Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Note: If you’ve read parts 1, 2, and 3 then you can skip this article, as the writing is exactly the same, just compiled into one post. I’ve added a picture or two, but other than that it’s totally the same. Alternatively, if 13 pages is too much for you to swallow at one time, I have also posted this in three pieces. You may read these at your leisure if you find this to be too daunting. Just click on the links: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)
There are no perfect Christians. In fact, John tells us that if you think you’re perfect in your walk with Christ, then you are in error. We read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Wisdom-master King Solomon agrees, writing, “There is not a righteous man on the earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). However, our problems are not always the same; in fact, most Christians aren’t even on the same page in their walk with Christ. Realizing the rampant imperfection among humans and our inability to even stumble together, Jesus wrote seven letters to the varied churches of John’s day in order to cover the spread of where we are in Christ and how to continue in our relationship with our Lord. Today we’ll look at those letters and try to understand what Jesus is saying to everyone. Also, today I’m gonna try a different format; we’ll see how it works.
The Church of Ephesus
-The Ephesian church has persevered, tested the spirits, and basically done everything right.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary (Revelation 2:1-3).
-The church in Ephesus also strongly opposed false religions and ideologies.
But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:6).
-The Ephesians are accused of forgetting why they’ve done all of their righteous deeds: their initial love for God.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5).
What This Means for us
-The church of Ephesus was the shining model for churches of old. They were in line with the law of Christ and they never stopped being loyal to God even after suffering persecution. However, much like many Christians, their enthusiasm began to wane. What they did at first out of a divine love for Christ and his salvation turned into more of a habit or daily ritual. Instead of avoiding sin because they loved God, they avoided sin because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Those of us believers who have been in church for many years know what this feels like, you do the things you’re supposed to do, but it’s not so much wholehearted devotion more than it is just keeping the status quo. Christ is particularly critical of the Ephesians because they are falling into the same trap as the Pharisees of his day. As believers, we need to remember the most important part about having a relationship with Christ- enjoying that relationship. Remember when Jesus visited Mary and Martha. Martha set about all the work of the house and preparing to feed and take care of Jesus, whereas Mary just relaxed and listened to Jesus talk. Martha was upset because she was serving the Lord but Mary was being lazy. However, Jesus gave an unexpected response:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Don’t forget, brothers and sisters, that Jesus is the focus of our life. The only thing we need to do is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). After that, everything else should fall in to place.
The Church in Smyrna
-The church in Smyrna was suffering for Christ in all manners: pain, poverty, and persecution.
To the Angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:8-9).
-None actually. However, our Lord and Savior warns the believers in Smyrna that things are going to get worse before they get any better.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
What This Means for us
-All around the world, Christians are suffering. Be it the Christians who are facing brutal oppression in the Middle East due to Muslim extremists, or the Christians who are being told by their teachers that they’re stupid because they trust in God’s Word. Not only that, but despite what a lot of churchgoers may think, we’re supposed to be on the losing end here on earth (since we have the final win). Paul gives a preview to the Corinthians what it’s like walking with Christ here on earth,
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
If as a follower of Jesus you are facing hardship, don’t let it deter you. Actually, suffering let’s you know you’re doing it right, as odd as that sounds. Unfortunately, times aren’t gonna get better right away, so stay strong and don’t forget your love of God, for he’ll see you through the hard times. And when you’ve held up under everything coming against you in the name of Christ, God will reward you.
The Church in Pergamum
-The believers in Pergamum were doing an amazing job of remaining faithful in a very sinful land.
To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live- where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city- where Satan lives (Revelation 2:12-13).
-Our Lord felt that though the church in Pergamum was staying true to Jesus and his name, they were too accepting of sin, false religions, and heretical ideas.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Revelation 2:14-16).
