The Things Which Are: Revelation 2-3
The next two chapters of Revelation deal with the things which are. They deal with seven specific churches in Asia Minor, although the issues that those churches were dealing with can also be found in the Christian church today. In all cases, the person speaking to the churches is Jesus Christ. There are common threads that run through the two chapters, and common commands to each church and to everyone who reads the letters. We will take each church in turn.
As you study these churches, keep in mind that there are at least five groups constantly evaluating each church in the world.
- The first is Satan. He is looking for weakness that he can exploit to tear down the church and render it ineffective. Sometimes he attacks the body and sometimes he attacks the leadership, but his purpose is to destroy God's work that none may be saved.
- The second group is the world. They are constantly monitoring the church and its effectiveness. Is God working in the church and would the world know it if it was? Does it stand for something and do the people who go there live the life they are preaching? Is the churches position on issues ignorable or is it getting in the way of my pursuing the world in whatever way I choose? If I were to go to that church, would I be accepted or would I have to change - do they believe the Bible (gasp?) or have they adjusted to the times? If God is able to touch the heart of an individual, all of these questions will weigh in on where they decide to go.
- The third group is the people who attend a church. Each week they make the decision to keep attending or to go somewhere else. Sometimes whole blocks leave at once over some issue. Sometimes churches absorb whole blocks who have come from another church. Even if they don't leave, there is evaluation and judgment that frequently goes on in the body every Sunday lunch or during the week. The thing is - there is just one church in Christ's eyes. Sometimes it is a doing well, and sometimes it isn't. People moving from church to church serve to pollinate the church in the best of times or to spread weeds in the worst of times. The same is true for those who remain in one place. Try always to be a pollinator of good flowers and not a weed spreader.
- The fourth group is the church leadership. Many times there are formal evaluations each week on how the services went. Other times there are evaluations by the hierarchy of the denomination on a periodic basis. I've attended enough business meetings to know that oftentimes self-evaluations tend to devolve into finger pointing or ego stroking. While evaluation is good, too much can lead to other problems.
- The final evaluator is Christ. Of all the groups, His is the most important. It is not enough for an individual church to be successful. His entire Christian church must be successful. Sometimes that means that He will move people from place to place to fill ministry spots or spread truth where it is being ignored. Sometimes there are critical words from Him in messages in tongues and interpretation or prophecy to get a church on course or provide direction. The only thing that is certain is that His opinion is the only one that counts.
If you are a church leader, the primary thing that I would have you take away from the discussion of these next two chapters is that Jesus is constantly evaluating your churches just as He was evaluating the seven churches listed here. If there were more people in the Spirit on the Lord's day, you might get just as clear a picture of what Jesus had to say about your church as these seven churches did because John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day.
I hope you aren't having any of the problems that these churches were having. In fact, I hope you aren't having any problems. But even if you think everything is going your way, Jesus Christ has things He wants to tell you that will make your church even better -- more in tune with His plan for your community or state or country -- more effective in winning the lost to Christ -- more effective in letting the Holy Spirit work through to bring glory to God by the power, voice, and mind gifts.
Seek the Spirit's leading and guidance with the decisions you make, the functions you plan, and the outreach ministries you want to do. Let your path be ordered of the Lord. If your works are done in the flesh, they will reap little. If they are done with the guidance of the Spirit, great things can be accomplished for God!
As noted last week, the general consensus is that the "angel" of the church being addressed is the pastor or other primary leader of the church. Clearly, real angels would not have to be written to as God could tell them what He wanted at any time. Each of the letters (brief notes, really) to each church starts with a salutation, and identification of the speaker Christ, what (if anything) Christ found good about the church, what (if anything) Christ found bad about the church, an occasional encouragement, a closing and often a promise for those that overcome the problems He mentions.
2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
2:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Ephesus was a major city in Asia at the time Paul and John wrote to its church. The city was very prosperous but was also full of idolatry. The temple of Diana (one of the wonders of the ancient world) was located there.
At the time of John's writing, Jesus (the holder of the seven stars from Revelation 1) had a few good things to say about the church. He could say that He knew that they worked hard, they were patient, they hated people who were evil, and they correctly tried those who came as apostles to teach them to find out if they were the genuine article or were liars. Their character is also complemented. They are commended for bearing trials, having patience, laboring for Christ's name's sake, and not fainting from the workload.
They also are praised as hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus says that He also hates. The Nicolaitans don't have much written about them in the Bible, outside of a couple of references here in Revelation. Dake comments:
Followers of Nicolaus, a heretic. They are supposed to have been a sect of gnostics who practiced and taught impure and immoral doctrines, such as the community of wives, that committing adultery and fornication was not sinful, and that eating meats offered to idols was lawful.
ccc.org has some additional comments. It notes that from the long epistle of Ignatius, "Flee also the Nicolaitanes, falsely so-called, who are lovers of pleasure and given to calumnious speeches". In addition to their immoral practices, this would indicate that they were a bit caustic and defensive about their positions. There is debate as to whether they were or were not followers of Nicolaus. There seems to be some agreement on their position as gnostics and their blind eye toward immorality.
