Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 5, Sardis

The fifth church we come to on our journey is the church at Sardis. The city of Sardis was located about 50 miles northeast of Smyrna on the east bank of the Pactolus River. It occupies a rocky spur of Mount Tmolus as well as the valley at the base of the mountain. The original city was an impregnable and easily defended fortress citadel towering above the valley below and surrounded by precipitous cliffs of treacherously loose rock.

The history of this region goes as far back as the sixth century B.C. when the Lydian’s controlled most of the coast of Asia Minor and the Island offshore. Sardis was the capitol of the ancient kingdom of Lydia and the home of their king, Croesus. The wealth of Croesus was legendary and the influence of Lydian culture, especially their dress and music, could be seen in Athens by the end of the sixth century.

The early prosperity of the city, and especially that of Croesus, became a byword for wealth in the ancient world, and the riches of the city were said to have come from gold in the Pactolus River that flowed through the city.

In 546 B.C. the city of Sardis was defeated and captured by Cyrus, the king of Persia. It is said that one of Cyrus’ soldiers observed as a guard on the wall of the city drop his helmet and proceed to climb down the cliff through a fissure in the rock to retrieve it. He then watched as the soldier climbed back up the same way and back to his post on the wall. That night, under the cover of darkness the Persian army used this same path and conquered the city. Sardis then remained under Persian control until 214 B.C. when Antiochus the Great captured the city using the same tactics.

Though Sardis lay on an important Roman trade route, the city never regained the spectacular prominence that it possessed in earlier times. During the time that Sardis was a Roman city it became an important Christian center as well, but as we will soon see, the church at Sardis was evidently affected by the same complacency that marked the city; they were content to rely on their past glories.

During Roman times Sardis was also a center for the imperial cult of emperor worship, and in Sardis, this cult was administered by a provincial council. In addition to worshiping the emperor Sardis also boasted a temple to Artemis, who was also known by the Roman name Diana, and who we encountered in Ephesus. The temple, which was built in the fourth century B.C. was 327 feet long, 163 feet wide, 58 feet high, and was supported by 78 Ionic columns, some of which are still standing today.

Now that we have a little background on the city of Sardis, let’s look at their message:
To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3:1-6 (NASB)
This message begins in the same manner as all of the other letters, with a description of Jesus taken from John’s vision in chapter one. Here Jesus reminds those in Sardis that He is the One who has the seven Spirits of God, and who holds the seven stars in His hand. As we saw in chapter one, the phrase “the seven Spirits of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit, and the “seven stars” are the messengers, or pastors, of the churches. What Jesus is reminding the church here is that He is One who sovereignly works in His church through the Holy Spirit and through godly leaders, and as we will see as we move through this message, this is exactly what the church at Sardis needed to hear. Jesus will tell this church that they appear to be alive but they are actually dead, for just as the body without the spirit is dead, so the church without the Holy Spirit is dead. That is situation here in Sardis, and in the description Jesus gives of Himself He is reminding those in Sardis that He is the one who give the Holy Spirit to the Church.

It is also interesting to note here that even though the church in Sardis was facing imminent judgment, Jesus did not present Himself as the coming judge in the way He did to Thyatira. Here, because of their condition, Jesus just reminds those in Sardis that He is the one who gives life to His church.

Jesus begins, “I know your deeds.” In the previous four messages this phrase was followed by a commendation for the positive things that the church was doing. In Ephesus Jesus commended them for their perseverance, in Smyrna (where there is no message of condemnation) Jesus tells them that despite their poverty and suffering they are truly rich, in Pergamum Jesus praises them for their faithfulness, and in Thyatira He commends them for their love, faith and perseverance, which are increasing. But here in Sardis there is no such commendation; Jesus begins with “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”

As we have already noted, the word know comes from the Greek word oída, which means, “to know intuitively or instinctively.” Jesus is once again communicating that He is intimately aware of everything that goes on in His church, and that there is nothing hidden from Him. Jesus’ message to Sardis is that they have a name that they are alive, but they are dead. The word translated name here could also be translated as reputation, and what this is telling us is that Sardian Christians had a reputation for being a vital and dynamic church, but the church was full of unredeemed people, or people who were spiritually dead.

There is an interesting contrast that Jesus uses here with the words alive and dead. The word here translated alive is the Greek word záō, which simply means, “To live [or] have life.1 By way of contrast the Greek word translated dead here is the word nekrós, which means, “a dead person, dead body, corpse.”2 The interesting thing here is, as Dr. Vine points out, is that the word nekrós is most frequently used to convey “the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men.”3

This is exactly the picture Jesus is painting here of the church at Sardis; they had a good reputation as a church, they appeared to be vibrant and dynamic, but to Jesus, the one who sees everything, they were spiritually dead. John MacArthur puts it this way:
Like so many churches today it [the church at Sardis] was defiled by the world, characterized by inward decay, and populated by unredeemed people playing church.4
In verse two Jesus tells them to “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die.” Just like the sentries of the city who slept while the city was attacked, the few remaining Christians in Sardis were asleep; Jesus message to them was wake up. Matthew Henry said of this phrase:
He [Jesus] advises them to be upon their watch. The cause of their sinful deadness and declension was that they had let down their watch. Whenever we are off our watch, we lose ground, and therefore must return to our watchfulness against sin, and Satan, and whatever is destructive to the life and power of godliness.” 5
That is exactly what was happening here in Sardis – they were loosing ground. They needed to wake up, be watchful, and strengthen the few godly things that did remain, because even they were in danger of dying.

Why were the remaining things about to die? As Jesus pointed out next, it was because their deeds were not complete in the sight of God. In other words, they were going through the motions, but they were not being done in the Power of the Holy Spirit. Their deeds were sufficient to give them a good reputation before men, but when viewed by the eyes that see everything, the “eyes like a flame of fire” they are found to do be “incomplete” before God.

Verse three then gives them the solution to their problem. Jesus tells them to: remember what they had received and heard, keep it, and repent.

The word remember here is the Greek word mnēmoneúō, which means, “To remember, call to mind, bear in mind. To exercise memory, be mindful of, remember.”6 This word used here is a Present Imperative Active verb in the Greek, which simply means that the action of remembering is to be a continuous and repeated action as opposed to an action in the past or future. In other words, Jesus is telling them that they are to remember, and keep on remembering, what they had received and heard.

But they are to do mere than just remember, they are also “to keep” these things. The word keep used here is the Greek word tēréō, which means, “to obey, observe, keep.”7 The word could also be translated as “hold fast”, and is again a Present Imperative Active verb in the Greek. This means that not only were they to remember, and keep on remembering, but they were also to then obey, and keep on obeying. We would do well to heed this advice ourselves.

Next they are to repent, which means to change their mind. So what Jesus is telling them is that they are to remember, and keep on remembering what they have heard; they are to keep, or obey, and keep on obeying; and they are to repent, or change their minds to conform to these things.

