Revelation 3:7-13, The Church in Philadelphia: The Church With an Open Door.

“And to the church in Philadelphia write,
‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens”:   ‘I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.  I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,which comes down out of heaven from My God.  And I will write on him My new name.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 7.

The city got its name from Attalus II, 159-138 B.C., whose truth and loyalty to his ailing brother Eumenes won for him the epithet, Philadelphus (“brother-loving”).  Philadelphia was founded as a center for the consolidation and spread of the Greek culture and language, so was a “missionary” city from the beginning.

The city obtained world-wide fame through a disaster.  Philadelphia lay on the edge of a now extinct volcanic field, but in AD 17 a severe earthquake destroyed 12 cities, including Sardis and Philadelphia.  Evidently, the aftershocks continued for some time and so terrorized the inhabitants that most of them remained outside the city.  Those who did return to the city lived in constant fear of another earthquake.

The Emperor Tiberius helped these stricken cities and in commemoration of his generosity, Philadelphia took on a new name:  “Neokaisareia,” “New Caesarea,” though this name was gradually abandoned.

Philadelphia was distinguished from the other cities by several things:  it was a “missionary” city, there was constant danger, much of the population remained outside the city, and the city took on a new name from the imperial god.

In the last stages of the struggle of the decaying Roman Empire and the growing Turkish power, Philadelphia played a heroic part and held aloft the Christian banner long after the surrounding countryside had been conquered.  During the fourteenth century, it stood practically alone against the entire Turkish power as a free and self-governing city against and amidst the Turkish lands which surrounded it.  Twice, Turkish armies reduced the city to starvation, yet the city stood.  Finally, about 1370-1390, it fell to a combined Turkish and Byzantine army.  What the Turks could not do by themselves, they did by taking advantage of the division and jealousy among the Christians.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 7.

His Personality,

1. “Holy.”  This refers to His inward character.  As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, He is holy, harmless, undefiled.

2. “True.” – “genuine,” as opposed to the claims of “those who say” in v. 9.  This refers to the outward manifestation of the inward character.  In the final analysis, what we do is determined by what we are.

His Power, “opens” and “shuts” and no one hinders.  We greatly need the assurance of this in our day.  There’s too much of the idea that we can somehow “hinder” or “frustrate” the God who created everything.  While we in no way deny our responsibilities or that our actions have consequences, we do deny that these in any way “mess up” the God of heaven.  I firmly believe this is why the churches – and indeed, the world – are in the shape they’re in.  We have the (false) idea that we can “mess Him up”.  The end and obvious result of such a view is the blatant skepticism and atheism we see all around us.  Who wants so feeble a god?

3. The Content of the Epistle, vs. 8-13.

The letter has three promises here:

Operation, “An open door”.  This clause is a perfect participle, meaning that the door is still open.

“able to shut,” implying that someone or is trying to shut the door and stop the missionary effort, but is not able to interfere with the Lord who keeps it open.

“no one” – not even Satan, though he certainly would like to.
1. No one can shut the door because the church “has a little strength”.  This is a great encouragement.  The church was evidently small, unimportant and feeble, especially when compared to the church at Pentecost, yet there is nothing but commendation.  No church can be judged, or may judge itself, by any other church.
2. No one can shut the door because the church “kept My word.”  Cf. John 14:23.  This implies obedience to, as well as, belief in Scripture.  This is a great responsibility.  Too much of our preaching and teaching is out of some commentary – what men say about the Bible.  While such things have their place and can be useful, we need to go to our primary source, the Word of God itself.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3, not “what does this source or that source say the Scripture says.”
3. No one can shut the door because the church has not “denied My name.”  With reference to the typical teaching from the church, perhaps this is a hint as to the great hour of trial yet to come upon the world – to deny Christ by receiving the “mark of the beast”.

Vindication, v. 9.  There are two interpretations of this verse:
1. The Jews will be forced to confess to the truth of Christianity at the Judgment, or,
2. Some Jews, now opponents, will be saved.

Both interpretations might be said to be true, though we believe the first one is more correct.

