Friday, December 27, 2013

Messages to the Church Revealed (Philadelphia) ...

The sixth church out of the seven that comprised the whole of those who follow Christ, was located in the city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor.  Many people are aware of the city’s name being associated with “the love of one’s brother”.  This began historically as it was established by an ancient king who gave it to the brother he loved and would succeed him in his reign.  But throughout the message of Christ in the book John recorded in Revelations chapter 3, there is no reference to this characteristic being associated with the Christian church there.  Because “we” associate brotherly love with the name Philadelphia, we imply it to this Christian church.  But there really is no specific mention of it in Revelations that would cement this point of view.  There is also significant debate about the time period associated with the Philadelphia church.  It is generally thought that it occurs near the end of the reformation, perhaps in the middle of the 1800’s; but when it ends, or even if it ends, is still a matter of study.  Some believe it overlaps with Laodicea and extends to the return of Christ, others believe only the final church period exists at that time.  None the less, what matters is the revelation of Jesus Christ that is made clear in His message to His church which was located in Philadelphia, and what relevance that same message has to us reading it today.
John begins in verse 7 to relay what he hears … “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;”  It is important to realize the author of the coming message remains Jesus Christ.  The only one who was ever holy in our world was Jesus Christ.  The only one who remains ever true (or is truth itself) is Jesus Christ.  This message did not originate from the apostle John, or Peter, or any leader of the church.  As in the past 5 messages, Jesus begins by identifying traits about Himself that will be relevant and meaningful to the church He is about to address.  In this case, it is His holiness, and His truth.  But the introduction does not end there.  It is Christ who has “the key of David”.  It is Christ who is able to “open and no man shutteth” or Christ who alone can “shutteth and no man openeth”.  This distinction is important.  As with his other churches, Christ is asserting His leadership of His followers.  He has NOT delegated these roles to any man among us.  We have NOT been given this authority or responsibility.  Christ alone retains it.  Christ is the rock upon which His church is to be built.
There are way too many “spiritual leaders” of every sect who believe themselves to have authority in both this world and in heaven.  From the Pope, to the popular evangelist, to the leader of the megachurch on TV, to the local pastor; many believe themselves to have authority in this world and in heaven.  They believe themselves to have a special relationship, with special access, and a special role with respect to God.  But here is Christ saying that only He has the key of David.  It has not been given to men.  Christ alone has the authority, the leadership, the access to His Father – it is He alone who can open the doors to heaven, or to close them, for He alone holds the keys.  As if for clarity, John relays the message of Jesus, that we should not look to men for leadership of our salvation, but to Christ alone.  Our role will be one of servant, not one of leader, whether we serve only a few in our homes and communities, or whether we serve many through our participation in His ministry and service.  Christ alone will be our leader, He alone will hold the key to heaven, and to our salvation.
John continues in verse 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.”  This is not exactly a stunning endorsement of the success of the church of Philadelphia.  As before, Christ plainly states that He is aware of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and what works have resulted in the church of Philadelphia.  And in association with those works, He immediately reveals He has set before them, an open door that no man can shut.  Apparently what the church of Philadelphia needs most is access to Him and His Father.  We need His word to point us to Him, and we need the ability to find Him unimpeded by the distractions of men, who might otherwise close the door.  The condition of the followers of Philadelphia is that they have “a little strength” in that they have “kept my word” and have not “denied my name”. 
To keep the word of Christ is derived from the “little strength” we may have.  Perhaps we have discovered that even a partial surrender of our will to Christ, allows in our lives a small measure of His strength.  How much better we would be if we were to allow a full surrender of our will, to see a full measure of His strength within us.  To hold fast to the name of Christ, is more than a false profession, but a genuine recognition of our need of Him to save us from who we are.  It appears that while Philadelphia is not perfect, nor incredibly strong, they have at least experienced a small measure of strength in Christ.  They have not attempted to use grace as a license to sin, but rather have attempted to use grace as an escape from sin.  This is the power of the name of Christ used in our lived.  It is the basis of our salvation, and is every bit as needed today as it was when this message was penned.
