Coming to a Position

Question One: Will there be a Millennium - an earthly reign of Christ?

Arguments for Yes

  • A natural reading of Revelation 20 suggests that there will be a literal one thousand year reign of Jesus Christ, with two separate resurrections.
  • A number of passages appear to teach about a time that sounds like the millennium (Psalm 72:8-14; Isaiah 11:2-9; 65:20; Zechariah 14:6-21; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).

Arguments for No

  • Only one passage (Revelation 20:1-6) appears to teach a future earthly millennial reign of Christ, and that passage is obscure. It is unwise to base a major doctrine of Scripture on one passage of uncertain interpretation.
  • Neither Jesus nor Paul taught about the millennium. The millennium is not mentioned in the Bible outside of Revelation.
  • A number of Scriptures teach that Satan is presently being restrained - Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 12
  • Revelation is a symbolic book. The "thousand years" or Revelation 20 signifies the idea of perfection or completeness, representing the completeness of Christ's victory over Satan, and the perfect joy of the redeemed in heaven.
  • Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events to come (resurrection of believers and unbelievers, final judgment, establishment of new heaven and earth, eternal state) will happen at once (Matthew 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:10).

Question Two: Will the Second Coming take place before or after the Millennium?

Arguments for After (That the world will experience Millennial conditions before Christ returns)

  • The Great Commission leads us to expect that the gospel eventually spread to the entire world. Since Christ has all power in heaven and earth, and promises to be with us until the fulfillment of the commission, we should expect that the gospel will successfully spread to the entire world (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • Jesus gave several parables, which appear to teach the growth of the kingdom until it fills the world with its influence (Matthew 13:31-33).
  • Many verses speak of God redeeming the world (Psalms 47, 72, and 100; Isaiah 45:22-25; Zechariah 9:10; Hosea 2:23; Revelation 7:9-10).
  • Angels and saints are described in Scripture as being hosts, myriads, an innumerable multitude, ten thousand times ten thousand (e.g. Luke 2:13; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 5:11). Such language is never used to describe the lost. Heaven is described as being the next world, a great kingdom, a country, a city, whereas hell is pictured as being a comparatively small place: a prison, a lake, a pit (Luke 20:35; Matthew 5:3; Hebrews 11:16; 1 Peter 3:19; Revelation 19:20; 21:1, 8-16).
  • Historically speaking, the world is becoming increasingly Christian. Social conditions are improving.

Arguments for Before (That the Millennium will not begin before Christ returns)

  • Biblical data seems to indicate a great wickedness and a cooling off of the faith of many before Christ's return (Matthew 24-25 - especially 24:21-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). Further, the Bible never teaches an earthly reign of Christ without his physical presence.
  • The Bible teaches that relatively few will believe (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 18:8).
  • The world is not becoming a better place. We see unprecedented levels of drug abuse, marital infidelity, pornography, homosexuality, rebellion against authority, superstition, materialism, greed, and falsehood.
  • Many passages teach that Christ could return at any time and that we must be ready (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Hebrews 10:25; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 22:20). This would seem to contradict the idea of a long period of time required for the millennium on earth preceding his return.
  • Postmillennialists do not agree on the subject of the two resurrections of Revelation 20.

Question Three: Will Christ remove the church before the Tribulation, or will he return after the Tribulation?

Arguments for Before (That the church will escape the Tribulation)

  • The Tribulation is a time for the outpouring of God's wrath. It is not appropriate for Christians to be subjected to God's wrath. Paul promised the Thessalonians that they would not experience the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).
  • Jesus promises in Revelation 3:10, "I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth." This seems to indicate that the church will be taken out of the world before that hour of trial comes. In fact, nowhere does Scripture speak of the church being present during the Tribulation.
  • If Christ returns after the Tribulation and defeats all his enemies, then there will not be enough unbelievers left to populate the millennial kingdom.

Arguments for After (That Christ will return after the Tribulation)

  • Matthew 24 says the elect will be present during the Tribulation. Consistent with the usage of this term throughout Scripture, the elect refers to believers.
  • Revelation 3:10 does not go so far as to say that the entire church will be taken out of the world before the Tribulation. It is made to one church. It could refer to a time of suffering that took place in the Roman Empire. It promises that God will guard them, but not necessarily remove them from the world.
  • Tribulation has been the experience of Christ and the church throughout the ages (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Therefore, it would not be surprising if the church endured the Great Tribulation.
  • Many verses, naturally interpreted, seem to indicate that the hope of the church is the return of Christ after the Tribulation (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-8; 2:1-12; Revelation 19:1-9).
  • If the church is going to be taken out of the world before the Tribulation, one would think that the New Testament would explicitly teach this. Instead, the Bible teaches a public and visible rapture just moments prior to his coming (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
  • The New Testament does not seem to justify the idea of two separate returns of Christ (once for his church, and seven years later to bring judgment), or the idea of a secret return of Christ.
  • Pretribulation teachings are based on inferences from disputed passages. If Scripture clearly taught the pretribulation position, it should have been discovered before the nineteenth century. Instead, the majority of those in church history have believed that the church would go through the Tribulation.

Pastor Terry Ciona's Farewell (Acts 20:17-38)

  • it seems like there's always good news and bad news for a youth pastor
  • the good news: you've baptized three people on a youth retreat
  • the bad news: you lost one of them in the current

  • the good news: the youth committee sent you a get-well card
  • the bad news: the vote passed by 4 to 3

  • the good news: Mrs. Jones thinks you're a great youth pastor
  • the bad news: Mrs. Jones is also wild about the Gong Show and the Bay City Rollers

  • the good news: your youth have come to your house for a visit
  • the bad news: it's midnight and they're armed with toilet paper and shaving cream

  • the good news: the senior pastor accepted your job description the way you wrote it
  • the bad news: he's formed a search committee to find somebody capable of filling it

  • the good news: God has moved you on
  • the bad news: you have to listen to what I have to say before you leave

  • Terry, it's time to say goodbye
  • saying good-bye has some obvious benefits
  • it allows us to reflect on where we've been together
  • it helps us to appreciate one another, and reminds us not to take our relationships together for granted
  • it reveals the true nature of the relationship we've had together
  • and it allows both of us to stand on our own, to see what we're really made of

  • saying good-bye can also be difficult
  • I guess it all depends on who you're saying good-bye to
  • but Paul tells us how to say good-bye
  • please turn in your Bible to Acts 20
  • Paul was traveling to Rome, against the better judgment of many of the early Christians, and passed near Ephesus, a city he had visited earlier
  • he couldn't pass by without calling for the leaders of the Ephesian church for a very emotional farewell
  • as I looked at this passage, I've discovered two characteristics of a good-bye that could be applied to our situation here today
  • two lessons, if you will, on how to say a good good-bye

  • LESSON NUMBER ONE: SAYING GOOD-BYE MEANS APPRECIATING OUR PAST RELATIONSHIP
  • as Paul meets the Ephesian elders, the first thing he does is reminisces on their past relationship together - particularly the integrity of his own ministry among them
  • read with me:
  • (Acts 20:18) When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia.
  • (Acts 20:19) I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.
  • (Acts 20:20) You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
  • (Acts 20:21) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

  • when saying good-bye, it's easy to look back at the past
  • Paul points out that he wasn't reluctant to jump in when he started, but says "from the first day" that he ministered the same way among them
  • his motive was simple: he wanted to serve the Lord (verse 19)
  • he wasn't in it to make money, and he wasn't in it for his ego
  • his only motive was to serve the Lord

  • the manner of his ministry was also simple
  • the entire time he was with them, he lived a consistent life, and served the Lord with humility and tears

  • and his message was well known to the Ephesians (verses 20-21): he didn't hesitate to preach anything, but told sinners to repent and have faith in the Lord
  • he had ministered to both Jews and Gentiles, and preached a balanced message, not hesitating to include anything that would be of benefit to the congregation
  • in short, Paul had an exemplary ministry while he ministered in Ephesus

  • the thing I like about Paul is that he didn't have to hang his head in shame when he left them
  • Paul could look back and praise God for an effective and credible ministry while he was among them
  • were there problems? of course! just read Acts 19
  • I guess you could call a riot a bit of a problem!
  • but Paul could look back without shame or regret, and praise God that his motives, manner, and message were beyond question while he was among them

  • I learn from Paul an important lesson here
  • it's important, Terry, to appreciate the past we've had together
  • you can see tonight that you've been appreciated, and we'll continue to appreciate you as we move forward

  • but Paul also teaches us a second lesson
  • LESSON NUMBER TWO: SAYING GOOD-BYE MEANS WE ACCEPT GOD'S LEADING ABOVE OUR OWN DESIRES
  • (Acts 20:22) "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.
  • (Acts 20:23) I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.
  • (Acts 20:24) However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
  • (Acts 20:25) "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.
  • (Acts 20:26) Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
  • (Acts 20:27) For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

  • Paul says in verse 22 that he is "compelled by the Spirit" to leave for Jerusalem
  • it didn't make a lot of sense
  • everywhere he visited, the Holy Spirit told him through prophesies that jail was waiting for him ahead
  • I don't think anyone really wanted Paul to leave
  • probably even Paul experienced the occasional doubt

  • but I love verse 24:
  • (Acts 20:24 NLT) But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus - the work of telling others the Good News about God's wonderful kindness and love.
  • Paul is saying, in effect, "I don't care if I end up in jail - I have to go where the Spirit takes me. I don't know what is going to happen, but I know I'm following Jesus."
  • and you can read between the lines and sense that Paul is reminding the Ephesian elders that even if they don't want him to leave, they had better accept God's will

  • I could preach a whole sermon on sensing God's will, but what I know is this: when God calls, you had better listen
  • God has called you away, Terry
  • just as you sensed God calling you here, you have sensed God moving you away
  • we know God is preparing you for something

  • jumping ahead for a minute to the end of Paul's message, we see how the people reacted
  • (Acts 20:36) When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.
  • (Acts 20:37) They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.
  • (Acts 20:38) What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
  • nobody wanted Paul to leave, but if Paul is compelled by the Spirit, he had better go
  • and if we are compelled by the Spirit as well to move on, we had better go!

