THE SEVEN CHURCHES

 

Today we are going to take a close look at the 7 churches of Asia that are mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. The book of Revelation is a challenging book because it is a book of visions that are based heavily on symbols. I have no doubt that the Christians of the first century understood the symbolisms, but they are not as clear to us today, which is why there are so many different interpretations of this book.

 

Over half the signs mentioned in this book come from the OT. In fact, out of the 404 verses of this book, 265 of them contain references to the OT. (Smith). While we may come to different conclusions on some of these symbols, one thing we can agree on is that this book was designed to warn the church of the persecution they would face and how they needed to endure by standing fast in the faith because Christ will be victorious in the end.

 

Parts of Revelation are fairly easy to understand such as the 2 chapters we will be examining today. The book of Revelation starts out with John being exiled to the island of Patmos to a Roman prison because he was proclaiming the Word of God. It was here that he received his revelation from the Lord and the instructions to write to these 7 churches as we read in,

 

Revelation 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,11 saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."

 

As you can see on our map, these were actual congregations that existed during Johnís time. The reason this is important is because there are some religious groups who teach that the 7 churches represent seven ages of the church. They teach that:

 

  • Ephesus represents the apostolic period
  • Smyrna represents the period of persecution
  • Pergamos represents the times of union with the state of Rome
  • Thyatira represents the Dark Ages
  • Sardis represents the Reformation
  • Philadelphia represents the evangelistic movement
  • Laodicea represents the final period before the second coming of Christ

While this is an interesting view, it simply does not match up. For instance, the church of Sardis cannot possibly describe the Reformation movement because the church was working hard at getting back to Godís Word and fighting hard for the faith, yet the church of Sardis is described as being spiritually dead.

 

As we examine these 7 churches we will see that they represent different problems that any church could have and they serve as examples of what qualities Jesus wants His churches to have. These letters are designed to encourage and point out the things that needed to be taken care of in these churches. One of the recurring themes we will see is that Jesus knows what is going on in His churches and Rev. 2:1 teaches us that He continues to walk in the midst of His churches.

 

So, Jesus is not sitting back in His easy chair waiting until the end of time, He is actively involved with His people and He knows the spiritual condition of each congregation that makes up His body. As we examine what Jesus said about the 7 churches, it will help us to examine our own congregation and it will give us the tools we need to grow stronger for our Lord.

 

The main purpose of these letters was to help prepare these 7 churches for future persecution and give them hope of eternal victory in the end if they take heed and stand fast in the faith.

 

The first church addressed by Jesus is the church of Ephesus.

 

Ephesus was located on the western part of Asia and it was considered to be the most important city in all of Asia. It was called one of the "eyes" of Asia with Smyrna being the other "eye." There are several reasons this city was so important.

 

1. It was a favorable seaport so it made an ideal place for trade.

2. Even though Pergamos was the capital of Asia, Ephesus was the largest city in the province having some 300,000 population.

3. It had an impressive theater that would hold around 25,000 people. There was a road that was little over 100 feet wide that ran from the harbor to the theater that had rows of columns on both sides. Behind these columns were baths, gymnasiums, and impressive buildings.

4. Ephesus had one of the 7 great wonders of ancient world, the temple of Artemis or Diana, which is her Roman name. This temple was supported by 127 columns that we 197 feet high. Artemis or Diana was supposed to be the twin sister of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus. She was known as the moon goddess and the goddess of hunting. The temple had an image of her that supposedly came directly from Zeus (Acts 19:35). Many of the local people worshiped this false goddess and the silversmiths made profit by making souvenirs of this false goddess and the temple.

 

Paul visited Ephesus briefly on his second missionary journey in Acts 18 and on his 3rd missionary journey in Acts 19, he stayed there for almost 3 years in which he taught for 2 years at the school of Tyrannus and Acts 19:10 says, ďall who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.Ē Aquila and Priscilla were there with him Since Paul had such a great influence over the people it started worrying the silversmiths because they were afraid their business would slow down, so they caused a riot that gathered in that great theater.

 

Apollos, the great speaker, worked in Ephesus as well and later on Timothy lived and worked there as an evangelist. Paul met with the Ephesian elders one last time in Acts 20 and later he wrote them a letter, which bears their name. Tradition says that John spent many of his latter years there. The church of Ephesus had a lot of spiritual support, but as we are about to see, they were not problem free. Letís now take a look at what Jesus about them:

 

Revelation 2:1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ' These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:2  "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;3 "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.

