THINGS ARE NOT RIGHT ON EARTH – LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
(Saturday, September 12, 2020)
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 when the letters to the seven churches are given it’s quite evident that he is the one who has absolute authority over the local church. He holds the seven stars in his right hand. Now, that is LORD’s way of revealing to mankind that which Paul affirmed, that Jesus Christ is the head over the church. He warns about the idolatry and immortality existed in the churches.
Revelation 2 and 3 are absolutely key to the letter of the book of Revelation because they give us in many ways the application points for the church, the characteristics that the churches are asked to manifest. And one special one is found in the refrain at the end of each of the messages to the church, which is to overcome — “to the church who overcomes.” “To those who overcome,” it says. And that reminds us of the need to persevere. But there’s other overarching themes as well, so one of the words that you’ll encounter as you’re reading through those two chapters a number of times is to repent, for those churches who are falling short of what the Lord is calling them to, they are to repent. Should it be that they’ve lost their first love, should it be that they’ve been following the teachings of a sectarian group or really a heretical group within the church, they’re called to repent from that as well. And so, the Lord is calling them back to himself in that moment. But he’s also calling those who do love him to continue and those who are persevering to continue in that as well, and to stay true to the faith, but to stay true especially to the worship of the Lord.
The similarities between the letters in Revelation 2 and 3 alert us to the main ideas in this section. Christ was addressing these churches as their rightful king. He was aware of their present circumstances and had the authority to evaluate them. He offered blessings and he threatened curses to encourage their faithfulness. And he reminded them that eternal salvation was only for those who overcame trials and temptations. Not surprisingly, these themes also play a major role throughout the main body of the book of Revelation. These chapters can be summarised as follows:
- Corrupted world
- Compromised church
We read the letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. The letter introduces Jesus as the one who holds seven stars in his right hand as he walks among the seven golden lampstands. This description emphasized the light of Christ’s glory and power. As their king, Jesus gave a mixed evaluation of the church in Ephesus. They had commendable zeal for sound doctrine and didn’t tolerate wicked behavior. They were specifically said to have hated the practices of the Nicolaitans, a very early heretical group that may have mixed Christian faith with pagan eroticism. But the Ephesian church also received a strong criticism. In Revelation 2:4 Jesus told them that they had forsaken their first love; they had lost their enthusiasm and zeal for Christ and his kingdom. So, Christ warned them that if they didn’t repent and return to their earlier enthusiasm, he would remove their lampstand — their symbol of honor in heaven. In other words, they would be disciplined and perhaps even disbanded.
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
The first church addressed is the church that was at the city of Ephesus, the most important of the seven cities. It was not the official capital of the province, Pergamum was, but Ephesus was the greatest city. It was a port city. It was a commercial center. The trade routes from the east and the south all terminated there at Ephesus. So, it was a wealthy city; it was a materialistic place. It was also a center of pagan worship. The cult of Artemis, or Diana, was there. Diana was the goddess of the hunt, and among the Greeks that was perhaps relatively innocuous, but among the Ephesians, which was not only a Greek but an Asian city – a kind of amalgamation of both – the goddess took on more of the Asian qualities of religion, and it became a very sensual, hedonistic religion of Artemis. The temple of the goddess was a very large temple. In fact, it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. So, the city of Ephesus stood in the shadow of this great temple, and it was under the spell of paganism and the occult. The so-called Ephesian letters, which circulated throughout the ancient world, were charms that were widely believed to heal sickness and bring luck.
This was the city Paul visited on his second missionary journey. He spent over two years there. During that time there was a great revival. The gospel spread throughout this great city and beyond, throughout the province of Asia. Later, after he left, Paul sent Timothy to the church to supervise the work, and according to tradition, John lived there in his old age at the last years of his life. Ephesus was a dark place. It was an evil city, and men love the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds are evil. Paul certainly knew that from his own experiences. When he came to Ephesus, this great pagan city, and began preaching the gospel, the synagogues and the temples began to empty, and the church began to fill. And that brought on a strong reaction from both the Jews and the Gentiles.
