Not Ashamed


I remember when I was a young boy and how my mother used to teach me the Bible. Many scriptures were a part of that learning process, but there was one that seemed to have the most impact on me. It was Mark 8:38:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

Do you know why this scripture had such an impact upon me?

Because, it placed me right in the middle of my fears. You see, I cared very deeply how I was viewed by my friends and the people around me. My whole self view was very deeply wrapped up in other’s opinions of me. We all have a need to be loved, but I had a need to be liked. To be ostracized or ridiculed by the people I wanted to be accepted by was one of the worst things that could happen to me.

Now, at the same time, I read the words of Jesus in which He states that those who are ashamed of Him in this world of those He will be ashamed of before His Father when He returns.

Wow! This placed me in a tough situation. I didn’t want my friends to think I was “weird” but I also didn’t want to go to hell. The competing desires left me stressed about what I was going to do.

The stress that I was going through is not restricted to me or to a certain period in life. Many people struggle with this stress – , older people, younger folks, kids. Fear knows no age restriction.

You see, Satan has a hierarchy of goals in your life.

The first goal is to keep you from going to heaven. If he accomplishes this goal, then he succeeds in getting you to serve him. Fear of other people’s opinions is a powerful tool toward accomplishing that goal.

If you are saved, he cannot accomplish that goal. So, he moves on to goal number two:

To make you ineffective in reaching others for the kingdom of God.

He uses many tools against the believer to accomplish his purpose. He seeks to get the believer to focus on self. If he can get you to focus on what you don’t have, then he can steal the fruit of the Spirit from your life. Without the fruit of the Spirit, you don’t have the power to reach anyone.

Satan also seeks to get the believer bound up by what other people think of them. If he can succeed in making you a man-pleaser, then he can stop you from being used by God to further the kingdom of God.

Galatians 1:10 AMP: Now am I trying to win the favor of men, or of God? Do I seek to please men? If I were still seeking popularity with men, I should not be a bond servant of Christ (the Messiah).

Notice how Paul uses the past tense when speaking of his fear of man. Paul stated that a desire for popularity with men was in direct conflict with a life that is pleasing to God. His words are so strong that the point is made that he could not be a servant of Christ and please man at the same time!

What does it mean to be ashamed?

Properly, disgraced, like someone “singled out” because they misplaced their confidence or support (“believed the big lie”); to be ashamed (personally humiliated).

Singled out for humiliation because you believed “the big lie”?

Did you notice something here?

You cannot be ashamed of Christ unless you believe at some level that what Jesus has told you is “the big lie”.

If you are solid in your faith of who Christ is; who you are in Him; and are assured that what He says is true, then you will be confident and will instead believe that those who don’t believe Christ are those who are deceived!

Yet, many of us have a goal to be liked. Oh, I know, we hide these desires behind deceptions concocted by the enemy. It would be intolerant to speak of something as the truth if someone else doesn’t want to believe it.

Well, the problem with tolerance is that it has been marketed as the loving response to those who don’t believe when in reality; it is a fearful and selfish response to the truth!

If you know someone is dying without Jesus, how is it loving not to tell them and to give them the solution?

What type of people have we become?

Our fear of man and desire to please people above all bears no resemblance to the icons and examples of our faith.

Jesus had no problem sharing the truth to the religious and the nonreligious. How strong is it to look Pilate right in the eye and defy his control over you?

What about the apostles? If they were man-pleasers, none of you would have ever heard the Name Jesus!

If God’s people doubt the veracity of His words, no wonder we are not in revival!

Now, if you are going to stand before your friends at the final judgment – if they hold your eternal destiny in their hands, then I will recant my words. We are giving people way more power than they deserve!

A funny thing happens on the way to freedom from the opinions of others – you can actually love people at a greater level than you can when you are afraid of them!

 I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. Romans 1:16

If I am ashamed, I am thinking only of myself and not those who will be lost without Jesus. 

Lord, help me to love others more than I care about my own popularity!

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Mishandling the Move of the Spirit


I want to share something with you that I spoke about recently. The story is original to me but the five ways we mishandled the move of God is not original to me. They come from an article that appeared in Charisma News in an opinion piece written by J. Lee Grady in May of 2016. The truth is timeless and bears repeating so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

In the early 1980’s, I owned a restaurant in the town I lived in. Having a restaurant afforded me the opportunity to hear the “town gossip”. There was a church in town that I used to hear a lot about – most of what I heard was negative because the church was growing and disrupting traffic according to the locals. I was not saved at the time, but I didn’t really have a problem with the church attracting people. It brought business to my restaurant.

On Valentine’s Day of 1984, I walked into the office of the church I had been hearing about, looking for help with my life. It was that day that God saved me. What I didn’t really realize at the time was that I had been saved right in the middle of a move of the Spirit. As I began to attend the church, I saw hundreds of people giving their life to the Lord and saw many hungry people from churches who didn’t believe in the move of the Spirit come to the church seeking more. I received the equivalent of a “master’s education” ministering in that church and learning from the leadership.

What was happening in our church was also happening in many churches around the country. When God begins to move, Satan always seeks to corrupt the move of God by tempting and manipulating the people in the move into sin so that God has to discipline the people and remove His hand of blessing. This is what happened to the move of God I was a part of.

I believe God is going to visit again soon, so we must prepare now to avoid the mistakes of the past. I’ll begin by taking a look at a man whose zeal for the move of the Spirit superceeded the temptations Satan sent his way.

The man is Elisha. He helped Naaman the Syrian but refused the honor and gifts Naaman sought to bestow upon Elisha.

I not only love the following words of Elijah but believe they are a mantra for the next move of God:

Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants? 2 Kings 5:26

These are the words of the prophet of the double-portion of God’s Spirit. Elisha was not about to “sell out” the move of God for anything. If we are going to handle the spirit of Elijah correctly, we better have the spirit of Elisha.

