Archive for the tag “Churches of Revelation”

Churches of Revelation: Part 8 – Laodicea

This city was founded by Antiochus who named it for his wife, Laodike. The city was populated with Jews and Syrians through transplanting from Babylonia. The city did not become wealthy until the Roman empire in 190 BC. The main product from this city was black wool of the sheep. It was of the finest quality in the region. They were also well known for a special powder that would be put on peoples’ eyes for healing purposes. This will be revisited when we look at Revelation 3:18 later.

In 60 AD, the city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake. Because of their wealth, they told the Romans that they did not need any of their money and the wealthy citizens rebuilt the city on their own. This, too, will be revisited when we look at Revelation 3:17 later.

While there is not much known, Colossians 1:7 gives us a couple of hints as to who planted this church. It seems as if Epaphras was the primary church planter with help from Timothy and Mark.

This is the final letter to the churches of Revelation and it is a church that literally makes Jesus sick. This church, if we really look at the churches that are upsetting to Christ, would be the worst of the worst of the book of Revelation.

By the time Revelation was written, the churches listed in this book would have been about 30 years old. I find it amazing that after 30 years, many of these churches stayed small. Today we consider growth of a church the primary litmus test for a successful church. But Revelation proves that Jesus doesn’t see it that way.

Laodicea was clearly the church with the biggest issue. Many of the commentaries I have read about this church call it the “unsaved church.”  That would mean this is a church filled with unbelievers. This is the only church out of the seven that Jesus says nothing good about anyone in the church. Even Sardis, the church we looked at a few weeks ago, even though it was a dead church, still had a remnant of believers in it. There was no remnant in Laodicea.

And what is even worse is that this church is proud.

They are proud of their unbelief.

So Jesus begins this letter to them the way He has in all the others, by introducing Himself. Beginning in verse 14, Jesus explains a few things about His nature. He starts by calling Himself “the Amen.” What does that mean?

Isaiah 65:16 – Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the one true God; whoever takes an oath in the land will swear by the one true God. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.

In Isaiah 65:16, we read that God is the God of Amen. We say “amen” at the end of prayers. We sing “amen” in our songs. We yell “amen” when the pastor says something that agrees with our beliefs on Sunday morning. But what does “amen” truly mean?

“Amen” is an affirmation. The word is used in Scripture to show a statement to be true. Very similar in the New Testament, we read the word, “verily.” “Verily” is used at the beginning of a statement to affirm its truth.

Calling Jesus the “Amen” is saying that He is unchangeable, fixed, and true. he not only affirms God’s promises, but He affirms His covenants.

2 Corinthians 1:20 – For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians explains to us that Jesus validates God’s promises. Jesus is God’s “Amen.”

Next, Jesus is the “faithful and true witness.” Not only does Jesus validate the promises and covenants of God, but whatever He says is true. Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is truth. His testimony bears to the character of God. Jesus is a faithful witness.

Third, He identifies Himself as the “Beginning of the creation of God.” While the translation is a little hard to verify, when we look at the surrounding words and go through Scripture systematically, we find that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”

Colossians 1:15 – The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

This means that Jesus is the head of all creation. If we go further in Colossians, we find that Jesus is the creator of all in the heavens and on earth.  Christ is everything God is. He is Creator. He is the Author of life. And according to our verse in Revelation 3:14, He is the source of ALL creation.

This letter follows closely with the book of Colossians. The first chapter of Colossians speaks about the centrality of Christ. Why match up with the book of Colossians in explaining this deity of Christ?

Well, Laodicea is a short few miles from Colossae. There were 3 cities grouped in that area: Laodicea, Colossae, and Hieropolis. In the book of Colossians, Paul was writing to a church that was outwardly denying the deity of Christ. This Christological heresy had attacked the deity of Christ. And it was not only in Colossae, but also Laodicea.

Colossians 4:16 – After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.

What was going on in Colossae was also happening in Laodicea. They didn’t believe Jesus was the Alpha and the Omega.  To be the Alpha meant that He is the Creator. To be the Omega meant that He is Completion. Jesus is the uncreated source of creation! But Laodicea didn’t believe that. And we have Jesus, who created all and is faithful and true witness to the Word of God and the One in whom all is brought to completion telling this church His identity.

Jesus was, for lack of a better term, offended by the lack of belief and the heresy coming from this church. They did not believe in Christ as deity. So this one verse has Christ explaining His deity to this church. And as the letter continues, having an incorrect view of Christ has significant and horrible spiritual effects.

So here we are in Laodicea, the most eastern city of the 7 in Revelation, and 45 miles from the closest Revelation church, Philadelphia. It is sister to Hieropolis, 6 miles away, and Colossae, 10 miles away. It is located in the Lycus River Valley. This area was one of the top trade routes because people didn’t travel in the mountains to do trade, they traveled in the valleys to make travel faster. And Laodicea was an intersection city. It had both an east/west and a north/south route going through it. Antiochus II founded the city in the 3rd century BC and named it for his wife. Soon after dedicating a city to her, he divorced her.

This city had a very large Jewish population, almost 4,000 males based on temple tax records. In the Talmud, the ancient Jewish commentary on the Old Testament laws, there is a line in there that explains that these Jews in Laodicea were filled with pagan views and merely cultural Jews, not practicing ones.

Some other interesting points about this city is that it had an underground aqueduct. Because the population was growing so quickly here, the streams nearby could not keep up with the water needs of the community so they built the aqueduct. They put it underground so enemies could not access it. The water was collected in a central water tower and then distributed across the city through a series of pipes.

The other interesting note about this city is its wealth. It was a banking center and so wealthy that when the earthquake hit in 60 AD and leveled the town, the people of Laodicea rebuilt the city without any help from Rome. This was a source of pride for the townspeople of Laodicea. Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote, “Laodicea rose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources with no help from us.”

Colossians 1:7-8 – just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

This is a wealthy and self-sufficient city and that attitude found its way into the church along with the Christological heresy that plagued Colossae. So soon after Epaphras founded the church, the church was filled with heresy and unbelief. It is unlikely that Paul ever went to Laodicea, but he knew some of the believers there based on how he speaks in the book of Colossians. This is a church that had spiritual life but was soon corrupted. Sardis was dead, but there were still believers there. Thyatira was compromising and idolatrous, but there was still a group of believers there. Laodicea has none of that. Jesus gives no commendation to this church.

In verse 15 Jesus tells this church, “I know your deeds.” There is no commendation after it. Only rebuke. Jesus says that this church is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. And this church makes Him so sick He is going to vomit them out! VOMIT! That is a pretty strong statement to a church!

The interesting thing about the words Jesus uses here are vast. You have Hieropolis, which is known for the healing and restorative powers of the hot springs. You have Colossae which is a very cold church. And, in the middle, you have Laodicea. The aqueducts that they built brought significantly impure water into the city that was merely tepid. It wasn’t hot enough to relax. It wasn’t cool enough to quench your thirst. It was dirty and made people sick to their stomachs. It caused people to get nauseous and vomit.

Throughout the churches in Revelation, we had churches which made him angry and churches which disappointed Him but this church made Him sick!

By verse 17, Jesus is not only calling this church sickening, but also deceived.

Revelation 3:17 – You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

Laodicea was a wealthy city. It was famous for banking. It was famous for its wool industry. It had wealth beyond measure. And this church was caught up in that, believing they needed nothing which meant they also believed they needed nothing from God.

This is the worst place for a church to be in. They know about Christ and they create a false Christ. They know about God and they create a false God. And not only have they done that, but they are confident in their view that they created.

