Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Last Ten Days

"Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw [some] of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2:10 NKJV

One of the first things I learned when I first embarked on a serious study of the book of Revelation was the importance of the first three chapters of the book and the part they play in the history of the church. The fact that there are exactly seven letters to seven churches should be the first clue that there is something special there by the simple fact that the number seven in the Bible always refers to perfection in the sense of completeness, or a perfectly complete picture of something. Yet when you study these seven letters you begin to see that the picture we are given has application on far more than just one level.

Now the obvious picture is that Jesus is giving a “report card” to the church as a whole, and uses these seven in order to show that there are just seven categories to describe a church and all churches will fall into one of them. Yet scholars have found that these seven categories also mirror the evolution of the church throughout history. On an even more personal level is the fact that each of us as believers can be categorized as fitting the description of one of these churches in regards to how we choose to live out our faith.

So simply put, if we are as close to the return of Jesus for His church as we believe, the church today as a whole can be described as lukewarm (Laodicean), while yet being made up of individual churches which can fit the description of any of the other six. Most important to note though is that all churches are made up of individual believers who can also be described as fitting one of these seven examples we are given. As one well known bible teacher is fond of saying, make no mistake that these seven letters apply to all of us today!

With that in mind, my thoughts have continually been drawn to the description of the church at Smyrna, which you find is the only church of the seven that Jesus had no words of correction for. In Jesus' eyes they were “doing it right” which should to us be an example of how we should live. Yet Jesus also has a word of warning for them which we see in verse ten of chapter two, that has always intrigued me. Why is that? Well if we accept the premise that these letters apply to all of us, it becomes obvious that any church as a whole, and any individual believer fitting the description of the church at Smyrna, is going to have a time of tribulation that apparently lasts for ten days just before the return of Jesus for His church.

Now this conclusion on my part is based on the premise that the Bible “says what it means, and means what it says”, and there is no question that this is exactly what this verse says. Although these ten days of tribulation occurred in the past, because these letters apply to us as well it's logical to assume we are being told that one type of church, and one type of believer, is going to suffer ten days of “tribulation” just before the Church goes home. So my next question is just what might this “tribulation” be? In order to try and figure that one out let's examine the meaning of the word used here for tribulation.

Tribulation; Gk. thlipsis; a pressing, pressing together, pressure...oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits.

Have you ever felt "pressured"?  A question I have always had in regards to living in the end times is just how much discomfort are believers going to be subjected to as we get closer and closer to the return of Christ for His church? Lately it would appear that the answer to that may be very uncomfortable as more and more I am hearing about situations where dedicated, committed believers being subjected to trials they never suspected would occur. Many are a direct result of the state of the economy, as I hear of Christians losing their jobs, having trouble paying their bills, and even struggling to put food on the table.

Let's also not forget the events of this past week at the convention in Charlotte where the Democratic party delegates tried to remove the name of God from their platform and actually booed when the motion to put it back was put to a vote! If that isn't “oppression” to the Church I don't know what is. Let's not forget either, the examples we have seen lately of what happens when anyone has the courage to present the Bible's stand on any of the “social” issues in this country. Of course, it should come as no surprise that the natural question which results from these situations is simply "why"? As a believer, shouldn't we be able to expect God to spare us from these troubles? 

Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God"? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, And to [those who have] no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew [their] strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31 NKJV

Obviously, from this passage we can see that Israel was complaining to God that He was obviously unaware of their suffering because He had not done anything about it. They were feeling as if God had abandoned them, and was either unaware or unwilling to do anything to alleviate their suffering. Especially interesting is the idea we see that the people felt that God was obliged to deliver them! Do you notice the words "just claim"? They felt as God's chosen people, they should somehow be immune to struggles. I am sure many today are experiencing those same feelings as they experience the hardships that seem so prevalent in our nations current situation. Yet Isaiah goes on to answer those feelings by telling us three things we need to remember when we experience trials in our lives.

First of all, Isaiah reminds us that God is never asleep, or too tired to listen to our cries for help. He doesn't "faint" or get "weary", and believe it or not, He has a plan that we as humans may not "understand". His ways are not our ways, but Isaiah assures us that even though we may not understand, or agree, God's ways are not our ways.

Secondly, Isaiah assures us that God will give us the "power" and the "strength" we need to endure. It seems here as if we are being told that within the body of Christ there are three levels of maturity. The "youth" would refer to those who are new and relatively immature believers who would struggle the most when experiencing these kinds of difficulties. The "young men" would be those who have grown enough to endure a bit longer, but still struggle with circumstances they could not control. Those who are able to "wait", however, are those believers mature enough in their faith to understand that God is always faithful to provide the strength we need to endure.

Third, Isaiah uses a beautiful example of an eagle to picture what life as a mature believer can be. Can anyone imagine running and never getting tired, or walking forever without running out of energy? Fortunately for me, I live in an area where all I have to do to watch eagles is drive a mile to the river that runs through a canyon south of town and I can spend hours watching bald eagles fish and hunt for their food.

One of the first things you notice when you get up close and personal with an eagle is just how big their wings are. I don't know just how they can fold them up so small, but let me tell you, when they unfold those wings to take off they are impressive. It is common to see eagles with a wingspan of 6-7 feet. The strength they possess is just amazing to watch. To see them dive on the river and come up with a fish that I would have to use two hands to just lift takes your breath away. Then of course, we come to their endurance. These eagles can soar forever! They just sit over the river riding the air currents and never hardly move their wings. They just sit up there floating for hours without seeming to expend any effort at all until they spot dinner swimming below.

Is it any wonder God chooses to use the eagle as an illustration of His care and concern for His own? The power and strength and endurance is there for us when we need it, but what is required of us most is to wait. We are an impatient people who want answers and action right now, but our God is a God of patience and deliberation. 

Many [are] the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
Psalms 34:19 NKJV

God tells us that as faithful, righteous believers we will suffer afflictions. If we believe what Revelation says, the last ten days here on earth are going to be very, very uncomfortable for some. However the proper response is to wait upon the Lord who is not only able, but promises to give us the strength we need to soar like eagles. Note in the passage from Isaiah that God does not promise to take away the suffering, but rather to give us "strength and endurance" so we can be delivered through it. The Revelation passage says if we endure, we gain the “crown of life”. When believers suffer, rather than growing tired or fainting, we need to ask for strength and wait for the promises of God as a witness to those around us that God indeed will provide what we need.

It is just my opinion, but I truly believe that when the rapture occurs it is the “Smyrna” type believers who will leave the biggest impact on the ones left behind because they were faithful to endure the tribulation they had to go through those last ten days. To me though, the best reassurance I have from this passage in Revelation is the very first words Jesus says to us; “Do not fear...”. As hard as we may struggle, we need not fear for God has promised to deliver us. Right now, anyone who chooses to take the Bible's position on anything sets themselves up for the definition of “tribulation” given in the letter to the church at Smyrna, yet our Lord says do not fear!

Please join me in praying for those who are struggling as we approach the end of this age. Never forget; do not fear, for God is faithful.

Keep watching.