Friday, October 21, 2016

The Letter to the Church of Pergamos

"And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth." (Revelation 2:12-13)

In stark contrast to the steadfast and pure church of Smyrna, the reader finds the corrupted church at Pergamos. The Sword represents the living Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Christ's Word would judge the sin in this church.

The Lord begins by acknowledging their difficult position. In the city of Pergamos (Pergamum) stood an image of the Greek god Zeus which stood fifty feet high and rested on a base of one hundred square feet. Many believe that this is the seat of Satan to which the text refers. Regardless, this was a wicked town with many pitfalls and temptations.

"But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." 
(Revelation 2:14-15)

Nevertheless, the Lord does not overlook the need for purity in the assembly. A difficult situation never justifies bad doctrine. Balaam's counsel to Balac when he feared the encroaching Israelites was to bring God's curse upon them through idolatrous and immoral relationships with the Moabites (Numbers 25:1, 31:16). In a similar fashion, false teachers in the church of Pergamos were teaching that Christians need put no difference between the idolatrous love feasts of their day and the pure worship of Jesus Christ. They boldly taught that a man could have fellowship with both devils and Christ - something against which Paul gave warning (I Corinthians 10:20-21). Sometime later in his book Against Heresies, Irenaeus would write against these seducers.

Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the most perfect among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21). For instance, they make no scruple about eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols, imagining that they in this way can contract no defilement. Then, again, at every heathen festival celebrated in honor of the idols, these men are the first to assemble; and to such a pitch do they go, that some of them do not even keep away from that bloody spectacle hateful to both God and men, in which gladiators either fight with wild beasts, or singly encounter one another. Others of them yield themselves up to the lusts of the flesh with the utmost greediness, maintaining that carnal things should be allowed to the carnal nature, while spiritual things are provided for the spiritual. Some of them, moreover, are in the habit of defiling those women to whom they have taught the above doctrine, as has frequently been confessed by those women who have been led astray by certain of them, on their returning to the Church of God, and acknowledging this along with the rest of their errors...(Chapter 6:3).

Irenaeus' description might well fit any number of today's religious people. On every front, false teachers are blurring the lines between the world's music, dress and entertainment. Thousands of Christians have been led astray and numerous people, saved and lost, have been irrevocably turned away from the things of God due to such hypocrisy. The word separation has become a hated word, reserved for those who have been labeled as "troublemakers" by the ungodly and the ignorant.

"Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." (Revelation 2:16-17)

To such people, Christ gives but one option, "Repent." Change your mind and your actions, and return to Me. The Lord was not open for dialogue concerning impurity then; and He is not open to dialogue concerning impurity now. The Lord promised that His Word would prevail.

Christ gives a promise of encouragement at the end. The white stone is actually a stone of acquittal. In that day, a white stone indicated innocence while a black stone indicated guilt in a court of law. The Lord promised that His true child would ultimately be justified by none other than God Himself. "...If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?" The false teachers could continue to corrupt and damage if they so chose to; however, ultimately, God will justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. False doctrine will destroy a church; it should be immediately extinguished and its teachers excommunicated from God's assembly. The cost is too high to permit its continuation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Sign of Isaiah's Nakedness (Part III)

"And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt." (Isaiah 20:3-4)

Here, the purpose for the sign is disclosed. Isaiah was a warning for what was about to befall Judah's vain ally - Egypt. It seems unlikely that Isaiah was unclothed continuously for three years. Quite probably, this was reserved for special times of walking among his people for the purpose of sharing God's message.

Before Ashdod had been attacked by the Assyrians, the rebel king had made numerous appeals to Egypt which went unanswered. Eventually, the kingdom of Egypt and Ethiopia would come up and fight against Sennacherib, but on this occasion, help did not arrive. In fact, the rebel king fled Ashdod just before the invasion and sought refuge in the territory of Cush. Some years later, the king of Ethiopia bound him in chains and sent him back to the Assyrians. In spite of Egypt's continual failing to help Palestine against the Assyrians, Judah continued to seek alliances with her. This is the main reason this prophecy was given.

