Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Seven Churches of Revelation

Seven Churches of Rev 2 and 3: Part 1

Church history according to Jesus.
According to Revelation 1:11, the book was written to seven congregations in Asia, modern Turkey. For 2,000 years scholars have wondered why such an important message would be sent to these churches since they weren’t even the most important of their day, let alone now. True, Ephesus was a leading city of the time, but the church there was small and so were the others. Why wasn’t the book written to the Church in Rome, for example? Surely the Lord knew that Rome would be the capital of Christianity for much of church history, the perfect addressee for such a timeless message.
The answer lies in the realization that the letters of chapters 2 and 3 have a representative as well as a specific purpose. They can actually be read with four levels of application.

Four Levels of Application

The first level is historical. These seven churches really existed and each was experiencing the particular problem to which the Lord referred as He dictated the letters to John. Second, since all the churches were to read all the letters, they were also admonitory to all. Third, since both the challenge and promise with which each letter ends are personal rather than corporate, the letters were for individuals as well as congregations. And fourth, read in the order in which they appear they outline church history and so are prophetic. They chronicle the gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27. Unbeknownst to us, our visit to the sites of these churches was designed to emphasize the prophetic nature of the letters.

What do you mean by that?

The letter to Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7) describes the 1st century church. Already, within 60 years of the cross, the focus of Christianity was changing from relationship to religion and just like He had done with the Israelites before them (Isa 29:13-14) the Lord warned, “You have forsaken your first love … repent or I’ll remove your lamp stand.” The lamp stand is identified in Rev 1:20 as the church, so removing it means removing the church of Ephesus. Though the ruins of Ephesus are extensive and impressive, requiring half a day to see, and while much remains to be excavated, we found only the faintest traces of a 1st century church in Ephesus.
The letter to Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11) describes the 2nd and 3rd century church, enduring a time of great persecution. Emperor worship was decreed through out the Roman Empire, and for 250 years (10 “days,” the reign of 10 emperors) refusal to bow down and acknowledge the current emperor as a god meant death. The Christian church was driven underground while ingenious and diabolical methods were employed to exterminate believers as a form of public entertainment. The Lord never promised deliverance from this persecution. What He did promise was eternal life for those who were faithful to the point of death.

Where’s Smyrna?

Today a prosperous city called Izmir, third largest in Turkey, stands where ancient Smyrna once was. In an incident that clearly displayed the Lord’s sense of humor while emphasizing the point of the letter, we saw prominent signs on a freeway exit just outside Izmir pointing to Smyrna. Thinking we had found the ancient site, I quickly pulled off. But at the bottom of the short exit ramp was a T intersection with no indication as to which way we should turn. And there were no more signs pointing the way to Smyrna. After an hour of driving back and forth searching in both directions, I gave up and drove on. I didn’t get the point till later after describing the event to our Turkish travel agent. He told me the sign points to where Symrna was. There’s no trace of Smyrna today. The church of Smyrna is in heaven.
The third letter was written to Pergamus, modern Bergama (Rev 2:12-17) and looks forward to the 4th century. Our Lord instructed the Disciples to go into all the world (Matt 28:19-20), but in Pergamus the world came into the church.
In the 4th century the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal and ultimately the official religion of the Empire. The Babylonian religions headquartered in Pergamus (“where Satan has his throne”) were merged into Christianity and pagan festivals became Christian holidays. The Feasts of Saturnalia and Ishtar became Christmas and Easter. This explains why such pagan symbols as the Yule log and evergreen tree, which symbolized the sun dying and being born again at the winter solstice, are associated with Christmas, while fertility symbols like rabbits and eggs are connected with Easter. Ishtar was the Babylonian goddess of fertility.
The impressive ruins on a hill 1000 feet above the surrounding valleys are markedly pagan with remains of great temples to Roman gods and emperors and again only faint traces of the church that was there.

Mixed Marriage

It’s my belief that the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamus have all disappeared, symbolically and in reality. But the marriage of pagan and Christian beliefs in Pergamus produced 4 offspring that all survive to this day and are represented by the four remaining letters. 

Seven Churches of Rev. 2 and 3: Part 2

Children of a Mixed Marriage
Last time, I stated my view that the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamus have all disappeared, symbolically and in reality. One would be hard pressed to find a congregation like the first century church today. Likewise, while there are many places in the world where Christians meet secretly in violation of civil laws and even suffer persecution, (3000 die for their faith each day), the widespread public murder for sport of Christians solely because of their beliefs is no more. But the marriage of pagan and Christian beliefs in Pergamus produced 4 offspring that all survive to this day and are represented by the four remaining letters. Thyatira represents the Catholic Church, Sardis the Protestants, Philadelphia the Evangelicals, and Laodicea the liberal and apostate church of the last days.