Here are five ways we mishandled the outpouring of the Spirit in the last season:

  1. We exploited it.

The first attempt at quenching the Spirit’s power in the New Testament church was made by Ananias and Sapphira, who were full of greed (Acts 5:1-11). The same thing happened to the charismatic movement in the 1980’s, when prosperity preachers with dollar signs in their eyes showed up to merchandise the Spirit’s anointing. Swaggering evangelists in white suits and Rolex watches began pushing people to the floor and convincing crowds to dig into their wallets to give in “miracle” offerings. And so began the slow but steady sell-out. We didn’t realize that greed was driving us farther and farther from the Spirit’s blessing.

  1. We fabricated it.

In the early days of renewal, charismatic leaders had a sense of holy awe when they prayed for people. They didn’t want to do anything to grieve the Spirit. But somewhere along the way, some ministers realized they could fake the gifts of the Spirit and still draw a crowd. This gave birth to charismatic side shows, complete with faked healings, spooky stage drama and manipulation. God’s holy anointing was replaced by mood music and a quivering voice. If you had discernment, you knew that the Spirit had left the building.

  1. We corrupted it.

In the early days of the movement, meaty messages were the order of the day. A regular component of the preaching of that period was the fear of God. These messages demanded holiness. But if you fast forward, you will find that much of the preaching in our movement has been reduced to drivel. It is sad that people can attend a “Spirit-filled” church today and never hear a sermon giving biblical truth about fornication, adultery, homosexuality, etc. We are selling a form of cheap grace that, instead of saving people, will actually send them to hell.

  1. We denominationalized it.

When the Holy Spirit began to fall on certain groups, their leaders began to assume that the blessing of God indicated that they were “special”. Some groups even taught that all other Christians would one day come under their group’s banner because of their elite status. Spiritual pride is still pride! There are trendy new groups today that claim to have a corner on truth. Don’t let this attitude quench the Holy Spirit.

  1. We professionalized it.

In the early days of the renewal, there was a sense of childlike wonder as people discovered the power of the Holy Spirit. The meetings were Christ-centered, the sermons were solidly biblical and the fellowship genuine and sweet. We felt a deep bond with other believers, even those with whom didn’t believe as we did.

But, it didn’t take long to replace that sense of wonder and love with something colder. We began to emphasize titles. We discovered slick marketing techniques. Churches and their budgets grew. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the megachurch: We lost our simplicity. We turned church into a business. We stopped being relational and we became professionals.

I know it is difficult when a church begins to grow in numbers to keep relationships strong and to continue to be a pastor rather than a public speaker. But, we cannot sacrifice the warmth of relationships on the altar of professional Christianity or we will discover that the Holy Spirit has withdrawn from our ministries and all that is keeping the people together is the memory of a past move and a culture of intimidation toward those who dare question the absence of the Spirit.

I’m not judging those who made these mistakes because it is likely that I would have made them too. Nevertheless, we must guard our own hearts against the corruptions of success and refuse to take glory that belongs solely to Jesus!

Move Spirit of God! And as You do, keep us humble and pure so that the Presence of the Lord can find a home where it can bless the people of our churches and our land!

 

Hearing Voices


If you were to go to certain psychologists or certain psychiatrists and tell them that you are hearing voices, you could easily become a candidate for medication or hospitalization. Even in some Christian circles, you would be thought strange if you said that you were hearing the voice of God speak to you – and not just thought strange, but be looked at as either “looney” or in contact with the devil.

Jesus tells us that God is speaking to us. In the midst of that discourse, He tells us that the voice of the thief is also speaking and that the goal of his campaign is to steal, kill, and destroy.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:1-3

Hearing God speak is not strange but normal. Hearing the voice of the enemy doesn’t mean that you are evil, but that you are still alive! Jesus told us that His sheep would hear His voice and would follow what He says. To not hear the voice of God speaking is contrary to biblical teaching. So, you are not a candidate for medication or hospitalization if you hear the voice of God; you are a candidate for fellowship, transformation, and ministry. To hear the voice of God means that you are one of His sheep.

Let’s take a look at how God speaks and how we can verify that it is Him speaking to us.

  1. Rhema and Logos

If you start at the foundational point from which God speaks, you will be left with two primary avenues of communication:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1

This passage of scripture is talking about Jesus. The term used here to describe Jesus is “the Word”. In the original language, “Word” is the term “logos”, which means:

“speaking to a conclusion”

Although both rhema and logos are translated from the same Hebrew word “dabar” – something being uttered, the two words have come to signify different things today.

Logos: written word of God

Christ Himself was called, “Logos”. Since Jesus is God, His spoken words are clearly recognized as the Word of God. Jesus recognized the words of the Old Testament as being words from God.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Luke 24:44

The words written by the apostles who were with Jesus – those in line with His teachings have been recognized as scripture as well.

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15-16

The word “Scripture” used here is the Greek word “graphe” which is used 51 times in the New Testament and always refers to the written word of God.

This brings us to the conclusion found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Written word of God is the standard from which all other “words, directions, feelings, teachings” are judged as being from God or not.

Rhema: a spoken word.

In this modern usage, Logos is the “Word of God” Jesus Christ, the subject from Genesis to Revelation. Rhema is the revealed word of God, as an utterance from God to the heart of the receiver via the Holy Spirit, as in John 14:26

“… the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Rhema words or directions can come in different forms:

Dreams – Visions – Spirit spoken communication – Preaching

Whichever God uses, it is Spirit generated communication and is normal for the people of God!

Every rhema communication received must be verified by the Logos (Bible).

If the rhema communication is verified by the Bible, hold it before God for timing. If not, let it go!

  1. A “Now” Word, a “Future” Word or a “Confirming” Word.

Let’s say you get a rhema communication from God that passes the Scriptural test. Not all words are “now” words. Some words concern our future. If you receive a word for the future, you ask Him what the first step is to its fulfillment. When He shows you, do it. Then, wait for step two, etc.

Some words are “now” words meaning we are to follow them through to completion right now.

Many words are “confirming” words. A “confirming” word is one that confirms what God has already told you. Confirmation is a scriptural principle that God uses to affirm His direction to you.

 “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1

If a word brings confusion, don’t act on it until the confusion is cleared up and you know the Word is from God!

