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Revealing Revelation - Part 3
Present Day Asia Minor
As we come to Chapter two, John is writing to the seven churches he was commanded to in chapter 1:19. This vision is divided into two main parts with the first division divided into two sub divisions. The first section deals with things that have passed, specifically the vision of Christ the high priest, and the letters to the churches. The second section deals with events yet future.
There are three applications we can apply to the letters to the churches. First there was a primary application. These letters were written to seven physical, literal churches throughout Asia Minor. The letters applied directly to the activities and happenings within each separate local church.
Secondly, the letters have personal application to each believer today. Notice the term “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” in verses 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22. Even though the message was to the church as a whole, notice that the challenge to overcome was given to the individual (2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21).
Finally, these letters are prophetic of the church age. The times of church history can be traced to and seen in each of the seven churches. R. H. Clayton writes, “It can be no mere coincidence that these Epistles do set out the salient characteristics of the church through the centuries, and no one can deny that they are presented in historical sequence.” As we begin to study the letters, keep each of these applications in mind, especially that of personal application.
The first church John writes is the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7). These letters represent “the things which are” in Chapter 1:19. John was addressing the present state although as we mentioned before there are three applications to these letters.
The Church at Ephesus
The Church at Ephesus
The “church age” can be defined as that time period of God’s dealing with His church commencing with Pentecost and ending with the rapture. This first of seven stages of the church age begins at Pentecost and ends around 100AD. Ephesus, to whom that first letter was addressed reflects the times of the apostles. It is quite likely that John did not understand prophetic meaning, nevertheless a look at church history bears it out.
This letter was addressed to the spiritually strong at Ephesus, representative of the apostolic church of the first century. Ephesus was the seacoast capital of first century Asia. Ephesus was a religious, political, and commercial center of the times. This city was home to the goddess Diana of the Ephesians. Her temple is one of the seven wonders of the world.
In each letter, Christ is described differently. Here we see Him as “He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." Here we see the stars representing His angles or messengers being held in His right hand, the place of power and authority. Christ’s true church is safe in His hand (John 10:27-30). The Ephesian church during the time of Paul’s writings placed Jesus Christ at the Head. Any church that worships its Head, Jesus Christ, is held safely in the authority and power of His right hand. The church may be small in number and size, but God will honor two or three (Matthew 18:20). The architecture may not be great, but God is interested in the living stones (I Peter 2:5).
Christ says in each of the seven letters, “I know thy works (2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). What He knew about this church was that they had zeal to work, The early church had a zeal for witnessing as evidenced by their door to door canvassing. They had a zeal for missions as evidenced by Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and many others. Jesus approved them for their steadfastness. It is mentioned in verses 2 and 3 that the church “hast patience…and hast not fainted.” This was at a time when Judaism with its legalism and ceremonial law attempted to discredit the true church. Paganism and superstition added to the mix. This was a church with real concern for the lost and worked hard to advance the church in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
They suppressed evil. Verse 2 says, “Thou canst not bear them which are evil.”
They were approved by Christ because of their spiritual discernment. “Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (2:2).
The Ephesian church took stands against wrong. “…thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” (2:6). The Nicolaitanes were a first century heretical sect. Although the exact teaching of this group is not known, we do know the term comes from two words, “nikao”, which means to conquer, and “laos” meaning the people or laity. The term seemed to have been applied to those who would divide the church into two divisions—the clergy and the laity. Today we can see that same system at work.
Christ does have one word of admonition for this church, for its people, for its time period. Verse 2:4 says “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:12 that “the love of many shall wax cold.” They were busy serving. They took stands against the wrong. They discerned true believers from false. Yet their love had cooled. No doubt there are Christians in our churches today that are busy serving God, faithful in attendance, but they no longer have their first love, that honeymoon love.
