Monday, December 17, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 6

Watch What You're Getting Mixed Up In

Prayer: God as we study today about Pergamum help us to learn from them about being faithful and dealing with compromising influences.  Help us to be knowledgeable of the forces of evil, and careful not to let our curiosity about these dark powers lead us astray.  Help us to do this as individuals, as a church body, and in the true Church - the body of believers in the world.  Amen!

Today we will be studying the 3rd church of the 7 who were specific recipients of letters in the book of Revelation.  Last time we studied Smyrna, this time we are studying Pergamum.

In the first century Pergamum was a city of about 150,000-200,000, it was one of the most influential cities in the Roman Empire.  Today all that is left of ancient Pergamum is ruins; however, the area is not unpopulated, the modern city of Bergama is currently located there with a population of around 55,000.

Pergamum was a beautiful city and well fortified, it was built entirely on a cone shaped hill (small mountain) rising 1000 feet above the surrounding valley, and was fortified with a stronghold (acropolis) to withstand enemy attack.  This city dominated the entire region of the broad plain of Caicus, in which the city's hill stands out, with the original city being built between the two rivers that flowed into the plain.  Because of its impregnable position it was used as a treasury.

Pergamum was the place Caesar Augustus would go when the weather in Rome got cold.  It had a famous healing center (more on that later) that was used by people from all over Rome.  The people of Pergamum perfected a parchment made out of calfskin - we get our modern word for Parchment from the name of the city.  Pergamum was not a coastal city, and was located off the great trade routes, so it was not a great commercial center; instead, Pergamum was known as a great religious and intellectual center.   It was an early ally of Rome, and was the capital of the province of Asia for 2 centuries; however, its lack of proximity to trade routes caused Rome to select Ephesus to replace it as the capital.

  • Library - Pergamum just prior to the first century had housed the greatest library of the Pagan world, it held over 200,000 volumes.  This is the Library that Marc Anthony gave to Cleopatra as a wedding gift - she subsequently lugged it off to Alexandria in Egypt & the library in Alexandria was considered the greatest library the world has ever seen.
  • Theater - seated 10,000, the acoustics were said to be so good that a whisper on stage could be heard all the way in the top row.
  • Altar of Zeus - one of the Seven Wonders of the World, known as the largest altar in the world.  This was set on a high hill, with its altar towering 800 feet over the plain.  The altar itself stood on a foundation 125' x 115', over 50' high, set in a colonnaded enclosure. In the 19th century German engineers dismantled the altar and took it to Berlin, it went on display in a Pergamon Museum in 1930, just in time to inspire one of the most brutal dictators the world has ever seen.
  • Aesculapion - part hospital, part spa, and at the same time a temple dedicated to Aesculapius (Greek god of healing).  It was the Mayo Clinic of its day, healing by a wide variety of methods - medicine & surgery (we get our word "Scalpel" from "Aesculapius"), psychology, hot baths, mud baths, massage, theater with healing messages, voices speaking positive messages through holes in the ceiling, dream interpretation.  One form of healing was being sedated and left at night in the temple to sleep, with non-poisonous snakes let loose to crawl over you - if one crawled over you it was a sign that healing power had come to you, this would be followed up by a dream interpretation.  The Aesculapion didn't accept terminal patients, and any who happened to die were taken out a "back door" to avoid tarnishing the hospital's reputation.  Caesar Augustus liked to go there - he wasn't sick but rather an alcoholic, and he'd go once a year to dry out.  People came from all over the world to this hospital, and though good medicine was practiced there the place as a whole was basically Satanic.

  • Pergamum was considered a great religious center (paganism)
  • The official center for Emperor worship in Asia, it had the first temple dedicated to Caesar and was a rabid promotor of the Imperial Cult.
  • Greek god / goddess worship flourished (includes Zeus & Aesculapius)

A bit about Aesculapius before we dig into the letter to Pergamum - sculptures depicting Aesculapius have him holding a pole with a snake, and its believed that the legend of Aesculapius derives from the episode where the people of God encounter snakes in the wilderness, read Numbers 21:4-9. This same brass snake on a pole is mentioned by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:14, this is speaking of His impending crucifixion (remember that brass is symbolic of judgement, the serpent is symbolic of sin).  The particular serpent-pole made in Moses time had to be destroyed during the reign of king Hezekiah (good king) because the people had started (in true pagan fashion) to worship the brazen serpent, read 2 Kings 18:4.

The Letter to Pergamum: read Revelation 2:12-17

Name of the city: Pergamum - Greek word means "Citadel", it also means "Mixed Marriage" (objectionable) or "High Marriage".

Title of Christ: "Him who has the sharp double-edged sword" - this "sword" we discussed in a prior lesson as being the active Word of God, and as representing Judgement being issued forth from the mouth of Jesus.  Read Hebrews 4:12 - a city rife with false religion desperately needed the purifying work of this sword.

Commendation:  "I know where you live - where Satan has his throne.  Yet you remain true to my name.  You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city - where Satan lives."

Believers here were living in Satan's seat of power!  Remember, Satan is not currently in hell, that is his future abode.  Satan is loose and is the prince of this world, controlling kingdoms and seeking out whomever he may devour.  Retaining a clear identity as a church of the Lord Jesus in an evil environment is worthy of commendation, they were in effect a small light in a sea of wickedness.

