Thursday, May 29, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ


For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

Review: A comparison of the letters to Ephesus and Thyatira is instructive concerning the balance between upholding high standards of righteousness and doctrine (Ephesus) and demonstrating God's love and mercy (Thyatira). A comparison of the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia demonstrates God's sovereignty over the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Pergamum and Sardis show weakened and near dead churches.

Today I give attention to the last church: the church in Laodicea. Rather that pairing it with another church, I will be comparing it with all the others.

There is good reason for doing so. Laodicea is the lukewarm church. It is neither hot nor cold. Now consider the other six churches. Thyatira, Smyrna, and Philadelphia would be hot churches. They are growing and remaining distinctly faithful. Ephesus, Pergamum, and Sardis would be cold. All six fair more favorably with the Lord than does Laodicea:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth! Because you say, “I am rich and have acquired great wealth, and need nothing,” but do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, take my advice and buy gold from me refined by fire so you can become rich! Buy from me white clothing so you can be clothed and your shameful nakedness will not be exposed, and buy eye salve to put on your eyes so you can see! All those I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent! Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. I will grant the one who conquers permission to sit with me on my throne, just as I too conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14-22)

Other Churches


  • Ephesus and Pergamum: Good and Bad Deeds
  • Smyrna: Poor but really rich
  • Sardis: Soiled clothes
  • Philadelphia: An open door
  • Thyatira: Overcomers will rule with Messiah
  • Luke warm mediocrity: neither good not bad
  • Rich but really poor
  • Naked
  • A closed door
  • Overcomers will rule with Messiah

Consider Ephesus, Sardis, and Pergamum. In each case, Jesus was about to come and do something to correct the situation--even if it was to remove the candle. Thyatira and Philadelphia also have Jesus coming and proactively engaging in their situations. Smyrna is commended and asked to hold firm. Jesus is able to deal with the hot and cold churches, because in both cases, the churches are able to recognize their needs and respond.

The church at Laodicea is self-sufficient and needs nothing. Jesus is neatly kept outside. And so He stands and knocks. And so Laodicea has to open the door and she has to buy the things that she needs from Jesus. They must start by buying gold refined in fire. This is an allusion, I believe to tested faith. The church at Laodicea needs a period of fiery persecution in order for their faith to awaken, and then they can be dressed and healed of their blindness. They need to mature as believers:

For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:13-14)

On Monday, I will look at each of the seven churches one more time to look at their overcomer rewards. In the meantime, I would like to reflect and meditate on these churches. What church comes closest to describing your life? I believe that the right answer could be any, a combination, or none at all. I am not endeavoring to create a guilty conscience. On the other hand, such self-examination on a personal and church level can be very useful.

Monday: The Rewards for Overcoming

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The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Letters to Pergamum and Sardis

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series, click here.

A comparison of the letters to Ephesus and Thyatira is instructive concerning the balance between upholding high standards of righteousness and doctrine (Ephesus) and demonstrating God's love and mercy (Thyatira). A comparison of the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia demonstrates God's sovereignty over the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Today we look at Pergamum and Sardis. Here we have the weakened and near dead churches.

Here are the two letters side by side:



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

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword: 

‘I know where you reside, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives. But I have a few things against you: you have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people with the sword of my mouth. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:12-17)

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

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: 

‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you. But you have a few individuals in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes, and they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy. The one who conquers will be dressed like them in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will declare his name before my Father and before his angels. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:1-6)


And here are the essential points of contact between these two:



  • Holds fast to the Name and does not deny the faith.
  • Have some who hold to false teaching
  • They can expect judgment against the false teachers at any time.
  • Have a reputation for being alive, but is dead
  • Have a few who have not soiled their garments.
  • Will have no idea when judgment might come.

As I look at these two churches I see a transition from weak to dying. I also see the future troubles of an uncorrected church at Thyatira. Whereas, the Ephesian church was in danger of being removed for lack of love, the Thyatiran church was in danger of slipping into the church at Pergamum, which in turn is in danger of slipping into the church at Sardis. The Thyatiran church had great love and demonstrated mercy so that sinners felt welcome. But because it tolerated immorality among professing believers, that number could grow and soon there would be many who held to false teachings, as in Pergamum. By the time we get to Sardis, only a few would not have soiled their garments.

