WooHoo Witchy Woman She Got The Saints In Her Sights (Revelation 2:18-29)

A judge in New Zealand granted a young girl’s request that she be made a ward of the court so that she could legally change the name her parents gave her. What was her name, you ask?

Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.

One reader left this comment on the article: “My unusual name hasn’t affected me at all; in fact, it has helped me make friends and improve my confidence, especially since leaving school.” It was signed Russell Sprout.

We all remember the boy who had to fight his way through life on account of his deadbeat, absent father naming him Sue.

There are a few names that have become notorious and are commonly used as insults:

✏ Judas and Benedict Arnold are used to describe a backstabbing, double-crossing traitor.
✏ Scrooge describes a penny-pinching, cheapskate miser.
✏ Nimrod, used by Bugs Bunny to describe an idiot.

One woman’s name stands out as the most notorious. Two days after Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice-president a pastor took to twitter with this:

“I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power.”

✏ The Bible identifies Jezebel as a harlot who practiced witchcraft (Second Kings 9:22).
✏ The dictionary says the name denotes “a wicked, shameless woman.”
✏ The synonyms listed in the thesaurus… Well, I don’t feel comfortable mentioning them in church.

Jesus boldly called a woman who was attending church in Thyatira ‘Jezebel.’

That would have certainly got Jesus banned from all social media.

Jesus’ bride, the church, was being seduced and like the jealous Bridegroom He is, the Lord was taking action.

The seduction of Christians is a constant strategy of the devil. ‘Jezebel’s’ of various kinds are to be expected and strongly resisted.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Jezebel Is In Church To Seduce You, and #2 Jesus Is In Church To Secure You.

#1 – Jezebel Is In Church To Seduce You (v18-23)

Jesus used language that pictured a betrothed bride being seduced. He thereby urged Thyatira, as a Bridegroom would His bride, to remain pure for their wedding.

Rev 2:18  “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:

“Angel” means one who brings a message. In this case, the message to be read was Scripture. The apostle Paul instructed Pastor Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (First Timothy 4:13). The “angel” is therefore most likely referring to the pastor.

The apostle John was the inspired human author of the Revelation. In chapter one he saw Jesus and described Him. Jesus introduced Himself to each church using one or more of those descriptions.

The description(s) He chose spoke directly to the circumstances of each church. To Thyatira He was “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.”

Read commentaries and you’ll encounter dozens of suggested meanings for “eyes like torches of fire” and “feet like solid brass.” Which is correct?

We need to take a broader view. It turns out that there is a verse in the Old Testament Book of Daniel that introduces a Person with fiery eyes and brass feet:

Daniel 10:6  His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color…”

(Note: Other Bible versions translate “fine brass” in Revelation 2:18 as “burnished bronze” (e.g, ESV.)

Daniel saw the Lord in a pre-incarnate appearance.

Jesus described Himself to Thyatira in a way that referred them back to this passage.

Whatever else flaming eyes and brass feet might suggest, their primary purpose here in the Revelation is to identify Jesus as the Glorious Man Daniel saw.

How did this description of “the Son of God” address the situation in Thyatira?

✏ After he saw Jesus, Daniel gets an earful of prophecy regarding the Second Coming.
✏ In the second section of this letter, the Second Coming is prominent.

The saints in Thyatira likely knew that Jesus would be returning with His bride, the church, at His Second Coming. If they did not know, they would when the reading got to chapter nineteen.

Whoever this woman in the church was, they were to think of her as a seductress leading the pure, precious bride of Jesus into both physical and spiritual adultery.

A betrothed bride ought to recognize and decisively reject seduction.

Rev 2:19  “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.

I absolutely did not expect this commendation to a church that was allowing a Jezebel to operate in its midst. It tells me that there were many genuine believers who had not been seduced by her.

✏ Their “love” is agape. It is the self-sacrificing love that is produced in the heart of a believer by the presence of God in his or her life.
✏ “Service” is the word from which we get the word deacon. It was used of waiters who would wait tables and be attentive to every need while remaining almost invisible.
✏ They had “faith.” Here it indicates faith working, or we would say, “faithfulness.”
✏ “Patience” is a word that indicates a hopeful waiting.

Rev 2:20  Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

In order to form an alliance with the pagan Sidonians, King Ahab of Israel took for his wife Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal. Queen Jezebel introduced the worship of her gods, Ashera and Baal, to Israel.

Fast forward about a thousand years to the church in Thyatira. Their Jezebel was claiming to be a “prophetess,” but her prophecies were satanic, and were seducing the saints “to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols.”

In Thyatira, you could not work if you did not belong to a trade guild.
Each guild was dedicated to, and worshipped, a pagan god or goddess. Each year it was mandatory for you to attend a feast to the god or goddess of your guild.

✏ At that feast, the food you were served was first openly offered as a sacrifice to the idol of the god in a pagan religious ceremony.
✏ At that feast, the god or goddess was honored by rituals that involved the guild members having sex with the temple priestesses.

Those guild meetings were TripleX-rated orgies complete with temple prostitutes. Christians had trouble with this. How far could or should they go as mandatory members of the trade guilds?

A woman in the church claimed to receive prophecies that encouraged them that it was alright to attend the guild meeting and to partake in the pagan practices.

The church’s leaders “allow[ed]” her prophecies to go unchallenged.
Footnote: The Holy Spirit isn’t quenched by church leaders disallowing certain teachings or behaviors. In fact, it is necessary for the spiritual safety of the church.

Rev 2:21  And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.

Our gracious God is longsuffering with sinners, withholding judgment, not willing that they perish, ,but receive eternal life.

The literal wording of “time to repent” is “she does not wish to repent.” It was her conscious, free-will decision.

If you are not yet a believer in Jesus Christ, His grace is operating on your heart to free your will so you can repent, and be saved.

You can repent…Do you wish to?

Rev 2:22  Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
Rev 2:23  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

Jesus explained His use of ‘great tribulation’ as a “sickbed,” and by saying, “I will kill her children with death.” He was not going to consign her and her followers to the Great Tribulation. He was about to make them sick and kill them.

In the Old Testament story, first her children, and then Jezebel, were “killed with death.” Jezebel was thrown out a tower window, stomped, then eaten by wild dogs until “they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands” (Second Kings 9:30ff).

There are references in the New Testament to individuals being “kill[ed] with death”:

✏ Ananias and Sapphira sold their land and then lied about the amount of the proceeds they donated to the church. They were “kill[ed] with death,” one after the other.
✏ In the church in Corinth some of the believers were misbehaving at the pot-luck that preceded the Lord’s Supper. They were hoarding their food and getting drunk. Some of them were being disciplined by God with sickness; some were “kill[ed] with death.”

Caution: While sickness and death can be God’s discipline, it is rare. If you are sick or dying, it is not discipline for sin, unless you are a Jezebel, or are committing particularly heinous sins that endanger the church.

Jesus said, “All the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.” His dealings with the children of Jezebel would become a matter of public knowledge among the churches. It reminds us of the killing of Ananias and Sapphira bringing fear upon the church.

“And I will give to each one of you according to your works.” His gifts to us for eternity, for our “works,” far surpass the temporary sinful indulgences of this world.

There were Nicolaitans in Ephesus. There were Nicolaitans and Balaamites in Pergamos. Jezebel attended in Thyatira.

Attending church has proven to be a successful strategy for the devil.

Having the devil in church creates a hostile “works” environment.

#2 – Jesus Is In Church To Secure You (v24-29)

Jesus also attends church.

In chapter one, He compared the churches to lampstands, and said that He was “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (v13).

A Bridegroom and a harlot walked into a church…

✏ One has secured you by giving you the indwelling Holy Spirit as an engagement gift of His abiding love.
✏ The other seduces by appealing to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
Who are you going home with?

Rev 2:24  “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.

Jezebel’s “doctrine” was to encourage sexual immorality and participation in the sacrifices to idols.

What were “the depths of Satan?” And who are “they” in “as they say?” Language scholars conclude that “they” means Jezebel and her followers. They openly claimed to have tapped into the same deep spiritual power source as Satan. The power was neutral, they said, and could be used for good or for evil.

It’s an old satanic teaching. Essentially, it was the Force, but without the cuteness of Grogu. What Christian would believe such nonsense?

✏ Some time ago, one of the prominent churches in Hanford was strongly promoting a book by Paul Yonggi Cho, titled The Fourth Dimension. Cho claimed that there is a fourth spiritual dimension we can, and should, tap into, just as other supernatural beings do – to do good or evil. AKA, “The depths of Satan.”
✏ When so-called ‘Christian’ psychology first made its assault on the church in the 1980’s, its adherents compared it to the children of Israel “spoiling the Egyptians” by taking their riches on the Exodus. The principles and practices of modern psychology were said to be the valuable “spoil,” a veritable treasure for us. Never mind that one of the most renowned secular psychologists whose “spoil” we were to use is Carl Jung. He openly admitted he had dialog with a spirit being he named Philemon. AKA, “The depths of Satan.”

Jesus had no “other burden” to put on them. One commentator explains it this way:

The “burden” upon the faithful was that of resisting the pressure of Jezebel and her group. Choosing to abstain from her evil practices doubtless resulted in trouble. Jesus promised to place upon them no burden other than continuing to stand against her.

Rev 2:25  But hold fast what you have till I come.

They were victorious, still “hold[ing] fast,” and they both could and should continue to “hold fast.”

I emphasize they absolutely could “hold fast.” It was a choice to be empowered by God the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer, you know that you can have victory over seduction because you’ve experienced it.

I got saved and immediately sin was unattractive to me. I didn’t need to try to quit sinning. I was transformed into a new creation.

Ah, but as time goes on… Satan has his strategies to seduce us. He knows what buttons to push.

Rev 2:26  And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations –

✏ Overcomer is more-or-less synonymous with being born-again.
✏ “My works” is in contrast to keeping Jezebel’s works. We “keep” by walking in the Spirit rather than in the flesh.

My simple paraphrase: “Keep on following Jesus being led along by the Spirit rather then being led astray by a Jezebel.”

Rev 2:27  ‘HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON; THEY SHALL BE DASHED TO PIECES LIKE THE POTTER’S VESSELS’ – as I also have received from My Father;

“Power over the nations” (in v26) is defined by quoting Psalm Two (in v27). That supremely Messianic psalm proclaims the Second Coming of Jesus to rule over the nations of the world.

Rev 2:28  and I will give him the morning star.

Pages and pages have been written about “the morning star.” It is especially controversial because the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, in chapter fourteen of his book, identifies Satan using the phrase. But then Jesus calls Himself “the Morning Star” in Revelation 22:16.

What’s up? A large part of the confusion comes from the translation in the KJV & NKJV of “morning star” in Isaiah 14:12 as “Lucifer.” It makes “morning star” sound like a name rather than a description.

Morning star is not a proper name; It is a description.

Apologist Don Stewart explains:

The reason Lucifer has been understood to be a proper name of the Devil has to do with the Latin translation of the Hebrew term Helel. This word was understood… to be a proper name for the king of Babylon. It means “light bearer,” or Lucifero in Latin. The Latin title became a popular name for this evil figure. When the King James translators rendered the Hebrew term into English, they kept the popular term “Lucifer” for the Devil.

Listen to this commentary on Isaiah’s use of the phrase:

The first reference of “morning star” [in Isaiah 14] is not to the devil but to the human king of Babylon.

The whole section is directed to the king of Babylon, who is clearly depicted as a human ruler. Other kings of the earth address him; he is called “the man”; and he possesses a physical body. At the same time, Isaiah 14:12-15 seems to go beyond a description of a mortal king. A double-fulfillment prophecy is thus probably in view.

The facts are these:

✏ Isaiah uses “morning star” as a description of a human king.
✏ Isaiah also uses “morning star” as a description of the devil.
✏ Jesus uses “morning star” of Himself in His Second Coming as the rightful King of kings.

“Morning star” was, and it is, a description for someone, human or supernatural, who aspires to rule over the nations of the earth.

✏ In Revelation 2:26 we read, “I will give [you] power over the nations.”
✏ Jesus said, in verse 28, “I will give [you] the morning star.”

They are two ways of saying the same thing; “Power over” the nations and “morning star” are interchangeable.

Jesus is coming in “power” to rule over the nations.

When He does, we will be ruling with Him. He will give us the “morning star,” means that He will share with us His authority over the nations of the earth.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Jesus’ words to each church are for all the churches, both then and now.

Sexual immorality leading as it does to spiritual adultery is a prevalent strategy being employed against the church right now.

I don’t think it is necessary to point out any of the multitude of examples, both internationally and local.

It will be getting much worse. We can nonetheless hear the Lord say, “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.”

Prophecy Update #647 – Give Me Some Credit

These are exciting times for believers in Christ who are interested in Bible prophecy. Many things that are suggested by unfulfilled, future prophecies seem to be trending like never before.

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to discuss some of those things.

✎ We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news and information.
✎ We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect from reading the Bible literally.

I want to preface today’s update by reading from the Revelation. In this reading we encounter two characters prominent in the future Great Tribulation:

✎ The person called “he” in this passage refers to a false prophet.
✎ The person called “the Beast” is the man we know more commonly as the antichrist.