Pergamum had become one of the greatest centers of pagan religion in the world at that time.  A brief history of paganism: Nimrod founded Babel and is believed to have instigated a form of paganism, there are indications that Astrology may have its roots there - being a twisting of signs in the heavens given to remind people of the things of God (this is an entire study unto itself).  At that time Satan's seat of power would have been Babel.  Later Babylon is believed to have inherited the mantle from Babel, and after Babylon fell Pergamum was believed to have inherited the mantle from Babylon when the priests and their initiates moved their treasures & mysteries at the fall of Babylon under Belshazzar.  Why do you care about any of this?  It is important to remember that Satan is powerful and has many forces at his disposal, but Satan is a created being and is limited.  Satan is not omnipresent.  At the time of the writing of Revelation - by what Jesus is telling us - Satan had set up his throne at Pergamum, this is where he chose to be located.  Could he move around to other locations?  Of course he could, but this was his chosen center of operations at the time.

Antipas was only one of many martyrs in Pergamum.  Antipas was the bishop of Pergamum, ordained by John (writer of Revelation).  According to one source Antipas was so successful at driving out demons that the pagan priests (spurred on themselves by demonic forces) turned him in for failing to perform the rites of Emperor Worship.  After being turned in he continued to refuse to perform pagan rituals and was sentenced to death on the altar of Zeus - part of that altar was a hollow bronze bull designed for human sacrifice.  The sacrifice to Zeus would be placed inside the bronze bull, with their head in the bull's head, and a fire would be lit under the bull.  The person inside would slowly roast to death.  As the victim would cry out his cries would come out through the pipes in the head of the bull appearing to make the bull come to life.  It is said that Antipas, in being put to death by this method, died praying for his church.

Concerns: "You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.  Likewise you also have those who hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans."

They had not kept out false teachers, they had not embraced those false teachings (at least not yet) but they had allowed these false teachings to come into the church and an evil influence to fester.  Uh-Oh!  They've let the "world" enter in to the church, having a "mixed marriage" (one meaning of Pergamum) - they were both faithfully following Jesus and allowing in errant teachings.

Who are Balaam & Balak?  If you don't know I'm going to encourage you to read Numbers chapters 22-24 on your own, there isn't time to cover this here.  I will sum up - Balak was a king who wanted to defeat the Israelites, Balaam was a pagan prophet - he was a prophet but not a prophet of God.  God frustrated Balaam by forcing him to prophesy for rather than against Israel, Balaam tried to go against God and for Balak - but was undermined by God in several ways, he was even rebuked by his donkey (who God enabled to speak) - it is a rather humorous account.  In the end Balaam does God's bidding, and if that were all scripture had to say about him you might think he changed his ways and served God.... but there's more!  We're going to read a couple more scriptures concerning him: Numbers 25:1-3; Numbers 31:15-16; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11.  Balaam taught corruption by encouraging compromise, friendship with the world, and intermarriage with the world.  The Jews hadn't been able to be brought down by false prophecy, but instead were brought down by friendship with the world.

I discussed the Nicolaitans when we covered Ephesus, so if you missed that lesson please check lesson #4 in this series for more information.  We don't know for sure what they believed, but it was obviously heretical.

We see Satan at work here - if he can't destroy by direct assault he makes inroads by deception and compromise.  Satan likes to take what is good and twist it into something evil.

Exhortation: "Repent therefore!  Otherwise I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."

For the heresies in this church Jesus emphasized that He would come against the heretics with the two-edged sword - a sword of judgement.  That two-edged sword would separate out the world from their midst, whether through their own acts of repentance or the direct intercession of Jesus.  It is always better to willingly repent than to face chastisement from the Lord.

There is a firm warning here - the Church is not to invite in that which is not of Christ, and the Church is not to remove or hinder that which is of Christ.  To do either invites the disapproval and chastisement of the Lord.  Loving sinners is good, but affirming behavior God calls sinful is compromise - a spiritual form of adultery.  In our culture today living and loving others God's way is a tightrope - it requires careful action and balance!

Closing Statement: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"

Promise to the Overcomer: "I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."

Hidden Manna - The word "manna" means "what is it?"  Manna is the bread that came down from heaven to feed God's people as they wandered in the wilderness.  Hidden Manna is Jesus is the Bread of Life, the true bread from heaven (John 6:32-35,51), feeding on Christ is the only means of Spiritual Growth.

White Stone - there are several possible meanings here:
  • It may have been a reference to a stone like the Urim, which was worn by the High Priest when he entered the Holy Place and had access to the Ark of the Covenant (God's chosen throne on the Earth) - inside which was hidden some of the manna from the wilderness wanderings.
  • People of Asia had a custom of giving intimate friends a "tessera" - a cube or rectangular block of stone or ivory with words or symbols engraved on it - it was a secret, private, possession of the one who received it. 
  • Another use for a white stone in those days was by a Judge - a Judge would use a white stone to vote for acquittal for one who was on trial.
  • A common Roman practice was to give you a white stone with your name on it which gave you access to the games as well as food - a sort of ancient "ticket".  This white stone could be similar in that it gives a special right and/or privilege in God's kingdom.
  • White stone may have simply represented purity among a corrupt environment.

