Friday, January 22, 2021

Apocalyptic? #18: Evangelize? Or Hold Fast? (Rev. 2:13, 25, 3:3, and 11)


“To the angel of the church in . . . Pergamum . . . Thyatira . . . Sardis . . . Philadelphia . . . write . . .” 

Pergamum (2:13 NKJV): 13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Thyatira (2:25 NKJV):  25 “But hold fast what you have till I come.”

Sardis (3:3 NKJV):  3 “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”

Philadelphia (3:11 NKJV):  11 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”


The Command to Evangelize                                           

It is natural for “Evangelical” Christians to seek (and find) commands to “evangelize” everywhere in the New Testament.  But where is such a command in Revelation?  Jesus did give his apostles the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV):

19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And, surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

From the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, they did this very thing.  Beginning with Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostles evangelized!  Our first four New Testament books are called “Gospel” (=Greek: EVANGELION).  Paul mentions the term “Gospel” (EVANGELION) many times—in every single one of his letters (except Titus).  But, in Revelation, the noun (EVANGELION) and its cognate verb (EVANGELIZOMAI) are used only three times—in Revelation 10:7 (NIV):

But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced (EVANGELIZOMAI) to his servants the prophets.

And in Revelation 14:6-8 (NIV):  

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel (EVANGELION) to proclaim (EVANGELIZOMAI) to those who live on the earth (understand: “land”)—to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

A second angel followed and said, “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”

Notice that in NONE of these three instances are HUMANS instructed to evangelize or preach the gospel.  In Revelation 10:7, it is GOD THE CREATOR who announced the Gospel which is about to be completed, with the blowing of the seventh trumpet, to his servants, the prophets.  In Revelation 14:6-8, it is an ANGEL flying in midair that announces to the “inhabitants of the land” the “good news” (EVANGELION) that Babylon the Great (Jerusalem) is Fallen, Fallen!  In other words, the perfection of the (mysterious) Gospel that God announced to the prophets is about to be completed, with the Fall of Jerusalem.  This is “good news” (EVANGELION) to the prophets, because Jesus has promised in the Gospels that his Parousia will follow shortly upon the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13).  Luke 21:28 (NIV) explains why this is good news: “28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” This is what John (in Revelation 3:3 & 10) calls the “hour of [God’s] judgment” (14:7).

The Command to Hold Fast

Nowhere in Revelation are Christians instructed or commanded to “evangelize.”  However, four of the seven churches are encouraged to “hold fast.”  Repentance is repeatedly recommended and the goal of being one who “overcomes” or “conquers” is of paramount importance, but what does it mean that the churches were to “hold fast”?  It appears to mean that the time for evangelizing the world has neared a completion, that those who had become Christians should brace themselves for testing,

Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV) advises: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  We might, now, add the line: “A time to evangelize, a time to hold fast.”  John’s Apocalypse was written during such a time—a time to “hold fast.”  (Are we living in such a time, today?)  The church in 64 A.D. faced persecution throughout the empire, as Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Roman Fire.  In 66 A.D., the Jewish State declared independence from Rome, setting off the 7 year Jewish-Roman War, during which Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) faced murderous and economic retribution from the (Roman) Beast.  John, writing in 69 A.D., sees some of this happening in seven sea-port cities in Asia Minor, as Jews (both Christian and non-Christian) fled Judea to find safe harbor in Asia Minor.  Perhaps, a similar (time to hold fast) scenario is now developing in America.

One year ago, Christians in America and throughout the world entered into a time in which Churches were forbidden to assemble together in large numbers, due to the Communist China virus.  Daily, more and more freedom of speech rights and freedom of religion rights are being compromised.  Major news networks have censored news stories that Christians care about.  Social media sites have banned free expression of views the oligarch owners of the sites oppose.  Employers have removed the job security of many Christians who have spoken out.  Other Christians are black-balled in unfair hiring practices.  Retailers have refused to carry the products of openly Christian manufacturers while consumers have boycotted retail outlets that openly advocate Christian values.  Educational institutions have censored the expression of Christian values.  The court system has been leaning further and further in anti-Christian directions.  A large number of Americans wonder if even the election process has been compromised.  This may be one of those times in history, similar to 69 A.D., when Jesus’ message to the church would have less of an “Evangelize!” emphasis and more of a “Hold Fast!” emphasis.

But, Isn’t “Witnessing” Evangelism?

