The Holy City (2)

“The angel who talked to me held in his hand a gold measuring stick to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. When he measured it, he found it was a square, as wide as it was long. In fact, its length and width and height were each 1,400 miles. Then he measured the walls and found them to be 216 feet thick (according to the human standard used by the angel). The wall was made of jasper, and the city was pure gold, as clear as glass.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:15-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The New Jerusalem was some place! It was a cube, each side being 1,400 miles long, though possibly open at the top (we know it had a base because we read about the foundations in the last verse). In the conversation between John and the angel, it became apparent that the angel had a “gold measuring stick” in his hand. John saw that it was made of gold, signifying something true and calibrated to be exactly correct. In the natural it would have taken a very long time to measure the three dimensions with a portable ruler. But in John’s vision it would have taken no time at all. The angel also measured the thickness of the walls, and found them to be 216 feet. John wrote an aside here, pointing out that the measurements were “to the human standard”. In other words, the New Jerusalem will be bigger and more substantial than anything we could ever imagine. We will probably never be able to explore its limits when we get there. Rather sadly, I calculated that the volume of the walls alone would be over 250 cubic kilometres. A mind boggling feat of engineering. But nothing to our amazing Creator God! But it gets even more wonderful. The wall is made of jasper. No concrete structure this. Jasper is a semi-precious stone, much valued by the ancient Israelites, especially if green. It featured as the last stone in the High Priest’s breastplate, as described in Exodus 28:20, “The fourth row will contain a blue-green beryl, an onyx, and a green jasper. All these stones will be set in gold filigree.” The type of jasper favoured by the Israelites was very translucent, so the Holy City would have glowed with its inner light, lit up by the glory of God. But also twinkling away as light penetrated and reflected off its surfaces. Perhaps the jasper John saw was so pure that it behaved almost like diamonds.

Inside the city, John could see that it was made of gold. Pure gold. But it was a special variation of the precious metal, because it was “as clear as glass”. The mineralogy behind the Holy City was of a kind unknown on Planet Earth. Perhaps this was how the earthly jasper and gold should have been before the impact of sin and wickedness warped and twisted God’s original creation.

We pilgrims will notice that the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, is something special because God is living within it. And it will be amazing to be able to join Him there. But God lives within each one of us through faith right now. Jesus said to His disciples, as recorded in John 14:23, “… All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.” The God-experience within us is only bounded by our faith and humanity. He is always wanting to do more through us, if only we had the faith to let Him. That same power that could create the Holy City out of jasper and gold is available to each one of us today. I am always impressed and challenged by Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Tapping into God’s “mighty power”starts with a living, breathing relationship with Him, taking small steps of faith. And before long we will find out that we are accomplishing much for Him. Notice the word that Paul includes in this verse. “Infinitely”. That’s quite a lot! There is no limit to what God can do.

Dear Father God. We confess our lack of faith and our timidity, when it comes to doing great things for You. Please help us, we pray. Amen.

The Second Death (2)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭NIVUK

“But as for the cowards and unbelieving and abominable [who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality], and murderers, and sorcerers [with intoxicating drugs], and idolaters and occultists [who practice and teach false religions], and all the liars [who knowingly deceive and twist truth], their part will be in the lake that blazes with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Revelation‬ ‭21:8‬ ‭AMP‬‬

In the last blog we unpacked what God was saying about the cowardly and the unbelieving. And we now move onto to consider the “vile” and “the sexually immoral“. Other translations use words such as “corrupt”, “abominable” or “dirty-minded“. The Amplified version of Revelation 21:8 expands the meaning to include all those, “who are devoid of character and personal integrity and practice or tolerate immorality”. 

Sexual immorality is often seen as a grey area, depending on, or influenced by, societal attitudes, liberal theologians, or just downright ignorance. Many have a “if it feels good just do it” attitude. Thankfully we have the God-view as recorded in the Bible. A good place to start is perhaps 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.” Earlier in 1 Corinthians 6, we read this, “Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality”. Some try and rationalise their behaviour by saying that society has changed since the First Century, and the restrictions and attitudes that were the norm then don’t apply today. The old philosopher, Solomon, writing in Ecclesiastes, noted, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.” (‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭1:9-10). The Biblical teaching about sex, morality and ethics is just as valid today as it was two thousand years ago. 

Sadly today we have some of our churches and denominations embracing sexual attitudes and customs that are directly in contravention with Biblical teaching. “We have to move with the times”, they say, and in the process they consign themselves to obscurity and, ultimately, the fires of hell. And our political leaders are even introducing legislation that directly opposes the morals and practices that are deeply embedded in our Christian faith. God’s words to John in Revelation 21:8 make it very clear that those who choose to select the Scriptures they like and reject those that they don’t, thus trying to justify their sinful behaviour, will be heading for the second death. 

God also mentioned to John about the fate awaiting “murderers“. I can hear many breathing a sigh of relief because they have never murdered anyone. But before they adopt the moral high ground, Jesus too said a few words about murder. We read them in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” It’s not just the act but also the attitude, the thought, that constitutes murder. 

We pilgrims must always honestly and soberly assess what we are thinking and doing. It is so easy to get sucked into societal thinking and end up diluting the purity of our faith. Whether it is sexual temptations or murderous thoughts, we must be remember the warning Peter included in his first epistle, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:8). We all have our weaknesses. We must bring all our thoughts and deeds under God’s spotlight and allow the Holy Spirit to help us “stand firm…” in our faith. 

Dear Father God. Again we thank You for reminding us of the things we must avoid. We thank You for Your grace and patience. Please help us to “Stay alert” as Peter advised. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Ten Kings

“The beast you saw was once alive but isn’t now. And yet he will soon come up out of the bottomless pit and go to eternal destruction. And the people who belong to this world, whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made, will be amazed at the reappearance of this beast who had died.”
“The ten horns of the beast are ten kings who have not yet risen to power. They will be appointed to their kingdoms for one brief moment to reign with the beast. They will all agree to give him their power and authority. Together they will go to war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will defeat them because he is Lord of all Lords and King of all kings. And his called and chosen and faithful ones will be with him.
Revelation‬ ‭17:8, 12-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

It appears that, in John’s vision, the beast wearing the scarlet cloak somehow died and was cast into the “bottomless pit”. But the angel informed John that this beast would soon be resurrected, and, although his time would be short and he would soon end up in “eternal destruction”, he would dazzle the followers of the “great prostitute” when he reappeared. There’s nothing like a supernatural experience to rally the followers of a religion – perhaps membership of the devil’s worship cult, the “great prostitute”, was cooling off a bit. But note that it was only those who were not God’s people, those whose names could not be found in the Book of Life, who were taken in by this evil deception. The resurrection of Jesus was, and is, pivotal to our faith. But it is just like the devil to counterfeit the ways and works of God, to try to fool his followers into believing that he could be resurrected as well. But thankfully not for long.

The beast had ten horns, representing ten kings, who had yet to reign on earth. Some scholars have tried to relate these kings to the rulers of kingdoms or nations already passed, but John’s narrative seems to suggest that they will be reigning with the beast and will make war against the Lamb, Jesus Himself. And on the victory side, will be Jesus’ “called and chosen and faithful ones”. So there is another battle coming, and we, or our Christian descendants, may be numbered with the forces of the Lamb. As I have said before, it is only of limited value to try to work out, with the insufficient information we have available, who the ten kings were, or will be. Instead, we pilgrims are encouraged to be ready for Jesus’ return. In Matthew 24:42-44 Jesus said, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” So we can be tempted to try and relate episodes in John’s vision to world events and draw conclusions, but Jesus was quite specific. The danger is that if we find a relationship between what is happening around us in the world and what John saw in his vision, we could become complacent and assume that Jesus’ second coming wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.  But that isn’t what Jesus taught. Because He could come at any time means we must be in a constant state of readiness. 

What does “being ready” mean? We must maintain our relationship with God through prayer, reading His Word, keeping short accounts with God through repentance, sharing our faith – the Bible is full of suitable and appropriate instructions to encourage us pilgrims in our walk towards our Promised Land, Heaven itself. Whether or not the End Times finally conclude before we die is of secondary importance. What matters is ultimately being with Jesus. Forever and ever, amen.

Dear Father God. We thank You for this glimpse of the devil’s tricks, preparing us for what is to come. We praise and worship You, the One who was, and is, and is to come. Amen.

The Seventh Plague

“Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!” Then the thunder crashed and rolled, and lightning flashed. And a great earthquake struck—the worst since people were placed on the earth. The great city of Babylon split into three sections, and the cities of many nations fell into heaps of rubble. So God remembered all of Babylon’s sins, and he made her drink the cup that was filled with the wine of his fierce wrath. And every island disappeared, and all the mountains were levelled. There was a terrible hailstorm, and hailstones weighing as much as seventy-five pounds fell from the sky onto the people below. They cursed God because of the terrible plague of the hailstorm.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:17-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

No details of the Armageddon war are included in Revelation 16. The narrative in John’s vision jumps to the seventh plague. But there are three words that have been heard before in another place, during another momentous event. “It is finished!” In our verses today, these words emanate from the very throne of God. In the form of a loud and triumphant shout. God has finally brought to an end worldly judgements.

We will remember the last time these words were uttered. Jesus died on the cross at Calvary after declaring probably what are the most profound words ever spoken. In John 19:30 we read, “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”. In the Matthew account of the moment of Jesus’ death we read, “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart”. (Matthew 27:51). ‭But in the Revelation account the impact of “It is finished!” effectively preceded a reforming of the earth, in that there was a great earthquake of a severity never before seen. All the islands disappeared. Mountains were mountains no more. And hailstones weighing what the King James Version of the Bible calls a talent, a unit of weight equivalent to thirty two kilograms or thereabouts, fell from the sky. That is an extremely heavy lump of ice and it would do serious amounts of damage to property, crops, animals and, of course, people. No wonder God received some complaints in the form of curses levelled against Him! If only they had repented.

Babylon crops up again in these verses. It refers to the personification of all the wickedness and sins of the world’s population, past, present and future. John’s vision referred to Babylon as a place that included not just the “great city” but also “the cities of many nations“. And they were reduced to heaps of rubble. But there is more to come about Babylon in John’s vision, recorded in Revelation 17 and 18, which we have yet to consider.

To us pilgrims we can only breathe a collective sigh of relief after reading these verses. The difficulties facing human beings in those days doesn’t bear thinking about. What a narrow escape we have had from disaster. Imagine what would have happened if we had failed to accept God’s invitation of grace when we did? Of course, we might have passed on before all these plagues had finally been dispensed on earth and its population, but we would not have escaped the judgement to come. 

When I have shared these scenes from Revelation with people I meet, a common response is, “How do you know that there is a life after we die, after all, no-one has ever returned to tell us what will happen, if anything”? Many people believe that once death overtakes us, there will be just blackness. Nothing else. Some people suggest that the death experience is like falling asleep but never waking up. Eternal sleep. But we pilgrims, through our faith, believe differently. Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see“. We hope for a future, eternal life, in God’s presence. And our faith assures us that that will be the case. Through our belief and faith in the rightness of God’s Word, we believe what He has promised. Hebrews 11:13 reads, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth“. As we plod along the paths of life, pilgrims together, we see in the distance our promised land. And one day we will get there and receive the fruit of that promise.

Dear Lord. Thank You for Your assurance that You are making a place in Heaven where we can join You. You said it. We believe it. We worship You today. Amen.

Smoky Locusts

“Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were told not to kill them but to torture them for five months with pain like the pain of a scorpion sting. In those days people will seek death but will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them!”
Revelation‬ ‭9:3-6‬ ‭NLT

As if the smoke polluting the atmosphere and the darkness was not disaster enough, another problem appeared, bringing more woes to affect the people on earth. Stinging locusts. And they were given specific instructions, that they were only to sting “the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads”. The effect of the sting was quite specific in that it was to be like the sting of a scorpion, not enough to kill, but enough to cause pain so great that people wanted to die anyway.

The verses today contain quite a lot of information. Firstly, the locusts were biddable – they were given specific instructions about what they could and couldn’t do. They were not sent from Heaven but came out of the abyss in the smoke. It may have been that satan wanted the locusts to wreak total destruction on God’s people, as he has always wanted, but God had other plans. Another indication, perhaps, that God limits the devil’s powers and capabilities? However, on this occasion God’s people were protected from the stinging insects.

John was also told that God’s people had a mark, the seal of God, on their foreheads. Were these people the 144,000 we read about in Revelation 7, or did they include all Christians everywhere? I believe it to be the latter, because God has no favourites when it comes to His love and acceptance. 

Another thought is what this seal or mark looks like. We will read about another mark, the mark of the beast, later in Revelation 13, so it wasn’t that. There has been speculation that these marks might be bar or QR codes. It was possible that this was a tattoo of some kind, but probably unlikely because the Jews in the Old Testament were discouraged from cutting or marking their skin (Leviticus 19:28). We of course don’t know what the mark or seal was, but what we do know is that it will be very distinctive and will declare unambiguously that the person with it belongs to God. And the locusts were not allowed to touch them. As a thought, I suppose that if we today were to carry a mark to say that we are Christians, would that make any difference to who we are and what we do. To what we say or how we behave? Hmmm…

What was the significance of the five months? Apparently locusts only live for five months so perhaps that was the reason, that they were going to be tormentors for their life span. However, to those being stung, it must have seemed like a life time. The non-Christians at that time must have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the locusts but I expect to no avail. As a resident of Scotland, I’m reminded of a wee beastie we call the Highland Midge. The female of the species is a very small insect that needs blood to mature the eggs it is carrying. And the effect of its bite is to cause an itch, sometimes painful, that takes some time to recede. Sadly, it does not distinguish between Christians and non-Christians. We have potions and sprays to discourage the midge from coming near us, and there is also an item of head and neck wear made of a very close mesh, that can sometimes help. There are even machines that attract the midgies (plural of midge) and dispose of them into a large tank underneath. But the midgies are relentless in their pursuit of blood. However, I can imagine the sting of the locusts in John’s vision was far worse, and there would have been no remedy or way of avoiding them.

Pilgrims still alive at this point in the End Times would have felt much relief that they were escaping the attentions of the locusts. But I would imagine that those unmarked in the population would have felt very resentful of them and I expect persecution of the Christians would have been severe and increasing. But Jesus said we must stand firm until the end comes. So stand firm we will, won’t we? We read in 1 Peter 5:9-10, “Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation”.

Dear Father God. We stand firm in our faith, in the knowledge that our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are experiencing all sorts of persecution. We thank You that you have cut short the days of suffering and that we will one day share Heaven with You. We are so grateful. Amen.

Obedient Faith

“And they sang a new song with these words: “You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For You were slaughtered, and Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.””
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭5:9-10‬ ‭NLT

We continue to spend another day looking at this wonderful new song. The lyrics, directed at Jesus, who was standing in the middle of the twenty four elders and four living beings, before the throne of God, included the line, “Your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”. A few thoughts about this new song. 

Firstly, do these words indicate that Jesus died for everyone, implying that there will be no exclusions and everyone will get to Heaven? Of course not, but many would like to think so. Jesus paid the ultimate penalty when He died that day at Calvary, spilling His blood so that His sacrifice would redeem everyone who believes in Him from the consequences of their sins. By doing so He paid the ransom for our sin. But to be a “ransomed people“, we have to respond personally, accepting that His sacrifice was for each one of us individually. Universalism, a belief that everyone will be saved and end up in Heaven regardless, cannot be found in the Bible. We have to make a choice – we can either choose to accept God’s saving grace through His Son, Jesus, and in the process assure our future with God in Heaven, or we can choose to reject Him and instead be assured of a life in Hell. Jesus said in John 14:6, ” … I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me”. There is no other way.

Secondly, all human beings, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, hair colour and everything else, is eligible to be ransomed by Jesus’ sacrifice. If they want to be. The only exclusions are for people who make the wrong choice, or don’t make a choice at all.

Thirdly, once we have accepted in obedient faith, that Jesus died in exchange for our sins, we adopt a new role. We become fully paid up members of God’s Kingdom of priests. We read in 1 Peter 2:9, “… you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” When we adopt our new priestly roles, we can show others the way to become priests too. Being a priest conjures up images of old men dressed in a funny gown, perhaps wearing an odd-looking hat, officiating at church services. But to us pilgrim priests, our priestly duties are to show others the way to God, by sharing the Gospel with them. By being “salt and light” in our families and communities.

The verse today ends with the line, “And they will reign on the earth“. According to John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, there will come a time when the Kingdom priests will reign on earth. Of course, this isn’t happening in 21st Century society. Western or otherwise. And as fas as I am aware, it hasn’t happened in history either. So there must be coming a time when we pilgrim priests will reign on earth. I’m sure we will find out more as we dig deeper into this fascinating and amazing Book.

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for the nuggets of revelation contained in these Scriptures. Please help us to understand what You want to reveal to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Strong Angel

“And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.”
Revelation‬ ‭5:2-3‬ ‭NLT

I wonder who the strong angel was. The experts in Biblical analysis think it might have been the angel Gabriel, a name that means “God is my strength”. There is also a reference to Gabriel in Daniel 9, when he brought an answer to Daniel’s prayers. But whoever it was, the strong angel (some versions say mighty angel) shouted out a challenging request, “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it”?

Why would a worthy person, or being, be required to open this scroll, breaking the seven seals in the process? Obviously it couldn’t just be anyone, because the scroll was still in the right hand of God. And John continued, pointing out that there was no-one worthy enough to “open the scroll and read it”. The search for a worthy person covered everywhere in creation – Heaven, the earth, and Sheol, the place under the earth. There was no other place where a worthy person could reside. But what was so important about this scroll that was going to require a worthy person to open it? It was obviously something of much consequence never seen before, and all those in Heaven were in a cliff-hanging position awaiting to discover what was written.

What is a worthy person? Worthy of what? We see the UK Honours List, that comes out periodically, awarding “worthy” people an honour, encapsulated in a medal, for people deemed “worthy” by their work perhaps for charity or some other good cause. In the workplace, we perhaps notice someone who is “worthy” of a pay rise because of their hard working ethic. But none of these “worthy” people got anywhere near what the strong angel was looking for. 

We pilgrims achieve a certain amount of worthiness by default. Because of our unstinting faith in God through our journeys in life, we will one day receive our Heavenly reward, our crowns of righteousness. Perhaps this is a mention on the Heaven Honours List. We will hear the words of our Saviour, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). But we don’t aspire to becoming “worthy”. That is the road to pride. We seek to please God through our faith. Hebrews 11:6 reads, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him“.

In the rest of this chapter in Revelation we will find out more about the real “Worthy”, and what happened when the scroll was opened. The writings on the scroll will shock us. But hopefully inspire us as well.

Dear God. We thank You for Your loving care and kindness. For Your grace and mercy. For Your guidance on our walk through life. You pick us up when we fall and bring us back to earth when we become too full of ourselves. What a loving Father You are. We praise You today. Amen.

The Lukewarm

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
Revelation‬ ‭3:15-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a verse that sometimes makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. An internal “Oh dear!” and a heavy sigh starts a few minutes of self reflection that usually ends up with me mentally on my knees before Jesus. Asking once again for forgiveness. And His love and grace floods over me once again.

Jesus used the analogy of water and its temperature and it would have been a significant metaphor in that culture. Lukewarm water in 1st Century Laodicea would have been a bit suspect. It brings to mind the picture of glass of water that has been sitting out in the sun, and consequently didn’t taste very nice. And, as well, it may have become polluted by whatever was flying around near it. One mouthful, and perhaps a response would be to spit it out. On the other hand, cold water was refreshing and wholesome, probably sourced from an underground spring. Hot water would have been used for cooking or for washing, with the benefit of knowing that it felt good through cooked food or through the refreshment washing brings.

So to translate that into spiritual terms, what do we get? What is the optimum temperature for a follower of Jesus? Obviously, being lukewarm is not an option – Jesus made very clear that His palate rejects it. Perhaps, a lukewarm “Christian” is someone who goes through the motions of church life, failing to engage with the spiritual aspects, but putting up with them so that they can enjoy the benefits of the fellowship and any secular activities that take place on their church premises. A lukewarm person is someone who knows all about the liturgy and even Bible passages, but tends to ignore them, being more interested in the display of flowers, how the chairs are laid out, the length of the sermon, or what they should wear to church. They see no reason to engage with our wonderful and amazing Heavenly Father in an abundance of praise and worship, in thankfulness and reverence. These people may also be resistant to responding to the Gospel, having hearts that are hardened against Biblical truth, or prayer and worship. Jesus doesn’t want them in His church – He will eject them forcibly.

A person who is cold is someone who has no desire to get involved with anything to do with God. They probably won’t darken any church with their presence, unless the service is a wedding, funeral, or christening/baptism. They may confess atheism or be an agnostic. I was one myself until God, through His Spirit, connected with me. He brought me into a situation where I had to decide and one night, in response to an anguished prayer, He graciously allowed me to know His reality and love. So a cold person can be reached by the Gospel, and warmed by the power of God. God’s grace extends to them – they only need to reach out and accept Him. Salvation is all by His grace and it’s a free gift, costing us nothing, though it cost Jesus His life.

A person who is hot, is someone who has fully and totally embraced the Gospel. And through faith he or she fervently pursues God, reading the Bible, praying, evangelising and serving God in the way He wants them to. When times are troubled their faith carries them through. And their pilgrimage through life bears fruit, both in their own lives and the lives of others. 

Jesus said He knew everything the Laodiceans do. Of course He did. And unlike the other 6 churches He had no praise or encouragement for them. At least the church at Sardis had a few dying embers that were possible to revive, but the Laodiceans had absolutely nothing – they had reached a spiritual entropy.

A sensible pilgrim will occasionally do a spiritual check up, just to make sure they’re still “hot” and not heading for being lukewarm. As water cools to room temperature and becomes lukewarm, they too will do the same unless they put in place the spiritual safeguards necessary to maintain temperature. But we must never forget our relationship with God. He is our loving Heavenly Father. Through Jesus He has welcomed us into His family. He has made it possible for us to live with Him for eternity. So how can we ever grow cold in our faith? And neither must we forget that he has given us the special task of sharing His grace and love with the lukewarm and cold people around us. While there is still time.

Dear Lord God. How can we ever forget You, the One who has graciously done so much for us. For our salvation and our adoption into Your family we are so grateful. We pray that You will never allow our hearts to grow cold. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Time of Testing

“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭NLT

Again the Philadelphians were commended for their obedience in obeying Jesus’ command to persevere. But what does perseverance look like? Jesus gave us a glimpse, as recorded in Matthew 10:22, “And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved“. The disciples were under no illusions as they mulled over this statement from the Master. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, is not a popular life choice. It means living a life that does not conform with the lives of those unbelievers in the world around us. A Christian reaches out to them with love and acceptance, but receives hatred, animosity, and even violence in return. Why should that be? Because the kingdom of the world is devil-run, and the Kingdom of Heaven, the domain of Christians, is God-run. Two opposing forces. We know who wins in the end, but for the Philadelphians, living their daily lives, it must have been a constant temptation to give in to the worldly pressures and swap sides. But they persevered in the face of the persecution, being obedient to Jesus’ command. That’s what perseverance looks like.

There is no difference for today’s pilgrim. The same battle continues. The longest battle in history. The clash of the two kingdoms is no short military campaign. It will only cease when Jesus comes again, when all the nations will declare His Lordship. And we are given the same command as the Philadelphians – persevere to the end. Jesus’ half-brother James wrote right at the start of his epistle, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. I don’t know about “pure joy” but the message is clear – we will face many trials in our Christian lives and at times our faith will be sorely tested, but we have to persevere. There is no other way. We cannot flip-flop between the two kingdoms.

John goes on to write about a “great time of testing”. I can hear the protestations. Surely we are being tested enough, you say. The Philadelphians would have been alarmed when they heard these words read out to them, but also relieved when they were told that it would pass them by. There was no explanation for them about what the “great time of testing” would be, though they would have had access to Old Testament scriptures such as Daniel 12:1, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered”. Christians today also have the benefit of reading what else John wrote in his Revelation, and we will come to that in a few blogs time. Suffice to say, that there is coming a time of testing, called by many the Tribulation – perhaps that is what John was writing about in his message to the Philadelphians.

We Christian pilgrims are continually tested in this life, because the kingdom of darkness is always trying to win over the Kingdom of Light, and for most of the time, that battle is taking place within us. The Apostle Paul very clearly and eloquently set out the dilemma we all face in Romans 7:22-24, “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death”? But thankfully, verse 24 is followed by verse 25. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord….” So, with Jesus’ help, we persevere in this life of strife, being obedient to Jesus’ commands. One day, there will be a “great time of testing that will come upon the whole world“. Something we may have mixed feelings about. But as I have said before, we may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. 

Dear Lord. Thank You that You have our future all planned out. You know the beginning from the end. We worship You, deeply thankful for all You have done in our lives, and all that You will do as we remain faithful to Your commands. Amen.

Constant Improvements

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.”
Revelation‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭NLT

Wow! What an endorsement from the Master Himself. Jesus said that He had observed the lives of the Thyatiraeans and, in particular, He singled out their love, faith, service and patient endurance. He also noted that they weren’t satisfied in staying at a certain level. He said they were improving. I cannot think of a better accolade for Christians in any generation, let alone those in the hostile environment in which the Thyatiraeans lived. As the letter was read out to them I can imagine the smiles on their faces; an endorsement for their diligent approach to their lives in Christ.

Was there any significance in Jesus just selecting these four attributes? Why not their prowess in praying for the sick? Or their attendance records for Bible Studies? Or their diligence in missionary work, knocking on the doors of the people in the next town? No. Jesus selected four examples of a Godly character. Internal attitudes and examples of a deep relational experience with their loving Heavenly Father. That sweet spot where their Christian lives were nurtured and developed to become more like Jesus.

The four attributes selected by Jesus were particularly important and significant in the society and culture prevalent in First Century Greece. They would not just have involved the way the people in the church related to each other but would also have included how they related to those in the society around them. This would not have been easy for them but their counter-cultural witness would have made significant gains for God’s Kingdom, swelling their numbers as the devil’s frontiers were pushed back.

Society and culture today is different in many ways to the Ancient Greek ways of life. Gone are the extravagant temples erected in the honour of the pantheon of Greek gods. Gone is the devilish practices that pervaded the society in those days. Today, the same issues prevail but in a more subtle way. So we pilgrims must ask ourselves if Jesus would commend us too for our love, faith, service and patient endurance. And are these character attributes growing within us day by day? Sometimes it is good to undertake a personal spiritual check up just to make sure. And how about the churches of which we are a part? Can we tick the “constant improvement” box? Or is there a “could do better” note on our report cards? But whatever the personal or corporate outcome, we know that God is helping us. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12-13, “…Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him”. If God is working within us we cannot fail. And in Ephesians 2:10 we read that we are His workmanship, created to be like Jesus. So as we remain close to God, being obedient to what He says, we cannot fail to win the accolade received by the Thyatiraean church. 

Dear Lord Jesus. We are so grateful for Your encouragement. You are always there for us on our daily walk through life, helping us to grow more like You. Please help us to be open to the work of Your Spirit in our lives. Amen.