The Tribulation and Intercessory Prayer
The coronavirus has raised questions as to whether this is the beginning of the tribulation, the last seven years before the return of Messiah. I have been asking the Lord what and how to pray about this scenario—seeking His face and the guidance of His Spirit. I felt He told me to look at the book of Revelation as a model for intercession.
As with the prophecies of the old testament prophets, it seems to me it is not the sin of the lost that precipitates God’s judgment, but rather it is the sin of God’s chosen, we believers, that will precipitate His judgment.
Could it be the book of Revelation in its recording of the conditions existing in the seven churches provides a checklist of the spiritual condition of God’s children, we believers, which in the aggregate, if not repented of, will produce the tribulation described in such detail in the succeeding chapters of the book?
Again, as with the prophets, God sets forth the sin of His children, which if not repented of and turned from will produce the litany of judgments which will befall the world in the seven years of tribulation. We are told judgment begins first with the household of God. (1 Peter 4:17). This household I believe is at the crossroad of God’s Kingdom plan. His Kingdom is coming on earth, one way or another. The Gates of Eden will be reopened.
It seems to me the thinking has been that the tribulation comes because of the sin of the unregenerate and that all the believers are generally spared. If that were so, history seems to record much worse times of evil among the unregenerate in the world than at present and tribulation was not triggered. The question is, has the sin of God’s children reached the tipping point? And that possibility, I believe, should be the heartbeat of intercession today.
Let’s then look at the sin which God has seen as being so sufficiently rampant in His believers that He is ready to pull the plug on His efforts to see His creation, His chosen, bring forth His Kingdom on earth, hence the tribulation.
Let me say at this point, I think the use of the term “church” in the translations of the New Testament is unfortunate. The Greek word generally translated as church is “ecclesia” which refers to a collection of individuals. We confuse the definition today with the structure, organization and hierarchy of “church.” To get the full impact of Messiah’s response to each church—He is really speaking to each believer, individually, and collectively in that particular assembly (ecclesia) of believers.
You can read what is written to each “church” on your own, I have generally used the New King James Version as my text.
To Ephesus. The first believers to receive the call to repentance were doing Kingdom work in their soulish strength, but had let idols into their spiritual life which vied for place with their relationship with God. Revelation 2:4-5: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” God wants relationship. Works apart from relationship are wood, hay, stubble. If my works, even for Kingdom purposes, come out of my strength, my financial ability, my self-reliance—I have raised up idols.
The lampstand is not the building, it is God’s light around which the Ephesians have gathered in community. The angel who has been assigned to this community is, in my opinion, not the pastor. The pastor quite likely is complicit in the sin of this assembly. The angel is a heavenly messenger who has not been heard by those he is shepherding. If the assembly loses its lampstand, its light, the angel quite likely leaves. If the angel leaves, the assembly has lost the covering of God’s appointed spiritual connection to His Spirit. The assembly, at the least, goes deaf in one ear.
History does not clearly reveal what false doctrine the Nicolaitans at Ephesus had embraced (verse 6). I would not be surprised if this isn’t intentional. This would let Nicolaitans be a metaphor for whatever heresy is at any time not being exposed in the assembly, but is being tolerated and harbored.
A caveat here: the correction of the heresy must be directed by the Lord. He is long suffering and warns against harshly judging and calling one “raca.” It is amazing to me that many believers will stoutly proclaim the law no longer applies, yet are often quick and ruthless in arbitrarily applying it against a fellow believer. Unless we connect with our personal, human spirit to God’s Spirit for guidance and direction we will act amiss.
Since the Ephesus assembly is mentioned first, it seems likely this is the most common and most dangerous condition God finds among His people.
To Smyrna. This is a hard set of facts to read and then try to apply a standard of acceptable faith. The description of the conditions at Smyrna reminds me of today’s persecuted church in Asia and Africa, and manifesting in Europe and here in the United States. Though the believers in Smyrna were a minority and in economic poverty, and persecuted by the majority of unbelievers around them, the Smyrna believers are told to keep faithful, to not despair for they have a hope and a promise—they are rich in faith. Smyrna is the polar opposite of Ephesus in the conditions they find themselves, yet their conditions do not excuse them from God’s standard of conduct, even in the face of an unjust death. How did the devil gain the right to use the unbelieving majority to persecute these believers? Were their eyes closed by their circumstances so that they did not see their sin? Was part of their sin a failure to respond to the early signs of persecution? Where has this sin resulted in the conditions in the political climate of today’s ecclesia?
If you agree with me that Messiah used the cumulative spiritual condition of the seven churches to form the agenda in His call for the repentance by His chosen, what then? Then, if faithfully responded to, the seven years of tribulation could, I believe, be forestalled. There will be tribulation in the process, but not the seven years of tribulation of Revelation. The suffering saints at Smyrna must examine their hearts and souls. This thought all the more challenges me to soberly open up to Holy Spirit inspection and helps define an intercessory agenda.