Rev 13:14  And he [the false prophet] deceives those who dwell on the earth – by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast…
Rev 13:15  He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.
Rev 13:16  He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,
Rev 13:17  and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

The two things I want to call attention to are the so-called “image of the Beast,” and the announcement “that no one may buy or sell.”

✎ The “image of the Beast” having life sounds like Artificial Intelligence.
✎ The restrictions on buying and selling sound like social credit based on surveillance and other hi-tech.

With all that in mind, here are a few excerpts from an article called, The Coming Social Credit System.

Excerpts:

Beijing’s use of consumer data, biometric information, GPS tracking coordinates, facial recognition, DNA, and other forms of data harvesting has turned, and continues to turn, China into a beast never before seen worldwide, not even under Mao. In China, the tools of surveillance capitalism are employed by the surveillance state to administer the so-called social credit system, which determines who is allowed to buy, sell, and travel, based on their social behavior.

“China is about to become something new: an AI-powered techno-totalitarian state,” writes journalist John Lanchester. “[China] aims to form not only a new kind of state but a new kind of human being, one who has fully internalized the demands of the state and the completeness of its surveillance and control. That internalization is the goal: Agencies of the state will never need to intervene to correct the citizen’s behavior, because the citizen has done it for them in advance.”

He is talking about Beijing’s pioneering use of Artificial Intelligence and other forms of digital data gathering to create a state apparatus that not only monitors all citizens constantly, but also can compel them to behave in ways the state demands without ever deploying the secret police or the threat of gulags (though those exist for the recalcitrant), and without suffering the widespread poverty that was the inevitable product of old-style communism.

China’s social credit system automatically tracks the words and actions, online and off, of every Chinese citizen, and grants rewards or demerits based on obedience. A Chinese who does something socially positive – helping an elderly neighbor with a chore, or listening to a speech of leader Xi Jinping – receives points toward a higher social credit score. On the other hand, one who does something negative – letting his or her dog poop on the sidewalk, for example, or making a snarky comment on social media – suffers a social-credit downgrade. The bottom line: a Chinese citizen cannot participate in the economy or society unless he has the mark of approval from Xi Jinping, the country’s all-powerful leader. In a cashless society, the state has the power to bankrupt dissidents instantly by cutting off access to the internet.

https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/live-not-by-lies-the-coming-social-credit-system/

That’s an unbiased reporting of facts. The author then gives his personal appraisal: “If you don’t believe that the left – woke capitalists, universities, and other institutions – would jump to implement such a system, as part of a plan to rid the world of racism, of homophobia, of transphobia, of bigoted Christianity, political dissenters, and so forth, you are living in denial. It’s coming, and it’s coming hard.”

This is just the kind of stuff that we expect from a literal, futurist reading of unfulfilled Bible prophecy.

Another article said, “By next year there will be 600 million surveillance cameras in China, roughly one camera for every two citizens.”

It is as if someone in the Chineses government read Revelation 13 and said, “Hey, we can do that!”

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.
Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.

We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

Welcome To Favor Country (Acts 25:1-12)

There are four words that can strike fear into the stoutest heart, words that can frighten young and old alike. Hear them and your pulse quickens. You brace for the impact of what follows. What are the four words? “I need a favor…” It’s been said that the world runs on little favors. From the airport pickup to rolling out a neighbor’s trashcan, most of us are on both ends of favors all the time. In the halls of government, giving favors can get you into trouble. Right now, some are accusing President Biden’s pick to lead homeland security of “[doing] his best to turn U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services into an unethical favor factory for Democratic Party royalty.” Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (a republican) is being sued for “swapping political favors for a donor’s help with a home remodel and a job for his alleged ‘mistress.’”

Sadly, in this sinful world, many favors are not done out of the kindness of a person’s heart, but as a means to win leverage or accomplish selfish goals.

Giving favors is a theme in our text tonight. The chief priests want one. Festus wants to give them one. But they’re each trying to gain leverage for themselves in the situation.

I’m no language scholar, but there are a couple of interesting words used here that make us think about our faith in Christ and the difference between what He does and what the world does. The first is the word translated here as “favor.” It’s the word charis. You’ve probably heard that Greek word before. We more commonly associate it with the word grace. God’s grace is His charis, His favor toward His people. The Jews will ask Festus for charis and, he, in turn, wants to give them charis, or at least the human equivalent, which is nothing like God’s grace at all. You see, God’s charis is unmerited favor given as a free gift. Not as leverage, not to manipulate, not so He can hold something over us. But out of immeasurable love He freely offers us salvation and satisfaction in abundance. It’s His favor toward us, working all things together for good. Beginning and completing a perfect work in us as He continually sends us His kind, compassionate care. That grace of God is not only for our benefit but is meant to define our lives.

This is not the kind of favor Festus and the priests were talking about. No, they’re elbowing for position in a very deadly game. Their struggle is for power and they find themselves in a tug-of-war concerning Paul, this Christian missionary who has been imprisoned in Caesarea for 2 years.

So where is this astounding grace in his life? It’s there. In fact, even in these hard circumstances we see it at work in and through Paul. No, his life wasn’t full of material wealth or worldly power, but he was defined by God’s grace and wrapped up in it. That joyous lovingkindness, given out of the fullness of God’s love, sent to help in time of need.

Paul was definitely in a time of great need and the Lord did not disappoint. He never does! Let’s see how the Savior gave grace to His humble servant while opposing the proud.

Acts 25:1 – Three days after Festus arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea.

Festus was appointed after Felix was recalled. Felix was fired from the job after someone blew the whistle on his murderous corruption against the Jews. In many ways, Festus was a very different man than Felix was. Felix was a procrastinator, but Festus was quick to act and make moves. Though many historians think he was generally a man of higher character, we’ll find he was no more inclined to the Gospel. In fact, he’ll be less interested in hearing about Jesus than Felix was.

At the time, the region of Judea was on the brink of civil war. There was significant unrest. The Roman government had been responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Jews (that’s why Felix was recalled). And so, Festus immediately gets to work. There’s no time to lose if the pax Romana is going to be maintained. While he was busy getting his hands on the job, the leaders of Israel were busy trying to get their hooks into the new governor.

Acts 25:2-3 – 2 The chief priests and the leaders of the Jews presented their case against Paul to him; and they appealed, 3 asking for a favor against Paul, that Festus summon him to Jerusalem. They were, in fact, preparing an ambush along the road to kill him.

They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but not in the case of Paul. For two years he had been benched, but his enemies in Jerusalem hadn’t forgotten him or removed him from their hit list. We’re even two high priests removed from Ananias who we saw back in chapter 24. The guy after him had been assassinated by Felix, and now we’ve got another high priest named Ishmael.

As soon as Festus gets to town they were on him. They start hammering Festus, who maybe didn’t know any of the details of Paul’s case yet, to give them this favor and transfer Paul to Jerusalem.

The last time there was a plot on Paul’s life it had been this group of guys who came to the leaders of Israel and said, “Here’s what we want to do…we’re gonna ambush Paul and murder him.” But now the elders and chief priests are going full Thanos and say, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” It’s heartbreaking to see their descent into evil. These priests were meant to reconcile people to God, speaking the word of God and bringing purity not only to Israel, but ultimately to the whole world.

Now we, in the church, have been made priests. Peter explains that we are a royal priesthood. And, in 2 Corinthians 5:18, we read that God has committed the message of reconciliation to us and given us a ministry of reconciliation. Not of destruction or any of the sort of conniving seen demonstrated here. We are sent throughout the world to help the lost be reconciled to God as He makes His appeal through us. We should regularly evaluate if we are fulfilling that purpose as God’s holy priests.

Now, if I had been shackled to Roman guards for two years, I think I would’ve lost heart. But when we see Paul again he’s full of peace. Because, despite his unfair circumstances, he was experiencing the power of God’s grace, which filled him with patience. He was able to trust that this time was not a waste, even though many days it must have felt like it. God’s grace is bigger than difficult circumstances and can help us make sense of senseless times in life. Paul was remaining faithful and Spirit-filled and so, despite the fact he wasn’t doing what he really wanted to do, he could be confident he was still in the will of God.

I was thinking that it must be frustrating for the Devil and his angels to not be able to get to targets like Paul. Satan wanted Paul dead. He kept that malice alive in the hearts of the chief priests. And we see in the Gospels that demons were able to attack people, throw people into fires and things like that. A demon possessed man practically tore apart the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. So why not just possess one of the guards and have him murder Paul? Because God, in His grace, would not allow it. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. The Devil, for all his power and influence could not lay a finger on Paul. We see that in the story of Job. All Satan could do was accuse Job. Otherwise, until God allowed certain things, Job was completely safe from the Devil.

The Lord promises in Psalm 5 that He will surround His people “with favor like a shield.” That was true for Paul and it’s true for us. No weapon formed against us shall stand. These are the benefits enjoyed by the servants of the Lord. Paul was shielded from demonic attack and shielded from human attack because grace is not just a feeling, it is God’s function in our lives.

Acts 25:4-5 – 4 Festus, however, answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was about to go there shortly. 5 “Therefore,” he said, “let those of you who have authority go down with me and accuse him, if he has done anything wrong.”

Festus needed to bring stability to the region but he couldn’t start his administration as a pushover. So he’s doing this dance, not wanting to offend the Jewish community, but also not wanting to get mowed over like Pontius Pilate or Felix had been. He gives the impression that he was willing to work with them but that he was going to do everything “by the book.” We’ll see about that.

Acts 25:6 – 6 When he had spent not more than eight or ten days among them, he went down to Caesarea. The next day, seated at the tribunal, he commanded Paul to be brought in.

Interesting: At first he deliberately slows their roll, but then after a few days with them, he’s ready to scratch their itch. Notice how it says, “The next day.” He wastes no time getting to this issue once he’s back in Caesarea. It seems like the Jewish leaders had been priming the pump to get that favor.

It would seem like Paul was at a total disadvantage in the situation. He’s got a new judge who is less informed about everything, who’s probably been wined and dined all week by these accusers and Festus is totally incentivized to throw them a Paul-shaped bone. You see, despite Festus acting like everything was going to be on the up-and-up, he was still a political animal. He wasn’t concerned with justice as much as we was concerned with the bargains he would have to make with his new subjects.

Acts 25:7 – 7 When he arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him and brought many serious charges that they were not able to prove.

Scholars say the language indicates that they actually encircled Paul as they accused him, hurling charge after charge in their effort to get him executed.

Sometimes when a defendant is brought in to their trial they break down when the charges are read aloud. In 2013, Oscar Pistorious, the Paralympic superstar, wept openly in court as the charge of premeditated murder was read into the record.

But there’s Paul, standing calm and collected. He’s not happy to be there, but he’s not afraid or broken down. Though his adversaries formed a ring around him, the favor of God was closer still, wrapping him as a shield.

You know, right now there’s a scene not unlike this one playing out in the court of heaven. Day and night Satan stands before God accusing you and I and all our brothers and sisters. But we have an Advocate who will plead our case – Jesus Christ – who will never leave us. He has atoned for us and given us His righteousness so we might enjoy the gracious favor of God.

Our enemies may bring attacks and accusations, but here is what’s true: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand. And I have decided to follow Jesus, though none go with me still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back. These things are true because of what Christ has done for us and won for us by the grace of God, offered freely to all who will believe.

As an aside, it is so good and so important for us to be reminded of truths like these. That’s why we sing them, to keep grace as a life-sustaining melody in our hearts.

Acts 25:8 – 8 Then Paul made his defense: “Neither against the Jewish law, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned in any way.”

Paul is very calm, very clear. God’s favor gave him the ability to endure this hardship. The Bible says that God’s grace, His favor, strengthens us for moments like this. Despite how unfair this is, Paul is still a peacemaker. Trouble always followed Paul, but he was a peacemaker not a troublemaker. Our world is already troubled. We’re to live at peace as much as it is possible for us. Here we see that Paul shot straight. He was a man with consistent integrity. No scheming. No maneuvering or manipulating. No flattery or personal attacks on these guys. What a great example to us of how to conduct ourselves in the power of the Spirit.

Acts 25:9 – 9 But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem to be tried before me there on these charges?”

The charis of Festus had nothing to do with kindness or love, but his desire to get on the good side of his subjects and have them in his debt. What a difference between man’s favor and God’s.

On one level it would be embarrassing that in his very first case as governor he was unable to render a verdict. Doubtless by now he had familiarized himself with Paul’s case history. He knew there had already been an attempt on his life. But he’s willing to sacrifice this Roman citizen to buy himself some polling points.

His suggestion is ridiculous. “Hey, we’re all here, all the parties and all the officials and all the data…so why don’t we all pack up and do this same thing 50 miles from here!” The truth is, for all his political acumen, Festus will admit in verse 20 he was “at a loss” to know what to do.

