Judgment Seat: H.C. Lord's Day 19

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 19

Q 50. Why the next words: “and is seated at the right hand of God”?
A 50. Because Christ ascended to heaven to show there that he is head of his church, the one through whom the Father rules all things.

Q 51. How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?
A 51. First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out gifts from heaven upon us his members.

Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies.

Q 52. How does Christ’s return “to judge the living and the dead” comfort you?
A 52. In all distress and persecution, with uplifted head I confidently await the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me. Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.

It is a rare day indeed when the prospect of being judged, especially when it’s something as seemingly final as the last judgment, is actually comforting.  I can’t say that I ever found any of my final exams, tests, or even quizzes in school to be even the least be comforting; even when I knew I would do well.  However, the Catechism here seems to take a different approach to this judgment.

To really have a true understanding about this, though, we have to draw on all that we have talked about for the past couple of weeks regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.  After His resurrection and ascension, we read in Scripture that Jesus “sits down” at the right hand of the Father.  This “being seated,” as Paul writes at the beginning of the book of Ephesians, is a symbol of Christ’s work being finished.

Imagine, if you will, a lawyer making his closing arguments in a trial.  He eloquently defends the accused person that he represents and then says “your honor, I rest my case,” sitting down next to the defendant.  There’s nothing else to do, there’s nothing else to say; it is in the hands of the judge now.  The same is true here with Christ; He sits down at the right hand of the Father because the work is finished.  He doesn’t have to do more, He did it all when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.

Adding to this image, what would it look like if the lawyer defending the accused, which in this case is you and me, was also the judge?  He rests His case and then sits down in the judge’s place, rendering the verdict that He Himself has fought for.  The accuser has no say in anything because our defender is also our judge and He has paid the price for us.

Now that, my friends, is comforting.

It goes far beyond that as well.  There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and a final judgment of all people will come to pass.  For those who are in Christ, there is nothing to worry about because the one who will judge the world is also the one who paid our debt.  But for those who do not know Christ, whose sins are not forgiven, this may be cause for considerable angst.  Without Christ, the verdict is guilty… no matter how good a life we have lived… and the punishment is eternal.

Enter the idea of hell: eternal punishment and separation from God.  How is this comforting?  For many, especially in the insulated western world is the United States, the notion of Hell is repulsive and horrifying, something we are very quick to shy away from.  We don’t understand what it means to have real enemies.  Our greatest enemies are more likely our in-laws, or the guy that cut of off on the road the other day.  They certainly annoy us, but we would not wish eternal punishment on them… the definitely aren’t the enemies of God.

In other parts of the world, however, there is a different feel.  The enemies of God, those who actively oppose the Gospel and all who follow Christ, are real, dangerous, and deadly.  They behead Christians with swords, burn them alive in cages, and even sell Christian women and children into slavery and forced sexual servitude in the name of their god (who is not the same as the Christian God, mind you).  These are the enemies of God and they are ruthless; justice in these situations looks a lot different.

Now, I’m not saying that we should wish Hell on anyone.  We are called to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us.  However, we cannot argue that there is a comfort associated with knowing that, no matter how bad the world gets, Christ wins in the end and the enemies of God will be brought to true justice as well.  It is hard for us to fathom here in the U.S.  We experience only a micro-fraction of what Christians in other parts of the world live with daily… but for them and for us one thing is very clear: the battle has been won, the work has been finished, and judgment has been rendered, and as Job so eloquently states:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!  Job 19:25-27



Revelation 19 – Victory!!

Read Revelation 19

Again we hear from the great multitude in heaven as they worship God over the defeat of Babylon the Great.  Chapter 19 marks an extremely important event in salvation history, one that is rivaled only by Christ’s death and resurrection.  The defeat of Satan, along with the beast, the false prophet, and all the sin that is symbolized by Babylon is what has been foretold since the very beginning.  God’s judgment against sin, as well as the punishment that comes along with it, is just and is a true revelation of the character of God.