New Name - again some possible meanings:
  • A specific identifier recognizing a persons particular mix of gifting and/or calling, reflecting service to the Lord in this world (and perhaps throughout eternity).
  • A special name of communication and fellowship kept private between the Lord and His faithful one.
  • McGee thinks the new name will not be a name representing us, but rather a name representing Jesus - as He means something different to each of us.
  • In general, in scripture a name specifically represents the character and calling of a person.

So though we don't know the specific meaning of the White Stone with a New Name, we know that it is a special gift given by Jesus to those who overcome.

Pergamum in church history represents the Married Church - as in Married to the world - also known as the Pagan church AD 314-590.  Constantine did much to protect and promote the Church, that is the start of this period.  The problems became much more pronounced when it became the official state religion under Theodosius and people were forced to accept Christianity as their religion, with many false converts came an influx of pagan persons and pagan practices.

One last thing - I mentioned last week the crown cities, we have now studied all 3 of them, these were designated by the Romans as Royal cities in Asia:  Ephesus - political center, Smyrna - commercial center, Pergamum - religious center.

How is your life like the life of the church of Pergamum?  Have you become so accepting of others and their lifestyle choices that you have allowed compromise to sneak into your life?  Do you sit silently while people espouse teachings that contradict the clear teachings of scripture?

How is our church like the church of Pergamum?  Is our church voting in or allowing practices that are contrary to the teachings of Christ?  Is our church voting out or excluding practices that Christ wants us to be involved in?

Prayer:  God, show us our errors, help us to have a clear picture of how we should operate as individual believers and as a local body of believers.  Help us Lord to be a people and a church without compromise, yet a people and a church that demonstrate love.  Help us Lord to walk that narrow road, a road that sometimes feels like a tightrope, so that we are a shining light to the dark world in which we live.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 5

Your Poverty brings Riches & Your Death brings Life

Prayer: God as we study today about Smyrna help us to learn from them about handling suffering, affliction, and resisting temptation to compromise.  Help us to value the riches we have in You over the riches the world has to offer.  Help us to do this as individuals, as a church body, and in the true Church - the body of believers in the world.  Amen!

Today we will be studying the 2nd church of the 7 who were specific recipients of letters in the book of Revelation.  Last time we studied Ephesus, this time we are studying Smyrna.

Only two of the seven cities that received letters have been continuously occupied to this day, Smyrna is one of those, though it now goes by the name of Izmir.  The church in Smyrna continues to this day; however, it is now a small underground church because of persecution. This city has been inhabited since it was founded by the Hittites in 2000 BC.  Today the city of Izmir is a commercial city with a population of around 2.8 million people (a little larger than Chicago), with around 3.4 million in the greater metropolitan area.  The current city of Izmir is considered one of the most beautiful cities of the world, at times called "Paris of the Levant" (Levant = Eastern Mediterranean).  Historically Smyrna has been a prosperous city - despite being devastated by conquest & earthquake it continues to come back & thrive.

In the First Century Smyrna was a thriving and beautiful Asian city of about 100,000 people, with strong ties to Rome.  It had an excellent double harbor, the outer of which was a deep water mooring ground, the inner was much smaller & has since filled with silt.  It was a major trading port, strategically located between Europe and Asia. 

  • Wide boulevards
  • Its Acropolis (fortification) was encircled with flowers, a hedge, and myrtle trees - it is because of this feature that Smyrna at that time was called a "flower" or "ornament" and the "crown of Asia" - one of three "Royal Cities" or "crown cities"
  • Noble Buildings
  • Theater
  • Odeum (music center)
  • Stadium
  • Beautiful temples to: Zeus, Diana, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Asclepius.
  • Pagan city recognizing many deities.
  • Enormous temple to Zeus
  • An entire "golden street" of pagan shrines
  • Primary worship was of Cybele, the "giver of wealth", and the worship is described as wild & unrestrained.

The people of Smyrna were eager to please Rome, as such they readily adopted Caesar worship, building their first temple to Dea Roma (goddess of Rome) in 196 BC.  Smyrna became an important center of the Roman Imperial Cult, worship was compulsory (required by law) for all but those of other formally recognized religions - Rome recognized Judaism but not Christianity.  Each year a Roman citizen had to burn a pinch of incense on the altar and to acknowledge publicly that Caesar was supreme lord, in return he received a formal certificate.  Anyone refusing to proclaim Caesar as Lord would be excluded from the guilds - resulting in unemployment and abject poverty.  This was an issue for Christians for two reasons: 
  • there was the temptation to "go along" in order to be able to survive economically
  • there was the threat of death for refusing to worship Caesar - many who refused died by being burned at the stake or torn apart by wild beasts in the arena

Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (appointed by John) was one of Smyrna's most famous martyrs, put to death in 166 AD.

The following is an excerpt from Fox's Book Of Martyrs:

The Letter to Smyrna: read Revelation 2:8-11

Name of the city: Smyrna - its Hebrew root is Mur (or Myrrh) which means Death and carries the meaning of Suffering or Sorrow or Bitter.

Myrrh was 1 of the 3 gifts given by the Magi to the Christ child, it is a naturally occurring oleoresin (we might call it a sap) and has a variety of uses:
  • Perfume
  • Anointing Oil for Priests
  • Purification product for Women
  • Pain Reliever
  • Primary use: Embalming
Myrrh is interesting in that it gives off its fragrance when crushed - there are symbolic implications that tie to Christ, but that's another study.

