Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 1And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 1And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas from The Christian Journey

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Away In A Manger

As we move into this final few days before Christmas I thought it would be interesting to spend some time looking at the Christmas story. We seem to get so caught up in the “holiday season” that we sometimes forget (even though we would never admit it) the true meaning of what this season represents. So let’s take some time during this week and ponder exactly what it means that:
unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:11
This verse from Luke is actually the fulfillment of a prophecy that goes back several thousand years, all the way to the beginning of the Bible where we read:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.
Genesis 3:15 (NASB)
In the Garden of Eden, when God created the first man and woman, He gave them only one commandment: Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17). Our first parents chose to disobey this commandment and the plunged the whole world into sin, the result of which is that we are all now born in sin, spiritually dead, and separated from God. But God didn’t leave us in that state; Genesis 3:15 was a great promise to Adam and Eve, and it is a great promise to us today as well. In this verse we read that there is One coming – the seed of the woman – who will bruise (crush in the NIV) the head of Satan.

But what does it mean that this coming seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head? In Genesis 2:17 where God gave the commandment that Adam and Eve were not to eat from the tree He told them that if they broke that commandment and ate from the tree they would die – and that is exactly what happened. When they disobeyed God and chose to follow the devil they died spiritually; they were separated from God. So the power that Satan has over us is that he has the power of death, but by His death on the cross where He paid the price for our sin Jesus destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

But I am getting ahead of myself here; before Jesus – the seed of the woman – could die for sin He had to first be born, and that brings us to our topic for today. A couple years ago I had the idea to write a series of Christmas articles based upon the lyrics of some of our well known Carols. Here is the first one of that series which is based on the children’s Christmas song Away in a Manger.

It is not known who wrote the lyrics to this song, although some have credited Martin Luther due to the fact that the song was first published in 1885 in a Lutheran Sunday school book. This poem was then set to music ten years later by William J. Kirkpatrick and became the song that we know today. The Lyrics to this song are:

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head

The stars in the bright sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle,
'Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray

Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there

The thing that intrigues me about this song is that it focuses our attention on the fact that Jesus, the One who created this world and everything in it (Colossians 1:16), the One who existed in the beginning with God, and was Himself God (John 1:1), chose to give up the glory of Heaven and humble Himself to come to this earth not as the King of Glory, but as a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). In this song we focus on the birth of Jesus and we see that Jesus was born not in a palace, but in a barn. He was not placed in a crib; He was placed in a trough used to feed animals. His bedding was not silk; it was hay. And the first sounds He heard, while probably very joyous, still included the lowing of cattle in His nursery.

This is not the way that one would expect the King of kings and Lord of lords to come into the world. But that is the way He chose to come, so we must ask ourselves why. The prophet Isaiah, who wrote about 700 years before the birth of Christ, wrote:

1Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:1-12
We could spend a lifetime trying to dig out every gem in this brief passage, but the one thing that I want you to see today is in verse 10; in this verse we read that He (Jesus) is an offering for guilt. In the NASB this verse reads like this:

But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
Isaiah 53:10

Did you see that? God the Father crushed His Son and He (Jesus) rendered Himself as a guilt offering. What is a guilt offering? Harpers Bible Dictionary says that “its purpose was the reparation of damages.” You see, when we sin we incur a debt with God, and that debt can only be paid by a death (Romans 6:23), and this verse in Isaiah chapter 53 tells us that it is Jesus who paid that debt for us when He Himself became our guilt offering.

We see this also expressed by John the Baptist who said:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
John 1:29
So the next time you hear Away in a Manger, or the next time you wonder why the King of the universe would choose to be born in a barn, remember that it was this King born in a barn who is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And maybe then it will make a little more sense why on the night that the bright stars looked down where He lay the little Lord Jesus was asleep on the hay.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 7, Laodicea

We arrive now at our last stop on this journey with the seventh church, the church at Laodicea. The city of Laodicea was located southeast of Philadelphia on the banks of the Lycus River, a tributary of the Maeaner River. Laodicea was about 40 miles east of Ephesus and 10 miles west of Colossae in the same valley as both Colossae and Hierapolis. The city was located on one of the major trade routes from the east and this strategic position made Laodicea an extremely prosperous city, especially under Roman rule.

Laodicea was originally known as Diospolis and then Rhoas, but was renamed Laodicea after Laodice, the wife of Antiochus II, the king of Syria who rebuilt the city. Laodicea was one of the early seats of Christianity, and although it appears that Paul never visited the city he seems to have had a ministry there. Colossians 4:16 even tells us that he wrote a letter to this church, but that letter has been lost to us today.

Like the city of Sardis, Laodicea was known for its wealth and prosperity. Then in 60 A.D. an earthquake destroyed the city of Laodicea, along with the cities of Colossae and Hierapolis. The Laodiceans refused any financial aid from the government in Rome for the rebuilding of their city saying they would rebuild it themselves.

In addition to the wealth they possessed, the city was known as a center for finance and for its garment industry, which produced a fine black cloth from the wool of the raven-black sheep raised in the surrounding area. In addition to their thriving garment industry they were also known as a medical center. Laodicea boasted a medical school and medical center that was famous for the eyesalve that was produced there.

