The Cosmic Conspiracy, Part 20 *Series End*
We’ve come to the final installment (this will be a longer post than usual!) of The Cosmic Conspiracy. Our objective has been to go back to the beginning of recorded biblical history to identify, expose, and understand Satan’s master plan for overthrowing God and destroying everything in his path to universal power. We have seen that although Satan is an extremely cunning spiritual being, his schemes are repetitive. In other words, the people, places, and things may change but the methodologies remained the same. I believe that this is why the Apostle Paul commented about the wiles of the devil by stating, “we are not unaware of the schemes of the devil.”
All through history the devastating effects of Satan’s sly seditions have seduced many leaders and laypeople alike. He is no respecter of people and will stop at nothing to advance his diabolical agenda. He has perfected the craft of temptation and misdirection as he exploits the weaknesses of humanity. He will appear in any form, even as a counterfeit christ, to deceive the most staunch and stalwart believer. He is pure evil personified. He is a formidable foe. He is not to be underestimated or dismissed as rendered powerless. In spite of all of this, our commission as Christians is to continue where Jesus left off in destroying the works of the devil! We have been empowered, deputized, and filled with the very Spirit of Jesus to ensure our success. What could possibly go wrong?
In the previous post we left off with the history of the church near the close of the first century. Up to this point, everything that Satan threw at the church was used as fodder to further the advancement of the Kingdom. The social and political climate in Judaism was at a boiling point with the Roman empire. War and persecution was about to break out, and the epicenter of Christianity was shifting to Asia Minor. There were seven key churches in that region that had been planted and established during the missions of the Apostles and now these churches would be carrying the weight of advancing the Gospel into the second century. The book of Revelation was written specifically to these churches in order to alert them and prepare them for what was about to unfold. Satan would be successful in destroying the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple (AD 70). His sights would turn next to these churches. Would they hold the line and survive?
In the first 3 chapters of Revelation, the author it seems, is transcribing a letter directly from Jesus to the leaders of these churches. Jesus introduces Himself differently each time to stress a different aspect of His Lordship, and identifies some very specific information that He is adamant that they hear and understand. At the end of each section Jesus promises that if the churches make the adjustments they will overcome the attack of Satan that is about to be hurled against them. If they don’t overcome, they will lose their place of influence, and in some cases, lose their place in the Book of Life!
Each section ends with the statement, “To him who has ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Jesus used this call when He addressed the masses of people who followed Him during His earthly ministry. He is using the same call to these first century believers. And now, Jesus is using this call to His church in the 21st century (indeed, in every century) to shake us, to wake us, and to prepare us for the battle that is ensuing around the globe. A massive harvest of souls has been appointed by Heaven to come into the Kingdom of God. And a massive onslaught of demonic resistance has been assigned and aligned against the Church. The message to these seven churches identifies and summarizes Satan’s strategy then, and now. It is critical to hear and heed what the Spirit is saying. To these messages we will now turn and seek to outline Satan’s points of attack and sure up our defenses as we prepare to thrust in the sickle and reap God’s precious harvest.
The Church at Ephesus
The city of Ephesus was the most important and influential city in all of Asia Minor at the time the letter was written. It was filled with top prowess in the arts, science, business, and renowned for its witchcraft and idolatry. It was the center of one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world - the Temple of Artemis (or Diana, goddess of fertility). It was also the center for Jewish occultism and magical arts, which spawned a number of Gnostic groups (see previous post) which developed a plethora of potent heresies that were starting to invade and infect the church.
The church at Ephesus was growing up in the midst of this morass of demonic mixture. From all accounts they were standing strong and resisting the lure of esoteric Jewish mysticism and pagan practices. One of the early Church leaders, Ignatius, stated that, “you all live according to the truth, and no heresy has a home among you…” In fact, the Ephesian Church became so vigilant in their quest for purity that it led them into dangerous territory. So strong was their war against the liberalism and occultism around them that they anchored themselves to legalism. The church became the truth police, and were highly suspicious, and at times downright vicious, with anyone who had altering opinions of doctrine.
This is the basis for the warning that Jesus posts against this Church. Jesus points out His commendation for their desire to remain pure and true, but His condemnation of the lack of love that they were showing in the process was a problem that had to be corrected. If they did not repent and go back to the anchor of love, Satan would use their desire for rightness to drive them right into the harbor of self righteousness where hating the sin can easily become hating the sinner, too. Jesus said that if they did not change, they would lose their light and influence in the city.
The Church Smyrna
The Church at Smyrna was situated in a city that was a hotbed of Roman Emperor cult worship and home to a large population of Jews that were very hostile to this new Christian sect. The church was under heavy fire from all sides. It was very difficult to be a practicing Christian in that city. There is good indication that the persecution included things like confiscation of their property, revoking of business licenses, vandalism, public ridicule, and as indicated in the letter written to them, some of them were about to spend time in prison. I am sure that many Christians were tempted to move!
