Revelation of the Churches

Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

IX. THE CHURCH AT LAODICEA.

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY OF LAODICEA.

Rev 3:14-22. The lukewarm, self satisfied church. The word Laodicea means, ‘the right’ or ‘opinion of the laity’, being a combination of the word ‘people’ or ‘laity’ (Greek ‘laos’) and ‘opinion’ (Greek ‘dicea’). At the time of the letter:

a) Physical aspects of the city. It was founded in about 250 BC by Antiochus of Syria and was named after his wife Laodice.

* Situation.Laodiceawas about 40 miles fromPhiladelphia. There were three major cities clustered in the fertile valley of the river Lycus –Hierapolis,LaodiceaandColossae. Its importance was due entirely to its position at the junction of three very important trade routes, the most important being that which ran fromEphesustoSyria, which was considered the most important road inAsia. The water for the city was piped fromhot springsat Hieropolis, about six miles away and as a result it was lukewarm by the time it reached the town.

* Prosperity. Pliny called it, ‘a most distinguished city’. It had amassed considerable wealth and was renowned for its prosperity, being known not only as one of the largest, but also as the wealthiest city ofPhrygia. Infact so opulent were its citizens, that when the earthquake of AD 61 devastated the whole region, the city was promptly rebuilt without any appeal to the Roman Senate for the customary subsidy. It was renowned for three things – banking and exchanging money, a linen and wool industry, producing cloth and carpets (particularly from the glossy black wool of sheep reared in the area) and its medical school, together with its medicines (especially an eye ointment from a powder produced in Phrygia).

b) Spiritual aspects of the city. There was a very wealthy Jewish community. The church was established probably by Epaphras (Col 4:12-13), but by the time of this letter, it was not what it was! It is mentioned again in the Epistle to the Colossians (2:1, 4:15-16), although it is unlikely that Paul ever actually visited the city.

2. THE LETTER.

a) v14. Description of Christ – “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write. These things says”:

* “The Amen”. II Cor 1:19-20. This is used as a title for Christ and means, ‘so be it’. Jesus said of Himself, “I am …the truth” (Jn 14:6). He is the God of truth and the guarantor of all His promises.

* “The Faithful and True Witness”. Rev 19:11. In 1:5 we read, “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness”. He is not only the Son of God, but also the Son of Man, who witnessed what it was like to live as a man in a fallen world. He was tempted yet never sinned (Heb 4:15) and as a result will be qualified one day to be the Judge of all who have believed (Rom 14:10) and not believed (Jn 5:22).

* “The Beginning of the creation of God”. Col 1:15-16. He is the very source and cause of creation, for in Jn 1:3 we read, “All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made”

b) Commendation. It is by far the sternest of the seven letters and contains no praise.

c) v15-17. Criticism. We read of no heretical teachings or persecutions, but rather of a lukewarmness to the Author of the letter. There are three areas of fierce denunciation from the One who knows their “works”:

* Their spiritual lukewarmness (v15). “That you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish that you were either cold or hot”. Prov 6:9-11. The Greek word used for “cold” is ‘icy cold’ and that used for “hot” means ‘boiling hot’. Jesus Christ would prefer us to boil or to freeze, rather than we should simmer down into a tasteless tepidity. This is a church which professes Christianity, yet compromises with the world and as a result resembles the surrounding society.

* His rejection (v16). “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit (NIV “spit”) you out of My mouth”. Heb 3:12-19. Cold springs are refreshing, hot mineral springs are medicinal, but the lukewarm is nauseating. For the church at Ephesus He threatened to remove the lampstand (2:5) unless they repent, but this condemnation for the church atLaodicea was far greater. To be lukewarm is to be blind to one’s true spiritual condition, for the tepid person is often one in whom there is a glaring contrast between what he says and thinks he is on the one hand, to what he really is on the other. This is indeed a terrible judgment by the Risen Lord.

* Their spiritual poverty (v17). “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked”. I Jn 2:15-17. Their faith was in their riches rather than in God. Their fatal disease was that they were deceived by the god of this world and their own pride, being spiritually poor despite their banks, spiritually blind despite their eye ointments and spiritually naked, despite their clothing factories.

d) v18. An exhortation. Enthusiasm is an essential part of Christianity and Christ warmly approves of it, even if the church may sometimes disapprove! They considered themselves wealthy and self sufficient, but they must rather humbly find their full sufficiency in Christ alone. This act of repentance would not only deal with their pride, but also lead to a sacrifice of their many material possessions, which up to now had ruled their lives. A great cost was called for – “I counsel you to buy from Me:

* True riches. “Gold refined in the fire that you may be rich”. Mal 3:2-3. Their security rested not in God, but rather in the riches and values of this world and as a result the church was convinced of its own wealth, but blind to its own poverty. Worldly wealth can be a great blessing, when rightly used, but it can also become an idol to the covetous. It cannot buy spiritual riches, which only come through Christ at a cost to ourselves. Paul wrote, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Tim 6:10) and in I Pet 1:7 we read, “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Christ”. True spiritual wealth comes from giving to others (Mt 6:19-21), whether it is our time, giftings or finances.

* True covering. “And white garments that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed”. Rev 19:7-8. To the church at Sardis He wrote, “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:4-5). The people of Laodicea prided themselves on the magnificent woolen garments they produced, but spiritually the church was naked. They were used to the black woollens, but these “white garments” (which speak of righteousness) were to hide “the shame” of their “nakedness”. That which is seen of man on the outside can never compensate for that which God sees within. It is interesting to note that the white garments in Revelation were linen (19:8, 14), rather than wool, which was disallowed for the priests under Old Testament law (Lev 16:4. 19:19). Also in the ancient world to be stripped naked was the worst of humiliations (Isa 20:4), but to be especially clothed by someone in fine raiment was the greatest of honours (Esth 6:6-11).

* True sight. “And anoint your eyes with eye salve that you may see”. Ps 36:9. Their eye ointments might bring respite for those with bad eyes, but spiritual sight could only come through Christ. R. C. Trench wrote, ‘The beginning of all true change is to see ourselves as we really are’ and to do this, the church at Laodicea must receive revelation of their true spiritual state. To see Him in His holiness and ourselves in our sin is the first step to salvation. The Psalmist wrote, “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (119:18).

The call from the heart of Jesus was that they should no longer trust in their bank accounts, their clothing factories and their eye powders. Let them rather come to Him, who would willingly enrich their poverty, clothe their nakedness and heal their blindness. He can enrich them with a truly abundant life, cover their sins and shame and open their eyes to perceive a spiritual world, of which they had never dreamed. If they would only respond to His call!

e) v19. A warning. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous (NIV “Be earnest”) and repent”. Heb 12:5-11. This word used for “rebuke” (Greek ‘elegcho’) means ‘to convict, convince, tell a fault’ and describes a rebuke that compels a man to see not only the error of his ways, but also to admit that he is wrong. It is not so much a punishment, but rather an illumination, which results in a changed life. Paul wrote, “when we are judged we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (I Cor 11:32). The greatest danger is to be left alone and to carry on as we have been doing (Hos 4:17). Gold needs to be refined in the fire for the impurities to be extracted (v18), thus God deals with those He loves. R. C. Trench wrote, ‘It is the crushed grape and not the untouched, from which the costly liquor is distilled’. The discipline of God is not something we should resent, but rather something for which we should be very thankful. Earnestness and repentance precede the opening of the door of the heart.

f) v20. An invitation. In Holman Hunt’s famous picture of Christ standing at the door, ‘The Light of the world’, the only handle is on the inside of the door and must be opened by the occupant. For the door of opportunity to be opened, which was granted to the church atPhiladelphia (3:8), the church atLaodicea must first open to Him, so that He might be Lord of all. Also for the individual believer, he needs to open his heart’s door to receive Him, not only as Saviour, but also as Lord and Friend. This is an invitation:

* From Christ on the outside. “Behold I stand at the door and knock”. Song of Sol 5:2-8. Here is a picture of a loving God searching for sinful men. The excluded Christ, the One who threatens to vomit the lukewarm out of His mouth (v16), stands at the door, waiting to be invited back into the hearts of those whom He has purchased with His own blood. He was “despised and rejected” by His people the Jews (Isa 53:3), who refused to receive Him as Messiah. He now calls to His own people (both Jew and Gentile), those who have already believed and received the gift of salvation, but who have become lukewarm in their relationship with Him.

* To those on the inside. “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door”. Lk 12:35-37. This may be seen as the door of the individual heart (“if anyone”) and also as the door of the church. Christ simply knocks, He does not break in, rather action is needed by those who hear, for they must open the door of their hearts to the One who is calling to them. We can see from the account in Lk 24:13-35, that the two disciples who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus discovered that He did not force His Presence upon them, but rather waited for an invitation. He desires an entry into every aspect of our lives, no room may be left locked to Him. He must not only be our Saviour, but also the Master of our house, but we must first not only be willing for this to happen, but also to act in faith by inviting Him in (Jms 2:20).

* To fellowship. “I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me”. Col 1:27. The promise is a shared meal, which is an expression of fellowship. The word for “dine” (Greek ‘deipneo’) is of great significance. The people at that time had three meals in the day. Firstly a breakfast (Greek ‘akratisma’), which was no more than a piece of dried bread dipped in wine. Secondly the midday meal (Greek ‘ariston’), when a person did not go home but simply had a picnic snack taken at work or at the side of the road. Thirdly the evening meal (Greek ‘deipnon’), which was the main meal of the day, in which people lingered and talked after the days work was done. It was an unlimited and an unhurried fellowship and this was the meal Christ was referring to. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

g) v21-22. A promise to the one who listens and overcomes. “I will grant (NIV “give the right”) to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne”. Eph 1:15-23. 2:4-7. The church, which receives the most damning condemnation and the sternest warning, is offered the greatest promise – to share the glory, authority and privilege of the ascended Christ! Many believe that this is the greatest of the promises given by the Lord of the church in these seven letters. As the world becomes darker before the return of Christ, so the true church shines brighter. As the devil and his followers try to bring about their evil schemes, so the true church wages war in heavenly places, not in their own strength but in Christ. As evil rises, so the true church remains as a preservative of salt, until she is taken by the Bridegroom on His return.

