As the Lord led me to write in the two-part post, Revelation’s Seven Churches In Time under the category, Bible Prophecy, starting January 5, 2020, He fully commended only two of those churches whose faithful individual members had stood and would stand to the end. Besides having the Lord’s full commendation, these two churches also share in common persecution stemming from the same source He identifies as “those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not,” (Revelation 2:9, 3:9, NKJV). However, one church He urges to “Be faithful until death” to gain a crown while the other is to remain faithful so no one takes theirs (Revelation 2:10, 3:11, NKJV).
In the midst of another growing wave of irrational anti-Semitism around the world, because of love for my Lord Jesus Christ who as I stated in a recent post is Jewish forever (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38; Revelation 5:1-5, 22:16) and His people the Jews,1 I confess some discomfort at the prospect of being lumped in with those who hate them just for the cause of putting this post into its proper historical context and trumpeting the glorious prophetic end that results. Nevertheless, it is in the pure joy of celebrating that near at hand glorious prophetic end that I proceed; trusting that the Lord who has set me on this course will vindicate me in motive and His purpose.
Indeed, as the resurrected Lord Himself presents in messages to His two faithful churches, the Jews were vigorous persecutors of 1st century A.D. Christians. This is as He foretold and warned His Jewish disciples about when He was persecuted and about to be put to death by their religious leaders in Israel (John 15:18-16:4). Though the Gentile Roman Governor, Pilate, gave the order for His crucifixion, it was the Jewish religious leaders that had plotted, instigated and advocated for it (John 11:45-53, 18:1-14, 28-19:22)! Even so, He voiced His love for them all from the cross (Luke 23:34). After His death, Jewish leaders sought to cover up His resurrection (Matthew 27:62-28:15).
In fulfillment of prophecy, the risen Lord commanded His disciples turned apostles to proclaim the Gospel about Him “to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” which He reiterated just before His ascension back to Heaven and after being queried by them about the restoration of Israel’s kingdom (Isaiah 49:5-6; Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:4-8). Only a short time after persecuting Christ to the death, the Jewish religious establishment started in on His apostles to root out and destroy the growing number of Jews becoming Christians if at all possible (Acts 4:1-22). The whole rest of the Book of Acts documents the persistent opposition of Jews to the Gospel across the Roman Empire.
By the time of Christ’s end of the 1st century Revelation that gives us the one and only post-ascension description of Him in His glory (Revelation 1:9-18);2 after the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed and they scattered to the nations in A.D. 70 by the Romans as He foretold (Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:20-24), Jewish opposition and persecution of Christians is still strong as the Lord’s messages to the faithful churches at Smyrna and Philadelphia demonstrate. Part of the reason for their opposition to this day is divine judgment and part is the unbelief common to all mankind until the illumination of grace and salvation through faith (John 6:41-45, 12:37-41; Romans 9:6-11:10).
In declaring that those opposing the Gospel and Christianity “say they are Jews, and are not, but lie,” the Lord is not denying their natural descent from Abraham. He echoes what He spoke while on earth and later taught through the apostle Paul that a Jew God regards is one spiritually through new birth by the Holy Spirit of first importance (John 8:37-43; Romans 2:17-29, 4). Labeling them in their opposition to the point of blasphemy at Smyrna and Philadelphia as “a synagogue of Satan,” identifies its ultimate evil source and portrays their base of operations (John 8:44-47; Revelation 2:9, 3:9, NKJV). That opposition would stir up and be joined by Gentile authorities leading to the suffering, arrest, imprisonment and martyrdom of many Jewish and Gentile Christians.3
Dominant in the first generation of Christianity as it was spread by the apostles, Jewish Christians in the centuries that passed thereafter seemed to nearly disappear so small did their numbers become as a minority among Gentile churches.4 Many, of course, tried to maintain ties to their Jewish community to include the synagogue, but to this day continue to endure the hostility and rejection the Lord Jesus apparently addresses in His message to the church at Philadelphia. For while all of what He says is encouraging to any Christian seeking to be faithful under similar circumstances as I have personally experienced, the Lord’s message to the church at Philadelphia I am convinced of Him has special significance to those of His Jewish heritage.