Many people, including Christians, forget that this life is not all there is to life.  A preacher of another generation, Rolfe Barnard, used to tell a story, something like this:

“There was a little country church surrounded by the fields of an ardent atheist.  One year, he decided to show his contempt for the church and what it taught.  The church had no air conditioning and so, in the spring and summer, had to have its windows open.  This atheist decided to plow his fields on Sunday, to cultivate his crops on Sunday, and finally, to harvest them on Sunday.  When the season was over, he wrote a letter to the paper in that town.  He said, ‘I planted my crops on Sunday, took care of them on Sunday, and harvested them on Sunday.  And I have a bumper crop.  A bumper crop.’
“The editor replied, ‘My friend, God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October’.”

“God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.”

Countless millions have died, and are dying at this very moment, and their graves are unsung and unhonored.  Their names are cast out as evil.  Perhaps a believer will be killed while you read these lines.  Even those who aren’t called on to give their physical life are often called on to suffer persecution in one form or another.  Even in our culture, businesses are forced to close because the owners will not do things which violate their faith.  Things which once were unthinkable are now said to be “rights” and woe to those who don’t agree.

God doesn’t always settle His accounts in October.

There is coming a time, however, when He will settle those accounts, a time when righteousness is at home, 2 Peter 3:13.  Many Scriptures speak of this and it is unwise indeed to expect real justice in a time when justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off.  For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.  So truth fails and he who departs from iniquity makes himself a prey, Isaiah 59:14, 15.  Though Isaiah was speaking directly to his own time, what he said of his nation and culture is applicable to this one.

“a synagogue of Satan.”  Because they had rejected the Messiah, no longer was their worship acceptable to God, nor was their synagogue of God, even though they carried the name “Jews,” and nominally worshiped Jehovah.  I wonder if God thinks that of those churches of our day and time which deny every truth of His Word.

“but lie”.  Romans 2:28, 29 describe a “real” Jew:  one who not only has the outward symbol of circumcision, but the inward reality that his circumcision symbolizes – the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

Separation, v. 10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole earth.”

There are several elements to this.

1. A recognition of past faithfulness, because you have kept My command to persevere….  Contrary to what a popular Gospel song used to teach – that the Christian life is “without a care,” we’re called upon not simply to “believe” something, but to live as if that something were true.  While it’s certainly true that we have responsibilities in this present world – we’re children, siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors, employees, bosses, etc. – we have an ultimate responsibility with a view to the next world:  it is appointed for men once to die, but after this, the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.  It isn’t always smooth sailing, sometime we have to go through flood or fire, figuratively speaking, Isaiah 43:2.

2. A promise of future protection, I also will keep you from the hour of trial….  In Luke 21:18, after a description of what the disciples would be likely to suffer, even to death, our Lord promised that “not a hair of your head shall be lost.”  But in v. 19, he finished, “By your patience [endurance] possess your souls.”  All that’s not limited to the first disciples.  I think we see it playing out before our very eyes.  In parts of this world, men and women are suffering unbelievable, indescribable, things for the name of the Lord Jesus.  But they will stand before Him perfect, complete, whole, having lost nothing, but having gained everything.

As far as “the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world,” I’m not sure exactly what that might have meant to the actual church at Philadelphia.  Severe persecution under Diocletian was on the way.  It might have been that.  Or something else we don’t know about.  As far as any typical teaching might be concerned, and again, there is discussion about this, it seems to me that the Lord is promising that believers will be spared from that coming time of trouble  in which He said that unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, Matthew 24:22.

3. a plea for present faithfulness, v. 11, “Hold fast.”  It isn’t enough that we can look back and see how the Lord has blessed us, or what service we might have performed.  Nor is it enough simply to look ahead to that time when “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”  Right now, there’s something for us to do.  To be.

The reason for that is that there’s a danger of loss.  Not our salvation, as some teach, but our Lord warned the Philadelphians that they could lose their “crown,” that is, lose the rewards they might have had.  John had something to say about this in one of his epistles.  In 2 John 8, he was concerned that his readers receive a full reward.  And Paul gives the picture of a person going through the judgment and discovering that everything he did was nothing but wood, hay and stubble, and losing everything, though he himself is saved, [yet] as through fire, 1 Corinthians 3:15.