3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE.

a) Physical and spiritual aspects of the city today. The calcium deposits at Hieropolis are still visible, as they were to the Laodiceans in John’s day. A traveller wrote, ‘nothing can exceed the desolation and melancholy appearance of the site of Laodicea’. Archbishop Trench wrote (19th Century), ‘All has perished now. He who removed the candlestick ofEphesus has rejectedLaodicea out of His mouth. The fragments of aqueducts and theatres, spread over a vast extent of country, tell of the former magnificence of the city, but of this once famous church, nothing survives.’

b) Church time periods since the first century.

* It represents the church period from 1905 to the time of the rapture. There are two aspects of the church at the end of the age, one being of revival (Rev 7:9-14) and the other of liberalism and apostacy (Mt 24:11-12). In 1905 a Pentecostal revival (with the accompanying baptism in the Holy Spirit, with signs following), started in Asuza Street(America) and spread to Wales, then to England, then to the whole world. We see today this on going move of the Holy Spirit in most continents (possibly apart from much of Europe and the Middle East). Gaining momentum, it will reap a mighty harvest of souls before the return of Christ and is referred to in the Bible as the, “latter rain” (Jms 5:7-8). Together with this a false, humanistic, liberal gospel has crept into the church, which denies many fundamental truths of Scripture. The result of this is the false or harlot church’, which is very evident today, being headed up by the Worldwide Council of Churches. Those whom He vomits out of His mouth (v16) may refer to this present day harlot church’ and also in part to the greater evil – the coming church of the Antichrist (Rev 17:4-6). This abomination rises as part of his kingdom and will come into full prominence under the leadership of the False Prophet (Rev 13:11-15), after the rapture of the true church – those who have been “zealous to repent” (v19).

* Different types of churches since the letter and today. II Cor 6:17-18. This letter describes vividly a ‘church of the people’s rights’, the respectable, sentimental, nominal, skin deep religiosity, which has become widespread in part of the worldwide church. A turning away (apostacy) from the truth of His Word has led to the acceptance of practicing homosexuals in its priesthood, a rejection of God’s covenants with Israel, an acceptance of other faiths being also a way to God and a watered down gospel of works, rather than of repentance. The true church, however, will by His grace continue to proclaim in the power and love of the Holy Spirit, the wonderful truths of His Word.

* Individual Christians today. Phil 3:7-11. God’s view of a nominal Christian, one who is not wholeheartedly committed to Him and His Word, is that he is both morally and spiritually a naked and blind beggar. He is a beggar, because he has nothing with which to purchase his forgiveness or entry into the Kingdomof God. He is naked, because he has no clothes of righteousness to make him acceptable to stand before God. He is blind, because he has no idea either of his spiritual poverty or of his spiritual danger. The root cause of halfheartedness is complacency, the opposite being a zealousness and passion for God, which qualities are desperately needed today. The final line of this letter (and all the letters) is a trumpet call to all Christians that would call Him Lord, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. Those who respond will indeed be seated (as promised) with Christ on His throne (v21), with all of His grace and authority to be victorious in this last great battle at the end of this age.

A question to ponder. The church at Laodicea was blind to their spiritual lukewarmness, but they were given an opportunity to repent. Are we blind to our own spiritual state and if so, do we choose to take that same opportunity to repent.

                                

Revelation to Churches

Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

VIII. THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA.

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA.

Rev 3:7-13. The faithful, loving church. The word ‘Philadelphia’ means ‘brotherly love’ and comes from a combination of the word ‘love’ (Greek ‘phileo’) and ‘brother’ (Greek ‘adelphos’). At the time of the letter:

a) Physical aspects of the city. It was about 28 miles fromSardis and similarly was situated in the fertilevalley ofLydia. Founded by Eumenes, king ofPergamum, in the 2nd Century BC, it was named after his brother, Attalus Philadelphus, who intended that it spread the Hellenistic (Greek) way of life. Because of its strategic position, with a major trade route running through, it was called the ‘Gateway to the East’. Its prosperity was not only based on trade, but also on the vineyards that flourished in the vicinity. It was subject to frequent earthquakes and tremors and likeSardis, it was very severely damaged by a massive earthquake in AD 17, which destroyed most of the city. (The historian, Strabo, described it as, ‘a city full of earthquakes’.) It was rebuilt through Imperial subsidy by Emperor Tiberius and soon after its name was changed to Neocaesarea (the ‘New City of Caesar’). Later under Emperor Vespasian, it’s name was changed to Flavia (the family name of the Emperor). By the time of this letter, they had reverted to the original name ofPhiladelphia.

b) Spiritual aspects of the city. The city ofPhiladelphia was remarkable for its number of religious festivals and its many temples, dedicated to a great variety of gods. As a grape growing area, it was a centre for the worship of the god of wine, ‘Dionysios’. Openings for the spread of the gospel were many and great in theRoman Empire at that time. The ‘Roman Peace’ (‘Pax Romana’) permitted Christian evangelists to go about their business with comparative freedom, speaking the common Greek language, travelling on the fine Roman roads and using the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Old Testament.Philadelphia was ideally placed to take advantage of this present freedom, being a centre of Greek culture and on a major Roman road, which united them with other great cities. There was, however, persecution for the Christians, particularly from the large Jewish community and the city is associated with the Christian martyr Ignatius. It is not mentioned in the new Testament, apart from this letter.

2. THE LETTER.

a) v7. Description of Christ“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write”. There are four aspects mentioned. “These things says”:

* “He who is holy”. Isa 6:3-7. Peter spoke to the people and priests in Solomon’s porch, “you have denied the Holy One and the Just and asked for a murderer to be granted to you” (Acts 3:14), but the author of Hebrews wrote to the believers, “Pursue …holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (12:14). The saints at Philadelphia could only become holy by being sanctified through faith by, “He who is holy” (Heb 2:11). Jesus, “The Holy One” could say to His disciples, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The Spotless One is the writer of this letter.

* “He who is true”. I Jn 5:20. The word for “true” (Greek ‘alethinos’) means ‘real’ or ‘genuine’, as opposed to shadowy or unreal. When confronted with Christ, we are confronted with no image of truth, but with the Truth itself, no imitation of life, but with the Life itself (Jn 14:6), no imitation of God, but with God Himself (Jn 1:1).

* “He who has the key of David”. Mt 28:18. In Rev 1:18 we read of the Risen Lord, “I have the keys of hades and of death”. We see that the only one who is worthy to open the seals of future events is the, “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:1-7). He has the right keys for each situation and all authority is His to use them as He so wishes.

* “He who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens.” Isa 22:20-23. Eliakim was the chief steward of king Hezekiah and would have carried the heavy palace keys, with the responsibility and authority of opening the door into the presence of the king. Eliakim is a type of Christ, for all power belongs to Him and He has the authority to open and close doors of opportunity, as He so wishes.

b) v8-10. Commendation. The church at Philadelphia received unqualified commendation, from Him who “knows” their “works”:

* An opportunity. The One who has the key to open any door wrote, “See, I have set before you an open door and no one can shut it” (v8). Eph 2:10. This is a guaranteed door of opportunity for those who have already responded to His voice, by opening the door of their hearts to the One who knocks (v20). For the church at Philadelphia, it could point to a door of salvation (Mt 7:13-14), a door of revival and evangelistic outreach (Col 4:3), a door of service (I Cor 16:9) or a door of translation (Rev 4:1). No person or angel can close the door, for only He is the One “who opens and no one shuts and shuts and no one opens” (v7). The opportunity of blessing for those with faith to go through the “open door” is guaranteed, but for this blessing to become reality, they must put their faith into action (Jms 2:17).

* Three areas of faithfulness. “For you have”: Firstly, “a little strength. Secondly, “have kept My word”. Thirdly, “and have not denied My Name” (v8). II Cor 12:9-10. Perhaps these encouraging words were given to His faithful disciples, in the light of a recent time of persecution. God often chooses, “the foolish things of this world to put to shame the wise” and “the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty … and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His Presence” (I Cor 1:27-29). The church may have thought that they had “little strength”, because they were few in number or comprised of the poorer people, with little influence in the city. However, He saw that they were obedient to His Word and faithful to His Name. This was a great commendation from the Lord of the church.

* A public acclamation. “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet and to know that I have loved you” (v9). Rom 8:28. As with the church atSmyrna, they suffered great opposition from some of the local Jewish population, who claimed that theKingdom ofGod belonged only to them (Rev 2:9), but in this case the Lord of the Church in His mercy would soften their hearts and lead them to repentance.

* A promise. “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (v10). Jn 17:6, 11-12, 15. This wonderful promise to those who persevere in their faith could possibly refer to the coming persecution of the church, to be inflicted by 10 Emperors (until Emperor Constantine) or more probably to the Great Tribulation, which will come at the end of the age (Mt 24:21-22).

c) Criticism. Similar to the church atSmyrna, there was none.

d) v11. A hope, an exhortation and a warning.

* A hope. “Behold, I am coming quickly”. Mt 24:42-44. To the church at Ephesus He warned, “I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent(2:5) and to the church at Pergamos, Repent, or else I will come to you quickly” (2:16). It is interesting that unlike these two churches, He did not warn the believers at Philadelphia to repent, perhaps because He gave them no criticism, as they were already living in an attitude of repentance. Of special significance is that some of His last words at the end of the Bible (Rev 22:7, 12, 20) were, “Behold I am coming quickly”. His coming could refer to a future time of spiritual revival or to His sudden return for His bride at the end of the age, both being of great hope and encouragement to His disciples.

* An exhortation. “Hold fast what you have”. Heb 10:23. They needed to persevere in the faith. To the church at Thyatira Christ wrote, “hold fast what you have till I come” (2:25) and to the church at Sardis, “hold fast and repent” (v3). Paul also warned the saints at Thessalonica, “Test all things, hold fast what is good” (I Thess 5:21). They must not allow complacency to take root after these commendations from their Lord (v8-10), but rather to continue in their love and zeal for Him.