Title of Christ: The First and the Last, who died and came to life again.  Jesus is the First Word & will have the Last Word, He is in control!  The suffering they would face is for God's purposes and according to His perfect plan - as Christians in the U.S. we  find the persecutions they had to face appalling, how little we understand God's ways - how He uses persecution to purify & strengthen His Church, much like the refining and tempering of metal.  Jesus mentions His death and resurrection to this church of sorrows whose very name means death, this church experienced much martyrdom so reminding them of His resurrection would given them hope that they too would be resurrected.

Commendation: Jesus knows their afflictions and poverty, yet He tells them they are rich; also, Jesus recognized that they were being persecuted by some false-Jews that He called a "synagogue of Satan".

Having refused to worship Caesar Christians would be unemployed / unemployable and impoverished.  In Greek there are two words for Poverty, this is the stronger of the two: ptocheia (pronounced toe-chay-uh) - the state of having nothing at all, implies beggary.   Remember that poverty could have been alleviated by a pinch of incense offered to Caesar, but at what cost Spiritually?

Jesus tells them that though they are poor in this world they are Spiritually rich - rich in the things of God, riches stored up in heaven.  It's interesting that only in the book of Revelation is the city of Smyrna mentioned.  Jesus specifically recognized this struggling church, this church may not have had the approval of "man" or "the world", but they had the approval of the Lord.  Paul describes well what hardships did for his ministry - 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 - the church at Smyrna could be described in like manner.

Smyrna had a large and actively hostile Jewish population, which would have made being a Christian there particularly difficult.  Were these the ones Jesus called false-Jews and a "synagogue of Satan"?  We don't know for certain, but here are some possibilities:
  • perhaps the Jews hostility caused them to "turn in" Christians to the Roman authorities, resulting in arrests / persecution / martyrdom - we know that in the 2nd Century the Jews in Smyrna were instrumental in persuading the Roman officials of the city to execute Polycarp & even went so far as to carry logs to the pyre on which he was burned.
  • perhaps these were Jews in nationality only, who went along with the Caesar worship, but still claimed to be Jews (perhaps keeping them from being forced into Caesar worship themselves).
  • perhaps these were Jews claiming to be "true Jews", claiming conversion to Christ but attempting to inject Jewish Legalism (circumcision party) - Acts 15:1-11
  • perhaps these were Jews claiming to be converts but attempting to continue the priesthood (thus calling them a synagogue).
  • perhaps these are not Jews by nationality, but claiming to be those who have "replaced" the Jews in inheritance (i.e. inheriting the promises of God given to the Jewish peoples).  These teachings are alive today, we call them "replacement theology"; these teachings are in error in that they assume the Church has replaced the Jews in God's plans.  They ignore the scriptures that show God is not finished with the Jews, we will see that later in the book of Revelation.

Concerns: None - which makes it interesting that the city (though renamed) and its church (though small & underground) are still in existence.

Exhortation:  They were encouraged not to be afraid of what they were about to suffer.  They were told that the devil would put some of them in prison to test them, that they would be persecuted 10 days.  They were encouraged to be faithful even to the point of death, that if they did so Jesus would give them a crown of life.

What is it Jesus is doing here?  He is encouraging them to continue in their faithfulness, but He is also telling them their sufferings are going to increase.  This sounds "wrong" in the minds of most of Western culture, since we are of the opinion that we get what we deserve - but these faithful ones didn't "deserve" more suffering, they hadn't done anything wrong!!  So in a way this sounds cruel, but in actuality the Lord is showing them kindness.  Part of the problem is that our thinking is based on the teachings of other religions prevalent in our culture - teachings about Karma and the like - but these teachings are pagan!  The truth of the matter is that if you belong to God you have very real enemies in the spiritual realms - Ephesians 6:12.  Jesus himself is pointing out that the devil is the source their suffering, this suffering is not chastisement for a wrong they have committed.  These spiritual forces of evil want you to believe that you get what you deserve; but the truth, God's truth, is that you get what you don't deserve - both in suffering John 15:18-19 and in grace  Romans 11:6.  He is warning them that suffering is going to come, allowing them to be prepared for the suffering they don't deserve; however, they are recipients of His grace, a reward that no man deserves.

Jesus reminds them not to be afraid to face the sufferings to come, the very title He used of Himself would remind them ultimately who was in control - the author of life who was victorious over death was the one speaking to them!  He also let them know that there were limits on their suffering of "10 days", limits He was enforcing.  I don't know about you, but as for me I am much more able to endure pain & suffering if I know that it will end.

What are these 10 days & when did they happen?  Ok, here's where there are differences of opinion.  Apparently the expression for "days" in Hebrew can be idiomatic for epochs, or short periods of time.  It may be that there was a specific literal 10 day period for which we don't have a historical record - it wouldn't be surprising for that to be the case.  If seen idiomatically there is a "10 day" record of persecutions - there are 10 Roman Emperors that specifically targeted Christians for persecution, starting in AD 54 with Nero and ending in AD 313 with Diocletian, with none of their reigns being consecutive (breaks between each era of persecution).

They were told to be faithful even unto death - and many were martyrs, they were promised a "crown of life".  This crown is not believed to be salvation - which cannot be earned by a work, even if that work is martyrdom - but a special reward stored up in heaven for those who suffer for Jesus sake.  The word for "crown" here is not a royal crown but a victor's crown - more like a trophy, a medal, or a blue ribbon of today. 

