The Seven Churches of Asia (Liberal, Worldly Churches)

The letter, to each of the seven churches, begin, “To the angel of the church in __________” (Revelation 2:1; 2:8; 2:12; 2:18; 3:1; 3:7; 3:14).  The word “angel” means “messenger”.  The word is commonly used of heavenly messengers (Daniel 4:13, etc.).  It is also used of human messengers (2 Chronicles 36:15; Malachi 2:7; 3:1; Luke 7:24, etc.).  It may refer to the preacher.  It may refer to the eldership, collectively.  The language, possibly, is from the Jewish synagogues.  The chief speaker was called the angel (James Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 23).

The message was to be read in the congregation.  “Blessed is he (singular, B.H.) who reads and those (plural, B.H.) who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it…” (Revelaion 1:3).  The individual member is urged to pay attention.  “He (singular) who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches… (Revelaion 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; 3:22).

As you read of these seven churches, which can be divided into three basic groups, think upon this church.  Which church is most like us?  Which group do we belong in: (1) The faithful; (2) The loveless, lifeless, and lukewarm; (3) The liberal, and worldly?

Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17)

Also called Pergamum,  modern name: Bergama

About the city: The city was founded by Greek colonists some time before 300 B.C.  It was located about 60 miles northeast of Smyrna, and about 15 miles east of the Aegean Sea.  The city was built on terraces leading up the only accessible slope of the acropolis which rose 900 feet in height.  A small river, the Selinus, flowed through the city. A second river, the Cetius, flowed around the city walls.  In John’s day, the city was about 120,000 in population.  The city was the birthplace of Galen, the “father of anatomy” (though, he was not born until c. 130 A.D.).  A medical school existed in this city. This city was important in literary history.  Alexandria, Egypt had the largest and best-known library in the Greco-Roman world (About 900,000 books/scrolls).  Pergamos came to have the second largest library (about 200,000 books/scrolls).  Egypt became jealous when Pergamos started building up her library.  Ptolemy of Egypt prohibited the export of papyrus to Pergamos (Papyrus was made from the papyrus plant.  It grew and was produced in Egypt.  It was the common material to write on at the time.  Our word “paper” comes from “papyrus”).  Thus, Pergamos developed parchment as an alternative [The original word literally means “paper of Pergamos.”  Parchment is prepared animal skin used as paper.  Parchment usually refers to sheep and goat skin (Vellum to calf and antelope skin)].  The city became the parchment-making city of the Greco-Roman world.  Note: Marc Antony (of Rome) gave much of the library to Cleopatra (of Egypt) in the 30’s B.C.

Religiously: The city had temples to Zeus (chief Greek god), Dionysus (the god of wine), Athena (the goddess of wisdom), and Aeskelpios (the god of healing).  It’s temple to Zeus was reckoned one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It’s temple to Aeskelpios contained pools with supposed healing power, and physicians who claimed to receive diagnosis by dreams and visions.  This god’s image was of him holding a serpent wrapped around a pole (an image which is still visible in the medical community).  Emperor worship was practiced.  Temples were built to Augustus, and later Trajan, and Severus.  A large Jewish community existed.

The message: (1) Jesus held a sharp two-edged sword (Revelation 2:12, 16 cf. 1:16; 19:1).  He could look into them as if they had been flayed (Hebrews 4:12-13).  He could also do battle (Revelation 2:12 cf. 2:16; 19:1).  (2) He knew their works (Revelation 2:13).  (3) He knew where they dwelt (Revelation 2:13).  He knew that they were surrounded by evil.  (4) He knew that they were holding fast to His name or His faith (Revelation 2:13).  They had not turned away, and denied Him even in difficult times. One brother, Antipas, had already suffered death due to his faithful witness.  (5) Good characteristics do not negate bad characteristics (Revelation 2:14 cf. 2:10; 2:4).  (6) Some held to the doctrine of Balaam [(Revelation 2:14 cf. Numbers 25:1-3).  Josephus indicates that Balaam crafted Israel`s temptation for Balak, in order to get God to destroy Israel, since he could not curse them (cf. Num 22-23). See Josephus Antiq. IV.102-ff)].  They had some practicing fornication and eating things sacrificed to idols.  (7) Some held to the doctrine of the Nicolatians (Revelation 2:14 cf. 2:6).  A doctrine which Jesus hated.  Clement of Alexandria said that they abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats in a life of shameless indulgence (The Miscellaines 2:20).   The point is they had tolerated sin within the church.  (8) They needed to repent or Jesus would be against them (Revelation 2:16 cf. 2:5; 3:3; 3:11).  (9) If they overcame, they would be given hidden manna to eat (Revelation 2:17).  “Hidden”, perhaps, refers to the fact that manna was placed in the side of the ark (Hebrews 9:4 cf. Ex. 16:33-34).  Jesus is the true “bread of life” (John 6). This likely means that they would receive Him.  (b) They would receive a white stone.  White stones were given for acquittal in court (Black stones for guilty vote cf. Acts 26:10 lit cast pebbles).  White stones were given to freed slaves.  White stones were given to winners of races.  Stones were often used as tickets to events.  A name would be on this stone (Revelation 2:17 cf. 3:12).  They would be provided a stone with God’s name on it, and the New Jerusalem.

