Chapter Five

That Saturday Earl and Joyce pursued their work with Cathy, this time getting hands-on familiarity with the tasks related to her daily life. This intimate participation was exhausting. When they arrived back home they had a dinner of Cheerios and went directly to bed, where they slept so deeply that they had difficulty responding in the morning to the alarm clock. Nevertheless, they had decided the day before that they’d take Cathy to Church with them, a task that required them to arrive quite early at the nursing home and once there to dress Cathy and feed her. Earl groused to Joyce on the way over. “I wonder if we aren’t a little old to be taking on a job like this, even for a day or a weekend,” he told her.

“Patience, Earl,” she replied. “Give it your best today. You’ll have all week to recuperate. If you feel the same way by Friday, well maybe we can talk about it then.”

But something unexpected happened that Sunday morning. Even through their exhaustion, or perhaps in a large way related to it, they both acquired new feelings toward Cathy that they hadn’t realized they were capable of. Had they had a child of their own, they would have appreciated that this was part of the natural process of parent-to-child bonding. It came from the effort involved in caring for another, and represented that special quality of nobility that is associated with a closely-knit family. Neither Earl nor Joyce felt tired as they drove to Church with Cathy.

“We’ve already learned a great deal about the Book of Revelation,” George told his congregation, “and we’ve only gotten through the first chapter. What have we learned so far? That Jesus is the author, John being the scribe; that Jesus addresses seven Churches in the second and third chapters, which we’ll get into today; that these seven Churches represent all the Churches on earth in time and space; that Jesus has assigned seven angels to support these seven Churches; that when Jesus returns to earth He will have a different role and appearance – He came the first time to suffer on our behalf, and will come the second time to rule and judge.” He turned on a computer at his podium to illuminate a large screen behind him.

“Now we’ll move on past Chapter 1 to Chapters 2 and 3, which, taken together, are the messages to the seven churches. Chapter 2 carries the messages for the first four, and Chapter 3 for the last three. The messages are structured around a common organization that can be presented quite simply and easily remembered in a two-dimensional format.” George signaled to the ushers, who went down the aisles distributing copies of a chart. At the same time the screen displayed a Powerpoint graphic, the same chart that consisted of seven columns, one for each Church, and nine rows. A note on the chart stated that the Churches are listed in their historical order throughout the Church Age. The rows were labeled: row 1 was the Church name; row 2 the name that Jesus chose for Himself; row 3 His commendation to the Church; row 4 His concern for that Church; row 5 His exhortation; row 6 His promise to the overcomer; row 7 the closing comment; row 8 the time period, and row 9 the functional identification of the Church.

George let the congregation become familiar with the chart before speaking. After a lengthy pause, he said “Some explanations are necessary. First, the closing comment is the same for all seven Churches. It is ‘He that has an ear, listen’. For the first three Churches, the closing is delivered before the promise to the overcomer; the order is reversed from that for the last four Churches. Then, there are two Churches, Sardis and Laodicea, for which there is no commendation; Jesus had nothing good to say to them; there also are two Churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia for which there is no concern; Jesus had nothing bad to say to them. Finally, the Churches are representative in three ways; first, there were indeed these seven Churches in the region of Turkey when John wrote, and together they comprise the characteristics of all the Churches throughout the world and in time; second, each of the seven Churches is representative of one of seven Church ages throughout its history; and third, the message for each Church applies as well to each Christian. With that brief introduction, I’ll walk you through the chart.

“The first Church that Jesus spoke to through John is the Church at Ephesus. For this Church, Jesus chose His name to be ‘He who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks in the midst of seven candlesticks.’ As we were told in Chapter 1, the candlesticks represent the seven Churches, and the seven stars represent the angels in charge of the Churches. Jesus commended this church for its labors, patience and hatred of evil; His concern for it was that it had lost its first love. To me this indicates that the Ephesian Church had become reactionary in the firmness of her stance against the evils of her day, and in the process had hardened herself against her primary duty: her love of God. Remember, it was to the Ephesian Church that Paul had written much of the material dealing with the role of the Church as the Bride of Christ. To me, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reads like a prenuptial counseling session, and I cherish that association. Jesus reinforces the issue of His troubled heart over the Church’s missing love in His exhortation to remember the first works of love and faith and repent. His promise to the overcomer is the Tree of Life in Paradise. The time period of this first Church began with the beginning of the Church Age at Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and continued through the first to fourth centuries A.D. It is identified as the Apostolic Church.

“The second church is Smyrna. For this Church Jesus chose His name to be ‘The First and the Last, which was dead and is alive’. He commended this Church for enduring tribulation and physical poverty and promised that it was spiritually wealthy. He had nothing bad to say about her. Jesus was filled with compassion and love for this Church. Instead of reprimanding her, He exhorted her not to fear suffering and physical death and warned that she will be severely tried for ten days or periods and asked her to be faithful unto death. These ten periods represented a prophecy that was fulfilled with precision. This is where theologian John Foxe enters into the picture. Born in England in 1516 and living until 1587, Foxe was a contemporary of Church greats Martin Luther and John Calvin. His book Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a recent translation being entitled Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World is considered by many to be one of the three greatest Christian books outside the Bible itself ever printed, the other two being Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

“In his book of martyrs, Foxe identifies ten periods of persecution of Christians before the Roman Emporer Constantine made it a state religion, most probably in the year A.D. 313. The first persecution noted by Foxe began in A.D. 64 by Nero and included the beheading of Paul and the crucifixion of Peter; the second was directed by Domitian around A.D. 90 and included John’s exile to the island of Patmos; the third occurred in the early second century under Trajan; the fourth under Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 161. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was murdered in this persecution. The fifth persecution took place under Severus in A.D. 200 and was noted for the courage of the young lady Perpetua; the sixth occurred in A.D. 235 under Emporer Maximinus; the seventh came not long after that, in A.D. 249 under Decius; following that the eighth took place in A.D. 257 during the reign of Valerian; the ninth occurred in A.D. 270 under Aurelian, and the tenth in A.D. 303 during the joint reign of Diocletian and Maximian. These ten persecutions shared an interesting trait in common: during them the Church thrived.

