The Seven Churches: Part 3

The Seven Churches: Part 3

This is the third of four articles examining the seven churches by way of exposition and practical application. All Bible study should have these two elements: what does the passage mean to those who received it and what can I do about it today? None of us live in any of these cities, our location and circumstances are different but there are lessons for us.

In all of these letters the centrality of the Lord Jesus is highlighted, a position that indicates His concern, cognizance and control. He views the churches and sees past the external to the heart of the matter. He views the various churches as they really are from heaven’s perspective. His concern is seen in that He cares for the consequences of each churches’ situation. He looks to commend what can be commended and also adds words of condemnation and correction where needed. The Lord gives a call to hear and also offers compensation to those who belong to Him The Lord Jesus, the One in the midst of the seven lamp stands, is the Head of the Church. The lamp stands are interpreted for us in 1:20 as the seven churches. His position also emphasizes the importance of church life, the Lord Jesus is interested in the gatherings of His people as opposed to the worldly things that so often occupy the attention of His own.

The two churches that are the subject of this article are Thyatira and Sardis.

As mentioned in previous articles there are a number of ways to view these letters. The primary approach is to consider what the words and imagery meant to the first century recipients. This involves an understanding of the word meanings, the verb tenses, and the ideas conveyed. There are no short cuts to this type of study as it involves digging for answers, using a dictionary, concordance, other translations and perhaps commentaries. There is also in this process a need for a conscious dependence in the help and guidance of the divine author, the Holy Spirit.

The devotional aspect of the letters is the application to the various ages of the church. There is no “thus says the Lord” to substantiate this perspective. However, as noted in the first article there are three lists of seven in scripture, feasts of Israel, kingdom parables, and seven church letters. This grouping seems to give the history of Israel, the kingdom and the church – the history given in advance.

In this progressive or prophetic view Thyatira would cover a thousand year period starting in the early 500’s with the formation and dominance of the Church of Rome. This period introduced many pagan feasts and concepts into church life. So much of what was visible was corrupt and anti-Christ. The historian Gibbon, not a Christian, wrote of this time saying, “the history of the church is the annals of hell.” As Broadbent shows in his book, The Pilgrim Church, there were those groups through this time that were true to the Lord Jesus.

Sardis would represent the period from the early 1500’s to the mid 1800’s. This would be the time of the “Protestant Reformation” when much truth was recovered but the movement from Rome was to state churches. Though some RC doctrines and practices were rejected many of the trappings, structures and doctrines were retained. The truth got lost in compromise and controversy. There were signs of life, the church thought it was alive, but in reality the church was spiritually dead.

The Church of Thyatira

The City: Thyatira was about 60 kilometers from Pergamum and was located in a lush valley by the Lycus river. Its location gave it importance as it was at the junction of three highways connecting the cities of Pergamum, Smyrna and Sardis. The agricultural land and manufacturing base gave the city its great wealth.

Among the products that flowed from Thyatira were metals and a purple dye. Lydia was from Thyatira and in Acts 16 was presented as a seller of purple. The production of all the products was tightly controlled by trade guilds, perhaps stronger here than in any of the other cities. The trade guilds had a strong attachment to their patron god which involved feasts and offerings to their god.

The Christ: As in each of these letters the presentation of the person of Christ meets the need of His people. This is true through scripture, here are some samples: He appeared as a pilgrim to Abraham in his pilgrimage, a soldier to Joshua before a battle, and in the den with Daniel.

The Son of God as a title for Christ occurs only here in the book of Revelation. In chapter 1 He is seen in His glory as one like the Son of Man; a man in the glory. Here the title Son of God is likely used in contrast to the worship of Apollo in Thyatira, Apollo was revered as the son of Zeus, thus in effect the son of a god. The title Son of God declares the deity of Christ; it was the use of this title that prompted the Jews to accuse Him of blasphemy as they understood the Lord Jesus was claiming to be God. To these believers in Thyatira here was One worthy of honor and allegiance.

The eyes like a flame of fire are found in 1:14 in the presentation of the glorified Christ. This would speak of His discernment, that “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” (Hebrews 4:13). What these believers might practice in pagan temples would be known by Christ.

The feet of fine brass are also seen in chapter 1. Brass commonly represents judgment or the One who exercises judgment. Here in Thyatira, fine metals were produced by the various guilds of metal smiths. Standing above is one whose feet are the finest of the brass.

Jim Allen in his commentary on Revelation within the What the Bible Teaches series makes a fine devotional thought about this threefold depiction of Christ. He suggests that the title Son of God speaks of His omnipresence, the eyes like a flame of fire His omniscience, and the feet like fine brass His omnipotence.

The Commendation: The commendation is much shorter than the condemnation that follows but these are words of encouragement. This may be a list of six items or it could be that their love, service, faith, and endurance are descriptions of their works. Darby’s version and other translations change the order of the middle four words to love and faith followed by service and endurance. In this way their works are motivated by love and faith which are demonstrated through service and endurance.

These believers in difficult circumstances were making progress and growing in these areas of life. This stands in contrast to the Ephesians who were declining in love. Here their love for the Lord and their faith in His Word had a visible expression in service to others and perseverance in the Christian life.

The Condemnation: This letter is the longest of the seven and most of the letter has to do with the condemnation of what was going on in the assembly. Darby and others omit the phrase, “a few things,” and render the beginning of the verse, “I have against you that you put up with that woman.” (Majority Text). The one word of censure is given because they tolerate the woman who the Lord refers to as Jezebel.

The Lord calls this woman Jezebel because of her prominent position and perverse message. She is given this name due to her likeness to the O.T. Jezebel. The wife of Ahab was a perverse woman who led Israel into deeper idolatry. She was powerful and prominent because Ahab was such a weak leader.

The inference from the text here is that this modern Jezebel was advocating participation with the trade guilds in pagan worship. Her message may have been that it is alright to belong to a guild and still function in the assembly. This involvement would lead to idolatry and inevitably to immorality. Part of the message may have been a doctrine that by living this way Christians rise above the restrictions of the truth and experience a higher emotional level of spirituality.

It would seem that this woman and her children were involved in these activities. Others were also affected as the Lord warns of great tribulation to those who were engaging in these activities. As for the woman herself she had already been warned and faced discipline from the Lord because she refused to repent.

The Correction: As with the letter to Ephesus and the one to Pergamum, the call is for the Lord’s people to repent. This woman had refused, but others are given the opportunity to reject her teaching, it is not their deeds but, as Darby renders, it is her works they must stand against. There is no room for indifference but rather a stand must be taken.

The Encouragement: There are those who did not accept this teaching and who recognized it as being from Satan. The Lord assures them of their individual responsibility and ultimate recompense for faithfulness to Him. The Lord places no other burden on them other than that they might remain faithful to Him and His name. For the first time in these letters He mentions the fact of His second coming, “till I come.”

The Compensation: There are two things offered to the overcomer, one is a position and the other is a possession. The position involves participation with Christ when he comes to set up His kingdom on Earth. On that day when rebellion is crushed and the Lord’s righteous rule is established. The possession, “the morning star,” possibly involves the enjoyment of His person at His coming at the rapture.

The Conclusion: Today the circumstances are different, the pressures much less and the employment picture is not as intense. Those early believers had to make a living and livelihoods were controlled by the guilds. They were exposed to false teaching from a prominent woman who claimed to be a prophetess. There must be an application for today though idols and immorality may not be issues we face. It could be that there is the temptation of an unequal yoke in business that could lead to compromise. It may be membership in a union that engages in ungodly practices. Our response may have a cost involved, being misunderstood or having to find a different job. For those believers the pressures were greater but the stakes are the same, allegiance to the Lord Jesus above all else.

The Church of Sardis

The City: The city looked impressive situated on a hill which offered natural defense against enemy armies. The city was captured twice, by Cyrus and by Antiochus, because the inhabitants believed the city was impregnable but each time it was captured by the enemy climbing the hill. The city lived on its past reputation looking back to days of greater wealth and prominence. This was the city of king Croesus who was famed as the wealthiest man in the world.