* A warning. “That no one may take your crown”. II Tim 4:6-8. A crown could be symbolic of authority or as a reward to be given by Christ to His faithful disciples, when He returns. To the church at Smyrna the Lord wrote, “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). The church atPhiladelphia, however, already have their crown, so there could be the possibility of them losing it. The congregation may have been small, weak and under pressure (v8), but the Lord promises them that if they hold on to what they have, they will continue to be blessed. There are many examples in the Bible of those whose blessings were lost, due to their own failings and as a result were given to others by God – Esau to Jacob (Gen 27:36), Saul to David (I Sam 16:1, 13), Judas to Matthias (Acts 1:24-26) and the Jews to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11).

f) v12-13. Promises to the one who listens and overcomes. These are:

* His Grace. “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God”. Eph 2:19-22. Pillars were erected to honour the Roman emperors and generals. Also as a reward for service to God, a pillar was sometimes erected in the synagogue in which they had served, with the priest’s name inscribed on it. This practice was symbolic not of a pillar to support the Temple, but rather a monument to the grace of God. “James, Cephas and John who seemed to be pillars” (Gal 2:9) were an example of great men of God, who by His grace were a strength to the church at that time, so in like manner by His grace are the overcomers at Philadelphia to the church universal.

* His Presence. “And He shall go out no more”. Heb 13:5. This promise for those who are His, is that they will remain His for eternity. Paul wrote of the rapture of His church, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (His dead saints) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord”, he continues “Therefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thess 4:17-18). What a comfort to the church at Philadelphia and the church in the 21st Century that we will be united with Him now and for eternity.

* His Names. In the Bible names have great significance and are sometimes changed, in order to emphasize a change of character or calling. There are three aspects in v12: Firstly – a seal of approval from their God (Rev 14:1), “I will write on him the Name of My God”. Secondly – a part in the Bride of Christ (Rev 21:9-11), “and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God”. Thirdly – a new name for a new life as a child of God (Acts 13:9), “And I will write on him My new name”. Rev 14:1. To the overcomers at Pergamos He wrote, “I will give him a white stone and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it” (2:17). These blessings may have been particularly encouraging for this beleaguered company of Christians at Philadelphia, whose city’s name had been changed several times and whose present name was given in remembrance of its heathen founder. They would also have been very aware that a slave often had the initials of his master’s name branded onto him, thus denoting the ownership of their master, but the “new name” which Christ would give them would denote a different, loving, eternal relationship.

3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE.

a) Events since the letter. In later yearsPhiladelphia came to be very important, being for centuries a free Greek city and was the last bastion of Asian Christianity. They continued to withstand the onslaught of the Islamic Turks, when many other towns had succumbed and it was only in the fourteenth century that it too fell.

b) Physical aspects of the city today. The site is now occupied by the town ofAlasehir inTurkey. Little remains of the original city.

c) Church time periods since the first century.

* It represents the church period from 1750 to1905 AD. This was a time of a great recovery of spiritual truths and power, when many Christians left various sects and joined together in love and Biblical truth. During this period the doors opened for many new Christian movements, amongst which were the Quakers, Methodists and the Salvation Army. Also such men as George Whitefield, Charles Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and Charles Spurgeon shookAmericaandEuropewith their revival preaching. It was also a time of opened doors for spiritual revival and a great evangelistic and missionary expansion, when the love of God through Christ was spread by His church throughout the world. As a result many great missionary movements commenced their work during this time in Africa,India,ChinaandSouth East Asia.

* Different types of churches since the letter and today. Mk 16:15-18. The priority for any church down through the ages is firstly to love God and then to receive from Him His grace to love others by the means of service and witness (Mt 22:36-40). He will open the necessary doors to allow His church to accomplish this. “I have set before you” (v8) is in the past tense and denotes the open door of opportunity for witness, which came with the ‘Great Commission’ given by Jesus and is as relevant today as it was for the church at the time of this letter. How important it is for churches to express their love for Christ by being faithful to His Great Commission and not to give way to a social gospel. Somebody said, ‘the church that does not evangelise will fossilize’.

* Individual Christians today. Rom 12:10-13. Love for Him (expressed through devotion and faithfulness) must be paramount and only out of this relationship comes service for Him, not the other way around. After entering the door of salvation and coming into the understanding of His great love for us, how we need to express our love by passing through the door of service and witness. Mark Pearce said, ‘unless a man’s faith saves him out of selfishness into service, it will certainly never save him out of hell into heaven’. Apart from a specific call for ministry and service, there is also a general call to each person in the body of Christ in every generation – an open door for prayer, giving and evangelism. John Wesley told his co-workers; ‘You have nothing to do but save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. It is not your business to preach so many times and to take care of this or that society, but to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance and with all your power to build them up in that holiness, without which they cannot see the Lord.’

A question to ponder. Christ gave to His church at Philadelphia a great promise of an open door of service and evangelism, if they continued in faith. Is that promise and condition still relevant for us today?

                                

Revelation of Churches

Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

VI. THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA.

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY OF THYATIRA.

Rev 2:18-29. Thyatira means ‘sacrificing untiringly’. It is the compromising and adulterous church, but also very involved in good works. At the time of the letter:

a) Physical aspects of the city. A less important and smaller city than the previous three, it was situated about 40 miles from Pergamos and occupied an important position in a low lying corridor connecting the Hermus and Caicus valleys. It was an important centre for industry, having a commercial rather than a political distinction. While Pergamos was notable for its civic offices and innumerable temples, with their priests and civil servants, Thyatira was a prosperous trading centre with many merchants and craftsmen, being famous for woolen goods and a ‘royal purple dye’.Lydia, a wealthy dealer in purple cloth and a founder member of the Philippian church (Acts 16:14), came from Thyatira. Inscriptions uncovered by archaeologists provide evidence of many trade guilds, which included – wool and linen, clothiers, workers in leather, dyers, tanners, potters, bakers, workers in bronze and slave dealers.

b) Spiritual aspects of the city. It possessed a large temple, presided over by a female oracle called the ‘Sambathe’. This renowned fortune teller would gather very large crowds to hear her pronouncements. It was a city which sponsored frequent idolatrous feasts and orgies, often related to the trade guilds, each one of which had its own patron deity. There was, however, no great outward persecution of Christians in Thyatira. Apart from the reference toLydia in Acts 16:14, the city is not mentioned in the New Testament.

2. THE LETTER.

This is the longest of the seven letters.

a) v18. Description of Christ – “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write”. Isa 6:5. There are three aspects, concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, as the writer of this letter:

* His authority. “These things says the Son of God”. In the previous chapter He is described as, “One like the Son of Man” (v13), completing the picture of His deity. He alone is Lord of His church.

* His knowledge. “Who has eyes like a flame of fire”. Again we see this same description of Him in 1:14. It signifies His piercing insight into every aspect of His church and of all humanity, stripping away the disguises and masks, seeing the motivation for every thought, word and deed, whether sinful or righteous. He alone knows all about His church.

* His stance. “And His feet like fine brass”. Similarly this description is seen in the previous chapter (v15). It signifies that He acts with perfect strength and steadiness. He alone is immovable in His devotion for His church.

b) v19. Commendation. There are two aspects of praise:

* Their faithfulness. “I know your works, love, service, faith and your patience”. Jms 2:20, 26. The church at Thyatira rivalledEphesus in busy Christian service (2:2-3). They were very active in serving their Lord.

* Their conscientiousness. “And as for your works, the last are more than the first”. Gal 6:9. As their relationship with Jesus became stronger, so did the outward manifestation of that love for Him increase proportionately through their works.

c) v20-21. Criticism. The church is not troubled by the outward attack of Emperor worship or militant paganism. However, holiness was not included amongst its qualities, for it was tolerating a cult of idolatry and immorality, under the influence of a person who was described as a Jezebel. There are two aspects of His criticism:

* A false prophetess is permitted in their midst. “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols” (v20). I Thess 4:3-8. The original Jezebel was a foreign princess, who was married to Ahab (King of Israel) and who worshiped Baal, the pagan fertility god which was central to Canaanite religion. She had most of God’s prophets killed, but Elijah escaped, eventually to challenge and defeat the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (I Kings Ch 18). In the church at Thyatira a prophetess was claiming divine inspiration and was advocating a dangerous compromise with the prevailing non Christian culture. She was permitted to encourage spiritual infidelity, “to teach and seduce My servants”. There were two aspects to this seduction: Firstly, “to commit sexual immorality” and secondly, “to eat things sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). We read in Eph 5:3, “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints”. Paul also wrote to the church at Corinth, “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons” (I Cor 10:20), therefore behind the idols were demonic forces of darkness. There are similarities with this seductress and the church at Pergamos, which had there, “those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality” (v14).

* A reluctance of the false prophetess to repent. “And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality and she did not repent” (v21). I Jn 1:5-10. The leader of this false cult was most likely confronted by the eldership, giving her an opportunity to repent. The Lord is often so gracious, when dealing with His people. Her followers, however, seemed to have either a very poor conscience or a very feeble courage – they were as weak and spineless towards the new Jezebel, as king Ahab had been towards the old.

Meetings of the trade guilds would have included a common meal, dedicated to a pagan god and frequently ending in drunkenness and debauchery. Jezebel was a real woman, but the name is symbolic (as other Old Testament names such as Balaam,Sodom,BabylonandJerusalem). Although she may not have wished to destroy the church, she had as dangerous and as wicked an influence at Thyatira as Ahab’s wife had on the people ofIsrael. The trade guilds had similar characteristics, they all had common meals which often took place in a temple or a private home and which would begin and end with a formal sacrifice to the particular god. It was customary for Romans to worship several gods, thinking there was something in all religions and therefore they felt it prudent to keep their options open. Every Roman home had its ‘lararium’, which was a little household shrine, in which were little figures of the guardian gods of the household. This meat, which had been offered to these idols, would later be eaten by the participants. Added to this, the communal meals were often times of drunken revelry and very slack morality. The threat was not from outside, but rather from those in the church, who were questioning why they were sacrificing business advancement, by refusing membership of the trade guilds. Such people would wish to compromise with the world’s standards in the interest of business and commercial prosperity, arguing that they were so protected by the Holy Spirit, that sharing in the feasts would not be harmful. Also not being part of one of the commercial guilds would mean that it would be practically impossible to remain in business. Thus they argued by taking part in these communal meals, they would save themselves a lot of trouble and be more likely to influence and win the heathen to Christ. A. W. Tozer wrote, ‘Of all forms of deception self deception is the most deadly and of all deceived persons, the self deceived are the least likely to discover the fraud’.

d) v22-23. A warning. Ephesus could not bear evil, self styled apostles (2:2), yet lacked love (2:4), which was unlike Thyatira which had love, but tolerated an evil, self styled prophetess. There are several aspects to His warning:

* His knowledge. “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (v23). Jer 17:10. Perhaps some in the church were not aware of what was happening, but the Lord of the church knew (v18) and after His Judgment on this cult, “all the churches shall know” (v23). In Ps 7:9 we read, “the righteous God tests the hearts and minds”. Jesus is fully aware of all their innermost thoughts.

