At the beginning of Jesus Christ’s public ministry, Matthew 4:17 states, “ From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In the two thousand years that have followed since that time, that message has never changed. In fact, in the very last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which speaks of the end times, he stated at the beginning of the book in a message given to the seven churches at that time (see Revelation 2-3) in Rev. 3:19-20, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” And those words are for the Church at large, too, down through the ages and to all believers in Jesus Christ.
In between those two statements are those of us who profess to be believers in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, in today’s society we have soft-peddled that message to the point of being so lukewarm that nobody takes seriously the need to repent of anything. A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) made an insightful comment on our “easy-believism” culture today. A short article titled “Evangelism: Modern Salesmanship” by Tozer is available at this link. Also, “rebuke” and “discipline” aren’t even in our vocabulary. And we say, “That can’t be true, right? We can do anything we want as long as we’ve said a ‘Jesus’ prayer that clears the way.”
So what do you suppose the Christians living in Iraq and Syria right now did to find themselves in the situation they are currently in? How about the Christians living in China and all the other places on our planet where Christians are severely persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ? If the Americanized version of Christianity is true, why isn’t it true for them, too? Why aren’t they living “the good life” we’ve been sold here in America instead of going through severe persecution which many times includes horrible atrocities and death? It’s because Jesus never preached “the good life” version that we far too frequently hear in America. It’s not about what we can get here and now on this earth. Eternity is forever, not this earth.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” How much do we really know about what Jesus said, and not just from folks we listen to or by reading their bestsellers telling us what they think he said or meant. I’m not implying that some of those authors and books aren’t good, but discernment is sorely lacking in our culture today, and there’s a lot of crap being published, too. If we aren’t reading the Bible as our one true source for what Jesus has to say about knowing and following after him, second hand information even from a very popular source is not going to cut it. If we want to really know who Jesus Christ is and what he requires of us to follow after him, we must read the Bible on a regular basis and pray, believing that he will show us the way.
And he never said it would be easy. Or selfish. Or only looking out for ourselves.
Unfortunately, a lot of folks seem to be saying, preaching, and writing to sell us on “the good life” message nowadays. And they often say we can do it in ten easy steps. Or is it five now? Maybe it’s down to only one. And that message is as old as the serpent’s message was to Eve in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). “You can be like God,” he said (Gen. 3:4-5). And she believed him, and Adam followed (Gen. 3:6). And down through the ages we have followed it, too. It’s called, “the easy way out.” And it the oldest lie on the planet–“Do whatever you want to do and get heaven, too.” And it’s from the pit of hell.
That message won’t save anybody, and it doesn’t change in any way Jesus’ original message. So who are we going to believe? All those folks who peddle an easy type of Christianity? Or Jesus Christ? Our lives and how we live them point clearly to who (or what) we believe in, and it’s often not Jesus although we are sure good at disguising it (or at least we think we are, but the rest of the world is not so easily fooled).
Back on October 24, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, “Because the Time is Near.” In that post is a brief description of the seven churches addressed at the beginning of the book of Revelation (Chapters 2-3). Those seven churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, and they are descriptions of not only literal churches that existed back then, but also types of individuals/churches throughout history right on up through today. Here is a brief description of those churches from “Got Questions?org”:
The seven churches described in Revelation 2-3 are seven literal churches at the time that John the apostle was writing Revelation. Though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today. The first purpose of the letters was to communicate with the literal churches and meet their needs at that time. The second purpose is to reveal seven different types of individuals/ churches throughout history and instruct them in God’s truth.
A possible third purpose is to use the seven churches to foreshadow seven different periods in the history of the Church. The problem with this view is that each of the seven churches describes issues that could fit the Church in any time in its history. So, although there may be some truth to the seven churches representing seven eras, there is far too much speculation in this regard. Our focus should be on what message God is giving us through the seven churches. The seven churches are:
We (believers) can all find ourselves somewhere in that list. We need to take seriously the word of Jesus Christ and we need to, as Jesus stated, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Don’t just swallow the lies that are so prevalent on our society without at least investigating the truth. And we can only find that truth in the Bible and by seeking God’s face. Not man’s face, but God’s face.
After the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 is Revelation 4, a picture of the Throne in Heaven with Jesus Christ seated on it. This picture is given to us by the apostle John, who was given this entire book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ in a vision to write down for all of us. Let’s read it:
After this I [John] looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Stop for a few minutes and really contemplate the picture that John paints for us–Jesus seated on the Throne in Heaven. That’s where he is right now, at the right hand of God. All
powerful, all knowing, worthy to be praised. Holy, holy. holy.
What follows after Chapter 4 is a picture of the seven-year Tribulation period (the last 3 1/2 years of this period are known as the Great Tribulation), a time Jesus described in his last days discourse in Matthew 24 as follows, “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matthew 24:21). In Matthew 24:3, Jesus disciples asked him, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And in Matthew 24:4-14:
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Read that second paragraph again. This is already happening to Christians in Iraq, Syria, China, Egypt, and all over our planet on a mass scale now. To think that it won’t come to our own shores here in America is a grave misunderstanding on our part. It is already happening as evidence of the clear and rapid changes going on in our culture right now. Jesus clearly stated to his disciples in John 15:18-25:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’
We (believers) can’t afford to just coast in neutral and look for “the good life” here and now. Real Christianity has never been about seeking after “the good life” or any life apart from Jesus Christ. We can’t afford to miss the boat because we are heading in the wrong direction. Read the three parables immediately following Jesus’ last days discourse (Matthew 24) in Matthew 25. We can–way too easily–be asleep at the switch here in America as there is so much in our culture today that pulls us away from the only secure place we have–our faith and relationship in Jesus Christ.
I’ll end this post with words from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:1-20:
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us “be very careful how we live–not unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” and the time is growing short, too. And let us remember on a daily basis Who it is we really serve . . .
Holy, holy, holy . . .
Is the Lord God Almighty . . .
Who was, and is, and is to come . . . .
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!
I’m including two YouTube Videos below that are relevant to the message above. Let’s move on from the winding road of indecision/lack of commitment in the first song to the Solid Rock in the second song. If we say we are going to follow His lead, then we need to follow it and stop making excuses. And we can find it in the pages of the Bible, so let’s start there.
YouTube Video: “Revelation” by Third Day:
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean: