top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Hold Fast for Jesus


“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” Revelation 3:3

I suspect that there is a heightened sense of anticipation – an eagerness - as we approach the end of November, amongst at least some of the people here this morning. And I suspect there’s probably an age thing connected with that eagerness.

So far, in our look at the letters to the churches, we’ve maintained a fairly here-and-now view point and that’s good, because Jesus is talking to churches in the here and now. But if we completed the seven letters and didn’t talk about ‘anticipation’, I think we would have missed a big part of Jesus’ meaning here.

Eager for The Second Coming

There is an eagerness; a sense of anticipation in these letters, and that is borne out in the rest of the new testament also, the likes of which if we miss it, will be to our detriment. And I don’t want you to miss out on something that will help you, so I want to take this last message to say it.

The word ‘eager’ is a new testament word. A brief survey tells us that the Apostle Paul was very keen that his readers – which of course includes us – have anticipatory appreciation of things that are yet in the future. I’ll show you what I mean.

Romans 8:23 – we Christians groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship the redemption of our bodies [that is our resurrection from the dead in the future].

1 Corinthians 1:7 – Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed [when he returns in the future].

Galatians 5:5 – For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope [at the coming of the Lord Jesus].

Philippians 3:20 – But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Expand this study for yourselves, the word ‘wait’ is particularly revealing – and not only in the Apostle Paul. In other words, the new testament encourages us to look ahead and see the coming of the Lord Jesus with eyes of faith that create in us anticipation; an eager desire for his coming. And these seven letters do that.

Consider the three churches we are looking at this morning, Pergamum, Sardis and Philadelphia. Consider what Jesus says to them about the future:

Chapter 2, verse 16 – to Pergamum – I will soon come to you.

And to Sardis – Chapter 3, verse 3 – I will come like a thief and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

And to Philadelphia – Chapter 3:10-11 – I will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon.

So, Jesus is very future-centric in these letters. In all of them he is pointing to his return. I am not saying that there aren’t some significant events on the calendar that are going to happen before every eye sees Jesus coming with the clouds (chapter 1, verse 7), but I am saying that the next epoch making, apex forming, pinnacle producing event on the horizon, in Jesus’ mind and in the minds of his apostles, is the second coming of Jesus. And I am saying, that that emphasis in Jesus and his apostles is designed for our good and so we ignore it at our peril.

Paul didn’t shy away from pointing his readers to it, Jesus didn’t shy away from pointing the churches to it. And we shouldn’t shy away from it either.

Neither did he shy away from pointing his disciples to it. Matthew 24 to the end of 25 is the most concentrated, I think, place in the teachings of Jesus that deal with his return. And what is so telling is that Jesus is always instructing his disciples in how to live, as he points them to his own return. Which I think is exactly what he’s doing for us here in the letters to the churches. His aim is not that we have only a theoretical handle on eschatological events –that is important – his aim is that that handle serves to make us live a certain way. I would go so far as to say, without an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return we can’t live out Christian lives the way Jesus wants us to live them out. We need this sense of anticipation in order to live lives that are worthy of him in this very dark and very sinful world.

What we see in the quotes from Jesus, to these three churches, about his return, is that his return is going to be soon; it’s going to be swift – he’s coming like a nimble thief, unexpected and on the scene before anybody knows it; and it will not be good for us if we don’t anticipate his coming.

A word about each. Coming soon can be problematic for us. We are almost 2000 years out since John received his revelation and Jesus was saying to the churches of his day that he was coming soon. Yet here we are and he’s not returned yet. What I think Jesus is saying is that in the overarching scheme of God’s plan – which is very big - Jesus is coming soon. That means that ‘soon’ could mean within John’s life time (which we know it didn’t because he hasn’t come yet – but John might have thought that when he heard those words) or it could mean he’s imminent now, or it could mean soon, as in the next 2000 years. No one knows the day or the hour of his return, not even Jesus, according to Jesus’ own words. Therefore, we are to always be thinking that Jesus could return at any moment (it could be very soon).

And when he does come, it will be at an hour when we do not expect him Jesus said in Matthew 20:10. He will come like lightening, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, Jesus said in Luke 17:24.

So, we should not expect to be able to pin-point the moment. However, like we know when lightening is coming but we don’t know where or when it will strike, so it will be with Jesus. We read the sky; we hear the rumble; we know what the grey clouds mean. So, it will be with Jesus. If we are alert and awake we will know the time of his appearing is at hand.

Matthew 24:36 following summarises the three aspects that Jesus flags up in the letter about his coming:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him’.

Yes, Jesus is telling us his coming is soon; yes, he is telling us it will be swift and sudden, but he is telling us, in light of these facts be alert and watchful so you are not caught out.