  • Paul teaches us quite a bit about saying good-bye
  • he's reminded us to appreciate the time we've had together, and to accept the Spirit's leading
  • I'm excited, because we're both on the threshold of a new adventure
  • with God's help, and God's future leading, who knows what blessings lie ahead?
  • saying good-bye isn't easy, but with the lessons we learn from Paul's good-bye, it's a little bit easier

  • I hope you'll pray with me that Terry's ministry here will have reflected the words written o n an old burial plaque 300 years ago
  • "In the year of 1653, when all things sacred were throughout the nation destroyed or profaned, this church was built to the glory of God by Sir Robert Shirley, whose singular praise it was to have done the best things in the worst times"
  • may it be said of us that, like the Apostle Paul and like Sir Robert Shirley, we built our ministries to the glory of God by having done the best things in the worst times

Premillennialism

PREMILLENNIALISM - The belief that Jesus Christ will physically return again to earth before the millennium begins.

There are two major premillennial views:

  • Historic Premillennialism - Otherwise known as simple premil; one-stage premil; classic premil; or post-tribulational premil. This position teaches that Jesus Christ will return after a period called the Great Tribulation. This was the majority view of the early church (up to about 250 AD).
  • Dispensational Premillennialism - Otherwise known as dispensationalism; two-stage premil; pre-tribulational premil. This position teaches that the church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation. This view has become popular since the 1830s, and is closely associated with American fundamentalism.

While it appears that the only difference between the two views is one over the timing of the Rapture, these two views differ greatly in their understanding of redemptive history. They are two very separate views, not to be confused.

What Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism Hold in Common

Both positions believe:

  • There will be an earthly reign of Jesus Christ for approximately one thousand years. Some understand the thousand years to represent a substantial but indefinite period of time. This reign will be personal and bodily. Believers will reign with Christ for this period.
  • Prior to the millennium, there will be a period of turmoil, persecution, and suffering called the Great Tribulation. The world will be at its worst.
  • The millennium will not begin gradually. It will begin with a cataclysmic event.
  • The millennium will be a time of world peace and harmony. Nature will be freed from its curse.
  • There will be two literal physical resurrections.
  • Israel will have some special significance in the millennium.

Arguments for Premillennialism

  1. A clear and natural reading of Revelation 20:1-6 favors premillennialism. For instance, it suggests that there are two separate physical resurrections separated by a period of one thousand years.
  2. Other passages hint at a resurrection of a select group (Luke 14:14; 20:35; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Philippians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16) or a resurrection in two stages (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29).
  3. The binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2-3 refers to a greater restriction in his activity than anything we experience today. Therefore, the millennium has not begun.
  4. Several passages seem to neither fit the present age or the eternal state (e.g. Psalm 72; Isaiah 11:6-11; 65:20; Zechariah 14:5-17). This seems to suggest that there will be a time in which our redemption will be far greater than the current age, yet a time in which death and sin are still present.
  5. Other New Testament passages, besides Revelation 20, suggest a future millennium (1 Corinthians 15:23-25; Revelation 2:26-27).
  6. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that Christians (alive or dead) are already reigning with Christ. However, the Bible teaches that believers will reign with Christ and be given authority to reign over the earth (Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 6:3; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21).
  7. There are no biblical passages with which premillennialists cannot cope. However, the reference to two resurrections in Revelation 20 gives amillennialists and postmillennialists difficulty.

Responses to Premillennialism

  1. The two resurrections of Revelation 20 are not necessarily physical. They could be two different types of resurrections (spiritual and physical) or both spiritual.
  2. The Scriptures cited do not demand two separate physical resurrections.
  3. Satan is restricted in his activity today (Matthew 12:29; Luke 10:17-18; John 12:31-32).
  4. Old Testament prophecies are not always fulfilled in a way that we might expect (e.g. Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1). These prophecies could predict conditions on the new earth.
  5. Christ is now reigning at God's right hand (Hebrews 1:3). Revelation 20 is the only passage that speaks of an actual millennium.
  6. The idea of a provisional kingdom, in which glorified and mortal men mingle, finds no support in Scripture. It seems odd to think of resurrected saints and ordinary mortals mingling for a thousand years. The purpose of this millennial reign is unclear.
  7. Other interpretations exist for Revelation 20 and the other passages cited. The scene appears to take place in heaven, not earth.

Historic Premillennialism

GREAT TRIBULATION ->

SECOND COMING ->

MILLENNIUM ->

ETERNAL STATE

  • Period of great apostasy and rebellion
  • Rapture
  • The resurrection and judgment of believers
  • Satan bound
  • Earthly reign of Christ for substantial period of time (possibly a literal one thousand years)
  • The resurrection and judgment of unbelievers

What Historic Premillennialism Teaches

  • The present church age will continue until a time of Great Tribulation comes on the earth.
  • After the Tribulation, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom. When he comes back, believers will be raised from the dead. Their bodies will be reunited with their spirits. Believers who are alive will receive their resurrection bodies.
  • Christ will be physically present on earth during the millennium, and will reign as King over the entire earth, along with the glorified believers. This reign will take place for a thousand years (understood as a literal thousand years to some; others as a substantial but indeterminate time).
  • Many, but not all, unbelievers will be saved. There will be peace on the earth, as Satan will be bound during the millennium.
  • Israel will find its place within the church. Large numbers from Israel will be converted.
  • At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be loosed and will join forces with many unbelievers who appeared to believe, but remained inwardly hostile to Christ. Satan and these unbelievers will rise against Christ, but will be decisively defeated.
  • At this point, unbelievers who have died throughout history will be raised and judged.
  • After the final judgment, believers will enter into the eternal state.

Dispensational Premillennialism

RAPTURE ->

GREAT TRIBULATION ->

SECOND COMING ->

MILLENNIUM ->

ETERNAL STATE

  • Secret rapture before Tribulation
  • Period of great apostasy and rebellion
  • Widespread Jewish salvation
  • Resurrection of saints who died in Tribulation
  • Satan bound
  • Resurrection of the lost, judgment

What Dispensational P remillennialism Teaches

  • The present church age will continue until, suddenly and secretly, Christ returns to the earth to take believers out of the world to heaven.
  • After Christ returns to heaven with the believers, a seven-year period of Tribulation will begin. Many signs that will precede Christ's return will take place. Many Jews will return to Christ.
  • At the end of the Great Tribulation, Christ will return to earth with his saints to reign on the earth for a thousand years.
  • At the end of this millennial period, Satan will be loosed and will lead a rebellion. Satan will be finally defeated. Unbelievers will be resurrected and judged, and the eternal state will begin.
  • There is a clear distinction between the church and Israel. The Jewish people remain distinct from the church. All God's promises to Israel remain unconditional and continuing, and are not transferred to the church.
  • Biblical prophesies are to be interpreted literally where possible.

Will Christ Return Before or After the Great Tribulation?

Arguments for a Pretribulation Rapture

  • The Tribulation is a time for the outpouring of God's wrath. It is not appropriate for Christians to be subjected to God's wrath. Paul promised the Thessalonians that they would not experience the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).
  • Jesus promises in Revelation 3:10, "I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth." This seems to indicate that the church will be taken out of the world before that hour of trial comes. In fact, nowhere does Scripture speak of the church being present during the Tribulation.
  • If Christ returns after the Tribulation and defeats all his enemies, then there will not be enough unbelievers left to populate the millennial kingdom.
  • The pretrib position allows for Christ to return at any moment (his secret coming), and yet for many signs to be fulfilled before his coming (after the Tribulation). Nothing remains to be fulfilled before the rapture.
  • The Tribulation is a part of God's program for Israel (Daniel 9).

Arguments for a Posttribulation Rapture

  • Matthew 24 says the elect will be present during the Tribulation. Consistent with the usage of this term throughout Scripture, the elect refers to believers.
  • Revelation 3:10 does not go so far as to say that the entire church will be taken out of the world before the Tribulation. It is made to one church. It could refer to a time of suffering that took place in the Roman Empire. It promises that God will guard them, but not necessarily remove them from the world.
  • There is a distinction between the wrath of God and the Tribulation. The wrath of God comes upon the wicked (John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Revelation 6:16-17) but not believers (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9). However, believers will experience tribulation (Matthew 24:9; Revelation 7:14). This will not be God's wrath, but the wrath of Satan and unbelievers.
  • Tribulation has been the experience of Christ and the church throughout the ages (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7). Therefore, it would not be surprising if the church endured the Great Tribulation.
  • Many verses, naturally interpreted, seem to indicate that the hope of the church is the return of Christ after the Tribulation (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-8; 2:1-12; Revelation 19:1-9).
  • Posttribulationalism allows that Christ could return at any time. The remaining signs could be fulfilled in a very short period of time.
  • The New Testament does not support a distinction between Israel and the church. The church is the new Israel (Matthew 21:43; Romans 2:28-29; 9:6-8; 11:17-24; Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 2:16; Hebrews 8; 1 Peter 2:4-10).
  • If the church is going to be taken out of the world before the Tribulation, one would think that the New Testament would explicitly teach this. Instead, the Bible teaches a public and visible rapture just moments prior to his coming (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).
  • The Tribulation is clearly linked with the Lord's return (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
  • The New Testament does not seem to justify the idea of two separate returns of Christ (once for his church, and seven years later to bring judgment).
  • Pretribulation teachings are based on inferences from disputed passages. If Scripture clearly taught the pretribulation position, it should have been discovered before the nineteenth century. Instead, the majority of those in church history have believed that the church would go through the Tribulation.
Go on to the Millennium #4

The Compromising Churches (Revelation 2:12-29)

  • "In racing there's a time you don't think about life, you don't think about money, you don't think about anything but winning.
  • When we were entering turn three on the second to last lap, all that mattered to me was that I came out first
  • I know Fittipaldi felt the same way.
  • Indy is the biggest race in the world, and this was the last couple of laps.
  • I made up my mind that I was not going to lift my foot off the throttle no matter what, and I figured Fittipaldi wasn't going to either.
  • When we went into that turn side by side at over 200 miles an hour, we both knew only one of us was going to come out of it."