God leads His people. It is our responsibility to know the Bible so that we will not be deceived by feelings or communications that are not from God. Trust the Lord to make known His will to you! Verify the direction through the Bible! Pray for the timing of God concerning the direction! Don’t be afraid! The Great Shepherd is leading you to green pasture and still water, even if the pathway there leads through the Valley of the Shadow of Death! Through His Word, you will reach your destination!

The Church that makes God sick!


Our final stop on the map in our visit to the seven churches of Revelation is the church of Laodicea.

The city of Laodicea was located about 100 miles directly east of Ephesus, the first city to which these seven letters were addressed. Laodicea was part of a tri-city area, closely associated with the cities of Colossae (to which the letter to the Colossians was written), and Hierapolis. Laodicea was noted throughout the Roman province of Asia for its wealth, its commercial life, and its medical practice. As the banking center of Asia, it was the most prosperous of the seven cities. Many large beautiful homes were built in this city, the ruins of which are still visible. Laodicea also had a flourishing clothing industry. A particular breed of black sheep were raised around this area, and the glossy, black wool was woven into special clothes that were sold here. The city was also noted for its medical practice, especially for its eye and ear salve. Laodicea was so wealthy that it asked for no help to rebuild the city after the devastating earthquake of 60 AD. The city had undrinkable water. An aqueduct was built that would transport water from the city of Hierapolis located about six miles away. The water in Hierapolis came from mineral springs and came from the ground hot. By the time that the water traveled the six miles to Laodicea, it was tepid – just above room temperature. In other words, it was lukewarm.

Jesus introduces Himself as the bringer of the message by saying,

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

In our modern day faith, we are used to saying the word “amen” to end a prayer or to give our assent to something spoken by a preacher or another speaker. Jesus used the word “amen” in a different context. Several statements of Jesus in the gospels begin with the phrase, “Verily, verily I say unto you”. The actual words used by Jesus in this statement are “amen”. Jesus uses this word before He is to say something that carries a pivotal truth. The following words are as true as the fact that He is the faithful and true witness and the ruler of God’s creation.

Like all other messages, Jesus references the lives of those in Laodicea. He is letting them know that He is intimately familiar with how they live. Then, He uses the following phrases to describe their lives:

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 spit you out of my mouth.

The church in Laodicea was not dead like the church in Sardis but it was not on fire like the church in Smyrna. It was a church that had found a niche of peaceful coexistence with the culture around it. It was able to do some good works, yet didn’t exude the radical influence of a church that lived and taught the Word of God. It was a church rich in finances and comfortable in its self centered approach to life. To the Lord, the life of the church was just like the water that was transported in from Hierapolis. It didn’t satisfy the dry and thirsty soul like a cup of cold water. Nor did it provide the healing qualities of the hot springs from which it was drawn. The church was so unsatisfying to Christ that He said that they made Him sick and that His only reaction to their faith was to vomit them out of His mouth!

These statements help us to realize that the church that is approved by the Lord is the one that is dedicated fully to His Word and Witness. The lukewarm church is in just as precarious a situation as the dead church. Neither of them display the resurrected life of Christ and are therefore not living in the power of the Spirit.

The church at Laodicea used its finances to point to the fact that it was blessed and in right standing with God. To the Laodiceans, riches equaled spirituality. Jesus told them that they were deceived and that their true spiritual condition was one of wretchedness, poverty, blindness, and nakedness.

The financially strapped church in Smyrna was much richer in Jesus’ eyes than the financially rich church of Laodicea.

Jesus’ counsel to the church in Laodicea was to buy from Him some things. This is an interesting statement. Salvation is a free gift to us, so why would they need to spend to get what they needed to change?

The idea that a walk with Christ costs something had become a foreign idea in Laodicea. The “gospel of gain” had eclipsed the “gospel of losing everything to gain Christ”. It was going to cost the Laodicean church something to walk in the Spirit and in fidelity to the word of God.

The Lord stated that they needed the true gold of a living faith.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

The goal to live a life of comfort produces a faith that uses the Scriptures as validation that wealth and ease are products of true faith.

In the ungodly culture that the Laodicean church existed in, true faith and reliance upon the Scriptures would have caused the church to run counter to the motivation of those around it, not cause them to blend into the culture.

In itself, there was nothing wrong with the financial abundance of the church. But, remember what the apostle Paul taught the church about wealth:

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:10

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1Timothy 6:17-19
Back to Jesus’ counsel:

So, they were to buy gold refined in the fire.

Then, white clothes to cover their shameful nakedness. Can you imagine how many where dressed in this church? It might have looked like a fashion show when they met, yet Jesus said they were naked. White clothes in the Scriptures refer to the purity of Jesus and the righteous acts of the saints. The people in Laodicea profited from the black wool that was spun into the garments sold in the area. A trade needed to be made: purity and righteous living for profit!

Finally, Jesus counseled that they buy eye salve so they could see. Laodicea was famous for its medical facility that housed a famous ophthalmologist. The area also produced a powder that was used in healing balm for the eye. Jesus stated that they needed some so they could be healed of their spiritual blindness!

Even though nothing good was said about the church’s spiritual life in Laodicea, Jesus did say this:

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.

Love, fellowship and restoration is the motive of Christ’s command.

The overcomers?

They will rule and reign with Christ and sit on Christ’s throne of authority.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!!

The Little Church that Could!


We are almost done with our study of the churches of Revelation. This is our next to the last stop in this tour. Today, we will study the message to the church in Philadelphia.

No, not that Philadelphia! The Philadelphia of Asia Minor.

Philadelphia was established in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamon (197-160 BC). Eumenes II named the city for the love of his brother, who would be his successor, Attalus II (159-138 BC), whose loyalty earned him the nickname, “Philadelphos”, literally meaning “one who loves his brother”. Lacking an heir, Attalus III Philometer, the last of the Attalid kings of Pergamum, bequeathed his kingdom, including Philadelphia, to his Roman allies when he died in 133 BC. Rome established the province of Asia in 129 BC by combining Ionia and the former Kingdom of Pergamum.