Then in the last half of verse three Jesus tells them what would happen if they did not do these things; He says, “if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.” This phrase speaks of Jesus coming in judgment as we can see by observing other texts that mention Jesus coming as a thief:
For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
1 Thessalonians 5:2 (NASB)
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
2 Peter 3:10 (NASB)
“Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”
Revelation 16:15 (NKJV)
The first two verses above both connect Jesus’ coming as a thief to the Day of the Lord and the verse from Revelation takes place during the Day of the Lord. From the use of this phrase here in the message to the church in Sardis we can conclude that the warning to this church is that if they continue on the path that they are on and do not remember, keep, and repent, they will face Jesus as He comes against them in Judgment.

There is one other thing to point out about the use of this phrase here; if the church were to listen and obey the instructions that Jesus has given them His return to them would not be as a thief. Robert Van Kampen explains it this way:
[I]n considering any text with the thief metaphor, the reader must ask two question: (1) what is the purpose of a thief, and (2) what is his modus operandi? In Revelation 3:3, the reason the Lord’s return will be like a thief is because the Sardinian are spiritually asleep. Spiritual alertness would have prevented the Lord’s return from being a secret.8
Jesus continues, “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” Verse four points out that as bad as things are in Sardis there is still a remnant that follows God. John MacArthur tells us:
There were not enough of them, however, to change Christ’s overall evaluation of the church as dead. But He had not forgotten those who remained faithful to Him.9
These faithful few in Sardis are those who have not soiled their garments. Garments (or robes) are symbols that we encounter numerous times in Revelation, and they are used as picture of a person's spiritual condition. The word translated here as soiled is the word molúnō. The word means:
To defile, besmear or soil as with mud or filth.10
This word has as its synonyms:
miaínō, to stain; spilóō, to spot, pollute; phtheírō, to corrupt.11
John MacArthur adds:
[The word molúnō] was a word that would have been familiar to readers in Sardis because of the city’s wool dyeing industry.” 12
Jesus uses this metaphor here to contrast the clean, white garments of those who have remained faithful with the garments of the unrighteous that are symbolically stained and soiled by sin. It must be pointed out here; however, that the clean white garments of the remnant are not a result of anything that they had done; their garments are clean because they are dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Verse four ends with the statement “and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” As stated above, they are not worthy because of anything they did, but because of their faith and trust in Jesus. This is the reward for faithfulness; to walk with Jesus clothed in the righteousness that He provides.

As we move now into verse five we again see the promise to the one who overcomes. Here Jesus says that they will be clothed in white garments, that their name would not be erased from the book of life, and that He would confess their name before His Father and His angels.

Let’s look at each of these promises individually and see what we can learn. First Jesus says that those who overcome will be “clothed in white garments.” John MacArthur writes:
In the ancient world, white garments were worn for festive occasions such as weddings. True Christians will wear theirs at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7–9). White robes were also worn by those celebrating victory in battle; all true Christians are victorious through Christ over sin, death, and Satan. [Also] white garments represent purity and holiness. Christ promises to clothe Christians in the brilliance of eternal purity and holiness.13
The next part of the promise has caused much confusion and controversy; Jesus says here “I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and His angels.” Some have used this as a proof text to support the position that one can loose their salvation, but this is not at all what this verse is teaching us; notice that the promise is that Jesus will not erase their names. This is not a threat of the loss of salvation, but a promise of eternal security for the overcomer. MacDonald and Farstad say:
Some think that the Book of Life contains the names of all who have been given physical life. According to this view, those who show by their lives that they have been truly born again will not be removed from the book whereas, by implication, all others will.

Others see the book as a register of those who have spiritual life. They are promised that their names will not be blotted out, that is, that they will never lose their salvation.14
To try to understand what is being said here we need to look at what else the Bible has to say about the Book of Life. Before we do that though, I want to look at what it would have meant for those in Sardis to have their names either written in, or erased from a book.

Ancient cities all kept a roll, or book, that contained the names of everyone who was a citizen of that city; as people were born their names would be added to the roll, and as they died their names would be removed. Your name could also be removed; however, if you were guilty of a crime and your citizenship in that city was revoked. So the names recorded in the book were an up-to-date record of who belonged to that city and who did not. The promise that Jesus makes here is that the names of those who overcome would never be erased from this book; they would always belong to the City of God.

What then does the Bible have to say about the book of Life? According to the New Bible Dictionary the phrase:
“Book of Life” is used two different ways in the Bible: (1) It is used of natural life, (2) In later Judaism and the New Testament it is used of the life of the age to come.15

Let’s look at some examples of each of these:

The first way this phrase is used in the Bible is to refer to natural life, and to have ones name erased from this book would mean that they had died. We can see this in the following verses:
The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.
Exodus 32:33 (NASB)
May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous.
Psalm 69:28 (NASB)
In both of these passages the book referred to is the book, which contains the names of those who are physically alive - the record of the living. This is not the same book referred to in the following passages, which shows the second way this phrase is used in the Bible: as a record of those who have been born again. This is the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Philippians 4:3 (NASB)
All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written  from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
Revelation 13:8 (NASB)
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds…And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:12,15 (NASB)
and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 21:27 (NASB)
So here we can see how this phrase is used, but is there a contradiction between these two? Some say yes, but those who do are wrongly connecting the passages in Exodus and Psalms with the passage in Revelation 3:5. The passage here in Revelation is not a threat, it is a promise that we can rest in. Jesus promised that He would never erase the names of the redeemed from the Book of Life.

Jesus also says that He will confess the names of those who overcome to His Father and His angels. Kenneth Wuest, in his expanded translation of the New Testament renders this phrase:
And I will openly confess his name before my Father and before His angels.16
The word translated here as confess is the Greek word homologéō, which means, “to acknowledge openly, profess.”17 So what this passage is telling us is that Jesus is not ashamed to call those who overcome His brethren (Hebrews 2:11). He will openly acknowledge and profess to His Father and His angels that the Redeemed belong to Him.

Jesus then ends this message the same way that He has ended the previous four, by reminding us that this is not a message for the church at Sardis alone; this is a message for all Christians, and all who hear this message are to heed the warnings that it contains.

1 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2198). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3498). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
3 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:148). Nashville: T. Nelson.
4 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (111). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (Re 3:1). Peabody: Hendrickson.
6 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3421). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
7 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G5083). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
8 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch3 Pg2 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (113). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3435). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
11 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3435). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
12 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (113). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (115). Chicago: Moody Press.
14 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 3:5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
15 Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (145). InterVarsity Press.
16 Wuest, K. (c1961, 2004). The New Testament, An Expanded Translation: (pg592). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
17 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3670). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.

Next Week we will look at the Church at Philadelphia.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Puritans (Part 10) - William Secker

Every morning I receive an email from a ministry called Grace Gems. If you are not signed up I highly recommend that you do; each day they send out an excerpt from a Puritan author such as Thomas Watson, Thomas Brooks, J.C. Ryle, etc... to challenge your faith and make you examine your walk with God. Most days what they send is very convicting, and they really will make you think and search your heart. A lot of days I find that the Grace Gems email fits perfectly with what I have been studying in my own quiet time and I end up meditating on that email all day. Today was one of those days.