  • some of you might know that I'm quoting Al Unser Jr., and some of you know that he was the one who did not make it through that turn
  • he spun out of control and hit the concrete wall at over 200 miles an hour
  • he walked away from the smoldering debris clapping at Fittipaldi's courage, and giving the thumbs up sign as a gesture of respect for the other driver's good fortune

  • wouldn't you say that a good set of nerves is needed for someone considering Indy racing?
  • there are other lines of work that require heavy nerve
  • I'd say if an astronaut ever loses his nerve, his career is over
  • the same could be said about test pilots
  • if a narcotics officer ever loses his nerve, his career won't last long
  • if a commodities trader ever loses his nerve, it's likely that her career is gone

  • certain types of work demand a higher nerve quotient than other kinds
  • and it might surprise you to hear me say that church work is near the top of the list of occupations that are nerve intensive
  • if church workers lose their nerve, there's a good chance they'll lose their church
  • it takes a lot of nerve to build a church and keep a church on a God-glorifying path over a long period of time
  • church historians can point to thousands of examples of church workers over the years who lost their nerve, and as a result, lost their church

  • this morning, we're looking at two churches who are suffering from illnesses that threaten their very existence
  • we're going to discover that in each case it is basically a loss of nerve on the part of church leaders and on the part of church workers that is at the root of these life-threatening diseases
  • let's briefly look at the concerns of Jesus for these two churches

  • FIRST IS THE CHURCH AT PERGAMUM
  • please open your Bibles to Revelation 2:12-17
  • Pergamum held the official title of the capital of Roman Asia
  • it was a beautiful and wealthy city, with a huge library, and many palaces
  • and it was the unofficial capital of what I told you about last week: emperor worship
  • in fact, Pergamum had three temples to the emperor cult
  • it was the first city in Asia to openly support the imperial cult
  • refusal to take part in worshiping the emperor was considered a form of high treason

  • not only did Pergamum have three temples to the emperor, it also had temples to other gods as well: Dionysus, Athena, Zeus, and so on
  • and because of its temples both to the emperor and to these gods, Jesus identifies this city in verse 13 as the place "where Satan has his throne"
  • Pergamum was a stronghold of both pagan religion and emperor worship
  • and it was an unusually difficult environment for a Christian church

  • and Jesus says, despite the great wickedness surrounding you, you've got one great thing going in your favor
  • you've stayed true to my name
  • (Revelation 2:13) 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, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
  • it appears that, like in Smyrna, there had been some definite time of persecution, when members of the church were faced with the challenge of denying their faith in Christ
  • at least one man, Antipas, had been martyred
  • according to tradition, he was slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle for refusing to deny Christ
  • despite all the persecution, and in spite of their pagan past, these believers had been faithful to the point of death
  • they had stayed true to Jesus' name

  • and yet, verse 14 says:
  • (Revelation 2:14) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you
  • what Satan couldn't accomplish through suffering, intimidation, suffering, and death from outside the church, he achieved from within the church
  • because, as Jesus points out, there's something seriously wrong within the church at Pergamum
  • (Revelation 2:14) Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
  • (Revelation 2:15) Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
  • the problem was one of compromised lifestyles
  • let me explain what the problem was
  • if you remember the story of Balaam in the Old Testament, Balaam was asked to curse the people of Israel
  • but God wouldn't let him
  • instead, Balaam pronounced a blessing
  • but what of a direct frontal attack, Balaam was used in a more insidious way
  • Numbers 31:16 tells us that Balaam gave advice that led Israel to become involved in sexual immorality and idolatry
  • and some in the church of Pergamum were following that example

  • these people, the Nicolaitans, seem to have argued that since the pagan gods didn't really exist, there was nothing wrong in participating in the pagan feasts
  • you need to know that these pagan feasts involved temple prostitutes and sexual immorality
  • sexual laxity was not considered a serious sin by the Greeks and the Romans
  • and it seems that some Christians at Pergamum were participating in these holiday festivities, and so no harm in indulging themselves at the temple feasts and in the sexual excitement everyone else was enjoying
  • sexual freedom and idol worship was the order of the day
  • they said, "What's the problem? These idols aren't real. We can bow on the outside; what's important is our hearts. Let's get the Romans off our backs. Look what happened to Antipas. A little compromise won't hurt"
  • a greater value was being placed on safety and comfort than on faithfulness and fidelity to Jesus Christ

  • and according to verse 14, the problem wasn't church-wide
  • only some were arguing this way
  • but church leaders lacked the nerve to confront it
  • they lacked the nerve to call it compromise
  • they lacked the nerve to put an end to it by hook or by crook
  • "Where's your nerve?" Jesus was asking this church and its members
  • "Where's your nerve? You lose your nerve, and you'll eventually lose this church"
  • "I don't care how scary it is to confront, I don't care how costly it is to your fellowship, I don't care if it means losing a third of your congregation"
  • if you lose your nerve to confront compromised teaching, you'll eventually lose your church
  • the church will become weak and flabby on the inside, and therefore become vulnerable to deception and disease, and after that it's only a matter of time
  • so in verse 16 and following, the message to the church is, repent fast!
  • the entire church is summoned to repent for a sin of which only a few were actually guilty
  • repent, Jesus said, for losing your nerve in confronting compromised forms of teaching!

  • look with me at the next church - the church in Thyatira
  • Thyatira wasn't a great city - it was a work ing person's town
  • and the problem here, as described in verses 19 to 21, was compromised leadership

  • now, this church had a lot going for it
  • (Revelation 2:19) I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
  • this church had some great strengths
  • their state reflected some outstanding progress in love and faithfulness
  • it was a church that was getting better in these two areas, rather than worse

  • but Jesus reveals a perilous flaw in the church
  • (Revelation 2:20) Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
  • in the church at Thyatira, a certain woman had risen in the ranks of leadership to the point where she was virtually uncontested beyond accountability to anybody
  • John referred to her as Jezebel
  • most scholars feel that was not her real name, but rather a title conferred upon her to underscore her wickedness

  • now, Thyatira was a real trade town
  • it wasn't a big town, but a lot of trade took place there
  • in order to participate in the commercial life of that city, people had to join trade guilds, which would be analogous to trade unions or trade federations in this country
  • without belonging to these trade guilds, it would be very difficult to make a decent living
  • the economy revolved around these guilds
  • history tells us that each guild had its own patron deity, feasts, and seasonal festivities that included sexual revelries
  • and to belong to a guild meant that you had to participate in these guilds and all the immorality surrounding them, or else face ruin in your livelihood
  • clearly, any dedicated Christian could see that this kind of involvement in idol-worship and sexual immorality was deep trouble
  • they knew they should stay a country mile away from food that was offered to foreign gods and sexual immorality

  • and this woman, a prophetess and teacher, stood up and said, "Go ahead and participate. Join the carousing. Sure, worship Christ. But because you have to make a living, go ahead and get drunk in your guilds. Join in the sexual revelries. Compromise with the pagans around you. You have no choice - it's good for your career"
  • verse 21 tells us that she herself was guilty of sexual immorality
  • and yet she was still a key leader in the church, despite her teachings and despite her lifestyle
  • and Jesus says to them, in essence, "Why are you putting up with compromised leadership? Don't you see the damage she's doing to your church? The lives she's leading astray? Where's your nerve? Stand up to this woman!"
  • despite being a loving church, a church that was increasing in their faithfulness and service, this church lacked the nerve to practice tough love on one of its own leaders
  • they compromised their leadership

  • verses 22 and 23 tell us that even though the church was unwilling to discipline this woman, God wasn't
  • God promised severe discipline - probably sickness, suffering, and even death, if she and her followers didn't repent
  • and he tells the rest of the church - probably a minority - to hold on; to stay faithful - until Christ returns again

  • so the problems of the two churches in Pergamum and Thyatira were similar
  • the churches were on the ropes because they lacked the nerve to confront compromised lifestyles and compromised leadership
  • I told you earlier that church work is near the top of the list of occupations that are nerve intensive
  • it takes a lot of nerve to build a church and keep a church on a God-glorifying path over a long period of time
  • church historians can point to thousands of examples of church workers over the years who lost their nerve, and as a result, lost their church

  • I'm sure that the people in these two churches saw compromise
  • but they didn't want to do anything about it
  • they didn't want to make waves
  • the majority of churches today are unwilling to confront and lovingly discipline their own people
  • and they end up tolerating compromise, false teaching, and immorality

  • I want to tell you three stories as we close this morning that illustrate what I'm talking about
  • story number one: Jesus enters the temple
  • gentle Jesus, meek and mild, takes a whip and drives people out of the temple
  • the dust is flying; tables are being turned over; animals are stampeding
  • what motivated Jesus to take such drastic action in the temple?
  • Jesus saw God's honor being compromised
  • Jesus saw compromise, and he couldn't tolerate it
  • something had to be done to stand up for God's honor
  • how can a person who loves God stand idly by while God's honor is being defaced?