John continues in verse 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.”  This is where the key of David becomes important.  There are those who claim to have access to God, by a means outside of Jesus Christ.  They claim that Jesus is not necessary for access to God.  They have access by right of birth, through a lineage that dates back to David, or Moses, or Abraham.  Today they may claim a different lineage, one that makes Jesus nothing more than a prophet, like Muhammed, and a lineage that traces back to Abraham through Ismael, or Esau.  Those who claim access to God, either through a competing ideology such as humanism, or by right of birth through a lineage that dates back to Abraham, have disassociated themselves with Jesus Christ, and in so doing are here revealed as being part of the synagogue of Satan.  When we divorce ourselves from Jesus Christ as the author of our salvation, when we trust only to our own wisdom, we adopt the precepts of the synagogue of Satan.  Claiming a heritage of association with God does not make it so.  Because our parents were devoted followers of Christ does not make it so for us. 
One of the ideas, made popular by His enemy, is that prosperity alone is the only symbol of the favor of God.  Because the Lord so loved His Jewish people, because He loved Moses, and Abraham, and David, He richly blessed them, even in this world.  This blessing was only ever a symbol of His love for us.  It was never intended to be “the” living witness of His favor.  But we sometimes misinterpret wealth as the only sure sign of God’s blessing and favor in our lives.  We forget, He is often the author of our trials as well.  He permits trial and temptation to enter our lives, and instructs us to rely on Him when it does.  This builds our trust in Him, our reliance on Him, and can make of us gold tried in a fire.  But when the bad things happen, we sometimes interpret them as did Job of old.  “what did we do wrong?”  “Aren’t we doing what you said?”  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”.  Those who do not rightly understand salvation, who embrace false ideologies, look at our lives and laugh.  They taunt us and try our faith by pointing out that we do not have wealth and ease, and obviously are living in the disfavor of our God, if there even is a God.  This false sense of identification of worldly wealth, with the favor of God, must be broken.  And so the True author of our salvation, and of the only access to the True God, will cause these members of the synagogue of Satan to see that followers of Christ were truly loved by both Christ and our God.
When through our submission to Christ, we find the freedom that comes from seeing sins removed.  When we find the peace that comes from “wanting” to love and serve others, for the joy of it.  When we truly learn how to love, not with thoughts of what is in for us, but what can be given by us to others.  Our lives will be lives worth living.  They will stand in contrast with the selfishness in the world.  They will be a reflection of His light, His grace, and His love and favor.  To this stark contrast, those who trust only to self, will see the error of their ways.  They will be compelled to see that a true follower of Christ has found a salvation that is meaningful even in the here and now.  Perfection comes ahead of the final transformation, and the peace of living with sin departing is one the world cannot take away.  Those who do not know the truth of this will see it lived in the lives of those who do.
John continues in verse 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.”  The goal of Christ is to see us redeemed.  All of us.  His mission is one of our redemption.  He delays His return, because of His stubborn love for us, and His efforts to make every attempt to save us from ourselves by the power of His so great love.  The members of Philadelphia understand that this may mean a delay in His return, but that His patience will yield a crop of souls in His Kingdom.  They do not lose heart at the delay of the coming of the Lord, for they understand His delay is for our own benefit.  He is reaching and seeking every lost soul, to try to lure them back to the gift He so longs to give them, and to us. 
Because the members of Philadelphia understand the reason for His delay, He offers them the promise of being spared from the hour of temptation which will come upon all the world to try them that dwell on the earth.  This temptation is ever as it was.  From the origination of evil being born into the universe, the only real question has ever been … do we trust God, or in our own wisdom.  Lucifer failed this test as he chose to turn away from God and believe in himself.  Evil was born as a result.  Adam broke trust with God, even in perfection, as he chose to love Eve, more than to trust in the love of God to save Eve.  You and I face the same challenge today, will we trust in our wisdom in scripture and doctrine to save us, or will we trust in Jesus Christ to remake us a new in this world.  The members of Philadelphia who understand the patience of the Lord in His delay in returning, do so, because they have already answered this question for themselves, and have embraced Jesus as the sole source of their salvation.  Therefore they are spared the hour of temptation because they already know it is Christ alone who can save us all from ourselves and our wickedness.
Jesus continues His message to us as John writes further in verse 11 … “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”  Despite what we see, or what Philadelphia sees as a delay in His return, from the point of view of Jesus, He is coming quickly.  It is faster than we may imagine.  And once again we are admonished not to allow any “man” to take our crown.  We are not to put our faith in the words of others, or in the leadership of others, but in Christ alone.  We are not to relinquish our salvation to the Pope, or Billy Graham, or Joel Osteen, or our local pastor, or our parents.  We are to keep our salvation steadfastly based alone in Jesus Christ.  It is trusting in Christ alone that will see us saved.  When we replace Christ, even when it is with those we perceive to be living a righteous life, or seem to have great spiritual enlightenment, we allow another “man” to take our crown.  We must remain steadfast in our reliance on Christ alone to see His gift of the crown of our salvation remain with us.  Crowns of victory are to be GIVEN to us by Jesus Christ.  They do not come from our fellow man.  They do not come because we earn them.  They are His gift to us.  They are His victories wrought in our lives.  We are to be the beneficiaries of His perfection remade in us.