In particular the Gentiles – the silversmiths, you read in Acts 19, revolted against that, and staged a great demonstration and sought the life of the apostle. In fact, when he writes to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 15:32 he speaks of that. Speaks of opposition, at least, in Ephesus, and he says, “I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus.” He’s probably not referring to literal wild beasts, as though they had thrown him to the arena. That’s a description of men, and how the unbelieving man can respond when he hears the gospel – doesn’t like it. It stirs up that which is really evil within him. He opposes it as fiercely as a wild beast. The Ephesian Christians faced that same opposition; they faced those wild beasts as well. They knew what it was to be hated. They knew what it was to be snubbed in public, ostracized at work, or to suffer financial loss, and there’s evidently a lot of that in these churches as we go through these letters. They faced the possibility of financial ruin for the faith. Now, that’s a great test of one’s faith, and these Ephesians must’ve experienced that as well as the threat and the reality of physical persecution. Ephesus was a center of emperor worship. The penalty could be harsh for not honoring Domitian as lord and god, and these people were required to go to the temple and take a pinch of incense and offer it on the altar, and confess that Domitian, this Roman emperor, was lord and god of the earth. Well, they couldn’t do that. They refused to do that, and they suffered the consequences. They accepted that, though; they accepted hardship, and the Lord praised them for it. He says in Revelation 2: 3, “You have perseverance and have endured for my name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” The Lord knows what it is to go through such an experience. He knows what it is to be rejected. He endured that himself.
The letter to the church at Smyrna appears in Revelation 2:8-11. It opens with a description of Jesus as “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” This description identified Jesus as the one who created all things, and as the focal point of creation’s final destiny. This is one of only two letters that doesn’t include a rebuke for wrongdoing. It focuses entirely on sympathy and understanding for the church in Smyrna, which faced serious persecution, probably because of unbelieving Jews.
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
Smyrna, an old city thirty-five miles north of Ephesus still exists and many of you perhaps have been there. She called herself the “Ornament of Asia”. It’s known today by the name Izmir. Many of those ancient cities in Asia Minor debated among themselves about which city was the greatest of the cities and this was the claim of Smyrna. It had a beautiful harbor, one of the landlocked harbors that made for an excellent place for ships to come. There were foothills just beyond the harbor and then beyond the foothills, the argos or “the hill”. Overlooking the city was Mount Pagus. It rose over 500 feet from the harbor. And the hill was covered with the temples and buildings, very beautiful buildings in the time of the writing of this particular letter. Around the mountain and through the city was a famous avenue called “the street of gold.” And the hill with the temples upon it in the shape of the city was called the “Crown of Smyrna”. At either end of that great boulevard was a temple; one to Cybele, the other to Zeus, so it was a city filled with pagan shrines, and the first city in the ancient world to build a temple to the goddess Roma. Smyrna claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, but there were many others who claimed to be the birthplace of Homer. His head was on the coins of the city.
It was a very important city. Commercially it commanded the trade of the Hermus valley. It was politically a free city and also an assize city so that important legal cases were also allowed to be settled there. Smyrna was famous for its loyalty to Rome. On one occasion the citizens stripped off their coats and sent them to the Roman legions, who were suffering from cold in a winter campaign. Before Rome became great, Smyrna was loyal to it. Loyal in times of danger, loyal to Rome in times of difficulty – so much so that Cicero said Smyrna was “the most faithful of our allies.”
Religiously it was the center of the worship of Caesar, and the worship of Caesar was carried on in this way. Of course, the Romans had difficult problem as a political empire because they had people within their empire from all kinds of backgrounds, and languages, and places. And they were always looking for ways by which they might unify the citizens of the empire. And one of the ways that they hit upon was to support the worship of Caesar. It didn’t really mean too much to the Romans, but it meant something to them politically, religiously it had no significance. They did not mind if you worshipped Caesar and any other god you wished to worship, but at least by requiring every citizen once a year to take some incense and burn it to Caesar, and say, “Caesar is lord,” that is the way by which they thought they might have a binding of the citizens of the empire to Rome itself.