Left Their First Love
Unfortunately, Jesus also said there was a serious problem with the church. They had left their first love. The first love of a church should always be Christ, so this would be understood to be a reference to Him. How do we leave one we love? Well, it usually isn't a quick process. Usually, over time, something else takes the place of the one we love in our hearts. It often happens so slowly that we don't really realize it is happening. We start thinking about one or more of these things more and more often and of our first love less and less often. In many cases, we start spending more and more time with this other thing instead of with our first love. Usually, the first love is the first to notice this is happening. We are too wrapped up in the new thing to notice that we aren't paying the kind of attention to our first love that we used to. But the first love notices.
So... here we have a church that has left its first love. What are some modern day parallels to this? Well, prayer is one of the first things to go. Prayer is, at its simplest, talking and listening to God. It takes time and people are uncomfortable praying before or after services (or frequently in public at all), so we just don't talk with Jesus as much as we once did. In many denominations, church prayer is limited to stock prayers. We let that be sufficient for talking to Him and never take time to listen for answers from Him. There was a YouTube spoof of Hilary Clinton and the worker drones ala the 1984 Apple ad. I couldn't help but think of the people in the pews around the world saying the Lord's Prayer and seriously wondered if God wouldn't like to throw the hammer at all of us and say "Yes, you've got that one down pat. Let's try something else and actually have a conversation for a change!"
Bible study and Bible reading take real time from our lives, so they are one of the first things to go at home. Sunday School attendance in the U.S. has been slipping for years across denominations. Time and time again, social functions (either at church or partying late Saturday night and sleeping in) wins out over learning more about God. If you're a Sunday School teacher, take time to get something fresh from God. Don't just stand up and read the quarterly to your students! Most of them can read. Once and a while, like in the Revelation series we are doing now, the writers don't get it right. Take the time to study and bring something fresh to the class. People might be more interested in coming to a lesson if there was something worth hearing than just a rehash of what they read in their student quarterlies. At church, we start substituting other books and studies for studies of the Word. We don't want to listen to what the Spirit is saying or to let the Spirit open our minds to what the Scripture is saying, so we rely on other books more and more often and let the Word gather dust.
Feel Good Preaching
We start preaching on social issues instead of Christ crucified. Remember what Paul said he preached:
1 Cor 1:23:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness.
There's lots of feel good preaching out there today. It fills the churches and the offering plates because people don't want to be held accountable to anybody or made to feel that they should be doing more for God and less for the world. The church needs to get back to preaching Christ and Christ crucified and let God bring the increase. It'll be a more lasting reward than filling the pews with people who just want to be entertained and made to feel included because we have watered down the truth to accept them without giving them any reason to conform to Christ's standards that will save them.
Consider Paul's command to Timothy:
2 Tim. 4:1-4:
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
I can attest to how difficult it is to try to preach truth about some moral issues to those who don't want to hear.
I will freely admit that it would be perhaps a hard service format to hear nothing other than the crucifixion message. Yet I am able to turn most of the studies I post to a point where I can offer an altar call at some point. You usually don't hear it when I'm teaching Sunday School because I believe that my students have all accepted Christ as Savior. But those who are reading the messages on the Internet do see it. Clearly, I have no more control as to whether anyone actually clicks on the link and ends up saved from hell by the blood of Jesus because of it than pastors do when they give their altar call. There should be few sermons preached that don't get back to Christ and Salvation at some point. It doesn't mean that the whole sermon has to be about it, but everything should have some tangential or direct bearing to that subject. It's the job of the church!
They Are Lower Than They Started
What Christ goes ahead to say in the next verse is very significant:
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen..."
It is clear that the church was doing great and mighty works for him. It was a busy church. Christ says that this is good, but it is a lower place than being one with Him.
To do works is a great thing. Indeed, the Bible declares that if you don't do works, your faith will die. But if you become so busy that you lose your love for Jesus, if works and the cares of life start interfering with your relationship with Him, then you have fallen to a lower place than you previously were. That place is one that requires repentance, according to Him. Perhaps, the church had gotten so far away from Him that they had started putting their faith in the works that they were doing for Salvation instead of His blood. The church is commanded to put Him first in their hearts again.
Do the First Works
Additionally, He commands the church at Ephesus to start doing the first works it did. What are the first works a church does? You need to remember that for all of these churches, there was no previous church in town. Someone came in to a completely non-Christian environment and started teaching Christ. In most cases, the initial outreach was to the Jewish people. Reaching others followed. But the first works they had to do to have a church at all was to spread the word about Christ. How are we doing at winning the family, friends, and strangers that we meet to Christ?
All churches and church members need to get back to that one basic work. We are busy with too many other things. We all need to get back to the basics of spreading the word about Christ and Christ crucified. We like to think we are a Christian nation. However, this is gradually slipping away. The biggest problem is that there are so many dead churches around that have the name of Christ but not the power that it appears all is well. Yet if a church were to spring up where the fountain of the Holy Ghost was flowing freely, they might just have such an early church experience of being a cities only source for true worship.
The Alternative is Destruction, but There's Hope
The alternative is a simple one. Christ says that if that doesn't happen, he will:
"remove thy candlestick out of its place.
Today, in fact, not only is the church at Ephesus gone, the whole city is gone. A Turkish town has taken its place, sitting on its ruins, but that town has nowhere near the glory that Ephesus had at the time of John's writing. Let us fervently hope that He doesn't do the same thing to our own churches if we fall in the same category as the church at Ephesus.
The last verse gives a promise to those who hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, indicating that the message is not just for that particular church, but for all who read the letters at any point in history. All of the warnings still apply... All of the commendations still apply... All of the grievances still apply... If you overcome, you will get to eat of the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God. Do we have ears to hear? Are we of a mind to overcome? The promises are huge if we do.
2:8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
2:9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
A Church Without Condemnation
This was one of the few churches that John wrote to where Jesus didn't have anything to condemn in them. That isn't to say that everything was going well there. Indeed, they were being persecuted and lived in poverty. Some were going to be tried and thrown into prison, presumably for their beliefs and stand for Christ. Some would die for Christ. He promises a crown of life for those who do. Here, those who overcome are promised that they will not face the second death.
He also says that he knows the blasphemy of the people who said they were Jews but were not, and were in fact serving Satan. No matter how we try to spruce up our images and look good to the world, Christ knows our hearts. He knows His sheep well. He also knows those who are not of His flock. He would reach out His hand to save all, but sadly some have so hardened their hearts that they are in a place where they will not ask for help. Let us strive to stay in the proper sheepfold.
Beware False Teachers
Be ever vigilant to spot Christians who are teaching doctrines that are not backed up by scripture. Stay away from denominations who are moving away from the Bible's sound teaching. Seek the truth. Let the Holy Spirit always be your guide when weighing the words you read on the Internet or when listening to sermons sitting safely on a warm pew. Read your Word and know the truth. Be set free from those who would lead you astray.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
The church in America seems to be trying to widen the shoulders of the road God has made in order to make the way more palatable. We don't want to offend anyone anymore. In fact, preaching against certain sins will soon be illegal in the United States. Our Congress is trying to get some Biblical sins classified as protected and speaking against these Biblical abominations could then be classed as hate speech (HR254), leading to criminal prosecution.
We like to think that there will be no persecution in the United States. At some point that may only be true if we agree to stop preaching Biblical truth. Stand up for your rights! Tell Congress to deal with their own problems and to stop drafting religious laws preventing the church from teaching the truth we believe. According to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, they aren't supposed to do that. It isn't hate speech to try to keep someone from spending an eternity in hell! It is hatred to not try to inform them of God's opinion on the subject! His is the only one that counts in the long run.
Regardless of what may or many not happen in the United States, there are many Christians around the world who are indeed in poverty today. There are many who are being persecuted for their faith. There are many who are giving up their lives for the faith just like those at the church of Smyrna. To all, the Bible still says... be faithful. Jesus is waiting for you with a crown of life!
2:12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
2:13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
2:14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
2:16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
2:17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
The church at Pergamos receives a mixed review. At the start of this section, Christ is again described as the one that hath the sharp sword with two edges. As mentioned earlier, this may well be a symbol of His words and the written Word, being sharper than a two edged sword.
This church had chosen to establish itself where Satan's seat is. The Amplified Bible says "where Satan sits enthroned." I'm pretty sure that the church didn't know that at the time, but Christ illuminates the truth of their situation for them. We often think of Satan as a defeated angel, but remember that he is the ruler of the planet. When he tempted Jesus with dominion over all of the world's kingdoms if Jesus would bow down and worship him (Mt. 4), it wasn't an empty offer. If he hadn't been able to follow through on his offer, there would have been no temptation!
This verse says that at that point in time, Satan's throne was in Pergamos. I'm not sure what attracted Satan to that city, but it is clear that the church was under persecution there. No wonder. Antipas had been martyred, but the Christians had held fast to the name of Christ and had not denied the faith even in those darkest days. Dake comments about Antipas include:
"An unknown Christian who became known by his martyrdom for Christ. There is a book called The Acts of Antipas, which makes him the bishop of Pergamos and states that he was put to death by being enclosed in a burning brazen bull."