The promise continues in verse 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.”  What must be overcome then?  A trust in self, a trust in those who believe themselves to hold the Key of David instead of Christ alone, an impatience to see Christ come now so that our suffering alone can end, the idea that access to God can be achieved outside of Christ;  all these ideas must be overcome through our constant submission of our will to Christ alone.  When through our submission we find His victory, we are promised to be made “a pillar in the temple of my God”.  This idea of permanence would have been quite meaningful to a people who suffered through the effects of earthquakes in the region in which they lived.  It is equally meaningful to us, as we see we are promised a permanence in the ministry of our God, a place in the mission of redemption to which all of heaven is engaged. 
Then the promise gets extreme.  For it says … “he shall go no more out”.  Our faith, given to us by Christ, will be shaken no more.  We will not choose to leave the temple of my God.  We will see evil rise no second time within us.  For our salvation will be made complete by the working of the Holy Spirit and the gift of our Creator in our lives, to see us restored and remade completely in His image.  We will never again choose to leave the value, the principles, the government, the law, and the love of God.  We will not decide again to see it questioned in us; for we shall “go no more out”.  We, through the gift of Christ, will be cemented in the salvation He brings to our lives.  And symbolically our identity is to be changed again.  We are to have written upon us, the name of my God, the name of the city of my God (which is new Jerusalem), and my new name.  We are to be branded, to be named, to be associated with, on a very personal level – the God of the universe and His son Jesus Christ.  How we are known is to be altered by Christ Himself.  We are to lose our earthly name, and our earthly association and be known now, only as He would choose to name us.  We are to have His name, the name of His God, and His city, implanted so deep in us that it is a part of us.  Our reflection of this new identity will be complete in every part of “who” we are. 
This is perhaps the greatest promise made so far, as to see us known to be something completely different than who we are today.  It is our character, our identity itself that is to be remade by Christ alone.  This is His ultimate gift to us, that we are more closely associated with God, than anything that has defined us to date.  This is the promise of a new life, taken even a step farther.  For it is not just new in the sense of how we live it, but new in the sense of who we are.  It is the depths of our salvation that we are to be known for our close proximity to God, for our participation in His love and mission to redeem, for our unending gratitude and worship of who He is.  The remainder of the sentient universe is to come to know us differently than they know us today.  Instead of our association with the long history of sinful selfish things we have done again and again.  They are to see us remade and rebranded by the Son of God, to carry His name written upon us, and a new name that reflects the transformation and salvation He has wrought within us.  We are to be known by them forevermore as being tied to His God, His City, and Him, and named by Christ Himself that is a unique reflection of His work in us.   This is a new life that is quite beyond our comprehension, yet penned by John as the revelation of Jesus Christ to you and I.
John concludes this revelation by again quoting the words of Christ in verse 13 … “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”  This message is to be for more than just the members of the Philadelphia church who followed the true Christ.  It is to be for us, for we who have ears, and are eager to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  What must be overcome is relevant to us, but also the patience, and promises that are contained in these texts.  The fullness of our salvation is wrought by Jesus Christ and Him alone, and so we have His promise of even a new identity found in Him alone.
And the messages were not over yet …

Friday, December 20, 2013

Messages to the Church Revealed (Sardis) ...

The fifth church of the seven that comprised the Church of Christ in His messages of revelation was that of Sardis.  The city of Sardis historically was said to have originated as the capital of the Lydian empire in long ago times.  It was famous for developing the ability to separate gold from silver sands and mint coins of pure gold or pure silver rather than a mixture of both.  From a commerce perspective, it relied on producing fine woolen garments and knits.  During the time of John, the city was part of the Roman Empire and generally had a climate of religious tolerance.  Archeological expeditions have unearthed evidence of a substantial Jewish synagogue, pagan temples, and evidence of a Christian church all present at the same period of time.  It was to the church in this city, and to the people who would live in the time period most closely associated with church’s period in history, and to us, that John penned the Revelation of Christ that was needed to be heard.
