Today we are going to talk about the basic characteristics of God. I sure hope you are ready for a bit of a harsh lesson and a little frank talk today. And this is one of those Bible readings that make me a little jumpy, but at the same time, it needs to be addressed. Open your Bibles to 1st Samuel chapter 2.
Notice that this Psalm is mostly a series of couplets that explains God’s activity on earth, and the means by which He balances the scales of divine justice. These couplets often used as a method that literary-types call merism as a tool to get their point across.
For instance, we are told that God kills, and He makes alive. God sends people down to the grave, and He raises them up from the grave. The idea is that we have two outer boundaries of human existence (life and death) and that God actively controls both of these and everything that lies in between. That’s merism.
This eloquent Psalm of gratitude and deliverance that poured out from the depths of Hannah’s soul was the result of the once-barren Hannah miraculously conceiving and giving birth to a son, Samuel (Sh’mu’el in Hebrew). We studied this at length in my last blog post, and I’m afraid if you missed that lesson you would be at a bit of a disadvantage with this blog post.
In my previous blog post, I gave you the all-important context for framing these passages and also pointed out that this Psalm not only glorified God for His mercies towards Hannah but also very effectively summarized several of Yehoveh’s fundamental and eternal characteristics. And it’s those basic features of God that will play a significant role in today’s class.
I hope you can recall that context I’m speaking of because I’m going to take us on a major detour at this time to some well-known teachings in the New Testament that bear the same context.
Almost universally that critical context is either not defined when these Old or New Testament passages are taught. Or it is erroneously explained, and thus a terribly important principle for the well being of the individual Believer (and Messiah’s church in general) is lost.
Turn now to the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. We are going to read extensively; in fact, we’re going to read the first three chapters in their entirety.
This section is usually called the Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. I don’t think I need to convince you that these seven congregations were (in John’s day) actual Messianic assemblies (churches) that existed.
But at the same time, it is important that we bear in mind that those seven letters shape a prophetic and general message to the church and is representative of all the congregations of Christ going by whatever name they are known by.
And while these cautions are pertinent to all Believers at all times in every age, they bear extraordinary significance as to the time of the return of Messiah Yeshua approaches (which is where we are now in history, the reason for this detour).
After we finish reading, I’ll restate the context for understanding these verses, but for those who retain a good grasp of what we read in my last blog post, you will have a head start.
Read Revelation 1- 3
Here comes the crux of today’s lesson. Most of us have been well-taught by Pastors, prophecy experts, and Bible teachers that the crux of the matter that Messiah is addressing in His letters to the seven churches follows each time with the words,
“And to him who overcomes….”, or as in the CJB, “And to him winning the victory” are spoken.
Thus since we have seven different letters to 7 different churches, that common phrase about the vital matter of “overcoming” is repeated in each letter and then followed by what it is that the Believer will receive as an eternal reward IF he or she overcomes.
In other words, the format is that FIRST, we have a list of complaints and comments by Messiah Jesus, the founder and head of the Church, along with a warning that those who belong to these congregations are in grave spiritual danger.
And this is then followed by a statement of what it is that those who DO overcome this serious spiritual danger will receive as their just reward (as opposed to those who do NOT overcome). And at the heart of each requirement is a significant change in
- Spiritual attitude,
- Doctrine, and
So, beginning with the letter to the church at Ephesus and ending with the church at Laodicea, we have these seven rewards pronounced for the over-coming Believer:
- The right to eat from the Tree of Life (meaning the receiving of eternal life).
- They will not be harmed by (they will avoid) the 2nd death, which is referring to the Eternal Lake of Fire that comes at the final judgment for all humanity.
- They will be given guaranteed access to the banquet of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (the new manna), with the white stone as their entry ticket and each stone personalized with a new secret name that no one else will have or know.
- The victors (the overcomers) shall be given authority to rule over nations.