The Grace Gem today was an excerpt from the 1660 William Secker book, The Consistent Christian, and as I read it I couldn't help but think that it went right along with what I was trying to say in my post yesterday discussing the need to tear down our idols and return to God. Therefore, as a followup to yesterday's post here is The Puddle of Their Own Merit by William Secker:
Many have passed the rocks of gross sins--who have suffered shipwreck upon the sands of self-righteousness.

It was the saying of one, that he "would swim through a sea of brimstone--if he might but arrive safely at heaven." Ah, how would natural men soar to heaven--upon the pinions of their own merit! The sunbeams of Divine justice--will soon melt such weak and wax wings!

He who has no better righteousness than what is of his own providing, shall meet with no higher happiness than what is of his own deserving. "They disregarded the righteousness from God--and attempted to establish their own righteousness." They are determined to sail in their own ship--though they sink in the ocean!

We are so far from paying the utmost farthing, that at our utmost--we have not even a farthing to pay! That man will be a miserable spectacle of vanity--who stands upon the lame feet of his own ability!

Duties are but dry pits, though ever so meticulously wrought--until Christ fills them. Reader, I would neither have you be idle in duties--nor make an idol of duties.

What are duties without Christ--but like a fine cabinet without a jewel--or a golden cup without a cordial? The most diligent saint--has been the most self-distrusting saint, "that I may gain Christ and be found in him--not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." If you are found in your own righteousness, you will be lost by your own righteousness. That garment which was worn to shreds on Adam's back--will never make a complete covering for you.

Duties may be good crutches to go upon--but they are bad Christs to lean upon. It is the greatest disparagement that professors can offer to Christ--to put their services in the scale with His sufferings. The beggarly rags of the first Adam--must never be put on with the princely robe of the second Adam!

Man is a creature too much inclined to warm himself by the sparks of his own fire--though he lies down in eternal flames for kindling them! Though Noah's dove made use of her wings--yet she found no rest, but in the ark. Duties can never have too much of our diligence--or too little of our confidence. A believer does not perform good works to live--but he lives to perform good works.

He shall have hell as his debt--who will not take heaven as a gift. "We boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh." A true Christian stands at as great distance from trusting in the best of his services--as in the worst of his sins! He knows that the greatest part of his holiness--will not make the least part of his justifying righteousness. He has unreservedly subscribed to that sentiment, "that when we have done all--we are only unprofitable servants."

When we have kept all the commandments, there is one commandment above all to be kept; that is, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags!" In most of our works--we are abominable sinners; and in the best of our works--we are unprofitable servants. "O Sovereign Lord, I will proclaim Your righteousness, Yours alone!" You see, beloved, the righteousness of Christ is to be magnified--when the righteousness of a Christian is not to be mentioned.

It is hard for us to be "nothing in ourselves" amidst all our works; and to be "all things in Christ," amidst all our weakness. To undertake every duty--and yet to overlook every duty--is a lesson which none can learn, but Christ's scholars.

Our obedience, at best, is like good wine--which relishes of a bad cask. The 'Law of God' will not accept ninety-nine for a hundred. It will not accept the coin of our obedience, either short in quantity--or base in quality. The duty it exacts--is as impossible to be performed in this our fallen state; as the penalty it inflicts--is intolerable to be endured in our eternal state!

We do not sail to glory in the salt sea of our own tears--but in the red sea of the Redeemer's blood! The Cross of Christ--is the only key of paradise! We owe the life of our souls--to the death of our Savior. It was His going into the fiery furnace--which keeps us from going into the devouring flames! Man lives--by death: his natural life is preserved by the death of the creature; and his spiritual life is gained by the death of the Redeemer.

Those who carry their vessel of hope to the puddle of their own merit--will never draw the water of comfort, from the fountain of God's mercy!
Rest in Jesus - He is not only all we have, He is all we need!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ezekiel, Judgment, and the Coming Economic Crisis

I have been reading from the book of Ezekiel over the past few days, and have been struck with how many parallels there are between us today and those who were living in Jerusalem just prior to the exile into Babylon. What we see in Ezekiel is the judgment of God on a nation because they have turned their backs on Him, set up idols, and worshiped them instead of worshiping the One true God.

The nation of Israel had turned away from God and He tells them over and over again ,through the prophet Ezekiel, that judgment is coming. But He also tells them that the ultimate result of the judgment will be that all the people will know that He is the Lord.

And this got me thinking, what if the things that are currently happening, in the world in general and the United States in particular, are being orchestrated by God so that we will come to know that He is the Lord?

Am I saying here that the current economic crisis was caused by God as a judgment on America? No. It could be but, I will not presume to speak for God and what He is doing in this situation. And yes you did read that correctly - I do believe that what is happening in our economy is God's doing, I am just not going to say why He is doing it.

Could God be judging America for our turning our backs on Him, for removing Him from every area of our society, and for setting up the dollar as our object of worship? Absolutely. But He may have a completely different reason for allowing this economic collapse to happen, and I am not going to try and say that I know what it is.

This is what I do know: God is still sovereign; God is still trustworthy; God is still worthy of our worship and praise; God promised that He will never leave His children; and God promised that everything that we face as His child He will use for His glory and our good.

Now, with that said I still think we can draw some parallels from this current situation andwhat was happening in ancient Israel.

The first parallel I see is that of idolatry. I already touched on this above; no one can deny that we have allowed materialism, commercialism, greed, and selfishness to become idols in our land. Most Americans are for more interested in the house we live in or the car we drive than we are with making sure our families, friends, and neighbors know and understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are more concerned with our own comfort than we are with the eternal destination of those that we cross paths with on a daily basis. In short, we have become the object of our worship.

The second parallel I see is a rebellion against what God has clearly taught in His word. We live in a society that has rejected the clear teachings of the Bible on many issues - divorce, abortion, same sex marriage just to name a few - and as we look at the professing church we don't see much of a difference from the world around us.

Getting back to Ezekiel; in chapter nine we read that God is sending his executioners to carry out His judgment against Jerusalem. We also read that before He permits them to begin He has someone go throughout the city and put a seal on the foreheads of all of these who belong to Him; these are identified as those "who sigh and groan over the abominations committed" in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:4). Then in the next two verses God tells the executioners:
“Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.”
Ezekiel 9:5-6
Did you catch that last part? The judgment was to begin in the house of God; they were not to start out in the street, and they were not to start with those who had rejected God outright, they were not to touch anyone who had the mark of God on their forehead. Those who belong to God should take great comfort in that - when He pours out His wrath His children are protected (1 Thessalonians 5:9). And while we can be assured that we, as His children, will never experience His wrath, please note that even though the ones who were sealed were protected from the slaughter they still had to endure the consequences of the judgment on their nation; They lived through the siege of the Babylonian army, they lived through the famine and disease, and ultimately they were carried away as slaves into Babylon.