Unfortunately this church is like many churches, denominations, and seminaries today. They are rich in wealth. They are rich in knowledge. They don’t understand that their condition is that of Laodicea’s.

God calls those churches “miserable, wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” There is nothing saving about those words. There is no hope of salvation for them. If we were to look at groups or demographics, these would be the unsaved in a church. They think they are being Christian by playing church when all they are doing is sickening Christ.

Unfortunately, there are many churches and denominations today that fit this description. And those churches are usually the most proud churches. They are proud of the political stances they have taken while ignoring the deity of Christ. They are proud of the humanist stances they have taken or the bridges they have created with the world in general when God says they are to be pitied. They have no clue what their true condition is.

Revelation 3:18-20 – I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

This is where Jesus takes the industries that are prevalent throughout Laodicea and uses them to explain what they need to do to begin to change. The city was known for banking, then begin buying gold from Jesus. The city was known for wool, then begin clothing yourself in the garments of righteousness. The city was known for its hospitals, then begin placing God’s ointment, or Scripture, on your eyes so that you can see again.

Jesus is extending grace to the hypocrite!

Isaiah 55:1 – “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

In Isaiah we learn that we are to come without money. What should it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul? All the spiritual blessings come from God and God alone. Want to be spiritually rich? Go to Jesus. Want to be clothed in righteousness? Go to Jesus. Want to see the world how God sees it? Go to Jesus.

1 Peter 1:7 – These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

True faith is more precious than gold.

After telling them to be rich in the Spirit, he tells them to be clothed in white. The word for “white” here is “leukos.” This is a dazzling or brilliant white like staring into a light bulb. This is the same robe of righteousness that is written about is Isaiah 61:10.

And then He calls them to see with the eyes of God.

This is 3-fold salvation. The gold that makes us spiritually rich after being tested by fire, the robes that cover our sinfulness with the righteousness of God, and the eye salve that lets us see how God sees.

Revelation 3:19 – Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

In verse 19 Jesus says something very interesting. Many people think that Jesus is talking to believer in the church here. But I don’t believe He is. Jesus also comes to rebuke unbelievers. In John 16 we learn that He convicts the world through the Holy Spirit. In Luke 23 we learn that Jesus loves the world and reproves and disciplines it. 2 Timothy 2:25 is used with regard to unbelievers.

God loves unbelievers.

We would not have salvation if it weren’t for His love of the unbeliever.

God is showing His tender side in this letter. Jesus is showing them love. Not the agape love that describes relationship with the love, but phileo love which is simply a divine affection.

He is calling this church to repent.

This leads to one of the most misunderstood verses in all the Bible, Revelation 3:20.

Revelation 3:20 – Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Jesus is showing His compassion and mercy.

Many Christians use this verse to say that Jesus is standing at the door of our heart and knocking. But that is not it at all.

Jesus is standing at the door of this church. The church that refuses to accept the TRUE Christ in. And Jesus is knocking. If they open the door to the church and let Him in, then He will enter. If not, well, salvation has passed.

In the other problematic churches in Revelation Jesus was still in the church, in the lives of the believers still present. In Laodicea He stands outside and is knocking to get in. In compassion Jesus is knocking. He is shut out of a church that bears His name!

How many dead churches do we see that have the mane of Christ in their title? The knocking is Jesus trying to get one believer into that church. That’s all it takes is one. If just one person let’s Christ into that church, then He will go in and dine with them.

Revelation 3:21 – To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

The promise if they choose to allow Jesus in is, I believe, one of the greatest of the seven churches. He will give them the opportunity to be seated on His throne.

This is the message to the apostate church. This is the message to those who hold knowledge higher than Christ. This is the message to those who deny Christ and the Bible. This is the message not for the true church, but the one who doesn’t believe in the deity of Christ.

Churches of Revelation: Part 7 – Philadelphia

Philadelphia was an interesting city. A little above sea level, there are cliffs behind the city that the modern Turks have named “the inkwells.” In front of the city are vineyards that the poet Virgil wrote about as having the most amazing wine.

The city itself is not very old. It was founded in 189 BC on one of the trade routes. The name “Philadelphia” comes from Attalus II because of his loyalty to his older brother Eumenes II, the king of Lydia. It also went by another name, Decapolis, as it was one of the 10 cities in that area. You can also find on money throughout the area the name “Neo-kaisaria,” which is another name that it went by as well. The name “Philadelphia” is literally translated as “brother lover” and was given because of his great love and loyalty for Attalus II’s brother.

Today the city is known as Ala-shehir, which can loosely be translated as “City of God.”

It was also known as “little Athens” because of the amount of pagan temples and their amazing architecture. The Jews also had a large synagogue in the city.

Its wealth grew as other cities ran into financial problems. Even an earthquake during the reign of Tiberius couldn’t stop this city from growing.

Even today, the city is known as a Christian town. Over one fourth of the residents are Greek Orthodox and a Greek bishop still resides in this town.

So as you can see, this town shows very little exciting history. Other than the earthquake and a brief period in history when Tamerlane took the city in 1403 and built a wall of corpses around the city, the people of Philadelphia have led fairly uneventful lives throughout history.

As with all of the churches in the book of Revelation, they were actual churches but they go beyond the actual church and represent the overall, universal church body. With Philadelphia, just like in Smyrna, we see a church that needs no warning. The church in Philadelphia is a true church.

I don’t know God is giving us a percentage to think about, but in Revelation only 2 out of 7 churches were faithful. That would mean that almost one third of the churches, if this is a direct correlation to modern churches, would be considered true and faithful.

Jesus always starts His letter to the churches by declaring who He is. And He never just comes out and says, “Yo, this is Jesus.” He always starts by giving a piece of His nature as His description. Up until this point, the way He has described Himself has fit with something that was said in chapter 1 of Revelation.

Until now.

This description that is given is significantly Hebrew in origin and very Old Testament in nature.

Habakkuk 3:3 – God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.

He begins by calling Himself “holy.” In Old Testament times, God is repeatedly referred to as the One who is holy. Throughout much of the Old Testament we see Him being called the Holy One: Isaiah 40:25, Psalm 16:10, Habakkuk 3:3 are just a few examples. He is absolutely pure. No sin. No shame.

If we were to look further into Revelation in 4:8, we see the 4 living creatures repeating something similar to Isaiah 6 by saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” This portion of His character means He is separate from sin. This means He is completely pure.

As we look into the New Testament for some clues as to what this holiness means, we find in Mark 1:23 that even the demons call Him by this. The demon says that Jesus is the “holy One of God.”

In Luke 1 we see that the angel who visited Mary upon the announcement of her pregnancy called Jesus “the holy offspring.”  In John 6, Simon Peter calls Jesus “the holy One of God.” Again in Acts 3:14, Peter tells everyone there that they chose a murderer to be released over the holy One.

Jesus, in calling Himself holy, is calling Himself God. Being holy, Jesus is separate from, and can tolerate no, sin. In 1 Peter 1:15, we see that the holy One calls us to be “holy yourselves in all behavior.” And when this holy God looks at these churches in judgment and sees Philadelphia and gives no warning, no rebuke, then this church must be living a holy lifestyle.

1 Peter 1:15 – But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;

Now does this mean that Philadelphia was perfect? That no sin at all came from that city? No, of course not. But it does mean that they were faithful in dealing with any sin as it arose.

After introducing Himself as holy, He says that He is “true.”  Throughout all of the Revelation we find the combination of holy and true many times.

Jesus is the author of truth.

In John 14:6 He calls Himself “the Truth.”

And this holy and true Jesus is looking upon the simple Philadelphia church and giving no warning shows that He is true in His judgment.