The good news is that the fact they were having difficulties probably means they were making a difference. Satan is not likely to waste his time on an ineffective church. So that is also in their favor.
Where has Satan set up his throne today? The Bible doesn't make clear whether Pergamos was the only location where Satan was sitting enthroned at the time, or if it was his primary point of power. Is his throne still in Pergamos (or has he moved to somewhere more to his liking)? Anyone want to venture any guesses - is it in the U.S., still in the Middle East, or somewhere else?
Christ's Charges Against Them
Christ has two primary charges against the church. Both relate to allowing individuals or groups who taught evil practices to remain in communion with the church. The Amplified Bible translates both parts of these verses as the groups were "clinging to the teaching of". The first group mentioned were those that taught the doctrines of Balaam, saying it was OK to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. The second group mentioned were those that held to the practices and doctrines of the Nicolaitanes (see above, sexual sins such as adultery, fornication).
Many denominations today suffer under the same problems of the church at Pergamos. Nobody wants to offend anyone anymore. Nobody wants to find out what the Bible really says about sin, because that might be inconvenient and might require some lifestyle changes that we don't want to impose on anyone. So we just make a bigger more inclusive tent and try to rework the Bible (or omit talking about certain inconvenient parts of the Bible that would make someone squirm in their seats) to try to have bigger churches that take in more money and are seen as successful in the eyes of the world and our peers. Shame on us!
The call to Repentance
I won't rehash what I said earlier here, but the warning of Christ is clear! Repent! He is talking to the church. The church then and now needs to repent and get back to teaching the truth of the Bible. Many in the church hierarchy in the United States are going to have a lot to answer for when they stand before Christ at the Judgment of Christian's works (1 Cor. 3:8-17). The warning is to be careful what you build on the foundation of Christ. Paul said to be careful to not lay down any doctrine that he hadn't taught. A lot of what is being said by leaders in a couple of denominations is non-scriptural rubbish that is going to be burned up. How many souls will go to Hell because they sought out a church where they could feel comfortable and believe that they could take any path they wanted to Heaven instead of the narrow road? Teach God's truth as stated in scriptures. We aren't supposed to be popular with the world. If we aren't, we are probably doing our job right. If we are, we should be very, very nervous!
Christ loves each and every sinner equally. He wants everyone to accept Him as their Savior, and He wants everyone to have the opportunity to hear His plan of salvation and to accept it. That said, He expects those who do accept Him to allow Him to be the King of their lives and to put away all sin and trespass. When He said:
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
He wasn't just letting His lips flap for the fun of it. He really does expect us to live up to what the Bible says God's standards are as Christians.
It doesn't matter to God what you have done before you accept Christ as your Savior. All sin separates us from God. It does matter what you do after that. You aren't responsible for doing things you don't know are wrong. Once you learn God's standards, He has a right to hold you to them and judge you for how you have or have not measured up. Live up to His standards as Christians. Don't live down to the world's standards. The world promotes tremendous numbers of things that may be pleasurable, fun, exciting, (fill in the blank). Satan wants the world to look good to you. But the Bible is pretty much black and white. You are either white (saved, living for Jesus, and doing your best to conform to His will for you) or gray or black. Remember:
narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Christ's call to repentance comes with its own warning. Christ says that if they don't repent, Christ Himself will come and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. As mentioned earlier, the sword can be thought of as the Word, the Bible.
Today, the Episcopal church is facing its own Pergamos moment. The issue of gays and not accepting the authority of the Anglican community coming from the leaders of that denomination has put them far away from God in the eyes of other denominations and many conservative Episcopal churches. They face a Sept. 30 deadline to straighten up or they face being cut off by the global communion. There is some concern that there won't be many funds for Africa and other poor countries if the U.S. Episcopal church is cut off from the worldwide Anglican body. God will provide!
The church must stand for the Bible. The Bible teaches that you cannot serve both God and the world. You must choose. It is their time to choose. If they make a poor choice, it will go badly for them. It is a terrible thing to have Christ fighting against you using His own scripture references that you have ignored to point out why you are wrong. Read the Word yourselves and fight the battle for truth from within. Pray that the hard hearts of the leadership will be softened. Don't run the risk of battling with Christ. You'll surely lose.
The Rewards for Overcoming
The person who overcomes is promised two things. The first is hidden manna. Manna, of course, was the heavenly bread that the Israelis received during part of their journey from Egypt. That, along with the quail, kept them alive in the barren places. They did eventually grow sick of it, but it did help them to survive. The second is a white stone, with a new name that would only be known to the recipient.
The white stone was a token of pardon. Judges had both white and black stones in the Old Testament. Verdicts were rendered based on the color of the stone. If you were the defendant, you wanted to receive the white stone of pardon. Dake mentions that they were:
known to the ancients as victory stones... Conquerors in the public games were also given white stones with their names in them, which entitled them to be supported the rest of their lives at public expense.
Either meaning could be true here, and regardless of which meaning is right or whether both are right, we need to be one who overcomes.
2:18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
2:19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
2:20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
2:21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
2:22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
2:24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
2:25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
2:26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
2:27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
2:28 And I will give him the morning star.
2:29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Thyatira gets another mixed review. Jesus declares that He knows their first works, the charitable things they have done, their faith and patience, and the works they are doing now. He knows that the works they are doing now are more numerous than those that they did at the first. That is a pretty good report!
He goes on to list the grievances He has with that church. The primary grievance is that it is allowing Jezebel (a particular woman of that name at that church at the time and not the historical Jezebel from the Old Testament) which calls herself a prophetess to teach and seduce other Christians to commit fornication and eat things sacrificed to idols. He declares that He has given her time to repent, but she has refused to repent. Christ's judgment is that he will cast her into a sick bed, and cast those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they also repent. It isn't clear if there will be a time period after He judges Jezebel to give the others time to repent or if the judgment will be executed at once. Jezebel's children will be killed. The Amplified Bible says:
And I will strike her children (her proper followers) dead [thoroughly exterminating them].
I could have mentioned denominational problems today here, just as easily. The grievances that Christ had with many of the churches in Asia Minor dealt with their improper handling of sexual issues and giving place to idol worship. Certainly, many denominations are having the same issues today. Jesus says that He is critical of two groups. He is critical of those who are committing the sin. He is critical of those who are allowing it to continue! He was merciful with the church at Thyatira and gave the sinning individual time to repent. He also gave those who were allowing it to happen time to repent.
But the consequences of allowing it to continue were pretty drastic. The church in America really doesn't want to go there, but unless there are some U-turns, we may face Jesus wrath just as surely as the church at Thyatira.
The Effect on the Rest of the Church
Christ asks those in the church who have not given themselves over to these evil practices to hold fast to the truth until Christ comes. For those that overcome, there are some pretty big promises made. He says He will give them power over the nations to rule with a rod of iron, crushing all opposition to Him.
3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
3:4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
3:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
3:6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The Self Deceivers
Chapter 3 starts out with the message to the church at Sardis. The Amplified Bible translates the last part of verse 1 and 2:
I know your record and what you are doing; you are supposed to be alive, but [in reality] you are dead. Rouse yourselves and keep awake, and strengthen and invigorate what remains and is on the point of dying; for I have not found a thing that you have done [any work of yours] meeting the requirements of My God or perfect in His sight."
Some days, I think that this church could describe many churches in the United States today. So many think they are alive. After all, their members come together once a week to meet for a few minutes in order to prove to each other they are still alive. They may not see or call each other the rest of the week. Except for Sunday they might, in fact, be dead for all anyone knows! Leave a church and move on to a different church... Nobody calls or drops by to find out why or to see if you are all right... What does it matter. Someone else will come along and fill their spot. They think they are alive, but they are dead!
They know all the right words to say and say them at the proper times in the service, but in so many churches that's the only time you hear a word from the congregation. There aren't any Amen's or Hallelujah's uttered during a message. Of course, in many cases the messages aren't the sort you would want to amen or hallelujah in the first place. Even if they are, it just isn't done! They think they are alive, but they are dead!
Does the Holy Spirit want to move in a service. Too bad! The format is set in stone. There are X minutes of singing and greeting, the choir does a number, they take an offering, they hear a message, they dismiss - no time for an altar call - can't have someone hanging around the altar cause we have to clean up the building to get ready for the next batch of people to come in. I was reading in the National Geographic this month about a large Baptist congregation in Orlando where they literally have to time the arrivals and departures from the parking lots to coincide with freeway access so the on-ramps and off-ramps don't back up. Can't have any work of the Holy Spirit disrupting schedules like that! They think they are alive, but they are dead!
They keep themselves busy doing works as a church. At least some of do - those that can be bothered to acknowledge that they are Christians outside of the safe doors of the church. But the works are found wanting before God. They aren't leading anyone to Christ. They are just works. They may help to establish our name (thus giving us a reputation for being alive), but they don't change people's hearts. Christians need to do works that make a difference in hearts along with lives. We need to do works that stand out as being done by Christians and not just do things that other social organizations can do just as effectively.
Christ declares that churches that find themselves in these positions must quickly strengthen the things that remain, because the things that Christ cares about are ready to die. He challenges us to remember what we have received and heard from Christ in the past and hold fast and repent of the rest of the evil that we are doing. If we don't watch out, the rapture is going to take place at an unexpected time and leave vast numbers of dead Christians perhaps not literally in their pews, but Left Behind. You really don't want that!