What This Means for us
-The Church in Pergamum fits well when comparing it to the Church in Ephesus. Both seem to be facing similar outside difficulties (temptation, false doctrines, Nicolaitans), but they respond to these differently. While the church in Ephesus is acting perfectly in the face of adversity but losing their love for God, the church in Pergamum abounds with the love of Christ- which is causing them to be far more open than they need to be. It’s a fine line that many Christians find themselves unable to balance on. Do you stick close to the law, or do you love everyone and let God sort it out? Well, Jesus says that although love is important, so is condemning evil. This is a difficult concept to spread in the modern church, as we are focused on trying to emulate Christ’s love and forgiveness. But Paul had to deal with a church that was too accepting in his day as well. Here’s what he writes,
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
There are no perfect people. However, the church shouldn’t be seen as only a refuge for the sinner. Really it is to be a house for those who are trying to reform their lives through the grace and mercy of Christ’s sacrificial death on a cross. According to Paul, people who have no intention of changing their sinful lives do not belong in the church. When Paul tells the people to hand the man over to Satan, what he means is that until he gets his act cleaned up (and separates from his mother) he should not be a welcomed member at church- dangerous thing to say, I know. But Paul doesn’t say this without reason, this man needs to come to terms with his sin through a little bit of natural suffering (that is what is meant by handing him over to Satan) until he is brought to a point of repentance. By allowing this to happen and not telling him “It’s ok, it’s ok” the man will be delivered by Christ both from his sin and from an eternity of hell. Later, presumably after the man had been put out of the church and had come to repentance, Paul wrote, “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). Paul wasn’t saying to fight against the sinner, but against the sin, and when that sin was repented of, the man was to be welcomed back into the fold with open arms. One of the hot topics in the church these days are homosexual pastors. Now I’ve looked on both sides of this topic but it seems to me that an openly gay pastor is an openly sinning pastor. He or she shows no sign of wanting to change a lifestyle that Scripture says is sinful. The Bible says,
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither will the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
And so while the love of Christ compels me to embrace and love a homosexual person who desires to be involved with the work of Christ, my devotion to the Lord tells me that such a person needs to come to repentance over a major sin in their lives before real progress can be made. I mean, think of if the leader of an AA meeting was still getting drunk every day with no desire to change, would he be effective in his work? Of course not. We too need to consider such things as we administer the Love of God. I think the protest sign equivalent would be, “Jesus Loves You; but he would really like you to stop living in sin.” Paul tells us, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). We should fight sin, but in a loving way.
Of the Nicolaitans; I did a quick Google search and nobody really has anything too definitive on what this sect really was (at least within the confines of a 3-minute search). However, what I’d say is that judging by the way it’s presented in his letter; the believers in Pergamum were too willing to compromise their doctrine. So I’d compare this to the current young-earth creationists versus the theistic evolutionists. Evolution is a model that has life coming together over millions of years of growth and development. The world’s education systems support evolution and there’s a feeling that anyone who doesn’t accept evolution is somehow denying the obvious. This has led to many in the church trying to adapt Scripture to match the concept of evolution. However, there’s a very large underlying problem with a Christian adopting evolution into their doctrine. Aside from the fact that the current evolutionary model doesn’t fit the days of creation in the right order (even if you extend the days over years), if evolution is true then Christ’s death on a cross was meaningless; and to that end, so is your faith. The Bible tells us
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come (Romans 5:12-14).
If Adam did not introduce death into the system through his sin, then Paul is wrong, and if Paul is wrong, Jesus was mistaken in sacrificing himself for us, and if Jesus was wrong then there is no way to save you. However, the only way for Adam to be the one to introduce death into the world was for him to have been there in the beginning, standing amongst ancient animals like dinosaurs and the like, rendering evolution entirely incompatible with the Word of God. Do not compromise your faith, brothers and sisters, just to make the church look better- but at the same time don’t allow your love to be compromised either. It’s not easy, but it’s what we’re called to do.
The Church in Thyatira
-The church in Thyatira was growing well in the faith.
To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first (Revelation 2:18-19).
-The big problem the Thyatira(n?) church was facing was that in their quest to continually become more active in their walk with Christ, they became increasingly willing to listen to every and any teaching, even if it was false, which could lead them into sin.
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2:20).
What This Means for us
-It is really easy for an enthusiastic Christian to be misled. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, but just something to watch out for. The people in the church at Thyatira were actually doing a good job as believers, they were trying as hard as they could to get close to God and keep his commands. The problem was that since they were so God-oriented, they were unable to catch when unholy spirits started sneaking in (since they were crediting God with everything). John wrote to believers, warning them, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). As believers we want to please God and do his will, and sometimes we’ll accept anything that sounds like it’s from God, but we have to be a little careful. John teaches us how to interpret messages we may receive from varied spirits,
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the anti-christ, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:2-3).
