The Seven letters to Seven Churches. Covers the four levels of application of these letters from Jesus; historical, admonitory to churches, admonitory to individuals, and prophetic. Also includes insights gained by the author’s visits to the actual location of these seven churches. Part 1 of 2.
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All right, tonight we begin the second chapter in the Book of Revelation. We have finished part one of the book; remember last time we talked about the fact that the Lord told John to write the things that have been, the things that are, and the things that will be after this. So, a lot of people divide the Book of Revelation into three parts based on that passage, and we last time (chapter one) we talked about the things that have been.
Starting in chapter two and continuing through chapter three will be the part called the things which are, and beginning with chapter four and all the way through the rest of the book, we’ll have the things which will be after this.
And so tonight we’ll begin the study of those things which are because chapters two and three consist of seven letters that the Lord dictated to seven churches, and that’s why we call them the seven letters to seven churches.
These letters are contained in chapters two and three and each one of them was a real, existing congregation at the time John was writing which we said last time was about 95 A.D. Each one of them had a particular problem that the Lord was writing to them about and so, in that sense, it fulfills the saying of the things which are because these were current—all these churches existed currently with the writing of the book and all of them had the problems that are mentioned in the writing. This was the Lord’s instruction to these seven churches.
Now, He also told all the churches to read all the letters; and so, each one was also intended to be read by all seven churches. But that’s just the beginning here, because there’s an awful lot in this two-chapter section that goes well beyond the current events. In fact, this section (these chapters two and three) present a window of prophecy on a span of time that the Bible calls the Times of the Gentiles.
Now, if you go with me to Luke 19, we’ll start there with some of this and get a feel for what we are talking about here. In Luke 19 the timing, the context of the passage, is on the day that we know as Palm Sunday; the very first Palm Sunday. In Luke 19:41 as Jesus was riding over the Mount of Olives, down into the Kidron Valley and then up into the temple precincts, it says in verse 41:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
And so, this was His comment to them on the day that He arrived, and of course, from our recent studies in prophecy you’ll remember that Daniel predicted this day, and that Jesus fulfilled that prediction to the day. Because in Daniel 9—and that’s one of the parallel studies that you might want to do as we’re going through the Book of Revelation, you might want to take a look at Daniel 9, the last four verses, 24 through 27. Because in (verses) 24 through 27 the Angel Gabriel gives Daniel a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and he told them it would happen 483 years after a decree was issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.
You see, when Daniel was writing here, he was in Babylon; Jerusalem had been destroyed seventy years previously by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and had laid in ruins for seventy years. The Angel Gabriel told Daniel that there would be a decree, a decree would be issued authorizing the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, and that 483 years after that decree was issued the Messiah would come.
And so that was of course a prophecy of the First Coming of the Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled that prophecy to the very day. It was 483 years to the day after the decree, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey—on the only day in His life that He permitted Him to be called the Messiah.
If you want to get more detail on that, you can pick up Daniel 9:24-27. We have a commentary on that you can download off the internet. I’ll tell you how to get that, and there’s an incredible amount of prophecy there in four little verses.
In fact, these four verses have been called the key to understanding all of End Times prophecy. Most mistakes that people make in interpreting End Times prophecy come from mistakes they have made in interpreting Daniel 9:24-27.
If we had a five hour study here instead of an hour and a half, we would start in Daniel 9 and we’d go through that, but for many of you in the group we just went through that a few months ago and you can either get that on CD or download it straight off our website. We also have printed articles on the website on Daniel’s Seventieth Week. So, there’s enough of that going around and it’s easy enough to get so that we won’t bother going into that tonight. But suffice it to say that this passage, Luke 19:41, fulfilled to the day this prophecy from Daniel 9.
Okay. Now we go over to Luke 21, just a couple of pages to the right, here, in Luke 21 we get another indication here. We’re going to start in verse 20. The disciples have asked Jesus when this would happen, when would the Romans come and destroy the city and the sanctuary as Daniel had predicted, and when would it be that one stone would not be left standing on another? In other words, the place would be so completely destroyed that there wouldn’t be one stone standing on another.
Jesus in Luke 21 answered that question. He said that:
“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies,
He’s talking about the Roman armies here.
you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
So there Jesus said that the prophecy would be fulfilled and that that would mark the beginning of this desolation of Jerusalem, and He said that would last until the Times of the Gentiles were fulfilled. And so, if Jerusalem is trampled on by the Gentiles until the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, what that means is that Jerusalem would cease to be a Jewish city during that time, that it would become a Gentile city and the Gentiles would have dominion over it (control over it) until the Times of the Gentiles were ended.
Now, how did we start off here? We said that Revelation 2 and 3 give us a window of prophecy on the period of time known in Scripture as the Times of the Gentiles. It’s a commentary, if you will, on a gap that exists between the 26th and 27th verses of Daniel 9. Let me double check to make sure I’ve got that exactly right. Because in Daniel 9:24-27 you remember I told you that’s the famous Seventy Week prophecy and it reads like this:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’
Well, as we talked before, ‘seven sevens’ is forty-nine years and ‘sixty-two sevens’ is 434 years. You add the two together and you get 483 years. Now, if I’m going too fast for you here, if this is new information, please get the study that we did on Daniel 9 so that you’ll be able to go through this and follow this with a little greater detail. Right now I’m just going through it quickly to get the context done here.
