94. Tabernacles, Temples, Cathedrals and Churches.

A trademark of life on earth is worship. Just think for a moment. All through history and all over the globe, places of worship are central to the culture and history of every nation on the face of the earth. Since ancient times, elaborate buildings and even natural wonders have been dedicated to gods and higher beings as appeasement and admiration.

The desert people with their fold-up version of a place of worship, was no different. Freed from the sun-worshipping Egyptians, who built magnificent architectural wonders in awe of their gods, they ventured into the desert with nothing to anchor their renewed faith in the miracle-working YHWH (Yaveh), the God of their faith-ancestry, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Not too far into their desert wanderings, we find the meticulous and awe-inspiring prescription of the Tabernacle, based on the detailed instructions of Moses whose ear was inclined to hear God’s voice. Under Holy Spirit-inspired craftsmen, the Ark of the Covenant is built, to symbolize the Presence of the Most High God, with thick embroidered woven linen to separate it from the section where the Table of Showbreads, the Lampstand and the golden bowl with incense symbolize the Word of God, illuminated by the Light of the World, Jesus, and the worship that prepares for His presence, are located. In the forecourt was the altar of burnt offering where innocent blood cleansed from sin and the bronze laver with water symbolized baptism. This ancient pattern of worship is the foundation of our regular religious reunion with God.

I am always encouraged by the scripture, describing the gifting of art and crafts for men and women that came from God.

…and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, 32 to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship.

34 “And He has put in his heart the ability to teach, in him and Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all manner of work of the engraver and the designer and the tapestry maker, in blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen, and of the weaver—those who do every work and those who design artistic works. (Exodus 35: 31- 35)

Settled in the Promised Land, a few centuries later, it is David’s desire to build a Temple for the God He loves and pours out his worship to. His son Solomon, builds a magnificent Temple to mark the high point of Hebrew culture in the ancient world and earn the respect of neighbouring nations for almost four centuries. After Solomon’s death the kingdom divides and slowly falls away from true worship until the hostility of other ancient Empires (Assyria and Babylon) brings destruction and exile.

After the exile, the reconstruction of the Temple dominates the lives of Ezrah and Nehemiah who re-establish worship in the physically restored Temple, carefully recorded with the many miracles accompanying their daunting task.

Under Roman rule, the Jewish king Herod the Great, works for decades to restore the Temple to its former glory. He is well known for his grand architectural projects throughout the Judea of that time. It is the centre and pride of the city of Jerusalem, built to the pattern of the original desert Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon, with a few modern additions like the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women that were never included in the original plan.

The Temple was the pride and joy of the Pharisees, priests and people at the time of Jesus. It was the centre of Jewish culture and everyday life. Jews lived and worked in their culture of worship. There was just no alternative. If you were born a Jew daily prayer, sacrifices, the Sabbath and celebrating the feasts, marked your life, diary and pleasure. Nothing else was important. Worship of YWHW was above all else in life and the world.

Acts like Jesus cleansing the Court of the Gentiles where the money was collected, would produce immediate reaction from the leadership. Their reaction is discussed in John 2:17-25.

Jesus’ disciples remembered the words of Psalms 69:9. The Psalm is talking of the Messiah. He would be consumed with zeal for the House of God. Zeal means passion or even jealousy. In the minds of the disciples Jesus was being established. His actions befitted the Messiah.

The reaction of the Jews is understandable. They needed to establish Jesus’ credentials through some sign. They knew the Messiah would be established by wonders and signs. Jesus needed to prove His claim. He had to do something supernatural.

Jesus’ reply presented them with a problem. This is John’s interpretation written long after all the events. He is writing seventy years of perspective into the narrative.

The words of Jesus were later used against him as accusation in His trial (Matthew 26:61). The accusers said they heard him say:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

Jesus never said He would destroy the Temple building and rebuild it. Jesus knew the end of the Temple was near. He said to the Samaritan woman that people would worship in spirit and truth without a specific place.

Temple worship did not lead men to God. It should have. It became obsolete. He would never have suggested rebuilding the old ways.

God makes things new, always better than before. It is the miraculous principle of restoration. He makes something you never envisaged. Look out for the new thing. (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19)

Jesus wanted to bring a Temple not made by hands. His coming would bring an end to man-made, man-arranged worship and bring Spirit-worship after the ultimate sacrifice had been made. (Mark 14:58)

He came to introduce a new way to worship God without elaborate buildings and animal sacrifice – a new way of coming into the presence of the living God.

In 19BC Herod started work on the Temple to appease the Jews within the Roman political system. In 64AD the building was finally finished. It took 46 years to build. Only six years after that in 70 AD, the Romans army under generalship of Vespasian destroys the Temple so that only the wailing wall stands.

With this background Jesus makes a shocking statement. Did He really mean all the lavish magnificence and splendour would be nothing and completely obsolete? All the money they spent would be irrelevant in God’s plan. Jesus calls men into discussion with his statement. He sets the literal against the figurative, the physical in contrast with the spiritual.

Further more, His statement was a prophecy of the Resurrection. All would then have access to the glorified Jesus. The ever-present God was to be reachable to the ends of the world. The true depth of the statement could only be known after the resurrection.

The scripture that they believed is that they will be saved from death. Death was an absolute mystery and very frightening. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol (Psalms 16:10). Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31) and Paul quoted it at Antioch (Acts 13:35). It expressed the confidence of the church in the power of God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our approach to God is not dependent on anything man-made or man-built. We worship in our own inner-Temple in the presence of the risen Christ.

Jesus obviously did many miracles in Jerusalem. Many believed in Him, but He did not openly declare Himself.

Jesus knew human nature and how quickly a miracle becomes old news. In journalism they talk about the “one day wonder”. Sensation is only sensational for a very short time.

They would follow signs and wonders, but not many will follow the self-denial and service. Surrendering to the will of God, carrying a cross would separate the superficial from the real.

Jesus was not in it for the popular vote. The mob would have declared Him Messiah. He did not want acceptance until they all knew exactly what acceptance meant.

John calls miracles signs and uses three words:

Teras means a marvelous thing. It has no moral significance; simply an astonishing thing. The New Testament does not use this word alone to describe a miracle.

Dunamis means power. Our word dynamite comes from this word. It denotes extraordinary power, effective power to be recognized by all.

Semeion means sign. This is the word John uses. The deed told men about the man, revealed his character and it was done in order to understand the person doing it better. Miracles told men something of the nature of God. Jesus showed whom God is in healing the sick, comforting the poor, feeding the hungry.

Jesus performed signs of the love of God.

In any miracle there are all three meanings included, revealing the heart of God.

 

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93. In the thick of things – a corrupted people.

In the second chapter of John, following the joyful miracle at the wedding in Cana, the scene is set for a dramatic confrontation at the core of Judaism (John 2:12 – 16).

It is the Passover feast in Jerusalem. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes frequent visits to the Temple and to Jerusalem. Jesus loved Jerusalem. He speaks a lament over the city in Matthew 23:37:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Passover had to be attended by every male Jew living within 15 miles of Jerusalem. The Roman census of 4 AD noted that 250 000 lambs were slaughtered during Passover. A lamb as sacrifice was usually shared by at least ten people. A rough calculation puts the number of Jews in the city at 2,5 million. No wonder the Jewish leaders needed somebody to betray Jesus’ whereabouts to bring Him to trial at the time of the crucifixion.

The other Gospels put the cleansing of the Temple at the end of Jesus’ ministry. This incident made the leaders very angry and prompted them to set His arrest and death sentence in motion.

John did not write chronologically.

According to the prophecy of the Messiah, He would come to the Temple. (Malachi 3:1-4)

John knew the prophecy and was telling of the sudden coming of the Messiah in His temple. He wanted to establish Jesus as a door opener for everything anybody coming to the Temple has ever yearned for. John is not interested in the date, more in the action. John records Jesus’ action as that of the promised Messiah.

It was the aim and ambition of every Jew, scattered over the earth, to celebrate one Passover in Jerusalem. It was the most important feast by far. Everybody over 19 years old had to pay Temple tax, which was the equivalent of two days’ wages.

All kinds of currency were valid in Palestine; Roman and Greek silver coins, also coins from Persia, Tyre and Sidon (old Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon) and Egypt. Temple tax had to be paid in Galilean shekels or Temple shekels. All other currencies were declared foreign and unclean. The other currencies could be used to pay everyday debts, but to God “clean” money had to be used.

The pilgrims arrived with all sorts of coins. The moneychangers were necessary for the purpose of changing currency and would have been fine if the dealings were straightforward. However, the dealings were less than honourable. They asked commission for the exchange and the commission added up to at least one day’s wage.

The wealth accrued from Temple Tax was fantastic. The profits were flowing in. When Crassus (a Roman commander) captured Jerusalem in 54 BC he raided the Temple treasury and took the equivalent of 2,5 million British pounds without nearly exhausting the funds.

The exchange rate was laid down in the Talmud. It was not wrong to take money for themselves, but the rates went up and poor people were fleeced to the bone in the name of God.

Besides the money changers there were the vendors of oxen, sheep and doves. A visit to the Temple required sacrifice of gratitude, worship and also repentance. Of course it was more convenient that the sacrificial animals were on the doorstep. Law prescribed that the animal must be perfect and unblemished and for that purpose inspected by the priest. The Temple authorities appointed inspectors. For the inspection a fee had to be paid. If the sacrificial animal was bought outside, rejection was almost guaranteed. If bought inside, it could be as much as 15 times more expensive but guaranteed flawless. Again it was glaring social injustice in the name of God.

All this moved Jesus to flaming anger. It was not impulsive and hysterical. It was calculated and calm. He took cords and made a whip. Some historians described his face as quite a sight and that His eyes and the majesty of God shining in His face must have been terrifying. God was not idly standing by. The anger of the Godhead was unleashed.

Jesus’ anger was fully unselfish. This was not about Him at all. It was all about the lost and the seeking that He came for. He acted on behalf of a world yearning for God, and not finding the true character of His Father in the so-called religion supposed to bring people to Him. Jesus called Himself humble and meek, but He knew exactly when to unleash His anger against the corrupting of people’s souls.

His drastic step had deep reasons.