- They will be given white robes indicating a condition of absolute purity, ritual cleanliness, and personally introduced one at a time to the Father Creator, and be given a personal guarantee of living forever in the presence of God.
- The one who overcomes will be able to serve at the Temple of God and be permitted to live in the New Jerusalem.
- They will be allowed to sit with Christ on His throne (so intimate will be the relationship) and share His authority.
Now if you can imagine and visualize all this I applaud you because it is way too much for my mind to grasp fully. But here’s the thing that is clear and not hard to understand: what these seven rewards describe is what that thing that we all hope for (living eternally with God) amounts to.
But what it also means is that many who are part of these seven representative congregations but who refuse to heed the Messiah’s warnings, they will not open their eyes, and they will not change their ways will NOT live eternally with God because they did NOT overcome.
Please understand: this is NOT about some church members receiving “jewels in their crowns” and others just barely squeeze into heaven (so to speak).
And this is about eternal life for some and NO eternal life for others, all of whom were seemingly satisfied in their minds that they had already won that victory and the matter settled.
Let’s go back to our context so that we can see what this has to do with us, His Believers in the modern age. I mentioned in my last blog post that Hannah’s Prayer ONLY concerned God’s redeemed people. There is no reference to pagans, no comparison to the heathen, no contrast with non-followers of the God of Israel.
Thus in Hannah’s Prayer, those who are killed by God were equally as much a part of God’s redeemed people Israel, as those who were made alive by God.
A good example of this is the Serpent on the Pole matter during the Wilderness Journey when thousands of Israelites were killed by the Lord, but thousands more were healed by the Lord.
Hannah’s Song speaks of those who were wealthy but suddenly were brought low as equally a part of Israel as those who were poor but became exalted.
Those who were well-fed and had plenty to eat but now had to fight for a crumb of bread were part of the redeemed congregation of God, and those who were hungry but now had an abundance were also part of the redeemed congregation of God, and so on.
Consequently, Hannah’s Song is only speaking about the relationship Yehoveh has with His people and has nothing to do with those who don’t belong to Him.
Do you hear that? And this is another key to today’s lesson so hold that firmly at the front of your minds.
Coming back to Revelation, the message of Revelation chapters 1–3 is in the same mold as Hannah’s Song because it ONLY concerns God’s people; His Believers, His followers.
This series of 7 messages only involves Israel, and those spiritually joined to Israel through trusting God’s Messiah. The seven letters of Revelation are addressed strictly to the body of Believers, not to others (not to pagans or even what today we call “seekers”).
And by the way, do not be confused: a “seeker” is not someone who is midway between a pagan and a Believer. They are non-Believers as you can only believe or not believe, there is no hybrid of the two states.
However what is usually assumed (and often flatly stated) when Revelation 1 –3 is taught is that these letters present a contrast between the Church and the world.
That the challenge set down by Jesus is for the Believer to overcome the increasingly wicked ways of the unbelieving world for His followers to achieve victory and gain the rewards He has promised.
Put another way: the dynamic is usually set up as the church at large as the overcomers who get rewards, and pagans at large as those who have not overcome and so get the shaft.
I’m here to tell you that this is not so! That kind of interpretation completely defies the obvious context and plain reading of the passages and misses the point.
Rather this is about the dynamics of what goes on WITHIN the walls of the organized, institutional Church (and when I say “church” I mean it as a universal term that indicates all aspects of Christianity or Messianic activity).
These warnings from Christ are all about the individual Believer overcoming
- The false doctrines,
- The peer pressure,
- The political correctness,
- The bad teaching,
- The watering-down of the Gospel to merely a social and prosperity formula, and
- The herd mentality of the organized fellowships of Believers (that we commonly call Churches or denominations).
Like Hannah’s prayer, this is about God’s people only. Does that not put these matters into a different perspective and unnerve you just a bit?
See, this is not a situation whereby Jesus is perfecting His Church or quibbling over optional items to spur us on to greater ministry.