 

The word angel simply means messenger, and I believe this is talking about an earthly messenger, but who the messenger is, we do not know. Chapter 1 lets us know that Jesus is the one who holds the seven stars, which represents the 7 messengers of the church. Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth and no can take that power from Him, and He is depicted as walking in midst of the seven golden lampstands, which represents the 7 churches.

 

A lampstand is a fitting symbol since it is supposed to be on fire and giving light to those around it. This is same thing a church should be doing. It should always be on fire for the Lord and providing the light of truth to a dark world. As Jesus continues to walk in the midst of these churches, He is about to let them know their weakness and their strengths and many of the weakness and strengths can be seen in the various churches today.

 

In verse 2 and 3, Jesus commends this church for what they have done. When it says, I know your works, the word know means that Jesus has perfect knowledge of what they have been doing. We need to understand as a church that nothing goes unseen by God because,

 

Hebrews 4:13 there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

 

At Ephesus, these were not Christians who sat around with the hands in their pockets no they labored for the Lord, which from Greek means they worked themselves toward weariness. As the labored, they exercised great patience. Patience is hard thing to come by for some, but if you are going to be an effective servant for the Lord, you have to learn to develop patience, especially when it comes to leading people to Christ.

 

While they were patient, they did not tolerate the false way, and they tested those that came around calling themselves apostles by comparing what they were teaching to the Word of God. Paul had warned this church to watch out false teachers in:

 

Acts 20:28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.29 "For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.30 "Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

 

Based on Jesus commendation, we can see that the Elders of Ephesus had listened to Paulís warning and tested all things. This is the same attitude that the church should have today. We should never take a preachers or any one elseís word as being the Gospel. Instead, we should test what they say with what Godís Word says. If they are found to be teaching something false, then it needs to be dealt with and not ignored as some like to do.

 

Now that Jesus has commended them, He is going to tell them what their weakness is.

 

4 "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

 

Many scholars clash on what this first love was because some think it was a love for the brethren, while others think it refers to their love for God. But, it really doesnít matter which one it refers to because both are necessary to be pleasing to God. But if I was forced to choose, I would say it refers to their love for God because that is every Christians first love, and without that love they wouldnít even begin to have love for the brethren. The love mentioned here comes from the Greek word agape, which means an unselfish committed love.

 

While these brethren were defending Godís truth and doing many works in His name, somewhere along the line they lost their love and they were being motivated by something else. We must understand that going through the motions and doing everything right is not worth a hill of beans unless we are motivated by love. As Paul said,

 

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

 

Next, Jesus warns them,

 

5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place -- unless you repent.

 

Jesus tells them how they can remedy their situation and get back to their first love.

 

First, they must remember how they used to be motivated by love for God or by love for their brethren. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get in a bad habit and we donít treat others like we should and we forget why we became a Christian. So, from time to time, we should all take time out to reflect on why we became a Christian and why we choose to good works in the name of God. When we do this it will help us to relight our love for God and for others.

 

Second, they were to repent that is to change their way of thinking and get back on track.

 

Third, they were to get busy doing the first works that is doing their works motivated by love. One the best ways that you and I can show that we have returned to back our first love is by doing works of repentance because our actions prove our commitment to God.

 

If any church is unwilling repent of this sin, then Jesus will remove its lampstand. In other words, it will no longer be considered a church of Christ even if the name on the sign outside says church of Christ.

 

6 "But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

 

Once again, Jesus commends them for standing against evil deeds. Later, Jesus puts the doctrine of Nicolaitans on same level as the doctrine of Balaam. It is believed that the Nicolaitans were some of the first Gnostics who practiced immorality and encouraged others to do the same. As a church of Christ, we must learn to hate the evil deeds of others, but not the person themselves. As the saying goes, ďHate the sin, not the sinner. Finally, Jesus gives an exhortation. ††

 

7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."

 

Jesus is letting the church know that every individual Christian must hear this lesson and the lessons that are learned from His other letters to the churches. Every Christians that overcomes their sins by remaining faithful to God will get to eat from the tree of life that is found in heaven.

 

The second church that is addressed by Jesus is Smyrna the poor church.