People often ask the question, “how could a ‘loving’ God condemn so many people to eternal punishment?”  Indeed, this is a good question, one that makes little sense on the surface.  But God doesn’t condemn all people to punishment, despite our deserving of it.  A loving God that gave no one a chance after the fall would be a much more difficult thing to understand.  The pages of Scripture reveal the love of God in the grace and salvation that He offers through His Son Jesus who, through His life, death, and resurrection, conquered sin.  Without Jesus, there is no way to God, no offer of salvation, and no reconciliation.  What we see in this moment is a celebration of the ultimate revelation of God’s truthfulness, faithfulness, and love.

You may be wondering how we see that here as we mark the defeat of sin and evil.  Simply put, we see it here because God accomplishes exactly what He said He was going to do.  Think about it this way, if a parent threatens punishment for something that their children do repeatedly but never follows through, then that parent is made out to be a liar and their threats are meaningless.  The parent doesn’t want to punish the child, but the punishment is necessary (as I’m sure any parent knows).

Others bring up the subject of fairness and justice of the discipline and punishment in this conversation, which is also something to consider.  However, if the rules are clearly laid out as they are in the Bible, and the consequences are also clearly defined as they are throughout Scripture, then fairness is, one again, God following through on what He has clearly communicated.  To not do so would make God either a liar, which is counter to what we know about God as being completely true, or incapable of following through or carrying out the punishment that was forewarned, making Him somehow less than all powerful which is also counter to what we know about God.

And what of those who have listened to the Word of God and have followed Jesus as their Savior?  Those who speak of fairness are often those who desire the benefits of salvation without “burdening” themselves with the “work” of faith.  The contrast of results is indeed fair and just, even though no punishment seems fair at the time one is being punished.  If there is no difference in the outcome, why does one’s actions in the present matter?  Once again, what we see here is the true revelation of God’s character on an eternal and universal scale.

With all heaven and earth watching, God works through the mighty warrior on the white horse to go out and strike the final blow, win the final victory and had been initiated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This warrior, who is undoubtedly Jesus as He was revealed at the beginning of Revelation, captures the beast as well as the false prophet, and “strikes down” all the enemies of God with the sword coming out of His mouth.  Remember that the sword represents the “Word of God” that comes from the mouth of God and is “sharper than any double-edged sword.”

This too is important because it reveals that God doesn’t simply go out and destroy anyone He pleases, but it is the Word of God that convicts the enemies of God.  The same Word is that which justifies and brings to salvation those who stand with God in this moment and celebrate the victory over Satan and all those who oppose God.

One thing that I think is interesting to notice is what happens in the final battle.  We had been given a glimpse of this before, seeing the armies of God and the armies of the Beast line up for war.  Yet, at the climactic moment when the battle is supposed to begin, the Beast is captured and the enemies of God destroyed.  The people of God do no fighting, Jesus does it all.  I think this is notable because it shows truly where they power of God really lies, not in the might of an army, not in the tactics of battle, or in the number of the multitude present, but in the strength and power of Jesus Christ alone.

In the time that John was writing this, a vision of God’s power in this way would have been powerful for the Christians were experiencing extreme persecution. Their strength and power and hope, as well as ours, in the face of everything that would seek to destroy us is found only in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.



Revelation 13 – The Beasts

Read Revelation 13

Multiple times in this chapter John writes, “this calls for wisdom.”  I believe it is important that we heed this call, not jumping to conclusions about things too quickly.  Much of what John sees here once again draws on images from the visions of Daniel chapter 7.

The first beast the John sees, which comes out of the sea, is the beast that we first met in chapter 11.  We have already talked about this beast as the “antichrist” figurehead in Revelation; a personal antichrist meaning a demonically empowered human.  Yet there have been other interpretations about this beast as well.  Some believe that this beast represents the Roman Empire which would have been easy to see at the time of John’s writing with the amount of persecution and hatred towards Christ and the Church at that time.  Still, others look at this beast and see a sort of “anti-Christian” political power that has arisen and/or will arise.  Rome would have been just one of a number of political powers that have arisen and will rise up to persecute the church in the “last days.”