The city was located on an Imperial Postal Road. In AD 17, the city suffered badly in an earthquake, and the Roman emperor Tiberius relieved it of having to pay taxes. In response, the city granted honors to Tiberius. Evidence from coinage reveals that Caligula helped the city. Under Vespasian, Philadelphia received his nickname, Flavia. Under Caracalla, Philadelphia housed an imperial cult; its coins bore the word Neokoron (literally, “temple-sweeper”—caretaker of the temple). A small theater located at the northern edge of Toptepe Hill is all that remains of Roman Philadelphia.

As Jesus does in each message, He introduces Himself to the church. In the message to Philadelphia, Jesus introduces Himself using a scripture found in Isaiah 22:22:

He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.

The original message given through Isaiah was for Eliakim, the gatekeeper of the king’s palace in Jerusalem. Eliakim was steward of the key that opened the door to the palace of the king in Jerusalem. Eliakim’s name means “resurrection of God.” He was the master of the king’s house in the days of Hezekiah. He served during a season in which Judah was under a godly descendant of David. He was present when the military leaders of Assyria threatened Jerusalem and blasphemed the name of Jehovah (2 Kings 18:17). God sent an angel to defend Jerusalem who put to death 185,000 soldiers causing the withdrawal of the Assyrian troops. God described the ministry of the house of Hezekiah as a “secure peg” which supported the glory of the house of David.

Using this scripture, Jesus tells the minister of the church in Philadelphia that the One who holds the Messianic key to the house of David has opened a door before the church that no one can shut.

Once again, this is a church that may not have been impressive. The term “little strength” is translated from the word, “dunamis” which we understand to be used in scripture as “ability” – spiritual or physical. This reveals to us the grace of our Savior; the church in Philadelphia may not have been working on “full power” yet Jesus still opened a door before the church because of their faithfulness. The door was opened through the authority of the Lord Jesus. It was a door of ministry and victory.

A 3rd century description carved in stone described the existence of a Hebrew synagogue in Philadelphia. Jesus mentions the presence of a “synagogue of Satan” in Philadelphia, just as He did in Smyrna. Apparently, the church in Philadelphia had been persecuted by the people of this “synagogue”. Jesus states that the enemies of the church in Philadelphia will come and worship before their feet and acknowledge that Jesus loves the church.

Wow!

This is the dream of every congregation: to be seen as loved by Jesus and to see its enemies worship the one true God!

Throughout all history, the church of Jesus Christ has had to learn to be patient through God’s dealings with the world. The church in Philadelphia reflected that patience and perseverance. Jesus promises that, because they have kept His command, He will keep them from the hour of trial that is to try the whole world.

Do we know what trial this is referring to? Not sure, but it is world wide. Each one of the messages to the churches of Revelation also contain a message for the church today. For us:

This is a clear reference to what our Lord himself calls in Matthew 24 “the great tribulation” — a time of distress that will come upon the whole world, the like of which has never been known before in human history, no, nor ever will be again. This will be the worst time of distress and bloodshed that the world has ever seen. We will find vivid descriptions of it as we go on in Revelation. But the promise to the church is specifically that it is to be delivered from the hour of trial. Actually the word is not “from,” but “out of” — to be delivered out of — not just the trial but out of the very time of the trial! This is one of the clearest promises in the Bible of the catching away of the church before the great tribulation begins. It is a promise of the departure of the church, which Paul describes so vividly:

The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV)

 

Jesus reminds us: Behold, I am coming quickly! We are not to sleep and begin to live selfishly and fleshly as we wait for His promise. Perseverance is the key here. Jesus commanded the church to persevere. Those who do will be kept from the unimaginable. Your crown is yours forever. Don’t let sin and selfishness take it from you!

To him who overcomes:

Jesus will make a pillar in the temple of My God. There was no temple in Jerusalem at this point. Jesus says that overcomers will be a pillar in the temple in the New Jerusalem. The poor people in Philadelphia lived in an earthquake ravaged area. They knew what is was like to see their buildings fall. They knew what it was like to have to flee the area to avoid the danger of falling debris.

Jesus promised that there would come a day in which they would no longer have to flee but would worship in a temple supported by people who are “pillars” of the faith like James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:9).

Jesus promised the overcomers a new name.

The city of Philadelphia had changed its name several times in gratitude to some benevolent ruler. Jesus stated that the overcomers will have His name upon them and will be identified as residents of His city.

He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

A Church on Life Support


Let’s continue on in our study of the letters to the churches in Revelation. Up to this point, we have studied the church that lost its first love; the church under intense pressure; the church where Satan’s seat of authority ruled; and the church that tolerated Jezebel.

Now, let’s look inside the message to the church at Sardis.

Sardis was situated in the middle of Hermus valley, at the foot of Mount Tmolus, a steep and lofty spur which formed the citadel. It was about 2.5 mi. south of the Hermus. Today, the site is located by the present day village of Sart, near Salihli in the Manisa province of Turkey, close to the Ankara – İzmir highway 45 mi. from İzmir. The city was captured by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC, by the Persians in the 6th, by the Athenians in the 5th, and by Antiochus III the Great at the end of the 3rd century BC. Sardis was the chief seat of manufacturing. The most important of these trades was the manufacture and dyeing of delicate woolen stuffs and carpets. A woolen garment called the himation (outer garment worn by men and women) was produced in Sardis. Sardis was the oldest, possibly the wealthiest, and best defended city which we will study.

The message to the church in Sardis contains no warnings against the doctrine of Balaam; no commands to stop the ministry of Jezebel; no direction to avoid the deep secrets of Satan; no message to a pastor who is in fear; no warnings regarding the existence of a synagogue of Satan. The reputation of the church was impeccable. It appeared that all was going well in Sardis. Even though there was a large Jewish synagogue in Sardis, we are given no indications of persecution. There was no poverty and no internal conflict.

Jesus begins the message by reminding those in the church that He is the One who possesses the seven Spirits of God.

The seven spirits of God are not specifically identified, so it’s impossible to be dogmatic. Revelation 1:4 mentions that the seven spirits are before God’s throne. Revelation 3:1 indicates that Jesus Christ “holds” the seven spirits of God. Revelation 4:5 links the seven spirits of God with seven burning lamps that are before God’s throne. Revelation 5:6 identifies the seven spirits with the “seven eyes” of the Lamb and states that they are “sent out into all the earth.”

