Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Four Beasts in Daniel

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed.  He wrote down the substance of his dream.  Daniel 7:1

In Daniel 7 there are four beasts described, from a vision Daniel had, each representing a prophetic kingdom.  If you remember, in Daniel 2 there were also four kingdoms represented by four sections of a statue.  Those were four ancient kingdoms, each succeeding the previous one, with all of them ruling the Asia Minor and Mesopotamian region at one time.  Babylon, Persia, Greece/Alexander and Rome - I wrote a blog about it once.  Those four ancient kingdoms seem to share some similarity with the kingdoms prophesied with the four beasts, but they are not the same; there are some distinct differences.  The most obvious difference is the fourth beast.  It has iron teeth, like Rome with the iron legs/feet, but the magnitude of its power and terror is much greater.  Anyone who has studied eschatology can spot very quickly how the fourth beast relates to Revelation 13, and so it does.  But lets go ahead and take a look at the first beast and see if we can figure this out.

The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle.  I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a man, and the heart of a man was given to it.  Daniel 7:4

This beast shares some similarity with the golden head representing Babylon.  The lion symbolizes majesty and power.  The wings of an eagle means that this beast can travel over great distances.  There is only one kingdom in modern times that fits the profile, and that is Great Britain.  This is true for a number of reasons.  Great Britain has come the closest of any modern power to actually conquering the world.  It was once said, "The Sun never sets on the British Empire," meaning that in every part of the world Great Britain had colonies.  And the lion has always been associated with Great Britain.  You can see it on the royal coat of arms.  The wings of an eagle could refer to the original thirteen colonies, as the eagle is associated with the US and the thirteen colonies broke off from the British Empire.  The wings could also be simply all of Great Britain's colonies, which have broken away.

And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear.  It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth.  It was told, 'Get up and eat your fill of flesh!'  Daniel 7:5

A bear is big, brutal and clumsy.  This beast represents a kingdom like that - big, brutal, and we might say unpredictable.  In the ancient world, the Persian Empire was much like that.  They won battles simply by outnumbering their opponents.  They were not majestic like the lion.  They didn't rule with equity; they oppressed people.  And it was big.  There is a modern kingdom that fits the description perfectly: Russia.  Russia is just like a bear, which is why Russia has been associated with the bear for many years.  And if we consider the population of Russia, it is raised up on its western side.  Now its clear that right after WWII the Soviet Union ate its "fill of flesh" when it conquered and controlled Eastern Europe.  What's not as clear is the meaning of the three ribs in the bear's mouth.  I've heard it speculated that the Yalta Conference, with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin as the three ribs, is the fulfillment of this.  I don't know, it could be.  The timing is perfect.

After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard.  And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird.  This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.  Daniel 7:6

The third kingdom in the ancient world was Alexander's Empire.  Alexander the Great went out and conquered in a flash - he conquered the entire Persian Empire in only ten years.  This is much the way a leopard operates; by springing on its victims in a moment.  And we know Alexander's Empire was split into four kingdoms, ruled by four of his generals.  But this beast must represent a modern kingdom, if its to be consistent with the rest of the prophecy, particularly with the fourth beast, which is clearly the antichrist's global kingdom, revealed in Daniel 7:16-28 and in Revelation.  It takes a little pondering to figure out what modern kingdom the leopard represents, but its clear once you know.  Germany is the answer.  The first thing we notice is the four heads and the four wings.  These are four kingdoms within the greater kingdom and four leaders of each of those kingdoms.  As we know, Hitler was the leader of the Third Reich, which literally means "Third Kingdom".  The first kingdom was the Holy Roman Empire with Charlemagne as the first king, and the second kingdom was the German Empire with Otto von Bismarck as the second king.  This suggests that there will be a Fourth Reich with a fourth leader sometime in the near future.  It also fits perfectly with the chronology of the prophecy - Great Britain going out and conquering first, Russia eating its fill secondly, and the final head of the leopard, Germany, being given authority to rule thirdly.  The way this will likely work out, given that the European Union is already formed, is that in some way authority to rule the EU will be given to Germany, and there will be a powerful leader in Germany at the same time.  Whether he will be as ruthless as Hitler, or if he will go out conquering like Alexander, we do not yet know.