But for everything that Laodicea had going for it, it had a major problem. There was not a sufficient supply of fresh water anywhere in the city, so they had to bring their water in from the surrounding cities through a series of underground aqueducts. In Hierapolis four miles to the north there was a series of hot springs, which were known for their medicinal properties, and in Colossae 10 miles to the east there was an abundance of cold water. All of the water in Laodicea arrived from one of these two cities through these aqueducts, so the water, when it arrived in Laodicea was lukewarm and dirty. As we move through this letter we will see the importance that this plays in the message to this church. So let’s look now at the message to the church in Laodicea.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 3:14-22 (NASB)
Once again Jesus begins His message by addressing the pastor of the church. In this message Jesus identifies Himself as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. Let’s look at these one at a time:

First, Jesus identifies Himself as the Amen. The word Amen is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word ˒āmēn, which means:
[T]o confirm; to support; to be faithful. The major idea behind this word is constancy and reliability. It is used as a declaration to acknowledge affirmation of a statement; acceptance of a curse; affirmation of a prophecy. It is also used in response to worship and praise. The English word amen comes from this word and means, ‘I agree; may it be so.’1
Dr. Vine tells us:
[T]he ˒amen was an affirmation of a covenant...” 2
And Dr. Zodhiates writes that in Greek, the word amé̄n means:
[T]o be firm, steady, truthworthy” and that it is “Rendered also as ‘truth.’3
So what is Jesus telling us here by identifying Himself as the Amen? First of all, this is an Old Testament title for God, which we can see in Isaiah 65:16
Because he who is blessed in the earth Will be blessed by the God of truth; And he who swears in the earth Will swear by the God of truth; Because the former troubles are forgotten, And because they are hidden from My sight!
Isaiah 65:16 (NASB)
In this verse the word translated truth is the Hebrew word ˒amen, so in this verse God is called the God of Amen. This passage in Revelation is the only place in the Bible where Amen is used as a title for Jesus, but it clearly points back to this Old Testament title for God found in Isaiah. John MacArthur writes that this word:
[R]efers to that which is firm, fixed, and unchangeable” and he goes on to say, “It is through the person and work of Christ that all God’s promises and covenants are fulfilled and guaranteed. All the Old Testament promises of forgiveness, mercy, lovingkindness, grace, hope, and eternal life are bound up in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He is the Amen because He is the One who confirmed all of God’s promises.”4
So we can see this from this, and the definitions above, that this is exactly the point that Jesus was making about Himself here in Revelation. By saying that He is the Amen Jesus is telling us that He is the God of Truth and that all of the promises of God are wrapped up in Him.

Next Jesus identifies Himself as the faithful and true witness, which goes right along with the title The Amen that we have just looked at. We have also already seen Jesus referred to as the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5) and the One who is true (revelation 3:7), so we will not take a lot of time on this title here. What you need to know is that by using this title Jesus is assuring the Laodiceans that His diagnosis of their church is true and accurate.

Lastly Jesus identifies Himself as the Beginning of the creation of God. This phrase has caused no small amount of controversy, as there are several possible interpretations as to what this means; here are the three most prominent:

  1. Jesus is saying that He was the author of creation, meaning that He caused it.
  2. Jesus is saying that He is the preeminent ruler of the creation of God.
  3. Jesus is saying that He was the first created being by God.

John MacArthur says in speaking of this phrase:
The English translation [The beginning of the creation of God] is somewhat ambiguous and misleading. As a result, false teachers seeking to deny Christ’s deity have attempted to use this verse to prove He is a created being. There is no ambiguity in the Greek text, however. 5
So let’s look at the Greek text and see if we can learn what Jesus meant by saying that He is the Beginning of the creation of God.

The Greek phrase here is hē archē tēs ktiseōs tou theou. The word arché̄ is the word we translate as beginning and this word “denotes an act [or] cause.”6 Dr A.T. Robertson says of this phrase, Jesus is:
Not the first of creatures… but the originating source of creation through whom God works. 7

MacDonald and Farstad sum up the meaning of this Greek phrase this way:
The expression, ‘the Beginning of the creation of God’ does not mean that He was the first Person to be created; He was never created. Rather, it means that He began all creation. It does not say that He had a beginning, but that He is the Beginning. He is the origin of the creation of God. And He is pre-eminent over all creation. 8
This is the very thing that John said as he began his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.
John 1:1-3 (HCSB)
Now that Jesus has identified Himself He move right into the message for this church. As we move through this message you will see that Jesus does not have a single good thing to say to this church; they only receive condemnation from the Lord, and a call to repent.

Jesus begins just like He has with each of the other letters we have looked at, by stating that He knows their deeds. What Jesus tells them here is that just like the water that was piped into their city they are neither hot nor cold; they are lukewarm.

A person who is hot is one who has been transformed by the power of God and is living a fervent and dynamic life in the power of the Holy Spirit, and one who is cold can best be understood as a person who rejects Christ outright. The spiritually lukewarm; however, fit into neither category. John MacArthur describes them like this:
They are not genuinely saved, yet they do not openly reject the gospel. They attend church and claim to know the Lord. Like the Pharisees, they are content to practice a self-righteous religion; they are hypocrites playing games. 9

J. Vernon McGee adds:
Many… attempt to maintain a middle-of-the- road position. They do not want to come out flatfootedly for the Word of God and the great doctrines of the Christian faith. And at the same time, they don’t want to be known as liberal… So they play footsie with both groups... To my judgment this middle-of-the-road position is the worst kind of hypocrisy there is.10
This, Jesus said, was the condition of this church. They were neither hot nor cold, they were lukewarm, and because they were lukewarm Jesus tells them that they made Him sick. I don’t know about you, but that is not something I ever want to hear from my Lord.