If you read Daniel 7, and I highly suggest that you do, you’ll see some of these same images.  The ten horns with their crowns represent the comprehensive nature of the beast’s sphere of authority and power.  Each of these ten heads has a blasphemous name on it as well.  Especially during the Roman empire as well as in most of the empires prior, the rulers assumed titles of deity and were often worshiped as such.  Though this doesn’t happen by title today, at least not often, I wonder if we act as though the government, or particular leaders within it, is our “savior” and how we act and participate around such things is something akin to “worship.”  If this were the case, we might actually be looking at a sort of antichrist in our midst even now.

That the beast comes up out of the sea is an important point that could often be overlooked.  In Hebrew culture, the sea was feared as being chaotic and primal.  Genesis 1 talks about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters prior to creation.  Indeed, on day 2, God has to separate the waters before He can continue in the creative process.  On the sea, one was vulnerable to storms, waves, wind, and any number of sea creatures that dwelled within it.  The first beast comes out of the sea, out of the chaos indicating that it has some level of divine power, perhaps even creative power.  Nothing, however, that the beast can do is out of the realm of God’s control.

Others have seen the sea as being representative of humanity.  Human life is chaotic as well and, amid the vast sea of humanity, with all of its war and disasters, politics and oppression, apathy and idolatry, the beast could arise to offer some semblance of hope or direction for the human race.  Once again, though, it is important to understand that any power that this beast has, like that of the dragon or the other beast, is all granted by God, and is just as easily taken away as we will see.  In fact, Scripture reminds us multiple times in this chapter that the power and authority of the beast “was given” and therefore lies within the scope of God’s ultimate authority, power, and control.

John sees a second beast that comes out of the earth.  This beast has often been classified as the “false prophet” of the first beast.  For many, it represents a religious component to the secular/political control and conquest of the first beast.  We see that there is worship involved in a story similar to that of Daniel 3.  There is also a level of divine power that is exhibited through the second beast, calling down fire from heaven and doing other signs that would seemingly link him/her to the prophets of Scripture.  Once again, however, this beast’s power is limited, which was undoubtedly a comfort for Christians in that time who were facing death for not participating in Roman worship.  It can and is a comfort now as well, to those who face the prospect of death in places like the middle east.  No matter how hard the enemy tries, even death itself cannot separate us from God because we are in Christ.

Finally, we come to something that is quite familiar, even to those who are not necessarily familiar with the rest of the Bible: the mark of the beast.  There have been numerous attempts to decode what these numbers mean.  Many people believed that this was code for the name of the Roman emperor at that time, Nero.  Variations of that number show up in official Roman documents and seals from Cesar at that time.  Others have pointed to other possible meanings found in people throughout history.  Nero in particular, was a great persecutor of Christians, starting and sustaining one of the worst and most violent times of persecution against that Church that ever existed.

Another interpretation of this points to an “unholy trinity” that we have just witnessed.  The dragon and the two beasts represent the sum total of the divine (or divinely empowered) opposition to God.  Whereas the number that represents God is 7; we have seen it multiple times throughout Scripture and especially in the book of Revelation (lampstands, stars, trumpet judgments, seal judgments, bowl judgments, spirits of God, days of creation, etc.).  The number 6 then would be the number of imperfection.  God’s number would be 777, a holy number of completion and fullness.  Satan’s number, 666, is a number that represents evil and imperfection as each number falls short of the perfect number seven.

John reminds us again here that this calls for wisdom and indeed it does.  Christians have spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to figure out what the “mark of the beast” could possibly be in the modern world.  With the advent of implanted chip technology, something that may replace credit cards and be responsible for all identification and commercial transaction someday, Christians have been given new fodder for thoughts about the “mark” as well as who the “beast” is.

I can’t honestly say that I know whether or not these chips if mandated someday, would be a modern realization of the “mark of the beast.”  I don’t wish to speculate on that either as I said in the introduction of this book.  One of the main points that is being made at this point in Revelation is the contrast between those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and those who put their faith in worldly things.  Such things could easily be technology, government, economy, or specific leaders; all could qualify as a type of antichrist, asking and possibly even demanding that people place their hope in it rather than in Jesus.  Steve Jobs, the CEO and major designer behind the many Apple products that we know today, didn’t simply work to create a good phone, he worked to create an image, a brand, and even a lifestyle that would be identified by a single symbol that a vast majority of people in the world can easily recognize.