In 701 BC at the Battle of Eltekeh, Sennacherib won a victory against the Ethiopians and Egyptians who came to fight with him at the invitation of Philistia and Judah. Likely, this prophecy came to pass when Sennacherib defeated the Egyptian allies. The later kings of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal also campaigned against Egypt thus furthering the fulfillment of these prophecies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Letter to the Church of Smyrna

"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." (Revelation 2:8-9)

Located on the Meles River, Smyrna was a rich coastal city. Modern day Izmir, Turkey now marks the site.

To this church, the Lord Jesus had nothing negative to say. Christ's opening presentation of Himself as a Savior Who had suffered but now reigned in glory would have encouraged this church in the middle of its hardship. The church of Smyrna did not have much on earth, but they had everything in heaven. How easy it is to forget that for which the saint is destined and to dwell upon the here and now! Like the refreshment of the first fall breeze after a long, hot summer, Jesus Christ interjects this simple but powerful reminder, "Thou art rich."

Like any assembly, this church had its false professors - its religious people who say one thing and live another. God makes it clear that He is not fooled by outward expressions of religion. He knows the heart attitude. This passage reinforces what the Lord said concerning a profession of salvation versus the ensuing works (Matthew 7:15-23).

"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." (Revelation 2:10-11)

In addition to their present struggles, the church of Smyrna was moving toward greater persecution. In 155 AD, the bishop of Smyrna (Polycarp) would be martyred for his appropriate refusal to worship the Roman emperor as a god by burning incense to him.

The Lord promised the Crown of Life to the one who would be true to Him to the end. This particular crown is referenced in James 1:12.

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

God's grace is sufficient for any situation. These believers would come through victorious only by leaning in faith upon God's grace. God gives what is needed for the time. He gives grace to live consistently. He gives grace to die when it is time to die. He gives grace to comfort others when the saint himself has need. God's grace is there for every possible scenario, but the needed grace will not be given until that time arrives. The Christian needs to rest in the reality that should the time come, God will provide even though human reasoning cannot imagine how.

In the last verse, Christ promises the overcomer (the genuine Christian) that he will not be hurt by damnation. This promise is emphatic. In the Greek text, the promise contains a double negative so that it might be appropriately translated by no means. Harm from eternal damnation is literally impossible to the one who is saved by the blood of Christ.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Sign of Isaiah's Nakedness (Part II)

"At the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot." (Isaiah 20:2)

Contemporaneous with the destruction of Ashdod, Isaiah is given an unusual task. He is told to lay aside his clothes and shoes and to walk about in humility as a captive taken by the enemy. Nakedness in the Bible is not always complete nakedness. When Job spoke of the wicked who take away the clothing of the poor (Job 24:7-10), he was likely speaking of the customary pledge of the outer garment as a promise to repay some loan. God spoke against this behavior, and told the Israelites to return a poor man his clothing before nightfall regardless of whether or not the loan was re-payed (Exodus 22:25-27).

With that said, the Scriptures often make reference to situations involving complete nakedness. Context must be the guide, and the passage at hand gives the reader no indication that Isaiah was not completely naked. This reality tends to shock most people thus causing them to insert man-made "facts" into the text. If Isaiah was permitted to maintain some small amount of clothing to cover his lower body, the text says nothing about it.

God is not the Author of sin and neither can He be tempted with evil (James 1:13); therefore, He was not wrong for telling Isaiah to do this. If the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified according to Roman law and tradition, He would have been naked upon the cross. Was He in sin? Of course not! Down through the ages, persecuted believers from all walks of life have found themselves physically exposed before their enemies. God allowed such things to befall them. Was He wrong in doing so? One must be careful not to question the consistency and motives of God. The Lord is sinless, and He makes no mistakes. Isaiah's behavior was not licentious, nor did it lead others astray. It was designed to shock back to reality a nation of people who had placed their focus on someone other than the Almighty.

God used Ezekiel in a similar way when he told him to cook his food using human excrement (Ezekiel 4:12-15). Was Ezekiel spiritually defiled because he obeyed God? No. Ezekiel's heart was to keep himself pure in every way and God knew that, but He had a higher purpose in telling Ezekiel to do what he did. Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27).

Hosea is another example of one who was commanded to do that which would have been against the general letter of the Law yet was in keeping with God's heart for restoration. Hosea was commanded to marry a whore and to have children by her thus picturing God's covenant relationship with Israel. It was not long before Hosea's wife proved to be unfaithful; yet God commanded Hosea to buy her back to himself, again picturing Israel's unfaithfulness to God and God's mercy toward His people. Hosea's prophecy ends with this admonition, "...The ways of the LORD are right, and the just shall walk in them (Hosea 14:9)." This is what one must do with the passage here in Isaiah. Some things will never be completely understood this side of eternity, and the believer must simply accept God's judgment in matters to deep for man to completely comprehend.

