I was teaching at one of our first Dutch conferences some years ago and was telling the story of the visitation from the Lord where He taught me about worship. I was sharing how unexpected it was for me to suddenly be in the Spirit and to see Jesus walking to me part way through a Wednesday night concert.
I told of how it had been a busy day and all I wanted to do was to go to Wendy's to get a hamburger. Some in my Dutch audience suddenly got a strange look on their faces but I was confused as to why.
At the break our good friends and hosts, Wil and Ank, took me aside to explain that because they had been in the USA they knew of the hamburger chain of restaurants named 'Wendy's', but everyone else at the conference was wondering who this woman 'Wendy' was, why I was going to her house for a hamburger, where was Barb, and why wasn't she with me? Horrified, I quickly explained once we reconvened the meeting and we laughed - but it's funnier now than it was then!
7 stars in His hand
Now imagine the misunderstandings and things that pass right by us without notice when we read the New Testament, which is comprised of letters written to people some 1,900 years ago, not to mention the Old Testament which is even older!
In The Revelation 1: 10-20 the apostle John is 'in the Spirit' and suddenly sees the Lord in glory. Jesus has 7 stars in His right hand and states in v17: "I am He who was dead, but lives, and is alive forever more! So be it (amen)! And I have the keys of death and hell."
To us this is beautiful imagery, but to the readers in John's time around the year 95AD it meant much more. The cruel Emperor Domitian was slaughtering Christians at every opportunity.
Emperor Domitian's son had died, and he commemorated his life by issuing a coin. The (denarius) coin showed his son sitting on the globe of the earth (ruling the earth) surrounded by 7 stars. In mythology Zeus made Helice immortal by changing her into the 7 stars that make up 'the Big Dipper' (Ursa Major). Various Roman Emperors commemorated the deaths of notable individuals on coins, said to be now immortal as a star. The stars on this coin represented his son now ruling from the heavens as a 'star'.
Because Jesus held the 7 stars in His right hand, and He said those 7 stars to Him were the 7 churches of Asia He was sending the message to, He was telling them they will live forever 'as the stars' in heaven, and HE is in control of the earth, in direct conflict with the claims of Domitian and his dead son's coin. Domitian held seances to talk to his dead son and told people his dead son gave him messages from the grave. So Jesus is making it clear and giving assurances HE is the One who was dead but now lives forever, and THEY will live with Him as a star forever. (Daniel 12:3, Isaiah 14:3, Job 38:7)
So to Christians who lived under the constant threat of martyrdom, to have Jesus state HE was the one dead and now alive forever more, and HE held the 7 churches of Asia in HIS hand, and HE was the one who held the power of death and hell in His hand, it was great comfort.
Today we argue over the meaning of Jesus holding the keys of death and hell, to them it meant when they were put to death, they were in the hand of Jesus who held control of live, death, and the hereafter - what comfort! It makes modern arguments over the meaning (that actually miss the context of the whole point) seem rather trivial and pointless doesn't it?
In The Revelation 2: 12-17 the Lord writes to the body of Christ in Pergamos, the city 'where Satan's throne dwells'. In ancient time this term 'throne' meant the seat in a house where the owner and master sat - the Lord indicating not so much that Satan was headquartered there, but rather that Satan felt right at home in Pergamos.
They were known as the 'temple-keepers' of the Empire, as it had 3 temples dedicated to Emperor worship and many others of various gods and goddesses, including Asklepion, the Greek serpent-god. It was home to a psychiatric hospital wherein they claimed the serpent god healed people. Over the door of the hospital was an inscription stating 'Death is not permitted here'. (They would not allow anyone with a terminal disease as they wanted to doctor those who they knew would get better)
In verse 13 He mentions 'Antipas my faithful martyr'. In the year 92AD, having been brought to trial and commanded to worship the Emperor Domitian as God, he refused. As was the custom in the city for executions, he was put into the hollow bull idol and tied in such a way his head was in the neck and head of the statue. Then a fire was lit under the bull until he was roasted alive. The victim's moans and cries coming through the mouth and horns seemed to make the bull come alive.
The Lord also chastises some there for compromising as some did in Thyatira with Jezebel, who taught God said you could be a good Christian while also if needed for business purposes, seal business contracts with the customary offering to a god or goddess and having sex with the accompanying temple prostitute that the business deal might grow their businesses. This compromising with the world in Thyatira and Pergamos angered the Lord and believers in both cities faced judgment. (I have a cd/MP3 series on the Biblical meaning of 'The Jezebel spirit', which is not what is commonly taught by many.)
But at the end the Lord says this: "To him who overcomes....I will give a white stone, and on the stone a new name written on it, and no one knows the name but the one receiving it. (And the One giving it of course)"
To us the meaning is lost - white stone? What is that about? Here is the meaning: In that day when a stranger would come into a town the culture of hospitality was such that someone would take them in for the night. When that was done the stranger would upon leaving, give the host/hostess a white stone, the same as our business card today, with his personal name and address and the city he is from engraved upon it. It was a personal invitation to come and stay with him when the host/family visit the traveler's home town. It was considered very personal and not a general invitation, but only between the host and the one he/she hosted for that evening.
To the faithful at Pergamos it said if they overcome they have a guaranteed placed to live with Jesus in His home and home city called heaven, and have a meal with Him when they 'visit' - they have a destination awaiting them, friends and comfort!
If we don't understand these things we will understand some the basics of the message, but still be left asking who is Wendy and why is he going to eat at her house?
More next week, until then, blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org