In verse 5 Christ pleads with His church to give the Holy Spirit His rightful place. When our love begins to wane, it will not be long until our spirit will begin to dry up. It is the Holy Spirit that is active in the church setting. Notice the following: Jesus said He would go away (John 14:2). He would send His Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26). The Holy Spirit will testify of Christ and glorify Him (John 15:26, 27). The Holy Spirit convicts of sin (John 16:7-11). The Holy Spirit regenerates (Titus 3:5). The Holy Spirit chooses to reside within the believer (I Corinthians 3: 16; 6:19). Notice also, that it was to the church at Ephesus that Paul wrote “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), and “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
Christ then goes on to inform the church that if they do not return to their first love, He will remove their candlestick. The church in Ephesus no longer stands today. “He that hath an ear, let him hear.”
The Church at Smyrna
The Church at Smyrna
Next we come to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11). Smyrna was located about 40 miles north of Ephesus. It was a great seaport city named after one its principle commercial products, myrrh. The Greek word “smurna” means “bitter”. Myrrh was a sticky resin with a bitter taste that was taken from a shrub.
Myrrh had many Biblical uses. It was used in perfume (Psalm 45:8). It was used as an ingredient in the anointing oil for the priests (Exodus 30:23). It was used for the purification of women (Esther 2:12). It was used in embalming (John1 9:39).
The church at Smyrna was a church of bitter suffering. Prophetically, it represented the time of church persecution under Rome which was in force in John’s day and continued to about 312 AD.
Jesus represents Himself to this church as “. . .the first and the last, which was dead and is alive (verse 8). No doubt this was the best way to introduce Himself to a hurting people. The greeting brought comfort and encouragement to those in bitter sorrow. He continues in verse 9, letting them know that He sees everything and that He recognizes their plight. He is aware of their poverty and notices their dwelling near the synagogue of satan.
Christ recognized they were in poverty. They literally suffered the loss of all things for the cause of Christ. Their possessions were taken. Their social standing was destroyed. Their ability to work was taken from them. Remember that foxes had holes and birds had nests, but Jesus did not even have a pillow. He could identify with the church of Smyrna.
In verse 9 we read, “I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan .” The word “blasphemy can mean “slander”. Keep in mind that the word “devil” means “slanderer”. He is the false accuser and slanderer of God’s children.
To His persecuted church, to those that have forsaken and sacrificed everything for Him He says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (verse 10). It is worth noting here that the word “faithful” has to do with convincing. Christ knew that this church could not overcome in its own strength. What He was telling them was to be convinced of Him. Let Him be their portion. Depend on Him. To those that did would be given a crown of life.
There are five crowns mentioned in the Bible: 1. The incorruptible crown (I Corinthians 9:25); 2. The soul-winner’s crown (Philippians 4:1; I Thessalonians 2:19); 3. The crown of righteousness (II Timothy 4:8); 4. The crown of glory (I Peter 5:4); and 5. The crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). It will be to the glory of God the crowns earned here on earth will be given back to the One who rightfully deserves them in Heaven—Jesus Christ. The suffering of the present age can not compare to all that Heaven has to offer. Our job is to be faithful unto death as we depend on Him and are convinced of Him.
The Church at Pergamum
The Church at Pergamos
The next church John wrote to was the church at Pergamos. Pergamos was the capital of Mysia in Northwest Asia Minor. The city was not known for commercialism as was Ephesus and Smyrna, but it was the headquarters of false religions. This was he home of such deities as Zeus and Aphrodite.
In verse 2:13 we are told that this is where satan’s seat (or throne) was. The throne of satan is not in hell. He is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He is a master at using false religion to lead people to hell. Pergamos was an ideal location for satan to do his work. Christ tells this church that He knows where they dwell (verse 13).
Christ encourages His church by reminding them that it is “He which hath the sharp sword with two edges (2:12). The sword, the Word of God is what cancels out false religion. Nothing else, but the divinely inspired Word of God will set the captives of false religion free.
“Thou holdest fast My name (2:13). Christ praises them for remaining true to Him in the shadow of satan’s throne. It is the name of Jesus that saves (Acts 4:12). It is to the name of Jesus that we are to pray (John 14:13, 14). It is in the name of Jesus that He meets with two or three (Matthew 18:20).