In verse fifteen, after showing them that their spiritual condition was like the water they were used to drinking, Jesus says that He wishes that they were either hot or cold. I think we can all understand why Jesus would desire that they be hot, but why would He want them to be cold? The reason is that a person who has rejected the gospel outright has a better chance of being converted than the person who has not rejected Christ, but neither have they embraced Him. To quote John MacArthur:
These smug, self-righteous hypocrites are far more difficult to reach with the gospel than cold-hearted rejecters. The latter may at least be shown that they are lost. But those who self-righteously think that they are saved are often protective of their religious feelings and unwilling to recognize their real condition. They are not cold enough to feel the bitter sting of their sin. Consequently, there is no one further from the truth than the one who makes an idle profession but never experiences genuine saving faith. No one is harder to reach for Christ than a false Christian. 11
So the problem with a lukewarm “Christian” is that they don’t realize that they are in need of anything. For them Christianity is just a religion; it is all ritual with no relationship. This is not the kind of person that Jesus wants in His church, and we can see this in verse sixteen where Jesus says, “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

The Greek word translated spit here is eméō, which literally means, “to vomit.” 12 Dr. Robertson adds that the word means, “to reject with extreme disgust.”13 This is the only occurrence of this word in the New Testament, and what Jesus is telling the church by using this word is that their deeds were making Him want to vomit. John MacArthur adds:
Some churches make the Lord weep, others make Him angry; the Laodicean church made Him sick.14
In verse seventeen Jesus explains in detail exactly why this church was in the condition they were in. Just like the city where they resided the attitude of the church at Laodicea was “I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.” But Jesus tells them their true condition, He says, “you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

There is quite a contrast between how they saw themselves and how Jesus saw them, so let’s look at a few of these words and piece together the differences here.

First they said they were rich and had become wealthy, the Greek word for rich is ploúsios, and the Greek word for wealthy is ploutéō. These two words could also be translated as abundance, and what this is telling us is that just like the city where they lived the people in this church were relying upon their wealth and prosperity to the point that they no longer needed God. This is just the opposite of the church in Smyrna who endured tribulation and poverty, but were truly rich. The Laodiceans thought they were rich, but were truly poor.

This church said they were in need of nothing. The Greek word translated nothing here in verse seventeen in the word oudeís, which conveys the idea of “no one, nothing, none at all, not even one, not the least.”15 This church believed that they were in need of absolutely nothing; they had everything they needed and their wealth was their security.

But Jesus, who sees the true condition of His church, said they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

This is an interesting series of words that Jesus chooses to describe their condition; the words for wretched and miserable are talaípōros and eleeinós respectively. These two words have almost the same meaning in that either of these words can be translated as either wretched or miserable. The interesting thing about these words is the other ways they are translated in the Bible. The word talaípōros is found one time in the Septuagint in Psalm 137:8 where it is translated as devastated one.
O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
Psalm 137:8 (NASB)
The word eleeinós is only used one other time in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians where it is translated pitied.
If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:19 (NASB)
So these two words together paint the picture of one who is wretched, miserable, devastated, pitied, afflicted, or as Dr. Zodhiates puts it, “suffering from spiritual or emotional misery.” 16

Quite a different perspective than what the Laodiceans had of themselves, and Jesus is not finished yet.

Next Jesus says that they are in addition to being wretched and miserable they are also poor, blind, and naked. The Greek word used here for poor is ptōchós, which means not just poor, but it refers to “someone in abject poverty, utter helplessness, complete destitution.”17

Despite all of the wealth that the Laodiceans possessed, in Jesus’ eyes they were completely destitute.

He’s still not finished, next Jesus tells them they are blind and naked. Again, Jesus is using imagery that would have been familiar to the people in this church. Remember that Laodicea was known for their school of optometry and their textile industry; the city produced an eye-salve that was famous throughout the known world, and a fine black wool that was used for making garments. But Jesus tells them they are blind. The word here is tuphlós, which means not just sightless, but also “to envelop with smoke, be unable to see clearly.”18

This expresses the idea that the Laodiceans were actually in a fog when it came to seeing their spiritual condition; they were unable to see clearly how lost they really were.

And to complete the picture Jesus said they were naked. This is the Greek word gumnós, which means stark naked. A.T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures in the New Testament says of this word:
The figure completes the picture of actual poverty.19
Warren Wiersbe adds:
[T]heir material wealth and glowing statistics were but shrouds hiding a rotting corpse. 20
This was the spiritual condition of the church that said they “have need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17).

As we move now into verse eighteen Jesus tells them what they need to do to correct the problem. In this verse Jesus tells them three things that they need buy from Him:
  1. Gold refined by fire.
  2. White garments.
  3. Eye salve.
All three of these were things the church at Laodicea thought they already possessed, but as we just saw these were the very things they lacked. Let’s look at these one at a time a see what Jesus was telling this church.

The first thing Jesus said to them was, “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich.” There are a couple of noteworthy things in this sentence, and they are just as applicable to us today as they were to the Laodiceans.

Notice first that Jesus said, “I advise you.” Jesus could have judged the church right then and there, but He was giving them a chance to repent and turn to Him. The word advise could also be translated as counsel, admonish, or exhort, and that is what Jesus is doing here. Just as it says in Luke 19:10, Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and as long as there was still an opportunity to repent He will continue to do so. But remember, today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) and the opportunity to repent will not last forever.

Next notice that Jesus said they were to buy these things from Him. This church was in need of salvation, and salvation is found only in Jesus, as the following verses make clear:
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.
Acts 4:12 (NASB)
And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
1 John 5:11 (NASB)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6 (NASB)
There are many more verses we could look at, but the point here is this: salvation is in Jesus alone, and it is offered to freely to everyone, but the door will not be open forever.