The greatest pressure was coming from Jews that the letter describes as being from the “synagogue of Satan.” The word, Satan, literally means “Accuser.” The Jews of this city so hated the Christians that they were lying and slandering them in the public square and making false accusations against them to the Roman authorities. These Jews were portraying the Christians as anti-government, politically incorrect, and filled with hate speech against Roman and Jewish religion, culture, and traditions. Sound familiar?
In the letter to this church, Jesus is identifying and empathizing with the pain of all this persecution. He was reminding them that what was done to Him, would also be done to His followers. He was encouraging them not to turn down their testimony or water down the message of the Gospel. Satan was pounding them with shame in hopes of silencing the voice of truth. Jesus was calling them to cast shame aside and stand tall in the midst of a perverted and wicked culture (see Mark 8:38).
The Church at Pergamum
Pergamum was another important city of Asia Minor. It was also the epicenter for the worship of the highest of the Roman gods, Zeus, and the seat of Caesar-worship. It was also the place where the letter states, “Satan’s throne is.” It was in this city that practicing any religion or holding any beliefs that were anti-Roman was actually life-threatening. In fact, the letter states that someone named, Antipas, was murdered for his faith, and others were probably in the crosshairs of Satan’s aim. The church was under severe pressure to cave and be crushed. Some were holding strong, while others were holding to a heresy of a group called the Nicolaitans.
The Nicolaitans were a heretical group that held to a belief called, antinomianism, or “without the law.” They were teaching that since the sacrificial death of Jesus has freed us from the law of sin and death, Christians now are not under any law, and could be free to be “led by the spirit.” This sounds good on the surface, but the door to corruption and pollution was thrown wide open. This belief was promoting incorporating the practices of the culture, in particular, the worship of idols and fornication (sexual sin). If the church would just loosen up and be more like the culture around them, the persecution would stop. The outside world would see that although these Christians have some strange religious beliefs, they outwardly do the same things we do. This church was in danger of becoming the poster child for “carnal Christianity” or nominal Christianity, which literally means “in name only.”
In the letter to this church Jesus is adamant about cleaning the house. He says that He is coming quickly to war against these people and the beliefs that they are purporting, and will use the sword of His mouth (His Word) to chop this malignancy out of His Body. He is calling His church back to the Word as the basis for holy and righteous living. Being led by the Spirit must be balanced by the integrity of The Word.
The Church at Thyatira
Thyatira was a prominent business center of Asia Minor that was run mainly through trade-guilds, or what we would call today, unions. In order to do business in this district, one had to be part of a union. On the surface this did not seem like a big problem. However, the union dues included worshiping idols and practicing fornication (sex with temple prostitutes, and other sexual practices). If you did not participate, you would have a very hard time making a living in this city. This pressure created quite a dilemma for believers who wanted to be pure and faithful to Jesus and still provide for their families.
The letter to this church starts off with some very positive commendations for all the good that they were doing, and that they were growing in many areas. The hammer is dropped on them, however, when Jesus states that He is quite upset that the church is tolerating “your wife, Jezebel.” Whether Jesus was identifying an actual person (if so, it would have been the wife of the pastor) or was speaking symbolically of an evil influence that was invading the church, is debatable. In any event, the poison from this Jezebel was wreaking havoc in the church.
Jezebel was the Israelite queen who ruled with her husband, Ahab during the 9th century, B.C. Her story is recorded in the book of Kings in the Old Testament, and her name has become a by-word for some very evil and diabolical things. Perhaps the most common identification with Jezebel is rebellion and the usurpation of authority. This was dramatically seen in the way she ruled the nation through the manipulation of her husband, the king. However, beyond this rebellious passion to control, a sinister agenda lies in wait.
Jezebel’s power-grab of the kingdom was orchestrated to mix with the heathen nations around them (strictly forbidden under the Law). The way to do this was to get the nation of Israel to intermarry and form alliances with these nations, adopt their customs and practices (including idol worship and sexual perversion), become just like them in many ways, do business with them, and eventually conquer them. Her method of operation was to get the nation to tolerate the sin in order to blend in and do business.
This is precisely the indictment Jesus levies against this church. In the name of fitting in so their church folks could keep their jobs (and pay their tithes), the leadership of the church allowed for major moral compromises. Apparently, this “Jezebel” had some pretty convincing twisted doctrine floating around in order to justify this behavior. We see glimpses of it even in Paul’s ministry where some were taking his sanctifying message of grace and stating that the more one sinned, the more grace was poured out. So sin could actually be a means of attaining to a higher level of grace (one of the Gnostic heresies). The letter called this doctrine the “deep things of Satan.”
Jesus states that He was giving the people in this church who were practicing this perverted doctrine time to repent. If they did not, He was going to remove His hand off of their lives and release them to be consumed with the ravages of sin. The church was willing to tolerate this sin, but Jesus was not!
