(When the word “church” is used, I’m referring to the church collectively, as a whole, rather than “all” churches.)
As war rages in the Middle East, and the potential for nuclear war intensifies, the church is asleep at the wheel. Many Christians mock difficult messages from the pulpit and the pen. They despise the heat of conviction and scoff at those who seek God unconditionally.
The present condition of the church leaves one to wonder if the lack of the fear of the Lord is contributing to her spiritually dead condition: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). A healthy respect of God (fear) is what our culture, and the church, desperately need.
We must turn to God’s truth and away from the broad road that leads to destruction. We must repent, ask for forgiveness, and seek restoration. We should not apologize for promoting the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord is mentioned frequently throughout the Bible as the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.” Sadly, I’ve had similar conversation with emergent, post-modern, and liberal pastors. My concern is that this view is coming from leadership. They feel that we should avoid mentioning the fear of the Lord because it makes people feel uncomfortable. Just writing that sentence makes me feel uncomfortable. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him…” (Psalm 147:11). Joshua encouraged the people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (24:14).
It’s clear from Genesis to Revelation that we are to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus spoke more on the fear of hell than on the glory of heaven. He thought it to be timely and urgent. “That makes me both love Him and fear Him! I love Him because He is my Savior, and I fear Him because He is my Judge” (A.W. Tozer).
The overall direction of the church away from the fear of the Lord is a sad reality. It is an indication that we may fear men more than God. Those who avoid teaching the fear of the Lord to soften the message are missing the balance. We are running from the very thing we need: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). Acts 9:31 says that the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Did you catch that: the church was powerful and multiplied because they walked in the fear of God (not man), and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Anointing and fear go hand-in-hand. Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:12 that we should work out (not work for) our own salvation with “fear and trembling.”
We must lovingly proclaim the fear of the Lord again in our pulpits if we are to experience genuine change. Fear often motivates a person to repent. The fear of the Lord will cause an adulterer to seek forgiveness. It will motivate the prodigal to return. It will cause pastors to spend extended time in prayer for anointed sermons. When the fear of the Lord is preached the world will repent: “Falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:25). A true fear of the Lord saves man from himself. We should take His commands seriously…not legalistically, but reverently.
Fearing the Lord isn’t the type of fear one would have toward an abusive father, but rather, it’s the type of fear that involves respect and reverence for God. For example, we fear jumping off a 100-story building because we respect gravity. Fear, in this sense, is good and God-given; it protects us.
It is often through reverent fear that we come to Christ and redemption. The church cannot neglect, water-down, or avoid preaching the fear of the Lord in the hope of not offending, or securing an audience. The fear of the Lord offends, and rightly so. The goal of the church is faithfulness to God, not crowd appeal. The church, as a whole, may have forgotten the fear of the Lord, but it doesn’t follow that we should.
This morning, we come finally to the great text of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 through 18. Please open your Bible to that particular passage of Scripture. This is, of course, familiar to most of us as believers. We know it as the Rapture passage, the passage which describes the catching away of the church. It is in many ways the favorite text in this wonderful epistle that we’ve been studying here for months, and months, and months. And finally, we have arrived at the long-awaited time to discuss this great event. As we approach the text, I’ve entitled it: “What Happens to Christians Who Die?” What happens to Christians who die? I’m often asked that, even by Christians; in fact, usually by Christians. Questions like: after we die, do we go directly to heaven? Or, what happens to our bodies? The details of those kinds of questions are very, very important to us, and they can be troubling if we don’t know the answer. We want to know what happens after we die, and we would like to know what happens to the bodies of those we love when they go into the grave. Those are pressing issues and they were equally pressing issues on the young believers in Thessalonica.
Remember now, those to whom Paul wrote this letter had only been in Christ a matter of a few months and they had only had just a few weeks, really, of exposure to Paul’s ministry so they were very much babes. And they had become very troubled about this issue of what happens to Christians when they die. They believed certainly in life after death because it says in chapter 1 verse 3 that they had hope. There’s no question that Paul had told them about eternal life because he preached to them the gospel, and they believed it and they turned from idols. And so, we know they knew about eternal life. They knew that salvation was synonymous with living forever with God in heaven. And they also knew about the coming of Jesus, that Jesus was going to someday return and gather all His people together and take them to be with Him. They knew about that great gathering event.
And so, there were some questions in their minds about how that all sort of worked out, like if you die now do you miss the gathering? Apparently, Paul had made that gathering event so glorious, he had made that gathering event so wonderful that they were very worried that some of them might miss it, even though they would be living in eternal life, they would still be very concerned if they missed the gathering together. In fact, it was so much on their minds that when you go back to chapter 1, would you notice verses 9 and 10? As Paul describes them he says they turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Now, there you have the three dimensions of their salvation: the past, turning from the idols of the past; the present, serving a living and true God; and the future, waiting for His Son from heaven. This was a waiting group. Chapter 2 verse 19, Paul refers to them as his hope and joy and crown in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming. So, they must have known that the coming was something very special. First of all, they would meet Jesus and they were waiting for Him. Secondly, they would be the crown and joy and rejoicing of the apostle and they were thrilled about that.
Beyond that, they knew a few other things, look at chapter 5 verses 1 and 2. Paul says, “Now, as to the times and the epochs,” or seasons, “brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.” They also knew about the day of the Lord. They knew about a time of coming judgment on the ungodly. They knew then that when Jesus came He would gather them to be with Him. And He would also judge the ungodly. They were waiting for Jesus to come. They were waiting for the gathering time.
Now, in their waiting they had become somewhat disturbed. Some of them probably feared that they had missed it, that it had happened without them. How so? Well, they were entering in to persecution and afflictions and some of them probably thought that they were going to be gathered before that happened. So, in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4 Paul has to say to them, “So that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions, for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this for indeed when we were with you.” We kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction. And so, it came to pass, as you know.” He reminds them, now wait a minute, you shouldn’t be surprised by difficulty and persecution, I told you it was coming. But maybe there were some of them who thought they were going to be gathered together before that really took place. Certainly, they were living an immense expectation and would fear that they might miss such a great event. In fact, in chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians Paul says, “We request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”
Somebody had been spreading the word around, either by supposedly an angelic messenger, a spirit, or some fabricated letter from Paul that the great event had already happened and the day of the Lord had arrived. And so, there was an awful lot of concern, and loss of composure, and they were disturbed. Had the day of the Lord already begun? Had they somehow missed the gathering together? And then, the most imminent question was, what about the Christians who die? Will they miss it? It isn’t that they didn’t believe that they would go to heaven; it was: will they miss this great event? Will they somehow become second-class citizens in the future? Will we know them only eternally as sort of disembodied glorified spirits while we go in our glorified bodies so that they are sort of secondary? Or maybe we won’t even have communion with them at all, and there won’t even be a reunion with these two kinds of beings. All of these questions were in their minds. We can’t identify anything more specific than that.
But they were living in expectation of Christ’s return. They were so excited about it that the best way to describe their hope was they were waiting for His Son. They wanted the Lord to come. They knew it was the climax, the culmination, the great event that signaled the pinnacle of redemptive history, and they didn’t want to miss it.
It’s also interesting to note that they loved each other so much they didn’t want each other to miss it. And so, apparently they were feeling grieved as believers were dying, for fear that they would therefore miss this great event. It is with their grief and their confusion that Paul intends to deal. If you look at the text in verse 13, he mentions being uninformed or ignorant and the fact that you are now grieving about it. And then, in verse 18 he mentions the word “comfort.” His purpose was to eliminate their ignorance, thus to eliminate their grief, and thus to bring them comfort. Now, summing that up let me say this. The passage is more pastoral than it is theological. It is more intended to alleviate confusion, grief, distress, and bring comfort than it is to give a theological, eschatological delineation of every factor in the gathering together.
They were agitated. They were upset. They were confused. They were worried. They were fearful. After all, they’re baby Christians; they don’t know very much, they’re living every day waiting for the Son to come. And as some of them die in the months since Paul has left, their question is: what happens to those people? Do they miss it? And their love for each other is so strong, chapter 4 verse 9 says, “As to the love of the brethren you have no need for anyone to write to you for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren.” They loved each other so much they were grieving because some might miss this great event.
So, Paul writes to alleviate their grief, to bring them great measure of comfort. Their anticipation was very, very high about the return of Christ. And I believe it is fair to say that Paul had communicated to them that Jesus could come in their life time. If that was not what they believed, then the whole question is meaningless. Their concern was: they were believing Jesus would come at any moment, and as some were dying their fear was they’re going to miss it. The only reason they would have that fear, they would have that anticipation is because they believed it could happen soon. The major question then is: what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns? And since they had the impression that He could come at any moment, they were deeply concerned about this issue. It may well have been that somebody could’ve suggested, “Well, according to the principle in 1 Corinthians 11:30, if some Christians fall into sin, some are weak, and some are sick, and some are asleep or dead, it may be that these people are dying because of sin in their life that we don’t know about. And God’s just laying them in the grave because of their sin, and only the ones who live a pure life are going to make it to the coming of Jesus. And maybe if they are resurrected in the future, it’s going to be some time after, and some lesser circumstance, and all of that.”
And so, Paul pens these verses. Let’s start at verse 13. “But we do not want you to be uninformed or ignorant, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” He says I don’t want you to be ignorant and as a result of being ignorant, grieving. I don’t want you to worry about those who died having missed the Lord’s return. You say, “Well, how did Paul even know they were thinking like this?” Back in chapter 3 verse 1 you’ll remember he mentions how he couldn’t endure any longer not knowing about them, and so in verse 2 he says we sent Timothy, and then in verse 6 it says Timothy has come back. And when Timothy came back, it says he brought us good news of your faith and love. I like that. Because back in chapter 1 Paul commended them for their faith and their love and their hope. But when Timothy came back apparently he only brought them good news about their faith and their love because their hope was a little messed up and it needed to be straightened out a little bit because they were so confused. So, Paul writes to deal with that confusion and its consequence, grief.
Now, would you note at the beginning of verse 13. We’re going to take our time with this, we’ll continue next week and maybe even finish it, but I want to do it very carefully because this is a very, very important passage and a very important subject. You’ll note at the beginning he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren.” That opening statement is Paul’s favorite way to change the subject. That’s his favorite way, either in a positive or a negative format to change the subject. Sometimes he says, “I do not want you to be ignorant,” such as here and in Romans 1:13, 1 Corinthians 10:1, etc. Sometimes he’ll also say, “I want you to understand. I want you to know,” like 1 Corinthians 11:3, Philippians 1:12 and other places. But whether he says I want you to know, on a positive side, or I don’t want you to be ignorant, it marks a change in the subject to a new topic with no direct connection to the one previous. And it’s rather emphatic. “But” marks a change in course, “brethren” is a call to attention which signals something they need to give their attention to. We’re done with that and I’m calling you back again to a new discussion, brethren. It’s a term of affection, obviously, and he had immense affection for them as the end of chapter 2 indicates when it says that he was burdened, bereft really, because of the great desire he had to see their face. And so, he turns the corner with the word “but,” he grabs their attention for the new subject with the word “brethren,” and then he says, “We would not have you uninformed or ignorant.” This then introduces a new subject. This introduces not only a new subject, but in this case new teaching, new revelation indicated in verse 15 “by the word of the Lord,” a revelation that he has received.
So, here he will deal with their ignorance which has led to their confusion and grief, restlessness and lack of comfort. And what is it that he’s going to talk about? “We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.” Now, why does he use the word “asleep?” Why doesn’t he just say dead? Because sleep is the unique way to speak of Christians in repose, in temporary repose. By the way, the word “asleep,” koima to cause to sleep, is the word from which we get our word cemetery, which it was the early Christians optimistic name for a graveyard. It really meant a sleeping place. It really was a synonym for a dormitory, a place where people sleep.
Now, how is it that Christians are spoken of as sleeping? You’ll notice as I answer that question, first of all, that it’s in a present tense form, this participle here, and it has the idea of those who are continually falling asleep. That is, believers who fall asleep from time to time as a regular course of life in the church. They’re saying, “What about these Christians that just continue to die?” I mean, life is like that. It ends, right? And they keep dying. And he says, “I don’t want you to be ignorant about what happens to people after they die.” Now, the word “sleep” in the Bible is used of normal sleep, a recovery process by which the body goes into rest temporarily. John 11:12 uses it in its normal sense. But the word for “sleep” is also used uniquely of Christians, and it’s used a number of times for Christians, now listen carefully, and it always refers to their bodies. It always refers to their bodies. The only part of us that goes in to any state of unconsciousness at death is the body. In John, you remember chapter 11 and verse 11, our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, Jesus said, but I go that I may awaken him out of sleep. Now, everybody knew that Lazarus was what? He was dead; he had been dead for three days. His sister said, “By this time his body stinketh.” Decay had set in, he had been entombed, he was dead. From Jesus’ view he was only asleep; his soul was alive not bound in the grave, we don’t know where it was or what it experienced ‘cause the Scripture doesn’t tell us, but it does not pass out of existence since it is eternal and it is eternally conscious. But his body was at rest, and Jesus saw that as temporary. That’s why He calls it sleep. Sleep is something you wake up from. If you don’t wake up, you’re dead or you eventually will die. And so, Jesus sees the death of Lazarus as temporary repose of his body.
Look at Acts chapter 7, just to give you a full understanding of this. You remember when Stephen was being stoned it says in verse 60, “Falling on his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And having said this, he fell asleep.” He fell asleep. It was death from the human viewpoint. It was death from the clinical viewpoint. It was sleep because it was only temporary repose for his body. His spirit didn’t go in to unconsciousness. If you don’t think so, look at verse 59. He said, “Lord Jesus,” what? “Receive my spirit.” It was only his body that was to be in repose, to be asleep. A sleep, by the way, from which even his body would awaken, and that’s the main point that I want you to understand. When in 1 Corinthians 11:30 Paul says of Christians, “Many among you are weak and sick and a number sleep,” he again refers to death for a Christian as sleep because it is the temporary repose of the physical body. In chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians verse 6, it talks about Christians who saw the resurrected Christ; many of them remain until now. That is, to the writing of this epistle. But some have fallen asleep. There’s that same familiar concept. Verse 18, those who have fallen asleep in Christ. And then, in verse 51, “I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep.” Again, referring to Christians in death. Second Peter 3:4 mentions it, “Where is the promise of His coming for ever since the fathers fell asleep all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” There, it is the wistful anticipation of unbelievers that those who have died have died only a temporary death.
But for Christians the term is accurate, for it is a temporary thing. Even for pagans there will be a resurrection. There is a sense in which the pagan bodies only sleep, for they too will be raised. However, they will be raised to eternal damnation and death. And so, thus it is not appropriate to speak of theirs as a temporary death, therefore a sleep, but as a permanent death and not a sleep at all.
Now, let me go a step further. The term “sleep” or the concept of sleep does not refer to the soul. There is no such thing as souls sleeping. When Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he had the anticipation of entering into the conscious presence of Jesus Christ. Nowhere does the Scripture ever teach that at any time forever the spirit of a person is ever unconscious. That’s what makes hell so terrible. It is consciousness in the absence of God forever. That’s what makes heaven so wonderful; it is consciousness of the presence of God forever. And you remember in Luke 16 as Jesus told the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man that when Lazarus died he was immediately and consciously in Abraham’s bosom and comforted. And you remember when the rich man died, he was immediately and consciously in torment and cried out for someone to give him water to touch his tormented tongue. You will remember that in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, the apostle Paul looks at death for a believer, and in verse 8 he says, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” There’s no purgatory, there’s no intermediary condition, there’s no state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness, there’s no spiritual coma. To be absent from the body, to be present with the Lord. And in Philippians 1:23 the apostle Paul says, “Far better to depart and be with Christ.” You’re either here or with Christ. There’s no intermediary condition for the saved. They go to be received into the presence of Jesus Christ. There’s no intermediary place for the damned. They go into conscious punishment and torment. But while that spirit of that dead Christian goes immediately into the presence of Christ, that body is asleep, it is in repose, it is in rest, it is in a dormitory, as it were, and a Christian in a graveyard is just sleeping in the dorm, nothing more.
Now, the question comes: well, why is Paul so concerned to tell them about these Christians who have died? Verse 13 says, “That you may not grieve.” They were grieving about it. You say, “Well, now wait a minute, anybody grieves when a Christian dies, that they know and they love and they care about. Don’t Christians grieve, and don’t they sorrow, and don’t they lament, and don’t they shed tears when loved ones die? That’s normal, isn’t it?” Yes, very normal. And certainly the Spirit of God instructs us in Romans 12:15 to weep with those that weep. There’s a normal sorrow, reasonable, sensible release of the pain of separation and loneliness that God has designed for our benefit. He’s not talking about that. Follow along in the verse. He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like people who have,” what? “No hope.” I don’t want your grief to be that dead-end grief, that grief that comes to people because there’s no contemplation of reunion. I don’t want you to think that Christians ever say a final goodbye, because they don’t. That’s a great thought, isn’t it? You never say goodbye to a believer for the last time. There will always be another time. I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans grieve.
In Ephesians chapter 2, as Paul delineates the character of being lost, the essence of it, he says, “They are separate from Christ, they are excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, they are strangers to the covenants of promise. They have no hope and are without God in the world.” Among those characteristics of the lost is that statement: they have no hope. They have no hope in life after death. They have no hope in reunion. Through the years I’ve had funerals, continue to have funerals of unbelieving people, or funerals of believing people where unbelievers are in the family and the hopelessness is terrifying. The terrible sense of finality: no reunion, no future, nevermore the touch of the hand, the sound of the voice, never again, finality. To be so consumed in life with a person, and then have the curtain drop so totally, absolutely, and finally is a cause for deep despair. The greater the love, the greater the pain, and it is the pain of hopelessness.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Weren’t there some pagans who could be numbered among ‘the rest’ there who taught life after death?” Yes, there were some of the mystery religions that might have espoused that. Some of the ancient cults that would have espoused that. There were some philosophers in ancient times who taught there was an afterlife. But nonetheless, the common teaching was that this was all there was, this was it. Catullus sort of wrote of the common view when he wrote, “The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets there is one unending night to be slept through.” End quote. People live with hopelessness for the most part. And I might add, that even people who were believing philosophers who taught an afterlife or who were in to mystery religions that taught an afterlife could never be confident about their wish for an afterlife because they had no indwelling Holy Spirit to vouch safe that reality to them. And so, their hope was subject to the whims of their flesh and a whimsical kind of hope that’s dependent upon the flesh is no firm hope, no sound hope, and so it’s safe to say they are without hope. Non-believing but religious people who are taught there’s a life after death can cling to the wish without having the affirmation of God that it’s true. And so, in some cases it may be worse than having no hope because it’s hope and no hope, hope and then no hope, and hope and then no hope, and it vacillates. Better to come to finality about no hope and get on with life. So, people live with hopelessness, and the hopelessness, the fear of never being again together, no reunion.
Paul says, “Look, I know you’re concerned about those Christians that die from time to time and I know you’re concerned that maybe they’re going to miss the gathering together and you loved them and you want to see them again and you want them to be there and they’re not going to be there. And you’re going to wonder: where do they go? And where are they? And how can we recognize them if they’re not there in bodily form? And it won’t be like it was, and will the reunion happen?” And he says, “Look, I don’t want you to grieve like the hopeless pagans who have no comfort in the promise of a reunion.” Reunion is here, beloved, it is. It is also in the very terminology of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 1 when it’s called “our gathering together to Him.” As we are brought to Him, we are gathered together to each other. There will be reunion. There will be a gathering together. And he says you don’t need to fear, and you don’t need to grieve about it like people who are looking at a dead end. We need to get that somehow deeply embedded in our hearts, don’t we? That is our confident hope. Partings here are just brief.
Now, he says, “I don’t want you to be an uninformed people about the Christians who are dying. I don’t want you to grieve as the rest who have no hope. Now, in order to eliminate that and to comfort you, I’m going to tell you about the gathering together.” And this is what prompts his discussion of this great event. By the way, this is one of the three passages in the New Testament which are the key passages in delineating this event. John 14, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4, and we’ll be intersecting with all three as we go through this great text.
By the way, each time our Lord gave teaching through the Holy Spirit, each time this teaching came on this gathering together event at the coming of Christ, it was in response to certain distress. In John 14 the disciples were distressed and confused and discomforted. Why? Because Jesus was what? He was leaving. And in the middle of their distress, they were wondering what is going to happen to us, and so Jesus said, let Me comfort you, I’m coming back. In the case of Corinth, some were flatly denying altogether the resurrection and denying that there ever would be a gathering together. And the Corinthians were confused. Will there be one? Are You ever going to collect us together? Is there going to be a resurrection? And so, he writes 1 Corinthians 15 about resurrection, and verses 51 to 58 about this gathering together itself. And here you have the same thing. The Thessalonians are distressed and disturbed, maybe because of their lack of information, and also because of some misinformation being given to them. And so, in each case distress, doubt, confusion, even denial has caused the Spirit of God to put this down.