So what he is saying is, after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem there will be 483 years—one period of forty-nine years, followed by a period of 434 years—and then the Messiah will come.
Then it says:
the Anointed One will be cut off
(That word means executed. And so, Daniel’s being told that after the Messiah comes He’ll be executed.)
and will have nothing.
None of the promises, none of the Messianic promises throughout the Old Testament will have been fulfilled. He won’t be the King, He won’t be sitting on David’s throne, He won’t be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. None of that will have happened—and yet He will be executed.
Then it says:
The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
So, shortly after the Messiah’s execution, the city of Jerusalem is going to be destroyed, both the city and the temple will be destroyed. And of course, this happened thirty eight years after the Lord’s crucifixion, it happened in 70 AD. From that time forward there has been no temple.
And it says:
The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’
Between verse 26, (which talks about the Messiah being executed and the city and sanctuary being destroyed) between verse 26 and verse 27 (where it says that this ruler who will come will confirm a covenant with the many for one ‘seven’) between those two verses there’s a gap. So far, that gap has lasted almost two thousand years, because it’s lasted from 70 A.D. until today. And it hasn’t ended yet.
Now, we expect it will end soon, but it has not ended yet. The second and third chapters of Revelation fill in that gap because that gap has to do with the age which we call the age of the Church.
And so, what we’re looking at here in these two chapters is a detailed account of the age of the Church, which began with Pentecost after the resurrection and ends with the rapture coming sometime soon. So, what we’re talking about in chapters two and three here is not just seven letters to seven churches that existed in the first century, it is also a chronicle of the Church age. Because, in the order in which they appear, these seven letters each describe not only a literal problem that each church was having in 95 A.D. when John wrote this, but they also describe a portion of the church age. They come in order, so that the first letter (the one to Ephesus) describes the first portion, and the second letter describes the second portion, and the third letter describes the third portion. Each one of them, taken in order, describes a portion of the two thousand or so years of the age of the Church. And so, you see, there is much more to these letters than just a story about seven churches that existed long ago.
There’s a tremendous amount of prophetic insight here that we’ll have to look at, but even those two things are not all that these seven letters tell us.
Because of the fact that all churches were supposed to read all seven letters, that means that these seven letters are admonitory to all churches during the Church age. If you belong to a congregation, a fellowship of believers, these seven letters all apply to conditions in your fellowship today. As we go through this, we’ll find that you’ll know some people in your fellowship that are stuck on the first letter; some people are stuck on the second letter, some people are stuck on the third letter. Every church has every problem that’s listed in these.
And so, these are admonitory to all churches. Not only that, they are admonitory to every individual in all of those churches. In other words, you’ve got problems that are listed in each of the seven letters in your walk with the Lord. And so, this has become one of the richest sections of Bible study that anyone could be involved in.
If you take it through all these four levels, you will discover things about history, about prophecy, about the Church in general, about your own congregation, and about you. Now, is that enough? [laughs]
And so, we’ll want to spend at least a good half an hour on these things, don’t you think? If we wanted to take this all the way to all of its depths, we’d never get beyond this. The apostle John himself would be finishing this study up for us while we’re in heaven because the rapture will have come before we’ve finished it if we tried to plumb all the depths of this study.
And so, what we have here is something that is an impossible challenge for us, but we’re going to try to do it anyway, because what does the Lord say, “With man these things are impossible, but with the Lord all things are possible”, right? And so, we’re going to have to really rely heavenly (heavily, as well as heavenly) on Him to bring us through this study.
Now, you’ll find each of the letters is divided into seven parts. So, there are seven letters to seven churches and each one of them is divided into seven parts. The first part is a Title. Remember I told you last time that in the Book of Revelation, Jesus uses over twenty four titles of Himself, many of them are found in these seven letters. Each of the seven letters begins with Him using a different title of Himself, and the title is illustrative of what He has on His mind. In other words, the title fits the context of the letter. Each letter is a little different. Each time, to each church, He uses a different title of Himself that’s consistent with the theme of the letter.
The second part of the letter (so the first part is the title of Himself) the second part is a Commendation. He says something nice about most of them. There are a couple that He doesn’t say something nice about at all, but most of them get a commendation.
And then they all get, part three, a Criticism. There’s something about all three of them and that’s the problem that each of the three is having (or each of the seven is having) it’s the same problem that the Church has today, and it’s the same problems that you and I have today. And so, there’s a criticism there and we’ll want to take special note of those.
And then the fourth part is an Admonition; He admonishes them to do something about this.
Part five is a Call where He’s challenging them. Actually the Call precedes the Challenge, so there’s two separate parts. There’s a Call and then a Challenge.
The Challenge is part six.
And then, part seven is a Promise to the individuals who hear the call and heed the challenge. Get this: the promise is always to individuals, the promise is never to organizations. In each of the seven letters, the promise is to individuals.
So, each letter has seven parts, a Title, a Commendation, a Criticism, an Admonition, a Call, a Challenge, and a Promise. All right?
