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Promised to the Victorious

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Whoever has  ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Image result for name engraved in white marbleThis is the third church so far to whom Christ has commanded the people to hear Him, His Spirit’s words to them. And for the third time, He promises something to the one who is victorious. Victory played a big part in the Greco-Roman culture with arenas and wars. To the victor went the spoils and great honor. But what God can give us is far greater than any earthly reward for victory.

So how can a Christian be victorious? To the Ephesians Jesus commanded them to restore their first love, to put Him first again. In this way, they would be victorious and gain access to the true tree of life. To the Church in Smyrna Jesus commended their faith and commanded them to be faithful even to death. In this way, they would be victorious and gain protection from the second death. To Pergamum He commands repentance from compromise. In this way, they would be victorious and gain miraculous provision–hidden manna–and an invitation to a divine party.

In this time period, when the Caesars would hold banquets, they sent out invitations–white marble with the invitees name engraved on it. How much more should we desire to receive an invitation from Christ to the divine banquet in heaven.

Each of these commands and promises are essentially the same, yet personalized to the cities’ challenge. All were commanded to get/keep their relationship with Jesus Christ right. And all were promised eternity for doing so.

What has Jesus commanded you to right in your life? Check your relationship with Him carefully and tend to those needy areas. If you are victorious in holding to your faith in Christ, then just like the seven churches of Revelation, you too will receive eternal life.

The Pergamum Compromise

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:14-16

Image result for pergamumBalaam was an Old Testament diviner who lived near the Euphrates river [Numbers 22:5]. He was neither Israelite nor Moabite, and yet he found himself caught up between these two colliding cultures.

In reading the Numbers account, we see that Balaam’s words are the words that God places in his mouth to bless the Israelites while Balak–King of Moab–has paid Balaam to curse them [Numbers 23:11-12]. He even builds altars and offers bulls and rams like one of God’s own in his divination processes.

But we can see here in Revelation [as well as in 2 Peter 2:15] that beating his donkey was not Balaam’s only wrongdoing. While he may not have cursed Israel with his mouth, he showed Moab’s King, Balak, how to tempt the Israelites into sinning against God. And when they sinned, they came under the curse of those sins.

Likewise, the church in Pergamum was being enticed to sin with the culture around them. They compromised their unswerving faith by also attending pagan temples and participating in pagan worship practices. This eased the cultural strain on their daily life, but in essence, partaking of idol’s food and temple immorality proclaimed their allegiance to the false Greek and Roman gods. Scripture is very clear that you cannot serve two masters [Matthew 6:24].

There were also church members in Pergamum who bought into the ideas of the Nicolaitans. This heretical sect said that body and soul were two separate things. So as long as your soul believed in Jesus, you could do whatever you wanted with your body.

But Jesus condemned these compromises. Either they worshipped Jesus alone. Or they were sensual idolaters. There was no middle ground. No way to do both and still be a follower of Christ.

It’s the same for us today. The world would like us to believe that we can call ourselves Christians and even attend church and read our Bibles, but still behave like the sinners we once were. And there are some Pergamenian-like Christians today who are trying to do just that. Drugs and Jesus. Adultery and Jesus. Greed and Jesus. Tolerance/Mindfulness and Jesus. Etc. But each of these is mutually exclusive. Sure, He can forgive us, but we are not to just keep on sinning in the presence of grace [Romans 6:1].

Are there any compromises in your faith? Any worldly practices or beliefs that stand in stark opposition to the word of God? Any issue that you believe God dislikes, but you do any way to make it easier to fit in with your peers?

Life by the Sword

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.” Revelation 2:12-13

Image result for Satan's Throne PergamumPergamum means citadel in Greek. Once capital of the region, Pergamum became the first site of the Imperial–or Caesar–Cult in the Roman Empire. But the city was home to many pagan temples: Zeus [king of kings and god of gods], Asclepius [healer], Demeter [harvest/provider], Dionysius [pleasure], and Athena [wisdom].

It’s no wonder then that Jesus introduces His words to the Pergamenian Christians by reminding them that He has the sharp, double-edged sword. His words are the judgment that matter. And, knowing where they live, His words–not Satan’s pantheon of Greek and Roman frauds–were the only true judgments on which they were to build their lives.

Because Jesus is the actual King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16]. Jesus is the divine physician and the healer from whom all healing flows [Exodus 15:26]. Jesus is the Lord of the Harvest and our loving provider [Matthew 9:38; Genesis 22:14]. Jesus is the center of pure pleasure because He came that we might have life more abundantly [John 10:10]. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and in Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom [Proverbs 9:10; Colossians 2:3].

But to proclaim Jesus in Pergamum was to denounce the gods and goddesses, to be basically labeled an atheist and subject oneself to Roman persecution. Pergamum was truly a city where Satan had his throne. But Jesus commends the church here for holding onto His Name. A Name that is above all names [Philippians 2:9], but that sentenced its bearers to suffering and even death.

Tradition holds that Antipas was the first bishop here and that he was martyred–that is killed–for his faith in Jesus. Despite his death, the church at Pergamum held onto Jesus as a child holds firmly to a park merry-go-round that is spinning faster and faster, threatening to throw them off. And Jesus held just as firmly to them–as He does to us–while the world does all it can to loosen our grip on the truth.

These are the positives that Jesus has for Pergamum. In the next few verses, we will learn where this church fell short. But consider what they did right as you consider your own life today.

Do the things of Satan [that is anything that is contrary to God’s will] infuse the cultural context in which you live? Whose judgments matter in your life? On whose words do you build your life? Do you hold onto Jesus’ name even in the face of opposition?

The Crown of Life

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11

Image result for Roman Olive CrownUnlike the other churches of Revelation, the church of Smyrna received all accolades and encouragements from Jesus.

To them He calls Himself the First and the Last. And Jesus’ eternality is an important comfort to the Smyrnian Christians. They suffered affliction. They lived in poverty, but they had spiritual wealth that the world around them couldn’t understand. They were lied about by religious phonies. And they were about to experience even more trouble–prison, persecution, and possibly death.

The victor’s crown that Jesus spoke about was the olive wreath worn by champion athletes in Roman arenas. Those from Smyrna knew this cultural allusion well, though as Christians under the reign of Domitian, their only arena games were likely unarmed, deadly bouts with lions.

Jesus tells it like it is. You will suffer. You might even die. But then I–the One True God–will crown you the victor. Greater than any reward that a Caesar, who put himself in the place of God, could ever bestow–Jesus offered life, eternal life, to the faithful Christians who endured.

And after exhorting them to hear Him over the din of the world, He reaffirms that in the victory secured by their faith, the Smyrnian Christians would not experience the sting of second death [1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:14]. Because Jesus is the First and the Last, the beginning and the end. He was and is and is to come [Revelation 1:8 & 4:8]. His victory over death, hell and the grave is the promised reward to the faithful, and He alone is able to make such a promise.

Jesus is calling us to endure today, much as He did with the church of Smyrna centuries ago. Do you fix your eyes on spiritual abundance over physical wealth? Will you be faithful however far the world pushes you? Can you discern God’s voice over the din? If so, remain faithful. He has a crown of life with your name on it.

The Lampstand Removed

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Revelation 2:5-6

Image result for Ancient EphesusWithout doubt, Roman life for Ephesian Christians was hard.

To enter the agora, a public market square that served as the center for provisions, business and social life, one had to take a bit of incense and burn a fragrant offering to Caesar, thereby proclaiming him Lord. However, a Christian could not in good conscience make offerings or acknowledge any one other than Jesus Christ as Lord. So, unless they compromised their faith, they were shut out of the heart of their city life.

The temple of Artemis, as well as many other pagan temples, held prominence in Ephesian life. Temple worship and annual festivals were filled with immoral and even self-mutilating acts. But amazingly the temple of Artemis actually served as a financial hub of the city as well, much like a bank, since so much wealth was offered and spent there. So a Christian would not have had access to the financial backing that secular businessmen enjoyed.

A heretical sect, called Nicolaitans, sprang up in this confluence of Christianity and Romanism. They believed that since the body was a physical being and faith was a spiritual thing that they could, therefore, do whatever they wanted to in their body and be unaffected spiritually. God is clear here that this is not right thinking by any means.

Among all of this, and other practices that there is not room to explore here, the Ephesian Christians still behaved in many ways in line with the gospel. However, they’d forgotten their first love. That is, they’d misplaced, lost sight of or just plain let go of the priority to put Jesus Christ first in their lives.

So Jesus called them to repent–to think again or have their thinking renewed/made new. If they didn’t put Jesus back into His rightful place in their lives, they risked their lampstand being removed, their light being ineffective in their generation.

In our day, we are not commanded to worship our president as a god, but as Christians, our beliefs have been shut out of public places: courts, schools, media, and the like. Not only that, but we are regularly asked to denounce our faith in the God of the Bible, because He does not fit with mainstream lifestyles and ideas.

It can be difficult in any culture to keep Jesus as our number one priority, but particularly when this choice segregates us. Yet if we compromise or lose sight of Jesus as Lord of our lives, our light will be ineffective, our generation unreached.

Who or what has first priority in your life? Do you need to repent, that is be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Romans 12:2]?

Have You Forgotten Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this one thing against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:1-4

Image result for Church of Mary at EphesusChapter 2 opens with a letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the first of seven letters–one to each of the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, the Roman province which is modern day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital of the province and an important port city.

In Greek grammar, the two phrases sandwiching the preposition of could be read either way. So the opening could either read to the angel of the church in Ephesus as is commonly translated, or it could read to the church of the angel in Ephesus. Again, it could be either to the Ephesian church’s angel or to the angel’s church in Ephesus. The second translation seems the more likely of the two in human terms, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the seven churches were entertaining angels unaware [Hebrews 13:2].

The letter then follows with a description of Jesus taken from His Revelation 1 description. Interestingly, each of the seven church letters open in this same format, but they each contain a different portion of this description, one specifically suited to the particular church’s needs.

So to the church in Ephesus, Jesus’ priestly, kingly and godly nature was re-emphasized [Revelation 1:12-13].

Then, Jesus told them that He knows all about them–their deeds, hard work and perseverance. This was an active church, full of ministry, missions and mercy.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d kept wicked men out from among them and tested false apostles just as they ought. This church was fighting the good fight, staving off heresies and cultural/idolatrous influences.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d persevered, tirelessly enduring hardships for His name’s sake. This church had withstood tests of intensifying persecution in their Roman state.

By all human measures, Ephesus was walking the walk.

But Jesus needed them to know that they were missing one very important piece of the Christian puzzle–Christ. They’d forgotten their love for Him. Not unlike the 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminder that without love–specifically without Love [Jesus Himself; 1 John 4:8; John 15:9]–they’d gained nothing. They were doing ministry, preserving the knowledge of God, and enduring hardship in vain. All this while Jesus was walking among them [2:1].

How about you? Do you work tirelessly to advance the gospel? Do you avoid sinful influence? Do you suffer for the name of Jesus? And in all this, have you forgotten Someone very important in your Christian walk? Or are you walking daily with Jesus who is walking right here with you?

Fear Rightly. Breathe Life. Live Golden.

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” Revelation 1:17-20

Image result for gold lampstandSeeing the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His heavenly appearance compelled John to fall prone before Him. It’s that awestruck, worshipful response so natural to the heart that fears the Lord. But Jesus reminds John that fear of the Lord does not mean that we have to be afraid. Fear of the Lord is reverencing God for who He is, giving Him His rightful place as Lord of our lives and Creator of all. When we do this, we have nothing to fear from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus , further, proclaimed himself to be the First and the Last, just as He called Himself the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8, emphasizing His eternality in this passage.

He is the Living One. The one with God at the beginning through whom all things were made [John 1:1-3], One with the breath of life that was breathed into humankind in Adam. The One through whom all are made alive again [1 Corinthians 15:22], reversing the Adamic curse through which all died. The One who conquered death [1 Corinthians 15:57], hell and the grave [Revelation 1:18] to restore eternal life to those who believe in Him [John 3:16].

Therefore, because of who Jesus is, John was commanded to write down the God-given vision of present and future things. Only God is able to know such things. And the validity of a prophesy is known only when it does or doesn’t come to pass. So Jesus–as the author of life–orients the reader to some key symbolism in John’s vision. The stars [angels] and lampstands [churches].

I love knowing that the lampstands, representing the seven churches of Asia Minor, are golden. Gold is refined in a fire and purified in order to be formed into the tabernacle/ temple instruments. It took 75 pounds of gold to make the tabernacle lampstands and their accessories alone to God’s specifications [Exodus 25:39], and they stood, burning in front of the Most Holy Place [2 Chronicles 4:20]. But God tested the hearts of the churches in His refining fire, burning away the impurities, purifying them [Proverbs 17:3]. Yet, as we are about to read, even then at the time of John’s writing they were not perfect.

Likewise, God regards each of us as more precious than gold and He is testing our hearts, refining us day by day to become more like Him. We do not need to be afraid of Him or this process, but in faith to reverence Him as the One True God and Lord of our lives.

What is your response to God? Do you recognize Him when you see Him at work? Do you allow His word to work in your life? Have you given him the reins as Lord of your heart?