Now, I say that to say in all three cases it comes primarily as comfort. It comes as a pastoral message rather than an eschatological treatise. What is most interesting about it is if you look at the great eschatological passages of the New Testament, Matthew 24 and 25, and the book of Revelation, you don’t find a gathering together, this specific event, in either one of them. It’s almost like this was reserved as a point of comfort contact. It fits into the whole scheme, but those books which give you sort of chronological flow of eschatological events do not focus on this specific event. Here it comes in a pastoral way. It’s almost a very special, very private, very personal ministry of the Spirit of God to comfort troubled believers about their future.
So, this launches Paul then to discuss this event which we call the Rapture. You say, “Now, where do we get that concept, Rapture?” Go down to verse 17, the verb there “shall be caught up,” is the verb harpaz, snatched. Snatched. It means to snatch up, to seize; it means to carry off by force. And it has the idea of a sudden swoop of irresistible force that just sweeps us up. From a Latin word connected to this word comes our word rape, to give you the idea of the force, the seizure, the snatching concept. And so, there is coming a snatching away, a seizing by force, the swooping us off, gathering us together to the Lord in the future. And Paul says in order to eliminate your ignorance, and your consequent grief, and to bring you comfort, I’m going to tell you about it.
All right, now he’s going to tell us four things about it: the pillars of the Rapture, the participants in the Rapture, the plan of the Rapture and the profit, or the benefit, of the Rapture. Let’s at least look initially at the first one this morning: the pillars of the Rapture. What is it built on? We’ve got to have a foundation for this. It isn’t philosophical speculation, it isn’t religious mythology, it isn’t some kind of fable fabricated by well-meaning people who want to make folks feel good because of their sorrow. What is this great promise that Jesus is coming to gather us all together built on? He gives us three elements, to the three pillars, really: the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the revelation of Christ.
Let’s look at the death of Christ, verse 14. “For if we believe that Jesus died.” Stop right there. In this case the “if” could be misleading. It doesn’t suggest any doubt; it’s only there to indicate logical sequence, the logical sequence of believing, if you believe. And in this case that condition is fulfilled so you could say, “Since you believe that Jesus died.” Or, “Based on the fact that Jesus died,” that’s just simply laying down a premise. Since you believe in Christ’s death, thus and thus and thus and thus. And he follows with this statement. So, if you believe, or if we believe that Jesus died, that’s where it all begins. In order to believe in the Rapture and in order to understand the coming of Jesus to snatch away His church, you have to believe in the death of Christ. But what does he mean by that? Well, it was the death of Christ that paid the penalty for our what? Our sins. So, it was the death of Christ then that brought us into the possession of eternal life. It is because Jesus bore our sins in His own body, it is because He became sin for us, it is because in His death He fulfilled all the conditions that God required to pay the penalty for sin, it is because of that that we can be gathered together by Christ into God’s presence, right?
So, we have to start at that point. It was in His death that He fulfilled all the conditions. So, when Paul says if we believe that Jesus died, he’s not simply talking about the death of Jesus in some flat one-dimensional martyr kind of mentality. He is summing up in it the whole atoning work. If we believe, as it were, in the full implications of the death of Christ, then we know that judgment for sin has been satisfied, right? We know then that we, by virtue of that, have been made acceptable to God. And if we have been made acceptable to God, then there is a pillar on which the gathering together can occur. If we are not acceptable to God, He’s not going to gather us to Himself. If we don’t belong to His Son, by substitutionary death and faith in that person and work, then He’s not going to gather us together. But because in His death we are saved from death, we believe in the gathering together. In fact, Jesus died, and you notice he doesn’t refer to Jesus use the word sleep, Jesus died feeling the full fury of death in all of its dimensions as He bore in His body our sins, in order that He might turn death for us into sleep.
One writer puts it this way, “Death has been changed to sleep by the death of Christ. It is an apt metaphor in which the whole concept of death is transformed. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church.” End quote. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church. Why? Because He paid for our sins. You say, “What does that have to do with it?” The wages of sin is death. If the wages are paid, then we no longer face death, only temporary sleep. The sting of death is what? Sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56. It’s like a bee, and when the bee stung Jesus and He died, the stinger was there and there’s no sting left. And so, there’s no death. We need to say, not So-and-so died, but So-and-so in spirit is alive with Jesus Christ and their body is asleep waiting for the gathering together. That’s what happens to Christians when they die. Their spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord, fellowship. Their body goes in to repose, sleeping. That’s the first great pillar. That hope is provided for us in His death.
Second one, verse 14, for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” There’s the second pillar. When Jesus was raised from the dead by the Father, it indicated that the Father approved the sacrifice of Christ and that in raising Jesus He would raise those who were in Him. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead He indicated that Jesus Christ had triumphed over death not only for Himself but for every Christian. And that’s why Paul goes on to say if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, “Even so,” now there’s the bridge, those two words, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” See, our resurrection and our gathering together at His coming is predicated on His resurrection.
I like what I. Howard Marshall at Aberdeen, Scotland wrote, he said this, “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.” He will treat us the same way He treated Jesus. And when Jesus died, where was His soul? Well, it was alive, and it was proclaiming victory and triumph, and His body was in repose. But God raised that body and joined it to that eternal soul of the second member of the trinity, and that’s exactly what He’s going to do for you. When you die your spirit goes to be with the Father, and with the Son, and your body into the grave but God will take that body out of the grave in the same that He raised Jesus He’ll raise you to be joined with that eternal spirit into that final form like Christ. You’ll be like Him for you’ll see Him as He is, says John.
So, “even so” is the link between the death and resurrection of Christ and what happens to Christians when He comes. The resurrection of us all is linked to the resurrection of Christ. First Corinthians 15:23 says Christ the firstfruits and afterward, they that are Christ’s at His coming. As God raised Him up, as it says in Hebrews 13:20, God will raise us up also. You remember John 14:19, Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” First Corinthians 6:14 says it directly. “God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” Second Corinthians chapter 4 verse 14 says the same thing: “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and present us with You.” That’s our hope. The pillar of the gathering together, the death of Christ, the penalty of sin is paid and God is satisfied that we are righteous in Christ and He can receive us to Himself. The resurrection, which is God’s guarantee of Christ’s perfect accomplishment and the guarantee of our resurrection who are in Christ for He will treat us the same way He treated Christ. Namely, He will raise us from the dead.
And then, Paul specifically says it in verse 14, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” What’s he saying? He’s saying: “Look, dear friends, you aren’t going to miss anything. Even the people who die aren’t going to miss it. Based on the death of Christ and its perfect work, based on the resurrection of Christ and the Father’s will, God is going to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” With Him means with Christ. When Christ comes in His glory to gather His people, those who have fallen asleep are going to be there. That’s the answer to the question. Now, what is this little phrase, “God will bring with Him?” With Him means with Christ, but what do you mean God will bring? Some say it means that God will bring with Christ from heaven down the spirits of dead Christians to join their bodies. You know, it says later that we meet in the air, and so that God will bring down from heavens their souls to meet the resurrected bodies coming up, and there’ll be a joining together at that point. Some people say it means, no, God will bring with Christ back to glory all those gathered together, living and dead. Once they’re gathered, God will bring them back to glory.
You say, which is true? Well, probably both. I don’t think we need to get carried away and be too technical. Some have even said what it means is God is going to bring the spirits of these believers out of heaven all the way down to earth and they stay on the earth. That’s one view. That view doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to come all the way to the earth, why meet in the air? That’s an unnecessary trip if we’re going back. Secondly, that doesn’t square with what the Bible says. You say, “Well, what do you mean?” Look at John 14 for a moment, verse 1, “Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Me.” The disciples again were troubled because Jesus was leaving and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them. He says, “I’m going away, that’s right, in My Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare,” what? “A place for you.” Where? In heaven, in the Father’s house. “And if I go and prepare a place for you,” there is a logical conclusion, “I will come again and take you there.” Does that make sense? It does to me. “I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am there you may be also.” I’m going up there to the Father’s house and I am going to fix a place for you, and then I’m going to come and get you, and I’m going to take you to the place I fixed for you where I am. That has to be heaven. So, we conclude then that when Jesus gathers believers together, which way are we going? Up. We meet in the air and we continue the heavenward movement. Yes, it’s fair to say that our spirits, the spirits of Christians who have died, come down to meet those bodies, but once the meeting takes place, we are gathered together to Christ. He gathers us to Himself, and He takes us to where He is, which is clearly in the Father’s house in heaven where He’s been preparing a place for us. There has to be, then, some time interval there before to return to earth for the establishment of the Kingdom. And so, when Jesus comes, he says God’s going to bring along all the gathered together, including those who have fallen asleep, God’s going to bring them all to Himself, along with Jesus Christ. That’s the gathering together. That’s the event. And he says that those who have fallen asleep aren’t going to miss it, so don’t grieve for those who are dying, and for yourself should you die.
Again, I remind you, it really is clear that they had reason to expect that Jesus could come in their life time, right? Or all of these questions wouldn’t have existed if they thought it was thousands and thousands of years down the road. Paul had given them the impression that it could come in their life time.
One other note that I just mention to you. The end of verse 14, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, the best way to understand that phrase is a sort of phrase of what you could call attendant circumstance. The use of dia here can reflect the idea that they died in a circumstance of being related to Jesus Christ. They died in a situation where they were related to Jesus Christ. So, all who have temporarily gone into repose in the graves as to their physical bodies in relationship to Jesus Christ are going to be there at the gathering. I just want to let you know, folks, that if you’re ever in Christ, you’re always in Christ. And you can be spoken of as being in Christ even though you’re asleep, your body is asleep. It’s a permanent designation. We have fallen asleep in Jesus, it says in 1 Corinthians 15:18. Those who died in Christ remain in Christ forever and ever, and will be risen in Christ, and collected with the rest who are alive. Now, that’s just the first part. The good part is yet to come when we see one more of the pillars and then the plan, the participants and the profit from this, but that will be for next time. Let’s bow in prayer.
While your heads are bowed for just a moment, I was reading this week about a little girl, five-year-old girl who was watching her brother die of a very, very painful disease. He was much older than she, and she loved him a lot. And after he died and the funeral was over she said to her mother, she said, “Mommy, where did brother go?” To which her mother replied, “Well, he went to heaven to be with Jesus.” She said, “Oh.” And that satisfied her little mind. Not long after that, she heard her mother having a conversation with a friend, and her mother was weeping and saying, “I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son.” Later in the day, the little five-year-old went to her mother and said, “Mommy, is somebody lost when we know where they are?” Well, the answer to that question is no, nobody is lost when we know where they are. We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Those that have died in Christ, their spirit is in His presence, their body is asleep and they will not miss the great event of the gathering together of the church when Jesus comes. That is the promise of Scripture.