Obviously, if the devil is using a vision or a dream to turn you against God, he’s going to undermine what the Bible says about his Son, Christ Jesus. But be careful, it is a very common thing in churches for a member to receive some sort of special dream about others and believe this to be some sort of prophecy from God, which of course they want to eagerly report. However, this supposed prophecy can do more harm than good. This is not a new trick of the devil; he’s been using it for a long time. Even way back in Jeremiah’s time, false spirits were deceiving the people through their prophets. God was upset by this then too,
I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? (Jeremiah 23:25-26)
We might read the stories in Genesis or Daniel in which dreams play a major role in the course of someone’s life and then get excited when we have some sort of meaningful (or at least complex) dream. But the Lord tells us to put the brakes on that sort of thought pattern before it gets out of hand,
“Let the prophet who had a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like a fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:28-29)
There’s nothing wrong with sharing dreams with your friends (though not always appropriate), however, do not confuse a dream with something meaningful. God gives us the best tool to decide what is divine and what is not: the Word of God. If ever you think you are receiving a special dream from God, revelation, or prophetic voice; demand Scripture. And if that spirit gives you Bible verses, check the context to make sure it’s accurate according to God’s Word. And even then, be careful how you present it (this is why I make sure to note right at the top of the page that I am a layman and have no real training in this sort of thing).
Now the other problem that the church in Thyatira was facing was that they were following a false teacher- that is to say that they were listening to someone who was receiving false revelations. In their eagerness and naivety, they welcomed all teachings without testing it against their own knowledge of the Word of God. This, in turn, was causing the people to fall into sin. The Lord takes this thing pretty seriously, as it can lead people away from the glory of walking with Christ and can also make the overall church look bad. The Law states,
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your god is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
As Christians, our foundation is Christ, and the only guaranteed true testimony of Christ is the Word of God, our Bible. Anything that is contradictory to that is not from God, for he is perfect and therefore contradiction is not in his nature. Keep in mind, even if some sort of fortune-teller or astrologer seems to be spot on, it’s a test that God has allowed, and we are to stay on track with the Word of God rather than the words of men. The passage goes on to say that upon identifying a false prophet you should stone them immediately, even if said person is your wife or other close relative. God takes this stuff pretty seriously. When I think of this sort of thing, I often think of the Christian-esq spin-offs and cults. I am sure that most Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses, and cult members fully want to serve the Lord and worship him rightly; however, their leaders are false guides, adding to the Word of God (which is banned in Revelation 21:18-19) and sometimes not even allowing their members to read and interpret the Bible at home. The Catholic Church used to act in such a way long ago, but when the Bible finally got into the people’s hands, the leaders were exposed for going against the Word in some areas and the church had to go through some major overhauls to fix things.
It’s interesting to note though, despite having a pretty serious charge against them, Jesus goes very easy on this church in his letter. After talking about striking down the false prophet himself, Jesus continues,
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold on to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come (Revelation 2:24-25).
Jesus tells the people of Thyatira just to keep doing their best. Why? Consider this: the people of Thyatira acted out of innocence and ignorance. They assumed that everything came from God, and therefore welcomed false doctrine without checking the fine print. Although they were in error, they did so with an open heart, desperately seeking the words of the Holy Spirit. This is a very admirably quality, especially for what sounds like an experienced church such as Thyatira. We need to keep our hearts open, and when we make a mistake or stumble to just keep going (but be more aware of what caused us to fall last time). The people were still soft and open to God, which makes them extremely useful to him. Don’t let trouble harden your hearts, but y’know…make sure you check Scripture whenever something religious gets thrown your way.
The Church in Sardis
-It’s a church, or at least they look like a church. And they have a good reputation.
To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead (Revelation 3:1).
-There are some very devout members.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy (Revelation 3:4).
-Jesus couldn’t even make it past the first verse without citing their problem: the church is dead inside.
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sigh of my God. Remember therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you (Revelation 3:2-3).
What This Means for us
-A dead church is a sad sight to behold. You know what a dead church looks like, members who are just there because their parents went there, nobody wants to volunteer, no impact being made on the community, no lives being dedicated to Christ. It’s not good. And what makes it worse is that the church in Sardis used to be active. Jesus makes a special point to note that they have a good reputation behind them. A church can die any number of ways, but there are things that you should make sure of are happening in your church. First and foremost, the church is a place for the Word of God. If your pastor isn’t using the Bible to drive his or her sermons, and if the staff isn’t consulting God before making decisions, a church is going in the wrong direction. Along with that is the belief that the Word of God is true and accurate. I know that it’s hard these days with evolution always in the news and in the schools, but we can’t give up our doctrine just because it seems too archaic to fit with the modern world. Church leaders, if you’re wavering in your faith, take a break from whatever contribution you’re making to the church and get back into the Bible. A church also needs to make sure that they always keep Jesus in the foreground. When “God” becomes a faceless entity, then a church may as well be any other religion in the world. What separates the church and the world is Jesus, and his blood sacrifice for our sins. Never let that get out of the minds of the other members. Another thing that we need to remember is that church is a place of worship. So make sure that the worship of Christ never falls away.