Rather He is dividing and separating true Believers from those who claim to be (and are confident that they are) part of His Church but are not in His eyes. So this is separating the sheep from the goats, so to speak.
In Hannah’s day, the institution of the Priesthood had become a dysfunctional Ponzi scheme that no longer served any real divine or spiritual purpose (it was a body that spoke of God always and used all of His symbols but had long ago stopped serving or obeying Him).
In Revelation, we find a parallel situation. So these seven letters are about the priesthood of Believers (Christians, Messianic). Many who have been co-opted by the institution of the church (a human made system merely purporting to be God made), and swayed by the trappings of organized religion; an institution that in some cases has become dysfunctional and hardly has any real divine or spiritual purpose anymore.
These letters speak of a collection of 7 congregations that at one time were on the right track, but some have now (each in their way) fallen away while others have done well and remained faithful but are under condemnation by the fallen churches for not following them into the abyss.
- In Ephesus loving the Lord has become secondary and lip service, and so without Him as their guide they have been enticed into great sin and lost their way (and they are utterly unaware of it).
- In Smyrna, they are suffering and hurting from the barbs and insults of brothers and sisters who claim to be followers of God but are not.
- In Pergamum, they insist on doing everything in Christ’s name, and to be the true standard bearers of the Christian faith. (According to Messiah) they have taken on the role of Bil’am (Balaam) who did everything he could to curse and destroy Israel through enticing Israel to forget their unique heritage and instead adopt the ways of the gentiles.
- In Thyatira, the congregation has taken to following church members who hold themselves up as religious prophets who get special messages from God, but these self-appointed prophets are leading the sheep into sexual immorality and sin.
- In Sardis the congregation is large, vibrant, and well known and this makes them think they must be in harmony with God, but Yeshua says that it’s all a mirage; they are dead men walking!
- In Philadelphia, Yeshua says He knows that they are small in size, with little influence in the realm of the institutional church (barely a blip on the radar screen). But He is going to send folks to them from some of these other more visible but apostate churches so that at least a few can come and learn God’s truth, to live faithfully, and be saved away from what is going to happen to those who stubbornly remain in their apostate congregations.
- Finally, at Laodicea, the issue is that the people have become passive. Their commitment to the Lord amounts to showing up at congregational meetings. While on the one hand, they haven‘t openly renounced their faith. On the contrary, they have no enthusiasm for their Savior, no sense of obligation to serve Him or obey Him, or interested in learning His ways, or growing in Him or help to expand His Kingdom.
CJB Matthew 7:22-23 On that Day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we expel demons in your name? Didn’t we perform many miracles in your name?’ Then I will tell them to their faces, ‘I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!’
Which one of these seven representative congregations are we attached to as individuals? Which one of these best describes the denomination where we worship and fellowship? Which one might our friends and families be associated with?
While no man can truly know another man’s heart, we are told in God’s Word that we can know something about a person or a group (including, to a degree, their spiritual condition) by his or her fruit.
I think it’s reasonable to look to some of our greatest and most true church leaders and to at least take into account their view on the general condition of the body of Believers is and see if it fits with what Yeshua says in Revelation.
Several years ago during a TV interview with Larry King, Billy Graham stated that he had come to the sad conclusion that AT BEST probably no more than 30% of folks that attend church regularly are saved.
Billy Graham’s organization also followed up on the hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) who came forward over the years at his Crusades and found that fewer than 2% demonstrated any evidence of continuing in the faith.
I imagine that doesn’t shock many of you; you’ve probably looked around and suspected the same even if you didn’t want to believe it or say it out loud.
Does that mean, then, that we have churches today that are 70% seekers and only 30% who profess to be Christians? Heavens no! It says exactly what we just read in Revelation, and in Matthew; that most who think that they’ve received their fire insurance bought a phony policy.