Thank You, Father, for such a promise and such a hope. We pray this day that there will be no one in the hearing of this message who does not live in that hope. Father, we pray for those who have no hope, who look at death as a blind alley, a dark hallway, a dead-end street, have no hope of reunion, no hope of resurrection, no hope of eternal joy. God, bring them to the Savior this day. Save them, Lord. Save them with Your grace, that they might have the hope of those in Christ, living and have fallen asleep, that someday we shall all be gathered together to be forever with Christ, to go to the dwelling place prepared for us in the Father’s house to be where our Savior is. How we thank You, Father, that that hope is available to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. We pray in His name. Amen.
Everything gets politicized these days. It’s never been easier for churches to also get caught up in waves of political enthusiasm and social activism.
So, what should a pastor do when their fellow church members see needs and want to meet them, see injustice and want to stop it, or see a good cause and want to support it?
First, we should rejoice! When a church does a good job equipping people to think and live as Christians in a fallen world, the people become like rivers overflowing the banks of the church gathered (the lake). The landscape changes when there are lakes and rivers. But not all lakes need to be rivers.
So what do you do when one person wants their passion to be the primary passion for the whole church?
There are no easy answers to this question because every church and every community and every activist is a different mix of personalities and passions. But here are some principles to keep in mind.
1. Demote the political sphere while encouraging your politically active members.
For too many in our society, politics is everything. In This Is Our Time, I write about the politicization of everything, where politics has become a religion. Our country is still faith-filled; it is just that today our faith is misplaced. Too often, it’s directed toward government, not God. And many of our frustrations come when we realize government can’t ultimately save us. It was never meant to. Peggy Noonan writes: “When politics becomes a religion, then simple disagreements become apostasies, heresies. And you know what we do with heretics.”
All around us are people who believe the myth that politics is the only real place where you can effect change or transform the world. When you think that laws are the most important factor in changing the world, then every battle must be fought to the end. Otherwise, you’re sacrificing the cause!
The gospel challenges that myth. It tells us that the political sphere is just one area in which change can take place. It helps us put the political in a broader context, to realize that it is not everything. All gains are temporary, but so are all setbacks. Even if we lose a political cause, we can still be faithful. We are called always to witness, not always to win.
With all of this in mind, pastors should demote politics to its proper place, while simultaneously encouraging Christians who are active in their community. Understanding that the political sphere is not ultimate does not mean we should retreat. We cannot be indifferent, hoping to enter our houses of worship or our closets for prayer, as if holiness is all personal and private. No, the apostle Peter calls us to holiness and honor as a way of being on mission in this world. “Holiness is not supposed to be cloaked in the chambers of pious hearts,” says theologian Vince Bacote, “but displayed in the public domains of home, school, culture, and politics.”
2. Be aware of how quickly the uniting factor of a congregation can become a cause rather than the cross.
Once you have demoted the political sphere to its proper place and encouraged your church members to remain active, you should keep an eye on what is at the center of your preaching and teaching. It is easy for the unifying factor of a church to become what we do for others instead of what Christ has done for us.
A church’s unity for a cause can eventually displace the cross. The gospel is still there, but it’s no longer in the center. Something else is uniting the church – a political cause, social work, a community ministry.
Why does this matter? Because we want long-term fruitfulness in our communities.
When you put the gospel at the center, various ministry opportunities will come alongside as demonstrations of the power of Christ’s work on the cross. But when you put a cause at the center, various ministry opportunities may flourish for a time but then wither away, because they are no longer connected to the source of life that can sustain such activism.
3. Guard the platform of your church.
As a pastor, you’ve probably received multiple self-invitations to take “just a few minutes” of precious platform time to give a report or make a congregation aware of a need. Whether it’s people spreading Bibles around the world, missionaries coming home from furlough, medical missionaries providing essential healthcare or pro-life opportunities… everyone wants just a few minutes. Except for the congregation. They expect you to say “no” and protect them from the countless ministry opportunities that could be presented every week.
Do your congregation a favor and guard the platform of your church. Only put activities in the bulletin that correspond to your church’s mission and presence in the community. You can’t be a megaphone for every single thing people in your church want to promote.
4. Observe your church’s particular gifts and passions, and provide opportunities for community involvement.
Right now, our church is involved with tutoring elementary school students down the street. We’re helping plant a church in Cincinnati. We’ve celebrated when families have adopted children from overseas, and we’ve hosted fundraisers to help them offset the cost. We’re assisting refugees being resettled in our area.
These are ways that our church is ministering to the community. Enough people in the congregation were involved in the need for the church to realize it could help facilitate some of this good ministry.
J. D. Greear lays out three approaches to individual ministries – Own, Catalyze, and Bless. He explains it this way:
To “own” a ministry means we staff and resource it directly.
Those we “bless” are those we know our members are engaged in, but as an institution we have little interaction with them other than the occasional encouragement.
But the third category, “catalyze,” is where we put most of our energy. When we catalyze something, we identify members with ideas and ask them to lead us. We come alongside them, adding our resources, networking power, etc. We serve them. And that means sometimes they don’t do things exactly the way I would prefer. But in the long run, an empowered church catalyzed to do ministry will do more gospel-good in the community than if the church owns and staffs all its own ministries.
5. Publicly affirm and bless the kind of activism you want to see.
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Lift up examples of people who are the kind of activists you want to see.
When you hear of people in your congregation doing good in the community, don’t be shy in letting the rest of the church know. What you celebrate, you become.
There are so many ways in which we can prepare our hearts for a time around the Lord’s Table. The cross is the focal point of the whole of Scripture, and therefore there are a lot of places you can go to choose for that heart preparation that looks at the provision of Christ.
One that you might not consider, however, is the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. And so, I want you to turn to that, the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. I really had prepared something else, but this afternoon I think the Lord gave me a little bit of clarity on what might be most helpful to you as we enter into a brand-new year.
Of all churches, we are the most blessed in many ways. We are so highly privileged. We have been given such immense blessing. So many gifted people, so much ministry, so much provision to feed our souls and to build us up in the knowledge of Christ, so many opportunities for service, we stand as a highly privileged congregation of people. And I know you know that very well.
And on the one hand, we have been celebrating that privilege all through last year. I feel last year was, from my standpoint, the greatest year in the history of this church. And I don’t expect that next year will be any less than that, but I will always look back on 2011 as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in my own assessment, in my own experience in the life of this church, since I came here in 1969, for many, many reasons. And I think, as we look at the future, we have no reason to assume that God is going to bless us any less as we remain faithful.
But the more highly privileged we are, the more careful we need to be, because I think the Lord is – the Lord is gracious, and the Lord is merciful, and the Lord is kind, and the Lord is good, but He is selective about whom He blesses.
And what you have in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 is a kind of a warning to a very blessed people – a warning to a very blessed people. The Corinthians were such a church. They had the privilege of being founded by the great apostle Paul, who spent an immense amount of time with them, building the foundations of that church, and then even after he left, continuing to shepherd and nurture that church with several visits there and quite a number of letters of correspondence back. He kept a rather direct hand on that church. In that sense, they were a highly privileged church, a church born in the midst of paganism at its apex. To think about Corinth was to think about the ultimate kind of idolatry, the ultimate forms of false religion, and the very ultimate life of sexual immorality.
And right in the midst of that paganism came the apostle Paul, and the Lord planted a church there. It became a remarkable church and a powerful church, and yet a church that, in the midst of its privilege, was living on the edge of danger and had to receive exhortation after exhortation lest they’d have to forfeit its privileges. That does happen.
You know the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation. We’re warned by our Lord to change, to deal with the sin in their midst or He would remove their candlestick, or He would fight against them, or He would spew them out of His mouth. I suppose this would be the greatest fear of a pastor, the greatest fear of people in a church that they would be the unblessed who had once been the highly favored and the highly blessed. And that is why chapter 10 is in the New Testament, to give us fair warning about the possibility of falling from a place of blessing.
Let me read the first half of this chapter – less than the first half – down through verse 13. “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
“Now, these things happened as examples for us so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try” – or test – “the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble” – or complain – “as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore” – and here’s the key verse – “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it.”
That is a very dramatic portion of Scripture, and it refers back to an entire nation, the nation of Israel, privileged with the blessing of God, that fell under divine judgment. And it can happen to the most privileged. It happened to the people of Israel. Paul knew that he lived, in a sense, in the imminent reality that that could happen to him. If you back up one verse, into chapter 9 and verse 27, you read Paul’s testimony that “I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” – adokimos, tested and found inadequate, unacceptable.
Paul didn’t overestimate his spiritual powers. He knew that he needed to discipline his body, to bring it into subjection so that he didn’t forfeit his ministry by falling into sin. And that is essentially the key to the passage before us that I read, and it’s verse 12, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
The danger of being so blessed that you become overconfident, so blessed that you feel the privileges will never end, so blessed that you feel there’s something about you that is impervious or invulnerable. You cannot flaunt your privileges without living in serious danger.
The apostle Paul has many warnings to the church in his writings. This is a very general one, but it is a very, very important one. Apparently the Corinthian church ignored self-denial. They ignored self-control. They were beginning to exercise undisciplined liberties. They were living on the edge of disaster and the forfeiture of divine favor and divine blessing.
And so, the apostle Paul draws the illustration from Israel to warn churches – all churches, including ours – of the danger of being greatly blessed and greatly privileged, and taking that for granted. Pastored by the apostle Paul, familiar with the ministry of Peter, familiar with the ministry of Apollos. They give testimony to that as you read in 1 Corinthians. Recipients of divine revelation, recipients of the gifts of an apostle, and yet they were in danger of serious judgment.
In fact, back in the fourth chapter, verses 18 to 21, Paul was already warning them, at the beginning of this first letter, that if necessary, he would come with a rod, and he would deal with them. So, the message here is a very, very important message.
Verses 6 and 11 tell us that what happened to Israel was an example to the Corinthians, but not only an example to the Corinthians, but for all of us. Verse 6, “These things happened as examples for us.” Verse 11, “These thing happened to them as an example for our instruction.” Whose? All of us upon whom the ends of the ages have come. All of us living in the messianic era, the time after the Messiah has come.
So, what Paul draws out of the Old Testament experience of Israel is not only for the Corinthians but for all of us to learn the lessons of warning about thinking you stand when you may fall.
Now, I want to break this up just briefly as we prepare for the Lord’s Table, by talking first of all about the blessings or the assets in verses 1 through 5. Let’s just get a little idea of what he’s talking about here. “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea.” “All” is the key term. It is repeated five times in the opening verses, stressing the fact that the whole nation of Israel received the privileges of divine blessing. They “all” were a part of it. “All” who belonged to that nation were under the cloud. “All” who belonged to that nation passed through the sea. “All” were immersed into Moses. “All” ate the same spiritual food. “All” drank the same spiritual drink, drinking from the spiritual rock which followed them.