It must also be pointed out here that although they were admonished to “buy” these things from Jesus, they had nothing with which to do so. Jesus has already pointed out that they are poor, blind, and naked, and they were no different than us. We too need to buy these things from Jesus, and just like the Laodiceans we have nothing with which to buy them. But look at this promise from Isaiah:
Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Isaiah 55:1 (NASB)
John MacArthur says here:
The Lord, of course, did not teach that salvation may be earned by good works; lost sinners have nothing with which to buy salvation. The buying here is the same as that of the invitation to salvation in Isaiah 55:1. All sinners have to offer is their wretched, lost condition. In exchange for that, Christ offers His righteousness to those who truly repent.21
This was the counsel that Jesus gave to the Laodicean church.

As we have already noted Jesus told them that they needed three things from Him. The first of these was “gold refined by fire.” This is a picture of true salvation, which Peter called “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). J Vernon McGee says this gold represents “the precious blood of Christ.”22

Next they are to buy white garments. The Laodiceans were famous for their black wool, but Jesus tells them that they need not the black garments that they make for themselves, but white garments that only He can provide. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment. We must remove the filthy garment of sin and put on the clean white garment of righteousness that we get from Jesus. Dr. McGee says this [white garments] speaks of the righteousness of Christ.”23

Lastly Jesus tells them they need eye-salve. This is once again an illustration that would have been obvious to the Laodiceans since they prided themselves on their medical school and the eye-salve that was produced in their city. But unlike the eye-salve that they were used to, the eye-salve the Jesus was offering them was not for physical eyes, but for spiritual eyes. Despite all of their wealth and prosperity this church was spiritually blind, and they desperately needed their eyes to be opened. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light; that is exactly what Jesus is offering here. Again, Dr. McGee says, “this speaks of the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of believers…”24

In verse nineteen Jesus says “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.” There are two views concerning the condition of this church:
  1. They were a truly saved and redeemed church, but they were living in a state of carnality. In other words, they were backslidden.
  2. They were unredeemed and were Christians in name only having never truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus for their salvation.
The reason for this differing opinion is found right here in verse nineteen. Those who argue that these were really redeemed people say that since Jesus was reproving and disciplining them it proves that they were His. Those that argue these were still lost point out that verses like John 3:16 tell us that God loves the world, and just because He love someone doesn’t mean they have experienced new birth.

On this point I tend to agree with the position that John MacArthur takes; here he says,:
Because the Laodiceans outwardly identified with Christ’s church and His kingdom, they were in the sphere of His concern… the terminology of verse 19 does not demand that Christ be referring to believers. The Lord compassionately, tenderly called those in this unregenerate church to come to saving faith, lest He convict and judge them. 25
It is interesting to note here that Jesus admonition to this church was to “be zealous and repent.” While repentance always accompanies salvation the Greek word zēleuō, which comes from a root word meaning “to boil” is used only here in the New Testament. In contrast to their lukewarmness Jesus call to the Laodiceans is that the repent and become hot.

I believe that this is an unregenerate church is made clear by the next verse. Verse twenty says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

This is an invitation to salvation, and it is personal. Though this message is given to the church as a whole, this invitation individual. The promise to anyone who hears and opens the door is that Jesus “will come into him, and dine with him, and he with Me.” This is a promise of intimate fellowship; Palmer and Ogilvie point out that:
In Jewish and Greek daily life there is a special significance to the meal taken together. It has the deeper significance of interpersonal commitment and joyous fellowship. 26
This is the promise to all who repent and open the door to Christ.

Jesus closes His message again with a promise to the overcomer; in verse twenty-one He says, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

This is to the promise of Revelation 20:6 that we will reign with Him for a thousand years. Jesus is telling the Laodiceans, and us today, that if we overcome we will not only have intimate fellowship with Him, but we will also reign with Him.

This message ends then with the same admonition as the other six letters; with the words “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This shows us once again that this message is just as relevant for us today as it was in the first century for the Laodiceans.

1 Baker, W. (2003, c2002). The complete word study dictionary: Old Testament (70). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (1:17). Nashville: T. Nelson.
3 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G281). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
4 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (133). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (133). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G746). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
7 Robertson, A.T. (c1932, c1960). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Volume VI Pg 321. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
8 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 3:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (136). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.922. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
11 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (137). Chicago: Moody Press.
12 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:592). Nashville: T. Nelson.
13 Robertson, A.T. (c1932, c1960). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Volume VI Pg 321. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
14 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (136). Chicago: Moody Press.
15 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3762). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
16 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G5005). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
17 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4434). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
18 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G5185). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
19 Robertson, A.T. (c1932, c1960). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Volume VI Pg 322. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
20 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 3:14). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
21 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (138). Chicago: Moody Press.
22 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.924. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
23 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.924. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
24 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.924. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
25 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (139). Chicago: Moody Press.
26 Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35 : 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (149). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

Next week as we conclude this series we will look at the messages to the seven churches as a prophetic history of the Church.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Tale Of Two Sons

OK I know, I just posted a sermon two days ago, but I still haven't written anything new and this sermon was too good to not share. I do have a few things that I am working on, and I will post the next letter to the seven churches - the letter to Laodicea - this weekend.

In the mean time take an hour and listen to John MacArthur explain the parable of the prodigal son in a way that you have probably never heard it explained before. You will come away with a deeper appreciation for the love of God and a fuller understanding of what it means that God has lavished His grace on us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What You Need To Know About English Bible Translations

Here is a message that I listened to today discussing the importance of reading and studying from a word-for-word translation of the Bible such as the KJV, NKJV, or ESV. In this sermon Dr. Leland Ryken explains the problems inherent with a dynamic equivalent translation and the theory behind this method of translation. He also points out that the most of the modern translations in English have been translated using a dynamic equivalent process and gives many examples of how this could be affecting the meaning of the passage you are reading.