Isaiah's obedience is to be applauded. How many individuals would be willing to submit to such a humiliating action, not to mention the resultant mockery of his fellow countrymen?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Sign of Isaiah's Nakedness

"In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him,) and fought against Ashdod, and took it;" (Isaiah 20:1)

The year was 711 BC. Having been under Assyrian control for many years, the vassal king of Ashdod chose this year to assert his independence. Refusing to pay his customary tribute to Assyria, he plotted a revolt by seeking help from the surrounding provinces as well as from Egypt and Ethiopia. Sargon II had him deposed and replaced by his brother who was more loyal to the Assyrian throne. However, the citizens of Ashdod did not appreciate this arrangement and quickly put down the new vassal king in favor of a man who was anti-Assyrian.

Sargon II (721-705) responded by invading the coasts of Philistia and attacking Ashdod. Tartan is not an actual name but rather a title for an Assyrian general. This Tartan may or may not be the same one mentioned to be under the headship of Sennacherib in II Kings 18:17.

According to the text as well as ancient Assyrian inscriptions, the Assyrian general was successful and the city of Ashdod was defeated. A basalt stele was erected in the city in celebration of the victory.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Letter to the Church of Ephesus

"Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;" (Revelation 2:1)

Chapters two through three are extremely applicable to the present-day church because they present real churches that wrestled with real problems - problems that any church might face. These chapters teach how to recognize and deal with issues that plagued even the earliest church.

In His opening address to each church, the Lord first presents an attribute of Himself that will aid the church to which He is about to speak. The Ephesian church had left its first love, and so Christ begins the discourse by declaring Himself to be the One Who holds the pastors in His loving hand and Who walks in loving concern among His people.

"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted." (Revelation 2:2-3)

The Lord gives His people an example in that He first emphasizes what the church was doing correctly before addressing what they were doing incorrectly. A little praise will go a long way in opening up the heart to rebuke. Paul followed this example of Christ when addressing the issues within the Corinthians church (I Corinthians 1:9). It is not fair to point out an individual's faults while never mentioning his or her obedience.

The Lord was aware of their good works. Salvation is to produce good works, and this church was obedient to that principle. The Lord was also aware of their labor. This word means toil, trouble or difficulty. Unlike many believers of today, the Ephesian believers were willing to go through hardship for Jesus' name. The Lord recognized their patience. They carried a heavy load for a long distance without complaining. They also identified false teachers. Instead of permitting the ungodly to hold positions of prominence in the church or to spread their foul influence, the Ephesians put them to the test, proved them and dismissed them. This is an admirable trait indeed. More churches would be healthy if they would stop giving place to pastors, teachers, evangelists, missionaries and others who say one thing but live another.

On the outside, this assembly had many good standards. They endured hardship and did not give up. They towed the line in many respects. To the average person, this church may have seemed to be very pleasing to God; however, one thing was missing, and the Lord is about to point it out.

"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." (Revelation 2:4-5)

After giving due recognition to their good works, the Lord proceeds to point out the problem with the same boldness. A believer must not be afraid to point out boldly both the good and bad of a situation. The Christian life is one of continual balance.

The believers had forgotten the most important ingredient of their Christian walk - the love of Christ. Without agape Christian love, the believer is "become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal (I Corinthians 13:1)." Generally speaking, people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. What happens to the main message of Christianity when the love of Christ is not its center? Jesus told a busied Martha, "...Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42)." Mary was focused on that love of Christ that inspires the service while Martha was focused more on the service alone. Without Jesus, the service has no value.

The solution for the Ephesian church was simple, "Consider the validity of the accusation and turn around in your heart." Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of attitude and action. Human nature often makes things too difficult. Rebellion against Christ's message would be the only thing making this invitation unacceptable.

The Lord called them to do the "first works." In Ephesians 1:15, Paul had commended these people for their Christian love. Their hearts needed to be warmed again to this innocent love of Christ and others. Dealing with people will often leave one bitter, that is why it is so important for a man to keep his focus on Christ and not on people. The love of Jesus constrains the service. This assembly needed to return to the admonition and prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21.