To make the leopard/Germany association clearer, consider how Hitler conquered France: with Blitzkrieg and tanks.  Consider what the name of German tanks are today.  This is a picture of the German Leopard 2

These are the first three beasts.  Similar to the ancient kingdoms of Babylon, Persia and Greece, but different in some way or another.  One thing that is similar but different is the fact that they are all in one region of the world, but that region is different from ancient to modern.  In the ancient world these kingdoms ruled the Mesopotamian and Asia Minor region.  In the modern world these kingdoms are all in Europe.  And the fourth kingdom is both - Rome.  Rome is in Europe, but the ancient Roman Empire ruled the same region that the other ancient kingdoms ruled.  The modern Roman Empire, or "Nova Roma", is prophesied in verse 7:

After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast - terrifying and frightening and very powerful.  It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.  It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.  Daniel 7:7

We see how this relates to the statue prophecy in Daniel 2:40 with the use of iron.  The iron in Daniel 2 represents the ancient Roman Empire.  The beast with iron teeth in Daniel 7 represents the global empire of the antichrist, which will rule the world for a period of seven years.  We see the connection with Revelation 13:1, because of the ten horns.  And we see the explanation of it in Daniel 7:15-28.  I'll let you read it without me quoting it here, since it is pretty lengthy.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Trinity in The Old Testament

The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine that says God is three Persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in one God.  The Bible does not include the word "Trinity" in it, nor does the Bible specifically describe this doctrine, but the truth of it is plainly present in Scripture.  Not only is the truth of the Trinity present in the New Testament, but you can see it in the Old Testament as well.  I hope to show you exactly how the Old Testament proves the doctrine of the Trinity of God.

God is one
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Deuteronomy 6:4

For who is God besides the LORD?  And who is the Rock except our God?  Psalm 18:31

This is a pretty obvious fact, and its undisputed by all Christians, Jews and even Muslims.

God is more than one
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all creatures that move along the ground."  Genesis 1:26

And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  Genesis 3:22

"...Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."  Genesis 11:7

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?"  And I said, "Here am I.  Send me!"  Isaiah 6:8

 We see examples of God using the plural pronoun for Himself.

The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for you feet."  Psalm 110:1

How can there be two Lords, and one speaking to the other?  The Trinity of God

"Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion.  For I am coming, and I will live among you," declares the LORD.  "Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people.  I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you..."  Zechariah 2:10-11

God is speaking and He says "the LORD Almighty has sent me to you."  How can that be?  Only the Trinity of God can answer that.

The Father in the Old Testament
He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.'  Psalm 89:26

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

The Son in the Old Testament
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:  He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father....  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.  Psalm 2:7,12

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?  Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?  Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?  Who has established all the ends of the earth?  What is his name, and the name of his son?  Tell me if you know!  Proverbs 30:4

He said, "Look!  I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods."  Daniel 3:25

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.  He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.  Daniel 7:13-14

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  Genesis 1:2

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Psalm 51:11

Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.  So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.  Isaiah 63:10

Monday, October 24, 2011

Two Kinds of Love

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these."  Mark 12:29-31

Exclusive Love
What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?  Using the picture of marriage is probably the best way to describe it.  Rightly so, because the church of Christ is called the bride of Christ.  This love is the kind of love that involves passions and desires.  This love waits for and longs for Christ.  This is the love, that more than anything else, wants to be with Him.  There is a burning in the heart and soul that won't go away until its desire is fulfilled.  This love is exclusively for God.  It means rejecting with contempt anyone or anything that tries to compete with Him as number one.  This love makes a person think of Jesus, dominating a person's thoughts day and night.  Imagine a young lady who meets the man of her dreams: Is she kept up at night thinking about him?  This is a lose yourself kind of love; it requires total surrender.  You'll be hanging on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  You'll obey His commands with a desire to please Him.  We all know that God needs nothing from us, yet He asks us to serve Him, and that is so we can demonstrate our love for Him.  This is the love that drives us to worship.  We worship Him, and Him alone, because only God is worthy of our worship.  This is the total love that consumes every bit of strength and desire and thought and affection and expectation.  This is what might be called crazy love.