The worship in Sardis was primarily to Cybele, similar in type to the worship of Diana of the Ephesians. This worship was extremely vile and immoral and was led by white-robed priests and priestesses. Civic celebrations were tied to these religious festivities in remembrance and recognition of their famed history.

The Christ: The Lord Jesus is presented in association with two symbols seen in chapter 1. The seven Spirits of God and the seven stars are in His possession. The seven Spirits of God represent the Holy Spirit in the plenitude of his person and power and suggest the resources available to the church. The seven stars speak of the churches as they are in reality as seen from Heaven’s perspective. This is not the visible outer projection to mankind but the inner character and conduct that is visible to the Lord. As discussed in the first article these stars are not pastors or elders but angelic representatives of the reality of church life. The Lord Jesus thus knows the reality but also has the resources to meet the needs.

The Commendation: As with the letter to Laodicea there is no commendation for this local church. The risen Lord sees nothing to commend as to their collective testimony and so passes on to criticism.

The Condemnation: The discerning Lord says He “knows their works.” It would seem these people were carrying on in “church life” thinking that they were serving the Lord. He says to them “you have a reputation of being alive,” (3:2, NIV), “but you are in fact dead.” One of the features of the city of Sardis was a large cemetery referred to as “a thousand hills,” which apparently was visible from ten kilometers away.

It is likely that these people, like those in Laodicea, did not know their real condition. There may have been activity and reality in the past but their present works were not perfect orcompleteinthesightofGod.There was nothing of love, faithfulness, or endurance from them collectively when the letter is written.

The Correction: The Lord tells them to remember, to look back at what they had been given and to what they had heard in the past. This was a church, like the city, that lived in the recollection of past glories but lacked the present reality. They had received the gospel and sound doctrine in the past but they were living out the form of those truths.

The road to restoration involves repentance. There must be an awareness of their current condition, ownership is the first step in repentance. A person must agree with God, the mental or intellectual part of the process. The emotions need to be touched in that there is a need of the godly sorrow that leads to repentance. For true repentance to take effect there must be a response of the will, what is volitional. If this process is followed, the will turns the direction of a life or of an assembly and change takes place.

The danger these people faced was that without repentance Christ would come to them in judgment, by surprise. Just as the city had been attacked and taken unawares, so the church would face a similar fate If the Lord were to come in judgment it is likely they would suffer the consequences mentioned to Ephesus, the lamp stand would be removed.

The Encouragement: There were those in Sardis, a remnant, who were seeking to honor the Lord in their lives. There were those things in verse 2, “which remain.” There was the need to strengthen or revisit the fundamentals of the faith while there was time. Out of the number there were those who had not defiled themselves or their testimony. They had maintained their purity in a worthy walk.

The Compensation: There are three blessings held out to the overcomer. Against the backdrop of the deadness and compromise of the church there is the promise of white raiment. This is reminiscent of the scene in Zech. 3 where Joshua is clothed in white. The promise is future in that faithfulness now will be recognized in a coming day.

Their names will not be blotted out of the book of life. Every city had a roll of the names of its citizens which names could be deleted due to treason or unfaithfulness. Here the thought is not conditional but rather of certainty. Every believer is eternally secure so this is the assurance that their name would not be erased from the Book of Life.

The Lord also says that He will confess their name in heaven. Their faithfulness may have a cost on earth but will be recompensed in heaven. Unknown and unsought here below but befriended and known above.

The Conclusion: These believers lived in days of spiritual decline, many among them were just going through the motions and living in the good of things in the past. Yet there were those who remained faithful and held a good testimony before the world. In some ways our day is not much different, as most local churches reach the third generation the truth is on the bookshelf. It is easy today to become worldly in our affections and to seek the world’s favor. The call to watch, to remember, and to strengthen is as relevant today as it was it that day. When one considers the value of a life of faithfulness it can be said, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.”

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email