I am not a KJV only guy by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think this is something that all Bible students should be aware of. I personally prefer to read and study from the ESV or NASB, but I also use many other translations as well. I think that the important thing is that you are reading the Bible and if you prefer the NIV or the NLT that's fine with me, just be aware that these translations are not necessarily the most accurate renditions of the original languages into English and as such you are getting the interpretation and bias of the translators in what you are reading.

With that said, here is Dr. Ryken:

After you have had a chance to listen to this I would love to hear what you think.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Message To Seven Churches - Part 6, Philadelphia

Continuing on, our next stop is the Church at Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia was located in the province of Lydia in Asia Minor approximately 25 miles southeast of Sardis and 125 miles northeast of Smyrna. The city was located on the Cogamus River, which is a tributary of the Hermus River. Philadelphia was situated near the upper end of a broad valley that ran from the city down through Sardis and to the sea near Smyrna. This valley contained a very fertile plateau that was prized for its wine making, which was celebrated by the Roman poet Virgil.

This city was youngest of the seven cities that are addressed in Revelation chapters two and three, having been founded in 189 B.C. by Eumenes II, the king of Lydia, and was named Philadelphia, which means “Brotherly Love” in honor of his younger brother Attalus II, because of the loyalty he had shown to his brother, the king.

The city of Philadelphia was not started as a military colony like some of the other cities of Asia Minor; being an inland city it did not face the same threat of attack as those cities closer to the eastern frontier. Philadelphia was built more as a missionary city, by which I mean that the intention of Eumenes II was that this city would spread Greek culture, language, art, music, and customs throughout Asia Minor. The city was successful in this endeavor and by the year 19 A.D. the native language of Lydia had ceased to be spoken and had been replaced by Greek, which became the only language spoken in the region.

Because of its strategic location on the trade route Philadelphia also became a vital link in communication chain between Sardis and Pergamum to the west, and Laodicea and Hierapolis to the east. But for all of the positive things that could be said about the city it had a major flaw; it was built in an area that was prone to frequent earthquakes, and as a result the city has been destroyed several times throughout its history.

The city of Philadelphia was captured by the Turks in 1390 A.D and is known today by the name Allahshehr, which means “the city of God.”

Now that we know a little about the city, let’s look at the message that Jesus sent to them through the pen of John.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: 'I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie-- I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
Revelation 3:7-13 (NASB)
This letter begins like all of the letters, by addressing the angel, or pastor, of the church. Unlike the previous letters; however, the description of Jesus found here in the message to Philadelphia does not match exactly one of the descriptions given in chapter one. Here Jesus identifies Himself as “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”

Jesus first says that He is holy. Warren Wiersbe tells us that Jesus presenting Himself to the church as holy “is tantamount to declaring that He is God, which, of course, He is.”1 And John MacArthur adds, “Jesus’ identification of Himself as He who is holy can be no less than a direct claim to deity.”2

There are some who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, or that He never claimed to be the Son of God. This is just not true; not only can we see here Jesus’ claim to be God; it can also be seen all throughout the gospels as well. Below are just a few examples from the gospel of John:
The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
John 4:25-26 (NASB)
But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
John 5:17-18 (NASB)
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."
John 6:40 (NASB)
"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death." The Jews said to Him, "Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, 'If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.' "Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?" Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, 'He is our God'; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." So the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
John 8:51-59 (NASB)
"If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."
John 10:37-38 (NASB)
These are just a few of the many verses that show beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus not only clamed to be God, but as we can see from John 8:51-59, these claims were not veiled. In that passage we can see that not only did Jesus claim to be God, but that the Pharisees were actually going to stone Him for making the claim, which shows that they clearly understood what He was saying. Now here in Revelation we can once again see that Jesus is God.

After reminding the Philadelphians that He is God, Jesus then says that He is true. The word translated true here is the Greek word alēthinós, which the Friberg Lexicon says refers to:
[P]ersons characterized by integrity and trustworthiness, true, dependable; a person who is what he claims to be (the) true one.3

Dr Vine says the word is “akin to No. 1,” and that it “denotes ‘true’ in the sense of real, ideal, genuine.”4 And Dr Zodhiates adds that the word is "Spoken of what is true in itself, genuine, real, as opposed to that which is false.”5

So what Jesus is saying here is that not only is He God, but that He is the only God; He is the true, genuine, real, ideal, trustworthy God, not like all of the idols and false gods of that day. Warren Wiersbe says that by saying He is true Jesus was stating:
He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days, but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God.6
Jesus then says that He is the one “who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut and who shuts and no one opens.” In chapter one Jesus is identified as the One who has “the keys of death and Hades” but here in chapter three He says that He has the “Key of David.” In the Bible keys represent authority, so in chapter one when Jesus said that He has the keys to death and Hades He was communicating His authority concerning judgment; here in chapter three, by saying that He has the keys of David He is expressing that He has :
[T]he sovereign authority to control entrance into the kingdom. In 1:18 He is pictured holding the keys to death and hell—here, the keys to salvation and blessing.7
The key of David is probably a reference to Isaiah 22:22 where Eliakim is given the key of the house of David and thereby had access to, and authority over, all the wealth of the kingdom. Here, Christ is pictured as possessing the keys to the kingdom, which gives Him alone the authority and power to “open” and “shut” the doors of spiritual blessing and opportunity.