  • story number two: a young boy goes to deliver food to his brothers in the army
  • he overhears Goliath, the giant, taunting God
  • and David says, "I can't believe it? Why doesn't somebody do something about this? Why doesn't somebody take him on?"
  • the answer comes back, "Because he's big"
  • and David says, "So what? God's honor is at stake, and that is a non-negotiable"
  • that's a cause worth taking a risk for
  • any time God's honor is at stake, it's worth fighting for - even if there's risk involved; even if it means causing a few waves

  • story number three: a story I'm involved in
  • it's important to realize as I recount this story that I made mistakes
  • there are things that I should have done differently as I looked back
  • but the problem was open and flagrant sin within the congregation
  • one of our church members was openly and continually committing a sin, that was endangering not only his own spiritual condition but the condition of the entire church
  • and the issue, I believe, was not his sin, but of his refusal to repent of that sin and make a change

  • so we began to practice loving discipline
  • we met with him privately, and encouraged his repentance
  • nothing happened
  • the leaders of the church met with him, and encouraged his repentance
  • nothing happened
  • and eventually it became apparent that we as a church had to practice loving discipline, and to take action to remove him from our fellowship for open and flagrant sin, and an unwillingness to repent

  • there was no pleasure in this
  • it was done with a lot of prayers and a lot of soul-searching
  • this wasn't a witch-hunt; there wasn't any "holier than thou" attitudes
  • but at that point, the only loving thing left to do was to confront, in a loving and yet a strong manner

  • the church struggled with that
  • we lost people who weren't happy about it
  • I still remember a matriarch of the church saying, "This has happened before and we've always swept it under the rug; I don't see why we're confronting it now"
  • ironically, at the same time, a deacon was dressed casually for the Lord's Supper, and there was more of an iron resolve to confront and discipline him for that than to practice loving church discipline in this other matter
  • but it was a tough time for the church, and for me as a pastor

  • but I'll never forget the Sunday when this man stood in front of the church
  • as a result of the church discipline, he finally repented and came clean with God
  • and I'll never forget the time when he stood in front of the church and said, "Thank you for loving me enough to confront me. If you hadn't practiced loving church discipline, I wouldn't be here."
  • I'll tell you - there weren't many dry eyes in the place as we welcomed back a man who had wandered away, but had come back because a church loved him enough to not let it slide

  • listen to me
  • a believer's silence in the face of compromise is a chilling indication of spiritual weakness
  • for a believer to stay mute in the face of compromised teaching, compromised lifestyles of leaders or other believers, or compromised zeal, is unthinkable!
  • the stakes are too high
  • God's honor is too important
  • the witness of the church is too important

  • this morning's warning is very simple
  • you can't miss it
  • believers at Richview Baptist Church, don't lose your nerve
  • there's too much riding on it
  • pray that the pastor of this church never loses his nerve
  • pray that the deacons of this church never lose their nerve for confronting compromise
  • let's pray that all of us will love God deeply enough to do what David did, to volunteer to do battle with any giant that threatens the honor of God or the integrity of the church
  • no matter what the cost
  • don't tolerate false teaching and compromised lifestyles

  • the two extremes we need to avoid are these:
  • unloving orthodoxy - the sin of the Ephesian church, which didn't tolerate false teaching, and yet had left their first love
  • and on the other hand, don't be found guilty of the other extreme - loving compromise, the sin of the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira

  • so will you today resolve that whenever you see God's honor at stake, in the form of compromised lifestyles, teaching, and leadership, that you will take godly and bold action?
  • will we be a church that doesn't lack nerve when it comes to God's honor?
Adapted in part from a message by Bill Hybels

Postmillennialism

"There will come a time when in this world holiness shall be more general, and more eminent, than ever it hath been since Adam fell in paradise. —Thomas Brooks, The Crown and Glory of Christianity (1662)

CHURCH AGE ->

MILLENNIUM ->

SECOND COMING ->

ETERNAL STATE

  • A larger proportion of the world becomes Christian
  • Society functions more according to God's standards
  • An age of peace and righteousness comes to earth, for a long time (not necessarily 1,000 years)
  • God's will is done on earth, as it is in heaven
  • Resurrection of believers and unbelievers
  • Judgment
  • New heaven, new earth

A Short History of Postmillennialism

  • Postmillennialism is in one sense the historic position of the church since the days of St. Augustine. (Distinctions were not always made between amillennialism and postmillennialism until later in church history).
  • In the fourth century, Christianity had achieved unprecedented political success. The emperor Constantine became a believer in 312 AD. Christianity was granted tolerance within the Roman Empire and essentially became the official religion. The progress of the church throughout the entire world looked sure. The millennium was assumed to have begun.
  • After the end of the first millennium of church history, postmillennialists were forced to revise some of their beliefs. The millennium was no longer viewed as a literal one thousand years, but as the whole of church history.
  • In periods where the church appeared to be succeeding in its task of world evangelism, postmillennialism has experienced resurgence. For instance, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the church experienced a period of great effectiveness in world missions and progress in social conditions.
  • In the twentieth century, postmillennialism has not been a popular view because of world events.

What Postmillennialism Teaches:

  • The kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit.
  • The world will eventually be Christianized. There will be a golden age of spiritual prosperity, characterized by uplifted social, economic, political, and cultural conditions.
  • Not every person will be a Christian, and not all sin will be abolished, but evil will be reduced to negligible proportions. Christian principles will be the rule.
  • The return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace, called the millennium.
  • The Second Coming of Christ will be followed by the general resurrection, the general judgment, and the introduction of heaven and hell.
  • The millennium will not be that different from today, in one sense. People will continue to marry, work, and lead normal lives. Christ will not be physically present on earth. However, the church will be more zealous and influential.
  • An example of a postmillennial hymn is "Jesus Shall Reign."

Arguments for Postmillennialism

  1. The Great Commission leads us to expect that the gospel eventually spread to the entire world. Since Christ has all power in heaven and earth, and promises to be with us until the fulfillment of the commission, we should expect that the gospel will successfully spread to the entire world (Matthew 28:18-20).
  2. Jesus gave several parables, which appear to teach the growth of the kingdom until it fills the world with its influence (Matthew 13:31-33).
  3. Many verses speak of God redeeming the world (Psalms 47, 72, and 100; Isaiah 45:22-25; Zechariah 9:10; Hosea 2:23; Revelation 7:9-10).
  4. Angels and saints are described in Scripture as being hosts, myriads, an innumerable multitude, ten thousand times ten thousand (e.g. Luke 2:13; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 5:11). Such language is never used to describe the lost. Heaven is described as being the next world, a great kingdom, a country, a city, whereas hell is pictured as being a comparatively small place: a prison, a lake, a pit (Luke 20:35; Matthew 5:3; Hebrews 11:16; 1 Peter 3:19; Revelation 19:20; 21:1, 8-16).
  5. Historically speaking, the world is becoming increasingly Christian. Even when the church is persecuted and oppressed, it is still growing. The Bible is available, in whole or in part, in the native tongue of 98% of the people of the world.
  6. Social conditions are improving. There is less slavery, polygamy, oppression of women and children, and poverty. Medical care has improved. Despite temporary setbacks, progress can be seen in almost every area of life.

Responses to Postmillennialism

  1. While the Great Commission speaks of Christ's authority, it does not imply that Christ will use that authority to convert the entire world. It is simply another way of saying that Jesus, as God, is all-powerful.
  2. While these parables teach that God's kingdom will gradually grow from something very small to something very large, it does not tell us the extent to which it will grow. For instance, the parable of the leaven does not tell us how much of the loaf contained leaven.
  3. Biblical data seems to indicate a great wickedness and a cooling off of the faith of many before Christ's return (Matthew 24-25 - especially 24:21-30; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). Further, the Bible never teaches an earthly reign of Christ without his physical presence.
  4. The Bible teaches that relatively few will believe (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 18:8).
  5. We have seen a decline in evangelistic and missionary success. In parts of the world, the percentage of practicing Christians is very small. Entire countries are closed to Christianity.
  6. The world is not becoming a better place. We see unprecedented levels of drug abuse, marital infidelity, pornography, homosexuality, rebellion against authority, superstition, materialism, greed, and falsehood.
  7. In addition, many passages teach that Christ could return at any time and that we must be ready (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Hebrews 10:25; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 22:20). This would seem to contradict the idea of a long period of time required for the millennium on earth preceding his return.
  8. Postmillennialists do not agree on the subject of the two resurrections of Revelation 20.
Go on to the Millennium #3

The Tested Church (Revelation 2:8-11)

  • it's now been a week since our Solemn Assembly
  • it was a week in which the church shelved its regular activities and said, "We're going to do nothing this week except to cleanse ourselves and seek God's blessing on our church"

  • the one question I've heard a few times is, "Why didn't we do it sooner?"
  • and the second most common question is, "How can we continue?"
  • I've sensed in my heart once again a rekindling of hope - not only for my soul, but for the church
  • I believe that God is on the move, and a lot of what we will have to do this year is remain responsive to him - to let him lead the church
  • but friends, I am excited about the future of Richview Baptist Church, because God is preparing us for something
  • it's a bit frightening, because I don't know what he has planned
  • but God is clearly on the move
  • and that's the good news

  • but this morning, I have some bad news for you as well
  • and the bad news is this: it might get a lot worse before it gets better
  • I don't know if you sensed it last week or not, but as usual, after a week in which God blessed and we had a sense of refreshment, Satan was on the move as well
  • I saw it in my personal life last week
  • there were some pretty intense counterattacks taking place against the work that God had done in my life the week before
  • without trying to over-spiritualize and give Satan more credit than is due to him, realize today that Satan does not usually concede ground without a fight
  • if we, as a church, resolve to be spiritually alive, and to rekindle our honeymoon love for Jesus Christ once again, Satan will attack
  • he will attack our leaders
  • he will attempt to bring disunity and division into the church
  • he will try to distract us from our purpose
  • he will do everything he can to demoralize and defeat us

  • that's the bad news
  • it just might be that Satan is going to launch an intense counterattack on Richview Baptist Church, and we might go through an intense time of testing before we emerge victorious on the other side

  • the church we're looking at this morning, in Revelation 2:8-11, was in the middle of a dark moment
  • the unsettling prediction had just been received that things were going to get even darker still
  • the church in Smyrna was in a savage time of persecution
  • verse 9 informs us that they had already been experiencing afflictions or persecution, poverty, and ridicule
  • most scholars feel that the persecution was coming from the Roman authorities who were angered at the Christians' refusal to participate in emperor worship