Of course, the Christians could not do that. They could not say, “Caesar is lord,” and therefore, because they could not burn the incense, and say, “Cesar is Lord,” they did not have the identifying document that the others were given. And therefore, they were the object of a great deal of persecution and particularly in the city of Smyrna, because Smyrna was a city with a very large population of Jews. And at this time, of course, the Jewish people in more recent days having been involved in the crucifixion of our Lord and the persecution of the apostles themselves were naturally very opposed to the Christian movement. And probably also because many in the Christian movement were Jewish people, the leaders themselves were all Jews at one time. So, in Smyrna there was a great deal of difficulty between the Jews and the Christians. It’s not surprising that our Lord should say, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.”
This little letter to Smyrna is very interesting in the light of its probably spiritual significance. Smyrna was the name for myrrh, a resonance or resonance gum that was used for embalming. And if you have read through the New Testament and I hope that you have read through it more than once, you’ll remember some of the places where the term myrrh is found. For example, it’s found in Matthew 2:11 because when the wise men came to see the birth of our Lord and see the baby, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh suggests suffering. And the fact that they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh at his birth suggests that the baby was destined to suffer. And then later, you’ll remember when our Lord was on the cross in Mark 15, it is stated that he was given wine mingled with myrrh.
And finally, perhaps you remember, too, that in John 19:39 the myrrh is mentioned again and in connection with the burial of our Lord. The text reads this way, John chapter 19:39, “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred-pound weight.” And using the myrrh they embalmed the body of our Lord. So the suffering servant of Jehovah, for that was his place in the prophetic program, is buried in such as a way as to suggest that the reason that he is the servant of God and has finished is work is that he has suffered in the atoning sacrifice. One of the interesting things about the word of God is the way in which Scriptures are tried and used in the study of particular events. In Isaiah 60:6, when the prophet writes about the Second Advent of the suffering servant Jehovah, he states that those who bring him gifts bring him gifts of gold and frankincense, but no myrrh. And it has been suggested by Bible students the reason that the myrrh is not given in the Second Advent as a gift to the reigning King is that the suffering is over. Whether that’s the point or not, the prophet doesn’t specify, but it may be. At any rate, in the letter to the church at Smyrna our Lord, as the suffering one, presents himself to a church that this destined to suffer. And as a matter of fact, as all of those early churches did, they were probably already suffering a great deal.
The most famous martyrdom of the early church occurred in Smyrna when Polycarp, one of the church fathers – and as a young man, a personal friend of the apostle John – was burned alive. Both the Jews and Gentiles fetched the wood for the fire. So Smyrna was a prosperous city, a pagan city, and a persecuting city. But the Lord’s message to the church there in that city was “Fear not, I am with you,” so it was a protected church. We can see in Acts and in the other New Testament books that right away the claim that Jesus is the Messiah begins to divide synagogues. And Paul is a great example of someone who’s put out of the synagogue. For example, in Ephesus he goes and teaches in a school hall, or we began to see Christians who are meeting in households instead of in synagogue gatherings. One of the things that puts a lot of pressure on that relationship early on is of course the claim that Jesus is the Messiah, but also the influx of Gentiles. We began to see that those who are preaching Christianity are preaching Jesus as the Lord over all the nations. And we began to see Gentiles responding. And so, the various sensibilities about the food laws, about circumcision began to add more pressure. And we see these sorts of disputes break out like at Galatia, over whether or not these Gentiles are to keep the Law. The other thing that is putting a lot of pressure on this relationship is the way that both of them are relating to Rome and Rome’s power. We know of course, for example, that the Temple is destroyed in A.D. 70. And even before that, that’s because of Jewish revolution against Caesar, and so in the wake of that we see Jews trying to re-establish their identity. And they began to discuss that, and what that should look like. And that adds further to the separation between Christians and Jews. Despite the problems the Jews in Smyrna created for the church, Jesus exhorted his followers to faithfulness, and encouraged them to trust him because he had overcome death.
Next, Christ addressed the church in Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17. Letter introduces Christ as the one who “has the sharp, double-edged sword.” Jesus’ words are razor-sharp, able to judge between right and wrong. And this was directly relevant because his evaluation of the church was both positive and negative. Listen to what Jesus said in Revelation 2:13-14: You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city — where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you (Revelation 2:13-14).
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
Jesus followed his commendation with a rebuke: the church had failed to reject the Nicolaitans, as well as teachings that were associated with Balaam. These false teachers led many into pagan revelry and immorality. And Christ warned that he would discipline the church if they didn’t repent.
Now it would be, I think, helpful for us to just say a few words about Pergamum as a city of Asia Minor. Pergamum was a center of religion. And it had several claims to fame. Let me put them this way to simplify, historically it was the greatest city of Asia because it was the capital of Asia for four centuries. Culturally it was a university type of town, not a commercial type of town. It had a library of two hundred thousand volumes, which was a vast library in those days, second only to the great library in Alexandria in Egypt. Religiously it contained a host of temples. It also had the Great Altar of Zeus before Athena’s Temple eight hundred feet up on a conical hill. It also had the temple of Escalapius, also called Esculapius. But Escalapius was the god of healing. And the god of healing had, as you know perhaps, the symbol of a serpent. In fact, you find it on the back of our medical doctors because it’s associated with our physicians. And you’ll see the sign of the serpent which was the sign of Escalapius. The emblem, as we said, the serpent. In verse 13 he says, “I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is.” And then at the conclusion of verse 13, this is mentioned again, “Where Satan dwelleth.”
Politically, Pergamum was the center of the worship of Caesar. The first temple in which Caesar was worshiped was built in Pergamum. And if you remember, it was the custom in order to unite the Roman Empire politically, it was a custom for an individual once a year to come burn a piece a little bit of incense in the temple and then say, “Caesar is Lord.” Now those who took that seriously were relatively few. It was designed by Rome not simply as a religious device but primarily as a political device. If you could get everybody to come and go through the same ritual it bound the people together politically. But obviously a Christian would have difficulty with that if he took those words seriously.
Now in that earlier part of the 4th Century of the Christian church, the monarch of the Roman Empire died and that left open the question of succession. There was a dispute over it. On the one hand in the West, Constantine stood out as one who had perhaps the power to become the emperor, and then in the East there was Maxentius who led the forces of the East, and these two were going to settle this by a war. They met near a little river in Northern Italy, and you may perhaps have heard of the place as the place of the Milvian Bridge. The Western General, Constantine, had some minor contact with Christianity and so that night he made a vow. And his vow was a vow to the Lord as he understood it. It probably was a vow to Satan in reality, but nevertheless it was a vow, and his vow was that if he won this battle, he would become a Christian. Well if also, and this is part of the fable that has arisen around this, he is supposed to have seen a vision in the sky and in the vision in the sky he saw the words In hoc signo vinces, which in Latin means, “By this sign,” or, “In this sign you shall conquer.” So we can ignore all of this what someone has called this monkish accretion to the truth, but he had made, it seems, a bargain with some power, some supernatural power, to join the church organization if he won his battle.