Now, what is he talking about here? Well, he’s simply talking about the tremendous privileges that came on the people of Israel when they were led out of Egypt and they were led to the land of Canaan. All the fathers of Israel experienced great spiritual privilege in being led out of Egypt. All were under the cloud. What is the cloud? Exodus 13:21, “The Lord went before them by day, in a pillar of cloud, to lead them, and by night, of course, it was a pillar of fire.” The whole nation was under that divine, miraculous leading by God. The whole nation passed through the sea – the Red Sea – the basic touchstone of deliverance from Egypt. They all experienced that. So, they were all called out by mighty power; they were all delivered through the sea; they were all led by God daily and even nightly.
Verse 2 says they were all baptized into Moses. That is a simple concept. They were immersed into his leadership. They were identified with him. It was Moses’ people; it was Moses’ crowd. They were one with their leader. That’s what that is saying. They were united, as a community, with one leader. So, there was not a division of leaders, and Moses was God’s chosen man. They all had, then, this divinely-appointed and divinely-prepared and divinely-gifted leader, and they were led as a united community. They all enjoyed that union with that great leader.
Now, these are all analogous to the experience of salvation. We have all been delivered from the domain of darkness, which is like our Egypt. We have all been led through the waters of escape. We have all been brought to a place where we’re under the direction of God. We have all been baptized into identification with our great leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the imagery here; that’s the picture here. We are all together as one people in Christ.
And the Israelites, verse 33, “They all ate the same spiritual food; they all drank the same spiritual drink.” In other words, God provided water for them in the wilderness; God provided food for them in the wilderness. You remember the manna from heaven and the birds that would hover off the ground and provide nourishment for them for the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness. They were privileged, then, to be rescued, to be delivered, to be guided, to be united, and to be fed and nourished. And that’s analogous to the salvation experience of the Corinthians and us as well. We have all been delivered, entered into guidance under the direction of our Lord, united with Him as one, and our souls are constantly fed.
And then a most interesting statement in verse 4, “They were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” The spiritual petra, cliff, rocky mass. What was this? This is Christ, the rock was Christ. You know we’re going to start a series on finding Christ in the Old Testament; well, here’s one of the places, Exodus chapter 17. Christ was the rock.
In the leadership that we find that Christ extended to them, in their wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament, He is often appearing as the Angel of the Lord. That is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. He never allowed them to thirst; He never allowed them to hunger. He was there, assessing their needs and meeting their needs. In a way, we could say the manna and the water were evidence of the presence of Christ who followed them. He was the rock that followed them. He had not yet been incarnated into this world, but the eternal Son, the second member of the Trinity, was the caretaker of the people of Israel. All the redeemed are His, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
So, what are we talking about here? I’m just giving you an overview. “Being led through the sea,” that’s emancipation. “Under the cloud,” that’s guidance. “Baptism into Moses,” that’s identification with a new assembly and one leader. “Manna and water,” sustenance. And all of this provided for them and for us by Christ Himself. This is to talk about how blessed they were and how blessed we are.
Then the shocker comes in verse 5. “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased” – with most of them, God was not well-pleased. Most of them? Yes – everybody but two: Joshua and Caleb. And they all died in the wilderness except those two.
Numbers 14:16 says, “Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to give it them, therefore He has slain them in the wilderness.” And verse 5 says they were laid low, strewn – strewn in the wilderness, like corpses in the desert. They were what Paul feared being: disqualified. How tragic. Paul had a sensible fear that he, too, could lose his approved status for service – not is salvation, but his usefulness – if he didn’t practice self-denial and self-control. And I look at our church, and I say we are blessed – we are profoundly blessed; we are blessed more than any people that I know. No church has been more graciously treated by the loving Lord than this church.
And yet, I am sure there are many in our church congregation with whom the Lord is not well-pleased. In fact, there are many whose life and whose choices breaks His heart. We always stand on the brink of losing that blessing and that divine favor, if the Lord determines that that is so widespread as to remove us from the place of blessing.
What went wrong? What happened to the people in Israel that could happen to us? Let’s look from the assets or the blessings in verses 1 to 5, to the abuses in verses 6 to 10. This is very basic. “These things happened as examples for us so that we could not crave evil things as they also craved.” There it is in one statement. The loss of privilege is related to the craving of evil things. It’s basically the result of desiring sin, craving evil things.
What kind of things? What kind of craving? Well, he lays it out. Number one, you can look at it in verse 6, “Craving evil things” – and let’s just say that’s worldliness in a very general sense. Worldliness. The idea of the verb here is to be longing after evil things. And, of course, those are the things that define the world in which we live.
I’m not going to take you back to Numbers 11 and Psalm 78 where we have the record of the people of Israel longing after evil things. But there was perpetual warning against the indulgence of the lust that rises up in the fallen heart for the things of the world. And we are warned in the New Testament, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” 1 John 2. And somebody said long ago they were sleeping too close to where they got in. They had been freed. They had been led. They had been fed. They had been united with their leader. They had been blessed and sustained by God, but they became disqualified to go into the Promised Land because they failed to bring their hearts into full devotion to Christ. They were lusting after the things of the world.
You will notice in verse 7, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were.” Idolatry. That hits the big button in Corinth. The Christians there were saying, “We can go back to our idolatry festivals; we can go back to the celebrations, the social events.”
Paul addresses this in the letter, doesn’t he? He says, “You can’t come to the Lord’s Table and the table of demons. You can’t do both of those things. Please, that’s verse 20. The Gentiles sacrifice to demons and not to God, and you can’t be a sharer in demons, and you can’t drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You can’t partake in the Table of the Lord and table of demons. Are you going to provoke the Lord to jealousy?” They were going back to the social events and participating in the kinds of things that belong to the kingdom of darkness.
And we see that with Israel, don’t they? Barely out of Egypt and already they have defected in their worship of God and created a ridiculous golden calf and are bowing down to that golden calf – not only bowing down to it, but committing all kinds of horrendous sins in front of that golden calf. And so, that is the warning here – idolatry. They fell into idolatry; the Corinthians lapsed into the kind of activities that belonged to idolatry.
And further, verse 7 says, “The people sat down to eat and drink and stood up to play.” That’s taken out of Exodus 32. And what it’s referring to is that they literally engaged themselves in an idol kind of orgy, horrible kinds of behavior. I’m talking about sexual immorality. And that is further explained in verse 8, “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.”
I mean it was an ugly scene at the foot of the golden calf. Exodus tells us that the people were actually naked; it was a horrible experience. God killed 3,000 of them in that one moment, and in all, 23,000 perished. That would have been a good indication that God was removing favor. In fact, you can read about that in numbers chapter 25. He killed 23,000. The next day, God even did away with a thousand more of them, disqualified from usefulness and blessing.
The next verse tells us that they tested the Lord. It says they tried the Lord and were destroyed by the serpents. That’s Numbers 21. They pushed to see how far they could go before the judgment of God fell. They went all the way to living on the edge. How much could they do and get away with it? How much would God tolerate? And as they went to the edge and stayed on the edge and God didn’t seem to react to it, they pushed it further and further and further and further.
Matthew 4:7 says, “You shall not put God to the test.” Those words come out of the mouth of Jesus at His temptation when Satan came after Him. You don’t test God even by diving off the corner of the temple to fulfill a prediction given in the Old Testament. How much can we get away with? That’s the wrong question. How much can we be like the Savior? How holy can we be? That’s the right question.
So, if we are to engage in the midst of our privileges, in those kinds of things, craving evil things, making idols in our hearts of all kinds of things in the world, and they don’t have to be actual deities. They become deities to us when we bow down to them. If we engage in immorality, and if we test the Lord by pushing the edges of what is allowable, we’re going to experience the same kinds of things that the people of Israel experienced. And you remember what happened in Numbers chapter 21 when they tested God; the Lord sent snakes. And, of course, you remember that amazing story of that judgment.
There’s another sin here that is indicated in verse 10, and that seems like an one to put in this category because these all seem so severe. How about this? Complaining. “Nor grumbling” – or complaining – “as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” How did that get in here?
The term in the original language means to give expression to unwarranted dissatisfaction. It’s complaining, being dissatisfied and verbalizing it. Exodus 16:2 says, “The whole congregation grumbled” – murmured, complained. Complained against God. They were sitting in judgment on God on the way things were. You have it in Numbers 16, and almost 15,000 people died because they complained. And it says in Numbers 16 they were killed by the destroyer, the judgment angel. The rabbis called him Mashit. He is the one who slew the first-born in Egypt. He was the one ready to slay in the plagues, 2 Samuel 24; he destroyed the Assyrians in 2 Chronicles 32. The death angel. And here, the death angel executes complainers. Complainers, grumblers, murmurers complaining against God.
So, there are the abuses that came to be the experience of the children of Israel: worldliness, idolatry, morality, presumption, living on the edge, and complaining. And they are results of lack of self-denial, lack of self-control, lack of godly pursuits. They are abuses of freedom and abuses of privilege, flirting with the world in its idles, flirting with the world and its morals, pushing the patience of God to the limits, complaining when you don’t get what you want when you want it will result in tragedy – tragedy.
So, the admonition comes to us, then, in verses 11 and 12. “Now, these things happened to them as an example, and they are written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.”
The ends of the ages, as I said earlier, the messianic period. The last age is before the kingdom. The Lord has come, and the ages of the – the age, I should say – of the Messiah, the last day began when Messiah arrived. Again and again, there are warnings in the Scripture, but none is more poignant and powerful to me than this one.
A number of times, in the book of Revelation, as I mentioned earlier, there are warnings given to the church. And one of them that comes to mind is to the church at Sardis in chapter 3, where it says in verse 3, “Remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. And if you don’t wake up, I’ll come like a thief, and you’ll not know at what hour I will come.” Watch, be alert. You can’t live any way you want to live and continue to enjoy the pleasure of God and the blessing of God.
Again and again, a fortress is stormed successfully because its enemies thought it was safe. And by the way, the Acropolis in Sardis was built on a jutting spur of rock, believed by the people who lived there to be impregnable. When Cyrus came to besiege Sardis, he offered a reward to any soldier who could find a way to get up this parapet and destroy the city. The soldier, according to the history, says – his name was Hyeroedes – was watching one day, and he was trying to figure out if he could get this reward by figuring out a strategy. He saw a soldier of Sardis drop his helmet accidentally over the edge of the cliff. He watched how that soldier came down to get his helmet, and he marked the path how he went back. That night, he led a band up the cliff by that path, went in unhindered, and took the entire city.