 

Smyrna was the second great city of Asia and it was about 40 miles north of Ephesus. It was also a popular seaport. Even though it was not as populated as Ephesus, it was close at a population around 200,000. This didnít stop them from proclaiming themselves ďfirst in Asia in beauty and sizeĒ on their coins. This city was known for it beauty because of it mountainous skyline. This city was loyal to the Romans, so the Romans built a temple in their city to worship Emperor Tiberius. It also had a small group of Jews who were strongly opposed to Christianity. Now letís read what Jesus said about this church:

 

 

 

 

Revelation 2:8 " And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ' These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:

 

Again this letter is written to the earthly messenger of the church, and Jesus lets them know that it is from Him because He is the First and the Last who died and was raised from the dead. The reason it was important for them to know that Jesus is Deity and that He has power over death was because they were going through great persecution as we will see in just a minute. Anytime that you are under great distress, it is comforting to know that God is in control and even if you die physically, you will still live forever with Him.

 

9 "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

 

Jesus knows their works and how they had been enduring extreme tribulation, and to top it off, they were in deep poverty to the point where they were destitute and beggars. Even though they were being physically challenged in this way Jesus said they are rich. No, not with physical wealth or things; they were rich spiritual because they were in Christ and they had all the spiritual blessing that are found in Christ. As Paul said,

 

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

 

No matter how poor we become, we will always be rich when we live our lives for God and we need to remind ourselves that this life is temporary and no matter what may happen to us, it cannot compare to the riches we will receive in heaven. As Paul said in,

 

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

 

I also like what he said in,

 

1 Timothy 6:6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain.7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.

 

Jesus knows all about the opposing Jews who were blaspheming the name of Jesus. These Jewswe causing these Christians to be persecuted and they were probably using the Romans to deal out this punishment. Jesus calls these Jewís meeting place a synagogue of Satan because of they were being adversary to the Lordís church.

 

Next, Jesus exhorts them and warns them of more persecution.

 

10 "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until 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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." '

 

This church had already been through the ringer, but they would have to dig down deep and keep their faith in God. Jesus lets them know that they are going to be thrown into prison, which would test them. Some Christians are under the false impression that being a Christian is going to make them have a perfect life with little or no hardships, but that simply is not true. Sometimes persecution can become part of your life because of what you stand for, but just like these Christians at Smyrna, we must not fear what man can do to us because he has no power over our soul.

 

When Jesus said they would suffer tribulation for 10 days, this is not referring to 10 literal days, but is symbolic. The number 10 represents completeness, fullness, or power. Jesus tells them to be faithful until death. Sometimes it is easier to give up than to be faithful when things are not going our way, but if we must put our full trust in God and believe His promise that if we remain faithful that we will receive that crown of life, which is talking about eternal life with.

 

Again, Jesus wants the churches to know that this royal crown is available to every Christian who will hear these words and live by them. When we overcome sin and endure, we cannot be hurt by the second death, which is eternal separation from God. As John writes later:

 

Revelation 21:7 "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.8 "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

 

Even though Jesus does not point out any weaknessrs of this church, it does not mean that they were perfect, but overall, they were very strong in the faith.

 

The third church addressed by Jesus is the church at Pergamos.

 

Pergamos was the Roman capital of Asia and it was beautiful city with beautiful buildings and wide roads. It had the second largest library in the Roman empire and it was famous for its parchment it invented when Egypt stopped selling its papyrus (a writing material), to Pergamos. The city had a medical center where Galen, second only to Hippocrates in medical fame of antiquity, lived and practiced as the most renowned physician of his day (Denton Lectures).

 

 

 

It was considered a stronghold for the Roman government and it was a place that enforced emperor worship. Not only were there multiple temples set up to worship the emperors, there were temples for Zeus and Athena. There was also a large group of Jews in this area and the Nicolaitans were practicing their doctrine there as well.

 

Now letís look at what Jesus said about the church of Pergamos.

 

Revelation 2:12 " And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ' These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:13 "I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

 

Jesus is identified as having the sharp two-edged sword, and in chapter one, this sword is pictured as coming out of his mouth. Since the Word of God is referred to as sword (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), this is referring to the Word of God. Notice the sword has two sides. On one side it can save by cutting the heart with the truth, and on the other side it can judge and destroy someone by committing their soul to hell for eternity if they do not obey the Word.

 

Again Jesus knows exactly what this church has been doing and how they have not denied the name of Christ even though they are at Satanís thrown. I just finished telling you how his city was full of pagan worship so what better way to describe this place than Satanís thrown, and this term would include those opposing Jews because remember Jesus called the opposing Jews gathering place in Smyrna a synagogue of Satan.

 

Very few martyrs are named in the Bible, but Antipas is named here. We no nothing of this man other than what Jesus said about him. Even though this man was killed for being a Christian, the church remained strong, and this is the same attitude we must have today. Even if something bad happens to one of our faithful brethren because of death or because they get led away by worldly ways, we should remain strong in the faith. Now that Jesus has commended them, He will now point out what He has against them.

 

Revelation 2:14 "But I have a few things against you, because you have 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.15 "Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

 

While this church was doing good as a whole of keeping the false way out, some of its members were practicing the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolatians. Now some believe these two doctrines may be the same doctrine called by two different names. In either case, these doctrines were wrong and they should not be tolerated. For a fuller explanation of Balaamís story read Numbers 22-25.

 

In those chapters you will see that Balak bribes Balaam to cures the children of Israel, but God does not allow him to do this. Based on what Jesus has said in our text, Ballam devised a plan for Balak that would cause God to curse Israel. This plan involved the Moabite women. They seduced these Jews into sexual immorality and pagan worship and this plan worked because God killed 24,000 Jews with a plague (Num. 25:9).

 

So this church at Pergamos was turning a blind eye to those who were engaging in sexual immorality and participating in idol worship involving the eating of sacrificed animals. Jesus wanted them to understand that they cannot allow those members practicing this sin to go undisciplined. He tells them what they need to do in,

 

Revelation 2:16 'Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.

 

Jesus gets straight to the point, repent or else. This was a sin that needed to be dwelt with. If they did not, He would come to them quickly and fight against the Christians involved in this sin with the sword of His mouth. Jesus was not referring to a physical fight, but that He would send someone to come preach to them the Word of God to make them see the error of their ways.

 

This is same weapon that we must yield when it comes to correcting those that are living in sin. We canít just say their wrong we must show them how they are wrong from the Word of God and if they listen and are convicted of their sin great. If they donít listen,will be judged by the Word of God. Finally, Jesus says,

 

Revelation 2:17 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." '

 

As all these letters were read in the 7 churches, Jesus wants each Christian to take heed to what He writes, and if these shortcomings apply to them, He wants them to make the necessary changes in their life.

 

Jesus encourages them to overcome their faults, and He promises to give them some of the hidden manna. This is most like referring to the manna that fell from heaven and sustained the children of Israel as the wandered in the wilderness, and how a jar of this manna was hidden away the Ark of the Covenant. Jesus also said that He is bread of life in John 6. So, I see Jesus saying that if you overcome sin in your life, it will be sustained for eternity through Jesus.

 

Now there are a lot of different ideas on what this white stone is and what the new name is. I donít have time to explore all of them, but know this. White is associated with purity and righteousness and the new name from the Greek does not have to mean a new name that has never been heard, but it can mean one that is known by the recipient. So, it is possible this new name is Christian or it could be a name that we will not know until we get to heaven. But whatís important is the overall idea that you will be in heaven with God if you overcome.

This morning we began looking at the 7 churches of Asia that Jesus had messages sent to by John. We examined the first 3 this morning. Tonight we will look at the last 4.

 

The fourth church addressed by Jesus is Thyatira.

 

Thyatira was not as impressive as the other 3 cities we have looked at so far. It was viewed as a resting place for those who were traveling back and forth from Pergamos and Sardis. Even though it was not a large place, it was a center for trade and commerce. It was known for its trade guilds. If you did not belong to one these guilds, then you would not be in business. A woman named Lydia came from the city that we read about in Acts 16 and she was a seller of purple fabrics. The fabrics were expensive because the dye had to be extracted drop by drop from a rare shellfish. This was one product they were famous for.

 

The main problem with these trade guilds was that each one of them had their own deity, and they engaged in eating sacrificed animals to their God, and in some cases sexual immorality. So, Christians would have hard time separating themselves from these guilds because they would be out work and they would be ostracized, but if they wanted to be faithful to God, they would have to. This is no different today because some jobs require you to promote or be involved in sinful things, and if a person in a job like this becomes a Christian, he needs to find a new job. Many in this city also worshipped the sun God Apollo.

 

Even though Thyatira is not mentioned much by 1st century writers, Jesus says more to this church than all the others. So, letís begin looking at His instructions to this church.

 

Revelation 2:18 " And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ' These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:19 "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.

 

As usual, Jesus identifies Himself and this is the only time in the book of Revelation that we will see the phrase Son of God. If there was any doubt of who this message was coming from, it should now be clear that Jesus is the source. This imagery that Jesus used to describe himself is appropriate for a city that built and sold things. However, others believe that Jesus may have called Himself the Son of God and used this description of Himself to show that He is superior to the false sun god Apollo.

