Revelation 2.12-17 – Heaven bound

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith[a] even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Today the angel of the church in Pergamum is addressed. Pergamum was the political capital of Asia Minor, so another important city. It was a city noted for culture, as an educational centre (it had a library containing over 200,000 volumes), and was also noted as a ‘religious’ city. We read also that it is a stronghold of satanic power.

As to why it was such a stronghold, some believe because Pergamum was full or pagan religion, especially of “Asclepios Soter” or “Asclepios Savior.”, a pagan god depicted by a snake, a pagan god of healing. Sufferers would flock to this temple from all over the Roman empire and spend the night in the dark temple, being run over by tame snakes. To touch the snake, they believed, was to touch the god himself, and be healed…

Others believe it was because Pergamum had a huge altar dedicated to the Roman god Zeus, and yet others believe it was because Pergamum was the political centre of Caesar worship.

Clearly, a mixed up place.

This church are holding fast to the name of Jesus in a place filled with unbelievers, where the way of life totally revolved around worship of other gods, where people were known to be religious but were not in relationship with the One true God.

But, as there is no such thing as a perfect church, there are also behaviours and actions that they are told must stop, must be repented of.

Some in the church were still holding on to former ways of immorality and idolatry, as we read, they were holding the teaching of Balaam, see Numbers 22-24, and 31.

To live up to Biblical principles of morality means going against the grain, especially in Pergamum 2000 years ago. Listen to what Roman statesmen Cicero said,

“If there is anyone who thinks that young men should not be allowed the love of many women, he is extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle he stands on. But he contradicts, not only with the freedom our age allows, but also with the customs and allowances of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that what is now allowed was not allowed?”

As believers we are called to stand against such ‘freedoms of the age’, and live with the timeless truth of the Word of God in mind, the timeless principles embodied by the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must never have a spirit of accommodation towards false teaching, towards idolatry, or towards immorality…the church must be doctrinally pure, and God promises us true manna from heaven if we are (John 6.41).

He also promises that if we see this through to the end, we are heaven bound, as evidenced by the white stone. Here the name on the stone is far more important than the stone itself.

Think, if you won the lottery and were told, ‘Do you want a cheque, a bank transfer, or an enormous bag of cash?’, you wouldn’t care how it got there, you’d just care it got there, you see?

So on the stone is our heavenly name, our guaranteed reservation to dwell with God forever…if we hold fast to His timeless truths despite living in a world that seeks to water them down, push them aside, or out and out crucify them.

 

Revelation 2.8-11 – To the church in Smyrna

8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

 

Smyrna was a big, beautiful, proud city at the time of writing, commercially rich and vibrant.

“Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship”,

writes David Guzik.

The Christians here lost jobs, money, possessions, and sometimes life for simply being Christian; for professing the faith that we also profess to have. At times like that, when we are suffering simply for being a Christian, its easy to feel like we have been forgotten by God, that there is no rhyme or reason to it all.

But, just as the suffering of Christ on the cross achieved so much, so can our earthly suffering produce fruit too. We may never see it, but we need to, we have to, we must believe in the good and perfect will of Almighty God.

Its easy to feel forgotten, but, Jesus says, “I know your tribulation…”, He knows our problems, He knows our poverty, He knows the slander of those who claim to be living a Christian life which tarnishes the rest of us with the same brush…He knows.

Churches in the day and age when Revelation was written had a plurality of male elders, and then one pastor; one installed to lead the leaders and to teach. In the church in Smyrna, it was a man named Polycarp (a personal hero of the faith of mine).

He refused to burn incense and renounce the ‘atheist’ Christians, and in a culture where emperor worship was the ‘norm’, Polycarp stood up for what he believed.

Rome thought that by denying the pantheon of Roman gods you were atheist…how wrong they were…

So Polycarp refused to worship Caesar as a god, and, long story short, was martyred for his faith. The governor of the time asked Polycarp to deny Christ and promised that if he did, his life will be spared. But the faithful saint answered the now famous line,

“Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how then can I now blaspheme my King and saviour?”

So, when we are persecuted, pushed, prodded, poked, or just made to feel bad for being a Christian, when we feel like God has forgotten us, we can remember the words of Polycarp, ‘…he has never done me injury…’.

God has not forgotten you, God will never forget you, and, as Jesus says here,

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

 

Revelation 2.1-7 – To the church in Ephesus

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

John now turns his attention, or rather, Jesus now turns his attention to the seven churches in Asia. Each paragraph is very formulaic (same same), and contains;

  • An address to a congregation,
  • an introduction of Jesus,
  • a statement on the condition of the church,
  • a verdict from Jesus about the church,
  • a command from Jesus about the church,
  • an exhortation to all Christians,
  • and a promise of a reward.

See if you can spot these things over the next few teachings!