Now I guarantee you that if today such a thing were to happen everybody, let us put it this way, not everybody, but the vast majority of the Christian church would think that would be great. It would be great if the Roman Empire, if the Roman Emperor, should become a Christian that would be great. Just think of how many people would be influenced by it. The Christian church, the evangelical world, would rejoice over this. They would think that would be great. I’m not sure at all it would be great. Because look what happened in the Roman Empire when Constantine became a Christian. But actually, what happened was that the world became united with the church. The world came into the church and when the world comes into the church the church loses its power and authority. And that’s what happened. That’s one of the great dangers and perils of comporting with the world. So, the priests of the pagan temples had been paid from the coffers of the Roman Empire. But now if the emperor has become a Christian what do you do if you’re a priest of Mars, or a priest of Venus, or priest of one of those other ancient religions? What do you do? Well, you go immediately to the baptismal font and there you are baptized. You become a Christian too. So that’s what happened. And so, the priests of Mars and the priests of Venus not having been born again became the reverends and the doctors of Christianity. And the church and the world became united.
Constantine was quote “converted”. There is no evidence that he was born again. In fact, given, I must admit of course, he was a bitter fore of all true Christianity, but in his great work he says these words, “The sublime theory of the gospel made a much fainter impression on his heart than on his understanding. As he gradually advanced in the knowledge of the truth he proportionately declined in the practice of virtue.” And the same year of the reign in which he convened the council of Nice, one of the great councils of the Christian church, he was polluted by the execution, or rather murder, of his eldest son.
Now you can see what kind of a place Pergamum was, it was a place where Antipas had lost his life for the Christian faith. And incidentally he’s called the same thing that Jesus is called in chapter 1, the faithful witness. Its translated martyr here, but the word that is translated martyr and the word that is translated witness are the same word in the original text and only the context can tell us whether it’s to have the sense of witness or martyr. And here “my faithful witness” would have made just as good sense but wouldn’t it be nice to be called the same thing that our Lord is called, “the faithful witness”.
One of the striking things about the city of Pergamum is that Pergamum became the headquarters of the religion of the Babylonians, because the Mageans were driven out of Babylon and they found their way to Pergamum and there they set up shop. So, in Pergamum was the great high priest of the Babylonian religion, that’s a striking thing, isn’t it? The high priest of the Babylonian religion was called Pontifex Maximus. That’s striking itself, isn’t it? Pontifex, as you know, comes from two Latin words, one being the world for a bridge, pons, and fex coming from facio which means “to make” or “to do”. So, and Maximus is the superlative of the Latin adjective magnus, which means “great”. So that the result in Pontifex Maximus means, “the great bridge builder.” Now the reason for that term “the great bridge builder” is that it was the claim of the Babylonian high priests that they stood between God and Hell as effective leaders and directors of men. The title, as you know, has been attached now to the Pope, Pontifex Maximus, that’s the means by which it came to the Roman Church. From Babylon, through Pergamum, ultimately to Rome, and now is used of the Pope.
The letter to the church in Thyatira appears in Revelation 2:18-29. Letter describes Jesus as a purifying fire, with eyes like blazing fire and feet like burnished bronze. This description relates directly to the letter’s content, because the church at Thyatira needed to be refined and purified. In Revelation 2:19-20, Jesus had this to say: I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants (Revelation 2:19-20).
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
Unlike the church in Ephesus, the Thyatirans hadn’t lost their first love for Christ. Instead, their love had actually increased. But they tolerated the false teaching of a particular woman, whom Jesus pejoratively called “Jezebel.” Just like the infamous Queen Jezebel who appears in 1 and 2 Kings, this woman seduced people into sexual immorality and idolatry — two closely related practices among pagans in Asia Minor. Jesus warned this church to reject these false teachings and to remain faithful to him. This isn’t the actual queen Jezebel who once actually lived. This Jezebel mentioned in Revelation 2:20 was more likely a Jezebel type. She was a woman who actually was living and harming the church at Thyatira.
One cannot understand the message of the letter to Thyatira and trait of this women, if we do not understand something of the situation at Thyatira and the background of Jezebel.
Thyatira was a commercial city, a town of merchants and craftsman, which is addressed to the least important of the seven cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation [seven churches], but surely not the least interesting. Thyatira was a church that was suffering a sorcerer, conniving with a crone, and winking at a witch in her midst.
