Jesus said,"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."(Matthew 24:6) During the past few weeks, the world has watched a war unfold between the United States and Iraq. While the war has an interesting set of dynamics, we should not overlook the fact that thirty-three* other wars are also currently under way. Man’s history is filled with wars and you may be surprised that more than 150 wars have been fought since World War II ended. Are wars a sign of the end of the world? No, Jesus said,". . . such things must happen, but the end is still to come."Will wars cease? No, not until Jesus returns, and even then, at the end of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20, the devil will lead "a coalition of the wicked" against the Holy City. The Lord will respond by sending fiery hail down from Heaven. (Revelation 20:8,9,15) After He has burned up sin and sinners, these Scriptures will be fulfilled:"Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the Earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the Earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. . . . ‘Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,’ says the Lord Almighty."(Psalm 46:8,9; Malachi 4:3)
From a human point of view, war occurs when there is a clash of wills. From a biblical point of view, there is another reason for war. God can arouse one nation to engage another nation in war when His patience with the degenerate nation has reached its limit! For example, when the ten northern tribes of Israel became hopelessly decadent, God raised up the kings of Assyria to destroy them. (Isaiah 7,8) Then, when Assyria became pompous and arrogant, God destroyed it with the sword of another nation. (Isaiah 10) God also sent the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to destroy Jerusalem and the two southern tribes of Israel in 605-586 B.C. (Jeremiah 25) Then, later on, God sent the Medo-Persians to destroy the Babylonians. Daniel explained the rise and fall of kingdoms on the night Babylon fell.". . . The Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of Heaven. . . . But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. This is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN ‘This is what these words mean: Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.’ "(Daniel 5:21-28)
War is awful, painful, mean, cruel, expensive, destructive and deadly; but as horrible as war is, the outcome of war can be good if the victor exalts righteous principles. For example, war can cauterize the growth of sin. War can terminate the overbearing rule of a decadent king or a perverted nation. War can liberate an oppressed people. War can purge the land of evil. (Leviticus 18) Over and over, the Bible indicates that God uses the sword of warfare to terminate degenerate nations. (Ezekiel 14:21) Until Jesus terminates the sin problem, He said we would hear of wars and rumors of wars. This helps to explain why Solomon said,"[There is]a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace."(Ecclesiastes 3:8, insertion mine)
The War for Your Soul
The stakes in the current war between the United States and Iraq are high and the outcome will, no doubt, affect many nations of the world. Even though thirty-four wars are being fought at this current time on Earth, a war continues that is even more important than all other wars combined. This war is for your soul. Christ and the anti-Christ, Lucifer, are at war and each human being is either an object of affection in the eyes of Jesus or a target for destruction in the cross-hairs of Lucifer. The war for souls has eternal consequences; therefore, the battle is intense.
The Two Natures
When people experience the miracle of rebirth, they awaken to the war for their souls. Every born again person receives a second nature. The first nature (the carnal nature) hates the second nature (the spiritual nature). The carnal nature rebels against the demands of the spiritual nature and the result is war – a clash of wills – within the same person! Paul was well aware of the two natures. He wrote,"Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so."(Romans 8:6-8) After living the Christian life for about 30 years, Paul realized there was only one way to win victory over his carnal nature and that was through receiving power from Jesus. Paul knew that if He submitted to the Holy Spirit each day, he would receive power that would transform his thoughts and behavior. He wrote,"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."(Romans 7:18-20, italics mine) The war for souls is fought on a tiny but highly important battlefield. This battlefield is the human heart and the only way to be victorious over the carnal nature is through strength derived from Christ! Paul exclaimed,"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."(1 Corinthians 15:57) Paul knew his spiritual nature could flourish if he refused to give in to his carnal nature. Therefore, he wrote,"I die every day[to the demands of carnal nature]– I mean that, brothers – just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord."(1 Corinthians 15:31, insertion mine) How does a person resist an evil impulse from the carnal nature? It begins with an exercise of the will. Paul wrote,"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming."(Colossians 3:5) When Jesus sees us resisting wrong, He sends the Spirit to give us strength so that we can press the battle to victory!
Laodicea: A Church Avoiding War!