Acts 25:10-11 – 10 Paul replied, “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you yourself know very well. 11 If then I did anything wrong and am deserving of death, I am not trying to escape death; but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

This was a dead-locked, no-win situation. In World War I there were these enormous, bloody battles that would stretch week after week with only a few feet being won by one side or the other. It’s like that here. Just the same thing again and they find themselves at an impasse. But God’s grace shows Paul a way out. He would explain to us through his epistle to the Ephesians that the Lord has planned good works for us long ago and it is our duty to discover them. But, by God’s grace, He shows us the way. We see it in Paul. He knew that he was to preach in Rome. Meanwhile, everyone’s trying to get him to Jerusalem. “How do I do what God has called me to do?” And then God shows him the way. He appeals to Caesar, which was his right as a Roman citizen.

While God’s favor was showing Paul a way out of his predicament, it was also empowering him to speak with boldness. Notice the gentle warning he gives this new governor. Essentially he says, “Look, you know what’s right. You know what you should do. Are you going to do it or are you going to be like Felix?” He confronts Festus with his crookedness. Later he will preach the Gospel to him. God’s grace gives strength to the weak and provides the heart and the words for us to do our duty as His witnesses.

Some criticize Paul for appealing to Caesar. They say it was a guaranteed death sentence. The truth is, Paul would be acquitted at his first trial. And though we remember Nero as a world class madman, at this point in his reign he wasn’t crazy. So, it makes a lot of sense that Paul would use this right to move himself toward Rome, which was the assignment Christ Himself had given in chapter 23. Ultimately, Paul will say that he felt “compelled” to make this appeal.

Acts 25:12 – 12 Then after Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go.”

It’s hard to tell Festus’ tone, but it seems to have a sneer on it, or at least some exasperation. But in this we see that nothing can overwhelm the favor of God. In this case, God used the legal system to protect his servant and even have Rome foot the bill for his trip to see (and preach to) the Emperor.

So, in the end, the human favors didn’t work out. But God’s favor was doing a lot. It provided Paul with peace and strength, a way out of death, boldness, perspective, comfort and so much more. That same matchless grace is given to us today. If you’re a Christian, you’re offered the grace of God, given in rich abundance for you so that you might be helped and sustained and prepared for the duties and ministries God planned for you from before the foundations of the earth. We don’t have to curry favor with Him, He’s already extended it to us. We’re to walk in it and allow it to operate in us, whether waiting or moving, fighting or fleeing, resting or serving.

Just one more thing before we go: I said there were a couple of interesting language things in this passage. The first is that use of charis, the second is where we see that Paul was brought before this tribunal seat in verse 6. There’s a technical term used there, it’s bema. In the Roman Empire it was meant to be this imposing place of judgment. But not for Paul. He didn’t cower. You know why? He had seen the Lord’s bema. By this point in his life he had already had his vision of heaven, walking in eternity with his Savior. It wouldn’t be long after this passage that Paul would write to the Philippians, “Man, I can’t wait to get back to heaven.” And he had already written to the Corinthians about the fact that one day all of we Christians are going to be summoned before the bema of Christ. But standing there we have nothing to fear because our guilt has already been decided. We’re dead to sin. There’s no condemnation for we who are in Christ Jesus. He erased the certificate of debt that was against us and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. The bema we look forward to isn’t like Paul before Festus. It is a reward seat, where Christ is going to say, “You’re finally here! I’ve been waiting for you!” And then our work on earth will be judged so that the Lord might reward us for our service to Him. But those things that we’ve done in our lives that are not built on the Lord and for the Lord, they’re like wood, hay and stubble that are going to be burnt up. We’ll suffer the loss of them. But what God wants is to heap reward after reward on us.

Knowing that we have this appointment in heaven, let’s not be like Festus or the Jews, busying ourselves with earthly pursuits, but instead live in and exercise the grace of God, building a life for His glory. Knowing that there is a bema waiting for us, thanks to the amazing charis of God, this magnificent gift, revealed and entrusted to us, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

Please Don’t You Be My Neighbor (Revelation 2:12-17)

I’ll name the neighbors… You name the show:

Fred & Ethyl Mertz (I Love Lucy)
Ed & Trixie Norton (The Honeymooners)
Barney & Betty Rubble (The Flintstones)
Lenny & Squiggy (Laverne & Shirley)
Ned Flanders (The Simpsons)
Wilson W. Wilson, Jr. (Home Improvement)

One more to show that I’m on the cutting edge: Agnes (WandaVision).

While the majority of television neighbors are rather likable, movie neighbors can be your worst nightmare. You can probably think of a film in which the neighbor turned out to be anything but Fred Rogers. I submit Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with an Honorable Mention going to the Klopek’s in The Burbs.

The believers in the church in Pergamos had a supremely undesirable neighbor.

Who was their neighbor? As the Church Lady would say, “Satan!”

Jesus said, in verse thirteen, “Where you dwell… Satan dwells.” The devil had his “throne” there. It was not a good day in the neighborhood with Satan going about singing, “Won’t you be mine?”

Satan wasn’t only living in their city. He was attending their church.

Not personally, but through certain false teachers he had equipped. In verses fourteen and fifteen, Jesus said, “You have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam… You also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans…” The Lord wanted the believers to take action against them.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Hold Fast And You Reveal Jesus Enthroned, and #2 Hold Loosely And You Reveal Satan Enthroned.

#1 – Hold Fast And You Reveal Jesus Enthroned (v12-13)

There are two symbols that are used to represent medicine:

The Caduceus is a symbol with a short staff entwined by two serpents.
The Rod of Asclepius is the one with a single serpent.

Isn’t it weird? Why serpents? It reaches back through the centuries to mythology.

Pergamos was especially known for its temple to Asclepius, the god of medicine. People from all over the world traveled to Pergamos hoping to be healed. The method for healing was unorthodox. William Barclay writes:

Sufferers were allowed to spend the night in the darkness of the temple. In the temple there were tame snakes. In the night the sufferer might be touched by one of these tame and harmless snakes as it glided over the ground on which he lay. The touch of the snake was held to be the touch of the god himself, and the touch was held to bring health and healing.

Satan was similarly slithering around the church seeking to ‘touch’ the believers – not for healing but for havoc and for harm.

Rev 2:12  “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:

The Revelation that John wrote out on a scroll was carried from church-to-church in the region we know today as Turkey.
It would be read aloud by the “angel” of the church. “Angel” means messenger. Strong’s Concordance comments that it “implies the pastor.”

John gave a detailed description of Jesus in chapter one. We read that, “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (1:16). That observation is now edited by the Holy Spirit to read, “He who has the sharp two-edged sword.”

You’ve probably seen a representation of Jesus with a “two-edged sword” coming out of His mouth. Are we to take this literally? I mean, we are the literalists, aren’t we?

We’ve mentioned how dependent the Revelation is on Old Testament references; and we’ve said that Jews would understand references that we miss for lack of Old Testament familiarity. A Jew, upon hearing about a sharp sword coming out of the mouth, would remember Isaiah writing, “And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword…” (49:2).

Other translations include, “He made my words like a sharp sword,” and “He gave me speech that would cut and penetrate.”

If you read the entire Isaiah passage, you see that it is describing God’s Suffering Servant – the Messiah who would save Israel. It’s a prophecy about Jesus.

So, no, Jesus doesn’t have a sword coming out of His mouth. It is a well-known expression for the power of His speech.

It’s the perfect attribute of Jesus for Pergamos because the words of these false teachers needed to be dealt with by the sword of the Word.

Rev 2:13  “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

The words “your works” do not appear in the best manuscripts. The emphasis was on knowing where they dwelt. Not just the city; that’s obvious. Jesus let the saints know that their city was Ground Zero for the devil. Pergamos was “Satan’s throne.”

It seems that the nations of the world have angels, both good and fallen, assigned to them:

In the Book of Daniel, a mighty fallen angel called the Prince of Persia detained the angel Gabriel from coming to Daniel.
Also in Daniel we read that the Archangel Michael is “The great prince who stands watch over [Israel].”

Satan is called the “god of this world,” and as such it is logical that he would have a headquarters.

“You hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you.” The Bible tells us nothing more about Antipas. He was an impressive one-verse wonder.

Faced with the pressure to deny Jesus or die a violent death, Antipas chose to die a martyr, and the believers stood with him, willing to become martyrs themselves.

Martyrdom seems a triumph for evil. Looking back on church history, we see that it is, in fact, a victory for the Lord, every time.

You probably know that the word “martyr” means witness. We who are in Christ are all witnesses who by holding fast to Jesus could become martyrs.

You might think martyrdom is the ultimate witness.

It can be harder to live for Jesus than to die for Him.

I freely admit that I am not the most qualified Christian to say that. Sadhu Sundar Singh is. He is credited as the first missionary to cross the Himalayan Mountains to take the gospel to Nepal and Tibet. One source said, “He was known as, ‘the apostle with the bleeding feet’ for he walked far and long.” At thirty-six-years-of-age he made his last trip over the mountains. He never returned and is assumed by some to have been a martyr for Jesus.

In his diary he had written, “It is easy to die for Christ. It is hard to live for Him. Dying takes only a few minutes – or at worst an hour or two – but to live for Christ means to die daily to myself.”

Beloved, in our daily lives we have opportunities to show the world that Jesus is on the throne, so to speak. All we need to do is die to self.

Where do you need to die to yourself and thereby reveal Jesus enthroned?

#2 – Hold Loosely And You Reveal Satan Enthroned (v14-17)

Sauron was defeated largely because of Gandalf’s hidden strategy to destroy the one ring of power. With the good guys coming at the bad guys head on, the Great Eye of Barad-dûr was kept distracted until it was too late.

Satan was employing a similar strategy. As the bad guy, he came at the believers head-on. He killed Antipas. But while the saints were faithfully enduring a direct assault, the serpent had secretly slithered in to their midst.

Satan is always playing the long-game.

You don’t know what it is. But you can be prepared for it.

That’s one reason it is so important to continue in doctrine, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

Rev 2:14  But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.

They were “there,” not just in the city, but in the meetings of the church.

Balaam’s story is recorded in chapters twenty-two through twenty-four of the Old Testament Book of Numbers. The nation of Israel was marching from Egypt to the Promised Land. No Gentile nation could withstand them on their journey as they walked with God through the wilderness. They seemed invincible.

King Balak of Moab was terrified of them. He sent for a Gentile seer named Balaam, to employ him to curse the nation of Israel. Three times Balaam tried to curse them but each time God overcame him and the words he spoke blessed them instead.

Unable to curse them, but still desiring the money that Balak had offered him, Balaam counseled Balak on how he might yet stop the march of the Jews.

Balaam understood that the only way to defeat them was to entice them to sin against God. Then God would step in to discipline them Himself.

Balaam told Balak to send the temple priestesses into the camp of Israel to seduce the Jewish men into celebrating their pagan feast of Baal-Peor. The feast involved idolatry and sexual immorality.

The plan worked. The Israelite men worshipped idols, and had sex with the priestesses.

Their sin had devastating results. God sent a plague into the camp of the Israelites, as a discipline, that killed twenty-four thousand of them.

Jewish men were sinning openly…God was killing people…And no one was doing a thing about it!

Then this happened:

Num 25:6  And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
Num 25:7  Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand;
Num 25:8  and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.

These folks in Pergamos did not call themselves Balaamites. Jesus exposed them by using the story from Numbers. They were little Balaams.

What were the Pergamos Balaamites promoting?

“To eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” A portion of the meat served in the various temples was first offered in sacrifice to the god of that temple. The worship of the gods involved sexually immoral practices.

The influence of the Balaamites was to tell the saints it was fine – even mature – to visit the pagan temples. Go ahead, eat the sacrificed meat. And, ultimately, engage in the immoral sexual practices there.

The problem was compounded because food was served all the time in the temples, not just in religious rituals. There were food booths and restaurants.

In those days, you didn’t go to McDonalds; you went to McDionysus… Or to Bacchus King… Poseidon Hut… Cronos Junior… Little Caesars… Taco Baal.

The temple food was superb. But it was food that had been offered to an idol, leading to idolatry and sexual sin.

Is the church today under assault from within by Balaamites? Let me preface my remarks by quoting from Genesis:

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (1:47).
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (2:24)

There are two genders: Male and female. Marriage is one biological male and one biological female in an exclusive heterosexual, monogamous covenant of companionship for as long as they both shall live.

A quick look at Wikipedia identifies twenty-two denominations in North America (Protestant and Catholic) that affirm the LGBTQ agenda. They no longer acknowledge that homosexuality or transgender identity are sexual sins.

It didn’t occur overnight. Balaamites slithered in to the North American denominations. Unlike the snakes in the temple of Asclepius, these snakes are deadly poisonous.

In related news: The Australian province of Victoria has criminalized prayer that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation.
The offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to ten years. UK activists are lobbying for similar legislation. It will be coming our way soon.

Rev 2:15  Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

Pages-and-pages have been written on these guys to no avail in solving exactly what they believed and taught. It’s a good thing we don’t know more about them. If we did, we’d concentrate on their particular teachings. Instead we can see them as a placeholder for any and all false teachings.

Here is a quote on the subject of tolerance:

The original definition of tolerance and the way in which the word is used now are quite different. Originally, tolerance meant to acknowledge that others have differing beliefs and accept that it is their right to do so. In this way, Christians are to absolutely be tolerant. Recently, tolerance has come to mean accepting that those other beliefs are true – something Christians absolutely cannot do.

Rev 2:16  Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

The saints were tolerating sin in their church. Up until then, there was no Phinehas to wield God’s Word against them.