Now that Jesus has identified Himself He begins His message to the church. Please note that this church, like the church at Smyrna, does not receive any condemnation, only praise. Jesus tells them, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” Jesus tells them He knows their deeds. As we have already noted, the word translated know is the Greek word oída, which means, “to know intuitively or instinctively.”8 Jesus is once again reminding us that He is intimately aware of everything that goes on in His church; there is nothing in His church that is hidden from Him, and nothing that He does not know.

What is it then that Jesus knows about this church? He tells them that He knows their deeds; He knows that they have a little power, that they have kept His word, and that they have not denied His name. He also tells them that because of their faithfulness He has placed before them an open door, which no one can shut. Let’s look at each of these individually.

The first thing that Jesus mentions in regard to their deeds is that He knows that they have a little power. John MacArthur tells us:
That was not a negative comment on their feebleness, but a commendation of their strength; the Philadelphia church was small in numbers, but had a powerful impact on its city.” 9
The power of this church was not derived from their own strength, but from their reliance on Jesus. They could say with Paul that in Christ, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). It was because of their deep dependence on Jesus’ strength that they had kept His word and not denied His name.

We have seen as we have looked at these churches that Jesus knows what is going on, and that nothing is hidden from His sight. We have also heard Him say “but I have this against you.” As we have also seen though, this was not the case here in Philadelphia; when Jesus looks at this church and He comments on their condition the thing He says is that they have kept His word, and have not denied His name. As I read this I couldn’t help thinking about the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and what it will be like to one day hear Jesus say “well done good and faithful servant, come and share your Masters happiness.” This is what the church at Philadelphia heard, and the goal of every Christian should be to live their life in such a way that they too will hear these words.

So what does it mean that they had kept His word and not denied His name? John MacArthur says that it means their lives were “marked by obedience” and “despite the pressures they faced to [deny the name of Christ]. They remained loyal no matter what it cost them.”10

In other words, this church was marked by faithfulness; they were faithful to the name, and to the word of God, and as Hebrews tells us: without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The church in Philadelphia may have been small, they may have not have had much strength, but they had faith. When Jesus looked at them that was all that mattered; there was no condemnation here because they were faithful, and they were obedient. And because of their faithfulness they were going to be blessed.

Notice that Jesus also told this church that He had put an open door before them that no one can shut. There are two views as to what this could mean: the open door could speak of opportunities for ministry, or it could be a reference to their salvation. In the New Testament the picture of an open door is often used to speak of opportunities for ministry and service as we can see in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Colossians:
But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
1 Corinthians 16:8-9 (NASB)
Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,
2 Corinthians 2:12 (NASB)
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:2-4 (NASB)
Because of the location of their city the church in Philadelphia had a tremendous opportunity to spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor. Remember the reason the city was built where it was was to spread the Greek language and culture throughout Asia Minor, and Jesus was telling them that because of their faithfulness the door was wide open; as long as they remained faithful that door could not be shut.

There is a lesson here for us today as well; Jesus rewards and blesses faithfulness with opportunities for ministry and service. If you find that doors seem to close for you, take a look at your life and see if you have kept His word and not denied His name. Chances are if you find doors closing for you there is some sin or disobedience in your life or some area where you need to repent. That was not the case here in Philadelphia; however, here the door was wide open.

The second way that this phrase could be interpreted is in reference to salvation. J. Ramsey Michaels, in his commentary on Revelation says:
The open door is simply a guarantee of salvation or eternal life, like the promises to the ‘overcomers’ in all seven messages. Another way of saying it is that I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth (v. 10). Like the “two witnesses” in 11:12 or the child born of the woman in 12:5, they will be ‘raptured,’ or taken up to God in heaven, before the wrath of God is poured out on the earth.11
There is validity to both of these viewpoints, and to a certain extent both views are accurate, but I think that what Jesus was referring to here is an open door for evangelism and ministry, not a reference to the Rapture.

Now in verse nine we once again encounter the synagogue of Satan, which Jesus says, is made up of those who say they are Jews, but are not. This is the same thing that Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, and from this verse we can conclude that they were active in Philadelphia too. Notice that Jesus says they “say they are Jews, and are not, but lie.” Here then we must ask the question; what is a Jew? There is much controversy over this issue, some say that a Jew is one who is a physical descendant of Abraham, and some say that it is those who have put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah. I am not going to be able to exhaustively answer this question here, but I will give you my opinion based on what I believe the Bible teaches us about who are the “true Jews.”

Let’s begin in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Romans 2:28-29 (NASB)
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
Romans 9:6-8 (NASB)
From these two passages we can see that being a Jew is not outward and physical, it is inward and spiritual. Paul goes on to say, in the letter to the Galatians:
Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Galatians 3:6-9 (NASB)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:26-29 (NASB)
These verses (and many more) all teach us that it is those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ who are the true descendants of Abraham, and therefore are true Jews.

From Revelation 3:9 we can conclude then that there was a Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia, made up of unbelieving Jews, who were persecuting the Christians in that city. Jesus tells this church that He will make those false Jews to come and bow down at their feet and to know that He has loved them. This is an interesting statement, and John MacArthur explains its meaning like this:
Bowing at someone’s feet depicts abject, total defeat and submission. The Philadelphia church’s enemies would be utterly vanquished, humbled, and defeated… The Philadelphia church’s faithfulness would be rewarded by the salvation of some of the very Jews who were persecuting it.12
It is for this reason that I believe the open door in verse eight refers to their ministry and not their salvation.

Then in verse ten Jesus gives a second promise to this church; He says, “Because you have kept the word of my perseverance, I will also keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.” This is a promise of the deliverance for this church, and for all faithful churches throughout history. It is a promise that when God pours out His wrath on this earth during the Day of the Lord they will be spared. Jesus says that He will keep them from the “hour of testing.” There is no reason for those who have already proven their faithfulness to Jesus to be tested by God’s wrath, so they will be delivered from it.

