Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Seven Churches in Revelation Are Not Exempt from Suffering

Of late I have been thinking a lot of what the letters to the seven churches in Revelation say. I guess the reason I have been thinking so much about them is because so many people have been telling me the following - that the Church is above reproach and that God does not need to discipline her, because His blood has covered all her sins. He does not find her lacking or feel that she has to suffer, for if that were the case, then was not His sacrifice a thing of no worth? He died so that she might not suffer. He does not want a Bride who has been beaten up. Anyone who believes that we must suffer for Christ believes in a works salvation and not in Christ's blood justifying us, for Christ has no intention of letting His Bride suffer.

I guess I keep finding different ways to write about this subject, because I find this attitude so terribly disturbing and quite honestly just blind and ignorant in the face of not only history, but what is going on with Christians around the world. I apologize to people who follow me regularly, for it must seem that I am beating a dead horse after writing on this in so many ways. Moreso on my other blog that this one. As I find that many people are not regular followers but simply come upon me due to googling a topic title, I keep writing this in various ways in the hopes that if one article does not catch their attention, another will. I want to take a good look at the letters Christ writes to the churches to see if this attitude is actually a Scriptural one.

Let's take a look at what Christ says to each church in turn.

Revelation 2:1-7 “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”

In Ephesus, Christ commends them for their works, patience, intolerance of evil, Berean testing of the leaders, hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, and perseverance. If we stop at this point, we would look upon this as a church without blemish. This is no apostate church into doctrines of demons. They have not become a carnal church. This appears to be a church who indeed does not need any discipline or chastisement and of whom Christ can be proud, for it seems that they walk with God. But what is the next thing He says? “NEVERTHELESS I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Christ is saying that they do not meet with His full approval. They are found wanting or lacking in some respect, and that respect is that they have left their first love. What is our first love? Our first love is this, Matthew 22:37-39 “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

The first love is supposed to be for God. The second is for our neighbor. In looking at their works, it would appear that they have been zealous of love toward their neighbor as far as good works, and they have been zealous for the church in weeding out the wolves and sinners, but they have forgotten to take time for their first love, God. How often do we do that? God established the Sabbath so that man could have a day of rest. One in which the cares of the world could be set aside and he could spend the day communing with God. Today the Christian church has adopted a different day, and on that day they do anything but rest. It is service after service, meetings, choir rehearsals, etc. They are so busy doing for the Lord (or so they think) that they do not actually have time for Him. How many couples today end up divorced, because they spend all their time working to supply not simply the needs of the family, but the wants, and spend no time with each other simply loving each other, talking to and listening to each other, giving to each other, and showing each other their love? How many people take time each day to spend in prayer talking to God, or reading their Bible listening to God? We are a busy people. Too busy. We do not even take time to eat anymore. We eat fast food, because we cannot eat fast enough to get it over with to get on to other things. In Bible times (and still in some cultures), the meal was a long process in which people communed with each other, as well as took time over enjoying the food. When the angel of the Lord and the other two angels came to Abraham on their way to Sodom, what did Abraham ask of them? He asked them to stay for a meal. Realize that this was not a pop open the box and throw it in the microwave meal. Sarah had to make bread from scratch. Abraham got a calf and had a young man “dress” it. He had to first slaughter the animal. If you have never slaughtered an animal, then you should realize this is no five minute process. You have to first bleed them out, then gut them and strip the skin/fur off. Then usually they roasted the entire animal. That can take several hours. Even if cut up, it takes quite a while to roast the pieces. When they accepted the invitation, it meant staying around for a minimum of several hours and visiting while they waited. Then the meal itself would be a time consuming affair for it would have been rude to gobble it down as quickly as possible and run. And they were in a hurry. Today we can stop at a burger joint, in five minutes we have our food, and in ten it is consumed and we are on our way. Fifteen minutes of family time. Usually no fellowship. That is how we treat God too.