As an encouragement, the Lord said He is coming “quickly.”  From the world’s standpoint, it’s been a long time since these words were written.  From an eternal standpoint, it’s only been a second or two.  Jesus may come before this day is over, or I finish writing this post, or you finish reading it.

John closes this letter with our Lord saying some things that it’s difficult to understand, to picture.  I won’t even begin to attempt it.  But there’s a feeling of permanence, of “belonging,” of things this world knows nothing about.  Our “hope” isn’t in this world, but in the One coming to straighten things out in it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 3:1-6, The Church at Sardis: What’s In a Name?

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis, write,
‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars:  “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your work perfect before God.  Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.  Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.  You have a few names even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes shall be clothed with white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘ (NKJV)

1. The City of the Epistle, v. 1.

Sardis was situated on a small plateau which rose some 1500 feet above the surrounding country and was directly accessible only from the south.  Except for this approach, the plateau was atop nearly perpendicular walls, which were unclimbable except under exceptional circumstances.  The approach itself was narrow and heavily fortified, making the city virtually impregnable.  Yet the city was conquered, not once, but twice, because of the complacency of the defenders.

The plateau on which the city sat was affected by the weather.  From time to time, an oblique crack would appear in the perpendicular cliffs, thus affording access to the top to an experienced climber or to one willing to risk it.  Even then, the sides could have been easily defended, because it took all one could do to climb, let alone having to fight his way up.  However, the citizens of Sardis were careless and self-confident, and there was no continuing defense, except on the south.  The city was conquered twice.

The name “Sardis” means “a remnant” or “those who have escaped,” and characterizes the church.  Only a few had “escaped” the defilement which infected the church in general; the majority had a name, but no reality.  Sardis typifies Protestantism after the initial fervor had died down.  The Established Churches all had the name of defenders of orthodoxy, but there was generally little more than lip service. Ritual and form were the important thing, and Morality was all the “gospel” that was preached.

There are many good and godly people in the Reformed movement.  And there are Baptists who don’t believe anything at all of the faith once delivered to the saints. It isn’t “my church” or “your church.”  Our ultimate authority for spiritual truth isn’t this or that catechism or confession of faith.  It isn’t this preacher or that scholar. Our ultimate and final authority must be the Word of God.  With Paul, we must ask, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.  It is our rule and practice of faith.  Nothing else is.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, vs. 1.

He Who is the Lord of the Church is portrayed as the One Who has –

The Seven Spirits of God.  Some versions have “spirits of God.”  There weren’t originally any capitals in Greek.  So it’s a matter of interpretation how to print this phrase, which also occurs in 1:4; 4:5 and 5:6.  I’ve given my thoughts in my comments on 1:4, so won’t repeat them here.

There is something I do want to say, though.  In spite of the uncertainty of what this phrase means, I think it has a clear message.  Before I started the blog, I contributed to another website.  It was a general discussion site.  Someone would ask a question or make a comment and others would answer.  One of the other contributors closed a comment with the phrase, “God bless America.”  I responded, “How can God bless America when we’re doing everything we can to bring about His judgment?”  Someone else responded, “What does God have to do with it?”

“What does God have to do with it?”

The description John uses, along with the rest of the book, tells us that He has everything to do with it.  We’ll see that, Lord willing, as we go along.

The Seven Stars.  As we saw earlier, these “stars” refer to the pastors of the seven local churches.  The Spirit works life, and its activity, only through the Word, hence, the pastors of the churches, those who minister the Word, are included because spiritual life is to be revived.

3. The Contents of the Epistle, 3:1b-6.

Condemnation, vs. 1b-2.  Sardis has nothing good said about it, except perhaps that there were a few of its members who hadn’t been “defiled.”  It was worse even than Thyatira.

1. It had a false name.  Sardis was a church with a reputation for orthodoxy, yet there was nothing on the inside; there was a form of godliness, but denying its power, 2 Timothy 3:5.  How true this was, and is, of a great deal of Protestantism.  With good beginnings in the Reformation, it has deteriorated, generally speaking, into a cold, lifeless formalism.

2. It had a failing vitality, vs. 2.

– be watchful, be awake, as after being roused.  And it is a command signifying, “keep on being awake.  Don’t go back to sleep.”

– ready to die, about to lose the last spark of life.

– strengthen, take strong, immediate, effective measures.

– perfect, complete, satisfactory.  As good as it was, the Reformation fell far short of returning to the simplicity of the New Testament.  I read Reformed authors who want to go back to the Church Fathers of the second and third century.  No doubt, there is much they could teach us.  At the same time, why not go back to the “original” Church Fathers, in the New Testament?  That’s what I want to do.

Counsel, v. 3a.

1. Remember, how, with what zeal and eagerness you received the truths of the Gospel.  Does the Word mean as much to us as it once did?

2. Return, to that first fervor and desire for the Lord.  The Psalmist wrote, delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart, Psalm 37:4.    It might be easy to look at that and think that this means that, if we “delight” in the Lord, He’ll make us rich or famous or some other thing greatly sought after by the world.  But, if we truly delight in the Lord, wouldn’t the thing we desire most be Himself?  That was Paul’s great desire, that I might know Him, Philippians 3:10.  There’s a wealth of material in the word “also” as well as in what else Paul said in his verse, but we leave that to your further thought.

Consequences, v. 3b.  “As a thief” doesn’t refer to the Lord’s coming, though He does use that analogy about it elsewhere, but to visitation in judgment like that of Ephesus in 2:5 and Pergamos in 2:16.  That is exactly what Christ has done with this church.  Though it did last for a long time, it is long gone.

Yet we believe there is a wider application to that promise:  to unregenerate, formal, ritualistic Protestantism, Christ threaten that aspect of His coming which belongs to the world, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5.

“State churches must be to a considerable extent political in principle and practice.  If, therefore, Protestantism identifies itself with the world, sharing its fortunes, it must also share in its doom” (Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 95.)

We admit that there is considerable discussion of and disagreement in views of the future.  Without getting into all that, we’ve done that elsewhere, let me just say that truly born-again Christians will not enter the Tribulation Period.  There are, however, countless numbers not only in liberal churches but also in churches which call themselves “conservative” or “fundamental” which bear no evidence of a work of God in their lives.  Though we cannot know for certain the true spiritual condition of folks like these, nominal Christians, those who’ve just gone through the motions or the ritual, will enter and endure this time of trial on the earth.  We will have more to say about this, Lord willing.

Considerations, vs. 4, 5.

1. Fellowship with our Lord, v. 4.  The glory and wonder of heaven isn’t streets of gold or the fact that “bad” things are forever gone.  That which will make heaven “heaven” will be the fact that HE is there, and His people will have eternal and unbroken fellowship with Him.

2. White raiment, v. 5.  Changed forever will be these fallible, fallen bodies.  We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  No more death, disease or departure from purity and righteousness.

3. Name not blotted out, v. 5.  This is not the loss of salvation, but rather the showing the falseness of their profession of life.  Remember, the Lord is referring to those with only the name of “Christian,” but who in reality are “twice dead”: in sin and to righteousness.

4. Name confessed before God and the angels, v. 5.  This is the other side of what has just been said.  Not only will true Christians be “blotted out” of the book, but their names will be confessed before the Father.  As one has said, “I am not ashamed to confess Christ, but my wonder is, How can he ever confess me!”

 

 

Revelation 2:19-29, The Church at Thyatira: Where Service is Not Sufficient

“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.  Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.  Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.  And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.  But hold fast what you have till I come.  And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations –

‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed in pieces like the
potter’s vessels’ –

as I also received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘

As we’ve mentioned before, this is the longest of the seven letters.

– continued from the previous post –

3. Contents of the Epistle, 2:19-29.

Commendation, v. 19.

This is the warmest commendation of any, which perhaps emphasizes the severity of what follows.  Thyatira had so much, and yet fell so far short.  The Lord indicates there had been real spiritual progress.  “Works” are mentioned twice, “the last more (or, better) than the first.”  Jesus commended them for four practical aspects of their Christian life:

1. Love.  This is the first and chief of all Christian graces, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This is what Ephesus lacked.