How is that possible? Well, that exact situation has kind of been the point of everything that had followed and flowed from the Book of Exodus onward in God’s Word when through His Laws and Commandments the Lord defined just who He is and what He expects from those who want fellowship with Him.
And what we learn is that when we put aside any aspect of His written Word, when we deny any part of His unchanging and indivisible nature and character, when we stop acknowledging the true God and begin worshipping a non-existent god that is made in our image of what God ought to be.
We rely on a false-god whom we have conjured up, and too many of our religious institutions uphold rather than tear down. And this is called idolatry.
In Hannah’s day, the men in charge of God’s sanctuary (the Levite Priests) put away the Torah and decided to follow a system of human-made traditions, doctrines, and observances that they claimed were the same thing as the Word of God (but God wasn’t buying it!)
In our day (and at the end of days) many leaders who are in charge of our Christian religious institutions have put away the Bible and decided instead to follow a religious and pleasant sounding system of humanmade traditions, doctrines, and observances that they say are the same thing as the Word of God.
Well guess what: Messiah Yeshua says here that He’s not buying that either!
I remember what a bombshell this reality was when this truth first struck me. First, it scared me, and then it depressed me. Later it blessed me because I now had the knowledge to make a personal change and perhaps a difference.
Folks, this isn’t my word, this is God’s warning directly taken from His Word. Yes, it is hard hitting, it’s sobering, and it’s unsettling. And this is why we took the time to read these three chapters thoroughly. So that not only can we see the connected parallel of the letters to the seven churches to Hannah’s Song, but also that we can feel the impact of what God is telling us in proper context and hopefully take corrective action as it applies to each of us as individuals and as congregations of Believers.
But what IS that corrective action going to look like in some cases?
Before we move on with 1st Samuel 2, let’s read from one more place in Revelation that answers that question. Turn to Revelation 18.
Read Revelation 18:1-5
“My people, come out of her!”
As hard as it is for us to do, THIS is the prescribed corrective action for Believers who want to again stand with the Lord. Sometimes there is no choice but to walk away.
The great whore of Babylon is that part of the institutional church that has become so dysfunctional that it has become the metaphor for the apostate church.
What is an “apostate church”? It means it claims to be the church with Christ as its head. It claims to call on Jesus’ name for authority. Oh, it sure looks good and sounds good if you don’t look too closely.
But being in an apostate church means that the Lord’s laws and commandments have been ditched, and the recognition of His nature has been exchanged, for something else that is NOT God.
And applying the principle of the seven letters to the seven churches to this passage in Revelation 18, it is Christianity’s natural tendency to want to point at ONE of the hundreds of human-made denomination as that whore of Babylon (usually it is said to be the Catholic Church).
Of course, that is a way of denying our responsibility and accountability before God.
Those letters in Revelation aren’t about people who belong to ONE institutional church denomination that has gone terribly astray. Instead, we will find this tendency towards whoring, unfaithfulness, and apostasy spread throughout the worldly religious institutions.
Certainly, it is not a universal condition, and indeed many church bodies are fighting hard to stay on (or return to) a correct path.
How can I be so certain that Revelation 18 is about God’s people and not the wicked pagan world? Because God is calling out, “MY people.” “My people” (God’s people) has always been and will always be God’s faithful followers, not pagans and not the apostate.
Even the term “whoring” (which biblically means to be unfaithful either to God or a husband) only has meaning when applied to God’s followers.
- Whoring is what happens when a wife cheats on her husband.
- Whoring is what happens when a Believer prefers to see elements of religious or secular humanistic philosophy added to, or substituted for, the pure worship or pure worship of Yehoveh because it pleases us or allows us to be more acceptable to our peers.
So the issue addressed in Revelation 18 is the same as in Revelation chapters 1,2 and 3: individual Believers overcoming authoritative religious leaders and institutions that claim to represent the Lord on earth, but do not follow His Word nor honor His Laws and Commandments.