Those individuals that haven't soiled themselves - those few names - will walk with Christ in white, being counted worthy. There is that verse again:
"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
The Stern Warning
The end of this letter to the church at Sardis is important. Jesus says that those that overcome will be clothed in white raiment. Then He says that He won't blot that person's name out of the book of life. The names of the people who overcome will be confessed before God the Father and before His angels. According to this, the dead wood in the church (to say nothing of the dead churches themselves) are in danger. Later, Jesus will talk about those who are lukewarm. Here He is talking about the living dead.
Us vs. the Early Church
The church today has fallen so far from the Early Church, full of the Holy Spirit, growing like wildfire, that it is ridiculous. I pray that today, every church with a member that reads this message will begin to earnestly pray for the Holy Spirit to be poured out in their church again before it is too late. We need to be doing works that Jesus Christ approves of. We need to be touching hearts for God and not just showing up once a week for a quick service that we can check off of our list and go about our way unchanged. It is even worse if you only show up at a church for the really big events like Christmas and Easter. Unless you have job responsibilities that keep you away, you may really be the walking dead if that's all the time you feel the need to enter a churches doors.
Internet Ministries and Drive-by Churches
There is a lot of debate about Internet ministries by churches. There would be similar debates for new-style drive by churches that you can drive up to like a drive-in and listen to a message on a speaker or through your radio and then drive off again without ever leaving your car. What a sad commentary on our lives today. Our church has a website, and obviously you are reading this on my website. There are whole ministries urging people to open up blogs, post whole sermons, make your church convenient to not attend by letting people with laptops and WiFi access listen to your sermons and get a church experience laying in bed. That way they can drift off to sleep in the comfort of their own beds rather than in the pews.
When I was looking for a church, I looked at some of their posted information when trying to decide what churches to try out. Obviously, I post my whole Sunday School lessons online on my website and hope that they are beneficial to someone. It will be interesting to find out if they really have made any difference when the works are burnt up in that above mentioned Judgment day. But please, please, don't use any of the resources as an excuse or reason to not find the church the Holy Spirit wants you to be attending and attend.
An Answer to 10 Reasons to not Visit Your Church
I ran across an Internet list of the top ten reasons to not visit your church. Your Internet site didn't spoon feed me everything I wanted to know. You don't have a blog. You don't return my e-mails. Your telephone messages went unanswered and you didn't give any directions on your answering machine message. (Did you ever hear of the Yellow Pages and a map?) Parking is poor. People are boorish and grump at you if you sit in the wrong place. Et cetera. Many perfectly valid reasons why it might not be pleasant to go to a particular church.
So what!!! If God tells you to go there, grow up and go anyway. If you are hunting for a church using your own criteria, you are never going to be happy. Pray about where God wants you to go and go there. If it wasn't fun the first time, then go again, and again, and again, until and unless God tells you to start going somewhere else! Stop looking for the perfect church. Go where God wants you to go and start helping make that church better as God gives you and the rest of the body direction from within. Don't go in with your battle agenda laid out for how you are going to reform it. Just give advice as it is requested and gently help to herd in God's and not your direction at the right time and there will be some fantastic things happen. Don't stay out in cyberspace. Get on the inside and get busy.
The people in the world today are looking for a church that meets the Early Church criteria. They want a church that lives what it preaches, preaches the Bible, and whose members are full of the Holy Ghost. They want to go to a place where the Spirit of God can be sensed when you walk in the doors. They want to be able to turn to the church for miracles and direct advice from God about where to go and what to do. They are tired of depending on the human priests standing in the way between God and man. Let us get back to our 2,000 year old roots again and we will see a tremendous shift in our country away from the evil that is now to the good that we can be. Again, I pray that each Christian reading this will be begin to seek the fullness of the Spirit in their own lives, then in their church, then in the rest of their denominations churches in their city. Don't worry about churches farther away than that. Trust that God will have someone in them praying just as strongly. Now is the time to pray!
3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
3:8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
3:9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
3:10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
3:11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
3:12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
3:13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The Church Jesus was Pleased With
This is the church that everyone is looking to join today. Every denomination has some of these churches if you can find them. There are independent churches that meet this criteria as well. Many, many other churches could reach these standards with the Holy Spirit's help. All is not lost. There is indeed hope!
Unfortunately, there are many other churches that are so ossified that they will never reach this level of commendation. They fit in the Sardis, Laodicean, or other category. Any church can become a church like the church at Philadelphia that Jesus would find no fault with, but it takes a dedication to Him and a desire to change. Sometimes the inertia in many old churches makes that impossible.
So what do we find out about the person writing to the church in this letter? The writer is the holy one, the true one, he hath the key of David, and He has the power to shut and open things that no man is able to change. The key of David harks back to Revelation 1:18 where Jesus is described as having the keys or the authority over death and hell.