We’re not surprised then that the Laura Ashley of the day was Lydia. She was an individual of whom we read in Acts 16:14, that she was from Thyatira and that her business was the business of dye. Now, the dye was common in Thyatira was taken from some plants and also some little shellfish. One drop of which was responsible for the purple dye that was so valued by the ancients. In fact, to have one pound of this dye cost about two hundred dollars in today’s value. So one can see that it’s expensive, and Lydia was a merchant lady of some success. She was, according to the Book of Acts 16:14 she was in Philippi and carrying on her business. We read there, “And a certain woman, named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God heard us,” so Thyatira as a home, a commercial city particularly dealing with the purple dye.
Thyatira was one of the least important of these cities, no doubt about that, but in its guilds was its power, so that the commercial guilds governed the life of Thyatira. That means that anyone who lived in Thyatira was a person who was associated with the business of the city, had to be associated with the business of the city, and was faced with some particular problems because in the ancient guilds they were very much like fraternities or sororities. An individual who was in a guild, and most of the citizens no doubt was associated with them, had particular meetings in which they got together, discussed their own affairs, and generally had a pretty good time. One of the things that they did was, they began every meeting, usually, with a sacrifice. And that sacrifice was a sacrifice that was made to one of the heathen deities that they were attached to. And then, of course, even in the invitation references were made to the deities that were to be celebrated in their festivities around the tables. Generally speaking, they began with a cup of wine, but this cup of wine was poured out as a libation and an offering to the gods. So they not only had the sacrificed and the food that they ate was the food that had been sacrificed in honour of some of the gods, but even as they began their meals, there was a reference in their opening grace so to speak, to the Heathen Gods. And then, at the end of the meal, the same thing would take place. So, they were business gatherings in one sense, but in everything in their business gatherings the heathen gods were honoured. So, the problem at Thyatira was that here is a church that evidently is compromising, to some extent, the holy truth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Now, who was Jezebel? What she did in ancient times in the 9th Century? Jezebel was remembered from Sidon. Her father was a king and so she was a princess, and she was married to king Ahab. And she worshiped the Baals or a Baal god, and consequently, as you read the Old Testament, particularly 1 Kings and then even their references to her in 2 Kings, she was an individual who was an immoral person. As later on she was involved in witchcraft and whoredums. The worship of Baal included sacrificing their own children and cultic prostitution- it was a very evil religion. But, nevertheless, the primary thing that Jezebel sought to do was to erect the worship of Baal into the worship of Yahweh-GOD, so that both could be worshiped together in the same worship. In other words, to dilute the once and for all character of the God of Israel, Yahweh, and now worship the Baal along with the Lord God. So, she did not wish to eliminate, or at least she did not publicly to eliminate the worship of Yahweh-GOD, she just wanted the individuals to worship Yahweh and Baal. We live in a pluralistic society. You can worship anyone if you want to, and that’s supposed to be good, but that’s not good for a Christian. So, Baal and God. She was Ahab’s evil genius because she had evidently such control over him that this was allowed to continue.
Well, Jezebel evidently believed that one should have the worship of Baal along with the worship of Yahweh, and she did everything that she possibly could to arrange for that. You know, of course, the climactic struggle between Elijah and Jezebel [1Kings 18], and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the great struggle that took place on Mount Carmel when Elijah, by God’s unique authority, overcame the prophets and slew them and established, for a time at least, the fact that the Lord God was the Lord God. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life…” (1 Kings 19:2-3a) This is one bad woman.
Now this is Jezebel. But what did she teach? Well, she taught two satanic doctrines. One, she taught that they should commit fornication. Notice the Revelation 2:24, “But unto you I say, unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.” But in the Revelation 2:20, “That woman Jezebel, she calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and seduces my servants to commit fornication.” These doctrines are the depths of Satan.