God’s house was desecrated. God wanted worship with reverence. Worship without reverence is a terrible thing. Worship that is formalized and unthinking, does not acknowledge the holiness of God. One can never forget God’s purpose in worship. Here in the forecourts were the arguments about worn coins, prices of animals and the ramble of the market place. Are you serious about your worship? It is better to stay away than to USE the house of God for your own gain.

 Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 when he warns against the unworthy use of the Lord’s Table in the verses about communion echoes in this instance also. It is better to stay your participation, than eat the bread and drink the wine without reverence and true repentance in your heart.

Jesus showed that animal sacrifice is completely irrelevant. For centuries the prophets were saying: God does not delight in the blood of animals or in the grain offerings. He is not to be found in animal sacrifices. [Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:22, Hosea 5:6, 8:13, Psalms 51:16.]

Do you delight in your service to the church? Do you find your joy in lavishing on the building and equipment? Real sacrifice is the offerings of the loyal heart in true devotion. Any substitute for true worship is what made Jesus angry.

The Temple should have been a house of prayer.

Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:17)

In the Temple of Solomon there was 24/7 worship.

The Temple in the time of Jesus consisted of various courts. First it was the Court of the Gentiles, then the Women, then the Israelites and then the Priests. All the buying and selling went on in the Court of the Gentiles. Beyond this Court, a Gentile could not go; the scene of the moneychangers was his impression of God. No man could pray there. It was no place of worship. These Temple activities barred men from real prayer and the presence of God.

The confusion of many gods to communities like the Romans and Greeks was a reason to convert to the Jewish religion with conveniently one God. These proselytes as they were called, were only allowed in the very first forecourt of the Temple.

What hinders worship today? Is a sinner welcome in our churches? Could our snobbishness, exclusiveness, coldness, lack of welcome, arrogance and indifference towards strangers mark the atmosphere our Court of the Gentiles? What do they see in the forecourts of our churches AND in the forecourts of Christianity? Only judgment? Or do they see the love and grace of God, when they come with their burden and approach with a true heart.

Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? (Jeremiah 7:11)

What then about the church today? All the words just as applicable today:

 Worship is like focusing a telescope. We can focus the vision by using the knobs on the side, to shorten or lengthen the distance between the eyepiece and lens of the telescope. Changing this distance allows you to focus on the object in question. Adjust the knobs until you see the image come into a sharp focus.

Where do we find our focus knobs in worship? Approaching God with a humble spirit, a broken heart and a true intention will “shorten the distance”. When we confess our sins we enter worthy into the presence of our Most High Father. We do not have to be perfect. We do not have to live right. We approach by the Blood of the Cross of Jesus to clothe us in righteousness to enter in.

Praise God for the Cross. Let us then welcome “our Gentiles” into a house of prayer and not a den of thieves.

 

61. The woman rules the mountains

We hear a great deal about women in our society today. Rightly so. I look back in history and understand the obsession with equality. Since the earliest times and over many centuries women have been treated appallingly, oppressed and abused. Although Eve was made for Adam as a wife and the other half of mankind, things quickly deteriorated into the pattern of the pagans, including polygamy.

So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

The promise of a great nation and many descendants came to Abraham and his wife Sarah. When they acted to “help” God’s plan along, the slave woman Hagar was humiliated and driven out of the household. God blessed Ishmael. He became a great nation and lived in hostility with his brother just as the prophecy over his life stated in Genesis 16:9-12. The son of the promise still came to Sarah, the recognized wife of Abraham, as God promised.

God always honoured his institution of marriage. In the geneology of Jesus Solomon is called the son of David by Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.

Throughout the Old Testament, women were treated as inferior to men, having no rights at all. In spite of this, Biblical history is full of strong women, in political as well as spiritual leadership. It is a thrilling study to research the strong women of the ancient nations, like Deborah in the time of the judges and Hulda, the prophetess in the time of Josiah. Take a closer look at Proverbs 31 and see an accomplished career woman with a husband and children who support and encourage her.

Jesus came to change all this. He acted liberally regarding women in society around the first century. The mere fact that he talked to a woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria must have been quite a story and enough to condemn him by the church. Many Pharisees were called the bleeding Pharisees. They were not allowed to even look at a woman passing by in the street. They would then, very piously, close their eyes and bump into walls and pillars, picking up scratches and bruises in the process.

Women played an important role in the life of Jesus and the early church. Priscilla was one of the leading theologians in the church as seen in Acts 19. Many scholars are of the opinion that she might have been the author of Hebrews and withheld her name for fear of discrimination about the fact that she was a female in leadership.

Today we have the feminist movement active in the Western world. They rant and rave about every possible inequality. It is obvious that they work towards a society where women would take the lead as the stronger sex, refuting centuries of opinion to the opposite. In so many dramas and TV series, the women are the judges, advocates, doctors, government ministers and presidents, leading pathetic men who cannot make decisions without them. Why can’t the strong women become the humble, wise male heroes of whom history and society are full? They act like the men we all hate – rigid and loud, shouting down opposition and violently dealing with it.

Here in Revelation is the ultimate woman of our nightmares. She is sitting on a scarlet beast, the colour of brothels, suggesting she is a harlot herself, deceiving with her female wiles. The phrase: She sits upon many waters denotes the confusion and chaos of the nations of the earth (17:15). The harlot is clothed in royal colours, attractive and authoritative. She is bedecked in jewels, gold and pearls, suggesting money and luxury, symbolic of the allure of riches. She looked very attractive – even John was stricken with wonder (17:6).

Babylon was built on the Euphrates river and is the symbol of all evil and sin. The nations are drunk with her wine, suggesting they want more and more. Money, sex and power rule the world in its many manifestations on many levels of life. She rules in the desert with no possibility of a harvest or fruit, just hunger and thirst. Her name is a secret. She is worshipped by so many who do not even know they are bowing down to her rule. Sin can be a variety of things and even very unique and secretive – known to only those involved.

The people are bedazzled by evil (17:8). Evil should be identified and rejected. It is a beast that is not always easy to see clearly. We need the wisdom of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to discern and resist. The angel had to tell John the secret meaning of the woman. Sin does not look like sin! You need insight and warning.

The golden cup is mentioned in Jeremiah 51:7 as a symbol of power.

Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore the nations are deranged.

She had a name on her forehead (17:5)

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, 
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.

Rome’s prostitutes had a frontlet with their names. Today the pimps have their sign tattooed on sex slaves. Even the wife of Claudius, an emperor of Rome, Messalina, served in the brothels of Rome for money. Into this horror, Christianity was born and men converted to chastity as opposed to instant and always available sexual pleasure. Disciplined moral behaviour is a miracle of the Cross. Secular society has not changed much. Our community is permissive and evil and the church can only stay standing in the power of the Cross.

The word “mystery” is, perhaps, part of the name. It serves as a prefix which tells us that the name is not literal, but symbolical.

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

She is drunk with the blood of the saints – the cruel spirit of hounding and harassment marked pagan Rome. She is always set on destroying the church with merciless persecution throughout the centuries.

Woman sits on the beast of blasphemy and idolatry and it happens when her power and her allure are called salvation. So many seek redemption in the idols of money, power, sex and even sacrifice children to it.

The beast on which she sits has seven heads and ten horns depicting power. The angel describes the beast as the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

In the victory of Christ the beast that was, in other words that had in successive ages been seen in the great world-powers, is slain, or, as the angel expresses it, is not. But though he is not, he will show signs of vitality. He will rise into temporary power. He shall come up out of the abyss. The march of his power, however, is only a march to perdition. He will be utterly destroyed (17:8)

The seven mountains mentioned in 17:9 are the “mountains” of society as a whole and has been identified by some scholars as Religion, Family, Education, Government, the Media, the Arts and Business. It suggests complete control of the beast over society.

For us, the mountains will dance – rejoice, Church of the living Christ!

“For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace;

The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55: 12)

Kings that have fallen could be Rome and subsequent empires. Seven kings depict a complete number of persecuting forces.

The one hour mentioned in 17:12 denote the time of the bloody struggle within Rome during the civil war of June 68AD – December 69AD.

Sin was often symbolized by cities like Nineveh in Nahum 3:4, Tyre in Isaiah 23:16-17 and even Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21 and Ezekiel 16:15. Hosea’s life is a metaphor for the fornication of God’s people with a harlot and God’s unfailing love to win them back.

The desert is a place of visions for so many faith heroes like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus. It suggests distance from the city of confusion, with silence, focus and protection. When we find ourselves in the desert of the rule of the harlot, our God is there to make rivers and pathways in the wilderness. Our provision is at the table set before us and in the face of our enemies, in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23).

The beast is on the way to destruction (17:11). He is on the losing side. We have hope for deliverance from the Creator and His creation.

 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)

The Lamb will conquer and those loyal to the Lamb with Him. The church will share His victory (17:14) Victory comes by the Cross and the Crown of Jesus.

The harlot will be devoured by fire. It is the same punishment prescribed for the daughter of the priest who has been found guilty of sexual immorality (Leviticus 21:9). Her own lovers will turn against her. There is no loyalty in evil; no honour amongst thieves.

The purposes of God are active and victorious even if it looks like the purposes of earthly kings and evil. God is always working for the good of mankind. (Romans 28:8 and Nehemiah 13:2.) These scriptures are pillars of encouragement to be remembered in all trials and tribulation.

The last verses of this chapter (17:14-18) are a summary of the message of Revelation.

For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. (17:17)

 

 

58. Come to the mountain!

It is one of the most powerful metaphors in the whole Bible. God chose a mountain for the Israelites to meet with Him. Moses went up the mountain to receive the Law in the presence of the Most High. When the Israelites were slaves they worked in the pits of Egypt making bricks for the Pharaoh’s ambitious architectural projects. In the desert of their journey to the promised land was Mount Sinai, the mountain of God.

Images of mountains on earth are mostly majestic and awe-inspiring. Mountains are measured and conquered with incredible passion and devotion. Two examples of mountain-scriptures have been spiritual pillars in my life for many years.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12, NIV)

It is the words of the singing prophet, Isaiah, painting a picture of mountains that burst into song. Praise God in harmony with the mountains!