2. Service, “diakonia,” voluntary service for our brethren, or those around us, by which they are benefited.  This is different from “doulos,” the word used by Paul and translated “bondservant,” whose only duty was to obey his master.  This is an apt word for our service to God.  What we do as God’s servants does not “benefit” Him!  Cf. Job 35:7.

3. Faith.  Cf. Hebrews 11:6.  Faith isn’t simply agreement with a set of teachings, a catechism, a statement of faith, as good as these may be.  It isn’t some sort of “feeling” or experience by which we enter a supposed “higher plane of Christian existence.”  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an obedient response to the Word of God.  We read over and over again in that chapter, “by faith,” so-and-so did this or that.  Noah built a huge boat, when it had never rained.  Abraham left a comfortable life in a metropolis of his time and everything he knew to follow a promise.  Enoch just disappeared one day.  These and many others didn’t simply “believe” God, they did what He said.  Some of what they did seems unreasonable, even wicked, to unbelievers,e.g., Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac.  But they pleased God.  That’s all that matters.

4. Patience, endurance under hardship.  We see examples of this later in Hebrews 11, Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tested, were slain with the sword.  They wandered around in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, vs. 35b-38.

We’ve been spoiled in this country.  What we just read above is more likely to be the treatment of God’s people in this world, and it is in many countries even as I write these words.

Thyatira had much that was good, but they also had much that was bad.  This leads to:

Condemnation and Judgment, vs. 20-23.

1. Condemnation, v. 20.  Thyatira was very active in works, but they seem to have neglected the Word.  This is why all the things wrong with them happened.  They weren’t really guided by the Word of God.  Because of this,  –

– they permitted false teaching. Perhaps, like the church at Corinth, they thought it was an evidence of “Christian love” or some such thing, to tolerate this teaching.  I don’t really know.  Regardless, “tolerance” is not permitted in defiance of plain Scripture teaching.  “Gender fluidity,” unScriptural views of marriage, of the family, of morality in general, of the roles of men and woman, of the place of Scripture in society, to name just a few, have no place in a Biblical worldview, regardless of how popular or prevalent they, or any other social idea, might be, or how unpopular the Biblical view is.

What about the idea that a woman was responsible for this teaching?

We don’t know who this woman really was, or if this was even her real name.  So we have to ask, who is Jezebel in Scripture?  She’s first mentioned in 1 Kings 16:31-33, where she is married to Ahab, king of Israel, a king who followed in the idolatrous and rebellious practices of Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided kingdom, see 1 Kings 12:25-33, who thereafter was known as  “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin,” and future kings of Israel are faulted for following him.

Ahab was a weak king and Scripture says of him, there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up, 1 Kings 21:25.  She did the same thing to her son, 1 Kings 22:52.

She was a “mixer,” mixing the true religion of Israel with the false religion of her homeland.  Whatever she was to the northern kingdom, that’s what this other “Jezebel” was to Thyatira, mixing the true and the false.  It doesn’t matter what she called herself, she was wrong, and the church got into trouble for following her.

At the same time, I think Christ has something to say to those who turn to mere human authority, rather than hearing what the Spirit says to the churches.  One of the Puritans used to say, “I want to hear but two things.  First, does God speak?  Second, what does He say?”  Unless we have this attitude, and aren’t content merely to follow some preacher, teacher or school of thought, we are in Thyatira.

As for the idea of a woman teaching men, the Scripture is quite clear on this, in spite of the rampant feminism, “Biblical” or otherwise, that has engulfed even our churches, 1 Corinthians 14:33-37; 1 Timothy 2:8-12.  Lest, as some have done, it is said these verses just show Paul’s “rabbinic prejudice,” he wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:37, these things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

This in no way is intended to demean women.  Their value and contribution in this life cannot be overstated.  It’s just that the world has an entirely different definition of those ideas than Scripture.  This is not to say in any way that man is “superior,” or that women are “inferior.”  It is God Who is superior and He has set an order in the church, in the home and in society.  He has one set of rules; the world has chosen to reject those and go by their own set of rules, with the resulting chaos we see all around us.

– they tolerated idolatry and immorality.  Possibly this centered around the trade-guilds and the idolatry and immorality they fostered.  We don’t know how Jezebel might have reasoned about these things in the church, but it doesn’t really matter.  Regardless of why it happened, the Lord was having none of it.

2. Judgment, vs. 21-23.

With reference to the actual church in Thyatira, we don’t know what happened when the Lord judged this wickedness, just that it happened.

With reference to any typical teaching, we believe this church represents the Reformation and Rome’s response to the true gospel.

– grace before judgment, v. 21. The Lord said, “I gave her space to repent….”   Savonorala in Italy, Wickliffe in England, John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in France – all men whom God raised up throughout their world to call Rome to repentance, but “she repented not,” and instead set up a “Counter Reformation” to strengthen her grip on the souls of men and to counteract the preaching of the truth.

– judgment on her and her followers, v. 22.

See above for remarks about the actual church situation in Thyatira.

– judgment on her “children,” v. 23.

Who are “her children”?  Are they not the Reformation churches?  Calvin and Luther and others never repudiated their Catholic ordination.  When Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to that door in Wittenburg, he wasn’t trying to start a new “church,” but was attempting to call the church that ordained him to repentance and a return to the truths of Scripture.

– “kill with death.”  We think this phrase contains a vital, but generally overlooked, truth.  What brought about the Reformation?  Wasn’t it largely due to the recovery of the Scriptural teaching of justification by grace through faith?  We’ve already noted Luther’s and Calvin’s views on preaching and interpretation.  The Reformers did preach the Word to a degree unheard of for centuries.  It’s sad that they brought so much with them when they left Rome.  But they did at least start with a foundation of Scripture.

What happened?

The Reformers themselves were men of the Spirit, but their doctrines of infant baptism and the state-church, whereby everyone who was a citizen of the nation was by virtue of that citizenship also a member of the state church, soon filled their churches with unsaved people, and their method of allegorical interpretation, in spite of the “literalism” they started with, soon reduced the Gospel to nothing more than a series of ethical maxims.

We think very little of this in our day, but Scripture says that the Word of God will inevitably have one of only two results:

For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life…, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 3:6, emphasis added.

Apart from the ministry of the Spirit of God, the Word of God produces death, whether it’s preached in a Reformed church, a Baptist church, or someone just picks it up and reads it.  According to Paul, there is no middle ground.  Protestant churches have the Word, but, to a great degree, have reduced it to teachings on ethics and morality.  However, ethics, even biblical ones, do not give “life.”  So Rome’s children have been “killed with death” by the very Scriptures of which Protestant churches make their boast.

– “give to each one of you..,” v. 23.

Whatever may be said about “typical” teaching from these verses, the Lord is here addressing the actual church in Thyatira.  There is a judgment of persons as well as of systems, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  The believer’s sins aren’t in view in these verses; they were taken care of on Calvary.  His works will be put to the test – what he did with the life God gave him.  The word translated, “loss,” has two meanings: loss of what has been gained, the works of wood, hay and stubble, but it also means “to forfeit” – the reward that would have been received if the works had been gold, silver or precious stones.  Such a one faces a double loss:  all the works of his life, as well as any reward.  Paul put it like this:  he himself will be saved, yet as through fire, v. 15.  The picture is of a person who has gone through a disastrous fire, losing everything and escaping only with his life.

It’s a sobering thought.  20, 30, 40, 50 years of ministry, perhaps outwardly great and wonderful, gone up in smoke.  This is why John warned his readers – and us, Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward, 2 John 8 (ESV), emphasis added.

Closing remarks, vs. 24-29.

1. Responsibility, vs. 24, 25, “hold fast.”

The phrase means, to hold by strong hands, tugging for it, with those who would take it from them.  It indicates an ongoing and difficult struggle to retain what they still had.  The world has no use for the things of God, and even many in “the church” see no value in them, being content with ritual and routine.  In Thyatira, there were those who were actively opposed to the truth of God’s Word.  The believers weren’t to let them win.