“I’d like to dwell a bit on the sixth persecution, since it so vividly describes the kind of hatred that we ourselves are beginning to face. It also strikingly brings out the nobility that Jesus is looking for in His Church, and also the involvement of both women and men in suffering for their Savior. I’ll read Foxe’s entry for that persecution:

“’This persecution was begun by the emperor Maximinus, who ordered all Christians hunted down and killed. A Roman soldier who refused to wear a laurel crown bestowed on him by the emperor and confessed he was a Christian was scourged, imprisoned, and put to death.

“’Pontianus, Bishop of Rome, was banished to Sardinia for preaching against idolatry and murdered. Anteros, a Grecian who succeeded Pontianus as Bishop of Rome, collected a history of the martyrs and suffered martyrdom himself after only forty days in office.

“’Pammachius, a Roman senator, and forty-two other Christians were all beheaded in one day and their heads set on the city gates. Calepodius, a Christian minister, after being dragged through the streets, was thrown into the Tiber River with a millstone fastened around his neck. Quiritus, a Roman nobleman, and his family and servants, was barbarously tortured and put to death. Martina, a noble young lady, was beheaded, and Hippolitus, a Christian prelate, was tied to a wild horse and dragged through fields until he died.

“’Maximinus was succeeded by Gordian, during whose reign and that of his successor, Philip, the Church was free from persecution for more than six years. But in 249, a violent persecution broke out in Alexandria without the emperor’s knowledge.

“’Metrus, an old Christian of Alexandria, refused to worship idols. He was beaten with clubs, pricked with sharp reeds, and Apollonia, an old woman nearly seventy, confessed that she was a Christian, and the mob fastened her to a stake, preparing to burn her. She begged to be let loose and the mob untied her, thinking she was ready to recant, but to their astonishment, she immediately threw herself back into the flames and died.’

“Returning to the Book of Revelation after this rather lengthy side trip and continuing with the Church at Smyrna, Jesus promised the overcomer the Crown of Life and immunity from the second death. In the face of the member’s likelihood of meeting with physical death, it promises spiritual life. Like the Church at Ephesus, the Church at Smyrna represented the time period between the first through the fourth centuries. Her identification, of course, is ‘The persecuted Church’.

“The next Church is Pergamos. The name for Himself that Jesus associated with this Church is ‘He who has the sharp sword with two edges’. His commendation for her was to hold fast in the midst of evil, not denying the name of Jesus. He noted His concern for her promiscuity and heresies, probably for tolerating Gnosticism and Arianism. Jesus also noted His hatred of the doctrines of the Nicolaitans, which involved fornication and idolatry. Some theologians also speculate that the Nicolaitans attempted to insert mediators between Christian laypeople and Christ, a practice that Scripture makes plain is unnecessary but which was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus exhorted this Church to repent of her errors, and promised the overcomer hidden manna and a white stone with his name inscribed, which only the overcomer shall know. Like the Churches at Ephesus and Smyrna, the Church at Pergamos represented the first through fourth centuries. Its identification was the heretical church.

“The fourth Church is Thyratira, for which Jesus gave Himself the name ‘Son of God who has eyes like fire and feet like brass’. He commended this Church for her charity, service, faith and patience, but He was also concerned over her promiscuity, worldliness including fornication and false teaching, and politicization. In His exhortation, Jesus warned her that He will punish the false Christians within her, but added that He will put no other burden on those who remained faithful. He promised the overcomer power over the nations and the gift of the morning star. This Church represented the period from the fifth through the ninth centuries, which was identified as the post-Constantine politically-accepted era of the Church.

“We have now covered the Churches addressed in Revelation Chapter 2, and I’m sure that your minds are ready for a breather. We’ll tackle Revelation Chapter 3 next week.”

As Bob Smith walked down the steps of the Church with his wife Evelyn on his arm, his boss James Forrester at the Seattle Reporter-Journal was at home picking up his phone. “Hello, Jim,” Ace said. “Can we talk?”

“Yeah, sure, Jim replied, looking about the room and down the hallway to ensure that he was alone. “What’s up?” he asked as he went over to the door and closed it.

“I’ve warned you before about the content and flavor of your articles. The Christianity has to go, no negotiating. And start getting busy on getting the word out on the problem of the elderly in America, how they’re dragging down the economy.” He emphasized his intractability with a hard glare. “Get with the program, Jim, or your ass is on the line. And I’m not talking about your job. I’m talking about your health, understand?”

“I hear you five-by-five, Ace,” Jim said. He noticed that his hand was shaking when he put down the phone.

Earl and Joyce headed back to the nursing home after Church to drop off Cathy and allow Earl to prepare his evening talk at home without interruption. Their eyes met as he glanced in the rearview mirror to observe how she was doing. She had a look of pure joy and trust that melted his heart. Seeing that, he moved over to the curb and parked. “Call the nursing home,” he told Joyce. “Ask Laurie if we can wait till evening to bring Cathy back.” He heard a joyful sound from the back seat as Joyce called Laurie.

“She gave her okay,” Joyce told Earl. Another whoop came from the back seat as Cathy twisted in happiness.

[to be continued]


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