Now, as I said before, I think in two cases He can’t find anything good to say about the church, and in one case He can’t find anything bad to say. So, it will be interesting to know which will get the ‘nothing good’ and it’ll be really interesting to know which one gets ‘nothing bad’ because we all want to belong to that one, right? We all want to belong to the church that He can’t say anything wrong about. And, before we get done, I think you’ll discover that we do.
So, here you’ve got seven letters written to seven churches.
You’ve got four levels of application:
Local—which meant each of the churches in 95 A.D.,
You’ve got general—admonitory to all the churches,
You’ve got personal—admonitory to each of us,
And, you’ve got prophetic—they represent a chronicle of the Church age.
But it doesn’t even stop there, as if that were not enough.
How many of you are familiar with Matthew 13, the seven Kingdom Parables? Well, I didn’t hear any shouts of affirmation there [laughing] so I guess we’ll have to do a study on the seven Kingdom Parables someday. (Maybe Betty, that’s a good parallel study for you, Matthew 13, the seven Kingdom Parables.) You can study that for several months and not exhaust its resources.
But here’s what I want you to see tonight. Each of the seven letters can be overlaid upon each of the seven Kingdom Parables. As we go through the seven letters, I’ll show you which of the seven parables it relates to. That’s in Matthew 13, the so-called seven Kingdom Parables. (Actually, the first one is to the world in general and then the six others are just to “the kingdom”.)
And so, you have seven letters to seven churches, you have seven Kingdom Parables, both written or dictated by Jesus. But it doesn’t stop there.
Paul wrote to seven churches. When you take all the Pauline epistles, and you take out the duplicates (like 1 & 2 Corinthians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians) and you take out the ones he wrote to pastors (Timothy and Titus), you’ve got seven letters to seven churches. Each of Paul’s seven letters complements one of these seven letters, which complements one of the seven Kingdom Parables. Now how’s that?
Now, that’s all we’ve found so far, but I’m sure there’s a lot more. And so, as we go through the seven letters, I will suggest to you which of the seven Kingdom Parables fits and I’ll also suggest to you which of Paul’s letters fits, and you’ll see that there’s a whole lot more to these two chapters than meets the eye. This is a lot more than the history of some obscure little fellowships scattered around Turkey in 95 A.D. This is a huge segment of prophetic literature that is designed to be relevant to the entire two thousand years of the Church age.
So, with that in mind, let’s say we’ll get started. If we’re lucky we’ll get through one of these tonight. [laughs] Now, if we did one a night it would take us seven months! So, there’s another batch of sevens for you.
In Matthew 16 He says, “I will build my Church.” Remember? He didn’t say, “Peter, you go build it.” He didn’t say to the rest of the disciples, “You go build it.” He said, “On this rock I will build my Church.”
Now, sometimes He calls some of us to help Him out with that, and that’s great. But how many times do we take the bit and run with it way off beyond where He expected us to go?
And so, He says in verse 5, the Admonition is,
Consider how far you have fallen!
How many of you feel a lot different in your service to the King than you did at first, when it was just worshipping the King? Has that first blush of your conversion diminished at all? Has some of the excitement and some of the unbridled enthusiasm sort of cooled off a little, as you look at all the things on your schedule that you have to do now? Consider how far you have fallen.
I’ll tell you what; a brand-new believer, there’s nothing like it, is there? In fact, if you ever need something real bad and you decided you need it so bad you were going to give up; you’ve tried everything else and now you’re going to pray for it? Go find yourself a brand-new believer and get them to pray with you. You’ll get it for sure. New believers, their prayers get answered just like that because, you know, they haven’t gotten all bundled up in work and all the detail and all the stuff. They’re still up there worshipping the Lord, they’re in the heavenlies all the time. You can’t get their feet to touch the ground. And the Lord hears them, and He hears them right this minute. So, if you want something real bad and you’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked and you’re going to resort to prayer, get yourself a new believer to pray with you and boy, I’ll guarantee it. You got it. And then, consider how far you have fallen.
His call now is:
Repent and do the things you did at first.
Repent—that means have a change of heart.
When John the Baptist called the people to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God was near” He wasn’t saying, “Clean up your act so you’ll be worthy when the King comes.” He was saying, “Change your mind about your need for a Savior, because He’s on His way. Don’t depend on your own work to get you saved, it isn’t going to happen. Change your mind about your need for a Savior.” That was what repent means. It means to have a change of mind about your behavior. Repent. Change your mind about this obsession you have with religious work and do the things you did at first.
Remember when you spent all day reading the Bible? Remember when you resented people taking you away from that? You remember when you prayed for hours? You even woke up early to have time to pray—remember those days? Do the things you did at first.
If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
When you go to Ephesus, you won’t find a church there. It’s gone. There’s the ruins of a building in which a church once met, but there’s no church in Ephesus today.
And then He says:
But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
So, He sticks in one more little compliment there.
Now there’s been a lot of controversy about who the Nicolaitans are, and some say one thing, and some say another; some say they are followers of a man named Nicator. None of that has ever impressed me to the extent that one comment I heard not too long ago. If you take the word and split it in half, Nicao means to be over and laity obviously is the word from which we get the ‘laity of the people’. To be ‘over the people’. He says, “You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans”—The ones who say there has to be somebody over the people.