Steadfast Until He Comes

And Jesus goes straight from this warning into two parables – the ten virgins and the bags of gold – to cement that warning. The five unfaithful virgins are shut out of the wedding banquet because they weren’t ready when the Bridegroom arrived.

And the unfaithful servant who buried his talent was thrown outside, when his master returned, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus is saying to most of these seven churches, ‘wake up! so that you will not be caught unawares’.

Now it’s not enough to say ‘wake up, don’t be like the five unprepared virgins’, because that doesn’t give us any detail. But Jesus packs these short letters to the churches with detail about what being alert and awake looks like. And I think there’s a word we can place as a heading over the detail and that word is ‘steadfastness’. Here are the verses in the letters, to the three churches we’re focussing on this morning, that highlight steadfastness. Listen for steadfast language:

To Pergamum:

2:13 – You remain true to my name.

2:13 – You did not renounce your faith.

2:13 – You did not renounce your faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness who was killed in your city [martyred].

2:16 – Repent!

To Sardis:

3:2 – Wake up!

3:3 – Strengthen what remains and is about to die.

3:3 – Hold fast.

3:3 – Repent!

To Philadelphia:

3:8 – You have little strength, yet you have kept my word.

3:8 – You have not denied my name.

3:10 – You have kept my command.

3:10 – You have endured patiently [suffering].

3:11 – Hold on to what you have.

You could do the same with the other letters. Jesus is saying ‘I’m coming back soon and like a thief, and anybody who is asleep will be swept away. So I’m prompting you, be alert, be sober minded, be awake. Be steadfast about my name when the world uses it as a by-word. Be steadfast about my word when science is saying it has disproved it. Be steadfast in faith even when people are being killed for it. Be steadfast in hope even when the circumstances of life threaten it – strengthen it. Be steadfast in obedience even when it costs you reputation, or friends, or means you have to make a stand that people think is so stupid. In all of life be steadfast – hold on to what you have’.

And Jesus is saying, none of that will happen passively, you have to cultivate steadfastness in your lives. Positively, you have to attend to the means of grace Jesus has put at your disposal or else there is no hope of steadfastness. And negatively, you have to attend to faith, hope and love destroying means of death in your life by removing them.

Jesus said, if your eye cause you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, chop it off. Get serious about being alert and alive because you do not know when he will return and you cannot afford to be slumbering when he does!

Now you might be thinking ‘here we go again, these messages are so full of warnings’. This is a three message series full of warning it’s true. But it’s full of warning because Jesus is full of warning in his letters. We need warning.

Last Saturday, our family went to the Manchester Christmas Markets and I don’t think anybody could have conveyed how busy it was going to be that night. When Deb and I saw the crowds the first thing we did was warn the children. Our warning was very serious, very grave because the consequences of losing one of them in that kind of crowd were serious.

We told them in no uncertain terms to hold our hands, keep eyes on us, to be alert, not to wander off, to stay close. And we warned them that if we lost them, it would be very hard to find them again.

We didn’t tell them once, we told them repeatedly. Why? Because we thought they would enjoy hearing those things? No. Because they needed to hear them again and again. They needed to know it was serious and they needed to be reminded what to do in order to stay safe.

God is a good Father and he warns his children to stay close, to be alert, not to wander off, not to get distracted from the main thing. That’s why this series has warnings, it’s why Paul and Peter warn us and its why Jesus warns us. The warnings keep us – if we heed them.

But warnings are not the only stimulus Jesus uses to keep us awake. He also uses reward to keep our hopes aflame in the midst of this challenging Christian walk we’re on.

Looking Forward to Jesus and His Rewards

Jesus promises to bring with himself, when he comes, things for us that are so precious and good and spectacular that they create in us relish and eagerness and desire for his coming. We become like children on the eve of Christmas – when anticipation won’t let us sleep. These rewards are designed so that, if we meditate on them, think on them, fixate on them, we won’t be able to sleep either.

Here’s what he says to the three churches:

2:17 – To the victorious one I will give some of the hidden manna.

Manna was that food from heaven that nourished the Israelites in the desert. No one could see it, until it appeared on the ground each morning. Jesus is saying he’s going to feed our insatiable souls for ever with himself.

2:17 – To the victorious one I will give a white stone with a new name on it.

White stands for purity, and a name is our identity. Jesus will give us his pure identity and we will be known as his forever.

3:4 & 5 – They will walk with me dressed in white for they are worthy.

Our alertness will be seen in righteous deeds (made pure in the blood of Jesus) and these will be our glorious dress (Revelation 19:8) by which we can walk with him.

3:5 – I will never blot their names out of the book of life.

When the register of heaven is called, your name will be found to be there.

3:5 – I will acknowledge your name before my father and his angels.