In the end, Smyrna receives a comforting, encouraging word from Messiah as to the final reward for faithfulness when all of the odds of this world seem against you: “be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” I believe that faithfulness calls for self examination and repentance. This too, must be Spirit led. Our hearts are deceitfully wicked (Jer 17:9) and trusting in the arm of the flesh is not easy to discern—those works look really good.
Turning to the Pergamos ecclesia, Messiah says it has shown exemplary faithfulness, but they were now harboring those preaching an ungodly, perverted doctrine which would eventually affect the entire body. Think of the sexual deviation so prevalent today. To what extent does that unscriptural condition receive harbor by believers? How is it we have let political decisions be made so that portions of God’s word have become “hate speech?”
To further support my premise of the convicting message of the prophecy of Revelation, I quote chapter 2:16–”Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”
To Thyatira. Another body of believers who are doing many good works. But, as with Ephesus and Pergamos, are charged with harboring, giving cover to and failing to correct, either an actual woman or more probably a satanic spirit that is loose among the believers. Messiah even promises tribulation as the consequence of unrepented, sinful behavior. Yeshua tells us that it is He who searches the minds (thoughts) and hearts (spirit self)—we cannot hide behind our words.
Harboring, I suspect, is the deceptive sin of the ecclesia that must be discerned, repented of and turned from. Those in sin are called out of their sin. Those not in sin, but failing to deal with the sin in their midst are told to overcome, to get the victory, take some action. If they do, they are qualifying themselves for greater rule in the millennium. As well as pulling their brothers and sisters back into a saving relationship with Messiah.
To Sardis. The NKJV headnotes say, “The dead church.” I would say potentially dead. It seems the ecclesia in Sardis have become preoccupied with things other than God’s Kingdom. There are two words, one in verse two, the other in verse three which let me draw this conclusion: perfect and watch. “Perfect” in the Greek is not perfect, as without fault, but more falling below potential, below the potential of the gifting of the believers. “Watch” in verse three better translates to the idea of being vigilant, keeping awake.
The Sardinians then, were, in my opinion, like much of today’s ecclesia—too involved in the secular and falling far below their spiritually equipped potential in the things of God. They are failing in their vigilance to protect the religious heritage which the founders of the United States sought so diligently to establish—maybe, today’s ecclesia is not dead, but certainly dying.
To Philadelphia. Works open doors. But works are not of our decision, of our design as apparently were those of the Sardinians. Our works must be His, Spirit directed through our individual spirit, as apparently were the works of the Philadelphia ecclesia.
We are told we are not in a works relationship with Yeshua and our salvation, yet to this ecclesia Messiah recognizes their spirit-led works and rewards them with an open door to intimacy with Himself, plus an exemption from “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
The intimacy with Messiah involves His personal involvement in our eternal life—favor in the Kingdom, a name change as Abraham and Jacob received, emphasized identification with Father in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The reward for faithful, Spirit-led work in bringing forth the Kingdom should consume each believer in the time allotted in this earthly life.
To Laodicea. Shock and awe: “I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Complacency and self satisfaction reign in this ecclesia—self is the idol which so repulses Messiah. Is this not the ultimate deception of harboring? I’m sure the Laodiceans in their works were scrupulous to keep the law—with great self righteousness, probably tithing mint and cumin as well. (Matt 23:23)
Messiah really seems to have a heart and a hope for this ecclesia. He is calling on them to repent and upon their repentance He offers the promise of the intimacy of dining together. He even offers to invite them to share His throne next to Father’s throne. But He is not forcing them—He stands at the door ready to enter when they repent—opening the door.
It is the idolatry of their possessions, their self sufficiency that Yeshua is trying to shake loose—be zealous and repent. Don’t think only of yourself, the goal is bringing forth the Kingdom. Zealous has the idea of becoming enthusiastic, getting excited, grabbing the opportunity—Messiah wants them to break out of their complacency. It seems to me it is the same today, especially in the United States,
I believe the word to the seven ecclesia and to every believer today is summed up by Messiah seven times—“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” The promise for those who hear and do is summed up in Rev 2:11–”He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Rev 20:14)
That the seven ecclesia did in fact hear, repent and turn from their sin is demonstrated by history—the foretold tribulation did not occur. We can safely assume there has been a hearing and obeying over the intervening nearly two millennia that has been sufficient to forestall tribulation. The question is will the hearing and obeying prevail today? Hence, the work and goal of today’s intercessor.
A study of the seven ecclesia and a resulting Spirit-led self examination and repentance will equip us for the intercessory role required to turn back the seemingly overwhelming tide of the enemy. We must each become God’s gap filler. (Ez 22:30)
If the tribulation comes, we, as believers, have failed God in the bringing forth of His Kingdom. We are not called to prepare for tribulation, but to be holy as He is holy and actively engage in the role He has given each of us in the bringing forth of His Kingdom on earth. Ironically, this is the best way to prepare, personally, for tribulation. Repentance and intercession are integral parts of our role and identity as believers. Should this pandemic be the beginning of sorrows, there is no better preparation than self-examination, repentance and intercession.