But there is a second meaning to this word “true.” The word used is “alethinos” which means genuine. This is Jesus telling, through the author John, everyone that He is the true Messiah. There is no one else.

Just imagine how much of an encouragement this must have been to this church! Here you have Jesus who calls Himself by the titles “holy and true” and He finds no fault with this church.

These verses prove that a church today can be like Philadelphia. A church today can be commended by Jesus. A church today can be a holy church.

The next description God gives to this church is the One “who holds the key of David.” Being from the Davidic line shows the messianic nature of Jesus. The key that Jesus is speaking of here is the key that would open the king’s treasure. Jesus wants to pour out His riches to this church. This shows His kingship. Isaiah 22:22 is a great representation of this.

Isaiah 22:22 – I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

The other way to look at this as well would that this key unlocks the house of David, or in other words, the kingdom. Jesus, alone, is the only One who can open the door to the kingdom of heaven. In John 14 Jesus tells us that if you are going to come to the kingdom, you can only do it through Him. And then in John 10 we see that He is the door. Now He is telling us that He holds the key. Whether this means the key to salvation or the key to the messianic kingdom, either way, Jesus holds the key.

Interestingly, in this verse, there were some Jews who were trying to bring this church down. Those same Jews would have denied Christ holding the key of David. We see this in verse 9. He calls out the “synagogue of Satan.” The fact that He used the term “synagogue” shows that this is specifically Jews who were the ones who were teaching false doctrine.

In Revelation 1:18 we see that Jesus holds the keys to “hell and death.” In this chapter He holds the key to life and heaven. Jesus alone holds those keys. Jesus alone can send a person to hell or heaven. Jesus alone can destroy or give life.

John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

But Jesus doesn’t want anyone to perish. He has come to give life. Not only give life, but to give life abundantly.

The final piece of Jesus’ description is given at the end of verse 7, what He opens no one can close and what He closes no one can open. Simply put, what Jesus does, He does. That’s it. He doesn’t go back and change His mind. Here is the omnipotence of Jesus.

But going a step further, I believe this is a call to serve for this church. Jesus is telling this church that He has placed a door before them that no one can close. I believe that He is telling them He has an opportunity for them. Yes, it can easily mean that He is opening the door of the kingdom to them, but if we follow verses 7-9, I believe it can go much deeper.

And I could be overthinking this. I sometimes do that.

But in verse 7 we see that Jesus opens doors that cannot be closed again and closes doors that cannot be opened again. In verse 8, Jesus tells this church He has placed an open door before them. In verse 9, I believe He is telling this church that they will be used for evangelizing to these Jews who are spreading false doctrine.

Revelation 3:9 – I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars–I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

Regardless of how we view the doors, the bottom line is that only Jesus can do this. No one else.

Before I speak about the church itself, I want to describe this area a little better. It was in a volcanic area that was, and is, prone to earthquakes. In 17 AD, a big one destroyed both Sardis and Philadelphia. By the time John is writing this letter in the mid-90s, the city was rebuilt.

One way to look at this is that even though the ground shook constantly in Philadelphia, the church stayed strong, stood firm, in their faith.

There is no mention of the church in Philadelphia anywhere else in Scripture. This is its only mention. We don’t know who planted the church. Again we need to look at Acts 19:10 for possible clues, but it is the only clue we have.

This church was not perfect. Humanity is not perfect and churches are made up of imperfect humans following a perfect God imperfectly. But there was nothing that this church was doing that would give them a condemnation.

So there is only commendation.

He starts off by telling them that He knows their deeds. Again, omniscience.

He tells them they have “little strength.”  You can read this over and over again and see it two different ways. I see it the second way that I will explain in a minute. The first way to look at this is that you are weak. I don’t believe that is what He is saying here because God would not give a church that has no condemnation weakness. He does not want to see this church failing.

I see this another way. The term used for power is “dunamis.” It is where we get our word “dynamite” from. So I believe He is telling this church that even though they are small, they have influence and power. They just don’t have a lot of people. I believe we can see a similar tie into Luke 12:32.

Luke 12:32 – “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Jesus told His disciples that even though they are small, He would give them the kingdom.

More than likely this group was small in number, possibly even poor based on what we know about the treatment of Christians in Asia Minor. This is a good reminder of Paul’s verses in 2 Corinthians 12:9 where he says he boasts in his weakness so that the power of Christ may be in him.

This small church had the power of the Holy Spirit.

Next, Jesus tells the church they are obedient. They have “kept My Word.” This is reminiscent of John 14:23.

John 14:23 – Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

This church kept His Word. Can you imagine what it would look like if the entire congregation did what the Bible said?

Another thing Jesus tells this church that they have is loyalty. It is interesting that the name Philadelphia came about because the king was loyal to his brother the king of Lydia. And here is a church that is also obedient to their king, Jesus.

Almost in the same breath where Jesus says this church did not deny His Name, He talks about the Jewish synagogue that was most likely persecuting and/or teaching false doctrine about them. This church stuck up for Christ.

This church was small but powerful, obedient, and loyal but He also calls them out for being patient.

A lot of things happen in the day to day life of a ministry or a church. Some people handle adversity with patience and others don’t. This church endured patiently. During the times when it wasn’t easy, this church endured. During the times when the world told them they couldn’t do it, they waited on the Lord to do it.

Matthew 10:22 tell us that we will be hated because of His Name.

Matthew 10:22 – You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

So Jesus is telling this church that they have power. They have obedience. they have loyalty. They have endured. Because of all of this, Jesus is opening up the kingdom. Others may try to close the door, but Jesus is keeping it open for them. He is also giving them this open door to pour out His blessings on them as Paul talks about in Ephesians 1:3.

Ephesians 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

And, as discussed earlier, He opened the door for them to serve. Whenever Paul used the analogy of the door it was meant for service. Look at 2 Corinthians 2:12 for example.

2 Corinthians 2:12 – Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,

Jesus isn’t just going to quiet the “synagogue of Satan,” He is going to have them bow down at the feet of this church so they know how much Jesus has loved them! Bowing down at someone’s feet was done after a battle in ancient culture. The loser would bow down in humility to the winner.

So the church of Philadelphia endured patiently, obeyed, showed power, and was loyal and because of it, Jesus is going to withhold testing from them. Jesus is saying that all future tests of faith will be withheld because they have shown themselves approved by Him. We don’t know the extent by which Jesus will spare them of the testing, but the promise itself is amazing! I believe this is an eschatological testing that He is sparing them from.

Revelation 3:10 – Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

So whatever tests, it is a future test that He is sparing them from. Next, this is a limited duration test. He calls it the “hour of testing.” Finally, this test is going to reveal character. The Greek word is “pierasmos” which is a trial. Trials are used to reveal or expose who you really are. And this is for everyone on the earth!

This is the final test that will expose all unbelievers. By this time, the true church has been spared. So this final test that Jesus is speaking of will be something that will have no believers as a part of it. Matthew 24:13 gives us insight into this as well.

Matthew 24:13 – but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

In verse 11 Jesus is telling this church to endure a little while longer. God secures us by giving us a persevering faith. And that is the encouragement He is giving to this church here. He wants them to persevere so that no one takes their “crown.”

What is this crown?

This is the crown of eternal, glorious, righteous life.

Then finally we get to verse 12 and 13. Jesus is telling this church that to those who overcome that they will become a “pillar” in the temple of God and they will have written on their spiritual skin the name of God and the holy city.

Who are the overcomers?