These are religious institutions and leaders that claim the Bible as their Holy Text, but then turn around and denounce the majority of it as no longer valid or relevant.
These are organizations that on the one hand say that God never changes, but on the contrary say that sometime between the books of Ezra and Matthew, God traded in one set of characteristics for a newer set and thus one set of commandments for another.
The question and challenge before us all are the ones that Christ set down in His seven letters:
Will we take the harder road, accept our responsibility and overcome, or will we stay on the easier road, prefer comfort, familiarity and popularity to the truth, and in time be very surprised by the inevitable eternal consequences?
Let’s get back to 1st Samuel chapter 2.
Read 1 Samuel 2:11–17
After dropping off the kindergarten-aged Samuel at Shiloh and entrusting him into the care of the High Priest Eli, Elkanah, Hannah, and P’ninah pack up and return to their home in Ramah. Sh’mu’el began serving the Lord at this startlingly early age as this was the vocation his mother had dedicated him to for his lifetime.
Verse 12 begins to explain just how darkly apostate the Priesthood had become by now and Eli’s sons were among the worst actors.
Verse 13 gives an example of the despicable things they did start with they’re wandering around to the cooking pots of the many worshippers who came to the Tabernacle to offer their vow and thanks-offerings (the various kinds of Zevah Shelamim sacrifices) and partake in the holy prayers’ portion of the sacrificial meat.
Eli’s sons would poke their specially made extra long forks into the vessels of boiling meat. Whatever became attached to their forks they kept for themselves.
Also, this smacks of the Mafioso wandering into small shops of frightened shopkeepers and helping themselves to whatever caught their eye as payment for their so-called services.
And this had apparently become a custom at Shiloh that was expected and accepted, and these sons of Eli don’t appear to meet any resistance from the laymen who came to worship and sacrifice.
In fact, this dishonorable practice even had a particular spirituality falsely attached to it because the idea was that by the priests’ blindly sticking their forks into the murky stew, whatever it was that became attached to their forks was God’s providence, and thus they only stabbed at each pot once. They accepted as God’s will however much or little meat that they skewered.
Although it appears to be part of the same example, what is referred to in verse 15 is yet another way these two priests took the worshippers’ food from them.
When the fat portion (the best portion) of the sacrificial animal was burning up on the altar, the priest would come by and take other parts of the meat in raw form away from the worshipper, because they wanted to roast it and not eat stewed meat out of a pot.
The Law was that until the fat that was offered had been completely burned up on the altar, it was not yet time for the Priests (or the worshipper) to take his portion; but the sons of Eli were too greedy to wait, and when someone did protest they bullied them into submission.
Now it was bad enough that Eli’s sons badly mistreated those over whom they had the authority, and they were supposed to be serving, but the far bigger crime was against God because they were robbing what belonged to Him and ignoring the sacred rituals He ordained in favor of their ways.
And this was called in verse 17 a very great, or a grave, sin. And this is another way of saying “a high-handed” sin, referring to a type of trespass for which no atonement was available.
What made their sin particularly terrible was that as God’s Priests they brought the sacrifice itself into contempt. Imagine what these Israelite worshippers thought as they watched men who were supposed to be the godliest, pious and anointed representatives of Yehoveh on earth turn these sacrifices into little more than a personal food fest.
These people had traveled substantial distances in difficult conditions to do as the Lord commanded them, and there they were met by white-robbed thugs who hid behind God’s holy name so that they might profit personally.
Apparently, this went on for quite a long time, such that this had become usual. Where was the justice? That’s what we’ll see remedied in my next blog post.
I pray that this blog post touched a piece of your heart, as it has mine. My prayer for you is that it will lead you into examining your heart as to where you are with God regarding the warnings to the seven churches. Please don’t wait till later or tomorrow, as we don’t know the hour or day when Yeshua the Messiah will be returning to earth. DO IT NOW!
May God bless you with His knowledge and wisdom to help you to find your way in His Kingdom!