  • you see, Smyrna was a center of emperor worship
  • sometime between 81 and 96 AD, emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on threat of death
  • once a year, every citizen had to burn incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar, after which he was issued a certificate
  • all a citizen had to do was to burn a pinch of incense and say, "Caesar is Lord"
  • but because of their commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord, a believer couldn't do it
  • perhaps nowhere in the Roman world at that time was life more perilous for a Christian than in this city of zealous emperor worship
  • and the results had been severe, in verse 9: afflictions, or persecution
  • and poverty - a word that signifies extreme and abject poverty, not just a tough time making ends meet
  • why was this church so poor in a prosperous city?
  • probably, because of their refusal to worship the emperor, economic sanctions had been leveled against the believers as the first step toward persecution
  • imagine not only being persecuted, but living an abject poverty because of your devotion to Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar as Lord

  • if this wasn't bad enough, the Jews in the city of Smyrna were blaspheming and ridiculing the true Christians
  • verse 9 says:
  • (Revelation 2:9) I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
  • certain Jews in Smyrna viewed Jewish Christians as the worst sort of heretic, and persecuted them
  • notice the phrase, "who say they are Jews, but are not, but are a synagogue of Satan"
  • although these Jews were physically descended from Abraham, they didn't have faith in Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham
  • and when they met together for worship, these Jews were accomplishing Satan's purposes rather than God's purposes
  • so in essence, the believers were catching it from both sides
  • the secular religious authorities, and then the religious Jews were ridiculing them

  • so the Romans are intimidating the believers at the church in Smyrna, leading to afflictions and abject poverty
  • and the Jews are ridiculing them
  • and now in verse 10 the prediction comes that things are going to get worse
  • (Revelation 2:10) 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 the crown of life.
  • there is more suffering on the way
  • some of the true believers in the church at Smyrna are going to go to prison for their faith, or even worse
  • a tougher testing time is coming, a time of even greater tribulation
  • a ten-day time frame, which is not a literal ten days
  • most scholars think that refers to a season of testing
  • but it's headed their way
  • things are going to get much worse for the church at Smyrna

  • and let's be clear who's launching this attack
  • it's Satan
  • according to verse 10, it's Satan who is going to put them in prison for ten days and test them

  • now, I wonder what would happen to Richview Baptist Church if it was ever subjected to a season of intense testing?
  • what do you think?
  • I wonder what would happen if word came to us from God that every believer in this church, even you, is going to have to look forward to a season of intense persecution, abject poverty, constant ridicule, if you continue to serve God here at this church
  • I wonder how many of us would remain faithful to Christ and faithful to each other if doing so would cause us to pay that kind of price?

  • a Christian leader whose ministry has spanned many decades and many continents made an observation a few years back that rarely does an effective church go ten years without an intense time of testing
  • his opinion was that the evil one refuses to let a vibrant ministry go unopposed for more than a decade
  • often, during what seems to be a period of relative calm, Satan is busy planning strategies and laying snares so that when the time is ripe for a major assault, many casualties can be sustained

  • when God's people in a church begin to cry out for his blessing, as we did a week ago, you can be sure that Satan takes note
  • you can be sure that any time a church begins to move in a positive direction; any time a church begins to attack the strongholds of Satan; any time a church enters a period of spiritual battle; any time this happens, Satan will respond
  • the point I want you to ponder this morning is that Satan specializes in attacking churches and Christians
  • and he sets well-laid snares and uses cunning devices to bring shame, poverty, and division to God's servants
  • no church is exempt from Satan's attacks
  • and those churches that are more effective can expect more of Satan's attention
  • on the basis of Scripture and church history, I can say this morning that we will not go unopposed
  • we can expect major times of opposition from the evil one
  • our time of testing as a church is coming sooner or later
  • I wonder how many of us gathered here this morning will stand strong through it?

  • and to a church that's about to undergo an intense time of spiritual battle, Jesus gives two words of encouragement
  • FIRST, WE CAN TAKE COMFORT IN THE FACT THAT WE AREN'T BEING ASKED TO ENDURE SOMETHING THAT JESUS DIDN'T ENDURE HIMSELF
  • in verse 8, Jesus says:
  • (Revelation 2:8) "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.
  • Jesus introduces himself in a way that is unique among the seven letters to the churches in Revelation
  • and in verse 8, he essentially says to the church at Smyrna, "Remember who's writing this letter to you. I know suffering firsthand. I know what severe testing is all about. I know what poverty is like. I know how it feels to be ridiculed. I've been there, firsthand and full-force."
  • and he says, "I was dead, and am now alive"
  • can you imagine what this word must have meant to the church in Smyrna?
  • when told that they were about to undergo a more severe time of testing, they could remind themselves that not only had Jesus suffered in the same way, but he had triumphed
  • he had experienced the worst that Satan had to offer, and still he made it through

  • I've been in churches under Satan's attack before
  • but no matter how severe the time of testing, I remind myself that I don't know the true meaning of suffering
  • whenever I find myself having to pay what I consider to be a rather high price now and then for being a follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I've never taken a physical beating for the cause of Christ, not even once
  • I've never spent a night in jail for Christ's sake
  • I've never shed a drop of blood for my faith
  • and when I process thoughts like this and think of what Jesus had to go through to accomplish his mission from God, to go through his time of testing, I think to myself, "Why should I expect to pay a lesser price than my Savior paid?"
  • why should we have to pay a lesser price to accomplish the mission that God has given us, than Jesus paid to accomplish the mission that God gave him?
  • his was a high-cost mission - should mine be a low-cost mission?
  • if our church enters the tunnel of testing, and many of you have to pay higher prices for following Christ than you've ever paid before, and some of you have to pay a higher price for staying faithful in your service here, then keep your eyes on the price that Jesus paid
  • he set the pace, he showed us how to stay faithful unto death, and he did not ask us to pay a price that he himself was unwilling to pay
  • and as I can see it, when Jesus identified himself as the author of this message to Smyrna, what he was saying was, "Your testing time is coming. I expect you to be faithful even to the point of death. I was. Let me example inspire you. Let it fire you up to follow my footsteps, no matter what the price"

  • the second word of encouragement Jesus gives a church under Satan's attack is this:
  • REALIZE THAT SATAN IS LIMITED IN WHAT HE CAN ATTACK
  • remember that Satan is not like God - his powers are limited
  • over and over again, Satan overplays his hand
  • he lacks subtlety
  • and although Satan can make life very difficult for a church and for a believer, there are certain limitations on what he can do
  • God has the final word on all of our testings

  • in the case of Smyrna, Satan was limited in three ways
  • he was unable to affect their spiritual condition
  • (Revelation 2:9) I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich!
  • despite the material poverty and persecution, and the pressure from Romans and Jews, the church in Smyrna remained faithful
  • despite their material poverty, this was a church that was spiritually rich
  • their spiritual condition was a healthy one
  • and unlike five of the seven churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3, this was a church that received no words of condemnation and warning from Jesus Christ because of their spiritual condition

  • I don't know about you, but I find it encouraging that in a church that was experiencing Satan's direct attack, the people were able to stay spiritually healthy
  • no matter how much Satan attacks, we through Jesus Christ can withstand his attack
  • as we depend on God, Satan is unable to affect our spiritual condition

  • Satan is also limited in the duration and target of his attack
  • (Revelation 2:10) I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
  • not everyone was going to suffer in the same way
  • only some of them were going to be cast into prison - probably those who God knew would be able to endure it
  • but not everybody would come under attack
  • and it would only be for a limited duration
  • the verse says, "ten days" - probably symbolic for an unknown and yet limited amount of time

  • in the first century Roman world, you weren't just imprisoned as a punishment
  • imprisonment was a prelude to trial and execution
  • (Revelation 2:10) Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
  • and that leads us to the third limitation of Satan
  • Satan is limited in the result of the attack
  • although Satan could and would be able to persecute them economically, to subject them to ridicule, to imprison them, and even to kill them, there was one thing he could not do - deny them the crown of life
  • to those who are faithful to Christ even to the point of death, Christ will reward with the imperishable crown of life, which cannot be taken away

  • let me tell you about one man who was probably sitting in the congregation when this letter was read
  • his name was Polycarp, who later became bishop of Smyrna, and one of the best known Christians in the early church
  • we know that at about 155 AD, sixty years after Revelation was written, he was martyred as the "twelfth martyr of Smyrna"
  • he was asked to say Caesar is Lord, and to reproach Christ
  • and he replied about Jesus, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"
  • so Polycarp, perhaps a young man sitting in the congregation hearing the letter read, became one of many who would give up their lives for Christ
  • God is faithful to us in life, and God even remains faithful to us to the point of death
  • to those who are faithful to Christ to the point of death, there remains a crown of life
  • and as verse 11 says:
  • (Revelation 2:11) He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
  • he will be faithful to us on the day of resurrection, and as verse 11 says, we will not be hurt at all by the second death, the death of eternal punishment

  • can you imagine what an encouragement this must have been to the believers at Smyrna?
  • they learned that a severe time of testing was coming, and were challenged to remain faithful no matter what
  • Jesus endured his time of testing
  • and not only that, Satan is incredibly limited in what he can attack
  • he can't attack their spiritual condition; he's not in control of the duration and target of his attack; in fact, he can't even control the result of his attack
  • God had the final word on their testings
  • and today, in 1999 at Richview Baptist Church, God has the final word in what Satan can do in our lives and in this church

  • an intense period of spiritual battle might be around the corner - we don't know
  • but we do know that no matter how bad things might get, Jesus has endured stru ggle himself
  • and no matter what happens, Satan is limited in what he can do

  • think about it, friends, soberly
  • Satan has the power to rock your life with tests and adversity
  • Satan has the power to rock this church to its foundations
  • he can engineer a series of events and tragedies that could push each of us to the edge of our limits
  • the question is, when that happens to each of us individually, or all of us together, will you endure the test? Will I endure the test? Will we together endure the test?
  • if we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, I think we can, and I hope I can, and I hope you can
  • as we focus on the example of Christ, and know he understands, and we keep reminding ourselves of the reward for those who stay faithful in the tests

End Times: Introduction

Millennial Madness

Eschatology is the study of the end-times. Despite the overwhelming biblical data on the subject, there are different errors that Christians have made:

1. IGNORING THE SUBJECT - Question: How many sermons have you heard in your lifetime? How many have you heard about the subject of the end times? If the Bible speaks of it, we should study it.

