Revelation 2:12-17, The Church at Pergamos: Married…for Worse.

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword. “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.  And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.  Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.  Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat.  And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘ 
(NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, 2:12.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, and a period of struggle, his empire was divided among four of his generals.  Two of them, and their successors, are the kings “of the north” and “of the south” mentioned in Daniel 11.  Another general took Asia Minor, the area of the seven churches in Revelation.  This dynasty of Greek rulers centered in Pergamos, making it a royal city, and their luxurious living raised that city to the rank of “First of Asia” as regards splendor.  Thus  Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos vied for, and claimed, the title of “First,” although for different reasons.

Pergamous was famous for several things.  Among them were the magnificent temples of Zeus, Athena, Apollo and Aesculapius, who was the god of healing.  His symbol was the caduceus, entwined serpents of a staff of wood, the symbol of medicine to this day.  His temple was a sort of Lourdes of its day and people came from all over to be healed.  Pergamos was also the birthplace of Galen, who is second only to Hippocrates in medical history.  His voluminous, if somewhat inaccurate, writings were authoritative into the Dark Ages.

In addition, Pergamos was noted for the invention of parchment, probably as a result of the impressive library which was there, which rivaled the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  It also enjoyed the distinction of having  the very first temple dedicated to emperor worship, built for Augustus in 29 BC.  There were many others built in other cities, and even others in this city, but Pergamos had the first one.  It was, therefore, sort of a “cathedral city” for emperor worship.  Moreover, it was the center of Roman provincial government.

The name “Pergamos” seems to have two meanings: high and lofty, and marriage.  Thus the church at Pergamos seems to foreshadow that period of time beginning with the conversion of Constantine, thus ending the persecutions, but entering the church into an uneasy marriage with the world which saw it lose its true purpose and power to become engulfed in a quest for political power and prestige.

At its beginning, Christianity was tolerated by Rome because it was viewed as just another weird Jewish belief.  When it became evident that even the Jews hated the sect of the Nazarene, that toleration ceased and varying degrees of persecution began, which lasted about three centuries.  Then Constantine arrived on the scene.  Christianity was never to be the same.

The “conversion” of Constantine is well-known, how he says he saw a vision in the sky of a shining cross with the words “hoc signo vinces” (“By this you shall conquer”) written across it.  Facing an important battle at the time, he took this to mean that, in this new sign, he would be victorious.  He was.  (By way of irony, his motto was for a time on a certain brand of cigarettes.)

Eventually, Constantine became emperor and took his belief with him.  At first, he simply made Christianity legal, thus stopping generations of persecution.  It was alright if you wanted to be a Christian, but other religions were ok, too.  Eventually, though, he made it official, that is, it was the only allowable religion.

Over the years, Rome came severely to persecute true believers, those who refused to go along with it, wanting simply to live by the Scriptures and not as “the church” insisted.  This was also a practice followed for a long time by the Reformers against the Anabaptists and other dissidents, whose beliefs one Lutheran writer described as “dangerous propaganda.” (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, pp. 216, 217.  This was my church history textbook in college.  The Anabaptists weren’t without flaws, true, some serious, but they were mainly despised because they refused infant baptism and rebaptized those who had been sprinkled as infants, after they professed faith in Christ.  Hence “anabaptist: “rebaptizer”.) Though they no longer murder dissenters, that attitude can sometimes still be seen among Reformed writers in their views on certain subjects.

More importantly, Constantine used the Empire as a pattern for how things were to be done.  Granted, the idea of how the church was to be organized had developed and changed since the time of the apostles; he just put the final touches on it.  Gone was the NT idea that the local church was independent and self-governing; it now became just a tiny part of an enormous religious monolith, with Constantine as its head, and Rome as its headquarters.  While there was some adherence to Biblical teaching for a time, (it was during this time that the Arian controversy was settled,) this gradually came to be almost completely replaced by a continually evolving Roman dogma. It did indeed become an extensive and impressive “religion,” with towering church buildings, lavish and impressive ritual, and an overwhelming and authoritarian hierarchy, but all of this has little to do with Scripture, which itself has largely been replaced by Papal decree and “official” church dogma.  What little of it that’s left must be held in agreement with how the church “interprets” it.

It’s not supposed to be about adherence to any particular organization: Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, or any other, but about faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.  In everything, He is to have the preeminence, Colossians 1:18.