There is a necessity to be watchful in our lives and watchful as a church. We are concerned about sin in the church, and that’s why the Lord’s Table is so very, very important to us. Not only are we concerned about sin in the church for the sake of the sinner in the church, the person who will suffer the consequences in his or her own life, but we are concerned about sin in the church for the sake of the church, for the sake of the testimony of Christ. I can’t think of anything worse than to have the candlestick removed and to have the Lord fight against Grace Community Church; to have the Lord spew us out of His mouth because we have become complacent, and we’ve indulged our fleshly desires.
We have been so profoundly blessed that we could think we stand in an impregnable way, like verse 12 says, but we need to take heed that we do not fall. And that means personal vigilance in every life.
I understand the implications in my life of any kind of a fall. I think the leaders of this church understand the implications in their lives of any kind of a fall, any kind of lapse into any form of evil craving, immorality, any kind of idolatry, any worshiping of anything other than our God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. We understands that, and we understand the dangers of pushing the liberties in this culture. And there are lots of ways that you can push your liberties in this culture and expose yourself to things that are evil and that do not build you up. We understand all of that. We know the danger of that at every level. The Lord has been gracious to protect us as we submit ourselves to the standards of the Word of God, as we do what Paul said, beating our body into submission so that we don’t become disqualified.
We also understand – and you need to understand – that it can happen at the level of the people, and it can be equally devastating to the life of the church. To be highly blessed is to be put on notice to make sure you watch carefully your own life. And I say that to every individual here.
One of the reasons we come to the Lord’s Table is to examine our hearts and make sure everything is where it should be – all our priorities – so that we would never be the reason why God would bring disfavor on our beloved church.
Then in verse 13, the passage kind of wraps up. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also so that you will be able to endure it.”
That’s a very, very important, encouraging, final word because after you go through the first 12 verses, especially when you’ve read verse 12, and you say to yourself, “Wow, I don’t want to be the cause of God’s disfavor on this church. I don’t want to be the reason that He turns away from this church. I don’t want to be the reason that He fights against it. I don’t want to be the evil influence. I don’t want to be the leaven that leavens the lump. I don’t want to be the one whose sin becomes the point of divine judgment.”
But how in the world can I survive in this world? How can I overcome the world? How can I deal with the temptations that the Devil has placed into the system in which I live? And we are living in a wholesale evil system at a level that has never been known in human experience in the history of the world because of what media can produce. How do I survive?
You don’t need to live in total fear. You don’t need to live in panic. You need to live warned and thoughtful and careful, but not as if the system around you and the enemy of your souls and your flesh is more powerful than you, or than He who is in you. Because verse 13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” What does that mean? Anthrōpinos – bearable for a human being; that’s what it means. In other words, you’re never going to be able to say, “I got into immorality, I got into idolatry, I began to crave evil things because it was too much for me. The Devil is more powerful than I am. It was way too potent a temptation. It was a supernatural temptation. It was a demonic temptation. It was a multiply demonic temptation. I had no defense. I was overpowered.” You know the old Flip Wilson line, “The Devil made me do it”? And what kind of a match am I for him?
And this is saying to you, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man. That is to say it is humanly bearable, it is normal; it is not superhuman, it is not supernatural; you cannot claim to be overpowered by anything. We all face the same things, and we can deal with them. We can’t blame God; we can’t blame the Devil. Further, he says, and this is even more wonderful, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you’re able.” Not only is any temptation you ever have normal, human, and bearable, but even among the temptations that are normal and human and bearable, the Lord knows what you can tolerate. Particularly you, individually you, and “He will not allow you to be tempted above that you are able.”
For some of us, that’s the reason we don’t have more money than we do, or more fame than we do, or more of whatever we don’t have. The Lord knows nothing is superhuman. Everything is resistible. And furthermore, God knows us as individuals, and He knows what we fall easily prey to and will not allow such things to happen.
So, in temptation, we are at an advantage because we will never be tempted in any way that is beyond what is humanly bearable. In the midst of that temptation, God is controlling those temptations so that none comes to us for which we will not be able to win or to triumph. Furthermore – this is the next step in this wonderful promise – with the temptation, we’ll also be provided by God the way of escape so that you may be able to endure. Nothing superhuman, nothing more than you can handle. And God knows what you can handle. And always a way of escape – ekbasis, the way out. The way out. That is God’s promise. There is always going to be a way out.
We pray that, don’t we? “Lead us not into temptation, but” – what? – “deliver us from evil.” Those are the two things the Lord – “Do not lead us into temptation which we cannot bear and, with every temptation, show us the way out.” And He promises us here to do that.
So, having warned the church, on the one hand, to be careful because we are so immensely blessed and privileged, I also want to encourage you, as a church, that nothing that’s going to come your way is superhuman – nothing. Not Satan and all his demons collectively together. Furthermore, God knows what you can handle and will make sure that you never have a temptation you cannot handle, and in every one of those temptations that does come, there will always be a way of escape so that you can endure the temptation and come out triumphant.
Bottom line, you’re not going to have any excuses. I know you desire for this church what you desire for your own life, and that is to continue to enjoy the blessings of God. And we can do that; we don’t have to fall. We can learn from the example of the people of Israel. We can learn from the example of the disobedient Corinthians. We can learn even more from the testimony of Holy Scripture, that the Lord is there in the midst of all of our temptations to show us the way out.
Thinking back to Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Hopeful wandered off the path, you remember, of the King’s Highway to the Celestial City. And they fell asleep in a field called Doubting Castle. Remember that part of the story? And it was guarded by the giant Despair. And the giant catches them, and he drags them into a dungeon, and he puts them in the dungeon, and then he locks them in the dungeon, having beaten them brutally just short of death. In fact, they are so beaten and battered that they want to die, and they would have chosen, perhaps, to kill themselves. They languished in that place for days and days, until they realized what they really possessed. And then John Bunyan writes that Pilgrim says, “What a fool I am to lie in a stinking dungeon when I may be free. I have a key in my shirt called Promise that will unlock any door in Doubting Castle.
What is Bunyan saying? When the believer reaches total despair, despair for his life, despair for whether God loves him and cares for him, despair in the battle of sin, he turns to the promise of God. And the promise is that in every temptation there is a way of escape, and God will provide that way. Let’s bow together in prayer as we come to the Lord’s Table together.
Father, the Word is so powerful, so clear, so compelling, so true, so encouraging – never lowering the standard, but never generating hopelessness. The standard is so high of holiness and virtue and obedience, and it could crush us under the weight of our own inadequacy, and yet You minister mercy to us in that final verse and say, “Fear not, it’ll never be more than you can handle.” The Lord knows what you can take, and there’ll always be a way out. That puts the responsibility clearly with us to remain in the place of blessing, to learn from the warnings of the past, and the defections of the past, and the tragedies of the past.
Lord, we pray that You would keep us faithful. May we do what Paul did; may we beat our bodies into submission so that in preaching to others we don’t become disqualified ourselves. May we discipline our bodies. Give us self-control based on loving You with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength, wanting to honor You and glorify You and enjoy Your blessing.
As Jude put it, may we keep ourselves in the love of God, in the place where love showers us. And that’s the place of obedience.
As we come to this Table, we know that we face a time of the confession of the sins that are in our lives, and those little sins that maybe haven’t reached an epic proportion where they would cause serious damage to our own lives, our own families, our own relationships, and our own church. But those little sins can become epic if they’re not dealt with – those sins of thought, in particular, where the heart conceives and brings forth sin.
So, help us, Lord, to deal with sin at its first appearance in the mind, in the heart, in the attitudes, in the thought life; to deal with it there so that lust never conceives to bring forth sin and we never put ourselves in a place of disqualification and the forfeiture of blessing and privilege.
We thank You for the centrality that the Lord’s Table has always had in our church and how our people have always come and focused on this because they understand the call to holiness. Thank You that you’ve given us clarity in the matter of disciplining sinners in the midst who will not repent, and You’ve used that to provide warning and purging through the years.
And so, we’ve been continuing to enjoy Your blessing. We don’t want that to change ever till Jesus comes. So, now we examine our own hearts, and we want You to show us anything that’s there that displeases You, and may we deal with it immediately. Purify us and open up to us a clear understanding of what displeases You, even in these moments, and may we confess it and turn from it.
We are reminded in Scripture to come to this Table, having examined ourselves – examined ourselves – so that we don’t make things worse by eating and drinking judgment to ourselves, by coming to this celebration of the provision of Christ for our sin while holding onto sin at the same time. That hypocrisy will bring about serious disciplining in our lives. So, we ask, Lord, that You would lead us and guide us even now, as we meditate, as we pray, and as we offer our praise to You around Your table, in Christ’s name, Amen.
Why can’t you just sing some of the older songs? If you’ve been a worship leader for more than two weeks, you’ve likely had this question. It’s rarely asked in a sincere tone and usually comes with a sting of harsh judgment.
I’ve been involved in worship ministry since I was a teenager. I watched the birth of what we would call the “modern worship music” and have seen it’s blessings over the years. I’ve also been caught up in the crossfire of the arguments and wars over musical style and selection.
I love new songs. I firmly believe in introducing new songs to our congregations. The final “Amen” at the end of the Book of Revelation was not the final “Amen” for those of us who are crafting songs to tell the great story of the Kingdom.
There is also something stirring and powerful about singing the old songs. Many worship leaders just don’t want to hear this. If that’s you and you feel a resistance building up as you read this, I hope you’ll take a deep breath and listen.
A few days ago, I was driving my kid to school and we were playing around with Spotify on my iPhone. He was playing some of his favorite songs for me. I decided to have him search for some of my favorite songs from the past. The conversation went something like this:
“Jon Michael, see if you can find this one … it’s called “The Way It Is,” and it will be by Bruce Hornsby and The Range.” “Sure, Dad, I found it … do you want me to play it?” “Yes — you may recognize this. It’s one of the most awesome piano tunes ever.”
As the opening piano riff started my 12-year-old lit up and recognized it immediately. I felt this overwhelming joy rise up in me as memories from the past flooded into my soul. I’ve had so much fun not only listening to this tune, but also playing it. I used to spend countless hours with that cassette tape (yes, cassette tape) rewinding it over and over and pausing it so I could learn the piano solo note by note.
I dropped JM off at Glynn Middle and enjoyed the song three more times at very high volume on the drive back to St. Simons Island. I was elated. I hadn’t enjoyed that tune in a while. It set the mood for the day.
Now, I’ll transition to a Hillsong United concert I attended a while back.
I hadn’t listened to their newer albums as much as I’d done before, so many of the songs were new to me. I thoroughly enjoyed them and found myself worshiping and connecting with God through the music.
Then, it happened … about three-quarters of the way through the night … it started …
The opening riff to “From the Inside Out.”
The venue was packed with thousands of worshipers, and there was this incredible surge of applause and response. To most, this would be considered one of their “old songs.” Yet, it was embraced and celebrated.