Brotherly Love
This is the second greatest command: Love your neighbor as yourself.  This is the kind of love that looks out for each other.  We have a common bond, being united in the church of Christ, and all being made in the image of God.  Because of that, we treat each other with respect and care.  We want what is best for the other person, just as we might for ourselves.  We encourage one another.  We strengthen each other.  We warn when there is danger.  We celebrate at victories.  We cry with each other.  This is the kind of love that looks beyond self and looks to the best interests of everyone.  This is brotherly love

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Both Physical And Spiritual

There's a number of biblical issues some people have a hard time understanding, which can easily be understood if you think of the physical and the spiritual reality.  Firstly, I should define what I mean by both.  The physical is material things in the world.  The spiritual is that which is heavenly and from God.  The thing is, what people often don't understand, the physical and spiritual realities are combined into one.  Lets take a look at one example that any average Christian knows of, and we'll move on from there.

Jesus is God, and Jesus was man.  Jesus was both 100% man and 100% God.  The physical reality, when Jesus was here on earth, was that Jesus was a man; He came in the flesh (2John 7).  The spiritual reality, and eternal reality, is that Jesus is God (John 1:1).  When people try to think strictly with logic, without any allowance for paradox, they find that this is a contradiction.  But its not a contradiction, its a paradox, and as we shall see, its not the only paradox involving the physical and the spiritual.  I mention this example to lay some groundwork to make a point with another issue, in which there seems to be less agreement among Christians.  With this example, there is agreement.  And the agreement is that Jesus was both man and God.  So it shouldn't be hard for Christians to understand the paradoxical reality when it comes to salvation.  The keyword in all this is -both-

Who does the work of salvation?  That is the question that Calvinists and Arminianists have been arguing over for years.  Calvinists say that God does the work of salvation; Arminianists say that man does it.  I say they're both wrong, or both right depending on how you look at it.  The fact of the matter is that -both- man and God do the work of salvation.  This is another paradox, just like the paradox of Jesus being 100% man and 100% God.  And if you're going to understand salvation, understanding this fundamental fact is essential.  Both man and God do the work of salvation.  The Holy Spirit works in us, and what the Holy Spirit does, we do.  In other words, what we do is a result of what the Holy Spirit does.  Consider this verse: continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (2Philippians 2:12-13).  So who is doing the working, man or God?  Both, and at the same time.

Think about it, we are the body of Christ, right?  And we did already establish that Christ is both man and God, right?  So doesn't that make -us- both man and God?  If you have been born again, that is who you are; you are both a man and one with God, because the Holy Spirit is in you.  You might think that sounds like blasphemy, saying that we are one with God, but that's exactly what Jesus says: On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you (Jesus in John 14:20).  The act of doing the will of God because of God doing it in you is exactly what unity is.  I am doing it, and God is doing it; my will is done by His will, and His will is done by my will.  That is what unity is.  And that is the paradox of the physical and the spiritual - they are two different things, but they are brought into unity by God.  Jesus was the first man to be both physical and spiritual, and Jesus is an example for us all.  What Jesus was and became, that is what we are and will become.  Just as Jesus died and rose from the dead, so shall we, because we are in Christ Jesus.  In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).  Just as Jesus displayed the paradox of being both physical and spiritual, so do we.  We are both physical and spiritual.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Seven Churches: The Church in Philadelphia

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.  What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.  I know your deeds.  See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.  I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.  I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.  Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.  I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God.  Never again will he leave it.  I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  -Jesus in Revelation 3:7-13

We have now come to the present day.  We live at a time when the church in Sardis is diminishing (the Protestant churches), the church in Thyatira continues (the RCC), and the church in Philadelphia is emerging.  Don't take that to mean that this is the "emerging" or "emergent" church.  Its hard to define the church in Philadelphia, since it is such an infant.  But you can look for these signs: holds to the Bible and keeps the name of Jesus.  This is churches that go by the name of Christ rather than the name of a denomination.  And this is churches that hold to Scripture and know it well.  You can tell which is the church in Philadelphia, if you see these two signs.