Closing Statement: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"

Promise to the Overcomer:  The overcomer will not be hurt at all by the second death.  The first death is physical death, the second is death of the soul and spirit - not a ceasing to exist but rather a permanent state of separation from God.  This is a continuation of the idea prevalent through this letter to Smyrna - they will face persecution to the point of death, but the one who is victorious over death has assured their victory over death as well.

Looking at overall church history Smyrna represents the Persecuted church or Martyr church, a time frame in church history of approximately AD 100-314.  Smyrna - Myrrh - Death & Sorrows - the name certainly fits.  Have persecutions stopped?  No!!  In fact persecutions are on the rise, in the last century more people have been martyred for the faith than in all the previous centuries combined.  It is costly to be dedicated to Christ, in some places more than in others.  As end-time pressures increase persecution will also increase, God's people need to be ready to face the fires of persecution.  Will we remain faithful?  To do so will we in America have to resort to becoming an underground church like the one that still exists in Smyrna (Izmir) today?

How is your life like the life of the church of Smyrna?  What sorts of persecutions do you face?  Are your persecutions increasing?  Are you standing firm & refusing to burn the incense that the world insists you burn?  If the time comes when faced with a choice to stand for Christ or loose everything will you be ready?

How is our church like the church of Smyrna?  What sorts of persecutions does our church face?  Where has society or government attempted to force our churches into compromise or silence?  Are you seeing an increase in persecutions?  Will our church stand firm?  Are we willing to go underground, loosing all of our wonderful buildings and programs in order to stay true to Christ?

Prayer:  God, thank you for your grace, we don't deserve it and can't earn it.  Help us Lord to be a people and a church that are prepared for persecution, the world hates Jesus & it will hate us too.  We've lived a well-cushioned & safe existence in this country, but things are changing - help us not to be afraid, help us to stand strong - even if it means imprisonment or death.  Help us as we face persecutions to focus not on our momentary struggles, but rather on an eternity in your presence when all sufferings will have ceased.  Amen!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 4

My Darling has Forsaken Me

Prayer: God as we study today about Ephesus help us to learn from this powerful church, both from her successes & her failures.  Help us to be discerning and yet never failing in love.  Help us to do this as individuals, as a church body, and in the true Church - the body of believers in the world.  Amen!

This morning we start into the letters to the 7 churches, if you remember from last week when we looked at Revelation 1:19 you'll know we're entering the 2nd section of this book.  We've already covered what John wrote about what he had seen - the first and shortest section of Revelation being only 1 chapter long, now we're in the "what is now" section which is comprised of the letters to 7 churches of John's day.

It's interesting that though the letters were applicable to the 7 churches of that day there are additional levels of application.  Remember that this is a book of Prophecy - we were told that in Revelation 1:3, and it is common - even expected - for Prophecy to have multiple levels of fulfillment.  We have a God who is more complex, more amazing, than we can even begin to imagine - I don't think it's possible to give God more credit for complexity than He has.

Levels of Application for the letters to the churches:
1 - An Individual Church: the specified church of John's day to address a specific problem in that church at that time.
2 - All Churches: the 7 churches who received letters, and extending to all churches throughout the church age: each letter includes a statement about hearing what the Spirit has to say to the "churches" (plural).
3 - Personal: each has an admonition for all believers to "hear" what is being said and a promise to those who "overcome".
4 - Prophetic: the 7 letters outline a profile of church history from the Upper Room until the church joins Jesus in the Upper Air. (This is seen by some as controversial)

The letters contain 7 design elements, constituting a type of "Report Card" for that church: 
1 - Name of the City - the meaning of the name of the city has significance.
2 - Title of Christ - each is a title already seen in chapter 1, each title has significance regarding the message that is being given to the church.
3 - Commendation - what they are doing well (2 churches don't get this).
4 - Concern - what they are doing wrong (2 churches don't get this).
5 - Exhortation - a call to action (or to continued action).
6 - Promise to the Overcomer - blessing for those who overcome.
7 - Closing Statement - "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
One commentator stated that all 7 recipients were surprised.  Those who thought they were doing well weren't, those who thought they weren't doing well were.

Before we move on lets take a closer look at that Closing Statement "He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches".  In addition to what I've already said regarding this I'd like you to notice a couple things.  It says "He who has an ear" - that means those who are willing to listen & spiritually able to listen.  God never forces anyone to listen to Him, and only those who have the Holy Spirit empowering them are able to hear Him.  It says "what the Spirit says to the churches", the Holy Spirit is already at work in these churches and is speaking to these churches.  I thought it was interesting that in chapter 1 we saw the 7 Spirits or 7-Fold Spirit of God, and here the Spirit is speaking to 7 churches with 7 messages.

I'd also like to point out a word that occurs in all 7 letters that I found interesting - the word for "overcome".  It is "nikao" and means to overcome, conquer, or triumph - and the word in the Greek implies a continuous action: continue to overcome, conquer, triumph.  I heard mentioned that the brand Nike may have gotten its name from this root.  Each of the letters calls the hearer to overcome some trial, and in overcoming to receive a blessing.  When you are facing trials how do you pray?  Do you pray to be freed from your trials or for God to give you the strength to overcome?  Beth Moore put it something like this:  "How do you overcome if you never underwent?"

