Hold Fast, Stand Firm.

Christianity, Religion

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” Revelation 21:1-4

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20

When John the Apostle received the visions that he would record in the Revelation, he was living in exile in a penal colony on the island of Patmos. His crime: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. The situation throughout the Roman Empire was no better for other Christians. Sporadic outbursts of violence and persecution against Christians had occurred throughout the first century–most famously under Nero, in which Christians were burned alive and fed to wild animals in the Colosseum– and by the time that John received the Revelation at the end of the first century, these persecutions had become state-sanctioned under the Emperor Domitian. Christians were routinely rounded up and imprisoned, exiled, stoned to death, or executed in a variety of other horrific ways. Being a Christian made one an enemy of the state, and no mercy was bestowed upon those professing allegiance to Christ over Caesar.

Due to this, the Church was forced underground. Christians would meet with one another in the dead of night, in the graveyards and catacombs where the superstitious Romans authorities would not venture. There, surrounded by the remains of their dead loved ones and fellow believers, the faithful would worship the Savior who had risen from the dead and defeated the grave.

Fresco of Jesus with Alpha and Omega found in the catacombs of Rome, c. 4th century

It was in this context that John received the Revelation. Though many focus today on this letter for its apocalyptic content, the theme of the letter is much more than just an account of the end times. It is a direct message from Jesus to His Church to hold on and endure; that though times are bleak and dark, there is hope. Christ is comforting His church and reassuring them that He is coming back for them and that they must keep their faith firmly rooted in Him.

At the end of Revelation, in the final two chapters, we are given the most optimistic of all the letter’s content. The tribulation is over, Satan and his armies defeated, Armageddon and the judgment of the world completed, and John sees the new creation–the new Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem–all of which were described as a recreation of Eden. It is in this new creation that God’s people will be in His direct presence. He and Christ will rule in this new kingdom, and there will be no sorrow, no pain, no death, no sin. There will be no night, for God and Christ’s collective presence will illuminate the cosmos. Christ will comfort His flock–He will wipe every tear from their eyes. In the embrace of Christ’s arms in the New Jerusalem, all the pain and suffering and sorrow and death endured in the sinful former world will be gone forever, never to be thought of again.

In John’s vision, the New Jerusalem is depicted as an enormous cube, hundreds of miles in length, width, and height. This cubic depiction is for a purpose, and it further highlights the fact that this is the place where God’s people will be in His presence. In Solomon’s Temple, the dimensions of the space in which God’s presence resided–the Holy of Holies–were a perfect cube. Now the New Jerusalem–the ultimate Holy of Holies–would be the place were God and His creation would live directly in one another’s presence, just as they had in Eden.

Following the vision of the New Jerusalem, Christ again speaks directly to His followers. He tells them to keep doing what they are doing, to remain committed to following Him. He is encouraging them to stay strong, to hold fast to their faith, despite everything that is going on around them. He again tells them that He is coming back for them soon and that their faith and endurance will be rewarded.

Just think about the Christians of John’s era. Their faith had made them criminals. They were living in fear of imprisonment and death. They were forced to meet secretly in graveyards and underground burial chambers. Then they received a letter from John, the last living Apostle–the last human connection to Jesus. They come together in their secret graveyard churches, where reminders of all their suffering are all around them, to read this letter, and in it, Christ speaks directly to them. He tells them: I see what you’re enduring. Stay strong; hold fast to me. Things will not always be this way; there is a better day coming. I will come back for you–I am coming back for you, and you will be with me forever, and I will make everything better. You will not hurt anymore, you will not cry anymore, you will not die anymore. I will wipe away all of your tears. You will be with my Father and me forever, and nothing will take you away from me. I have shown all of this to John, it is all true. Just stay strong. I am coming.

Icon of “Christ With the Martyrs of Libya,” Nikola Saric, 2015.

This promise–this assurance–is still valid and true today. Around the world, Christians are still being persecuted–are still being killed–for professing faith in Jesus Christ. Christ’s words of comfort are for them, and for all believers. Despite what we see happening in the world around us, despite what we endure, we have hope for a better day. We have the assurance that this is not the end, that everything is not for naught; our faith is not in vain. One day, we will see Christ and the Father face-to-face. One day we will live in the direct presence of our God. One day, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. We know this to be true because He Himself told us these things would be so.

So stay strong. Hold fast.

Main Artwork: “Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum,” Konstantin Flavitsky, 1862.

First Love.

Christianity, Religion

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4

No biblical book has been the subject of more scrutiny, questioning, or speculation than Revelation. Given its apocalyptic and eschatological nature, many try to unpack it with the intent of discovering some hidden “clue” about the end of time. Even the most learned of scholars will admit that the book’s imagery and language make it difficult to grasp, and this is only compounded by the prevalence of popular misconceptions surrounding Revelation. Of all the books in the Christian canon, Revelation stands at the top of the list of being the most enigmatic. Though this is true, it is God-breathed, inspired Scripture, and it is beneficial for teaching and training in righteousness.

