Looking Back before Moving Forward: Summary of the First Section of Revelation, Part 2

Pictured above is the Martyrdom of Peter, which is depicted in an etching the “Martyrdom of Saint Peter.” Etching after Guido Reni (1575-1642).

Revelation 3:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

We continue to look back at the message of the first section of Revelation — Chapters 1-3 — before we move forward to the next section.

Review of Chapters 1-3 Diagrams

This Chart gathers the message of the first section together. The seven letters are prophetic oracles from the Living Christ. They give us the context for the rest of the book  of Revelation. I will explain each level as I go, but you can refer back to this chart for visual help with the points. Chart based on Gordon Fee’s analysis of the Seven Oracles (see Fee below).

I. The major reason for Chapters 1-3 is to prepare the church in Asia Minor for future persecutions.

The Key verse is Rev. 3:10. This leads to the application in the church of all ages. As we pointed out before, the fact that he chose only seven churches to write to gives us a clue that the letters are for the churches in all future ages.

II. External pressures might cause the church to fail under persecution. 

Incense to the Emperor (2)

All it took to escape execution was dropping incense on an altar before the Emperor or his image.

There is an infernal combination of external pressures that is powerful in its persecution of the Church. These diabolical allies are 1). False Religion and 2). a godless State. In Rome there were two cults: The State Cult of Roman gods, and The Civil Cult of the Emperor.

In Asia Minor, Jews allied themselves with Rome without worshiping the Roman gods or the Emperor by paying a tax. They became allies against the Christian Church after AD 64 in the wake of the great fire that destroyed a large part of the City of Rome. Up to AD 64 Christians were considered a Jewish sect.

II. False Teaching might cause the church to fail under persecution.

Today we have “liberal churches,” like the ancient Jews of the first century. They “barter” with overweening Leviathan States for favor. They do this by conforming to the public policy of the governments in which they live. This leverage works against faithful Christians who are hit from the State and the Liberal Church. J. Gresham Machen makes this assertion in his book Christianity and Liberalism

“The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism.’ An examination of the teachings of liberalism in comparison with those of Christianity will show that at every point the two movements are in direct opposition (pp. 44-45). Naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all (p. 43).” (see Machen below).

See an example of this in a former President’s recent OpEd — Click on this link to read the article Losing My Religion for Equality. This is a prime case of liberalism posing as Christianity and gaining approval from the State, and a segment of those who are a part of liberal churches, by compromising the clear teachings of Scripture. How long until Bible-believing Christians are disfranchised as those who discriminate, hate, etc.?

The first amendment of the constitution was included to prevent intrusion of the Federal government into the church. Now it is used to punish those who refuse to conform to public policy.

first amendment

It is not Roger Williams’ or Thomas Jefferson’s separation of church and State letters we see at work today, but it is Hugo Black’s unscaleable “Wall of Separation” of the spheres of church and state that dominates our current life in the public square. The First Amendment was written to preclude the Federal Government from intruding into the Church! The Church of Jesus Christ is to be the conscience of the nation!

III. Internal Weaknesses in the Church’s structure might cause it to fail in persecution.

Three internally weak churches are outlined in brief —

There are Ephesus Churches today — The Ephesus Church didn’t tolerate false teaching or teachers, but they had also left the early ardor of love for Christ in doing so and were just going through the motions.

We have churches today that are so separate from “error” that they are “lone rangers” for God. I remember the little ditty from my youth describing such closed churches — “With our church it’s us four, no more, shut the door.” The lone ranger church is soon isolated and gets an “Elijah complex” — I Kings 19 vs. 10 [Elijah] said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” God replied, vs. 18 “Yet I [have left] seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God was saying, “Elijah, you’re not the only one who is faithful to me. Seek some of the others for mutual encouragement.” We cannot afford to waste time in times of persecution in planting perfect churches. Why waste time looking for one now?

There are Sardis Churches today —  The Church at Sardis had an illusion about its spiritual state and effectiveness. Persecution soon reveals which churches are suffering such an illusion. The church would be scattered quickly by its lack of united prayer and total dependence upon God.

Pictures of the Metropolitan Tabernacle during C. H. Spurgeon’s pastorate (1861-1892)

Consider the following story from the ministry of C. H. Spurgeon —

Spurgeon never took credit for the success of the 6,000+ who attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London each Sunday. Instead, he always pointed to the hundreds of people who came before services and prayed for God’s blessing. Spurgeon was often fond of calling these prayer gatherings the church’s “boiler room.” In Spurgeon’s time, boiler rooms were the powerhouses, the driving forces of everything from vast machines in factories to household heating systems. Likewise, Spurgeon saw the prayers of his people as the spiritual power behind his preaching and ministry. This is why he told his fellow pastors —

“Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.” (see Spurgeon’s Boiler Room below).

The only way the church facing persecution can survive is through vital prayer of the united church asking for God’s blessing and aid.

There are Loadocea Churches today — The Church at Laodicea had surrendered to the surrounding culture in their city. 

There are churches today who have so compromised themselves with the State and with liberal institutions, they are like Laodicea. I have referred to this in a prior post, but the Church that works with the state in China is compromised. House churches are persecuted and informed on by those who submit to the state. Yet, Christianity is growing there. They are not dependent upon brick and mortar buildings for their church. They are the church! So must we become such a church too!

One man who was not a church member once said that he made a search to find the Church in the world. However, when he went to a Church service, he was surprised to see the world in the church instead. What did he mean? He was surprised to see the culture had invaded the church instead of the church influencing the culture for Christ. 

The Context of the Revelation

With the information above in mind, we should read the persecutions that will come in the rest of the book.

Notes

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity & Liberalism. GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Spurgeon’s Boiler Room. (2009). “Praying for Revival” blog accessed 31 September 2019 from https://prayingforrevival.wordpress.com/2009/03/29/spurgeons-boiler-rooms/

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