Please note that this verse promises only deliverance from the wrath of God, it however offers no promise for deliverance from the persecution that will come upon the church from the hands of Satan or the antichrist. Robert Van Kampen tells us:
This verse [Revelation 3:10] has been fought over by both pretribulationist and posttribulationists alike. Both believe that the correct interpretation of this verse will settle the issue concerning the timing of the Lord’s return to rapture the church into the heavens. Sadly, theology has gotten in the way of sound exegesis. With regards to the great persecution of God’s elect at the hands of Satan/Antichrist, this verse offers no hope.13
In verse eleven Jesus says, ”I am coming quickly.” Here again we see a verse that is commonly used to support a pretribulational rapture. The argument used here is that this verse teaches that the return of Christ is imminent, but this cannot be the meaning of this verse since over nine-teen hundred years have passed since Jesus said “I am coming quickly.” In response to this claim Robert Van Kampen says:
There is no way that ‘coming quickly’ can be reconciled with a 1900 hundred-year gap. Coming quickly cannot mean ‘at any moment.’ The lord’s coming is only imminent when the greatest persecution His children will ever face has begun.14
This persecution will be at the hands of the antichrist.

Jesus tells the Christians in Philadelphia, as well as us today, to “hold fast to what you have, in order that no one take your crown.” In other words, all Christians are to remain faithful and loyal to Jesus Christ. It is this perseverance to the end that proves the genuineness of our salvation; there are many warnings in the Bible against falling away from the faith, and it is only those who remain faithful to the end who show that their faith is genuine. John tells us this same thing in his first epistle:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
1 John 2:19 (NASB)
John Macarthur adds:
It is true that believers are eternally secure because of the power of God. Yet the means by which He secures them is by providing believers with a persevering faith. Christians are saved by God’s power, but not apart from their constant, undying faith. 15
The crown mentioned here in verse eleven is the victors’ crown. The Greek word that is translated crown here is stéphanos, which is:
[N]ot used of the kingly crown but of the crown of victory in games, of civic worth, military valor, nuptial joy, festival gladness.16
So it appears that this is another mention of the crown of life that we saw in the message to the church at Smyrna. The admonition of this verse then is that we are to hold fast to our faith in Jesus Christ, and by doing so we can be assured that no one can rob us of the victors crown that is promised to all who persevere to the end.

Then in verse twelve we once again have a promise to the overcomer; this time Jesus promises that those who overcome will be made a pillar in the temple of God and they will not go out from it anymore. He also says that He will write the name of His God, the name of the city of His God, and His new name upon him. Let’s look at each of these individually and see what we can learn:

First Jesus promises to make them pillars in the temple of His God. A pillar is picture of strength and beauty, and this would have been especially meaningful to people living in Philadelphia where they were plagued with frequent earthquakes. David Guzik, in his commentary on Revelation says of this phrase:
When a building collapsed in an earthquake often all that remained were the huge pillars. Jesus offers us this same strength, to remain standing in Him when everything around us crumbles.
He then goes on to say:
The pillar holds up the building. The only thing supporting the pillar is the foundation. True pillars in the church support the church, and they look to Jesus as their support foundation.17
In ancient cities great leaders were often honored by the erecting of a pillar with their name inscribed upon it; the promise that Jesus makes here is that the overcomer will himself be a pillar, and inscribed upon him will be the name of God, the name of His city, the New Jerusalem, and the name of Jesus Christ. MacDonald and Farstad write:
Whatever else this may mean, [this phrase] certainly carries the thought of strength, honor, and permanent security. He shall never leave this place of safety and joy. The overcomer will have three names written on him: the name of ... God, the name of the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from ... God, and the new name of the Lord Jesus. He will thus be identified as belonging to all three. 18
John MacArthur adds:
In biblical times, one’s name spoke of his character. Writing His name on us speaks of imprinting His character on us and identifying us as belonging to Him.19
So what Jesus is saying here is this, those who overcome will be honored with a permanent place in the temple of God, they will remain forever in this place of permanent security and joy, because they belong to God. What a wonderful promise!

And once again Jesus closes His message with the words “he who has an ear, let him hear with the Spirit says to the churches” which lets us know again that this message was not for the church at Philadelphia alone, but is for all Christians of all ages.

1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 3:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (119). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Friberg, Barbara; Friberg, Timothy; Miller, Neva F. (c2000); Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Electronic edition) (1107) Grand Rapids: Baker Books
4 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:645). Nashville: T. Nelson.
5 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G228). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 3:7). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
7 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 3:7). Nashville: Word Pub.
8 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3608). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (121). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (122). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 Michaels, J. R. (1997). Vol. 20: Revelation. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Re 3:7). Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press.
12 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (124). Chicago: Moody Press.
13 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch3 Pg4 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
14 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch3 Pg4 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura.
15 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (126). Chicago: Moody Press.
16 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4735). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
17 Guzik, David. (c2001). Commentary on the book of Revelation (74). Simi Valley CA: Enduring Word Media.
18 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 3:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
19 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 3:12). Nashville: Word Pub.

Next week we will look at the final message; the message to the church at Laodicea

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Adutlolescents By John Piper

In addition to the Grace Gems email that I receive every morning, once a week I get an email from Desiring God, the ministry of John Piper. And since I have been experiencing some writers block over the past week or so I thought I would share this week's devotional with you.