This song had history.
This song was celebrated because of its meaning.
This song was powerful because nobody had to stare at the screen for the words. It was memorized by all.
This song was championed by the crowd as the voices of thousands rose to great levels. It was familiar, yet special.
Worship leaders, please listen … it’s not only OK to sing older songs, you SHOULD sing older songs.
Many of these older songs evoke memories of when a person was first drawn to the love of Christ. They take the worshiper back to a place of significance in their spiritual journey. They renew the passion and feelings of that moment and remind us of what God did.
Think about the Eucharist. It’s a reminder. We celebrate Communion “in remembrance.” There is something about going back to a place and reminding ourselves of what God has done. Old songs can help us do that.
Worship leaders … it may be that the older songs can’t be done in the style that you prefer. It may be that the song means NOTHING to you, but we have to remember that it’s not about us at all.
Would you consider this and be intentional about splashing some of the old in with the new?
In this audio you will hear Bella Dodd who was a leader of the Communist Party of America (CPUSA) in the 1930′ s and 1940’s. She explains what she did while working as a communist and then describes her conversion back to the Catholic Faith thanks to Archbishop Futlon Sheen. Dr. Dodd served as legal council (attorney) for the Communists. Her book, “School of Darkness” (1954) reveals that Communism was perpetrated by financiers “to control the common man” and to advance world tyranny. She also testified before the US House Un-American Activities Committee. Speaking as a former high ranking official of the American Communist Party, Mrs. Dodd said: “In the 1930s we put eleven hundred men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within.”
The idea was for these men to be ordained and progress to positions of influence and authority as Monsignors and Bishops. A dozen years before Vatican II she stated that: “Right now they are in the highest places in the Church” — where they were working to bring about change in order to weaken the Church’s effectiveness against Communism. She also said that these changes would be so drastic that “you will not recognize the Catholic Church.”
These words would prove frightfully true after the Second Vatican Council. We have seen the absolute destruction of faith, morals, doctrine and Tradition since the disasters of the Second Vatican Council and the Illicit ‘New’ Mass.
The last time we saw Canadian Pastor Artur Pawlowski he was seen on video chasing cops out of his church and calling them Nazis. They were there to inspect his church for too many parishioners on Good Friday.
Vee haf rools fo covet, Pastor Pawlowski.
On Saturday, the cops came back for Pawlowski, but they’d learned their lesson and didn’t come to his church. He might chase them out again and hurl truth bombs about the police state again.
Ezra Levant of Rebel News reported that the police hunted down Pawlowski on a highway, pulled him over, and dragged him off.
A heavily-armed SWAT team just took down a Christian pastor heading home from church. Police say he’s charged with “inciting” people to go to church. This is the second pastor jailed this year. We’re crowdfunding his lawyers at http://SaveArtur.com
Rebel News reports that Canadian Broadcasting apparently was tipped off about the bust and a photographer, with a very shaky hand, got video of the pastor being arrested.
He produced a video in advance to release in case.
If you’re watching this video it means they have successfully arrested me and I am in jail. If you would like to support me and support Rebel News and their legal team that is trying their best to get me out of this trouble please go to SaveArtur.com. … Help me, help my family, help my wife and my children to get me out of this horrible, illegal situation.
Pawlowski was driving home from his Saturday church service when the police arrested him “proactively” for breaking a “new court order” issued two days before.
Earlier today, police arrested an organizer of a church service who was in violation of a new court order obtained by Alberta Health Services (AHS) in relation to mandatory compliance of public health orders for gatherings.
On Thursday, May 6, 2021, AHS obtained a Court of Queen’s Bench Order that applies to gatherings including protests, demonstrations and rallies. This order imposes new restrictions on organizers of protests and demonstrations requiring compliance with public health orders including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits.
Earlier this morning, CPS lawfully enforced this order by proactively serving an organizer of a church service with the court order in an effort to ensure that citizens attending the Saturday service were abiding by the current COVID-19 public health orders. The order was served prior to the church service, and CPS did not enter the church during the service.
The pastor was arrested for “inciting” a church service.
The service organizer acknowledged the injunction, but chose to ignore requirements for social distancing, mask wearing and reduced capacity limits for attendees, and continued with the event.
As a result, Artur Pawlowski and Dawid Pawlowski have both been arrested and charged with organizing an illegal in-person gathering, including requesting, inciting or inviting others to attend an illegal public gathering, promoting and attending an illegal public gathering.
The police press release explained that they understand the “people’s desire to participate in faith-based gatherings as well as the right to protest… however, we all must comply with public health orders to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.”
Translation: Church doesn’t contribute to your well-being. We know better than you.
Canadian attorney David Freiheit, who is a popular YouTuber called “Viva Frei,” summed up the tone in his country right now.
He wrote the tweet to Canadian leaders: “This is the new Canada. Pastors being arrested in the streets. Totalitarian regimes would be jealous. I would say ‘shame on you.’ But you can’t feel shame if you have no pride.”
Jesus is the truth and speaks the truth. He is “the faithful and true Witness.” The Lord was about to tell this church the truth about its spiritual condition; unfortunately, they would not believe His diagnosis.
“Why is it that new Christians create problems in the church?” a member once asked me.
“They don’t create problems,” I replied. “They reveal them. The problems have always been there, but we’ve gotten used to them. New Christians are like children in the home: they tell the truth about things!”
The Laodicean church was blind to its own needs and unwilling to face the truth. Yet honesty is the beginning of true blessing as we admit what we are, confess our sins, and receive from God all we need. If we want God’s best for our lives and churches, we must be honest with God and let God be honest with us.
The church at Laodicea had become lukewarm. The believers did not stand for anything; indifference led to idleness. By neglecting to do anything for Christ the church had become hardened and self-satisfied, and it was destroying itself. Christ would discipline this lukewarm church unless it turned from its indifference toward Him. The Lord demonstrated four areas of need in the church at Laodicea:
1. They had lost their vigor (vv. 16–17)
Some believers falsely assume that numerous material possessions are a sign of God’s spiritual blessing. Laodicea was a wealthy city and the church was also wealthy. But what the Laodiceans could see and buy had become more valuable to them than what is unseen and eternal. Wealth, luxury, and comfort can make people feel confident, satisfied, and complacent. But no matter how much money you and I possess or how much money we make, we have nothing if we do not have a vital relationship with Christ.
In the Christian life, there are three “spiritual temperatures”: a burning heart, on fire for God (Luke 24:32); a cold heart (Matt. 24:12); and a lukewarm heart (Rev. 3:16). The lukewarm Christian is comfortable, complacent, and does not realize his need. The church at Laodicea was lukewarm, like many people today.
We enjoy a beverage that is either hot or cold, but one that is lukewarm is flat and stale. That’s why the waitress keeps adding hot coffee or fresh iced water to our cups and glasses. Unless something is added from the outside the system decays and dies. Without adding fuel the hot water in the boiler becomes cool; without electricity the cold air in the freezer becomes warm. According to the second law of thermodynamics, a “closed system” will moderate itself, so no more energy is being produced.
The church cannot be a “closed system.” Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Laodicean church was independent, self-satisfied, and secure. “We have need of nothing!” But all the while, their spiritual power had been decaying; their material wealth and glowing statistics were nothing more than grave-clothes hiding a rotting corpse. Their Lord was outside the church, trying to get in (Rev. 3:20).
2. They had lost their values (vv. 17–18a)
In contrast to the church at Smyrna, who thought itself poor when it was really rich (Rev. 2:9), the Laodiceans boasted they were rich, when in fact they were poor. Perhaps we have here a hint of why this church declined spiritually: they had become proud of their ministry and had begun to measure things by human standards instead of by spiritual values. They were, in the eyes of the Lord, “wretched, miserable, and poor.”
Laodicea was a wealthy city and a banking center. Perhaps some of the spirit of the marketplace crept into the church, so their values became twisted. Why is it that so many church bulletins and letterheads show pictures of buildings? Are these the things that are most important to us? The board at the Laodicean church could proudly show you the latest annual report with its impressive statistics, yet Jesus said He was about to vomit them out of His mouth!
The solution? Pay the price to get true “gold refined in the fire.” This suggests the church needed some persecution; they were too comfortable (1 Peter 1:7). Nothing makes God’s people examine their priorities faster than suffering!
3. They had lost their vision (v. 18b)
The Laodiceans were “blind.” They could not see reality. They were living in a fool’s paradise, proud of a church that was about to be rejected. The Apostle Peter teaches when a believer is not growing in the Lord, his spiritual vision is affected (2 Peter 1:5–9). “Diet” has bearing on the condition of one’s eyes, in a spiritual sense as well as a physical one.
These people could not see themselves as they really were. Nor could they see their Lord as He stood outside the door of the church. Nor could they see the open doors of opportunity. They were so wrapped up in building their own kingdom that they had become lukewarm in their concern for a lost world.
What was the solution? Apply the “heavenly eye salve.” The city of Laodicea was noted for its eye salve, but the kind of medication the saints needed was not available in the pharmacy. The eye is one of the body’s most sensitive areas and only the Great Physician can “operate” on it, making it what it ought to be. As He did with the man whose account is told in John 9, He might even irritate before He illuminates! But we must submit to His treatment and then maintain good spiritual “health habits,” so our vision grows keener.
4. They had lost their garments (vv. 17–22)
These Christians thought they were clothed in splendor when they were really naked! To be naked means to be defeated and humiliated (2 Sam. 10:4; Isa. 20:1–4). The Laodiceans could go to the marketplace and purchase fine woolen garments, but that would not meet their real need. They needed the white garments of God’s righteousness and grace. According to Revelation 19:8, we should be clothed in “fine linen, clean and white,” and this symbolizes “the righteous acts of the saints.” Salvation means Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, put to our account; but sanctification means His righteousness is imparted to us, made a part of our character and conduct.
There is no divine commendation given to this church. Of course, the Laodiceans were busy commending themselves! They thought they were glorifying God, when in reality they were disgracing His name just as though they had been walking around naked. The Lord closed this letter with three special statements:
a) Explanation: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19a). He still loved these lukewarm saints, even though their love for Him had grown cold. He planned to chasten them as proof of His love (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–6). God permits churches to go through times of trial so they might become what He wants them to become.
b) Exhortation: “Be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19b). The church at Laodicea had to repent of their pride and humble themselves before the Lord. They had to “stir up that inner fire” (2 Tim. 1:6) and cultivate a burning heart.
c) Invitation: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:20–22). We often use these verses to lead lost people to Christ, but the basic application is to the believer. The Lord was outside the Laodicean church! He spoke to the individual—“if any man”—and not to the whole congregation. He appealed to a small remnant in Sardis (Rev. 3:4–5) and now He appeals to the individual. God can do great things in a church, even through one dedicated individual.