For instance: Steve Jobs, the CEO and major designer behind the many Apple products that we know today, didn’t simply work to create a good phone, he worked to create an image, a brand, and even a lifestyle that would be identified by a single symbol that a vast majority of people in the world can easily recognize.  In fact, the Apple symbol has defined a certain segment of people.  Neuroscientists say that thoughts of Apple products for some of its most loyal fans actually lights up the same portion of the brain as that of religion for those who are devoutly religious…  interesting right?  It is an interesting coincidence that Apple Pay (and its competitors like google) is becoming one of the leading ways to pay for things and do all forms of commerce.  I’m not saying that Apple Inc. is the beast and its

I’m not saying that Apple is the mark of the beast or that Steve Jobs is the antichrist (though there are some that believe that).  But I do think that it should cause us to pause for a moment and think about the priorities that we have in life.  Is the latest and greatest Apple product (or other technology) more important than our relationship with Christ?  Are there other things in life that we prioritize and emphasize over and above our faith?  Those things, no matter what they are, will always lead us to an incomplete, unfulfilled life that falls short of all that God calls us to.



Revelation 12 – The Woman and the Dragon

Read Revelation 12

As the vision continues to unfold before John, He sees a “great sign” that appears.  When Scripture says this, it is an indicator of something that is pointing to a much deeper meaning.  The woman that John sees has consistently been identified as representing the people of Israel with the twelve stars around her head being one of the chief indicators of that.  Her pregnancy most likely represents the time in which God was working through Israel to bring about the coming of the Messiah, her male child.

The next thing John sees, which is equally as spectacular, is a seven headed dragon which he identifies as Satan, the devil himself.  Whereas the beast of chapter 11 represents the antichrist, the major opponent to God’s people, the dragon much greater and scarier in appearance.  Seven is, as we have said before, the number of the divine, and ten the number of completion and strength.  The dragon comes forth with divine strength and the power to rule as is signified by the crowns.

Satan has always been opposed to the plans of God, attempting to thwart God’s redemptive work at every possible change.  Here we see him seeking to destroy the male child, the Messiah, right as he is born.  However, God protects Him, taking Him into heaven, an act which infuriates the devil.  At the same time, the woman also finds divine protection from the dragon for a period of time which is the same as that of the oppression and persecution mentioned in chapter 11.  Whether or not these are the same times or things that happen sequentially is not necessarily specified.  It is important to keep in mind, as we look at the symbolism of this, that John is experiencing a vision of God’s work on a cosmic scale.  Whereas we tend to think in a linear fashion, as is our way in this life, God stands outside of time and therefore what John is seeing does not necessarily indicate a timeline of events.  This, in particular, is why those who look at the founding of the modern day nation of Israel as being a focal point for end-times interpretation have little credibility (that and the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one knows when He will return except for God).

After this, a war breaks out in heaven.  This is a rather peculiar happening as we often view Satan as not being in heaven.  John’s vision here draws on a great deal of Old Testament understanding of the spiritual realm as well as New Testament language of Satan as “the accuser.”  Heaven, for us, has often been considered to be the place that we go to when we die.  However, Scripturally speaking, heaven is the dwelling place of God.  In heaven are the angels, all that is described throughout the book of Revelation, and, if you read the book of Job, Satan is sometimes there as well, accusing the people of God before God.  I can’t necessarily explain this (nor would I dare try), but what it does do is give us a picture of a much more active place than just cherubs playing harps on clouds.

Whatever the explanation, there is a point at which Satan is permanently expelled from heaven, thrown down by the Archangel Michael, in what was (or is) probably one of the most epic fights of all time.