So what is the open door that Jesus speaks of?  Clearly this is figurative, as a literal open door means nothing.  Generally speaking, an open door is an opportunity.  Specifically, I believe this open door is the internet.  The internet is the most beneficial technology the church has ever seen; even better than the printing press.  Our mission as Christians is to communicate a message.  The advantage of the internet is that it gives us the ability to communicate that message near and far and wide, all without leaving the house.  Even just in a believer's spare time, he can post Scripture on his Facebook.  He could make a video defending the Christian faith in just a hour or so.  There is much us Christians can do to make disciples by using the internet.  Its simple and easy; its just a matter of doing it.

So the church in Philadelphia is emerging, Jesus has placed an open door before this church, and this church has kept His word and not denied His name.  Jesus says that He will make those who are the synagogue of Satan acknowledge that He has loved the church in Philadelphia.  So what is the synagogue of Satan?  Again, this is clearly figurative.  Jesus says that they claim to be Jews but are not.  And since its mentioned here, it must be something significant.  I believe the synagogue of Satan is the Islamic world.  Muslims claim to be Jews, or at least to be children of the promise - through Ishmael - but anyone that studies Islam can see clearly that it is wrought with evil.  Calling it the synagogue of Satan is accurate, if you know anything about Islam.  Also, if you know the OT prophecies, you know that God will punish the enemies of Israel.  Muslims in the middle east have made themselves the enemies of Israel.  If you connect the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 to what Jesus says about the synagogue of Satan here, you see a picture in which Muslims will come to acknowledge God after being humiliated in defeat.

Finally, since I write this to many who are in this church whether they realize it yet, I want to emphasize what Jesus says.  Jesus says that the church in Philadelphia has kept His command to endure patiently.  That means we must endure patiently.  And it means there must be a reason, otherwise it wouldn't be written.  There is a great promise in this letter, but evidently we will have to work hard and long before that promise will be realized.  We must persevere.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Seven Churches: The Church in Sardis

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.  But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.  Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.  They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.  I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  -Jesus in Revelation 3:1-6

We are now getting into the later churches.  The church in Sardis represents the dominate church from the time of the Reformation (AD1500) to about this day.  We think of this church as the Protestant churches.  The reformers have always had a reputation of being alive.  Today many Protestants put about as much emphasis on their favorite reformer and their own particular denomination's tradition as the Bible, and maybe more.  But the reality of these churches, which came out of the reformation, is that they were not alive.  If you study closely the history of Protestant churches and the people in and around them, you can see clearly that all is not well.  Spiritual deadness is hard to see in history, but we can see the effects of it.  During the time that Protestantism was dominate in Europe, there were wars and colonial slavery, which is obviously contrary to Christ's teachings.  Its also evident in the amount of division, with all the different denominations in Protestantism.

It could be that the "Wake up!" in this letter is reflected in the Great Awakening.  The two great awakenings were massive revivals that get a good bit of attention.  The awakenings themselves are pretty cool, but a person has to wonder why they had to awaken.  Their impact did not last for long.  It seems that churches went right back to sleep.  Christ tells the church in Sardis that they must strengthen what remains, because their deeds are not complete.  The fact that their deeds are not complete is a result of Sola Fide (by faith alone), which is a teaching peculiar to Protestant churches.  Protestants have always had the idea that deeds do not need to be done to enter heaven, and as a result, deeds have not been done.  So today, if you think about it critically, you see that there are many Protestant churches that are dead and dying.  You see churches that are spiritually dead and physically dying.  Those that go to church do not take their religion seriously, and you find more and more post-Christian people, because there is little reason to go to church.  There must be a realization that deeds are necessary, and good deeds have been lacking in Protestant churches.  The word "strengthen" is used, because there is an overall weakness in these churches.  Church-goers must learn the Bible and learn some apologetics, which will strengthen their faith and make them able to defend it.  This is one thing that has been lacking in Protestant churches.