And of course, what crept into the Church after a few hundred years, but a professional (let’s call it that) a professional clergy who said that they had to interpose themselves between the people and the Lord. The Lord was saying He hates that. He went to the cross, and when He died the veil of the temple was rent and the way to the Holy of Holies was made open, so that each of you could go straight into the presence of the Lord. You don’t need to have a high priest go for you, you don’t need to have anyone go for you, you can go for yourself now.
When this professional clergy came in, the problem that was created was not their fault, but the nature of the Church changed from a group of participants to a group of spectators. And now, sadly to say, we have many churches of every denomination where you have one participant standing at the front and a whole bunch of spectators sitting in the pews waiting to see what he’s going to do; encourages him to do more with less.
Like I remember, when I was on a board where we had to go and interview all the new members. And I called up one of the new members and I talked to him and I said, “What is it you would like to do to contribute here in the church?” And he said, “Oh, I don’t want to do anything.”
I said, “Are you saying that you don’t want to be an active member?” He says, “Oh no, don’t get me wrong. I want to be an active member, I just don’t want to participate.”
Too bad that’s the attitude of so many in the Church today.
One of the great problems that came along with the professional clergy was the laity began to sit back and watch, and that’s a problem. In fact, for how many years before the Reformation was the celebration of the Mass something the congregation simply observed? Remember? It was given in a language that they didn’t understand. It was not intended for them, they were there to observe this. That’s not active worship of the Lord, that’s not what He had in mind. He didn’t come to start another religion, He already had the most intricate and detailed religion the world has ever known. And it wasn’t working. He didn’t come to start another one, He came to have a relationship where each of us could be personally, intimately involved with Him.
And, unfortunately, by the end of the first century, that had already begun to disappear as the Church became organized and began to have professionals, and there was a separation between the clergy and the laity. There were things that only the clergy could do, the laity couldn’t do. It’s just been in my lifetime when some of these things have changed. Now, I’m a lot older than most of you but I remember as a kid there were a lot of things that a lay person, even in a Protestant denominational church, couldn’t do, weren’t permitted to do. Fortunately, that’s changed in a lot of churches, especially the Evangelical church. But for all those years you had the professionals who did the work, and they had the people who just observed.
That’s not what He wanted.
Now He says in verse 7:
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
That’s the Challenge.
And so, let’s see if you qualify for that challenge. Reach up on either side of your head and see if you’ve got any ears up there. Now, if you’ve got ears then this is for you because it said, whoever has ears, right? Let him hear. So, everyone who reads this is supposed to take note of it. And to the extent that it applies to us, we’re supposed to act on it. How do we act? We repent from our religious work, and we go back to the things we did at first. We worship and adore the King; we work on the relationship. The rest of it will take care of itself. We work on the relationship.
And, finally, the Promise:
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Wow! The Tree of Life, you remember, was in the Garden of Eden. That’s the Paradise of God. Eating of the Tree of Life, by the way, brought eternal life. This is why when Adam and Eve sinned, they were banished from the Garden because if they ever ate from the Tree of Life as sinners, they would be immortal sinners. We can’t have that. The wages of sin is death.
This is why they were banished from the Garden, to prevent that. This is when death came into the world.
But to him who overcomes this and goes back and remembers our first love and builds again and renews that relationship, we get the right to eat from the Tree of Life. Because, you see, once you’ve accepted the Lord as your Savior, once you’ve made Him Lord of your life, then there is no sin to bar you from eternal life. And so, you have that right. It’s not a right you earn by work, it’s a free gift granted you by His grace. And it’s the only way you can get it.
And so, this was true in Ephesus in the first century, it is true in the organized Church today. It is true in the hearts of believers. Each of us needs to heed the call to the church at Ephesus.
Consider how far we have fallen and go back and do the things we did at first. I promise you, everything else will take care of itself if you do that.
By the way, the word Ephesus (here’s another thing I should have thrown at you at the beginning), the word “Ephesus” has a special meaning. Each of the names of the seven churches has a special meaning, and each name is reflective of the tone of the letter. The word Ephesus translates Beloved. He’s calling His beloved to account for neglect.
Now, obviously, the—I told you already—the parable, (the Kingdom Parables), the first Kingdom Parable is the Parable Of The Sower And The Seed. And if you go back and read that, you’ll see the farmer went out and scattered his seed in the field and He tells you later on that the field is the world and the seed is His Word, and He says, “Some catch it, and some don’t. But those who do, it produces a crop up to a hundred times what was sown.” That’s the parable that reflects on the letter to the church at Ephesus.
And of course, Paul’s Letter that corresponds here is no surprise, it’s the letter to the Ephesians and it’s the main topic of the letter to the Ephesians is the Church in the Heavenlies. We, as we already are, seated at the right hand of the Father above everything that can be named not because of our work, not because of the great things we’ve done, but because of the incomparable riches of His grace.
So, you see how they fit together?
The second letter is to the Church in Smyrna, and this letter characterizes the Church in the second and third centuries.
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
So right away, He’s talking here about having overcome death. Remember, He said He’s the First and the Last; He’s the prototype and He’s the perfect model; He’s the Beginning and the End; the Alpha and the Omega.
