I’m continuing my series on the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, focusing on the letter to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. I’ve decided to split up these posts a bit, just because there’s so much I want to say about each church. So there may be a couple of entries for each church as I progress along. Be sure to read this post and this post as an introduction to the series if you have not already.
Ephesus was the capital and largest city of the Roman province of Asia Minor with a population of approximately 250,000 people and a public theatre seating 24,000. It was a center of commerce and finance, but also was known for immorality and idol worship. The major shrine in the city was the great temple of Diana, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world being 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, 60 feet high and held up by 127 marble pillars. The worship of Diana (or Artemis in Greek) promoted sexual immorality throughout the city. The silversmith trade was prosperous because of the demand for gold, silver and bronze idols of Diana to be used as one’s household deity (Acts 19:25).
The church in Ephesus, shining like a lamp in the midst of darkness, was a revival center for Asia Minor (Acts 19:26) being the third most prominent church in the Book of Acts after Jerusalem and Antioch. Paul first came to Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem from Corinth at the end his second missionary trip in AD 52 (Acts 18:19-21). He initially preached in the synagogue for several months and then left. His friends Priscilla and Aquila stayed to train Apollos and the disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 18:24-28).
Paul returned to establish a church on his third missionary journey (Acts 19-20) which he used as his ministry base for three years (Acts 20:31). During his visit, the people responded so fervently to the gospel that the market for purchasing the silversmiths’ little Diana trinkets virtually disappeared. The revival resulted in many coming to Jesus with such extreme devotion that the silversmiths troubled Paul and caused many involved in idolatry to burn their magic books worth 50,000 drachmas (Acts 19:13-20). A drachma was an average day's wage ($100/day would have been $5,000,000 worth of magic books).
If you think that's a little strange, let me explain. I was a part of the stage crew at this year's onething conference in Bartle Hall downtown KC, where we always ring in the new year with worship and prayer. This year, we invited the young people into a "sacred charge" before the Lord to commit to specific things like praying at least two hours per day, fasting two days per week, reading the book of Revelation, leading a weekly bible study, and boldly proclaiming the message of Jesus' return. Many of the young people responded wholeheartedly. It was unbelievable...
I'll give more updates on onething as the days progress. It was a lot of work for all of us, but I'm certain that the attendees were unbelievably blessed.
If you have a testimony about onething either as an attendee or as someone who watched it through the webcast, let me know by leaving a comment - I'd love to hear it!
It's Christmas time again, which means, at least for an IHOP guy like me, the onething conference is right around the corner, the prayer room slims down to the people who actually live in Kansas City (since many students and interns leave for the holidays), and many of the prayer room sets and songs are sung around passages relating to the birth of Christ.
I seriously wish we could take an entire month out of each year and corporately meditate on the incarnation. Of all of the things that we should center our lives around, few, if anything at all actually, should outweigh the nativity scene we view perhaps hundreds of times each December. For the eternal infinite God to fully become a finite human being is arguably the most shocking, the most outrageous, and the most scandalous thing that has happened in the history of the created order. Dana Candler in her book Entirety writes:
Jesus, the Living Word, was God from eternity, begotten before time, dwelling in the unapproachable light with the Father, inhabiting the everlasting ages before the world was made in all glory and majesty (John 1:1-2). Perpetually worshipped by angels, He possessed all things from all eternity, and to any onlooker of the adoring heavenly hosts, there was no apparent reason for this to change.
Yet in the heart of God, from this love of the Holy Three, there was a plan of scandalous proportions rooted in outrageous love, and the crux of that plan involved the unthinkable departing of the Begotten Son from the shrouds of unapproachable light and the unimaginable emptying of Himself in the assumption of a human frame. It meant the unthinkable mystery that God the Creator would enter the world through the womb of a young maiden whom He Himself created, and ultimately, the shocking culmination of God hanging on a cross—the eternal statement of His endless hatred of sin and everlasting love of mankind.
The Baby that we find in the manger was the same One who was eternally the Possessor of All, the Author of Life, the uncreated One who was with God from everlasting (Micah 5:2). He did not consider His eternal exaltation as something to be grasped and used for His own gain, but rather He chose in transcendent love to empty Himself of so great an exaltation, making Himself of no reputation and taking on the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:6-7).
Out of the erupting love and desire of the Godhead, the Son left the covering of unapproachable light and the vastness of His heavenly riches, wrapping Himself in the profound obscurity of poor humanity and becoming to the natural eye nothing more than a newborn Jewish boy, and later a typical young man, son of a carpenter, from Nazareth. In these obscure, ordinary beginnings, the extraordinary occurred: God took on the plight of humanity, the weakness and frailty of our dilemma and forever assumed His identity as our Brother, making us bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh forever.
Without question, the influence of secular music on musicians that profess the name of Jesus is strong. Church musicians and Christian artists will name many secular bands as their main musical influences. Before you think I am about to give the blanket statement that is heard so often - “secular music is bad” - I’ll say that various musical genres in and of themselves are not “bad”, and by no means am I advocating that all modern worship songs should be in a specific, common “style”. Taking such a stand is to, I believe, remove the multi-faceted nature of music as it expresses God’s heart and personality. But the issue I do want to speak into though is the influence of musicians that confess Jesus looking to secular music for that “new edge” on their worship music. I don’t want to point fingers or accuse in any way – I want to call us as musicians and songwriters to a higher standard as we write, play, and sing today at the end of the age.
As I’ve outlined in many previous posts on my blog in my prophetic music category, there are two worship movements being raised up today. Both will use music in a massive way to influence men’s decisions and attitudes. Both will gather multitudes in stadiums. Both will even have signs, wonders, and power connected to them. But one will lead many into giving themselves to Jesus in meekness and humility, bringing them to eternal life and peace - and the other will deceive many into worshipping Satan and his demonic cohorts, sending them to the lake of fire forever.
The last thing we want to do as musicians writing, playing, and leading for the true movement is to give ourselves, even in little ways, to the entanglements and snares of the false movement.
In continuing my series on the seven churches of Revelation, I want to spend this post examining a bit of the motivation of Jesus. What was in His heart in actually giving these messages to the churches? As I said in my first post, each letter was carefully thought out and crafted by the Son of God Himself, and then given to both a literal church alive during the first century as well as to anyone in any age reading the text who would have an ear to what the Spirit is saying, with a particular focus on the generation that would see the book of Revelation unfold in their lifetime. So while I will come from the angle of examining the letters to these seven real churches, in subsequent posts I will focus more on the application of each letter to the saints alive today as those who I believe may very well see the Lord’s return in the span of their lifetime.
The seven letters were much more than just “quick little post-it notes” given to the churches. Through them, Jesus was looking to stir each church (and ultimately, us) to a greater place of abandonment, obedience, and heart-level agreement with who He is. He stirs the churches through several unique strategies:
Okay, so I got a divine idea this afternoon while talking to my roommates. We know that Jesus defined "love" for Him as something more than a sentiment, an emotion, or a feeling - He defined it as one firm, clear word that is frightening to our selfish, prideful, fallen human nature. In John 14:15, John 14:21, and John 14:23, Jesus said:
““If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
“A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?”
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”
(John 14:15-23 NKJV)
I want to start out this series with a pretty intense statement that hopefully will ring true with your heart by the end of the series: The letters to the seven churches are perhaps some of the most “forgotten” passages in the entire book of Revelation.
In a day when even unbelievers are becoming more and more interested in what the Bible has to say about the future, discussion between various camps in studying the book of Revelation always tends to revolve around passages like Revelation 20 (the 1000-year reign of Jesus), Revelation 4:1 (“come up here”), Revelation 6:1 (the first seal), or Revelation 12 (the symbolism of the woman and the dragon). These passages and others are rightfully discussed and debated more than these letters to the seven churches, simply because of the various systems of eschatological thought that have developed in the last 2000 years since the book’s writing in 96AD.
In the limelight of these passages lies Revelation 2-3. Despite their lack of emphasis across the body of Christ today, there is much in the New Testament surrounding the issues Jesus raised in Revelation 2 and 3 – from fervency and wholeheartedness, reigning with Christ, and the first commandment to the toleration of immorality and a dull spirit.
For anyone like me dismayed and utterly disgusted with the political system, the elections, and the state of our nation because it does not line up with that of heaven's, I'd highly recommend reading this amazing blog by one of my favorite teachers here at IHOP, Stephen Venable. I couldn't agree more with what he said.
Here's a quote that sums it all up:
Biblically God’s winds of change do not blow from capitals and courtrooms, nor are they the least bit hindered by the resistance of wicked men. The greatest revival in history began in the city that crucified the Lord of Glory, and spread like wild-fire through an empire that worshiped their leader. My guess is that neither of the candidates in this election will soon seek to demand worship, but even if they surprised us all and did, America would not be disqualified. And regardless of who gets elected America will still be the recipient of God’s judgment, for no matter who the nation crowns on November 4th, men and women all across this land will lie down on their bed after turning off the news and give no heed to the glory of Christ and His infinite worth. My concern is not that men and women in the Church have voiced support for a particular candidate, but that in doing so they have demonstrated more commitment and more zeal than they do for the majesty and renown of Jesus. We are consumed with a host of things but not with Him, and it is this disease of Christ-less Christianity that threatens the future of our nation, not a movement to the left or the right of the political aisle. We must awake and return to our first love, curing the malady that now runs rampant under quaint country steeples and in the sprawling suburban campuses of mega-churches alike. - Stephen Venable
For some other great reading by another favorite of mine, John Piper, check this out.
The only possible option for our nation is God's mercy. Even though His mercy might not come in the way much of the church may expect it to, rest assured He will answer us as we ask for it. The “cry for change” might be louder than the “cry for mercy” in our day, but that does not negate the prayers we offer Him for it. God remembers and cherishes our prayers - and because they are prayed in agreement with His will (Micah 7:18), He will dispense mercy. This is where we must find our hope - not in a single candidate, even though they may seem like they have the "best plan" for America or even because they love what Jesus loves. Mercy and Justice is a Man named Jesus Christ. We will never experience the fullness of these things we are all longing for apart from Him.
For the past few weeks I've been studying Revelation 2-3 extensively, trying to wrap my head and my heart around each of the issues Jesus rebuked and affirmed in them and the promises to the overcomer given to each of the churches. In the past I have not spent much time in these chapters, but I've recently begun to see their importance and application towards us today. These two chapters are critical to understanding the rest of Revelation, and they're instrumental in motivating us to be an "overcomer".
John penned some hard-to-swallow yet encouraging messages that Jesus gave to the churches during the first century. Some scholars like to apply the spiritual principles set forth to each church to specific ages in the history of Christendom. It may indeed be a worthy way to apply Jesus' words, but I believe the most important application of each letter (after its primary purpose of speaking to real churches in the first century) is speaking to believers who will witness the events of Revelation 6-19 in their own lifetime. That could quite possibly be some of you reading this blog right now.
The main phrase that provoked me to study these chapters in more detail is actually repeated seven times in the 51 verses in Revelation 2-3. Each time Jesus finishes speaking to a church, he closes with the phrase: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Do you have an ear? Jesus is speaking about you and I - the readers and hearers of the words that He spoke. Have we taken heed to the words He's spoken? Does our heart begin to burn when we meditate on receiving a "white stone" (Revelation 2:17) from Jesus? Do we have any idea what it means to have the new name of Jesus written on us? (Revelation 3:12)
I'm just beginning to scratch the surface of the answers to those questions, and I figured a series on my blog would help me to understand them a bit better. So, you get to benefit from my study and my prayer. :) Hopefully it provokes you to go deeper in these things as well!
I'm still helping out with Dave Sliker's Biblical Foundations of Eschatology class at IHOPU for the next few weeks, but expect at least a 7-part (perhaps more) series on Revelation 2-3 in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!
Ok. Sparing all the details, this is just a phenomenal testimony of the Lord's goodness. Last year I bought this 2000 Mitsubishi Galant. It died on the highway back in early August:
I prayed and asked the Lord to give me reliable transportation - either the funds and knowledge to fix the dead car or another vehicle altogether. Through a series of ridiculous circumstances with provision and offerings from many people, some totally unexpected and others absolutely extravagant, the Lord gave me this new car:
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