I think the same thing will be true when God judges our nation for turning our back on Him. Those who belong to Him will not experience His wrath, but we will still have to live through the consequences of judgment. And as I look around at the collapse of our economy I can't help but wonder if that judgment has begun.

So what are we as Christians supposed to do? In chapter 14 we read:
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations.
Ezekiel 14:6
Each of us must stop and honestly ask ourselves if there is anything that we need to repent of - if we have set up any idols in our hearts - because in verse 8 God tells us that He will set His face against the man who has taken his idols to his heart and separated himself from God. And that is exactly what we are doing when we set up an idol - we are separating ourselves from God. So ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart and reveal anything that shouldn't be there (Psalm 139:23-24) and then repent of anything that He shows you.

And whether this economic crisis we are in is God's judgment or not we are all in for a difficult time ahead. And I am not saying that you should "get right with God" because of what is on the horizon - you should get right with God because He is God, and even if he takes away everything we have He is still worthy of our worship and praise!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 4, Thyatira

The next stop on our journey through the seven churches of Revelation is the Church at Thyatira. The city of Thyatira was located about 55 miles northeast of Smyrna on the road between Pergamum and Sardis; it is the modern day city of Akhissar, Turkey. The city was located on the southern bank of the Lycus River, which is a tributary of the Hermus River and it occupied an important position in a low-lying corridor connecting the Hermus River with the Caicus Valley.

Thyatira was founded as a Hellenistic city in about 300 B.C. and became the western frontier garrison of Seleucus I of Syria. Later, after changing hands it became the eastern frontier of the kingdom of Pergamum. The city then passed from Roman rule in 133 B.C., but it remained an important point on the Roman road system, as it was the gateway to the eastern provinces.

Though never a large city Thyatira was known as a center for manufacturing, and by the first century the city boasted many industrial and commercial trade guilds in which membership was required in order to do business or even to hold a job. These trade guilds were much like our modern labor unions, but with one exception - each of these guilds had its own pagan deity, and participation in the guild also required participation in the pagan rituals associated with that deity, which often included idolatry and immorality.

Thyatira was, and still is, famous for its dyeing of fabric, and archeologists have uncovered evidence relating to the guild of dyers in the city at the time this letter was written. According to Acts 16:14-15 the first of Paul’s converts in the city of Philippi was a lady named Lydia, who we are told was seller of purple fabrics from Thyatira. Dyeing apparently formed an important part of the industry of the city, but evidence has also been uncovered that suggests there were also guilds for garment making, pottery, and brass working. And the description that Jesus uses for Himself in verse eighteen would have been appropriate for a city that was renowned for its brass working.

The message to the church at Thyatira is the longest of the seven messages even though Thyatira was the smallest of these seven cities showing us that being small does not mean being insignificant in God’s eyes. Let’s look now at this message:
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 2:18-29 (NASB)
Jesus begins this message just as He has begun the previous three, by addressing the pastor of the church. Jesus says, “to the angel of the church in Thyatira write…” Remember that the word “angel” used here is the Greek word ággelos which means, “messenger” and it is a reference to the leader of the congregation; in fact the letter is addressed not to the church as a whole, but to the pastor since he is the one who will be held accountable for the church’s response to the message.

Then Jesus introduces Himself; He says He is “The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire.” And that “His feet are like burnished bronze.” This is the only time in the book of Revelation that the title “The Son of God” is used and Jesus may have chosen this title in this letter because the city of Thyatira boasted a large temple to Apollo, the sun god. John MacArthur points out here:
This is a significant change in wording. In the vision recorded in chapter 1, Christ was described as the Son of Man (1:13). That title emphasizes His humiliation, His sympathetic identification with believers as their merciful High Priest. It offers encouragement to persecuted Christians… In this passage, however, Jesus is identified as Son of God; the emphasis is not on His humility, but on His deity, because His approach to the church at Thyatira is not as sympathetic High Priest, but as divine judge.1
The following two descriptions: eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like burnished bronze are also descriptive of judgment. The flaming eyes show us that Jesus sees all; Hebrews 4:13 says “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” That is exactly the picture that is being painted here; Jesus is saying that there is nothing that is hidden from His piercing eyes. All things are open and lay bare before Him; He knows the thoughts and intent of our heart (Hebrews 4:12), He knows the motives behind our actions, and He will judge what He sees.

Next Jesus says that He has feet like burnished bronze. Bronze in the Bible is representative of judgment, and this reference is no different; Jesus is coming in judgment to those who will not repent. The description of His feet being like burnished bronze is a picture of His holiness. Again, John MacArthur says:
That Christ’s feet glowed brilliantly like burnished bronze depicts His purity and holiness as He tramples out impurity.2
And Warren Wiersbe adds:
John had to deliver a message of severe warning and judgment to this congregation, which explains the description of the Lord’s eyes and feet. 3
After introducing Himself Jesus then begins His message; He says, “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.” This church was doing the right things. Unlike the church at Ephesus this church was increasing in love. Jesus also points out that they had faith, and service, and perseverance. And not only did they have these things, Jesus tells them that the good things they had were actually increasing. This was a church that looked like they were doing everything right, but then Jesus says, “I have this against you.” Warren Wiersbe tells us, “The church had works, service, and patience, but it was filled with sin.”4 And now Jesus is now going to show them exactly what it is that He has against them.

Verse twenty lays out the problem; Jesus says “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”

The church in Thyatira apparently had a woman there who was teaching things contrary to the Word of God, and the church was allowing her to continue. Whether her real name was Jezebel is not known; this could have actually been her name, or Jesus could have just used this name to make reference to the parallels between this woman and the Jezebel of the Old Testament who led the nation of Israel into immorality and idol worship. The Old Testament Jezebel was married to king Ahab, and her influence over the king caused him to build temples to Baal and Asherah (see 1 Kings 16:31-33). She also persecuted the prophets of God and put them to death (1 Kings 18:4,13 & 9:7).

It is interesting to note here that the use of the singular pronoun “you” in this admonition; Jesus says, “I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20 emphasis mine). Knowing that this message was directed first of all to the leader, or pastor, of this church it is possible that the woman Jesus is referring to was actually the wife of the pastor. Jameson, Fausset, and Brown point out that:Two [of the] oldest manuscripts [actually] read, ‘thy wife’” 5 in speaking of this woman in verse twenty. Whether she was the wife of the pastor is not known, but what we do know is that the pastor, as well as the congregation of this church, were tolerating her and her false teaching.

So Jesus begins by saying that this Jezebel is a woman “who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and she leads My bond-servants astray.” According to this, the first sin that the church was guilty of was a violation of the Biblical principle forbidding a woman to hold a position of authority within the congregation.