* His wrath. “And I will give to each one according to your works” (v23), “unless they repent of their deeds” (v22). II Cor 5:10. There are three areas of righteous judgment. Firstly, “Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed” (v22). This must refer to the false prophetess. Secondly, “And those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation” (v24). Referring to those who join her in preaching a false gospel. Thirdly, “I will kill her children with death” (v23). “Her children” must refer to those who succumb to their false teaching and have been influenced by her evil charms. This is an awesome warning of judgment on all those actively involved in this heretical teaching, “unless they repent of their deeds” (v22).

e) v24-25. Encouragement and Exhortation.

* He encourages the faithful, “Now to you I say and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden” (v24). I Cor 10:13. His love and protection surrounds all those who would put Him first in their lives. The Gnostics (a prominent cultish movement at that time), believed that in order to fully experience God’s grace and salvation, one must enter into the depths of sin and become acquainted with all kinds of evil. They called these the ‘depths of God’, but in this letter these so called ‘deep secrets’ are called, “the depths of Satan”. Behind the charms and enticements of Jezebel and her false teaching was a powerful force of darkness (Eph 6:12).

* He exhorts the faithful, “But hold fast what you have till I come” (v25). Eph 6:13-18. This speaks of a determination and a resolve not to be enticed by the spiritual opposition, but rather to continue in His grace. To the church at Philadelphia He wrote, “Hold fast what you have that no one may take your crown” (3:11). Paul exhorted the church at Corinth with the words, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). “Till I come” may refer to His coming in a time of Spiritual revival or to His coming to receive His Bride.

f) v26-29. Promise to the one who listens and overcomes. The condition to the one who, “overcomes and keeps My works until the end”, is that “to him I will give”:

* “Power over the nations”. I Cor 6:2. This could possibly point to a great missionary call to spread the Gospel to the end of the world. To those in this small congregation, in an unimportant town, the Lord might also be promising that those who have learned to be faithful to Him and have ruled their own passions on earth will share with Christ in His victory on His return to rule on earth, as we see in His reference to Ps 2:8-9, “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels”. He continues in v27, “as I also have received from My Father”. This could point to the same delegated authority, which is given to Him by His Father and which will be given to His faithful followers by Christ Himself.

* “The morning star”. II Pet 1:19. To those who, “do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan” (v24), He “will give him the morning star”, referring to Jesus Himself. We read in Rev 22:16, “I Jesus have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star”, followed by His last words in the Bible, “Surely I come quickly” (v20). It is interesting that the first light to be seen in the evening and the last light in the morning is Venus, perhaps this also points to the overcomers being spiritually aware, concerning the present times and the signs of His return.

3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE.

a) Physical aspects of the city today. Little remains.

b) Church time periods since the first century.

* It represents the church period from 590 to 1517 AD, which is historically the Dark Ages, when Roman Catholicism ruled. Thyatira, meaning ‘sacrificing untiringly’ fits well with this period of church history, with the instigation of the special priesthood, selling of indulgencies and idol worship. The false prophetess at Thyatira tried to lead the church astray into wrong doctrines and to idols, again very similar to the Roman Catholic church. Jezebel (King Ahab’s wife) killed the prophets. In a similar way as a result of the Inquisition, many faithful Christians who dared to follow Christ in simplicity were put to death, often in the most horrific ways.

* Different types of churches since the letter and today. I Tim 4:1-3. Christ’s words, “till I come” and “until the end” (v25-26) make it clear that His messages, warnings and promises apply also to all churches until the end. It is possible for a church to be crowded, because its people come to be entertained, instead of instructed and to be soothed and petted, instead of to be challenged and confronted with sin and the offer of salvation. How important it is for the leadership not to stray from the teachings of Christ and His Apostles, given to us in His Word.

* Individual Christians today. Heb 13:4. The temptations, which threatened the Christians at Thyatira, face many of us today – social drinking, company dinners, stag nights and business trips, when immoral activities can often be regarded as perks of the job. Older Christians may tolerate TV programmes with a smutty inuendo, foul language or explicit sex scenes, which they would have written letters of protest about only a few years ago! Scientific advances have excelled in the past decades, giving us all access to programmes on Television and the Internet, which can bring both good or evil voices and images into our homes, some of which previous generations could not imagine. In every age the Christian is called to live IN the world without becoming OF the world! Personal holiness is not a matter of rules and regulations, but of the mind and heart (v23). Our idols may no longer be an image of a person or a god, but that which comes between us and God – such as our car, television, computer, mobile telephone, job, investments and even our family. Satan is very deceitful and will use any means to distract and divert God’s people from the best. We need to be very aware of his tactics and of the need for righteousness in sexual and other areas. We must also reject all teachers, who put their own words above Biblical revelation and who state that God accepts within the church any who habitually commit acts of immorality and participate in the evil pleasures of the world.

A question to ponder: Some in the church at Thyatira were being beguiled by sexual immorality and had compromised with the world’s standards to gain financially. Are we being beguiled today?

                             

Revelation of Seven Churches

                                       

Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

VII. THE CHURCH AT SARDIS.

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY OF SARDIS.

Rev 3:1-6. The name Sardis means, ‘those escaping’. The outwardly alive, but spiritually dead church. At the time of the letter:

a) Physical aspects of the city. Thirty miles from Thyatira, the city ofSardis had been the capital of the ancientkingdom ofLydia and had been one of the greatest and most luxuriant cities in the world. The wealth of its last king, Croesus, was legendary until the city fell to the swift attack of the Persian conqueror, Cyrus. They created the earliest known system of coinage from gold panned from nearby streams. The Acropolis, built on a spur of the mountain, was seemingly impregnable, but twice in the city’s history its defenders had been taken unawares by enemy soldiers, who had scaled the precipice by night and found the city undefended. In AD 17Sardis was irreparably damaged by an earthquake, but through the generosity of Emperor Tiberius, it was rebuilt, but never regained its former glory. By the time of this letter the once great citadel (Acropolis) was now only an ancient monument, looking down over the city. It had been famous for its wealth, but was now a city in terminal decline!

b) Spiritual aspects of the city. The original temple of Artemis dated from the 5th Century BC and an Ionic (Greek) temple was built in the 3rd Century BC. According to Herodotus, the inhabitants had over the course of many years acquired a reputation for lax moral standards and even open licentiousness. Apart from this letter,Sardis is not mentioned in the New Testament.

2. THE LETTER.

a) v1. Description of Christ – “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write”. “These things says He who has”:

* All knowledge. “The seven spirits of God.” Isa 11:2. In Rev 1:4 we read, “Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne”. With Christ there is always, “grace and peace”. In 4:5 the “seven Spirits of God” are also mentioned as being close to the throne of God and in 5:6 we read, “And I looked and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth”. He is ever aware of all that is happening, especially within His church.

* All authority. “The seven stars”. Eph 1:22-23. We see Jesus as the One who held in His, “right hand seven stars”, which are “the angels of the seven churches” (1:16, 20). We read in Col 1:18, “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first born from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence”. The church does not belong to man or angel, but to Christ alone.

b) v1-2. Criticism. I Sam 16:7. Jesus as Lord of His church “knows” their “works”:

* Their false reputation, “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”. It seems that the decline of the city was echoed in the life of the church. A really live church will be the conscience of the community and as a result there will be many who would wish to silence or eliminate it. However, as with the city, the church had lost its vitality and its power and had turned from a living body into a corpse, becoming degenerate, as the city had become degenerate. Only a vague memory of a once vibrant church was left. It was not being attacked from outside by persecution, nor from within with heretical teachings, but rather it was lifeless and not worth attacking. The name which they had acquired was a name admired by men, but not by God, a mask which hid their true state.

* Their inadequate life, “For I have not found your works perfect before God.” Sin had crept in, less openly than was the case of the cult of Jezebel at Thyatira, but its defiling influence had not been missed by Christ. Its works were beautiful grave clothes, which were a thin disguise for a religious corpse. Jesus said of such, “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk 6:26).

c) v2-3. Exhortation. There are five – watch, strengthen, remember, hold fast and repent:

* “Be watchful (NIV “wake up”)” (v2). Mt 26:41. As ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’, so is ‘eternal watchfulness the price of salvation’. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). A. W. Tozer wrote, ‘Complacency is as great a foe as any other carnal malady, any other fleshly manifestation. To be complacent is to have no desire to get anywhere’. Christians are under continual attack from the powers of darkness that seek to seduce them from their loyalty to Christ and from the right path (I Pet 5:8). A dead man cannot be awakened, but these were sleeping rather than dead and the Risen Christ now calls upon them to rouse themselves. This exhortation was particularly relevant to the people ofSardis, who had in the past been conquered twice, through a lack of watchfulness and as a result their enemies had destroyed their city.

* “And strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” (v2). Col 1:9-11. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “He would grant you through the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). We strengthen our muscles by using them; in a similar way, as we use our talents and spiritual gifts, so they too will be strengthened. How the church needed to use and strengthen what still remained, which was already on the verge of death.

* “Remember therefore how you have received and heard” (v3). Ps 77:10-14. To the church at Ephesus Christ wrote, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (2:5). Past history of the church can challenge us to godly action today. What they had received in the past may well refer to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit (v1), but since then He had been grieved (Eph 4:30) by their lack of spiritual commitment. Only He can resurrect a dying church and pulsate it with new life.

* “Hold fast” (v3). Heb 4:14-16. Here He calls for consistency, determination and faithfulness in the Christian life. To the church at Thyatira He wrote, “hold fast what you have till I come” (2:25) and to the church at Philadelphia “Behold I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (3:11). We read in Heb 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful”.