2. Reassurance, vs. 26 – 28.

As difficult as it might have seemed to these Thyatiran believers, their struggles would come to an end and they would be richly rewarded.  They were promised power (authority) over the nations.

A Reformed writer had this to say, “One by one, as we reach the end here on earth, we shall pass into heaven and there sit with Christ on His throne and together with Him exercise kingly rule and authority over the nations until His Parousia. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, p. 122.)

Sorry, but I must differ.  Where is there a single place on earth today that bears any evidence of Christ’s “kingly rule”?  Where He is honored and revered?  What kind of “rule” is that, where the King is ignored, even ridiculed and rejected?  This quote is a very shallow and irreverent view of “the kingdom.”

Our Lord Himself said that He is seated with His Father on His Father’s throne, 3:21.  He will not sit on His own throne as King until after His return to this earth, Matthew 25:31.  He isn’t referred to as “King” until then, either.  According to Zechariah 14:16-21, when our Lord is ruling this earth, there will be no question about it – and no escaping it.  He, and His people, will rule the nations “with a rod of iron,” because not everyone will be glad to see Him!  We see this graphically portrayed in Revelation 20:7, when Satan is released from his prison at the end of the 1000 year reign of our Lord (not just “hindered” by the preaching of the Gospel, but actually incarcerated), and he will have no trouble at all in gathering a world-wide rebellion against the King, a rebellion that will be quickly snuffed out.  Just in passing, if the Holy Spirit didn’t mean an actual 1000 years, why did He mention it six times in six verses?

“the morning star.”  2 Peter 1:19 refers to the morning star rising in our hearts.  There’s a lot of discussion about what this “star” is.  I confess I don’t know.  Whatever it is, is probably beyond the ability of words to convey.

 3. Reminder, v. 29.

These aren’t just the delusions of a tired old man in prison.  They are what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pay attention….

Revelation 2:18, The Christ and City of Thyatira.

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira, write, ‘The things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass….’ 

Once again, we’ve had to divide our thoughts into separate posts.

1. The City of the Epistle.

Thyatira was located in a valley linking two other valleys.  Because it had no natural fortification and was wide open to attack, a garrison was usually stationed there.  This defended the town, but had the added benefit in that it guarded the road into Pergamos, the capital of the province.

Because of its favorable location on the route between Pergamos and Sardis, Thyatira soon became a prosperous commercial center.  Many trade-guilds are known to have existed there.  One of her merchants is even mentioned in Scripture:  Lydia, a seller of purple, Acts 16:14.  What’s noted about her, though, isn’t her commerce, but her conversion.  She is described as one whose heart the Lord opened to hear the things spoken by Paul.  There’s so much I could say about this in these days of the widespread belief that God is impotent or at least unable to act until we give Him permission.  That is not the God of Scripture.

Membership in the appropriate guild was essential to a tradesman and his business and social life was severely impacted if he refused to join.  But each guild had its own “god” and membership implied worship of that god.  Moreover, the periodic feasts of the guild, beside honoring their god, deteriorated into drunken orgies.  Perhaps this was one of the main problems facing the church there.

Although Thyatira was the smallest of the seven cities, its letter is the longest.

If we follow the idea that each church foreshadows an era of church history, then Thyatira represents that time between 500 and 1500 AD, when Romanism was savagely predominant.  I use the word “savagely” intentionally, in view of the rivers of blood Rome shed of those who refused to join with her.   The name, Thyatira, is particularly significant, made up as it is of two words which can be interpreted as meaning “a continual sacrifice.”  The continual offering of the Mass – the so-called “unbloody sacrifice” of the Lord Jesus – is the central blasphemy of Romanism.  The partaking of communion was never intended by our Lord to be a continuation of His sacrifice or a repetition of it.  It was never meant to be some sort of “magic potion” bringing “grace” to those who partake of it.  He Himself said it was to be a reminder of Him.  In 1 Corinthians 11:25, He told the disciples, This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”   It’s a memorial to His life and death.  Perhaps it’s significant that our Lord said this in the part of Communion involved in the drinking of the fruit of the vine, which is withheld from the communicant in Rome’s version.  The fruit of the vine represents His blood, without which there is no salvation.