I know this is a controversial subject, and one that is highly debated in our day, but the Bible is clear that women are not to hold this kind of position in the church. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote:
I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.
1 Timothy 2:12 (HCSB)
And also in the first letter to the Corinthians:
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.
1 Corinthians 14:34 (NASB)
But this does not in any way mean that women are inferior to men. Paul made this point abundantly clear - that in Christ men and women are equals. We can see this expressed in his letter to the Galatians, among other places:
There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28 (HCSB)
But just as Jesus placed Himself in a position of submission to His Father, women are to be in a role of submission to men:
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV)
John MacArthur explains it this way:
Women are to keep quiet in the sense of not teaching. They are to demonstrate subjection by not usurping the authority of the elder or preacher.” And he adds, “That is true not because women are in any sense inferior to men, but because God’s law commands it (1 Cor. 14:34), in line with His design for the weaker vessels. 6

Warren Wiersbe says that to be in submission: “literally means ‘to rank under.’” Then he says:
Anyone who has served in the armed forces knows that ‘rank’ has to do with order and authority, not with value or ability. A colonel is higher in rank than a private, but that does not necessarily mean that the colonel is a better man than the private. It only means that the colonel has a higher rank and, therefore, more authority. 7
This is exactly what Paul is saying here in First Timothy, and this is exactly the principle that the church at Thyatira was violating.

Moving on then, Jesus tells them that some of them were being lead astray to “commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” by following the teachings of this woman. If we look at what was happening in the city at the time it is most likely that she was teaching membership and participation in the trade guilds was acceptable since it was impossible for them to earn a living otherwise. As we have already noted, each of these trade guilds had their own pagan deity and participation in the guild required acts of immorality and idolatry. To make this point William MacDonald says:
Just as Jezebel in the Old Testament had corrupted God’s people with fornication and idolatry, so this woman taught that Christians could engage in these practices without sinning. Perhaps she encouraged the believers to join the trade guilds of Thyatira, even though this involved honoring the guild god or goddess and participating in festivals where food was sacrificed to idols.8
She may have even justified her teaching by saying that they were actually advancing the cause of Christ since this would have allowed them to have some influence among the pagans of this city. John MacArthur states:
Perhaps she also encouraged Christians to experience the deep things of Satan so they could better witness to the unsaved. 9
Whatever it was, we know that the message she was teaching was causing the church at Thyatira to compromise to the point that they were being led astray, and that even those who were not participating in these sins were still tolerating her teaching.

It is interesting to note here that Jesus does not issue her a call to repentance. Disobedience will always result in judgment, and in verse twenty-two that is exactly what we see. Jesus tells her that He is coming in judgment. But please note that Jesus said He has given her time to repent and she has refused; the text says, “she does not want to repent.”

Why would someone not want to repent when they are confronted with their sin? We can find the answer to this question in the Gospel of John where Jesus tells us that men love darkness more than light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). Writing on John 3:19 Warren Wiersbe writes:
Why will sinners not come into the ‘light of life’? Because they love the darkness! They want to persist in their evil deeds, and this keeps them from coming to the light; for the closer the sinner gets to the light, the more his sins are exposed. It is not “intellectual problems” that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light. 10
This should be a warning to all of us; as soon as the Holy Spirit make us aware of a sin in our lives we need to repent and move into the light, because there will come a time when it is too late for repentance and we too will face “The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire.”

Jesus says that He will throw her onto a bed of sickness, and that those who are partakers in her sin He will throw into great tribulation. Look at the way the NIV renders this verse, it reads:
So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.
Revelation 2:21 (NIV)

The word that is translated here as “bed of sickness” in the NASB or “bed of suffering” in the NIV is the Greek word klínē, which according to Dr Zodhiates simply means, “a bed, couch, sofa, for sitting or reclining.” But he adds:
In the New Testament, klínē is generally used only when referring to the sick.11
Jesus is warning us here that prolonged and unrepentant sin will result in judgment, and that judgment may involve sickness and disease. We can see other examples of this in the Bible, but one of the most well known is in the letter to the Corinthians where Paul is instructing them on their sinful practices surrounding the Lord’s supper. Here we read:
But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.
1 Corinthians 11:30 (NASB)
John MacArthur points out another possible reason for Jesus’ use of the word klínē here when he writes:
Having given this woman time to repent, God was to judge her upon a bed. Since she used a luxurious bed to commit her immorality, and the reclining couch at the idol feast to eat things offered to false gods, He was to give her a bed in hell where she would lie forever.12
Jesus then tells them that those who are following her will be thrown into “great tribulation” (NASB) or will “suffer intensely” (NIV). This phrase comes from two Greek words, mégas, meaning great in force, intensity, or effect, and thlípsis, meaning to crush, press, compress, or squeeze. Great tribulation could then be defined as “great adversity and anguish; intense oppression or persecution”13 and that is exactly what Jesus was promising to those who had not repented.

There is also a third group mentioned here who are going to experience the divine judgment of Jesus, and that is the children of the woman Jezebel. These are not her physical children but her spiritual children; in other words they are those who have embraced and followed her teaching. Jesus tells them that He is going to kill them with pestilence, which literally means to kill them with death. The Greek word translated “pestilence” here is thánatos, which literally means, “To taste or to experience death” but also means, “a violent death…as a punishment…to sentence someone to death.” 14

This was to be a dramatic judgment, and its purpose was to rid the church of this evil, but it was also to serve as a warning to all of the churches. Notice that at the end of verse twenty-three Jesus says “all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown tell us in their commentary:

So palpably shall God’s hand be seen in the judgment on Thyatira, that the whole Church shall recognize it as God’s doing.15

In Psalm 139 David says:
O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Psalm 139:1-3 (NASB)
This is exactly the picture that Jesus is painting here when He says that He is the one who searches the minds and hearts. The word “searches” here is the Greek word ereunáō, which means, “To search into, investigate, explore, to search diligently, to examine closely.”16 In the Greek this is a Present Active Participle, which indicates that this is a habitual and continuous action; Jesus is saying here that He habitually and continuously examines, investigates and explores the hearts and minds of those who follow Him, and from the context of this passage we can see that He judges what He finds. There is nothing hidden from His eyes of fire, and His feet of brass will tread to pieces all those who choose to live in unrepentant sin.

Not only does Jesus search our minds and hearts, but this passage also tells us that He will give to each one according to their deeds. The ESV translates this phrase, “I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” We have just seen that Jesus is intimately familiar with our every thought and action; not only does He know our works He also knows the motives behind them, and He will not judge “according to the mere act as it appears to man, but with reference to the motive, faith and love.” 17

In the next verse we then see that even though Jesus has come to this church in judgment, not everyone in the church was guilty of following the teachings of the woman Jezebel. In verses twenty-four and twenty-five Jesus says that to those in Thyatira who do not hold to this teaching, and who have not known the deep things of Satan, He places no other burden on them. He admonishes them to hold fast to what they have until He comes.