There is a very strong distinction between “you” – the believers – and “them” – the false teachers. The believers should do something about “them” or else the Lord would come and deal with it.

You might think, “That’s great! Let the Lord handle it.” That isn’t how we ought to think.

The apostle Paul urged the factious believers in Corinth to set things in order before he arrived.

He put it this way: “What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” (First Corinthians 4:21).

The saints in Pergamos ought to “repent” by immediately doing something about the problem. Otherwise the Lord would, but it probably would also involve a “rod” of discipline.
Rev 2:17  “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 to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”

“He who has an ear” means the things in these letters are for any believer at any time.
“What the Spirit says to the churches” (plural) means that the things in each letter are for any church at any time.

“Him who overcomes” is not a super-saint. In one of his letters in the New Testament, John says a born-again believer in Jesus is an overcomer.

The average, everyday believer in Jesus Christ can count on some things in the future.

He or she can expect some of “the hidden manna to eat.” Manna was the bread that fell from Heaven which fed the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The “hidden manna” refers to the manna that was put in the Ark of the Covenant that was covered by the Mercy Seat within the Holy of Holies of the wilderness Tabernacle.

To eat some of the hidden manna you would need to be in the Holy of Holies in God’s Temple.

Any moment, the church could be in Heaven, in God’s Temple. Why get so insistent about indulging our flesh at the ‘temples’ of the world when we will one day be in Heaven?

The wilderness-wandering Jews grew tired of eating only manna. So can we. In our case, the manna is God’s Word. We want to add to it ingredients from the world.

I was thumbing through an old recipe book when I came across one recipe that called for ammonia. You probably already knew that there is a kind of ammonia used in baking – ammonium carbonate. I didn’t. (Don’t worry; I didn’t kill anyone).

The world that Satan is god over urges you to add its ingredients. You are prone to add something deadly. Christian con carnal is not good.

“And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”’
Apparently it was common to use stones the way we use tickets. Think of it like having a wristband or a hand stamp that allows you access to an event.

The ultimate invitation… The capital “E” coupon… Is our invitation to the future Marriage Supper of Jesus that believers are going to attend as His bride.

My mom used to tell me junk food would ruin my appetite for dinner. The junk food of the world system Satan heads can ruin our spiritual appetites.

“And on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”

It’s pretty common for believers to be renamed:

In the Old Testament, Abram was renamed Abraham, Sarai was renamed Sarah, and Jacob was renamed Israel.
In the New Testament, Jesus told Simon that he would be called Peter.

Do you have endearing, pet names for those you love? A name that no one else is really allowed to use? That’s the idea here.

Satan was not only their nemesis, trying to kill more believers like he did Antipas. He was their neighbor. He was in church with them.

I don’t know where Satan’s throne is today. It’s probably not where we’d guess. It doesn’t matter anyway; we’re not told to try to discover it. Or to do anything to assail it. Our warfare is right in front of us.

If you are in Christ, you desire to reveal Jesus enthroned. Remember the words of Sundar Singh:

“Dying takes only a few minutes – or at worst an hour or two – but to live for Christ means to die daily to myself.”

Prophecy Update #646 – You Just Watch Me

These are exciting times for believers in Christ who are interested in Bible prophecy. Many things that are suggested by unfulfilled, future prophecies seem to be trending like never before.

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to discuss some of those things.

✎ We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news and information.
✎ We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect from reading the Bible literally.

In the future Great Tribulation, the world leader we know most commonly as the antichrist will exercise totalitarian control over his citizens. We are told that “All, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, [will] receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Revelation 13:16-17).

It would seem that the apostle John was shown how what we call biometrics would be used to surveil and control the lives of those under antichrist’s reign.

You would expect that the nations of the world to be trending toward a surveillance state made possible by biometrics.

Thanks largely to the COVID19 pandemic, a biometric surveillance state is happening all around the globe.

I’ll highlight a few things I ran across this week.

Regarding COVID19 & Quarantine Enforcement:

✎ In Hong Kong, authorities are requiring the use of a bracelet and an app for all travelers. 
✎ The Home Quarantining app the Polish government requires involves mandatory check-ins.
✎ South Korea uses GPS to track locations to ensure against quarantine breach, sending alerts if people leave designated areas.
✎ Singapore requires people to report their location with photographic proof.
✎ Thailand is using an app and SIM cards for all travelers to enforce their quarantine.
✎ Ecuador is reportedly using GPS data on mobile phones. 
✎ India is stamping the hands of people arriving at airports to specify the duration of their quarantines, and deploying drones to monitor social distancing.
✎ In Serbia, the police and military monitor people in quarantine.
✎ Vietnam is using a network of informants.
✎ In Montenegro social media users have been been publicly naming patients.
✎ Greece is using drones to enforce lockdowns.

Regarding COVID19 & Telecommunications Data:

At least 27 countries are using data from cellphone companies to track the movements of their citizens, and at least 30 have developed smartphone apps for the public to download.

In Turkey the government is forcibly tracking people over 65, who are not allowed to leave their homes.

When the phone belonging to an American University student in Taiwan, who was subject to 14 days’ quarantine after returning from Europe, ran out of battery power, in less than hour he had received phone calls from four different local administrative units, a text message notifying him he would be arrested if he had broken quarantine, and a visit from two police officers.

In order to enforce mandatory 14-day quarantine orders, Kenyan authorities have been tracking mobile phones of people suspected to have COVID19. Police enforcement efforts have led to several deaths: three died of injuries from being beaten, one, a 13-year-old boy, was hit by a bullet.

COVID19 & Apps:

Citizens in China were required to install the Alipay Health Code app, fill in personal details, and then were issued with a QR code with one of three colors denoting quarantining status. The app reportedly shared location data with the police. 

In some cases, such as Indiana University, UMass Amherst, and the University of New Hampshire, universities are requiring students to make a blanket commitment to install unspecified tracking apps that the universities may specify in the future, leaving students potentially unable to protect their own privacy – despite the lack of strong evidence that these apps work to protect health.

https://privacyinternational.org/examples/tracking-global-response-covid-19

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 calls for legal identity for all by 2030. They mean digital identity. For example, an article posted on economist.com was titled, COVID19 spurs national plans to give citizens digital identities.

Another article was titled, Ready or not, biometric payment cards and immunity passports have arrived. The author noted that these developments have been accelerated by the current pandemic.

Surrender of privacy… Constant surveillance… Digital ID… Restricted movement and travel… Enforced compliance…

This is just the kind of stuff that we expect from a literal, futurist reading of unfulfilled Bible prophecy.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.
We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

The Waiting Game (Acts 24:22-27)

On November 11, 1939, the Centenary Gentleman (of Centenary College in Shreveport, LA) squared off against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in what is remembered as “The Craziest Game In College Football History.” The match would go on to set 13 NCAA records, despite the fact that it ended in a scoreless tie. It was the fourth rainiest day of the year and the field became a huge mud patch.

With “traditional offense ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst (due to injuries and turnovers, of which there were many), the best option for gaining field position was to [punt] and hope the returner…fumble[d] the ball. Both teams went all in on [this] strategy, punting a combined total of 77 times, with 67 coming on first down. During one stretch in the 2nd half, there were 22 punts in a row. The game ended with 30 yards of total offense (31 for Centenary, -1 for Texas) and a 0-0 score.”

If Governor Felix had played football, he would’ve been a punter. Throughout his story he is unwilling to make final decisions, not because he’s unable, but because he lived his life playing games. He played games in his career, he played games in his marriage. Often he played games with people’s lives. He was constantly involving himself in schemes to get what he wanted, despite the risks and potential for disaster. All along, the most dangerous game he was playing was with his eternal soul.

This passage has a lot to say about how gracious God is and gives we Christians encouragement about never giving up hope for the lost individuals around us. But most of all it is a message for those who do not believe. This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning for you about the game you’re playing and the judgment you face if you will not accept Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation.

When we left off, Felix the punter had just heard testimony against Paul and then his defense. We pick back up in verse 22.

Acts 24:22 – 22 Since Felix was well informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.”

From the start we see that Felix is playing the waiting game. It becomes very obvious that he doesn’t believe any of the charges against Paul – he didn’t think he was an insurrectionist or that he tried to defile the temple. But Felix wasn’t interested in justice. He was interested in his position. He doesn’t want to agitate the Jewish leaders, so he punts. There’s no need to have Lysias come down to Caesarea, he had already sent an official statement, giving his opinion of Paul’s innocence.

Some scholars believe the text should read like this: “When Lysias…comes down…and I can become more informed about The Way…I will decide your case.” That might be what he said, but it seems hardly believable that he, as governor of the region, did not have some understanding of Christianity. He had been posted in the region for 5 or 6 years. The whole Roman world was being saturated by this teaching. And in Caesarea, not only had there been an established church for 25 years, one of the most prominent Centurions in the city was a devout, Spirit-filled believer.

We also note that there’s no indication Lysias ever came or was even sent for. Felix was just trying to buy himself time.

Acts 24:23 – 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs.

Felix didn’t think Paul was a flight risk and it’s clear he didn’t think he was going to incite violence if his friends were allowed to visit him. As an aside – it seems unlikely that Cornelius would’ve been the centurion referenced here, though I suppose it’s possible. But church historians do record that the second bishop in the church at Caesarea was named Cornelius. Was it the same guy that we read about in Acts 10? We don’t know. But we can be confident that his years of service in the Roman army and in the city would’ve led to other Christians, both in and out of uniform.

We’ve seen before that Paul was usually the one caring for his friends. On his missionary journeys he not only worked to support himself but those who traveled with him. But now, things are different. God has allowed this season in his life where there would be a lot less movement and activity. And now it would be they who would take care of him.

As an application: We want to be growing in our sensitivity to the needs of the Christians around us. In our culture we sometimes have this weird issue where we really need help, but we don’t want to ask for it. And the more we need the less we ask for it. If you need help, come to your spiritual family. And if you see a brother or sister in need, find a way to be a part of meeting that need.

Acts 24:24 – 24 Several days later, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and listened to him on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus.

For 20 years there has been an annual auction held on eBay to benefit a San Francisco charity. The item being bid on is a power lunch with Warren Buffet. In 2019 the lunch sold for $4.5 million. If you can afford a lunch like that, I’m not sure you really need The Oracle of Omaha’s advice, but that is neither here nor there.

What an amazing sit down this couple had with the Great Apostle. Just the 3 of them, maybe a soldier hanging around in the background. They come in and say, “Tell us about Jesus.”

Before we get to that, let me tell you about this couple. Drusilla was part of the Herodian family. Her great-grandfather was the one who tried to kill baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Her great uncle was the one who killed John the Baptist. Her father was the one who killed James and then received worship and was struck dead by God (in Caesarea, by the way). Shortly before this passage, she had been married to a foreign king, but Felix had convinced her to leave him and become his third wife.

Felix, if we’ve forgotten, was not just a procrastinator, he was also a deeply corrupt man. He hired assassins to kill the high priest Jonathan. One source described the region during his term of office as being practically anarchy.

Now, what does their meeting with Paul show us? For one thing: Even deeply secular people have an eternal hunger, because God has placed eternity in their hearts. Felix had been a slave early in life and later became what was known as a freedman. From slave to governor. He had power and position and wealth. He got the prettiest girl, stole her from a king. And yet, despite all he had clawed out for himself, there was an itch he couldn’t scratch. There was an emptiness inside of him that he couldn’t avoid. It was deep down, but there all the same. What could this poor preacher, probably still black and blue from the beating he’d received, what could he have to offer? Yet, Paul was so full of hope, so full of peace, so full of God the Holy Spirit that Felix and Drusilla decided they must hear what he had to say.

What did he have to say?

Acts 24:25 – 25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I have an opportunity I’ll call for you.”

Paul didn’t just speak in abstract terms about the Lord. I’m sure he talked to them about who Jesus is and the story of His birth, death and resurrection, but he made it a point to speak to them directly about how the truth of the Gospel was going to impact their lives and futures. He talked to them about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.

You see, Christianity is a comprehensive theology. It deals with the past, the present and the future. It’s not enough for a person to try to be good today, because that cannot make a person truly righteous. “Trying” to be good right now cannot possibly wipe out the guilt of all the sins and all the imperfections of your past. To walk through death and be granted entrance to heaven on the other side requires righteousness. You must be perfectly holy in every way, just as God is holy. You can’t have made one mistake, told one lie, taken one grain of salt that wasn’t yours, had one envious thought. Think of it this way: If you were trying to compete in the Tours de France and they hauled you in for a drug test and found trace amounts of HGH in your system, you’d be thrown out and disqualified. It wouldn’t matter if the guy next to you had more than you. It wouldn’t matter if you said, “Sure, I took a dose of HGH but I wasn’t blood doping!” You’re guilty and ineligible to even put yourself in the race.

Paul looked at this couple, who cheated and killed and lied so often in their personal lives and their public lives and told them the hard truth: If you are not righteous you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He would’ve told them about how, as a Pharisee, he dedicated his entire existence to living a righteous life and he couldn’t do it. Not even close. He would’ve told them there is none righteous, no not one. That they were sinners and the wages of sin is death.

So, their past condemned them. But what about today? What about right now? Paul preached to them about self-control. Perhaps the soldier in the background chuckled to himself as Paul talked to this man and this woman about dying to self and bringing their wicked hearts under dominion. The fact that they had called for this meeting reveals that they felt something was wrong within them. They knew they were lacking. They had everything they wanted, but inside it was never enough. They always craved more. Day after day they found themselves giving in to wicked desires and the worst parts of themselves. Even if they had wanted to do the right thing, they couldn’t do it. Tacitus wrote that Felix “practiced every kind of cruelty and lust.” Drusilla was no better. They might rule a region but they had no control over their own hearts. They were ruled by their cravings and their circumstances. Paul would’ve shared with them about how he had the same struggle before he was born again. But now that he had been saved, everything was different. He was content in any circumstance. He still had temptations to contend with, but now they couldn’t overcome him anymore. Now, instead of being empty, God had filled him with joy and purpose and the ability to do what was good rather than be ruined by his own bad choices.

He preached to them about the judgment to come. A man like Felix had to worry every day that his sins would find him out, that he’d receive that summons to stand before Caesar because of some corrupt thing he’d. Paul explained that Felix didn’t know the half of it. He said, “One day you’re going to stand before the King of kings and you have no defense. You have wronged Him. You have blasphemed Him. You have committed constant acts of treason against Him and you will be judged.” Christian theology isn’t just about some present feeling. It’s not like transcendental meditation where I go through some thoughts and beliefs so that I can have a more restful day with lower blood pressure. The days of this life are a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. Christ came that we might have life everlasting. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross in order to pay the debt we each owed. His work, His substitute, offered to us as a free gift, is able to cleanse us of all our guilt, give us power for living today and the hope of heaven.

They said, “Tell us about Christ,” and Paul responded by explaining how, through faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, all our past dealt with, indwelled by the Spirit of Christ to empower us to live a transformed life and how He finished our judgment at the cross. Now, we look forward not to the judgment seat of Christ, but the reward seat of Christ.

We see that Paul’s message hit its mark in Felix’s heart. He was convicted and realized the trouble he was in. But in that moment of fear, rather than surrender, he rallied his forces and retreated. He took another turn in the waiting game. “Leave for now, when I have an opportunity, I’ll call you.”

Maybe someone listening has been playing this game with God. You feel that tugging in your heart. You feel the weight of your sin. Or you have felt it, but you keep punting and putting it off. “One of these days, I’ll get right with God.” It’s been said, “One of these days is really none of these days.” The truth is, you don’t know if you’re going to make it home tonight. You don’t know if cancer is growing, undetected, in your body right now. God says, in His word, don’t hear this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. NOW is the acceptable time, NOW is the day of salvation!

The Philippian jailer, confronted with his sin, fell on his knees before Paul and said, “What must I do to be saved?” If you’re wondering the same thing today, this is the answer: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Saving faith includes repentance from sin. That means you not only believe God exists and that Christ died to save you, but that you agree with Him that sin is what has separated you from God. And in that belief and agreement you make the choice to turn away from your sin and instead embrace the love of God that is being offered to you.

Felix wouldn’t do it. And he missed out on the biggest, most valuable opportunity of his life. Maybe you heard about the British man who accidentally threw out a hard drive containing $270 million worth of Bitcoin. Talk about a mistake. Felix was making the biggest mistake of his life. Not on accident but because he was unwilling to die to self. So he stuffed those feelings down, drowned them out with the same old earthly things that he always gave in to. Look at verse 26.

Acts 24:26 – 26 At the same time he was also hoping that Paul would offer him money. So he sent for him quite often and conversed with him.

Not only is this immensely sad, it shows us how Felix was trapped in this cycle of sin and bad choices. Though things were more lax out in the provinces, Roman law did not look kindly on this sort of behavior. Taking a bribe was punishable by exile and confiscation of property. But he ran the risk, hoping to get a few extra bucks.

There’s no indication he was ever as effected in his heart as he was that first time he met with Paul in verse 25. Again and again he sat and received personal teaching from the Apostle, but there’s no record or hint that he ever turned to God. In fact, his behavior only became worse and he kept hardening his heart against the grace of God.

Acts 24:27 – 27 After two years had passed, Porcius Festus succeeded Felix, and because Felix wanted to do the Jews a favor, he left Paul in prison.

Felix is playing a new game now: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Why did he want to do the Jews a favor? Well, a fight broke out in Caesarea between Jews and Greeks. Felix sent in troops, authorized them to use deadly force and thousands of Jews were slaughtered. Felix then encouraged the soldiers to loot the houses of the wealthiest Jews in the city. Afterward, the Jewish community filed a grievance in Rome. Felix was recalled, barely escaped with his life, thanks to the lobbying of his brother. Though he lived to cheat another day, it was not long after that he stood before a Judge who could not be bought off – the Judge of Heaven. Felix chose to enter the next life without Christ as his atonement. And because of his refusal he has suffering in hell as his forever sentence. That’s not what God wanted for him. Look at all the Lord did to try to save this man!

Think about it: For two years when Paul could’ve been going through Asia or Europe or going to Spain like he wanted to, when he could’ve been planting churches in countless cities, God decided it would be better to have him talk to this guy and his wife. We see God’s grace, not just generally, but that, God, in His grace, truly loves individuals. He loved Felix, just like He loved Paul and just like He loves you. He was willing to stand at the door of Felix’s heart and knock time and time again. But Felix would not open the door. His example shows us some of the lengths God will go to in order to reach out to people. Undeserving people. But we see in Felix that God is not unkind, nor unjust. His grace abounds.

Some of those days must’ve been immensely frustrating for Paul. To think about what he could be doing instead of preaching to a brick wall. But there are lessons there for Christians, too. First of all: There’s no one who is so bad God doesn’t love them. Felix was a terrible man, but God wanted him. He wanted to save him and bring beauty from the ashes of his life. But second, there in verses 24 and 25 when we see that flicker of spiritual activity in his heart, it reminds us that even people who are completely immersed in wickedness still have a shot for salvation. Think of the worst, most corrupt politician in the world today. Maybe they’re too far gone to respond to the Gospel, but maybe not. The Holy Spirit works even in the darkest of hearts.

We are also reminded that the Gospel is authoritative. Felix may have held the keys to Paul’s cell, but Paul held the keys to the Kingdom. We need not fear any man, because we have the Lord with us and He has sent us out with His living Word to shine light in the darkness and cut to the heart of those trapped in their sin. Paul could speak with authority and confidence. He knew the truth. He knew the way to be saved. He didn’t withhold it or try to manipulate or play any games. He offered this truth freely.

In the mean time, as you minster, don’t lose hope and don’t be weighed down by frustration and discouragement. Be led by God and trust that He knows the best use of us as we serve Him.

Scent Of A Witness (Revelation 2:8-11)

Residents of Pawley’s Island off the Carolina coast tell the legend of the Gray Man.

In the early 1800’s, a young man was going to visit his love to ask for her hand in marriage.  Along the way, his horse stumbled and he was thrown.  He landed in quicksand which slowly pulled him under. 

When she learned of his fate, the young woman was devastated.  She took to walking the beach alone. 

One night while on her walk, she came upon a man dressed in gray staring at the ocean.  When the figure turned to her, she recognized her true love.  He told her the island was not safe and to leave.

Her family evacuated to the mainland.  That very day, a hurricane swept over Pawley’s. When they returned to the island, everything was in shambles.

Everything, that is, but one thing: Their family home was untouched.

Residents say that the Gray Man has appeared several times over the years right before a major storm.  Those who heed the warning survive, as do their homes.

As early warning systems go, the Gray Man is pretty lame. He doesn’t always appear. Maybe he is too busy hanging out with the Moth Man. The National Hurricane Center gives everyone 36hrs notice. I’d go with them.

Jesus issued a warning to the saints in the church of Smyrna.

It’s in verse ten: “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days…”

It would seem wise to get out of Dodge.

But this was not an evacuation notice.

Jesus advised them to “be faithful until death.”

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 God Released The Fragrance Of Eternal Life As Jesus Was Crushed For You, and #2 You Release The Fragrance Of Eternal Life As You Are Crushed For Jesus.

#1 – God Released The Fragrance Of Eternal Life As Jesus Was Crushed For You (v8)

You don’t need to be a linguist to see the word myrrh in Smyrna. Myrrh is a gum resin taken from a tree that was an important ingredient in several fragrances. The resin would be collected from the tree by making an incision in the outer bark. Then it would be allowed to harden. It released its fragrance only when crushed.

Myrrh was especially associated with the suffering of Jesus:

✏ The magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts for Jesus. Myrrh was significant in that it was used as an embalming agent. Their gift of myrrh indicated that Jesus was born to die.
✏ As He hung on the cross, Jesus was offered wine mingled with myrrh to drink. Myrrh in this form was an anesthetic. Jesus refused it; He refused to dull His suffering on the Cross.
✏ At His burial, Jesus was anointed with myrrh according to the burial customs of the time.

In Isaiah 53:10 (ESV), prophesying of Jesus, we read, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him.”

The apostle Paul was alluding to Jesus being crushed when he wrote, “Christ … loved us and [gave] Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice
to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).

The crushing of Jesus to obtain salvation for all who believe is the context in which the Lord will tell the saints in Smyrna to endure to the end.

Rev 2:8  “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:

The “angel of the church at Smyrna” is a reference to its pastor. He would be the most likely individual to read aloud the scroll, and thereby present the message, as it was carried from church-to-church.

Each of the seven letters opens with a description of Jesus from John’s vision of the risen Lord in chapter one.
Each time Jesus described Himself, His description was also the comfort or the correction to the dangers or difficulties that particular church was facing. Here Jesus identifies Himself as “the First and the Last.”

“First and Last” is a title for Almighty God in the Old Testament.

Notice what He couples together with this description of Himself: “Who was dead and came to life.”

When Jesus says He was dead, it means that He “became dead.”

✏ Jesus came as God in human flesh and was crucified on the Cross at Calvary.
✏ Jesus rose from the dead three days after His crucifixion.

Some of them were going to “become dead.” But, like Jesus, they would rise from the dead. It was and is the perfect word, is it not, for someone facing death?

Death stinks… Literally. One of my favorite lines in the Bible was uttered by Martha. Jesus ordered them to “take away the stone” from the tomb of her recently deceased brother, Lazarus. “Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (John 11:39).

In my support of law enforcement as Chaplain I’ve smelled the stench of death. Sometimes the cops light-up cigars to keep from being overwhelmed.

Jesus changed all that for believers. The crushing of Jesus released the sweetest spiritual fragrance the world has ever, or will ever, know. It is the fragrance of eternal life.

#2 – You Release The Fragrance Of Eternal Life As You Are Crushed For Jesus (v9-11)

Would you knowingly go to an unlicensed doctor?

Under Domitian, emperor worship was made compulsory.

Each year every citizen had to burn incense on Caesar’s altar while saying, “Caesar is Lord.” They would then be issued a certificate attesting to their loyalty.

Think of the certificate the way we do licenses.

Christians could not, in good conscience, burn incense and declare that Domitian was god. Thus in verse nine,

Rev 2:9  “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

The majority of Bible scholars say the word “works” is not in the best surviving Bible manuscripts. The three difficulties the Smyrnaean believers faced were tribulation, poverty, and blasphemy.

✏ Why poverty? You’re a believer. You can’t offer incense to Caesar. But you don’t want to disobey the government, and you can’t work without a license.
✏ Why tribulation? Maybe you take the position that you are going to remain working without a license. When the authorities find out, you’re in deep, deep trouble.

How were the authorities finding out? Jews – who, by the way, were exempted from emperor worship – would rat you out on account of their hatred for Jesus and His followers. They “blasphemed” you to the authorities.

“Those who say they are Jews and are not” is a description that has garnered lots of speculation from commentators. End of the day, Jesus was referring to the physical descendants of Abraham who faithfully attended synagogue. Jews. They were “not” Jews to Jesus because of their unbelief.

Once when He was on the earth, in a tense confrontation with Jesus, the Jews accused Him of being Mary’s illegitimate son. Jesus replied, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44).

Regardless their claim to be descended from Abraham, Satan had taken over their synagogue, and they were doing his bidding in blaspheming all those who were in Christ.

Jesus said of the mistreated believers, “but you are rich.” They were rich in the spiritual currencies of Heaven.

You are wealthy beyond your wildest imagination.

Nowhere was life more dangerous for a Christian. If I’m in Smyrna, I’m looking to evacuate before things get any worse. Seems like I’d be safer in any of the other six cities. I have to think some of the believers had already fled. Maybe to Arkansas. (That’s the new Eden for Californians relocating, BTW).

Rev 2:10  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

As of the writing of the Revelation, no one had been imprisoned or martyred. Not yet.

Notice these key phrases: things which you are about to suffer, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, you will have tribulation.

Read verse ten carefully and you realize that Jesus was telling them to stay put…to submit to imprisonment…to submit to “death” as His martyrs.

Jesus understood evacuation. When just a child, Joseph and Mary were told to flee to Egypt with Him to avoid His being murdered by King Herod.

But Jesus also knew blasphemy, false imprisoning, and death for His testimony.