What does Christ tell this church? He tells them to repent “or else.” OR ELSE? Christ really said, “or else?” That is a threat. But Christ never threatens His Church does He? After all, they are above reproach, right? He has no bone to pick with them, does He? Well, maybe He does. Maybe He does not see them as perfect as they see themselves. With what does Christ threaten them? He threatens to remove their candlestick out of its place. But what and where is that candlestick and what does removing it mean? Revelation 1:12-13,20 “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.....The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. ”

The candlestick is one of seven (representing the seven churches) that are found in heaven. The candlestick is them, their church. Christ stands in the midst of the churches. He is spotlighted by the light they shine upon Him. The church is supposed to be the light of Christ to the world. We are to showcase Him. This church is threatened with the consequence, after all their good works, that if they do not repent and put God back first in their lives that their candlestick will be removed. That is no insignificant idle threat. It means throwing them out of heaven. It means they will not be allowed to shine for Him anymore. This is serious business. And this is a church that has much to commend it. So is the church beyond reproach? Is it true that Christ did it all for us, so we have to do nothing? It would not seem that this is the message He is giving us in this passage. God does believe in allowing His Bride to suffer, if she is not what she should be. Not only suffer, but He will remove her entirely from His presence if she does not get herself right with Him.

There is a caveat though. To those in a church like this who have an ear to hear this warning, this threat, the truth that Christ will chastise and punish His Bride - if they repent, they will overcome and be allowed to eat of the tree of life. Overcoming. What does this word mean? It means to succeed in dealing with, defeating or having victory over a difficulty or conflict, to defeat an opponent, to get the better of a struggle, or to prevail over a temptation or tribulation. We will look more into the Scriptural definition of an overcomer further along in this article.

Let us take a look at the next church. Revelation 2:8-11 “And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”

To this church, Christ has nothing but commendation. They are not found wanting in any way. In spite of this fact, what does Christ tell them? He tells them that they will suffer. They will suffer horribly, for they will be handed over to the devil, who will not only cast them into prison to try (examine, prove) them, but that after a period of tribulation (“thlipsis” in Greek) that they will be put to death. Now interestingly enough, this word tribulation, “thlipsis”, is the exact same word used in Matthew 24 when we are told there will be great tribulation. “Thlipsis” means “to put to the test or prove”. Here Christ is telling them that they will be handed over to the devil for a period of tribulation, “thlipsis,” and then be martyred, so that they may be proven or examined by Satan and shown to be perfect before God in their faith. This is similar to what happened to Job, for there was no fault found in him either, but God allowed Satan to try him also. For what purpose? To show that Job's faith was not because God only did good to him, but that his faith would survive even when God allowed him to suffer, by letting Satan destroy everything he had. I believe that is called testing or putting to the proof and God does do it to even His most righteous children.

The church is told that it should be faithful and endure right up to their death, for there awaits them a crown of life if they do. Then Christ says that for those who have an ear to hear, even if they are righteous and not in need of being tested, that if they endure this testing they will be overcomers and have no need to worry about the second death, which is spiritual death.

Here we see that suffering is not merely a matter of God disciplining us, but that He allows His righteous servants with whom He finds no fault to suffer to the point of death. Does that reinforce the idea that the Bride is not going to be allowed by Christ to be beaten up, or does it reinforce the idea that God will hand His children over to Satan and allow them to suffer, and to suffer to the point of death? We are told in Daniel 7 and in Revelation 12 and 13 that the saints are handed over to the beast. It is for the purpose of trying them to purge them. Purge them of what? Oh, of all these little complaints that Christ has with the churches.