There is an interesting phrase in verse twenty-four that says, “who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them.” Most of the commentaries that I checked just passed right over this phrase, or if they mentioned it at all it was very briefly and superficial. John MacArthur on the other hand had this to say:
Jezebel and her followers claimed to be plumbing the very depths of Satan’s domain and remaining spiritually unscathed. In their perverse, libertine, licentious false theology, they believed they could do so with impunity. This pre-Gnostic teaching said that one was free to engage the sphere of Satan and participate in sins of the body without harming the spirit. Since the spirit belongs to God, their twisted logic went, what does it matter if the body attends idolatrous feasts and engages in sexual immorality? They imagined themselves to be free to explore the satanic sphere and then brazenly come to worship God.18
We can contrast this with the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the true believer.
Now God has revealed them to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the deep things of God.
1 Corinthians 2:10 (HCSB)

To the Godly remnant Jesus gave no other burden, and in verses twenty-six through 28 He again makes promises to the overcomers. Note here that Jesus defines, for the first time in these messages, who the overcomers are; He says they are those “who keeps My deeds until the end.” The Greek word here is tēréō, which can mean, “to keep” or “obey” but it can also mean, “to guard”. Robert Van Kampen says of this word here:
He who guards My works is the literal sense of the phrase.19
The overcomer in Thyatira, just like all overcomers:
[W]as the true believer who steadfastly maintained the works of genuine Christianity. 20
Jesus promises the overcomers that they will have authority and rule over the nations, probably a reference to the millennial kingdom when Jesus will set up His earthy kingdom. Warren Wiersbe tells us:
When the Lord sets up His kingdom on earth, it will be a righteous kingdom with perfect justice. He will rule with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:8–9). Rebellious men will be like clay pots, easily broken to pieces! 21
But that is not all; the overcomers are also promised the morning star. Morning star is a title that Jesus assumes for Himself in Revelation 22:16, so Jesus is promising Himself to the overcomers. Not only will they rule and reign with Him in His kingdom, He will also reveal Himself to them and they will know Him intimately.

Jesus ends this fourth message the same way He has ended the previous three, with the phrase “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Just as in the letters we have already looked at the message to the church at Thyatira was not meant for them alone, but as a warning to all who hear it. We must make sure that we are listening to what the Spirit says to the churches, and that we are heeding His warnings, following and obeying, and repenting when necessary.

1 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (96). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (97). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:18). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (803). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
5 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Re 2:20). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
6 MacArthur, J. (1995). 1 Timothy (85). Chicago: Moody Press.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Ti 2:9). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 2:20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (100). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Jn 3:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
11Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2825). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
12 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 2:22). Nashville: Word Pub.
13 Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary. Rev. ed. of: Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.; Includes index. Nashville: T. Nelson.
14 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2288). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
15 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Re 2:23). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
16 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2045). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
17 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R. & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Re 2:23). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
18 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (104). Chicago: Moody Press.
19 Robert Van Kampen. Revelation Commentary Ch2 Pg9 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
20 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 2:26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
21 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:18). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

Next week we will move on to chapter three and the church at Sardis

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Nature Of True Repentance - Part 3

Today we come to part 3 in our study of repentance where we will be looking at the next ingredient of genuine repentance: Confession of sin. And as with the previous posts I will again be quoting from Thomas Watson and his book The Doctrine of Repentance.

In the last post we saw that true and genuine repentance is characterized by a realization that one is a sinner and then sorrowing over that sin. Once those have occurred, the next step to genuine repentance is the confession of sin. Thomas Watson writes:
Sorrow is such a vehement passion that it will have vent. It vents itself at the eyes by weeping and at the tongue by confession...
So let's look at what it means to confess and what this confession will look like in the life of the believer. In his first epistle the apostle John wrote:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9
What an awesome promise; if we confess our sin He will forgive us. But what does it mean to confess? The Greek word translated confess in this passage is homologéō, which is a compound of two Greek words:homoú (together with), and légō (to say), so this word literally means, to say together with. Of this word's use here Kenneth Wuest writes:
Confession of sin on the part of the saint means... to say the same thing that God does about that sin, to agree with God as to all the implication of that sin as it relates to the Christian who commits it and to a holy God against whom it is committed. That includes the saint’s hatred of that sin, his sense of guilt because of it, his contrition because of it, the determination to put it out of his life and never to do that thing again. This is what confession of sin means here. The English word “confess” means “to admit the truth of an accusation, to own up to the fact that one is guilty of having committed the sin.

But the Greek word means far more than that, as was shown above.This is quite different than what we usually hear in regard to confession, but this is what God means when He says we are to confess our sin. And this is one of the ingredients of Genuine repentance. In writing on this subject Thomas Watson reminds us that both Judas and King Saul confessed their sin, "but, theirs was not a true confession."

He then goes on to give us eight qualifications for true confession:

1. Confession must be voluntary

By this Watson means that our confession must not be given out of a fear of punishment; it must flow freely from our hearts because it is the right thing to do to confess our sin to our Heavenly Father. Here Watson writes:
[T]rue confession drops from the lips like myrrh from the tree or honey from the comb, freely. "I have sinned against heaven, and before thee" (Luke 15:18): the prodigal charged himself with sin before his father charged him with it.
2. Confession must be with compunction

Here Watson is talking about the feelings that accompany true confession of sin; he writes:
The heart must deeply resent it. A natural man's confession runs through him like water through a pipe. They do not at all affect him. But true confession leaves heart-wounding impression on a man... It is one thing to confess sin and another thing to feel sin.
3. Confession must be sincere

This deals with our attitude toward sin; true confession of sin is accompanied by a broken heart over that sin. We cannot sincerely confess our sin and yet love our sin. Watson writes:
Our hearts must go along with our confessions. The hypocrite confesses sin but loves it, like a thief who confesses to stolen goods, yet loves stealing. How many confess pride and covetousness with their lips but roll them as honey under their tongue... [A good Christian] is convinced of the sin he confesses, and abhors the sin he is convinced of.
4. In true confession a man particularizes sin

In order to confess a sin we must know what that sin is; we cannot say to God "I have sinned" and call it confession. If you ask a person if they are a sinner most will say yes, but if you ask them to be specific about the sins that they have committed they are at a loss. Here Thomas Watson is saying that in order for confession to be genuine it must be specific. He writes:
[A] wicked man says, "Lord, I have sinned" but does not know what the sin is; at least he does not remember, whereas a true convert acknowledges particular sins... By a diligent inspection into our hearts we may find some particular sin indulged; point to that sin with a tear.
5. A true penitent confesses sin in the fountain

By this Watson means that we must confess that our sin is inherent in who we are - that we are born a sinner. There are many today who deny that we have a sin nature, but Watson points out here that in order to truly confess our sin we must acknowledge that we are a sinner and that we were conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5) and that our very nature is polluted. Watson writes:
The sin of our nature is not only a privation of good but an infusion of evil. It is like canker to iron or stain to scarlet... We are ready to charge man of our firsts sins to Satan's temptations, but this sin of our nature is wholly from ourselves; we cannot shift it off to Satan. We have a root within that bears gall and wormwood (Deuteronomy 29:18). Our nature is an abyss and seminary of evil, from whence come those scandals that infest the world.
6. Sin is to be confessed with all its circumstances and aggravations

We are to confess that we have sinned against knowledge; when we know something is a sin and do it anyway we have not only committed the act itself but we have also sinned in that we knew what we were doing was sinful. True confession will not only include the confession of the sin, but also of the ignoring of God's decree. Watson here writes:
Confess sins against knowledge, against grace, against vows, against experiences, against judgments... These are killing aggravations which do accent and enhance our sins.
7. In confession we must so charge ourselves as to clear God

In our confession we must be sure that that we place the blame for our sin fully upon ourselves. James tells us that God cannot be tempted and does not temp anyone to do evil, but that we are tempted and carried away by our own lusts (James 1:13-14). Therefore the responsibility lies fully with us when we sin. Thomas Watson writes:
Should the Lord be severe in his providences and unsheath his bloody sword, yet we must acquit him and acknowledge that he has done us no wrong.
8. We must confess our sins with a resolution not to act them over again.