What a promise! Jesus will own your name –my finite, sinful, wayward name - before God the Father, Almighty – maker of heaven and earth, high and lifted up, perfect in all his majesty and glory.

3:9 – I will make those who oppose you come and fall down before you. And I will make them acknowledge that I have loved you.

All those who mocked you for following Jesus will have to eat their words, knowing that what you said was true – Jesus really did die for you. They will know and they will fall at your feet defeated. God is the vindicator of the righteous.

3:10 – I will keep you from the hour of trial.

We’ll come back to this in a minute, but it suffices to say, that you’ll be protected from an intense hour of suffering and difficulty by Jesus.

3:11 – No one will take your crown.

Jesus will ensure you get the crown that has been made ready for you – according to Peter, it will never fade away (1 Pet 5:4).

3:12 – To the victorious one I will make them a pillar in the temple of my God.

You will be considered a key and integral component of where God manifests himself.

3:12 – They will never leave God’s temple again.

That is to say they will never be distanced from God ever again, but will enjoy his presence for ever (Psalm 16).

These are simply stunning promises of such unsurpassed nature, quality and span, that there is nothing this world can offer that can compete with them – not reputation, success, material possessions, career, family or fortune.

And if they are kept at the forefront of our attention day by day they are very powerful at keeping us alert and awake. But let them slip out of sight for just a moment, and we should expect the promises of sin and the world to look bright and beautiful and compelling.

Preserved Through Suffering

Now I want to say something briefly about Chapter 3, verse 10 and then sum up. Chapter 3, verse 10 has been a very influential text in governing the way some Christians have come to think about a period that precedes the return of Jesus.

In Matthew 24, Jesus seems to be telling his disciples about the unfolding of events that are about to come to pass in their lifetimes – which are indeed borne out in history. Namely, that the Romans would come against Jerusalem and ransack the temple, burning it to the ground, and that the Jews would have to flee to the hills around Judea because the suffering that they would experience would be so intense.

But what is very hard to grasp in Matthew 24 is that Jesus seamlessly moves from the very imminent events that are about to transpire in AD70 and which foreshadow apocalyptic events in the future, to those apocalyptic events themselves. One of the reasons I say this, is that by the end of the passage he is talking about his own second coming, something that clearly did not take place in the life time of the disciples.

In verse 21 of Matthew 24 Jesus talks about a period of intense distress, which there undoubtedly was when Rome persecuted the Jews, but Jesus adds that this distress will be ‘unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again’.

Now it seems unlikely that the events of AD70 constituted that kind of unequalled distress. It seems more plausible that Jesus has transitioned in what he is saying, from the imminent events of their day, to events much more future and final.

Revelation 7:14 seems to refer to what Jesus is referring to in Matthew 24 and calls it ‘the great tribulation’. And the significance that some Christians have given Revelation 3:10, in light of Matthew 24 and Revelation 7, is that Jesus is going to spare believers the ‘hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth [the great tribulation or the time of great distress as Jesus calls it]’ by taking them out of the world before it begins. The reason they suggest that, is because Jesus says in verse 10, ‘I will keep you from [it]’.

Now, I am very happy to fellowship with fellow believers who take Revelation 3:10 like that –one of my closest Christian brothers holds that view. However, I’m more inclined to think Jesus means that he will keep his people from the power of Satan, who would see them renounce their faith in the midst of that hour of great suffering, and so Jesus will bring them through it by preserving their faith.

The reason I think it’s more likely that Jesus is saying he will keep us through it rather than take us out of it, is primarily because of the way Jesus prays in John 17:15 which has striking parallels.

Here’s how he prays:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one’.

Jesus is praying specifically that his people are not taken out of the world – the very thing we would like Revelation 3:10 to be saying – not least because it would spare us so much suffering - but that the Father protect us from the devil who would be seeking, in the hour of trial, to devour our faith and unrepentingly renounce the name of Jesus, and so be lost.

Jesus is saying that he will keep us through all trials up to an including the great trial – which could come tomorrow, we do not know – from Satan’s faith-devouring schemes and deliver us to the Father unscathed.

So, to sum up, I do believe that we are being tested all the time. I do believe that the devil is seeking to press us so that we relinquish our faith. And I believe he is simultaneously wooing us with the world.

I do believe that Jesus is warning is about giving in to the faith-destroying effects of suffering and the sleep-inducing glitzy promises of the world.

I do believe Jesus is promising surpassing things to those who remain steadfast and true. And I do believe that all these things apply to us today, at Riverside.

So, my take-aways from these letters are: Tim, don’t grow weary in suffering, don’t grow sleepy in the world, but with the unmitigated warnings of Jesus and with the unparalleled promises of Jesus, keep your eyes fixed on his return, and be vigilant until he comes.


bottom of page