There are at least three possible interpretations of the seven spirits of God. The first is that the seven spirits of God are symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The Bible, and especially the book of Revelation, uses the number 7 to refer to perfection and completion. If that is the meaning of the “seven” in the “seven spirits,” then it is not referring to seven different spirits of God, but rather the perfect and complete Holy Spirit. The second view is that the seven spirits of God refer to seven angelic beings, possibly the seraphim or the cherubim. This would fit with the numerous others angelic beings that are described in the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:6-95:6-1419:4-5).

A third possibility is based on Isaiah 11:2, which says, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” This could possibly explain the seven spirits of God: (1) Spirit of the LORD, (2) Spirit of wisdom, (3) Spirit of understanding, (4) Spirit of counsel, (5) Spirit of power, (6) Spirit of knowledge, (7) Spirit of the fear of the Lord. The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically who/what the seven spirits are, but the first interpretation, that they are the Holy Spirit, seems the most likely.

Jesus identifies Himself as the owner of the seven stars. The fact that the stars are in Jesus’ right hand indicates that they are important and under His authority. The right hand is a sign of strength and control. Jesus explains to John that the “stars are the angels of the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). An “angel” is literally a “messenger.”

Jesus is the perfect leader of the church, the final authority, the controller of the church’s destiny, and the agent that makes all things happen in the church.

Jesus tells the church at Sardis that, although their reputation is one of vitality and life, they are actually a dead body. They are not dying they are already dead in His eyes!!

Jesus command to the church is: “Wake up!!” The church at Sardis had gone to sleep just as the apostles went to sleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Personal comfort and need has taken precedent over the gospel. While there are a few things in Sardis that appear to be biblically functioning, they are on life support – they are ready to die. Their works – while having an appearance of function, are dead in motive and authority.

Jesus states: Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.

The people in Sardis have forgotten what it is like to be changed by the power of the Word of God.

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” Luke 8:18

The Word of God was no longer the final authority and therefore, they were having their authority and freedom taken from them. The Word of God cannot be changed; we must hold fast to its truth.

If our lives and the Bible are in conflict, what must be changed is our behavior not the Word of God.

When a church reaches this point, changing programs is not the answer. Repentance is the answer. It must be immediate and visible to the congregation so that the congregation sees the need to repent as well.

Jesus states that if they do not wake up to the call to repent, He will come upon them as a thief, and they will not know when the discipline will appear. As stated earlier in our talk about Sardis’ history, the people of this city knew what it was to be conquered – to be brought down. Jesus said that they must remember their history and repent.

Just as in most churches, there is a remnant that love the Lord and are obeying Him. These folks will not be held responsible for the sins of the church or its condition.

Note: If God tells you to stay in a unrepentant situation, you will not be held accountable for the sins around you.

As Jesus speaks to the overcomers in Sardis, He again uses a local reference to hammer home His point. Sardis was a leading textile city – a maker of garments that were popular for men and women. Jesus states that He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments that He has made – garments which represent the righteousness and purity of those who wear them. Jesus also states that the names of those who overcome will remain in the Book of Life.

It stands to reason that those who do not will have their names blotted out or removed from the Book of Life. Those who remain in the Book will be confessed by Jesus as His own before the Father and His angels.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38

 

Is Jezebel a Member of your Church?


Let’s move forward in our study of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches in the book of Revelation to church number four: the church in Thyatira.

Before we move to Thyatira, here’s a look at the location of the seven churches. You can see those we have already talked about: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and here: Thyatira.

Thyatira was located about 35 miles southeast of Pergamum. It was a very small city, but a busy commercial center. It was on a major road of the Roman Empire, and, because of this, many trade unions had settled in this city. Everyone who worked there was a member of one or more trades. There were carpenters, dyers, sellers of goods, tent makers, etc. In the church at Philippi, which the Apostle Paul began, there was a woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, who came from Thyatira. It was difficult to make a living as a Christian in Thyatira without belonging to the union. These guilds met frequently, and they met for a common meal. Such a meal was, at least in part, a religious ceremony. It would probably meet in a heathen temple, and it would certainly begin with a libation to the gods, and the meal itself would largely consist of meat offered to idols. Sexual acts with temple prostitutes were included in many of these meetings.

Jesus begins His message to the church in Thyatira by introducing the authority of the One who gives the message:

These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:

To no other church does Jesus use the name “Son of God”. When taken along with the rest of His introduction, it appears as if He is enforcing His authority. As the Son of God he has “eyes like blazing fire,” eyes that can pierce the facades, the disguises, the postures and pretensions of his people and get right to the heart of what they are doing. He has feet “like burnished bronze” which can trample sin under foot and severely punish that which is wrong, if need be. Bronze became known as the Levitical symbol for judgment. Both are needed in the church at Thyatira.

Jesus begins His message by saying:

I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.

The church at Thyatira was a church that outwardly, appeared to be doing very well. As a matter of fact, they did have some good things happening. Their lives reflected the gospel. They loved biblically. Because of their love, they served. They exercised faith, which evidenced itself in their patience.

The ministry of the church was vibrant and growing. They were a church that manifested growth.

Yet, there was a significant problem among them. It is interesting to note that the “angel” of the church in Thyatira is not implicated to be involved in ungodliness. But, Jesus states that the angel is tolerating ungodliness.

Evidently there was in the church at Thyatira a woman who was a very influential leader. Jesus names her “Jezebel.” That was not her name, of course, but our Lord always names people according to their character. That is why he often renames people in the Gospels. Here he chooses the name of the most evil woman in the Old Testament.

This Jezebel in Thyatira called herself a “prophetess.” There is nothing wrong with that in itself. I want to make clear that it was not her sex that was wrong — it was her teaching. There were other women prophets in the Bible. The Old Testament lists a number of them who were well respected in Israel. In the book of Acts, in the New Testament, we are told that Philip, that wonderful, Spirit-filled evangelist who preached throughout the land of Palestine, had four daughters who were prophetesses and who had prophesied within the church. But the trouble with Jezebel is that she was a false prophet. Our Lord points out what her teaching was. She taught that it was all right for Christians to indulge in sexual immorality and in idolatry.

Remember the problems the unions in Thyatira created?