1 John 5:5 – Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

What does Jesus mean by “pillar?” in temples, the pillars are used to stabilize the structure. On them, in many temples, they would carve images of deities out of honor. Now, I am not sure that they would be carved into the temple structure, but it could mean that they will be given a seat of honor at the temple.

Not only that, but they will have eternal citizenship in the holy city.

For short letters to the churches they are jammed with a lot of information from throughout the entire Bible. There is one more city to go, Laodicea. And that will conclude our study on the churches of Revelation.

Churches of Revelation – Part 6: Sardis

Sardis has a very long past. Around 612 BC the Persians and Babylonians (along with other allied forces) ended the Assyrian empire. That changed the political map, making Babylon the capital of Mesopotamia and Sardis the capital of Lydia. The city was divided into two regions, a lower region, where the commoners lived, and an upper region for those with influence, power, and wealth. Herodotus, also known as the “father of history” wrote that the lower town had no wall for protection and the houses were built modestly of reeds from the river.

Sardis was a central location on the trade route between Mesopotamia and the Greek city-states. This meant that Sardis was a place with a melting pot of cultures, religions, customs, and heritages.  The relations were peaceful for quite a long time, and even the Lydian king paid for the Temple of Artemis, now one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.

In 547 BC, the Persians attacked Sardis. Without a wall surrounding the lower city, the city was split into two. The wealthy and influential retreated to the citadel at the top of the mountain while the Persians controlled the lower city. This gave the Persians time to reinforce and determine a way to infiltrate the upper city. Eventually the Persians won and they controlled Sardis for the next 200 years.

During that time, Sardis didn’t change much. But the Persians also decided to take the Ionian cities of the Greeks.  This led to the Greeks revolting against Persia in Miletus and eventually marching on Sardis and burning it to the ground.

Herodotus wrote of the conquest of Sardis in this way:

They travelled along the Cayster River, crossed over Mount Tmolus, and came to Sardis, where they captured the city without resistance from anyone whatsoever. They took control of everything except the acropolis. For Artaphernes [the brother of the Persian king, Darius I] himself defended the acropolis with a rather large force of men.

Although they had taken the city, they were unable to plunder it because most of the houses in Sardis were constructed of reeds […] and when a soldier set one of these houses on fire, the flames spread rapidly from house to house until they engulfed the entire city.

In 334 BC Sardis was surrendered to Alexander the Great. They abandoned the lower town and built a new lower town just to the north. A new theatre and stadium were built and the lower city was walled around 215 BC.

The Romans came to rule Sardis in 133 BC. It was a chief area for judicial rule. In 17 AD, it suffered a massive earthquake that affected a very large area of the region. Tactius, the Roman historian, wrote about this earthquake:

…twelve famous cities of Asia fell by an earthquake in the night, so that the destruction was all the more unforeseen and fearful. Nor were there the means of escape usual in, such a disaster, by rushing out into the open country, for there people were swallowed up by the yawning earth. Vast mountains, it is said, collapsed; what had been level ground seemed to be raised aloft, and fires blazed out amid the ruin. The calamity fell most fatally on the inhabitants of Sardis, and it attracted to them the largest share of sympathy.

Sardis was completely destroyed in 616 AD when the Persians regained control from Rome. The city was never rebuilt.

Revelation 3:1 – These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus calls this church “dead.”  Imagine the shame that the church felt when they read this letter. The end of the first verse has Jesus announcing that this church is dead. In Matthew 18:20 we are told “where 2 or 3 are gathered in My name, there am I with them.” This means that God isn’t present. The church is meant to be a celebration of life, and yet Jesus is calling this church dead.

The nature of this church is dead.

A theologian once wrote that this church was the opposite of Smyrna. “Smyrna was put to death yet lived, Sardis appeared alive yet was dead.” Think of it as a star in space. It takes many years for the light from a star very far away to get to us. That star could be completely dead already and we are still seeing the light from it as if it were alive. This is what this church was like.

While Sardis was a real city, and the angel was definitely talking to them as the subject of the letter, we need to realize that these letters go beyond the singular church to which it was addressed. This letter is written as a warning to future churches. This letter is just as relevant today as it was in the first century.

Just with the other letters, Jesus introduces Himself. In this letter He calls Himself out as the One who “has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” If we look back at chapter 1, we find the same 7 spirits. The One who has the seven spirits is the Holy Spirit. And as we have seen before, the 7 stars are the 7 messengers.

Revelation 1:4 – Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne

It is difficult to understand that 7 spirits description unless we start systematically reading through the Bible. In Isaiah 11, there are 7 distinct descriptions on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is: The Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of wisdom, Spirit of understanding, Spirit of counsel, Spirit of strength, Spirit of knowledge, and Spirit of fear. Instead of 7 distinct spirits, the Holy Spirit has a sevenfold distinction.

The reference is to the Holy Spirit.

He also describes Himself as the “One who has the seven stars.” These seven stars are the seven messengers or leaders of the church.

So Jesus is describing Himself as the One who leads His church through the power of the Holy Spirit given to leaders who follow Him. And He is telling this to Sardis because this power of the Holy Spirit is what they had given up.

A dead church does not have power. And to become dead, it cannot have leaders who are godly. It is surprising that Jesus doesn’t introduce Himself by describing a judgment like He has done in previous churches. Here He describes Himself in the form of what the church has lost.

This church was missing the Holy Spirit and godly leadership. It was filled with unbelief. It was filled with the flesh. It was led by those who do not truly believe the Gospel of Christ and Scripture.

Sardis was a rich city. And Sardis was filled with sin. The Lydian King, Croesus, lived at one point. There is a phrase that many used to say, “as rich as Croesus.” This comes from his life in Sardis.

Another interesting point about Sardis is that there was a temple to Caesar and a temple to Livia. Caesar was seen as the “son god” and Livia was seen as the “empress-mother.” This started a mother/son cult that worked its way into Roman Catholicism by turning the mother/son cult into Mary and Jesus.

Sardis, with as rich as it was, was sinful and vile. And over time, from its creation of a city to the pax romana (Roman peace), it degenerated. It broke down in it impregnability; it broke down in its wealth; and it broke down in its power through the Holy Spirit.

This is a church that has followed the pattern of history of Sardis itself.

Acts 19:10 – This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

We don’t know anything about who planted this church. The assumption is that sometime in Paul’s 3 years in Ephesus that the church was planted. The basis for this is a single verse, Acts 19:10. But one interesting person DID come FROM Sardis. Long after Revelation was written, a man by the name of Mileto, who came from Sardis, wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation. He was also one of the primaries responsible for the canon of the Old Testament as we see it today. During Mileto’s commentary, persecution is not mentioned and neither is corruption or false teachers.

But regardless of that, the church died.

The church’s reputation was strong, but it died.

One author claimed this, “The light was still shining but the star had died.”

The church was lying by claiming the life of the Holy Spirit.

Sardis was a city filled with pagan religion. As a matter of fact, just a short distance outside the city was a pagan hot springs that many believed could restore life. It is ironic that in a pagan city that is about restoring life, the church of Christ is dead. This church was well known throughout the region as being alive, but was dead.

Jesus calls out this church. He says that “you have a name that you are alive….” This means they have a reputation for being alive. Jesus tells them that He knows their deeds, which shows the omniscience of Christ. He knows all. And in knowing all, He doesn’t even commend this church on anything. He simply starts in with the condemnation!

This church was filled with people who were playing church. Their reputation was fake, superficial and a lie. Spiritually they were dead!

Ephesians 2:1 – As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins

In the New Testament, whenever we read about being spiritually dead, it is always connected with sin. Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 are great examples of that. Sin leads to deadness.