Even still, there are some in the Protestant churches that have done good deeds and have obeyed their Master.  These are the "few people" that Jesus talks to in this letter.  You can read about missionaries that went to distant lands and put their lives in danger.  You can read about song-writers who wrote countless worship songs.  You can see strong fathers and mothers who raised their children well and taught them Scripture.  You can see, among the broader deadness, a few saints that have paid attention to Christ's words and followed them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Seven Churches: The Church in Thyatira

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.  Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.  By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.  I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.  So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.  I will strike her children dead.  Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.  Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.  To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations - 'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' - just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  -Jesus in Revelation 2:18-29

The churches up until now were all churches of early Christianity, with a fair amount of overlap among them.  This church, the church in Thyatira, is the last of the early churches, but also the first of the late churches.  This is the church that connects ancient Christianity with modern Christianity.  Its commonly known as the Roman Catholic Church, but also includes the Eastern Orthodox churches.  The time period in which the Roman Catholic Church was most dominate was from around AD500 to around AD1500, or from the rise of the papacy to the Reformation.  You can see, by studying church history, that the Roman Catholic Church has always been keen on good works, and they do a good many of them.  You'll also notice that during the dark ages (the beginning of this church age) the church was doing less than after the middle ages (the latter part of the church age).  The church progressively has done more and more, and that is worthy of commendation.  Jesus also commends them for their love and faith, which is something much less obvious from our vantage point, but I trust that its true.

There is one major problem with the Roman Catholic Church though, and that is the Vatican.  The woman Jezebel, that Jesus speaks of, is the Vatican, or possibly the office of Pope.  Either way, whether its the papacy or the Vatican, its basically the same entity.  There is no doubt that this Jezebel is a figurative representation, since the literal Jezebel was long dead when this was written, and she never lived anywhere near the city of Thyatira.  Its also quite telling that Catholics refer to the Vatican as "Mother Church" and the Pope as the "Holy See".  Notice that Jesus uses a female form of a false prophet to describe it.  And look at the things that Jezebel leads God's servants into by her teaching.  Its practically common knowledge that the problems in Roman Catholicism are idolatry and sexual immorality, as well as false teachings.  Consider also where the Vatican has taken up residence.  With the previous church, and Revelation 17:9, we discovered that Rome is where Satan lives and has his throne (Revelation 2:13).  In short, Rome is a tool on earth for Satan.  So its no surprise that this false prophetess, the Vatican, has taken up residence in Rome.  It also could be speculated that this Jezebel has some connection with the prostitute woman in Revelation 17.  Its clear from this letter and Revelation 17, that both Jezebel and the prostitute woman have many children by adulteries.  They could be one in the same.

The latter part of this letter is directed to those "who do not hold to her teaching".  I believe, in general, this is anyone, either throughout the church period or now, that has not taken the Vatican's teachings to heart.  Specifically, it could be the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Its clear that Eastern Orthodox are practically the same as Roman Catholics, but without the Roman part.  They might be, more specifically, who Jesus is talking to in the latter part of the letter, but that's a speculation.  Basically, its simply anyone who does not hold to the false teachings of the Vatican.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Seven Churches: The Church in Pergamum

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.  I know where you live - where Satan has his throne.  Yet you remain true to my name.  You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city - where Satan lives.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.  Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore!  Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.  -Jesus in Revelation 2:12-17

You probably noticed that there's a theme in this letter, which is "where Satan lives."  Jesus makes it clear that Satan lives in their city (I know, sounds really bad!).  The church in Pergamum represents the mixed church, from about AD313 to around AD750.  This is when the church and the Roman Empire were wedded together in some sense, which is why Pergamum is "where Satan has his throne."  We know based on other parts of Revelation that Rome is a tool for Satan.  We know that the woman, who is a great prostitute, sits on seven hills (Revelation 17:9).  And Rome has always been known as the "city on seven hills" because it is surrounded by seven hills.  We also know that Rome is the throne of Satan, because Revelation 13:2 says that Satan gave the first beast his throne, and Revelation 17:9 says the seven heads of the first beast are the seven hills on which the prostitute (Rome) sits.  It makes perfect sense, because the church during this period existed in the Roman Empire, both east and west at first and then later only east.  And Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire during this time.

Because the church and the Empire were wedded together, a number of false teachings and practices began to creep into Christianity.  The council of Ephesus, where Mary worship essentially began, was during this period.  A number of the historic pagan temples and statues were not destroyed, but were simply converted to use in Christianity.  In this way, idolatry entered the church.  Honoring, and even praying to, certain saints became a practice.  Some Christian clergy were more concerned with pleasing the emperor and Roman authorities than pleasing God, and they taught things that corrupted Christian truth.  Pagan rituals, where food sacrificed to idols was eaten and sexual immorality taken place, did not cease, but took on a Christian disguise.  This is why its called the mixed church - because paganism and Christianity were mixed together.  It did much more harm to the Christian church than the many persecutions before it did.

But not everything was bad in Pergamum.  Jesus commends them for their faithfulness, even in persecution.  The persecution He speaks of is the lingering persecution following the Smyrna church age.  Even after the Edict of Milan in AD313, Christians were still poor and facing persecutions from people who hated them.  And certainly not all Christians during that time took part in the corrupt practices.  There had to have been many who remained faithful to Christ's teachings.  The rebuke is mainly aimed at the fact that they tolerated the false teachings and practices that crept in during that period.

Notice that it was the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians in the first few centuries, and notice that Jesus says that Antipas (a figure representing the persecuted Christians in the church in Pergamum) was put to death in their city - where Satan lives - which was the Roman Empire.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Seven Churches: The Church in Smyrna

To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich!  I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.  -Jesus in Revelation 2:8-11

This letter describes the Christian church from the time of the first major persecution (AD64) to the time of the last major persecution (AD311), which was the most severe of all.  Not long after this the emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan (AD313), legalizing Christianity.  The "ten days" in this letter symbolically represents ten major persecutions.  Here are the ten emperors that enacted these persecutions:

1) Nero AD 63-68
2) Domition AD 81-96
3) Trajan AD 112-117
4) Marcus Aurelius AD 161-180
5) Septimus Severus AD 202-210
6) Maximus the Thracian AD 235-238
7) Decius AD 250-251
8) Valerian AD 257-259
9) Aurelian AD 270-275
10) Diocletian and Galerius AD 303-324

This church has always been know as the early persecuted church.  This church is also known as the most pure of any Christian church.  Jesus states that they are poor in physical possessions, but rich in spiritual wealth.  In no way does Jesus rebuke of criticize the church in Smyrna, giving us a shining example to follow.  The ones who say they are Jews, but are actually a synagogue of Satan, is most likely the Jews who persecuted early Christians.  We see this clearly in the book of Acts, where Jews are causing trouble for Paul everywhere he goes.  When Jesus implies that they're not actually Jews, He is speaking of them not being the spiritual Israel, or truly Jewish in their heart (Romans 2:28-29).  So while they may have had a Jewish pedigree, they were not truly Jewish.  Take a closer look at the early persecuted church; there are many amazing stories of perseverance and faithfulness.  We truly have an amazing example of how to be faithful followers of Christ with the church in Smyrna.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Seven Churches: The Church in Ephesus

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.  If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.  But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.  -Jesus in Revelation 2:1-7