* “And repent” (v3). Rom 2:4. John the Baptist said of the Pharisees, “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Mt 3:8). The Christian walk is not one of procrastination or drifting, but should be one of decision to do what the Lord requires. Repentance involves a change of direction, away from lukewarmness to a new fervency for the Lord. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army said, ‘The greatness of man’s power is in the measure of his surrender.’

d) v3. Warnings. Mt 24:42-44. There are two for those who, “will not watch” (NIV “wake up”). He will firstly, “come upon you as a thief” and secondly, “you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” These warnings for those who do not “repent” and “watch” could be taken in two ways, firstly that He could bring sudden judgment upon them and secondly that He could return in Person at any time, leaving behind those who are not prepared (Mt 24:40-42). Both point to the suddenness and unexpectancy of His coming. We read of Christ, “Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Rev 16:15). At the time of this letter, the church was expecting the soon return of Christ to take His bride. Nearly two thousand years have passed since then. How each generation of Christians need to constantly watch for the signs given in the Bible relating to His return, but also to watch inwardly and as a result to be always prepared for that wonderful event (Mt 25:13).

e) v4. Commendation. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments;” Mk 8:38. A godly remnant is left, a few have kept the faith and have not,“defiled their garments” (NIV, “soiled their clothes”). In the times of Noah,Sodom andGomorrah and that of Jezebel, there was a remnant, a group of people remaining loyal to their God – so it was in the case of the church atSardis.

f) v4-6. Promise to the one who listens and overcomes. There are three areas of blessing for the faithful:

* Garments of righteousness. “They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (v4) and they, “shall be clothed in white garments” (v5). Isa 1:18. To the church at Laodicea Christ wrote, “I counsel you to buy from Me … white garments that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed” (v18). We see in this letter to the church at Sardis that no stigma is attached to this godly remnant for as, “Enoch walked with God” (Gen 5:22-24), so could they walk with Jesus, dressed in white (Mt 17:2), which is symbolic of purity and holiness (Rev 7:14). In the Book of Revelation white garments are also mentioned in: 4:4. 6:9-11. 7:9-14. 15:6. 19:8, 14. At that time when the Romans celebrated a military triumph before the Emperor, all the citizens would dress themselves in white. For Christians, “white garments” could therefore also stand for victory over sin and evil.

* Salvation assured. “And I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life”. Rev 20:12-15. The reference is to, “his name”, which points to a personal response. When writing to the church at Philippi, Paul refers to his faithful Christian fellow workers as those, “whose names are in the Book of Life” (4:3), which must refer to a Book in which is listed the redeemed. We read also in Ex 32:32-33 that Moses interceded for Israel, concerning their sins of idolatry, asking that God would forgive them, “but if not, I pray blot me out of Your Book, which You have written”. God’s reply to Moses was, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My Book”. In the Book of Revelation, the Book of Life is mentioned in: 13:8. 17:8. 21:27. 22:19.

* Great honour. “But I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Mt 10:32-33. Jesus honours and is ever faithful to the person who is faithful to Him.

3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE.

a) Physical aspects of the city today. The most substantial monuments of ancient Sardis are the ruins of the temple of Artemis, the same goddess whose worship dominated Ephesus. Sir W. M. Ramsey (20th Century) wrote of the city, ‘nowhere is there a greater example of the melancholy contrast between past splendour and present decay’.

b) Church time periods since the first century.

* It represents the church period from 1517 to 1750 AD. This is the time of the Reformation, which started with the revelation of salvation by faith alone, given to Martin Luther in 1517. As a result of this revelation, some ‘escaped’ out of Roman Catholicism. However, even after this the spiritual condition of the true church was still weak or even dead.

* Different types of churches since the letter and today. II Tim 3:14-17. Outward appearances are notoriously deceptive, for a church can to others seem to be very successful, well respected and admired, with many members and plenty of activity, but infact it can be nominal, complacent and lifeless in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus needs to be fully seen as the head, the foundation and in the midst of His church. How leadership needs to lead by example and to feed the flock on good pasture, that they become strong and vigorous in their devotion to Him.

* Individual Christians today. Mt 23:25-28. Can we also rejoice that our “names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20)? Paul wrote of the Lord’s disciples “in the last days”, as “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Tim 3:1, 5). Spiritual complacency can dampen our zeal for Jesus. John Stott wrote, ‘He dwells within you, but does He fill you? You possess Him, but does He possess you?’ Jesus is calling for nothing less than His total Lordship in our lives, that all glory will go to Him.

A question to ponder. The church at Sardis had all the outward trappings of a growing and successful fellowship of Christians, yet it was a mask hiding the reality. Do we hide behind a religious mask or do we walk in reality?

 

                             

 

Revelation on the Seven Churches

                                            

                                 Rev. John Willoughby

A BIBLICAL APPROACH TO DIVINE HEALING.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

XI. HEALING FOR CHRISTIANS TODAY – HOLY COMMUNION.

1. THE OLD COVENANT.

The Feast of the Passover was one of the seven major feasts, which the Jewish people were instructed by God to celebrate atJerusalemevery year. Each one has deep symbolic meaning for Christians today, especially the Passover.

a) The Holy Communion typifies the Passover meal. Mt 26:17-20, 26-28. The disciples, as they gathered around Jesus, were very aware of the importance of that day. They remembered that the mighty hand of God had delivered His people in a miraculous and wonderful way from the bondage of slavery inEgypt and that He had given them the Feast of the Passover to always remember that event.

b) The original Passover meal. Ex 12:1-14, 46. This comprised the roast lamb and unleavened bread. The following are important:

* The lamb was to be male and perfect (v5).

* Its bones should not be broken (v46).

* The bread was baked without leaven – which speaks of sin (v8).

* The blood of the lamb was applied to the door posts and lintels (v7). This was a sign from God that as they passed through those blood stained door posts, they passed into freedom and were redeemed from the tyranny ofEgypt(v13).

* The lamb was to be roasted with herbs and every part of it was to be eaten (v8-10). The nourishing meal was to strengthen their bodies in preparation for the very difficult journey ahead. The Passover meal was therefore for salvation and health.

2. A NEW COVENANT.

I Cor 11:23-32. For 1,500 years the Jews had been celebrating the Feast of the Passover, but the blood of an animal could only cover their sins, but it could not take them away. God, however, spoke through His prophets that one day in the future a human lamb would come and die in order to deal with the problem of sin once for all. Looking towards this the prophet Isaiah wrote of the ‘lamb’ sacrifice, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth …. . For He was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgressions of My people He was stricken” (Isa 53:7-8). The last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, pointed to Christ as, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The following are of importance as we celebrate Jesus as the “Lamb of God”:

a) Celebrating His fulfilment of the Passover. v23. Paul wrote, “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us” (I Cor 5:7). Proper heartfelt participation will not only be a means of remembering His sacrifice for us, but it will also promote good health. As Jesus shared the bread and wine with them on that last Passover meal, He was making a New Covenant with them. The wine symbolised His blood, soon to be shed for their salvation. This typified the blood of the Passover lamb, spread over the door posts and the lintel. The bread (without yeast) symbolised His sinless life. His body would soon be so marred that in faith, “by His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5). This typified the Passover lamb (perfect and without blemish), which became a sacrifice for our redemption and healing.

b) Celebrating His life. v24. As He sat with them that night, all human perfection was in Him. Throughout His life, Satan had tried to attack and destroy Him in every possible way (probably even trying to make Him ill as He ministered to the sick multitudes). However, at the end of His ministry Jesus could say, “the prince of this world comes, but he has nothing in Me” (Jn 14:30). Despite all the efforts of the devil, He was sitting there without sin and full of perfect health. Perhaps we could hear Him say, ‘When you celebrate this event in future, picture Me in your mind as I am this night, without sin, healthy and strong, kept by the power of the Father and preserved from all evil and disease. Realise that the Father wants you to be like this as well, as you appropriate all I have accomplished for you’.

c) Celebrating His death. v24, 26. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life …. the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (Jn 6:47-51). As we eat the bread, we are reminded of the sinless body of Jesus, which was full of health and strength at that time, but which was later crucified for us that we might by faith receive health as our inheritance. As we drink the cup, we are reminded of the payment of His blood for our sins, that He died in our place. There is sadness as we remember that it was our sins which caused Jesus to be nailed to the cross, but as we meditate on His death, we remember that Calvary was not a defeat, but was rather God’s greatest triumph. Through His death He, “destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil” (Heb 2:14). As we celebrate that victory, we rejoice to remember that Jesus has purchased perfect freedom for us from sin and all its evil effects of sickness and has restored to us everything that Adam lost (Col 2:9-10).

d) Celebrating His righteousness. v27-32. Not “discerning the Lord’s body” (v29) can be a big problem for some Christians and has sometimes resulted in much sickness. The Communion is to be a time:

* Of self examination (v28). Just as the Jews had been instructed to remove all traces of leaven (speaking of sin) from their homes, before keeping the Passover celebration (Ex 12:15, 19), so we are commanded to examine ourselves before partaking of the emblems of Christ’s body and blood. We read in Heb 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission”. As we turn from sin through confession and repentance, God has promised to forgive and to cleanse us (I Jn 1:7-9).

* When we discern the mystical body of Christ (v29). This is possibly the deepest and most important aspect. Paul says that when we are born again, we become part of the body of Christ (I Cor 12:13). As we walk in right relationship with Him, so we must also with the other members of the body – for we are one. Jesus said, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24). If someone has sinned against us, we need to forgive. If we have sinned against someone, we need to repent and ask their forgiveness.

* Of warning for the unrepentant (v29-30). The result of continuing to be unrepentant for known sins, when we take communion, can result in sickness and even death. The opposite is also true, that when we repent, we can appropriate His promise in Ex 15:26, “I will put non of the diseases on you, which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you”.

* To remember that the celebration of Christ’s death on a regular basis can become a real source of spiritual, mental and physical health and strength. However, in order for it to have the full effect intended we must, “judge ourselves” then “we shall not be judged or chastened by the Lord” (v31-32).

                                 

Revelation on the Seven Churches

                                     

                            Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

IV. THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA.

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY OF SMYRNA.