Here is a church that was thinking they were alive in Christ but actually dead in their sin! And look across America, we have countless churches that fall into that trap! There are churches like Lakewood that promote outright heresy. There are entire denominations that have accepted the world’s views and rejected Scripture. Or what about the Evangelical or Charismatic churches? How many have fallen victim to making the American flag, our soldiers or police, or a conservative political candidate the next idol? Or what about the music or order of worship? Could your focus on making a joyful noise sound beautiful actually be an idol that leads to deadness in sin? Or what about theology? Could that become your god rather than God? Orthodox, Reformed, millennial, Nisan 14, SDA and many others get caught up in their theologies that they forget the personal relationship with Christ.

I realize that the last paragraph is going to ruffle feathers, even among my own circles and even myself. But how often do we think playing church is actually the church. It isn’t. The church is the bride of Christ. Without Christ, the church is nothing but a club that is no longer alive, but dead in sin.

Revelations 3:2 – Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.

At the end of verse 2, Jesus tells this church “I have not found your deeds completed.” Their deeds, their works, are not acceptable to God! These deeds are good enough to get a good reputation among people and the community they are in, but they are ugly to God. You could give all your time to doing good throughout the world or the community, but without the life from the Holy Spirit, the deeds are dead.

There is probably a good reason this church was not facing persecution. God noticed that they were already dancing with the devil. They are sinful. They are unregenerate. They are worldly. This church has found that the world, and tools of the world, are more important and helpful for building a reputation than that of Christ.

The story of Samson in the Old Testament is analogous to Sardis. Samson was loved by Israel. He was their champion. He was deceived by Delilah and lost his power when he cut his hair. The haircut is not the issue. The issue is that he refused to obey God. The Bible says that Samson “knew not that the Lord had departed him.” He didn’t even know God had left him!

That is Sardis. Once a strong church and alive, became as Samson: weak, bind, bound in sin, and dead.

Oh how many churches are like that today!


Now the first sign of a commendation comes in verse 4.

Revelation 3:4 – Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

This means that even while this church is dead, there are a few who still hold fast to the living faith! In every church there are people who are wondering how long to stay in their dead church. The way Christ says it is that they have not “soiled their garments.” Garments have a reference to character. Jude 23 tells us to have a “garment unspotted by the flesh.” So this church has a few people who have not defiled their character with sin.

At the end of verse 4, Jesus says that those who have not soiled their garments will “walk with [Him] in white for they are worthy.”  This is a church that had people who are not worthy of God throughout it. But the few in there refused to allow themselves to get caught up in their unworthiness. The “white” that Jesus speaks of in this verse is holiness and purity.

If you look through Scripture, these white robes are reserved for only a select few: Christ Himself (Matthew 17:2), unfallen angels (Matthew 28 and Revelation 15:6), the 2 angels at Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:10, and the glorified church in Revelation 19:8. These are the garments of pure holiness.

So who is Jesus telling this commendation to? He is telling it those who are still alive in that church. There is no use in talking to the dead! So He is giving these alive believers 5 commands to revive this dead church.

The first of the five commands is in verse 2: “Wake up!”

This means that those who are maintaining their holiness and purity cannot be silent. They cannot wait for things to get better. They can’t expect the church to come back to life on its own. These believers must be asleep. So Jesus wants these believers to wake up and start the revitalization of the church under the power of the Holy Spirit, not the power of their reputation.

Second, these believers are to “strengthen what remains.” Jesus is telling this group of believers that whatever spiritual values remain. This is the only church in town. These believers cannot go anywhere else. Unfortunately here in America, we have options. Too many options. But it could be that God isn’t calling us to leave those dead churches but instead to stay and strengthen what is there.

In verse 3 Jesus is telling these believers the third command, to “remember what you have received and heard.”  What have the churches received and heard? This goes back to the Gospel and the Epistles. The church has received Scripture. They have received truth. Paul tells believers to guard the treasure they have received in 1 Timothy. Jesus is calling for this church to hold on to the truth and pass it on to others in the church.

1 Timothy 1:18-19 – I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

The fourth command is to hold on to it. Jesus is telling these believers to obey Him. Obey what is written in Scripture. He does not want them to be distracted by the world or by their flesh.

The final command is to “Repent!”  Turn away from your sin of sleeping and, with sorrow and remorse, obey what Jesus is commanding.

So what will happen if these believers do not wake up this dead church? Jesus says He will come “like a thief in the night.” In other places throughout the Bible, when Jesus talks about a thief, He is talking about the thief doing harm to someone. I believe that this means that if this church does not have a revival, then Jesus will come and do what a thief does, destroy this church.

I believe this is a warning to all churches having the same issues. Jesus will be coming back and the dead churches will be destroyed.  But what do you think will happen to the believers in those churches if there is no revival in them? Hebrews 10 is a pretty stark reminder.

Hebrews 10:29 – How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

But what happens to those who overcome? Not only will they be dressed in white, as discussed earlier, but they will never have “their name blotted out of the book of life.”

Now this can get confusing. You might be wondering if God will remove their salvation. Short answer is no. But you might be asking me if that goes against Exodus 32:33.

Exodus 32:33 – The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.

The important difference between Revelation 3 and Exodus 32 is that we are talking about very different things. Exodus 32 is not talking about the book of life. He is talking about, in Exodus, removing those who have sinned against Him from the world, ending their lives on this planet. God has taken lives, but He does not remove those who are redeemed from their salvation. You may lose your life because of your sin, but you will never lose your salvation if you are redeemed.

In the first century, the king always kept a record of those in his city. If you committed a crime or died, your name was erased. Looking at this from a Revelation 3 standpoint, it is as if God is saying to them that their sin can erase them from the local book, they could lose their life, but He will never erase them from HIS book of LIFE.

God is encouraging those who are not the corpses in this church.

To recap in as short of way possible, Sardis is dead. They are focusing on the wrong things. They lost the power of the Holy Spirit, even though their reputation among the people was one of spirituality and compassion. But there was a group in this church who has not accepted the wrong teaching. He wants this remnant to revive this dead church. If they don’t, they risk strict judgment, but they are saved, written in the Book of Life.

I know this was a long post. I apologize for that. But this segment has a message that is so important for every church today. Only 2 more churches to look at. Next week, the church of Philadelphia.

Churches of Revelation: Part 5 – Thyatira

The last few weeks we have looked at 3 of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation. The first 3 churches that we examined were on the coast. As we move into the next 4 cities, we’ll start looking at those cities that are inland. The first of these inland cities is Thyatira.

Until around 300 BC, Thyatira was a small and insignificant town. It wasn’t on any major trade routes at the time. It was on one of the lesser roads between Sardis and Pergamum. It eventually became a commercial center, but never a really large city like the previous 3 we looked at.

In this city were two major temples to pagan gods. The first was Tyrimnos. They held games in his honor and his likeness was upon their money. The other deity worshiped there was Sambethe, who some regard as the idol of the Jezebel in Revelation 2:20.

This city was well known for their trade guilds. If you have ever played one of those fantasy RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons then you know about trade guilds. As a matter of fact, I believe that the guilds of Thyatira are what many of these games base their view of guilds. And Thyatira did guilds right! They were more organized than in any other ancient city. Every artisan belonged to a guild and every guild owned its own property and wrote its own contracts. The guilds in Thyatira had more influence than all other guilds in the ancient world.

The two guilds that were the most powerful in this city were the coppersmiths and the dyers. The dyers created a new type of dye that was known only to this city and was highly sought after.  The dyers created a new of that dye is called Turkish Red. In Acts 16:14 we hear of Lydia of Thyatira who sold her dyes in Philippi.