True confession will involve a turning away from that sin; we cannot truly confess a sin and still continue in it. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery "go and sin no more" (John 8:11) and that is the response to true confession - we will sin no more. Here Watson writes:
Some run from confessing of sin to committing of sin, like the Persians who have one day a year when the kill serpents and after that day they suffer them to swarm again. Likewise, many seem to kill their sins in their confessions and afterwards let them grow as fast as ever. "Cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16). It is vain to confess, "We have done those things we ought not to have done", and continue still in doing so... now when we have vomited up sin by confession we must not return to this vomit. What king will pardon that man, who after he has confessed his treason, practices new treason?
If this is what true confession is we must ask ourselves if this is what our confession looks like, because as was quoted above:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
Next time we will look at the next three ingredients of true repentance: Shame for sin, Hatred of sin, and Turning from sin. Until then it is my hope that you will prayerfully consider what it means to confess our sins.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Response To The Ten Indictments - Trevor Hammack

In my last post I shared a sermon that was preached a couple of weeks ago by Paul Washer. This sermon has become the most popular download on Sermon Audio, but as we listen to this sermon are we just having an emotional response to these 10 indictments or are we actually going to change our lives to be in conformity to the Word of God?

In this followup to this sermon Trevor Hammack says, you listened to this great sermon, now what are you going to do about it? He gives us the following six points of where we can start:
  1. If you attend a church that is guilty of these 10 indictments don't stay there and try to change it from within - find a good church.
  2. True discipleship will cost us everything - be willing to sacrifice for not just the gospel but also to be under good teaching.
  3. Don't be satisfied to just listen to good teaching and preaching on the internet while staying in a bad church.
  4. Start Bible teaching churches.
  5. Work with other Christians to help spread good teaching.
  6. Train young men and support them in the building of Biblical churches.
This was a great followup to Paul Washer's Sermon and I recommend that after you listen to that sermon you take the time to listen to this one so that we know "where to go from here" and we are not just hearers of the Word but doers also (James1:22).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

10 Indictments By Paul Washer

By now I am sure that most of you have seen this video as it has been posted numerous times all over the blogosphere, but in case you have not had the opportunity to hear this message please take the time to listen.

In this message Paul Washer lays out ten indictments against modern Christianity; here he tells us that the problem with the contemporary church is that we have:
  1. A practical denial of the sufficiency of Scripture
  2. An ignorance of God
  3. A failure to address mans malady
  4. An ignorance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  5. An unbiblical gospel invitation
  6. An ignorance regarding the nature of the church
  7. A lack of loving and compassionate church discipline
  8. A silence on separation
  9. Allowed psychology and sociology to replace the Scriptures in regards to the family
  10. A lack of godly discipline
This sermon may very well be the most timely message you have ever listened to, and the indictments that he makes here are right on the money. This is a call to wake up, and it is a call to repent.

Every Christian needs to hear this message!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 3, Pergamum

Continuing along the postal route from Smyrna the next church we encounter is the church at Pergamum, and this is the next church that Jesus addresses in Revelation chapter 3.

The city of Pergamum (or Pergamos) is the modern Turkish city of Bergama. The city is situated near the Caicus River in northwest Asia Minor opposite the island of Lesbos about 15 miles from the Aegean Sea and about 50 miles north of Smyrna. The city occupied a commanding position near the seaward end of the Caicus river valley and was probably settled at a very early date.

The city of Pergamum became an independent kingdom in the third century B.C. under the leadership of Attalus I who defeated the Gauls, and the city stood as a symbol of Greek superiority over the barbarians. In 133 B.C. Attalus III, the last king to rule in Pergamum bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans; his kingdom comprised parts of Phrygia, Ionia, Caria, Lydia, and Mysia. After his death the Romans constituted the province of Asia Minor and made Pergamum its capitol city. Under Caesar Augustus the province was reconstituted as a senatorial province and had a governor of consular rank who governed as proconsul. It was probably at this time that the capitol of Asia Minor was moved from Pergamum to Ephesus.

Pergamum was most well known for its library, which was second only to the great library of Alexandria and contained over 200,000 items. The Egyptians, being concerned that this library would surpass their own refused to ship any papyrus to Pergamum. As a result, a new form of writing material, a type of parchment, was developed in Pergamum called Pregamena charta. In addition to this new form of parchment the wealth of the city was also derived from agriculture, silver mining, stockbreeding, and textiles.

Pergamum was also the first city to build a temple for the purpose of emperor worship when in 29 B.C. a temple was erected there in honor of Augustus. In addition to this temple the city also boasted temples for Zeus, Athena, Apollo, and Asclepius. Asclepius was the Greek god of healing, and in addition to the shrine that honored him Pergamum was famous for its medical center where the famous physician Galen worked in about 160 A.D.

In the message to this church Jesus said that Pergamum was the place where Satan’s throne was, and the place where Satan dwells. This could be a reference to the worship of Asclepius since the snake was his symbol and he was known as the “savior-healer.” It could also be a reference to the multitude of pagan cults that were practiced there, it could be a reference to the practice of emperor worship that began in this city, or it could just be a reference to the persecution that the Christians in this city were facing, which is the work of Satan.

Now that we have a little background on the City of Pergamum let’s look at this message:
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’”
Revelation 2:12-17 (NASB)
Once again we see Jesus beginning His message by using one of the descriptions of Himself that we saw in the first chapter; in this message He calls Himself “The One who has the sharp two-edged sword.” As we saw when we looked at this back in chapter one this description has to do with judgment for sin, and that the sword represents the Word of God. Jesus is addressing the church in Pergamum as the One who will judge sin, and He will judge it with His Word. Of this introduction John MacArthur says:
This is not a positive, promising introduction; it is a threatening one. It is the first negative introduction of Christ because the Pergamum church faced imminent judgment. Disaster loomed on the horizon for this worldly church; it was and is but a short step from compromising with the world to forsaking God altogether and facing His wrath. 1
The letter then begins, after the identification of the sender, with a commendation. Jesus tells them that even though they live in the place where Satan’s throne is, and even though they witnessed the death of Antipas who was martyred for his faithfulness, they are still holding fast to the Name of Jesus, and to their faith.

