In today's reading, we find a curious pattern:
The people of Damascus (Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah, Israel) have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They beat down my people in Gilead as grain is threshed with iron sledges. Looks like He didn't leave anyone out!
1:11 The people of Edom have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords, showing them no mercy. Remember that Edom are the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. So hence, relatives. You will notice that God has a different charge against each one. Here's His charge against Judah:
2:4 They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors. While the others were more focused on crimes against people, Judah is the one charged with sinning against God and going astray!
3:1-2 Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel and Judah—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt: "From among all the families on the earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins." How sad God must have felt for the short term evil to accomplish His will, but most of all the rejection by His own family-His betrothed. I feel so happy knowing that it's not the end of the story and that Jesus will get a Bride refined by fire and made ready for her Groom.
3:4, 8 Does a lion ever roar in a thicket without first finding a victim? The lion has roared-so who isn't frightened? I don't know if you ever saw Chronicles of Narnia, but I found myself positively smitten by Aslan as portrayed in that movie. The beautiful truth is that no one who is living at peace with Him when He comes, this Lion of Judah, will be afraid. We will be like Lucy who could approach Aslan with childlike innocence and wonder.
3:6 Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it? Interesting verse. God is surely sovereign!
The 7 Churches. I have heard many a message on these 7 churches. Note that the number 7 is the number for God and for perfection, so I suspect that the 7 churches comprise all of those who believe in the times of Jesus until His return.
I have heard that these churches can be applied on a personal level—that we each cycle through these various churches at different stages of faith. Next, they could be applied literally to churches in history. Some people say that these were literal churches, but I don't know about that. Thirdly, there is speculation that the spiritual climate of the churches of the last age can all fit into one of these descriptions. Could all be true. Here is a brief summary of each church (including tomorrow's reading):
Ephesus: Persevering, can't tolerate evil men, test those who call themselves apostles, endured and not grown weary. BUT, has left its first love (Jesus). This church appears to be more like Pharisees, holding to the law but not for the right motives. Notice verse 7-it is only the right of an overcomer to eat of the tree of life. All must become overcomers!
Smyrna: Endures tribulation, poverty, and persecution by those who call themselves "Jews" or believers. These sound like true overcomers! Notice verse 11 says those who overcome will not be HURT by the second death, not destroyed.
Pergamum: Did not deny the name of Jesus even when persecuted. Note that "Antipas" is only mentioned this one time in the Bible. I found one internet commentary on Antipas that seems feasible: The word Antipas means, "against all;" and is doubtless introduced here as the apocalyptic designation of those who were the faithful in opposition to all pretenders to Christianity. Paul and all who adhered to his teaching were Antipas. Wikipedia says that Antipas was a real person-the bishop of Pergamum during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. But God had this complaint against them: some "hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans."
Thyatira: Loving, faithful, serving, persevering, growing in the faith. But they tolerate and even participate in immorality and eat (partake of) things sacrificed to idols.
Sardis: Apparent hypocrites. Look alive to the outside world, but are really dead. I find it interesting that this is the church to which He says, "Wake up or I will come like a thief." It also says that there are a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments and they will "walk with Me in white, for they are worthy."
Philadelphia: Has been given an open door that no one can shut. This church has little strength but still keeps His Word and does not deny His name. Will be spared the hour of testing to come because of perseverance.
Laodicea: Lukewarm, not good for any purpose. Full of riches, wealth and independence. Don't see that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. If not repentant, will be spit out of Jesus' mouth.
If churches did describe individuals, which church would you most closely be associated with at this point in your life?
Words to the overcomers in each church (this is beautiful):
Ephesus: To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.
Smyrna: He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
Pergamum: To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.
Thyatira: He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
Sardis: He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
Philadelphia: He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
Laodicea: He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
I don't know if these words to overcomers are specific to these churches or apply to all overcomers. Either way, they are really encouraging!