This brings us to our next thought.

2. The Christ of the Epistle, v. 18.

This is important.  In this day of “pluralism” and “diversity,” it’s vital to remember that our Lord taught that there’s only one way of salvation and that’s through Him.  All roads do not lead to heaven.  He Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14:6.  And not just the “Jesus” of a lot of modern thought, who was only a good man or a prophet or whose death was accidental or a mistake, or who is even, as some now teach, only a figment of the imagination.

There’s only salvation in a Christ Who is God, Who deliberately set aside His glory as God, deliberately came into this world through means of a virgin, deliberately lived a perfect life, deliberately died a horrible death, deliberately and willingly suffered the justice of God against sin, deliberately rose again from the dead and Who, one day, will deliberately return to this world.  There was nothing accidental or unintentional in a single thing that He ever did.  This is the Christ who saves, and He alone.

The Son of God.  This is the only place in these epistles where the Lord Jesus is so named.  Perhaps, in the wisdom of God, this is to warn people not to be deluded into thinking of Him merely as the Son of Mary.  Perhaps there’s something to be learned from her last recorded words in Scripture.  She had attempted to get Him to do something, perhaps just being a mother and not really thinking about it.  He told her that it wasn’t yet time for Him to be subject to man’s will.  Her response?  His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it,” John 2:5, emphasis added.  That’s still good advice.  There’s nothing more she can say or do.

Eyes like a Flame of Fire.

– to uncover and destroy works of error and apostasy.

We’ve almost completely lost sight of this facet of our Lord’s being and of His Father’s.  We seem to have this idea of God as this beneficent-type grandfather who winks and chuckles at the foibles of His wayward grandchildren.  We seem to think that it doesn’t really matter what He says in His Word, if it is His Word.  Academics argue and quibble over this and that, but they never seem actually to read what He says.  From a misunderstanding of Revelation 3:20, we picture our Lord as being on the outside and wanting us to let Him in so badly.  One preacher even went so far as to call Him “the Christ of the bloody knuckles”!  This is not the Christ of Scripture!

God is indeed very long-suffering and patient.  For that, I am very thankful.  If He were not, we’d all be in Hell, where we belong.  But one of these days, as Rolfe Barnard, a great preacher of another generation, put it, one of these days we’re going to run into the end of that patience and we’ll reap what we’ve sown.  I think we’re getting there.  Look at the headlines, the lead stories on TV, the sorry condition of the major candidates running for the highest office in our land.

When the Lord comes back, He’s not going to be “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  He’s not going to suffer the humiliation and rejection He did the first time. Scripture describes that time when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And Zechariah 14:9-21 gives us something of the nature and character of His reign on this earth when He gets here.

That’s a picture of our Lord that the church needs today.  He has no time for diversity and “tolerance,” especially of sin or error.  He doesn’t celebrate “inclusiveness,” at least not as it’s practiced today.  The Gospel is indeed “inclusive” in that there is no one to whom it isn’t addressed, or who does not need to heed and obey it.  But there is no such thing as “religious freedom” in Scripture – that we can take it or leave it, or twist it around to suit ourselves.

I’ve heard people say what the Scripture “means to them.”  The problem is, we need to understand what it means to God.  What does He mean?  Not what do the “notes” say it means.  Not what the preacher on TV says it means.  What it says it means.  These other things may or may not be useful.  We need to read and study the Scriptures themselves, not just read about them.  Not everybody is on the road to heaven.  Our Lord indicated that most people are on the other road, Matthew 7:13, that broad way that leads to destruction.

His feet like fine brass.

Revelation 19:15 says, He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

The Old Testament describes something of this:  Isaiah 63:1-6; Zechariah 14:1-3, 12-15.  The world may gather its armies together in one last desperate attempt to destroy Israel, and they may seem to be successful, but the Lord will come back and that will be that.  The world will finally see something of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

Satan will no longer, and not much longer, we pray, be the god of this world. 

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.