Before John the Apostle received any of the visions dealing with the apocalypse or the end of time, he received messages from Jesus to deliver to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. These churches, located in various cities throughout the region, received specific letters from Christ regarding their faithfulness and obedience to His teachings. Christ speaks directly to each church, calling them out where they have fallen short, and encouraging them to correct whatever wrongs they have made. The specificity with which Christ spoke to each church made it evident that He had been watching them and knew what they were doing.

The first church to be mentioned by Christ is the Ephesian Church. Ephesus was a major city; it was the capital of the province of Asia. The church there had been founded by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys, and he stayed there for roughly three years teaching and preaching to the Ephesians. Along with this claim to fame, other leaders in the early church period would come from out of Ephesus. It was a church that certainly had the right credentials and would develop a respected pedigree of church leaders.

Christ’s message to the Ephesians begins with several commendations: He reminds the Ephesians that He knows “your works, your toils, and your patient endurance,” (Revelation 2:2).  He compliments their faithfulness to His word and the fact that they are so diligent in opposing evil and rooting out false teachers. The Church in Ephesus was committed to true and sound doctrine, and they would fight those who espoused false teachings. Christ goes on to commend the Ephesians for their patience and perseverance in carrying out their work. It seems as though the Ephesians are doing everything right, but Christ’s issue with this church is not with their doctrine nor is it with their attitude; it is a matter of their heart. Though the Ephesians were not doing anything that they were not supposed to be doing, everything they did was for the wrong reasons.

 The Ephesians had left the love—for Christ and for one another—that they had at the beginning. The exuberance and enthusiasm with which they first sought after Christ had given way to a sense of normalcy and routine.  Their zeal for their work replaced their love for the One who saved them. They committed themselves to stamp out false teachings while forgetting how to live out the right doctrines properly. The Ephesians were doing good work, but they were merely going through the motions. They were not driven by love for Christ but instead were inspired by a sense of duty and obligation and recognition. The Church in Ephesus was committed to working, but they had lost sight—or sadly, forgotten—why they were doing that work in the first place. The church in Ephesus was doing everything that it was supposed to do, except loving Christ.  Even with their “credentials,” the Ephesians had gone off track, and Christ was calling them to come back; to return to their first love, to love Him as much as they once had.

We are no different or better than the Ephesians. Far too often, the “fire” and love we have after first encountering Christ dwindles over time. When once we found ourselves serving Him out of love, we find ourselves doing so for other—selfish and artificial—motivations. Like the Ephesians, we go about the work left for us to do, but we allow our love for the work to supersede our love for Christ. We are driven to complete our work because of the accolades we will receive from other men and women, instead of doing so out of love for Christ and bringing Him glory.  We make an idol of doing things the “right” way—our way—and fail to realize that we are serving the One who is the Way. Like the Ephesians, the work we are doing may be good, but if we are doing it for the wrong motivations, what good is it? Are you doing your work because your love for Christ compels you to do so, or because you love the recognition you get for doing it? 

Examine your heart and your motives for serving Christ. Identify where you might be abandoning your first love, and return to it. Love Christ as you did when He first changed your life.

Artwork: “Two People. The Lonely Ones,” Edvard Munch, 1899

Constant.

Christianity, Religion

“I Am  the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “ the One who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8.

Our world is ever-changing; forever progressing forward in a continual march toward the end of time. Everything around us in a state of change, whether we realize it or not. Just as the wind and the sea erode a sandy beach, time does the same for everything in the world around us–including us. Even our bodies are in a continual state of deterioration as result of time’s unceasing march.

Change is not limited to just the physical realm; the beliefs and values of society have also changed over the course of time. Ideals and beliefs that people clung to in the not-so-distant past have been discarded and replaced with whatever trendy soundbite popular culture is dispensing at that moment. The times, they really are a-changing. There is absolutely nothing in this world that remains constant and unchanging.

Or is there?

Jesus Christ is the one constant in the universe. Though absolutely everything else around us is changing, Christ remains the same continually, throughout the course of time. He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He is today the same as He was at the beginning of time, and He will be that same way at the end of time. His care and compassion for us remain unrelenting; His desire for a relationship with us never wavers; His righteousness and majesty ever indefatigable. He remains in control of everything in the world. He continues to be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Our society no longer holds any belief, commitment, or institution sacred. Because of this unwillingness to hold on to anything, society has created a generation of men and women who have been deprived of consistency and constancy. They long for something that will be the same tomorrow as it is today. They desire to find something that remains the same. They yearn for something that is constant. Only Christ will be able to satisfy that desire. He will never leave us, He will never forsake us, He will never deprive us  of His love. Though everything else will let us down, Christ never will. This world will leave us longing for something more, but Christ will satisfy every longing we have. Christ is all we have to hold to; with Him, we need nothing more.