 

Jesus commends this church in verse 19. Over all, this church stood out as a faithful church. They were actively serving God and they were known for their love. This is the only church that Jesus commends their love. Every church needs to have love at its core because without it, we can end up like the church at Ephesus that we looked at this morning.

 

This church had great faith and trust in God and they were patient. When Jesus said, ďas for your works, the last are more than the first. He was saying that this was a growing church that was doing more now than when they started. Again, this is a great example for all churches of Christ to follow. We should always be growing and doing more for the Lord as we can, because a growing church is a healthy church. Even though this church was growing, it still has some room for improvement as we read in,

 

Revelation 2:20 "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 eat things sacrificed to idols.21 "And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.22 "Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.23 "I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.

 

Now whether this womanís name was actual Jezebel or was a name given to her after the notorious evil Jezebel of the O.T., we do not know, but we do know that she called herself a prophetess and she taught and seduced Christians in that church to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols, and the church tolerated it.

 

Please notice that Jesus did not call her a prophetess, but she claimed to be one. Apparently, she was appealing to those Christians who belonged to these trade guilds and she was telling them things like, God has said its ok for you to remain in those guilds and to participate in their rituals so you can put food on the table. Some were buying into this lie because when our back is up against the wall and we want to find a way to live our lifestyle and still be accepted by God, we are willing to believe false teachers to put our minds at ease. When we do this, we are allowing ourselves to have a false comfort because God will not be pleased with what we are doing. So, we need to be careful that we donít sell our souls to the devil, by compromising Godís truth by believing a lie.

 

We can see how patient Jesus is because He gave this woman time to repent, but she would not. If she and her converts donít repent, then Jesus said He was going to throw her into a bed of suffering along with all those who had joined with her and they would suffer great tribulation, unless they repented of their deeds.

 

When Jesus says he will kill her children to death, He is talking about all those that have been conceived through her false doctrine. Like Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5 served as an example to the churches that God will not tolerate lying to the Holy Spirit, these Christiansí death would set example among the churches that God will not tolerate the sin of Jezebelís doctrine and that the churches need to discipline those involved in this sin and withdraw from them if they will not repent. When Jesus put to death these offspring of her doctrine, the churches would know that Jesus does indeed searches the hearts and minds of men and that we will receive our rewards or our punishments based on our deeds.

 

Revelation 2:24 "Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.25 "But hold fast what you have till I come. ††††

 

Some in this congregation had not believed in this doctrine of Jezebel, and they had not allowed themselves to be engaged or influenced by it. Since they had not engaged in these sins, they had not known the depths of Satan. While Jezebel was teaching her followers that she had a deeper message for them to learn from God, Jesus exposes her teaching as being the deeper things of the devil instead.

 

Very similar to the response given to the Gentiles in Acts 15, Jesus will not put any more burden on these faithful men and women, but He does want them to hold fast to there faithfulness until the end.

 

Revelation 2:26 "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations --27 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels' -- as I also have received from My Father;28 "and I will give him the morning star.29 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." '

 

Those who teach the rapture theory take this to mean that Christians will rule over the nations of the earth for a 1000 years when Jesus comes back again to establish His earthly kingdom, but this is not true because Jesus has already established His kingdom and is reigning over it right now and the Scriptures do not teach anything about a future earthly kingdom. Instead, we are told when Jesus comes back, we will meet Him in the air and we will go to the place He has prepared for us in heaven (1 Thes. 4:17; Jn. 14:1ff).

 

What Jesus is describing is the power of Godís spiritual kingdom and if we overcome and remain faithful, we share in His rule. As Paul said:

 

Romans 5:17 For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

 

2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.

 

Jesus said this is the same privilege that He received from His Father and He will give those who overcome the morning star, and in Rev. 22:16 Jesus says He is the bright and morning star. This is wonderful gift to look forward to for all eternity if we remain faithful to the end. This letter and the remaining 3 will conclude with Jesus saying, ďHe who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

 

The fifth church Jesus addresses is the Sardis church.

 

Sardis was about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira and it was the capital of Lydia. It was built on a 1500 foot high plateau that was almost inaccessible on all sides. The only access was narrow pathway to the city that could easily be defended by a small group of men. However, the steep inclines were not impassible because Sardis had been captured twice (546 and 218 B.C.) by enemies who managed to scale these unprotected inclines.