Finally I want you to notice that each letter is addressed to the "angel of the church" of its city - some again think this is an angelic being watching over the church, others a pastor of the church.  We went over this a bit in our last lesson... and who knows, perhaps it's a bit of each, but it is interesting that the letter is directed in this way rather than simply to the church as a whole.

So our first church is the church in Ephesus, and I want to just give you a brief taste of the 1st century city of Ephesus - if you're interested in knowing more I'll let you do that on your own.

Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, located "where East met West" it was an important crossroads area with a pleasant climate (similar to Southern California) and fertile land.  It was a religious and commercial center and influenced peoples of both East (Asia) and West (Europe).  It was the largest city in the province of Asia having an estimated population at that time of somewhere between 250,000 - 500,000 people (approximately the population of Minneapolis), one source I read claimed that at times there were as many as 1 - 2 million people gathered in that city.  At one time it was a key Naval port with a nice harbor; however, at the time of the writing of Revelation the harbor had already begun to have problems with silt - and today the city is about 6 miles away from the coast.

It was a beautiful and wealthy city, constructed primarily of white marble with stunning well developed architecture.  Within the city were:
  • Library with over 12,000 volumes (before printing)
  • Renown Marketplace, 360' square with shops 40' deep along all 4 sides.
  • Theater 495' in diameter which could seat as many as 25,000 people.
  • A very long "Way" (road) made of marble, 7' wide running through the city and to the harbor.
  • It had gymnasiums and brothels and various temples all the other accouterment of large cities of its day.  Apparently from the Library there was an underground tunnel leading to the brothels in case you wanted to keep your matters private.
  • A distinctive feature was the Temple of Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world which is said to have been very beautiful both of form and material.  It was the largest Greek temple ever built and was 4 times the size of the Parthenon at Athens.  The goddess Diana was a fertility goddess, both male and female temple prostitutes were in residence at the temple.  J Vernon McGee describes it this way: "Around the temple of Diana were performed the grossest forms of immorality... The worshipers indulged in the basest religious rites of sensuality and the wildest bacchanalian orgies that were excessive and vicious."  This temple also served as a bank (may have been the first bank) which was run by the temple priests, and it was an art gallery with an extensive collection.

The gospel brought many changes to Ephesus.  It had been the center for the study of arts & magic, but became the center for missionary operations throughout the province of Asia.  Out of Ephesus many other churches had been founded and in John's day it was a large strong church.  Acts 19:19 records an incident in which the magic scrolls, valued at 50,000 drachma's (1 drachma = 1 day's wage), were burned out of a fear of the Lord.  4 Great Pillars were placed at the entrance to the harbor, each bearing a cross, with 1 each being dedicated to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Pagan temples were turned into churches.

The Letter to Ephesus: read Revelation 2:1-7

Name of the city: Ephesus, meaning Desired One or Darling

Title of Christ: He that holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.  Jesus title is a reminder to them of His position and power, that He is the one who is in control, He is the one who is dwelling in the midst of the churches.

Commendation: Jesus knows of their works & perseverance - they were strongly focused upon and insistent upon doctrinal purity.  They weeded out heresy & clung to sound doctrine, and "hated the practices of the Nicolaitans".

Who are the Nicolaitans?  We have no way of knowing for sure, but here are a couple possibilities that are widely acknowledged:
  • A Gnostic sect - much later a group of Gnostics that rejected John's teachings took this name on themselves (to spite John?).  But earlier there was a Gnostic sect (name may have been Nicolaitans) which taught that to understand sin you must first indulge in it.  They believed that flesh & spirit were separate to the point that sins of the flesh could not hinder the spirit.  This is obviously counter to scripture in so many ways that I don't think I need to discuss this farther.
  • Nicolaitans may be a word simply made up from the words "nikao" (overcome - discussed earlier) and "laos" which means "the people".  So the Nicolaitans may have been an early incident of clergy attempting to rule over the laity, and in several places in scripture this is discouraged (see John 13:14-16; Matthew 20:24-28).

Concerns: They have forsaken their first love. 

The word for "first" in Greek is "protos" which implies a priority, you could think of their "first love" as their "primary directive" - what is our primary directive as believers?  read Matthew 22:35-40

The Ephesian church had been warned (by Paul and others) about 35 years before this letter that heresies would try to enter in, and they had taken the warning seriously.  However, what seems to have happened is that they've gotten so busy at the business of the King that they've forgotten to give time to the King.  When I heard this I had to stop right there and get on my knees and repent because I tend to make this mistake and must guard myself.  God prefers Devotion to Doctrine, lets not get these mixed up!!  Jesus prefers the actions of a "Mary" to a "Martha" (see Luke 10:38-42).

The Ephesians had discernment but not love, this kind of combination pushes people away and can kill a church. We need discernment, but there must always also be love.  It's interesting that it says they had "forsaken" their first love, this is the Greek word "aphiemi" which means "send forth, send away, let go from oneself".  We might use the term "wander" in the same manner, indicating that someone is either in active rebellion or in passive rebellion has simply gotten out of habit of following the good ways they once had.

Exhortation: Remember & Repent.  Remember the great love we have in God, return to that place of loving adoration.

Closing Statement: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches"

Promise to the Overcomer: The right to eat from the Tree of Life which is in the paradise of God.