Now the church in Sardis had a few members who really were true believers in Christ. If you find yourself sympathizing with them as you watch your church die around you, do something about it! Be overzealous for God; be silly if you have to. When he was trying to re-ignite belief in the Lord among the Israelites, King David actually danced in his underwear before the Ark of the Covenant (though I recommend you keep your clothes on). This lead to one of my favorite come-backs in the whole Bible,
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel- I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor” (2 Samuel 6:20-22).
David didn’t care how he looked because he was reveling in his relationship to the Lord. He let his joy come out to be seen by the people, so that they too might bask in God’s presence. Even Paul tried to show his enthusiasm (though this was much more difficult since he was doing so through the pen). It’s to that aim we read in Galatians 6:11 “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” Paul couldn’t dance in his words, but he pulled a John Hancock and wrote big and bold in his excitement. I actually met a man who embodied this spirit. He was a 90-something year old retired pastor and he danced. This man sang and danced down the street, and didn’t take more than maybe a minute into the conversation before he had maybe three Bibles out in his hands (one in his native language, a Hebrew Old Testament, and a Greek New Testament). He couldn’t stop talking about how awesome God was, and he never stopped dancing. That man left an impact on me, and I’m sure that when he was preaching he left an impact on his church. We need people who are willing to come off a little silly for Christ; because if you’re too cool now, the next generation might not understand just how amazing walking with Christ can be.
The Church in Philadelphia
-Even though the church in Philadelphia was weak and under attack, they continued to hold on to Christ as hard as they could.
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have place before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name (Revelation 3:7-8).
-None, actually Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia to just keep on truckin’.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown (Revelation 3:11).
What This Means for us
-The few, the humble, the weak. From the outside, the church in Philadelphia didn’t look like much. They don’t seem to be a particularly large congregation, and they’re coming under a lot of scrutiny. One of the main groups they seemed to come into a lot of conflict with was a group of Jews (by birth) who felt that the Philadelphians were not actually serving God (or at least not in the right way). Jesus speaks of this conflict as he says,
I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars- I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you (Revelation 3:9).
Now who these particular “Jews” were is left to speculation as Jesus doesn’t really speak any more on the topic. However, it should be noted that a very large problem that faced the early church were false apostles that spread the word that Christians had to follow the whole Law of Moses. Paul wrote of these people, “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). Actually, from his writings, it’s pretty apparent that these people were quite a thorn in Paul’s side. After having to spend a few paragraphs of explaining that circumcision wasn’t important for a believer, Paul finally let his anger slip a little in Galatians 5:12, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” What defined a believer was constantly under scrutiny then, and it still is today. And even though we think we’ve moved on from such topic as what defines a true believer, there are still numerous divides throughout the body of Christ. Consider this, by having different denominations (and even a couple major branches of Christianity), we’re implying that our brothers are worshiping in the wrong way, and therefore their worship is somehow less than ours. There seems to be a very “us or them” philosophy, especially between Protestants and Catholics. But even amongst congregations we find a divide between those who are doing everything right in the body, and those who are trying in earnest but seem to be stumbling. Did you know that some people actually use speaking in tongues as a definer of who is in Christ and who is not? It’s ridiculous. All those who are called by the name of Christ are his. John gives us the most basic way to actually see who is with Christ and who is not. He writes,
Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist- he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us- even eternal life (1 John 2:22-25).
John keeps it simple: “Do you believe in Christ? If yes, good. Does he or she believe in Christ? Well if he says so that’s good enough for now.” Keep in mind that the Bible notes in several places, it’ll be Jesus who’ll sort out the good from the bad; so we should just keep our heads out of it.
Well then, what about this synagogue of Satan? Who are the fake believers that Jesus is so strongly against? Don’t think about people who are in the church. When our savior talks about such people, he’s not talking about members of our congregations but rather outsiders who seem to think they know more about Christ than we do. During Hezekiah’s time, Assyria laid siege to Jerusalem and started a campaign to weaken the people’s spirits. The commander of the Assyrian army stood outside the wall of Jerusalem and would call out things to make the people second-guess their security. He went against the king, he highlighted Assyria’s previous victories, he made false promises, and he also told the people they were worshipping God the wrong way,
And if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”- isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem?” (2 Kings 18:22)
Now, the commander of the army wasn’t lying. Hezekiah did remove all of the high places and altars that were not in the Temple. As a person in Israel, this is a pretty convincing argument, since the high places and personal altars allowed people to worship God more conveniently (and theoretically more often). So was Hezekiah in the wrong? Absolutely not! Hezekiah was following the Law when he made that executive decision. For it is written,
Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you (Deuteronomy 12:13-14).
