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The Trial of Extreme Elevation - The Book of Revelation
Weeky 29, 2016
We continue our study of the church at Pergamos (meaning “elevated,” approximately. A.D. 323 - 538) This week, we will cover the rest His complaint against this church, and also how it applies to us.
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam,
who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
“Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:14-15 NKJV).
Again, this church went from suffering its worst persecution to becoming the state religion of the Roman Empire almost overnight. As can be expected, few handled it well. Would we do any better today? The evidence is strong that we would not in our present condition. The Lord gave this revelation to His people so that we could learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us, hopefully keeping us from making the same mistakes.
We must keep in mind that this lesson is not given so that we can condemn those who made mistakes. This kind of pride will only lead to our own fall. We’re not better than them, but we have been given grace by having the lessons of those who went before us. Many have such pride that they don’t think they need to know this history. These are the ones doomed to fall as they did. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
Ponder how fast and dramatic this change was in the fourth century and how it shook even the strongest to their foundation. We may think we could handle it better, but we should “take heed when you think you stand lest you fall” (see I Corinthians 10:12), because “pride comes before the fall” (see Proverbs 16:18). Our attitude when examining the mistakes of those who went before us should always be to learn all we can from them, but with an attitude that we are of the same weak human nature.
Think about it: Few of us have been under persecution where we wonder if every day would be our last. Few of us have had close loved ones brutally slaughtered, and then almost immediately, had the Emperor say you were right and open the world up to you.
Going from the most grievous persecution to immediate and almost unlimited prosperity can be the most difficult trial of all. Few have passed this test with a high score. According to Isaiah 60:1-5 and other biblical prophecies, Christians will face this trial in the times that are unfolding. It can be a glorious opportunity if we keep our integrity, or it can be the biggest trap leading to the most tragic spiritual devastation. Two people in Scripture who faced this trial of extreme elevation almost overnight are Joseph and Daniel, two important models for the church in these times.
A reason why the antichrist is covered so much in this revelation of Jesus Christ is because this “man of sin” is the personification of the sin of man. This evil is what we would all be in life if not for the grace of God given to us through Jesus. Therefore, rather than becoming arrogant toward the institution of the church during this time, we should consider that this is us without the grace. We should not claim to be any better. We are even more foolish if we do not learn from historic mistakes with such clear consequences.
The Apostle Paul wrote that he had learned how to be abased and to abound. Many do not understand that abounding can be a more difficult trial than being abased. This is not to imply that we should refrain from prospering, but the warnings in Scripture about its potential to corrupt should cause us to handle it like nuclear radiation. The deep darkness that the church sank into during the Middle Ages is one of the clearest examples of this danger.
Had the church of this period heeded the Lord’s warning to look to His word, “the sword of His mouth,” the church could no doubt have avoided the tragic fall from the faith that it experienced. Certainly there were individuals, small groups, and even movements that did heed the Lord’s exhortation, and they remained faithful throughout the dark times that fell upon institutional Christianity. Those who remained faithful in this way were persecuted by the institutional church, just as the Revelation foretold and we will cover.
Will we remain faithful to the end, which may hold the greatest tests of all? Much of this has to do with three basic character issues:
1 The faith to see the testing of our faith as more valuable than any human treasure.
2 Keeping the knowledge that God gives His grace to the humble, and that we not become prideful or arrogant toward those who fall, thinking we are better than they are.
3 Using this knowledge to remain teachable, a basic quality of humility.
4 Having the humility to honor our fathers and mothers to receive the biblical blessing that it would “go well with us.” This command does not qualify the fathers and mothers as being the great ones, or even the acceptable ones, but the ones we had. Learning to honor the bad ones is an even greater faith and could result in greater blessings.
next week 30