Jesus got very specific. He told them they would have “tribulation ten days.” There are all kinds of interesting theories about what “ten days” means, e.g., it means a long but definite period of time; or it refers to ten successive future periods of persecution through the centuries.

It most likely means ten days…ten 24hr days

Limited periods of persecution are common in biblical history. For example:

✏ Genesis 7:4  “… I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.”
✏ Numbers 14:33  “And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years…”
✏ Jeremiah 29:10  “For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.”

How long is the future Great Tribulation going to last? Seven years; no more, no less.

Then there was that time in Persia… Wicked Haman lobbied the King to pass a law saying it was legal “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions” (Esther 3:13).

That potential one-day of infamy was the time Queen Esther stepped-up to save the Jews in Persia from annihilation. Haman’s plot backfired big time.

No reason to take the ten days as anything but literal days exists.

Jesus said, “that you may be tested.” Listen to this quote:

“The same word refers to the demonic attacks destined to befall unbelievers on earth during the future hour of trial, but here its sense is that of testing by persecution. It does not mean a trial for the purpose of proving them, but a trial by way of enticing them to fall away. The prominent thing is the declared role of Satan in soliciting Christians to sin by renouncing their faith.”

This wasn’t a trial from God; this was an assault by the devil. We trip all over ourselves theologically trying to understand or explain why God permits such things.

It’s not really that unusual. Maybe this illustration will help. Let’s say it’s a time of war. To achieve the greater good, you and your fellow soldiers are commanded to hold your position at all costs. Your valor will save thousands of lives; but it will most likely cost yours, and your men’s.

We see that as heroic. We honor those men with medals.

We are in a war – a cosmic, spiritual war – and there will be casualties.

Why do we think an earthly military war requires the ultimate sacrifice, but that the cosmic struggle for souls should not?

We are soldiers. We are not privy to understand all of the Lord’s strategies in the war. The Smyrnaean believers were told to stay put and endure the test, even unto death.

Not everyone in the church would die as a martyr, but each one should be willing to.

Literally Jesus said, “Stop being afraid.”

Johnny Fontane was denied the lead role in a movie. Talking about it to his godfather, he began to weep. Don Corleone rose to his feet, grabbed him by the hands, and shouted, “You can act like a man!” Then he slapped him, saying “What’s the matter with you?” He went on to mock his crying.

While I don’t recommend the Godfather’s methods, his message was spot-on.

We need to quit whining and act like believers.

John had appointed Polycarp bishop in Smyrna. Polycarp was burned at the stake and pierced with a spear for refusing to burn incense. Church history has it that on the day of his martyrdom, Polycarp said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked.”

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records the smell of the burning, “not as burning flesh, but as gold and silver refining in the furnace. We received also in our nostrils such a fragrance as proceeds from… precious perfume.”

Some of the sources I searched say it is likely Polycarp was in the meeting when the Revelation was read. Do the math:

✏ Polycarp was born in 69AD and he died in 155AD at age 86.
✏ The revelation was written somewhere around 95AD. Polycarp would have been in his late 20’s, or early 30’s, at the time of its circulation.
✏ The apostle John, who wrote the Revelation, died around 100AD.

If, as church historians hold, John appointed Polycarp bishop in Smyrna, he was likely there to hear the letter. In fact, he may have been the “angel” who read it aloud.

The various pagan temples scattered around Smyrna were called “the crown of Smyrna.”

It was similar to the volcanoes scattered around our region that we call “the ring of fire.” In a play on words, Jesus promised them the crown of life.

This is the type of crown given to those who were victorious in an athletic competition. It is more what we would call a garland or a wreath.

There are various other crowns available to us. You can look them up. Yes, we will toss our crowns at Jesus’ feet in heaven (Revelation 4:10). But that only makes me want them all the more. Their use as an object to honor the Lord increases rather than decreases their value.

When you graduate from high school or college or an academy you toss your cap up into the air. It represents the achievement, but also the joy of its completion. You’re gonna want a crown or two in Heaven.

Rev 2:11  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ‘

✏ “He who has an ear” makes everything in these letters applicable to any Christian anywhere at anytime.
✏ “To the churches” makes everything in each letter applicable to any church anywhere at any time.

The “second death” is explained later in Revelation, in verses eleven through fifteen of chapter twenty.

The second death is the judgment of all nonbelievers from all of time. Having rejected eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, they are cast alive into the Lake of Fire – into Hell – to suffer for eternity.

Christians need have no fear of death, especially of the second death. Death for the believer is a departure for home. They will never stand before the terror of the Great White Throne. Instead they will stand before their Lord at His reward seat.

✏ Christians die once – or maybe not at all
✏ Nonbelievers die twice

We talked previously at some length about what it means to be an “overcomer.”
It doesn’t only apply to super-Christians. It is synonymous with being saved. If you are born of God, born again, you are an overcomer.

Satan has his strategies. No one is better at counter-strategy than is Almighty God.

My strategy in Smyrna would be to have all the Christians evacuate. At that moment in history, the Lord determined that his troop of saints could do the best witnessing by dying as martyrs.

We need reminding that while what God permits may make no sense to us, it is wisdom in the warfare.

No Bible study about the believers spiritual fragrance would be complete without referencing Second Corinthians 2:14-16,

2Co 2:14  Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
2Co 2:15  For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
2Co 2:16  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

I’d say the chances are pretty good none of us will die as martyrs. But according to the apostle Paul, we are nonetheless diffusers of the fragrance of eternal life in our daily witness.

Let’s go out into the stench of the world with the scent of a witness.

Prophecy Update #645 – Made In China

These are exciting times for believers in Christ who are interested in Bible prophecy. Many things that are suggested by unfulfilled, future prophecies seem to be trending like never before.

We reserve a few minutes Sunday morning to discuss some of those things. We are careful to use recognized, reliable sources for news and information.

We’re not saying the things we report are the fulfillment of prophecy – only that they are the things you’d expect from reading the Bible literally.

Jesus said that the End Times would be “As it was in the days of Noah.” He told us more precisely, “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…” (Matthew 24:38).

Back in Genesis, in the days before the flood, we read,

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

“Sons of God” is a term meaning angels. Fallen angels were marrying, and mating with, human women.

These are the marriages Jesus was referencing.

Their offspring, called “giants,” were a kind of human-angel hybrid. Satan was attempting to corrupt human DNA. Perhaps that is why the Scripture tells us that Noah was “perfect in his generations,” a word that can mean descendants (Genesis 6:9).

This might be referring to his DNA being fully human, thus his kids could repopulate the earth with human DNA once the flood did away with the corruption.

(That was a very quick overview. If you want to know more about this stuff, we did a series called The Days of Noah. It’s on the website & available as a podcast).

You would expect DNA to be a huge topic in the End Times. It is.

The latest information I came across is, quite frankly, terrifying. Here’s the tag line of the report that aired on 60 Minutes: US officials say the Chinese government is trying to collect Americans’ DNA.

The interviews featured three experts:

➡ Bill Evanina, who recently stepped down as the top counterintelligence official in the US, and is a veteran of both the FBI and CIA.
Supervisory Special Agent Edward You, a former biochemist turned FBI investigator.
Sophie Richardson, director of the China program for Human Rights Watch.

Excerpts:

Different branches of government have taken action over the past year to stem the tide of our medical data flowing to China. The quest to control our biodata has become the new space race.

Edward You: The authoritarian government of China has been boldly open about their ambitions to beat the West and reap the benefits of advances in DNA science and technology. They absolutely want to be the dominant leader in this biological age. They are building out a huge domestic database. And if they are now able to supplement that with data from all around the world, it’s all about who gets the largest, most diverse data set. And so, the ticking time bomb is that once they’re able to achieve true artificial intelligence, then they’re off to the races in what they can do with that data.

Bill Evanina: Current estimates are that 80% of American adults have had all of their personally identifiable information stolen by the Communist Party of China. 

The concern is that the Chinese regime is taking all that information about us – what we eat, how we live, when we exercise and sleep – and then combining it with our DNA data. With information about heredity and environment, suddenly they know more about us than we know about ourselves.

Edward You: Think about the dawn of the Internet of Things and the 5G networks and smart homes and smart cities. There are going to be sensors everywhere. It’s gonna be tracking your movement, your behavior, your habits. And ultimately, it’s gonna have a biological application. Data is absolutely gonna be the new oil. 

This next piece of news is really disturbing.

The Communist Party is already using DNA data against populations within China.

Sophie Richardson: China has rounded up more than a million Uyghurs, Chinese citizens who are a Muslim minority, and jailed them in camps. They’re being subjected to political indoctrination. They can’t use their own language. They’re not allowed to worship. Those people are highly restricted in how they can live their lives. 

It’s a region that’s awash in surveillance technology, ranging from facial recognition software, surveillance cameras, data doors, and Wi-Fi sniffers.

Part of the social control includes the forced collection of DNA. Under the guise of free physicals for Uyghurs, Richardson says China is actually collecting DNA and other biometric data that’s then used specifically to identify people, target other family members and refine facial recognition software. And those, national security officials say, are just the uses we know about.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biodata-dna-china-collection-60-minutes-2021-01-31/

According to the BBC, “Women in China’s reeducation camps for Uyghurs have been systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured.”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-55794071

The 60 Minutes interview ended by saying, “It’s not just China that’s recognized what a valuable commodity your DNA can be. Some of the fastest-growing US tech companies are in this space, as well. In fact, you may have already surrendered your DNA by spitting in a tube.” (A reference to at-home SARS-CoV-2 spit tests that millions of Americans have participated in).

DNA manipulation… Totalitarian control… Surrender or seizure of privacy… Enhanced Artificial Intelligence… Pervasive surveillance. Not to mention globalism, a cashless economy, and the technology necessary to be identified by your biometrics.

This is just the kind of stuff that we expect from a literal, futurist reading of unfulfilled Bible prophecy.

We believe the resurrection and rapture of the church is imminent. It could happen any moment; nothing needs to happen before it. It will definitely happen before the Tribulation.

Jesus will return in the clouds. He will raise the dead in Christ. He will transform the bodies of living believers to glorified, resurrection bodies.

We will all join Him in Heaven while the earth endures one final seven-year campaign of severe evangelism.

Are you ready for the rapture? If not, Get ready; Stay ready; Keep looking up.

Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

The Lyin’ Lawyer (Acts 24:1-23)

We find ourselves in another courtroom drama tonight. This section of Paul’s life is full of them, each with its own particularities and characteristics. In this section, a prominent feature is the attorney brought in by the prosecution to build a case against Paul. His name is Tertullus and he’s a ringer.

Joe Jamail was, perhaps, the most successful trial lawyer in history. They called him the “king of Torts.” Before his death, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $1.7 billion, winning hundreds of million dollar rulings for his clients and five verdicts for over $100 million. The crown jewel of his career was winning a $10.5 billion ruling against Texaco. Though Joe was charitable in some ways (he donated hundreds of millions to education, medical research and the performing arts), he also had quite a mean streak. “Salty language” doesn’t begin to describe the way he talked and he once defeated a client so soundly he demanded the opposing attorney give him the suit he was wearing. He said, “I’ve got your money. Now I want your clothes.” Joe hung it on display in his office.

What do you do when Joe Jamail comes through the door? Paul was facing a guy like that in Acts 24. And yet, in his opening statement, Paul will testify that he was “cheerful” to present his defense. He was in good spirits. He knew that characters like Tertullus or Joe Jamail are flashy, well-paid, and often win a lot of temporary victories, but no matter how effective they may seem they cannot compare to our Advocate in heaven. And it is in the eternal courtroom where the case really matters.

Acts 24:1 – Five days later Ananias the high priest came down with some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus. These men presented their case against Paul to the governor.

Paul appeared alone in this scene. He had been whisked away by hundreds of Roman soldiers when they heard about an assassination plot against him in Jerusalem. In contrast, these enemies of the Gospel show up with pomp and authority. The high priest himself makes the long trip, along with an entourage of Israel’s leadership and this attorney. We don’t know a lot about him. Based off his name it’s possible he was, in fact, a Roman and not a Jew at all. He was a skilled orator and understood the complexities of Roman law. Though he had been hired only a few days before he does a remarkable job putting together a case against Paul. It’s especially remarkable when we remember there was no evidence for any wrong doing. Yet, after hearing him speak you’d have to think Paul was public enemy number one.

Acts 24:2-4 – 2 When Paul was called in, Tertullus began to accuse him and said, “We enjoy great peace because of you, and reforms are taking place for the benefit of this nation because of your foresight. 3 We acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with utmost gratitude. 4 But, so that I will not burden you any further, I request that you would be kind enough to give us a brief hearing.

Commentators point out that, in the text, Tertullus spends as much time flattering Felix as he does presenting a case against Paul. Makes sense – win over the judge and you’re much more likely to win the case. But, man is he going overboard! You look at all he’s ascribing to Felix. He’s acting like he’s a god among men! “Because of you we have peace! Because of you the whole nation is benefitted! In every way and everywhere we should be worshipping you with thankfulness!” In fact, where we read ‘foresight,’ Tertullus actually uses the word for providence!

Unfortunately, none of this was true. Felix is remembered by historians as a brutal and deeply corrupt politician. Robert Girard writes:

“Few periods in Judean history were marred by more unrest and terrorism…The years of A.D 52-59 when Felix was procurator were years of unparalleled government corruption!”

So, Tertullis is laying it on thick. Maybe too thick. Some think his quick shift in verse 4 when he says, “so that I will not burden you any further,” may have been due to even Tertullus getting annoyed at how much he’s being buttered up.

Before we move on, a quick reminder for us: Real peace and reform and providence comes from the Lord, not from the world. Right now our culture is obsessed with politics and administrations and figures in government. The good news for us is that, whether we’re talking about a born again, Spirit filled politician like Sergius Paulus (the governor of Cyprus) or a monstrous killer like Felix, the Lord is the One in charge and He is never hamstrung. Our hope is never built upon a certain law or a certain administration or a certain system. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. He is the source of peace and transformation and His providence cannot fail.

Acts 24:5-8 – 5 For we have found this man to be a plague, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the Roman world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to desecrate the temple, and so we apprehended him. By examining him yourself you will be able to discern the truth about these charges we are bringing against him.”

Wiersbe points out that they brought 3 charges against Paul: One personal, one political, one theological. All of which were meant to pressure Felix into promptly executing the apostle.

First, the personal: They said, “This guy is like a deadly virus spreading throughout the entire empire. He causes trouble everywhere he goes!” It’s interesting because you could go back through his travels and see that there was, indeed, trouble and rioting just about everywhere he went. In multiple instances he would arrive somewhere and violence would break out. But we know the whole story. Paul never set out to agitate anyone. His hope was revival in the hearts of one or many. And, in opposition to the Gospel of grace, the enemies of God would rally and riot and try to destroy.

Christians are not meant to agitate. Now, it’s clear that the Gospel will be offensive to people and our message will be the savor of death. But our mentality is always supposed to be rooted in love and compassion. If our mindset is, “I want to go wreck some opponent of God,” well, that’s not the way that the Lord and His disciples behaved. We’re not called to behave like disturbers of the peace, but to be peace makers in a hostile environment.

Tertullus made a political charge against Paul, calling him a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” The term he used was full of connotations. It was a word used of a man who stood before soldiers. He means to paint Paul as a revolutionary who threatened Rome. This argument, perhaps, fell a bit flat since this so-called “ringleader” stood alone in the courtroom that day. No soldiers there to support him. No mob protesting outside.

Now, anyone who listened to Paul would know he didn’t call for political uprising. His message was so much higher than that. And what a good thing that Paul wasn’t constantly political in his message because, not only would that distract people from a much more important issue (the salvation of their souls), it may have led to his ruin in this trial. No, Paul didn’t lower himself to the level of political revolution, but instead, like his Lord, his life was dedicated to personal transformation. And what’s been proven again and again is that it is personal transformation which leads to real and lasting social change.

Third, Tertullus made a theological accusation: Paul had tried to defile the temple. There was absolutely no evidence of this, but the prosecution was trying to heap as much kindling on the fire as they could. Felix had frequently crucified uprisers in his jurisdiction and so their whole point was, “If you don’t get rid of this guy and quick, revolt is going to break out on your watch.

Acts 24:9 – 9 The Jews also joined in the attack, alleging that these things were true.

Reading Acts and the Gospels we quickly learn to not expect good behavior from the Jewish ruling class, but what a sad thing to read here. Remember, these were the people who were supposed to be the closest to God. The ones most acquainted with the Scripture. The ones who claimed to have dedicated their lives to honoring Yahweh. But what do we see? In order to protect their personal status, their traditions and their bigotry, they took money donated to God and paid this greasy, lying attorney to come in and manufacture a case against a man who was simply teaching people that the Messiah had come and was offering them forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven. They knew these things weren’t true, but they had decided to go all in on worldly methods to accomplish what they thought was best.

It is becoming more and more common for Christians to be suing each other in open court in blatant defiance of God’s word. There are prominent cases all the time and more that we hear about through the grapevine. Churches suing each other. Church members suing each other. Usually for money or property or some other worldly thing. It is an affront to the commands of God and His callings.

But, even beyond that direct comparison, the terrible example of these Jewish leaders in verse 9 reminds us of the folly of using worldly methods to try to accomplish spiritual goals. They thought they were honoring God. Or at least some of them did. They weren’t, of course, but part of the reason why they had gone so far off track was because they were willing to take the world’s methods, the world’s way of doing things and try to apply it to their spiritual endeavors. They were using flattery and pressure and manipulation to try to get what they wanted.

If we find ourselves buttering people up so that we can get them to do something for us, that’s Tertullus. If we find ourselves doing things that are un-Christlike in an effort to hang on to our wealth or position or security, that’s what the Pharisees and Sadducees did. These worldly levers ruin our relationship with God and we should avoid them. Which is exactly what Paul does in his defense.

Acts 24:10 – 10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied, “Because I know you have been a judge of this nation for many years, I am glad to offer my defense in what concerns me.

On first glance it might look like Paul is trying to compliment Felix, too, but that’s not what’s happening. Unlike what Tertullus said, what Paul says here is true! And he’s exampling for us something that we’re commanded in First Peter:

1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT) – 15You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

Paul demonstrates this in a patient, faithful way as he stands before Felix.

We are to always be ready to give a defense. Hearing that, I often have the connotation in my mind of a courtroom – of persecution. But, even when we live in a free land we’re to keep ourselves ready to explain our hope. And, if we’re ready, it doesn’t really matter if we’re on trial or just in conversation with a loved one. Our conduct can be the same. And, in either situation, we can be full of good cheer, like Paul was, because we know that the Lord is with us and He has filled our lives with hope!

Here’s what Paul testified:

Acts 3:11-13 – 11 You can verify for yourself that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. 12 They didn’t find me arguing with anyone or causing a disturbance among the crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or anywhere in the city. 13 Neither can they prove the charges they are now making against me.

So, first of all, instead of flattery he’s bringing facts. “Here’s what happened. You can follow up and see these things are true.” Paul didn’t live a secret life. He was an open book, whose pages were full of Godliness. His goal wasn’t to get a crowd around himself or to agitate people. Instead, this is what he was about:

Acts 3:14-21 – 14 But I admit this to you: I worship the God of my ancestors according to the Way, which they call a sect, believing everything that is in accordance with the law and written in the prophets. 15 I have a hope in God, which these men themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection,, both of the righteous and the unrighteous. 16 I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men. 17 After many years, I came to bring charitable gifts and offerings to my people. 18 While I was doing this, some Jews from Asia found me ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar. 19 It is they who ought to be here before you to bring charges, if they have anything against me. 20 Or let these men here state what wrongdoing they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin, 21 other than this one statement I shouted while standing among them, ‘Today I am on trial before you concerning the resurrection of the dead.’ ”

His defense centered around the truth of the resurrection – that there is a life after this one. He not only proclaims it as a great hope, but uses it evangelistically. He points out that the unrighteous also will rise in the end and they will face judgment.

Now, since the resurrection was the motivating factor in his life, his life was characterized by certain things. I see six in these verses: I worship, I hope, I strive, I came, I stood, I shouted.

He begins in verse 14 saying “I worship God…according to the Way.” Our first goal is worship. We want to have vision for ministry and goals for serving, but our primary objective is to worship God. Because as we draw near to Him He is able to more and more fill us with Himself and then give us His leading for those good works He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.

In verse 15 Paul said, “I have a hope…that there will be a resurrection.” It can only benefit us to fill our thoughts with our future hope. One day, all will be made right, all will be made well, we will be completed. And any present troubles we face are small and momentary when compared with the eternal weight of glory.

In verse 16 Paul said “I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” The Christian life is a life of selflessness and harmony. We don’t accomplish it perfectly, nor are we responsible for how others react to us, but our part is to carry out our duty as much as we can to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength and all our mind and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To strive indicates effort and exercise. One dictionary describes it this way: “to work up raw material with skill.” We’re to be about the business of Christian living.

In verse 17 Paul said, “I came to bring charitable gifts.” Far from being a trouble-maker, Paul was one who brought help and assistance to those in need. He brought this git to people he had never met. And he did so at considerable expense and danger to himself. While the Jews were taking holy contributions and paying for a slick attorney, Paul was making tents to pay his own way to bring relief to people suffering in Jerusalem.

In verse 20 Paul said, “I stood before the Sanhedrin.” Paul made a stand for his Savior. His job was to testify and he took those opportunities when they came his way. He upheld the truth of the Gospel and didn’t buckle or shrink when the pressure was on.

In verse 21 Paul said, “I shouted.” Even though few were listening, he kept proclaiming the resurrection. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The truth that God is alive and He is coming back. That God is willing to save anyone. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor. He loves them all and wants to give them life more abundantly, everlasting life through Jesus Christ the Messiah.

As Paul dismantled the Jew’s case against him piece by piece, he also revealed what the Christian life is full of. A living faith that operates in all sorts of ways in any sort of climate.

Here was the result:

Acts 24:22-23 – 22 Since Felix was well informed about the Way, he adjourned the hearing, saying, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered that the centurion keep Paul under guard, though he could have some freedom, and that he should not prevent any of his friends from meeting his needs.

It’s clear Felix didn’t actually believe any of the charges against Paul, but we find out later that he was hoping someone would pay him a bribe. Had the Jews realized this, instead of paying Tertullus his retainer they could’ve just slipped some money to Felix and had Paul dispatched. But the Lord providentially protected His servant. We’ll see more about the games Felix was playing next time.

But we’re told he was “well informed about the Way.” He knew what Christians were about. Thank goodness Paul filled his days with real Christianity. He really was like Jesus. The Jews couldn’t say that about their God. But Paul could. And it showed. And so he was ready to give this defense. Because his life was lived in ongoing preparation. A life overflowing with Godliness and truth and love for others. So it was obvious when Felix looked at Paul what a good life he lived because he belonged to Christ.

That’s what we get, too. Along the way trouble is sure to find us, so let’s not make it for ourselves or others. Instead, let’s glorify God as we worship, hope, strive to keep a clear conscience, stand and proclaim to the world around us that Jesus is alive and He is coming and because He lives, we will live.

Know Grow (Ephesians 1:15-19)

In 1989, Ronald Reagan left a note for his successor in the White House, George H.W. Bush. It was a simple note, written on Sandra Boynton stationary (by the way, if you have little ones in the house, get yourself all her board books). This started a tradition that has been continued by every outgoing president since. Other than Donald Trump’s, all the notes have been made public. They’ve been short, kind, often referencing the serious responsibility of the office and usually contain some vague hope that the future will be brighter in the days ahead. They’re more courteous than practical. None of them contain the nuclear launch codes or says which of the 35 bathrooms is the nicest. They’re mostly a gesture of camaraderie, despite the fact that, in several instances, the recipient was a bitter political enemy. But still, we’re fascinated to see them. We eagerly wonder, “What did they say?”

Last week in our studies through Revelation we began the section that contains 7 letters from Jesus to specific churches and anyone who has ears to hear. Though they are short, they’re not just some traditional nicety from an outgoing politician. They are practical and critical – each one an essential message from a King who is coming back to rule and reign forever.

We went through the the letter to the church at Ephesus, and we discovered that something had gone very wrong there. They were in danger of losing the most vital thing and so Jesus reached out to them to try to pull them back from the brink. I thought it fitting to go back and look at another letter that had been written to that church during a time when it was operating in love. It was about 30 years before the Lord Jesus wrote to them. This time the message was penned by the Apostle Paul, who had founded the church in that city.

It had been around 5 years since he had been in town and he was now a prisoner in Rome. Though he never expected to see his Ephesian friends again, they were not forgotten by Paul or their Savior. They were still on the Lord’s mind and so the Holy Spirit prompted and inspired Paul to write them this wonderful letter. Like the letters we find in Revelation, this one is written to us, too. Though first delivered to a local congregation in Turkey, it’s addressed to everyone who is in Christ.

The late Ray Stedman called Ephesians a letter about “how to handle life as it is.” Of course, for a Christian, handling life doesn’t just mean getting through life, but growing through life as we progress in what the Bible calls sanctification – that process by which God accomplishes great, transformative work in us, where we are more and more conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

By the time Revelation 2 was written, the Ephesian church had gone off course. But, years before, when they were still in love with the Lord, Paul still had concerns for them he wanted to address. And as he taught, he shared one of his prayers with them: A prayer to God on their behalf that they would enjoy abundant spiritual lives, full of power, satisfaction and growth.

We want that, don’t we? Well, Paul knows the way and explains it. We begin in verse 15 of chapter 1.

Ephesians 1:15 – 15 This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,

In the opening of his letter, Paul overflowed with excitement about all the blessings that God’s people receive through His grace. He describes how God’s eternal plan has been to enrich us by His love, taking away our sin and then revealing mysteries to us, bringing everything together in Christ. And all of these great things are not simply what God would like to do if He ever finds the time, these are the things that God is actually doing right now. He began it in eternity past, He continues it today. He’s making payments on this purchase.