1 See the February 2, 2020 post, Ethnically Diverse Mankind Is Of God, under the categories Black History and God’s Creatures.
2 Not only do we have an amazing description of the glorified Jesus Christ in His Revelation, but an objective reading of it puts more of His Lion Persona on display than
in the Gospels. This is because His first coming as the Lamb (gentle and lowly) was about being approachable and sacrificing Himself to take “away the sin of the
world,” (Matthew 11:28-30; John 1:29, NKJV). Mission accomplished, glorified and reigning seated on His Father’s throne at His right hand, Lord King Jesus is a Lion
(strong and a warrior) firmly in charge; ruling, judging and about to bring the Kingdom of God to earth in power, great glory and divine wrath at His Second Coming
(Revelation 2:5, 16, 21-23, 3:3, 14-19, 6:12-17, 19:11-16)! He is that Lion and Lamb composite (Revelation 5:5-6) the Father wills to make us over to be in Christ’s
image as aspiring strong men and great women of God (Romans 8:29)! Learn more about this in my book, The Strong Man Of God: Back To Basics. Get a print copy
or digital download at major internet booksellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBooks.com and Apple (digital only). You can also get a print copy in the
Strong Man Store.
3 Severe persecutions by Gentiles would continue until in a few centuries, Christianity became accepted in the Roman Empire and a growing number of Gentile nations
beyond though, they would not cease entirely; continuing somewhere on earth to this very hour to the end and shortly to go global as the Lord Jesus foretells (Matthew
4 To learn more about Jewish Christians after the 1st century read this Wikipedia article. Life in predominantly Gentile churches was difficult for the tiny remnant of Jewish
Christians over the centuries especially when in the arrogance of manmade religion, many of their ostensible Gentile brothers turned on, mistreated and persecuted
them as anti-Semites. Persecution became all the more intense when professed Gentile Christians joined with their wider community of unbelievers such as during
Spain’s inquisitions, Hitler’s ovens and Stalin’s gulags. To the world, a Jew was a Jew whether a Christian or not. Fear of certain reprisal is no doubt why in part Jewish
persecution of Gentile Christians became rare.
The Lord Jesus Christ loves His Church and speaks correction to and chastens those within the local churches that supposedly make it up (Revelation 3:19). This is the why and what for of His end of the first century specific messages to seven churches of Asia and their messengers in His Revelation I wrote about to open this New Year (Revelation 1:9-11, 19).1 The mere fact the Lord has something to say about what goes on in the churches demonstrates not only His knowledge, but concern that things be done in accord with His will, way and Word! He did not go away back to Heaven and turn the business of the Church over to us. He is Lord (Ephesians 1:15-23)!
In exercising His ever active Lordship over His Church from birth, the Lord Jesus presents Himself to the messenger of the church at Sardis as “He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” With authority granted by His Father (Mathew 28:18), the Son asserts His control over the fullness of the Holy Spirit represented as “the seven Spirits of God” in His activities among men and church messengers as “the seven stars” He earlier interpreted to John (Revelation 1:20). Then, after declaring He knew Sardis’ works, He drops a spiritual bomb shell on them with shock waves that reach to this very hour: they had “a name” for being “alive,” but were “dead” (Revelation 3:1, NKJV)!
The church in Sardis had a name or reputation for being alive whatever that meant for them at that time. Perhaps like some churches that were before and many that have followed them down through the centuries, professed Christians in the Sardis church were intensely engaged in sensational spiritual practices such as speaking in tongues which the apostle Paul warned against over emphasizing (1 Corinthians 14:1-19). Maybe it was passionate preaching or spirited singing and dancing that were carried out as a telltale sign God was present. Possibly too, it was all of these elements that are found variously in numerous churches among the ethnicities on earth today.
