Revelation 2 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 1)

Read Revelation 2

After seeing Jesus, John is told to write a letter to each of the seven churches, represented by the seven lampstands.  These letters could simply be letters to each of those churches, addressing issues that were present at that time.  However, with the greater arc of this book being to the Church Universal, limiting the writing and its meaning in that way wouldn’t necessarily fit the whole of the book of Revelation.  Notes in my Study Bible suggest the possibility of these letters being a “preview of church history in its downward course toward Laodicean lukewarmness.”  Another possible interpretation would be that these letters represent the “characteristics of various kinds of Christian congregations that have existed from John’s day until the present time.”  Being that we believe God’s Word to be “living and active,” each and/or all of these could have some semblance of truth to them.

The words for each church come from Jesus, but His introduction in them bears one of the different characteristics of His appearance, found in chapter one.  Each difference is based on the message that is coming to them, both the tone and the type of message.

The Church in Ephesus:

By now, the church in Ephesus is quite familiar to us.  Having read Paul’s letter to them as well as some discussion around the church in other letters, we know that the city was one of great importance and as such, the church there faced a number of challenges from false teachers both outside and inside the church.  To that, though, Christ speaks words of praise; they have readily resisted those teachings including those of the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect that had worked out a compromise with pagan society.

Yet, in the midst of this battle, they seem to have forgotten that which is most important, love.  It’s easy to begin with love but as many in relationships know, love takes hard work and dedication to continue on in.  This isn’t simply true in human relationships, it is also very true in our relationship with God.  We need to hold onto this love because it is that love, the love of God in Jesus Christ, that will bring victory in the end.

The Church in Smyrna:

Smyrna was a city that was closely affiliated with Rome and therefore desired greatly to worship the Emperor.  It was also home to a very large Jewish population that was hostile to the church there.  Christians here likely experienced a lot of persecution, something that Jesus Himself was familiar with.  Jesus’ words are those of encouragement to persevere despite the conditions there for their true home and true victory lie in something much greater than this life.

The Church in Pergamum:

The city of Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and as such it was the official center of emperor worship in that region.  This gives light to the comment that “satan’s throne” was there and it also explains why Jesus uses the image of the sword in His introduction.  Antipas is traditionally known as the first martyr in Asia.  His death makes some of the things we hear about terrorists doing today look tame.

Though they have remained faithful in the midst of intense persecution and cultural pressure, Jesus still calls them out on some false teachings that they continue to allow within the church.  It is not enough for us to remain open and functioning as a church in the midst of persecution.  If we give in and allow for culture and heresies to change us, we might as well not even be there.  True victory comes from faith in Jesus Christ, the true victor, not in remaining physically present at the expense of salvation.

The Church in Thyatira:

Thyatira was a military outpost known for its guilds and trading.  It is also known for being the home of Lydia, a prominent woman in the early church.  This may be one of the reasons for the images Jesus uses in his introduction; refining fire and burnished bronze are both things that would be familiar to this city, their worth, having been refined, was much greater.  Jesus commends the church here for their growth, how things seem to be getting better.  Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.

Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.  This has applications both personally and corporately.  Sometimes, when things are going well, we want to ignore the negative things that might be happening so as to not create waves.  To this, Jesus says “no”.  He is not in the business of comfort, nor does He desire half growth… we cannot keep our pet sins as we continue to grow and be sanctified.  True victory comes in wholeheartedly following Jesus, putting off all other things.



Introduction to 2 Timothy

Paul’s second letter to Timothy came approximately five years after the first.  When his first imprisonment in Rome ended, Paul went on his fourth and final missionary journey, eventually ending up back in prison in Rome.  All of this took place under Emperor Nero who was known for his brutal torture and persecution against Christians.  This became especially true after the great fire in Rome in A.D. 64.  Nero blamed the fire on the Jews but lumped the Christians in with them as part of a “new branch” of Judaism.  Nero’s persecution led to the Martyrdom of both Paul and Peter.

Unlike Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, where he stayed in a rented house and was visited by many people, this second time imprisoned saw Paul in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal.  Whereas his first letter to Timothy focused more on Timothy, his charge, and leadership of the church in Ephesus, this second letter contains a much more personal touch, speaking to Paul’s desires for himself as well as the anguish that he is going through.

In many ways, this was Paul’s farewell letter.  Chronologically, 2 Timothy is the last letter that Paul wrote.  Personally, Paul mentions that his work is done and that he will likely be taken from this life very soon.  It is also clear that Paul is very lonely.  Some sources say that Paul was guarded and imprisoned in a place that few could find.  Many had deserted him and others were barred from seeing him.  Only Luke (which we assume is the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts) was with him.

Yet even in this state, Paul shows a deep concern for the churches knowing that they too are enduring harsh persecution.  He once again encourages Timothy to hold on to what he has learned and to not stop preaching the Gospel, even if it means suffering for the message of Christ.



Acts 21 – Faithful Return

Read Acts 21

Paul’s return to Jerusalem was not simply a stubborn desire of his own heart, but a directive by the Holy Spirit that he faithfully followed.  As he made his way home, many people warned him to stay away and begged him to not go.  They all knew that if he did show his face in Jerusalem, his “fate” would be sealed.