Satan’s expulsion from heaven, though, seems to bring a much greater anger that is then taken out first on Israel, though God protects here, and then on the rest of God’s people.  How and what this looks like as it unfolds in history is rather unclear.  It begins to unfold over the next couple of chapters as being a systematic persecution of the church and deceiving of the nations of the earth both through physical and spiritual means.  The devil will seek to draw as many away from God as possible and will “wage war” on the people of God through the work of the beast of chapter 11 and those in the coming chapter as well.

Once again we can find ourselves looking for dates and events that coincide loosely with what we are reading here.  Certainly, Israel has been a persecuted nation throughout history as has the church from time to time.  Different religions have and continue to rise up to challenge the people of God and lead the people of the world astray.  Persecution continues to this day in many parts of the world as it has for the past 2000 years against the people of God.  What is important to read out of this too, however, is the announcement once again that salvation and power and the kingdom of God have come to and through the Messiah.  Scripture is clear that the people of God will face persecution; it is equally clear that none of that can hold a candle to the strength and power of God and the hope that we have for eternal salvation in Jesus Christ



Revelation 9 – Trumpets (Part 2)

Read Revelation 9

Trumpet judgments five and six introduce some new and downright disturbing imagery into the mix of things we’ve already seen.  John is able to describe the agents of both judgments in vivid detail.  It is important, looking toward the end of this chapter, to keep in mind the ultimate purpose of these judgments.  We easily see the pain and suffering that is taking place here, however, Scripture indicates the strong desire to see repentance and turning toward God as the primary goal of these happenings.  In fact, Scripture testifies to that as well in 2 Peter, indicating that it is God’s desire that all will turn to Him and that none would perish.

The fifth trumpet judgment sees the star that had fallen become a sort of divine agent, possibly a reference to the devil himself, having fallen from heaven and creating bitterness on the earth.  He releases a demonic army that is sent to torture the people of the earth who are not sealed by God.  This judgment draws its imagery again from the plagues of Egypt, particularly the plague of locusts.

Describing the locusts that he sees, John shows us a very scary image of these demons.  Each aspect, though, represents a part of these demons.  They have human faces representing cunning and intelligence, not just a mindless rabble.  Their crowns represent a given power, not something weak or helpless.  Having women’s hair could represent a sort of false beauty that might be present, and the lion’s teeth the cruel and inhuman ability to devour.  Having armor may represent a strength that these demons have; iron armor was the strongest armor present at the time.  In and with their tails they have the ability to torment, perhaps representing the sting of sin and the resulting pain it always causes.

The head of these demons is called “Appolyon,” which means destruction; a fitting name for the devil and his demonic hordes.  Even with all this ability, though, their power is limited as is the time that they have to carry out their task as represented by the 5-month time limit.

Moving on to the sixth trumpet judgment we see a new entity, an army of horses and riders with eerily similar powers except that this time they could actually kill.  The number of these riders is beyond counting, and their appearance is equally as frightening as that of the locusts.  Much of the imagery is the same, the tails having the head of a snake on them confirms their demonic origin.

Contained in these verses is something that could easily be missed but is quite important to what we have been experiencing.  Verse 15 states that these 4 angels had been kept for the very hour, day, month, and year that this was happening.  The exact nature of this action, along with all the rest is important.  In the midst of the chaos that we are reading through here, it is important to note that God is still very much in control.  In fact, what He is working out here in the book of Revelation is all part of the plan, even if it doesn’t seem so to us.

What may not be readily evident here is what this all represents.  Certainly, it would be much easier for us to look at these things happening in some cataclysmic period way in the future and be ok with it.  In fact, that is how many people tend to look at the book of Revelation.  However, that is not necessarily how we have been looking at this book nor is it how we look at prophetic Scripture in general.

Remember that all of Scripture is living and active, that the main thrust of prophetic literature was to communicate what God was doing at the time it was written.  We also believe that Scripture speaks to our situation here and now.  John was writing in the midst of extreme persecution against the Christian community but ultimately their hope and ours rests in the strength and protection that is found in Jesus Christ who has and who will be victorious over all the evil and activity of the enemy.