I learnt about the verse in Habakkuk 3, in my early twenties when I read the spiritual classic, Hind’s Feet on High Places (Hannah Hunnard) the first time. Since then, it was a pillar of strength throughout my life.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

    he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:19, NIV)

Many years ago, my brother had a freak accident while horse riding one Sunday afternoon. He died in hospital six days later. Looking back, it was certainly one of the darkest, most heartbreaking times of my life. In spite of all the tears and questions, God “prepared” my mother for his death by “giving” her a Word from the Bible the Saturday night of his passing, just before she received that terrible telephone call. She “heard” about the mountain of heaven.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

If ever there is an image planted firmly into my mind’s eye, it is the mountain of the new Jerusalem, the joyful assembly of the righteous made perfect. How can death ever have a sting, when this city of the living God is in your mind? John elaborated on this wonderful vision of heaven.

It is the image of the church in glory!

The number, 144 000, is the symbol for all faithful saints (7:1-17). They are sealed and numbered and form the perfect cube (10x10x10=1000 and 12×12=144). The perfect cube is like the Holy of Holies in the Temple and the representation of the Presence of the Most High, accessed through the Cross of Jesus for all who would call on His name. It is once again a symbolic number and not to be interpreted literally.

Mount Zion is the symbol for communion of the saints with the Father and feasting in His presence while receiving His word. The name of the Father on their foreheads will identify them in contrast to the name of the beast of the previous chapter (13:16,17).

In the ancient world a mark was important. It depicted:

  • Ownership: slaves and animals were branded. There was no dispute about ownership and no removal possible.
  • Loyalty: soldiers willingly branded themselves with the name of a respected general.
  • Security: a mark was stamped onto a person for safekeeping in time of death. We are marked in life and death.
  • Dependence: the Arab chieftains used branding to mark the people they were responsible for and who were dependent on them. We are dependent on the love and grace of the Lamb.
  • Safety: Syrians tattooed their god on their wrist or neck. The temple of Heracles possessed the right of asylum – any slave escaping in there received a sacred mark to secure him. None could touch him. In the Lamb we are safe and secure.

The voice of God with the sound of the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder, at the same time sounding like an orchestra of harps. Thunder and sweetness together, an exceptional and unique description of sound, bring peace and calm to the troubled heart.

The Lamb’s company can sing about experiences in life and redemption. No other creature like the angels and beings of heaven know what it is about. The redeemed can sing about suffering, strength while being attacked and spiritual growth with Jesus himself as teacher of the deeper things of life. They are virgins; free from spiritual adultery, made pure by the Blood and redeemed by the righteousness of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 3:10)

The words of Jesus to His disciples when He called them were: “follow Me“. (John 1:43, Mark 2:14) He also requested that from the rich young man in Mark 10:21and to the unknown disciple in Luke 9:59.

We should not bother about the excuses mentioned in Luke 9. Our priority is to follow Jesus.

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)

 These words are just as true today. We are His followers (Revelation 14:4); wherever He goes, sometimes into the wilderness. (Song of Solomon 3:6)

Jesus was the sacrifice of firstfruits, the first fruit of the church to be accepted by the Father after the crucifixion when He said to Mary not to touch Him. It is the best of the harvest, the symbol of that which is to come. It is the best for God. Jesus is God’s best for us.

There will be no falsehood in their mouth, no deceit (Psalm 32:2) to be found in the true church of Jesus. A deceitful tongue cannot be trusted; shocking betrayal hurts deeply. Deception twists the truth on all levels of life – family and friends, politics and business.

Jesus is without blemish and perfects His church. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice (Ephesians 1:4, Colossians 1:22). The church must be glorious and pure. (Ephesians 5:26,27).

Three angels are summoned to worship and proclaim the good news of the perfect Lamb. The second angel foretells the doom of Rome and the judgment and destruction for those who have denied their faith and worship the beast.

The gospel for everybody; no exclusion, all embracing.

 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

The everlasting, age old, unending and unchanging message is like God – no beginning and no end. According to Romans 16:25 it is the eternal purpose of God.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

The Gospel is always double-edged – it saves and judges and spells doom for those who reject it. It is the call to all from the God who created all. Paul’s preaching in Lystra (Acts 14:15) confirms this call through all the ages, through the prophets, all of nature and the earth itself.

H.B. Swete called this “an appeal to the conscience of untaught heathenism, incapable as yet of apprehending any other.”

During the time Revelation was written, Babylon was seen as Rome. Rome would fall and made the nations to drink from its immorality and failure. The Romans conquered and ruled with the feet of iron – cruel and unrelenting (14:8).

Babylon is also the symbol of the occult, idolatry and immorality. The city is already judged and therefore the inhabitants drink the wine of the wrath of God. Worship to the beast, Babylon, is a corrupting force luring the nations into insane immorality. It is the image of a prostitute who fills a man with wine so that he will not resist the seduction. On the other hand the fallen will drink from the wrath of God.

In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs. (Psalm 75:8)

Jeremiah (25:15,16) and Isaiah (51:17) talk about the cup of God’s wrath. God’s judgment is true and righteous. He is the perfect judge and His wrath is never to be feared. It will only come to pass when all the calls for repentance are rejected. Even the judgment and consequences of sin, are invoked to bring people to repentance. The core message of the Gospel never changes throughout all the ages. It is to save, redeem and restore.

The third angel announces that worship to the beast causes torture and no compromise in judgment. The consequences of sin in the presence of the angels and the Lamb present the opportunity for redemption. There is a choice to be made. There is no rest for beast-worshippers. The peace of God is absent in their lives. Only God can give peace. There is no peace and joy for the wicked. The source of life in its fullness is God and only God.

The doom of the apostate is the worst. The vengeance on betrayal of the Gospel, is described in Isaiah 34:8 – 10:

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,

    a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.

Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,

    her dust into burning sulfur;

    her land will become blazing pitch!

It will not be quenched night or day;

    its smoke will rise forever.

From generation to generation it will lie desolate;

    no one will ever pass through it again.

 God’s blessing, promised over generations will be lifted. Our choices are important for our offspring. The wonderful promise of Isaiah 44, 65:23 rings true in our lives, because of our submission to the Gospel of Jesus.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

    and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,

    and my blessing on your descendants.

They will spring up like grass in a meadow,

    like poplar trees by flowing streams. (Isaiah 44:3,4,NIV)

 There is rest of the faithful soul in death (Revelation 14:13). The promise of rest in death is confirmed in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 15:18 and stands in dramatic contrast to Revelation 14:11: and the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever.

Let us sing with Paul that we have kept the faith. We run the race with all the problems in a world under the beast, BUT we keep the faith. Even in the face of church betrayal and disappointment in our limited vision of God’s work on earth, we take no offense with God. We trust our God, Who is abounding in goodness and truth.

The challenge is to accept His love as unconditionally as He gives it to us.

Our victory is guaranteed. (Jude 24) We are tried and tested like gold (Revelation 3:18) and purified like silver in fire (Psalm 66).

In the final vision of this chapter we see the Son of man as described in Daniel 7:13,14 and the angels come the temple and altar for the harvest.

“And I saw in the night visions, and, behold with the clouds of heaven, there came one like a son of man and he came to the ancient of days, and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.”

More angels come with harvest instruments to the temple and altar for the harvest on the earth, written in the metaphor of wheat fields and vineyards (Isaiah 5).

It is two familiar metaphors: Joel 3 describes the harvest and many things Jesus said confirms this metaphor. (Mark 4:29, Matthew 13:24 – 30 and 13:37-43)

The winepress is often a symbol of God’s judgment. (Lamentations 1:15 and Isaiah 63:3)

The winepress was outside Jerusalem. It is symbolic of the gentiles to be brought to Jerusalem and judged there. Inside the city would be redemption in the Presence of God. Joel 3:2,12 talks about the nations gathered in the valley of Jehoshaphat to be judged.

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. (Zechariah 14:1-4)

The angels and the Son of man will reap the harvest – not the church. Jesus confirms this in the parable of the tares in Matthew 13. The church is not to judge – wonderful liberty to preach the Gospel with no condemnation. God will judge and do it in His righteous perfection.

The description of the blood that runs deep and wide is qualitative and not quantitative. It confirms that the judgment is complete. The measurement, 1600 stadia (about 300 kilometers) was seen as the length of the land of Palestine, in other words the whole country will be full of blood. The judgment of sin is horrible and utterly gruesome.

[A Stadia is a Greek measurement and is about 192 meters long. So this makes 1,600 Stadia about 300km (180 miles) long and horses’ bridle is about 1.5m (4 ft 6 in) high.]

Let the church rejoice in the perfection of the Plan of God on this earth.

 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)

 

 

 

 

56. A baby and a dragon – really?

We live in the age of fantasy stories. I sometimes get the impression the filmmakers are enjoying themselves even more than their audiences, who travel into magical and mysterious worlds with life-like characters appearing real. The discussions around the latest idiosyncrasies of authors and directors, sound bizarre and outlandish. It is a weird world created in the imagination and realized on film or in books.

Revelation, as a sequence of events in metaphor and symbols, could be classified into this genre of fabulous fantasies. No filmmaker, however, has even come close to endeavour a version of this ready-made script. The four horses of the apocalypse have found their way into some film adaptations, but not recently. Scary horses are part of so many stories – just think of the blood-sweating horses of the black riders in The Lord of the Rings. The four horses are only the first four seals of the seven seals mentioned in Revelation. What about the action of the trumpets and the bowls?

While reading on into the more intimidating and daunting code, we should once again keep our goal in mind. This study is an introduction into the “secret language”, if I may call it that, of the first century Christian message, delivered into a hostile and risky environment of the Roman Empire desperately clinging to the glory it once had, with all the inglorious means it could muster.

In this atmosphere of power play at the highest level, the first Christmas is celebrated. A baby is born to a very ordinary couple, caught in the administration of an Empire, much bigger than the parents themselves could ever care to think about. Whatever one believes about the century-old Christmas story and how many “mistakes” are made in our narrative and nativity scenes, including the date, circumstances or people involved, this event was noticed in the highest circles of government, eventually precipitating the worst trial in recorded Jewish history and the nastiest of execution-styles of the ancient world. Many Jewish scholars have written about the gross miscarriage of justice of the Sanhedrin that fateful night of the trial of Jesus and their sly scheming to bring on the execution by the Romans by whom the Jews were legally forbidden to perform a death penalty. We know the story. It is written in the Gospels. We hang the golden balls to celebrate the season – rightly so.