Great names of ancient history were associated with the place, such as Croesus, Cyrus, and Alexander the Great. Gold was mined there and money was first minted there. A earthquake destroyed the city in A.D. 17. and it was rebuilt Tiberius Caesar, but it was never restored back to it former glory. They worshipped Cybele the goddess in which immorality was encouraged. The letter to this church has no commendations from Jesus, the only other letter like this was written to the church at Laodicea. Now lets take a look at what Jesus said about the Sardis church.

 

Revelation 3:1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ' These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.2 "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.

 

Jesus identifies Himself from what was written in chapter one. He has the seven Spirits of God found Rev. 1:4, which is referring to the Holy Spirit and from Rev. 1:20 He has the seven stars, which are the angels or messengers of the church. This shows that Jesus is in control and has all authority.

 

We need to keep in mind that all 7 of these letters would be read in all 7 of these churches. If you put yourself in the shoes of this church, imagine how you would feel after you heard the first 4 letters read that all had commendations in them and then it came to your letter and you hear, I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

 

This had to a devastating blow to this church. They had been busy for the Lord in the past, but they had become lax in their service. Noting in this letter indicates that they were under any kind of oppression or persecution and maybe this had led to them becoming spiritual dead.

 

In verse 2, Jesus teaches them to continually be watchful and strengthen those few works that still remained that were about to vanish away. This indicates that they allowed their few good works they were still doing to remain undone.

 

This can certainly happen to churches today because it easy to lose site of God when we live in a country that is flourishing and we can take care of most of our own problems. While it is comforting to have the blessings that we enjoy, if we are not careful, we can find ourselves becoming independent of God and lax in our service toward Him just like the Children of Israel did in the O.T. When things were going good, they moved away from God and entered into sin. When things were going bad, they focused on God and strove for righteousness. Next Jesus warns this church in:

 

Revelation 3:3 "Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.

 

Every Christian in every church should take time to remember what they have received through Jesus and to remember the Word of God, and we must hold fast to that foundation because it is key in remaining faithful and for producing Godly sorrow which leads to repentance.

 

Jesus tells this church if they do not repent of their spiritual deadness that He will come upon on them like a thief in the night. This same language is used to describe Jesusí second coming, but here is it used in a limited sense of judgment. Now what kind of judgment is not specified, but this warning should be enough to get them to wake up, repent and get busy for the Lord.

 

Revelation 3:4 "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.5 "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." '

 

Even when a church has become spiritual dead as a whole, you can usual find a few Christians that have remained spiritual alive. These faithful few at Sardis had not defiled their garments. If you pictured someone wearing white clothes and then they wallowed around in a pigís pin, there white clothes would be completely defiled with mud, which the idea behind defiled. But these faithful few were living pure lives and had not stained themselves with sin.

 

Those faithful few will be walking with Jesus in white because of their faithfulness. Even though none of us are worthy of this honor, Jesus has made us worthy, but only if we are obedient to His will. This promise is given to all Christians who overcome and remain steadfast in their faith. When we do not defile our gaments, our name will not be removed from the Book of Life and Jesus will confess our name before the Father. This is important because if your name is not in that book, Jesus will deny you before the Father, and you will not make it into heaven. Once again, verse 6 makes it clear that this promise is to every Christian in every church.

 

The sixth church addressed by Jesus is the church at Philadelphia.

 

Philadelphia was about 30 miles southeast of Sardis. It was a newer city that was built around the 2nd century B.C. by Attalus II as missionary city to spread the Greek language and culture into Lydia and Phrygia He named it "Philadelphia" in honor of his brother Eumenes. Philadelphia means "brotherly love" or ďlover of his brother,Ē which is where the phrase ďcity of brotherly loveĒ came from. This city was also known as Little Athens because of its numerous temples and buildings. Grapes grew in abundance there and they contributed this to the god of wine, which was one of their main false gods they worshipped and honored. This city was also destroyed by the earthquake of A.D. 17 and it suffered many more earthquakes throughout its history because it was built on fault line.

 

Even though the church in this city was surrounded by all these temples and false Godís, they were a strong faithful church because as we will see nothing negative is said about them.

 

Revelation 3:7 " And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ' These things says He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens":

 

Jesus identifies Himself in 3 ways. First, He is the Holy one, which was a term used described God. Second He is true. In a city filled with false Godís Jesus is the real thing, hence He is the true God. Third, He has the key of David. To have the key denotes His authority to accept or deny entrance into His kingdom. It also implies Jesusí lineage through David and that He is sitting on Davidís thrown. Whatever Jesus opens, no one can shut and what He shuts no one can open, not even the devil himself. Next, is Jesusí commendation.