So, chapters two and three address these seven churches (Paul also wrote to seven churches), then from chapter four onwards we go into future events (interestingly, some think that between chapter three and four is when the rapture of the church happens…)

Today, Ephesus. This church, on the surface, is good! They are patient, they toil, then endure, they cannot bear with people who do evil. So far, so good. They have tested the teachings they receive and found out false prophets, this means they knew correct teachings and they had doctrinal purity.

However, doing lots of good works doesn’t remove the bad ones, does it…

Their fault was that they abandoned the love they had at first. They have deliberately and consciously moved away from practicing love. Charles Spurgeon said (loosely) that if we lose love, we have lost all.

Its tricky, isn’t it, If we over emphasise keeping laws and truth, and forget love, we turn into Pharisees, don’t we, more concerned with protocol than people. We focus on the outward appearance of things, not the inner condition.

But, if we over emphasise love, we tolerate the wrong in people and seek to minimise it under the thought of ‘I’m loving people’.

There needs to be a balance, truth in love, love with truth.

Jesus calls for the church in Ephesus to repent and go back to their first love, a deliberate, intentional, and selfless love for others and each other that seeks to build people up in truth. Not cast them away when they stray, but not turn a blind eye to their sin, either. Balance is the key, and He is the example. Simply, loving God with everything we’ve got, and loving others as much, if not more, than we love ourselves.

For all of us, are we seeking the balance of truth and love?

Jesus says

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

which means that the messages we are going to read to these seven churches are, in principle and application, for all of us.

 

Revelation 1.9-20 – How He is

In Revelation 1.12-20 we read the only physical description of Jesus as He is now. We would – without really trying to – think of Jesus as He was…not as He is.

If I asked you to picture Jesus now, you would (most likely) picture a tall, kind-faced, bearded man with long hair by modern standards, and most likely to this image you would apply your own skin colour and/or tone. If you are really a clever boffin you would picture a Middle Eastern looking man, on account of Jesus’ geographical location during His incarnation, but, really, that’s how He looked then, not how He looks now!

I know, I know, you’ll say, well, the Bible teaches that the resurrection bodies we receive aren’t actually new, they are what we have (better start taking care of the skin you’re in, no?), because when Jesus rose He had scars and gaping holes in His hands…and you’re right, but, lets look how He is…

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Some fascinating things in this passage, but we want to focus on the main thing, don’t we, we want to keep the main thing as the main thing…

So,

Jesus is wise (The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.),

pure (clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest),

has impeccable judgement and can see the heart of men (His eyes were like a flame of fire),

is stable and permanent (his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace),

has a powerful, commanding, attention-grabbing voice (his voice was like the roar of many waters),

He holds the church in His hands (As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.),

His Word is heavy, powerful (from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword), *this is a different word from Hebrews 4.12. Here we read of a powerful, all-conquering sword, in Hebrews we read of a surgeon’s scalpel, precise and piercing.

and He radiates glory (his face was like the sun shining in full strength.)

Some people get hung up on the sacrificial saviour problem; how can I put my trust in a man who died, whose followers don’t even deny that died, whose followers actually proclaim His death as a good thing?

Well, when we read of the qualities, power, and characteristics that that broken, suffering, and loving human body belied, we can trust Him for the future with a new enthusiasm, love Him with a new vigour, and join Him in His mission to save the lost with more fervency.

We can do this because we know how He was, we know what He did, and, we know what He is like right now.

 

Revelation 1.4-8 – The Alpha and the Omega

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

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, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail[a] on account of him. Even so. Amen.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

 

John starts this section by addressing his readers; seven churches in Asia. Modern day Turkey, but back then a Roman province. Then, in the rest of verse four and five, we see a seamless trinitarian teaching, did you catch it?

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come (God the Father), and from the seven spirits who are before his throne (The Holy Spirit, see Isaiah 11.2), and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit…

We then read about the main thing (the book begins by saying The Revelation of Jesus Christ…). He loves us (ongoing, not finished), freed us (done), made us a Kingdom, priests to God, and yes, He truly deserves glory and dominion forever and ever. These sound like things which are due to God, creator and upholder of heaven and earth, no? Glory and dominion…forever and ever? Well, that’s because they are…they are due to God, and they are due to Jesus, too. Why, how?

Because Jesus is God, One Divine Being, but three persons. Father, Son, Spirit. Three persons, One Divine Being.

 

Look at verse eight and we see one piece of this fall right into place;

8 I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

On the surface, nothing revelatory there, is there, just God declaring who He is…just…anyway, nothing new for lots of people…but, if we look at Revelation 22.13, Jesus speaking now,

13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Hebrews 13.8 describes Jesus as

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The conclusion is inescapable, Jesus Christ is God. This is how He can authoritatively say things like this, great thoughts for us today;

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6),

 

Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8.58)

 

He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14.9)