Come Meet the Children

The letter to Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29) predicts conditions that were manifested in the “Holy Roman Empire” known later as the Catholic Church, and gives the clearest picture of the integration of pagan ritual into Christian worship. The title “Queen of Heaven” by which many Catholics refer to Mary, was first used of Semeramis, wife of Nimrod the founder of Babylon and mother of Tammuz. Semeramis declared herself a goddess, claimed that Tammuz was born of a supernatural conception involving the Sun god, and began the first counterfeit religion. She is symbolically called Jezebel in the letter, leading people away from the truth into idolatry. The Lord often equates false worship with sexual infidelity and eating impure foods.

Birth of a Legend

According to legend, while out hunting one day Tammuz was killed by a wild animal. Semeramis mourned for 40 days at the end of which Tammuz was raised from the dead. A celibate priest hood was formed and the chief priest was declared infallible. The 40 day mourning (now called Lent), the Yule log, evergreen tree, mistletoe and hot cross buns were all used in rituals commemorating the event, and the mother-child cult was begun. Later the Romans adapted these to the death and re-birth of the Sun at the winter solstice, but in the 4th century the traditions surrounding Semeramis and Tammuz were attributed to Mary and Jesus and came almost unchanged into Catholicism, where they remain to this day.
But don’t confuse the system with the people. In verses 22-24 the Lord warned that some from the Church in Thyatira will face the tribulation while others will be rescued and share in rewards that are uniquely reserved for true believers. The inescapable conclusion is that in the Catholic system as in most religious systems claiming to be Christian, some are saved and some are not.

A Real Life Parable

The only negative experience we had in the whole trip took place in Thyatira, called Akhisar today. After a friendly and helpful guard opened the site for our inspection and gave us material that explained what we were looking at, we left to find some lunch thinking how pleasant our time there had been. Down the street, we spotted an open-air shop where a vendor was selling the barbecued chicken sandwiches that are so popular in Turkey, and that we had come to enjoy as well.
Waiting for our sandwiches, we were approached by a man who appeared to hold some position of authority. His manner was most unfriendly, and his questions conveyed an air of suspicion. We left there quickly wondering if he was a policeman, a government agent, or an official from a religion unfriendly to Christians. Driving away we also discovered our food was not edible. The chicken was bad, as if the innards hadn’t been removed before cooking. Re-reading the letter we were struck by the contrasts between good and evil, in the letter and in our visit.
The Letter to Sardis (Rev 3:1-6) speaks of dead orthodoxy and points to the protestant reformation. After 1500 years of concealing the truth and introducing traditions that made the Lord’s completed work at the cross seem insufficient, the Catholic Church was finally challenged. Martin Luther and others took up the battle cry from Habakkuk 2:4; “The righteous shall live by his faith,” and called for a return to the Doctrine of Grace. But in their determination to regain the Truth of the Lord, the reformation churches somehow lost the Spirit of the Lord. They had the reputation of being alive but were dead. The Lord admonished them to wake up, remember what they had heard, and obey it.

Remember and Obey What?

I always think of John 3:3 when I read this. “No one can enter the Kingdom unless he is born again.” You rarely hear a sermon on that verse in main line churches today, but as in the letter to Thyatira, a few have found the truth and are promised the believer’s reward while the others are warned of the coming tribulation.
The most significant site in Sardis today is the huge abandoned synagogue and gymnasium (school). As I stood there I was reminded how the protestant church has abandoned its Jewish roots and ignores the Old Testament, even doubting its veracity. Having learned what the Lord did but not fully understanding why He did it, they’ve lost both Spirit and Truth.
These two children defined Christianity until the 1800’s when the Lord again did a remarkable thing and the Church was born again in the 3rd child of Pergamus.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gender of God?

Question: "Is God male or female?"

Answer: In examining Scripture, two facts become clear. First, God is a Spirit and does not possess human characteristics or limitations. Second, all the evidence contained in Scripture agrees that God revealed Himself to mankind in a male form. To begin, God’s true nature needs to be understood. God is a Person, obviously, because God exhibits all the characteristics of personhood: God has a mind, a will, an intellect, and emotions. God communicates and He has relationships, and God’s personal actions are evidenced throughout Scripture.

As John 4:24 states, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Since God is a spiritual being, He does not possess physical human characteristics. However, sometimes figurative language used in Scripture assigns human characteristics to God in order to make it possible for man to understand God. This assignment of human characteristics to describe God is called “anthropomorphism.” Anthropomorphism is simply a means for God (a spiritual being) to communicate truth about His nature to humanity, physical beings. Since humanity is physical, we are limited in our understanding of those things beyond the physical realm; therefore, anthropomorphism in Scripture helps us to understand who God is.

Some of the difficulty comes in examining the fact that humanity is created in God’s image. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Both man and woman are created in the image of God, in that they are greater than all the other creations as they, like God, have a mind, will, intellect, emotions, and moral capacity. Animals do not possess a moral capacity and do not possess an immaterial component like humanity does. The image of God is the spiritual component that humanity alone possesses. God created humanity to have a relationship with Him. Humanity is the only creation designed for that purpose.

That said, man and woman are only patterned after the image of God—they are not tiny “copies” of God. The fact that there are men and women does not require God to have male and female features. Remember, being made in the image of God has nothing to do with physical characteristics.