Let us look deeper as the Word of God always calls us to do.

Our Christmas story is what happened in the physical realm. A baby in a cave or manger – you can choose; an angel choir appearing to shepherds watching over the lambs being prepared for slaughter at the Passover, who rush to witness the arrival; wise men brought to the place by a miraculous star; wide-eyed parents who marvel at the wonder of the truth of prophecy and a mad king who slays babies to calm his own uncertainties – quite a story!

Walk with me into the miraculous scene of Revelation 12 as John uses all the signs of divinity and beauty to describe the spiritual images of the first Christmas.

The sun and moon are often used in divine descriptions. God’s garment is light as described in Psalm 104:2. In Malachi 4:2 Jesus is named the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. The Song of Solomon’s loved ones is fair as the moon and clear as the sun (Song 6:10). In this dramatic description of the woman of heaven, John also added something the pagans would understand – she is crowned with a garland of the 12 signs of the Zodiac.

We must always remember, whatever heavenly bodies of the universe paganism or false religions may use, the symbols and signs of the universe belongs to God. Nothing in this earthly realm, used in whatever distortion and deception, could be hijacked from us as the children of the Creator.

The woman is the Messianic community from whom the Messiah is born. She is in labour, symbolizing the pain of their oppression and the expectant lingering for the Promise to be fulfilled.

Women in the Old Testament were often the symbol of the bride of God.

For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; (Isaiah 54:5)

Jeremiah talks about the harlot being unfaithful in Jeremiah 3:6-10 and Hosea with his unfaithful wife, is a life lived in the metaphor of God as the lover of Israel and the people’s betrayal of that love. God promises betrothal (Hosea 2:19-20) with all the joyful expectancy of a wedding feast with the protection and provision implied in such a union.

Revelation tells of the marriage of the Bride of the Lamb (19:7, 21:9) and Paul writes that we are betrothed (promised) to God as pure.

 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)

The church is now the community from whom the Messiah is proclaimed. The church is always referred to as female. Jerusalem is also female. The old Jerusalem has literally fallen and failed the purposes of God. The new Jerusalem is the church and carries the purposes of God spiritually. The forces of destruction – evil and human – are resolute to destroy this community, but it is under God’s protection and cannot be destroyed.

The great fiery red dragon is a well-known symbol of Babylonian mythology, which depicts a red-gleaming serpent. The image appears in the Old Testament as Rahab in Isaiah 51:9: Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, and wounded the serpent?

The dragon had seven heads and ten horns and seven royal diadems, which all depict mighty power over the kingdoms of the earth as opposed to the kingdom of God. There are two players in the struggle for mankind. Evil is trying to destroy all that God made good. The struggle culminates in the Cross.

The Child, who will rule with an iron rod, is Jesus. The Child is snatched up to heaven out of reach. This is the protection God guaranteed for the fulfillment of His purpose. Satan, in the shape of the dragon, may have a plan of destruction, but God will protect what is His. Heaven is not the far away place, somewhere in the vastness of the universe. It is the Presence of the Father. It is the secret place of the Most High and the shadow of the Almighty. It is the ultimate place of safety.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

My God, in Him I will trust.” (Psalm 91:1,2)

The word used for snatch is the same as used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 2 Corinthians 12:2 to describe the action to be caught up in heaven. John’s emphasis is on the heavenly Jesus, not His earthly life. It is all about the exalted Christ. In the greater time calculation of God, Jesus’ earthly life was just a flash. Even so, the event had eternal consequences.

They escape to the desert, which is a place of safety and nourishment. For Elijah, as for us, it was a place of divine provision. (1 Kings 17:1-7 and 19:1-8) Shortly after the birth Jesus and his parents had to flee (Matthew 2:13.)

During the evil times of Antiochus Epiphanes, the priests kept the law in secret in the wilderness. Again, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, they fled to the mountains, into wilderness-like paces to be safe.

The church today finds solitude and provision in the wilderness. It is there where the table is spread, right there in the shadow of the valley of death. It is a place of provision and communion. Jesus knocks at the door of our heart to sit down for the evening meal, the relaxed chat over good food, which restores our sick and weary souls. (Revelation 3:20)

Satan is the enemy of God. He is in war with God and the saints. It is symbolic of the war in heaven when a third of the angels went against God (Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). Lucifer was the morning star, the leader of worship. The Pharaoh declared himself the morning and the evening star. Music is still infiltrated with evil and very much on the agenda of deception. At the same time there is an explosion of worship music all across the world, to sing the praises of God and draw people to God.

Lucifer fell because of pride. The saints are warned against pride (1Timothy 3:6).

Satan still has access to the Presence of God as illustrated in- Job 1:6-9 and 2:1-6, Zechariah 3:1,2. Satan means adversary. Balaam (Numbers 22) can be called a satan against the angel. He is always the accuser, for Job; also for Joshua in Zechariah 3.

Be aware of the raspy voice of the accuser in contrast to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit spoken in perfect love in you inner being.

In Greek Satan is diabolos, which means slanderer. In the New Testament satan is called the devil or the tempter. Matthew 4, Mark 1 and Luke 4 describe him where the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is recorded.

We find good examples of Satan’s work throughout the Bible. Remember, he is not creative. He cannot think of new strategies. He will always go back to age-old methods and invoke them craftily to snare the saints.

Since this is so, we find Satan engaged in certain nefarious purposes in the New Testament.

  • He seeks to seduce Jesus in his temptations.
  • He puts the terrible scheme of betrayal into Judas’ mind (John 13:2, 27, Luke 22:3).
  • He is out to make Peter fall Luke 22:31.
  • He persuades Ananias to keep back part of the price of the possession he had sold (Acts 5).
  • He is the cause of illness and pain (Luke 13:16, Acts 10:38, 2 Corinthians 12:7).
  • He hinders the work of the gospel by sowing the tares, which choke the good seed (Matthew 13:39), and by snatching away the seed of the word from the human heart before it can gain an entry
(Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12).
  • He uses every wile (Ephesians 6:11) and every device (2 Corinthians 2:11) to achieve his seducing

Jesus taught us to pray against him in the Lord’s prayer – deliver us from the Evil One – Matthew 6:13.

He is the ruler of this world.

I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of the world (Satan) is coming. And he has no claim on Me [no power over Me nor anything that he can use against Me]; (John 14:30) Also John 12:31,16:11.

Satan’s history is tragedy – once great, now fallen. His future is defeat.

His definition: “the malevolent critic of creation, the sleepless vigilance of evil against good.”

The victory of the saints will be his downfall. Our choice for the true life is his defeat. Our victory is the Blood of the Lamb. There is no condemnation for those in Christ; therefore the accuser has no power over us.

He will always try to injure Christ through the church. When Paul was cruelly determined to wipe out the followers of Jesus, he heard the voice on the road to Damascus. Jesus directly identified with His church and asked Paul:

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting and oppressing Me? (Acts 9:4)

The woman escapes with eagles’ wings.

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. (Exodus 19:4)

The image of eagles’ wings has always been a spiritual pillar of support.

“As an eagle that protects its nest, that flutters over its young,

He spread out His wings and took them, He carried them on His pinions. (Deuteronomy 32: 11-12)

But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power;

They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; they will run and not become weary,

They will walk and not grow tired. (Isaiah 40:31)

The wings of an eagle are symbolized in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the Cross. It is always inclusive and welcoming to all.

The serpent is enraged by the escape of the woman. He invokes the flood to destroy, but the waters will not destroy the woman. The earth opens to swallow the river. In God’s hands Nature is used to save, rather than destroy. Water in Asia Minor often went underground to reappear later.

The promise to the saints stands firm. God controls the flood. (Psalm 42:7, 124:4, 32:6.)

 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.

When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched,

Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)

God promises that the flood will not prevail against you. You will be victorious.

 

46. Your name is written.

Man exists in community. Other people know your name. Your name brings either vague memories of a fleeting meeting, or clear impressions of laughter, love and friendship. In other relationships you meet people to broaden your education at school and college, or to learn from in church or mentoring, formally or informally, however you choose. How special is that sought-after invitation to you by name to an event where the host will lavish food and drink upon you on an extravagant occasion.

Parents never forget the names of their children. Whatever a child may choose to do for the good or the bad, their names are engraved in the hearts of their parents. There might be distance, geographically or emotionally, but their names are forever written in the heart of a parent, not only to be remembered in neutrality and composure, but certainly with longing that brings joy or tears. It is most unusual for a parent to distance himself or herself from a child and when it happens – and it does – it brings overwhelming anguish, heartbreak and emotional trauma. On the other hand, children are expected to leave home and make their own lives, and still, full rejection of parents with neglected contact or none at all, causes a deep sense of loss.

Do you know the feeling when somebody calls your name or knows your name amongst thousands? It is so much more than being a number or just a face among many.

God will never forget your name. He has given you life. Whatever you may choose in life, to reject His love or to respond to His call, He knows you. Hear, truly hear the Word of God, in the deep, anointed singing voice of the ancient prophet Isaiah that echoes through the ages. God says:

Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” Isaiah 43:7

For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. Isaiah 45:4

Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number. He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power. Not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. Isaiah 43:1

I was a little girl when my mother told me about a gigantic, beautiful desk, a fine, polished leather book inscribed with gold and an enormous angel with a golden quill. My imagination of the scribe of heaven ran wild. I have always loved books, fascinated to this day with calligraphy and all things to do with paper and stationery. How could I ever conjure an accurate picture of the Lamb’s Book of Life and my name written there? In Malachi 3 our names are written in the Book of Remembrance before the Lord as we speak His name and He listens, rejoicing about us and doing good to us.

Pebble pal, your name is written. Rejoice as we hear the word of God to the church.

Sardis – the dead church.