Revelation 7 – The Great Multitude

Read Revelation 7

John records a delay before the opening of the seventh seal in which a different sort of seal is placed on those who are faithful to God.  This seal of God is said to be a protection and is a sign of belonging or “ownership” of God’s people for Himself.  Somehow, they will be protected, possibly from the many things that we just read about in chapter 6.  The four angels could very well be the four horsemen given that they had been given the power to harm the earth.

As John records those who are sealed, we see him using the names of the tribes of Israel with at least one exception, Joseph, as he did not have his own tribe and the omission of Dan, possibly because of their idolatry which is recorded in Judges 18.  In some of the mainstream books and discussion about the book of Revelation, a great deal of emphasis is placed on Israel; this is true in America as well.  Evangelical beliefs have led us to take a vested interest in the land of Israel, thinking that doing so will somehow put us on the good side of God at the end times.  However, long after the nation split and the Northern Kingdom was destroyed, Scripture still uses the language of “Israel,”to talk about the people of God.  More than likely that is what is the case here as well.

It also doesn’t make much sense for the direction that Revelation has been taking, talking about Christians, the Church, Christ’s work, and even those that have been martyred for the faith, and then to suddenly jump back to Biblical Israel for 8 verses, before returning to Christians again.  Instead, what John is referring to here is the whole of the people of God.  He references that 12 tribes of Israel and that 12,000 from each tribe were sealed.

The number 12 is a significant number in Scripture as well, representing the fullness of the people of God.  In addition to that, the number 10, as well as its multiples (10, 100, 1000), are readily used in Scripture to talk about things being complete.  So, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes is symbolic of the whole of the people of God being sealed and protected.

What happens next is a familiar sight for both John and his readers as once again worship around the throne of God is recorded.  All the people of God from everywhere in the world and throughout all time raise their voices in worship to God and to the Lamb.  Once again, their sole concern is worship to God above all else.

All of these people are wearing white robes, representing the purity they have because they are washed in Jesus’ blood.  John writes that they have come out of the “great tribulation” which could be reflective of their experience of persecution on earth.  Jesus refers to such a time in Matthew 24, a time that is near the end of time.  Perhaps this is reflective of a period of time in which the world will see a worsening of persecution against the Church and those who faithfully follow Jesus.

I’m probably not telling anyone anything new when I say that most people don’t relish the idea of persecution, much less greater persecution than one is already experiencing.  However, Scripture says time and again that the world will hate those who love Jesus.  But Jesus also reassures His disciples to “take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  This reassurance is exactly what God is communicating in Revelation; despite everything that has taken and will take place, Christ is the victorious conqueror and our victory, like those depicted in this chapter, is found solely in Him.



Revelation 3 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 2)

Read Revelation 3

The Church in Sardis

Sardis was a capital city known for its great wealth and fame.  There is not much written about the city of Sardis other than that, but I have often related this particular letter most readily to the church in North America.  Jesus says, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”  In a country where great wealth and fame are what defined and viewed as important, the church seems to have taken a back seat.  Because of our country’s place in the world, we may assume that this too is where the church is the strongest… but in reality, the church is declining in the U.S. faster than any place in the world.

The question that this letter poses to the church in North America is what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of this.  How indeed can we actually be alive?  How do we live as those who haven’t “soiled ourselves” and stand with the one who is victorious before the Father?

The Church in Philadelphia

Philadelphia was a city known for its trading located on the main trade route from Rome into the province of Asia.  As such, the city was a main place for pagan worship and church persecution.  In the midst of this, Christ’s points to an “open door” that He has placed before them.  While the church here had endured a great deal, their direction was clear.  Interestingly, this has almost always been the case for the church when it faces persecution.  In these difficult times, the Gospel spreads and the church grows.  Perhaps this is what Scripture is referring to here.

The change of name imagery that we see here is one that is often found in Scripture.  Many people have undergone these changes at pivotal times in their lives.  Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.  Each time the change represents God’s calling on their life and the new life that it brings about.  Here, Jesus promises to write the name of “God” and “the city of God” on them.  This too is a symbol of new life and new calling reflective of what we see in Scripture.  Those who God calls, who place their faith in Him, are marked as Christ’s own forever.