And what did Jesus say about this church? What a testimony... Christ knows their works. Christ Himself has set an open door before them and no man can shut it! They have but a little strength, but they have kept Jesus Word and not denied His name. Those Jews of the synagogue of Satan mentioned earlier will be forced to come and worship at their feet and know that Jesus Himself loves this church.
The Amplified version says of verse 10-11:
"Because you have guarded and kept My word of patient endurance [have held fast the lesson of My patience with the expectant endurance that I give you], I also will keep you [safe] from the hour of trial (testing) which is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one may rob you and deprive you of your crown.
We need the strength of Christ to help keep us safe in the times of trouble that are coming. We may not have to wait much longer until He comes. We need to hold fast to the truth of his Word so that we aren't robbed of the crown we have won through our patience and hard work to do what He expects of us in spite of our weaknesses. Is it possible to be blessed and still lose out on the good things that God has in store for us? Yes. We need to hold fast to the truth so we don't.
To the one who overcomes
To these, Jesus promises we will be made pillars in the sanctuary of God. They will never be put out of His sanctuary. They will have the name of God and the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem, coming from God out of heaven and a personal new name written on them, much as Satan will brand his followers with the mark of the Beast. The pillar denotes stability and responsibility in the sanctuary.
3:14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
3:15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
3:17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
3:18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
3:19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
3:21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
3:22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The final church that is addressed is the church at Laodicea. It is another one that Jesus has nothing good to say about. Sadly, the message Christ sends it could be sent to many churches in America today with equal effect. This has one of the grandest introductions of Christ of any.
These things say the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.
Christ is a faithful and true witness. You can count on every thing He has said to these churches being true. The fact that after each churches' letter he admonished all listeners to hear what the Spirit was saying to all the churches indicates He was concerned that the problems of one church might be seen at a later date by one of the other churches or by a later church. Likewise, He wanted each church to see that there were churches out there who were overcoming and have hope that they could overcome as well. He states that He was the one who began creating things from the very beginning, as seen in John. The Amplified Bible says:
the Origin and Beginning and Author of God's creation: [Isa. 55:4; Prov. 8:22]
There are three stanzas to the letter that is written to this church.
Is Your Church Lukewarm?
In the first, Jesus declares that He has evaluated their works and found them to be lukewarm. They weren't hot, causing many to come to Christ. They weren't cold, where they might see the error of their ways and repent and turn to Christ. They were lukewarm - neither good nor bad. Christ says he would spit their works out.
Why? They were drifting along playing church, doing what they thought were all the right things in order to be called a Christian church, but without any spirit or drive toward making the works a success. They were filling slots in organizational holes, because that's what the Christian church did. To put it in modern terms, the book says each church in denomination A should have committee X, Y, and Z, so we will have a committee X, Y, and Z. Doesn't matter who fills the spots, so long as all the spots are filled. Doesn't matter if they are good Christians, bad Christians, new Christians or old Christians. As long as they're a member - we wouldn't want any Christian non-members to slip in there - we have our standards after all, We'll find a slot for them to fill. After all, some of us have been filling the same slot for so long we could do it in our sleep. Let's get some fresh blood in here. Good, bad, doesn't matter. Maybe things will change.
Sound like your church? Are your Sunday School teachers good teachers? Or are they new converts or fresh arrivals who really don't know much about the Bible in the first place? Even if they have been in church forever, are they learning along with the students because they really don't know the Bible either? Did they just not have the wisdom to say - "No, I'm not a teacher" when asked to teach? Or are they soldiering on... "Since the pastor asked, he must think I am capable - after all God talks to him, right?" We really need to get some older mature Christians fired up and running on all cylinders again. We don't want to have Christ spew us out of His mouth because we are lukewarm! But He said He would if we didn't straighten out our works.
If any of this is hitting close to home, you need to shut down your external ministries and get your internal house in order before starting to reach for the lost. Christ needs to be able to trust the churches where He sends people to be saved.
Rich and Increased with Goods
If the last one didn't hit close to home, this one surely should. How many churches fit this bill? If you don't think your church fits the bill, then turn the lens toward yourself... Are we feeling the warm glow yet? Pretty much any Christian church in America is rich and increased with goods and has need of nothing. They aren't dependent on God anymore. They have become self-perpetuating machines, that have little or no need for God to do anything for them. If you think I'm kidding, contrast the poorest church in America with the majority of the churches in Africa, Asia, and South America. We are rich and increased with goods.
We have a building, comfortable seats, usually a kitchen and eating area, room for Sunday School classes, carpet, lights, some sort of sound system, and on and on. We mostly drive to church in our own cars although some larger cities provide public transportation. We don't have to walk for days to get to one of the few Christian churches in the country, worrying about whether or not we will be killed for the effort. Yes, we are rich and increased with goods.