While cognates of “evangelism” are rare in Revelation, cognates of “witnessing” are abundant in Revelation.  This includes four uses of the verb (to testify), five uses of the noun (witness), and nine uses of the noun (testimony), which is a cognate of the verb and noun.   In Revelation 1:5 and 3:14, Jesus is called “the faithful witness.” In Revelation 2:13, Jesus calls Antipas “my faithful witness.”  In Revelation 11:3, an angel (speaking on behalf of God) refers to “my two witnesses [probably, referring to Moses and Elijah, as the personification of the Law and the Prophets].”  In Revelation 17:6, John “saw the woman [Babylon/Jerusalem], drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  Notably, IN EVERY SINGLE USE OF THE NOUN “witness,” the witness(es) is killed.  The Greek noun translated “witness” is MARTYS.  John has made the term “witness/MARTYS” indicate what we now understand the word to mean:  “MARTYR”—one who is killed for his beliefs.

The verb (to testify) is MARTYREO, a verb used more by the Gospel of John than any other New Testament book, is used in Revelation 1:2, 22:16, 18, and 20 to indicate that John, Jesus, and an angel “testified,” but no other humans. 

The noun (testimony) is MARTYRIA, a noun used more by the Gospel of John than any other New Testament book, is used in Revelation 1:2, 9, 12:17, 19:10 referring to the ongoing “testimony of Jesus.”  Revelation 6:9 (NKJV) refers to those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.”  Revelation 11:7 (NKJV) refers to the two witnesses (mentioned earlier: “When they finish their testimonythe beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.”  Revelation 12:11 (NKJV) refers to the Christians who “overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimonyand they did not love their lives to the death.  Revelation 20:4 (NKJV) refers to the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Clearly, as John uses the term “witness/testimony,” the strong potential for being killed is implicit in the term.  This is a pretty tough form of “evangelism,” to say the least.  How many non-believers will be induced to become a Christian, when faced with the possibility of being killed, if they do?  Surely, there are some (apostolic Christian history is evidence of that), but there won’t be many megachurches filled with new Christians volunteering to be slain or even financially disadvantaged!  This is not to say that every Christian will be slain, if s/he wishes to be a true Christian, but there is an implication that every Christian should accept the possibility that it might happen.  Even if they were not slain, the Christians in 69 A.D. in Asia Minor were faced with economic persecution not terribly unlike what Christians today are increasingly faced with.  Is there any actual martyrdom occurring today?  Yes, but not much in the United States, yet.  Nevertheless, it is happening world-wide.  According to , between October 31, 2017 and November 1, 2018:

In the top 50 World Watch List countries alone, 245 million Christians in the world experience high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ.  [There have been] . . . 4,136 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the top 50 WWL countries, 2,625 Christians detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned in the top 50 WWL countries, 1,266 churches or Christian buildings attacked in the top 50 WWL countries.  . . . In seven of the countries in the World Watch List’s top 10, the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression.

So, What Does John Mean: “Hold Fast”?

In Pergamum, Jesus commended the church in 2:13 (NKJV): “And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you.”  This is not saying that all Christians will necessarily be killed, but it certainly includes not denying faith in Jesus, when our fellow Christians (like Antipas and modern-day brothers around the world) are being slain.  We must not be intimidated by the persecution.

In Sardis, there is an indication that even Christians who have slipped are given a second chance, to repent.  The Church at Sardis was declared by Jesus to be nearly dead.  Nevertheless, in Revelation 3:3 (NKJV), Jesus states:hold fast and repent.”  Perhaps, instead of concentrating on new evangelism, the “hold fast” command suggests that we should concentrate on shoring up the weak among us, those whose faith is on the brink of dying.  We should encourage them to repent and renew their commitment to Christ.

In Thyatira, Jesus offers the alternative to dying for him—remaining unintimidated and uncompromised until he returns.  Revelation 2:25 (NKJV) states: But hold fast what you have till I come.”  How long will that be?  He answers in his letter to the church at Philadelphia. In Revelation 3:11 (NKJV), he states: Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

If John is conveying Jesus’ message to Philadelphia in 69 A.D., the command to hold fast “till I come” may have only lasted a few years.  For our generation, I believe that the final coming of Christ to rescue us from Gog and Magog (to be explained later) could be signaled by an increasing encircling of “the camp of the saints”—if that is indeed what we are currently experiencing.  This is not a prediction that the assault of Gog and Magog is near at hand, but it is prudent to consider, at least, the possibility.  Jesus encouraged us to watch for the signs of the times in Luke 12:54-56 (NKJV):

Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?

Let not your heart be troubled.  We Christians win this thing in the end.  But, if you, as do many others, sense that we are living in apocalyptic times, the recommendation of Jesus for right now is:  Hold on tightly!  Hold fast!

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