Here is the Commendation:
I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
And the promise:
The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
All right, so remember we’ve got these six parts here.
We’ve got the Title which is “The One who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
You’ve got the Commendation, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
But here there is no Criticism.
Only an Admonition, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.”
The Challenge or the Call, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.”
The Admonition, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
And the Promise, “The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
This chronicles the persecution of the Church during the second and third centuries. When He says, “I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are of a synagogue of Satan,” the major persecution of the early Church was not by Rome but by the Jews. And so, these people—you know actually Paul was one of them at the very beginning. The leaders of Judaism felt that the followers of Christ were following a cult and therefore it was an abomination, something to be stamped out. It was blasphemy and in Jewish law, the punishment for blasphemy was death.
And so, during the early parts of the second and third centuries the Church suffered intense persecution. The Lord didn’t promise any relief from this, did He? He didn’t promise any relief from this. He said, “Don’t be afraid of what you’re about to suffer. Be faithful, even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of Life.” So, He was allowing this martyrdom. And in fact, the Church experienced its most dramatic growth during this period.
The ten days—that’s a tough one but it turns out that it is the reign of ten Caesars. It lasted a total of 250 years from the beginning of the second century until the time when Constantine made Christianity not only legal but also an official, at first an official religion of the Roman Empire and later on, the official religion of the Roman Empire. It was a period of 250 years. And ten Caesars reigned during that period and that’s the ‘ten days’ to which He refers here.
The word “Smyrna” is a form of the word “myrrh” which was an embalming spice. It releases its aroma when crushed. So, Smyrna means crushed. And this is exactly what the world tried to do to the Church during the second and third centuries.
The Kingdom Parable that corresponds to the letter to the church in Smyrna is the story of the tares and the wheat, where the farmer went out and sowed some seed and when it came up some of it looked like tares and some looked like wheat. Now, this word tares probably means darnel seed. Darnel looks exactly like wheat as it’s growing, and you can’t tell the difference until it becomes more mature.
You remember in the story, the farmers came into the head of the household, to the owner of the farm, and said, “What’s happened here? Did you buy some bad seed?” And the owner said, “The enemy did this!” And they said to him, “Do you want us to go into the fields and pull up the bad?”
He said, “No, because if you do you might uproot some of the good in the process.” He said, “Let them grow to maturity and then, when we harvest them, we’ll separate them at that point, and we’ll throw the darnel into the fire and the good seed we’ll bring into the barn.” This is the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.
Now, the question is, how did they tell the darnel seed from the wheat? Well, when they mature, the head of the stalk of wheat becomes heavy and it bows, and the darnel remains upright. So, you could tell the tares from the wheat by which ones bowed at the time of the harvest.
Is that how it’s going to be at the time of the end? Will the Lord be able to tell His own from those who are not by those who have bowed before Him versus those who have refused?
And so, in the tares and the wheat you get a story of the fact that during the time that we’re in the world, believers and non-believers look a lot alike. Sad to say, they act a lot alike. [laughs] In fact, you can’t tell one from the other.
I believe we have spoken in these meetings before about the fact that some believers are secret agents for the Lord, and they are under such deep cover that no one would suspect that they are really Christians. [laughs] And so, you can’t tell one from the other until it comes time for the judgement, and then some will bow and confess Him as Lord and Savior; others will not and they’ll go off into the fire.
The letter that Paul wrote that corresponds to this one is the letter to the Philippians. The Philippians suffered under this intense persecution. In fact, the theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is joy through suffering. Now you understand joy and happiness are not the same thing, right? You can have joy in the absence of happiness. And so, what does Paul say in Philippians?
Be joyful always, be fearful for nothing and prayerful about everything and the peace of God which transcends human understanding will keep your hearts and minds secure.
And so, he was telling them—as a matter of fact, he speaks these words in his letter to the Philippians—he says, “You were appointed to this.” As if it was a privilege to be counted among those who were considered worthy to suffer in the name of the Lord.
“Blessed are those,” He said, “who suffer for righteousness’ sake.”
Right? There are plenty of people who suffer but not for righteousness’ sake. He isn’t talking about them. He’s talking about those who suffer for righteousness’ sake, for they shall inherit the Kingdom.
I remember one time not too long ago; I was having a particularly difficult time and permitted myself to indulge in some of the self-pity that I understand others have also experienced from time to time. “Why me? I try to be good. Why do I have to do all this?” And I was telling my tale of woe to a friend of mine and she stopped me right cold in my tracks. She said, “Remember this: only the offended party has the right to climb up on the cross with the Lord.”
Only the offended party has the right to climb up on the cross with the Lord.
And I just said without thinking, “I can do that.” And from that point on, that was fine with me because I was appointed this privilege; it put a whole new light on things.
I still wasn’t happy about it. I don’t ever want to go through it again, but I got some peace there because of that. I got the peace that Paul promised the church in Philippi; the peace that cannot be understood in human terms. People who exhibit this peace cannot explain it, and other people who look at their circumstances cannot understand it. It’s a peace that transcends human understanding.
The second and third century Church knew that peace; they counted it a blessing. Paul knew that peace; he counted it a blessing. Now you may never have to suffer like that. I pray that you won’t. But if you ever do; if you are ever called upon to suffer for righteousness’ sake, consider it a privilege.