  • One out of every 30 verses in the Bible mentions the subject of Christ's return or the end of time.
  • Over 1,800 references appear in the Old Testament, and seventeen Old Testament books give prominence to this theme.
  • Of the 260 chapters of the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to the Lord's return.
  • Twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books refer to this great event. Three of the four other books are single-chapter letters written to individuals concerning a particular subject, and the fourth is Galatians, which does imply Christ's coming.
  • For every prophecy on the first coming of Christ, there are eight on Christ's Second Coming.

2. EMPHASIZING THE WRONG THINGS ABOUT END-TIMES - Without a doubt, eschatology is central to all of Scripture. It is difficult to over-emphasize the themes of the Kingdom of God and the Day of the Lord and the renewal of the universe. Some, however, have emphasized the wrong things about the end-times - making their interpretation a test of fellowship; building elaborate doctrines around a questionable interpretation; making their interpretation central to understanding the Bible.

3. IGNORANCE OF OTHER VIEWPOINTS - Some don't even know that there are other views on the end-times!

What We Agree On

All positions agree on the following:

  • The personal, visible return of Jesus Christ.
  • The resurrection of believers and unbelievers to judgment
  • That believers will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of their service to the Lord and receive his rewards
  • That God will create a new heaven and a new earth
  • That the wicked will enter into conscious, eternal punishment, suffering beyond any experience of misery found in this world
  • That believers are to be watchful and prepared, anticipating Christ's coming

The Meaning of the Millennium

The word millennium means "one thousand years" (from Lat. millennium). The term comes from Revelation 20:2-7:

  • (Revelation 20:2) He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
  • (Revelation 20:3) He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
  • (Revelation 20:4) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
  • (Revelation 20:5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.
  • (Revelation 20:6) Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
  • (Revelation 20:7) When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison

Five Major Questions to Tackle

  1. Is teaching on the millennium intended literally or symbolically?
  2. To what do the resurrections of Revelation 20:4-6 refer - spiritual or physical resurrections?
  3. Is the millennium future or present?
  4. Is there any basis for an optimistic future on earth?
  5. Will the church escape the great tribulation?

Four Major Views

  1. Amillennialism (Realized millennialism) - The view that the millennium is currently happening; that the present church age will continue until the time of Christ's return.
  2. Postmillennialism - The view that Christ will return after the millennium.
  3. Dispensational (pretribulational) premillennialism - The view that Christ will return before the millennium and before the great tribulation.
  4. Classic, simple, or historic (posttribulational) premillennialism - The view that Christ will come back before the millennium, after the great tribulation.

The Goals of This Class

  1. That you will understand the four views
  2. That you will make an intelligent decision as to which view you hold

Amillennialism (Realized millennialism)

Amillennialism is the simplest of the four views, teaching that there is no future millennium. The millennium is taking place now. It is the view historically held by Clement, Origen, Augustine, and the reformers. (The Reformers believed that the Beast of Revelation is the papacy.)

CHURCH AGE ->

SECOND COMING ->

ETERNAL STATE

  • Revelation 20:1-6 is now
  • We are living in the millennium
  • Resurrection of believers and unbelievers
  • Judgment
  • New heaven, new earth

What Amillennialism Teaches:

  • The "thousand years" of Revelation 20 is to be taken symbolically. We can't know the exact duration of the millennium. (Postmillennialists agree with this statement.)
  • Christ's reign during the millennium is not a bodily one on earth, but the heavenly one spoken of in Matthew 28:18: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." This reign is now.
  • The millennium is a time in which Satan's influence is reduced, so that the gospel can be preached to the entire world (Revelation 20:3). That time is now.
  • Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years (Revelation 20:6) are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ.
  • The present church age will continue until the time of Christ's return, which will bring the resurrection of believers and unbelievers, judgment, and the new heaven and new earth. This will lead to the eternal state.
  • Revelation does not teach only about the last period in history. It covers and elaborates the entire history of the church.

Arguments for Amillennialism

  1. Only one passage (Revelation 20:1-6) appears to teach a future earthly millennial reign of Christ, and that passage is obscure. It is unwise to base a major doctrine of Scripture on one passage of uncertain interpretation.
  2. Neither Jesus nor Paul taught about the millennium. The millennium is not mentioned in the Bible outside of Revelation.
  3. Scripture only teaches one resurrection, in which both believers and unbelievers will be raised, not two resurrections - John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Daniel 12:2. (The premillennial view requires two separate resurrections, separated by a thousand years.)
  4. A number of Scriptures teach that Satan is presently being restrained - Matthew 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; Hebrews 2:14; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 12
  5. Revelation is a symbolic book. The "thousand years" or Revelation 20 signifies the idea of perfection or co mpleteness, representing the completeness of Christ's victory over Satan, and the perfect joy of the redeemed in heaven.
  6. Scripture seems to indicate that all the major events to come (resurrection of believers and unbelievers, final judgment, establishment of new heaven and earth, eternal state) will happen at once (Matthew 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:10).

Responses to Amillennialism

  1. Even though only one passage teaches a future earthly millennium, the Bible only has to say something once in order for it to be true and something we must believe.
  2. Some other passages appear to teach about a time that sounds like the millennium (Psalm 72:8-14; Isaiah 11:2-9; 65:20; Zechariah 14:6-21; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Revelation 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
  3. Revelation 20:4-6 clearly teaches that there are two resurrections, not just one. It teaches a first resurrection, and then that the rest of the dead will come to life at the end of a thousand years. These resurrections both appear to be physical resurrections. The passages amillennialists claim to support the view that there is only one resurrection do not exclude the idea of two resurrections. In fact, John 5:28-29 hints at the idea of two resurrections.
  4. The imagery of throwing Satan into a pit and shutting it and sealing it over (Revelation 20:2-3) suggests more than the binding mentioned in the other passages. Satan still obviously has influence on the earth. He "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8; see also Acts 5:3; 1 Corinthians 10:20; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12; 1 John 4:3; 5:19).
  5. While Revelation is a symbolic book, we do not have enough evidence to conclude that the "thousand years" of Revelation 20 is symbolic.
  6. Revelation 20 appears to teach that not all major events will take place at once. There will be two resurrections and two judgments.
Go on to The Millennium #2

The Heartless Church (Revelation 2:1-7)

  • if you've ever moved to a new community, and had to select a new church, you know how difficult it can be to examine and evaluate a church and its ministry
  • how can you ever evaluate a church?
  • large, imposing buildings can mask a dwindling congregation
  • and sometimes small, modest structures contain vibrant and growing congregations
  • churches with great reputations and with a plethora of programs can be inwardly dead
  • and a little community church of 20 people may be more successful in God's eyes than the church of two thousand

  • what do you think of Richview?
  • do you like the preaching, and the music?
  • is there a program that meets your need?
  • what needs of yours do we meet?
  • which needs of yours have we ignored?
  • from time to time, churches such as Richview ask the congregation for feedback
  • and based on that feedback, the board sets a strategic direction for the future
  • or, in some cases, ignores the feedback and drifts along anyway

  • I do care what you think of the church
  • but of much greater concern to me is what Jesus Christ thinks of Richview Baptist Church

  • the book of Revelation, as you know, comes from the apostle John primarily through visions that came his way
  • many of these visions are full of signs and symbols and creatures and prophecies that make for interesting reading, but frustrating for understanding and application purposes
  • but you should know that parts of the book of Revelation are straightforward and quite easily applied to everyday life as we live it
  • for the next few weeks, we're going to look at such a section
  • Revelation 2 and 3
  • and these two chapters contain messages from God to seven individual churches located in Asia
  • these are seven communiqu?s, if you will, through visions in the Spirit to the apostle John, that the Spirit expects John to write down and then deliver to each of the churches for whom they were intended

  • now just imagine what it must have been like for one of those churches to receive this message
  • imagine how we would feel if God would author a personal letter to the believers here at Richview
  • imagine if I announced that next Sunday, one of our deacons would be reading God's observations about the development of Richview Baptist Church
  • we'd be anxious, wouldn't we, about what God would commend us for
  • we'd also be interested in what he would want changed in our fellowship
  • one thing is certain: we'd all show up, and when the letter is read, we'd be all ears
  • well, seven churches in Asia actually received a state of the church report from God
  • we're going to study each of these reports for the next few weeks
  • and we're going to draw some implications from them for our situation here at Richview Baptist Church

  • the report we're going to look at today concerns the church at Ephesus
  • and it's found in Revelation 2:1-7
  • Ephesus was a crossroads of civilization - the capital of Asia Minor, and one of the most three influential cities in the eastern part of the Roman empire
  • it's been called the "Vanity Fair of the Ancient World"
  • the people of Ephesus were renowned for their moral deterioration
  • Paul started this church in Ephesus probably in the early 50's AD
  • of course, the letter Ephesians in your Bible was written by Paul to the Ephesian church after he left it to start other churches
  • now, John's visions on which the letter is based occurred in the 90's AD
  • so the church in Ephesus is 40 or 50 years old
  • Richview Baptist Church is forty years old next month, so we're not too far off

  • listen to what Jesus says:
  • (Revelation 2:1) "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:
  • and after introducing himself, first in the passage, we read that the message comes to the church in Ephesus in the form of some commendations
  • first, God is saying to the church in Ephesus, "You're doing a good job in some areas"
  • and there's a total of six commendations that are listed to the Ephesian church, beginning in verse 2
  • [SIX COMMENDATIONS]
  • first, there is activity
  • verse 2 says, "I know your deeds"
  • another version says, "I know all the things you do"
  • this was an active church - a church in which the weekly schedule was likely pretty busy
  • they were not a slothful, inactive church by any means