He begins in chapter three and verse one … “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.”  Jesus begins by calling to our attention to that characteristic of Himself that is most relevant to this audience … “He that hath the seven Spirits of God” … and “the seven stars”.  The number seven representing perfection or wholeness from the point of God has already been demonstrated in how many churches compose His true church.  It also refers to the perfection of the Holy Spirit.  It is Christ who works in concert with the Holy Spirit to accomplish our salvation.  It is the influence of the Holy Spirit that keeps us on the path of truth, and when we realize our need of leadership and humble ourselves, we are then able to discern the truths He would reveal to us.  The seven stars are the seven angels of these churches.  The church of Christ is not left to encounter the enemy without assistance from the courts of heaven.  We are not left to our own strength, for it is clear, we have none.  Our salvation is wrought by the power of Christ.  We are changed from within, as we submit ourselves to Him, and permit Him to remake the entirety of who we are.  These are truths reflected in the seven spirits and seven angels, characteristics that seem most relevant now.
Jesus then proceeds to once again detail his discreet knowledge of the goings on in this particular church.  He declares … “I know thy works”.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives always has an immediate result, a change in how we think, what we want, and therefore what we do.  When we have received Christ into our lives and through humility have submitted our own will to His, it results in a change of who we are.  Sin loses its false appeal.  Love to others becomes more important to us.  And what we do for others becomes a reflection of He who is remaking us to be.  But where other churches are exhorted in the earliest part of the revelation of Christ, this church is not so richly blessed.  The revelation of our true condition is set clear … “that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”.  The profession to follow Christ cannot be substantiated by our actions which reflect the changes He would make in us.  Instead we reveal the death of our spiritual lives, as we appear to have rejected His Holy Spirit and instead embraced the death of trusting to our own wisdom.  We have the name of Christ, but not the heart of Christ.
He continues in verse 2 … “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”  Immediately upon the revelation of our true spiritual condition, our great physician addresses our most critical need … stop the bleeding.  Before any other message is given, our great Doctor wishes for us to not lose any more to evil than has already been lost.  Strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.  We must first be aware of the condition of death too many have already embraced.  We must be mindful and watchful to prevent further spread of the disease. 
Our works are the symptoms by which we can know the progression of our disease.  Our works are not perfect before God, because they do not come from a reformed heart, but rather from a guilty one, or an ambitious one.  We do “good deeds” like our Pharisee forefathers in order to be known well before men.  Or we do them because we fear without them we cannot be admitted into His kingdom to receive our eternal rewards.  In either case, they remain “good deeds” as others may benefit from them.  But in both cases, it is “we” who are missing the blessing, as it is “we” who do not experience the joy of serving others, for our hearts have never been transformed.  We see service to others as a hardship, an inconvenience, or a burden.  We temper our efforts for others, by attempting to have “balance” in our lives – some for them, some for me.  We perform what we feel obligated to do, but quickly seek credit for our actions either from God, or from our peers.  While we have works, they do not come from a heart that cannot help but to love others.  They come from a heart who is looking to preserve and promote itself.
Before all is lost in this church, our church, in ourselves; we must strengthen ourselves in His strength and not our own.  We must die to self, rather than have self cause Christ to die within us.  Jesus continues His message of revelation thru John in verse 3 saying … “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.”  The message of redemption and reconciliation continues, as we are told to “remember” how we have received and heard.  We do not find our own salvation because we take action to do so, but because our God came to us in love and service meeting our needs before we knew them.  We received because we accepted what we heard.  We received because we accepted His gift of salvation to us, not because we could earn it in any way. 
We are told to hold fast to this idea.  We are told to repent of trusting to self.  We are told to watch and be aware of the corruption to trusting to self.  What is less clear, is whether the consequences of not watching is that we meet our final condition unexpectedly, or whether His reform in our lives is experienced unexpectedly.  No man knows the hour of His returning, so this last admonition is not about knowing the exact date of His return.  But for each of us, we all rarely know what hour will be our last on this earth.  While trusting to self, we may find our lives ended without ever having experienced the liberating freedom from sin and experience of salvation, because our earthly time ends before we permit Christ to perform this work in us.  If we have rejected Christ entirely because of it, we would be lost.  Because we do not know the hour of His return, or the hour in which he comes upon us, we should not live as if we can delay His gift until some later date.  Instead we should embrace the freedom and life He wishes to make for us today, before we die, physically or spiritually.