Remember the Promise: “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
What is the ‘second death’ anyway? The Book of Revelation tells us that.
It says basically that the first death is the death of the body, the physical death. The second death is the eternal separation from God, that’s the spiritual death, that’s the one there’s no escape from. Every generation of humans but one will experience the first death and every non-believer will also experience the second death—much more painful.
So, if you want to put it in simple terms—born once, die twice. Born twice, die once. Got it?
He’s promising the church at Smyrna, the second death—the real death, the permanent death, the eternal death—will have no impact upon them; they will not be hurt at all.
When we get to Revelation 20 we are going to read one of the Beatitudes, one of the seven beatitudes of the Book of Revelation—blessed are those who have part in the first resurrection, they will not experience the second death.
Now we’ll go to the church in Pergamum. Some of your Bibles will translate this “Pergamos” and it’s the same as Pergamum; it depends on whether you are taking it from the Greek or from the Hebrew.
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
There’s the Title.
Does anybody recall where they’ve heard that before—the sharp, double-edged sword? Yes, it’s the tongue He spoke about in Revelation 1. You remember we referred to it in Hebrews 4:12—the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword.
So, these are the words of Him who has that Word. That Word which is capable (according to Hebrews 4:12) of dividing soul from spirit, truth from fiction—you name it however you want.
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, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
That’s the Commendation.
Now, when the Babylonian church was formed under the days of Nimrod—I’m not talking about the neo-Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, I’m talking about the original Babylonian Empire in the days of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel. At that point, a counterfeit religion emerged and so many things that you know about today can be traced back to that counterfeit religion.
For example, you had a woman who gave birth supernaturally to a child. Semiramis was the wife of Nimrod. She gave birth to a son whose name is Tammuz, and the legend arose that Tammuz was the offspring of a union between her and the sun god. And so, his father was the Sun god. And so, Tammuz was supernaturally born.
One day when Tammuz was out hunting he was killed by a wild animal, and Semeramis went into forty days of mourning. Those forty days came down through the centuries to become known as Lent. How many of you had a hot cross bun at some time in your life? The cross on the top of the bun is the T for the name of Tammuz. That cross is the Babylonian T, and hot cross buns are a memorial to Tammuz.
A mother-child religion emerged from this with Semeramis as the Queen of Heaven and her child, Tammuz, the supernaturally born. A celibate priesthood arose. The head of this priesthood was thought to be infallible. The garb that they wore was very similar (the dress that they wore) was very similar to the dress worn by the Pope today. The special mitre hat, you know—looks like the head of a fish sticking up on top of his head—I don’t mean to be disrespectful, that’s exactly what it looks like, it looks like a fish with his mouth open. That headdress originated in the priesthood of Semeramis.
According to legend, Semeramis, after this forty-day period, was resurrected from the dead. And they celebrated this by the decorating of an evergreen tree and the burning of a Yule log. Yule means child in Babylonian. Mistletoe was the garnish that was hung about the house during those times. Any of these traditions sound familiar to you? Most of your Christmas traditions emanate from this Babylonian religion; and this was the birth of the Mother-Child cult.
After Babylon was defeated and went into disrepair, this religion moved to Pergamum and had its heart there for many centuries. It finally moved from Pergamum to Rome and was married into the Christian church in Rome. Pergamum means mixed marriage. Bigamy (two wives), polygamy (many wives), pergamy (wives, a husband of different breeds). Mixed marriage.
In Matthew 28 Jesus told His disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
In the fourth century, the opposite happened; the world came into the Church, and it happened in Pergamum.
This is why the Lord says, “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne.” Because that counterfeit religion had its origins with Satan. Now, He says to the Church in Pergamum, “I know you’re my faithful witness. You did not renounce your faith even in the days of Antipas.” (Who was one of the famous early Christian martyrs.)
He says in verse 14:
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.
Remember the story of Balaam (back in Numbers) where the Moabites were arrayed against the Israelites and they hired Balaam to prophesy against Israel, and Balaam says, “I tried to do this, but the Lord won’t let me. He keeps making me prophesy against you guys.” And finally, they said, “Well, what should we do and what can we do to defeat them?”
And to the Moabite King he said, “Bring the fairest of your women to the front lines and cause them to entice the Israelite soldiers. Seduce them.” And he said, “This will so anger the Lord that He will withdraw His protection from them, and you’ll be able to defeat them.”
And so, they did that, and the Moabite women enticed the Israelite soldiers, just as he predicted would happen. But the Lord refused to permit that to defeat them, and He had the Israelites defeat the Moabites anyway.
You remember how the king of Moab was mad at Balaam for that and he sent him away and Balaam got mad at himself for it, and he refused and refused and refused to do what his mind and conscience were telling him to do. Finally, the Lord caused Balaam’s donkey to set him straight. You know the story? The first time a donkey ever made an ass of a man. [laughs]
And so, the teaching of Balaam was the use of sexual immorality in the religion. Many of the pagan religions were very highly sexual in their orientations. We’ve talked about this before. The Lord doesn’t care for that. Mistletoe, you understand, is a plant used in fertility rites in the pagan religions. That’s why whenever you get caught under the mistletoe you have to kiss or be kissed, right? There used to be a lot more serious penalty than that.
Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Now here we are again taking issue with the fact that a vocation had been turned into a profession. Big difference, right? A vocation had been turned into a profession. The stumbling block is the eating of food sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality. Now, we’ll get back to that because we have to look at how that affects us today, right?
First, in verse 16:
Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
And so, He’s saying the Word of Truth is going to be the weapon to be used against the pagan religion.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna.
What is the hidden manna? The hidden manna is the Bread of Life, right? Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” So, you’re going to get some of Him.
I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
In ancient times when a master sent his servant on an errand that was of particular significance, usually monetarily where there was money going to change hands and where absolute trust had to be maintained between the parties, the master would send the servant with a little clay disc with his special seal engraved in it and this special seal would be recognizable to the other party. Because the master was way too busy to go travelling off to some foreign city to conduct business. I mean, most in the Greek economy, the upper class, didn’t stoop to these kinds of things. Business was thought to be beneath them, so they sent servants to do this. And so the servant would go with this little, white clay disc, with this special seal impressed in it that would be recognizable to the one with whom he was conducting business to authenticate him; to indicate that he had the authority as well as the trust to consummate the deal.
When you go before the Father, you are on the business of the Son. You have a new name, known only to Him that authenticates your authority to be there with the Father. Otherwise, you’d be immediately reduced to a spot of grease on the carpet before the throne. So, you have to be able to prove your right to be there. And this is done—He talks about giving you a new name that only He knows. This is the idea.
All right, now how does this apply to the Church today? Well, the idea of eating food sacrificed to idols and the idea of sexual immorality are similar in the Lord’s view. He quite often uses infidelity in the worship of other gods in a sexual sense. He called Israel, ‘the unfaithful wife’ in the Book of Hosea. And so quite often because that’s a characterization they would understand, they would understand what it means to be sexually unfaithful in the marriage sense, and so that’s the way He characterized them when they went off after these other gods. And so, quite often you’d see in the Old Testament, the worship of other gods used either in its direct sense eating food sacrificed to idols or, in the indirect sense, committing sexual immorality. This is what is in place here, what is in view.
And so, today we don’t think of ourselves as eating food sacrificed to idols, do we? Because we don’t think of ourselves as being tempted to worship idols. Very few of us would have little stone statues out in our backyards where we’d go in the mornings and pray. You know, that would not even enter our minds.
But do we worship other gods? Absolutely; absolutely we do. And they are every bit as offensive to our Lord as these wood and stone statues of olden times. Some people are in love with their homes, their cars, their possessions. Some are in love with their lifestyles. Some worship their pastor in lieu of the One he represents. Some worship their church. (‘Our church is so exciting! It’s so great! It’s so beautiful! I just can’t wait to get there! And I don’t want to leave!’)
Well, if you’re there because that’s where you commune with the Lord, that’s great. But if you’re there because of it, that’s not so great. And so, it’s possible for us even in this day and age to worship other gods.
And, of course, the world has committed the ultimate folly, they’ve ascribed the creation of the universe to random chance. It just ‘happened’. By accident. How do you suppose the Creator feels about that one?
He said, “At least these old guys, they had some other party they attributed it to. At least they believed somebody did it. You all believe nobody did it, it just happened by itself! You look outside around you—do you see the intricacy of My creation? You see how delicate is the balance that creates the conditions that cause life to flourish? And you say this happened by accident? What are you thinking?”
Random chance. Some have become their own gods. Instead of trying to be recreated in the image of God, we’ve recreated God in our own image. And some have replaced Him altogether with us. ‘I’m a self-made man.’ Good. That relieves the Lord of a terrible responsibility. [laughs]
And so, don’t think the age of idol-worship is over, don’t think that these things are gone, that they’re past.
And, what about our infidelity? How many of you still say, “lucky” instead of blessed when something good happens? Lucky? No—that’s attributing your good fortune to chance; when God says, “I am working everything together for the good of those who love Me. I am the giver of every good and perfect gift.” Lucky. Nuh-uh. We had some friends who wouldn’t even attend a pot-luck dinner. No, it’s a pot-blessing dinner!
So, the Church today has those problems; we have those problems. Some congregations worship their building. It’s easy to do. This is why the Lord, at the beginning, didn’t have any church buildings, did He? The Church wasn’t a building in those days. The Church was a group of people. I’m preaching to the choir here.
These three churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, are gone. You won’t find these churches anywhere on Earth; you won’t find any remnant of them. They’re gone. Ephesus, by the end of the first century. Smyrna represents the martyred Church.
And it’s funny; when we were driving around to these seven churches, I got to the city of Izmir (the third-largest city in Turkey) and it’s the site of the ancient church of Smyrna. We were looking all over for it because we wanted to go to the exact location of each of these churches. And so, on the way out of town there was a sign by an exit that said, “SMYRNA”. And so, jam on the breaks, whip off the exit, come down off the ramp, (we were on a four-lane) we come down off the exit ramp and at the bottom there’s a ‘T’ intersection. No signs pointing which way to turn. So, we did what any normal human being would do, we turned one direction and drove a ways to see if we could spot anything. When we hadn’t, we turned around, came back, drove the other direction, and see if we could spot anything. And we couldn’t, either direction. I drove back and forth for what, an hour or so.