Hezekiah tore down the other altars in order to protect the people and guide them into right worship. This exact sort of thing continues even today. How many unbelievers have you heard try to get away with saying, “How could a loving God send people to hell?” And a Christian who isn’t very well versed in the Bible might go, “Oh, hey, that makes sense, since God is love.” However, this is falsehood, for Jesus says himself, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Therefore we find that our salvation is not dependent upon God’s love; but upon our relationship to Jesus Christ, his son. For it was out of his love that the Father sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins, and if we deny the son and his sacrifice for us, then we are not being cast into hell by God, rather we’re jumping into it ourselves. In the end Jesus tells the church in Philadelphia to just keep doing their best. For any Christian this is the best advice, seek truth in the Word of God and don’t give up your convictions just because someone is presenting a logical argument that you can’t seem to combat. Don’t give up, keep pressing on, and you’ll be rewarded for doing so.
The Church in Laodicea
-None. Jesus has nothing good to say about this church. In fact there isn’t even anything I can quote for this section.
-The people of Laodicea rely on themselves rather on God; they’re neither evil nor good, neither pro nor anti-Christ. They are totally middle of the road people.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (Revelation 3:14-17).
What This Means for us
-I’ve heard a lot of pastors say a lot of things about the church of Laodicea. I’ve heard many people compare Laodicea to the modern-day church and things like that. I don’t know what to think. When I read about the Laodiceans I scratch my head and wonder how they can even be addressed as a church at all. Quite honestly, the people in Laodicea don’t believe in Jesus (or any solid God either it seems), and yet at the same time they’re not vehemently opposing the Body of Christ as we know it either. Who are these people? The only thing I can think of is that they’re agnostics with nowhere better to go. I recently read an article about a scientist who spent years and years studying evolution. As a non-Christian, he really wanted to be able to prove that life could exist without God. However, when he had finished all of his research, the scientist couldn’t prove evolution; citing that in many cases there had to have been some sort of design in nature rather than random happenstance. And yet, even years later, he still refuses to acknowledge God and his Son Jesus Christ. Here is a man who knows that there must be something more, and yet can’t seem to come to terms with it. I think this is a pretty good picture for the church in Laodicea. The people understood that there was more to life than random happenstance, and yet at the same time they found it hard to go all-in with faith in God. Instead then they found their lives to be based around their own successes and judged themselves based on how they appeared in life. Therefore they were neither cold nor hot. I’ve met quite a few people who are quick to acknowledge there’s probably a god of some sort, but then refuse to take the topic any further; such people will not be rewarded for hedging their bets.
But to this church, we’re given a solution. We read,
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:18-20).
The answer is Jesus. The answer is always Jesus. Is there a God? Yes, it’s Jesus Christ, our Lord. Was the earth created rather than suddenly appearing through happenstance? Yes, and Christ was there as the foundations were laid,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3).
Unfortunately, people who refuse to side with either Christ or the world are caught in the middle and they’ll likely face a lot of pain for it. For our Lord wants all people to come to him, and aside from trying to awaken the Spirit in their hearts, he’ll actually put physical pressure on a person until they decide which side they’re on. God says that those he loves he rebukes, and he loves everyone enough to give them a chance. So if you know anyone who fits the bill for the church in Laodicea, pray that when the times of trials come that they choose rightly and go with God, the one true God and Father, his Holy Spirit, and his Son Jesus Christ.
When we read the Bible, and especially passages like Jesus’ letters to the churches, where he basically nitpicks at everyone at every level in their walk with Christ, we realize that the Christian walk isn’t easy. In fact, when you consider all of the rules and regulations on our lives after coming out of the world, it seems darn near impossible to truly live like we’re expected. But remember, God sent his Holy Spirit to help us in our sanctification here on earth, and his Son to die so that we may have eternal life. Never give up, brothers and sisters; because what awaits us beyond this life is greater than anything we could get here on earth:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death (Revelation 2:11).
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-
“He will rule them with an iron scepter;
He will dash them to pieces like pottery”-
just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star (Revelation 2:26-28).
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (Revelation 3:5).
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name (Revelation 3:12)
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and say down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:21-22).