Rev 2:8-11. The poor, suffering, but also spiritually rich church. Smyrna comes from the word ‘crushed myrrh’, which means ‘bitter’ or ‘suffering’. Myrrh is a bitter tasting preservative and when crushed, it would taste even more bitter. It was also very costly, thus those who suffer the bitterness of persecution are very precious and are preserved for the Lord Himself. At the time of the letter:

a) Physical aspects of the city. It was situated about 35 miles up the coast from Ephesus and rivalled it as one of the greatest and most prosperous cities in the region, being situated on the trade route linking Rome to India (through Persia). It had been founded as a Greek colony in 1000 BC, but was later destroyed by the Lydians. In 200 BC it was especially planned and rebuilt, with magnificent straight and broad streets. Under the Romans, Smyrna was famous for its beauty and the magnificence of its public buildings. Aristedes described it as, ‘a flower of beauty such as earth and sun had never showed to mankind’. Of all the cities of Asia it was considered the loveliest, being called ‘the ornament’, ‘the crown’ or ‘the flower of Asia’. Added to its beauty was that the western wind gently blew through its streets. ‘The wind’ wrote Aristides, ‘blows through every part of the city and makes it as fresh as a grove of trees’. Of all the eastern cities, Smyrna had been most notably loyal to Rome and was referred to by Cicero as, ‘one of our most faithful and our most ancient ally’. There was a stadium for public games, a large public library, a school of music and a theatre, which was one of the largest in the region. It had a flourishing export trade through its small, natural harbour, which was situated in the centre of the city.

b) Spiritual aspects of the city. It had acquired a reputation for its patriotic loyalty to the Empire and in AD 26 was chosen from many other competitors to erect a temple to Emperor Tiberius, being among the first cities in the region to worship him. Previously in 195 BC a temple to ‘Dea Roma’ (Rome personified as a goddess) had been built and dedicated. It was renowned for its heathen culture and pagan religion. Behind the city rose the Pagos, a hill covered with temples and fine buildings, which was called the ‘Crown of Smyrna’. Most famous of the streets was the ‘Street of Gold’, which began with the temple of Zeus and ended with the temple of Cyblele. There was a very large and influential Jewish population, which contributed greatly to the beautification of the city. It is not mentioned in the Epistles or the Book of Acts, although early tradition states that the Apostle Paul visited on the way to Ephesus, on his third missionary journey.

2. THE LETTER – “to the angel of the church in Smyrna write”.

This is the shortest of the seven letters.

a) v8. Description of Christ. These words describe the all victorious and everlasting One, who had experienced the worst that could be done to man and yet triumphed. Nothing could happen to them, which He had not already experienced and nothing could prevent their victory through His grace. We see two aspects:

* His Lordship over time. “These things says the First and the Last,” Isa 44:6-8. Previously He had described Himself as, “the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last” (1:11). This is the Eternal One who sent His message to the seven churches, which included Smyrna – a church which would suffer persecution, but which was not forgotten. From the beginning to the end He would be with all those suffering for His Name, “even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).

* His Lordship over death. “Who was dead and came to life”. II Cor 4:14. The word for “was” (Gk ‘genomenos’), actually means, ‘became’, thus death was an experience which He passed through and overcame. In the previous chapter we read, “I am He who lives and was dead and behold I am alive forevermore. Amen” (v18). These words would encourage them to receive His grace to suffer opposition for His sake, for as He overcame so would they, as He was raised so would they. It would also remind them that as a city they had been dead, but then had been resurrected to new life.

b) v9. Commendation. Christ is the One who is in the midst of His church (2:1) and sees all the suffering which she is sacrificially enduring for, “His eyes” are “like a flame of fire” (1:14). He writes, “I know your works”:

* “Tribulation”. Mt 5:10-12. They were suffering great persecution for a number of reasons, one of which was because they refused to worship the Roman Emperor as a god and instead insisted in worshiping the One True God. They also followed the One who said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you”. The cause of all persecution comes from Satan, who is the Adversary (I Pet 5:8) of all those who would follow Christ (Eph 6:12).

* “And poverty”. II Cor 6:4-10. Tribulation on its own is much to bare, but poverty is also added to it. The word used here (Gk ‘ptocheia’) comes from the root meaning ‘to cower’ and indicates a state of abject poverty and destitution, although there is a voluntary aspect in its meaning (II Cor 8:9). This poverty probably was because most of the Christians were either slaves or of the poorer classes. Also they were very unpopular for their stand against unrighteousness, Emperor worship and idolatry and as a result suffered physical attacks, stealing of their possessions and economic boycotts. He adds graciously, “(but you are rich)”. They may be poor and as a result unknown to the world, but spiritually they were “rich” and known by Him, who is above all. It is interesting that this is opposite to the church at Laodicea, who thought they were rich “and have need of nothing”, but were infact poor spiritually (3:17).

* “And I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue (or congregation) of Satan.” I Pt 2:21-23. This same group is also mentioned in the letter to the church at Philadelphia (3:9). The antagonism to the Christians for their refusal to take part in Emperor worship was probably fanned into flames by the local Jewish population, who were exempt from all sacrificial obligations. In order to acquire favour from the authorities, they could well have exploited their privileged position to harry the hated followers of Jesus. Referring to the Jews, Peter said of Jesus, “Him being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands have crucified and put to death” and “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:23, 36). In a similar way as Christ was treated by His own, so we see continually in the Book of Acts how the Jews stirred up hatred against the followers of Jesus, the Christians (13:50. 14:2-6. 14:19. 17:5-6). Today we see that in many countries opposition to the followers of Christ come, not so much from the secular establishment, but from the religious section of society (whether it is Christian, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or other religions).

There were many slanders leveled against the church, which Satan used to cause persecution, some of which may have been because Christians:

* Spoke the words of the Sacrament, “This is my body” and “this is my blood” (Mt 26:26-28). A story circulated that Christians were cannibals.

* Called their common meal the Love Feast (‘the Agape’). Many said that their gatherings were orgies of lust and immorality.

* Often split relationships, when some became Christians and some did not. As a result they were accused of breaking homes and tampering with family relationships.

* Were accused of atheism, because the heathen could not understand a worship which had no images of the gods, such as they themselves had.

* Were accused of being politically disloyal citizens and potential revolutionaries, because they would not say, ‘Caesar is Lord’.

* Were accused of being incendiaries, because they foretold that the end of the world would soon come in flames and disintegration.

c) Criticism. Together with the church at Philadelphia, there was none.

d) v10. Exhortation. He gives:

* An encouragement not to fear persecution. “Do not fear any of those things, which you are about to suffer”. Mt 10:22-26. In the previous chapter we read the words of Christ, “Do not be afraid” (v17). Throughout the New Testament the opposite of faith is not doubt but fear. We see an example of this, when the disciples were in a boat in the middle of a storm. Their response was one of fear, “Master, Master we are perishing!”. After calming the storm with a word of command, Jesus said to them, “Where is your faith” (Lk 8:22-25). The same Jesus is with us (in our individual boats, in our individual storms) and all we need to do is have faith in Him. Often fear may be of something that we think may possibly materialize in the future, but has not yet happened. The answer to this is in Jesus’ words, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:34). His grace will always be sufficient for the ‘today’ in our lives.

* A warning of intense persecution for some. “Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested”. Heb 2:14-15. A limit is set to the number of Christians, who will be greatly tested. Indeed we can see this today, as part of the church is going through intense persecution, while part is relatively prosperous and unaffected. It is to be noted that it is the former, who receive praise from the Lord, not the latter.

* A time limit to the persecution. “And you will have tribulation ten days.” Rev 12:10-11. This need not necessarily be taken literally as “ten days”, but more as an expression denoting a short or complete period of time. It could also refer to the terrible periods of persecution Christians would suffer under 10 Roman Emperors, from Nero (37 AD) to Diocletian (312 AD). Whatever the meaning, persecution would be a test of faith, but it would not destroy them.

* An encouragement in persecution. “Be faithful until death”. I Pet 1:6-9. This called for an extreme loyalty. The following was the prayer of a Christian martyr of about this time, ‘Lord, make our deaths life to those around us. Give us strength for the battle, that we might conquer fear and show the power of Your Name to our enemies. Lord, forgive them – let our suffering lead them to You.’ The Apostle Paul would have encouraged them through his words, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:35-37).

* A reward for the persecuted. “And I will give you the crown of life”. Jms 1:12. This has changed from, “the tree of life” in the letter to Ephesus (2:7), with its fertility goddess, to the victor’s wreath of a “crown of life” at Smyrna, which was famous for its arena and games. The word “crown” (Gk ‘stephanos’) means not the royal crown (Gk ‘diadema’), but rather one which denotes joy and victory in accomplishing a great feat. This wonderful promise is given to those who are, “faithful until death”, pointing to the martyrdom that many of them would face. It is interesting that their Lord and Saviour had received a similar crown (Gk ‘stephanos’) before His death (Mt 27:29), received not from His Father, but rather from those who would scourge and crucify Him. Because He had suffered death on their account, He could give them the “crown of life”.

e) v11. Promise to the one who listens and overcomes. He, “shall not be hurt by the second death”. Rev 20:6, 11-15. 21:8. Perhaps this meant that they would be saved from the Great Judgement and its result. For the overcomers Paul wrote, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39). These faithful disciples would never be separated from the One, who through His own suffering, had purchased their eternal freedom.

3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE.

a) Events since the letter. It is possible that Polycarp grew up here and was one of the young people in the church, when they received this letter. Both Tertullian and Irenaeus say that he was consecrated Bishop of Smyrna by the apostle John. The following is an account of his martyrdom at the age of 86. ‘Three days before his death Polycarp received a dream of his pillow on fire. Later he was arrested by Roman soldiers, whom he treated courteously and to whom he gave hospitality. The soldiers took him to the arena, where the wild beast show was over. The Proconsul tried to make him recant and gave him the choice of cursing the Name of Christ and making a sacrifice to Caesar or death. Polycarp answered, “86 years I have served Him and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” The crowd called for his death by fire. Hurriedly logs were gathered (many being supplied by the Jews) and a funeral pyre built. As the flames started to engulf him, he looked up to heaven, praising God and thanking Him that he was found worthy to take the cup of Christ.’ He died in 156 AD under Emperor Antonines Pius.

b) Physical aspects of the city today. Today Smyrna is known as Izmus (Ismir) and is Turkey’s third largest city. Apart from the ancient market place (‘agora’), few archaelogical sites have survived, principally because the city had been destroyed and rebuilt many times.

c) Church time periods since the first century. Suffering may last for a time, but those who sleep in Christ will have a wonderful reward for eternity.