This letter prophetically describes the church from its start (AD33) to around the end of the century (AD100), also known as the Apostolic Age.  There are a number of indications of this, especially when we look at the other letters and the rest of church history.  One very clear indication is the fact that Jesus tells John that the lampstands (churches) and stars (angels) are "what is now and what will take place later."  Just in this letter there is mention of those who claim to be apostles but in fact are false, which we know is something that went on while the apostles were leading the church (2Corinthians 11:13).  And we can tell by the epistles that these false apostles were not tolerated.  We also know that Christians in the Apostolic Age worked hard, persevered and endured hardship; the book of Acts is an indication of that.  The conditions of Judea, Asia Minor and everywhere else Christianity had gone at that time, are also an indication that they persevered and endured hardship.  Furthermore, we have reason to think there was a height to fall from.  Its important to note that the church during the Apostolic Age is not just the apostles, but all Christians in that church.  When the apostles were going out and making disciples, its not hard to think that it was a high time for the church.  This is the "first love" that Jesus talks about.  But as time progresses it can be hard to keep the fire and excitement alive.  Just imagine those who witnessed all the miracles performed by Peter or Paul.  After having seen those things, their hearts had to be on fire for the Lord.  But decades later, its hard to have that same fire and love.

Consider for yourself what "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" means.  It will become clearer when we take a look at the other churches, and how they are perfect descriptions of other church ages.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Deathbed Idea

That's just a name I came up for it; I know its not creative.  This is the idea that a person can genuinely accept Christ on his deathbed and be saved from hell.  It generally goes along with a defense of "faith only" teaching.  If a person can genuinely accept Christ on his deathbed, then we would have to concede that good works are not necessary to enter heaven.  There is a parable Jesus told that gives us understanding on this issue:

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.  He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.  About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.'  So they went.  He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.  About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around.  He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'  'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.  He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'  When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'  The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.  So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.  But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'  But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.  -Jesus in Matthew 20:1-16

So we might ask ourselves the question: Does a person have to be a Christian (servant of God) for a certain time to enter heaven?  The parable clearly indicates that the answer is no.  It did not matter whether the workers were hired in the morning or late in the evening.  And it did not matter whether they worked for 10 hours or 1 hour.  The fact of the matter is that God can give eternal life to whomever He wishes.  It is His to give.  God can be gracious to anyone.  We should not keep a scorecard.  We shouldn't try to judge for ourselves what God will or won't give to this person or that.  Instead we should accept what God chooses to do, because God can do whatever He wants.  And we should be grateful simply that He has accepted us.  That's what this parable teaches us - God can be gracious to whomever He wishes, and we are not in a position to second guess that.

But suppose there was a man in the marketplace that knew the landowner would pay the latecomer the same amount.  Suppose he intentionally waited till the eleventh hour so he wouldn't have to work much.  What do you think would happen to that man?  If we already know of God and God's kingdom, and specifically God's grace, and we intentionally wait till our deathbed (so to speak) to repent and start serving God, then it won't be good.  That's an attempt to cheat God.  When the call to work for God comes to us we must respond.  This parable is not meant to give people a reason for tardiness.  This parable is not meant to say that salvation can wait till the deathbed.  Anyone who puts off serving God till their deathbed, or just putting it off at all, faces the risk of missing it entirely.  The point of the parable is to teach us not to have expectations of what we think God should do.  It teaches us that God can do what He pleases, and we should not complain about it, especially when we receive the pay God promised.  But it doesn't teach us that God can be cheated.  The only reason the workers hired in the eleventh hour were paid the same is because no one had approached them earlier in the day.  As the parable applies to reality, they would be the people who hear the word of God late in life.  They're not the people who hear the word of God and intentionally decide to wait till late in life to repent and obey.  And in no way does the parable make the point that good works are not required.  Afterall, its a parable of workers working for pay.  Could the workers put down their shovels if they knew the landlord would be gracious?  No, of course not; it would invite the landlord's anger.


About Me

Unimpressive in person. But always praying that these letters I write will be weighty and forceful. I serve the Almighty as a servant of Christ. I strive to conquer hearts and minds with the word of God. I am nothing, but the Holy Spirit living inside me is omnipotent. By Him I can run and not grow weary, or walk and not be faint. All glory and honor be to God and to Jesus the Christ.