Perhaps pride had replaced the humility of their service. This would certainly lead to a lack of forgiveness and patience with one another (Ephesians 4:31-32). The church had been given Christian leaders (Ephesians 4:11-12), but what good are such things without intense love for the Savior? Eventually the environment becomes cold and lifeless.

Real faith has real love (Ephesians 6:23-24). The world is capable of a cold faith that is alienated from a genuine love of God and others, so why would it be attracted to a Christianity that displays the same?

The Lord promised to close down the church if it would not return to a deep love for Him. God takes His testimony seriously. If His people will not honor Him before others, He will not allow them to continue indefinitely. How many churches have been shutdown because of this very sin? Only the Lord knows.

"But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:6-7)

Who were the Nicolaitans? No one knows for certain. Some see in this compound noun two separate Greek words. The first is nikh (victory) and the second is laos (people). Placed together these words would give the idea of "overcoming the people." If this is true, then these Nicolaitans may have been false teachers who dominated and ruled the people contrary to the good order of New Testament doctrine in much the same way the Catholic Church dominates and rules its subjects. Regardless, it was obviously a wicked sect which was hated by God for its evil doctrine and practices.

The Ephesians hated false teachers and tainted doctrine. Every church would do well to follow this example instead being afraid of generating ripples in the religiously political pond.

The Lord closes His admonition with a promise to the overcomer. Who is the overcomer? Perhaps an explanation of what he is not is in order. He is not the one who flawlessly keeps God's commandments and thereby obtains salvation. Neither is he the one who persists in good works and earns the salvation "badge" at the end of his life. If he were any of these, salvation would be by works of men and not by grace through faith. According to I John 5:1-12, the overcomer is simply the one who is saved by faith in the blood of Christ. He is not flawless nor is he incapable of sin. He is simply a genuine Christian. With that man, woman, boy or girl, God has promised to share the precious fruit of His life-giving tree when the work on earth is done.

The absence of genuine love for God and others will inevitably breed illegitimate children and not sons. Perhaps this is why God ends His admonition with a word of promise the genuine believer and by implication a word of warning to the false professor.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Burden of Egypt (Part IV)

"In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the LORD of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction. In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them." (Isaiah 19:18-20)

Lifting his eyes still further into the future, Isaiah beholds events that are reserved for the time of Christ's return. The language of Canaan is the Hebrew language. Egypt will someday fall heavily under Jewish influence and will engage in the worship of the Holy One of Israel.

Perhaps the city of destruction will stand as a symbol for the destruction of Egypt's idolatry. Instead of being marked by heathen temples filled with false deities, Egypt will bear the mark of Jehovah God by the presence of His altar.

It is impossible to say just who will be this savior and great one. It may be the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, or it may be a man elected by God to deliver Egypt from her terrible oppression. Only time will tell.

"And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it. And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them." (Isaiah 19:21-22)

The Hebrew word behind know and known means to know (intimately). This passage is not predicting some mere head knowledge of Israel's God but rather full conversion to His righteousness. To put it simply, the Egyptians will someday know Christ as their Savior.

After having brought Egypt to her knees through punishment, the Lord will bring healing to her soul by offering forgiveness of sins. The Lord must often tear down before He can build a strong structure. A sturdy edifice cannot be founded upon pride and rebellion; it must be settled firmly upon the solid rock of repentant faith in Christ's righteousness. The Lord will someday lead the Egyptians through the same life-giving door through which every saint has had to enter - the door of the fear of the LORD.

"In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance." (Isaiah 19:23-25)

Isaiah already prophesied of a future highway which will connect Assyria to Israel in the latter days (11:16), and here he predicts the same for Egypt. No longer a sin-weakened nation caught in the middle of two enemy countries, Israel will rule and reign as a blessing in the earth and will share with both Egypt and Assyria in service to God.

The Lord opened this burden of Egypt with great condemnation of her wickedness, yet here He calls the Egyptians my people. Twice in the Old Testament, the LORD asked, "...Is there any thing too hard for me (Jeremiah 32:27, Genesis 18:14)?" Through the miraculous conversion of a people who would seem, in many ways, to be a lost cause, the Almighty will once again prove that "with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37)."