* It represents the church period from 200 to 313 AD (when Christianity was officially recognised by Emperor Constantine). This was the time the church suffered under intense and terrible Roman persecution. Concerning this, Tertullian (AD 160-230) wrote to the Provincial Roman Governor, ‘Proceed in you career of cruelty, but do not suppose that you will thus accomplish your purposes of extinguishing the hated sect (the Christians). We are like grass, which grows the more luxuriantly the oftener it is mown. The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity. Your philosophers taught men to despise pain and death by words; but how few their converts, compared with those of the Christians, who teach by example! The very obstinacy for which you upbraid us is the great propagator of our doctrines. For who can behold it and not inquire into the nature of that faith, which inspires such supernatural courage? Who can inquire into that faith and not embrace it and not desire himself to undergo the same sufferings, in order that he may thus secure a participation in the fullness of divine favour?’

* Different types of churches since the letter and today. Rev 6:9-11. Many have suffered down through the centuries and are still suffering for Christ throughout the world. Their enduring faith is an example to us all. Watchman Knee, having spent twenty years in a Chinese prison, after his death (in the 1960’s) left this signed note which was found amongst his belongings, ‘Christ is the Son of God. He died as the Redeemer for the sins of humankind and was raised up from the dead after three days. This is the most important fact in the world. I shall die believing in Christ’. The greatest opposition to Christ comes mainly from false religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or the worship of a man, as happened with ‘Emperor worship’ and is taking place today in North Korea. How important it is to stand with our brothers and sisters through our prayers, letters and financial support.

* Individual Christians today. II Tim 3:12. If we are to truly stand for Christ, there will be suffering. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Lk 6:36). Rick Warren wrote, ‘A silversmith was asked, “How do you know when the silver is pure?” He replied, “When you see my reflection in it.” When we have been refined by trials, people will see Jesus’ reflection in us.’ Through this refining He is preparing His bride for His return. The brighter we shine for Christ the more pleasing we are to Him, but also the more we will be noticed and the more opposition we will receive from the world.

A question to ponder. The church at Smyrna was willing to suffer for Christ. Are we?

                       

Studies in the Seven Churches

                              

                    Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

III. THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS.

1. INTRODUCTION TO THE CITY OF EPHESUS.

Rev 2:1-7. The word Ephesus means to ‘relax’ or ‘let go’. The church was very active in works and sound in doctrine, but had left its first love for Christ. At the time of the letter:

a) Physical aspects of the city. Probably of the seven churches, Ephesus was the nearest to Patmos. It was the most important city in the Roman Province of Asia and one of the great cities of the ancient world, as a result its citizens liked to call it, ‘the first and the greatest metropolis of Asia’. A magnificent road 35ft wide, paved with marble and lined with columns, ran through the city to a very important and busy harbour. It had a theatre, which could accommodate 25,000 people, was a prosperous business centre and was situated on a very important road junction on the main trade route from Rome to the East. Strabo, the ancient geographer, called it ‘The Market of Asia’. It was an Assize town and seat of the Roman government with a proconsul. Interestingly it was also a ‘free city’, this being a special honour conferred on certain cities by the Roman Empire, giving them self governance and exemption from having Roman garrisons stationed within its boundaries.

b) Spiritual aspects of the city. It was a centre of crime and immorality, so much so that the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said that ‘no one could live in Ephesus without weeping at the immorality, which he must see on every side’. It was also a notorious centre of pagan superstition, being well known for its amulets and charms. There was a widespread interest in superstition, magic and exorcism (Acts 19:13-20). It was famous for its temple of Artemis (a Greek female deity, equivalent to the Latin Diana), which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This cult was linked to early pagan fertility rites to Mother Earth (comparable to the New Age and pagan religions of today) and had hundreds of temple priestesses who were sacred prostitutes. The silversmiths, who made small shrines with an image of the goddess and souvenir models of the temple, caused the riot over Paul’s preaching (Acts 19:23-41). It also had temples dedicated to the Roman Emperors Claudius and Nero. The church was established by Paul and pastored by Timothy and towards the end of his life by John. Apollos also ministered there. Paul spent about two and a half years at Ephesus, his Epistle being written about 30 years before this letter. Ephesus is mentioned in: Acts Chapters 18-20. I Cor 15:32, 16:8. Eph 1:1. I Tim 1:3. II Tim 1:18, 4:12.

2. THE LETTER “to the angel of the church of Ephesus write”.

They had lost their first love (v4) and as a result the Lord reveals Himself as the One who, “walks in the midst of the golden lampstands”, emphasizing His Presence in the midst of the church He still loves.

a) v1. Description of Christ. Eph 1:22-23. The letter commences with a description of Christ as Lord of His Church. “These things says He who”:

* “Holds the seven stars in His right hand”. We also read in Chapter 1, “He had in His right hand seven stars” (v16) and as an explanation, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” (v20). The meaning of this word “hold” (Gk ‘krateo’) is ‘to hold fast’ and points to the fact that the safety and security of the whole church rests in Him (Jn 10:28).

* “Walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands”. We see again in the previous chapter, that the “lampstands” refer to the “seven churches” (v20). Also there is a description of the risen Lord as seen by John, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man” (1:12-13). To the church at Ephesus He is not only “in the midst” of the lampstands, He now “walks in the midst” of them, which may speak of His active participation and His ongoing interest in the lives of the ones He loves.

b) v2-3, 6. Commendation. He knows all things and with regard to His church, is very aware of their many activities. There are seven mentioned, which is a great commendation from the the Risen Christ. “I know your works.”:

* “Your labour” (v2). I Cor 15:58. This word “labour” (Gk ‘kopos’) means toil to the point of exhaustion and is translated by Archbishop R. C. Trench as,strenuous and exhausting labour’. They were not slack in their desire to work for the Lord.

* “Your patience” (v2). Jms 1:2-4. The word “patience” (Gk ‘hupomone’) means a courageous gallantry, which accepts suffering, hardship and loss, giving glory to Him for His grace through trials. They followed Him through trials with much patience.

* “And that you cannot bear those who are evil” (v2). III Jn 9-11. This city, due to the abundance of temple prostitutes, its notoriety for crime and immorality, together with its position on the great highway to Rome and the East, was particularly attractive to evil men. R. C. Trench wrote of Ephesus, ‘the whole rabble of evil doers was liable to descend upon it’. They separated themselves from those who fed their own fleshly desires.

* “And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars” (v2). II Cor 11:13-15. Referring to the last days Jesus warned His church, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. … For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:11, 24). Some thirty years previous to this letter, Paul had met with the elders of the church on the beach near Ephesus, on his journey to Jerusalem. At that time he had exhorted them to, “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. … For I know this that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31). They took note of these words and tested the various ministries.

* “And you have persevered and have patience” (v3). Phil 3:12-14. It is interesting to note that “patience” is mentioned a second time. True perseverance involves much patience. The promises of blessing to each of the seven churches is for the overcomers.

* “And have laboured for My Names sake and have not become weary” (v3). Gal 6:9-10. Weariness, often caused by discouragement, can be the greatest enemy of the saints. The church at Ephesus continued in their labours for Christ, despite opposition and discouragement.

* “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (v6). Mt 7:15-20. The Nicolaitans are also mentioned in the letter to the church at Pergamos, again with the words “which thing I hate” (v15). The Greek word ‘Nikolaos’ means, ‘destroyer of the people’. Hippolytus wrote that Nicolas was one of the deacons chosen in Acts 6:5 but that, ‘he departed from correct doctrine’. Irenaeus says of the Nicolaitans that they, ‘lived lives of unrestrained indulgence’. Apparently this group came from within the church and claimed some type of superior status that permitted idolatry and immorality. They, as with the false “apostles” (v2), were tested by their “deeds” .

c) v4. Criticism. Song of Sol 5:2-8. Even with all the many commendations, their love for Christ is no longer fervent. Works alone cannot replace a heart attitude. We read in Hosea 6:6, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. How He desired for them to return to the love that a bride has for the bridegroom. Oswald Chambers wrote, ‘A backslider does know what God’s grace is, does know what sin is and does know what deliverance is, but has deliberately forsaken God and gone back, because he or she loved something else better.’ They may have held to the truth and been very active in the Kingdom, but they lack that essential warmth and enthusiasm, which makes the difference between a duty and a delight! To really love Christ we need to know Him, but to really know Him requires time and sacrifice. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ” (3:8). He again wrote to the church at Corinth, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Cor 11:2-3). Losing our love for the Lord can result in indifference and lukewarmness and can effect us in many areas, including the following:

* Our worship. Jn 4:23-24. One whose spiritual eyes are set on Jesus will be unaware of others (while in worship), but will rather express his feelings with all his heart and being on the One he loves. John Stott wrote, ‘If the worship of the church is to be more than lip-service, it must spring from hearts that love God’. Beyond the act of singing and the raising of hands, all we do and say should be an expression of our worship of God.

* Our fellowship with Him. Isa 55:6. If we love Him, we will wish to spend time in His presence – listening to Him, talking to Him and reading all about Him and His works in His Word.

* Our fellowship with the brethren. I Jn 3:16. 4:20-21. As part of His church, we are part of a family who also love Him, have the same ideals and the same Holy Spirit within. To be actively involved in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ is sometimes testing, but it enables our love to be put into action. It also encourages our love for Him and our knowledge about Him.

* Our witness. Mt 5:13-16. If we love somebody, then our love will overflow and we will want to tell everybody about that person. As we love our Saviour, so we will want to introduce others to Him.

* Our works. Jms 2:26. If we really love the Lord, we will wish to please Him and to please Him we will desire to do His will. In order to be obedient, He must be Lord of our time, finances and above all our will.

* Our separation from the world. I Jn 2:15-17. As we are drawn into a deeper love relationship with Christ, so we naturally draw away from the pleasures and distractions of the world.

* Our desire to live holy lives. I Pet 1:15-16. Our relationship is with a holy God and His desire is to change us progressively into the likeness of Christ. To accomplish this, we must be willing to die to self and to seek after holiness and sanctification in every part of our lives.

d) v5. Exhortation and a warning. I Jn 4:17-19. To, “He who has an ear” (v7):

* He exhorts, firstly to remember the past, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” and secondly to take action, “repent and do the first works”. It is interesting that He writes, “remember therefore which must point to the previous verse (v4), which relates to their losing their “first love”. How he desires that His church should never lose that “first love”, but rather continue to love Him, “with all their heart” (Mt 22:37).