Christian's giving to the church has plummeted from the years of the last great depression. Tithing is a foreign concept to most church members today. Some may give one or two percent of their income. Most just put a fixed amount into the offering plate. Sometimes their donation is less than they spent going to the show Friday night. Many just ignore it completely. We are rich and greedy to boot. The need to tithe and give offerings above and beyond the tithe isn't being passed on to the next generation. Faithful tithers will tell you "I would rather live on the 90% that is blessed by God than to try to live on the 99 to 100% that didn't have God's blessing.
What does Christ say to churches like this? He says we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. His words of wisdom are to buy gold that has been tried in the fire from Him. Mt. 6:19 were more specific...
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
You see, He wants His church to see with His vision. He wants people to not be blinded by the burdens of debt service. He doesn't care about how fancy His church is - He is building His believers places to live in Heaven based on their service to Him, not on how big a church building they had if it was empty most of the time because people didn't find Him there. His vision for His church is what we need to seek. If we fill the most humble dwelling place with His Spirit and allow Him to build a church there, there will be more effective ministry done than in the most gold encrusted, silver dotted bejeweled palatial church in the country where He cannot be found.
I'm not technically anti-big church, although it may seem that way here. Christ wasn't against rich people either. He just warned that it was difficult for a rich person to be saved (Mt. 19:23). The same principle applies to rich churches. They start depending on themselves and get their eyes of off Christ and pretty soon, more than just their eyes are off Christ. You cannot serve God and mammon.
So what is His challenge to churches in that position, and by extension all of us? He says that he chastens and rebukes those that He loves. You see, he even loved the members of the Laodicean church. He wanted them to repent and once again be zealous for Him! He is constantly knocking at the door to the churches and hoping to be let in to dine and eat with them and to have them dine and eat with Him. The extension continuous out to each and every person in the world. He is out there seeking to save the lost. He is directing the Holy Spirit to speak to hearts, to chasten and rebuke sinners of sin and to draw them to Him. He just needs workers who are on-fire for Him to do the work once someone is ready to give their heart to Him. Don't be lukewarm.
He says that to those who are victorious, he will grant the right to sit beside Him on His throne even as He overcame the world and sat down by God on His throne. Revelation 3 concludes with a final challenge to hear what was being said to all the churches.
I know I have been a bit down on a lot of churches and denominations in this discussion. The thing is, I truly believe that if we let Christ begin to have His way in our services and seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit in each believer, we could all be more like the church at Philadelphia than some of the other churches. Why are Eastern religions and Islam flourishing in our country today? Because the Christian church is failing its mission and people don't see any difference between most Christian churches and the other religions out there. We need to show people that there is truly a difference in the power and the fruit of the Spirit.
Christianity doesn't have to be the way it is today, but it will take effort on everyone's part to change. This is true whether you are Protestant or Catholic, denominational or independent, mega-church or small home group gathering. These two chapters should be read over and over again, letting God illuminate the problems your church or group needs to deal with along with your own individual commendations and successes that He is pointing to with pride. He wants His church to be an effective and growing organism in all parts of the world. There is a lot of growth in the third world. The people there have little hope and cling to the hope of the Gospel message as a lifeline - if not through miracles performed today, then at least for a better future after death. In the U.S., we are too much like the Laodicean church. We have everything we need anyway, and depend on ourselves or doctors for most of the rest, without needing God. We need to show the people that God exists. Elijah had some very good ideas. Let's be sure we end up on His side and not on side of the prophets of Baal.
Many believers in churches and denominations around the country who are reading this message will probably immediately thank their lucky stars that their church and their denominations aren't ones I am talking about. The thing to remember is that of the seven churches listed here, 71% got some level of failing grade from Christ when He judged them. Humans are very good at judging ourselves and rationalizing or not seeing problems that are really there. I am certain that the vast majority of people in the 71% of the churches that were brought up short by Christ would have likely said nothing was wrong with their church either. They were being inclusive. They weren't judging others. They were big on works. They were doing things for God. They were strong. They were going places for Him! We all need to stop and pray for God to put us in the Spirit on more than the Lord's day and truly hear what He would say to us today! Jesus opinion is almost certainly different than ours. Even if we are one of the 28% that might pass if the averages were the same now than then, He can tell us how to do it better!
Let's everyone pray this week, month, season, year, or as long as it takes to get the ship moving and under control of the Pilot. The time may be shorter than we think, and the next bus is only making a single stop. It won't be waiting around for us to show up if we aren't ready. Let's get ourselves and our communities prepared for the rapture that takes place just before verse 4:1 of Revelation.
In the next study, we are going to take a trip back in time to Nebuchadnezzar's day to look at the interpretation of his dream by Daniel and then follow that up with a brief study of the dreams and visions of Daniel himself before carrying forth into the book of Revelation. Once we hit Revelation, we will stay there until the time of the Second Advent approaches in it, and we will then skip back to the Great Olivet prophecy before finishing out.