Christ was not impatient. He “knocks” through circumstances and He calls through His Word. What is He appealing? For fellowship and communion. He is appealing for the people’s desire to abide in Him. The Laodiceans were an independent church that had need of nothing, but they were not abiding in Christ and drawing their power from Him. They had a “successful program,” but it was not fruit that comes from abiding in Christ (John 15:1–8). It is only through communion with Christ that we find true victory and become overcomers.
As we have seen in this 5-part message the letters to the seven churches are God’s X rays, given to us so we might examine our own lives and ministries. Judgment is going to come to this world, but it first begins at God’s house (1 Peter 4:17). In these letters, we find encouragement as well as rebuke.
May the Lord help us to hear what the Spirit is saying today to the church and to the individuals in the churches!
As most people know, Philadelphia means “love of the brethren.” Certainly, brotherly love is an important mark of the Christian. We are “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9), but it is not enough to love God and our fellow believers; we must also love a lost world and seek to reach unbelievers with the Good News of the Cross. This church had a vision to reach a lost world and God set before them an open door.
Jesus Christ presented Himself to the church as “He that is holy.” Jesus Christ is holy in His character, His words, His actions, and His purposes. As the Holy One, He is uniquely set apart from everything else and nothing can be compared to Him. He is also the One who is “true”—that is, genuine. He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days (1 Cor. 8:5–6), but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God. It is worth noting that when the martyrs in heaven addressed the Lord, they called Him “holy and true” (Rev. 6:10). Their argument was because He was holy, He had to judge sin and because He was true, He had to vindicate His people who had been wickedly slain.
Not only is He holy and true, but He has the authority to open and close doors. The background of this imagery is Isaiah 22:15–25. Assyria had invaded Judah (as Isaiah had warned), but the Jewish leaders were trusting Egypt, not God, to deliver the nation. One of the treacherous leaders was a man named Shebna who had used his office, not for the good of the people, but for his own private gain. God saw to it that Shebna was removed from office and that a faithful man, Eliakim, was put in his place and given the keys of authority. Eliakim was a picture of Jesus Christ, a dependable administrator of the affairs of God’s people.
In the New Testament, an “open door” speaks of opportunity for ministry (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). Christ is the Lord of the harvest and the Head of the church, and it is He who determines where and when His people will serve (Acts 16:6–10). He gave the church at Philadelphia a great opportunity for ministry. But could they take advantage of it? There were at least two obstacles to overcome.
The first was their own lack of strength (Rev. 3:8). Apparently, this was not a large or a strong church; however, it was a faithful one. They were true to God’s Word and unafraid to bear His name. Revelation 3:10 suggests they had endured some special testing and had proved faithful. It is not the size or strength of a church that determines its ministry, but faith in the call and command of the Lord. God’s commandments are God’s enablements. If Jesus Christ gave them an open door, then He would see to it that they were able to walk through it!
The second obstacle they had to overcome was the opposition of the Jews in the city (Rev. 3:9). Of course, this was really the opposition of Satan, for we do not battle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). These people may have been Jews in the flesh, but they were not “true Israel” in the New Testament sense (Rom. 2:17–29). Jewish people certainly have a great heritage, but it is no guarantee of salvation (Matt. 3:7–12; John 8:33).
How were these Jews opposing the church at Philadelphia? For one thing, by excluding Jewish believers from the synagogue. Another weapon was probably false accusation, for this is the way the unbelieving Jews often attacked Paul. Satan is the accuser and he uses even religious people to assist him (Rev. 12:10). It is not easy to witness for Christ when the leading people in the community are spreading lies about you. The church at Smyrna faced the same kind of opposition (Rev. 2:9).
The believers in Philadelphia were in a similar situation to that of Paul when he wrote 1 Corinthians 16:9—there were both opportunities and obstacles! Unbelief sees the obstacles; faith sees the opportunities! Since the Lord holds the keys, He is in control of the outcome! Nobody can close the doors as long as He keeps them open. Fear, unbelief, and delay have caused the church to miss many God-given opportunities.
The Savior gave three wonderful and encouraging promises to this church. First, He would take care of their enemies (Rev. 3:9). One day, these people would have to acknowledge the Christians were right! (Isa. 60:14; Phil. 2:10–11) If we take care of God’s work, He will take care of our battles.
Second, He would keep them from Tribulation (Rev. 3:10). This is surely a reference to the time of Tribulation John described in Revelation 6–19, “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” This is not speaking about some local trial because it involves “them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:2, 8). The immediate reference would be to the official Roman persecutions that would come, but the ultimate reference is to the Tribulation that will encompass the earth before Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. In many Bible scholars’ understanding, Revelation 3:10 is a promise that the church will not go through the Tribulation, but will be taken to heaven before it begins (1 Thes. 4:13–5:11).
The third promise to the Philadelphians is God would honor them (Rev. 3:12). The symbolism in this verse would be especially meaningful to people who lived in constant danger of earthquakes: the stability of the pillar, no need to go out or to flee, a heavenly city that nothing could destroy. Ancient cities often honored great leaders by erecting pillars with their names inscribed on them. God’s pillars are not made of stone because there is no temple in the heavenly city (Rev. 21:22). His pillars are faithful people who bear His name for His glory (Gal. 2:9).
In a very real sense the church today is like the Philadelphian church. God has set before us many open doors of opportunity. If He opens the doors, we must work; if He shuts the doors, we must wait. Above all, we must be faithful to Him and see the opportunities, not the obstacles. If we miss our opportunities, we lose our rewards (crowns) and this means being ashamed before Him when He comes (1 John 2:28).
In Part 5, we will look at Christ’s message to the church at Laodicea, the lukewarm church.
I’ve been thinking about this subject, because we have a model. Our model is the first century church, which witnessed the biggest explosion not just in numbers of believers, but in power.
One thing we learn from that experience is that the church grows in numbers and effectiveness – not to mention to the glory of God – in times of persecution. Like these.
But let’s start at the beginning. What did Jesus teach His church to do?
I think it’s worth noting that His first instruction to His disciples, who numbered no more than a few hundred or thousand, was not to do anything except keep it together, be a comfort to each other and teach others.
They were ready to go restore the Kingdom to Israel. In Acts 1, He told them to forget that for a while. That would have to wait for Him to come back.
What was the first instruction from Jesus?
He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father in the form of the Holy Spirit.
It wouldn’t take long. Jesus evidently knew that – because once the power fell upon them, this was their next and only assignment: “And ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
They would have to figure the rest out for themselves, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and all Jesus taught them.
It wasn’t the only time Jesus had given them this instruction. He also did so in Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
It would seem to me we already learned two important lessons about the role of the church:
Make sure you are working under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Then, as Frank Sinatra would say, start spreading the news – the Good News, that is.
There are all kinds of debates going on in the American church today about “church planting,” “church growth strategies” and “how we must seek a new approach today with Christianity in decline.”
But I wonder if we’re going about this in an entirely wrong way.
For starters, if the goal is to reach the uttermost parts of the earth – not to mention our own neighborhoods – are we really waiting on the Holy Spirit? And are we really focused on evangelism?
I’ve heard that American-style “evangelism” largely consists of attracting people away from other churches. Here the American church is like one big revolving door. Some churches grow, others do not. Some wither away, others grow stronger and bigger. Yet neither of those ends has much bearing on what Jesus commanded us to do.
So, what did the first century church do?
Exactly what Jesus said to do.
They waited, got empowered and they turned the world upside down. Was that just for then?
I wonder. What I do know is that their church didn’t look like ours.
They met together. They prayed together. They ate together. They worshiped together. They comforted each other. They discipled. They edified. They fellowshipped. They glorified God. And they recited or read the Scriptures.
In the American church, we’re watching the clock. People can’t wait to get out of there.
I recently read that one large mega-church built a multi-lane overpass to ensure that they could get everyone out of the 35,000-attendee parking lot within 30 minutes of the close of service.
In how many churches have you experienced evangelism training or expeditions?
Isn’t that the urgent mission of the church? Why don’t we do it? Do you know I was 21 years old before anyone ever evangelized me – in America? Am I that unusual? What are we waiting for? Who are we going to recruit to do it, if not us?
That’s why the light is going out in America – because the Christian culture, which was healthy and vibrant in America when it was founded, has been ceded over to the world.
Meanwhile, what about elsewhere? Where is the church exploding? Where it is persecuted. You know that. That’s where the Holy Spirit is. That’s where miracles are taking place today – in China, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
There have been some notable revivals in the U.S. over the years – but not one for some time.
Another thing we learn from the first century church is that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Does that still work?
I know it does for me. That doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Unless you believe everyone is going to be saved, nothing is going to work for everyone.
But I find it deeply disturbing that some pastors believe we should stop emphasizing the Word. Some say we should drop the Old Testament pretty much altogether. They say we should tell stories and attribute them to people rather than the Word of God.
Do we no longer believe in the Word of God? Are we ashamed of it? Are we ashamed of doing exactly what Jesus told us to do?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have one.
Do you think there is a more important book than the Bible anywhere on earth?
Do you think getting people to crack it open would generally bring them closer to the Lord – maybe even get them saved?
Do you think God has changed His mind about the way He spoke the world into existence and revealed His plan to His children?
Is there really anything new under the sun?
Or, is it time for the church to start following instructions? Has the salt lost its savor? Or are we ready to be the salt and the light in the world again?
By the way, that’s one of the things the church is supposed to be.
Matthew 5:13-16: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
That’s right. The church is supposed to glorify our Father in heaven.
We’re supposed to be Jesus’ heavenly bride. We’re His children if we are doing His will – yes, even in this age of grace. We all fall short of the mark, but the mark goes beyond salvation, does it not? Does He not take pleasure in us when we are obedient to His call, holy and surrender all to Him?
I don’t consider myself an expert on the church. But I do know how I came to know and love Jesus – and love Him more every day.
I would like everyone to understand that – not wishing that anyone would perish.
And that’s why I took several years to research and write “The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament.” I wanted people to see what I see when I look at the Bible – the most miraculous book in the whole world, one that has stayed the test of time, one that is fully integrated, singular in purpose, abounding in wisdom, cohesive and without contradictions, one supernatural message of repentance, revival, redemption and restoration from Genesis to Revelation.
It’s all about the Word. It will always be about the Word – whether its written on our hearts, etched in our minds or seared in our souls.
Jesus told us all to be evangelists. And that’s what I am doing right now.
I want to share “The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament” with you because I think it might open up the Scriptures to you, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, bringing you not only the keys of everlasting life, but a place of honor in His Kingdom.
Note: “The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament” by Joseph Farah is available in both hardcover and e-book versions.