Few however, would argue with me that among the ethnicities, those of my own either on the African continent or scattered among the world’s countries including this one engage in all or most of what is described in the foregoing during any given service of what we call worship. The reputation for being alive among black Americans in their churches draws tourists to observe us from all over the world. And we typically do not disappoint; putting on emotion charged performances sometimes that are hard even for the most stoic of souls to resist being caught up in.2 I do understand such services have been historically cathartic for us and in loving empathy have written about why.3
Nevertheless, without the Holy Spirit whose living, working presence the Lord Jesus controls, none of what professed Christians do in the churches lives now or eternally before God (John 6:63). Clearly, from the Lord’s judgment of the church at Sardis, sensational activity and high energy emotional worship are not surefire indicators of the Holy Spirit’s living presence and work as many want to falsely believe. By default, works not empowered by the Holy Spirit are of the sinful flesh. Those acting in the flesh do not please God (Romans 8:5-8). And while there may be “liberty” when the Holy Spirit is present, such times are never a license to sin (2 Corinthians 3:17, NKJV)!4
The verdict of the Lord Jesus on the reputation of the church at Sardis was that they and their efforts were spiritually dead as is the case in every church where the Holy Spirit is not actually operative in what is going on! Apparently though, the church was not completely dead since after pronouncing them so, the Lord commands them to “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die;” He not finding their works complete “before God.” Then, He exhorts them to go back in memory to what they had been originally taught, grip it tight and repent from their departure. If they don’t, He warns, He will come upon them suddenly for what will surely be retribution (Revelation 3:2-3, NKJV). The Lord says the same to guilty churches today.
Always in God’s economy there is a faithful remnant. At Sardis, there was one that by implication in their life and deeds were alive through the authentic work of the Holy Spirit. The Lord acknowledges them and promises a reward for their faithfulness--“for” He says, “they are worthy.” They will also never face the possibility of Him blotting their names out of “the Book of Life.” They will be alive in the Spirit forever! The Lord will also confess the names of these faithful saints before His “Father and before His angels.” He urges every individual in the church at Sardis and the one you attend too, if you will, “to hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” (Revelation 3:4-6, NKJV). The risen, living Christ continues His cry among American churches, "Who is on the Lord's side?"
1 See the two-part post that begins January 5, 2020, Revelation’s Seven Churches In Time, under the category, Bible Prophecy.
2 Save attempting to shame me for telling the truth on “us” since I have been black all of my life and even before I was a believer, as a child I witnessed how we do. And
as it concerns performing, while I know a relative few individuals among the musicians and audience may be having a genuine encounter with God, my teen years
were mostly spent in bands entertaining; I know performance, entertainment and being moved by the music when I see and hear it as still happens to me in all trans-
parency when I allow it (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Just because you are feeling it in what is called worship, does not mean God is and it is idolatry to think so, since He made
us in His image not the other way around (Psalm 50:16-23; Isaiah 1:10-20)!
3 Read the two-part repost beginning February 8, 2015, Strong Through God, Not Religion, under the category, Black History.
4 Examples occur whenever an assembly is thrown into disorder by folk lacking self-control and women in disobedience and defiance of God’s written Word are allowed
to lead worship where adult men are present (1 Corinthians 14:20-40; 1 Timothy 2:11-14). Women freely empowered by the Holy Spirit to prophesy (Joel 2:28-29,
Acts 2:1-18, 21:8-11) are not free to do so as they please or as sinning church leaders command in disobedience to God’s perpetually set order of mankind. Or are we
now blasphemously teaching that the “Holy” Spirit sanctions sin in rebellion against Himself? Knowing this not to be the case, no wonder the false escape is to lie on
God and declare He has spoken (Jeremiah 23:30-32), changed His mind (Malachi 3:6), updated His Word (Matthew 5:17-20, 24:35) or abandoned the temperance of
His eternal nature He wills to display in us (Galatians 5:22-23)! It is not nor will it ever be the Holy Spirit that pushes the guilty into sin, but the prince of darkness and
the lusts of their sinful flesh draw them into it (James 1:12-18).
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