This really came as no surprise to Paul, though.  He was very aware of what would happen to him and actually welcomed it.  That is not to say that Paul welcomed death, but that he trusted God to faithfully be with him through whatever he would experience as he followed God’s calling on his life.

So what can we learn from Paul’s actions here?  If we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through all Scripture, which God does do, then even in a historical account of Paul’s travels we can learn something.

Ultimately, Paul’s return set in motion a series of events that leads to his death in Rome.  Yet Rome was the end goal of Paul’s travels, as he attests to in both Acts and Romans.  He felt strongly that God was calling him there to witness, to strengthen the church there, and to present to Gospel to the highest governmental seats in the known world.  He knew that it wouldn’t be comfortable, but he was willing to go the distance for the sake of Christ.

How about you?  Typically God’s calling on our lives ends up making us uncomfortable; more so than we would like.  We talk a good “following God” talk, but in the walk that we walk we avoid situations that are uncomfortable, especially when it involves sharing our faith.  Perhaps we can learn from Paul’s trust and God’s faithfulness here?



Acts 7 – Stephen

Read Acts 7

We first met Stephen in chapter 6 when he was chosen as one of the 7 original deacons.  Stephen is described as “full of the Holy Spirit” and able to do “great wonders and signs.”  His witness to Jesus Christ gets him hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, the whole counsel of religious leaders in Jerusalem.  Think of it as a joint session of the U.S. congress.

While before them, he is questioned vigorously by the authorities and they even bring in false witnesses to testify against him.  They twist his words and think that they have him backed into a corner.  Some things, it seems, never change.

However, Stephen’s testimony is nothing less than spectacular.  Driven by the Holy Spirit, a promise Jesus gave His disciples back in Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Stephen recounts the history of the people of God, drawing it all forward to the one person that all of Scripture points: Jesus Christ.

From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Egypt with Moses, Stephen shows how God has been working and continues to work to bring salvation to His people.

All this time, the religious leaders are worried that they are going to get blamed for Jesus’ death.  When Stephen accuses them of also being related to those who “killed the prophets,” they loose it.

Ultimately Stephen looses his life for the testimony that he gave here.  He becomes the first recorded martyr for Christianity.  We see something here that far too often we forget: even here, God is with Stephen.

We worry so much about what other people are going to call us or think about us when we testify to our faith.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but by the word of our testimony will they know who we are and whose we are.



Day 324: Acts 20-23; Paul Arrested

After three missionary journeys totally almost 12 years, Paul finally returns to Jerusalem.  Interestingly though, we read that he doesn’t return there to be an evangelist as he had been in other places, he returns because it is the Holy Spirit that leads him there.  What’s more, he goes there knowing full well that he is going to be arrested and imprisoned for the Gospel.  Despite all the discouragement from the other believers that he is with, Paul follows the Spirit’s leading and heads out for Jerusalem.  The people in Ephesus, where he has been staying for some time, weep not only because he is leaving, but because he has told them what awaits him back in Jerusalem and they know that they will probably not see him again.

I can’t imagine the inner turmoil that must have been going on inside of Paul during this time and I honestly don’t think that any of us in the church in North America, or any of the other free countries throughout the world can appreciate at all.  We don’t know what it is like to be persecuted for the Gospel or put in prison for what we believe.  There are those throughout the world that do understand this, and while I can’t speak for them, I know that they would empathize with Paul’s situation.  I would like to say that I would go if the Spirit called me, and even be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus Christ, but we are blessed with the freedom to worship in the United States and as of right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever experience that.  To be honest, I think that some people in the church see such devotion to faith in the same way that we see “religious extremists” blowing themselves up, and somehow think that there may and possibly should be a limit to what we do for our faith.  Clearly, Paul has set an example for us that this is not the case.  While God cannot and would not call us to kill others in His name, something that is contrary to God’s nature in Scripture, He can and often does call us into uncomfortable situations in which we need to trust Him with all that is going on, and with ourselves as well and our futures as well.

One thing that I noticed in the reading of the narrative of Paul’s arrest and trial is the similarities between this and many other narratives in the Bible.  Jesus, like Paul, was arrested and they tried Him unfairly, drumming up accusations that wouldn’t necessarily hold up in court.  If we go back quite a ways we can also see similarities between Paul’s story and Joseph’s story as well.  Arrested and put in a prison (well), Joseph was going to be killed by a plot from his brothers.  Paul too was almost the victim of a plot to kill him from those that he once served with.  Both managed to escape through the work of a person intervening, and are shipped off to other places in what seems like a hopeless situation.  However, God meant Joseph’s situation for good in saving Jacob and the people of Israel from the death of a famine.  Here too God means for good as He is bringing Paul and the Gospel before many people in trials and even before the heads of the Roman government as well.  While Paul doesn’t necessarily become second in command to Cesar like Joseph, the Gospel of Grace reaches what might possibly be thousands of people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it, and countless people are brought to faith because of it.  Praise God!!