Tuesday, May 27, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Letters to Ephesus and Thyatira

After the vision of the Son of Man, John records seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. The letters are to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Each letter mostly follows this structure:

  • An aspect or quality of Jesus as seen by John at the beginning or revealed later in the vision.
  • A commendation for good qualities and activities in this church.
  • A rebuke against bad qualities or activities
  • The reward for overcoming the circumstances

Much has been written about whether these letters were about contemporary situations to John's day or represent periods of church history or both or neither. There is no straight forward answer. To a degree the discussion misses the point. By focusing on such questions, we can miss the lesson for today, and that is far more important.

Read the seven letters. Think about your church and other churches. Which of the seven letters might Jesus want sent to your church? Think of yourself as a person. Which letter would Jesus address to you? In this way the letters serve the purpose of identifying what we must overcome, and what the reward for overcoming will be. These letters prepare us for the days ahead, just as they prepared the people in John's day.

And so, in this section of blog posts, I plan to be very contemporary in my analysis and application of these letters. I am not writing a major commentary, which could look at these things every which way. Rather, I am providing a survey of Revelation designed to help you read it to greater advantange.

As I read and re-read these letters, I began to notice some common patterns. I found that I could take the letters in pairs and draw insights, about churches and church life, beyond what was possible by looking at them alone. So over the next few days, I will be comparing and contrasting:

  1. Ephesus and Thyatira
  2. Smyrna and Philadelphia
  3. Pergamum and Sardis
  4. Laodicea with all the others

Let's begin by looking at the letters to Ephesus and Thyatira side by side:

Ephesus

Thyatira

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write the following:

 “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has a firm grasp on the seven stars in his right hand—the one who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 

‘I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: you have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place—that is, if you do not repent. But you do have this going for you: you hate what the Nicolaitans practice—practices I also hate. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:1-7)

 

 

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write the following:

 “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, the one who has eyes like a fiery flame and whose feet are like polished bronze: 

‘I know your deeds: your love, faith, service, and steadfast endurance. In fact, your more recent deeds are greater than your earlier ones. But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and by her teaching deceives my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. Look! I am throwing her onto a bed of violent illness, and those who commit adultery with her into terrible suffering, unless they repent of her deeds. Furthermore, I will strike her followers with a deadly disease, and then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts. I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, all who do not hold to this teaching (who have not learned the so-called “deep secrets of Satan”), to you I say: I do not put any additional burden on you. However, hold on to what you have until I come. And to the one who conquers and who continues in my deeds until the end, I will give him authority over the nations: (Revelation 2:18-26)

The following table shows some interesting connections between these two letters:

Ephesus

Thyatira

  • Tests apostles and does not tolerate evil
  • Has perseverance, but has lost her first love
  • Commanded to do the deeds she did at first
  • Tolerates Jezebel and her immortality
  • Has love, faith, service and perseverance
  • Her deeds of late are greater than at first

Ephesus maintains high doctrinal standards. No Jezebel or her kind would ever take root or survive there. The church goers at Ephesus have strong character and persevere in doing good. But they do not love, and for this Jesus threatens to do what He threatens no other church: to remove it! The threat of removal is interesting in light of the conditions in many of the other churches. Ephesus seems to do so well in comparison, why would Jesus prefer it not to exist?

Thyatira, on the other hand, is a bit cozy with sin and sinners. Jezebel has found a home. Nevertheless, this church is full of love and faith and service. Rather than being commanded to do the deeds she did at first, she is commended for doing greater deeds.

The following event in Jesus life brings the contrast between these two churches in high relief. Let me give you two questions to ask before you read it. Where would Simon find a church home? (Ephesus or Thyatira?) Where would the woman find a home? To whom did Jesus show the most favor?

Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 

Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil.

 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” 

So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” 

He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” 

Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 

Then, turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but from the time I entered she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with perfumed oil. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 

He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)

Simon had exacting standards of righteousness. He would feel most comfortable in the Ephesian church. It had high standards too. Unfortunately neither Simon nor the church at Ephesus wanted the likes of this woman at Jesus' feet around. That is the love the church at Ephesus lost. There was no room for mercy. There was no leeway given for those starting from the bottom, who had to learn, who would make mistakes, and who needed to grow.

So the woman, finding no home at Ephesus, would go to the Thyatiran church. She would be accepted and meet lots more like herself. They would know the love and mercy of God and bring their friends. Many would be saved. But few would be challenged to mature. The church at Thyatira was too accepting and did not challenge its members to higher standards. Some weaker souls would actually find great opportunity to continue in sin that they should leave behind. 

Ephesus might well teach the whole counsel of the Scriptures. Thyatira might only concentrate on the warm and fuzzy parts. Nevertheless the love at Thyatira accomplished more than the doctrinal purity and high standards at Ephesus. 

Think what would be if Ephesus could regain a sense of God's grace and mercy or if Thyatira recognized that it could teach and expect people to change and be willing to discipline those who did not. Then both churches would more nearly model the Jesus who could receive the love and affection of the woman at that dinner while challenging her to a better life.

I have known both kinds of churches. I have been part of both kinds of churches. I long to be part of a church that has achieved the proper balance.

Wednesday: Smyrna and Philadelphia

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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