The word paradise here is from a Persian word that means "pleasure garden".  For the one who overcomes the Tree of Life, which could no longer be accessed by man in the Garden of Eden after the fall is now available again to man in God's pleasure garden. 

How is your life like the life of the church of Ephesus?  Are you diligent concerning doctrine?  What do you do when faced with heretical teaching?  How's your devotional life?  Are you making it a priority to keep your "first love" strong & lively?

How is our church like the church of Ephesus?  Is our church based upon and standing up for sound doctrine?  How does our church deal with heretical teaching?  Does our church encourage times of devotion (prayer / meditation)?  Is our church as a whole making it a priority to demonstrate and grow in love?

Prayer:  God, how easy it is to get so busy doing that we forget to stop and simply spend time your presence.  Help us Lord to be a people and a church of listening ears, a people and a church that are marked by Love while clinging to sound doctrine, help us to be a people and a church that are overcomers - receiving as many of your blessings as possible.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 3

Look Who's Talking

Prayer: God help us to be like John, to be testifying about you, to be willing to be exiled or even killed for the sake of your marvelous word.  Thank You for giving us your word through John.  Help us to take in this message, to marvel at it, to meditate on it, and to learn from it.  Amen!

We are continuing to work our way through the first chapter of the book of Revelation, for any who may have missed either of the last two lessons I'd encourage you to go to the blog and read - you will probably want to pick up what you've missed.

To bring us back into perspective before we start examining things closely we're going to read all of Revelation chapter 1.

v9-10: John introduces himself and the circumstances under which all of these wonderful things are occurring.  He is a fellow believer, dealing with the suffering common to believers and the patient endurance required of all who walk in faith.  He was on the isle of Patmos, in exile specifically because he was testifying to his faith.  Historically we know he was exiled by Domitian, an Emperor of Rome.  Domitian was one of 3 Emperors that wanted to be worshiped as a god while living, in general the Romans held that Emperors we deity once dead.  It is rumored though not known as historical fact that Domitian tried to have John killed but John couldn't be killed, so he sent John away.  This places the timing of the writing of Revelation at approximately 100 years after the birth of Christ.  After Domitian dies John gets released and returns to Ephesus and continues his work for the Lord with the churches, and he does eventually die of natural causes. 

The following is from Fox's Book of Martyrs:

John was "in the Spirit" - we don't know exactly what he meant but we can presume that he may have been in prayer and meditation, in communion and submission to the Holy Spirit.  It's possible he was in a trance- or dream-like state, such as Peter was in Acts 10:9-16, or as described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  In any case John was purposefully in the act of worshiping God.

"On the Lord's Day" - there are various opinions.  Some say the Sabbath, others say Sunday, and there are even those who think it is "The Day Of The Lord" though the original language doesn't support this 3rd view.

He heard a voice "like a trumpet" - more accurately it should read "like a shofar" - the horn used to gather the people of Israel or the armies of God.  A powerful voice!

v11: In many of our translations we're missing something here, and I don't know why it has been omitted.  In the Greek this verse starts with another "I Am", this time saying "I Am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last".  Perhaps most translations don't include it because this is already stated in verse 8, or because this will be stated again in verse 17, I don't know - but it clearly points out that the speaker is God.

The following is from The Interlinear Bible, published by Sovereign Grace Publishers:

God is telling John to write down what he is seeing, and to send it to seven churches.  John has been a faithful witness of what he has seen in the past, he has testified to the life & impact of Jesus, now he is being asked to testify once again to the things of God.   The seven churches listed are seven real churches that existed in John's day, and as I pointed out when back in verse 4 the word for church is indicating a local gathering of believers.  The thing that might give you goosebumps is that there are those who point out that the letters also outline church history through the ages since the death of Christ, and if they were in any other order this wouldn't hold true.

The seven churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.  If you peek ahead and look at chapters 2 & 3 you'll notice that the letters specifically written to these 7 churches are in the order listed in this verse.  If you look at a map of the locations of these cities you'll notice that the order is given starting at Ephesus and going in a clockwise manner.

The following is from Tyndale Handbook of Bible Charts & Maps:

v12-16:  John turns to see, and who does he see?  He sees the one who's favorite title for Himself in the gospels is "Son Of Man", this title is used more than 80 times, this is none other than Jesus!  If you aren't sure of his identity hang on, because we're going to see this more clearly a little later in this chapter.  Daniel 7:13 -14 gives us another picture of this one that is "like a son of man".  He is described as wearing this long robe with a golden sash, and I can't help but think of this as His High Priestly garments because we know that He now acts as our High Priest interceding for us (Hebrews 7:23-28).

We start to get into some of that symbolic language now when it comes to Jesus description, it's kinda nice that we were warned about this in verse 1 (check out Lesson 1 if you don't recall this).  This description sounds a bit strange, perhaps even a little grotesque, but God is not grotesque - He is beautiful beyond the description of human words!  With that in mind one thing to look for when you're reading text that may be symbolic are the words "like" and "as" - these words tell us that we're getting symbols and/or figures of speech.  His hair was white "like" wool or "as white as" snow, His eyes were "like" blazing fire.  If we think about His eyes being like fire we could think of them as being penetrating - like when Jesus looked at Peter in Luke 22:60-62.