Jesus continues in verse 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.”  White is the symbolic color of purity, from a practical standpoint, it is difficult to keep a white garment clean.  Readers from a city that produced fine woolen garments would be well aware of that analogy.  And here the message of hope continues to be extended as “even in Sardis” there are a “few names” which have not gotten their clothing dirty.  So it would seem that despite its lack of persecution and general religious tolerance Sardis is not a great place from a spiritual condition point of view.  The words “even in” seem to imply that this is particularly not a great place to be, and combined with “a few names” implies that is rare to find undefiled garments in this place or time. 
The time period most often associated with this church is the 200-300 years of the protestant reformation.  While this is not an advocacy to have remained content within Catholicism, it may well be a warning to those who broke away doctrinally but reflected the same spirit of intolerance to any who disagreed with themselves.  “Puritans” were not known for a spirit of tolerance and love to those who did not concur with their own ideas.  Persecution even of Catholics was a phenomenon that spread to this country as those seeking religious freedom left Europe for American shores.  “Dissent” itself seemed to be an enemy in this time, whether because it broke with tradition, or refused to accept the entirety of the doctrines of the group who broke away from those traditions.  One would think that the period of reformation would have been one of great spiritual enlightenment.  For many a doctrinal truth was uncovered in that time, and the spread of the word of God was made widely available to the people through the invention of the printing press.  Yet, despite the increase of religious freedom, and the availability to read the word of God; men seem to trust to their own wisdom and strength for their salvation and in so doing, remain with defiled garments.  Doctrines do not save us, Christ does.  Doctrines do not make us pure, Christ does.  We can only understand doctrines rightly, when following in submission to Christ, trusting in our own wisdom absent Christ, is what the Pharisees did and it led to the death of Christ.  So it would be in our own lives if we follow their course.
But “even in Sardis” and although it is only “a few names”, there are those who have held true to the reality of our salvation founded in Christ, and in our full submission to Him.  As such, these were found to have had their clothing (the robes of righteousness given to us by Christ, not earned of our own) remain undefiled.  This clothing remained white and allows us to “walk with Christ”, to go where He goes, and do the works of love for others He does.  For our hearts are in tune with His own, we see the extreme value in those we encounter, for in each one of them we see His sacrifice to redeem them.  We, like Christ, do not focus on the sins we find in others, but in connecting them with a love that will see that sin removed once and for all.  Instead of trying to compel the conscience and thoughts and motives of others, we connect them with the source of true reform and change in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus will remove the sins we see in others, in His own time, in His own method, our function is only to love them throughout the process, as He loves us throughout our own.
It is not our perfection that makes us “worthy” to walk with Christ and share in His ministry.  It is instead our willingness and submission to Him that make us “worthy”, for we are made “worthy” by Christ, not by self.  Our robes of white, our robes of righteousness are “given” to us by Christ.  We are changed within, because He changes us.  It is this change, that sees our works becomes symptoms of what has been done in our lives.  We do not work “to” achieve salvation, we work “because” salvation has been re-created within us, freeing us from our former sins, and transforming us into the new creations He wishes us to be.  Our works are a reflection of our new way of thinking, our new way of loving and serving.  They are a testament to His so great love.  The robes never belonged to us, they were given to us by Christ.  We can only keep them undefiled while we remain in Christ.  When we trust to self instead of Christ, we become like the Pharisees of old, and like the great majority in Sardis whose works are not perfect in God, for they are dead in the embrace of self.
Jesus continues with a promise in verse 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.”  What must be overcome, is self.  What must be overcome, is that despite the lack of persecution, and a climate of religious tolerance, a trusting to our own wisdom, and a lack of the true reform that comes from being remade by Christ.  The early protestant church was hardly more tolerant than its predecessor.  And both tended to trust in the doctrines of the word, or of tradition, than in the full submission to Jesus Christ.  In so doing our garments were defiled by self.  But as we submit, we overcome the self that stands in the way of our salvation and freedom.  What is given to us, is to be clothed in white raiment.  Our purity becomes the purity of Christ, as we are remade from the inside out in His image.  Our names are not blotted out of the book of life, but instead we are hailed in front of God the Father and His angelic throngs as true followers of Jesus Christ.  This is done despite our unworthiness, but is accomplished because of His worthiness, and the depths of the sacrifice Love was willing to make to see us redeemed.  This is a promise that we will be known in heaven, not for the strength of our works, but for our submission to Christ, and our joining in His mission of love to the world.