For in the Old Testament that term ‘fornication’ is used of those who worship the demons, or worship the idols, or worship the heathen Gods, a kind of religious fornication. Now, remember in the guilds, this was frequently what happened. Those feasts degenerated into this, and then of course all over the ancient world individuals were attached to the heathen temples, and fornication was one of the ways by which you worshiped a fertility god or goddess. And so, in order to worship truly it was said that one must have fornication with some of the temple prostitutes. So evidently all of this is involved in what is happening in Thyatira.
Now the God at Thyatira was Tyrimas or Tyrimnos. He was called by both, but he was simply an incarnation of the god Apollo. So, you would receive an invitation to the guild’s festival, and it would read something like this, “Dine with us at the Temple of our Lord Tyrimnos.” Now you can see a Christian involved in the guilds would be unable to answer an invitation like that. We couldn’t come and dine with them at the table of the God Tyrimnos. No Christian could do that. But it was said, “Why not do that? After all, it’s just a form.” But no Christian, no true Christian, according to our Lord’s teaching, could do that. You cannot under any circumstances sit down at a table in which the person to be honoured is a false god. A Christian cannot do that. His testimony is blighted immediately. And so, come dine with us at the table of our Lord Tyrimnos was an invitation that no Christian could accept.
This is the first church of the seven to which the Lord does not give a commendation, does not give a word of praise. The letter to the church at Sardis follows next, in Revelation 3:1-6. Here, letter alluded to the seven manifestations of the Spirit and seven stars in Jesus’ hand to remind the church at Sardis that Jesus had all power and authority. Letter drew attention to the authority of Jesus because his evaluation of this church was so severe. As we read in Revelation 3:1-3: You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God… if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief (Revelation 3:1-3).
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
The city of Sardis had a reputation as a strong fortress, but on two occasions it had been captured by surprise. And Jesus warned that he would do something similar to the church in Sardis if they failed to repent. He would come as a thief, attacking them by surprise. But for those who remained faithful to him, Christ promised purity, vindication, and reward.
The city was a very difficult city to attack and overcome. At the center of it was a loft acropolis of about fifteen hundred feet high. The three sides of it were sheer cliff, a precipice that it was almost impossible for anyone to ascend. The southern side of the city was not of that type, but at least when one retreated into a place like that, it was very difficult to dislodge them.
Sardis lay about thirty miles to the southeast of Thyatira. It was a manufacturing city whose age of greatness lay in the past. Like city, like church. It was a church that claimed to have the truth, but the kind of life that it manifested, in one sense at least, denied its claims. In the 6th Century, before our Lord it was the greatest Persian city in Asia Minor. Croesus was the king of Sardis. Croesus was a king who had ambitions, like most kings did, and being a very wealthy man and head of a very important city, he decided that he would also reach out and try to enlarge his kingdom. And he did that by seeking to overthrow the Persian king Cyrus.
Sardis was a pagan city. Its chief religion was the worship of Cybil. But there’s no mention of external conflict with the pagans or internal struggles with a Jezebel or the Nicolaitans. It was a church that enjoyed peace and prosperity. It was a church of what we might call “easygoing evangelicals,” people who professed faith but fit very comfortably into the world.
We see that here in Revelation 3:7-13 the sixth letter to the churches of Asia. Its the letter to the church in Philadelphia. The letter Jesus is revealed as the one who holds the key of David, meaning that Jesus can open the doors of David’s kingdom to admit those he wishes, and lock the doors to keep others out. Jesus’ words to this church were positive, but they also included an implicit warning.
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
In Revelation 3:8, he gave them this assurance: I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name (Revelation 3:8). Christ had set before this church an open door, giving them an unobstructed opportunity to grow and develop spiritually. If they would take advantage of this open door, Christ would make their enemies bow down at their feet, and the Philadelphian believers would inherit the New Jerusalem. And God’s name would be written on them, meaning that they would be his forever. But by implication, if they didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, they wouldn’t receive these blessings.