The third church on this list is Pergamos. Revelation 2:12-17 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

Pergamos is a church that is in the midst of a city filled with Satanic worship. It was the headquarters of the pagan goddess Diana. In spite of this threat to their lives, living in the midst of this, they have not denied Christ (a very important tenet) even in the face of one of their own being martyred. They have works to their credit, but Christ has some problems with them. They hold to teachings that allow for not just freedom in Christ, but cross the line into carnality and are practicing carnality. They also hold to doctrines that Christ hates. Christ threatens them that if they do not repent of this, He will come and fight against the people within the church that are doing these things Himself. Again, He says that the people within the church who open their ears to His warning, and realize that they are not perfect before Him can repent and be saved. For the rest He will not only chastise them, but fight against them Himself. You do not want to be on the side whom Christ is against. Those who repent are overcomers.

Next we have the church at Thyatira. Revelation 2:18-29 “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

This church has works that are so impressive that Christ mentions them twice. They have love, they have faith, they have patience to endure things. Is not that all that is important? Love and faith? The works are a demonstration of their perfection, right? No. Again we see that carnality has crept into the church in its doctrines and behavior. They are tolerating a woman leader (God does not allow a woman to be the shepherd of a church) who is teaching them all sorts of wrong things. They are committing spiritual adultery as well as physical. They are listening to doctrines of demons and are getting involved with Satanic things upon which they are putting the moniker of “Christian.” Do we see this today? Yes, we do - in music, (rock, which is from Satan is reclassified as “Christian” rock) in contemplative prayer (which is a Christianized name for transcendental meditation), the prosperity gospel (which is merely another name for greed) and on and on. This church and especially the leaders have already been given a chance by God to repent and they have not. They know what they are doing and continue to persist in it. Not only will she (representative of all these leaders), but the entire church will be cast into the great tribulation and killed, so that everyone will know that God searches the heart and tries us to make us worthy. He will reward them according to their works, which in this case translates into punish them for their sins. The only hope they have of escaping (and this does not just mean escaping the suffering of the tribulation, but of far worse consequences) is to repent. Those who do and can endure to the end will rule with Christ. They will be overcomers.

Revelation 3:1-6 “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

Sardis has a name in the world of being a church that is alive and on fire for the Lord. It is probably a good description of the mega churches that have congregations that number in the thousands and have more programs than you can count. However, they are spiritually dead. It is all superficial Christianity. They are into entertainment, social activities and thrive on being involved in their church, but they have no real relationship with Christ. Their works are lacking, because they are not done from a desire to be as Christ, but to look good in the eyes of the world. They are on the brink of not even believing in God, for even the few things of truth which remain are close to dying. If they do not repent and start watching, then Christ will come upon them as a thief in the night. This is how He will come upon the unbelieving world at His Second Coming. They will be among the unbelievers instead of His children at that time, if they don't repent. This shows that He is expecting to come back for His children at His Second Coming, at an hour they do not expect. There are a few who have not soiled themselves, but still walk with God within this church. They are worthy of being saved, and if they overcome they will not have their names blotted out of the Book of Life. This indicates that one can have their name blotted out of the Book of Life. That means that someone whose name has been written in the Book of Life can have it removed. Does this go along with the teaching that Christ has done it all and we need do nothing? That we need fear nothing? That Christ would never let His Bride suffer? This is something to radically fear - having one's name removed from the Book of Life.

The church at Philadelphia is a special church. Revelation 3:7-13 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

The church at Philadelphia is like Smryna in that there is no condemnation. They have works, they have kept God's Word pure and unadulterated from doctrines of demons, they have not denied Christ, they obviously are not carnal. They have kept the word of God's patience, that He is patient to wait for the last person to be saved before pouring out His wrath and for them to be patient to endure to the end until His return. Because they have kept that patience and understand that time and again we are told that we must endure to the bitter end, not have a good time and party, but endure (this indicates trials and tribulation - suffering) to the end, God will spare them from the suffering of that time of temptation (trying, putting to the test or proof – in other words, the tribulation) that the rest of the world must endure. He will protect them while those around them fall, a thousand on one side and ten thousand on the other. Christ warns that He will come quickly, so they should hold on so that nobody robs them of their crown. So you can have your crown robbed? This indicates that you can be deceived into losing it. That must be why Christ told us time and again in the Olivet Discourse to not be deceived and that if possible even the elect will be deceived. Is it possible? What do these letters teach? Even the Philadelphian must overcome and stay the course. It is not just a given because Christ died for them that everything is fine.

