps both. The Greek word for “tested” (peirazo) can mean either “tested” or “tempted.” So the “tribulation” may be a “test” from God and a “temptation” from Satan. God will “test” their faith, and Satan will “tempt” them to abandon their faith. Whenever we suffer, it is both a test and a temptation.

The “ten days” may be symbolic, referring to a manageable period of time. (The “ten days” may be an allusion to Daniel’s ten-day “test” in Daniel 1:12-14). The time of tribulation for the Christians in Smyrna would be limited to "ten days." (However there was no guarantee that the imprisonment would end in freedom. There was the possibility of martyrdom.) “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

3. When you suffer, you have the promise of a reward.

“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (v. 10b).

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it’” (Mark 8:34-35).

Smyrna was famous for its games. The prize for the victor was a crow (or olive wreath). The apostle Paul, who was probably a sports fan, wrote, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25 NIV).

Those who remain faithful to Christ will be given the “crown of life.” “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV).

Many people work extremely hard to earn a prize or reward (gold medal, university degree, etc.). Shouldn’t we strive to win the crown of life? There will be no greater honor than to receive a crown from Jesus.

4. When you suffer, you have the hope of ultimate relief.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers [overcomes] will not be hurt by the second death” (v. 11).

What is the “second death”? “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power.... Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:6a, 14; cf. 21:8).

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Be faithful to Christ, not fearful of man.

In verse 8, Jesus is described as the One “who died and came to life.” We will die—some Christians will even by martyred—but death is not the end. It’s only the beginning.

“Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’ (Revelation 14:12-13).

FAITHFUL TO THE END

In Smyrna, there was a disciple of John named Polycarp (69 – 155 A.D.). Later, he became the bishop of the church in Smyrna. Polycarp was burned at the stake for refusing to renounce Christ and proclaim, “Caesar is Lord.”

“For eighty-six years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:3).

“You threaten with fire which burns for a season and after a little while is quenched: for you are ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will” (11:2).

Are you willing to be faithful to Christ, no matter the circumstances and no matter the consequences?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Revelation of Christ's Expectations (Love)

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

Christ expects His church to be full of love for Himself and others.

“Love” (agape) is selfless love.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Love is demonstrated by your actions (priorities).

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).

CHRIST’S FIRST MESSAGE

Here are the details of Christ’s first message:

CHURCH: Christ addresses the church in Ephesus.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write” (v. 1a).

The church in Ephesus was established by Priscilla and Aquila, who had been left there by Paul in A.D. 52 and were aided by Apollos (Acts 18:18-25). Paul returned and spend two years and three months there (Acts 19), apparently using Ephesus as a center for evangelizing the whole region (19:10). Later, Timothy and then John ministered in Ephesus.

Ephesus was a prominent city (population of 250,000). It was famous for the temple of Artemis/Diana (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; Acts 19:23-41).

DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST: He has authority over and awareness of the churches.

“‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands’” (v. 1b).

PRAISE: They love the truth and refuse to give up.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary’” (vv. 2-3).

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16a).

“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).

The Ephesians had struggled with false teaching. “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).

Paul urged Timothy to promote correct doctrine in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-7). The Ephesians eventually corrected their earlier problem, but they became cold in their orthodoxy.

REBUKE: They have abandoned their first love.

“‘But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first’” (v. 4).

Is Jesus talking about love for Himself or others? Probably both. “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:19-21).

“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride…” (Jeremiah 2:2a).

In a marriage, love can cool. The Ephesians did not make a conscious decision to abandon their “first love,” but over time their love for Christ and others had grown cold.

Without love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

SOLUTION: They need to remember, repent, and repeat.

“‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first’” (v. 5a).

WARNING: They are in danger of ceasing to exist as a church.

“‘If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate’” (vv. 5b-6).

Being a “lampstand” (providing light) is an act of love. (The “two witnesses” (Revelation 11) are symbolized by “two lampstands,” v. 4.) Jesus said, “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it give light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16). When a church stops proclaiming light through its words and actions, it ceases to be a church.

PROMISE: Conquerors are promised eternal life.

“‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is the paradise of God’” (v. 7).

The “tree of life” is a symbol of eternal life (Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24; Revelation 22:2).

“Who is he who overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5). The “conqueror” (“overcomer”) is one who is faithful to Christ. (Eternal life is not a reward for faithfulness. Eternal life is a gift of God’s grace.)

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Do you love the truth more than you love Christ and others?

Has your love cooled?

Are you being a lampstand (displaying Christ’s light) through words and actions of love?