 In order to make a living Christians had to belong to a union, but to attend the union was to become involved, or to be sorely pressured to become involved, with the worship of idols and debauchery. So they had to make a choice. It was difficult to live in Thyatira for this very reason. But apparently Jezebel had begun to teach that it was all right for them to go along with the requirements of the guild, that they needed to submit to the pressures of the world around in order to make a living, and that God would understand and overlook this. Her philosophy was what you often hear today: “Business is business.” If business practices collide with your Christian principles, then your principles have to go — because you have to make a living. Have you ever heard that argument?

Isn’t tolerance and morally relative behavior a problem among us today? It’s not just a problem of the culture but one in the church. Do biblical sexual standards apply today? Do biblical business practices apply today? Or do these things take a back seat to success, lust, and a lack of faith? Our society indentifies tolerance as being compassion. This is a teaching of Satan and it is not wisdom but is selfish and foolhardy.

 If people deliberately reject the Lord’s authority, he is no longer their God.

Grace was shown to this “Jezebel” but she rejected the Lord’s kindness. Therefore, the Lord says this:

 “I will cast her on a bed of suffering.” There is a note of irony or sarcasm there. He is saying, in effect, “She likes beds, so I will give her one, but it will prove to be a bed of agonizing pain and hurt.” It would constitute her only chance to realize what was happening to her, and lead her to change. Then there is the second group: “I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely [literally, “I will give them great affliction”] unless they repent of her ways.” Those who commit adultery with her are those who practice, as she did, immorality and the consequent idolatry.

 There was still a third group. The Lord says, “I will strike her children with death.” Children represent those who not only practice immorality but who teach it as well, as Jezebel was doing. The “death,” I think, refers to spiritual death, i.e., what is called in the letter to the church at Pergamum “the second death,” the terrible destruction of the lake of fire described in Chapters 20 and 21 of this book.

Jesus searches the mind and heart. If His work of discipline must occur, then a desire for holiness will increase among those who observe.

To those who do not accept the doctrine know as “the depths of Satan” will not be burdened further. Everyone say, “Hold fast to what you have till I come.”

The real reward for those of the faithful church is given when Jesus comes.

“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations —
‘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. (Revelation 2:26-27 NIV)

That quotation from Psalm 2 is a reference to the rule of Christ in the earthly kingdom that we call “The Millennium.” It is a promise of reigning with Christ, not in the new heavens and the new earth, but in a period marked by the type of rule found in this quotation: Jesus says, “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” That means with some degree of stern judgment. “He will dash them to pieces like potter’s vessels” (Psalms 2:9 KJV), i.e., the combines of evil will be broken up in that day.

It is referring, therefore, not to the new heavens and the new earth (because nothing evil ever enters there), but to the millennial kingdom, the earthly kingdom over which the saints will share a reign with Christ. We need to understand that the Millennium is a time when righteousness reigns, i.e., it rules over the earth, it judges among people because sin is present and death as well. But the new heavens and the new earth reflect a condition where righteousness dwells. Nothing shall enter there except that which is righteous and pure and good. Now our Lord becomes even more specific.

“I will also give him the morning star.” (Revelation 2:28 NIV)

That is a beautiful symbol. I do not know how many of you have ever seen the morning star, but you have to get up while it is still dark to do so. In the book of Malachi, the closing book of the Old Testament, there is a great prediction by the prophet that the “Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2 KJV), i.e., the Lord Jesus will return in power and great glory. He will be like the sun appearing in the darkness of this world’s night. But before the sun rises, the morning star appears. In Revelation 22:16, Jesus says of himself: “I am the bright and morning star.” So what he is saying here is that there will be an appearing of himself for his own before he comes in power and glory, visible to the world.

Do you see Him? He is walking among the churches. He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what Jesus is saying!

 

The Church Next Door to Satan


I have been writing about Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of Revelation. Today, we’ll continue with a look at the church at Pergamos.

Pergamos, as stated last week, vied with Ephesus and Smyrna for the title, “First City of Asia”. Pergamos was briefly the capital of the Roman province of Asia, before the capital was transferred to Ephesus.

Pergamos was granted the title of metropolis and as a result of this an ambitious building program was carried out: massive temples, a stadium, a theatre, a huge forum and an amphitheatre were constructed. In addition, at the city limits the shrine to Asclepius (the god of healing) was expanded into a lavish spa. This sanctuary grew in fame and was considered one of the most famous therapeutic and healing centers of the Roman world. Galen, after Hippocrates the most famous physician of antiquity, was born at Pergamos and received his early training at the Asclepeion.

Asclepius was a hero and god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia (“Hygiene”, the goddess/personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (the goddess of recuperation from illness), Aceso (the goddess of the healing process), Aglæa (the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment), and Panacea (the goddess of universal remedy). He was associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis and the Egyptian Imhotep. He was one of Apollo‘s sons, sharing with Apollo the epithet Paean (“the Healer”). The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today.

Those physicians and attendants who served this god were known as the Therapeutae of Asclepius.  

Pergamos reached the height of its greatness under Roman Imperial rule and was home to about 200,000 inhabitants. The city was an early seat of Christianity and was granted a bishopric by the second century.

Now, on to the message to the church at Pergamos.

Jesus starts out this message as He does each message to the churches by saying “I know your works”. We have discussed what Jesus means when He says this. He is saying, “I know how you live – on what you spend your energy”.

Then, Jesus says an amazing thing. He says:

I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.

So, Jesus is saying that He recognizes Pergamos as the place where Satan has his earthly throne.

Take a look at this drawing of Pergamos.

We’ve already detailed that, at the city limits stood the Asclepeion, the hall of medicine inspired by the god of healing. Pergamos was also the center of Imperial cult worship, the worship of the emperor of the Roman world. After the death of the Roman emperor Trajan, he was deified by the Roman senate and a temple to worship him was built in Pergamos. The city also contained temples for the worship of Dionysus, god of wine and madness, Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, and Zeus, god of thunder and the sky and leader of the Greek pantheon of gods.

The church in Pergamos was commended by Jesus for holding fast to His name and not denying their faith in such a pagan atmosphere.