* He warns, “or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” It is to be noted that repentance is mentioned twice in this verse and unless they put it into action, by returning to their “first love” (v4), they will cease to be a church, resulting in their lamp being extinguished. This is a dire warning from the One who longs for their love and fellowship.

e) v7. Promise to the one who listens and overcomes. Rev 22:14. His promise to these Christians, living in a city dominated by fertility rites is that He, “will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”. The tree of life symbolizes spiritual sustenance to maintain spiritual life. Paradise is a Persian word for garden, which was used to designate the heavenly garden of God (Lk 23:43). This symbolism suggests the perfect fellowship that God and humankind enjoyed in Eden before the fall and which can be experienced in this life, but which will also be fully realized in eternity.

3. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE.

a) Events since the letter. At first the church rallied after Christ’s appeal in this letter. According to Bishop Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote to them a few years later, ‘You all live according to truth and no heresy has a home among you; indeed you do not so much as listen to anyone, if they speak of anything except Jesus Christ in truth’. Later, on his way to Rome to be martyred for his faith he wrote, ‘you were ever of one mind with the apostles in the power of Jesus Christ’. Sometime after this, apostasy set in and it again lost its “first love”. In the 19th Century H. B. Swete wrote, ‘the little Railway Station, hotel and a few poor dwelling houses of Ayasaluk, which now command the ruins of the city are eloquent of the doom, which has overtaken both Ephesus and its church.’ Archbishop Trench wrote at about the same time, ‘it is a rubble and a bog’. He continued, ‘A traveller recently visiting the area found only three Christians and these sunken in such ignorance and apathy, as scarcely to have heard the name of St Paul or St John.’

b) Physical aspects of the city today. Ephesus is probably the most extensive and impressive ruined site in Turkey, but no one lives there, only tourists now walk its streets. The great and prosperous harbour is now a marsh six miles from the sea, due to silting of the river Cayster.

c) Church time periods since the ascension of Christ.

* It represents the church period from about 60 to 200 AD. Some older members had lived at the time of Christ and the apostles and had been a part of the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the resultant miraculous signs and numerical growth of the church. For others, however, these events were in the past and although they knew of them, they were not part of their experience.

* Different types of churches since then and today. Jer 17:9-10. Although active in works and strict in doctrine; religion, conformity to the spirit of the age, material wealth and indifference to the promptings of the Spirit in some churches may contribute to a lack of love – a love and a passion for Christ, which burned in past times of renewal. How He longs that He might be paramount, not only in our works, but also in our hearts.

* Individual Christians today. Mt 24:12-13. Although the letter is written to the church at Ephesus, it is also for the individual “to hear” (v7) and also to respond. Having started well, they had “left their first love” (v4). It is often the little things which can be magnified and can smother our love for Him. We read in Song of Sol 2:15, “the little foxes that spoil the vine, for our vines have tender grapes”. He loves us with an everlasting and unconditional love (Jer 31:3). How we need to respond to His “still small voice” in our hearts and return to Him as our first love, putting all else aside. Paul at the end of his letter to the Ephesians wrote these words, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen” (v24). His grace is sufficient today, as it was in Paul’s day.

A question to ponder. The church at Ephesus, many of whom must have experienced or benefited from the great outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, had lost their first love for Him. Have we?

                          

Revelation of the Seven Churches

                                      

                           Rev. John Willoughby

CHRIST’S MESSAGE TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES.

(All scriptures in ‘New King James Version’, unless otherwise stated.)

I. INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION.

For the purpose of this particular study, we shall give a very brief overview, concentrating much on the first chapter.

1/. INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION. 1:1-3.

* The Giver – God the Father. Five are involved. The “Revelation of Jesus Christ” was given by “God” to “Jesus Christ”, who gave it to “His angel”, who gave it to “His servant John”, who passed it on to “His servants” (v1). The word “servants” is in the original “bond servants”, who are all those who have been bought by His blood (I Cor 6:20).

* The message – a revelation of future events. “Things which must shortly take place” (v1). God says they “must” happen, so they will happen.

* The messenger – the Apostle John. He, “bore witness to” three things – “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw(v2). In 22:8 we read, “Now I, John, saw and heard these things”. All that he saw and heard, he wrote down (1:19).

* The recipients – blessed. The three conditions of blessing are – “he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it” (v3). It is not only necessary to read and/or hear “the words of this prophecy”, but also to be obedient.

* The fulfilment – soon. Concerning the timing of the events, they are “things which must shortly take place” (v1) and “the time is near” (v3). A question is often asked – ‘why are these events not already fulfilled?’ The possible reasons for this are due to His long suffering and that the final total number of believers has not yet been reached. The Apostle Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet 3:9).

2/. THE WRITER, PLACE AND TIMES. 1:9.

a) The writer – the Apostle “John”. It is believed that it was written by John between 60 and 90 AD, during the rule of Emperor Domitian. His name is mentioned four times (1:1, 4, 9. 22:8). The title of the book in the Greek text is ‘Apokalypsis Ioannou’ meaning the ‘Revelation of John’. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1) may, however, be more appropriate.

b) The place – “on the island that is called Patmos”. Volcanic and mostly treeless, the island was 10 miles by 6 miles in extent and is situated in the Aegean Sea, about 50 miles south west of Ephesus. The Romans used it as a penal settlement in which to incarcerate anyone regarded as dangerous to their social order (making them work in the granite quarries).

c) Historical background – “tribulation” for church. Phil 2:9-11. Emperor worship became a key policy in maintaining the unity and stability of the Roman Empire. Under Emperor Nero, persecution of the Christian church was at first restricted to the environs of Rome. It was 25 years later, under Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), who ruled well at first but later became a tyrant, that it spread to Asia. At this time many Christians were faced with a life or death choice between swearing allegiance to the Lord Caesar (Emperor) as ‘Lord and God’ or remaining true to their baptismal confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Mt 10:33). We read in this verse that the Apostle had chosen to go the way of Christ and as, “brother and companion in the tribulation” was suffering with his fellow Christians for, “the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ”.

3/. JOHN’S REACTION TO HIS LORD. 1:17.

His reaction to this vision is similar to others who have been given a glimpse of God’s glory, for he “fell at His feet as dead”. Upon seeing His glory, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex 3:6), “Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped” (Josh 5:14) and the prophet Isaiah called in his anguish, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:5). However, John was reassured by the touch of Christ’s hand on him and His words, “Do not be afraid”.

4/. INSTRUCTIONS OF THE LORD TO HIS SERVANT JOHN. 1:19.

He was instructed to “write”. Many believe that:

* “The things you have seen,” are the revelations given to John in Chapter 1.

* “The things which are,” point to the messages to the seven churches in Chapters 2 to 3.

* “The things which will take place after this,” refer to all events prophesied in Chapters 4 to 22. In 4:1 we read, After these things I looked and behold a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, ‘Come up here and I will show you things which must take place after this’”. The actual church is not mentioned again until we read in the last chapter, “I Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches” (22:16). This points to the possibility that the rapture of the church will have taken place at the end of Chapter 3. Many, however, will be saved during this time of tribulation and judgment (6:9-11. 7:9-14. 12:11. 14:1-5, 12-16. 15:2).

5/. THE VISIONS AND PROPHESIES.

These are given for the encouragement of those who would read, hear and keep, “those things that are written (1:3).

a) God’s purposes are in the hands of His Son. Rev 5:1-7. The scroll is of utmost importance, for it contains the revelation of what God has determined for the future course of the world. It describes how it will be judged and portrays the final triumph of God and His people over all evil. Only One “is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals” (v2) and that is, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (v5). It is interesting that we see in v5 and 6 two pictures of Christ, the “Lamb” who died for our sins and the “Lion”, who will return to “rule … with a rod of iron” (19:15).

b) Christ is the centre. Rev 5:8-9. He is both the centre of worship and of all future events. Those who believe in the Lamb can rest in peace that He is in complete control of everything, no matter how things may look. Christ, not the emperor (or any other despotic ruler), was and is the Lord of history. He has the keys of destiny itself and He is coming again to execute justice. It has been said, ‘To understand the Book of Revelation we must see it both as a book of vision … and as a book firmly rooted in history, proclaiming Christ as Lord of History.’

c) His purposes will be completed. Rev 15:1. It is interesting to note that numbers in the Bible have a great significance and each have a meaning. The number seven, meaning seal, finality or completion, is mentioned many times. Some examples are: 7 churches, 7 Spirits of God, 7 candlesticks, 7 stars, 7 seals, 7 angels, 7 trumpets, 7 thunders, 7 heads, 7 crowns, 7 plagues, 7 mountains, 7 kings. The words “blessed”, “Book of Life” and “lampstands” are each mentioned 7 times. The Lamb of God has 7 horns and 7 eyes. There is a sevenfold greeting to God by angels (7:12) and there are 4 beasts and 24 elders before the throne. 7,000 are killed in the earthquake, there are 42 months and the two witnesses witness for 3.5 years. We can be encouraged that God’s seal is on all events – those in our times, His coming return, the time of tribulation and the future new heavens and earth. The timing of each will fit exactly to His timetable.

d) The message is apocalyptic. Rev 19:11-16. It is classed as apocalyptic – meaning ‘unveiling’, ‘disclosure’ or ‘revelation’ of great events – such as the coming great tribulation, Jesus’ return in glory, the Great Judgement and the new heavens and earth. One can relate these revelations to passages in such books as Joel, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, Zecheriah and parts of the New Testament. The assumption of apocalyptic writings is that God is sovereign, He is opposed to evil and He will be the Victor in the struggle against evil. The vivid symbols, many drawn from the Old Testament, would have meant little to the secular authorities at that time, but would have been only too clear to the Christians, who first heard John’s circular letters to the seven churches.

e) The believers are encouraged. Rev 22:6, 16. Not only are Christians made aware of coming events, but also there is depicted in these pages a glorious and wonderful future for every faithful follower of Christ, especially for those who lay down their lives for Him. In our own materialistic age it has been only too easy to miss the spirit of this book, that this world and all that happens in it are in God’s hands. His love and care for His people (including us) is unfailing. We read in 22:10 that the angel said to John, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand”. The message and visions are not to be kept secret, but are open to all Christians of every generation – those who have “ears to hear”.

6/. BLESSINGS AND WARNINGS. 1:3. 22:7, 18-19.

Some believe that the blessings and warnings are relevant for the whole Bible and others just for the Book of Revelation. With regard to this, perhaps it is wise to take note of the advice of Jesus concerning the Word of God, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven, but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:19).

A question to ponder. Do Christians generally take note of warnings for the unrighteous and blessings for the righteous in the Book of Revelation? Do we?