Many of the guilds were associated with Asiatic pagan religions, and therefore, opposed to Christianity. That didn’t stop people like Paul from preaching in Thyatira. Acts 19:10 tells us that inhabitants all over Asia heard the Gospel message associated with Paul. It was taught very early in Christianity that guilds were off limits to Christians because of the pagan practices. Remember this as we analyze the verses around this tiny church in a pagan city.

Revelation 2:18-19 – “Write to the angel of the church in Thyatira: “The Son of God, the One whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like fine bronze, says:  I know your works—your love, faithfulness, service, and endurance. Your last works are greater than the first.

To begin, Jesus immediately calls Himself the Son of God. Many claim Jesus never said He was the Son of God, but here is just one of many places where this is clear. He makes it very clear that His eyes are like “blazing fire.” These are eyes that can burn the false appearance of people. His feet are like “burnished bronze” which can trample evil. Both of these qualities are going to be needed here as this is the most corrupt of the 7 churches in Revelation.

But, Fred, if you read the first few verses about this church, they are doing a lot of great things! How can you tell me they are the most corrupt?

You would be right in saying that there is a lot in this church that is good. Love, faith, service, and perseverance are all good deeds that they are doing. And God even says they are doing more than they first were! Love produces service. Faith produces perseverance. And they are growing in all of it. This church had faith in God and they helped people significantly.

If we were there at Thyatira we would have seen a church that is busy about doing God’s business. They were helping people in the community. They were loving each other. They were persevering in a pagan society. And they had a strong faith.

But there is something below the surface; something that many people aren’t seeing. So God needs to point this out to them. This church, on the outside, looks like the most Christian church of the ones we have studied. But deep down they are the most corrupt of the churches!

Revelation 2:20-23 –  But I have this against you: You tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and deceives My slaves to commit sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I will throw her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her practices.  I will kill her children with the plague.  Then all the churches will know that I am the One who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

It is about “Jezebel.”

Now Jezebel is most likely not her real name. Jesus is calling this person Jezebel because she was the most evil woman in the Old Testament. The Revelation Jezebel is a leader in the church in Thyatira. She is someone the people are listening to.

In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab of Israel and daughter of the king of Sidon, a town in modern day Lebanon. Jezebel was the reason Israel worshiped Baal. As the fertility god, worship of Baal involved many immoral sexual practices. She spread the worship of Baal among the 10 tribes of Israel with her 800 prophets. She is responsible for trying to kill Elijah after his Mt. Carmel encounter with over half of the Baal prophets. Elijah faced over 400 prophets of Baal with strong courage, but when Jezebel got involved, he ran away. Jezebel in the Old Testament had a neighbor murdered because of coveting his vineyard.

She was immoral.

She was ruthless.

Her life ended when she was thrown from the palace window. After she landed, the dogs came and ate her body and licked up the blood.

The Jezebel in Thyatira was known as a prophetess. She was a leader in the church. Many women were Christian prophetesses. In the book of Acts, for example, Philip’s 4 daughters were all prophetesses. Unfortunately, Jezebel was not spirit-filled. She was a false prophet. She was teaching that it was ok to engage in sexual immorality.

Looking back at the guilds for a moment, these guilds ran almost all of the business throughout the city. In order for Christians to find jobs, they had to join a union, which was forbidden because of their sexual orgies, immorality, and pagan worship.

The Christians had to make a choice.

Jezebel was teaching that it was ok to indulge in the same practices that these guilds were engaging in. She was telling Christians that they should go along with what the world was teaching, God would understand.

This is something Christians today deal with a lot. Many businesses, and I have been affected by this myself, require people to conform to their practices in order to stay employed. I can imagine this same argument happening in Thyatira.

I can just hear Jezebel now, “You need to work. God will understand. You should just do what you need to do in order to join the guilds.”

What about today’s churches?

Many tell us to just accept what the world is teaching in order for us to live at peace with the world. Have you heard the arguments? “The church should change its views on homosexuality.” “The church should be more open to people who have different sexual views.”

If the church begins to compromise biblical standards, then that church’s testimony goes away. There is nothing to set it apart from the rest of the world. So when someone realizes that their life needs a change and they go to a church that has compromised, the only thing that church can provide is more of the same which that person is coming from. That person will not find healing or the truth or the love of God. They will find the same “love” the world has provided. They will find a “truth” not found in the gospel, which is a lie. They will find only death of the spirit, not life.

How does God respond?

He holds the CHURCH accountable.

Yes, it was Jezebel that was leading them astray, but it was the CHURCH that allowed it!

In the previous church, Pergamum, and Thyatira, there is a definite link between both sexual immorality and idolatry. Sexual immorality is clearly spoken against in the Bible. When we engage in it, we go against the authority of God. This leads to God not being the God of their life. This means that the person needs to find another god to fill the void, something else to live for. That is what a god is. It is something that we live for. In this case, it is the god of sexual immorality. But it could very easily be the god of wealth or the god of power or ambition. These gods don’t come in immediately and make themselves known. They take over as time goes on.

Dr. Earl Palmer says it best, “the most subtle challenge to faith does not usually originate in the public amphitheaters but in the daily places where we earn the money we need to live.”

This is what was happening in Thyatira.

And look at the punishment Jesus will give. It happens to three different groups. The first is to Jezebel. Jesus, in some ways sarcastically says, “I will cast her on a bed of suffering.” If Jezebel likes her beds, God is going to give her that. But this bed will be filled with suffering. The next group affected is those who commit adultery with her. He says that they will suffer with great affliction. With sexual immorality there are plenty of ways to suffer with great affliction. Sexually transmitted diseases are just one way, but even beyond that, sexual immorality leads to broken hearts, and those are even a greater affliction than a mere disease. The final group that is affected is those are Jezebel’s children. Those are the ones who not only practice Jezebel’s teaching, but teach it as well. The verse says “I will strike her children dead.” The death that Jesus is talking about spiritual death, the death listed in chapters 20-21 in Revelation. This is the commitment to evil that makes it difficult to repent of sin.

But there is good news. Jesus gives them the opportunity to repent! But if they don’t repent, then those groups will be affected and Jesus says the churches will “know that I am the One who examines hearts and minds….”

Revelation 2:24 –  I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who haven’t known the deep things of Satan—as they say—I do not put any other burden on you.

Jesus says some pretty awesome things in Revelation 2:24. For the first time in the letters to the churches, Jesus mentions his coming. But also in this, we see that he mentions that there are those who are seeking the “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” When a church begins to move away from Scripture, we find that pagan ritual begins to enter in. People love to feel that they know some deep seeded secret that others do not.

And there are many churches today that have interwoven new age practices or even worldly movements into the church. These are movements that say if you don’t understand their version of the gospel, even when it doesn’t fully line up to Scripture, then you cannot be a member of the Christian community.

Revelation 2:26-27 – The one who is victorious and keeps My works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations— and he will shepherd them with an iron scepter; he will shatter them like pottery—just as I have received this from My Father.

But God knows there are those who have not listened to Jezebel and to them He tells them to simply hold on until He comes. To add to this, He quotes Psalm 2. This reference is to the millennial kingdom. This quote of Psalm 2 talks about Jesus ruling with an iron scepter and dashing them to pieces like pottery. It cannot be the new heavens and new earth because nothing evil can get in there. The millennial kingdom is the time when the saints share reign with Christ. Righteousness will reign. But in the new heaven and new earth, righteousness will dwell. Evil cannot be present with righteousness.

Revelation 2:28 – I will also give him the morning star.