Because the topic of war is at the forefront of current events and the topic of spiritual warfare is paramount for Christian living, this is a perfect time for our final study concerning the church of Laodicea. The church at Laodicea was full of Christians avoiding war. The church had a deadly problem. They had muted the power of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is like a sword; it causes war. (Matthew 10:34; Hebrews 4:12) Jesus was a victim of this war! The gospel of Jesus is about loving truth. Truth condemns people who reject it and saves people who receive it. The gospel of Jesus liberates people who love truth and this victory produces persecution. Few things can tear families or nations apart like differences in religion, and war always erupts when the advancing gospel of Jesus confronts the establishments and traditions of religion. The church at Laodicea, even though it was less than 40 years old, was avoiding war. Wealth and affluence had compromised the advance of the gospel in Laodicea. Church members had muted the gospel to protect their jobs and positions of respect in a pagan community. This is an interesting point: History proves that the gospel of Jesus mutates into various forms of pseudo-Christianity when Christians are not persecuted . In fact, this explains why Jesus handed the saints over to the little horn power in Daniel 7 for 1,260 years! (Daniel 7:25) Throughout the Dark Ages, the church in the wilderness maintained faith in Christ because of persecution. Ancient Israel also proved that faith in God mutates into false religion when there is no persecution. Moses warned the children of Israel at the gates to the Promised Land,"Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. . . . For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made."(Deuteronomy 8:11-14; Exodus 31:29) The Old Testament confirms that Israel repeatedly abandoned God every time it became militarily secure, wealthy, and affluent and the same behavior is documented throughout Christian history. What does this say about our carnal nature?
When the church at Laodicea compromised their faith, the church died spiritually. Like the church at Sardis, they thought they were doing just fine even though their condition made Jesus almost vomit! Christians in Laodecia did not recognize their true condition before God. They were not focused on the cause of Christ or the objectives of the gospel. They did not detect the war for their souls. They could not see the sophistry of the devil’s warfare. They were preoccupied with making money and spending it. They were affluent and enjoyed the good life. The gospel of Jesus wars against the acquisition of riches and selfish indulgence because the carnal nature is selfish. Unfortunately, many Christians are living the Laodicean experience today. The gospel of Jesus has become an intellectual assent to truth rather than a life of service for God and man. Consider the words of Jesus to Laodicea,"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."(Revelation 3:14-22)
The church at Laodicea was full of "rich young rulers." (See Matthew 19.) They mistook their affluence and wealth as evidence of God’s approval when in fact, this "prosperity doctrine" was (and is) a distortion of God’s purpose for wealth. The value of money is determined by the good it produces. When God gives wealth to people, He also imposes accountability for its use. (This point will be a big surprise for many on Judgment Day!) The carnal heart loves money because money brings power, gratification and selfish satisfaction. Money can buy almost anything. When people have too much money, few will desire or wait to see God’s providence. Money can rob us of faith in God. Money can ruin discipline and self-control. Money can distort justice and ruin integrity. Money is harmful for most people and this is why Jesus said,"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."(Mark 10:25) Self-indulgence and money are brother and sister in the carnal heart. This is why Jesus said,"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
The "rich young ruler" test wars against the core of our carnal nature. Jesus gave up everything He owned to save us and He does not ask less of His disciples. (Matthew 10:37,38) Carefully notice in Matthew 19 that Jesus did not ask the rich young ruler to donate his possessions to the church. Rather, Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Jesus wanted the rich young ruler to discover the power and joy of giving! However, the rich young ruler did not want to give. He loved money. His wealth meant more to him than God or those who lived in poverty. This was the basic problem in Laodicea. (Matthew 6:24) The Christians at Laodicea were happy with their money, but they did not realize they were serving money rather than God. This made Jesus nauseous.
The Tables Turned
People victorious over "the rich young ruler" test will reign with Jesus as "rich young rulers" in His universe. (Revelation 1:6; 20:4; 21:24) Jesus can offer no greater reward than what He offered to the Laodiceans. Think about this. Jesus not only gave His life for us, He offered to share His throne with us! What amazing love! Overcomers of this test will be highly exalted because they loved God and their neighbors more than money while living with a carnal nature ! The gospel of Jesus transforms an egocentric heart into a theo-centric heart. The gospel of Jesus subdues the selfish nature so the spiritual nature can grow stronger. Jesus assures victory to all who keep their eyes on Him and their hearts open to the Holy Spirit."For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith."(1 John 5:4)
With this study we conclude our study on the messages to the seven churches. Therefore, it is fitting that we review the seven rewards God promised to people who fight the fight of faith and overcome the carnal nature:
1.To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
2.He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
3.To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
4.To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from my Father.
5.He who overcomes will be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the Book of Life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
6.To him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of Heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.
7.To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat with my Father on His throne.
We do not hear much about these rewards because these rewards mean nothing to those who are spiritually dead. Jesus deliberately worded His remarks this way. If the rewards of Heaven appealed to our carnal nature, Heaven would be filled with selfish people intent on getting their reward, instead of loving God and serving others! By obscuring these eternally magnificent rewards with spiritual words, Jesus ensured that the carnal nature would not be attracted to them. This is why Jesus emphasized seven times that you have to have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to understand His remarks. Everyone who hears the Spirit can understand these incredible rewards with a little study and effort. The bottom line is that overcomers will be exalted as heros for eternity because, through Christ’s strength, they overcame the world and won the war for their soul. I cannot think anything better than this. Can you?
1. What is war?
2. What is the purpose of war?
3. Where is the tiniest battlefield?
4. What was the problem with the church in Laodecia?
5. Why is the rich young ruler test important?
6. Which of the seven rewards do you find most interesting?