If anything the time of the reformation, and the religious tolerance in the city of Sardis, presented an even more dangerous condition for the people of Christ.  Because instead of trusting to Christ alone, men were led to trust in the wisdom of the doctrines and truths they discovered in the word, at the expense of remaining fully submitted to the will of Christ.  Persecution can drive us to our only hope, but religious freedom can often make us lax in seeking in humility the source of our salvation.  We, like our Pharisee forefathers, trust more in our unique interpretations of scriptures, than in the God who inspired them and knows the truth of them as no one else can.  Our doctrinal purity is not what keeps our garments undefiled, but our unconditional love of others from a heart only He can remake, shows us to be clothed with His righteousness and not our own.  The truths found in scripture are important, but can only be rightly understood in the context of and submission to Jesus Christ.  Without this humility, we draft our own ideas, and find ourselves well outside of the meaning He longs to impart.
Jesus concludes this message in like manner as the others in verse 6 … “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”  The message was for those who made up the church in Sardis in the day of John.  It was to those who lived in the times of church history that corresponded to the conditions most like that of Sardis and reformation.  And perhaps most importantly, it was to us, to each reader who would hear what the Spirit said to the churches.  Each of the seven messages to His church applies to us in some manner.  Each has a common theme.  Each has a common appeal to bring us to Him, to be reconciled, and re-created.  To the believer of today, the message of Sardis reminds us not to allow our complacency and ease to think and worship to replace our dependency on Christ for our salvation.  If we are to have perfect works, they must be the works of Christ remade and re-created within us, as only He can do, and only as we allow Him to do it.  Even so, perform this work in us.
And the messages were not over yet …

Friday, December 13, 2013

Messages to the Church Revealed (Thyatira) ...

The fourth church of the seven singled out for a revelation of Jesus Christ as our God, was in the city of Thyatira.  Historically, the city was renowned for its artisans related to the making of clothing, particularly of royal clothing, dying of purples and blues.  The city itself is said to have been renamed to Thyatira upon the announcement of the birth of a daughter to the old king Seleucus while he was away in battle in the year 290 BC, though the name itself may have had more meaning to the Lydian culture of the day.  Paul and Silas encountered a woman who was actually named Lydia in Acts 16:14 who was a dyer of purple from the city of Thyatira, who became baptized and a devout Christian.  It may be that these historical and cultural references added meaning to the message the Jesus would reveal of Himself through John to this particular church.  The message begins with a focus on yet a different characteristic of how Christ looked to John during that initial encounter of Him walking among the seven candlesticks.
In revelation chapter two, in verse 18 John begins … “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;”  The eyes of Christ are alive and brilliant and as the Son of God, they see everything.  Nothing can be hidden from our God who is able to read the desires of our hearts as well as the things we display in public.  His feet are like fine brass, they reflect the image of service and love, and inform us that He is more than human, but still walks amidst His church.  Jesus then exhorts his followers and reassures them that He is well aware of the fruits of His Spirit that have been poured out in this church community.  John continues in verse 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.”  The works prompted by His Spirit were listed twice, with an accentuation of the latter being even more than the former.  This may have more significance if we consider its application to be over a wider time span than just the audience of the day who composed that particular church community.  If each of the seven churches were to represent the church of Christ’s followers over a corresponding period of time, the works done in the beginning of the time period in this case, might have been out-shown by the works done in the latter part of the time period.
But none-the-less as with the previous messages revealed to the other churches, Thyatira was in need of a message of redemption as John continues in verse 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.”  This message may have both literal and spiritual application.  First you will notice what is under attack once again is intimacy.  Christ uses the idea of a woman, the most corrupt in Old Testament writings who was named Jezebel.  In Old Testament days Jezebel was an evil queen married to King Ahab of the northern 10 tribes who broke away worship from Jerusalem that held the true sanctuary of Israel’s God.  This woman inspired Ahab to destroy intimacy with God thru the worship of sexual promiscuity.  This would eventually degenerate into the sacrifice of the unwanted offspring of unprotected sex with temple prostitutes.  Girls would be preserved to make a new crop of temple prostitutes, boys would be slain in the fires of Molech, or Baal, and an assortment other false gods.  The first casualty of spiritual infidelity however was not the results of infidelity, it was the original intimacy between ourselves and our God.  As we begin to entertain other “loves” outside of our God, we find what we “love” most is ourselves, and our gratification, not our God, and the needs of others.