  • second, they were a hard-working church
  • verse 2 continues, "I know your hard work"
  • Jesus knew their toil
  • the word goes far beyond normal work
  • it signifies intense labor to the point of absolute exhaustion
  • the Christians in this church are working diligently, regularly, and wholeheartedly in their church
  • they're a zealous bunch
  • Jesus commends them for abounding in the work of the Lord
  • he commends their intensity

  • third, Jesus says, they were a persevering church
  • verse 2 says, "I know your perseverance"
  • the word carries with it the meaning of "endurance under trial"
  • they had kept going even when the going was tough
  • these are not occasional Christians, they are perpetual Christians
  • they had been paying the price for decades - some of them, no doubt, for the entire forty years of the church
  • and Jesus commends them for their perseverance

  • fourth, Jesus commends them for being doctrinally discerning
  • verse two reads, "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"
  • the Ephesian church had found among themselves false brethren who had claimed to be apostles but were not
  • right within their own church, they had found some false teachers and had the courage and the gumption to challenge and resist them
  • this church was mature enough to identify false teachers before these teachers gained a following in the church
  • they learned enough to keep the teaching ministry of the church on a true track
  • it's a rare church that has the courage to confront and to admonish the unruly and deceptive people that tend to creep into any fellowship

  • fifth, the church in Ephesus also received a commendation for another reason
  • according to verse 3, they weren't growing weary
  • (Revelation 2:3) You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
  • despite all the troubles and hardships that had come their way, they hadn't grown weary
  • there's a lot of weariness that creeps into an active church, isn't there?
  • anyone here weary today?
  • the Ephesian church did not grow weary in well-doing, and God commended them for that

  • finally, in verse 6, God commends them for staying morally pure
  • (Revelation 2:6) But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
  • as far as scholars can tell, the Nicolaitans were a group who had made some compromise with the pagan religion of the day
  • that religion involved eating food sacrificed to idols, and participating in sexual immorality associated with goddess worship
  • some in the church were apparently teaching that Christians are not under the law, and because the body was temporal, they could sin sexually as much as they wanted
  • that there's no harm in a little compromise sexually
  • and Jesus commends them for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans, which he hates too
  • there a re still people today who teach that you can be a Christian and live how you please, by the way

  • so Jesus commends them for being active, hard-working, persevering, doctrinally discerning, faithful to its mission over the long haul, and morally pure
  • this is an amazing church!
  • this church is a tribute to its founder, it gives God glory, the church is head and shoulders above most churches that I've ever known about

  • BUT IN VERSE 4 THERE IS A CONCERN THAT GOD RAISES
  • a concern that could be called the church's fatal flaw
  • the message comes in this form:
  • (Revelation 2:4) Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
  • not everything was well at the Ephesian church
  • they had forsaken or let go of their first love
  • and this was a defect so severe that, if uncorrected, Jesus says in verse 5, it would result in a loss of their light-bearing - it would result ultimately in the closing of that church

  • what was there first love that they had abandoned?
  • many think Jesus is talking about the original Christian love that the believers had for one another
  • I tend to see it as a reference to their inner devotion to Christ that marked their earlier commitment, like the love of a newly wedded bride for her husband
  • the love talked about by God in Jeremiah 2:2
  • (Jeremiah 2:2) "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown."
  • God is saying, over the years you have abandoned that innocent, enthusiastic, authentic love for Christ and love for others that used to characterize your life
  • a subtle and very serious erosion has occurred in your spiritual life
  • Al Martin writes about the Ephesian Christians, "Their heads were correct in their judgments, their hands were busy in service, but their hearts had become cold, lacking true affection"
  • it is clear from this text that large numbers of Christians in that church had developed spiritual heart trouble

  • you see, at one time, the Ephesians had felt so much love flowing from God to them, that they were afraid if they took it in all at one time that their hearts would explode
  • at one time they had lived with a simple childlike trust in God, a trust that freed them from the debilitating concerns that crushed others
  • at one time the Christian life seemed like an adventure
  • they never knew when God would break in with a leading, a sign, a display of His sovereign power
  • every day was an adventure

  • somewhere along the way, some erosion had occurred
  • things had settled down
  • the shine had worn off
  • the believers who once had enthusiasm without much knowledge now had knowledge without much enthusiasm
  • the fervor of their love for Christ had been replaced with a tepid devotion
  • and God had become an add-on to their lives rather than the focal point of their lives

  • you might ask yourself, "Why is Jesus so concerned?"
  • after all, the church is still active
  • they're still diligent and discerning and persevering
  • why should Jesus care if they had left their first love, as he puts it?
  • and the answer is that Jesus is every bit as concerned about the heart of a church as he is the amount of activity and ministry going on within that church
  • Jesus is every bit as concerned about the heart of Richview Baptist Church as he is the amount and quality of the activity and ministry going on in this place
  • Jesus gave love as the greatest commandment - that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind
  • now, that being the case, whenever God sees a Christian or group of Christians in a particular church losing their first love, he knows the inevitable demise that is sure to follow
  • it's only a matter of time before everything begins to unravel
  • when a Christian's heart grows familiar with the love of God, when a believer begins to take God's love for granted, his heart begins to grow cold, the dynamic that fueled his Christian life is missing now
  • and over time his Christianity becomes mechanical and perfunctory
  • oh, there might be some activity that still goes on for some time
  • there might be a little labor, a little service, begrudging giving, some sporadic attempts at praying
  • but the life-giving dynamic of it all is missing
  • it's an absolute tragedy
  • and it is a multiplied tragedy if a whole church loses its first love
  • and that kind of thing happens, friends

  • it happens when pastors and deacons and church leaders become so busy working for God that they stop having fellowship with God
  • it happens when leaders neglect communing time with God, when they neglect spending time with him
  • it happens when church members get caught up in all the allurements and entanglements of everyday life
  • the single greatest challenge in all of our lives, friends, is staying in a vital, first-love kind of relationship with Jesus Christ
  • that is the biggest challenge in my life
  • I desperately want to lead a love-driven Christian life
  • I tremble at the thought of leading a Christian life any other way

  • WHAT CAN YOU DO?
  • if you personally have fallen out of your first-love relationship with Jesus Christ, what can you do?
  • verse 5 of Revelation 2 says that, if you've fallen out of that first-love relationship with Jesus Christ, here's what you should do
  • first, remember
  • (Revelation 2:5) Remember the height from which you have fallen!
  • reflect on what you have lost
  • remember the love that you once had for Jesus Christ, and look in comparison at the present situation
  • maybe those memories will re-inspire you to get to that point again

  • second, repent
  • the word repent in verse 5 means to "change one's thinking, to think differently"
  • it suggests a continuing attitude of changing your ways
  • remember the relationship you once had and now begin to think differently about your relationship with Jesus Christ
  • and do it on an ongoing basis - not just once

  • third, do the things you did at first
  • do the things that restore and build that love relationship with God
  • for a couple who has fallen out of love, that means do what you did when you first fell in love
  • buy gifts for each other, go on dates
  • for the believer, it means prayer, communion with God, Bible reading, meditation, obedient service, and worship
  • establish a regimen that will keep you in that first-love relationship with Christ
  • but you have to do something different - do the things you first did when you were a believer

  • and a warning comes in verse 5
  • (Revelation 2:5) If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
  • this judgment, I believe, does not refer to the Lord's return, but his judgment then and there
  • in other words, if large numbers of people in the Ephesian church don't turn around and get back into a first-love relationship with Christ, it's going to tear the soul out of the church
  • and God says, I'll take your witness away
  • the key to our lampstand staying fully lit begins with a first-love relationship with Christ
  • it starts with me, it goes through to the deacons and the leaders, to the children's ministry leaders, to every person here
  • if each of us commits to a first-love relationship, our witness will increase

  • I wonder how many churches today stand at this same crossroads
  • it's decision time for Richview Baptist Church
  • it's decision time for you
  • Jesus says you've walked awa y from your first love
  • he counsels you to remember how far you're falling, to repent, and to do what you used to
  • and if you don't, Christ will remove the witness from this church

  • we don't know what happened to the church at Ephesus
  • most scholars think they weren't able to recapture their first love
  • their lampstand was removed

  • let's pray
  • Lord, don't remove your lampstand from Richview Baptist Church
  • we can have all the programs, our building, and the people
  • we can have the Richview Residence for Seniors
  • we can have great services
  • but you're every bit as concerned about the heart of a church as he is the amount of activity and ministry going on within that church
  • it's time for corrective action
  • I believe that you're speaking very clearly to some of us this morning, speaking to us by name, saying, "You've lost your first love. You've slid into perfunctory, heartless service. If you don't change, I'm going to remove your lampstand"
  • I pray collectively we would make it our first priority here to stay in a vital, first-love kind of relationship with Jesus Christ
  • so Lord, do whatever it takes now to convict and draw people to you
  • and my greatest prayer is that our love for you would increase, and that our lampstand would grow brighter, rather than being removed
  • Amen.

Where the Battle Will Be Won (Jeremiah 29:1-14)

  • when things go wrong, it is only natural to ask the question, "Why?"
  • and when you ask this question, you will no doubt receive no shortage of answers
  • the simple answer is sometimes, we don't know the reason why something bad takes place
  • sometimes, according to John 9 for instance, somebody can be sick with no other cause or purpose than to provide a showcase for God to work in a life
  • we can find no discernable link between cause and effect

  • sometimes, however, there is an answer to the question, "Why?"
  • I believe that when it comes to the promises of God, it is appropriate to ask why we are not experiencing the promises and their benefits
  • if God has promised it, and we're not experiencing it, there are only three possibilities
  • God lied, we misunderstood the promise, or there is some condition to it that hasn't been met

  • let me state categorically that God is not a liar
  • God is truthful and faithful to every promise that he has ever given
  • God's faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised
  • (Numbers 23:19) God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?
  • in 2 Samuel 7:28, David said:
  • (2 Samuel 7:28) O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.