The city of Sardis stood on a ridge of which the sides were smoothly precipitous. It was approachable from one side only, making it almost impregnable. The ridge was too small for expansion, causing the city to expand to the valley. Sardis was therefore divided into two parts – high and low. It was a wealthy city with lots of gold available from mines in the region. The king of Sardis was defeated in war with Persia. During the battle he retreated to higher part of the city, leaving the precipice unguarded, believing it was impenetrable. One Persian soldier found a way up and led the troops up to find the city completely unprepared for the fight. The whole scenario was repeated in a battle with Alexander the Great. With Rome ruling, Sardis was the centre of the wool trade. After a destructive earthquake in 17 AD, the city lost its luster, life and energy. It became symbolic of lost enthusiasm; lacking a sense of duty. Although it was still important for trade it was not inspiring or aspiring to anybody or anything.

Jesus holds the seven spirits (the fullness of the Holy Spirit) and seven stars (the seven churches depicting the whole church). He is the symbol of the comprehensive anointing of the Spirit of the Lord according to Isaiah 11:2. Not one will be snatched from His hand. Jesus holds on to them and will not let go. He informs them of their reputation of deadness and urges them to repent and change their ways. An accusation of pretense is serious. The church should be the answer to the world. It might pretend to be, but it is dead inside and no solution to the need of the unbelievers.

Hear the call of God – wake up. There is still time to do the work necessary. Isaiah called for Jerusalem to wake up. We, the church, heed the call:

Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise… Isaiah 52.

Whereas she who lives for pleasure and self-indulgence is spiritually dead even while she still lives. 1 Timothy 5:6.

Timothy warns against pretense as a form of godliness, but denying the power of the true Gospel. (Timothy 3:5) The sinful church is weak and ineffective. We are called to make a difference and live as God’s love-solution to the wickedness around us.

The words of the father of the prodigal son rings true:

 … for this son of mine was [as good as] dead and is alive again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:24

And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13.

Sin brings death. It is the death of our will, when we cannot break the bad habits. Sin is the death of feelings, when our conscience dies.

Sin is the death of beauty and loveliness, when the craving for power and lust becomes ugly and vulgar.

Although the church receives no formal commendation, the Spirit mentions the remnant, the ones with undefiled garments, in 3:4. They are found worthy to walk with Jesus, clothed in white.

Jesus challenges the church to remember the truth that they have received and repent. To be watchful, is to learn from city’s history and never be unprepared for the spiritual battle.

The only way to remember the truth is to turn back to the Cross of Jesus and the Word.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Keep alert to be wise and recognize the ways of evil and false teaching. The promise illustrates the eternity of glory in the presence of Christ when we are clothed for the wedding feast, our names are written in the Book of Life, which is the record of the redeemed to be announced in the Throne room of heaven. The Lamb’s Book of Life is mentioned often in Revelation. (13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15)

Moses speaks of the book God has written – Exodus 32:32.

Writing in a book in the Presence of God is mentioned in Psalm 69:28, Daniel 12:1, Malachi 3:16, Luke 10:20, Philippians 4:3.

In the ancient church white clothes were put on after baptism to symbolize festivity, purity and victory. Jesus will clothe us in the robe of righteousness.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.

In our beautiful garment our name is announced, not by the footman or doorkeeper, but by Jesus before the Father and the angels.

It is important to again realize that this state of affairs is not for one day in the distant future. It is happening now. Restoration takes place at this instant on the act of repentance. Our names are written and announced right now and the powerful impact of this state of affairs reverberates in our everyday lives. We are called to the table of feasting even in the wilderness of evil and brokenness around us. Psalm 23.

Philadelphia – the faithful church

This is the youngest of the cities called by a name derived from the Greek word philadelphos that means one who loves his brother.

The city was founded for a specific reason: to spread Greek culture, language and philosophy by peaceful means. It has been given an open door by history to pave the way and to know the manner in which to spread the Gospel.

The city was situated on the edge of a great volcanic plain, which made it very fertile, especially for grape-growing. It became famous for good wine.

The earthquake of 17 AD in the region also hit Philadelphia. The city felt tremors for years after, causing daily panic when cracks appeared. The residents were too afraid to live inside the city. They lived outside the city limits in huts. Those who remained inside often fled for their lives.

The inhabitants of Philadelphia could appreciate the promise: – they will go out no more, (3:12). The city was also familiar with new names. It was given a new name after the ruins were rebuilt by Tiberius [Neocaesarea – new city of Caesar] and again Flavia after the family name of Vespasian. Later, the name Philadelphia, was restored.

Throughout history the city withstood onslaughts of the Turks and Muslims. For centuries it was a free Greek city and the last bastion of Asian Christianity. Philadelphia fell to Islam in the 14th century, but to this day there is a remnant of Christians with a bishop.

[Today Smyrna is Izmir and Philadelphia is Alasehir in Turkey. All the other cities mentioned in Revelation are only ruins.]

Christ is described as Holy, which means different and separate, a confirmation of the description in Isaiah 6:3, 40:25,43:15.

Christ is described as True. There are two words for true. Alethes – which contrasts true as opposed to false and alethinos, which expresses real as opposed to unreal. Christ is declared real.

The key of David depicts authority to admit into the New Jerusalem. (Isaiah 22:22) Jesus is the door:

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9.

Jesus opens the door into the Presence of the Father through our prayer and worship. No one can shut the door. Christ gives entrance to the church, which He commends for faithfulness in difficult circumstances. There are always tests in this world in which we must persevere. We need endurance in times of testing. (Hebrews 10:36)

Christ who comes quickly depicts times of trouble where we learn to know Him in the fullness of His redemptive power. If we do not need His miracles and salvation, we will never know what He can do and how He works His righteousness in our lives to transform us into His likeness and build our character to be the true church.

It is in times of trouble that Christ is revealed in His church. It is for this present life, just like the parable of the ten virgins illustrates. Only His wisdom and His Spirit will reveal the deception in the church of those who lie about their identity and are called the synagogue of Satan. Note that the warning is about the falseness IN the church.

The church receives no condemnation, only warning and comfort.

The challenge is to hold on and persist to receive the promise and not lose the crown of victory. (Hebrews 10:36-39)

A long list of promises is made. The church will receive recognition from within and a secure place in tribulation. A pillar in the Temple of God depicts a place of honour and dignity. Security and steadfastness in faith will bring stability.

The name of God and the name of the church, the New Jerusalem, which is written on us, will serve as a branding of love, marked by God’s honour and victory. We will enjoy the privilege of heaven with a new name.

So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:27.

All the way around shall be eighteen thousand cubits; and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.” Ezekiel 48:35.

This is heaven – the Lord is there. What more can we ever want.

Laodicea – the lukewarm church

Nothing good is said about this church – a grim distinction from the others. The ancient world had six cities called by this name.

This particular city was important only because of its location. The highway to the East went right through the city. Travelers entered by the Ephesian gate and exited by the Syrian gate.

It was a commercial and strategic centre for banking and finance. The citizens were so rich that they could rebuild the city after the earthquake with their own money. They argued that they did not need Rome or God.

It was also a centre for manufacturing of clothing and well known for the soft, violet-black wool used for the making of outer garments called trimita. The clothing industry was prosperous and proud of it. Spiritually they were naked in the sight of God.

The city was a medical centre famous for eye and ear ointment. Spiritually they did not recognize their blindness.

The words of the risen Christ speak directly to the pride and wealth of the citizens. There was a large population of Jews who were wealthy and influential. The city governor put a ban on the export of currency since so many Jews paid temple tax to Jerusalem. They then paid their temple tax in gold and consequently this was seized as contraband.

Christ is the Amen as stated in Isaiah:

So that he who blesses himself in the earth

Shall bless himself in the God of truth;

And he who swears in the earth

Shall swear by the God of truth; Isaiah 65:16.

It is a solemn statement that guarantees truth. Christ is utterly reliable and true beyond all doubt. Jesus often said: “very truly I tell you”. (Greek = Amen)

He is the faithful and true witness. In Hebrew a statement is often repeated for impact and confirmation. Only few people could read and the letters, prophecies and law were read to an assembly of listeners. To repeat was to emphasize importance through the spoken word so that the audience can remember.

Christ is the beginning of creation, creator of all things (John 1:3).

In Him are all things (Colossians 1:16). He is more that just the beginning; He is the source of all.

Sin and death were caused by the choices of man, not God. God creates and redeems.

The word used for cold is psuchros which means to the point of freezing. Zestos is boiling hot. Tepid or lukewarm is chliaros in Greek. In the neighbouring town was mineral water. When you drink it hot, it had healing power, but lukewarm it made you vomit.

Indifference is hard to break. It is only broken in a committed and loving church so that people are saved. Neutrality is impossible. Non-submission to Christ is resistance to the Gospel.

Meaningless Christianity is strongly condemned and emphasized by the gross description of nausea and vomiting.

The condemnation is fierce: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. (3:17)

The city was physically rich, but spiritually poor. Gold was real in the city, but spiritually of no use. Money does not buy character.

The counsel to the church is to buy from Jesus. Salvation is free, but our character is bought in the refiner’s fire. Our testimonies of miracles and answer to prayer, our faith is gold in the eyes of heaven.

… that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, – 1 Peter 1:7.

Clothing is the remedy for the shame of nakedness, which causes humiliation:

“Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts;

“I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your shame. Nahum 3:5.

God honours his people by fine garments, like Joseph, Daniel, Esther and the prodigal son. The beauty that only Christ can give is our white garments. It is soul fashion. The garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3) covers us when sin brings depression, shame, and failure.

With our robe of righteousness we are suitable for the Lord’s presence. It is such a beautiful scripture to be memorized. Here I quote it again:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has covered me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom puts on a turban, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.

The church knows what is suitable to God. The entire content of the letters to the Romans and the Galatians is aimed to purify and prepare the church. (Romans 13:14, Colossians 3:9). The Pharisees had fine garments and still they were naked before Christ.

 Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:14)

Next, the church is recommended to buy eye- salve. Everything in life is dependant on vision. Can we see the lie? Can we see the outcome? Hagar flees into the desert after the row with Sarah. (Genesis 16:14 and 21) She almost succumbs to thirst and put the child away from her to be far removed from the cruel death she expects. Her eyes do not see the well. The well was there, but her bitterness and self-pity made her blind. It is God who opens our eyes to see our answers.