Notice that Jesus says that this city is the place where Satan’s throne is, and the place where Satan dwells. As I stated above, there are several different interpretations as to what this could mean; in his commentary on Revelation Warren Wiersbe says, “Pergamos had the first temple dedicated to Caesar and was a rabid promoter of the imperial cult. This is probably what is meant by “Satan’s seat” in Revelation 2:13. The city also had a temple dedicated to Asclepius, the god of healing, whose insignia was the entwined serpent on the staff. (This is still a medical symbol today.) Satan, of course, is likewise symbolized as the serpent (2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9; 20:2).” 2

John Macarthur adds:
Asclepius was the god of healing, and people came from all over the ancient world to Pergamum, seeking to be healed at his shrine. Asclepius was depicted as a snake, and nonpoisonous snakes roamed freely in his temple. Suppliants seeking healing either slept or lay down on the temple’s floor, hoping to be touched by one of the snakes (symbolically representing the god himself) and thereby be healed. Such symbolism would undoubtedly remind Christians of Satan.3
Robert Van Kampen tells us that that the word:
Throne is used throughout the New Testament to depict the place of official state or chair of state. Matthew 5:34 states, ‘But I [Jesus] say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God….’ Heaven is the official seat or chair of the state for God Almighty. Why Pergamum was chosen as Satan’s official seat is not indicated. However, this is where Satan lives.4
After commending them for their faithfulness Jesus says in verse fourteen that He has a few things against them; He tells them that they have some who hold to the teaching of Balaam (Rev 3:14), and they have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Let’s look at each of these individually:

First we are told that there were some who held to the teaching a Balaam “who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.” To understand what Jesus is talking about here we need to see what we can learn about Balaam. According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary Balaam:
[W]as a man of some rank among the Midianites. He resided at Pethor in Mesopotamia. It is evident that though dwelling among idolaters he had some knowledge of the true God; and was held in such reputation that it was supposed that he whom he blessed was blessed, and he whom he cursed was cursed.5
So the story of Balaam goes like this. There was a man by the name of Balak who was the king of Moab and as he observed all that the Israelites had done to the Amorites and became fearful for himself and his people, so he hired Balaam, a prophet, to curse the Israelites so they would not be able to defeat the Moabites. Balaam tried to curse the Israelites for Balak, but every time he did he ended up blessing them. Since he was not able to curse them he told Balak that he didn’t have to curse them to defeat them, he just had to get them the men of Israel to marry the women of Moab and then the Israelites would forsake God which would, in effect, have the same result as if he had been able to curse them. So Balak did as Balaam had said, and the Israelites married the Moabite women and began to worship the gods of Moab just as Balaam had predicted.6

So what Balaam did was teach Balak that if he could get the Israelites to compromise and intermarry with the world they could be defeated. This is what was going on in the church at Pergamum; they were brining into the church the practices of the world. They were beginning to compromise their beliefs and were allowing the world to creep into the church. And by doing so they were leading the faithful of the church astray.

The other thing that Jesus mentions is that they had some in their midst that were holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitans, which if you remember from the message to Ephesus is something that Jesus said He hates. In Ephesus they also hated the Nicolaitans, but here in Pergamum there were some who were embracing this teaching. So what exactly was the teaching of the Nicolaitans? The word Nicolaitan comes from two Greek words: first is the word nikao, which means, “to conquer, [or] overcome.”7 Second is the Greek word laos, which means “the people.” 8

So the word Nicolaitan means to conquer the people and what it is referring to is the practice of setting up a clergy and teaching that the people have to go through them to get to God. This doctrine is believed to have originated with Nicolas; one of those chosen to be a Deacon in Acts 6:5. John MacArthur tells us that:
Whether he [Nicolas] became an apostate (as some of the early church fathers believed) or the Nicolaitans, his followers, perverted his teachings is not known.9
What we do know is that Jesus said that He hates this teaching, and that some in the church at Pergamum were following this doctrine.

Jesus tells this church that they need to repent quickly, or else He will come to them and war against them with the sword of his mouth. The only cure for them, and for us, when dealing with sin is to repent. Failure to repent would result in “the One who has the sharp sword” making war against them. Likewise, when we fail to repent of the sin in our lives Jesus will come against us with the sword of His mouth. Note here that the message to repent was given to the church as a whole, and not just to those who were following the false teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Jesus says in verse sixteen “Repent, or else I am coming to you quickly, and will make war against them.” It is the responsibility of the whole church to be sure that false doctrine is not being taught or followed by the congregation. John MacArthur adds here:
The entire church faced the battle sword of Christ’s judgment, the heretics for practicing their heresy and iniquity, and the rest of the church for tolerating it.10
Now in verse seventeen Jesus once again makes a promise to the one who hears and follows the message that He has just given. This time He says that He will give them “hidden manna” and a “white stone” which has a “new name” written on it. Manna was the bread that the Israelites were given in the wilderness and it represents the provision of God. In John 6:48-51 Jesus teaches us that He is the Bead of Life that came down from Heaven and that those who eat this bread will live forever. By saying that the overcomers would be given the hidden manna Jesus is telling them that they would have Him, not as the one who was coming to war against sin, but as the one who is the Bread of Life providing their every need.

The white stone mentioned here is a little harder to define. The Believers Bible Commentary tells us:
It was a token of acquittal in a legal case. It was a symbol of victory in an athletic contest. It was an expression of welcome given by a host to his guest.”11
All three of these could apply to the Christian: through the blood of Jesus we have been acquitted of our sin, we are victorious over the world, and He will one day welcome us into His home.

But that is not all that He says here; Jesus also says that the overcomers will receive a new name. The verse tells us that no one knows the name on the stone, and that we will not know it ourselves until we receive it. John MacArthur tells us:
The new name will serve as each believer’s admission pass into eternal glory. It will uniquely reflect God’s special love for and adoption of every true child of His.”12
What more could we ask for? Jesus promises His provision, the forgiveness of our sin, and a new name that reflects His love for us!

Everything in Pergamum was not bad, they were being faithful and holding fast to the Name of Christ even though they were living where Satan dwelt, but there were some who were beginning to compromise and to follow false teachings. The message to the church in Pergamum is as applicable to us today as it was to them in the first century. This message is a warning against compromise, whether is morals or in doctrine, and it is a call to repentance. When we see that we have fallen short the overcomer is the one who repents and comes back in line with the teachings of the Bible. In the message to the church at Pergamum those who do are promised a blessing, and those who refuse are warned.

1 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (83). Chicago: Moody Press.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 2:12). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (86). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 Robert Van Kampen. Revelation Commentary Ch2 Pg5 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
5 Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
6 You can read the whole story of Balaam in Numbers 22-25 & 31:16
7 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:660). Nashville: T. Nelson.
8 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 2:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (89). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (89). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 2:17). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
12 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (91). Chicago: Moody Press.

Next week we will look at the church at Thyatira.