These great thoughts of God’s grace and generosity compelled Paul to pray. Specifically, he was praying that the Ephesians Christians would not miss out on any of what God had made available to them. That they wouldn’t wander around in confusion or take some detour out of the way. Obviously, it’s possible for that to happen to churches – it happened in Ephesus 30 years later.

Though Paul founded the church there, he hadn’t been around in quite a few years. But he would ask after them and inquire about how they were doing. And the reports that came in were really great. First, they were full of faith. In the Bible ‘faith’ means not only mentally accepting certain ideas, but also when a person puts their trust in something. It can be described as the “conviction of truth,” “reliance on Christ for salvation,” “a pledge to follow Him,” and “constancy in our profession.”

Christian faith is not simply a list of doctrines that certify you as having passed some cosmic test. Rather, it is a life lived out. Your faith, Paul said, which leads to your life choices. These Christians in Ephesus believed and what a difference it made in them and the world.

But what did they believe? It was faith in the Lord Jesus. You see, their faith wasn’t just in ‘God’ or in ‘morality’ or ‘justice.’ The difference is key. Because, without an external standard, man fashions gods and morality and justice in his own image. But Jesus Christ is different than any god ever conceived in the imagination of man. If their faith was simply in moral goodness, that would do no good. Human morality changes and shifts from time to time and place to place. No, their faith was anchored in and built upon a real Person, revealed by Heaven: The Man Christ Jesus. How are we to find information about this GodMan? It is found in one place: The inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. He is revealed “in the volume of the Book.” What He said, what He did, what He’s like, what’s His plan. It is all found on the pages of Scripture. The truth of Christ and the salvation found in Him is not found by looking within at our own wicked hearts, nor at culture around us, nor even in Creation, but in what we call “special revelation” – the 66 books of the Bible.

We are hanging here a moment because this is so important. Because we are talking about life and death, meaning and purpose. Our faith must find its source and supply in the truth of Christ.

Think of it this way: How do you set a clock? If you want it to be right, you have to set it according to the right and reliable standard. We can’t set our clocks on what we feel would be best for us. We don’t just poll our friends and neighbors and get their opinion. We need to know. So we let Steve Jobs tell us. But how does Apple know what time it is? Well, the most accurate timepiece in the world is found at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. “The Master Clock is critical to much of the world’s communications, financial, and scientific infrastructure. Mundane parts of daily life like computer clocks and GPS wouldn’t work without its precise timekeeping services.”

Faith must be set to an impeccable, perfect standard: Jesus. Now, faith in Christ leads to a life like Christ’s. That’s a natural byproduct and it is God’s specific plan. And to live a life that imitates Christ means to be a person who loves. The Ephesians were. Paul said, “I’ve heard about your love for all the saints.” Now, in the Bible, a saint is not some super Christian, like they are in certain traditions. A saint is every Believer in Christ. If you’re a Christian, God considers you a saint. And saints love.

So, we find that Christianity is not simply an intellectual or doctrinal thing. To be a Christian means to be a person motivated by and overflowing with the kind of love that God demonstrated through Jesus. That love has been poured out on us and it’s meant to be exercised and enacted.

We might expect Paul to wrap up his letter right here and say, “You did it! You’re full of faith. You love everybody. So, you’ve maxed out your Christlikeness.” But that’s not the case at all. To Paul, this was the starting point of his letter! Now they were ready for a greater depth and growth in the Lord.

Ephesians 1:16 – 16 I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

In Paul’s mind the Ephesians weren’t just part of his spiritual portfolio. They weren’t just a quarterly earnings report. It wasn’t, “They’re doing good so let’s move on.” No, he had a real love for them. He spent time thinking about and praying for them. Specifically here, he was giving thanks for them.

Giving thanks to God is a needful part of our prayer lives. It’s all over the Bible. Especially when we look at the Psalms, we see that being thankful in prayer is particularly important when God’s people gather together to worship. But it’s not just an Old Testament idea. In Philippians 4 we’re told that, “in every situation…present your requests to God…with thanksgiving.”

That’s exactly what Paul was doing. And in verse 17 we get to his first request.

Ephesians 1:17 – 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit, of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

We’re only part way through the first chapter of this book and already Paul has referenced God being our Father 4 times. And what a difference that makes. God is more than just a power or a great monarch or a gatekeeper to the afterlife. He is your perfect, heavenly Father, full of unfailing love toward you. If He wasn’t our Father, think of how hopeless prayer would be. Imagine writing a letter to the President that says, “Mr. President, I’m in so need of help. I’ve got this issue going on in my family, I don’t know what to do.” There’s no chance you’d receive any real response or interaction. But go to a loving father, that’s all the difference in the world. Here’s how God talks about our prayers: “I have heard your prayers and I have seen your tears.”

You see, He is not only willing to listen, He is actually much more attentive to us than we are to Him! All His love and power and ability are bent upon accomplishing His plan to adopt us into His family and fill us with all His fullness.

So Paul says, “I pray that God would give you the spirit of wisdom.” He can’t be referring to the Holy Spirit Himself, because Paul already established that they had been sealed in the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit had been given to them as a down payment and guarantee of God’s promises.

The term used for spirit is described as a ‘vital principle,’ like breath to the body. Every component of our body needs breath, needs oxygen to do its thing, head to toe. Paul gives us an image, then, of wisdom permeating every aspect of our lives. Of course, in the Bible ‘wisdom’ doesn’t just mean smarts. It means God’s wisdom. His truth being applied to our thoughts, words, choices, decisions. It means taking what God has said and allowing that to give us a different but true perspective on reality. This is so important that God says to have this wisdom is better than having a warehouse full of gold and rubies. That nothing you desire can compare with it.

So, how do I get it? Jesus said in Matthew 7 that to hear God’s word and do it is wisdom. We’re back to the Scriptures. To know Jesus we must discover Him in the Bible. Along the way we find the riches of God’s wisdom in the same place. We’re told in Psalm 107 that to be wise is to consider the steadfast love of the Lord. To spend time thinking about how God loves us. That makes you wise!

Paul’s second request here is that they receive the revelation in the knowledge of Him. That these Ephesians would understand more about God as revealed by the words and life of Jesus Christ.

During the election cycle there was a lot of debate and speculation among Christians as to where Jesus would stand on certain policy issues or hot button topics. John, in his first epistle, made it very clear: The Christ has been revealed. His life has been described, detailed and declared. He has spoken, at length, and we are to know Him, not through cultural speculation, but by hearing His word, obeying Him and allowing Him to make His home in our hearts.

Paul’s hope was that they would have a greater and greater understanding of who God is and what that means. Not that they’d discover secret things that have never been known before, but that the lens of their awareness would be continually pulling back, allowing more and more into frame.

This is what God wants for you and I. He says that He wants to give us a new heart – His heart. He says, “Let the mind of Christ be in you.”

This is an amazing reality: The most remarkable and powerful Person in history has made it His business to make us just like Him! Paul understood this and wanted the Ephesians to understand it, too. That they would grow in this reality and, as a result, operate more and more like He did.

A skeptic might say, “Knowing things about God can’t solve my problems.” But that’s exactly what Paul is saying. John Phillips writes: “Paul’s basic answer to all of life’s problems and perplexities…[is] ‘Get to know [God].’” In other aspects this makes sense. For example, the more you know about a device or system, the better you are able to troubleshoot a problem when it arises.

But notice that what Paul wanted most for this church was a more intimate knowledge of the revealed Christ, not a greater experience of certain manifestations. As an apostle, laying the foundation of the Church, he knew this was what they really needed. Because it is through belief in the truth that we are made holy. It was a proper knowledge of the truth that would protect them from false teachings that were creeping in. It was that Biblical wisdom which would drive them to consider God’s amazing love and keep them from slipping out of their first love for Him.

Writing back, we might haven been tempted to say, “But Paul, what we want are more visible manifestations of God’s power in our midst, like the unusual miracles you worked during your time here!” But it is growth in the knowledge of God that solves problems and invigorates us to change the world. Because the truth sets us free. The truth sets us apart, directs us, leads us on, and equips us for every good work. Someone might say, “Well then we’re back to a purely intellectual religion. One all about knowledge.” But that isn’t the case. If you belong to God then His love has been shed abroad in your heart and that love starts to operate in you and through you, just as we see in the Ephesians themselves: People full of faith and love.

Ephesians 1:18-19 – 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.

Your translation may use the term “understanding” instead of heart. But Paul is talking about that deepest part of you, what we call the heart. Spiritual issues are heart issues. It’s the heart that God wants. It’s the heart where transformation must happen. There are countless scholars who have filled their brains with information about Jesus of Nazareth and the texts of the Bible, but they refuse to yield their hearts to Him. In the end, all that information will be useless to them, unless they’re willing to unclose their hearts and let Christ in as Savior and Lord.

Paul writes here that his prayer is that – as a church and as individuals – their core, the place from which comes thoughts and words and plans and desires, they would know three things:

First, the hope of His calling. If you’re a Christian, you are called to be a son of God. Let’s move from the end backwards: We are called to glorious unity with Christ in eternity. To ruling and reigning with Him in His Kingdom. To being presented in heaven faultless as a masterpiece of grace. We’re called to live out our days on this earth as active members of His Body until He comes for us. We’re called to live as heaven’s ambassadors to a lost and dying world. We’re called to serve as priests. We’re called to enjoy the fullness of a walk with God. In all of this and more we’re called to reflect God, lighting up the darkness of this world. We’re also called on the personal level, given a certain path to follow, discovering good works that God has customized for us, individually. And all of this is full of hope because, in all of it, our good God is working things together to do good for us.

Second, Paul wants them to know the wealth of His glorious inheritance. Time fails us to even begin a passable list of what this includes. In fact, we have to start thinking not in terms of individual items, but whole categories of what God has willed to us. The gifts and helps and supplies. The limitless treasures of His grace toward us. Our inheritance also includes privileges, duties, responsibilities and opportunities. Ultimately, our inheritance culminates in a place prepared for us: A mansion in a new city, in a new heaven, made for the specific purpose of our undying enjoyment of Jesus Christ.

Now, some scholars feel strongly that this reference to the inheritance is not talking about what is waiting for us, but the fact that we are Christ’s inheritance. And, it’s true, we are. What an amazing thing. Think of it: He who could have anything considers you the ultimate treasure! And today He waits with eager expectation of that moment when you are united with Him forever and ever.

Have you ever paid maybe a little too much for some item on eBay? Maybe the auction ended a little higher than you originally had hoped, but then you get the notification: You won it! Do you think think, “Whenever it comes, IF it comes, who cares?” Of course not! You’re checking that UPS tracking number every few hours. “Out for delivery!” Christ paid the highest price that could possibly be paid for the most busted up, defective stock imaginable. But in His eyes we are the pearl of great price. He sold everything that He might have us as His inheritance in glory.

The third item on Paul’s list here: The immeasurable greatness of His power. There’s no power like God’s power. It can move mountains and turn back time. It can raise up kingdoms and bring them down. It can undo any effect of evil and bring the dead out of their graves. And that power is offered to us. In this prayer we catch of glimpse of the incredible package that God has put together for us. He gives us truth to guide, provision as we go, power to do the impossible. How then can we know the mighty strength of God, if that’s what He wants for us? Should we expect to break the laws of nature at will or immediately topple every enemy? Escape any trouble? Miracles like that do happen. But the Bible explains that there are many other ways by which we know the Lord’s matchless strength. We know it by being full of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7). We know it by being full of joy (Nehemiah 8:10). We know it by being faced with impossible circumstances (Joshua 1:8-9). And God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Usually we are most interested in the mountain-shaking kind of power, but it is a transformed life that makes a greater difference in this world. The fact that Paul healed some people and had a brilliant intellect was less astounding than the fact that “he who formerly persecuted [them] now preaches the faith he once tried to destroy.” Those who heard that glorified God.

Paul’s prayer for these precious Christians was that they would know what was theirs to receive as children of God and that their love and strength and wisdom would grow and grow. He would wrap up his letter in chapter 6 by saying, “A final word: Be strong in the Lord.” How? We see it here in verse 19: Through belief. Christ has done what is necessary. He has made the way. He has invited us to take it and supplied all we need for the journey. Will we believe and obey?

Remember, this letter is not just some formality or courteous tradition. This is the path forward. This is the way to take that we might lay hold of all that Christ has won for us and promised to us. This is how we can know the power of His resurrection and be transformed from our humble condition into His glorious image.

Today, if you’re not a Christian what Paul has been praying about is not directed at you. These are hopes and plans and promises made for those who are in Christ. If you die without being born again, you get none of it. And, along the way, you do not have access to the riches of God’s grace. But you don’t have to stay that way. Jesus Christ really came from heaven to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a cross and rose again. He’s alive today and His desire is for you! He knows you and loves you more than you could ever comprehend. You are a precious jewel He wants to retrieve from the crust of the earth. But He won’t force you. He waits for you to surrender and accept His free offer of salvation. There’s no work you need to do, no price you can pay. It is by grace, through faith that you are saved. If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Saved from all the wrong things you’ve ever done. Saved from hell and adopted into the family of God, immediately being granted all the privileges of being a child of our heavenly Father. Call on the name of Jesus Christ. Tell Him you believe and will go His way. Begin your life of faith and start to know and then grow with us in His hope, grace and strength.