This is a super important spiritual principle. Let us together always pray the blind man’s prayer: Lord, that I can see.

Jesus states that He chastens those He loves. His love is described in Greek with the word agapan, which expresses unconditional love. It is an unconquerable attitude of goodwill, which nothing can turn into hate or indifference.

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:12

The word used for rebuke is elegchein, which means that the receiver of the rebuke is compelled to see the error. It is not punishment, rather illumination and insight.

Ephesians 4:17-19 describes the darkness in the minds of the unbeliever. We receive correction and insight and rejoice in it. It is further explained in several scriptures to illustrate that the crushed grape makes the wine. (Psalm 94:12, Job 5:17, Hebrews 11:6-8,12)

God is knocking at the door of this church. It is frightening to think of Christ outside the church. The remedy is to let Him in. He knocks as the lover of your soul and the lover of souls. The handle of your heart is on the inside and operated only by choice.

No other religion has the vision of a seeking God.

 The word for meal is deipnon. It was the most important meal of the day in the evening with time to linger in fellowship. For most ordinary working people breakfast was light and fast and lunch mostly on the road or in the field. Jesus present at the evening meal pictures a time of complete fulfillment.

A throne in the east was more a couch than a single seat. A victorious throne is to be shared with Christ. Just note the high reward to a disappointing church. God loves His church and will correct so that He can bless.

Thank you Lord Jesus for never letting us go. No sin, shame and blindness can ever separate us from the love of God.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rejoice in the declaration of Paul in Romans 8. We share the victorious throne and nothing can change that. If God is for us, what or who can prevail against us?

45. Do you hear what I hear?

Digging into the detail of this magnificent piece of literature, could become overwhelming. Amongst the dragons, devils, names and numbers, struggling to make sense of the seals, trumpets and bowls full of disaster and disease, the author chants the refrain:

 “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. (Revelation 2:7, The Message)

He who has an ear, let him hear and heed what the Spirit says to the churches, in older translations. Are we hearing the voice? This is the purpose of our study. We might study Revelation many times in our life – I hope so – but for now, God is ready to speak, to intervene into your understanding and circumstances and lift you up to walk with Him. Praise Jesus for opening up the way into the Kingdom.

Pray with me: Lord Jesus, thank you for the Cross. Thank you for the magnificence and glory to which we are invited in You. Thank you for the honour of experiencing the Presence of our Father and thank you for your Breath, the Holy Spirit, who blows and breathes Your word into our hearts and minds to deeper understanding and fuller faith to drive out all fear and bondage. We submit to Your correction to be a worthy lampstand of Your light in this world. We will overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.

 Pergamum(os) – the compromising church

The third church addressed by John carries the name Pergamum = Latin or Pergamos = Greek. It was the greatest city in Asia Minor and the capital of the region for over 400 years. It had the most impressive library outside Alexandria (Egypt) and the inhabitants were used to visitors from all over the ancient world.

It is said that the word parchment is derived from the name of this city. Parchment is made of animal skins and legend has it that the King of Pergamum headhunted the librarian of Alexandria to extend his city’s library to be the very best in the world. The king of Egypt reacted by arresting the librarian and immediately blocked the export of papyrus to Pergamum. With nothing to write on, the scribes of Asia Minor, treated animal skin with tension and lime and thus used the more long lasting material for writing on, known as parchment. Other sources, however, state that parchment was used as far back as the fifth century BC, but the trade in parchment was dominated by Pergamum.

The image of Christ holds the two-edged sword in His hand. The Roman governors carried a short, tongue-shaped sword and held the power over life and death in Roman law enforcement. Christ is the ultimate judge over life and death. His Word is the judge – always fair and compassionate.

A dwelling place could have two meanings: a place where one resides permanently or a place where one is just passing through. The word used here is the one for passing through. Satan’s throne could refer to the Temple of Zeus in Pergamum with a huge sculpture of Zeus sitting on his throne, which depicts the Battle of the Giants, important in the mythology of the Roman gods. Also in Pergamum was the temple of Asclepios, the god of medicine with a serpent as symbol, built like a hospital. People with ailments often sacrificed in this temple in the hope of healing. Pergamum was also known for loyal Caesar-worship, making it truly Satan’s throne.

The word martyr originally meant witness. As so many of Christ’s witnesses were killed in the early church, the word came to depict only those who give their life for the Gospel. The church in Pergamum stayed faithful throughout a season of severe persecution and was given the honourary title of Christ, who was Himself a martyr of His message.

The church is warned, however, not to be permissive and compromise the purity and holiness of the truth. Balaam is the symbol of a stumbling block and the Nicolaitans seduce the church into a relaxing of moral purity and idolatry. Jesus speaks clearly and strongly against this. A Christian is to be different, distinct = hagios. In the world, Paul says:

To the weak I became [as the] weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means [in any and every way] save some [by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ]. (1 Corinthians 9:22, Amplified)

Paul did all this without compromising his moral purity. He stuck to his principles without acting high and mighty above everyone as religious hypocrisy so often portrays.

The road to purification is by the Word. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and the invitation to salvation is open. God will come quickly means God is active in His church to convict and purify to open the way for blessing and growth. The hidden manna to the Jewish mind meant all the messianic blessings of the covenant. It is a feast of heavenly food. Jesus is the Bread of Life according to John 6:31-35. He gives Himself as our heavenly portion with all the blessings from God’s riches in Him.

In ancient times, stones were used as symbolic of precious gifts and the Jews associate it with manna from heaven. White and black stones were used to signal the verdicts of the juries in the legal process – white for life and black for death. In Roman society a Tessera stone, carried on the person, was a proof of privileges for winning at the games and for the benefits retired gladiators were to receive. In the Roman army a happy day was a white day, which is to be enjoyed as a day off while the army is locked in a siege and was decided by drawing beans. A pebble was often carried as a lucky charm with a sacred name of a god who could be summoned for help and was doubly effective when no one knew the name written on the stone carried in the pocket of a garment. John truly collected all the superstition and false hopes of the secular society in which the church served, to declare Christ as the answer to every question and search for hope ever.

The promise to the faithful and repentant is a new name. New could mean: neos – more of the same depicting quantity as in a new pencil but many others already exist or: –

kainos – unique, has never been, depicting quality as in one of a kind.

Revelation often talks about new in the sense of one of a kind:

new Jerusalem (3:12), new song (5:9) new heavens and new earth (21:1,5)

A person with a new name always acquired new status in God – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul as examples.

Isaiah 62:2:

The nations will see your righteousness and vindication [by God], and all kings [will see] your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will designate.

Christ promises us new status, glory and favour to the faithful to distinguish us as unique and special.

Thyatira – the corrupt church

John writes the longest letter to the least important of the cities. Thyatira was situated in a valley connecting Pergamum and Sardis. As a city its location made it difficult to defend. It was a shrine to fortune telling in the region. Lydia, seller of purple (Acts 16:14) lived here. The city was well known for the trade guilds (societies of commerce with secrets and agreements) operating under the symbol of a patron deity. The guilds held banquets, more often than not drunken parties. The meat served at these meals was an issue for Christians. The meat was offered to the patron god. If Christians chose not to participate, the practical implication would be the cutting off of Christians from all social gatherings.

The image of Christ pictured is threatening like the description in Daniel 10:6. Anger and wrath are symbolized by bronze feet, which means immovable power. Son of God is His title of authority as the Most High.

The church is highly praised for love, service and faith. They have grown in labour to the Lord, a lovely compliment for a community.

The criticism against the church comes with a symbol of idolatry from the Old Testament. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, one of the kings of Israel. When he married his Phoenician bride he built a temple for Baal worship in Samaria and brought idolatry into Israel. (1 Kings 16:29-31). At that time, ancient nations believed their gods to be territorial and even the Israelites, backslidden as they were, believed Baal should stay in Phoenicia. It was only during the exile in Assyria and Babylon that God’s people recognized His omni-presence away from the promised land. Jezebel’s name is used symbolically for false prophecy and idolatry leading people astray, hence her depiction as the harlot queen. She is a symbol of compromise.

Condemnation to this church is in the form of a sick bed. A bed-ridden church cannot function and will be rendered ineffective until repentance can heal and restore.

Worship to false gods was often symbolized by adultery as in the book of Hosea. He had to marry a prostitute, who often betrayed his love. He constantly had to win her back and stay true to his faithful love for her, to portray God’s unfailing love for us even when we backslide into unfaithfulness and sin. Adultery to false prophecy and deception will be revealed by Jesus because nothing is hidden from His sight. He searches the hearts and minds and His Spirit opens our eyes to lies, even religious lies.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

Depths of Satan describe the despair of the people who have been led into deception. God sees this and always rescues the remnant (2:25). The stand against false doctrine is often persecution within the church community. We need to hold fast and study His word. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the discernment of spirits. (1 Corinthians 12:10) God promises wisdom without reproach to all who ask. (James 1)

The church is challenged and urged to repent. Repentance is always the remedy to clear the way for reward. A repentant church will share in the victory of Christ, as He was promised in Psalm 2:8,9 to receive the heritage of the nations. The morning star is one of the names of Jesus. He is the ultimate reward – the dawning of a new day, the first resurrection and the conqueror of Lucifer. Lucifer was called the morning star before his fall from heaven. Christ is the true Morning Star. We, the church, are the wise and shall shine like stars. (Daniel 12:3)

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19 -21)

 

 

44. And they are Mine, says the Lord.

“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Malachi 3:17)

The letters to the churches are written on a high standard of literary craftsmanship. It is an artistic whole and closely integrated. Each letter starts with a characteristic of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter, except the last one, Laodicea. All the descriptions of Jesus are taken from the Old Testament applied to the risen Christ. The scene is set for Christ in conversation with His church. He is holding them in His hand, moving amongst them in a close and warm relationship.

The churches depict the church of Christ at all times, historically as well as the end time church. The number seven symbolizes completion and full inclusion. The cities where the churches were, were all located on a trade route in Asia Minor, a province of Rome. It was not the most important or largest churches at the time of writing. It does not symbolize any denominations, although some interpretations of the historical view, explain the greater trends in Christian history alongside these letters in Revelation. As was said in the beginning, Revelation could be interpreted on multiple levels. For now, we are asking God to let us hear what the Spirit says to the church for this very moment in our lives. We always need to hear God. The promise is that He will speak to us. God’s voice is the pearl beyond price, the truest treasure of all – not theologically correct and all-inclusive interpretation.

Therefore My people shall know My name;

Therefore they shall know in that day

That I am He who speaks:

‘Behold, it is I.’”   (Isaiah 52:6)

The angels of the churches are the messengers bringing the Word of God. Jesus spoke about our guardian angels in Matthew 18:10. In Acts 12:15 an angel helps Peter escape from prison, supernaturally. To the Jewish ear, this was nothing new or strange. Angels are commanded to support and minister to the church. The church is us – blood-bought, born-again children of God. It is confirmed in Hebrews 1:14:

 Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

The leaders of the church are important to God and carry great responsibility as well as blessing and anointing to be equipped for their task.

“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge,

And people should seek the law from his mouth;

For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 2:7).

All the churches are addressed in a certain way to recognize a commission, a character description of Christ, a commendation (except Sardis and Laodicea), a condemnation or censure, a correction, a challenge and a covenant promise.

Ephesus – the loveless church

Ephesus was a big city with a harbour that served as the gateway to the region. It was a free city, meaning it was self-governing with only occasional tours of the Roman proconsul, an official much like a provincial judge. Many tribes and nations lived together and the city was known for crime and immorality. It was famous for its games in the arena offering cruelty and killing as entertainment. It was the centre for the worship of Diana (Greek = Artemis), the goddess of fertility portrayed in ancient times by a many-breasted female figure. It was also known for many superstitions represented by small objects and charms that were supposed to bring good luck, healing or fertility that were called Ephesian letters. People came from everywhere to buy them. Paul stayed in Ephesus quite long, Timothy was the first pastor and according to Acts 18 Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos ministered there. It was the residence of John before and after his exile to Patmos.

Jesus holds the seven stars in His hand. He is in complete control of everything. In His own words:

 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:28)

Jesus walks amidst the lampstands (the church). He is always active and works tirelessly on our behalf. “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)

He praises them for their hard work, endurance and labour for good, but their good works have developed into loveless orthodoxy and routine. They hated the Nicolaitans, who was a group claiming superior status of spirituality and permitting idolatry and immorality, indulgence and no restrain.

The command is to repent as the church is threatened from the inside. The loss of the first love, the warm excitement of a new relationship, makes them powerless and ineffective against the onslaught of sin. Faithful persistent love lasts till the end.

…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

A loss of first love is easily recognizable by the working of the Holy Spirit to reveal and convict. It is exposed in over-familiarity in things divine, arrogance and a superficial approach to the Word of God. Characteristics of a first-love relationship are vision and purpose combined with humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit. The church is prepared to do what it takes to love like Jesus – faithfully to the end.

The threat to remove the lampstand comes to the leader of the church to save the flock and to give them to a leader more worthy. God always looks after the remnant and actively rescues the scattered sheep after the wolves have battered them.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15.)

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:29.)

It is very important to note that the condemnation comes with the purpose to clear the way for blessing. We are never confused as to what God requires. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, judgment and righteousness in order to lead us to repentance and effectively rid us of sin, so that God’s blessing and reward can flow freely.

To the overcomers God promises the Tree of Life in Paradise. To Jewish thought the Tree of Life was a fragrant, beautiful tree with good produce to feed and give shade. All of these images speak of the restored relationship with Jesus so that the circumstances of Eden can be reconstrued. In His presence there is no decay, no destruction – only peace and perfect love.

Smyrna – the persecuted church.

Smyrna was a beautiful city known as the crown of Asia. The sea breeze catching its location made it cooler, but blew the smell of sewage drained into the sea right back to the city. It was an important trade centre and the city grew in a well-planned way around business. It had a “street of gold” where the Temple of Zeus (principal Roman god) and temples to other deities formed a “necklace” around the hill on which the city was located. It was a free city, loyal to Rome in Caesar-worship [see Pebbles 41] and known for its culture.

To this city Christ is introduced as the risen Messiah, the First and the Last who was dead and who lives again. The earthly splendour of the city is nothing compared to victory over death. The Jews are very influential and very hostile to the Christians. Polycarp, a very influential bishop in the early church was martyred at the games in Smyrna. Christians lived uncertain lives and belonged to the lower classes. Their possessions were plundered by anybody who felt like it and they could not accumulate wealth. They were spiritually rich.

It is noteworthy that the ancient world tried to fill their “godly gap” with all sorts of deities, which led to much confusion and countless animal sacrifices to multiple gods in case any of them are angry. Worship to one God, almighty and all wise, was very attractive to many. The Jews were exclusive about Judaism, but allowed Gentiles into their fold under strict adherence to the Law and limited access to the Temple. Christianity, preaching a loving, welcoming God, ready to save and bless with no animal sacrifices, was a balm of peace and assurance in a world of many and mostly hostile gods.

The synagogue is now of Satan as it became an assembly working against the purposes of God. This happens when the Presence of the Lord leaves the community of believers and rebellious people determine the agenda. Read about the rebellion of Korah and God’s purification of disloyalty to His chosen leaders, even with their weaknesses. No leader is perfect, but he is the anointed of God and God will deal with him. Rebellion can be very confusing and leave the sheep scattered.

 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. (Numbers 16:3,4,5)

The period of ten days is symbolic for a short and limited time. Prison in those days was mostly a prelude to death. Christianity was persecuted under many accusations – cannibalism (eating flesh and drinking blood – symbolic in communion, but deliberately falsely understood), lust – love message distorted, family break-ups, fire-raisers with talk of the apocalypse, disloyal to Rome because their refusal to worship Caesar, etc.

The crown of life is a victorious crown of triumph in battle. The victor’s crown is stephanos in Greek and diadem in Latin. The Romans loved crowns. They wore them to banquets, the games and even for worship. The crown of Jesus is everlasting and depicts victory over the second death.

The second death is only ever mentioned in Revelation (20:6,14 and 21:8) and means eternal separation from God. The Sadducees (a Jewish religious group slightly different from the Pharisees) believed there was no life after death. Some Jews believed in an intermediate phase, much like the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Daniel 12:2 and John 5:29 talk about the graves of the faithful dead. For us, the word of Jesus to the murderer on the cross next to Him is our guide to death.

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43. Physical death is a mystery, but never scary. Jesus was victorious over death and took the sting out of the finality and overwhelming helplessness of death. (1 Corinthians 15:55)

My prayer is, Pebble pal, that you will read Revelation with a humble, but confident spirit of understanding and share in the blessing of prophecy. Safely shaded under His wing and sheltered in His shadow (Psalm 91) in the invisible kingdom of God on earth, all the confusion and evil around us are described and predicted in this book, to encourage us that we belong to another world and live here only as pilgrims and strangers, never victims, but as overcomers. (Hebrews 11:13)

 

 

 

Next time: Pergamum(os) and Thyatira.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37. C.h.u.r.C.h.

It is unavoidable that the word church is received with a whole bunch of emotions and reactions. For some the negativity comes unrestrained, fuelled by hurt and disappointment over many years. The pain permeates into the conversation about church and leads to sharp rejection of people and organization in the hearts of individuals.

I am truly thankful that I was privileged to enjoy a loving and welcoming church community as a teenager. I cannot clearly remember all the teaching and sermons, but I remember the friendliness of the leaders, the organization to have fun together and my fellow youth very well. For my two eldest sons however, church was not the comfortable home that we so desired for them.

It is intentional that the heading for this Pebble is written like an acronym. We have to establish a new and positive concept within the principle of CHURCH. There might be a lot of possibilities but for now let us define church as a:

Congregation of Hope Unified and Redeemed by the Cross of Healing.

The Cross is the crux – always and everywhere. In every situation, every crisis, every feast, every life-event it is the Cross of Jesus that gives meaning and healing.

With this principle firmly in place as priority, we can look back to the exiles returning with Ezra to restore the temple in Jerusalem. God stirs the heart of this learned man to lead the way and guide the people. He comes equipped with the approval and support of the dominant Emperor of the ancient world at that time. Even within these very beneficial circumstances Ezra writes about God’s hand on his endeavour.

Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord, which is in Jerusalem, and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes.

So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me. (Ezra 7:27,28,NKJV)

Church organization starts on the journey. Ezra makes a meticulous record of the families accompanying him and finds no Levites. Traditionally the Levites were responsible for temple ministry. When Joshua divided the Promised Land, the Levites received no land to free them in order to serve the people full time with regards to their service to God.

Ezra organizes 220 temple servants from the tribe of Levi to come to Jerusalem with them. (Ezra 8:15-20) He appoints twelve leaders to the priests and entrusts all the valuables of the temple to them. On arrival they secured the treasure of silver and gold and prepared the sacrifices.

Personal worship is restored, but reveals the sin in the community. Ezra becomes deeply aware of it and intercedes for the people to plead forgiveness. He tears his clothes and pluck out his hair and beard – an extreme display of deep emotional distress. He prayed so powerfully and sincere that the people gathered around him in tears, realizing and repenting their sin.

The occasion is marked by prayer, repentance and reverence to the Word of God. It is significant that Ezra’s reaction to the sinfulness and imperfection of the situation is a heartfelt, earnest prayer emphasizing the sovereignty and might of God. He prays and repents on behalf of his people. He did not go amongst them with judgment and blame for the sad situation and reproach for the lack of enthusiasm in the restoration project.

Before the restoration could begin the people had to divorce their pagan wives and send them and the children away. (Ezra 10:44)

For our modern ears this is radical and drastic. The Old Testament is our symbolic guide to spiritual purification. Secular attitudes so comfortably embedded in the church like a “wife” corrodes the church from inside and render it powerless. We all know that the church is often victim to gossip, offence, pride, lovelessness, selfishness, self-importance and haughtiness, unforgivness – oh, the list is shockingly long and nasty.

In the Gospel of John we read about the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem to be judged and executed by the “church”. Read the story in John 8:1-11.