2. Christ of the Epistle 2:12.

He who has the sharp two-edged sword.

This referred to the usual sharp-pointed double-edged sword of the Roman army.  It was also a symbol in that army of a certain level of authority.  Roman officials were divided into two classes: those who had the power of life or death, and those who did not.  The sword was the symbol of this greater authority.  In this way, the Lord presents Himself to the church as having life and death authority, authority He possesses in a higher sense than Rome ever dreamed of.

He would remind us that there is no earthly power which supercedes His, no authority which can annul His own.  We are certainly commanded to be good citizens, Romans 13:1-7, but if push comes to shove in a contest between this world and our Lord’s teachings, then our Lord must have the preeminence.  Cf. Acts 4:19.  And remember, Romans 13 was written by a man who lived at the height of the Roman Empire and was not afraid to assert his rights as a citizen.

Our Lord would strengthen the believers of Pergamos against the fear of the human sword by the greater fear of His own sword.  Also, He would remind them of His power against His, and their, enemies.  The Lord did not want His people to forget Him in the midst of troubles.

3. Contents of the Epistle, vs. 13-17.

 – A reference to their perilous position, v. 13.

The letter to Smyrna emphasized their sufferings, so the Lord said, “I know your tribulation.”  The letter to Pergamos emphasized their situation as being in the very seat of the Roman government in Asia, hence in a place of special danger, so Jesus said, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”

The citizens at Pergamos were known as “chief temple-keepers of Asia.”  A Babylonian cult called the Magians, being driven out of Babylon, found a haven in Pergamos.  The title of the Magian High Priest was “Chief Bridge Builder,” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts.  It was acknowledged as the highest priestly office in paganism and was a title held by Roman Emperors, including Constantine, who kept it.  In Latin, this title is Pontifex Maximus.  (Who, today, bears that title?)

“you hold fast to My name.”

The Lord commends His people for their faithfulness to His name in the very center of the worship of the emperor’s name.  This is especially important in view of the problems in the church with some who seem to have wanted to compromise with that worship.  We note that it wasn’t the name of the church or the name of the pastor which was lifted up, but the name of the Lord Jesus.  Baptists aren’t the only ones who emphasize a denominational name, instead of that of the Lord Jesus.  And how many pastors, etc., want to “make a name” for themselves?  As a young man, I worked for a pastor who required that my car carry a sign urging people to “hear (his name).”  There were some wonderful people in that church and I was privileged to know and work among them, but they were woefully untaught in the things of God.

It’s still true that not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends, 2 Corinthians 10:18.

– A Rebuke of Their Perverse Practices, vs. 14, 15.

1. the doctrine of Balaam, v. 14.  Cf. Numbers 22-25.  Balaam was the one who taught Balak to seduce Israel by tempting them to break God’s law against idolatry and immorality.  It seems there were some in the church at Pergamos who saw nothing wrong with going to pagan temples, where gross immorality was part of their “worship.”  Perhaps it was simply to escape persecution, perhaps merely to make it easier to make a living in that world of pervasive paganism.  When religion was ungodly, Satan persuaded men that it ought to affect every part of their lives.  Now that Christ has revealed the true religion, which is to make men holy, Satan persuades men to limit it to an hour or so on Sunday.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, who had a similar problem, that they were not to have fellowship with demons, 1 Corinthians 10:20.  We’re to separate from all sorts of falsehood, regardless of the reasons given for it.  Some of the believers at Pergamos seem to have forgotten this.

2. the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, v. 15.  What was isolated deeds in Ephesus, 2:6, was doctrine or practice in Pergamos.  In a city as government-oriented as Pergamos, such a development perhaps is not surprising,  But again, we see Satanic contradiction.  In the state, which is to govern men, we find a rebellion against authority and the desire to be free of all restraint, while in the church, which is to be self-governing and independent, we see the development of great denominational structures which drown out the voice and vote of the local assembly.  Constantine was probably as responsible for this as anyone because he made it fashionable, even mandatory, to be a “Christian” and gave the bishops great position and power.

– A Repetition of a Peremptory Prerequisite, v. 16.

Repent….

It’s not enough that things are done because everyone is doing it, or that’s how we’ve always done it.  Things must be done in according with the Word of God.  Granted, there’s a lot in our world that the Word says nothing about, for example, the laptop on which I write these words or the car out in the driveway.  I don’t think that means that God expects us to go back to laborious hand-copying of things on parchment or riding on donkeys and camels.  It isn’t so much what something is, as how it’s used.  For example:  again, the computer.  A marvelous invention, yet the most popular websites are pornographic.  Because of that, should we get rid of all computers?  1 Corinthians 10:31 is still true, Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Concluding some instructions covering various situation in life, Paul also wrote, and those who use this world as not misusing it, 1 Corinthians 7:31.  We have to live in this world, but we’re not supposed to forget that we’re going to have to live in the next one, as well.

Christ wants us to clear out the “leaven” of this world in our worship and service of Him.  He tells the church to repent.

– A Revelation of Precious Promises, v. 17.

1. Again, the promise isn’t made to every professed believer, but only to those who “overcome.”  Now, this doesn’t mean some sort of perfection, or some sort of exclusive “club” which only the very best are able to join.  It means those who are faithful to the Lord Himself, not just to some church or other organization.

2. the rewards.

There’s a lot of discussion about what these various things mean.  Based on the circumstances of each church and letter, here’s what we think.

the hidden manna.  Believers have a source of nourishment and strength this world knows nothing about and can do nothing either to supplement or hinder.  This is a promise of “resource.”

– a white stone. – a “tessara”.  Such stones seem to have had several uses.  The one relevant to Pergamos was probably the judicial one.  A black stone indicated guilt; a white stone, innocence.  The believers at Pergamos, and other believers, were being found guilty of atheism because they refused to offer incense to the Emperor’s statue.  Our Lord says He finds the overcomer innocent, regardless of what men might say.  This is a promise of reconciliation, that those who once were enemies of God and rebels against His rule are now His servants, yes, even become His children, as we see in the final promise.

– a new name.  This idea occurs a couple of other times in Scripture.  Perhaps the best known is Paul, whose name originally was Saul.  There’s an example of this in the Old Testament, as well.  In Isaiah 62:4, Israel is given a new name.  In both cases, this change signifies a change in relationship, a permanent and irrevocable change.

To this church, who lived in constant danger of losing their lives, our Lord promises everlasting life

We also have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, 2 Peter 1:4.

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Revelation 2:8-11, The Church at Smyrna: Rich In What Matters.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:  I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.  Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”  (NKJV)

This letter has the distinction of being the shortest of the seven.  It also is one of only two in which our Lord has no complaint.  The other is the letter to the church in Philadelphia.

1. The City of the Epistle.

Smyrna was founded about a thousand years before Christ.  In the ebb and flow of history, it had been destroyed and lay mostly dormant for several centuries.  Then it was rebuilt and, in fact, still exists today.  It’s called Izmir, in Turkey.  In effect, the city has “been dead and is alive.”

In these letters, and in His earthly ministry, the Lord used things with which people were familiar to teach spiritual truths:  sowing and harvesting, fishing, eating and drinking, the ordinary things of everyday life, to illustrate the extraordinary things of eternal life.  The people would certainly have made the connection with His statement about Himself living though once dead and their own city’s history.

Smyrna was known for its exceptional beauty.  As one looked up the slope from the harbor toward the city, with temples and ornate buildings on the rounded crest of the hill called Pagos, he would see what was known as “the crown of Smyrna.”  This would fit in with our Lord’s reference to a crown, not of dead buildings, but of eternal life.

The Greek word “smurna,” from which the city gets its name, named a fragrant and very valuable substance, used both for the living, Matthew 2:11, and the dead, John 19:39.  It’s fragrance was released by crushing, an apt metaphor for the suffering church at Smyrna.

2. The Contents of the Epistle.

– His appraisal of them, vs. 8-9.

“I know.”  So often we act as if the Lord doesn’t know what’s going on in our lives, but Scripture says otherwise.  For example, Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed, and in Your book they were all written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.  There is no escaping His omniscient eye.

There’s some discussion as to whether the phrase “your works” belongs in the text because some manuscripts don’t have it.  Certainly the main theme of the letter is about affliction and not activity.  Yet someone has pointed out that activity for God is likely to bring on affliction.

– tribulation.  An account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, 69-155 AD, a bishop (pastor) of the church in Smyrna, will give us some idea of what early Christians went through:

“Faithful unto death, this venerable leader was burned at the stake in the year 155 A.D.  He had been asked to say, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ but refused.  Brought to the stadium, the proconsul urged him, saying, ‘Swear and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ.’  Polycarp answered, ‘Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?’  When the proconsul again pressed him, the old man answered, ‘Since thou art vainly urgent that…I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian….’  A little later, the proconsul answers: ‘I have wild beasts at hand, to these will I cast thee, except thou repent.’  Afterward:  ‘I will cause thee to be consumed with fire, seeing thou despise the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.’  But Polycarp said, ‘Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.  But why tarriest thou?  Bring on what thou wilt.’  Soon after the people began to gather wood and faggots; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them.  Thus Polycarp was burned at the stake.”  (Quoted from W. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, pp. 79, 80.)  Other accounts add that he was also stabbed through the heart.

– poverty.  Quite possibly these believers were poor to begin with, but the pervasive place of religion in the society of that day, with every part of it being tied into the worship and service of whatever false gods were in that particular society, would make the believer an outcast from society, cutting him off from it and making it very difficult for him to make a living or even to live.

Strange,  isn’t it, that when religion is false, Satan has it all over the place, but when it’s true, Satan says, “Oh, no, we have to keep that out of everyday life.”  As in his current idea from the highest levels of our government that Christians may “worship” as long as they keep it in church, but they have to leave it there and must live like pagans and accept whatever ideas the world comes up with the rest of the time.

In spite of all their troubles, the Lord said to the church at Smyrna –

– “you are rich.”  Truly, our Lord doesn’t look at things like we do.  Even many professed Christians have fallen into the trap of “health and wealth” preachers and believe that blessing is based on the size of our bank account.  But the “riches of faith” have nothing to do with all that.

Our Lord said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36, 37.  Revelation 21:21 tells us the street of the New Jerusalem is pure gold, like transparent glass.  I’m not going to get into the discussion now as to whether or not this is “literal.”  But it certainly tells us that heaven’s idea of wealth is different from ours!    The asphalt we pave our streets with may be expensive, but it’s not worth anything.  No man takes a chunk of asphalt to the jeweler and tells him to put it in a fancy setting in a ring.  No woman wears a necklace of asphalt around her neck.

In heaven, what we think is one of the most precious and valuable commodities is used as pavement!  James 2:5 refers to the poor of this world rich in faith.  The poor believer who has nothing of this world’s goods and is hard pressed to feed his family is wealthier than that person who lives in a fancy gated community and has more than heart could desire.  We just can’t see it and don’t think of it like that.  But “faith” deals with things which can’t be seen, Hebrews 11:1.

But there’s something else the Lord knows about them:

– “the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  This seems like a very harsh statement, but it’s the assessment of the Lord Jesus.

The Book of Acts reveals the difficulties Paul had with the Jews and how they hindered and persecuted him at every turn, cf. Acts 13:45, 50.  Even many believers had difficulty in accepting the idea that one no longer came to God through Israel, but through the Lord Jesus, and that the Gospel was to be preached to every nation.  Peter especially had difficulty with this idea.  This was the reason behind the happenings in Acts 10.

There’s a lot of discussion about the place of the Jews in the current age.  Some say that they have no place at all, that God is done with the nation of Israel as a nation.  Others say that they are still God’s chosen people and try to get them to “accept” Jesus as their Messiah.

I think both views are unScriptural.

If words have any meaning, God is not done with the nation of Israel.  The prophetic books of the Old Testament are filled with promises of Israel’s future restoration – if words have any meaning at all, and aren’t wrested from their context and their message.  At the same time, it is equally clear that Israel has been temporarily set aside and the Jews are not, in this age, God’s chosen people. That place is filled by true believers.

Jesus is not to be presented as the Jew’s Messiah, but is to be proclaimed as Savior.  There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, Romans 10:11.  While it’s true that that verse talks about salvation, there’s not one message for the Jew and another for the Gentile.  Indeed, Paul goes on to say that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, Galatians 3:28.  There are no ethnic distinctions at the foot of the Cross.  We all stand condemned as sinners, regardless of where else we may stand in this world.  A biological link to Abraham means nothing, Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8.  Apart from the grace of God and faith in the Lord Jesus, we are all under the influence and control of Satan, the god of this world, Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4.  It doesn’t matter what we say.  This is what God says.  It’s what the Lord Jesus said in Revelation.

At the same time, this gives us no right or reason to hate and despise the Jews, as some of the early church fathers did.  Some not so early, too….  And some folks today….

– His advice to them, vs. 10.

– “Do not fear…”

Fear is a natural reaction to the idea of pain and suffering.  Jesus doesn’t tell these believers that they have to like what they’re about to endure, just that they’re not to be afraid of it.  It won’t last very long – ten days, however that’s to be understood in this context.  The point is, these things are not permanent, but, in light of eternity, are almost insignificant.  I know.  That’s easy to say in comfortable surroundings, but difficult to hold onto in unpleasant situations.  It’s still true, and, by God’s grace, we’re able to hold onto God’s promises.

I was thinking about this the other day.  Sometimes we can’t really think of a pertinent promise from God for a particular situation.  In such cases, perhaps we just need to “pray Christ,” because all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, 2 Corinthians 1:20.

– His affirmation, v. 11.

Some folks try to use this verse to “prove” salvation can be lost.  I think it says that those who “persevere” are the only ones truly saved.  In speaking of false prophets, who were plentiful even in his day, the Apostle John wrote, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us, 1 John 2:19.  This is true of professing Christians, as well.  There are multitudes of people who’ve been led to “make a profession of faith” who are nowhere to be found.  In fact, many have become avid opponents of “Christianity.”  I believe this is where so many of the “fundamentalist-turned-atheist” websites and such have come from.

The church at Smyrna was threatened with terrible forms of torture and death.  Our Lord was simply saying that there are worse things.  Warning His disciples of persecutions to come, He said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear.  Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Luke 12:4, 5.

In the Greek of v. 11, there’s a double negative – “he who overcomes shall not at all be injured by the second death.”  These saints may have to bow their heads to those who execute the first death – as many are now doing in our day – but who have nothing more that they can do after that.

Our Lord had said something about this in His earthly ministry.  In Luke 21, He said, “Take heed that you be not deceived.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He’, and, ‘The time has drawn near'[date setting]. Therefore do not go after them.  But when you hear of wars and commotions [increased news coverage ability – radio, TV, internet], do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”
Then He said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there shall be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.  But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.  But it will turn to you as an occasion for testimony.  Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.  You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.  And you shall be hated by all for My name’s sake.  But
not a hair of your heads shall be lost.  By your patience possess your souls,” vs. 8-19, emphasis added.

“Not a hair of your heads shall be lost.”

It probably sounds corny in this context, but there’s a phrase the world uses that used here goes so much farther than the world can imagine:

He has our back.

This was His promise to Smyrna.

It’s His promise to us.

Revelation 2:8, The Christ Who Was Dead And Is Alive.

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
“These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life.”

It’s with good reason that the Lord starts each letter with a reference to Himself.  Especially in this day of mega-churches and “personalities” (“Chrislebrities,” ugh! what a terrible word!), Jesus seems almost irrelevant.  Of course we believe in Him – we are Christians, after all – but with all the programs and projects and politics and all our efforts for the betterment of mankind, He kind of gets put on the back burner until something goes wrong, and then we run to Him, wondering why He doesn’t do something.  (Although, in this day of fast foods and microwaves, I wonder how many people know what a “back burner” is.  Anyway.)  If Christ were indeed to go away, how many churches would notice the difference?

I don’t mean to be critical, though I am, but without the Lord Jesus, there is no reason for “church.”  There is no salvation.  There is nothing.

Our Lord is simply reminding each church of that fact.  After all,

He is –

– “The First and the Last.”

Several cities in the Roman Empire claimed the title, “First (of something).”  There were several different categories for this.  Ephesus, Smyrna and Thyatira were among these cities.

I think the Lord was simply reminding them that long before Smyrna had been thought of, He could say, “I AM”, and long after the last ember of this planet has burned out, cf. 2 Peter 3:10, He will still be able to say, “I AM”.

We forget that.  Like Smyrna, there are places of incredible beauty and awe-inspiring scenery in this world.  Some of you have traveled all over it.  I’ve just seen a little of this country.  The vastness of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, fall colors in the Ozarks, the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains and Pikes Peak (the mountain in the header of this blog), the impressive vista of the Black Hills of South Dakota, the awesome feeling of the world’s highest suspension bridge holding sway 1000+ feet over the Royal Gorge and the Arkansas River.

And it does sway (move).  royal-gorge-bridge-again

Just a little….

You used to be able to drive over the bridge, but that’s long gone.  Cars got too big and heavy.

It’s enough to walk over it.

As an aside possibly only of interest to me, my grandfather worked in the steel mill in Pueblo CO where the steel cables were made that support the bridge.

With all that, there’s a great deal of beauty in this country that I haven’t seen.

Doesn’t matter.

One day, it’ll all be gone.

The Lord Jesus will still be the First and the Last.

But He also is the One –

“Who was dead and came to life.”  The Greek reads, “Who became dead and lived.”

It’s a study in itself just to consider the Lord’s “becoming.”  That’s why we split this letter into two parts.

In the first place, He became flesh, John 1:14.

The thing about this is, who was He before He became flesh, before He was born to the virgin in Bethlehem?  Everything rides on the answer to that question.

If, as some who knock on your door insist, He was just another created being, albeit maybe a little higher than you or me, if that’s true, then there’s no hope for any of us.  As and if only a creature like us, He would be completely responsible to God for Himself.  He would have to be perfection Himself in order not to be condemned.  His life would have value in this way only for Himself.  He would have nothing left over, as it were, for anyone else, or you or me.  We’d be doomed.

But John 1:1 says that before He became flesh, He was God.  Those same folks who knock at your door insist that John meant that Jesus was only “a god.”  It is true that in the original, there is no article, no “the,” before “God” in John 1:1.  If there were, then the Word would be the God, and the “oneness” folks are right.  But there is no article before the word, “God.”  In the Greek, there is no indefinite article, no “a,” and thus no way for John to write “a god.”

So?

The difference might be seen in comparing these two phrases:  you are the human; you are human.  The first phrase, “You are the human,” indicates a particular person.  It’s true, in English, to say, “You are a human” is possible, meaning that you are one among several, or as distinguished from them, but in NT Greek, you can’t say that.  To them, “You are human” would mean that you have the characteristics of a human, as opposed, say, to fish or birds.  And, no, we are not animals, although that’s another post.

What John is saying is that, whatever characteristics God has, the Word has.  He is God, not “a god.”

But these same folks again, persistent, aren’t they, will say, “Yes, but Jesus Himself said that the Father is greater that He is, John 14:28.  According to them, this means that He isn’t equal with God.  He isn’t Jehovah God.

Is that true?

Not at all.

When the Word became flesh, He laid aside His divine prerogatives, His “rights,” and came to this earth as a human being.  And He was truly human, not a phantom or apparition, as some teach.  In doing so, He did not cease to be God.  He just quit acting like it, for the most part.  Walking on water isn’t ordinarily a human thing.  When He comes back, He will act like it.

As a man and as a Jew, He was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4, and was as responsible to obey it as any other Jew.  In this way, because He was truly human, the Father was greater than He.  This doesn’t deny His deity at all, but merely affirms His humanity.

Further, He didn’t come to glory and fame.  He wasn’t born in Rome to a wealthy or noble family, but in Bethlehem, to a poor family from a despised race.  How do we know His family was poor?  When His mother, Mary, made the required offering after His birth, she offered turtledoves or pigeons, the offering prescribed for the poorest Jew, Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8.

He made Himself of no reputation, Philippians 2:7.

But more than all that, and the reason for it, He became a sin offering, Hebrews 9:26, but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  

Then there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21, For He [God] has made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  I don’t even begin to understand all that’s involved in that.  I don’t think we ever will.

But the cross and the tomb weren’t the end of it.

“He became alive.”

This was the message of the apostolic church, And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Acts 4:33.  It’s what they were supposed to preach:  Then He [Jesus] said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations,” Luke 24:46, 47, emphases added.

Why go through all this “doctrine”?  Why emphasize it?  Because if that isn’t who Christ was to Smyrna, they had no hope.  They were suffering for nothing.  And if that isn’t Christ to us, we have no hope.   Indeed, as Paul put it, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable, 1 Corinthians 15:19.

(photo credit:  2roadsdiverged.com)

Revelation 2:1-7, The Church at Ephesus: Duty, not Delight

“To the church at Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.  And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.  Nevertheless I have something against you, that you have left your first love.  Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘
(NKJV)

As we go through these seven letters, we’ll look at the city in which the church lived.  Our Lord uses what they experience there in His counsel to them.  Then we’ll look at the description Christ uses of Himself, descriptions which come from the vision opening the book.  Then we’ll look at the content of the letter and what our Lord said to each church.

The City of the Epistle.

Ephesus was a very important city of the Roman province of Asia, which, as we’ve seen, was not in the Far East, but was in what we know as Turkey. Until the harbor filled in with silt, it had been a prominent sea port.  It remained a center of commerce, a point of contact between Greek and Asiatic cultures and was noted for its riches and trade.

By NT times, Ephesus had enjoyed a rich and varied history.  A focus of that history was the famed Temple of Diana (Artemis), the pride of the city.  It had been burned down on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, but was rebuilt larger and more beautiful.  Its construction took 220 years and required contributions from the whole province of Asia.  Paul saw it at the height of its glory, when it was listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.  There was, in addition to and connected with this temple, a tremendous emphasis on magical powers.  Paul had to deal with this while he was there.

The NT records a period of intense activity, Acts 20:20, 31, and of unusual miracles by Paul, Acts 19:11.  These “unusual miracles” (Gk. “uncommon works of power”) are no basis for the so-called “prayer cloths” or “handkerchiefs” some have offered, but were designed to counteract the pagan focus of the city.  Even to  Paul, these things were “uncommon.”  And “signs and wonders” weren’t permanent, even to the apostles.  We read later in the NT of the sickness of one of Paul’s associates.  We read nothing of Paul “healing” him.

As a result of Paul’s ministry, we read that many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.  And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.  And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, Acts 19:18-20.

Now this true revival and work of God in turning many from falsehood to the worship and service of the true God led to a tremendous decline in the commercial side of the worship of Diana, with loss to the business of selling the little shrines used in her worship, and the consequent loss to those who made and sold them.  And about this time there arose a great commotion about the Way.  For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen, vs. 23, 24.  The resulting riot forced Paul to leave Ephesus and there are no further recorded visits to the city.

The Christ of the Epistle, 2:1.

Each of the seven letters begins with a characterization of Christ taken from the vision John saw in chapter 1, a characterization suitable to the spiritual condition of the church addressed.  In this letter, Christ is described as the One holding the seven angels, or ministers of the churches, in His right hand.  He is the One who places them there, and it is to Him they are answerable.

Christ says, “I know.”  The word He uses here is instructive.  One of the words the NT uses for “knowing” means, “to progress in knowledge.”  We might say, “to learn” because there’s something of whatever we do “know” that we still  don’t “know.”  That’s not the word our Lord uses here.  The word He chose means “to know completely.”  There’s nothing about this church, or about us, that He doesn’t know everything about or that He has to “learn.”

This means He knows our “secret” sins, our failures, our shortcomings.  There’s no use trying to hide them or to gloss them over.  He knows them.

But it also means that He knows our secret struggles and sufferings.  Sometimes Christians are amazed when suffering in one form or another comes to us.  And there are those who make a good living teaching that the Christian life is “without a care,” as an unfortunate “Gospel” song used to say.  But the fact is we live in enemy territory.  This world, under the leadership of Satan, “the god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, is no friend to us.  In this country, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve enjoyed many years of relative peace and protection.  That’s coming to an end.  It probably won’t too many years, maybe months, before Christianity and the Bible are declared illegal in this country that was founded by those who had respect for both of them.

Further, we live in a world that’s been cursed because of sin.  It should be no surprise then to find “thorns” in whatever “field” we are in, Genesis 3:17-19.

Our Lord knows all about it.  In fact, I believe He knows it far better than any of us could, having experienced it Himself.  We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:25.

He walked in our shoes.

The Contents of the Epistle, 2:2-7.

1. commendation, vs. 2, 3.

– Our Lord commends the church for their faithful labor:  “your works, your labor, your patience.”  They had labored and persevered to the point of exhaustion.

– He commends them for their faithful diligence.  They could not bear those who are evil.”  There are two main words used in the original for “evil,” often interchangeably, but there is still some distinction between them.  One word is “poneros,” which means destructive, injurious evil.  It’s used of Satan, that “wicked one,” in several places in the NT.  The other word, used here, is “kakos,” and denotes what is useless, incapable or bad.  It describes one who is “useless” in an area in which he ought to be useful:  a cowardly soldier, a lazy student, an unproductive employee.  The Ephesian church could not bear those whom we might call “dead wood,” for example, folks whose bodies are in the pew, but not their minds and hearts.