A Church-Based Hope for 'Adultolescents'
John Piper

Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame, wrote in the most recent Books and Culture a review of six books that deal with the new phenomenon of "adultolescence"--that is, the postponement of adulthood into the thirties. I want to relate this phenomenon to the church. But first here is a summary from Smith's article of what it is and how it came about.

What is Adultolescence?

Smith writes,

"Teenager" and "adolescence" as representing a distinct stage of life were very much 20th-century inventions, brought into being by changes in mass education, child labor laws, urbanization and suburbanization, mass consumerism, and the media. Similarly, a new, distinct, and important stage in life, situated between the teenage years and full-fledged adulthood, has emerged in our culture in recent decades--reshaping the meaning of self, youth, relationships, and life commitments as well as a variety of behaviors and dispositions among the young.

What has emerged from this new situation has been variously labeled "extended adolescence," "youthhood," "adultolescence," "young adulthood," the "twenty-somethings," and "emerging adulthood."
One way of describing this group is to highlight the tendency to delay adulthood or stay in the youth mindset longer than we used to. Smith suggests the following causes for this delay in arriving at mature, responsible adulthood.

First is the growth of higher education. The GI Bill, changes in the American economy, and government subsidizing of community colleges and state universities led in the second half of the last century to a dramatic rise in the number of high school graduates going on to college and university. More recently, many feel pressured--in pursuit of the American dream--to add years of graduate school education on top of their bachelor's degree. As a result, a huge proportion of American youth are no longer stopping school and beginning stable careers at age 18 but are extending their formal schooling well into their twenties. And those who are aiming to join America's professional and knowledge classes--those who most powerfully shape our culture and society--are continuing in graduate and professional school programs often up until their thirties.

A second and related social change crucial to the rise of emerging adulthood is the delay of marriage by American youth over the last decades. Between 1950 and 2000, the median age of first marriage for women rose from 20 to 25 years old. For men during that same time the median age rose from 22 to 27 years old. The sharpest increase for both took place after 1970. Half a century ago, many young people were anxious to get out of high school, marry, settle down, have children, and start a long-term career. But many youth today, especially but not exclusively men, face almost a decade between high school graduation and marriage to spend exploring life's many options in unprecedented freedom.

A third major social transformation contributing to the rise of emerging adulthood as a distinct life phase concerns changes in the American and global economy that undermine stable, lifelong careers and replace them instead with careers of lower security, more frequent job changes, and an ongoing need for new training and education. Most young people today know they need to approach their careers with a variety of skills, maximal flexibility, and readiness to re tool as needed. That itself pushes youth toward extended schooling, delay of marriage, and, arguably, a general psychological orientation of maximizing options and postponing commitments.

Finally, and in part as a response to all of the above, parents of today's youth, aware of the resources often required to succeed, seem increasingly willing to extend financial and other support to their children, well into their twenties and even into their early thirties.

The characteristics of the 18-30 year-olds that these four factors produce include:
(1) identity exploration, (2) instability, (3) focus on self, (4) feeling in limbo, in transition, in-between, and (5) sense of possibilities, opportunities, and unparalleled hope. These, of course, are also often accompanied by big doses of transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, and disappointment.

How Should the Church Respond?

How might the church respond to this phenomenon in our culture? Here are my suggestions.

1. The church will encourage maturity, not the opposite. "Do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature" (1 Corinthians 14:20).

2. The church will press the fact that maturity is not a function of being out of school but is possible to develop while in school.

3. While celebrating the call to life long singleness, the church will not encourage those who don't have the cal to wait till late in their twenties or thirties to marry, even if it means marrying while in school.

4. The church will foster flexibility in life through living by faith and resist the notion that learning to be professionally flexible must happen through a decade of experimentation.

5. The church will help parents prepare their youth for independent financial living by age 22 or sooner, where disabilities do not prevent.

6. The church will provide a stability and steadiness in life for young adults who find a significant identity there.

7. The church will provide inspiring, worldview-forming teaching week in and week out that will deepen the mature mind.

8. The church will provide a web of serious, maturing relationships.

9. The church will be a corporate communion of believers with God in his word and his ordinances that provide a regular experience of universal significance.

10. The church will be a beacon of truth that helps young adults keep their bearings in the uncertainties of cultural fog and riptides.

11. The church will regularly sound the trumpet for young adults that Christ is Lord of their lives and that they are not dependent on mom and dad for ultimate guidance.

12. The church will provide leadership and service roles that call for the responsibility of maturity in the young adults who fill them.

13. The church will continually clarify and encourage a God-centered perspective on college and grad school and career development.

14. The church will lift up the incentives and values of chaste and holy singleness, as well as faithful and holy marriage.

15. The church will relentlessly extol the maturing and strengthening effects of the only infallible life charter for young adults, the Bible.

In these ways, I pray that the Lord Jesus, through his church, will nurture a provocative and compelling cultural alternative among our "emerging adults." This counter-cultural band will have more stability, clearer identity, deeper wisdom, Christ-dependent flexibility, an orientation on the good of others not just themselves, a readiness to bear responsibility and not just demand rights, an expectation that they will suffer without returning evil for evil, an awareness that life is short and after that comes judgment, and a bent to defer gratification till heaven if necessary so as to do maximum good and not forfeit final joy in God.

Seeking to serve the next generation,

Pastor John

I am spending some time in prayer and Bible study to see where God is leading me and I hope to be back "on schedule" soon. I will post the message to the church at Philadelphia within the next day or two, and hopefully have an idea of what God wants me to be writing by the weekend. If you have a few minutes please pray that God would guide me to where He wants my time with Him to go, and He would then use that time to draw me closer to Him and that I could then in turn share it here to glorify Him.