Ending this section about Thyatira, Jesus tells us those who persevere without compromising will be given the morning star. In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi says that the “Sun of Righteousness will arise.” He will be like the sun rising. Then in Revelation 22:16 Jesus calls Himself “I am the bright and morning star.”

So what this is telling us is that Jesus is going to present Himself to those who love Him before He comes in power and glory. This is a promise of the rapture of the church. He will appear for the true Christ-followers. Now don’t get me wrong, these Christ-followers still fall from time to time. But they repent and get back up. Those who have a true faith will repent.

In closing, Jesus tells us to hear what He has to say about the all the churches. So far we have the following:

  • Ephesus – Don’t lose your first love
  • Smyrna – Don’t fear persecution
  • Pergamum – Trust the Word and stay faithful
  • Thyatira – Avoid sexual immorality and idolatry

All of these messages are just as important today as they were in the first century.


This is a message that the church drastically needs.

The Churches of Revelation: Part 3 – Smyrna

Revelation 1:20 – The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Smyrna was a large city on the coast that reached 30 miles inland. Originally, the Lelages lived there until, in 1100 BC it was taken by the Aeolian Greeks. In 688 BC it passed to the Ionian Greeks. It was again taken in 627 BC by the Lydians.

In around 300 BC, the city was abandoned and rebuilt by Alexander the Great. It was moved southwest of the previous city and surrounded by a wall. It became one of the main roads to the interior of the area and a top-notch trading center. It also became the top port for exporting. During the Roman rule, Smyrna was considered the most beautiful city in Asia Minor, rilvaling Pergamos and Ephesus. The streets were all paved and the schools of science and medicine were the best around. They had a theatre that could seat 20,000.

In 23 AD a temple was built to Tiberius and his mother, Julia. It was connected to the temples to Zeus and Cybele. It was one of the most ornate temples in all of Asia Minor.

Smyrna became a Christian city very early in the first century. The bishop of the church in Smyrna was Polycarp, one of the original church fathers. He was also the first post-New Testament martyring. He was discipled by John and appointed as bishop by some of the original apostles. He was uneducated and direct. He took on the Gnostic leader, Marcion, calling him the “first born of Satan.”  His only existing writing is a pastoral letter to the church in Philippi. Polycarp fled to an estate outside the city when he was 86 and when the Roman soldiers came knocking on his door, he knew what they were there for. He simply said to them, “God’s will be done.” At that, he let the soldiers in and they took him without a struggle.

When he was placed onto the pyre to be burned, the Roman soldiers would typically nail the person to the wood to prevent him from jumping out of the fire. He simply said, “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” The fire was lit and consumed his flesh and he never flinched. The Roman who chronicled the burning said of the moment that his flesh was “not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”

Revelation 2:9a –  I know your affliction

As we begin to dig into Revelation 2:8-11, Jesus lays out another quality of a church that we will come to know. The first quality was shown in Ephesus, love for one another. This second quality is suffering. The Bible is very clear that we will suffer for our faith. Some will be persecuted unto death and others will see a more mental or emotional suffering instead of physical.

James tells us that tribulation has a perfecting work. Peter says that after you have suffered for a while, the Lord will make you perfect. Paul told the Thessalonians that their suffering has produced endurance, perseverance, and hope.

The church in Smyrna was a church that suffered.

James 1:2-4 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The letters in Revelation are to actual churches, but they also show examples of churches through history, because churches will encounter suffering. This means that these 3 verses give us instruction, as the church, on how to deal with persecution.

Smyrna is about 40 miles north of Ephesus. This is one of 2 churches that do not get condemnation. Jesus does not discuss the sin in the church of Smyrna. There is no mention of punishment.

Based on what we read throughout the New Testament in James, Peter, and Thessalonians, we see what suffering brings. It brings perfection. One can only assume that the sin in this church has been purged through the suffering which they have gone or will go through.

During this writing, Domitian was the Caesar. He was a murderous dictator who launched a massive persecution against the church of Christ. And because of the persecution that Smyrna undergoes, they have become pure.

Hypocrites do not hang around when persecution occurs. False Christians won’t sacrifice and go through the pain. Persecution destroys false faith but strengthens true faith.

According to the book of Acts, the ministry that was happening in Ephesus during the first few years after Jesus’ resurrection led to a Great Awakening of sorts to the cities surrounding Ephesus but we don’t know who planted the church in Smyrna.

Acts 19:10 – And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord.

Smyrna had a very close relationship with Caesar. Since Caesar was to be worshiped as a god, being a Christian in a city with a close relationship with Caesar was a dangerous act. Some historians says that there were mass executions of Christians in Smyrna.

Another interesting note is that the name “Smyrna” means “myrrh” in Greek and we know what the importance of myrrh is. It started as a perfume in the New Testament which then became associated with Jesus’ death.  It becomes the picture of suffering for this church. In order for myrrh to create its beautiful smell, it needed to be crushed. God allowed Satan to crush this church in order for them to yield the sweet faith that comes from suffering.

But one interesting thing about this city is that, even though it was seen as the most beautiful city in Asia Minor, the architects forgot drains. So when rains came, the streets would literally flood with raw sewage. So the beautiful smell of myrrh was not the daily smell in Smyrna.  It goes to show the underlying problems of a sinful city, it can look beautiful on the outside but be ugly on the inside. Whereas the church was ugly to look at, crushed from persecution, but was pure on the inside.

As we look at those who were persecuting, verse 9 says that it was those who “say they are Jews but are not.”  So these are physical, or cultural Jews, but not practicing Jews. Romans 2:28 says that “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, he is Jew who is one inwardly.” The Christians in Smyrna were being persecuted by those who claimed to be Jews. They would run to the Roman proconsul and have them arrested, jailed, beaten, and killed.

Revelation 2:9 – I know your affliction and poverty, yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

Next, in verse 9, this was a poor church. There are 2 Greek words for poor. The first is penea, which means you are not wealthy. You have only enough to satisfy your basic needs. Jesus didn’t use this word. He used ptochos. This word means you have nothing at all. Complete destitution. Because of their poverty, many of them must have been slaves.

But Jesus doesn’t end there. He says that this church is rich spiritually. When you look at the churches in the world that are growing at fast rates, they are not the American or European churches. They are the churches in Syria, Iraq, and other countries that have persecution among Christians.

When we get to verse 10, Jesus tells this church that things are only going to get worse for them. Satan is going to jail some of them. And then it gets worse. He says that some will even be put to death.

But what do they receive for going through all of this?

The crown of life.

This is not a physical crown like you would get in a Miss America contest. This is life. This is eternal life in Christ Jesus. But it is even more. It is a full life filled with spiritual satisfaction in this life.

So we see that a persecuted church is one which shows a purity that Jesus commends. I pray we in the Western church get the opportunity to experience that kind of purity. It would mean our churches would shrink and our lives would not be much to the world, but to see a faith grow as Smyrna’s did would fulfill my bucket list.

Revelation 2:10 – Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Next week we will look at the next city, Pergamum.

The Churches of Revelation: Part 2 – Ephesus

Out of the seven churches in the Revelation, Ephesus makes the most sense. Prior to Christ’s birth, Ephesus went back and forth between being controlled by the Romans and the Bergamian kings. By 4 AD, Ephesus was known for its wealth and luxury. During Augustus’ rule, the population reached 225,000 and the city became the capital of the region. The city continued to thrive after becoming a port city on the Caystros river.