Pergamum, at least, knows the Savior and understands the dynamics of a life of faith. Sardis is a church of appearances only. We are not told the base of their reputation for life, nor among whom they had it. I would guess that they had the admiration of other churches. To extrapolate it to today's culture, Sardis would be the large church with lots of programs and fellowship, but no teaching or leadership that pierces the heart and steers it to fundamental change.

Both Pergamum and Sardis are told they can expect judgment to come against the ungodly in their midst. We must view this judgment in terms of mercy. If the cancer in the body is not removed, the body will die.

When I combine the churches of Ephesus, Thyatira, Pergamum and Sardis, I reflect on what would mark a good and effective church in today's world--or at least the US. I picture a place where any could enter and find a welcome. The list would include couples living together, but not married. It would include gays and lesbians. It would include druggies and alcoholics. It would include single moms and dads. All would be able to come and meet Jesus, the Savior of their lives. It takes hearts with big compassion to create such an open environment. But, often those with big enough hearts do not have the heart to also say, "Its time to leave the lifestyles behind and live according to the biblical model." But that is what salvation is partly about, the ability to discern right from wrong and choose the right over the wrong. It is not just heaven, it is a new life in this age as well. The manifest presence of God through the Holy Spirit is a powerful force for changed lives.

It is interesting that the church at Pergamum would have an idea when judgment would come. Sardis would not have a clue. This reminds me of Paul's words to the Thessalonians:

Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober. For those who sleep sleep at night and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But since we are of the day, we must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. For God did not destine us for wrath but for gaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are alert or asleep we will come to life together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Here Paul speaks of the world being taken unawares by the return of the Lord. But Paul tells the saints that they the return of the Lord will not be totally unexpected. We can stay alert and perhaps discern the general season of His return.

Friday: Laodicea compared with all the others

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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series, click here.

If the comparison between Ephesus and Thyatira is instructive concerning the balance between upholding a high standard of righteousness and showing mercy, the letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia are about God's sovereignty. In them, you have God's choice concerning two churches. One is told she will soon suffer persecution and the other is told she will escape. 

Here are the two letters side by side:



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

This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who is the first and the last, the one who was dead, but came to life:

‘I know the distress you are suffering and your poverty (but you are rich). I also know the slander against you by those who call themselves Jews and really are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. The devil is about to have some of you thrown into prison so you may be tested, and you will experience suffering for ten days. Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will in no way be harmed by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:8-11)




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

This is the solemn pronouncement of the Holy One, the True One, who holds the key of David, who opens doors no one can shut, and shuts doors no one can open:

‘I know your deeds. (Look! I have put in front of you an open door that no one can shut.) I know that you have little strength, but you have obeyed my word and have not denied my name. Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan—who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying—Look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Because you have kept my admonition to endure steadfastly, I will also keep you from the hour of testing that is about to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will never depart from it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God), and my new name as well. The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:7-13)

And here are the essential points of contact between these two:



  • The Synagogue of Satan has the power to slander them.
  • They are poor (but rich)
  • Will have tribulation and testing.
  • Admonished not to fear
  • Will be given the crown of life.
  • The Synagogue of Satan will acknowledge that God loves them.
  • They have little strength.
  • Will be spared tribulation and testing.
  • Commended for obeying God's word and not denying His name.
  • Must be careful that the crown is not taken away.

And so Smyrna is elected to face trials and tribulation while Philadelphia is to be spared. Faith is adequate for both situations. As the writer to the Hebrews remarks:

Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight, and women received back their dead raised to life. But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us. (Hebrews 11:33-40)

We must be ready to overcome through testing as well as to overcome in victory. One of the purposes of Revelation is to prepare us for just such contingencies. As John will be told later:

If anyone has an ear, he had better listen! If anyone is meant for captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed by the sword, then by the sword he must be killed. This requires steadfast endurance and faith from the saints. (Revelation 13:9-10)

We need to develop steadfast endurance and faith. Through them we can stand firm in the face of any difficulty or advance when the time for advancing arrives. One of the reasons for Revelation being given to us by Jesus is to give us reason to hope during the bad times. Revelation 13:9-10 is about God's sovereignty and control. When life is crashing around us, we can take comfort that nothing is impossible to Him and that He is the One who has appointed the very events that trouble us. They serve His purposes and they serve our good.

Thursday: Pergamum and Sardis

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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:



“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:



  • 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

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