Jezebel of old was forever trying to kill the real prophet of God, Elijah.  Elijah had the message of truth for the people of God in his day.  But the queen would not allow for truth to be spoken to the people of God, lest she lose her power and control over the people.  So Jezebel was forever hunting Elijah to be killed.  And in her day, she did not do the hunting personally, a woman had no real power.  Instead she would have the power of the king (her husband), and his soldiers and army to do her bidding.  In spiritual terms this would equate to a false church using the power of the state to maintain control and power over the people, with its origins of denying access to the truth of the word of God.  Attempting to supplant the true word, with false words of her own.  Notice too, that Jezebel is not out to convert the world itself to her ideas and false doctrines, but instead is looking to “seduce my servants”.  She tempts the servants of God with the seductive ideas of power, control, and self-gratification.  The idea that we can please self while still claiming to please God, is at the core of Jezebel’s false seductive message to the church of Christ.
It may not have been lost on the members of the Thyatira community that Jezebel and many other women of a royal class wore garments of fine purple’s and blue’s and in general were used to living with the excesses that wealth provides.  Perhaps even some of the workmanship done by members in Thyatira would be used by Jezebel to make herself happy.  The literal piece of this message was very similar to the churches that preceded it.  A destruction of intimacy through sexual immorality, followed by the symptom of eating to please self without regard for the consequences or implications to those in need; were indicators that true reformation of the heart had not yet been experienced by those who purport to follow Christ.  If anything, wealth is here identified as NOT being the goal of the follower of Christ, in that the danger of using wealth on self rather than on the needs of others seems to outweigh its benefits.  Jezebel, as a queen, had wealth but used it to hold control over others, not to love and meet their needs.  That the church of Christ did not denounce Jezebel and expose her as having nothing to do with the real followers of Christ was the fact Jesus was revealing to His church that He was not happy with.  Jezebel and her teachings were wrong, and associated with the most evil woman in the scriptures, yet the church of Christ “suffered” her.  The church made no separation from her, or denunciation of her.  Instead it seemed the church embraced her as a part of it.  This was the revelation Christ was pointing out that was in error.
John continues the message of reformation to Thyatira in verse 21 … “And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.”  Even Jezebel is offered redemption through repentance.  Even the most wicked woman penned in scripture is not without hope, or opportunity, or a chance to repent and become part of the fold of Christ.  But repentance and humility cannot be forced, just as love cannot be forced.  If the church who uses the name of Christ, is unwilling to submit and have the heart of Christ created in it, what follows is the destruction that is inevitable in our choice to embrace the pain and death of sin.  This is not a choice our God takes lightly.  So He does not have us make it instantly, but instead he offers us time to consider it.  During this time, He makes every effort to reach out to us in love, and hopes to lure us back to Him, through the power of His so great love.  But for the heart that will not yield, that will not submit, that will not see its own need, He cannot force it to comply for the use of force is not His tactic, but that of His enemy.  Despite giving Jezebel herself time to consider her decisions and repent, she does not repent.
John continues in verse 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. [verse 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.”  Ouch.  The rebuke here is severe.  The punishment for her refusal to repent, is to bear the weight of her own choices and actions.  The “works” of evil that will result in pain, are to be allowed to be experienced.  We sometimes do not know the full weight of our sins, because as we repent, the Lord is generous and protects us from the pain our choices should have resulted in.  We therefore miss the full weight of our sins and choices, because of the mercy of our God.  The punishment identified here for Jezebel however, is simply a removal of that protection.  Those who embrace the ideas of self-love and self-gratification are going to be allowed to see just what pain and death accompany those choices.  The hand of mercy will be removed, and the full weight of our embrace of pain and death will be experienced … “except we repent.”  Even in our disaster, the hand of repentance remains outstretched from our God.  But while we refuse it, the results that come upon us, will reflect that God does denounce the sins we embrace, that His hand of mercy will not forever spare us from the pain of our un-repented sins.  It is not only our actions that are allowed to bear fruit, but our motives as well, both the “reins” and “hearts” are known of our God.  The weight of our sin is to be a clear message to the world and the church of where sin leads, and what it truly means, if we continue to refuse to repent.
John continues in verse 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. [verse 25] But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”  Here again is hope outstretched.  Notice Jesus begins by addressing “you”.  “You” who is reading this message, by virtue of reading and reaching out to God, He identified “you” as being separate from those who have refused to repent and suffer the fate of their choices.  “You” are different than them, because this message has not been lost on “you”.  He continues “and unto the rest” in Thyatira, and in the space and time associated with this period of church history.  Both “you” and “unto the rest”, and “as many as have not this doctrine”, in effect to everyone who has refused to adopt the false doctrines of control and self-gratification, there is to be a promise. 