– He commended them for their faithful listening:  “you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”   Elsewhere, John put it like this, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  I wonder what he would say today, with all the means of communication we have:  TV, radio, the internet, print, Twitter.  More than ever, we need that attitude of some who heard Paul, who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, Acts 17:11, emphasis added.

Satan has no problem quoting Scripture, cf. Matthew 4:5.  In fact, he probably “knows” it better than most folks.  I once received a tract denying the Trinity, which claimed that Jesus is the only God there is.  It had about 90 Scripture references.  The thing that fascinated me was that several of these same Scriptures are used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to “prove” that Jesus isn’t God at all, but only a created being.  Thus both groups totally miss the point, though using lot of Scripture.

We need to know what it says!

Actually says….

– He again commends them for their faithfulness in serving Him, v. 3. “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  This is the second time He’s mentioned their works and labor.  One would think that’s enough; it certainly seems to be in our time.  Church calendars are full of activities of all kinds.  But there’s more….

2. complaint, v. 4, “Nevertheless….”

Oh, what a solemn word this is!  The average pastor would likely be glad to have a zealous church like this, yet our Lord sees a grievous imperfection:  “you have left your first love.”  Note, they left, not lost, that love.  The love of Christ and the church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride, yet how little fervency there is in the average Christian.  I’m afraid we’ve grown to want what He gives us, but not Himself.

“Love” is a key word with regard to this church.  In Paul’s letter to this church, there are some 18 references to “love,” beginning with God’s love toward us in eternity past in choosing and predestining us to adoption as sons, then focusing on Christ’s love and the effect it should have in our lives as believers, and closing with that grand crescendo of a man’s love for his wife.

With regard to this last, I think of Genesis 29:20, which happens during Jacob’s troubles with his father-in-law, Laban.  Remember the story in Genesis 29.  Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters.  He agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to be able to marry her.  However, when the time came, Laban tricked him and gave him his elder daughter, Leah.  Genesis 29:20 gives us Jacob’s attitude during this first seven years, and I like the KJV rendering here:  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.  “Seven years…a few days…for love…to her.”

Ephesus had lost that view, that lightness of spirit that make hard things easy.  Serving Christ had ceased to be a delight; it had become simply a duty.

What should they do?

Our Lord tells them.

3. Counsel, v. 5.

– remember (lit. “keep remembering”).  See the same word in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:31.  Remember the first ardor of salvation.  Remember who He is.  Remember what He did.  Remember what He has promised.  Remember, remember, remember!

Yet how quickly we forget!

– repent.  There are those who tell us that repentance is a “Jewish” doctrine and that it’s now unnecessary.  Yet our Lord told His church in Ephesus to “repent” (twice).  He told five of the seven churches to “repent.”  Ephesus was to repent of leaving His love (cf. Jude 20, 21), and to –

– return, “do the first works.”

This is not a call to “service”!  What is needed is not just more “service:” more activity, more items on the church calendar, more “things to do,” but a return to that supreme love to and for Christ.  This love is the only acceptable motive (to God) for our service, a love that would make that service so much easier, not because we would do less (we likely would do more!), but because such love would change it from a “duty” (which is usually a burden) to a “delight” (which is something altogether different!)

– remain, “or else….”

This refers to our Lord’s coming in judgment to remove the church’s witness as a light-bearer.  The church in Ephesus has been gone a long time.  So have the other six churches.  We wonder how many Christians and churches are still going through the motions, but have their true witness removed.  And how many church buildings have been sold and are being used for something else.  I think of one here locally that’s now a beauty salon.  There are countless others.

It’s a solemn thought.

4. Commendation, “But this you have, that you hate the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

There is some discussion as to what this means.  I tend toward the view that it refers to the separation of Christians into “clergy” and “laity.”  This distinction has no basis in Scripture and introduced a great evil into the churches, namely, the evil of seeking for, and pride in, “position.”  Such easily becomes the goal, instead of that love of and for Christ that is the only worthy and acceptable motive for service.

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

What does this mean?

It’s pretty clear that it means salvation.

“I thought we’re saved by grace through faith.”

Amen and amen.

We are.

Hear, or read, Paul:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

There is a lot of stuff in this world that calls us away from the Lord Jesus.  As we saw in our study of Hebrews, there’s danger in leaving Him; it might mean we were never His to begin with.  This is why He calls the Ephesian church, and us, back to that loving faith in Him which is the only acceptable motive for Christian living, and that perseverance which is the only real evidence that we’re His.