Second Century Persecutions
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10. Second Century Persecutions
Revelation 1.17-20

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Therefore, write what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1.17-20)✞

Jesus Calms

Church of the TransfigurationAs the Roman government steps up its second-century persecutions of Christians, the Apostle John in Revelation must be wondering if the church would die out altogether or whether it can survive. When Jesus appears in glory and splendor, he reassures John, "Do not be afraid," for he and his fellow believers have access to God's strength to face these trials. We find several other instances in the New Testament, when Jesus says to his disciples, "Do not be afraid." On the notoriously rough Sea of Galilee, when strong winds blow through the surrounding valleys and result in a fierce storm, Jesus says to John and the other disciples, "Do not be afraid." In Matthew 14.27, we read, "Jesus immediately said to them, 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.'"

The Holy I AM Name

MosesAt the Transfiguration of Jesus, John is frightened by Moses and Elijah's presence in an eerie cloud. He is afraid as they enter the cloud. Similarly, the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, meaning the "oil Press" at the foot of the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem, fall to their knees out of fear when Jesus speaks the holy "I am" name. Then Jesus reassures his disciples and those around him, "Do not be afraid."

Keys Death Hade

KeyJohn of Patmos explains that Jesus Christ holds the key to Death and Hades. Compartments separate these two places. Jesus alone can open them. Revelation tells us that Jesus has "the keys of Death and Hades." The Greek word for "Hades" means "unseen" and is a translation of the Hebrew word "Sheol." "Hades" or "Sheol" basically describes the unseen location of the abode of the dead. "Hades" is also the name of an ancient Greek god of the underworld and emphasizes the awful dread of that place in the afterlife. "Sheol," on the other hand, is described as "the home of the righteous and the wicked." Lazarus' (the poor beggar) and Dives' (the rich man) story speaks about these two places in Luke 16.19-21. We read, "There was a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen who lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores."

Life's Maze

MazeAfter these two men's deaths, the wicked Dives remains in "Hell," and the righteous Lazarus ends up with Abraham in "Paradise." Luke 16.22-23 tells us, "The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side." Jesus himself holds and controls "the key of Death and Hades," either to keep people in or to let them out. Jesus has sole power, authority, and last say over death and the place of the dead. The American speaker and author Roger von Oech (1948-present) writes, "Life is like a maze in which you try to avoid the exit." Christians don't have to avoid the exit! They can look forward to it, for they know what blessings are beyond it. Jesus alone frees human beings from the fear of death. Believers don't have to fear death because Jesus of Nazareth holds "the key of the terrors of death and the eternity of Hades."

Death's Shadow

Jesus says in Revelation 1.17b-20, "I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." Jesus Christ leads those who believe in him and are facing premature death into eternal life. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), a renowned Baptist preacher, wrote in his devotional "Mornings and Evenings." "The substance of death is removed, and only its shadow remains. Nobody is afraid of a shadow, for a shadow cannot block a person's pathway for even a moment, nor can the "shadow of death." The dog's shadow cannot bite; the sword's shadow cannot kill. Those who face premature death from a killer disease like Cancer, Covid-19, or AIDS need to remember that the power available to John and the Early Church is still there for us today in Jesus. He will lead those who are facing premature death through death's shadow into eternal life.

Facing Death

Scorpion StingWhen the end is near, and we confront death, be assured that death has no sting. All bodily functions may ebb away, but the Spirit lives on with the soul, the mind, and the personality. Christians receive a new incorruptible body. Jesus, the world's light, produces light that removes the shadow. He takes away death's power from those who love and serve him. Jesus said to Lazarus's sister, Mary, in her moment of bitter grief over her brother Lazarus' death in John 11.25b-26, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" This great question bears forth the earth-shattering truth that Jesus destroys even "death and its shadow."

"Second Century Persecutions"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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