It was a major city in early Christianity. While John planted the church in Ephesus, it was Paul who put it on the map.  When Paul chose this city on his missionary journeys, the city gained in prestige to Christians. Paul worked to evangelize the Ephesians who were worshiping Artemis. The elderly of the city did not accept him, but, over time, Christianity took roots with the youth, who turned it into a major religion in the city. There are also some experts that place the Virgin Mary in Ephesus around 42 AD to settle down for the rest of her life. There is currently a shared Catholic/Muslim holy site that points out her house at the top of Bulbul mountain.

By 1307 Ephesus lost its significance as their port closed and other port cities rose.

The people of Ephesus had both Greek and Roman influence. Ephesians used both sundials and water clocks to be able to tell time. Owning one of those showed a person’s wealth. Typically people woke at sunrise, although the Roman influence with the festivals added a little more color. The Greek population had boys going to school and women most likely not while the Romans sent both boys and girls to school.

Ephesus had a temple dedicated to their goddess, Artemis. Every day there would be animal sacrifices to Artemis. In most Greek cities, Artemis was worshiped as a secondary deity, but in Asia Minor, she was a primary deity. In most Greek cities she is worshiped for her hunting abilities, but in Ephesus, she was worshiped solely for her fertility. This could be a sign of the Roman influence.

John planted the Ephesian church. The disciples believed the larger cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, and Laodicea would help Christianity spread. It is believed that John and Mary traveled together to Ephesus after Jesus entrusted her to John. Around 42 AD, John established the Ephesian church. When Paul came during his missionary journey, he took over the church until he was beheaded outside Rome in 64 AD. At that point, John took the church over again. John died in Ephesus.

During Paul’s journey to Ephesus, he stayed in the city for about three and half years. Under Paul’s leadership, the church in Ephesus became the head church in Asia Minor. The city was filled with magicians, pagans, and a government that was not friendly to Christians. Even with all of that, Ephesus became the third most important city in all of Christendom behind Jerusalem and Antioch. After three and half years, the statue makers, led by Demetrius, who made a living selling silver statues of Artemis, were upset and performed acts of civil disobedience. The city ran Paul out of Ephesus where he went to Macedonia.

So what does Revelation tell us about Ephesus?

The first chapter of Revelation explains that the book was written BY Him FOR Him. This entire book is written to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Each of the seven churches has unique strengths and weaknesses and there is a distinct message to each. The problems addressed in each of the churches are problems that have happened in the church throughout history. This is shown that it is the case when the Lord wants us to make sure we hear what He has to say.

Revelation 2:7 – “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.

There are multiple ways to analyze Revelation. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Preterist – The book was fulfilled in the early church. This would mean that the events have already occurred. The thing that is positive about this approach is that it is interpreted in relation to the historical significance in which it was written. Unfortunately, this view diminishes the prophetic nature of the book and turns it simply into a history book.
  • Futurist – This means that the book only deals with end times. If we look at this as an extreme dispensationalist, we would say that these churches are not the churches of the historical day they were in, but only of a future church and can only be applied to churches today. This makes all of chapters 4-22 of Revelation only prophecy and does not include history into it.
  • Continuous Historical – This is the view that says that Revelation is history of the world from the apostolic age until the end of times. While this does see the book as part of history, it opens the interpretation up to subjective views. Most people who fall into this group will view the book of Revelation in light of current events.
  • Idealist – The idealist sees no historical value in the book, but only a symbolic triumph of good over evil.

I am going to try and look at the historical context of the churches and then analyze them in light of future prophecy.

This means that it is appropriate that Ephesus is addressed first. As seen above, it was an amazing city!

Paul’s first visit was short (Acts 18:19-21) and then Apollos also ministered there (Acts 18:24-28). Paul returned and Christianity flourished throughout the city. Because of the passion that the church had to the gospel, the message spread to the region. To this, Demetrius took offense and had Paul removed from the city.

Paul did pass by Ephesus later because he wanted to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. He called for the Ephesian leaders to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:16). He explained to them the danger about him returning to Jerusalem.  Paul warned the elders that wolves would come among them and drive people away from the church.

Later, when Paul was writing Timothy, he asked him to stay in Ephesus to deal with those who were teaching false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3-7).  He focused on the qualities of church leadership with Timothy as those who were leading were driving people away from the church.

1 Timothy 1:3-7 –  As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

As we know John lived in Ephesus in his later years of life, John was instructed to write to the angel of the church in Ephesus. There are a lot of different theories about who the “angel” is that is being admonished, but regardless, the topic is the church at Ephesus.

In opening with the verse that explains Jesus as the One who holds the 7 stars and walks among the 7 lampstands, He shows that He walks among His churches. He is in fellowship with them. He is involved in them.

Jesus points out the good and the bad to the church in Ephesus. He points out that the church in Ephesus cannot tolerate wicked people and that they have persevered. They work hard and have good deeds. They have found the false prophets. They have endured and have not gotten tired of persevering.


Jesus tells us that they have forgotten their first love; the love of God and the love of people.

Revelation 2:4 – But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.

How many times have you gone to your church, sat there, and pointed out all the things that are good and bad in your church? Many times we allow our feelings to guide us in what we like and don’t like. Do you like the music? Then it must be a good church. Do you dislike the lack of small groups? It must be a bad church. But that isn’t the case.

I believe God is telling us, by pointing out so many positive points in this, and the other churches, and only a limited number of negative points, that there is really only a few critical things when it comes to being a church community.

In Ephesus, one of those points is remembering your love of God and people.

What does Jesus mean by “your first love?”

It must mean that they had previously had a love that they have left behind. It is easy to say that the primary love they had left behind was for both God and people. And that is partially right.

But I believe that the love Jesus is referring to in this passage is primarily for the people of the church and community.


First, In Ephesians 4:15-5:2, Paul tells the Ephesians to love one another. The context is an emphasis on the relationship between the community of believers.  Second, in Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul praised the church for their love of one another. Third, in Scripture, we are told that in the last days the love that will be lost is the love for one another (Matthew 24:9-12).

Matthew 24:9-12 – “Then they will hand you over for persecution,and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.

The Ephesian church worked very hard to maintain their doctrinal purity but in doing so, they have passively neglected the love for one another. I could do a word study here that would show the passive nature of the neglect the Ephesians had for brotherly love, but I will leave that for more others who are more well versed with original language.

The consequence for the church continuing to neglect their love of one another would be for the Lord to remove their lampstand. The lampstand is the church’s ability to function as a testimony to the world. Just as Christians are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), the church is a lampstand.  Removing the lampstand could mean that the church’s ability to witness is lost. Please note that this Scripture has absolutely nothing to do with losing your salvation. It is simply the testimony of the church in the world that would be lost.

This is shown in John 13:34-35 when Jesus says:

John 13:34-35 – “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Christian’s love for one another is a very powerful witness to the presence and power of Christ. If that is taken away, then our power to witness and evangelize is hurt.

The way the church in Ephesus, and consequently the church today, can fix this issue is through the 3 R’s:

  • Remember

Through passive neglect they had forgotten to love one another.  They are called to remember when they had that love.

  • Repent

This goes beyond just grieving. This is a genuine change of heart and mind that results in a change in behavior and overall lifestyle.

  • Renewed Response

Begin to put love into practice once again.

The Ephesian church shows a problem that is common for every church and every Christian. We allow Satan to take advantage of our strengths thereby turning them into weaknesses. The truth of doctrine is important, but doctrine can never be the end in itself. Truth and love should never be separated. Truth needs to be proclaimed in love.

Ephesians 4:15 – But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.

And love must be proclaimed with truth.

Philippians 1:9-10 – And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,

We need to remember the church in Ephesus and maintain doctrinal purity, but not at the expense of love.

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