Thyatira Revelation 2:18-29

Modern name: Ackisar

About the city: The city was inhabited before 300 B.C.  It was never a large city (today: 50,000 population).  The city was located 35 miles southeast of Pergamos, and 35 miles northwest of Sardis.  The city was surrounded by streams and wetlands (from which leeches were later gathered for medical use in Eastern Europe).  The area was covered in hardwood trees.  The dye industry was a major business in this town.  They especially were known for their purple (aka Turkish red) dye (cf. Lydia was a seller of purple from this very town, Acts 16:14).  Purple was the color of the rich and powerful (Jude 8:26; Daniel 5:7 ASV; Esther 8:15; Mark 15:17-18; Luke 16:19).  The most prized purple dye was extremely expensive.  It came from a small gland in the neck of a marine mollusk.  It took 8,000 mollusks to produce one gram of this dye.  A less-expensive purple came from an extract of the madder root (This was the dye of Thyatira).

Religiously:  Apollo (the sun-god) was worshipped, along with the typical list of pagan gods.  Trade guilds, or unions, were organized for the different crafts (dye makers, garment makers, tanners, potters, bakers, bronze workers, etc.).  These trade guilds were powerful.  They were also associated with pagan deities and pagan worship.  A sizeable Jewish population was located here.

The message: (1) Jesus is the Son of God (Revelation 2:18).  (2) He has eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 2:18; cf. 1:14; 19:12; Daniel 10:6).  The reference may be to His awesomeness, or to the penetrating nature of His eyes (cf. 2:23).  (3) His feet are like fine brass (Revelation 2:18 cf. 1:15; Ezekiel 1:7; Daniel 10:6).  This may refer to His crushing ability, if He was to tread upon them.  (4) I know your works (Revelation 2:19).  Their love, service, faith, and patience had grown over time (Revelation 2:19).  They were going the opposite direction of Ephesus (cf. 2:4).  Notice that their love and faith are connected with work (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 8-10; James 2:17, 20, 26; 1 John 3:18). (5) Their good deeds didn’t negate their sin issues (Revelation 2:20 cf. 2:4; 2:14).  (6) They had tolerated sin, and false doctrine (Revelation 2:20-ff).  He mentioned “Jezebel”.  Ahab’s wife Jezebel influenced many to worship Baal and commit other sins (1 Kings 16:29-34; cf. 21:25; 19:1-4; 21:1-26).  They had a similar woman among them.  Many think that it is likely, that she had compromised with the trade guilds, and had urged others to do so.  She had committed fornication (spiritual, and perhaps literal).  She had taught members that it was okay to behave, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.  She claimed to be a prophetess.  (7) Not all had been corrupted by her (Revelation 2:24).  (8) Judgment was coming.  Jezebel was about to be cast into the sick-bed (Revelation 2:22).  Great tribulation was coming, if she and her followers did not repent (Revelation 2:22).  Death was coming to her spiritual offspring (Revelation 2:23).  (9) Those who overcame and kept His word, faithfully, unto the end would: (a) be given power over the nations (1 Corinthians 6:2 cf. Revelation 2:26-27; 22:5).  (b) be given the morning star (Revelation 2:28), that is – they would be given Jesus, Himself (cf. Revelation 22:16).

This concludes this series.  So, how are we doing? Which group is it in which we would be listed?

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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