 

Revelation 3:8 "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.9 "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say 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.10 "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.11 "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.

 

Jesus has perfect knowledge of the works of this church and He used the key of David to open a door for them that no one could close. This is referring to an open door of evangelism. Jesus would make it possible for them to continue to preach the Good News to their city and beyond.

 

Even though this church was small in number, they had kept Godís Word and had never denied the name of Jesus even though they were surrounded by false Godís. Since there was so many false gods to worship, they had their work cut of for them, but with Godís help they could press on. This teaches us that a church does not have to be a mega church to accomplish great things for God. Even the small churches that are committed to serving God can make a big impact in Godís kingdom.

 

In verse 9, Jesus calls these opposing Jews who do not believe Him false Jews and that there gathering place is the synagogue of Satan, which the same thing He said about them in His letter to Smyrna. While these Jews may have been Jews physically, they were not spiritual. As Paul explains in,

 

Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

 

When Jesus said He would make these Jews worship at their feet, He does not mean worship in the sense one worships God, but that they would show reverence to them. There are a couple of possibilities of how this would happen. Some of the Jews may have finally believed due to the open door Jesus created, and they would recognize that they were wrong all this time and show reverence to those that converted them. Or some event would occur that would make these Jews realize that Christians are Godís special people.

 

In verse 10, Jesus comforts the church by letting them know that He would be with them to help them through the upcoming trials that would test the world, since they had kept His Word. These Christians had already been enduring persecutions from the Jews, but more persecutions would come that would test the world.

 

When Jesus said He would keep them from these trials, it does not mean that they would be uninfected by it, but that He would help them through it. Every faithful Christian can take comfort in these Words because Jesus is with us as well. Even when difficult times come our way, we can know that we can endure and make it through the trials of this life because we can draw strength through Christ.

 

When Jesus says He is going to come quickly, He is talking about His judgment and not His second coming. Even when this trial did happen, Jesus encourages them to hold fast to their faith, so they can stand victorious in the end. Now notice the promise Jesus makes in,

 

Revelation 3:12 "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.13 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." '

 

This should be comforting to all Christians because a pillar is designed to be a permanent structure, which indicates that when we remain faithful, we will become a permanent part of the glorified church in heaven. Not only will we be in heaven, Jesus will write on us the name of God and the name of the city of God, which is the New Jerusalem. The ancient world would write their heroesí names and people they wanted to honor on pillars and in a similar way, we receive the great honor of having these names written on us, which indicates that we belong to God. Again, Jesus refers to this new name that will be written on us when we get to heaven.

 

Jesus wants the church at Philadelphia to be encouraged by this message, and He wants all Christians everywhere to open their ears to this truth and realize they can also be a pillar in Godís heavenly abode if they will remain faithful to the Lord.

The seventh church addressed by Jesus is the church at Laodicea.

 

Laodicea was established in the 3rd century B.C. by Antiochus II and he named this city in honor of his wife Laodice. It was about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and it was an epicenter of trade routes, so it became one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world. Some of have called it the ďWall Street of AsiaĒ or ďthe city of millionaires. In A.D. 60 and earthquake destroyed much of their city, and Rome offered to help them rebuild, but they refused their help, and rebuilt their city from their own funds. So, they were very independent and took care of themselves.

 

One thing they were famous for was their clothing they made from black wool, which made them a clothing and fashion center. History also teaches us that a medical school located just outside the city created an eye medicine to treat diseased eyes called ďPhrygian powderĒ that was sought after by the ancient world, and it was distributed by this wealthy city as well. This city had a heavy population of Jews and the Caesars were worshipped their as well.

 

This letter sent to this church is unique because Jesus does not commend the church nor does He mention their being a faithful few. So, letís begin examining this final letter.

 

Revelation 3:14 " And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ' These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:

 

As usual Jesus message is given to the angel of the church and Jesus indentifies Himself in 3 ways. First, He is the amen, which comes from Hebrew word that means firm and steadfast and sometimes this word is translated as truth in the O.T. (Isa. 65:16). This is certainly a great description of Jesus.