And then, Samantha reminded me. She said, “You know why the Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years, don’t you?” And I said, “Why?”
She said, “Because Moses was too stubborn to stop and ask for directions.” [laughing]
So, finally—we drove and drove and drove—finally, we had to get back to the hotel. So, we came back. We came to the hotel and we met our guide and we told him what our experience was, and he just laughed.
He says, “You know, that sign was to show you where the church in Smyrna used to be.” He says, “Not there anymore. There’s not a remnant of it. There’s not a column, there’s not a foundation stone. There’s nothing where the church of Smyrna used to be. It’s gone.”
We went to Pergamum, a beautiful citadel up on top of a hill overlooking a huge portion of Turkey. Most of it, Roman ruins. There was a huge amphitheater up there, and buildings like the Coliseum. Pergamum, you know, was once a major world capital and it overlooked, like I said, a very strategic position. Little church there. Just a few broken down stones off to one side.
And so, the church at Ephesus, although you could spend all day going through the ruins at Ephesus—beautiful, on the shores of the Aegean Sea—no church.
Smyrna, no church. Pergamum, no church.
These three have vanished from the Earth. But before they did—you remember, I told you Pergamum means mixed marriage, right? Pergamum had four offspring; they are the offspring of the mixed marriage. And that is what describes the next four letters. Those are the ones we’re going to talk about next time.
Because those four churches are all alive today. They’re all on the face of the Earth today and they represent the Catholic church, the Protestant church, the Evangelical church, and the Apostate church. All four on the Earth today. These children live. And they are the children who represent the last phase of the Church on Earth.
And so, the first three churches, representing the first phases of the Church age, are gone. The last four churches remain.
So, just as we’re closing up here—the church in Pergamum, the related parable from the Kingdom Parables is the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Now, this is a fascinating parable because it’s so often misinterpreted. You remember, the Lord said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard. When planted it grows and becomes a bush and then it becomes a tree, so large that the birds of the air build their nests in it.” That’s the end of the parable. That’s all He says about it, and you’re left to draw your own conclusions.
But He was speaking to an agrarian community—farmers. They understood that mustard seeds are, like we said, very small, one of the smallest of all the garden seeds, and they do grow into a bush. But they do not grow into a tree.
There is no mustard tree. And there certainly isn’t a mustard tree so big that a bird would feel safe building his nest in it. And then you understand that something has happened here that shouldn’t have happened: a seed was planted and grew into something it was never intended to be. And that’s what He is saying. The Church started off on Earth but grew into something it was never intended to be—a huge bureaucracy, organized with endless resources devoted substantially to its own preservation, with a group of professionals running it, often out of touch with their members in terms of theology and in lots of other ways as well.
And then you read the part about the birds of the air and you discover that from the first two parables, Jesus has described to us that the birds of the air represent Satan and his followers. And so, then the Parable of the Mustard Seed makes a lot more sense. The seed has grown into something way bigger than it was ever intended to be. It’s not serving its original purpose and it’s so big and cumbersome that the enemy can dwell safely within it.
And then you read Paul’s warning to us from 2 Corinthians. Speaking of these false teachers, he said:
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
You see, if the devil ran around in a red suit with a pitchfork and a long tail, it wouldn’t be hard to recognize him, would it? He doesn’t do that, he’s smarter than that. He masquerades as an angel of light. You know what the name Lucifer means? It’s a Latin name, it means Light Bearer. It’s a masquerade.
In the Book of Revelation, you hear about the Antichrist, looking like a dragon but speaking like a lamb. In other words, he says the words that you would expect the Lord to speak, but his appearance is that of the old dragon, Satan. It’s a masquerade, you see. And you see this masquerade taking place in the Church. It took place in the Church then; it takes place in the Church today.
Today, there are theologians who call themselves “Christian atheists” and people accept that termination from them. They spend the bulk of their time working to disprove the validity of Scripture, to dispute the authenticity of God’s Word. And, since they are called ‘theologians’, we too often accept this. So, you see the false religion that existed in Pergamum under the guise of Christianity in the third and fourth centuries exists today, just as well. And you and I adhere to false doctrine. We each have our little thing that we refuse to accept in Scripture. Our little parts of it that we sort of put aside because we don’t want them to apply to us.
At the end of the age, Paul writing to Timothy said:
2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
About how the Kingdom is coming and how there’s a huge revival in the world and how, pretty soon everybody’s going to be a believer and the Church is going to take over the world and this will be ushering in this great age of peace.
My friends, that’s not going to happen. The only thing that’s predicted that will happen in the Church before the end of the age is a great falling away; a great apostasy. That’s the destiny of the Church.
And so, Paul’s letter that corresponds to the letter to the Pergamos is the letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthians—the mixture of Los Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In those days when you wanted to depict in the Greek tragedies the Greek plays, when they wanted to depict a character totally devoid of any redeeming features at all, they always called them the Corinthian. And everybody knew what they meant.
Literal Pergamum, the fourth Century, when the world invaded the Church, and you had the mixed marriage.
All right. We will pick up where we left off here, in Revelation 2:18, beginning with the Church of Thyatira.