His feet were "like" fine brass glowing in a furnace - if you're someone who likes a challenge I'm going to suggest you do a word study on "brass" (or bronze depending on your translation).  You'll find an odd incident in Numbers 21 dealing with a bronze serpent... I'll leave it at that and let you discover the significance of this on your own.  His voice, previously described "like" the shofar is now described "as" the sound of rushing waters - and I couldn't help but think of the thundering of a large waterfall like Niagara - a deep rumble, if you're standing nearby it's hard to speak to the person beside you.  He's holding 7 stars in his right hand, that doesn't sound too freaky and we'll find out in a couple verses what those are.  

Out of His mouth is coming a sharp double-edged sword... ok, time to back up a a bit and look at some other scriptures as well, because this sounds really weird.  Back in verses 8 & 11 He said He was the "Alpha" & "Omega" - the first and last letters of the alphabet that John was using.  John 1:1 & 14 - Jesus is the Word, in Greek that would be the Logos, so it's only fitting that the Word would mean the whole Word, everything revealed by God from A-Z, we've got the same author here (John) who wrote John 21:25 - there is something very significant about Jesus being the Word.  What is this two-edged sword, it may very well be the active word of God as described in Hebrews 4:12-13.  We get the sense because of the symbol used that Judgement will be ushering forth from His mouth - and in later chapters we will see that happening.  One commentator I've been listening to mentioned that Jesus mouth is a weapon that cannot be disobeyed - when He speaks people do as He says whether or not they want to Isaiah 45:23 & Philippians 2:9-11, when the time comes He will need no other weapon to defeat rebellious mankind (Ephesians 6:17).

v17-18:  Nobody knows Jesus like John did, yet what does John do when faced with Jesus in His glory?  He falls down on his face as if he were dead!  Isaiah also had an interesting reaction in similar circumstances (Isaiah 6:1-5).  Jesus doesn't leave John on his face, He touches him and reassures him - there's an amazing parallel to a similar account involving Jesus & John in Matthew 16:28-17:9.  At the transfiguration John got a glimpse of the glory of Jesus, this time John sees Jesus in full glory.  It's interesting to note that Jesus prophetic words in Matthew 16:28 were fulfilled partially at the transfiguration, and fully in the events of the book of Revelation.  That John was specifically set aside for this purpose may be hinted at in another place in scripture  (John 21:20-24).

Jesus tells John "do not be afraid", these same words are echoed many times in scripture, each time followed by a special commissioning by God - this is no exception.  God, Jesus in this case, has a specific job for John, the recording of His revelation.  Jesus claims to be the "I Am" (two words in Greek - see Lesson 2), the First and the Last.  We know it's Jesus by what is said in verse 18 - He is the Living One, he was dead and now He is alive.  He holds the keys of Death & Hades - He is victorious over death (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

Has anyone of you ever had a J.W. come to your door?  These verses, 17 & 18, in their favorite book of the Bible, is one of the best arguments you can present to prove to them that Jesus is God (they believe Jesus is a "g" god).  He makes multiple claims to his deity here but they would be likely to discount most - what they won't discount is this: "the First and the Last" is always the one they call Jehovah God.  Then all you need to do is ask them "when did Jehovah die?"... verse 18 specifically says "I was dead" - that can be no other than our Lord Jesus Christ!!
A full list of verses (this will be on the blog) to show to a J.W. would be as follows, each time asking "who is the First and the Last?" or "who is the Alpha and the Omega?": Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, 48:12; Revelation 1:8, 1:11 (in a version that has the I Am statement), 1:17-18, 2:8 (which also speaks about Him dying and coming to life again), 22:13.

The following is from The Interlinear Bible, published by Sovereign Grace Publishers:

v19: This verse actually gives us God's outline of the Revelation:
Chapter 1 - what you have seen
Chapters 2-3 - what is now
Chapters 4-22 - what will take place later
John is instructed to write these things down for all to see.

v20: Jesus specifically interprets some of the images John has seen: 

7 Stars: Angels of the 7 churches - the term for Angels as used in Revelation is exclusively used to mean Angelic beings, though some interpret the Greek word (Angel = Messenger) to indicate the pastor/elders of the churches.  I disagree with the pastor/elder view for the following reasons: angels & elders are both called out later in the book (Revelation 7:11) & if Jesus meant elder here He could have used that specific word but He didn't, stars are frequently used figuratively to represent angelic beings and this is not true of pastor/elders.  I believe that angelic beings minister to God's people (Hebrews 1:14, Matthew 18:10) and it is not a stretch that angelic beings might also minister to individual churches.

7 Lampstands: 7 churches, which we should conclude are the 7 previously mentioned churches.  It's interesting that if we glance back up at verse 13 we see that Jesus is among the seven lampstands - He is in the midst of His churches, inspecting His churches, and working on their behalf (Matthew 18:18-20). Each church, like each believer, has an appointed mission to bear light to the world.  That was also the appointed mission of Israel - this may be why her official symbol is a Menorah (not a Star Of David), though Israel appears at this time to have failed in this mission she still has a future light-bearing mission that we will see later in Revelation chapter 7.

Are we as a church fulfilling God's mission?  Are we shining light into the world?  Or have we become like Israel was in Jesus day, inwardly focused and paying little attention to the unsaved world around us?  This is something we should carefully consider!

Prayer:  Lord, there's so much in this first chapter yet we have so much more yet to come.  Help our understanding of this passage, help us each to testify as John has testified, help us as a church to be a lampstand that shines brightly for the world to see.  Amen!