Lastly we have the church at Laodicean. Revelation 3:14-22 “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

The church at Laodicea has nothing to commend them. They are lukewarm - their works are useless for any real good. They are arrogant, proud of their condition, rich in worldly goods, think they have no need of discipline or suffering, for they believe they are above that. They are God's Bride after all. They are blind to the fact that they are spiritually apathetic, that they are not rich in any way that counts, that they are wretched and miserable and have not purchased their white raiment from God, which is essential to being let into the wedding feast. (Check out the parable of the wedding feast.) God counsels them to open their eyes, so they can see their own condition. He tells them that in spite of what they think, God will rebuke and chasten His own children, so that they will repent and buy gold and white wedding garments and thereby have heavenly rewards to throw at His feet, and proper raiment for the wedding supper. He then tells them that they have actually pushed Him outside the church. He is no longer even among them, but standing outside the door knocking and asking to be let back in again. He says that if any hears this warning and repents and lets Him back in, He will sit and have a meal with him. Earlier I mentioned Abraham entertaining the Lord and angels and how it probably went on for hours. This is what Christ is saying. He will take the time to spend with the overcomer to talk and fellowship with them and show them His love for them on a very personal basis. Then Christ mentions that He Himself is an overcomer.

So we see that while there may be a vast group of people who believe that Christ would never let His Bride suffer, in fact, Christ Himself warns us in all these letters to the churches of the exact opposite. He will not only let her suffer, if she does not clean up her act and repent He will actually cut her off, remove her candlestick, and blot her name out of the Book of Life. It truly is a fearful things to fall into the hands of the Living God. He will begin His judgment with His house as He said in 1 Peter 4:17 “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” The book of Revelation begins by telling us how God will judge His house. He warns the churches before the tribulation begins, and long before He starts judging and punishing the world. How is it that so many ignore what He says in these two chapters? I guess it is because they do not have ears to hear. This is a serious problem considering what happens to those who do not have ears to hear and repent. This is why I spend so much time on this topic. I hope to open the eyes and ears of those who believe this lie that Christ would never discipline His own.

Now let's take a look at what overcoming may mean. Christ calls all those in the churches who endure to the end, or die before the end is reached, overcomers. We know that Christ has overcome the world. And we know that whoever is born of God overcomes the world. But there are another few times when overcoming is mentioned in the book of Revelation. The first is where the two witnesses and the church are handed over to the beast.

Revelation 11:7 “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.”

Revelation 13:7 “And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”

We are told that the beast will be able to overcome the two witnesses and the saints. In both cases, death is the result. When Christ overcame the world, He did it by dying. Satan and the beast overcome the saints by killing them, but the saints overcome Satan and the beast by doing what Christ did – by dying instead of loving their life. They willingly allow themselves to be killed to prove their faith in Christ.

Revelation 12:11 “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

God is going to allow His children to be tried, to be put to the proof, to be tested, so that their faith can be made perfect, lacking in nothing. The vast majority will overcome by loving not their lives unto the death. The Philadelphians are the only ones with a promise to be kept safe from that trial. Even the righteous Smyrnans are allowed to die for God's glory. So are those who say that God would never allow the Bride to suffer correct? Is that what Scripture bears out?

Remember, the Smyrnans were told they would be allowed to undergo “thlipsis”, the same “thlipsis” as in Matthew 24. The Thyatirans were told they would be thrown into the “great tribulation.” The same great tribulation as found in Matthew 24. The Philadelphians are told that they will be kept from suffering the temptation. Everybody agrees this speaks of the great tribulation. Does that tell us something about what the great tribulation actually is, and what happens to the other churches?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Connie. Reminds me of Hebrews 12:4-12.