The Church in Laodicea

Laodicea was also a city of great wealth and influence known for banking establishments, medical schools, and textile industry.  The many water references in this letter come from the fact that the city had no source of fresh water.  Jesus’ reference to the “one true God” is perhaps an allusion to that here in his discussion about their “lukewarmness.”  It is important that believers find their source of spiritual water from the only source of true living water, that being Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ words here also challenge the church in its action.  The church of Laodicea has not hot, possibly referring to the hot water used in medicinal practice, or cold, possibly referring to the refreshing and thirst-quenching ability of fresh water.  The only way to get either would be to return to the source, not having it shipped in or pumped in through other means.  This too is a good word to the church in North America, which has spent an inordinate amount of time pumping in water from culture, government, and any number of other places rather than returning to the source our healing and refreshing: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



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.



1 John 5 – Overcome

Read 1 John 5

Several times throughout this writing, John has talked about overcoming the world.  Whenever he says this, though, it doesn’t come in the context of us opposing the world through our own strength.  The victory that we have is and always will be in Jesus Christ alone. Our victory is founded in His victory over sin and death and, like we are raised with Him, we will also dwell with Him when He returns.

While this may seem a somewhat obvious reality for us, far too often we forget the primary place this needs to hold in our lives.  We like to claim that Jesus is Lord, but then we look to our government to protect us and provide for us.  Christians in the U.S. have created lobbying groups and other governmental entities to further advance a political agenda, rather than following the Gospel message to love those around us.  We try to overcome the world politically when the words of Scripture clearly point to Jesus Christ dwelling in us as the only way this could happen.

We worry and fret about the loss of religious freedom in this country, thinking that if we can’t gather on Sunday mornings all will be lost.  Our government makes decisions that are contrary to what we see as morally right, “Christian principles” that we read out of Scripture and are surprised.  None of this, the moral decline or the repressing of the Gospel should be surprising, though.  Christ Himself said that we shouldn’t be surprised by this but to take heart because they hated Him before they hated us.

He also reassures us, “Take heart for I have overcome the world.”  John writes that when Christ dwells in us, we have a strength greater than the world’s power and we too can not only resist the temptations of this world but overcome them by “the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony” as John will testify to in the book of revelation.



2 Peter 3 – Slowness

Read 2 Peter 3

When we look around at the world and see so much of the awful things that are going on, we often echo the words of Scripture, “How long oh Lord?”  Our liturgies include in them a bid for Jesus to come back soon and even our worship music emphasizes this at times.  The truth is that we long for Jesus’ return so that all things in this world will be put right once again.

Christians in the days of the early church longed for this as well.  In fact, most figured that Jesus would be back in their lifetime.  However, when that did not come to pass, and especially as the great persecution broke out against the church, people began to wonder when the time would be that Jesus would come back.

This is not necessarily a bad thing to wonder about.  It does, however, create some “fertile soil” for the seeds of doubt to grow, especially if those scoffers that Peter talks about here were to come and try to grow their seeds with scoffing and questions.

Peter, in his desire to feed God’s sheep, does a lot here to put things into perspective.  We are really only capable of thinking in terms of our own lives or known history at best.  This reveals our finite ability to understand both time as we know it and God’s time (and timing).  God stands outside of time, holding the whole of eternity in His hands and so, it is understandable that God’s work and will may also be outside the scope of our vision and understanding.

God’s original promise to Abraham took somewhere between 1500 and 2000 years to come true in Jesus, but it did come true.  In the same way, Jesus’ promise to return and God’s promise to complete His redemptive work, bringing all things under Christ and making everything right, destroying wickedness and evil forever, will come true in God’s perfect time.

Why the delay?  Well, who is to say that there is a delay?  It feels like that for us but for God, it’s right on time.  More than this, though, we see in God’s timing a true act of love and mercy, desiring that none would perish but that as many people as possible would come to know His love and mercy.

This is a very deep perspective that we need to keep as we think about Jesus’ coming.  Though we long for that “great and terrible” day, we also need to remember that each day we are here, each day that Jesus does not return is another day for us to spread God’s love and grace so that none would perish.