  • let me emphasize: God can be relied upon
  • he will never prove unfaithful to those who trust what he said
  • God always does as he promises

  • that leaves two other options
  • the second option is that we might have misunderstood the promise
  • for instance, countless parents have claimed what they believe to be a promise found in Proverbs
  • (Proverbs 22:6) Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
  • they have trained their child in the way that he should go, only to see their child depart from that way, and they have wondered why
  • the answer, I believe, is that they have misunderstood this verse
  • it is not a promise so much as it is a proverb
  • a proverb is not a categorical, always-applicable, iron-clad promise, but a short and pithy statement of suggestive truth
  • they are not legal guarantees from God, but poetic advice for daily living
  • we can sometimes misunderstand a promise from God, and that's why we're not experiencing the benefit of what we think is a promise

  • but there's a third option
  • it is possible that God is ready and willing to fulfill his promises to us, but he has attached a condition to it that we have not yet met
  • I believe, tragically, that God is ready and eager to fulfill many of his promises to his children, but they have not yet met the conditions necessary for God to act
  • the problem, then, is not with God, but with us

  • the time was around 597 BC
  • the Babylonians were the enemy
  • the Babylonians were an invading nation known for overwhelming military force, psychological terror, mass deportations, and heavy tribute
  • and for the Southern Kingdom, the news was not good
  • in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, he laid siege to Jerusalem
  • and on March 16th of that year, 597 BC, Jerusalem fell
  • all the treasures from the temple, and all the gold articles, were plundered
  • and Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile 3,023 Jewish males, probably ten thousand people in total
  • 2 Kings 24:14 tells us that "only the poorest people of the land were left"

  • back in Jerusalem, Jeremiah heard that some false prophets were predicting an early fall for Babylon and a quick return from exile
  • and Jeremiah said clearly:
  • (Jeremiah 29:8) Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.
  • (Jeremiah 29:9) They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them," declares the LORD.
  • in fact, Jeremiah said, you're going to be there for seventy years

  • the question was, "Why?"
  • is God a liar?
  • the answer, once again, is a categorical no
  • God is truthful and faithful to every promise that he has ever given

  • was there some misunderstanding about God's promise?
  • absolutely not
  • (Deuteronomy 7:13) He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land--your grain, new wine and oil--the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you.
  • (Deuteronomy 7:14) You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young.

  • so God is not a liar, and there is no misunderstanding about what God has promised
  • that leaves only one option
  • could it be that the problem is not God, but us?
  • the temple was plundered
  • ten thousand people were carried off into exile
  • could it be because of the disobedience of God's people?
  • (Deuteronomy 4:25) After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time--if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger,
  • (Deuteronomy 4:26) I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed.
  • (Deuteronomy 4:27) The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you.
  • (Deuteronomy 4:28) There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.

  • the problem is sin
  • sin among God's own people
  • Jeremiah was prophesying in Judah's darkest days
  • although he began as a prophet in the reign of Josiah, the last of Judah's good kings, he saw Judah slide through a succession of four kings into apostasy and idolatry
  • they perverted the worship of the true God and gave themselves over to spiritual and moral decay
  • and what is worse, they refused to listen to God's prophet
  • and Jeremiah prophesied that radical surgery was needed
  • Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would be the instrument of God's judgment
  • Jeremiah preached this message of warning and condemnation for forty years, and was rewarded only with opposition, beatings, and imprisonment
  • the problem was sin, but the warnings went unheeded

  • I'd like to develop some principles this morning
  • principles that apply to us at Richview as we enter 1999
  • PRINCIPLE ONE: GOD WITHHOLDS BLESSING AND BRINGS JUDGMENT BECAUSE OF SIN
  • the reason that Judah was experiencing captivity at the hands of an enemy nation was not their military might; it was not because of the political situation; it was primarily because of their sin
  • the reason that churches are struggling today is not primarily because of demographic shifts or because of a failure to properly implement strategies and business plans
  • I believe the primary reason why churches struggle today is because of God's judgment on sin

  • the church's sin is as serious as Judah's sin was in the times of Jeremiah
  • most of our churches are in a state of plateau or decline
  • it takes the average evangelical church one year and a hundred members to introduce one new person to Christ
  • many churches are wasting lives, driving pastor s out of the ministry, and turning away those who are seeking God
  • since 1940, the evangelical church has not grown in proportion to population growth
  • evangelical churches have grown in terms of absolute numbers, but as a percentage of the total population, they have declined

  • many churches are in deep trouble today, and do not know it, or know it but are ignoring it
  • we are like the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation
  • (Revelation 3:15) I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
  • (Revelation 3:16) So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
  • (Revelation 3:17) You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
  • (Revelation 3:18) I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
  • (Revelation 3:19) Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
  • I believe that we are under the discipline of the Lord because of our refusal to repent - because of our tepid passion
  • because we do not care enough about our ways to fulfill our mission
  • God is withholding blessings and bringing judgment on our church because of sin

  • PRINCIPLE TWO: THERE IS NO OTHER SOLUTION THAN A SPIRITUAL ONE
  • if the problem is a political problem, then the answer is a political solution
  • if the problem is a strategic one, then the answer is strategic
  • but the problem is a spiritual one, and the solution is going to be a spiritual solution

  • in Jeremiah 29:8-9, the false prophets attempted to deceive the exiles into thinking that the problem was only minor and temporary
  • and a number of false prophets are present today telling the church that the problem is not severe, or that the problem is only a strategic one
  • seminars offer panaceas of techniques and methods that are guaranteed to make a church grow
  • but, as Bill Hull writes in his book Can We Save the Evangelical Church?
  • Before anything else, church renewal is a matter of the heart. It is gut-wrenching prayer, Spirit-generated confession, determined repentance, and conflict resolution. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is those internal spiritual issues that must not be skipped. If they are, then moving on to secondary renewal issues, such as mission statements, restructuring, or evangelism strategy, will be pointless. We must not be too interested in superficial changes that only relieve symptoms and bring temporary relief - a plop, plop, fizz, fizz theology.

  • the way out of the mess is not through secondary means such as mission statements, restructuring, or strategies
  • I believe we first need to deal with the primary issues: gut-wrenching prayer, Spirit-generated confession, determined repentance, and conflict resolution

  • read what Jeremiah wrote:
  • (Jeremiah 29:12) Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
  • (Jeremiah 29:13) You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
  • or, from Deuteronomy 4:29:
  • (Deuteronomy 4:29) But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.
  • (Deuteronomy 4:30) When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.
  • (Deuteronomy 4:31) For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.
  • the only way out of this predicament is to return to the Lord "with all your heart and with all your soul"
  • God's promises are contingent on our wholehearted repentance
  • as God told the church of Laodicea:
  • (Revelation 3:19) Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.

  • I think we as a church have some business to do with God
  • we need a period of corporate confession, repentance, reconciliation, and restoration
  • we need to uncover and confess individual and corporate sins that have brought judgment against the church, and we need to confront them in a biblical manner
  • and that's why we're calling a Solemn Assembly this week

  • when things aren't going well, when sin abounds, or when we're just in need of a fresh move of God, it's time for desperate measures
  • during the Welsh Revival, if a church went two years without an obvious move of God in their midst, they would call a Solemn Assembly and seek God
  • in the Bible, Jehoshaphat called a Solemn Assembly because the enemy was hotfooting it his way
  • Hezekiah called for it because the priesthood was corrupt and the nation divided
  • in Josiah's case, it was the rediscovery of God's Word that was the catalyst for revival
  • Joel exhorted the priests to call a Solemn Assembly and to rend their hearts, not their garments
  • let me quote from Joe Aldrich:
  • In the Old Testament, the Solemn Assembly was targeted on Joe-citizen, not upon Joseph-the-priest. Everyone was expected to attend. Wives and children were to be there. Honeymooners were expected to show up. It was not a time for business as usual. Sometimes the assemblies lasted for days.
  • The word "solemn" underscores the seriousness of the occasion and the gravity of the situation. We should get solemn:

    when we realize we're in over our heads.
    when the "glory of God" has departed from our churches.
    where sin abounds.
    where church leaders are in disarray.
    when no one is coming to Christ.
    when worship is dead.
    when there is no vision.
    when the Word falls on deaf ears.
    when carnality prevails.
    when sin is condoned.
    when unity is AWOL.
    when the perimeters of control are out of control.
    where effective individual and corporate prayer is weak or nonexistent.
    where a spirit of criticism prevails.

  • we need to earnestly and wholeheartedly seek God
  • in humility, we need to declare our utter dependence on God
  • we need intense, persistent prayer leading to insight, repentance, and then blessing

  • for the next week, it's not business as usual
  • we are calling a Solemn Assembly for two purposes: to cry out to God for blessing, and for corporate and personal cleansing
  • I will be fasting this week, and some of you may want to join me for the entire week, or for just one day - this coming Saturday
  • we will gather for prayer during the week at the church
  • on Thursday, volunteers will pray for Richview around the clock
  • but we want to get down to business with God
  • that's principle number two: there's no solution but a spiritual solution

  • FINALLY, PRINCIPLE NUMBER THREE: GOD IS WILLING TO ANSWER OUR CRIES
  • (Jeremiah 29:10) This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.
  • (Jeremiah 29:11) For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
  • (Jeremiah 29:12) Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
  • (Jeremiah 29:13) You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
  • (Jeremiah 29:14) I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the pla ce from which I carried you into exile."
  • God isn't done with Richview
  • according to God's wise plan, Jeremiah prophesied that his people were to have a hope and a future
  • even in a difficult place and time, they had the promise that God wasn't through with them yet

  • the Bible says that when you seek the Lord your God, you will find him, if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul
  • it's time to stop preaching, and it's time to start praying