Could Jesus say the same about us in the pagan atmosphere we live in?

Jesus commended the church for holding fast to the faith in the difficult days of Antipas’ martyrdom.

According to Christian tradition, John the Apostle ordained Antipas as bishop of Pergamos during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. The traditional account goes on to say Antipas was martyred in ca. 92 AD by burning in a brazen bull-shaped altar for casting out demons worshiped by the local population. A bull was one of the signs of Zeus.

In spite of their trying circumstances, Jesus also had some things that needed correction in the church of Pergamos.

First, Jesus said that the doctrine of Balaam was being taught in Pergamos.

Balaam, a prophet from Mesopotamia, was willing to use his God-given talents for illicit purposes. Even though he knew Balak was God’s enemy, he tried to sell his prophetic gifts to help him. When that didn’t work, Balaam counseled Balak on the most effective way to weaken Israel. This was through seduction, using Moabite and Midianite women to tempt the Israelites into sexual relationships and into pagan rituals. The Israelites who participated brought God’s judgment upon themselves (Numbers 25:1–9).

According to 2 Peter 2:15, Balaam’s “way” is a choice to promote falsehood for financial reasons. According to Jude 1:11, Balaam’s “error” was his willingness to accommodate pagan beliefs out of greed. Jude 1:4 also refers to the sin of those “who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” One trait of false teachers in the church is that they attempt to turn Christian liberty into a “freedom” to be promiscuous (see Romans 14:1–5).

The teaching that the body could not do the works of the spirit was rampant in this period. It was a corruption springing from Greek thought. Many believed that, if the spirit was saved, the works of the flesh didn’t matter because “flesh was flesh”. This was based in the teaching that Jesus could not have lived in flesh but only “appeared” to, so the body was not redeemed.

We find the doctrine of the Nicolaitans operating in Pergamos as well. This was mentioned as operating in the city of Ephesus, which was close to Pergamos.

Early church fathers mentioned this as originating from the deacon, Nicolas, who taught false liberty like the sharing of wives and involvement in idolatrous practices.

Jesus said that the church must repent or He will come quickly and fight against them with the sword of His mouth.

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. Revelation 19:15

This sword is reserved for the enemies of God. We must not allow corruption of the word of God to deceive us concerning our status as His children!

To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.

We know what the manna is: food given from heaven for the children of God. Jesus said that He was the bread that came down from heaven that if one eats, he will never die. But, this is called hidden manna. Why is it called hidden?

Remember, Jesus would use the characteristics of the area in which the churches were located to display a spiritual truth.

Pergamos was full of temples. Many Jews longed for the Ark of the Covenant which had disappeared upon the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The next time we see the Ark mentioned is in Revelation 11:19:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.

To him who overcomes, even in the face of death as did Antipas – that one will see the Ark again in the Temple of God in heaven!

As for the white stone with a new name written:

This is difficult to understand but:

A suggestion is that the reference is to the stone or pebble of friendship, called tessera hospitalis, graven with some legend or device; and which gave to its possessor a claim of hospitality from him who gave it. Some such tickets admitted those invited into the heathen temples on festival days, when the meat which had been offered as a sacrifice formed part of the feast. The stone is called white; but the word does not imply that it is a stone of white colour, but that it is shining, glistering white. On the stone is graven a new name. The giving of new names is not uncommon in the Bible: for example, Abraham, Israel, Boanerges, Peter. The new name expressed the step which had been taken into a higher, truer life, and the change of heart and the elevation of character consequent upon it.

The Church Nobody Wants to Attend


Today, I want to continue with our study of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of Revelation by taking a look at what was said to the church of Smyrna.

Smyrna was an Ancient Greek city located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. This place is known today as Izmir, Turkey. Due to its advantageous port conditions, its ease of defense and its good inland connections, Smyrna rose to prominence. As one of the principal cities of Roman Asia, Smyrna vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “First City of Asia.” There was a Christian church here from a very early time, probably originating in the considerable Jewish colony.  A mob of Jews and pagans abetted the martyrdom of Polycarp in AD 153. Christian tradition tells us that Polycarp was a disciple of John and was ordained as bishop in Smyrna by John the apostle. He was burned at the stake and stabbed through the heart because he refused to burn incense to the Roman emperor.

As far as the message to the church, it is interesting to note that the message to the church at Smyrna begins with the same comment by Jesus that each message does:

I know your works.

Jesus is telling each church (and us) that He intimately knows how we live – what we use our energy on. It is important for us to know that, while people may be fooled by the outside front we put on for others, Jesus is not. He is acquainted with how we truly live our lives.

As the Lord continues with His message, we find out some things about the church in Smyrna.

The church in Smyrna may not have been the most successful looking church from the outside and might not have been one attractive to join. It was a church which was undergoing tribulation.

Tribulation – thlípsis – properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”).

The church at Smyrna was under tremendous pressure, with seemingly no options for escape. This was probably occurring due to the persecution of the church by Roman authorities. It is believed and backed up by Jesus’ message that the persecution was brought on by unbelieving Jews who incited the Roman authorities against the church.

Two interesting notations are made by Jesus about these unbelieving Jews:

While it is rarely disputed that these persecutors were ethnic Jews, Jesus says that they are not truly Jews. This reminds me of the revelation given by the apostle Paul in the book of Romans:

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. 2:28-29

The apostle Paul wrote these words after telling us that there is no partiality with God; Gentiles who worship Him and live godly lives will be accepted and unbelieving Jews will not be.

Jesus said another interesting thing as well: He equated the actions of the unbelieving Jews with that of Satan. Scripturally, actions that are of the flesh are no different to Jesus than actions directly from Satan. When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting believers in Jesus and was confronted by the Lord on the Damascus road, Jesus said these words:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Acts 9:4

Attacks against God’s people are attacks against Jesus!

Jesus also tells us that the church in Smyrna was in poverty. This word is used to describe being without physical resources. While we are not sure as to why, this could have been a result of the persecution they were enduring.

So, this was a church enduring intense pressure and in financial need.

Could it have been easy to judge this church as having problems? Or, as a church that God had abandoned?

Jesus said they were rich! We must be careful about our opinions of what is happening and not use unbiblical standards to judge a people!

Unbiblical standard:

How much money do they have? Are they growing numerically? Are they being well spoken of?

If this wasn’t enough, Jesus said it was going to get tougher. Some of the members were about to be imprisoned and tested for ten days. The number 10 in the Bible seems to represent:

Holiness to God; authority; completion of judgment.

This was the church’s direction from Jesus:

“Be faithful and I will rescue you!”

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Sometimes, God is glorified by our faithfulness in tribulation and not our rescue from tribulation.

The crown of life is given to those who serve Jesus faithfully in this life in the face of persecution and trial.

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

As He often does in these messages, Jesus uses an illustration that the people of the area are familiar with to drive home the truth of His message.

In verse 8, Jesus introduced His right to give this message by saying:

“These things says the First and Last, who was dead, and came to life”

In verse 11, Jesus said:

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”

The church in Smyrna was facing life and death. If they held on to their faith in Christ, it meant death in this world. Jesus acknowledges their situation and encourages them by saying:

“I am the God of First things, but I’m also the God of Last things. I am God in the midst of your death. I rule in death, just as I rule in life. I was dead myself, but came to life. So, shall you.”

Don’t fear natural death; instead fear the second death – the death from which no man returns.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8

There is more to life than what we see and know. An absence of trouble does not prove that a church is a church of Christ. A church’s faithful perseverance through trials, attacks, and tribulation prove that they are a church that pleases God.

Goodbye First Love!


Last week, we began a look at the messages sent to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. Last week’s blog served to help us understand what the apostle John was seeing during the impartation of the messages to the churches.

We learned that John saw seven golden lamp stands in his vision; each lamp stand representing a church. When I visited the Temple Institute in Jerusalem I saw the recreated lamp stand for the Third Temple.

Now, let’s dive into the first message given by Jesus Christ to John. This message is for the church at Ephesus.

The church in Ephesus is the church of the seven that we are most familiar with. Not counting the reference here in Revelation and the epistle that was written to the church; the city is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament. Here are some excerpts:

Paul sent Tychicus and Timothy to Ephesus – Timothy being sent to command certain people to stop teaching false doctrines in the church.

Paul preached in Ephesus for two years in the hall of Tyrannus because a great door of ministry had been opened for him in the presence of many adversaries.

Paul became aware of the ministry of Apollos in Ephesus.

As a result of Apollos’ ministry, Paul found believers who were not baptized in the Holy Spirit in Ephesus and laid hands of them for the infilling.

The seven sons of Sceva encountered the demoniac who said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about – but who are you?” in Ephesus.

Magic books were burned in Ephesus during the awakening.

Paul fought wild beasts in Ephesus.

Paul told the Ephesian elders before his trip to Jerusalem that he would see them no more.

These are just a few of the events we know happened in Ephesus. Christian tradition tells us that the apostle John was released from the island of Patmos and spent his last days in the city of Ephesus.

Ephesus was a major city in Asia Minor or Anatolia as it was also known as in those days. People came to Ephesus to shop in the bazaars, dip in the hot baths, visit the prostitutes, and worship the goddess Artemis. Ephesus was the center of worship of Artemis also known by her Roman name, Diana.

In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. She was the Hellenic goddess of the hunt, wild animals, the wilderness, childbirth, virginity and protector of young girls, bringing and relieving disease in women; she often was depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrows. The deer and the cypress tree were sacred to her. In later Hellenistic times, she even assumed the ancient role of Eileithya in aiding childbirth.

Outside of the city limits was a large grove named Ortygia which was revered as the birthplace of Artemis.

Into this environment, a thriving church was born.

Now, let’s look at Jesus’ message to this church.

On the surface, it appeared that the church in Ephesus had it all together. Jesus commended their works (how they actually lived), their labor (ministry), and their patience. He also commended their ability to identify false apostles.

In those days just as it is today, teachers were going around seeking a following and money through their claim to be apostles. The Ephesian church did not tolerate or give a place to these liars.  We also have the first mention of a group called the Nicolaitans in Ephesus. While it is not exactly clear who these people were and what they believed, Jesus said he hated their deeds. Several early church fathers said that these people were followers of the deacon, Nicolas mentioned in Acts 6:5. They record that he began to teach corrupted doctrine including such things as the sharing of wives and involvement in idolatrous ceremonies. Clement said that they were “abandoned to pleasure like goats.” Jesus commended the Ephesian church for their rejection of this doctrine.

This church was a strong church; strong in character; strong in biblical knowledge; strong in patient prayer.

Yet, Jesus said that He had this against them:

You have left your first love.

This is a scary insight to me:

How do you maintain strong prayer, a strong biblical foundation, strong discernment, and great ministry and do that without loving Jesus more than anything else?

If they were not operating from a motivation of love for Jesus, what motivation were they operating from?

This causes me to tremble because it lets me know that, if we are not listening to Jesus and following His lordship, we can look like a great church but actually be in danger of having Jesus shut down the ministry of the Holy Spirit among us!

Apparently, this church had lost its sensitivity to the Spirit in the midst of what looked like spiritual success. They were not aware of their condition and were probably celebrating their successes. As they looked around, I wonder if they considered themselves to be preeminent among the churches. Jesus said that they had actually fallen from a high position and needed to repent for their motivations.

Wow!!!!

Jesus reminded the Ephesian church that He held the destiny of the messengers of these churches and the actual churches themselves in His hand.

What is Jesus saying to Capstone in this message? Will He find an ear to hear among us?

Remember the grove dedicated to the worship of Artemis that was located in Ephesus? People came from all over the world to gain her favor. Jesus used His knowledge of what was happening in Ephesus to say these words:

To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

To him who rejects this deception, I will give to eat from the tree of life found in the midst of the Paradise of God! The tree of life is found in two places: the Garden of Eden and in the New Jerusalem. We know that the way to the Garden of Eden is banned from man on earth. But, Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

The word “paradise” is an old Persian word that means “an enclosed garden”.

Want a return to a Garden of Eden like life? Then, keep Jesus as your first love and do not allow anything else to take the place in your heart that only He should occupy! 

Lord, may our church love you more than anything else!