The Church at Sardis
Sardis was another very posh and successful city in the Asia Minor regions. It wasn’t renowned for any particular reason, and perhaps it was just a very desirable city in which to live: nice houses, nice neighbors, social clubs, shopping, entertainment. The town offered the moniker, “The best town to live and raise a family in Asia Minor.” What a great place to plant a church!
In the opening lines of the letter to this church, Jesus states that, “you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” To the outside world, and perhaps to other churches in the region, this church looked like a vibrant, growing community of faith. They had all the trimmings of being a church alive, but they had no real life to offer the world around them. Of the seven churches addressed by Jesus in His letter, Sardis is the only one mentioned that was not undergoing persecution for their faith. How did they escape that?
Church historians sum up the ministry at Sardis as “secularized.” It had become more like a social club that was vogue to belong to than a world-changing congregation. The message and lifestyle of the believers there were so innocuous that the militant Jews and the statism of the Roman pagans saw no threat from this group that was enjoying great success in their gatherings, but blended back into culture in their goings. They had a form of godliness, but no power to be of any threat to Satan’s agenda. Satan had observed a long time ago that church success can be the greatest deterrent to church growth. Satan had decided to just leave this group alone and rally his forces elsewhere.
The Church at Philadelphia
The church at Philadelphia was located in the hotbed of extreme Judaism in Asia Minor. These Jews were so anti-Christian that Jesus identifies them as He did at the church of Smyrna as the Synagogue of Satan. That is a scathing rebuke. The Jews there had excommunicated these believers from all access to the synagogue (remember that many of the first century believers were Jewish) and were inciting great persecution against them. By throwing them out and locking the door to these believers, the Jews were taking away the “key” of the covenant of God, or so they thought.
Jesus states otherwise. He tells His Church that it is these demonically controlled Jews who were going to be locked out of the Covenant, as He had given the keys of the Kingdom to His Church. In this portion of the letter, Jesus is not rebuking them for any particular sin. Rather, He is encouraging them to use what they saw as “little power” to stand against and stand strong in the midst of this persecution that was coming from the false guardians of access to God. Jesus tells them that there is a day of great judgment coming soon (AD 70) upon the synagogue of Satan, and that if they did not cave under the pressure of this assault, Jesus would keep them safe from this great tribulation.
Sometimes the greatest resistance and persecution to the advancement of the true Gospel of Jesus comes directly from the “organized” church who puts its pet doctrines and traditions above ministry of the Holy Spirit. Could it be that churches that deny, and even persecute the moving of the Holy Spirit, have been identified by Jesus as synagogues of Satan? Lord, help us!
The Church at Laodicea
The Laodiceans are the last church to be addressed by Jesus. His assessment and indictment of them is perhaps the most universal in scope, and in reality, affects not only churches but individual believers in every time and place on the planet. The sin Jesus uncovers is so easy to miss as it works its way into the heart and soul of the church (and individual believers) through the insidious subtly of the gradual. It can happen so slowly that we are not even aware of what is happening until one day we wake up and ask, “how did we get here?”
To make His point, Jesus uses the surrounding geography as the metaphor for His correction. Laodicea was located between Hierapolis to the North and Colossae to the West. Renowned therapeutic hot springs peppered the regions north of the city, and cool, refreshing mountain springs flowed down from the west. In between, the water that flowed through Laodicea had become “lukewarm.” It was neither hot and therapeutic, nor cold and refreshing. It had become completely distasteful. Jesus took this poignant analogy and levied it against this church. They had become lukewarm in their passion for Jesus and for the ministry of the Gospel. Jesus said that these believers had become so distasteful that He wanted to spew them out of His mouth!
How could this happen? Jesus pinpointed the problem. They had become comfortable and confident in their own resources and no longer felt that they needed Jesus to come in and mess everything up with His “cost of discipleship” soapbox speeches. They were doing pretty well on their own. They felt that they had reached a level of success in their personal lives and church ministry so they abandoned the desperate hunger for total dependence on the Holy Spirit. They had a well oiled machine that was running pretty well on the strength of human effort and intellect. They found it was possible to do church without much heavenly interference. The Holy Spirit was an add-on option, if needed.
The last image that Jesus presents to this church is that of Him, standing at the front door of the church (His Church, by the way), knocking (actually, pounding, in the original language), trying to come in and bring His Church back to true fellowship with Him. He is not breaking down the door, but He is making His presence known and is waiting for a response from this Church. If they refuse, Jesus walks on, and their light goes out. Do you hear someone knocking at the door?
Over the course of these posts I have endeavored to present to you the inner workings of the Cosmic Conspiracy that is still raging in the unseen realm. Every generation has the opportunity to see and experience the hideous and hellish effects of Satan’s works on the earth. Once the schemes of the enemy are exposed, the Church of Jesus must be ready and willing to engage on every front. Satan will stop at nothing to steal, kill, and destroy. The only way to stop his advance is for us to stop at nothing in our obedience to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, make disciples, and fill the earth with the Glory of the Lord. Are you in? I pray so. Amen.
by Pastor Jim Anan