This group which has refused to embrace the false prophecies and doctrines and teachings of Jezebel, this is a group which in so doing has not known the “depths of Satan as they speak”.  Those who would compel conscience, and put to the sword any who should disagree with them, and in the name of our God, have truly come to know the depths of Satan in what they say.  For since the war in heaven began, Satan has blamed all death on God, taking no responsibility for it himself.  Satan has forever attempted to enslave and compel the minds and hearts of men, for he does not desire the choice of love, but instead the mindless compulsion of slavery.  Satan wishes to rule the universe on pain of death.  Whereas God rules it because we choose to return the love to us He has already offered.
The promise given to those who have remained faithful to their intimacy with Christ, who have not abandoned Him through love of other gods, or of self, to them is given the promise that they shall bear none other burden but that which we already have.  This is the essence of salvation itself.  A submission of our will, a repentance born of humility, is already the “hardest” part of our salvation.  It is after all a refusal to repent that has seen Jezebel and those who would commit adultery with her bearing all the pain of their choices.  A stubborn refusal to repent is why Jezebel is being allowed to bear the weight of her sins.  If she, and we, would have repented, the mercy of our God would have kept us from seeing the full weight of the choices and sins we had embraced.  But the outstretched hand of mercy is consistently rejected, and so what comes, comes.  But “you” were not meant to suffer the fate of Jezebel.  “You” were meant to refuse her false words and instead embrace the words of Christ.  “You” were meant to know the freedom of repentance and submission, and salvation by being remade by Christ.  “You” were meant to be saved from yourself and your natural inclinations.
John continues in verse 26 … “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: [verse 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. [verse 28] And I will give him the morning star.”  Now the giving is going to just get ridiculous, as usual.  The works of Christ in His ministry were works of love for others, healing for others, meeting the needs of others.  He did these works without condemnation, or judgment, but to redeem, to save, to reconcile us to Himself.  These acts of charity we are charged with keeping until the end.  Notice this is the ONLY doctrine, the doctrine of His actions of love to others, that He charges us to remain within.  For it is love alone that accomplishes our salvation, and leads others to want that same salvation with our God.  It is not our hate, or judgmentalism, or legalistic views of right and wrong that inspire salvation in others, instead it is ONLY our unconditional love for them.  What must be overcome then, is the idea that we can compel the conscience of others, that we can deny others access to the true word of God, that we can put faith in our wealth and fineries rather than in Christ alone, that we can corrupt our intimacy with God through the false doctrines of self-gratification.  These things can only be overcome as we submit our will in repentance and humility to Christ, who alone can remake and recreate us in His image.
The power that comes over nations, the iron rod that splinters the vessels of potters clay, is the steadfast love that is given unconditionally to everyone we encounter.  Think of it, Christ took no violent actions in His day, yet the entire Roman empire was brought to its knees by the fundamental doctrines of love and submission in the hearts of true believers.  Pagan Rome is a thing of the past, despite its iron grip in the time of Christ.  No dictator, including Satan, is able to maintain control over a people who embrace love of others as their primary premise.  Evil itself, will be forever removed from the universe, by the free-will choice of sentient beings in the universe, including us, because we choose to embrace love of others instead of love for self.  This is the truth that shatters evil and cannot be broken.  Love wins.  Love conquers all, including evil, and Love will see evil finally and fully defeated.  As Christ received love from His Father, so we are to receive Love from Christ who we follow and submit our will to.  Christ was forever doing the will of His Father, not of Himself.  So we are to do the will of Christ and not of our own.  And in so doing, we are further promised the “morning star”.  We are promised the gift of Christ Himself, poured out in our lives, in our families, in our churches, in our communities, and in our world.  The gift of Christ is the greatest gift God could make to us, and is the basis of our salvation from beginning to end.
Jesus concludes his message of revelation to the church of Thyatira as John writes in verse 29 … “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”  Once again the message to the church is joined by the power of His Holy Spirit.  For without the power of His Spirit, we will be unable to overcome, unable to understand, and unable to be removed from the power of our choices and sins.  But as we submit to our God, we come to know the power of His salvation to us.  This is the promise to Thyatira, and of way more importance, the promise Jesus makes to “you”.
And the messages were not over yet …