The Scribes and the Pharisees actively devoted their lives to ministry. They were the leaders responsible for the spiritual well being of their people who were distinct in their worship of their one God Yahweh. His commandments were the foundation of the community. Their lives were lived wholly dedicated to faithful service. Their passion often smothered compassion when the zealous application of the letter of the law brought harsh and ruthless verdicts. In case of doubt about the application of the law and sentencing, it was quite normal to bring the matter to the rabbi.

Although they did not fully accept Jesus as part of their exclusive theological community, the respect from the people, which He spontaneously received, caused them to try and trap Him into an argument that would discredit His teaching.

Any Jew would know that adultery, murder and idolatry were punishable by death. Leviticus 20 and Deuteronomy 22 prescribed the death sentence for both parties to adultery. Interestingly, the man in this case was not a co-accused.

Death by stoning was the obvious conclusion in this case. The Law of Moses was clear. An added bonus was a theological ambush for Jesus. In the words of William Barclay: …and here they thought they had impaled him inescapably on the horns of a dilemma. [New Daily Study Bible]

If He supports the execution, his message of love and grace would be discredited and He will not be called the friend of sinners anymore. He would at the same time be in trouble with the Roman authorities, since the Jews were not allowed any execution rights, even within the limits of their own people and religion. Rome was the ultimate authority and held life and death in their power. Maybe Jesus would not realize that this would bring Him into trouble and then Rome could get rid of him.

On the other hand, if He chooses to forgive her, He will be in conflict with the Law of Moses and would indirectly condone the sin of adultery.

Jesus bowed down and started writing in the sand. On this matter the commentaries name countless possibilities and the mystery that clouds the content of his sand secrets, has been the subject of many sermons and discussions. Rightly so, there is room for interpretation on multiple levels. Let us consider only two. Maybe he could not face the hate and condemnation in the eyes of the spectators and church leaders and knelt down to pray for guidance and wisdom. Maybe His godly insight in the lives of the executioners gave Him the opportunity to write their sins and transgressions to expose them as hypocrites. The Greek word for write is graphein. In this case the word katagraphein is used, which means to write something on the record against somebody.

Could it be that Jesus went on record against these sadistic stone throwers?

Nevertheless the church leaders insisted on an answer. An answer they received:

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” (John 8:7 NKJV)

The loud accusers disappeared quietly. They left the woman, but they also left the key to their own forgiveness and renewed lives. They left the scene where the Source of forgiveness and reconciliation with God remained standing.

When Jesus and the woman were alone he asked: “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (V10)

Jesus never denied her sin and the condemnation following it. How could He free her so unconditionally? Adultery is serious. According to His own teaching a ground for divorce. (Matthew 5 – the Sermon on the Mount.)

Jesus knew He was on his way to the cross to die for her sin. He lived in the awareness of His ultimate purpose. He spoke liberty over her just because of who He was.

His words of farewell are significant, but sound almost casual.

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (V11)

Jesus did not send her to the synagogue for training in the Law of Moses, or to the rabbi for spiritual guidance and teaching. He neither gave her a long lecture on a pure life and new thinking. He sent her away with words of grace in the full knowledge of who His father is and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead her into a future of victory over sin.

Grace is the unmerited favour of God. God’s grace cannot be earned and He gives it freely without reproach for our benefit because He is a good, good Father.

Mercy is defined as follows:

Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

According to Merriam-Webster: mercy implies compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it.

Mercy is the withholding of punishment from somebody in a position of authority over you. God defines Himself to Moses as a God of mercy. (Exodus 34)

Not only does He withhold the punishment. He took our punishment on Him!

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, (Isaiah 53:5 NKJV)

This was real church in the streets of Jerusalem. Not a place of condemnation and execution. It was a place of liberty and bold entrance to a future of victory over sin and shame.

Jesus knew that His words of freedom would ensure her to His father and the Holy Spirit. She will be safe and secure. The Holy Spirit will convict of sin, righteousness and judgment. (John 15)

It is not for the church to shout the sin and judgment. The church is the place of love and mercy to enable the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of men. Without love there is no constructive confession of sin.

The Holy Spirit prepares the people for the Presence. In the Presence, in the holy light of His countenance, sin is realized, confessed and replaced with restoration and victory. This is church at the foot of the Cross.

36. The place of gathering.

It was the climax of their civilization. The glory and splendour of the most impressive building of their time crowned the reign of Solomon. His wisdom, which he so dramatically received from God, was well known far beyond the borders of his kingdom. He built the temple that was the life ambition of his father David to the God of his heart.

1 Chronicles 29:1:

Furthermore King David said to all the assembly: “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced; and the work is great, because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God.

This temple would have the best of the best. The building material is listed to describe the opulence and grandiose planning. David addresses the people and challenges them to give abundantly.

Now for the house of my God I have prepared with all my might: gold for things to be made of gold, silver for things of silver, bronze for things of bronze, iron for things of iron, wood for things of wood, onyx stones, stones to be set, glistening stones of various colors, all kinds of precious stones, and marble slabs in abundance. Moreover, because I have set my affection on the house of my God, I have given to the house of my God, over and above all that I have prepared for the holy house, my own special treasure of gold and silver: three thousand talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the houses; the gold for things of gold and the silver for things of silver, and for all kinds of work to be done by the hands of craftsmen. Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?”

The gold of Ophir was famous for quality and purity. Just imagine walls covered in silver, so much gold, marble, precious stones and mosaic – a building that has never been and would not be copied in centuries to come, maybe never.

The temple of Solomon as described in the Bible was not an imitation of any pagan temple of Egypt and Phoenicia that existed at the time and could be reconstructed by archeologists. This architectural wonder was unique and would stand for 410 years.

So was the actual structure – matchless and magnificent. The most important, however was the presence of the Most High God. That is the foundation, the pillars, the essence of the significance of the physical building.

 2 Chronicles 7:1

 [Solomon Dedicates the Temple ] When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

 So overwhelming was the presence of God that the priests could not enter.

It is in the light of this glory and majesty that we can begin to grasp the tremendous task of the returning exiles. After the crippling siege of more than a year Nebuchadnezzar thoroughly humiliated his enemy and destroyed Jerusalem with a vengeance. Of course the magnificence of the Hebrew temple was famous in the ancient world and he would reap particular pleasure from the devastation of it. The deep reverence and joyful worship of Solomon’s age were so long neglected and forgotten. The people mocked and murdered the prophets’’ warnings. God’s punishment was executed by Babylon with dreadful consequence.

So effective was the destruction that archeologists remain uncertain about location and appearance to this day. That uncertainty does not apply to the spiritual “archeology” of the temple.

God lives in the praises of his people. Psalm 22:3:

But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.

There is no doubt. The core principle of the temple is established: God fills the place of gathering with His presence. This is the treasure and highest purpose of church.

The splendour of the temple of Solomon was the reason for the deep discouragement of the returning exiles. Even with the miraculous support of the Persian ruler, it wasn’t possible to restore the temple to its former glory. Persia was by far mightier and bigger than Babylon. Babylon became a province in the expansive empire of the Medes and Persians. The valuables of Solomon’s temple was still in safe-keeping in Babylon and by command of Artaxerxes, the Persian emperor, it was to be brought taken back to Jerusalem plus whatever more was needed from the royal treasury. [Ezra 7:18-21] I marvel at meticulous ancient administration.

Ezra prepares for the treacherous journey back to Jerusalem laden with treasures and building material. The road was full of dangers, especially robbers, who would murder for the goods. Ezra calls a day of fasting and prayer to earnestly seek God’s protection. In his own words:

For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.”  So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer. [Ezra 8:22,23]

By his prayer Ezra protected his testimony. He could not get his fear of robbers overpower his testimony. He spoke to the king about his God who cared for his children, so he had to live his own motion of trust in God.

This trust brings him and his caravan safely to Jerusalem without the protection of the mightiest empire on earth at the time, the precious cargo intact. Just take it in for a moment: 22 tons of silver, three and a half ton gold, more than 100 pieces of silverware and polished bronze almost as costly as gold. [8:31]

Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.

The restoration of the temple that started before Ezra’s return slowly came to complete standstill. The people went back to building their own houses. Ezra arrives filled with joyful encouragement to be a new inspiration to the builders.

Ezra 7:28:

So I was encouraged, as the hand of the Lord my God was upon me

Miracles mark our journey to restore the pace of gathering. Individual prayer, powerful testimonies, respect of and for the rulers and purposeful administration form the foundation of the temple.

These elements are the pillars in the place where we come together.

The church is a community of people who worship God in sprit and truth, who desire and experience the Holy Spirit in everyday life coming together at appointed times to celebrate the presence of God in their midst. Paul gives his version of a Christian lifestyle that has all the elements of a good service.

Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

This is service in the temple; a Holy Spirit driven gathering. It may manifest in various denominations that have various measures of intensity and intentionality in striving to be the church of Acts. Denominations that wallow in stagnation become judgmental and predictive, fearing change. The only solution for complacency is to hear the word of God to Solomon.

1 Kings 6:12,13:

 “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.”

The presence of the Most High is the highest purpose of the temple. Love convicts of grace – mercy triumphs over judgment. [James 2:13]

No doctrine can replace the doctrine of grace.

The church of Psalm 23 where the table of feasting is prepared in the valley of the shadow of death where enemies look on in frustration and disability and goodness and mercy pursue me to live in the house of the Lord forever – this is the place of gathering.

The Holy Spirit takes us into the glory and splendour of Solomon’s temple. The exiles had to be satisfied with so much less. Haggai 2:3:

Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?

The word of God promises the outstanding glory of the latter temple that served as encouragement to finish the work that was clearly inferior.

Haggai 2:9:

The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

Who is this temple of the future? It is us! The church of Christ has all the glory and splendour that Solomon could only have dreamed of and so much more. Through the cross and resurrection we are the ultimate temple.

Hebrews 12:22-24:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Just revel in the description of the new Jerusalem in Revelation – the church. Revelation 21:2,3:

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

We are the bride who is being prepared for the coming of Jesus. What an expectation?

Take courage to restore the temple. It is God’s dwelling place. Let us celebrate His presence.

Read with me in Revelation 21 how beautiful we are. Read the words until you know that words will fail…

having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal