Hold On

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.
Revelation 3:11 NLT

The Philadelphians would have been encouraged by the message that Jesus was coming soon. Their expectation was probably that Jesus was just waiting in the wings, ready to return in the same way as He departed, from the skies. But the hours and days would have extended into weeks and months. Years would have rolled by, and some of their number would have passed on to eternal life. Did they experience disappointment? Did they turn on their leaders, demanding an explanation, or a definition of what “soon” really meant? We don’t know.

Jesus was clear that He didn’t know when He would return to earth again. We read in Matthew 24:30b, “…And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory“. And Matthew 24:36, “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows“. But Jesus, in His message to the Philadelphians, used the word “soon“. In our earthly, time-dominated, lives, the word “soon” means something is about to happen imminently, or in a few days. But from the perspective of eternity, where time as we know it doesn’t exist, “soon” takes on a different meaning. We are living in a time of unmerited grace. God is giving more and more people, generation by generation, the opportunity to embrace His Son and all that that means. After all, if “soon” had meant that Jesus returned sometime in the first century, I wouldn’t be writing these words, and you wouldn’t be reading them. But there will come a time when “soon” converts into the reality of God saying to Jesus that now is the time. In Romans 13:11-12 we read, “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here…” One day, perhaps sooner than we expect, Jesus will return. “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labour pains begin. And there will be no escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).

John’s message continues. He wrote, “Hold on to what you have”. The Philadelphians, at face value, would seem to have very little. But Jesus wasn’t encouraging them to hold on to their material possessions. In the Kingdom of God materialism has no worth. In the earthly kingdom gold has value, but in the Heavenly Kingdom, gold is used to pave the roads. No, Jesus was referring to the spiritual treasure they were accumulating. The spiritual gifts they had received. The treasure they were storing up in Heaven. Jesus taught about the difference between treasure in the two kingdoms. In Matthew 6:19-21 we read, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be“. Jesus would also have been encouraging the Philadelphians to, quite simply, hold on to their faith. To not give up, even when the going was tough. When persecution was sapping their strength. 

And Jesus continues to remind them that if they hold on to what they have then “no one will take away [their] crown[s]”. What are these crowns? James 1:12 refers to the crown of life, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him“. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about the crown of righteousness, “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing“. (2 Timothy 4:8). But whatever it is, the crown awaiting those who hold on to their faith is going to be amazing. 

To today’s pilgrim, we must take on board the message to the Philadelphians. We too must hold on to what we have. Even when the road before us seems long and difficult. Even when the temptation is there to give up, and perhaps just take an easy option. We must never forget that turning back, even just for a short time away from the difficulties of doing life God’s way, can turn very quickly into a worldly lifestyle. Sadly, I know so many people who have decided, for one reason or another, to turn their backs on their faith, and they now do other things. They have lost sight of their Heavenly treasure and the crown awaiting them. We must never give up holding on to our heritage, our faith, our Lord.

There is an old Gospel song – these are the lyrics.

  1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
    I have decided to follow Jesus;
    I have decided to follow Jesus;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  2. The world behind me, the cross before me;
    The world behind me, the cross before me;
    The world behind me, the cross before me;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  3. Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  4. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
    My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
    My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  5. Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    No turning back, no turning back.

Dear Lord Jesus. Please help us never to give up on living life Your way. We know that no-one else has the words of eternal life. No-one else can gift us salvation. We will follow You to the end. Thank You. Amen.

Suffering

“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Smyrnaean church was really experiencing some hard times. Jesus could see what was coming in their lives and warned them, through John, that the persecution and tribulation would be intense. So intense in fact, that some of those in the Smyrnaean church would face death. Others would be imprisoned. And all because they believed the Truth, God Himself. Of course, all this suffering would strike fear into even the strongest, and most committed, men and women amongst them. So Jesus’ message starts once again with “Don’t be afraid“. Our wonderful Lord fully realised that the intersection between the natural and the spiritual will sometimes induce fear amongst human beings. I’m reminded of the first thing Jesus said to the disciples when He was walking on the sea of Galilee. In Mark 6:50 we read, “They were all terrified when they saw him. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here! ”. I’m sure the Smyrnaeans were themselves just as terrified, if not more, because some of them would be facing death. But the Lord loved these people and had a message for them that would have strengthened them through their persecution. He told them that it would only be for ten days.

For some, the idea of being tested for our faith is rather daunting. Someone once asked the question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you”? Beyond all reasonable doubt? But why would God allow us to be tested in the first place? Perhaps there are times when we go through the motions of being a Christian, but deep down we have lost our way. Our faith is perhaps weakening, or may even have reduced to a level of non-existence. In the past two years, Christians have been quite severely tested, at least here in the UK. Tested by the Covid lock downs that have shut our churches, and forcing us to depart our comfort zones and grapple with new technology, such as Zoom and YouTube. Removing from us the option of seeing our friends in person, and warming a pew on a Sunday morning. We may not have been through the physical pain and suffering the Smyrnaeans experienced, but the outcome may have been the same. When us Christian pilgrims are faced with the reality that there is a cost to our faith, some will decide that the price is not worth paying. And consequently they will disappear from the spiritual radar and fall away from the faith. In my locality, some Churches of Scotland are having to close because the congregations are no longer numerically viable. One of the reasons is that the numbers of attenders hasn’t recovered to the pre-Covid levels. Thankfully, other churches are thriving, the stronger for the testing experience.

For the faithful perseverers, there is a “crown of life”. It is there stored in a safe place. We each have one lined up for us. Our names are written on them. They are precious and far more valuable than any amount of gold and precious jewels would be. James 1:15 picks up the theme as well, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him“. 

So what does a “crown of life” look like? Here are a few thoughts. The crown imparts life, as we read in our verse today. Also it is a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), a crown of righteousness, (2 Timothy 4:8). It is imperishable and will never wear out (1 Corinthians 9:25). It is a crown of joy (Philippians 4:1). And it is the prize for staying true to our calling (Philippians 3:14). I can’t wait to get mine, and I know it will be a perfect fit. And there’s one just for you, my reader, today. If …

Dear Lord. We thank You for Your encouragement, always there for the asking when we go through a time of tribulation. I pray for the strength to stand firm in my faith day by day. Amen.