We know that God is a spiritual being and does not possess physical characteristics. This does not limit, however, how God may choose to reveal Himself to humanity. Scripture contains all the revelation God gave to humanity about Himself, and so it is the only objective source of information about God. In looking at what Scripture tells us, there are several observations of evidence about the form in which God revealed Himself to humanity.

Scripture contains approximately 170 references to God as the “Father.” By necessity, one cannot be a father unless one is male. If God had chosen to be revealed to man in a female form, then the word “mother” would have occurred in these places, not “father.” In the Old and New Testaments, masculine pronouns are used over and over again in reference to God.

Jesus Christ referred to God as the Father several times and in other cases used masculine pronouns in reference to God. In the Gospels alone, Christ uses the term “Father” in direct reference to God nearly 160 times. Of particular interest is Christ’s statement in John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.” Obviously, Jesus Christ came in the form of a human man to die on the cross as payment for the sins of the world. Like God the Father, Jesus was revealed to humanity in a male form. Scripture records numerous other instances where Christ utilized masculine nouns and pronouns in reference to God.

The New Testament Epistles (from Acts to Revelation) also contain nearly 900 verses where the word theos—a masculine noun in the Greek—is used in direct reference to God. In countless references to God in Scripture, there is clearly a consistent pattern of His being referred to with masculine titles, nouns, and pronouns. While God is not a man, He chose a masculine form in order to reveal Himself to humanity. Likewise, Jesus Christ, who is constantly referred to with masculine titles, nouns, and pronouns, took a male form while He walked on the earth. The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament refer to both God and Jesus Christ with masculine names and titles. God chose to be revealed in this form in order for man to more easily grasp who He is. While God makes allowances in order to help us understand Him, it is important to not try to “force God into a box,” so to speak, by placing limitations on Him that are not appropriate to His nature.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ezekiel 38

The Mountains Of Israel

Q. When the Gog/Magog war occurs and the armies of the Russian coalition attack Israel and are destroyed by God in the “mountains of Israel”, what mountains are they?

A. Israel has a prominent “mountain” range running through its mid-section like a spine. This range reaches from the Jezreel valley in the north and extends past Hebron in the south. Much of this area falls within Judea and Samaria, called the West Bank by many, and is the location to which Ezekiel was referring (Ezekiel 39:4.)

Which will be the heaven's language for all?

Will We Speak Hebrew In Heaven?

Q. I watched a TV preacher and in his sermon he claimed we will all speak Hebrew in Heaven. I can see how it will be spoken in the 1000 year Kingdom on Earth, but I’m not sure about Heaven because we are Gentiles. What do you think on this subject?

A. I believe the Bible says Hebrew will be spoken in Israel during the Kingdom Age, and some interpret Zephaniah 3:9 to mean that Hebrew will be the world’s official language then. I have always suspected that it’s God’s “native tongue”, but I think in heaven we’ll be able to speak and understand every language, just like He does.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What about RFID chip implant, if the our government imposes?

The Mark Of The Beast

Q. I work on political campaigns and familiarize myself with legislation under debate. During the health care debates a legislative proposal included possible implanting RFID chips into recipients of the “public option”, an implant containing health information and monitoring success or failures of medical issues. As a Christian these proposals scare me, they seem invasive and may provide the ability for abuse.

Talking with my father, I mentioned my concern and stated that I would NEVER accept such an implant, in fact I would die before accepting any government mandated implant. Is such a concern irrational? I believe, as Christians living for Jesus, we should have boundaries we are not willing to cross. To me a government chip/implant is crossing the boundary. I know the same concern ran rampant when the social security numbers were administered but I think something in line with the RFID (failed) proposal is different and much more dangerous.

A. It’s OK to make a strong personal stand about things, and invasion of privacy is an important issue. But just so you understand, the Bible doesn’t prohibit taking an RFID chip. What Rev. 13:16-17 says it that it’s prohibited to knowingly take the mark of the beast on one’s right hand or forehead, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.

There are several pre-conditions that must be met for this to happen. The anti-Christ and false prophet have to be in power to require and enforce this. This means the name and/or number have to refer to someone who has world wide executive power. Then the mark has to be necessary to either buy or sell goods and services which means a one world economic system has to be in place and functioning at the most basic levels of society. Also the person taking the mark has to do so knowingly and willingly. Since all this happens within the parameters of the Great Tribulation, there has to be a Temple in Israel, the nation has to officially be in covenant with God, and the Church has to have disappeared.

None of these conditions have been met nor could they be met retroactively. The idea that people can be tricked into unknowingly taking the mark, thereby forfeiting their salvation if they have it, or their chance to receive it if they don’t, cannot be supported Biblically. This is why fears of the social security number, the uniform pricing (bar) code, RFID, etc. are unfounded. They may be pointing the way to the system the anti-Christ will eventually use, but they themselves can not be the mark of the beast.

Website: www.gracethrufaith.com