Second, He calls Himself the Faithful and True Witness. No other person could make this claim except Jesus. Only He was perfect and only He could be a true witness for God because He was from God, and only truth was found in Him. John 14:6 Jesus said Ö "I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Third, Jesus said He was the Beginning of the creation of God. Now some religious groups like the Jehovah Witnesses think this means that Jesus was created by God, but we know that is not true because John made it clear in his Gospel that Jesus has always existed because He is the I AM (Jn. 8:58). So, Jesus is saying that He is the source and origin of creation. The Father made the plan, but Jesus was responsible for all things being created as Paul says,

 

Colossians 1:16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

 

Revelation 3:15 "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.16 "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.17 "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 --

 

This church was one of the wealthiest churches in existence at that time and these Christians could of have been making great use of their wealth to further Godís kingdom, but they had allowed themselves to become half-hearted. They were not on fire for the Lord, but they were not completely lifeless for the Lord either. Now it is easy to understand why Jesus would want them to be hot for the Lord, but it is more difficult to understand why He would want them to be cold. Perhaps the reason for this was because those that are cold for the Lord are not really going to do much harm to Lordís church, but those that are lukewarm will because while they may hold to some of the principles in Godís Word, but they are not committed, and when you are trying to lead people to Christ and teach them that they must change, its not going to happen when they see that you are not behaving any better than they are. When a church becomes lukewarm they will never finish projects they start, instead they will only talk about them.

 

When a church becomes this way it makes Jesus sick to the point that He wants spew or vomit them out of His mouth. Every church of the Lord needs to keep themselves in check because it easy to become complacent and lazy and before they know it a church can find itself drifting away from God.

 

Laodiceaís problem was their wealth. They had the attitude that they did not need God or anyone else to help them because they could buy whatever they wanted. Their independence became their downfall and they had not realized that it had separated them from God.

 

Even though they had everything that money could buy Jesus said they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. No not physically, but spiritually. This same attitude has been downfall of some of the churches today. They have allowed themselves to get to comfortable with the freedoms we have in this nation and our ability to take care of many of our own problems. When we stop depending on God in our everyday lives, this is when we become lukewarm and we donít really care if false doctrine sneaks into the church. So, we have to pay attention and not allow our independence to cause us to become lukewarm. Next Jesus gives the remedy to this problem.

 

Revelation 3:18 "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.19 "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.

 

Even though this church was in bad shape, Jesus loved them and He gave them some great advice they better listen to if they want renew their relationship with God.

 

First, He wants them to buy refined gold from Him. In other Words, He wants them to have the true riches that only come from Christ. As Jesus said,

 

Matthew 6:19 " Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.21 "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

Second, He wants them to trade in their fashionable black garments with white garments so that they can cover up their spiritual nakedness.

Third, instead of using the salve their city sells, they need to use some spiritual salve that will open their eyes to how they are living their lives so they can see the changes they need to make to be reconciled to God.

 

Again, Jesusrebuked them because He loves them, and He wants them to repent. Jesus does not want His churches to fail, He wants them to succeed. Even if they get of track, He would rather they repent and start doing good than to get further off track.

 

20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

 

This teaches us two things. First, it shows that this church had shut Jesus out of their lives and they were in desperate need to repent. Second, it shows how Jesus is always there for us waiting for us to invite Him back into our lives. He is not just waiting silently, no, He is knocking at the door, trying to get you attention so He can come in and dine with you.

 

While this statement would have been devastating to this church to know that they had shut the door on Christ, it would have also been comforting to know that He still wanted to be part of their lives if they were willing. Finally Jesus says,

 

Revelation 3:21 "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." ' "

 

What a comforting promise for those who remain faithful. We will get to sit with Christ and enjoy all the benefits of heaven, which is a promise to every faithful Christian.

 

As you can see, these 7 churches have taught us what kind of church Jesus wants us to be and what things we should avoid. As we come to the conclusion of our study of these 7 churches, I would close by summarizing the characteristics we have learned that Jesus wants His church to have.

 

He wants churches that:

 

  • Are obedient to His Word
  • Are energetic
  • Endure against opposition
  • Sound in doctrine
  • Tireless in their labor
  • Courageous in the face of death
  • Are motivated by love
  • Trusts in God
  • Serve the needs of others
  • Are growing spiritual and numerically
  • Are pure and holy
  • Refuse to tolerate false teaching
  • Discipline those who are living in sin
  • Zealous and stable
  • Practice self-evaluation
  • Have Jesus as the center of their life

 

(This summary was adapted from Wayne Jackson book on Revelation p.37).