Friday, February 18, 2011

Revelation Chapter Two, Part 4 of 9

2:7 To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Here is a plain reference to Genesis, and the tree which dwelt in the midst of Eden, that anyone eating of its fruit would live forever. Man in his sinful state was precluded from this blessing, Genesis 3:22-23. In this first of the overcomer passages, we find a promise given by God. Man in his fallen estate was forbidden to eat of the fruit of the tree of life; man in his renewed state was now allowed by Christ’s merit to partake of what he had formerly forfeit by disobedience.

Does the tree at this point make one to live forever? It is, in fact, an irrelevant question. We, by Jesus Christ’s life, live forever because our Lord lives, Colossians 3:3-4. As Jesus is in the bosom of the Father, so too is this tree in the midst or heart of God’s paradise. This paradise was formerly in Hell, known also as Abraham’s bosom. The Old Testament saints awaited in this place, separated from the damned by a wide chasm called Tartarus in the Greek, or translated the bottomless pit.

The saints who were saved by faith in that era (prior to Pentecost and the outpouring the Holy Spirit) may have found that what their obedience could not earn, their faith in God supplied by way of His blessing. Read Hebrews chapter 11 and you will see a host of faithful men and women from the Old Testament who overcame by their faith, as John would put it, 1st John 5:4-5. From Abel onward, God saved them through faith and their works testified to the salvation supplied them solely by God’s grace. Their works demonstrated their faith before men and angels, and by their works they were shown to have a living and powerful faith; one that could trust God in adversity or prosperity, and eyes anointed so that circumstance could be looked past and the invisible God could be spied with the eyes of faith. This sustained them, though they likewise patiently waited for the promise to be fulfilled. Having not fulfilled it in any of their lifetimes, nonetheless these Old Testament saints trusted in God as One who could both faithfully promise and supply.

The tree of life might well have been present in paradise then; a symbol of God’s fidelity to those who by faith inherit the promises. We have entered into their labors in Jesus’ own words, John 4:34-38. God made them to wait so that when Jesus brought them out of Hell and into the Father’s presence in Heaven, every saint that followed thereafter would likewise have the same blessing, having immediate and constant access to the Father through Jesus Christ while on this earth, and dying and going to be with the Lord the moment we expire, Hebrews 11:39-40; Philippians 1:23; 2nd Corinthians 5:8.

2:8 These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
Here we have the essentials of the gospel. Part of the Christian message is this: that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He literally, physically, died and was buried as proof of His death. By the power of God He was raised again to newness of life in a spiritual body, that while physical, was no longer subject to death and decay, John 2:19-21; 20:26. Paul apparently regarded this historical fact as of the utmost importance. We read thrice:

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead, Acts 17:31.

Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive, Acts 25:18-19.

Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? Acts 26:8.

Paul also referred to eyewitnesses who could attest to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; that He had in fact been buried and was raised up, and these people could be brought forth to testify of this truth, which many did before they were killed for it, 1st Corinthians 15:5-8.

Christ is God. No one else is the first and the last (alpha and omega) but God. Also, God as Christ suffered death and had been raised to life. As the risen and glorified Lord and Savior, He could perfectly save any sinner from the just condemnation of Hell when that sinner turned in faith to believe on Him. Christ our Lord paid the penalty for sin, and having paid the demands for sin on a sinner’s life, He could justly forgive such a one and reconcile them to the Father. This was by virtue of His amazing death, resurrection and ascension. We preach Jesus as Lord, but why do we do it? Do we as Christians actually believe in the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Do we accept on faith its meritorious virtue when applied to a sinner? Does Christ’s blood cleanse us from all sin, since He died in our stead and satisfied God’s law which demands death for transgression; namely separation from Him for eternity? If we do not, then we ourselves do not possess eternal life. If we do, then Christ is ours, and with Him all things, Romans 8:32.

2:9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)
The church in Smyrna had been bearing the fruit of the Spirit apparently. While they were materially poor they were spiritually wealthy, having been abidi9ng in Christ despite the tribulation they were presently facing. Jesus was informing them they He knew quite well what was happening and who was the cause of their misery. Note that when the unbelieving world persecutes a Christian they are persecuting, offending and wounding our risen Lord. Paul discovered this when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Acts 9:4. This verse, coupled with verse 10, explains what Jesus refers to as “a crown of life.”

As Paul was persecuting Jewish Christians in his day, chasing them from city to city and compelling them to blaspheme (Acts 26:11); so too was this synagogue of Satan trying to compel this Christian church to turn away from the faith. Those that endured this likely intense persecution were promised a crown of life as reward for their sufferings and possible martyrdom like Stephen must have received. This crown of life then could also be dubbed a martyr’s crown, and it is given not only to the church of Smyrna, but to every Christian on this earth who testifies of Jesus Christ despite opposition and persecution. Since Jesus offers the crown as a reward, and we are clearly told that salvation is a gift and not a reward in Scripture, then the clear inference by way of context and hermeneutics is that salvation is not in view here. It is reward for faithful service unto death; not a promise to give eternal life to those who, by virtue of their faith, already possess said life in Christ. The martyr’s crown is a special reward for those in Heaven who suffered unto bloodshed, striving against sin, Hebrews 12:4.

Allow me to deviate at this convenient point to address a similar passage badly misused by proponents of falling away. I refer to Matthew 10:22 and the portion of the verse that states: “he who endures to the end will be saved.” First, who is Jesus addressing in this passage? Just a verse later Jesus informs the disciples that they will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes, verse 23. Clearly this is an inference to His Second Coming, since Jesus was already present and standing in front of them. In light of this passage go ahead to Matthew 24:13, and you will locate where these verses find their proper context. Verse 13 is identical to 10:22, and it is explained in light of the sermon in which Jesus informs His disciples about the tribulation that the world, and especially the Jews, will someday undergo. Matthew 24:14, a mere verse later, repeats 10:23 when Jesus states, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

In this instance, then, both for Matthew 10:22 and 24:13, physical deliverance by Christ’s return and intervention to save the Jews is the topic being addressed; not eternal salvation due to our diligent endurance. Paul states the same in Romans regarding the Jewish people when he simply says, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins,” Romans 11:26-27. It is a perversion of Scripture to teach falling away when no such view can be maintained upon proper investigation of either of these passages. It boils down to whether or not we believe what Jesus said: that all who come to Him in faith will be saved, and that with an eternal salvation that is not entrusted to us, but kept and preserved by Him because our lives are in Him. Israel’s physical deliverance from destruction is the teaching garnered in Matthew; while a special reward for perseverance in the face of persecution is viewed in Revelation. In neither case should a believer be moved to doubt our Lord’s ability or desire to preserve our lives; God is faithful: “I will never leave you or forsake you,” Hebrews 13:5.

2 comments:

  1. Another great post.

    I am amazed as I read the messages to the seven churches and realize only two were not condemned for their actions. I fear today's churches may be even worse.

    Like you, I do not believe one can lose their salvation, since we are kept by the power of God. Unfortunately the current easy believism teachings lead people to believe they are without any real commitment to Christ.

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  2. I am really enjoying this Bible study. I agree with dfish. "...believism teachings lead people to believe they are without any real commitment to Christ." I see this in the church that I am a member of. There are believers that feel that they are filling their obligations to our Lord by just showing up on Sunday mornings. They do not volunteer for anything and become upset if approached to help out on church projects. There are so many Christians today that have lost their "first love" and merely go through the motions. Blessings my brother in Christ. Lloyd

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