Opening prayer: Father, it's so difficult to know Your will in these hectic days. Open our hearts to get a fresh revelation of Your Son, Jesus, we pray.
This lesson will wrap up Jesus' picture of "the things that are" and pave the way to "the things that will shortly take place." If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our lessons on Revelation 1 and "Are We There Yet, Daddy?".
I know you're anxious to get to the future stuff, but please be patient. When I first came to the Lord, it was hard for me to sit still through chapters 2 and 3 of this letter. I wanted to zoom ahead to the "good stuff." Now I realize that chapters 2 and 3 are the good stuff -- a revelation of our Lord's love for us right now, as we walk this earth.
Let's begin in Revelation chapter 2, verses 1-3:To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for My name, and have not grown weary.
Notice that verse two begins "I know your deeds..." In all seven letters, Jesus announces that He knows His followers and knows all that they have done in His name. Encouraging. Sobering. And as Chuck Missler is fond of saying, all seven churches were surprised by what Jesus told them.
The church in Ephesus is a picture of many honest, hard-working Christians in denominational churches. They are born again, have sound doctrine and good discernment. They have good character, do not tolerate sinful practices and have endured persecution for the sake of the gospel. Does that sound like you?
Now let's read verses 4-7 and see if you still recognize yourself:Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
This passage was a real wake-up call for me personally. The Holy Spirit nudged me in the ribs and reminded me how easy it is to "forsake your first love."
Do you remember falling in love the first time? The sun rose and set on your sweetheart's face. The clouds were whiter, the air was fresher, and you couldn't wait to be with your loved one again. Within a few months or years, however, the clouds grew duller, the smog returned, and you couldn't wait for your sweetie to leave so you could watch your favorite TV show.
Nothing unusual. That's the way our fallen nature works. Without God's help, we cannot sustain the intensity of any love relationship. If we don't constantly seek His face and His voice, we can get wrapped up in doing "good" and miss what Jesus called "the best part."
Note Jesus' warning concerning this:5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place.
Note especially the consequences of not repenting. We can lose our place of ministry. The oil of the Holy Spirit no longer fills our lamps. We still consciously remember what we used to say and do during our "first love" days. But instead of the living Word of God, we dispense orthodoxy and dead doctrine.
The good news is that we can repent. We can spend extra devotional time the next few days, asking the Lord to show us the true condition of our relationship with Him. He will.
Now let's look at what our Lord says to the second church:"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 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 the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Notice that Jesus begins with "I know your afflictions..." Here's proof that God knows all about our problems -- in advance! -- and lets them happen anyway! So should we jump up and down and get angry with the God who created us? I don't think so. Jesus gently advises that if we endure persecution, even if it leads to death, our reward will be no less than "the crown of life," and that we "will not be hurt at all by the second death."
This is an astonishing message, absolutely foreign to the ears of American church-goers. We've grown fat and lazy. We don't want to hear anything that makes us uncomfortable. We want to hear "nice" messages about joy and peace and love. We don't want to hear about the spiritual battle that is raging all around us.
What about that "synagogue of Satan" stuff? Does that have anything to do with today's Jewish people?
Nope. It refers to people who act religious ("Isn't he a nice man!") but whose hearts are untouched by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. These people act nice until they encounter genuine Christians. Then the attacks begin, subtly at first, poisoning the hearts of like-minded folks. In most non-English-speaking countries, born-again believers routinely suffer physical attacks, beatings, false imprisonment and even martyrdom. These believers will receive the crown of life from the hand of our Lord Himself. Pampered, soft American believers will get the spiritual equivalent of a baby rattle.
So what's your point, teacher?
Take a hint from the many, many Scriptures which tell you to rejoice when you suffer persecution for Jesus' sake. Or any other setback in life. Praise God that He trusts you to trust Him despite the affliction. It means He wants to give you a very special crown that you will literally cherish always.
Verses 12 through 17 are Jesus' message to the third church:To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live--where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to My name. You did not renounce your faith in Me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city--where Satan lives. 14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
Those of us living in Southern California can relate to parts of this message. There are countless religious cult groups and witchcraft groups in this area. At certain times and places, the presence of evil seems almost tangible. And of course, sexual immorality is rampant on a staggering scale.
So take notice that Jesus is addressing a church group with these elements inside of it. Jesus begins by saying "I know where you live...you remain true to My name." These are true and faithful believers. He commends them for enduring persecution without wavering, like the church at Smyrna. Yet He is very blunt in condemning their "tolerance" of sin within the church group itself.
As before, He offers a special reward to those who overcome the temptation to compromise. In fact, the reward is so special that only those who receive it could possibly understand it. The Lord has a reward like that for you -- something so special and unique that even your spouse wouldn't understand. Rejoice and praise the Lord in your time of testing. He will give you strength to endure. He will reward your faithfulness. The Lord Himself will call you by a special "pet" name that only you and He will ever know! Imagine that, if you can.
Let's continue with Chapter 2, verses 18 through 29:To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols... 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25 Only hold on to what you have until I come. 26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations -- 27 `He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' -- just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
This is a very long message, so there must be something very important here.
Notice, first of all, that sexual immorality is again used as a weapon by the enemy of our souls. It is a very powerful weapon. We must heed Paul's advice to "flee youthful lusts..." Don't give it a chance to start eroding your moral foundation.
Notice, too, that Jesus promises a very special reward to those believers with enough backbone to resist temptation to the end. To them, He will give a portion of "authority over the nations" -- high positions of responsibility during His 1000 year reign. Maybe you will be Secretary of the Treasury. Or governor of Hawaii. Or mayor of Acapulco. Important jobs are nice, but you can have mine. I'm just hoping to be a servant somewhere near the Lord. All I want is Jesus.
Now we start chapter 3 with a message to the fifth church:"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of My God. 3 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. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and His angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
As before, Jesus begins with "I know..." But this time, He strongly rebukes the church for its hypocrisy. The congregation is well regarded in the community, but God knows they're missing the mark badly. In fact, the underachievers have become so dominant in church government that Jesus admonishes: "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die."
Does your local church feel like that sometimes? Cheer up and notice verse 4 above. You're not alone. Even in questionable denominations there are usually saints of God (like you!) who love Him and are faithful to His Word. Stay faithful to the Lord and do not become soiled by the hypocrites. And Jesus Himself will acknowledge your name before the Father and His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The next message is to the church whose name literally means brotherly love:To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These 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. 8 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. 9 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. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of My God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him My new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
In marked contrast to the previous message, Jesus doesn't find anything negative to say to the church at Philadelphia. In fact, this message contains a startling promise in verse 10:Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
Why is that so special?
Because it gives some remarkable hints about the future of the Church. Jesus is clearly saying that those who endure steadfastly, in faith, will not have to endure the seven-year tribulation known as Daniel's 70th week. The Bible is very clear that "alive and awake" Christians will be taken to Heaven in the next rapture event, so we will escape that "hour of trial."
What hour of trial is that?
The Bible is filled with prophecies about the seven years of tribulation, including the 3.5-year Great Tribulation culminating in the "Day of the Lord." This "Day" will not be a pleasant 24-hour civic holiday or even a 3-day holiday weekend. The Day of the Lord will be a series of events that will bring an end to human history as we know it. The Good News is that after the seven years, Jesus Himself will return to the earth to rule and reign as King. The Bad News is that the last seven years of human history will be the absolutely worst time in history.
Why would a loving God do something like that to the world?
The short answer to your question is that the world deserves it. The medium-length answer is that God has been patiently waiting for thousands of years, to give as many people as possible a chance to repent and put their faith in Him. The long answer is in a separate lesson, The Day of the Lord.
Remember that Jesus taught us to pray: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." God's will for your life is that you spend eternity with Him, in His kingdom. Remember that Jesus went to the cross on our behalf, and "for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame." (Hebrews 12:2) That joy, which is still future as of this writing (August 2012), is a kingdom that includes you and me. When we pray for God's will to be done, we must remember how He has waited for that kingdom which awaits us on the other side of The Day of The Lord.
In summary, in a very few years nobody will "Have a nice day." However, it's not too late to put your faith in the Lord and patiently endure persecution and difficult times (if necessary) for the few remaining weeks or years. The Lord Himself promises to "keep you from that hour of trial." Amen. You can read more about the next Rapture event in this lesson.
Chapter 3 concludes with a startling letter: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. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 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. 18 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. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 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. 21 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. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Why do you say this is "startling" letter?
Because in those days, the church at Laodicea thought they had it all together. They had health, wealth and prosperity, just like some modern-day TV "faith preachers" advocate. Like Job's counselors, these believers thought their prosperity was a sign of God's approval, and that poverty and persecution were signs of weak faith or maybe even concealed sin.
Remember that in the previous letters, Jesus has praised those who remained steadfast and faithful to Him despite persecution. To these fat, over-fed believers (and to overly comfortable American believers), He has quite a different message:
- A lukewarm heart for the Lord is NOT better than no faith at all. God does NOT like religious people just because they're clean-looking, drive nice cars, donate to nice church buildings, and act "nice." "Nice" people make Him sick. "Nice" people crucified Jesus because He refused to bow down and worship their man-made religious system. "Nice" people looked the other way when the Nazis rounded up Jews and Christians like cattle and sent them to concentration camps. "Nice" people will round up Christians and Jews like cattle (in a very few years) and execute them as "enemies of the state" for not bowing down and worshiping their religious/political system.
- Prosperity is a gift from God, but it is not necessarily a sign of God's approval. You already know this, so we don't need to elaborate.
- Amazingly enough, Jesus still passionately loved these lukewarm saints. And He passionately loves you and me. Admit it: most of us go through periods of lukewarmness where we become out-of-touch with our "first love." Maybe you don't, but I sure do. Somehow, Jesus still loves you and me and offers us "gold refined in the fire and white clothes to wear..."
- Because He loves us, He sends us times of "rebuke and discipline." His goal is not punishment. He wants us to "be earnest, and repent."
- Even though we sometimes make Him sick by our lukewarmness, Jesus says: "Behold! 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." This is one of the most-quoted and mis-quoted passages in the Bible. This is NOT a message to unbelievers. In this context, Jesus is talking to Christians whose lukewarm devotion to Him has left Him OUTSIDE the door of their hearts. Don't leave Him there. Open your heart now and receive the blessings of sweet fellowship with the Lord of the universe.
This concludes the section on the "things that are." Our next lesson begins to look forward, to the things which shall shortly come to pass.
Closing Prayer: Lord, we have gotten busy with our work stuff and our church stuff. Lord, we have left you outside while we lavished our best efforts on others besides You. Please come in today, and dine with us, and give us new life in you. Amen.