Philadelphia was a relatively new city. The newest of the cities where there seven churches were located. Philadelphia was a city thirty-five miles southeast of Sardis. It was founded in the second Century before our Lord during the reign of Attalus the Second of Pergamum. Pergamum was the capital of that general area. Sir William Ramsey, who spent a lifetime doing archaeological work in Asia Minor, said of Philadelphia that it was “the center for the diffusion of Greek language and Greek letters in a peaceful land and by peaceful means.”
It was established to be a missionary center, to spread Greek language and culture to the backward highlands to the east in Asia. It was well located for doing that. It was located at the juncture of trade routes leading east to Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia. And that location helped to earn it the name “gateway to the east” and made it a place of commerce and a place of some importance and prosperity. The city was built in an interesting area geographically. It was built on a volcanic plain, and that was to its advantage because the earth was very fertile and the people there were able to grow grapes and produce a significant wine industry. But it was also a region that was subject to earthquakes. One occurred in AD 17 that leveled the city. The emperor Tiberias rebuilt it and he renamed it Neocaesarea. Later, the emperor Vespasian renamed it Flavia after the family name of that family of Caesar’s. But the old name, Philadelphia, persisted and continued to be used through all of these attempts to change it
It was a pagan city, as all seven cities were. The cult of Dionysus was the chief religion. Dionysus or Bacchus was the god of the vine and fertility, and so the rights of Bacchus, the parties that were thrown in celebration of that god often turned riotous and turned into orgies. So that was the environment which this church, this small church lived and actually thrived. Thrived in a pagan city, a very pagan environment, and yet it wasn’t the pagans that caused this church difficulty. It was the Jewish population. That’s very similar to the situation in Smyrna. Both churches were opposed by what the Lord calls a “synagogue of Satan.” In fact, the letters to these two churches are very similar. These are the only churches for which the Lord has no criticism.
Next, we find letter to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. The letter describes Jesus as the one whose words are the ultimate Amen, that is, Jesus is the ultimate trustworthy authority. The letter also describes Jesus as the faithful and true witness, and the ruler of God’s creation. This description was designed to make the Laodicean believers pay attention, because their evaluation would be very negative.
Credit & Courtesy: Our Daily Bread, Cornerstone University
Listen to what Jesus said in Revelation 3:15-16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).
Laodicea was a town that was named by the wife or for the wife of Attalus the Second, who founded the city. His wife’s name was Laodicy, and so Laodicea is derived from her name. It was a wealthy city located between the cities of Colossae and Hierapolis. Laodicea was 50 miles southeast of Philadelphia. Between it were its two sister cities, Hieropolis, six miles to the north, and Colossae 10 miles to the south. Both Colossae and Hierapolis were well known for having special water supplies. Colossae had cool waters from mountain springs; Hierapolis had hot springs. Both of these waters were thought to have healing powers. But the water in Laodicea was lukewarm, without any healing powers. Jesus drew from these physical realities to make a spiritual point: the Laodicean church was wealthy, but their wealth had taken away their spiritual strength. This church needed to repent, or Jesus would reject them.
It was located at the convergence of three important roads, so it became a center of banking and industry, and one of the richest commercial centers in the world. This was a very impressive and rich city. Much of its wealth came from the production of a specific wool that was glossy, black in color, and soft in texture. It was very popular in making clothing. The city was also the location of a major medical school that was well-known for its manufacture of ear ointment and eye salve. It was important financially because of its location, because of its wealth. And evidence of its wealth is seen in the fact that when it suffered a severe earthquake which damaged much of the city in AD 60, it was able to finance its own rebuilding without assistance from the imperial treasury. It was self-sufficient. It was materially comfortable and self-satisfied, just like the church at Sardis, which was really dead. But at Sardis, there were a few believers who were faithful, while the entire Laodicean church was completely complacent.