The church at Pergamos did not deny His faith. That is, they did not just have intellectual knowledge of Christ, but trusted Him completely as their Savior.
Even though much good could be said for this church, there were things that needed to be dealt with. “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication (2:14). It was not that they were guilty themselves, but that they tolerated this sin in the midst. God does not stand for anything impure. Unfortunately, because most modern churches minimize sin in their midst, the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit is inhibited.
Balaam although a prophet, had God’s word in his mouth, but satan’s covetousness in his heart. (Numbers 22-25). The New Testament supports Balaam’s greed for gain mentality in II Peter 2:15 and Jude 11.
After the death of Diocletian, Constantine and Maxentius fought to be his successor. Constantine supposedly had a vision of a cross with the inscription in Latin, in hoc signo vinces (by this sign conquer). If he won the battle he would convert to Christianity.
He did win and later he was made the head of the church (I thought Christ was the head of the church). This marrying of religion with the world is represented by the church at Pergamos.
Verse 16 gives the command from Christ to “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. Realize that this warning is not given to the unsaved, to the false religious students and teachers, but to the true believers. God will not allow spiritual adultery in His church.
The Church at Thyatira
The Church at Thyatira
Moving on, John writes next to the church at Thyatira. Jesus introduces Himself to this church as “the son of God (verse 18). This church was prophetic of the next period of church history known as the “dark ages” (600AD-1500AD). During the rise and reign of Romanism and the papacy, Jesus Christ clearly pronounces Himself as “the Son of God”. No one or religion would own that title but Him.
It was the Roman church that degraded Him and gave His glory to His mother. It was the Roman church that set man up in places of worship that belonged only to Him. Even during the time of the church at Thyatira, Christ knew that corruption was on the way.
We see that it was He “Who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire” (verse 18) that addresses the church. All things melt before the fire. All things are illuminated before the fire. All things are seen for what they really are in the presence of the piercing eyes of Jesus.
His feet are represented as fine brass. Brass is used as a symbol of judgment in Scripture. We see the serpent of brass in Numbers 21:9 that represented the judgment of our sin as it was placed on Christ. His judgment will be strong and infallible. His word will be final, and there will be no second chance. However, this is the age of grace. We must come to the Savior while there is still time.
“I know thy works, and charity (2:19). Love is the very essence of the divine nature (I John 4:8, 16). Even though much was wrong at the church, love led the list of the positive attributes of this church. Where Ephesus was losing its first love, Thyatira was gaining in love.
Christ knew their service, their ministry. The word for service means a collective service out of a true heart. The church was characterized by its love that moved them to action.
“I know thy… faith”. Here the word for faith means faithfulness and loyalty. This church was a dependable church, loyal and faithful.
“I know thy…patience”. As service grows out of love, so patience grows out of faithfulness. This church was a church that performed well under pressure. We likewise are expected to love, serve and be faithful and patient while enduring tribulation.
“I know… thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Often we may begin a task for the Lord with joyfulness and enthusiasm only to come to a standstill later. These Christians did not quit, but rather grew in their ability to work. They finished greater than they began.
In verse 20 we read, Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.”
Notice the contrast between Thyatira and Ephesus. Ephesus would not tolerate evil, but left their first love. Thyatira had an overabundance of love and tolerated evil. Realize that today there are still Christians like this that would come together under the banner of love and overlook sin. That was never intended.
There was a woman in their midst that was influencing the church to commit sin. Christ called her Jezebel. Jezebel in the Old Testament was involved in all kinds of wickedness and impurity. Likewise, so was this Jezebel. She infiltrated and corrupted the church. She brought in false doctrine as well. She considered herself a prophetess. Like Jezebel of old corrupted Israel with her false doctrine, so did this woman the church, at Thyatira.
“And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not" (verse 21). Because of her refusal to repent, Jezebel was judged. For the last 1500 years she has not changed. She will meet her doom. She will come to naught.
Finally Christ says in verse 25, “Hold fast till I come.” He reminds His children that He is coming back. That should be an incentive to continue on. In light of His return, are you continuing on?
We will begin chapter 3 next time. See you then!